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Mrs. Waters knows best

Monica Waters was the kindergarten teacher for both my boys at Janney Elementary School in Washington, DC. I learned a critical lesson from her, which I have used ever since when I run a workshop. I was planning a visit to her kindergarten class some years ago to lead an activity for the children. Mrs. Waters told me, “Mr. Mahaffie, you’ve got to have a plan for when you come in here. Know what you are going to do. And Mr. Mahaffie, there is every chance that you will have to drop the whole plan.” She couldn’t have said it better.

My experience is that every futures session has to be extremely carefully thought out and there is method required in all of them. But things can and do change, in real time. And groups need permission to break the rules you have set. There is nothing worse than a facilitator or workshop leader who won’t bend to the situation at hand.

So we think on our feet. And while keeping up with the group, we have to be aware of ourselves falling into the trap of defending a moribund process. “Trying to win” I call it. We can’t abandon our core purpose, which is to help a group explore the future. But we have to expect sometimes to abandon our carefully-thought-out process plans for something new, in real time. Otherwise, we’re asserting some need of our own on the group, and not making the situation work for them.

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