Listening loudly, a lost art?

Listening loudly is one of my favourite concepts, it implies you are actively listening, paying attention and hearing what is being said. We all know someone who people just open their hearts to, they’re that person who you’ve told your story to without even realising it, that friend who everyone confides in.  Think about it, I’m pretty sure you can think of someone.

“Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.” –Karl A. Menniger

I think that’s why I enjoy the Listening Project on Radio 4 where people come with their friends and family to have conversations packed with fun, love and pain and they really listen to each other, sharing their stories, unfolding their relationships demonstrating the power of listening.

Sadly our conversations rarely include active listening, too often our day-to-day dialogue is at best a dance with two people waiting to speak, at worst a verbal sparring for speaking rights.  Instead of listening to the other person we concentrate on how to make our next point, get our perspective in, make a statement, we’re thinking ahead rarely listening to what is or isn’t being said, how it’s being said… Stephen Covey hit the nail on the head: “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”  


Sociologist Les Back argues that our culture is one “that speaks rather than listens. From reality TV to political rallies, there is a clamour to be heard, to narrate, and to receive attention. It reduces ‘reality’ to revelation and voyeurism.” (The Art of Listening, Les Back: 2007)

Think back to last conversation you had, what was your intent? How was your tolerance for silence? Did you sit with it or did you try to fill the space? When was the last time you stopped yourself making a statement and instead asked an open question? What difference might that have made to the conversation you had?


Coaches, therapists, counsellors, researchers learn to listen loudly, actively making space for people to tell their stories, share their feelings and express their opinions.

But great listening skills aren’t just important for people working in ‘listening’ professions. We could all benefit from more awareness of how to listen well. Parents with children, families, friends, work colleagues… How much more engaged could we be and how much more understanding would we have if we stopped and really listened to what other people are saying?

Listening actively is more than about hearing the words someone is saying, it’s multi-layered and contextual – we need to understand their environment, hear what’s not being said and listen to the cadence and rhythm of their story.

Listening well is a simple act of human empathy but it’s not always easy…

 “Listening is a positive act, you have to put yourself out to do it” – David Hockney

Listening has played a huge role in my life. My career as a qualitative researcher exploring difficult social issues like poverty, disadvantage and discrimination taught me how to listen gently to people and encourage them to share their stories, however painful or distressing, without imposing my views or perspectives on their narrative. That was tough, learning to listen, not intervening or trying to ‘mend’ situations knowing that the power of the telling would be when we could weave those stories together into a compelling analysis and place it in front of people with the power to make a difference. It was uncomfortable to learn to sit with silence, not jumping in to relieve my discomfort. But frequently from that silence came the most profound revelations, feelings and insights.

It took me years to learn how to listen properly, ask questions which probed gently but didn’t lead and it’s a craft that needs constant attention. No two conversations are the same.

For most of my adult life I’ve also been involved in education & learning working with people to build their strengths and grow their capabilities. Listening plays a huge role here too whether in coaching, understanding what people need or in facilitation. What do people need to learn? How best can they build their skills and knowledge, what makes them uncomfortable, what challenges them, what gets them thinking in new and creative ways? You just can’t answer these questions without listening deeply. If you want to build a learning community you have to listen, broadcasting doesn’t work well for deep learning or for building relationships (see my earlier post here on building communities).

Social media and the growth of digital communication are often blamed for a decline in conversation and a rise in broadcasting. We’ve certainly seen a growth in abuse and the Brexit campaign led me along with others to question the quality, and kindness, that often seemed lacking in political, public and our personal dialogues. But it’s lazy to blame social media, after all they are what we make them. The conversations, broadcasting, support or abuse are largely created by us (give or take the robot spammers). Yet I’ve also seen many instances where online conversations offered positive empathy, support and succour.

Several years ago I found myself with the proverbial boot on the other foot. I was in pain, experiencing deep depression and I couldn’t talk to my closest friends or family. I needed to talk and more importantly I needed to be listened to. I wouldn’t have been able to articulate that need at the time, but my months in the counselling chair, and on the telephone to the support helpline I’d call occasionally when things got too much, taught me how supportive and life-changing the power of empathic, active listening could be. Those listening spaces gave me room to talk, and somewhere I could sit with my silence, reach my own conclusions and answers. And it helped, unquantifiably so. It wasn’t that my friends and family didn’t want to help, they really did, they were simply ill-equipped to listen they wanted to fix, find a solution and make things happen for me. I just needed to be heard and not judged.


