Catwalk: survival of the fittest model

I gave a comment on Getting Out of the Dark Room – Staying Curious: https://harishsnotebook.wordpress.com/2021/03/08/getting-out-of-the-dark-room-staying-curious/ The Free Energy Principle (FEP) states: “all adaptive autopoietic and self-organizing behavior work under one simple imperative; avoid surprises and you will last longer.

And: A recurrent puzzle raised by critics of these models (FEP) is that biological systems do not seem to avoid surprises. We do not simply seek a dark, unchanging chamber, and stay there. This is the “Dark-Room Problem.” 

I’ve slightly adapted the text.

Let me throw some light in the dark.

(Y)Our brain “hides” in a “dark room”, without windows, deaf, senseless. You may have learned otherwise, but your brain doesn’t see, hear, taste anything. You use your brain to “construct” models of your environment. Inside your skull, your grey matter, “gropes in the dark”. Your brain is not you: you’re out there, while your brain sits “in the dark”.

A brain – the organ with which we think we think – organizes itself through structural coupling. Without you knowing how, your brains models (verb) models (noun) of its domain (I prefer the use of “domain” over environment) – your body. A body – no surprises here – also models its domains, “through” what we explain by The Law of the Requisite Variety (off course, nor body nor brain “know” of this natural law). Your body has just enough options – eyes, hands, feet, internal organs – to maintain itself. #Just enough for the city#

Warning, paradox ahead. I use the Second Law of Thermodynamics, because there exists no such thing as “free energy”. We use it as a concept to explain behaviour, “as-if” free energy exists.

This law states: every process produces entropy (again an explanatory concept that doesn’t really exist). It states “entropy” orders order or “order out of chaos“. Nature seems to strive to disorder, but this is only disorder from our (ordered) point of view. You can easily see that an ordered system can produce more “disorder” than a disorderly or chaotic system. (If you need an example: try democracy :-)) So every process produces “more” order in order to produce more disorder. Paradox.

Referring to models

There’s also a paradox hiding here: in order to be surprised one needs a (reference) model and models are being derived from surprises – by reducing them. The tactic used consists of these models modelling themselves.

As difference between such a self-modelling model and itself (surprise!) can be distinguished when these models model themselves. They’re self-similar under transformations. The “surprise” being models that don’t fit their model while adapting to their own model remodelling themselves (“or modelling through”, if you get my pun) into models of their domain inside models modelling that domain. Then – as a consequence – they “predict” their environment to look for – surprisingly – unpredictable situations.

In fact: I keep surprising myself and you’re your own surprise (It might explain why people seem to look for “the meaning of life”). It may come as a surprise that DNA/RNA has the same structure as the I-Ching. .

It’s the structure, stupid

Coming back to “structural coupling“: a model isn’t the domain, like map is not the territory. But structure of map makes the map usefully used by the user (language can be so poor in communicating meaning).

A mapmaker maps locations through “discovering” them by using terrain (I prefer terrain or domain over territory) to map unto a map (or model).

Our body models its domains through using itself. That’s why we live in “habits”. And why we call a mannequin (small man in Dutch), “model” while modelling. (S)he has to survive the catwalk of life, so (s)he’d better “model”.

Model models (or models model) their domains (a.k.a. environment, territory,…) but it (model) isn’t it (domain). The structure – derived from using – makes a model useful. Using “structural coupling” self-modelling models can model (= structure) themselves to “fit” themselves and their “environment”. This you call “minimize surprise”, or “maximize expectations”.

Try not to confuse wholeness with completeness.

Human beings – by order of their cultural groups – want (or need?) their models to be “consistent”. Because else, how could you determine if somebody belongs (in) or doesn’t (out)? (I go into the paradoxes of belonging here). So they (the models) cannot be complete. Living creatures are complete and inconsistent. And so are their models-in-use. Only an incomplete model need to learn. But not to become complete. It (the creature and its model) need to stay “whole”.

It-self organically organizing organs organize organisms (aka complex systems) behave inconsistently – as wholes. Trying to organize organisms into “functional” organizations (aka complete systems) consistently fails.

I think, we may surprise ourselves, what you may call “curious and curiouser”.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Provocation for Inquiry: what can you do to facilitate hierarchical systems?

I’ve been asked (as a Provocation for Inquiry): with my desire to explore paradoxes and inquiry, would appreciate your assistance in framing the following as a paradox:

Hierarchical systems are built from lower levels but do not serve them

I think we all know the problem: from a small team setting to major democracies: how to deal with the flow of power from the powerless to the powerful? And vice versa. We hear usually in democracies framed as “the gap” between public and politicians.

Listen to what Spinoza wrote, “The objective (or task) of the state (power, hierarchy) is freedom“. Use power to liberate others! However, this cannot be to liberate ourselves from the state, the liberator?

Didn’t you notice how almost every liberator becomes an oppressor? Let’s pay a visit to the paradoxes of (inter-group) expressing and (intra-group) power.

Don’t say not

You used “not”. Every sentence with a “not” in it, refers to paradoxical situation. Because you can say “not” and you can not do “not“. I used and intentionally, because it’s an inclusive “or” and with using “but” I could involuntarily induce again a “not“.

Off course you can say you did what you said, even when you didn’t. As I said, paradoxes of expressing.

