“Increasingly, I find myself bristling when I hear folks talk about “risky play,” even when it’s framed positively. From my experience, this sort of play is objectively not risky, in the sense that those activities like swinging or climbing or playing with long sticks, those things that tend to wear the label of “risky” are more properly viewed as “safety play,” because that’s exactly what the kids are doing: practicing keeping themselves and others safe. It’s almost as if they are engaging in their own, self-correcting safety drills.”

I’ve recently been trying, futilely, to promote the term ‘CHALLENGING’ rather than ‘risky’. You’ll appreciate that the the c-word has a double meaning, children are challenging themselves, and adult frettiness is being challenged.

They ARE engaging in their own self correcting activity. I teach playworkers about the ‘edge-of-chaos’ I’ve taken to using hyphens because people confuse it with ‘nearly chaos’. It’s not: edge-of-chaos is an entirely different thing. When I used to do mountain biking it was about finding my personal edge-of-chaos, my ‘flow state’. We tune to it. Too much and it’s scary, not enough and its boring.

Edge-of-chaos exists in all complex systems, like a group of kids on a playground for example, both as a group and for each child.

I loved “catastrophic imaginations.”

Spot on.

Jessica Garner in Alberta said, brilliantly: “”a sense that the world is full of unperceived dangers that only the all-knowing adults can see”

Are you familiar with the His Dark Materials series? This reminds me of the spectres… creatures of fear that only adults can see. Children are completely unaware and unaffected. They only perceive the danger of spectres if adults are around.””

“creatures of fear that only adults can see“.


Coydogs&pizzlies: the librarians are worried

You see, the thing is, shit happens. All over the woods. Bears shit in the woods, both polar bears heading south and grizzlies heading north, and they also have sex in the bushes. Hence Pizzlies (rubbish name, why not Grey bears?)

“Hybridization is one of the overlooked but clearly very, very important causes of species’ going extinct,” says Stuart Pimm, professor of conservation ecology at Duke University. “Hybridization is a major problem. It comes from our moving species around, it comes from our changing habitat.” 

Or not. This is the librarians approach to ecology. Conserve everything. Why? Even smallpox?

I’d rather accept that we aren’t in control and trust that “life will find a way”.

Many of the species that went extinct were a bit crap. Best example is pandas. Useless beasts. Any creature that decides to live entirely off one stupid tree with almost no nutrient value is basically committing very slow suicide. Millions have between wasted on these cuddly vegetarian idiots when there are other less cute, much more deserving, downright ugly critters that don’t convert easily to soft toys, so they get ignored.

It’s all part of the lackwit treehugging view of cuddly nature. Watch The Grey, starring Liam Neeson. This time it was the very big and seriously bad wulluff that had the unusual set of special skills that, even though it didn’t know what he wanted, enabled it to find him and kill him. And the ending wouldn’t have been any different if he was wearing a David Attenborough fan club hoodie and carrying his lifetime Friends of the Earth membership card.

Order. Complexity. Chaos.


Order… Complexity… Chaos …Complexity …Order… Complexity…

We all have our own personal ‘edge-of-chaos’. I prefer to write it like that because people get awfully confused. It’s not the same as ‘nearly chaos’, it’s something new, in between order and chaos. It’s also known as the zone of complexity. As this gloriously simple and complex cartoon Illustrates, it’s different.

PS: I wrote a book about this stuff: ‘Navigating Complexity: the essential guide to complexity theory in business and management’.

If you want to ‘support beneficial change’ or ‘help humans’, you need to watch and listen…

Penny Wilson, unsung playwork genius, flaneur, urbanist, author and soon to be celebrity cook,  

found and ‘facebook shared’ this wonderful film, essential watching for both management consultants’ (OD folk and the like), and anyone (like playworkers), who works with humans.

Wikipedia informed me that the film is by…

“William Hollingsworth “Holly” Whyte (October 1, 1917 — January 12, 1999) was an American urbanist, organizational analyst, journalist and people-watcher. After his book about corporate culture The Organization Man (1956) which sold over two million copies, Whyte turned his attention to the study of human behaviour in urban settings. He published several books on the topic, including The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces (1980).[1]

The Chris Argyris memorial column #23: How to blame less and learn more

“Accountability. We hear a lot about it. It’s a buzzword. Politicians should be accountable for their actions; social workers for the children they are supervising; nurses for their patients. But there’s a catastrophic problem with our concept of accountability.Consider the case of Peter Connelly, better known as Baby P, a child who died at the hands of his mother, her boyfriend and her boyfriend’s brother in 2007. The perpetrators were sentenced to prison. But the media focused its outrage on a different group: mainly his social worker, Maria Ward, and Sharon Shoesmith, director of children’s services. The local council offices were surrounded by a crowd holding placards. In interviews, protesters and politicians demanded their sacking. “They must be held accountable,” it was said.

