E80pxtreeven if resolutions are not your thing, there’s still that feeling in January of wanting to get everything a bit clearer. What were the objectives again? What were we aiming for? What did we say we’d do?

So, a spate of briefings.

Several times over the last few days I’ve listened to teams, or individuals tell me what they want to happen as they look at the year ahead.

Here are the objectives, here are how we will measure them. You know the drill.
But whether big changes or little changes, the conversations have all had something in common.

Everyone’s been telling the outsider, me, what they want me to know, and do.
And then ….sort of drifting off, in a questioning way, half way through.   Truly, it’s happened 3 times in the last week, and with really smart people.  I wondered whether it might be the heating levels? Insomnia? New babies? Boredom? Or a sci-fi story come to life and I’ve actually been listening to myself?  Not sure, but I think this is what’s happening.

You know that feeling of hearing more when you get yourself into real listening mode? Of hearing the meaning behind the words?  At the best of times there’s a bit of a difference, especially in the work environment, between the words and the meaning.

The break over Christmas and New Year was a bit longer this time. (How many Boxing Days did we have?)  A bit longer to be exposed to the reality of family life, or floods, or hangovers.  That gap (I admit you do really have to be listening) between what another person is telling you and what they really want to say has been affected by this longer exposure to reality.

I think everyone is taking a bit longer to get back into business speak.

Hope it lasts.

There’s a little window to have some real conversations. A sort of January reality magic time.

To make best use of it, I recommend starting these sorts of clearing and briefing meetings with a question that’ll help everyone say what they really want to say. No, not ’what are objectives’.

Just ‘What are you thinking about at the moment?’


Penny Hunt and Change Chemistry logo imageIf you’re sitting comfortably, then…don’t.

Discomfort, in small doses, is your friend. Mine involved rubber and bells. (Now you’re worried). It started with a message colliding with a coffee cup.

The message read,  “Am in a lecture about Pavlov. It’s not very believable. Ah, that’s the lunch bell – must go”.

The coffee cup was made of rubber. It elegantly undermined any Pavlovian response to an espresso by gently collapsing between finger and thumb. And so a change of café – to a self consciously groovy café with lovely touches, like rubber cups and saucy saucers – started something.

Will new tools reinvigorate a familiar task? Can discomfort pay dividends?

Playing with an inePenny Hunt's new pen in her story "Ergonomic excitement"xpensive new fountain pen. Inky fingers. The pleasure of feeling the ink flow forms a kind of positive feedback loop. Swooping lettering – nothing to do with me – begins to appear.

That café, that day, seems to be showing that doing something with a different set of muscles, and kit, instantly energises what we do and create. It seems to change the old thinking grooves. The thing about those old grooves (ruts?) is that we may not even know how deeply we are in them, how ingrained and automatic are our expectations and behaviour patterns. It can feel so good to be hauled out of them.

I was in a cinema where the audience mood was just beginning to turn ugly. The start of the film was now very overdue. The mood/ behaviour curve in this sort of situation is predictable, no? (Just to be clear: this was SW19, so for ‘turn ugly’ read perhaps ‘cough’). A shadowy female figure from the young and friendly staff loitered at the door to speak to the restive audience. She hypnotised that antsy lot as if by magic. The completely unexpected, gently seductive, French voice was so effective that whimpers of pleasure could be heard from the front row. Charm to disarm.

At the other end of the severity and danger spectrum: the Ukraine. Could different kit, different muscles help leaders defuse that situation? If Putin and Kerry and Hague found themselves sitting at a café table where a cup demanded two hands and gentleness, or the saucer squeaked if handled too roughly, might a different thinking groove appear? That situation is becoming so serious. War seems so possible and real. But how tempting to imagine ways to defuse things – soldiers armed with ukuleles or cut flowers, or those leaders offering each other cake.

Kerry Putin and Hague might just stop for cake in Penny Hunt's drawing of her cafeChina breaks, rubber bends- the brain works differently.

Or use a different way to communicate? A colleague sent a link to another way to make the familiar seem new, a clever new app that will help turn words into short video messages – http://www.wordeo.com . Different kit, different thinking, different outcome.

Had Putin and Kerry come into the café at that moment they might have overheard something so simple and so helpful.

I had nearly mastered the coffee cup (other hand, gentle grip). But at another table, a groove had been moved as the group laughed at a strangely bendy knife.

Those scones were going to be tricky to share.

Let’s see if there’s another way of going about this

they said to each other.