Learning, change and paradigm shift – Reflections on the iCue method

February 10, 2023



What is learning and what is the relationship between listening and learning? In a podcast with Nick Little, the headteacher of the International School of Aberdeen, we discuss learning and ‘paradigm change using the iCue framework. The iCue method is a framework for extracting intelligent cues(iCue) in a conversation with the view to listen, understand and improve the quality of decisions. After attending one of the iCue sessions, Nick offers his insights about the iCue method and how he believes that this approach can bring about a paradigm shift for learning and change.

Further information


Nick Little, Nippin Anand


Nick Little  00:00

If there was some specific technique I was learning within my existing paradigm, I might go, and I might implement that very comfortably. But what you’re suggesting with the IQ matrix is this is a tool that is forcing you to shift your paradigm. That’s a very, that’s a much more challenging thing to do. Because I go back, I still have this unconscious assumption that I should be efficient, I should be productive, that everything that comes out of a particular professional interaction is actionable. And now I’m in this world where even if I am beginning to master this idea, I have this uneasy feeling that maybe have just wasted my time. And and there is a comfort in those and especially if you’re in high responsibility, you do a number of things which are just about comforting your anxieties that aren’t necessarily very useful.


Nippin Anand  01:08

Hello, and welcome to embracing differences with me. Nippin Anand, founder of Novellus, a podcast series dedicated to understanding different perspectives about how we as human beings, or rather, social beings make decisions.


Nippin Anand  01:26

The podcast series draws from different disciplines including religion, mythology, sociology, anthropology, social psychology, biology, neurosciences and stem, making it truly transdisciplinary meaning transporting, or rather, travelling across disciplines. The idea is not to claim that one method or discipline is superior to the other, but to hold competing disciplines, competing values, diverse perspectives, intention, and when that happens, we create space for doubt and reflection. The idea is to enjoy travelling and the ambiguity that comes with it. Experiencing dissonance, discomfort, how else do we learn this is a conversation with someone who I have known and admired for a very long time, for a number of qualities, and amongst them, one being his ability to articulate very complicated ideas in a way that is easy to understand and absorb. Nick little, the head teacher from the International School of Aberdeen, after being a head teacher and in international schools around the world, his latest assignment being in China, Nick is now settled in Aberdeen, which is where I live as well. For background, I invited Nick to an Icue event where we had a group of people from different backgrounds. If you’re not familiar with the Icue method, you can know all about it on our website, numberless dot solutions. The Icue method offers a framework to map conversations and understand how we as human beings make decisions. The Icue method helps us to understand our biases, preconceived notions and other cultural assumptions in all forms of interaction. You can use Icue for many things, including accident investigations, risk management, strategic thinking, or even for having a conversation in your family. The application is quite broad. Now as part of this event in Aberdeen, I planted a scenario for the participants. I showed them a safety notice board that was filled with a lot of information and asked them what would you do if you saw this notice board and found outdated information on the board? What question would you ask to someone who’s responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of this board? And then I noted their questions on a whiteboard. My idea was to help people understand that there was a particular assumption in their questioning style, which is not always very helpful when it comes to learning and change. And then I met with Nick as a follow up to this event to understand his reflections and thoughts. Here’s what Nick has to say. I hope that this conversation will make you think and reflect upon your own questioning style.



Where do you want to start? That might be the best way to do it.


