Tag Archives: Blogging

Personal reflections on 2013

As the New Year gets rolling, I took a few minutes to reflect on the last 12 months.  I’ve been meaning to do this for a while and despite it already being 2014, it’s better late than never.  Blogging for reflective practice is how I began blogging so here goes…

Langtang Valley, Nepal

A lot of changes took place in 2013, which have been transformational for me personally and professionally. I’m writing from Nepal where I am far from many friends and family yet close to lots of new friends and colleagues.

Looking back, these are my top five highlights:

  1. Becoming a Mom. The biggest and best change has been becoming a mom to “Ira”.  I learned a lot in the past year about living in the moment, enjoying the small gifts a baby offers and the love of family.  I think I also understand my own mother more.
  2. Embracing Community. Discovering the kindness of people and community (mostly due to Ira) both at home and around the world has opened my heart and mind.  Thank you.
  3. Rediscovering Yoga. I brought yoga back into my life.  The benefits of practicing yoga physically, mentally and emotionally have been a great addition to the daily routine. More than simply postures its an approach to life.
  4. Teamwork. I enjoy working in a team.  Being a mom pushed me to find people to collaborate with to accomplish my work commitments.  More than usual, this year I collaborated with several smart, generous and talented women and I look forward to sharing more projects with them and others in the years to come.
  5. Growing professionally. With an urge to increase my international sustainable development work and follow my passions, I became an associate with the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), moved to Nepal for a few months and have picked up very interesting international contracts.  I also gave two graphic facilitation workshops in September, which fed me with energy and enthusiasm for using visuals in our work and doing more workshops in the future. I have learned a lot in the last seven years of consulting and its gratifying to continue to grow in my career. I feel fortunate to be able to work with my passions with so many inspiring people.

Thank you to all the friends, family, and colleagues who have been a part of my journey through 2013.  While I may not communicate often (and apologies for not sending holiday cards), I am thinking of you and grateful for our connections.  I am looking forward to the year ahead and hope our paths cross soon virtually or in person.  A blog post about living in Nepal will be coming shortly!

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2013 in review care of WordPress

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.  I’ll prepare my own summary shortly!  In the meantime, its pretty cool how they compile the stats.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 6,000 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Blogging as Reflective Practice on this Sunny Monday Morning

I started this blog in 2007 as a way to keep in touch with a remote team while working in the field in West Africa. Over the years, I have found it very useful to reflect on my work, reflect on my learning and share interesting things that I’ve come across with the blogosphere.

Enjoying the Tien Shen Mountains July 2013.

Enjoying the Tien Shen Mountains July 2013

The last couple months have been quite the whirlwind after a relaxing summer focused on family and travel.  I gave two energizing facilitation workshops using visuals (a topic I love) and have been looking at the social impacts of a global mining company on one of their communities (really fascinating).  It’s been busy but nice to be working on subjects I care about that also contribute to making the world a better place (in my humble opinion).

I am now about to embark on a major shift in the way I work for the next 6 months.  I plan to test the boundaries of a knowledge worker by moving my office (computer + phone + brain) to Kathmandu, Nepal.  Much of the work I do requires 80% planning and 20% face-to-face.  Hence, I don’t really need to be chained to my desk in an office in Canada.  Some of the work I do is feasible from a desk in Kathmandu, for other projects I’ve recommended colleagues to take my place and I hope to make new contacts in Asia and work with them on national and regional projects.

While considering this idea of working from anywhere, I came across an advertisement for a very cool contract that could be based anywhere in the world.  This seemed to be a great opportunity to work on a topic I’m passionate about AND still be able to live in a developing country for a much-desired cross-cultural experience.  Even better, this would allow me to connect to networks in two different parts of the world (which I feel would enrich the work even more than I could from one location).   I put in a proposal and was very excited to be selected for an interview.  Wow – could this dream contract come to fruition?

Well, I spent the last few days preparing for the interview and got up at 5AM this morning, made my way to a local ‘HUB’ (shared office space you can rent for meetings) and had a phone interview with people from three different continents.  Despite my belief that I am definitely a fabulous candidate for the contract, I came away feeling that I had not quite rocked the interview.   While it’s all a bit up in the air, I am now reflecting on the process so I can learn from the experience and make sure that I rock future interviews! So I asked myself 3 questions: What did I do well? What could I improve on?  How to move forward with a positive frame of mind?

