Staying grounded during a dry spell

Glade view

After a few years on the road, I have finally become location dependant. It didn’t happen all at once, but now that it has happened, I have decided to live in a place far away from a big city and jobs in my field. Great!

Now that I have decided to stop moving, I face a dilemma. I want to keep working and improving in my field, however, there are limited local opportunities. And believe me I have applied to each and every possible local opportunity! My dilemma: stick to my guns and keep hoping for my kind of work, or accept my new reality and find work accordingly.

I’m applying to any job that I think my skills will transfer to. We definitely live in the age of specialization though, and my skills are very specific. My biggest worry is finally finding work and losing touch with the work that I love doing, with the person I have become. The job search often feels futile, either I am over qualified, or I’m facing hidden politics, or I simply don’t fit, or or or. Could be any number of reasons! Whatever the reason, as I go through this dry spell, I’m finding ways to stay in touch, with myself and my field. Here are a few examples:

  1. Work on a personal project. Mine is a user manual for remote work. I’m not sure what I will ever do with it, but I enjoy having a excuse to do research and reach out to people, and keep my collaborative muscles flexing.
  2. Learn something new, or re-learn something old. I’m signed up for a Moodle MOOC to learn what’s new in the latest version. It’s not overly time consuming or difficult, which keeps me coming back. It’s a low barrier way to hone my skills. While I may have to work as an admin assistant somewhere, signing up for this free course will provide my brain with some play time.
  3. Keep applying! And, make a note of future learning possibilities. Whenever I see a new job posting that seems written for me except one notable skill or certificate, I make a note. I have a list of possible certificates that I can participate in part time, regardless of the type of work I find.

Ideally, my dream job is in eLearning, at a happy, dynamic and collaborative company or institution that encourages experimentation and creative thought. I have trouble imagining myself going to a job that requires no creativity or collaboration. But I know that by staying here, I will have to accept what I find.

Staying motivated and not losing hope, seeing the bright side of the situation is keeping me going, and hopefully this dry spell will be over soon!

My workstyle and lifestyle echo

As a habitual remote worker and frequent traveler/nomad, when I travel I get used to the bustle. I get energy from it, it pushes me, drives me.

Then I pass into my other version of existence, being at ‘home’. I say another version because I don’t think of one as real and the other an exception. Neither is my default reality, they are different facets of one thing: my professional life.

When I come back to this current version of existence, I find I need an adjustment period, a time to regroup and reorient myself. Then I start looking around for things to fill my time with other than work.

I’ve started my walking again. I find its a form of moving meditation that also unblocks me when I need it. You’ll often find me by the side of a trail furiously typing into my phone. Indeed, many of these posts have been written this way.

Its the lowest barrier way of getting out and changing the scenery.

With a life and personality so anchored in experimentation and agility, I find that it’s an extra effort to create a healthy routine that gets me out of the house and talking to 3D people. Rather than put pressure on myself to do it the ‘right way’ I tend to go for the path of least resistance. What is it I really enjoy? What are the conditions I need to get me there?  Eg: I like going to the pool, but I know I’ll never go alone. Something stops me. Rather than push myself, I create the conditions that help me to do this: I ask a friend, and we go together.

Another condition is variety. I like trying new things, vs building a skill over a long period of time. So, I make plans month to month, versus putting pressure on myself to commit to one thing.

There is tension between my story or my idea of myself and the reality that I need to accept in order to be happy. The idea is very attractive, but requires a lot that in reality doesn’t happen.

Same goes for work: the idea of myself as a colleague and the reality.

New year, new project

New year, new challenges! I’ve been asked to help build a platform and certification for a new project, Doctor Patient Communication. In French! I’m excited to teach myself new things about Moodle, such as allowing visitors to make PayPal Payments. Building this certification from scratch, in collaboration with subject matter experts from Belgium who don’t know too much about creating online courses, will be just the challenge I’ve been looking for.

For the past few months, since August of 2019, I’ve been getting back to my roots, living the Kootenay life, with it’s beautiful landscapes and highly competitive workforce. What can you do? Everyone wants to live here, and that brings talents from across Canada to compete for available positions. I was interested in taking a break from Remote life, feeling disconnected from those around me and looking for a change. I was able to find work at the local College as an online French Instructor and at the local Community Services Society working with families and youth. When I say back to my roots, I mean back to my earlier career experiences in community development and language instruction, but I also mean, back to working live and in person with people.

