Archive for May, 2012

Barging About: Lessons in Change

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

Steering a barge ain’t easy! To start with you push the tiller (the steery thing) left to go right and vice versa. Then weighing about 20 tons and proceeding at a stately 3mph it takes an age to respond to any directions. The rudder (the bit in the water) is also relatively small and makes that tougher still.

Assuming you are on a straight bit, you don’t just hold the tiller still, you are constantly moving it just to try to keep the boat going straight and sometimes (quite often in fact) you move it and nothing responds.

All of these things can happen in a change project. You give instructions and nothing happens; you try again, harder this time and they do too much! You are constantly having to correct course just to get to where you thought you were headed.

From the outside it may look effortless but you are working all the time to achieve even simple progress.

Barging About: Llangollen Canal – Day 3

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

It is amazing how quickly unfamiliar becomes familiar. Four people squeezed into a confined space, in a strange environment and you soon find yourself adopting roles and ‘owning territory’.

Yesterday I was handed the tiller as the barge needed to navigate a series of bends and bridges, it was the equivalent of giving a learner driver their first drive on the M25!

It is also amazing how the scenery changes so much from one stretch to the next, especially when you consider we didn’t travel 10 miles. One minute woodland, the next, beautiful hills.

Today, by pure chance I got to ‘drive’ the same stretch, including some very tricky bridges and passing manoeuvres. It is fascinating to watch ‘learning by doing’ in action and just how effective it is.

Barging About: Llangollen Canal – Day 2

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

Slept peacefully and woke to a field covered in mist and the sun striking the flowering hawthorn. Performed a version of the vertical limbo in the shower and then first duty (after tea-making) nipple greasing, 3 full turns to keep the engine happy!

Fill up the forward water tank (for ballast) and then through our very first lock. A brilliant piece of engineering and ingenuity. Scary how many ways you can c@ck it up!

We reached Ellesmere in baking hot weather, and after a wander round the town wondered why we’d left the peace and beauty of the water!

Barging About: Llangollen Canal – Day 1

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

We set out at 7am, only to discover the M25 was already fouled up, but soon enough we were speeding on our way, enjoying the sunshine. We stopped off at Shrewsbury for lunch and what a fabulous surprise that was, full of beautiful Tudor buildings and all manner of narrow alleyways.

We picked up our home for the next 5 days which was a 50′ steel barge about 7′ wide, weighing approx 20 tons. The boat man spent 30 min telling us how to drive the thing. I can repeat it verbatim “Blahdee bladee bla..“. I hadn’t quite realised my total inability to take on board complex information auditorily. How often in life do we give instructions without finding out whether the other person can understand and retain the information?

Within 5 min of setting off we were crossing Thomas Telford’s famous aqueduct 120′ in the air above the river Dee and the most amazing scenery. Stunning views and an incredible, visionary solution for moving steel and coal out of Wales. We’d never fund it these days.

About half an hour on and we’ve left all the other boats and are pottling along under a green canopy.

Two tunnels later, one 500 yds. long, an amazing achievement before heavy machinery and a huge investment, we moored for the night in splendid isolation (till some numpty decided to join us!). A beautiful curry later and an early night.. Zzzzz

Change lessons from Woody Woodpecker

Sunday, May 27th, 2012

We were in the the woods this morning, and as I mentioned in a previous blog, they now tend to leave dead trees standing or where they fall and this wood seems to have more than its fair share of trees that were damaged in the hurricane or just dead.  This tree has been converted into a series of desirable, multi-story residences by the woodpeckers.  This is a real picture of one of them going in and feeding their young, who tweet loudly (like so many celebs) letting their parents know they are hungry. 

They have taken a piece of rotting wood and used it to shape a secure home and to provide food for their young.  Like they sing in Chitty chitty Bang bang, “From the ashes of disaster, grow the roses of success!”  We can and should learn from our setbacks and build on them, in the end they shape our character and our lives.  It is not what happens to us that measures us but our responses… 

Change comes whether we like it or not (In this case the tree died), and end lead to a new beginning as it inevitably does, and from this death sprung new life. 

Simplicity v Complexity

Friday, May 25th, 2012

I was recently consulting with a client who had sent me a complex and and very detailed agenda for comment.  My initial reaction was confusion, I wasn’t sure what he meant or how the items fitted together.  Part of this was due to lack of familiarity with the details of the project (it had moved on 3 months since I was last involved,) and the rest was it resembled a shopping list of stuff that needed doing. It was thorough and professional and doomed to fail!

To my embarrassment, I felt the only real answer was to tear it up and start again.  I felt like the Irishman, who when asked for directions to Dublin said “If  I was you, I wouldn’t start from here!”   I listed the questions I felt needed answering, such as:-


  1. Where are we?
  2. How do people feel about this venture?
  3. What are the aims and how do we measure success?
  4. Who does what?
  5. What is the timetable?

I met with the client to find that there had been a series of emails questioning such issues, all valid questions, but perhaps more symptomatic of a reluctance to commit rather than from genuine interest.  In sophisticated organisations, people are very skilful at ‘kicking the ball into the long grass’ if they don’t see it as being in their interests.  We dealt with the politics and how to get them on board and he was happy to adopt my suggestions.