  1. What did I do well?  This is an important question as overall I am happy with the fact that I was selected for an interview amongst a global pool of candidates.  My written proposal was strong and I had a lot of experience to share.  I learned a lot about the subject matter through research online and I reconnected with several colleagues and networks around the world.  I had great conversations with a lot of great people while preparing my ideas for the interview. Preparation was very inspiring and got me excited about a potential future.
  2. What could I improve on?  Despite feeling a little blah after the interview, it’s helpful to understand why I felt this way and I have a few ideas.  The easiest thing to change in the future would be to do interviews at a reasonable hour, when all engines are fired up.  Waking up at 5AM and speaking to a group of strangers around the world via telephone was more challenging than I thought. I would have likely been more coherent and energetic with daylight and a few cups of coffee in the system.  In addition, while preparation is important, it’s equally important to listen carefully to the questions being asked.  Answers should be short and sweet (to the point).  At times, I found myself distracted by ideas I had prepared rather than speaking from the heart in the moment.  This took me on a few unnecessary tangents and I did not always deliver with confidence.  Lastly, unable to see body language and receive feedback was challenging for me as I am a conversationalist and enjoy the back and forth / group conversation rather than providing a monologue.  I could ask for SKYPE or FaceTime interviews in the future.
  3. How to move forward with a positive frame of mind? Now what?  It’s not over yet and I remain hopeful. Still, the process has taught me a few things about myself that I would like to work on in the future. The biggest one is the skill of improvisation.  Improv is a must-have for leadership, facilitation and interviews.  One of the first principles is to be prepared (which includes ‘warming up’, i.e. coffee,  sunshine and chit-chat for me).  While preparation is important, one also needs to ‘let go’ in the moment in order to be truly authentic and present. Another principle is willingness to fail and/or make mistakes as this means we are trying, taking risk and engaging with something new.  On this note, I definitely can I say I put in a good effort and am not afraid to try. There are several other principles but one for me to work on is to stay in the moment (as noted above, don’t be distracted by your prep in the interview).

It’s been helpful to reflect on my Monday morning, my experience and the future.  I am not sure what the year ahead holds however I’m certain it will be filled with fun, interesting, and meaningful experiences wherever I go.  These are exciting times and I’m happy to step out of my comfort zone, even if it is ‘uncomfortable’ (obviously!).

I’ll be sure to share a few updates from Kathmandu.

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Changing the landscape…

Visually Planning Using a Mind Map

Visually Planning Using a Mind Map

It’s fall in Canada and a season full of change.  The leaves change colour, the temperature cools and the wind picks up!  I love change and I love fall.  This year we are inspired to change our landscape and experience a different culture for a few months.  We rented our house and bought tickets to Kathmandu.  On the one hand it seems foreign and on the other hand it feels completely natural.

On the practical side of planning there is lots to do! The numerous lists I was creating to ‘get things done’ were getting lost in the piles of paper.  So, I took a step back and decided to think big.  I create a mind map on a central wall in the house and ensured the task list was visible.  I used a mind map because it allows space to continuously add things as they ‘pop up’.  I starting to check things off as they got accomplished.  Seeing the red checks and the map fill  is quite satisfying and calming despite the chaos of a big move.  The warm fall colours help me embrace the transition period.

With ten days to go, there is lots to do so I’ll write more from Nepal.  In brief, the plan is to set up a home office overseas and continue consulting.  I look forward to working on some projects in Asia and revisiting my international development roots.  We will see what the first few months bring and then adapt our course based on what we experience and learn.  It feels good to realize  a dream and truly test the boundaries of a mobile knowledge worker!  Keep in touch online 🙂

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A quick harvest from Art of Hosting Water Dialogues

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I recently experienced 2.5 days doing of joint training with The Art of Hosting and Waterlution called the Water Dialogues. The training was a combination of learning and experiencing. What do I mean? There were a few sessions dedicated to explaining the underpinnings of the philosophies however most of our time was spent experiencing the art and reflecting as a group and on our own.  Most people really appreciated this.

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Chris Corrigan , one of the hosts, introduced the Cynefin framework (used by Cognitive Edge) as a way to differentiate between simple, complicated and complex problems.  It’s important to understand what you are working with in order to choose the best methods to address each challenge, project or process one enters.  I have taken the cognitive edge training (2007) and appreciated the way it was introduced as a sense-making framework.  One thing to add to Chris’ very good explanation is that this framework can also help ensure the appropriate evaluation method is used.  For example, complex projects work with well with developmental evaluation approaches as opposed to traditional log frames.

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The four fold practice was introduced as a way to check in with yourself and see where you are at.  It was noted that it’s important to work on all areas to embrace a well rounded practice (key word is practice).  The Chaordic Stepping Stones are another way to approach work, ensuring you have a solid based to work from – pay attention to need and purpose first moving to structure only when the first few stones are really in place!  This could be a challenge with clients as they are always jumping to what it might look like in action (the process/engagement) however reinforcing the need and purpose are good first steps to designing an appropriate purpose.

I also took home the message that Intent is very important in all that we do, i.e. consider what your doing, why your doing it, for whom, etc.  This seems obvious but taking time to reflect on the process and actions isn’t always a part of our work rituals …and it should be.

The weekend brought together a mix of professionals working in the world of water and passionate about contributing to positive change. The opportunity to listen to the diversity of interests and projects was interesting for me as I tend to get wrapped up in my own world of work and interests. There was sufficient time to meet and check in with the participants and hosts which was probably one of the most important aspects.

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I went to a couple open space sessions on harvesting.  One about the relevance of harvests and the other about sustaining the harvest over space and time.  The latter evolved into a discussion about engaging and communicating over space and time which I view as different than a harvest per se however there is room for debate in a lot of these concepts.  I did come away with an idea and free tool for a project I’m working on this spring and I am thankful for the small gem.  Generally speaking, thinking about what you want to get out of the meeting in advance, in terms of both learning, artifacts to share and any reporting required, should be done at the outset of your process.  This is another good reminder that planning takes time and is involved (so embed that into your work plan, timelines and budget).

