“Judge others by their questions rather than by their answers” – Voltaire

Report by Jitse van Ameijde, November 2008


Not often do you find yourself in a situation where a group of people are brought together by their shared passion for an idea. Yet when you do find yourself in such a situation, something interesting happens. The idea comes alive, and all those involved share in its meaning and potential. For me, the Clean Business Exchange was such a situation, and I feel inspired having witnessed the power of a small group of people thinking together about how to develop an idea with the potential to bring about profound individual and social change.

The idea of Clean, as it originated in the mind of David Grove, seems simple: ask someone a number of simple questions about an aspect of their experience and – given their answer – ask more of these simple questions to elicit further responses. By leaving the responses in their original form, thus not contaminating them with our own interpretations and assumptions, we allow the client to ‘self-model’ the underlying structure of their experience. This seemingly simple process can have some profound effects. It allows the client to become more aware of the way they are coupled to their environment through the way they structure their experiences, and this awareness brings with it an increased clarity of the choices they have to be and act differently. Clean questioning is almost like a prism which breaks a beam of light into the many colours which constitute it yet which normally remain hidden from the naked eye. By asking Clean questions, you start with an aspect of someone’s experience and in the process allow them to discover the many colours of meaning which are woven together to constitute the experience as a whole.

As a relative newcomer to the field of Clean, I did not have much of an idea of the various applications of Clean Language and Clean Space. Yet the way the Business Exchange was set up allowed both the seasoned veterans and the newcomers such as myself to experience a taste of the many different ways in which Clean can be applied in contexts ranging from personal development, therapy, coaching, training, teaching, organisational change, and the many intersections between these areas. Each session consisted of an introduction to the topic, followed by an experiential taster in which the participants practiced the approach in small groups, followed by a plenary discussion about the experience. This set-up seemed incredibly effective in a number of ways:
• It allowed each of the participants to not just think about, but also engage with a wide range of different applications of Clean
• It allowed each of the presenters to gain valuable feedback from others about how to further develop any given approach
• It facilitated the emergence of new ideas as people became aware of the potential links and symbiotic relationships between different approaches and ideas
• It stimulated interactions between all those involved leading to the discovery of shared areas of interest, opening up opportunities for collaborative partnerships

The following overview is meant as a short summary of the various sessions which occurred over the two days, and provides but a small flavour of the event as experienced from a single perspective. I have tried to do justice to the topics as they were presented by each of the presenters, but realise that I might have different interpretations than intended by each of the presenters or different from the interpretations as derived by other attendees. The sessions are categorised under ‘Applications of Clean,’, ‘Integrating Clean with other tools,’ and the highly informative category of ‘Others.’


Applications of Clean

Wendy Niewland – Designing a ‘Model the Master’ programme: using Clean to learn from examples
As a way of allowing clients who lack the skill of modelling to engage meaningfully in the process of modelling, Wendy presented a new application of clean which is based on a ‘model’ of the modelling process itself. This four-stage model is aimed at understanding and enhancing desirable qualities within organisations by modelling real or fictitious individuals whom possess the desired qualities to be developed. In small groups, attendees modelled the notion of ‘expectant curiosity’ as a desired attribute to guide the remainder of individuals’ engagement with the Clean Business Exchange.

Judy Rees – Your proposed application of Clean is like … what?
Judy’s session focused on developing attendees’ individual applications of Clean by drawing on the resources available within the group. In small sub-groups, attendees with similar interests explored various aspects of Clean. Specific emphasis was placed on exploring the boundaries between Clean and non-Clean, thereby reflecting on appropriate ways of mixing Clean aspects with content aspects when working with clients. This theme regarding the boundary between Clean and other (non-Clean) approaches proved to be an important thread through many of the other presentations.

Wendy Sullivan – Teams and metaphors galore
Metaphors can be a powerful vehicle for developing social and interpersonal understanding in contexts where people with different perspectives work together towards a common purpose or face a common challenge. Wendy facilitated an engaging session in which she shared her extensive experience in using metaphors as a way of working with teams in a wide variety of contexts. The session provided both a number of tips on how to facilitate the development of shared metaphors within teams, and allowed the participants to experience this process by developing a shared metaphor of what people wanted to get out of the Clean Business Exchange.

