Archive for June, 2012

Canine blogging

Saturday, June 16th, 2012

A friend’s son was saying yesterday, that on walking their dog, she had insisted on stopping every 30 yds to investigate every lamp post and leave frequent little doggie messages. This put me in mind of yesterday’s blog about Neanderthals where I was suggesting their cave painting was the equivalent of blogging. It seems to me that this canine behaviour is exactly the same, each dog needing to communicate, to both pick up and leave messages, almost like tweeting. So perhaps the need to communicate and broadcast our thoughts is far deeper than one might think…?

Were Neanderthals the first bloggers?

Friday, June 15th, 2012

I was reading a story today about the fact that they have just proved that these cave paintings are over 41,000 years old, which is 15,000 years older than previously thought.  This means that they could have been done by either homo sapiens or Neanderthals.  Apparently, cave painting didn’t start till early man made it to Europe, and it is considered this maybe due to the social interactions of the time.  In other words, even back then, our ancestors might have felt the need to record their thoughts and feelings to share with their fellows.  Admittedly a cave wall is a little slower than broadband but I doubt my blogs, or many others, will have the longevity of this first ‘blog’.

The need for self expression goes very deep and it is important in any project to try to allow the people who it affects to have some capacity for this as it promotes ownership and lowers resistance.  It is the equivalent of the potted plant on the desk or the poster on the wall.  It turns neutral or alien space in something that they own.

“The desire for self-expression afflicts people when they feel there is something of themselves which is not getting through to the outside world.”   Fay Weldon
”My interest lies in my self-expression — what’s inside of me”   John Turturro

Penguins and The Power of Perception

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

Sometimes the most important thing to change is how people perceive  something.  We all label things and that label dictates how we respond to them; good or bad, hard or easy, important or trivial.  As a leader, one of the key things to do is to get people to see things the way that you do.  In yesterday’s blog one of Mark Evan’s main challenges was to get the local community to see the Quins as their team, not a bunch of toffs making a noise on their doorsteps.

Last year Hollywood made several very successful films about penguins, Happy Feet & March of the Penguins especially, where much lauded as models of love and especially monogamy.

I came across an incredible story yesterday that challenges this perspective.  Apparently the discoveries of Captain Scott’s expedition a 100 years ago were so shocking they were kept under lock and key and written up in Greek, least commoners were lead astray!  Apparently the behaviour of the Adélie penguins was so appalling, they indulged in not only homosexuality but necrophilia and rape!  Dr Levick, an expedition member wrote a pamphlet describing what he found which was only recently uncovered by Douglas Russell, curator of birds at the Natural History Museum, who said:

 “The pamphlet, declined for publication with the official Scott expedition reports, commented on the frequency of sexual activity, auto-erotic behaviour, and seemingly aberrant behaviour of young unpaired males and females, including necrophilia, sexual coercion, sexual and physical abuse of chicks and homosexual behaviour,” states the analysis written by Russell and colleagues William Sladen and David Ainley. “His observations were, however, accurate, valid and, with the benefit of hindsight, deserving of publication.”

So two perceptions literally poles apart, one controlled by withholding information and the other with all the power of the Hollywood glitz.  Communication and perception are often the key to Change



  1. The full story in the Guardian

Change Lessons from Harlequins – Mark Evans ex-CEO

Monday, June 11th, 2012

As a Change professional, and a keen rugby fan I have been fascinated by the journey Harlequins Rugby club have been on for the last 10 years  or so.  Of course, now Harlequins are the premiership champions and have provided 9 players to the latest England squad currently touring South Africa, both the press and commentators have been talking about their  phoenix-like rise from relegation to the championship in 2005 and the ‘Bloodgate’ debacle in 2009.)  It is a great story but I knew it couldn’t have been that simple and wanted to understand a bit about the hard work and journey behind this ‘overnight’ transformation… that took 10 years hard graft!  So I went to talk to Mark Evans, who was the man with his hand on the tiller.

In the days of amateur rugby, the Quins were a pretty successful club, who drew their players, from all over the country, but who largely worked in the city, and had a reputation for being rather ‘posh’.  However, once the professional era came, their systems simply didn’t support success in the new era.  A club that drew a crowd of a little over two thousand, simply couldn’t afford the players they needed to win.

