Below is flier for up coming workshop – it will be great fun and you will take lots of useful, immediately applicable tools with you!!

In my work with organisations it is often my goal to facilitate right brain thinking – I want clients to access kinaesthetic and emotional intelligences, their use of metaphor, improvisation and story-telling; in effect we work towards gaining access to creativity and imagination to compliment left-brain thinking and generate holistic and engaging problem solving.

Generally, the obstacle to creative problem solving is that we are conditioned to rely heavily on our left brain functions and lose our agility in imaginative, creative thinking as we get stuck in ordered, reasonable and logical thinking.

However, as was recently brought up at the Family Pathways Network Conference on Mental Health and the Family Law System, being stuck in right brain emotionally reactive thinking can be equally unproductive.

Megan Hunter, an expert in conflict resolution from the Arizona-based Conflict Resolution Institute in the US, highlighted that often there is a pattern in the behaviours of people who are repeatedly involved in conflict through the courts. She referred to High Conflict Personalities – characters that tend to take up a disproportionately higher ratio of time and attention from service providers. You probably know exactly who this refers to but Ms Hunter and Dr George Lipton from the University of Western Australia both outlined a few characteristics.


They may or may not fall under the label of some of the more common personality disorders such as narcissistic, histrionic, antisocial or borderline personality disorder, but they display similar fear-based behaviours as well as a lack of self awareness and lack of flexible adaptation.

These characters have no idea why they are the way they are. They don’t actually realise that they are being unreasonable and contributing to their own problem, or that they affect other people – they lack self awareness.


In addition, their thinking is inflexible and rigid, prone to extremes; it’s all or nothing, black or white. They jump to conclusions and everything is an attack on them, they project their emotions and fears onto others. They may see you as the best one moment and quickly devalue you the next. There are several reasons for this behaviour, but most interestingly for us is what is going on in their brains.


The corpus callosum – a bundle of nerves that acts as a bridge between the right and the left brain – is apparently smaller and thinner in the brains of high conflict personalities.

This means that they struggle to move from one way of thinking to another; they effectively remain in a right brain, fast, defensive thinking pattern where they distort and exaggerate situations.

As professionals, we have been trained to respond to problems by attempting to give feedback and elicit a logical and reasonable way of seeing. ‘This will not work with this type of personality,’ said Ms Hunter.

‘They cannot access their logical left brain thinking, they cannot process information back and forth cross the corpus callosum to formulate logical and reasonable thoughts.’

What is more, the amygdala, a small mass of tissue inside the brain that is triggered when we go into a crisis situation, can remain constantly turned on in these individuals further hindering their ability for logical and analytical thought processes.

There is also proof, added Ms Hunter, that the mirror neurons, cells that are understood to influence how we learn empathy by mirroring, are also deficient in high conflict personality individuals. They did not learn empathy when it was being modelled to them as children.

This all leads to a need for ways to communicate with high conflict personalities that give us access to the right brain and allow them to cross over into the left brain.


High conflict personalities respond well to E.A.R. statements – statements, suggests Ms Hunter, which let them know that you Empathise, that they have your Attention and that you Respect their efforts. This does not mean that you agree, but that you are listening to them.

‘When they are really unmanageable ask them to make a list,’ laughingly suggests Ms Hunter, who reminds us that these personalities need a lot of structure and making a list can be a quick way to get them into ordered, structured thinking.

Because they are not easily able to reason, to listen to logic, or to assimilate any feedback or insights that you may have for them, they need a different approach. An approach that somehow enables them to access their own problem solving skills so they can stop blaming you and get insights into their emotions and eventually their problems.

Engaging easily angered, emotional clients, dealing with a lot of problems, has been one of my areas of expertise, especially with my work with perpetrators of violence at Act Out (

While listening to Ms Hunter and Dr Lipton, I thought about the many activities and techniques that I employ in my work that connect people directly to their right brain.

At the same time, the divergent or listing techniques in creative problem solving take people in and out of free and structured thinking.

