⫸ Click here for my recent interview on the Workshops Work podcast

What stories have you been steeping in?

Stories are unfolding around us in every moment. We are awash with them. We are at the confluence of many powerful stories all competing for attention. Take the United States as an example:

  • The pandemic continues to surge with rising numbers in most places. Whether you believe this is really happening depends on the storyline you've been following.
  • Racial unrest is continuing, but the story of what unfolds from this point is uncertain. The dominant storyline seems to keep being reinforced.
  • The southern coastline is being pounded by the landfall of Hurricane Laura. Stories about the devastating effects of Katrina are sure to be rising in the minds of those who went through that event. The devastation of those times put the difference between affluent and poor communities into sharp relief.
  • In California, the redwoods are burning. I'm reimagining my time underneath their canopies, sad at their loss and grateful I was once there. What does the loss of these 1,000 year...
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How to master the art of facilitation and hosting

Here's my interview with Myriam Hadnes, whose "Workshops.Work" podcast beams online out of the Netherlands. Listen to the interview here.

She writes:

"The Art of Hosting is a beautiful embodiment of many of the features of facilitation, combined with its own set of unique approaches and concepts. Mary Alice Arthur is an international steward of the Art of Hosting network and a person whose input I value hugely.

She joined me for this episode of Workshops Work to talk about the Art of Hosting in general, but also about how we can apply it amid our current circumstances of lockdown and social distancing.

Our conversation was packed with curiosity and “aha” moments, and it felt like we connected a lot of dots together. I hope it will be the same for you.

In this episode, find out about:

  • The art of hosting yourself and others in normal circumstances, and during crises
  • Why our individual and collective stories hold so much power
  • How to use challenges and potentially...
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Hosting Brave & Transformative Spaces Online

Where once I felt like a voice at the rim calling for more attention on the relational field, the more we move online the more it becomes obvious that relationship is at the heart of transformation. In fact, that might be the most important thing I learned joining Civil Defense all those years ago in New Zealand. Living with the continued threat of earthquakes, I found out that resilience did not rely on the overall wealth of a place.

Resilience -- the ability to meet and bounce back from stress and challenge -- depends on connection. More connected communities are simply more resilient.

We've been seeing that play out dramatically during the time of crisis. The less we have been able to be with each other physically, the more isolated we've felt, yet "vulnerable" people have been less vulnerable with the support of friends and neighbours. Little actions counted greatly.

The same is true in the virtual realm. Little actions count greatly because everything is...

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Looking for signs in a time of confusing stories

In these greatly challenging days, I have the sense that we are building a new kind of collective wisdom, one that for the moment remains mysterious. New communities are springing up around invitations to think together about issues or be in practice, or listen to new ways of looking at the world. Although we are in the time of "social distancing", the space between us is somehow growing smaller.

There is a tension between that sense of speeding up to try and keep the world working, and slowing down to reflect on what might be possible now, both individually and collectively. 

We know with even more certainty now that the old stories are no longer serving, but what comes next?

This week I've had the pleasure to be in conversation with a group of narrative practitioners I really value -- Madelyn Blair, David Hutchens, Annette Simmons and David Drake. Together we make the most interesting weaving of thought around narrative practice. It was good to sit...

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What comes next? Thoughts on International Women's Day

Today is International Women's Day and I find myself musing on the gifts feminine eldership and power could bring to our current disconnecting times.

My Friday morning started early with the first in a series of online calls. I've been working for myself for more than 25 years and in the online space for many years now. I'm used to seeing people in the virtual space, hosting and being part of meaningful conversations. I'm an old hand at to team meetings and planning events in this medium. I'm good at harvesting what we talk about and decide together, picking up every voice. I'm practiced at contributing to a strong sense of generative co-creation -- lifting each other to new thoughts of what might be possible. So far, business as usual. 

After the call, I found myself looking out the window to the sunny street below. Everything looked normal and inviting. But the content of our call left me looking at this scene with new eyes. We'd been talking about...

