That jumping off place…


Image by Olfiika, shared under Creative Commons licence.

Fear, excitement, determination, uncertainty mingle. Looking round, observing, eyes focused, heads bowed. Reaching deep inside, finding the courage but fearing what’s ahead…that jumping off point.

I’ve been surrounded by people recently coming to that jumping off point, at home and work. People who’ve reached a crossroads and have to commit one way or the other, to move forwards down one path or to reaffirm and commit to a route already chosen.

I’ve been watching their deliberations and trying to help when they’ve asked by lending an ear being a shoulder to lean on. I’ve watched them struggle to commit to one direction or another, thinking through the options, being led by head and heart. Decisions are such hard, tricky creatures, should I do X or Y?, what will happen if..?

I’m struck by how much we are swayed by our feelings and just how excruciating those choices can feel. Yet we often choose to invest in ‘logical’ decision making processes which focus on facts and data without stopping to listen to our feelings, intuitions, emotions. We write lists of pros and cons, weigh up the risks, talk it out with our nearest or trusted confidantes but we’re trying to predict unknowables.

There’s lots of interesting research on how we make life choices and decisions, if you’re interested try these articles for starters:

The science of decisions 

On decision fatigue and why making decisions late in the day may not be wise 

And positive psychology has a lot to teach us about how our personal actions are central to our sense of self and happiness.

I  think we’re inclined to view these moments of choice as scary, fearful places to be. So much so that sometimes we end up paralysed by the fear of making the wrong choice and remain rooted to the spot, uncomfortable but unsure where to go, which direction to turn. We fear owning decisions that need to be made.

Obviously not all of life’s twists are of our own choosing but even when our calm sea is rippled by external factors, contexts or circumstances we can still own how we react to those changes.

We can jump on the wave, surf it, see where it takes us, or choose to swim for a different shore but if we don’t make a choice we can find ourselves left bobbing at the mercy of the tides, wondering what if, feeling resentful, bitter. I wonder if we reframed this jumping off point as a place of excitement, full of potential and exciting mysteries how different that choice might feel? Is the unknowable really so scary, when we were children the unknowable was exciting, something not to be feared but run towards. If you look up the definition of the term you find this:

Jumping off point › a point from which to start a journey or activity › an idea , example , or piece of information that is used to begin a process or activity…

So when we’re stood in that fearful place, unsure where to go maybe we should remind ourselves that moving off from that jumping off point, making a call, screwing up our courage, will be just one decision in a life full of choices. A journey, a life, is all about choosing your direction of travel, just for now, for this moment. It doesn’t mean you are locked to it forever, whether you’re taking a new route or recommitting to a path you’ve chosen there will always be twists and turns you can’t anticipate. But if we don’t make those choices we can be left battered and bruised, feeling helpless, done to…

I’ve noticed how much happier, more at peace and relaxed people are once they’ve taken an active step to make a decision, to stay or go, to commit or detach, to jump off or jump on. Taking ownership of what you can control  lifts a load off people’s shoulders. I think I know which place I’d rather be in.

Why I 💜 social…

imageAnyone who looks at my Twitter account can see I’m a prolific tweeter, 16.8k tweets in five years is *frantically does maths* about 9.6 tweets per day. How did this happen? I’m not naturally inclined to be a great networker or in the public gaze, if you believe the psychometrics I’m quite an extreme introvert. But one of the interesting things I’ve noticed is that quite a lot of L&D professionals and qualitative researchers are introverts, despite the fact that going out, talking to people, giving presentations and being generally social are a large part of our working lives. But that’s an aside and something for another post… So why did social get me? Or how? Well one day I stopped lurking, stepped out from behind my egg and started connecting, sharing and dipping my toe in the stream. And I realised that it:

  • ignites my passions and inspires me to try new things
  • satisfies my curiosity about the world and people around me
  • connects me to others, those with shared interests & those with very different experiences and viewpoints (hence the passion & the curiosity)
  • can be unexpected and surprising, challenging my mindset & opinions
  • supports my learning – my Twitter #pln are peerless, fearless & fabulous
  • connects and shares my work and ideas with a wide range of people
  • helps me collaborate with fellow professionals, in networks that cross time zone, geographical and disciplinary borders
  • it lifts my spirits and makes me think about the serious and the silly

