Friday, 23 December 2016

The Hollow Man (A Blog written for the 'Advent Blog' Series)

When I first thought about contributing again to Kate Griffiths-Lambe's wonderful annual Advent Blog series*, this year's theme, "Heights, Hearts & Hollows", initially had me ruminating on last year's cardiac bypass, my recovery, redundancy and further reflections thereon. But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that I had kind of done that to death, in a series of blogs, tweets and facebook posts. I'm on a continuing journey here, one that I'm being supported on by friends, family, my personal and professional networks and, critically, paid for - and revelatory - professional counselling. So that's 'Heights and Hearts' taken care of. I'm not going to revisit that stuff here. 

Instead, I've let the Universe slowly draw me towards the "Hollows" element of the theme. It's niggled away at me for a few days. I don't really know why. Maybe it's the onomatopoeic quality of the word. It conjours up dark, empty, echoing places for me, and not necessarily in a bad way either. There's a weird attraction in it. Something to explore.

And a particular phrase kept popping into my brain; an evocative, elusive, seductive whisper - 'The Hollow Man'.

I've been sitting with him for a few days now, not knowing who or what he is, or why he should be so insistent on being seen. I've conjoured images of scarecrows, robots (Westworld?), the Wizard of Oz (Scarecrow again, "If I only had a brain", and Tin Man, "If I only had a heart"). I remembered the 2000 film with Kevin Bacon, an alternative and darker modern take on HG Wells's "The Invisible Man".

Now, these are all fairly empty manifestations of The Hollow Man, suggesting something missing, something not whole. Something sad. So why was (am) I so taken with the name? I even Googled 'The Hollow Man' to see if I was digging up some long-forgotten or buried memory that would explain his presence. I wasn't.

But then, up popped TS Eliot's poem, "The Hollow Men".

I'm not good with poetry. Never really got it. Still don't, to be honest. Funny that, for someone who claims to love words and takes pride in good use of vocabulary, grammar, spelling, tries to write well and reads a lot. I kinda get Burns and Shakespeare, but most other poetry tends to leave me cold.

So imagine my surprise when, in the first few lines of Eliot's poem, I was presented with a vivid scarecrow image again, in the voice of one of his Hollow Men...

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats' feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

There's more and, to be honest, it's not the most uplifting read. I had to search further to get some academic insights into the background and some suggestions as to the themes and meanings of the work. But slowly I've started to understand why "the Hollow Man" has been clamouring for my attention - a) there's a lot of them about and b) I don't want to be one myself!

Men - OK, people, but for the most part, it is men - with a hole where their heart should be. With little or no compassion, no respect or feeling for 'other', no capacity to empathise, afraid to see or hear a different colour or opinion. Bigots, trolls, abusers, cowards - psychopaths, even. And then there's the passive, purposeless, complacent people, happy to go with the flow, devoid of ambition or desire to learn and experience new things. Heads full of straw. Stuck. Sad.

We've seen - and, in some cases, been - both types of Hollow Man this year. And next year we will have to live with the consequences. My challenge for 2017 is to not 'wallow in the hollow', but to be braver, to stand up and speak up, to challenge divisive, lazy, anti-intellectual intolerance, both professionally and personally. I posted a tweet in a recent #LDInsight tweetchat - "On this journey, have realised I could have been braver, am still carrying anger, am impatient & now I can do anything".

I shall try.

* Do visit Kate's blog site and wonder at the diversity of thinking and talent showcased by this annual guest blog series. I'm proud to have been a part of it again this year.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Running Commentary

I've never been 'sporty'. Never played football. Never done athletics or gymnastics. Hated 'gym' at school. Got out of it as soon as it became optional at age 13. Didn't learn to swim until I was 21 See my Blog "Fear of Swimming". Sometimes played squash. Enjoyed badminton. Never really took any of them seriously. Recognised early that I was not competitive. If someone else really wanted to win that badly, let them get on with it. Exercise, as a thing, was never a conscious part of my life.

Fortunately, I have always been healthy and never had any weight issues, else I might have had some problems. Always had a 'fast metabolism', or so I was told/told people myself. Walked a lot. Still do, particularly after my coronary bypass last year, as part of my recovery therapy. That taught me not to be complacent about my health and fitness.

