Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Kindness Is for Life Not Just For Christmas - Day 31 (New Year's Eve)

Day 31 (New Year's Eve)
31 (trente-et-un) is a French phrase ("se mettre sur son trente-et-un") 
meaning to put on your glad rags or get really dressed up - 
which I am sure many of you will be doing this evening 
to celebrate and see in the New Year.

Photo: Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers, dressed to the nines in Top Hat, 1935
The last post of 2014 is by a person well-known to many, Perry Timms. Perry exudes energy and enthusiasm and is an often outspoken voice on social media and at conferences and events. He left mainstream HR in summer 2012 and founded People and Tranformational HR Ltd, he is also a Visiting Fellow at Sheffield Hallam University. Living (and having grown up in) Northampton, it is perhaps no surprise that he is Vice Chair of the Northants CIPD branch and a Northampton Town football fan. Like many, he is passionate about music and is a self-confessed Soulboy. You can follow him on Twitter (his handle is @PerryTimms) or read his blog (Adjusted Development). He is eager to connect and together we can change the world..."one conversation at a time".


I guess I am known for blogs of a positively framed nature.  I guess my outlook on life is that - positive.  Optimistic (to the power of infinity).

I see the opportunity in change.  The learning from a total mess-up.  The challenge in adversity.
Great Learning is often messy
I know that I’m not like everyone - if we were all the same it would be a bit like we’re already robots with no soul or spirit.  So I get that others don’t look at the world like I do.

Yet surely we can all agree that kindness is one thing we can all sign up to?

Seems not.  It seems there are not just some, but PLENTY, of people who seem to take pride, enjoyment and even revel - in being the opposite.  Unkind. Vindictive.  Nasty.  Hurtful.

We know this about pain.  The brain barely - if at all - distinguishes the feeling of social pain from actual physical pain.

We burn our finger on a hot metal implement.  We get called out for being a worthless individual.  Same kind of pain registered.  Some “damage” inflicted that our pain receptors fire up. 

Except of course, the physical pain and damage will heal but maybe with a scar, and can be treated with ointment and bandages. 

The mental pain eats away at us and - as we recently heard from Adam Grant at CIPD’s annual conference with his Give and Take theory - change how we are. 

Being unkind can cause permanent harm
photo credit - peepo
A lot of people are givers - we help others and be kind until we get (metaphorically this time) burned and we adjust to become matchers or go the opposite way and become takers.

Back to kindness then.  If we’re all so kind that would resolve a lot of the world’s problems wouldn’t it? Well, maybe so, however being kind backfires.
  • Lend someone some money because they’re desperate.  Never hear from them again, despite never asking for the money back.
  • Give time, effort, support and emotional encouragement.  Get utterly shafted, ignored, laughed at, considered weak and pushed aside.
  • Help people feel good about themselves and give them some esteem and hope.  Get accused of interfering, being too involved, taking too much interest in someone.
Rose shattered (after freezing in liquid nitrogen)
So this kindness thing isn’t as easy as it should be is it?  Doesn’t mean you have to be neutral, be some chameleon-like matcher - reflecting whatever the mood/culture is around you OR be one of those unkind sorts who crush kindness.
Chameleon about to crush a wasp
It’s tough to be kind all the time.  Yet our compassion for our fellow human beings is surely what sets us apart from the violence of the animal world we’re so closely still related to?

So this New Year before you cast aspersions on people; reject an offer to help; take offence at someone and go all out to “get them” just think about the last time someone was kind to you and how it made you feel. 

And then instead of being cruel, be kind - even a tiny bit.  Be a little more gentle instead of totally forceful.  Be a little compassionate instead of wildly inconsiderate.

Showing affection to an orphaned elephant
A small, but beautiful word.  Powerful yet fragile.  Kindness.

Happy New Year!

Monday, 29 December 2014

Paths to Possibilities - Day 30

Day 30
30 equals the total number of major and minor keys in Western tonal music.
It is also the number of uprights that formed the Sarcen Circle at Stonehenge.
Recent research suggests that the inner Bluestones ring probably had 
acoustic properties,
which might explain their being transported 320 km by Stonehenge's makers.
Today's piece is by Phil Willcox, the impassioned founder and Managing Director of e3ctc, a consultancy based in Lincoln, UK, which specialises in training and coaching to enable individuals and organisations to learn and develop. He is interested in authenticity and science-based emotional intelligence and the impact that they have on good leadership and the motivation of teams. Phil is a regular voice on Twitter (his handle is @PhilWillcox) and he is a good fellow to spend an evening with, putting the world to rights. A devoted husband and father, Phil enjoys helping and supporting others (both in and out of work) to thrive and grow.


