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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Red Hot Chilli Conference

 

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This is formed off the back of conversations with various people, following the CIPD L&D Conference in London. There was a sense of “meh” kicking around some folk I spoke to… Others were warmer. It wasn’t terrible… It just wasn’t rockingly good.
I’m not into bemoaning The Current too much unless it is going to spur on new thinking and ideas…. For me, this is the lived joy of learning being iterative – OK. this isn’t doing all it could… So what Else? What More? What Different?
The answers, often, lie both inside and outside the system…. So you pull the information from inside the heart of the conference created and those who joined in ………..and you talk with those on the outside who are doing the Else, the More, the Different… Then Synthesise, blend, try.

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Day Five – Dialogue? It’s a beautiful thing….

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I find beauty in conversation. I can get lost in conversation – time slips by in a breath, if you let it. You get a bunch of folk talking together well – really pushing each other to think; laughing kindly together, disagreeing with each other, whilst still looking at each other with appreciation, not malevolence…when that happens? Woah. It’s kind of breathtaking…..energy, purpose, stuff happening…. Wow.

Here, in these dialogues, there is Connection. Relationship. Kinship. Fluidity. Understanding. At their best, these conversations contain empathy, expansiveness, awareness of the bigger world, a will for a greater good. At their worst, these conversations contain collusion, power plays, small thinking, greediness and rigidity of thought…..

Ah. Hold up. Dialogue is meant to be a “good” thing……. Huh?

Well… what I said dialogue is a beautiful thing – and that’s kind of in the eye of the beholder.. Lao –tzu (he of Tao Te Ching fame, which no, I haven’t read in depth, sorry) sums up my point rather better than I can:

“All can see beauty only as beauty because there is also ugliness. All can know good as good only because there is evil”

Dialogue happens in the real world. It happens in relation between you, me, the people around us, the world we exist in. It can be fulfilling, luscious, rambling, colourful and gorgeous. It can be stark, quiet, contained and functional. It can be challenging, brusque and bruising. It can be supportive, soothing and calm. Any of these may be beautiful to you. Any may be ugly. Unless we are in good relationship to one another, unless I pay attention to you and you to me, unless I seek to understand where you’re coming from and you do me the same service, how will we know what each others’ beautiful or ugly or good or bad looks like? How can we understand the edges of our tolerance or where our prejudices lie?

My point? That dialogue isn’t just about talking. In fact, based on the blogs written this week, I can’t help noticing that the talking part is tiny.. It’s how your talking and others’ talking… and the environment you are talking together in…. and the mood you bring…. and the beliefs you hold…. and the culture you come from….. and the culture you work in….and the patterns you generate…. and a vast array of other factors all morph together until you offer a gesture or a response to someone else.

How you are in dialogue is an experience between you and the world you live in. It reflects your relationship to the world.

Tell me there isn’t something beautiful in that?

And in this is an invitation – fuchsiablue is running two 2-day workshops on 5th & 6th Feb and 20th & 21st March this year designed to encourage attendees to think well and talk well together.

If you are interested, please sign up – if you’re not, please pass this on to someone who might be – and no matter what, I hope you have enjoyed the blogs over the past few days.

This image was taken at dawn at Ashridge in August on a day I was feeling a bit lost. It captures a second where something bigger and more gorgeous captured my attention and put the world in perspective.

Day Three – Dialogue? It’s a brain thing….

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Welcome to Day Three of the Exploring Dialogue series. The blogs are designed to consider the impact and influence of use-of-dialogue in everyday and organisational conversations.

Writing about dialogue is a head-scratcher.

I’m trying to write about something essentially verbal and experience-based. It’s hard to find good language for this, I’m finding…..

And yet it feels important to share some of the definitions and deeper meanings I attach to Dialogue – what it might mean to converse and interact well. I’m drawn to David Bohm when he points out that:

Dialogue comes from the Greek word dialogos. Logos means “the word”.. and dia means through – it doesn’t mean “two”. A dialogue can be among any number of people, not just two. Even one person can have a sense of dialogue within himself, if the spirit of that dialogue is present…a stream of meaning flowing among and through us and between us.” ( Bohm 1996 ,P 7)

Making Meaning
That “stream of meaning” is processed by our brains (and our bodies – I’m coming to that bit in a later post). We hear words, attach meaning to them, respond according to the meaning we make….someone hears, makes meaning, responds…ebb, flow, ebb flow…… And it’s in how we interpret and understand what has been said, that we start to agree or disagree with each other.

