Kindness isn’t a commodity

Some while ago I remember starting to hear a thing. It was an odd thing. People would tell me, Oh I do like to say thank you or give praise, but it has to be for a special thing. Right, so you have the ability to help someone feel better about themselves and you actively choose not to?

Or they’d say, Oh it takes a lot of effort to praise someone. (They’d go on)… If we only ever praised people, then how do we manage poor performance or address bad behaviour? Hmm. So, you’d rather not praise someone because you don’t want to reduce the need to have to criticise or challenge them at a later date?

Or I hear, kindness comes more naturally to women because they’re the care givers of the human race. (They’d go on)… I can’t be or show kindness because that’s not what a man is meant to do. Oh dear. Such a state of immaturity that anyone who says these things hasn’t realised that kindness is a basic human trait.

Or I hear, Oh that person has only expressed what they did through social media so others can thank them publicly. (They’d go on)… surely an act of kindness is meant to be private? So, I hear this, and it’s a tough one to resolve. First, let’s not judge why others share what they do. Second, why does there need to be such skepticism or cynicism if others share in this way?

Here’s the thing. Kindness isn’t a commodity to be dealt with. You don’t expend your daily allowance by letting someone know they’ve done a good job. Or that they’ve been helpful. Or that they were an awesome human being. Or that they made someone smile. In nearly every situation you give praise or act kindly towards someone, they’ll stop in their tracks and get all embarrassed because someone recognised what they did.

We are in odd times. Kindness to others is seen and argued for like it’s something we have a right to. There are current world leaders who see kindness as weakness. There are harassers and attackers who prey on other people’s kindness.

Religion has taught us for a long time that being kind unto others is a just thing. It’s a holy act. It’s a societal benefit. It binds people together.

I remember after the riots in the UK several years ago. The day after, people got their broomsticks and bandied together to clean up their streets. Because that’s what happens when people experience kindness together, they find a way to be together. Kindness lifts people and offers them such hope.

If you’re of the ilk of person that thinks you can only be kind in moderation, then that’s a rough and tough place to operate from. Where is there joy if it can only be experienced in moderation?

If you’re the kind of person who thinks kindness is a weakness, then how and when do you recognise kindness when it’s offered to you? In all likelihood you do recognise it but choose not to acknowledge it.

If you’re the kind of person who can be kind freely, that’s a gift and a lovely one to share.

If you’re the kind of person who is kind regularly, that’s such a great thing.

Kindness. It isn’t a commodity.


The cognitive element of learning

Psychologists have been researching memory for a long old while, and we have many insights into memory that we never really understood previously, continue to learn more about memory, and understand more about the purpose of memory.

We now know things like how to manipulate memory, how to reinforce it, how to access memories, and how to be better at remembering things. (Hint, it’s not about just reciting facts and figures, although that can work a little.)

Linked to this is an understanding of cognition and the purpose of cognitive behaviour. As a concept, cognition helps us to understand that there is a thinking capacity our brains undertake on a day to day basis. Days of low cognitive load, will be days when you’re not doing things that require much thinking capacity. Days of high cognitive load will be when you’re exercising your thinking capacity in many different ways.

That’s a really rudimentary explanation of cognition.

We also know that high cognitive activity requires more energy of the brain. Once it reaches its peak capacity, is when we start to flag, feel tired, and generally need a break. Sometimes that break can be going for a walk, sometimes it’s needing to eat, sometimes it’s going to sleep. It’s not just basic human functioning, it’s how we operate at our best.

Also linked to all this is understanding the purpose of reflective practice. As a people, we make better sense of information and learning when we are able to discuss the subject matter, when we’ve been thinking about it in our own time, when we’ve been reading related materials, and when we can explore our understanding of that material. That’s actually where learning occurs.

What all this can help us to understand, then, when designing learning solutions is that there’s an imperative to designing solutions which can activate our cognitive capacity to be receptive to learning new things, and there’s a certain point at which there’s just too much being given for people to do anything useful with.

It’s not that we can’t do more cognitive activity, it’s that the activity needs to fundamentally change to allow respite.

There are conclusions I can draw from the above, and I do. What I’m interested in hearing about are your conclusions from what I’ve written here.

(And if there are glaring mistakes I’ve made above, please do point them out.)


It was in my first role and in the early months of 2004. I was part of a training team, and I’d joined them as a Training Officer – somewhere between a coordinator, responsible for delivering some training myself, and supporting the advisors in designing their courses.

After a couple of months of settling in, one of the advisors asked me to deliver part of the course he was facilitating. I think it was on presentation skills. I think I’ve tried to delete the event from my memory as much as I can.

I had one part to deliver. It was about a theory piece. Not more than about 20 mins.

The advisor had done his part and asked me to come up and deliver the next piece.

I sat in the middle of the room. Projector in front of me. People on the course watching me.

I went to introduce the topic I was asked to deliver, and got as far as saying the title when I completely, totally and utterly clammed up.

I had nothing.

No words.

Nerves beyond anything I’d experienced. Blank mind like never before. Frozen with helplessness.

