Complexity Tools and Methods Workshop



Have you ever wondered what you might use to navigate your way through complex situations?

Complexability is facilitating  a workshop on June 22 that will introduce people to some tools and techniques for working with complexity.

This one-day workshop is designed for people addressing complex challenges such as improving health, educational attainment, employment, climate change, crime and recidivism rates, developing new business markets or changing organisational culture.

Based on complexity principles, the tools and methods in this workshop are specifically designed for working with complex issues, multiple stakeholders and differing perspectives.

This experiential workshop will equip you to:

• Know when complex tools, methods and processes are appropriate to use
• Understand and apply the principles of complex facilitation to maximise participant collaboration and minimise facilitator influence
• Use the Cynefin framework for collaborative understanding, engagement, planning, decision making, innovation, strategy, change management and impact monitoring
• Use the power of narrative for making sense of complex issues
• Design ways of intervening in, and monitoring changes in complex environments

To register please go to

Brochure is available through complex tools and methods

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Delegation Shares Stories




I recently facilitated a session with a delegation from Ho Chi Min City in Vietnam. The session was around capability building in the public service. A session that could run the risk of being very dry and boring if not handled in the right way.

This is where the power of story came in. As part of the session, the delegation was asked to share their experiences around an open ended question. While the rest of the group was listening to the story teller, they were asked to write on a sticky note what they heard. We then grouped the issues together on the wall…like with like and gave each one a name. In this way, the group themselves owned the ideas as they emerged rather than me telling them what it was all about. We then used this as  a basis for discussion around building knowledge and capability.

The group displayed a great sense of humour and an enormous interest in learning. In particular they liked the  quote from Richard Branson:





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Learning Exchange


Meals on Wheels NSW and Queensland are hosting a Learning Exchange with Complexability and Dave Snowden from Cognitive Edge. This is an opportunity to exchange ideas on how we evaluate and make sense of what we need to achieve in a complex space. There will be a chance to hear from Dave and others and to engage in meaningful conversation to form and develop ideas further. 

There is one workshop in Brisbane on August 4 and another in Sydney on August 5.

If you would like to register here is the brochure and registration form. Learning Exchange Workshop



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What is it that makes people become a Triceratops?

This may sound like a strange question! But it was certainly one that pre occupied people when the Organizational Zoo met Emotionally Intelligent leaders. Still confused? At a mini workshop, the issue of emotionally intelligent leadership was explored. To do this we used some work by Alain de Botton around the creed for life or alternatively 10 Commandments for Atheists! The document Resilience explains the characteristics and these would seem appropriate when thinking about emotionally intelligent leadership.

The group were asked to think about these characteristics and the attendant behaviors and how these might manifest themselves if someone was reflecting on their emotional intelligence as a leader. The participants were asked to link these behaviours with Organizational Zoo characters in order to talk about them at a behavioural level.

Some fascinating conversation ensued. Some of this focused on how a person could present in one way and be another especially if they had high emotional intelligence. They would be able to adapt their behaviors as needed. The overarching question about this  was whether it was a healthy approach or was someone merely being duplicitous to gain advantage!

Other conversations were around the notion of displayed particular behaviors associated with particular characteristics, this could engender or discourage other behaviors in people that you were leading. Of particular interest to the group was the characteristic of Wisdom. Was this an owl or a triceratops?  If they were an owl then the wisdom would be used to the benefit and encouragement of others. But a triceratops would have the wisdom but be world weary. They may have been a leader at one stage, but they had been ground down as they had seen it all before and their wisdom was not valued  so they had no chance of being a leader. Questions of can this change? Can an emotionally intelligent leader assist this to change predominated the discussion.

Great conversation, great pondering and great exploring all leading to learning.

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Sensemaking Catches the Whalers

When visiting a Sea Shepherd ship that is moored in my home town I was fascinated to hear the story of how they find the whalers in the Antarctic. It is a great story of working in a complex space, a lovely metaphor for organizations and how to share knowledge.

They have no idea where to find the whaling ships as these ships wish to remain under the radar so to speak. Sea Shepherd is faced with a huge ocean and all it brings with it. So what to do? They work with narrative fragments. There is a report of sighting of whale intestines, the information on the currents present another story, there has been a serious storm to the south west, there is a congregated flock of birds, the krill are on the move and on it goes. As the narrative emerges, patterns begin to emerge  and some basic sense making of these patterns provides knowledge as to where the whalers might be. Inevitably they are right and are able to move towards the whaling fleet and engage in interventions to disrupt their activities.  Often the path to the whalers is not direct, but the ships need to move around storms and turbulence or move with a storm in the appropriate direction. A seemingly straight line to the whalers has many twists and curves.

