What I learnt this week

Kelly Doonan
4 min readFeb 10, 2017

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I’ve learnt a lot this week. I’ve learnt a lot since I started my systems thinking journey, but this week has felt different.

Honestly, it’s been a bruising week and I’m just about to go out for food and wine, but I need to capture and share my learning. Because actually in amongst all the intense hard work and bad news and challenge I know that so much learning has happened.

So in the interests of working in the open here’s my reflections on my hard won learning from this week.

  1. Always be ready. This is really from last week, but anyway. I was asked at the last minute to present a piece of work to senior leaders and I had bad hair. It may seem frivolous, but there’s useful learning here for me. I’m in a new role where I don’t know what’s going to be thrown at me so I need to feel ready for anything. On this day I’d worn an old cardigan, my hair wasn’t right and I wasn’t happy with my make-up. I didn’t feel strong and it affected how I presented. I’m not saying wear a suit everyday — lord knows I look dreadful in suit — but be ready in whatever it is that makes you feel good and confident and strong. Today I’m wearing Converse, but I feel ready. And I’ve got good hair.
  2. Know your stuff. Know the facts and park your opinions. My role in the presentation was to present just the facts and allow them to speak for themselves. I also had enough information to answer some random questions and some facts in my back pocket to provide more evidence if it was needed. Which leads me on to…
  3. Say ‘I don’t know’ if you don’t know. Some questions I didn’t know the answer to so that’s what I needed to say. For some things there was just no evidence available to me to have the answer; it’s absolutely fine to say that too. In some cases it’s vital to say that.
  4. Work on understanding people. I’ve had several opportunities this week to learn how to read people better. Watch how they react to things — is something in the conversation landing with them? Why might that be? What is their body language telling me? Where is their head?
  5. And if I’m understanding where they are I can make better decisions about how to navigate a conversation. I can work towards understanding when to push a point and when to step back and let them absorb the information and come to their reaction in their own time. There’s value in space and silence for people to absorb and understand. In previous roles where I’ve taught or trained I’ve used much more ‘presenting learning’ rather than ‘facilitating learning’ techniques, so this is a biggie for me and something that I suspect will require some work.
  6. Have a design — always be clear on the purpose of the piece of work. But be emergent — react to what is happening and what is needed in that moment, in those circumstances.
  7. Play the long game, or ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’. You don’t need to do everything in one session; one piece of work isn’t going to change everything. Take steps to get where you’re going and look for signs of progress.
  8. This work is really hard. Making things people-shaped is messy and uncomfortable and you have to find ways to deal with that. Cry, do some self-care, reflect, pull for support, hug a colleague (with permission, not in a David Davis way obvs), drink gin. I’ve done every one of these this week and I’ve needed them all. Strong people ask for help. Human people have human emotions. Feel them, understand them, look after yourself.
  9. Understand your power. I had a dark moment this week where I felt completely powerless and frustrated and it broke me a little bit. I raised it with my manager and she pulled for support. And they gave me chance to talk it through and see what power I do actually have and to think about how I can use that power most effectively. I do have power; I just have to understand what and where.
  10. Reflect, reflect, reflect. I’ve written notes, I’ve thought things through in the shower, I’ve used a framework to organise and understand what happened and why, I’ve talked and talked with my colleagues and I’ve written all my learning up and shared it. This reflection has helped me to reach clarity, make decisions, gain focus and challenge my own assumptions. Reflective practice is completely changing my professional life. And I’m starting to use it in my personal life.

So that’s what I’ve learnt this week. I wonder what I’ll learn next week…

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Kelly Doonan

Learning out loud. Thoughts on living a better life and learning how I can make the world a little bit better. @allyblue22