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A matter of changing routines

We love a routine. Don’t we?

I started a new interim role two weeks ago. For the first time in my working life I have become a daily train commuter. I have a new, but defined, morning routine in place:

  • 6.30am alarm
  • Shower
  • Make coffee
  • Drink coffee
  • Put lunch and snacks in my handbag
  • Grab a banana to eat on my way to the station
  • Walk to the station, stroking the small tortoiseshell cat in the next street on the way (this interaction forms part of her daily routine)
  • Give a cereal bar to the homeless man outside the train station (he pretends to be asleep but as soon as I’ve walked past a hand appears out of his sleeping bag and squirrels away my offering – that’s his routine)
  • Get to station 8-10 minutes ahead of the train so I have time to buy my second coffee of the day (medium caramel latte)
  • Fight my way onto the train, accepting the inevitable lack of available seat, and settle in by the door for 25 minutes with either my kindle or my knitting
  • Get off the train, put my empty coffee cup in the recycling bin and walk down the road to the office
  • Arrive at my desk at 8.15am

Within two weeks this has become what I do, almost unconsciously.  I see others playing out their own routines in the same way. I’m starting to recognise the same people at the station each morning, and being impressed with the ones who play it right down to the wire, arriving on the platform at exactly the same time as the train – an edge of the seat approach which I think would cause me to have palpitations, but it is an intrinsic part of their individual routine.

So yes, we love a routine. And yet life is lived in a state of ongoing change. No two days are exactly the same – the people we see and speak to, the work we complete, the weather, our emotional state all lead to a unique daily experience. These changing experiences do not in fact cause most people to implode.

change cat

Buddhism holds that everything is in a constant state of flux and we choose whether we accept change passively and are swept away by it, or whether we take the lead and create positive changes on our own initiative. Human nature leads us to consciously believe that we are uncomfortable with change but, when you break it down, we are accepting and adapting to change on a continual basis, in something of an unconsciously fluid zen state. My own new routine has become established, without any real thought, and within a very short period of time. 

If we can recognise and accept this then we can leverage our natural ability to work within change in our personal and our working lives. After all change is change, it is just the quantum and impact that varies. If we can view our routines as a tool for efficiently managing natural change, rather than as a coping mechanism to enable us to deny it is happening, then we can approach it in a more positive frame of mind, and on our own initiative. Surely that leads to a winning situation for everyone.

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Its all a matter of perspective

I spent this weekend in Wales with a group of amazing women.

My running club, exclusively for women only, arrange an annual walking weekend and this year twenty three of us spent the weekend in a Victorian workhouse, transformed into a fairly rustic hostel, in Llanfyllin in mid-Wales. I know how much wonderful variety we have in this group and so I knew that this would be a rich vein of inspiration for my next blog post. It didn’t take long to find that inspiration.

My instinctive expectation was that I would be writing something about team roles, and how new groups work together to identify what those roles are. Not that we are a new group as such – many of us have known each other for several years. But the mix on the annual ramble varies each year, and these weekends are much more intense than our usual hour long chatty runs, and so there is a new dynamic to be formed.

As it turned out though, the team element didn’t spark my interest quite as much as a realisation I had when reviewing the inevitable photographic posts on social media when we all returned.

Collage 3

All of us had stayed at the same venue, participated in the same walks, sat on the same hillside for lunch, eaten and drank in the same pub, sat around the same firepit in the evening. My expectation was therefore a catalogue of approximately the same set of photographs from each of us. But as each person uploaded their photographs I saw something very different. A unique perspective reflecting each individual’s background and the impact of this on their experience of the weekend. My photos are generally broad landscapes reflecting my love of open spaces, others have snapped shots of the people in the group taken to tell the story of the weekend. Some shots are carefully framed close ups with a more artistic slant, some have a clear focus on food! Some posted a few choice photos, others posted everything they had taken allowing the viewer to sieve through and choose their favourites. Some chose to take no photos at all and simply to leave with memories.

Collage 2

So this leads to a lovely montage of photographs but also to a serious point. If twenty three women, who are not exactly diverse in the broadest sense of the word, can have such unique perspectives on the same weekend, can you even begin to imagine how many individual viewpoints there are on every problem, every decision, every success, every failure, at every level and specialism in the workplace?

I’m not suggesting for a moment that each one of these perspectives can realistically be gathered and considered in most business decisions – nothing would ever get done. But the next time someone challenges you, or you need to challenge them, remember that their perspective is unique and real. The next time you are involved in a decision that affects a number of people, remember that group is made up of individuals who are the sum of their own experiences. A little more discussion could help you to understand these unique perspectives and might just lead to a more creative and collaborative solution.

