Parenting teenagers (also applies to managing staff, BTW)

“… why [do] adolescents take risks, seek novelty, and bond so passionately with their peers[?] It’s all adaptive behavior even if we sometimes view it as quite the opposite. I walked away with a renewed admiration for the teenaged brain…”

Teacher Tom: In The Bushes

Don’t forget to also read his link to this clear and readable science piece on the brains of teenagers:

It’s all adaptive behaviour….


If all the behaviour of your staff is adaptive, what might that tell you?

Stroke that chin, dear reader…

The best starting point for playworkers and anyone else who wants to understand this oddly-named thing

I can’t improve on this as a starting point for playworkers.

(Cut it out and keep it, as they used to say in the days of print.)

If you ever need to introduce people to playwork, in a way that is clear and simple and warm and real, this is where you start:

Penny said, in answer to a request for help:

“The quickest way to understand it is The Playwork  Primer. This was a booklet to introduce Playwork to american audiences.

“The Good Enough Playworker is a theory document for Playworkers.

“The String of Beads is a collection of play memories which help us understand the play process.

“Other far more intelligent* folks have written huge amounts about play. Bob Hughes (Evolutionary Playwork and Reflective Analytic Practice, a real stonking ground breaker of a book, known affectionately as EPRAP.)”

She then goes on to mention various other sources. I’m not going to mention them, because I’m prejudiced against anything academic in origin. Plenty of time in the future to get involved in theoretical bollocks of the kind that I perpetrate. Let’s not kill of their curiosity at the outset, eh?

She also recommends the national play organisations:

“I think the archives of Play England still have some of the amazing research and documentation about play and playspace design. Play Wales is a treat.”

She doesn’t mention Play Scotland or Playboard NI who also have some good stuff. Who knows why? It’s a mystery. Any road up, all four of them are easily found by googling, because I’m too lazy to look them up just now.

She also mentions  a weekly online publication called !p dip, which you won’t find under that name,  because the !internet doesn’t a!!ow exclamation marks, so google ip-dip instead. 

“Enjoy your reading.
Love  Penny Wilson”

Stolen from her by me. Why isn’t this amazing woman and her work better known?


Why ‘yes and…’ isn’t the same as ‘and not but’.

This piece was evoked in response to this article:

My context is similar: a facilitator working with a group, seeking to change the processes of the group in some fashion, in the context of creativity.

(Although to be honest, I’m less interested in creativity, which implies for its own sake, than I am in innovation and improvement. I’m probably being picky, mind.)

Here’s their approach:

” We believe that the climate for creative ideas can often be negative. As a shorthand, we talk about a YES BUT climate in which people are prone to respond to any new idea with a ‘Yes But’.  This negative mind-set is based on unconsciously held beliefs and we can weaken these by becoming conscious, to the extent of becoming self-conscious of ‘Yes Butting’. In this way we begin to reduce the damage caused by excessive Yes Butting by substituting ‘Yes and’.

“‘Yes but’ implies ‘There is something wrong with this idea. I want nothing further to do with this bad idea’. In contrast, ‘Yes And’ implies ‘There is something that can be improved about this idea. I am willing to work at it to improve it as best I can’. To take a simple example: ‘I have just thought of the idea of flypaper to go in cars to stop insects distracting you when you are driving’. ‘Yes But … wherever you put it someone would get stuck sooner or later’.”

This approach seems to me to be very controlling and very dependent on the facilitator’s judgements about contributions. (I’ll come back to the ‘c’ word shortly.)

( BTW, there exists an well-developed and researched approach to creativity which is predicated on seeing something bad and getting angry enough to want to improve it. That approach is usually the province of the solo inventor, rather than the group, which is why it’s in brackets here: it’s off-topic.)

‘But’ isn’t necessarily negative!

My own approach isn’t about control of content nor process, although it is a form of ‘control’ in that it is about opening up the ‘possibility space’,  preventing argument and tolerating difference: anti-control, if you will.