So “hierarchy” will say that “they” (it’s actually a group of human beings) have been build by “lower levels” (also human beings) to serve them and use this as their argument, whenever  “lower levels” say “hierarchy” doesn’t serve them. And its true, because hierarchy cannot exist without lower levels. They “invent” each other.

The paradoxes of “expressing“, as described by Smith and Berg: Authority, Creativity, Dependence and Courage.

Using”provoking” in the subject line: this – I think – might be a solution you’re looking for: thought provoking provokes authority. That’s why they tend to suppress (freedom of) thoughts.

Who authorizes authorities?

Authority derives authority from authorizing processes (“building by lower levels”), by “members” authorizing authority. Off course, this raises an internal question: who’s  higher? Authority or the Authorizing Processing People.

Authority can “fix” this by

  • claiming that its authority has been derived from “higher powers”;
  • by saying that the voting (remember: it’s the paradox of expression) process has given them the power (“will of the people”, see Brexit or any dictatorship … );
  • voting has been rigged (depending on winning or loosing);
  • by referring to external hierarchies, which have to be defeated, before Authority can serve its “lower levels” again;
  • …. other creative (paradoxical) options …. ;
  • using power (poor solution on the long run).

Authority – by its power – can also use power to frame (paradoxes of Perceiving: Trusting, among others) a situation as “serving” the people. Usually together while indicting (!) to protect them. Offer safety – off course, always by guards. Or – very powerful – to promise progressing to a future state in the past (“Make Authority great again”, “Take back Control”, – this expresses the paradox in three words! – …)

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who will guard those guards? The recurring regression / progression in any organized organization – vicious cycles – suggestes there are paradoxes at work.

You see: paradoxes are like the turtles all the way down. I like this paraphrase from Lewis Carroll:

Red Queen (! authority): “You cannot try to deny it, even if you do it with both hands”

Alice: “I don’t deny with my hands”

Red Queen: “I didn’t say you did, I said you couldn’t if you tried”.

How to facilitate (catalyse) this better?

Grammars of engagement

In my forth coming publications, I will give more detailed options.

You cannot beat paradoxes. You need strength dealing with the forces of power.

Let members of a group release themself – liberating – from tensions, by reclaiming power that was splitted off in managing the apparent contradictions from empowering themselves. In other words, authorize authorizing their authorisations. A more common name used to be “stewardship” of “serving leadership”.

Solving “power struggles” does not mean that we will never again (good) experience power struggles (bad). We’re slowly learning to live with the repeating exploration of these paradoxes.

Taking in slowly

Start before the beginning: with an intake with a powerful client. On visiting – hard nowadays – a client, look for clues, like a crime scene. Where are signs of power(lessness)? What’s on the bulletin board? What writings on the wall?

Then you go slow, reframe what you’ve been “ordered” to deliver (usually phrased as a question, a request, or – even worse- a tender) into a request. Ask to meet the “problem owner”, thee one who needs to improve the current situations, lacking the power from the hierarchy.

Create space to manoeuvrer. Important to enable (future) participants to authorize you to support them. This is actually the double bind of most managers and authorities: requiring voluntary actions from the people they think they’re managing.

Check your assumptions, assuming they’re wrong.

Analysing perspectives

“Analyse” the situation using the game board presented by McWhinney. What will be you main “game”?

Designing meeting

Develop a theme, a story-line with the theme. Use mythical, symbolical, metaphorical, imaginative images. Paradox of creativity.

Meeting (your) design

As a facilitator / catalyst use “space” and “attitude”. Always come in time, slightly overdressed with a twist – like an outspoken tie (I’ve got several; I own a blue-grey suit with a vest; for women it’s easier). Take in at the beginning a power position, stating what you’ve been asked to do. And ask the client to introduce you.

Move – as soon as possible – towards the anxieties and fears of the participants associated with the issue at hand. (I once just asked, while sitting down with them: “what’s on your mind?“) You can safely assume, that these are NOT the same fears as the client has expressed. And also, they will be different for different participants.

After these have been stated, look for the ones this group is able to handle. Where do we have authority?

Go into small groups (max 5) as soon as possible. Ask them to appoint a “speaker” before they start their conversations.

“Speaker” (or “secretary”) avoids discussions on leadership, induces participants to “speak up” (express), while the speaker needs to listen. Technically, you’re framing the group in the paradox of “expressing”.

Meeting the point

When your designed workshop falls short, confusion, resistance, … : welcome, you’re at the point of the meeting! Listen carefully to the emerging question(s). Use the phrasing of the participants themselves (they’re framing it like this), for instance, for money the could use: ‘budget’, ‘costs’, ‘dough’, ‘expenses’, ‘bread’, ‘pennies’, …. 

Look for their meaning behind the metaphor-in-use, the images participants use (these might differ from the metaphor-espoused, what’s being said). Use “clean questioning”, ask without least imposing your framing. You could intervene by “twisting” meaning.

Halting at the end

Let participants phrase actions they’re going to do tomorrow and what they can do if they don’t execute these.

Invite participants to reflect on their learning from the meeting.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Models muddling models

For the man with a model, every problem can be solved. Be aware of problems the model cannot solve. Ignore the model, not the man.

Harish Jose notes that any model will stop being a model, because it’s no longer useful. https://harishsnotebook.wordpress.com/2021/01/03/when-is-a-model-not-a-model/ via @wordpressdotcom .

