Back to Our Roots Part II: The Ariel Group and Co-Creation
“We are participants in the unfolding and becoming of those with whom we work; it is through them that we unfold and emerge.” Allan Kaplan in Development Practitioners and Social Process: Artists of the Invisible
I am constantly reminded that so much of what we do, whether as artists, designers, innovators or leaders, is seldom really new and often draws on or is influenced by the wisdom, ideas and collaborative discoveries of others – sometimes even happening in a parallel universe where one is oblivious to what’s happening in the other.
It is no different with our work at The Ariel Group, for even though at the heart of “what” we teach, is the metaphor of theater, our methodology, i.e. the “how” we teach is influenced by many others, including theater practitioners.
One influence from the world of theater, among many, is Viola Spolin:
“We learn through experience and experiencing, and no one teaches anyone anything. This is as true for the infant moving from kicking to crawling to walking as it is for the scientist with his equations. If the environment permits it, anyone can learn whatever he chooses to learn; and if the individual permits it, the environment will teach him everything it has to teach.” (Improvisation for the Theater).
We draw on the principles of emotional memory in designing the arc of our programs, as we gradually move people out of their comfort zone in our exercises into situations in which we create significant and powerful experiences. As Shoshana Zuboff puts it in her book In the Age of the Smart Machine, “ordinary experience has to be made extraordinary in order to become accessible to reflection.”
Influenced by the ideas of appreciative inquiry and the work of Cooperrider and others, our facilitators seek to uncover each participant’s “exceptionality – their unique gifts, strengths and qualities…their specialties – their essential contributions and achievements…to discover in all human beings the exceptional and the essential.” (Lessons from the Field: Applying Appreciative Inquiry).
Another early influence was Paulo Freire, a Brazilian educator and theorist of critical pedagogy. There are a number of his theories that are explicit in our design:
- Learning begins with action, which is then is shaped by reflection, which gives rise to further action – a continuous and never-ending process
- The person who thinks and reflects goes about creating himself from the inside out – Freire’s theory focused on cognitive understanding, to which we add the experiential and visceral elements of the body and emotion
- Dialogue, and not individual monologue, is a critical component of informal education and involves respect and humility on the part of the teacher
- Teaching others is not like withdrawing knowledge from a bank or repository – it’s not something that is passed from teachers to students – knowledge is constructed from what a student already knows, shaping new information and experiences through understanding, discussion and reflection
And so we come full circle to the quote of Kaplan. Written in 2002, he clearly had no influence in creating The Ariel Group’s methodology (and I don’t suppose he has ever heard of our company) and yet his approach to organization development, group change and social transformation clearly resonates with our somewhat unorthodox approach to training leadership, suggesting parallel universes in the creation of “not so new” ideas.
Who or what has been most inspirational and influential in your life and work?