I started to see another reason why the aesthetic and right brain activities were so successful, and how they may be used to work in the opposite direction. Instead of enabling people to move from predominantly left brain to right brain thinking, the techniques could be used to facilitate movement across in the opposite direction, towards reason, logic and the structure necessary to analyse and receive insight into difficult situations.

Alberto Perez, affectionately known as Beto, was a popular aerobics instructor in Colombia, who rocked up to his busy class one day only to find that he had forgotten his music. Thinking on the spot he went to his car and retrieved the sexy Latin music he had in his CD player and adapted the routines to the hot Salsa, Cumbia and Merenge rhythms.

The result: ZUMBA – a multi-million dollar enterprise that over the last ten years has spread across all continents and has revitalised the fitness class industry.

Innovators are not always the white-coated, single-minded scientists supported by funding bodies to create breakthroughs in their various fields.

Sometimes innovation happens through a totally unplanned, unforeseen and ‘in-the-moment’ connection of a product or idea that is waiting to manifest and a mind that is open and receptive.

Sometimes, the innovation is not even related to the field the innovator is active in and it is fuelled by dissatisfaction and accident.

Take Chester Carlson. Who gave us the Xerox machine. From a young age he was fascinated by all things printed; however he studied physics and later patent law. During his legal studies he grew impatient with hand copying the documents he needed so he turned to his earlier passion and after many experiments and trials he invented the photocopier.

Likewise, sculptor Ladislao Biro is less remembered for his sculptures than for the creation of the ball point pen; J.B. Dunlop the creator of the pneumatic tyre was a vet.

However, while there will always be the Edisons and the Zuckerbergs, innovation is largely a focused, encouraged and nurtured effort within or without an organisation.

Our inspiring friends at New & Improved, a leading innovation consultancy company in the US, write a regular newsletter on innovation.

According to them there are 10 main drivers of innovation in an organisation – I have summarised them here:

  1. Individual – they are the basic building block of innovation;
  2. Team – individuals do not usually have the range of skills needed to make innovation happen;
  3. The enterprise – to keep innovation teams from getting stuck in ‘this is the way we’ve always done it’ thinking;
  4. Processes – always aim to improve these at all levels: individual, team and enterprise;
  5. Offering – to view innovation as more than ‘product’. Equally important are innovative business models, alliances, processes;
  6. Psychological climate – what’s going on in the mind of the individual?
  7. Physical environment – everyone has different needs around this, and it has a huge impact on innovation;
  8. Organisational culture – what does the leadership of the organisation uphold as success? This matters;
  9. Economic climate – not too much fear and not too much confidence – this is the ideal balance for thriving innovation;
  10. Geopolitical culture – what cultural strengths can I leverage and which cultural weaknesses do I need to overcome?

For the full article and many more GREAT tips go to

According to Otto Scharmer the essence of leadership today is the ability to facilitate a shift from the current model of operating from past experience to operating from ‘a future space of possibility’. His social technology for leadership, Theory U, premises that in order for there to be transformation we need to access, understand and be comfortable with the quality of leadership that is unseen.

In other words, not the processes or the actions but their origin; the inner place from where these originate. This is precisely the aim of the creative techniques employed at Act Out to work with groups. They aim at stirring up what is underneath the actions – what inspires them; what are the fears and the desires that drive all our actions; or prevent desired actions?

Scharmer invites participants of his workshops to enter into a dialogue with each other about the issues they want to tackle. But to go beyond the usual polite, disconnected or inauthentic listening; past the tough-talking, debating, competitive, divisive listening; even past the more empathic inquiring listening to a generative listening. This is a listening that enables individuals to ‘operate from the highest future possibility that is emerging’. It is not an easy proposition.

Looking at our inner motivations is hard enough, but to do this collectively is even tougher. His Theory U delineates seven leadership competencies essential for transformative leadership:

1. Holding the Space: A leader invites others into a space the she or he holds and the key to ‘holding’ is listening; a deep, attentive listening. ‘Listening to what life calls you to do’, not only listening to oneself and to others, but also to what becomes apparent through listening to the collective.

