Be Careful What You Wish For!

Last New Year’s Eve, my colleague Helena sent a text message to me asking me to give the new year a name. The words I text back were “Out in the World”. In Appreciative Inquiry, one of the principles is “words create worlds”, emphasising its constructivist perspective. I must say that 2007 truly proved this principle to me. Looking back at my travels during 2007, I will especially remember:
  • smelling the colourful flowers at Ulriksdal Castle with my friend Marie. (January)
  • wandering in the snow in the Alps in Oberammergau in southern Germany with my Mother. (February)

  • catching the light in the British Museum in London. (March)
  • visiting Boston, Cleveland and Washington D.C. all in one week, discovering the essence of social entrepreneurship. (April)

  • enjoying Merete Wedell-Wedellsborg’s excellent defence of her PhD thesis in Copenhagen. (May)
  • presenting an AI article at the IFIP 8.6 conference in Manchester with my friends and research colleagues Anna and Agneta. (June)

  • camping with my sister and her family in Motala, jumping out of joy when the sun finally defied the rain. (July)

  • meeting my Holmberg cousins and their families at the annual reunion, this time in Vallby in Skåne. (August)

  • discovering the essence of walking in the rain during the AI Summer Reflections at Bore Place in England. (August)

  • finding new ways to use my camera at the Royal Coin Cabinet in Stockholm. (August)

  • listening to the marvellous concert in the old quarry in Dalhalla together with my Frisksport friends, discovering how to do AI interviews on a bus. (September)

  • having a magical dinner in Orlando with some new storytelling friends. (September)

  • seeing a bird parade in Roswell, north of Atlanta. (September)

  • having a truly international lunch in Brussels after investing in some chocolate (all gone now, I’m afraid…). (October)

  • wandering all alone in the rainforest at Noosa Heads in Australia after presenting a research paper at the IMTA conference in Surfers Paradise. (October)

  • swimming in lukewarm water in a roof pool in Abu Dhabi. (October)

  • catching my breath after the steep walk to the castle in Heidelberg, followed by aninteresting visit to the research group at US Army Medical Research Unit-Europe. (November)

  • listening for the lions in the morning light in Mikumi National Park during our Metafari in Tanzania. (November)

  • cycling on the beach in Worthing in December before going up to London for the first AI UK network meeting. (December)

  • taking to train to Upplid in Småland, to have a merry merry Christmas with my family. (December)
I would like to thank all my friends, colleagues, partners and family members - you really have made this year something to remember. Special thanks to Helena for providing me with such an opportunity to create a wonderful 2007 filled with inspiring places and people! I wonder what I will call 2008…

Happy New Year!


Happy Holidays!

Krismas Njema Na Heri Za Mwaka Mpya! Fröhliche Weihnachten! Vrolijk Kerstfeest en een Gelukkig Nieuwjaar! I'D Miilad Said ous Sana Saida! God Jul! Have a look at this site with Christmas greetings in more than 360 languages!

Want to hear lovely a new Christmas song? Check out “Coming Home” by Torbjörn Eriksson, Hjärnverket.


Christmas Flowers

I’m so happy my Summer Photo Competition was such a success! Lots of friends have voted, and to make sure that a proper procedure was used I asked Leif to come up with a method for selecting the winner. Sitting in the only room with aircon at Ruth and Odd’s place in Tanga, he decided that the winner should be voter number 13. Congratulations Jenny Ruther! I promise you will receive the flowers before Christmas.

It seems that the picture from Råshult captured most peoples’ heart, why I hereby declare that to be The Picture of Lena’s Summer of 2007!
The picture above is of a Christmas Tree in Tanzania. Like to see more pictures from the Metafari? Check out this Picasa Album!


Out of Africa

I’m sitting at the international airport in Dar es Salaam, named after the first president Julius Nyerere. It’s almost time for boarding and at 11 pm it’s still hot. The fact sheet from KLM says the temperature in Amsterdam is 9 degrees Celsius. I hope it will soon start to snow in Göteborg, but it can wait until I have landed. We have had a wonderful time during our Metafari telling stories from the past but also creating new stories. But what about the stories you can’t tell? The ones that are very dramatic and heartbreaking, but can’t be revealed?

I’m thinking about Karen Blixen. How she must have wondered about if she would ever return to Africa when she left her farm in Kenya. About the stories she decided to tell the world through her books, and the ones she kept to herself. I remember visiting her home north of Copenhagen with my mother a cloudy day a couple of years ago. The garden was magnificent, with a big black cat stalking mice among the flower beds. Fresh cut flowers were abundant in the beautiful house overlooking the sea. I would also be inspired to write with such a view.

My thoughts turn to a recent interview I did with the Swedish journalist Johanne Hildebrandt. She stated that she calls herself a “war correspondent” because she believes that signals that she takes her task seriously, that she is aware of that she might put people in danger if she is not careful. That her stories might in fact destroy people’s lives.

I’m grateful that the majority of the stories I have heard and created during this Metafari convey the good aspects of Tanzania. That’s not difficult, since there are many positive things happening here. Because our Metafarers made a long list of their learnings from the course, I’m also convinced that we’re all going to communicate them in a good way.

Healing Trust

The Metafari has ended and we’re sitting on the porch outside Ruth and Odd’s house by the sea in Tanga. A rare opportunity has presented itself: a local healer, whom Ruth has worked with for many years, are willing to participate in an interview. We ask questions such as “How do you know what is wrong with the people who come to you?” and “What do you think causes a disease?” and although we get some really interesting answers our conversation becomes even more intriguing when we invite him to inquire.

He then starts to tell us the following story:

A couple of years ago I worked with a British doctor whom I taught a lot about the herbs I use. He took them and sent them illegally abroad to have them tested for their healing qualities. I don’t think its right for people to do so since some of the profits from turning the herbs into medicine should benefit Tanzania.
So he wants to discuss intellectual property rights! He then continues to say that he has not only bad experience of foreign doctors but have collaborated successfully with a Norwegian hospital that orders many kilos of herbs every year. What he really wants to know is what kinds of diseases we still have problems finding cures for in Sweden and how he could participate in a proper experimental research project finding out the effects of using his knowledge. Wow! When I ask him why he wants to do this, he says it is partly because he wants to increase his own competence but also to show the rest of the world what Tanzania has to offer. Shikamo!


Blue Ocean Strategy

After most of the Metafari participants have left for Dar es Salaam, we decide to return to the beach. Since this used to be the Sunday procedure for Ruth and Odd, they are very much in favour for this suggestion and we ask Sture if he can pick us up in his boat again. This time the dolphins get really close and we can hear them breathe. According to Ruth, one of them seems to have a cold. And being trained nurse, she should know :-)

Slowly the small island comes into view. The water is so blue and clear. I come to think of the Blue Ocean Strategy. The whole of Tanzania is to some extent a blue ocean, with lots of people earning not much, but more and more. Of course, the tobacco industry has used the blue ocean strategy for many years, since Europe and the US have started to pay attention to not encouraging the young to start smoking. However, lots of interesting developments are happening with respect to the mobile phone industry. There are quite a number of telecom towers already and more are on their way.