My point is we don’t “just say” into a vacuum. To be understood well is to acknowledge others are there, interpreting our words and to consider the impact of what-we-say-to-people and what-they-say-back more thoughtfully. It’s the difference between talking at (monologue) and talking with (dialogue).

Change Happens in Conversation – Literally
We are changed through our interactions with people and the wider world. I understand it might seem like an obvious thing to write (the temptation to say “Duh…of course we are” might be high at this point) but I’d offer this notion of change in conversation is something important, maybe even profound. Your differences, stories, reactions, interpretations affect me. I affect you. My brain creates new connections as we talk. I have new experiences and insights. I become different. You literally alter my mind:

“ As the study of plasticity of the brain evolved, scientists noticed that the brain was capable of creating new connections on a massive scale at any stage of life and did this in response to anything that was learned….It is now widely believed that our brain doesn’t just get rewired when life-changing events occur; it happens second by second in response to what is going on around us.” (David Rock,Quiet Leadership 2006)

So the brain responds and changes in conversation. We change in conversation. We shift each other, albeit slightly, when we interact… for me, this is where understanding and working with dialogue becomes important, compelling, maybe even beautiful. Because here, in small moments of talking, there is newness. Here there is the possibility of discovery, tolerance and connection. Here stigmas can be challenged. Here “the way we’ve always done things” starts to look less solid.

Connecting and Creating
When working with groups, teams and one-to-one with coaching clients, I have been fortunate enough to experience the profound, thought shifting, insight- giving moments that can and do happen when people share meaning and talk with each other. Not AT each other – but with each other. Generating a new sense of something together through words and questions. Building on an idea. Beginning to understand something previously unseen. Making new connections. Creating.

The energy that comes from these moments sticks with you. It creates a buzz in the room. A goosebumping on the skin. A quickening of the breath. A slowing of time. Did I say it was a brain thing? Ah…sorry… Lost track for a second.

Parting Thoughts
If you like, I could map out the difference between dialogue and discussion (Bohm’s view – like percussion or concussion, discussion is about breaking things up and into parts; like a ping-pong game where we bat words about and try to win points). I could get drawn into the semantics of whether or not something is a conversation or dialogue or talking well or collective intelligence. I’m up for that conversation if you want to buy me a coffee and we have some time together, of course I am….

…and that coffee discussion we have about semantics will, if I can stay open and curious enough, allow me to understand my view better or differently and allow you the opportunity to do the same…. or you may even, in conversation, help me to utterly change my mind, creating new synapses and thoughts. You could change the chemistry and mapping in my brain and I could change yours….

How cool is that?

And in this is an invitation – fuchsiablue is running two 2-day workshops on 5th & 6th Feb and 20th & 21st March this year designed to encourage attendees to think well and talk well together.

You’ll find more details about Exploring Dialogue here:

If you are interested in the work, please sign up – if you’re not, please pass this on to someone who might be – and no matter what, I hope you enjoy the blogs over the next few days.

Day Two – Dialogue? It’s a business thing….

I’m working with the wise and subtle David Goddin (@changecontinuum on twitter) on the Exploring Dialogue offering. David and I have been “in dialogue” about dialogue since September and through our conversations, I have learned much and thought much.

David’s good at asking me sticky questions which make me look upward and go “hmmm…” And one of these questions was “What will other people get out of exploring dialogue?”

I work with organisations, with teams and Boards. What I see? from outside? A paradoxical and very real need to take slow-time to improve effectiveness in a fast-moving world. The pressure for a quick-fix leads to scepticism for any solution that doesn’t “guarantee” rapid results. It also leads to businesses “fixing bits” rather than taking time to attend to the bigger picture – which more often than not takes longer. We force ourselves to work in fragments. It is, in my experience, deeply unsatisfying.