This is my favourite TED talk ever. 


Why? It's the only TED talk that I've come across that gets a standing ovation at the start and at the end. More so though, it is about the meaning I find in it. It speaks to me because I have daughters, I like poetry, in the journey that Sarah has been through I find similarity to my own. I could go on and will choose to stop for now, as the importance will come back later.
One of the things I hold incredibly dear and share as much as possible is my view on the value of reflective practice. Over this year I have developed that to be 'reflective purposeful practice' as it is something that I think needs to be done both on and for a purpose. Let me be clear, thinking about or reflecting on stuff is massively useful and important. Even more though, doing this:

On purpose - which means you choose to do so and to do so regularly
For a purpose - which means you are doing it to learn, change, replicate, repeat or for a reason that you will act upon in the future. 

Purposeful reflection!
Car wing mirror with in-built LED indicator
I often meet people that say 'I don't know' and that reminds me of a line from one of my favourite film series 'The Matrix' where a character called 'The Oracle' is talking with 'Neo' (played by Keanu Reeves), here's the transcript:

Oracle: You have the sight now, Neo. You are looking at the world without time.
Neo: Then why can't I see what happens to her?
Oracle: We can never see past the choices we don't understand. 
Neo: Are you saying I have to choose whether Trinity lives or dies?
Oracle: No. You've already made the choice, now you have to understand it.
Neo: No, I can't do that. I won't.
Oracle: You have to.
Neo: Why?
Oracle: Because you're The One.
Neo: What if I can't? What happens if I fail?
Oracle: Then Zion will fall.

I realise that I am running the risk of losing you in film quotes and stick with me, it works out.

As humans we find meaning everywhere. It is the reason we misunderstand each other, why two people can see, hear, smell, taste the same thing(s) and get wholly different meanings, impressions, experiences and conclusions. It is something called 'relevance theory' and means that we will experience something through the senses and find the meaning or explanation that best fits what we know, want, think or feel about it. 

Do you see a human face or a girl hurrying across the cobbles?
What you see may be influenced by your current mood and past experiences

Let's play with that for a moment. Do I (or you) believe in fate or are we in control of our destiny?

For me, I prefer yellow bananas to black bananas.

Right now you are or already have searched to find what that means. Am I likening fate to yellow or black bananas? Or am I saying that I don't believe either and I'd prefer the idea of control over fate? In reality, it's a statement of seven words that I stole from someone and put into this blog. That's it. 

You will have looked for or more likely found meaning in those seven words.

When it comes to the paths we follow or we choose or how we perceive the world, those around us or the choices we (may) make, relevance theory is a massive part of it.

One of my favourite discoveries this year has been the 'Street Wisdom' movement. (I do also notice the links here between 'street' and 'path' and that is good old relevance theory in action.) There are a few things about Street Wisdom that I really love:
  • How it uses resources that you always have available to you (yourself and the street)
  • The impact it has for people (I'll share mine soon and here's some blogs others have written about their experiences), namely Helen Amery's and Emma Browes'
If you want to know more about Street Wisdom, click here.

The reason I'm sharing though, is because, as an approach, it does a brilliant job of helping you see options and paths that you may not normally appreciate. 

When I experienced my quest in Sheffield I was shifted. The path I was on remained but how I saw it shifted. It moved from a path that was overgrown, contained stinging nettles and brambles, was uneven underfoot and a path that I was nervous and unsure to tread. 

My view on it shifted to be a path that became crystal clear, free from obstruction and one that I actively wanted to skip, run and sprint down.

What happened? I found an answer to a question that I had been grappling with for over two years. Yes, two years. I'd been carrying a question with me that I could not answer for over 700 days. Each time that question raised itself I'd be flooded with emotion(s), doubts, fears, frustrations, joy and couldn't reconcile them all away. Then, the answer came and it all went away.

I felt free.

It was amazing.

Insight found on the streets of Sheffield
Church Street, Sheffield
I will be forever grateful to the streets of Sheffield and those people and objects that shared my path that day.

As humans we are what I call 'lazy thinkers', we make assumptions and take mental shortcuts. We want people or things to fit with what we have experienced or what we expect, because it is cognitively easier for us. We don't have to think as much, or as hard, to predict what will happen or occur. That is why (as I said earlier) we misunderstand each other. I think a reason we say 'I don't know' is I think there's a good chance you do know, you just haven't allowed yourself to see it as an option or possibility before.

