Shifting

As she steps from one space into another, I am struck by how beautiful she is.
For a moment, I feel my throat catch and my breath shorten.
She is stepping into her future self.
It’s an oft-used coaching exercise – we hang out with the old, move into the here-and-now, step into the future.
We move physically, as well as mentally, verbally, emotionally.
We take our time.
At the start, she is hesitant – looking to me to reassure – is this right? Permissible? Am I saying the right thing? Thinking the right thing? Good Coachee?
Others react differently. They jump in and complete the task. They are sure. Unthinking. Certain. They tell me decisively How The World Is… Oh. OK then.
She is much more tentative, more hesitant.
We all start from different places, I guess.
But now? She’s up and running.
She is almost talking to herself…
And she moves.
Determinedly. Quietly. Furiously.
It’s a hell of a thing to behold.
She’s not some 6ft supermodel. She’s not high flyer have-it-all go getter. She’s not special. She’s not beautiful. She’s not quite right yet.
(She defines herself as what she is not – and she is sure about what she isn’t.
Very sure. Defendedly, properly, rudely sure.
I’ve been abruptly put in my place a few times for my questions…)
Me? I’m less sure. I’m deeply curious about the story she has set for herself – the excellent, binding narrative. The “I am/ I’m Not” story. It’s been written over years.
Carefully constructed and edited…the one that has brought her here.
Half-formed. Half permitted. Half certain (but very certain of the half)
As I watch her resolve to shift (maybe dissolve?) something, I am moved beyond measure.
Eventually, after a long time of silence, of talking to herself and to the middle-distance, she looks at me.
A little shy, a little embarrassed, a little defensive, perhaps – I’ve seen her unguarded.
I don’t say anything….
Then I realise I’m grinning and I might need to explain myself….
And we begin a different conversation.

Facilitation Shindig – Design Reflections

The second part of the London Facilitation Shindig season ran on Thursday 17th May. Each Shindig is themed, to give us an opportunity to run a “deep dive” into an area – to hold focus for a day around a particular part of our practice. (see more here for background) This time round, we looked at design.

The Design theme is the one I think I worry about most – firstly, because the topic is vast – Facilitation Design… where do you begin? With content? With aesthetics? With Presence? Should we focus on establishing clear outcomes? Structure vs emergence?

Secondly, the topic has the potential to be “heady” – we have learned or been taught an approach, which we carry on and carry out – start/middle/end, models, experiences etc – there are rules and methodologies…we know stuff, we are experienced.. we have tried and failed and refined……. what I always wanted for Shindig Participants is that we get under some of that “already known” stuff and reach to continue the stretch.

How you facilitate is pretty much a reflection of who you are – you are unavoidable in your own design process – that’s the stuff I want the gang to get to – recognition of who are you and what is important for you, where that is working and where that’s holding you back… and then what else?

And so it is I kick them off, days before, with some pre-work thinking:

  1. What’s important to you when you design (events or sessions)?
  2. What’s your “signature” design (The things you always use. How I would recognise it’s your design… mine, for instance, pretty much involves flipcharts & not much tech)
  3. What do you never use? ( this causes some discussion – how do I know what I don’t know. If I never use a thing, am I aware of that?)
  4. What’s your design process?

The Shindig is participant-focussed. I bring the theme & some ideas about how to populate it or work with it… but within that, the “learner track” is theirs. What they take away or choose to work with beyond the session is deeply personal…. I always assume they will work with something… I sometimes get nervous about that assumption… am I doing enough? Should I structure it more? But they are smart and willing folk – I know they have signed up to sign up – I have to take my own medicine and trust the process.

I find that a difficult line to navigate, at times – how much do I intervene or sit back and just let folk take what they take? The Shindig feels personal to me, but I want it to be others’ too. If I’m not “giving” people lessons or learning, if I trust they will work with where they are at and move forward at their own pace and path, am I doing my job properly? Delivering the intention set? I don’t have the answers… I have to ask the people who take part.

