Category Archives: Antics


Just a Friday thought… Isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing?
The day I tapped a partition wall with a hammer to find out if the plaster was sound.  It wasn’t.  One minute, beautiful bedroom, next two tons of dust.
Pouring petrol on a smouldering bonfire – the result, a small explosion and no eyebrows.
Nudging a small, immaculately dressed son as he stood by the garden pond two minutes before we were due to go out to a smart family occasion.  Need I say more?
Lost in a Swedish forest and asking the blind man I met for directions.
Believing a CRM system might work first time.
The list goes on.  Those sages quick to point out how they could see what was going to happen and, as the Harry Enfield character so eloquently stated; ‘You didn’t want to do it like that’ have all missed the point. Things happen, it’s all part of life’s rich experience.  Most importantly, we learn. To get to the next level you have to learn from those things that didn’t go entirely according to plan.
Hindsight is indeed a wonderful thing because it creates opportunity for improvement.  Even now my son will not stand between me and open water. He’s learnt. Have I?

Freedom of speech in the workplace?

Nearly 3000 years ago, the Greek philosopher Homer wrote in ‘The Iliad’ that ‘to speak his thoughts is every freeman’s right’.   Now established in English case law since 1999 is that freedom of speech could not be limited to the inoffensive but extended also to ‘the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome, and the provocative, as long as such speech did not tend to provoke violence’.  Brilliant.  Or is it?
In organisations can we really allow our people the opportunity to say what they want?  To air their views in public whenever they want?  If we did, it could be disastrous.  We might find people turning up to work with a small plastic box which, when flipped over, is a perfect one-person stage upon which they can stand and address anyone that cares to listen.  Clive, the handyman stands on his toolbox and publicly decries those that have blocked his toilets for the third time this week.  Mary in accounts puts up her stage in the corner of the shop floor and rants at all those who seem unable to fill out an expenses claim form on time.  Barry in IT…  sends an e mail picture of himself standing on a box with a message under it, usually with some Star Wars reference.
Is this too frightening? 
Let’s consider the benefits.  Everyone in your organisation would feel that they can have their opinions heard by anyone that cares to listen.  This means you can bring all those gripes and grumbles out into the open where they can be addressed.  It would spark debate over the issues which are important to people.  There is obviously the right to reply, agreeing with the orator or suggesting improvements or actions.  This could be a very powerful vehicle for change.  Don’t forget you can say anything from your platform – why not thank someone for their great work, praise achievement or applaud improvement?
I know of one MD who does just this.  He heads out regularly around his factories with his box from which to carry out impromptu discussions with anyone who happens to be able to listen.  People join in the debates and have a lot of fun.  Direct, personal, face to face dialogue between the leader and the masses.
There is just one historical precedent that you need to be aware of before you rush off and buy your rostrum.  Socrates, arguably the father of philosophy, enjoyed this type of oratory and debate in the forum of Athens.  After many years of his antics he was poisoned to death. Now that’s what I call heckling!

‘I Thank You’

A great story from my friend Mark Greenop.
As a child growing up in the Cumbrian coastal town of Workington he was often dispatched to the local grocery store for bread, cheese and the like.  The shop was run by a kindly lady called Amy Daglish who gave 24 hour service, 365 days a year.  This was remarkable because she was the only person who worked there.  Apparently you could call anytime day or night and Amy would be delighted to serve even if you had got her out of bed to do so. Whenever she made a sale she would say ‘I thank you’, in fact she said this all the time in response to any request.  Her kindness and selflessness made revered throughout the town.
When acknowledgements are heartfelt, genuine expressions it is so meaningful.  Unlike the ‘have a nice day’  which is so tarnished that even when you really mean it from the bottom of your heart the person hearing it perceives it as drivel.  My lads had a ski instructor that praised them with a ‘good job’.  From her it was the ultimate praise, when I tried it, well, I was met with derision. 
Amy had it right.  She had developed her own, unique, meaningful acknowledgement which when she used it it had the right effect.  These can’t be scripted by the corporate customer services department. It’s like trying on shoes, you’ve got to find the style that suits you and that fits. Even then, they need to be worn in until you’ve got them just perfect.  ‘Suits you, Sir’ is what we’re aiming at rather than a ‘Bothered?’ when it comes to this small yet so important parting comment.
Now that I’ve pointed this out you’ll all be self conscious about your ‘parting saying’.  Actually, you probably haven’t even noticed what you do.  Now is the time to take note, try a few out to find one that you feel comfortable with and then perfect it.
Take care.

