Can You Lead A Horse To Water?

How many times have you heard “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t Horsemake it drink.”?

Well actually that’s not true, if the horse doesn’t want to move it won’t! The only way the horse will choose to go with you is by being confident and developing a trust based relationship with the horse, enabling them to feel safe. Horses are motivated in similar ways to human beings, by satisfying their basic needs for safety, food and staying clear of any threats to their survival. Sound familiar?

It is because of these similarities with human beings that working with horses can provide such a powerful way of gaining feedback and learning invaluable lessons about the impact of your leadership style upon others and the relationships you have with your colleagues, customers, friends and family. The behaviours displayed by the horses when working with them provides you with a reflection of yourself. Just as the developments in neuroscience have shown that emotions between people are contagious, horses too can pick up and sense the emotions and thoughts people. If you approach or stand close to a horse with a head full of negative or stressful thoughts, you will see a behavioural reaction in the horse.

If you want to lead a horse to water, you need to;

  • be confident and clear about where you are going and how you are going to get there
  • build up a relationship of trust
  • and be totally focused on the horse and the present moment.

When I was invited by equine-facilitator Roz Danks, to attend one of her workshops, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but the increase in self-awareness and transformations of behaviours in the participants within such a short space of time was absolutely astounding. I observed participants as one by one they nervously approached the horse, heads full of “The horse won’t do it.” or “The horse is much bigger than I am.” And it was of no surprise to them or anyone else when the horse started to turn away or refused to move. However, as the facilitators began to coach the participants, increasing their awareness of their thoughts and behaviours, you could see the participant’s confidence levels rise as they displaced their unhelpful thoughts and began to focus on the horse and what they wanted it to do. In a relatively short space of time, the participants were leading the horses around the arena and guiding them, without holding onto the reins through and around strategically placed obstacles.

As I watched the workshop unfold, the participants grew their confidence and skills in leading the horses and I was drawing the parallels of what I was watching with the situations and challenges people face in the workplace. I started to think about the way mindful practices could support participants to regain and maintain their focus in the present moment and have increased awareness of their thoughts once they returned to the pressures and demands of the workplace.

This is how my interest in developing an equine-facilitated mindfulness workshop began.

If you would like to find out more about our equine-facilitated workshops, please contact Michelle McArthur-Morgan on 07801 056 284 or email michelle.mcarthur@jigsawatwork.com

 

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Mindfulness should not be used to avoid addressing workplace stressors

You may or may not be aware that October 2015 was a milestone for mindfulness within the UK, as we saw the launch to parliament of the Mindful Nation UK report, which is the culmination of the Mindful Initiative which drew together dozens of mindfulness practitioners, journalists, academics, politicians and scientists who gave thousands of hours of free time to investigate the benefits of mindfulness on the health of nation.

The project looked at four key areas, Education, Healthcare, Criminal Justice and the workplace. One interesting fact which the report highlighted is that whilst there has been no significant increase in mental illness within the general population over the last twenty years, within the workplace the over the last six years there has been a 24% increase in the number of days lost to stress related illness and the number of days lost to serious mental ill health has doubled.

The report identified the key factors driving the increase of mental ill health in the workplace;

  • Intensification of work duties with multiple demands upon employees attention
  • Increased multitasking at work
  • Technology driven changes leading to increased uncertainty and instability which is creating anxiety around job roles and employees status

Mental ill health is of great significance to the long term prosperity of the UK, and when implementing initiatives to develop a Mindful Nation, the importance of SME’s to the economy must not be overlooked, as they tend to have little or no access to mental wellbeing programmes.

The World Health Organisation has warned that mental ill-health will be the “biggest burden of disease in developed countries by 2030”.  It is therefore imperative that we begin to develop sustainable brain friendly working practices which support our mental health and wellbeing.

Research has shown that by taking short periods of time out to practice mindfulness, individuals can benefit by having enhanced cognitive skills such as decision making, objectivity, working memory functionality and improved reaction times.

