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Everything can look like a nail – coaching in practise

A couple of paragraphs from the book I am working on about coaching:

There are two big issues in many descriptions of coaching which are worth emphasising. Much of the literature about coaching emphasises that the coach doesn’t need to be highly skilled in the work of the client. Coaching practise in leadership and the workplace builds on the early practise in sports coaching. Many people stress that the top class athlete is not trained and coached by someone who is better than them at their sport. Rather, the focus is on finding someone to coach who can bring objectivity and a questioning challenge to how we work. That is the gold dust of coaching. So, we don’t necessarily need direct experience to be able to coach someone in their context. My first coach had little understanding of my own specialism at the time – research management. But he did understand career transitions, how to apply skills to a job change, and how to navigate difficult organisational change. That was the space where he was particularly helpful. So, the coach doesn’t necessarily bring subject specific expertise – in fact sometimes that expertise can get in the way of the coach being objective and challenging the things we take for granted. I have often found myself needing to sit back and avoid leaping in with a solution for a client because I think I understand their situation. I don’t! Only they have the detailed knowledge and understanding that will help them to find their own solution.

The second issue, which I often need to stress when I meet a new client, is the need for an eclectic approach. Many coaches identify a specific coaching perspective or training approach and define that as their own particular brand or technique. Thus, if you search for coaches you will find NLP coaches, Behaviourist coaches, Gestalt coaches, Strengths Based coaches. And so on. There are many different approaches. A skilled coach will realise that they need to acquire a diverse mix of approaches and be prepared to draw on them according to the challenges that the client brings to the coaching session. The danger of only having one approach is that the coaching session becomes like the man prowling the house with a hammer – everything begins to look like a nail in need of a hammering into the wall. If you try to hammer a screw into the wall, it won’t work! We need a toolbox rather than a single tool.



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Chasing Three Rabbits – author update

I’m a clear example of the evidence to show why we need to focus. In recent months I have mentioned several books that I am working on. The three that edge to the top of the list (there are 20 ideas in total!) are:

  • alice reimagined – a book of poems, prose pieces, biographical sketches and photos.
  • The Journey to Wonder – the influences that have affected how I think and what I do
  • Coaching themes – a book with 20 titles, yet to choose the right one. And yes, it’s about my coaching practise and some of the key themes.

These are all really pulling at me to get on and finish them. But like a dog chasing three rabbits across the field, I’m never going to catch any of them if I keep shifting my focus from one to the next. It’s great to have a choice – but at the end of the day I need to absorb my thinking into one thing at a time and just press on with it.

There is also nothing like a deadline to create momentum.

I have made good progress on all three books. The book about “alice” has a structure worked out, and is probably one fifth written – I keep having new ideas for this book and it is an evolving structure. “The Journey to Wonder” is nearly 18,000 words and approximately half written. Bite size chunks are waiting to be completed. The coaching book is 2,600 words with an overall structure sorted and an illustrator has agreed to work on it with me (thank you Kate!)

But! You can’t write three books at once – it’s a multi-tasking impossibility that demonstrates why I need to take each and progress it.

Why have I got myself into this situation? Probably a mixture of avoiding boredom and distraction techniques. It works sometimes to have different things to work on depending on my mood. I just need to balance that with a specific need to be really clear which book I am working on when I sit down to write and not create ambiguity which might lead me not to write at all.

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A Coaching book looking for a title

I have a few different manuscripts on the go at the same time. I’ve written here about the book “The Journey to Wonder” which is half finished. This book is all about the people who have inspired my thinking and how they came to influence me. It’s a fun book to write as I write about musicians, artists, writers and many other people who have had an impact on me. It is also a great way to say thank you and acknowledge people.

That book is in the background at the moment as I press on with my other non-fiction venture, a book about coaching. I have been coaching for 12 years now, and wanted to write about the recurrent themes in my coaching practise and some of the key leadership issues that I often work with clients to resolve. I have many times opened a coaching session with a new client by telling them that every session is different, that there are no set formulae, and that the agenda is theirs and not mine.

There are plenty of tools that I use, both ones that I have learnt or read about, as well as ones that have been developed in real time in coaching sessions in response to a particular challenge. Each session has its unique characteristic.

And yet, after over 750 hours of coaching practise there are some clear themes that keep emerging. It is these themes that I will be writing about. In its first stages this book has had the utterly uninspiring working title of “Coaching Topics”. Earlier this afternoon I pulled together a list of 20 new ideas for a title. None of them leapt out at me, so the search for a great title continues.

The structure is sorted and the writing is about a tenth of the way there.

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When the phone rings it’s no fun anymore

I used to love getting phone calls. It was a regular occurrence and one filled with expectation. Whoever was calling me would have something interesting to discuss with me, after all.

Then the world changed. Like many people around me, I haven’t had a landline for nearly a decade now. There’s just the mobile phone number to contact me on.

