Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Boxing High Fliers

Sometimes life really doesn’t go according to plan – I feel a bit as though I’ve had one of those weeks.  I had intended to write this blog on Saturday: most of the family was out and, after getting the weekend chores out of the way, I had some time to myself to look forward to (a real luxury in my life).  As it was, I was sitting in the study, contemplating my tax return (that’s the exciting kind of woman I am) when suddenly the light dimmed and I looked out of the window – it resembled a scene from the Bible.  The sky was darkened by thousands of insects, like a plague on a Pharaoh; everywhere I looked there were bees, almost as if a cloud had descended over the garden.  At almost this time I received a panicked phone call from a neighbour two doors down, who had been sitting outside reading the newspaper, when she noticed an almost tangible hum and then the sky darkened, she called to say that she thought my bees had swarmed.

Almost as swiftly as the apocalypse-like gloom descended, the sky cleared. My neighbour called again, she had spotted a huge cluster of bees hanging from the branch of our mutual neighbour’s apple tree. She was right in her initial observations, the bees had swarmed.  Bees do it when their hive is thriving and the colony is strong enough to survive splitting, amoeba-like, into two groups.  A new queen stays in the original hive and the old queen departs, with a significant number of the hive, to establish a new colony.   I called my co-beekeeper and she dashed round.  We did not want our bees to inconvenience others, nor did we want to lose them.  The intermediate neighbour was away, but we needed to act swiftly.  Dressed in full bee-keeping outfits, we climbed over the wall between the two properties and, with the help of a step ladder, some pruning shears and a large cardboard box, commenced to catch the bees.  Swarms are surprisingly docile (probably because they are gorged on honey and have no brood that they need to protect).  Just as we were in the process of knocking the swarm into the box, actually easier than it sounds, the owners of the garden returned.  Their arrival surprised us (it was like a scene in a sitcom) and we had to make a couple of efforts to get all the swarm into the box.  It was with a degree of embarrassment that we explained what we were up to.  Fortunately they had even less interest than we did in the swarm taking up home in their tree – they have small children and prefer an insect-free environment.  We taped the bees into the box and then our troubles began...

We were not prepared for housing a new swarm.  We had much of the kit, but not enough to create a suitable new hive.  Leaving the bees gaffer-taped into their box, we set off on a wild dash around south London to get all the things that we needed.  Praise has to be given to Park Beekeeping Supplies ( who remained open for nearly an hour to enable us to come and collect some urgent kit.  Returning to my home, we built the new hive and then tipped the contents of the box into the cedar wood box.  The neighbour who had alerted me came and helped and when we had finished, (mid afternoon), we had a Georgian lunch of dressed crab, Jersey Royal new potatoes with garden mint and fresh salad to celebrate our achievements.

The following day was our local festival celebrating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.  I am a member of our Residents’ Association Committee and months of planning had gone into arranging celebrations.   We had games for the children - an “Olympic” torch race, a pet show and an art competition – and a lunch for all in a closed off street, with stalls and traditional fete games such as Thwack the Rat and tombola.   People clustered like bees around the drink stall and I soon joined the team serving to help assuage the thirst of our neighbours.  It was fun – a great chance to catch up with old friends and to make new acquaintances.  It was almost dark by the time I returned home and I just had time to inspect the bees.  The old hive had a number of stragglers making their way home after a day in the sun (a bit like the attendees of the Stockwell Festival) but the new hive was suspiciously calm.

The following day was an early start – I was speaking at a Strategic HR Network conference on the enabling power of Technology.  It was a wonderful opportunity to catch up on how organisations are utilising technology to enhance their effectiveness.  I enjoyed learning more about the benefits of The Cloud (thank you Fergal from Rentokil) and agreeing with Karan Paige from Pearson that HR needs to be able to analyse data and make commercially grounded proposals based on evidence.   I was on a panel discussing Technology Trends along with the Head of Organisational effectiveness from Crossrail and Mike Thompson from Barclays.  It is striking to hear that Pingit was only conceived as an idea in February of this year but, with the right enabling support, the product went live in May.  The pace of Technology often leaves me speechless – only five years ago most of us did not have smart phone and yet now we take them and their apps for granted.  YouTube celebrated its seventh birthday this month – currently three days of video are uploaded per minute (an increase of  24 hours per minute compared to a year ago) and users are watching 3 billion hours of video each month (that’s 1,000 times greater than the amount users are uploading to the website) .  I used YouTube as an example in my talk, increasingly Learning and Development in organisations is using social media techniques and technology to encourage employees to enhance their skills.  Immersive gaming is used from recruitment into customer facing roles in banks to learning how to pilot a fighter plane.  I told people about a leading white goods retailer that is encouraging staff to share knowledge and skills by creating videos of themselves which colleagues vote on for both entertainment value and ability to impart valuable knowledge.  Employee engagement can now be measured in real time (a software business in Australia enables employees to touch a red, amber or green face as they leave at the end of the day and the information is fed back to management to tell them if employees are enjoying their work or finding life stressful).  Colleagues no longer have to wait for an update after an off-site they were unable to attend – tweets on Twitter will probably have told them much of what they need to know and they can commence taking appropriate action to achieve objectives before the call to arms.

