Finding my learning edges

I recently spent 4 days at “The art of hosting” in Karlskrona, a training program for “hosts” (what most often is called facilitators or moderators in the contexts I find myself in). The event wanted to be capacity building at many levels. A large amount of the participants had been at the training before and more than 30! Of the 120 participants were involved in organizing. Apart from that all participants were invited to participate in running some part of the program (from introducing practices or running energizers to being on the “harvesting” team).

The foundation of the hosting practice (which we got introduced to on the first day) contains 4 elements. Hosting yourself (what I would call self-leadership), Being hosted (connecting for me to “beginners mind), Hosting others (holding space), co-creation (for me this relates a lot to trust). This framework was a nice starting point for discussing our comfort zones and learning edges. For me it was clear that being hosted and co-creation are the spaces where I feel less confident. I am not always too good at “emptying the cup” and allowing myself to take the position of the student and I noticed that I rarely go into co-creation processes where I actually need to trust the other participants to do their part – most often I would work from a basis of being able to do it all myself if necessary.

Theory and Practice
The days had a mixed content of brief teachings and concrete exercises and I was generally impressed with how seamlessly the quite extensive program was run by the organizers, especially taking into consideration how many people they had to deal with in a quite confined space.

We got introduced to a theoretical framework dealing with levels of project complexity (“cynevin”), moving towards emergent futures and the “breath pattern” of design processes. What inspired me the most from these “lectures” was a point about remembering to honor the old system as the new is emerging and that there are important roles to be found on the “yin” side of innovation processes doing such things as supporting the new from a position in the current system, helping the old system to die gracefully and recycling (“composting”) the valuable elements of the old. This is something that I could see myself forgetting in my rush to challenge and change the status quo.

A large part of the training consisted of introductions to practices that I have used before in different organizations such as “world café”, “appreciative inquiry”, “circle practice”, “theory U” and “open space technology”. The whole thing was sprinkled with energizers and small exercises and a general strong focus on “harvesting”; collecting and sorting the outcomes of the exercises.

While both the lecturing and the workshops was generally of a high quality I felt a bit out of place during the first days. Although I found snippets of inspiraton in the lectures and enjoyed the conversations I had with other participants during the exercises I didn’t really feel impacted by the training and the whole event felt a bit impersonal and distanced for me.

The inspiration
I was touched by four different events – all during the second half of the training.

Collaborative story harvesting
On the evening of the second day we had a session of “collaborative story harvesting” which brought more authenticity into the space through the very personal stories of some of the participants. I ended up listening to a very powerful American women telling a story of how she had moved through life by “listening to the world” (my words) and allowing herself to be in the unknown, something I found very inspiring. Generally I also felt inspired to use personal storytelling more when hosting events as I find that we rarely give space to listen to the stories of each other in the communities I am in.

Graphic Recording
On the third day I participated in a “graphic recording” workshop dealing with how you can use drawing techniques to present and/or “harvest” the results of meetings. Drawing has been one of my core fears since I stopped sometime in grade school and I have never felt able to take it up again – the threshold always felt to high.

However, through 45 minutes of practical introduction on easy ways to create good-looking results while the participants (including me) tried it out on a big piece of paper on the table I found myself feeling much more comfortable and very intrigued about starting to use graphic recording in my work. It will take some practice, but now I feel like I have somewhere to start from.

Spaces between dreams and realities
Later that day I hosted an open space session on “how to facilitate spaces between dreams and realities” and had a very giving conversation with the 5-6 people who participated. For me it was very nice to experience the interest in this line of thought, which feels very core to me these days. We talked about three overlapping ways that space could be facilitated.
– An element of learning to dream. Dreaming is not necessarily easy and that it takes practice to imagine that life can be otherwise, when you are in the middle of it.
– An element of regaining ownership over ones own story. Many people feel trapped by their circumstances and it is important to create space for empowerment, where we can learn to see that we are actually the masters of our own lives – even though it is scary to recognize.
– An element of community support. Creating spaces for talking about how scary/nice/weird/frustrating it is to do something out of the ordinary.

Design for wiser action
Just before the seminar started I got a call informing me that my work to find a physical space for the burner community in Denmark had finally born fruit. We have been allowed to move into “the smallest castle in Copenhagen” and use that as a headquarter for burner activities in the city.

The main activity on the last day of the art of hosting seminar was “design for wiser action”, where participants could get help from other participants to design specific meetings and I asked for help on how to create the best possible meeting for starting up the burner HQ.

The process was divided into three phases. First 45 minutes of co-development with a group of interested people. Then a new group would look at the meeting without me participating (I would sit with my back turned after a brief presentation) and continue the work. And last the original group and I finished the design.

This format was really nice for creating a very concrete meeting format fast, but especially for clarifying the aims and goals with the meeting. The most important outcome for me was that I got a lot more clarity on my own involvement in the project. Where I had seen myself mostly as a facilitator for the dreams of others, I understood through the process how this project is very much my own dream and the importance of owning that in the future process of creating the space.

After leaving the event I have reflected a lot on the experience and while I still feel like the event somehow wasn’t “for me” I have also learned something central about myself. I have realized that I have a tendency to participate mainly in stuff I feel safe in and feel confident about only to (often) be disappointed that I am not learning anything new. It is easier for me to hold a skeptical distance to that which I already know, than to open myself for something unknown.

I also have a tendency to hold myself at a distance by not immersing or investing myself. There are some vulnerable spaces around bringing my own skills and competences in play in settings, where I expect to learn from others – even though I have worked with hosting meetings and events for the last 20 years I didn’t really bring myself into play during the seminar.

The trivial yet core conclusions are that there is much more to learn for me when I:
– Enter into unknown (and maybe uncomfortable) space, rather than participating in things I already have a level of expertise in.
– Bring my dreams and aspirations into play and invest myself in the learning process.