Using artwork as a coaching tool

I’m delivering a lot of coaching training at the moment. Needs of the business and all that. As happens to us L&Ders, when you repeatedly train on one topic, I start to tinker with how I’m delivering the session. One of the things I’m highly mindful of when I do this is that it needs to be supportive of the learning experience.

I pay attention to what others in this shared world of work do. Particularly I’ve been paying attention to Doug Shaw and his Art for Works Sake series, and Simon Heath and his invitational approach to using art as an expression at the recent Glasgow L&D Connect unconference.

What they’ve both helped me to come upon is how artwork can be a vehicle for discussion.

Unless you maintain artwork as a hobby or do it as your main thing, many people forget how to put pencil to paper to create art. The practise itself is not supported in many businesses, because it’s not a (directly) productive endeavour for making money.

I’m not on a crusade to reinvigorate art in a work setting. But I am interested in challenging people’s perceptions of their barriers and of their limitations. It’s far too easy to dismiss something as difficult and not take the time to explore why or what’s going on there. And it’s even easier to not focus on what t might look like if it were better.

So the first exercise I get the group to do is draw something in their view. I’m explicit in letting people know that their skill kf drawing is entirely consequential in this context and that even if the drawing is just a series of lines, that’s enough.

I then pair people up and ask them to coach their partner to do the next iteration. Again I’m careful to not give the instruction to make it better. This isn’t about judgement. It’s about helping the partner to explore what they’re doing and what they would try again or try differently.

It’s also important to note I’m not a very arty person. I don’t find drawing easy. I enjoy it but need to spend time with it. I’m asking people to practise something as a way for them to have dialogue later.

I find that the coaching conversation that ensues raises a lot of interesting insights. Some people judge the other person’s drawing. Some people offer direction via their own interpretation – e.g. “you are drawing a boat. It needs to have sails.”. Some decide to take authority “I’m the coach, you need to listen to me”. Some ask questions about what the person was trying to achieve. Some provide feedback. Some offer options for improvement.

All from an opening 20 min exercise.

70:20:10 and the challenge to L&D

Warning: Nothing I’m writing about below is new or disruptive.

In the L&D world in recent years there has been a growing advocacy around changing the way we understand how learning happens at work. There’s a steady movement moving from instructor led and presentation led learning as a default to creating and cultivating more natural ways for people to share information.

With technology now at the forefront of giving people new ways to connect, share information, knowledge and practise we’re seeing a real move to technology becoming an enabler of better working and better learning.

The 70:20:10 model promotes thinking around the efficacy of learning mechanisms. 70% of our learning at work happens through on the job activities. 20% happens through peers and social based activity (also includes coaching and mentoring activity). 10% happens through formal training programmes and courses (including e-learning).

It’s easy for people to get caught up in the numbers of the model. They seem to represent an intuitive sense of the reality.

One of the things it really does is challenge the skill set of the L&Der to adopt new thinking about how learning takes place. If only a small amount of learning happens via the courses and courseware we hold so close to our hearts, then how do we enable the rest to happen?

It’s a big question. There are practitioners out there making it happen. This model helps to provide a way of developing thoughts and ideas on the new skills knowledge and practise that sits around this new world of learning.

What kind of things are these people doing?

- On a leadership development program using online collaboration tool as a default for connection, sharing and knowledge delivery
– Internally inviting people to design their own courseware with clear guidance around good e-learning design and principles to stick to
– Holding a regular internal open mic session where people can talk on any topic and everyone is invited (and yes, people attend)
– Using open space as an engagement tool at a staff conference
– Simply allowing YouTube access
– Introducing an internal social network like Yammer to allow for internal discussions and knowledge sharing to take place (and no it doesn’t get abused)

I’m involved in a lot of discussions and spaces where these things get discussed a lot. That’s mostly been because of Twitter and some amazing connections I’ve made with others. These connections have given me the support and strength to be brave in my organisations. My practise is far from revolutionary but it is certainly different. I know this because I hear many stories of people being subject to the same old same old learning design and learning practise.

Change isn’t afoot. Change is here. The 70:20:10 model isn’t a panacea. It’s an interesting alternative. When I’m talking about these things with my business areas I don’t talk in terms of the model. I talk in terms of performance impact and business relevance. That’s not a hard switch.

What does Positive Psychology tell us about Organisations?

