Management

I have been known in the past to be disparaging of management but when you see it done well it is clear just what a difference good management can make.
Every time I ate in a Pret A Manger (in the dim and distant past) I used to marvel at how consistent the food was, how pleasant the staff were, how dependable the whole experience was and think “None of this happens without fantastic management putting in place effective procedures and getting staff on board with acting them out consistently”.
I think the same every time I get a message from a logistics company telling me when something will arrive, increasingly down to the nearest half an hour! Having spent my time driving I got to see first hand what this takes in terms of management, incredibly efficient systems, staff focus, training etc.
Good managers are worth their weight in gold. Staff know this as well, if not better, than anyone. Sadly what too often happens is that once in that select club bad managers are allowed to coast and can do untold harm to both their organisations and the staff who work in them. In fact rather than rooting out poor performing staff, doing something about underperforming management could have an exponentially greater effect.
But the divide between staff and management is like a class barrier where culturally it is easier to deal with staff, because that is your job, than with other managers, because they are your peers. Add to this that managers managers have come up through the system with the same mindset and you have a real problem that can only really be addressed from the top.
As I said, it is impressive when it is.

Holding back the tide

Well, several tides really. The passage of time has its inexorable effect. “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;”.

The veneer on bathroom cupboards starts to crack, patio grouting starts to crumble, cars rattle and creak. And yes, bodies ain’t what they used to be either.

But I like things looking aged. The shiny and new looks superficial compared to something that’s been around for a bit. Especially people.

So how much of a fight should we put up? Should we constantly strive to hold back the tide of time, or is there merit in letting things grow old gracefully, including ourselves?

Butterflies and drones

On a phone call to Dave Snowden yesterday he recalled a conversation he had had with Peter Drucker about consultants in which Drucker said something along the lines of “consultants should be like butterflies. They should flit about sharing ideas and inspiring people to change. They shouldn’t end up doing things for people”.

As Dave then pointed out this is very much where we have ended up with an industrial model of consultancy where youngsters with minimal experience siphon off vast amounts of money supplying cookie cutter solutions to business that all too often do more harm than good and deliberately cultivate damaging dependency.

I faced this with my own consultancy. I wanted to be a butterfly, they wanted me to be a drone. That look of nervousness when they realised that I expected them to change their thinking and do something with the new ideas. Even if they were comfortable with this their boss invariably wasn’t. It was frustrating for both of us and over time I grew weary with that frustration.

I used to joke about having an agreement for potential clients to sign that said “Do you care? Do you really care? Do you really, really care?”

People who really, really care can still make a difference. We need more of them.

Writing

Some of you may have noticed that I have not been writing much the past few weeks. There hasn’t been any particular reason for that, it is more that after twenty years of doing this I don’t always feel that I have anything to add.

But then it has always been true that I write as much, if not more, for myself as for anyone who reads these posts. Writing helps me notice what I notice, it helps me understand what matters to me, and helps me gain perspective on things. Writing “in public” helps me to take what I am writing more seriously than just blabbing away in my journal.

Life continues to throw up situations and events that need processing. I should write more. I miss it when I don’t do it.

Expectations

It’s funny looking out at the snow falling on the roof in front of my office window and thinking “This shouldn’t be happening, it was really warm the other day”.

It was funny hearing some royal quoted on the radio as saying that Prince Phillip’s death had come as a shock. (Really??)

It was funny not feeling as distraught at my mum’s death as I should have done.

Life rarely goes as expected. Why do we not learn this?

Mind blowing

This morning we were having a conversation about communication, about how incredible it is that a thought pops up in my brain, my lungs, lips, and vocal chords kick into gear and words come out of my mouth. The vibrating air hits Mollie’s ears, her brain interprets those sounds and hey presto what I said enters her brain.

We then got onto how the written word is similarly miraculous, especially when you get into other languages and things like pictograms etc. where scribbles on a page, written sometimes centuries previously, can produce emotion and understanding in the reader.