2. Observing: This requires ignoring the voice of judgment which blocks access to our minds and therefore our creativity.

3. Sensing: This requires leaders to connect with the heart often by ignoring the voice of cynicism. This voice prevents us from being present to our vulnerability and authenticity and from acting from an innate knowledge rather than a cognitive knowledge.

4. Presencing: this is a capacity to connect to our deepest source or will and not listening to the voice of fear which blocks our access to being willing to step into the unknown and let go of the past ways of acting.

5. Crystallizing: This is when a leader accesses the power of intention of a small group of committed key people. This group, through its intention and actions creates an energy field that attracts the necessary elements for the project to take place. This creates momentum until it is past the tipping point.

6. Prototyping: This is leadership capacity which calls for integration of the head, heart and body; calls for action. It is a difficult step during which leaders will become accosted by the usual ways of being: reactivity, endless analysis and what he technically refers to as ‘blah blah blah’.

7. Performing: This is the last step in the layers and it involves acting and listening constantly from a space that moves in and out of the self; it is through you that the action happens but its origin is beyond the self.

This may all sound like it’s easier said than done – it is! Much easier; but in his inspiring book, Scharmer and his colleagues, describe moments that have transcended great obstacles.

From the transformation of Oxfam GB’s African HIV/AIDS program, to huge systemic changes in doctor-patient relationships by the German Health Care Ministry to the extraordinary work done by the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This is the kind of leadership transformation we aim to create at Act Out.

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

Albert Einstein

In her fabulous book, From Workspace to Playspace, Pamela Meyer, extols the benefits of developing a play culture within an organisation. As a facilitator and consultant using applied theatre techniques, games and activities to help organisations innovate and transform, I read her book joyfully! I am often asked, how will playing help this organisation? How can it help create better leaders? And my answer is that it is not just playing as in setting up a ping pong table for use during breaks, or a few balls of colourful play dough during meetings – although these can be great fun! It’s about the mindset. A mindset that welcomes experimentation, new possibilities, spontaneity, safety to express ideas, plenty of room for failure and adaptation, humour, all part of an indispensable skill: improvisation. Improvisation is ‘…the ability to react honestly, in the moment, at the top of your intelligence,’ says Bob Kulhan, CEO of Business Improvisation (, a US company that specialises in corporate improvisation programs. Kulhan, an adjunct professor at the Fuqua Business School at Duke University makes clear connections between improvisation and the skills needed by leaders and change agents in organisations. With many organisations struggling to adapt to the relentlessly shifting economic environment and accommodate the increasing expectations for personal fulfilment of employees, improvisation is an important skill. The ability to be ‘nimble, flexible, adaptive…to tweak focus…get the best out of people in mid-stride,’ says Kulhan, is unquestionably valuable. Meyer agrees. Referring to her research she writes that executives and managers reported being called to improvise as much as 2/3 of the time. As she rightly points out, this is an enormous amount of time on a task for which most people are inadequately trained. Playspace, or what can also be called the aesthetic space in theatre speak, offers the opportunity to develop the leadership skills offered through improvisation.

First, to improvise it is necessary to be able to listen and to be flexible; to be present and to recognise what is in the space and allow it to emerge.

Otto Scharmer, from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is an award-winning designer of leadership programs. He calls this kind of awareness ‘presencing’. A ‘letting go and letting come turning point’ in which there is a consciousness of the real obstacles and awareness of the willingness to work together and co-create a desired future.

A mindset welcoming of play offers the safety necessary for this to occur. This is a space where it is safe to take risks, step into unknown areas and experiment.

In improvisational theatre there are certain principles adhered to in performances, one of these is that ‘mistakes are invitations’. In other words, there are no mistakes, only opportunities for players to be more creative and break patterns. Similarly, in a culture that nurtures a mindset of play, looking beyond existing patterns and embracing challenges, are approaches that will lead to innovation and transformation at all levels of the organisation.

In terms of leadership this may mean giving up the power, control and status that comes with an assigned role, and allowing the ‘true force’ of transformation emerge.

