Monday 22 December 2014

Merry Christmas to all Clients, Colleagues and Friends

I wish all my clients, colleagues and friends a very blessed Christmas and a happy and successful New Year.

2014 has been a very good year for us;

  • I have had lots of interesting work with interesting people, ranging from academics to sailing instructors;
  • I have made significant progress on the long-promised book, and it is nearly finished;
  • Annie married and started work, Clare graduated and has exciting travel planned in the New Year, Mike finished school, changed direction and is studying Graphic Design very successfully, and Lizzie continues to excel at school and sports.

I always think Christmas a good time for poetry, so here is a contribution to the festive spirit:


The bells of waiting Advent ring,

The Tortoise stove is lit again
And lamp-oil light across the night
Has caught the streaks of winter rain
In many a stained-glass window sheen
From Crimson Lake to Hookers Green.

The holly in the windy hedge
And round the Manor House the yew
Will soon be stripped to deck the ledge,
The altar, font and arch and pew,
So that the villagers can say
'The church looks nice' on Christmas Day.

Provincial Public Houses blaze,
Corporation tramcars clang,
On lighted tenements I gaze,
Where paper decorations hang,
And bunting in the red Town Hall
Says 'Merry Christmas to you all'.

And London shops on Christmas Eve
Are strung with silver bells and flowers
As hurrying clerks the City leave
To pigeon-haunted classic towers,
And marbled clouds go scudding by
The many-steepled London sky.

And girls in slacks remember Dad,
And oafish louts remember Mum,
And sleepless children's hearts are glad.
And Christmas-morning bells say 'Come!'
Even to shining ones who dwell
Safe in the Dorchester Hotel.

And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window's hue,
A Baby in an ox's stall ?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me ?

And is it true ? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant,

No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare -
That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.

John Betjeman

Friday 12 December 2014

Coaching Supervision Group

I was invited to a coaching supervision group today, with a view to joining it. I already have a coaching supervisor, of course, but this is something rather different: an opportunity to work with other very experienced coaches to share experiences, practice and learning.

The process we used today was very rich. One member presented a coaching problem she was currently experiencing. Another coached her about it, while the rest of us watched.

We then discussed, with a metaphorical glass screen in place, her issue and her approach to it, talking about her in the third person, while she listened and took notes.

We then discussed the coaching process we had observed, and what we thought had worked well, as well as what we might have done differently.

A very simple process, but because of the skills, knowledge and insights of all involved, a very rich one.

I will certainly be going again...

Friday 5 December 2014

On making a Video

A week or so back I made a video (see here), as a reminder for people who have attended my Time Management Workshop of some of the key points. My intention is to do this reasonably frequently, so that eventually people who attend any of my regular workshops will have some brief reminders of key points.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should mention that the urgency that made this one actually happen was a requirement in a tender I was completing at the time.  However, I do hope that it is a useful addition to my portfolio of support for clients, and intend, as I say, to continue to make them, as and when time and inspiration permit.

In the meantime, I thought that it would be helpful for me, and possibly of interest to some of my readers, to reflect on the process of making it, and the lessons learned.

The first thing to say is that this is not my first attempt.  Some time ago, I made one about Force Field Analysis. From that, I learned a few things.

  • Whilst I like flip charts, they don't look very clear, let alone professional, on film, unless done more neatly that I generally have time to do...
  • Stop-motion filming (the technique I used to make letters and words appear on the flip without seeing them being written up) is fun, but again, quite time-intensive.
  • I can look and sound rather wooden on film, if I am not careful.
  • Cutting between shots of my talking head and a visual aid needs to be done with care: sudden cuts are disorienting, and very short shots of visual aids are frustrating.
  • Shirt colour matters: a pale shirt can look very washed out, and make me look more purple than I want to.
  • The background matters: even a light switch can be a distraction!
With all that in mind, I set about the most recent film.

The first take was not great. The good points were using a screen as a neutral background, and having my daughter behind the camera to zoom in and out a bit, providing some variety of shot.

However, there were several things I wanted to change. The main one was that I had my laptop on a low desk in front of me, and glanced down at it frequently. That was very disconcerting. Another was that I looked static and sounded wooden.

