Stories & Telling & Asking & More


Yes – I’ll help set up a storytelling zone. In the exploration of the social age, I’ll happily find a place for folk to gather and talk and think and question and share. I’ll make a nook – a place to hang out and meet and mull. Laura will make a Newspaper office right next to it, handing out nips of whisky and chatting over typewriters…..stories created here & captured there…. That works.

Stories? Sure, that’s part of what life and work is about – your story, our story, the story of the organisation; tales of the unexpected and of the known – specific tales that bring hypothesis somewhere more understandable or tangible… the Theory is this: my Reality is that…. Ah.. this is helpful – I can see more clearly now.

If I coach you, we work with your story – your narrative of yourself. How you see yourself and tell yourself to others. How you know yourself. What you allow yourself to do.. or not do… or think… or say… I’ll offer counter narratives.. can we re-write this together? Can this be a different tale?

As the Safari unfolds, I hear metaphors & how useful these can be to work with. How a shared story helps people gather and understand. How the plea for Purpose in organisations is also a plea for a simple narrative – what do we stand for here? Will you stand for that with us?

I hear about working in small streams; river tributaries that might eddy or might flow out to the ocean; I hear of someone quilting – piecing odd fabrics together to create something beautiful and new and original.. the pieces becoming a whole different entity; we hear Social Media sharing not as an act of self-promotion, but as an act of generosity – sharing content and knowledge specifically to generate change… the self-lessness a thing I forget about at times in the midst of broadcasted cultivated messages….

And so much I don’t know about stories – what do we do with messy narratives that don’t follow a proper arc? The archetypes available… the questions you can ask: are we in an organisational tragedy? Comedy? Farce? So much still to learn, to ask, to discover.

Catherine and Selby work with creative voices. Poetry and music bring narratives to life – protest songs and lives spoken into being… lyrical, lilting riffs that are unexpectedly touching, moving and powerful. The words sung or spoken have a effect that cannot easily be expressed….articulated in emotions and sensation – beyond words in many ways… I enjoy the irony.

Later, I leave early, my own fairy tale of being able to push through a flu-like cold thing truly undermined by the very factual story of shivers and temperature, of sand-papered throat and woolly brain-function. As I find myself sitting on the floor of a packed train, feeling terribly sorry for myself and telling my woes on a Slack channel to my beloved friends, Amanda asks: Would you like a story?
And I relax – Yes. Tell me a tale from beyond this train – and she does… and it is beautiful and human and poignant… and then Fi shares her Tale from the Underground… and I’m elsewhere and warmer and more connected all at once and somehow it makes things better.

There is power in stories… and in those who tell them.


Thanks to inspirers/ co creators Geoff Stead, Carol Read, Julian Stodd, Damian Corbett,  Sukh PabialJonathan Anthony  Johanna Wyers, Amy Burvall, Stephanie Morgan  SeaSalt Learning Crew including (but not exclusively) Laura Williams, Valerie De Pauw,  Hannah Moxom, Phillip Kingsbury, Paul Draper, Rich Stannard, David Jarrett & Emily Pykett

to Amanda Arrowsmith & Fiona McBride

seek out #socialAgeSafari

Check out Spoken Artist & Poet Joseph Selby & bluegrass/ folk musician Catherine Burke

Think For A Minute – Reflections on Learning & Leadership

Stop for a moment, good leaders of organisations and people.
Pause, Practitioners of Learning and Development.

Cease acting for a moment, or two, or longer and just….. Hold. Breathe. Be.
Relentless activity.

Constant striving.

Be Better.

More for Less.


Alright. Fine. There is that.

And there is more.

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The Map is Not the Territory


“The Map is not the Territory” This phrase has been bouncing about my brain for the past few days… perhaps my distance-from-home is making me hyper aware of places, location, maps and navigating new lands.

The Map is 2D (generally – roll with me on this one) – flat on paper or on a screen. The map shows roads, parks, lakes, places of interest. The OS maps I used as a kid might show contours – the lay of the land will be thus…..The map lays out the landscape – contained on paper – reduced to scale, comforting perhaps…

The Territory? 3D – experienced – hot, cold, tall, steep, deep, beautiful, ugly, complex. That which on paper looks do-able may, in reality, be running a gauntlet….

