Listening experiment helps drive London innovation

March 12

By Sean Meyer


Janet Frood was among the original wave of people who sat together and dreamt up the possibility of an innovation shared space in the Forest City.

That excitement eventually led to the 2016 launching creation of Innovation Works, the space where Frood set up her personal coaching business, Horizon Leadership. For some 13 years, she has worked as an executive and team leadership coach, helping people create a vision for where they are, but also where they want to be.

Given her business is one of the approximately 180 co-tenants that have set up shop at Innovation Works, Frood thought it would be the ideal location to launch a little experiment, one she is already seeing big support for.

And if nothing else, it offered her the chance to give herself a pretty cool title.

“My self-appointed role is as listener in residence. Nobody asked me to do it; I just created the concept of it. Maybe it’s the spirit of innovation, but I didn’t do much research, I just went for it,” she said. “Listening is a big part of the coaching mindset. So, I thought, what can I give to this community, to the people in this space, knowing that if I help one person here, what is the ripple effect that will create?”

When Frood launched her idea in July 2017, she said it would be a year-long experiment.

The results to date, she explains, have been “quite profoundly amazing.”

She admits to having some assumptions about why people would take part in her idea.

They might be feeling stuck or frustrated or perhaps they just wanted to vent about something. She also figured some participants might need a safe space to unfold an idea before they went into a formal situation where they had to pitch an idea to someone else.

But whatever people’s reasons for taking part might be, Frood had to change the way she would typically interact with her coaching clients.

“When I do these sessions, I’m pausing the coaching part of me, because by nature coaches ask a lot of questions. What I’m doing is 20 minutes of pure listening,” she said. “It was just, I don’t know, 20 minutes and let’s see what happens, what could be possible. That was the experiment. It’s pretty magical what can happen in 20 minutes.”

Frood has had about 20 of these formal listening situations and probably numerous other informal ones.

For Frood, this experiment in intentional listening has created “a deep connection with people,” as individuals are being “completely whole-hearted,” and open to the idea of sharing.

In a conversation with one of the participants, Frood asked if they were to encourage others to participate in a listening session, what would they say.

The answer sums up the excitement created by the listener in residence.

“This one person said, ‘Having someone to just sit there and listen brings a lot of benefits and helps in a lot of ways. Sometimes we just need that non-judgemental outsider who has an open heart and an open mind and, most importantly, open ears,’” she said. “Twenty minutes of listening can save a whole lot of fixing down the road. When you think about it, it’s proactive listening instead of reactive. There are a lot of places this can go.”

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