The knowledge derived from the patterns and the sense making is shared by the research ship to the other vessels which are then able to plot their course with the ongoing knowledge about whalers movements and the sea conditions harnessed by the research ship. When they reach the fleet, the disruptive intervention to create change is a shared knowledge initiative. Often this is dangerous and the crews in the Sea Shepherd ships subjected to push back behaviour from the whaling fleet and are often pushed close to exiting. But they achieve change in all this turbulence…….i.e 900 less whales killed this year.

It is a great story and one that can be used metaphorically in organizations or looked at much closely to develop our understanding of complexity, the use of narrative, sensemaking and designing interventions.

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Quality in Organisations

Recently I was involved with an organization who had to address the issue of quality and how they would achieve it and know when they were there as part of their accreditation process. It occurred to me that while thinking about this, there would be as many definitions and ways to get there as there was people in the organization and possibly more. In other organizations I am familiar with, it has been the top eschalons who have decided this as it is perceived they have the wisdom and knowledge. It then leaves others completely puzzled, with no commitment and even implementing something completely different. In working through the issue, it seemed that we needed a technique that involved shared experience, shared wisdom and knowledge and developed a shared commitment.

In response to this, a narrative based workshop was designed. People were asked to respond to an open question that had been collaboratively designed with representatives of the organization.  Their responses were about their experiences which they shared with their small groups. Issues were noted as we went along.  We then undertook a process of grouping issues, naming them and letting  ideas of quality emerge from shared experience. The issues were then taken by the small groups and a simple action plan for each was devised dealing with the how to get there and what it might look like.

Amongst all of this people also chose to express their ideas via drawing, words and collage providing for a creative way of thinking about things…there were some nice results. These are retained by the organization and provide an ongoing point of conversation about the idea of quality.

If you would like to know more about this or engage in a workshop for your organization please contact me.

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Measuring and Monitoring All That Matters

Over the past year I have been working with a group of colleagues on several projects that fall within the Complex space. These projects are work that is trying to understand the impacts of a particular issue on people and place. What has become apparent with the projects is that it is no longer sufficient to try to measure only outcomes as these do not tell the whole story.  There are multiple perspectives to impacts of an initiative and there was a need to develop a way of understanding this.

Consequently we formed a collaborative group to think this through. Complexability was  developed along with  an approach known as Monitoring and Measuring All That Matters. This is currently being applied in work with Portraits in Blue and with Meals On Wheels NSW with considerable success. We envisage it being applied to community based programs and initiatives where the impacts are multiple and cannot be understood by quantitative and qualitative measures alone.

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Portraits in Blue

Portraits in Blue was launched in Brisbane on October 11 at Minter Ellison who most generously sponsored the launch. This important project aims to capture the true stories of depression from an individual, carer and family perspective through the use of narrative tools.

To follow up on this, there is a website and a Facebook page called Portraits in Blue.

There is an Information Pack attached to this article that explains all the details and can be used to start conversations.

PIB Information Pack

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Teams in a Time of Change

I recently facilitated a workshop for a Government department Young Professionals Network. This particular department had recently gone through massive organizational restructuring. Valued relationships were broken down and new ones needed to be formed to achieve the necessary  work. There was a prevailing level of frustration and hopelessness as well given the change process had been long. People were being required to form new working groups and teams which was proving difficult. We decided to look at the behaviours necessary to achieve collaboration and working together. It was also necessary to make the process fun in order to free up some of the tensions neurophysiologically. This would open people up to different ways of doing things. The workshop used the Organizational Zoo metaphor techniques developed by Arthur Shelley. It was highly interactive, using a variety of scenarios and exploration techniques to better understand behaviours. The group responded with great energy and even playfulness. In one exercise a group of participants decided to draw rather than use the animal metaphor cards as pictured above.    Below is the end result of the drawing.

Another group invented their own animal as they couldn’t find what they wanted in the pack. Again a wonderful example of playfulness and a great way of freeing up the tension, engendering hope and opening people up to new ideas.

Feedback from the workshop has been very positive. ” It was a fantastic  workshop. We all appreciated and thoroughly enjoyed it.”

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Portraits in Blue

The Portraits In Blue Project is a narrative research project to look at the real stories of depression. It has been generated by several consumers/patients who believe that their stories are often untold and that the real impacts of depression are not understood or even known.

It is an innovative project, using narrative research techniques based on Cognitive Edge methodology to capture stories from consumers, carers  and practitioners. Those of us working on the project believe that there is a lot of wisdom in the day-to-day stories of people experiencing depression, and Portraits in Blue aims to better understand and share those stories and their wisdom. Ultimately we are hoping to influence policy makers,  advocate for better ways of understanding depression, and to influence the popular portrayal of depression.

The project is being developed and overseen by a group which includes people who suffer from depression, mental health practitioners and consultants with a range of expertise.

We are also in receipt of wonderful pro bono support from Minter Ellison, Micah Projects and Cognitive Edge making the project a possibility and reality.

We have thus far piloted the tool to gather data and when it is finalised a link will appear on this blog.

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