What’s Possible

What’s emerging as I continue to ask myself and understand for myself What Matters to me in the work I do (see here and here for more) and how I do it is the importance of possibility. I like having choice ( even if it is only the illusion of choice) and I like it when I can see, or magic up, or work to create choice with clients.

Where there are no options, the work feels deadened and empty, stifling and stagnant …. Where I or we can see different ways to do stuff, there is energy, liveliness, the possibility of newness or movement. It’s generative. Guess where I’d rather be?

Working this way requires more, personally, professionally – you have to be invested differently if you are going to create or commit to working with stuff that isn’t the “norm” – you have to recognise and tackle strong stories, well-established personal and organisational narratives, it doesn’t happen on the sidelines, you kind of have to get involved….and possibly that’s not for everyone. You run the risk of being annoying, or wrong, isolated or scapegoated… or knackered… so, you know.. there’s that…but what if you make a difference? Well.. there’s that too…

How it shows up in practice is through questions & hypothesis – Is that really how it is? Really? Really-really? According to who? What if we….? What would happen if…? What if we could…? And then through action – showing alternatives, doing things differently, taking up or creating space otherwise occupied by certainty and establishment, encouraging clients to see possibilities, challenging what presents itself…

So much of the change work – be it with coaching clients or in organisations and systems – is about really getting into the long-held narratives and what they do for folk….genuinely understanding how a position or a story has come into being and why it is so tightly held and so defended (because more often than not, the story is defended passionately: it IS this way. You CANNOT see this situation any other way. You DON’T understand. I AM ONLY permitted to do/say/be THIS way)….and of course, there is a possibility that that is true.. and there is a possibility that it’s just one interpretation and there are other worlds out there to explore….

And in all of this, the creating and realising of possibility, is the need for articulation and repetition. You have to clearly offer alternatives, to show the possibility in multiple formats and languages and they need to be worked through before they will take hold.. otherwise it’s just flaky dreamer stuff…. My working partner, Claire Marie Boggiano, holds firmly to the belief that you have to say or discuss or show a thing “seven to twenty one times” in an organisation before it becomes regarded as possible. Whilst we are not sure of the actual science behind this, we work on this basis and prepare ourselves for have the same conversations, or raise the possibility for alternative narratives time and time and time again until something opens up…

Perhaps this blog is mostly because I’m reading the Art of Possibility by Rosmund Stone Zander and Ben Zander Good summary here – it’s a beautiful read and is helping me see how I can contribute differently in my work…. So far, it’s the story of the Taiwanese Student that has most touched me.

At the beginning of a Semester, Ben Zander (world renown conductor with the Boston Philharmonic Orchestera) is working with the best-of-the-best-students in a special programme at a Conservatoire. He wants to get them to produce the best possible performance, to get them to commit heart and soul, beyond the technical requirements of the music, their instruments, their current state. He wants them to make mistakes – and in doing so, overcome and grow – he wants them to lose their fear of errors. He makes the decision to award every student an “A” at the beginning of the semester – he tells them: Every one of you will get an A in this class. Now I need you to go and write me a letter telling me, in detail, why you have earned this A… what you do , how you feel, who you are now as this A student. This is a letter from your future self to you now… what more does that person know? What are they doing or how are they being differently from you now?
How delicious….how compelling…. What a terrifyingly wonderful invitation.

The Tiwanese student is confused by this “getting an A” for seemingly nothing. He writes to Zander:
“In Taiwan I was Number 68 out of 70 students. I come to Boston and Mr Zander says I am an A. Very confusing. I walk about, three weeks, very confused. I am Number 68, but Mr Zander says I am an A Student….. I am Number 68, but Mr Zander says I am an A. One day I discover I am much happier A than Number 68. So I decide I am an A”

There is the possibility – a lifetime of an owned narrative of being number 68 good enough, turned into something else entirely by the possibility things might be better/ different for you than that and then the active choice to embrace the possibility…It’s a beautiful thing. It’s powerful as all hell.

No wonder this is part of my What Matters in my work.

image thanks to https://www.pexels.com/photo/abstract-art-blur-bokeh-285173/

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.

What Matters

Image thanks to @GapingVoid

I took some time off.

Over the weekend, the long Easter weekend and the weekend before, I actually stopped working and thinking about work. Since October, fuchsia blue has been working with Greater Manchester Combined Authority on a piece of culture and OD strategy work. It’s a complex, if rewarding, piece with a lot at stake, a lot to consider and a lot of people and pace in the mix. It matters. It’s taken a lot of thinking through, of working out, of asking and gathering, of showing and telling. Add to that the ever-expanding joy that is the Shindig, and what it needs and deserves from me…. and coaching, facilitating, faculty work…I have felt in demand. Stretched. Not unhappy, but working at capacity….
Some will read that and see humble bragging about busy-ness, others will read other things into it. It’s not intended to be anything more than it is what it is, for me. I make choices and work with them. My 2012 self would marvel at what my 2018 self gets up to – I’m grateful for that. I genuinely love the work I get to do – even when it tests and stretches me… I love the folk I get to work with – and their infinite patience with my frowny face at times. For once, I’ve given myself a little credit for stuff I know, which has kind of felt good…. and still I have felt a loss.

It’s been so subtle, I hardly noticed it – mostly because I’ve hardly stopped. Not properly stopping…. The type of stopping that allows pottering, free-thinking, writing, discovery, possibility. It’s part of What Matters.
I arrive at my desk with a pre-formed to do list, a series of calls to make or things to attend to. I crack through what I can and I prioritise what next or what-not. I’m not bad at it, to be honest… but In this mode, I lose connection – l lose space and being in-touch.. with myself, with others… I sort of fold in for a while and rely on what I know and can access.. it is oddly satisfying – I can click through work at a fair pace. Stuff can get done – but after a while, the “Stuff” loses something important, something that matters – it becomes more transactional, task-based… oddly unsatisfying. And I feel a loss of connection to my creativity and words.

Over the weekend I put work down – the only thing that came close was playing with Storyboard technologies for the sheer hell of drawing stuff – not because I’m designing anything or trying to create something for a client – but because I’m curious.
It felt good.

I feel more restored.
It matters.

In a month that promises an Edinburgh Shindig, an Unconference, attending the ODN Europe Conference, my first ever trip to Shetland with the glorious Scottish Ballet, ongoing work with GMCA as we begin to look at getting folk involved in stuff in a different way, in a month where I begin a new conversation with a new supervisor – my intention is to enjoy the work as it comes. To put down the to do list and do some being. To focus on What Matters.

Wonder how that will work out?