Category Archives: Psychology

G1 Using New Forms of Change to Create Meaningful L+D Opportunities

Professor Cliff Oswick is from Cass Business School, City University London and delivering a masterclass for us today on New Forms of Change to Create Meaningful L+D Opportunities.

Cliff wants to talk about whats been happening in the field of change. We don’t spend enough time looking at how learning and development is a vehicle for change – that’s our focus today.

First, what has influenced change…

The mechanical and the biological sciences are more diagnostic L+D, whereas interpretive and complexity sciences are more about dialogical approaches, e.g. world cafe,

Old Diagnostic OD
scientific, problem-centred, reactive linear, punctuated and descrete, concrete and tangible, top-down
‘lets get together and decide what went wrong’

New Dialogic OD
generative, solution-driven, proactive and rhizomatic (see below), abstract and tangible, multi-directional
‘lets get to gather and co-create a future state’
Rhizomatic learning is a way of thinking about learning based on ideas described by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in a thousand plateaus. A rhizome, sometimes called a creeping rootstalk, is a stem of a plant that sends out roots and shoots as it spreads – www.

Examples of dialogical OD…

Cliff predicts an organisational equivalent of flash-mobs – social connectedness is important!

“Whats the difference between a social activities and a business consultant? A: the special activist care more and don’t get paid to.

So what can we do…

The blue things… are hierarchically planned. These events are still mostly top-down decisions and occur in a bound way on a given time on a given day.

The green things… are emergency and rhizomatic.

Hotspot Engagement – the network, people who are energised, highly effective, highly respected. If you don’t seek to involve these people positive within the org, they can damage the org because they care and wont to be involved

Betterworks = an organisational equivalent of Facebook. You can post challenges and receive support and feedback from people…develop your personal learning network.

Valve Employee Handbook = a game developer, with a system where all the desks are on wheels. They can work wherever they want, and work on whatever they want, no managers, no IPDPs – ultimate freedom at work. The handbook describes your responsibility for your own responsibilities. The collective make decisions about pay, performance, and other HR functions.

Agora = all decisions usually made by a board are outsourced. You can registered and be part of the cohort of people who vote on these decisions. e.g. the soft drink flavours?, and what supply chains should we use?, what shall we do with the profits?

Cass = internal crowd-sourcing and getting anyone internally involved in decisions making who wants to be…some people don’t “horse to water…”

Cliff promotes intergenerational mentoring and encourages the reciprocity of learning that a “baby-boomer” and a “millennial” collaborating can enable.

What Are The Implications for L+D?

And a real-life example…Cliff says have a look here at Do OD Organisational Development within the NHS.

If you create the conditions for emergent change, you find people will get involved in both the positive and the negative decision making, and take this collective responsibility.

Question from the floor called this out as a paradox. Answer from Cliff, leadership but not control. Get top-level commitment to it..then let it happen. You cannot make someone autonomous and self-directed in change but you can facilitate it. Caution: Cliff isn’t promoting commune organisations. These approaches are about releasing some of the grip – a blended for of organising.

Another question about getting buy in from the board and Cliff encourages us to read more – there’s lot of research out there to support your argument.

As Cliff continues to chat with Julie Drybrough next to me they conclude that it’s better to demonstrate and promote non traditional change initiative via non traditional methods eg seek the qualitative evidence.
[This blog was written live in session at the CIPD Learning and Development Show 2016, Olympia, London on Thursday 12th May. My intention is to capture a faithful summary of the session highlights, but my own bias and views will undoubtedly contribute to the tapestry of this story. Please excuse any typos, and don’t hesitate to join the conversation on Twitter with me @Jo_Coaches and the blog-squad #cipdldshow]


E1 Using Cognitive Neuroscience to Maximise Learning

Working in an organisation providing treatment for drug and alcohol addiction, learning about how we can use neuroscience to support people to be the best version of themselves excited me. The human brain is quite frankly amazing – in the truest sense of the word. The pathways and connections learned, strengthened and reinforced, as well as the capacity to form new pathways are astonishing. The fact that we can attend to our own thoughts and observe them is powerful. And yet the neurological communication is so vast and intricate that overall know little, apart from potential. Like outer space and the deepest parts of the worlds oceans. However despite these latter two examples, I believe that to know and understand the human brain and chemistry is more reachable.
And Dr Itiel Dror makes it so…as he begins by inviting us to contact him after today if we want further information, he is keen to share more.