Whilst there is a vast amount of evidenced research into the practice of mindfulness in a generalised context, there is still more to be done in the context of the workplace. However the Mindful Nation report does highlight some specific workplace based findings which include:

  • Leaders who practice mindfulness were reported to have employees who showed fewer signs of emotional exhaustion, were able to maintain a better worklife balance, had increased empathy and concern for their co-workers, were able to speak out honestly and overall achieved higher performance.
  • Increased resilience with employees reporting being able to sleep better, feeling less anxious when working under pressure and having improved memory
  • Increased focus, attention and reflection during the decision making process, which led to an increase in consciousness of the assumptions and judgements, influencing the judgements being made.
  • Preliminary research also found that organisations which integrated mindfulness into the workplace culture could be labelled as being of “High Reliability” due to paying an increased attention to the day to day operations, thus enabling mistakes and trends to be identified earlier, discussed and then flexible decision making structures put in place to provide solutions.

In relation to the workplace the recommendations in the report suggested that:

  • The Department for Business Innovation & Skills should demonstrate leadership by working with employers to promote the best use of mindfulness and develop an understanding of good practice and that….
  • Government departments should encourage the development of mindfulness programmes for staff in the public sector, to help combat stress and improve organisation effectiveness.

There is a word of caution however, mindfulness should not be viewed as the antidote for working in a toxic environment. It should not be used to avoid addressing workplace stressors such as poor management practices, excessive workloads, long working hours, lack of employee involvement and low levels of control and autonomy employees have over their work.

As Jess Morden MP said in her opening speech at the parliamentary launch of the Mindful Nation UK report, this is the beginning of a process and not the end. We have lots of work to do.

If you would like to find out more about mindfulness and developing mindful working practices, email michelle.mcarthur@jigsawatwork.com or telephone 01924 864444 now.

Michelle McArthur-Morgan -Senior Learning Consultant & Mindfulness Practitioner

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The Performance Equation

In figures published by the HSE 1 in 5 of the workforce are affected by stress, it is now the biggest single course of sickness in the UK, with 105 million working days lost each year, costing employers £1.24 billion. Although from a reliable source these figures do not illustrate the whole picture as they do not take into account the loss of productivity of employees who continue to work but due to anxiety, depression and the adverse effects of the pressure of the work are not able to perform at optimum levels, resulting in under performance and loss of revenue and profitability.

Many of us know only too well that the busyness of the 24/7 365 knowledge economy that we are living in values how well we use our minds more than how many things we make each hour. It is ideas, inventions, innovation and creativity that fuel our rapidly changing global economy yet organisations still largely operate on old notions of productivity, work faster, think faster and use as much technology as possible to increase efficiency. People skills, even in this age of ‘Emotional Intelligence’ are more expected than cultivated and the idea that the workplace should be a place where people flourish and develop sets heads nodding, but are we really making this happen?

Traditionally when we think about people development we look at the skills level (capabilities) of our people and identify skills gaps which go onto form the training plans. However developing skills, behaviour and capability is only part of the picture and whilst skill development does lead to enhanced performance, if we want to optimise performance we need to look at the bigger picture.

A question we ask at the beginning of our Leadership programmes is “If you could have an abundance of one more thing, what would it be?” The over whelming response I get back is “space”: Space to stop and think. Creating Mental Space is critical for innovation, creativity, decision making general performance and mental wellbeing. Having the skills and capabilities to perform a role is important but if people do not have the mental capacity (space) to put their skills to the best use, personal productivity and effectiveness will be limited.

As we face longer and more demand­ing lives, it is imper­a­tive that we bet­ter empower and equip our­selves with the right cog­ni­tive and emo­tional resources and tools to enable us to maintain a healthy mind.

At the World of Learning Conference and Exhibition, (September 29th & 30th, NEC, Birmingham) Michelle McArthur-Morgan, Master Facilitator and Mindfulness Practitioner at Jigsaw@work will be discussing ways of creating more mental space , to enable better decision making, developing attentional skills and resilience to cope even in the most frantic of workplaces.

Michelle will discuss how Mindfulness is impacting on the world of work, looking at ways in which individuals and organisations are introducing and using mindfulness, and not just as a way of reducing stress, or being more focused whilst at work, but to create awareness of what and how they do things, enabling them to make more ethical choices and exercise social responsibility to ensuring the world will be here for generations to come.

