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On December 16th Arts Interstices hosted a conversation via Google Hangouts among dance and theater improv artists and Agilists from various parts of the US.  The following is a briefing on some essential themes this cross-sector dialogue uncovered regarding the serious interest business is taking today in this art form.

“Yes, And…”

People feel threatened when choices are unduly restricted.  With a narrow set of options, positions become entrenched and even the simplest conversation become difficult.   Saying “Yes, And…” (rather than “Yes, but..”) is widely acknowledged to be the first guideline of improv.  Experienced practitioners emphasize building upon the contributions others have already made, creating an expanded sense of possibility.

“Make Your Partner Look Good”

Imagine going into a meeting with a bad set of nerves anticipating critical scrutiny.  Now imagine going in alongside a colleague, shifting your focus to a total dedication to making that person shine as the most brilliant mind on earth.    Sea Tea Improv recommends practicing this kind of mutual support as a way to instill trust quickly and powerfully.

“Suspend Disbelief”

Improvisational scenes progress iteratively.   Starting with mundane circumstances and then taking the audience along on a journey by adjusting their expectations step by step is conducive to fantastic results.



One of the steps towards relaxing in a group is seeing oneself in others. That spark of recognition can be induced through the act of mirroring, used as an icebreaker in Annie Sailer’s movement exercises.

“Spatial Collaboration”

Knowledge workers have few conscious opportunities to read each other and respond nonverbally.  Even though these exchanges happen all the time at work, improvisational movement renders them intentional, slowing down the sequence of sensing, perceiving and choosing how to engage.

Just+at+Work+008Scrum Teams That Harmonize

Robie Wood led this workshop at the Paris Scrum gathering in September 2013 with his brother Jody Wood, a deeply experienced improv actor.  The description in the program reads: How can we positively charge and orient Scrum Team members toward effective participation in the conversations, activities and innovation necessary to deliver business value? Let’s get team members to Harmonize. To maintain team Harmony, we can draw on examples from the Arts where Harmony is sustained by using improvisation to adapt to changing complexity. The “Scrum Team that Harmonizes” workshop employs improvisation exercises from the Acting world that are designed to work on the specific skills needed by team members to perform effectively in each of the four types of Scrum Meetings.

Robie will host the next Hangout scheduled for later this month, and we’ll include international participants.   Further exchange will advance the dialogue and lay groundwork for intelligence-gathering and sharing of effective practices for how improv is being used today in business settings.   Practitioners can plug into this conversation by emailing or


Sea Tea Improv

Annie Sailer Dance Company


JW Actor’s Studio

This post concludes my December series on anthropology’s fundamental frameworks for understanding culture and organizations. I’ve prepared it for friends in the Agile community who have shown interest in scholarly reference points to inform their approaches to speaking and coaching.  Special thanks to Lisette Sutherland, who gave a presentation on Tribal Leadership at an Agile HR conference in Stockholm, Sweden and afterwards asked for some feedback.  – ES

Majoring in Cultural Anthropology began a trajectory of understanding how very much I do not understand.  Our own culture always constrains our understanding of other cultures.  This affects our development as an individual, our ability to communicate and the quality of our relations with people.


I used principles of Anthropology to climb out of the paper bag I was in, namely the American South.  As a white, privileged woman, my cultural lens had sculpted my viewpoint and behavior in ways I sought to change as I became aware that they caused harm and pain.  Of course, this is an ongoing process of awareness, acceptance and just plain muddling through.

With perspective gained through academic study I found it possible to correct for cognitive biases, navigate and contribute to cultural diversity, and learn to enter complex organizations and communities with respect and exit with mutual trust and new friendships.  Today as a business professional I draw upon my training in Cultural Anthropology to quickly map out underlying power structures, conduct ethnographic research and function effectively as a participant-observer.  I believe the discipline offers key insights on many of the problems that Agilists face in positioning their role as change agents inside organizations.