Mark arrived with a very clear view of what needed doing:-

  1. Start to change the ethos and perception (2000)
  2. Begin to build a youth development programme which eventually became the Academy which a decade on  produced 12 players of the Premiership Final  squad of 23 (2001)
  3. Begin an outreach programme to local clubs across the region rather than schools to drive crowds to make club bankable. (2001)
  4. Build a new stand (there were three built in total, between 2003 and 2010) so capacity went up in stages.
  5. Increase the playing budget (from 2006)
  6. Secure a new training ground (2010)

Interestingly, throughout his 11 year tenure, he did no more than tweak this strategy.  He was able to depend on the support and understanding of the club owners to weather the storms on this long journey.  He realised that there was a possibility that, en route to success, the club might get relegated but saw this as a bump in the road.  When you recognise that this kind of thing might happen, you don’t need to panic when it does.

Over the years that I’ve been going to watch them, which happens to pretty much coincided with Mark’s time at the top, I’ve seen two (of the the three) new stands built.  The ground has a capacity of around 15,000 and regularly gets gates of over 12,500, and on this championship run, has often been sold out.  There is a policy which involves local schools.  They can also now fill Twickenham (82,000) for their Xmas holiday game and, together with Saracens, this year they claimed a record for the biggest club game in the world of 83,761 at Wembley (I was there too!)  So support, and therefore revenue was ticked off Mark’s list.

They now have a state of the art training ground at the Surrey Sports Park in Guildford and an academy that is producing a crop of fabulous young players.

From my perspective this is an unusual story because it was driven from a single plan by one man, supported by the key stakeholders.  He was fortunate in that he arrived at the right time, and the need for change was clear for all to see.

He also has a very pragmatic view about how success should be measured.  There are the very clear measures I laid out above, but he also recognises that whilst fans measure success in cups won, in  knock-out competitions, you can’t expect to win cups every year.  What you can do, is to expect to be challenging for them in the knockout stages, as Leicester have done, competing in 8 consecutive premiership finals! 

I asked him why he left when he did and he had a similarly clear answer to that.  He recognises that people have different strengths and the kind of person that is really good at transformation, is not necessarily the right man for the next stage of the journey, which is a much more ‘steady as she goes’ kind of phase. 

Mark made it clear that this was not something he did on his own but the result of a lot of hear work from a lot of people, including Tony Copsey, Dean Richards, Richard Varney, Jon Salinger, Jenny Winstanley, Laura Oakes, Julian Gent, John Kingston, Tony Russ, Tony Diprose, Collin Osborne, Anne McCarthy, Conor O Shea and the ever present FD John Dingle (and I’m sure many others including the squad of players!)

I’m hoping to bring you other perspectives on this journey from others involved in it over the coming weeks


  1. Telegraph story: Also rans to contenders
  2. Wikipedia: the Quins

Business lessons from Rock Gods?

Saturday, June 9th, 2012

Apparently the latest corporate ‘thing’ to try and make training sexy, is lessons from former rock stars such as Ian Gillian, from Deep Purple, and Bernie Tormé, from Ozzy Osourne’s band.  I know that the likes of (sir) Mick Jagger & Gene Simmonds have shrewd business brains.  Peter Cook, an MBA graduate and author, runs these events and is apparently held in some regard by business academics.

His top tips are:

  1. Walk on the Wild Side Encourage mavericks if you want new things to happen.
  2. Reasons to Be Cheerful Staff like being listened to, doing things that count and feedback.
  3. I Can’t Control Myself Creativity without discipline rarely leads to innovation.
  4. I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For Strategy is a process of continuous learning. If you stop, you may disappear.
  5. I Fought the Law You can have a good argument with colleagues, but once it’s settled, move on, don’t harbour grudges.

I can’t say I find much new here, but they are worth remembering… I guess my main interest is that we can all learn from any source if we look with the right eyes and stay open.  There is a huge tendency to look upwards and inwards, when I find looking out and sometimes down is so much more revealing


Vodafone & O2 finally cooperate over 4g network

Friday, June 8th, 2012

As predicted on this blog 3 years ago, today Vodafone and Telefónica UK (O2’s owner) announced their plans to jointly roll out a shared 4G network.  Vodafone will run the masts on the west of the country and O2 those on the east.  It should mean a 40% increase in sites for each operator, and directly benefit the users.