What it throws up is the quandary where I want to be able to say: Come to the Shindig and leave with X Y Z … I’m sure that would give people comfort… it would sure as hell make it easier to talk about…. But it’s not designed that way – it’s made to be an open process, a place to explore and find out from others. It means stuff I never knew or intended to bring in comes to the surface as significant –for instance, an emerging mantra from London of “connection over content” which was layered in through the deeply wonderful Gary Austin on the first Shindig. There is something quite delicious about the richness that comes.

Yet when we get to 11:15am and themes in the room range from:

  • What Design Principles do we have?
  • How to build safety,
  • The role of space (physical and time) on design
  • creation of emotional experience
  • Inclusion
  • Anxiety
  • Role of the Facilitator

I find myself fearful I have encouraged scatter-gun learning, which is more likely to confuse than inform. It’s meant to be about working with a few things deeply. Am I holding myself to that principle? Then I intervene, capture the themes, pause for a few moments, move into activities which might help deepen or clarify…I am so often as in their hands as they are in mine.

I hold to the belief that there is enough in the room to feed the learning and stretch of participants, that it’s OK to expect a lot from them, that they are up for it and very able… and so far that seems true.

It’s not for everyone. Structure Junkies and those who like a Learning Outcome might be eating their hands in frustration right now. I get that. Equally, It might not be the most efficient process either – exploration and experimentation over didactic explanation – the intention is for it to be a place for practitioners to work on their own stuff, in their own way, at their own pace, supported by others….I kind of stick to that.

Whichever way, through our non-linear explorations, we bump into all kinds of good stuff and things to think about and work with… Resource on the Slack channel this time has included things which both indirectly and directly affect our design:

Frank J Barrett – on Jazz Improv
https://www.forbes.com/sites/susanadams/2012/08/10/leadership-lessons-from-the-geniuses-of-jazz/#b1becb8c8b79

Selective attention test https://youtu.be/vJG698U2Mvo

Emptiness and form – To Structure or not to Structure – Blog by Steve Chapman https://t.co/JSoCsOJlaf

Nesta’s Playbook on innovation and learning: http://www.nesta.org.uk/sites/default/files/nesta_playbook_for_innovation_learning.pdf

So I’m interested…when you think about your own design style for facilitation, how would you describe it?

_____________

The facilitationShindig season continues in London on July 12th at Amnetsy International Offices, Old Street. To find out more, follow @Shindiggery1 on twitter or go to www.facilitationShindig.com Tickets are available here:

Or contact hello@facilitationShindig.com if you want to chat to us.

We are working with Manchester University to bring some dates for a 2018 Manchester Season soon… Contact us to reserve your space.

What’s Possible

What’s emerging as I continue to ask myself and understand for myself What Matters to me in the work I do (see here and here for more) and how I do it is the importance of possibility. I like having choice ( even if it is only the illusion of choice) and I like it when I can see, or magic up, or work to create choice with clients.

Where there are no options, the work feels deadened and empty, stifling and stagnant …. Where I or we can see different ways to do stuff, there is energy, liveliness, the possibility of newness or movement. It’s generative. Guess where I’d rather be?

Working this way requires more, personally, professionally – you have to be invested differently if you are going to create or commit to working with stuff that isn’t the “norm” – you have to recognise and tackle strong stories, well-established personal and organisational narratives, it doesn’t happen on the sidelines, you kind of have to get involved….and possibly that’s not for everyone. You run the risk of being annoying, or wrong, isolated or scapegoated… or knackered… so, you know.. there’s that…but what if you make a difference? Well.. there’s that too…

How it shows up in practice is through questions & hypothesis – Is that really how it is? Really? Really-really? According to who? What if we….? What would happen if…? What if we could…? And then through action – showing alternatives, doing things differently, taking up or creating space otherwise occupied by certainty and establishment, encouraging clients to see possibilities, challenging what presents itself…

So much of the change work – be it with coaching clients or in organisations and systems – is about really getting into the long-held narratives and what they do for folk….genuinely understanding how a position or a story has come into being and why it is so tightly held and so defended (because more often than not, the story is defended passionately: it IS this way. You CANNOT see this situation any other way. You DON’T understand. I AM ONLY permitted to do/say/be THIS way)….and of course, there is a possibility that that is true.. and there is a possibility that it’s just one interpretation and there are other worlds out there to explore….