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Fragments and wholes
Peter Senge, in Presence (written about the conversations between Senge & his peers and colleagues) retells a tale of attempts made to “improve the cost and timing performance in developing a new car”. Engineering groups split into subsections – working in detail on their area of specialism. With budgets under scrutiny and tight timescales in place, quick fixes to immediate problems were the norm.

Senge explains how the Noise, Vibration and Harshness team (NVH) solved a vibration problem by adding structural reinforcements. Good. Done.

Only now there was a weight problem on the chassis; so the Chassis Specialist were forced to take action and make changes which then impacted back on the NVH team because it created more harshness…. You get the idea.

Senge summarises it thus: “People felt stuck. They didn’t have time to collaborate, yet not collaborating meant they constantly failed to meet their timing goals. But it was also clear that much of the time pressure came from the rework they created for one another…”

Only by slowing down, mapping out the process, understanding their own part in the overall outcomes, could the teams begin to see the patterns they had created together “Each team did what made sense to it, but no-one saw the larger system their individual reactions created – a system that constantly produced poor technical solutions, stress and late cars.”

From seeing those patterns, teams began to be more able to use Dialogue techniques to talk together (here I’m using David Bohm’s definition of “a stream of meaning flowing among and through us and between us”) Eventually, the car was finished almost a year before schedule and $63 million of allocated overspend costs were returned….

To be creative, innovate and effective, you need time to process and think differently. Fast-talking/fast-acting isn’t enough to generate real long-term solutions. Lasting change needs something different. It needs to be backed up with deep foundations; with slower, more careful conversations.

Slow Down to Speed Up

What we’re aiming to do with Exploring Dialogue is to improve the quality of dialogue in individuals and teams; getting people talking with more effective impact and reflecting well so they “show up” differently in conversations; leading to different outcomes and thinking… impacting positively on change in the team.

Through the workshops, we create an environment for experimenting with conversation and dialogue where ideas are generated –new thoughts or solutions emerge – simply by thinking with and talking to other people.

We offer unapologetically slow-time to truly reflect on and understand yourself and others in everyday interactions and discussions… we offer it, because you’re unlikely to get it in organisations or our busy working lives.

The focus is less on what you do; more on how you are being in relation and response to others. fuchsiablue is not about the quick fix – it’s about the learning that will stand you in good stead for many many conversations to come – and I’d argue fairly strongly, you won’t get that from a powerpoint presentation and a rapid intro to “tough conversations”

Closing thoughts for today…

I’m a practitioner first and foremost. I understand very well the pressures my HR, L&D, OD and Board clients face in their businesses and budgets. I’ll be the first to ‘fess up to my altruism, but I’m practical and grounded too and I know this dialogue, whole person, whole being stuff is more than important… it’s one way to sustain and nourish creativity, thinking and talking for years to come.

We’re living in a complex, adaptive, shifting fast paced world and fuchsiablue’s “business thing” is to invite you and your teams to go slow.

This is, of course potentially contrary, unconventional and a little nuts. Or it might be just good old common sense…

David? Did I answer the question yet?

And in this is an invitation. You’ll find more details about Exploring Dialogue here

If you are interested in attending, please sign up or, if you’re not, please pass this on to someone who might be or comment and let me know your thoughts – and no matter what, I hope you enjoy the blogs over the next few days. Tomorrow is about dialogue & the brain.

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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.

Negative Talk

Sometimes things just show up in the room, unplanned, unexpected and deeply powerful.

Running a team development day yesterday near Muir of Ord, north of Inverness with Michele Armstrong from Acorn Principle plus www.theacornprinciple.com, we had the team working on storyboards, describing what they had noticed since we last saw them six months ago.

Two groups worked with gusto using a series of images, pom poms, buttons, pipecleaners, string, stickers, coloured pens and glitter glue (my kind of exercise) to describe personal perspectives and outside perspectives. They worked on 6ft long wall lining paper taped onto huge trestle tables to ensure plenty of space for chat and movement.

We hung the two marvellous creations on the walls and stood back to have a conversation about what was there and why. After roughly a 15 minute discussion on the first storyboard, we turned to the second. There was a pause in the room for a second as we saw this:

Thanks to wet glitter glue, a much deeper conversation opened up in the team.

What a gift.