Saturday, 28 January 2012


I spent an hour today watching my garden from the warmth of the study, recording the numbers and types of birds that I saw.  My best sighting was a Greater Spotted Woodpecker – not a common bird in central London. 

For the past decade I have participated in The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB)’s annual Big Garden Birdwatch.  It takes place over a weekend and, if you live in the UK, I urge you to do your bit (you don't have to be a member of the RSPB to do so):

It is the world’s biggest bird survey.  The submissions of sightings from thousands of people like me enables the RSPB to create a “snapshot” of bird numbers across each region of the UK and helps the charity to spot issues and commence action to support declining native bird populations.

I spent the past week at work undertaking a similar activity:  I and other members of the Executive team took part in performance reviews with the senior leadership of each business within the Group.  As well as examining how the operations scored according to pre-agreed performance indicators for the year to date, we considered the business plans and discussed with the company experts the anticipated environment and potential risks and opportunities for their enterprise; taking into account internal and external factors and how they could impact on the operation’s performance and ability to achieve desired outcomes.  I am a fan of scenario planning – envisaging the range of circumstances that might occur and determining how best to steer an appropriate course, so as not to end up like the Costa Concordia.

The Cost Concordia has provided us all with dramatic images and sobering thoughts over the past week.  Listing to its starboard side and posing a significant environmental threat, as well as being the cause of great personal tragedy, it should make us all think.  On a related note, the word “listing” is one of those interesting words in the English language that has a multitude of meanings (as is “career”); “listing" can mean to catalogue, to offer for sale, to incline, to please or indeed its archaic meaning  to listen (indeed the word "listen" derives from "list").  We should take note and listen to the world around us and adapt our behavior accordingly.

The Costa Concordia disaster does not simply provide inspiration for reflection on the global cruise industry (and an illustration that both the international hospitality business and insurance industries are risky operations, with share prices that are likely to remain volatile).  The incident has caused me and many others to contemplate the global shipping industry as a whole.  Did you know that the world’s 16 largest ships produce as much in emissions as all the cars in the world?  Indeed the global shipping industry emits almost twice the carbon dioxide of the airline industry and, if it continues to rise at its current rate, it will have risen by another 75% by 2030.  Clearly, with current concerns related to pollution, the oil industry and global warming, this situation is not sustainable.  Fortunately, there are people, with the necessary knowledge and expertise, who are working to engineer a revolution in global transportation.  One of the most inspiring is the development of green cargo shipping.  A business called Fair Transport has launched a flagship cargo vessel, Tres Hombres that is utilising wind-power to enable the efficient, fast and cost effective transportation of goods.  It has combined modern technology and ancient skills to produce an innovative solution.  The initiative is being fronted by Jorne Langelaan, born into the shipping industry and aware of the issues.  He gave an inspirational TED talk in Amsterdam:

Jorne and his colleagues are an excellent example of the value of innovation.  His commercial shipping company, founded with two friends, is bringing goods around the Caribbean and across the Atlantic, utilising the trade winds, in a modern, high tech., square-rigged schooner that uses solely wind power.  The Tres Hombres is an attractive and effective vessel:

and there are better ships to come – commercial cargo ships such as the 3,ooo ton EcoLiner that will be equipped for container traffic.  Few businesses will succeed in the long term if they are not able to adapt and respond to global problems and change.

HR must play a part in enabling business success.  We must encourage people to be creative and to have the confidence to devise innovative solutions that take advantage of new opportunities and circumstances.  We must discourage people from belittling others’ thoughts and efforts.  When the American athlete, Dick Fosbury, commenced high jumping most elite jumpers used techniques that allowed them to land on their feet, thereby preventing injury (landing surfaces were traditionally sandpits or low piles of matting).  Fosbury pioneered a technique that enabled him to lean into his turn, away from the bar.  This lowered his centre of gravity, prior to knee flexion, and this gave him a longer period for his take-off thrust, as well as proving an easier method for clearing the bar.  It is not surprising that his flop was not a flop - he won a gold medal in the 1968 Olympics and his approach is now the most commonly adopted in the sport. 

Prior to the Olympics, Fosbury was ridiculed for proposing change and for championing a new technique that many saw as unnatural.  Fosbury could not have done what he did unless he had appreciated the opportunities that new technologies and materials could provide.  He was dependent on the advent of deep foam matting, as that gave him the opportunity to safely experiment with fresh approaches to jumping.  More importantly though, he was brave enough to try something new and had the innovative spirit required to realise that there can be better ways to do things.

In these challenging times, I encourage you to take a fresh look at what you do and how you do it.  Analyse and consider different scenarios, to determine the correct way to proceed.  Don’t be afraid to list, taking advantage of all meanings of the word.  May the winds of change lean you in the right direction and enable you to listen to the whispered routes for success.


  1. What an inspiring read..we hold so much power in our hands. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Dear Ntathu, I agree that the power to achieve success and change for a more positive outcome lies within us. We also need to be able to support and encourage others to reach their goals and fulfil their potential.