Second, the more chance to improvise the more confidence arises in individuals to deal with the unexpected. Conversely, the more confident a person feels, through practice, the more willing to improvise and explore ‘alternate possibilities’. It is a win-win scenario that reinforces itself with time.

The fact is that in spite of a dominant belief that all has been analysed, planned and is ‘under control’, improvisation is an integral part of strong leadership and successful organisational development.

“Uncertainty will always be part of the taking charge process”

Harold S. Geneen

I was surprised to read in the Weekend Australian (29/30 Jan), that according to an Australian Institute of Management (AIM) survey, 33 % of employees are looking for a way out of their jobs, 40% feel unappreciated and 34% report they could be doing better at their current jobs.

That’s an awful lot of unhappy people in the workforce!

I was not surprised to read; however, that the cause of such discontent is generally not about salaries, ‘… it’s non-salary tools that companies can and should be using to attract and retain people,’ said Susan Heron, chief executive at AIM. Equally unsurprising was reading that feeling valued and having a work-life balance are important to employees; as they are important to everyone!

Organisational success is 100% tied in to its people; having a third of your people currently looking for ways out is directly affecting your bottom line, whether they leave or stay.

How does an organisation transform from an environment where workers feel ‘demotivated, bored, sad, angry, apathetic’ to one in which they feel dynamically engaged, appreciated, happy and creative?

One way to start, and this may sound simplistic and naive, is to make them smile! Or even better, make them laugh! We all know that serotonin is the happy chemical in our brain, what we don’t all know is that a simple smile (even a fake smile!) can trigger a squirt fest of happy juice right through the brain. This can be done by having sessions where employees are encouraged to make play part of their day.

Establish opportunities for employees to use their creativity and contribute to the innovation and wellbeing of your organisation. Shift your culture to one that embraces fun and play while remaining purposeful and focused; a culture where everyone is encouraged to engage all their intelligences and work with their WHOLE brain, not only the logical, analytical and efficient left side, but the emotional, imaginative and playful right side too.

Another important shift, is to create a culture where  individuals, regardless of their position, can express their leadership qualities and feel acknowledged for making a difference. According to Heron, this leadership equity is ‘fundamental to innovation and innovation is critical to long term success for Australia as a country’.

If there is nobody in your organisation that can get this started get experts in and let us help you get started. You won’t need to keep us for long, there may be some resistance to shifting the culture at first, but once it is experienced and embraced, it will sustain itself and your whole organisation will benefit!!

C’mon Australian employers, you can do better!

Every so often the practice of brainstorming in groups receives criticism for being ineffective and hindering the idea generation process.

Case in point is the July 2010 Newsweek article Forget Brainstorming:  which generated much discussion and rebuttal among those working in the field of creativity and innovation. The article based its critique on a Yale study conducted in 1958.

Jonathan Vehar, the co-founder of New and Improved, a US firm working for over 20 years to improve team creativity, refutes the Newsweek article. He points out that what many refer to as brainstorming is ‘a bunch of people sitting around firing off and shooting down ideas.’

He points to studies at the International Centre for Studies in Creativity at SUNY in Buffalo, which showed that those trained in divergent thinking could generate twice as many ideas as those who were not.

Which helps to adhere to the first rule of brainstorming as developed by Alex Osborn in the 1950s:


The biggest blunder, it seems, is to have an untrained facilitator.

Use a skilled facilitator, says Linda Naiman, from Creativity at Work. Use someone who is trained and will commence the session by getting the group to define the problems well; drawing up a clear problem/opportunity statement.

She may even get individuals to start thinking about these before the group session, allowing them some time to sit with the issue. As Vehar reminds us, brainstorming was developed as a ‘supplement’ to individual idea generation.

This is echoed by Dr Amantha Imber, founder of the successful, Melbourne based company, Inventium. While she has been a strong detractor of group brainstorming, she agrees that generating ideas alone is very helpful. She also uses a technique called shifting.  

This simply has participants generating ideas individually for five minutes and then bringing their ideas to the group, generating more and then returning to thinking on their own.

