Content or Delivery; which is better?

About a year ago I was running a session for some Learning and Development professionals on the Neuroscience of Learning.

I was contacted before the event by one of the potential delegates and asked this question:

“Will there be some actual content or will it be all of us just sharing what we know?”

The person in question was unwell and the thought of turning up to an event, expecting to learn something new and instead being given post-it notes and coloured pens was more than they could cope with. We had an interesting discussion.

I have noticed more and more of exactly what they were talking about – a move towards L&D people being less about the content and more about the delivery. But is this a good move? I have a concern about lazy being dressed as facilitation and that the delivery becomes so important that good content is not included at all.

Last month I facilitated a similar group of L&D professionals looking at some techniques for learning that were definitely not chalk and talk. At one point, dotted around the room, were flipcharts with provocative statements on. People were invited to look at them and discuss the statements with whoever was there, for as long as they wanted to, before moving on. I tweeted one of the statements and Twitter responded.  This was the statement.

 

 

Replies ranged from “Never!” to “Agreed.”

There were a lot of responses around good facilitation taking dry content and making it great and that bad delivery can suck the life out of a learning event. Conversely, that great delivery can mask poor design. There were thoughts on how good questions can deliver amazing results. There were some feeding analogies. The word context came up. “Context is the missing word. The dance between content, delivery & exploration depends on context.” from Chris Nichols @chrisnicholsT2i

There was also some talk about the importance of participation; that you can’t make someone learn.

 

All true.  So what’s the problem?

 

I was reminded a while ago about a time when a group of us were running a residential and we ran out of activities. So we divided the delegates into two teams, asked them to design an exercise for the other team, then swapped the activities and sat back. Of course we facilitated the reflective session afterwards; we didn’t just walk away altogether, but I felt at the time, and still do years later, that this was utterly lazy. Yes they got something from it. Yes we helped them process the learning. But honestly, did we do the best for them? Could that time have been used better?

I adore action learning sets but it has to be done right, for people who want and need it, when they want and need it. I remember once being on a course as a new manager where the facilitator gave us the opportunity to spend an afternoon together, with total freedom to manage our own learning, exploring whatever came up. I think the term T-group was used. So we all went back to work! We had left busy work places to come and get help with our busy work places. We didn’t see the benefit of chewing the fat with other, equally busy colleagues. This was probably a sign of our immaturity as learners but it was also a sign of a Trainer (they weren’t called L&D professionals then) experimenting on us with an idea and doing it very badly. They were a bit cross with us for not engaging. We were furious for being given so little when we needed so much.

I love great facilitation. I think it’s an important, potentially life changing skill. I did a course 20 years ago at Surrey University about the dynamics of group work and facilitation that was possibly one of the best things I have ever done. However, I think there is also a place for designing great content. I think there is a place for lectures and teaching and instructional training.

If I’m going for surgery I want my surgeons to have attended some recent lectures on the latest techniques and breakthroughs. I also want them to have discussed this between themselves and thought about how they can use these things effectively. I want them to do the full 100%.

When I learned to drive I wanted the instructor to say

“That peddle in the middle is the break”

not

“OK, how do you feel about this? If this car was a stone you are carrying, what colour would it smell like?”

Great facilitation should not over-ride the need for great content, when that great content is what is needed. Chewing the fat can be amazing – give them something worth chewing.

When It Comes To The EU part 2 –

Is This The Best Atmosphere In Which To Negotiate?

On the 23rd June the country voted in the EU Referendum. We made our decision on gut feel, research based on conjecture and hope. Then someone had to deal with the aftermath.

Some, who thought that they might want to handle the job, just walked away when the time came. Theresa May stepped up to the plate and thank God she did; someone had to and the alternative choices don’t bear thinking about.  She didn’t want to leave the EU and almost certainly still doesn’t but has been handed a task that needs doing; negotiating a deal in such a way that gives Britain the best possible outcome.

