Archive for April, 2009

How green can you get?

I found this post on yahoo answers to the question of, “How can I be more green?”  I would like to thank The Tinker for his ardour and his candour.  Now check this out as an example of “Be the Change”:

I was hoping someone would ask this calibre of a question (as above). I want to thank you in advance for it.

There is so much discussion about recycling when packaging reduction and reuse is a more valued approach to our consumer habits. I am very extreme in my extracurricular activities – even excentric.

I have a small backyard foundry where I melt my own metals to be cast into useful and decorative articles. I use biomass fuel Continue reading ‘How green can you get?’


Vivienne’s Manifesto & the Big Green Stick

According to Vivienne Westwood, the way to combat climate change is –

“To thine own self be true.”

This was one of the many messages contained within  her Manifesto: Active Resistance to Propaganda, launched publicly today at the RCA.  Written two years ago, following her attendance at an apparently disenchanting “Conference of Culture” held in Paris, Westwood felt the need to find a new voice to speak to the younger generation.

Ironically, there was little new in the Manifesto.  It contains an eclectic mix of references, from Diogenes to Alice in Wonderland, and takes over half an hour to present.  This is not a message I expect will reach many young people.

Furthermore, as Christopher Frayling of the RCA pointed out, some of the messages were modernistic, if not very traditional.  Particularly her reference for a greater appreciation of artistic “greats” and history.  She also called for self-discipline in the artist and a dismissal of the self-indulgent artist who relies “now on presentation skills and self-promotion.”  This may have been the only challenging offering she made.

(Apart from her reference to the institutionalisation of art and Descartes as some of the worst things “to happen to the planet since Jesus Christ.”)

Perhaps the youth of today do need to learn more about cultural history, the arts and have their “non-stop distraction” challenged.  And how does the Manifesto suggest they do this? Continue reading ‘Vivienne’s Manifesto & the Big Green Stick’

Four Ways to Work With Conflict

Disputes can have many unwanted consequences, from loss of enthusiasm to downturns in productivity and creativity. Unheeded, they can destroy relationships at a personal, business and even global level. The examples are countless. As there are many ways to treat an injury, so there are many ways to work with disputes. All have their appropriate place. Here are a few common choices:

1. Leave it alone. In many cases, this is just what is required. However, this is not always a healthy option and in some cases, things can go from bad to worse…

2. Put a band-aid on it. There are a number of simple exercises we can work with to give you simple tools to apply to conflicts as and when they arise. Based on awareness and effective communication, these can help stop slight abrasions turning nasty. A must for anyone wanting to keep on top of things in their business or home life.

3. Try a holistic health program. Simple conventional ideas are ineffective when the underlying causes are not dealt with. Sometimes it is necessary to spend more time considering the factors and influences at play in a dispute and working with them creatively in order to support a return to health. By exploring alternative ways of dealing with conflict, we can help you move on with extra bounce!

4. A blood transfusion. This has drastic and often undesireable consequences, these include: greater risks, longer recover times and loss of activity. Unfortunately, there are times when old blood has to go and something entirely new has to be brought in. We can look at ways to facilitate this process to make it work best for everyone involved.

For more, visit my website.

Empathy & the Cuban missile crisis

How do we make decisions, especially under pressure or in times of crisis?  And what on earth does emapthy have to do with it?

A look at the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, gives food for thought on the subject.  As we have seen in Vietnam and more recently in Iraq, political decision-making processes are indeed fallible and there is a case for re-asserting the value of empathy in this process.

