What Matters – The Garden Centre Lesson


So after yesterday’s blog,  I start thinking about What Matters in my work. The things I value…The things that serve me well… I haven’t thought much about these in a while… I have an urge to properly pause for a bit and not do anything much other than stay with the question for a while – What Matters?

I give myself the gift of a few hours. I’m easing into the week from the Easter weekend and nothing is pressing too hard. There are other things I could be doing, of course, and I could allow myself to feel guilty for “wasting time” etc – but I’m over that stuff…. This is a lively, active pause, not a vegging-out, mindless one…. Good stuff will come from this…I’m encouraging myself to do as I said I was going to and stop for a while. No sudden moves. What Matters?

I sit on the floor of the office with a cup of tea in hand. The Dog is delighted I’m at her level and wags over to my side, dumping herself unceremoniously beside me….I cuddle her and stare at the spines of books, wondering which one sort of “speaks” to me – where to begin, where to begin? What follows is a period of picking books up, raffling through pages. Noticing what resonates. Noticing where I shudder…. I give myself freedom to just go with whatever. I notice myself fretting about what’s not on my shelves..is my library good enough?… I manage to laugh at myself a little…good enough for who? Who the hell is watching right now? I figure what is there got me this far & I haven’t read half of it cover to cover – there’s enough here, for today.

Through this process, I reach back to points in my learning and my development as a Practitioner where light dawned on previously dark spaces…. I find myself seeking to return to what I have been shown… Revisiting my training: how to reflect and put that reflection into new action. How to take a thing – a moment, a regular occurrence, a block, a belief, a question-  and look at it through different lenses and positions and therefore work with it differently. What Matters?

Turns out that experience matters – I don’t mean Years-Served-Endless-Hamster-Wheel-Clocking-up-Time experience, I mean the lived experience of being in the world. Of being a fully living, sensing, thinking, learning being operating in a fully living, sensing shifting world. It matters to me and for my work… my lived experience impacts me, influences me, changes me.

When I started an MSc in Org Change in 2012, I was horrified – and I mean properly Are. You. Kidding. WTF horrified – that it began with Philosophy. One of the first sessions was on Phenomenology (cue about 3 months of me having the muppets’ M-numm-M-nunnh song in my head, only with the lyrics as “phenonmenon doo-doo-do-doo-doooo” – very very bad – if you want a different experience from this explanation, view here)

Phenomenologists argue that there is no one hard and fast, objective reality, that there is simply experience, followed by the interpretation we put on that experience.  So when we were sent off to visit places near Ashridge and a bunch of us went to the same Garden Centre what we found was: We went to the same place but Oh MAN did we have different experiences. For some of us, it was all about the lovely flora & fauna – spring, colours, growth – for others, flowers signified hayfever. For others it was about security cameras, warning signs and signs saying: do this/ don’t do that – human rules on nature. For others it was about the quality of cake and coffee – the welcome and offering. The Garden Centre Lesson: Bottom line? We were physically in the same space but emotionally, mentally and experientially worlds apart.

When we got back together to talk about what we heard/saw/ noticed/ experience it was like we had been to different places. Who was right? What was important? Whose experience was more valid? Powerful stuff.

So experience matters – my experience is just a valid and useful as yours. What I see and experience counts. Even if it’s inconvenient to you.  (actually, as a Consultant…arguably especially if it’s inconvenient to you) If we want to understand the whole garden centre, we can’t just see the roses. If we want to understand the internal Culture, we can’t just data-gather from one source  – (ie Leadership, or Frontline, or Customers, or coachee etc) I mean we CAN… but if we do, we need to be clear on the limitations of that view/ experience.. and not arrange the whole world/ training budget around a single view… ( And yes, we need to layer context on to experience eventually, or no-one gets anywhere… there needs to be a value judgement in there someplace or we won’t make decisions.. but later.)

My training: Notice the phenomena. Drop the shoulds and oughts and coulds. Have the experience. Notice the data (all of it – what you think, feel, sense – bring your whole self in) Sense-make and hypothesize. Create meaning. Reflect on it (either in the moment or after the effect – or, if you are me, probably both)…Notice your bias, your Bubble & blindspots if you can…and from there, can I play with that meaning in order to move on?  Can I offer myself choices: go deeper into the issue, or widen it out or just shift it elsewhere… momentum, progress, perhaps? I’m seeking difference, insight, learning.

I go back because it’s a thing that has served me well – reflective practice – an iterative process that moves me from Here to There – wherever There might be. I know there are good models for reflective practice – interested in hearing from others what they use or value

For me? this is What Matters. Taking my experience seriously.  Taking others’ experience seriously. Data gathering from different sources. Discussion. Iteration. And time for reflection whilst cuddling the dog & perusing books that fire my synapses.

It Starts with You

Very little focuses my mind on what my point is more than having to explain my thinking publically. So it is that, prior to folk gathering for this month’s Facilitation Shindig, I’m mulling on WHY I believe Reflective Practice and starting with yourself-as-data is vital in any part of personal learning/growth/development.

