Talking About Loneliness

Last week I facilitated some learning and conversation at the 2016 LPI Fellows Symposium under the heading of ‘The Loneliness of the Long Distance Learning Leader’. I promised to write up something about the experience, this is that reflection and review.

The first things we spoke about and shared together, were our desired mood and tone for the session, and our expectations. These things were scribbled onto Post It notes and made available for people to read in the room, and I offered to write them up afterwards (Pro tip: If you want a Post It to stick well, peel it off side to side, not top to bottom. Thank you Tom). The mood conversation works well as a word cloud.

LPI Mood and Tone Conversation

The expectations are much more nuanced and having tried to word cloud them – all I got was confusion. The full list of what people shared is available here, in essence I see it as boldness, sharing, connecting, challenge, reflection, and something about the yin of discomfort meshed with the yang of ease.

The overarching themes for the session were loneliness, and how to make work better. Prior to the session I published a few notes and suggested topics of conversation. Here is a reminder of the conversation topics on offer:

Loneliness – recognising it, working with it, overcoming it
Trust – giving, earning, breaking, rebuilding. If we go down this route, I am mindful that though important, trust is not enough. So what else do we need in order to cocreate a ‘Proceed Until Apprehended’ mindset?
Responsibility – owning, taking and sharing
Creativity – we need it, yet behaviourally we’re often way off – how do we get better?
Networks – communities of practice, and more
Technology – by itself is not the answer – and a poor tech experience can severely limit opportunity

In addition, the group asked to add Resilience and How to Deal With a Bad Hair Day into the mix.

With all the basics covered, the conversation began – with groups at tables choosing to let the conversation flow in the directions they wanted. The invitation was to talk for a period of time, reconvene and see where we should go next. The initial period of conversation seemed to focus on challenges, and after a short break – we agreed to let the conversation flow, and then to share any thoughts, ideas, questions. I’m conscious that when sharing brief snippets and outputs of a much richer picture, gaps often appear:

The impulse is pure
Sometimes our circuits get shorted
By external interference
Signals get crossed
And the balance distorted
By internal incoherence – N.Peart

Notwithstanding these gaps and possible shortcomings, here is a summary of what people shared.

Loneliness: Have confidence. Do business leaders really know what L&D delivers? Does L&D? Does the way we describe ourselves create an impression we didn’t intend to create?

Trust: Shifting from trust neutral – choosing to give first. Using purpose and connection to underpin trust. Brand : Why, not what?

Responsibility: This grid was offered as a way of helping to analyse stakeholders.

Stakeholder Analysis Grid

Networks: Are useful and they are not a community, self policing. How would you introduce yourself?

Resilience: Have a passion for your goal, or walk. Support, for your plan. Where do you get support – family? Ask for help. What is your verb?

Any Other Business

My intention was for this session to have a very light structure, and to be something cocreated. I wrote some notes to help introduce the session and I shared these notes on my blog, on the day of the event. Next time I will share stuff like this with a bit more notice.

There was some uncertainty at the beginning of the session. I wondered if I offered too many options for people to consider, and something similar was subsequently fed back to me. I can see how, in a short space of time, too many choices can create uncertainty. The following day I worked with another large group and I incorporated this feedback in to the new session. Still giving choices, fewer this time, plus an ‘anything you like’ option in case the choices on offer weren’t useful for everyone. This subsequent session seemed to flow more readily. Putting learning into practice.

Someone fed back to me that in my position as facilitator, I should never show uncertainty. I’ve thought long and hard about this, and I don’t agree. I am/we are uncertain at times, and I believe that uncertainty is an inherent part of my/our improvisational style. There’s a balance, as there is with most things, and I’m OK with people knowing that we are working on something about which I may be uncertain. The work is unfolding, and therefore not yet fully visible.

People really appreciate time with each other, several people expressed a wish for the conversation to continue for longer. I expect this is partly due to that fact that they were in control of the conversation, rather than being directed. I hear this sort of thing frequently, which prompts thoughts that more widely, we need to work harder on making the most of these experiences, perhaps through greater levels of cocreation?

Thank you to The LPI for the opportunity. Lots of people were kind to me after the session finished. They appreciated me for my use of humour, and willingness to try something different and go with the flow. Thank you for all the lovely feedback, I’m pleased our time together went well.

Further reading:

Loneliness. Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection

6 Ways To Improve Learning – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires;

The Loneliness of The Long Distance Learning Leader

I’m heading to the LPI Fellow’s Symposium today, and before departing I looked up the definition for the word ‘symposium’. I was given two options:

  1. A conference or meeting to discuss a particular subject.
  2. A drinking party or convivial discussion, especially as held in ancient Greece after a banquet.

I expect the intention leans towards option 1. We’ll see. I’ve kindly been invited to facilitate some conversation at the event, on the theme of loneliness. Putting to one side your thoughts about why such a subject is attracted to me, I thought it would be useful to share my current thinking. I’m doing this primarily as part of working out loud in general, and also, for anyone else heading to the event who might want a preview, or an excuse to turn and head back home 😉 I hope this is useful for you, here goes…

The Loneliness of The Long Distance Learning Leader

With apologues to Alan Sillitoe

The film, The Loneliness of The Long Distance Runner, opens with Colin Smith (played by Tom Courtenay) running, alone, along a bleak country road somewhere in rural England. In a brief voiceover, Colin tells us that running is the way his family has always coped with the world’s troubles, but that in the end, the runner is always alone and cut off from spectators, left to deal with life on his own.

