Category Archives: Working World

The Silence Experiment at #Agile2017

While at #Agile2017 in Orlanda I was able to participate in ‘The Silent Experiment’ being run by Sal Freudenberg, Katherine Kirk , and Chris Corriere, as part of the Audacious Salon. I’d missed this in Edinburgh during it’s unveiling at Lean Agile Scotland, and had read about it in Sal’s ‘Inclusive Collaboration Experiments‘ book, where it’s described as a way to let people better understand the diversity of their colleagues as part of their neurodiversity work. The experiment ran as follows: enter the room and sit quietly at a table so that you form a team of three. Sal set the context for the session and told us when we could open the package and instruction booklet to begin. We had 40 minutes to complete the assembly of the prosthetic hand, decorate the container and take a photo to include in the parcel for the person, who’s to receive the hand. I formed a team with Pia and Lisa Crispin. I found the session exciting and intriguing because we were doing meaningful work. This is something Sal mentioned, that was an integral factor in her early versions of the workshop, whih used Lego. Participants found it less engaging when the work was ‘build a model’, and that the session went better when she switched to hands. I also found it frustrating when I wanted to share ideas, but couldn’t because of the silence. Katherine, happily, kept walking around with a post it that said something like “write down your thoughts and feelings as they occur” so that we didn’t forget them for the debrief later. The frustration was as much about good thoughts as much as about ‘oops, I think I did it wrong’ ones and wasn’t sure how to explain my concern. We did get there in the end, and Lisa kept us going well by pointing out that all pins should be not flush, but recessed into the hand. I found the silence revealing for a number of reasons. First, there wasn’t pressure to keep talking, and we could focus more clearly on the work without the noise from other tables to distract us. Second, we could consider our repsonses to issues as they arose more carefully, and respond differently than we might have otherwise done if we’d all been talking through the building of the hand. Third, while it was hard to share confusion about something, or to ask if others are also confused, it was comforting to trust your partners too as we all eventually worked our way through the produres. When someone had problems, then we’d offer via gestures, another team member a chance to try the step.

The experiment revealed too, that doing meaningful work is an important part of this experiment. For me and others, knowing that the hand we were assembling would change someone’s life meant a lot to what we were doing. That offered a huge amount of empathy and love for the activity. Building a model with Lego just isn’t the same. However, I’ll probably try it this next term using some of the Lego Serious Play sets as my own experiment. This ‘meaningfulness’ then becomes a debrief point.

All of this is by way of showing how we need to have more diversity in our workplaces, and be inclusive so that end the usual monoculture. Come join the crowd at and do what you can to help spread the word.

As Katherine’s poster noted: “insight does not arrive from objects – it comes from ‘insight containers’ called HUMANS” Humans are imperfect, and no one human can know everything, so  we need collaboration in order to gain effective insight. And the best collaboration is that which fosters inclusive diversity.   Save Save Save

Games 4 Learning


I delivered a workshop on ‘Games 4 Learning‘ at the UK Horizons STEM conference in June 2017. This went well, and much talking and actions ensued from the participants about how they might use games in their teaching. At the end a question of resources came up, and I realised that I didn’t have a list of them on a slide. This short post replaces the ‘missing slide’.

The games mentioned in the session were:

Lego Serious Play (See other blog posts on this)
Happy Salmon
Kanban Pizza Game
Various Lego Scrum Simulation games
Scrum Card Game
Penny Game (dice variation)
Lean Workflow Design Game
Marshmallow Challenge
Ball Point Game
Ninja Bear Granny (rock paper scissors) with team/group variations
Investigative Rehearsal (role play), and Theatre of Oppressed/Forum Theatre

TastyCupCakes is a wonderful site to find games for a variety of purposes, although many are aimed at software development.

The Encyclopaedia of Improv Games offers a useful list of games used in improv training. These can be simple and easy to use and adapt to your needs.

The Thing Group offer many types of games for training. I know some people use these, but I haven’t had an opportunity to explore them more fully. I put it here as an option.

For each of these look at what might work, and think of how you might introduce them in your sessions. If in doubt, talk about it with a colleague, or try it and explain that it’s ‘an experiment’ and you’d like some feedback.

Do feel free to get in touch and let me know how you get on with these.

Academic and tech conference issues

I regularly attend a number of tech conferences each year and a smaller number of academic ones. This works well for me as I am always seeking better ways to educate my students about professional practices.

