Category Archives: Antics

Crazy will do

Transcript from an advert for Apple about 2o years ago.

Here’s to the crazy ones
The misfits. The rebels.
The troublemakers.
The round pegs in the square holes.
The ones who see things differently.
They’re not fond of rules.
And they have no respect for the status quo.
You can praise them, disagree with them, quote them, disbelieve them, glorify or vilify them.
About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things.
They invent. They imagine. They heal. They explore. They create. They inspire.
They push the human race forward. Maybe they have to be crazy.
How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art?
Or sit in silence and hear a song that’s never been written?
Or gaze at a red planet and see a laboratory on wheels?
We make tools for these kinds of people.
While some see them as the crazy ones, we see genius.
Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.
Thanks to David Hain via

Three R’s and a T

What role does good education play in great customer service?  The tools for learning, the so called 3Rs of reading, writing and arithmetic, are cornerstones of education systems across the globe.  Tried, tested and mastered by most young people, each of course plays an important role in any customer interaction.  But where is the T?
On a recent visit to a relative in our local hospital I decided to quench my thirst at the WRVS café.  My server for the day was a bright young lady of about 16 years of age, commendably volunteering for the day to help visitors.  Her greeting was exemplary. I instantly felt welcome. It was at this point warning bells sounded as I placed an order for a cup of black tea.  I might have known there was an issue when my order was repeated back as a question, ‘a black tea?’  It is great when people repeat back my order to check they’ve understood, but not with an inflection at the end of the statement.  This might have simply been due to the trend in modern speech to turn every sentence into a question (?).  Sorry, this was an assumption on my part and I apologise for questioning my server’s grasp of the spoken word.  Indeed, it was a question.
After a couple of minutes doing something out of view involving a muffled discussion with her colleague she returned asking: ‘What is black tea?’  My first thought was one of joy.  A young person interested in improving her product knowledge, perhaps wanting to appreciate the subtle differences between white, green, black, yellow and oolong teas.  Disappointingly, ‘it’s tea without milk,’ was all she needed to know.
I was gratified to find she could count the coins I presented but was left wondering. How can making tea, our national drink, have been missed off the National Curriculum?
Most importantly, her customer service training had been excellent; the service I received was exemplary. There is, however, no point in creating great customer interactions by spending time, money and energy on touch-point experiences, customer feedback, building customer engagement through social media and the like, if you can’t deliver first time.
Would I recommend the WRVS catering service?  Absolutely.  Their staff are wonderful volunteers who do great work with patients and relatives. They also, now, know how to make black tea.

A Christmas Moment

It’s once again ‘The Most Wonderful Time of the Year’ (or at least I think that’s what the song says!).  Of course in reality we’re all rushing about; trying to get work wrapped up before the break, make sure we haven’t forgotten Auntie Gladys’ annual consignment of ‘Quality Streets’ and grotto-ify the house with tinsel, twigs and baubles.

But, in the midst of all of this we can hopefully look forward to one or two wonderful moments (maybe even three or four!) peculiar to this time of year.  And that got us thinking…

Wishing all of you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

And, of course, should you wish to send any festive greetings our way, we can be contacted at:

Queuing Theory

My previous blog about queuing ‘Queuing:there has to be a better way.’ received an unexpected response from my son.  As a University researcher studying something to do with physics and mathematical modelling, he suggested that I might have mentioned queuing theory in the blog.  I have to say this was very remiss of me.  I asked him to briefly clarify my understanding.

The theory is used extensively by organisations that deliver queuing to their customers as part of their experience.  Theme Parks, banks and supermarkets employ mathematical models to optimise the most efficient way for their customers to be processed.  After a brief resume of the following we decided to apply this to a supermarket queue:

Expected average queue length  E(m)= (2ρ- ρ2)/ 2  (1- ρ)

Expected average total time  E(v) = 2- ρ / 2 μ  (1- ρ)

Expected average waiting time  E(w) = ρ / 2 μ  (1- ρ)

Expected average waiting time  E(w) = E(v) – 1/μ

λ = Arrival Rate 

μ = Service Rate

ρ = λ / μ

Sam used QT to choose the line he was to follow, whereas I used my own unique queuing criteria.  My criteria was simply ‘Which queue would be most fun to join?’, including sub-criteria such as: queue-ers who looked funny, potential for the cashier to smile, banter, amusing purchases and vegetables that looked like Prince Charles.  Sam used these various indexes and a calculator. 

