Monday, 28 March 2016

Insight from the beach

As I often do when I'm at home I had breakfast on the beach this morning (yes even in chilly Fife, over the Forth from Edinburgh, Scotland). I thought I'd share the types of insight you might get when using Landscaping Your Life principles on a walk on the beach, and applying them to a real life problem/situation.

To get even more from reading this post you may want to think of a situation you'd like more clarity about. Perhaps one you're stuck about what to do next, or want a different perspective on. Once you've thought about the situation, and the benefit of being able to understand more clearly what to do next, put it to the back of your mind. 

The power of using metaphors to resolve issues, is that we don't need to bring the content of the current situation with us - just consider the metaphor, in this case the beach, and notice what we notice about it. You may even want to just look at the pictures first, and ignore what I've written. That way you're allowing your mind to find its own connection to the beach, and it isn't being swayed by mine. 

This image a reminder perhaps that there's not only ever just one solution - there's often many. Here the sign is saying the Fife coastal path can be found in both directions.

If you're thinking you might have missed the tide remember there's another in less than 12.5 hours. You can see, even in the 30 minutes between these pictures, how much the tide has moved.

Perhaps it's time therefore to stop fighting and go with the flow:
I wrote a post some time ago about the incremental progress of the tide. When the water is calm it's hard to see the changing tide, and yet progress is being made every second of every minute of the day. Something it's useful to remember when we're getting impatient about a situation.

There's a great vlog however, on not procrastinating, especially if the time to take action is now, and you don't need to wait for the tide to change.
Another laughter filled vlog reminds us that if we keep doing the same thing we'll keep getting the same outcome (NB: turn the sound down first)
Or if we have our head in the sand

We're reminded of the wider perspective we can see if we take our head out of the sand.

Or perhaps we need reminding that the sun is always here - even if it is hidden behind a cloud.

If you need to turn a corner in the situation why not do it in nature:

The following image might help provide a possible solution if you're treading water in life

I know if may feel a little like overwhelm. Especially if only one of these solutions seems applicable to your situation? In coaching sessions it's obviously easier for you to observe only the aspects of the landscape that make sense to you. Here I'm using insights many people have had from exploring the beach - in the hope, that there's an image that applies for every one reading.

Perhaps insight might come from thinking about a beach you've visited - your favourite, the one you've visited the most, or one you'd like to visit. 

Consider the following images of other beaches:

As you bring this metaphorical trip to the beach to a close, think about the original situation. Notice what you notice - what insight and/or action has come to mind, and when will you take it? 

I'd love your feedback on what you liked about the process, what you discovered, and any questions you might have. Please leave them below in comments.

Alison Smith
Landscaping Your Life
Using nature to inspire change inside and out

Friday, 25 March 2016


As I do at the New Year, I like tapping into the transformational energy of Easter or Ostara. The releasing the old, embracing the new, stepping into a new archetype sort of energy.

I often take time on Good Friday to review the beliefs and behaviours I'm wanting to release, and at some point over the weekend to re-imagine where I'm headed.

As I started to prepare for the weekend I wondered what insight nature could give us on this transformational energy? This blog is my answer.

To maximise the benefit from reading this post you may wish to consider a situation you would like to transform. What would the benefit be of this transformation taking place? Can you imagine how life might be afterwards?

Once you've thought of something you'd like to transform, put the situation to the back of your mind, out of sight until you've finished reading, and simply explore the images below. Play a little with the process, allow nature to speak to you through the images I share, and follow the tangents that come to mind. No right or wrong, just a journey of discovery of how nature embraces transformation.

The most obvious metaphor for transformation is the butterfly

Or the transformation of seeds
or the tide (also see this post on incremental change relating to the tide)
Or changing landscape 

Or transformational weather 

Or abrupt changes 

Or temperature changes
Or change from day to night, summer to winter, north to south and so on.

What other transformations in nature come to mind? If you were to imagine the sequence of images for that transformation what would they look like? 

