TBM 18/53: Blank Slates, Seedlings, Freight Trains, and Gardening

Here is a simple activity you can do with your team. I’ve tried it about a dozen times now with good results.

The basic idea is to use common (but salient) objects, activities, and ideas to spark a conversation. I have given a couple examples below, but you could easily come up with your own. Importantly, don’t pick things that are only positive, or only negative.

For each item, I have provided some example tensions and alternative explanations. I have also given some question examples. Over time you can evolve your own. If you are feeling adventurous, bring pictures and/or draw the objects.

Blank Slates

Starting over. The blank page.

  • A chance to "start over knowing what we know now"

  • Feel exhilarating and fun, and intimidating and disconcerting

  • Involve loss. Involve leaving behind the "old thing"

  • Sometimes involve leaving people and places behind

  • An opportunity to work in new, unconstrained ways

  • Could involve discounting prior work. Not honoring the past

  • Easier than working with the good in the status quo

Where do we feel the urge to start over? Why?

Where have we started over recently? Why?

What did it feel like to start over?


Support and divide.

  • Space to focus. Prevent distractions

  • Contribute to structural integrity. Safety

  • Some feel naturally placed. Some feel awkward, artificial

  • Can emerge through repeat passage and erosion

  • Restrict flow of information, access

  • Might need "doors and windows"

Where do walls divide us, but are necessary?

Where have walls just appeared?

Which walls should we strengthen? Bring down?

What keeps certain walls in place?

Examples of things that are walls to some, and doors to others?


Protect and nurture.

  • Need protection. Fragile. Need water

  • Will hopefully grow into something bigger and stronger

  • Not all will thrive. Need to pick and chose

  • Doesn't "pay off" immediately. Is not fruit/flower-bearing yet

What efforts must we protect?

Are we doing a good job of protecting those things? Do they get a chance?

Do we have enough seedlings planted?

How do we balance caring, and moving on?

When does a seedling graduate?

Freight Trains

Not if, but when. But why?

  • Have lots of inertia. Heavy. Lots of momentum

  • Capable of scale and “moving stuff”

  • Run "on rails". Travel predetermined routes

  • Repetitive, known approaches, efficient, transactional

  • We may not question why the exist. Run "just because"

What are our freight trains?

Where do they serve us?

Where do they run without us questioning their value?


Weeding and pruning.

  • Required for sustainable growth and health

  • Easy to overlook and get reprioritized

  • Easy to get obsessed with gardening. Don't want to "over-garden"

  • Less flashy. Improvements are less visible

  • Makes other things possible

Where must we do more gardening?

How can we do the right amount of gardening?

What does gardening make possible?