The Thing That is A Bit Ugly

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I have a coach. I’m a firm believer in do as you would be done by.

I believe part of keeping any business sharp (and unhelpful assumptions checked) is to work with someone who offers a different perspective on the thinking and actions being played out. I have to believe that, or I couldn’t do my job.

Or rather, I have to believe that.. It IS my job. Continue reading

Helplessness and the kindness of strangers

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On Friday evening I got the type of call everyone dreads – your father has not been seen today. His house appears to be dark, the curtains are closed and the car hasn’t moved. I nearly ignored the call when I didn’t recognise the number on my mobile. I was in bed, suffering from what I had decided was ManFlu, shivery and feeling deeply sorry for myself. I’m bloody glad I answered. Continue reading

Say

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I have Bloggers Block.  (which somehow sounds less significant than writer’s block, weirdly)

This would not be news (and arguably still isn’t for most folk) but for the delicious irony that 14 days ago I handed in 40-plus pages of a dissertation entitled: How do I sound? Finding my voice; showing up in organisations and life.

When my voice starts to falter. I pay attention these days. I pay very careful attention.

My story is I lost my voice for a while – I left organisational life to become a freelance consultant and lifestuff happened at the same time (as it has an annoying habit of doing) and I found myself unsure about who I was, what I offered, what I stood for… I was mean to myself about how I sounded. Really mean. As in derailingly so.

And slowly I realised I couldn’t speak well – couldn’t articulate what I actually thought to clients, in my family, even at dinner with a group of almost-strangers one evening I found myself agreeing with stuff that I fundamentally questioned. I was “faking good” left, right and centre, pretending I was alright, denying I was afraid that I wasn’t a “proper” consultant when everyone else seemed to know what they were doing, turning up at friends’ birthdays wearing a big smile and neatly avoiding any conversation that would scratch my veneer. (I could give out tips on how to appear present without actually showing up at all, if I thought those tips were in any way useful or purposeful) … and my soul was shrivelling up, I retreated deep within myself, locking off my ability to speak my own words. I got very small.

Honestly? It is shit when you can’t speak. Apologies for the vernacular, but I’m saying what I mean here. Voicelessness is deeply, annoyingly, frustratingly terrifyingly, soul-destroyingly rubbish.  I don’t know how else to describe it. When I was a kid, I remember that saying “shut up” was deemed to be really rude. Now I’m older, I get why:

Shut up.

Close off.

Lock away.

Don’t speak.

Don’t be in the world.

 

It’s insidious.

So I’ve been working to get my voice back. To speak up and speak out – on paper, via the blog, on Twitter, a little Linkedin Group discussion stuff, a little Facebook Ta Daaaah-ness. I’m working to be frank and clear in my family. I’m trying to be more open and honest with clients – saying what I see and feel with authenticity and care. I’m experimenting – what happens if I say?

I don’t mean I’m experimenting with saying every tiny thing that comes into my head. I’m not into over-sharing or being casually cruel through sharp-end “honesty” – but if you catch me relaxed and full flow and these days I err toward the “this is how I see it” over the “hmmm… well.. I can see what you mean”… and voicing yourself comes with a different set of challenges and responsibilities from those posed when you are mute.

Less said, soonest mended and all that… but I’m learning

So I am denying my bloggers block. I’m refusing to cave into my fears that I’m not writing cleverly enough, or not making some decent, massive, organisational/L&D/ HR point and therefore somehow I ought not to be blogging under a professional guise.

Because part of what I do now, is get folk to say. To speak or write or draw or snap images on phone cameras… What IS it that you are not saying – the thing that grips you deeply and holds you silent?

Bloggers block?

Who, me?

Please?

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I was at  a Napier University Event at the Scottish Parliament last night – I’m alumni of Napier  and it  holds a special place as one of the four Universities in Edinburgh – much of the emphasis is on knowledge & research into practice –  linking students with commerce & work, but with an academic underpinning. It’s a model  that worked well for me when they put me on placement in HR at Russell Athletic and I was shadowed by an excellent HR professional, who really helped me see how the theory needs to be adapted and used lightly to fit with the reality of the HR Practice ( a Twitter conversation I sort of had with @HR_Cass recently about using SWOT & PESTLE lightly… anyway)

Professor Helen Francis is passionate about dialogue. Through Napier University business School and the Edinburgh Institute, she is looking to set up a cadre of practitioners that can work with big business and SME’s in Scotland to improve the quality of conversation, raise the capacity for holding difference and debate in the workplace and get a better working life for the majority of people in organisations. This is music to my ears. I attended her Professorial debut a few weeks ago where she mapped her research and thinking for the future and I got really enthused about what could be on offer here in Scotland. Helen used to tutor me when I studied my CIPD at Napier, back in the day and I have the utmost respect for her, so I sought her out at the Scottish Parliament event we attended last night.