You may also wish to think of sounds in nature - either transformational sounds in their own right, or anything that for you conveys the sound of change? For me that would have to be the sound of the stormy waves as they crash onto the shore - with the peace and quiet the following day. 

You may want to go a little further afield for your transformation:

Just keep thinking of examples of transformation in nature - you may even want to go for a walk in nature, and notice what you notice as you do this. Or even make your own landscaping collage to depict the journey.

I realised as I typed that the energy of the Leap day post may also provide insight to the transformational energy that's needed. So too the short story I wrote entitled The tortoise and the hare.

Just keep exploring transformation in nature for as long as you can. Then do something completely different to break state. Then after a few minutes, or even hours, return to your original situation - what do you notice about the situation? Are you able to understand how transformation may now be possible, and what action you need to take to support that?  

You may also want to pop over to my Purchasing Coach blog where I've taken a more logical look at the language of change and transformation. After all words have power too - I was surprised with the conclusion I came to too - not transformation, nor transfiguration, just simply aiming to be different!

Alison Smith
Landscaping Your Life
Using nature to inspire change inside and out 

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Focus on insight

I had a great reminder this morning that sometimes it's not about listening to others, but validating our own experience of a situation, person, challenge, or life as a whole.

The Met Office forecast said FOG, and my eyes told me otherwise.

It reminds me of a card in the Frameworks for Change Coaching Process (FCCP) that I use in coaching:

The forecast is based on hindsight - the data of the current situation, past experience, and forecasting based on what's the most likely outcome based on that past data. The forecast is also based on beliefs about how things work, and an interpretation of the data. In life that's further confused by hindsight using our memory of the past to determine our next steps. A post entitled "there's 3 versions of a story - yours, theirs and the truth" explains more about the difficulty in relying on our memory to do this. That's before we even start to consider the impact of all the oughts, musts, and shoulds we carry around with us in our daily life - from others, and those we've picked up ourselves.

My eyes are using insight - the current feeling in the moment based, in this instance, on what I can see. At other times this insight might be a feeling, or conviction to step away from convention and try something different. To realise that to embrace a new paradigm all the conventions of the old paradigm are no longer valid.

What would focussing on insight rather than hindsight look like for you today, and what difference might that make?

Alison Smith
Landscaping Your Life
Using nature to inspire change inside and out 

* The insight card used here is from Frameworks for Change © Innerlinks -

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Going around in circles

If you're using the saying "going around in circles" to describe a situation in your life, here's a few suggestions of how to stop going around in circles. 

We're not going to try logic, because the chances are you've already tried that, and failed. 

Instead we're going to use the metaphor contained within your language to find the solution. For more on why I use metaphors to facilitate change in mine, and clients lives read this blog.

If you're using the saying "going around in circles" it's very likely that you have an internal representation for that saying. It might be a vision of the circle, a sense of the circle, or the circle may have or make a sound. 

Bring that picture, sound, movement or feeling to mind. 

You might not have realised you had an image until I asked the question, but your mind likes to make sense of the language you're using, and will have made sense of it most likely in the form of a picture, movie, movement or sound.

Here's one client's visual when they tried doing this. 

The big black blob you can see was them drawing around, and around, and around - very quickly. 

Try it for yourself - what happens when you draw the circle you're going around in -  do you need a particular pen to draw it with, how big a piece of paper, how quickly or slowly are you drawing the circle, what length of time will you draw for, and so on - just notice what you notice.

What changes do you need to make to the drawing to stop going around in circles? 

For this client it was drawing much more slowly. This allowed the spiral to develop, as shown, and eventually a way out was observed. 

For another client they knew what direction (A) they wanted to go in, instead of the circle they were currently going around in. They therefore took their pen, and drew a line from the original circle towards this destination A, and noticed what they noticed. They ended up drawing a figure of eight oscillating between A, and the original circle. Something they could relate to, having said "not here again" a few times over the years.