Itiel’s day job is research, with a little bit of training and consultancy. He is interested in human performance, skills, judgement and decision making and works with organisations in the forensic domain (e.g. police, CJS) and consults to improve performance with organisations. Cognitive covers understanding the human mind and out thinking processes.

What can you do to make your training more effective?
Itiel’s says if we can understand the brain/mind, we can apply this specifically to enhance our practice. This is what we will leave the session with today.

Itiel demonstrated the Stoop Effect and asks us to read aloud the colour of the text, not the word. Try it here.

Our brain performs automatically most of the time.

The point, its not enough to clearly and exactly instruction – instructions are not brain friendly. We must take into account how the brain works. To follow the instructions of someone else is not thinking for ourselves. The cognitive process is different and we don’t gain any learning or self-efficacy.

The brain is:
Active – always computing and processing and communicating
Limited – in resources and ability to process, so not all information get assimilated even when we’d like it to, and I guess vice versa.

Dr Dror shows us a graphic or coffee beans, and within in, asks if we can spot the face. I can’t – and I know this is because the older we get the more we perceive holistically: our brains view images as a whole and struggle to depict the detail or abstract element (just that piece of information has so much application).

Itiel challenges us, it’s not good enough to say “i gave them the information…it’s there job to learn”. It is our ethical responsibility to create brain friendly learning environments and design learning sessions that enable learning. “It is not unto the ‘Learner’ to learn”. This is different to others messages about self-directed and curated learning, and the argument that we should appreciate that people are learning without any input. Or maybe, their is a fine balance.

We need to design and deliver with consideration and appreciation of how the brain understand information, process it and stores it for later use: assimilate and transference in application.

“if you don’t understand this, how can you design training, deliver training…if you care and you want people to learn, this defines the game”

Dr Dror says he wants to enable us to train people who don’t want to be trained, who think they don’t need the training and who challenge us all the way through. I wonder if you’ve ever experienced that. I wonder if you thinking that people shouldn’t turn up to a learning session unless they already know why they’re there, and actually want to be. And, I wonder if you’ve been the facilitator with a group of people who make it very clearly they don’t want to be there…only at the end of the day to get feedback like “i didn’t want to come today, but it was brilliant!’ , or “that was 50 times better than I was expecting it to be”….? I wonder if you believe that peer word of mouth (not a coaching manager) is the best encourager of learning.



  • Active learning is better than passive
  • Doing is more memorable that learning by taking notes
  • Simulations provide experiences to learn within

3 critical perspectives – learning is:

  • ACQUISITION – maximise the capacity for people to acquire the information. Get the balance right: how many brain calories do people need to spend to acquire the information you are passing on? the amount of information acquire should outweigh the effort expended to gain it. Is this how we learn?
  • REMEMBERING – we want people to be able to retrieve the information and have it stored for when needed. Give manageable sizes and repeat.  Is this how we learn?
  • APPLICATION – we want learning to have behavioural impact so we maximise transfer and generalisation of skills…. Dr Dror is suggesting we want to get to here [this links to Maslow’s self-actualising for me].

How to do active learning…


“It depends how emotion you want it to be, from subtle to extreme and i’m not a subtle man” – we don’t get to decide whether or not the learning is emotional at Addaction. If we ignore it, we don’t accept the emotional content. Itiel’s example is sex education with young people, and showing them photos of what can happen to infected genitalia. The team at Addaction facilitate workshops including topics like suicide, and domestic violence.

How to do emotional learning…

  • Tell a personal story – bring it alive and be real, the power of story telling
  • Let people make mistakes, show them the mistake, let them experience and feel it – then of course, give them the opportunity (and resource) to get it right
  • Show them photos (e.g. of real examples) – I would add video here, which can also be reaching and impactful
  • Shock and traumatise them – [whilst giving you a fair account of the learning session I’m in today I can’t endorse this an ethical L+D practice, even if it was discussed in lightness. Neither does the CIPD]. Dr Dror clearly emphasises that this should be used in context! Think relevance to the learning. His example is that he says regularly says to his children “don’t leave your phone lying around someone will take it’, and so when they do, he takes it. Once, and they never left it lying around again.

 Image of geography twister map to make learning fun and engaging.