Last week I was guiding visitors around the campus as part of a site visit for an academic conference, which we’d like to host at the University of Aberdeen. Most of this went well and we identified all of the rooms that we could use for talks and breakout sessions as well as locations for the conference dinner and coffee breaks. We also had good conversations during the day in between walks around the campus to see different locations, as well as over dinner across a range of issues.

During these talks I became more aware of differences in academic and tech conferences. Some of the ideas from tech conferences can be easily brought into play for academic ones.This is important because conferences should be a time for the spreading of good ideas from one place to another.

Dinner with a stranger

For the conference evenings without ‘the dinner’ we can use the ‘Dinner with a stranger‘ model that I’ve now experienced a number of times including the one written about by Corinna. This lets people pick where to go and gives them the option of bringing a friend for company, as well as an opportunity to mingle with others. It helps keep people at the bigger event connected during the smaller events. As suggested via Twitter, this could also be called ‘dinner with a new friend’.


We all need to speak in public as academics. It goes with the territory.  What we don’t always provide are pathways for ‘new’ speakers to get more comfortable with public speaking by being able to ‘experience the stage’ without being the centre of attention. Lauren Currie started #upfront as a way to make that step easier for those who want to enter public speaking. I organised the Northern Lights Conference to use this approach in 2016, and it meant that a number of people were able to experience the stage without having to talk. Next year, hopefully, when they are speakers, they’ll already know what to expect.

#upfront at Nothern Lights

We should use this type of approach, as shown above with two siting on the stage next to the speaker, at academic conferences too so that academics gain expeience before they speak. They can be that bit closer to the talking and we gain more diversity in speakers too. This would be a simple exercise to try.

Coffee breaks

You’d think that we’d all agree on something as simple as coffee breaks. However, you’d be wrong. At academic conferences the goal is to have people in the talks. This isn’t supported by those who skip talks to have another coffee and catch up with a friend to discuss a new collaboration. That conversation should happen at lunch, or at night over dinner or in the bar it seems. At academic conferences the breaks need to be fixed and shorter rather than longer so as to maximise the sessions.

At tech conferences, which I go to there are always beverages available during the day for people to grab as needed to fuel a conversation. One year there were fixed coffee times, but that changed and it also didn’t stop people skipping sessions to talk about ideas and collaborations. That’s why we’re at these coferences after all. By the way, these are regular conferences and not open space or unconference events. At those, I’d expect there to be food and drink all day to help keep conversations going.

I like the ‘come and drink and eat when you’re ready’ approach of tech conferences. I like knowing that I can grab the slide deck, if I miss a session, because my priority right now is to speak to person x, who is only here for a few days. I think there should be space for both attendng sessions and for also enabling the freedom of ‘coffee’s here, keep talking’.

And, when I think about it. At the regular events i attend, then i a crowd of 80 there are maybe 7-8 people not in one session or another, while an event with 250-300 sees maybe 10-12 in the coffee lounge during sessions. These are not large numbers. These are where people deepen friendships and work gets done.

Codes of Conduct

We added a code of conduct for the Northern Lights Conference last year. Friends told me that this was needed now, and that some people wouldn’t attend if we didn’t have one. After a bit of searching around and finding that all of the conferences that I go to had them, apart from an open space one, which deals with this in a different manner, then I decided we too should have one. We based ours on the one used by ScotlandJS. I also had a long talk with the organiser about how they curate the talks and engage people to put themselves forward as speakers, as this is often part of the issue too. People had to agree to the code when they purchased tickets, or agreed to be sponsors. If you need a brief guide on the bad things that happen at conferences then this timeline shows you what’s been reported on in the past.

I looked around to see if any academic tech conferences have codes of conduct. I didn’t find any. I did find documents like the ACM Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct.  This is mostly about the software being developed, and actions of an individual in other scenarios might be interpretted as applying to conferences too, but that is also possible too generous an interpretation. The IEEE Code of Conduct comes closer to what’s needed and does talk about the issues in a more general manner which does cover conferences too.

I found one call for an academic conference code of conduct. This, as you can see, raises all of the issues that we see in the Times Higher Education, and in other places too. It also carries on in the comments of the post. I also found that the IASSIST conference has a code of conduct, which will cover the issues too.

Ultimately, it all comes down to this: do we need a code of conduct? Shouldn’t participants be expected to be good to one another? Maybe they will, but some of them won’t be. Listen carefully to conversations around you and you’ll find that things do happen, which shouldn’t at conferences. Ask the organisers too if you’re in doubt. The Code of Conduct 101 covers most of the reasons, why you want one, and answers you’re ‘yes, but…’ items too.

