Kevin McCloud was taking his own risk in seeking to understand others who had taken an even bigger one.
Following a crazy-eyed ex-pat Brit he was staying with, out into the wilds of southern Belize, at 1.30am. Watching a farmer butcher a cow under cover of darkness, all to avoid the scrutiny of local tax collectors. Snapping for a second out of his genuinely deep unease, the curiosity in Kevin made him proffer this: “Wow, that chunk of meat is as fresh as it gets. See it still wobbling? Rigor mortis hasn’t yet set in.”
I was watching Kevin McCloud’s recent show Escape to the Wild. Like his main gig Grand Designs, it had a narrative focus on people building a new home, but this was more about the stories of British families attempting to completely drop out of the rat-race. The subject family of this episode had for some reason chosen to live in a part of the Central American jungle not just resplendent with Alsatian-eating cougars, scorpions and the world’s most aggressive snake, but also in the 6th most violent country on the planet. I sat there, on my comfortable couch, in my safe country, asking out loud the inevitable question of the sedentary cynic: “Why?”
Frustratingly, the episode didn’t give a full answer. It was clear though that the family were sick of the waste, fakery and bullshit of life as they saw it in 21st Century Britain, enough to accept ever-present physical danger and the hardship of self-sufficiency. But how do I feel right now?
I look around. Australian corporate and public sector working life is in a state of constant squeeze as waste is excised and strategic focus sharpened. The ‘efficiency dividend’ means real wages growth is stagnant. Discretionary budgets for training and travel are shrinking. Expectations of individual productivity are rising. People are leaving roles and not being replaced. The VUCA environment is testing everyone. Entire occupations are endangered by technology. And while there are positive trends in flexible & remote working, support structures for mental health and opening of communication lines through enterprise social networks, these don’t quite collectively meet the challenge.
This pressure is daunting. Like in Covey’s Circles of Influence, one has some really distinct choices about how to react. You can whinge, and suck the life out of everyone around you. You can walk away (maybe not to Belize!), and start on something else afresh (no dishonour in that). Or you can stay, and bring more things into your terrain of influence. Of the latter, increased self-development is the most empowering.
Why does that matter particularly to me? Well, my role in a big corporate is in the professional development part of the learning and development team, with responsibilities for 30,000 employees’ capability uplift in discretionary learning, such as facilitation skill. There is a relative softness with which people can treat discretionary learning of the type I look after. Professional development is, after all, something that should rightly give way when the basic needs of daily survival scream louder. I want it to have a harder edge though, for people to get inside its inherent importance to their future. Thinking about long-term career survival is an individual mindset that can deliver that edge.
I’d love to expand on this theme further here. Perhaps when times are easy, the appreciation of the value of opportunities to learn and grow is diminished. So, we now need to think of basic employability and utility, yes; further though, of evolving into areas that our very humanity is still required, possibly even celebrated? We also need to ask ourselves how to do that.
- Firstly, it is about consciousness of what makes us human. We are not machines, we are not mechanical. We are organisms, we wobble too. We have peaks and troughs, our perceptions are our realities. Our minds are always in motion, even when we are moderately still. Our potential to be better starts with reflecting within. Our potential to do better lies with engaging those around us.
- Secondly, it is not just the concept of stretch. God knows I feel stretched far enough, regularly enough through the demands of work and volunteering. It is about purposeful stretch, stretch with a plan, an end goal or concept of desired future self in mind. That direction strengthens a sense of influence over personal destiny.
- Thirdly, it is about discipline. Recognising that the rigor mortis of self doesn’t just happen when our body stops dead. It happens whenever we put up the barriers to change, to evolving, to getting better. Adaptation is a survival thing. Survival takes discipline. The discipline of saying no to a lot and saying yes selectively. The biggest risk is to do nothing.
A lot because of these factors, I’m involved in organising a conference, one occurring (at the time of writing) in exactly 2 months. It is magnifying the aspiration & perspiration of a small community I am a part of. A community of people linked by a love of facilitation, and a need to grow within it. Our stories are of consciousness, of discipline, of purposeful stretch, of a yearning for utility, of outcomes that touch and help people. The purity of facilitation is from being by people and with people. The professional development of facilitation is a positively upwards spiral: direct investment in your own facilitation development means exponential development of many others’ knowledge of self and desire to understand those around them.
In a reflective chat with my boss on Thursday, we talked broadly of such things. I remarked that there is so much potential locked away inside us, and we have the key in the lock. If we see change as being an opportunity to unlock that potential, it lifts our spirits beyond mere survival. We feel the hope of our own humanity.
I like remembering why I do what I do. Wobble on.
The International Association of Facilitators (IAF) Oceania conference is occurring from 25-27 May in Melbourne, Australia. Paul Batfay is on the conference committee, and is social media lead.
Places to learn about the conference are: