Creative thinking tools – a lunchtime information session

Do you want to establish a creative practice for your team? For yourself? Increase the creativity output of your team? Improve the creative culture of your organisation?  Or simply be more creative all round?

Come to this fun and hands on information session!!

In 45 minutes you will get:
1. Some valuable tips to improve the creative output of idea generating/problem solving sessions
2. Two creative tools that will help increase the number of ideas generated (we will practice these briefly)
3. Some deliciously playful activities to stimulate your creative juices

…I will also tell you a bit more about the programs I can create to help your organisation or team increase the creativity and innovation in strategic planning sessions, idea generation sessions and general individual creativity… you’ll take lots of value back to your workplace that you can put to use straight away

WHERE: SPACECUBED – 45 St George’s Terrace, Perth, WA
WHEN: Friday 10 MAY
TIME: 12 – 12:45 PM
RSVP:  or 0406 758 062

‘Creativity is something you practise, not just a talent you are born with’

Wise words from IDEO design gurus David and Tom Kelley. In their last contribution to the Harvard Business Review (February 2013) they talk about four fears that hinder most people from accessing ‘creative confidence’.

They blame creative blocks on four core fears: the fear of the ‘messy’ unknown, the fear of being judged, the fear of taking the first step and the fear of letting go.

They liken these fears to serious phobias and point to the work of renowned psychiatrist Dr. Albert Bandura and his groundbreaking work in helping people overcome their greatest fears. Dr. Bandura increases his patient’s ability to deal with the feared object step by step, for example, take the fear of snakes.
The first step is looking at it in a two-way mirror, then looking at it through a doorway, then touching it with a big industrial glove and finally touching it bare handed. The key to over coming these fears?

Small, baby steps.

Simple, isn’t it? Well, yes, with a little bit of help.

Since 2002 I have been running creativity workshops in some form or other. In the first couple of years the workshops were inspired by Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.  I organised small groups of about 6 – 8 people for a series of workshops over 12 weeks. We came together, did some activities and tasks aimed at reconnecting with our creative power and shared and supported each other through the journey of creative recovery.
It was great fun and everyone reconnected with their creativity and completed creative projects that to that date had only been a dream.

Vanessa, who was interested in interior design and had started to delve into tiles and ceramics, followed the techniques and began by doing some mosaics, then got a job at an exclusive tile showroom, a few years later she is now running her own interior design company in Sydney.

Another lady in her late sixties, finally got around to clearing out her studio by the river and began a series of watercolours which she turned into postcards to send her friends. One man, Peter, loved to write but was so afraid that if he put pen to paper it would all be rubbish, he began a gentle writing practice that freed him up to express himself authentically and discover what he really wanted which was to begin his own consulting business in alternative medicine and martial arts.

At the time I was sincerely taken aback by the effect that the workshops were having on people… and on myself, I wrote, directed and received funding for a short play, received funding for a novel and most importantly, planted the seeds that would a few years later grow into what is now Act Out.

What I was unwittingly but effectively doing was not just cautiously guiding individuals along their journey of creative recovery but I was also letting myself take the first steps and overcome the incredible fear of the messy unknown that working for myself presented. Those small, safe and simple creativity workshops were my way of crawling before standing up; toddling before walking. I learnt one workshop at a time, a few clients at a time; learnt by gently doing what needs to be learnt to establish a new business based on creative approaches.

That was 11 years ago. Now at Act Out our creativity does not scare us!! I am still guiding people through small baby steps in the use creative approaches in all the work we do, whether we are conducting creativity workshops to generate ideas for work or recover our creative expression. Whether we are tackling wicked social problems like violence or social exclusion with communities or improving the communication between teams in organisations, all our activities, techniques and approaches are a form of creativity and play.

‘I’m going to look like a fool!’ one client said to me as we played a game to enhance his self-awareness. He was part of a groups being coached in assertive communication. Yes! That’s what I thought too when I thought about approaching clients with these ‘airy-fairy’ arts-based approaches, ‘they’re going to laugh at me and tell me to go work with kids!’. But they didn’t. They hired me, and to my delight, what we did was not only fun, it was helpful!