The workshops are Free of charge to attend and will be delivered throughout the two day conference and exhibition in the Mindfulness Zone. Michelle will also be available for 1:1 consultations in between the workshops.

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Building High Performance Teams

On the 24th June, senior consultant Michelle McArthur-Morgan led a group of HR Professionals through an interactive and thought provoking Learn & Lunch workshop looking at “Building High Performance Teams”. The workshop consisted of experiential activities, group discussions, personal reflection, and insights into some of the underpinning neuroscience.

The Jigsaw Journey of Discovery

The Jigsaw Journey of Discovery

At the end of the workshop a number of key learnings had emerged which we would like to share;

  • Although time is a very scarce resource for most managers, the importance of investing it wisely by getting to know individual team members will reap expediential benefits in the future. As a starting point managers should develop their awareness and understanding of the working and communication preferences of team members, the value of individual members strengths, and their personal stressors and early signs of stress.
  • The communication and sharing of the vision and goals should be done in such a way that all members can feel committed to them and easily explain the following;
  • What’s our team’s job?
  • What organisational goals do we support?
  • How do we add value?
  • What would happen if we were not there?
  • Diversity within a team increases the collective intelligence which is a critical factor for high performance teams.
  • One of the major requirements to enable a team to move along the development curve is the ability for open honest communication. Team members should feel supported and encouraged to speak openly, honestly and with respect for the colleagues.
  • Only a small number of teams truly achieve and maintain the performing stage of the Tuckman development curve, with a much larger percentage of teams aspiring to be a Performing team but the reality being that they fluctuate between Norming and Storming.
  • The three ingredients of a high performing team are;
  • Effective leadership
  • Committed Membership
  • Appropriate ways of working together. Team members should discuss and agree the process and ground rules for
  1. How they will communicate ?
  2. How they will manage meetings ?
  3.  How they will problem solve ?
  4.  How they will resolve conflict &disagreements
  5.  Their scope of authority
  • Managers should be aware of the symptoms demonstrated when a team is in distress. All too often when things start to go wrong, when people stop performing at their best, the tendency is to place the blame on the individual and assume that they just “Don’t care”. Instead managers should first explore four key elements;
  1. Are all team members, (including themselves) sharing the same vision and heading in the same direction?
  2. How do all team members (including themselves) work together? Are relationships healthy?
  3. How do they organise and use their resources?
  4. Do team members have what they need to do their jobs?

If you would like further information about any of the above learnings or to find out how your team could benefit from a Jigsaw Team event, please email: michelle.mcarthur@jigsawatwork.com or telephone +44 (0) 1924 864444.

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Are Tea Breaks An Unnecessary Indulgence?

Picture of Cup of TeaIn a recent survey published in the Daily Telegraph today, one in five people said they took fewer tea breaks than they did five years ago as they feared their bosses would think they were slacking.

One in half of the 2000 surveyed said they were too busy to stop for a cuppa, whilst one in four believed they were not allowed to have a break.

Psychologist Honey Langcaster-James said that the research “reflected the increasing pressure they feel they are under at work”

Yet evidenced new research has the importance of taking regular breaks throughout the day to sustain performance on average every 90 minutes the mind needs a short break to help it maintain clarity and calmness which enables good decision making, creativity and increases overall performance.

In today’s working environment where people are after working to tight deadlines, where distractions are high, it is becoming ever increasingly more difficult to stay focused and maintain a clear mind to do our best work. By taking regular breaks just 2/3 minutes every 90 minutes or thereabout helps to keep our mind in peak condition.

It is when we feel that we really cannot afford to stop for a short break, that we should try even harder to take one.

There is also a second reason why regular breaks should be encouraged. One of the basic human needs which plays a major role in intrinsic motivation is the ability to be ‘social’.  Tea breaks provide a valuable opportunity for staff to socialise with their colleagues which encourages better teamworking and collaboration.

Long live the Tea break !

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Simple Steps for Creating a Mindful Workplace

The busyness of working in a 24/7 365 world of interconnectedness is often distracting and limits our capacity for clear thinking and good decision making.

