Time capsule

Making sense of the events that have happened in your life, your organisation and the wider landscape of society.

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Time 60 - 90 minutes
Difficulty Moderate
Comfort zone Medium
Materials Coloured pens, A3 paper
Participants You

This is a personal and reflective mapping activity. To move forward it is useful to take stock and reflect on where you are now in the present moment, and what events, people and circumstances have lead you there. It helps you to ‘know yourself’ in relation to your ‘context’.

By creating a timeline of the past you can capture events that happen not only in your own life, but in your organisation and sector, as well as in the bigger cultural and political landscape. This helps you to recognise the external factors that influence you.

Understanding the interplay between these three levels and how events have affected you personally can offer helpful insights into your thought patterns and behaviour, help you understand why you've reacted in certain ways. It's a chance to bring new awareness to how we act in the future in both our personal and professional lives as new events unfold. This helps build resilience, self belief, and empathy for others who might have been through similar things.

This mapping exercise can also offer insight into the patterns of behaviour and actions of your organisation, and bring to light ideas about how you might choose to act in relation to the current context and future events as they take place.



Take your A3 paper, use it in landscape, and fold it into quarters lengthwise so you have 4 long rectangle sections. Label the the bottom quarter as ‘personal events’, moving upwards, label the second from bottom as ‘organisational events’, the third from the bottom as ‘societal, cultural, political events’, and the top layer as ‘What I learnt’

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Think of the length of the paper as a timeline. Choose a time span that you want to look at. 5 years is a good period to look back at. If you have more time 10 years requires more energy, but can create a deeper understanding and richness to understand where you are today. At the bottom roughly draw the timeline from 10 or 5 years ago on the left to now on the far right.


Start with the bottom section - personal events - these are the easiest to remember. Map them on your timeline, what happened and when. They could include a big birthday, a marriage, the birth of a child, a memorable holiday or outing, a divorce, a death of a friend, a period of depression or anxiety, change in job, studying etc. The list could be endless - capture anything that feels significant to your life story and who and how you are.


Next move onto the quarter labelled - societal, cultural and political events - these are events that have happened in the bigger picture, newsworthy events that affected the country or the world. Examples might be: National political events eg. new governments and prime ministers, new laws and acts; Global events e.g. apartheid ending, the twin towers, refugee crisis; Environmental events e.g. a tsunami, strange weather; Social events e.g. celebrity news that’s stuck in your mind that shaped culture. (You might decide to do some googling if you can’t remember the exact years for these)


Now think about the quarter labelled - sector and organisational events - what are the main events that have happened in the organisation e.g. new departments, new staff members, staff members leaving etc. What has happened in the sector? E.g. new legislations, “competition”, trends, funding landscape etc.


In the top layer of the paper, reflection on what you learnt from the events at all the different levels. Write down:

  • What did you learn about yourself? Your feelings, your reactions, and your resulting behaviours or actions - from the events on the timeline?
  • Are there any patterns you can see?
  • Take a different coloured pen - What did you learn about or your organisation from these events? How did they react to other events in your life, in the sector and in the bigger picture?
  • Are there any patterns you notice in your organisation’s behaviour?

Spend a few minutes to read over your timeline, the different levels, and what you’ve learnt along the way. Try to notice the helpful and unhelpful patterns that have appeared. Then, let go of those judgements and just take a moment to appreciate all that has happened, and why you are where you are right now in time.

Facilitator notes

This is also a nice exercise to offer and invite your team to do, to help them appreciate how far they’ve come over time, and bring awareness to what they’ve learnt along the way about their own behaviour

As a personal exercise - there should be no obligation to share timelines as it can bring up some personal events and reactions.


This exercise was developed by Ellie Osborne, systems thinker, researcher, facilitator and consultant working in innovation.

The exercise draws upon complexity models, and was developed as a way to understand and appreciate our current context, where we are now, where we’ve come from, why we behave the way we do, and what can we learn from the past patterns as we step into our future.


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