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As you are aware Change is all about people, and it starts with us. This is an exploration of some of the ideas and issues that I've encountered along the way. I've created this also to enable a dialogue to begin around this subject and hopefully produce a forum where we can all learn something.

Lessons from the Ceredigion Way–part 2

June 5th, 2014

20140514_124117 1

Whilst we were walking the Ceredigion Way, we learnt that it wasn’t a stroll along the beach, rather a series of seemingly endless ups and downs.  It was hard to decide which was harder, climbing the blooming hills or descending them, down steps that were all the wrong sizes or paths covered with shale, whilst your toes banged into the front of your boots. 

When climbing you needed to motivate yourself to keep going and would look up and go “It’s not far to the top..”, however, more often than not, that wasn’t, in fact, the top!  You’d arrive at the point you had seen only to find there was another ‘top’ another 100 yards on, then another and so on.  I can’t tell if this was heart-breaking or if, had one known at the outset how steep it was, one might have just not bothered!  The truth is probably both.

It made me think… in business, or sport, or just Life-in-general, one never really knows when you are ‘at the top’.  You might think you are and take your foot off the gas, only to discover that you have either been overtaken or that there was another player you were unaware of who is in fact better. 

The other thing that happened, luckily on the last day, was that we lost our maps.  The thing is, we had to use other means to find our path.  Again, in a Change program, you might find yourself ‘off the map’, and you need to find a way to get where you need to be.  You have to review the resources that you have and find an alternative strategy.  The journey will never work out exactly as you expected and you will always have to change, not just yourselves, but your plans too, and if not the destination, perhaps just how you find it.

How do you cut down a massive hedge?

June 2nd, 2014

20140602_151332We have lived here 20 years and the hedge in front was tall when we arrived, with a mixture of trees and other plants.  We always felt hidden behind our green wall and that was never really an issue.  However, as trees and plants are wont to do, they grew… and grew.  Every year I cut them back, but probably left it too long to try and stop them going up.  It now really feels a bit much and I’d love to be able to control it a bit more easily and my neighbours would like it a little lower too.

20140602_151345So, how do you approach a huge task like this…?  I discovered there are only two answers really.  Either you get in a tree surgeon (and they seem remarkably difficult to engage) or you do it yourself, one branch at a time.  It might seem a statement of the bl**ding obvious, but what seems overwhelming as a whole, can be reduced to a series of snips, each one of which makes the next one easier to see and do.

This is not so very different from a big change project.  When clients ask where they should start, I usually say that it really doesn’t matter what is important is starting.  That builds momentum and enables you to get a better feel for what is the next step.  The secret is having begun, keep snipping. 

The comeback Quins

June 1st, 2014

Easter rugbyRegular readers will know I am a keen rugby fan.  My team, the Harlequins, have had a difficult season.  Two years ago, they won the Aviva Premiership for the first time, last year they needed to prove it wasn’t a one-off and that they were genuine top four contenders.  They made it to the semi-finals and lost to Leicester, but they did win two other trophies.  This season we managed top four for a fair while, and certainly people were considering us a top team, but in the middle of the season we where hit with all manner of injuries and frankly we just weren’t playing awfully well; lots of silly mistakes and attempts at ‘forcing the game’ (in other words, just trying too hard.)  We were also hit hard by losing a number of our key players (Care, Brown, Robshaw, & Marler) to England during the 6 Nations.

However, in March, once they returned, we seemed to get our act together and there followed a series of narrow wins, but wins none-the-less.  The coach, Conor O’Shea, said that as we needed to win every single game in order to qualify for the play-offs, that we needed to play each game as if it were a cup final.  The first of these was a game against Sale, one place below us and another contender for top four; it was a ‘must win’ game.  We went there and, against all odds, beat them.  There followed a series on do-or-die games which we won till, the last one, against Bath, above us in the table but if we won, we qualified.  Astonishingly…. we did it!

The attitude and spirit of the players, their self belief and commitment enabled them to perform at a level that defied all pundits.  Being able to engage people in this way and evoking this kind of performance is what a real leader does.  He shows belief in them and encourages them to face their fears, and cast them aside and allows them to express themselves.

The story doesn’t end in a fairy tale way, as despite playing out of our skins for 40 minutes and going in at half time ahead, we succumbed to Saracens on Saturday, but it was still such a strong expression of passion and skill that no one can feel badly about it.