The Map of Doha shows big roads running around The Corniche and into the City Centre. Smooth, linear, purposeful. The Map does not show the volume of traffic on these big roads; moving either wildly fast, or at a dead-stop at endless traffic lights. The Map does not show the seemingly random lane discipline as drivers move, beep, jostle to get to where they need to be. The Map does not indicate Points Where My Heart Is In My Mouth – though I can point to one place, on a map, where it happens every morning as the taxi lurches forward onto a churning roundabout…..

The Map doesn’t show the Qatari sky – so unlike the cold, crisp blue blue sky I left behind in Edinburgh – this sky is pink-beige-yellow, with a smouldering sun… dust filled and somehow mellow – the light here is soft and smoky. I have fallen slightly in love with the warm-yellow dawns and grey-blue darkening dusks… it is so very very different from home.

The Map doesn’t show the endless building-work – long tracks of corrugated iron keeping you away from epic building sites. From the office, I can see into one of these building sites – currently a deep crater, gouged from the earth, which fascinates and repels me.

The Maps doesn’t show vast skyscrapers being hauled up. Cranes, diggers, endless men doing endless work, wrapped in layers shielding them from the heat.

The Map shows an outdoor swimming pool, but not the questions that it raises, culturally…can I swim here and show my shoulders? I take my lead from other Western Women who have sussed it out before me, but in the moment’s hesitation where I debate the immodesty of my skin, the Territory is fraught.


In a meeting, we talk about mapping the process – drawing out on paper Where We are Now. This Map allows us to look at the bigger picture – the distances to cover, the placement of the work, the ground to be navigated. The workshops will be the Territory, I offer – here what is on paper comes to life – full on 3D experience. The relationships and the uphills – the massive hulking obstacles that look surmountable on paper…..

The Map only gets us so far – the gnarly, unpredictable stuff – the random sandstorms and exhausting heat, the traffic noise, the cultural norms and practices have to be worked with and round and through to get anywhere.

The work now is to look at the Map and understand what equipment we will need to ensure we can navigate the territory…. As we move and transition from one place to another…. I keep coming back to this: The Map is not the Territory….

Keep the Learning Offering Simple

I’m at the Learning Technologies conference ( see #LTUK15 for more details)

As I sit on floor 1 of Olympia in London, Surrounded by an exhibition filled with vendors who have designed stuff to enable learning in organisations ( I think that’s what it is all for…. I mean, that’s the deal, right?) I have a strange sense of disconnect.


Will this do it?
Will these digital wonders, with capability beyond my brain power, help to make our Organisational experience a whole world better? Will they enable learning? Better leadership? Nicer humans?

I’m guessing yes and no. I heard some good stuff yesterday about how tech has enabled L&D folk to reach further out to their organisations, expand their span of contact and influence…. their intention to support better Sales teams /Share content and upskill workforces (in all sectors) rang through.

And somewhere in all of this, we still need to do the ground work. Introducing technology without putting in the hours to ensure we have the IT systems, the hardware, the need is, I would offer, at best foolhardy.

And I’m sure we kind of all know that… its just I don’t often hear it explicitly said in the profession. We get tangled up in all sorts of shiny at times, all sorts of complexity about competencies, technology and learning frameworks……It sometimes feels wasteful.

So in the midst of complexity, I’m kind of thinking it’s this, today:
We are here to help people learn – to offer the ways and the means to do it.
To give access where and how we can, in the best possible way we can.
The best organisational learning offers are clean and clear and simple – we seek to understand & through that become understood.
Understanding the organisational context we work in – who we are, what is important to us – matters. A Lot. If you want your learning offer to be successful.

People will sell thing to people.
We buy promises and dreams sometimes.
Let’s be wise to that.

Sometimes the learning needs to be fast and tech enabled.
Sometimes it need to be slow, hard won and personal.

Here endeth my mullings.

Memo to L&D

Andrew Jacob’s Memo to L&D

Lost and Desperate

Image from pixabay Image from pixabay

To: L&D
From: A person you work with
Date: 2014 (although you treat us like 1998)

You want me to take responsibility for my learning; I already do. I regularly seek out information from people who can help me, at a time it suits me, with systems that suit me. Have a look at my desk – what do you think those post-it notes are? Welcome to personalised performance support. Why don’t you count things like that as learning outside your LMS?

Why do I have to complete your elearning module before I can access the test which (you know) I’ll pass with a score of 70%? Let me take the test first so I can understand where my gaps in knowledge are.