Now as I write this I am approaching another fear, letting go. Act Out will very soon be a social entreprise company with a board of directors and a constitution. I will no longer be the only one making decisions and that is super scary. Just like a team leader we worked with a couple of years ago at a health organisation, I have held on to my knowledge and felt safe having tight control over our activities. Well, just like that team leader stepped aside (first in a rehearsed, playful way) and stopped limiting the potential of her team to increase their effectiveness and grow, I am stepping aside (just a tad) to let Act Out grow!

What messy unknown are you scared of? What are you fearful of being judged about? What are you frightened to take your fist step in? What are you holding on to?

Remember what the creativity gurus said: small, baby steps!

For Act Out though, the toddling is over, it’s time for striding.


It has been a most successful year for ACT OUT, in brief:

  • We worked with some wonderful new clients this year including JP Kenny, The Department of Health, the WA Institute of Sport, Next Step, the Pilbarra Health Network and the HALO Leadership Development College;
  • We received federal funding from FAHCSIA and over the last 5 months we completed our second fully funded Forum Theatre project with the amazing young Aboriginal men from HALO on violence against women and its effect on children, with performances in Katanning, Northam and Narrogin as well as in the Perth metropolitan area;
  • We joined the SPACECUBED social enterprise community and now have prime office space on St George’s Terrace, in the city – YEY!!;
  • Our association with Integral Development has strengthened and with the Integral 360 Profile coaching accreditation under my belt we will be offering this (through Integral Development) as a service to clients in 2013!
  • It was a great pleasure to present at the Creative Communities Conference in Surfer’s Paradise and the Asia-Pacific Foresight Conference in Perth as well as at one of the National Speakers Association of Australia meetings earlier in the year and at the White Ribbon Day Pledge at Warnbro Community High School, promoting Act Out’s innovative and engaging approach to community and organisational development & transformation;
  • Our team this year included the wonderful James Gill, the super talented Rebecca Garlett and Michael Smith, the amazing videographer Mia Holton and the one and only anthropologist and organisational superstar Alex Wilson; on the sidelines we have had the support of web designer Gabriel Mata and Graphic Designers Tanya Kanner and Amanda Rainey – thank you all!;
  • It was also a great pleasure to work very closely with Hannah Fitzhardinge and once again with Ron Cacioppe from Integral Development – there is always so much learning when synergy occurs and I look forward to much more in 2013;
  • AND… just in case you are interested and I am thrilled about this… I have almost completed my PhD! Just a couple of months of writing to go (Act Out will be on minor duties over the next couple of months) and I look forward to sharing my research on what it takes to be a transformative social practitioner.

Thank you ALL for a great year – your support, encouragement and trust are what keeps this social enterprise growing and contributing – we look forward to continuing to assist individuals, organisations and communities in transforming difficult challenges into great opportunities.

With warmest regards and a huge bucket of gratitude,


Aesthetic – from the Greek aisthetikos which means perceptible to the senses

“The quality of results in any kind of system is a reflection of the quality of awareness that people in that system operate from…”

Otto Scharmer

In other words, the quality of the way we pay attention to what is around us determines the quality of what happens when we act. It makes so much sense, doesn’t it?

And yet over time we grow increasingly inept at using all our senses and the quality of how we perceive also suffers. Add to this extreme busyness and we are left with a tattered sensory net through which to perceive what is around us – it’s not surprising that so much escapes us. This is a particular handicap for those in leadership positions, those who are, in effect, creating and guiding change in the organisation.

Over the last five years I have been researching what it takes to be an effective leader and practitioner, and have observed through my work with organisations and communities that while there are so many qualities that are important to being a leader, there is one attribute that enables and enhances the rest.

I am talking about presence or awareness – being present enough to feel what is happening, to hear what is really being said, to see what actions really mean, to smell and taste the elephant in the room, even when that is you!

This practice requires that a different kind of perception be in place, a different kind of listening, seeing and feeling. A perception that is not simply projecting what is already known onto the situation, a listening that becomes generative and dialogic, that allows for a suspension of preconceived and existing ‘truths’ and allows, as Scharmer puts it, a connection to the emerging future, what is trying to crack through to the surface, what is blocking the blind spot.