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What is your story of love?

It's always a wise thing to know the backstory of something you're involved in and to remain curious about where it came from and what it really means. We've just celebrated Valentine's Day and there are two ways I get reminded of this, even though I'm self-employed and single. Valentine's Day was my Dad's birthday -- he would have been 97 this year. And a neighbour across the street -- who is very fond of all the holidays! -- has a full display of hearts festooning her front porch.

Where did Valentine's Day come from? How does our story of love need to change? What's your story of love going forward? 

Where did it come from? 
Valentine's Day is more properly the feast day of St Valentine, who apparently died in 269 or 270AD after disregarding a ban on marriage for soldiers put in place by Emperor Claudius. He married them in secret and even performed a healing on a young girl, sending her a note signed "Your Valentine" just before he was executed.


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An Organizational Powerhouse – The Four Roles of Story (Part 3)

Story is already the currency of organization. We trade stories all day, every day, no matter where we work or live. That means they are the lifeblood of every organization, determining its health, well-being and future viability. If you want to story to become an agent of future potential, though, there are four roles you might want to take a closer look at.


Consider yourself an anthropologist and use story as a way to look at organizational culture. Ask yourself the question: “What’s here?” and do some fieldwork. What stories are being told? What’s their focus? Are they positive or negative? Who is telling them? Who doesn’t get to tell stories or who is marginalized? What’s the impact of the stories?

You can tell a lot about the health and connectivity of an organization by the stories being told. So what is alive in the system (s) you are part of? What kind of a StoryField are they? Since any person, place or...

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How Story Supports Groups Getting Results – The ultimate process partner (Part 2)

Inviting story into the room with you is one of the best choices you can make for group success. It easily flows across the way a group naturally performs and can support the cohesion, coherence and results a group achieves. Here’s how…

Sam Kaner and his colleagues identified and named the parts of how a group works together in his seminal work “Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making”. In the Art of Hosting practice field, we call this the “Breath Pattern” and we use its parts – divergence, emergence and convergence – as a guide for designing great group process. 

Making friends with the Breath Pattern

Whether a group is meeting for one hour, multiple days, or longer this pattern naturally repeats itself, just like humans continue to breathe in and out. Knowing about it — and surfacing it to the group – can make the work easier. It’s not that this is a “bad” group because it is...

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How Story Supports Groups Getting Results – The perfect practice partner (Part 1)

One of the best ways to stretch the boundaries of your thinking is to be asked to do something new. Last week I offered a workshop I’d never done before: “Storytelling for Facilitation and Group Work” and it caused me to think about how and why I apply story in the groups I’m supporting.

I began creating my workshop by thinking about what training, facilitating and hosting are trying to do and mapping how story can support this work. Then I took a closer look at how story can support the wave of how participants move through a group process together. And finally, I took a look at roles story can play in organizational and group settings.

What training is trying to do

I see training, facilitating and hosting as three distinct but overlapping parts of a continuum of group work. At its essence, training is trying to get something in. A trainer is working with a group to present information and integrate knowledge. 

Of course, these are not enough on...

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Developing the ecology for community narratives

This post was written as a guest blog for Percolab.

I am writing this post sitting in the airport in Columbus, Ohio. It is currently 9:46 and my flight to Chicago and then on to Montreal should have departed at 8:27. It didn’t. Not because there are weather conditions here or mechanical errors or any other local disruption. I’m sitting here because of the domino effect.

Hurricane Dorian is busy pounding the Bahamas, and flight changes on the East Coast are causing mass disruptions in other parts of the country. For those who need more proof that we are all connected, be it by climate, systems or thought patterns, this is just the tip of the iceberg. 

I want to make the case that our narrative ecology is the same. In other posts I’ve taken the forest ecology — and how trees continually communicate with each other — as a metaphor of how human systems interact. Trees are connected by the mycelium sheath. Mushrooms connect the individual root systems...

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