So now I've started running. Decided I needed to do more exercise that played to my personal exercise style, i.e. only competing against myself. I'm following the 0-5k Runner programme, via an app on my phone. I checked with my GP first. He listened to my heart, took my blood pressure etc. Was encouraging. Turns out there's a weekly Worthing 5K parkrun at 9am on Saturday mornings. My GP runs it. He hopes to see me there one day. Seems I've got a target then.

I've never followed any kind of health/fitness plan. Didn't really know what to expect, other than that I might not enjoy it, find it too difficult, drop out.

But I'm still working my through the programme. Just earned the "Half Way to 5K" badge. That's taken me 6 weeks, when the programme suggests 4. But I'm going at my pace. If I haven't been able to run all the timed parts of each section as per the plan, I've done it again the next time, and again, until I've completed it. Week 4 Day 2 was a b*gger. Took 4 attempts (not 6 as I had previously thought) before I could move on to W4D3, which I breezed!

Do I feel better? Fitter? Dunno. But I'm developing calf muscles. My stamina is obviously increasing. I ran a full 16 minutes out of 34 on W4D3.

I'm surprised at how satisfying this feels. And even more surprised at how I'm prepared to do this every two days and how determined I have become to follow through. I expect it to get more challenging. I expect to get disheartened. But I'm finding some inner resilience and determination to achieve this. It's my intent to turn up to, and run, the Worthing 5k parkrun next year. I'll push through the programme, at my pace, until I can do that.

In the meantime, I'm not telling anyone that my goal is to have achieved this by the second anniversary of my first angina symptoms in April and heart bypass surgery in May. My little secret.

Oh, wait...

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Walking and Looking

Today I went for a walk in West Sussex with a pal, to somewhere I've not been before, Burton Mill Pond.  It was (is, still, as I write) a beautiful, warm, if windy, Autumn day. We walked in sunshine and in dappled shade, a gentle level(ish) walk of only 3.5k. And I loved it.

Along the way, I took some photos on my mobile phone, a habit I've developed when I'm out and about. I've shared some already on facebook and Twitter.

Folks who know me here or through social media, will be aware that I've recently taken to arriving early in London for professional and/or networking events and, using an app called 'WalkIt', have been meandering the byways and hidden paths of London as a reflective and non-stressful way of getting there and, more importantly, arriving, calmly and mindfully.

I've also taken photos on my mobile during these walks and posted them on Twitter as I journeyed on, using the hashtag #LookUp. This has become something of a mantra for me, more so since my heart surgery and subsequent events. But it's not new. I first suggested that people would benefit from 'looking up', lifting their eyes from the pavement or just eye level itself, and looking around or indeed, up, in a blog post in July 2011 called Things Are Looking Up!, inspired by a holiday in Northumbria.
Nowadays, in our rush to get somewhere, or in our inability to lift our eyes from our mobile devices, we are diminished by not connecting with each other or with our immediate surroundings. Granted, British streets can generally be a bit samey, a bit mundane; the same shop fronts, fast-food outlets, newsagent chains etc.

But when we look up above, we can see history in architecture, lives in windows and beauty in nature.

An ex-colleague and valued friend, James Dalton (@jimdalton) posted a piece on LinkedIn this afternoon, Connecting to Reality, wherein he commented about how disconnected from each other and our surroundings we seem to be, and he encouraged everyone to go outside, sit in the sun, Look Up, feel the warmth of the sun and the breeze on our faces. I couldn't agree more.

But I will suggest here that the mobile phone camera may also be a way of reconnecting - with our surroundings, with our environment, with other people - by taking and sharing your photos. What did you see when you looked up? What spoke to you? What was revealed to you when you did that?. How did you feel? Who would you like to share that with? How would you like to share it with them - Twitter, facebook, a blog post?

Don't let tech become the excuse for disconnecting. Use it to see things differently, from another perspective, connect with that moment, that place or that thing, even if just for the few seconds that it takes to shoot the picture or shoot that video clip. It will remind you of that moment when you revisit them. And, if and when you share them, you will be offering some of that experience, that reflection, that learning, to others.

That's got to be a good thing, hasn't it?

P.S: Those photos are also a resource bank for that next presentation you have to give.  Instead of using clip art or stock photos, give your presentations authenticity by using your own photos as the visuals or the slide backgrounds. Reinforce your messages with images which speak from your heart. Make your audience Look Up!

