Looking for Sally…

At high school, Sally was brilliant at pure maths. When the teacher raised a topic, she would research it in depth, she would learn complex proofs. She could create multi-dimensional worlds based on the maths that she read, she would play there, testing the work of geniuses.

Sally went to university to study maths. It was so boring! In her first exams, she came third out of 120. But she had done no work! She had soon realised that almost every lecture was about a topic she had already mastered, so why work? In her second set of exams, she came 10th, she had done no work and was still on course for a 1st but borderline.

Her third set of exams were a shock, 91st and borderline fail!

Sally was determined not to fail, her dreams depended on getting a doctorate, she needed to do research. What had she done for 3 years, had she day dreamed her future away?

Sally chose subjects she knew nothing about for her final year, that way she would be interested. She worked every hour she could until her final exams – 2:2 … borderline 2:1 – no doctorate for Sally.

The job market, Sally got jobs because she was clever. She lost jobs because she was too clever for her bosses. She belittled her colleagues by being so much faster and better. She was a maverick, her appraisals would say that she was “unmanageable”.

But she did learn. Sally learned about living in the real world as well as her dream world. She learned how to be patient and let others knowledge grow slowly. She learned how to be non-threatening. She learned how to be valuable to others. She learned how to help other very clever people give value to the world outside academia.

She saw an advert with the line “weirdos from William Gibson novels like that girl hired by Bigend as a brand ‘diviner’ who feels sick at the sight of Tommy Hilfiger“. She had never read William Gibson so she had no idea what this meant but she liked the sound of it. She wanted to be that girl.

Sally was that girl. She found herself in a place she had never dreamed of. The author of the advert was not clever enough to know what he would unleash…

Gateway to the Sahara

They were the only non-white family in the village. Although they all had British passports, they were foreigners in their own country. 25% of their genetics was from West Africa which meant, in an isolated country area where everyone else was pasty white, they stood out.

The locals could never remember his name. “N***r”, “s***o” and “j****e b***y” became familiar terms of endearment. The adults would never use the first two if they thought he could hear them, but he heard them. The children weren’t so careful.

He was desperate to play so he lived with it. And he played hard which meant that he gained some sort of respect. He was reasonably good at football and cricket which meant that they eventually wanted him on their side, he got picked ahead of the “fat” kid. His brother didn’t like sports, so he had a harder time.

At his school, which had around 600 children, there were only two others who “stood out”. One was in his class, he had darker skin and got most of the attention. Everyone called him “Sam”, even the teachers. Maybe they forgot his real name.

Strangely, he grew to like the term “j****e b***y”. He had grown up 100 miles south of the Sahara. The ground was mainly a thin sand coloured dust layered over hard sandy coloured ground with an occasional bush or tree. There was a small tributary of the Niger nearby which meant that every now and again the water table would be close enough to the surface to allow a few trees to grow. When the wind blew, and it did in the Harmattan season, the dust rose in the dry wind and created a haze that diffused the light and desiccated your skin. Not really like a jungle. And to be likened to a cute rabbit, well, what is bad about that?

You don’t fight if you have eaten together

This post as political!

I had dinner with friends. Unremarkable!

There were people who were born in 6 countries, spoke 12 languages, had 3 religions and none. They were aged from 12 years old to nearly sixty.

We chatted as any group of friends chat. As we chat we learn about each other’s backgrounds, food, education, cultures and beliefs. We created understanding that we will take into our workplaces and into other discussions.

I’m not going to explain because others do it better…

This transcript explains

People just feel closer to people who are eating the same food as they do.

National Public Radio

Ewan Aiken, CEO of the charity for those at risk of homelessness, writes

The Scottish philosopher John MacMurray argued that we can build peace only through deepened relationships. It is something that happens through how well we are willing to get to know those we are already close to and those we see as strangers and different. Peace is built through relationships, person by person, community by community. It cannot be built alone.

Ewan Aiken, CEO of the Cyrenians

Feast of Peace organiser Kay Johnson explains

If we can eat together we can live together.