Annemiek van Helsdingen – Researching experience to create meaning and take action
Annemiek presented a large-group process based on Clean Language aimed at modelling shared reality. The process, originally developed by Stefan Ouboter, forms a structured approach for eliciting and explicating shared understanding and subsequently guiding collective action. The validity of the outcomes for those involved is assured through a ‘funnelling’ process, whereby collective themes are derived from the evidences supplied by individual contributions. The aim of the session was to give this promising approach a place within the Clean community after the unfortunate death of its originator Stefan Ouboter, with whom Annemiek and Wendy had worked closely together.

Lynne Cooper – Creating Clean tools for business
Lynne presented an application of Clean Space which allows clients to enhance their influence in multi-stakeholder situations. The application involved using a compact version of Clean Space which focuses on facilitating an emergent understanding of a situation from a variety of stakeholder perspectives. This understanding could subsequently allow the client to enhance their influence with each of the stakeholders. The approach was practiced in small subgroups, followed by discussions around the experience.

Jenny Johnson – Structured metaphor-building
Jenny introduced PEP Lite™, a personality assessment tool which makes use of the attributes of clients’ metaphor landscapes to assess a variety of personality aspects. The session allowed attendees to experience part of the process by imagining their own metaphor landscape. Clean questioning followed to further develop and explore aspects of these personal landscapes including boundaries, the role of others within the landscape, and the self.

Integrating Clean with other tools
Margaret Meyer – Your ideal business plan is like… what? Using clean in combination with the European Excellence Model
Margaret showed how Clean Space can be effectively combined with the European Excellence Model as an approach to strategic planning. In this approach, Clean Space is used to explore the nature of vision, results, and enablers as well as the systemic relationships between them. In a number of subgroups, ideas were generated to further embed and enhance the role of Clean within this framework

Terri McNerney – Clean and Appreciative Inquiry – How can they work together?
In her presentation, Terri focussed on the integration between Clean and Appreciative Inquiry. She showed how the principles of both approaches can function symbiotically by Cleanly exploring the positive aspects of people, groups, and organisations. Attendees were invited to practice the technique in small subgroups and share their findings plenary.

Cheryl Winter – GROW Clean
Cheryl’s session focused on the integration of Clean within other available tools, thereby allowing clients not to replace but enrich their existing preferred approaches through the use of Clean. The session focused on combining Clean with the GROW coaching tool, and involved the development of suitable Clean questions to be used in conjunction with each of the GROW items.


Other

Caitlin Walker – Marketing Integrity
Caitlin presented her approach to building a business and working with clients from a position of integrity and sustainability. Her model focuses on a continuous process of seeking congruence between the principles which we as consultants/coaches as well as clients espouse and aspire to and the principles which underpin our (inter)actions. By modelling these principles and subsequently seeking to embed them within the client system through a change process that itself embodies these principles, it becomes possible to maintain integrity within both the process and outcome of change.

James Lawley – Close
Faced with the challenge of having to pull together the many sessions, themes, and discussions which occurred over the two days of the Clean Business Exchange, James decided to honour the David Grovian spirit by doing something completely different instead. In his closing remarks, he emphasised the nature of uncertainty as permeating every aspect of our daily lives. In a world where there seems to be a strong obsession with prediction and control with regard to matters ranging from the weather to the state of the economy, remaining open and ‘Clean’ with respect to the events as they unfold in their own pattern seems to be an important factor in keeping ourselves sane and prepared for an unknown future.

Concluding remarks

As stated in the introduction, it is a true challenge to summarise the many topics, ideas, discussions, and questions which arose during the two days of the Clean Business Exchange. Perhaps the aspect which stood out most strongly for me was the spirit of the event, which evolved around collaborating and supporting one another to move an idea forward, to challenge individual as well as collective thinking, and to support everybody in their own personal journey into Clean.

As a result of the dedication, enthusiasm, and collaborative attitude that stood out so strongly in both the organisers and the attendees, I can confidently say that this was one of the best events I have attended. It was not characterised by the defensive and critical attitude that I have so often observed in academic conferences, whereby the idea often seems to protect ones own ideas and criticise another’s. Attendees at the Clean Business Exchange showed a genuine interest in each other’s ideas and used the resources available within the group to move both individual and collective thinking forward.

I arrived with nothing but expectant curiosity, yet I left with many new ideas, thoughts, questions, and a load of contacts with a great bunch of people.

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