Get the most out of meetings with some Swallows and Amazons-inspired thinking

How playful questions help you access the eternal, the colourful and the human

This post in 20 seconds

  • You can get the most out of meetings by asking playful questions 
  • Play helps you access the eternal, the colourful and the human
  • Swallows and Amazons embodies this. A captivating read, it fires the imagination with its joy, energy – and, as you’ll see, playful questions
  • Sign up for a Transforming Meetings Programme in Oxford and master these skills
  • See you in the University Parks for Creation Theatre’s vibrant new production of Swallows and Amazons!

This post first appeared on the Creation Theatre website.

“What if we were to make pemmican cakes?”

 

Last month, I read Swallows and Amazons for the first time. The joyful, hair-raising adventures of John, Susan, Titty, Roger and Bridget on Wild Cat Island charmed and delighted my attention.

Discussing rations with her mother, who had just rowed up to the Swallows’ camp, Titty didn’t say, ‘Make me some pemmican cakes’ (an instruction) or ‘Can we make some pemmican cakes?’ (a closed, uninspiring question). Instead, she asked a playful ‘What if ..?’ question. This opened the door wide to the richest dialogue the two of them had had on the island so far, full of colour and imagination and deepened connection.

My work is to help leaders release their potential, and Titty’s question got me thinking: What is the role of playful questions in unlocking potential?

 

Stuck?

Picture the scene: A board meeting in an Oxford hotel in early 2018. I am Chair and the topic is strategic expansion. The discussion feelsheavy and several members note that we have not been at our best amid uncertainty in recent years. As we keep talking, one person bravely admits – to nods from others – “I just don’t think any opportunities will ever come our way.”

This is a difficult moment. We are stuck and need a breakthrough.

Much advice on how play can benefit work focuses on ways to stop workingand do something playful. Have a game of Monopoly at lunchtime. Play rock-paper-scissors at work. Organise office football. These can all be good things, but I am referring to something quite different.

What if we were to find play while working?

Let’s return to the board meeting: A few minutes later, I ask, “If you knew that opportunities will come your way, how would we be as a board?” This leads to a wide-ranging, light, stimulating discussion. It is as if we have fallen through the floor into a deeper, infinitely more enjoyable dimension of debate – in a way that I can only describe as playful.

Why was this question so effective?

Put simply, when you play, you access the eternal, the colourful and the human. These sound like big claims, so read on…

 

 

The eternal

Let’s start with the biggest.

The reason why play helps us access the eternal is because it is all about joy.

The sociologist Peter L. Berger put it well when he wrote that play helps us ‘momentarily regain the deathlessness of childhood’. In moments of joy, or true contentment, or flow, we access something beyond ourselves. Berger again: ‘Play appears to suspend, or bracket, the reality of us “living toward death” (as Heidegger aptly described our ’serious’ condition).’

If this is true, how do playful questions help us access this in our work? Can I really experience joy while filing taxes for my client? While clipping the toenails of a geriatric patient? While grinding out my 200th report or appraisal of the year?

Not only do I think this is possible, I see it regularly in some with whom I work.

A good way to get there is to ask a ‘What if …?’ or ‘If you knew … ?’ type question. The latter is an example of an ‘incisive question’, as coined by Nancy Kline. In a meeting, incisive questions enable people to move past untrue assumptions that may be limiting the discussion. Real joy is released when this happens.

As with any approach to the eternal, humility is needed. As I articulate an open, playful question, I accept not only that I do not have all the answers, but also that others have meaningful contributions that I might not anticipate.

If you knew that your meetings are joyful, what would you ask in them?

 

Colour

Recent research from psychologists at the Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg (MLU) shows that playful adults are better at observing and seeing things from new perspectives. This study of 3,000 adults showed this to be true, independent of personality traits.

In short, play helps you access what is colourful (seeing things in new ways; solving ‘wicked problems’), not just what is grey (only seeing things as we saw them before; solving ‘tame problems’).

This is great news!

Incisive questions allow ‘the brain to play rather than obey, and the brain loves to play, even when contemplating a truth’ (Kline) – and, as we have seen, those who incorporate play into their work are at an advantage.

What if you were to ask a playful question in a meeting today?

 

Humanity

In a world where many of us are successful yet overwhelmed, incorporating play into our work can help us access what it really means to be human.

In her book on living a wholehearted life, Brené Brown reports the research of Stuart Brown, a psychiatrist, clinical researcher, and founder of the National Institute for Play: ‘[Stuart]Brown explains that play shapes our brain, helps us foster empathy, helps us navigate complex social groups and is at the core of creativity and innovation.’

Playful questions are a way to invite others to explore what could be. The exploration need not be limited to the first answer that comes to mind; indeed, the magic often happens with answers that come later. With such questions, we are inviting possibility and accessing opportunity. I believe that (almost) every person wants to flourish, and that central to this is an ability to express one’s gifts. These invitations are therefore central to what it is to be human.

How magnificent – especially when compared with the stultification that characterises so many meetings.

What if everything you did in a meeting were to help others express their gifts?

 

What next?

I am looking forward to taking my family to enjoy a playful afternoon – full of the best kind of questions – watching Swallows and Amazons in Oxford’s beautiful University Parks.

Want to have more effective meetings? Find out more about the 1-day Transforming Meetings Programme or email me to sign up now.

