I spent this weekend learning some new skills. While researching examples of social enterprises for a client, I'd been drawn to the Edinburgh Remakery. They've tapped into the repair and reuse retail environment, as well as up-skilling would be recyclers. A two-day Upholestery course grabbed my attention. Perhaps that old chair in need of some attention that sits sadly in the corner might eventually be transformed...
The course went well. I successfully upholstered a chair. From a frame to finished piece. I learnt all sorts of new skills and techniques, with guidance from an experienced tutor, and also by watching the other participants work on a range of pieces.
I was happy with my chair. It wasn't perfect. It showed all the skills I'd learnt, the errors on show to remind me. I realised when it was finished that if I'd made different choices at the beginning, it could have been different. I didn't know then what I knew at the end. I'd started to work on the chair without any plan. No template. No knowledge. No fixed idea of the outcome.
It struck me when I got home that I'd been modelling the approach to social enterprise that I've been recommending my client also follows. Play don't plan. Innovate don't recreate. Prototype don't model. See what happens, if it works, great. If it doesn't, try again. Tweak. Try something different. Try an improvement.
Sometimes we rely too heavily on a 'plan' and forget if we 'play' outcomes can be different. Sometimes different is better. If you need some help to 'play' with ideas to bring a 'plan' to life, maybe I can help. Get in touch.
Some anniversaries pass you by. Some anniversaries you try to forget. Some anniversaries you count down to. Some anniversaries take you by surprise. Our lives are full of these markers of time, of place and of significance.
It's ten years since the Self Management Strategy for Scotland was published. Ten years this year since I started working at the ALLIANCE. Ten years since 'Gaun Yersel' became the blueprint for my work, my job description and work-plan, the thing I talked about all the time, the thing I brought to life. The Fund. The Projects. The Impact.
I'm delighted to be asked back to the ALLIANCE to celebrate the first ten years of 'Gaun Yersel' at a special reception following their annual conference. The Strategy sadly remains the only one of it's kind - written by people living with long term conditions and then adopted by the Scottish Government. It remains powerful as a document, and the ten year legacy already remains a powerful testament to the people it was designed to support.
Self Management has changed in those ten years. Expectations have changed. Professions have changed. Scotland has changed. I am proud to have been the leader of that change and proud to see the change in the many people, like myself, living with long term conditions around Scotland. Our knowledge, our skills, our lives, our expertise and our abilities to be equal partners in our own care are valued in a way they simply weren't ten years ago.
There is still a long way to go. 'Gaun Yersel' is only the start. We are all part of the future. Where do you see things in ten years time from now? For yourself? For your organisation? For your cause? Maybe I can help you get there.
I recently noticed a potato sprouting strongly in our communal garage. I'd clearly dropped it from a shopping bag weeks, or maybe months, earlier, unseen. There's no natural light down there, no soil and only little patches of water, intermittently . This potato was fortunate to find itself in one of those slightly damp patches.
It's now on a mission to escape, finding it's own path, a last ditch attempt to escape the confines of the underground garage and thrive. I've left it where it is, just to see how it grows and develops, against the odds.
I find it reassuring that it's drive is so strong, that it's instinct is to spread and find a place, even if it's initial home is far from ideal. It has an idea. It is working hard to realise it. It might be successful. Friends have suggested re-planting it to give it a better chance of survival, however it seems to be doing just fine on it's own.
My own business is doing the same. In the first six months I've turned ideas into reality. I've worked hard to bring things to life, to find my 'place' and to make plans to continue. I've been fortunate to have some fantastic clients and contracts. Things are looking good. Taking chances has paid off.
Maybe you also need some help to get something off the ground, are struggling to turn a corner or to break-free and be noticed. If you think I can help you, please do get in touch.
We share photos of our lives on-line daily. We want our friends and connections to see them. We barely give a thought to who may be 'using' them. We don't think anyone would want to, or would, without asking us for permission. We are wrong.
In another part of my working life, I am a food writer, photographer, blogger, researcher, academic, food historian and champion of early television cooking programmes. I was delighted when the BBC announced that they were adding a series of rarely seen cooking shows to their iPlayer archive over Easter. It generated a fair bit of press coverage.
