Introducing….The Facilitation Shindig

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Earlier this year I spent a day in a room with a group of people I respect beyond measure as we walked through the process and methods we were going to use to facilitate teams of leaders in a FTSE 250 over a period of months.

The purpose of these leadership sessions is the good stuff – the simple, yet not easy, good stuff – that thing of getting highly skilled, smart, experienced folk to let down their guards a bit, to know each other and to work together in different ways to their current ways of being. Looking to shift intractable issues through building relationships, by thinking and working together, by equipping these leaders with alternative methods for talking and acting… it’s stuff that takes time and care and tenacity and skill.

Some things struck me on our walk-through day.
I was struck by the sheer pleasure of being in a room with really good facilitators, hearing others’ thought processes and learning from each other. We worked hard. We laughed. We pushed each other. We questioned. We developed the process together. It was like the best rehearsal ever.

I was struck also by how lonely it can be in the work….Sometimes facilitation is you. In a room. With a whole bunch of strangers/ near strangers, trying to achieve a thing – and whilst it’s one of my favourite places, it’s also… kinda nerve wracking (especially if you are doing it properly, I’d argue).

I also was struck by something I’m currently mulling on as “Genuine Practice”– the importance of folk who reflect and learn and experiment and in order to improve their craft. Those who diligently show up in life and in rooms with groups and who work with care and consideration to create outcomes and change. Practitioners who can drop everything planned and knit something utterly unique and needed in the moment, because they have taken the time to build their skill and personal capability – the ones who are doing their 10,000 hours to get to mastery…. And how deeply I value that Genuine Practice.

And how I’m becoming increasingly intolerant of Shiny, Showy Post-Truth Change Gurus taking up airspace without ever proving themselves or their theories. I need my Emperors Clothed these days. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

And I was struck by the increased importance of well designed face-to-face work to generate conversations and change.. that our work future means there are likely to be fewer and fewer chances for folk in organisations to convene.. and when they do, that time is precious….and brilliant facilitators are what will make that time purposeful and useful and productive and thought-provoking and behaviour-shifting….

And so a beginning idea came into being – Rather than being wistful, how about I created time and a place for those of us who facilitate to gather? To celebrate and work on Genuine Practice? And how about it was a joyful thing – something about the love of the work and learning from others?

And so after much doodling and deliberating and asking folk stuff, the Facilitation Shindig has arrived.

The first gathering is on 19th January 2017 in Manchester….
Beyond this there will be 5 more in Manchester throughout 2017. In March, May, July, September and November… With a bonus social Winter gathering in December or beyond.
The intention is to run more, in other cities or internally in businesses…but one step at a time.

Each Shindig this year will be themed around a word.
The words for Manchester 2017 are: History, Movement, Writing, Outside and Closing.
What we do together within those words will depend on who attends the Shindig and how they interpret that word.

You can buy Season tickets for all 5 events, or Pay-as-you-go single event tickets here

The intention is to work with care and challenge, to practice and experiment and learn from each other. If you are interested in the Shindig in any way shape or form, please do get in touch – I’d love for this grow and to have a thriving community of practice.

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Just Do The Thing.

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I got tagged in Sam Roger’s tweet (see pic above) by Marco Faccini the other day and it made me grin – because sometimes, despite my oodly-moodly tendencies to reflect and pause, for me, change work really is all about doing The Thing. Taking action or avidly holding to inaction – working with and against grains. Doing what it takes to get things moving, shifting, starting, stopping… doing The Thing. Not thinking about it. Not going on stage and talking about it. Not finding a perfect definition of it. Doing it.

There is a beguiling sense for me about the undefined notion of The Thing – it could be Any Thing… or NoThing (though, this isn’t really a thing, for me – unless, after asking: Why are you doing this? The answer seems a bit lame or overly-blah….Then The Thing might be: stop and do NoThing ..but arguably that option usually still means Listen or ReGroup or SomeThing….ok. I’ll stop now )

My interpretation of The Thing in fuchsiablue work is that it is important to understand established territory .. and then find new ways to see it, or travel through it or live in it…for me, it’s about being in service to clients and folk around me where I can be… taking and encouraging steps toward something differently useful. It’s about rolling up my sleeves, asking puzzling questions and designing stuff that’s acceptable enough to keep people alongside you, but counter-cultural enough to evoke a frisson. It’s less about permission, more about possibility. It’s about kind impact – what’s working already?… do more of that Thing then…and more again…

I know others whose The Thing is way bigger than this – provocative, challenging, bold colourful- and I like to peek over those fences, sometimes perturbed, sometimes breathless at the audacity, sometimes scathing of the certainty and showmanship… and I’m frequently impressed by the impact they have…and I never really learn what happens beyond that impact….and I’m curious about how the Big Thing leads to action and application.