Collage 1

What’s your natural talent?

Do you know what your natural talent is?

It’s a great moment when you see someone who not only has a natural talent, but has found a way to make that an intrinsic part of their life and career. This weekend I witnessed one, and was told about another.

On Saturday I went to see a production of The Call of the Wild by Jack London – which happened to be starring my best friend’s husband. When I say starring, he was the one and only actor in it. An hour and a half long, one-man performance, where he played the narrator and every character (human and dog) in the book. This involved a myriad of accents, mannerisms and physical movement, not to mention (and I may have already said this) AN HOUR AND A HALF of dialogue. I was absolutely mesmerised by the ability to remember and perform all this with no other cast members to bounce off or prompt – just incredible. He says it was the hardest thing he had ever done. I don’t doubt it – but I do know that you have to have a huge amount of natural talent to be able to pull that off.

On the same day my best friend’s parents were telling me about their latest planned trip to Canada in September. It has been arranged through an independent travel agent – someone they had used previously for a trip to Australia and New Zealand. Booking a second trip through the same lady had happened by chance. They had bumped into her at a travel show and were amazed that, seven years and several hundred clients down the line, she recalled who they were and all the vital details about them and their travel preferences. This gave them absolute confidence in using her again for their next trip. Another great example of someone who knows their talent and has leveraged this in a successful career.

This morning I dropped into a café and treated myself to a chilli hot chocolate and a bit of thinking time. It was one of those hipster cafes full of achingly cool people ignoring each other and tapping away on their laptops. For the record I am NOT achingly cool, I just really like their hot chocolate. Its only a small café, there were two people working, so you would expect, despite a menu of about 57 artisan coffees, teas and hot chocolates, not to have to wait for long for your drink. And yet I did – a good ten minutes. Not actually a problem – I never can get too excitable about such things anyway. It did however cross my mind that perhaps the manager was not leveraging a natural talent in his role here? But then I hesitated…. because his ability to keep his customers engaged while they were waiting was almost uncanny. He was keeping up a steady stream of very natural dialogue, chatting to everyone, engaging waiting customers in discussions about the history of the town, their suppliers, future plans, and how to make icepops for dogs. Despite the wait, he saw to it that there was absolutely no sense of frustration or tension in the waiting customers and that, particularly given the British love of complaining, is a talent in itself.

Image result for hipster meme

All of the above, unsurprisingly, describe talents which have an external impact – they are about engaging people in some way – and they are easy to see. Others will have talents which are less obvious but equally as valuable, quietly making a difference.

I have no idea what my talent is – unless fetching stuff off the top shelves of supermarkets for little old ladies counts – though I’m not sure that growing ridiculously tall counts as a talent in itself. And so I find myself envying those who do have a good understanding of their own strengths.

Do you know what yours is and, more importantly, can you recognise and appreciate them in others? Perhaps if you don’t know what yours is, someone else does, so why not ask?

 

The art of conversation

Today I bonded with a stranger over a pigeon with a deformed foot.

I took a seat on the platform next to a young lady at Birmingham New Street waiting for a delayed train. In the usual British manner we didn’t make eye contact or acknowledge each other in any way. Until a pigeon arrived in front of us, hobbling with one gnarled foot and we both made a sort of involuntary ‘poor pigeon’ noise at the same time (yes, the same one you’ve just made in your head). 

I was eating a sandwich at the time so I threw a bit of bread to the pigeon, who made a right song and dance out of trying to eat it. My new companion’s subsequent attempts to feed the pigeon bits of spring roll and raspberries, and the pigeon’s ability to scatter bits of food everywhere had us in fits of giggles. Then a second pigeon rocked up to see what all the fuss was about, and this one was missing a toe from one foot. This observation took us onto a discussion about whether the pigeons had intentionally maimed themselves to elicit gourmet lunches from sympathetic strangers and reflections on poverty-stricken countries where there is a known practice of maiming children with the purpose of begging from tourists (a nasty but unfortunate reality). Not ordinarily a great basis for a conversation except that it showed we both clearly had a love of travel. 

We spent the rest of our wait, and then the subsequent train journey (turned out she was going to the same place as me) chatting about places we had been, what made them special, where we still wanted to go, and both left with some new additions to our lists of ‘must dos’ – South Korea and Japan both now added to mine. 

I’m trying to remember the last time I just struck up a conversation with a complete stranger – and I genuinely don’t know the answer. But it was a real highlight of my day and something I am going to consciously do more often. This girl was almost 20 years younger then me (though rather charmingly she said I didn’t look a day over 28 – it’s entirely possible that is why I liked her so much) but that hobbling pigeon led us to a shared passion and the basis of a fun spontaneous conversation. 

