Jenny and Lynzie in conversation about work experience, groupthink, valuing work and career software.
This is Lynzie Cotton, Head of Left and Right Brain Co-ordination @ the Fantastic Thinking Company.
Lynzie and I can and do talk at length about work, how the brain works and that all important job without a rule book, parenting. As part of my interest with the future of work, I want to use ivity's Workplace Matters Blogspot to share real life stories of work and career journeys. When I heard Lynzie's story I asked her to share it. Lynzie said she would not know where to start, so we started with some written questions.
Lynzie has co-founded the Agile Business Community and I could not be more excited to endorse the immersive Agile training experiencing launching September 2020.
Jenny: Lynzie, we met when I was flying around your Minecraft Project Management course for The Fantastic Thinking Company. This was your inventive COVID pivot to move your well established in-person training online. How's it going?
Firstly, we can’t believe how quickly the time has flown by and secondly, we can’t believe how big it has grown! The ‘Minecraft’ adventure all started when COVID first hit and we could no longer run our in-person Agile Project Delivery course due to the lock-down. This course was a brilliant day using LEGO – the delegates would learn Agile project management skills whilst building a town and sticking Post-It notes on a wall. It always got fantastic reviews but unfortunately COVID wiped all of our bookings off the calendar.
To cut a long story short, we put our thinking caps on and eventually came up with the bright idea that we could build online using Minecraft. It took a few phone calls and many messages to and fro to conclude that mainstream software companies were too stretched to help us but with the advice and support of the open source software community, we eventually ran with a Minecraft clone called Classicube which is a simple but brilliant game where you can build pretty much anything from your desk. It was perfect!
Since then, our one course has developed into an entire taxonomy which can take learners from Agile project Delivery novice to Boss Level Business Architect whilst contributing to a community of like-minded business professionals and earning verifiable digital badges along the way. We are launching the entire learning pathway on 7th September 2020.
Jenny: I love the name the Fantastic Thinking Company. Tell me the thinking behind the name?
We stumbled on the name by accident really… we wanted a name which would encapsulate all the things we love and do best and top of the list was thinking! There were lots of variations but Fantastic Thinking had a great ring to it and somewhere along the way we discovered that the word ‘thinking’ is actually a noun rather than a verb! We decided that we wanted ‘thinking’ to become an active theme rather than a fixed concept and that idea sealed the deal!
Whilst we are concentrating on Agile for the time being, our other business activities focus on neuroscience, perception and challenging limited thinking… even our new job titles, Head of Left & Right Brain Coordination and Chief Disruption Officer (as my partner is known) are designed to inspire thinking differently… watch this space for future Fantastic Thinking!
Jenny: Tell me how you got into project management because I know you have a fascinating route to where you are now?
In one way or another, I have been involved in project management for many years, I just didn’t realise it! I was amazed to discover the wealth of models, tools and frameworks available to help businesses at their conception, birth and through their various growth phases… I often joke to my life and business partner, Steve that in the good old NHS all you get is a dodgy biro and some half printed scrap paper or a paper towel to manage your project with. Sometimes, (even with Agile) I get frustrated with prolonged planning (prolonged meaning more than half an hour usually!) because in my old world, there was never any time for much prevaricating. Doing project management properly is such a luxury – I’ve traded my biro in for tech that actually works and sometimes there’s even a budget!
Jenny: There are many project management frameworks and I'm with you on Agile project management for communication and ownership. What has been your experience using it on projects?
That one’s quite easy to answer because we pretty much use Agile for everything. Even before the creation of the Fantastic Training Learning Pathways, we used Agile methodologies to plan and deliver our work projects. We even used it to plan our last house move and keep on top of household maintenance. Our teenage son who is off to university in September has learned Agile techniques for managing his coursework. I think the biggest misconception around Agile projects is that they have no rules, planning or documentation. That’s totally wrong! The big difference is we are not fixated on trying to predict and control the future, instead Agile projects sense and respond to the current situation. It often means the final outcome is different to what we expected at the beginning but we end up with a happier customer.
Jenny: So tell me more about your early career - When did you deliver your first baby?
I delivered my first baby in 2003 and have probably delivered a couple of thousand solo since. I’ve probably been involved in some capacity in around 5000 births in total. What most people don’t realise is that delivering a baby is easy most of the time but supporting someone through a long, hard and painful experience is more difficult.
Jenny: You have natural leadership that has been rewarded in your Midwifery career. When you signed up did you know you would progress through the ranks?
I was always more interested in people and management than hands on care so I made it my mission to progress as far and as quickly as I could up ‘through the ranks’. Having qualified in 2005, I got my first Labour Ward Coordinator role in 2009, managed to take over a leadership role on another ward at the same time then became a risk manager and complaints coordinator for women’s health. This meant overseeing cases from fertility, gynaecology, breast care, clinics and scanning across the multidisciplinary team. I have worked in NHS trusts all around the country on projects from elective theatre list coordination to emergency contingency planning. In later years, I have been involved in training design and delivery for multidisciplinary personnel (from healthcare support workers and paramedics to midwives and doctors) on obstetric emergencies (things that go wrong in childbirth), critical care and life support.
Jenny: Was it your childhood dream to be a midwife or career guidance that nudged you into it?