I know others whose The Thing is quieter, less bold, less provocative, thoughtful, differently beautiful, more contained, not showy or world-wide, but nevertheless potent. It is often here I see the work happening – the action, the gatherings, the challenge to the norms, the collective practice, the agreement and disagreements, the subversion and the revision…..

So I’m curious….what’s your Thing?

If you were to Just Do The Thing… what would yours be? Your contribution? Your action? Your most useful part in making things change?

Organisational Structures & Leading through Relationships

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I’m thinking about structures. Organisational structures and restructures and the way we organise ourselves at work – how we plan, decide, action… you know, that configuration-y stuff. Partly, this has been sparked by recent work around matrix stuctures, and partly by reading this article on how to build a self-managed organisation.

Top down, hierarchy? Matrix working? Self-organised systems? Which is best?

It kind of strikes me that they all survive or fail through relationships..and how we get information to each other effectively (aka that illusive catch-all “communication”)

Mostly, I suspect, if a group of folk get together and are unable, unwilling or ill-equipped to have the types of discussions, the information sharing, the good will and trust that generates good outcomes and understanding… it sort of doesn’t matter how the hell you organise them.

I have some sympathy with top-down hierarchical structures, at times. There is an apparent simplicity and obviousness to the process- I tell: you do – which is tidy and neat. Only… it never really works that way. Not properly and consistently…but I still like the story on occasion – the illusion of control and orderly lines…..

Then I remember the start of my leadership journey, back when my top-down authority extended precisely to the lines in my team….on paper. Off paper, my team did what was needed, irrespective (at times) of my decisions. I’d have been annoyed, but often what they ended up doing was better than anything I was coming up with – that’s when I started to let go a bit, listening properly and asking them stuff… Potentially, I grew up a bit.

My reality? Of a role in HR, then L&D/ change? I never had one of those jobs that demanded instant respect… whatever they may be…. If I wanted my authority or opinion to matter beyond my direct reports, I needed to actively build my network, my credibility and my usefulness. Frustrating as this has been, at times, that reality has been.. well, kind of character building.

Now I work in a world where any “leadership” I take or show has to be negotiated through others. There is no top-down hierarchy here…and that comes with its own set of stuff. Credibility and respect have to be earned. Collective models for leading and decision making can be bloody time consuming – building relationships, developing the ability to gather views and hold everyone to a core intent; whilst acknowledging that, actually, at some point there will be a series of corridor conversations, email, DM’s etc that support or detract from that core intent… and working to do whatever is required to make the thing happen anyway, surfacing the gnarly bits where you can either through direct action or subtle means….

If you are in a self organising team, or working in a matrix structure, your capacity to lead and influence is awarded or denied by those around you – a constantly shifting morass of opinions and relationships.. no-one is in charge so everyone is in charge, but the authority to be in charge might well depend on your confidence and capacity to talk a good game….that can feel or stressful and actually a little thankless – where do you get recognition if you lead in this model? To “take the lead” or be awarded it through circumstance of expertise, or opinion or function necessitates  you are slightly “out there” – apart from others…. yet in a collective structure – you can’t be “out there”leading  and also “in here” with everyone… it’s paradoxical and not for the faint hearted. How do we help folk hold that paradox?

Being held up as leader, or actively taking the lead and being “out there” means a risk of being misunderstood or maligned – beyond your immediate team or the folk who really know what you are up to. Some times it’s worse…. Sometimes you are venerated and revered… pedestals are, I suspect, precarious. For me, this is the stuff we need to think about and design learning interventions for – how to work with uncertainty and hold your authority in a unstable operating environment.