The cost of creating this new platform has forced two huge companies to change the way they operate and reframe their view of the market.


  1. Full story

The Power of asking for what you want

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

I took my son to the cinema yesterday.  We had a good time, saw a great movie, but on coming out he discovered that his best trousers were covered with chewing gum.  He was understandably upset but going to walk out of the cinema.  I said “Wait a minute..” and went up to the first cinema employee I could see.  I explained the situation, and he was polite, apologetic and efficient.  They had a procedure for dealing with this and all he had to do was take it to the dry cleaners, and if that didn’t work, they would replace them…  Simple and easy. 

He said that he felt awkward and anxious about speaking out, and yet it couldn’t have been easier.  He was avoiding a confrontation that didn’t exist.  I explained to him that it was important to tell people what you want, especially if you are paying them for something.  If they get unpleasant, you have a choice whether the issue is worth fighting for or not, but always, always tell them what it takes to make you happy.

A few days ago I wanted to write the story behind Harlequins amazing success this season after having been relegated a few years ago, and needed access to the people who were behind it.  I reached out and asked a few people and am meeting one of the key people on Monday.  Today, I was talking to the technical support of our router supplier and they wanted me to send it back to them (at my cost).  I said that wasn’t the kind of service I expected from a firm like theirs and they then offered to send out a replacement immediately, with a prepaid envelope…Simples!

We often seek to avoid conflict unnecessarily and end up feeling resentment without even letting them know we have an issue.  If you are asked “Is everything alright?”  and you offer a bland “Fine..”, what can you expect if they believe you? 

“We are Divine enough to ask and we are important enough to receive.”   Wayne Dyer

“First ask yourself: What is the worst that can happen? Then prepare to accept it. Then proceed to improve on the worst.”  Dale Carnegie

The end of the holiday–Bodnant and the Lakes

Monday, June 4th, 2012

I’d always heard of the laburnum arch,and wanted to see it, but never knew where it was; it turns out that it is in Bodnant Gardens which are in the Conwy Valley in north Wales, about an hour from where we were.   It was so worth the trip.  The drive through the Dee valley was lovely and Bodnant is the best garden I’ve ever seen.

The following day we were in the Lakes, I think my favourite place to be.  We went to Derwent water and walked from there to Ashness Bridge and Walla Crag.  From the top we had a wonderful view of the lake and Basenthwaite beyond.

On day two we trekked from Ashness to Watendlath, via Dock Tarn to Stoneybrook and Rosenthwaite to Grange.  It was fabulous.  As we got creative with our route, en route, we had to improvise getting home.  This involved climbing the hill behind Lodore Falls (which was reasonably steep) and hoping we’d reached the road home, which was on the other side of that hill.  When we thought we had got to the top, we discovered that well known Lake District phenomenon, of ‘the wandering peak’.  You think you have reached the top, and somehow it’s not there.  Where the road should be, there was just more woods.  We soldiered on… and on… and on!  We’d just hit the point of wondering if we had got it very wrong (and wondering how that was possible!) when I spotted a footbridge that I thought was on the map.  Then we saw people!  Then a sign but somehow none of the three options it offered were right.  We were just about to get upset when we heard a car… then saw it and it was a mere 20 yards above our heads.  The path was utterly invisible till you were almost on it.  I’m constantly surprised by how often not only when walking, but also in business how you can be 98% of the way there but still can’t see that one final, crucial step…  It is oh so easy when you know the way and almost impossible till you ‘get it’!

Barging About: Llangollen Canal – Day 4

Friday, June 1st, 2012

Our final day started by re-crossing the aqueduct, we were now seasoned old hands. Only the day before the Olympic torch crossed it on a barge drawn by 3 men, how weird is that!?

We then boated uphill(!) all the way to Llangollen, and not only is that strange, but very hard work. The water tears down a narrow channel at only 1 mph less than we can move forward at. Still it was worth it.

We walked up the final stretch (motor barges not allowed) to the start of the canal where it springs from the river Dee at the Horseshoe falls. The canal was all very pretty but not a patch on the natural beauty of the river as it tumbled over the rocks.