An unconference you say? What on earth is that?

In February this year I attended my very first unconference in Manchester, organised through an online community @LnDConnect and I loved it so much, that I attended my second this September. “So what on earth is an unconference?” you may be wondering…. so I will use bits and pieces gathered from here and there, as well as some graphics to try and describe what I have experienced and why I think they are marvellous!

Firstly there were some great people to network with in a friendly and relaxed atmosphere. There was no agenda, which was a little curious (I have been to a few conferences, so this meant I didn’t know what I was in for) but also a little exciting. We were going to co-create the agenda together as a group.

Of course there had to be some initial instructions on how the day would pan out, otherwise it would have been chaos. The facilitation team guided us and informed novices like myself about the process. There is something about skilled facilitators that create a great open space, that really draws you in and gets you thinking right from the start.

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As we were invited to come up wth topics we were interested in exploring, it sparked off thoughts about which sessions I would like to attend, which I could best contribute to and what I would like to explore myself.  Topics were then grouped and an agenda emerged: 4 time slots and roughly 3 or 4 different topics per time slot. Quite a choice in a very short amount of time.

So what was it actually like? Apart from the initial nerves because it was new, we had some great discussions. Rather than one “sage on the stage” to draw from, there were many views, which made it a really rich and thought provoking experience. I took from it some real nuggets, which had really disrupted my thinking. I left having made some new friends and explored ideas from a rich pool of talent. I heard real life stories and experiences from many practitioners; successes as well as failures (you don’t often hear about those in a conference!) I went away feeling listened to, encouraged and uplifted, having listened to many experts (though they may not be widely seen as these).

In the graphics I have tried to summarise briefly, what an unconference is like and what happens. What I would really urge you do to is go and attend one; be prepared to listen, share and learn! You won’t regret it!

The Power of Stories

Gilgamesh

This blog was inspired by a short session I ran in the Experiential Learning Zone at the World of Learning in September 2015, with the team at Pearlcatchers.

Stories have been around a very long time. The oldest one recorded was written in 1200 BC and is called the “Epic of Gilgamesh”. It is based on real characters and was about a man who lost his best friend and so went on a long journey to search for the secret of immortality. The story is perhaps not a true reflection of reality but more like a Hollywood blockbuster, that has been digitally enhanced for effect. But nevertheless it illustrates the power of stories.

Stories are “narratives with plots and characters, generating emotion in narrator and audience, through a poetic elaboration of symbolic material. This material may be a product of fantasy or experience, including an experience of earlier narratives. Story plots entail conflicts, predicaments, trials and crises which call for choices, decisions, actions and interactions, whose actual outcomes are often at odds with the characters’ intentions and purposes” (Gabriel, 2000, p. 239).

So stories are part of our history, our cultures and we know how they work. But how many of you use stories in your training? Or those of you who do, to good effect?

Stories, in training can have many uses, so here are some of my thoughts on their use:

  • Introducing a topic
  • Making a point
  • Making a boring topic come alive and highlighting its importance
  • Closing off a topic
  • Changing minds and ways of thinking
  • Staring a discussion
  • Sharing successes in an organisational or in a personal motivational way
  • Developing empathy for others
  • Metaphor for something difficult to cope with
  • Helping people to identify with certain situations and relate to their own
  • Envisioning the future for change programmes
  • Simplifying complex issues

It is often useful to tell your own stories and I use Larry Reynolds 6 part start structure when I have to create one. It gives me a format and stops me from rambling on too long! Here is Larry’s story structure:

  1. Think of a time when you faced some kind of challenge. (happy ending!)
  2. How did you feel when you encountered this challenge?
  3. What unexpected help came your way?
  4. How did things work out in the end?
  5. What did you learn from this experience?
  6. What does that say about your values and beliefs as a person now?