One the one hand, starting back into community work made me remember that I shunned office life for a reason! I was never very good at politics, preferring to focus on my work and being recognized for my merits. However, I fell back in love with working with people, and re-challenging myself with the requirement of this kind of work, needing to be present, focusing on people, rather than all my future plans and schemes. It is a marked difference from the past years as a nomad, making temporary connections with people, consuming what I needed and moving on. There are many aspect of Remote life that are wonderful, and some that are not. The experience of the past months has helped me become more grounded, valuing my present moments and interactions with clients and colleagues.

As a remote worker, I often felt as if I moved through life with a cloud over my head, my network followed me everywhere, even into my dreams! I found it difficult to set boundaries between personal and professional life. In fact, they were one and the same! My lifestyle was my work, and how I worked. Having the chance to come back to community development work allows me, in fact encourages me, to set strong boundaries between my personal life and my work presence. Re-finding permission to set these boundaries has really shown me that they are important to my sense of well-being, my connection with my friends and family, and my ability to be present with those I work with, as well as with those I love.

As I think about what 2020 will bring, I know that one constant in my life is my ability to change, to grow, to question.

Storytelling about storytelling

It’s been awhile since my last post. I’ve been caught up in the November doldrums it seems!

This fall has been an interesting one. It’s my first fall in my ‘home’ area and I always swore I would avoid shoulder seasons here. I much prefer the decided seasons of summer and winter, when there is plenty to do and the weather encourages me to step outside. Fall tends to be pretty dreary in this part of the world. I’m happy December has finally arrived, and with it snow, cross country skiing and a new initiative inside the project that has been occupying my time this fall.

The objective of this initiative is to identify and collect storytelling techniques that encourage community building and learning on a scaffolded social learning journey. Now that we have a couple of projects operating in this space, it’s important to learn from them what works and what doesn’t, testing theories and ideas for use in later projects and certification.

However, with this initiative come questions about how to make it relevant and useful to those participating? How to make the sharing of storytelling techniques a give and take opportunity, rather than trying to get people to do it for the good of the organisation. With this crowd, that might work at first, however it’s a question that I have had to respond to in different organizational contexts, and is not a new challenge.

My mind tends towards the path of least resistance, so I think the best approach for now is to observe and take notes. That is something the organisation should take on, provide the infrastructure that allows people to be brilliant. Here, not only are we asking for these stories, we are incorporating them into the information we give to clients, making it available to colleagues in the form of a base of knowledge and will use it to support future Sea Salt Storytellers.

Our first meeting is tomorrow. This will give me a chance to gauge interest and see if it has the interest to be opened up to the wider group. Based on my experience with the Social Age Journal, one person driving is not enough. It is a team effort. I look forward to learning from this experience, and taking even more responsibility for the outcome.

My mind is already racing, let the storytelling begin!

True co-creation is like a unicorn

During a client call a few weeks ago… Maybe more like a couple of months ago by now, I was part of a call that concluded a project and paused a client relationship. We had mutually reached a natural pause in what we could offer and what work they were positioned to give us. It’s not the end of the relationship by any means, however.

The client told a story during this call, very enthusiastic about the outcome of an experiment that he had held, in the SSL spirit, whose seed was planted during a workshop we ran for them.

To me, his story was a great example of the types of co-creative client relationships that are my reason for remaining with SSL.

I’d like to take this opportunity to show the evolution, from my perspective, of this idea. To me it is a demonstration of the transformative, experiential and social learning that we are making our brand.
It’s not about delivering projects, it’s about learning together, being a safe harbour from which to go forth and explore.

I also think it is a good example of what a client is buying when they work with SSL.

We delivered a workshop in the spring where the most popular activity tasked participants with creating a set of principles for social learning within their organization. The caveat was that it had to be co-created in real time in a shared document. Much laughter and tongue in cheek inputs ensued, but the outcome was a pretty serious first draft that well represented all of the groups ideas. This type of socially moderated co-creative effort had never been done in their organization and they really took to it.

