Coffee, Jam and Bewilderment
Learning Out Loud #3
I’m starting writing this newsletter conscious that I’ve been feeling under the weather all week and that I’ll have limited energy and focus for this task. This means I’m being gentle with myself for not having a full blog-like section this time.
Fortunately, I’ve been doing, reading and listening to plenty in the last fortnight so there’s still ample brain and soul fodder coming your way.
One thing that has been derailed is my plan to organise and invite you to a pair of gatherings - one online and one in-person. I’d like to offer a reflection and dreaming space on our collective experience of two years of a pandemic and what is possible now.
I’d love for you to get in touch if you have ideas for:
Questions to explore
Venues in London which have an intimate space for a dozen people, tasty, nutritious and reasonably-priced food (with good vegan options please), and that are accessible - both in terms of being easy to get to by public transport from different parts of London and who can cater to different physical needs. [My old favourite for this kind of thing - Tibits Bankside - closed during one of the lockdowns].
What I’ve been up to
One of the questions I ask myself each month as part of a reflection practice is: to extent am I living in accordance with my values? I rate myself out of ten on my top five values and add some commentary on this. Since I’ve been doing this, I’ve often found it helps explain whether I’m feeling energised and aligned or languishing and meandering, leading me to celebrate or make adjustments.
In my January reflection, I scored myself in the 8s and 9s and can see this pattern continuing in February. My top values are connection, purposeful, active learning, equity and enthusiasm. See if you can spot them below.
Last Saturday, I spent a couple of hours learning, testing and iterating my coffee making skills in a home filter brewing course at Origin Coffee (thank you, Sieske, for the Christmas present!). Before the pandemic, I was a regular at the Southwark café where it was held as it was a two minute walk from my desk when was I working at ODI.
I already upped my coffee game since working from home (e.g. getting a kettle that can heat to 90ºC). However, it turns out there’s a lot more I could do. Some things I’m now doing differently when using my V60 filter (thanks, Margaret for the wedding present!):
Trying out different grind sizes - the coffee needs to be coarser for a nuanced pourover taste.
Using scales to make sure I get a 1:16 ratio of coffee to water
Using filtered water - fortunately a neighbour was giving away a Brita filter the day after I did the course.
Timing the filter process, aiming for 3-4 minutes for optimum taste.
Shopping for a gooseneck kettle to have more control over the pour (though I won’t stretch to a kettle so fancy you can play a version of ‘Snake’ on it!)
It really has made a difference to the coffee I make and it has already become a treasured mid-morning ritual to slow down to make and savour the coffee. Come over soon to try it out!
It has been a season of reconnecting with friends and old colleagues. I jammed with my old band, The Black Dogs, had a walk around Clapham Common with the wonderful Alex Martins of the Equity Index, and had my first in-person work meeting for two years with colleagues at the Curiosity Society.
I met with two Action Learning Sets, including one in person for the first time. I love the format but had never done it in person. There was something special about sitting in a circle, sharing a challege and feeling held and supported by a group of people. I hope I am bringing a similar feeling through my coaching practice, which is rapidly developing, and the peer learning I am facilitating across multiple places for the Local Access programme.
Finally, I’ve been having a lot of conversations with potential collaborators and clients. It certainly feels like a season of sowing seeds. One that I’m particularly excited by is working with the Healing Solidarity Collective as a facilitator for their ‘Getting Ourselves Together’ work - convening groups of white people working in global development to commit to and practise anti-racism. I know that I’ll grow a lot through doing this and am curious about how my facilitation practice will look different in a few months.
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What I’m enjoying
I’ve read some brilliant books in the last few weeks.
Bewilderment by Richard Powers. One of the best novels I’ve ever read. I was engrossed by the combination of poetic prose and sci-fi scenarios. At its heart is a father trying to do his best for his son and gradually realising that the boy’s visceral reaction to environmental degradation perhaps makes him the sane one. Very highly recommended.
Holding Change: The Way of Emergent Strategy Facilitation and Mediation by adrienne maree brown. There’s no way I can do this book justice without further meditation on it. For now, I’ll share this quotation:
“Facilitation is a commitment to the power of the collective. We hold space for humans to find each other, clearing the debris between them so that they can access the forward motion of life, the flowing river of change, the rich ecosystem of differences.”
Fractured: Why Our Societies are Coming Apart and How We Put Them Back Together Again by Jon Yates. When difference exists within a society, we tend to divide into groups of ‘people like me’. Throughout history though, humans have created different versions of the 'common life’ to bring us together. However, as societies change, previous versions of the common life become less relevant and attractive, meaning we get more divided. Jon Yates suggests that we’re currently at a stage like this and recommends more mandatory common life moments like a national retirement service.
“The power of the common life is that it turns those who seem ‘other’ into people who seem ‘like me’.”
The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. How can we intentionally create moments of elevation, insight, pride and connection? There are a lot of great examples in this book, which I expect to continue to reference when designing workshops, gatherings and life in general. One takeaway…
‘“If you want to be part of a group that bonds like cement, take on a really demanding task that’s deeply meaningful. All of you will remember it for the rest of your lives.”
It’s only February, but it’s going to be difficult to top The Long Time Academy from Ella Saltmarshe as my podcast of the year. I loved the mix of well-weaved conversations in the episodes interspersed with ‘Long Time Practices’ - often in a form of a meditation. One of the best compliments I can give is that I reserved this podcast for when I could properly focus on it - e.g. when walking around a park - rather than when running or on a loud train. Listening to ‘The Well of Deep Time’ while walking around Hampstead Heath was very evocative.
Here’s the blurb:
“Over six episodes, activist and storyteller Ella Saltmarshe will take you on a journey to discover how to become a better ancestor. You will learn from scientists, politicians, economists, artists, philosophers, lawyers and indigenous wisdom-holders.
We hope the podcast will give you a sense of spaciousness and awe. We can’t wait to hear about what it will inspire you to change in your own communities, workplaces and worlds.”
A Quick Look at 4 Films that Address Systems Change - Nora Bateson [article]. I’m not sure I completely agree with the quote below, but it’s a useful provocation and based in real experience.
“I would like to address the contrast between this approach and the approach in Straight Outta Compton, or Spotlight — the importance of not aligning with existing structures if you are trying to make change. I am bringing this up because I see it again and again. A hunger to get the message to the most prominent person or institution. […] Speaking now as someone who has tried to address some of the deeper changes in culture, what I have seen again and again is that the high flying, super important, movers & shakers moments, are — useless. One gets in the door of this or that top tier Important institution, and while it may seem like real progress, one’s message gets translated back into “how to perpetuate the existing system.” Let’s make change without actually changing anything. UGH.” [my emphasis]
The Relational Work of Systems Change - by Katherine Milligan, Juanita Zerda & John Kania [article]. A helpful reminder that systems are made up of people and relationships.
Finally, I wanted to highlight an opportunity with New Constellations: Bold Dreams for Our Future: a journey for courageous leaders:
New Constellations exists to help people imagine and create futures in which humanity and the planet flourish together. We are opening applications to join a journey for UK-based emerging and established leaders, who are ready to explore what true transformation will take.
The extra good news is that it’s fully funded. Application deadline: Feb 28th.
That’s all for now. Have a glorious weekend, folks!
P.S. One thing they didn’t teach at the coffee course was the importance of keeping coffee and computers away from each other when a cat is around. It’s lucky that I already figured that one out as Lewis jumped on the table while I was finishing off the coffee section above.
P.P.S. If you want to be present for my first public performance since primary school, my improv class has its showcase on March 4th near London Bridge.