Optimum Tension

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“The state of mind which enables a man to do work of this kind is akin to that of the religious worshipper or lover. The daily effort comes from no deliberate intention or program, but straight from the heart.”  – Einstein

 

Liam the Bike mechanic is talking us through the intricacies of tuning cycle gears.
He points to the tiny inhibitor screws on the gear derailleur (thing that changes gears on the back wheel of a bike….yes..I had to look up my notes) and explains that loosening or tightening these screws affects the movement of the mechanism across the gear cogs. (forgive my lack of detail, I got the gist)
He demonstrates by tightening one small screw and moving the pedals, clicking gears up and down….he points to the hesitation and resistance in the gear shift – to me, it looks taut and the chain jumps snappily from cog to cog .
Then he loosens the screw massively and the gear shift flops idly, chain rolling without precision onto cog after cog and back down.
The trick, he tells us, is to find good tension.

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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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Working The Gap

Reading Sukh Pabial’s Blog  (@sukhPabial) post today, I thought it might be a good invitation to have a go at answering his “what am I for?” question.

I’m not getting existential in particular… It’s just I have been in a number of very good conversations of late about what this OD malarkey might be. I guess I’m also turning my mind to the upcoming  first Scottish L&D Connect event & sorting out my blog post for the next version of Humane Resourced where I’ll be writing more about my experience of working in an OD context (Hello to David D’Souza @dds180) .

I keep coming back to a drawing I sketched in Loudon’s bakery in Edinburgh, whilst talking with the deeply fabulous Julie Ashworth of Broadreach Consulting as we were processing out what we had just done.. Continue reading

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?

Guest Blog: Talking Well….

Here is the first ever Guest Blog for fuchsia blue. Amanda Ridings has been mentor, teacher and friend to me since we met at a dinner in Edinburgh and I subsequently attended Pause for Breath in the glorious Scottish Borders 4 years ago. (details of this years P4B are on the link below. If you are thinking about any sort of personal development or gaining some thinking time this year, it is worth enquiring into)

Amanda is author of the award winning book Pause for Breath: bringing the practices of mindfulness and dialogue to leadership conversations (She saysPractice 10 and Practice 33 are particularly relevant to this post.)

Talking well….

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.…begins with listening well, at least in my experience!

By listening well, I mean becoming aware of how I listen, and how I don’t listen, and seeking to really listen, in a way that is profound and respects another person’s perspective and potential.

When I was taking my early steps in my own deeper development, I read a passage, in a somewhat unexpected book, that evoked in me a visceral sense of how I wanted to be received, and understood:

‘He listened in the way that we dream of others listening, his face seeming to reflect on everything said. He did not start forward to seize on my slightest pause, to assert an understanding of something before the thought was finished, or to argue with a swift, irresistible impulse – the things which often make dialogue impossible.’ Anne Rice, Interview with a Vampire.

Looking back, I wonder whether it was this passage that inspired me to begin exploring dialogue. In a world where it can seem hard to find people who have the time to listen at all, what would it be like if more of us made a commitment to try and listen well?

For me, listening well involves listening externally to what someone is saying, and also listening internally to the response being evoked in me – what am I thinking, what am I experiencing, what am I sensing? Skilfulness lies in bringing ‘just right’ attention to both others and self, alighting on each with what one of my clients calls a ‘butterfly touch’, and moving between them in the right kind of balance.

For example, I might be listening to a request for support from an associate, and wanting to meet that request yet feeling uncomfortable for some reason. Internally I have both a ‘yes’ and a ‘no’. To listen well, it helps me if I ‘note’ these internal responses, and return my attention to listening to my associate. If I am not able to find this balance, I may get caught up in an internal story of being ‘caught’ between ‘yes’ and ‘no’, becoming anxious about what I will say when they eventually stop speaking. My premise, drawing on Leadership Embodiment principles, is that the other person will sense my involvement in my own concerns, and ‘know’ that they are no longer being heard. Any connection will be diluted in that moment.

If I can find a skilful balance, I’ll enter the conversation only when they have finished speaking. At this point I have choices. I might:

  • Ask for more information and/or seek more understanding – why are they requesting support? How did they come to think of me? What options have they considered? This might help me weigh the balance between my ‘yes’ and my ‘no’.
  • Offer my current experience – I would like to support you, and yet I feel uncomfortable because…This allows the other person to understand the impact of their request on me, which they can then factor into their perspective.