The question I asked them was "what has to happen to stop going around in circles". The answer surprised us both - "go to destination B".

They then tried drawing around the original circle, followed by drawing a line to B. They were "happy as Larry", and drew a flower shape with B at it's centre, and never went near the original circle. 

On a recent workshop we had one of the delegates drawing his circles on the flipchart as we all made suggestions of changes he could make. 

What about changing direction, circling slower, or quicker, drawing a line .... all resulted in more circles. 

Until I asked him to go around in square, and then something magical happened. 

Unlike the circles the squares were distinct and yet connected - each building upon the last square and moving in a particular direction as if each a build block to achieve an outcome or to take him to a new destination.

In none of these instances did we need to understand what this exploration meant or where A or B was. The situation just felt better, and they were more satisfied. We then continued the coaching sessions developing action plans for resolving the situations we'd been talking about. Which demonstrated something had shifted, even if we didn't know, or need to know, what.

You may not find drawing helpful - if sound is more your thing - what sound does 'going around in circles' have, and how do you change the sound to get to your end destination. Who knows - a song may come to mind, and take you on the journey you need to go on, metaphorically at least, to release what's holding you back, and get you back on track.

I've had other clients who need to 'dance' or 'walk' the circle. They walk towards their destination, and then notice what they notice about how to stay at their destination, and not migrate back to their circle.

I know it sounds weird, but it's one way our mind is able to make sense of a situation. Doing so without all the content of day to day life, and judgements and musts, oughts and shoulds getting in the way. Thus we're able to bypass the resistance and barriers to making changes, and therefore to find a solution!

Do let me know how you get on.

Alison Smith
Landscaping Your Life and the Purchasing coach 
Using nature to inspire change inside and out 

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Don't give up too soon

I read with interest this morning an article from the Kellog school of management at Northwestern University entitled "Think you're out of creative ideas? Think again". (The site is a great source of interesting ideas.)

The post reminded me of my aurora hunt over recent weeks. That is creativity, just like the aurora, requires the right conditions be in place - but you can't plan the precise timing of its appearance.

I wrote about my hunt for the aurora in Iceland upon my return, and that was entitled "being in the right place at the right time", and reminded us to keep putting ourselves into the environment that increases the chances of us getting what we want. That is, I wouldn't have seen the aurora if I'd stayed in my hotel room as my friend had.

This week's hunt was a little closer to home. Unfortunately, despite there having been a much stronger electromagnetic storm earlier in the evening, I started my hunt too late, and only managed to see the above after 2 hours of driving around until the early hours of the morning.

The next night, full of inspiration from what others had seen the night before, many made the trip out into the darkness to see the aurora. One tweeter found 50 other intrepid aurora explorers on what they expected to be a very peaceful and quiet hill! Many returned home very disappointed.

There's a number of reasons for the disappointment that tie in with our disappointment when we can't think of that great new idea that would revolutionise our project, team, relationship, life or the world! These reasons include:

  • Our expectations are unclear - the aurora is not something you can diarise. You certainly can't expect to walk out and see it - immediately. In Iceland the trips to hunt the aurora are 3-5 hours for a reason. As the Kellog's post suggests its the same for creativity.
  • Not fully understanding the conditions needed to produce the outcome we want - the conditions for the second night this week were nowhere near as good as the first night. I wrote this blog about not being able to force creativity, and needing to understand what conditions are conducive to inspiring awe and an abundance of ideas.
  • Not having done much planning before hand - many were tweeting to say they had now found the perfect spot for future aurora hunting (north facing, open ground before them, away from any light (including any orange glow from a local city on the horizon)) - me included. As above.
  • Not being prepared - on both occasions it was very cold outside - which meant wrapping up warm and having hot drinks to hand. 3-5 hours in the cold is certainly not going to be fun without these. I wrote a blog Are they sluggish and distracted in you meetings? It asks what environment is needed for people to be in the right state for a meeting - creative or otherwise.
  • Not tracking the conditions and having an effective warning system in place - if this had been in place I'd have been out earlier in the evening. As it was I only realised I was missing something at 2230 after the best had been and gone. Knowing what a creative mindset feels like would help allow you to utilise it when it appears rather than miss it.
  • Not realising that many of the Aurora pictures and videos seen are only possible due to long exposure. That is what can often be seen by the camera can't be seen by the eye. Many great ideas start small and get bigger as they're developed - don't think every idea started as a big eureka moment!
  • Not being satisfied with what we did see - it's why I went out a second night just in case I could see something even better. This disappointment is also linked to expectations as generated by the above point. There's certainly something important about knowing when you've obtained the 20% of great ideas that will deliver the 80% of value improvement.
Next time you're in need of inspiration what do you need to do differently to increase the flow of ideas?

