Parroting mythologies

“Most people” is a trigger phrase for me. It usually precedes a sweeping generalisation based on second hand knowledge. I try not to do it myself but fail regularly. It seems to bolster our own confidence to make such all encompassing statements. We feel safer if we have been able to label a large and often challenging group of people or troubling aspect of our lives.

But these statements are second hand. We can’t have met “most people”. We are taking some received cultural norm and passing it on. This unguarded amplification is dangerous. It is a small step from most people to “all remainers”, or ” all Tory voters” or worse still ” all Muslims”, or allJews”, or for that matter”all men”or “all women”.

Parroting mythologies is dangerous. We should try not to.

That first time

When I get in a new truck I take time to familiarise myself with the controls, light switches, gears etc., but until I start to drive it is hard to get a sense of the size of the thing and where the edges are. Very often I am quickly onto a main road or motorway and so don’t have too much chance to work this out.

Most lorries have two mirrors on each side, one angled down to see the blind spots, and the other looking down the side of the lorry to behind. Many lorries also have a mirror on the near side pointing directly downwards to let me see either the kerb or parked cars. There is also often another mirror on the front of the cab looking directly downwards which allows me to get close to obstacles in front of me. Increasingly lorries have cameras letting me see behind and to the sides but often it is not easy to work out the camera lenses and the actual distances. As I get more experienced I actually use the cameras less and the mirrors more.

Yesterday I was in an unfamiliar truck for a new customer and I set off in the dark in heavy rain and so had minimal opportunity to get a feel for what I was seeing in the various mirrors. When I got to the job I had to reverse into a tight, narrow lane, along one side of which there was a wall of scaffolding. There were parked cars at the entrance to the lane and on the other side of the road. As I reversed into this tight space I had to quickly work out what I was seeing in the various mirrors, how near things were, and all this while getting used to the gears and clutch as I shunted three or four times to get myself lined up with the narrow entrance to the lane. The prospect of ripping the scaffolding off the side of the large building was not appealing!

It’s the little things.

As an agency driver, I am driving new vehicles almost every day. Different makes of lorry, MAN, Mercedes, DAF, Renault, Mitsubishi, Iveco… I think the only ones I haven’t driven so far are Volvo and Scania. And then I drive vans too which are just as varied.

All of them come in different configurations and with different ways of loading and unloading. Some have tail lifts, and these themselves can vary enormously, some have drop sides and can be unloaded by forklifts, and I have even driven tankers which you unload using compressed air.

But it’s the little things that can get you. The other day I wanted to adjust the steering column in my truck. Sometimes these are adjusted by levers and sometimes by compressed air triggered by a switch on the steering column, but none of the conventional methods were to be found. I ended up having to search YouTube and there it was, a small raised bump, about the size of a marshmallow, moulded into the rubberised floor covering to the right of the driver’s seat! Of course it was!

Righteous indignation?

Social media platforms are programmed to give you more of what you respond to. It is how they make their money and they don’t care what you respond to, so long as you keep responding.

If you keep reacting to things that make you angry, they will give you more of them, and you will increasingly believe that that is the way the world is.

If, on the other hand, you respond to positive things they will also give you more of those, and you might begin to believe that the world is a better place than expected.

This gradually begins to affect the feeds of those who are connected to you online, even those at the periphery of your network who crossover into other networks of people who appear to fundamentally disagree with you. Who knows, you may change their perspective on the world too.

Instead of constantly feeding the indignation engines, why not try the alternative instead?

Resistance to change

The very idea of having a “change initiative” is slightly absurd. It implies that without some sort of large scale intervention change won’t happen. But change happens all the time. In fact, you can’t stop it! What we really want to do it’s to steer those changes.

I understand that there are large scale strategic changes of direction that organisations need to bring about but, setting this up as a massive thing invariably produces more resistance than achieving the desired effect.

By the time I left the BBC I was on my fifth Director-General and the last three had each had a massive change programme with snappy titles like “The Big Change”. Each time the chances of success diminished as we grew increasingly weary and cynical. In fact, given that I always saw the organisation as a complex living organism (organism and organisation even have the same root) it seemed obvious that if you tried sticking a sharp instrument into it the antibodies would kick in to repair the damage.

On the other hand if you truly got people to buy into the changes that you want to bring about, doing this by having authentic conversations with them about why the changes make sense, then they will willingly promulgate those ideas throughout their networks and do your work for you. Not only that but the changes will stick, they will work.

But this approach takes time and patience, characteristics in short supply in modern organisations. So instead we waste time, money and more important credibility by kicking off yet another pointless large scale initiative.

Always remember, real and lasting change always happens one person at a time and for their reasons – not yours.


I have written before about the conservative effect of social platforms – the increasing concern about what other people think about what you write – worrying if “they” will like it.

Over the years I have been described as being brave for what I write about, and commended for my honesty, but I too feel cautious and constrained. In fact these comments have made me realise how much more worried other people are about what people think about them.

But this is how social conditioning works, it’s how tribalism emerges, how polarisation of views happens – and as with everything else the internet accelerates this. We are under increasing algorithmic pressure to fit in.

Worrying too much about whether other people share or like your posts starts to steer what you dare to share. If we are not careful it will start to steer what we dare to think.

Grammatical suits

Grammatical suits

Chatting with my friend Rita Zonius the other day we were discussing how hard people in business, particularly senior people, seem to find it to say what they mean clearly in writing.

Even people who can write “normally” in other circumstances “talk funny” when they are called upon to write at work. It’s like they don a grammatical suit when they arrive at the office.

Why is this?