Nick Little  04:29

What struck me with your training sessions and the first one I went to was the the session you gave about the cost of Concordia disaster. And that really sort of piqued my interest of well, how is that? How could that be relevant for me in education, I’ve nothing to do with shipping and really an education, health and safety is certainly important, but that’s not our prime consideration or or consideration in the way that it might be in the oil industry or the shipping industry. But what I was really interested in was the change in focus from the disaster was, could be caused, I would say, on the old paradigm that the disaster is possibly caused because you’ve either got wrong procedures, or you’ve got somebody that didn’t follow the right procedures. And any investigation, it seemed to me, you were saying would be around those procedures, what are the procedures? Are they correct procedures? If they are correct procedures, and they’ve still a disaster, then clearly it’s the people implementing those procedures. And your focus wasn’t the procedures. Your focus was the captain himself? And what came out to me and I may have misread it. But what came out to me was, there was this dissonance between here are the health and safety procedures, which he overtly should be following. And here is the culture of the organisation he or here are his implicit assumptions about what he’s going to do. And that created that that that that created a particular risk environment, it was not was he competent or incompetent, was he capable or incapable of following the procedures, but what was the relationship of the procedures to his assumptions to his his mental world? I found that quite an interesting thing. Because I found myself when I’m having conversations within schools, and especially international schools, it had really I had had that experience of, we have certain assumptions, and we don’t state those assumptions. We don’t know what those assumptions are. A lot of the failure to communicate or to fulfil, what we want done effectively is because of this unsaid world, and that we appear to be when we’re looking at why we don’t do things very well. We’re focusing on the wrong thing, just like accident investigations are focusing perhaps on the wrong thing, which I think was part of your argument. And I am very interested in that. And your latest IQ session, I think, came out in the discussion about the board, which, you know, we could perhaps go into in a bit more detail, but of that paradigm shift of when you are, when you’re trying to understand a situation or understand an event, or make plans around that. What are you actually focusing on? Are you focusing on these objects? Or are you focusing on the mental world of the of the people involved? And what are you trying to do? Are you are you seeking to understand or are you trying to demand compliance or ascribe blame? And it’s that sort of, it’s that paradigm shift I was very interested in, I was very interested in the reactions to it as well. And I will say the cost of Concordia training, which was I think, two or three years ago, now, you had a very large group, maybe a heterogeneous group who were just coming along, because they were curious and really didn’t know much about your approach. It was interesting the amount of resistance within that group to what you were saying, the group couple of weeks ago in your IQ session that seemed to be smaller, that seemed to be people who already had established a relationship with you, and there wasn’t that over resistance. But still, they were it still was in a couple of the sessions you did it still was that challenge of making the paradigm shift. They were still within the old paradigm. They weren’t resistant, like some people in the first group work, but it still was a struggle to actually see what your point was and what the implications of the point was. Any examples? Okay, so the example I’ve got is you had you presented us with no I made some notes here


Nick Little  09:53

which she’s so you You showed us a picture of a health and safety board. And I’m not in that world. But I guess it’s some kind of legal requirement that people should have a health and safety board and certain information should be on that board. And there was a picture of the board. And there was a picture of think a guy looking at the board, who was maybe the person responsible for the board. Maybe you got that impression from it. And you ask people to come up with some questions about the board. And the kinds of questions you’re the first one was, why is it so chaotic? Which was a wonderful question, in a way for being? Absolutely, I think the point that you were making it almost, did you plant that person to ask that question? Why is it so chaotic? And then how is it updated? What’s the most important instruction? Every every question that was offered by the audience was about the board itself. And this is the existence in the old paradigm, it is. Okay, we’re trying to improve our approach to health and safety. Let’s look at the external objects. And let’s think about those objects themselves. Not. And then you, you prompted people, and you use your ICue matrix with.


Nick Little  11:39

With a while you’re just thinking about the Physical Reality of Things. And you ask people to shift their focus to, to thinking about the person that organises their board, what, what their emotional state would be what, why they had created the board in the way that it did you ask people to do that. And that was actually my that was clearly a struggle for people. Whereas the questions had flowed when it was about the board. And, you know, I’m looking here, and, you know, there’s eight or nine questions that people pretty spontaneously gave you. And then and then you you pointed out, well, all the questions are focused on the board itself. Do you realise what you’re doing? You said you all the questions to focus on the board itself? And then you went on to say, ask them to change their focus to the person. And the first question was, how do you feel about it? And you could kind of see, well, people have got your idea. And they’re putting it in the broadest possible terms, the broadest possible terms, but it’s a real struggle to think of a question. Do you feel the board is useful to you? What do you feel is on the board? You know, people have got the idea of, well, somebody’s emotional approach is important, and they’ve got the field, but it’s a real struggle. It’s a real struggle. And you’ve got about half as many questions in about twice the amount of time for the second one for the foot when you’ve asked them to change. And you still have to tell people that there’s there’s questions coming in, which is about the book because you’ve been interjected with let go of the idea of the board, which is really tough for people, you have to remind people to do that. Forget the board. It’s not about the board. It’s about the person. But that’s kind of what I meant by that paradigm shift. And that sort of interaction around the photo, I found a really interesting one of this was a sympathetic audience. This wasn’t like your cross. Costa Concordia audience who were a mixed bag and some of the most vocal were against your ideas. This was a sympathetic audience, and still a struggle. It was for that paradigm shift.