In a paper called Business Anthropology and the Technology Company, Daisy Rojas writes, “the use of anthropological practice within technology companies brings about understanding of something outside of engineering processes.  This may include human thought processes and methods of interaction.”  She quotes from Scott Ambler’s work Agile Modeling: Effective Practices for eXtreme Programming and the Unified Process (2002) in discussing information flow among teams about how new technologies are used or built.

I had the good fortune to meet up with Daisy in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the holiday break and chat about influential concepts in 20th century Cultural Anthropology.  (Previous two posts cover earlier periods.)

“Every technological system functions within a social system and is therefore conditioned by it.” Leslie A. White

White examined major historical events such as the Agricultural Revolution and the Fuel Revolution.  He looked at transportation, energy, medicine and communication in terms of social change and patterns of adaptation.

“Life inevitably diversifies,” Marshall D. Sahlins.

Sahlins defined diversity as the production of new cultural forms evolving out of old forms.  He saw progress as the tendency of forms to become increasingly complex.

“Anthropology will one day have a choice of becoming history, or nothing.” E. E. Evans-Pritchard

Pritchard turned a reflexive lens on his own discipline and helped Anthropology critique itself.  He accurately predicted a shift of the emphasis among anthropologists toward contemporary studies.

Claude Levi Strauss Picture Quotes 4 Claude Levi Strauss Picture Quotes 4

Levi-Strauss contributed a view of kinship based on alliances.  In much of his work he sought out a “deep grammar” of underlying structures within the human mind to explain culture in terms of contrasting binary opposites.

“A ritual is a stereotyped sequence of activities involving gestures, words, and objects…designed to influence forces on behalf of the actors’ goals and interests”  Victor Turner.

From the early to mid-1950s, Turner lived among the Ndembu, a central African tribe and studied their society and religious practices.  He contributed the concept of liminality as a state of being betwixt and between a culture’s recognized categories.

“Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun.” Clifford Geertz

Geertz interpreted the symbols that give rise to meaning in a culture.  He believed that cultural symbols are a primary source of order in people’s lives.  His writing has a distinct literary flair.  My favorite is an essay called “Thick Description” about all the different ways an you can interpret a wink and the ethnographer’s role in discerning among them.

Today, more in the Agile community are coming to see, understand and promote the value of anthropologists’ contributions to their approaches to leading change in organizations.

The Self Management Institute published my reflections on Victor Turner’s concept of Communitas earlier this year   Very similar anthropological concepts have been woven into the framework for Open Agile Adoption, as described in this article:

Here are some additional resources:

High Points in Anthropology

Conformity and Conflict, Readings in Cultural Anthropology

The Cultural Experience: Ethnography in Complex Society

The Anthropology Network, an open LinkedIn Group

Anthropology and Design, an open LinkedIn Group

Lisette Sutherland is an expert on remote collaboration and community-building.  We are presently gathering case studies for a book about working remotely.  If you have a story to tell on the subject, please reach out to us: @lightling and @artsint.   The results will help others and improve the world of work.  

Daisy Rojas can be reached at the University of Virginia.  Her paper was published in the International Journal for Business Anthropology:!

This post continues a primer on Cultural Anthropology for friends in the Agile community who have shown curiosity in the discipline’s perspectives on culture change.

cult anthro

 Recap:  Anthropology distinguished itself from the other branches of social science by attempting to retain a comprehensive view of humankind and by an emphasis on empirical data.   For Early Attempts at Explaining Cultural Differences, and Data Gathering, see earlier post:

The influence of 20th century politics focused attention on the interplay between individuals and institutions.  This phase of the discipline’s development pushed themes like social control to the forefront.

“How contradictory it is to admit that the individual is himself the author of a machine which has for its essential role his domination and constraint.” Emile Durkheim

Durkheim’s main theme was social solidarity.  He wanted to understand how a society holds its members together and prevents alienation.

“The most important spiritual mechanism is the one which obliges us to make a return gift for a gift received.” Marcel Mauss


Mauss analyzed gift-giving.  He outlined rituals of exchange which form a kind of “moral economy” that can influence status in a hierarchy.

