Open all doors, Open all senses, Open all defences, ask "why were they closed?"

October 30 2015

24 years ago as a young migrant; a northerner abroad in the south, I reached out as part of my studies to find something and someone familiar, a voice that resonated from the Lancashire mill towns of my birth and understood the nature of the migration, the journey I was in the midst of. I cast my eyes and ears around and they alighted on Lemn. I read his words, felt his passion, and caught his mood.

21 years ago, the both of us still young and full of it, I bumped into him on the streets of our fair city. We moved in similar circles, he the spoken wordsmith, me an enthusiastic hip-hop dj, we had friends of friends. It’s lost to me what we chatted about…it was a long time ago… when I was cool (now my life seems to be arguing with smaller versions of myself about how to use the toilet or put things away). Serendipitously I must have had the collection of poems I studied a year or two earlier with me that very evening, as upon picking it out of the bookcase I found his mark within (which I proudly display atop this article). I went to that bookcase, purposefully, to find the manuscript upon reading a tweet from the University of Manchester containing Lemn’s poem “Inspire and be Inspired” which he wrote on the occasion of becoming the new Chancellor. I went there thinking I should carry the book around campus when I return, soon, to continue my work helping to transform how they deliver their IT Services. I went there thinking if I’ve got the book on me and I bump into Lemn maybe I could get his autograph. It made me smile to see that it was already in there and it made me think to see what he had written. It seems to me now that his “best wish” came true for both of us. We continued to look at things afresh, to learn from every situation, to seek inspiration and to be ready to inspire. Sounds heavy doesn’t it, and not a little bold and big headed, but I’ll explain…

Over the past few years I have increasingly adopted transparent ways of working, contemplative and analytical styles of improvement; you can see other articles here on pulse about my experience of Kanban, Lean & Agile.

And these are the things Lemn speaks of (to me, at least). It is very easy to go into an organisation, and I have gone in to quite a few, and say here is a methodology, here is “best” practice. Do this and all will be well. Unfortunately it is not as easy as this. It is much more effective to step across the threshold and inquire. What is happening here? What are your problems? How could we make things better? It is much more rewarding, for all, to not pitch up with all the “answers”, but to come in and offer to study the situation and help construct the right questions before we even think about a solution.

“Open….Out….Look. Open all minds, open all dreams, Research , Question.

To encourage this approach, to stimulate creativity, to try, fail and try again, pivot and proceed. To help people access the means to do this within themselves, and collaboratively within groups is the way to carve out the best answers, to dream up the big graphene-scale, world changing solutions.

It doesn’t come without discomfort. Asking people to question, getting them to actively seek out the issues can (should) uncover mistakes made in the past and people take mistakes personally… and blame can creep in. Blame can stultify, blame will paralyse. Make a decision, do not give it oxygen, acknowledge that failure is part of a process, learn this…

The nature of trust, the strength of unassailable us.

Trust each other, trust your team, trust yourself, trust that we all want to contribute, we all want to do the right thing, but the right thing is not always obvious, join in, have a go. To err is human but it is our responsibility through learning, through risk taking, to populate new ideas, new territories to migrate to better levels of understanding.

Ken Robinson describes brilliantly why, by the time we reach the workplace, we might have lost our desire, knack, our ability to be creative. (This is the most watched of all TED talks so you may have already seen it. Watch it again even if it’s just because as a stuffy old academic, Sir Ken sure knows how to crack wise and hit the chuckle button)

But we can regain it. We can embrace it. We should cherish it. Old, long standing habits can be broken and new, hard won habits can be formed.

So as Lemn invites us all, bring your past, bring your future, bring your rites and bring your song….

Me, I’ll be bringing it back to Manchester, to a place that willfully challenges all within to change, to learn, to inspire and be inspired. My challenge to you is to make the next place you go, even if it’s the same place on a new day, make it your Manchester.

…and Lemn, if for some fortuitous reason you are reading this, look out for me. I’ll be the one scrabbling in his pocket for a book with your face on and a pen.

The best wish, Matt