Act Out was recently asked to run a workshop to address some significant issues that a government organisation was having with changes in the structure and the systems. We were briefed in some detail about certain employees who were ‘troublemakers’ and who may not participate because at meetings they regularly lacked interest, spent time on their phones and did not contribute.

We began the session with the range of aesthetic activities and exercises that facilitate a reconnecting with the body and therefore the senses and after some time began to explore more deeply the issues. Everyone participated fully, that is until it came to a manager who point blank refused to engage in the activity because ‘there were no issues in her team’ the issues were with the other teams.

Another manager, who I felt genuinely wanted to create a better environment at work engaged somewhat in the activity but was so fixated in her understanding that ‘the staff’ were being disrespectful, ‘the staff’ were not willing to participate, that her ability to listen, feel and see was hindered.

All the staff had opened up and were exploring, fully engaged, expressing through their bodies and their words what was going on for them, there were no difficult employees; there was no lack of participation.

It was the leaders in the space, so locked into their perception that the trouble came from the employees who were blinded to what was really going on for everyone else; they were not listening, they were not looking. They are all extremely knowledgeable about their area of work and about the systems in the organisation, they are all very experienced, and yet they were unaesthetised to the reality of how they were contributing to the issues present in the organisation.

Is this happening in your organisation? How unaesthetised are those who are leading your organisation?

In early June Act Out travelled up to Karratha, a booming mining town in the Pilbarra, to work with a group of local health workers.

THE PROBLEM WE WERE ASKED TO HELP WITH: Clients are not engaging.

The brief from the client had originally been to learn more engaging techniques for working with the community. They were experiencing difficulty engaging certain groups and they wanted to do things differently.

The group was wonderful; they took to the activities with openness and enthusiasm. What became increasingly clear as we delved deeper into their collective experiences was that the main issue was not about engaging the community.

THE MORE PRESSING PROBLEM TAT EMERGED: Service providers in Karratha are struggling with the pressure of living and working in Karratha

What is ironic in a boomtown like Karratha; a town that is significantly contributing to the increased wealth of Western Australia, is that according to the participants, most of the issues relate to shortages.

Firstly, there is a chronic shortage of staff in the community services field and a high turnover; they are working too long for too little, and across a variety of roles.

Secondly, there is a shortage of accommodation; some of the participants were themselves experiencing the pressures of restricted and overpriced housing similar to their clients – this created an added level of stress.

Thirdly, there is a shortage of opportunities to debrief. Month after month without an opportunity to debrief can

Lastly, there is shortage of cultural awareness by employers about the realities of being an Aboriginal worker. Sometimes being employed, earning money and having a vehicle at your disposal, means family and relatives are always making demands.

‘If I had an hour to save the world, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute finding solutions’   Albert Einstein

We started off thinking that the main problem was engaging the community and were going to practise engagement techniques to address that. However, after a closer examination in a fun and safe space, it became clear that there were other issues. And no matter how many engagement techniques they might learn, these issues were seriously affecting service providers and, as a result, undermining their work with communities.

‘It’s like washing your feet with your socks on!’ shouted out a young, Tibetan red-faced truck-driver from the back of the room. The other men laughed and the room was suddenly animated as the young man moved to the front and started to demonstrate for my benefit. The local outreach officer translated as we watched the cheeky driver pretending to wash his foot, tugging and making faces at his dirty, grey sock. He was referring, of course, to the discomfort of wearing a condom.

We were conducting a focus group on attitudes and behaviours around safe sex and STIs in Lhasa, Tibet. As a rapidly growing city with a high influx of temporary migrant populations in the booming western region of China, Lhasa was home to a population deemed ‘at risk’ of contracting and spreading HIV if the virus were to arrive.

Safe sex education was receiving a lot of resistance. There was a high prevalence of STIs among people of all ages, indicating that condoms were not being frequently or adequately worn. Local women often reported that men refused to wear condoms. These, in turn, were taking serious STIs back to their unwitting partners. The scene was perfect for an HIV epidemic – it was no laughing matter.

