Simply Human

Reflections and learning
12th May 2014

I love a challenge. Particularly if it’s about helping people and organisations to navigate complex change. So when the email came asking if I could design and deliver a workshop at short notice, I felt my creative flame ignite! Having established that my schedule would allow for the detour, I set about developing a session plan. Fortunately the topic was something I was familiar with. It was the audience that was new to me.

The danger when very close to a subject, is that you can develop myopia. I needed to widen my view. What were the needs of my audience relation to the topic?

Taking a break from my reflections I rang my brother about a family matter. It struck me while we were speaking that my brother, a civil servant, represented my audience for the workshop. I took the opportunity to talk the topic through with him. The conversation was enormously helpful in shifting my perspective and importantly, in deepening my understanding of the likely needs of the workshop participants.

I have a large extended family who represent a broad employment demographic including the clergy, NHS, the MoD, local government, the education sector and law. When I think about it now I realise just how much potential there is for learning from my own family!

After speaking with my brother I was reminded again of the importance of simple conversation and the use of language. People can usually understand new concepts as long as you choose words that are universal. Two writer friends – Stuart Delves and Jamie Jauncie – captured this beautifully in a recent correspondence and it’s just as relevant here;

“Whatever your business, it involves people; whatever your message, it comes from a person, or group of people, and is received by another person or group of people. At heart the process must be human….”

Good principles to live by and applicable to pretty much everything we do! So while specialist knowledge is important in a learning context, the ability to engage, whether through the written word or in person, is primarily about using a language that promotes collective understanding.

Margaret Wheatley writes extensively on complexity. She has a view that when simple processes become techniques, they only grow more complicated and difficult, never simpler. They become the specialist knowledge of a few experts and everyone else becomes dependent upon them. She adds that people “forget what they bring to the party and become meek students of difficult methods”.

If this is the case then we have to ask ourselves why. What need are we fulfilling in how we impart knowledge that cuts across our need to connect at a human level? I find these reflections uncomfortable but necessary. They keep me grounded and focused on how to help people improve the services they provide.  Knowledge is power after all; we just have to make sure that it is accessible by the people who can make the difference!














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