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New Year - New shoes, New tools or both?

New Year - New shoes, New tools or both?













I’m a runner. Being a runner is a key element of my identity, it’s been part of who I am for as long as I can remember and it’s never been more important than it has over the past couple of years. No matter what restrictions we’ve lived under, no matter what we weren’t allowed to do, it’s always been possible for me to pull on my shoes and head out for a run. That’s the way I’ve looked after myself physically and mentally through these challenging times, and it offers me a great set of coping strategies for the other challenges in my life: not least of these is how I deal with new beginnings - like the opportunities offered by a new year at work.

Every run is different, every client-need is different, so I find that it’s important to understand where I want to be at the end of the engagement; what I want people to have learned, how I want everybody involved to feel. With a run that’s about choosing a route and a destination, with a learning journey it’s pretty much the same - where do I want to finish and what’s the best way to get there? Professionally that starts with knowing the territory - learning environment, participants, prior experience etc. If I don’t know then I need to ask in order to be prepared for what lies ahead. I’m aiming to be able to envisage what I’m getting into with a high measure of detail because this builds my confidence, and also allows me to deal with the inevitable stumbles or ‘involuntary detours’ (we never say ‘getting lost’).

Once I know where I’m going I’m able to make the most important ‘how’ decision I need to make - what shoes am I going to wear? If you’re not a runner this may seem a little strange but it’s where many of us get truly obsessive - I’d post a picture of my shoe rack at this point but the cash investment on display upsets my wife. I’ve got shoes for every kind of weather and terrain, some old favourites and some newer additions that are there to replace them when they reach the end of their lives. The professional equivalent is the repertoire of learning tools I can bring out for different engagements. There are those I’ve used for decades, tried and tested activities that I know I can rely on to deliver what I know to be their potential results. Things like Colourblind, Challenging Assumptions and Simbols that have a dependability and simplicity that will always pay back my trust.

But every engagement, and every running route, will inevitably present me with something unusual, something I need to think about if I’m going to be confident about getting to my target. With shoes that’s the niche-players e.g. for deep snow or rocky ridges - they only come out a few times a year (don’t tell my wife!) but they are a perfect fit for the run I’m planning. With learning tools it’s the same - the right activity for a very specific need. For example if I’m exploring the interface between collaboration and competition in an organisation I might include Minefield, or if it’s important that the group I’m working with consider the way they understand and leverage good negotiation techniques I would always look to T-trade. Purpose designed tools that offer the opportunity to get to places that might otherwise be difficult to reach.

In the past couple of years it’s been impossible, or illegal, to bring groups together in the same physical space for learning experiences. Virtual spaces have become the norm and so I’ve had to invest in learning a different suite of tools that will allow me to negotiate these very different learning environments. RSVP Design have worked hard to develop and make available new tools, or adapt existing designs, in order to keep our learning and development customers working. This has been a big task, like moving to a whole new environment and learning what we need to keep running in these strange places. I think we’ve done an amazing job in making this revolutionary move - and customer take-up and feedback supports that viewpoint. Tools like Seeing the Point (online version) have grown from being simple icebreakers to the status of offering a real insight into how teams and individuals need to operate when they are connected online, old favourites like Colourblind (online version) and Simbols (online version) have jumped out of their boxes and onto the screen with all the potency and reliability they ever had.

Perhaps most satisfying is that we’ve been able to maintain our positive response when clients hit us with the “Can you design a virtual tool that will offer this learning….?” requests. A great example of this is Emergency Delivery, now available to the public but originally a cry for help from one of our customers in the financial sector. Pre-pandemic they had some seriously high-performing teams, and they needed this performance to translate to the world of virtual working. Emergency Delivery was designed, developed, piloted and handed over in very rapid time to meet the requirement for a global roll-out. Both the customer and our team are proud of what we achieved working together.

So…into 2022 with some words of advice.......


  • There’s always a route or ambition that requires a new pair of running shoes


  • There’s always a learning environment or set of objectives that requires a new learning tool


Happy New Year!

Dr. Geoff Cox

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