Alison Smith
Landscaping your Life, and Purchasing Coach too

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

What doesn't grow on trees?

"Innovation doesn't grow on trees" said a tweet quoting Jonathan Webb at the Procurement Leaders congress today. #PLCongress
You know me, any mention of nature in the language we're using to describe a situation, has me exploring the landscape to find hidden meaning, and potentially new insight to the real life situation.

Let me start by saying that, other than the words above, I have no idea what Jonathan said, nor how he related the saying to the rest of his talk, which I assume was on innovation. This exploration, therefore, is simply applying innovation to growing things on trees, and let's see where that gets us.

The first rule of using metaphors in this way is to put the real life situation, in this case innovation, to one side whilst we consider the metaphor, ie the tree. It's only once we've considered growing things on trees that we can apply the real life situation to it.

So what can we say about growing things on trees?

The idea here is to be very open (innovative if you will) and not allow any thought to go unobserved, and just notice what you notice about trees, and allow any and all tangents to be explored.

My own list of observations would include:
  • Not a lot grows on any tree in the winter
  • Winter at one end of the globe means summer at the other end - so there are always trees growing something somewhere in the world 
  • The most obvious and common thing grown/produced by trees are sap, branches, bark and leaves - also blossom, seeds and fruit. 
  • Despite their lack of scarcity no leaf is the same - each is unique 
  • Bark moulds itself around the branches 
  • A tree only grows by taking in nutrients from the air, and ground 
  • Trees expel carbon monoxide, and I'm sure other nutrients etc
  • You can tell a tree's age from the number of rings 
  • A tree grows seeds to propagate itself
  • The aim is to get the seeds far away from the initial tree
  • Not all trees grow fruit
  • Fruit is grown on some trees - often containing the seeds
  • You won't grown an apple on an orange tree
  • Fruit trees often require support and hard pruning to allow for easy access to pick the fruit
  • You can grow some fruit on a different tree's roots (I can't remember what that's called)
  • Trees have deep roots that keep them grounded and safe
  • Many animals get food and shelter from trees 
  • Many other plants grow on trees - some supportive and other not (I'm thinking Japanese knotweed here)
  • In the autumn many of what grows on trees, unless they're evergreen, fall away.
  • This shedding allow the trees to survive the winter ready for new growth in the spring
  • You'll find more trees in a wood or forest
  • and so on
Just keep making observations about trees until you've had enough :-)
  • Tree wood, once properly dried, makes for good firewood
  • You won't grow a new tree once you've chopped it down
My exploration of not being able to see the wood for the trees may add something to this exploration - or it may not.

Once we've completed our exploration it's time to return to innovation. That is, to apply innovation to growing things on trees.

Please note the chances are we'll each relate to the metaphor, and innovation, differently, and notice different things ie the meaning is in the eye of the beholder. It's one reason that collaboration in this process if very helpful.