We then went on to talk about the vastly increased speed at which the world’s words are being recorded and stored in some fashion. And how most of them don’t ever really exist, only waggling electrons being to various degrees ephemeral even if temporarily stored on some sort of device.

We then talked about how even the letters that go up to make up the words don’t really exist, especially in transit where they are chopped up by packet switched networks and squirted around the world in milliseconds only to pile up in bits on millions of devices.

Coincidentally a poem had popped up in a guided meditation I was listening to when I woke this morning and I wanted to tell the girls about it.

So I lift my wrist, say “Hey Siri, find my the poem Breathe by David Whyte” and instantly, via servers all around the world, those words hit the Siri servers in Cupertino which understood them well enough to sift through all the millions and millions of instances of the word David, the millions and millions of instances of the word white (whichever spelling), the millions and millions of instances of the word poem, and the millions and millions of instances of the word breathe to return the poem to me on my wrist.

INSTANTLY! ON A DEVICE THE SIZE OF A 50p PEICE. ON MY WRIST!

Mind blowing if you just stop to think about it

Facts

I am occasionally surprised when I encounter someone getting exercised about facts and their apparent demise. It seems faintly nostalgic, looking back to some fictitious time when the world was simpler and facts could be trusted.

It never existed. Even scientific facts are only currently useful working hypotheses (that’s the strength of the scientific method unlike religions who take their truths way too seriously).

We are making all of it up. Realising this makes it easier to relax about “the truth” and to stop beating each other up about our made up stories and our made up facts.

I was going to say that the only fact that I am ever sure of is that I exist but even that’s not true any more. Awareness is happening here but any persistent sense of self is just a series of recurring, fleeting thoughts like all the others, passing bubbles in a frothy stream. Pop!

Progress?

A beautiful walk with blue skies and the sound of skylarks accompanying me – along with the steady drone of HS2 earth movers and the constant bleeping of reversing lorries.

Zoom in to the fence line in the distance in the photo above to see the sinister line of high viz clad security. They are encountering local protest as they start destroying ancient woodland to temporarily store stuff while they tear up the countryside.

SOTN 38

As ever Paolo and I had great fun recording the latest podcast. The whole reason we started recording them was that we’d be having these really interesting, fun, conversations and thought why not let others join in!

In this episode we start from vaccines and how conversations and online influence are impacting public health, we move on to celebrities interviews and how many think they must take a side. After a quick debate on handle and hooks, we talk about food, cats and caravans. We end wondering how many of the new behaviours adopted in the last year will end up lasting.

Category errors

A handle is not a hook. If you use a hook as a handle, say for example to hang up your coat, that handle ceases to function as a handle and life becomes harder. 

A sink is not a storage space, it is a space for making things wet. If you use it as a storage place, by leaving mountainous piles of dishes in it, it ceases to function as a place for making things wet. 

Unfortunately my life is beset with people who make category errors. 

Ahead of the game

I have just finished reading Carlo Rovelli’s book Reality Is Not What It Seems. It is a very impressive and exciting romp through physics from the ancient Greeks to the modern day in which he does a great job of clarifying complex topics. 

But one thing kept bugging me all the way through. Despite the fact that much of the book is about how everything around us is constantly changing, and that the minute particles of which the universe is constructed pervades everything, including us, there was no mention of the fact that Buddha sussed this out 2,500 years ago. 

Given how immersed I am in Buddhist philosophy and thinking these days it was interesting to read something so completely oriented to western philosophy and its Greek origins. It left me feeling frustrated and slightly dissatisfied satisfied with the book.

I was also listening to a podcast recently which referred to the experiment done a few years ago with a photograph of a dress where people vehemently disagreed about what colour the dress was. It turned out that our brains adjust colours for natural or artificial light and depending on whether you had spent most of your life in the open air or indoors, the dress is seen as one set of colours or another. 