In Lang & Blight’s (2004) book on Robert McNamara’s political life, The Fog of War, there are a number of illustrations of high pressure decision-making, from the view of critical oral history. I will look at two of the key lessons posted in the book to forward some of the ideas that are championed by peace-makers around the world:

  1. That of the necessity of empathy
  2. The inadequacy of pure rationality to problem-solve

First, I will use  Ralph White‘s definition of empathy (Blight & Lang, p28):

It means simply understanding the thoughts and feelings of others.  It is distinguished from sympathy, which is defined as feeling with others.  Empathy with opponents is therefore psychologically possible even when a conflict is so intense that sympathy is out of the question…

Great, I agree – but try telling that to someone who is embroiled in the heat of a conflict!  My experience as a mediator tells me that this is one of the main sticking points in supporting people to move forward.  In fact, mediator’s often have to empathise with their parties’ lack of ability to empathise with their opponents, sometimes to the mediator’s dismay; for it is often the lack of empathy that prevents a willingness to try a new way of working with the problem.

Yet we may have something to learn from political decision-makers who also value empathy as an essential part of crisis management.  They see it valuable not just as a way of bridge-building, but also as a form of strategy building and testing.  Robert McNamara points out the importance of empathy by contrasting the eventual success of the Cuban Missile Crisis with the protracted costs of the Vietnam war (Ibid, p27):

In the Cuban Missile Crisis, at the end, I think we put ourselves in the skin of the Soviets.  In the case of Vietnam, we didn’t know them well enough to empathize.  And there was a total misunderstanding as a result.  They believed that we had Continue reading ‘Empathy & the Cuban missile crisis’

The Art Of Facilitation

The art of facilitating groups is as much about facilitating yourself as anything else. Firstly, you are the only one who can truly facilitate yourself, and secondly, when things really get going, no one will be facilitating you – so you have to facilitate yourself.
Anyone in the role of facilitator will also be in a state of hyper-alertness and sensitivity. As a facilitator its easy to get caught up in the “field”, because you experience directly the feelings around the contentious issues within the group in a heightened way. This will be true for everyone in the group at different stages, but because facilitators are seen as the one’s responsible for holding and supporting the group, they will often sense it first. However, in order for the meeting to be productive and effective, the responsibility for the meeting ultimately needs to be shared. This is the hallmark of an effective group meeting.

Failure to Manage Change – Stages 1 & 2

There are a number of other elements that prevent people from taking postive action in the face of change or crisis.

Apart from fear of failure which alone can be a major stumbling block to action and crucially, averting threats, I have summarised the following list from Jared Diamond’s book Collapse. Bear in mind these points are looking at decisions from a civilisation perspective and whether they choose to succeed or fail. They are timely considerations.

1) Failure to Anticipate

This can happen for a number of reasons:

  • New components mixing = unknown outcome. For example, introducing new species into different environments can have unforeseen consequences. The Cane toad epidemic in Australia is one example.

  • Lack of information. Such information can vary from general – such as lack of weather reports and data, to specific – like what to do when the ocean water recedes suddenly: As in the tradgedy a number of boxing days ago – RUN! A Tsunami is on its way.


  • Using inappropriate analogies. This occurs when foreign cultural ideas and strategies are used to make sense of new environments. It may appear well and good to ban Inuit people killing whales, but when their lives literally depend on their oils this can have disastrous consequences on the community.

2) Failure to Perceive

This happens when the threat or changes are difficult or impossible to detect. Continue reading ‘Failure to Manage Change – Stages 1 & 2’

Failure to Manage Change – Stages 3 & 4

Here are the second two stages that can form stumbling blocks to action and crucially, averting threats, that I have summarised from Jared Diamond’s book Collapse.  Bear in mind these points are looking at decisions from a civilisation perspective and whether they choose to succeed or fail. They are timely considerations.

MOST IMPORTANT: Thoughts on how to overcome these failures are welcome!

3) Failure to Attempt to Solve

  • Lack of incentive. Those gaining from a threatening exploitation are often few and stand to make big gains in the process, while the majority lose out, but only a little, often imperceptibly so they are not motivated to change – unlike the few who stand to gain apparently enormous reward. Again, this is a question of scale if we are talking civilisations where the costs of exploitation are not felt until after the exploiters have made the gain and left the scene.

  • Tragedy of the Commons – “Someone else will just eat it, so why don’t I?” Again, the problem here is of motivation, what gain is there to be Continue reading ‘Failure to Manage Change – Stages 3 & 4’