Jah das ist güt and other Germanic clichés… Learning the ropes: why Germany is building risk into its playgrounds | Germany | The Guardian

Lofty climbing towers are part of trend away from total safety and towards teaching children to navigate difficult situations
— Read on www.theguardian.com/world/2021/oct/24/why-germany-is-building-risk-into-its-playgrounds

Blah blah blah.

An item about play that doesn’t mention Playwork? Why not? Because Playwork is dead. But, huzzah! It doesn’t mention Tim Gill either! Yay! Unfortunately, it didn’t mention Rob Wheway of the CPAS, or, ho ho ho, PlayEngland, PlayScotchland, PlayboredNI, or PllayWhails! Nor did it mention our glorious leader, Sir Adrian of Voce!

Nor Arthur Battram, Wendy Russell, the deceased Stuart Lester, Gordon Sturrock or Perry Else. It completely overlooked Sir Bib Hughes, aka Saint Bob, who invented play in 1902.

Not Lady Allen of Hurtknee, nor her protégé, Lady Penelope of Wilson.

I could go on. I usually do.

But seriously though, the article reads like a clever pressrelease and wudav bean put together by an interner or offspring of Grauniad journo, probably editor Kath Viber’s daughter on the occasion of Take Your Daughter To The Slaughter Day, when posho media ponces are encouraged to give their vile privately educated weasels a day in the office so they can learn the ways of Waitrose, my child.

But I digress.

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. ~

how do i reference your blog, namecheck your work when it is only in a blog: citing, sighting, quoting me and other bloggers

The Chicago Manual of Style Online: Chicago-Style Citation Quick Guide.

Until I was invited to be a contributor to the most respected peer-reviewed play-related academic journal, which is available both in print subscription and free online form, I had not seriously faced up to the issue of blog citation. Modesty  prevents me from naming it, but I can say that the paper will be a version of my barnstorming presentation at the ‘Play in an Age of Austerity’ conference in May of this year.

Here’s the issue: frequently, now that my fame has spread far and wide*, I am asked whether I can quoted, and how. The answer is broadly ‘yes but’.

I’m always flattered, and helpful, I like to think, and I have invented my own version of something I now realise already exists in the form of the Chicago Manual of Style Online, a form of words with which to quote me in your essay or article.

Some jackanapes assume that my bloggings are free in the sense of beer; allow me to intone that they most assuredly are not, a perspective which my legal advisers are most anxious to assert on my behalf. Help is at hand, however, for from those lovely boffins at ‘GNU’ who have a useful take on this which, in the spirit of their ‘free’ I’m going to modify here. They say: “Thus, ‘free software’ is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of ‘free’ as in ‘free speech,’ not as in ‘free beer’.

”A program is free software if the program’s users have the four essential freedoms:

“The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).

The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).

The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.“


~ ~

So, taking a rough stab at it (draft 0.1)

Four essential freedoms of the ethical blogger and crucially the blog reader:

# The freedom to quote the work (blog, essay, whatever), for any purpose (freedom 0).

# The freedom to study how the ideas work, and contextualise it so it does something for you (freedom 1).

Access to the online text is a precondition for this.

So that rules out paid, locked PDF, copy-blocked PDF  or paper-only publication) – example: if I take an anecdote of m’esteeemed colleague Joel Seath, quote it in full, provide his URL and THEN ASK his permission and meet his conditions before I proceed to share it with students on my training courses.

# The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).

What we used to do when we photocopied something, in full, with the source indicated.

# The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the online text is a precondition for this.

Informing the original author and sharing your full online text is also both polite, wise and should be a precondition, IMHO.


You might, if you were grandiose, call these The Blogwork Principles.

You may wonder what has evoked this blog. You may also, wonder why Arthur doesn’t blog more. The two are related. What provoked this was yet another, not unreasonable, request for help with obtaining my writings from a fastidious student, arriving in the same ‘time frame’ as the deadline for my aforementioned paper.

My fortuitous discovery of the GNU and Chicago wisdoms, in the context of my invitation to contribute to an admirable  and admirably accessible journal has enabled me to perhaps find a way through this thicket.

I feel that I have a partial answer to the conundrum: ‘how do I share my work without being exploited, plagiarised or sidelined?”

Or to put it annuver way, bruv/bruvess: How can I respec’ with the good while blanking the bad, innit?

