Disruption of Thinking

It’s just relentless at the minute isn’t it? One thing after the other. I think it all started in 2016 when we heard David Bowie died. It just didn’t stop from that point on.

It wasn’t just the sad news which kept coming. It was also the shockwaves we didn’t know how to deal with and were reluctant to believe could be reality.

Then reality bit. And bit again. And like a zombie gnawing away at your live flesh, it kept on biting.

My thinking has been disrupted so many times. Just when I think I’ve caught my breath and ready to steady the ship, another thing bites.

And I think back to times previous. When things were calmer. There was hope. The Olympics in London. Obama becoming President. Life was seemingly on our side and heading towards the progressive and positive future.

And I’m thinking on Julie’s writing from yesterday about resilience. My resilience has been tested for sure. Many of us feel that. But maybe we got too comfortable?

I’ve learned not to offer or think about silver bullets. Life doesn’t allow for that. Instead I find it more helpful to consider what I want the future to be. Build. Resolve. Progress. Advance. These are the things that make us proud to be humans.

I’ve also learned that when shocking things happen, I can rely on certain characters, whose names rhyme with Garage, Shopkins and Matson, to show me people actively perceive things very differently in life. I don’t share their stuff. They write and create videos and talk on TV to shock to create division and to foster hate. I don’t need to amplify that to others in my life. But I do read and listen to their stuff. It shakes me to my core. Not because I’m a snowflake liberal, but because I can see how their rhetoric impacts on others. 

I’m aware and I’m alert. Life in 2017 in the UK has fundamentally changed, I believe. We’re still reeling from recent terror attacks and tragedy of Grenfell Tower. These things affect us more than we realise because they become focal points of discussion, policy and decision making at the highest levels. We hardly ever see actions immediately after such events because people need to reflect, think, and determine a course of action to (hopefully) prevent these things from being reality further.

There’s no right and wrongs about being disrupted. We’re wisened enough in modern society to know that there are things you can do to be resilient. Eating well. Sleeping well. Healthy relationships. Financial stability. Physical and mental health. Philanthropy and charitable activity. Structurally we’re also far more ready for such things than we ever have been. Emergency teams doing drills. Response units controlling an event 8 minutes after being alerted. Departments investigating threats and acting in our interests. 

Be disrupted, friends. Recognise that things are in such a state of flux, we’re unlikely to know what stability looks like when it arrives. Our future generation may well look back at this time and examine and analyse the happenings of today. They’re likely to see examples of immense violence and horrors that (hu)man(s) can do. And they’re likely to see the best in people with such kindness and heart that you can only hope we all live a better tomorrow.

Design and bias

I remember about 10 years ago delivering training on interview skills for recruitment. A major part of the training was helping people to understand there may be potential to discriminate based on protected characteristics such as gender, race, disability, etc. Thinking back on it, we never talked about our biases, because we really didn’t know how to articulate them in a useful way, or even that they were a thing.

Well, we thought we knew. Except we didn’t.

I’m not going to go into how it impacts on business to get this stuff right, or even trying to explain the many different types of bias we face. Instead I want to approach this from a perspective of design and process.

And also, importantly, what we need to keep reminding ourselves is that we can’t eliminate bias. That’s not a thing that can happen. Humans are geared up to be biased in pretty much every activity they do. Our thinking, life choices, work, relationships, upbringing, society, community, all influence who we are and they are laden full of bias.

If that’s true (and it is), I think the question becomes:

How do we design a system/process so that we reduce the potential of bias influencing our decision making?

This is where I think our traditional skills and knowledge in L&D / HR fall short. We’re so equipped to design processes and procedures and policies that protect and enable organisations in different ways that an important element is being able to design those same things to support good decision making and reduces bias in the process.

To help with this here are some aspects of design thinking which I think we can pick up.

What other fields / industries have introduced systems and processes where good decision making happens and there’s a reduction in influence of bias? e.g. Uber 

What in the current process / system means that we’re inadvertently causing bias to be a decision making enabler? e.g. some companies have decided to do name blind job applications so that we’re not directly influenced if we think a name is more Western sounding or male or other.