So here is my example of a story using Larry’s useful structure:

  1. This year in May, for the first time I had my own stand at the CIPD exhibition, to launch to the wider world, the Learning Loop. The challenge was for me – how do I design my stand? In line with what is expected or in line with how I work?
  2. It was a pretty daunting prospect, actually terrifying. My style as is playful, creative but professional and my biggest fear was that it would just look childish and at worst unprofessional
  3. My biggest help has always been from getting great feedback from clients and my associates who work with me and of course my husband Gareth who is always encouraging of my ideas. It gave me the courage to stand by my convictions and do it my way.
  4. On the morning of the first day of the exhibition I was so nervous, I felt sick and had to force breakfast down. I had seen everyone else’s stands the night before and thought “This is either going to be a huge mistake or they will love it”. Mine just did not fit in with what was there. From the moment the doors opened we were inundated with visitors. People were curious and came to speak with us. Even people from other stands were curious, why we had so many visitors. Feedback was fantastic and follow is still on-going. Orders are coming in
  5. What I learned from this experience is that sometimes when you believe in something, really deeply you can get frightened just because your idea is so different and new. The fact that it is different and new attracts people. So if people you respect and believe, encourage you to “go for it”, then do, with the confidence that they have your back
  6. What this experience has done for me is to help me have more courage in my ideas as well as confidence in the opinions of those I respect and trust. I say if you have a great idea “Go for it!”

So what is your story? I would love to hear it!

Why holidays are important

IMG_0416Two years ago on the last day of my holidays I sat down in the air conditioned reception area of our hotel and outlined the details of a game for training trainers, called the Learning Loop. This idea had been percolating for some time, but needed some quiet reflective time away from my normal busy life to bring it to life. So what do you do on holiday?

  • Check your emails from time to time?
  • Keep your twitter feed going….. in case anyone forgets about you?
  • Keep an eye on LinkedIn to make sure you do not miss out?

Or do you really just leave it all behind and get a proper rest? In my experience, taking a real break away from everything has many benefits:

  • It allows you to focus on what is really important and that does not always mean work!
  • It gives your brain time to think about other things other than what is right in front of you, and you may get some interesting insights while doing this.
  • Relaxing and taking your focus off your problems, allows your subconscious to work on those problems and maybe come up with something new
  • You realise some that some things will naturally work themselves out without any interference from you
  • Stepping back can give others the opportunity to play a part

……..plus many many more

So what do you find happens when you take a holiday? Why have you found them to be important?

A little bit more neuroscience in learning – Part 4

AhaI love to be creative and even though the third paper in the CIPD series, is entitled “Insight and Intuition”, it does a lot to help explain what creativity is about. It looks at how insight leads to ideation and in turn innovation, whilst considering how both skills can boost creativity and problem solving. It also considers what can block creativity and which tools can help. All in all a helpful paper so lets get stuck into the meaty bits…..

So some definitions….. “Insight is about how we come to understand things and intuition is, in essence, about how we think, reflect and act.”

Key points:

  • Apparently bad moods can impede both thinking and insight.
  • There seems to be a correlation between a good mood and creativity (Teresa Amble of Harvard Business School)
  • Before you can “join the dots” to get that “aha” moment, there is a certain amount of expertise you need to have, so you have some dots to join in the first place
  • There are specific ways that you can create the correct conditions for ideation through insight: take mental time out from the problem, be in the right mood, challenge conventional wisdom, do some non-conscious processing of information (thinking-without-thinking), gain a little bit of expertise in the area
  • There may be as many as 4 different types of intuition; expert, social, moral and creative
  • There are no substantial differences between men and women in using intuition, other than in the area of social intuition (where women score better)

Some real nuggets here …. but I always have to think about “so what does this mean?” So the things I will take away from this are:

  • People can learn to use their intuition to fuel their creativity, given the right conditions, which include a positive environment, so when trying to encourage creativity, leaders REALLY need to know this! They need to foster positive environments.
  • Not everyone is intuitive in the same way, so make use of the different ways to be intuitive.
  • Sometimes people need time to not think in order to begin the process of ideation – again in our busy world, leaders need to set some time when we are not so busy so that we get into the right state to be creative.

What do you think about insight, intuition and creativity?

From “Fresh Thinking in L&D Part 3 Insight & Intuition CIPD Feb 2014

An illuminating day

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There are sometimes when you plan for things to happen in a training workshop and they do. Other times you don’t plan and something quite unexpected happens. A few weeks ago, I was running a Learning Loop workshop for Illuminate Development in York.