At the forthcoming Learning & Skills exhibition Michelle McArthur-Morgan, Managing Partner and Brain Mechanic at Jigsaw@work, will be delivering a number of free workshops to provide delegates with simple and practical ways of creating a workplace where employees are able to thrive and achieve sustainable effectiveness.  During the workshops Michelle will be sharing her experience and knowledge of Mindfulness practice and its application within the modern workplace.

People who are more adept at working with their mind and mental states perform better that benefits their teams, colleagues, clients, customers and all other stakeholders. “There has been thousands of studies conducted on various aspects of mindfulness and on that basis I can say with confidence that mindfulness training enhances focus and attention, increases awareness, raises levels of resilience and strengthens cognitive effectiveness.” said Michelle.

Mindfulness at work training is fast becoming accepted as an essential core programme for leaders and their teams. The five core areas which mindfulness can impact upon in the workplace are leadership & strategic thinking, productivity, self management, interpersonal relationships and wellbeing.

Only this week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, a conference room jammed full with over 100 of the global elite came together for “Leading Mindfully”. A panel discussion with a mix of breathing instruction, management theory and personal reflection, the session focused upon how mediation is impacting the workplace. According to a report in the New York Times, Jon Kabat-Zinn, a molecular biologist who helped popularize mindfulness meditation in recent decades, said “This is a very unusual event at the World Economic Forum, and it’s diagnostic of something much larger that is happening.”

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Regain Your Sanity

In recent figures published by the HSE 1 in 5 of the workforce are affected by stress, it is now the biggest single course of sickness in the UK, with 105 million working days lost each year, costing employers £1.24 billion. Although from a reliable source these figures do not illustrate the whole picture as they do not take into account the loss of productivity of employees who continue to work but due to anxiety, depression and the adverse effects of the pressure of the work are not able to perform at optimum levels, resulting in under performance and loss of revenue and profitability.

Many of us know only too well that the busyness of the 24/7 365 knowledge economy that we are living in values how well we use our minds more than how many things we make each hour. It is ideas, inventions, innovation and creativity that fuel our rapidly changing global economy yet organisations still largely operate on old notions of productivity, work faster, think faster and use as much technology as possible to increase efficiency. People skills, even in this age of ‘Emotional Intelligence’ are more expected than cultivated and the idea that the workplace should be a place where people flourish and develop sets heads nodding, but are we really making this happen?

Traditionally when we think about people development we look at the skills level (capabilities) of our people and identify skills gaps which go onto form the training plans. However developing skills, behaviour and capability is only part of the picture and whilst skill development does lead to enhanced performance, if we want to optimise performance we need to look at the bigger picture.

A question we ask at the beginning of our Leadership programmes is “If you could have an abundance of one more thing, what would it be?” The over whelming response I get back is “space”. Space to stop and think. Creating Mental Space is critical for innovation, creativity, decision making and general performance.

If you would like to receive a copy of our paper “The Performance Equation” in which we discuss creating mental space please contact Lindsey.Gittins@jigsawatwork.com.

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Mentioning the Unmentionable – Having Difficult Conversations

A common topic of conversation (not a difficult one) at the moment, and that has been discussed for some time now, is how to have difficult conversations.

There is a natural resistance to difficult conversations.  In fact, you are invited right now to think of reasons why you believe people do not have their difficult conversation.  Maybe it is what you do to not have the conversation you know you need to have, but that you have been avoiding?

Have you done that?

What types of answers did you come up with?  Maybe it is because people generally seek to avoid what they might perceive to be a confrontation.  Maybe the organisational policies and procedures make it more difficult? Maybe it is the age old challenge of a lack of time.

Now, you are invited to think of a time that you did have a difficult conversation, maybe with a direct report for example or with a Manager that had not been managing?  Think back to that situation. 

What was going on for you?  What were you thinking and feeling?

Maybe you were feeling frustrated, maybe you felt uncomfortable or felt that you were just listening to excuses or felt that the other person was not taking ownership or responsibility. Maybe you just wanted to tell them straight but you professionalism dictated that this was not an option.  Most probably by the end of the conversation you were emotionally drained.

Now, take a moment to think what was going on for the other person?