A conference should be a joyous occasion where people meet for the first time, or the upteenth time to hang out and discuss life, work, and what comes next. We should also know that if something untoward does happen, that it will be dealt with appropriately and that participants know who to speak to if they need to report something. We should set an example.

While computing in academia and the tech industry might be considered similar, there are still differences and some of the trends we see in industry should move into academia. We are here to help mould the ones who work in industry, so we should teach them well and provide good examples.




Humble Enquiry Workshop at Lean Agile Scotland

Ellen Grove Twitter LinkedIn and I ran a 90 minute workshop based on the work of Edgar Schein and his book Humble Enquiry at the Lean Agile Scotland conference in October 2016.  The goal was to highlight that people should (need to) take the time to build relationships between each other in order to have teams and groups of people work better when difficult occassions arise.

Humble Enquiry starts from the position that it’s better to ask questions, than to tell people what to do. Similarly, it is about being vulnerable to asking questions and being curious in order to know how you might help each other. We focused on four stages:

  • why use Humble enquiry?
  • what is humility?
  • asking good questions
  • why humble enquiry is hard

by the end people should be able to practice humble enquiry on their own because we told them about it and offered chances for them to ask appropriate questions in a humble manner.

It was well received according to the feedback cards of participants.

Culture Coding Concept

The last session I went to at #p4a16 was ‘Culture Coding’ from Ari-Pekka Lappi was great. He explored how you can use the notion of ‘coding’ with its ‘function’ concepts to build design routines into your practices. In the same way that a kid could use Scratch with its drag-n-drop code snippets to form loops and such, you can do the same when trying to generate new ideas, or to build upon other ones that you already have. This was something I’d not thought about before and was just ‘so cool’ that I’ll need to use it with CityLab students this week and see how it works in practice.

The basic idea goes from the observations noted in the Tweet from @cuxdu during the session:

With ‘code’ snippets on Stattys we can easily move the concepts around to try different ideas. The concepts came in different formats. There were ‘functions’ like ‘define main function(s)’, ‘contrast’, ‘polarise’, ‘overlap’, ‘oscillate’, ‘compose music/make a constallation’ and others likes ‘loop’, ‘repeat 3 times’, ‘combine’ and similar. There was also a notion of conceptual layers like ‘family’, ‘criminal mind’, ‘work’, ‘business’, and others which you could pull in as context as needed. Another group was around objects with concepts like ‘pick an object’, ‘pick another object’, ‘define main function(s)’, ‘eliminate the main function’, ‘think of the use of the product’, ‘why would anyone want it’, ‘how it feels’, ‘swap the core essences’, ‘substitute the main function of one with the main function of another’, ‘add something to the object to make it impossible (surrealise)’

The best(?) bit was using examples like this ‘pick an object’, and ‘pick another object’ whereby you’d pick someting in the room and take something away so that it doesn’t work. For example, take a chair and remove a leg and while it maintains the shape, it won’t work the same way anymore.

This was real cool as with this process you should be able to take a group of people and have them run through a few of these exercises and generate a number of possible product or service ideas without too much trouble. With a bit of practice delivering this as a workshop one should be able to guide them to useful ideas.

It will be interesting to do this with a group of students on Wednesday for the Aberdeen CityLab project and see how they are able to apply this to their current ideas.

UPDATE 5 November 2016: I used this in a workshop at #creakix 2016 which went well, and helped me as this  ‘culture_coding‘ workshop .

Aberdeen CityLab!

In the spring Jo Holtan and I got talking about over lunch at the beach in Aberdeen.  Matt Lowell had told her about this idea as part of their CycleHack adventure since he’d moved to Vancouver. We thought this would be a good thing to do for our respective institutions: University of Aberdeen and the University of Edinburgh. Some discussion got going in Edinburgh, and I ran with the idea in Aberdeen.

For my part I sounded other people out about the idea to see what they thought of this notion. The idea in a nutshell is this: students work with a team from the local city council to develop sustainable projects, which can be either continued by the city, or which are developed with support and help from a city partner, who then takes over the project. The goal is to have students develop their entrepreneurial and soft-skills in multidisciplinary teams over the academic term.

