Learning Boundaries

Tomorrow i am running a workshop around Social Learning. But it could equally be a workshop about ‘virtual’ learning, ‘blended’ learning, or ‘face to face’ learning, because ‘learning’ is a cognitive activity, not a mode of delivery.

At heart, learning is about boundaries: that which we know, that which we don’t, that which we can conceive, that which lies beyond imagination, that which we can make safe, that which disturbs or inspires us, that which we control, and that which carries such power that it changes us forever.

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The Self You Choose

Our radical connectivity leaves us carrying a ‘self’ in many different spaces, but not necessarily the same ‘self’ into each.

There are many views on how this works: some would claim that there is a ‘you’, a pilot that sits behind your eyes, who makes a calculated guess which ‘self’ to play in each sequential space. Others would say that ‘self’ is a performance in the moment, and that there is no pilot: we are simply aggregation, the story told, by all these ‘selves’ over time.

I doubt that the act of curation is an act of choice per se: or rather i suspect that we do make conscious choices as to how we ‘turn up’, but that these are probably laid over intuitive decisions our brain makes before we have a say.

I think that we often take quite a naive view of this process: perhaps viewing the ‘self’ more like a set of clothes that we choose from a wardrobe than a complex narrative we construct around ourself. The act of choosing which ‘self’ we bring is presumably at least partly a protective one: avoiding the possibility of judgement, censure, or exclusion.

I don’t have anywhere particular to take this thought, beyond the obvious: it’s likely that in the context of the Social Age we are more connected, in more spaces, and hence perhaps more ‘selves’ in more spaces too: perhaps our stories are becoming more sprawling, complex, or fragmented?

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#WorkingOutLoud Illustrating ‘The Humble Leader’ Book

I’ve started on the illustrations for ‘The Humble Leader’ today: i am intending to create a series of lino cut images for the front cover and section headings. These will be based around the imagery that i have been sharing in the Quiet Leadership work: images around the cycles of growth, loss, and renewal.

Humility’ is one of the four areas i explore in the Quiet Leadership work, but it gets it’s own book too as it’s such a fascinating area to consider: the mechanisms by which we perceive and judge humility, the price we pay for it, and the strength it gives us.

I’m using a simple trick for these prints, where i first paint the lino with Indian Ink before carving it: the illustration is visible to me through the ink, but it makes the carved lines much easier to see and visualise (normally you carve the lino and have to visualise the ‘negative’ image, but this way the colours of the carving reflect exactly what the final print will look like, albeit reversed).

My prints are much more simple than my normal illustrations, rather naive in execution, which i think is fine: this work is about our foundations, about simple truths, and about how we are all, in our unique ways, imperfect.

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The Humble Leader

Today i completed the manuscript for ‘The Humble Leader’, a reflection on humility in Social Leadership. It’s structured as a series of standalone pieces, each of which consists a personal reflection, and some questions to ask of ourselves or others. The whole book is only going to be around 3,000 words, so very short, but that is because it’s not a book of answers, rather structure to consider our personal leadership within.

“humility may not be a state that we attain, but is, perhaps, a light that is shone upon our actions. It’s not an intention, but rather a judgement. A measurement upon, or a shadow of, our deeds.”

Later this week i will start on the illustrations.

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Research and Writing for 2021

I have an ambitious programme of research and writing for 2021: ‘The Social Age Guidebook’ is high on the agenda (last year i worked through all ten main sections, and now all that remains is to rewrite the final five), as well as a volume on ‘Quiet Leadership’, to accompany the new webinar series. Alongside these two Guidebooks is a project i’ve been working on for several years, but which is now about ready to fly: ‘The Humble Leader’ is a short format, a guided, reflective, essay that provides some structured reflection on humility, and the ways that our power is felt within our Community. I’m particular excited about this last one, but it’s also the most challenging, as i aim to illustrate it with woodcut prints, which is a time consuming process.

If i get those three done, i have two other pieces in my sights: ‘The Change Handbook’ is a much larger body of work, which i’ve been researching and writing for five years now, but have not managed to get it to completion: i am still editing it heavily for length, as i want it to be about the same size as the Social Leadership Handbook. Alongside that, i want to work on a Storytelling Guidebook, but i’ve done no writing specifically for this yet.

Those of you with a keen memory will recall that i shared a lot of writing early last year around ‘The Learning Science Guidebook’: this remains on hold, as it requires some detailed research which i cannot get my head around at the moment. Whilst i would love to complete this, it will need some dedicated time that i do not currently have going spare.

In a similar vein, ‘Curiosity: My 1st 100 Days’ (which will be the second in my ‘100 Days’ series) remains at a very early stage. Still: this one is much easier to write, and the main time constraint here is for illustration, so that may be revived at some point this year!

On a research front, i have two key focus areas for 2021: firstly, i’m working on some new work around ‘Communities’, which will supplement that already published in ‘The Community Builder Guidebook’, and secondly i will be building out research around the Quiet Leadership groups, which i will publish as it takes shape. Ultimately this will work it’s way into another Guidebook, but probably not till 2022.

Potentially i will also shape and run some research on ‘Knowledge’, exploring what it is, where it lives within Organisations, and what we do with it. This is exciting, but i am still working on developing the partnerships to carry this out well.

That’s just a snapshot, and i’m sure it will change over time! Last i felt a lot of strands of work coming together, and i am keen to leverage off that and keep the momentum up this year. Fingers crossed…

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To Build Gateways

As communities find their unity, they build their walls: the forces that bring us together also hold us apart.

One role of Social Leaders is to build gateways, and to be mindful of how those gateways are guarded: it’s not enough to open up a gap, we may also need to invite or accompany people in.