What do you think might have been going through their mind? You might think that the odd person was playing the system.  But if we are honest that is not true for most people, even if the occasional one.  You might have felt that the other person was not revealing their true emotions, that they felt under attack, that they did not know how to deal with the situation in the most adult way, that they were becoming defensive or even aggressive. 

How do you feel now?

Maybe (I said ‘maybe’), now you have taken a moment to walk in the other persons shoes, you are feeling a little more empathy.

This taking a mindful moment to reflect, taking a moment to breathe and to focus, to think that the other person is just like you but facing  a different challenge might just allow you to take the time that is needed to think about how best to prepare for the conversation you know is necessary.  What might be the best possible outcome for you both? It might not be a true win-win, or an ideal outcome, but it is the best one that can be achieved at that moment in time.

With all the thoughts, feelings, observations and thoughts that go hand in hand with these uncomfortable situations, it is no wonder that many people might choose to avoid having difficult conversations.  It is an understandable human reaction.  But just because it is understandable does not mean it is useful or helpful.

What are the consequences, however, of not having difficult conversations?

Maybe a team is demotivated because the one poor performer is not dealt with from a capability or conduct point of view. Maybe your job is infinitely more difficult because you are doing the job that your Managers should be doing.  Rather than supporting them in having difficult conversations with their team, you find that you are dealing with the consequences of them not having those conversation, maybe you have inherited a poor performer that has had several previous line managers that have never dealt with the situation and now there is a legacy, an historical precedent, an expectation that has been set, but difficult to resolve.  Maybe the department, or even the organisation, is suffering the consequences of avoiding conversations that are really open and honest. Even if this can be painful on occasion, if done in the right way, those conversations need and must take place.  Unless people talk about feelings, values and behaviours levels of trust will never increase and organisation performance will not reach its full potential.

No-one can afford not to have these conversations, on a personal or organisational level.  Issues and challenges need to be ‘nipped in the bud’. So, if we need to have these conversations how can we have them in the most appropriate and helpful way.  In a way that does not evoke an ‘amygdala hijack’ on the part of the other person, which immediately results in a less useful and emotional response, but instead a logical and adult response.

It is important to focus on the proximal effect, what is happening in the room now, rather than focusing on the distol effect, what might happen after, outside the room.  Very often our preoccupation with what might happen afterwards adds to our anxiety and might incline us to avoid the conversation.  It is important, as mentioned, to take a moment, to pause, breathe and focus.  Take time out to think about the conversation and prepare.  Take a walk in the other person’s shoes and focus on the best possible outcome for both parties before the conversation takes place.  This mindful reflection and pause is important.

We can also think about good high quality open questions.  The ‘CREATE’ model by David Rock from the Quiet Leader, 2006, is an excellent model that generates excellent high quality open questions.  The model stands for Current Reality, Exploring Alternatives and Tapping Energy.  It is a model that supports coaching and creates the need to listen and thereby create rapport, but also encourages the other person to take responsibility.

Think carefully beforehand about the conversation and prepare in order to give you the best chance possible chance to stay calm.  Do not allow emotions to dictate the outcome, but the willingness that both parties seek the best possible outcome. 

In summary, two things are critical.  Firstly, have the conversation.  Secondly, remain calm. 

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Well Done! Measuring and Celebrating Success

One area of potential areas that has been noticed recently when working with different organisations is the fact that few seem to celebrate success.  In fact one client, when they discovered other parts of the business had achieved significant milestones in the recent months – and they didn’t know about it – were not only surprised but it completely changed the morale of the group.  The group was in fact two teams brought together with the aim of working more collaboratively.  The mindset of the group suddenly shifted from a slightly negative approach to the realization that if the two groups started to collaborate more effectively they could achieve significantly more than if they worked independently.  This was all down to simply hearing some good news.

Furthermore, the fact that the good news was now being recognised, albeit later than originally hoped, was key.  Recognition responds to a deep motivational need within most people, as many of the motivational models have long since identified.  From a neuro-scientific point of view it also is intrinsically linked to the ‘Status’ element of David Rock’s SCARF model which talks of the importance of status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness.  In terms of allowing our people to work with the brain, rather than against it, it is important to recognise achievements.  As neuro scientist Evian Gordon noted, ‘To minimise danger and maximise reward is an overarching organising principle of the brain’.  It is observed ‘when SCARF concerns are mitigated, an individual’s state of readiness appears to increase, and vice versa’.