For me, the worrying issue now is that everything that the Prime Minister does, every single step, is done in an atmosphere of challenge and turmoil. Each decision triggers hoards to shout at her that it is either too far or that it is not far enough. The papers scream. Each breath, each move, each laugh, each item of clothing is used to stir. The commentary is constant. The noise is deafening.

There will be no pleasing of all of the people. There will be no unification of ideas, hopes and dreams. The best outcome will not appease everyone or be fully agreed on. She will not complete this task and get a sense of success.

This is an appalling atmosphere to work through possibly one of the most complex negotiations of our time. And yet she must continue.

My hope, my prayer, is that she has the strength, courage and willpower to see it to the end. The temptation to walk away must be overwhelming. And that would be utterly disastrous.

When It Comes To The EU part 1 –

We Have The Perspective Of Z

Perspective of size – I highly recommend the animated film Antz to you, a delightful tale about a colony of ants. The main character is a worker ant called Z, pronounced zee, voiced brilliantly by Woody Allen.  Z tries to break away from the insignificance of his existence and accidently becomes a hero, saving millions of lives.  At the end of the film the “camera” pans away and you are shown that this huge colony, that seems vast and complex, is just a small mound in the middle of Central Park. The point is well made; these tiny creatures, that we have come to love and cheer for, are insignificant in the grand scheme of things and so they have a very limited perspective on the whole world.

Perspective of time – When the Romans invaded Britain, no doubt it was a terrible time; a time for fighting against their oppression and for deciding how to deal with these invaders. What would be the best thing to do for your family, should you collaborate or resist and what on earth is garlic?  Now we can look back on that time, almost with fondness, and celebrate some of the ways our country changed – the food, the City walls, the straight roads, Hadrian’s Wall and Fishbourne Palace.  If we had the chance to change history, would we have stopped them?  It is impossible to say.

For weeks before the EU referendum I was trying to make a decision about something that I couldn’t fully grasp. I was confused by the arguments for and against. I couldn’t understand (and still don’t) how anyone could be absolutely certain either way. There were big businesses supporting either side of the argument and there was a lot of noise, but little in the way of facts, because all of it was conjecture – we have neither the perspective of size or time.

I decided to vote remain but I was not sure. I had a feeling that if the country did decide to remain then there would have been a bit of me that wondered if that was the right choice, an opportunity missed.

I am certain that some leavers voted so for utterly racist reasons.  I am equally certain that many did so for logical, strategic and hope filled reasons.  And I am also certain that many who voted either way did so for self-serving reasons and in a position of arrogance.  We all voted from a position of ignorance.

The irrefutable truth is that we democratically voted to leave; well England and Wales did anyway.  It may well mean that Scotland leaves the UK.  On the other hand, it may well unite Ireland. It is impossible to know now if in generations to come this will be seen as a great decision or a disastrous decision – we have the perspective of Z.

 

Five Levels of Twitter and Counting – which rung are you on?

People use Twitter to achieve different things and in different ways.  I’ve noticed that there appears to be a sort of hierarchy and, like most hierarchies, it’s unhelpful, especially to those on the lower rungs.

The Monarchy – the celebrities who Tweet about their meal choices. They do this because they think their fans want it, not because this is a normal thing to do in real life. They have to ignore the overwhelming flood of response.  They could of course just not Tweet but that’s not the point.

 

The Aristocracy – they Tweet to share their world view, opinions and experience. They expect to get a response; they just aren’t really interested in what that response is.  They have their connections already – they don’t need to make any more through Twitter, that’s not the point.  If they had to meet you in real life they would be frankly appalled.

The Gentry – they Tweet and generously respond and engage with their audience. They aren’t really interested in anyone on a lower rung but it looks like they are. After all, those people on the lower rungs may actually be unidentified Aristocracy.  If they met you in real life they wouldn’t recognize you, despite communicating with you for years!

