While there have been special occasions and interesting places to visit this year, my highlights of 2018 have not so much involved new experiences as seeing life and the world in new ways. And learning new things.
When our 13 year old grandson arrived one morning eager to explore with his scientist granddad the question “How do you reverse engineer a chicken?”, I was mesmerised. Not at the answer, but at the question. I love genuine curiosity and particularly questions that trigger new ways of thinking. I can’t tell you the answer to his question because, in truth, I wasn’t listening. I was instead marvelling at a young mind that could think up such a question and the astonishing possibilities this will open up for him in the future.
Questions can be gold.
“What else could be true?” is one of my favourites, along with “How might I be wrong?”, a couple of examples that my colleague Andrew Stevens of Uncharted Leadership and I teach in our leadership programs. Asking such questions myself this year when faced with complex problems has led me away from my own limited ‘certainty' and into exciting new realms and invariably better decisions and ways to respond.
For me, another reminder of the importance of questions was a planning workshop I ran recently with a corporate group where I used Appreciative Inquiry, a philosophical approach that is different from our traditional deficit-based approach. AI asks questions which emphasise positive experiences - people’s strengths, what’s working well and what factors enabled their successes, rather than focus on their problems and how to solve them. Asking these different types of questions produced very different results and reminded me how valuable it would be to incorporate this appreciative approach into more of our conversations in every sphere of life.
Maybe it’s my inner mentor, but when I learn new things my instant response is to think of ways I can pass these on to others. It’s gratifying and very rewarding to see other people having ‘aha’ moments when they, too, gain new insights. So having recently completed an online neuroscience program I am now busily working out how I can share these insights with others as well as use them in my own life. One of the neuroscience exercises was to learn and practice a simple new physical skill until we’d mastered it, by developing new neural pathways. I related this challenge to Emma, my hairdresser, one morning as she cut my hair. “I’ll teach you how to blow dry your hair using both hands”, she offered. So, handing me a hairbrush, teach me she did. Now I can twirl a round brush equally well in my left hand as my right, while simultaneously directing hot air not at my tender scalp but at the twirling brush shaping my hair. This has certainly built new neural pathways!
Earlier this year, I had an insight that caused me to incorporate more colour into my life. As a previously predominantly monochrome dresser, this gave me an excuse to buy some colourful clothes and jewellery and search for ways to feature colour more in my living and working spaces. The result has been quite joyous for me and will go some way, I hope, to ensure I don’t become invisible as I age. While this is fun for me, it is not just about me, but about seeking ways for all of us, as we grow older, to be both visible and valued for our hard-won wisdom and the depth and breadth of our perspectives. As more of us baby-boomers join the club, it’s an important aspiration, I believe.
When I was invited to speak at a Council Of The Ageing zestfulness workshop in Adelaide in October, (not my usual milieu) I eagerly I accepted. I’ve had a growing interest in reframing what it means to grow older in a modern sense and this event gave me an excuse and a platform to explore this idea with an older audience. There are many of us in my age group who have no interest in retiring and are eager to continue to integrate fulfilling work into our lives in manageable, useful and rewarding ways. There are others who are happy to stop work. All of us are keen to maintain vibrant, healthy and balanced lifestyles. The Neuroscience Academy program shone some very interesting light on ageing too, so I have plenty of ideas to continue to explore into 2019.
My very best wishes for an appreciative ending for 2018 and a zestful and colourful 2019.