How have we reinforced the recognition of bias in our learning programmes so that people develop a better understanding of the influence of bias on decision making?

If a group has to make a decision that impacts on people, how are they ensuring that one group isn’t negatively affected due to unexpected bias in the group? e.g. we know that where panels are homogenous it’s difficult to influence that group in healthy ways without ‘rocking the boat’.

This whole piece is interesting to me because there are too many ways in day to day life where we can make decisions in organisations that are influenced by bias. And don’t forget, most of those decisions we make are nothing to do with self-protection, they’re mostly about organisational performance.

Unrealistic expecations of the modern L&D and HR pro

There is a thing I am noticing in HR and L&D circles. It’s a tough one to nail or to highlight in a helpful way. And I’m not pointing fingers – and trying very hard not to as well.

But there’s a thing. A credibility problem which I’ve been attuned to for a while now, and it concerns me.

See, as more and more people start to use social media and social networks in a professional capacity, and are seeking to gain knowledge from lots of different quarters, what we are inadvertently doing is creating unrealistic expectations of what we want and expect people to be capable of.

Job ads are becoming an endless list of knowledge base and skills and experience which is practically impossible to fulfil – unless you’ve had an incredibly dynamic and varied career, and if you’ve had the high fortune of quality mentorship and coaching, and you’re in an organisation where you can accomplish 30 completely distinct and separate activities all within 8 months.

This isn’t a stab at any recruitment oversights, it’s more of a comment about unrealistic expectations and unclear expectations. It seems recruiters and hiring managers are seeing buzzwords aplenty, theories and models galore, have demanding expectations, and want everything packaged neatly in that one diamond in the rough.

This is more of a look at where that might have come from in the social circles we all inhabit. Just a cursory look at my different timelines today and there are articles written about:

  • evidence based management approaches
  • emotional intelligence
  • communities of practice
  • social learning practices
  • innovation at work
  • HR apps and apps and apps
  • better recruitment practice using digital means
  • employee engagement
  • workplace benefits
  • leadership

Which are all good topics to be reading about and learning about.

Except it also builds an unrealistic expectation amongst practitioners that they must know about these things (and so much more). Not only that practitioners must know about these things but they should also be seeking ways to include these plethora of things in their work practise and if you don’t, you’re somehow not worthy.

The challenge, of course, is that these things are done by and fulfilled by different people fulfilling different roles. As it should be. It is too difficult being a jack of all trades, master of quite a few, and having generalist knowledge of a lot of others – the expert-generalist may be the new normal for many, but it’s not the normal for the mainstream.

And as with many of my blog posts that I write, I often end up exploring as I’m writing. And what I’m reflecting at the moment is that we need to give more considered and purposeful thought to what roles we think we’re asking people to fulfil, having realistic expectations of what that entails, and not expecting it all to be fulfilled by one person.

Wasn’t that always the case?

Thoughts and stuff from #ldcu17

It’s been a week now since the L&D Connect unconference in London and as is my want, a good point to think about how the day went and why we do them.

Primarily, the unconference format allows for people to co-create an agenda and drive their own learning in a way which isn’t normally done. There’s something about asking people to come along to a day of open learning and just watching how it unfolds.

The normal conference structure means people are very used to attending a day of talks, meeting some people, if you’re lucky meeting some people you actually want to stay in touch with, and going home with a head full of content. What you’re normally left wanting, though, is a way to make sense of that content. We don’t normally build in reflective practice into a conference session – and a word of caution, reflective practice isn’t a proxy for action planning. For a helpful read on what reflective practice allows for, read this piece by Craig Kaye.

An unconference almost takes things to the other extreme – it’s main focus is the conversation that is encouraged. That can be a bit too open and uncomfortable for people and may not always feel as if the conversation is relevant to your needs. It can also feel like you can’t dictate or bring the conversation back to where you’d like it to be. So there are pros and cons to both the formats.