The Yeomanry – they Tweet to share and receive. They want to use the process to build relationships with other people.  When they engage with the Gentry they think that they are engaging on their own rung, but they’re not. They want to meet you in real life – that is the point.

The Artisans – they have no idea what the fuss is all about and are just getting on with real life.

Please note:

This is just my opinion. None of this is true about anyone all of the time.  People who describe themselves as thought leaders have a special rung all of their own.

Please Have a Heart For The Long Term Unemployed

I recently posted a guest blog – here.  I was making a number of points:

  1. work gives opportunities for challenge, social interaction, expansion of our comfort zones and fun
  2. the long term unemployed get none of that
  3. what they do get is often dismissive, unfair, rude and thoughtless

The post got over 800 reads and lots of positive responses. I can only hope that it leads to action. Here it is in full.

Heights

A few years ago my husband, children and I packed up our gear and went off for an adventure; Four Webbs Go Mad in Dorset. Our plan was to camp at Langton Matravers and go rock climbing at Dancing Ledge, a wave cut platform on the Jurassic Coast, near the fabulously named Scratch Arse Ware.

The children had been learning to climb with the Sea Cadets (a youth organisation that gives young people opportunities for extraordinary experiences) and Jonathan and I had climbed together when we were first married, some “cough” years previously. This was the first time we had climbed together as a family; and what larks we had!

We were top rope climbing; a rope is fixed to the climber, passed through an anchor at the top of the cliff and then held onto by someone, the belayer, at the bottom of the cliff. Their job is to keep the rope tight so that if the climber falls they don’t fall very far. My kids belayed for each other and at one point, strapped together, they belayed for their father; what a fabulous lesson in trust. We had fun, managed danger, explored interdependence and encouraged, supported and challenged each other. It was a magical time in beautiful surroundings. Together we stepped out of our comfort zones. We literally and metaphorically climbed heights and as a result gained confidence in ourselves and each other.

This kind of bonding, growing and learning is something that a good working life gives us; social interaction, the chance to try new things, learning from our mistakes, feeling supported and challenged.

Hollows

In contrast, I am currently working with groups of people who have been out of work for a long time – over 10 years in a few cases. For some their comfort zones are miserably small and may not even include their own home space. They have stopped growing and learning because they have stopped having opportunities to do so. The lack of the stimulation that employees take for granted, leads to limiting habits and a shrinking of perspective, hope and joy. Life is a treadmill of applying for jobs that they have little hope of getting, trying to prove to the Job Centre that they are attempting to push a load up a mountain and eking out their funds to cover the basics of life; basics that usually don’t include Christmas parties, hobbies, being able to buy a round of drinks for friends, owning a pet, running a car. Always at the mercy of bus timetables, agencies who don’t quite bother enough and potential employers who don’t quite care enough, the struggle and isolation is dispiriting.

Take Aaron. He was running his own successful catering business, started from scratch, when he gave it all up to be a full time carer for his mother. When she died some years later he lost his home, his mother, his daily routine and his purpose. After a crippling few years of grief and isolation, he was facing the rest of his life with dread; no qualifications, no recent, relevant experience and serious doubts about his own value.

Betty. After her husband died she didn’t leave the house for ten years. By the time she sought help, her self esteem and confidence in her own ability was through the floor.

Charlie. He worked for the same employer from school, as a skilled worker, for 40 years. Now that modern life has done away with that industry, he is struggling to learn IT skills just to be able to apply for minimum wage jobs that he has no hope of getting.

Debbie. A difficult childhood and time in care homes has given her rocky foundations to build her adult life on. Walking into a room with strangers is a challenge.

These are not scroungers and wasters; these are people who have been dealt a poor hand and are expected to pull themselves out of the hole that they are in. Yet they don’t have the resources to do that. And those resources are not going to develop through a life of visiting the job centre, walking around town to relieve the boredom and sitting in a library, applying for jobs that they know literally hundreds of other people are also applying for.