With my head buzzing with thoughts I returned home.  I arrived only to be greeted by a phone call from my neighbour – the bees had reassembled in the apple tree.  All credit to my eldest son who, until yesterday, had not as yet helped me with the bees.  He donned a suit and veil and helped me catch the pesky things for a second time in a box.  We sprinkled them with sugar – to give them something else to contemplate - while I re-established their home.  With the help of an experienced local bee keeper, we cut the branch on which they hung and transported them back to the hive in my garden.  Taking care to ensure that the queen was inside, we lined a number of pristine wax frames into the box – as he said, the bees must have thought they’d arrived in heaven. 

I had another early start this morning but went to look at the hives before I left at 6.30.  Again, the old hive was active but few if any bees emerged from the entrance to enjoy the early morning sunshine and inspect their new location.  On arrival at work I received a fresh text notifying me that a busy cluster of bees seemed to be reassembling in the apple tree.  My heart sank, but there was little I could do during the day.  Late afternoon, I participated in a round table discussion of UK HR Directors hosted by Changeboard (  We discussed the pros and cons of Social Media .  I didn’t get home until nearly sundown and I was bracing myself for a repetition of last night.  However, when I went to inspect the hives there was a healthy cluster of bees guarding the entrance to the new hive as well as the usual steady stream to and from the old one.

I have learned much from the past four days.  I’ve always known that life does not always go according to plan, but I now have a greater appreciation of the importance of perseverance and preparation.  If I had not got a new hive in readiness for occupation, last night would have been a much more troublesome affair.  Clearly, I did not do quite the right things on Saturday – I suspect that, when we were startled by my neighbours’ return we knocked the swarm and that in doing so we dislodged the queen.  Without a queen bees will not linger in a box, no matter how nicely prepared – the power of a good leader is greater than the superficial comforts of immediate surroundings.   I used Technology to help me to solve my problems – satnav on my phoned lead me to Park Beekeeping and advice via texts and twitter was very helpful.  However, it was the companionship and shared learning that really made the experiences memorable for me (as it was at the conference and the roundtable session).  It was good to celebrate this evening, knowing that the job had been well done – I shall have to make some mead in preparation for next time.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Strong Shoulders

How often do we stop and consider the things that have happened that enable us to be successful now and in the future?  I’ve had a busy week full of collecting data, collating analysis, contemplating how best to depict findings and, as the days passed, gaining an increasing appreciation of the experienced members of the team, who have provided me with a well-informed foundation of knowledge on which to base my observations.  As well as completing the annual appraisal analysis (both of business performance and individual contributions), I was fortunate in doing some great stuff outside work.  I saw some excellent contemporary dance, met up with contacts with whom I made plans for the future and I also was able to spend some time relaxing with my family.

In a strange way there were themes that wove between all these aspects of my week that, only now, I begin to appreciate, having had time to consider and reflect.

The dance I saw was at Sadler’s Wells; it comprised an evening of four pieces by the Rambert Dance Company, one of which was the iconic “L’Après-midi d’un faune”.  It was devised by Nijinsky and has been performed by Rambert since 1931.  Marie Rambert herself joined the Ballet Russes for a year in 1912 and saw Njinsky dance the title role.  Watching this week’s performance was like witnessing a Grecian urn coming to life, even down to the dancers’ feet remaining parallel to the stage’s edge so that they appeared as figures in profile, like an ancient Greek drawing.  The last piece of the night, “What Wild Ecstacy”, was commissioned to celebrate “L’Après-midi d’un faune”, which is in its centenary year.  The title of the new dance is derived from Keat’s poem “Ode on a Grecian Urn”:

                “What men or gods are these?  What maidens loth?
     What mad pursuit?  What struggle to escape?
     What pipes and timbrels?  What wild ecstacy?