One of the biggest challenges facing psychology practitioners is taking the many theories and models and applying them to daily life in a useful and applicable way. It’s great being able to discuss things like the ethics of the Milgram experiment where people could have caused severe physical pain to (allegedly) unwitting participants. It’s fascinating to learn how taking drugs affect our mood and help regulate our thinking. It’s interesting to learn how children develop language and learn lexical knowledge.

By the way, worth saying that although my background is in psychology, I don’t necessarily class myself as a practitioner. More a pseudo-practitioner.

It’s not all easily transferable to everyday life though. Some of these models and theories need to be interrogated further to uncover and break through to the heart of the matter. In education for instance, how do we apply what we know about cognitive development to the purposeful act of learning and teaching?

And so it is with positive psychology. Here’s a school of thought which ia dedicated to helping people improve their personal sense of wellbeing and happiness. And, at an individual level I’m totally there. I know what interventions are useful. I’m learning how people apply them. I’m keeping open mind about what else is useful for people. And there’s a lot being shared about how to help people.

What remains a challenge, though, is how to help embed this knowledge in organisations to help them improve their organisational health. There’s an odd concept, right?

There are a few things which I think are useful to help thinking and planning, although not necessarily about actions.

Positive psychology tells us that when we show appreciation and gratitude to others, we feel better about ourselves for longer, and it helps others feel good about themselves. It also creates a lasting memory which we can draw on for feeling good. What would the application of that look like in an organisation without ir becoming a trite or false event?

Lots of people are aware of focusing on strengths as a way of developing others. Where possible we should totally do this. But where and how do we identify those strengths? Does this happen at recruitment? If so, are we hiring people for a strength in a skill or a strength in their attitude? Does it happen during performance reviews? If so, how is their strength measured? And is the strength relevant to the job?

One thing which I find fascinating is that in the modern world of work, we are tied to people staying in a lengthy contract of employment. I get it, but what happens when a person outgrows the organisation and is ready to move on? Do we actively and purposefully help them move on in the same way we would put them through a disciplinary procedure intending to exit them?

How do we help people build resilience? Positive psychology helps us to understand that we have to have personal capacity for dealing with bad events. It’s only through dealing with reality that we can make things better. If a process is broken, do people feel they have the personal power to make it change? If a project fails, do people feel safe that they can be expected to carry on with their job without it having detrimental effect on their career? If there are redundancies being made, how are we supporting the survivors to help them readjust and realign so that they can be their best?

How do we use people centred approaches to work? Things like believing in co-creation as a way of working. Not working groups or committees, but allowing things to emerge and be flexible in how they happen. Providing a set of principles as opposed to policies abd procedures. When rolling out a new initiative, inviting people to define for themselves what the roll out plan needs to look like instead of a uniform execution of the same thing. Give people parameters for what needs to happen and they will be amazing all on their own.

These are just some thoughts I’m trying to make work better. I’m not advocating everyone should act in these ways. And clearly some organisations will actively rail against a lot of what I’ve written because of the heavy regulatory frameworks they have to work in. So, I invite you to keep with me on this journey of application and discovery.

Learning Live 2014: The Chimp Paradox

Sukh Pabial:

Really useful insight here into a talk by Dr Steve Peters.

Originally posted on Learning as I go...:

OK, so this is really overdue. I’ve had a few things crop up that have stopped me publishing this before now but hopefully it’s still relevant. The event might have been nearly a month ago but the ideas and indeed its impact will live on much longer I think.

20140911_102846Having been kindly invited by the Learning and Performance Institute (LPI) to be part of the backchannel team for Learning Live 2014, my main duty was to share what was going on via Twitter. However, the keynote presentation from Dr. Steve Peters was almost impossible to do justice to in a series of 140 characters. So I decided to take notes instead and see if I could begin to recap it in a blog. Here’s the overview for what the session promised:

Attendees will be educated into the workings of the human mind, particularly emphasising emotional management leading to optimising performance…

View original 912 more words

Creative and Daring Learning

I’m at the Glasgow @LnDConnect unconference and want to share some thoughts about what I’ve been hearing today.

The theme of the day is ‘creative and daring’. Interpret that as you will, and it creates some useful guidance for how to help learning organisations be better/different.

The concept of an unconference is uncommon, and for many is just unknown. It’s possible to spend a day with a group of people with no clear agenda, no suppliers selling products, no case studies and no keynote speeches? How does that work? What does that look like?