 

Heart

The good news is that things can get better. Betty volunteered for two years in a charity shop and on the back of that she got a job last week. Debbie was given a work taster in a supermarket and is now working there full time, blossoming and loving it. Aaron was given some basic IT help and some interview skills practice and now feels able to take on the world.

What can make the difference is someone taking an interest; having a heart for them. Eric got an e-mail last week from an employer who had received his CV. A response – almost unheard of! He brought the e-mail to show us. It was written with thought and compassion and although it didn’t offer a job it was personal, wishing Eric a happy Christmas and New Year. Eric was chuffed to bits; someone had taken the time and had treated him like a person. Frank was phoned up by an interviewer to say that he hadn’t got the job and why. She also gave some feedback, unsolicited. Again, almost unheard of! Frank was amazed and the feedback was genuinely helpful.

Most of the time, they don’t hear anything and they get no feedback, even when they ask. Occasionally they get treated really badly. Jobs get offered then snatched away. Jobs are filled internally but the employer has gone through a pretence of recruitment to demonstrate fairness. Georgie had to save up the bus fare to get to a job interview only to discover that the employer wanted a skilled chef, whereas the agency had sent her for a kitchen porter job. When your self esteem is at rock bottom, to be treated so badly can just confirm in you that you lack value.

 

What’s needed is for employers, HR teams and recruitment agencies to have a change of heart:

  • to not treat low skilled workers as low skilled people
  • to not just farm out the low wage jobs to agencies
  • to care and be accountable for how applicants are treated by agencies
  • to refund precious bus fares
  • to offer and give good feedback
  • to challenge the need for recent relevant experience
  • to not reject someone because they haven’t worked for two years
  • to take care about job adverts
  • to read past the first paragraph on a CV
  • to give people a chance.

If you can give someone a work taster for two months, two weeks, two days even, you could be the turning point for someone and the route off the treadmill. Do it for Corporate Social Responsibility reasons. Do it because you just might find a gem. Do it because you have a heart. Do it.

 

Note: names and circumstances have been changed to protect identities. However, all these stories are real.

 

Working With Fear and Intent

I work in fear. I don’t mean I’m frightened, I mean I work in arenas where fear stops people performing to their best. I also work with intent, both my intent and the intent of those I am working with. I’ve discovered over the years that being clear about your intent and challenging your fears are pretty good ways to start dealing with things.

New Managers – what stops them excelling in supporting their staff or sorting out problems? Fear of getting it wrong, fear of being seen as weak and being unclear about what they are trying to achieve.

Communications – what stops people being effective in their communications? Not deciding what outcome they are after, fear of what others are thinking and fear of stuffing it up.

Dealing with change – what stops people handling this well? Fear of the unknown, not facing those fears, not exploring what choices they have available and not reaching for a positive future state.

In many situations asking two questions of ourselves and others can move things along swimmingly:

  • what are you frightened of?
  • what are you hoping to achieve?

I’ll spend my days helping people to answer these two questions. I didn’t set out to do this work; it came and found me when I started to address my fears and wonder what my purpose was.

Memory – how does it work?

We think of memories as something that we pick up along the way; little scars on our brains that show the journey that we have traveled.  When we want to recall a memory we imagine that we go into a filing system, locate the memory and replay it from the original space on the hard drive.  However this is not how memory works, not least because this is not how we perceive the world.

Memory, memory storage and memory retrieval is much more like cake making.

Our brains are like walk-in pantries with all of the different aspects of our experience (conscious and subconscious) stored in separate places on the shelves lining the walls.  What we see is stored in a jar on a different shelf from what we hear, think, feel etc.  The smell of an experience is placed in a jar right in the front, whereas sight is stored right at the back.

The cook in the middle puts the ingredients into the various jars as they occur.  Then when that memory needs to be recalled they go to the different jars and build the memory from the different elements; they reconstruct the cake.  However, it isn’t the original cake, it’s a new cake formed from the ingredients.  Which is why the new cake can be a bit wrong and is partly  why two people observing the same thing can recall it completely differently.