And now I happily find myself working at Samaritans where 20,000+ volunteers provide a 24/7 listening service to people who need emotional support, in just the last twelve months they’ve answered 3,650, 986 individual calls. I’ll let that sink in.

If this doesn’t tell us that as a society our listening skills could be better I don’t know what does. I don’t just hope I know that if we all listened more, and talked less then we could make a difference. Listening is neglected art and one we could all do with refreshing and strengthening.

shushWhatever you’re going through, you can call Samaritans for free any time, from any phone on 116 123. And you might want to have a look at some of our resources for listening well like our listening wheel and SHUSH listening tips.

Blowing those cobwebs away…

For me the New Year always feels like it should begin at the end of January not the start. Chinese New Year falling in late January or early February always seems a much more sensible time for new beginnings.

There’s something a bit bloated and stultifying about the early days of January as we adjust to the harsh reality of having spent, eaten, socialised too much in the preceding weeks. Add to that the dark nights, grey days and no wonder we all walk around looking a bit ashen. Then as the month moves forward I really begin to think about the year ahead and the possibilities of the coming months. I want to be outside not hugging the radiator for warmth, as comforting as closeting yourself at home against the ravages of the winter weather is, it can be smothering. My brain gets a little too relaxed over the Christmas period, it takes a few weeks for the wheels to get working again!

I want to blow away the mental cobwebs and reconnect with the world outside of the front door by the end of January. So this weekend we drove to Scarborough and took a long walk on the seafront punctuated by some fish and chips. It’s part of our ongoing adventure in the North of England and we’re enjoying the luxury of discovering Yorkshire and all it has to offer.  It was wonderful, sunny and bracing with brilliant blue skies. OK so we got hailed on eventually but that just added to the charm and the feeling of reconnection with the world.

The capriciousness and uncontrollable nature of the sea is something to behold and the seaside in winter is best of all. Something about the relentless crashing of waves, the great beyond, looking at the neverending horizon makes me feel alive and connected. It’s strangely calming even with waves crashing against the shore and a strong wind  blowing. Luckily for us it was pretty calm until the hail hit!


So thanks to that little trip out I feel energised and ready to take on February.

And it seems I’m not alone, tonight as I was finishing this blog I came across this post from David Goddin (@changecontinuum) yesterday – Calling Time .

So what are you doing to blow your mental cobwebs away as February begins?



I’ve been travelling up and down to York for my new job over the last month and found myself thinking a lot about the concept of recalibration. Usually associated with mechanics and measurement, checking if an instrument is measuring to a fine degree of precision, I think recalibration is a great metaphor for a process of taking stock and making changes.

The biggest changes I’ve experienced in the past came about through forced recalibration – bereavement, illness, unexpected quirks of fate – all of those left me with no choice but to rethink my life. We do adapt, sometimes quickly, sometimes painfully to those changes but the trigger event is not one we would necessarily have chosen, and for me the changes weren’t thought through, I just had to live them.


About nine months ago I began a different process. A more purposive recalibration. I began to wonder whether I’d stopped as often as I should to reflect on if my life was providing me, and those close to me with what we needed. Was what had been important to us still as important, were there tweaks and changes we could make to how we live? Was the way I did things working, or was I just doing things that way because it was comfortable? I stopped and thought it’s time for a change.

I’m not sure at the outset I’d quite planned on the massive change it’s turned into (new job, new house, new city) but I definitely knew I’d found myself at that jumping off place I’ve written about before. And I’ve learnt that that initial plunge is just the beginning.

My recalibration, as I’ve started a new job and (almost) moved to a new town, has involved thinking hard about how the knowledge, skills and networks I’ve already developed fit into my new environment.

I’ve been imagetrying to force myself to test assumptions and constantly check to make sure I’m being open to what’s new and different. There’s quite a fine line between using your existing knowledge and the lessons you’ve learnt in one place, relationship or job and falling into the comfort of old assumptions, ways of working or thinking.