So what am I saying? for me, however we structure ourselves to plan, organise or act, it always comes down to the core stuff –, the need to build relationships– to develop and maintain our abilities to listen, to articulate our viewpoint (kindly, if possible), to work to remain open-minded. It’s about striving to develop our maturity, our capacity to work with uncertainty and our commitment to have positive intent to those around us.

This is not about structure, or technology or revolution or disruption.

This is about committing to developing the core skills we already have to relate and committing to designing Learning Interventions in our organisations that deeply support that for the long term.

Organizational Charts drawing by Manu Cornet, http://www.bonkersworld.net

The Heart of Leadership

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My audible groan is not appreciated. They are looking at me without warmth.
I slightly surprise myself – oh, bugger. Did I make that noise out loud?

What is on the table at this particular design meeting is the integration of a case study. This case study, or variations of it, has been used for the past 4 years with great success. It enables a venerated Professor type from London School of Harvard Tech or wherever to join the programme and work with the leaders. He talks them through something about growth in emerging markets. It’s interesting. They do stuff on it. They discuss and puzzle. They learn.

I really like the Prof – he’s looks good for his age (I’m guessing 60?) and has been doing this leadership stuff for over 30 years all over the world. We have this amazing conversation about a recent Desert Walk he undertook. I totally get why we want to work with him. He’s charming and experienced and avuncular – a natural mentor for the guys trying to create growth in emerging markets. A foil for the raw ambition 70-hours-a-week behaviours that are happening.

And I’m groaning because to the depths of my soul I believe that what would be most in service to this group of leaders, is not another technical, building mind-muscle challenge. They’ve got this. They are a smart, committed, fairly hungry ( if a little knackered) group. They can think their way through complex, VUCA whatever conditions. Demonstrably? They are all OVER that stuff.

What this group of leaders is lacking is joined-upness and trust in each other. The emotional maturity to share without churlishness. The empathy to understand how their behaviour impacts on their team and the grace to accept that sometimes, it’s not great.
The willingness to admit they are scared to let something go, because their need to be perfect and capable and strong means failure is not an option….even though that need is waking them up at 3am and they are a shell the next day, ergo more like to fail.
The recognition that their deep need to always be right and clever means someone else has to be wrong and stupid – and that sometimes, that’s a shitty choice.

The ones who have emotional maturity have been doing the hard graft for ages – building relationships, sorting out issues, oiling wheels, making things work by getting under the egos. Where what is valued is mental dexterity and logical outcomes, this emotional work goes unrecognised, unsung and those who undertake it often don’t value it themselves/ are slightly embarrassed about it – but an engine without oil grinds to a halt…

What the group of leaders we are designing for is lacking is a language to express this stuff – a means of articulating the fear or the joy, the disappointment, the paranoia, the impatience, the shame – and if you can’t talk about it or write about it, draw it or walk with it… if it is nebulous and shadowy and can’t be named, how can you ever work with it?

This can be gnarly work – coming face to face with your nasty, with the bits of you that haven’t contributed to your high-flying career thus far – the Case Study is a breeze in comparison. An easy option. The lovely comfort zone.

For some, emotional, relational stuff is literally learning a new language – something unspoken before, something they don’t understand – it can take a long time… your accent might always be terrible….how embarrassing.
Some folk find working with this stuff overwhelming – they feel the absence of something they “ought” to have and equate that to failure – so run madly from it, muttering about Fluffy crap, no place in business…only to be faced at some point in their lives with the inevitability of lifestuff – death, divorce, illness, change….and then it can all come crashing down.

So why ask leaders to look inward and build their emotional capacity? Easier to stay cerebral and crack on….

Because work without heart leads to heartless outcomes – and we need leadership who operate with compassion and care more than ever. This is not a platitude, it’s a thing – an actual thing. We talk about the future of work, of improving working lives – but a good future requires leaders who can access empathy, compassion, generosity, failure-as-learning and make decisions about their people, resources, markets etc with some ethical and emotional intelligence. A case study in emerging markets kind of bypasses that bit.

I say some of this at the design meeting – not all of it, because me on a soapbox isn’t anything particularly useful at this stage… and we talk about how to get the connection part, the relationship part more front and centre…. and slowly something more heart-felt & human emerges and I’m glad…..

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When they arrive they are polite, slightly scared or bored and the conversations involve a lot of comparisons and competitive niggles. Fast movements, rapid talk. Status games, power games, jostling, laughing….