With L&D Connect, we persist with the unconference format, I believe, because it’s a useful barometer for L&D professionals. How do you know what success looks like if you’re only measure of success is amongst other like-minded professionals? One of the strengths of the unconference is that it’s inclusive by design – anyone can attend because everyone has a valid point of view. That’s a tough one to square for yourself if you have certain beliefs about internal vs external practitioners, or about seniority of people, or about diversity of groups. I personally thrive on that. Complacency sets in when we create such a comfort zone that we fool ourselves into believing we’re at the cutting edge. (I don’t even know what cutting edge L&D could look like – sometimes I think we just need to do the basics better).

The weekly #ldinsight chat (Friday’s 8am UK time) and it’s current sister chat #ldnights (Tuesday’s 8pm UK time) continues to provide a forum for practitioners to come together online and discuss topics of interest. Of course, Twitter chats have been around for an age, and other chats such as #lrnchat continue to be regular stalwarts too. These online chats are nearly always respectful, helpful and people take part from all walks of L&D life (and sometimes non too!). The format of the chat of exploring one question and allowing people to go where they need with it is a useful one too.

As with most communities, there can sometimes be unintended consequences. There’s a perception there’s a ‘cool’ group you ‘should’ be ‘in the know’ with or ‘talking to’. There’s a perception there are ‘cliques’ and ‘in-jokes’ which can inadvertently exclude some from joining in. There’s a perception there is a ‘right’ way and a ‘wrong’ way to take part in the chats. I personally wonder if we’re doing enough to encourage voices we don’t normally hear. How do we remain truly inclusive if we’re blind to how we might not be?

There aren’t easy answers to those questions, and we should take our time to reflect on them too. We’re a microcosm of how life is outside of our bubble, and if we want things to be in a certain direction / with a certain ethos / with certain values we have to show up and do those things ourselves.

I was really pleased to see and experience such a good stretch of diversity at the unconference too. We had two gents travel in from Milan specifically for the event, and that’s pretty impressive! That diversity was in terms of the people there and the different cultures / groups they were part of, as well as professional diversity too in terms of job roles and experience.

There is something also very safe about the unconference format. It’s an environment of exploration and of being comfortable with non-normal practices. People are invited to meet others and spend time getting to know each other. We connect more and beyond than just cursory introductions. We get to explore thoughts, processes, and beliefs. That can be done personally, with others, or not at all. The self-directed nature of the event means people take ownership of how they take part in the day and when they are ready to stop too.

And I was really glad how we gave an hour at the end of the day just for reflective practice. Just taking time to reflect. To think. To allow things to settle. To discuss with others. Experiencing a day like an unconference (be you seasoned or not) means there is often a lot going on in the day and it suits our natural learning processes to have dedicated time to reflect.

On a personal note, I struggled with the day. It was the day after the Manchester attack and I was shook. With the support of the team that helped make the day happen, the day went ahead and I’m really pleased with how it unfolded. We held a minute silence at the beginning of the day, and I appreciate that we did that. When I got home that night I was full of such a range of emotions. Sheer sadness with what happened the night before. Joy with how the unconference happened. Pride with the community and what we’ve created. Calm at seeing my family safe at the end of the day.

And we move on. There are already discussions about what else can happen in and for the community. There is already an unconference planned to happen in the Netherlands this year (I know!). It feels like we’ve become a community for L&D practitioners and professionals who have started with a small group in 2012 and now growing into something more and beyond in 2017. That’s quite something.

How do you facilitate an unconference? 

Not all unconferences are run like this. Our recent London one (today in fact!) ran like this.

The day starts with explaining how some of the “rules” work.

 (There was so much movement of the wall that the writing got vanished!)

It then moves into creating a grid using Open Space as a facilitation technique.

And then moves into group discussions in different ways…

With some amazing lunch.

And we ended the day with some reflective practice. 

There was a space made for people to make requests and provide offers…

We ended the day by going to the pub!

Marginal gains and L&D

Every now and then I get to video me presenting. I enjoy presenting and am always looking for ways to test how I present, what I present, and different formats. I’ve done Ignite talks a number of times now, and each time is always challenging. The script has to be super clear. It has to be comfortable to fit in the 15 secs without being rushed. And the practice is paramount for it to work well.

