15 Apr

New Realities in a Thinking Environment

How are you getting on, further weeks into lockdown? I do hope you are well.

What have you noticed afresh since the end of March?  Do you sense changes in yourself and your capacities to adapt to an emerging and uncertain new reality?  What do you think you and I and everyone else needs now in order to adapt well, to stay safe and engaged and resilient as this all continues?

I suspect that many of us need much more time to think and reflect, alone and with others.  There still seems to be a rush to action (though less dramatically so than in March) and a rush to conclusion, which is not feasible yet.  We may have a long way to go before we can meet again safely and with confidence.

It was good to hear from you if you replied to my last newsletter 🙂  The many answers confirmed a sense of how much solace and strength we derive from nature, from exercise and from practises of every kind from gratitude to yoga to guided meditations (I do love Insight Timer for this).  Cherrypicking the best of articles from sources like LinkedIn, Psychology Today, Mindful.org and reading only what really strikes a chord is helpful too. As is avoiding the negative.

PRESS PAUSE
And I like this Growth model, harvested recently from Twitter.  So much so that it is going to be the focus of a Reflection workshop I’m running online on May 7th and 13th between 10.00 and 12.15, further details here.  This will be for up to 10 people only and will incorporate some of what I’ve discovered during this month of taking the Thinking Environment Facilitator course online in a direct response to the enthusiastic request of 4 Dublin-based participants.

Thank you again Hannah, Mary, Barbara and Rachel for helping me to upend my assumptions about this  and for showing me just how extraordinary, vital, beautiful and profound this ‘way of being’ can be online, despite and also because of Zoom and all its techie mysteries.  It has been the steepest and most rewarding of learning curves, and there is more to come.

ONLINE COURSES AND A TTT GUIDE
So given that social distancing measures are going to be with us for some time to come, I’m now encouraged to offer some of the TTT courses online,  possibly blended with days in real rooms in the not too distant future.  And here is my TTT Guide to Virtual Meetings, as recently posted on LinkedIn (with about 4k views, which is a fine measurement of need and interest!)

I feel there is much to let go of, often with some sadness, and much to feel anxious about. We have suddenly lost the easy human connection of the recent past, and we are struggling to find our way in to a future that is full of unknowns.  Yet we seem to be doing quite well individually, digging deep into our human strengths, connecting anew and online with friends and families, reinforcing our minds and bodies by deliberately choosing where to take our attention, what to focus on, what to leave out.  I continue to place my attention with new accuracy, and have found that to be truly strengthening for me.

What have you discovered about yourself that will continue to give you strength as our new reality evolves?

15 Mar

Finding new strengths in the Thinking Environment

How are you in this astonishing and exhausting new time of Covid-19?  I think we are all still in shock, working at making ourselves do what humans so dislike to do – manage swift change and adaptation.  I wonder what has been helpful for you so far (apart from staying well, which I  truly hope that you are?)

You may have remembered the Change Cycle, as I have, reminding myself in particular of the key associated behaviours and responses of what is actually a grief cycle.  It’s much messier than it looks in the oh-so-symmetrical circle here – and it still offers real insight.  You will be seeking out reliable information, looking for the steadying effect of true data and intelligence in the midst of much dramatic, unbalanced reporting: I find that at the factchecking service www.fullfact.org,  in online talks like this by Alanna Shaikh at TED and on the WHO site, amongst others.  And it makes me determined to find out more about what can make us all stronger during these testing  weeks and months ahead.

QUESTIONS
So here is a question I would really value you answering now.  ‘In these difficult times, what in your life dependably gives you strength?

We started answering this in a TTT Faculty call last week.  Most of us mentioned the uplifting impact of being out in nature, the deliberate practice of gratitude and kindness; regular exercise like yoga and running; the turning-to what is going well rather than the opposite. Many mentioned the power of great music and great writing, some spoke of mindfulness and being fully present to the immediate, of not thinking too far ahead.

What came to me suddenly in answer to the question was an insight into our deep loss of connection and autonomy.   We are being forced to do something truly alien to us as humans: to be wary of everyone we are near (including those we love) in case they (or we) are transmitting the virus.  This is unprecedented and counter-intuitive: normally we can trust that most people cant and won’t  infect us. So we are fearful.

Which means the brain’s limbic system is permanently on high alert, scanning for news, for safe locations, for the new danger of being too close. So it’s over-producing adrenaline and other fight/ flight hormones, which is both stimulating and very tiring. I feel it helps to remind ourselves that that’s what’s happening,  and to be kind to ourselves as well as to others while we adjust.

