Archive for September, 2015

Blurred Lines

Posted: September 16, 2015 in Uncategorized

I know we hear it a lot but to some people the VUCA world (Volatile etc.) is still news.  That’s fine, it’s only a term.  And there is a lot of hype out there about the most profound changes etc.  Lots of it over-excited, consultant-fuelled nonsense.  I’ve been known to get carried away by it all too.

We are though, seeing something really different popping up everyday.  

Just take a look at the Game Changers 500 at the companies who have something about them to qualify as a “game changer”.  Again, some will roll their eyes at the hipster label but there are companies like Patagonia, Mind Valley, Just Giving, Toms, – who stand for something different.

I’ve also waxed lyrical about the WorldBlu certified companies like Podio, WD-40, Menlo Innovations, Votenet, Dreamhost, NRI Distribution and Geonetric.

I’ve also extolled the virtues of Buurtzorg, FAVI and ESBZ featured in Frederic Laloux’s Reinventing Organisations book/work.

I see new models, ways and hope in the creation of a better working proposition for us all.  I admire people who stand out and do things that differently, humanely.

I also see this coming together of artistic qualities in people; and the science of the way we behave; do our best and deliver with great impact.

I’m reading Salim Ismail’s “Exponential Organisations” book and like Laloux’s work, it’s got me buzzing.  Buzzing about this blurring of the previously hard-drawn lines of work and systems at work.

I get a rush of eagerness every time I explore the wirearchy concept of Jon Husband and the discovery of need in conversation with Tom Nixon.  I get a surge of positivity when I connect with Amanda Sterling, Richard Westney and Megan Borrie over in New Zealand about the pioneering thinking going on down under.  I get a ding in my mind when I read Dustin Moskovitz’s blogs about work and life and his great take on people/technology interplay through his Asana product.

Because very little is straight, linear, predictable and governable any more.  Maybe it never was and we were under an illusion that control was to be had.  Surfing analogies aplenty, we’re just making the most out of the waves of change that are coming our way,

Lines are blurred.  The road ahead is foggy.  Not so much here’s the light at the end of the tunnel but look at the constellation of stars lighting up our night sky of possibilities.


Lines are blurred, blurring and may not even be lines anymore.  Just a mass of fibre-optic interconnectedness.

Let’s take one aspect of corporate life: learning at work.  This was discussed yesterday at a CIPD Leaders in Learning event where we were debating and reviewing the digital future of learning.

So we all use digital technology to do a lot of what we consider normal life.  Banking; booking holidays; buying goods and services; connecting with people; sharing information; getting the news; entertainment and research.

When we say digital to some people that means a platform and a device.  Well yes. but this “being digital” thing is kicked around and talked about like big data, like employee engagement, like productivity, like generational stereotypes and like motivation techniques.

Digital learning is (IMHO) about the (quite literal) rewiring of a previously very analogue, organic practice.  

Instead of reading a book made from pulped trees and ink bound in plastic coating, we consume the same content on a device from a stored repository somewhere we don’t need to physically go.  We watch great speeches not in person in the room, but via a recorded, wrapped and edited file made up of 1s and 0s.  We find something out using an information technology programme based on word related look-ups and acquired patterns to retrieve information from anywhere in the world.

As we get more digital in our learning habits, we also see no distinction between reading something previously labelled “internal communications” and something labelled “learning and development material”.  That’s not a bad thing.  If we learn from it, then that’s a great outcome when applied to something we do, say or believe in.

Blurred lines.

So we have made digital learning “a thing” and I think that’s to distinguish it from its analogue practices.  And that may help or hinder us in the pursuit of helping people use what’s around them for their better and everyone else’s better.

Digital learning is now about learner experience; contextualisation; relevance; at the right time; shareable; emergent; iterative; live; dynamic; random; massive; micro; pacey; reflective.

Blurred lines.

Digital learning; internal comms; PR; film; art; theatre; improvisation; design; facilitation; innovation – these are all interconnected.  Distinct but related.

Blurred lines.

In our need to codify we run the risk of attaching labels which confuse, scare, detract and also excite, invigorate and inspire people.

Blurred lines.

People being recruited to a job profile.  A performance management agreement is set up.  Person does loads of amazing work – just happens to look very little like the bland job role they were recruited to and the performance objectives all changed as work shifted and new clients came in etc.  Lines drawn, became blurred.  It happens.  They blur.  Deal with it.

We might as well just face it: it’s a multi-disciplinary world we’re in.  Maybe always have been.  We were content with our lines and our order and our boxes.

Now we seem malcontent with them and are eager for the fuzziness, the imperfect, the adaptive.

I think I’m resplendent in there being less strict categorisation and more ambiguity in the world.  Oops I slipped in a VUCA-ism.  Sorry.

I think my major point here is we ought to spend less time on over-categorisation and more on “what do I need that’s going to work for me, here, with these things, to do something better”?

If I need a reflective and calm facilitator for an event I might find someone who’s more a coach than a stage jockey.  They are categorised as a coach yet I’d need them to coach a group of people so won’t go for the category “facilitator”.

Blurred lines

An adjacent point is that when things are categorised, it can cause people to dislike it.  Fine.  You don’t like the category – and that’s your choice: so you can let the friction / grate of the categorisation put you off something that may or may not be fab or ignore the categorisation and let the thing into your world.  You may not make the category up, and may dislike the thing because it’s in a category but that doesn’t mean you have to cast it aside simply because it’s categorised by someone, somewhere.

Take disruption.  Some people hate it.  I actually like it.  In my world, it means being different; displacing something tired and less useful with something fresh and more useful.  It’s a categorised word.  Hipster, trendy, overused and so on.  My take on it, my use of it and my distinction of it works for me.  Yes it’s blurred by (even tainted by) others but I know what it means to me and I’m undeterred by others’ categorisation of disruption as a “fad”.