~ ~ ~



*for which read ‘, occasionally one of my few readers,’








Time and play and life and flow

This feels like a lovely continuation of our workshop and our ongoing discussions, Joel. So I’m reblogging it – still struggling with IT problems here, so my follow up to Eastbourne and LPW will be delayed.


It has been conference week in the playwork ‘world’ (as you who were also there are aware!) Conferences are often odd affairs: they never seem to last long enough, or you never get to participate in everything you like the look of, or they leave you tired and playing catch up for the rest of the week; yet, you will bring away something. This year I brought away fragments I’m now piecing together after sitting around at conference.

I mean that literally. The past few years, when I’ve attended, I’ve facilitated workshops, or I’ve built and manned adult play rooms, or I’ve run around in the background with set-ups and helping to keep it going, or I’ve snatched times here and there to listen to someone speak. My position has changed. This year there is time. This is a post about time.

Others who attended this week have already posted…

View original post 697 more words

Learning is a verb, it isn’t a noun.

This is the latest instalment in a ‘diablogue’ a dialogue between two minds (mine and Joel Seath’s). From now on I’ll categorise or dialog blogs in the category ‘diablog’ sub-category ‘diablog with Joel Seath’. That will make them easier to track.

Joel, you picked up on  what I said about RP – ‘highly individualised/customised cycles’ and such. I had to re-read what I had written to understand it as the context for your comments. I realise that my brevity has once again misled (I like being misled, but it is an ‘issue’ for brevity).

When I was at LGMB I ran a project on organisational learning (which led to my book)  – do organisations learn? how? This meant that I had to study learning some more, I already had a degree in psychology and training and development qualification so I had already studied how we learn quite a bit. Kolb’s learning cycle (http://www.businessballs.com/kolblearningstyles.htm great website, btw) often cropped up. Then I met Erskine Grant who told me two things: 1- that Maslow was a pillock and 2- he added an extra phase ‘publishing’ to the Kolb cycle, immediately after ‘experience’.

So my view on individualised learning is this:

a – I think the modified Kolb is a good description of the process as it exists for most people. Most people have a nose and 2 eyes and a mouth.
b – I think how people go about doing each stage is as varied as the human face
c – there’s a danger, which the majority seem to fall into to read Kolb as Cosmo-style personality test thing. This isn’t helped by the Honey/Mumford idea of ‘your learning style’ derived from Kolb. Although the trainers say that we need to go all round the cycle, nobody takes any notice – they do the test and exclaim ‘I’m an active experimenter! or I’m a diverger’ or whatever.

The reality is that we can’t really avoid going round the cycle, because that is human learning, but we do have a tendency to focus in our favourite mode. All this is explained in that weblink, which includes, I am reminded, the backlash against ‘learning styles’ in UK education. A backlash which, IMHO, is fully justified.

What has to be present as we learn is ‘being present’! If we don’t pay attention to our learning, if we just go through the motions, stuck in the mode that feel comfortable in, then that’s, erm, not very good.

What is important, as you highlight, is that we must, we must pay attention to, and we must put the work in to develop our own ‘highly individualised/customised cycles’ of learning.

RP isn’t a recipe we can follow in a book, it is a PROCESS, a CYCLE.

LEARNING isn’t a thing, a ‘learning point’, it is a PROCESS.

Unfortunately this has all been lost in the business world and in training and development,where you now see foolish chat about:

– what are the key learning points to take away?
– what is are the learnings?

(and this one, heard just now-


– on the radio:

“… I’m sure lessons need to be learned but …”

This trope emerges when someone wants to close something rather than open it. It signifies a mindset which sees learning as an interruption to everyday life, rather than as a vital process within everyday life.

And this reminds me that I ought to post some carsean thinking here soon.)

As a writer I have prejudices. Generally I prefer verbs to nouns. Learning is a verb, it isn’t a noun.

My eyes are thinking about what is behind your eyes: Ways of Seeing and Theory of Mind

About this blog item: it has a peculiar status. It is a sort of semi-public, semi-private thing. It came about in response to a friends blog, so what you are about to read is a half-finished item with some rough edges. I’m posting it now because I’m not sure that I will get round to finishing it for months, by which time the debate will have moved on. 

It was written in response to:

 Ways of seeing: interpretation (first draft thinking)   

 which is a rattling good read.

Let me say firstly, Joel: well done, nice work.

I know you are being very cautious in your piece and we both know why. I can well believe that it took you a week to think it  and a day to write it. I haven’t done mine yet [ the unfinished blog that I sent you, that you mention], I’m still thinking.