I’ve also been reading Redirect: changing the stories we live by – by social psychologist Timothy Wilson (read a précis here from @brainpicker) and it’s helped me to be alert to how much my own interpretation of my life affects how I respond and react to change.  It’s fascinating listening to how the little voice in my head hinders or helps me as I move in unfamiliar spaces.

It’s been hugely energising not to have an organisational memory to rely on, to be walking down unfamiliar streets, seeing different landmarks and meeting new people. The recalibration is far from over, I’m consciously checking I’m not limiting my understanding by measuring up new experiences against the old, and being open to my routines and conversations being different.

We all calibrate our lives on a daily basis adjusting to the worlds we move in as they flex and change, but sometimes I think what you really need to do is throw all the cogs up in the air and see how they fall. Exciting.

A huge thank you to every single person who’s offered kind words, encouragement, answered my daft questions at the office, or just been a supportive presence as I’ve thrown up the cogs –  it’s deeply appreciated.

Persistence & learning #blimage

Welcome to #blimage Steve Wheeler (@timbuckteeth), Amy Burvell (@amyburvell) and a number of other folk have been playing #blimage this week. You can read more about the #blimage challenge here on Steve’s blog and on Amy’s here. Essentially it involves four simple steps:

  • Take an image (or use the one Steve provided)
  • Write blog post prompted by the image on the theme of learning
  • Post your blog and share using #blimage
  • Inspire someone else by sending them an image

I love this idea, it’s a fun and fast way to get our creative juices flowing and as I’ve been struggling to get my blog on in the midst of a job change and house move the timing couldn’t have been better.


I drew this image a couple of years ago after being captivated by a line of ants dismantling a leaf and carrying it back to their nest. I like it as a metaphor for learning. Yes learning can be fun and exciting but often it also requires a healthy dose of persistence.

And that can be challenging, we live in an age when we expect to get ‘stuff’ on demand and even though we can now deliver a cornucopia of multimedia learning resources to people’s mobiles and tablets on demand the one thing we can’t guarantee is that they’ll ‘get it’ immediately.

Sometimes learning takes time, it’s messy and it’s complex – it challenges us. Whether we’re trying to master a new skill set, learn a language, or get a handle on a theory, learning demands a lot of us. To succeed we have to persist, keep practicing and trying to finesse our skills or deepen our knowledge. Just ask a top athlete, persistence is crucial even in the face of setbacks.

When I’ve found the process daunting or overwhelming I’ve resorted to the ant’s trick of tackling the challenge in bite sized chunks, lifting what I can carry and coming back for more bites over time. Sometimes I’ve had a line of helper ants to assist me. Working in groups with others & learning from their experiences, sharing the task, reflecting with my #pln that social connectivity can really help my learning process. Sometimes it’s just something you have to tackle on your own, keep an eye on your end goal and be persistent.

When we’re planning teaching or learning programmes we owe it to our learners to recognise that learning isn’t always easy, straightforward or quick. Sometimes the process will be hard, and lengthy. Let’s take a cue from my friend the ant, use bite sized chunks and build in the help of others to help carry the load. And be kind, try to remember what it felt with the last time you felt daunted by the learning ahead of you, remember how overwhelming that felt and then try to share that journey with your students, be honest, admit it might be tough but remind them you’ll be there for them along the way. Sometimes the road you travel teaches you more than the final destination.

And here’s an image for those of you who are in need of some #blimage inspiration…


Flawed, but willing to turn the ship around…

I’ve been lucky enough to have some down time over the last couple of weeks and in between packing up the house for our impending move to York I’ve had the chance to catch up on some reading. I’ve devoured a fair few novels but what really stopped me in my tracks were two books ostensibly both non-fiction and on leadership. Honestly, usually I pick up books on leadership and by the second or third chapter I need to take a break, there’s something dehumanising about a lot of leadership writing which doesn’t speak to me. Not so these two, both kept me rapt, eagerly turning the page for the next chapter, and importantly both have really made me reflect on my own leadership style and actions. They spoke to me with a persuasive, gentle authority, based on very personal experience and the expertise that comes from the practice of leadership, rather than the practice of theorising about leadership.