Buddhist psychology taught that our experience of the world is “conditioned” by previous experience, our biology, and the norms of the society around us. Again something fundamental to the world that physics is “discovering”, that the Buddha sussed out 2,500 years ago.

The NHS

I got my first COVID vaccination this morning. As part of the process they give you a list of possible side effects – but one they didn’t mention was tearing up.

All the effort, all the efficiency, the pleasant staff, the feeling of being in very safe hands. I welled up in the queue and again in the car on the way home.

Any thoughts of damaging the NHS, especially privatising it for corporate gain, should be made a treasonable offence.

Driven

It may be my advancing years, it may be the calming effects of lockdown, but my aversion to the idea of being driven in business is increasing. Driving change, driving acceptance, driving sales. Too much of modern life is driven. Driven to succeed, driven to perform, driven to get ahead of others.

All of this driving is overheating our minds, our bodies, and the even world around us.

How about encouraging, supporting, or even enticing?

Happy 20th Birthday To My Blog

On this day twenty years ago, yes twenty years, I wrote my first blog post.

I thought I had lost any record of it because of a mess when moving domain names back in the early days. But a few years ago I tried finding it on The Internet Archive. Initially I had no success but I then remembered that Ev Williams (one of the founders of Blogger and later Twitter) made me a “blog of note” on his blog way back in the early days and this link had been spidered and stored in The Internet Archive.

So here it is – my very first blog post.

It is odd to think that without this tentative beginning I wouldn’t have got to travel the world, met so many wonderful people, and had a book published.

And perhaps more remarkably I am still blogging after all these years, and in fact increasingly doing so in preference to spending much time on social platforms. So if you want to keep in touch you can always find me here.

One World?

When my mother died her world died with her. What she saw, how she saw it, and what it meant to her no longer exists. The same will happen when I die. The world that I take so seriously, that feels so real, will disappear when I do.

This is not solipsism, there is a “real” world of matter and energy out there. But what I experience and what you experience are fundamentally different. Sure there are broad overlaps, and these are what allow us to communicate and to co-exist, but the reality that we are each so convinced of, and so attached to, is made up.

Remember this the next time you get into an argument about whether that shirt is green or blue – you are both right.

Remember this the next time you get into a bigger argument about bigger stuff too…

The pull of other places

Over the weekend my family were watching a film set in Australia. The story took place on the coast to the north of Sydney and the scenery and the sounds of the wildlife were so, so familiar. I started to feel a strong pang of homesickness.

I have been lucky enough to have been to Australia many times, and have seen more of the country than many Australians, but with the changes in my life and the world around my I find myself wondering if I will ever get to visit that wonderful country again.

In fact the many trips I have been able to experience around the world are taking on an air of unreality. Was I really there? Did it really happen? With the odd effects that lockdown is having on my sense of time and place it is getting hard to tell what happened last week never mind last year.

But this is a good thing. Time and place are much more malleable than we think. Our brains construct our experience of both and that experience changes all the time. Truly being where we are is hard enough never mind worrying about being somewhere else!

A sense of place

As my Apple Watch ups the monthly challenges my daily mileage is increasing to about nine miles a day at the moment. At my usual speed of around 3.5 miles an hour this takes me just under three hours. This is three hours incredibly well spent.

I don’t listen to audio books or podcasts. I just walk. I don’t even think that much. I just walk. I notice what is around me, which even on walks that I have now done hundreds of times changes every time, sometimes in small ways, sometimes in surprisingly significant ways.

My eyes and ears become more attuned to the world around me. I notice the smell of recently ploughed fields long before I see them. I notice the sound of different birds, like the mob of unruly sparrows that has moved into a couple of the trees on my most frequent route. My sight increasingly expands from the next step in front of me to the wider horizon and becomes more attuned to the flash of white as roe deer move away from the sound of my feet.