Thought for the day

May 31st, 2014

I was today reminded of something I’d not considered for a while. We all encounter people in our lives we find particularly hard to handle.  They are often either people at work or within our families.  A moments reflection will quickly identify those you often moan about.  The thing is,  quite often, (and this is an uncomfortable thought) it is because they are reflecting something within ourselves …. They are in fact mirrors.

If I think back to playground squabbles,  people I fought with quite often ended as friends for this very reason.   We tend to feel comfy with people who are like us.

Maybe there is a better way of dealing with them?

It’s the future

May 29th, 2014

About 10 or 15 years ago I said to my wife that I could not understand why the government was not investing in projects for car design that were just big enough for one or two people and had tiny engines.  These cars would be allowed to use a special lane, and you could get 2-4 of them in the space one car took up.  The same for parking, special bays and rates.  These could then have cheap insurance and tax to encourage use by commuters.  Surprise, surprise, they never did that…  but yesterday it was announced that Google stole my idea and improved on it!

Google-Self-DrivingThey have announced driverless cars, presumably electric.  So no pollution, and you can work or play on the way to work.  In fact they can take junior to school and your daughter to ballet class too.  They won’t need parking as they will just pick up the next person.  You won’t buy them, just use them like taxis.  So pollution and congestion are both radically improved.  Presumably they are also quiet, so less noise in our environment.  They have the potential to transform our cities, our lives and the economy.

It wasn’t announced but you can bet your bippy that they will also be connected and encouraging you to browse the web and consume Goggle adverts and online services whilst you are chauffeured to your destination.  This is the kind of visionary change that has the potential to change lives, and Goggle has deep enough pockets to explore its potential.

This may or may not work out like this but there is no denying it is a bold move, imagining a different future and then pursuing it.  Most of us don’t have Goggle’s resources but we do have to take the time to imagine how we can invent a different and better future and then invest our efforts in reeling that in. 


  1. Telegraph

If you build it, they will come…

May 25th, 2014


My partner is a beekeeper (a sad but honest confession) and last year like many others her hive died. It stood vacant and cold through the winter and she resolved to get some more bees this spring. She even donned her beekeeping suit and rushed off to gather a swarm that was terrorising a young mother with a baby…

Last week we were away and came back to find that a swarm had found her empty hive and made themselves at home. It only goes to show that sometimes, all you need to do is provide the right environment and the results will ‘spontaneously’ manifest!

The converse is true too. Don’t tell people you want to run a tight ship and provide a professional service then put them in a dump of an office without adequate resources. People will mirror how you treat them usually.  Provide the right kind of environment and you are much more likely to get the right results.  Think of examples like Google and Apple…

Lessons from the Ceredigion Way–part 1

May 19th, 2014

20140516_the last hill

This was the final hill down into Aberystwyth, and this picture doesn’t do justice to just how steep it was!  We had just finished the walk from Cardigan along the Ceredigion Way.  It was unbelievably beautiful and if you like walking I can certainly recommend it. 

We learnt a lot about the local flora and fauna; it was an amazing show of spring flowers including, to my surprise, drifts of clifftop bluebells (in Surrey, they only grow in the woods), gorse, thrift and even orchids.  We saw over 30 species of birds.

However, it made me think a bit about work and leadership too.  The first two days were magnificent, but having walked a marathon and climbed over 9,000 ft carrying heavy packs we were pretty tired.  We thought about the prospect of yomping off first thing on the third day and it didn’t feel either fun or ‘on purpose’; it was, after all, meant to be a holiday!  So we decided that if we wanted to finish the whole thing and enjoy it, we’d give ourselves a bit of recovery time and catch the bus to Aberaeron and cut the day short by about 5 miles or so.  It might seem like a ‘cheat’, but it was a really smart decision.  It meant we enjoyed the day, and as we slogged the final mile and a half all uphill to the B&B, we were mighty glad we had! 

The thing is that the object of the holiday was to enjoy it and return refreshed, not knackered!  Sometimes one has to change one’s plans when you learn new information.  Plans are great for guidance, but you often (like us) don’t know what you don’t know.  Change is a journey, and you have to be prepared to change your plans as you learn.  You might even discover that you need to alter your destination, adapt and survive!

The moral of the story is… Look for the 18th horse

April 27th, 2014

Moral-of-the-Story-300x237My brother Quentin, shared this story with me and I thought it worth sharing:-

“A farmer died leaving his 17 horses to his three sons.

