training

WHAT'S IN YOUR ESCAPE KIT?

I had an insight yesterday, a new way of looking at what it is I do. From the inside, I've always known that my activities as a writer who does work as a coach and trainer are connected. Part of that, I knew, was to do with creativity and language. Now though I see the potential those domains have as providing tools for liberation. Another way to say that is to acknowledge, whatever it is we're doing, we're constrained by what we believe our situation to be. As much freedom as our current condition gives us, sooner or later its limitations will become apparent, and at that point an escape kit is needed. And, there are a lot of occasions when life will get better quicker if you consult someone like me, with a knack for the kind of lock-picking needed to escape what Blake called our 'mind forg'd manacles'.

I worked with an artist once. She usually painted with whatever colours interested her. But for a while she'd just been painting in shades of blue. The work she was producing was great, but she wanted restored access to the full rainbow. As she talked about her experience, she touched her left arm, and that led me to ask how she saw her painting process work. She envisaged a pot of blue paint towards her elbow, which travelled through tubes into her hand to guide what she did with a brush. It made sense to her, and that's what matters. We all have interesting ways of coding our experience, and that was one of hers. I suggested that further up her arm, towards her shoulder, was a dial connected to a pipe that fed paint to her pot. And the dial could be set to whatever colour she wanted. Next day, she was painting with the whole spectrum as she had been before.

To help someone escape, you have to respect how they're boxed in. Telling the artist that she needed to just toughen up and splash other paints about wouldn't have acknowledged whatever internal conditions had led where she was at this point. I didn't need to know what those conditions were, but it made sense that if something in her came up with that solution, it would be wise to honour the wisdom of that choice.

There are ways to learn about how you function and using their logic is helpful if only because whatever within you came up with that logic clearly likes it, which makes it an elegant way to game the system. Naturally, I am my own guinea pig for these explorations. One time I saw someone I recognised but didn't know where from. I realised in attempting to figure that out I wanted to associate him with a place, so mentally inserted him in a variety of settings where I might know him based on how he was dressed. In each case I got a 'no' feeling in my gut.  Then I figured that 'how he was dressed' was itself a constraint. He was in a pretty snappy outfit at that point, so I imagined him in another outfit - straight away my mind produced an image of him in a white lab coat. Of course - it's the dude who works in the pharmacy I go to!

Those are two small examples of escapology - the artist from her blue period, me from my inability to recognise someone. I have bigger and more dramatic examples of this kind of approach. But it'd be easier then to be impressed by the content of the story and not pay attention to the details of how - as in these instances - a person's means of conceiving who they are and how they do what they do necessarily provides the clues needed to escape whatever limitations that model has built in.

Much of what I do in coaching and training is support people to consider the way they function in a new light. With that insight it's possible to transform those defaults we have into ones that offer us more scope to be who we'd like to be. That's where it overlaps with my writing - stories are often about how people go through a process of transformation of whatever sort and scale. In time, that new way of being will itself reveal limitations, and so on, and that's fine - there's always another Russian doll waiting to incorporate a bigger sense of our capabilities and possibilities.

 

 

 

 

YOU'RE NOT ON A HERO'S JOURNEY. DEAL WITH IT.

There's a myth going round that we're heroes, or at any rate can be. It's a myth that started with Jung, infected Hollywood, and is now rippling through the personal development and marketing communities like avocados on Instagram. And it's a myth about a myth. One known as The Hero's Journey.

Joseph Campbell was a student of Jung. Influenced by his mentor's fascination with archetypes and an interest in stories, he discovered that stories have an archetypal structure. Just the one, hence he called it the monomyth. The fact that he boiled down thousands of stories from hundreds of cultures and concluded there was actually just the one story should raise an eyebrow. It's reminiscent of the bit in Hitchhiker's Guide where the entry in the Guide for Earth reads 'Mostly harmless' - and that's the longer revised version.