Communities sometimes exclude not because they desire to, but because they fail to work towards inclusion. Hence the first instinct of Social Leadership should be to reach out into the silence, and hold a lantern up to guide people in.

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Quiet Leadership: An Endless Weight

Quiet Leadership explores how, through the smallest of actions, we improve the system around us. It’s about leadership in the everyday, with humility, through kindness, fairness, and with grace.

The final section, on ‘Grace’, is about a fluidity of style, a recognition that ‘leadership’ is not something we are awarded or achieve, so much as a state we try to remain within. I chose the word as it’s about graceful execution, but also a quality of care and choreography.

In it i talk about the weight we each carry: it’s easy for us to focus on the noise, on the visible loads, but of course many people carry other weights that we cannot see. They carry burdens of care, of their own mental health and wellbeing, of commitments into other communities, of vulnerability and self doubt. The only two things we can say for sure are that everyone carries weight, and nobody can carry an endless load.

Part of the grace in Quiet Leadership is to learn how to ask about that weight, and to be willing to bear heavy burdens together.

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Community Building: Space and Gateways

Just #WorkingOutLoud today to share two new illustrations around the Community Building work. This first one is about our role as Community Builders: it sits alongside a questions that asks which ‘self’ people can bring into a Community. It’s part of a broader notion that our role is less to ‘build’ and more to hold a safe space.

The second one considers our role to open up gateways into (or out of) a Community. In the wider work i describe how all communities have walls, indeed, the act of finding coherence erects those ways. We cannot (do not want to) tear them down, but we may wish to build gateways through them. To be permeable to ideas and talent, and to share stories out, and welcome new ones in.

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3 Fragments of Writing About A Fractured Church

Here are three fragments of writing, connected through a conversation around acceptance, equality, inclusion, and the established church: i’m triggered to share these, with others that remain unpublished, by the experience of speaking to people excluded by the church because of their sexuality or gender identity. This writing is about the moral imperative to acceptance, and the need to evolve systems that have fallen out of kilter with what is right.

I write with some hesitation about the church, because my work typically involves Organisations, and yet when it comes to the underlying legal, moral, and ethical frameworks of a society that is striving for equity, equality, and greater social accountability, it feels fair to do so.

This writing is shared from one perspective: an institution that excludes, based on sexuality or gender, is perpetuating harm. And an institution that rationalises that exclusion based upon doctrine is failing to recognise when doctrine turns to dogma. This writing will be painful for some people, but it is shared from one truth.

The nature of our sexuality, preference, or expression, is a matter of individual identity and free expression or choice. To deny that expression is to deny that person an identity, and that is why, as a writer, i feel compelled to write.

I share this writing with respect for my friends in many places and around the world who hold different views to my own. But i share it with a clarity around our individual and collective responsibility to change.

Shadow of a Shadow

Through history, our respective and fractured religions forged a dominant moral and ethical framework upon which the nations, and ultimately the democracies, of western society were shaped. Their shadow flowed into the legal frameworks, and social norms, of those societies. Religion was an ever present facet, coded into both our built landscape and civic structure that lay upon it.

Today, under the dual pressures of an increasingly secular society, and an emergent and dominant mode of celebrity, the shadow falls the other way. Less pressure for society to conform to religious norms, more so than religions to conform to emergent and dominant social ones.

For some, this pace of change, and where the shadow falls, is too fast, or too uncomfortable. But what if it is right?

Many of our established religions are out of kilter with the broadly felt and fairly held views of society, and where they are not, they are holding the regressive stance against a progressive youth.

The Church casts a shadow from a hilltop of pain and exclusion, a shadow that reaches beyond congregations and into individual lives. And fails to recognise that in doing so, it is falling into the dark.

To Do Right

Doctrine holds a truth safely, wrapped up in architecture, velum and art, but dogma may prevent us from examining the truth that is held, resulting in ossified systems of belief that fracture under harsh blows as the dominant narrative of societies evolve.

Should society reflect the moral code of it’s established religions, or should religions expect to adapt to reflect the moral code of society?

Perhaps historically this picture would have been clearer: much of Western society was built upon the moral and ethical frameworks of it’s established, even if fractured and divided, Church. But in an increasingly secular society, what is left is the shadow.

And it is a shadow that casts a legacy of inequality and pain.

Sometimes truth forms the foundation of our actions, whilst at others we should take action despite our lack of a common truth: we must take action whilst we quest for understanding, insight or enlightenment instead of waiting until we have it.

We should take action during the journey, not wait for the end of it.

Not because we have to, but because we choose to. And we should choose to because love is, itself, a light, and a dogmatic Church leaves people alone, in pain, and in the dark.

Cast aside. Washed away. Adrift.

Love is love

Love holds an imperfect truth: it is a story written in every word, kiss, and moment of pain. Love is a belief held by two people. Love’s beauty is it’s intangibility, fragility, and touch.

And love is found where it is found: we are less when we judge that. We are less when we exclude that. We are less when we condemn that with quiet words and old beliefs.

Love is love: love is life. And if we celebrate life, we must surely celebrate in the warmth of all the flames, together.

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Quiet Leadership: How Do You Experience Fairness?

Part 3 of the Quiet Leadership work explores the notion of ‘fairness’: how do we experience it, who is responsible for it, and what are the tensions that act upon it? In the metaphor of the Organisation as Ecosystem, i talk about the tree growing, through humility (an exploration of our intent, action, shadow, and impact), touching the system through kindness (but also causing friction within it – differentially spent, held in impact rather than intent).

In common with an exploration of most of the social forces (trust, pride, gratitude and so on), what appears at first to be obvious may, through a small amount of reflection, turn out to be contextual and complex.

The nature of this work is reflective, but within a light structure.

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