I was surprised when friends and acquaintances contacted me to say they'd seen some photos I'd taken on National Newspaper websites promoting the shows. When I looked more closely, the two newspapers had actually used my pictures in their printed versions too. No-one had asked me. I wasn't credited. I wasn't paid.
I've spent a couple of weeks in 'negotiations' with both newspapers, reviewing offers, rejecting them, reviewing higher offers. It's a game. Not one I enjoy. I've always given credit throughout my work for others involvement, would never use anyone else work without permission and expect that as a minimum. It seems not all industries are the same.
As a freelancer, my reputation and people knowing how to contact me is just as important as payment. Those newspapers have used my work, but no-one knows it was mine. I will get payment, but the credit is lost. Maybe I would never have agreed for them to use my work, they aren't publication I'd be inclined to be associated with. Especially now. The flip-side is I have learnt a lot about copyright law, and how to deal with wilful infringement. I'm always learning.
If you think I can help you with some work, fully credited of course, please do get in touch.
This weekend I went to see a favourite film in a new setting. Rather than there being something in my eye as I watched Brief Encounter with a full, live Orchestra accompanying, I was able to watch with renewed eyes. The familiar seemed fresh, I noticed things I'd perhaps missed in the past. I enjoyed it in a new way, and the experience will stay with me.
Also this week, I approached a work contract with equally fresh eyes. I was facilitating a focus group as part of a Funder review. Having spent nine years as a Funder myself, I knew my experience would be useful, however hearing the thoughts of the funded projects in an unfamiliar setting really opened my eyes.
Thankfully with experience behind me I was able to dig deeply into their comments, ideas and suggestions, and hopefully make some strong recommendations to the Funder. I enjoyed it too.
My fresh eyes on a familiar issue were just what was required. Sometimes you can't see the things you need to yourself. We're too busy watching and reacting. Too close to see the things we view everyday in a way which is different enough to help.
If you are struggling to see something in a different light, perhaps I can help.
I went back to University this week. Not as a returning student, but instead to give a lecture to the current students on the Masters course I completed. I was letting them know about my dissertation, and the methodology I'd used to do my research. It was fun to revisit it, and to share it with them.
Part of my aim in setting up my own consultancy is to have more time for my own research and writing, so reflecting on that as a process for the lecture was extremely valuable for me too. I could talk all day about my research, but could I also talk about valuable insights to analyse how I'd 'done' it too?
I think I did a good job - the students seemed engaged and asked lots of questions. Questions really help. Some were wanting to know more about my research. Others wanted some very practical knowledge on 'how to do' the research. Others were keen for me to wear their class 'research goggles', and have photographic evidence to share, which apparently help them to focus and see things differently. I hope I added to that.
As I answered I reflected that the process was the same as I employ in many work settings too - particularly with new tasks, new contracts and with new ideas. Spending time finding out was much information as possible, being disciplined and organised in not only how I collect it, but how I organise and plan how to use information, are all crucial for me.
Research is so important, especially if like me you are curious to fill in the gaps and make improvements, explore possibilities and develop a new set of 'evidence' to support future work. It can be tempting to just 'jump in' but I prefer reflection, collection and then projection. If this is something you think I can help you with, get in touch...
I'm hopeful that 2018 is going to be a great year. It's often the last thing you want to say out loud, just in case, but as we head into a new year I am feeling positive, curious about what will occur and determined to make the most of every opportunity that comes along.
I left 2017 behind with a fun appearance on television. Not my usual way to see out the year, but a great way to celebrate a year of change. I was asked to be part of a BBC programme looking at Scotland's changing relationship with 'going out'. The show was presented by the voice of Love Island, Iain Stirling, romping through the decades starting with the 1950s.
My role was to discuss the weird and wonderful food and drink of the 1970s at a recreated dinner party in a stunning Glasgow home which has been preserved in all it's 70s glory. I'd been asked as a result of the other work in my portfolio around retro food, academia and writing.