He cites Ashby.

I would like then to start from the basic fact that every model of a real system is in one sense second-rate. Nothing can exceed, or even equal, the truth and accuracy of the real system itself. Every model is inferior, a distortion, a lie. Why then do we bother with models? Ultimately, I propose. we make models for their convenience.

I added this comment:

Years ago I asked a group of system thinkers: “What’s your favourite model?”. One answered: “Claudia Schiffer”.So we call a mannequin (which has been derived from the Dutch word for small man, “manneke“) a model too. Off course, reducing her to three numbers.

On the other hands, it shows that any body (autonomous naturally auto-poetic) has become a model of its “territory” too. A fashion model on the cat walk, a manager in an organization (called “a role model”) and a systems thinker as a model modeller.

Furthermore, the very word “small man” for a model, points to the (model) Law of Requisite Variety. Any it-self organizing organism organizes a self organizing (meta) model of itself, required “by law” to be as complex as its environment (which I like to call “domain”, as this also induces behaviour to “dominate” the environment – now aptly called “territory”).


Building on this:

These types of models I will call explicit-models and model-in-use. These models explicitly refer to a reality “out there”, which become “real” through putting these to the test and prove their accurate truth for you. You enact these models, adapting it until it fits your purpose. This I call realizing or “actualizing reality”. In Dutch I can use the words “verwerkelijken van werkelijkheid”.

The obvious success of using a model-in-use will increase your self-esteem. William James already established that. The success of a model will attract others people, who will adopt this model as their own “truth”.

As it now involves self-esteem, the model better be more successful. After some time, the number of people adhering to the model becomes a token of its success. People will convene around a convenient model, organising conventions, meetings…. As other people adopt the model, it becomes what I call a “model-espoused“.

Please note that the model-in-use didn’t change. The use of the model-in-use changed. I could also say, that perceptions of the model have been changed. Its success no longer rests on its success in applications, but in its ability to engage others. Did I already mention Agile?

Every group of people will implicitly establish around a model-espoused of itself based on an explicitly successful model-in-use from the past. The group will separate itself from other groups, create an identity, requiring involvement and establish clear boundaries. It will adopt this model as its foundation – usually attributed to a “father” or “patron”. The model-espoused will also become the model shaping the future.

You can only questioned it by risking to become an heretic or a schismatic. Or you’re the non-believing external “other”.

The sure sign of a crisis, will be the establishment of an absolutely unchangeable model. The model now mainly has its use as establishing an establishment based on past successes.

These model-espoused have to be defended by this group, tribe, society,… . You could also call them a “paradigm”. They’ve become a “<model>-ism”.

Any anomaly – pointing at inaccuracies of the model – will either be suppressed, ignored or ridiculed (yes, I do also mean MMT). The people of the group will think they have to require engagement, trust in the model, coming together more often and silence “counter productive” voices.


Harish considers the temporary nature of a model in his notebook.

The final aspect of model-making is to take into consideration the temporary nature of the model. Again, paraphrasing Ashby – We should not assume the system to be absolutely unchanging. We should accept frankly that our models are valid merely until such time as they become obsolete.

Some implications for facilitating change

Facilitating groups in changing their patterns (model) isn’t made easy by the patterns themselves, as Machiavelli already showed. Most managers usually focus on implementing what already has been established – proven – or framing a new paradigm within the old.

As a matter fact, when I became manager production in an high tech electronics industry, growing at about 8% a year, the first thing I said to my workers, was: “don’t be surprised when you’ll be fired in the years to come, as your work will disappear”. The only thing I didn’t expect was that this was the reason I was the first to go. Well, I was till young then.

All groups get stuck in their “paradigm”, model-espoused, routinely “defending” their turf. NEVER underestimate the power of routines.

As the (wo)men in the management team have established the biggest stake in continuing the viability of their model, all facilitation is also about changing the structure using power. This starts even before your intake. Don’t address it and don’t ignore it. Resistance to change is also energy.

They may require you to understand their business and business model. It can also be a pre-emptive, so they need not apply what will be suggested from your sessions by saying “the consultant didn’t understand our work”. So always assimilate by using a few (three to five) of their key-words to suggest you know what they’re talking about. I usually pick them up in my way to the interview.

The most important thing to do is, “Go Slow“. Check your assumptions. And theirs.

When you sense something regarding their situation, say so, without attributing your feelings to the client. Check if they’ve got the same feelings and how they deal with them. Or acknowledge their feelings.

For instance, when your client assume there is a lot of resistance, asked them for concrete examples.

If they ask you to agree on an opinion, say something like “That may be so. Thank you for sharing. I’ll try to remember it.”

Also inquire on their questions on having to involve you, an outsider. There is always resistance against an outsider and it’s better to talk about it in a non-threatening way.

Before accepting an assignment, always establish your conditions. When your client asks you a difficult task, just state your conditions. “I may do that, but I have to charge you for <conditions>”.

Second thing is, keep space to manoeuvre.

You don’t know. You won’t fail because you don’t know something. You’ll fail because you stick to something you think you know, which isn’t true.

The same holds for people in organizations. Their use of a model-espoused prevents them from perceiving anything outside their frame, their model.

It might work well, when you acknowledge “I don’t know”. Perhaps even, when you think you do know.

