Beginning with the end in sight

My correspondence with an accountant colleague today drifted to organisational development, and the work he does for small businesses, start-ups and not-for-profits. He described a talent he has for seeing gaps in their processes and practices which he knows might lead to failure – and how he offers support they can accept and put to good use.

He won’t mind me sharing with you that he begins with the end in sight – in other words, he needs to be clear on their end goals and objectives at the very outset. He works instinctively but with many years of solid experience behind him, in real organisations and I’m sure he has turned many around from the edge and towards more tranquil waters.

It struck me that this method is also taught and learned as coaching. As coaches, whether working in the field of professional or personal development, we must also begin with the end in sight – clear goals and objectives give us something to aim for and a direction in which to travel.

While the accountant’s outcome is a set of the right numbers in the right order showing that the client’s business is in good shape, leading to very positive financial and psychological benefits to the client, the outcomes for the coach and client are attitudinal, cognitive and behavioural. Both will find the functioning client may also enjoy emotional and even spiritual benefits, depending on how close the work of the organisation is to the client’s vocation.

So this begs the question for me : beneath the different languages, buzzwords, methodologies, pedagogies, rituals, hierarchies, practices, approaches, styles, modalities and other ways in which we divide and confuse ourselves, is there one systemic way of working which, like our common but different approaches, just works?

Is there a Q – method which underlies all of our branches and developments, as there may be one spirituality which underlies all religions? Or are we perhaps destined to express and enhance our unrestricted diversity, freedom, choice, and individuality in this field as in all others?

What a very human dilemma!

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Art, pictures, images – creative visual learning

Dave Meier’s classic handbook “Accelerated Learning” has a chapter on Pictograms and is a good guide to using images for learning.

“Throughout recorded history, picture language was used extensively for human communication. With few exceptions, all ancient civilisations used and valued icons, symbols and images.

“However, the invention of the printing press in the 1440s changed all that. Pictures and images were difficult and time-consuming to produce on that first printing press. Words were easy. And so in the West, words were thus elevated over images as the standard for communication and education. Where alphabet literacy increased, the use of images decreased.

“The turn toward words and away from images supported a left-brain emphasis in Western culture, since the left-brain is dominant in the processing of words, and the right brain is dominant in the processing of images. Today, however, as we strive for a whole-brain approach to life and learning, both words and images are needed. Hence Pictograms. Pictograms simply combine images with words in endless variety.

“Accelerated Learning, which emphasises whole-brain, whole-body processing, encourages the use of pictograms of all kinds in a variety of forms for speeding and enhancing learning and human information processing.”

Meier then gives some examples of how you might use images and pictograms in education and training. He cites curriculum design, where you might get ideas down quickly in image form and see their relationships, such as in course-mapping (like mind-mapping with Tony Buzan), room peripherals (posters, murals, wall-hangings, floor displays), note taking in pictogram form with coloured pens, capturing the essence of an experience or assignment in pictogram form, presentation aids, learning reviews, knowledge assessment, job aids, manual-making, project reports, brainstorming and in meetings.

In fact where we normally use words, we might consider also using images!

He cites evidence that this kind of combining visuals with all aspects of the course material may speed up and enhance learning.

So now we know that the brain likes pictures, stories and music, and that integrating these methods in our learning and development practices will provide a richer and more lasting experience for our clients, whether they are children or adults!

Is this not the holy grail of all education and therapy, and of all personal and professional development?

On reflection, a lot of what we are hearing from neuroscientists sounds a lot like ancient wisdom and clear-cut common sense! And tends to back up the best practice of enterprising and committed education professionals who have always aimed at the formation of the whole person when designing and delivering learning experiences. It is becoming clearer, as I reflect, that all of these factors working in a holistic combination are what make the difference as we seek to embed learning experiences,  empower the individual, and embody positive changes for life.

However, there is one element which is never discussed in education, but in counselling and psychotherapy it is universally recognised as absolutely key – more important than the approach, the mistakes, the setting, the room layout, the size of the group or anything else.

The person of the facilitator – your integrity, trustworthiness, self-awareness, tone of voice, presence, demeanour, and goodwill. Particularly as these are perceived by the client. There is near-universal recognition that this is the make-or-break element in all therapy, that you are the instrument through which therapeutic change happens. And that if you are found wanting in these most subtle elements, therapeutic change won’t happen. There is something in this for teachers and managers, but we haven’t even begun to address it in any approach I have seen.