flawed but willing

The first was Flawed but Willing: Leading Large Organizations in the Age of Connection by Khurshed Dehnugara. I’ve followed Khurshed on Twitter (@relume1) for some time and have watched videos of him speak so I was really looking forward to reading his second book. It is something very special. In the vast shelves of leadership tomes it stands out as a raw, yet beautiful, evocation of the challenge of leadership in our fragile, socially, connected age. Khurshed has crafted a book which will really speak to you whether you work in a large or small organisation, in the commercial or not for profit sectors. It’s rare I find a leadership book un-put-downable but I read this in one sitting. It’s uniqueness comes from the emotion packed into each page, the stories that are told are not tub-thumping fists on table messages about leadership but gentle, uncertain whispers speaking about inner strength, resilience and a willingness not to have all the answers. The superman/woman myth of so many leadership books is firmly put to bed, in its place the reality of flawed but willing leaders in uncertain times who are learning to listen to others, their environment and their own inner voices to manage the challenges and seize the opportunities they are faced with.

Put simply, it is brilliant and quite unlike any other leadership book I’ve read for a long time, it offers no answers, or models, but instead a series of questions which encourage you, the reader, to stop and reflect on how you act, or react, on who or what you listen to and whether you could do things differently. The emotion weaved into the individual stories is far removed from clinical case studies you typically find and all the more powerful for it.

More than once I found myself completely wrapped up in those stories and carried back to moments in my own career when I’ve faced similar challenges or issues. When I finished it I felt touched and heartened by the message that it’s OK to be flawed but willing, that there is a way to navigate leadership which draws on love, valiance, gentleness, awareness and persistence to create something shared and human. you can read more about Khurshed and his organisation here.

Turn the ship aroundThe second book – Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders by David Marquet (@ldavidmarquet) was, on the surface, a whole different proposition. Marquet writes about his time serving in the US navy and specifically, about his first command as the captain of the Santa Fe a US nuclear submarine and the ‘cast of characters’ he inherited as his crew. He brings the crew and their stories alive by describing his own challenges as he sought to literally to turn the submarine around in reputation, performance and morale. I make a point of keeping my eye out for books from military authors not least because my brother is a long-serving naval officer. We’ve talked about the challenges of leading a crew of hundreds on a ship in the middle of the ocean so I spy books he might enjoy and invariably find myself reading them too. This one caught my eye a while ago when I saw this animation which neatly sums up the story David tells in his book:


What David describes is a form of leadership where you return intent and control to people in your organisations, where you subvert the traditional command & control model and find an alternative proposition which engages and empowers people at all levels. He’s talking about a new form of leader-leader leadership not the traditional military leader-follower or even servant leader models favoured by military organisations.  But he’s also not talking holocracy, after all this is a nuclear submarine, but he does argue that older uni-directional command chains can’t manage the complexity of our modern world and workplaces, submarine or not.  Even in that challenging environment with such high stakes he describes how simple changes can produce dramatic results. Most simple of all was a single change from the crew asking for ‘permission to…’ to presenting what they ‘intend to…’ do.

Here is where the two books converge both authors portray the importance of dialogue and context, of listening to each other and working collaboratively. David perfectly captures the futility of not listening and talking to each other when he describes the state of play when he first joined the Santa Fe where orders were given and carried out unwaveringly even if they were poorly judged, where crew unaccustomed to being asked their views, kept their views to themselves. Unlike the first book David does provide a series of steps (yes a model!) for how he achieved the shift aboard the Santa Fe, this simple act of  getting his teams to talk to one another about what they intended to do before carrying it out led to huge changes. I loved how he described the traditional hush of the submarine being gently, slowly replaced by a low-level hubbub of crew members explaining to each other what they were about to do  (he calls this deliberate action and sees it as something which underpins competence), providing valuable checks and balances on each other’s decisions, alternative perspectives and on occasion the few minutes needed to avert a serious mistake. This is ‘working out loud’ writ large. Importantly leaders need to have confidence to let go of their power and sit in whatever discomfort that may bring in the short-term because the end results of empowering others will be worth it. Like Khurshed, David writes that leaders need to let go of their power and control and learn to sit in the discomfort that may bring them in the short-term, to realise the long-term value of letting go. Read more about David here.

I’ll leave you to discover the rest of both books for yourself, I hope you do. Both books are worthy of your time and if you do read them then you’re treating yourself to two great examples of authentic storytelling. Both felt more like novels than non-fiction texts to me and made more of an impact for that reason. I was moved and inspired twice in one week, thanks to both authors who have set me up nicely to enter my new role with a heightened sense of self-awareness and some great ideas for things I can try to inject into my daily practice. If we all recognise we’re flawed we can open ourselves to coming together to turn our own ships around to face wherever they need to head next.