            (John Keats, “Ode on a Grecian Urn”, 1819)

It was interesting to observe a piece that had its roots in another, although a sensual and bacchanalian eroticism hangs over both dances, they are very different.

Despite being of different generations and sexes, my eldest son and I physically resemble one another.  You can imagine our surprise when, out sampling a local hostelry, a fellow diner came over to our table and congratulated my son on choosing an older girlfriend whom he could learn from.  I enjoy exploring new experiences with my son, but not in the way that our companion was thinking.  However, his words got me pondering.  I’m not sure we are very good at learning from our “elders and betters”.  Modern Western society is heavily based on the impact of the individual, without often taking into account the contribution of the team.  Our Media eulogises diva singers, footballers, “reality” stars and politicians and yet each of these people would not be able to achieve all they do without the entourage of individuals with whom they work.  Most of them, when asked at events such as award ceremonies, admit to having been inspired by someone in their youth and acknowledge the work of the people around them.  However the reports in the press the following day focus on the individual winners and the other names are forgotten.

Almost without exception Human achievements are built on the skills of others.  Many are uncomfortable in acknowledging that their successes are derivative, based on the knowledge of earlier contributors.   However, Sir Isaac Newton’s words on the side of the UK two pound coin hold true, we can credit our accomplishments to “standing on the shoulders of giants”.  We need the foundation of earlier capabilities on which to build our own input.  With this in mind, I worry at the current high levels of youth unemployment, not just in the UK but in many countries of the world.  The young need to learn from those who can teach them, otherwise skills will be lost.  Recent statistics published by the Organisation for economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) show that youth unemployment reached a rate of 17.1% in March of this year, more than twice the unemployment rate affecting the broader population.  More than one in five young people in the labour market are unemployed in Sweden, France, Poland, Ireland, Italy and the UK.

I can’t help but note that the countries with the highest unemployment figures, depicted in the above chart of May 2012 from MoneyGame, have all suffered civil wars within living memory.  As inflation continues to rise and living becomes more difficult, social unease is likely to increase.  The riots experienced in England last August could be indicative of what’s to come, as was argued by Michael Carty in the sobering XpertHR blog of 4 January this year:

Although the prospect of society in turmoil is not something I relish, I am actually more concerned by the longer term impact of the situation we find ourselves in.  A couple of years ago I visited Laos.  It is an exquisite, land-locked country set between Vietnam, China, Burma, Thailand and Cambodia. 

Laos has the unfortunate notoriety of being, on a per capita basis, the most heavily bombed country in history (as a result of the Vietnam War-era bombings from 1964-1973).  Laos suffered its own civil war after the US involvement in Vietnam was over and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic was proclaimed in December 1975.  At this time non-communist papers were closed and there followed a significant purge of the police, civil service, army and certain sectors of the populace.  Thousands of people were dispatched to remote parts of the bomb-strewn country for “re-education”.  Large numbers of accomplished professionals and academics fled Laos and skilled craftsmen hid their talents, disposed of their tools and took up other employment, fearing reprisals for having provided “unnecessary luxuries”.  The drain of knowledge and the loss of traditional skills continue to impoverish the country today.  I spoke to a silver smith trying to restore some of the ancient treasures and artefacts in the temples at the Unesco World Heritage site of Luang Prabang.  He told me, with much sadness, that many of the skills and techniques that had been lost; the trained artisans had died before they could pass on their knowledge to the next generation.

We need to have both the young and the old in our organisations to ensure that knowledge and skills are developed. 

Many of the Hmong hill-tribe people in Laos still live in tightly knit remote communities.  They have been persecuted for their involvement with the US against the communists during the Vietnam War ( ) and hence have done their best to avoid contact with the authorities.  Their deliberate insularity and adherence to their traditional approaches has resulted in many cultural skills being maintained.  Elders are respected and they take care to ensure the transference of knowledge to the next generation.  They know that the future success and survival of their people depends on it.

