Wednesday, February 24, 2010

PyB Paddlesports Expedition Symposium

February 2010 saw nearly a hundred delegates come together for the 3rd Paddlesport Expedition Symposium at Plas y Brenin in North Wales. It was organized by Pete Catterall, Head of Paddlesports, and supported by many great guest speakers and coaches including the likes of Justine Curgenven and Ray Goodwin, one of the UK’s few triple Level 5 coaches. The event provided a memorable opportunity for participants from all over the UK, Europe and the USA to come together to share their experiences and skills. 

The two days was jam packed with fascinating talks, workshops and discussions covering everything from canoe poling, gear selection, tarpology with Jules Burnard and bushcraft to bear proofing your kit, recording the trip and exploring leadership / group dynamics on expedition with yours truly. It was all run with the relaxed professionalism always associated with Plas Y Brenin. However that didn’t stop a few symposium staff from getting up to mischief on the Sunday morning by participating in some ‘snowyaking’ after a fresh dump of powder!

Saturday was concluded with a highly exclusive preview of Justine’s forthcoming DVD release of ‘This is Canoeing’, which was very well received. This was followed by Peter Catterall and his team talking about their ‘Below and Beyond Machu Pichu ‘09’ trip which was a kayaking expedition to complete a first decent of the Rio Concebidayoc in the Quillabamba region of Peru. 

Overall it was an engaging and enjoyable experience as to be there as a guest speaker and occasional participant when there was time to sneak into other workshops. Praise should go to Pete and all the team for delivering a great symposium that was all things to all participants with plenty of time to network and gather information.

As always, ...and a big thank you to Kokatat who continue to provide me with quality paddling apparel to wear on and off the water

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


To laugh is to risk appearing the fool,

To weep is to risk appearing sentimental,
To reach out to another is to risk exposing your true self.

To place your ideas, your dreams before the crowd is to risk their loss,
To love is to risk not being loved in return,
To live is to risk dying, to hope is to risk despair.

To try is to risk failure,
but the risk must be taken,
Because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.
The person who risks nothing, does nothing, is nothing.

He may avoid suffering, but he simply cannot learn, feel, change, grow, love, live.
Chained by his certitudes, he is a slave.
He has forfeited freedom.

Only a person who risks is free

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Why Experiential Learning is so Effective

Equality - It provides a common and yet novel experience where all participants are equal in their knowledge about the tasks and projects that will confront them. A unique set of projects and situations requires people to draw upon genuine team process skills as opposed to just functional ones. 

Developing relationships quickly - Participants are interacting in close proximity whilst working on new and unfamiliar challenges. The communication, collaboration and effort that are required to meet these challenges develops relationships quickly. People may get to know each other better in a single day within this environment than over an entire year of normal working conditions.

Disequilibrium - The unfamiliarity of the challenges and problems places people in a state of disequilibrium or disorder. They can not easily stand behind their normal status, roles and defences. Prior experience isn't as relevant in this environment. This can allow emphasis to be placed upon both task and process related themes as the group has to organise itself around the challenge.

Projective technique - In organising the instability or disequilibrium, the group projects their problem-solving skills, project management ability, and leadership style onto the experience. The experience provides a unique opportunity to catch participants doing what they typically do, inspite of knowing otherwise. The learning arising from this is profound and revealing. The window or mirror into their process provides unlimited information or data to shape their team based learning.

Decreased time cycle - The space between the project or challenge and the outcomes are compressed, so the consequences of organisational decisions can be easily examined and improved. Typically in an organisation , there is more of a time lag and more variables to consider, so any review or learning risks being diluted or delayed.

Meta Learning - In the experiential 'learning laboratory", as the projections and simulations shed light on the teams process, the group is asked to step back and evaluate their performance. The review is about themselves, their leadership, problem solving skills, teamwork, communication and managing change. The intensity with which these issues can arise, and then be discussed in this environment, is superior to that which normally occurs within the organisation.

Chaos and Crisis in a Safe Environment - Teams are able to experience chaos, disorder, crisis and changing requirements for success in a safe environment where the consequences for failure are limited. The team can develop strategies and best practices for managing these issues both in this environment and back at work.

Kinaesthetic Imprint - Experiential learning is an anchor for cognitive material. Participants have a kinaesthetic imprint or whole body learning of cognitive principles because the learning is graphic as it involves physical, mental and behavioural dimensions.

Common language / company mythology - The experience provides a common language, experience and story, which can be related to the work environment. The experience can provide a short cut in communicating a shared vision very quickly. The experience is stored in a way that is able to permit participants to see themselves and their colleagues in a new light. The experience (and stories attached thereto) can serve as a catalyst for continuing the theme in the organisation.

Encourage Risk Taking - The experience allows participants to take new risks, try on new roles and make mistakes with no danger or cost. Risks are naturally perceived rather than actual. Each person taking a risk pushes others to take on something outside of their comfort zone. There are always individuals who shine in this environment - whose leadership ability hasn't been noticed at work.

Diversity of Strengths - The team challenges and activities are designed to include a variety of elements that will challenge a range of team role skills. In other words input from all team members will be required to produce outcomes from projects specifically designed not to suit just one team role style or behaviour. One person cannot possibly succeed alone and so the interdependence of the team is highlighted along with the importance of diversity within the team.

