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Ripples in the Mainstream

I guess what I wanted to talk about was the fundamental impact that Sync has had on me as somebody that doesn't consider themselves to have a disability, and the fundamental impact Sync has had on the way I work and the way I run my business

photo of ripples in water

Mark Wright is a learning design consultant and facilitator who specialises in blending creativity with commercial understanding. He actively seeks to work with a wide range of commercial, social and charitable organisations and helps individuals deliver more effective performance, better decisions and clearer solutions. He works through his own consultancy - People Create.

Mark recently spoke about the impact Sync has had on his practice at the Sync Thinking event held on the 9th March, 2011 at the Wellcome Collection in London.

The following is an edited transcript of his presentation on the day.

Quality of Thinking

two carvings of people sat thinking made in wood

My background: I originally trained as a sculptor a long while ago, then got side tracked into all kinds of other stuff; I was a canoe instructor and a ski guide before I came back into the arts. I worked with various arts organisations then was asked to be Head of Leadership Development, Diversity and Inclusion for Ernst & Young, which is a large accountancy firm. They were very keen on mainstreaming this idea of diversity, inclusion and leadership; having those things as being core to their behaviours within their business. It was a great learning for me to be part of an organisation that was endeavouring to do that.

I then decided it was time to step out and start my own business - People Create. I guess the thing to say at this stage is that I am not an expert in diversity, certainly not in disability. To some degree, when Jo and Sarah asked me to be part of Sync or to have some conversation with them early on about Sync, I kind of entered that conversation with huge trepidation; actually, I was very nervous. I think Jo particularly reassured me a lot because I was a bit scared. What on earth do I know about this stuff really? I as I say, I don't consider myself to be disabled, who am I to be talking about any of this stuff?

So I struggled with that for quite a while. I started to think about what was important to me, what has been important to me in terms of my thinking around leadership and all the other stuff that I do. What really interests me is the idea of diversity of thinking. I am interested in working with people who think very differently. And so whilst I might have occasionally been asked to do particular pieces of work with, I don't know, accountants over here or artists here or people from the BME community here or people with disability here, what really interests me is what happens when you bring people together who think fundamentally differently from each other because of their experiences, mindset, culture, their work context - to me it doesn't actually matter. I am not overly worried where they come from or what they have done. What I am interested in is the quality of thinking.

That was my life-line, that was the thing I held onto when I started talking with Jo and Sarah about this, what I was really interested in was exploring this idea about quality of thinking.

People Create and leadership development

a photo of Mark Wright

As well as working with Jo and Sarah on the initial stages of Sync I have also been involved in 3 other programmes within CLP. The initial tender I won was for the Leadership Development Days (LDD). I then got another one for Leadership Unleashed which is about bringing together people from the commercial sector, business people and artist to work together to look at what's similar and different about approaches to leadership. I’m also working on a programme called Wayfarers which is about working with artists practitioners, people who are not arts managers but artists leading through their practice. For me, all of those programmes, I hesitate to use the word ‘mainstream’, but most of those programmes are programmes that didn't have a specific remit. LDD did have a remit around prioritising people with disabilities, people with BME background and people within micro industries, as they were seen as the 3 priority groups for this programme. What I was really delighted by – across all these programmes - was the number of people who I kept seeing who were applying for places on some of these other programmes who I first met through some of the Sync workshops that I was involved in. I like to think they were occasions where I met people early on and there was something that happened with some of the Sync stuff which maybe gave them a little bit of confidence or clarity about what they wanted to achieve. Perhaps Sync just gave them enough to go ‘you know what? This is for me too. It doesn't have a badge on it that says disability or BME, but this is what I want to be part of too’.

The caves and the plains

a photo of the african savannah with a lion in the foreground

As I say, so what has Sync done for me? I hope it’s made my business better. Just in terms of how I approach things, about being more sensitive to things, being more careful, more mindful, I guess. I am absolutely sure I don't get it right all the time, as I say I am not an expert in disability, but I am learning as I go along I think. I have started to think more in terms of how things are articulated, for example. There was one particular conversation I remember having with Jo, there's a model I talk about sometimes called ‘System versus Self’. It’s about how the performance of individuals is impacted on by the pressures of their organisation and also external factors that have pressure on that. And I was struggling with how we could introduce this model as an idea within the Sync 20 programme. Jo and I kind of came up with this metaphor to help us talk about pressure and performance. We ended up getting into conversation about the African savannah, shelters and caves. We ended up drawing this thing like a map where people can place themselves. You can be on the savannah, which is where you are free to roam, but actually its a bit dangerous because there are lions and stuff, or you can be in a more sheltered space which is more restful but there is the chance that something will creep up on you, or where you can be in the cave – a space where we feel really save because there are other people in there, all of whom think exactly like us – we may not necessarily be able to see very much here, and its very egocentric and centred on us in this protected little cave. For me, it was one of those little light bulb moments where I realised that I sometimes I just need to reframe, just to make it easier for people. It’s not about getting people to see things necessary the way I see them, its about broadening the reach.

To go to the Sync article on The Caves and the Plains

Lessons learnt

a photo of a man running round on an arrow that goes around in a circle

In terms of extrapolating that out, on a purely technical level its made me much more conscious about access issues, I kind of think about that much more early in the way I design stuff. The kind of stuff I ought to be doing, anybody ought to be doing anyway, but I am much more conscious around things around access. The logistics of working with support workers, like sign interpreters and palantypists. Again don't always get it right, but I am much more comfortable now. I have never worked with illustrators before, but having people drawing as you are working is something that I have never realised it could be done. But things like that have been really useful for me.

What else? Silly stuff, sending stuff out as a word document rather than a PDF. I have the habit of just doing it as PDF, and now I realise that's completely inaccessible for some people - silly things like that. And the important learning is about not just doing that when I am working with people who I know have a particular access need, but actually just doing it as habit. This how we send information out; this how we work. When I am working with clients both in the commercial world and in the arts sector, this how I just do stuff now. Things like how we design the work, the pace of the work, the style, facilitation, all those kind of things are getting better I hope as a consequences of working with participants on Sync.

As I say, its not perfect, I am sure it won’t be, and again I was fearful of it, because I had a sense of a whole minefield of terminology, stuff people were going to pick me up on. Actually I find it the most, of all the places I have worked, all the projects I have worked on, Sync is the one that's given me most interest and fulfillment I guess in terms of personal learning. Usually my stuff is about helping other people, and there is that sense of giving quite a lot. Actually I feel that in this programme I have actually taken quite a lot from it too.

Best practice

a row of boxes all being ticked

I guess my final observation is this. What I'm hoping to do, what I hope that I've learned from this, regardless of whether I'm working on a Sync programme or anywhere else, a bunch of investment bankers over here or Nokia technology over here - the approach style and the idea of care and the kind of sensitivity to needs will be the same, it's not like I'm going to put a special effort into these guys over here. Actually, for me this is about best practice. It's about good practice around learning, rather than putting it in a box and saying ‘this is working well with disabled people’. It's about good practice, and that's kind of what I'm aiming for in what I'm doing.