Thursday, 17 December 2015

Closed, Burnt or Building Bridges

If a picture paints a thousand words then a metaphor paints a thousand pictures.

Perhaps not scientifically accurate, but you know what I mean? For example if I told you I needed to "build a bridge with someone" I wouldn't need to say a lot more about what I needed to do. That is the saying contains much more information than just the 3 words. If I then told you "the bridge is closed", you'd also get a sense of the current relationship with the other person. 

With the recent lengthy closure of the Forth Road Bridge here in Scotland I wondered what additional advice could be obtained when talking metaphorically about building, or burning bridges with others. 

That is instead of advising you to ring the person you're wanting to build bridges with, or spend time with them, or speak to someone close to them we use the language of the metaphor, and talk about diversions, alternatives and contingency plans. 

The benefit of talking metaphorically in this way is that we don't get caught up in the content of the actual situation - the "he said this" then "she said that" and "why bother" etc. By keeping away from the content we're increasing the likelihood of finding a solution, because the frustrations and emotions of the real life situation don't come with us. These frustrations just get translated into aspects of the metaphor - and are much easier to deal with as a result. 

Anyway enough preamble. If you're in need of a different perspective around a situation where you're feeling like you either need to build, cross of burn bridges then read on. 

I'd suggest reading it factually at first - ie don't start to think what does a diversion look like in your current situation. Just read it, and add your own suggestions, and then once you've done that go back and think about what that really means in reality in the current situation. 

Building Bridges

Here's what observations I might make from the current closure of the Forth Road Bridge: 
  • It's too easy to take for granted bridges we use every day 
  • It's not the fault of the users that the bridge was closed
  • It's not the decision of the users that the bridge was closed - although for safety reasons I think they all agree
  • If existing bridges are not well maintained they can deteriorate and close unexpectedly
  • If a bridge is closed for some time the diversions might be lengthy, involve slower speeds and therefore take longer, and as a result bring with it much frustration (if my personal and recent experience is anything to go by)
  • Diversions might mean you give up using the route 
  • Closed bridges don't only impact those who travel across them - there's a whole list of interested parties
  • Once a bridge is closed everyone gets involved, and even those not impacted hear all about it and who is to blame etc  
  • Diversions may include travelling over unknown routes, and may not always be well signposted - so Satnav or a map might be handy 
  • Changing the time of travel may speed up your journey
  • Alternates are unlikely to take the same route even if they take you to the same destination (Scotrail and Stagecoach) - they're likely to be busy too
  • There may be more direct options than using the bridge - ignored because the bridge was there - plane, boat or hovercraft, and for other bridges swimming, jet ski, wading and so on   
  • Some alternatives don't require any bridges - phone, skype, webex, working from home or working from a different office etc
  • Communication about the reason for the closure, progress reports, and time for reopening, should be frequent and include multiple stakeholders
  • Contingency plans should be considered if long term closure might be an outcome
  • One such contingency might be building a new bridge 
In this instance there really is a new 'crossing' being built (It's not called a 'bridge'). The new crossing won't be much help however, as the closure of the existing bridge happened in Dec 2015, and the new crossing is not due for completion until December 2016.
  • New bridges take time to build
  • You can't rush the building of a new bridge 
If you were wanting to personally build bridges with someone - what other suggestions are there from the closure of the Forth Road Bridge and what action may you wish to take as result of reading mine and your own observations? More importantly when will you take the action?

Burning Bridges

There's a difference between intentional and unintentional burning of bridges.

If you've unintentionally burnt your bridge, or it was burnt by the other party, then you should read the observations about building bridges above. Remembering that new bridges take time to build, and diversions add extra time and frustration to your day. So best to check you really do want to burn your bridge(s) before you do so - perhaps you might want to consider closing the bridge first to test it out - so much easier to reopen a bridge than rebuild it.       

If you intentionally burnt your bridge(s) that's great - so long as no one else also relies on the bridge. You may not wish to cross the bridge - but others might. You may therefore just want to ensure you avoid the bridge in question and leave it open for others to use? 

I've written separately about someone who was procrastinating for fear of burning bridges

Building and Burning Crossings

Using the language of the new Forth 'crossing' I'd just like to consider what happens when we describe a bridge as a crossing. It certainly doesn't have the same feel to it to me, and having travelled over the Thelwall viaduct earlier in the week I realise there's lots more words we might want to explore using.

That's the interesting part - if we're struggling with building or having burnt our bridges can changing the words change our internal representation somehow, and therefore change our relationship to the situation? Let's see.

