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Podcast: The World Game with Marilyn Atkinson

written byErickson Coaching Internationalon 26/03/2019

Hosted by Erickson Certified Professional Coach and Alumni, Fabian Luetzig, The Global Campfire of Coaching Podcast is a worldwide discussion between coaches, coachees, and anybody interested in the art and science of coaching to share information and exchange opinions so that we learn and grow together as a community.

In Episode 8 of the podcast, Fabian hosts an in-depth interview with Erickson founder, Marilyn Atkinson, about the upcoming World Game Coaching Conference happening in Antalya, Turkey.

You can also listen to the podcast for free on the platforms listed below, The Global Campfire of Coaching website or read the entire interview below. Don't forget to like and subscribe to stay up to date with the latest episodes!

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Fabian Luetzig: I hope that someday soon we’ll be able to talk to Marilyn about the transformational body of work that she has created and what it was like to, you know, help pioneer the field and the industry of coaching. But today, Marilyn is here to let us in on a project that is near and dear to her heart. It’s the World Game Conference, taking place from the 11th – 20th of April 2019, taking place in Antalya, Turkey. So, the first question naturally would be: Marilyn, what is the World Game?

Marilyn Atkinson: The World Game is an ongoing gathering of people and conferences around the world who are really looking at how they can create legacy projects, how they can create teams of call it conspiratorial thinking, that can assist all of us to face the coming global changes that are needed for coming generations on this planet. We’re looking at how we can join together as communal thinkers about our world.

The World Game, then, involves a lot of little Games, so to speak; people with different kinds and sizes of projects, but also with community thinking frameworks. Most of them are coaches, most of them are people who are community leaders and are gathering at about 30 conferences throughout the world so far, since 2011. So, it’s an ongoing framework for a world-building vision.

Fabian Luetzig: That sounds like a concept with quite some serious and deep-going impact. I’m curious, why is it called a ‘game’?  

Marilyn Atkinson: Aah, good question, Fabian! Well, if you think about the way we go to work with things, often our jobs don’t provoke a lot of commitment. Our jobs are often the same day after day, they’re often frameworks for what seems to be same-old-same-old thinking and what we need in the world today is a fresh approach where we set aside all the ‘have-tos’ and the ‘musts’ and the ‘oh dang-it, here we go again with more things to do’.

We just set that whole framework aside and ask ourselves: “If I could make my life as a human being both 100% committed to the future and future generations and a framework for fun, working with others; genuinely finding ways that we can change our habits here and create a world that works here and in the future – and make it a game! Would I want to play?”

Fabian Luetzig: Why is that important to you, to have that fresh approach?

Marilyn Atkinson: A fresh approach is really needed right now, don’t you agree? Right now, we’re in a whole variety of headlocks around the planet. Where different ideologies are jammed into no-conversation conversations, where people are calling each other names in some respects as not being up to the projects, where there are authority systems that close the door and individuals that say, “I can’t do anything, I’m helpless…”. You know what I’m talking about.

We’re at a juncture right now. My experience is that we individuals can do a lot, but it requires fresh thinking; not just reading the newspapers and seeing all the negatives people throw at us about what’s possible. Yes, we do need to involve governments in creating a future that works. Yes, we do need to involve people from many different language groups and different philosophies to create a future. But it is much easier to find our humanity and our joint love of the world and this beautiful planet that we’re all partaking in, when we just sit down and get inspired together. As soon as we do, we can see ways how, step by step, we can make it; we can actually coach our way through these different kinds of strangleholds. What do you think?

Fabian Luetzig: I think that sounds amazing!

Marilyn Atkinson: Well, it’s worked! We’ve had four world conferences so far. We have one coming up April 11th in Antalya, Turkey with hundreds of people coming. It’s going to be quite an event with lots and lots of different World Games. Some of them very physical, aimed at assisting the planet in a very positive, physical way; others philosophical, aimed at educational changes and developments, aimed at parenting and health concerns, aimed at ways that we can really get behind each other as we all create legacy projects.

Now, it used to be, of course, that our legacy as human beings was our children, that’s what we gave to the next generation. But that’s not good enough today, as you all know. It’s really a time when we may, as we look ahead, see real grief for our children and our children’s children. And with that in mind, it’s time to start now, living the kind of life that really gives our children a world.

