Month: October 2011

Creative Emergence in DC and the Shenandoah Mountains

Shenandoah Mountains Retreat

Panel on creative leadership #cibc11 on Twitpic

This has been a fantastic week where my personal investment of time and money has led to discovery, co-creating and new relationships, as well as deepening existing friendships, many of whom had their genesis in Twitter, Facebook or Ning community discussions.

I arrived into Washington DC late Saturday 22 Oct after a cramped cold and hungry but fascinating daytime flight from Beijing across Siberia and Alaska. Oddly enough, I had not revisited DC since university days about 3 centuries ago and was thrilled to have an opportunity to visit and connect with other Amplify Festival friends too who are based here.

I was to join John Hagel, Robbie Richmond and Rita King as speakers on a panel led by Stephen Dahlberg on Creative Leadership at the Creativity in Business Conference (#cibc11) organized by the effervescent Michelle James of fame. The above image summarizes that session.

Ever on the hunt for messengers of wisdom to lure back to Australia for Amplify, I scurried from session to session to uncover as much as possible- my only regret being that 4 concurrent streams forced trade-offs and I couldn’t experience all. But, in the spirit of trusting that the wisdom of the universe will lead you to what you need, I was delighted to come away with much resonance for existing ideas, and the splendid gift of 3 brand-new Eureka moments, thanks to
– a model for the design of work for optimal performance from Carol Sanford,
– the concept of a “memory palace” to memorize large amounts of data with as shared by James Jorasch, and
– a framework called Polarity Thinking to understand duel tensions that are inherently present in most scenarios, as shared by Cliff Kayser who hosted the post-conference retreat. This took place at the intimate and spectacular Kayser Ridge- an awesome timber home sleeping 14 in the Shenandoah Mountains of West Virginia. Cliff Kayser, our host and executive coach, Polarity Thinking facilitator, Tao Master, yoga practitioner, artist and poet built this with love and his own two hands. It is a sanctuary for replenishing mind, body and spirit….and I need to add, Cliff is also an amazing cook and host. A truly beautiful human being and the embodiment of what he teaches.

More images of who joined the retreat and brief bios at and more on the Retreat here….highly recommended;

Thank you both Michelle James, aka @CreatvEmergence for organizing this wonderful gathering of minds and Cliff for your hospitality! A special thanks also to the wonderful new people I got to meet and make deep connections with; Carol Sanford, Gregg Fraley, Jack Richiutto, George Por, Bruce Waltuck at the retreat, and others at the conference and dinners.

I look forward to keeping in touch and hopefully working with many of you in future.


It takes creativity to unite 2 opposing political leaders

The nation despairs watching the locking of horns between the Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott over really important matters of national interest like how to manage the growth of carbon emissions, how to humanely and sensitively deal with the arrival of migrants without visas and refugees, how to navigate the economy at a time of unprecedented chaos in markets. 

So, when I watched this clip on a matter of the utmost national importance….

<p>Measuring Up (3min, 27secs) from Graham Cousens on Vimeo.</p>

….I was hugely relieved to see, for once, they were unanimous and united on the criticality of CREATIVITY to our future, and the importance of investing in this capability. 

How have you nurtured creativity today? Your own? Your childrens? Your colleagues? Please share just one tiny thing….

Me? I wrote someone a thank you card. It was to a temporary PA who helped out while my regular PA was on annual holidays. In the card, I mentioned a few things that I thought was very special- like the way she joined in all the creativity workshops our team organises. For me, it was just a small gesture of appreciation….but her reaction was so huge that I was totally bewildered. With tears in her eyes she came to tell me how much she loved working in my team and if we EVER needed any help, just to say the word.  It was then that I recalled how entranced she was when we were acting out stories with crumpled brown paper fashioned into hand puppets and telling stories through the voices of the inner child…and I understood. 

Making it to TED


Last week Friday, I realised a big moment in my life. It came about so swiftly and required so much effort and preparation that I didnt have much time to reflect on it in the lead-up, and when it was over…I was too depleted for days to switch my brain on again or put pen to paper.

That moment was TED. My first. Not as attendee…as SPEAKER! ( Lol…I am willing to put myself through torture again should  anyone think my future ideas worthy of another talk!)

And to be totally honest…it was not quite TED Global, it was TED X Melbourne– an independently organised event licensed by TED. It’s like the Teddie Bear version, but it’s also the edge of innovation from whence Big Bear TED draws it’s next hits, so not exactly a walk in the park! And it’s the same sort of crowd…highly intelligent, accomplished change agents, tech savvy, edge-dwelling, hyper-connected, passionate about ideas and with ambition to change the world. As audiences go, I don’t think they come any more challenging than that!

