I have been asked to collect up all the various models and frameworks I’ve developed over the years, alone and with others, for quick and easy reference. Here they are! Enjoy browsing this little slice of history.
Users Guide To The Future (with Helen Bailey and also Peter Roehrig)
Nine Keys to Accelerated Learning (with Paul Z Jackson)
Stretching The World: a friendly explanation of Solution Focused practice
I am aware there are other things I’ve developed but that aren’t (yet) written up properly – what else would you like to know about?
Adam Meggido – Improv Beyond Rules: A Practical Guide to Narrative Improvisation
Nick Hern Books 2019, £14.99pb, ISBN 978-1-84842-731-0
Book review by Mark McKergow
With this experienced-packed and well-written book, Adam Meggido instantly raises the bar for everyone involved in long-form and narrative theatre improvisation. Every page has a multitude of ideas to explore, and with 284 pages that’s the basis for a lot of exciting, fun, daring work in the rehearsal room and on stage.
London-based Adam Meggido is probably best known as the co-creator and director of the Olivier Award-winning Showstopper! The Improvised Musical. He has also worked with improvisers all over the world, teaches at LAMDA in London and also in scripted drama (directing the West End hit Peter Pan Goes Wrong amongst others). Here he sets out to explore how to create great improvised drama (reminding us of his mentor Ken Campbell’s exhortation that improv must aspire to be better than scripted shows), with a strong focus away from the quickfire Whose Line Is It Anyway type of format and onto longer, more sustained and ambitious work.
Meggido has performed in over 1000 Showstopper! performances, along with years spent in practice sessions (yes, you DO have to practice to be spontaneous), and this wealth of experience shines through in every paragraph. The main part of the book splits into three sections: the Moment, the Scene and the Story. The secret of narrative improvisation (and its cousin long form, which has a pre-determined structure) is to be able to work on these three levels simultaneously. Taking each element in turn, the author explores the practice and dynamics involved and presents a multitude of exercises, games and ideas to build more compelling and vital threads on stage.
The title of the book – Improv Beyond Rules – is revealing. Fromm the outset Meggido rails against the simplistic rules which are routinely offered as the basis for improvising. This of course makes for a spicy read from the off. The author implores us to take these rules not as rule per se to be kept at all costs, but as guidelines which can be varied in service to the unfolding story. For example, the well-known rule of ‘Don’t Say No’ is morphed into a more subtle context-dependent idea where there are many levels of saying ‘No’ which may come into play as the character, relationships and emerging storyline develops. Everything is context-dependent, and it is this realisation which makes this book such a valuable source of potential in the world of narrative emergence where nothing is (totally) fixed, things change and appear all the time, decisions are made, relationships forged, broken and retrieved, and nothing is ever the same twice. (Meggido is quite explicit about this, talking about the time he started with the ‘same’ performers, characters, location etc and ended up with three different stories.)
The book really flourishes in the sections about the Scene and the Story. The sections about Status, Rank and different ways to combines these endowments open up vast possibilities. Likewise the description of Ken Campbell’s ‘Numbers Grid’ opens up another set of new angles on using space, as well as personality, to create relationships and direct audience attention; this section is worth the price of admission on its own. Meggido is full of ideas for practicing narrative improvisation out-of-sequence, with (for example) the ending done first, before the beginning and middle are added. Every new idea is explained concisely, illustrated with a couple of relatable examples (Macbeth, Legally Blonde and Star Wars are all used on multiple occasions), and then the reader is encouraged to try things out for themselves.
So why am I, a leadership consultant, coach and jazz musician, writing about this book? To start with, I’ve been interested in improv since watching, videoing and then wearing out the tapes of Whose Line some thirty years ago. The energy and thrill of great improv, even in short form, is addictive, and I get it in the jazz club as much as the Comedy Store. I think improv is a great coaching skill ((and life skill too, come to that). But seeing Showstopper! took my awareness of this skill onto a whole new level. I’ve seen it more that a dozen times over the past six years, and it’s always amazing, in a way which is very hard to pin down.
Adam Meggido is addressing some of the fundamental questions about how we live (and can live) our language-saturated lives. Science writers Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart posited some years ago that our species, rather than being called homo sapiens, would be better named pan narrans – the story-telling ape. The story we tell, live and make constitute our lives in ways which overarch and embrace mere physical, genetic and physiological qualities. I’d like to pull out three points from this book which are worthy of wider consideration.
Firstly, Meggido shines a light on the minutiae of how we enter and participate in relationships. This is not the kind of light you read about in psychology texts and problem pages, it is (to me anyway) a much more fundamental and practical look at how we present ourselves, how we react to others and how that can change and turn as time goes along. Want to know about how to _do_ (as opposed to ‘be’) high status and yet engaged with people. There are clues in here. Want to know about (and therefore be able to recognise) the difference between someone who’s a trickster, a helper, a guardian and a nemesis? That’s in here too (again with helpful examples).