I’m a firm believer that change doesn’t happen “out there” through other folk – it happens “in here” with you and your decisions and responses…I can come back to how external forces impact and alter us, but here I’m trying to map out why I think starting with self is the key to growth and change….and then.. work out “So what?” What does that mean for your working practice?

As ever, I’ve been writing, drawing, reading, and came up with some drawings to try to show what I’m trying to say

So here goes:

Part One – The Thinking

Personal growth and development requires you to start, or at least pay attention to, self-as-data. It’s essential that you have some awareness or understanding of your own “stuff” if you want to develop & change. This is because your beliefs, values, assumptions, certainties, doubts and experiences form the Foundations of your Practice – how you act and choose to be with people and situations. Understanding and exploring these means you become more deeply aware of who you are and what you can/will tolerate in life, work and in change. Through awareness, you can take informed action.

So. Start with self-as-data. Pay attention to the small stuff – what you like, don’t like, what you tolerate, what is intolerable, what behaviours work for you, when you act like a git etc. Keep notes or a journal or find an app that will nudge you. Get to know yourself.

Then there’s a piece about understanding what keeps your behavioural stuff in place (it’s familiar? Safe? efficient? deeply entrenched? rewarding? “proper”? Qualification-taught?) Because by understanding what keeps your foundations in place, you can assess the size of your personal resistance/ reluctance/ willingness to do something new. (I’m talking about rattling or fortifying foundations at the Shindig)

From here, through self-awareness and knowing your edges, you have good information to start challenging yourself with; making choices about your behaviours that are different from your “old self” (What are the foundations you want to rattle? What do you want to let go of? What are the foundations you want to fortify? What will you keep doing? or start doing?) This is the action part.

For me, reflection without action risks the territory of slightly naval-gazing/ noodling about.
Action without reflection is basically begging to repeat the same behaviours and errors, without refining successes.
You mostly need both.

So far, I’ve laid it all on you… trouble is we can be very skewed in our view of our own data – so alongside all this data- gathering, there is a huge role for finding others to talk to and test out theories on. Find coaches and mentors, peers, colleagues, brutal friends and semi-strangers who will help you sense-make what you find.

In the event that you bump into bits of yourself that fill you with dread, shame, sadness, disgust, fear, horror etc it becomes even more important to find someone to sense-make with. This is the territory we fear to tread into and reject. Typically, this is the very territory which, if explored, gives us a bigger, freer work or life-range. Having someone – perhaps someone qualified, or just unerringly sensible and trustworthy – to share and illuminate our darker bits is..…well I just don’t know how you tackle this stuff alone.

We increasingly know that change sustains and holds more when making small adjustments – small, purposeful changes are more likely to last… and yet still too often we look for outside sources (courses, mindfulness to forget about inner conflicts, how to guides etc) to enable us to make the changes – when really, it starts with you & your willingness to reach in, adjust your own dials and act.

Of course, the downside is you can’t guarantee everyone around you will like it if you successfully change.. that can get interesting..… longer blog.

The premise behind the Facilitation Shindig series was always to give Practitioners a year & 5 spaces to do some of this self-reflection, action-learning stuff so they really improve their Practice. Facilitation, especially when you work with teams who are unhappy or in flux, can be hugely personally challenging.. and lonely… you need a place to go to fortify yourself.

Part Two – The Drawing

And so I’ve been designing and thinking, doodling and playing with images to try to pull together some of how this stuff goes.
I came up with two sketches that reach toward what I’m trying to capture.

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The person in the circle is surrounded by the Foundations of their Practice and in the midst of a sort of big circular mash-up of Seniger’s Comfort Zone stuff, with a little Argyris Double-Looped learning happening – folding new information back in to his/her awareness to reflect the “bouncing” we do when we start new stuff (in/out certain/unsure etc). Beyond the edges of current practice are new worlds and new behaviours – to get there requires action, experiments, testing stuff out & looping the good bits (you hope) back in to fortify the Foundations

 

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The second is a representation of that “next level” stuff that everyone goes on about – here I’m trying to show that you build on what you know and “next level” means losing or developing some of the familiar & building on new ground…. The better you know the your Foundations, the better decisions you make about what to take with & what to leave behind – means you build your “next level” on a risher, more secure platform.
Not sure this drawing shows the difficulty in addressing the barriers or shows the “bounce” stuff…..

At the bottom, is looping – I’ve double looped, down into Existing Practice, up into New Practice – I like this now. It’s sort of elegantly simple, but needs a little explanation.

All of this is to articulate why Practitioners benefit from taking time out to reflect, experiment, learn about themselves and try new actions and work with other people. It’s why I’ve designed the Facilitation Shindig to be a year-long programme, for those who want it to be – to give you time to become more self-aware and give yourself that time to rattle or fortify the foundations of your practice.

So the basic premise is, Practitioners, that it starts with you & then it goes out to others and comes back to you.

The Facilitation Shindig is a Series of events running throughout 2017 in Manchester. The aims are to upskill and support facilitators, celebrating the art and the craft of facilitation through discussion, reflection, storytelling, experimenting and action.

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If you want to know more about the Facilitation Shindig – visit www.facilitationShindig.com

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Or register your interest here

About me:

I’m an Organisational Consultant, Exec 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

Contact fuchsiablue to find out more