Author Archives: Doug Shaw

Back To School : What Does Good Work Feel Like?

When I was 13 years old, I had no idea what my career path might look like. Some days I’m still not sure! How about you?

I recently accepted an invitation to talk about my career with some groups of Year 8 students at a local school. Bearing in mind my own lack of career clarity, as I was planning what to say I thought I’d try something a little different. Instead of trying to describe my meandering career path in detail, I decided to invite some discussion among the groups, starting with a conversation about what good work looks and feels like.

Prequel

Before visiting the school, I posed the question about what good work looks like (which quickly morphed into what good work feels like) on a few social networks. People were very generous with their responses, and I’ve compiled them all into a ‘What Does Good Work Look and Feel Like to You‘ file for you to read and enjoy. At the risk of compressing an excellent series of exchanges too tightly, here are one or two comments which stand out for me.

Good work means I know my effort makes a difference, where I know I am valued, as I am listened to, treated fairly, and where the quality of my work speaks for itself and I and others can see results.

Hey Doug, sorry I’m late to the discussion, and I think I’m more drawn to the question of what does good work FEEL like… I’m reminded of ‘all that glitters is not gold’. So what does good feel like? When I’m involved in something that reflects my values. Also, good doesn’t need to have an outcome… What do you and others think? (‘good’ question! :-))

Leaving formerly unhappy people feeling content and at ease. Doing something that makes people smile like their faces might split. Doing something brave that helps others break new ground. Work that fills your heart as well as your mind. 

A sense of needing satisfaction, of the tension between competence and challenge, and making a difference all feature in the replies. I recommend taking the time to have a read through – it’s well worth it.

Back to School

It’s tempting to think that because I’ve been invited in to speak, I must therefore have some wisdom to impart. I’m usually more interested in what others have to say, and when I asked the students the question about what good work feels like – they were responsive, succinct, and imaginative. It’s interesting to note that in one of the replies above is the comment ‘When I’m involved in something that reflects my values.’ Being involved, doing things with others, not to others – that matters to me, and judging by how the kids chose to respond, I’m confident it matters to them too. Here are just a few of their excellent suggestions about what good work feels like.

  • You put effort into it
  • It’s satisfying
  • You’ve done your best
  • It has a deeper meaning
  • It’s what you want it to look like
  • Makes you think
  • Creative
  • You put your heart into it
  • You put time into it
  • You chose it

Organisational Development and Art

We talked a little about organisational development, and after seeking advice from my 15 year old daughter beforehand, I used the metaphor of a bicycle to describe some of my work. This way we had a common point of reference which made it easier for us to talk about the importance of exploring and improving performance. ‘At first glance – fixing this old bike which has flat tyres might look easy. How might you fix the problem, and what might you do if the bike still doesn’t ride well after the repair?’ We quickly began to appreciate the importance of the whole system: bike, rider, environment etc. Huge thanks to Keira for the inspiration.

We talked a little about art and how it is subjective. I offered up a painting which we discussed and described, quickly realising that although we’re all looking at the same thing, we all see it differently. I suggested that when exploring organisational performance, there are nearly always multiple paths to explore – be open to the possibilities and don’t get too hung up on the need for certainty. We finished with a quick look at the free art project, which I offered up as a way of developing a sense of connection with community.

Thanks to the school kids and everyone who responded to the initial question, you all helped to make an inclusive, interesting exchange. After I left the school, I shared the responses from the classroom with a friend. She replied:

GOOD WORK indeed! I LOVE that. [This exchange] will give them agency all their working life; they will remember. Fantastic energy from the words.

What does good work feel like to you?

 

Learning Technologies : Fishbowl Reflections

The definition of Learning Technology can be described as the ‘study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using and managing appropriate technological processes and resources’ Richey, R.C. (2008).

On Tuesday I visited the Learning Technologies Next Generation fishbowl discussion. This gave me a chance to catch up with a few friends, and watch and engage with a conversation topic of interest, using a conversational technology I enjoy.

Typically a fishbowl discussion is set up as shown in the diagram above, in the round with a panel in the centre. In an open fishbowl – one of the centre seats is vacant and at any point in the discussion, that seat can be filled by an audience member. Traditionally, when the empty seat is filled, one of the existing panel members moves to the audience. This way, there is always a space to be filled, should anyone wish to do so.

The panel members were Euan SempleLorna MattyGer DriesenBeth Aarons and the session was facilitated by Nigel Paine.

