Slowly Waking

For all you lovely busy people suffering from TLDR (Too Long Didn’t Read), this post is mostly about resisting the temptation to rush everything. You may now get your head back down and charge off to your next meeting. The rest of us might choose to read on…

The past couple of weeks have been a wonderfully paced return to work, after a thoroughly relaxing three week family adventure around France. I didn’t plan to have such a rhythm in my return to work, but I think it’s been hugely helpful. A couple of days into this reawakening I scribbled this note on Facebook:

‘My body is back from holiday. I fully expect my brain, heart and soul to join it sometime in the next few days…’

My friend Heather Bussing responded with this:

‘It happens that way to protect you from the shock. And because there really isn’t a rush, despite the insistence otherwise. If everything came back with your body, the cognitive dissonance could cause instantaneous human combustion. Relax. Your life depends on it.’

Heather knows her stuff, so I’ve tried as best I can to follow her advice. In the time between then and now, I’ve reflected a couple of times on the importance of the stories behind numbers and data, and it seems to me that we tend to jump towards, and cling to the figures because they’re immediate. Instantly convincing. We are 46% more in a rush than this time last year, and therefore 82.9% more likely to believe this, or something.

I took the opportunity to attend the first day of Learning Live this week. It’s rare for me to simply attend an event. I’m often running workshops, speaking and/or writing, and in this period of reawakening it was absolutely lovely to be among people enthusiastic about learning and development, and only be expected to soak up as little or as much as I wanted.

I chose to listen to Owen Ferguson speak about the importance of agile methodology in L&D. Owen spoke from the perspective of the product development part of his business. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about agile, and here’s The Agile Manifesto (copied from the Wikipedia page and used in Owen’s talk:

‘We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

  • Individuals and interactions over Processes and tools
  • Working software over Comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over Contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over Following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.’

I found the talk interesting and I think there’s more to be done in exploring how to use agile methodology in the more behavioural side of L&D, as well as in the development of product.

I chose to listen to Sukh Pabial talk and facilitate conversations about being your best self at work. I enjoyed the cocreative aspects of the session and I’ve asked Sukh if I can incorporate a couple of his ideas into my own session on collaboration over in Ohio next week.

I chose to converse with many smart people at the event – too many to mention. I chose to go to the dinner in the evening, and enjoyed wonderful conversations through many chance meetings. I even chose to help write a song before we sat down to dinner, thankfully – it was beautifully sung, by Alex Watson, not me!

I’m now ready to switch up a gear and change my cadence again, which is a good job as there’s much work that needs doing! Times like this are great fun and for most of us, they aren’t sustainable. Much like Neil Morrison wrote about recently, times like this are often at the expense of something else. You could, with sufficient justification I’m sure, say I’ve missed out on things by coming back more slowly than usual. My body came back from holiday a while back, and my brain, heart and should have finally joined it. I’m delighted they chose to take their time.

Beyond HR

A round up of our Beyond HR session at Louisiana SHRM

This post is a summary of the talk about collaboration and change that Neil Morrison and I gave at Louisiana SHRM 2014 – on April 9th in Baton Rouge.


Neil and I used Evernote as the place to store and share ideas as we pulled the threads of our talk together. I’ve used Evernote to share my own stuff between different devices for two years now, but this was the first project where I’ve used it as a tool for collaboration between people. We used it to share stuff at distance and to work on different elements of our talk in the same too together. It works – try it.

Another way we prepped was to get to know something new about each other, it turns out we both like table tennis. We found a table set up in Lucy’s Retired Surfers Bar, and spent a great fun couple of hours trying to out ping pong one another. We enjoyed some local Abita beer and the company of a couple of locals who briefly teamed up to take us on. An important part of doing some work together (if you can call what we did, work), is the investment in enjoying each other’s company.


The very lovely Robin Schooling introduced us – and then we gave people another chance to see our world famous video. Huge thanks to James Smith for excellent camera and production work. We also briefly introduced each other – and I’ll come back to that later.

Beyond HR

The main thrust of our talk was about collaboration and the importance of relentless, small change. HR and others often plan, invest and obsess about change, and while we recognise the importance of seeing the bigger picture, we think that lots of small change can make a big difference. We also think that HR could be, and indeed sometimes is, best placed to facilitate relentless small change. Small is the new significant, as David Zinger puts it. What’s the least I can do today to make a positive impact? I ask myself this question often, to remind me that change is ongoing, and doesn’t have to be big to matter.

I shared some research on experimentation, collaboration and relationships drawn from The Year Without Pants and Breakpoint and Beyond. I talked about why this stuff is important, and why it doesn’t happen as often as we would like. Neil then shared some fascinating science about how our reptilian, mammalian and human brains work. ‘We don’t have a human brain so we’re using Doug’s as the closest thing we could find’. Nice one Neil!

