Helena Clayton | Development-as-immersion



09 Feb 2017, Posted by Helena Clayton in Monthly Blog

Delighted and discombobulated. Sometimes not really knowing what I was looking at. Curious and confused. More questions than answers. Swept up by the richness and the complexity. All senses engaged. Enriched and enlarged as a result.

Over Christmas, I spent a month in India. It’s as different as a couple of weeks in Brittany (often my go-to holiday) as it’s possible to get. A total immersion experience that leaves me reeling and also smiling. But more than that.

Someone once said that spending time in India makes the world tilt on its axis, and that’s it, that’s really it. It does shift the way I look at the world. It shifts the way I look at myself. Each time I’ve been, I’ve come back a little different, even a tiny shade more of a multi-coloured version of myself. And that’s a good thing.

When I got back in mid January, one of the first pieces of work was to run a 4 day residential as part of MSc programme with my colleague, Tom Kenward. We had included in the week a heady mix of corporate strategy, ancient wisdom, sustainability and whole systems thinking from Giles Hutchins; new paradigms of Org Development touching on AI and complexity along the way from Naomi Stanford; and a day on gestalt, group process and working in the here-and now.   These sessions were interspersed with both light and deep experiential activities drawn from mindfulness, somatic practices and embodiment, shadow work and dance.

Now, I might be making too much of a leap here, but I think we had found a way for our participants to have their own immersion. From their feedback, they found some of it discombobulating, rich, complex and provocative  … and for some, the world tilted on its axis a little. Just a nudge, but that’s all it takes. It was a powerful week.

And, in a break, Tom and I talked about how deep and immersive learning is being squeezed. That we are being asked increasingly for online modules and bite-sized learning, for just-in-time training, for a shorter version of a particular programme. And we wondered to what extent we should offer clients what they want, or hold the line in offering longer and deeper dive programmes which is what we think people need.

To some extent, the answer is both (of course). But to counter balance the prevailing trend I think we need powerful advocacy for longer, immersive programmes. We need to hold the line and claim their importance. make a clear business case for something bigger and different from the norm – and make it clear that it’s a necessity and not a luxury.  Because I think it matters that we:

• treat leadership development like Steven Covey’s model and offer learning that focuses on the important and not just the urgent. India brings me in contact with what really matters – for example, the deep humanity and constant kindnesses from people I experience there. Great leadership development should do the same – help to raise our gaze above the small stuff and go to two places: deep within our core to connect with what matters to us, and outside of ourselves so that we know what matters to others

• run residential programmes of at least 3-5 days that allow for deep and big conversations, and for relationships to form and take root. For me, a month in India does that. And residential programmes allow space for the possibility of exploration in ways that a one day event in a meeting room in the office simply can’t

• take people off-site and into a new and stimulating physical environment where the physical environment itself is integral to the learning. Dealing with India’s noise and dirt holds a mirror up to me in way that nothing else can. And, in leadership development, spending time in nature or with another very different organisation – or with people unlike ourselves – can do similar things. (I’ve written previously about this here.)

• intentionally set out to provide material and people that provoke and disturb and that help us get out of our echo chamber. Many things about India I don’t really understand, much of it I love and some if it I don’t like. It’s certainly provocative. So how can I keep finding the courage and the imagination to design something similar for people through the medium of a development programme?

Do you feel similarly? Or differently? Either way, I’d love to hear from you.

Links for some of the things mentioned above are:

Roffey Park’s MSc in People and Organisational Development is here. It’s unique in the UK, based on the principles of self managed learning which includes (among other things) designing your own syllabus

Giles Hutchins’ website is here. Giles elegantly weaves the big questions of purpose and what it means to be human with data, stories and practical examples of businesses that are ‘future fit’ for what’s ahead

Naomi Stanford’s Org Design blog is here.  Each time I hear Naomi talk about Org Design, I see it more clearly  She has a wonderful knack of being able to see through mess and complexity and normalises it with a very light touch.

(Oh, and this year, no big trips.  A week in the UK, here and there, probably.  But the year after …?)

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