Nippin Anand  14:13

Did you did you reflect upon the difficulty? What was the difficulty in this exercise in your view, neck?


Nick Little  14:22

I think there’s two difficulties or and maybe it’s not just the exercise, but maybe I’m projecting a little bit as well for a shift trying to enact a similar sort of shift. I think one of the difficulties is if you focus on the board


Nick Little  14:53

it it feels like a solution orientated approach. It feels like you’re going to get to me results. So the first question is, why is it so chaotic? Clearly this person who asked the question believe that the board was badly organised. And the issue would be, let’s get it well organised. And there are certain principles perhaps of organising a good health and safety board that this person hadn’t adhere to. And if you simply told them what those principles were, they would enact this and then you would have a really nice board and you would have a good board. And a lot of the other questions were around the assumption that having this board is a useful thing, you know, how often is it counted? Is it updated? Often? What is the most important structure? And so those were the first things that came. Came across and I should imagine, or imagined that those were the first people to answer and those were the questions that they asked, because those were the people within our group who probably had the strongest opinion about how such a board should be organised. And I found the photo, thought that it was badly organised and thought that they would be useful in in some ways, ensuring that it was better organised. And I think this is awesome. This is the temptation in lots of our interactions. And when we when we look at things is we want to get a solution. And we want to get a solution because we believe that’s an efficient use of our time, tick it off the list, move on, I’ve got it got a nicely organised board. Now, we can move on. without realising Of course, that a year later, you’re probably going to come back and it’s going to be a chaotic board. Nothing’s changed, because you’re not there any longer. And it’s slipped back to being this chaotic board or this board that you view as use useless. But at the moment, you’re saying, this is the efficient thing to do. I know how this should be organised, I will tell you how it should be organised, you will do it, we will all be better off. But the paradigm shift you’re suggesting is much more of a culture of reflection and understanding. Why is it that this person has organised this board in this way, as part of their overall context, it may be chaotic, for example, because it’s their lowest priority, because they believe that such a board is completely useless to them, that somebody has demanded that they have. Have a board, they don’t understand why they should have a board. They never look at a board. They are always looking at, you know, their phone or whatever for information. Why would I look at this board, who knows, I don’t know I’m not in that world. But. But this try to understand the deeply understand this environment as a system, as a as a number of interactions with different agendas from different people isn’t something that we’re used to doing full stop. And it’s also something that almost militates against a culture that we have developed of efficiency and productivity, that, that we need to be productive. And I found myself if schools, like oil companies and ships are busy places, and people always have something to do. And if you say to people, okay, let’s take an hour out of our time, just to take an issue. And just to reflect upon it, just to think about it just to talk it through I’ll do we have a common understanding of, of this issue. And we’re not going to minute any action outcomes and who’s responsible for doing what, we’re just going to maybe record the conversation because it will be good to look back on it. But that’s what we’re just going to think it through. People have a tendency to say, that was a waste of time you did that? What action was taken as a result of it.



That’s such a powerful thing you say? Like, can I just say a couple of things. One is that yes, I agree with you.