For sure, Campbell discovered something when he distilled all those myths and legends and folklore into one handy dandy template. George Lucas consulted Campbell when he made the first Star Wars film. Thanks to Chris Vogler, who wrote a memo about it when he worked at Disney that shaped films including The Lion King, Campbell's monomyth has become the default shape of Hollywood films for a couple of decades now. You know the one. The hero is called to do something that disrupts their life and ultimately answers a fundamental question for them, in the process changing them for ever more thanks to an experience of rebirth. Neo in The Matrix, getting the cheat codes for reality. Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, redeeming himself from a meaningless life through love. Any film where an unlikely mentor supports our plucky hero in their hour of need, eg Splinter - the giant rat who teaches ninjutsu to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And who could forget Legally Blonde?

Boil a story down to the essence it has in common with thousands of others, and by definition you lose what makes it unique. And there's something too conveniently Hollywood-friendly about Vogler's condensed take on Campbell. The success of Marvel's superhero movies suggests that filmgoers are tiring of the tried and tested. That might seem counterintuitive given how self-evidently heroic Marvel heroes are, and yes - they have their own kind of saminess. True, but it's only part of the story. Part of what audiences are loving in Marvel films is the way characters recur. And it's in those multiple appearances we see them in a new light. Captain America, hero in his own film, is the butt of jokes in other Marvel movies. Black Panther was clearly the star of his own movie, but in Infinity War he's got a supporting role. Iron Man has a major but not lead role in Infinity War, and if anyone's the protagonist it's Thanos - and he's the villain, in a film which also cheats audience expectations powerfully with its ending and yet is still doing huge box office.

Research demonstrates that when Japanese people respond to a painting, they are concerned with its setting, taking the whole in. Americans focus instead on the dominant image, particularly if it's of a person. And there's something about that which connects with the American Dream, the notion that anyone can go from log cabin to Whitehouse. That's the story of the entrepreneur too, a strong-willed individual who is driven by their dream to change the world and profit from it. Not much sense of the context and supporting cast in that picture - the market which might simply be ready for someone's idea and wasn't a year before when someone else tried the same idea, a handy beta for their successor. Then there are employees, whose talent and hard work created the detail of the founder's dream without which it would be vaporware. And what about suppliers and customers?

The point isn't to be picky, but to present a different picture. It's something that can be seen in Japanese work culture. In the day, working together as a team, colleagues collaborate to achieve outcomes. It's at night when they socialise together that it's acceptable to criticise bosses when alcohol is a means of expressing truths that would be less tolerable in the office. There's a sense of communal endeavour, and setpiece boardroom chestbeating and people standing their ground don't figure in it in the same way.

These differences of perspective matter. Not least at a time when strong-willed individuals in the form of billionaire oligarchs and the politicians they bankroll are carving up the world for their advantage and willing to sacrifice others in pursuit of their greed. Back in the day, a strong-willed individual like James Stewart would stand up for what was right in the films of the day. Today's political titans are more likely to speak on behalf of an oil lobby-funded belief that climate change is a myth, wilfully oblivious to the bigger picture we're all part of. 

Do we need people willing to take risks and make sacrifices? Sure. And we need them to do so in alliance with others rather than through their pig-headedness. Another of the central tenets of the Marvel movies is that superheroes were once like you and me before being granted their powers. It's as a team and with shared goals that they get to put the world to rights - and that doesn't mean in their own image, because as Peter Parker learned tragically when he became Spider-Man, 'with great power comes great responsibility'.

Countless websites detail coaches and trainers who reckon they fit the role of mentor in your Hero's Journey. Can you really imagine Frida Kahlo or Martin Luther King attending a seminar on manifesting their hero within? Even as a typology, the Hero's Journey is just one of those available. Vladimir Propp checked out Russian folklore and mythology a decade or two before Campbell and came up with something equally valid. Propp's schema is not as glamourous, noting as it does the likelihood of the hero being scarred along the way, and doing a lot of their work without even being recognised. That's not going to go down well on a weekend workshop, which as much as anything are about inflating the participants' sense of who they are and what they can achieve. 

Take a note from the Japanese. When you're being sold someone's big heroic story, ask questions which will give you details about who else was involved, and the environment which supported their success. And do it over a beer. It's great that we have ideas and do things to make them come true - but the Hero's Journey fuels the story that change happens without a social and economic context to make it possible, and that's a myth we can do without.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LOOKING IN ALL THE WRONG PLACES

Someone comes along, sees a friend under a streetlamp, looking for something.

