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.


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.


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.