Fabian Luetzig: Mmh, wow, I had to let that sink in for a second…

Marilyn Atkinson: Yeah! Well, most people don’t think of themselves on a through-time, call it landing point where we’re in the middle of many, many generations from the past, passing the torch of what it means to be human forward. We’ve got just as many generations that could emerge beyond us. People who would love this world as much as we do and would want a world that has birds and butterflies and fish and insects, all of which are quickly vanishing. Right now, we’re having an impact on the flora and fauna of this small planet we live on. It’s time for us to actually start to create new metaphors. One of them that I’m suggesting is that: ‘having enough is a feast’. That if we live not to create wealth for ourselves now, the prosperity vision of our prior generations, that we should get lots more stuff. If we give up that idea, if we instead create a through-time vision of our children sharing the prosperity of having this beautiful blue and green planet as a home, that we can actually do what’s needed right now to hand the torch to them.

Fabian Luetzig: Having enough is a feast…  

Marilyn Atkinson: Having enough is a feast!

Fabian Luetzig: That’s a big shift in mindset.  

Marilyn Atkinson: Yeah, I haven’t met anybody who hasn’t noticed that we live in a world where there’s much less drudgery, much less heartbreak, ill health, great issues in raising a family than ever before. We really do have an opportunity, we live in a world where – wow, we can learn lots of things! There is a feast of learning that we can do and sharing. There is a feast of music, there is a feast of ongoing development, of art and poetry and human courage that we can genuinely partake of. There is a feast of culture. There is a lot that we have.

And we don’t need all this stuff: The changes in fashion every year, the changes in owning one thing or another, or trinket or another. There are all sorts of ways we could live much simpler and do much more with what we have; save the apples that have blemishes, feed the people that don’t have enough.

All we need is our courage and our commitment as individuals who are making it work and who say “I am committed!”. 100% commitment does it. And, suddenly, the games become easy. We don’t have to give up a huge amount in terms of our possibilities as a human being. We’re just giving up a bit of the ease-of-life stuff. I’m giving up bottled water, for example. Why commit all these bottles to the ocean? Hundreds of miles of plastic in our ocean. I’m giving up buying more clothes. I’ve got plenty for the rest of my life. Do you understand what I’m saying?

Fabian Luetzig: I do. I live in Nairobi and there’s actually a big UN Environment conference being held next week. So, I’m fully in that spirit and that mindset that you’re describing. There’s a ship there, a sculpture that they built, and they modeled it so that it’s basically swimming on a sea of plastic bottles.

And you have other sculptures there, for example, a donation by Chile is an index finger, a raised index finger, a skeletal finger. You know how you raise the index finger when you say something really serious or you admonish somebody, you warn somebody? That’s meant to remind people that come to work there at the United Nations every day that what they’re doing is of vital importance and that we really have a responsibility to take care of what is ours to protect and be the stewards of.

Marilyn Atkinson: Well, the World Game is based on a very interesting idea that came from Malcolm Gladwell about 20 years ago called The Tipping Point. And Malcolm Gladwell worked with a variety of people at several research institutes that showed: If people come across an interesting idea – for example the internet was an interesting idea, cell phones were an interesting idea – so, people come up with an interesting idea; generally it takes only the committed interest of about 10% of the given population to generalize that idea throughout that population. So the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute noticed and studied that once 10% of a population is strongly committed to an existing idea, it becomes inevitable that it will eventually become the prevailing point of view of the entire group. This is what is called the Tipping Point.

The research continued to show that this was at the technology level only; and that, if the committed interest of leaders really moved the people in their companies or their cultures or their organizations, then it took only 3% of a given population to generalize an idea throughout that population. Good examples of this are great leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, like Martin Luther King, like Mandela. When people were around them, changes happened fast. It only took their ideas, because they were powerful leadership ideas, it only took 3% of the people saying “Yes!” to their ideas and populations around them picked them up. That’s the Tipping Point idea that we’re working with at the World Game.

Fabian Luetzig: 3%?  

Marilyn Atkinson: 3%!

Fabian Luetzig: That’s a powerful figure. I was going to ask you, because you hear this mindset a lot, this objection of “What does it matter if little old me changes? The other people are not going to do anything different, so why should I make the effort?” If you say that it only takes 3% of dedicated people to really engender meaningful change – every person counts.  

Marilyn Atkinson: Every person counts, you’ve got it! When you look at 3% of your work culture, or even 3% of the community of people around you, 3% of the people you connect with on Facebook or on Wechat, 3% of the people that you deal with in your culture, you can make a huge difference! So, we’re asking people just to stand as leaders, 100% committed to a world that works and show that even in small behaviors. I mentioned some of the smallest. Your commitment to your life style being an “enough is a feast” lifestyle, a commitment to build metaphors that include future generations, not just the people down the block who you’re comparing yourself to.