There are other options, of course. Many will be variations on a theme of bringing more information into the field of the conversation in a way that allows for further exploration.

As well as attending to the whereabouts of our attention, listening well also involves calibrating the intensity of it: too much can feel smothering, or like pressure, and too little can seem like disinterest or lack of care. There is a ‘goldilocks zone’ for attention, where we accept what is said, and hold it lightly, and with respect, even though we may disagree or feel unsettled. In doing this, another person will ‘know’ that we hear and acknowledge them, just as they sense if we get caught up in our own concerns.

The intensity and whereabouts of our attention are just two factors that influence the quality of our listening. In our humanness, there are many ways we distract ourselves from listening well, or misinterpret what we hear, or overlay our own map of the world inappropriately on someone else’s perspective. To listen really well, we need to develop awareness of our particular human foibles and how they colour what we hear. However, to begin to listen well may take only intent and a little mindfulness.

The potential rewards of making a commitment to begin to listen well are great. Listening well means that you hear not only what someone says, but also the way they say it, and what they might be leaving unsaid, possibly to protect themselves, or you. Listening well to another offers the opportunity to make an appropriate and skilful response. To make the most of this, it helps to pause, and to listen well to ourselves: what are we thinking and feeling, truly? This moment of presence to our own experience creates the opening to speak with authenticity, even if we are concerned about how we might be received. If we embrace this opening, we will indeed ‘talk well’.

Amanda Ridings, Originate,

If you would like to explore the ideas in this post, please consider joining the Pause for Breath leadership retreat (13 to 17 May, Scottish Borders).

For free, see my blog!

Day Four – Dialogue? It’s a Whole-Body Thing

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Last week I ran a “Bring your Body to Work” session in a leadership programme. The invitation to participants was to pay attention to how interactions at work generate physical responses (altered breath, tension, knotted gut, racing heart) and how learning to work with that can help us respond well or differently in-the-moment.

It’s my challenge to the whole “sticks and stone may break my bones, but names will never hurt me” adage. Actually? Words can hurt and wound. Or lift and inspire. There is a physical impact, often, in the talking we do. Pretending otherwise kind of seems counterproductive, especially if you are striving to be a leader. So dialogue absolutely has an embodied element to it….

Body Works
I have been privileged to work with the deeply wise and generous Amanda Ridings, author of Pause for Breath, for over 3 years now. She is mentor, friend and teacher. Amanda brings together her experience in business, her t’ai chi and mindfulness practices and the embodied/ somatic work of Wendy Palmer; linking these elegantly with dialogue and leadership. Her work is fiercely powerful.

You know you’ve worked with Amanda when you find someone pushing gently against you (physically or conversationally) and your body becomes rock-like and unyielding, stubborn and unwilling to budge (in my case) and you suddenly realise you’re not quite as flexible and open as you’d have yourself believe….

The work throws up great questions: How does my body respond under pressure? Or under praise? What effect does this have on my capacity to talk well or respond well to others around me? What’s my body up to when I feel fight-y and scared? What working conditions help me to be expansive and generous? How can I understand these and work with them more often?

Bring Your Body To Work
Amanda’s work really forced me to understand that I work with head, heart and instinct. I am not a “brain on a stick” as she would say. How people speak and respond to me and how I speak and respond to others has an impact. It matters. If I want good outcomes for me, for my business, for my family, some awareness of my-whole-self-in-conversation is not just useful… it’s absolutely bloody essential.

I was a little shy about explicitly using body work in leadership and management programmes for a while. I thought clients would see my work as being slightly “out there” if I wasn’t using the appropriate models and giving due attention to the brain….But how can you run a Presentation course without due consideration for breathing and posture? Is it OK to train managers how to performance manage without dealing with the physical reality of nerves? How can we ask someone to lead a team, without equipping them with an understanding of what it might physically do to them when they step into the limelight? I’m not sure it’s wise or productive to work in this way.

So I talk about body work now. It is a firm part of my practice. These days? I bring my body to work…

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, 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.

image is of blue car