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Gareth Dix Blog

Published on: Tuesday 1st December 2020

Authored by Gareth Dix

Director of Strategic Relationships

Working with Sport England

Moving from transaction to transformation

“Moving from transaction to transformation through the power of lived experience and relationship...that’s what I’m thinking about at the moment” I replied to my friend Liz at Windsor Leadership during a catch up. 

“Could you write a blog about that?” Came the friendly opportunistic reply. 

I’ve been rumbling with these thoughts for a while, but they came to life during ‘that’ moment on March 24, 2020 when the Prime Minister began a speech to announce a national lockdown in response to COVID-19, declaring “you must stay at home”. 

I listened with intent as I over-imagined how this unfolding transaction would impact my work routines, home life, family health dynamics and community resilience. A heady mix of denial and anxiety flooded in. 

The irony of being an advocate of systemic behaviour change was not lost during this speech, but my lizard-brain emotions grabbed at me, the walls went up and my arms folded in defiance of (necessary) imminent disruption. 

As the details of lockdown unfurled I had to check if I heard the next bit correctly? “You can do one form of exercise per day by yourself or with your family for 1 hour.” Was that a national sanction to ‘move’? Was that a window of light within the closing walls? 

It actually took my breath away. Not just because my life’s work has been about healthy active society but because this three minute moment asking us ‘to stop’ felt like it was really a reframing window towards ‘movement’. Yes, physically move. But also an invitation to move towards transforming the cultures I both work and live in. 

Then the questions flood in. How on earth do you move from ‘transaction’ - the process or exchange of money, goods, ideas or directions, to ‘transformation’ - a positive lasting change for a thriving society? 

Perhaps the clue is in the word ‘move’. To move is dynamic after all.

I’ve lived through experiences where the interrelationship of a thriving-self and thriving-society has moved me in so many ways. But this speech again made me wonder; could lasting change start with something so simple and transformative as taking a moment and going for a walk? Could that lead to deeper learning? Stronger relationships? Healthy boundaries and greater empathy?

Here are five personal insights which I have spent time thinking about this year and that I believe could help to move the dial towards transformation:

1. Creating space

I have noticed a physical and emotional space when walking which allows us to engage with the creative parts of our brain. This space allows us to ask the ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions with an openness that makes it possible to visualise both the outcome and the steps to transformation. This is especially true in a natural environment where additional benefits are proven. 

Walking provides a safe space that is creative and conducive for new thinking patterns.  It’s as though space and steps provide possibility and permission for us to play with ‘what could this look like’. 

In an organisational dynamic creating a pause has equal merit. Bravely pressing a ‘collective time out’ button creates a space to reframe roles and re-establish relationships. 

2. Be Curious 

Establishing a healthy learning culture, with an open-questioning approach, is vital to transformation and is an incredibly effective resilience builder. Evidenced cognitive behaviour techniques show that asking the right questions without judgement, of myself or others, has been hugely life enhancing. Curiosity may have killed the cat but for me it has given life. 

I also find it helpful to use OARS. This helps ensure my questions are Open (why?, how? What?), Affirming, use Reflective listening and I’m able to Summarise. 

As well as walking as a means to process my curiosity, I have discovered the value of simple journaling as a discipline to support and reinforce my learning.

3. Value relationships

During my lived experiences, I have found that forward motion has to be rooted in relationships and facilitated by empathic emotional intelligence. Convening and being prepared to selflessly ‘give’ into a mutual support system helps move the dial far beyond manufactured transactions. 

In building relationships I have found it helpful to have a ‘seeking to understand’ mindset.  Start with ‘what do you value?’ and ‘what do we value?’ and end with ‘how can I help?’ (which is really the beginning). 

4. Respect Boundaries

As a reforming people pleaser, I’m continuing to learn the value of boundaries. Working constantly on the discipline of boundaries (physical and conceptual) creates margin and provides a platform for growth and innovation. It was revelatory some years ago that a solid and friendly ‘no’ was actually a significant ‘yes’ to something more important. It counterintuitively made me far more open. 

As a starting point, I focus on the principles of the simple SERENITY PRAYER (from theologian Reinhold Niebuhr) considering first an acceptance for that which I’m unable to change initially, courage to work on those things I can change (which always starts with me) and the wisdom to know the difference. 

5. Lean-in to lived experience

Finally, through spending time with transformational people I have discovered the value of ‘lived experience’ as a catalyst to lasting change. These are experiences that are not gained through qualification, rank, position or complicated language but through the visceral challenges of life and leadership.

Through the years supporting people being treated for cancer, I quickly realised that patient ability to survive and in some cases go on to thrive, frequently correlated with the sharing of deep personal wisdom from other patients and carers. The sharing of lived experience incites trust, is kind and founded on relationships. It is a privilege to hear the experiences of another. It has led me to trust my own gut instinct which is partly forged from my own pain and joy memories. It propels me to always work towards the inclusion of the lived-experience of others in strategic planning for a healthy active society.

Time to go for a walk …..

Gareth Dix is Director of Strategic Relationships working with Sport England and locally with Active Devon. He is currently supporting the development of a new national strategy for Sport and Physical Activity.


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