Give me a frame to work within. I need to know what boundaries exist; it’s not about knowing what your required elements are but the breadth, depth…

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For those who choose to run Up life’s Down Escalator


I’ve slightly got back in the blog-reading swing this week. This morning, I read Being You is Hard by Neil Morrison. At the risk of detracting utterly from his point, the blog gave me pause particularly at the point of “some people have to walk up the down escalator” and then again with “never be afraid of being yourself”.

I’m someone who is drawn to walk up life’s down escalators.. actually, I prefer to run, to be honest – it means I get somewhere. This leaves me exhilarated, but in need of a breather usually. Yet as an escalator-runner, I recognise a paradox in myself. I know I’m pretty much going to stand out and despite my propensity to take the more awkward path, I’m also someone who is oft afraid of being herself and being truly seen. So I sometimes find myself a little torn.

Because folk are going to look at the person going against the flow, against the sensible path… and probably point a bit and say stuff (I know this, because I would too). So going on the basis that I can’t wear an invisibility cloak AND run up life’s down escalators (health and safety); I figure I end up faced with a choice: Be exhilarated, exhausted and seen, or be less awkward, less visible, less knackered and maybe just a little less alive.

You don’t get to stand out without consequence. That’s not how it works. You want to run up a down escalator? You have to commit to that action or you won’t get anywhere – and even if you commit, there is a high chance of falling over, of getting too tired & having to ride the flow back down to the bottom.

But if you make it all the way– Oh. My. Imagine that.

So you have to choose to go against the flow AND keep making that choice – and if you are a leader, in an organisation and you are pushing for change, for transformation, for a restructure or a re-navigation of “The Way Things Are Round Here”? You are going to be seen. You are going to be tested.

People will whisper. They will point. They will say you won’t make it, can’t make it. You might face sneering. Or outrage. It might tap into old wounds, insecurities and doubts. You may question yourself deeply.

But not everyone will question you– and that’s the point. Some people will look at your antics and want to join in. Some will ask you how you got up the down escalator and work out new and easier ways to do it. Some will gamify the process & have fun with the journey. Some will cheer.

The very best will walk down the up escalator beside you and yell you on and put their hands on your back to push you forward every step of the way

But at the core? At the heart of whatever reaction you have evoked and provoked? I reckon you end up with a few things:

You made your choice to be yourself.

You broke ground for others to follow.

You know exactly who has your back.

So for those who choose to run Up life’s Down escalator, I say this:

Pick your battles, then run at them hard; understand that invisibility isn’t an option, given the choice you made; love and thank the folk who put their hands on your back.

And smile to yourself – because you did it.


Image of the Copenhagen Metro – by Bill Lancaster

The Possibility of Pianos…

I love train stations… Well, the big grand ones, anyway. I love the arriving and leaving and the meeting and movement that happens there….magical, if you let them be.

To add to the magic of St Pancras, there are pianos on the concourse.

Today a man was playing some thumping boogie woogie in a smart jacket and it was wonderful…

At the next piano had a woman softly playing something I vaguely recognised… Then she looked at her watch and was all a-fluster as she gathered bags and scurried off…

And I was left looking at a piano, unplayed yet full of possibilities…. Endless tunes and rhythms and melodies…

How enticing……..


Lest We Forget

Today in the UK it is Remembrance Day – a day to reflect on and remember the men and women who serve their country in the Armed Forces.

This morning, just before 11am on the 11th day of the 11th month, someone in our village was playing bagpipes. On a clear, cold, crisp November morning, the sound carried beautifully and mournfully outwards and then quieted….. silenced for 2 minutes inviting people to take time to Stop. Think. Remember.

I sat for the time, with the window wide open in FBHQ at the top of the house and in those moments I sent out quiet thoughts and thanks to my family, friends, colleagues, peers. I thought of people I have loved & lost and those lost to others. I thought of people who are very present. The people who shaped me. The people who messed with my shape. The people I’ve lost connection with.…. I thought of the awfulness and inevitability of loss and how that irrevocably shifts us, whether or not we choose.

Then the bagpipes struck up again and I was shaken from my reverie and went about my day.

Yet I find myself sitting tonight with a sense of privilege that I’m here and I am lucky enough to stand firmly in the world… and I sense that I can always strive to be more and better to honour those who crossed my mind when I took time to remember.

And I leave it to Mary Oliver to best sum up the question that drives me as I remember and reflect:

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”