“An institution is a group of people united or organized for a purpose.  They have a charter or explanation, and they have the technology with which to achieve, or strive to achieve, that purpose.” Bronislaw Malinowski

Malinowski raised the standards for exacting fieldwork.  He focused on how culture functions to help man achieve seven basic needs: nutrition, reproduction, bodily comforts, safety, relaxation, movement and growth.

“An economic system is is a set of relations between persons and groups which maintains and is maintained by the circulation of goods and services.” A.R. Radcliffe-Brown

Radcliffe-Brown put forward the the view that all parts of a social system work together with harmony or internal consistency.  This he called Functional Unity.

The next post in this series is Cultures Respond to Complexity.   For additional information, see these resources:

High Points in Anthropology

Conformity and Conflict, Readings in Cultural Anthropology

The Cultural Experience: Ethnography in Complex Society

The Anthropology Network, an open LinkedIn Group

Anthropology and Design, an openLinkedIn Group


Cultural Anthropology is the Flagship Journal for the Society of Cultural Anthropology

This series on Anthro for Agile is intended to provide an index of ideas to help ground and articulate cultural change efforts.   SPECIAL THANKS to Lisette Sutherland of who requested the references.   She has a talk available on Tribal Leadership, and the two of us are presently collecting case studies on Remote Collaborations.  Tweet to me @artsint and Lisette @lightling. 

This article is dedicated to my friends in the Agile community who have shown interest and curiosity in understanding the academic origins of the study of culture change.  The content is derived from my chosen field in college, Cultural Anthropology.  One of my favorite things is to help build cognitive maps across domains. – E. Slomba

The group of disciplines we know today as the social sciences emerged in the wake of the Industrial Revolution.  This increasing specialization was a response to the world’s increasing complexities.   Anthropology distinguished itself from the other branches of social science in two ways: first, by attempting to retain a comprehensive view of humankind and second, by an emphasis on empirical data.

Early Attempts at Explaining Cultural Differences

19th century scholars attempted to place the development of cultures within a set of evolutionary stages to tell “the” story of humankind.

“There is a psychic unity of mankind – a basic similarity of all human minds – in every land, in every culture,” Edward Burnett Tylor.

Tylor was the first to use statistical analysis in comparing cultures.  He initiated cross-cultural studies of commonly observed themes like marriage and inheritance.

“Technological inventions and discoveries alter society in a way so that new traits become necessary for survival,” Lewis Henry Morgan.

Morgan associated stages of evolution with particular technologies, and wrote about “successive arts.”  To him we owe a debt related to the concepts of disruption and innovation tracing back through generations of scholarship to his foundational work.

Data Gathering

Scholars during the early development of Cultural Anthropology focused on methodologies for ethnography and linguistics.

“Whenever we make judgements about good and bad cultures, we do so on the basis of certain overt or covert premises,” Franz Boas.

Boas was a staunch believer in the value of first-hand information.  He tore down previous contributions of “armchair anthropologists” and attacked viewpoints of certain races as being more or less evolved.

“Culture forms recognizable and persistent patterns,” Alfred Louis Kroeber.

Kroeber found examples of patterns in philosophy, music, literature and nationalism to suggest that genius tends to develop in cultural clusters.

“Borrowing is always easier than originating,” Robert H. Lowie.

For Lowie, cultural contact is an exchange of ideas.  He was interested in the ways different cultures mix and mingle, especially at their peripheries.

“I consider as my greatest accomplishment that I am an adopted member of the Comanche tribe, was accepted as a master carver by the Marquesan natives and executed commissions for them in their own art, am a member of the Native Church of North America (Peyote) according to Quapaw rite, became a properly accredited ambiasy nkazo (medicine man) in Madagascar and was even invited to join the Rotary Club of a middle western city.” Ralph Linton

Linton stressed that cultural factors were more important than biological ones in explaining differences among tribes.  He studied status and roles in class-based societies, with a main focus on the individual creating and reacting to cultural influences.

“Institutions are the vehicle through which specific influences are brought to bear on the growing individual.” Abram Kardiner

Kardiner emphasized the adaptations people choose in order to negotiate culture. His fieldwork gathered first-person biographies.

