After the Laundry, The Ecstacy?

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I don’t know where to begin.

this is not a “normal” fuchsia blue blog post – It feels more personal.

When you wake up and hear something that you cannot compute, mentally or physically… The UK is leaving the EU. We are choosing to leave our rather odd home for 43 years, presumably to downsize…
My first response was kind of horrified. No no no no.. what? What? I mean… What? And then I was so angry I could spit. Deep visceral fury at the TV. At authority. At those who voted to Leave –I’m muttering about idiots, biggots, using delicious swear words, harsh and blue with venom injected right into them … you name it, it came. And the worry – my business. The markets tumbling dramatically…My precious fuchsiablue. Wee and wily, not globally important, but the thing that sustains me and folk I love and cherish. Now under threat through nothing I have done…. It left me livid, speechless and confused.
And the white male voices given microphones, feeling my own prejudice and bigotry run free… knowing I’m not immune from looking at another and wishing them elsewhere…..
My faith in humanity leaking away..
My urge to run home, North, where social justice and a less bitterly phobic angry narrative seemed to run.
My need to talk to others.. to sense make.. help me. Help me sense make?
A sense of powerlessness and redundancy…. I want to take my teddy and go off in a huff.
How confusing. The day before I’d blogged about love. Where was mine? Where was my compassion? My generosity?

Then last night I went back to the After the Ecstasy, the Laundry blog post I wrote in the aftermath of the Scottish Independence Vote. The vote had gone the way I expected. I wasn’t in shock. I was working from a more calm, rational place. What I said then, I hold to now.

Today feels different. Today I’m moving away from the personal affront, getting over myself and looking at what happened in a different way.

I think the vote to leave was inevitable, in many ways. I think people who have been disaffected, who have not been heard, represented, cared for, listened to and spoken for get really tired of being in that place – or really pissed off about it. I think there are amazing MPs and local authority folk who try to get them heard. I think there has been a sneering arrogance at the highest eschelons of politics for too long. I think humbleness, humanity and the notion of being a Public Servant has been too far away from the thinking and the actions of those who are more concerned about to leaving a personal legacy.

I think the parallels with some of what happens in Corporate / big organisational life are painful.

I think it is a case study in the need for diversity and inclusion in thinking and action. I think it’s been missing for too long. I think the hate-filled bile that I occasionally heard was the existing power system setting itself up to reject that diversity and inclusion. Diversity would challenge the power status quo. The power status quo REALLY likes things as they are. Diversity needs to be labelled as “bad scary threat”. .. but the paradox is that power had to align itself to the powerless to get the job done.. and now of course, the powerless have more of a voice and …oh.. that’s a challenge to the Status quo….
Yup.. we are about to live in even more interesting times.

I’ve lived in interesting times before in my life. What I learned was a few things:
No sudden moves. When the world around you appears to tilt on its axis, inaction is often the best course of action. Go slowly. Wait and watch. Think and reflect. Do bits of stuff and see what happens, but don’t make Big Plans and Try to Make Stuff Happen. That’s not how it works. Life is a series of conversations and unfolding circumstance. The recovery after the big stuff tends not to happen fast. Go with that.

If you want to alter what’s happening “Out There”, Start Here. With yourself. First. Work on your own responses. Work to be better, kinder, less of a git and encourage others to do so too. The rage and the fury etc? know they are there pay attention to them, and work to do better. And I mean that – pay attention to the bad stuff.. don’t’ brush over it like an inconvenience – That’s part of what just happened here. It leads to long-term disaffection and disconnect.

Don’t walk away. Stay with the situation, even when it gets tough. Put folk around you that remind you of the daftness of any given situation. Have a place to rage or cry or bang the table… then get up and keep going… contribute as well as you can to change, to the world you want.. that stuff.

And look after yourself. This referendum stuff has been bruising…. If you are bruised, you need salve, rest and a lot of fresh air… go do that, rather than raging at the telly.

I don’t know how this goes. But I know I need to work with what comes.
Think I found some of my love.
Interested in where you are at. x

I Want To Know What Love Is…

Love begets love

Love begets love

There were times last week where life, circumstance, folk just seemed unfathomable to me. It started with a sense of helplessness, anger and redundancy as I processed the Orlando shootings – trying to fathom what happens? How? How does it get to the point where your anger and fear overtake you and you walk into a place where people are dancing and laughing and you kill them?