More than ever, in our disruptive times, feeling grounded matters. The best way to feel grounded is to place your feet on the ground, over and over again, for hours on end…

Latest SOTN

In this episode we first talk about driving (cars, lorries, motorbikes, people crazy), then we hear about Euan’s new HomePod Mini, and finally we discuss about past present and future of some real and some fictional politicians (American, Italian, British). 

Right, wrong, and righteousness

During lockdown the number of people out walking, cycling and running has increased enormously and to such an extent that a lot of footpaths have become quagmires.  As a consequence I am now more inclined to walk on our local network of single lane roads.

When growing up in Scotland I was always aware of the Highway Code instructions that if there is no footpath to walk on the right hand side of the road so that you are facing oncoming traffic – unless you are on a blind bend when you can briefly cross to the left then return to the right once you are back on the straight.

I am not sure why, but a large number of the folks now out running on the roads appear to be unaware of this “rule” and run on the left. I couldn’t do it with the traffic coming unseen behind me! But the other consequence is that they are now running straight at me – and a disconcerting number of them keep running straight at me clearly thinking that I am in the wrong for walking on the right.

Each time it happens I hold my ground. I am 6’3″ and about 15 stone so a pretty immovable object but they still keep running at me until eventually they capitulate and swerve past.

What is interesting is how this affects me. To begin with I was getting bent out of shape about it, indulging in righteous indignation, making sweeping generalisations about runners, and character assassinations of the individuals involved.

But I am getting better at letting this go. I am “right” and I am more than able to keep walking in the face of oncoming bodies, but what I don’t have to do is to add the extra layers of moral indignation.

This is good practice for other areas of my life…

Missing building sites

One of my tighter reverses…

Watching DIY SOS last night there were various trucks and vans delivering to the build and I found myself missing it. Missing the traffic marshals and their banter, the puzzle of navigating through complex sites, the cleverness of the unloading processes, and the sense of relief at having made my way through it all without incident.

The experiences I had driving large trucks were among the most terrifying of my life – but they were also amongst the most satisfying. I may at some stage return to them.

Writing as an end in itself

It is so easy to get caught up in writing to achieve an outcome rather than writing as an end in itself. We become trapped in worrying about if we write well enough, worrying that people might read what we write, even worrying if we will be able to read our own handwriting at some future point!

But just the act of getting your thoughts out of your head and onto “paper” is a worthwhile pursuit in itself – with no regard for what becomes of it at some future point. It is the process of thinking out loud that is worthwhile, “seeing” your thoughts as you think them, slowing down your racing brain long enough to be able to relate to your thoughts and understand them.

I have so many notebooks that start off with the intention of bullet journaling, or recording gratitude, or whatever other extrinsic outcome that end up slowing to a halt as I give up on their original “purpose”.

But I now know that just writing, with no aim in mind other than to enjoy the process, is something that I get great value from and return to again and again.

Being confidently wrong

While on a walk with Mollie yesterday we passed through a wood that I have walked through hundreds of times. I was going to show her a different footpath through that wood than we would normally take. Not sure whether it was due to everything looking different in the snow but I took a wrong turn somewhere and we ended up on the path we would have usually taken.

But I didn’t realise! My brain was trying to make the path we were on look like the path I thought we were on, waffling on about the helpful arrows painted on the trees by The Chiltern Society. Even when we came out of the wood, where we usually would expect to, I didn’t recognise it because my brain was still trying to make it look like where I thought we were!

When I was playing my clarinet in orchestras and wood bands my tutor used to say “If you are going to make a mistake make it sound like you meant it”. In other words don’t be diffident. Do whatever you are doing with confidence.

But I have learned, especially on mountains, that false confidence can be dangerous. Admitting you don’t know where you are as early as possible and doing something about it rather than marching on in the wrong direction is so important.

I reckon the same is true in business. How many hugely expensive mistakes have been made either because people ignored the signs that the path they were on was the wrong one, or when they knew they were on the wrong path but were trying to bluff it out?