We started talking Dialogue – what fuchsiablue is up to, what Napier & the Edinburgh Institute are up to – and  we reached a conversation about David Kantor’s 4 player model of conversation ( a foundation stone in some of the work we do – much like the GROW model in Coaching or SWOT in strategy). I’m fond of the Kantor model. I like it’s simplicity, it’s fluidity…. so I’m nodding as we talk about how this can be used….

and then we reach a point in the conversation where Helen is talking about a questionnaire and tool to help measure the extent to which folk move, follow, bystand….. and how we can use this tool to analyse conversation in organisations and offer gap analysis to Boards… and I  made this noise: ” nooooooooooooooooooo”  and then I blushed deeply…..

here was my response ( not all spoken out)

Please? Please not another tool to measure and analyse? Not another MBTI/ Here is your box solution?  Please don’t let’s keep going to Boards and pointing out the gaps? Please let’s not do this with Dialogue? My Dialogue is lively and human and contextual. My Dialogue depends on who is in the room, who speaks, who shuts up. It is dynamic and unpredictable. It is emergent and creative and connected and argumentative and edgy. As a practitioner, I want to be able to stand in front of Boards and say quite simply and categorically that you cannot measure the dynamic of a team. You can watch it and nurture it and nudge it and challenge it but you cannot quantify it.

this is about joie de vivre, je ne sais quoi, magic, chemistry – the chemical reaction you have in your body when you are angry or lit up. The chemical reaction I had in my body when I said NO and blushed to the roots of my hair at the boundary I’d overstepped.

Please? Can we just trust ourselves as human beings that we “know” intuitively, intellectually, emotionally – what is going on around us and whether that is right or wrong, with out a measuring stick or a sodding tick box?

And trusting ourselves, can we then go back to leaders and Boards and shareholders and say “you know what? this just doesn’t feel right”

Oh Lord… I can Hear John Lennon again…..

 

1st Anniversary

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At 15:09 on April 29th 2012, I posted the first ever fuchsia blue blog post.… ( I will always be indebted to Niall Gavin @niallgavinuk for nudging me to be brave & publish the thing that Sunday afternoon)

So I’m indulging myself in a wee moment of reflection. As I read back over old posts, I see  snapshots of moments in time – small glimpses  of my thinking – how some of that has moved on, how some of it has remained, how some of it has grown deeper and more solid.

Throughout the year, I have strived to be an authentic voice – blogging what I notice and experience, placing that into the virtual world with some care and hope that it will generate thought, comment  or pause, perhaps.

A massive thank you to all readers, contributors, supporters and challengers.

What next then?

See Blog post: What’s your Contribution?  Right now, I’m interested in curating stories and gathering folks’ contributions to the question:

“What is your contribution to being agile or adaptable in your work? What do you bring to your work conversations that is different or useful or necessary?

Please do drop in and comment – so far there are themes of being human, compassionate, honest, curious, appreciating difference, being able to challenge without harsh judgement, holding a lightness of touch and working with humour.

PS: Reasons I love the Twitter community: thank you  to Simon Heath @SimonHeath1 for the following Birthday Blog gift:

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What’s your Contribution?

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“We live in a “vuca”world….it stands for volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous and it is being used as a short hand for what I think of as our new normal. In such a world, there has to be a huge premium for organisations that can understand and respond rapidly to changes or new trends by being agile and adaptable….” Peter Cheese, CEO of CIPD, Welcome note in People Management magazine, April 2013

I read this editorial and was lifted and a little cynical all at the same time. Lifted at the acknowledgement of complexity and ambiguity in organisations, because I experience working in complex, adaptive client environments where politics, budget, tradition, culture, pace, apathy, enthusiasm etc all influence how well or badly something is delivered (if at all). Lifted also because the words agile and adaptable are appealing, somehow – they speak to me of a working environment which is functioning, healthy, where there is a swiftness and smoothness of movement and decisions, where folk can innovate where needed and this is seen as a good thing.

And I’m cynical for all the same reasons. As a consultant, I have the privilege of working with a number of different organisations and cultures simultaneously, so comparing and contrasting what is out there is kind of inevitable. On the whole? I’d say agility is altruistic and that my cynicism is founded in feeling the enormity of the task: How do we make whole organisations agile and adaptable?

In truth, I struggle to get my head round the “whole organisation” question. It feels huge. I’m not sure I can do much with a whole organisation ( Is there such as thing as an organisation? Hmm… another blog post, perhaps) – but I can work with people who will influence and shape their world. I can work to have conversations that can pack a punch across a business….perhaps that is the best anyone can do?

I’m thinking that, as we work in complex adaptive spaces, surely we need complex, adaptive responses? Yes, we need learning technologies and innovations that allow our businesses to be cutting edge and informed… but who will run and ensure that the technologies and innovations work? It’s people. Brilliant, bored, excited, stubborn, pissed off, playful, serious, awkward, destructive, creative amazing people.

What’s my contribution?

My response to a world that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous is that we must help people live, talk and work in that world well. But this made me think. What do I bring? What am I offering to the Organisational, UK plc, HR/OD/L&D conversation? If the call is being put out for those who will support agility and adaptability, what is my contribution to that?