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Giving Voice

I've been been banging on about 'customer voice' for a while now, particularly in terms of Learning & Development and the places where we meet and discuss improving what we do. I've said for some time that the danger is that we talk to ourselves in an echo chamber, second guessing what works and what doesn't, without the input of either the commissioners of our work or the recipients.  We may very well do that within our individual service provision, but we rarely hear it in open debate with and from our customers. And it's the 'critical friend's' opinion that's missing, in my view.

I was reminded of this by a couple of personal and unrelated experiences recently where my voice was heard and I was able to influence outcomes.

Where I live, alongside a busy rail line, we have a small plot of land behind our garden, owned by Network Rail. In July we were advised that they planned to build a new electricity sub-station, comprising some four different structures and ancillary equipment, directly behind our fence line and overlooking our gardens and rear living rooms, and which we would overlook from our upper floor bedroom. Three properties were going to be directly affected, our's being the middle. No planning permission was required apparently, as it's their own land. However, we wrote to the Council and NWR itself and raised our objections, were invited to a neighbours' open evening and discussed the impacts with them and their contractors at some length. And there was the first hint that perhaps this wasn't a huge behemoth riding roughshod over their neighbours - they brought plans and talked us through them, they put personable, knowledgeable and articulate people forward to engage us in discussion and they listened to our concerns. Maybe this wasn't quite the fait accompli that we feared.

(As it happens, the build didn't start on the previously advised date and we never got any explanation). And then, last week, out of the blue, we received an email advising that they had taken many of our concerns on board and offering a second, revised plan, moving the structures away from our boundary and putting the largest of them furthest away from us. And we were invited to meet again to discuss the amended plan. We had that meeting this morning and, whilst there is little doubt that the sub-station will still be built, I was surprised at how amenable and creative the contractors were prepared to be in further working to soften the landscaping and visual impacts. We'll see how this all plays out in reality, but I am pleasantly surprised at how we have been seen and heard in this process, when they could so easily have just gone ahead without consideration of or discussion with their neighbours.
My other experience of customer voice being heard was today, when I switched our energy supplier via a comparison website which did all the hard work for me. By entering our post-code and our current use and expenditure on gas and electricity, the website was able to offer a range of alternative suppliers and charge plans, all of which showed larger to smaller savings over a year, and on a month-by-month basis. Actually making the switch was just as easy, merely adding a few more details, and they take care of everything for you.

So here's a great example of the customer being able to exercise informed choice in what was once a complex supplier market and convoluted process, enabled by the application of user-friendly technology.

Customers, consumers, passengers, neighbours, clients, learners, stakeholders - call them what you will in whatever field - nowadays expect and deserve to be heard and to have their needs and requirements met in hassle-free, relevant and personal ways. What are the implications for L&D? Are we listening? And, as importantly, are we capable of flexing accordingly?

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

It's Permissable

Last week, I attended the excellent two day 'LearningLive' conference in London, hosted by the Learning and Performance Institute - great sessions, great speakers (especially the two - yes TWO - keynotes, Elliot Masie and Richard Wiseman), great company, conversations, dinner and learning. 

If you were an attendee yourself or if follow me or any of my PLN (Personal Learning Network) on Twitter and other social media you may have noticed - or indeed, contributed to - a lot of the resulting online sharing and comment. I won't re-present that stuff to you here. If you wish to access a comprehensive curation of the event, then follow this link to David Kelly's excellent blog site The 2016 Learning Live Backchannel: Curated Resources #LearningLive

No, what I wanted to talk about was something that's been very much part of my live learning (see what I did there?) recently, and was a recurring theme in many of the discussions in and out of the conference sessions - that of 'permission'. Who thinks they need it, and from whom? For what? Why do so many of us think that we need permission to do stuff or to do stuff differently? Is it the way we've been brought up? Educated? Trained? Inducted? Managed? And what would happen if we didn't seek permission, but went ahead anyway and sought forgiveness afterwards? What's the worst the could happen? Could we even be using not having permission as an excuse not to try, but to play it safe?

Many conversations at the conference revolved around changing our approach to learning and development, by applying technology, by developing new skills and by changing the relationships between the traditional provider/methodologies and the emerging self-aware, self-managing learner. For me, a  recurring and resonant theme throughout was about what permissions we feel we need to have to be able to choose and follow the paths of change.