So we rigged up a step ladder to hold the laptop at head height, and I deliberately chose to deliver as I would to a group of people: actively scanning the room with my eyes, and using my voice and facial expressions very deliberately.

Having filmed a take I was happier with, I then added in the visual aids. Some of these were deliberately the ones I use on the Workshop, so that people would remember them, strengthening the visual cues to help them retain the ideas.

However, on the workshop, I build up the Urgency and Important grid on a flipchart, and animate it by drawing on arrows etc. I decided to replace that by a Keynote version, as I thought it more likely to be clearer on video.

I was pleased with how that worked; and also pleased at the effect of re-visiting the same visual aid more than once, when relevant. I hope that gives the effect of attending a workshop - when one looks from the speaker to the screen and back again a few times during the discussion of a particular point.

I was also careful to fade the visual aids in and out, to avoid abrupt transitions, and to make sure they were on screen for long enough, so that any text could be read, and images assimilated.

So overall I am more pleased with this attempt, but I think that there is still room for improvement:

  • A few people have said they find my eyes scanning the room to be a distraction, so next time I will try to maintain the same level of animation, but looking straight to camera;
  • Closing my eyes is particularly distracting!
  • Some of my examples ('most administration') are too generic: specific examples would be more helpful
  • I will include a brief musical intro at the start and some more music at the finish.

However, I am particularly interested in feedback from others on this (and thanks to those who have already volunteered it). So if you have any views or ideas, do let me know.

For those interested in such things, the video was made using iMovie, and the visual aids using Keynote.

Saturday 29 November 2014

It works - at last...

I am a long-time Mac user.  I started the business some 28 years ago, and my first computer was an Amstrad word processor, which I remember fondly. But my first real computer was a Mac, and I have had a series of them ever since.

So when I decided it was time to update my old 17" Macbook Pro, the only question was which model to go for.  I decided on a 15" with a retina screen.  The chap in the Apple shop assured me it could do everything my old Pro could do, and a lot more, and a lot faster.

They no longer make a 17' model, which is a shame (my eyes are not what they used to be) but this seemed to fit the bill in every other way. Everything transferred across nicely and smoothly, and a few checks assured me that all was in order.

The first time I used it to present, I found that my remote was not working.  I assumed a flat battery, got out my spare, and found that didn't work, either. I assumed another flat battery and proceeded to use the keyboard to move through my Keynote slides.

However, replacing the battery didn't work, and then the truth dawned on me.  A bit of research on the web, and I found it was true: the new Macbook Pro no longer supports the infrared controller.

Their proposed solution is that you download an app to your iPhone and use that as a remote.  There are several reasons I don't like that solution.  One is that I am quite fond of my Apple remote (the swish aluminium one, not the cheap plastic spare one). It is inconspicuous and easy to operate without having to look at it. Holding a phone as I present, and then having to peer at it to make things happen did not appeal.

Worse, however, is the fact that it works via WiFi. That slows things down immediately, and given the dodgy WiFi (or total lack thereof) in many venues, that is a major nuisance. The two times I have tried to make it work in a real situation, it failed to do so (despite working when I did dry runs at home).

So I did a bit of surfing to see what the options were, and came across a neat USB plug-in I/R receiver, Mantra, sold from the US by Twisted Melon ($38 including shipping). It comes with a bit of software, which makes your remote do a little more than normal.  But the main thing is that it works.  I have now done a number of presentations using this, and it is just like having my old Macbook Pro.

I am still irritated at Apple for the silly downgrade (to save space and weight, I imagine) and more seriously for failing to tell me when I changed machines; but I am delighted to have found a solution that works so well, so thought I should tell the world!

Monday 24 November 2014

Time Management Reminder

I have just recorded a brief (8') video designed as a reminder for those who have attended my time management workshop: The Time of Your Life.

I am still experimenting with video as a medium for learning, so would value any feedback.

Likewise, if you have any questions about this, don't hesitate to get in touch.

For some reason I don't yet understand, the video displays on my laptop, but not on some tablets or mobile phones. If you can't see it above, click here.