Kev Wyke did a super job of helping people understand how to create their own agenda. He described the day as being the longest and best coffee break you’ve ever had. I love that, and he really invited people to be comfortable with doing whatever they want to. He ran through the ‘principles and one law of Open Space’, which helped people understand how they should be in this type of situation.

As happens, people offered topics to talk about and placed them on the agenda wall. And suddenly we were ready to start.

I was in a conversation with a group where we were speaking about ‘how to be and let others be’. It was a very open question, which lead us to talking about emotions, neuroscience, existentialism, thinking patterns, culture, power relationships, and a whole load of other stuff. It was quite an energising conversation. People were being taken on tracks of thought all over the show. It’s fascinating to see that happen and experience it.

The second topic I participated in was a Collaborate Live session with Mike Collins. There were a lot of wins in this topic which I loved. First, although Mike felt nervous, he interviews really well, and is clearly knowledgeable in talking all things communities. Subject matter expertise is important. What’s more important is knowing how to share that knowledge. For me, that’s when learning is at its best. Mike shared great content and ideas about how to cultivate an online community, what it can do for people, how to be mindful of the culture you’re in, and more stuff.

What really worked well was that the Live session had a very interactive presence on the Twitter backchannel. It was great to read people’s tweets about the topic and responding to Mike directly. That worked well for me.

As does happen at these unconferences, people still find opportunities to talk in their coffee breaks. It’s an interesting set of behaviours. We talk about how at conferences the best bit is the talking between sessions. Even in this unconference environment, where people are talking as default, they still find space to talk more. I don’t know what that means, or what implies, but it’s just an observation.

Some other observations are:
– we (L&Ders) are open to experimenting in an environment like this, but find it hard to challenge the establishment when we’re back at work
– we know and feel that there are good and better ways to include others and let them be, but find it hard to articulate these things in a work context
– there can be a real zeitgeist to learn all the new skills becoming ever present in digital and their application to L&D. This is a double edged sword, and potentially quite damaging to individuals and their skills
– the use of social tools like Twitter as a collaboration and learning tool for L&Ders is met with the same responses as people in the business when asked to use new technologies

I’m overhearing a conversation about ‘failing forward’. It’s intriguing me, and I’m being drawn to it.

Today is the height of personal learning at its best. There is informal learning, there are tech adopters, there are agitators, there are people on the periphery, there is use of tech as an active tool, and its ok for all of this to happen, and for none of it to happen.

Work, Data and Happiness

Advocating and believing in a practise isn’t the same as blindly believing in it as a thing. I learned this a long while ago. Mostly I learned this because of religion. Then, as time went on, and I learned how to advocate my practise, I learned that not everyone thought like I did. Well, of course, but you know I was younger in them days. I used to have strong beliefs and extreme views on stuff. Then I grew up and learned all these shades of grey I never thought needed to exist.

I’m a better person for it. These days I know, of myself and of most things in life, that some things are true for some people. Some things are wrong for some people. And some things are just the wrong things. It’s all hazy right? There’s a delicious discomfort in not knowing, if you know how to be comfortable with that as a concept.

There are many a consultant type who will claim things like:

Imagine working on only those things you’re great at doing. Why would you want to do anything else?

If you do only these things, you’ll be protected from bad things!

And other sorts of blithe nonsense.

See, the problem isn’t the intent of what these types are saying. They’re trying to convey things like positivity and good actions and what have you. Of course I’m on board with the intent of those things.

But the thing which is missing from all of those types of messages is reality.

It’s one of the things I’m really careful about when I talk about positive psychology. Yes, you can do a lot of good and positive things, and they can and are likely to help you feel better about yourself, increase your long lasting feelings of happiness, and give you a better outlook on life.

But only if you are prepared to deal with the reality of life and what it throws your way. Sometimes, life really sucks and it can be hard to feel or act positively when all you might be experiencing are hard times. Your personal resilience can be tested really hard and it’s a gift to just get through a day at times.

So I come back to those types of statements above. And I think about working life.

See, I do believe that we can do a job we love doing.

But I also believe we have to acknowledge that you will still have to do things you don’t want to do. Like the filing. Like admin. Like using Excel. Like being creative. Like going out on work socials. Like writing reports. Like following process and policies. Like having a difficult conversation with a colleague. Like coaching someone.

They are working life. Organisations have had these things forever. Why fool ourselves into thinking we can exist without them?

We can tolerate them better, and maybe that’s what we need to advocate better?