Then there was the odd spectacle of a flotilla of boats on the Thames, having some sort of braying, binary argument, declaring In or Out of Brexit – which might of bypassed me, but I was in the office & Twitter was awash (pardon the pun) with folk going: WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING? And I was struck with the divisiveness of the “debate” – the nastiness and disrespect that seemed to be in the air.

And the very next day there was the murder of MP Jo Cox, which somehow stopped me in my tracks in a way I can’t fully explain – maybe it’s because she’s my age, that I recognise some of her traits in my friends – I felt the wrench of kids left without a Mum, that it happened an hour from my door, that it was brutal and senseless – in daylight, in full view which somehow felt like an assault in itself – whatever it was, I was empty and bereft that evening… my words drying up.

In the face of his wife being shot and stabbed to death in the street, Brendon Cox put out a statement about Love. That his children would be bathed in love. That they would not succumb to hate. I have a soft and sentimental heart at times… his compassion made me cry.

Love. The antidote to poison.

But how? How do you love? How do you find that in you and sustain it in the face of so much toxicity? I’m assuming if you are a person with a faith or religion, you can turn there to find guidance and seek the means for love and compassion. But religion, it seems, is no guarantee of forgiveness, love, care for others….and anyway, I’m irreligious…how do I find the means to nurture my own compassion, my love, my kindness, the best of my humanity?
And where the hell is the place for something like Love in the work I do? Surely that’s not business? You can’t go around spouting love at folk – you’ll be rejected and ostracised, surely?

I’ve been pondering on some of this week.

Like many things, for me, it starts in the everyday. In the last week, I’ve tried to pay attention to Love. I’ve put the hours in. Where before I was noticing hate – brutality, difference, division, I’ve been working to notice love, care, that which unites. Sometimes, it’s not easy.

Turns out I don’t have a “definition” of love – it’s multi faceted for me, and shows up, often as a feeling, a sense – a softening of myself, physically and emotionally – a willingness to join someone in their experience and be joined.
Turns out I can’t love Donald Trump.
Turns out I can’t find my compassion for everyone.. or I possibly could – but that would be like love on an ultra-marathon distance, and in someways I’m still trying to love to 5k without stopping.
Turns out I want to work on that a little – stretch the distance my compassion and love can go.
Turns out I can be judgey and cross – dismissive at times of the things I can’t understand or decide I have no time for.
Turns out the news on TV doesn’t help me find my own sense of love and kindness.

It struck me at one point that folk who appear hate-filled might not know love. Like I’m not sure I know how to BE properly hate-filled. I’m not sure I know what that feels like – to hold some proper deeply-held sense that someone is disgusting or ugly or utterly without merit and they are to be despised, or damaged… I don’t think I know that, understand that, really
Like the urge to worsen the situation for someone weaker.
Like the urge to troll and bait and abuse.
Like the sense of such offence at someone’s skin tone or gender or religion or sexual preference that you actually hate them… I just don’t get it. What IS that? IS that a thing? Really? Or is that surface stuff – may I present my hatred to you – and underneath it all something else is true?

And if this gap is true for me…. then I figure there must be folk out there who don’t know how to BE properly love-filled. To not get that big auld dappy-daft feeling, the warm n fuzzies that make your week go better. To see someone you adore so much that you feel lighter, brighter, better just being in their vicinity.
The urge to give someone more and cheer them on and wish them nothing but good things
The urge to protect them and respect them and hold them in highest esteem.
The recognition of beauty.
The deep sense of wonder and delight.
Laughter that is infectious and connecting
The want to sit with someone who is experiencing hurt or fear or that overwhelming inadequacy thing that sometimes hobbles you… and not try to fix them, not assume they are broken, but show them the care, the kindness, the love that they currently cannot show themselves.
The fact that love can be tough – it shows tenacity and massive resilience in the face of death and destruction. The fact that love can be tender, daft, intimate, powerful.

Some folk may not know this love stuff? In that case, can we work on it? Develop our capacity to love? Is that how this works? Can love beget love? Can it really overcome hatred, or should we be working with the hateful to get them to access their love? Or both?

I don’t know the answers. I have so many questions. But as I write about hate, my body grows tense and taut and I feel fearful and sad and scared. And as I write about love, I can feel myself soften and smile and I gather the faces of folk I love, respect, care for, cherish, adore around me and I sense I’m a much bigger, better person as a result.

Maybe that’s our homework – to write and broadcast more about love….
I don’t know… what do you think?

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images are from Hugh McLeod from @gapingvoidArt

Stories & Telling & Asking & More

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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.