Friday 21 November 2014

Brain Powered Goal Setting

Today's meeting of the Cumbria Coaching Network included a workshop on brain powered goal setting by Diana Shead. Diana's background is in health, in both clinical and managerial roles, and an integral part of her work as a physiotherapist is helping people with pain management.

She draws on her considerable understanding of the brain in order to help people to set and work towards their goals in ways that work.

So today she took us briefly through that process. She started with a quick overview of the brain's various functions, including the important role of the amygdala with regard to survival; and then she explained how that understanding informs her approach to goal setting.

So she always starts by getting people to consider the context within which they are setting goals: she has learned from experience that context is critical. If someone is already overloaded or stressed, then even a modest goal may be too much at that moment, and trigger amygdala highjack: that is the rush of adrenalin and cortisol that put the body in fight or flight mode. That fast and visceral reaction over-rides the frontal lobes, where our rational processing is centred, so it is important to be aware of that risk.

As she was talking, I was making my own links, too: both with The Chimp Paradox, which deals with similar issues, and Goleman's work on Emotional Intelligence, which highlights the need for emotional self-awareness and emotional self-management.

I was pleased to note that she also used her understanding of the brain to suggest alternative ways of doing the exercises: a left-brain and a right-brain option were offered, which was refreshing.

She then moved on to consider context in another way: the values which sit behind the goals we set. Her thesis here was that any worthwhile goal is derived from some good or goods we are seeking to honour or bring about in our life, and that articulating and connecting with that is important to provide both the motive power and the evaluative standards to help us deliver it.

She also looked at the value of allowing our brain some lee-way in deciding how to accomplish goals; to focus on what we want to achieve, and recognise that there may be different ways to do that; but keep focused on the values and the overall intention, including using visual reminders placed strategically around the home or office. 

Only then did she come on to action planning: and again she has designed a process based on her understanding of how the brain works. Key issues are to make the early steps manageable, so as not to provoke an amygdala highjack, to frame actions in a positive (not a negative) way, to foresee and plan to overcome blockages, and to act as if you are already succeeding.

And then she made two important additional points. One was the importance of celebration of each step along the way, to keep the dopamine reward system active.  The other was the value of an attitude of gratitude: for progress made, for help from others, and for learning when things don't go according to plan.  Again, my brain was busy making connections, this time with Margaret Chesney's work on stress. 

So all in all, a very useful and thought provoking day, which I will certainly be drawing on in my coaching work in the future.

Friday 14 November 2014

An Intelligent Approach to Tendering

Regular readers of this blog will have picked up that I am not a huge fan of the tendering process, as so frequently run.

My experience has been that I have frequently won lots that I was relatively inexperienced to provide, whilst losing lots where I had serious credentials and experience.  The process is often marked by questions that demonstrate little or no insight into the work that is being put out to tender, and the evaluation criteria are frequently ill-defined, and sometimes completely bonkers. All in all, the word lottery springs to mind.

However, I am currently working on an ITT for Newcastle University that has been put together intelligently. The initial PQQ was sensible, and the questions in the ITT are really good.  For example, they want to see people who are tendering actually run a workshop. Given that the tender is for people to run workshops, that strikes me as quite relevant. Yet it is the first time I have come across a tendering process that asks for this. I realise there is always a slight risk that this becomes a beauty parade (in which case I don't fancy my chances) which is why orchestras get instrumentalists to audition from behind a screen. But I far prefer to be evaluated for my relevant skill than for my bid-writing technique.

The other questions are likewise intelligent: asking for examples in practice of the things that the University needs to know in order to make a good decision: such as adapting a workshop due to unforeseen circumstances; developing effective client relationships in order to design and deliver a good programme, and so on.

It sounds obvious, as I write it down, but this tender document stands head and shoulders above any other I have seen: huge kudos to whoever it is at Newcastle (I have heard Julie Bullimore's name in this connection) who has put this together - and much gratitude, too!

Let's hope that this is the start of a trend, and that others take such a sensible approach. The great thing about a good process is that you feel you are being evaluated for the right things: if I don't get through, I can only assume that other providers are offering a better product and price combination - and learn from that. Whereas in the past, I have not had the confidence in the process for that to be the only sensible conclusion.