Recently I heard two things which made me question the blurred vision we sometimes are presented with.

The first was that in L&D, if we align to the business and deliver results which positively affect performance, we’ll be protected against being cut. That’s the biggest load of nonsense I’ve ever heard. I know of, and have experienced, cuts of the harshest kind to L&D departments, and this was in the midst of great business focused projects, and business results. That’s reality, and no amount of good and positive action was going to mitigate against that.

The second was that working on your passion means never having to deal with data. God, really? Even independent consultants and the likes have to submit their accounts and deal with data to produce reports and the likes. That’s reality talking again.

And a short word on data. We’re in a world now where data is becoming more important than knowledge. App developers and techy types rely on the way we interact with technology in order to make their monies (or that’s their plan anyway). In a world like that, things like happiness and personal fulfilment take on different meanings and different answers arise.

What was true, may remain true, but it may not. Data will continue to drive the things being developed. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but what it does mean is that new questions will be asked about how life is lead, how work gets done, and what the future looks like. No-one can answer those until we’re mired in those realities. And once we’re there, we can define a new happiness, and maybe answer questions about work-life balance along the way.

Look out! There’s a Baby Boomer about!

For a long while now, I’ve been interested in the debate about Gen Y. With stats like 50% of the workforce in 10 years will be average age 25, (don’t quote me on that, cos you know, it’s a half truth) it certainly looks like there’s something about to turn the corner which businesses need to be attuned to. And with statements being bandied about like how they are all digital natives, it certainly feels like this is a force heading their way into business to disrupt the normal flow of things. And carry that on with observations that they just need to touch the button of a Google Glass and whoosh they’re off, and you really do get the feeling that this is just all a bit too much and it’s gonna leave businesses standing still.

And we know to take this all with a pinch of salt, so I’m not concerned about who believes it or who not.

What concerns me is where the debate has been heading. And it seems to me that we’ve run head long into an argument which is redundant and completely missed the point.

See, the thing is, it’s not about Gen Y at all. It’s about everyone else in the workplace.

There are a lot of people in the workplace who are on board with new working practices, the need for technology to support new ways of working, and the proliferation of smartphones, apps and digital as a way of life. I mean if my mum (who’s only in her 60s) and my dad (in his 70s) can use a Chromebook with relative ease, the ‘digital native’ concept is so ridiculous that it’s creating a lot of discussion about nothing.

What we’ve missed, completely totally and utterly is the workforce who aren’t ready or prepared for the new world.

They’re the ones who have always caused heartache and pain to managers and HR teams and the likes. But perhaps, just perhaps we’re the ones who’ve had it wrong all along. We’ve bemoaned this lot we have. They’re stuck in their ways. They don’t want to learn new things. That’s just how they are. They’ve always got away with it.

And yet, there in front of us sits a way to understand these perspectives in the form of neuroscience, and in the form of cognitive psychology. Partners in crime, and suddenly a world of insight readily unfolds.

You see, the people who are adept at manoeuvring and keeping with the pace of change are those who have geared themselves up to make that happen. Their neuroplasticity is at a developed enough level that when change comes their way, they can adapt to what that means. They are used to creating new schema in their mental models, re-evaluating what they know, and keeping things moving along.

Be it Gen Y, be it Gen X, or be it your grandparents, we all have that capability and ability. Schooling, for all that critics and cynics rail against education, helps create and prepare us for these constant changes. Our brain doesn’t stop forming and creating pathways unless we let it. Our mental models of the world can readily change, if we accept that can happen.

See, what we’ve known for a long time, and what we know now, marry up in terms of psychological models and modern scientific models.

For our workforces, then, this means that we have a better way of understanding the barriers for helping them be their best self at work.

Ambition exists in all people, we just need to find ways to help that come through. When people are already battling with fixed patterns of working and fixed patterns of thinking, things like motivation, ambition and passion are such far off concepts that they are almost another language. But it’s not because they’re not willing to have those conversations, it’s that they need to understand what they’re stuck with at all.

Understanding how the brain operates, and how cognition develops, help us to understand the challenge we face in the workplace with people who we classify as ‘not willing to change’.

What I haven’t got to, yet, is how we resolve this in an organisational context. What I have got to is that not only is the Gen Y debate dead and buried in my head, it’s that we never should have worried about them in the first place. They’ll adapt just as much as anyone wired up to adapting will do. It’s everyone else at work who is seemingly neglected at the expense of these other groups.