There is a lot of power in life generally in admitting that you’re not sure…

Nowhere to fall

Today I was thinking back over the various mountain ridge walks I have done. Some of them were very narrow, with steep drops on either side, and I remembered advice I used to give myself, and those with me, that there was “nowhere to fall”.

(OK, to be fair, the photo above is of Penny on Crib Goch on Snowdon and people kill themselves falling off that most years, and to be doubly fair to her she was doing this having taken a tumble on a steel slope in Torridon a couple of months before, but hey let’s not allow the facts to spoil a good principle!)

Even on the steepest ridge, there is usually some sort of gradient. It is not like climbing straight up a cliff face. Admittedly in snowy or icy conditions if you do fall you are more likely to keep going and not stop, but in any other weather, on even the most frightening ridge, if you look hard you realise that you won’t fall all the way to the bottom. You will bounce at least once!

It occurred to me that this advice works in less extreme circumstances too. What is the worst that could happen? Really imagine that – and nine times out of ten you realise that you could cope.

My Happy Place

I walk every day. Sometimes more than once a day. But the one walk that I love, and that I do every day, come rain or come shine, is the walk from our house to Herbert’s Hole and back.

It is just over three miles and takes me under an hour. The mid point is the bottom of the valley and the short climb back up is nice and steep. Some days I do it a bit faster and enjoy the sense of powering along, other days I just saunter, taking my time to enjoy the surroundings. But one thing I do every time is to stop for a few minutes in the valley and just take it all in.

As you can see from the video above yesterday was spectacular. Hardly a breath of wind, warmth in the sun, and very little noise from distant traffic or airplanes. All you can hear is the silence and the birds enjoying the warmth.

For these few moments I feel totally connected to the world around me. Thoughts start to drop away and intrude less. I get closer to the underlying calm and happiness that is always there for all of us under the noise and bluster of our near constant internal chatter.

I am increasingly aware that I don’t need to go to a physical space to achieve this sense of calm and peace. In fact, as you can see from the video below (looking in the opposite direction), the feeling arises even when the weather is what others would characterise as “bad weather”.

The weather is what it is. It is neither bad nor good. My happy place is independent of the weather, in fact it is independent of the place. I can take it with me wherever I go – if I only remember to do so.

Conflicted attitudes to stuff

We are taking our main family car back to the dealer today. It’s been on a PCP loan that has come to an end. The choice is to renew the loan and get a new car or hand the car back and bring the contract to an end. Given that it has spent most of the last year sitting on the drive, and that any brand new replacement that we might be suckered into buying looks set to do the same this year, it was costing way too much money to just look at it.

I am also increasingly wary of being suckered into buying stuff that you don’t really need just because the norm is that you are expected to do so. Where we live we need cars to get anywhere, as we are too far to cycle to our nearest station and there is no public transport, but small cars fill that need just fine. Sure it is fun to blast along motorways with the sound system cranked up but, especially given my shifting attitudes in this time of COVID, do I really need that?

On the other hand I know it is just stuff, and that this is the right thing to do, but it is surprising how attached you can become to a lump of plastic and metal. It has been great fun to drive, enabled lots of great family memories, and safely carried us all over the UK and Europe, so I will miss it.

Fitness

Paolo and I just published our latest edition of SOTN in which we take a look at Clubhouse – and Euan runs away! But he can run faster thanks to Fitness+. We then go long on capitalism and market forces firstly talking about the upside (yes there is one) and downside of Facebook’s algorithms then end up with the fascinating story of GameStop and the power of Reddit.

What do I really think?

It has been a few weeks now since I stopped visiting Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn regularly. I still check in about once a week to see how close friends and relatives are doing but otherwise I have logged out in all my browsers and removed the apps from all my devices so each visit is a conscious decision. And it feels good.

