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When one door closes…

Well, our Advanced Visual Facilitation course never happened. And alas, it isn’t going to – at least, not at UBC. Nor will we be offering any further courses through UBC Extended Learning. Not because our workshops weren’t valued – indeed, they were hugely popular with participants and much appreciated by the folks who ran the Life and Career programs, where our workshop was housed. But Extended Learning had shifted its focus, with the result that several of the professional courses Life and Careers offered now fell outside the scope of the certificate program they were focusing on. We knew for quite some time that this was a possibility, so we were prepared for it. But we’re still sad to go because we had a lot of fun creating and delivering those courses, and the people who took them found them both enjoyable and of immediate practical value.

But life goes on, and Stina and I are contemplating what we’ll do next. We have some ideas about what we could offer, and now that we’re not affiliated with any particular institution, there’s no reason not to go global if we feel like it! So keep your eyes on this space. The UBC door has closed – but who knows what new doors will open…??

New! Advanced Visual Facilitation course with Stina & Avril

Are you a graduate of our Visual Facilitation course at UBC Robson Square? Have you taken any other courses with Stina Brown and/or me? Are you a professional with previous visual facilitation training and experience? If you answered “yes” to any of the above, have we got a course for you! Stina and I are delighted to be offering Advanced Visual Facilitation, a new course at UBC that will build on the core competencies we taught in Visual Facilitation and take you deeper into both the application and philosophy of visual practice.

If you want to take your visual facilitation skills to the next level and put them to work immediately on projects of your own, join us on March 1-2. Students in our last class said it was the most fun they’d ever had in a course while learning more than they had imagined possible!

You can find out more details about our course on the Workshops page of my website, or go straight to the course description on the UBC website, where you can also register.

We hope to see you there!

Registration is open for our upcoming course!

Just a quick note to let you know registration is open for Visual Facilitation, a 2-day course Stina Brown and I are co-teaching through UBC Extended Learning. We piloted the course this past spring and got great reviews from our participants, so we were thrilled when we were asked to bring it back this fall! I’ve written about our course in more detail in the Workshops section of this website, so please follow the link to get the fuller story. And don’t hesitate to get in touch with me if you have any questions.

Yes, and…

I’m finally making good on a longstanding intention to write a blog post about the role of the Yesander.

What, you ask, is a Yesander? I will tell you. A Yesander is a person who follows the cardinal rule of improv: “Yes, and…”. In other words, someone who takes what’s offered, accepts it as it is, and then builds on it. In improv, Yes-and is critical to a scene’s success, because if one person refuses or blocks the other person’s offer, the scene dies on the vine. There’s nowhere for it to go. So all offers must be accepted and then built on; only then can the scene move forward.

The build doesn’t have to be in the direction intended by the offerer. Indeed, much of the delight of improv comes from unexpected turns taken by the Yesander. But at base, the interaction always rests on an acceptance of what’s offered (“Yes!”), and a building on that offer in some way (“…and…”).

I regard the Yesander as a necessary complement to the Innovator. The Innovator comes up with a new idea. The Yesander accepts the intrinsic value of the idea and sees where it might go, or what else it might be. “Yes…and…!”

The opposite of the Yesander is the Yesbutter. Our world, our workplaces, our political arenas are full of Yesbutters. The Yesbutter is one who hears an idea, appears to accept it – and then immediately blocks it by finding reasons why it won’t work. “Yes, great idea…BUT…we don’t have the funds to implement it…our people will never go for it…it’s too complicated…the time isn’t right…” Bam: you’re dead. Scene over.

It’s not that the Yesander ignores the potential difficulties. She may even think (or know!) that the idea is unworkable – or just plain wrong-headed. But she accepts the offer as given, looks for what she can work with, and finds a way to move the scene forward. Maybe in quite a different direction than the Innovator intended, but always coming out of what was offered, and thus grounded in the existing reality. In other words: authentic (to use a much overused word).

The Yesander’s view is essentially optimistic, or at least hopeful. It operates out of the belief that there is always a way forward, though “forward” may look odd and circuitous to the outside observer. It’s also an open-minded stance that doesn’t have a fixed end-point in view. The Yesander says, “I’m going to take your idea as given; now let’s play with it and see where it goes.” It’s a playful and creative approach that opens the field to whatever emerges.

I don’t see the Innovator and the Yesander as mutually exclusive. A person can be an Innovator in one instance and a Yesander in another. But I don’t think you can be both at the same time. When ideas are at stake, the Innovator-du-jour needs an external Yesander to play with. Someone who can provide a different, possibly even startling, perspective that the Innovator simply couldn’t come up with himself.