I often get comments about how much time I must spend on social media but in fact it’s very little. I have pretty demanding job, most days I tweet on the way into the office and on the way home, a little during the day if something crops up I want to share. To me it’s just a conversation, I have them throughout the day some are in person, some on the phone, some are virtual – all are valid. I don’t stare at my timeline all day long, but the moments when I do dip my toe in are so very valuable, as @HR_Gem has also shared this week sometimes the most unexpected things come out of 140 characters. I want to share what happened for me in the course of seven days on Twitter last week, just to demonstrate that it is more than sharing inspirational quotes and pictures of fluffy kittens (although let’s face it I am partial to them too!):

  • I floated the idea to create a multi-author book of blogs on social media in social research (if you’re interested you can read more about the project here) in a tweet and a blog. Just a week later we have over 30 people lined up to contribute
  • A chance tweet to a fellow blogger led to us coming up, quite organically, with the idea of arranging a meet up of fellow social science bloggers who run multi- author blogs. We’ll be getting together in London in September to share our experiences and hopefully learn from one another about how to keep people engaged and coming back to our blogs.
  • I idly tweeted July was looking less busy for me, then got reminded by several people who I’d promised to meet them for lunch/dinner/coffee… July is less empty now 😀
  • I got invited to contribute to a round table discussion by someone I would never have met if it weren’t for social media
  • I received some words of support and wisdom at a moment when I needed them (no names you know who you are, thank you)
  • I had several laugh out loud moments (thanks especially to @AndrewLJacobs for sharing POOS with us)
  • I got to share the fantastic work that our British Social Attitudes researchers & interviewers do every year @NatCen, supporting the efforts of our Comms team with a series of links and posts highlighting key findings

How’s that for a set of amazing, and in some cases totally unexpected  outcomes from a handful of tweets and a blog? And that is why I 💜 social.

On Good Will Hunting, some further thoughts

Do read Good Will Huntin’ from @fuchsiablue. It’s a terrific post in which Julie explores the loss of good will and the difficulty of trying to find it again. She also describes the importance of it as organisational currency. Good will is an elusive, highly prized thing. In all areas of life it helps us to keep going when times are tough, stay positive and go the extra mile. It’s built in any number of ways, slowly over time or quickly through a grand gesture, a moment of honesty or humility. If I think of the good will I have held for people, organisations, companies and services it’s been built from a patchwork of gestures, actions and conversations that leave you feeling warm not bitter, cared for not discounted, connected not remote. It can be lost quickly through a harsh word or a bad experience, or it can creep up slowly through a number of small disappointments which chip away at your good will. I can think of companies that won my good will quickly and squandered it lightly and customer service teams who’ve turned me around with a tone, a phrase or a simple smile.

So it must be possible as Julie says to go ‘good will huntin’ so here are some top of head thoughts about how we can do that in an organisational setting –

  • Understand where and why it was lost and learn for the future, but try to avoid dwelling on the loss, it’s painful yes but we can’t wind the clock back. Like any currency that’s dropped good will needs to be rebuilt and bolstered.
  • Listen to all positive and negative feedback from staff. Get out and about, talk to people, ask them what they’re feeling, acknowledge the challenges.
  • Find out if the standards/evaluation criteria you’re using to judge goodwill and engagement are the same criteria your staff use – if not, what’s causing that gap?
  • List 10 things you’d love to discover about your organisation if you were a new employee (even if they’re not a reality now).
  • Put yourself in their shoes and play “devil’s advocate” list the 10 least satisfying things about your organisation from an employee point of view.
  • Look for common threads which point you to the need for a new approach or a change in processes, behaviour etc. from the senior team
  • Don’t be afraid to be open, honest and radical if change is needed
  • Find ways to ask your staff regularly whether you’re meeting their expectations and what you can do to improve your performance as an individual and as a leader, weave this into everyday conversations, don’t turn it into another employee survey. Ask the question openly and listen.
  • Solicit suggestions on ways you could work collaboratively to add value to the experience of working in your organisation… What about a hackathon? Or reverse mentoring? Or an employee forum? Listen to suggestions and find ways to act on them.
  • Review your people-related policies and procedures from your employees point of view – get rid of the ones which add nothing – chuck out the chintz as @HRGem would say.
  • Identify one thing you’ve always thought was “impossible” to do but, if you could do it, would completely transform your organisation in the eyes of your staff. Find a way to do it.

I’m sure this is just scratching the surface but thanks Julie for putting a new spin on this topic. I think it’s more fundamental and basic than some of the employee engagement, motivation narratives would have you believe and can be intensely personal and contextual which makes it tricky to find a simple solution for.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on it, I’m sure we all have examples to share and learn from.