I've been giving these questions a lot of thought recently, as I have allowed myself to start considering the possibility of no longer pursuing full - albeit self - employment, and perhaps even semi-retiring. Regular readers and other friends will be aware of my turbulent year last year, with heart surgery, followed by redundancy and my subsequent setting up of an independent L&D/Learning Technologies consultancy.  To cut a long story short, I found that my heart wasn't in it, that I didn't feel able to put in the hard work that was required to make a viable and growing business of it, but that I had to press on, despite how I felt.  But I also felt that I needed permission to take the decision to slow down, to take my pensions, and to try other things - permission from my wife, my children, my friends, my peers, ex-colleagues, PLN, clients and other professional associations.

Well guess what? They all - to a person - gave me their blessing, their permission, to follow my heart. And in opening myself up to sharing my thinking about a future without the pressure to 'do stuff' and 'make money', it turns out the only individual who's permission was being withheld was myself. It was my own perceptions of self-worth, credibility, usefulness which was holding me back. I am so grateful to my family, but also to my friends and PLN for the conversations we have had recently online and face to face at last week's conference. I know it's going to be OK; different, but OK.

Always needing permission to do stuff, or to stop doing stuff, or to do stuff differently stifles enthusiasm and creativity. But working out loud, sharing ideas and exploring possibilities, looking up and asking 'what if...?' opens up a world of opportunities. Maybe Learning & Development should give itself permission to at least try to do that.

P.S: I'm not burning all my bridges tho'. I continue to be fascinated by L&D, LearnTech and social media, just not to the exclusion of everything else. I'll still turn up at the tweetchats, the conferences and the unconferences. I'll still be mouthing off in social media. I may be doing more writing. I'm continuing to work with my existing clients and am open to any other opportunities which emerge.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Thought Learnership

Yesterday, for no apparent reason*, I had a  sudden idea "I'm not a thought leader, I'm a thought learner". And without giving it any more thought, I tweeted it. Some people liked it. One or two retweeted it.

My initial reason for tweeting the idea was that I thought it made a pretty cool 'tweetbite', and I thought it might resonate for some of my network, followers and #PLN (Personal Learning Network). But since then I've been reflecting on the idea some more.

The label 'Thought Leader' does not sit well with me for some reason and I'm trying to work out why that's so.  What makes someone a 'TL'? How is it 'earned'? Who decides? Who applies it? Leading who's thoughts? On what? In what spaces and in what media? Do we need to have our thoughts led for us? Are we sheep? "Who made you God?", to coin a well-used phrase...

I think it's something to do with the singularity of the term, the implication that only one person has the knowledge and wisdom and that they dispense it to the rest of us (the masses) as a gift; that we worship at the feet of the guru, the all-seeing one...

As you might have guessed by now, I'm not one for the cult of the personality or for the elevation of one person over another, unless there's very good evidence of their worthiness for such status. And I have still less time for those who describe themselves as 'Thought Leaders'.

And yet, it's a term that is used lot in social media and in my professional arenas of HR, Learning & Development and Learning Technologies. And, indeed, there are many in those spheres to whom I look for inspiration, wisdom and guidance, many of whom make up the bulk of my aforementioned #PLN. I would, however, be astounded if many, or indeed, any of them, thought of or described  themselves as 'Thought Leaders'.

I accidentally came across a new (for me) tweetchat this afternoon, #Bufferchat, hosted by @Buffer.  One of my #PLN had tweeted a response to one of their questions and I felt the need to wade in, referring them to my original tweet of yesterday and then amplifying what I meant. In so doing, and during the rest of the tweetchat, where debate followed and others agreed with me, my thoughts clarified and have resulted in this #blog.

So, here's where my issues sit with the adoption - whether imposed by others or self-assumed - and use of the label, 'Thought Leader' - The arrogance. The assumption of status. The lack of humility. The self promotion. All the things which the tweeps in my #PLN DO NOT DO!

My #PLN shares, works out loud, challenges, gets into gnarly conversations and arguments, meets online and face-to-face in structured and unstructured, informal social and learning exchanges, with humility and compassion, and is authentic and human. They do not aspire to the status of, nor do they describe themselves, as 'Thought Leaders'. And yet, they influence, challenge and inspire not only my thoughts, but much more importantly, my behaviour and actions.

Now seriously, do your 'Thought Leaders' do that for you? Maybe it's time to drop the label and value our interactions with those who actually walk the talk.

* Perhaps I was subconsciously channelling Kandy Woodfield (@jess1ecat), who posted this tweet yesterday, unbeknownst to me...