And you are right to call it a first draft, it is very much that.

(I’ve been wondering whether we should co-write a piece, being as how we is both struggling with this material, drawing on both our bloggages, to act as part of the input to my ‘Love and Play, Play and Love’ workshop. I’m just mentioning that in passing as an interesting idea.)

I love the way you mention ‘love’ the nitty-gritty, somewhere in the middle of the piece! Did I tell you the story of Humberto Maturana and his son in the field of thistles? Ask me if I didn’t. Maturana has developed a biological theory of cognition – the strong claim is that all living systems think. Wow, oh wow, to quote Steve Job’s Zennic dying words. Maturana also talks about love from this biological cognitive standpoint: love is the punchline of the thistle story.

I rarely give advice because people don’t often like receiving advice, even when they ask for it – it’s a bit like playwork: the advice-giver can so easily disrupt the playframe of the other person. So I’m very pleased and flattered that you took my advice and actually read Berger’s ‘Ways of Seeing’ as well as quoting my thinking in detail.

This prompted me to look back to see the genesis of my interest in Beth Chatto. (note to readers, that’s Chatto, not Ditto, mind you she’s groovy also). Because I’ve been using my own Macs since 1993 and have kept everything I have ever written since then, religiously backing it up to external hard drives and transferring to the latest machine, it means that I now have a 19 year history of both other people’s writing that was interesting enough for me to download, and my own ouevre. Researching my own ‘MacArchive’ tells me that I did a briefing for managers based on an article by Peter Senge about a biological approach to systems thinking in 2001, which didn’t mention her, but featured a photo of her garden. I also recall that I had read a long interview with her in either the Times or the Grauniad and had kept the article (now misplaced or lost) and scanned in the photo. It seems fitting that the ideas of what I called a Chattoist approach in my unfinished blog have been growing slowly for nearly twelve years, and are only now beginning to bear fruit.

My linking of Berger’s Ways of Seeing to Chattoism only occurred to me as I wrote the unfinished blog, and I have had further thoughts since then. I’ll mention them here briefly.

I have also been thinking about Theory of Mind for several years. I now realise that ‘the theory behind the gaze’ is what distinguishes this intense seeing from the glance of an unthinking reactive playworker who tidies up my piece of cardboard while it is catching the light.  The key difference is the nature of the ‘theory of mind’ that is in operation. Surely the development of a playworker’s theory of mind is a, if not the, key goal of reflective practice?

That deadly phrase ‘reflective practice’ has been bugging me for years – it has become a holy writ in playwork, and we know that the higher a practice ascends into scripture the more it loses its meaning in the quotidian world. (Not Bob’s fault of course, you don’t get to chose your disciples, as I know to my cost; we must give him credit for promulgating RP, but we can’t hold him responsible for its dumbing down. All hail, reflective practice, shame we seem to have forgotten what it means. If it means anything it is about a learning cycle (mine’s a modified Kolb with an extra stage –  ”publishing“), which is much more than merely recording ‘stuff what happened’ in note form. The cycle has to go all the way round: the observations must be processed, and theorised about, and drawn upon when next we encounter our clientele, or it’s just a diary of cute stuff some kids did last week. RP is the process by which we develop our Chattoist eye, our playwork ‘ways of seeing’, our ‘playwork theory of mind’.

Looking over what I have just written I realise I have done the same as you: made only glancing reference to love and said much about seeing. I’m thinking back to when I first read ‘Ways of Seeing’ – I suspect that I bought the book in 1973 or ’74, so it would’ve coincided with my discovery of Taoism and Zen. Might as well mention all my influences from back then, well as many as I can recall or care to mention: free schools, Summerhill and A.S.Neill, alternative education,  feminism, the Whole Earth Catalog, Intermediate Technology, Arts Labs. Later, in the 80s, I  was influenced by personal development and groupwork and community arts and community development.






Minor question for you: You quote Berger – did you find some of his book online or someone’s summary of it? If you did could you send me the link, please?  I only have my dog-eared copy of the book, and I’m not sure where it is!



Finally edited into this semi-finished state on Monday, November 5, 2012,  intermittently, from  about 7 am until   12:36 pm. 



About this blog item: it has a peculiar status. It is a sort of semi-public, semi-private thing. It came about in response to a friends blog, so what you are about to read is a half-finished item with some rough edges. I’m posting it now because I’m not sure that I will get round to finishing it for months, by which time the debate will have moved on. 