Admittedly he did get served marginally quicker but only because my fellow queue-ers couldn’t agree which member of the royal family bore most resemblance to the sweet potato I had offered up for the ‘vegetable that looked like Prince Charles’.  I had to disagree entirely with the Security Guard who was brought in to make the final judgement, there was no way it was a Lady Di lookalike.

Well that puts queuing theory into perspective, I think you’ll agree.

The appreciation of ‘wow’

A small intake of breath, your eyes widen, you feel emotional delight and exclaim, ‘Wow!’.  Not only have you been surprised, but at the same time you are engaged. A moment of delight to enliven your day.
How often do these wonderful experiences happen to us in a day?  You would expect when I ask a group of people this question there would be a deluge of colourful examples for all to admire.  ‘In a day?’ is the usual retort…‘Ever?’!
How sad.  Is it that these beautiful events don’t exist, or are they so rare that they might cause the recipient to write to The Times as if it were the first cuckoo of spring?  Surely when we are at work, travelling, shopping, at our leisure we experience ‘wow’ all the time.  I say this because when I ask the same audience how often they make the effort to surprise and engage their customers, colleagues, family and friends; they claim to do it all of the time, whenever the opportunity arises.
I can only conclude that it is I the intended recipient of this bonhomie that is at fault here.  I need to try harder to recognise when my fellows are attempting to ‘wow’ me.  Perhaps this lack of skill to appreciate sociable effort requires a national drive of citizen education if so many people are missing the clear signals others are giving.  Like all campaigns of this nature it falls upon me to start with my own behaviour.  I must try harder. 
Here’s the postman.  I’ll start with him.
‘Wow’, I was right.  I’ve just had a cheery discourse with our postman, what a nice chap, and all that time I thought the crushed letters and bent parcels were a sign he didn’t care.  They were in fact simply his way of inviting me to open the door to receive a moment of ‘wow’.
Like Saul on the road to Damascus I have seen the light.  It isn’t a lack of ‘wow’ moments; it’s not that people can’t be bothered that’s the problem. It is that I haven’t taken the trouble to give others the opportunity to have their efforts appreciated.  From now on I shall dedicate myself to the appreciation of ‘wow’.

60 minute toilet check

What a reassurance, ‘these toilets are checked every 60 minutes’.  What a relief! After all, the form has been signed or this timer has been reset.  I can enter at my convenience in the knowledge that everything has been checked.
Which begs the question, what exactly does a check entail?
As I stood outside one of these ‘checked’ facilities at a motorway service station with its highly visible countdown timer digitally reducing the minutes until the next check, a man approached with a step ladder.  He was dressed in a suit rather than janitorial garb which struck me as odd. He positioned the steps under the timer, climbed up and deftly with the flick of a switch reset the countdown to 60 minutes till the next check.  He descended, packed up the steps and carried them off into the bowels of the services.
I have to say I was shocked.  This was not the sort of checking I’d envisaged.  In my mind I had a vision of a house-proud attendant equipped with a bucket, rubber gloves and copious amounts of toilet paper to replenish and make resplendent each cubical in turn.  He may even have given a florid squirt of air freshener above each door as he passed.  Maybe acknowledging the crowd with a cheery ‘good day gents, all is now well’ as he left.  But no. 
The sign above the countdown timer was in my view misleading.  Instead of stating ‘These toilets are checked every hour’, it should have read ‘This timer is reset every 60 minutes’. I am no longer reassured. 
Travel in fear my friends.

Lessons from Commedia dell ’Arte

‘What a meeting that was, the two of them sparring like two male buffalos.  She just sat there smiling smugly, chirruping away, playing one off against the other.  She got her comeuppance in the end; when they found she hadn’t sorted-out the finance team.  Well the rest of us could see it coming from a mile away.  Jealousy, intrigue, and rivalry.  It was pure theatre.’  Pure Commedia dell Arte that is. 

What possible interest might sixteenth century Italian theatre be to people seeking ways of transforming the way they work?  As the ‘cast’ enter the stage, each in their distinctive costume we begin to recognise familiar characters and keenly anticipate how they will react as the plot unfolds.

The foolish, the arrogant and the scheming all meld in familiar situations; the outcome uncertain. What we do know is that they will give their observers much amusement as they second-guess the actions of their fellows and manipulate things through alliances, conniving and misdirection to achieve their ends.

Now you tell me that this isn’t a good description of the meeting you sat through yesterday.

Do you recognise any of these characteristics of your colleagues in these stock Commedia characters?

He acts stupid but is cunning, ingenuous, diffident, a busy body. He’s a critic.  He can usually only entertain one idea at a time but rarely considers the consequence of it or learns from the experience. Never short of a solution even if he has no expertise in whatever it is.