And I have noticed one vital aspect that I do have the power to control.  I can choose exactly where I place my attention.  That was my answer on the Faculty call.  I want to get really selective about where I put my attention so that I consistently reduce exposure to what distresses and confuses me, and increase my awareness of what is good and true and working well.  Or, at the very least, neutral. It’s like working on physical strength: it’s deliberate, slow work that needs awareness, commitment and  lots of readjustment ‘in the now’.

RESOURCES
Of course others feel like this too and are looking for new ways to create as much human connection as  possible.  You might already have seen the TTT guide to Virtual Meetings that I posted on LinkedIn last week – it’s had a great response.  That’s a powerful, practical way to direct our attention in meetings and groups, that will develop and  support our ability to think and be together brilliantly online.

COURSES
Obviously I don’t want to stop teaching the TTT Courses.  So with other Faculty  I’m out on the edge of what I know,  working out ways to answer the question ‘If I knew that we can create true Thinking Environments online for learning and development, including full courses leading to qualifying, what would that look like?’  I’ve already found some answers – and it’s work in progress.  More later.
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So finally here are three questions for you to consider, if you would.

  • What have you found so far that dependably gives you strength?
  • What resources and practices would you recommend to others?
  • In what new ways are you being or experiencing a Thinking Environment online?
15 Feb

Infinite Views from the Thinking Environment

How was your February?  It’s taken me till now to get this brief note together because mine has been a bit bumpy, a bit duvet-based.   For many of us February does feel like the lowest point of the year, even without the perfect storm of threatening political, environmental and health factors that have blown in of late.  It’s made me realise all over again just how challenging it can be to keep thinking clearly and well when my brain isn’t starting from a strong place – a healthy body.  Me and everyone else.

We know this, don’t we?  It’s that obvious. Yet it’s so easy to forget that our bodies are the vital ‘Place’ for our own thinking.  We stay in our heads, in problem-solving, never-ending ‘doing’ mode, simply not noticing how hard we are pushing ourselves, and what it is we are neglecting. Physican, heal thyself.

What might you be ignoring right now that you/ your body needs in order to be a great place for your own thinking?  That is such a searching and important question, particularly if you’ve taken a while to recover from a virus during February.  So please do ask it of yourself.

Apart from the obvious answers like needing more sleep, or taking more exercise, what else have you  found that supports your healing, immunity and stamina, ultimately your own thinking?  I tried Sound Therapy with Tibetan gongs at a spa in Ireland last year and found the reverberations and resonances took me to a profound level of mental and physical calm – yet it’s taken me till now to look into local sessions in West London.  Mens sana in corpore sano: those old Romans really nailed it…

I also know that discovering brilliant new ideas and thinkers can be uplifting and I’ve found exactly that in listening to Simon Sinek’s new book ‘The Infinite Game’ which is going to reframe all the work I do in-house and with teams from now on.  Working in ‘infinite game’ mode is so aligned with the core values and components of the Thinking Environment it feels exciting, fresh and hopeful, a real tonic. Here’s the briefest introduction, there’s lots more online and the book is well worth the read or listen.

This also feels super-relevant to last month’s note on leadership and ‘dangerous women’; changing the nature of power is a huge goal, and framing it as an infinite game with inevitably finite wins and losses while working towards the ultimate ‘just cause’ helps to break it down into something feasible and much more positive.  Thank you to those who returned to me on that – as you see it’s still simmering along – will be in touch again.

So this comes to wish everyone in the Northern Hemisphere a happy end to winter and a strong start to Spring.  I’m so looking forward to meeting and seeing many of you during 2020.

And inspiration and great thinking to everyone, whatever your geography.

15 Jan

Dangerous Women in a Thinking Environment

What did you think when you saw this headline?! Do you, like me, find the descriptor ‘dangerous women’ both thrilling and vaguely unsettling?   I recently attended an open session for an exciting new women’s peer leadership group She Leads Change, where we were invited to imagine ourselves in 10 years time and to speak as if from 2030 in answer to the question ‘what have you been doing for the last decade?’  I answered ‘I’ve spent the last 10 years becoming a dangerous woman’.

Laughter followed.  And a good deal of very interested comment.  I have to say I had rather surprised myself too. The idea – and the wish – came from a TED talk I’d watched a few days before, one that has triggered deep thinking about how we define and use power.  Like so much else our concept of power derives from the ‘default male’ perspective, which has a tendency to lead to conflict rather than consensus and has not served us particularly well over the centuries.  And particularly of late.