The next post will continue with Organizations & Reciprocity.  Meanwhile, THANKS for asking, Lisette.  I hope some of these points at least are helpful, and I’m glad we’re in the same tribe!

Lisette Sutherland is an expert on remote collaboration and community-building.  For more information about Lisette and her work, see & follow her on Twitter @lightling


High Points in Anthropology

Conformity and Conflict, Readings in Cultural Anthropology

The Cultural Experience: Ethnography in Complex Society

The Anthropology Network, an open LinkedIn Group

Anthropology and Design, an openLinkedIn Group

This post was originally published by The Whiteboard, a blog serving the Connecticut entrepreneurial community.  I am privileged to serve as a Start Up Community Journalist for The Whiteboard.  SPECIAL THANKS to my editor, Michael Romano.

Being an Artful Entrepreneur means differentiating yourself so utterly in the marketplace that you are acknowledged as an artist at what you do.

If offering the cheapest alternative is your value proposition, this may be irrelevant. But in a global marketplace, we see more and more examples of positioning through artistic leadership as a coherent strategy.

This was the topic of a talk I gave on Tuesday as part of The Grove’s Workbench series. To demonstrate the range of possibilities, I invited Mark Krueger, a stone sculptor based in Wallingford, CT, who specializes in high-end residential stone installations, to pair with my focus on Agile project management. Mark has been my client for the past four months, and I wrote about him recently here in another post.

Principles of Artful Entrepreneurship

As Mark and I have collaborated to open up new markets for his work using the Scrum framework, we’ve recognized a few common elements linking the diverse approaches taken by Artful Entrepreneurs:

  • You are a cross-functional team. In the Agile world, a team of developers, business analysts, designers, and testers comprise the daily scrum. Artful Entrepreneurs are, in essence, a scrum of one. At all times you must balance profit margins with aesthetics, the need for speed versus uncompromising emphasis on quality. You bring the technical eye of the craftsman to the discipline of getting things done. You know that every perspective is important.


  • You have enormous communications resources at your disposal. Free tools like Google Hangouts make it extraordinarily easy to connect remotely with colleagues and customers and keep tabs on competitors. Artful Entrepreneurs have a way of blending the efforts they spend on research and social media into constant opportunities to survey the field and take deep dives into perspectives that matter. This week, for example, Mark is preparing a talk for the American Institute of Architects on multicolored stone for decorative applications in Venice, Italy, while I’m preparing a talk for distributed teams in Utah, the UK, and Connecticut for the Royal Bank of Scotland.* There are many ways to research new topics and deliver information that benefits end users.


  • You have a unique story to tell. Consultant Joanna Rothman frames her approach to what she calls Artisanal Change like this: “Have you ever tasted a superb strawberry just off a family farm? Or a microbrew beer from a small brewery or a chocolate from a superior chocolatier? If you have, you can remember the mouth feel, the explosion of taste in your mouth, the way it felt sliding down your throat.” She encourages corporate clients and other consultants to be agents of organizational transformations delivered with similar care and artfulness.
  • You don’t have to be all things to all people. What we offer is highly specific, sometimes micro-specific. Artful Entrepreneurs seek to attract not just any customer or client, but ones who share their values and with whom they can build a culture of trust that enables more of certain things to find an established home in the world. This is why Mark decided to become co-owner of a gallery housed within a commercial stone distributorship adjacent to Yale Science Park scheduled to open next year. “We may not sell a ton of artworks,” he says, “but we’ll give architects and designers a reason to get in their cars and drive out on an evening.”


“Cover Songs Don’t Change the World”

The Accidental Creative is a podcast I’ve been listening to lately, thanks to my friends in Rome, Italy, at Cocoon Projects. Its tagline – “Cover bands don’t change the world” – is apt. Most entrepreneurs know that creativity is the greatest available weaponry to separate oneself from the pack. For Artful Entrepreneurs, every song is an original.

*The slide talk I delivered on The Agile Mindset can be found here.