Fast forward a few months later. We as SSL are running a series of meetings that pick up the same method to produce a wider understanding of specific questions related to social leadership mindset and behaviours within the organization. This time however one of the tasks is to finish a story whose first paragraph has been written. This idea came from the client and the outcome was very interesting and reflective of the organisation.

Fast forward a couple more months, the client has run their own session with senior leaders to co-write a story, with resounding success and congratulations from the organization.

The enthusiasm on the call came from the plan of bringing the activity to a wider audience within the organization.

When I work with a client, I approach the relationship with a spirit of discovery, of trying new things. Some will flop, some will not. But the client that values this type of relationship, that values experimentation and mutual learning gives me energy. It motivates me to bring my best, and learn to our mutual benefit.

When is a PM not a PM?

When they’re an instructional designer.

Some months ago I claimed the title Learning Architect. I liked how it sounded, is was an apt description of what I was doing.

I’m still holding on to that title, however I’m currently working on a project that is testing me and building my skill set out in other ways. Unwanted, un-soughtafter ways!

My clearly stated and written rule about project work was that I could do content or I could pm, but not both. Guess what I’m doing now?

Yep, that in addition to managing a team according to a vision that is in my head but haven’t had time to articulate. A few key, recurring words I have observed come up on this project. Alignment. Learning. Clarification.

At the moment, I feel like I am holding the lifesaver, still in the water but at least not drowning. I’ve had to claw my way up a very steep learning curve, facing all kinds of adversity, unfriendly internet connections being the least of my worries. (Remedying that as of tomorrow, I’m biting the bullet and renting a desk at a local coworking space. Door code access baby!)

This project is a different animal from what I’m used to. It’s very urgent, and my budding PM skills aren’t yet wholly up to the task, I can admit that. I’m making mistakes. Things are slipping through the cracks. Maybe its exactly the project I needed to deal with my hubris!

Is this normal? How do other people in this role manage their self perception? Maintain the confidence needed to work with clients and colleagues everyday? In this Social Age, this iterative, safe space riddled age where challenge is the norm? I have one point of view from the client, however, working in a virtual office, I don’t have a watercooler that I can go to to bitch around. There’s no advice, no external, impartial perspective on hand.

No one can operate in a vacuum, and I do think it is the organization’s responsibility to support people in the roles that are asked of them. For my part, I’m making changes, adjusting my communication according to the needs of each person on my team. I can do that, we’re still a small team! I’m also taking the need for a watercooler into my own hands and going to a coworking space. I will also be manifesting a mentor, knowing that I can’t seek one out but be able toi recognize them when they come along.

In order to keep with my current resolution to reflect, but keep it constructive, I will end with another thought about leading a virtual team. Keep in touch. Daily if necessary, especially at the beginning. This goes for me, my learning about how I lead these kinds of teams, but also a reflection about how I would like to be led.

Everyone involved in this project is in a learning space. Not just related to roles, but how we work together. Learning these things take time, however, in startup land, we need to find ways to boost connections that usually form naturally over time. Because when its on, its on! And you need people around you you can rely on.

Interactions, interventions, let’s call the whole thing off…

“Why don’t you think coaching and mentoring fits with your approach of social learning?”

This question left me a bit baffled because it came on the heels of a positive meeting that succeeded in presenting a unified approach from three different vendors. I wasn’t sure where it was coming from.

His look was very concerned and I could see that by this question something I had said struck a chord with him.

Then we proceeded to have the most informational and constructive conversation of my career so far. Both in the way it happened and what it was about (so it seems to me, with it still fresh in my mind as I stand on the sidewalk outside and type this story into my phone).

I was sitting in a room with two very confident and in their own right, powerful men. Both looking at me like I was disqualifying something that was integral to their professional value system. I can tell you this is an uncomfortable position to be in. I recognize that it was so for each of us for different reasons.

I made a series of conscious decisions throughout this conversation, some that challenged me and some that represented my own professional values. The first was to listen. To give him a chance to express himself as fully as he could. Standing over me, using visual aids that he had taken out of his bag, impassioned. Not angry, passionate. The way I sometimes get, almost trembling with what I want to say.