Now, if they could just invent a more creative way to think about pricing, that would allow for the kind of negotiation that used to work so well, and often in the client organisation's favour (free follow-up sessions, discounts for bulk bookings etc) I would really think the process was worth the time and effort organisations put into it. At present the only variable on price is an invitation to offer discounts for prompt payment. That is something I refuse to do on ethical grounds: I believe that organisations have a moral obligation to pay suppliers promptly. But that's the subject for another rant, perhaps, at a future date...

Friday 31 October 2014

Learning to Write (ii)

I blogged recently about the positive effect that writing a glossary had had on my writing, and my understanding of the writing process.

This week's assignment, which I have just reviewed with my writing coach, Andrew Derrington,  was equally powerful. Andrew had introduced me to the art (or science?) of reverse outlining.

The technique is simple: take your text, number the paragraphs, and for each numbered paragraph answer a few key questions, including 'What is the topic of this paragraph?' and 'Is there a topic sentence?'

Answering those questions enables you to check that each paragraph has a purpose, and then assess how well it accomplishes that purpose. It also enables you to look at the flow of the whole body of text (in my case a chapter) and see how well that accomplishes its purpose.

It is also invaluable in writing (or in my case, re-writing) an introduction and a summary.

I found, for example, that some of my paragraphs had no real purpose; some had two topics (so needed to be split into two paragraphs); there were some gaps in the logical flow of the chapter (so new paragraphs are needed); and some were underdeveloped, and needed clarifying or expanding. I also learned (again) that although I believe I write well, there is a lot more to learn; which is both humbling and exciting.

Moreover, it prompted me to look at the overall structure of the book in the same way, with the result that I am making some significant changes to that: cutting quite a lot that is peripheral or tangential, and clarifying the flow of ideas throughout the whole text.

It is very laborious, but I think re-pays the time and effort. So I am committed to do three things before my next conversation with Andrew in a couple of weeks: re-write the chapter I have just analysed, in the light of my analysis; undertake the same process with another chapter already drafted; and revise the chapter list to get a final structure for the book.

So finalising the text is some way off, but I am increasingly confident that it will be a good text when I eventually get there.

Tuesday 21 October 2014


I went to an excellent workshop on Laughter this weekend, run by Robin Graham of Feelgood Communities.

This is something I have long been interested in: I first took laughter seriously as a learning and development intervention, after coming across C W Metcalf and his work on Humour, Risk and Change (which I have mentioned before).

Here's a flavour of Metcalf:

Both Robin Graham and C W Metcalf make a strong - and very funny - case for the value of humour. 

The personal benefits of regular laughter are increasingly recognised by the research; and Robin gave us a summary of some of the latest research emerging. The beneficial release of endorphins, serotonin and dopamine are apparently well-documented, as is the reduction in the stress-related hormones, cortisol and adrenalin. Apparently our immune system is also boosted by regular laughter, and the researchers are now working to understand the ways in which laughter helps us bond with others.

It is fascinating to note the role of laughter in a baby's life: long before it is registering humour, the incongruous, unexpected or absurd - which are the classic triggers of laughter in adults.

Laughter, as Robin pointed out in his four word lecture, is a release.

That was it: as lectures go it was remarkably concise and clear. We then laughed a lot, and discussed laughter a lot more, including its capacity to bring people right into the present moment, and to open themselves up to each other. There is something vulnerable about genuine laughter - which is one of the reasons we learn to suppress it. Young children, of course, need no excuse to laugh, and they laugh several times a day. As we get older, we may lose both the spontaneity and the frequency.

So I am keen to involve more laughter in my work, both for its innate benefits for the individuals, but also for other reasons. Laughter helps form relationships between people (except for bullying laughter, which is quite different). Also, because of the links between laughter and the incongruous, unexpected or absurd, I think it helps people to view situations differently, opening up possibilities for creative thinking that may help solve problems in new ways.

But quite how I am going to do that, I am not yet sure. There is something about forced laughter that seems very counter-productive, and I have seen too many trainers fall into that trap. So I would be interested in others' views and experiences.

