Like A Kid In A Sweet Shop

 Like A Kid In A Sweet Shop

Putting Clean Language to work in Business: Like a kid in a sweet shop

Mike Blukket is a student of Penny Tompkins & James Lawley. He is also a coach and member of the British Psychological Society. He had the opportunity to facilitate multi-award winning culinary artist Heston Blumenthal to tap into his personal creativity. We’d like to share some of this journey with you.

You can read the full article online

“I have found our work to explore my metaphoric sweet shop really helpful on a number of levels. At first it helped me regain my creativity and now that creativity has itself fed back into using metaphor to enhancing our customers’ dining experience.” Heston Blumenthal O.B.E.



Would you like to become more proficient in working with metaphor?

Clean Convergence consists of 4 programs with 11 days of instruction, personal development and skills development. Workbooks and support materials are provided, as are delicious home made lunches built to your dietary needs. Our venue will be a home style environment with walks and nature available for your down times. The San Luis Obispo area of California is part of the American Riviera (Mediterranean climate) with access to beaches, wineries, horse back riding, hikes and scenic cycling routes.

The Hardness Of Soft Skills

The Hardness Of Soft Skills

I have been thinking a lot about the phrase “soft skills”, and just how hard – read ‘difficult’ – they are to learn and master.

And I wonder how they were given the name soft skillswhen they are more labor intensive and difficult to learn than say doing a fishbone diagram or an excel spreadsheet. And why is there this idea that these are somehow less valuable in a business context than hardskills?

Unless you work in a vacuum, and none of us do – even solopreneur, like myself, who work on their own much of the time still have relationships with individuals and groups that shape who we are, what we do, and how we respond.

Soft skills are really hard skills.

It is fascinating to me that the most difficult things for us to learn – how to listen well, think well, and communicate with others are often referred to as soft skillsand often foo food as being silly, warm, fuzzy and just, well, soft. It is true that these kinds of skills have been used in compassion industries such as therapy and hospice. And they may be soft (even fuzzy around the edges) and yet they are not easy.

I think one of the primary reasons people tend to put soft skillsand the attention to learning, even mastering them off, is due to the very fact that they are difficult. They are hard to learn, hard to master and often times hard to implement. And that also is what makes them valuable.

Life is not black and white, linear, reasonable or rational; neither is business.

Soft skills have also been perceived as more art than science. And all science begins with empirical evidence and a persons idea or opinion of what might be so. This art to science ratio is a changing game in light of 21st century findings in both neuro and cognitive sciences. Our sophistication in scientific inquiry to the workings of the human mind and response systems has taken immense leaps over the past 50 years.

An analogy we might use is just as we had the industrial revolution in the 20th century, that changed the face of manufacturing.

What is happening is not an information revolution, although we are influenced with more information in a day than many previous generations had in a life time. It is not even a neuro-biological revolution, although the science of the brain and subtle chemicals has come a long way.

Lets call it a Meta revolution. A kind of perceptual revolution. A potatos are just as important to a meal as the steak, kind of revolution. And the Meta revolution is changing the face of interpersonal communication and human to human contact.

It is well to remember that just as the industrial revolution has not happened all over the world, but primarily in first world nations, the Meta Revolution is only just beginning. This is both a benefit and a difficulty.

The benefit is we can calibrate and change the perception of soft skills. We can learn what we need, to be very good at soft skillsand we can use new information and learning to quantify what we are doing and how.

The difficulty is the learning curve is high. The time is often longer than most either have or want to put into becoming facile and skillful and we, as human beings, tend to over rate our ability and under-rate the negative effects of our own knowledge and style.

The Meta Revolution depends on our perception, education, ability to think well, using various forms of logic and to take a meta position or larger view of what is happening outside of our own thinking and behaviors.

With this in mind, the Meta revolution is science taking many of the attributes of human communication and moving it into an arena that has a higher relationship to hard skills. Here is a definition I got from a Google search for What are hard skills?

