This is not a daffodil

Daffodil: iPhone

Daffodil: iPhone

This is a not a daffodil; it’s a digital image. A daffodil is a completely different thing.

Despite my best efforts, you are not looking at a flower.

Even though I observed carefully, watched the way the petals became almost luminescent as the light changed, got close up with my iPhone, made the photograph and then worked it on my computer screen, adjusting the colours, contrast and saturation as best I could.

And, hopefully, this works on your screen too. But who knows?  Screens differ. Eyes differ.

So, let’s be clear. You are looking at a representation, an interpretation, an abstraction of my experience of the flower.

This kind of substitution is widely offered across consultancy, academia and learning. We are provided with a smart theory, a neat diagram, a model, an interesting idea narrated in an expensive book, even the dreaded 2x2 matrix. The ‘deliverable’ is an interpretation of someone else’s experience.

The assumption here is that it is possible to usefully know about a flower even if you’ve never actually experienced one.

But there is a big difference between ‘knowing about’ and ‘knowing’….

As I work with groups developing community, connection and identity, I realise that the models of human behaviour become meaningless. I don’t want to hear that our leadership experiences can be reduced to the tired metaphors of ‘juggling’, or ’spinning plates’, that trust can be reduced to a mathematical equation, or that our learning follows a defined ‘cycles’. 

These are convenient ‘images’ of real life but, as surrealist painter René Magritte might have said, that kind of ‘understanding’ can be treacherous. We don’t lead theoretical lives.

When trying to find a different way in the world, the questions that emerge are beyond simplified propositions and abstract interpretation.

It’s more about whether we can look each other in the eye and say;

“Yes, I know…. I know that feeling. I see you…” 

Real, practical, meaningful learning happens in community, when we find ways to deeply share our individual, personal knowing, rather than deliver experience as abstract theory.


Enjoy another look at René Magritte’s inspiring ‘The Treachery of Images’; his well known image of a pipe, below which he wrote, “Ceci nest pas one pipe.”

In ‘Daring Greatly’, Brené Brown invites us to ignore critics and pay attention to ‘the man in the arena’: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause;who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

Finally, it’s an old one, but Stanley Herman and Michael Korenich’s ‘Authentic Management’ offers some really helpful notes on ‘about-ism’, ‘should-ism’ and ‘is-ism’. It’s a really helpful guide to our modes of thinking and experience. Only a few of quid on Amazon when I last looked.