They leave, days later, quieter, less scared. Less bored. They know each other better. They know themselves better. For some, this is still not right or good – the world seems altered and that’s uncomfortable as all hell – they will very quickly try to recreate their status quo. For others, and the people they lead, it is the beginning of, or the next steps to master, this new language, with all that can bring.

Wild Mind Writing Revisited– Discipline & Grit

 

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So having tried a little Wild Writing recently, I wanted to know more. I bought Natalie Goldberg’s book and have been trying some of the exercises and experiments. It’s bloody hard!!!! And I’m slightly laughing to myself, because the tough-ness of it has come as a surprise.

What is the “it”? I think I mean the discipline – here on the FB blog, I choose what to write – I’m moved by some magical muse thing and I batter down thoughts and share – in many ways I’m lucky because I don’t really craft too much or worry too much anymore. Which is kind of an indulgence. The wall gets hit when asked to write to a set topic… or go deep, to write about something hugely painful or personal…or when asked to experiment outwith that to which I’ve become accustomed. Then? Oh Holy Hell!!! It all goes awry and I’m rambling, shambling, wordless, frustrated……

This week I had the deep joy of watching Stephanie Davies, Founder of Laughology do her thing with a group of managers in Manchester. I’m only beginning to get to know Steph – she has been generous in the extreme with sharing her knowledge, her stuff and her experiences – and I hope we get to do pretty much any kind of work together in the future…not just because she properly makes me laugh, but also because there is some real potency to the work she does… Steph was, in her time, a stand up comedian, with all the knocks and the bravery that it takes to stand up in public and be funny (which is, by the way, my idea of HELL) Subsequently, she undertook a deep-dive into researching and understanding the psychology behind humour, happiness and motivation. Her workshops are based on deep cognitive and behavioural models to help other folk understand and develop themselves…. you can learn to be more humorous, more happy and you can understand motivation, make choices differently and grow, personally, professionally, socially, cognatively..… Steph takes the business of happiness and humour very seriously …it’s good stuff.

What we talked about that resonated deeply is the notion of the need to have some Grit. Grit is the thing – the tenacious, determined, Bugger-That-Didn’t-work-what-if-I-tried-this-instead-not-bloody-giving-up thing – the sort of secret sauce in the seeming ease and effortlessness of mastery. She talks of finding the joy in struggle. That giving up can feel good… but pushing on and pushing through leads to someplace… potentially even better… (and of course, there is a place for both persistence and for yielding – I’m an advocate of NOT just banging your head off brick walls repeatedly for no reward – that’s not the joy of struggle – that’s the route to madness).

A large part of developing oneself is about practice (look also at  Carol Dweck’s work on Mindset , Angela Duckworth’s work on Grit , Matthew Syed’s work on Continuous Improvement or Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, ). Through practice, through trying different things, different variants, through trial and error, experiment and fail, we develop – our thinking, our actions, our maturity, our resilience, our tolerance. Interestingly enough we don’t just learn new, we also let go of old stuff that’s not working for us anymore – synapses in the brain that are unused kind of atrophy and die – making space for new synapses at any given point in your life.

This is the type of work and thinking which gives me hope – talking to managers about working with a growth mindset, about not being fixed – showing the science and the reasoning behind it all – keep up your management practice – try it, study it, work with it and you will be a bigger, better person and encourage those around you to be bigger better people…

And as much as I love the science… I am wired ( have wired myself?) to be more artful…

So it is as I find myself in struggle with writing wild practice and the exercises Goldberg suggests.. as I face a sense of failure and frustration when the silences and word-flow stops, as my synapses reach toward each other and mostly fail to grasp each other – I’m beginning to understand that this is the discipline that will take my writing to a different place. When I feel myself unsure and stuttering – clumsy and bambi-legged – here is the edge of my competence and control – can I push on? If I just keep going, keep paying attention, keep on experimenting with different tones and words and structures and rhythms and exercises – I know I’ll find myself in a different place… ah well – back to the notebook.

I know I’m learning. I can grit my teeth and find joy in the struggle… ish.

 

NB: I find I’m reluctant to share some of the wild writing here on the blog – all sorts of interesting learning right there about public/ private/ persona stuff. And so I especially want to thank everyone who sent me their Wild Writing, following the last blog – your courage in sharing, your trust and your insights have me humbled.