When we visited the Masai, Leif asked how the mobile phone helps them to be more Masai. They replied that since it is always important to know about the weather in order to move the cattle to the appropriate place, the mobile phone is an excellent tool to get that kind of report a little quicker than before. One of the Metafarers comments that it appears like the mobile phone helps the settled Masai to keep their customs, but they also help us to become more like nomads, more like the Masai.

Another interesting development is the sudden ban of plastic bags. Although this from an environmental perspective probably is excellent, they hadn’t really thought about that this is the normal way in Tanzania to package milk. Maybe this is a blue ocean opportunity for TetraPak? Perhaps in collaboration with Arla?


Don’t Think of an Elephant

Late one evening at the Tanga International Conference Centre, Leif and I sit and look at the many pictures all of us have taken during the Metafari so far. The Masai watchmen gather around us to watch the photos flicker. Lots of them are from the Mikumi Natural Park. There are elephants drinking. Elephants fighting. Elephants peeing. Baby elephants and very old and big elephants. We realise that we might have to do some culling… But it definitely will be difficult not to think of them.

George Lakoff is a famous American cognitive scientist who’s behind books such as “Metaphors we live by” and “Women, fire and dangerous things”. A few years ago he published the book “Don’t think of an Elephant” providing excellent advice to progressives on how to become better at framing the political debate. Although the democrat versus republican debate is somewhat difficult to translate directly into Swedish politics, we found it very suitable for reading during the Metafari. Lakoff calls himself a “cognitive activist”. I like to be that too. I realise that I think the purpose of the Metafari should not only to be to help people to become better at using storytelling and metaphors when trying to achieve change in organisations or society, it’s also about trying to create a more nurturing approach to life. Now I just need to find a good framing for telling that.


Island in the Sun

“When she felt the coral sand under her bare feet, all the anguish left. The tide was turning and she saw the boat had accompanied her on her journey speed towards the open sea.
She turned around and took measure of the small island. The inhabitants seemed very much like other islanders she had encountered. The fought with their neighbours, they told their pushy youngsters off, they made love and the old ones perished in solitude.

Her eyes went back to the sea. Flying fish was jumping in the far distance. A group of dolphins was cruising near by. A gigantic cloud bank was growing even bigger over the mainland.
She could hear the sound from a motor boat. A fishing dhaw appeared and went around the cape. The burly men were shouting and soon a net was in the water, circling a school. Their excited calls made her realise how long time it had been since her last meal, but she was still too tired to eat.

The tide had enlarged the beach and she found a spot where she could have some space for herself. The natives continued their business as usual. Going here and there. But they kept an eye on her all the time.

Suddenly she felt the moment had come. She spread her ruffled feathers and sailed into the sun.”

This is the story I wrote on the minute island that was our final stop during the Metafari. Sitting in the sun, getting red and enjoying every minute of it.


Enriched by Translation

When we stumble out of the car, stiff after the long journey, we hear singing and drums in the distance. We are not allowed to carry our luggage, and since the crossing is more wobbly than the Millennium Bridge in London it feels good although slightly awkward. There are crocodiles in the river, but we don’t know that. When coming to the other side, we see the musical children and we join them in the march towards our boma where we will spend the night. It is like coming to another country, another planet, and I have never felt more welcome in my whole life (Karibu!). I’m so happy that we included this stop in our Metafari!

We are asked to sit down, and the chairman makes a speech to us and all the other people gathering. Then it is Ruth’s turn. She speaks in sound and clear Swahili and the interpreter translates it into Masai. It is a long speech, and I realise that it is probably the most polite thing to do. Also, Ruth told us afterwards, it was an opportunity for her to imprint on the children how important education is. She used us an example, saying that although we were highly educated people, we still wanted to learn more and went to classes like the Metafari.

During her speech, Leif suddenly realises that he ought to say something as well. He makes a wonderful speech taking about one of his sons who works as a bodyguard for the government. He speaks English, Ruth translates it into Swahili, and the interpreter turns it into Masai. For each step, more words and gestures are added, but everybody makes the sounds of awe and joy at the right moments.

After inspecting the houses, we sit down to do an AI interview with parts of the council. The village chief is there, but also the elected chairman. The Christian priest is participating and so are several other men and women. We ask many questions. What is it like being a Masai? How do you organise your leadership? What are the mothers most proud of that their daughters learn at home and school? What do you envision for the future? And then we invite them to ask questions to us. They want to know how we deal with bad marriages, when we stop worrying about our children, if we have the same custom as they have of giving a baby to newly-wedded couples. Through the way they pose their questions I learn the importance of providing a context, because they always start with a story about how they do things as an introduction to the inquiry.

We go to sleep in the traditional huts, made by the women. The mosquito net is keeping away both the insects and the cow shit falling down from the not ready-made roof. The sky is velvet black and it’s easy to become star struck.

Bugs in the Program

There is a huge leopard-coloured spider lurking close to the sink. A high-jumping brown frog is occupying one of the toilets. A pink moth has been sitting on the wall for ages. Tiny flies bite you if you try to look at the sunrise at the river. A smug cockroach is basking in the sun on my sun chair. A whole army of really minute ants has moved into my computer, making me recall the story behind the “bug” concept. And I think it’s wonderful! It’s definitely part of the Metafari. Asante!


Making Progress

“And it was morning, and I found myself morning for the childhood that I thought had disappeared” The words from the now rather old Marillion song came to my mind when we were discussing how to let the child in you come forward more often. That in turn evokes a discussion about Pat Kane’s book “The Play Ethic”. Our Metafari continues and we are getting lots of practice in storytelling, use of metaphors, flow writing, taking pictures, Appreciative Inquiry and in speaking different languages.

I am the writer of my own story. I decide how I want to perceive myself and how I talk about my journey through life. My story this day is what I have decided to call a happy failure. I admit that I didn’t succeed in doing free writing properly, since I am used to reflecting and often thinking more about the future than about the here and now. But I definitely have been influenced by it and I am quite pleased with the result.

“Cause the only thing misplaced was direction and I found direction. There is no childhood’s end!”


A Bumpy Ride

The long and winding road to The Tanga International Conference Centre has lots of bumps in it and my head comes dangerously close to the car roof several times. It twists through a village with dogs barking, children coming back from school in their blue uniforms, chicken running around, goats chewing and cows looking at you with wonder.

The Centre is the most perfect example of societal entrepreneurship I know of. The form of association is a Limited company, but the purpose is to create sustainable development in the region so profits will go back to the centre. Although it has not been officially opened, it has begun to take guests and we are honoured to be among the first ones.