Kay Johnson

This is a product of people being able to travel, live together, work together and learn about each other.

We are all the same, we are just people.

Clever child …

The child pointed and said “she’s a n****r”.

The child was about 3 years old sitting in a shopping trolley pushed by her mother.

The mother shushed the child harshly.

The woman that the child pointed at turned around and looked at the child.

She smiled and spoke to her kindly and with love in her eyes

“You are a clever child. I was born in Africa, in a country called Ghana. I have brown skin like many people who are born there. Ghana is a long way from here. The sun shines a lot. We wear colourful clothes with reds and greens and yellows. The sea is near where I grew up, my brothers went fishing in small boats and caught huge fish which were delicious to eat. I live here now and I am happy here because I can meet lovely children like you.”

She turned around, pushed her trolley to the counter, paid and disappeared.

Gravitas – my mother …

I failed the job interview. The recruiter told me I lacked the gravitas required to do the job.

A blank confused look came to me. What do I do with that? Where can I get gravitas? What is gravitas? I was told I will know it when I see it.

So I looked it up:

In the British education system, gravitas was seen as one of the pillars of the moral formation of the English gentleman during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. It is partly derived from the notion of aristocratic pedigree, indicating polish, grace in manner as well as dignity in outward appearance.

Wikipedia

There are other definitions:

seriousness and importance of mannercausing feelings of respect and trust in others

Cambridge Dictionary

I particularly like:

A hidden, invisible but extremely palpable, perceptible Dark Jedi Power

Urban Dictionary

I took an intense course over several weeks entitled “Gravitas” where I examined my motivations, I examined what it is to be me. It taught me a huge amount and helped me be myself at work. It also helped me leave my job when I found that being myself and working with that company with those people incentivised to act in those ways were incompatible. But I still couldn’t define gravitas in a meaningful way.

It took my mother to teach me!

I used to imagine gravitas embodied in a middle aged white man with a paunch dressed in a suit smoking a large cigar. His shirt would be starched, the suit would have chalk stripes, the shoes shiny. His face would be slightly red, his nose a bit swollen, may be he enjoys a glass or two of port. But he would command the room, his voice would boom and everyone would say “yes sir”. I remember this guy walking around my school when I was about 14.

A much better image of gravitas came to me when I saw my mother’s way with people.

Suppose you saw a group of young people, late teens and early twenties outside your house apparently eyeing up the premises opposite, running in and out quickly, possibly looking to break in or steal a vehicle. What would you do?

Would you call the police? Would you call the owner? Would you confront them and warn them off? Would you be afraid? Would you be aggressive?

My mother was 5 feet 4 inches (1.62 metres) tall, in her 70s, slightly built, wearing a head scarf. She went out and spoke to them as the grandma everyone would want. She had a chat like she was chatting to her own grandchildren. She didn’t lecture them. She was calm. She soothed them. She respected them and they respected her. She was interested in them. She charmed them and made them feel that they should be respectful. I suspect they went away feeling they had been bewitched. They had changed their actions without knowing why and without being able to control themselves. She worked her special magic.

That is gravitas.

Would you behave like this?

I enter the restaurant, the server takes me to a table and offers me the menus. I refuse. I say that I know what I want and give my order:

“To drink I would like Between 1.5 and 2 cups of sugar, 1 packet of yeast, half a gallon of grape juice”

I pause briefly while the order is entered into the iPad. Then I place my food order:

“2kg Maris Piper potatoes, 1 garlic bulb, 100ml rapeseed or sunflower oil (the chef can choose), 8-10 fresh bay leaves, ½ tsp lemon, 1 tbsp olive oil, 3 tbsp caramelised onion chutney, 4 parsnips, 4 carrots, 200g sprouts, 2 small red onions, 12 cocktail sausages, bacon, 2 bay leaves, 4 rosemary sprigs, 2 red onions, 4 large eggs, 140g plain flour, 200ml milk, ½ small bunch of sage, sunflower oil, 1 small red cabbage, 2 red onions, 1 dried red chilli, 2 juniper berries, 2 allspice berries, 200ml red wine vinegar, 75g demerara sugar, 100g walnut, 1 small pack dill, 3 Granny Smith apples, 140g crustless sliced white bread, 85g butter, 1 onion, 1 bay leaf, 1 thyme sprig, 600ml milk, pinch of ground cloves, pinch of ground nutmeg, 100ml double cream, 60g light soft brown sugar, 250g pack fresh cranberries, 100ml sloe gin, 4 juniper berries, neck and giblets from your turkey, 4 chicken wings, 2 onions, 1 carrot, 2 celery sticks, 1 garlic bulb, 1 tbsp sunflower oil, 1 tbsp clear honey, 2 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tbsp tomato purée, 50g plain flour, small handful dried mushrooms, 1 tbsp red wine vinegar or Sherry vinegar, 150ml port, Sherry or red wine, 1.2l chicken stock, 3 bay leaves, small bunch thyme, 4½ -6kg/10-13lb turkey, 2 leeks, 2 carrots, 50g butter, 300ml dry cider, 2 onions, 25g butter, 1 small Bramley apple, 2 x 400g packs meaty Cumberland sausages, a handful sage and 140g granary breadcrumbs”

The server asks me if there will be others joining me for the meal. I reply indignantly that there will not and how dare he question my order, I will take my business elsewhere if I am questioned again.

The server thanks me for my order and as he leaves I say:

“And once I have that you will have the pleasure of my company for 90 minutes and I will grudgingly pay the bill, if you are very lucky I will give you a measly tip.”

My drink arrives, I gulp it down and leave the restaurant without a word, without paying and without my food.


Does your organisation treat prospective employees and suppliers like this?


The order is for red wine and roast turkey with all the trimmings, it would feed a few people! And the picture is of something else!

Slow!

Nish always takes it slow! He may be ten steps ahead of his audience but he is very careful to nurture their understanding as he tells his story. I had the honour to be present as he introduced some new ways of working to his colleagues.

We knew the answer. We had a plan. My natural approach would be to tell the world the plan and bask in the glory of my great insights and creativity. However, after too many failures to convince others of how to do things better, I have learned that others are better at getting ideas accepted than I am.

I have watched others and tried to learn. Where I can, I have adopted their approaches. I wrote previously about the puppet master. He had great techniques for getting things done. Then there is Don, he is Australian and the slight accent seems to charm people. But his greatest skill, in my eyes, is taking my injudicious statement, rewording it and making it acceptable to a potentially hostile audience. I did adopt, in my own clumsy way, a technique from a CIO that I used to work for. It was to use the phrase “I want to build on that” and then say what ever I wanted to say very loosely attaching it to the previous statement. I have got away with some quite outrageous leaps doing this.

Back to Nish. He would identify all the people who might have an interest and work out a message that they would accept. He would then very carefully work out the steps in getting that message over. He would then pace his communications to take just one step at a time. He would meet each group of people face to face or by phone and slowly and carefully take them through one concept, one change, one idea at a time.

I would sit and try to fade into the background. I wanted to speak, I wanted to accelerate the conversation. But I knew better. My natural confrontational approach does open up the discussion but sometimes it closes minds. So I continue to sit there, only speaking when asked to, partly frustrated and partly bored.

Nish would achieve his communication goal and close the meeting, no extended discussion. We would then review what had happened. Did I notice the body language, did I notice the voice tone, were any strange phrases used, did I notice any changes in posture? Nish wanted to understand if he had indeed communicated what he had intended. We would assess and revise our communication plan after this review. We would also assess and revise the changes that we planned. Nish emphasised that we should be learning from our communication not telling.

After our audience had time to adsorb the message but before they forgot it, we would take the next step in the communication plan. After some weeks or months, Nish would have convinced all the stakeholders that there is a useful change to be made and we would be given the go ahead to implement the changes. These changes were not ours any more. They had evolved through the conversations and now belonged to the group.

Why write?

