Gaps and spaces – lessons from driving

Years ago, I worked for a training consultancy and driving to different sites was part of the job. Because of this commitment, the company provided driving lessons to enable us to be better and smarter drivers so there’d be less likelihood of accidents. I remember talking to my instructor about the training he delivered and he’d tell me how he had trained security services and bodyguards to do things like driving at speed, driving to escape a dangerous situation, that kind of thing, so I felt confident I was going to learn some useful things.

Surprisingly, one of the things he talked about was to watch the body language of the cars around me. As a trainer at the time, this was of particular interest to me, and it still stays with me today. Each driver drives their car in a particular way. It’s about noticing if a car is doing something it shouldn’t be, and if you should be worried about it. I was becoming more attuned to this with the groups I was working with, so this resonated with me. If I can notice something is amiss, I can either take action to control for it, or direct it, or seek to do something different. When driving, I seek to notice what other drivers are doing, what their body language is, and how I can be a better driver for noticing those things.

I think the biggest lesson he taught me was for motorway driving. He said to me that the safest way to drive on the motorway was to look for gaps when I needed to move lanes, and make sure I kept space. The gaps thing made immediate and apparent sense to me. It’s especially key when merging on to the motorway and looking for big lorries. If there are lorries driving at speed, and you can see several in the slow lane that you need to join, the best thing you can do is to look for where the safe space is to join and adjust your speed accordingly. The same applies when changing lane. Check to see what the other cars are doing – notice their body language – and make sure the gap you want to move into is a safe one for all. And the spaces thing was also immediately obvious and impactful. If you keep a safe distance, then you give yourself more time to think if you need to act quickly. If you’re driving behind someone and keeping close to the rear of their car, your reaction time is negatively affected that much more, and you’re more than likely to have an accident.

The last thing I remember was about the relative speed I would drive at and the distance I need to travel. He gave the example of driving 100 miles. If I drive at the speed limit (70mph in the UK), I’ll reach my destination in 1 hr 25 mins. If I drive at 80 mph (which most people like to do on the motorway), I’ll arrive in 1 hr 15 mins. That difference of 10 mins is often negligible for most driving purposes. Apply that to much shorter distances, and you realise those 10 mins become like 2-5 min differences at best – it’s almost not worth the extra speed. And of course, driving at 70 mph often results in better car performance.

This was one of those times where I learned that the things that can be helpful in life, are sometimes boring lessons that we’d really rather not bother with. Like dieting. We know that for most physical health benefits a balanced diet of food is the better option. Most of us choose not to follow that kind of advice and instead go for extreme things like ‘dry January’ to get over the glut of Christmas.

And I’m sure there are parallels to what I’ve written above to organisational life, but sometimes lessons for driving can be just left to be better and safer drivers.

How can we help others develop strong learning practice? 

Last week at the Learning Technologies conference, I was glad to have chaired sessions with Harold Jarche and John Stepper. Both are well known in the field of L&D, particularly via social media. I’ve followed both their works for some time and it was helpful to hear about their work from themselves. If you’re not familiar, Harold often writes about Personal Knowledge Mastery and John about Working Out Loud.

Harold talked about how the connected world can create serendipitous outcomes that we may not have not known about before, and that there may be a way to cultivate those connections which helps us achieve the outcomes we seek. He explained that the ease with which we can connect to individuals from across the world creates a natural network of people we may never have known were great to be connected to. 

I can attest to that. I’m connected with people in other countries because of my blog and Twitter who I wouldn’t know otherwise. They help me understand not just cultural differences, but also how the world of L&D looks and feels in other countries. That’s a kind of knowledge I can’t google or see if Wikipedia has an answer for.

Harold said that it’s through open knowledge sharing platforms like blogs and social media that opens us up to being connected with like minded people. That’s a boon as much as it’s a challenge, as it means the same opportunities are available to those with bad intentions/motivations as those who want to do good in the world in various ways. Through blogging – and now through other means like podcasts and vlogging, we can write expressively and explore topics of interest. This reflection and exploration method is helpful to becoming better learners ourselves. It helps because we refine our thinking by committing to sharing and articulating what we think. It’s a critical thinking process as much as it is to share and reflect.