Photos are from an interactive exercise called The Domino Effect, which can be found at

What better time of year to focus on the goodwill that makes for human closeness and connection?  Valuing individuals and interactions as we Agilists do, it’s the stuff we work to create.

I spent a day at my cowork space last week.  Not even a whole day, just stopped in to punctuate a stretch of meetings and deadlines.  It was enough to bring home the mystery of the season and the beauty of a coworking environment.


Picture receiving four hugs in the space of an hour and a half.  Real hugs, not those wimpy one-arm backpats.  All were for different reasons.

The first was from a coworker who had recommended me on LinkedIn.  He was energized to move that task into the “Done” column.  By his action and commitment I felt cared about and respected.  So, when we saw each other we hugged.

The second was in solidarity with a coworker overwhelmed by life and its multilayered demands.  We speak frequently and seem to take turns, as luck would have it, with our ups and downs.

That day his body language – the set of his shoulders and the tension in his jaw – spoke volumes.  We all want to give it up sometimes and go do something easier than this whole entrepreneurial shebang.

The kind of encouragement I wanted to give has no words.  No pep talk can motivate like a strong, caring hug.

The third involved a colleague visiting from another community to attend a workshop.  We are mostly facebook friends, so standing actual face to actual face was an unexpected pleasure.   After a split-second of decision-making in that awkward moment where you’re not sure if you’re going to hug or shake hands, we hugged.

The fourth was a welcome home.  I was standing near the reception area when a coworker I hadn’t seen in a while entered.  She and I have been open about personal challenges, heartaches and absurdities over lunch or coffee.  A lot had transpired in the interim, and we needed to catch up.   A long, friendly hug was the best place to start.

Like the holidays and the complex process of community-building, when it comes to hugs, receiving is also giving.  I am happy to be part of a workspace – as well as a global movement to improve the world of work – where such chance affection is not only allowed but commonplace.

For an international directory of cowork spaces, see .

Too many conversations lately go something like this:

Me to startup leader: are you Agile?

Startup leader to me:  as Agile as our clients let us be.

Image: choreography by Ann Carlson, used with permission.  More at

When I speak to various groups on The Agile Mindset, I point out that enlightening clients about the benefits of Agile begins with conversations leading up to the initial agreement.  While it’s less important to negotiate a contract than it is to simply collaborate with the customer, language choices do tend to support certain ways of working.

I was pretty pleased with my last experience using a Scrum-friendly contract.  The client said, “Wow, this is short!”  I replied, “Yep, let’s get to work!”

As always, get legal advice from a qualified attorney when you need it.  This is not legal advice.  I offer these sample blurbs as building blocks for your consideration.


The following items shall be presented for acceptance:

  1. Project backlog – revised monthly or as needed

  2. Retrospective report with relevant recommendations for improvement – monthly or as needed


The relationship between Client  and the Consultant will be managed and sustained by [NAME OF PRODUCT OWNER], who will be responsible for articulating goals and requirements and formally “accepting” the delivery of the work agreed-upon.

Since projects benefit from regular, purposeful, bi-directional communication, meetings shall be scheduled as follows – [INSERT SCHEDULE OF CEREMONIES].  Consultant will remain available – face to face whenever possible – offering reasonable response times, and shall expect that the Client shall be similarly available and supply all information and data as needed to complete the work to mutual satisfaction.

Consultant is happy to use any tools or processes preferred by Client.  Consultant will follow an Agile framework, which is a proven way of getting things done based on principles of entrepreneurial science.  As an Agile practitioner, the Consultant will help identify strategic opportunities to increase business value for the Client, believing that:

  • People and interactions are more important than processes and tools.

  • Working product is more important than extensive documentation.

  • Close collaboration is more important than contract negotiation.

  • Responding to change is more important than following a plan.

Last four bullet points are from The Manifesto for Agile Software Development


Recently I received this note and cheerful query from a colleague who runs a B2B custom software development company.

“Good news!  I think I may have convinced a client to use Scrum methods for their next project.

