When a team is looking at the future of a society or the future of a business or organisation, they are engaged in a shared and complex task. Often the complexity of the issues defeats a strictly rational approach. At such times, techniques from theatre, poetry and art can be extremely useful.
Language is particularly important. Many strategic discussions are held in a fog of inexact phrases, jargon and conventional clichés. A poet, however, is extremely careful in his or her use of words. People who think clearly about the future also need to search for the most expressive phrase, the exact word and clearest definition of what is being described. Clear and original language not only avoids misunderstandings, it helps to put hard issues in a new light. Language especially matters when working with mixed cultures, as some ideas may only surface when people can use their mother tongues.
Much can also be learned from theatre where people will use improvisation exercises to explore difficult themes. Improvisation exercises can also be used with groups thinking about the long term future. Ice-breaking exercises
which move people around an imaginary map or which use sound or rhythm to loosen their stiff limbs, can make it easier to work together. Transitional objects
that people bring with them – or collect during a walk-about – can be assembled silently into an implicit and revealing narrative. Barbara Heinzen was introduced to many of the improvisation exercises through LIFT
, the London International Festival of Theatre, and Project Phakama
is another important skill. In one exercise, each person reports something inexplicable he or she had noticed. Small groups are then formed and each group has to combine its members’ observations into a single shared story. Role-playing
can also generate very rapid learning in a group. When the Dutch government used scenarios to prepare several departments for a crisis, they wrote a story and asked people from each department to act out his or her department’s response. As people responded, the facilitators introduced new events, forcing people to reconsider their decisions.
Whether one is using rational research or arts facilitation, focusing on one’s “felt sense”
of the situation is an important ability. This term comes from Eugene Gendlin
who argues that the full intricacy of a complex situation is first perceived as a physical sensation. By using focusing methods and ideas, Barbara Heinzen has helped groups name and clarify difficult issues.