Lessons from the ‘No-Work’ Garden

It’s Friday.  Antics from the garden this week.
I came across an amazing book which has, on the one hand, revolutionised my life and on the other has given my family, friends, colleagues and neighbours hours of amusement at my expense.  It is called ‘The no-work garden’ by Bob Flowerdew, a well known gardening broadcaster.  I was particularly attracted by the cover photograph of a hammock bathed in sunshine swinging lazily amongst beautiful flowers. ‘I could be in that hammock, that could be my garden’, I though as I handed over the cash to buy the passport to my dreams.
As usual things aren’t quite that simple.  Why I ever thought all I had to do was buy a hammock and the gardening would happen as I dozed in the sunshine, listening to the blackbird chirruping in the hedge, gin and tonic in hand, is beyond me! 
It rapidly became clear as I signed up to the ‘no work’ ethos, that in order to achieve this state of gardening nirvana I would have to put in a huge effort.  To such an extent that in order to get in some extra hours I’ve started night gardening using a head torch to see what I’m doing in the vegetable patch. My local reputation is going downhill rapidly.  I’ve noticed villagers nudge each other when I’m in the Co-op.  As I pass, I overhear comments like – “that’s the one, the ‘no-work gardener’”.
I admit that I haven’t quite cracked it yet, but there are lessons which transfer to all activity:
  1. Don’t do things just because that’s how they are usually done. There might well be a better, ‘less work’ way.
  2. Make sure you have all the tools to do the job with you before you start it saves time rather than going back to the shed for them later.
  3. Find highly productive activity which takes very little effort (like grow fruit).
  4. Forget the highly groomed lawn; grow a wild flower meadow. High maintenance vs low maintenance.
  5. Design the garden in such a way that it keeps work to a minimum.
  6. No-work is a mindset which makes you question whether what you are doing is productive. 
  7. Setting up a no-work operation is initially hard work with but will eventually bring results.

Meanwhile, the hammock is in a cupboard gathering dust. I also have to pretend I’m eccentric when I’m in the Co-op in order to justify my behaviour, but the end is in sight.  Soon, the no-work garden will be mine!

The ‘hard of hearing’ leader

I don’t want to make excuses but when you lead an organisation it is so hard to ‘hear’ the important information that gets sent your way.  Some people get hundreds of e mails, with everyone in the organisation adding you to a ‘cc’ list often to cover their backs rather than taking responsibility for their own actions.  Then there’s the endless stream of meetings and the casual conversations in corridors adding to the noise.
On the other side there are co-workers with great ideas and boundless enthusiasm who are frustrated because no one seems to be listening to them.  Depending on their mindset we hear the following: (1 is a sign of engagement – 4 show they are completely disengaged)
  1. ‘We pass on our ideas’
  2.  ‘We told them this would happen’
  3. ‘They don’t listen to us’
  4.  ‘If they bothered to ask us we could have prevented this’

Unfortunately, we sometimes come across ‘the high and mighty’ leader.  This type can reside anywhere in an organisation, not necessarily at the top.  They somehow obtain a title to go on their name badge, this gives them status.  At this point, their hearing becomes affected by the extra weight imbued by their seniority.  I’m always wary around people who have a name badge extension to accommodate the extra lettering needed to proclaim their rank.  Perhaps we need to do some research to prove the negative coloration between job title length and the ability to hear what colleagues are saying. I believe this starts to happen at about four words.

This is nicely illustrated by an untrue but widely repeated story from an ‘alleged’ transcript of an actual radio conversation between a US naval ship and Canadian maritime contact off the coast of Newfoundland in October 1995.  
Americans: Please divert your course 15 degrees North to avoid a collision.
Canadians: Recommend you divert YOUR course 15 degrees South to avoid collision.
Americans: This is the captain of a US navy ship; I say again divert your course.
Canadians: No. I say again, you divert YOUR course.
Canadians: We are a lighthouse; your call.
Are you an aircraft carrier or a lighthouse?