Curating and transferring knowledge & collaborative social learning #CIPDLDshow

A jam-packed session chaired by Julian Stodd (@julianstodd) focused on tacit knowledge in our organisations, how we share it and how we collaborate to create it and create change.  Both presentations were from the medical sector, one, Astra Zeneca operating in a highly regulated manufacturing environment and the second, the NHS IQ team (@NHSIQ)

First up was Roy Davis from Astra Zeneca. Roy described a complex transfer of the manufacturing process of an accentuated influenza vaccine from AZ offices in California to Liverpool. His case study illustrated at a really granular level the difficulties of transferring tacit knowledge, of making visible ‘hidden factories’ which our teams use day in day out to complete their work but may never have shared with anyone. Tacit knowledge and expertise is built over years of doing something, but if that person leaves or the job has to shift to another site/team the lack of explicit, shared knowledge becomes business critical.

Key challenges included the lack of tangible knowledge or training for the team from LiVerpool, the sensitivities of established scientists letting go of a process they had developed and owned for a long time and importantly making that process and knowledge visible. Roy showed lots of the research models and process analysis that was needed to make this knowledge visible but what struck me was how integral the emotional contract was to the success of this project. Getting buy in from the scientists with the knowledge and making sure all of the project team understood the emotional sensitivities of taking over that process was key. And it all had to be focused on the importance (that word purpose came up again 😉) of everyone understanding why doing the project well was critical to the ability of the organisation to achieve its goals of providing safe, live vaccines to  those in need of them. Lots of mind sets needed changing her alongside the careful and precise documentation and exposing if core processes. And I liked the stress on the fact that none of this was accidental and it all hinged on recognition and appreciation being paid to those who were undertaking the work and handing over the knowledge.

The next speakers were Carol Read (@CarolLRead) and Kate Pound (@KateSlater2) both Transformation Fellows of the NHS Horizons Group @NHSIQ. I agree with Julian that some of the most radical OD and change work is being done in the NHS at the moment, some of it by this team. It was a really good presentation.

They described their work creating the School for Health and Care Radicals MOOC, a five week programme, and their new open access The Edge (@theEdgeNHS) collaborative curation platform for encouraging connections, sharing of knowledge and most importantly, change.  I loved their description of their goals as a team including activating the radicals, giving staff permission to change and innovate, and to attempt to jump the gap by skipping five years forward, not going through each stage of innovation but jumping to where you want to be now. Central to the whole project was creating a bottom up drive for change & innovation, empowering staff across the NHS to make a difference and improve patient care. There were five key planks to their strategy (and you can read more about the wider strategy here in this White Paper

  • activate disrupters, heretics radicals and mavericks
  • lead transformation from the edge
  • change your story
  • curate rather than create  knowledge
  • build bridges to connect the disconnected.

Really passionate and great stuff being done using lots of new approaches, including encouraging people to tell their digital stories.

Attending the MOOC along side NHS staff at all levels and in different clinical and non clinical functions  has given people permission to make change and created a culture of permission for innovation. The #NHSChangeDay has been a great demonstration and beacon for this. Change becomes everyone’s job, not something done to you but something you shape. And what was completely critical to this was creating a community of participants, talking to each other, social and emotional ties and beliefs that unite teams however big in a common purpose. Yes please lots more of this. What a lovely way to end my time at this year’s show, inspired and full of ideas, just how it should be. Fabulous.

From lurker to learner – ignite your passions #CIPDldshow

Using social media for my own personal and professional development is almost second nature to me now but five years ago I didn’t know my hashtags from my hash browns!

This morning I’m giving an Ignite talk at the CIPD L&D show on how I journeyed from being a shy introverted lurker on social media to harnessing its value for my own development.  Let’s not dwell on the anxiety that the Ignite format induces (20 slides, 5 mins, 15 seconds per slide) or is that just me?! or the fact that I was at my own leaving do last night and many in the audience will have been at the Day 1 #tweet up till late the night before, let’s try to focus… with me yet?

