Category Archives: storytelling

On Love and Creativity

AcademyXi asked me to speak at an openIDEO event in Sydney. I couldn’t attend, because I was at Wir Bauen Zukunft in Germany. So I recorded 13 mins about what I think are the causes of a disconnected society,about competition and winning, my experience of living in Leipzig (post-socialist) as very communal and collectively artistic, abundance and scarcity, about creativity and consumption,  and about love. Enjoy 🙂

Queer Economics And Love-Driven Politics

I’m feeling torn about this article. Although I posted it on Medium I never shared it really. I rewrote “fem” and “masc” to read “yin” and “yang”, but that doesn’t cut it either. There’s something in it, and it needs other people, conversation, to shape what can become, so I release it:

This is the story of a change of mind that came so sudden that I didn’t even had time to get nervous. It was the day I shared the stage with Yochai Benkler, which means I had a mad good audience. The OUIshareFest committee had asked me to talk about Poietic Co-Entrepreneurship, something I had R&D’ed for years. But just before the talk, I spontaneously decided to share something else instead, and said:

“This talk is about Androgyny, or the in-between, and how that relates to the way we work, talk and play.”

I handed out small tags and asked everyone in the audience to write down how they saw themselves on a scale between masculine and feminine. Say, I feel 70% feminine and 30% masculine. Then I asked them to flip that and listen to the talk from that perspective. Dear reader, you might want to do the same.

After we had gender-labelled ourselves sufficiently, I went on. Let’s assume we live in a patriarchal economy. That means that structures, symbolism, language as well as storytelling and sense-making mechanisms are largely masculine. There’s an emphasis on competition, argumentative communication, and a desire for definition, linearity, and focus.

At this point, I could hear shuffling feet in the audience and noticed intensive stares, but no one left.

To reveal patriarchal structures, I spoke about pyramids versus galaxies as symbols for the old and new economy. The pyramid is the old economy, a hierarchical system with a desire for control, winning, and stability. You set an aim, shoot the arrow and go for the kill. The galaxy is the new economy, and is made of many moving parts, which continuously change their relationship towards one another. Here, control is surrendered to organic movement. Stability is found in resilience: the ability to respond well to whatever curveball your environment serves you.

Emerging ways of working emphasise such traits. They are relational and integrative, not exclusive or competitive. Take commons-oriented peer production or design thinking, where pivoting and iterating are characterised by non-linear flows that embrace and integrate multiple potentialities.

By this stage, I felt heightened energy in the room and saw supportive nods. I went on pointing out that — while we’re religiously preaching design thinking — the method itself will not change current winner-takes-all practice unless we change the language that goes with it.

We’re still using war terminology: we talk about strategy and tactics and war rooms and combatting problems. Just to get a foot in the door, we marry design thinking with business speak. Speaking of imagination, joy, and playfulness is still frowned upon. Despite modern rhetoric, failing still has a stigma. Empathetic soft-spokenness is devalued as weak and indecisive. Saying “maybe” is seen as an invitation to be taken advantage of. What a shame! What I hear when I hear “maybe” is an invitation to build on someone’s thought. It’s not about arguing someone’s point. It’s about possibility. It’s about levelling up. Not beating down. And that’s way stronger than arguing a point. It is stronger, because you acknowledge that there is more than your viewpoint; it’s stronger, because you acknowledge that an opposing idea is still as true as yours; it’s stronger, because you can hold paradoxical ideas at once and still make sense; it’s stronger, because it’s non-linear multi-level sense-making. In the age of complexity, we may want to come to see that as an evolutionary advantage.

At this point, I had eased into my stream of consciousness. So, this is me with a limb out. I proposed that our storytelling is largely masculine, not just in terms of predominant characters in popular TV and cinema, but in terms of underlying structure. In the world of books and films, the typical linear story follows a three-act masculine orgasm: (1) foreplay, (2) climax, (3) sleep (forgive me, but it’s funny). With new technologies, though, we see non-linear narratives emerging. Stories take place on various platforms, such as film, app, graphic novels, instagram, games etc. Such roving stories have multiple orgasms: several releases in various places at once. I’m sure masculine types enjoy these, too.

This chart wasn’t part of my talk, but I got obsessed:


If the Western world is a stronghold of the masculine, how can we bring in the feminine without compromising the masculine altogether? It’s obvious that we have a liking for domination and “power over”. It’s also obvious that — to save our planet  — we need to shift our focus to nurturing and caring qualities; the ones that act from a deep-seated “power within”, a mature strength that leads by service, a confident wanderer that finds that the goal can be in the way.

