Thursday, 28 January 2016

Understand and delight your audience

These are the opening lines of what will be one of the main publishing events of this year. A previously unknown Beatrix Potter book, “Kitty-in-Boots”, has been discovered by publisher Jo Hanks. It was found in the Victoria & Albert Museum’s archive, after Ms. Hanks spotted a reference to the book in some of Beatrix Potter’s correspondence. When she found it, it was a typeset manuscript with only a few simple pictures, 

not the fully illustrated book, although editing by the author had happened, so all that was needed was a few more images to bring the words to life and make the book true to its well-known siblings.

Beatrix Potter was distracted from finishing the book by the outbreak of the First World War and, thereafter, by getting married and becoming a sheep farmer. (How many of us have half finished projects we should re-visit?) Like the popular writer Roald Dahl, Beatrix Potter didn’t believe in “writing down” for children, her approach, words and pictures are not patronising and this latest book, by reputation, is no exception. There are references to animal cruelty, with Kitty’s devoted owner fearful that her beloved puss might be turned into “black cat-skin muffs”, and there are ruffians and villains. Kitty leads a double life with few appreciating the full range of activities and exploits that occur away from home. Due to the paucity of original Potter drawings, the majority of the book has had to be illustrated by Quentin Blake (a wonderful choice);

his comments on receiving the manuscript were:

“I liked the story immediately – it’s full of incident and mischief and character."

The tale offers further treats through cameo appearances by favourite characters from other books, including an older, slightly rotund Peter Rabbit, a discussion with Mrs Tiggywinkle and brief sightings Miss Ribby, Tabitha Twitchit and Mr Tod. (that looks like collaboration and inclusion to me). The cover will be revealed in March and the book will be published in September 2016.  Two million Beatrix Potter books are sold globally every year, but I suspect that we will see a spike in sales this autumn. What a great year for the author Beatrix Potter to be celebrated on the new UK 50 pence piece.

Whilst on the subject of authors and books, I am delighted that a children’s novel is the winner of the 2016 Costa Book of the Year prize. If we cannot inspire a love of reading in the young they will be at a disadvantage in later life. Thanks to the Internet and our technology driven world, much of our day-to-day experiences now seem to revolve around written words.

Things that inspire the young were clearly on the minds of the team who released their latest findings relating to UK children’s media usage earlier this week. This Childwise report (which primarily focuses on how the young spend their leisure time) has been hailed as demonstrating a “landmark change in behaviours”: it is the first time (in the 25 years since the survey was started) that young people no longer choose to spend most of their free time watching TV. Those of you who, like me are parents, won’t be surprised to know that the young prefer to be online; 5-15 year olds are spending on average 3 hours per day surfing the web – with YouTube being the favourite channel (50% of the over 2000 individuals interviewed admitted to visiting the site daily). This compares to 2.1 hours now for TV. 

Reading books has fallen to just over half an hour a day (this figure has declined from over an hour in 2012 and I suspect for some respondents the reading reported was actually a homework activity). Thank goodness for books like The Lie Tree that can inspire young (and older) minds. The world is changing fast, no wonder TV isn’t popular, when on-demand video gives control over what and when you can view almost anything – this is how our children are growing up and will be what they expect when they enter the workplace.

People drive the change but also have to cope with change that they feel thrust upon them. We, as responsible employers and leaders, need to understand the pressures that this brings and try our best to support those who work with us. It is no use clinging to out-dated patriarchal approaches, custom and practice. You have only to look at the announcement and market reaction to the news of the decline in sales of Apple iPhones earlier this week to appreciate that market dominance is not a given. People are fickle and competition is fierce – this applies to the decisions around employment just as much as it does to the acquisition of a mobile phone.

Choice, variety, autonomy – these are the norms of the modern world. In many ways our home environment (with the use of our own tech and broadband) has superseded our workplace as the location where we get things done. A high proportion of offices still have fierce security firewalls and systems that prevent access to sites that many see as usual places to seek information (e.g. blogs and social media). As a result, people resort to their smartphones to search for solutions – I know of members of an IT department, in a respected global business, who turned to Google and YouTube to teach themselves how to install and run a new cross-border software package, because their employer was not prepared to pay for proper training and the provider did not offer any with the product. All credit to them for finding a solution for their lack of knowledge, although, by their own confession, the configuration produced was not as elegant as it would have been with better support and broader awareness. How dispiriting for those people to feel that their employer cared so little about them that they were prepared to leave them to “figure it out or fail”. It’s no wonder that there is high turnover in that department. As an aside though – it occurs to me that if the task had been set as a challenge to an action learning set (and therefore seen as a growth opportunity offered to a valued group of individuals, rather than a duty) the attitude towards the need to find a solution might have been different. It could have been fun although required timelines might not have been met.

It is important that leaders and managers understand the problems that people have to solve. As change has become a recognised norm, we must be forward-thinking. We, the employers of today, need to plan for the world of work our soon-to-be employees and contractors will expect in the future. If we fail to:

  • make our workplaces supportive and engaging;
  • provide opportunities and an environment in which people wish to contribute;
  • build a setting where people believe that they are recognised and rewarded for the skills that they bring;
  • have a shared confidence that we can provide a suitable place where all who have the desire can and will thrive and grow;

then vital employees and partners simply won’t come or stay with us.

In addition to engagement, empowerment and collaboration – individuals will need great people management. To be successful the leaders and managers within organisations will need to ensure that everyone is and wants to be involved, can make suggestions and have the autonomy to do the right thing. None of us are significantly better informed than others, as Mervyn Dinnen comments in the latest report, Creating a culture of innovation through smarter talent management,  produced for HR Zone

“The leaders that we need to develop for tomorrow will probably be facing uncertainties and complexities that have yet to be identified, whilst using technologies and digital tools that have yet to be invented.”

We need to take a page from Beatrix Potter’s book and not patronise the people we wish to appeal to, but appreciate them, be engaging, inclusive and at times surprise and delight.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

The comet has passed and the dust has settled

Top 20 and some feedback...

What an amazing collection of posts formed this year's #Adventblogs and #PostAdventBlogs series. Thank you to all of you who wrote pieces under the theme of "Comet Tails and Coal Dust". I am amazed and delighted at the range and breadth of interpretations, as well as the global interest shown in the series. We ran to over 50 posts and the comet only passed and the dust finally settled earlier this week, so here are some observations and stats about the series.

Every post received in excess of 500 views. We had poems, personal stories, music, history, facts, humour, annual reflections and words of inspiration and encouragement. It is clear from the shares, likes and comments that the series was very popular. I love the fact that, since Alison Chisnell founded the series back in 2011, it has become an annual tradition that is valued by a large number of people around the world (and not just the authors).

As per last year, I will now provide a little more information about the series as a whole.


Total number of views for the series: 15,895 in December and 10,990 in January (for the 20 days of the series) - NB these numbers are still rising daily.

We had people reading the blogs in over 30 countries, with the top 10 for audience numbers being:

Pageviews by Countries

Graph of most popular countries among blog viewers
United States
United Kingdom

The twenty most popular posts, if rated by views, are: 

  1. Shine a Light - an uplifting post by Mark Catchlove urging each of us to support those around us - with a total of 1864 views - made up of 1577 views directly to the blog and 287 via LinkedIn (that compares to 1467 views via the blog for the most popular post in last year's series)
  2. Down in the Dirt - a confessional, but encouraging, piece that touches on dark places before finding the light, by Paul Clarke - with a total of 1059 views (made up of 709 views on the blog + 350 via LinkedIn)
  3. Advent Hopes by Simon Heath, the opening post of the series, was a cheerful and witty poem - with a total of 1045 views (made up of 792 on the blog and 253 via LinkedIn)
  4. Do you EnJoy Shopping? - A post advocating the benefits of enjoying life, by Phil Marsland - with a total of 994 views (made up of 714 views on the blog + 280 via LinkedIn)
  5. Beyond Compare - by Fiona McBride in which she ably demonstrated the value of silencing your inner critic and giving something a go - with a total of 937 views (made up of 582 views on the blog + 355 via LinkedIn)
  6. With Thanks to the Coal Dust - a brave and poignant post by an anonymous writer about the pain of miscarriage and the value of a caring and supportive family - it made a big impact on those who read it - with a total of 914 views (made up of 673 views on the blog + 241 via LinkedIn)
  7. Of Nice and Men - a post about personal impact and the benefits of being nice, by Tim Scott (I can vouch from personal knowledge that Tim is one of the nicest people on social media and IRL and is mindful of the impression he makes on others) - with a total of 870 views (made up of 509 views on the blog + 361 via LinkedIn) 
  8. A Challenging Year - in which Helen Green appreciated that things are not always as bad as they seem and came to realise that it is love that makes life worth living - with a total of 858 views (made up of 617 views on the blog + 309 via LinkedIn) 
  9. Each Moment Counts - A moving post about friendship, love, loss and what it is to be human by Brett Fish Anderson from South Africa - with a total of 852 views (made up of 443 views on the blog + 409 via LinkedIn) 
  10. Not All Those Who Wander are Lost - was an annual reflection combined with deeper thoughts on life by Peter Cook who concludes that it is vital to remain young at heart - with a total of 836 views (made up of 561 views on the blog + 275 via LinkedIn) 
  11. Christmas Comet Fragments - provided a wonderful and nostalgic glimpse of a traditional British Christmas, by Mat Davies -  with a total of 782 views (made up of 521 views on the blog + 261 via LinkedIn) 
  12. It's Behind You - is a powerful poem that can be interpreted on many levels, it was written by Amanda Arrowsmith - with a total of 832 views (made up of 469 views on the blog + 363 via LinkedIn) 
  13. Reflected Brilliance and Volatility - An honest post about the occasionally fallibility in recruitment, by leading search consultant Mark Husband - with a total of 809 views (made up of 437 views on the blog + 372 via LinkedIn). Mark Husband is the MD of Cogent Search; he commenced as a humble blogger submitting his own post, but was so inspired by the pieces he read, which were written by others, that his firm the sponsored the series on LinkedIn, which explains why the LinkedIn views rose over the course of the weeks we ran. Thank you Mark. 
  14. Dictionary of the Wind is a wonderful piece of writing by Neil Usher with the ability to inspire using words hitherto unread in the English language - a total of 761 views (made up of 489 views on the blog + 272 via LinkedIn) 
  15. Anger over Fear - a thought-provoking post, by Khurshed Dehnugara, that urges us to consider and appreciate why we and others react as we do - with a total of 758 views (made up of 422 views on the blog + 336 via LinkedIn) 
  16. Awesome Diamonds by Bina Briggs told us about some inspirational people in her family and advocated appreciation for all those wonderful friends and people around us - with a total of 757 views (made up of 415 views on the blog + 342 via LinkedIn) 
  17. Turn Down the Light  - a personal confession by Gary Cookson that he does better in job interviews when he is simply himself (as indeed we all do). It's nearly February, I'm looking forward to finding out which organisation was fortunate enough to hire him - with a total of 755 views (made up of 459 views on the blog + 296 via LinkedIn) 
  18. Comet Tails and Dust Trails by Siobhan Sheridan, who I am confident will become one of the great HR bloggers going forward. She wrote a post that wove together stories, ancient history, modern research and the ability to change your perspective and move with the times - with a total of 754 views (made up of 478 views on the blog + 276 via LinkedIn) 
  19. In For a Penny, In for a Pound - an important post about mental health and how it is viewed in the work place, by Alice Cowell - with a total of 730 views (made up of 524 views on the blog + 206 via LinkedIn) 
  20. Illuminate Your Stars and Let Your Diamonds Shine - an uplifting post by Donna Hewitson that emphasises the value of cherishing and encouraging others, to help them shine - with a total of 686 views (made up of 428 views on the blog + 258 via LinkedIn) 

One of the extraordinary things about the above list is that there are so many new voices, some, like Brett Fish or Mark, were virgins to the series, having not followed it in previous years. Others, such as Paul, had encouraged people behind the scenes, but added their own voice this year - I am so glad to have them with us. It is worth noting that a few, who were former followers of the series, used this year as an opportunity to write their first ever blog (indeed that was partially the theme of Fiona's post). Congratulations, amongst others, to Fiona and Siobhan. The enthusiasm shown towards the posts, and the comments people have left, clearly show how much their writing was appreciated. I do hope that they will continue to write and perhaps start a blog of their own. 

To my mind all the contributors, and not just those in the most viewed top 20, are stars. Without you there would be no series.

In my next update I will provide some information on the wonderful and imaginative ways in which people tackled a challenging theme. In the meantime, I hope 2016 has got off to a brilliant start for you. Thanks to the pleasures of hosting the series, it certainly has for me.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Deeper Appreciation

Day 51 (Wednesday 20th January 2016)
51 percent of live TV is watched live. Betraying my age, when I grew up we all watched the
same programmes at the same time (or missed seeing them). Live television viewing was at 81%
in 2008, according to research by NBC Universal, but increasingly people now view TV via
streaming on demand at a time when it suits them - digital broadband is rapidly changing our lives.
Today, the Advent Blogs and Post Advent Blogs series come to an end, and what better way to end than with a post based on appreciation? I am so grateful to all of the wonderful writers who submitted pieces for this year's series. What a breadth of topics have been covered under a theme that many found difficult to tackle. The pondering and effort has paid off - I think that this year has been the best yet. Thank You! I will provide a more detailed breakdown of themes and views later this month.

David Goddin is the author of today's excellent piece. Having initially met David via social media (his Twitter handle is @ChangeContinuum), I have worked with him on a number of occasions and it comes as no surprise to me that he has written an encouraging, celebratory piece about what makes people great. David has a talent for making people see things in a constructive light and for enabling people to achieve more than they believe they are capable of. David is the founder and Managing Director a Change Continuum, a specialist consultancy that focuses on business performance and enabling positive change for both individuals and the organisations in which they work. He is a wonderful husband and father and lives with his wife and two sons in Norfolk.


In thinking of both “Comet Tails and Coal Dust”, I’ve been struck by how culturally each seems often to be seen in a singular view. There are deeper meanings beyond that are perhaps commonly missed... appreciation that is the understanding of the worth, quality or importance... appreciation of that full awareness or understanding.

Comet Tails”. Our immediate appreciation is perhaps for the existence of a comet, its apparent beauty and perhaps connections and time beyond our own mortal reach. I wonder if we appreciate that the decay of the comet is what creates its tail? I wonder if we appreciate that it is only through the comet's long slow, and perhaps lonely death that we may see a comet's tail pass us by for a time?

Comet Lulin
Coal Dust”. Dirty, useless remnants to be discarded perhaps. I wonder if we appreciate the 300 million year journey that brought coal dust to us here today? I wonder if we appreciate that its existence at all is a sign of the value we’ve obtained?

Appreciation is something we see written about quite frequently and it’s often beautifully given in the sense of gratitude. Appreciating what is good. Appreciating the help & support of others. Appreciation.

Yet, in the “Coal Dust” sense there is often little or no appreciation given to that which we perceive to be useless or troublesome. In the “Comet Tail” sense there can be appreciation but perhaps with some superficiality.
It’s naturally human behaviour. We can choose to take what value and appreciation that we find immediately useful to us. And I wonder if that’s enough?

We love the new, the shiny, the sexy, the appealing... often without an understanding of what sacrifice, trouble or consequence may lie behind.

1996 making of balls for Nike in Pakistan
We dismiss what we immediately see as useless and troublesome... often without understanding that it is a very limited and limiting lens that we look through.
Yet we can forgive the failings and failures of those nearest and dearest to us... We can catch those who need our help when they fall, without question... We can find abundance of friendship, love and support without asking. That appreciation is the deepest in every sense and we can all show it.

I think that capacity is where we are brilliant as humans. I think it also demands us to seek a deeper appreciation more often than we may be inclined to.

"What a Wonderful World" sung by Louis Armstrong

Monday, 18 January 2016

Comets, Paths & Dust

Day 50 (Tuesday 19th January 2016)
50 points are awarded for hitting the bullseye in darts. It is also the additional score
awarded to a player for using all 7 letters in a single go in Scrabble.
This penultimate, short and sweet (perhaps bitter-sweet for some), and thought-provoking post in the #Adventblog series is by Tim Pointer - the founder and Director of Starboard Thinking. Until last year Tim was a leading Human Resources Director (he left being HR Director for Pentland Brands and founded his own business, to share some of the methods he had developed that worked really well whilst he was in-house). He and I became friends when we realised that we both had faced similar challenges, especially when driving positive change within private companies with strong owner leaders. Tim is a devoted family man (a loving husband and father of 3) and appreciates the challenges of ensuring a work/life balance, especially whilst growing a business. His company works with executive teams on strategic development, with a focus on culture, leadership and  engagement. You can connect with him on Twitter, his handle is @TimPointer.


Comets, Paths & Dust

The effort of movement
In search of atmosphere

Poison Dart Frog carrying tadpoles up into jungle canopy to ensure survival
That age old metaphor
Staring into the void

To burn To age
To bulk To crash

Tripping on coal trails

Coal walking at Spanish festival Paso del Fuego

I am click bait
You are a star

One of us is alive. Right. Now.