Look Up

For all you TLDR freaks, this post is about the importance of lifting your eyes from your immediate work in order to scan wider, and see how you might be of greater use to those around you.

I took part in my first and only timed running race last week in Ohio at the annual State HR Conference. The race started at 7am and I woke at 6am to head out on a mission to get some shorts to run in. I drove to the Sandusky Walmart and in I went. My first time in a Walmart – this place is huge! The clock is ticking – I need to find shorts and all I can see is fruit, vegetables, hair dryers and kid’s toys. I’m all lost in the supermarket. Luckily – my lost look attracts a member of staff and in no time I’m shown to where the shirts are, I grab a pair, thank the man and leave. In case you are interested, I ran the race in 27 minutes, 22 seconds, and I also found a few moments to stop and take this photo of the sun coming up over Sandusky.

Sunrise over Sandusky

In Cleveland Airport the following day I’m wandering about looking for a place to sit down and work. A policeman comes up to me, ‘Excuse me sir, you look lost. Anything I can help with?’ He shows me the way to a quiet place where I get some work done.

Two busy people, yet both are present in their own situations, noticing what’s going on around them, and then there’s me, the fortunate beneficiary. It’s hard to be present. Busyness can be all encompassing, and yet I benefitted from two small interventions – two nudges that helped me get back on track. I hope you get the chance to look up from your work and offer to be of use to someone today.

A version of this post went out in my newsletter a few days ago, and the responses to it have been plentiful and generous – much more so than usual. Thanks to Niall Gavin for the excellent title suggestion for this post. And thanks also go to Angel Rivas, who I met in Ohio. He got in touch to say this:

Hello Doug,

It was a pleasure meeting you and taking in your session on collaboration at the Ohio SHRM conference. I contributed to the conversation and you presented me with Roy Lichtenstein’s Sunrise artwork and I just wanted to thank you for that.

After taking in your session I started to think about your experience in Wal-Mart and wanted to share something that has helped me in my professional career. To start I will give you a little background on myself, I am prior service and served as a Psychological Operations Specialist in Iraq. When I am not in uniform I am a recruiter and have worked across the spectrum on what I have recruited for, mainly high level security clearance candidates that are only allowed to have vague resumes and talk in code. With that said, one thing that has helped me is advice given to me when I first started recruiting for a government contract agency.

I was having a hard time trying to find candidates for a certain opening and it was showing, my attitude changed, my posture, my overall presence was just poor. Similar to your experience in Wal-mart and the airport, a colleague noticed the change and spoke to me about everything that was going on and what my issues were. Once he heard me ramble on he looked at me and said “Angel, you just need to get a win today”. As he went on he explained that my problems are there because I let them beat me and told me that if I look at life and find a “win” then that will be enough to say I contributed to moving forward in my life. So since then I have woke up every day with the intention of getting a “win” sometimes it is small, like getting a free cookie at lunch, other times it is like winning the Super Bowl… Or World Cup (to keep it worldly). I know you are busy and wish you safe travels, I just wanted to share my story on how playing for a win, even a small win can help change a persons day.

Safe Travels

In writing this today I am conscious of two shortcomings that happened yesterday. In the morning I walked straight past someone struggling with a heavy bag on a flight of stairs. The person behind me stopped and offered assistance. I didn’t look up, the person behind me did. In the evening I nearly bowled a friend over on London Bridge as I walked speedily, with my head down in a rush to catch a train. I didn’t see him, but he saw me and got in my way so we could stop, look up and briefly talk. I still made the train easily.

It’s hard to be present, busyness can be all encompassing. I hope you get the chance to look up from your work and offer to be of use to someone today.

When is a Conversation not a Conversation?

I had a really interesting, useful and fun afternoon at the second LnDConnect Learning and Development Unconference in London yesterday. Thanks to everyone who helped make it happen. Here are a few of my thoughts on the event, and unconferences in general, I hope they are useful to you.

The Venue Matters

The venue matters, but only in so far as it is clean, warm enough and accessible, and any tech needs you have are met. You can run a good event in a modest venue. Yesterday we were at Park Crescent Conference Centre which pretty much had it all, including decent break time coffee too. If I’m being really picky the Twitterfall was a bit hard to read as it was projected onto a screen quite high up on the wall, but yesterday was a good reminder that venue wise – good enough is perfectly good enough.

The People Matter More

It was lovely to catch up with some friends, and get to meet some people I’d only previously got to know on Twitter, and….drum roll please, meet some people who are not currently using social media to connect. I’m not sure how LnDConnect pulled it off – but kudos for attracting a diverse audience, more so than at your typical event.

The Technology is Becoming a Distraction

I think Twitter, blogs, and other tools are great ways to promote and market unconferences, and when the day of the event comes, I’m feeling more and more like I just want to immerse myself in the conversation and the learning possibilities. I find it too much of a distraction to engage in what other people are saying and tweet stuff at the same time. Sometimes what emerges on Twitter can be interesting and I’m hoping LnDConnect will share a Tweetreach report with the delegates. I wonder, if people are wiling, whether we need to ask folks to volunteer to curate a conversation? Sit at the edge of the chat and pick up on, and share the emerging threads.

When is a Conversation Not A Conversation?

In the wrap up before we hit the bar – opinions were sought about what worked well and what hadn’t been so good. Niall Gavin asked that in future, could we please do away with the tables. We were sat at round tables designed for about ten people – and on reflection it would have been easier to converse without these tables in the way. I think I would have preferred the intimacy over the slight inconvenience of having to rest on my knee to scribble those little insightful nuggets you want to capture. I’ll share a few of the ones I caught in a minute.

Beyond the table observation, it struck me that some of the tracks weren’t really conversational at all. Let me ask you a question – how many people does it take to make a conversation? I’d suggest between two….and maybe five at a push. Beyond that number what tends to happen is gobby gits like me, dominate the available air time and quieter folk tend to withdraw and….go quiet! I picked up on this in the bar afterwards when having a few conversations (heh heh) with people. Maybe in future – when a track gets really popular the facilitators might split it up a bit, to aid and maintain the conversation.


Here are a few things I heard that I’m enjoying reflecting on.

Stakeholders – the perception has evolved beyond just the purse string holders, to anyone who has an interest in your project/organisation/plan etc

Can we be more disruptive? Yes please!

Being bold – that came up a lot and it was fun listening to people define it. The dictionary says: Showing an ability to take risks, confident and courageous. Subtle and elegant were among the alternatives offered.

Be open to the possibilities – good learning is perhaps more about great connections that great content.

Pourable sunshine does exist. Whaddya know?!

It struck me that people aren’t big fans of happy sheets, who am I to disagree?

A lot of people said they were at the event for some ‘me time’. I’d like to see L&D pushing the case for more self determined learning in general. It’s powerful stuff.

Before the event I had wondered if together we could try and apply some theory and suggest things we might take away and experiment with. I’m not yet sure that we got there – and right now – I’m OK with that. Like I said, yesterday was interesting, useful and fun. That gets my vote.