Don’t believe your own publicity

August 15, 2016


Last year a friend and colleague approached me to ask for advice. He and his wife were leaving their current jobs and moving to a new role in their organisation. What, he asked, from my experience would be my advice to them as they moved to new challenges.

I was honoured to be asked but uncertain how to respond. I found myself saying: “Don’t believe our own publicity.”

Those of us who work in charities and non-profit agencies often tell stories to convince the donors and supporters that what we do is worthy of their generosity. So we tell the stories, which become merged and embellished. If we are not very careful we speak hubris.

The bigger the teams we work in the greater the risk – although individuals and lone-workers can be just as guilty. In teams, though, the danger of groupthink is ever present. Groupthinking encourages lack of critical thinking. It demands uncritical adoption of ideas and acceptance of ideas and stories.

The world of politics seems to be even more inclined to groupthink. Watching the nomination of Donald Trump as a presidential candidate in the USA, and the hyperbole of the so-called Brexit campaigners in the UK, I find myself amazed at the attempt to get the respective campaigns to go along with the dominant rhetoric – regardless of whether it is true, exaggerated or even fanciful.

It takes courage to challenge the group but anyone who does so should be encouraged even if their challenge is ultimately unnecessary or mistaken. We need to hear the voices that stand off and speak caution. Like the Old Testament prophets that saw themselves as watchmen even though their warnings were not heeded.

Writing in Training Zone, Joe Britto notes: “When the drive to conformity means we want to surround ourselves with like-minded people; when we decide speaking out is akin to getting out of the business; and when different views are seen as disloyal we’re fertilising the ground for groupthink.”



Making good use of my time

August 1, 2016

In the late 19th century Brother Charles of Jesus wrote from Nazareth: “Since my arrival in the Holy Land I have become a servant or rather a labourer, a day labourer, with the Poor Clares of Nazareth; I have the independence of a labourer, working in my own time and accepting only the work I want, like Mary’s workman-son. I organise my time so as to earn my bread honestly, and the rest of the time I spend in front of the blessed Sacrament …”

There is a small truth in this man’s spiritual reflections for those of us who work independently. There is a great freedom in planning our own work and scheduling our time. For Brother Charles, the remainder of his time after his working hours were spent in spiritual matters. The important question for me is how am I going to spend my time? How much in earning my bread honestly adn what to do with the rest.

It is easy to fritter the time away.


Keeping Up To Date

July 18, 2016

Newspaper stands

A quote often attributed to Henry Ford but often quoted by others says “I know that only half my advertising is effective, the problem is that I don’t know which half.” You could make the same claim for the information that we gather in our role as professionals in learning and development.

This weekend I found myself pondering the need to keep in touch with current ideas and thinking in the world of learning and development. If I’m honest I reckon that there can never be too much information. But like Henry Ford and the others who have used variations of the quote, I know that only half of the information I gather is likely to be of real use.  In fact if the 80/20 principle applies then the truth is the probably only 20% of the information I gather is likely to be useful. The question is which 20%?

I have subscriptions to range of Email lists and newsletters from websites. All of them are useful some of the time but not every part or all the time. So I was mulling over how I process the information so that I am not overwhelmed.

I use filtering fairly heavily. Do whatever works for you but keep your Email inbox free from this information.

You could create an Email account which you use specifically to collect the newsletters.  I do this for subscriptions to services that I buy from so that their business and sales newsletters never come my way until I have time to dip in.  In variably I just click the unsubscribe link but there’s no rush because these Emails never intrude in my mailbox.

You can use filtering in the mailbox to move newsletters into a newsletter folder. They can sit there out of the way until you are ready to review them. Or you can follow my current favourite approach and forward them to a service like Evernote and read them there.

I recommend Evernote (or similar) as a place to collect all the information I think will be useful. It is easily searchable.

When I do go to read them I am, generally ruthless. The delete button is my favourite resource. I try to be courageous and delete anything which doesn’t immediately resonate.

Occasionally something will tickle my interest or give a glimpse of something I feel in bones I should follow up on. They stay in my reading folder or Evernote until I know I have time to follow up.

There are some resources that I know are more consistent in providing useful resource – I give them higher credit in my reading. One of those is the newsletter from Michael Hyatt. It so happens that Michael dealt with this same issue in his podcast this week. Great minds must think alike. Or at least be inspired by similar influences. Michael also commends the delete button. HYe makes the point in his podcast that whatever you delete can be searched for and someone else is bound to have it.

In addition to some of the same ideas as me, Michael recommends scheduling the reading and acting on the information as soon as you can.

But whatever you do to keep abreast of the information you are receiving or capturing be sure to keep on top of it. If you haven’t read it within a week then just delete.


Passing through

June 30, 2016


There are times when I feel like an insider when I’m delivering training. I arrive and I know, immediately, that I’m amongst friends. Being an insider is a privileged position. Trusted, welcomed. As an insider I can sit with my colleagues and few words need to be spoken.

At other times I know that I’m just passing through. To be passing through is a common experience. After all, if I’m a stranger, an outsider, then I am the course participants or the organisation I’m supporting may not know me. I may have arrived by recommendation and have to earn my opportunities to speak.

Very occasionally I feel more like a tourist. This is somewhere I don’t want to be. Being a tourist makes the training about me and not about the participants. Last year I changed the job title on my business card – it now says Learning Encourager. If the training is about me and about what I gain then I become the tourist that I don’t want to be.



June 24, 2016


I have been pondering whether or not to post a comment today in the light of the decision of the British people to leave the European Union.

I could comment on many aspects suffice to say that I voted to remain but many others of my age and from my part of the UK thought differently.  I suspect that most of us will not be around to observe the legacy we have bequeathed to our children and grand-children.

For now the chaos that I predicted has begun.

For those of us working internationally in learning and development there are difficult days ahead. For the past couple of days bank transfers have been difficult and the cost of delivering training for our friends in the global South looks set to rise. Travel is likely to become more expensive as the pound is weaker and the cost of saving for retirement will increase as financial markets struggle to comprehend what the future holds.

The chaos promises, from my perspective, to continue whilst there is uncertainty. That looks set to be for several years ahead.

A friend wrote, today, “Dear Lord and father of mankind forgive our foolish ways” Whatever the way forward, we are where we are and now we need to work for the best outcomes possible. In the meantime I fear that my friends and colleagues in Africa, Asia and Latin America will see even less support for projects than has been possible even over the past few years.