It was great fun to look back and remember Cheese Hedgehogs and strange banana dishes. On social media people responded by sharing their own reminisces of decades past as I mixed up a Snowball cocktail for the host. Thankfully, it also highlighted that things have changed in the intervening decades. Semi-dressed 'lovelies' on beer cans are not a welcome retro revival. The combination of polyester, crimplene and the naked flames of candles should never return.
In my food writing and research I spend a lot of time looking back, not with rose tinted glasses but with a reflective head thinking about what we can learn from times gone by to improve the current day. This is equally important in my consultancy role too. Often things seemed better 'before' but when we examine it more closely, not everything should be revived. Reviewing the past very much with an eye on the future is crucial.
If this is something you are looking to do, maybe I can help.
I'm sure we've all found ourselves doing something just because it's what we've always done. In the same way. At the same time. With the same people. With the same outcome.
Sometimes it feels right to go with what we know, to be safe, to be sure that nothing unexpected happens as a result. At other times we know that continuing to do as before is not enough. Change needs to happen. For ourselves, and for others.
I've been fortunate to work with so many great organisations who embrace change during my time as a Funder with the Self Management Fund for Scotland. I've also been fortunate that many of them have asked to remain in contact with me now that I am freelance. The connections and relationships we have built together are important to us both.
I am delighted that one of those organisations, No Strings Attached (Scotland) have trusted me to be part of their future development by asking me to join their Board of Trustees. No Strings Attached do great work in encouraging young people living with Asthma to do exactly what many assume they won't be able to do - play wind instruments. They gain confidence, learn from others in the group living with Asthma and turn assumptions on their heads all at the same time. I've long been a fan, as well as a supporter.
There are some changes ahead within the organisation, positively, that I am confident I can help them explore and deliver. As someone living with Asthma myself, I am committed to using my time as a volunteer with them to the best impact - doing something different, with different people and for a different purpose. If this sounds like something you want to do too, get in touch and maybe I can help you.
Communication is all around us. We're bombarded with information all day, every day. We can filter it out, drift out of conversations, make sense of messages that don't look quite right, ignore things that we assume are not important. We're skilled at communicating, especially with people and in settings which we feel comfortable.
I'm spending a lot of time thinking about my own communication at the moment. I'm working with SASLI - The Scottish Association of Sign Language Interpreters - on an organisational review. It's a really interesting piece of work, with a passionate, skilled and proud group of professionals, who all have clear communication as their aim.
It's a return to the world of sign language for me too, having spent eight years learning to communicate differently (for me) when I worked for a Deaf organisation, and then nine years re-training my brain that I didn't (always) need to use my hands to have a discussion. We adapt. I'm adapting back again.
For this project, there are so many different levels of communication involved. Information about the review, discussion about the purpose, views about the future, recommendations about what next. I'm collecting information and presenting information back. Communication needs to be unambiguous.
Communication with a range of people in a variety of settings with differing agendas is not always easy. I'm excited about the challenge, and confident I can find a way to balance the communication successfully. The measure of my success will be in my own communication. If communication isn't going as well as it could be within your own project, organisation or partnership, maybe I can help you.
I've been working this week on a workshop for a new client aiming to encourage collaboration. It feels a little strange working on it on my own, planning out the day and designing activities to support the group to work together more effectively. It's the kind of thing I'd previously have done, erm, collaboratively. With my team.
I'm the team now. It's interesting for me to adapt the way I naturally work, and will be insightful to see how it all pans out the day. My collaborators on the day will be the people in the room.
Working together seems like such a natural 'thing' to me. It's clearly not to many others, or at least not an easy prospect.
I've tried to tap into some of the potential 'fears' about partnership working and then quickly turn them into positives which will hopefully enhance rather than distract from the eventual outcome.
Working alone can seem easier, quicker, more efficient perhaps. You just get on with it. But working with others can bring new ideas, a different direction and support for ideas. It can take longer. If it's not natural to you, or your team, or to the people that you would hope to collaborate with, I can help you.
HI, I'm Kevin and Third Quarter is my Consultancy. Follow my adventures here...