A Complex Year

As the end of 2023 draws near I am doing some reflecting. This year has been messy and complex, if not chaotic. My partner of 42 years died in April this year. I always thought ( and should have known better) that the grief process was a staged process. Not so. It is messy . It is complex. It raises all sorts of stuff that makes you question things. For starters my identity. How do I now describe myself? How do I say “I” instead of “We” after so long. What do I want my life to look like from now on? I now do things for me not for us…a whole different perspective. I have gradually started to do some of these things and think “Well this is for me. I have created it. It is what I wanted” Some of it feels good as it reinforces who I am and that is am emergent prospect. Some of it doesn’t. Talk about safe to fail probes…they are all over the place. Rituals have changed. like the ritual for Christmas. ( not that Christmas was a big deal for either Peter or I, but there were still rituals) What do I want it to look like from now on and how can I make this happen? So many questions and very few answers. All of it is an emergent prospect. So through life experience I am truly learning about complexity and emergence. Vale Peter. You are irreplaceable. I am now needing to learn to live with loss.

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So What’s Been Happening Through COVID

When COVID hit Melbourne in March 2020, things really turned upside down. There were many calls to do what one normally does, but do it online!!!! Well not that easy. But I am pleased to say that one aspect of what I do has turned out OK. Over the last couple of years I have been co facilitating Complexity Tools and Methods and providing coaching to particpants both as part of the learning course experience and partly after the course. COVID was and still is messy so it is fitting to be involved in working in complexity. The tools and methods courses challeged peoples’ thinking and way of doing. You really can’t have an ego if you use this methodology as it turns the notion of expert on its head.  Your role in using the methods is to facilitate the process and recognise that the knowledge and expertise lies within the system and with others not you as the guru facilitator. Very challenging for some so a lot of the coaching work was helping people struggle with this concept and to do things differently. The coaching post courses was often about how to apply this and get results in a specific work reated project or issue. Other times it was about leadership in a complex space.  In some ways this notion works within the idea of adaptive leadership, crucial to today.

The coaching tools I used were various. sometimes it was about peer coaching, other times I facilitated the process to enable the coachee to try their own things, make mistakes and learn from the experience. Other times I used the concept of entangled trios ( a Cynefin Comapny initiative) which brought about innovative results. Largely the particpants directed what they needed consistent with complexity principles.  As a result it was fantastic to see people grow professionally.



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It has been an interesting year…or maybe that is an understatement. COVID has provided a significant disruptor to anything that I had wanted to do or had planned to do so re adjustment has been necessary. I have largely been contributing to initiatives with Complexability where I am an Associate. It has kept me going and interested. The major interest has been a narrative collection project called Stories That Matter where people share their experiences of COVID 19 and then make their own meaning of the stories. Hopefully we will be in a position to share the final outcome of this soon.

Other than that we can only look forward to 2021 where hopefully there will be a semblance of the world that we knew.



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Cynefin Foundations Course



I was pleased to be part of the Cynefin Foundations Course facilitated by Complexability last week. A very diverse group of people came together to explore the notions of complexity underpinned by the Cynefin Framework.

The workshops employed adult learning methodology which enabled participants to explore a variety of issues and experience working in a complex environment whilst developing the understanding of the principles.

Next week we are taking the initiative to Adelaide to work with a similarly diverse group of people. This is reasonably ground breaking for Adelaide as it is over 10 years since they have had the opportunity to engage in any workshops using Cynefin.


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Complexity in New York


On a recent trip to New York I had the pleasure of co facilitating a workshop with my friend and colleague Laurie Webster of QED Insights. Laurie had an invitation to work with a group of people who were interested in understanding more about complexity and how to apply it in their thinking and approaches to their work. She suggested that we might do this together as I could add another perspective to their experience.  The group were from all backgrounds….marketing, IT, Agile community and engaged enthusiastically with what was offered. The session was designed to be hands on and stimulate discussion to enhance learning. Their engagement was such that at the end there was lots more we could do and they were keen to have another workshop to extend their thinking in the field of complexity.