You cannot “solve” their problems. Promise to get three to six options from the group to be facilitated to improve their situations and say something like: “in many organizations, managers find it difficult to implement ideas they didn’t think of”.

Always exchange written notes on what you think has been agreed upon.




Posted in Agile, Ashby's Law, Facilitation, Meeting design, Metaphor | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Real information confuses

I got a message from one of my dear friends, who didn’t grasp the previous post completely. Understandable. Here I share my reply to her (stop reading when you feel confused), which I extend some what here.

You’re not the only one being confused. My wife is too. As I am. Confusion is the way reality informs us.

Structure makes a map useful.

We cannot destruct “information“, because it doesn’t exist in reality or – paradoxically – because you/we construct it (y)ourself. A map (of London Underground (in Welsh!)) doesn’t contain information, until you use the map to navigate the City. So use of the map/metaphor BY YOU induces “information”. You inform yourself through “mapping”.

Of course you can say “this map informed me”, grammatically correct. That’s only half of the process – which I like to call “realizing“. The other half you cannot “see”: “coding” a map, learning to read a map.

When we travelled through China, I noticed that many of the Chinese maps used different names for places and often didn’t have North on top. Luckily I had brought a compass. I was told that in the old days, Chinese people didn’t learn to read a map properly, to prevent them from migrating. This was also why they didn’t bother about the relative directions.

Use makes you construct information; information is being “constructed” by you. While reading a map, you use it and while acting, travelling, through using, you “destruct” it.  As Ashby noticed: the better your use, the more information you “destruct”. The actual information exists only when you detect and correct an error.

Confusing information

Paradoxically, information only exists when you’re confused and are travelling in the wrong direction. Errors inform. Probably why the British drive on their right side (left) of the road. To make this point.

In my thesis for my MBA I called real information “Cassandra information”, a prophetess of Troy. She had Apollo’s gift to see the future, and Zeus’s curse never to be believed. Cassandra means “she who confuses men”. Homer knew to make his metaphors work for him.

I use the word “realizing” for the decoding of a map (or metaphor) on the natural domain. You’re realizing reality in reality. Information is not on the map (pun intended), but in your body/brain/mind. The correct word to use would be “informing”.

The idea that “information” doesn’t exist in concrete reality seems weird. Because everyone uses this as if it actually exists. We’ve got information system, politicians rely on information, we can get information. Not. Only data are given (again a joke). Information just creates more confusion.

Don’t believe everything I say

The use of a word implying the illusion of its (real) existence is called the Thomas principle. Consequences of illusions can be very real (look into the myth of money). Because consequences are real – people act as if they’re using information – we assume the thing is real. And as long as it works, nobody bothers.

Things or stuff exist in (what I like to call) natural domains, a kind or natural stuff. We can call them concrete objects (and when I say concrete I mean the stuff concrete). By using objects, we create a metaphor-in-use in our body/brain/mind.

Through (y)our perceptual systems you recognize the use of objects and not the object-as-it-is. When you’re looking for a chair, you’re perceiving “sitting” when you need a rest, “placing” when you need to put something down and “climbing” when you need to reach the books at the top shelf.

(Your) Use informs. That’s why we call it in-form-ation. Because a shape (form) informs. Information is in a useful format (sic). Constructing a use (or “need”) precedes formation of information.

So use of an objects – by you – induces a metaphor-in-use. (As I told you, this why AI consistently fails, as it doesn’t code for the use of an object).

I think, therefore I see

However, you cannot perceive your perceptions. You’ve got no access to the processes of perceiving (through senses and intuition) and judging (feeling and thinking) – except, perhaps, when they’re failing you. Oops. As long as your eyes and brains work properly, there’s no need for.

With words we can refer to objects. We can grasp these. And we have learned – this makes life interesting – to use subjective concepts so we can understand better. (In Dutch the word for understanding is “begrijpen” or “to grasp”, so there I can say begrijpen begrijpen or grasp grasping, or understand understanding).

Using language-as-a-means (of-communication) induces our use of nouns as an explanatory concept. Like “information”, “memory”, “instinct”, … or “mind” – if you don’t mind. These “things-like-concepts” exist only in a cultural domain with a language-as-a-goal (of-understanding).

A cultural domain (a word I like to use for group) – where objects get meaning by using them – induces a language domain -where concepts get meaning through proper use of the words. If you see what I mean.

I dunno…

You cannot know how you know. (What?!). When perceiving you cannot perceive (your) perceptions. In the same way, you’ve got no means to mean your meaning. Not very proper use of words, I know. And to make things worse: you cannot be informed on the ways you inform yourself.

You cannot see what you cannot see. The nice thing about language, is that it enables us to talk about things we cannot see. This works out fine in physics and story telling. We can construct constructions and put a human being in space; and we can construct stories to put a child in bed.

But accidentality, we may get confused, when we confuse our mental constructions with real things. When you assume things-as-real, because others treat them as real, you start looking for these things. Dragons under the bed.

The nicest example being “mind”. “Mind” is not a thing, nor a no-thing. Just like information. It’s nothing, until you call it. And then it is what it is.

The word fact and fiction have both been derived from the Latin “facere“, to make. Fiction can be factual and facts can be made up. Confusing. On the other hand, that’s where the information resides.

Consequences for facilitating groups

In order to see, learn to act. “Actions speak louder than words”. So move, make gestures.