The next big hurdle was finding an “IDEA WORTH SPREADING” within the theme of the event: Innovation. Do you know how hard it is to come up with a really NEW idea? Something that is not just an echo chamber? And that you can credibly talk to?

I had my concept very early on, then had to decide how to build it by drawing on tens of millions of accumulated ideas and distilled wisdom since the days humans started fashioning tools and leaving our interpretation of the world on the walls of caves. Then…how to narrow that down! Brevity is a quality I have sought to conquer all my life. Twitter has made an enormous contribution, but I was hugely challenged in picking out what to put in and what to leave out in 18 precious minutes whilst weaving drama and story, tension and resolution, strong beginning and climactic ending, with emotional connection.

I read somewhere that a good speaker on the paid circuit, (ie one who earns a living from conference speaking and does not have another day job on top of it) would spend up to 35 hours to prepare a 1 hour talk.

I would suggest that one can trebble that time for a TED 18 minute talk- especially if it’s not something you do day in and day out. 

I had about 1 month notice of the invitation, and early on decided that it wasn’t enough time to work with slides. Having attended TED Global twice as an audience member, as well as being the curator for AMPLIFY FESTIVAL and a regular at PICNIC, PopTech, Aspen Ideas Festival and the Business Innovation Factory, I have found that slides blur in my mind after a day of talk after talk after talk….so the presentations that demanded that I listen to only the speaker were somehow retained with greater impact.

But another reason for this decision is that I am accutely aware that as a digital immigrant born in 1961, I simply haven’t mastered the mouse flick to sell my shtick effortlessly and slick. So I said: pass. More pressure therefore on ME to keep my audience enthralled- and that in the last slot on a Friday afternoon!

Most people who know me would think I am very comfortable with public speaking. I do a lot of it and I have overcome shyness…but this time, I was throwing up for two days- the last time 5 minutes before I went on the stage! Whether it was stress or if I caught the same viral enteritis that brought down my 13 year old daughter’s friend who flew to Melbourne with us, I dont know. The poor kid was so ill and feverish that I had to arrange for a chauffeured car to take her to the airport to fly back to her mum as I took off for the Melbourne Convention Centre 30 minutes before my speaking slot. All in a day’s work for a working mum!

But it’s true what the experts say: “It all comes together when you go live on stage!

When I walked onto that big round red rug and saw the clock ticking….18:00, 17:59, 17:58, 17:57..instead of the choking anxiety that debilitated me moments before, an invisible fairy godmother cloaked me in a beam of light and confidence from who knows where! In practising, I did an early version of the talk to two of my team members, and the only other practise audience I had was my daughter and her sick friend in the hotel room- the rest was me in the bathroom mirror! So I was quite taken aback when the audience actually laughed….I hadn’t anticipated that….my kids always say my jokes are “SO LAME”!

I had taken a bit of a risk with a message that was truly heartfelt, but that many of the social media and internet junkies ( of whom I am an honorary member!) could construe as being anti social media or anti-computers. And indeed, some did. But I was relieved when by and large, the feedback I had at the post TED cocktail party and ever since then in a constant stream of tweets, blogposts and LinkedIn requests, that my talk HAD provoked reflection and stimulated people to think more deeply. ( The video is not yet available, and I will insert it when it’s up, but my talk was about The Maker Instinct- the relationship of how we learn by making things in a physical sense and how using ALL our senses and intelligences, underpin our ability to create and innovate.)

My final reflection on this experience I could not include in my TED Talk….I needed the reflection time after for its message to crystallise although it did pop into my conscious mind as I was in the process…..and that is:

The “MAKING” of a speech is in itself an enormous act of personal ( and professional) innovation and courage.

It forces you to let go of fear, to find courage, to hold opposable ideas in your mind, to anticipate objections, to think with both reason and emotion, to experiment, to fail, to stand up and try again.

(The proviso is that you do it yourself…don’t outsource it! )

And THAT’s why I’d jump at another opportunity like this. Speeches are a pain…they take HOURS to prepare, can totally tank if you misread your brief, but you learn so much about how to communicate and engage others in the process.

So here’s my next big idea:

I think delivering an 18 minute speech on a big idea or value should be a mandatory hiring test for all people leaders!  

( Hint: That may be an idea worth spreading! What do you think? Shall I start working on that in case someone wants to give me another go at this? )

(On 25 Nov I received the video link to YOUTUBE- so now you can see me in my imperfect glory…and you can see I’m actually having fun!)