Archive for May, 2009

Our Past is nothing more than a collection of memories?

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

“Everyone’s past… is nothing more than a collection of memories that they chose to remember”  Andrew Davidson

I came across this interesting sentence in a marvellous book I have just read called The Gargoyle and it got me thinking.  I’m inclined to agree but do we actually choose the memories that we remember?  What does it take to erase a bad memory?  I have been relatively lucky in my life and my past isn’t scared with many traumas, so I claim no expertise here, but I do know people who have lived through tough experiences  and I can see how these are imprinted on them.

The past we remember is obviously patchy, and our recollection is necessarily incomplete and entirely subjective.  So it is certainly possible to add or subtract from this picture and by doing so to change it; and in changing this story, we change us too.

We can either add a rosy glow to memories to make them more palatable or more special, equally we can retrospectively cast people in the role of demons and erase all their better points.  Both strategies have value and both have a cost too that we pay every day.

I would love to gather some stories about how you might have changed by reassessing or redefining your memories.

“A memory is what is left when something happens and does not completely unhappen.”   Edward de Bono

“Memory is a child walking along a seashore.  You never can tell what small pebble it will pick up and store away among its treasured things.”   Pierce Harris

“A childhood is what anyone wants to remember of it.  It leaves behind no fossils, except perhaps in fiction”.   Carol Shields

You can’t get the right answers, if you don’t know the right questions

Saturday, May 30th, 2009

I heard this phrase yesterday, and it reminded me that, in much the same way that they say that when the pupil is ready, the right teacher will come, if you are feeling blocked, try asking  different questions.

Many people get stuck on “Why?”  but this seldom takes you very far.  “What can I learn from this?”  is often a much better question. 

We tend to think that we are at the centre of everything that is happening.  I suspect more often we are bit part players in other people’s dramas.  We might ask “How could he do this to me?”  but a better question might be “What is going on in his world?” 

A great question to have in your back pocket is “Who do I know who could help me with this?” 

Rather than jumping to trying to understand what is going on, get pen and paper and make a list of every question you can think of and pay attention to the less obvious ones.  Another tip is to ask “How would XXX handle this?”  and you can pick any number of people who you think might have an interesting or resourceful approach.

“Sometimes questions are more important than answers.”    Nancy Willard

“Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.”   Dr. Seuss


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When I know better, I do better!

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

I went in to see my friendly neighbourhood pond expert today to find out how I was meant to keeping the new pump and filter working optimally and to find out why the pond seemed to be cloudier than I’d expected after good early progress.  He went through it all and explained exactly how it all worked to me and even though I have gone from ignoramus to competent over the last month or so, there was still lots I didn’t know.  Of course, you don’t know what you don’t know!  I have often observed that sometimes just a single fact can completely change what you can do or how well you work.  Today was just such a day.  Hopefully the pond will show the difference. 

This little grid is a great way of understanding this process (click on the model for more information.)

You can’t blame someone for not knowing something, but it is important to have the sort of mind that is constantly hungry for more information, so that you can be constantly be upping your game.  Stephen Covey refers to this in is 7 Habits as ‘Sharpening the Saw’.  The other thing is one often doesn’t know what another person knows.  Often this can lead to profound miscommunication, so a good tip is take the time to share what you know and think at the beginning of important sessions.

Walking in the Rain

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

I spent this morning walking round one of my favourite bits of Surrey.  It was pouring all the time we were out.  Odd as it sounds we really didn’t notice.   The thing is that we had on the right gear, and as we knew from the start that we would get wet, we didn’t need to spend anytime wondering or worrying about  it.

That got me thinking about all the times we spend worrying about “What if this happens?  What if that happens?!?”  It drains our energy and ruins our day, and, more often than not, it doesn’t happen!  And yet we have lived through all our imagined horrors. 

If we prepare as best we can and just get on with it is amazing how little we notice the ‘rain’, and if it happens, we are in the best state to handle whatever actually occurs.  Dealing with reality, in the moment is so much better than fighting imaginary monsters and ‘what ifs’.

“Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet.   Roger Miller

Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add colour to my sunset sky.”  Rabindranath Tagore


Parliament: a story of change

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

Parliament began in the 12th century. The name has a French root, from the word parler, to talk.  It came into being as a talking shop, a place where the king came to get advice from his nobles.  He had all the power, but this allowed him to at least listen to their views.  Different monarchs tended to listen more or less to their nobles depending on their personality and their power.  Weak kings had to listen more , culminating in 1215 when King John being ‘brought to heel’ by the nobles and the signing of Magna Carta. 

The next major step was the civil war in 1642, when Cromwell seized power from the king.  Gradually over the next 250 years power shifted from the lords to the commons, and the franchise was extended to included all adults.  So the institution has gradually changed over nine centuries, sometimes in baby steps, sometimes radically.

We are now, perhaps, on the brink of some significant changes in the wake of the MP’s expense scandal.  David Cameron was talking at the weekend about some significant ideas for changing how his party worked.