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Living in the Grey

Life isn't binary. It isn't black and white. It's fractal. It's grey. It's ambiguous. It's messy. 
Yet we seem to be living in an age where everything is polarised, where choice is limited to extremes and where navigation through, amongst and between those opposites feels confusing and overwhelming.
But that's where most of us live, doing the best we can with the information and the resources that we have available to us, while being harangued, cajoled, bullied or, at best, encouraged to conform to one way of being or another.
Sometimes those imperatives are external, imposed on us, and sometimes they are internal, self-imposed. Much of the time, they seem to be at war with each other. And therein lies the cost we pay.
It may not be obvious or apparent at the time.  If you try to live by a set of values and beliefs, try to do the right things by and for everyone and everything for and to whom you feel a responsibility, when you 'push through', those costs get stored up and come home to roost later - in our physical and/or mental health, in our spiritual wellbeing and/or in our relationships.
Perhaps that's where the concept of a work/life balance originated. The idea that we could reconcile those conflicting demands for a fulfilling and meaningful means of earning enough to balance our own physical, spiritual and emotional needs against, and meet, the same needs of our dependent or obligated others. The hope that we can find equilibrium in the ambiguity between.
But it's something to which we tend only to pay lip service. The reality is that few of us think we have the choice to behave differently, to decline the divided path, but to travel lightly and bridge them, until it's too late, the damage is done.  And for some, there is no way back.
I have learned much in the last 14 months. I am not playing binary any more. Look for me in the  messy, grey spaces instead.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Why Tweetchat?

Friday's @LndConnect-hosted #LDInsight Tweetchat on Twitter was framed around the question "What’s the toughest thing about being in L&D?"

Does that first sentence mean anything to you? Or am I talking goobledygook?

Do you use Twitter? Do you know what a Tweetchat is? Do you know what I'm talking about when I refer to @LnDconnect or what these funny @ and # symbols actually mean?

For some people it will indeed be gobbledygook; they are not interested in, and do not use, Twitter, and they will move on without concern. Others may well be aware of Twitter, but may use it in it's more 'social media' sense, connecting informally around people and topics of general interest. Others may use Twitter in a professional capacity, to listen to and learn from other people in their field. And others will use Twitter as an extended Personal Learning Network, with whom they actively engage, discuss, share and learn from.

In each of the above cases, the numbers involved get correspondingly smaller with each group, until finally, we arrive at the participants in the regular (every Friday morning) @LndConnect-hosted #LDInsight Tweetchat. It's a loosely moderated conversation on Learning and Organisational Development topics, which is grouped by the use of the #LDinsight hashtag into a stream which keeps the interactions, comments, questions etc nicely gathered together for ease of discursive flow. 

But there aren't that many people who regularly join in. A recurring theme recently has been about bringing more views and opinions into these conversations, both from within the L&D/OD community itself and from outside - the 'customer voice', if you will. Two conversational streams emerged today - one challenging why non-L&D/OD people would be interested in the first place, and the other about why more L&D/OD people don't show up in this chat, never mind why 'outsiders' don't.

In my experience, some L&Drs find the very idea of a Tweetchat intimidating and/or they lacked confidence of 'public speaking' in an internet-wide forum, whilst others feel that they have nothing to say or contribute to the discussion. We did a quick self-examination of the timeline to check for jargon, of which, reassuringly, there was little (although some later tweets today have cautioned that one profession's jargon may mean something completely different in someone else's!).

But if the future of learning is digital, collective and social, as we are so often told, and are trying to move ourselves towards, why are so many in the profession so reluctant to show up in such an informal and rewarding space? Is it down to timing of the chat? (clashes with the commute); is it fear of saying the 'wrong' thing? (what exactly is the 'right' thing anyway?); is it unfamiliarity with the medium/channel (bet they use facebook in their private life); is it corporate policy? (thou shalt not use social media); is it concern about being seen and engaged with by peers and customers? (can't afford to be seen not to have all the answers, gotta preserve the mystique); is it reluctance to change thinking and practice? Or are Tweetchats just seen as self-congratulatory/self-sympathising chatter for the self-elected 'elite' in the profession?

Those same questions could be asked about why non-L&D/OD people don't join in L&D Tweetchats. And, as importantly, why we don't involve ourselves in other discipline/professions' tweetchats; questions about perceived relevance, value and availability perhaps? What do you think?