Back to Basics

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The ebb and flow of work in this consulting life is always fascinating. I have, for quite a while now, neither actively sought nor said yes to doing face-to-face classroom-based skills training for managers. If I’m brutally honest, this is partly due to some sort of sniffiness on my part (I’m not proud of this by the way) It’s the work I cut my teeth on and I suppose I feel I’ve sort of graduated, it’s not big meaty change stuff, it’s not gnarly coaching stuff… it’s starting back with basics. My story: I’ve kind of done that. Others are better at it than me. Not my bag.

And so it is, as it always is, that the universe conspires to remind me to get over myself. I’m in the midst of two pieces of work, in very different circumstances, both of which have the requirement to go right back to basics and pass on some skills mainly around coaching & feedback.

It’s been an interesting journey. One thing I realised is I know a lot now. Still got a lot to learn, but no point in pretending otherwise anymore. I’ve been round the block a few times, sat in a lot of situations… if you work in this field, you get to dip in or deep-dive into many cultures, circumstances, scenarios… it is astonishing what you pick up.

The other is the importance of knowing the basics and how much you actually rely on them. Coaching, for all the stuff written about it, for all the skill and practice required, seems to come down to three things: Listening, Questioning, Self-management. (I’ll come back to this)

This particular realisation came when I was asked if I could “do” coaching skills in 4 hours. Me? “do” coaching skills? In 4 hours? Are you serious?
It’s a deep and in-depth, terribly important thing…..
And when I lost my pomposity and started to listen to what the client was needing, the answer to that was: you can and you can’t.
You can stand for 4 hours and bestow your wisdom and a few old chestnuts to a group of new/semi-new managers. Run some exercises. Give out some handouts. You could rock up and slightly dial–in your efforts, find old notes, reconfigure that which has been done before, blah blah blah…. And they would leave with some 2D stuff – on paper or in their heads, which may or may not be relevant or used… and I can make a fairly strong case for why this is rubbish work, scattergun and a likely waste of budget.

Or.. you can use the 4 hour frame to get to the heart of what might be required. Cut it down. Get specific. Get efficient. You can talk to the client about the time before and after the 4 hour frame – what “pre-work” works for this group? What might they like, appreciate or actually pay attention to?
If you make it look good & it is short and relevant – if it is welcoming and makes a compelling case for turning up to find out about how coaching & feedback can be useful management tools…might that be better work?

Then seek to make the 4 hours matter….take seriously the notion that folk can learn stuff in 4 hours – people can have lightbulb moments and discussions that can open them up to try – to feel encouraged. If the design revolves around LESS content and more sensemaking of that content, surely that’s a thing?… how about we do 4 things well? Would that be good?

How about we look at it like this:
Listening – the active stuff where you pay attention to what is being said and HOW. Also Listen to yourself actively.. what are you experiencing? Practically? How do you to this?

Questioning – the art of curiosity – good questions, asked from a place of cheering someone on to do more/ different/ better. What does that look like? What questions do that stuff? What demeanour helps the other person believe they can do a thing?

Self management – holding silence, acknowledging your own limitations, being willing to talk to others to get a perspective on how you handled something, seeking to find a co-created, shared solution WITH the other person. Including them. Not dancing by yourself.

The importance of practice and reflection – try. Try listening so you can summarise someone else’s words – Try listening to yourself and the guff you muddle your head with. Try asking questions kindly. Try staying curious when you thing you know. Practice these – 3 times a day. Then talk to other folk about what’s working and not working for you – get their perspective – this is skills development – this is HOW you learn and shift behaviour.

OK – It’s not Masters Level – but the importance of this stuff – and how well it can serve you in YOUR WHOLE LIFE and the joy of where it can take you… you can get that across. Can you make it compelling enough that they want to know more, seek more, try more for themselves? Those ripples go beyond 4 hours. That sounds good….

And then in the aftermath – what? The client has no budget for follow-up? OK – so what will they do to support the 4 hours? For me, this was a deal breaker. If I was to agree to squish my beloved stuff into a short space of time, I needed guarantees that it would have places to grow and expand beyond the classroom.