The one thing I am missing is reaction. I love it when people comment or like the posts on this blog, but my writing used to get much more of a response on the social platforms. It is interesting considering what this change means. Am I only writing to get a response? Do I need approval of my ideas? Or is it enough to get the “down on paper” and shared even in a modest way?

This neediness is true in real life. I remember worrying in work meetings if what I said didn’t get a response, or worse still if someone else’s boring comment got an over the top reaction. I guess we feel the need to relate our thoughts and feelings to others, to gauge their “value”. But the risk is that we lose our way, we don’t know what we really think and become influenced by what we think other people think we think!

Anyway, for the moment, in these times when I am not meeting many people in real life, and my writing is getting less reaction online, I am seeing it as an opportunity to work out what I really think…

Work

Fascinating article on work, how it is perceived, and how things are starting to change.

Some quotes to give you a flavour:

“One pharmaceutical executive told me that observing how his employees had responded to life on a form of basic income had left him wondering if they would accept returning to the kind of working life they had before. “The genie’s out of the bottle,” he said. 

Once something is done, it becomes possible, and scare stories about the world falling apart without workers chained to office desks become less effective.”

As the author Ursula Le Guin put it: “We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings.”

The deep link sociologist Max Weber explored over a century ago, between the protestant work ethic and the spirit of capitalism, still sits in the heart of our culture, and anyone who seeks to have us work less will be told that what they are really doing is suggesting we all become lazier. In Britain, successive governments have very effectively fostered an environment in which people feel as though everyone should be working as hard – and suffering as much – as they are, with any thought that life could be improved in any way scornfully derided. 

Strong stuff from Tim Cook

One of the many reasons that I am more than happy to pay “the Apple Premium” is that making money from my data isn’t part of their business model.

The issues raised by algorithm driven media have an even greater impact. Tim Cook spoke recently at Brussels’ International Data Privacy Day and laid out the challenges we face.

“Too many are still asking the question, ‘How much can we get away with?’ When they need to be asking, ‘What are the consequences?’

What are the consequences of prioritizing conspiracy theories and violent incitement simply because of the high rates of engagement?

What are the consequences of not just tolerating but rewarding content that undermines public trust in life-saving vaccinations?

What are the consequences of seeing thousands of users joining extremist groups and then perpetuating an algorithm that recommends even more?

It is long past time to stop pretending that this approach doesn’t come with a cause. A polarization of lost trust, and yes, of violence.

A social dilemma cannot be allowed to become a social catastrophe.”

Intent

The fuss generated by Liz Hurley’s photo of herself in her back garden in the snow in just a fur coat and bikini bottoms triggered an interesting discussion with the girls this morning around celebrity, sexiness, manipulation of images, influencers, and the media.

For me it relates back to this sorts of images of ourselves that we choose to share online. Are we trying to keep up with some media driven ideas of success, beauty, aspiration? Or are we genuinely sharing our enthusiasm for something that gives us pleasure.

As with so many of these question for me the important thing is intent. Is your intent to manipulate, achieve power and influence, or otherwise take advantage of your situation? Or is it to lift others’ spirits, open their eyes to possibilities, or simply lighten the collective load?

Time To Walk

As part of their Fitness+ service Apple recently introduced Time To Walk. This is a series of recordings, added to your workouts on your watch, of various people, recorded while they themselves are out for a walk, reflecting on their lives and careers. They also include some of their favourite music and at appropriate points your watch vibrates and a photo appears on its face of something pertinent to their story.

I listened to my first one this morning and loved it. It was actress Uzo Aduba talking about her career and being a first generation American from Nigeria. You get to hear the atmosphere around her as she walks, in a park in New York, and it really does feel as if you are walking with her.

Many moons ago I registered the domain name walkingthetalk.co.uk with some vague ideas of setting up a business around the unique appeal of conversations that take place while walking in the great outdoors. There is something about the situation, the rhythm of your steps, the open space, the fact that you are not facing the person you are talking to, that makes it more likely that you relax and think more clearly. In fact Uzo commented that she was surprised at how much she opened up on the walk and how much she learned about herself.

