constrained by knowing


If I asked you to draw a picture. A picture which portrayed the act of making tea. The intent being to communicate the process. What would you draw?

You might depict a kettle boiling. You might draw a teapot. Water pouring into the teapot. You might sketch a teabag or you might show a tea strainer. Maybe a cup and saucer, or a mug. You might have a jug of milk, or a bowl of sugar. Maybe even a biscuit being dunked?

But would you draw tea plants being dunked in hot bubbling geysers? Would you show a cocktail shaker being vigorously oscillated with its tea and water contents?  Would the teabag be shaped like a rubber ring stretched over the cup so that the water could pour through, into the cup? Probably not.

Now it might well be that the tea making process has been honed. Improved beyond improvement. Maybe the teabag or the teapot and strainer are supremely efficient and effective. Maybe putting the tea into the water is the most practical method, rather than pouring the water slowly through the tea? But we probably thought we had it all worked out, for many centuries before the teabag was invented. Now we have at least three shapes of bag in the world.

Day to day, in everyday ways, we are constrained in our thinking by our knowledge. By historical experience. By custom. It makes us lazy. Deprives us of imagination and true creativity. Diminishes our ability to think divergently. It denies us new choice.

What are you doing right now, which you simply take for granted?

It is the way it has always been.

Instead, learn to unlearn. Learn to experiment. Especially in the way you live. The way you come to the world. The way you are.

Try breaking away from the constraints of what you know.

Maybe not knowing, will grant you a new freedom?


the hidden art of hiding

hiding dyslexia
In recent months I have spoken to a number of people with dyslexia.

One common aspect of our conversations has intrigued me. The tension that is created between a need for some support, balanced with a desire not to be marked out as different. I want some help, but I don’t want to be seen to want help.

Those I have spoken to have talked of their shame. A sense that in some way they are inadequate. Unable to do things that others find straightforward. Many hide their dyslexia for this reason. Preferring to find their own coping mechanisms. Choosing roles and work where the challenges arising from their dyslexia aren’t exposed.

Whilst my dyslexic confidants have shared their fear of judgement, their desire to hide their ‘condition’, they have also shared heart wrenching stories of the efforts required to cope. To stay afloat. Many are desperate for some simple supports.

The reality here of course is that these dyslexic individuals have other strengths, other capabilities which are more developed and stronger than their non-dyslexic colleagues. Just as with any human being, we are all different. All unique.

We all hide too.

Sometimes we hide a part of ourselves from those around us. Often we hide a part of ourselves from ourselves. Yet we think that the hiding is hidden.

Honesty and truth seldom bring blame, judgement, criticism. When they do, it is those criticising, judging, blaming who are the individuals who are really hiding. Hiding behind judgement, criticism and blame.

We need to come out of the shadows.
To learn to be, in all our unique glory.
To stop hiding.

image by: Sally Green


simulating life

I got to sit in a simulator last week. A flight simulator for a 747.

The complex software can mimic situations the pilot might find themselves in. It looks and feels like the real thing. Climbing, banking, landing, shuddering in turbulence. The flight crew can test handling the plane in any emergency, as well as practising routines like take off and landing.

Every year they return to the simulator to effectively take their driving test again. Useful. Reassuring.

Where are the life simulators?

Why can’t we practice?
Test out possible life situations?
Run the routine ones, over and over, to ensure we get them right?
Where is the life test?
And where is the re-test?

does Father Christmas exist?

belief future Christmas
When I was a child I believed in Father Christmas.

In part because my parents told the tale and I believed in them. I trusted them as parents. As adults.

In part also because it served me well. I was rewarded. Brightly wrapped presents, sweets and other childhood delights were bestowed upon my compliance. My letter to Santa, brought me gifts.

In part also because everyone else in my child world believed too. I was fitting in by believing, rather than being outside the group.

*Spoiler alert* I don’t believe in Father Christmas now; although I perpetuated the myth with my own children when they were small.

Our beliefs about the world change over time. So too our beliefs about ourselves.

What I believed about work when I was 12 was quite different to what I believed twenty years later at 32. What I believed about the value of money has shifted again in the last twenty years. Certainly my beliefs about girls were very different at 12 to those I held at 22. My beliefs at 40 about human beings, compassion, possibilities are quite different to those my sixteen year old self held. My beliefs about what is important have shifted too. So too my beliefs about my abilities. And much more.

The point here is that our beliefs change over time.

I wonder how would it be if we set an intent to shift a belief in advance? Rather than it shifting simply through the ageing process and maturity, as a result of situation, life experience, context. What if we decided now, what we wanted to believe in say a decade?

