“The state of mind which enables a man to do work of this kind is akin to that of the religious worshipper or lover. The daily effort comes from no deliberate intention or program, but straight from the heart.” - Einstein
Liam the Bike mechanic is talking us through the intricacies of tuning cycle gears.
He points to the tiny inhibitor screws on the gear derailleur (thing that changes gears on the back wheel of a bike….yes..I had to look up my notes) and explains that loosening or tightening these screws affects the movement of the mechanism across the gear cogs. (forgive my lack of detail, I got the gist)
He demonstrates by tightening one small screw and moving the pedals, clicking gears up and down….he points to the hesitation and resistance in the gear shift – to me, it looks taut and the chain jumps snappily from cog to cog .
Then he loosens the screw massively and the gear shift flops idly, chain rolling without precision onto cog after cog and back down.
The trick, he tells us, is to find good tension.
My fellow bike maintenance attendee asks: how would we know what good tension is?
He says: You can kind of feel it in the gearshift, but the best way is just to listen….
He tightens the screw again and shifts gears…. we can hear the taut metal-on-metal battle in the gear shift – a scraping, teeth-edging sound.
As he loosens it, we hear a kind of flobby, slack-chained noise.
And as he brings the tension back to the middle we hear….. nothing… nothing but the whirl of the chain and click click click as it pops up the gears and back….it sounds kind of beautiful.
Optimum tension means the bike runs smoothly and the chain doesn’t knacker the cogs or vice versa.
Optimum tension is not taut and rigid.
Optimum tension is not laid back and loose.
Liam couldn’t tell us exactly what optimum tension “was” another way than to pay attention to it- feel it, hear it, sense it.
When it comes, it is quiet and you barely notice it until it is gone…
His invitation to us was “Spend some time with your bike. Get to know it a bit. Every bike is a bit different and will need some different thing” he later said something along the lines of – get the basics so you can apply them – but it will be a different application each time.
I later said to him he seemed to love his job. He grinned, surprised, and said – yes… it can be great – just tuning and sorting and fixing – bikes can pose a real challenge now, if they are high spec disc-braked-multiple geared and complex suspension. But it comes down to working through the basics. Trail and error, feeling the way toward Optimum Tension.
Perhaps there is a good question in here somewhere…
Perhaps, when there is a little too much resistance or a little too much slack, we can pay attention to the noises and the quality of what is happening around us, in our lives, in our organisations, in our bicycles and ask ourselves: what needs loosened or tightened to get this running at Optimum Tension?
I have a coach. I’m a firm believer in do as you would be done by.
I believe part of keeping any business sharp (and unhelpful assumptions checked) is to work with someone who offers a different perspective on the thinking and actions being played out. I have to believe that, or I couldn’t do my job.
Or rather, I have to believe that.. It IS my job.
My coach challenges me in ways that often surprise. I think of myself as a fairly self aware, flexible, open person, so when she asks me something and I feel myself get defensive and stubborn, I’m constantly bemused: oh. Here is an edge. This is the limit of my thinking and my flexibility… Wow… Who knew?
And it plays out in me like this: No. I don’t think that way. No. I don’t want to reconsider, thank you… Can we move on? Ooh look! A shiny thing!
Of course I recognise this is discomfort. I have generated it many times in my own clients, found their edge, invited a rethink or a reframe only to be snapped at or neatly diverted elsewhere. What I love about working with Jo is she sticks with the tough questions. She lets me snap and wriggle and divert and throw up shiny stories. Then she quietly leads me back to the Thing that is a Bit Ugly.
Sometimes The Thing is so ugly it scares me and I can’t bear to be near it. Sometimes, The Thing just kind of smells a bit off and I wrinkle my nose at having to hanging out with it. Sometimes, just sometimes, it is so ugly I just need to laugh…..
But like a horror movie that terrified me when I was a kid, when I come back to the ugly thing, it is rarely as scary as I think it will be. Like all bad smells, if I just tackle it, open the windows and deal with the stink, it vanishes pretty quickly…. And then I can breathe in fresh air and my world is a little prettier…..
Working with a team this week, I kept bringing them back to the ugly thing. The unsaid. The unshiny. The stinky. They did what I do with Jo…. They snapped and wriggled and diverted. Eventually? Someone got brave and began to acknowledge the ugly thing…. Then someone noticed “this stinks” and team windows were opened and the room wasn’t quite so stifling anymore… As a team, they made a pretty big shift.
My point is this… Don’t be too afraid of your ugly. There is a good chance someone else won’t actually recognise it as that terrifying* and perhaps it is not that ugly after all. When you find your edge?… When it seems ugly and so stinky it is taking your breath away? Try not to close the door and let it fester.