The Art of Appreciation

Welcome to another eclectic Friday blog where I can write about more unusual ideas.
Whilst I am interested, like many people, in a good cup of tea, this is actually about the appreciation of art.  One aspect of the Japanese Tea Ceremony, as developed and refined over the centuries, was the selection of pieces of art presented by tea-masters to their disciples for their appreciation.
One master, Kobori Enshui was complemented on his admirable taste as he displayed objects from his collection:  ‘Each piece is such that no one could help admiring.  It shows that you had better taste than Rikiu, for his collection can only be appreciated by one beholder in a thousand’.  Enshui sorrowfully replied, ‘This only proves how commonplace I am.  The great Rikiu dared to love only those objects which personally appealed to him, whereas I unconsciously cater to the taste of the majority’.
This story is so poignant on many levels:
  1. Excellence is not commonplace but can you recognise excellence in order that you might learn from it? 
  2. To achieve the next level requires others to understand what might be possible, which they might not have the skill to do.
  3. Most importantly this is not about the appreciation of art but about the art of appreciation.
In these days of focus groups, customer satisfaction surveys and feedback, people hone their ability to give criticism.  It is easy to criticise, you ask for someone’s opinion on a meal they have just eaten, or what they thought of the film, or how was the conference and you will often be greeted with an ‘It was alright’.  If you are lucky they might leave their position of safely sitting on the fence and venture that it was good or not.  Have we lost the ability to appreciate or to show our appreciation?
What does appreciation look like?
  • Awareness:  Here is something of note that can be appreciated.  Spot it.  Take the effort to recognise it.
  • Connection:  Make the effort to offer your comments.
  • Be specific:  What is it you like or dislike?  What criteria are you using?  How does this compare with other examples you have seen?
  • How does it make you feel?  Emotional response is, for me, the key factor in my appreciation of art, theatre, film, food or an event.
  • Dialogue:  Appreciation is not a one way street, it is an opportunity to explore with others the reasons for the feelings it evokes.

How was this blog?  Alright?

The Waiting Game

The Friday Blog is an eclectic mix of interesting ideas with no particular theme and is intended as a bit of fun.

Waiters (a cover all descriptor for anyone serving table at a restaurant). 

The concept that waiters should not be noticed takes away one of the best parts of any dining experience.  I have to confess at this point that I don’t have servants at home so my only chance I have of living the life of the super rich is when I visit a restaurant.  This means the waiter becomes Jeeves to my Wooster. Eating out becomes dining out.  I have a restaurant experience rather than a fuel stop. 

It is important to get into the mindset of a ‘Chap’ that has a servant at this point.  I have created a set of criteria upon which to judge staff.  You should of course decide on your own since you will naturally have different requirements to myself.  The following are merely for reference and should not be adopted as a national standard, with certification, an annual award ceremony, and opportunity to be nominated for a Hall of Fame.  That would not be appropriate.  This is highly personal since this is my waiter and not everyone else’s (at least when they are waiting my table). You may consider some of these criteria to be unnecessary or unfair in which case I refer you to my previous statement.

Score each criterion between 1 and 10
  1. Degree of Frenchness ( 1 no Frenchness – 10 French)
  2. Polished shoes (1 has never used polish – 10 shiny)
  3. Waiterisms ( 1 mechanic  – 10 Array of flourishes)
  4. Solomnier ( 1 Gushing –  10 Serious and Professional)
  5. Sommelier ( 1 Struggles with a cork – 10 sniffs the cork once extracted from the bottle)  Placing the bottle between the knees and pulling the cork , with sound effects gets double points.
  6. Eyebrow manipulation ( 1 no use of the eye brows – 10 uses the eye brows in communication)
  7. Bowing ( 1 small head nods – 10 proper dipping down with arm flourish)
  8. Acknowledgement ( 1 regards me as a commodity – 10 Treats me as a full VIP guest)
  9. Address ( 1 grunts  – 10 Always calls me ‘Sir’)
  10. Door ( 1 No exit strategy – 10 Opens the door to show me out)

The score is turned into a percentage and is used to determine the tip which must always be in cash and placed in the hand of my waiter as a sign of appreciation and respect.

The game can be adapted for use in other circumstances like with your gardener, groom or bus driver! Enjoy.

Nothing like a good metaphor…

I just love writing a blog! 