In my final year of school, we all had to take a computerised careers questionnaire (very innovative for rural Norfolk in the 80s) which churned out hundreds of pages of job titles on a daisy wheel printer. It was literally about twelve pages long but my top three were… funeral director, architect and midwife. I’m fascinated by the scientific and philosophical questions around birth and death but whilst I also love drawing, architecture didn’t really float my boat. I disregarded midwifery because at that time you had to do nursing and looking after sick people was definitely not for me! Somehow, none of those multiple choice questions helped identify my passion for books but I ended up doing a degree in English Literature and History then going on to read Applied Women’s Studies. Having had a major road accident and a baby in quick succession in my mid-twenties, I decided to revisit midwifery, got accepted first time and that was that for 18 years. NHS career aside, I love the freedom of the entrepreneurial, self employed life and am now more than happy to leave healthcare behind. There is life after uniform!
Jenny: Most people have watched one born every minute and whilst we prepare for labour, everyone's experience is different and you learn a lot about yourself and your partner during the process. Whilst you're making all the mother and baby observations you are observing and managing a lot of other people with a huge range of emotions, love, fear, joy and sadness. Does the job description do the job justice?
You’ve described the ‘emotional labour’ part of the job very well there although I’ve never enjoyed programmes like One Born Every Minute. Even the title suggests that the whole thing is a speedy process and sets up a whole raft of unrealistic expectations. Those shows never detail the paperwork, IT, cleaning, ‘working lunches’ (the bane of my professional life!), resource allocation and a myriad of other less attractive tasks which fall under the midwife’s remit. For me, situational awareness is key and the ability to walk into a room, take stock then take and maintain control over a sustained period whilst being prepared for sudden change or deterioration are essential skills. One Born Every Minute creates the impression that midwives eat cake, say reassuring things and occasionally respond to alarm calls but it really isn’t a job for the shy, faint-hearted or unfit!
Jenny: It really upset me when you told me that people undervalue midwifery as a profession. Do you think that COVID Keyworker realisation actually impacts how we reward and recognise the value of work in nursing and care work?
This is a very politically loaded question and something I feel very strongly about so I’ll try and keep it short…
Firstly, I believe that childbirth is as much a cultural phenomena as it is a physiological process or event. For this reason, it will always have a specific place in the public imagination and in family life. It has many stories and beliefs around it which are very difficult to challenge especially given the changing context of life in the developing world in the last century. Some examples of this might be beliefs around the scientific benefits and convenience of infant formula, infant sleep practices and changing attitudes to medical intervention. Society still imposes limitations on women’s autonomy, bodies and behaviours. A prevailing theme in recent politics has been the fostering of public distrust of experts – midwives are experts in normal childbirth but I often feel that challenging non-evidence based practices is unduly hard if not pointless!
Secondly, I think a lot of positive public health messages including hand hygiene and maintaining better physical fitness have arisen from the Covid-19 crisis. However, I don’t believe for one minute that there is a greater appreciation or empathy towards healthcare professionals. Clapping, flags and painted signs, for me pay lip service to real issues facing professionals such as fair pay, access to breaks, access to PPE, access to appropriate childcare – I could go on and on…
As long as we use words such as heroes, angels, selfless etc. we deny the chance for any true appreciation to develop because we can collectively continue to take them for granted by assuming their super powers will allow them to take on even more with even less.
Jenny: I was reminded of you when Mat Hancock was getting accused of having diagnosed the issues and failing to act on improvements. You once said to me the NHS is great identifying a problem and adding in another level of the process but not actually simplifying the process. Have you got examples you can share and why do you think that happens?
It wouldn’t be very professional of me to give specific examples, however, what I would say is that given the heavily litigious nature of healthcare (obstetrics and midwifery have by far the biggest share of legal costs and compensation paid out by the NHS), much of that process is driven by the need to document and back up decision making. Repetitive documentation takes up a huge amount of time especially in areas which still rely on both paper and IT based patient record systems. I have worked in one unit which made the decision to move to an electronic patient record system which, when the staff couldn’t use it efficiently, then insisted on producing both paper and electronic records. This resulted in even more work and cost.
Jenny: We share an interest in groupthink. It's important to nurture thinking for progress and leaning on the bar of improvement. Innovating ideas for progress. How do you think business can nurture this?
Nancy Klein’s concept of the ‘Thinking Environment’ is a beautifully simple one and key to understanding how organisations can avoid groupthink. Her books are well worth investing in and suggest incisive questions for working with both organisations and individuals. Aside from Agile, The Fantastic Thinking Company also uses the principles of Appreciative Inquiry in its work with businesses to help unpick challenges and dream big about their aims. This focuses on the value that every team member (from the most junior to the most senior regardless of skills or department) brings and allows for a holistic solution to challenges around motivation, engagement and limiting assumptions. Groupthink can result in both positive and negative collusion and prevents progress and innovation. Positive collusion (the belief that we are all doing brilliantly, trying our best or are doing the right thing) can be just as damaging. Sometimes, as I describe, in one of my LinkedIn articles (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/how-use-one-simple-question-see-beyond-groupthink-lynzie-cotton) groupthink can lead to dangerous situations. Empowering all team members and stakeholders to speak up without fear of reproach is key to the prolific and courageous generation and sharing of ideas.
Jenny: Lovely talking to you. I will continue to follow your great work with interest and thank you for sharing your work experience for ivity's workplace matters blog spot.
Read all about Agile training with The Fantastic Thinking Company here.