Everyone I spoke to at the university liked the idea. The next step was to sound out people I knew at the council to see what they thought about it. They also liked it, so I moved onto the next phase of gathering the academics together to see what we could do next. Everyone met each other and we found that we had someone from each college. Wow. That was impressive, and we decided to move forward and to quietly pilot this in the next academic year, and that I should continue discussions with Aberdeen City Council to see what we’d need to do to put it into place.

Over the summer I met with various ACC people and it was run up the  rungs to see who could approve this. it got to the Transformation team and stopped. They said “yes, let’s do this.” We met them at the right time as they were looking to bring in university students to help with innovation in the council. Their legal team also saw no problems with the idea either.

Discussions with potential students also went well and thought this would be a good optional course. They could get experience while also developing further skills in team work in a live client situation. Their main concerns were about teamwork, assessments and similar issues.

Marischal College

Our plan to bring this in under the radar haven proven elusive as we couldn’t find a way to do that using any of the current courses on offer a the university. This means we need to start this year with a voluntary scheme, which takes some of the pressure off to have everything ‘just right’, which is part of the reason we wanted to pilot the idea in the first place: so we could learn by doing to uncover the hidden issues of delivering the course.

Further discussions with others experienced in working with councils and governments told me this was also a good idea, which should be pursued too. They also said that we should not look for big, bold ideas either. Within councils things move slowly, so any change for the good, no matter how small is seen as a success. “Judge things by their standards, not by what you would hope to achieve” they said. From within the council they are starting from a different point, than you. I must remember this.

To that end we’ll hopefully be launching this new idea as ‘CityLab!’ in September with a group of volunteer students. To guide the students through the creative process we’ll introduce them to service design and human centered design approaches. And, ‘hey presto’ we’re back in the territory of Snook and Sarah Drummond’sdo tank‘ of delivering ideas back upstream to government. 🙂

I’m really excited about this and look forward to see where it goes. There is so much potential here.

CoCreACT! Facilitator Training in Hamburg

Since leaving Hamburg the last time in 2012 after my StrategicPlay training as a Lego Serious Play facilitator I have been meeting Katrin Elster each year at Play4Agile and always been impressed by her sessions, and the ideas we’ve talked about at meals and in the bar. For a while she’s talked about a ‘new’ training workshop, and I’ve always asked ‘when?’. Finally… finally, this year she agreed to set a date for me and a colleague, who I brought with to #p4a15 to come to this new ‘CoCreACT’ training workshop. Woohoo! This was exciting stuff. Katrin was going to be leading a small group of trainees through their paces in learning how to best facilitate creative problem solving sessions.

The programme for the three days didn’t say much, and if you didn’t know Katrin, you might think ‘meh, I know this stuff’. There’s expected topics on creative problem solving, and even the four d’s of design: discover, design, develop and deploy along with the double-diamond. You can find all of this in books, and probably on YouTube too, if that works better for you. You’d be wrong thinking that was all there was to one of Katrin’s training workshops.

As with my StrategicPlay training with Katrin I had read any and everything I could find about the process, and I had run a few LSP sessions too. Similarly, I’ve been using various creative problem solving approaches, organising and facilitating co-design sessions and Global Service Jam events alongside running sessions with students. All of this was familiar territory. I’d done my homework and the extra credit stuff on Simplex creative problem solving process too.

Despite this, I was willing to put my money down for training. I also and had faith that my colleague would be satisfied with the training too. She’d only met Katrin at #p4a15 and had participated in a few LSP sessions that I’d run. My faith in signing up for this workshop was based on this: I came away from the LSP training going WOW! She had put all of the bits I knew into perspective, and added more on top of this. Katrin is a master trainer, and knows how to make a training session feel like you’re effortlessly learning while working.

I trusted that this new ‘CoCreACT’ training would be of the same standard: that at the end of each day my head would hurt from all the new things I’d learned I’d done. I knew I’d be using a ‘learning by doing approach’ in a small, safe environment where I’d be challenged in a fun, supporting manner. Yes, I’d have to work, but I’d also have fun while working. I wasn’t disappointed.

CoCreACT day threeThe first day you learn the process and apply it to a problem of your own. You also explore your own preferences for how to solve problems so that you’re aware of blindspots you may have in the process, and thus don’t overlook them. the second day you work as a team on a few problems and see how this all works in a larger group. The last day participants are leading sections of the process. So you go from walking through the materials to running with them
by the end of your three days.