Metaphors where we look at how human beings have the high potential of really finding solutions, those necessary solutions we need in the next 20 years if we commit ourselves to it. To have the climate change issue be addressed, to have the health issues of many, many populations be addressed, to have even our convergence on what does it really mean to be a human being ethically in the world today, to move beyond old quagmires that we faced each other with, almost like a conflicted group of cultures, saying “I’m good, but not you”.

You know what I’m talking about? We need to move out of the Yes/No conversations to the Yes AND conversations. And that is what solution-focused coaching is about, by the way. That’s why so many of the people coming to these conferences are looking for a way to build a mindset around “Yes we can!”

Fabian Luetzig: In terms of International Relations you would call that a Positive-Sum Game, rather than a Zero-Sum Game. A Zero-Sum Game is “I can only win if you lose” and a Positive-Sum Game is “Let’s find a solution. Let’s play a game where everybody wins and has more than before.”  

Marilyn Atkinson: Yes, you’ve got it. Our discoveries of the nature of the brain totally support the current league of solution-focused coaches out there, for example, Erickson coaches and other solution-focused coaches in the world are assisting leaders everywhere to build a positive vision. So, the Tipping Point to choice and change requires three things:

First of all, it requires a visionary stretch. We can only make that stretch when we envision with positive questions when we actually look at what we can do or what we want to do. Suddenly, our vision begins to clarify. Vision and the brain work together, and they work together well when we think in positives.

The second thing, it requires a real question about ourselves and our own interests, our own passion and purpose and engagement level, so that we can notice what makes us happy. The World Game is about genuinely enjoying what we do as we do it now so that we see future action we can connect to.

The third thing it requires is a support system. That’s why we’re doing these conferences, and why coaches are supporting people and supporting each other. All of us are just learning the art of real mutual support around our projects. Our projects really engage others when we move to support others in the very same way. So, we’re shifting the cultures we’re in quite quickly. We’re bringing in courage and care and genuine games of possibility and people are responding, Fabian.

Fabian Luetzig: I’m just going to read the vision statement from the website: It states, “The vision of the World Game is to develop social responsibility globally through solution-focused leadership”. I think you’ve expounded on that quite a bit already. I’m curious, as a next step, who do people need to become or who might they become by supporting that vision, by participating in the World Game conference.

Marilyn Atkinson: Really frankly, we need to stand behind ourselves as individuals. We’ve been brought up in cultures, which I call ‘gremlin cultures’ where there’s been a fear of standing out, a fear of upsetting people, a fear of failure or a fear of conflict stopping us from just being ourselves as human beings with purpose and passion. A lot of people fit in, rather than say “Yes, I can!”.

Our conference is asking people to become models in some deep respect. Because we can model the implications of really standing in our own shoes and becoming ourselves well. Coaches understand that. Coaches are assisting leaders to do that. It’s a deep, connected conversation between coaches and leaders.

Fabian Luetzig: Speaking of modeling, what are some of the values that participants of the World Game conference will be able to live out and to model.  

Marilyn Atkinson: Good question. One of them, that I think is very important is dialogue. The willingness to live congruently and commit to our own knowledge and wisdom where we have it, but to dialogue with others about what we see for the future.

This includes being willing to talk courageously about what the implications are of climate change. This includes really looking and being willing to talk about the implications for food production on the planet and to understand what that is when we look at how different methods harm the soil. Also, to look at the oceans, to look at and honestly commit to others taking a look and seeing what’s there.

So, we need to share information – that takes courage. We need to share our own ability to take steps ourselves, personally – that takes courage. So, the values are courage and, frankly, professional love.

And why call it ‘professional’ love? Because it’s very different than soppy love that you find in movies and frameworks that people offer for what love really means. It’s love for future generations. It’s care-producing love. Care for all of us. It’s a message of ‘We-ness’ it’s value for the ‘We-ness’ that we are, that humanity in the future is just as alive in the potential of our children as in us getting that extra-nice shiny object that we may have our eyes on.

Fabian Luetzig: If I interpret your words correctly, that professional love is in a way just like coaching; in that, it manifests itself in and leads to real, concrete action and change, rather than just a kind of ‘kumbaya’ nice dancing around the campfire and then going home the next day.  

