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Learning Activities Using This Resource Kit:

Exploring the Tales of Complexity


Provide your own interpretations and lens on the stories in the Tales of Complexity section.

When To Use:

After a sense of initial mastery of the basic concepts behind CAS as summarized in this Resource Kit; to develop further mastery and to develop your own ideas about what is really important in this field.

Group Considerations:

Appropriate for any group, or can be done as an individual exercise (maybe with later sharing).

Learning Styles:

Reflectors and Theorists, those who enjoy seeing patterns, will like doing this. Activists and extroverts will like it if there is plenty of opportunity for interaction with others and if the discussion is kept open-ended and free from "right answer syndrome." Pragmatists may have difficulty seeing the relevance to their reality and current problems. If you have lots of Pragmatists, choose the Tales carefully for their value as analogous to current issues in your organization.

The Leader:

Needs to be able to state a point of view without having others take it as the correct answer. Needs to be comfortable actively honoring other interpretations of events. Remember, be a co-learner.

Supplies Needed:

Copies of the Tales section of this Resource Kit. Consider sharing the specific Tales you will be discussing beforehand so that those who like to prepare can do so (see more about this in the details section below). You may want to ask people to capture thoughts on easel pads, but avoid the impression that there is a "right answer" or that the output will be critiqued.


Select a Tale that you feel illustrate a concept that you want to discuss or is particularly analogous to a situation that your organization is currently facing. Or, if you do not have too many strong Pragmatists and concrete thinkers who must see immediate relevance in order to learn, select a Tale at random.

You can either have everyone read the Tale in its entirety before beginning the discussion, or you can read through it one section at a time. Experiment with both options and see what your group likes best. If you use the one section at a time method, you may have to hand out the Tale one-page-at-a-time if people just cannot resist reading ahead. Talk about this beforehand so that everyone understands that this is not a game of "can you guess what happened next." It is simply being done to maintain the group's focus. Also be aware that this approach is hard for strong introverts and Reflectors who like time to think and prepare before they participate.

To get more involvement and action, consider acting out the Tale instead of simply reading it. This, of course, must be thought through beforehand, but it can be lots of fun and very stimulating for Activists and Extroverts. You could even modify some of the details to make the relevance more clear.

Regardless of the method of getting the Tale out before the group, the point is to reflect on it. Consider questions such as these to stimulate discussion:

What principles, concepts, aides, and so on from complexity do you see in this story?

Does the story seem real or contrived to you? Explain. Listen to others explain their points of view and pay attention to the effect that this has on the learning group.

  • What insights do you have when you view this story with the complexity lens?

  • Interpret the story through other traditional lens and contrast that with the complexity lens view.

  • What would you do in this situation? How do you think it would have turned out? Why do you feel that way? What mental model are you applying?

  • What mental models and metaphors do the people in the story appear to be holding?

  • If you could talk to the people in the story, what would you like to ask them? Why?

  • How do you think the various people in the story feel about the events of the story? What does this tell you about your own mental models and feelings?

  • Does this story make you think of stories from your own experience? If so, please share the stories and the connection you see.

  • How might we use the insights gained from this story to apply to our own current context?

  • Write a one-line "moral" of the story. Force yourself to distill it down to just one line. Now share with the group. What insights do you get about yourself and the others within the group through comparing and contrasting your summary statements?

The questions above are in no particular order, nor are they meant to be comprehensive. You will never fully explore all aspect of a story, so let the discussion go where it will and use you intuition for direction. Let the pace and intensity of the discussion be your guide regarding how long to spend on a story. Fruitful discussion can be had in as few as 10 minutes and as much as an hour. A good rule of thumb is to try to end the discussion and move on to some other activity just a little before most people are ready to quit. The thinking will continue on.

A Peek Behind the Activity

Reflection is a key skill in understanding CAS. Here we are practicing reflection at arms length by using the experiences of others. This might be safer initially than reflecting on our own context. Use this activity to get people comfortable with reflective learning; the open-ended dialogue, the unresolved diversity of opinion, the drawing out of lessons, the recognition of patterns, and so on.

Think also about how this exercise helps participants develop "learning style flexibility." Discuss this openly. Pragmatists need to learn how to theorize a bit and see patterns, even if they are not immediately relevant. Theorists need to come down from the clouds and address the "so what?" question. Reflectors need to practice "thinking on their feet" because it will help them handle real situations where immediate action is needed. And Activists need to learn to get something from what they might consider passive reading.

Throughout this activity, stress that the storyteller is simply telling the story from his or her point of view. What they did and what they think is not "right" in any absolute sense, it is simply what they did and thought. At the same time, point out that it is easy to be wise in hindsight and at a distance from the real events. Smugly putting down the story teller serves no purpose.

Extensions of the Activity

There is nothing magical about the stories in this Resource Kit. You can, of course, use this activity with stories from other sources. Newspapers, magazines, novels, TV shows, and movies may provide other stories to work with. If you are in a broader learning group with other organizations and you are both keeping journals (see the activity described later in this section) consider swapping stories.

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Copyright 2001, Paul E. Plsek & Associates,
Permission to copy for educational purposes only.
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