He also described how forming communities of practise can help to strengthen those types of knowledge that you didn’t know you needed to strengthen. He gave the example of knitting. There are thousands of videos of people showing their knit work, and this is a highly valued community of practise who unknowingly created it! It also shows that through very accessible methods, we can bring people together to share their learning, support one another and build their practise.

In an organisation, that can and does happen around things like project management, presentation skills, and coaching skills. If there are individuals trained in those respective skills, providing a forum for them to come together, to discuss what they know, what they experience, what they learn they learn and what they want to know more about is a highly valued form of learning and highly relevant to the individual and their performance at work.

In his talk, John took some elements of Harold’s talk and expanded on them by talking about a concept he developed called ‘working out loud circles’. Using this approach, individuals can come together, in a supportive group, complete established weekly tasks, and be on the path to succeeding their goals after a 12 week period.

It’s an interesting approach as it puts the onus of completion and participation firmly in the hands of the individual and does not need or require direct involvement from line managers or L&D or other formal structures.

He has made the methodology completely open to use for anyone on his website. I appreciate that approach as it means he’s less interested in licensing and charging for usage around his technique, and more interested in people taking charge of their own learning and goal achievement.

I didn’t know before the session that forming circles requires about 4-5 people, and that they can be any group of people – they don’t have to all be from your function or line of work or any other common factor. In fact he encourages the more diverse a group the better for dynamics and the variety of support you can gain.

Some of the elements we might think we know around working out loud, such as blogging, and sharing our work with others in open and transparent ways, for John are important activities in themselves, and part of the circles methodology.

I haven’t fully thought through how I might myself use the above insights and I hope this is useful sharing. I’m interested to know what it makes you reflect on and what it gets you thinking.

Facilitation, OD, coaching, and partisanship

I’ve been wondering of late, how important is it for a facilitator, coach or OD person to be objective in the work they do?

I mean, do I want someone who is a clear fence sitter and doesn’t provide direction to a group/individual towards their goal?

And I’m trying to balance this with our understanding that people are largely selfish, are capable of self-determination, and can be capable of achieving great things.

But, if I’m seeking some support, don’t I want someone to provide that direction?

In my Twitter timeline, I observe many of the people I follow and the hesitancy to state they have an opinion about something. So I never truly understand them, because I don’t know what they stand for. Others, I observe, sit on that fence so neatly and comfortably, I wonder what it would take for them to fall on one side or the other.

We are not balanced individuals. We are a mess of emotions, thoughts, impulses and so much more. We are affected, we are weird and amazing, and as humans, that’s what compels us to create relationships in different ways.

So, I’m unsure about this whole kind of pan-partisan thing I experience. If I bring someone in to do work, I want them to bring all of their quirks, foibles and flaws – I don’t want them to be hidden. Because if they’re hidden, then who are you being?

Equally, in facilitation, OD or coaching, I don’t think it’s helpful for the person leading those to be the ultimate “this is your decision, you’re an adult make it up as you go along” type of person. I think I want someone to be able to step in and say “Oi! You! No!” (well, not quite like that, although I might be tempted to do that)

Come on readers, what do you think?

Compliance training: Ticking a box or having an impact?

I was asked to take part in a podcast with Good Practice and here it is. Have a listen and I look forward to your comments.

It’s on the topic of compliance training and how we can improve what it is, how we deliver it, and how we can improve the impact.

This was a great conversation, and one that came about because I wrote this blog post on designing empathy into compliance training. Thanks to Owen Ferguson and Ross Garner for inviting me to do this.

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Thoughts on advancements in technology and the world of work

I’m going to take a departure from normal writings. A couple of weeks ago I was having dinner with David D’Souza, and asked him to explain to me his thinking on where artificial intelligence is taking us, and the implications of this thinking. On a side note, if you’re not connected with the Head of London or read his blog, you should take the time to reconsider your life options.

Yesterday, I was at an LPI event where we were learning about digital transformation from some of the brains at Microsoft UK. There was lots of good content here which got me thinking about a whole range of stuff. Mostly, it got me thinking that where technology is advancing, we’re not ready for as people and the way it’s going to dramatically impact our lives.

We’re already facing this dilemma when it comes to AI and robotics. What tasks, jobs and skills will we be able to pass over to machines and never have to worry about them ever again?