Nippin Anand  19:45

I think I think there’s something from my understanding. There’s something really profound here from what you picked up. Is that I think our notion of organising an organisation is very, very much embedded in Objects in managing objects. So an in that, in that relationship, we see even a human being as an object that needs to be dealt with and fixed on whatever. But the trouble is that that doesn’t take us very far. Now, if you start to turn it around to say, an organisation is not about managing objects, and it’s not a set of processes and, and systems, it is an ecosystem, but also at the same time, it is about relationships and people. And if and I think that the beauty of it is deceptively simple. And that’s what scares most people off that it cannot be that simple, is just just getting in a conversation, leaving your whatever you have on your mind for a couple of minutes aside, and just listening to the other person to say, What does he think about this boat? Now? What what is his view about this clot cutter information on this boat? And in my view, this is the most difficult thing for most people. And I still do not know why. Why is it so difficult, because maybe, after living in the West for 17 years, I take too much about myself for granted that you know, because in some ways my ego has been destroyed, my metanoia has been destroyed. Not once, but many, many times because the career changes because of geographical moves and any cultural exposure. But I think for a lot of people, it is difficult to listen and understand to the other person, very difficult.


Nick Little  21:41

I think the other thing is actually related to that, it’s very interesting, I’m very interested in what you’re saying about we’re focused on objects, and we see humans as a another object within a process. And I think that is absolutely the case of we feel that you get it in teaching, we you know, there’s the feeling that you can get it the set lessons and you just follow the rules of the lesson, this is what you do now. And the Teach basically has to almost read from the book. Now this is what we’re doing now. Now, do this, now do that. And you’ve got everything in control. And the kid calls out at the wrong moment, turn to page seven, this is what you say, as if you could be perfectly in control of that, that environment. And we could give a template of how to do this. And any complex operation, whether it’s teaching or navigating a boat. That’s that’s simply not the reality of how you make judgement calls. Which I guess is the point about checklists and processes is judgement calls are made in that way. And no. Nor in fact, would it be desirable to do that. Just as a little aside, one of the more amusing ways I found when I worked in China of people disobeying you without confrontation is asking you to explain what you wanted done. And then you would explain what you wanted done. Do you mind writing that down? You’d write it down step by step process, that it wasn’t done. Why? Because this is what you had in step three. And this is what you had to set for. But I couldn’t see the connection between them. Because of course, you can’t actually ever write down even simple tasks, step by step you can’t. When you think you have that somebody’s willing to fill in a gap. And I found that really quite interesting form of disobedience without confrontation. Indeed, absolutely. Exactly. Doing exactly what you’re told.


Nippin Anand  23:46

And the second thing I wanted to say was and you’re absolutely you’re so right, when you say, you know, everything has to be actionable. If it’s not actionable, then we have learned nothing as an organisation. And I think this is another crux of the problem that far too much of learning is focused on organisational learning, where we, we are forgetting a very simple thing that there is no such thing like an organisational learning, it’s individual learning, and then proceed what how it is perceived collectively, but that’s the second step. The first step is how would that learning impact upon me? How does that change me as a person? And that is a question we rarely ask because that’s very scary to imagine that after being through this workshop after being through this course, after being through the session, that I was sitting in for about two hours, what has changed in my world, that is difficult for most people,


Nick Little  24:41

because I think a paradigm shift. If there was some specific technique, I was learning within my existing paradigm, I might go and I might implement that very comfortably. But what you’re suggesting with the IQ matrix is This is a tool that is forcing you to shift your paradigm. That’s a very, that’s a much more challenging thing to do. Because I go back, I still have this unconscious assumption that I should be efficient, I should be productive, that everything that comes out of a particular professional interaction is actionable. And now I’m in this world where even if I am beginning to master this idea, I have this uneasy feeling that maybe have just wasted my time. And, and there is a comfort in that. And especially if you’re in high responsibility, you do a number of things, which are just about comforting your anxieties that aren’t necessarily very useful, and telling them employee how to organise the board is such a thing, you come back a year later, and it’s just as chaotic. But at least that’s not my fault. At least it’s this person’s fault. And I’ve got that comfort, I told them how to do it. And when I left, it was in a good state. And maybe nothing actually beneficial has happened. But I have eased my own sense of here is an environment where I am taking, I have to take responsibility for what goes on, but I don’t. But I don’t actually control that environment. It’s an emotionally tough thing to do. And, and especially when so much of what we have learnt over the years is militated against that, you know, schools can be places where you are expected to get the right answer. And if you haven’t got the right answer, then that’s a failure. What did you do wrong? What did you do wrong? Not? Why did you think that? You know, let’s talk why you think that but what did you do wrong? Now, I’m going to now tell you what you should have done. And you get that from the age of five, right throughout your school career. And taking a risk within school, again, is often something that you kind of learn isn’t actually necessarily worth it. And exams are all about learning to play the game. This is what the, you know, if you’ve got an exam class, you’re giving past papers. And so this is what the examiner is looking for. Because the examiner actually doesn’t care how good you are at the subject, they actually care. Have you fulfilled the requirements, according to the matrix that I’ve got, this is what I’ve been told to look for.