All of this training is done in a highly tactile, collaborative and supportive environment, which aids the learning process. There are worksheets to write on, Lego bricks scattered around for you to finger with while you’re listening; but you’re never sitting for too long in any case as you work through energisers and brainstorm ideas writing on hundreds of Post It notes while on your feet. Then there is all of the wonderful food and drink, cake and endless coffee or tea too. All of this combines to make for a stimulating learning experience where you comfortably grow into the role you wanted for yourself by the end of the workshop. You came to gain more facilitation experience, and that is what you’re practicing by the end.

During the training you’ve made more friends with your fellow participants too. There were six of us in this workshop. All but one had previously done the StrategicPlay LSP training with Katrin. My colleague, hadn’t done this. It didn’t slow her down or hinder her and she grew in confidence with the training too. By the end we six had spent days together and
shared many a coffee, croissants, lunch and drinks, and blended into a nice team. This is the same thing that happened the LSP training too. There, as here, I knew some participants, but we all got on well together and were friends by the end. The mix of the food, drink and the training plus Katrin’s coordination and training magic make it all happen.

So, go take part in Katrin’s CoCreACT training workshops. You will learn lots, even if you think you might know some of the materials. By attending you’ll gain the insights of someone who has worked out a process that blends many of the ideas and steps together into a well-structured whole so that you too can use this process later as second nature, and always wonder why you didn’t notice these little things that help make it all come together so much
easier and better than before.

And my colleague, was she happy with the time and money spent on this training? Did she still trust my judgement on these things? Prior to coming to Hamburg, at the end of Play4Agile she
said we must go to Play4Agile North America as that would be useful and help her development as a facilitator. Now she says that can wait. She wants to return to Hamburg for three days of StrategicPlay Lego Serious Play facilitation training. As I thought, she did enjoy the training and found it useful for her work.

Update: I’ve now used CoCreAct for an event and was very happy with the result.

Play4Agile 2015

In February I returned to Play4Agile 2015 in Germany. As always this was an excellent event where I could gain new ideas, discuss old ones and try out some new ideas of my own too. It was also special this time as I took someone with from Aberdeen. This made attendance different in a good way.

On Thursday before p4a15 started I attended a workshop with Deb Preuss on open space technology with several others. This was useful and helped me clarify how I’d been using this in the past and what I could do to provide a better experience for others when I’m facilitating events in the future.

The pre-conference Friday afternoon workshop on Improv this year was good fun as well as a useful experience to see how I can bring more improv to some of my classes as a way for people to warm up and move towards body storming aspects when developing and prototyping ideas. There were many demos during the session of the power of ‘yes, and..’ plus also how to better ‘accept your partner’s offer’ and what happens when you don’t follow these rules.

Play4agile_15 organising teamSaturday saw the usual excitement of the start with people lining up to offer a good variety of sessions. With the help of others I was able to have a session run on ‘Theatre of the Oppressed‘, which I missed last year, and wanted to better understand so that I might be able to use it too someday. We picked a scenario from someone and then worked through the possibilities to understand the options, which might’ve been available. Sarah, who led the improv session on Friday, also ran a session about improv techniques, which was very good too and built nicely on what she’d done on the Friday. There was also a good session on using the game Escape: the Curse of the Temple to highlight and help to analyse team interaction, and what happens when it falls apart.

Sunday saw me run a trial version of my crucial conversations game. This went ok, but was not as good as I hoped. Instead, I got lots of useful feedback about improvements, plus an important validation that the general idea was good and was worth pursuing further. As always, this is why we go to p4a; we can try ideas with a useful, supportive crowd of people. Afterwards I went to Ellen’s growth mindset game session based on Carol Dweck’s work, where she and Jens were exploring whether you could develop a game to help people understand the notion of growth mindsets. The conclusion was that this might be hard to achieve. Later, Ellen also ran a useful session on how to use Rory’s Storycubes for retrospectives.

I’m sure that I’ve forgotten some sessions and know I also had many conversations over meals with people – almost always sitting with different people each time – and late into the night at the bar with more people too. Because everyone is in the one location for everything you can always find people to chat to about work and ideas, or play a game with while chatting. This is ever so helpful. Lastly, of course, there were the sessions of werewolf, which are always fun and enlightening 🙂

As noted above, I had a colleague from the university with me. This meant I was looking after someone to make sure they knew what might be expected in this wonderful community and to point out people they shoud meet. This was good. The best part was seeing this person grow over our time there. By the end of p4a15 the person was more confident, open, and aware of what was still to be learned about the agile community. Plus, they had an even bigger thirst and understanding of the power that play brings to learning. I must try to bring more people to this in the future.