I looked over to the advisor in absolute desperation. My eyes screaming “HELP”.

Thankfully, he immediately stepped in and took over. He was basically my hero.

Why not share your story? (and use the hashtag #MyFirstTimeTraining)

Top tips for being a good social media citizen

  1. Don’t feel you have to respond to every update or post.
  2. Recognise that most people are sharing things that of interest to them.
  3. Try not to evangelize or suggest what people should do.
  4. If you feel you can only respond negatively to someone, first take the time to figure out what’s making you so mad.
  5. If you feel your social media feed isn’t helping your emotional wellbeing, change your feed.
  6. If you are seeing too many posts or updates that have tagged you in, just mute the conversation.
  7. If you can help others, offer it with kindness. Don’t be upset if your offer gets met with rejection.
  8. If you’re using social media to vent and be angry, that’s your choice. Don’t be surprised if people don’t engage with you in a supportive or helpful way.
  9. Build a network that helps you be a better person.
  10. Follow people and read things that fill you with good ideas and hope.
  11. Be careful about judging people on social media. We only ever see one part of a person. We never know what they’re experiencing outside of social media.
  12. Most news stories take time to unfold before we know the full story. Don’t get sucked in by the breaking updates.
  13. Social media can be a really great learning tool. If you’re open to learning through different media, use the tool to help you learn.
  14. There are a lot of posts, blogs, articles, videos and stories shared that are designed to manipulate your thinking. Learn how to cross reference what people say and verify. Don’t just agree because it supports what you think. Are there alternative viewpoints which can bring you balance?
  15. There are a lot of people who try and make arguments to suggest things are either A or B. Life isn’t binary, nor are ideas. Find what works for you.
  16. Social media can be a force for good in cultivating inclusion. The more we do that, the better for everyone.
  17. If you’re arguing with someone on social media, it’s rarely ever going to make you feel better just like arguing with someone in person makes you feel anger.
  18. If you have experienced things before, don’t make out you’re superior to others by letting them know you did things or know things. Empathise and be there for others. That’s much better for them.

See It Be It – speaking about resilience and inclusion

This week I was invited to give a talk at an event called See It Be it, organised by Cannes Lions. I was asked to talk about resilience in the workplace. The idea behind See It Be It is for women in creative industries to be given a forum where they can learn from the best, learn from successful women in the creative industry and network. They also run a much sought after development programme called the same name. All very impressive.

In thinking about my talk, I was really stumped by how I was going to open the talk. It was only 15 mins long so I was short on time and I know that framing is important.

I was originally going to speak about how my male privilege allowed me an opportunity to speak at an event for women . It’s a topic I’m attuned to and aware of in many settings, particularly one where the events raison d’√™tre is to provide key insight for women.

It kept playing on my mind.

On the day as I was turning over and doing my mental preparation I realised I was going into it with the wrong opening. Who cares if my male privilege gave me the opportunity and what benefit is there in me admitting it other than to wave in front of the people present?

Whenever I’m invited to talk somewhere I recognise several things.

  • I’m given a platform to share insights and my thinking
  • On that platform I am given permission to uphold what I believe in
  • On that platform I can challenge people to think better
  • I have a platform from which I can express ideas that are positive, progressive and inclusive
  • I can bring in current affairs where relevant to focus the mind

My first few minutes, then, were spent talking about stability in the workplace in light of the news about Harvey Weinstein and the many allegations of his predatory nature against women. I said that if men are attacking or harassing women in the workplace they need to be reported. It’s not acceptable for men to act like that and no one should have to abide it. How can you think about resilience if all you’re concerned about is your safety and your wellbeing?

That’s the thing that helped me to stand firm and move forward with my talk. See, the thing about platforms where you’re invited to talk publicly is that if you’re just there to sell a product, to sell your thinking, or to sell yourself, then you’re kind of missing the point about what that platform is about.

And yes I spoke about resilience. I spoke about how people can find their third place, a place where they can spend time on themselves for themselves. A place where they are free from judgement, from criticism, from which they feel rejuvenated and better in themselves. I spoke about reflecting on #3goodthings and doing that where possible at the end of each day. I spoke about how resilience is doing regular healthy activities so that when things are tough and challenging you recognise there’s just as many good things in your life and you have the capacity to weather the bad.

I’m not seeking any applause from sharing this piece, I’m just sharing how possible it is to be inclusive. We say it’s too hard. We say there are barriers. We say there are reasons. Yes to all of that. Also, all it takes is clarity on where you stand and what you believe. Once you have that, it’s then your choice how you express that. In a public forum, I’ll always consider what the best way I can share my platform is.

What do you need to know as a modern day L&Der?

I’ve been speaking with and mentoring some people over recent months in helping them think about how to get into the world of L&D. Two in particular stand out for me as people who want to get into L&D, but aren’t part of this world. One’s even taken time to get on and complete a CIPD qualification to have better credibility and knowledge about L&D practice.

There are some things that if you want to progress your career in L&D – through various internal roles – you do need to know and be able to do.

