Learning more about L&D Connect – 20th Feb, Edinburgh

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Bringing the L&D Connect Unconference North is an experiment.

Last January, I went to an L&D Connect Event in London. It was organised by a group of Practitioners, Freelancers and Consultants who wanted to create somewhere for Learning and Development or Organisational Development Professionals to have the time and space to discuss the issues that matter most to them and their organisations. Sukh Pabial (@sukhpabial) describes the aims and intentions perfectly here.

I was invited by David Goddin (@ChangeContinuum)  part of the organising team and whose judgement I trust wholeheartedly. So I was curious.

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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?

Focus Shift

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When mid-year swung into view a couple of weeks ago, I found myself doing one of those Scooby-doo double takes… Huh? How? What?

Perhaps this has been the cause (or the symptom?) of some recent conversations I’ve found myself in about focus. I’m not a precision junkie by any stretch of the imagination. I’m a lover of life, a connector of ideas, someone who relishes experiences over hypothesis. This means, fairly often, I am playing with and working on all sorts of things – seemingly disparate – and I have to remind myself, as I would my clients, about balancing my focus and my energy.

At a recent Leadership Retreat run by Wendy Palmer, I reconnected with the embodied part of my practice. This is the bit where, when I’m coaching or facilitating, I ask you to pay attention to yourself more fully… to lose some of the rapid thought, ambition, judgment, fear, busy-ness, that stuff….  It’s the bit where I invite you to breathe a little deeper, stand a little taller and cut through a lot of the crap you sense around you. It’s the bit where I invite you to focus on what is real, what is important for you and then work on how to make that bigger, more figural, more present in your life.

I’m not sure what the technical or academic term is for this. To me? It’s focus shift. It’s the part where we work together move your focus either up and out – way way beyond the issue at hand to look at the broader picture…. Or it’s the part where we move from the broad morass and life-stuff-hubbub to focus in on the quiet spaces and begin to unpick what matters most.

This is my job – to work with you in a way that is meaningful; to cut to the very crux of what action you want or need to take…. Then to cheer you on as you move to action. This is my job and I love it.

So it was I found myself wondering where my own focus has been so far this year – noticing the lack-of–contact I’ve had with certain friends and family and how others have absorbed me. The folk I feel I have let down, the folk I know I haven’t. The work I’ve done that has delighted, the work done that has distracted. The miles clocked up. The money spent. The conversations.The learning. The dissertation that I both love and loathe in a bizarrely complicated fashion. In the midst of all of this gloriously full-on life of mine, I found myself pretty knackered and a bit… hmmm…. Where did my year go?

Now I’m all for physician heal thyself. The last time I checked I wasn’t perfect and dropping back in on myself more fully of late, it seems that still stands. So I have been lucky enough and hopefully discerning enough to get into some conversations with people who have helped me focus more (shout outs in particular to Amanda Ridings, Jon Bartlett @projectlibero, David Goddin @David_Goddin, Liz Tyson, Rhona Graham @rhonaoGraham, & Joanna Pirie) – to pick what is important and true for me, at this mid point in the year.

Focus shift? It’s the way forward.

Feel free to contact me if you’d like to experience it….

Oh… and the peacock? He was strutting around Samye Ling whilst we were on the retreat. Is this boy a master of distraction or focus I wonder?

Connection

And the word haunting me at moment seems to be Connection.

Since FB came into being at the kitchen table in a flat in Edinburgh seven years ago, I have seen myself as lone wolf, freelancer, outsider, Other… and it sort of worked to start with. Sort of…. and then in time, work-life just got lonely and heavy as I tried to do everything myself.. and I kind of drove myself a little nuts, if I’m being honest.

I had no real community in my work-world. I went to networking events to get business (I rarely did get business). I tried to formulate my USP (darkly chuckling to myself at the memories of the wasted ink on THAT particular fairytale) What WAS my sales proposition? Where was I positioning myself in the market? Which important person should I be talking to? A ton of pressure. Trying to speak a language of markets and commerce of which I had an unconvincing pidgin articulation of… Love it.

What has changed is connection. I started talking to and working with people who were less interested in what I did.. and more interested in who I was…and I tentatively began to show people Me. Real me. I experimented with connecting. Risky… and rewarding as all hell.