Monday 20 October 2014

Experiments with Twitter

The other day, prompted by a comment from a colleague, I decided to experiment with live tweeting during one of my workshops.

I sent participants a note in advance explaining that, and mentioning a few ways it might be used, including questions, feedback to me, and so on, but saying I did not wish to constrain them and would be interested to see what happened. I told them the hashtag we would use.

So on the day, as well as the projector connected to my laptop for a few slides, I had a second projector and screen in the corner of the room, to which I connected my iPad, which had Twitter open, displaying tweets with the appropriate hashtag (initially, just one from me).

I mentioned the Twitter experiment again at the start of the workshop, including the hashtag on an introductory slide, and then waited to see what happened.

In the event, there were just two tweets from participants, to which I replied.

At the end of the day I asked participants for their views on the experiment, and they said:
  • It had not been a distraction
  • It was interesting to see what others had commented on (and I, too, had found that interesting to see)
  • It had not really been necessary for questions etc as the session had been so interactive and participative: perhaps it would be more valuable for a larger group (nb there were 14 people on the workshop).
I learned a number of things from the experiment. Firstly here are things I noticed and will do differently:

1  My iPad ran out of power before the end of the day (and the charger uses the same slot as the output for the projector, so I had to re-charge during sessions which meant the tweets were not visible, which was a disincentive to tweet further). So next time I think I'll alternate between my iPad and my iPhone being connected to the projector.

2  The image size was much better when the iPad was in Landscape rather than Portrait orientation.  So next time, I'll make sure it is Landscape from the start.

3  Even so the image size was a bit small: so next time I will find a better position for the projector so tweets are easily read from the back of the room.

4  I initially replied to the tweets without using the hashtag, so my replies did not show up on screen. I then retweeted the replies with the hashtag, but as tweets rather than replies, so they did not 'nest' with the tweets to which I was replying. So next time I will reply with the hashtag included.

NB One thing I got right which I must remember next time is to use a unique hashtag that is unlikely to be used by anyone else, and to check that it is not being used.

I was lucky, too, to have Janet Lavery on the workshop. Janet has some expertise in using technology to enhance learning, and gave me some valuable tips at the end of the day, for which I am very grateful:

1  It would have been better to state the purpose of using twitter in the introductory letter, not say it was an experiment (apparently, experiments demonstrate that the word experiment lowers participation rates!)

2  It would have been better still to have given them specific things to tweet about: eg when doing group activities, the observers could have tweeted observations, and these could have been reviewed together after the activity. It is important to make clear that it is not compulsory - some people don't like social media.

3  It would have been better at the start of the day, when I asked people to put their phones on silent, to have encouraged them to leave them on the table, so they were accessible for tweeting (most people put their phones away, once on silent mode, from force of habit).

4    It would have been better to set aside some time (say just before each break) at least to acknowledge, and if appropriate discuss, tweets so far.

5  It is important to do a screengrab quite promptly, if you wish to save the conversation, as things may disappear.

I'll be very interested to hear from anyone else who encourages live tweeting during workshops; or anyone who has experimented with this and decided to stop.

I'm inclined to give the experiment another outing, informed by the learning so far, and see if it does add anything of value to the workshop. What I'd like, in particular, is if it develops into a conversation that lasts beyond the workshop, which might help with the retention, and transfer, of learning.

Friday 3 October 2014

Still trying stuff out to improve my time management...

I am not the world's best manager of time. In fact, I once had something of a crisis of conscience about running Time Management workshops, on the basis that I was preaching something I fail to practice (or at least, fail to practice very well). However, my inspirational coach, Ann Bowen-Jones, remarked, almost in passing, that we teach best what we most need to learn. So that was all right.

And I had some feedback this week from someone who had attended one of my time management workshops some 14 years ago that it had proved very valuable and was still something she remembered clearly and worked with, and, indeed, had developed.

But for myself, I still see it as work in progress.  So I continue to try new things. Today I have been working at home, and I was very conscious of the risk of the day slipping by with relatively little achieved (it being a Friday and all...)