Here’s a few of my thoughts on using social media for your development:

  • Not enough people in L&D yet use social media to its fullest potential for their own and others learning.
  • It’s invaluable for providing peer insight and challenge, especially if you’re the sole L&D professional in your organisation.
  • The learning you can gain from being active on social media is immense, and it can be as purposeful and boundaried as you want it to be, you don’t need to spend every waking second tweeting to get value from your engagements.
  • It helps you gain fresh perspectives – building a personal learning network (PLN) on Twitter or Google +, Facebook provides a springboard into new relationships, collaborations and conversations.
  • Conversations are at the heart of a healthy PLN – just as in your relationships offline, conversations on social media need to be two-way, you give, you receive – reciprocity is key.

melville quote

  • Each little gesture, comment on other people’s tweets or posts, likes or favourites will give you courage and encourage others to connect with you.
  • You’ll need to experiment a little to find the platform that suits you, some people like the fast paced brevity of Twitter, others prefer more visual formats like Pinterest or Tumblr, try them, settle in, get comfortable and watch what’s going on.
  • Lurking is fine as you find your feet, getting social for the first time can be scary so there’s nothing wrong with watching, listening in and learning. But if that’s all you do you are missing out on serendipitous connections, new ideas and a stream of resources and horizon widening perspectives.
  • It’s not hard to get started – find people you’ve heard of, respect or who talk about things you’re interested in and follow them, then follow people they follow – as a famous Meerkat would say ‘simples’.
  • Try not fear the stream, the sheer volume of posts on any social media network can be overwhelming but think of it like a passign river not a deluge. You can dip your toe in and out – you can’t and won’t experience everything or engage with everyone & that’s OK – and don’t worry too much about how you’ll come across, every time you dip your toe in you’ll make a tiny ripple, it’s not a wave, it won’t overcome you.
  • Try Twitterchats to get you into the flow of conversations and meeting new folk – they usually last no longer than an hour and are focused on a series of linked questions/issues or a single topic. There are a host of brilliant L&D chats you can join like #ldinsight (Friday mornings 8-9am GMT) or #chat2lrn (First Thursday of the month 4-5pm GMT) to name but two, #pkmchat is a US based chat on personal knowledge management which is also great and highlights the way social media can internationalise your learning network. Read more here about how to participate in a Twitter chat, they really got me started and gave me confidence to start having my own voice and find my place on social media. Here’s some more advice on Tweetchatting:

I’m recognising that this may not fit into the 5 minutes I have for my Ignite talk – AAGH!!

Anyway… my final thought is that your PLN needs to grow with you, it will change shape over time, if you want your network to keep nourishing your curiosity you’ll need to tend to it, if you don’t do this then your network will stagnate and you’ll stop hearing new and interesting thing. Be careful you don’t end up in echo chamber of people saying like-minded things. It’s human nature to seek the familiar and agreeable but we all need a bit of challenge in our lives, seek out people with different or alternative perspectives, look for people who are outside of your sector or profession, see what you can share with each other.

There’s a whole heap of excellent advice on building PLNs & getting social online, here are a few:


And above all appreciation is important, your network is not an impersonal ‘thing’ it’s a diverse group of human beings, each with their own challenges, anxieties and insights, remember to thank them for sharing – for helping you to grow. So my PLN – I salute you, you share your insights, time and resources with me and challenge me to do better, think wider, and keep learning on a daily basis.

thank you for helping me grow

The power of purpose – building resilience #cipldshow

Olympia looked majestic in the brilliant sunshine this morning and there was a definite buzz around the place and not just from the coffee. This year’s CIPD L&D show is offering a range of different sessions from free tasters in the main exhibition, short Ignite talks to full workshops. Only able to stay for half a day I picked two sessions on leadership, a topic close to my heart. image The importance of being full of purpose and, for leadership teams importantly, that being a shared, collective purpose  was a unifying theme at both sessions. A key message I took away from the opening session from Tim Munden & Nick Pope was the importance of leadership teams learning together, building collective capacity, this really struck a chord with me.

The sum has be more than the total of its parts and that takes work and persistence, dialogue and sometimes dissonance. You have to learn how to work together around the table and out in your organisation. Why then are so many leadership development programmes focused on the individual? Good question.

