13 SensesI never thought I would ever describe myself as any kind of teacher or trainer – beyond a brief period in my life when I taught drama and theatre studies. But as it has turned out, a large amount of my time is now spent designing and delivering training or experiential learning programmes. To say I have developed anything as grand as a ‘training philosophy’ is rather presumptuous, but I do realise that over the years I have evolved a style of training and a number of training practices that seem to be increasingly coherent – a kind of dance between ‘art’ and ‘science’. At least, it seems coherent enough to try and share it – but largely to encourage others to create their own ‘training philosophy’ rather than to adopt mine.

I believe that the single most important thing in training or working with others is to be prepared for the unexpected…

Effective training is far less to do with what the trainer says or knows and far more to do with who the trainer is and how he / she behaves. By which I mean that trainers are only as good as their deeds, not their words. How far does any trainer role model what they claim to be important?

Above all, good training is about transformation – finding the ‘tipping points’ as Malcolm Gladwell explores so vividly in his best selling book

” In the end, Tipping Points are the reaffirmation of the potential for change and the power of intelligent action. Look at the world around you. It may seem like an immovable, implacable place. It is not. With the slightest push – in just the right place – it can be tipped”

From THE TIPPING POINT, Malcolm Gladwell, 2000, Abacus

There are, of course, many ways to train and the options one selects will depend on the learning purpose.

Learning purpose Description Training options
Knowledge acquisition Learning facts / figures / history * Lectures;
* Written materials;
* Internet
Skills development Enhancing / building new professional competencies * 1-1 or small group training;
* Practice-based / supervised work;
* Skills swaps
Increased empathy / insight Understanding situations ‘from within’ * Action research;
* Internships;
* Study visits
Behaviour modification Transforming operational style * Being ‘coached’ or ‘mentored’;
* Job swaps;
* Role playing
Visioning Developing imaginative capacity / originality in planning for the future * Creative workshops (eg story-telling, painting, drama);
* Inspirational events;
* Futures / search workshops
Building working relationships Strengthening creative collaboration (eg between teams / networks / partners) * Facilitated workshops;
* Secondments;
* E-moderated learning

As a trainer, it is useful to be able to tailor sessions to suit different groups and purposes. It is also great to incorporate many different types of learning into the same training course. Wherever possible, I take groups into situations, projects, environments where they will come face-to-face with issues that are better understood through direct experience rather than by third party description.

The psychologist John Heron has written well about how we know what we know and I have found his work inspirational over many decades. He explores three basic types of knowledge:

  • Experiential (drawing from direct experience)
  • Propositional (working from ideas and concepts)
  • Practice-based (knowing from doing)

To which I think we can add as a fourth and a fifth:

  • Cultural (values-based knowledge linked to your ‘community’)
  • Intuitive (see material on the 12 senses, below)

“Our senses are capacities of our being, capacities that are constantly active within us and capable of considerable development to make them more active. It would be of great significance for mankind if we really took our senses as our teachers

from THE TWELVE SENSES, Albert Soesman, Hawthorn Press

We often speak of there being five senses – and it was one of the bonuses of training at drama school that I spent a whole term of acting classes exploring each of these (seeing, hearing, touching, smelling and tasting) in considerable depth – perhaps that is where my interest in the senses as organs of cognition comes from.

We also commonly use the term ‘sixth sense’ to mean something known by intuition or instinct (ie by means beyond the realm of our five senses).

But about 20 years ago I came across Rudolf Steiner’s work on the 12 senses and have been really intrigued by this expansion in understanding of our sensory capacities ever since. For him (and for many who have explored these ideas since) the twelve senses are the following:

Sense My Description / Interpretation Type
Touch Understanding boundaries between ‘self’ and ‘other’ PHYSICAL SENSES
Life Vitality, growth, well-being, decay
Movement Impulse to change position, direction, shape
Balance Standing, navigating in relation to surroundings
Smell Discernment eg between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ SOUL SENSES
Taste A gateway to what enters the body
Sight Seeing and interpreting images
Temperature ‘Hot’ and ‘cold’ in emotional as well as physical terms
Hearing Internalising sounds from outside SPIRIT SENSES
Language Giving expression to what is within
Thought Interpreting and articulating what is ‘true’
Self / Ego Who one is – individual uniqueness

An understanding of the 12 senses can add new depths to training approaches – even if only in the trainer’s awareness of their own and their trainees’ latent capacity. Some of the exercises and techniques I use in training have undoubtedly evolved out of my interest in cultivating more ’rounded’ capacities in those I am working with – in which the senses play a very significant part.

Beyond these 12 senses, however, I believe there is a 13th sense. I would describe this as a sense of ‘knowing’ – rather more that the ‘sixth sense’ referred to above and closer to a form of clairvoyance. Anyone who has experienced this sense of knowing will understand what I mean even if I find it hard to explain.

The actual word ‘sense’ has a range of meanings. Chambers Dictionary defines the word ‘sense’ as: faculty of receiving sensation; consciousness; inward feeling; mental attitude; understanding; feeling for what is appropriate; soundness of judgement; that which is reasonable … and more. The use of the word to mean both something that is ‘sensory’ and something that is ‘sensible’ is an interesting one.

Finally (for now!) I have evolved some guiding principles that underpin my training approach. These are that:

  1. Questions are more important than answers (focus on finding and articulating the underlying questions)
  2. Hearing is more important than listening (try and also hear what is not being said)
  3. Reflection is more important than action (give yourself and others time find the ‘still place’ from where new ideas / imagination / vision / clarity will emerge)
  4. Believe that the seeds of the solution are always present in the situation (build on what is there not on what you assume ought to be there or what you believe ought to happen next)
  5. Things change constantly – yesterday’s ‘truth’ is tomorrow’s assumption (whatever you think you know is only likely to be true at the moment you think you know it)
  6. The only power you ever have is the power you are willing to give away in order to empower others
  7. Real success is when no one notices what you have done – plan to walk through your work without leaving footprints