24 Jun


Mini rabbit

‘His behaviour is always a bit aggressive, isn’t it?.’
‘I find meetings with Jim difficult every time  – his attitude is so challenging’.
‘Oh pay no attention – she’s such a grumpy bunny.’

Labels are easy. What’s hard is to step back from the situation and to notice what’s really happening. And to notice that when someone behaves in ways that are very different from the norm it’s almost inevitable that they will be labelled as ‘difficult’ or ‘challenging’.

How would it be if we knew that such people are different rather than difficult?   And that they need something different from us?  If we knew that difficult or challenging behaviour is behaviour that embodies the diversity that exists outside our often narrow scope of understanding, what then?  I appreciate that this is a really tough call sometimes, I find it hard to manage personally – and it’s an attitude that I’m aiming  to adopt when ‘challenge’ arrives in a group situation, particularly if I’m facilitating it, because it works.

There will be reasons for it. Reasons that I can’t see yet. Getting curious about the reasons for the difference is a great first step. Remembering that welcoming difference because it’s a necessary manifestation of reality is another step. Thinking of questions that might help the ‘challenger’ to think about what’s happening and what their contribution might be is another. And doing this instead of responding with classic ‘freeze’ mode really helps me.

During one long Board development day the Treasurer suddenly exclaimed ‘We are getting nothing done here, I don’t know if I can bear to stay.’  Her feelings of frustration were impacting on her capacity to think about the day as a long-planned development day and I knew her departure would sabotage the rest of the time that we had.  ‘What do you need right now in order to be able to stay?’ I asked her, trying to stay curious in the moment, already feeling the adrenaline surge. ‘ I need to know that this isn’t a waste of time!’ she replied sharply.

Together the Chair and I decided to call for a Round in which everyone answered the question ‘what have you found useful so far today?’ Listening intently to each different reply, the ‘challenger’s’ face changed and became interested, her shoulders relaxed and she stayed, and went on to contribute to the rest of the day. Whew.

This is part of the full meaning of Difference / Diversity as a vital Component of the Thinking Environment.  What use could you make of this when managing ‘the difficult one’ in your world – would this help? I’d love to know.

24 Jun

New Energy

Here’s another occasional thought from the gym. I attended my first aerobics session for two months on Friday last. I was a little apprehensive, even frustrated at how much I seemed to have forgotten, almost like I would ‘fail’ in some way.  I nearly didn’t go. Classic comfort zone stuff.

So this got me thinking about what happens when we don’t get enough opportunities to practice the TE principles, and as a result our facilitation or coaching can feel or become less purely a Thinking Environment. This can happen, for many good reasons, just like not going to the gym.  And then it’s natural to feel a little apprehensive, to worry about finding a way to start again gracefully – it can even feel like it’s easier just to carry on as we are, staying in the comfort of the known.

In my experience – in both cases – when I trust the process, all is well. On Friday I trusted myself to carry on with the ‘process’ of the routines even when I fell out of step a few times to begin with, and sure enough muscles and instinct kicked in, and led to a great session – and full endorphin reward.

Likewise during a facilitation or in a coaching session I know that when I trust the TE process, remind myself of the key principles, and deliberately choose to stay in a place of ease and non-judgement, things will go well. It’s no exaggeration to say that they always do – with full oxytocin experience too.

So that’s why I’m working on some ideas and dates for TE Refresher days.  In my venue at the The Grange in Ealing I’m going to offer a 10.00 – 4.00 day to allow for easeful travels for everyone; to have no more than 12 people, and to use the day to ‘practice practice practice’ in Thinking Pairs and small group, so that there’s lots of time for ‘live’ thinking about your own work as well as input and reflection on what’s new or different.  There’s always something new.

Day fee will be £90 including refreshments and lunch, I want to be as accessible as possible.  The dates are: Monday 29th April or Wednesday 26th June.  If keen please email by return so I can hold a place for you.  And I hope to offer something similar in Ireland too, later in 2019 or early 2020.


24 Jun


You may already have seen this on LinkedIn: https://nyti.ms/2tufYrt, a recent New York Times article headlined ‘Kindness is a Skill’.  Subtitle: Practical tips for fighting a culture of savagery. Despite the subtitle, I found the article both encouraging and pragmatic, and then noticed how within a week it had been viewed nearly 900 times, a record for my modest posting history.  It evidently strikes a chord.

It was written by a genuine cynic, a journalist of long-standing.  That makes it even more fascinating. As you see it offers cryptic suggestions of ways in which people can be brought together peacefully and encouraged to think beyond tribe and opinion and anger.  It reminds me of what happens when we can offer just enough of the principles of the Thinking Environment, enough Ease and Encouragement to avoid competition and share time equally so that people simply have to start listening to each other, enough ground rules to make sure people are giving and receiving attention without being interrupted and triggered into aggression, above all it makes me focus on how to make this happen more in our sadly uneasy times.

