Monday, November 12, 2012

What I learnt at the AYE Conference

I spent last week in New Mexico at the Amplifying Your Effectiveness (AYE) conference with Jerry Weinberg, Esther Derby, Johanna Rothman, Don Gray and 75 other attendees.

Since hearing about the conference format and making the commitment to attend, my excitement had been growing.  The concept of a ban on powerpoint, no session shorter than 3 hours, and every session facilitated by someone I deeply respected sounded too good to be true.

The week before leaving, one of the recurring themes in the office was the difference between “Capital ‘A’ Agile” and “little ‘a’ agile”.  The metaphor mapped ceremonies and practices to the “Capital A”, and teamwork, collaboration and vision to the “little a”.   We had enjoyed some rich discussions around the temptation to settle for proficiency with the “Capital A” because pushing into the “little a” was where it got hard.

AYE’s theme was “Human Systems in Action”, and I was very much looking forward to experiencing deep teaching on the “little a” side.   The first lesson I learnt was that I had gone for the wrong reasons.  I anticipated a week of “filling up the toolbox” with new coaching tools and techniques, and by the end of the second day I was feeling a little frustrated.  I was debriefing on the day with my wife, and the tone of the debrief was “I’m learning lots, but I’ve got no new tools I can put into practice”.  She looked over at me and asked whether I was missing the point.  Of course I hotly denied it at the time, but it raised a seed of doubt that started to grow as the sessions went by.

In the final session of the formal conference, it finally sank in.  It was a consulting masterclass with Jerry Weinberg, and he ran it as a series of case studies.  It was initiated  by asking us each to consider the thorniest problem we were currently facing as a consultant.   I was then introduced to Jerry’s technique of selecting the last person to raise their hand as the most fruitful case to examine and found myself in the 'consultee' chair next to Jerry.   Over the course of the next 20 minutes, I was turned inside out as he showed me the way in which my lack of belief in myself was the cause of the problem.    Whilst on the one hand it was incredibly useful, it was also an incredibly challenging experience being laid bare in front of 45 people. 

Over the following 2-3 hours, the reality of the power of AYE sank in as one after another people came up to me and thanked me for my courage in the hot-seat, commiserating with me on the pain of the experience whilst sharing the fashion in which they had benefited. 

A quote from Jerry’s book The Secrets of Consulting is the most fitting way to sum up my eventual AYE learnings – “Helping myself is even harder than helping others”. 

I didn’t learn any magical new secrets.  I didn’t learn any stunning new facilitation techniques.    The truth is there are no “big bang” revelations or magical secrets to Human Systems.  What I did was learn some new things about myself,  recognise some poor decisions I have made as a coach, and discover some new areas in which I need to grow in order to be more effective for my clients.

In the process, I made an incredible number of new friendships with people I look forward to learning from in the years to come.  If only every conference could be so fruitful!

Now that I've had a week to start to internalise it, I think the biggest insight for me lies in checkpointing myself as a coach.  I (along with all good coaches I know) spend a lot of time looking to fill up my toolbox with new techniques or deeper insights into existing ones.  I spend a lot less time searching for people who I trust to reveal flaws in my current insights.  

Thanks to Jerry, Esther, Johanna and Don for creating an environment where not only do they as facilitators hold the mirror up to attendees but also foster the trust and safety for us to share the mirror with each other.   


  1. Well put, man. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks for the report, Mark. Would like to hear more about it when we are in the same room together, again. Perhaps, we could experiment with some of what you've learned, with the Melbourne community, too?