I chose to sketchnote the event. I’d not made a sketchnote in a while and wanted to practice, to see how I got on. Notwithstanding that I couldn’t capture as much detail through this method, I enjoyed listening, and creating an interpretation of what I heard.

Something that interested me was how little technology itself featured in the conversation, despite often being contained in the questions. It wasn’t absent – people referenced certain apps with their pros and cons, the acceptance that technology has and is improving and can have really useful applications, to aid planning for example. However, most of the exchanges were about:

  • behaviour
  • taking responsibility
  • getting started
  • start small
  • keep it simple
  • getting out of the way – managers take note!

I enjoyed being at the event. Afterwards, one thing I reflected on about the structure, was that on this occasion, the panel stayed put, and the one empty seat was occupied and vacated by different audience members at various points in the conversation. My personal preference is for the panel members to self select out of the centre as the empty seat is occupied as described above. This means the make up of the panel can and often does change completely, and that can create really interesting shifts in the discussion. That said, I really enjoyed listening to the exchange of thoughts and ideas.

If anyone who was at the fishbowl is reading this, please let me know what I missed. And given this session was a precursor to the 2018 Learning Technologies conference in London today and tomorrow, I wonder how many of these themes will also feature there?

When Creative Thinking Meets Creative Practice

The most interesting and challenging work I am involved in, often arises when I’m engaging with people looking to think, feel and act differently in what they do. The business world often applies labels such as innovation and creativity to this work. As the work unfolds, I observe the need for us to be creative in our work is often focused on by people as a thinking process.

Thinking creatively and differently is a necessary part of change, but what about how we feel, and how we act too? People often struggle to talk about feelings at work, seeing them as something to be boxed up and left with security at the front door on the way in, and collected from lost property on the way out.

And when it comes to taking action, people often dream up bold strategies, to which they harness grand intent, before applying the faerie dust of meaning and purpose. Often when we peek behind this visionary curtain, everything appears a bit blurred. I can’t quite see the detail, everything is…specifically vague? Matthew Crawford writes about this notion of organisational opacity in his book ‘The Case For Working With Your Hands’, asserting that corporate vagueness has become intentional, in order to prevent people (typically those hierarchically senior enough to have architected the strategy) from actually being responsible for anything. How depressing.

So how might we take the good intent behind creative thinking, and activate it, give it a better chance of becoming useful? One answer could lie in partnering creative practice with creative thinking, taking the work out of your head and into your hands?

I recently spent time with a group of people who came together to imagine what the future of their workspace (aesthetics, form etc) and workplace (culture, behaviours etc) might look like. The group asked for guidance to create an invitational, encouraging environment for us to make, as well as think. My part in this was to share a few basic principles of creative practice, invite folks to get making, then to a great extent, get out of the way.

As a facilitator, I need to be clear about my role – whilst I am in the room and therefore a participant, I take care not to exert and impose undue influence. This post by Meg Peppin contains some excellent ideas about facilitation design. Before we got started in the room, I spoke about this with the people who hired me, because sometimes my apparent lack of guidance and direction can signal…a lack of interest? Far from it. What I’ve learned is that people are extremely capable, and too much guidance can quickly become patronising. This process may feel uncomfortable at first, indeed one of my sponsors reflected this back to me, saying ‘when you made the invitation for people to get started – we worried, and wondered…will they?’ They did. Trust me, trust the process.

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As the day unfolded, people were asked to think about and discuss a series of workplace related questions – and the art continued to flow. This was not prompted, people simply chose to continue to offer artistic interpretations into the mix.

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These examples are visual representations, and it’s worth noting the art of storytelling became a big part of the work too.

Afterwards the group reflected on what they’d done, and acknowledged the richness of the conversation, enhanced by feeling encouraged to bring creative practice to bear alongside creative thinking. For me – part of the challenge is keeping the practice going, which is one of the reasons why I continue to love my free art project, despite it now being in its 95th consecutive week. Practice, practice, practice. If you want progress, if you want change, you need to keep turning up, keep working.

As a closing thought, I offer you this excellent piece by Rich Watkins called Dignity, Resilience, Vision: The Value In Creative Practice. Rich wrote this after a conversation with myself and several other RSA Fellows, and he asserts that the notion of creative practice in its own right is something we can all benefit from. I agree, and I’d love to hear about your creative practice, and how it shapes you, and those around you.

A version of this post first appeared over at HRExaminer.