Nippin Anand  27:46

A lot of ship managers, when they hear this, they will smile because that’s their worldview about how inspections and audits are done on on oil rigs and ships.



Nippin Anand  28:36

I’m conscious of the time, Nick, but how would you like to wrap up this discussion around Icue, there’s so much we discussed Of course,


Nick Little  28:43

I think the thing that I find interesting in what you’re doing, and one of the I think why I’d like to track it. And what it means for me is it’s about a certain type of change management. And it’s a kind of a fundamental change in organisations to reflective thinking organisations. And it isn’t a simple thing. And this, you can see that this point in the IQ session when the guy from a legal background was kind of saying but you do need some processes and checklists and you kind of said, well, yes, you do. You do you know you didn’t deny that. And it was like I was saying, I do need the meetings where it is just about we’re going to organise this event and we’re actually not now going to question our assumptions about what it is because we do just need to organise this event. And it’s, you know, there is that that balance between we do need to be efficient and productive sometimes with action points. But that can actually live live quite comfortably with within a reflective organisation, that it’s not a contrary dictation? No, it’s not. There is a paradigm shift to something else. And it is a radical fundamental change. And it is so difficult to do. And it was so fascinating listening to these conversations.



But great chatting with you, Nick, as always.


Nippin Anand  30:25

What did you think? It’s interesting, isn’t it to note that Nick thought that this was a paradigm shift? This is a very powerful indication of learning and change. Something happens in your world, and your worldview shifts considerably. And life is never the same again. Yes, Nick is right, it is a paradigm shift. And that is how I view the success of learning and change. Too often Chain Management programmes fail, because people simply cannot see where they are, and where they’re going to be with the proposed changes, changes imposed upon them and too often by others who are not themselves willing to change. So changes for the other person, I don’t need to change. But if we really want to influence the way people think in any workplace or organisation, we have to offer them a coherent approach, a coherent philosophy that can help them achieve that change. And Nick is right I think this goes beyond just giving people tools and methods. People do need a coherent philosophy that is aligned with methods and tools to produce the desired effect for learning and chain. And it has to be simple and intuitive. That is why the ICue method appears challenging in the beginning, but slowly proves to become so successful, because it is seated in a philosophy, philosophy of social psychology of risk, where we believe that we should let go of the idea of managing people and embrace the notion of meeting with people. Once people realise the power of listening and understanding in those meetings, and once they have taken the first step, they seldom return to the culture of controlling and telling others. That is my vision for ICue, and ICue cafe in every organisation. Let people experience the power of listening to each other, and understanding each other better. And the ICue method provides some simple and intuitive tools to achieve this in practice. If you want to learn more about the ICUe method, you can go on our website www.novellus.solutions. You can also join one of our taster sessions. There are no strings, there are no costs attached to this. We do have two events coming up, one in Aberdeen and one in Copenhagen in March and the ICue method, you can sign up to our workshops by visiting our website www.novellus.solutions/events. Thank you for listening. And if you have any feedback or questions for me, you can reach out to me at support@novellus.solutions. The podcast is available on Spotify, Apple pod bean, Google podcast and anchor. If you wish to contact us you can get on get in touch with us on my website. You can email me support at numberless dot solutions. You can find me on LinkedIn or you can subscribe to our newsletters until I hear from you again. Have a pleasant day ahead