And in all of this, the creating and realising of possibility, is the need for articulation and repetition. You have to clearly offer alternatives, to show the possibility in multiple formats and languages and they need to be worked through before they will take hold.. otherwise it’s just flaky dreamer stuff…. My working partner, Claire Marie Boggiano, holds firmly to the belief that you have to say or discuss or show a thing “seven to twenty one times” in an organisation before it becomes regarded as possible. Whilst we are not sure of the actual science behind this, we work on this basis and prepare ourselves for have the same conversations, or raise the possibility for alternative narratives time and time and time again until something opens up…

Perhaps this blog is mostly because I’m reading the Art of Possibility by Rosmund Stone Zander and Ben Zander Good summary here – it’s a beautiful read and is helping me see how I can contribute differently in my work…. So far, it’s the story of the Taiwanese Student that has most touched me.

At the beginning of a Semester, Ben Zander (world renown conductor with the Boston Philharmonic Orchestera) is working with the best-of-the-best-students in a special programme at a Conservatoire. He wants to get them to produce the best possible performance, to get them to commit heart and soul, beyond the technical requirements of the music, their instruments, their current state. He wants them to make mistakes – and in doing so, overcome and grow – he wants them to lose their fear of errors. He makes the decision to award every student an “A” at the beginning of the semester – he tells them: Every one of you will get an A in this class. Now I need you to go and write me a letter telling me, in detail, why you have earned this A… what you do , how you feel, who you are now as this A student. This is a letter from your future self to you now… what more does that person know? What are they doing or how are they being differently from you now?
How delicious….how compelling…. What a terrifyingly wonderful invitation.

The Tiwanese student is confused by this “getting an A” for seemingly nothing. He writes to Zander:
“In Taiwan I was Number 68 out of 70 students. I come to Boston and Mr Zander says I am an A. Very confusing. I walk about, three weeks, very confused. I am Number 68, but Mr Zander says I am an A Student….. I am Number 68, but Mr Zander says I am an A. One day I discover I am much happier A than Number 68. So I decide I am an A”

There is the possibility – a lifetime of an owned narrative of being number 68 good enough, turned into something else entirely by the possibility things might be better/ different for you than that and then the active choice to embrace the possibility…It’s a beautiful thing. It’s powerful as all hell.

No wonder this is part of my What Matters in my work.

image thanks to https://www.pexels.com/photo/abstract-art-blur-bokeh-285173/

What Matters – The Garden Centre Lesson


So after yesterday’s blog,  I start thinking about What Matters in my work. The things I value…The things that serve me well… I haven’t thought much about these in a while… I have an urge to properly pause for a bit and not do anything much other than stay with the question for a while – What Matters?

I give myself the gift of a few hours. I’m easing into the week from the Easter weekend and nothing is pressing too hard. There are other things I could be doing, of course, and I could allow myself to feel guilty for “wasting time” etc – but I’m over that stuff…. This is a lively, active pause, not a vegging-out, mindless one…. Good stuff will come from this…I’m encouraging myself to do as I said I was going to and stop for a while. No sudden moves. What Matters?

I sit on the floor of the office with a cup of tea in hand. The Dog is delighted I’m at her level and wags over to my side, dumping herself unceremoniously beside me….I cuddle her and stare at the spines of books, wondering which one sort of “speaks” to me – where to begin, where to begin? What follows is a period of picking books up, raffling through pages. Noticing what resonates. Noticing where I shudder…. I give myself freedom to just go with whatever. I notice myself fretting about what’s not on my shelves..is my library good enough?… I manage to laugh at myself a little…good enough for who? Who the hell is watching right now? I figure what is there got me this far & I haven’t read half of it cover to cover – there’s enough here, for today.

Through this process, I reach back to points in my learning and my development as a Practitioner where light dawned on previously dark spaces…. I find myself seeking to return to what I have been shown… Revisiting my training: how to reflect and put that reflection into new action. How to take a thing – a moment, a regular occurrence, a block, a belief, a question-  and look at it through different lenses and positions and therefore work with it differently. What Matters?