If you're wanting to build bridges, and you're being asked to build a crossing instead what does it mean and how does it feel - that is do more options spring to mind on what action to take than when you were building a bridge
  • A crossing doesn't sound as difficult to build
  • It might be a temporary structure
  • It may be moveable - ie more like a ferry or even rowing boat
If you've burnt your crossing - it feels much less permanent and one you can more easily reinstate.

As ever I would love your input, feedback and comment. 

For more on the metaphors hidden in sayings we use in every day life do read these blogs:
Festive greetings 

Alison Smith
Landscaping Your Life
Inspiring Change Inside and Out

I also wrote a Purchasing Coach blog on the insights for Procurement arising from the closure of the bridge. and do please follow the link for more on the Landscaping Your life (LYL) Toolkit

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

North Pole of Inaccessibility

I know at this time of year there's more interest in the North Pole where Santa lives, but I was intrigued when I heard about there being a North Pole of Inaccessibility. Not only that, there's also an expedition headed that way in February 2016 - for more see icewarrior's website.
Training in Spitzbergen
The North Pole of Inaccessibility - what a great description. It describes a point that is remote due to its lack of proximity to any place of access - therefore making it the most difficult place to reach ie inaccessible (despite expeditions planning how to conquer it). It's a journey of over 1000 km (800 miles) to the loneliest place on the ice, and is about 450 km from the geographic North Pole.

I loved the description so much I wondered how I might use it, and the landscape is describes, when Landscaping Your Life (LYL) - a process that uses landscapes as metaphors for our lives.

There are many different processes in the LYL toolkit - one that comes to mind requires us to:
  1. Envisage a landscape that depicts the current situation we're feeling stuck about,  
  2. Envisage a landscape that depicts the desired outcome, (there is no right or wrong just what landscape comes to mind immediately, or intuitively)
  3. Plot a course from one landscape to the other - ie what would you need to do to get from one to the other? Or another option is to identify what changes need to be made to the current landscape, and to imagine making those changes (warmer, colder, more colour, more greenery, more or less cloud or sun, louder or softer sounds etc). Either way we end up in a landscape that looks, feels and sounds different to the original stuck landscape.
  4. Then, and only once steps 1-3 have been completed, consider what action is required to achieve your desired outcome in reality. That is you stay in the metaphor for as long as possible, and only think about the actual situation once you've explored the metaphor/landscape.
It may sound a little a lot weird, but it makes sense to your mind, and will enable links to be set up in your brain to bridge the gap between where you are, and what needs to happen to get where you want to be.

The only way to be sure about the efficacy of the process - is to try it for yourself. Coaching is available if you'd like some guidance the first time you use the process - see here for notes from a session to see how it worked with one client.

In this post I'd like to consider what happens if we choose the North Pole of Inaccessibility for either landscape when using the above process ie the landscape is used to describe either the current stuck state, or the desired outcome.

To do that think of a situation you'd like more clarity about, or want to feel more resourceful about, or that you currently feel stuck about. Notice how satisfied you feel about it on a scale of 0-10. Then decide whether the North Pole of Inaccessibility best describes your current situation, or the desired outcome. Don't worry about whether it logically makes sense, nor try to understand why the answer is what the answer is. Just go with what ever comes to mind - current or desired situation and then consider the following questions.

Desired outcome or goal 

Please note this post isn't about making something that feels like a 'walk in the park' into a 'North Pole of Inaccessibility' - please do stay in the park if that's the case.

That said I'm sure many goals can feel a little like we're trying to get to the North Pole of Inaccessibility - ie inaccessible and never achievable. It also explains why no progress is currently being made too - or at best it's slow progress. 

If you do feel stuck, and can relate to this metaphor then do read on. Remembering to stick with the metaphor for as long as possible - ie answer the questions from the perspective of your interpretation of the North Pole of Inaccessibility (keep logic out of it for now).

Questions to consider:
  • Do others agree with you that it's inaccessible?
  • Have others got there easily? If so it's not really that inaccessible - how did they achieve it?  
  • Do you know without any doubt that there are no closer points of access?
  • How can you make the journey easier - i.e. what resources do you need e.g. time, people, training, finance, equipment, maps, coach or guide and so on.
  • What will you do when you get there?
  • How long will you stay? 
  • Where will you go when you get back? 
  • Why do you want to go there - ie what's the benefit? 
  • Does a different landscape, or description of the landscape best describes the situation
As ever notice what you notice, and take appropriate action that arises from that noticing.

I'm thinking the likely outcome of answering these questions is to either decide the desired outcome is better described by another landscape, or to know the outcome isn't as impossible as perhaps you were thinking it was. Although perhaps another option is to choose a different outcome having realised the current goal is superfluous to requirements?  

The process for developing well formed outcomes may help too - although I'd suggest you apply it to the real situation and not the North Pole. 