Hard Skills are specific, teachable abilities that can be defined and measured, such as typing, writing, math, reading and the ability to use software programs. By contrast, soft skills are less tangible and harder to quantify, such as etiquette, getting along with others, listening and engaging in small talk.

In my world, interviewing is both a hard skill and a soft skill. Not just by googles definition, but by our current ability to quantify, learn and track skills that can be used in interviewing contexts.

Clean Language is on the edge of this revolution.

Wanna play hard ball? Learn soft skills

Negotiation training
Cause Evaluation Interviews
CAP program development
Team Development
Leadership Development
HR Hiring Interviews
Business Plan development
Police Witness Interviews

Join James Lawley and myself in California, January 19-20, 2019 for full two day Clean Language Interview training. You can read more about what is on offer in January 2019 HERE


Would like to read something about using Clean questions and principles in an interview context right away? Here is a link to an article: Clean Evaluative Interviewing by James Lawley & Penny Tompkins

Gleanings From Twyla

Gleanings From Twyla

“You can learn a lot by watching”
Yogi Berra

Here is a fun observation exercise adapted from Twiyla Tharp and her book The Creative Habit.

My intention of sharing this adapted exercise with you is not as much about stimulating creativity as much as attending to how you do observing and what difference that makes to the meanings you make of what you see and hear…and, perhaps,even how creative you are already.

The Exercise

This weekend go someplace where you can do some people watching. Bring something to write on/with.

Choose someone or people to pay attention to and then write down everything they do until you get to 20 items.

The boy gets on the skate board, write it down. His mother says something to him. write it down. She moves her hands side to side, write it down. He looks to the right, write it down…and so on.

It shouldnt take you long to collect 20 items of observation.

Now as you read your list, notice how your imagination works creating an interpretation, a story about what you observed. This is creativity at work.

Was the mother concerned that her son would fall, maybe run into other people walking near where he was riding? Was the boy on the skate board happy and having fun, out for a day off of school, on vacation? How did you interpret what you observed?

What difference, if any, did you notice between when you were attending to only writing down observations and when you moved to attending to interpretations of what you saw?

How are they the same?

How are they different?

What else did you notice?

Now do it again and only write down those parts of your observation you find interesting. You may find it takes a bit longer to get your 20 items.

And notice what happens to your observations when you apply that filter find interesting” and how that effects both the kinds of things you notice and how you interpret them.

How was the first observation exercise the same or different to the second one?

Did you enjoy one more than the other?

Did you learn more about yourself and or other people doing one more than the other?

Is there anything else you noticed?

I would love to hear your experience with this exercise. To share, simply post a comment below.

Most Exciting Friday Night We’ve Had In A Long Time

Most Exciting Friday Night We’ve Had In A Long Time

My partner James and I were driving home Friday evening from San Francisco. Traffic was deep and it was doing that fast and slow thing that often happens during post rush hour.

We were at a slow ebb and I noticed smoke ahead. At first all I could see was the smoke. Then I saw the spinning bike. James, a motorcycle rider from way back thought … “isnt that funny, he’s doing 360s in the middle of the road while traffic is slow”. I was thinking someone just went down!

What a great example of how two people can have the same information and very different interpretations!

Unfortunately, I was right…a motorcyclist and his bike had gone down in the middle of the freeway!

I pulled over to the side of the road. Stopping the car I asked James to call 911 and I went into the road to see if the rider was OK.

One of my best kept secrets is that I used to ride as a volunteer EMT in a make shift ambulance out of Yellowstone National Park in the early 80s. It was a lovely old station wagon rigged with an IV rod and just enough room to do CPR. And that was followed by many years of wilderness first aid training through most of my 20’s.

The bike lay still at this point and the rider was laid out flat on his back in the center lane. Another man and I were the first to arrive.

The rider was conscious, I let him know that 911 had been called and help was on the way. I asked his name and how old he was – I told him I was there to stay with him until the ambulance arrived. As I talked to him and began to triage his injuries I found myself using my clean questions without thinking.