Turns out that experience matters – I don’t mean Years-Served-Endless-Hamster-Wheel-Clocking-up-Time experience, I mean the lived experience of being in the world. Of being a fully living, sensing, thinking, learning being operating in a fully living, sensing shifting world. It matters to me and for my work… my lived experience impacts me, influences me, changes me.

When I started an MSc in Org Change in 2012, I was horrified – and I mean properly Are. You. Kidding. WTF horrified – that it began with Philosophy. One of the first sessions was on Phenomenology (cue about 3 months of me having the muppets’ M-numm-M-nunnh song in my head, only with the lyrics as “phenonmenon doo-doo-do-doo-doooo” – very very bad – if you want a different experience from this explanation, view here)

Phenomenologists argue that there is no one hard and fast, objective reality, that there is simply experience, followed by the interpretation we put on that experience.  So when we were sent off to visit places near Ashridge and a bunch of us went to the same Garden Centre what we found was: We went to the same place but Oh MAN did we have different experiences. For some of us, it was all about the lovely flora & fauna – spring, colours, growth – for others, flowers signified hayfever. For others it was about security cameras, warning signs and signs saying: do this/ don’t do that – human rules on nature. For others it was about the quality of cake and coffee – the welcome and offering. The Garden Centre Lesson: Bottom line? We were physically in the same space but emotionally, mentally and experientially worlds apart.

When we got back together to talk about what we heard/saw/ noticed/ experience it was like we had been to different places. Who was right? What was important? Whose experience was more valid? Powerful stuff.

So experience matters – my experience is just a valid and useful as yours. What I see and experience counts. Even if it’s inconvenient to you.  (actually, as a Consultant…arguably especially if it’s inconvenient to you) If we want to understand the whole garden centre, we can’t just see the roses. If we want to understand the internal Culture, we can’t just data-gather from one source  – (ie Leadership, or Frontline, or Customers, or coachee etc) I mean we CAN… but if we do, we need to be clear on the limitations of that view/ experience.. and not arrange the whole world/ training budget around a single view… ( And yes, we need to layer context on to experience eventually, or no-one gets anywhere… there needs to be a value judgement in there someplace or we won’t make decisions.. but later.)

My training: Notice the phenomena. Drop the shoulds and oughts and coulds. Have the experience. Notice the data (all of it – what you think, feel, sense – bring your whole self in) Sense-make and hypothesize. Create meaning. Reflect on it (either in the moment or after the effect – or, if you are me, probably both)…Notice your bias, your Bubble & blindspots if you can…and from there, can I play with that meaning in order to move on?  Can I offer myself choices: go deeper into the issue, or widen it out or just shift it elsewhere… momentum, progress, perhaps? I’m seeking difference, insight, learning.

I go back because it’s a thing that has served me well – reflective practice – an iterative process that moves me from Here to There – wherever There might be. I know there are good models for reflective practice – interested in hearing from others what they use or value

For me? this is What Matters. Taking my experience seriously.  Taking others’ experience seriously. Data gathering from different sources. Discussion. Iteration. And time for reflection whilst cuddling the dog & perusing books that fire my synapses.

What Matters

Image thanks to @GapingVoid

I took some time off.

Over the weekend, the long Easter weekend and the weekend before, I actually stopped working and thinking about work. Since October, fuchsia blue has been working with Greater Manchester Combined Authority on a piece of culture and OD strategy work. It’s a complex, if rewarding, piece with a lot at stake, a lot to consider and a lot of people and pace in the mix. It matters. It’s taken a lot of thinking through, of working out, of asking and gathering, of showing and telling. Add to that the ever-expanding joy that is the Shindig, and what it needs and deserves from me…. and coaching, facilitating, faculty work…I have felt in demand. Stretched. Not unhappy, but working at capacity….
Some will read that and see humble bragging about busy-ness, others will read other things into it. It’s not intended to be anything more than it is what it is, for me. I make choices and work with them. My 2012 self would marvel at what my 2018 self gets up to – I’m grateful for that. I genuinely love the work I get to do – even when it tests and stretches me… I love the folk I get to work with – and their infinite patience with my frowny face at times. For once, I’ve given myself a little credit for stuff I know, which has kind of felt good…. and still I have felt a loss.