My message is this – ditch the British ignorance of each other, smile at strangers, say hello, respond to what is happening around you, it might just lead to something special.

As an aside I have now googled ‘crippled pigeons’ (yes, really) and it seems that most urban flocks have a large proportion of deformed feet principally due to the careless way humans dispose of their rubbish. Now I don’t particularly like pigeons, but I really hate littering – so while I’m on my soap box, let’s do better. 
If you would like to use the urban environment to get in touch with your creative side why not sign up to a free Street Wisdom event. I’m running one in Leamington Spa on 11th June – click here to register. I promise not to talk about pigeons, or their feet. 

Curiouser and curiouser

Last week I spent a few days in the Spanish sunshine for some much needed rest and recharge. I was holidaying with my sisters and Jack – my six month old nephew.

It strikes me that Jack hasn’t yet learned to deny his curiousity and I envy that. He sees something new and reaches for it, it goes into his mouth, he follows movement with his eyes, grins at new people, and laughs at the things that surprise him. Everything is a source of fascination to him. Curiousity is a natural human tendency which is nurtured out of us at a young age. We learn that we might not like the taste of something, the way something feels, the reaction we get, and so increasingly we simply don’t take the risk of trying something new. 

And yet, to progress, to think creatively, we need to engage our curiousity. What happens if I try this? How will this feel? Will putting these ingredients together taste good? And, importantly, what will this experience be like for other people? Unless you are a genuine hermit you don’t exist in a bubble – your actions impact on others, and vice versa. So progression relies on both the curiousity to drive creative thinking, and the curiousity to seek out feedback from others.

I suspect these two types of curiousity are fundamentally different but borne out of the same natural tendency. I also suspect that, for many of us, we work without engaging with our curiousity. We know that applying process A will consistently lead to outcome B – and so we become comfortable in the workplace, delivering what is expected without ruffling any feathers, and without risking being judged for trying something new.

So, what if we could better engage the inner child, see the world as though it was new, as something to experiment with to find out what works and what doesn’t, what feels good and what causes pain. To do so requires space, and a learning culture to support growth, but could potentially harness exceptional creativity and drive exceptional progress.

Ultimately it falls to our leaders to have the courage to enable their teams to leap into the intriguing and challenging world of open and creative thought, accepting both the risks and the benefits.

As well as needing a supportive culture, creativity is a skill which requires conscious focus, a natural tendency which is squashed in most of us early in life. Try it – watch a baby learning, embrace your own inner child, and stay curious.
Want to tap into your creativity in a unique way? Click here to join my Street Wisdom event in Leamington Spa on 11th June.

Hakuna Matata

Today something happened that has never happened before – I missed a flight. Heading to Alicante with two of my sisters and my 6 month old nephew for a few days relaxation in the sun, baby Jack had something of a bathroom malfunction resulting in us arriving at the gate 12 minutes after the gate closed and after our bags had been removed from the aircraft. Absolutely efficiency from a budget airline – who’d have thought it!

We checked that there was absolutely nothing we could do and headed back to the start, rebooked a flight for later that afternoon, and went for a cuppa. And we sat down and laughed. Quite a lot. Now I know a lot of people who would have made a real fuss at this point, and would have wasted a whole load of energy on complaining, or blaming each other, and would have let it spoil their trip. Not for us, we were almost hysterical with how entertained we were by the whole situation, and it’s given us a good story to tell. 

It reminded me of one of the more important lessons I learnt in relation to coaching – identify the things that you can’t control, and put them to one side. There is nothing to be gained from focussing on what has happened when what you need is to find a solution to where you are now.

That’s not to say that there isn’t value in reflecting on what went wrong to make sure learning is captured – I very much doubt we’ll find ourselves in the same situation again (famous last words) – but to deal with the here and now I strongly believe in staying calm and remembering Timon and Pumba’s wise words ‘Hakuna Matata’. 

And unexpected experiences bring unexpected upsides. We have checked out the security process at Gatwick North and South terminals all in one day (South wins), and the second time round we’ve found time to visit the Prosecco bar while waiting for our gate number. Cheers.

Seeking answers from the street

This weekend I took a step outside of my comfort zone – and I’m so glad I did. A friend suggested attending a Street Wisdom event being facilitated by an ex-colleague of hers, I was in the area, so I signed up and went along. It seemed fitting at the end of mental health awareness week to get involved in an event which, while it doesn’t explicitly say so, is grounded in mindfulness techniques.