I’m increasingly taking up a space that revolves around getting people to talk with more confidence and consideration in their day to day work. The Dialogue work I am so passionate about is compelling because it is so simple: in conversation you can advocate a point of view (in favour or against) or you can inquire into what is being presented (asking more, opening up thinking). You might think of it as tell/ask. You might think of it as push/pull. What happens though is there is a dance, a complex, adaptive, ambiguous conversational dance between the advocating & inquiring. We make tiny conversational choices (or great big old bold ones) to advocate or to inquire and these impact and influence those around us.

When you begin to understand your conversational dance moves, you feel more confident, more able to try new moves, more able to dance well with others. It is compellingly simple, elegant, complex and clumsy all at the same time.

Whether it is one-to-one coaching conversations, or group work using dialogue (and I’m about to risk bull sh*t word bingo here), my client work typically revolves around building people’s capacity to be resilient in the face of ambiguity and recognise their own brilliance and staying-power in environments that can feel hostile, volatile or confusing. You get individuals to see their worth, their contribution and the value they bring to the organisational party? You enable people to speak for or against a course of action with some clarity, confidence and conviction? Well then bring on the complexity and ambiguity, my friend, it will not faze.

What I bring is a little old fashioned – my stuff is about communication, talking, relating, being considerate and compassionate in the world. Oh and challenging well. Really well. Being able to put your opposition to an idea across with care and conviction so you are heard. Actually? Perhaps my stuff isn’t old fashioned… perhaps it’s classic.

My contribution to support living in a “vuca” world well and to the request to support leaders and managers to be rapidly responsive and agile, is a constant invitation to the people I work with to be “human” (see above – brilliant, stubborn etc) and to talk well with others. In order to work, my contribution also needs to be supported by those who can add technology in the mix, those who are creative, those who have the capacity to deal with data and finances brilliantly. I am part of the overall system – contributing and relying on others to support or challenge me. In a complex world, I don’t have a panacea or a simple answer( and nor does anyone else, Guru, Thought Leader or “Expert”).

I do, however, have a contribution to make in a “vuca” world.

And I’m interested. What is yours?

 

Further action :

fuchsia blue Exploring Dialogue Sessions are running May 8th & 9th, London

Please comment below or contact me if you want to discuss further.

Further reading :

David Rock’s work on Quiet Leadership (particularly the Dance Toward Insight chapters)

Ronald Heifetz, Martin Linsky’s work on Adaptive Leadership

Margaret Wheatley’s Leadership and the New Science – example of writing here

David Bohm’s Dialogue work ( See article Dialogue: a Proposal here)

 

The Manic and the Mellow

Until last year, I never really thought about creative energy.

If I woke up at 3 am, with ideas whirling around my head, I believed myself to be stressed, out-of-control, that sort of thing. There would then follow much duvet-battling and inevitably, I’d try deep breaths & clearing my mind of busy-ness.  After at least an hour of this messing around I might eventually get back to sleep & wake feeling knackered, beleaguered, fatigued. To me, it was destructive – never generative.

At some point, toward the end of last year, I gave up fighting.

If I woke up and all the world was circling around me – tasks, notions, plans, past, schemes, guilt, niggles whatever – I started getting up and taking them for a cup of tea.

I’d wrap myself up in a soft patchwork quilt, take myself up to my desk-and-thinking-space at FBHQ, switch on the heater, sip my tea and say “Right then. What IS it?” (usually with a good chunk of attitude – I figure the least I can do is let the demons know I am unimpressed by their 3 arrival. Hey –  I’m not a push over)

And stuff would come up and come out – I’d start to sift through what was important, what was not. What needed to be said, what needed to be dealt with…  Often I would write, sometimes I’d draw and map, sometimes I’d stare into space in a vaguely disturbing manner….then stuff would crystalise a little, I’d get sleepy & then I’d rest deeply.

It sort of links to the Rumi poem a few blogs back – Welcoming the crazy as it sweeps through your head; trusting that sometimes stuff comes up- not to push you down, but to push you forward… if it’s there – if it’s going nowhere.. well, surely it’s asking (demanding?) to be dealt with. .. what if it’s there for good-not-harm?

Over the last week, I’ve had four nights bringing in the wee small hours, clasping a cuppa and asking “Right then, WHAT?” in a seriously chippy fashion. Turns out I have an idea which wants some full-on 3D form in the world… It is demanding my attention and even though I have begged it to bugger off  “Dude, seriously. You’re making me look like a bag lady”  this idea is bigger than me – it needs to be heard.

I told one friend I’d been riding the 4am bleary bus to Resolutions-ville & she said “oh.. I love it when that happens. It’s creative. ” Another two friends are now worried about my stress levels and pointing me to meditation & Bach Rescue Remedy.. or wine…  It kind of makes me not want to ‘fess up my manic to them- they will worry about me… think me strange….

My confession is this. I kind of like 4am. It’s quiet and spacious and precious. If that makes me manic, then I can live with that. I believe it also makes me mellow.

The photo is of the beech tree  on the little hillock I pause under every morning on the dog-walk. If I’m ever manic – this is the where I start to mellow my day.