'What have you lost?'

'My keys.'

'Where were they when you last saw them?'

'Over there.'

'So why are you looking here?'

'I need the streetlamp to see.'

Last night I went to the final evening of Nottingham's First Tuesday networking event, at least in the form it took under the fabulous and irrepressible Debbie Doodah. She's moving on, and leaving the event in the highly capable hands of her ThinkInNG allies. 

I remember a particular First Tuesday, a year or more back. One of the speakers was a guy who'd gone out of his way to tell Debbie about how she really needed to book him. Which is fair enough - you've got to be your own ambassador after all. And he came, and talked. He knew exactly what he was going to say,  and he said it, which is how people often do these things.

He told us about a book he'd read. In that book, the author left his job, inspired to train with some Hong Kong martial artists. Doing so helped him in all kinds of ways. Having read the book, the guy doing the talk decided - that he'd do the same thing himself. He went to Hong Kong. And had the same experience he'd read about, with the same martial artists.

How often is someone else's dream identical to yours? How likely is it that someone else has already hit on the very thing you need to make your heart sing, in the course of fulfilling their own dreams? 

The abiding sense I got from hearing this ostensibly successful man talk about how he'd replicated someone else's dream, was that he wasn't in touch with himself. That he knew what inspiration looked like...because he'd read about someone else's. And the best thing about that is - it's OK. There are times we all fail to challenge ourselves enough. That we take a peek outside our comfort zones and decide that someone else's success is what we want. Safer that, than risk finding out what it really is that gives your life purpose - and fail to bring it about.

Of course, I realised that having so often done the same. Not in quite so blatant a way as to arrange to pay strangers to beat me up in Hong Kong. But there've been times when I've wanted to have achieved what some of my creative idols have achieved. Grant Morrison say. Or Kate Tempest. Only, they got to do their thing and have it work by - doing their thing. And they in turn will have had role models and mentors who in time play less of a role in their own sense of self as they create more work that feels like who they truly are.

It's OK to want someone else's success. And a lot of the time, that's what coaching offers. Strategies that helped someone else achieve what was important to them. And that's great. But how often do borrowed clothes really fit?

I experience that old clothes stink when I hear the majority of coaches and trainers talk. Can hear in their words the books they've read, sometimes see the mannerisms of those who've trained them. And that makes me sad. Telling other people how to achieve whatever, as the local budget version of someone your clients would get more from if you had the guts to tell them to go to the source of whatever skills and knowledge you've gleaned. It's not for me, and if training with some of the people I learned from is going to be a better solution than working with me, I'll tell you that.

If I'm different, it's because my mentors are different. You'll notice the irony. And also, my life isn't defined by coaching and training. I'm an award-winning scriptwriter, who wrote and helped make a short film that recently played at a festival in Hollywood where it stood shoulder-to-shoulder with films made with much larger budgets and name actors. I've written a speech for a world champion boxer; successfully pitched to a team who masterminded some of the world's biggest film's franchises; been headhunted by a leading London ad agency; written TV drama for the BBC without having an agent to get the work for me. 

Those are things I mention because they're achievements. And, by the way, I've also been through the hell of being sectioned twice. Of recovering from that and being suicidal at times for most of a year. So when I talk about getting up and starting again, of looking at what you've got and thinking about it in another way, of finding ways to make the unlikely happen, I'm talking at first hand.

Let the stories of others be an inspiration. Let them surge through your veins, inform your choices, shape your dreams. But do not mistake them for what you're about. It's not what others have achieved that matters. The ways they accomplished it are largely irrelevant. What's important is that a spark was lit in you, or that seeing something outside allowed you to become aware of your spark inside. And it's the spark that counts. 

It's the spark that ignites the pilot light. Great name, huh? Pilot light. A light that guides you. And that's what matters more than anything. Yes, strategy matters. Resources count. Contacts are crucial. But above all nurture that spark. And if it grows when you're around a particular coach or trainer, then that's a good indication they're good for you. If not...then walk away - even if you have to make your way back from Hong Kong, because you realise that was the wrong direction and your feet ache because you're wearing someone else's shoes.

