Archive for July, 2015

Small talk is a big deal

Monday, July 27th, 2015

We are all guilty of dismissing small talk as a waste of time and I know I’m not the only one who has loudly declaimed how much I hate it.  However, a little more thought and study shows that far from being a waste of time, it is a vital piece of social glue.  Think about monkeys and their mutual grooming routines, these build trust and interdependence.  The thing is we are never going to reveal our secret heart to a total stranger (at least not without a significant amount of alcohol first!)  Think about it, the first thing you want to know about a stranger is what are they like, or more importantly, are they like us?  Do they come from the same ‘tribe’ or background?  We explore to discover if we have the common ground or history we can build a relationship on.  So what happens first is a series of relatively bland questions that create a space which we invite the other to step into.  Think of it like a dance, we each take a turn around the floor and then make space for the other person to follow suit. 

I found it interesting when researching this to discover that people who study this kind of thing have categorised (and ranked) our communication on a scale according to the amount of task related (or ‘real’ content) it carries, thereby dismissing all else as ‘small’ talk.  Feminists have described this as patriarchal disrespect for the important and more female task of building relationships and maintaining harmony.  This kind of language is now referred to by sociolinguistists ‘social language’.

I have often noticed when attending networking meetings, that once I have ‘bumped into’ someone more than about 3 times, I tend to think of them as someone I know and feel warmer towards them; they are a safe, friendly face in a sea of strangers.  Familiarity (and the absence of negative experiences) tends to breed trust.  This then opens the door to a more substantial exchange of ideas and stories.  In other words, you have to earn the right to share and build a relationship and ‘small’ talk is the entrance fee we pay.

So next time you are feeling like it is a waste of your time, think of it a token down-payment on a new relationship.

Bending the rules?

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015

Yesterday it came to light that Toshiba had been cooking the books to the tune of £780m and as a result the CEO & Chairman were forced to resign.  They are not the first Japanese company to run into trouble after the global financial crisis earthquake in Japan, Olympus also had problems.  It seems that failure was a loss of face and therefore unthinkable, and rather than change what they were doing, and admitting it wasn’t working, they decided it was easier to ‘adjust reality’.  I have written before about company culture and the importance of being able to admit to mistakes and learning from them.  History teaches us that the most successful companies constantly try new things and some of these are bound not to work. Think of all the mini-projects and services that Google launches and then pulls the plug on such as Google glass.  If it isn’t safe to admit that you have failed then inevitably people will lie, attack and cover-up the truth.  This is a failure to create the right culture rather than just a business failure.

Change is always frightening but it starts from a place of admitting we want more or we want something different.  If we can’t say this then all we can do is stay on the rails and inevitably the light ahead is an oncoming train…

The story of OK…

Monday, July 20th, 2015

I wonder if, like me, you have ever wondered what the word OK actually means and where it comes from?  Or whether you ever tried to find the answer to these questions…?  I never succeeded until now and as a little favour to other lovers of words, here is the story of Ok.

As a little aside, isn’t interesting how we use this word as social lubrication and how often people use it to mean the very opposite.  We have all been there when we asked someone “What’s the matter?” and got the response “I’m okay…” when it was patently clear that they weren’t.  However, what we do with this insight is a dependent on all sorts of things like how much time do we have, where are we, what is our relationship with the person, what we are trying to achieve and many other issues.  This simple phrase allows us to hide or escape under the guise of coping when we are struggling, or ignore this in another if we feel unable or disinclined to help.

Two little letters that have a versatility and utility that even transcends English and works almost anywhere.

TomTom Go510 Review

Monday, July 13th, 2015

I have owned a TomTom since I bought the very first Go, about 15 or so years ago.  I have had at least three of them, each better than the last and I recently upgraded to the newest version to Go 510.  So you understand your options available, this is an incremental upgrade on last year’s 500, incremental but significantly better.  The 5 refers to the screen size of 5”, so you can also buy the 610 which is an inch bigger, but most feel this is a little too big.  There is also the 5100 & 6100 which are the models with a built in sim for data, rather than relying on your phone’s data connection.  I chose the 510 as I don’t use it every day and don’t take it abroad often.  The only downside is you have to ensure you have bluetooth tethering enabled on your phone to enable it to connect to the device.  You use this connection for searching the net and getting traffic updates.  You can use it as a basic GPS with no connection.

