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?

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.

Facilitation: We Move Folk… or Try To…

Much of the work, when we are facilitating, is about moving people’s “states” – working to move their learning, how they see the world, their current story…. this isn’t something we talk about widely in the training of facilitators… but for me it’s a no-brainer. We move folk… or try to.

So Movement is an interesting one – as humans we can be as stubborn and immovable as donkeys. We can be deeply entrenched, utterly unable or unwilling to shift our position or thinking…. And yet we are predictable, persuadable, biddable, impressionable….so somewhere in here is possibility.

I’m clear, when I facilitate (and coach), that I mostly cannot move you if you are not open or able to be shifted. Your life experiences, your wiring, your world-view are there and if you choose to remain within those – if the defences are up – there is little I can do.
I can learn how to persuade and influence. I can make a good case, rationally and emotionally, for a shift. I can ask good questions. I can create experiences and conversations that compel. I can create a little smoke & put you in front of mirrors (not so much my style, but it’s out there, if you pay attention) I can set the environment and the “tone” which give you the opportunities to shift. I can set something up that is as enticing and beguiling as it is possible to make a thing… and still you have to meet me someplace toward it – you need to move.
(and even if you move.. you might move back… so long-term sustained states are better than short term fixes?)

I suspect when we design stuff, this shift of state is what we reach toward, consciously or otherwise.
I’ll come back to this in a bit….

I’m a social scientist by training. Sociology taught me a lot about understanding social systems. We as humans pull toward being interconnected, interacting, joined-up-in-more-ways-than-we-act, social. We influence each other – someone commits an act of terror in London, there is a wider social ripple that effects us all. Someone restructures the organisation… new team and power dynamics run….
We can’t live without cause and effect – movement is inherent in all of this – changed states, shifts and patterns.
Systems are, by their very nature, dynamic. They move and respond in order to survive and thrive. Bits waste and fall out of favour (atrophy) bits develop (emergence). It’s a dance of sorts.

When you facilitate, in the room, it is no different. You work the system, often dancing in the moment, whether you know it or not.

If you work with a group from a single Organisation, folk replicate the system the come from – they carry the rights/wrongs/ culture of the place they come from. It’s in their thinking and actions, in their behaviours and their energy – the system you work with in the room is an echo of a wider system. What is favoured one place, is a bit “meh” elsewhere.

For example, if you’ll forgive the broad-brush stuff, when I’m working in Oil & Gas sector in the Middle East, I might get a repetition of engineering thinking in the room, Sector thinking (lots of emphasis on safety), the cultural mix of Northern European liberalism, Ex-pat nomads and Middle Eastern conservatism, … brought under a shared purpose of pulling oil out of the Gulf safely, which is where the cultural differences must be dropped a little. What might be valued/ permitted in this room is expertise, proven theory, certainty, formal process and action – creativity and innovation might be viewed with a little scepticism… or flat fear.

In a UK Local Authority, the emphasis might be more on social thinking – systems, social care, social justice – what might be valued/ permitted in the room might be freedom to explore ideas, acknowledging complexity, collaboration, creativity and relationship-building… formal process and theory-based slide decks and definitive answers might just not work.

Or when working with a group from lots of different systems, an Unconference or a cross-sector workshop, I know that individuals tend to replicate the social system they know – the norms and behaviours from their world – and group work here can be more hectic, less settled for a while, especially if norms and permissions collide…..

None of this is right or wrong .. You mostly roll with it- but going back to the point above, if you are looking for the shift, if you want to successfully facilitate Movement (of learning, ideas etc) understanding the System & what it tolerates, values or rejects can greatly help your design & approach… and you can’t absent yourself from it – you will have an impact on the group you work with…

Movement & The Facilitation Shindig

we’re going to work with the theme of Movement at the May #FacilitationShindig. I’m going to use a couple of things to explore Movement in and around the system.  (If you don’t know about the Shindig yet, have a look at www.FacilitationShindig.com or follow @Shindiggery1 ) Broadly, a breakdown of what we’ll cover looks like this:

  1. As with every Shindig, one of the core principles is It Starts With You – we’ll look at what moves you and what keeps you grounded. The system is about to get mobile around you in the room – you need to be a stable point, not dragged about by others’ stuff – to be able to stand, relaxed, open, not-anxious, curious…
  2. Practical activities help you do that (be organised, understand your “flow” etc) and we will focus on physical elements which help – practices of physically centring and re-balancing. I’m drawing from Embodied Work from my teachers in this field, particularly Wendy Palmer and Amanda Ridings. Wendy looks at the physical, embodied nature of being in the world and asks how we can actively connect to our strength dignity, and warmth. In the room it is this: can you connect to the Good Stuff and extend it out, extending your personal space, creating a felt-sense of calm, inclusion etc ?
    You can find out more about Wendy’s work here:

  3. Beyond-self. Looking at understanding and moving the system. We’ll look at mapping – using 3D System Sculpting – and some stuff around movement in the room (what do we need to think about/ try when we move folk round? What happens if we are faced with physical restrictions?)
  4. Finally we’ll look in to and use Constellations – roughly speaking, this is about experiencing where we stand in relation to each other, to the sytem, to a situation or a pattern – looking at it from a number of perspectives.