Here’s one I delivered at CIPD’s L&D Show last week as part of their Ignite Lab. I talked about the concept of marginal gains and how this can help us improve L&D.

I’d really appreciate your feedback. 

  • How did I present?
  • What message did you take away?
  • What did you think I did well?
  • Where did I miss a trick?
  • What did I do that didn’t work for you?
  • Anything else?

    Pre-shindig reflections

    Next week, I’m due to attend a facilitation training session with Julie Drybrough, and the focus of this session is about movement. I’ve been reading her blog post today to get myself thinking ahead of the session. It’s rare these days I take purposeful time out to develop my own skills, hone them, and be amongst a group of practitioners from whom I can just sit back and watch magic happen. When I am in sessions like this, I’m usually very pensive, mostly because I’m trying to make sure I’m as present as I can be.

    Here are some thoughts on where I am.

    I agree with Jools that when doing this facilitation thing, it’s about working with a group of people, and only being able to help them move to their desired state, if that’s where they want to go. If they don’t, then no amount of skills will help them get there. And this is often where I find the best facilitators I’ve been around show how good they are. They’ve helped create and cultivate an environment where you want to move. It’s hard to describe what that is. It’s something I strive for. I want people to move, so to do that, I have to understand where they’re at, and work with them to understand how I can help them move to where they want to go.

    And I like the thinking behind how we’re all connected by the many things, people, influences, environments, and all those other factors that affect us, and we don’t always know how to articulate. It’s something I’ve started to design in to the sessions I facilitate in recent years. An acknowledgement of things that are present and that we shouldn’t ignore. Helping people to express where they’re at. Providing them ways to say what they need and what they want. It’s not always easy. And it doesn’t always happen. But when it does, the richness of thinking and of being. That’s lovely stuff.

    Oh and the system. Yes, of course the system that either we’re part of or that we bring with us. And also our system – who I am, what my body tells me, what I think, all I know, all I don’t, and all that is messy. That desired state we want to move into. That desired state we want to make easy for others to be present in. To create and cultivate such a space where people can do this. They can experience a movement of their thinking, of their being, of their person.

    I’ve been reflecting with others about how we allow ourselves permission to be who we are. What does it mean to be authentic as a facilitator. Does that help the movement of the group by you displaying a genuineness, a sensitivity, a connection? How do we take “self as instrument” and use this as a guide for others so they can see, understand, debate, examine, explore, and experiment?

    I’m intrigued by the embodied approach and what this means. I’m reflecting on how I get to be my best self when I need to facilitate at a high level. What’s my process? There are numerous things. Preparation is of course the biggest. Planning for exactly what needs to happen and when. Having such clarity on the plan that if it goes skew whiff, I won’t get flustered, that I know where we need to get to and adapt as necessary. Arriving early and setting the room as I want it. The movement of stuff helps me feel like I have control over the space, of myself and why I’m intending on having things in a certain way. That gives way almost immediately when others are present to, we make use of this space as we need. It is laid out like this now, and that’s temporary. Cultivating mindfulness, at a very personal level. What is my body telling me? Am I hungry? Do I need the toilet now or later? When did I have tea? Do I need another? Where’s my water? When will I have fruit today? How am I keeping well? Where is my attention?

    I watched the video with Wendy Palmer. And when she asked the question, what do you now think about the irritating thing you thought about before, my response was – I don’t care about it. And I totally understood that the flow in the energy in my body helped me find a mental space to look at that irritation and just not be bothered by it. Intriguing.

    I enjoy facilitation. It’s a skill I constantly seek to be better at. This dedicated space will be helpful to provide me a moment to consider more deeply what I’m doing. And I often find that the learning continues for a long time after. Some years back when I was part of a group who self-facilitated a ‘facilitation jam’ it really helped shape my thoughts on facilitation and how I wanted to move forward with it. And I’m guessing the same will happen from here too.