You can contact Dr Dror at and
[This blog was written live in session at the CIPD Learning and Development Show 2016, Olympia, London on Thursday 12th May. My intention is to capture a faithful summary of the session highlights, but my own bias and views will undoubtedly contribute to the tapestry of this story. Please excuse any typos, and don’t hesitate to join the conversation on Twitter with me @Jo_Coaches and the blog-squad #cipdldshow]

Top 10 Things Psychology has taught me about L+D

Psychological theory is learning theory. To understand people, behaviour, thinking and how the brain works a little more is to understand how people learn, how we are likely to act, to make choices, to automatically think.

There’s a lot of ‘neuroscience of learning’ around, complete with the neuro-bollox label. Neuroscience isn’t bollocks. Neuroscience is actually fascinating (especially if you’re a bit geeky about bio-psych like me) and continues to help us go beyond serotonin, dopamine, cortisol and oxytocin to understand the minute complexities of all the neurochemicals in play. It has remarkable potential, for example we still don’t fully understand mental health or have sound medications to support imbalances. There is also a caution, because for real world application neuroscience needs social, biological and psychological context to make sense in a useful and helpful way.

And then… the stuff I am reading and hearing that is titled neuroscience for learning is familiar because it’s Psychology 101. Not rocket science, not neuroscience, just psychology – the most interesting and curious subject of all. So here are my top 10 things that psychology has taught me about my L+D practice.

  1. Emotion is always present and is required for deep, long-term learning. We are in a constant state of regulation and balance within our nervous system; some of us do this more easily than others. Learning that shifts us to change and do something different taps into our beliefs and values, that guide our learned processes. As these are usually long held-foundations, accessing them with new information that doesn’t quite fit is threatening; it’s emotional. If you’re not feeling something, you’re not learning. It also means change isn’t an overnight event.
  2. To learn is to change and do something different. For change to happen, first there has to be full unbiased acceptance, validation, appreciation and understanding (yes all of those, genuinely) of the current status quo. Then we can look at new, different, moving it, altering it. On average a permanent change will occur after 7 attempts at the making the change.
  3. Well designed gamification models maximise the principles of addiction. There is no addictive personality, and therefore we can all experience these tendencies. A milder model of behavioural addiction would mirror a standard learning theory.
  4. Maslow matters. The opportunity to self-actualise is essential for learning that engages the whole person. Setting challenging tasks that utilise skills, knowledge and attitude combined are important.
  5. The environment matters. The Harlow monkeys didn’t choose the wire-monkey-mummy that had the food (seemingly the priority for survival). They chose the wire-monkey-mummy that was covered in cotton wool; the one that gave the best hugs. As per no.4 the basics are important too: a safe environment without judgement where error is accepted, building self-esteem through achievable steps, belonging via involvement in own learning. Furthermore (as I’m not linking you up and Harlow is not direct evidence) spatial awareness is a environmental contributor. Spending time expanding our peripheral awareness using visualisation can positively impact learning by providing space for more open and broader thinking – useful when we learn in a boxed square space/office hoping for creativity.
  6. Learning happens all the time, whether there is a L+D professional there or not. Look for it, seek it, notice it, and help it along a little.
  7. Learning something new and/or doing something different is a needs response to fulfil a function. If there is no need, there is unlikely to be any learning. Even if the end function or reason for learning isn’t obvious. If there is no clear need – don’t proceed with trying to get people learning. You’ll need to fully understand the need as starting point for facilitating any learning.
  8. We are much more likely to accept and fully assimilate (learn from) new information when it’s offered from our peers, and/or a setting of mutuality with the other person/people. An authoritative expert approach (e.g. I tell you this information is true and factual, and I’m credible, therefore you will now go away and use it) is likely to impact immediate and superficial change. However, new information presented as an offering for discussion and consideration before choosing to uptake or disregard is much more likely to be accepted.
  9. Reflective practice is learning in action. Do it. For everything and anything. Find a tool/model of reflective practice that suits you and push yourself to go on a reflective journey after a challenging day/conversation/experience.
  10. Learning cannot be done to. That isn’t learning, it’s something else. “Just do this and that will happen” is not enough. We are not purely behavioural, and we don’t go directly from A to B. We go swiftly and often automatically (learnt behaviour) from A to C and there is always a B in-between A and C, whether situated in our consciousness or subconsciousness. Learning with lasting application works on B; the belief, the automatic thought (see no.1).