So I set my phone alarm to go off every half hour, to prompt me to check that I was doing something worthwhile each time it went off.  That has proved very useful; though I suspect that the law of diminishing returns would cut in if I tired that every day.

Something else I have tried over the last few months is being really rigorous about making time for meditation, as I mentioned a few weeks ago (here).  That has proved very valuable.  Oddly, the busier I have been, the more I have noticed the meditation paradox: stopping for fifteen minutes of recollection really does enable you to move through a busy day with more calmness, and to achieve more important things.

A third, and related, thing has been striving to maintain a high awareness of the present moment, and the importance of that. Two people from quite separate parts of my life had recommended de Caussade's book: The Sacrament of the Present Moment. It is not an easy text, but he is onto something profound here, about detachment and, well, presence.

And finally, I am trying to maintain my habit of reviewing the week each Friday afternoon, and completing my reflective learning journal: that touches on all sorts of issues, of course, but how I have spent my time is at the heart of it.

I'm always keen to learn from others, so if you have any top tips for time management, do let me know!

But I must dash: my phone alarm is going off, and I've a reflective journal entry to write yet...

Friday 26 September 2014

Learning to Write

I have blogged a few times about the (slow) progress of my book. However, what is really clear to me is how much I am learning from the process.

There is the obvious stuff, which anyone who writes seriously will know about: the ease with which one can fill time with not writing, or with writing related activities (but not writing) for example.

But this week I had a very specific task to do, and I did it: that was to write a glossary. There are two main reasons for this.  The first is to make sure that I am quite clear (both in my own mind and in my writing) precisely what I mean when I use a particular key word or phrase.  

The second is to help with editing: that is, to make sure that every time I use the word or phrase, I mean the same thing; and also every time I mean that thing, I use the same word or phrase.

That may sound obvious, but in fact it is not how I have tended to write. And that has been an interesting thing to learn. For example, I use the word 'story' a lot in the book. But I also use the word 'narrative'. And I switch between them quite freely. 

On reflection, the reason I do that is to avoid repetition; to make the text more interesting to read. But in fact it makes the text confusing. The reader may wonder if I use 'narrative' to mean something different from 'story.' It introduces a distraction.

I blame my education: I studied lots of literature along the way; and when one is writing in that environment, one tends to look for the novel and interesting way to express something, and either to consult a thesaurus or construct a mental one in order to avoid using the same word twice in quick succession. But writing for literary effect and writing for quick and easy comprehension are not the same, as my excellent writing coach, Andrew Derrington, has patiently helped me to learn.

The other interesting thing about compiling the glossary is that it has really made me re-think where I am up to with my ideas. Listing the fifteen or so key concepts and defining them has produced a very concise summary of my ideas, and helps me to see how they have developed over the years. In fact, in some cases, I am abandoning words or phrases that I have used throughout the book, as they don't clearly express what I now think.

So whilst publication still feels some way off, I can confidently assert that I am making progress.

Friday 19 September 2014

Not Quite Open Space

I helped to run a large workshop this week for the Medical Education people at Cardiff University. We wanted to run a very inclusive event, so as well as the academics, clinicians and administrators involved, we invited students and patients' representatives.  So it was a large group, with over a hundred participants.

The agenda, in broad terms, was to agree how to build on the significant improvements already made to medical education, which has seen Cardiff making rapid progress according to almost all the relevant measures.

We also wanted to demonstrate from the word go that it was only through the engagement of all that further progress will be sustained.

So given those considerations, we decided against any formal presentations. Instead, we sent people a small amount of background information in advance, for context. Then we invited them to decide what it would be most valuable to talk about.

This was not quite an Open Space event: we did not solicit their ideas for the topics to discuss on the day. Instead, we had generated some ideas in advance, and circulated them, asking for additional suggestions.  That meant that on the day, we were able to present a list of possible topics, which participants signed up to. We were also able to prepare a briefing note for each topic, suggesting some questions to explore, and stressing the need for action ideas.