The planned outcomes for the 2 days were around learning accelerated learning principles as well as boosting their creativity; something achievable and measurable. Something, that because of the very nature of the Learning Loop game, was beginning to happen.

As the afternoon went on though, something was sticking. In spite of their enthusiasm for seeing accelerated learning in action and experiencing its effects, something was stopping them from believing that they could implement some of the ideas that were growing.

The elephant in the room started to grow and it was apparent who was feeding it. One of the directors could not envisage a major client buying into doing things creatively and making them engaging. Their style was traditional and this was being imposed onto the organisation. What was I to do? Reassure them that their tough issues will get addressed later in the day? Ignore the elephant, hoping it will go away?

Seeing the passion for their business but also the frustration they were feeling, we stopped where we were and used some creativity tools to see how we could “break the rules” that were holding them back. Allowing time to address “the elephant”, gave two very busy and successful directors an opportunity to look at things differently.

They would say I fixed something for them, but actually, what I did was give them the space to come up with their own solution. A solution they put into practice the very next day when speaking to a prospective client. The courage and conviction they demonstrated was backed up by the deep seated passion for what they love to do and enabled them to step out in faith that they knew what they were doing.

The point of this story is not so much about what I did or did not do, but one of evolution. Session plans are great, as are focussed objectives, but if you ignore the elephant, it only acts as a barrier to change, no matter how motivated the individuals are.

Now this may already be obvious, but the cartoon for me, symbolises what happens when you don’t evolve as an organisation. The differences may not seem so great between a mammoth and an elephant, but they were great enough to allow one to survive. So what is holding you back as an organisation and stopping you from evolving?

Six Thinking Hats – will you play the game?

6hatsI have been using the six thinking hats in an action learning set with a client and have challenged the team leaders to consider using this tool with their teams. A question that was posed was “Could we use this without actually mentioning the six thinking hats, or using the props?”

What a great question and it got me thinking…as great questions often do…

I imagined a scenario in a team where the team leader prompted the team members to “get creative’ and come up with some ideas. Whilst doing so, it reminded me of some of the blank faces I have seen when asking people to do just that. It also reminded me of how easily we can slip into judging without even realising we are doing it…….”that will never work here” or some equally idea crushing eye rolling…..

If this happens, the team leader could invite them to put their scepticism away and get back to “being creative”. After a few minutes they get back into the swing, the ideas start trickling in and then there is a snigger… the biggest creativity killer. “Come on lets give Jim a chance, that was a great idea” the team leader says, only half convincing himself. And so it goes on. Switching to critical (or black hat) thinking, the ideas are torn apart and the safe option is chosen. When the team leader asks for them to look at all the positives and benefits of a solution, they switch back to critical thinking all too easily.

So how would using the 6 hats explicitly make this better? I believe that we all like rules but that we find it hard to take on board new ones immediately, like “Lets get creative”, unless we are very practiced! In familiarising ourselves with what the 6 hats mean, we overlay in a situation, the rules we are going to use to act out the scene that follows.

Games are something that we grew up with and we knew that that not following the rules would be met with disapproval from the other players. Having explained the purpose behind de Bono’s parallel thinking concept, the rules are simple – you only use the mode of thinking that the leader has instructed you to use, otherwise the process breaks down. If we use the process a few times, then people start to believe it will work and then the rules become even more important, but less explicit. It becomes far easier to wave the prop (a correctly coloured hat) about and say “Come on guys this is meant to be white hat thinking, we have not moved onto red hat thinking yet”, because we know that white hat thinking is good for a while, but we will get a chance to move onto red hat thinking later.

I suppose my point is that the “game” of using the 6 hats, allows us in a fun way to enforce the rules and stick to the parallel thinking principles. This process then becomes quicker, the more practiced we become at switching hats, until we get to a point where the “rules” need never be spoken in a team where the process gets results.

Just as a last thought…. I asked the action learning set “In what order should we use the hats?” That was a very interesting answer and ………….another blog for another time………

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