During our Metafari Ruth Nesje, one of the entrepreneurs, realised that she could use the termite mound as a metaphor for the centre. Lot’s of people building together, although much of the work is not visible. People visiting, coming in through one hole and leaving through another, transformed. A constant building site, because the organisation is developing.

Ruth has been working in the region on and off for more than 20 years. She has done projects on how to develop new pedagogical methods for teaching about HIV/AIDS in the schools, she has improved the healthcare, organised orphanages, started business groups and much more. The centre is really just the tip of the iceberg (if such a metaphor can be used in this climate). However, it has not come easy and there are still so many things to do before the President can come and lay the foundation stone for the big conference hall.


Falling In Love

Contrary to what Bette Midler says in “The Rose”, love is actually a container. At least in English. It has to be, since you can fall into it. That also implies that it can be dangerous (hatari!), that you have to be careful. Because you might not get up again.

It’s the first day of our first Metafari and we have already started to explore our experiences of metaphors. Together the seven of us have access to at least five different languages and at least as many cultures (although according to Huntington, Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands all belong to the same culture).

Metaphors can be very useful when learning a second language. According to Randal Holm, the metaphors let us experience affect, which make us learn more easily. Then we really have struck gold!


Photo Competition - Still Going On!

Looking for more info about the Summer Photo Competition? See further down for instructions.

Lost in Translation

I’ve just revisited Heidelberg. It’s been almost 20 years since I last took a tour of the castle and looked at the city from the Old Bridge. Well, sightseeing wasn’t the purpose this time but I must admit I had a very quick peek while wolfing down a sandwich. One thing that annoys me is that although I have studied German for five years (but that was more than 20 years ago) I still find it difficult to understand and hesitate to use the phrases I can manage. Most fortunate, most inhabitants speak excellent English which may be the result of the US chosing to locate their HQ to Heidelberg after WW2 and still using it as a centre.

I visited the US Army Medical Research Unit-Europe in Heidelberg and they made an excellent presentation of the work they do. They emphasised the importance of providing feedback to the units immediately after gathering data, as a way to give something back. We also talked about the responsibility you have as a researcher, especially when your suggestions can be turned into policy rather quickly. Communication skills thus seem to be something that should be on the curriculum for all PhD programs. However, time and money is short so how can your develop material for so diverse groups as your fellow researchers in the international academic community, national and international policy-makers, managers and the people you hope to help with your results? And without distorting your findings and their implications?

Another research group that has made an excellent job of using different media to present their results is the think tank Demos based in London. At their website you can download all their reports, you can get an RSS feed, podcasts, make comment at their blog and much more.

There will be a conference in Sweden next year focusing on research dissemination: The International Network on Public Communication of Science and Technology (PCST) conference. I’m considering proposing a workshop on the use of metaphors in research communication. This one I picked up recently:
Conducting military operations in a low-intensity conflict without ethnographic and cultural intelligence is like building a house without using your thumbs: it is a wasteful, clumsy, and unnecessarily slow process at best, with a high probability for frustration and failure. Kipp, Grau, Prinslow & Smith, 2006)


Telling Tales

My aunt had long wanted to visit Painshill Park south of London, so in August we packed our knapsack and took a train from Clapham Junction. This lovely 18th century garden is full of exotic trees and follies such as the sturdy Turkish tent and slender Chinese bridge. It also has a high Gothic tower and an extensive Grotto. In addition it is also a great example of a proactive action from the local council, turning a declining property into a tourist attraction.

In the garden shop a green book caught my eye: Gardeners, Gurus & Grubs – The Stories of Garden Inventors & Innovations by George Drower. I bought it and have now been educated in how the development of gutta percha rubber hoses has contributed to the telecom industry, how a hovercraft inspired a Swedish technician to invent a lawnmower, how the evolution of glasshouses increased led to the invention of using circulating hot water as central heating, and how a female science-fiction writer published “Gardening for Ladies” and made gardening popular among women. Among many other things.

Now after reading it I reflected upon why I picked this particular book. I realised that I have somewhat similar books, accumulated during several years such as “A Short History of Nearly Everything” by Bill Bryson, “The Dinosaurs Hunters” by Deborah Cadbury, “Twelve Books that Changed the World” by Melvyn Bragg, “A Teaspoon and an Open Mind – The Science of Doctor Who” by Michel White and “Gökmaffia och falska orkidéer” by Staffan Ulfstrand. What I like about all these books is that they describe important historical and scientific events from a very human perspective. The reader receives information about not only garden tools, theories on physics, paleontological discoveries or analyses of animal behaviour, but is also provided with a context revealing the human behind the idea and the world she or he was situated in when publishing it.

By such rich presentations it becomes extremely apparent that development is much more a collective series of actions rather than individual achievements, and that the same idea often surface at roughly the same time at different locations but that chance plays a leading role. It is interesting to speculate in what consequences new technology has on this development where Internet services such as Wikipedia and Publish or Perish makes it less costly to distribute information. I’m sure that the Swedish chemist Scheele would have appreciated such devices.


Fair Trade and Paying Respects

Today is Remembrance Sunday in the UK. For a Swede with few similar traditions it was quite astonishing to see how everybody at the “Spirit of Christmas Fair” stopped and held the silence for the stipulated two minutes. In the middle of all the potential Christmas gifts that the latest rise in the economy has provided, it felt more than appropriate to send a thankful thought to the men and women who gave their lives so that we can prosper in a democratic society.

Being addicted to shopping, I was truly in paradise. I bought a nice red felt table runner, some lovely Christmas cards from Cancer Research, an intriguing Flingo game, a pair of snug Dubarry boots, some really good-smelling coffee from Azorieblue, and a heavy bag from Action Against Hunger. In addition I bought three beautiful prints from the artist Cheng Yan who is also a great photographer. His pictures, similar to Australian Peter Lik’s, inspire me immensely. By the way, who would have thought a few years ago, that everything would be on the web?

The contrast between all the goods and the two minutes of silence made me reflect upon the kind of life I live, the society I contribute to develop and sustain, and how I pay my respects. Can I tell heaven from hell? Did I trade my heroes for ghost? How I wish you were here!

How lucky I am to have friends who in my hour of despair send me a suggestion to look into the concept of Megacommunities. Can it restore my faith in humanity and myself?


Summer Photo Competition 2007

Today Sweden changed from Summer time to Normal (Winter?) time. We gained an extra hour, which I spent on announcing this “competition”.

Although this summer has been a really rainy one, at least in Sweden and the UK, somehow I’ve managed to take lots of photos. Want to help me pick the one to symbolise the Summer of 2007? Write down which one is your favourite in a comment to this blog post together with your email address, and at the same time you will enter a lottery with a chance of winning a lovely bouquet of summer(?) flowers. Open until 1st of December.

HOW TO VOTE - in three simple steps

1. Look at the photos and decide which one you like the most.
2. Go back to the blog.
3. Click on the comments link followin this blog post where you can see what other people's votes and also cast you own vote.