We can see here both models of change, the radical and the incremental.  There are times when one approach is better than the other.  There are people who prefer one to the other.  I’d be interested to hear your stories about these two different ways of making change happen.


Whose mess is it anyway?

Monday, May 25th, 2009

The other day my sister was talking about an embarrassing situation.  This lead to a discussion about when you draw people’s attention to problems that you have found.  What do you do?  Tell them and get involved, or just hope that someone else deals with it?

At work one often comes across problems created by others; if you can’t simply fix them, are you supposed to draw attention to them or pretend you know nothing about them.  Every organisation has a cupboard full of problems that people know about and could be fixed if only they were drawn to the right person’s attention.  The thing that usually happens is that everyone can ignore these issues and hope that someone else deals with them, and your customers end up smelling something isn’t right!

How do you create a culture where mistakes and issues are aired and dealt without wasting time apportioning blame?

“There is luxury in self reproach. When we blame ourselves, we feel no one else has a right to blame us.”  Oscar Wilde

“You must not blame me if I do talk to the clouds.”   Henry David Thoreau

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Communication breakdown?

Sunday, May 24th, 2009

From time to time, we all find ourselves in situations where we a suffering from a communications breakdown.  I don’t imagine it means very much unless it happens to you all the time.  However, I had to ask myself what I could do recently when I found myself in this situation.

I decided that there really was only one way forward; to simply state what it was I felt and what I wanted.  After all, I’m an expert on these aspects of the situation.  We can debate so called ‘facts’, but no one can tell us how we feel.  If I’m prepared to be honest about these things, and also encourage the other parties to do likewise, and listen to them we have a ‘map’ of what is and a sense of what might be possible.  This is a good place to start from as it not only does away with speculation, but it also builds a little trust which makes subsequent steps easier to take.

What ways have you found in breaking through this impasse?  What has worked for you?

Ninety-nine percent of all problems in communications start with misunderstandings which develop as a result of differing viewpoints and conditioning.

I’m a Lumberjack… are you?

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

I have spent the last 2 days hacking back our rather large front hedge with a combination of chainsaw, hand saw and loppers.  When I say large, I mean some of it is around 30’ high!  So we did a lot of cutting and consequently had a whole lot of branches to get rid of.  It was a huge pile and would take days to burn it all.   In order to make this more manageable we cut all the big branches down into 4’ lengths and trimmed all the side branches.  I was truly amazed by how the pile diminished.

It occurred to me that life can be a bit like this.  A problem can seem absolutely huge, but when you break it down into smaller pieces it becomes manageable.  A bit like the old answer to How do you eat and elephant?” …  “One bite at a time!”   

“Life is made up of moments, small pieces of glittering mica in a long stretch of gray cement. It would be wonderful if they came to us unsummoned, but particularly in lives as busy as the ones most of us lead now, that won’t happen. We have to teach ourselves how to make room for them, to love them, and to live, really live.”   — Anna Quindlen (A Short Guide to a Happy Life)

The value of a label

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

Regular readers may recall that I have often blogged on the negative habit of labelling.  However, yesterday I was reminded of the positive impact of labelling.  I was working with a client and they were somewhat confused by an upcoming trip to Australia.  They are new in their post and this was an important inaugural visit.  Obviously you only get one chance to make a first impression and this trip was springboard for their new appointment.

We spent some time discussing all the things that they wanted to achieve  and gradually whittled away the list till we were only looking at tasks that had to be done on this trip.  I said “This is only housekeeping then…”  Their face lit up and I could see clarity dawning, their stress level fell instantly.  I later heard them talking about the trip as “just housekeeping!

Once you have the right label on the tin you know what is expected of you.

Have you any interesting examples of the positive impact of giving something a label?

“Man is the only critter who feels the need to label things as flowers or weeds.”

Brand management… when you are the brand!

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

I went to a talk today by a couple of branding experts.  It was very interesting, and peppered with all the sorts of examples and facts & figures one likes to see in a good talk.  They had illustrated their points with slides.  So far so good.  However….. they were sharing a single mike on a stand in a manner that reminded me of Sonny & Cher.  The lady was operating a pc using a remote ‘clicker’ that sometimes worked and often didn’t, so we were often either 2 slides ahead or behind the vocals.  As they changed position and moved their heads the volume kept going up and down.  So the overall impression was not very slick.. AND they were telling us that everything you do reflects on your brand! 

I’m sure they knew their stuff and had I engaged them that they could have contributed to my business but how likely am I to give them that chance?   However this blog isn’t about their mistakes; it is about all those times when we fail to follow our own advice and don’t take the very medicine we are peddling to others.  We all do it and the the state of cobbler’s children’s shoes is proverbial.

As an individual, the ability to take the advice you are capable of dishing out makes good sense, but as a business, it is vital!

“A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.”   Antoine de Saint-Exupery


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