Ask participants to regularly reflect using these three questions (no need to share) :

  1. What do I notice NOW about myself?
  2. What do I notice now about others?
  3. What do I notice about this situation?

The hardest part of facilitating a group is “to stay in the confusion”. For instance, when you start to drill down on a concept (“… and information is like …”, “… and <this> is like..”, “.. and what happens before/during/after <this> ..”. …) at a point, they “don’t know”. People start to become confused (or worse, angry, sad, frightened, …) and start to sense. Endure this. Wait. Information will come. Then write it down literally. Move on.

Happy opportunities. Learning happens ONLY when things go wrong. I’m sorry to say (no I’m not). When you or others make an error, a mistake, then a learning opportunity happens. So – for instance at the beginning – prime them for “happy accidents”. When everything went well, nothing has been learned.

Give way to emotions and feelings – both negative and positive. Recognize them as a necessary steps in developing information.

Check. When something “bad” has happened and it has been talked about, check the individuals during a break or afterwards.

Don’t rush steps. Better skip a whole step, when running out of time. Never skip a check-out.

What one thing do you want to take away from this post?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Move on! No information to be found here.

I noticed an article Systems Community of Inquiry http://stream.syscoi.com/2020/11/29/destruction-of-information-the-performance-paradox/ . I cannot resist to inform you that information doesn’t actually exist. You’re creating (and destroying) information at this very moment.

(Ashby – an engineer and psychologist – formulated his Law of the Requisite Variety, which can be stated as “only complexity can absorb complexity”. You’ll need a model as complex as the system you’re dealing with to be an effective helmsman. So – giant leap – living organisms “destroy” information by absorbing her. Not like a black hole, because we’re dealing with information.)

In the arcticle, Harish, noticed: ‘As I was researching his (Ashby’s highly recommended, they’re on line) journals, I came across an interesting phrase – “destruction of information.” Ashby noted:I am not sure whether I have stated before my thesis – that the business of living things is the destruction of information.

I replied:

I’m also a big fan of Ashby’s work, but like many scientist’s he didn’t understand the workings of paradoxes. We ten d to look at only one side of the creation/destruction paradox: the “good” creative side, also called innovation. We ignore the “bad” destructive part (which makes sense, when you’ – as Ashby – started your career in the business of destructing enemy air-crafts trying to destruct you).

Destructing information can only be at work (or perform), when a living organism has constructed (who said “crafted”?) itself and maps or models of its environment. The processes of destruction can be called “evolving” and “adapting”. For instance: a thermostat regulates the temperature in your room, “destroying” the information of the temperature outside. An anti-aircraft prediction machine uses logic to estimate the path of incoming planes to destroy them. Both have to be constructed before they can “destroy” “information”. Easily overlooked.

Creating and destructing – as all paradoxes – exist as both opposites and complements of each other, but not at the same time. You cannot have one without the other. They induce and realize each other. From this (meta-)standpoint, information cannot be destructed, constructed or even deconstructed. Information – as the article also implies – is in the eye of the beholder, the constructor of information: both constructed and deconstructed in the same act.

Or, to say it differently: you’ll need a model in order to evaluate the information. Where does the information of this model come from?

It’s an enigma, when you assume that words, like information, air plane or thermostat, actually inform you about a process. They don’t. I’m not even informing you: you’re informing yourself. We use “Information” as an “explanatory principle”. We assume its existence through its use, without worrying if it actually exists. This will not be a problem with data – they’re given -, but it will become a nuisance when information is in the mind of the beholder.

By the way – please note the -from in both per-form and in-form. We’re using these expression as the “form” follows the “function”.


I’ll add some recommendations on facilitating groups:

  • check assumptions of the meaning of what’s being said. We use metaphors – literally “figures” of speech – in communicating. I translate metaphorical images into written and spoken language. In doing this, I destroy information: I have to select words to convey my image. You construct an image from my words and assume this coincides with my image. Use Clean Language questions like “… and this <word> is like …?
  • A nice exercise : ask participants to draw (you can start with a simple object, like a “bridge” or “chair”) and compare images. Fun! Then ask them to draw (or use the internet) to find images with the subject matter (“energy transformation”, “change”, “management”, “vision”, ….). Not funny: they didn’t understand each other.
  • Ask people to choose a card from any stock of open picture cards, that symbolizes what they want to communicate. What do they see? What does somebody else see? Where do you differ and what do you have in common? (You could also use a magazine with pictures).
  • Strange, but true: just select one card blindly. The picture will “tell” you something about the question or situation being discussed.
  • Use proverbs: what saying or quote can be implied by what’s being communicated.
  • Take 30 minutes. Give everybody a piece of paper and fold it in as many lines as participants. Make sure there is enough space to write. With over 12 people, create subgroups.
    1. Write down a description of your issue, your question, a statement about your situation – everybody writes the same line.
    2. Then ask everybody to add on the next line, one line of commentary or explanation or what they think about the line.
    3. Fold the first line over, so the top-line is no longer visible, and pass on to a neighbour.
    4. Add a line on the statement by your neighbour. Fold and pass on.
    5. Repeat until you get your own paper back.
    6. Read the lines. What’s the pattern? What do you learn?
    7. Have a conversation, share.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

De truc van de Romein: voorkom problemen: gebruik onzekerheid!