If you have to go good will hunting then the hunt is probably just the start of a long road ahead but with a positive mindset, dialogue and persistence the journey could transform things beyond all imagining…

One small step for L&D, one giant leap for workplace learning…

Have you ever watched a small child learn to stand up and walk? It’s a long process with their first steps preceded by many months of pulling themselves up by the sofa, a random toy, your leg, the cat…the environment may be familiar but the longing to stand and the views from a different height are new and full of potential. Even when they achieve the standing position it takes many more months for them to become consistently stable, hence lots of tumbles, trips and falls. And yes sometimes there are tears but also there are giggles and laughs, and often wide-eyed wonder at how the work looks from their new vantage point. And they will still look for their Mum or Dad, for a stabilising hand, someone to turn to when the path gets rocky or the knee gets scraped. But it’s a journey full of exploration, learning, excitement and practical experience. image Now think about the worst type of learning you’ve experienced at work. All too often we ask people to join us in the classroom for a single one-off ‘hit’ of training, we take them from crawling to walking in one foul swoop and sometimes we don’t even bother to ask if or why they want to learn to walk. For some people that’s a bruising, scary experience and it’s no wonder they fall over when they’re back in their jobs, the learning experience is so ephemeral or awful that the skills, knowledge and behaviours mentioned are half-remembered but rarely acted upon. L&D needs to step up to its role in supporting holistic development rather than just providing training. We should be helping people to identify their goals and needs and responding with a more comprehensive but varied approach. If we want people to learn to walk tall we need to start with small steps (through discussion, listening, bite sized learning, stretch assignments, shadowing), offering a blend of different experiences and resources to support them as they develop their skills and capability. There might be some formal training in there, I’m not evangelical about informal and social learning (just very enthusiastic!). I do think there is a place for workshops and formal training but context & integration have to be key – how will people apply their new skills, how will they pick themselves up and start over again when they tumble? And how can we support them with that (for example by coaching, mentoring, action learning, building networks of peer support) so they’re encouraged to persist, practice and share new skills without reverting to old behaviours or getting stuck where they land.

The biggest small step we can take with our colleagues is to help them see that they can stand on their own two feet when it comes to their ongoing development and that they are able to choose an approach that suits them and the particular issue they are facing. We need to be curating resources people can draw upon at they point they’re needed, building connections and networks, helping people to build their competence at sharing their expertise with others and giving them the confidence to take control of their own development and learning. To use a bit of a hackneyed phrase we need to move from being the sage on the stage to the guide on the side. I’m comfortable with that it feels right to me.

I don’t want to be doling out pearls of wisdom from my carefully guarded stash, I want to see people talking to each other about new tools, ideas and ways of working in their teams, at staff meetings, during project work and over lunch. That’s a learning culture, one where a good idea spreads contagiously, where fresh takes on persistent problems are grabbed by the people affected and worked through collaboratively. But it’s challenging in workplaces where training is the norm, where time is pressured and resources are scarce. It means we need to get out there and talk to our colleagues, understand their work and their goals and then shape our support to meet those needs. We should have been doing this anyway, it’s not rocket science and our world is full of people thinking carefully about how we do this and providing heaps of inspiration about how to do it. To name but two see Jane Hart’s work on learning concierges or Andrew Jacobs on the transformation he’s led at Lambeth Council, he also gave us this list of 50 crazy ideas to change L&D, why not pick one…

image For me it’s been about learning new skills & approaches like digital curation, appreciative inquiry and action learning sets, exploring the role of social platforms like Curatr and Yammer but above all else it’s been about climbing out of the training box and thinking creatively. It’s involved going back to the basics, talking to people and managers about what they need and taking it from there. That means we, (yes that includes you), have to take a long, hard look at ourselves, our own ways of thinking and ways of working. Are you clinging onto something, an approach to ‘training’ or L&D because it’s appropriate or because it feels comfortable? Do you listen to your fellow L&D’ers on these changing practices and think ‘how exciting but it won’t work at my organisation’? If that felt familiar, do you ever stop and ask yourself whether you’ve tried something new in the last six months. If not, why? I’m still learning, still taking those baby steps, tentative and fragile though they may be but it feels good. Sometimes you’ve got to try something new, stumble and persist to be able to walk tall. Will you join me? What small step will you take to transform your practice?