Secondly, he is quite clear that as human (and in particular as pan narrans), we as the audience can follow the developing narrative as it emerges. We don’t need it explained. We don’t need a helpful psychiatrist to assist us in ‘joining the dots’ of the story, even if it comes out of sequence. It’s a great human quality to make sense from a series of scenes, and we routinely do it effectively. (Whether the sense is always the most useful sense is of course another story). This is a key aspect of my work in Solution Focused coaching – our coaches describe a series of scenes in their lives (from past, present and future), often in an ‘out-of-time-sequence’ way. That’s it. As coaches, we don’t need to explain the new narrative, join the dots for them, interpret their words in a clever way – as fellow members of pan narrans, that’s precisely what they CAN do for themselves. It takes patience and professionalism not to jump in – but that’s the art of our work.
Finally, Meggido touches on what is for me an even bigger question. Is the improvised story revealed, or is it created? Lots of people like to think that it’s revealed – it was always there and the performers have now made it clear. One might say the same about Michelangelo’s statue of David- it was always there in the marble, all that the sculptor had to do was remove all the extraneous bits and boosh! There it is. It’s a tempting thought – but wrong. Clearly (and it’s particularly and starkly clear in the case of narrative improv theatre) the story is created, a step at a time, by skilled performers paying close attention to one another and carefully using the possibilities that emerge on the night. It seems to me that a good and satisfying story has the appearance of being revealed – it all hangs together, it all makes sense, how could it possibly be any different? And many people seem to take comfort in the illusion that it was ‘ever thus’, that it was all predetermined, that the gods always had this in mind, that finally the truth will out. Except that it’s only the truth with this precise sequence of events, and other truths were (and are) available.
Does it let you do a Showstopper! show right off the bat? No, that will take a great deal of time, trust, calamities, rehearsal space, tea and biscuits. Also there’s nothing here about how to improvise songs, learn about different musical styles, organise a band to improvise an accompaniment and keep going for more than a decade. Whether you’re buying this book to explore the nature of life’s performance or, at least, to be a better narrative improviser, you will find it absolutely packed with stage-tested wisdom, activities and possibilities. Adam Meggido shines a light on narrative improv and a whole lot more. This book is surely worth a place alongside Keith Johnstone’s Impro and Viola Spolin’s Improvisation For The Theater on the improv bookshelves of tomorrow,
We are very excited to announce that the Host Leadership Field Book is published today and available world wide in paperback and Kindle formats. This collection of 30 chapters shows Host Leadership in action all over the world in many settings including business leadership, agile, education, social care, coaching, virtual teams, volunteer organisations, organisational change, conflict resolution, training, community building and leadership development.
The Host Leadership Field Book, edited by Mark McKergow and Pierluigi Pugliese, Foreword by Helen Bailey. Published by Solutions Books on 12 November 2019 in paperback and Kindle formats. ISBN 978-0-9933463-3-0. 276 pages. Paperback £12.99/US$17.
- Link to Amazon.co.uk: https://amzn.to/34rxugz
- Link to Kindle edition: https://amzn.to/32EIcP6
- Link to Amazon.com: https://amzn.to/2q94Wt0
- Link to the book webpage http://hostleadership.com/field-book (with full contents listing)
“Puts Host Leadership at the forefront of leadership development approaches, where it deservedly belongs” Paul R. Scheele, PhD. in Leadership & Change, CEO, Scheele Learning Systems, co-founder, Learning Strategies Corporation
“Crystal clear distillations of a key leadership practice suited for our times” Chris Corrigan, global steward, Art of Hosting community of practice
“The key principles of hosting that will help you effectively and quickly build cooperation, trust and results” Dr Ivan Misner, Founder of BNI and NY Times Bestselling Author
As part of my work with the HESIAN research hub at the University of Hertfordshire (http://herts.ac.uk/hesian) I compile a list of recent research into Solution-Focused therapy, theory and practice (link). Part of this involves keeping an eye on what comes up in Google Scholar under the search term ‘solution-focused’.
I’ve been monitoring this quite closely one way and another over the past year or so. One thing I am seeing more and more is the term ‘solution-focused’ used (with a small s and f) as a general term relating to coaching, social work and other caring practices. For example, the definition of coaching offered by the Association for Coaching in 2005:
“Coaching is a collaborative, solution focused, result-orientated and systematic process in which the coach facilitates the enhancement of work performance, life experience, self-directed learning and person growth of the coachee.”
Now, this is not a bad definition of coaching at all. However, there is no indication (and I think no intention) to point to Solution-Focused work as developed by Steve de Shazer, Insoo Kim Berg and many others around BFTC Milwaukee. To be fair to them, Steve always insisted that his field was called Solution Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT for short), as the ‘Solution-Focused’ was an adjective qualifying the noun ‘brief therapy’. However, as the reach of BFTC’s thinking has extended over the past two decades to include the helping professions, coaching, teaching, managing and so on, it has become more common to refer to such work as Solution Focused coaching or whatever. I myself can take a share of the blame for this, having co-authored a book entitled The Solutions Focus in an attempt to draw attention to the more general applications of these ideas.