If that light is dimming in you, I can be a good person to talk with. If you want to discover what lies beyond your mentors and models, we can do that. If you've discovered you're living someone else's dream - a parent's, a role model's, whoever it may be - that's something we can talk about. And if you're getting the sense that whoever you've been getting coaching from is going through the motions, there's plenty we can discuss. You know where to find me. Now how about finding you?

 

WHY SHOULD YOU LISTEN TO ME?

I'm ambivalent about being a trainer and coach. While I'm happy - and continuing to learn - about what I do with clients, and the ripples that creates, I'm largely unimpressed by the field I find myself in. The death today of David Bowie has brought that into focus, and helped me realise why I feel as I do.

Bowie's achievements were characterised by an ability to be inventive in any context he was placed. He wasn't just a singer and musician, he was an artist conscious about how he did what he did, always looking for ways to surprise himself. That famous capacity for reinvention is his true legacy, and along the way he created a series of remarkable recordings that will remain memorable for as long as humans listen to music.

I'm willing to bet he did all that without the aid of someone hired to tell him to take massive action, believe in himself, confront his innermost fears, or step into the unknown. And though he did walk into the fire, it was in the context of a collaboration with David Lynch and not the cheesy highlight of a personal development training.

Now, you could argue that the Twin Peaks spin-off where Bowie and Lynch collaborated was not a highlight of either man's CV. But if you're going to work with anyone in the realm of personal development, you absolutely should be asking about their accomplishments. The tragic reality is that the great majority of those encouraging others to take bold steps and achieve great things have done very little of either themselves.

One of the characteristics of my mentors in the training world is that they have made notable accomplishments outside the narrow confines of that scene. Michael Breen was already a well-regarded actor and successful business consultant running trainings internationally before he had anything to do with NLP. He was asked to look at some previously unseen papers of W.B. Yeats because of his appreciation of the poet's work by people who had precisely zero interest in his association with Paul McKenna. Eric Robbie similarly did advertising work that I was aware of when I was growing up, edited publications including Radio Times, published the UK's first newsstand magazine about personal computing, and was active in the NUJ. And way before NLP he was already exploring leading edge psychology with people who came up with it. Those were the qualities that led both to stand out in the domain of training - each had experiences to draw on outside the limited confines of a workshop.

My issue then, is of people claiming that they can help others to put something new into the world without having experience of doing so themselves. And that's why I continue to identify primarily as a writer rather than a trainer or coach. The work I do in the latter contexts is shaped in major ways by my ongoing experiences creating or co-creating work that's so far got out into the world through the BBC, film festivals, live performance, and digital distribution, and is set to scale up this year with the print publication of my first graphic novel, interest in making a feature film I scripted, and with a project I can't yet discuss about to get very interesting. 

If you don't know what it's like to live with the consequences of taking big risks, you have no business telling others to do the same. I'm very aware of the ripple effects of taking a high-risk approach to making my way in the world - how that affects relationships, shapes choices I make every day, what it makes possible or impossible at a given moment. And I'm very aware of the skills I have that go into it all, and which of them are explicitly a consequence of my own training, which come from other parts of my life, and just how useless some of the knowledge I've acquired at great expense is in practice.

This matters. And it matters in particular given some of the fakes and flakes you can run into if you have much to do with the world of personal development workshops. For the most part, what's offered is watered down from someone else's work in ways that would make a homeopath blush. Result is that when a trainer offers something of substance - as NLP trainer James Tsakalos does for instance - people who've done previous classes elsewhere realise to their dismay that instead of expertise they paid someone to make them feel good. And there's a big difference between supposed skills acquired at a seminar, and the reality of working with people outside of that cosy bubble...my skills sharpened through being a support worker at a hostel for homeless people with mental health and substance issues. 

The decades-long experience of being a creator comes first for me. I'm able to work with others in putting their work into the world because it's something I live the reality of for long hours every day. I love what I do, and that love and experience allows me to work with individuals and groups in ways that create difference for them. And sure, I have a bunch of impressive certificates about my own training - but so have any number of people. I might not be the right person to work with you, but please do ask any coach or trainer who you're considering working with just what qualifies them to be in the business of affecting the lives of others.