There is also another key and beneficial consequence of recognising success.  In order to recognise success, we have to be clear on when that success has been achieved.  In this sense we are then forced to identify the key measures of success at the start of an initiative.  Although this is important, that too can sometimes be overlooked.  Why are we doing something? What is the purpose? We need to know before we proceed.

Although this is clearly best practice when setting ourselves a goal, it very often occurs that once a goal has been achieved, some organisations do little to then measure and review the success of the goal.  This could provide important information to either maintain the success or even improve on the standard achieved.  This stage, whatever we call it, be it evaluating, monitoring, measuring, reviewing or even de-briefing , could add so much to a process.  This is a shame since the lion’s share of the work has essentially been completed by this stage, the measuring which is the icing on the cake could add so much, and could be done easily if the key measures have been clearly identified and articulated from the start.

Not only that but it makes people feel great!  Recognising success is cheap, often polite, can be easily role modelled by leaders, and can even have a cultural impact on an organisation which, we all know, can positively affect the all-important financial performance.

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The Non Leader

I am sure many blogs have been recently written with the World Cup as a theme, and so in the spirit of ‘fellowship’, I will do exactly the same.  Leadership of course is never a role to be underestimated, although sometimes difficult to articulate why.  Very often people might say, ‘But really what difference can one person make? Especially when they take over a team who already know what they are doing? That have been doing the same things for years, each of have their own recognised and established role and the strategy has not changed?’ I have never seen this as being as evident as when Alex Ferguson left Manchester United.  I was actually quite surprised that the team, despite knowing and playing with each other, very often for years, still stumbled, and fell.  And yet, with the new incoming manager, who did well as the Manager of Holland in the recent World Cup, maybe the team will rally again, energise, and perform.

Ultimately, therefore the impact of a good leader is evident.  Of course we could attribute a dip in performance to the fact that there had been a change, a new significant member which catapulted the team back to the storming phase of the team dynamic.  These are all possibilities but the feeling is the influence of one leader was significant but the influence of the other leader was not.

This provided consideration for the importance of a leader who is possibly not there, at least all the time.  In the age of multi-site, multi-location and international organisations, how can we ensure the presence of the leader is felt, even when they are not physically present?  Seemingly, this presence does need to be felt.  So the possibility of visits, where possible, might be considered, communication via technological means might certainly be used.  Ultimately regular communication in whatever form must continue.  Otherwise the clarity of message that comes directly from the leader is diluted, translated weakly by transmitters less articulate, resulting in a message that has been amended, tweaked, changed by the time it arrives at the door of the final recipient.  The meaning, and impact, will have subtly changed.

What is also interesting however is the impact of the ‘significant individual’.  Although this is commonly thought to be just the leader, very often other people in the team can robustly demonstrate leadership behaviours.  Actually we sometimes talk about leaders being the only ones that need to demonstrate role modelling behaviour, but actually everyone needs to demonstrate the majority of good leadership behaviours, such as the ability to communicate, influence and build relationships.  The impact of the significant ‘non-leader’ was also demonstrated within the football world.  When Neymar, and even, dare I say it Suarez, left their team.  Regardless of the external impression, their own team, and country, validated their presence as significant to the success of the team.  When they left, so there teams also left the World Cup.

The importance of the ‘non-leaders’ as significant individuals, can also be seen in the Tour de France.  Although one person is elected to be the leader, the other individuals step up at various times.  It’s almost as thought the role of leader is rotated, they are all on relay unit the final stages when the ‘leader’s leader’ emerges to win, on behalf of the team.  Here is an excellent example that demonstrates not only the role of leader, but also the role of switching that position; the importance of the team.  Every person is critical to the team’s performance and every person has a chance to be a leader.

Maybe leadership can be moveable feast.  That one person is elected but the domain of leadership behaviours does not just stay with that one person but is actively encouraged for all to experience.

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