Recent years have also seen editorial style moving away from using Initial Capital Letters in written prose. The Guardian newspaper’s style guide, a common reference point and a surprisingly fun read, now recommends that terms like prime minister are now rendered in lower case. This is in part because using too many Initial Capitals is Often the Sign Of A Madman writing in Green Ink. (The initial capital is supposed to suggest to the reader that some special meaning of the word is in use, but any more than a few of these is a clear sign of someone attempting to redefine the English language. English, by the way, should still be spelled using a capital E.)
Under these circumstances, it would be no surprise if enthusiasts for BFTC-rooted SF work started writing it as solution-focused. However, this potentially gets confused with the more general solution-focused described above. Other forms of work such as CBT have an advantage here – even if cognitive behavioural is written in lower case, the term is unlikely to be used in a general sense.
Chris Iveson of BRIEF started a discussion recently about whether people referred to themselves as solution-focused or Solution-Focused. I was shocked to see some very experienced practitioners from the SF world being reluctant to identify themselves as Solution-Focused, not wishing to tie themselves to any particular approach. Presumably, they so much wish to help their clients that they are prepared to do anything to achieve that.
I find it quite shocking that there are those in the SF community who are reluctant to identify themselves – possibly skilful mavericks, possibly people who just do whatever they think is right, possibly people who are seriously misguided as to their abilities. If you just do anything, then whatever you do must be right. And this again muddies the waters around what people might expect when seeing a ‘solution-focused’ practitioner.
I am concerned that there is a risk that we may lose sight of the huge progress produced by Steve de Shazer, Insoo Kim Berg and their colleagues. In my view, they have shown us a new way forward. Now we have to find a way to build on it without either dissolving into a not-knowing mush or forming bands of brothers/old comrades who are unchallengeable and gnomically diffident. Thoughts please?
My landmark review of Solution-Focused Approaches in Management is now out with Oxford University Press!
Two years ago I was approached by Cynthia Franklin to write a chapter on SF approaches in Management for her comprehensive research review ‘Solution Focused Brief Therapy’. It’s now out (finally!) – <a href=”http://www.amazon.com/Solution-Focused-Brief-Therapy-Handbook-Evidence-Based/dp/0195385721/”>click here to see it at amazon.com</a> . This contains a huge collection of research and evidence about SF practice in many field. Continue reading →
A new download from our articles page is available now! Read about sfwork’s Bruce Woodings and his work with the BBC Performing Groups (symphony orchestras and chorus) as reported in Classical Music magazine. Bruce skilfully uses the power of the SF approach to help this group cope with the complexities of an uncertain future, and deliver results beyond the expectations of those involved at the outset. Download the articles http://www.sfwork.com/pdf/sfwork%20Classical%20Music%20article%20pdf.zip (7MB pdf).
This is an example of our consulting work with senior executives. We use the power of SF, our long experience of both public and private sector organisations, and brilliant facilitation skills to help you tackle serious issues in an engaging and positive way. Call 08453 707145 to talk to one of our consulting team about YOUR tough situation.
I have been interested in narrative practice for some years, and attended a training a few years ago with narrative therapy pioneer Michael White, sadly no longer with us. I was taking my annual look at Mark Hayward’s www.narrativebooks.co.uk website to see whether I can fit in one of their trainings this year (I can’t, as usual! What a pity), and noticed that there is now a rather more formalised organisation starting, the Institute for Narrative Therapy, http://www.theinstituteofnarrativetherapy.com/. Interesting website, with some very interesting articles. Continue reading →
I’m delighted to announce two new articles on the sfwork Articles page at http://www.sfwork.com/jsp/index.jsp?lnk=610:
No More Heroes (from Coaching at Work, September 2009) – Leaders are finding that a traditional directive approach no longer gets the job done. Could solution-focused coaching be the answer in these more ambiguous times? Mark McKergow and Mike Brent (Ashridge Business School) report. Read the article at http://www.sfwork.com/pdf/no_more_heroes.pdf.
Another in my series on ‘Manager As Coach’ – this time on handling poor performance by finding what’s working. One of the most frequent questions I am asked when introducing Solutions Focused coaching is about how to handle poor performers. “This idea of building on what’s working is all very well when things are OK – but what about when their work is simply not acceptable?” Read the article at http://www.sfwork.com/jsp/index.jsp?mnk=6e4.
Another in Mark’s series of articles for the manager-as-coach has appeared in Coaching At Work magazine. You can read about how to gather know-how in an SF way – a great skill with wide possibilities for application – at http://www.sfwork.com/jsp/index.jsp?mnk=6e2.
Mark’s latest article from Coaching At Work magazine is now available here. It’s aimed at the Manager-as-Coach (but useful for all SF coaches and consultants as well) and it’s about how to apply SF to after-action reviews. We call this the Project Booster method! Read it at http://www.sfwork.com/jsp/index.jsp?mnk=6e1,