Then, after a brief intro and a fun icebreaker, to warm people up, we threw it over to the participants: they chose which topics they wanted to discuss, discussed them, and then reported back in plenary. We then did the same again, and concluded by checking that we all knew who was going to type up the notes for each of the groups that had met and, crucially, who was going to take responsibility for taking the action ideas forward.

The event generated a lot of energy, a lot of discussion and learning, and many significant ideas to move the agenda forward. It also fostered a real team spirit, and along with that a real commitment to implement the ideas.

It was interesting and fun for me to build on the work I have been doing using an Open Space approach, in a different context where a full Open Space event might not have been appropriate. And once again, I am grateful to a client for allowing me to experiment with something slightly different from anything I have done before.  We all learned a lot!

Monday 15 September 2014

A Reflective Post

It has been a long and eventful summer break: Annie, my eldest daughter got married, which was a magnificent occasion, full of grace and happiness. 

Mike failed to get the AL grades for the one and only University course he had applied for, which has prompted some real soul-searching and a fairly radical change of direction. He has now decided that graphic design is where his heart and future lie, so is having a gap year preparing a portfolio, and applying afresh.

We had a great family holiday in Wales, camping on the Llyn peninsula, which was stunningly beautiful and very relaxing. 

And now I return to the busy world of work.

But one of the things that has really struck me is what I find most difficult of all to do. Whether in the hubbub of work, the relaxation of holidays, the emotional rollercoasters of weddings and AL results, or indeed at any other time. And that is to stop.

I have read - and indeed taught - the many benefits of making a short time for meditation a part of one's daily routine. I believe this, and I know that when I practice it, the benefits are tremendous; particularly when I sustain it for a period of time.

One of the best summaries of the research on this is by Margaret Chesney: it's a long video (a full lecture's worth) but I think it repays watching.

As I say, I am convinced. Nonetheless, I find myself, most days, resisting the idea; distracting myself either with essential work that 'must be done first' or essential trivia...  And so on. I also know from many coaching conversations with others that many other people have the same experience.

So building on my reflections about Will Power and environmental cues, (here and here) I am working to create an environment which supports me in maintaining this discipline: part of that is making a public declaration of intent.  So next time you bump into me, feel free to ask if I am sticking to my resolution about making time to meditate each day!

Saturday 30 August 2014


I blogged recently (a couple of times in fact) about invisible facilitation (here and here).  I concluded the first of these posts with the reflection: 'So I think we should trust our clients (who, after all, want an effective event, not a showboating facilitator) to recognise our contribution, and not worry about being seen to perform.'

I suppose that was always tempting fate: a recent feedback form from a team awayday I ran included this comment from one participant: 'Fellow seemed to be half asleep. Occasionally popped up to say something and that was about it.

That did make me smile, as it is exactly what I fear people may think when I work in that mode.  However, I was able to smile sincerely to myself (and not just wryly) as all the others who attended had a different view, and their feedback was that the awayday had been well run and achieved its goals.

But don't say I didn't warn you...

Monday 4 August 2014

Another Speech to Write

Avid readers of my blog will remember my agonising over a speech I had to write.

In fact, it was such a triumph, that the world has been conspiring to provide me with another opportunity, and has finally achieved it.  In just over a week, I will have to stand up as Father of the Bride at my eldest daughter's wedding.

Debrett's tells me:

Traditionally the father of the bride starts the speeches and sets the tone. It is a big moment for father and daughter, and the rest of the family.

- He thanks the guests for coming and those involved with organising and paying for the wedding.

- He may then indulge in some tales and affectionate anecdotes about the bride, before welcoming the groom into the family.

- The father of the bride's speech finishes with a toast to 'the bride and groom'.

However, Debrett's is keen to keep me in my place, both overtly:

- This role can be filled by whoever gave the bride away, be it a brother, uncle or godfather.

and also subtly.  Note these screenshots, first: 

Which, I think you will agree, is pretty clear; but then there is this, which tells the true story...

The expectations are high, of course, not least from Michael.  At Christmas he gave me Mark Forsyth's The Elements of Eloquence (How to Turn the Perfect Phrase), and he will be expecting every trick in the book.  In fact, knowing Mike, he may well have a checklist, and tick them off as he hears them.

