Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Butterflies, Stories, Change, Jazz

Butterflies, Stories, Change, Jazz

Rachel Burnham writes: Ever since I saw a wonderful photograph of a butterfly taken by Doug Shaw at the weekend and was in turn encouraged by him to photograph the ones at our allotment, I can’t get butterflies out of my mind.  Their wonderful flowing shapes, the variety of colours and patterns, the way they move, the contrasting textures between wings and body.  Butterflies on the brain!

And of course, it isn’t just their shape that inspires and entrances – they are so evocative in the way they represent ideas of change, personal growth and transformation.  It is easy to connect with butterflies – many of us will have as children folded a sheet of paper in two, placed splodges of paint and amazingly a butterfly emerged. Or again folded a paper in two and cut shapes out to create an outline of a butterfly.  Some of us may have repeated the process with our own children. You, like me, may even have studied the life cycle of the butterfly in Biology lessons.

I have my own butterfly story.  Many years ago, I represented the United Reformed Church at the Assembly of the World Council of Churches – it was a wonderful experience.  One of the things I remember from it was a huge artwork that hung at the back of the Assembly hall – it was an enormous patchwork made up of many, many pieces each made by a different church congregation in the host country, all illustrating the theme of the event.  At the close of the Council, the pieces were all untied and each one given to a delegate to take back to their own church.  My piece for my then church at High Cross, Tottenham was a beautifully appliqued butterfly – in this case representing ‘New Life’ or ‘New Beginnings’.

My three part drawing of this life cycle tells a story.  But looking at it now I can see many stories within it.  

It could be the story of the many CLDP students that I work with.  Coming to the programme hungry for knowledge, development and keen to develop their skills.  The pupa could be the reflection that they engage with during the programme.  And I certainly know many butterflies who have emerged & stretched their wings to go off and explore the world of L&D.  I am lucky to hear from many ex-students who continue to stay in contact and share their stories with me.

The butterfly’s story could be another way of looking at Harold Jarche’s Seek-Sense-Share model for PKM (Personal Knowledge Mastery).  The caterpillar is clearly in full ‘seek’ mode – curious & hungry - eating its way through all sorts of interesting blogs, tweets, posts, shares and likes.  Whilst in its cocoon, the pupa ‘senses’, filters, combines, contrasts, discerns before emerging to ‘share’ its unique wing patterns and take on the world.

Or it could be the story of my career – a keen & eager young L&Der devouring books, trying out new approaches – a very hungry caterpillar! Then feeling cocooned by the experience of motherhood and that desperate need to balance out competing priorities – safety, the need to earn and a limiting of professional challenges winning out.  But now – a new phase is entered on and I’m getting to spread my wings again!

What stories do you see in the butterfly’s experience?

Which brings me to jazz! Some years ago, I borrowed Toni Morrison’s novel ‘Jazz’ from my brother.  I thought it was going to be about jazz.  Then part way through, I had a Homer Simpson moment ‘Duh!’ – it wasn’t about jazz – it was jazz!  Toni Morrison had structured the novel just like a piece of jazz music, with the opening chapter providing an outline of the main elements of the story – the ‘head arrangement’ or ‘theme’ and then each subsequent chapter elaborating & improvising on this theme from the perspective of each of the key characters – a trumpet solo, sax solo, even the dreaded drum solo – if you like.  Just like with a piece of jazz music, we all have our own interpretations of our experiences or stories – sometimes we share an experience with friends, but still have our own perception of that story.  

That happened to me only this week.  In the course of a conversation, I suddenly felt the ground shift, bit like a minor shock from an earth tremor, as I suddenly shifted perspective and caught a glimpse of the world from another’s perspective.  A whole different story to mine.  Just for an instance.   

And as I reflected on this, I was able to see a new story for me.  I had been telling myself the story of my last few months in a particular way – with a particular narrative theme – it’s been a tough 18 months personally - but I could now hear it in a new way too.  A more resourceful, positive way. Like a jazz musician returning to a classic tune and finding new patterns, new depths, new ways of playing it.   

Like jazz musicians, we don’t have to play the same tunes in the same way – it is possible to do differently, improvise and hear fresh sounds.  We write our own music.

Butterflies.  Stories.  Change. And jazz!

Rachel Burnham
23 July 2014

Burnham L & D Consultancy helps L&D professionals become even more effective.  I am particularly interested in blended learning, the uses of social media for learning, evaluation and anything that improves the impact of learning on performance.
Follow me on Twitter @BurnhamLandD

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Talent and the rest of us!

Talent and the rest of us!

Rachel Burnham writes: There was a lot of talk over the course of Wimbledon about ‘Talent’ and how best to manage it.  I have a confession – I hate the term ‘Talent’ and how it is often used in HR.  Clearly there are people with great talent – top tennis players come to mind, I have had the experience of working with some fabulous managers and I had the great pleasure of watching the undoubtedly talented Wynton Marsalis play the trumpet a couple of weeks ago at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall.

What I dislike is the use of the term ‘Talent’ to refer to the ‘few’ within an organisation, in contrast to the rest of us – those of us who are doing the ‘grunt’ work – the great unwashed.

Notice who I identify with.  Not from any sense of false modesty.  I know have days when I am truly on form and in flow.  I can be spectacular at what I do.  When I am in rapport with the people I am working with.  When I am listening hard & well.  When the right questions come to mind.  When I listen to my heart and my head. When I whizz through the paperwork with focus & determination.

But, I also have days when I am really rather pedestrian.  When I talk too much.  When I am unfocused.  When I am a bit grumpy.  And when I am mean-spirited.  Fortunately, not usually all at the same time!  

I have worked hard over the years to enable me to be spectacular more of the time.  

And I have found ways to raise my own personal standards & skills, so that even on the not so great days, I can still be very good.

High performing organisations depend upon high performance, day in day out, by a great many people in all sorts of roles.  So why focus our attention only on the ‘few’?   Why have a performance management system as some organisations do, that insists on identifying a set percentage of people as under-performing? 

This kind of approach doesn’t fit with my experience of the huge potential that we all have within us – though I acknowledge that sometimes this can be well hidden!  The idea of the ‘few’ talented doesn’t sit well with my values - politically nor spiritually.

So much of what we look at in HR and L&D is about enabling people, so why adopt language and processes that implicitly write off most people?  Why not work to enable everyone to perform spectacularly, more of the time?

Rachel Burnham
9 July 2014

Burnham L & D Consultancy helps L&D professionals become even more effective.  I am particularly interested in blended learning, the uses of social media for learning, evaluation and anything that improves the impact of learning on performance.

Follow me on Twitter @BurnhamLandD