Uzo wasn’t someone I knew of, and her music wasn’t my usual listening, but perhaps that was part of the appeal of the thing. The general idea is to get people, perhaps not used to going for walks, to get out and get moving and from that point of view it seems like a great idea.

People are amazing

Our girls are doing their drama and musical theatre classes from home at the moment so with Penny working from home as well there is hardly a room in the house not being used and it’s hard not to overhear what they are all doing.

I am always impressed at how the girls and their tutors are coping with doing what would normally be a very physical activity, that relies heavily on presence and use of physical space, virtually. In particular yesterday one tutor was doing a great job of adapting his teaching method to the circumstances and was being really inventive and clever about it.
At the end of the session he asked the students how they were coping. Again stories of people adapting to, in some cases, very challenging circumstances with sick relatives, far flung families, and generally a very different situation from what would normally be an exciting and optimistic time in their lives.

Like I said, people are amazing.

Talking to myself

On my daily walks I have taken to using Voice Memos on my watch to record thoughts that occur to me as I make my way through the beautiful countryside.

I also thought, as you can hear in the recording below, that others might be interested in this way of relating to our thoughts.

Good, better, best

My daughter Mollie gave me three bottles of Molton Brown bath and shower gels for Christmas. They are all lovely but there is definitely a pecking order of good, better and best thereby presenting me with a challenge each morning as to which to choose.

My current strategy is to use up the good bottle first, saving the even more special ones for the future. The upside of this is that I have something to look forward to, the downside is that if I get run over by a bus tomorrow I will have denied myself the pleasure of the better and best beyond my original small samples.

If that rogue bus is imminent, or if I feel generally vulnerable, perhaps starting with the best would be the right strategy, but that would leave me with a general decline in pleasure down to the good to finish up with.

Perhaps the most sensible strategy would be the one I adopt with meals, namely to try to achieve a balance of tastes in each succession of mouthfuls, and ensuring that I end up with an even mix of the various tastes at the end.

And isn’t this true of life generally? Rather than saving ourselves for some fictitious nirvana in the future, retiring to a tropical island and sipping Pina Coladas, or wellying in without restraint to every current opportunity for excess and indulgence, perhaps we should consider every experience as a part of our incredible good luck to be able to experience everything that life has to offer – the good, the better and the best?

Online leadership

Over the years people have consistently told me that face to face communication is best because you can see the other person and work out their intentions from facial and bodily expressions. I have countered this by saying that in some ways face to face makes it easier to dissemble, you can smile while stabbing someone in the back, wear a uniform that makes you appear trustworthy while you are engaged in dodgy dealings etc..

It is therefore fascinating in the current circumstances watching everyone being forced to resort to online communication. The perceived need for face to face equivalence is driving the obsession with video calls but these bring with them their own challenges: worrying about how you look (at least on the top half); arranging an impressive choice of books on the shelves behind you; maintaining eye contact throughout mind numbing meetings; and trying to look interested when your boss takes a breath, says “to keep things short”, and launches into another endless monologue; the list goes on.

What is more optimistic is that some are learning the craft, and benefits, of asynchronous conversations whether through a different approach to email or tools like Teams and Slack. Working out how to say enough, but not too much; adopting a tone that engages and informs; how to keep the to and fro going and how to end it. These are all skills that those of us who were early adopters of online tools have discovered can replace, and in many cases enhance, more analogue forms of communication.

It will be interesting to see how many of these new found skills survive the return to the office – whenever that happens.

Groundhog Day

I’ve been pretty good about being stuck at home during lockdown. I love my walks, I love having the family around, I love not having to travel.

But…

It became obvious this weekend that, despite having worked from home for years, I am still conditioned to expect weekends to be different and the fact that at the moment they are not means that each day is exactly the same as any other.

