Reality check II

As I have blogged before, in a few weeks time I’m running in a 10k race and so I went for a run outside today and achieved my objective: completion in less than an hour. Provided that I keep up the training regime from Amy, I now have a positive mental belief that I can complete the course and in a time with which I’ll be happy.

The first mile was hard going while my legs warmed up, and when I got to the four mile mark I knew I was going to finish. Having run the distance I know that I can run the distance – it will just be down to preparation, timing, and how the day goes.

But why do I mention this again so soon? Early this afternoon I was feeling pretty good – and then I had a telephone call. Continue reading


Teambuilding – suddenly it all went right

Tuckman's group development stages

I spent last week in a hotel chairing a series of design workshops.  I don’t know much about the detailed design, but I had to be there to sponsor – and to make a decision if there was impasse or argument.

Because I didn’t know enough to take a hugely active part, I brought together an international team of users, techies, and the software suppliers.  At the end of the week we had completed everything we set out to do, and all participants thanked me for a well run, focussed, and successful week.  I just ran it as I would want someone else to run it if I were a participant, so on this Saturday afternoon I’m reviewing what I did that made the week successful: Continue reading

Give me your lunch money

Magna Carta

I never had anyone try to take my lunch money but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have an opinion: bullying is fundamentally wrong.  In a civilised society we view making an unreasonable demand as, well, unreasonable, possibly as they usually have an unpalatable attached threat.

My original example may be restated as “give me your lunch money or I’ll hurt you” – a demand with a threatening alternative – the victim has to pay up, fight, or face violence (and the probable loss of the lunch money anyway).  When we grow up the law intervenes and the same example might be considered as “demanding money with menaces”, and with a different threat could become blackmail.

But as adults in a reasonable and fair society we have recourse to the police and the courts: protection from the former and societal punishment to the wrongdoer from the latter.  We have a reasonable framework where we are (in most cases) innocent until proven guilty, if necessary by a jury of our peers – a right which has been enshrined in our laws since the 12th of June, 1215.

But a news story today caused me to ask the question: is this right? One of our citizens is being extradited without any court hearing in the UK. A foreign government has said “we want him” and we have meekly said “ok”.  And we’ve done this because we agreed to a treaty in 2003.  It’s not even as if the treaty is reciprocal.

This isn’t the first such case and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

I don’t know why we (the UK) signed the treaty, but I believe that it is fundamentally flawed.  There’s no equivalent treaty with any other countries, and indeed France will never hand over any of its citizens for extradition. I don’t blame the Americans for using the treaty – but I do think our politicians got it wrong and need to stand up for themselves and seek reciprocity.  If we don’t then I am ashamed to say that we are the weak kid in the playground.

(Image from Wikipedia and is not subject to copyright.)

The perils of trusting the locals

This week we’ve had some overseas colleagues with us – some well travelled and savvy, others perhaps less streetwise.  There are a couple of things that have happened which have given us all a few moments of mirth and which are worth sharing:

Strange meal choices

The following have all been seen this week – judge for yourselves whether the choices made were reasonable and the decisions sane:

  • beef bourginon, roast potatoes, and chocolate gateau (all on the same plate)
  • scrambled eggs, fried eggs, hash browns, danish pastry, and tinned sliced peaches (again, all on the same plate)
  • scrambled eggs, baked beans, muesli, and crewm (for breakfast, on the same plate)
  • chicken passanda – phall hot (not so much an odd mixture, just sheer lunacy in my opinion!)

 Food and drink for the gullible

Things which have been suggested for unwitting visitors to order from the waiter – some real and not believed, others clearly very dodgy:

  • (from the waiter)
    • fur burger
    • rumpy pump with cream
    • spotted dick with creme Anglaise
  • (from the bar)
    • a long, slow screw
    • a hand shandy

I’m sure there were more, but those are the ones I remember.  Fortunately all was taken in the spirit it was intended and no-one got slapper or arrested.  By the end of it I’m not sure they believed anything – even the legitimate and very tasty ones.

So, what have you persuaded foreign visitors to order or say?

There are only three questions

“There are only three true interview questions.” This headline from Forbes caught my attention this morning and I thought it might give me some insight, but the essential take-away is that interviewers only really need to determine:

  • can you do the job?
  • will you like the job?
  • will you fit in with us?

It occurs to me, though, that these are pretty much the same questions that need to be answered at the beginning of any relationship – the words may differ slightly, but the sentiments remain the same.

The interview I had for entry to my MBA programme was essentially the same: will I be able to do the work? will I enjoy it and stay to the end? and would I fit in with the Henley ethos?

Perhaps the same is true when we enter into any sort of contract with a service provider (eg car insurance, cellphone airtime): can they provide the service I want? do I like they way they provide it (can include the price)? and do I like their company image (especially important with ethical providers)?

And as a final thought, could a first date be deemed an interview for a second date (and so on)?

It might take us more that one question to elicit the answer to these three basic questions, but fundamentally can all “relationship” commencements be boiled down to these three?

Reality check

My race number arrived in the post today (one of my resolutions!) and, in truth, I’m a little excited. And a little nervous too, because getting the race number means there’s not long to go and it’s all a bit real.

But sometimes we need the reality check to remind us that tasks have to be done: where would we be without deadlines and targets? Can anyone say that when the travel agent asks for the balance of payment it doesn’t cause a frisson of excitement because it means the holiday is getting nearer?