We’re only a few years away from self-driving cars becoming mainstream. The tests are pretty conclusive that they are much safer than human control – and the few accidents that have happened, are a lower ratio to human error. Oh, and don’t worry about the morals and ethics of decision making – humans are just as bad at arriving at the right conclusions. Just take this Moral Machine test from the smart people at MIT and see how hard it is to decide who should die in a hypothetical situation. I’m warning you, your sense of morals will get messed with.

Over at the Tate Britain museum in London, they have an AI programme (Recognition) comparing photos from journalists with photos it has in its repository. It can get interrupted by human input and uses this to test if the comparisons it makes are smarter and meaningful in different ways.

In the world of technology, Foxconn (one of Apple’s main suppliers) announced they’re getting rid of 60,000 jobs all to be replaced with robotics.

And in policy, robots are going to be given ‘personhood‘ status, to make them accountable for their actions.

Change is happening now. And, it’s fundamentally challenging what it means to be human, where we add our value, how we define ourselves and what we choose to do in the world. If we accept that Asimov’s Laws will protect the human race, and that there is a kill switch that can give us an added level of assurance against a robot uprising, then we’re suddenly thrust into a world where we have to produce new definitions of what it means to be human.

If all (and pretty much all jobs will go this way) jobs can be given to machine learning, robots, etc, then what are we left to do? What does human endeavour become about? What work do we then do? For many of us, work is a defining feature of who we are. If the work we thought we needed to do no longer needs us to do it, where do we expend our energy?

We’re not anywhere near ready for this kind of change, and we’re going to have to address these things far more purposefully. Finland are starting to experiment with universal basic income to start to understand how does this approach affect the human psyche? Do we become lazy and reliant on the state to provide for us? Do we use that income to help us develop new skills and become creators? Do we become more kind and compassionate towards others because the status of money has changed? Do we suffer mentally because we lose our sense of identity which we normally attach to work?

All those questions and more are at the heart of where this new world is taking us. I say we’re not ready, because there are too many institutions and practices that firmly entrench us in the need to have to work. We’re only just beginning to realise the purpose of emotions on our wellbeing, how our physical health needs to be improved, and how climate change needs to be tackled. We’re not ready for our work to be taken away from us and to have to contemplate the purpose of our existence. That’s normally what we expect philosophers and the likes to answer for us – but soon enough, we’re all going to need to have an opinion on what that looks like.

Some of that will be answered by our respective governments and what they provide for their people.

Religion only provides for how we can live well, it doesn’t provide answers for what we should do with our lives. That’s the beauty of human intelligence and the potential of what we’re here for – for us to determine these things and lead the way forwards.

And we’re definitely not ready for it when you have world leaders who are more worried about protecting their own interests rather than focusing on developing world defining character, purpose and collaborative efforts to raise the living standards of all.

It’s big stuff, right? And it should be too.

The debate will continue to evolve and be shaped by many different voices. I’m interested to hear yours.

A post about blogging as an L&Der

I’ve been writing a blog now for about 8 years. I have a modest followership (totally a word I just made up). The topics tend to focus on people and the workplace, sometimes I write about personal stuff, and sometimes I write about topics to do with politics or diversity and inclusion or my religion.

My blog is a personal space of reflection that I’m happy to share with the wider world. I don’t pretend to be a ‘thought leader’ or anything other than someone who writes about things of interest. The things I tend to write about are innocuous enough that they don’t cause widespread readership, the subject matter tends to be of interest to a small community, and I write regularly enough that people can expect a blog from me once or twice a week.

Some people are kind enough to tell me that my blog helps them. That’s pretty ace when that happens. Some people tell me that because I do this blogging thing, it puts me into a leadership space amongst L&D. That’s pretty kind too. Through the blog, I’ve been invited to attend various events and provide coverage in return for a free space. That’s fair enough in my books.

There are a fair number of people whose blogs I enjoy reading, and at the same time, regularly meet people whom I would love to hear more from. Blogging is a fairly easy game. I tend not to draft my writing – my writing is thought in action. I often know where I’m starting and then let the writing take over. Where I end up is anyone’s guess!