It’s been so subtle, I hardly noticed it – mostly because I’ve hardly stopped. Not properly stopping…. The type of stopping that allows pottering, free-thinking, writing, discovery, possibility. It’s part of What Matters.
I arrive at my desk with a pre-formed to do list, a series of calls to make or things to attend to. I crack through what I can and I prioritise what next or what-not. I’m not bad at it, to be honest… but In this mode, I lose connection – l lose space and being in-touch.. with myself, with others… I sort of fold in for a while and rely on what I know and can access.. it is oddly satisfying – I can click through work at a fair pace. Stuff can get done – but after a while, the “Stuff” loses something important, something that matters – it becomes more transactional, task-based… oddly unsatisfying. And I feel a loss of connection to my creativity and words.

Over the weekend I put work down – the only thing that came close was playing with Storyboard technologies for the sheer hell of drawing stuff – not because I’m designing anything or trying to create something for a client – but because I’m curious.
It felt good.

I feel more restored.
It matters.

In a month that promises an Edinburgh Shindig, an Unconference, attending the ODN Europe Conference, my first ever trip to Shetland with the glorious Scottish Ballet, ongoing work with GMCA as we begin to look at getting folk involved in stuff in a different way, in a month where I begin a new conversation with a new supervisor – my intention is to enjoy the work as it comes. To put down the to do list and do some being. To focus on What Matters.

Wonder how that will work out?

Slight Return….

Hello.
I’m back.

That’s how it feels.

13 years ago, fuchsiablue was cobbled into being at a kitchen table in an Edinburgh flat. After several attempts to name my new enterprise – most iterations of which sounded appallingly Apprentice-like (I literally cannot remember some of my first attempts, I have purged them from memory) – the breakthrough came by flipping through a massive thesaurus, with a massive glass of red wine… finally I found the words-to-fit-the-thing.
Fuchsia blue it was – reflective of a short career where I was consistently been told all things HR/ L&D were pink & fluffy & I robustly insisted that I was not, I was blue & practical…

There have been a few iterations of the business – the first 3-4 years it wasn’t really a business at all. I worked interim contracts – resourcing & managing TUPE transfers into the newly-forming Transport Scotland, later working in Communities Scotland on resource projects…. And a gnawing realisation that I didn’t have a business… I had a series of contracts.

Cue next iteration – years 4 -8 ish – I trained as a coach, got MBTI qualified, began working as an Associate more – learned what sort of folk I like to work with. Tried out as an Organisational Consultant for a firm I desperately wanted to work with – got feedback about “faking good” that cut me to the core, but was so bang on the money that I had to go lick my wounds and learn..I did fairly standard Associate work for fairly standard companies and I rarely rocked the boat. I turned up, did a good job, got paid, went home.

And I was pretty bored. I began to pay attention to a whisper in me about the work I could be doing if I was prepared to be brave, to be true to myself, to be more creative and authentic and stop behaving like a good girl in case I didn’t get a good wage….Hello years 8 – 13.

The last 5 years have been about writing, about creating, about social media, about carving a coaching and consultancy space that sits slightly outwith the received wisdom of what it “ought to be” – I’m not Avant Garde, exactly, but I stretch stuff where I can. In 2012, I went to Ashridge Business school and took on a MSc which blew up my practice and from there I’ve reconstructed the bits in different ways. The last 5 years have been defined by running a business against a backdrop of divorce, debt, dealing with dementia, death, depression, deficit stuff – these years have also been defined by abundance – deepened old friendships & family ties, new friendships, new horizons, new work, new relationships, new location…

I’ve been told I’m lucky – I believe that much of that “luck” has been hard worked for and won. I acknowledge I have privilege – my background, education & ethnicity means I can walk more freely in the world than many do – my intention is to use that privilege in the best way I can, to include others, to encourage others, to be a bigger, better person.

Never have I felt more privileged and lucky than today – as I write this, I am in a new office space. For the past 6 months I’ve had no fixed place for fuchsia blue. In that time we have started the single biggest piece of work ever undertaken by FB – a piece of culture & OD work with the newly forming Greater Manchester Combined Authority – and I’ve really noticed the impact of not having a single place to work from.