“Many were convinced that the social work profession would improve its performance in the aftermath of the furore. This is what people think accountability looks like: a muscular response to failure. It is about forcing people to sit up and take responsibility. As one pundit put it: “It will focus minds.”

“Should they have been penalised? Or censured? The industry commissioned an investigator to probe deeper. He found that the two switches were identical and side by side. Under the pressure of a difficult landing, pilots were pressing the wrong switch. It was an error trap, an indication that human error often emerges from deeper systemic factors. The industry responded not by sacking the pilots but by attaching a rubber wheel to the landing-gear switch and a small flap shape to the flaps control. The buttons now had an intuitive meaning, easily identified under pressure. Accidents of this kind disappeared overnight.

This is sometimes called forward accountability: the responsibility to learn lessons so that future people are not harmed by avoidable mistakes.”

via How to blame less and learn more | Matthew Syed | Comment is free | The Guardian.

Leadership is a social phenomenon…

What is Leadership? I ask the question, as I believe that most of the time, most people, have difficulty answering this question.

“The difficulty lies in that leadership is a social phenomenon, which appears differently depending on the context. Leadership within a group of fire fighters evacuating a building and dealing with a blaze, will be utterly different to that of a group of academics running a University department. Indeed, precisely what made the fire fighters effective in leadership would make these academics ineffective.

(I make a similar point in my book ‘Navigating Complexity: the essential guide to complexity theory in business and management’ in the chapter called ‘Network and hierarchy’. )

“What if we could define Leadership as the ability to mobilise yourself and others towards a particular focus? How that then shows up will be different in different contexts and different moments in time.

“And how then, do we develop leadership, if it’s different moment by moment and in each different context?

“For me Leadership Development comes down to 4 key elements that” you can read about here:

– See more at:

“You could say we can state the configuration space, since it’s simply a classical, 6N-dimensional phase space.”

This made me smile and then laugh.

“You could say we can state the configuration space, since it’s simply a classical, 6N-dimensional phase space.”

Well, duh.

I often say that. I was in the queue in my corner shop last night and I said it. Always gets a laugh.

“It is important to note how strange this is. In statistical mechanics we start with the famous liter volume of gas, and the molecules are bouncing back and forth, and it takes six numbers to specify the position and momentum of each particle. It’s essential to begin by describing the set of all possible configurations and momenta of the gas, giving you a 6N dimensional phase space. You then divide it up into little 6N dimensional boxes and do statistical mechanics. But you begin by being able to say what the configuration space is. Can we do that for the biosphere?

“I’m going to try two answers. Answer one is No. We don’t know what Darwinian pre adaptations are going to be, which supplies an arrow of time. The same thing is true in the economy; we can’t say ahead of time what technological innovations are going to happen. Nobody was thinking of the Web 300 years ago. The Romans were using things to lob heavy rocks, but they certainly didn’t have the idea of cruise missiles. So I don’t think we can do it for the biosphere either, or for the econosphere.

“You might say that it’s just a classical phase space—leaving quantum mechanics out—and I suppose you can push me. You could say we can state the configuration space, since it’s simply a classical, 6N-dimensional phase space. But we can’t say what the macroscopic variables are, like wings, paramecium detectors, big brains, ears, hearing and flight, and all of the things that have come to exist in the biosphere.

“All of this says to me that my tentative definition of an autonomous agent is a fruitful one, because it’s led to all of these questions. I think I’m opening new scientific doors. The question of how the universe got complex is buried in this question about Maxwell’s demon, for example, and how the biosphere got complex is buried in everything that I’ve said. We don’t have any answers to these questions; I’m not sure how to get answers. This leaves me appalled by my efforts, but the fact that I’m asking what I think are fruitful questions is why I’m happy with what I’m doing.”

This is top quality stand-up, if you are a fan of Sheldon and The Big Bang Theory.