We too need to nurture the new generations and value and use the knowledge of our elders.  We must ensure that effective succession planning is in place to preserve what has been achieved and to provide a strong platform for future growth.  In my opinion, one of the ways of achieving this would be through embracing proper apprenticeships as is done in countries such as Switzerland and Germany.  Many UK businesses have taken advantage of government funding available to support apprenticeships, but, rather than bringing in and training new employees, the money has been spent on enabling existing employees to acquire recognised qualifications.  I’m all in favour of learning and development (I should be in my line of work).  We are being short-sighted if we don’t nurture our future.  The young, the employees after we have gone, are the legacy we must enhance.  We need to offer strong shoulders on which they can stand.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Dancing to New Tunes

Belly dancing or perhaps whirling Dervishes are usually the first images to come to many people’s minds when Middle Eastern culture is mentioned.  Certainly, at Friday night’s Arabian Night in Wandsworth’s Town Hall, organised to raise money for the current Mayor’s charities (a local NHS hospital and a charity that supports the elderly), many were mesmerised by the sinuous rippling and shaking of the midriffs of lithe maidens.  But there was so much more to the evening.  It was arranged by an inspired collection of women, who did everything from decorating the Civic Centre so that it looked like a souk, to slaving all day in the Town Hall kitchens creating a banquet fit for ambassadors, friends and guests.  I was invited by my god daughter’s father – he is Jordanian and the majority of the people who attended were Arabic speakers.  Much to my shame, I can only speak a few phrases in Arabic (I must improve before my goddaughter grows much older).  It is not often that I am at an event where I feel like an outsider – the cultural nuances of dress, speech and mannerisms were, for the main part, lost on me.  However, it was wonderful to be enfolded within a different culture and I learned much by listening, sampling and observing.

I sat next to a cardiac surgeon from the hospital.  He and his family had fled Iraq after Saddam Hussein came to power.  It was interesting to hear his views on the inefficiencies in the National Health Service and the need for performance related reward.  Many of the attendees at our table had left countries in the Middle East and a surprisingly large proportion of people had spent time in Canada before moving to Europe.  At other tables sat a significant section of the Arabic speaking community of South West London – groups of friends and family laughing and eating together.  A mixture of religions, nationalities and people bound together by a cultural bond and a shared sense of purpose.  

It is a natural human tendency to seek to belong to a community.  This is as true at work as it is in our broader lives.  Since the UK’s local elections earlier this month, I have spent some time pondering why there was such a poor turnout to the polls.  It was the lowest for twelve years and fell to as little as 25% in some places.  I can only assume that people don’t see the relevance of voting or that they are uninspired by the candidates.  If there is no connection, and hence people feel disengaged, they are unlikely to make an effort to walk to the polling station to pencil a cross on a ballot paper.  I suspect that the majority of candidates failed to communicate effectively with the electorate and hence inspire people to make an effort.  Hard copy leaflets, council-produced newspapers and party fliers are seldom read.  In my opinion, they might even deter potential electors, as they can add to the impression that candidates are out-dated and out of touch.  I believe that, despite the concerns over secrecy and corruption, the time has come for on-line voting to enhance democracy.

Businesses often suffer from similar issues to those experienced by the poorly supported local councillors seeking election in the UK.  Processes are often out-dated and/or inappropriate for the environment in which we now operate.  Many still rely on traditional command and control approaches – this is out of keeping with the direction in which the world is moving.  In a remarkably short space of time the internet has changed the way that we do things and also how many of us think.  Those who have grown up “connected” have technology as a key and interwoven part of their lives; they (we?) don’t even give it any consideration.  It is how they meet their friends (often people they have never met in the flesh), socialise and enrich their lives with others who share their interests.  I have a son who seems to be turning nocturnal, as his interests (and hence friends) revolve around games and communities that originate in the States.

Many who grew up before the advent of the personal computer see Technology as a tool and a communication channel to be controlled and regulated.  My mother is a wonderful contrast to my son (despite some similarities in character and values) – she is uncomfortable even using an ATM; computers and smart phones bewilder her.  She has a mobile and, slowly, she is beginning to value it, but it takes time and, at first, she was quite hostile towards the device that I said she should always keep with her.  (She got stranded in her car in a remote field a few years back – having run down her feeble car’s battery listening to Radio 4, whilst waiting for a nightingale to sing.  Ever since then I have wanted her to be able to call for help if required.)  People are often afraid of things they cannot understand or manage. 

I can see a crunch point approaching many businesses, as a result of Technology, as organisations try to apply rules based on senior employees’ own knowledge and experiences, rather than keeping pace with the changes in Society.  There is a clear clash between the old and the new and the internet ably illustrates what I mean:

Traditional Corporate Approach:
Internet Modus Operandi:
Employee Handbooks, contracts and corporate policies, by definition, impose restrictions on people.