When his sons opened up the Will it read:

My eldest son should get 1/2 (half) of total horses;
My middle son should be given 1/3rd (one-third) of the total horses;
My youngest son should be given 1/9th (one-ninth) of the total horses.
For those of you paying attention…… ½ of 17 = 8.5 horses, 1/3 of 17 = 5.66 horses, 1/9 of 17 = 1.88 horses = for a grand total of 16.04 horses

As it’s impossible to divide 17 into half or 17 by 3 or 17 by 9, the three sons started to fight with each other.
So, they decided to go to a farmer friend who they considered quite smart, to see if he could work it out for them.

The farmer friend read the Will patiently, after giving due thought, he brought one of his own horses over and added it to the 17.
That increased the total to 18 horses.

Now, he divided the horses according to their fathers Will.

1/2 of 18 = 9. So he gave the eldest son 9 horses.
1/3rd of 18 = 6. So he gave the middle son 6 horses.
1/9th of 18 = 2. So he gave the youngest son 2 horses.

Now add up how many horses they have:
Eldest son…9 which is more than the 8.50 that the father intended
Middle son…6 which is more than the 5.66 that the father intended
Youngest…2 which is more than the 1.88 that the father intended

Now this leaves one horse over, so the farmer friend takes his horse back to his farm.
Problem Solved!

The attitude of negotiation and problem solving is to find the 18th horse i.e. the common ground.
Once a person is able to find the 18th horse the issue is resolved. It is difficult at times.
However, to reach a solution, the first step is to believe that there is a solution.
If we think that there is no solution, we won’t be able to reach any!”

I’d take this a step further and say that you not only have to believe there is a solution but also that it is worth finding.  The solution has to be a win:win one otherwise it will only be temporary.  This means that you have to value the relationship and or person enough to keep exploring until there is one that works for both parties.  One barrier to finding a solution, is if you are invested in the current situation or impasse.  We have all met people who are martyrs and need to have a reason why their lives suck, or people who need someone to blame for their failures.  Sometimes, the 18th horse has to be looked for and isn’t necessarily brought round by some friendly neighbour.  However, one ‘trick’ is recognising the value of friendly ‘neighbours’ and making it clear that you would value some input, perspective and assistance.

I’d be interested in your examples of finding the 18th horse, so please do share them.

Round the World…

April 16th, 2014

round the world 2Tomorrow my daughter returns from a 5 month long trip round the world.  She has been not just to places that she has never been before but also places nothing like anywhere that she has been before.  She has lived with different people in a different way; eaten strange foods and has had to get used doing without things she’d have taken for granted and been surrounded by all sorts of strange smells and sounds.  So she will arrive back home a changed person, and no doubt home will seem different from the place she remembered and the place that she left.  When she picks up her life, no doubt it will proceed differently as a result of these experiences.

This has a bearing on the change project you are working on or about to embark on.  If you are always deep in the middle of it you will be limited in what you can see and do.  This an area where an outside perspective can be helpful.  However, another tactic is to go back to a challenge you have shelved or half done with the benefit of more perspective.  This can be achieved also by rotating your teams between projects.  Things which where impossible before might now be do’able, and people and priorities change.

Phileas Fogg gained a day as he raced round the world in 80 days, time isn’t the only thing that changes when you go away and revisit something.  Maybe now is the time to dust off some old projects or issues and revisit them?

Some challenges are just a bit harder

April 2nd, 2014

The_Limbless_Mountaineer__One_man_scales_The_Matterhorn_with_no_hands_and_no_feetThey say / sing “Climb every mountain..” but perhaps you aren’t supposed to follow this advice if you happen to be a quadriplegic like Jamie Andrews.  15 years after losing his arms and legs through frostbite whilst climbing Mont Blanc, he decided to climb the Matterhorn, a mountain that is considered challenging to anyone.

I was listening to him discuss this today and was struck by his explanation of how he did this.  He said something along the lines of ‘Yes, it was a bit daunting but like all big challenges, you just break it down in to smaller steps’.  The thing is that many people and businesses want to make a change but it can seem so tough or so big that they don’t know where to start.  The thing to do is having established where you want to get to, is to start moving in that direction.  It is a cliché to say that the longest journey starts with the first step, but it is none-the-less true.  The trick is to keep on walking in that direction.  You will never know all the answers before you set off, nor  will you even know every difficulty that you will face.  You simply have to begin and knock down each obstacle as it comes along.

No matter what problem you are facing, it hardly likely to be bigger than Jamie’s, so perhaps it is time for you to set off too…

You can follow his journey.on Channel 5 on 4th April at 9pm.


  1. BBC