As the freight train of a deadline rushes headlong towards us there are two options, the same instincts which kept our ancestors alive: fight or flight. And that reactive mechanism is itself triggered by a reality check – for example, is this lion going to eat me? And the fact that we’re all here today does tend to suggest that our ancestors were, at least in part, successful.

So, to my mind at least, a reality check helps me focus and sometimes to produce my best work because I haven’t got time to think about a rough draft to be improved over time, I have to produce a result or live with the consequences. As some academics have put it for their particular reality, publish or perish.

And as I said before, procrastination just isn’t an option.

So, what gives you a reality check – and how do you react?

Is working from home more productive?

I work from home a lot and I believe that I can be more productive because I’m not interrupted by colleagues, I can dedicate more time because I don’t have much of a commute (it must be all of twenty hards from my bed!), and I am more motivated because I can balance my home/work priorities. But is this typical or not?

Two academics have come up with very similar theories about travel and homeworking:

  • (Hills) less travel = better work = less stress = higher morale
  • (James) travelling less = more time at home = balance of home/work priorities = less stress = better performance

For anyone with a daily commute, I’m sure all will agree that less travel does mean less stress. But it’s probably not unusual for the “less travel” to be translated into “longer hours” because it is easy to be sucked in to long hours at home – especially if your partner is out at work and children are either absent ordo not disturb the work – but whether this is voluntary through happiness, or unwillingly driven through peer pressure (the need to demonstrate that one was actually working) is questionable.  And I am aware of a number of managers who equate productivity with physical presence rather than judging outcomes against objectives (although, fortunately, my manager isn’t in that camp).

But I have found that when I’m not in an office I stop getting the day-to-day colleague interactions – they might have been categorised as interruptions, but they also hold the  news and gossip that I might otherwise not hear.  WIthout face time, it’s hard to make the same network of contacts – only recently did I meet someone I’ve been emailing and talking to for six months, and since meeting (putting a face to the name?) we have been far more productive together.

Not everyone can dedicate room to a study/home office, not everyone has the luxury of tranquil solitude during the day, and not everyone could work from home.

Whilst I genuinely believe that I am more productive when working from home, I don’t think I could do so all of the time.  And maybe that’s the key: a pragmatic balance for all elements which make us productive? Balancing outputs with outcomes, productive tranquility with news-laden interactions, travel with … well, you get the idea.

And having spent the last few years at least trying to work this balance – two or three days at an office, and the rest of the week at home, it certainly seems to be the best of both worlds.

And it makes “dress down Friday” so much more interesting!


The sublime art of miscommunication

Or ‘how not to communicate’.

In the last week or so I have both watched and received some bungled efforts at communication.  I will be charitable and consider them as bungled because the alternative – deliberate and considered activity – would be disappointing.  I think we can all learn by others’ mistakes, so what went wrong?

  • THE AMBUSH: a committee member dropped an unexpected bombshell. Some other members of the committee had foreknowledge, but the chair was surprised.  The committee should have been a place of collaboration, and whilst I feel sure that there are times when the ambush tactic is useful or expected (politics, law courts), its use is hugely divisive.  On this occasion the member should have shared his subject matter with the chair beforehand and run the risk of getting support! Continue reading

Invasion by the French?

Today I’m wondering whether the French are set to invade our software, and maybe even our language, by stealth?

Already we have carte blanche to wish someone bon voyage.  In fact, in the snootier cul-de-sacs it might even be de rigeur. Indeed, we celebrate out multi-cultural heritage with a language which is almost constantly evolving.

However, I could hardly keep a straight face today when my suppliers told me that there was new functionality in the software which would highlight changes with an asterix.  I had the image of a French cartoon character wielding a baguette and pointing at each amendment.

To this minor gaffe the French might just nonchalantly shrug, content that little-by-little, one phrase (or maybe one malapropism) at a time, our time-honoured foes are occupying this little island off the coast of mainland Europe.

Perhaps we should rebel: rinse our mouths of all phraseology with Gallic overtones, avoid Renaults, and eschew their onion soup.  And as a final thought, answer me this: what should we do with their letters?

Learning something new every day

I like learning new things.  I would like to think that everyone likes to learn something new – it keeps us fresh, helps us gain new skills, or maybe means we can now understand something or someone.

Today I thought that I would share the things that I have learned in the last two days or so:

  • chocolate is poisonous to human beings – although the fatal dose is probably somewhere around 10kg (22 lbs).
  • there are more cases than just ‘UPPER’ and ‘lower’ – the list so far appears to be
    • upper – all text in CAPITAL LETTERS
    • lower – all text in ordinary (non-capital) letters
    • numerical – numbers only
    • mixed – a mixture of upper/lower/numerical
    • camel – a special case type used mainly by IT people where spaces are omitted and a single upper case letter signifies a new word, for example: InvoiceNumber
  • the Chevrolet Cruze is entirely named after a cruise liner: wallowy steering, and acceleration which needs a lot of prior warning. I got one of these cars from Avis and when I tried to accelerate all that happened was the engine revved a lot and the car didn’t go much faster.

I’m not sure which of these will be most use to me in the future, but I did enjoy the gutter laugh when I suggested to the group of IT techies that they should incorporate the word ‘toe’ into data names.  And if you have a snigger because you got the joke then your mind is as dirty as theirs … and mine!