In recent months, as part of our recruitment drive to expand the London office, I have spent a great deal of time describing the incredible focus and value that we place on training and development within AXON and the NATIONAL/ResPublica network. While I was being absolutely honest in this assessment, I have had a real ‘road to Damascus moment’ in recent days, and now see how narrow my understanding was previously.

As anyone who has been (un)fortunate to have been interviewed by me will attest, I have always talked about the NATIONAL programs, such as VLM and 101/201 in positive terms, but having not previously attended either 101 or 201, my view of these was informed largely by second-hand accounts. On Friday and Saturday last week I had the absolute pleasure of participating in 201, and I now see what the fuss is all about!

Unfortunately I can’t talk specifics, as we had to drink something the locals called ‘Cool Aid’… but I can confirm that every single one of us agreed in a single (almost conditioned) voice that we are all individuals (apart from the single Monty Python-influenced dissenter at the back – splitter!).

OK, maybe not. But that was a callback to one of the first questions from an attendee – “are you trying to create NATIONAL automatons?” The simple answer is no. This training is about helping us to be more open versions of ourselves.

To achieve this, they rip us apart from the soul out, and then help us to rebuild ourselves. We laughed, we cried, we screamed in each other’s faces, we hugged, we drank (anything but Cool Aid).

Attending this course was an amazing experience, thanks to the incredible efforts put in by the organizers and the faculty (and those who went before them), as well as the commitment and talent of my fellow attendees (hopefully I held my own for the most part).

I hope that I will be able to convey, to candidates and colleagues alike, my expanded understanding of what the network’s commitment to training looks like… and that the mental, emotional and physical scars heal soon!?!

By: Duncan Shaw