An Interview with Redwood & Co’s Carol O’Reilly

Posted on September 13, 2016

Carol O’Reilly, Founder of Redwood & Co explores innovative L&D and shares her thoughts on creating a culture of curiosity and achieving agility through experimentation.”

 Lets start with an introduction to who Redwood & Co are and what they do?

Redwood is a collective of consultants who have come together out of a passion for crafting creative learning environments. The ethos really is that there are lots of independent consultants out there who have lots of talents and to bring them together to offer something new and innovative to the corporate world in the context of learning and development. The world keeps changing and learning & development needs to keep changing with it. So in terms of bringing a new dimension to learning & development we are questioning “how do we make L&D more impactful and more felt, as opposed to an activity that gets done?” “How do we bring together a lot of the models and the theories out there, and get people emotionally connected to them, so as to actually drive different types of outputs and resultants that are measurable and tangible? For us the approach is very much about a whole ‘head, heart and hand’ connection.

 Could you share a line or two from Redwood’s founding myth? 

Learning, I believe, is like an experiment where ‘mistakes and next takes’ are part of the journey.

Experimentation, especially when it has elements of fun and engaging interactivity built into it, enables agility and adaptability. Some of the critical components of experimentation includes mixing things up, doing new and different things, involving different people and perspectives… Redwood’s founding myth revolves around these core elements, where the hosting of open and innovative environments enables both individual and collective experimentation and through which the resultant learning leads to focused action.

It links back to our tag line ‘wired to make the energy within groups and leaders flow,’ I think energy comes from things like experimenting, having fun and taking it seriously but maybe through different means – through means that allow creativity and potential to really come out. 

Can you capture as a picture, a vision of Redwood’s dream of “creatively crafted” learning environments? 

The vision is that it is boundary-less. The solar system works as a good metaphor- the sun sits in the middle with fire and energy inside of it, you have all sorts of different planets that have different conditions- different skills, knowledge bases, partners, and all are pulled by gravity into coherence, and it’s in that holistic gesture of them coming together as a system that they can create something that sustains life and energy. 

To me this boundary-less-ness is about no element being bounded by its beliefs, its skills, its attitude… anything. This is key to learning. And I think that the gravity comes from the leaders who actually have to host that boundaryless space- they have to create it but everyone then has their own energy that they can bring to the context; the leader’s give the stars the opportunity to constellate and for the components in the system to come into gravitational alignment. 

So a vision for our learning environments is that they are a context for that solar system dynamic to be discovered and enacted by our clients. 


Image source: Vanessa Sheehan

From your experience, what you do believe are some of the core competencies that leaders need to exhibit to enable people in an organisation to come into alignment?

Empowerment and Engagement- which link very nicely back to learning as an experiment. If leaders in the business are encouraging their people to engage, to try things, to work with each other, with their partners, then the leaders empower their team to see things as an experiment where everybody learns. I think that is where alignment happens- where the realisation of ‘this is what we can achieve together’ is encountered. And it’s that co-creativity- the collective acknowledgement that “it’s okay to take risks” and the collective dialogue along the way around ‘what is risk in this context’ – that cultivates resilience and agility.

Curiosity is another core competency, and something I once read as being a gateway competency, which I loved the notion of, because it is through curiosity that one takes time to pause and truly observe things and see other peoples’ perspectives. In doing this, one ultimately challenges their own thinking and learnings to date.. and that makes one richer in their own being going forward.

I often wonder “how do you create a culture of curiosity” and what I have found thus far is that this again links back to experimentation… curiosity is a mechanism, wherein by introducing new perspectives, methodologies and approaches – be they from the arts, science, etc. – one sparks creativity and imagination – and leaders of today need not only be curious themselves, they need to empower and engage the curiosity of those they lead.

Using your phone, can you take 6 pictures which tell a story of Redwood and where it is going… 

Coffee Cup: This is about building environments that have that “coffee cup culture” quality where people can come and have relaxed, rich conversations with a definitive taste- like coffee. 

Cocoon: This is about going into that silent space of reflection and deeper meaning, wherein we might first encourage clients to expand themselves but then to come back in and allow a focus as well.

A Redwood Tree: this captures the importance of grounding and safety. The redwood trees have such a warm and rich environment and because they are so tall they allow light through but they also shelter, so that idea of learning that allows so many new ideas to emerge and be explored, but safely. Their roots are very strong but they are not that deeply grounded to be stuck, and also at the core of the tree is the ability for it to constantly grow each year at rate- that significant growth, that height that it can get to, is magnificent yet it remains so grounded as well… so for Redwood&Co we want to continue to ask “what do businesses need” and “how can we keep that offering grounded?” “How do we take what a client is looking for and help them ground it in the context for their people, for their values and their ‘why’ in the world?”

Children: this speaks to the playfulness, the openness to experimenting and keeping that at the core of what we do. 

Leading to Hope Way: the reason I took this picture was the ‘leading to” aspect: we are helping to lead a way forward for organisations; we don’t necessarily provide the hope but we do open up to whatever hope looks like for the people in the organisations we work with. That idea of hope to me is around possibility… but it also has belief built in behind it, so it doesn’t finish at possibility. What we give to people is the idea of discovering their potential and then actually doing something with it. So hope is actually linked not just to the possibility but to the actualisation of it – that it is possible! 

Connectedness: getting people to be curious about connectedness as a way of learning. To me constellations might be a good image here- you wouldn’t necessarily recognise a constellation at first seeing a series of stars in the night’s sky… and yet once someone has made that connection for you, the notion of Orion, Libra, Ursa Major, etc., between certain stars means you can see them too- and for other stars that aren’t so obviously connected or currently known there is still so much potential for the possibility of defining new constellations according to the different connections that can be drawn. 

Finally, is there anything else you would like to share?

I love the idea of the ripple effect- seeing how far something can spread, acknowledging and allowing the ripple’s own power, knowing that every time you throw a stone into the pond you don’t know how many ripples you are going to get- that is up to that particular stone to determine in alignment and unison with the particular dimensions and attributes of the water in which it was thrown… I always think that’s quite fascinating, where people are the stones and the water beds are the organisations into which we throw ourselves and our efforts, we don’t know what effect our specific interactions will have… we just need to keep throwing ourselves in, experimenting and allowing our ripples to spread! 

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