Our own learning journey

Our Rusty Brown partnership is thriving and the 3 of us have never been more engaged in our work. We have been doing a range work together and, at time, individually. The work that really excites us are the multi-stakeholder journeys that go beyond the usual, one-off workshop. These groups contain a diverse mix of people and groups who have ‘skin-in-the-game’, in relation to some complex, intractable challenge(s) that they face together. These groups (representing a slice of a system or field) are often stuck and know that a collective effort is needed to make progress. Along these learning journeys, part of the task is to build stronger relationships and develop the courage to be creative, take risks, let-go of safety and be willing to “get comfortable being uncomfortable”.


Over the past 18 months we have been on a giant learning curve. We find ourselves reading and applying stuff from a wide range of disciplines including Systems Theory, Complexity, Improvisation, Facilitation, Mindfulness, Brain Science, Psychology and human systems based on ecological models.

As we draw on and bring together knowledge, new thinking and practices, we look forward to sharing the methods and approaches that we are co-evolving. I’ll write about some of here, and together we will post some of it over at the Rusty Brown blog.

Thanks to the following people and networks for the inspiration …

The Beyond the Basics team at Art of Hosting – for their globe trotting events and willingness to share everything!

The dynamic Creative Facilitation duo of Johnnie & Viv – for their capacity to see through the bullshit and find the ‘essence’ through publications like Nothing is Written.

Reos Partners – for their training and the collaboration & guidance from Steve Atkinson.

Circus Oz – for their amazingly creative group spaces, people and partnership with us.

Healthy Together Victoria – a client and partner that have provided opportunities to learn, experiment and put everything into ‘real-world’ practice!

Cognitive Edge – 4 days training recently with Dave Snowden and Michael Cheveldave helped us to crack open some new thinking and approaches to our group work.

Global Learning – Steve Coleman and Mark Spain for their friendship and collaboration

Clear Horizon – We keep dipping into their Evaluation bag-of-tricks and cross paths on work from time to time

As Viv would say … “onwards!



I spent most of last night … until 1am in fact … devouring some new and old readings on applied improvisation. I purchased Robert Poynton’s new Do Lectures book – Improvise and dusted off a whole bunch of Group Work activities that joyfully immerse people in purposeful play. I feel like I have re discovered an old friend. I know that my application of activities from the Applied Improv world have, at times, missed the mark. But mostly, they have connected and supported groups to discover new ways of working, leading, collaborating and simply being with each other.

Last night on the tram I was approached by a middle aged lady who had been in a workshop I facilitated 3 years ago. I remembered her and she thanked me for playing an improv game called One Word Story with her team of about 25 people. She then told me how her team used the Improv principles of ‘Let-Go’, ‘YesAnd’ and ‘Notice More’ changed the course of their strategy. By applying these principles to their stakeholder engagement and collaboration, she said that their relationships with external organisations transformed. As a result their work found a new level and they managed to find new ways of approaching complex challenges. Moments like these are rare and she left me questioning myself … “Why have I stopped bringing principles and practices of Improvisation to my own group work?”

Note to self … time to re discover my love and application for Improvisation!

Collaboration with Gary Hirsch

About 3 years ago I received a beautiful gift from Gary Hirsch of On Your Feet. It was (and still is) a Bot … a hand painted monster on the back of a domino. Gary creates thousands of these things and his obsession for sharing (and letting go) of his BotJoy art has gone places.


Back in 2010, I had a the pleasure of spending 3 days with Gary and a couple of hundred other improvisors in Portland, Oregon at the Applied Improvisation Network (AIN) annual conference. Viv McWaters introduced me to joy of Improvisation some years before and it was at Portland that my love for all things Improvisation was born.

4 years on, I stumble upon a Tedx-Portland talk by Gary Hirsch on the topic of collaboration. Given I know Gary and I have a Bot I had to watch him teach and perform. Enjoy!

On being part of the problem …

Co-conspirator of mine, Chris Corrigan, has shared a post he titled – Dealing with your slaves and seeing the world. This piece is a timely reminder about how we perceive the world around us. For me, it’s a little challenge to my own perspective … and to the stories I make in my mind about any problem that I am tackling.

I’ll try not to just repeat what Chris says, however this quote from Adam Kahane is at the core of his post …

“Bill Torbert of Boston College once said to me that the 1960s slogan “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem” actually misses the most important point about effecting change. The slogan should be, “If you’re not part of the problem, you can’t be part of the solution.” If we cannot see how what we are doing or not doing is contributing to things being the way that they are, then logically we have no basis at all, zero leverage, for change the way things are — except from the outside, by persuasion or force.”

When I hear people (and myself) talking about any problem – communication at the local school, device/screen addiction in their kids, the Alcoa Coal mine – the image in my mind looks like this …

on being part of the problem


Imagine if we could really see our own part in every complex problem we perceived – local or global. I think this self perception would fundamentally change a lot of conversations. A deeper understanding about our part (and the parts other’s play) in the problem helps to build up a better picture of the whole. You can apply this to different scales – individual, team and organisational, national.

Chris concludes his post with a few questions:

“So, what is your experience in affecting change from inside the problem?  How do you work towards justice while recognizing your complicity in the very problems you are addressing?”

The practice-challenge to myself is a question about how I reframe things in my own mind. Here is one personal example I’ll apply it to:

What is my part (and how am I complicit) in the device-addiction that has crept back into our family life since returning from our 5 month trip last year? And then … how can I affect change from within the problem?

Geoff Brown


Are we throwing birds … or stones?

As Russell, Suzie and myself have been exploring the essence of what our Rusty Brown collaboration is all about, we often view our offering through the lens of living systems. A conversation yesterday reminded me of a short piece I wrote for a session that I facilitated at the Thriving In Uncertainty conference in Melbourne 2 years ago …   

If we embrace the idea that an organisation is a living ecosystem, rather than a mechanistic model, how would we work with that larger consciousness? Paul Plsek likens this difference to that between throwing a stone and throwing a live bird (1). The trajectory of the stone can be calculated precisely using the mechanical laws of physics. The trajectory of the bird is emergent and far less predictable! The question is whether we can genuinely embrace this shift in perspective and add a layer of living tissue to the organisational machine.

Throwing Birds_Stones

The good news is that we don’t need to abandon everything we currently do. When dealing with technical problems, we still need efficient management, expertise and best practice processes. But on their own, rational, linear and individually-generated solutions are not up to the task. It’s not enough to just bring our brains to work. We need to access and apply our whole intelligence to problem-solving, creativity and innovation, especially in the complexity of global, local social and environmental issues.

Applied Improvisation is at the heart of our offering at Rusty Brown and we know that improvisation is a key driver for business and organisational success during times of uncertainty and change. Ironically, we all know how to improvise, but most of us spend too much time planning and never get to the improvisation part. And when you look at the cutting edge of business today, the most pioneering and successful companies are moving in exactly that direction. Their leaders know that innovation comes from a careful balance of planning and improvisation. By applying improv, their people are cultivating strong relationships and are being creative with limited resources. These organisations are deeply fulfilling to work with, enrich the communities they serve and are able to thrive in uncertainty.

Since being introduced to Applied Improv 7 years ago, it’s principles have reshaped the way I facilitate, consult, parent and live life. In practice, applying improv has connected me to a deeper self, an authentic part of me that I never knew existed.

Geoff Brown

First small steps for Rusty Brown

Together, Russell Fisher (aka Rusty), Suzie & Geoff Brown (no relation), are Rusty Brown.

We have just secured the domain name and our website is evolving in the background as our ideas, passions and business offerings develop.

Stay tuned for our website launch in December 2013.

Russell, Suzie and Geoff