>I’ll beg your indulgence now because I’m doing this largely from memory. Fortunately, this is a good thing because I was pretty well engaged in my sessions and only had time for quick tweets and not for a lot of reflective notetaking.
Opening Keynote – Peter Block
Wow. Wow. Wow.
Peter gets some pretty significant kudos, but not necessarily for the reasons people might think. First, no PowerPoint. That’s right, the man just got up and talked. HE was the presentation. (And he didn’t have to go all Carrot Top to do it.) He also had the seating arrangements changed so we could sit in groups and he spoke eloquently but simply about the power and meaning of the circle. I love guys like Peter who really enjoy challenging the norms and – in essence – asking us to throw conventional hierarchical thinking out the window and do something different. Like, instead of answering the WIIFM, maybe challenge people about their willingness to commit even if they got nothing for it.
He said that the circles we say in are symbols of community… and that conferences like these should really be “meaningful discussions interrupted by lectures and small group exercises”. Oh, how I wish that were more the rule than the exception.
As educators, we are in the business of the restoration of humanity. (Nice!) He also speaks of the dangers of automating our relationships. While we can speak to people more easily, do we really have anything to say? He wants to use our expertise and practices to help restore our humanity and to re-establish concepts of connectedness, because “humanity matters”. He’s so right. We’ve lost so much of that in our workplaces and we desparately need to bring it back. For whatever it’s worth, I think that step would do more to make our workplaces healthy long before we headed into Graham Lowe’s territory.
Peter went on to speak about training & education as a profession and calmly said that we’ll likely not get rich, “if you joined this profession for power and wealth, you screwed up big-time.” (much laughter)
I liked his points he was making about the business case for our function, even though I really resent the fact that we have to continually justify “the second-most natural human function” (let me know if you think you know what the first one is.)
Any transformation that we are trying to effect should represent a shift in thinking but also a shift in narrative, e.g. change the conversation.
As a prime example, he says that the Annual Performance review is all about sovereignty and has nothing to do with training, aright. He absolutely brought the house down by applying this conversation to an annual spousal performance review. To me, it was shades of Festivus (Seinfeld) and how George’s father behaved; “let us know how you have disappointed the family over the past year.” Ultimately, this kind of behaviour and its traction in the workplace is a product of colonial, hierarchical thinking. (So that begs the question of whether no performance review is better than an annual one, if given the choice?)
Organizational hierarchies are Patriarchy covered in a patina of “love”, sadly HR is the vehicle for this behaviour. (Me: because they help prop-up the hierarchy? because their job is not about the people, but it’s about keeping is all in our places?)
I liked his assertion (paraphrased) that change happening from the top is basically a crock. We need to let go of the concept that leaders are the important piece. For one exercise, try pretending that employees create the bosses. What would that look like? (There was a sidebar funny about the relative effectiveness of government, but they really don’t have a deliverable or a bottom line, right?)
Before I forget, let’s not forget Time. I love the concept of “not having time” represents a lack of commitment. I admit I’m as guilty of that as the next person, but I’d love to really engage in some self-examinations on levels of commitment and what I might need to do to improve them.
I realize as I go through my notes that I could probably write a small book about this one keynote, but the upshot is that I think there’s a huge value in asking questions instead of telling stories, and avoiding likemindedness. My program head at RRU said that I needed to develop a tolerance for ambiguity and I didn’t appreciate that she wasn’t just referring to what I could find or not find in my research, but also as a good guidepost for future situations (must email her a thank you…again).
We need the humanity, we need the inversion in the conversation. Yeah. Wow.
The thing that still rings in my head was a small comment he made about moving up and getting promoted and that it’s really okay if you’re able to “share your gifts” and keep contributing. I think that’s a conversation I need to have with myself sooner rather than later.
I know you were trying to keep yourself more like Stephen Wright than Steve Jobs, Peter, but you were definitely the hit of the Show so far. Thanks for energizing my morning.