There is huge power is simple, open questions, and they provide less places to hide.  If you haven’t got the basics locked down and the players committed then you can’t proceed and expect to make any progress.

What the Gatso can teach us about Change

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

It is 20 years since these yellow Cyclopes were introduced to make our roads a safer place.  Well they have changed the way we drive but what have they achieved?  Roger Reynolds was the policeman in charge of the initial project, and he thinks “It’s a fiasco now”.

The first one was located on the A316, a road I know well.  It has a 40mph limit, but is a fast dual carriageway.  Initially, the cameras were set to only trip at 60mph and to curb the worst excesses.  The initial trial was set up on the Thames bridge and it recorded 22,939 drivers travelling at more than 65mph in 22 days.  The public were happy to support the initiative at this kind of level. 

One camera became 750 in the London area.  In 2000 600,000 motorists were caught, by 2007 it was 1,800,000!  At this level the fines were worth over £100m, and this began to change the focus.  As motorists grew used to them, the fines fell, and in order to maintain the money-flow, the trigger speeds were turned down from 40mph to 32mph!  In one spot on the M11 southbound one camera netted over £500k, but caused more accidents than before!

The public no longer supported this secret tax on motorists and guerrilla groups even began sabotaging them.  In 2007 the grant to local authorities for these cameras was cut and they were quick to realise that their electorate would prefer their taxes to be spent on other things and they were cut back once more.  Mr Reynolds, still believes they are a good safety tool but feels the way they have been used is wrong.

It isn’t enough to have a good tool, you have to use it in the right way if you are going to keep people on your side.  People have an innate sense of fairness and if you go against this you will loose their support.

“It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it..”  Banarama

New from old–a recipe for Change

Monday, May 21st, 2012

This weekend I went to a very unusual concert in the historic setting of Trinity College chapel in Cambridge.  It was part of the early musical festival.  It featured a Norwegian group of singers call Trio Medieval, who played with Arve Henriksen.  They sang largely unaccompanied, apart from Arve.  Their repertoire was based on 12-13th century music, both religious and folk based. 

They sang magnificently but what interested me is that, of course, there are no recordings of how this music sounded all those years ago.  Records of the music are sketchy and the music has been handed down from generation to generation, no doubt changing as it went.  They say that they find freedom in this vagueness and use what they know to as a basis for their music rather than feeling straight-jacketed by tradition. 

Arve, plays a trumpet, but makes sounds with it that sound like anything but a trumpet, using modern technology to further change and modify his sounds.  At times it sounded more like jazz than monastic music. 

The fact is Change is just doing something different with something familiar.  I wasn’t certain whether I would want to hear much more of their music but I was sure I was very pleased to have been there.  It was fascinating to hear something so familiar turned on its head and presented afresh.  If you want to change, forget the rules, just play, explore and see where that leads you.  Rules are just short-cuts but they always lead back to the familiar.

“If I’d observed all the rules, I’d never have got anywhere.”   Marilyn Monroe

“Hell, there are no rules here – we’re trying to accomplish something.”   Thomas A. Edison

What do you do after a disaster?

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

I was walking in the woods this morning to a symphony of birdsong, with the occasional waft of bluebells, and came across this tree, felled by the hurricane in 1987. It was left to its own devices lying in this valley. Did it wither and die, did it lay there and think “My purpose is done… It’s all over!”? Apparently not! It’s roots were still functioning, and it began to grow once more, not just a single trunk but a veritable thicket.

Life deals us rough blows, in much the same way as the weather does, and we have a choice, adapt and grow or wither and die. I am on my way to a funeral today, the church will be filled with many living bodies and one dead one. I can choose where I focus. Two years ago I faced just this choice and despite being buffeted and blown over, I’m glad I chose to move on and am just beginning to see those fresh green leaves bursting forth.

“There are two mistakes one can make along the road to truth…not going all the way, and not starting.”   Buddha

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”  Seneca

Seeing what is (and isn’t) there…

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

I was in reflective mood this morning, so I went for a stroll.  The birds were singing gloriously and the squirrels were chittering angry at me for crashing their party.  I looked up at the clouds and I have truly never seen such 3D images.  They seemed to be an advancing armada of space craft, at least to me.  There is a long history of people looking skywards and seeing patterns, pictures and portents in both the clouds and the stars.

Then it occurred to me that we do much the same thing with other people’s actions and words.  We see, or think we see something and we interpret it, often in a self-referential way, so that the story pivots about us and how it impacts us.  As a race, and as a species, we have got quite good at interpreting signs and nuance, but an awful lot of the time we are just plain wrong.  We see a person grimace when they look our way and think they don’t like us or are angry but don’t know that they have a back problem. 

We can’t stop making these interpretations, it is part of our nature to do so, and to scan our environment for threats, but how often has someone close to you said something like “I know you are cross with me”, when you are neither cross nor even thinking about them?  If we can’t stop drawing conclusions from incomplete data the least we need to do is to check our assumptions, in an open, non-accusatory way, by saying something like “How are you feeling?” or “What are you thinking?”, simple open questions.  This can help avoid an awful lot of hurt and needless upset, and in business, can prevent wasted energy and poor decisions.

“All meanings, we know, depend on the key of interpretation.”  George Eliot

“All things are subject to interpretation whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth.”   Friedrich Nietzsche