Training and Facilitation

It sounds obvious, but these are both important parts of being in L&D. You have to have experience of being with a group of people and leading them through content, and enabling discussion to happen. You also have to know how to engage a group, do things like ‘read the room’, understand how to respond to reactions of all sorts, and learn the skill of training and facilitation.

LMS Administration / Utilisation

The LMS is kind of the cornerstone of being able to have a well functioning L&D function. Yes they’re cumbersome, they’re rigid and they’re poorly designed. They’re also highly efficient at administering training courses, being resource centres for content and digital resources, can be a home for e-learning, and sending out automated emails. With some better understanding of UX and design principles, we can help people use LMS’s better.

So, you know, don’t throw the bath water out. Or the baby. Never throw babies.

Blended programmes

At some stage, you’re going to have to demonstrate you not only understand what a blended programme looks like, but how you design one, how you facilitate it and how you report on it. It’s arguably not how modern programmes should be designed, or delivered, but they’re a thing. And in the absence of less advanced and more modern solutions, it’ll work.

E-learning design and standards

People hate e-learning. But they hate it because for the longest time it wasn’t well designed. You can design e-learning which is highly engaging, content rich, and focused on performance improvement. If you’re part of this world, you’re going to need to be able to understand the importance of SCORM standards, and maybe even xAPI. Don’t believe you can do this? Check out the stuff from Fuse Universal or GoodPractice.

Digital solutions / Social technologies

I’ve got to be cautious at this point. You don’t need to have experience of these things. If you do, all the better, and you’ll be that much further ahead. Things like:

  • Video production
  • Blogging
  • Communities of practise
  • Social networks
  • Collaboration tools

These things help L&D be better. They’re not essential, but they help.


You don’t have to know theories or models like we used to. You have to know what the different theories and models help us understand about learning and about performance improvement, but you don’t need to know them inside out. You most definitely need to know how to discern weak models and theories from the ones which have strength of insight and strength of a credible evidence base.

Also, this is where it’s really useful to build connections with suppliers and practitioners who do know these things really well. Again, just be careful of not being sold snake oil.

(For me, if I hear anyone in their ‘pitch’, ‘proposal’ or anything similar mention things like 55-38-7 of body language, NLP, Learning Styles, I will become heightened to the possibility they are not as progressive as they could be for me and for the organisations I work with. Feel free to ask me why.)

Business Partnering / Performance Consultancy

For me, this is a core part of the modern skillset needed by L&Ders. Never forget that L&D is as much a business function as is Marketing, Finance and Operations. As such, we need to understand the language of the business and help them understand the language of L&D. It’s a tango, and if it’s not, then you’re doing a breakdance with people spectating. Talk with business leaders. Establish yourself as one of them. Understand their drivers, and from that you can design solutions which help them get there better/quicker/more efficiently.

Modern L&D solutions

This is a hard one to grasp well and prove the value of. Modern L&D solutions are things like resources and not courses. They’re things like curation of content. Things like experiences and not training. Things like social collaboration and project work. If you can gain experience of doing these things, and what that means for L&D, you’re much further along the spectrum of what good L&D looks like than most people.

Bias, fallacies, and facilitation 

Let’s get a few things straight.

  1. Biases are inherent in every human
  2. We can’t get rid of them (nor should we be trying to)
  3. They are designed to help us arrive at decisions quickly
  4. You can mitigate their impact by being aware they exist
  5. You do this by taking time to understand what your own biases are, how you express these, and how others might be impacted by you and your behaviours
  6. Our biases are reinforced at nearly every life interaction we have because of the structures we have around us
  7. Even if you understand your biases impact you and others negatively, it’s really hard to change how you think about things
  8. To truly not be influenced by your biases requires serious levels of fundamental redesign of the human brain (almost). If you can’t do that, then design a system which is free from bias (hint, this is also really hard)

There’s more, but that’s enough for now.

Sometimes facilitators think that because of the role they take with others, they’re somehow absent from biases and able to control them better than others.

We create and want to create an impression that the session and time the group has with them is safe, protected and people are accepted and included. That’s the intent.

And I guess I’d like to take a moment and hold up a mirror with some questions for facilitators (I ask myself these questions all the time. I’m no better at doing this than anyone else):

  • Before you’re ready to start your facilitation, how have you entered your environment well?
  • Before you’re ready to start your facilitation, what assumptions have you made about your ability and that of those in the group?
  • Before you’ve started facilitating, what is bothering you and how is that going to impact your day?
  • When you are meeting people, what are you doing to accept them for who they are and how they present themselves and not who you think they are?
  • When you are facilitating, what biases are having an undue influence on you and what you’re saying?
  • When you are facilitating, how are you sure the examples and personal anecdotes you use aren’t just reinforcing what you already believe?
  • When you are facilitating, how are you enabling others to hear you without feeling judged?
  • When you are facilitating, and you know someone is clearly misunderstanding the content, how do you accept them and their position?

These are just some questions that start to help with actively being mindful of your biases as a facilitator. Ultimately it comes down to your willingness to be a better person. That’s hard work, doesn’t come easily, and often is fraught with unexpected personal challenge.

This post isn’t in reference to anyone.