So watching Pat Mitchell was a wakeup call, alongside reading Caroline Criado Perez’ FT Award-winning ‘Invisible Women’, which reveals the yawning gap in vital data which (yet again) is based on ‘default male’ perspectives and automatically turns 50% of the world’s population into a niche category called ‘women’.  We know that consistent data informs our thinking in myriad ways. And we know that what’s consistently available to us becomes normal. It seems to me that 2016-2019 has demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that our normalised systems of power are totally dysfunctional, and that we’ve reached a point of critical mass that demands change.

So Mitchell’s statement that  ‘In the 21st century women will change the nature of power, rather than power changing the nature of women’ feels about as true and urgent a call to action as I can imagine at the start of a new decade.  Particularly after a year in which many powerful women in Parliament resigned because they could not bear to stay under current conditions.

So now I’m asking myself this urgent question:  If I knew that as a woman and TE practitioner I can change the nature of power, where would I start?’  I think with an invitation to other women, and to men too, to meet to discuss this topic, using the Thinking Environment to find a way through our differences of opinion.  The purpose being to start changing the nature of power. Now there’s an ambition for 2020 and beyond.

17 Dec

Robust Reflection for a Thinking Environment

What a year 2019 has been.  Particularly for those who care deeply about clear and independent thinking it has been a year of unparalleled confusion and uncertainty, sending out chilling  ripples of doubt and dismay to all of us whose lives are touched in any way by British politics and government.  And now the UK election result has triggered a fresh tsunami of dismay for many, a subject far too complex to discuss here, but requiring even more robust and resilient thinkers for the future.

So with just a couple of weeks to run before we begin a new decade, with everything that will bring, both expected and unexpected, this feels like an ideal moment to stop, reflect and notice what has been good and productive personally during this year. Last week in Dublin on a TTT Coaching Course we asked and answered this question:

‘What is one quality in yourself that you’ve noticed during this year that will support you next year?’ Answering this provided that rare thing, some immediate personal insights. Do ask it of yourself, or share it in a Thinking Pair?

Being there offered me the chance to take this stunning photo of the Customs House on the Liffey.  During my 1960’s Dublin childhood this would have been a sight beyond imagining, yet there it is, a glorious, confident, creative statement aimed equally at locals and visitors that can only quicken the pulse and gladden the heart. Taking time to stop, notice and ‘be in the moment’ with whatever is immediate, beneficial and real is another vital, accessible exercise that supports our capacity to be truly resilient thinkers.

And remembering that we don’t know what the future holds, that we are naturally more inclined to dwell on the negative rather than the positive reality and that the human mind is capable of almost anything is encouraging now too.

What else do you notice that has supported you during 2019?  Which book, TED Talk, event, speaker, podcast, learning, professional and/or personal encounter has most triggered you into joy, gratitude, interest, reflection?  I’m making a list, as part of what I want to take with me into 2020.  It includes books by Hans RoslingGretchen Rubin and Malcom Gladwell, many regular TED moments, hearing Gina Miller speak to the How To Academy recently, the courage and independence of Greta Thunberg and other young people; conversations on LinkedIn and in real life; above all perhaps the independent minds and hearts of those I’ve met on various TTT courses during the year.  How lucky am I to do this beautiful work, and meet with you all?!

Which is why I like writing this short newsletter every month.  It keeps me in touch with you, and often inspires you to respond.  I look forward to more of that next year.

In the meantime, this comes with my warmest wishes to you for a peaceful, joyful Christmas, and for the best possible beginning to 2020.

15 Nov

Talking to Strangers in a Thinking Environment

Meeting new people is an important part of our lives.  Socially, as part of a working life, as employees and as customers, as we seek expertise and information – even inside our own families – we meet new people regularly.  And as soon as we meet, we measure.  Intrinsically, inescapably, as part of our evolutionary drive for safety and our human need for connection, we make judgements.  We must. It’s because we want to feel safe with the new person – that’s the way our limbic systems work to protect us.  Then we can begin to talk and work and be with them.