Please note that it may take a couple of hours before your comment shows.

You find the photos in this Picasa PHOTO FOLDER.

1. Bore Place, UK (thistles)
2. London, UK (London Eye)
3. Läckö, Sweden (poppy pod)
4. Motala, Sweden (dew drop)
5. Painshill, UK (sunflower)
6. Peter Korn’s Garden, Sweden (spade)
7. Pilane, Sweden (fly)
8. Råshult, Sweden (table)
9. Strand, Sweden (bench)
10. Vallby, Sweden (bumblebee)

Looking forward to reading your opinion!

On the Beach

It took me six days before I actually entered the Pacific Ocean, although the hotel was very close to the beach. There were several reasons for this. My assignment was to present a paper at the IMTA conference taking place at Surfers Paradise, south of Brisbane. Since it was a great conference, I didn’t mind spending most of the time indoors. Another reason was that the weather wasn’t actually all that great. Warm, but mostly cloudy and in the afternoons we got tropical storms with heavy rain and hailstorms. Also, I’m a bit of a wimp (sometimes) and don’t like to be wet and cold.

But there was also another reason and that is that swimming in the sea in Australia is quite different from having a dip in the North Sea or the Mediterranean in Europe. The currents are very strong, as is the surf. I had trouble standing upright although I was just a couple of metres from the shore. There are also sharks to consider, as well as the poisonous blue-bottle jellyfish. This is why the beach is organised into sections where you are allowed to swim. These are marked with yellow and red flags and trained lifeguards watch from towers. 4WD cars, speedy boats and fast helicopters patrol the beach all the time.

This reminded me of the introduction in Charles Leadbeater’s new book “We Think” where he compares the Web 2.0 development to the self-organising principles ruling the conduct while at the beach. Although no special rules are actually posted, people tend to work out suitable arrangements themselves. However, self-organisation may need to be combined with organisation when the situation is very dangerous.

One of the most fascinating keynote speakers at the IMTA conference was David Schmidtchen, a former researcher in the Australian Defence Force. In his book “The Rise of the Strategic Private” he quotes Luther Gulick: “Good men seldom survive bad organisation”. He also talks about the need to change the metaphor behind Network Centric Warfare concept, and also to be aware of the limitations of metaphors.

The metaphors that we choose to make sense of the environment are at the core of our approach to exploration, experimentation and critical thought. Metaphors give our thoughts, and thereby our actions, direction. They help us to impose a degree of mental certainty on an inherently uncertain world. Metaphors produce new ideas and, on occasion, breathe new life into old ones. They can expose facts by prompting the right questions, or hide them by prompting the wrong ones. (p. 300)
Australian beaches are not the same as European ones. Armed Forces are not like other organisations. Peacekeeping is not business as usual. Ambidexterity is the key – organisation and self-organisation sometimes need to be combined. We need to remember this, so we don’t end up in a world like the one described by Nevil Shute in his book “On the Beach”.

Remember: No flag – No swim!
PS Want to see more photos from Australia? Have a look at http://picasaweb.google.com/lmholmberg/AustraliaOctober2007


Defining Moments

At the end of the IMTA conference dinner, Col Carl Castro held an astonishing speech. Since I had had the pleasure during the day to listen to his presentation on the US military mental health program Battlemind that he and his team had developed, my expectations were very high. And they were met and exceeded.

Col Castro succeeded to be at the same time extremely funny and very serious, telling us a story of courage, shortcomings, heroes, death and a ghost. He made us feel his own anguish and doubt, when he was asked (Advised? Told? Ordered?) to change his research report on the mental health status of US service members in Iraq. In his speech he very subtly reminded us of what our role is as scientists working in a military context, through repeating the words of his friendly ghosts: “It’s not about us. It’s about our marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen.”

By admitting to his own shortcomings (he actually changed his report for a while), he also illustrated the importance of having good senior leadership who has the courage to support junior staff when faced with difficult situation (he changed it back again to the original version at very a crucial moment). Good leaders recognise that it is only human to put yourself first sometimes.

The New Zealand Army has developed a new leadership competence framework, where storytelling is included. As it happens, one of the partner organisations involved in the development, Winsborough, is into Appreciative Inquiry. I sincerely hope they invite Col Castro to the training as a speaker, since he certainly has lots of very interesting stories to share and does it in such an eloquent way!


Appreciating Factory Work

I could not in my most vivid imagination think I would find working in a factory such a joyful experience. In all fairness, it should be said that this was not an ordinary factory and the work did not last that long, but while it lasted - boy was it fun!

I attended the pre-conference workshop "Designing Strength Based Organizations: An Emerging Practice" skillfully put together by Bernard J Mohr and Bob Laliberte from Innovation Partners International, Nancy Shendell-Falik and Bob Belanger at The Power of Positive Change conference in Orlando, September 2007. The program was a delightful mix of presentations of real cases from both a company and a hospital, theory and excercises.

In The Flying Starship excercise, we were divided into groups making up the various units in the factory. There were paper cutters, assemblers, decorators, material managers, a quality assurance department, general managers and, of course, a concerned customer. Our task was to provide hand-made bright-coloured paper flying starships. We had five minutes (!) of training and then we went to work. I worked in one of the assembly departments and we were asked to put som love and care in our work. We found this a real challenge since it was really difficult to get the corners sharp and precise, but we did our best and started to sing while we were toiling.

As could be expected, our little factory ran into all sorts of trouble. Materials were missing, quality was lacking, people did not know what to do and so on. However, when we did the appreciative interviews in pairs and presented the results in groups and to the whole workshop we also got a wonderful demonstration of the strenghts of strenght-based work. We discovered lots of good things about the way we had conducted our work, and heaps of new ideas for improvement emerged (see photo).

This exercise was my absolute highlight during the workshop. I will use it as an introduction to strenght-based development, especially when working with companies. Using the Flying Starship Factory simulation as an analogy, will make it easier for the co-workers to view their own organisation in a new manner.

Thank you for this useful excersise!

Once in a Golden Hour

One feature I really like about Picasa is that it makes it so easy to find all your pictures. Even the ones you have forgotten you ever made. If you also add the picture functionality to your Google Desktop you will be constantly reminded of all the special moments that made you pick up your camera.

When browsing today I found this picture I made last year when visiting Highdown in England. Then I was still using my rather poor mobile phone camera, but with a little bit of editing and magic it turned out quite right, if I may say so. I don’t recall how I got the Tennyson poem, but I like it because to me it’s a fable about innovation and intellectual property rights. Enjoy!

Magical Moments

When you spend some time in the Disney realm, you find yourself reflecting upon what is truly magical. I believe I have a collection of magical moments I keep in my heart and like to think of from time to time.