In John Whitmore’s “Coaching for Performance“, which is psychosynthesis-based, we have a tool and approach which will address this key element skilfully and in balance with the other priorities. It’s a subtle, unconscious mechanism but getting it right can lead to profound and lasting self-development.

These realisations inform my current work in Natural Pathways – using ancient wisdom to make us whole in the present day. Have a look at the Natural Pathways page for a fuller exposition of these ideas. And come on one of our workshops! Help us to craft this new and very ancient way of working!

Storytelling & mythology

I’ve come across a store of well-written and thought-provoking articles by author and Guardian columnist Tim Lott which reflect on creativity and the human condition. I thought some of these might lead us to consider more deeply the uses of storytelling and mythology in training, coaching, therapy and perhaps even in teaching.

Fairytales are not just for fun, he writes.

“As Philip Pullman’s “Grimm Tales” shows, they speak to something deep in the unconscious of adults and children, addressing our darkest fears and anxieties.

“The best stories have a profound resonance within our subconscious minds.

“In Bruno Bettelheim’s ‘The Uses of Enchantment’, these older tales legitimise the darker instincts that all children experience, freeing them from the guilt that such feelings generate”.

He cites Joseph Campbell’s work on mythology, “The Hero With A Thousand Faces” – which he mentions was an inspiration to George Lucas as he crafted “Star Wars” – and says that “all great adventure stories are a guide to help us through changes in our life from one place of development to another.”

He mentions that fairytales and myths are designed to affect the “secret self”, and “these portals that lie within us all”, hinting at a psychological and even spiritual resonance.

He adds that “if that primitive resonance is not achieved, storytellers are failing to fulfil what is perhaps their primary function, which is therapeutic – to act as an echo chamber to our deepest fears and desires, and thus help to integrate them into a healthy personality”.

This is what my psychosynthesis approach is all about – integrating the aspects of the psyche which are fragmented and even lost.

And this is the deeper meaning of every adventure, of every myth of wandering, exile, loss, struggle and overcoming, homecoming and final triumph – the journey of the soul through life, the wanderer seeking home, and the heroic and sometimes tragic task of living and becoming whole.

So when using storytelling in our developmental work, there will need to be a hero or heroine, a task, an adventure, an overcoming, an exile for a time and for a purpose, and a homecoming and reunion.

A bit like the pattern of the BPM’s – basic perinatal matrices – which chart our developmental pattern from birth and oneness, through contraction and threat, to struggle and overcoming, to unity and resolution.

A pattern we repeat through life’s crises, and which gives us hope that in the end there is always hope and a meaning to the journey.

Music – the neuroscience of learning and wholeness

The CIPD this month declares that “neuroscience is key to unlocking potential” and invites us to its Learning & Development Conference (14 May) to find out “how neuroscience can be applied in the workplace to develop individuals and high-performing teams.”

For some time trainers and facilitators have been aware that brain-friendly learning is the cutting edge of their craft, and in common with coaches, therapists and counsellors have been anxious to prove that learning and development, the quest for wholeness and the pursuit of all kinds of self-realisation is a science. It is as if only science lends credibility, as if we can isolate parts of the brain and discover the keys to all wisdom and knowledge.

Jung wrote of the psyche as an entity, a reality we could observe, and described his analytical psychology as a science. But it cannot be denied that there is still some scepticism in business and in organisations about the hard rational basis of some forms of self-development, calling as they sometimes do for high levels of trust or even faith, exploration of emotions, intuition, empathy and other invisible and apparently unknowable things. Unconscious processes seem equally out of reach and beyond our ken, dark and even mysterious theories of archetypes and sub-personalities litter the stage and the more peripheral therapies on the frontier of the new age and beyond seem to have lost credibility among those of us who occupy the middle ground and who are looking for results and the realisation of objectives, whether personal or professional.

But there is a place where science and magic meet, and of all the human arts and sciences perhaps only music marks out the bounds of this healing and transformational zone. Common to us all from conception and birth, the experience of rhythm and harmonious sound and silence are our earliest awareness of music. Kimberly Sena Moore, a US music therapist (posting in blog.brainq.com/2010/04/22) posits 12 brain-based reasons why music works as therapy, cognitively, emotionally, physically, socially, developmentally :

1 Music is a core function in the brain – our brains are primed early on to respond to and process music. Research has shown that day-old infants are able to detect differences in rhythmic patterns. Mothers across cultures and throughout time have used lullabyes and rhythmic rocking to calm crying babies. From an evolutionary standpoint, music precedes language. We don’t know why, but our brains are wired to respond to music.

