The First Three Steps: In Practice

I take some pride in the fact that my work is grounded in research, evidence informed, but does not grind to a halt in the space of thought. Rather, it’s embedded in practice. To be ‘in practice’ is a rather pragmatic state of affairs, requiring us to take the beauty of theory, pack it into our backpack, don our walking boots, and hike out into the wilderness. Or to put it another way, to get up and go to work.

An approach of #WorkingOutLoud allows us to stand with one foot in each space: a space of learning, thinking, reflection, sense making, and theory, as well as a space of action, learning, failure, planning, sharing, and work. Indeed, one may argue that is has to inhabit both those spaces. Key to the notion of #WorkingOutLoud is that one does not simply carry out these cycles in isolation, but rather within Community, and one does not simply find an ‘answer’, but share the journey.

In the Quiet Leadership work i talk about it in these terms: Organisations describe change in a journey of ten thousand steps, but the most important ones are the three that you or i take today.

This is really just another way of thinking about ‘self’ and ‘system’, although the sense of scale that it portrays may be a distraction: in reality, in some ways self at scale IS system, and it’s a mistake to think too deeply about being small cogs in big machines.

The first three steps are about being ‘in practice’ because the first three are often some of the hardest, both in thought, and in the world. In ‘Social Leadership: My 1st 100 Days’ i use the first days simply to look around, not to take action, but to ground oneself.

I remember setting out on a expedition some years ago and pulling my backpack on to get going – except that i couldn’t. I ended up having to sit down and wriggle into the straps, before hauling myself up on a chair. I clearly remember the certainty that i could not hike hundreds of miles with this thing on my back. And yet i did. I remember the first steps, and the last, bounding up a hill to get a first view of the destination. By that point, weeks later, i barely noticed the load.

At a more cerebral level, the first three steps may carry us into discomfort or doubt. They may expose us to others, they may be steps of bravery, or fear.

I recently picked up Jane Goodall’s book, called ‘Hope’. Aged 87, it’s interesting that the steps she finds herself taking now carry hope. Oliver Sacks’ final book was called ‘Gratitude’. I wonder if we are more likely to find the ‘meaning’, the joy, the hope, in the final steps as opposed to the opening ones?

One benefit of a #WorkingOutLoud approach is that it allows one to develop vocabulary, to find language, and i find that the idea of the first three steps has stuck with me, and i now use it more widely than simply in the Quiet Leadership work.

I find the artificial tension between theory and practice frustrating at best: academics can end up scorning practitioners, and practitioners dismiss the academics. But we should be both: thinkers in practice, and practitioners in thought. And all within a community. Contemplating the journey, and taking the first three steps.

My latest book, Quiet Leadership, is available now as a free eBook, or later this month on Amazon.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
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