Offices went quiet a while back. People use email to communicate because it’s less intrusive and can be dealt with at a time to suit the receiver. Now that’s fine, unless you want something and you don’t want to have to wait. That’s when a text followed up with a phone call comes in useful. But too often we hit send on the email and then forget to track back and chase things. The phone call can be really helpful at these times.

But for a while now, most of the calls I get are from people I don’t know about something I don’t want and didn’t ask them for. The blight of call centres cold calling means that I have stopped answering phone numbers that I don’t recognise. If they really want to speak to me they will leave a message. And of course, if they want to speak to me about Payment Protection or some industrial / car accident I didn’t realise that I had been involved in but where I could claim compensation – well then they don’t leave a message do they!

It used to be such fun answering the phone – but now it’s just annoying when it rings and I see that I have a call from Manchester, Nottingham, Newcastle, Leeds or even Gambia, Canada and the USA. It’s never as exciting as I think it might be. And the conversation always ends with a “sorry, but I’m not interested. Yes, I know that doesn’t make sense to you, but I really am not interested.”

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Experimental VI – a memory box

Sculpture from Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre, Whistler, British Columbia

In the early 1980s I worked for a couple of years as a Community Artist. I was part of a team of artists from different disciplines. We worked with a diverse range of people from 8 to 80 years old, most of them with some sort of special need. Sometimes we worked on our own, and at other times we worked in pairs. It was great fun and hugely rewarding. I learnt so much about life and about myself. It was a great opportunity to combine work on creative projects with teaching. Thus, often we would be developing a new idea, and sharing it with a group as it emerged.

My own disciplines were photography and writing. The writing was something I had developed over the previous 10 years, from my mid teens. The photography was something I learnt as a went along. I don’t think ever really got the hang of using a dark room, but learning how to compose an image from the world around me, and to look, really look at the world around me – that was something that I developed from the skills of those who taught me.

I worked with fine artists, potters, photographers and fabric makers. One project which I still remember really well – partly because I still have my own output from it – was a project where a visual artist and I worked on a memory box idea. We constructed a small box from card, painted it and then filled it with memories. These could be things we had kept that we wanted to put inside the box, or things that we made that evoked a memory. Some of the ingredients in these boxes included mini booklets, scrolls, bits of material and tiny paintings. The box itself was about 10 centimetres across so everything had to be made in miniature. It was a great project to work on. I think the idea for it came from the artist, Lucy. She had done something similar in her degree studies I think. Each version of the basic idea was distinctly different.

From this “maker” project, I developed the idea of memories in a box, bought an old jewellery box from a second-hand shop on Lark Lane in Liverpool (the same shop where I bought a wind up gramophone to play old 78 records! That’s another story) Inside the box I kept hand written notes, cards, postcards, feathers, shells and stones. Each thing bears a memory.

I was looking at this box recently, and wondering how these ideas could be extended into a digital space. I use a lot of online spaces to store things – photos, video, words and ideas – sometimes in Facebook, sometimes Twitter, Google Plus and Evernote. Some of these memories are stored in a  public space where others can see what I have saved. And sometimes they are private. My own space to store things in a virtual, online digital box. Combining the virtual and the real would make a really exciting concept for a memory box.


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The Will to Write

A month passes. Two weeks in Canada – Vancouver and the Rockies (the photo is of Lake Louise). Hosting a conference – “Let’s Talk Research 4: Building Community”. Developing a new team-to-team approach called “Looking for the Common Ground”. Hosting a weekend of buddhist teachings with Venerable Mary Reavey looking at “Own your own death”. Setting up a Rapid Review of a piece of our work and implementing the recommendations. So much to do, so busy…

Heaps of things that take energy and focus. As these have slid past, I have wondered whether being away from writing was one of the reasons for feeling  lacklustre. Sometimes I go for long spells without writing (I don’t include work papers and the like, they are written for a different purpose). It leaves me feeling dull. Writing is part of who I am. If I go for months without writing anything, I feel like an athlete does when they don’t get to train.

Finding my way back to the page is critical. And so, this week, I have some time and increasing levels of energy again to produce something new.

I’m going to continue with the latest book, “The Journey to Wonder”. I will post updates here as that starts to grow again.

Meanwhile, I’ve been watching slow and steady sales for “Values Count”, the book about values based approaches to work. I launched the kindle version during the summer. All interesting learning curves – figuring out how to turn a book for each of these platforms. Usually some aspect of nightmarish editing like page numbers or tables rears its head and becomes a huge time sink.

Another set of publications from BlueWater Books will be published within the next couple of months. Look out for updates on that before too long.

And with this final paragraph, I am back in the saddle again – blogging is always the hardest when we try to too hard to produce something amazing, which creates massive inner struggle. Often useful posts just come from the flow of thoughts and the things that are going on around us. I’m back. Thanks for reading.