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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

Designed to Last

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My Dad was, for a long time, an Estates Manager – managing large country Estates, usually for titled families. His job was to oversee and sustain the overall system – ensuring healthy livestock, the management of arable land, crop production, supporting families who lived on estate lands, maintenance of the estate…it was a complex job, a complex eco system.

On Saturday mornings, I would get up really early and he would make me a mug of tea and take me out “on the rounds” – basically driving around the boundaries of the estate, with a Dictaphone, and he would get out, inspect stuff, walk bits of fields, check fences and hedges, go see the Dairy Manager….During those “rounds” he talked to me a lot about the land and the decisions you make to nurture, sustain and maintain for the long-term. My Dad had a real sense of custodianship about the Estates – he & we were only here for a brief time – the land endured and what we did with it mattered. We needed to make a living from it. It needed to be cultivated carefully. It needed to be respected. He made short-term choices with the long-term consequence in mind.

I find some of his philosophy bubbling up in my design thinking these days. That management or leadership training could very well just be a short-term choice, but if you are looking to nurture and sustain, if you want the organisation to thrive and endure beyond your time in it, then longer-term thinking and actions help greatly.

Management training happens in almost every organisation I work with. What would happen if, rather than repeating the same training, the same messages, rearranged over 3- 4 days or 6 weeks or whatever, we looked at management skills as being life skills? That to plan stuff, to organise and galvanise folk to deliver anything, to have conversations and listen well and notice when others are struggling and support them through that, doing “the rounds” and checking the parameters, staying in touch with the wider system and community… this isn’t just Management… it’s just being a good person.
A good person in a particular context.
Which might change.
But the good person part endures.

So how about we run stuff that encourages good personship? Not codify it as management (much of the stuff we spew out about “management” is old hat and barely works outside a classroom – especially if there are more than 3 things to remember about it) let’s just work on the basics.

If you are currently designing management training content, stop for a second and have a look at what you are putting out into that organisation. Will it develop better people? Not skill sets or processes to follow. But people?

Keep it simple.
Listen. Talk.
Pay attention to the here an now.
Work with what is here and don’t pretend or wish it were other.
Understand what we do & why we do it & how we could do it better for the long term.
Look to the future.
Understand what nurtures and sustains.

That stuff is designed to last.

How to dine with your enemy

“How do we create a dialogue that invites the other to join – anyone we dislike…?
What a challenge in co-creating a future with those we disagree with on such a fundamental level.”

Sarah in the SeaSalt Learning WhatsApp “Pub” 23rd March 2016

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Wowsers, this is a big question… asked in the wake of another Terrorist attack, this time in Belgium.. and I don’t have the answer, but somehow I want to answer. And I’m going to work a little in the abstract here, because tipping over into the current situation is likely to polarise or inflame… and I’m trying to work quietly and carefully to offer thoughts –possible ways to “invite the other”, without being “smart-arse-I-know”, without being sentimental, without knowing, really, if it is doable, but with a deep-held belief that it is.

There is no quick fix. Dialogue that invites us to dine with our enemy does not just happen. It’s hard work, it takes relentless patience and practice, it requires surrender of self, of position, of certainty. It’s not particularly joyeous – though it can be. It can be thankless – you can feel misunderstood, insulted, frustrated, angry, exhausted…. but I’m jumping ahead of myself.

The first step isn’t creating the dialogue. The first step is creating the conditions for the dialogue – any dialogue – to happen. And by dialogue I mean simply a place where we talk WITH each other, not AT each other. Conditions are things like time – these conversations, the ones where we are actively inviting a counter-narrative into our lives in order to change outcomes, take an inordinate amount of time, if they are to be done well.
Not an hour, but hours. Not a day, but days. You inch your way toward each other, repelled and rejecting, but also if you are lucky, determined, to get a result.

And space – If I’m going to sit in conversation with someone whose views are fundamentally abhorrent to me, I don’t want to do that in a confined room, where they can fill it with their toxicity or I could fill it with mine – I want big airy places and time to walk it off/ wash it off afterward. The physical space required to do repugnant work is often overlooked.

Bill Isaacs uses a metaphor of a Container for Conversation in his work Dialogue: The Art of Thinking together. Part of his study took place in a steel mill. Above the workers on a day-to-day basis was a vast cauldron of molten steel – thousands of tons of liquid metal held right above the heads of the workers – and they carried on operating underneath it because they trusted that it held. Some of Isaacs’ work is about understanding what creates containers for conversation – how can we construct vast cauldrons where hot-headedness or steel-hard opinions can be melted, contained, held until they can be cooled and forged into something else?

