Friday 29 April 2016

Shifting Stories

This week I have sent the final proofs of the book to the publisher. That follows several weeks of proofreading, amending, re-proofing, catching a few more errors or infelicities and amending, re-proofing. And then a catastrophic computer failure (the screen dying) on the part of Jane’s Mac, on which the book was. Fortunately we had an up-to-date backup, so were able  to buy a new machine and rescue it. 

In celebration of finally sending it to the publisher, and also because I was running a workshop on Shifting Stories for leaders at Sunderland University, I launched a Twitter account for the book: @ShiftingStories.

The idea is to start the process of engaging people in conversation about the ideas in the book, signpost the new website (to follow) where I hope more extensive conversation will take place, and, of course, prompt people to buy the book when it is published.

So if anyone has any expertise on growing a Twitter account, I'd be most interested!

I also had the good fortune, this week, to learn from Mark Reed how he has been successfully marketing his excellent book: The Research Impact Handbook . This is selling extremely well, and he kindly shared his marketing strategy with me. The first thing to say is that Mark’s book looks excellent: I have only had time to dip into a borrowed copy so far, but that was enough to convince me to buy it.  But there is no doubt that one of the other reasons it is selling well, is that Mark has given serious thought to his marketing strategy, and I look forward to learning more from him.

I also announced the other week that I had seen Mike’s latest design for the cover of Shifting Stories, and this seems like a good time to post that to this blog: so here it is.

I am also toying with writing a short book on one particular story and how it may be shifted. I imagine calling this one: One Day They'll Find Out: Imposter Syndrome and Other Stories.  I would be very interested to know if anyone would find that a good topic. One option would be to make it available as a free .pdf book, as a trailer or taster for Shifting Stories. But as I say, that is still at the 'toying with the idea' phase.

Friday 22 April 2016

Some (hurried) thoughts on Urgency

On a recent time management programme, we had a really interesting discussion. One of the academics there said that he does his best work under pressure; but he immediately challenged himself on that, which led to an interesting discussion. The consensus was, that despite it often feeling that way, the trope is not really true.  

What is the case is that when we meet a tight deadline, that feels like an achievement.  It is rewarding. And also, it lets us off considering the quality too carefully. Given that we were working against the clock, of course it wasn't perfect. Whereas when we work at a more measured pace, there is no excuse for poor quality work. Is that, perhaps, one of the reasons for urgency addiction: it lets us off the hook a bit?

That made me reflect further on urgency addiction, particularly in the light of all these books on neuropsychology I have been reading. So here's another, related, hypothesis. Working to a tight deadline triggers a release of adrenaline, (the fight or flight response), followed shortly afterwards by cortisol (which focuses us on the immediate crisis and therefore inhibits serotonin, oxytocin, dopamine). That results in us feeling lack-lustre, so we need more adrenaline to feel alive again.... Could that be why some leaders lead from crisis to crisis?

Friday 15 April 2016

Still playing with the Kline approach

I know I keep going on about it (and I am well aware of the danger of the evangelistic zeal of the born-again neophyte in any context), but I continue to be impressed with the power and deceptive simplicity of Nancy Kline's work.

This week I ran a workshop on Time Management, for academics. Normally, the first part of the afternoon is dedicated to dealing with all their 'Yes, Buts...' after we have covered the key ideas and core processes in the morning.

Typically, I do that by getting them to identify their Yes, Buts... before lunch, and then work in syndicates to generate solutions to them after lunch (while I have my siesta, you understand...) That works OK, which is why I do it: sometimes better than others; occasionally it is a bit pedestrian, but at the least it does help convey a sense of agency. That is, if an issue is a serious problem, with a little thought and discussion, they can probably devise a solution.

However, this time, I explained the components of the Thinking Environment to them, and then got them to work in pairs as thinking partnerships; half an hour of listening and half an hour of thinking out loud each.  Once more this proved very powerful. And not only did they learn a lot both about time management, and about the power of really listening (and really being listened to), and how different that was from many of their normal interactions; but also many of them recognised immediately how useful this approach will be with some of the students they teach.