I listened to both of them, and proceeded to give my diplomatic but assertive answer. Once he had sat down I was able to point to my positions on the visual aids he had explained to me, describing the types of behaviours I associated with each. We agreed fundamentally but the language we had been using carried different meaning for each of us. His initial concern came when I said that I didn’t consider a two hour coaching/mentoring meeting per week in addition to content fit into our scaffolded social learning approach. He heard only that coaching/mentoring didn’t fit.

This discussion became an excellent opportunity to describe that, to me, as well as for him, a coach is someone who sometimes challenges, sometimes is curious, drawing out perspectives and ideas.
However, the coach is not limited to meetings for these behaviours. The coach can engage in different ways, now that we have multiple tools at our disposal. (S)he can type a considered response to a personal reflection on a forum, can answer questions and put questions through a chat, can conduct their interactions through a variety of…

“Mediums,” the other chimed in, illustrating an almost palpable shift in perspective in the room. “Yes. That exactly,” I said.

The discussion continued, with each word and idea expressed from each of us showing that we were rapidly coming to a common perspective, well communicated. And thanking each other mutually for participation in the conversation, where each of us learned something new that we can take forward.

For myself, 1. the essential difference between a coach and a mentor, one is a content expert, the other doesn’t need to be. 2. Herons 6 categories of interaction. (It’s actually ‘intervention’, but I like interaction better).

This discussion is, to me, a perfect example of the ‘perfect storm’ of familiarity, feelings of trust that engender feelings of safety, that allow challenge, expression of curiosity and doubt, that lead to deep learning. Deep because the result is that I will not forget what I learned because it is tied to emotion and context, and I will use it moving forward, without a doubt. I had the opportunity to ask questions, explain myself, communicate more and more effectively, honing the language I will use in future to communicate my position on social learning, as well as now having an additional tool to do so.

From Munich

How to lead remote teams

My first post in awhile, this is because a slow summer (and much appreciated pace) allowed me to choose to take time to recharge, regroup and reflect. Now that fall is here again, fresh projects and another trip to the UK and Europe are filling my inspiration banks. Here is some of what I had a chance to reflect on in London last week.

This post is by no means finished, and I think this is a topic I will certainly continue as my trip continues and I work with the Sea Salt Learning team in different ways, from co-working, to videoconferencing to coliving.

A question that was posted to the Creative Zone at Learning Live inspired this post. What do leaders need to know to effectively manage remote workers?

In the moment, my answers were a bit superficial, but the question has stayed with me, causing me to reflect and come up with these points (so far!):

Rethink productivity: Leaders who manage remote workers should rethink what their definition of productivity is. Does it mean sitting behind a desk for 7 hours, cut off from outside ‘distractions’ like Twitter or blogging? What I have found during my 10+ years of remote working is: productivity is tied to lifestyle and work ethics, rather than location. I have, through critical self reflection, discovered that I am most productive at certain times and under certain conditions. For example, I am at my most creative first thing in the morning, in a carefully curated workspace. The rest of the day I reserve for meetings and activities that require less energy, different kind of thinking. And I don’t stay behind my desk all day. My best ideas and most creative thinking happen when I am moving, walking or paddle boarding in the summer, cross country skiing and downhill skiing in the winter. These times give me space for reflection, for my subconscious to get to work and allow things to bubble to the surface. And they do! It’s not uncommon to find my furiously writing on my phone in the middle of a trail.

Rethink meetings: Online meetings are different than in person meetings. Encourage people to use ritual for these types of meetings, a ‘dance’ that everyone recognizes. For example, use video at the beginning, to say hi and see faces. Take some time for chit chat. For some remote workers, this is the most professional contact they will have all day. It’s important to foster relationships between employees, so that working together remotely is a matter of course rather than a special case. Also take time to catch up with your employees individually. I have worked on some projects where the only contact I had with my colleagues was in client meetings. There was no time allotted to get in sync with my team, to prepare and present a united front.

Take time to meet in person periodically. While technology is a beautiful thing and allows us to live and work in the locations we choose, nothing fills the trust bank like meeting in person. Mannerisms, preferences and ways of working all come to light this way, and gives a little freedom to vent. There’s something about meeting online, the online space is thought of as the professional, workspace, that inhibits venting, expressing concerns. Meeting in person is a good way to celebrate as well and meet new team members, it builds trust between teammates, something essential for remote workers.

