The Joy of Open Spaces
Learning Out Loud #6
You may have noticed I’m rather out of the pattern of fortnightly newsletters. In fact, I haven’t sent one since April 8th. I could beat myself up about this but am choosing to frame it as a positive sign: I’ve been busy doing things I love - both in terms of work and in my personal life. I’ve also taken rest and my health more seriously, meaning I’ve been less willing to stretch myself in order to meet self-imposed newsletter deadlines.
However, I’ve definitely got an itch to write again and feel myself emerging over the hump of work into the ideas space. Things are opening up.
I’ve got lots to update you on, so I’ve focussed on that in this edition. With that out of the way, the next few newsletters will be more blog-y than this, exploring the themes around power that I mentioned in my previous newsletter.
Part of me is uncomfortable sharing all the positive things below for fear of showing off. However, I also know that life isn’t always like this and it’s worth celebrating when I’m thriving. I am starting to emerge into the life I had in mind when I went freelance a year ago; I’m encouraged to know that it’s possible to be doing what I love and being paid for some of it. I hope some of the below puts a smile on your face too.
I performed at my second ever in-person improv show on Wednesday evening as part of the Hoopla Long-form course showcase. In this course, we learnt how to weave together multiple scenes to form a 45-minute show, all from an initial suggestion from the audience. This certainly adds to the complexity as a performer. You’re trying to recall what happened in earlier scenes, what character traits you’re meant to have and make sure the story isn’t too linear - all while remaining in the present, listening hard to your scene partner and avoiding cracking up with laughter.
Being a set of PowerPoint slides, including being the axes on a chart;
Acting the part of a dentist being celebrated at an awards show, suddenly being thrust forward into the literally spotlight to give a speech; and
Being in the final of the Great British Bake-off presenting a ‘tongue cake’ with real saliva.
I can highly recommend doing improv for the sheer joy of it. I’ll miss my Wednesday night classes and plan to find my way into a regular group. If you’re interested and based in London, you can do worse than do Hoopla’s Level 1 course.
(Almost) completing the Artist’s Way
I’ve almost come to the end of three months of the Artist’s Way - a course on creativity centred around Morning Pages, Artist Dates and reading through Julia Cameron’s book. I’m glad I’ve done it with a group in terms of keeping up the commitment. I’m proud to have written Morning Pages every day (even if some days’ entries were brief) but I’m now behind on Artist Dates and doing the tasks laid out in the book after a busy last few weeks.
The journey has helped me to see things which are important to me which I’m procrastinating on - like organising a gathering, synthesising what I’m learning and doing yoga. It has also helped me to take action when I realised that I had slightly too many things on my plate. Along with the Carousel check-in too from Sarah Weiler, it has helped me to make the decision to pause taking on new individual coaching clients for now and to book myself a ‘think week’ in August. I also now see myself as a creative person and that this is core to what I bring to the world.
Walking the South West Coast Path
I recently spent a very happy three days on the South West Coast Path walking from Westward Ho! (in North Devon, the only UK place name which includes an exclamation mark) to Bude (just inside North Cornwall). In the last couple of years, I’ve discovered how much walking along the coastline fills me up spiritually after months at a time in London. This was my first foray into multi-day walking, staying at AirBnBs along the way.
I was lucky with the weather - only being rained on for the first morning - and met some wonderful people along the way including a group of men in their 70s who have been doing this together for years. I walked about 42 miles in total, include a final day of 17 miles, which is supposed to be the toughest of the whole coast path, with over a thousand metres of climbing. I loved the physical challenge (apart from the blisters) and the sense of persevering with something because it’s hard. The views were spectacular and I’m already trying to figure out when I can do another stretch of coast path.
Celebrating the launch of Autumn Animals
My wife, Sieske Valk, has recently launched her new business - Autumn Animals - offering palliative and hospice care to companion animals and grief support to pet parents. Her professional life has been leading up to this moment and I think it’s a special contribution to the world.
At the moment, Sieske is recruiting for vets, vet nurses and an acupuncturist to be involved on a freelance basis. Please send anyone you think might be interested to email@example.com.
Facilitating Open Space
I’ve also had plenty of work on recently. A highlight was to use one of my favourite forms of facilitation: Open Space.
Open Space works like this. We start with a blank agenda for anything from a couple of hours to several days. The facilitator explains the format and then runs a process for participants to propose sessions on topics that they care most about, with the proviso that they will take responsibility for hosting the session and making sure it is captured well.
This takes a leap of faith from the organisers and a letting go of control by leaders who would normally be setting the agenda. Will anyone step forward? Will it descend into chaos? But it unleashes great ownership, creativity and dynamism in my experience. This is especially true when people take to heart the one law of Open Space - the ‘law of two feet’ that means you are encouraged to leave a conversation if you are not learning or contributing and go elsewhere.
I’ve co-facilitated a couple of Open Space conferences online for the Enterprise Development Programme in the last year or so, and I was delighted to have an INGO ask me to run two half days of Open Space for their leadership team residential. I facilitated this last week in a beautiful, peaceful location where we could make the most of the sunshine by having many sessions outside. There was a calm intensity to it with serious topics discussed with sporadic laughter.
I was also delighted to be asked to chair a panel discussion on the future of INGOs which featured some brilliant inspirational speakers. To set things up, I borrowed an exercise in imagination from one of my favourite podcasts, 'From What If to What Next?', hosted by Rob Hopkins, founder of the Transition Network. At the start of every episode, he and his guests enter a metaphorical time machine which takes them to a version of the year 2030 in which a great deal of progress has been made about the things they care about. He asks his guests to describe what this looks, feels and sounds like - so you get a visceral sense of an alternative to the present. It’s a wonderful exercise for the imagination and I was fortunate to be able to borrow Rob’s time machine for the morning to run it.
Times of change at RESULTS UK
Speaking of the future of INGOs, it has been fascinating and encouraging to be part of the strategy process for RESULTS UK, where I’m co-chair of the board. (We’re not technically an INGO as we’re only based in the UK, but we think globally). We’re asking big questions about the role of an organisation based in London in advocating on global poverty, especially in a less than favourable UK political climate and with a lens of decolonisation. We’ve got no solid answers yet but I’m glad we’re asking the questions.
Something that has kept me busy recently is recruiting four new trustees who we’re thrilled to be appointing at our June board meeting. Thank you to the two newsletter readers who suggested the same person, who we have now selected as our first trustee based outside the UK.
We’re now recruiting for a new CEO to replace the long-serving and brilliant Aaron Oxley. We’ll miss Aaron but are excited by the idea of bringing in someone new who will take forward our new strategy, also bringing in their own fresh thinking. I might be biased, but I think it’s one of the very best roles in the global advocacy sector and you can find out more details here on our website. The deadline is coming up on June 5th.
Finally, I’ll leave you with just a single link I think you’ll enjoy…
The purposefully optimistic and ambitious Awesome Anthropocene Goals…