Only someone as devoted to artifice as Bowie could have achieved such a sincere impact with his death. The nature of his final work, and the timing of its release, showed just what's possible if you really are prepared to take things further than whatever ledge you're perched on. The announcement of his passing acts as a kaleidoscope through which it's possible to perceive the lyrics and videos of his new music afresh. Daring not just to the end, but beyond it, revealing as some old paintings did a skull concealed by perspective. 

 

3 REASONS YOU'LL ENJOY BEING MORE CONFIDENT & CHARISMATIC

1) Frankly, who wouldn't want to be? The objective isn't to turn you into someone else - that's one of the problems people have with this in the first place, trying to be something they're not or using alcohol or drugs to fake personality. Truth is, what people respond to is authenticity, and getting to that is mostly about unlearning what we think we know. The benefits, personally and professionally, are incalculable.

2) One of the big problems we face is fear. Which is about the unknown. And confidence and charisma both relate to your ability to face the unexpected. Change how you perceive situations of that sort, and everything else changes in small powerful ways. Imagine doing more of what you've longed to do, and fear not being a problem - more often than not, the problem is imagined, and can be unimagined.

3) Doing a performance that's rehearsed with lines you've learned is one thing, and it can be impressive. Far more so is the ability to deal with the unexpected. With that capacity you can enter into uncharted territory knowing that what you're doing is learning, and that you have a lifetime of resources to take you forward and benefit from new situations, however scary you might have made them in your mind.

How come I'm running a workshop on Confidence & Charisma? Well, I used to be nervous about talking in public, and unsure about myself. And now I'm not. The reasons for that are many and various.

I had to present ideas when I worked at a leading London ad agency. I believed my ideas were good, and to get that across I became better at speaking up. Then I got involved in scriptwriting, and early on found myself in a meeting with Tim Bevan, who produced Four Weddings And A Funeral. It really wouldn't have helped to be awkwardly silent around him, and I've got better still in pitching story ideas to filmmakers with increasingly positive responses.

It helps too that I've been mentored by some of the smartest and most successful people in the personal development world, and been invited to work with them too. Getting to see professionals of that calibre behind the scenes has been instructive. And what I learned in that context was invaluable in working with vulnerable and volatile people in a hostel, some of them that way in part because of their refusal to engage with unknowns that many of us take for granted. Anyway...all of that, and more, is why I'm doing these trainings. Come to this one, or even better - come to all 3.

Places on the upcoming courses are limited. Go here to find out more and secure your place now.

3 REASONS YOU MIGHT NOT HAVE CONSIDERED WHY BEING MORE CREATIVE AND INNOVATIVE COULD BE HELPFUL

Professionally, I've been trained to come up with good ideas to a deadline. When I worked for a major London ad agency, newspapers wouldn't stop the presses because I was stuck for an idea that morning. I had to create.

I've done the same as a screenwriter, faced with constraints as a result of budget, and working with a team where juggling the input of others to make a script shine was more important than getting my own words down.

I learned more when I was a member of an invite-only group learning cutting edge psychology with Eric Robbie, who in his copywriting days came up with some classic TV commercials, and worked as a journalist and editor too before leading workshops along with Richard Bandler, the co-creator of Neuro Linguistic Programming. (Never mind if you've not heard of NLP - suffice it to say applications are used widely within both the therapeutic and business communities, covering topics including learning styles, communication skills, and fast phobia removal.)

All of that, along with experience as a support worker in a hostel for people with mental health problems where the job required being more flexible than them, helps explain why this second session is about Creativity & Innovation. You can come to this session on its own, or attend all 3.

1) Look around you. Pretty much anything that didn't start off growing in a field began as someone's idea. And with the ease of getting your ideas out there thanks to digital media, 3D printing, and crowdfunding, there are more opportunities than ever before to turn your concept into something real that can increase your income and lead to new opportunities.