He has a long memory and never forgets or forgives the slightest past transgression.  Pantalone will offer money to get whatever he wants.  He will not, however, pay for anything.  He is usually trying to pass himself off as something he isn’t.

The Doctor:
Wise, deep, difficult to understand – talks too much. Generally has little idea what he is talking about.  To make himself sound important, he will babble on forever. The other characters (surprisingly) hardly ever question what he is talking about; since he is a doctor, he must be right.

The Captain:
A hero, a leader, an adventurer, a winner.  He is extremely arrogant, with a huge ego, and he constantly brags about his many accomplishments.  Of course, all of this is a lie.  He often has a very long and important sounding job title.

He is either stupid pretending to be clever, or clever pretending to be stupid, either way, he is always pretending and self-centred. He is suspicious and disrespectful of anyone from outside, how can they possibly know anything about his business?

The scenarios were always based around lack of understanding, poor communication, spells and magic. Possibly like the scenarios played out in many organisations, with tragic consequence.

At your next possible opportunity, detach yourself from the business of your meeting.  Watch the action unfold as if you were in the audience at the theatre.  As you witness the nonsense of ego, politics and posturing, consider the thought it doesn’t have to be like this.  Ask what would the performance be like if you were witnessing a truly ‘top-performing’ team or even what would you be doing to play your role in a great ensemble.

The ‘Gone Fishing’ Mindset

Driven as I am by the desire to work hard to get to the next level, I am particularly struck by the fact that for some reason there are people, even in the present economic climate, who don’t share my passion.  It seems that many are still inclined to hang the sign on the door which reads ‘Gone Fishing’.  This Huckleberry Finn mindset costs organisations a fortune.
Why would someone choose not to go into work when they perhaps could?  How do people get to the point where they don’t care sufficiently strongly about their work, their colleagues, their customer, their organisation to turn in?  Perhaps they don’t feel that these people at work ‘care’ enough about them.  I presented to a National Conference of Manufacturers and talked about Customer Care.  To which quite a few took exception.  It wasn’t the content of the presentation, they liked that, and they liked the innovative style which got them all involved.  They simply objected to the word ‘care’.  It was not the sort of word that would be used in a manufacturing context. 
Of course you can define ‘care’ in many different ways.  The manufacturers were quite happy to define it as a number of processes.  If these were done in a particular way then this would achieve workplace wellbeing and a supportive environment.  What they were missing in their model was emotion.  This is not about policy, process and policing as much as what people perceive.  We often point to all the support mechanisms an employer is providing as evidence of this being a great place to work.  To which the response is ‘Yeah, but they don’t mean it’.  Great processes don’t automatically mean people feel valued.  I asked participants at a conference to raise their hands if they felt valued at work.  Of the 600 people I asked only two put their hands up.  One was the Chief Executive and the other was the person sitting next to the Chief Executive! 
To tackle a ‘Gone Fishing’ mindset, people have to form an emotional attachment to their workplace.  They have to perceive people care about them and value their contribution.  Only when a strong emotional connection exists will they, when the lure of the river bank is stirring, choose work over carp.
The ‘Gone Fishing’ mindset could however have a positive side.  For an organisation it might be like a rotational system in a football team where players are rested so they perform better when they are playing and are less prone to injury.  For a department it means your team members have had thinking time and will return with innovative ideas and renewed motivation.  For your customers refreshed happy people are a delight to do business with.  For the individual they are energised and now fully committed. 
That is unless they didn’t catch anything on their fishing trip.

