Category Archives: Learning

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.

Curiouser and Curiouser

I was fortunate to spend time with Year 6 pupils at St Thomas’ School in West London recently. The school were having an ‘Inspire Me’ week and through my membership of the excellent Inspiring The Future network I’d agreed to go a long and give a career talk. I enjoy volunteering through Inspiring The Future – as well as career talks, there are opportunities to spend time with school children helping them with CV and interview skills. Anyone in the world of work can register to join the scheme and I encourage you to take a look – I find it fulfilling, useful, enjoyable volunteer work.

Prior to my visit – I had invited the pupils to send me questions so that I could build a talk around their interests rather than make assumptions about what they might want to hear. On arrival at the school I was given a fantastic guided tour by some of the kids and then we spent time talking about careers. There were some great questions in the mix and I thought I’d share a few of them with you.

Who inspired you to achieve the career you have now?

Mum Joe Strummer


I talked about my Mum and how first and foremost she always encouraged me to be myself. I told the kids that I try hard to live up to that encouragement and I often don’t come up to scratch – and that’s OK, keep trying. I spoke about Joe Strummer ( #nerdalert – the school was located very close by to where The Clash came into existence) and his strong views on anti-racism and anti-ignorance. The kids didn’t know who he was – but they knew London Calling, the London 2012 legacy lives on.

Tell us 3 cool things about your job?

I picked art, travel and making a difference. We talked together about places we’d visited and would like to visit, artists we liked and didn’t like, and what making a difference feels like.

What is the most difficult part of your job?

I really enjoyed wrestling with this question. We talked about some differences between freelancing and being employed and I pulled together a short list of things which challenge me as a freelancer:

  • Finding interesting work
  • Getting fairly and promptly paid
  • Getting stuff to stick
  • Coping with loneliness

I wonder if you recognise and experience any of these yourself?

Would you encourage young people to do what you do?

Yes – if you are curious and if you can foster a genuine interest in other people.

There were loads more questions – and some lovely unexpected twists and turns too. At one point I passed round some of my art, including a piece titled ‘Sten Guns in Knightsbridge’.

Sten Guns in Knightsbridge

A discussion ensued about the colours in the flag, and other changes I’d made to the design, and the questions asked took us off in all kinds of unexpected directions. There was a real buzz of curiosity in the room – that was a lovely thing to experience.

A few days before this career talk, Carole and I had visited Keira’s school for parent’s evening, and the thing that stood out to us both among all the feedback we received, was how much the teachers appreciated and encouraged curiosity in Keira. I often experience a lack of curiosity in the world of work, which seems to be driven by assumptions that ‘someone else knows best’ and ‘it’s not safe to speak up around here’. A few weeks into one of the first jobs I had as an office junior, I was called into the MDs office and told that I was asking too many questions about things that weren’t my job, and that I was to stop and simply do as I was instructed. I left that job shortly after, and while I don’t recall experiencing such direct instructions to stop being curious since then, encouraging genuine curiosity is definitely something we continue to struggle with at work.

Curiouser and curiouser…