Niet wat je níét weet brengt je in problemen, maar wat je denkt zeker te weten. (toegeschreven aan Mark Twain)

De Titanic kon niet zinken, dus waren reddingsboten niet nodig. Professionele pokerspelers weten, dat je je geld niet verliest met slechte kaarten, maar op de hand waarvan je zeker weet dat je er niet mee kunt verliezen. Het idee van ‘dat je zeker weet dat je zal winnen’ zorgt ervoor dat andere signalen genegeerd worden.

Bij groepen krijg je bovendien te maken met fenomenen als groepsdwang, tunnelvisie of peer pressure. Wanneer de baas niet twijfelt en de anderen niet reageren, wie durft dan openlijk te twijfelen?

Twijfel is onaangenaam, zekerheid is absurd’, leerde ik van Voltaire. Ik gebruikte het voor de inleiding van mijn boek, Faciliteren als Tweede Beroep. Je eerste beroep, daarover heb je kennis en ervaring. Daarvan weet je het zeker. In je tweede beroep, gaat het om onzekerheid, twijfel.

De zekerheid in het team moet dus plaatsmaken voor twijfel. Dat kan door ‘afleiding’: verleg de aandacht naar andere zaken. Heel eenvoudig werkt het gebruik van beeldkaarten. Laat de deelnemers, eventueel “blind”, een kaart met een beeld kiezen. Wat zegt deze (toevallige) kaart over de zogenaamd zekere situatie? Zonder dat de deelnemers het beseffen, breng je een stukje onzekerheid in.

Overigens luisterde Romeinse generaals naar hun “waarzeggers”. Die keken naar een lever of overvliegende vogels. Op die manier voorkwamen ze, dat ze handelden op basis van ze “zeker weten over de vijand”.

Het paradoxale feit doet zich voor, dat een random element inbrengen in een zekere situatie de kansen vergroot dat het goed gaat. Gewoon maar wat doen.

Maak deelnemers alert, dan gaan ze over andere dingen anders na denken dan over hun ‘zekerheden’. Gebruik het absurde om met meer zekerheid te werk te gaan.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

How does (y)our mind works? – Mentoring 4

Logo by Titia Lelie

I used a naming technique to find a name for our company and came up with “mind@work”. Only years later, I realized, that that’s exactly the point of facilitating groups.

Currently, much of our behaviour is being attributed to the brain. I’ve never believed in it. Which is, by the way, no reason for not working with these concepts. As long as they’re “good enough”. Gradually also brain scientists come to the conclusion, that we’ve reached “the end of the metaphor-in-use”. Thinking is inherently metaphorical .

I rather follow Bennett and Hacker, Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience. And Freeman – “How Brains Make up Their Minds”.

How does the mind work? You’ll never can tell. We cannot trace a given experience to its origin in a unique fashion. Also, we cannot step outside the domain of our body and nervous system. (quoting Francisco Varela, The Creative Circle, here). If we also had to trace thought to its origin – or build and maintain these traces – we would never finish a sentence. (You might know, that I’ve been called the King of sentences within parenthesis by the editor of my book).

We continuously create objective and subjective “reality”. But not at a whim or at will, or as a fantasy. We’ve taught ourselves to keep the difference between the two as small as possible. It does explain, why we tend to build houses, streets and towns. At least, when awake.

We think we think with our brain, and thinking is a whole body experience (aka “embodied mind“). I’ve studied Biophysics in the late 70’s and then concluded, that a brain (including ears and eyes) operates as self-adapting (networks of) pattern recognition filters.

Brains seem to “apply” Baysian logic to reduce differences between expectations and perceived reality to an acceptable level (you can see the problem there: real reality doesn’t care about our perceptions. This is what we call “surprises” or “bad luck”).

The behaviours of individual neurons let me to conclude that they apply a kind of three-valued logic (rest – excitation – inhibition), where inhibiting plays the main role. This makes more sense then the on/off, 1/0, yes/no computer logic.

Also, in using language we’ve invented meta-metaphors. Our perception is metaphorical in nature (there is no retinal image conveyed to the brain neurons) and these – tacit, implicit – metaphors the networks “translate” (another word for metaphor) into language – a major evolutionary breakthrough we’re still getting used to.

“ (the creator of language) designates the relations of things to men. For expressing these relations he lays hold of the boldest metaphors. To begin with, a nerve stimulus is transferred into an image: first metaphor.The image, in turn, is imitated in a sound: second metaphor. And each time there is a complete leap from one sphere, right into the middle of an entirely new and different one.”

Friedrich Nietzsche, On Truth and Lying in an Extra-Moral Sense

The current structure (grammar) of language is based on an command-and-control structure – which makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint -, but remains inadequate for use in the current complex societies we ourselves created. It takes about 3 generations to shift to another grammar. So, no hurries.

Suggestions for facilitating

You don’t know. Always better to state that. We differ in what we know; we’re equal in the vastness of what we don’t know. Or, to quote Josh Billings I honestly beleave it iz better tew know nothing than two know what ain’t so.

In case of doubt: touch something concrete, like a wall, a desk, table. If that’s not possible – you’re alone a stage -, put your feet firmly on the ground and keep your shoulders right above them. Relax. (People “read” your “body language”).

Use “Clean Language“, invented – or discovered – by David Grove. Just reflect back to the client or participant the words and metaphor they’ve been using. With “clean” we refer to your intentions: don’t add anything from your perspective.