Current situation or state
If you're envisaging you're currently already at the North Pole of Inaccessibility then you may want to consider:
  • You have already got here - so you have proved you do have the resources needed to get out, and there is a route out that you know.
  • You've also proved you have the courage and determination needed to do anything.
  • If it wasn't difficult to get here, then it's very unlikely to really be the North Pole of Inaccessibility - what happens if you change the landscape to truly reflect the current situation, or change the description of the landscape? 
  • How can you make the return journey easier - i.e. what resources do you need e.g. time, people, training, finance, equipment, maps, coach or guide and so on.
  • Is it inaccessible for you or for everyone? If just for you - how have others got away from here?
  • Have you made it more inaccessible, and if so how can you make it more accessible?
Using metaphor to resolve issues in this way is very impactful. 

Other suggestions would be to make the saying absurd - the aim being to laugh out loud at the absurdity. This allows something to shift internally - allowing solutions to be found. What about considering:
  • The North Pole of Accessibility
  • The North Point of Inaccessibility
  • The North Circle of Inaccessibility 
  • The North Square of Inaccessibility or Accessibility
  • The North Pole of Flexibility 
  • The North Pole of Opportunity
  • The North Pole of Solutions  
  • The South Pole of Inaccessibility or Accessibility
  • The West Pole
  • The East Pole
  • The Centre Pole 
  • The Centre of the Earth Pole
  • The Inaccessible Pole of the North
  • The Accessible pole of the North
  • and so on - just play with the words, and as you do the attachment and association to the less than helpful image will be released
Consider the original situation you wanted some insight on - how satisfied do you now feel about it 0-10, and what action can you take today towards achieving that desired outcome/goal. 

If you're still unsure about how to do this then here's notes from a coaching session using this saying. 

I'd love to hear how you got on as you read this post - whether you were intentionally applying it to a situation or not.

If you're intrigued by how Landscaping You Life processes may be able to help your organisation, team or you personally do get in touch - +44 (0)7770 538159. Or keep an eye out for forthcoming events.

Alison Smith
Landscaping Your Life
Inspiring change inside and out

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

A question for Tim Peake

Later today Tim Peake, UK astronaut, will be starting his 6 month mission on the International Space Station, and BBC Radio 4's PM programme has asked their audience to send in questions for Tim's first press conference on the ISS. 

Here's my question:

Standing in the shoes of the earth what would your advice to its inhabitants be? 
'Standing in the shoes of another person' is a technique I often use in coaching, and in many workshops too. The idea is to see the situation from the perspective of the other person. 

By physically distancing ourselves from our own perspective we're able to observe our own behaviour, and provide guidance to ourselves on what changes might be helpful to improve the situation. 

Here I'm inviting Tim to act as our missionary. To stand in the shoes of the planet, to leave humanity's perspective behind, and provide guidance on what changes might be helpful. 

Remembering the key to the process is NOT taking your own perspective with you, but leaving it behind and really looking at the situation as if you were the other party. That is standing in their shoes, and from their perspective, what would you think and feel, and what advice would you give. 

Of course we could all try this at home. The challenge we all have however is - can we really get the level of perspective Tim, and the other astronauts on the ISS, will get. Are we able to distance ourselves enough from our own desires to fully understand the situation from the other party's perspective? That is - to fully understand the situation from the Earth's perspective - and I'm not sure we can. 

Many call the perspective I'm asking Tim to share is the Overview effect, and I'm intrigued to hear guidance from this effect in the moment - not many months after the astronauts return to Earth. 

Dear astronauts, and Tim specifically, do please therefore share with us your answer to:

Standing in the shoes of the earth what would your advice to its inhabitants be? 

(PS from 13th February 2016) Whilst not directly responding to my question I suspect I got my answer  see Tim's tweet (press on the pic and it will take you to the tweet with video of the Aurora from the ISS) 

I wondered about including this post on my Purchasing Coach site - after all I've written blogs entitled 'if earth was a supplier' and 'the battle for businesses soul' - both inspired by the current state of the planet as a result of our actions. There's also many rants there on what it means to be human, and our inhumane treatment of each other. In the end however, I made another choice. 

The reason for including this post on my Landscaping Your Life (LYL) blog is perhaps because both the LYL process, and the question, have greater meaning to me. 

LYL uses nature as a metaphor for our lives. That is nature acts as our teacher - providing guidance on what to do next in any situation we're feeling stuck in. Here I'm just expanding that thinking a little more. I'm asking nature to act as our teacher, and to provide guidance on what to do next for a world that seemingly loves getting stuck, and digging it self into ruts, continues to not be able to see the wood for the trees, goes around the circles, treads water, finds itself up a creek without a paddle and then buries its head in the sand, and finally when solutions are found makes mountains (and not molehills) out of those very solutions! 

