Your ETR (Estimated Time to Read): 5 minutes
Your ETII (Estimated Time to Implement Ideas):
5 weeks

December 2008

In this Issue:
Read a Footnote in which I share what really happened during an activity using the Zoomorphs toy that was featured in the August News Flash.

Say It Quick
a thoughtful message in exactly 99 words

bits of serendipity to inspire and motivate
fuel for your own continuous learning
tips and tricks you can try today
Better Decisions A Matrix of Possibilities The Law of Empty Space Space-Time Boundaries

Say It Quick

This 99-Word Story for December raises the question of how our physical space influences our decisions. In Discoveries you'll find a way to apply this concept to important group discussions while the Activities column offers an experiment for using your free time.

Better Decisions

Coffee cake, cookies, fruit salad, there was everything short of a full breakfast at the all-staff meeting. I'd planned to take only a muffin; I'd just eaten, after all. But the poor thing looked lonely on my clean, white plate so I added more food until it was loaded down.

I wasn't that hungry but it's easy to forget that, whatever space we have, we tend to fill - whether we need to or not. Maybe I should have taken a smaller plate!

Next time I'll surround myself with healthy, wise choices - and a plate I can handle.



A Matrix of Possibilities


Just as every coin has two sides (and an edge!), we know that every issue has at least two ways of being viewed. Sometimes it's a challenge to identify all the nuances of meaning in an issue. To make things more complicated, we are usually holding a handful of coins!

This can make it difficult to sort out and compare all the aspects of all the concepts. That's where a Matrix Activity can be invaluable. Take each concept and make it the heading of a column on a grid. Then take the same headings and run them down the left side of the grid so they become the headings for each row. Point to a cell of the grid and it shows the interaction of a row and a column. Each concept can then be compared to every other concept - and itself. That's your matrix.

Master game inventor Sivasailam "Thiagi" Thiagarajan has devised dozens of activities using a square matrix game board to...

I often use a simple matrix to help people delve into a topic more deeply. Posting the empty spaces of a giant matrix at the front of the room, I invite people to speculate about how the various concepts are interrelated. As the group fills the cells with a statement or collage to express the relationships, a complete picture of the concepts and their impact emerges.

You can see how a public school invited teachers, students, and the community to participate in an on-going conversation about core values by clicking here. For an interactive example of how a matrix activity can be used to surface critical issues for the orientation of new staff at a social services agency click here.

Visit Thiagi's site for dozens of matrix games and find out how designing some empty space into your training can result in a more fulfilling learning experience!



The Law of Empty Space

When we built our house, the contractor asked if we planned to use the attic. My wife couldn't imagine what we would store there but for a few extra bucks, a trap door was installed to access the space. Today, that attic is crammed with clothing, luggage, holiday decorations, and childhood keepsakes!

It's almost a scientific law: if we create an empty space it will get filled! This is as true for my attic as it is for the virtual "space" of a meeting, coaching session, or workshop. Left alone, those empty spaces become a magnet for clutter and confusion. But with a bit of focused management, they can also spark creativity.

As mentioned in Discoveries, leaving some open space can inspire important conversations. Another useful way to invite dialogue is the use of silence. When most North American teachers and facilitators ask a question, they wait an average of only three seconds before rephrasing their question or asking a different one. Imagine how the quality of thinking in the room would increase if they waited as few as six seconds before expecting a response! Even if a facilitator waits what feels like an uncomfortably long time, the Law of Empty Space will kick in. Someone will fill that silence with a brilliant insight that keeps the discussion in motion!

So make your own experiments with silence and then how the Law of Empty Space has worked for you.



Space-Time Boundaries

What if we thought of our time as a "space" to manage for our own creativity? Would it be a way to cut the clutter that culminates in stress? Here are a couple experiments you might try.

The office was closed for the day. Should I use that time to accomplish something just for me that I wouldn't ordinarily do? Or, should I use the time to finish off a half dozen work projects that had been lingering? Here was my solution: I set aside thirty minutes for each of my pending projects. At the end of a thirty minute period, I made a decision about whether to extend the time or move on to another project. By noon, I switched my focus and spent the afternoon doing that special thing for myself. As a result, I got more done on each project than if I had tried to complete just one of them. And, I had time for something enjoyable!

My friend, Anne, also had the day off - and the same dilemma. Her solution, however, was to turn her cell phone off. For the whole morning, she ran personal errands, worked on a sewing project for her new granddaughter, and had her car serviced. After lunch, she turned on her cell phone. With her life now in order, she felt refreshed and ready to reply to the three messages that she'd received.

Both Anne and I set some boundaries around our use of time and, in doing so, actually opened more space for its creative use. Please how you have managed your space-time boundaries.



In the August issue of the Firefly News Flash I shared the discovery of Zoomorphs and described an activity using these plastic animal body parts to introduce people during a leadership workshop. During the event, several surprises which could have been big problems actually enhanced the learning! Here's what happened.

People were given a leg, tail, or other part of an animal in a sealed envelope with their name on it. At the signal they milled about and met others with whom they could construct a complete animal. But wait, three people didn't show up and a fourth came more than an hour late! What would the teams do without those four members and their missing animal pieces? I decided to let the teams wrestle with that issue on their own.

The groups were to talk about how the characteristic of their animal related to good leadership. One group was missing the head of their zebra. They concluded that it can be dangerous for a team to rely too heavily on one person to be the brains for the group. There are times when the team ought to lead itself in the absence of an "official" leader with a mandate from "headquarters."

Another team was missing one wing and three legs of its butterfly. Someone in that group pointed out that you never have all the members for an "ideal" team. You have to use who you've got and learn to "fly" together. This also gave the team an example of how effective leaders adjust to uncertainty "on the fly" in order to be successful.

For all the participants in the workshop, the absence of these members provided concrete examples of leadership qualities that, until then, had only been discussed theoretically!


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