Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Birds’ Eye View
Those of you who are regular readers of this weekly blog will know that I spend time in both Ghana and France during the year. This toing and froing is punctuated by management consultancy work in the UK, or the little I restrict myself to these days. Currently I am in France in my Pyrennean eyrie. Each time I drive up here from the plains around Perpignan I see magpies. They are rather smart looking birds in their white bibs and black tails. And like a certain type of boorish dinner guest, they are argumentative bullies. I suppose I am falling into the trap of anthropomorphising their black and white natures but, as in most writing, it is a manipulation of the world to suit my literary purpose.
Given that my professional work involves a multi-disciplinary approach to developing teams and individuals to become more effective and humane in their professional practice, my key focus is normally upon self-awareness. Unless an individual develops this it is unlikely that he or she will go on to be able to change behaviour in any meaningful way other than by rigid imposition of some stick and carrot regime. At the same time we all have blind spots and these can be perennial or can emerge owing to the circumstances in which we find ourselves. A blind spot may be a personal trait that irritates others at one end of the spectrum or, in extreme leopard-like circumstances, the spots become so numerous the individual is virtually friendless – and still doesn’t know why.
The BBC web page has an interesting little science update which bears strongly upon the foregoing. The latest research on magpies shows that they can recognise themselves in mirrors. Apparently, bits of sticky tape in various colours were affixed to them where they could only be seen in a mirror, whereupon the said birds scratched and pecked them off, just as we try to remove the embarrassment of a bit of tomato skin between the teeth, or dab away dripping mascara or cover a hideous (to us) erupting spot on the cheek with creams.
While this was not seen to equate with self-awareness in the birds, it was regarded as a possible precursor to what was once thought to be a unique human mental ability. I realised, on reading about the research, that I have missed a trick in my professional work. Before I enter into a ‘coaching relationship’ in future, I will secrete rolls of sellotape of varying colours, in my pockets…