2) Whatever it is you're doing, it can help to get ahead if you make it stand out somehow. That applies to the concept you're developing - you can't always rely on an idea's inherent appeal to stand out, sometimes you have to think about how it comes across too. And that can mean considering new ways to present yourself too, online and off. Finding ways to become more memorable is a real asset. That counts if you're working within an organisation, and it counts even more if you're making your own way forward in the world. Innovation is sometimes about the big ideas, but without getting the small ones about how you're perceived sorted out, you might never achieve the bigger goal.

3) The more ways you have to solve problems, the less problems you have. Having ways to tackle issues can transform not just your own life and fortunes, but the happiness and effectiveness of the people you care about. 'Being there' is great sometimes. Being able to make a difference puts you in a different league.

Places on the upcoming courses are limited. Go here to find out more and secure your place now.

3 COMPELLING REASONS TO IMPROVE YOUR SKILLS WITH LANGUAGE & PERSUASION

I learned a lot about language and persuasion as a copywriter with one of London's leading ad agencies. The work I did for clients like Coca Cola, Debenhams and Motorola was experienced by a national audience, and it was effective.

I learned even more when I started to study the psychology of communication, mentored by trainers who had skilled up students including Paul McKenna and Derren Brown. That knowledge transformed the way I worked, and equipped me with capabilities useful when I worked in a hostel for vulnerable adults.

All of that then came together in my scriptwriting. My first film idea won me a meeting with the producer of Four Weddings And A Funeral. That led to TV drama writing with the BBC, and now I'm in the running for feature film projects with experienced directors. All of that explains why the first of the 3 sessions in the Hone Your Professional Edge series is about Language & Persuasion. Here's how you'll benefit as a result of attending:

1) You're undoubtedly familiar with situations where you're talking with someone, and get that sinking feeling you're not connecting. It's one thing to have that recognition, another to be able to do something about it. And the stakes could be high, in the context of a pitch or presentation. The material we'll explore in this workshop will give you practical steps to take, derived not from academic theory, but by paying attention to the person you're dealing with in new ways.

2) We're all aware of the idea that a picture is worth 1000 words. What you might not have considered is your ability to create powerful images within the minds of people through the way you use words. Comedians do it, poets do it, and we'll be building that skill to increase your range as a communicator - with loved ones, in meetings, and in written form.

3) How much attention do you actually pay to the people you're talking with? One way and another, we all present a wealth of signals and patterns in the way we engage. Some of them are in the words we use. And there's useful information too in the gestures people make, where we look, even in the speed we talk. All of it is incredibly useful if our goal becomes to communicate with people using their own preferences, rather than imposing ours.

Places on the upcoming courses are limited. Go here to find out more and secure your place now.

THE 3 BEST REASONS TO HONE YOUR PROFESSIONAL EDGE

These are tricky times, whether you're self-employed or with an organisation. And that's something I know about, having worked in both contexts, in the private and public sectors. I was one of a third of the staff let go by a leading London ad agency only a couple of years after headhunting me. That led to adventures with the producer of Four Weddings And A Funeral, and writing TV drama for the BBC. I moved to Nottingham, and joined the team at a charity-operated hostel for homeless people with mental health problems. Great experience, and one I wanted to move on from. That's when I returned to self employment.

Putting together what I've acquired through my own training with mentors who skilled up the likes of Derren Brown and Paul McKenna, plus adventures in film, advertising, coaching and more, I realised that what enabled me to keep moving forward could be summed up under three categories. And they're covered in the sessions that I'll be presenting: Language & Persuasion (Oct 20), Creativity & Innovation (Nov 10), Confidence & Charisma (Dec 8).

The banner heading for the sessions is Hone Your Professional Edge. It took a while for me to spot what the initials spell, and it made me smile. Which is the attitude I'll be taking into the trainings too. So, what can you look forward to when you join us?

1) The theme connecting the sessions, which will be practical and (I promise) roleplay-free, is freedom. What that boils down to is being able to make more choices. Like, having options for what to do when you're meeting someone who isn't responding to what you've said so far. Like, coming up with new ideas for your future, and some sense of how they can be realised. Like, finding that entering the unknown is a whole lot easier than you might have expected.

2) The more resources you bring to what you do, the more valuable you are to others. That's true if you're working within a system. And it applies if you're self-employed, as well. Being the person others come to rely on for ideas gives you leverage that's valuable across contexts. It also puts opportunities within your grasp that may have eluded you so far.