Personally, I don’t see myself as an Innovator – at least, not most of the time. I haven’t invented any new products, devised new ways of doing things, or pioneered ground-breaking theories. But what I am is a really good Yesander: the person who recognizes the spark of possibility in a good (or even a not-so-good) idea and says, “Yes! And…what about this? Or this? And have you thought about this? OK – let’s play!”

I like being a Yesander.

What about you?




Let’s be clear…

Last month my colleague Sam Bradd invited a dozen or so visual practitioners to share our insights on what we noticed about human nature or communication in 2016, based on all the conversations where we’d been present as a recording witness. I was honoured to be included and pleased to have an opportunity to reflect on some of the bigger themes I had discerned in the many meetings I’d been part of. Sam included all our contributions in his end-of-year blog post, which you can read here.

I started by responding to the specific question Sam posed. But true to form, I couldn’t stay entirely within the lines of the question and soon jumped to what I thought should be a theme in our conversations. (Hey, there’s a reason I call my business Outside the Lines!)

Since Sam ended his year by posting our ideas, I thought I would start my new year by sharing what I wrote, edited and expanded here based on further reflection, and with a couple of references to external documents and books that might be of interest. So if you have a few minutes to spare, settle back in your chair, pour yourself a cup of coffee, and read on. And if you have some thoughts of your own on this topic, I would love to hear your comments!

In service of clarity

While I can’t land on an overarching theme, I’ve noticed a pervasive focus on “how do we prepare for a future we can’t predict?” in the conversations I’ve graphically recorded this year. It’s not like we ever could predict the future, of course – but the pace of change is so blistering these days that it’s become almost impossible to predict what will happen next week, let alone in two or five or ten years.

You brought up the concept of a “VUCA world”: a world characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity; a world filled with disruptive forces – technological, political, social – that change the game at every turn. But while I hear a lot of anxiety about the first half of VUCA (volatility and uncertainty), there is less understanding of how to deal with the second half – complexity and ambiguity – as evidenced by an ongoing tendency to focus on “solving problems” rather than addressing messy systems. Seems like we need to spend a lot more time dealing with C and A if we want to be able to navigate V and U.

There’s a lot more to be said about that, but I’d like to shift to a theme that hasn’t been explicitly voiced in these conversations but has been increasingly occupying my mind. This is the desperate need for clarity in our complex, ambiguous, and often highly abstract world. We’ve all been in meetings where people talk enthusiastically about things like leadership, sustainability, accountability, innovation, engagement, and so on. But what do they mean?? My idea of leadership might be radically different from yours; a government official’s idea of engagement might be quite at odds with that of, say, a disability activist. We operate every day at a level of abstraction that we don’t even recognize, because these terms have become so embedded in our vocabularies that we don’t see how subjective they are, and how open to different interpretations. 

This lack of clarity leads to confusion and makes it difficult to address issues effectively. For example, if we don’t have a shared understanding of sustainability (or accountability, or innovation, or whatever), how will we ever get there? That’s the problem at one level. But at another level, unclarity can also be downright dangerous. This shows up most glaringly in the realm of politics. The American public just elected a president who ran on a huge abstraction: “Make America Great Again.” But what does that mean?? For some people it means an America that brings jobs back. For others it means “let’s shake up the political establishment.” Others might envision a great America as one that welcomes diversity and inclusion. But still others see it as one where white men rule the roost and anyone who doesn’t like it should shut up or get out. What happens when people with different understandings of this abstract slogan begin to clash with each other? We’re already seeing the fallout, and it isn’t pretty.

So I’m making it my mission as a graphic facilitator to put myself in service of clarity. I will push people, at meetings I work in, to go beyond abstractions. I will ask questions like: What does that concept look like on the ground? How does it play out in action? How would you describe it to someone outside this room? By continually striving to making the abstract more concrete, I can bring fuzzy thinking into clearer focus, thereby helping those with good intentions be more effective in their actions – and reducing the power of those with less good intentions by exposing them for what they are. I think that’s a good role for a graphic facilitator in 2017.

Addendum #1: If you have an academic turn of mind and want to bore yourself for half an hour, ask me to send you a paper I wrote on metaphor for a Philosophy of Language class at McGill some years back. Most of it makes my eyeballs melt when I reread it now, but there are some nuggets toward the end that are still worth thinking about and have some bearing on what I’m talking about here.

Addendum #2: For some of the most cogent and accessible writing anywhere on the role of language in shaping thought, you can’t do better than reading just about anything by the distinguished linguist and cognitive scientist George Lakoff. (Which autocorrect persists in trying to change to “Layoff”. Lay off, damned autocorrect!)

Happy new year! Raise a glass of claret to clarity!