The other night I attended the ‘2nd Inaugural’ lecture of Paul Gilbert at the University of Derby. I have to admit that my fatigue and the fact the organiser requested our arrival for a “prompt start” whilst starting 10mins late left me redirecting my attitude from ‘come on then….tell me something new and outstanding’.

You can find out more about Paul Gilbert here. He’s a Clinical Psyhcologist who started his academic career in Economics, and has now established a centre for research in Compassion Therapy. A post grad course is also now available at Derby Uni. I wonder about specialist therapists when I’m drawn towards eclectic coaching.

I went to the lecture for a few reasons:

1. I believe in the power of compassion, demonstrating it, receiving it,  noticing it.

2. I’m still not sure about how people everyday define the difference between empathy and compassion but I think it matters and that both are essential, and powerful in a mostly good way

3. Most therapeutic approaches I come across have valuable application in my coaching practice

4. Or maybe it was just that I had nothing better to do… And there was free wine

Gilbert defines compassion as “behaviour that aims to nurture, look after, teach, guide, mentor, soothe, protect, offer feelings of acceptance and belonging in order to benefit another person”

Requiring 2 psychologies of us:

COURAGE – to look and truly see another persons suffering

DEDICATION – the desire to help relieve it

That courage strikes me; I feel that definition. It resonates and explains, and soothes. Then, similar to when you learn a new word and consequently hear it everywhere. Or you buy a new car and the fact it’s in your conscious thought means you spot the same model repeatedly. I find myself noticing compassion. Or am I seeking it.

Talking to a friend about his friend in hospital, suffering, and I’m hearing how he’s seeing this, and how this friend is too young. And yet when are we ever old enough or ready for that? He doesn’t look away, instead he steps towards. It’s sad, and also I feel warmed by his courage. Because if not you, who? Life is simply richer with compassionate people around.

Later during a thinking pair session I’m hearing my thinking partner talk about giving time and attention to her business and why she does what she does. The drive and selfless desire to move towards injustice in the workplace, and work only where that can by applied. I appreciate her dedication.

It’s easier when we notice the suffering of others, to walk by, to empathise and then let that empathy float by. We have our own stuff going off. It’s easy to feel something, whether that’s discomfort, worry, anxiety, fear when someone else is suffering, and…well, what do you do with that?

What makes us move towards?

He said “Because I can’t imagine doing anything else”

What was it about these two people. How do they chose so quickly and easily that towards the discomfort, towards showing love, towards acceptance and understanding is their default direction?

Gilbert went on to describe compassion therapy and what became clear is that whilst compassion breeds compassion (with a known body of research demonstrating that behaviour lacking compassion clearly supports further behaviours lacking compassion, empathy, love) it starts with the self. Compassion for yourself.

Self-Compassion means having the courage to look into your own suffering and truly see it, with a dedication to doing what you can, and finding a way to sooth it. It means to nurture, to protect, and to accept yourself. And perhaps the latter is first! Acceptance before change, before self-mastery.

As humans we have 3 evolved emotions systems of Threat, Soothing and Drive. Compassion therapy starts with growing the capacity to self-sooth by overriding your vagus parasympathetic nervous responses; using your Soothing emotion system to reduce your Threat emotion system. This can start with practicing physiological exercises that stimulate this soothing centre (your sympathetic nervous system) such as long slow breathing, tapping out/counting breathing. Later in the therapy this leads to soothing thoughts and self-talk. Gilbert suggests that just as we can salivate from only thinking about food, or become aroused from just thinking about sex, we can cultivate compassion through attending to thinking about it.

I think of holistic yoga practice that incorporates flows with breathing and meditations.

Gilbert opines that the practice of doing these therapeutic exercises is itself is an act of self-compassion, and thus cultivates your Drive emotion system. Compassion becomes something that is sought. (For Drive system think needs and motivation).

Actually though, it doesn’t matter where you start, because looking outward to notice compassion will have a boomerang effect.
So what are you thinking about now?

When did you last demonstrate compassion? Remember that for a moment.

Imagine you’re your most compassionate self …what would you be like?

And please don’t be fooled that all this compassion and emotional mastery is for the soft minded. To step towards and to look deeply is actually the hardest way to be. It’s a choice.

Motivation and Maslow

Hang on …I’m never throwing out Maslow.

I blog, becaaaaaaause I’m happyyy! And I blog, because I’m freeeee! Sister Act 2 anyone? No…!?