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Library Leadership in Fiji

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In May I worked with the second group of librarians participating in the INELi Oceania project. As part of the evaluation process I facilitated workshops in Fiji with representatives from Australia, New Zealand , Fiji, Timor Leste and Papaua New Guinea. The evaluation process was one that took into account the complexities of learning and leadership. It also put the participants at the centre of their experience as they are best placed to say what impact the learning is having for them. Narrative collection and sense making played a big part in the process. Light touch facilitation consistent with the principles of complex facilitation were also applied so as not to influence the thinking of the participants but rather to allow insights to emerge. 

This process of evaluation is particularly relevant for  human centred approach where the complexities of human experience are prevalent.

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Developing a Community Service



So how do you change an important community service? One where there is a lot of emotion attached and where there are multiple perspectives, ideas and knowledge? Creative Cognicion recently worked with one such service. It was a large community serviced based in Gippsland Victoria and covered a large area geographically. Previous work had  been done around service changes but the recommendations that came about largely put the consultants in the role of the expert rather than listening to the various perspectives and harnessing the wisdom of those within the system.

The chosen methodology by Creative Cognicion was methodology developed by Cognitive Edge which is specifically designed to work with complex issues. It puts the people in the system in the centre of the decision making process, allows all voices to be heard and encouraged insights and ideas for resolution to emerge.

In this particular instance there were local councilors, the Board of the service, staff of the service, community members and the CEO of the service. No ones voice was more important that the other.  Narrative techniques, emergence and refinement of ideas was undertaken with the end result being a compilation of everyone’s voice. Participants expressed a great deal of satisfaction with the process as they were all energized and able to contribute from the perspective of their experience. 



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Creative Melbourne



Last week I participated in an event called Creative Melbourne. This was the second year  Creative Melbourne had been held with this years event being co created by a small group of participants from last year. As part of this group I had several questions about the co  creation process including how it linked with my work in complexity. And the answer to that is there is a close link with co creation being the harnessing of diverse perspectives and experimentation among other things.

The event involved people from NASA Cirques du Soleil and the Catholic University in Lille and was a truly international event supported by Intelligent Answers based here in Melbourne. Participants were also from Australia and from overseas. We worked together for four days exploring ideas, collaborating and developing relationships and beginning got co create projects to move forward during the next twelve months. This is a unique event which aims to try to do things differently in a complex and ever evolving world.



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Working in a Changing Environment

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Late last year I had the pleasure of working with  several large groups at one of Hong Kong’s tertiary institutions. They had been struggling with change and how to work with it productively. Much to their amusement I suggested we do some workshop around the concept of a Zoo and how animals respond to change. So we used the Organizational Zoo metaphor approach which helped them look at the behaviors needed for successful change in a very non threatening manner.   They developed their own “change zoo” with preferred and needed behaviors for change and developed techniques to help one another exhibit these behaviors.  And believe it or not ….they had fun!!!!!

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Team Dynamics-Let’s Look at Behaviour


I worked with an organisation this week to assist them to better understand the behaviours of enhancing team dynamics and collaboration. It is all very nice and well people understanding the principles of this, but reflecting and practicing behaviours takes it to another level. I used the Organizational Zoo metaphor throughout the workshop to safely look at and understand behaviours. The response was very positive and interesting ideas and reflections emerged from the group.

We worked through individual behaviours and then behaviours in a group and then in a team. The outcome was the group themselves designed what they believed were required and ideal behaviours for the teams they worked in to be successful. So they owned it, not the external consultant. All of this was undertaken using the Organizational Zoo metaphor as a safe way of understanding ourselves and others.

All of this is much better in my view than the cliched team building that is often trotted out as it takes things to a deeper level and the team owns the outcome.


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