Ah . . . the (New Year’s) space!

One of the things I love about the start of the new year is that it seems to open up so many possibilities for new beginnings. In the last few days I have had several conversations with friends and colleagues about what they are looking forward to in this shiny new decade, and what changes they are making. It doesn’t matter if the changes are health and fitness-related, family, personal development, or professional—they all seem possible with this new expanse of space.

For me, much of my optimism about the new year and the positive changes ahead is grounded in some of the best experiences of the past year. I have seen heightened engagement and innovation in my clients, huge strides made by my adult students, and exciting new frontiers in my own personal and professional life. All of these fuel my sense of what is possible in the new year, and are guiding me.

When I see people working at their best, it is with a sense of purpose as they are engaged in something they care about and that they know is making a difference. They are also doing so, in authentic communities where they feel support and encouragement and are also stretched and challenged. These themes are guiding me as I think about what I want to create in the new year and what conditions I need to create to ensure my success.

There also seems to be something to transparency and accountability. If you think so, too, you might want to check out this cool new web site, that helps you be accountable to yourself for the changes you want to make by putting cash on the line to keep you on track: http://www.stickk.com.

Imaginative Variations: Transforming Fear into Playspace

This past fall (2009) DePaul’s Center to Advance Education for Adults invited Margaret Wheatley to give the opening keynote and lead an afternoon workshop at a conference we titled “Thriving in Transition.” I hadn’t realized the experience would include a chance to co-create a transformative playspace.

Map of Margaret Wheatley’s Thriving in Transition Keynote, by Brandy Agerbeck

During the afternoon workshop we were invited to form small groups where we first told one version of our story, and then (after reconvening with new people) told a completely different version of our story. My favorite story was when, in response to the question “how do you respond to aggression?,” a very conservative-looking woman from the Chicago Archdiocese explained that she immediately began rapping when faced with aggression. In great detail she told us how she defused even the most violent aggressors by incorporating their criticisms and threats into her rap songs, and even occasionally broke into the latest street dance moves.

We delighted ourselves and each other with this lived experience of telling playful imaginative variations of our stories. Tales of fear and insecurity transformed into courageous acts; experiences of anger and frustration became filled with compassion and hope; and stories of victimization became doorways to empowered new beginnings.

Ever since that experience and the energy created in it, I have slowed down a bit and—if not in the actual moment of my story-telling, soon after—imagined other versions of the story. Perhaps the person cutting me off in traffic was not consumed in their own self-centeredness, but rushing to the aid of a sick child; perhaps the angry outburst at the board meeting was not an attack, as much as an expression of fear of the uncertain future. Each imaginative variation of the story gives us the power to reposition ourselves, make different choices and have different responses.

This practice seems particularly resonant with playspace which invites us to play new roles and create more play in the system.

The Tryanny of the Task

The other day at the start of a meeting with my colleagues I noticed an interesting impulse. I knew we had a lot on the agenda and a relatively short time to move through it all. I had the impulse to abandon our few minute ritual of taking some Be. Here. Now. Time to get into our bodies, release distractions and become present to ourselves and the collaboration at hand. In my anxiousness to get to the task, I also considered dispensing with a brief creative warm-up, another ritual we have adopted to bring playspace to life in our collaborations.

Gratefully, when I gingerly proposed “diving in”, Brandy and Christian spoke up and brought me back to our shared commitment. It was humbling to see how I, facilitator and champion of all things playspace and creative collaboration, can also fall prey to the tyranny of the task. The draw to get on with business can so easily eclipse the very presence and life energy that allows us to show up to that business with our whole person, and in the spirit of collaboration and discovery.

One of the many delightful paradoxes and creative tensions in playspace is that when we embrace the process, the product is oh so much richer and our level of engagement and access to creativity so much deeper—as it was in our meeting the other day. We didn’t just check off our agenda items, but had new insights and ideas at each turn AND we did so within our agreed-upon time frame!

The good news is that when we have embedded and reinforced the values of playspace in the organization, even when we momentarily succumb to the siren song of the task, we will have colleagues