Are you aware of any pain or discomfort Tom? Yes, my lower back, he stated.

Anywhere else? No, just there.

What kind of pain is that Tom?, “Its just through my back, sharp.”

I began to check him further. Can you move your arms? Yes, he said.

Great Tom, you’re doing really well. Now without moving your legs, can you wiggle your feet? Yes.

Are you allergic to any medications? No.

Simple questions related to what was happening now. Not all of them classically Clean, but clean in the context of what was happening, needed to happen (medical attention) and easy for Tom to answer.

At that point an EMT, who was on his way home from shift, had pulled over and walked back to us. I gave him the information I had up to that point: Tom, 67, lower back pain, sharp, can wiggle feet and move arms, not allergic to any meds and not sure about medications he may be taking”.

During this episode two other motorcyclists pulled up and asked if they could help. I asked them to station themselves where they were, in the same lane, just north of the fallen man and his bike.

A tow truck driver who was passing pulled his rig pulled up on the South end of the accident, essentially blocking the fallen man and his bike from the traffic that continued to try to pass on either side of the accident. I went back to Tom, the rider, to stay with him as I had promised until the ambulance arrived and the police had begun to take control of the traffic flow.

It was my experience with Clean that helped me stay present, focused and calm. There are times in interviews or Symbolic Modeling work that terrible details arise and in these moments it is up to us as the facilitators to stay calm, present and listen intently.

It was only a brief interview, helping gain a small bit of insight for the professionals that were on their way – the police, the ambulance drivers, and other EMTs that arrived at the scene. And, I believe, just that small bit helped.

All I could think of was what information was most important to get prior to him possibly passing out. Name, age, medications, basic physical triage while he could think and talk.

So, apparently Clean Interviewing isnt just for academics and business!

I know there are Police using Clean Interviewing skills to keep their assumptions out and the anxiety of the interviewees to a minimum (yes, both victims and possible perpetrators). Caitlin Walker of Training Attention has done some great work in the UK with police and other government agencies. And this was the first time I had a chance to test my metal in an extreme situation.

I do wonder if the police involved had Clean skills, how their interviews with the witnesses might have been different, better or more useful. All they asked me was did you see it?Since all I saw was the spinning bike and not the actual hit, my partner and I were let go to drive on.

If you are interested in how Clean Interviewing can help you in your teaching, coaching, management, academic, Cause Evaluation interviews or even critical events, I have a treat for you.

I met with James Lawley and recorded a short conversation about using Clean Language in your interview process and what we will be doing in January at the Clean Interview training.

A Conversation with James Lawley on Clean Interviewing

Here is an audio Version for download and ease of listening

James Lawley is the co-creator of Symbolic Modeling and he and his partner Penny Tompkins have made major strides and studies in the use of clean questions and principles in interviewing processes. Not only their use, but even better how to determine the level of clean used in interviews and how that may or may not have had an effect on the information being gathered.

James Lawley and I will be teaching Clean Interviewing in January 19-20, 2019 here on the Central Coast of California.

Click Here for the Clean Interviewing information and registration page

The end to the story … What happened: The motorcycle was splitting lanes. We saw this as he passed the car on our left (between the middle and far left lane). What we didnt see was that a driver went to change lanes from the far lane to the right and lightly tapped the front wheel of the bike that was in his blind spot. I know this because the other man on the scene with me was the driver of that car. And James, my partner, worked traffic on the side of the road with a man who was right behind the bike who did see the whole thing – from start to finish.

Ask, Don’t Tell… A touchstone for effective facilitation

Ask, Don’t Tell… A touchstone for effective facilitation

Ask, don’t tell” is an extremely simple and extremely powerful principle that forms the foundation of any effective facilitation.

Why telling fails

Whatever a person’s issue or desire may be, when we find ourselves telling them, what are we saying? We are either telling them…

  • What we think they should do
  • What we would do in their situation
  • Or about a comparable situation that happened in our past.