However I’m not really sure how to draw up the project’s contract.  Most of my contracts have very specific tasks and use change orders every time the spec changes.  This doesn’t seem like it would work with a Scrum project.  Any recommendations?”

So I sent him the above, and added a closing line which applies across the board.  Should you ever need backup helping your clients ‘let’ you be more Agile, be in touch for a consultation!

This article was originally posted in The Whiteboard, a blog serving Connecticut’s entrepreneurial community.  Michael Romano is the editor.  Read more Whiteboard articles here:

Elinor Slomba is the founder of E. Slomba Arts Interstices as well as a Whiteboard Community Startup Journalist. In addition to covering the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Connecticut, she has written for The Whiteboard on the Scrum and Agile approaches to collaboration and project management. As a consultant and curator, one of her main concerns is bridging the worlds of art and business, helping artists be more entrepreneurial and businesses more artistic. The exhibition she recently curated, Navigate Complexity, is currently on view at The GroveThe work pictured above, from the exhibition, is “Nebulae #1,” by Jennifer Davies (handmade paper, string, 17” square).

13-007 Jennifer Davies

Monday evening, an exhibition I curated opened at the The Grove in New Haven, showcasing the work of 17 Connecticut-based artist-entrepreneurs and one timely business topic: Navigating Complexity.

The opening reception drew approximately 50 people from the arts and startup worlds, resulting in sales inquiries as well as rich conversation and invitations to participate in future shows.

The exhibition’s theme deliberately addresses a current obsession among the business world’s top-tier thought leaders. Indeed, this year’s Drucker Forum, which just concluded in Vienna, convened under the banner “Managing Complexity.”

The business world is finally catching on to what artists know every time they go into the studio. It isn’t viable to enter a change process with a well-defined plan and expect to follow it. Instead, creative leaders need to trust the emerging solution.

Startup Weekend New Haven Art

Judy Sirota Rosenthal’s “Unfinished Prayer” watches over a StartUp Weekend New Haven team burning the 9pm oil last weekend at The Grove.

As a curator and a connector of the arts and startup worlds, I hope to amplify the role that artists have to play as guideposts and model generators for what complexity theorist Esko Kilpi defines as “the science of uncertainty.”

I was introduced to Kilpi’s work this week by a publisher who was reading the introduction to the “Navigate Complexity” catalogue, a passage of which reads:

“Navigating complexity is all about patterns. Selectively reducing the data we absorb is an act of creative intention. The world has become a fiercely complex competition for headspace, so we must design criteria for engagement. The quality of the paths we find and the sense we make reflect not only trust in our relationships but also our orientation to uncertainty.”

In his 2012 essay titled “Complexity, Patterns, and Links,” Kilpi writes:

“Complexity refers to a pattern, a movement in time that is at the same time predictable and unpredictable, knowable and unknowable. Healthy, ordinary, everyday life is always complex, no matter what the situation is. There is absolutely no linearity in the world of human beings.”

13-007 Jennifer Davies

Jennifer Davies, Nebulae #2, handmade paper, string, 17” square

Helping people visualize new paradigms for organizational design is a service provided by visual artists like Jennifer Davies, whose “Nebulae” series graces the space where Independent Software works to help entrepreneurs build products and companies.

I see in Davies’s work the shift we are making from “the net” to “the mesh,” a concept put forward by author Lisa Gansky describing the way web-based businesses are advancing innovation through shareable goods. Says Gansky: “Every part is connected to every other part, and they move in tandem…. Mesh businesses are knotted to each other, and to the world, in myriad ways.”

Italian-born Giada Crispiels has installed ivy made from upcycled newspaper and magazine pages between the office of Big Bang, an industrial design firm, and a conference room. The effect adds organic energy and a touch of whimsy to the space.

Navigate Complexity may travel to other locations after February. A closing reception is planned for February 13th at The Grove.

“First, swap out the baby. Then we’ll talk.”


On Monday my co-work space, The Grove in New Haven, Connecticut, toasts this occasion.