So the conditions for the dialogue mean we have to forge a container – this is the bit that takes time – we’re not properly IN the conversation yet

The container created requires a suspension of judgement – give it up. Who are you to say you would or would not do a thing? or think a thing? In certain circumstance, in context…. What if you are wrong? if you are not prepared to ask yourself that question, if no-one is ever prepared to ask themselves that question, then there is no dialogue -it’s entrenched & we are talking AT. It requires a dropping of your view, however deeply held, however fond you are of it…and writing it in neat sentences in a blog cannot BEGIN to cover how challenging that can be.

It requires that everyone listens to each other – and listens well – shuts up and pays attention, not just to what is being said, but to how…and to what is not being said… and to what is being inferred or assumed. Listening like this gets underneath the surface anger/ hatred/ apathy/ smugness/power-statement/whatever defence you choose for yourself to keep others’ opinions safely away – it leaves the other properly heard. It means they have some responsibility for the bile or the bilge or the constructive stuff that comes out of their mouth, because it isn’t falling on deaf ears – they are not shouting into the void, they are being heard and their words cause responses and reactions.

It requires speaking authentically – airing outrage, naming fear, saying the unsaid, remembering joy and beauty exist, speaking with love and hope, even when that feels kind of weird and risky – it speaks to trust. And authenticity requires working with the full gamut of emotion – nothing can be off limits. If it is there, it is there

It requires respect. Respect for self, for what you bring and who you are and your own importance, along with that same respect, or more perhaps, for your opponent. The best dialogues contain respectful opposition – where differing views can be held, looked at, discussed and acted upon without treating someone as a pariah.

and then there is trust… I have to trust you will stay with me in this conversation. I have to trust that, even though we have such deeply counter-views, you have something to add, that you are worth my time, that I can learn something or act someway different as a result of sitting with you this way. At the start I might well see you as inhumane, as thick, as evil, as other. I might want vengeance, or to shake you hard so you understand what you have done. I might not be able to look you in the eye. And to show trust, I have to get over myself. I may have to sit in your disapproval or rejection. You might see me as any number of worthless things. If we are to build trust, I have to work with that, tolerate it a little.. and I might fire back at you when your view of me becomes intolerable – I’m showing you who I am and I’m no push-over. We have to give a little of ourselves up, reveal ourselves a little – good and bad – I have to trust you won’t throw that back at me and if you do, I have to try again, with a reset until something shifts.

Time. Space. Suspend Judgement. Listen. Respect. Trust. Speak your Truth – simple, yet not easy.

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I’m always aware when I write or think about this stuff that it can be read as “woolly” “fluffy” I hear “bleeding heart liberal” in my head – I label myself as a dreamer, as an altruist. Do you know what? It’s not fluffy at all. It’s bloody bloody hard work. It’s far easier to not do this delicate stuff and just crash forth, mono-opinioned, braying and squash everyone else in your sightline. (good morning, Mr Trump). Well…easier for you, maybe…

I don’t work at the upper echelons of mediation or delicate negotiation (I tried negotiating with the Unions a few times – I have a terrible track record). But this stuff is not about negotiation. It’s about long-term, deep understanding of how you conquer your own fear and prejudice – and it can be taught and practiced. You can develop tolerance. There is hope.

Where my heart quails is that this really is what it takes to work with The Other – dedication, time, slow understanding – and we are so busy, so information/ counter information filled, that can feel impossible. But it happens – there are thousands of ways these conversations are happening – not big fat showy conversations, but on the-ground groups, communities, places dialogue can and will happen.

The above isn’t perfect – I’m hoping others will comment below and add stuff to help it get better/ different – but this is the How , as I see it Sarah…(couldn’t have typed all of that on WhatsApp) x

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Julie Drybrough is a Organisational Consultant, Coach, Facilitator, Speaker, Blogger & Dialogue Guide. Working with people & organisations to improve conversations, relationships & learning – Doing stuff with love.

Find me on Twitter @fuchsia_blue

Business Translation & Keeping it Real

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This is inspired by a recent conversation with Carol Read, who is doing some extraordinary, breakthough transformation and innovation stuff in the Horizons Team, within NHS England’s Sustainable Improvement Team. I met her through connections with SeaSalt Learning & I think we have started a conversation that could last for many years…. And as we talked, I was reminiscing….