It strikes me that The Thing that is a Bit Ugly might just be beautiful after all….
* My brother cannot understand how I can possibly still be scared of the movie Poltergeist. There were Killer Toy Clowns under the bed. He knows Nothing.
Bringing the L&D Connect Unconference North is an experiment.
Last January, I went to an L&D Connect Event in London. It was organised by a group of Practitioners, Freelancers and Consultants who wanted to create somewhere for Learning and Development or Organisational Development Professionals to have the time and space to discuss the issues that matter most to them and their organisations. Sukh Pabial (@sukhpabial) describes the aims and intentions perfectly here.
I was invited by David Goddin (@ChangeContinuum) part of the organising team and whose judgement I trust wholeheartedly. So I was curious.
I hadn’t experienced an Unconference before. Really? You can have a conference without formal speakers? Without a programme, a rigid timetable and a slightly awkward “informal networking” experience over instant coffee; whilst balancing your Conference timetable & bag of promotional leaflets? Really? This can happen?
Turns out yes, it can. I walked into a room of around 50 people, with my beloved colleague, Ruth Maughan (who is not a social media user – a subsequent short #GetRuthOnTwitter campaign followed after the event) and I was greeted by warmth. People talking. People who “knew” people from Twitter – “Oh Hello – YOU are @fuchsia_blue? Good to meet you – I recognise you from your Twitter avatar” and people who were saying (like Ruth) I don’t use Social Media, or not that much but I’m interested in knowing more and interested in what an Unconference is…
And that was enough, somehow. People turned up because they were curious, or they wanted time to reflect, or they were seeking some new ideas or insights, or they wanted to network more widely. It wasn’t a place for Promoting My Stuff. It wasn’t a place to broadcast “The Big Idea” – it was a place to be curious – to ask questions, debate, layout different maps of the field we operate in as Professionals and start to compare territories.
There was a process – a rhythm to the session – a welcome, a hello and what would you like out of this? There was a big screen with the Twitter feed running, so we could interact with connections beyond the room and we could tweet out against the #ldcu hashtag.
Yes. There were post it notes – and fat pens and an invitation to draw or write and capture what was going on. There was debate. Challenge to thinking. Camaraderie. The inside view on a few bits of organisational life that were imperfect and real. Mainly – we talked about learning and developing people. We talked about the need for it, the craft of it, the difficulties it throws up organisationally, the innovative stuff we do to help create it, the banging-our-heads-off-tables moments we experience when it is done truly badly.
I left with a bunch of good contacts ( first time I had met Jon Bartlett @projectLibero in real life – this year, we are working together. First time I met @PhilWilcox in real life – last October, we ran an afternoon session on Intent v Impact to a group of new leaders). I left with new insights. I left with the experience of being at an Unconference and the experience of a World Cafe Process, skilfully facilitated. I left beginning to understand how the use of Social Media can really enhance an event – and how opening up those back channels ( check me with the parlance!) means a whole wide audience can be involved in what is happening in one little room.
And I return to my original statement:
Bringing the L&D Connect Unconference North is an experiment.
I’m part of a team who are seeing what happens if we run an event like this in Scotland. We don’t think such a thing currently exists and the curiosity that drew us to the London events is burning away nicely.
L&D Connect as an Unconference & Social Network runs in London and on Twitter and on Linkedin and blogs & attracts a pretty UK-wide audience. It’s not for profit & is designed purely as a networking/ learning event. It’s proving a powerful connector and source of information for Practitioners. We want to see if such a thing can exist and blossom, outwith The Big Smoke – not in a huge political statement way – but simply we acknowledge that the rhythm and pace and practicalities of getting folk together outside London is different, yet the needs of Practitioners is probably pretty aligned … so what can be done to allow those needs to be talked about…? Can L&D Connect be a good vehicle? I believe actions often speak louder than words – so let’s see.
I was asked a couple of questions on email the other day and I wrote:
“The emphasis, once we get it established a bit more, will be on getting L&D/ OD folk to experiment with formats like World Cafe, AI, Fishbowl, Petcha Kutcha – the stuff we hear about as practitioners, and might use…. but through experiencing them and reflecting on the process at the same time as we are talking about our field of expertise, gives the experience a deeper resonance ( if that’s not too bullsh*t facilitator)
What underpins it all is the encouragement to use social media – to Tweet and take photos & blog & curate ideas on storify or Vimeo etc afterward to share the learning in the room with a much wider L&D network, connected virtually to the going-s on of the day ( again – a good way to experiment with how this might work in an organisation, or as a freelancer, at an event).