The learning is in the resistance. Whenever differences between “perceived” and “actual” reality crosses a threshold – it differs from one to another person, and also from situation to situation -, attention gets triggered. One part of the brain – as the saying goes -, wants safety; another part will be curious. This create “resistance to change”. And that’s were the learning happens. So again, relax, take your time. Move towards the resistance, asking questions like “who recognizes/feels/notices this too?” (and if nobody does, you do).

Posted in brain, brein faciliteren, Metaphor, mind, mind@work methode, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Run facilitator, run – Mentoring facilitators 3

Facilitators try to do their best to reach goals. It can be like “the Red Queen”-paradox from Alice Through the Looking Glass: all the running just keeps you in the same place.; if you want to make progress, you have to run even harder. There is a lesson in here. Let’s take this metaphor of running to its limits.

Case

“… . When I was trying so hard to finish every marathon I exactly felt uncomfortable. Because I always had so many aims to complete, daily run, weekly run, monthly run, yearly run… In runner groups we are always compete with each others. How fast, how long, how many times a year we can run…

2 years ago, once I dropped out at 20KM check point because of my hurting knees. I cried for 2 hours and I hated to be a failure. I even felt shame to talk about that history. After that I spent one whole year not pushing myself too much or too hard. I can enjoy running and being lazy. I was so struggling with my own decisions between desiring win or not caring loose…

Finally I don’t care the scores, records any-more. Exactly I don’t care how people look at me any-more. It’s my choice to run or not, nobody can judge.   It was long journey, but very worthy living through. This experience made me understand failure can be gift as well. ”  

For one thing, I like the triple metaphor: ‘”running a (marathon) journey” as running a journey’ within a journey of learning. You can see how our subconscious knowing – your “body” -, “knows” in term of metaphor, translated by your brain into conscious knowledge,  a sentence about the metaphor about a learning journey. Which is also a “marathon”.   You can also see here, why – as a facilitator – you shouldn’t focus on reaching “a predetermined goal” as a goal. A goal is a means to an end and not the end of the means.

A goal is a means to an end and not the end of the means.

With facilitation, always act with the end in mind. We’re used to having goals and most of the time see them as part of a contest. Winning is the end (finishing) of a race, but not its end (as a destination). In every session, the goals (S.M.A.R.T.) are not to be confused with the end (results), because then you might assume it’s about “competing”. Never compete with a group.

It’s an easy mistake to confuse goals with ends. The paradox of cooperating -we’ll come back to it later -, states that every good cooperation looks like a competition. When you’re running together, an outsider may see this picture as a chase. With a winner – up front – and a bunch of losers – at the back.

This has also become the picture of an organization: we’re co-operating to compete. We have been taught that competition brings better results. It doesn’t, cooperating does. We even frame evolution as a game of winners and losers. This is a fallacy. Evolution has no end (pun intended). Cooperating is inherently rewarding. Life is a game with only one rule: “this is not a game”.

Some tips to guide towards an end

  • If you must define a goal, create a relative goal and not an absolute. (This is making a distinction between counting (absolutes) and measuring (relatives)). Off course, you’ve noticed the word “relative”, which already points at, well, “relatives”. I defined the goal of an “Agile” project as the ratio between inventory and sales. A smart goal can always be: “halve of what it is now in a year”.
  • Always let the group sets its own ends and derived goals. Keep this open with your client. He or she may have an opinion about the goals. And that’s it, an opinion (and put it to the test). Just ask them to establish a S.M.A.R.T goal for the session or the project. And then have a conversation on the differences. Funny enough, most of the time, groups will set their goals higher than you’d expect.
  • Make goal setting into a cooperative game, For instance, have participants stand against a wall. Draw a line. Say to them, “this is our goal. How far are we already?”
  • Keep failing as an option. Frame every session as an experiment, a test, a pilot, a try-out, a dress rehearsal. Say it and live by it. Also, don’t punish people when they fail.
  • Organizations don’t fail because of mistakes, they fail because of repeating the same mistake over and over again: trying to detect and prevent errors. So in every session, you will see me making mistakes. Don’t tell people they are allowed to make mistakes: show them how you make mistakes AND survive. (I don’t say sorry, by the way; I may only offer my aplogies).
  • Let people make their own choices, then they’ll own them. Ultimately, everybody wants to make their own decisions. One of the most important things – and I know many disagree with me, and indeed most clients -, is that people should be free to attend the meeting, without consequence if they don’t (and I have had meetings were more people came then expected).
  • Allow people to run in different directions. Some times I have a group called “opposition” and they can come up with some wonderful input. Better a small step in the right direction (at the end), than start running in a death-end street.
  • You don’t know the end, until you’ve arrived there. So just end with, “that’s all folks”. We’ve been trained to foresee the end. Treat these as hypotheses. You can only disprove them. (Somehow people say they’re an illusion poorer. I say: “you’re an illusion richer”).
  • Take a rest, give a break, make them pause. You’re brain can only come up with good ideas, when it’s not thinking (clearly I wasn’t thinking when I wrote this)… All good ideas happen at a coffee or other break. (I’ve had proof of even three good idea’s from a meeting at a bar during a session).