We’ve all experienced loneliness at times in our work…or is it just me? Cue: awkward silence. Whether as a full time learning professional, an interim or freelancer, the task of nurturing, facilitating and encouraging learning can put us seemingly at odds with the organisations and the structure we are asked to work with. Collaboration, creativity, curiosity and communication are cited as desirable, often essential ingredients to support meaningful enjoyable work, yet organisations somehow mitigate against these things taking root and flourishing. I have scribbled, and rescribbled this short passage many times over the years:

Most work is coercive, it is done to you. The best work is coactive and cocreative, it is done with, for and by you. It is totally human to want, need and expect that our views be taken into consideration and yet we defy these wants, needs and expectations at almost every step in our working lives. Never do anything about me, without me.

This session today is an invitation to discuss and explore some of what is needed to make our work great, so that we can in turn, be of most use to those we are here to support.

Suggested topics of conversation:

Loneliness – recognising it, working with it, overcoming it
Trust – giving, earning, breaking, rebuilding. If we go down this route, I am mindful that though important, trust is not enough. So what else do we need in order to cocreate a ‘Proceed Until Apprehended’ mindset?
Responsibility – owning, taking and sharing
Creativity – we need it, yet behaviourally we’re often way off – how do we get better?
Networks – communities of practice, and more
Technology – by itself is not the answer – and a poor tech experience can severely limit opportunity

You may well have better suggestions than these – so we will start with time to reflect on how you’d like to be while we are together, and what you’d like to get from our time together. Then you are invited to talk, listen, share stories and ideas, and cocreate ways to make work…less lonely, and more effective and enjoyable.

With the permission of the group, I will follow this post up with another, setting out what we share and learn. Have an excellent day.

Learning Live 2015 – A Lecture Free Zone

Last week I went along to the Learning and Performance Institute‘s Learning Live conference. This was my third year in attendance, my first since becoming a Fellow and consultant at the LPI. The event’s a good size, not too big, not too small – and the organisers, and the people who come along, are a friendly, interesting and interested bunch. There’s a small exhibition sitting neatly alongside the conference. Nothing pushy, just interesting people sharing their interesting stuff with people who are interested in exploring ways to make work better. It works, it’s useful fun.

Lecture Free Zone

This year, Learning Live started an experiment to make the event a lecture free zone (LFZ). The idea being that as a guest, you attend sessions which are primarily designed to engage you in conversation with other curious people, rather than just turn up and have knowledge spewed at you from the front of the room. The speaker/facilitator has an important role to play in helping set the scene and in nudging the conversation and flow from time to time, and that’s about it. Easy huh? It’s harder than it looks.

How well did the LFZ work? On this first attempt it’s fair to say it was a mixed bag. Some sessions flowed better than others, and I think a handful of speakers either lost or ignored the LFZ memo. More importantly, kudos to the Learning and Performance Institute for starting this experiment. People are seeking different experiences, and it falls to adventurous event organisers to reshape conferences into more engaging, conversational gatherings. Whilst I often see adventurous folks experimenting at unconferences and maybe on the fringe of larger events, many conferences fall short of this need to change as a result of their addiction to the sage on the stage formula.

The best LFZ session I attended was facilitated by Kate Davis from the Humanitarian Leadership Academy. After a rather PowerPoint heavy few minutes, we got into conversations at our tables about ‘challenging experiences of facilitating/training’. After setting the scene with a few basics: ‘Where/when/who was there/what was the content/context’, we got to discussing what things had made the experience(s) a challenge, and what had our responses been to the challenge(s). We recorded our responses and the data was collected at the end of the session for analysis and feedback. I really enjoyed the opportunity to reflect on some of my own challenges, and hear about those which other people face too.

The best LFZ session I didn’t attend was Getting creative in L&D, hosted by Michelle Parry Slater and Amy Brann. How do I know it was any good when I wasn’t there? Simple. As I watched from afar, Twitter exploded with people engaging in the conversation, both in the session itself and in the wider world of L&D. There was a real sense of energy flowing and fun being had, good work folks.

Doing Something Better…

The event wasn’t an entirely lecture free zone – there was an outstanding keynote given by Jamil Qureshi on the morning of Day Two. Notwithstanding that you really had to be there to get the experience, I’m going to share with you a few notes I scribbled down from Jamil’s talk, largely so I don’t forget this stuff myself.

The formal title of the talk was ‘How do we maximise our potential and that of those around us?’, and on stage, Jamil positioned it as being about ‘doing something a little bit better, occasionally, if we remember.’ Works for me. Jamil talked about the folly of trying to change how people act, when first we need to address how we ourselves think, and then feel, and then act – in that order. Thinking about what we seek to achieve (creative contribution, what you’re enabling), beats thinking about what we seek to avoid (redundancy, ‘I don’t want to lose this client’).

Define yourself by what your customer values, not what you sell. What business are you in?

Event + Reaction = Outcome. You choose the reaction, it is your response ability.

Ownership beats engagement – how can you help people take their share of ownership in something? Choice beats circumstance.

The world is improbable, uncertain and complex (some like to call refer to this as a VUCA world, it’s a bullshit bingo term meaning volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity). Jamil’s response is so what, who cares? It’s how we respond that matters.

Your experience is a reflection of your attitude towards it. You make things come to pass. Blame looks backwards, taking responsibility looks forwards.

40% of what we do is habit. Ask why five times. Can I reduce the habitual down to 39%?

Purpose is not achieved, it’s attained on a daily basis.

I’m still reflecting on what I learned, and starting to think, feel and act differently. More to follow on this, particularly in the areas of taking responsibility and focusing on what I want to achieve. For now – well done to The LPI and to everyone who helped make Learning Live 2015 a success.