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Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. Her latest book is Hiding in Plain Sight: Exploring Scotland's ill health. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.

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Posted 23/04/2010 | 2 Comments

Things are beginning to return to normal and I'm fully back in work mode planning our future activities and events.

We've had a lot of tremendously positive feedback on the self-esteem event which was attended by more than 400 people – despite terrible weather and dodgy trains that day.

Various people said that they would have liked a longer day and also an opportunity for discussion. Rather than write individually to people on the reasons for this it might be worthwhile for me to lay out some of the rationale behind our events and the style they often take.

When I go to various organisations' free events and they lay on platters of lovely food in upmarket hotels I often go away with what I'll simply term  'sandwich envy'. As a small, tightly resourced organisation, the Centre simply doesn't have the funds to run this type of free event. We simply can't afford to give lots of people free lunches. This is why we usually have to charge for events. However, money is tight everywhere at present and so the more fee we charge to attend the fewer people are likely to come.

Some of the fees incurred for staging the self-esteem event came from money from Mental Health  Division of the Scottish Government. However, these costs were for speakers and a small contribution to the hotel. The money wouldn't stretch to providing lots of people with a free lunch.  So running the event as a half-day (simply providing a tea and coffee at one break) was within our means but running it as a whole day would have been out of the question.

People might say that participants would be happy to pay for the lunch but often any cost provides a barrier for people. What's more charging for lunch is also administratively challenging for a small organisation like ours.

So we took the decision to make it a free, half-day jam packed event for as many people as we could squeeze into the venue. Because we were trying to cover a lot of material we also gave out a substantial handout on suggestions for alternatives to self-esteem.

The second issue relates to the balance between in-put and discussion. As someone who was a trainer for fifteen years I am aware that people often learn a great deal from facilitated discussion – that they instinctively know certain things, and have knowledge and skills which learning environments can draw out and utilise. However, social scientists are increasingly aware of how human beings are very susceptible to what is termed 'group think'. We may think of ourselves as independent-minded individuals but in fact we are very influenced by fashion and often don't want to appear different from the people round about us. Indeed it is the very notion of ideas spreading quickly that lies behind Malcolm Gladwell's notion of 'the tipping point'.  Indeed some economists argue that the banks got into so much trouble because staff, even those in senior positions, didn't want to question the prevailing ideas and ways of operating.

When I give critical talks on self-esteem I often find that people say to me 'you are saying what I privately think'. They don't say it, however, because they fear it is politically incorrect. If we had run the self-esteem event as a chance for people to air their views I think we would have heard lots of the usual ideas about its importance. What was different about our half-day is that it  was challenging this dominant belief.

The rationale behind the Centre's existence is that it is a catalyst for new ideas related to well-being and confidence.  We see it as our role to bring in speakers or ideas which are worthy of attention. The focus for us is therefore on research, knowledge, or different ways of doing things. In an ideal world where time was not pressurised it would be great to combine speakers with lots of opportunity for discussion and workshops. But time is often pressurised and in designing a programme we have to make a choice between speakers and discussion.  When I attend events I am often greatly disappointed by the  question and answer sessions after speakers. They are often dominated by people with a particular perspective, product or project to promote.  Group discussions too can easily descend into anecdotes and the same round of complaints that we've all heard lots of times before.

I am a great believer in diversity. I think we need lots of different events – some where the accent is on networking and learning from others; some where the emphasis is on developing self-awareness through group discussion; and some where the event is mainly designed to challenge your thinking so that you go away seeing the world slightly differently. The Centre's large scale events are most definitely of the third variety. But we do run other types of events. We have just put up information on two training style events – one  on Bounce Back, the other on Creating a Feedback and Learning Culture. I am also keen on the idea of running an 'open space' event sometime next year where people who have been on lots of different events with us turn up and organise themselves into learning and discussion groups.

In the meantime if you would have like to get to the self-esteem event to get your thinking challenged you can listen to the talks and view the slides and in this instance the question and answer is indeed worth listening to.


Comment By Comment
David H. Hume
Joined: 25/04/2010

Comment Posted: 25/04/2010 17:33
I am newly registered and am presently reading 'Tears...', a most appropriate name.
Just a couple of comments: I first read about the tree, bird, fish and bell in that poem on the side of the Glasgow University Library - and was so taken with it I scribbled it down with a borrowed pencil! I'll look out for the version you quote (I usually read books from the back!)
Sorry about Alf's hand... he and I had a brief exchange about a book I wrote last year, as I was recommended to send it to him at The Herald by Bert Dunwoody of James Howden & Co., about my brother Douglas Hume, who was MD of Howden for 23 years until 1988. He follwed our Dad, James Howden Hume as MD and our grandfather of the same name - and not unnaturally, our great-great uncle James Howden (1832 - 1913).
When I was researching the story, you can imagine my delight and surprise when I came across James Howden's portrait on the second floor of the People's Palace on Glasgow Green: I knew I was on the right track, to be keeping company with Jimmy Reid's eternally running video there!
If only I lived in Glasgow I'd come to (some!) of your events but... (as the Irish say) Anyway, next time I am visiting our only daughter in Yorkhill, I'll drop in and see you all.
Just to add that a little piece on my book can be seen at Google < The Howden story re-told to help others. Happily, it was picked up (but not sponsored) by the Howden Board, so it is on their Company website and has gone across the world as a result - the proceeds being in aid of the charity it is published to help, run by the Scottish Community Foundation up the road from you.
I realise this Comment is not precisely about your blog - but as you will realise, my reason for commenting, apart from my very considerable admiration and enthusiasm for your book, is becaue my book does tell more of the Clyde story and like yours, ends on a positive note, since Howden continues successfully on its way after 156 years and has recently opened Howden Academy, run by retired Howden execs, to train engineers from across the world.
Please give my regards to Alf - perhaps he has the book still?!
David H. Hume
11 Rushfield, Helen's Bay, Co.Down BT19 1JZ
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