Marilyn Atkinson: Exactly right! These are meaningful conversations where people commit to go back to their communities with projects, find others, other Game players who want to play them. And you know what happens as a result? People find that they have a lot more genuine purpose and joy in their life. It’s amazing how joy comes from just taking action steps, where you thought that action was difficult.

Fabian Luetzig: Marilyn, for these values that you mentioned – the courage, the professional love and the We-ness – what capabilities, what skills will participants of the World Game learn in order to model that?   

Marilyn Atkinson: That’s a big question and one that we’re practicing. For example, if you come to the conference in Antalya, there are four days of practical work. One day where even beginners learn to become a World Game coach; What we’re learning are strategies for effective vision, strategies for question-asking that produce really effective thinking. This is a coaching conference in that sense. It’s a conference where coaches have built really strong platforms for organizational strategy.

The last 20 years of effective coaching work – and it has been effective, all the way down to the AGILE teams working in corporate basements – this has produced a new level of thinking in the world. Solution-focused coaching is one of the top frameworks for that developing as a way that the next generation can build their ability to think.

Fabian Luetzig: What specific skills, techniques and tools will we, as participants of the conference in Antalya, be leaving with?  

Marilyn Atkinson: That’s a good question as well. One is speaking skills. All of us, to some extent, is developing the ability to really speak up and speak authentically for what we know when we get in teams where dialogue is really amplified.

One of the courses we’re offering at the conference is a course on Advanced Team Coaching. We’re showing people how to work with discouraged teams. Frankly, most of the world is filled with discouraged teams right now. People don’t know how to think positively towards getting results and when they get bogged down, they often get into comparisons and back-and-forths that blame or complain about others. So, we’re building the human capacity to move past confrontational back-and-forth to genuine, skill-based visioning and thinking together.

Fabian Luetzig: What other skills will I gain from going to the conference?  

Marilyn Atkinson: Okay, there’s a huge list that immediately pops into mind: We’re using a lot of mapping, we’re using what coaches call ‘strategy-based future thinking’.

One of the courses that’s offered at the end of the programs in Antalya is what we call 4 Quadrant Thinking where we’re learning how to create balance between what we want to create and what our life provides right. So, we’re building balance into our world view and into our capacity to put energy, real energy into the projects that we’re sharing with those around us. So, I would say that one of the things you will learn at the conference is how to build your energy base.

There’s a lot of brain-understanding available to us now. There will be a lot of sharing of that. That includes how to work with the negative, if you want to call them that, chemicals that people produce through worrying and challenging each other and genuinely find ways to move things forward, nudge things forward in a positive yet respectful way.

Fabian Luetzig: Marilyn, how will the distinction of being a ‘World Game Coach’ help me in my business?  

Marilyn Atkinson: Thank you, Fabian. Now, in your business – I’m not sure what you do. I know that every day, you face the task of starting things well, building results and then finishing them, completing them in such a way that you can say “Yes, that’s a professional result” and then moving on to your next task.

Our World Game is filled with that kind of thinking and that kind of necessary framing or our pasts. It is a fundamental skillset that all of us need as leaders in our lives. What you bring back to your business is the capacity to take 100% commitment towards the tasks that are most useful and most valuable to the work that you do. This is what we’re building, both as coaches and change-focused leaders. The World Game is all about effective leadership.

Fabian Luetzig: One other aspect of the World Game that I’m very much looking forward to is something that also inspired me to start this podcast. It’s this idea of One-ness, of community, of inspiring each other and of, maybe, even holding each other accountable, making each other better, lifting each other up and spending time with people who understand one’s outlook on life.

What I notice quite often when we teach people in the Erickson Art & Science of Coaching: When they finish, they’re so inspired and so full of energy. And then it’s quite a challenge to carry that forward into their daily lives when they are surrounded by people who haven’t taken the course and who don’t really understand what coaching is. Those students then become re-energized when they re-take the course or to talk to one of us and they just get this spark again. I would imagine that being there in Antalya with so many coaches who ‘get it’ will just be an experience of a lifetime.    

Marilyn Atkinson: I agree! One of the reasons that we have had these conferences now in 22 countries is that we need to create these support systems and that people discover how much support they get when they simply create small teams, call them ‘mastery teams’, call them ‘mutual support teams’. They learn the art of asking into the full range of somebody else’s capacities. We all have much more potential ability than we think we do. When somebody sees it in us, much easier to step into those shoes and commit to that capability. And then we really become the leaders that we are.