This is beginning to get to me…

Blood lines

The new Photos widget on iOS is a constant source of delight. Each day the algorithm selects a photo from my collection and displays it on the front screen of my iPhone or iPad. Sometimes it is based on date, sometimes on season, but it regularly digs out photos that otherwise I would have forgotten or not seen for ages.

I realise that it is probably the same thing as when you think of buying a new car and see nothing but that type of car on the roads, but since my mother’s death the widget has presented an uncanny number of photos of Mum. Lovely photos of her with the kids at the beach, photos of her on her first day of school, photos of her in her last days in the care home.

Mum and Dad’s wedding photo coming up today and I found myself looking for a long time at both families, bridegroom, bridesmaids etc. all standing neatly arranged on the steps of the church. As far as I know all of them are dead apart from my Dad.

It is fascinating looking into their smiling eyes, especially my grandparents on both sides, thinking that they are all part of me. Their stories, their hopes and aspirations, their challenges, are all encoding in my DNA.

Being part of those story lines disappearing back into the forgotten past is a salutary thought.

All of life in a bowl of beans

One of my favourite things for lunch is a tin of mixed beans with some chopped onions, chopped tomatoes, Italian herb seasoning, chilli flakes, olive oil and lemon. As I was slowly eating my bowl of beans this lunch time I was reminded of one my favourite Buddhist ideas, namely that everything is connected and everything is dependent on everything else for its existence.

I started thinking of all the people that it had taken to produce the ingredients in my lunch. All the growers of the various bean plants, those who harvested them, the lorries that took the raw materials to the canning factory and the lorries that delivered them to the shops. The people who grew and harvested the onions and the tomatoes, the people working in the canning factory and the shops, even the graphic artists who designed the tin that they came in.

Having had my lunch I sat down to look through my RSS feeds and there was this lovely post from John Davies about never feeling alone in his garden. Looks like he’d been having similar feelings of connection with everything around him.

The Great Outdoors

One of the upsides of COVID is the number of people discovering the delights of getting out into the countryside. I now walk every day, no matter what the weather, and today was one of those days when it feels mad to be setting off into the grey gloom. But it is consistently wonderful. As I’ve said before in some ways wet weather feels more real, more immediate.

I took the video above to convey the feeling of being out in that real weather. What I hadn’t noticed until I got home and watched it on the bigger screen is that, if you look closely, there are three deer walking along the edge of the field in front of me!

Further thoughts on sharing

Following up on my post the other day about sharing I thought I’d share a bit about why sharing is hard, especially at work.

Most of us are conditioned to keep things to ourselves until we feel very safe and confident of what the response will be. I suppose a lot of this comes from school where sticking your hand up risked ridicule from your mates, and writing things down came under crippling scrutiny from your teachers.

For most of us things got harder at work. Sharing brought with it the risk of being found wanting by your peers and your boss, if done in writing there was an accountability that most avoid.

Sharing on social media might sometimes feel too easy, especially other people’s sharing, but it isn’t. We’ve all had the experience of sharing something that we thought interesting or revelatory and getting zero response. Either that or what we have shared is misconstrued and the indignation engine kicks in and the comments thread becomes a battlefield.

In some ways it was a weariness with sharing into those spaces that inclined me to return to my blog. At least here I can just write with very low expectations of unwanted exposure or unanticipated responses.

I would also write whether anyone read it or not. I have often said that the biggest beneficiary of my blogging is me! Just getting things out of your head and down in writing is beneficial. I write a whole lot in my journal and in notes all over the place that never see the light of day.

But even the slightest chance that what I share might be interesting or helpful to someone else, as I hope this very post is, is enough to incline me to keep sharing.

The inclination to share

I was recently asked to do something about knowledge management for a client and, yet again, found myself pondering what it was that they were asking for. However much the topic gets mangled into document management, internal communities, after action reviews, etc., it all comes down to an inclination to share. This inclination can take many forms but if no one has it then no knowledge gets managed.