To learn something accurately we need to repeatedly make the cake, checking the recipe, using as many ingredients as possible, in order to make the connections between the correct jars really strong, bringing them to the front of the shelves.

Then eat the cake.  I’m not sure how this fits into the analogy, but eating cake is a great thing to do. And using your brain requires calories.

We Notice What We Are Interested In … and ignore what we are not interested in.

This is something that I have been thinking about for sometime – the way our brains filter information. It’s helpful, as we can’t deal with all of the information available to us. However, the down side is that we

  • a) block some of the important information
  • b) assume that we have full knowledge about subjects
  • c) block information that doesn’t meet our world view

Here are a few examples:

I heard someone describing how a group of people were talking about themselves and the work that they do. He was shocked by the words they used and how they were talking down their own impact. He made the connection between that and their inability to get to speak to senior people in their organisation. He then said “I hear it all the time”. At this point it became clear that he worked with individuals on their communication styles. And I thought “aha, you hear it all the time because you listen out for it.” I wondered whether he “heard” them talking that way because that was his interest. He had a theory and was applying that to this situation.

A number of years ago I attended a workshop on dealing with conflict. The workshop was excellent. However, one of the attendees put in a complaint (and tried to include me in this “class action”.) His complaint was that the handouts were very badly produced. He was right, they were dreadful. However, the content of them was great and it shouldn’t have really undermined the day. But for this person it did. His job? He managed a reprographic department. For him the whole day was ruined because he couldn’t ignore the lack of professionalism over the handouts.

You hear a word or phrase for the first time then hear it 5 times in the following week. Did the universe just make up its mind to keep sharing this with you? No, it’s just that you are filtering for it. I learned the word ambit today. I wonder how long before I hear it again.

I train people to use PowerPoint effectively. It isn’t my life’s purpose but it does seem to figure a lot in my work. Consequently I notice a lot of poor practice. I try to ignore it but inevitably find myself making mental notes on how someone has done something wrong; drives me nuts.

It has long been known that we quickly make up our minds about a person or situation and then look for the information to back our position or ignore information that contradicts it. Not great when you are map reading. Terrible if you are making judgements about people in an interview. Potentially lethal if you are trying to diagnose an illness.

Next time you find yourself saying “I hear this all the time” ask yourself why you hear it a lot. Is it because this is what is said, is it because you are listening to a selection of people who are all saying the same thing (and why is that, by the way) or is it because you are filtering out other voices?

People have their pet theories and then find lots of examples that back these theories up. I hear it all the time.

SoMe, So What? Why Bother With Social Media?

Social Media does a whole host of stuff – acts as a shop window, gives you access to lots of other shop windows and begins the process of building relationships, both with customers and colleagues. On its own it has its limits; relationships are built much better and faster face-to-face and building relationships is very important to me. (see here) But Social Media can be the beginning of something fabulous and valuable. Here are just a few people (and their Twitter handles) I’ve met first through SoMe, then in real life and what they mean to me.

 

Sarah Harvey – @SavvySarahSPM

When I first set up my business I knew that the isolation could be damaging, both in terms of my mental well being but also through working in a very small silo. I put out a call on LinkedIn for some like minded people to form an action learning set and Savvy Sarah responded straight away.  Meeting her for the first time I was a bit daunted; she’s rather an impressive character.  I soon discovered that she is generous, intelligent, action orientated, supportive and gently challenging.  She’s clever, there are no two ways about it, and she does this in such a warm and engaging way that I love to spend time with her.

 

Jo Turner – @JoodlesJo

A few years ago I went through a particularly stressful time.  I had been freelance for a while and the initial excitement had worn off but the business was not exactly flooding in.  I had a couple of things on my mind that were spinning around and around and seriously starting to affect my waking and sleeping life.  I noticed on Twitter a course on Zen Doodling – a mindfulness technique taught by the delightful Jo Joodles.  A morning in her company, with two other similarly stressed women, gave me a strategy for completely emptying my mind and relaxing.  She welcomed us into her home and gave generously of herself.  Wonderful.

