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If the past six months has taught me anything, it’s that nothing stays the same and things can change rapidly and beyond your control. Of course, I knew this anyway, and it’s something I tell clients; however, to be at the sharp end of that has been very interesting to experience.

It got me thinking about how I learn, and how I progress when there isn’t a layer of constant development to support me.

The old way of doing things
I used to spend my time and money going to conferences. However, I’ve found these to be less than useful as time has gone on – you see the same faces saying the same old stuff, or people who seemingly read a copy of Wired and are now considered innovation consultants boring everyone to death with shouts of ‘SELF-DRIVING CARS!’ and ‘BE LIKE AIRBNB’. Also, storytelling. Enough of that, please.

I decided when I set up Formation London that I would try to meet people and chat over coffee. This is great, You find some fascinating individuals, they become friends (and sometimes partners in work); however, the value exchange is the price of a coffee and time is limited. Unless there is something that is going to happen, there is little need for this interaction to be repeated all that often.

Each year I ran a small project of my own on the side. Often more art than commercial, these helped me learn new skills. However, they were often on my own, which meant I only learned I didn’t like working on my own all the time. Not so good. Can we not talk about the cost – both financial and time-based – please?

Oh, but what about networking events? Hmmm, let’s not even go there.

A new approach
I’ve always been a fan of experimentation. Formation London has, to some extent, been about trying things out and seeing what works. Yet, I’ve not really taken it to the extreme. Something about the way I have done things previously has kept its hold on me and my way of thinking.

The last six months has taught me that I need to stop doing things I’ve done before and to be less risk averse when it comes to trying things out. And the one area that I think this needs to be applied is how I learn, progress and build new skills and ideas.

I need to experiment more.

Three (or more) ways forward
I’ve already started. No point sitting around thinking about it in any great depth. It’s time to go for it. Loosely, I’ve put the three experiments into separate buckets, although they are all held together by a constant thread – namely that of learning in a new way and not working with the skills on which I’ve traded for years. It’s quite a big ask, even if it doesn’t seem like it.

1. Using Learnerbly
A good friend, Melissa Andrada, works as a co-founder at learning platform, Learnerbly. I’ve begun to use it to document how I’m learning and the types of books, articles and courses I’ve signed up for in the coming months. These include articles on leadership and performance, as well as my upcoming visit to The Do Lectures in July.

Melissa has form – she helped Wolf Ollins create it’s own learning and development programme, and she has been a source of inspiration for me as I’ve started to get back to work. I’m certain Learnerbly has a place, if only to help me document and archive the journey.

2. Professional coaching and ethnography
I’ve decided that, having met a bunch of great coaches in the past two years, that I would benefit from using one. I’ve no idea what will come of this, but the idea of exploring my own development seems to be a key part of making changes, and ones that work.

I’ve also signed up for a session with Curtis James at Fieldwork, with whom I’ve met a few times since we were introduced by a mutual friend. The DIY Field Kit he has developed is already being used to document a new project which involves a lot of work I’m new to – or at least feels new – and so understanding this, and how to apply what I’m already learning about how I work and what I’m actually good at, will fulfil this piece of the puzzle.

3. Working with others
This is the hardest one to achieve, and took a conversation with Steve Chapham to unlock.

I met Steve at a conference (the irony, considering how I started this piece) and have been attending his fascinating and fantastic Labs. This has opened me up to a whole new strand of work that I hadn’t ever considered, and has brought new techniques and ideas into my own repertoire.

Steve is a very generous chap, and along with the equally lovely and generous Helen and John, he allows me to ask questions over coffee and answers them with laser-focused insight. They all do. The most recent one I posed relates to this experimental way of working: how can I get to work with people so I’ll learn things, without them feeling like there must be a commercial reason?

The value exchange here is key. Offering to do this for free doesn’t work, I know. Asking people to pay me also doesn’t work – they don’t need me or my skills, certainly not at a high rate of pay, so unless there is a client need it won’t happen.

Steve suggested a halfway point: ask for a donation.

I’m working this one through in more detail, along with some other similar propositions, which I’ll post in a separate blog. It’s essentially an adaptation of the way I occasionally work with my Formation London clients, and so I suspect I’ll embed it within the business as well, should the results prove worthwhile.

I’m hopeful this will mean I find myself exposed to new ways of working – and I’m able to demonstrate my own skills – without anyone feeling like they’re getting something for nothing, or that they need to pay £1,000s to have me there. I also think this might mean I get to work with some exciting people I don’t yet know.

The only caveat is that I can’t be doing something I already do.

4. What does free mean?
This could be an extension of the above, but I feel it could be different. I’ll be honest, a lot of what I do anyone can do. It’s not amazing, or difficult, and I don’t have an IP on it. So where does free end and paying start?

I’ve begun to explore this with a client, and again I’ll report back on how that goes. I also have another project that I’m working on that I think would benefit from being free in order to open up paid opportunities. This one is hard, but I’m determined to see how it could work. This isn’t about doing free work, it’s about seeing where the boundary between what should be free and what should be paid for exists for me.

So, some small and simple experiments. A couple of larger ones. There will surely be more, as I develop more insights and thinking around this. Let’s see what happens.

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