Over the last couple of years I have been challenged, cajoled, appreciated, told straight, laughed with, laughed at (kindly), questioned, listened to, provoked, pushed, held and.. well.. kind of seen, really… by a host of brilliant, kind and inspiring colleagues, peers and clients. Over countless glasses of wine, cups of coffee, mugs of tea ( non liquid alternatives are allowed) I have experienced the sheer human joy of good conversation and connection. I inevitably leave the conversation feeling energised, warm,  fuzzy (no. not just because of the wine) and I will have learned something, formulated something – seen something new in myself or a situation. It happens every time.

AND it doesn’t have to happen face to face. People offering out their stuff on twitter and commenting on my random tweets. Discussion boards on Linkedin. Sharing music on Spotify. People commenting on the blog. If it’s about sharing, for me,  it’s connection. Being seen. Being heard.

It boils down (mostly) to this: I’m interested in who you are as a person – I’ll be honest, I’m borderline disinterested in what you do (unless you get all lit up & shiny about it, it which case, speak on, good friend). I want to know your stuff. Want to be able to talk to you about mine. Up for it?

And what I want? What I seek and quest for and hope for? More and better connected conversations in work-spaces. Time to talk. Use of dialogue techniques, coaching conversations, facilitated team discussions, café conversations, action learning opportunities…. All those great things where we invite people to speak up and out – where the invitation is to connect. From where I’m sitting work can surely only be a better, more productive (more profitable?) place if there were opportunities for conversation and slow-time to understand each other a little better. Surely? or am I missing something?

And I know I’m getting a bit John Lennon over here – You may say I’m a dreamer and all that.. I get it… but in an ever shifting, rapidly moving world, surely what we need is the ability to connect authentically, as people?

It’s tiny… It’s huge.

ps: the instragram-ed photo is of 2 sugar lumps found at Balgove farm cafe outside St Andrews, having a cuppa following a very cool coaching conversation. The rest of the sugar wasn’t this shape…It felt like a wee gift.

Monday Mullings

It’s a rainy Monday morning more than half way through the year – I’m wrapped up in a huge jumper, which has been in fairly non-stop use since last October (Yes. It has been washed a few times, thank you.)  I’m grappling with new technology (WebEx) which I know I will get my head round, but I have a strong sense of losing the one-woman-experiential-learner-vs-cheery-American-reassuring-tutorial battle…. Alarmingly, the urge to bang my head softly off my desk is proving quite strong, right now…. Hell, I even actually muttered “grrrrrrrr” at the screen a few minutes ago.

So it’s Monday and I’m cross and I’m fighting… well, myself, mostly.

So here’s the plan. I blog it out – State the fact that I’m bored and restless and feeling a bit dumb and sometimes this Consulting malarkey is lonely.

Hang on. Why do I feel I’m saying the unsayable?

Twitter today (everyday?) is full of people telling me to cheer up, be positive, focus on what good outcomes I want…. and I’m kind of torn.  On the one hand, accentuating the positive sounds like a no-brainer; of course it’s a good thing to do.  No one wants to be within a country mile of Consultant Cross with her Monday Morning Gloominess.  Of course if I dwell on the rain and the fact that I don’t trust Mr Webex’s cheery assurances that the technology will work “effectively”, I’m going to get myself into a funk.

Best avoid that funk, surely and dwell on: “well, at least the reservoirs are filling” or “New learning opportunity – how cool it will be when you’re up and running”.

Or is it?

I mean Really?….Really?

Because on the other hand, surely I need to work with what is real for me?  Surely the only way I can truly know cheer, positive-ness, connection and what a good outcome may be, is by also knowing how I experience gloom, negativity, loneliness and really bollixing things up? If I deny my restlessness, my feeling isolated, my cross-ness; if I “turn that frown upside down” – then what?   Surely I’m closing off some pretty important information?

So if I pay attention to my Inner Grump, this is what it is trying to tell me:  My body today is screaming for sunshine, exercise and social interaction with folk who get me & will (mostly) either sit with my grumpiness, (AKA not onslaught me with “cheer up”) or who will gently laugh at the Grumpy thereby reminding me that I have an actual sense-of-humour I can call on if I’m feeling under-resourced.

My Inner Grump is not advocating I battle with Webex. It’s saying “sort yourself out first and unconvincing tutorials will be a breeze to handle”

I live in Scotland and it’s July – so sunshine is negotiable. But I can get out from my desk and run in the fresh air & allow my restlessness to take me further and go harder than I might do if I were happily pootling along. I can pick up the phone and get connected back to my life. I can make positive choices…. that doesn’t mean I’m going to be Little Miss Sunshine today.