Finding enlightenment.
"First Light, Sunrise over Sheffield", Actylic, 2008 by Mark H Wilson 
You may think I am trying to say you need to visit unfamiliar surroundings to create a shift and I don't think that is true. I've been to Sheffield many times before and that day, but I looked at it differently. So differently it changed my life.

I started this blog talking about poetry, reflection and those I meet that say 'I don't know'. Then I've linked that to the Matrix, as I wonder if you really do know and just aren't seeing past a choice you don't understand or want to face. Then I've talked about relevance theory and how I think this links with choices as, when we open up our minds to other possibilities and meanings, we see new things and paths which may allow us to understand or face a choice. Our challenge, as I see it, we don't allow ourselves (consciously or unconsciously) the chance to open up.

Open up, see the path, shift the perception, have more choice.

Vietnam War Memorial, by American artist and architect Maya Lin in 1989,
when designing it she stated that she wanted to create something that a person could
"relate to as on a journey or passage, that would bring each to his own conclusions"

Merry Christmas (we are still within The 12 Days) and Happy New Year.

Thank you to the wonderful Kate Griffiths-Lambeth for curating this series.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

A Story - Day 29

Day 29
29ers are mountain bikes that are built to use 700c or 622 mm ISO 

(inside rim diameter) wheels, commonly called 29" wheels 
(most mountain bikes use 26" wheels). 
The 29ers traverse obstacles more easily, provide better 
traction & lose less speed on uneven terrain than smaller wheels.

Today is the first day back to work for many of us. I hope you had a good break.

The below piece is a powerful, heartfelt post by Tony Jackson. Tony is an Executive Coach and runs his own business, Chelsham Consulting Limited. I first met Tony through Twitter, his handle is @jacksont0ny, and I have subsequently discovered that we are neighbours in South London (as well as sharing a penchant for exotic holidays). Tony is an accomplished writer, you can read his blog here or sample his words below. The following piece is brave, honest and, as well as being a true story, holds a strong message for all who read it.

Unlike most of the posts in this series, I have added no colour pictures to this post, all the stunning photos were taken and selected by Tony. I did add the cartoon and the piece of music at the end.


It’s a story. Not a sob story. Just a part of my story.

Sometimes it seems my path has taken me past vertiginous drops, across sunny uplands and through the occasional war-zone.

My starting point? A growing sense of difference as a teenager. I don’t react in quite the same way as most of the class. Some of them pick up on it. They spot it before I do. Their perception of me adjusts. Later in adult life I find this is a shared experience of people like me. Remember those words – ‘people like me’.

As a student my path leads me to discovering myself – sitting on my bed watching ‘that’ film on my black & white portable TV and afterwards reflecting on and grappling with something. Finally, after all those years of wondering, I accept my authentic self.

Enter the world of work. A professional services firm. No employment law protection of course. The manager who tells me in front of the whole team that, if he finds out that the rumours are true, he will sack me on the spot. This at a time when people like me are truly scared because some of us are dying in London hospitals. And our Government is simultaneously legislating against us. I soon run from that employer. I ask you: would you stay? Your first job post-University. Would you be brave enough to fight? Would you ever have to think along those lines from where you sit?

A few years later – another professional services firm. I notice on the way in that their policies are way ahead of employment law. Enlightened. I can be myself. Maybe. Before I arrive the HRD (yes the HRD) apparently asks my future team members  when the “bent bastard” is arriving. Charming. They are on my side though – not his.  All will be well. My perception of ‘how I can be’ shifts. I can be myself and my performance has never been higher. Still slightly living on my nerves. Having to think about something that the majority never have to consider. That’s sometimes noticed. Performance at the top end of the spectrum but “Are you OK Tony?”

Scroll forward. Picture two professional men walking down a street. The Universe helped us find one another. We’ve bought a house. We’ve worked bloody hard to get where we are. In proof that societal change can and does happen we are now living in a time when we can marry (well nearly). We have the protection of the law in the workplace. And yet – the local youths storm out of a fast-food joint and abuse us. Not sure what they’ve spotted but their perception is that we might be different. Then notice our size & stature and maybe think better of it and skulk away into the evening. But for a few weeks at work I worry about what might happen if he meets them when he’s on his own. Oh yes – you noticed that I’m a bit preoccupied. Thanks.