But at that moment, among this group of Tibetan men, the laughter and the actions of the young man frantically rubbing his feet, even I had to laugh and found it hard to not agree that wearing a condom was an unpleasant alternative.

Not long after I sat in my office feeling deflated and impotent; our workshops, training sessions and outreach efforts seemed to be changing very little. The interviews and focus groups we were conducting showed that the connection between actions, consequences and ability to do something differently was not being felt.

How could I get the young man to see his role in transmitting disease to his family? I thought back to the actions, the theatrics; the laughter, there was so much connection and understanding in that moment, all of us watching and feeling exactly what they young man meant. The moment was aesthetic, it was expressive and creative; its physicality and joyous emotion was key to everyone engaging in what the young man wanted to convey.

The reason I am sharing this story with you is because that was a decisive moment for me. It held within it values like engagement, self-expression, freedom, joy, inclusion, empathy, laughter & creativity. These are values that I realised at that moment needed to be present when trying to transform serious negative behaviours and issues. Not long after, I came back to Perth and founded Act Out and those are some of the values that we operate by in the behaviour change work we do with individuals, communities and organisations.

What are the values of your organisation? Does everyone know them? What are your own personal values? Are they aligned to those of your organisation?

The answer to theses questions can shed clarity on many of the issues experienced by organisations today.

Knowing our own values helps us identify people and situations that don’t support those values and people and situations that do; it helps to set goals and to differentiate your goals from those of others; knowing our values allows us to make decisions about important issues; in effect, knowing our own values lets us know who we are and what matters to us in and outside our organisation[1].

If you are not sure of your values, you could start by going to a website like or and having a look at the long list presented.

Or maybe you can think back to a time when your values became very clear to you, perhaps because they were threatened or praised. Or, like me and the laughing Tibetan with the dirty sock, you too had an understanding that came to you not from what someone said but from what they did.

If you have any stories to share about values and instances that made them very clear to you, I would love to hear from you.

[1] Evans, P & Hargreaves, D. (2010) Values-Driven Leadership, Melbourne: Tilde University Press, 18-19.

Research has consistently shown that people who are intrinsically motivated are more satisfied in their work, have greater commitment to tasks and have lower levels of absenteeism. They concentrate longer, are more adaptable, have more empathy and come up with more creative ideas.

These are qualities that organisations want in today’s climate of constant change and uncertainty. Yet it is not easy to get these in employees because many aspects of an organisation’s culture and processes get in the way. Time constraints, micromanaging, and fear of being honest can be major obstacles to a happy, productive workplace.

One effective way is to increase motivation is use activities and games derived from theatre and the arts to explore, examine and safely express what is really happening in the workplace.  A number of companies such as the Perth Airport, the Department of Child Protection and the Department of Treasury have used these theatre games and exercises to help staff experience, identify and discuss what motivates or causes dissatisfaction at work.

In one recent workshop staff enacted many moments throughout the day in which they were interrupted by managers giving them little things to do which took them away from their main task and drained their ability to put their creative energy into their high priority work.  While having lot of fun and laughter during the improvisation, they realized that these situations resulted in them being busy but were dissatisfied because they had not accomplished anything effectively.

While the culture and leadership were positive, staff felt they had no control or autonomy in the work.  Because this was shown in a playful activity and their managers were present, the managers also laughed when they saw the undermining effect that these interruptions had on the team.

There was a feeling of relief as the employees expressed their frustrations while at the same time the managers identified their role in the breakdowns. The session then rehearsed the ways section managers could give team leaders more autonomy but still be confident that the production schedule would be achieved.

These theatre based workshops and training explore the three basic needs of intrinsic motivated: self-determination; use of an individual’s skills; and the need to feel positive about what we do.

Self-determination is experienced when an individual has sufficient autonomy and support to determine for themselves how to do their job.  Employees want to use their skills and to be challenged and grow. They also need to feel they have the skills necessary to do their job well. And finally, people want to have positive feelings about their work environment and other people.