Neil spoke about the importance of SHED, not as the garden retreat where men scurry to, but rather:

  • Sleep
  • Hydration
  • Exercise
  • Diet

The importance of taking care of yourself cannot be overstated and often when we are operating and leading in periods of change, this vital stuff goes by the wayside – leaving us diminished. Neil acknowledged that even when we are aware of this stuff, and well taken care, of, we can’t perform at our optimum level for long – typically it’s around 90 minutes. I told the tale of The Prisoner, which is about how decisions that can at first seem fair, are often far from it, particularly when we are rushed, and not taking good care of ourselves.

Neil also talked about the SCARF model, key things we think about and react to in life which can enhance or inhibit our ability to collaborate and function effectively.

  • Status: Our relative importance to others
  • Certainty: Our being able to predict the future
  • Autonomy: Our sense of control over events
  • Relatedness: Our sense of safety with others
  • Fairness: Our perception of fair exchanges between people

When you feel that one or more of these things is being threatened, brain wise you are likely to retreat to your mammalian and reptile brains, and become defensive. Can we stop this? Probably not, but we can share this stuff among colleagues and be aware of it. That way we have a frame of reference for when things go wrong. We asked people in the audience to think about stuff that gets in the way of change and collaboration. Here’s what they told us:

Incentives & rewards, power struggles, lack of collaboration, rapid growth, money and people, blame and shame (try looking in the mirror), communication, silos, trust, competing interests, heavy workload.

We shared a couple of examples from our different perspectives of small changes working, and not working and where relevant we threaded the things people told us into our stories.

Neil finished with the story of how Ben Ainslie helped turn around the USA America’s Cup team who were 8-1 down against New Zealand and managed to recover and eventually beat New Zealand by 44 seconds in the final game of the series. The turnaround came as a result of Ainslie’s incredible tactical ability, and the many many small changes he made before, during and after each race. A racing yacht depends on many small things in order to be able to cut the right line through the water, and Ainslie is able to break down the strategy (let’s win this) into its component parts. It was fun being able to close out our session telling an American audience that a Brit helped save their bacon too!

The audience seemed to enjoy the session and we enjoyed putting it together and delivering it too. Teaming up with Neil taught me a lot, particularly around different ways to prepare. After the session people told us they enjoyed our willingness to use some humour (largely at each other’s expense) and they liked the way we reflected on work experiences that had not gone as well as we might have liked. People also told us how they enjoyed the ebb and flow of the session – that feedback was lovely as Neil and I had built a loose framework on which to hang the talk, and intentionally left space, for room to grow.

Reading List

As well as our own experiences, we drew on ideas from the following books as we prepared our talk:


Thank You

I want to hop back – almost to the beginning when I wrote about introductions. As we prepared our talk we agreed that we would each say a few words about each other by way of introduction. Neil went first and said some very nice things about me, some drawn from his experiences, and some drawn from feedback from others on Twitter. Next it was my turn. It’s no secret that I get very excited and a little nervous before I speak – in fact I was literally jumping around the room before the start. In my excitement, my intro of Neil centred largely around how much I appreciate that fact that we disagree often, and that disagreement is founded on respect. Now that’s all well and good, and I do sincerely appreciate that part of our friendship – and there is more to it than that.

I first encountered Neil when he was writing anonymously as TheHRD. I met him in a pub and at the time he was known as Theo. It was all very mysterious. Our next virtual encounter came when Neil asked for help for a friend and I responded. Once theHRD was unmasked we began to see each other more often, and developed a friendship that made the humour in our talk come very naturally. We’ve been camping together (separate tents mind you), got drunk together, shared experiences together, and yes – disagreed together. I’ve met Neil’s family, including his Dad, and through that encounter I see a lot of why Neil and I click. Neil’s willingness to team up with me and invest in our session means a lot to me. Thank you Neil, and thank you Louisiana SHRM.

Asking Better Questions

Neil Morrison wrote a piece this week about strange things recruiters say, which talks about stuff like big hitters, industry experience and hitting targets among other things. The post got me thinking, less about the demands people put forward, and more about the questions people ask.

How intelligent are you?

I’ve got ten A star GCSEs, five A levels, a degree, an MBA. Actually I don’t have this wonderful list of qualifications, but that’s a typical answer to the question, ‘How intelligent are you?’

When you think about a response to that question, it almost certainly has its roots in a fairly traditional set of skills. Skills like maths, literacy, and science, or if you’re really old school, how about the three Rs – Reading wRiting and aRithmetic. They’ve all got their place, and yet in a world of work that increasingly craves creativity, a set of skills like this is not the only way to think about intelligence.

How are you intelligent?

In his book, The Element, Ken Robinson suggests the question ‘How are you intelligent?’ might be a better question to ask. Small twist, big difference. When you think about a response to that question, I hope you feel invited to pause and think beyond the three Rs. Think about how you draw, write, paint, play, invent, cycle, dance, see and hear. Simply because someone is less good at, say maths, and better at drawing, this doesn’t make them less intelligent, just differently intelligent.

Our current fixation on that which can be more easily tested for is limiting our opportunities to identify and work with the best people. So, not only do we need to think differently about the things we say, we need to think differently about the questions we ask. We need to think differently about intelligence.