What do I want to believe in ten years about money, about fun, about time, about learning, about being healthy, about happiness, about relaxing, about pleasure, about society, about religions, about conflict, about equality, about difference, about humanity?

Can I in some way change my future if I set out, now, to have a different belief about these things in my own future?

Maybe different gifts are possible? Not those delivered by Father Christmas, but by increasing my awareness of myself and by setting out to believe different things about me and the world I live in… what might be?

Now that, might be worth wrapping with a bow.

run, hide, tell

I have just been signposted to the Government’s stay safe advice in the threat of armed terrorist attack.

In a nutshell, run, hide, tell.

Run away, if that option exists without risking further danger to yourself
Hide somewhere if you can’t run
Tell someone official where the threat is

I don’t seek to disparage what might be necessary advice to keep me and others safe, but I was immediately transported back to the age of six.

I was in a field at the back of my house playing hide and seek with some friends. As the seeker I held my hands over my eyes whilst my playmates ran to their hastily identified hiding place. Like most six year olds, I peeked through my fingers. Only peeked mind, because if they could see my eyes they would know I was looking. My friends ran, randomly. No plan of where to hide, just run away from the seeker as quickly as possible and then, once a safe distance away, look for somewhere safe to hide. As seeker we would prowl the area, hastily darting between the same places they hid last time and the time before. Always looking for a shoddily concealed arm, or a careless toe, peeking out from the impromptu hiding place. Then we would tell. Shout out where they were, or run back ‘home’ to declare them found.

I was struck by the transportation of those skills the child in us takes into adulthood.

Running. Running from difficulty. From inner truths. From facing ourselves. Running from others. From uncomfortable situations. Running from feelings. From inner voices. From fears.

Hiding. Assuming that if I don’t look at you, you can’t see me. We do this all the time. Not literally. Not peeking through slitted fingers. But not showing our true selves, for fear of being truly seen.

Telling. Seeing a part of someone, like the carelessly exposed arm or toe from the child’s game, but as adults seeing one action, one behaviour, one socio-economic or cultural badge, one gender or sexual preference and ‘telling’ others who that person is or where they are hiding. Judging. Exposing them.

Run, Hide, Tell.

Childlike simplicity.
Safety in the face of terrorism.
Safety in the very humanness of our humanity.


the importance of wheelbarrows

In modern language we seem to have over developed the idea of the nominalisation. That is, the turning of actions into things. The nounification of verbs, if you will.

For example, we talk about ‘our relationship’, as if it is a thing. As if we can stand and look at it.  As if we can pick it up, turn it around, look at it from a different perspective. As if we can move it somewhere else. As if one of us has influence over it, owns it, can change it, or is to blame for it.

I see this all too often in organisation speak. “This person is accountable for the customer relationship.” Good luck with that.

In point of fact what we are really referring to is the verb of relating. I relate to you, you relate to me, and if that is balanced, useful and rewarding to both of us it could be said we have a relationship.  However we can only change the relating. How we behave and relate. We have no direct influence over how the other party relates, so how can we be accountable for the relationship?

This language appears everywhere now. Organisations talk about ‘engagement’. ‘Employee engagement’. We survey it, measure it, agonise about it. It isn’t a thing! It’s a nominalisation. What we should be doing is engaging. Engaging with our employees. Engaging each other. Engaging with other human beings.

We talk about ‘change’. ‘Change management’. We should be talking about changing. It’s active. Change and change management are cold terms that absolve us from acting. Corporate speak.

Someone once said to me, if you can’t put it in a wheelbarrow, it isn’t a thing. I’ve never tested the total truth here, but they are wise words, nonetheless.

Show me the wheelbarrow with a relationship in it. Show me the one with engagement in it. Wheel round the change. Pop down the garden and bring me back some competencies. Oh and get me some growth whilst you’re there.

As human beings we need to get back to doing. The good old fashioned verb.

Nominalisations give priority to the action rather than the person doing it. They prioritise products and outcomes over the actor and the process by which they are achieved.

This is unhelpful at best and dangerous in the extreme. It absolves the individual of responsibility.

I can change, provided I am motivated to. It’s my responsibility. A change management programme isn’t going to cut the mustard, it just provides smoke and mirrors to a leadership lack of engaging me, motivating me, inspiring me.

I can alter my behaviour.  Me, not some invisible behaviour management programme, enhanced benefits package or competency based review framework.

As human beings, let’s relate to each other, engage each other. Let’s focus on being responsible for personally growing, personally changing, reflecting and learning about ourselves, developing our skills.

Let’s keep the wheelbarrow. But only for the things we can put in it.