One of those moments took place in Melbourne in 1994 when I was spending some time in Australia while writing my PhD thesis. The people at the department at RMIT kindly invited me to watch “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in the Royal Botanical Gardens. We had a superb picnic and sat on the grass watching the sun set wakening the big bats that started to hunt in the dark. The actors had amazing costumes and performed in an acrobatic way under the stars, dangerously close to the torches.

Another magical moment took place in Cape Town 2003 when my mother and I went to a Christmas concert in the Kirstenborch Garden. We got there early and got very good green “seats”. Soon the lush lawn was full of families eating and having a good time. Then the concert began with a nativity play and choirs singing. It was kind of strange to sing carols in such a warm climate, but when everybody lit their candle it felt a little bit like our Swedish Lucia tradition.

The magic of candles was also a feature of the fireworks concert closing the season for Dalhalla this year. The combination of a very mixed program with excellent artists and the visual effects in this old mine turned into a concert “hall” was stunning. The lights were glowing in the green water, a long long row of pitch torches marked the very edge of the mine and the fireworks at the very end was spectacular. When the male choir Orphei Drängar sang softly and we were urged to light our candles, the cold and damp no longer mattered.

It seems like my magical moments all have some things in common: sunsets, naked flames, music, blankets and good company. Excellent! Now I know what to go for!

Have a Magical Day!


Finding Your Way through the World

Everyday I see a squirrel is a happy day. Everyday I see a squirrel and a hummingbird is an extremely happy day. Sitting at the airport of Atlanta, I’m both extremely glad since I’ve had both squirrel and hummingbird sightings and sad since I’m leaving the friends I’ve been staying with.
This morning I took a much needed jogging trip through the Brookfield neighbourhood. Although I have had several guided walks through this lovely golf community, I nevertheless got a little bit lost. Gradually I begun to pay more attention to various kinds of signs indicating suitable paths along the streets among the 900 or so beautiful houses of all kinds and sizes (although all of them much bigger than I’m used to). The white sign indicating the shortest way to the clubhouse was for example a welcome finding. Paying attention to the landscape also paid off.

Yesterday when we drove downtown Atlanta to Georgia State University, we talked about Key Performance Indicators and how difficult it is to make them transparent to co-workers in organisations. In contrast, an indicator such as the eco-driver metre in the car is just excellent. It is clearly visible all the time and easy to read. It gives you real-time feedback and you can influence the outcome directly. How can we devise triple-bottom-line measurements and indicators that have the same features? How can we help people so that they don’t get lost in the world? How can I get more squirrels and hummingbirds in my life?


In the future. Or Now!

Now.... The International Conference Center in Tanga, Tanzania is the place everybody is talking about.
Now... Everybody is talking about the African Miracle... The boom that started in Southern Africa.
Now... People are talking about how the paradigm shift from industrial mindset to a post modern paradigm was enabled by a metaphor shift from metaphors of the machine world to metaphors of living systems.
Do you dare to join us?

We are looking for no more than 20 people who wants to meet us in Tanga Tanzania November 25th to November 30th to explore the metaphors of the future. Join the Metaphor Safari: http://www.metafari.com/

The idea had a first ignition spark in an Intranet project. "What should this Intranet be like?" "I think it should be like a waterhole!" "What is a waterhole like?" And a creative explosion followed. Discussions, seminars around how the intranet could be like a real waterhole.

But then the use metaphors is hardly any new invention. A well known metaphor safari started 2000 years ago....

It is easy travel to Dar es Salaam. Day travel (for Europeans). No jetlag. We will help you find transportation. You will have comfortable accommodation in the Norwegian-built International Conference Center in Tanga, Tanzania - http://www.icctan.com/

Please register for more information at www.metafari.com - Feel free to tell others about it.

And.. If you have doubts about the future for Africa - view this presentation - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3yfz8yTXKXI

Lena Holmberg - Leif Josefsson - Ingrid Rudefors - Ruth Nesje

PS This invitation has been sent to the following networks that we feel share our values and hopes for the future.


Selling Stories

Last week I took a shortcut through Stockholm’s Gamla Stan (The Old Town). Suddenly I stopped in front of a placard advertising an exhibition with some of my absolute favourite designers: Ingegerd Råman, Byarums Bruk, Märta Måås-Fjetterström and Tove Adman. It turned out to be an unexpected combination of design and medals, provided by the Royal Coin Cabinet. I asked if I could take some photos, and to my surprise they said yes.

The day before, Leif and I had talked about how different our approaches are to photography. We both display our photos using Picasa, and get automatic emails when one of us has made any additions. Leif is more into describing sequences, whereas I tend to focus more on details. When taking pictures this time, I started to reflect on my actions. What first caught my eyes was Råman’s glass vases in the window. Then I tried to catch the clever idea of putting the delicate medals under glass together with the plants. After a while I came to realise that I hadn’t really paid attention to the medals as such, why I started to focus on them only. Then I discovered that the combination of glass and light provided some rather funny pictures. After that, I also recognised that I had not captured much of the work of Adman. Leaving the exhibition I took a last shot trying to capture as much as possible, and finally I took a picture of the entrance to make sure I will find my way back. Reflection-in-action proved to be very interesting!

The more distorted pictures reminded me of a research project some former colleagues from the Viktoria Institute did a couple of years ago. They developed digital cameras that changed the image directly. Today similar cameras can be obtained in any store, and I saw a review of a camera that makes your motive look thinner. I’m not sure I like that particular development though… My colleagues were inspired by the lomograph. This special type of camera is provided by the company Lomographische AG. It was started by two marketing students, which is probably the reason why storytelling plays such a big role. They have created www.lomography.com which has the look and feel of a community. Here the “rules” of lomography are presented, and people are encouraged to become members and share their pictures.

If you look at Lomography at Wikipedia, a somewhat different picture emerges. Here you can find links to critical remarks regarding this marketing strategy, and complaints about the price and that the cameras are no longer made in Russia. It’s apparent that with Web 2.0 tools, you’d better keep your story straight, but also that it’s not that easy to tell which story is the truth.

Another example of odd Russian technology is the Theremin, probably the only musical instrument your play by not touching it. This is a kind of early version of the synthesizer and I was not surprised to see that Robert Moog played it as a young student and made use of the experience when developing the famous Minimoog. You can still buy your own Etherwave® Theremin Kit at www.moogmusic.com and put together one just for fun. Moog Music has chosen another approach to their fans/customers. They provide a forum where anyone can ask questions or tell the rest of the world how they have used the products. They are letting the customers tell the story.

What a Theremin sounds like? Well, remember the eerie sound in the theme waltz from Midsomer Murders? That’s it!


The Right Attitude to Rain

I’ve just come back from a brisk walk with my new Nordic walking poles. Although I was highly suspicious of their effectiveness, I must admit that they have totally won me over. Now I definitely have to do some stretching afterwards, just as my chiropractor has ordered. It’s funny how gadgets can be instrumental in creating a frame of mind, transforming a stroll into training.