Workshops using theatre and acting skills allow people to have fun while being fully open and honest. Rather that talk about difficulties they get to see, feel and experience them in a fun and playful way.  Many profound insights are revealed during moments of people acting out situations they experience at work.  These insights and demonstrations are then used to solve problems in ways that involve people’s hearts as well as their minds.

Everyone would like to work in a workplace where they are trusted to make decisions and where they are capable, happy and valued. Once leaders realize this is also the best way to increase productivity and creativity, they will build our workplaces with a lot more laughter and play.

Written in collaboration with Ron Cacioppe – Integral Development

Here are four wonderful resources about play, engagement, creativity and arts-based approaches to problem solving:

1. From Work Place to Work Space by Pamela Meyer – create dynamic engagement in organisations by shifting the existing mindset that places play and work in opposition.

2. Thinkertoys by Michael Michalko – a comprehensive collection of creative thinking processes to activate creativity and generate ideas.

3. Creative Problem Solving for Managers – move from using the ‘tried and tested’ solutions to challenges to trying out creative possibilities by accessing the creative potential existing within your organsation.

4. Engaging Performance by Jan Cohen Cruz – a wide ranging anaysis of how performance is used to socially engage communities to problem solve and address existing issues and challenges.

Seriously Playful, Playfully Serious

“Work and play are words used for the same thing under differing conditions”

                                                                        Mark Twain

For decades we have been aware of the importance of play in the development of children; play teaches us how to share, to self-direct, to empathise; through play we learn to socialise, to explore; to use our imagination.  Increasingly, evidence is also pointing to the benefits that play has on adults especially in fostering creativity and enhancing relationships and performance in the workplace.

Most of us have grown up believing that there is a distinction between work and play. Work is serious and important and play is frivolous and childish. And yet research is pointing to play being an effective, even necessary, space from within to create and problem solve.

In their article ‘Ain’t Misbehaving, Taking Play Seriously in Organisations’, Statler, Roos and Victor explain that play has an important, even crucial role in the success of organisations; in particular those that are striving for change.

Firstly, play enhances our cognitive and emotional capacity. Processes that help us interact with our surroundings and one another are developed through play. For instance, taking in new information and assimilating it to our existing concepts, or accommodating what we already know as we learn more about particular subjects; in short, play helps us become complex adult thinkers.

Further, our capacity to imagine is developed through play. When we play dress up or play cops and robbers, we not only mimic adult behaviours that we see around us; we also imagine what it might be like to be in certain situations, what it feels like to be somebody else, from this space we develop empathy and ‘ethical judgment’. 

According to psychologist and play specialist Dr Peter Gray from Boston College, play can put the mind into a state that ‘…is uniquely suited for high-level reasoning, insightful problem solving, and all sorts of creative endeavours’

He talks about the general feeling of freedom, of feeling ‘this is exactly what I want to be doing right now’; a state that may or may not involve laughing and fun but that is always conducive to a ‘mutually voluntary’ participation; a relationship of high level of dynamic engagement and willingness between participants that are there because they want to be.

While it is mostly children that can stay in this 100% play state, even the degrees of playfulness that adults can bring to their intended work purposes can add a level of freedom that can positively affect engagement and productivity.

The ultimate freedom, as Gray points out, is being able to stop playing. And research suggests that having this level of self-direction and freedom when tackling difficult work tasks can often create a feeling of play, leading to greater focus and productivity.

‘…the relationship between work and play cannot be considered mutually exclusive, and that any coherent theory of organisational life must account both for work and play,’ state Statler et al.

“To stimulate creativity one must develop a childlike inclination to play and the childlike desire for recognition”                                                                                    Albert Einstein

When it comes to the positive effect of play on creativity IDEO’s Tim Brown is a strong advocate. He explains that from his experience there are three major ways in which play and creativity or generating ideas are linked.

First, he reminds us that children spend 50% of their play time in construction, or play building and developmentally this is a form of learning. This’ learning with our hands’ is one of the important contributions that play makes to creativity.

The second characteristic is that play is all about exploration, trying out new ideas and experimenting which includes being free to make mistakes without being concerned about being wrong.