So it’s meant to be a chance for folk who have tons of different experience and how feel they want to experiment, to have a voice and a play.
Right now, though, we are looking for early adopters who’ll give it a go and promote it further. Again – it’s categorically not deisgned to be a profiteering exercise.”
People Making it happen:
I”ve already mentioned Sukh and David.. and I’ll be there in the room, along with Jose Franca, OD Consultant from Chevron (@MrAirMiles on twitter) and digital archivist and all round nimble Social Media expert, Martin Couzins (@MartinCouzins) from LearnPatch and Co-Founder of L&D Connect joining the facilitation team – which means we will have an excellent record of the day. Enormous Thanks also to Tash Stallard @stirthesource for adding her own brand of magic and practicality to proceedings
So here is the invitation:
If you can come:
Be there - you can tell us if you love it or hate it…
Bring good, solid ideas and opinions with you.
Bring your Phone or Tablet and a charger and be fine with having moments of “phone-face” as you Tweet out from a discussion if you wish to.
Be prepared to disagree, share stories, ask questions, experiment with who you talk to and enjoy.
Sign up to the L&D Connect group on Linkedin and join the Twitter chat at 8am on Fridays on the #ldinsight hashtag.
Bring your reflections afterwards.
you might even want to join us set up the next one for October.
If you can’t come ( and I must take the responsibility for organising it during half term – I got my facts all muddled).
Please join the #LDCU hashtag during the day on 20th Feb Tweet us to say hello.
Ask us questions via social media.
Offer to help out on the @LnDConnect Twitter account, or curate from a distance.
If you have been to an L&D Connect Unconference, Comment here or on Linkedin and Twitter and say how it was for you.
We’ll run a Twitter Chat on 10th February on the Hashtag #ScotLanDConnect – join us there if you want to know more.
Reading Sukh Pabial’s Blog (@sukhPabial) post today, I thought it might be a good invitation to have a go at answering his “what am I for?” question.
I’m not getting existential in particular… It’s just I have been in a number of very good conversations of late about what this OD malarkey might be. I guess I’m also turning my mind to the upcoming first Scottish L&D Connect event & sorting out my blog post for the next version of Humane Resourced where I’ll be writing more about my experience of working in an OD context (Hello to David D’Souza @dds180) .
I keep coming back to a drawing I sketched in Loudon’s bakery in Edinburgh, whilst talking with the deeply fabulous Julie Ashworth of Broadreach Consulting as we were processing out what we had just done..
This isn’t the original sketch – more of a distillation, following other conversations. On the left, I had the current reality – where the organisation is now. From here – questions form about what strategy and direction are you looking to move out from?
On the right is kind of where you land organisationally. You can see it as new world if you’re that way inclined. I’m less linear and fixed than that – I see the other side as being shifting sands.
Which ever your metaphorical frame of preference, for me the OD work is in the gap. It’s working with the grey, unstructured, unnamed, nebulous stuff. We use structures ( Org charts, setting values, mapping internal brand, developing staff) to help us name and understand that gap, but essentially, every day we work with the predictable and the unexpected to move the core people part of the organisation from the Now to the Soon.
To be in OD is to have a grasp of HR and the technicalities ( legally, financially and politically) of change; it is to be future-focussed enough to look at the skills development and future-workforce needs through both a Learning and a Development perspective and crucially, it is to be able to articulate and argue for these; it is to have the PR and Internal Comms skills that ensures the organisation has good, clear communications to define a way for getting through that Gap. It is to hold the lack of ego to require the Big Recognition, but enough ego to know just how good you are in the face of constant questioning (And friends. You need friends internally and externally…but I’d argue that’s a fact of organisational life irrespective of which function you hang out in..)
My trope is that change happens in conversation – It’s part of what I truly came to understand through working with Ashridge – You’ll hear me say that a lot when you work with me. This being the case, OD practitioners can’t control or predict every single conversation or outcome in an organisation – but they can set the parameters around that Gap and set good environments for conversations to happen ( even if the conversations are tough or unpleasant). They can understand the importance and significance of dialogue. They understand the importance of giving people time to process, contribute and reflect on what is happening around and to them
In this line of work, you dance in a whole world of don’t knows – you can make assertions that some stuff is likely, try to write the algarithm , ponder on the bell curve and take calculated action, knowing that certain outcomes will mostly hold to be true… and then find yourself in a face-palm moment when the person who is One Down From God upsets it all at the staff meeting where she/he makes a snarky remark.
What am I for? I’m for good, honest conversations about what is necessary and possible in organisations.
I’m for bringing practitioners together to have the sorts of dialogue and conversations that help us define and work in that damned lovely gap.
and I’m all for working to brighten up the grey.