And now – a further decade later - well I advocate authenticity whilst knowing that when I am really my authentic self, there are still those who will find me “different”, so I shy away from it at times. I’m finally running my own business. Love it. Having had positional authority for years I now live off my personal reputation, networking skills and professional ability. For the first time in years this point features again in my mind (rightly or wrongly). I just occasionally wonder whether that assignment will go to the other person – because, again, it’s easier for the client to choose a person like him/her.  So am I authentic? Is it possible for an executive coach to be anything but fully authentic? A challenge.

So when that person in your team is reacting differently maybe you will ask yourself – why would they not react differently? They bring a whole lifetime of personal experiences to that conversation, that interaction. Why on earth would you expect them to react as you do? That would be the surprising thing wouldn’t it?

And I challenge you: when you imagine someone is excluding themselves (yes people say this – they are excluding themselves) by behaving differently, or being different, well how are you going to adjust your pre-conceptions and work hard, really hard, to make them feel included?

No they aren’t in the group of people like you.  They are an individual and for all you know their life has had challenges that you couldn’t imagine from your place within the in-group. They have walked a different path. They may have a story like mine. Of course they carry some of it around with them. Even if they would rather that they didn’t.

And when you push yourself to get this right, to reflect hard and to adjust your own perceptions of life, so that you help them be at their best, then my friend, right then, you will be a leader.

Mama Cass Elliot - Make Your Own Kind Of Music

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Scarcity and Abundance - Day 28

Day 28
The Twenty-eight Parrot - colloquial name of the 'Barnardius Zonarius Semitorquatus',
a green-headed subspecies of the Australian Ringneck.
It gets its name from its call, "Wenneeeyate",
which sounds like the number being shouted.
I first met Inji Duducu when I rudely dashed in and out of a watering hole, to say "Hi", when she was catching up with David D'Souza - so I was delighted, but amazed, to be invited as her guest to the People Management Awards dinner this September at the swanky Grosvenor House Hotel in Mayfair, London. Her employers, benenden health, were one of the sponsors of the event. Inji is their Group HR Director (she started there in May). It was a wonderful evening made all the more so by the fact that I was sat beside her - what an interesting lady (and lucky me). Inji is a Turkish American and she lives with her family in Leeds, in the north of England. She is active on Twitter (her handle is @injiduducu) and within the wider HR community.


I am a fan of The Apprentice, even though each year's candidates are more ridiculous than the last, for me there is something compelling about watching people make terrible decisions week after week.  I am usually watching while wincing and peeking through my fingers - a bit like Fawlty Towers.

What is  particularly interesting is the follow up programme "You're Fired".  Even the candidates who came across as so idiotic and irritating you want to chew your own arm off just to have something to throw at the screen, seem disappointingly considered in the follow up.  No doubt some of it is down to entertaining editing, but one of the contestants recently commented that it was very stressful being project manager, and that's why he had behaved so disastrously.  It got me thinking, "why was it so stressful?"  I suspect it was because he knew that if he did not win the task, he would be ‘fired’.  In addition, because there is only one "job" (or investment opportunity), there's not much of an incentive to work effectively as a team because they are all competing to show Alan Sugar how great they are, and make the others look bad by comparison. 

Cuckoo chick pushing host birds' eggs out of the nest
Photo by Mike Richards
What if instead of competing, the premise of the series was "we've got 10 potentially great people here.  Let's test them out and if they're all good enough then we will invest in them all".  What if they believed there was enough – how would that impact collaboration and ultimately, performance? (though as Mitchell and Webb say in their sketch about  the show, "it’s not very entertaining to watch talented people perform brilliantly."  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ss-59fi4nM)

In seemingly unrelated news, a friend of mine works in a company that has acquired a lot of other organisations, resulting in lots of different terms and conditions, especially holiday allowances.  The majority of people get 25 days, quite a few are on 30 but some are on 22.  She suggested bringing everyone up to 25 days as a minimum.  One of the fortunate 30 day-ers objected - those on 22 days would be getting 3 more days and he wouldn't be getting anything more, how unfair!

For me these things are linked by what Steven Covey described as a "scarcity mindset" - a sense that there is not enough, and if some people get a big share, there will be less for me. 

“Most people are deeply scripted in what I call the Scarcity Mentality. They see life as having only so much, as though there were only one pie out there. And if someone were to get a big piece of the pie, it would mean less for everybody else."
The Scarcity Mentality is the zero-sum paradigm of life. People with a Scarcity Mentality have a very difficult time sharing recognition and credit, power or profit – even with those who help in the production. They also have  a very hard time being genuinely happy for the success of other people.”