Navigate Complexity 

Nov 2013-Feb 2014

a visual exhibition 

& open sourced catalogue

produced by E. Slomba Arts Interstices

Navigate Complexity Invite (1)

The artists included are Amy Bock, Tracie Cheng, Christine Chiocchio, Ellen Cochise Corso, Giada Crispiels, Jennifer Davies, Bryant Davis, Daniel Eugene, John Fallon, Alexis Granwell, Luke Hanscom, Jaime Krikscium, Mark Krueger, Judy Rosenthal, Joanna Schiff, Rashmi Talpade, and Mark Williams.

My friend and associate Stuart Scott asked me to share some of the “lively messiness” of curation.  This he contrasts to the “sanitized order” of most gallery settings.

Curation is mainly a game of association.  The game mirrors the theme of this particular show.  I like to find out what artists are already thinking about, what’s floating around out there in the ether.

First I guess.  Then I check and see if my guesses are relevant.  I do this by talking to artists.

I play around arranging works by artists who’ve been thinking about similar things.  Then I stand back, squint and see how it all looks.

In this way, an exhibition creates opportunities for artists to become curious about new things and see their work in new contexts.  This is fun and messy, sometimes frustrating and anxiety producing, always surprising and inspiring.


Daniel Eugene and Jaime Kriksciun on Installation Day

Since I do not own the spaces in which I curate, there is also that relationship to consider and negotiate.  Slate Ballard, founder of The Grove, was extraordinary to work with in this regard.  Here is a conversation we had during the process of putting together this show.

Me: I’m afraid to ask you this, but can we drill into the wall?

Slate: Not the concrete ones.

Me: Okay, which ones aren’t concrete?

Slate:  (Shrugs.) Probably this one. (Knocks on the wall to doublecheck.)  Yeah, that one would be okay.

Me: Cool!  Thanks!

Mark Williams Grove Diorama

The work in question is a peephole piece.   A few years ago, artist Mark Williams ran a successful crowdfunding campaign to tour Luray Caverns so he could draw upon authentic, first-hand experience using cave imagery in his work.  

I met Mark visiting Erector Square, the former Erector Set factory now housing the studios of hundreds of artists.  I asked if he’d be interested in creating a site-specific peephole similar to the one inside his studio door.  

I didn’t get around to asking Slate about this until the day before Mark was scheduled to come take some measurements.  That’s what you call the “last responsible moment.”  

Here’s Mark finishing up with the wall in question.  I had taped one of his cavern postcards there as a place saver so he would know where to start cutting and drilling.


And  here is the wall now, after StartUp Weekend took place in the space.  I hope Mark won’t mind.

As you can see, I’m not possessive of the exhibition’s real estate. We did take that stuff down, though, for the opening.WP_000880

So that’s how I like to curate.  This does in fact create a lively messiness.  Another case in point is Ellen Corso’s Kissing Project.


For six years she’s been taking pictures of couples kissing outdoors.  Her motto in documenting these moments is “There are more good people in the world than bad.   There is more love in the world than hate.  The world is not a dangerous place.”

All of the feedback was positive until we installed some of her Kiss pictures above the urinal.  Immediately I began hearing comments from men’s bathroom users who were uncomfortable with their placement and content.

el u

I mentioned it to Ellen, to which she replied, “it’s good to make them feel something.”  To date, we haven’t moved the kisses from the urinal area, but it’s still an open question.  Exploring the viewers’ feelings of discomfort, one coworker revealed, “first, you have to swap out the baby.  Then check back and we’ll talk.”  We discovered the trigger!


Italian artist Giada Crispiel’s work is an amazing transformation of newsprint into an elegant, twining organism.  It breathes into the space and adds a touch of whimsy.  Another coworker posted to our community Facebook page:  “really adds a buzz to the place. Well  sited!”

Time to work on the catalogue, which will be posted on LinkedIn for open source comments on the theme.  Below is the starting blurb…

Navigating complexity is all about patterns.  Selectively reducing the data we absorb is an act of creative intention.  The world has become a fiercely complex competition for headspace, so we must design criteria for engagement.  The quality of the paths we find and the sense we make reflect not only trust in our relationships but also our orientation to uncertainty.  

watch decreased

Joanna Schiff, Watching

The theme of complexity showed up at this year’s Drucker Forum #gpdf13.  Toronto-based thinker, author and strategist Roger Martin kicked off his Plenary session on How Leaders Should Embrace Complexity.