Fun - This environment provides a highly enjoyable way to learn about and develop team and management process skills. Fun is a powerful aspect of effective learning with participants becoming more open to the experience and creative whilst participating in it. Sabre events and programmes will always place great importance on having fun. For this we don't apologise. 

These 12 points are drawn from the Experiential Learning Research of corporate psychologists Dr John Luckner and Reldan Nadler . Their book 'Processing The Experience: Strategies to Enhance and Generalise Learning. Kendall / Hunt Pubishing (1997) makes for worthwhile reading.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

A Dispositional Approach Towards Inclusive Adaptive Leadership - Suresh Paul and Mark Tozer

As a practitioner, can you lead inclusively? Do you lead inclusively? These are different questions, and your answer may well be "yes" to the first and "no" to the second. The first question asks about ability: if you are given a mixed ability group to lead, could you lead them inclusively? The second tacitly asks much more, it goes beyond ability and asks about inclination: Are you disposed to leading inclusively? Do you like to lead inclusively? Do you lead inclusively regularly? 

Leading inclusively is like higher order thinking in at least this respect: in both cases, ability alone is not enough to ensure ongoing performance. Paul (2010) suggests that the creation of inclusive meaningful opportunities in the outdoors requires the taming of a wicked problem that is embedded in a social mess. Furthermore, Paul (2010) proposes two models that provide a nexus for developing leadership dispositions through inspirational learning and the enhancement of a leader’s adaptive capacity. 

Developing the capacity for individuals to learn more effectively from their experiences is an important part of building the expertise, knowledge and skills for inclusive leadership. A likely outcome is the formation of dispositions of adaptive capacity or expertise.

Figure 1: The Fear Fear and Fear Model (Paul 2010) sets out the barriers that exist for practitioners who wish to learn how to be inclusive adaptive leaders. In order for adaptive capacity to flourish from the outset, individuals need to consider the importance of: (1) practicing different ways of learning, (2) ensuring variation in that practice (3) become proficient at making balanced judgements about how or if an experience might change their current perspective by reflecting on their learning experiences and (4) become adept at seeking out and taking different perspectives by applying principles of ‘good thinking’ (Figure 2).

Figure 1: The Fear Fear and Fear Model (Paul 2010) 

Good thinking (Perkins et al., 1993a) is characterised by seven dispositions 1) To be broad and adventurous 2) Toward sustained intellectual curiosity 3) To clarify and seek understanding 4) To plan and be strategic 5) To be intellectually careful 6) To seek and evaluate reasons 7) To be meta-cognitive. Each disposition (Figure 3) is a complex relationship between three elements: inclination (a person’s felt tendency towards a particular behaviour), sensitivity (a person’s alertness towards a particular occasion), and capability (the ability of a person to follow through with a behaviour). 

Figure 2: A Disposition And Its Elements (Tozer et al., 2007)

A ‘good leader’ may be disposed towards all of the thinking behaviours, and appropriately exhibit one or more of them depending on the situation. Perkins et al (1993a) contend that it raises provocative questions about existing models of thinking, casts new light on controversial issues in the field, connects in interesting ways to findings in other promising areas of cognitive research, and has important implications for the education of good thinking. Inclusive leadership is more than just a matter of skill. It involves attending to one's attitudes, values and of habits of mind. Adaptive leaders need to be good thinkers and develop appropriate dispositions in accordance with that (Tozer et al., 2007).

Typically, a leadership practitioner is an experienced and qualified individual who may act as a positive role model to those they lead. Loynes (2004) considers that the functions of leadership whilst in the outdoors are concerned with working with participants, ensuring maximised opportunities for all involved, resolving group issues and task problems along with achieving the desired goals. Loynes also states that leadership must focus upon managing a number of diverse and changing factors that arise within wilderness settings, something he regards as a complex and dynamic process. Figure 3: The Inclusive Adventure Model (Paul, 2010) provides a focal point for balancing these factors for practitioners as they think about being inclusive and adaptive as leaders. 

Figure 3: The Inclusive Adventure Model (Paul, 2010) 

The fear of change (Figure 1) can be eased when people anticipate and plan how to manage it. One effective plan for overcoming the theory-or-practice learning dilemma is to aim to combine theory and practice into one rhythm of effort. In practical terms, that means taking either a think-do-think approach to developing inclusive and adaptive dispositions as leaders, or a do-think-do approach. Both of these approaches involve cycles of reflection and practice. All these elements will be recognisable in any leadership approach that reflects understanding through flexible performances and the cognitive agility to adapt to their participants’ needs.

Applying ideas about adaptive capacity, learning and inclusion to a wide variety of outdoor skills, abilities and conditions that can occur within leadership practices is likely to develop a greater flexibility in dealing with new learning situations. Initially, the practice of leading in an adaptable way will require careful analysis and review of learning episodes and experiences. Eventually, the process will become automated. In the end, a good learner, and hence a good leader, will be able to learn, act and think more skilfully with only sporadic self-checking in novel and dynamically variable circumstances (Schwartz et al., 2005). 

Inclusive adaptive leadership will require innovative thinking; it entails practitioners taking positive and inspiring learning steps; and it necessitates them to be able to work openly with others. What is needed of a good leader is the ability to recognise and apply good adaptive practices in potentially novel and unstructured situations. To be accustomed to operating independently, make decisions in chaotic conditions and be cognitively agile (Tozer et al., 2007).