In summary, I was fascinated by the rawness people brought forth, sometimes depressing but towards the end, a renewed energy and sense of joy emerged. I feel hopeful by this change in energy, not to mention inspired by the excitement some folks shared after a great conversation, an evening of live music or a moment watching dolphins enter the bay.

Personally I used this time to practice on my iPad (a small goal I rarely find time to work on) and that was quite fun!  I also enjoyed the opportunity to simply be present and practice the art.

Thanks to everyone who partook on Bowen Island – I hope we have the opportunity to meet again and share some conversation.

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Thanks for commenting and more

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My icons on networks, connections and strategy

As I blog into 2012, it’s important to reflect on what I hope to achieve with my blog this year.

First, blogging is a personal practice where I reflect on work and ideas that intrigue me.  The act of blogging forces me to consolidate my thoughts, articulate them and share.  As an independent consultant, I don’t have office colleagues to do this with at the water cooler hence blogging is my metaphorical water cooler.  I hope to continue blogging and write more in the coming year.

Second, blogging is about connecting with others.  I need to connect and share with peers around the blogosphere and beyond to reinforce that despite working as a sole-proprietorship/consultant in a remote location – I am still connected!  The Internet has made working from home possible.  It has also enabled contacts and connections that I never would have thought possible 10 years ago.  Thank you to those that read, follow and link to my blog.  I particularly shout out thanks to those who commented in 2011 including Anni Holtby, Jennie Hoffman, Sylvia Currie, Beth Sanders and Isabella Mori.  Each person is someone I met outside the blog and have kept in touch with online.  I want to keep the conversation going in 2012!

Third, how are people finding my blog and how can I improve this?  The posts that got the most views in 2011 included topics of Graphic Facilitation and Planning, Collaboration, Relationship Building.  According to WordPress, I should continue to write on these topics as they have ‘staying power’.

Fourth, people find my blog with search terms such as graphic facilitation, relationship building and michelle laurie and my top five referrers include: Facebook, violette.ca (thanks), civicinfo.bc.ca (thanks to the graphic facilitation workshop I posted there), LinkedIn and kric.ca (sharing my workshop I think….).  I need to continue posting on my social networks and reach out to supporting networks.  My posts need to have tags that help people link to the posts and I should not change my name (even though I got married this past summer!).

Lastly, the infographics and metaphors used by WordPress to describe my stats were compelling.  For example: A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. My blog was viewed about 6,300 times in 2011. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people. They also used maps and stick people and photos to help tell me my story.  I appreciate this greatly as it engages me in the information and even enticed me to write a blog about it.  I would like to generate my own infographics in 2012 and tell more stories on my blog using metaphors to engage people.

Thanks for commenting in advance and keeping the connections going!

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Reflections of a home-based consultant living on the edge of the woods

“Be patient.  Good things come to those who wait.”

This is the Chinese fortune cookie wisdom I received Sunday night after eating out in a town nearby.  The town of 10,000 people is the hub of the region I live in which most likely has more trees, wildlife and clean running water than it does people.  Yes, I am feeling a little isolated.

My small town on the edge of the woods

I wonder if it’s the remote geography, working alone in my attic during the dark November days, or lack of strong professional networks to share the daily grind with.  Being patient is interesting advice as I have been thinking about my professional life lately and how I can enhance it from good to great as well as being less isolating.

For anyone that works on issues related to improving people, places and making positive change, you could imagine that doing this alone in your attic, mostly by typing into a computer box, could be a lonely place (despite my online friends – thank you friends 🙂 ).  Given that it’s a not so bad trade-off for living next to bears and powder skiing, I have been seeking advice lately to find that magical work-life balance.  Here are some of the nuggets that I plan to work on in the New Year:

–       Have a filter for work you take on.  Here are four criteria my inspiring colleagues at Bright Green Learning use: Impact, Creativity, Interesting, Learning.  I may add people/team to that list.

–       Network.  Go to conferences to meet people you want to work with and keep in touch with them.  This may mean dedicating two phone calls a day as follow up which is very possible (That is my brothers advice and he owns a successful HR magazine so I’ll take it).

–       Develop a local network of professionals who may also be looking for people to connect with.  I will use my community building experience to start this in 2012 with the domain being ‘professional development’ and the side benefits of deeper relationships and networking (this is an idea that has been on my mind since I moved here – time for action).

This is only the start to my 2012 ‘good to great’ list as my mind is burgeoning with ideas for connection, social media is at my finger tips and I should not forget my widespread community of friends, colleagues, alumni…who I should make more time to get in touch with.

Blogging is important to me as it is a place to reflect and share thoughts with others.  The professional world (even for someone living at the edge of the woods) has lots to offer.  So do I wait patiently for taking my professional life to the next level or work to make it happen?  Drop a line if you have a thought.  My top of mind response is that it will be a bit of both.

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