In our upbringing, we have learned that masculine traits bring success, but we shouldn’t train ourselves to play the domination game. Instead, we should infuse our economy with love and care. Still, we need to realise that these traits bring success, too. And that means valuing and remunerating affective and emotional labour. That means recognizing that the feminine holds a wisdom that will only thrive if we allow the masculine to subside a bit. That doesn’t mean that we don’t need our masculinity. The opposite, we need both. We need the queerness of being both, of being in-between. We could re-marry the masculine and feminine; renew the vows and help both create the poetry of life by working hand in hand, by engaging in love-driven politics with each other, and with nature, by being alchemists.

So I wonder:

  • How can we create malleable structures that enable and equally value both feminine and masculine expressions of individual and collective creativity?
  • How can we bring about a value system for a new economy that embraces the in-between – including its uncertainty, fuzziness, and tenderness – and fosters queerer and more caring modes of interaction?

In Paris, I ended my talk reading out this poem of mine.


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LORE :: Androgyny

Over the course of a few years, I’ll tie different strands that I research together. I use LORE as a term for this package of research; LORE in the sense of “folklore” but also as “body of traditions” or (in)visible cultural norms we abide by. First, because everything I do places itself in storytelling. Also, because I live and die for a good faerytale. And lastly, because I was invited by an indigenous elder to learn with her. In Wirradjirri, the indigenous Australian Dreaming is referred to as LAW/LORE, which opened up a whole new way of thinking about culture and ethics as a way to “law”. The different strands that I collect under LORE are emerging as I evolve. The first theme that came to me was Androgyny, or generally everything that’s in-between.

To get my ethnography going I started a facebook group to start a conversation about the “in between” across many domains: sex (on being both masc/fem as male/female), politics (on binaries and unity), creativity (on being ambidextrous), mind (on reasoning and sensing), culture (on science and art), philosophy (on spirituality and logic). It’s about integration and remix and what it means when it gets jumbled in a body; how it (re)presents itself in the world; and about our agency. Something important is shifting globally and here’s a forum to move beyond binaries.

Soon after I had about 300 group members, I invited those based in Sydney to a local workshop, a playground to explore and make-do. We were about 20, meeting for 3h at Join the Dots, a workshop space in Marrickville. We had queers, cis, mums, dads, singles, Europeans, Australians, freelancers, artists, consultants, yoga teachers, designers, employees, entrepreneurs, writers, musicians, academics, artists, oh dear so many, all between the age of 5 to 50.

The main questions we asked when designing this playground were:
– How can we soften current labels around gender, queerness or heteronormativity?
– How can we soften ubiquitous divisive/competitive language (i.e in Business and Science) to a more androgynous/integrative one?
– How can we play in between binaries and make people comfortable with that fuzziness?

We started with a little identity change. We gave each participant a small tag. On the one side they first estimated their percentage of feminine and masculine traits. For example,  today I feel 70% feminine and 30% masculine in a female body. Then, we turned the tag around and wrote on the other side. This time, we would choose the opposite or a variation that is very alien to me. For example, I would now have a male body and feel 90% and 10% feminine. The idea was to tap into empathy. Once we had our characters, we all pledged to stay in character throughout the workshop. When we did this, Baran played the hang for us. The atmosphere was so joyful, chilled and energised. Loved it. 

Before the workshop we had asked everyone to bring three objects, ne that is masculine, one feminine and one neutral. We laid out a large butcher paper and everyone traced their object and took it away again. Just looking at the outlines, the group walked around and wrote adjectives next to the traces. This way, we collected impressions about shapes and outlines that hint on masculine and feminine, but we also gathered counterintuitive statements. Overall, we figured that objects were divided into fem, neutral or masc according to their function and/or shape. Very interesting was the 5-year-old, who couldn’t identify specific female objects, everything was male or neutral. Overall, we saw that everyone started from a different idea of what Androgyny is.

To go into the next exercise we asked everyone to choose an object and form groups around a certain object. The task was to create a story that incorporates the object and the gender swapped characters we were playing. For the next hour, groups drew story boards, build small objects and wrote various versions of character development. All this work was done on butchers paper.