It was written in response to:   Children’s play is not about you 

and partly stimulated the writing of  

 Ways of seeing: interpretation (first draft thinking)   

both of which are a rattling good read.




 which is identical with


in reply to

Joel’s comments about my comments about:

 tigers and gardening and the edge 

( ‘edge of chaos/the ‘edge of order’/’zone of complexity’)

I have spoken about ‘management as horticulture’ in various places over the years. I’ve seen other management writers use the metaphor also, yet, without wanting to sound arrogant, they don’t quite get it.

The model for me is Beth Chatto. She has an incomparable skill in working out how to nurture a garden in any conditions: an example being a cold wet, dank corner of her own garden, starved of nutrients by, and shaded by huge trees. Years of patient experiment based on years of observation is her secret. Feel free to copy it, telly gardeners, you bangers-in of decking and shrubs over a weekend.

To quote myself:

“…the key thinking tool is this: try to understand organisations as if they are living systems [which of course they are], and try to manage them the way that Beth Chatto manages the damp and shady end of her garden, that is:  be gentle, constantly attentive, patient and present-in the garden almost every day, pottering.”

“[we should see]…organisations as living systems in which relationships and communication are much more important than procedures and structures…”

Playwork is easier in some ways, because it doesn’t take years. ”Children are faster than umpires and less slow“, (me, just now – © Arthur Battram 2012). You can get results from your ‘gardening’ much sooner.

But, or rather AND (as in my dictum ‘and-not-but’) you can also screw up much sooner. So in some ways playwork is harder.


The key to a Chattoist approach is your eye. This eye is a special eye – it is the eye of a Hockney. It’s a Zen eye, a beginner’s eye, developed by an expert, who has spent years developing it, so that it is almost exactly the same as, and as good as, a child’s eye.

You should read ‘Ways of Seeing’ by John Berger – the Chattoist eye is the painter’s eye and should be the playworkers eye.

Imagine that you are standing next to a child. The child is gazing at the flickering patterns made by the shadows of the leaves of the trees above falling on a torn, tatty piece of rotting cardboard lying on the soil in front of them…

Picasso strides up and, following the child’s gaze, pauses. Picasso stands quietly beside him. The two of them stand side by side, immersed in the flickering patterns made by the shadows of the leaves of the trees above falling on a torn, tatty piece of rotting cardboard lying on the soil in front of them.

Until a passing playworker, following their gaze, tuts and snatches up the piece of rubbish that had been missed on an earlier tidy-up sweep of the playground.

I like my version, and the idea is not original. I thought I had read the original in the marvellous ‘Making Sense: playwork in practice’: it’s a marvellous publication,  full of marvels – it so perfectly captures the essence of play and playwork. I checked, and the anecdote I’m thinking of isn’t in there. It’s not in ‘Best Play‘ either. Maybe I read it somewhere else, or maybe I was told it- whatever. I’m not that concerned about what some might call ‘objective truth’: poets tell the truth when professors and politicians don’t. Here’s an original, as retold recently by its author, Mick Conway—currently working at PlayEngland after a long and distinguished career in playwork and play associations.Recently (in a comment on Tim Gill’s blog), Mick Conway shared the story he wrote for Bob Hughes’ ‘Evolutionary Playwork’’:

”A boy aged about five was playing with a knobbly piece of wood and pieces of the crushed bark safety surface, chattering away to himself and his play objects. A playworker came by and asked: “What are you doing?” “Nothing” he said, shrugging his shoulders – end of conversation. She shrugged in reply and went about her business of putting up the swings. 

“About five minutes later, another playworker asked him: “Who’s that?” This time he said: “This is my dog. She’s called Fred! And she’s very, very naughty. But she’s hungry too. Here Fred, have some cornflakes” as he fed bits of bark to Fred.”

written: Friday, October 26, 2012 1:23 PM

 revised: Monday, November 5, 2012 9:07 AM

 More soon I hope…

PS: WordPress can be pretty smart about finding useful links, but sometimes it  goofs – witness the link to ‘Best Play’ not the CPC/PlayEngland document, and, not that Tim Gill, or that Bob Hughes, unless there’s something he isn’t telling us.

A school, modified play, and the danger of leaves

A school, modified play, and the danger of leaves

Nothing to add to this superb blog. Go read it.