Alison Smith
Inspiring change inside and out - with a little help occasionally from this planet of ours. 

Monday, 14 December 2015

Superman in the North Pole of Inaccessibility

Whilst writing the North Pole of Inaccessibility post I had a coaching session with a client, and decided to try out the process described in the post with them.

With kind permission I share notes from the session here.

The process was:

  • Think of a situation you'd like more clarity on and to feel less stuck about - how satisfied do you feel 0/10
  • Consider whether the description 'the North Pole of Inaccessibility' best describes the current situation, or the desired outcome or goal (no logic - just intuitively what feels the most applicable answer)
  • Put the situation to one side 
  • Explore the metaphor/saying - perhaps answer the questions posed in the other post 
  • Return to the original situation and notice how satisfied you now feel 0-10

Before sharing the journey we went on I'd like to say that as a result of doing this my client felt calmer, and was describing actions to resolve the situation in a more measured and less stressed way. Only time will tell what long term impact this had.

Please note the following may make no sense to you, nor me. The only person a metaphor needs to make sense to is the person using it. Notes here are therefore for illustration purposes only, and just provide a sense of how a session using one of the processes from the Landscaping Your Life toolkit works.

Here's what happened

  • "The North Pole of Inaccessibility is where my dreams are" said my client
  • "I can understand how it might be difficult to make plans of how to achieve your dreams if they're so inaccessible and difficult to achieve" I said 
  • We then discussed why they were there, who put them there etc  
  • "What landscape might best describe where you'd like to put your goals" I asked
  • "An ice structure" they answered, and after a little more discussion "Like Superman has" 
  • This resulted in a discussion about Superman and his ice structure. The location of Kryptonite then arose (for those who don't know it's poison to Superman, and makes him very weak).
  • "The Kryptonite is in my back pocket!" they said
  • "I can see why that would make your dreams inaccessible, and must be terribly hard work and draining" I said. This certainly was a great metaphor for their current health and well being, and also how they were feeling about their goals. 
  • We then discussed ways that Superman would dispose of the Kryptonite - with help from Lois Lane, a lead lined box and deep water.
  • I left my client with his dreams in an ice structure that he could easily access, and were he felt safe and invigorated - able to come and go from them at will.

Metaphors are like that - we find meaning in them that makes sense to us. (As another client found when they found their inner Picard). The true value then comes from using the metaphor to find a solution, and therefore shift our relationship to the original situation.

Shakespeare wrote "there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so". That's what we're doing when we use metaphors in this way - we're changing an unhelpful way of thinking about a situation into a more helpful way of thinking about it. As we do this then the helpful thinking is more likely to support an ability to find solutions - and certainly changes the feelings to more resourceful ones.

Alison Smith
Landscaping Your Life
Inspiring Change Inside and Out +44(0)7770 538159

Sunday, 6 December 2015


Many of the antidotes used in Landscaping Your Life to help us get back on track involve changing the internal representation we have for a situation - here I'm wondering if the solution will be found by only using one colour in that representation?
To explore this further:
  • Pick a situation you'd like more insight on - perhaps one that's making you quite agitated or anxious
  • Notice how you're feeling, and on a scale of 1-10 identify how satisfied you are
  • Think of a landscape that could represent the situation (don't worry about understanding the logic, just go with the first landscape that comes to mind).
  • Change the landscape to one similarly coloured to the picture above
  • Has the feeling associated with the landscape changed? 
  • Has the level of satisfaction increased or reduced?
  • What changes may you want to make to the colouring - different colour,  more colours, better focus or less and so on 
  • Once you've made any final tweaks spend some time imagining the resulting image
  • Think of the original situation - how satisfied do you now feel about situation 
  • What action may you wish to take to help resolve this situation?        
I'd love to hear what you discovered as a result of following this process. 

In November I wrote an index ofLandscaping Your Life posts introducing the different ways I've used nature over the last 15 year to find solutions to life's challenges. If you're wondering why metaphors are such a great way of finding solutions you may also want to read this blog too. 

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Comfort Zones

Just when the caterpillar thought her life was over she began to fly!

How often do we resist change and yet once we get there conclude it's where we needed to be.

When I was writing about being out on a limb I realised that once we're describing it as 'being out on a limb' we've passed the point of no return - there is no going back.  So why do we resist for so long - the aim must be to notice we've passed the point of no return and let go.

This Rumi poem seems to fit too:

Try not to resist the changes that come your way. Instead let life live through you. And do not worry that your life is turning upside down. How do you know that the side you are used to is better than the one to come? Rumi

Here's to accepting life as a butterfly.