The essence of leadership?

Leadership for me has very little to do with being ‘out in front’, ‘up on top’, ‘ahead of the game’ … and everything to do with this – image

… the person in front, and the person behind.

For me it’s about –

  • pausing to take time to listen to people, really listen
  • making space in the day to help someone develop their ideas, their skills, their voice
  • standing up for what’s right instead of settling for what’s easiest
  • stepping back, letting go and supporting others to stretch their wings
  • applauding success and valuing the learning that comes from failure, especially my own
  • being aware of my own strengths, and where they end!
  • getting stuck in
  • persistence
  • simple, honest conversations
  • being open-minded, not making assumptions
  • caring

I get there some days, other days I fail miserably. I’m a work in progress. How about you?

With special thanks to @simbeckhampson for tweeting that quote and getting me thinking.

Why it’s time to talk

Today is the first #timetotalk day, part of the brilliant Time to Change campaign led by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness. The aim is to start a million conversations across the UK about mental health and wellbeing. It’s five years now since I was diagnosed with clinical depression and talking was a huge part of my recovery and continues to be an important element of how I manage my mental health on a daily basis. I first blogged about this a couple of years ago so it feels right to return to the topic today.

At first talking was impossible, not just because I didn’t know how to express the depth and despondency of the feelings I had but also because I was worried about what people would think, how they’d react. What snap decisions would they make about my abilities or competency because of my mental health? At a point when I could barely understand my feelings let alone verbalise them, someone suggested I cheer up & snap out of it. I wished I could. But then I wondered if everyone else was thinking the same. We wouldn’t dream of telling someone with a broken leg or cancer to snap out of it. Just when you need to talk that sort of response, that stigma, can lock you away. Thankfully the stigma around depression and other mental health conditions is slowly receding in the face of concerted public campaigns like Time to Change. But it still exists.

Talking really does help. I don’t mean professional talking (although talking therapy is invaluable to many people and played a big role in rebuilding my world), I’m talking about the everyday emotional connection that comes from someone saying hello, asking how you are doing and meaning it, and most of all not avoiding you or averting their gaze because your illness makes them uncomfortable.

I was lucky I had family, friends and colleagues who took time to check in with me, help me take things at my own pace and who importantly listened when I wanted to talk, didn’t force it when I couldn’t connect, and let me shape the flow of our dialogue. It meant the world to me. And many of those conversations weren’t about my mental health, they were simple day-to-day natters about everything and nothing. But each one was a thread that wove me back into my life.

The more we bring conversations about mental health, wellbeing & illness into our daily lives, the more time we make to talk and really listen to each other, then the better our relationships & connections will be. We all have mental health, and one in four of us will experience mental illness at some point in our lives.

So why not join me today, start a conversation. It doesn’t have to be ‘the’ conversation, or a deep or long conversation, just a chat, maybe with a cuppa, it could make all the difference, it did to me. If you want some tips then see the image below or visit the Time to Change site.


And if you’re stuck for a way to start the conversation then why not sign the pledge wall and let everyone know you agree it’s time to change. And to everyone who took time and care to talk to me when I needed it, thank you.

Cat buckaroo, memories and how times change

Like many of you we visited family this weekend, a chance to catch up on news and marvel at how quickly the children are growing up. Watching my nieces play on their Xbox Kinnect system I was struck by how at ease they were with using gesture enabled technology, impatient in fact that it didn’t respond fast enough to their movements. And I was surprised to hear them diss the Wii games which were firm favourites less than two years but seen as passé because they need you to hold a controller. It led us ‘grown-ups’ (which apparently we are now though I don’t remember signing up for that!) discussing our relatively recent adoption of touchscreen tablets of various hues and how this has changed how we interact with technology and each other.

I’m sure variations of this conversation have been had round many Christmas feasts this year as kids unwrapped the latest gadgets watched on by adults whose childhood Xmas memories were of games like Connect, Operation (my personal favourite) and Buckaroo.


After dinner we sat around the table and played board games for three hours, not a laptop or tablet in sight and had a great laugh. Those will be the memories I’ll cherish and I’m sure the girls will too when they look back.

Given my enthusiastic adoption of social media it might surprise people to know I wasn’t much fussed by technology for many years and I held out against having a mobile phone for a long time despite working in an area which required a lot of lone working in the field. I didn’t use a computer until I went back to university to study for a masters in my early twenties, I completed my first degree using handwritten notes and one of these:


This is inconceivable to my nieces they just haven’t experienced a world without handheld technology.