It was wonderful to witness this ‘live’ at a recent UK TTT Collegiate day, when Nancy facilitated two discussion pairs on two very thorny topics (Brexit, and abortion), and to notice what started to happen as each listened to each other with respect and interest, above all listening to understand, not listening to compete and convince.  That’s the difference, isn’t it? When we listen to understand it changes everything about how we are in a discussion. And in the end, it feels kind. The people in the abortion discussion actually commented on how the listening had not changed what they felt and believed about the topic, but it had changed how they felt about each other. They felt warmer, less opposed, more understanding.  In a word, kinder.

It takes courage to be kind.  It takes wisdom, experience and discipline to be kind.  It’s hard. I think the ten beautiful, foundational, aspirational components of the Thinking Environment offer a practical, disciplined way to set ourselves up for kindness.  I wonder what you think, and where are you seeing kindness?

24 Jun

Sparking Joy

What if anything have you heard about Marie Kondo, the sorting superhero? Folding, rolling, even thanking your belongings one at a time – could that all sound a tiny bit obsessive to you? Yes, me too. It all provoked seven shades of scepticism when I (typically!) picked up ideas online.  And then early last year I watched some short videos (Component of Information, take a bow), and I realised that this tiny, beguiling, dynamic Japanese person has discovered something big. Making decisions is taxing, and it seems we have brain energy for a limited amount of it every day. She has realised that we can blank out almost every decision-blocking factor by asking one question, and then by giving full attention to our response.

‘Does it spark joy?’  For her it’s about clothes (the clothes above have been thoroughly Kondo-ed) and other household categories. For me it’s becoming applicable across the board. Here’s this old jersey, new book, proposed train journey, possible CPD/ piece of work – something I need to decide with clarity and ideally without delay.  Assuming that it’s something I don’t have to do, assuming that there is choice.  So now I ask myself: does it spark joy? And then consider carefully what comes up in response. So now I’m wondering about the difference this might make to me in 2019.  What do you think?

If the answer truly is yes, then you’re home and dry.  If not, what difference will that make? It does take practice, and it’s easy to make fun of it (remember our Thinking Inhibitors Ridicule/ Cynicism/ Sarcasm and what they do to shut down capacity to think well about something?);  you do need to open the heart just a bit to get easy with this and I’m still working on it. Because it works and not just for clothes. Paradoxically in a way it is such a head-clearer. I feel that if my decisions and actions can be guided by my internal response to ‘does it spark joy?’ then life can be calmer and richer, yet simpler and less confusing.

That’s how it’s looking to me now, despite that initial scepticism/ antipathy. So let me invite you to suspend disbelief, have a little look at lovely Marie here (and all over the internet!) and see what you think about sparking joy: http://bit.ly/2sm63Ua.. And please do let me know if it makes a difference!

24 Jun


Continuing on the occasional theme of what I notice at the gym 🙂 this week I went to a yoga session for the first time. It was a Vinyasa session, which means it was much more dynamic and challenging that I had assumed was likely. From the start I felt ‘less than’ most of the others in the room, a psychological response coming from comparison that has real impact on how we think, feel and work. It was inevitable, it was my first session, so it’s illogical and unreasonable to feel like this.  Yet we do compare with others, all the time.

So I was delighted to hear the instructor say  ‘Now, if you are looking at your neighbour, and thinking she is doing much better than you, I’m asking you why does that matter?  Think of yourself. Think of how well you are doing right now.’ What a great counter-response: ‘think of how well you are doing right now’.  It reminds me of the Component of Encouragement, which invites us to become aware of (and then dial down) our ‘internal competition’. It has taken me years to understand this one.  It’s about the drive to compete and win in any circumstances, including in our conversations. To ‘win’ an opinion, to persuade others to think as we do, to be top in some way.  Even though it stops us from thinking well and independently.

Where do you notice this coming up, and blocking your capacity to think or to be a great Thinking Partner, friend, colleague, spouse, parent?  What does this idea trigger for you? Let me know!

24 Jun

Fine Points

Do you ever think ‘I’d like to read something new and relevant about the Thinking Environment, just not a whole book?!’ Nancy has written a number of short pieces on different aspects of this way of being, with headings like ‘Assumptions and Feelings’, ‘Safety and Autonomy’, ‘Persuasion v Independent Thinking’, each of which expands our understanding in subtle and satisfying ways.  You’ll find them all here: http://bit.ly/2sEYx4C  I’ve sent this out before I know – but a good thing deserves repeating, and there are new essays in there too.

While you’re there ☺ you might like to check out my new dates for 2019.   I’ve just posted a whole set on the TTT website, including my first ever Thinking Partnership Teachers Programme,  as well as several new dates in Ireland.  So please do consider these, you’ll find them under all the relevant headings starting here: http://bit.ly/2ysdV9u. Speaking of which, I have got a couple of places on my  13th / 14th November Foundation course in Ealing, and am keen to hear of young people who might welcome the experience at a special rate.  By young I mean up to 35 or so! Discovering the Thinking Environment early in your life is such a transformational thing and I’d so appreciate your help.

Appreciation feels big to me at the moment: it links with the practice of gratitude, and I know that when I slow down enough to appreciate what’s going well, what’s real and positive in my day, week, immediate surroundings it is of great benefit.  So this newsletter is also an appreciation of you and of the way the Thinking Environment enabled us to be together as explorers of everything that helps us to think well, and for ourselves.  