The internet is available to anyone who has a device to connect; individuals are primarily restricted by their own knowledge and capabilities.
To date organisations and employees have expected to know the parameters of roles (indeed in many countries it is a legal requirement) – job descriptions and “Lean” approaches rely on individuals doing exactly what is expected of them without deviation.  Adam Smith’s economic theory of the division of labour in “An Inquiry into the Nature and causes of the Wealth of Nations” depends on jobs, such as making pins, being subdivided into distinct tasks, each of which can be undertaken by separate workers with their combined efforts enabling speed and efficiency in total production.  Smith himself commented that this approach leads to a “mental mutilation” in workers who become ignorant and insular, as their working lives are confined to a single, repetitive task.  Technology is enabling bespoke creation of goods and hence may reduce the feasibility of replicated industrial production.
The internet can be changed and improved by anybody at anytime.  BitTorrent was created by Bram Cohen, because he had the initiative and skills required and it seemed the logical thing to do.  Facebook’s extraordinary market domination is due to people enjoying and seeing a value in using it, not because they were instructed to subscribe; apps were created to enhance the offering.  Technology is enabling people to make their own choices as to how and what they do.
In the past organisations have relied on consistency and constancy.  If a factory was built for a specific purpose then it was often deemed too expensive and/or difficult to change the product offering.  The same applied to HRIS and other methods for cataloguing employees.  Legacy systems – innovative at the time of acquisition but obsolete almost as soon as implemented have proved to be a millstone around the neck of many businesses. Employees had clear career paths with linear routes upwards through the corporate hierarchy.  Success has often been judged by an individual’s position within a business, rather than their contribution.
Cloud, collaboration and file sharing have changed the way in which technology is used.  There is choice and flexibility that reflects the desires and needs of users.

It is impossible to control the internet (although you can ban or partially restrict access and usage).  Those, like my mother, who fail to grasp the internet and the uses of technology enabled devices, try to comprehend it by applying their pre-existing knowledge and understanding from other spheres.  This is normal behaviour, but, by approaching something with flawed knowledge and understanding you increase the risk of making erroneous proposals and, as was seen with the UK voters earlier this month, proposed actions will be ignored.

It is the responsibility of those of us in leadership roles to ensure that our businesses operate efficiently.  We need to keep abreast of new thinking and take advantage of technology to enhance our operations.  The variety in the world in which we operate is immense and in order to survive we must be nimble and responsive.  To support others we must exemplify the desired attitudes and behaviours of our business and appreciate the diversity around us.  Every day I learn something new and I try to determine whether it has value in my working and home life.  I’m not sure that belly dancing and Dervish like spinning are in themselves appropriate at my office, but the attention to detail, control, dedication, resilience and timing of the dancers are skills that I can aspire to and encourage.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Managing Misfits

Yesterday Chantal and I dodged the April showers to inspect the bees.  The hive, in which we struggled to breed a new queen last year, is thriving.  The workers are focused on their tasks, the new queen is a prodigious layer, there are capped frames of honey and brood and numerous drones are ambling over the cells, in a state of readiness in case their services are needed.  The big surprise of the inspection was finding a dead large carpenter bee at the centre of the hive – clearly, it had been killed by the honey bees, as it was an imposter with no role in the community.

The dead bee made me consider the ways in which we treat colleagues at work.  Although people in an office seldom decide to kill a fellow employee simply because they are different (regrettably, it does happen outside work in the global political and religious spheres), from the school playground onwards humans are inclined to treat “misfits” from their group norm as outsiders to be ostracised and ridiculed.  People can be cruel.  Someone very close to me has Asberger’s Syndrome and she had a terrible time at school; fellow pupils could tell that she was different and so teased and alienated her.  She was an easy victim and at times took the brunt of punishments that should have been shared.  She found it hard to build bonds with her fellow pupils, because they failed to see or appreciate the things that she had to offer – an honest and trusting view of the world, a need for order, an ability to spot patterns others often miss, an authenticity, vulnerability and sensitivity towards others, despite their flaws and disinterest.  I envy her - her world is more black and white than mine and she has a firm understanding of how her existence should be.  Fortunately, she has found work that suits her with a warm and appreciative collection of individuals who value her for who she is and what she does.