When I was at the Summer Reflection workshop at Bore Place, we did some walking in the beautiful surroundings. Although the weather was somewhat daunting, we nevertheless put on our boots and ventured into the unknown. James included this in his reflections, viewing walking in the rain as a metaphor for his approach to Appreciative Inquiry.

Alexander McCall Smith is perhaps best known for his books featuring Mma Ramotswe, the first lady detective in Botswana. I do enjoy these books immensely since they provide insights into such diverse topics such as societal entrepreneurship, gender aspects, cultural differences, child rearing and love. However, he also writes about Isabel Dalhousie, the editor of Review of Applied Ethics. In his latest book, The Right Attitude to Rain, Isabel is faced with a number of philosophical and ethical questions mostly regarding to what extent we should tell people things that they probably would benefit from hearing but nonetheless do not want to know.

In the book, W H Auden’s poem “Funeral Blues” plays a significant role. Although this is a very touching verse made popular through the movie Four Weddings and a Funeral, I think I like his villanelle If I Could Tell You even more.


Say Yes to the Mess

What if your organisation was like a jazz band? What would it look like? How would work be organised? What would it feel like? How would decisions be made? How would errors be viewed? Who would be included in the band?

When I was at the Summer Reflections workshop at Bore Place in Kent last week, one item on the superbly composed agenda was to watch a DVD with Frank Barrett talking about creativity and improvisation in jazz and what implications this has for organizational learning. I had the benefit of participating in an AI course featuring Frank in Copenhagen in 2005, organised by Resonans. He then told us about how he combines his experience of being a professional jazz musician with his job at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey. He has written an excellent article in Organizational Science about it, where he emphasise the hope that jazz brings.
”Finally, jazz improvisation can be seen as a hopeful activity. It models individual actors as protean agents capable of transforming the direction and flow of events. In that sense, jazz holds an appreciative view of human potential: it represent the belief in the human capacity to think freshly, to generate novel solutions, to create something new and interesting, reminding us of John Dewey’s contention that we are all natural learners.” (p. 620)
Hope was also one of the underlying themes for the Summer Reflections workshop, at least that was what I felt. We were thirteen AI consultants sharing experiences, reflecting upon our past and making plans for the future. Anne Radford, who organised the workshop with Jane Magruder Watkins, also introduced us to another metaphor: The Jewel Net of Indra. This wonderful story about how to view the world and its connectivity was a great point of departure for our discussion concerning how to create an AI network in the UK. Anne brought us this metaphor from the AI Consulting network, who uses it in its charter:

The doctrine of The Jewel Net of Indra is an ancient view of the universe from Hua-Yen Buddhism. It teaches that the cosmos is like an infinite net of glittering jewels, all-different and each located at the connecting points in the net. In each one we can see the images of all the others reflected. Each image contains an image of all the other jewels; and also the image of the images of the images, and so ad infinitum. The myriad reflections within each glistening jewel are the essence of the jewel itself, without which it does not exist. Every jewel is a Centre of the universe. Organizing in this image is not a machine. It is more like a hologram. Each part is the whole. Indra's Net is a web of relationships that sparkle, nourish, and amplify. It is an ancient image of oneness and diversity.
One of Frank’s messages, based on his jazz metaphor and also experience from an increasingly complex world, was “say yes to the mess”. For a person like me who likes order, is good at organising and makes a living by helping others create order, this sometimes is a hard lesson to learn. However, jazz is not totally without order. There is a basic structure with chords, there are some rules although they are sometimes not made explicit. The secret lies in providing just enough structure, making room for improvisation but also creating wonderful music. I would like to be better at creating jazz. Maybe I should start playing the bass clarinet again…


Feeling Blue

One of the most fascinating stories I’ve ever come across is the book “The 13½ Lives of Captain Bluebear”. The book introduces you to characters like the Minipirates, the Babbling Billows, Professor Abdullah Nightingale, the Troglotroll, and Fredda the Alpine Imp, but also to places like Hobgoblin Island, Tornado City, the Demerara Desert and the Valley of Discarded Ideas. According to reviewer Georges T Dodd, it is “like Robin Williams and Monty Python joining to narrate a Harold Shea adventure”. I don’t know about that, but I do know it’s a really good read! Extra credit goes to John Brownjohn, who must have had a both hard and joyful time translating from German.

When I told a friend of mine living in Germany about my “discovery”, he kindly informed me that Käpt’n Blaubär is to Germany what Donald Duck is to Sweden on Christmas Eve. Well, German culture is apparently not my bag. Maybe this is my ticket to improving my German though…


Memento Vivere

Ellen Key’s Strand is a house with a very special purpose behind it design. As author and public debater Key devoted her life to the improvement of the life of children and women. When in her late fifties Key wanted to retire in 1910, she had Strand built to first serve as a home for her where she could entertain guests such as Werner von Heidenstam and Prince Eugene. But she also had in mind letting the house be the summer home for working women in need of rest, after her death. The design of the house is bright, warm and clean, with light furniture easy to arrange to support conversation and reflection.

As a house built by a woman and not designed for a traditional family, Strand could have been included in Katarina Bonnevier’s PhD thesis ”Behind Straight Curtains – Towards a Queer Feminist Theory of Architecture”. In this amazing new thesis, three women and their houses are presented: Selma Lagerlöf’s Mårbacka, Natalie Barney’s literary salon at 20 rue Jacob and Eileen Gray’s E.1027.

The thesis is an exploration into the theatricality of architecture, where a house is viewed as a scene where we can take on different roles. Bonnevier is fascinated by what she calls the enactments of architecture. One way the thesis explores this thought is in its format, written as a series of lectures where both fictional students and historical persons are provided with voices. They are not notes from lectures, but written as dramatic scripts in order to become living representations of their contents.

One of the important thoughts explored in this thesis is to what extent architecture is the result of our view of the world, but also how architecture can change our perspective and afford certain activities. One curious similarity between Key and Gray is that they both used text to decorate the walls and make the guests reflect on life. Key with Latin such as “Memento vivere” and “Accende et arde” while Gray’s included messages in French such as "entrez lentement".

I think it is very important to look at seemingly neutral phenomenon with new glasses and also to use other than traditional protocols for theses and presentations. I wish I had more of that kind of courage and imagination when I wrote my thesis ten years ago.

Bonnevier’s thesis has changed my perspective on architecture in a similar way that Sophia Ivarsson and Lina Edmark’s work on gender aspects of international rescue missions provided me with a whole new view. In their report they reveal how the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 is viewed by the Swedish rescue service, and how it has been implemented. It also provides very concrete advice on how to improve the implementation. For example, in an area where women traditionally search the woods for sticks to make cooking fires it does make a tremendous difference if the rescue team only look for landmines on the paths. Still, new perspectives are difficult to introduce why it is important to support collaboration such as the Operation 1325 initiative.