To share their ideas, each group improvised a 5-minute performance with everyone on stage performing their character in drag. Giving everyone a counterintuitive role, our idea was to help people get into other people’s shoes. But what happened instead was that all our stories poised  at the edge of stereotyping. It was remarkable to see how we all exposed ourselves freely to how little we actually knew about what it really felt like for others. 

While listening to the stories, the audience would make notes on “Triggers and Thresholds”. Whenever they were triggered emotionally by something pleasing they would write down one word. And whenever they felt a reaction to a threshold, or a liminal space, that is threatening to them, they wrote down a keyword that popped up in that moment. All these keyword were noted on post-its.

On the wall we had created a matrix, on which we collected these statements to get an overview about feminine  and masculine gender ideas in the room. After each performance the whole group would run at the wall and place their triggers and thresholds along a horizontal line that ran from feminine to masculine, and a vertical line that ran from trigger to threshold. 

With such a short timeframe there was no more time to drill deeper into areas, such as the “in between”, transgender, orgasms, sexuality, politics, business, language, emancipation of gender, evolution, etc. We left knowing that there was great interest in a series of playgrounds around the topic.
More photos and details are here.

Group size:
Expected size of the group is 15 to 35.

Index Cards (6 x 9)
Post-it Notes
Butcher Paper
Masking Tape
Markers (3 different colours)

Room setup
3 tables
2 benches
floor space and cushions
three walls, one used for projection

MOOC Sherlock and the Internet of Everything

MOOC_PosterI’m lecturing a rad MOOC! It’s called Sherlock Holmes and the Internet of Things (IoT) and because of its experimental setup we renamed MOOC a Massive Online Offline Collaboration. The MOOC itself is an ongoing prototype developed and run by Learn Do Share at Columbia University. With meet-ups in close to 20 cities, 1000+ collaborators from over 60 countries, the pilot MOOC creates a massive connected crime scene consisting of smart storytelling objects. Teams take on roles from the novel to create, design, build and test prototypes in local and global groups. They explore the ethical and political implications of IoT. By creating shared assets collaborators raise questions on shared authorship and ownership, which ultimately leads them to engage with new concepts.

Here‘s an overview of the program.

I have created two brief video lectures that I shared in two separated posts here and here . They’re super DIY, though.

case study: robot heart stories

Screen Shot 2013-08-08 at 6.10.56 PM

A tweet of 140 characters sent out to a community of creatives marked the starting point of a storyworld that engaged two classrooms in Montreal and LA for a 10-day period in October 2011. The students and 50+ collaborators from eight countries helped shaping both story and project. Initiators Lance Weiler and Janine Saunders were interested in experimenting and rapid prototyping, so their team created a lose framework that allowed participants to step in and create both the project and the story itself.

The goal was to apply storytelling as a purposeful means to improve education. This case study outlines the build of the story with a special emphasis on collaboration. It’s part of my PhD research and aims to share process and show how 21st century storyworlds can be a tool for experiential learning through creativity. Enter: Laika.

[click image to download]

A short survey made by Anthea Foyer and Siobhan O’Flynn is available on the {TMC resource kit website}.


remixing storytelling to do some good

These mornings when you wake up and the first thing you do is grab pen and paper to write down the epiphanies you had … 80% are rubbish. But sometimes they’re the bomb. Below is a list that I wrote down in a frenzy one morning: purposeful storytelling* as a remix of schools and techniques borrowing from

. architecture and design re design thinking
. coding re releasing and iterating beta versions
. hacking re disruption and disobedience
. design re open methodology and participation
. biz development re agile management and monetization
. diy culture re entrepreneurship and makerspaces
. gaming re mechanics and community building
. play re incentives and leveling hierarchies
. the arts re collaboration and significant objects
. music industry re distribution and revenue streams
. peer production re participation and crowdsourcing
. tech re platforms and experimentation
. academia re R&D labs
. education re experiential learning and curricula
. entertainment re storytelling and emotionality
. film-making re collaboration and dramaturgy
. marketing and PR re social reach and revenue streams
. positive psychology re ethos and leadership style
. jugaad and jua kali re frugal innovation
. the commons re mindset and share culture

I thought that morning was rather spectacular. 🙂

* As a result of researching open collaboration on Robot Heart Stories, I thought of the project setup as well as story mechanisms as purposeful storytelling, which are projects for social good that use story, game mechanics, collaboration, technology and design thinking to convey experiential learning outcomes for both participants and audience.