I'd suggest that the very fact we felt able to think about how we could engage a wider church, in the chat itself, speaks volumes.  I'd encourage everyone to dip their toes in the water. If you're in L&D/OD, try out #DLinsight ( every Friday morning between 08:00-09:00UK, #Chat2Lrn ( or #lrnchat (, or search the Internet for other unrelated, but relevant to you, topics of interest Tweetchats. There's rich learning to be had in all these spaces, folks.

And if I can help you find your way through the social media clutter, don't hesitate to get in touch.

Friday, 24 June 2016

Responsible & Accountable

This morning's #LDinsight tweetchat on Twitter posed the question "How do you respond when things go wrong?". Having earlier woken up to the news that the Great British Public (well, 72% of those who could) had decided by majority vote that the UK should leave the European Union, this struck me as a clever question which got me thinking. For me, the result of the referendum felt like it had 'all gone wrong'.
This was my response.. Shortly thereafter, my more considered reflection, aided by discussing 'how I am today' with my counsellor, and in drawing parallels with my heart bypass surgery last year, has led me to the conclusion that I need to take more and better responsibility for things like this. In my recovery period from surgery, I reflected on how I had to fess up to being responsible for my heart condition, how decisions and actions I had taken - or not taken - had led to arteriosclerosis and angina. I concluded that I couldn't undo any of that, that my intentions had been for the best, but that, with a little more attention and listening to my body, I might have avoided my condition. Now, however, after a significant "Oy! You!" kick up the pants, I was going to - and hopefully am - living more mindfully and carefully, paying attention to these things.

When my counsellor asked me how I was this morning, I told him I was sad, depressed, angry and a little scared about how the Euro vote had gone. In no particular order, I felt angry that 28% of those who could have voted and expressed an opinion had failed to do so (people died to give us the right to vote - that's why we have a democracy!), I was sad that the tone of discussion had been so polarised, negative and frankly xenophobic, depressed that as a nation we were now about to disassociate ourselves from a wider, more inclusive community and, finally, scared of the political, social and economic chaos and volatility which will follow.

But this led me to realise that, in the same way that I have had to 'own up' to my heart problems and surgery, I have to assume some responsibility for the outcome of the Euro Referendum.

Yes, I exercised my democratic right to vote, I put my cross in the box. But I had also taken a pretty hands-off approach during the run up to the vote. I had deliberately avoided conversations and discussion with others, I had kept my opinions and views to myself (I am, by nature non-confrontational); I had also pretty much assumed that my idea of common sense and fairness would be the prevailing and ultimately winning decision.

It was not enough - and I have to hold myself accountable, question what I could have done differently, what I have learned as a result and - critically - what I am going to do about it now.

It's clear to me that I cannot go off and sulk in the corner while others pick up the pieces and reassemble our culture, politics and international relations. I need to take more responsibility for what happens now and help to shape the future that we are going to be leaving our children. I don't have a plan for how I'm going to do that yet; it's early days in the political, economic and social maelstrom in which we now find ourselves.

Of this I'm sure. I won't be passive. I'm listening. And I will find a better way, or ways, to 'show up', to influence and to support all communities in our increasingly uncertain global future.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Curation Skills

This morning, I attended an excellent Learning & Skills Group Webinar, hosted by @donaldhtaylor and presented by @julianstodd,  writer, consultant, founder of Sea Salt Learning and holder of the prestigious Learning & Performance Institute Colin Corder Award for Services to Learning in 2016. The topic was "Scaffolded Social Learning in Action: creating spaces to learn".  As always on these webinars, the chat panel was alive with comment and questions throughout, and I had a short exchange with one of the participants about curation, which led me to drop him an email later. That email crystalised my thinking on the topic, and has inspired me to expand that thinking out into this blog. Your thoughts, comments, amplification and challenges are very welcome.

I started by 'Googling' for a definition of Curation. The first answer which popped up was from Wikipedia
A nice, neat definition. But not actually the answer to the question I posed. I did not ask about DIGITAL Curation. I asked for a definition of curation. Now, I have enough experience to know to dig deeper through Google results pages, but it got me reflecting on a couple of things:  How accurate is Wikipedia? And how many people would look beyond that first result to seek other definitions? Just because it's on the Internet, doesn't mean it's true or accurate!

And that's why I see curation skills as critical to any kind of collective and social learning, from both a facilitator/curator and a learner perspective. The social media and tech is readily available, so the collection and re-presentation of collateral is relatively straightforward, after a short familiarisation with the tool/s selected (e.g. Pocket, Pinterest, Storify, etc).