The second session from Alan Nobbs of the NHS Leadership Academy and Peter Morgan from Caffe Nero demonstrated this again, in both settings the leadership development includes a hefty dose of new, existing or potential leaders learning together, sharing experiences and building insights.

Nick Pope’s comment that you’ll know you’ve achieved collective capacity  when you see your Director of HR talking about business performance or the Director of Operations discussing people strategy at staff meetings really rang through, we have to lead out from our functions, that’s what convinces people we are a team and what shapes a common purpose.

I can’t sign off without giving a shout out for the way resilience is a core feature of the strategy at Unilever, they described an impressive range of activities which they implement to support and strengthen individual, team and organisational wellbeing  (emotional, physical and mental) and it was having an impact, we can all get behind that.

I’ll nuance this a bit if time permits but hopefully it gives a flavour of some of the themes from my Day 1.

Blogging for golden nuggets of wisdom

I’m so delighted to be part of the team asked to cover the CIPD L&D show this year, delighted and a bit daunted. I’ve been tweeting and blogging for a while but never in an ‘official’ capacity, I think I get a press pass which is very exciting! As I type this I’m charging up devices and batteries and pondering what else will help me make a good job of this… 

Having an open mind and a ready ear will go a long way I think as will just trying to soak up and reflect the atmosphere. I’m going to try to curate some of the many and varied golden nuggets of wisdom about L&D that I know from looking at the programme will emerge and ground that in my own experiences of L&D.

Social media has made events like this so much more than they used to be, tweeting, conference back channels and live blogging help to open the doors of Olympia (or wherever) to everyone who can’t attend and invite a wider dialogue about the issues being discussed in the seminar rooms, lecture theatres and coffee queues. So join me, and my fellow bloggers by following the hashtag #cipdldshow and we’ll do our best to bring your voices in, ask your questions and share what we’re hearing. It’s going to be fun.


Getting creative – a review of Creative Research Methods in the Social Sciences

creative research methodsCreative research methods have a long tradition in the arts and humanities, but are much less familiar in the social sciences. So I’m delighted to see this new book from Dr Helen Kara offer a welcome insight into the growing field of creative research methods for social science research. The book is a positive romp through a whole range of creative methods and approaches. Inevitably this means that the book is wide in scope rather than deep in detail on any one approach but for me this was a plus. The book feels encyclopedic in the care and attention that has been given to documenting references, case studies and examples, providing a vast range of references to works for you to explore at your leisure in more detail as you want. It’s a timely and much needed prompt to all social scientists about the importance of thinking outside of the box and not being afraid to jump out of our methodological comfort zones once in a while.

I was particularly taken by an early example of the use of crochet to model the geometry of  hyperbolic planes by Latvian mathmatician Daina Taimina. And I was pleased to see concepts like ‘bricolage’ and ‘remix‘ in research being discussed. Creative combinations of methods and reworking established approaches into new and exciting designs are all part of the creative landscape we are encouraged to explore.

The book is really thought-provoking, as I read through its pages I found myself considering a wider range of methods than I might normally and if it has the same effect on others we could be in for interesting times. From innovative uses of ‘conventional’ social science methods like surveys or focus groups, through to creative mapping (see for example this video on using emotion mapping in clinical practice with families), performative research, technology enabled research (good to see the #NSMNSS network getting a shout out too🙂 ) and the use of graphic novels, it urges us to think differently about what social science research looks like. I also like that the book is clear that not all creative approaches to research will be innovative and that you can (and should?) be creative with tried and tested conventional methods like interviews, focus groups and surveys. This is important, especially for applied researchers where research clients and funders may be less open to the more overtly creative approaches of performance and art-based social research.

Rather than having chapters on specific creative approaches the book is organised around different stages in the research process, providing guidance and examples of how and why creativity can be built into research design, data collection, analysis and writing. It also does not shy away from the thorny issues of ethics and rigour. The book challenges social scientists to reflect on their methods, to try new approaches and apply some creative thinking. But it doesn’t do so mindlessly, it also reminds us to think about the ethics, quality and rigour of what we are doing as we experiment.

I’ll be writing more about creativity later this month seeing as I’m attending a day long workshop on creative leadership this week swiftly followed a day at the Social Research Association’s first conference on creative research methods. But for now, it’s a big thumbs up from me for this book, a great read, one I expect to be dipping into time and time again!