Lessons from Triathlon

My colleagues have allowed me just two Triathlon blogs per year which I’m sure you’ll agree is tantamount to censorship, after all, my experiences in the three disciplined sport can surely give many and varied insights into the development of excellence.
I have just completed the Alpe D’Huez Triathlon in a time of 9 hours 26 minutes which I know is a contradiction of the previous sentence but I am at this moment ‘work in progress’ and it’s always good to give yourself plenty of room for improvement. Indeed, the race centred around the French ski resort of Alpe D’Huez has given me a concentrated learning experience from which to build.
It all started in November when Sara, my wife, noticed I had put on weight and tactfully suggested I enter a race of some kind as motivation to get fit.  In a fit of pique, armed with the internet and a credit card I entered what is considered to be one of the hardest triathlons on the planet. When I announced to anyone who cared to listen that I had entered the fifth edition of this long distance race one of them remarked that this was impressive.  I now realise that anyone with a credit card can enter, that in itself is not impressive, finishing is!  2.2 km swim in a very cold lake, followed by 115km cycle over three alpine passes, the final one being 12km up the infamous Alpe D’Huez hairpins, the 1,200 meters of climb raced up regularly on the Tour de France. Top that off by running a half marathon.  Nine months training ensued, motivated by bravado, a reducing waistline, and the opportunity to skive off making dinner, washing up and the like because of the need to go out training.
Bravado lasted until about ten minutes from the start when I entered the cold water of Lac Verney insulated only by my wetsuit.  I scoured the horizon for the buoys that denoted the turnaround point  when the chill changed from that caused by the icy water seeping down my back to sudden realisation that this was going to be hard.
Swim went well, next was the bike.  All round the course were groups of spectators.  Cries of ‘ Allez, allez, allez’ rang around the mountains as I laboured uphill for the majority of the day.  As the temperature soared and the crowds went to lunch I gradually cooked on the Col D’Ornon.  Le Bourg D’Oisans, the small town at the foot of the great climb of Alp D’ Huez found me in a state of sweltered suffering.  At the drinks station I tipped water over my head, stuffed food into my mouth and could see no way I was going to be able to do the final climb.  Then came on of the most profound moments in my life.  An elderly volunteer handed me a water bottle; he looked into my half dead eyes and simply said, “Courage, Courage”.  My soul stirred.  At that moment I understood what it was to be French.  I was there at the barricades of the Bastille.  Courage was not optional, it was expected.  Courage led the revolution, it gave the world Egality, Fraternity, Liberty.  Courage would take me to the top.
Well, it took me to bend 13 where a fluttering heart rate suggested to me that cooling down for a bit in a mountain stream might be more prudent.  Dehydration changed my perception of the crowd. The large numbers of spectators becoming reminiscent of the baying mobs around le guillotine. How they like to watch me suffer to show them that they should never be lured into such foolhardy adventures.
One last effort and the final transition arrived. Elation quickly subsided as I realised there was still a half marathon to go.  I have no idea why but when I started running I felt great.  As others faltered, I sauntered, for about two hours.  Alpe D’Huez Triathlon completed.
What did I learn? 
  1. Always aim for things that are a real challenge.  Only by pushing the absolute limits can you find out what is possible.
  2. Courage is a very helpful mindset.
  3. Eat fewer pies.  This is considerably easier than the Alpe D’Huez Triathlon as a weight control programme.

The Undermining Game

The Complete Golf Gamesmanship by Stephen Potter
Some frivolous Friday observations.
At the age of 12 I read a book which has influenced my life ever since.  ‘The Complete Book of Golf Gamesmanship’ by Stephen Potter.  How to win without actually cheating.
I don’t play golf.  I never have played golf.  No one in my family has ever wielded a golf stick in anger, ever.  So why as an impressionable youth I should read this title is beyond me.  But thank heaven I did. 
From an early age I’ve taken an interest in those little things people do to get the upper hand or to undermine their colleagues.
Here are a few that I’ve used or seen.  I encourage you to add to this list.  I’ve taken the liberty of including some good counter measures just in case.
  1. ‘You are looking a bit peaky today.’  This usually makes your colleague start to think they are ill. Using ‘blotchy’ as a descriptor is even better but can appear cruel if others overhear.
  2. ‘You are a lot thinner in the face these days, you’re either getting fit or it’s the stress of the job.’  Not to be used on someone who is getting fit.
  3. ‘I was talking to (first name of the MD) …’ gives you instant authority as the confidant of the boss.  A very useful addition is a vague time like ‘the other day’, even though you haven’t seen them for three months.
  4. Give yourself the air of a strategic thinker by rocking back in your chair in a meeting whilst sucking the end of a pencil and staring intently at the ceiling before making your point.  This can backfire if you lose your balance.  Your status goes instantly from guru to village idiot.  Practice at home before you try this one.
  5. Use a foreign language.  Latin is good.  Welsh is better. (Not to be used in the presence of Welsh speakers because they will know what you’ve said and you will undoubtedly have pronounced it wrong).  Dutch is best.
  6. Old hat techniques which should not be used involve the mobile phone.  The important text, sudden interruption by a vibrating phone or a comment like ‘I’ve got to leave my phone on because I’m expecting an important call.’  All, no, no, no.  Important people aren’t troubled by these things.  People who think they are important are.
  7. Arriving with a motor cycle crash helmet and wearing leathers is a killer move. You look particularly ‘interesting’.  Tip: Make sure you park your car where people won’t notice you getting into the biking gear.  A particularly effective counter measure if this is used against you is to jokingly comment across the room ‘Blimey a few cows lost their lives to make those’. You appear to be witty and they appear to be having a mid life crisis.