The effect of ‘yes and’ is quite different to the effect of ‘and-not-but’.

‘Yes and’ requires the second person to agree with the first person: so, in their example, when I say ‘yes and’, I’m agreeing with the flypaper suggestion, no matter how stupid I might think it is, because, if I’m required to use the ‘yes and’ construction, I HAVE to agree with the previous comment.

There is also an implicit sequence to it: I say one thing, you add something to it;  one thing has to follow another.

Whereas with ‘and-not-but’, we have one statement made, followed by another statement made: the two don’t have to agree with each other or even relate to each other, because, as I often say,  “more than one thing can be true at once”.  The statements don’t have to follow each other, nor do they have to relate to each other, they are simply two statements which exist in the same space — the space that I like to call ‘the cloud of contradiction’ (which isn’t necessarily a cloud of contradiction, it could be a cloud of irrelevance or of agreement; the reason I call it ‘the cloud of contradiction’ is to emphasize the ‘andness’ rather than the ‘butness’).

If you were to use the ‘yes and’ formulation, it would, ironically, be taking place within the Dominant Rational Model that Tudor Rickards is critiquing. Generating emergence would be much more difficult if not actually impossible, because the ‘yes and’ formulation forces you to work in a linear fashion.

Actually, It’s, not so much that it forces you,  as that it fails to disrupt the already taken-for-granted, linear, supposedly rational, approach; whereas my ‘and-not-but’ is about nudging the group’s thinking out of that unquestioned  approach.

When we look at group dialogue* (rather than discussion), it isn’t NECESSARILY about action or selling a plan, it’s about DISCOVERY.

Action may emerge, or it may not, and-not-but the process is about discovering what we think, or want or prefer. It seems to me that any more controlled process than this will be anti- rather than pro- creativity.

There is a whole separate piece about the difference between ‘controlling process rather than controlling content’ waiting to be written, and a another piece about the paradoxical control that is about keeping a space open for emergence, the control that seeks to block control: ‘anti-control’, if you will. I should write them…

I should also say that all this is predicated on notions such as:

•  ‘you can’t push the river’ (paraphrasing Heraclitus),
• you can’t control my reaction you can only trigger** it, and that
• ‘the group is wiser than the individual’

(The latter being generally a total overstatement — groups are all too often stupid — the wisdom of a group only applies in the special contexts we are discussing here).

In conclusion, this is why I say you can’t ‘manage complexity’, you can only navigate complexity.


‘And-not-but’ was first published in my book ‘Navigating Complexity’, as was “more than one thing can be true at once”.
*see the Dialogue chapter in my book.
**see the Autopoiesis chapter.
Possibility Space also has is own chapter (when I started to write this I don’t intend to be promoting my book to quite this extent.)

          ~ Thanks to Tom Hitchman for evoking this. ~

Culture or Vulture?

“We made some structures etc at Redacted school in Somewhere, it was one of B&D’s early jobs, and the first in a school.  It was given as a case study in the National Play Strategy.  The project was well executed in the sense that the B&D’s methodology of  including children in the design and construction was well attended to, but it never became a playwork setting or environment.  This was because the project was not properly integrated into the school’s culture and only a few people at the school understood it, the rest were afraid of it.  Those who were afraid were mainly the lunchtime supervisors, who had the duty of supervising the stuff in use.  This is something that Playpods have addressed well, and are doing much better at bringing playwork into schools than that project did.  At Redacted , a play lead was recruited as an afterthought and she had a hell of a time because she was the only person providing a playwork approach in the school.  She became the focus of the children’s demands and, because the rest of the staff were suppressing play, she became the thing to play with and not always in a good way.  This is an example of failing to roll out playwork as a methodology, and the setting repressing playwork because of that.  I’d also add that, having praised Playpods for doing it better, there have been many Playpods which have been lost on a change of headteacher, mainly those schools which have changed head teacher because of conversion to academies.  There is a clear conflict of methodology between Playwork and Academies which I don’t think can be easily overcome.”