Listening recently to Malcolm Gladwell’s new book ‘Talking to Strangers’, he offers some brilliant insights into the upsides and downsides of our approach to judging strangers.  We have a ‘default to truth’, which means we believe a great deal at face value, so it follows that we need a lot of hard evidence to make us change our minds.  (That explains a lot about current UK politics).  We believe that how someone looks, emotes and expresses themselves is how they truly are in character, which is not always true.  Both of these impulses help to make our social interactions smooth – yet can lead us into serious errors of judgement about people, which he illustrates with in-depth case studies.  I found his interview with Oprah Winfrey fascinating, it’s here://bit.ly/2p953ow

As coaches and facilitators we often work with new people. What these insights do for me is reboot my awareness of the assumptions I make as soon as I see someone new, especially if it’s someone who is ‘not like me’.  Gladwell also talks about ‘mismatching’: how our strong belief that external characteristics and behaviours reveal the inner person can be very misleading, because it can be true, and often it’s not.

Since it’s virtually impossible to avoid falling into some or all of these traps, the wise money is on being aware, on checking assumptions before and while in conversation, on noticing our ‘not like me’ tendencies, on humbly acknowledging that we are nothing like as good at understanding others as we like to think we are.

So much of training, even some coaching, is about encouraging someone else to think and be ‘like me’.  The unique power of the Thinking Environment means that we can think as and for ourselves, which in today’s world is increasingly radical.  Disruptive.  And vital.

What can you do during 2020 to support yourself as an independent thinker?  If I can contribute to that in any way, please let me know.

15 Oct

Breaking Habits in a Thinking Environment

‘For good and bad, habits are the invisible architecture of daily life.  Research suggest that about 40% of our behaviour is repeated almost daily, and mostly in the same context.’

This quote is from ‘Better Than Before’, Gretchen Rubin’s remarkable book about making and breaking habits.  Reading it has shed brilliant light on my own habits (such as distraction, mentioned here last time) and I’m still processing the insights that resulted from reading it recently.

It seems that I am (like many people) an Obliger.  I am highly motivated to do, change, finish, act – whatever – by knowing that someone else expects it of me, and I am less motivated when the only person anticipating the result is me.  So to change my habits I need to take this into account and find someone to be accountable to in a realistic way. No nonsense. Others need other motivations. You might be a Rebel, an Upholder, a Questioner…  Fascinating stuff, an imperative read for all of us!

Then I started thinking about thinking.  Thinking is a habit too. If we repeat 40% of our behaviour daily, are we repeating our thinking too?   How much of our thinking is repeated, how hard or easy is it for us to notice that, and is it important to change that?  Our assumptions are definitely habitual, sometimes life-long. The true and liberating assumptions support us, the untrue limiting ones hold us back – consistently.

This is really useful to know.  It partly explains why it’s so hard to see our assumptions, and it supports the suggestion that we think better when we are ‘accountable’ (that’s one way to look at it) to another person, a Thinking Partner.  I don’t mean accountable in terms of responsibility for outcomes, I mean it in terms of keeping on thinking as and for ourselves.

It explains why sometimes we are surprised by how obvious the assumption is (‘of course, I knew that!’) and it also explains why sometimes it’s such a shock – the untrue limiting assumption (that we are living as true) is so smooth and familiar to us, so well-honed  we’ve been living with it for years – but underneath it is something much more complex and demanding to think about.

So that’s been this month’s reading, and discovery.  Still work in progress. What about you – what have you discovered this month that you’d like to share with me, I’d love to know.

Finally: 2020 is now within sight, and I have (finally!) posted all my 2020 courses online here: http://bit.ly/2o0IqvW  Is this your year for further TE development as a Coach, Facilitator or even as a teacher?  Who do you know who might love this way of being as much as you do? Please do think about this, and if you are keen to continue with your TE development in any way I’d love to know.

08 Oct

Sustaining Yourself As A Thinking Environment 

What is one thing you know you need to do in order to say with your life ‘my thinking matters’?    

Health warning: this is a big question, so please take time out to consider it. It goes deep.  Or to put it in another way:

If we really honoured ourselves as Thinkers, in every moment of our day, what would change?

For me it’s about distraction.  The one vital thing I know I need to do is to reduce the amount of distraction that cuts across my thinking every day.  This means changing the insidious habits that have arisen seamlessly through the beautiful and seductive technologies that we weren’t even dreaming of 10 years ago.  It means acknowledging the debilitation this causes, it means going tech free for a period every day, maybe for a longer period every day as the habit grows, it means noticing and enjoying how different my whole being feels when I resist the siren calls of apps and social media.  That’s the first thing I need to do in order to say with my life that ‘my thinking matters’.
What about you?