Theory like any reference or metaphors requires precise application. For example Prochaska and DiClementes Cycle of Change model, if you know it, share with someone to whom it can make a difference. Apply it somewhere  it can help people or someone become unstuck.

Here’s what happens when we deliver workshops on working with groups and train-the-trainer:

“Have you seen this theory of Maslow before”

Most people nod.

“What’s it a theory of?”

Most people don’t answer – the word ‘motivation’ is clearly visible.

“How does it make sense to you in leading groups and adult learning…”

And so it continues, and so many times I’m hearing or reading feedback about how “I’ve heard Maslow thrown in so many times but it never made sense before” or “that’s really shifted my thinking to be more people focused” about viewing the behaviour of others as need deficit rather than an unwanted negative trait.

Sukhs right in his encouragement that we keep reading new research and models. Deci’s self-determination theory (another oldie) is still relevant, and whilst the original isn’t current, there are studies grown from it that are. I’m still in the self-assessment for and of learning to enhance motivation and self-efficacy, and when that happens, stuff happens, differently.

And, I referenced Maslow, well (she said), in recent academic assessment.

Maslow is an easy and helpful model to switch from behaviourism to humanist thinking about others. A valuable and essential approach for leading in learning.

Are we really still following the loud and shiny voice that is Pink (also recently referenced), and not noticing that he’s taking psychology back to behaviourism. Yes in 2015! His progressive people focussed good stuff is marred with this. I’m not prepared to treat the people I work and learn with like robotic thinkers who can’t pause and make a different decision based on better thinking. When we know so much about the role of emotion and how we think, and how much potential we have. In fact, I’m determined to create environments that allow space and time to think. You deserve that from me as an L+Der.

No it’s not the only theory, and it certainly can be misused/overused and misunderstood. But we need to start somewhere, and so many times I’ve seen it start with Maslow.

It links to the functional model of behaviour repetition (and thus addiction) that suggests people take part in risk/harmful activities because the good bits fulfill functions: needs. Individually prioritised needs. Their motivation is needs based, not because they’re unable to think better, differently, or do something else instead. Behavioural economics assumes humans will just react, not thinking, and I’m not prepared to champion that.
If you want more reading or have more reading, get in touch and lets share.

And now read this from Simon Heath.

Empathy II

I’m not afraid of public speaking

In fact, if you say ‘Go’!

Right now

There are 2 things I would talk about – in no priority order

1. Is alcohol…everything about it

2. Is empathy…everything about it

Whilst it used to be my naive ambition to “reduce crime and stop child abuse”, now my passions lie firmly in the two items above. I got wise and gave up on the original ambition. Or …?

What is empathy?

You can define it

You can learn it

You can express it

But you’ll only truly understand it’s power when you feel it. That moment when another person expresses it in an attempt to test a hypothesis about how you’re feeling right now. Or about how that is or was for you. When someone listens and truly sees you. Makes the effort to truly see the part of you that is real and not yet seen. That blow to the gut. That good vulnerability. You’re accepted. You’re understood. You’re valued.

Thank you for that.

You didn’t feel what I felt – how could you. Nor did you attempt to. Your imagination was guided by your ability to notice everything I was communicating. In the safety and mutuality created when the power has moved out of the powerful and into the space between us where empathy passes. You permitted my permission to be me. And so I grew. I changed.

There will be two books: 1. Alcohol. 2. Empathy. Both will be forever here. Making the world go round.

Empathy I

You say it’s innate. We either have it or we don’t. Like a personality trait you can own and admire in others.

Others say it’s learnt. The capacity is innate, in all of us, and in fact just believing it’s learnable will impact how effectively you demonstrate it when the stretch is a little further. A little harder.

You can walk in another’s shoes. See from another’s perspective. Use your imagination to understand how the world looks, feels, lands for that person, over there. What wonder. What richness.

Your sympathy and “sorry for” feelings; your identifying with similarities; self-indulgently hold no strength when it comes your ability to express empathy.

It builds bridges that don’t need crossing. The bridge itself is enough. The attempt to build the bridge is enough. The belief there can be a bridge is…

Empathy opens, connects, warms. Empathy is sharp, it wounds, it can hurt. Ready or not, here it comes.

I’m wondering how you are and knowing enough to see, and when it’s painful I feel it. Even though I don’t want to. I search for the switch. What’s learnt and can be un-learnt.