So I made the argument for the follow up – coming up with ideas, cheap solutions, means to continue the learning – buddying up, coming back together at a later date – I’d prefer to do this with them, but in this instance it was never on offer – and now at least there is someplace for the 4 hours to go… and I’ll check in to see how that is happening & keep nudging a little.

Don’t get me wrong, my preference is to work with depth and discernment… but it has done me no harm to distil what I know, to draw it right back to the heart of the art and work with that. And I haven’t run the sessions yet – it’s coming up soon – so it could be a disaster, with terrible timings and folk leaving without proper handouts with neat models… or it could be the start (or continuation) or a journey for loads of folk and ripple out to the folk they manage. OK. That’s pretty cool….

Wild Mind Writing & Doing What I Do

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Of course when Nick talks about “Wild Mind Writing” I become very alert. Everyone in the group seems to have heard of it – a practice, attributed to Natalie Goldberg, by which you write, free-form, without edit, censure or pause for a period of time.
Don’t stop.
Keep writing.
Keep writing.
Even if there is nothing to say – write blah blah blah until the words come.
Don’t worry about spelling or syntax.
Don’t stop.
Keep Writing.
And, Nick invites wryly, go for the jugular with it. Don’t mess about. Write wild.
(I hear this translated into Scots: “gie it some laldy, girl”)

I haven’t heard of Wild Mind Writing before – or maybe I have and haven’t been paying attention – but the practice, this practice, is as familiar to me as drinking tea… it is precious, beloved and necessary.

I write. I write pretty much every day when there is time and if I don’t, after a few days I know about it. I write to make sense of what is. Of what has been.
I write to organise my thoughts.
I write to my future self – capturing the here-and-now – knowing one day, I may want or need to look back and understand how it was for me then.
I write to learn and to show myself that I have learned.
It is, in many ways, an utterly selfish act – for me, for my sanity, for a sense of myself… and sometimes it becomes less-so, when I share it or blog it….
I write as I think. Short sharp sentences. Or longer, more fluid more complex ones. I delight in words. In vocabulary and expression and rhythm.

I’m darkly chuckling at the topic we are asked to Write Wild on.
I have a history of being inarticulate around the business, my practice, my Why.
So when Nick turns the flip over & the words: WHY DO I DO WHAT I DO? pop up, I sort of groan/smile. Of course it would be this.

Before I share what I wrote (and it is personal..and it feels risky to share it…and that’s what happens when you write-and-share yourself.. when you put bits of yourself out into the world for scrutiny, because Lord-only KNOWS what folk will make of it…and I’m still not always OK with that…and I think it’s important to do it anyway) I’m making the invitation to try this out.
Set a clock – 5 mins or 10… we did 7 mins.
Find paper & a nice pen with flowing ink… or fire up your laptop.
And write. To yourself. To anyone. To No-one. And see what comes.
And when the first layer of words are gone?
Go deeper. What next? What more? What else?
See where it takes you.

Feel free to send it to me (julie@fuchsiablue.com or post it below in the comments) …. I’d rather read 5 minutes of someone’s rough and ready genuine inner thoughts than 50 pages of crafted, polished blurb.

So as one who works with folks in transition, as one who wants folk to learn and develop, to grow and be just kind of amazing….. Why do I do what I do?
These are my words:

I do what I do because I get something from it. Personally, Professionally – what is the something? Dunno. Satisfaction, personal progression – a sense of learning and newness – a sense of getting better and wiser and more able.
I do it to push myself. To encourage others by sharing what I learned – and I love it and it scares me and it costs me. I have to show myself everyday. That’s actually hard for me.
This is my practice, my 10,000 hours, the thing I seek as my mastery, my vocation – because there is privilege in passing stuff on. In showing and sharing because through this I am alive – I am in relation to others – connected to different worlds.
I get to travel. To explore. It is anthropological and satisfying. It is terrifying and frustrating. I’m wrong. A lot.
I hear stuff that makes me want to spit. Cockwomblery and W*nkpuffinage… so much BS about organisations and future and disrupt-hack-fecking-VUCA….
For me it’s quieter. It’s about self. It starts and ends with you. With me.
The more I know myself? The more I understand my context and reactions and can articulate these? The more I face into my fears? The bigger I become – more expansive. More generous. Kinder. Wiser. More robust.

 

image: Bartek Zyczynski/ Shutterstock