Because a certain type of person is attracted to the headship of an academy. And because the ethos of a school is taken to be the whim of the head.

There is a failure to understand that the ethos, or culture of an institution or an organisation arises independently of the senior-most manager. Culture is an emergent phenomenon.

Smart new heads would seek to go with the flow of the existing culture, nudging gently rather than stamping out.

Women and apes, savage animals and smartphones and extinction

This is not really a finished thing, more a series of jottings.

Playwork and primates
AFAIK, only Penny Wilson and myself have looked at primates for clues about the practice of playwork (as opposed to what it tells us about play). Penny has a glorious interview with a zookeeper at Howletts in Kent, about the gorillas she cares for.

“At one point, Laura is called away by a fellow keeper because one of the gorillas appears to have his head stuck in the bars…
She comes back to the phone…’sorry about that.. He was joking’,
Penny ‘The keeper?’
Laura ‘No the gorilla’.”

And she got to do a TED, curses. It was only a TEDx though.

The science behind play
Here’s some cool stuff about play, including
Isabel Behncke’s TED Talk about the glorious bonobo:

Women and primates
There seems to be a thing about overexcited women and bonobos. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge bonobo fan, but if you think Isobel is overexcited, you need to check out the bonkers sex therapist  who makes Isabel look like a newsreader lady announcing the death of Princess Diana:

(Not disapproving BTW, I’m a big fan, but she is on the bonkers end of the quirk continuum)

Not to mention Diane Fosse. Theory: women zoologists love primates because they are tameable beasts, unlike men.

Male zoologists like Lionel Tiger and Robin Fox —not made up names, googlem— adore their savage namesakes. (Yes, this includes the robin, vicious little territorial bastard).

A lesson that I wish were valid
But I want to strangle Isabel when she says that bonobos hold the key to human survival, because they are about to go extinct, courtesy of humans.

Confined to a u-bend in the Congo river in the DRC, therefore a deme, their lifestyle depends on an abundant supply of highly nutritious food. A bit like UK hippies before the 1974 OPEC oil crisis. Their extinction is due to the conflicts in the DRC: bushmeat for rebel forces in a conflict over territory and therefore mineral rights, fuelled by the global demand for Coltan for smartphones.

(If you don’t recycle your mobile, you are part of the problem. Whenever I see Jason Borne or any bad guy in any thriller or cop show, lob a ‘burner’ mobile into a litter bin I think of dead bonobos. The primate equivalent of those dead fairies piling up at the bottom of a politician’s garden.)

Told you it was unfinished. There’s a lot more to be said about applications to management and child development. Later perhaps…

So, playful chimpanzees,

Why children shouldn’t sit all day

Maybe 22 out of 30 kids don’t have ADHD

“I recently observed a fifth grade classroom as a favor to a teacher. I quietly went in and took a seat towards the back of the classroom. The teacher was reading a book to the children and it was towards the end of the day. I’ve never seen anything like it. Kids were tilting back their chairs back at extreme angles, others were rocking their bodies back and forth, a few were chewing on the ends of their pencils, and one child was hitting a water bottle against her forehead in a rhythmic pattern.

This was not a special needs classroom, but a typical classroom at a popular art-integrated charter school.”

Why performance appraisals fail their appraisal

The original title, ‘Why the days of performance appraisals should be numbered’ is probably a weak pun on measuring, doing the numbers and so on. Ho ho. Or am I missing a much better wordplay?

I’m a fan of performance appraisal, but…

Only if it is ‘360’, delivered live, face to face, without forms, and with the peers, reports and seniors selected by the appraisee. No forms, but the use of postits and flipcharts on walls is greatly encouraged. This ‘documentation’ belongs to the appraisee, copies are not made, and the appraisee takes them away with them.

(I’m thinking of a method deployed and devised by Frances Storr and Peter Fryer)

Interesting nevertheless…