2 Our bodies entrain to rhythm. Our motor systems entrain to – or match – a rhythmic beat. For example if you hum a tune while walking down the street, you will often find yourself walking in time to the beat. This is entrainment. While music enters the central nervous system via the auditory nerve it is registered by the brain, but it is also registered by the motor nerves in the spinal cord, which moves us the dance or tap the foot unconsciously.

3 We have physiologic responses to music – breathing may quicken, heart-rate may increase, a shiver may run down the spine.

4 Infants and children respond to music – see the youtube baby dancing to Beyonce. (Even educated parrots do it!)

5 Music taps into our emotions, making us smile or feel sad.

6 Music may help improve our attention skills – singing can silence a room of busy young children and focus their attention on you for a period of time.

7 Music uses the same neural circuits as speech, most notably when singing using lyrics. This knowledge has been used by music therapists to help stroke victims or those in a coma.

8 Music may enhance learning – many of us learned our ABC in a song! The inherent structure and emotional pull of music makes it an easy tool for learning concepts, ideas and information, and can aid recall.

9 Music taps into memories; it is second only to smell for its ability to stimulate our memory. In dementia patients it can help them remember and reminisce.

10 Music may be a social experience – ancestors passed on stories and knowledge through music and song and dance. We still have choirs, bands, and groups.

11 It is predictable, stuctured, and organised – our brains like it! With organised phrases, a steady beat, structured form, sound waves and chords which correspond with mathematical ratios – we can listen pleasurably to such music over and over again.

12 It may be non-invasive, safe and motivating – most people just enjoy various forms of music which is the icing on the cake!

Quite how certain sounds and rhythms affect the brain, our moods, our emotions, memories and bodies is still not clear to me. But there is no doubt that music really does have these powerful effects, and that many skilful therapists and facilitators are putting these principles to good use in their learning interventions.

I for one will be looking to learn more, and to use music creatively in my workshops and therapeutic practice!

Empathy – the top leadership skill – Sky CEO

Empathy is the top leadership skill, according to Sky CEO Jeremy Darroch – ahead of all other business skills. The CIPD quotes this influential business leader as saying “emotional intelligence” can “supercharge” businesses and their capabilities.

“Empathy means you can frame opportunity and challenge in the right way”, Darroch says.

All Sky leaders are undertaking a year-long programme centred around emotional intelligence (EQ), as the business moves away from “functional, repetitive training that is better offered on the job”.

This seems to carve out a place for mentoring and coaching which is centred on the “softer” skills, to complement the training programme.

“It starts with me” says the CEO, a phrase that might frame all sorts of personal and professional development programmes! “When you’re at the top you realise how vital you are to people. How I act, my mental state, my level of optimism, how I deal with stress and challenge, is fundamentally important to people.”

“The programme increases our leaders’ self-awareness, their sense of self-liking, and self-confidence, and it teaches them to apply it to their team – people who go on it are universally telling us we’re doing the right thing here.”

Dr Martyn Newman, psychologist and author of “Emotional Capitalists” says creative learning and development practitioners should speak the language of such executives, and make a business case for meeting their objectives.

Excellent advice, and here at this practice we are already clear from our CIPD training and practice that focussing on goals and objectives is the sine qua non of such work.

Our psychosynthesis approach is strong on transforming the self, and developing empathy and emotional intelligence are key components of all our work, whether coaching, mentoring or groupworking. Indeed, if we are facilitators at all, it is these qualities we are growing!

There is fertile ground here for exploring intellectual or mindful intelligence, sexual intelligence and somatic intelligence too! There may be other subtler intelligences which could also be explored…

creative learning & development

Psychosynthesis is a personal process of transformation. For many years it was restricted to the counsellor’s consulting room, but now it has come into play in education and business through the mechanism of coaching for performance.

Counselling, psychotherapy, coaching and groupworking are all forums for facilitating transformation of the person and of the professional – so can we use the principles of psychosynthesis across the board with teachers, pupils, social workers, managers in all sorts of organisations, and professionals in all fields?

I believe that is our challenge at this time. The best of accelerated learning practice and the best performance coaching already addresses questions of human potential, approaching issues of purpose and meaning, sense of direction and a sense of vocation. But maybe this great will project can be adapted and implemented across the board in all sorts of ways, complementing the deep and broad work already being done by the best counsellors, trainers and coaches…

I’m interested in hearing from others in these fields who work to bring spirit into form in practical ways in order to align themselves – and their clients – with their true potential and their life’s vocation.