3) Turning your capacity to engage with people up a notch can be invaluable for professional networking, and it has social and personal benefits too. Feeling more comfortable with talking expressively and with confidence can open doors as well, especially when you're more secure in your ability to deal with unexpected questions.

Places on the upcoming courses are limited. Go here to find out more and secure your place now.

 

 

LEARNING HOW TO LEARN, AGAIN

I've been thinking about learning.

It's interesting to me at this point, as I plan some training events.

I'm fortunate in that I've been trained by some extraordinary people. Which isn't the same as being trained extraordinarily well. And I'm wondering what it is that meant some experiences transformed me in some way, however small - while others, as interesting as they may have been, seem to have left little or no impact.

The well known people I've trained with - at least, well known in the sense they have a reputation in the goldfish bowl of NLP - include Richard Bandler, Michael Breen, Eric Robbie, and Carmen Bostic St Clair. All are unquestionably exceptional at what they do and how they do it. And part of what makes them special is their uniqueness. Whatever they're presenting, they do so 100% as themselves. Brilliant technique is there, for sure - and it's largely invisible. I wouldn't pretend to be able to unpack everything of what they do. But I do have insights, and those insights - and the opportunity to put them into practice - have enabled me to raise my own game.

I'm more interested at this point in people who excelled at helping me to learn without having a framework like NLP to support them. My father was one. A gifted storyteller himself, he recognised that from an early age I was fascinated by stories, and as well as telling me ones he knew, made sure I got to be around people who would tell me theirs. Some of those people were his students, who came from countries I knew as names in an atlas - Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Nigeria, Uganda. That was an incalculable gift. And those students became part of my life growing up, and I learned from their experience of being students in a country that was alien to them, too. Learning about different worldviews within a theoretical context is one thing: I was aware of that without having the vocabulary for it by experiencing a rich chorus of perspectives first hand. Hearing those stories from people who had grown up, in villages without electricity say, or in places where lethal violence was an everpresent possibility, helped me realise that what I heard from people who happened to share my country of origin described only a tiny fraction of what came under the heading of truth.

Some of my teachers and tutors have been wonderful. And what makes them exceptional is an ability to both tease out nuances that helped me understand a detail, and to put such details in the context of a bigger picture. Part of the skill involved is in doing so at the right time. The learner needs to be ready for such a step up, and recognising that people are at such a point is itself a skill for the teacher/tutor/trainer.

I'm also clear about what a bad training experience consists of. And sadly, my version of that is pretty commonplace. For me, it's typified by a session when I was a support worker at a hostel for vulnerable adults. The supposed workshop consisted of someone putting a word on a flipchart, and asking those assembled their feelings about that word. Some of what was said was duly noted on the flipchart. Which if your goal is to collect words about other words is great. When the goal is allegedly to give people skills and knowledge, then the result is failure. Having a group of people emote in a room together may be useful in some therapeutic contexts, but it was of zero value for the purpose we were assembled.

Sensitivity to where a group is and wants to go is important. And that can mean changing plan midflow. One of the best examples of that I experienced was at secondary school. Our English teacher was supposed to get us to read a Robert Louis Stevenson book...but not one we had any interest in. We were given decades-old copies of Master Of Ballantrae to read, and none of us were in a mood for 18th century Scotland - the school felt pretty much like that anyway. So, we went on strike. Next lesson, the smart teacher passed round copies of A Kestrel for a Knave - aka Kes - by Barry Hines for us - very much of our own era. I actually suspect the teacher in question, a marvellous man called Gary Hedges, may have set up the Stevenson revolt as a way of getting some good new contemporary fiction into a reactionary school overfond of its past.

The sophisticated methods I'm aware of and make use of aren't going away. What interests me at this point is utilising them in a wider framework, so that I can dip into using a flipchart if that's useful. Use a question as a means of creating a group discussion. Stop everything to make the most of something happening outside. Hey, maybe I can even make PowerPoint into an artform. It's worth finding out, and that's where I am as I bubble up these new trainings and what goes into them.