Nothing exists before you start; there is an empty hole in cyber space which is just about to be filled with thoughts in the form of words or images.  Before you start there is a void which appears somewhere between your ears.  Here is complete and utter stillness with no thoughts or self talk, a blankness which can only usually be achieved through years of meditative practice.  This is a starting point where creativity will shape that which is going to happen.
My friend and brilliant script writer Mark Greenop calls it the ‘search for a unique point of departure’ which will illuminate the way people see their world because we enable them to look at their situation from a new perspective.  With a play we might let them see themselves or aspects of their character or behaviour which might allow them to realise that there might be a different way to do something.  With a blog it is a cheerful rant which may spark an idea, deep learning or a new approach.
Some 20 years ago I stayed in Lidingö an island suburb of Stockholm in Sweden.  As I was shown around we passed the Town Hall.  It was a small hut from where 15 people ran the whole municipality.  Even then it struck me as amazing that so few people managed such a complex operation.  Yet now, as I visit some massive organisations in the course of my work I’m struck by the sheer number of people who are involved with running the business.  How many meetings do they attend which are about running the organisation.  How many departments exist to simply enable the organisation to function or to make sure people do what they are supposed to do?
What if an NHS Leader decided to write a blog about say delivering health care (as opposed to ill health care) in a newly formed community where there was no existing provision?  Or the Chief Executive of a power company could start afresh with working out how to fuel our homes?  What would they write?  What if you could start again with a blank piece paper – would you end up with what you have now? 
OK, so maybe we can’t all have the luxury of starting from scratch – there are ‘existing structures’ and ‘people need their jobs’ and ‘this is the way we do things round here’ and all those other reasons that maintain the status quo. 
But what if we could? – just imagine it for a minute; what if we could, like the Blogger, start from nothing? What would be in your blog?  What would your service, business or organisation look like? Is there something in there you like? Something you could adopt within your existing service, something you could integrate into your world or expel from your practices?
Blogging as a metaphor, now where did that come from?

Why are the antics?

Interesting ideas come from unlikely sources.  Like an exploding shed.

Some people will never ‘get’ our ‘Antics series’ of blogs.
Rikyu, the most celebrated Japanese Tea Master ( there you go) was said to have chosen the art to be appreciated at his tea ceremonies such that only one in a thousand would truly understand it.  While I could never aspire to this level of greatness I would also hope that more people than this can make the connection.

A line in the sand
Some people take things literally they look at a line in the sand and it is simply a line in the sand.  Others see endless possibilities. If you gather a group of children round your line in the sand they will quickly turn it into a game, a story, a starting point.  They will add to it, imagine with it, and move it to another place.  They have the ability to be creative.  It ceases to be a line in the sand. 

Constrained by convention
We can all play when we loosen up a bit and allow ourselves to be creative. However, how quickly we become constrained by conventions.  Just look at the way we conform to fashion.  Young people out on the town are almost in a uniform. Colours (or should I say shades of black), styles and brand have to conform.  As the red carpet police cast their critical eyes and comments over the Oscar attendees they have a narrow band of appreciation of what they should and should not be wearing.  Go to any event where people have a free choice about what they wear and notice that they haven’t.

None of this is an issue unless we want to encourage people to be creative, to find better ways of doing things, to be innovative.  If we tend to conform to convention all the time we lose the skills needed to see endless possibility.

The missing link
The skill of the Paradigmeer is to link seemingly unrelated ideas to create a new possibility.  Isaac Newton – a falling apple becomes gravity;   Barnes Wallace – a skimming stone becomes a bouncing bomb; Spencer Silver – a failed development becomes the post-it noteArchimedes – bath time inspires reliable measurement of volume.  This is catalytic thinking; the ability to generate light bulb moments which can cause seismic shifts in the way we do things. 

So welcome to Antics.  This is about exploring the possibility of endless possibility by considering things that we don’t usually consider and applying them to our work. 

Catalytic thinking or not.  If you have to ask ‘what’s this about then?’ well you haven’t got it and so it’s simply a bit of fun.

An exploding shed?
The exploding shed is actually a piece of sculpture by Cornelia Parker called An Exploded View (1991).

‘The work began life as an ordinary garden shed. Parker scoured friends’ sheds, attics, car-boot sales, finding typical objects to fill it, and then asked the British Army to blow the whole lot up. She collected the wreckage and reassembled it as a formalised constellation of suspended fragments, frozen as if at the moment of detonation. The smallest elements, such as toy cars and a crushed tin can are nearest the centre. Larger pieces such as shattered planks of wood and a bicycle wheel are at the edges. A single light bulb at the centre of the orbiting debris throws shadows onto the surrounding walls.

I saw it at the Tate Modern, and it is bloody brilliant!  But no, it didn’t make me want to blow up my shed:  The ideas it created have sat in my brain waiting for the time when they might create a connection.  Like now, as interesting metaphor for a blog!