Personally, I am tempted to emulate Savador DalĂ­ who, in 1980, at the age of 74, and after six months of seclusion, told assembled journalists: 'I shall be so brief that I have already finished.' But fortunately, like Posy Simmonds' George Weber, I understand the need for ritual exchange.
So here I go again, and to meet Mike's expectations, all I have to do is compose a few well-chosen words which include:

Alliteration, Polyptoton, Antithesis, Merism, Blazon, Synaesthesia, Aposiopesis, Hyperbaton, Anadiplosis, Periodic sentences, Hypotaxis, Parataxis, Polysyndeton, Asyndeton, Diacope, Rhetorical Quaestions, Hendiadys, Epistrophe, Tricolon, Epizeuxis, Syllepsis, Isocolon, Enallage, Zeugma, Paradox, Chiasmus, Assonance, Catachresis, Litotes, Metonymy, Synecdoche, Transferred Eptihets, Pleonasm, Epanalepsis, Personification, Hyperbole, Adynaton, Prolepsis, Congeries, Scesis Onomaton, Anaphora, 

... and of course a good Peroration.

I just hope Mike has the social grace, when he has ticked the last one off, not to stand up and shout 'Bull!'

Monday 7 July 2014

Invisible facilitation (again)

I posted a while back about what I called Invisible Facilitation. I was reminded of this just recently, when I ran another awayday, this one for the teaching staff of a University department.

On the day, I did very little: I introduced the discussions, which had very simple questions to address.  I organised small working groups and re-convened them for plenary feedback sessions. I kept them to time, and I ensured that dissonant voices were heard and actions were agreed at the end of the day.  But by and large, I let them get on with it, and kept a fairly low profile.

However, my most important contribution may well have been made beforehand. The client's proposed agenda for the day read something like this (I have changed some detail in the interests on not identifying the client):

Introductions and welcome 

Working Sessions One and Two: Curriculum Design
Participants work in small groups on particular modules with in the curriculum, addressing the following questions (Different modules in first and second sessions)
·      Do we want to carry out major restructuring, make some substantive changes within the existing overall structure, or carry on more or less as we are (with only gradual changes)?
·      Should most modules have 10 credits as now, should most haves  more than 10, or is a mixture appropriate? 
·      What should the content be?
·      Which parts ought to be offered to all students and which should be specific to a degree programme or subset of degree programmes?
·      Which parts should be compulsory and which optional?
·      How many modules?
·      How many credits in total?
·      How do we plan for appropriate skills development across the three stages?
·      How do we develop appropriate Projects for final-year students? 

Plenary feedback and discussion 

Working Session Three: Curriculum Delivery
In your group, discuss how we could deliver the curriculum within each module: numbers of lectures, practicals, and other delivery modes, timing etc 

Plenary feedback and discussion 

Working Session Four: Assessment
In your group, address the module(s) you have selected, and discuss how we assess, both formatively and summatively. In particular, How can we reduce the amount of assessment (especially summative), and how can we increase the consistency of assessment among modules? 

Plenary feedback and discussion 

Action planning 

After some discussion, what we actually went with was:
Small group working session one: Where Are We Now?
Feedback in plenary, discussion (and likewise after each working group)
Small group working session two: Where Do We Want to Be?
Small group working session three: Generating Ideas for Action
Small group working session four: Action Planning
I was interested that on the day, the head of the department (who was not my client for this event) commented on how it took a lot of experience to run a day with so light an agenda.

The day certainly went well, and the client's feedback afterwards was 'I am very impressed and encouraged by what we achieved with your help. I am confident it will lead to substantive and beneficial change.'

We will never know, of course, if we would have done better with the original agenda; but my belief is that we would not have.  The way we approached it was much less prescriptive, which resulted in high levels of engagement and commitment.  All the issues the client wanted to address were in fact addressed; and so were some unforeseen - and strategically important ones.

But, of course, the participants on the day will have been wholly unaware of the contribution I had made to shaping the agenda - which is why I return again to the idea of invisible facilitation; and in particular I maintain that the invisible contributions we make as facilitators are often the most valuable ones.