Questions?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Training and Facilitating – Mentoring facilitators 2

Case 2

How to deal with facilitation and training, has been raised by this quote:

when we talk about adapting from lecturing to facilitating methods in classroom (f2f & virtual), both facilitator and participants have hard time to really get themselves in. In traditional classroom teachers are the one to do input, and in facilitative classroom facilitator helps participants to reframe their study experiences. There will be no expert/teacher any more, the learning is for everyone in there. So, are there any tips to get participants better prepared to go through the hard times? They are the ones to hold the responsibility.

Some theory

I’ve been writing about this in our book with 24 cases of facilitation, “Diverging Conversations through Facilitation” (I’m using it to support this mentoring. If you need a copy, please visit: order your copies of Diverging Conversations on Facilitation). Here is a quote:

Trainer with Facilitator
A trainer trains trainees into perfection, perfecting the execution of a set of activities. This is an Analytical (1st) mode, using scheme’s, testing programs and measuring progress. Most of the time, it is one way. The trainer and the trainee have the same, but not a common goal. In a facilitated training the trainer becomes more of a moderator (4th Evaluative), .. showing how a group can determine its own target and run its own “training” program.

Diverging Conversations through Facilitation – 24 cases p. 17

A teacher or educator transfers knowledge to his or her students. This can be done in several ways (examples in the book; and yes, based on learning styles by Kolb):

  • Learning by doing, designing models and testing them
  • Learning by thinking, creating theories and proving theorems
  • Learning by reflecting, using feelings and thinking, conceptualizing
  • Learning through experimenting, (serious) gaming

In case of facilitating learning, the teacher not only transfers his or hers knowledge. Also participants transfer their knowledge to each other. I like to quote Carl Rogers, “A person cannot teach another person directly; a person can only facilitate another’s learning”

Some tips

  • pose a question and question answer(s) and/or change a statement into a question (and keep using the same words);
  • the learning is in the resistance; view resistance as a learning opportunity. What need is trying to surface?
  • use silence; you can even start a online meeting with a minute silence. Try two too.
  • ask people to think (write down some notes) before anyone speaks;
  • ask people to speak in the first person only
  • get messy (See “Getting Messy” A Guide to Risk Taking and Opening the Imagination for Teachers, Trainers, Coaches and Mentors”by Kim Hermanson PhD.)
  • change roles: let parents play teachers, teachers play school board, pupil play school inspectors … . (Or workers becoming clients, sales people into (production) workers…)
  • Step into another metaphor: this situation is like a zoo (roles become animals), an exploring mission (into deep space?), a movie (or a movie crew – director, camera, sound, editor, ….). What are the qualities of this situation and how can you map them on your current situation.
  • Quoting myself: “when you understand what participants are talking about 1), you’re probably wrong; if you don’t understand them – but they talk among themselves – you’re most probably right.” Participants know their situation, their know-how is about content. A facilitator introduces process questions, like “know-why”. (I love to facilitate people in another language, Chinese, Japanese, Polish, Indian, …Even English is a foreign language to me.)

The book “Facilitating Learning with the Adult Brain in Mind” states clearly: adults learn through reflecting on feedback. Feedback from peers works best. Even when perceived “wrong” from the teacher’s perceptive. People learn from reflecting on their errors, not from correcting or preventing them.

Any thoughts? Insights?

What are you going to do differently tomorrow?

  1. Footnote: Most clients assume you need to have some knowledge of the subject. Don’t fall into this trap – it sets up a “double bind” – because it will be used against you. After the session, they will not use the outcomes, “because the facilitator didn’t understand it like we do”. I never discuss this with my client. Skip it. Just pretend to know enough by using the right key words. More often than not, just repeat the words you read when entering the building. Always check the personnel bulletin.
Posted in communication, Facilitation, Mentoring facilitator, Metaphor, Silence, Training | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Dealing with Questions by Participants – Mentoring facilitators 1

I’ve been asked to mentor a facilitator who is also a member of IAF (International Association of Facilitation). I asked if it’s alright when I share the situations and feedback with you. (S)He agreed.

Case

“Today when I was delivering a facilitative training session online, I felt uncomfortable when participants kept asking the same question again and again. And I had time pressure to end it on time. Later on when I switched off my PC, I just realized those questions where raised from an other cultural background then mine.”

My suggestions

When people in a session ask you questions, I usually DON’T give answer directly. I have to figure out, what the question is about. When people don’t understand something – easy between different cultures -, they also cannot ask a question about it. Because a question is being framed in what they know and understand.

As a facilitator, it is our task to “look for the question”, support them in phrasing their question. Several options:

Say “Thank you for the question” (saying yes on the relationship, giving you time to think – I was caught only once by a participant, who remarked: “smart way of gaining some time”). And then something like:

  • What do you mean by <repeat key word from question>”? (And if necessary follow it up with “.. and <that> is like …?” or “… and what kind of … is …. ?”)
  • What do you need or require (about < subject>)?
  • Until what point, could you follow me/us/the conversation?
  • Who also has this question? (I like this one. It involves the group) and then … “could you give a possible answer?”
  • If it’s not very urgent, I’ll come back on it later. (Write the question down. And in an on line session, I would ask: put it in the chat please)
  • ….

The general rule for a facilitator – based on Schein -: “whenever I’m supporting a client in solving his or her problem, it’s perfectly alright to ask for his or her support in doing so“.

What would you do differently next time?

Posted in Engaging, Facilitation, Mentoring facilitator, Questioning | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment