Sunday, 15 December 2013

Dusting off my resolutions

Three years ago I set off on a journey to devise 37 resolutions with the intention of completing them all in my 37th year.

I made them up as I went along and deliberately had a good mix of fun and serious ones.

I planned to document my progress against each one, explaining why I came up with it, what I found out about myself by attempting it, or who I met or what experience it had led to.

I was also keen for people to contribute their ideas for resolutions to consider. Although I made no promises that I would actually do any of theirs!

Anyway I was reminded of Resolution 37 this morning. When I hobbled out of bed, my calf muscles aching from some rather enthusiastic dancing at the office Christmas party on Friday, I resolved to book a massage after next year's party. Note I didn't resolve to dance less.

One day I hope to finish the book that accompanies all my resolutions, but in the meantime here are the first ten with a little update on how I got on.

Resolution 1: 
My first resolution of my 37th year was to stop defining myself by what I'd achieved or what I may achieve in the future. Instead I wanted to define myself based on who I am and what I stand for. The rest would be a consequence of that, not the other way around. 

It is fair to say I've done my best to live by this, but it's not easy. It is one to keep reminding myself of like a motto.

Resolution 2: 
I asked the five people closest to me (my mum, dad, brother, wife and best mate) to write down what they'd like me to achieve in the second half of my life.

Kinda contradicts my first resolution, but hey ho. 

I initially got off to a slow start with this one but eventually had responses from my dad, my best mate and Becky. I still need to chase my bro.

My mum bought me a book called the Little Prince with clear instructions hidden within. And she told me to read Karl Jung.

My dad told me that for every one person like me who was creative and good at coming up with ideas there were ten people who like taking ideas and making them into something. It was a powerful thing to hear from a multi-award winning scientist, who if I'm honest I always assumed thought what I did was fairly meaningless.

My best mate in a roundabout way pointed out how my life from his perspective looked very fulfilled. It made me appreciate what I had.

And my wife told me I was good at making trivial situations fun for the kids. Sounds innocuous enough but at the time was the kind of compliment that would never have come out in normal conversation.

Resolution 3: 
I was going to start a blog called Resolution 37, subject to that name not having some dark hidden double meaning i.e. a dodgy far right group. I checked and the only reference I could find was to a UN Resolution from 1983 - http://www.un.org/documents/ga/res/37/a37r037.htm  

I then went on to set up http://resolution37.me - feel free to go take a look. This blog has since taken over as it's mobile friendly.

Resolution 4: 
Bit of an odd one, but I wanted to sing in public while sober. I'm not a particularly great singer, but I figured it didn't really matter. I wanted to either join a choir, or find a reason to do a public performance.I've not done this yet, I have 'swung' in public while dressed as a sh*t Elvis but I was far from sober.

Yesterday I met someone at BCB's AGM who had told me about a choir in Saltaire who meet on Mondays. So who knows maybe this one has some legs in it yet.

Resolution 5: 
I would like to learn French. I knew this was the most unlikely of my resolutions, so I tempered it by saying I would learn enough French so as not to be embarassed speaking what little I know at every opportunity while in France.

Normally I speak English there, with the exception of  a few "mercis" and "s'il vous plaits".

Resolution 6: 
I will go and see Test Match cricket and go to the races. At the time I hadn't been to either before. Easy enough but the resolution prompted me to actually do it.

Resolution 7: 
Going plural shouldn't just be the preserve of captains of industry, so I resolved myself to find out what it takes to be a non exec director or to volunteer my professional services to a charity or good cause (PR/Comms dear, nothing else more racy), or guest lecture at my old uni. 

Quite pleased with this one. I did a guest lecture at my old uni. Volunteered with Age UK, and as of yesterday am a fully fledged trustee of BCB. I'm also a trustee of the Asda Foundation. Bosh.

Resolution 8: 
This one was under wraps at first as it was about taking a career break and going travelling with the kids, but I had to keep it quiet at first until my work colleagues knew.

Definitely been the biggest and best resolution as it has enabled me to do so many others.

Resolution 9: 
I want to get to know someone in their 80s who served in the war. I never really knew any of my grandfathers, my dad's dad died when he (my dad) was only 8, and my mum's dad died when I was young. I want to hear their stories first hand before it's too late. This is linked to Resolution 7 above. I'm volunteering with Age UK in Bradford now.

Resolution 10: 
Resolution number ten was to meet Roland Rat in person. I did it via Twitter instead. But was pleased nonetheless.

Twenty seven left to go.

Monday, 25 November 2013

The million dollar question. Would winning a load of money make you happier?

It is often said that people who win the lottery don't feel any happier in the long run.

A year after the momentous event rather than enjoying all the trappings of wealth they are quite miserable.

Whereas people involved in serious accidents who have been paralysed are said to be more content a year later, even though they have lost the use of their limbs.

It defies common sense. Money would surely aid happiness? Pay off the dreaded mortgage. Buy a car that works. Go on holiday without worrying about the looming credit card bill. Not to mention being daft with some of it. Ever wanted a billboard with your own face on it? Or to record that song you wrote when you were sweet sixteen? Or publish that book you've been writing for years.

How could doing all that lead to less happiness? 

Not being able to walk again would be truly awful. If struck down by such ill fate could you actually find happiness? Really?

Of course if you take the time to read the actual scientific research the findings are more nuanced than is often reported.

C'est la vie in a world tweets and soundbites I guess (I include myself in that world btw).

But the million dollar question remains. Would winning a load of money make you happier?

My aim is to raise $1m to put the theory to the test.

If my Kickstarter project is successful I will film a documentary throughout the year and work closely with Leeds University researchers who will monitor my state of happiness.

The entire process is designed to understand whether the act of suddenly coming into a vast amount of money makes you happier or sadder.

Will I feel the need to give it away, or be seen to do good with it? 

WIll I gamble some of it or try to make a quick buck by investing it in other things?

What impact will it have on my home life, and will I remain motivated at work?

Will my friends change the way they behave around me?

Will I attract lots of new 'friends'?

These questions and more will be answered. 

Don't under-estimate how big a risk I am taking by doing this. 

As it stands today I am a happy chappy.

I am married to a woman I love. I have two beautiful children. I even have a pet dog.

We live in a lovely house. I have good work-life balance and enjoy my job.

You could argue I couldn't be any happier.Therefore 'winning' a million dollars could have dire consequences.

It could change everything and upset the happy life I already have.

It is a risk I am willing to take for you though.

If I am sadder a year from now the only satisfaction I will have to cling onto is that the million dollar question will have been answered.

Please back me if you feel you can. And spread the word. Should my Kickstarter project get approved I only have until 23.59 on December 31st 2013 to raise the funds.

Wish me luck.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Things that don't work annoy me

In the past few days I've tried to see a GP, but failed to get an appointment. The phone is constantly engaged.

I've tried to use my credit card but been denied for entering the PIN I've always had. 

I've tried to retrieve a password for my Oyster card but the email never arrived.

And even tried to lodge a claim against a company that owes me money but got stuck when the postcode I submitted was spat back at me for not being in England or Wales. Err, Brighton is where exactly then?

As a result of all this inconvenience my temperature is rising.

My debt is rising too.

Where's the app for sorting all that crap?

Life was meant to be simpler thanks to all the mod cons we now have.

A secretary. A personal secretary. That's what I need. 

I can but dream.

In the meantime I have set my heart on reading Oliver Burkeman's latest offering The Antidote. Happiness for people who can't stand positive thinking.

So far so good. A full review to follow in due course.

Friday, 8 November 2013

My review of Brand Vandals

Stephen Waddington asked me (and a few others to be fair) whether I'd review his latest book Brand Vandals.

He co-wrote it with Steve Earl.

I have to say first I'm not sure where he gets the energy and enthusiasm to do his high powered job, to commute from Northumberland to London, to be president-elect of the CIPR 2013, chair of the CIPR Social Media panel and to have recently co-written and edited Share This Too (which I had a small hand in) and be a really nice bloke to boot.

If he wasn't so lovely I'd have to dislike him out of principle for putting the rest of us slackers to shame.

Anyway I was flattered to be asked. But that said I'm no push over so this is my honest view.

Brand Vandals is one of those books that you read with some trepidation.

As you turn each page and approach each new chapter you're secretly hoping your organisation or brand has already considered every unfolding eventuality.

I found myself mentally ticking off examples from my own PR experience thinking through scenarios and case studies that could easily apply.

It prompted more than one or two emails to colleagues as I stress tested our own thinking and made me healthily paranoid once more. Which is a good thing.

The choice of interviewees quoted is spot on and add further weight to what is clearly a well researched guide to best practice in this area.

The authors clearly speak from a position of authority, but do so in a conversational manner that not only makes a serious topic more engaging but also mirrors the careful balance brands now need to strike. Wanting to be taken seriously whilst not being labelled so corporate and dull as to appear anything but human.

By mastering the art of humour, candor and humility I think Brand Vandals neatly talks the talk and walks the walk.

Copies will be duly ordered and left on the desks of those who could still do with the wake up call.

4 / 5

Thursday, 31 October 2013

The power of boredom

I have a low boredom threshold. This used to be a problem. I'd wander aimlessly as a little boy desperate for some stimulation. Never satisfied with my own company school holidays were often a chore as I yearned to be with friends all day every day.

Now I have the internet of course.

I remember reading somewhere though that kids being bored was a good thing. And that parents should resist the urge to constantly entertain them or fill every waking hour with activities. The mind in a state of boredom is forced to overcome the impasse by being creative. Solving the ultimate mind game.

My most rewarding solution is to write. Often with no real idea what topic I'll cover. Like now. The urge to pen something without knowing what will come out is stimulating by itself.

To that end whilst my seven year old daughter was bored at the dinner table the other night, rather than resorting straight to her tablet and the array of mind numbing games I encouraged her to write a story saving it to Evernote as she went.

Below is what she created. Please excuse the typos, she's only seven after all.

This is a story about a boy and a girl who didn't have a family. 

Once in a small igloo there was a girl who lived with her brother and the were very lonely without a friend or relatives just brother and sister together.

The girl was called Rebecca and the boy was called Dominic. They lived in the north pole where It was very cold and It was a hard life there because the igloo kept on falling down.

Rebecca soon got fed up with the igloo and was convinced that they have to move to a different country and see if they  could find some one who can look after them.

Rebecca said that they should leave just that minute " your  totally right Let's go and see if we can find a Better place for us to live and be happy all our life." Said dominic.

They set out thinking all about the people who were going to be looking after them and hoped that they could be able to find somebody who is  very nice.

Chapter 2! !!!! 
They were very nervous about this but they did it they walked all across  country's not be able to find there way.
When they got to a country Rebecca said "
"Right now Let's look in this small house and see if we could find someone who can look after us."

Dominic nocked at the door a little noise came from the house! It came nearer and nearer and then a little , old women in a tiny apron and that was very wrinkley stept out the door.

Rebecca and dominic were amazed ! "I think it's time to run" Said dominic  wait said Rebecca she  might be nice I'll ask her if she can look after us.   Dominic you you say something to her ok would you  spare some time to look after us ? No go away" The door slammed shut.  There was silence for a very long time. "

Oh that didn't go well said Rebecca no it did not i think we're going to have to go and find someone else who might be able to look after me and you.

They set out again looking for another home to live in. Soon they came to a big house. Rebecca said that they should leave "Dominic we should go " but by the time Rebecca had said that Dom Burch his  knick name was all ready opening the ginormous door" wait" Said Rebecca suddenly they heard big stomps and and a booming voice" if you have come to complain about the people in my land then shoo ." We have come to see end if you can look after us. Said dominic. 

Chapter 3!!!!!!!!!!
"You need to be looked after Yes we do oh well come in I have a empty place in my heart and you two could end it all   so you  can look after  us? Yes thank you thats the first time eny one has ever said that to me really really .

So you will look after us ? Yes of course I will.  What shall we do first

Let's play a game a game yes have you ever been looked
after? no really really. Oh right  Well I'll teach you some things that you need to know.

(To be continued...)

Sunday, 27 October 2013

The day Youtubers took over the world

Last week I witnessed a once in a life time event. It was a seminal moment in my fifteen year career.

It confirmed a hunch I've had for some time. PR has changed forever. The power has firmly shifted. And there's no turning back.

No longer is the mainstream media in pole position.

The new kids on the blocks are native to the digital age.

They are young, confident, professional and on the cusp of not only rewriting how brands must now manage their media relations, but they are also redefining the cult of celebrity.

Gone are the days of the manufactured star. That's not to say they won't continue in some form or other. But the new stars are real, authentic, what you see is what you get.

Their fans, followers or friends are just like them - in many cases quite literally like them.

They are accessible and open. They interact and engage. They actually care.

They flourish because of, not in spite of, their normalness.

They're not perfect. They're not always the most beautiful.

They are certainly not polished, or made up, or lit in such away as to mask their blemishes or flaws. There is no behind the scenes glimpses because there is no behind the scenes. Everything is up front.

And their influence is growing and growing and growing. 

As a result we're now at an interesting cross roads.

Truth is some people arrived at that junction a long time ago and the rest of us are just catching up.

We're slowly realising what has been happening right under our eyes in full view we just weren't looking.

But even those who claim they get it, that they understand the brave new world, when you pick away at it you realise they can't let go of what they are used to.

They are still wed to the world they / we grew up in. TV and press. Gossip and gander. Fake reality and falsehood and the awful self loathing it often created. They want to poach these digital natives and use them (literally use them) to prop up the world they are from.

No doubt some will be tempted. Ego will kick in and cloud their better judgement. But in my view the ones who don't cross the divide will conquer. Will win out.

In the new world of real stars connecting with millions of others like them, and I mean millions, national broadcasting is no longer the preserve of ITV or Sky.

YouTubers are now in charge of their own destiny. Content is still king. Yet the content is unscripted.

Yes it's often vanilla. Yes it's only relevant to a cohort of the population. But in the next five years that cohort will be the majority. They will be the young families with toddlers. They will be the ones with a voice. With an audience. With a tribe of like minded influencers.

The wave they are riding now signals a tsunami coming that could wash away the structures of mainstream media, rip up how we're governed, and sweep in a more inclusive, more healthy and more sustainable relationship between what we see and what is actually real.

The cynics will say that's all a load of bollocks. And even if I'm right it could still all go pop.

The media moguls may move in and gobble them up one by one.

My hope though is those days are gone. I look forward to telling my grand kids what those days were like and how odd they really were. 

Friday, 4 October 2013

Mind bending fun in Silicon Valley

What a week it's been over here in the San Francisco / Bay Area.

Every time I visit I get blown away by the endless opportunities, the innovation, the sense of excitement and if I'm honest the coolness of being at the centre of the digital universe right now.

Silicon Valley is a melting pot of great ideas, extremely bright people and big investors who are prepared to go big or go home.

Perhaps it never really went off the boil, but either way it feels supercharged at the moment.

Every day a new start up comes onto the scene or an incumbent like Google launches a new product.

Nothing stands still for long.

Just when you thought traditional TV was dying along comes a group of smart college kids to save the day, ripping up the rule book once again.

The culture of doing cool stuff that matters (a Google mantra we heard about yesterday) resonates strongly with me. It's infectious. You feel like you can change the world for the better out here.

It was also fascinating to hear a little about Google X - the top secret team behind the Google car, Google Glass and Google Loon.

Their mission is to solve a big problem with a radical solution and break through technology.

Designed to launch businesses not just come up with ideas they operate with a longer time line than most companies.

The Google car has been five years in the making and is probably five years from launch. The Google X team want to make money, they just don't know when. That's my kind of team.

So what have I seen and learnt this week?
Here are my top ten:

1. Digital watermarking could be game changing in retail. Watch this space. And that space. In fact just hold your phone up to just about anything in the future. Boom.

2. Want to find something in a store or in a museum or anywhere for that matter?  Analysing changes in the magnetic forces of the earth will help. Bit Star Trek that one.

3. Facebook is growing up. They appear to be maturing and have a real confidence in who they are and what they can deliver. Measurement and ROI are at the heart of how they now interact with advertisers. Custom and lookalike audiences are changing everything.

4. Twitter is about to explode (in a good way) with some really exciting developments up its sleeve. Sorry, not saying more than that in case I get in trouble. Coming soon though.

5. Cisco is far more innovative and leading edge than I'd ever assumed. They bent my mind yesterday in their innovation lab in San Jose. Goes to show the original tech firms are still in the game.

6. Toothpick ball run sculptures of San Francisco that took 37 years to build are cool. And meeting the inventor at the Exploratorium was super cool.

7. Baseball isn't boring. In fact it beats going to cricket or football. There you go I said it. Shoot me now and take away my passport.

8. Jake Bugg is really good for his age etc (damming praise) but not after drinking 12 beers and suffering from extreme jet lag.

9. The weather in San Francisco in October is perfect.

10. I absolutely love it out here but I miss my wife and kids and pet dog Max and am looking forward to getting home. I'm not looking forward to the ten hour flight in British Airways economy class. Every day low cost baby - it's the Asda way :)

Sunday, 18 August 2013

The paradox of mediocrity

I come up with a lot of ideas. As I think of them I have a buzz of excitement. I immediately imagine fame and fortune as I visualise my idea taking the world by storm.

Then I remember I never know what to do next.

I came up with the idea of doing a silent disco at Glastonbury in 1995. I never got round to organising one.

My adult life is littered with flights of fancy like that. Flights that never leave the tarmac.

In the last year alone I've considered organising a music festival in Bradford called Bratford Rocks. I even bought the website url,  spoke to a local councillor and set up the Twitter account. That was the end of that one.

Then I thought the world needed separate fridges for all the half used jars and pickles that seem to take up too much space - hence www.condimentcooler.com. No need to tell you what happened to that one.

Next up was an app called The Morning After Chill Pill which was designed to tell you the morning after the night before all the places you'd been and for how long and who you'd been with. It would then give you the option of deleting any social media check ins or tagged photos of you to help wipe the memory. Brilliant that one. Kind of.

More recently I've wanted to launch a rival to eBay called Hear Their Every Ware.

Which reminds me I once had the thought of launching a Yorkshire version of eBay called E-Buy-Gum but someone already owned the url.

This morning I started thinking about what I'd do if my youngest daughter was bullied at school. She makes a groaning noise when she is concentrating you see. And kids can be cruel.

Then I remembered about how both Dynamo and Derren Brown had learned magic so they could trick their way out of it. Hence my creation of the School of Magic For Gifted Kids - with the strapline 'trick the bullies once and for all'.

You see in my head these are all strokes of genius.

Which reminds me I once wanted to have a fashion show in an underground station. The trains would arrive, the models would get off and walk along the platform then jump back on. Cue next train. Inspired. That was back in 2001 that idea.

I get a sense of excitement as I think of them both past and present.

I love thinking them up. But I am also mildly frustrated at my lack of will power to follow any of them up.

Talking of which last weekend I said I was going to write a book on that very topic for people like me who aren't completer finishers. It will be called The Incomplete Starter. Sums me up, as of course I then put the idea to bed.

Then someone said why don't I just write down all my ideas. That suggestion combined with a funny conversation with a chap called Gal led me to buying a five year subscription for www.mediocreideas.com. That's right. Five years.

Then I set up the Twitter account @MediocreIdeas.

And then this morning I went and volunteered to present 20 of them in quick succession at the next Bettakultcha event in Leeds on 26th September.

Of course the irony of creating something called Mediocre Ideas is that it is actually not a bad idea after all. Which is slightly disconcerting. I may need to close it down as a result.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Giving your boss what for (whilst drunk)

Last night I got drunk and sent my boss an email telling him what I really think of him.

I'd just got in from the pub (wife and kids are away) and my BlackBerry was filled to the brim with emails from him referencing all sorts of things from weeks ago, and in one case months ago, that he'd obviously only just read. And he'd chosen tonight of all nights to tell me.

Here was I, home alone, stupidly responding after a skinfull of ale.

Before you start to panic, don't worry my email was full of praise not abuse. 

Not in a sycophantic way. I am genuinely full of admiration at how he operates. I like him. A lot.

So I told him so.

I tried to choose my words carefully. But bearing in mind I couldn't focus very clearly on the screen what came out was as much luck as it was judgement.

As a nation we rarely tell people what we like about them to their face. Or at least not at work. Perhaps it's part of being British. Stiff upper lip and all that.

But loosened by one or two pints and a fairly empty stomach (I'm trying out the fasting diet at the moment), I dispensed of my usual inhibitions and told him how much I admire him.

Now it would be easy to cringe at this point and feel somewhat embarrassed on my behalf, but please don't. It's Ok.

My praise was well received.

So what is it I like about him so much that I felt the need to share?

Where do I start.

He has the ability to instil confidence in others.

His praise is warm and genuine.

He is enthusiastic and willing to take risks.

He is very centered. Calm and reassuring.

He is a connector.

He shares his knowledge openly and without an agenda.

He is smart and clearly ambitious but also he wants to harness talent in whatever shape or form he finds.

Quite frankly he's the kind of leader I yearn to be. I want to emulate him.

You'll be pleased to know I didn't say all of that via my rather tipsy email.

But boiling it down I wanted him to know I respect him.

He's a class act. Period (that means full stop in American btw).

Long may I continue to work for him and be inspired by him. 

N.B. Just in case any of my work colleagues are reading this, my 'boss' is not my line manager - although to be fair he shares many of the same attributes as above. 

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Feeling all at sea

I'm sat here this morning gazing out to sea. The water is calm. Just gently lapping the shore. Two boats have left port and are making the hourly ferry crossing over to Scotland. The sun is breaking through the misty cloud cover on the horizon. Seagulls occasionally glide by the window. The tide is out. But soon enough it will turn towards us. 

The peace is broken by two little girls sat next to me, tablets in hand playing a dressing up game. Bleep, bleep, bleep.

Yesterday we took delivery of two devices that have already changed my daughters' lives. Dennis the Menace is now instantly available. In-built video cameras at the ready for impromptu film making. And trivia apps on hand to hone their crossword solving skills for the years ahead.

The on demand, constantly connected, generation is here. 

Don't worry I'm fully aware of the irony.

Here I am glued to my phone. Uploading pics to Instagram. Sharing some of those on Facebook and Twitter. Happily disturbed by an incoming email. Even resorting to checking Google+ when I'm really bored.

And blogging as and when I feel the need to while away an hour or so by delving into my inner thoughts.

So how should we balance the benefits of technology with the slippery slope of constant distraction?

I've read somewhere that some families have a technology hour. Not distinguishing between devices. Watch TV or surf the Web. Make a short film or play a game.

Rationing consumption in a vain attempt to hold back the tide. The tsunami of the digital age ready to gobble us all up and sweep us out into the ocean.

I feel all at sea to stretch the analogy a little further.

Perhaps it's the book I'm reading, The Paradox of Choice. Having lived through the eighties and nineties where we wanted more and more. Then through the noughties when we more or less got it all. And now in the 2011-2020 decade (what do we call it btw? The teenies?) we seem to be facing a real dilemma.

On the one hand less is becoming more. Curated choices out-trumping never ending options. The slow news movement fighting back against instant updates and citizen journalism.

Yet with everything available at the swipe of a smartphone, the natural equilibrium is still to resolve itself.

As the world hurtles towards another billion of its inhabitants going online I wonder what life will be like ten years from now.

A decade ago when we got married our wedding video was just that. A VHS video. The photos shot on film. 35mm negatives stored in a shoebox.

It seems almost incomprehensible now to think that the digital age is still so relatively young.

What will my 17 year old daughter reflect on in 2023. Will she remember her first ever tablet? God forbid if the screens by then are embedded in our eyes. The pages swiped by thoughts in our brains. Or will we settle back to a not too distant place near to where we are now?

Mobile phones spent years getting smaller only for them to increase in size.

The world has spent years speeding up only for it to need to slow down perhaps.

Or maybe I'm just showing my age. As I approach my 39th  birthday maybe I'm expressing the first signs of denial.

The tide has turned.

And no amount of wishing otherwise will halt its progress.

The waves are crashing towards me. As I close my eyes the sound is calming and comforting.

The gentle morning sun warming on my face.

And the girls have moved on. Devices abondoned. Now they are welly boot clad and are exploring the beach with wonder.

Maybe everything will work out just fine after all.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Oh to be old and wise

When you're young you're full of gusto and misplaced optimism. Everything is possible. Your imagination runs away with you not constrained by whatever has gone before. You're naive of course. But so what?

As you grow older, through bitter experience you learn to recognise the tell tale signs, you lower your expectations. The knock backs suffered previously, the misadventures, the failures all conspire to temper your enthusiasm.

But how do you prevent yourself falling over the edge into the abyss of cynicism?

We can all picture the cantankerous old git in the corner who can't wait to tell you it won't work. It can't be done. Been there tried that got the t-shirt. How do you stop yourself becoming that really annoying winge-bag?

My childhood sweetheart Aliy used to tease me that I'd be a perfect grumpy old man. Picture the Harry Enfield character: 'You don't want to do that'.

And my best mate Rich and I at Uni used to look forward to the day when we'd be sat with our blankets on our knees at the nursing home setting the world to rights. Telling people what we really think.

The holy grail of course is to achieve a sense of wisdom and to always demonstrate a touch of class.

The ability the keep your head when all about are losing theirs and blaming you.

Being able to trust yourself when others doubt you.

Still being able to dream the impossible but not letting your dreams blind your judgement.

And as you climb higher and higher up the ladder in life never losing your common touch.

Now, the wise amongst you (or the well read) will no doubt have noticed the unashamedly similarities of what I've just said to the classic Rudyard Kipling poem 'If'. Published in 1909 and inspired by the exploits of a British soldier in South Africa, Kippling captured the essence of class. Not as in upper, middle or lower. As in exuding class.

If you've not read it recently or have never had the pleasure I heartedly recommend it.

It forms the introduction to 'Make Yourself Unforgettable' which I'm reading at the moment.

For anyone hoping one day to be thought of as a class act there can be no better checklist to post on your office wall or keep to hand on your desk.

The reason all of this is so front of mind this morning is because my team and I have come up with a cracking idea.

It has all the right ingredients to be a roaring success. It is simple. Engaging. New. But built on a tried and tested concept.

Everyone so far who has heard about it thinks it is great. In fact tempering their enthusiasm is half the battle. But I'm also doing my best to remain calm.

I'm either sat on a gem that will fly and will grow a life of its own. Or the whole thing will unwind and be consigned to the depths of my memory. Only to surface again when someone else in the future suggests something similar and I resist the urge to say 'it will never work.'

Time will tell.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

A month off from writing

I haven't felt the need to write a blog for an entire month. This is good news in lots of ways. My general sense of well being has been such that it has enabled me to have a period of stability, mentally speaking.

And this is in spite of me making an idiot out of myself at a conference where I stupidly forgot my 15 years of PR experience and got quoted saying something I then regretted.

Anyway let's not dwell on that shall we. We're focusing on the positive here for goodness sake.

I've just finished reading The Psychopath Test. A great read if you've not heard of it. I like the fact that the author has chronicled a two or three year period and questioned his motivations and beliefs along the road. He also leaves you guessing as to whether we're all a little mad, if not surpressing psychopathic tendencies.

Last week I also watched Rita, Sue and Bob too for the first time. A true classic of British cinema history. Packed so full of memorable one liners like:
'Fat fucking Mavis', 'it's like a frozen sausage', 'get em darn Manningham lane', and 'better than match of the day this'...I could go on!

It makes you realise how much you are unaware of. How did I get to 38 and three quarters without watching this movie. And what else is out there still waiting to be discovered?

My final reflection is about an event I went to last week. It was held in London at the University of the Arts. It was for PR academics and practitioners and was themed around the idea of disruption. I was asked to give them my perspective from the world of Asda and how social media had fundamentally changed our approach to PR and communicating with customers.

But the bit that was weird was doing all this in front of one of my old tutors. She had interviewed me for the course 20 years ago and been one of the first to teach me when I started in Leeds in September 1994.

Those numbers are ridiculous. When I started at uni I was 20 years old. Now someone born the year I went to uni is starting. Yet it doesn't feel like twenty years ago.

I obviously knew nothing back then. But I also still feel like I'm only just starting out. I wonder when if ever I'll feel accomplished. To some extent I hope I never do. Like my scientist father the fun is in the research and exploration, any new discovery only opens up the door to what else is possible.

Yet holding my own amongst academics on Wednesday was also rewarding in its own way.

I can imagine going back to uni in 15 years time. 30 years after graduating I quite fancy the idea of theorising whatever it is I've practiced by then. I'll need to attend somewhere different to my daughters should they choose to go themselves. Dad at freshers week is not cool.

Anyone else fancy joining me? Safety in numbers and all that.

In the meantime my personal development continues with my latest self help style text book 'Make Yourself Unforgettable. How to become the person everyone remembers and no one can resist'.

I'll let you be the judge of whether it has the desired effect. Can you resist telling me I wonder.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Better out than in

This past week I've born witness to the power of the written word.

I remember reading somewhere that psychologists ask patients who have suffered trauma to write about it so that they can experience it from a different perspective. Apparently by distancing themselves from the actual event they're able to come to terms with what happened and start the healing process.

By describing how I was feeling in very honest terms not only was it hugely therapeutic for me, but more than one person who read my blog said it had helped them come to terms with a similar event in their lives.

It was then that I realised being able to express yourself through the written word is a privilege.

I'm a pretty open person. I'm willing to share my inner thoughts more than most. By doing so I reveal my frailties and describe whatever angst I'm going through at the time.

I'd imagine some who read my ramblings wonder why I'm prepared to give so much away.

All I can say is that the last seven days has taught me that quite simply it is better out than in.

I kept my thoughts (on Becky losing a child following a miscarriage last August) to myself for almost a year. I put what happened to one side. I didn't even realise that's what I'd done. Then when it happened again last week the reality hit me twice as hard.

As a result of recent events I've resolved myself to tell those close to me how I feel more often by writing it down.

Hand written letters may be a thing of the past but carefully crafted words are not. So every opportunity I get I'm going to take it. Be that a timely email or a message in a greetings card.

And there's no time like the present. Father's Day is tomorrow.

As it happens my dad and I aren't normally the gushy type with one another. We talk about football and work and stuff. But I figured I ought to tell him how much I admire him. How I couldn't have wished for a better dad and that I hope one day my own daughters will look up to me the same way I look up to him.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Thank you

Last night I read my blog about Becky's miscarriage for about the fifth or sixth time since posting it on Tuesday night. However I held back the tears for the first time. I must admit I wavered here or there but I got through it.

Writing about this traumatic experience has been hugely therapeutic. It has enabled me to confront my feelings. Express them out loud albeit through the written word and come to terms with what has happened in the last week and previously. 

The generosity and warmth I've received in return has been humbling. Every comment, every tweet, every message on Facebook, every text has touched me. Lifted me. And renewed my faith in humanity.

On behalf of Becky and myself I would simply like to say thank you.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

The ultimate miscarriage of justice

Last night my wife lost a child.

Nine weeks into her pregnancy the thing she feared most would happen happened. She had a miscarriage.

Were the physical strain not enough to endure she also had to go through the emotional turmoil of grieving for a child that was never born into the world.

The tears are rolling down my cheeks as I write these words.

Although I'm never shy of showing my emotions watching trashy TV, in a curious twist of my own complex character I struggle sometimes to face into the biggest of things.

I was hardly moved at first when Becky said on Saturday night she feared she was going to have a miscarriage. Perhaps we were already both expecting the worst.

But on reflection I think I still hadn't really come to terms with what happened to us previously.

Last August Becky lost another baby, at eleven weeks while on holiday in Ireland.

It was an awful thing to happen so far away from home. We had driven to West Ireland from our home near Bradford.

Two kids in tow and making our way back from deepest County Cork to Dublin, no family within easy reach, Becky couldn't deny what was clearly happening.

Were it not for an absolute angel of a guest house owner I'm not sure what we'd have done as we dashed to the nearest A&E in the early hours while our children slept peacefully.

The experience was scary. Upsetting. And surreal. The practical nature of having to keep going meant I didn't really come to terms with what had happened. I put it to one side. We never really spoke about it again. Or at least I didn't.

But yesterday as Becky sat pale as a ghost on the downstairs toilet floor asking for help I realised I could lose her too. Sound a bit dramatic? Yes, maybe. But that's how it felt. And by all accounts a very real threat when a woman is having a miscarriage.

My voice breaking as I rang 999, barely able to describe what was happening. Feeling helpless and trapped.

Within two minutes a paramedic was with us. The NHS at its very best. With the kids next door watching the Disney channel none the wiser.

I hasten to add Becky is home tonight,  and is physically fine. I also want to emphasise I'm not penning these words for your sympathy.

In fact I wrote them on the basis I would never post them publicly. I'm writing them because I needed to grieve. I need to grieve. Grieve for what might have been. Grieve for the third daughter or first son that was due to be born in January 2014.

I adore my two healthy children who I cherish even more today than I probably realised yesterday.

And I love my wife. It's so easy when kids come along at first without much effort to underestimate what women go through by bearing children.

I am in awe of her and what she's gone through on our family's behalf.

One final word for our friend Matt who somehow understood my shaky voice on the end of the mobile last night and legged it round to babysit our kids until the early hours of yesterday morning.

I will never forget your generosity Matt. Even though you say it was nothing. It meant more than you will ever know.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

It's all in a name, my name

According to the National Trust this painting depicts a battle between three Dutch Ships (the Texel, Arnemusde and Domburch) and Chinese Junks. It is titled 'The Blockade of Amoy'.

It was recently reidentified as showing the destruction of Chinese junks at Amoy on 13 July 1633. This was because the flagship, on the right, is inscribed as the ‘Texel.’ However, the other two named ships, the ‘Domburch’ and the ‘Arnemude’ did not take part in this Pearl-Harbour-type attack on the unprepared Chinese fleet, which makes this interpretation doubtful.

Either way it is on show at Felbrigg Hall and Garden Estate in Norfolk.

Having never been down that way before this painting now gives me a very good, albeit random, reason to go. I want to find out more about this Dutch ship that shares my name.

Apparently Felbrigg Hall is one of the most elegant country houses in East Anglia.

It's own website goes on to say: 'it's truly a hidden gem, the Hall is a place of surprises and delights, a mixture of opulence and homeliness where each room has something to feed the imagination. Outside, the decorative and productive walled garden is a gardener's delight.'

Sounds good eh?

Who'd have thought that a vanity search for my own name a few weeks back would inspire a whole holiday?

Perhaps I've spotted a gap in the travel market.

Who wants to invest their first million in my new venture?  I'm going to call it Name Your Holiday. I'd better go grab the url quick.

A rising tide floats all boats

Yesterday I had the very good fortune to attend #BrandX in London with the great and the good.

The brain child of Paddy Cosgrave and the next iteration of his f.ounders concept, there's currently nothing else like it in the world of digital, social or tech.

Described as the geek's equivalent of Davos the attendees are a heady mix of the founders of leading tech companies like Joe Fernández from Klout, Jan Rezab of Social Bakers and Jessica Butcher from Blipper, alongside some carefully selected brands like Adidas, Virgin, Unilever and Topshop.

And then there was little old me from Asda.

I say that, as by comparison to most of the 150 people on the list I didn't quite fit the bill. Or at least that's what I thought looking down the role call before I arrived.

I'm not an entrepreneur and never will be. I'm full of ideas but never had the drive to run with them myself. Instead I simply put them out there in a work environment and see which ones stick.

I'm also not a natural networker. From a cold, standing start of knowing no-one I actually find it incredibly daunting. Ironic really when you consider my job is head of social. I can now at least find solace by staring into my smartphone. 

Thankfully my ineptitude in that department was not a hindrance for too long on the opening night at Paramount as a chap called Azeem took pity on me and did the hard part by introducing himself. Turns out he's the CEO of Peer Index.

From that point on any thoughts of being a fraud quickly disappeared. Not only could I hold my own but I genuinely had something to offer. Conversations flowed. Connections were made. And in one or two cases new friendships have begun.

It was a privilege to attend my first ever 'invite only' affair. Normally I'd not even know it was taking place let alone get to go. And far from being cliquey or stuffy or pretentious it was honest and refreshing.

But the thing that impressed me most was the atmosphere of collaboration. The openness of discussion. And the willingness from the great people in the room to do good not just make money.

It feels like an important and seismic shift has taken place in the last few years. As the barriers to enter business have crumbled (bedroom geeks now have $41m to play with in Klout's case) so too has the new world approach to making money.

Or as +CindyGallop put it: 'We make money because we do good.'

Cindy quite compellingly purports the idea of competitive collaboration by stressing that a rising tide floats all boats.

Well #BrandX yesterday certainly floated mine.

N.B. special thanks to Daire Hickey for allowing me to come on board. Cheers captain.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Too many wrongs don't make it alright

I have one of those motivational Top Ten things stuck on my fridge.

I found it in a magazine a few years ago and it struck a chord with me.

At the time I was starting out on my Resolution 37 journey and beginning to mull over taking a career break.

So the idea of taking responsibility for where I was, thinking about what I wanted to be and working out what was stopping me were all good food for thought.

The fridge thingy also encouraged me to enjoy the process. Do something I always said I wouldn't, and chat to people I normally ignore.

Finally it advised me to learn to trust my judgement, take life less seriously but put more info it.

It also said to buy some new threads which I'm not sure I bothered with.

The funny thing is my wife Becky felt the need to add one more, perhaps the most important of them all:

11. Accept that you can sometimes be wrong and take it on the chin.

No-one likes being told what to do, let alone told they're wrong. My natural reaction is to fight my corner.

But maybe she's right.

Maybe.

Ok. She's right. There you go I said it. I was wrong. Just don't tell Becky alright?

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Letting go is not the same as giving up

I found this quote as I was mulling over this blog:

"There's an important difference between giving up and letting go." Jessica Hatchigan

It got me thinking. Do you ever get overly protective about things at work?

You haven't got enough hours in the day to do everything yourself but at the same time you don't want to let go of it in case someone else mucks it up, or gets all the glory.

Yet ironically having the balls to let go not only frees up more time to focus on the really important stuff, but you are also motivated to do an even better job on what's left.

It's hard to resist the self-imposed pressure that a little competition drives in you. The voice in your head saying: 'Right, come on then, I'll prove how good I really am'.

But by putting your ego to one side for a minute you begin to realise that your way is not the only way. If you weren't there doing what you do the world would not crumble around you. Much as you'd like to think it would.

In recent weeks I've started to look at people in a different way. As a result I continue to be impressed by those who I used to have a downer on. There's no other way of putting it. I did.

I assumed all sorts of things about them. Their motivations. Their capabilities. It's sobering to think how limiting that was on me.

That said I'm proud of myself for recognising it and for having deliberately decided to do something about it.

I've fought my instincts. I've managed my emotions. I've reflected each day and externalised my feelings. Not only through this blog, but also with others who I can confide in either because they coach me or I coach them.

Letting go is not the same as giving up. Resigning yourself to the inevitable but still begrudging the situation is likely to leave you festering at best and bitter at worst.

Letting go is empowering. Both to you and those who seek to take whatever it is away from you. Allow them to flourish. Celebrate their enthusiasm and success. Then admit you have learnt more by letting go then you would've done by holding on or giving up.

Try it. It is surprisingly liberating.

If you need a little more convincing here are 25 quotes on letting go I found that struck a chord with me.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Ask me the right question and I'll give you the right answer

I had a little wobble at work last week. Seemingly out of nowhere I questioned my value. I felt disorientated, a little lost.

Fortunately I recognised the feeling as it wasn't the first time it had ever happened. But it's still unnerving nonetheless. It takes you by surprise. Creeps up on you when you're not looking.

I realised something was up though and I needed a helping hand.

Ironically earlier that day I'd been extolling the virtues of personal development and the positive influence a mentor can have. Yet I haven't actually had a mentor myself for a year or so. 

That along with some other factors in the background had conspired together to make me feel uneasy.

What happened next was interesting. I wrote to a senior exec asking for their help.

When they responded they smartly asked me what it was I was looking for. What kind of person and to what end. 

I went to bed to sleep on it. As I reflected the following morning I realised I wanted someone who thinks differently to me and who operates in more of a commercial way than I do.

I'm looking for a coach as much as a mentor who can help me navigate all the various ideas buzzing around my head so I can see more clearly.

It's important to me that they are a people person who I can gel with, and who can encourage me where necessary and challenge me to push harder on some things and let go of others.

Would you go and look at what happened?

Without even trying that hard I had discovered what I needed and I even had four or five people in mind I could approach.

Like all great coaches the exec who emailed me back had enabled me to come up with my own answer by simply asking me the right question.

The feeling of unease began to pass. The confidence flowed back in and the questioning and self doubt subsided.

And nothing much had really happened. Which reminds me, I need to go ask (xxxx) if they'll be my new mentor.

Feel free to ask me how I got on.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Five Post It Notes that could change your life

I ran a mini training course for some other managers this week on the importance of having a development plan in place. We're all meant to have one but sometimes it's hard to know where to start.

So before coming along I asked them do a little home work.

It doesn't take long to do in the scheme of things, but if taken seriously can have a profound impact on your working life.

It's a technique I learnt on a coaching course a year ago. I've gone through the process myself, and have used it with a range of colleagues who I either line manage, coach informally, or who I mentor. One poor bugger even had to do it when I interviewed him.

Without fail though the Post It Note thing as I call it, has left every participant with a clearer idea of the motivational forces that drive them.

In the space of an hour they also arrive at three or four simple actions that go on to form the basis of a personal development plan.

So it does what it says on the tin. It is personal (often tripping into home life as well as work life), and forces you to make small but important changes to how you approach things.

And because the plan of action is straight forward, achievable, and initially based on the next seven days, it is more or less guaranteed to be a success. So far so good anyway. 

I’d urge you to give it a go.

You won’t lose a stone in seven days, and I can’t promise to make you rich quick – but it will make you feel happier, and more confident you are managing your own destiny.

So here's what you need to do.

Take five Post It Notes.
Take a pen.
Think about your ideal job.
Then write down on each Post It Note one of the most important things your ideal job would have.

It's important to forget where you work today, and what you do.

This is about imagining your perfect job and describing the best possible elements of it.

To help you get started, here were my five from a year ago:

1. Work-life balance
2. Being perceived as an expert by people I respect
3. Inspiring others
4. Solving problems
5. Having fun

You’ll notice these five are not too specific. They are not about doing tasks, they are about the things that motivate and drive me. They could've been many other things like earning lots of money, or travelling, or managing large teams of people.

They also weren’t the first five that came to mind and only crystallised during stages two and three of the process.

Stage 2

The next stage is to put the five statements into order of importance with the most important at the top.

This requires some discussion with your partner and a fair bit of clarification as to what you really mean by the description on each Post It. Sometimes you need to rewrite them and move the order around.

Stage 3

The next stage is to score them all out of ten based on the job you do today.

This part requires a lot of honesty.

If everything is seven or above then you're in the ideal job and my work here is done.

Normally though there are a couple of Post Its that are around the two or three mark and it is these ones that you should start with.

Stage 4

Having picked a low scoring one to focus on, you should consider what you can do in the next seven days to take it up by one point. You need to think about taking a small first step in the right direction.

I normally encourage people to come up with three small actions that are realistic, within their gift, and they are committed to doing. In fact I ask them how confident they are that they can do each one. Then ask them how committed they are. Then I get them to put pen to paper.

The final bit is to email me a week later with confirmation they have achieved each one.

Clear?

If so, why not come back in a week and let me know how you got on.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

You're fired

Tonight I've been relegated to the other room while Becky watches the new series of The Apprentice. You could say I've been elevated as I get to relax in the old rocking chair while penning a blog listening to 6 Music while she watches the pantomime.

When you remove needless television from your evening it's striking how much time you actually have on your hands, even with two kids to contend with. Granted some nights I'm so knackered after work all I want to do is stare aimlessly towards the TV or the goggle box as my dad used to call it when I was a kid.

Back then he used to get stressed out by my apparent addiction to the television. Particularly when I used to sing along to all the adverts, finishing the jingles before they'd even really started.

And now as parents ourselves we face the same dilemmas with our own kids. Our six your old enjoys nothing more than grabbing my phone on a morning and going straight to the iplayer to find the latest episode of Dennis and Gnasher.

So should I be worried? Or is watching lots of telly, albeit on a four inch screen, just part of being young and growing up?

For what it's worth Dennis and Gnasher is far better than you'd think. Although Dennis is a whole lot less menacing than I remember from the Beano.

My mate Olly used to get a Beano in his weekly goody bag from his gran. He was happy to share his comics with me. The Mars Bar was another matter altogether.

When we weren't reading about Mini the Minx and the Bash Street Kids we were pretending to be radio DJs on two, one, O FM, recording our own voices onto TDK tape cassettes.

Roll forward 30 years and I here I am at last a real life presenter on local radio. Ok, granted it's only volunteering at BCB but I still get to play out my childhood dream every other week.

So anyway back to The Apprentice. How can a former PR man like me who was addicted to television when growing up find this light entertainment show so annoying? I think it's because each of the candidates is so willing to pretend to be a complete arsehole. "My intellect is like a jungle machete" says one. "I'll do anything to win. Manipulation. Cheat." Or appear on national telly looking like a complete knob?

But it's only TV. And the contestants are all consenting adults. Childish, charactures of themselves. But consenting adults nonetheless.

On which note I've successfully whiled away the last hour so can return to watch some mindless telly before going up to bed.

Good night :)

Friday, 3 May 2013

May the fourth be with you

I'm on a train. Nothing remarkable about that particularly. But I'm in reflective mood so beware.

In fact my mood is somewhat anxious. In part no doubt driven from the impending stag do that I'm not only attending but also have singlehandedly organised.

For those who know me you'll be painfully aware that planning ahead and organisational skills don't come easily. So I have the double whammy of worrying whether anyone is going to turn up tomorrow and a slight nervousness that accompanies any stag do. For instance will I crash and burn too soon. I have form.

These feelings are the natural consequence of having attended more than a handful of stag dos. In fact this is my third in the role of best man. I must confess in both previous instances my duties were somewhat shared and the direction during the events themselves somewhat haphazard. This time though we are very organised. Or at least I hope we are.

Go Ape tomorrow morning followed by a stretch limo ride to one of London's coolest neighborhoods Hoxton. And as if turning up to see the cool kids in a limo wasn't bad enough I've also taken it upon myself to create a suitably silly fancy dress outfit for my brother to wear. The picture gives you a feel for how he may look as he gracefully exits the limo. May the fourth be with you.

In the meantime here I am hurtling towards our capital city with what seems like a combination of students going home for the bank holiday weekend and the odd hen do. Either that or deely boppers are the latest trend and no-one told me.

So let's agree what success looks like shall we?

1. People turn up
2. No-one dies jumping off a tree
3. The pub food I've ordered for 20 gets eaten
4. The secret club night is everything I've imagined and more
5. My hangover isn't so fierce that I can't face travelling home

Not much to ask for.

See you on the other side.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Why am I such an idiot?


It doesn't take a genius to know the answer.

I'm a bit of a late starter. At 38 years old I'm only just beginning to realise what I'm good at and what I'm never going to master.

From the age of 21 I've been striving to work out what was going to set me apart from everyone else. And while I thought about it everyone else seemed to be getting on with it.

Friends became successful traders in the London Stock Exchange. Others became wealthy sales people. Others opted for motherhood with such a clear view of their future.

I dawdled. I wandered along. Chip firmly wedged on my shoulder.

I still get frustrated seeing people of no age at all reach great success quickly and wonder how the hell they have the confidence and clarity of thought to do it.

But I also take comfort from some little known facts about the most famous genius of all time - Albert Einstein.

It turns out he didn't speak a word until he was four year old and wasn't fluent until he was nine. One of his maths teachers thought he was a lazy dog. Yet he went on to discover e = mc2. And that apples fall on your head if you spend too much time in orchards. Or was that Isaac Newton? Anyway I digress.

I've eventually realised that what makes me different, note not better, is how I think.

I come up with ideas. I solve problems. I've actually known this for years. In fact I was first made aware of it on a management training course 13 years ago when I worked at Green Flag.

But my creativity of thought was never harnessed. So it is only relatively recently that I've been able to find a role at work where what I'm good at is celebrated rather than merely seen as disruptive.

Having spent years trying to work out what strategy was all about, I can't help now but think strategically.

I simplify solutions and get frustrated that other people keep making things complicated all the time. But I also know my limitations.

Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction.

Not my words those. That's what Albert once said.

He also said the secret of creativity is knowing how to hide your sources. Duly noted.

And that if we knew what it was we were doing, it wouldn't be called research, would it?

Genius.

He was a smart old chap Einstein wasn't he? Wish I'd listened to him a bit earlier.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

So much for blogging every day

The story of this blog is the story of my life. An initial burst of enthusiasm, which then slowly peters out.

Far from blogging every day I haven't blogged for nearly three weeks.

Granted in those three weeks I've travelled to and from America with all the jet lag that entails. And my four year old has decided to have one of those periods that children have where she insists on waking up every night. It is then a battle of wills as to who gives in first. She is strong willed I'll give her that. The result is I haven't had seven hours consecutive sleep in months.

The last time this happened was when we only had one child. Our first born didn't sleep through the night more than two nights running in her first two and a half years on this here earth.

This period coincided with my least productive two years in my job. I was angry and frustrated with my lot. And couldn't understand why no-one else could see what I could see.

Well guess what? That's how I feel again. Are the two related? Or is it merely coincidental?

I'm more mature now and can at least recognise my emotions before letting fly with a snotty email.

Reading 'How to win friends and influence people' has certainly played a positive part. It reminds me to find the positive before jumping to the negative.

I'm not right all of the time. An obvious thing to say. But we're all laden down with our own self importance. 

On Friday I also re-learned an important lesson. Someone once said do something every day that scares you. Like my blogging I tend to be less frequent than that. Anyway I took the plunge and presented the Drive programme on BCB. So rather than merely sitting in the studio while someone else does all the hard work, I was in charge of the knobs and faders.

Having avoided doing it for 18 months I'm now frustrated with myself for not having the balls to do it earlier. I had to be more or less forced to do it as my co-presenter was away and I was the next most experienced option. 

Reminded me of playing football for the cub scouts all those years ago. My dad more or less dragging me along. Then I was hooked for the next ten years going on to captain my local team.

So what great wisdom do I derive from this sorry tale?

Sleep is good. I'm a coward. And I'll write blogs when I bloody well want to.

I feel better already. By the way the car has no relevance to this post other than to say I'd like to drive one of these one day.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

What's in a name

I have terrible trouble remembering people's names.

Even people I've known for some time and whom I've had long and interesting conversations.

My mind goes blank when we meet, and even if I recall their name in time to use it I panic that it is wrong and often bottle out. I worry I'll look a fool if I call them something else.

I think back to bumping into someone in Asda when Becky was with me, it was even more excruciating as I knew if I introduced her I'd have to introduce my 'friend' too.

On the odd occasion I've bluffed it and laughed and said why don't you two introduce yourselves.

At a friend's daughter's fifth birthday party the other weekend the children's entertainer prided himself on being able to remember every child and adult's name. No mean feat.

In under two hours he was able to recall every name in the room. And have linked children to parents. It's a wonder to behold.

So what is worse? Calling someone by the wrong name or not at all.

If I'm honest there is no real excuse for either.

While I can carry on claiming not to have a natural ability to recall names, deep down I know with a little more effort I could remember far more. And I know how important that can be when taking to people I know.

So that's what I'm going to do.

Starting off with everyone who works on the same floor as me at work.

I want to see if I can get to know every face I recognise and what's more I'm going to try and learn something about them. By finding out about what their partner does or their favourite past time hopefully their name will stick.

And when we meet I can impress them by asking about something other than the weather.

Mark my words my friends. I'm putting my name on it.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Put a smile upon your face

We have a saying in our house:

Put a smile upon your face and make the world a better place.

My kids are four and six. It doesn't take much for the tears to flow or the frown to suddenly appear.

But it's amazing how many times their little faces can light up again with a tickle under the arms or by starting off this little phrase and letting them finish it off with a smile.

This morning I asked them both to show me their best smiles. Both were pretty good to be fair. Then we ran up stairs to find some smiley clothes.

Before I knew it we were hatching a secret plan to go to the soft play centre as soon as mummy had left for work, together with secret maps and clues and everything. 

Turns out the play centre is shut until midday. Cue instant frowns all round. Quick smile check, then off to the nearest cafe.

It got me thinking how often I smile at people at work and the positive impact it has.

Where I work is generally a pretty bubbly kind of a place. We take our work seriously but not ourselves is how my old boss put it.

But by choosing (and it is a choice) to smile at people as they catch your eye it's amazing how infectious it is and how good their smile back makes you feel. Try it.

Anyway it's the book I'm reading that got me thinking about all this. There's a lovely ancient Chinese proverb quoted:

'A man without a smiling face must not open a shop. '

It's as true today as it was back then. Made me smile.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Three things I found out today

The Google offices aren't easy to find. Which is a tad ironic. They don't even have a big sign post on the front door.

There's a search engine called Duck Duck Go which as far as I can tell prides itself on not being Google.

And if you search for 'Dom Burch' via Duck Duck Go it returns something rather intriguing. On 13 July 1633 there was a battle between three Dutch Ships (the Texel, Arnemusde and the Domburch) and some Chinese Junks. The battle was called The Blockade of Amoy.

So my former self was a Dutch war ship. How thoroughly delightful. Or should I say lekker?

And to think I once lived in Holland and never knew until today. Puh. Google is so off the pace. Duck Duck Go all the way.

Friday, 22 March 2013

How to win friends and influence people

I've just started reading Dale Carnegie's classic How to win friends and influence people.

I'm only 16 pages in and it is already one of my favourite books of all time. It strikes a chord with me, but more than that I've been staggered how relevant it is in 2013 despite being first published in 1937.

Anyway you've probably seen this letter before on Facebook but it is still worth a read. It's called Father Forgets by W. Livingston Larned.

Dale Carnegie writes: 'Often parents are tempted to criticise their children. You would expect me to say 'don't'. But I will not. I am merely going to say,  'Before you criticise them, read one of the classics of American journalism.'

Here it is:

Listen, son; I am saying this as you lie asleep, one little paw crumpled under your cheek and the blond curls stickily wet on your damp forehead. I have stolen into your room alone. Just a few minutes ago, as I sat reading my paper in the library, a stifling wave of remorse swept over me. Guiltily I came to your bedside.

There are things I was thinking, son: I had been cross to you. I scolded you as you were dressing for school because you gave your face merely a dab with a towel. I took you to task for not cleaning your shoes. I called out angrily when you threw some of your things on the floor.

At breakfast I found fault, too. You spilled things. You gulped down your food. You put your elbows on the table. You spread butter too thick on your bread. And as you started off to play and I made for my train, you turned and waved a hand and called, "Goodbye, Daddy!" and I frowned, and said in reply, "Hold your shoulders back!"

Then it began all over again in the late afternoon. As I came up the road, I spied you, down on your knees, playing marbles. There were holes in your stockings. I humiliated you before you boyfriends by marching you ahead of me to the house. Stockings were expensive - and if you had to buy them you would be more careful! Imagine that, son, from a father!

Do you remember, later, when I was reading in the library, how you came in timidly, with a sort of hurt look in your eyes? When I glanced up over my paper, impatient at the interruption, you hesitated at the door. 'What is it you want?' I snapped.

You said nothing, but ran across in one tempestuous plunge, and threw your arms around my neck and kissed me, and your small arms tightened with an affection that God had set blooming in your heart and which even neglect could not wither. And then you were gone, pattering up the stairs.

Well, son, it was shortly afterwards that my paper slipped from my hands and a terrible sickening fear came over me. What has habit been doing to me? The habit of finding fault, of reprimanding - this was my reward to your for being a boy. It was not that I did not love you; it was that I expected too much of youth. I was measuring you by the yardstick of my own years.

And there was so much that was good and fine and true in your character. The little heart of you was as big as the dawn itself over the wide hills. This was shown by your spontaneous impulse to rush in and kiss me good night. Nothing else matters tonight, son. I have come to your bedside in the darkness, and I have knelt there, ashamed!

It is a feeble atonement; I know you would not understand these things if I told them to you during your waking hours. But tomorrow I will be a real daddy! I will chum with you, and suffer when you suffer, and laugh when you alugh. I will bite my tongue when impatient words come. I will keep saying as if it were a ritual: 'He is nothing but a boy - a little boy!'

I am afraid I have visualized you as a man. Yet as I see you now, son, crumpled and weary in your cot, I see that you are still a baby. Yesterday you were in your mother's arms, your head on her shoulder. I have asked too much, too much.

---------------

Makes you think eh?

Friday, 15 March 2013

Food glorious food

It's not often Becky and I go in for fine dining. Most of our meals out are fairly straightforward affairs. The odd fillet steak here and there. Or perhaps a nice piece of fish.

But every now and then we treat ourselves to some posh nosh. And yesterday was one of those days.

First stop was The Traddock at Austwick. Becky opted for dressed crab (pictured). I went for a gammon sandwich (granted doesn't sound very fancy but the home made bread and chutney made the difference). Then we shared a delicious rhubarb crumble.

Then onto Hipping Hall for a two night stay without the kids.

Hipping Hall is a delightful little boutique hotel just off the A65 near Kirkby Lonsdale. We first stayed here about five years ago. The attention to detail is first class. Far from being stuffy, the service is relaxed but attentive. The bedrooms are cosy with thick faux fur drapes and comfortable beds.

When you arrive you are invited into the lounge for tea and cake. Teas are complimentary throughout your stay. A nice little touch.

Anyway dinner is the main event. Aperitifs in the lounge and an amuse bouche, one of which was an onion macaroon. Then into the dining room with a roaring fire and a smokey aroma. A pre starter courtesy of the chef - a shot glass of lobster and avocado (a posh prawn cocktail).

For the real starters I had belly pork and Becky went for a turbot terrine with a tempura oyster on the side.

Then for our mains I opted for guinea foul, a first for me. It was like the best chicken I'd ever had. Moist and full of flavour.

Becky chose hogget. Sounds like pork doesn't it? Must be. Looks very meaty though for pork. Maybe it's the breed. One bit is quite tough to cut through though. Maybe it's beef after all. Damn I like beef.

No you idiots. Hogget is a one year old sheep. Not lamb. Not mutton. Hogget. I told you we don't do fine dining very often. Heathens that we are. Reminded me of years ago when we ate at a posh place in Edinburgh calked The Witchery and had to ask how to eat oysters. I'm glad we did though as we'd always assumed you chuck them down your throat. Not at all. Chew slowly like a muscle. No tobasco masking the flavour. Just a squeeze of lemon.

Anyway then Becky had cheese and I had an amazing apple tart / jelly / struddle thing. Gorgeous.

Then the evening was all wrapped up with a single shot of espresso together with petit fours and a rather large cognac.

Good night.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Back to the grindstone

Having spent the whole of last week gallivanting around in Florida, returning to work today was somewhat of a shock to the system.

But it wasn't the Arctic chill that got to me it was the relentless slog of back to back meetings all day. From the minute I walked in the door I was running from one thing to the next. Barely enough time to go to the loo let alone grab lunch.

It struck me how self defeating this can be.

Every conversation is rushed, every point made not nearly as well informed as it could've been. Nuances of meaning lost in the interests of ending the meeting 'on time'.

Which begs the question would it be better to deliberately do less in order to get more done?

I accept working like this on occasion is inevitable and ultimately it pays the wages and beggars can't be choosers. But I worry it is ultimately a false economy that can wear you down. Hence back to the grindstone took on new meaning.

As did another phrase I hadn't come across before.

A colleague in America asked me if she should run the traps. It was lost in translation. I didn't know if it was a dig at me, a joke or an offer to help. Here's her explanation:

"Running the traps" is a phrase from hunting. First you set or fix the traps, then you go back later and run or check the traps to see if you have caught anything in your traps.

Politically you are running the traps when you are testing the waters to see if a program you want or a law you need passed is popular enough to start the process of garnering enough votes and support to push forward with your program.

In everyday life, we use it to make sure something is okay before you do it – identify any problems ahead of time.

So I'd like to the run the traps on this idea. No more than three meetings in any one day. Clear one hour breaks between meetings to give myself time to think. And at irregular start and end times.

What do you think?

Or should I just get my nose to the grindstone and stop my pathetic whinging?

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Living Room gig

On Friday I had the privilege of having my favourite band come and play a gig in the comfort of my own home.

It was a magical experience. One that I didn't want to end. At one point I was trapped between trying to lap it all up and enjoy the moment and capture it on my flip cam so I could relive it all over again.

If you have never come across Hope and Social I strongly recommend you look them up. They are fantastic musicians. But more than that they understand better than any band or brand for that matter the importance of ensuring everything they do is good.

They invest time and effort into creating lasting impressions. Their gigs are more than performances they are entertaining all encompassing experiences where the audience is part of the music not merely a passive observer.

I absolutely love them for their honesty their generosity and because they make me laugh and cry.

My very own Living Room gig was priceless.

The memory will live long. And the YouTube clips will be played to death for many years to come.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Expanding my horizons

Even with the time difference I can't really get away with claiming this is Monday's blog. But hey ho. It was a self-imposed rule and I'm over it already.

Yesterday was a good day for me, professionally speaking. I got the chance to attend a meeting with some cool people who do marketing around the globe. It always strikes me how much we have in common despite our vast cultural differences.

I've always enjoyed engaging internationally with people.

Before I left Direct Line ten or so years ago I got the chance to go to Italy and Germany with my then boss to suss out how we were going to launch in those two countries.

Then a few years back I went to Mexico City for a corporate affairs summit with Walmart, visited stores and went to a remote village producing small amounts of produce for the company. And more recently I've had the chance to visit the techie kids of San Francisco and now Orlando.

There's no doubt the chance to travel is fun at first. It is still a novelty and therefore the work is even more stimulating as a result.

But I also relish putting my thinking to the test to see whether my views on social media translate across borders and time zones.

So far so good.

The next twelve months however are going to be fascinating.

If I keep my eyes and ears open it could also teach me things I can barely even imagine today.

The pace of change is dramatic and the opportunity to do some really powerful and exciting things is tantalising.

I literally can't wait to get started.