I always wanted to write a book. I thought of writing a business book but I realised that “The Art of War” said it all. I started a project management book with a friend but the publisher didn’t want originality. A novel … No ideas.

I posted a couple of blogs on the internet to let off steam at the pointless nonsense that management gurus have conned our largest corporations to waste their time and money on. This made me realise that my contribution to the management arts would not be a great insight but the rant.

Most managers seem to be able to put up with the rubbish that management consultants often spout. They don’t just tolerate it, they act on it, without anyone noticing the irony, they demonstrate the utter stupidity of these notions. They don’t laugh when the inevitable failure occurs, no they collude in the cover up. Despite the obvious they continue to proclaim the beauty of the emperor’s new clothes.

What do I do? I point out of the emperor’s nudity. I point out the emperor’s hairy back. I rant.

It came to me, the rant is my great contribution to management. In fact, it is the foundation of my talent as a leader. I rant to demonstrate that you don’t have to put up with it. You can do what common-sense tells you. You don’t have to wrap an old failed idea in new terminology and pretend that it’s innovation. You don’t have to acquiesce. You don’t have to be a sycophant. You can be your own person, but there will be a price …

You may lose your job. You may not get promoted. You may be unpopular. You may find it stressful when senior management threaten you. But you will have integrity.

Is the blog the rant? No, the rant happens in real life. The blog records and explains the rant. In the heat of the rant, there may not be much logic apparent. The rant is caused by a clash of rationalities — my rationality and corporate logic. The blog is my post rationalisation.

Trapped!

I couldn’t get my trapped car out of the station car park following an explosion on a construction site that closed the city center. As far as I know no-one was hurt, it caused a bit of local excitement, a few seconds on national TV, and inconvenience for people separated from cars, house keys, etc.

A shopping mall and bus station has been knocked down to be replaced by a shopping mall and a bus station. I’m not sure what we have achieved. It did get me thinking about the grand construction schemes that seem very often to be short term ego and career boosts for politicians. Otherwise they are grotesque wastes of money which leave us all with a legacy of financial, social and ecological debt.

What do I have in mind? Most obviously, the collection of Olympic villages across the world. I would add the Channel Tunnel, the Millau bridge in France and, if I could be bothered to do the research, a series of other mega-schemes. You can do your own research to get a good strong list!

These monstrosities seem to me to be pointless adventures where politicians posture and strut like peacocks to show how virile they are. It seems very 18th century in outlook, it seems as though the south east Asian Tsunami, the Pakistan earthquake, the destruction of New Orleans and other events haven’t quite convinced us that we are not in control.

In London, we built the Olympic complex at huge expense. We reclaimed some spoilt land that no-one could otherwise afford to develop. Why? Because it’s London. Actually, I think London would benefit more from a “green lung”. I also think almost anywhere in the country needed investment more than London. However, there are more votes in and around London. And that battle is lost.

The next one is CrossRail — building a mainline railway underneath London to connect the east and west. Then we have HS2 and CrossRail 2. The benefits will be shorter travel times and easier commuting. I was initially in favor because I suffer from long travel times and difficult commutes using multiple trains. But thinking about it, these are really disbenefits. We are investing more money into a massively overcrowded region. We are encouraging more jobs into the region which requires either more housing or more commuting. The pressure on land drives up prices which drives up salaries which drives up inflation which means we have to think of ever more expensive ideas to increase the efficiency of the infrastructure which takes us into a vicious circle.

If we need to improve the travel infrastructure, then what about improving travel to neglected regions away from London? How about building communities? How about eliminating much of the need to travel? This won’t happen because its not a grand scheme, it requires thought and votes aren’t there.

We lack true leaders who can see the real needs and are prepared to tackle them. We lack real leaders who do what is right out of conviction and who trust the people to follow them because they are right. But it is our own fault, we value style over substance. We like our politicians to be celebrities instead of effective stewards of our resources and freedom.

Do I have a solution? No! To change the race, you have to join the race, to join race is to be corrupted by the race. We are in a trap of our own making !