Picture courtesy of Ronald Grant
Screen shot from Outrage, directed by Ida Lupino, 1950
Many people apply this to work - if someone else gets a promotion then I won't, a pay rise for them means less for me, there's not enough, not enough, not enough.

What if we led our people with an abundance mindset? A sense that there's enough business, enough customers, enough opportunities and if we all perform at our best there will be enough recognition, training, promotions and bonuses for everyone?

I have written before about what perceived threats do to our cognitive abilities.  Our brains have evolved to be attuned to threat and additionally the nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle probably evolved preferences and mechanisms that were effective in that time of scarcity, leading us to have a preference for a scarcity mindset.  Perhaps now that most people live in fixed communities (a relatively recently development in human evolution) and human relationships are increasingly inter dependent, being attuned to scarcity is no longer helpful?

FOMO (fear of missing out)
Source: Garfield comic strip by Jim Davis
When a threat (and perceived scarcity is a threat) is recognised our bodies are flooded with fight or flight chemicals that reduce our cognitive processing in the region of 40% (particularly higher order functions like emotion and impulse control). 
Fight or flight?
photo, A Dangerous Leap, by Juan Luis Duran 
This is useful in short bursts, but many of us live our lives chronically stressed and exposed to these chemicals, which increase our risk of disease.  Conversely chemicals like dopamine, endorphins and oxytocin, released when we receive ‘reward’, feel loved etc seem to be protective against disease.

Source Compound Interest
For those with a scarcity mindset, many things will be a potential stressor, reducing their thinking ability.  In addition, the perception of competition reduces teamwork and collaboration.  Who can afford that in their organisations?  People taking their thinking offline,  being chronically stressed and spending energy on defending, attacking and panicking?  Looking at it through this lens, it makes sense then that encouraging an abundance mindset in our workplaces will lead to better outcomes for all.

Here’s what Covey says about abundance

“The Abundance Mentality… flows out of a deep inner sense of personal worth and security. It is the paradigm that there is plenty out there and enough to spare for everybody. It results in sharing of prestige, of recognition, of profits, of decision making. It opens possibilities, options, alternatives, and creativity.”

Importantly, an abundance mindset thinks long term – a person with this outlook understands that short term pain now will reap long term benefit, and someone else getting a pay rise now doesn’t mean that they never will. 
The Thinker by Auguste Rodin, 1879-1889. Bronze, life-size
Not surprisingly the advice for cultivating an abundance mindset is similar to the advice about cultivating positive thinking.  Here are some things you can try in your private and work life:

Appreciation – take time to deeply appreciate people, not just for what they do, but for who they are.  As part of this, keep a gratitude journal (or a modern version -  I’m part of a What’s App group where we log things we’re grateful for, and it’s wonderful to share in other people’s abundance).  Living pampered lives in the West we think we know what we’re grateful for, “yes, clean water, vaccines blah blah blah.  I know I’m very lucky blah blah”, but actually forcing yourself to stop, think and commit it to paper (or screen) acts on your brain in a very different way to theoretically knowing that you’re lucky, but still being really really annoyed about the traffic, or the printers not working, or whatever today’s irritation is.
Oil on board, Kay Crain 2012
Give – people with an abundance mindset give freely.  And since you cannot control what you get, but have 100% control over what you give, it makes sense that if you want abundance in your life you give the things you want most to receive.
The Three Wise Men bringing gifts
The Magi, Balthasar, Melchior and Gaspar, from late 6th century mosaic
Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nouvo, Ravena Italy
Trust – if you want people in the organisation to trust each other and trust you, trust them and be trustworthy – straightforward and authentic.  It’s just a version of the “give” stuff above.
Demonstration of mutual trust
Acrobats Jarley Smith (top), Jewell Waddek (left) and Jimmy Kerrigan (right) on
Empire State Building, Manhattan. August 1934 Photo credit Bettmann/CORBIS
Don’t create false competition – get rid of the forced distributions etc. Everyone can be recognised and appreciated for themselves.
Illustration by Liu Rui

Thinking Environments – if we want people around us to have a strong sense of self worth, then thinking our best about them, and helping them to think at their best makes sense.  If you’re not already familiar with Nancy Kline’s work on this (set out in “Time to Think”) it may well be the best 2 hours and £9.99 you ever spend.
Effective listening
Especially at this time of year, an abundance mindset seems like something worth trying.  

Happy holiday everyone!

Bing Crosby singing "Happy Holiday"
Holiday Inn promotion 1942