Today, I  might just be grumpy and sit with that – allow it to fuel me in different ways to my joy. I might just fess up to being lonely and allow that to springboard me back towards actual people.

I’m celebrating my cross-ness today. It will serve fuchsia blue & I well.

Showing up

A huge question on my mind already during this Masters process: Where are You?

I’m asking this of myself as I reflect on my first assignment – handed in all neat and on time, with a kind-of-cohesive argument about my views on organisations and change & some nifty referencing. I did as I was asked, reflected on my good bits & messy bits (a little) brought in theory like social constructionism and phenomenology (a little), played with metaphors (a little) talked about my work (a little).

In the assignment, I’ve been a “good” student and a “good” writer – making everything clear and clean and easy….reducing consulting life to a little. A little pinch of dissent, a little work on the relationship, a little contracting, a little event, a little confusion, a little unexpected outcome… the assignment makes my consulting practice look pretty easy – I did this and then such-and-such happened, so then I did this and noticed something of interest…. Tidy.

Yet what I’m presenting is fairly far removed from my actual experience of working with clients and organisations. I don’t experience my work as “a little” anything. I experience profound privilege when a coaching client recounts tales from deep within themselves; my skin goosebumps when I’m facilitating and the sheer magic of folk creating new ideas or battling old baggage unfolds in the room; I feel weary and scared sometimes when working with a client who seem to genuinely believe I have the map to the Holy Grail about my person. This stuff… well it really isn’t little.

Tonight I was listening to a colleague on the course who was giving me a lush and lovely smooth version of a Thing That Just Happened…. And there was something unsatisfying about the tale… all even and calm and neat… and I found myself saying “but where are YOU in this story?” I wanted to know how they felt, how they were, what their woes and their triumphs were. I wanted to hear where in the tale they were utterly, totally present and whether they had to work hard to stay there…..

Good, long and feisty conversation –can you beat it, I wonder?

After talking, I walked across the college grounds and started to see that the question I asked out, was the question I want to ask in…..

Where am I in all of this consulting malarkey, really?

Where do I show up? Where am I impactful? Where am I enough?

And the questions build and continue…..I do so love the questions… and the trick, for me, is to work to ensure I never stop loving the questions…and strive to turn up as fully as possible when trying to answer them.

And I want to know…. Genuinely know… from others out there….

Where are You showing up ?

2012 – The Year I Explored

I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that 2012 is gonna be all about the learning for me. This will not be The Year I Made My Fortune or The Year I Travelled Far…. nope… this is shaping up nicely to be The Year I Explored.

So there’s the MSc at Ashridge – asking us to explore our practice & taking us to the very edge of what we know and trust – challenging us to write essays with academic grounding, asking us to think differently. Off the back of that, there’s starting to truly explore what fuchsia blue could be – what is going to make my little business powerful and heard and loved by others as much as I love it and (terrifyingly) can I explore asking for help to do this? I’m looking for Partners in Possibility and working with people who inspire me – exploring new ways of working.

Then there’s exploring what Action Research means in practice – about to start some work with Mayvin on Practicing 21st Century leadership http://www.mayvin.co.uk/articles.html. The programme starts in June & runs for 6 months – blogging will be part of it, seemingly. Thank you to the very lovely Sarah Fraser @Resonate_Sarah for Skype Cuppas & encouraging me to join up

I’m exploring whether my body can be more athletic and whether I can raise money for a cause I believe in; undertaking a mini triathlon to see if I can really, really do what Why Don’t You used to tell me in summers in the 80’s “Why don’t you just switch off your TV set
 and go out and do something less boring instead?” check out: http://www.justgiving.com/joolstri2012

Then there’s the stuff I can do from my phone & computer – exploring new media, Twitter, Blogging, pininterest, Linkedin…. that sort of stuff.

And today I explored Instagram – here is my first ever photo – of new beautiful cup given to me for completing my first MSc assignment, so I can drink tea in peace and harmony at FBHQ when I’m actually in

Most of this exploration feels a little self indulgent – me me me & all that…. but I believe this time won’t last forever… the time for me is now to explore and gather.. and my absolute intention is to share insights and info with clients & colleagues – I’ll never stop learning, but this year in particular the lessons are huge, personal, important. Fuchsia blue & I are on the cusp of something way cool, I hope.

And I’d like to know from others – what are you exploring at the moment and how is that for you?