The only category I do like being in, is the one marked learner.  I’m a forever learner.  No lines or blurring required.  

The one skill to rule them all.  

Because everyone deserves better learning.


Teams get thrown together.  People drift in and out of roles, jobs, gigs (these days) and people are DELIBERATELY assembled.  That’s what’s happened to me recently.  Joining in with a team of deliberately put together people.  Not because they have a profile fit: because they’re great at what they do – individually.

Individual achievement, success, brilliance.  Whatever  and however you want to describe it – endeavours.  Class.  Quality.  Genius even.

Team cohesion: clarity: belief – that’s what the leader’s role is (amongst other things) and that’s what I’m having a go at doing.

I’ve been asked to join the creative people at Media Zoo.  A digital agency based on Chelsea Harbour, London.  Already a high quality film and communications specialist outfit with a (circa) 2 years footprint in the digital/online learning space.  Helena, Jason, Matt, Tom, Andrew, Pete and Rob are already a great team of highly motivated and creative digital professionals.  I’ve really landed somewhere special here.

I’ve taken on the role as Director – People & Learning and I am thrilled by the opportunity this brings to make a big impact to the world of learning and digital and to working with a fantastic MD in Rachel Pendered.

I am doing so alongside my portfolio of other ventures:

  • my own boutique consulting / speaking brand (PTHR) which includes being executive consultant to the inspirational HR Director of the Year Karen Beaven and her team at River Island;
  • the amazing learning community / virtual organisation I founded – the iPractice;
  • continuing as CIPD Social Media Adviser and working with Peter Cheese;
  • being Vice-Chair of the CIPD Northamptonshire Branch;
  • a Visiting Fellow at Sheffield Hallam Business School; and
  • a Fellow of the RSA.  

I’m also part of the wider #TeamBlu community at WorldBlu (which includes being a participant in their excellent online Freedom-Centred Leadership programme) ; a part of the #ConnectingHR, #Culturevist and #WorkplaceUnited communities, writing and blogging for HRZone, the HR Director magazine, guest featuring wherever I’m invited; speaking and chairing conferences and I’m writing a book on the future of togetherness at work.

So it feels like another milestone, chapter and story-forming experience is about to unfold and this blog is as much a public mission statement as it is a sense-checker for me personally (which is often why I write here – not requested by someone – urged by my own rationalising process).

The Team at Media Zoo Learning – #TeamMZL as we’re now tagging ourselves – got together in our first team gathering on 4 September 2015.  I called it a huddle.  Not to be trendy but because I wanted us to huddle up over the purpose for the team.  Why we existed and what we could say to people after the usual “so what do you do for a living?”

After much light but insightful discussion of kicking around ideas and writing words on large pieces of folded flipchart paper we came up with what I think is a terrific encapsulation of what everybody described to me in 1:1 chats we had the day before.

Because everyone deserves better learning

Now whether this prescribes to the rules of a purpose or not it moved me.  Seriously got me. I wondered whether I’d just done my usual enthusiastic response to something but the more I thought of it and shared it with friends and associates I like it more.  I loved it in fact.

Why?  It says exactly want I believe in – that learning IS the one true thing that drives us as human beings.  From our birth to final breath.  We are born and we learn or you could say we are born to learn.

Learning is what drives me everyday.  

It’s what launches me into a new book to read.  It’s what fires me into my Twitter feed.  Why I bounce into every keynote speech I give.  Why every workshop or scoping conversation is full of energy – we’re learning.  About what it is we’re trying to improve or solve; build or deliver.  Learning about the process itself.  Our reactions to things.  Our relationships with things and each other.  Learning is everywhere.  We don’t often realise it and don’t give it credit but meeting people for the first time isn’t about whether you can make a sale, or influence them or tell them how great you are – it’s about learning about them.  Their world.  Their woes and their wonderment.

So did I find learning – or did it find me – as a professional vocation?  I think both.  I love it when I found out more about it.  So I guess it found me first or stirred a natural thing inside me.

I’m speaking soon at a conference about Transparency in HR for a connected age.  Grand title but what that says to me is, the professional arena I operate in isn’t just about delivering learning it’s about learning to adapt to a changing world.  Where people are learning about themselves and the power they have and the opportunities they can create to live a better life.

Better.  That word again.  Not good, not great, not amazing.  Better.  An improvement on the version of something we were or did the day before.

That’s why we learn.  There has to be better.  Which is sometimes distorted by those with power games or crazed ideals.  Yet better has to be our yardstick else we slip into something truly woeful and damaging – decline.

So yes, I’ve got a lot of things occupying my professional time and in my life.  I like it that way it’s how I’ve learned to thrive.  Push myself on.  Not give in those whose counsel may be well intended but isn’t from my perspective.  I want to be better. I want to stand for better.  I want better for others.

It is about a need of mine.  And thank you to Tom Nixon for a most insightful conversation over a hot drink in Brighton the other week.  MY needs.  We all have needs – they are our ultimate paramount driver in life.  The need for warmth, shelter, sustenance, comfort, love, even material gains.  Our needs drive us and we sometimes – if not a lot of the time – shroud our needs in what we give to others.  Yet if we didn’t NEED to give to others then we wouldn’t do it.  We’re not that selfless that all others come first.  And if they do, it’s because our need is for them to come first.  Which is why soon I’ll be delighted to help HR Director Becky Wright with free help in HR/Change/Learning at Children’s Hospice Charity Forget Me Not.

So what I need, what the team at Media Zoo Learning need, what our clients need, what our learners need and ultimately what we all need is what we came up with as our purpose.

Because everyone deserves better learning.



The one skill to rule them all.