Category Archives: Learning

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…

 

Improvisation – Finding Flow

‘The thing about improvisation is that it’s not about what you say. It’s listening to what other people say. It’s about what you hear.’ Paul Merton

‘If you’re in your head, then you’re not here with me.’ Susan Messing

‘If you stumble, make it part of the dance’ Unknown

I have just spent an engrossing weekend listening, learning, experimenting and playing with The Improvisation Academy at The Poor School near King’s Cross, London. Before I go any further, I want to write a huge thank you to Carole and Keira for so generously giving me the time to fit this experience into the diary.

Most of what we do in life plays out without a script, yet we often believe we should somehow exercise more control over this unscripted life. I was keen to attend this course for many reasons, including to practice being in the moment, and responding more freely to what happens around me. In my work, I prefer to facilitate with as light a structure or agenda as possible – leaving room for things to emerge and grow. On this course, I thought I would experience and learn things that would help me enhance my professional practice, and I was right, but there was much more than that to be experienced.

The two days were packed with activities, reflection and conversation. Time passed a bit like pages in a book being turned – there was a flowing cadence to how we worked and we moved through things without hurrying unduly. Everything was explained clearly as we went along, and as a group we quickly became supportive of one another. A sufficient level of support is essential when uncertainty is close by. I want to respect the confidentiality established in the room over the two days, so I shan’t be going into specific details about the work we did together, and I will share some key points I observed and practiced, and a little of how I felt as the time passed. I will frame these notes with the help of the acrostic we were introduced to as we worked.

LIFEPASS

Let Go – Having, finding and borrowing the confidence to try something new. At all times we had the option to pass on an activity without anyone questioning why. The pass was used only very occasionally over the weekend. I noticed that activities which came back to me very quickly depleted my ability to improvise, which then bunged up my brain and interrupted flow between me and others – so once or twice, I took a pass midway through an activity.

Inhabit the Moment – The idea of being present, of finding flow. Acknowledging this state is important, and moving into it felt essential in order to do our best work. We talked about, and practised being aware of the challenge you face and the support available, and adjusting the dials to try and gain and sustain flow, while you can.

Flow Diagram

Freedom within Structure – There is a sense that improvisation is somehow chaos, and while it might be from time to time, it is not founded on, nor does it rely on chaos to succeed. There are principles and signposts you can choose to help you navigate your way through dialogue. A well known principle is the idea of ‘Yes…and’ where you accept someone’s offer and build on it, rather than reject it and start again.

Embrace Uncertainty – The degree to which the group together, and you individually, can alleviate the pressure caused by the uncertainty which inhabits us all, is really important. Over the weekend, I observed three things in particular that helped me.

  • There is something so powerful about a smile, an exchange of kindness between people which can represent trust. Looking out for each other.
  • The art of listening is crucial. I noticed that when I was listening most carefully, I became more able to engage with the process. The art of listening distracts you from trying to think about what you think you should be saying next. And given that none of us can predict what other people are going to say next, this is a helpful distraction!
  • There is something important when improvising about being able to place yourself in the space that exists between you and others, not inside your head. The action is in the interaction. For me this part of the process is very much a work in progress.

Play to Play – Play at work gets a bad rap, probably because when we think of play in a work context, we think of playing to win, which is often a zero sum game. I win, you lose. People think that work and play are opposites, when according to the play theorist Brian Sutton-Smith, the opposite of play is not work, but depression. If we accept what Sutton-Smith puts forward, then I think we need to have play at work. So how about playing to play, and playing to learn as well as, and at times instead of, playing to win.

Accept and Build – I take something you offer me, and I add to it.

Short Turn Taking – Helps to keep the flow going.

Spot Successes – Call them out, and help others to look good.

This was an intensive, and enjoyable two days, focussing primarily on improv skills for life. I was exhausted when I got home on Saturday evening and went to bed at nine thirty for some well earned rest. The second day was energetic and intensive too and though I was awake and alert, I got stuck a few times; I already mentioned I took a pass on a few occasions. There was a lot more to be learned and practiced than I first imagined and I go back again in April for another full weekend – this time to focus on improv for work. I am really looking forward to extending and practicing what I am learning, and based on my experience, I would encourage others interested in bringing more fluidity, flow and freedom to their work, to take a deeper dive into what improvisation has to offer. Great learning, great fun.

100 Happy Days – An Exploration of Happiness

A friend recently shared a link to the 100 Happy Days website. I curiously clicked on through and learned that 100 Happy Days is simply a voluntary challenge to share a photo every day for (you guessed it) 100 days. The photo has to connect with something that made you feel happy on that day. Simple enough – though the website says that 71% of people who embark on this journey don’t make it to the finish. I’ve been looking for a couple of new, regular habits to explore – so I signed up.

For the record, I have mixed feelings about happiness. I often find it occurs unexpectedly, and that chasing it is a bit like the just out of reach impossibility of trying to recapture that first heroin high, probably. I’ve not tried heroin so I can’t be sure about that, but I do know that like a lot of people – I’m fond of being grumpy from time to time too. Will I be able to cope with 100 Happy Days? According to the website, people successfully completing the challenge claimed to:

– Start noticing what makes them happy every day;
– Be in a better mood every day;
– Start receiving more compliments from other people;
– Realize how lucky they are to have the life they have;
– Become more optimistic;
– Fall in love during the challenge.

What’s not to like about that lot?

I’ve just completed day thirteen of this experiment and when I started, I thought I’d wait for some of that grumpiness I mentioned earlier to hit me before sharing my initial thoughts. Having experienced a wobble on my happiness perch during Day Thirteen, what am I noticing so far?

  • Happiness is indeed elusive, and when found, best left to purr quietly in the background. Don’t make a fuss or it’s likely to move on again.
  • Experiences trump things.
  • Family and friends – when they’re happy, you are more likely to be too.
  • Belgian Beer is lovely, but on a Monday night, maybe not so much.

When I started this experiment I did so unsure that I would even make it this far. Day Fourteen is here and so am I. If any of the pictures intrigue you enough for you to want to know more – let me know. And if you are looking for something little to do for the next 100 days, maybe you’d like to try this too?

 

Update: I successfully completed the 100HappyDays experiment.