Personal journeys of understanding

It’s another June and I am celebrating two years associated with Sea Salt Learning.

Reflecting on my journey with that team I’m struck by how much my personal perspective on online presence has changed. The past two years have been a journey of understanding, of exploration, discovery of new concepts (new to me!), revisiting old ones, connecting dots land growing my network of talented and like minded people. The result, I feel, is that I am able to be myself at work. There is little to no separation between my values and the ones I need to espouse at work. In fact, my relationship with the people around me inspires me. Something about what we have built means that I can be myself, I can try new things and make mistakes …. and have the opportunity to try again. Product is important of course, but the process that we have created is what makes the product outstanding.

So, just thought I’d share those thoughts, and speak to my personal journey of understanding with Social Leadership, a concept that has gained considerable traction but whose definition remains fragmented, contextual. Since laying hands on the first edition when I first met Julian, my understanding of the concepts have evolved, and how I express this understanding to others has been refined. This weekend I started working on something that has been in the back of my mind, one of those ‘wouldn’t it be great if…’ projects. Here’s a sneak peek at my ‘just for fun’ attempt to simplify Social Leadership, and express how our personal journeys evolve organically, through circumstance and opportunity, both found and taken.

  One of the Social Leadership panels in a comic strip about from the faceless protagonist’s perspective.

Its an illustrated journey, very simple, based on my own journey and stories that have been told to me by others (see Social Leadership in Practice project).

Stay tuned, it’s meant to be a ‘comic strip’ that links SocialLeadership, Social Learning and Orgnaisational change, concepts Julian has written about extensively, which I interpret based on my own experiences and understanding.

Co-creating the Narrative

The project I’m currently working on is a Learning Architecture that will provide our client with a framework for using Social Learning in learning design.

This particular project sits at the crossroads between three stories. The first is the person who has conceptualized Scaffolded Social Learning, the model that this Architecture is based on. The second is the client’s story, a specific agenda for this Architecture and it’s use. It is an articulation of the core strategy, how they work with others. I was fortunate to have been able to meet with the CEO in the course of deepening my understanding of the Learning Architecture’s role and how it fits into the client’s context. In my interview with her, one thing that resonated is that what they are seeking is the creation of a common narrative, negotiated between the Sea Salt Learning story and their own.

The third story is of course my own. My point of view, my experience, my lens.

Working on this project has brought to life for me the tiered narratives  that Julian often talks about.  The Personal, Co-Created and Organisational narratives.

The idea behind thinking of three narratives in social learning is that a co-created narrative emerges when members of a community share their personal narratives. The organization that hosts the community can then listen to that co-created narrative, creating a feedback loop that results in a more responsive, agile organization.

Through this project, I am realizing the work required for the co-created narrative to ’emerge’. The storyteller’s role is essential to this process in the context of a purpose driven community, our purpose being the creation of a Learning Architecture. A co-creative narrative might emerge organically, given enough time, however our community has a specific and time bound goal. As a result, the role that I play, standing at the crossroads, I am now realizing is that of a storyteller.

The storyteller drives the sharing of personal narratives, seeks to discover and understand each personal story an identifies the commonalities. Actually doing this is a more complex process than I had thought. It requires methodical thinking, space for reflection and permission to move the pieces around as I see them fitting together. In and of itself the method is pretty simple. I read the brief, I understood the core strategy that would inform the Architecture, I sought out additional information, to paint a more holistic picture through 10 individual interviews.

I analyzed my interview notes and identified the ideas and concepts that I saw were relevant to the project goals (that’s the feature photo for this post). Then, I classified them  according to the seven sections we had determined would go into the Learning Architecture.


So far, so good. This process is helping me to form an idea of the big picture, both in terms of the client’s narrative and Julian’s. Now, I need to use my own point of view to put them together.

What I have found adds complexity to this storytelling role is that personal stories, whether Julian’s, the client’s or mine, are personal. There are people behind them that believe in those stories, they have a point of view and expectations that are different from each other’s and my own. Their story doesn’t become released into the community to become data. They are attached to it.

Defining a co-created narrative is a negotiation. It requires finding a path through the tension between all of those stories and finding a way to express the commonalities in a way that will be understood and accepted by all.