New York City Rhythm

A bit like how pieces of music have tempo, so does this post. I find it’s best read allegro, with a moderato finish.

Leaving behind a sunny London – coming into a rainy New York City.

Plane people disembarking, border control scanning, stamping and waving, luggage carouseling, trolley wheel wobbling, taxi driver smiling. A phone call home from the back of the cab is just perfect.

Sitting in Starbucks on the corner of 87th and 3rd, waiting for an unknown person and some apartment keys. The key master is late, the banter with the staff and the cappuccino is warm, and the people come and go. I believe the keys will come and I’m slightly twitchy after the long flight and I want to get downtown. Places to go, people to see. Exchanging texts with apartment owner and friend downtown.

Keys in hand, tiny apartment entered, bag dropped. Subway. Hot, humid and busy. Struggling to get my bearings it takes time to realise I am on the local (slow) train platform. Down another level – onto the express. Deeper down, hotter, sweatier. Change at Union Square – tiny statues all over the station bringing memories flooding back, familiar ground. I turn a corner and there’s the guy on the drum kit again, bashing out train rhythms as people come and go. He was here the last time I was here two years ago, familiarity levels rising, confidence returning, pace quickening. Click clack, paradiddle, click clack paradiddle. Hot.

Spat out at 8th street into a warm, wet night. Find the White Horse….where’s the White Horse? Looking for Hudson Street, misty rain, plenty of people moving with purpose, and me. I ask where – they don’t know. I keep going and with a couple of nudges via text, I find the White Horse. More importantly I find Katie. Friends in London, a chance meeting thousands of miles from home. We talk work, life, travels, politics, music. We drink a beer, Katie tells me the White Horse is where Dylan Thomas ended it all in a sea of alcohol. She heads off to a concert, I order a grilled cheese sandwich, watch college football and have another beer. The sandwich and the beer went down a treat. I can’t write poetry like Dylan Thomas but I’m confident I’m getting out of here alive.

The rain stops, I walk back up Hudson Street avoiding puddles and taking in the atmosphere. Tempted to just throw myself into West Village nightlife, and tired enough to know that wouldn’t be a good idea. It’s almost 10 pm by my watch, and 3 am by my body clock. A quieter, slightly less steamy tube ride syncs wonderfully into place. Sliding doors and all that. Nearly home, I spy a Barnes and Noble bookshop, still open. I go in and wander about, watching staff restack and restock books. I think I am the only customer, except I’m not buying anything so a little awkwardly, I sneak out. Maybe I’m just tired, but there’s something uplifting about finding a book shop open, doing its thing at 10.15 on a saturday night.

And so to bed. I love it here.

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.

Data Needs Stories

I was at an event last week at which the CIPD launched a piece of research called: Volunteering to learn : Employee development through community action

This piece of work is itself part of Learning to Work – a programme led by the CIPD to promote the role of employers in reducing youth unemployment. In my experience – the gap between school and work is a big one, and I think the role the CIPD is playing here is one of the most exciting and important things I’ve seen and experienced from the institute. I encourage you to take a look and if you’re not already supporting this good work – try to find a way to do so, please.

Back to the event. We heard from a number of people in business who are supporting this work and research through skills based volunteering programmes. I found a lot of what we heard was very heavy with data. Talk of the impact on, and measurement of, among other things:

  • Engagement scores
  • Wellbeing
  • Desire to remain at the company
  • Networking
  • Social and environmental awareness

And then we heard from Simon Collins. Simon works for Caterpillar and he too was there to share his experience. Simon spoke about the importance of skills based volunteering from several perspectives:

Firstly Simon was open about how it fits with his own career choice in talent development. He spoke briefly about his own experience as an unemployed post grad, ‘a scary time’, and he talked about how, as a parent, he observes a lack of career guidance and advice in the world of educationHe reflected on how the value of any advice given is often linked to the enthusiasm of the advisor.

Simon spoke to us about the vulnerability that often comes with being out of work, the vital rebuilding of confidence that skills based volunteering can have, and a lovely observation that this kind of volunteering is about helping people see they have something to offer. Simon sketched out a quick tale of someone he spent time with who felt that because he had no ‘work experience’, he therefore had no CV as such. In conversation it transpired that the person had a lead role in a project at University to develop, launch and sell a product. The project had exceeded its targets and Simon rightly suggested that this project was a great example of real work, and something relevant and useful to build on. Simon told his story in a much more compelling way than I am currently relaying it to you – and nevertheless the effect of his story has stayed with me. There were figures quoted by people for many of those data points I referred to earlier, and I can’t recall a single one.

In conversation with someone afterwards I was suggesting that we should hear more stories – fewer numbers. I was reminded by the person I was speaking with that the numbers help some people to make the case for volunteering and social responsibility in general. Ideally – I see these kind of activities sitting in the ‘right things for the right reason’ box, and yet I appreciate that businesses have to understand and allocate resources to meet needs.

So why am I writing this blog today? Two main reasons. First and foremost because I want to do my bit to highlight the excellent work the CIPD are leading on here. And second – to serve as a reminder that data needs stories. I’m 86.7% more convinced of that now than I was when I started writing this.