The Street Wisdom events were new to me and are billed as giving participants the skills to see the urban environment in a new way, ask a question and use the answers they discover to move forwards in life. They are run for free by volunteer facilitators – the strapline being ‘you don’t pay fees, you pay attention’. Intriguing – yes. Uncomfortable – almost certainly.

I met the group at Chichester Market Cross on a beautiful bright Sunday afternoon. A total of ten people, some had come alone and some, like me, with someone they already knew.

Our facilitator, Kat Hounsell, outlined all we needed to know about the Street Wisdom approach. I loved the straightforward overview – a bit of information about the background of the approach and just enough information to complement the purpose of the afternoon, which was simply to go with it, and see what conclusions presented themselves. What follows is an overview of my own personal experience and conclusions, though I have tried also to offer a summary of the format of the event itself. These events will offer a unique experience to each individual. This was mine:

The Street Wisdom events cover three hour long sessions. It sounds a lot but it passed in a flash.

Tune In

We started with a set of 10-15 minute wanderings, armed with a simple question each time to tune you into using your senses in a different way. The first one was simply to wander and see what you are drawn to, the second to Slow. Right. Down – your movement, your thoughts, your breathing. The final wandering we were challenged to find the beauty in everything. Each of these exercises was followed by feedback from the group on our observations and experiences. This set us up to be tuned into the environment around us ready to hit our individual quests.

Quest

This is the main purpose of the afternoon and inevitably the most personal and unique experience. We were sent off, with our newly tuned senses, to wander, focussing on our own individual question to see what answers the streets had to offer. We were encouraged to speak to people if we were drawn to do so. We had been advised to keep the question manageable – something bigger than ‘what shall I have for tea’ but more manageable than ‘what is the meaning of life’. I had settled on considering the level of risk I was willing to take in relation to my chosen new career path where I am seeking to go self-employed but struggling a little with the concept of embracing not knowing what might happen next. I took my quest to the Bishop’s Palace Garden behind Chichester Cathedral – not exactly ‘the streets’ as such but well-populated on a sunny afternoon. I sat on a bench by the entrance to the main garden, watching people making their decisions and not really knowing where to start with my own. So, I started by doodling my surroundings (if nothing else this proves why I did not pursue a career in art).

Palace Garden doodles

 

Eventually I stopped procrastinating and started thinking about talking to people, and what it was that I would ask – ‘have you ever regretted taking a risk?’, ‘was it taking the risk itself that you regretted, or the outcome of taking it?’ and ‘have you ever regretted not taking a risk’. This took me to thinking about the ‘what if’ questions for me in thinking about committing to being self-employed. What if I took the risk and it didn’t work out? What if I played it safe and it didn’t work out? And finally, and somewhat inevitably, what if I took the risk and it did work out? 

I sat and watched a steady stream of people walking through the gardens, intending to pick someone to ask my questions, and that’s when I had my moment of revelation. In observing my own reticence to stop someone and talk to them I realised that I was trying to choose someone who I thought would tell me exactly what I wanted to hear. Someone who looked adventurous, looked like they wouldn’t be risk averse and would tell me to look for the right opportunities and take them. That realisation confirmed that actually I didn’t need to talk to anyone. This isn’t a straw poll. It isn’t a democracy. Its my choice, and it turns out I already have the answer.

Feedback

The final session of the afternoon involved coffee and talking (never a bad thing) – initially in small groups and then sharing key experiences with everyone. This wasn’t forced – if your question was personal there was no pressure to share. After spending quite a time on my own, and finding some answers, I was full of the need to talk it out, so this was really valuable to me. Some had come without a clear question, but had found one, and started to formulate some answers. The general feeling was that the group had got far more from the experience than they had expected. This is credit to the group for being open to the event, but mainly to Kat for making a group of strangers feel comfortable enough to share their unique experiences.

 

I can’t resist sharing one anecdote from the afternoon. One chap had wandered with a question about how he could make sure his life was more adventurous, and he asked people about their most adventurous experience – only to be met with one candid response that theirs was having had sex in a tree. It just goes to show that having the courage to ask the question, even of a stranger, could lead you anywhere!

The real beauty of Street Wisdom is that it works like a wave. Once you have been on an event, you can sign up to facilitate your own, and so the movement grows. So long as you aren’t facilitating for profit the sign up and materials are free to download and use. And that’s exactly what I intend to do. It will work anywhere that has streets, and life, and people.  I was so engaged in my own experience yesterday that it was difficult to focus on others and I’m looking forward to being able to do just that.

Street Wisdom is coming to Leamington Spa….. Click here to attend my first session