It was certainly a more engaging, more thought-provoking and more useful exercise than the one I used to run at this stage; at least on this occasion. So I will do it again next time, and if it is consistently better, I will use it consistently.

Friday 8 April 2016

Training in the Hogan Tools

I have blogged before about the Hogan psychometric tools. Here is my first post on the subject, explaining my interest, and I reflect on my own learning from the legendary Dark Side questionnaire here.

As a result of this, along with recommendations from clients and coaches whom I respect, I have decided to organise a training and certification programme locally in the North West. I have already found a number of colleagues who wish to do this, so the course is booked. The group looks to be an exciting and dynamic one. I will spare their blushes, by not naming them and citing their many qualities... However, we have spaces for a few more, if anyone else is interested.

The Course will be run by PCL at Lowther Castle (in a room with a roof on!) which is just south of Penrith, on 12/13 July 2016, and the cost will be about £1400 (+VAT). The final figure will depend on the number of people attending, as we are sharing the costs of the venue and the trainer's expenses amongst us.

That is significantly less than the price of PCL's public certification programmes, and other benefits include 2 days in the Lake District, rather than having to travel and stay down South, and working with a small cohort of great local people, who can provide a continuing discussion and learning group afterwards.

For full details of the tools, see here

If you are interested, or know anybody who might be, please get in touch!

Saturday 2 April 2016

The Thinking Partnership Programme

Further to my recent posts about Nancy Kline's work (here and here), I have been on her Thinking Partnership Programme this week, and thought it would be interesting to record my initial reflections.

I should say that I have done days 1 and 2 of a 3 day programme - the third day is in May, when we have had the chance to practice and reflect on our learning from days 1 and 2.

The first thing to record is that it was a hugely enjoyable two days. Nancy (in green in my photo) was excellent, and the other participants on the course, Claudia, Colm, Jenny and Lars were fun and stimulating company. And the venue, Friars Ford in Goring was delightful, too. 

And then there was the content. We had plenty of practice, including rounds, paired work with other participants, and demonstration thinking partner sessions with Nancy working with each of us (except Colm - his turn will come next time) individually whilst the others observed.

We also had plenty of time for discussion, questions and laughter.

A number of things struck me. First of all, there is the power of the work. It seemed evident in all cases that the approach Nancy advocates is very powerful (and see below for comments around my gullibility and confirmation bias etc). Nancy, of course, is a highly skilled practitioner who demonstrates what may best be described as profound simplicity.

The rounds were highly effective; simply ensuring that each person present has the time to speak, with others' full attention on them (and thus no interruption), ensured that everyone arrived, and also connected with everyone else, quickly and simply. Nancy's clear explanation of what to do, including the need to be brief in fairness to all (and in the first round, to focus on something that is going well), was very helpful. I foresee starting many, if not all, of my future meetings like this.

The paired sessions, when we worked with other participants, practicing generative listening, were also powerful. In just five minutes, I got new insights into a problem that I have been worrying away at unsuccessfully for a while, or new ideas about a topic I had not given sufficient thought to until then. Likewise, practicing the listening was valuable: having the privilege of hearing others taking their thinking further, and recognising, once again, just how powerful attention is, in enabling the other person's brain to do its best work.

That was even more evident in the longer sessions when Nancy demonstrated the complete Thinking Partnership process. Each of us found that a very powerful session; and it was deceptive how little Nancy appeared to have to do in order to draw excellent - and new - thinking out of each of our brains. Of course, she was doing a lot; it was just that she said very little.

The process outlined in the books - the listening, and listening again, and listening again, followed (but only if necessary) by asking for the goal for the session, and then identifying and removing limiting assumptions with the Incisive Question - really works. 

I was also fascinated to see how Nancy treated a direct request for her views. She pointed out the danger of infantilising the thinker if one suggests a course of action; instead, she clearly and simply shared some relevant experience, allowing the thinker (Claudia, in this case) to make of it what she would. I learned a lot from watching that, and from Nancy's explanation.