Perhaps you know Marianne Williamson’s adage that “it’s not our fears that stop us, it’s our genuine discovery of our huge potentiality.” As soon as we commit to that, that potentiality begins to bear fruit.

Fabian Luetzig: Yeah, that rings very true for me.  

Marilyn Atkinson: Well, I appreciate this conversation a lot. I hope that others do as well. I really ask people, I ask you now: Come and join us in Antalya, April 11th. I know that’s coming up soon, but this is a conference that you will carry forward into the rest of your life.

It’s with a group of people from over 50 countries, inspired individuals who actually can offer you a great deal of self-awareness, just by listening to their stories and discovering what they’ve done so far.

This is a conference where you will also get very specific ideas for yourself that fit into your life purpose of how you can take ownership of your own huge commitment to this amazing lifetime that we all get to share together.

Fabian Luetzig: Who can or should sign up for this? Who should come to this? Do they have to be coaches? Do they have to be Erickson coaches?   

Marilyn Atkinson: Oh no, no, no! We have quite a few leaders coming, individuals coming from a variety of walks of life, plus over 150 Erickson coaches. This includes people who have done other kinds of coaching as well.

The aim, however, is very solution-focused. There is really a solution-focused bedrock. What that means is: We’re looking at how the mind is positive; how we can move towards what we want rather than fight with what we don’t want; how we can assist others to do the same and how to build a vision.

You see, visions are very powerful, it allows us to create new metaphors of mind. Humanity needs new metaphors right now, for who we are and who we can become. This requires unleashing our real questions our own life, our own expectations of power and purpose, and becoming really clear that we can shift and change and grow much more than we think we can.

Fabian Luetzig: Marilyn, is there anything else that you want us to know about the World Game at this point?  

Marilyn Atkinson: Yeah! Good question, thank you! The World Game is being held in a beautiful seaside resort area called Antalya on the Mediterranean. It’s a peaceful village near old Roman ruins. It will be held in a large tourist hotel. The price is very low for such a hotel.

The rooms with double sharing booking are 45 Euro a day including all meals – and the meals are magnificent! This is a 4 Star hotel; it has beaches and a huge area for children. The children’s pools and play areas are well worth bringing your family to. Your family can have a good time as you partake in the conference. It’s spring there, it’s late spring, early summer; people will actually be going into the Mediterranean to swim.

The environment will support you in every way: large grassy areas where people will sit together and work together in small teams, flowers blooming. It’s a place for us to think together.

To get there is not very difficult. You need to fly to Istanbul and then take an inexpensive – I think it’s $100 – flight to Antalya, and then a bus ride to Kemer, the village where the conference will take place.

When you arrive, you will find everything supports you to focus on what’s truly important today.

Fabian Luetzig: Maybe what’s important to mention beyond that is that the conference fee is also very affordable, and I think very fair for a conference where you get eight, nine days of very high-quality skill-building education. It’s just above $1,200 if you buy the full package, if you come and stay for the whole conference. And if you say “That’s too much of an investment in terms of time” – you don’t have to stay for the entire conference, you could stay for example for the World Game conference proper without the workshops that follow afterwards. That would be from April 11th until April 15th.

Marilyn Atkinson: The cost for that is very inexpensive as well, around 285 Euro. It’s really an extraordinary price. We’ve done everything we can just to sell the conference at the cost of producing it.

Fabian Luetzig: It really shows. Where can people find out even more about the World Game and where can they buy their tickets?  

Marilyn Atkinson: Just go to theworldgame.org. And to buy tickets, email contact@theworldgame.org. You can ask questions, someone will get back to you. It’s a very live website and the email address is also very alive.

Fabian Luetzig: Yes, and you can also see the full calendar of activities on the theworldgame.org. You can buy the tickets for the conference and the workshops and you can even buy your accommodation at the reduced rate at theworldgame.org.

Marilyn, anything else that people should know?  

Marilyn Atkinson: Follow your heart. That’s my most important adage to myself. If you listen to this broadcast and it touches your heart and you say “Boy, I’d like to go!” – Take a look at your schedule. Do what it takes to move things around. Come and join us! I promise that this time will be very worth it for you, that the expenditure of making it happen will result in a big result for you personally in your life and for the people around you and their lives. Come and join us!

Fabian Luetzig: Marilyn, I want to thank you so much for taking the time and sharing the vision of the World Game. I really can’t wait to see you again in Antalya!  

Marilyn Atkinson: Thank you, Fabian! I really look forward to it, very much! And – I do promise fun! It’s gonna be a lot of fun!

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