In some ways, necessity has been the mother of invention – I’ve sought out co-working spaces, hot desk arrangements and operated when and how I can…but FBHQ, it turns out, is not merely of the mind. It comes with stuff – post it notes & sharpies, paint and glue, books and flipchart paper…the work is often as physical and visual as it is conversational and dialogic. The work, my work as I do it, needs reflection, consideration, peace and a lot of staying connected to folk.
Without a room of my own, I’ve struggled to write, to be connected, to be productive. Without the physical space for roots, I’ve been unable to grow and I’ve felt tighter, more constricted, less able to be expansive and relaxed.

That changed yesterday – after 12 hours of hard work, 2 coats of paint, hands aching from allen-keys, tunes on, working methodically, with good coffee & music and a stream of helpers and co-working colleagues in my new space – I finally have a new home for FBHQ.

So here’s to the re-birth of blogging and working more consistently. Here’s to reconnecting and being productive and pushing for different work that makes a difference…. Here’s to beginning of 2018, finally….

Touch

In the moment of the goodbye, she hugs me….not a quick, rapid, throw-arms-round-as-I-buzz-on-to-next-thing hug, but a deeply present, warm I-see-you-we-are-connected-see-you-again hug…heart to heart stuff…. I literally and metaphysically find myself moved. I sink in for a second – yielding and accepting the feel of that message in my body, ready to be received, ready to give back connection, affection, love….there is a brief pause, where we’re just kind of together, and then she disentangles herself and goes… for a moment I am discombobulated, filled with good chemicals …at peace.
Then I sort of exhale and go about my day – a little heightened.
A small moment, a shifting one… how utterly delicious.

Not everyone likes to be touched.
Physically, psychologically, emotionally, sometimes socially, the phenomena of someone reaching us, connecting with us is a profound one.
It’s risky.
It can be thrilling
It can terrify.
Given, got.
Offered, accepted.
Withheld, denied.
It can’t be one-sided.
It’s a relational thing.
This stuff’s loaded.
Touch can be kind, enlivening, empowering.
It can be cruel, belittling, damaging.
It can be intrusive, a violation.
It can be instructive, a revelation.
We have, often for good reason, different boundaries and barriers around connection.
This stuff leaves you vulnerable.
It could do you over.
It could move you into different places and spaces,
It is not to be underestimated.

I’m interested in touch – what am I in-touch with? Out of touch with? What am I connecting to? Disconnect from?
I ask the same of clients… it helps to know this stuff.. or at least get a sense of it…

I have a client who hates to be touched – hugging literally makes them shudder – we’ve talked about it, each fascinated by the other’s ease of preference – I’m physical, a hugger, an arm toucher – the opposite would leave me more disconnect – I don’t understand what that preference must be like.
They spend their life being hugged and touched by folk like me, and it leaves them cold, irritated… compounded by the fact that society seems to value touch and hugs…. their boundaries constantly crossed inadvertently…Why do I need to bloody touch folk? Why can’t you let me be?
These are fair questions.

When I go and see Mum, deeply bitten by dementia, it is, at times, touch that connects us back, words won’t work here…. hands held, eye contact…a hand on a cheek… these are the gestures that garner a response.

In a novel I read recently, Karen Joy Fowler writes: “They are called feelings for a reason. It’s because you feel. Them.” Things touch us, they move us – we feel. Our physical experience of being in the world, so often overlooked, is such a vital part of who we are and how we are with others…how in-touch are we with this?

I’ll make the argument for opening up, taking the risk, being bigger, connecting more, putting yourself out there, being in-touch with yourself and with others… and I am one of the first who longs to lock-down, protect myself, hide away, out-of-reach.
I struggle with big crowds. I get overwhelmed in the Social Media maelstrom at times….lots of people professing connection… sometimes, the warmth I see and experience through virtual, social spaces, truly touches me…sometimes it feels hollow, vacuous….a scant touch, brief and care-less.

Which is why, when someone hugs me with such open heartedness, such generosity and love I’m bowled over for a second…and then I hug back….
Oh yes… this is what it feels like to be connected…. Wow.