Back in the day when I was an in-house Change Consultant, working with the slightly alchemical purpose of “changing the culture” at the Postal Authority in Jersey, I had an “ah-ha!” moment.

I’d been invited to present to the Board – what has happened, what we are planning to do next, budget stuff (something along the lines of: can you find us some money to do up the staff canteen to show we mean we are going to change and improve the whole business, inside and out? I’m recommending we don’t go down “fur coat no knickers” change route…etc)

I had the standard 10–15 minutes slot, which inevitably rolled over as questions needed to be asked and answered. Part of the Board’s interest was the future, unsurprisingly. In our world, at the time, one of the best ways we could stay competitive was to innovate. We were a small Postal Service, which meant we were, potentially, more agile and able to trial stuff across the operation than larger set-ups in, say, the UK or Germany.

One way we could innovate was to be a test-bed for new delivery methods or tracking tech; we could look at new ways to produce “direct mail” (you may call it Junk mail. 10 years on and I still feel I have committed a sin calling it Junk Mail); we could look at pick-and-pack fulfilment as an income stream (Amazon was in its infancy – we were looking to learn from their model). All these future possibilities…

And I remember going back to my desk, slightly fuzzy-headed with the whirl of future-promises & tech and experiments…. And looking at the list of stuff I knew we needed to get done now. The canteen upgrade suddenly seemed very….unsexy…. but still deeply necessary… and I found it hard to reconcile.

The Board that day were all future and commerce and budgets and business opportunities (as it should be) and I knew this stuff wouldn’t mean a hill of beans to the day-to-day experience of a Postie or a member of the Counter staff until it arrived (typically in bubble-wrap, with a training course & a lot of head scratching) in front of them.

Not because they were daft, or didn’t have ambition or vision. Not because they were lazy or backward or didn’t care about the job – far from it. They were so focussed on doing the job – getting the mail out getting customers served – that what was important was there here-and-now. That was what was real.The lived experience of the place being too hot or cold. The inconvenience of parking. The canteen ruled with an iron fist by the cook who was resolute about the food offerings available.. with chips….

And so my epiphany was this: the need to Translate.

I had (I believed for a while) invented a notion: Business Translation. I saw the language of the Board – all broad brush & future tech & strategy & hypothetical circumstance vs the language of the Operation – specific & tactical, and day-to-day tangible. Separate languages – or perhaps it was just different patois – but the Change work seemed to be about bringing those two closer together. Working closely to articulate and decode “that future stuff” so we could make the here & now actions more purposeful and (dare I say it) aligned.

It all seemed so simple. Just translate stuff.
Mostly, this thought took the team to good places. At the core of our Change methods was: how do we explain this is in different languages? The way it showed up varied. We paid more attention to our internal comms, we cut back on some actions that seemed overly grounded in future flim-flam or in the compromises that come with “this is how we do it round here”. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it burned.

Looking back, much of what we did was “push” and direct and broadcast. If I were to have my time again there, I’d have done a lot more of the pull/listen/adapt the big ideas stuff. I’d still have the fights with marketing about too-tight constraints on internal branding, but I’d probably be a little less strident in my confrontation… I’d listen more.

At the core of the change work, I still believe it’s about translation. Creating better conversations, spaces to think together, action that is communicable… that stuff. Too high falutin’ and it’s ethereal & wispy. Too grounded and it is ludding and static.

I’m grateful to Carol for the conversation – about the dreamy innovative cool stuff & the need to work closely with the here and now to deliver it.

The Poetry of Propaganda – (AKA when the “soft stuff” gets hard core)

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How do you persuade the deeply entrenched to surrender their positions?
If changing systems requires changing behaviours and behavioural change is, typically, triggered by something deeply personal (unless you go super-coercive, but that’s not an ethical/legal position most organisations would go for.. (thankfully?)) what does that mean?

When someone has made up their mind about something. About what is right or wrong. About what they can and can’t do. About what is or is not fiction or fact – and their position is harming them, or an organisation, or a country….. what actions can you take?

These are some of the questions that were raised for me from Jose Miguel Sokoloff’s TED talk as he explains how he & his team helped persuade Colombian Guerillas to demobilise.
I was first made aware of his story through the This American Life Podcast.
Sokoloff is, by trade, an advertising exec – more used to dealing with selling soap or dog food than getting involved in gnarly political/social change issues…but his reasons for taking up the challenge were, in part, emotional ones: He had never known a day of peace-time in his own country.

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