Researching War

When Carl von Clausewitz in the beginning of the 19th century coined the expression “the fog of war” he probably did not realise to what extent it would be used.

"War is the realm of uncertainty; three quarters of the factors on which action is based are wrapped in a fog of greater or lesser uncertainty." Clausewitz, On War
Although the cannons used at this point of time would most certainly produce a lot of smoke, Clausewitz had a more metaphorical meaning in mind, referring to the chaos and confusion people immersed in battle can experience. This expression is still in much use and it is debated to what extent new information technology contributes to diminish or increase the fogginess. Clausewitz also contributed another much used military metaphor: the theatre of war.

"This term denotes properly such a portion of the space over which war prevails as has its boundaries protected, and thus possesses a kind of independence. This protection may consist in fortresses, or important natural obstacles presented by the country, or even in its being separated by a considerable distance from the rest of the space embraced in the war.” Clausewitz, On War
When viewed as a theatre, the notion of roles in war becomes even more evident. In one of the projects I’m engaged in right now I work with the Swedish National Defence College investigating how the use of academic researchers could be increased in international peacekeeping operations. One fundamental question is what role or roles a researcher could and should take on in such an environment, and be accepted both by his/her combat and faculty co-workers. How can researchers help to clear the fog?

Much organisational and management theory has its origin in the military context. Words like strategy, tactics, deployment and so on are now also used in business settings. However, the underlying military metaphor may have unwanted implications. In the article “The Heart of Appreciative Inquiry” authors John Sutherland and Jacqueline Stavros argue that it is time to replace the war metaphor when doing strategic development. They propose a shift from using tools like SWOT to SOAR instead. As it happens, the next issue (August 2007) of the AI Practitioner will focus on an appreciative approach to strategy where several applications of SOAR can be found. For those interested in other metaphors used in business settings, I recommend “Strategy Safari: A Guided Tour through the Wilds of Strategic Management” by Mintzberg, Ahlstrand, and Lampel, as well as James Lawley’s “Metaphors of Organisations”.

In the future, it would be really interesting to do field research focusing on developing the collaboration between military peacekeeping forces, NGOs and local government organisations. Especially by applying Appreciative Inquiry as both a research and organisational development approach, and by investigating what role modern information technology could play.


To Cultivate One’s Garden

I’ve been an irregular visitor to the Läckö Castle Garden for almost twenty years now. My first visit still comes to my mind in vivid colours. The fresh garden was absolutely new. The sky was as blue as the surrounding inland waters, in stark contrast to the sturdy white castle walls. For the first time, I experienced the beauty of the vegetable garden, making it apparent to me that also the practical can and should be presented in an appealing way. Today’s visit was blessed with the same wonderful weather, with crispy air and shimmering sun. Only the company differed.

A garden is a very useful metaphor, especially apt to illustrate growth and development. I remember when working for Linq how our customer Société Générale liked the name of our corporate portal, The Garden, so much that they adopted it for their own intranet prototype (although renaming it Le Jardin of course). Similar to gardens, you can adopt different strategies for your intranet. Well-structured as a French renaissance garden, or wild as an English park, tranquil as a Japanese Zen garden or surprising as an Italian one. My favourite is the English cottage garden with its abundance of flowers in all shapes, colours and sizes. Easy to overview and manage, and producing a warm welcome. Some day I would like to craft an intranet just like that.

Another garden well worth a visit is Peter Korn’s. This garden is being developed in the woods, based on the principle that plants should be placed where they can more or less manage on their own without adding water or fertilizers. In addition to looking at the rare plants, you can actually buy some as well.

Both these gardens can be considered as the result from combining personal initiative with entrepreneurial encouragement from the Region Västra Götaland. A good reason for everyone to contemplate going home and cultivate their gardens. Especially this year when we celebrate the birth of Carl von Linné 300 years ago!


Agile Thinking

Last week I spent some rainy days in Manchester presenting a research paper called “Use of Appreciative Inquiry in Successful Software Process Improvement: An Action Research study” and at the IFIP 8.6 “Transfer and Diffusion of IT” conference. It was the first scientific conference had attended since I finished my PhD, more than ten years ago, and it was both comforting and sad that the format was more or less the same. Two of my three co-authors were also at the conference, and they did a splendid job presenting the case and the results, although the time frame was painfully short. I was rather satisfied with my introduction, since I used storytelling in several ways.

After the presentation, we got a few questions but also a very interesting suggestion. One of the popular concepts right now, in both IT practice and research, is agile software development. One of the researchers suggested that we should look into this area since it appears to share some common ground with Appreciative Inquiry. It could also be beneficial to use such a link when introducing Appreciative Inquiry to IT engineers, since our research demonstrates that the strength-based approach does not come particularly natural to them.

After a quick look, it sure seems to be something really worth while here. Although I must admit that I have previously assumed that agile computing was more of an excuse for not wanting to do planning or documentation, I know realise that I have actually applied some of the agile aspects in my previous life as an IT consultant and that there seem to be more of a structure than I thought. As to similarities with Appreciative Inquiry, there are several such as the “whole system in the room” principle, the emphasis on developing a shared vision that does not take departure in constraints, evolutionary iterations, face-to-face communication, working in pairs, emphasis on both quick and long-term action, self-organising teams, focus on motivation and adaptation and so on. We really have to look deeper into this!

By chance I saw that agile methods have much in common with the “Rapid Application Development" techniques introduced by James Martin. How strange that I am currently reading his book “The Meaning of the 21st Century: A Vital Blueprint for Ensuring our Future”! In 2005 he established The James Martin 21st Century School at the University of Oxford and its stated goal is to "formulate new concepts, policies and technologies that will make the future a better place to be".

It’s a small world!


Blogging Metaphors

Yesterday, I met Elvis. He was very much alive and kicking. His black hair glistened as he stretched his lean and lanky body in the ruby red sofa. His voice was clear and so was the message: pet me more! Elvis is an American European Shorthair. A cat. He’s kept Ingrid Rudefors company for more than 16 years!

Ingrid and I talked about blogging. We discussed the best way of explaining to someone inexperienced with the concept. Ingrid came up with the idea of describing it as a combination of a diary and the book “My friends”. This book was a must when we were kids and contained, when properly filled in, information about yourself and your friends such as your favourite film star, what kind of clothes you preferred and what you wanted to be when you grew up. I wonder if it’s still around?

We also compared blogging to chronicles in papers and magazines. In contrast to the diary metaphor, it does not require you to be all that personal but instead it puts more demand on your writing to be funny or clever or both. When you keep a diary, you are really more using writing as form of therapy and do not expect anyone to read your text. A chronicle or a column, however, is written with a specific target group in mind.

The chronicle and diary metaphors share an underlying metaphor, namely that of one-way communication through text. A totally different way of describing blogging would be to characterise it as a kind of dialogue where you allow or even encourage your readers to interact with you in a rather informal and spontaneous way. So far I haven’t allowed comments on my blog, why I have yet to explore the dialogue metaphor in practice.