Moving from noticing ‘one thing’ to a general principle, we know we need actively to support ourselves as Thinkers in order to be able to sustain a great Thinking Environment for others. How do you think you are best maintaining your unique capacity to think as and for yourself, and resisting the inevitable erosion from the world that surrounds us? How are you caring for your thinking?

Do you have a regular Thinking Partner, someone to think with briefly and often, maybe another to think with at more length and in more depth?  How regularly are you building your thinking muscle?

If this is not as often as you’d like, what might you do to create that opportunity – and how might I help you with that?  Qualified practitioners do have the Collegiate days together (the shape of which will change after July 2020) but many others who’ve taken the open courses long for more practice and connection in a Thinking Environment.

One new option is to meet as TE alumni for a day of practice, refreshment and connection – which apart from the immediate benefits, offers the possibility of new Thinking Pairs and Partnerships into the future.  I’m offering several dates for that in 2020, the first will be on 22nd January 2020 at the Grange in Ealing.

So if I can support you with your Thinking Environment practice please let me know.  I’m planning all events and courses for 2020 now, I will definitely post some further Alumni practice days, and there will be a link to it all in the next Newsletter.

28 Jun

Making Decisions

“We love this way of working, we get so many ideas and such great energy from it. The only problem is we still find it hard to make decisions.” That’s a summary of the kind of thing sometimes said to me by people who have successfully introduced this way of being to their teams and organisations. Yet find they still don’t make decisions clearly or well. And I’d say this is not because of anything to do with the Thinking Environment principles, I’d say it’s because this is a group that doesn’t have a clear structure or philosophy for their decision-making.  So what would that philosophy look like?

Obviously it isn’t easy: if it was it would already be in place. It requires preparation and discussion.  Here are some key suggestions for clarifying the usual sticking points.

Thinking about decisions in advance, we need to know which will require consensus and which will not – and what is the difference. Then prioritise the decision points on the Agenda.

Do we know how we will include the “Disagrees“ and still maintain respect and equality?  Surely the ideal is to be able to disagree without rancour and remain willing to continue the discussion.  So each person will need to develop a robust willingness to have their perspective challenged and be able to give information, data and history on their topic.

We would agree to  consistent attention-giving, a commitment to the facts, and no interruption.  With these vital points discussed and clearly in place, we can then hold our meeting as a Thinking Environment and go on to make clear decisions at the end of each Agenda item.

And if feelings are high and there is confusion and urgency, and a decision must still be made, then final authority rests with the Chair making a decision based on all that’s been said and then asking “does anyone here strongly oppose this suggestion, and if so what is your alternative?”  (Frankly, this is brilliant!)

This is the briefest summary of what’s been emerging from many conversations in Faculty and elsewhere about clarifying decision-making while maintaining a Thinking Environment.
What have you noticed that might support your decision-making?
What else have you discovered about this that works for you – I would love to know.

24 Jun

Factfulness

When asked simple questions about global trends―what percentage of the world’s population live in poverty; why the world’s population is increasing; how many girls finish school―we systematically get the answers wrong. So wrong that a chimpanzee choosing answers at random will consistently outguess teachers, journalists, Nobel laureates, and investment bankers.

I kid you not.  This is the outrageous-sounding claim made by Hans Rosling, the Swedish physician, academic and statistician who made it his life’s work to seek to correct the huge misconceptions and biases that drive our thinking.  Such as the ‘dramatic attention filter’ above. This is a man who ‘makes data sing’: for proof can I suggest that you go straight here htttp://bit.ly/2HsKkCe and enjoy the astonishment engendered by his ‘bubble data’ in a Ted talk that ought to be compulsory viewing in every university and classroom?!

And when you’ve done that, you can have a look at it in more detail here, bit.ly/2YFqF8a.  This Gapfinder site feels very important to me, because this key data is the basis for so much opinion, information and misinformation in our fast moving world, and Rosling  found a way to offer it so that it’s encouraging, helping us to think better about it.  And it’s free. What a lovely man.

It seems to me to align exactly with the Thinking Environment call on Information as a vital element in helping people to think clearly and well.  To think well we need accurate data and facts, not bias and personal opinions. If every child currently at school and every CEO currently running a business was to be presented with the bubble data so much would change.

Rosling’s book Factfulness has been my read of the year, and fills me with the same excitement and sense of coming home to truth as did Time to Think when I first read it in 2007.  It has given me back a much needed sense of balance and possibility, alongside a heightened and useful awareness of how much and how often we miss the point because we are missing the facts. Do read it, or watch the talk, or visit the Gapfinder site, and do please let me know how you might apply more factfulness!