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Vive la difference!

Whether it's Fleetwood Mac's 'Go Your Own Way', Nirvana's 'Come As You Are', Frank Sinatra's 'My Way', or the classic Fun Boy Three version of 'It Ain't What You Do It's the Way That You Do It', there are a lot of songs that revel in having your own, unique style. And I think we should celebrate that difference in all aspects of our lives, not least at work. Here's what makes me – and Lucidity – different!

An image of the patchwork elephant, Elma, from the classic children's book by David McKee
Elmer the Elephant

Never stop questioning

Asking questions isn't everyone's cup of tea, but it's one of the things I like most about being a consultant. I've always spent a lot of time questioning the way I do things, or what I think about something, so when I discovered that this approach wasn't always welcome, it was quite a surprise. After my first few years at work, I realised that a lot of people were comfortable with the status quo and didn't want to think about why things were done in particular ways, or even why they were done at all. Of course, that didn't stop me – it just meant I was unpopular with a lot of people, especially my managers. But now, as a consultant, it's really my job to ask those difficult questions – and to keep asking until we get to an answer.

Try something new

Along with questioning goes my love of trying something new. Working in universities – and probably any large and complex organisation – exposes you to people who have been in the same roles for decades and have particular ways of doing things. I guess the idea is, if it ain't broke then don't fix it. This is not my philosophy! I love trying new things, testing out different approaches to see if they're better in some way. It might be a time saving thing, it might be to improve the service, or it might just be to inject some fun into a process. Whatever it is, I like to experiment. Not everything is successful – some things stay for a while; others not so long – but it doesn't really matter. The joy is in the trying.

Get those creative juices flowing

Drawing has never come naturally to me, but one of the best courses I've ever done was on the Bikablo visual facilitation, run by the amazing Workvisible. This course showed me the power of visualisation, and that's something I've tried to put into practice ever since. Now, I'm definitely a words person and I'm much more comfortable writing than I'll ever be drawing. But that hasn't stopped me! I'm now using visuals much more creatively in presentations, reports and proposals, including those I've drawn myself. And you know what? No-one cares if my pictures aren't perfect! The value is in helping people to see things – and think about things – in different ways.

Challenge conventions

Refusing to follow the usual way of doing things is not an easy path to follow, but it seems to be in my nature to challenge the norms. Like asking those difficult questions, this wasn't a popular trait to have when employed, but it's much easier when it comes to consulting – sometimes! I think it's my job as a consultant is to help my clients not only to see the whole picture, but to view it from different angles than they usually would. This might mean gathering different perspectives and using them to inform recommendations. Or it might be writing a 3 page report rather than the standard 20 pages. Whatever form it takes, I see it as my role to present different information in different ways.

Be yourself

Obviously, I've saved what I think is most important to last - and that's to be yourself, whoever that might be, in the workplace. A lot of my work is talking with people, getting them to share their views about issues that might be challenging or contentious, or getting them to challenge their own thinking. So I think another big part of my role is to try to put people at ease. This means that I'm fairly informal in my approach. I'll talk about what's going on that day - which often includes my cats and my chickens. I don't try to sound intelligent or use jargon or complex language when I speak to people - and sometimes I even swear! I'm open about the struggles I face, be they worries about the business or my mental health. I can also be pretty blunt with people, calling out issues where I see them. And I'm not always as diplomatic as I could be. But people know what they're getting with me – warts and all – and I think that's a great thing.

I really hope that these values shine through the work I do. It's not always easy, but it's defintely worth the effort! And, in the words of that 80s hit by the inimitable Bruce Willis, 'If you don't respect yourself, ain't nobody gonna give a good ca-hoot na na na oh oh'. I'm not entirely sure what 'good ca-hoot' means, but the sentiment should be clear enough. So, what makes you different?


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