I didn’t buy last year’s 500 model because it didn’t allow you to upload your own POI (Points of Interest) files, which I used to upload things like speed cameras.  You can upload them on the 510, but you no longer have the ability to have the TomTom warn you when you are approaching them so for my purpose this isn’t a big improvement.  The new range of satnav has had a radical overhaul of its interface.  I knew the old one inside out, and used most of it.  They have stripped away options than most folks didn’t use and streamlined the whole thing.  They have removed the ability to pair your phone and use the TomTom as an in-car bluetooth.  I didn’t need this, so I’m not fussed.

Initially I was a bit flummoxed at how to make it work, it really is different.  However, once I twigged it, I started to see the benefit.  The on-screen interface is much clearer.  You have much more and better information about what is coming up.  On a recent journey up the M1, it told us just how long the 50mph restriction would last, what our average speed in the average-speed camera controlled zone was, and when we would encounter the next one.  It managed my expectations beautifully, just like a good management consultant. 

The other key part of this deal which made it irresistible for me was that now instead of getting a free year of traffic data, which is invaluable and accurate, then having to pay £40 pa, you get free, lifetime traffic information, plus, instead of just covering Europe you get the world version, maps are updated free for the lifetime of the device and free traffic cameras (which used to be £20 or more).  I paid £40 to upgrade my maps after 3 years use so these represent real savings, and over the life time of the device, mean the upgrade is almost zero for me. 

It genuinely changes the way I drive and is, in my opinion, hands down the best you can buy, and only £169.  I traded in a very old one at Halfords and got an amazing 20% off.  I also have no doubt it suits me much better than using my phone even with the TomTom app on it.

Handy Hint:  In order to link with your phone you have to enable a mobile hotspot and bluetooth tethering.  In order to avoid having to do this each time you get into the car, use the app Trigger.  I have set it up so that as soon as it connects with the car bluetooth system, the tethering is turned on and then off when it is disconnected.

Are you a Guitar Star?

Monday, July 6th, 2015

I tuned into Sky Arts talent show today called ‘Guitar Star’, and it knocked my socks off.  I guess if you are auditioning on TV, you have already beaten many other people just to win your moment in the sunshine, so we know they will be good.  The thing that slightly shocked me was just how good they were.  There were 12 year olds I’d pay good money to listen to. 

It is wonderful to live in a world so brim full of talent and potential.  The thing we need to ask ourselves is what talents are lying fallow both around us and within us?  These guitarists are ‘ordinary’ people you may have working in your office or living next to.  Clearly they are a self-selected group who have dedicated themselves to their art, but at one point they needed help and guidance.  What can you do to help those around you grow?  That is one of the key jobs of a leader.  What better gift can you give someone other than the chance to become the person they dreamed of?

Another thought, is what dreams lurk within you that if nurtured, if allowed to grow might take you to somewhere new?  And what are you going to do about that…?

Profits v Growth

Thursday, July 2nd, 2015

W150519_MERRIFIELD_PROFITSVSGROWTHI came across and interesting article in the Harvard Business Review, comparing and contrasting the strategies of Microsoft and Amazon.  The former was the gold standard tech company for decades due to the success of their Windows operating system and Office products which were the de facto standards for businesses round the world.  You don’t need too long a memory to remember when Apple were just a tiddler compared to Gates’ baby.  However, there is a theory that their very success has prevented them changing direction quickly enough and thus handing over the baton to Apple who saw and seized the mobile market years before Microsoft tried to get in on the action.  They invented a machine that just made money and they kept feeding it.  It is only now that they have a new CEO that they have begun to change direction, and it looks like Windows 10 will be a much more successful than it’s ill fated predecessor, Windows 8. 

By contrast, another US giant, Amazon, has pursued Growth, and is yet to make a profit, but it believes its momentum will carry it forward and it can be seen that they have been bold in introducing new goods and services and I’m afraid I am one of the many who just keeps using them. 

The argument goes that because Microsoft had so much to lose its strategy was all about protecting the status quo, and thus losing sight of their dynamic roots which gave birth to their golden geese.  Meanwhile Amazon stays much more entrepreneurial, and truer to their vision. 

The lesson is that once you stop changing, and driving change, you are bound to be overtaken by it!


  1. HBR