By the way those of you worried cats aren’t featuring at all here should check out the old internet meme Cat Buckaroo , made me chuckle for a long time & a great example of technology reimagining old favourites!


My friends and family often tease me about the volume of my tweeting but I’ve seen all my close family move onto Facebook this year some who swore they’d never ‘do’ social media (accompanied by dramatic shoulder shudders!). I think this has been both a response to the family moving further apart geographically but also the fact that everyone now has access to a tablet or phone that makes social networking easier than digging out the laptop or heading up to the study to use the PC.

Does this mean we speak less on the phone now? Probably yes, but it also means we all keep in touch on a more regular basis and share little moments of each other’s lives in a way we haven’t for years.

Similarly, we don’t learn so much by rote now that information is but a moment’s Google away. This is true but we can now explore the links and connections between different things, the ideas of others and alternative perspectives on the world quickly and easily – this makes for powerful, connected learning experiences.

Whilst we might worry that we can’t drag ourselves away from our tablets or about needing a digital detox, for me as long as technology continues to help me make connections, hear fresh perspectives and share moments of those I love I’ll continue to be an enthusiast.

At the end of the day what makes precious memories isn’t the games we play or the technologies we use it’s the feelings, the emotions and the connections we share with each other. The medium will change but the emotions and feelings created remain timeless and precious.

Happy New Year to you all, go make some memories.


I recently mentioned on Twitter that I don’t blog very often unlike my tweeting! It prompted me to pull together all of the posts I have written over the last year or so and finally build my blog. As well as that I’ve decided to give blogging a little more attention in the next 12 months so watch this space! As you can see already it will be an eclectic mix of topics from social media in the social sciences to personal musings.


Those of you who already follow me on Twitter @jess1ecat will understand why I chose this image to launch my new blog!

Reblogged: #adventblogs Day 8: Loosen Your Stakes

Posted by: Alison Chisnell in her inspirational Advent Blogs series on December 8, 2013

Today’s post is written by Kandy Woodfield, better known to many of us as her Twitter handle of @Jess1ecat. Artwork for today (and every day!) is by the brilliant Simon Heath @SimonHeath1

I’m ambivalent about stakes. They’re good (I’m told) for slaying vampires, or the walking dead…20131216-005225.jpg

They’re important to stick in the ground when you need to stand up for something you believe in and hold true to that.
20131216-005309.jpgBut they’re also used to mark boundaries, they anchor you to opinions and perspectives, they can end up being pretty rigid things that control your freedom and creativity.

For much of my life I was quite proud of being the type of person who knew exactly what was happening and when – yesterday, today and ten years into the future. I liked lists and things happening as they were scheduled to and I thought those stakes were serving me well.Then a few years ago a personal crisis forced me to reappraise the negative side of that boundary setting. All of a sudden my life wasn’t going the way I’d planned at all. Stakes I’d carefully, heavily hammered into the ground to keep me anchored were upended at an alarming rate, I felt set adrift.

Coming out of that period I learnt to stop limiting myself to the boundaries my plans and set ideas gave me. I started to look around at the here and now. New options and possibilities opened up. It took a lot of personal reflection (and a fair bit of therapy but that frankly is a whole other story!) but I started to live in the present and it’s a scary but exhilarating place to be.

So what do I try to do differently now?

– I try to think ‘why not’ rather than ‘what now’ when unexpected opportunities/issues crop up
– I take risks and force myself to do things that scare me
– I try to be in the now, not to dwell on the past or live in the future
– I’ve accepted change happens, sometimes it happens because I’ve had a hand in planning it but mostly it just happens, and it’s scary but it can also be liberating
– I’m less dogmatic or prone to sticking my stake in the ground and not wavering, as a result I listen to others more attentively

In upending my stakes what I’ve actually raised is the stakes I have in my life. This year that’s led me to meeting a whole new set of friends in my Twitter network in real life, running an international network of researchers and taking part in a judging panel for an awards ceremony. Unconstrained by ideas about what my life ‘should’ look like, I’ve met more people, done more interesting things than my carefully crafted planning would ever have allowed me. I confess I still like a good ‘to do’ list so planning isn’t out altogether but nowadays I pick and plant my stakes more sparingly!

So my question for you all is what stakes are tying you down? What will you do to loosen the guy ropes this coming year to see where it takes you?