A skilled facilitator will also be able to direct participants to play off each others’ ideas using techniques and processes that encourage the generation of ideas; techniques that activate right brain thinking like SCAMPER, brainwriting or physical/sensory theatre activities and games.

This would help to promote the second and third rules of brainstorming:



Other pitfalls to brainstorming that would be avoided by practised facilitator include Groupthink, domination by the more extroverted, preventing ‘slackers’ from riding on others’ ideas and contributing nothing, and those who don’t contribute from fear of having their ideas judged. Which takes us to the fourth rule of successful brainstorming:


For a great website with lots of up to date discussion on creativity and innovation go to:

Today’s organisations, institutions and businesses face the ongoing challenge of rapidly changing social and market forces. Similarly, communities throughout, are threatened by increasing exclusion, inequality and violence, in spite of escalated efforts to change this. Transforming existing situations, whether in communities, organisations, institutions or businesses, often encounter resistance and fail. Why? What are necessary components of successful transformation? Here are three great thinkers and practitioners of transformative practices that influence our work at Act Out. Augusto Boal was a theatre practitioner, who developed theatre techniques that increase sensory awareness, shift habitual ways of moving and perceiving, energise the body and bring people together. His reconceptualising of the role of the spectator in issue based performance has invited non-actors across the world to step onto the stage and contribute to possible solutions of relevant social problems. For Boal, transformation was possible primarily through moving the spectator of a play/skit/workshop from playing a passive role into an active one. In that active role the participant can deconstruct and examine the nature behind certain unwanted behaviours and actions. They can offer and rehearse alternative possibilities to transform their own existing challenges. Warren Ziegler was referred to as an ‘enspiritor’ and an ‘envisioner’. He worked towards enabling the individuals to fulfil their human potential, whether they were in the corporate world, government agencies or in non-for-profits. For him transformation happens through deep listening, questioning, learning, imaging and intentioning – all skills he taught and employed. Their aim was to allow individuals to step away from their social biography as well as their knowledge, beliefs, values, attitudes and faith to be present to receive inner guidance NOW.

For him transformation was ‘a new self-understanding, a fresh sense of who you are and what you are up to’.

Otto Scharmer is a consultant and senior lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has conducted extensive work with worldwide organisations around leadership and transformation.

He invites participants of his workshops to enter into a dialogue with each other about the issues they want to tackle. But to go beyond the usual polite, disconnected or inauthentic listening; past the tough-talking, debating, competitive, divisive listening; even past the more empathic inquiring listening to a generative listening. This is a listening that enables individuals to ‘operate from the highest future possibility that is emerging’. His work with leading organisational development giant, Peter Senge, centres on assisting leaders in accessing an ‘inner place’ that allows them to recognise the ‘structural habits of attention’ present in their organisation.

Some emerging common principles in transformation:

  1. The raising of awareness at an individual level that allows awareness at a collective level – awareness about what really is going on
  2. An inability to accept that things remain as they are
  3. Practices/processes that involve connecting with the physical, emotional, creative and spiritual aspect of the human being
  4. Taking ownership in ideating on the possibilities for change
  5. An understanding that the inner and outer experiences in the world reflect the same condition
  6. Thinking changes form, perception of others changes form, attitudes change form
  7. Open leadership and skilled facilitation

Perhaps change can happen when these are missing, but for transformation to happen and be sustained, these are some of the most common elements present in the transformative work of Boal, Ziegler, Scharmer and Senge.

Would you ever send out half a football team or half a baseball team in a competition? Would you ever choose to play a game of chess using only the knights and the pawns? Would you ever dream of sending out a resume with only half your experience and qualifications?

Of course not!!

And yet most of us are quite happy to rely mainly on our cognitive intelligence and leave our emotional, intuitive and kinaesthetic intelligences on the sidelines when we manoeuvre through our days, facing challenges and solving problems. Why is that?

We are then disappointed when we are trying to change certain behaviours or be more creative and we fail again and again.