Sir Ken Robinson, in his famous TED talk ‘Schools Kill Creativity’ tells a story about a young girl in a classroom who had not been very interested in school work but she was very engaged when they did some drawing. The teacher saw the girl’s increased interest and asked her:

‘What are you drawing?’

‘I’m drawing a picture of God,’ the little girl said.

‘Nobody knows what God looks like,’ she teacher told her.

‘They will in a minute!’ responded the child.

The young child has not concept of being wrong. Form within this kind of freedom to try anything new ideas and innovate can sprout more readily.

Thirdly, acting out different roles during play is a great spark for the imagination, it’s how children learn to empathise and learn

This has certain implications for organisations that are prioritising engendering creativity and innovation among their workers and who want to increase productivity and satisfaction.  Likewise, organisations that are managing change can make use of the usefulness of play activities in the development and adaptation of cultural identities.

At Act Out we work on the premise that a key ingredient in organisational development and successfully adapting to the volatility that organisations face lies in blurring the boundaries that have been constructed between work and play.

 ‘Building resistance to misconduct is part of core business.’

Tony Warwick,

Senior Investigator

WA Corruption & Crime Prevention Commission

29 June 2011

What happens when at work you are asked to do something which goes against your core values or ethics? What do you do or say when you are expected to go with the flow but against your own grain?

Standing up to misconduct or unethical ways of behaving at work, was the theme of a recent forum organised by the Corruption & Crime Prevention Commission in Perth. With representatives from local government, academia, and large state institutions like the Police and the Education Department, the forum explored the issue in a candid and practical way with four main points standing out:

  1. Resistance to misconduct is core business – employers need to standardise responses and set up incentives for employees to be able to express themselves
  2. Mechanisms should be build into the change management policy that allow this to be possible
  3. Leaders play a key role in aligning personal values through behaviours and reemphasising the personal at work – what really matters to employees?
  4. Preparation is key – through creating new or using existing programs that tackle this issue in a comprehensive and experiential way

This last point is of particular interest to me – the easy part is to establish policy and standardise responses but the real crunch comes when the individual is face to face with the decision – what will I do about this right now?

According to the Giving Voice to Values program coordinator at the University of Western Australia, Dr David Webb, there are certain common inhibiting arguments that prevent people from making a decision aligned with their values. These can pop up when faced with the dilemma:

  1. ‘Everyone does it’ 
  2. ‘It doesn’t hurt anyone’
  3.  ‘It’s not my responsibility’
  4. ‘I don’t want to hurt my team’.

Dr Webb describes the UWA Business School program, developed by former Harvard academic Dr Mary Gentile, as preparatory. It gives participants an opportunity to script and rehearse possible scenarios they may come up against.

As an organisational transformation consultant, I can vouch for the power of scripting and rehearsal to prepare employees to tackle challenging encounters or address difficult interactions. Changing the culture of an organisation requires new behaviours, amny of which will be unfamiliar and need rehearsing.

While a cognitive understanding is crucial when creating new behaviours, a physical and aesthetic experience is vital for a sustained and effective change to take place.

Other speakers at the seminar included Jonathan Throssell, CEO of Shire of Mundaring, who attributes the low 8% staff turnover at Mundaring to aligning personal values and the real needs of employees to the workplace.  People are not just clogs in a machine and a strong organisational culture supports people in what really matters to them. The leadership of the organisation is responsible for modelling this; for letting employees know that they are able to stand up for what they value.

Tony Flack, from the WA Police Department’s Internal Affairs Unit was stern and realistic, ‘…it’s not easy but …managing misconduct should be part of core business…not an add on,’ he said during his presentation on the Police Department’s committed drive to change the organisational culture through incentives and supporting resilience.

Equally frank was Eamon Ryan the Acting Executive Director of the Department of Education, ‘…integrity in decision making is not practised enough’. He reiterated the need for mechanisms and described the Department’s Standards and Integrity Directory created unded the new portfolio.

‘It’s about developing a culture of candour, openness and transparency….what would an organisation look like if each individual was able to give voice to their values when they needed to?’ Dr Webb asked.

How does your organisation measure? Can you voice your values?

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