 Despite going to my uncle’s funeral, my least happy memory of the week was the couple of hours I spent listening to a forlorn and emotional employee, who felt that they were ostracised by their team and that their skills were not appreciated.  Their distress was genuine but their perception of their perceived value to colleagues was not.  I am glad that our discussion happened, as it is not too late to set things straight.  Diversity is a strength as it helps to ensure that issues are viewed from a range of angles and that appropriate actions are taken.  It is not the first time in my career that I have had an employee tell me that they don’t feel that they fit in.  The ones I have supported usually have the knowledge and capabilities to add significant value but, because they approach things in a different way, they are frequently alienated or taken advantage of.  A certain fellow springs to mind who was a member of a large international Marketing team.  Due to an unhappy childhood and an ill-founded desire to hide his sexuality he had become surprisingly needy.  His work was good but a particularly manipulative colleague spotted his weakness.  He cornered him after hours and, by exploiting the chap’s deep-seated requirement to feel valued and accepted, persuaded him that he should join with him in raising a formal grievance against the business to achieve monetary satisfaction.  Almost too late the more junior fellow realised that he was doing something to achieve approval from a colleague and not because there was a genuine problem with his employer.  The stress of the situation he found himself in had a severe impact on his emotional stability.  It was fortunate that he felt able to come and talk about things.  With the support of the head of department and some of the Marketing team, we were able to put matters right for the benefit of all.  In the process of doing so people became more aware of the contribution he made and, going forward, his opinion is sought and he came to know that he is valued.  It is often the people at the edges or those who bring an external view that can spot beneficial change and propose improvements.

Good managers and leaders should be able to embrace diversity.  It is all too easy to recruit clones – they are simple, because they share an outlook and approach.  The world is not simple.  The workplace and the competitive environment in which businesses operate are increasingly complex and, in order to steer the right course, we need a range of inputs.  The impact of technology and globalisation has made a commercial setting where people have to operate with autonomy and where they want and need to be themselves.  There is a shift from employees who can be relied upon to respond and behave in a predictable manner to teams where each person expects to be empowered, their authenticity respected and their contribution valued.  It is no longer possible to control people by limiting access to data – obtaining information is easy (witness Google); wise interpretation is the issue.  Coping with rounded, but demanding individuals, demands a broad cognitive bandwidth from leaders.  Apparent misfits are often your potential stars – frequently they are the ones who, by being able to observe from a differing viewpoint, bring innovation and creativity.

To many Diversity is the differences in race, gender, social background, political inclinations, ethnicity, physical capabilities and sexual orientation.  To my mind, true diversity lies in the heads of people.  Most of the global press celebrated the appointment of the first female judge to the American Supreme Court – however, her sexuality is in my opinion almost an irrelevance, of greater value is her ability to bring a different view point from her peers, so that matters can be evaluated through multiple lenses.  The key to enabling genuine diversity is inclusion and acceptance.  Much of the barrier to diversity and inclusion is cemented in heuristics – from the Greek "Εὑρίσκω" to “find” or “discover”; in other words, our experience-based techniques for problem solving, learning and discovery.  We all have personal understanding, based on previous happenings and our interpretation of the environment in which we operate, these influence and establish the perspective we have on the world.  For example, I am favourably inclined towards a restaurant if it is clearly popular with locals or particular groups of people; I will queue for a loaf at an unfamiliar baker if, despite there being another bakery nearby, there is a large line of people patiently waiting to be served at the one I am considering; and if a train platform is crowded I tend to hurry to get onto it, as I have learned that this is an indication that the train will soon arrive/depart.  My thinking and personal reaction is very much based on my experience within my culture and familiar terrain.

Work, life, biases all impact our cognitive ability.  By far the best book to come out on this subject is Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow”. Relying on our gut instinct is seldom the best way of making decisions.  Intuitive judgement needs to be balanced with rational and emotional evaluation.  Given that everyone’s mind to a certain extent distorts, invents, contradicts and misleads, there is wisdom in putting a collection of brains together to devise a well-considered outcome.  Weirdly, this brings me back to the bees, not to say that they should not have killed the Carpeneter Bee - threats need to be handled in a swift and appropriate manner.  I wish to draw your attention to bee behaviour - they have adopted a collaborative approach to decision making to ensure their own survival.  When bees swarm a number of “scouts” split away from the main group to seek out potential new locations.  Individual bees return to the swarm and dance out directions that indicate the location of potential spots for habitation.  Rather than grabbing the first opportunity proposed, the other scouts' suggestions are waited for and apparently considered - expeditions are made by small clusters of bees to inspect and assess the suitability of the various proposed sites.  It is only once a degree of group consensus appears to have been reached that the swarm will move en mass to its new residence.  The bees work together for the benefit of the group, but input from a diverse selection of scouts is used to determine an outcome.  We can learn much from bees, although the killing of an inconvenient visitor is probably a step too far!