 

References

Berger, Peter L., A Rumour of Angels, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1969.

Brown, Brené, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You Are Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, Minnesota: Hazelden, 2010.

Kline, Nancy, More Time To Think, London: Cassell, 2015.

 

Image credits: Shutterstock

 

Wearables review: Fitbit Charge HR, Fitbit Blaze and Fitbit Surge (part 2 of 2)

Wearable reviews at nickchatrath.com are designed to let you know how useful a gadget is in helping to transform your personal performance with the big four intelligences in mind. (The big four intelligences are mental focus, emotional intelligence, physical sustainability and purpose. In my experience, the most effective leaders devote attention to all four.) Whereas other sites review wearables from purely a technical or physical fitness standpoint, if you want to stop feeling tired and start having the time to focus productively on what matters, then you are in the right place. In this review we will look at the 3 Fitbit premium wearables. Please read this post in conjunction with the general introduction to the Fitbit premium wearables (part 1).

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4 ways to reframe when you get triggered

Image source: shutterstock.com | Dean Drobot

If you’ve seen House of Cards, you will know that Frank Underwood is one of the most fascinating and complex characters on television. Ruthlessly ambitious, his moments of cold, calm calculation are punctuated with him losing his composure when things don’t go his way, often with terrifying consequences.

I won’t spoil any of the plot for you, but I’m presuming you don’t have much in common with Frank Underwood – if you do then that’s probably beyond what I can help you with! However, all of us to face moments when we’re prone to losing our composure, usually when we react with a fight, flight or freeze response rather than using the best of our rational, emotional or other intelligences. This is what’s called being ‘triggered’, and it’s when you enter the danger zone.

I shared some tips on this issue back in February, but there’s so much to say I thought I’d revisit it. Here are four ways to reframe the situation when you become triggered.

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5 tips on using wearables to skyrocket your leadership performance

image credit: Stephen VanHorn / shutterstock.com

I’m convinced that wearables can skyrocket your personal performance. We’re only at the beginning of figuring out what these devices are going to mean for us, so I’ve put together five tips to help you get the most out of them.

Why am I so confident that these tips work? Three reasons: I’ve tried them, my clients have tried them, and the leadership thinking underpinning these tips is robust and relevant to the kind of technological progress we see around us today.

1. Pick something that inspires you

There are so many wearables out there and the reviews are often looooong. Go with something that balances wow factor, simplicity and function. I was eager to try out the much anticipated Apple Watch so bought one earlier last year. And if you MUST have something that matches your new silver sunglasses, then do it!

2. Start with the end in mind

Sure, you may be thinking of buying the latest Fitbit or Jawbone but think first about what you will use it for. What associated software does the gadget have? How exportable is the data (Apple – not very; Fitbit – very.) But what phone do you have? Don’t just think hardware (or even software), think ecosystem – there’s no point getting an Apple Watch if you have an Android phone.

3. Be realistic

Read the following two questions and decide whether your answers tend towards ‘a little’ or ‘a lot’.

  • How much data load do you want to be involved in?
  • How much time do you want to invest in recording and analyzing data?

If you have answered ‘a little’, then pick something streamlined such as Jawbone UP, and use their in-built app which allows for ‘food, mood and move [exercise]’. Even if you are in this category, take the time to maximize the gadgets you now have. Invest 15 minutes on the online portal and think about how you will best use it.

If you have answered ‘a lot’, then pick some more enhanced options. E.g. to optimise your performance based on your diet, follow these steps:

  1. Sign up for MyFitnessPal
  2. Log your food intake for a minimum of one month
  3. Use MyFitnessPal’s data export function
  4. Decrease your sugar intake and increase your fibre intake over time

And scroll down to receive my Free guide, “Stop wasting time on repetitive tasks – let us show you an easier way using ‘IF This Then That’ (IFTTT).

4. Widen your perspective beyond just the health and fitness

Most of the marketing for wearables focuses on health and fitness. But you will only sustain high performance when you combine physical data with information on emotions, purpose and mental focus. Here are some ideas you might want to try:

  • Log your daily sugar, caffeine and alcohol intake and track the numbers (up bad, down good). These numbers will directly affect your levels of mental focus at work and home. Set up notifications on your wearables to remind you.
  • Track your mood using Mood Panda or Jawbone UP.
  • Reflect on what success would look like for you at work during the next 9 months. And at home? Write this down, and set up reminders on your wearables, linked to your diary, to review this every two months.
  • Correlate the above with a diary analysis of the amount of travel you are doing.

5. Reduce tiredness by improving the quality and quantity of your sleep

When tiredness makes you feel numb or like you’re lacking energy, this reduces your leadership performance levels. If this is you, consider measuring the quality and quantity of your sleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7-9 hours of sleep per day for adults between the ages of 18-64. To track this automatically, either get the Fitbit Charge HR or Garmin Forerunner 225, or invest in a dedicated sleep monitor such as the Withings Aura.

What next?

Sign-up below and I will send you my FREE guide, “Stop wasting time on repetitive tasks – let us show you an easier way using ‘IF This Then That’ (IFTTT).

Why not check out my wearable reviews? Several great sites already review wearables from a technical point of view and focus almost exclusively on fitness. However, my posts are unique in that they give you the inside scoop on how much various devices will help you transform your personal performance and impact on the world around you.