So we are looking at Movement – in every sense of the word – and how that fits in our practice as facilitators and what more we can do with the dynamics we work with and are influenced by.

register your interest for the event on the 4th May click here

 buy a ticket for 4th May Movement session click here

 

 

 

The Truth About Collaboration

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So the truth is there is a way to work collaboratively, co creatively and constructively with others.
Even with people who have vastly different approaches/ preferences.
And the truth is this way can’t be defined in a top-10-tip list.
And collaboration needs worked at hard for the results to show.
And it’s the less-easy path, because self-interest, self-protection and self-centredness is pretty easy to access.
Including and involving others, trusting, sharing? Ah, now… that’s a lot more complicated.

When I want to work collaboratively, it is this:
I need enough clarity, purpose & articulation to make sense.
Know why I’m doing what I’m doing…and ensure folk know that.
State my case.
Why I think what I think & stand within that….
But not stubbornly. Not blindly or narrowly.
I have to be able to give, to yield, to be as wrong as I am right.
To be interested in others.
I have to not be a petulant child.

This is Relational Practice as I understand it.
It is stuff the oils & fuels change in organisations.
The stuff in between the process and procedure and formal mechanisms and rules.
It’s thinking with clients.
It’s working with ambiguity & knowing that not-knowing is transitory, but necessary.
It’s loving the questions.
It’s not fearing new solutions.
It’s not single handedly designing a 24 week organisational solution to be delivered like an Amazon Parcel.
It’s building in consultation, iteration & experimentation.

It’s sharing findings for bigger, more expansive outcomes, rather than tightly holding small fiefdoms.
It’s uncovering answers together… because somehow going slower makes us faster.
It’s pulling existing knowledge into being & building on together that so it’s better and stronger.
It’s getting over yourself to the space beyond you.

It’s encouraging technology for progress and positive outcomes
It’s about quiet time in the crazy.

It’s putting heart and soul in & knowing that cannot be quantified, but seeking the data to explain how it worked & articulate it as best we can & repeat if we can anyway

It’s about power.
The power we think we have.
The power we exert.
The power we deny we have.
The power we are clueless about.
It’s about how kindly or thoughtlessly we use that power.

It’s not dismissing anyone.
It’s not elevating anyone either.
Everyone is important, therefore no-one is
Everyone is different, therefore we are all the same.
It’s about respectful opposition
And about humour in tough circumstances.

It’s about sitting in tough & tender conversations.
If we prefer the tough, it’s facing into the tender.
If we prefer tender, it’s putting yourself in the tough stuff.
It’s about stretch.

And about dignity.
Not denying your femininity / masculinity. Knowing you have both.
I have the capacity to be assertive & strong & directive & agentic.
I have the capacity to yield, to be soft & open & commune.
I can be certain.
I can be afraid
And these are right, proper at times.

And at the heart, it is about love.
Love of self.
Love of others.
Love of the possible & the unknown.
Love of the impossible & the known.
Living with what these give & what they take.

It’s about a hundred stories of hopes crushed & fights fought and getting up and cracking on anyway.
It’s human spirit in all it’s heartbreaking, excruciating beauty.
It’s human nature that tests things of beauty to breaking point.
It’s the terrible things we do to each other to make ourselves feel better & the terrible things we do to ourselves at others’ behest.
We are so clever… we are so dumb…..

And when I look at all of this…. the richness and the depth and the complexity of it all….
I think it is unsurprising that we turn from work that is relational, social, emotional – We go for simple narratives and binary decisions.
and it leads us to a post-truth world, where rational data co-exists with “alternative facts” and “he-said/ She-said” is the basic narrative – a stuck one. An adversarial one.
Here, there is such certainty, it undermines certainty itself.

So how about we sack-off certainty and seek to collaborate, co-create and work through relationships with a little maturity and grace?
Hard work as it is.
Try it. Today. See what happens.

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?

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.