For The Future

I spoke at Chichester College’s Professional Student Graduation ceremony last night. Students from Marketing, Accountancy, Human Resources and Learning & Development received their certificates and then contemplated their futures. As the guest speaker, this is the heart of the advice I gave them.

 

1 – Say Yes If You Can

When life offers you an opportunity, grab it with both hands even if it isn’t part of your plan and not what you were expecting. This is particularly important if someone else is saying “I think you would be great at this.” Doing a wide variety of things opens your horizons and makes you more effective.

Opportunities don’t always work out well but they are never wasted. We learn from the bad times as well as the good times. Say yes and make it yours.

2 – When You Say No, Let It Go

If you have to say no to an opportunity don’t waste your time wondering what would have happened differently – you will never know.  Sometimes we come across two paths and have to choose which one to go down. Whether you choose the path “less travelled by [1]” or the massive motorway, travelled by a million people before you, let the other path go.

3 – Stay A Student Forever

You will learn things today that in a few years you will discover are not true. You must keep looking, studying, learning, challenging, testing yourself and what you know. Never give up being a student; it hasn’t finished, it has only just begun.

 

You can’t see the road ahead, only what is now and what has gone before. You can scream with excitement or you can scream with fear. Your choice – choose excitement.

 

[1] Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

Why Is Miscarriage So Upsetting?

Next week is Baby Loss Awareness Week.  Miscarriage and stillbirth, even in these enlightened times, are still taboo subjects.  But not being able to talk about it, just makes a very painful experience even worse. Here is a blog, that I posted as a guest blog last year, that might answer some questions and give a different perspective for those going through it – and for those seeking to support.

The Darkness and Dawn of Miscarriage.

Darkness

Miscarriage is not the happiest of subject matters but a topic that affects so many people – about one in four pregnancies. I have written this in the hope of answering two questions:

  1. Why is it quite so upsetting?
  2. How do I support someone going through this?

I worked in a hospital at the time of my miscarriages. The obstetrician was fantastically supportive and kind, but many of my colleagues said the most appalling things to me; not from malice but from misjudgement. It was really confusing. It was hard enough to get my head around the fact that I had been a mother who had never held or kissed her child. To be subjected to pseudo-medical guesswork was just more than I could bear. After the first miscarriage I went into a form of shock. I was back at work on the Monday, apparently fine. By the Friday I was in pieces and I didn’t really understand why. Now I do understand why but it took a while to work it out.

For those going though miscarriage one of the hardest things to deal with is other people’s reactions. The problem, I believe, is created by a difference of perspective. For friends and family the miscarriage is a medical event – the pregnancy has stopped – but for the hopeful parents, what is lost is not the pregnancy but the baby in their arms. And it is this baby, fully imagined, fully cherished, that is lost. I have many friends who have also had this experience. Loved ones wanting to support but unsure of what to say, and because of their perspective getting it horribly wrong; the very people who should be pouring love and support, just end up pouring more darkness.

 

So How Do You Be Their Dawn? – for the mothers and their partners.

  1. Understand that you are helping someone who is grieving (as well as dealing with chaotic hormones and probably having undergone a fairly grim, clinical procedure.)
  2. Don’t assume that when someone says “I’m fine” that they are. Don’t assume that the “I’m fine” from yesterday is still true today or even in a month’s time.
  3. Don’t keep going on about it. Don’t get frustrated when they do.
  4. Do NOT say:

    “it was for the best” (it wasn’t – it really, really wasn’t the best)

    “at least you have your other child” (they are not consolation prizes)

    “well at least you know that you can get pregnant” (this was not a dress rehearsal; this was the real thing.)

  5. If you notice anyone saying the above, have a word.
  6. DO say:

    “I’m so sorry.”

    “How can I help?”

    “This is really sad news.”

    “I’m sorry that I don’t know what to say.”

  7. Hug them. Remember to hug the partner; they’re grieving too.
  8. Help. If you can, turn up and do the washing up, hoovering, making tea for visitors. They’ll be mortified that you did their washing up etc. but will also be relieved that it’s done. You have to play this one really carefully so have empathy dials up to max.
  9. Turn up with food; my friend Sarah turned up with a casserole and jacket potatoes already cooked and still hot – I just needed to put them on the plate. I sobbed.
  10. If you are their manager, treat them as you would after any bereavement. Take particular care to remember point 1 and 2.

I had a very spiritual experience a while ago that helped me deal with my own miscarriages. I share that here in the hope that it brings some peace, clarity and hope.

One final point; if this is you then you are not alone. The miscarriage association have a fabulous website. Speak to your friends and family; there will be people close by who have been through exactly what you are going through. Lean on them. Say yes to help. Be difficult. Rage. Love. Grieve.

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.

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.

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.)

Learner Centred – all very well but…

The degree to which a learning event is controlled by either the facilitator or the learner can be mapped on a continuum.  At one end, the “teacher” end, you have lectures and also published media such as videos, books and blog posts.  At the other end, the “learner” end, you have self managed learning which includes interesting concepts such as T groups, action learning and reflective practice.  Then along the continuum there is training, coaching, mentoring and a whole host of other interventions to help the learner learn – including directing them to useful videos, books and blog posts.

In the last few years there has been an understanding that learners learn

  1. through a variety of means
  2. mostly by actually doing stuff and then reflecting on that
  3. best when they are not bored out of their tiny (constantly expanding) minds.

The drive towards learner centred learning is to be embraced, encouraged and celebrated. Hooray!  The 70:20:10 model tells us to value all that lovely reflective, learner driven gorgeousness.  But…

With this drive I’m noticing a massive push towards throwing the baby out with the bath water; dropping the 10%.

  • Putting people into small groups and then getting them to chat about stuff without some direction to help stimulate the conversation. This can be a rather lazy (and frankly dull) way of filling in some time. People actually like something meaty to talk about; a bit of grit in the oyster. Get them to talk purposefully.
  • Deriding lectures. However, the sage on the stage may actually have something interesting to say. Let them say it. The learner will work out for themselves what is useful and interesting.  They’ll also process this information at a subconscious level and use it at some point.
  • Assuming that every course is some sort of low quality sheep dip. On the contrary, done well, a course might be exactly what someone needs.  Showing someone how to do something is not a bad practice.

When you learned to drive (those of you who did) most of your learning came after you passed your test, when you were left on your own and had to get on with it.  A lot of learning came from your instructor (and possibly your mum, dad or other) sitting beside you asking questions such as “What do you need to think about here?” or suggesting that maybe there is a better way to pull away from a junction than in third gear. (Just me?)  But I’m quite sure that if on your first lesson the instructor had said “Let’s just start the engine and see what happens” you probably would have got out of the car.

Drive for quality- yes in all things. Social learning is amazing if it’s the right thing at the right time. Reflective practice is brilliant if it is based on context and at a deep level. And being taught something can be just exactly what’s needed. Don’t throw away the 10%.

 

Free Bitesize Training on PowerPoint – come and get some ideas.

I’ve seen so many poor presentations this year; something has to be done about it!

I’m doing a 1.5 hour course on using PowerPoint – just some simple tips and starting blocks to help people present with a bit of professionalism. We’ll be at The Dome Enterprise Centre, Universtiy of Chichester Business School, Bognor on the 26th July at 5.30. Book your place and come along.

Book your tickets here.