The topic of blogging metaphors has, of course, already been discussed on the web. For example in a blog by Liz Strauss. Billboard, cocktail party, smorgasbord, conga… I must look into this properly!


Photographic Memory

When I was ten years old, my kind parents gave me a camera. Small and simple, but it was mine and I treasured it! For a very long time I used it and its followers in a rather traditional way. I now have quite a number of photo albums filled with mundane holiday pictures. When I got older and started to travel abroad to exotic places like Greece, Egypt, and Australia I also developed my albums into scrapbooks, filled not only with photos but with small tickets, bright leaflets, smart postcards etcetera in order to enhance the communication of the mood of the place and the journey.

When I bought my first mobile phone with a built-in digital camera, I was not that much interested in this feature. However, I soon developed technique of taking somewhat more “arty” kinds of photos and combining them into presentations in PowerPoint. Although the quality of the photos was rather poor, I felt rather comfortable with my “style”. Proud even. It was also so very easy to take pictures, since I always bring my mobile phone where ever I go.

Even though I bought a digital camera for my parents a couple of years ago, which I and my Mother used when we went to South Africa in 2003, I still didn’t exactly endorse the new technology. I suppose I was afraid of loosing my identity as an “artist”. However, one cold day in December 2006 I decided to make the leap and bought a digital camera for myself. This was prompted by Leif Josefsson’s demonstration of Picasa, Google’s excellent program for editing and distributing photos.

Having almost no knowledge of cameras at all, I didn’t have a clue regarding what camera to choose. I had decided on a price range, why I chose the one who had received a price from a photo journal: a Samsung NV10. Although I still haven’t figured out all the features yet (and yes, I actually read the manual!), I do like it tremendously. I still take some traditional holiday pictures, but with the help of Picasa I feel that I’m beginning to develop a new style.

The camera has also become an invaluable companion in my work as a consultant. At workshops I use it to capture text and pictures made on flipcharts, but also people in action and characteristics of the room and the place. This provides a rich basis for documentation, and the pictures are really easy to integrate into both reports and presentations (once you have discovered how to compress them). I have also taken to using my private pictures as illustrations for report front pages, as a means of making them more attractive.

This mix between private and professional is a general feature of the way I conduct my life. The use of Picasa to distribute pictures to all kinds of people I know supports this aspect. I find it rewarding to know that quite a number of people can enjoy my photos using this particular kind of Internet technology, in contrast to the old scrapbooks that almost never got any attention. I also feel rather good about leaving the laggard category, and perhaps I will become an early adopter...


To Go Forward by Going in a Circle

In Sweden there is a long tradition of study circles as a means for popular adult education. The slogan “Want to go Forward? Join a Circle!” has been around for ages. In a study circle, there is no teacher. Instead everybody actively participates in the search for more knowledge about a particular topic. I think that this democratic aspect of learning is what attracts me most, in combination with the utilisation of the diversity of the group.

I have a background in popular movements where study circles are common. Recently I participated in the design of a study circle myself, focusing on how to do organisational development in clubs and districts for the Frisksport Association. We used the book “Våga forma framtiden” (“Dare to Design the Future”) as a basis, which includes more or less a classical business plan development model although adapted to fit this particular context.

I made good use of this experience when I joined Anne Radford in her thinking about “Wisdom Circles”. Together we started to design a concept called “The International Manager/Consultant Wisdom Circle” when we met at an intensive workshop with members of the European Appreciative Inquiry Network. True to the concept, we have also designed an interactive workshop on this topic at “The Power of Positive Change” conference in Orlando, 16-19 September 2007. In the workshop, we will present the concept but also ask the participants help us develop it even further. I’m really looking forward to this workshop, and to try out this participative activity which I find a little bit similar to Erik von Hippel’s concept of lead-user product development and democratising innovation.


Telling a Story: The Pedagogics of Storytelling

When Maria Bolin started talking, she immediately got us spellbound. Using a low voice she told us the ancient story of Odysseus and the Horse of Troy. The conference room was hot, every chair occupied, but we listen carefully to her every word.

After ten minutes or so, Maria broke the spell by starting to talk about story-telling. Somewhat reluctantly we left the magic mode and listened to her telling us about the various archetypes for both stories and main characters. Her narrative also included examples from her own research. She retold one of the founding stories of the company where she worked, which made us understand some of its basic corporate values.

“When the first employee was hired, he came to the spartan office and realised that there was no desk for him. He asked one of the founders what to do and was told to bring a desk next day. He did so, but when he arrived the next day with the desk he was told it wasn’t needed any more. A customer had been signed and the employee was to go to there immediately to do the consulting job.”

Maria is a PhD student specialising in the use of story-telling in organisational change projects. We used to be colleagues when I worked at the Viktoria Institute. I have listened to her several times, and slowly it has dawned to me that the art of story-telling of course is best explained by examples.

Someone who has worked a lot with storytelling is Steve Denning. One kind of story that he has focused on is what he calls a springboard story. This is a story that enables a leap in understanding by the audience so as to grasp how an organization or community or complex system may change. I think I might add his books “The Springboard: How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizations” and “Storytelling in Organizations” to my reading list…


Metaphor Favourites: The Girl and the Crow

A man sits at his table, reading the newspaper. He then sees a photo of a girl, desperately running with a wounded crow in her hands. The girl is tiny, her blond hair is flapping, her eyes bright, running on her thin legs for all she is worth. The crow is croaking black, clumsy and dying. Suddenly the man starts to shiver and shake in agony, since he realises that he is like the girl. In her he recognises his own frantic search for help, for someone who can take care of the dying hope that he carries. Looking for safety and warmth, for someone to tell him that everything will be alright. Running, although in his heart he knows it’s too late.

This is the story told by Mikael Wiehe in his song “Flickan och kråkan” (The girl and the crow), and it’s one of my favourite metaphors for several reasons. First of all I see myself in both the man and the girl. I also carry hope that is sometimes fragile, and when I was a child I was often on animal rescue missions. The lyrics are also very beautifully composed, with strong, vivid words. The contrast between light and darkness, hope and fear, becomes very clear. I also like the combination of music, lyrics and a picture, because it illustrates how metaphors can take on different formats and involve various senses. The music if also very suggestive, with a beat that makes you feel every running step the girl takes. Mikael Wiehe is also famous for writing political songs, why the piece is also a good example of how to use metaphors for conveying important messages. Although the song ends sadly, for me it creates a spark, an urge to keep on running, looking for support and answers. I think that is also the purpose of the song, given the nature of the composer.

If you want to read about the making of the song and the lyrics, take a look at http://www.mikaelwiehe.se/komment_flickanokrakan.htm (in Swedish).

Right now I’m on a quest for learning more about metaphors, storytelling and the use of new information technology like blogging. As a part of that quest, I have created this blog as a means for reflection and communication.