In response to the event, complexity theorist Esko Kilpi tweeted, “It is time for the science of uncertainty in management.”  In an essay titled “Complexity, Patterns and Links,” Kilpi writes “Complexity refers to a pattern, a movement in time that is at the same time predictable and unpredictable, knowable and unknowable. Healthy, ordinary, everyday life is always complex, no matter what the situation is. There is absolutely no linearity in the world of human beings.”


Luke Hanscom, from the Van Dyke Series

All for now as we navigate complexity.  I can’t wait to toast the artists at the opening Monday night.  It’s open to the public at 760 Chapel Street in downtown New Haven, 5:30-7:30pm, where the works will be for sale.   And if you feel curiosity, enthusiasm or desire to contribute to the catalog essays, please know you will have an opportunity very soon.


Tracie Cheng, Relief

Yours in artfulness,


Conflict based on personalities is a time drain, wasteful on many levels.  Conflict rooted in differing convictions can be constructive and add value if handled correctly.  Yet doing so takes courage, and that means facing our fears.

company cypher

Openly invite conflict.   People are afraid of disagreement because, in hierarchies, the outcome can be loss of social status.  Invite people to share a multitude of ideas in open forums.  There will be less risk associated with offering the “wrong” opinions, and  communal trust will increase. [1]

Kill the experts.  Any organization that presumes to bring in “experts” is operating in a hierarchical manner.  Call them something else, like “instigators.”  It changes the energy.

Critique ideas, not people.  In the 12-step circles I’ve been fortunate to frequent as a participant-observer, this is known as “putting principles before personalities.”  In a training session on giving feedback, one company I worked with decided to embrace the model of the art critique.  This makes the process of observing what works and what doesn’t fun and engaging rather than scary and full of rejection. [2]

Strictly enforce timeboxes.  When deadlines loom, posturing and jockeying for position simply makes no sense.  [3] Study how theater ensembles manage deadlines: the date for opening night gets published and the public is invited in.  Everyone in the ensemble has a personal, public stake in meeting the deadline [4]

Reinforce goodwill.   Consistent, sustainable quality cannot occur when people treat each other badly.   One company I worked for spelled out its expectation that we would show “respect and candor in all communications.”  Too much candor can descend into brutality.  Overly respectful deference, on the other hand, can put the freeze on important conversations.  So say it, but say it in a nice way.  That’s goodwill.

Be #Flawsome. Show your imperfections and people will automatically feel safer around you.  A group of people doing this will be more united than a team of perfectionists.   Do you believe that awesome imperfection is sufficient to muddle through challenges?  Try it on a small project and see how much anxiety and energy get released for finding creative solutions.

Play with options.  Forum Theater is a way to stop action in a tense or conflicted setting and reinvent new futures.   [5]  The following questions can be posed in writing (to encourage introverts) or in dialogue, or acted out in skits.

  • What would I do if I were brave..?
  • What would I do if I were all-powerful?
  • What would I do if I were in charge?

The Traditions of one worldwide self-organizing group state “So long as the ties that bind us together are stronger than those that would tear us apart, all will be well.”   Here’s hoping that all is well and continues to improve with you and your teams.


[1] Brindusa Axon, “The Power of Productive Conflict”

[2] Narcotics Anonymous, “Why It Works: The Twelve Traditions of NA”

[3] Tom Wujec & Peter Skillman, “The Marshmallow Challenge”

[4] Lee Devin, “Artful Making” and “The Soul of Design”

[5] Sarita Covington, energizing the use of Forum Theater to help organizations and ecosystems


Arthur Fink, for sparking this essay and providing feedback and

Michael Romano, for being a trusted and reliable editor

Pictured: Company Cypher, founded by Sarita Covington with another fellow Yale grad.  Coming soon to The Agile Gym (all rights reserved) 

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