This post continues my thoughts on the learning journey I experienced in writing a book. The topics covered include:
- emotional challenge
- time for reflection
- going on a learning journey
Writing the book was challenging, which was also unexpected. Surely the task ought to have been straightforward, since I write from deep knowledge and years of experience? Putting the proposal together for the publisher was easy, as was writing the sample chapter.
Sketching a thesis at a high level is not the same thing as thinking about how the separate elements inter-link across different literatures, as well as link between the past and present. Insight has been emergent. It has taken time and patience to accept the accompanying frustrations and inability to see clearly, trusting that clarification eventually occurs.
Conversations with recently published authors, and with the publisher, confirmed that my experience is far from unique. Creative thinking can be emotionally and cognitively challenging. This is relevant because it is a useful reminder that doing something new, like making the transition to new ways of working and engaging in workplace learning can make significant emotional and cognitive demands on people.
It can also take time. According to the comedian, John Cleese, people need boundaries of time and space for creative thoughts to emerge. This resonates a lot with my experience; writing and thinking were very time-consuming.
Time for reflection
Emergence is messy and therefore unsettling to some, myself included. The subconscious is amazing though and insights do emerge at unexpected moments. For me, insights and connections happened at the point where I was just waking from sleep but not yet fully awake. Archimedes was supposed to have shouted ‘eureka’ when he was taking a bath, although obviously neither having baths nor going for naps is practical at work.
Leaving time for reflection, rest and play is problematic in today’s non-stop and stressful workplace. This is especially untenable for people in jobs that are time-driven. The nurse written about in Chapter Seven, for example, is resisting a move from seven hour to twelve hour shifts, although she recognises this as probably inevitable. Who has got time to pause and reflect on busy wards, especially on long non-stop shifts? Time has to be made for learning, even if people have to connect in their own time and for their own well-being.
Apart from trusting that insight would eventually emerge from the confusion, what really helped was being connected to knowledgeable people online and in person, who generously share resources. It is remarkable how often one would appear just at the point when I was trying to make sense of something. As an example, a colleague who is interested in the use of narrative in change kindly told me about Callaghan and Drake’s article, Three Journeys: A Narrative Approach.
This uses the story of a famous journey to open up the American West to explain various journeys taken to complete an endeavour. The first journey happens in the minds of leaders, the second involves practicing imagined skills, and the third is the actual endeavour. Callaghan and Drake say:
"One of their biggest surprises was the scale of the Rocky Mountains, a range of peaks unlike any they had seen before. However, for every unexpected turn of events or what seemed like an impassable barrier, the expedition adapted and remained resilient."
Going on a learning journey
Writing a research-based business book is hardly in the same league as crossing the Rocky Mountains, although the barriers at times felt as insurmountable. Their observations that leaders only know in outline what they want to achieve at the start, and that the landscape can change by the mere fact of setting out on the journey, apply not only to change journeys. The journey into the creative unknown, although planned and imagined in outline, felt very similar. The article helped me to see that what I was experiencing is normal.
The first step
Reading the book will hopefully help people on their first journey to smarter working (in their minds).
The second step
I am hoping to facilitate learning communities that will be places where people can go on their second journeys (practicing the skills they imagine will be needed).
The third step
The only way the new wave of smart working will be created is through chaotic action: experimenting with things to do them better or do them differently. One way of doing this will be to sign up to one of our practical, post-graduate-level, work-based learning programmes.
We already have approval for accreditation from a UK university for a Post Graduate Certificate by doing one of our learning programmes. More information coming soon.