If you’ve attended any of my positive psychology sessions, you’ll have heard me describe blogging as my third place. What I mean when I say that is that it’s my place to escape. Which is why I do it regularly. I don’t blog for any particular reason than my own reflection and my own sharing practice. If it builds or leads or supports, that’s pretty great. There are days I’ll publish a blog post and it will get minimal reading. There are days I’ll publish and it’ll do well. I can never predict, and rarely try to.

Here’s a sense of how my blog ‘performs’.

My best year of blogging was in 2014, when I had 25,000 views. Last year, I had 16,000.

In 2016, my best read posts were:

I’ve never had a blog post with more than 280 views. My average is about 30. A good day is about 60-80.

I’ve also been experimenting with blogging on LinkedIn and on Medium. They provide a completely different audience. On LinkedIn, I can get better readership in a day. On Medium, it tends to be far less. I tend to enjoy writing on Medium where I can be a bit more creative in my writing. WordPress continues to be my go to place for blogging, though. It’s my home. And for those who are aware, I have two different WordPress blogs – this one, and the one on my consultancy website Challenging Frontiers.

Thanks for reading and for those who keep coming back to read, thank you too.

The business of joy

We’re fortunate enough to have spent a couple of weeks in the sunny climes of Orlando, enjoying all things Disney. We’re fans of the animated films in our family, and regularly enjoy watching the films – old and new – again and again. At different times over the last 6 years, my young children have made us re-watch time and again – Monsters, Inc., Aladdin, Frozen, Hercules, to name a few. To say I’m bias in favour of Disney is an understatement.

What is clear from having been immersed in the whole thing is that Disney really wants you to have just the most unforgettable experience. Even when they get things wrong, they will try to rectify them so that they’re better. And when they get it right, you just enjoy it all. But that focus on the joy of the customer – that’s key. And I’m not just talking about the children. As parents it’s hard to not enjoy it all.

It’s not just the theme parks that create that joy. It’s everything else that Disney do, too. The films are clearly an important part of how they make their money. And with many of their films being high-grossing films, they invest a lot of time, energy and money into making them delightful and a joy to watch.

And over on their regular channels they’re providing a complete range of content for children of all ages. They’ve kind of got the whole child lifecycle covered when it comes to content and toys. And they’ve got many adults hooked in too with their films, franchises and various marketing and product memorabilia.

Even digitally, their apps are aplenty, and they’re out there in social media doing all things a modern company needs to do.

Being in the Disney parks, what I always get amazed at is the attention to all parts of your time being there. You can’t escape the cost of things, so you just accept you’re going to spend money. The rides are well designed and mostly family friendly. Few are designed for adults only as they kind of know that you’re there to do the rides as a family. Walking around the parks and you always find something to keep you occupied – be it a marching band, characters to meet, or a good spot for a photo, you enjoy pretty much most aspects of what you’re doing.

And it all makes me think that there is a business in creating joy. Disney are a behemoth of a company, and they have done incredibly well with multiple mergers, acquisitions, and general worldwide domination. What we don’t know about is all the behind the scenes stuff – culture, leadership, working practices, fairness of pay, all that stuff. What we see, though, is the outcomes. And for there to be such strong outcomes, there has to be an environment and culture which drives people to do and achieve them. It’s hard to think that you could produce a film as delightful as the live movie Jungle Book if you were in an environment where you didn’t enjoy the work, hated your colleagues, were paid poorly and you didn’t believe in what you were doing.

One of the things most people seek is a sense of happiness and joy. Disney help move that along and make it happen in different ways. Their business is kind of predicated on that journey. If we believe that people are more productive when they enjoy what they do, and the outcome of what you do brings joy and/or meaning to others, it is possible to create a culture where that happens.

But, of course, they’re Disney. Most UK based companies can’t adopt their methodologies, and I’m not proposing that. There are, however, companies who are focusing on the wellbeing and enjoyment people have at work. Company’s like Rentalcars.com are helping to show that you can have a work environment that is all about fun and being productive. That’s a pretty good mix right there. HR Tech company Bright HR are showing the same can be achieved too – they have Nerf battles in their office! They’re just two examples, and they serve to show productivity can be achieved when people are having fun, and it’s not a detrimental or poor thing to focus on.

Many company’s, though, don’t know where to start with things like this. And what’s important is that it’s not about grand change. As with all things, if you want to make things better, it’s about improving a number of small things that help make things that much better.