Each of those pieces of information has something in common. It is in reference to us, not to the person concerned.

Experience shows that the most profound way we can help another person is when they discover their own resources for themselves. These resources might take the form of ideas, dreams, a vision of the future they would like to experience, decisions, values, beliefs, metaphors, and more.

A solution that uses your own personal resources will make perfect sense to you, but it may be totally inaccessible or meaningless to another person, because we each have our own highly unique personal landscape of meanings. Very often, a person will find a solution offered by someone else hard to understand. It simply doesn’t make sense in their world.

Comparing one person’s situation by referencing someone else’s situation (which may be similar but can never be the same) is unlikely to be the key to the ideal answer they are looking for.

Honestly, how many times have you done something because someone else has told you to do it?

Offering someone a solution, when a solution has not been asked for, can also create resistance or even resentment (say, if the person does not follow your advice).

However, when a person designs their own solution, they intuitively know what has to happen in order for that solution to be realized. They know what steps they need to take (whether that’s actions, decisions, or acceptance) and they are fully prepared.

Of course, there are always normal, practical situations where a friend may ask, “I know you have a lot of experience in this area, what do you think I should do?” where you may freely offer advice that has been requested.

But how often do all of us offer unsolicited advice, in all areas of life? It’s really hard not to do! I have been training in this for years, but I know how often I slip into telling my partner (in particular) what to do.

A stance of open curiosity

Consider the possibility that — no matter how much you understand about another person’s issue — you will never be able to know enough about what it is like for them to be able to prescribe the right solution. Any fix that I suggest you apply in your life must be somehow foreign.

The right solution may only come from intimate appreciation of the person’s whole ecology. That means it can only come from them.

Therefore, the best way to help someone to arrive at the ideal solution is not primarily for us to understand, but to facilitate their understanding.

Ask, don’t tell.”

“Ask, don’t tell” says that we respect the other person’s model of the world, and respect their ability to resolve what is happening for them. In taking that stance, we allow the other person to interpret and classify information in a way that they want to, so that it makes sense to them.

I find that simply remembering that touchstone “Ask, don’t tell” helps me to maintain a stance of open curiosity that can be the key to understanding for both sides.

First, open curiosity helps you to access more information, so that you can better understand the situation.

And it also helps the person you’re talking to also access more information, which can help them gain more insight into what they would like to have happen, and if there are any steps they may need to take in order to achieve that.

Changing the habit

First, it’s important to challenge our core beliefs. Do you believe that each person has the ability to come up with their own solutions? If not, it is going to be very difficult to resist trying to offer solutions.

Spot when you’re using “I” statements. Flip it into a question, preferably a question that is open, neutral, and clean.

Examples of clean questions include…

  • “Is there anything else about that?”
  • “What kind of (…) is that? (…)?”
  • “When that is happening, what would you like to have happen?”

For example, I wonder if you have ever said something like, “That’s just victim thinking. What you should do is write out some affirmations.”

That sounds like quite a normal statement that a person might hear from a friend, a coach, or counselor. But when we look at it, we can see how it might be less than helpful.

  1. It labels the other person a victim.
  2. It judges their thinking as wrong.
  3. And it states that the way to fix their thinking, and to solve their issue, is to apply your method.

It’s easy to see how that might cause resistance, how the person may be unwilling to follow the advice, and how it may prove unsuccessful for them if they did.

From my Clean Language training and practice over the years, I have experienced countless situations where the neutral, open, curious stance has not only allowed people to find their own solutions, but to find solutions that are clearly effective, accessible, and often inspiring.

Using questions like, “What kind of (…) is that?” or “Is there anything else?” helps us to understand intimately how things are right now.

And other simple questions like, “What would you like to have happen?” prompts us really to think about how we want things to be in the future. The simple act of reflecting on our situation and desired outcomes really prompt us to other options that may be available.

The combination of exploratory questions defines the gap between where we are now and where we would like to be, which can then lead to investigation into what may be needed to cross that space, creating the opportunity for us to design our own path.