However, the reflection on and critical analysis of that content is vital, and in my experience, is where things tend to fall down. "GIGO" applies here (Garbage in, garbage out). Is the material accurate, up-to-date, relevant, verified - and by whom? Where's the evidence, the truth test? Does the curator him/herself have the relevant qualifications, skills, experience and/or credibility to provide reassurance of its validity for the stakeholders and learners for whom the material is being collated?

Equally, contextualisation and narrative around that content is important. If a self-directed learner is curating material for themselves, then they probably have their own context already, but learning facilitators and/or subject matter experts who are curating content for others need to provide this - and the recipients need to be confident that it has been 'quality assured' for relevance and accuracy.

In a collective and social learning context, here's an opportunity for participants not only to source content, but for that content to be critically reviewed and evaluated by the collective before being made available as a resource. And in so doing, everyone gets the chance to experience and develop their own critical analysis skills for the future.

Happy to discuss further or to offer any assistance if this would be of interest.  You can find my details on or About.Me, and some of my curation examples on and

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Unfamiliar Paths

Today, Saturday, 9th April 2016, is exactly one year (by day) since I first experienced the chest pain symptoms of what was shortly thereafter diagnosed as Angina, walking to the local shop, and life changed. 
And today, I find myself exploring the byways of Claremont Landscape Garden, a National Trust treasure in Esher, Surrey, in a contemplative mood. It's a small but pretty estate, with a lake and lots of walks in forestry and garden, and I am letting my eyes lead my feet, with no plan other than to occupy myself pleasurably whilst Mandy attends a craft beading show at Sandown Park Racecourse.  As I walk, I'm reflecting how pleasant this is, and how lucky I am to be here to experience it; how fantastic it is to be walking and not experiencing the scary tightening pain in my chest when I do that; how walking has been an integral part of my bypass operation recovery process and how I'm seeing analogies to my situation all around me today.  

I've been taking photos on my phone as I explore. Here are some musings related to those pictures.

Unfamiliar Paths

I have never been here before, so every pathway I follow is unfamiliar to me. But I can follow them reasonably confident that the National Trust won't let me lose my way or lead me off-site and will enable me to get back to the entrance and the inevitable - although very welcome - cafe, safely and unscathed. I'm now an independent L&D and Learning Technologies Consultant, slowly building up a new business in my 'new normal' life. This is new territory for me, unexplored territory, following my instincts, prepared to see where we go and what will emerge. A bit scary, but the Universe has brought me this far and I don't think it'll lead me astray now.


My Angina was caused by one collapsed cardiac artery (my 'heart attack' apparently) and two partially closed arteries, all due to having arteriosclerosis. When I had my corrective surgery in May, my surgeon didn't actually unblock those arteries, he bypassed all three of them (hence 'triple bypass'), with veins harvested from my legs (my scars look like navigable pathways in themselves). Re-plumbing the heart, basically. But he also told me I was good for another 25 years now, so the future has been unblocked to me. It's up to me to make the most of that time and the landscape which is unfolding ahead of me.

Unsteady on my feet

As I walked around the gardens today, I was conscious of having to be careful where I put my feet on these paths. I did stagger a couple of times, something I have noticed that I do when I am in an uncertain or distracted frame of mind and, it reminded me to be present in the moment, to be mindful of the terrain and the surrounding landscape at the same time. Hence the photos. 

No man is an island

The love and support I have had from so many people, family, friends, colleagues, social media and PLN (personal learning network) was, and continues to be, what got me through the last year and will be equally important to me in the years to come. Today, as I contemplate the last 12 months and look forward to the future, I hope I will be able to pay it forward for a long time to come.

Now, I wonder what's around that next corner...

Saturday, 26 March 2016


Earlier this week, I joined and participated in a particular professional tweetchat for the first time in several months and I was 'Mr Grumpy Pants' throughout. I found myself getting impatient with the L&D/ID/eLearning practitioner discussion, with only one or two other contributors reminding us about the 'customer' - be it the business or the learner themselves - whilst the main focus of the discussion rotated around eLearning outputs and related technology. I've tweeted and commented before about the tendency for us 'providers' to focus on our outputs, rather than our stakeholders' desired outcomes, and how we thereby perpetuate the disengagement of learners with 'product' and content, so I shan't repeat that here.