Here's my thoughts - if there was a group of us discussing this we'd find many more than the few I've listed.
  • Somewhere in the world innovation is taking place - every minute of every day.
  • Go to the wood to increase your chances of being innovative (so what conditions inspire innovation?)
  • Even if you think you're being innovative you may not get any great ideas
  • Innovation isn't just the fruit it can be about the smaller every day, and essential things like the leaves.
  • Innovation isn't just about what we can see - sometimes we need to explore the nature of things to understand what's happening below the surface. 
  • Having a clear up, followed by some quiet time, before we look for new ideas again can be a good idea.
  • Innovation may be about the collaboration we have with other plants and animals - ie nothing to do with the tree at all
  • For the innovation to be sustainable it needs to spread its seeds far afield, and have deep roots
  • We need to understand what nutrients are needed to sustain innovation 
What insight did you get about innovation having undertaken this exploration - do leave a comment below. How is that insight helpful for you today?

Other blogs exploring sayings using nature include: Bring it in from the cold,  treading on thin ice, comfort universe (rather than comfort zone), building bridges with others, over the hill, and making mountains out of mole hills.

You may also find this post interesting where I used the landscaping your life process in a business strategy development session with senior business leaders.

Alison Smith
Landscaping your life, and the Purchasing Coach too
Using nature to inspire change inside and out

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Bring it in out of the cold

Someone mentioned bringing an idea they'd had in out of the cold. I wondered how the language they were using might be used to facilitate the process, and shed more light on when we use this phrase in our lives.

Let's first start with considering how we relate to the saying - ie what potential meanings are there:
  • We personally feel left out in the cold
  • We're being brought in from the cold by someone or a group 
  • We have an aspect of our life that we've sent out in the cold
  • We'd like to bring an aspect in out of the cold
I'm sure there are many others. If however you're feeling more like you're treading on thin ice you may want to read that post first.

As ever, when exploring a metaphor we're using to describe a situation, the aim is to explore the metaphor fully and completely, before trying to make analogies between the metaphor and real life situation. The first thing to do therefore is put a situation you're feeling 'out in the cold' about to the back of your mind.

Before reading my suggestions consider what does the metaphor or words mean to you?

For me questions arise along the lines of
  • What's the aim - to be happy in the cold, come into the warm or something else?
  • Is this an aim you have, or other people have for you? 
  • Will any warm place be ok, or is it a specific warm place you want to come into?
  • Are you happy with the current situation? (remember we're still exploring this using the metaphor so the question relates to your levels of happiness of being in the cold)  
  • How cold is the cold?
  • What would make the cold feel better - warm clothes, warm drinks?
  • What would have to happen for you to happily stay out in the cold? 
  • Are there other people with you in the cold? 
  • Can you collaborate with them? 
  • What's stopping you coming in from the cold
  • What would Elsa from Frozen do? Or any other person (fictitious or otherwise) do - for example the guys off to the North Pole of Inaccessibility might see the cold differently?) 

The challenge, if you still want to come in out of the cold, is how do you do it? 
  • Do you have to move anywhere? After-all if you wait long enough spring will come, and then summer and in many places that will no longer be cold. Is it therefore just a case of being patient? 
  • Is "in" a specific place or simply a feeling?
  • What's the journey from where you are to where you want to be look like ? and don't be surprised if you start talking about walking over ice, or snow - the mind has a capacity to embrace the metaphor in a way that may not logically make sense. Just have some fun, and give yourself permission to go where the metaphor takes you. 
  • Do you have to thaw out first before entering the warm? 
  • Or take your layers off? Certainly sitting somewhere warm with your ski jacket, fleece and snow shoes on will soon have you rushing back out into the cold.
  • What do you need to do once you're in the warm - have a hot drink? a hot bath? snuggle under a duvet for a while? 
Just keep exploring the options within the metaphor for as long as possible. 

Once the exploration is complete bring to mind the original situation, and notice what you notice? 

Do any actions come to mind for you to take now in the current situation? and when will you take them? 

Next time you notice you're using nature in the language you're using, you may just want to explore the landscape to see if the answers lie there.

Do let me know how you get on. 

Alison Smith
Landscaping Your Life
Using nature to inspire change inside and out