Likewise, organisations trying to implement change fail again and again. At present even the most unlikely of organisations are investing heavily on ways to generate more creativity and innovation from their employees. Some are having great success; however many have great starts but cannot sustain the momentum.

Why not?

As Peter Senge explains in Dance of Change, ‘…it is not enough to change strategies, structures and systems, unless the thinking that produced those strategies, structures and systems also changes.’

So how do we change the thinking?

INVOLVE ALL THE PEOPLE                                 

‘The fantasy that somehow organisations can change without personal change, and especially without change on the part of the people in leadership, underlies many change efforts from the start…’ says Pamela Meyer, author of From Workspace to Playspace.

Everyone must have stakes in the changes wanted – feel accountable and engaged.

INVOLVE THE WHOLE PERSON                                     

 This means, for starters, the whole brain. We know that creativity requires engaging both the left AND right sides of the brain. A great metaphor was used in the Newsweek article below when it described creativity requiring ‘…blender pulses of both divergent and convergent thinking…’ Left brain AND right brain.

Most of us are quite practised at convergent thinking – analysing, sequencing, gauging, categorising, generating criteria, selecting the logical solution. It’s what our education prepares us to do.

However, when it comes to divergent thinking – imaginative, associative, metaphoric, out-of-the-box, original, outrageous and unhindered by judgment – most adults need help. Children don’t, we do.

That’s one area where play comes in.


The importance of play in giving people access to deeper, innate knowledge and creativity cannot be stressed enough.

Activities that allow people to take on different roles; to imagine, improvise in unusual situations, use their whole bodies and step out of comfort zones, have a lasting, transformative impact.

Not only on the individual, but on the way they relate to their families, their jobs, their colleagues; to the meaning they give their lives, therefore the meaning they give their work.

If the whole of the person is not involved then, as Meyer points out, ‘knowledge is reduced to data and people are reduced to data processors.’

And we know data processors are not what we need in organisations to make them more dynamic and creative!!

Once a week I make tabouleh. One week, some years ago, I had all my ingredients except the burghul wheat. On a whim, instead of going out to buy some, I boiled some quinoa and added that instead. Once I had broken with the conventional recipe, it felt fine to continue by adding some currants and some roasted pumpkin seeds. Wow! It was delicious. Now every time I make it at least one person asks me for the recipe.

In her book The Firefly Effect, Kimberley Douglas tries to debunk three prevalent myths about creativity. First, it is something you have or don’t have. Second, it is something you do rather than something you are. Lastly, creativity is something that only rare geniuses possess, people like Di Vinci or Shakespeare. Douglas suggests that we look at creativity as a continuum. At one end there would be those whose creativity has deemed them worthy of exhibiting at the Louvre or of winning a Booker Prize, at the other end there are those who whip up spectacular meals out of measly leftovers or put together stylish outfits from second hand clothing.

Very few of us would consider ourselves at the Di Vinci end of the spectrum, but can’t you recall a time when you did something simple but creative? Maybe it was when you thought you would need to make two trips to the tip but you packed the trailer so creatively that you fitted it all in and more!

Or a time when you looked desperately for wrapping paper and innovated with newspaper or a tea towel to create a gift wrap that your friends still talk about today?!

We are ALL creative! (Am I starting to sound like a broken record?!) Every single person in your organisation: the account executives and the accountants, the receptionists and the managers, the designers, architects and engineers and the policy makers…. AND yes, you!!

What happens is that we all forget, we get caught up in rationality and efficiency; in getting things right.

Take 10 minutes to explore your past for your tabouleh moments. When you were little, what were some things you loved doing or that you were good at? What is it that you love to do when you are not at work? Really love? Let that guide you, give you clues.

The only obstacles to getting creativity sparked up again are our beliefs – can you acknowledge and hold the thought in your mind that you are creative? Say it out loud right now: I AM CREATIVE! Go on!

See it to believe it? How about as Wayne Dyer so cleverly coined: believe it so you can see it?

If everyone on your team is moved towards this acknowledgement; this recognition of a rightful place on a creative spectrum, then your team is ready for some serious (and not so serious) team creativity and innovation. 

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