In fact, her continued emphasis on avoiding anything that might risk infantilising the thinker, by placing the thinking partner on a higher plane in any way, has made me re-consider some of my own practice. For example, I always ask a coaching client at the end of a session what he or she plans to do. I always ask him or her to complete and return a Success Report. But should I? Should these be, at most, options available, rather than requirements?

As well as the practical sessions, I learned a lot from the discussions in between, and indeed the conversations over lunch and breaks.

Of particular interest to me was the synthesising of Nancy's (deceptively) simple approach with my interest in neuropsychology. I have blogged before about my learning from books like Neuropsychology for Coaches, and also about my concern that I (and other trainers) may be particularly susceptible to plausible but unproven (or even disproven) approaches (here). So I was fascinated to learn that Paul Brown, who co-authored Neuropsychology for Coaches had attended the programme, and what he made of it. 

Nancy told us that he had been both impressed and puzzled at the consistently reliable way in which the approach worked, in ways which he only sometimes managed to achieve in his own professional practice as a therapist. His theory, on reflecting on this, is that the components of the Thinking Environment quieten the amygdala, so that it releases the approach hormones (rather than the fight/flight hormones triggered, for example, by interruptions, urgency etc). These provide the best neural context for the brain to do its best thinking. 

That is clearly a hypothesis at present, and needs further research; but it is a plausible hypothesis that makes sense of the evidence, from a credible source.

Of course, questions remain. And I am glad, or there is a risk that day 3 would be less stimulating (though actually, I don't think that would be a real risk, even if I had no questions). But also, I am glad because I think we should always be questioning our practice and understanding.

The three that are at the top of my mind at present are ethics, permanence and the Positive Philosophical Choice.  The ethical questions arise from the non-directive nature of the process. The thinker is trusted to make the right meanings and come to the right conclusions; and that is clearly an important and powerful part of the process. But what if the thinker is pursuing a goal that is ethically unacceptable?  I think we will return to that on day 3.

Permanence is my biggest practical question. I recognise that the Incisive Question helps the thinker to replace an untrue limiting assumption with a true, positive one. But for how long? I am not sure if it is only intended to be for the duration of the thinking session, in order that new thoughts may be generated; but if so, that allows the old assumption to resume its dominance, which seems a shame. But if it is intended to over-write the old assumption permanently, I am concerned the approach underestimates the power of habits of thought, environmental and social stimuli, and so on. So that is another conversation I look forward to having on day 3.

And then there is the underlying philosophy: the Positive Philosophical Choice, as Nancy calls it. I quite accept that this is a very valuable working assumption. But what happens in those rare cases when one meets the genuine sociopath, for example? Again, a question I look forward to discussing on the final day of the programme.

So overall, I learned a great deal, was hugely impressed both with Nancy and her work, and would highly recommend the programme to anyone who wants to help others to think at their very best.

And I am looking forward to day 3 enormously.

Friday 1 April 2016

Charity Miles and Charity Photos

I blogged a little while ago about Charity Miles. It is such a simple and brilliant idea. So far this year, just by walking the dog, going for a run in the morning, and longer walks at weekends and during the Easter break, I have raised $77.96 for Charity Water.

I have also told many other people about it, some of whom were similarly enthused (at least to my face) so I hope that they too are taking money from the likes of Johnson and Johnson, and giving it to worthwhile good causes.

But more recently, I have started using the Donate a Photo app. That one is even simpler: you upload a photo, and they (Johnson and Johnson) give a dollar to a charity. What's the catch? You can only donate one photo a day. So that means that if you do it all year, you have transferred $365 from J&J to a charity of your choosing (from quite a good list of choices.)  I am giving to Operation Smile, which provides free surgery for children with cleft lips.

So if you have a smartphone, download the apps, and help redistribute wealth from large corporations to charities doing some real good in the world!