 

Niall Gavin – @niallgavinuk

I met Niall at a networking event where he was doing a talk on using Social Media as a learning resource.  He had been popping up in my Twitter timeline and was obviously well respected by my peers.  He had also recently faced a major health scare and so his perspective on life and getting the most from it is fascinating.  I have spent time with him on a number of occasions. He is someone that I am happy to chat through ideas with; he has a wise and gentle way about him, along with an infectious humour and a certain spark that gives rather than drains.

 

Jo Cook – @LightbulbJo

Jo, or rather Lightbulb Jo, kept popping up in my timeline and seemed to be universally respected by my network.  I then met her at a launch for a book on webinars, one of Jo’s specialisms.  From the first moment of meeting her she was generous with her time, with offers of help and with praise.  She recently held my hand through the techy bit of being part of a webinar panel and did it with such grace and encouragement that it was easy to admit when I had been a bit numptyish.

 

Tony Jackson – @JacksonT0ny

I posted on Twitter a few years ago that I had signed up to a Tweet-up and that I had no idea what that meant.  Tony replied that he was in the same boat and looked forward to seeing me there.  Two years later I have a friend that I can discuss great big issues with – like the meaning of life and such – or have a giggly lunch with, chatting about some of the crappy stuff.  He writes intelligently, takes beautiful photographs and lives life with passion.  Whatever he does he does well.  He’s also incredibly loyal; I’m very privileged to have him in my corner.

 

Doug Shaw – @dougshaw1

I bumped into Doug at a conference; we had an interesting discussion about colour and decorating ourselves (I had just dyed my fringe blue.)  Doug is an artist and uses art to help organisations and individuals to get a different perspective on change, learning, the world etc.  We met recently for coffee for the sole reason of getting to know each other better, having chatted remotely via Twitter. Doug brings a different view point and for that reason always adds to any discussion.  He is also charming to spend time with.

 

All of these (and others) are important to me.  They keep me sane, on track, engaged, curious and content – and I wouldn’t have met them if it hadn’t been for social media.

 

When The Tech Is Not What’s Needed

Three humans blasted into space today. They were flying on one of the most complex pieces of kit ever designed, on their way to the pinnacle* of human achievement so far; the International Space Station.

These three men (they happened to be men – this is not a post about women in STEM) have undergone the most extensive and intensive training of anyone on our plant. Collectively they have the latest understanding on how to do the most technologically advanced job in history. And what did they have in their hands? Tricorders? iPads? Other technological widgets designed by NASA for the mission? No. Pads of paper with step by step instructions. Also, they had pointy sticks so that they could reach the controls whilst being pushed back into their seats.

soyuz

Tweet from Spaceflight Now, photo copyright NASA – obvs!

 

Why the low tech solution? Because these things work. They are utterly reliable, easy to use and cheap. They are exactly the right tool for the job. Sometimes tech is not what is needed.

Yesterday I met up with the wise and gentle Niall Gavin. We chatted about life, work, family etc over breakfast. We challenged each other over current ideas and helped get new perspectives. We also discussed trust. In particular the trust that you need to let the mask down, to be a bit un-professional and raw, and to be confident that this won’t cause a problem. Your Venn diagram has to have a really good overlap to get to that point of trust. This doesn’t happen via e-mail and social media.

Sometimes face to face is better. Tech solutions open up all sorts of amazing opportunities for meeting people – see next blog post. But there is no tech in the world that builds a relationship anywhere near as well as chatting with someone over a cup (or glass) of something comforting.

So, if you can, go and meet your personal network, your client, your supplier, your delegates. Because that’s what works.
* in my opinion – happy to debate this. (Unless you think that the pinnacle of human achievement has anything to do with a sport! Or the Kardashians.)