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Values Count – digital edition available

Imagine the scenario, you’ve seen that I have published a book “Values Count”. You realised that it came out back in February of this year. You would love to read it – but you don’t want to buy it in paperback. Either you live outside the UK or you just love reading books in digital form.

Well, it has been a while coming. But finally, Values Count has been released on Kindle. This doesn’t mean that you must have a Kindle reader to be able to get hold of a copy. There are Kindle apps for your mobile phone, your tablet and even your laptop or desktop.

So… finally, there is no excuse anymore! What are you waiting for – go get yourself a copy. Go on, click here.

If you are waiting for the iBooks copy or for Kobo and a host of other formats, I’m in the middle of working out how to use Smashwords to publish in those formats. There’s a whole new learning curve to climb for that. I’m going to need another month.

Thanks for reading – apologies if this reads like an advert. Normal service resumes in the next post!

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Slow Music

Richmond Castle, North Yorkshire

Why do I love abstract and weird? Well… to be honest, why not? Sometimes it’s so important for the music we listen to or the things that we read to challenge us. If all we listen to is the sweet and obvious sounds then we miss a whole sound palette. Being open to adventures in sound can bring us new ideas, new thoughts and concepts.

I’ve been working on writing projects today and whilst in the zone I was listening to the Slow Music project. This was a really fascinating project developed by Bill Rieflin with the help of Robert Fripp, Peter Buck and others. The concert I was listening to also included the late great (please excuse the cliché) Hector Zazou. At times it was ambient, at times it was abstract, improvisational and always spacious.

I hadn’t heard it for a long time. It’s even more beautiful than I remember. The concert took place 11 years ago in Los Angeles.

Sometimes we can find beauty in the gentle and slowly evolving. It’s a fast paced world. We need time in the 7 minute morning mediation, or in the moments of pause whilst sitting on the train, or the hour spent listening to music like this. We are brought back to the present and reminded that there is no other time but now.

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alice reimagined

Back in 2004 I wrote a booklet of poems called “the alice conversations“. 13 poems in a short booklet, it was a set of dialogues and conversations with Alice. When I first began working with Carl Jung’s theories of archetypes and active imagination, I developed a set of characters that would reappear frequently in my written work. The character of Alice was my anima, the inner feminine within the man. She appears in a lot of my written work. Other characters include Peter, Lou Meera and Aslan (yes, I know that name has been used before!)

The set of poems that I wrote back in 2004 were fun to write, had plenty of insight into the personality of this character, and were produced at a time when I was looking to make sense of archetypes and find ways to work with them.

A few weeks ago, I was looking through this booklet again. That prompted a new idea – to take each poem of the original 13 and use that as source material for a new section with 5 or so poems. I’m aiming for a complete manuscript of up to 100 poems.

Each poem in the original sequence is the beginning place for the reimagination…

I am aiming to get into the mode and mind of Alice – take a poem, break it up. Print it out and cut it up – look for narratives and threads that are there but not used in the original.

Use the conversation idea in much more depth! Dialogues – exploring the original material and adding in a lot of new material.

alice reimagined 2017

I will write in many different styles – Ferlinghetti, Eliot, Auden, Hughes, Heaney. I am going to draw on other approaches too. This will be an opportunity to stretch and expand my techniques. Sometimes we just become somewhat stuck in a rut of writing. The other collection I am working on at the moment “Hang Fire” has become stuck – diving into “alice reimagined” is my way of unblocking, creating a free space to write and open out the creative approach.

What about visuals? I have been looking for 13 black and white photos from the many pictures I have taken in the last few months, to place these at the beginning of each section. I have 6 already – photos that evoke the mood that I am aiming for in the poems. More posts will appear here as the book develops.


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Learning for Learning’s Sake

Short post this one. Feeling like having a quick rant today! Am I in a minority for thinking that learning should be an end in itself and not the means to something else?

I am thinking in particular of the distinction between vocational education and non-vocational education. My first degree was probably as close to being non-vocational as you can get – I studied English Literature and Philosophy. Did these subjects “train” me for a job? Of course they didn’t. Although many years later when I was given a project to set up a regional ethics committee for health research, there is no doubt that the Ethics part of my degree was helpful. There is also no doubt that the logical mind training of Philosophy was really useful in teaching me how to think. English Literature meanwhile taught me so much about the human condition, about life’s challenges and about how we think. It also made sure that I was widely read – you read a shed load of books when studying English! These subjects are called “Humanities” because they teach us about humanity.

And both subjects gave me a passion (some would say obsession) for learning, a limitless curiosity.

There’s a world of difference, in some ways, between subjects like English Literature and Philosophy, and subjects that train you to do a job.

One type of education is no better or worse than the other. And the world would be a much poorer place if we only saw education as a route to earning money as an adult. What an uncivilised and impoverished world that would be!