What can you find to appreciate right now, this moment, as you read this?  You don’t have to tell me, but I would love to know!

24 Jun

New Moves

This morning I went to a studio session at my local gym.  Fresh start for September, new ideas, new moves. When the instructor simply did the new moves to the music it was hard to follow her straight away.  When she began with the simplest step, added the next and the next, and then showed us how it all came together, everyone got it. She did it all without missing a beat.

It’s a striking metaphor for how we learn or offer something new.  When we are in conversations at work, with friends or at home we often want to offer new information, even instructions or advice.  What do we do? We tend to offer it all at once. We try to explain it so that they can see the ‘move’ as we see it, as if they are standing in our shoes. What struck me so forcibly today was noticing that to help someone to get the move we need to start from what they can already see, and build on that as a progression.  This sounds so obvious, yet it’s so easy to rush our information and fail to build.

I’m thinking about this in the context of creating a great Thinking Environment. How much does someone need to know about the 10 Components (http://bit.ly/2Nxi0Te) or about the power of assumptions in order to be able to think well?

What do you need to know in order to be able to think well, and as yourself?
What a great question. 🙂

24 Jun

Noticing Place

Last month’s GDPR* exercise created such a sense of connection for me, as responses came back with comments and news from people for whom the Thinking Environment is much more than a process or a ‘tool’, and more truly a way of being.  So just before heading off on holiday, as I imagine many of us are, I want to celebrate this refreshed, smaller network** of thinkers and listeners and to thank you for your commitment to this as a shared place for reflection and discovery.

Many, not all, will recognise the room in the photo.  It’s the lovely big space that I now use for all my TTT courses and events bit.ly/2o0IqvW.  It’s the Reading Room at the Grange in Ealing, and it seems to me to offer most of the elements that we need in order to feel that we matter when we are thinking for and as ourselves.  Place is the component that gets a little bit left behind sometimes, yet being in a space that is light and airy, with comfortable furniture and enough room to move easily, ideally with windows out to a view (even if it’s a blizzard, as some will recall earlier this year) and definitely with drinks and healthy snacks – that’s ideal.  If the places where you are creating a Thinking Environment don’t have all of this (and sadly in organisational training rooms that’s often the case) then what small thing can you do in order to help your participants feel that they matter?

05 Jul

Trust and Connection



Trust is painfully thin on the ground in our current world order, and being able to build trust in an authentic way is vital, important work. I’ve been thinking about how grateful I am to work in a Thinking Environment, a way of being that inspires trust.  And I’ve been thinking about trust in relation to the new GDPR regulations and also because of the truly shocking revelations about Facebook’s misuse of data which revealed just how little most of us understand about how our details can be ‘harvested’ (weasel word!) and then sold on for profit and misuse without our knowledge or consent.  Data as currency, what a concept.

Which is why I welcome GDPR boundaries, annoying as the introduction has been, because it makes companies and even sole traders like many of us become more aware of the value of personal data, and of our responsibilities when entrusted with it. So to comply fully with this I’m inviting you now to continue to receive this monthly newsletter from me by pressing the enormous green button you’ll see at the end of this.  Thank you!

NB This is already an exclusive alumni mailing list and I’m imagining it will be even more exclusive from now on…

Thinking Environment Group on LinkedIn
As alumni of a TE course with me or someone else, you are warmly invited to join the closed Thinking Environment group on LinkedIn. LinkedIn have tightened the security on this so that now it’s necessary first to ‘Connect’ with TTT Business Director Stephanie Archer. She will then send you an invitation to join the group. This presumes you are already on LinkedIn – you will need to take the first step.

Finally: I love to pass on interesting and inspiring book titles, YouTube clips and blogs.  What have you found compelling recently – do let me know. I think it’s true to say that we only accept feedback well from those whom we trust, so I wonder what you might think of Daniel Pink’s 19 word formula here http://bit.ly/2GIPPu2:  how might it work for you?

25 May

Thinking Alone



How well do you think when you are alone?  I know I don’t do my best – or even great – thinking on my own.  So I was delighted that recently at the UK Time to Think Collegiate meeting in London we gave time to thinking about how we think in solitude.  What makes it so different  to thinking with someone else?

The presence and effect of Attention from someone else seems obvious.  But what else? I realised with a shock that even though I’m  mindful of all the principles of the Thinking Environment® way of being, and use them as the ‘unwavering context’ for all of my work, I had never thought consciously to apply these to my own thinking when alone.  Of course I use the assumptions framework to work out ideas and decisions – but that’s not the same as thinking with Appreciation about myself and my ideas/ achievements as I start, or finish.  Or noticing how much I may block my own thinking by comparing my ideas to others, which is a kind of competition, directly related to Encouragement.  What an ‘aha’ moment!  How about Ease – internal rush? Information – what’s missing, what might I be ignoring/ denying at this moment? It’s such a good checklist to begin from, and I’m feeling excited about the possibilities.

How would it be if next time you think through something serious, you sat down with the 10 Components, and used them (or at least some of them) to prime your mindset,  inform and guide your own thinking?  Join me in this exciting thought experiment and please let me know how you get on, I would love to know.