What really pushed me over the edge, however, was a comment made by one of the contributors, the CEO of a L&D/Training organisation, about their staff, which, I am sure, was meant in jest, but which surprised me by being aired in what I consider to be a reasonably 'enlightened' forum. The trigger word they used was 'subordinates'.

I've been a 'Manager' in both the public and private sectors for over 25 years. I've run my own business in partnership with my wife and others. I have a Level 4 Diploma in Management and have won a Training Manager of the Year award (for which I was nominated, without my knowledge, by my team and my own line manager). When I was ill last year, my team carried on our work autonomously and seamlessly, and continue to do so (apparently) now that I have followed a different professional path. If you read my LinkedIn profile, you will see that my career has always been one where I have worked collaboratively WITH others, even tho' I frequently held the title of being their 'Manager'. I have always considered those people to be my colleagues first and foremost and have never thought of myself as being 'superior' to them. I have always viewed my role to be that of developing my colleagues to get the best out of them that delivered the organisational requirements. To do that, I have met them as equals, as fellow-travellers with a shared interest in our field. And I have relied on them to fill in my blanks as I focussed on delivering our functional objectives.

So, back to the use of the term 'subordinates' in the above-mentioned tweetchat. I am not a fan of the use of the word 'passionate' in a professional context (as in, "I'm passionate about [insert subject here]". I think it's overused and consequently undervalued. It's become a cliche. As a result, I rarely use it. In fact, as circumstances and subsequent decisions have caused me to reflect on my professional future, I've realised that, actually, I'm not 'passionate' about L&D or Learning Technologies (that may turn out to be a career-limiting statement, of course). I'm good at them tho'. My track record demonstrates that. I am still very interested in and enjoy working in the field. I love the interactions and conversations I have with my peers and Personal Learning Network via Social Media and face to face. I know I have much still to offer, based on the knowledge, experience and skills I have developed over the last 35 years. But am I passionate about it? Really?

So I was surprised at my own reaction to the afore-mentioned tweet, referring to staff as 'subordinates'. I was genuinely shocked to see it, and I reacted in a totally emotional way. I was outraged. But I've learned about the pitfalls of 'firing from the hip' on social media What Else I Learned on my Holidays (2011) so I sat back, analysed how I really felt about it and then crafted and dropped a tweet anyway, acknowledging (hoping) that the comment had been made in jest, but challenging if that was an appropriate term to use nowadays.

One doesn't tweet challenging tweets without expecting some kind of response, so I wasn't surprised when the individual in question did respond. But I was surprised by the unrepentant (and frankly smug) response, that in their business, they do use that term (remember, this is the CEO of a large, apparently well-respected organisation, a self-proclaimed "performance training thought-leader"). 

Now well and truly triggered, I crafted and deleted several responses, finally settling on something close to what I wanted to say, which I then ran past my wife (@MandyRG) and asked her if I should even 'rise to the bait' by sending it. Her advice (as a trained psychotherapist) was that I was being invited into a 'game' and should be very careful about replying (wise woman!). But here's where 'passion' creeps back into the story. I really cared about this. I didn't want to let it lie. So I responded, acknowledging their right to operate their business as the liked, but that I chose to use different language in referring to my colleagues. Respectful but still making my point, I felt.

And then they hung themselves out to dry. Keen to get the last word in and/or to wind me up further, but forgetting that this was in a public forum, that their own staff may well see their tweets, forgetting that one person's 'humour' does not necessarily translate well in <140 characters, they further insulted their staff by tweeting two further even more dismissive and disrespectful terms to describe them. At which point, I withdrew from the conversation and walked away

Why have I shared this story with you? Not to name and shame (although regular followers may well have worked things out for themselves). Not to present myself as a champion of the underdog, nor some kind of 'supermanager'. But as a reflective piece on where and how it can all go wrong on social media, if and when we let our self-belief or passion (there, I've said it!) get ahead of our thinking and our mouths/fingers; how the difference between intent and impact should never be underestimated in public fora like Twitter.

Of course, I may have over-reacted to the whole thing. Maybe it was all tongue in cheek. Maybe I have played right into that individual's hands and shown myself up to be a self-righteous, humourless attention-seeker. I am, however, proud of myself. Proud of standing up for my values and beliefs in a professional and respectful manner. Proud of not being drawn into someone else's game. Proud of intuiting when to walk away.  And proud of not making a public and potentially business-impacting fool of myself.

Unless, of course, I have just done exactly that.

Your thoughts and comments are, as ever, very welcome.