Measuring up, yet Dressing down

February 3, 2018

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Bridget smiled radiantly, glancing at the bemused onlookers as she parked her bike, unpegged her jean clips (it was a bit late, the chain had already caught the bottom of her now stained, old fashioned bell bottoms) and coughed to clear her lungs.

The bell sounded, breaking the trance of onlookers; kindly family, friends and the like. “You need to get ready dear” an elderly aunt cautioned, just as the church organ struck up its welcome. “I am” she replied, “very ready”.

“Without make-up and no white, long flowing white dress? In holey jeans and muddy boots?” came the query, the crowd’s bemusement shifting to incredulity.

“Yes. I walked, breathed and reflected, rather than sat, pampered and gossiped. I am ready to pass through and onto my new life” she retorted, as she strode down the aisle and into the welcoming arms of her chosen partner.

Moving through life’s stages, rites of passage, is all about the preparation. Rush and we maybe unready. Pontificate and pout and we may be distracted and focus on the wrong things.

It pays to take time out. To retreat and conference with trusted confidants, but then the time comes to bounce back out again. To take up that project and hop on down into the new adventure.

“Go on bounce across ……… I will catch you!” bubbled Bridget’s confidence


A story of adversity. Reject or Resolve? – ‘Mikey Boy’ becoming ‘Mike the Man’ (Part 1)

May 1, 2017

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As young boy Mikey’s mother left home, taking his sister, but leaving him alone with his step-father. Mikey’s dad had died when he was a baby. Although kindly, the step-father could not cope and Mikey was pushed into foster care.

Through no fault of his own, Mikey found himself frequently having to move homes. Sometimes his foster family had children or sometimes they changed their minds or goals. Sometimes they were abusive and simply could not cope with the shy and awkward, often resentful boy, whose withdrawn and sullen response to his challenging circumstances made him a target for the bullies.

Mikey soon learned to override the initial fear of these bullies and fought back. This had two impacts on the teenager’s life: he became aggressively angry and he also  came to believe everything bad that was said about him. That pattern or sense of fear did not leave him for a very long time, haunting him and making him overly anxious, but more on that later. Just now, that fear of not being good enough of feeling under threat, negatively affected his self-efficacy or belief in himself. Mikey felt like he had been cursed and slipped slowly into trouble with the law.

Then a trigger moment happened. A kindly policeman simply challenged, the now young man, to “take charge” of his life. The policeman interjected into Mikey’s stunned silence, telling him the well known story of the two wolves who battle inside each of us. One is the fearful, angry, bitter, self-pitying and nasty wolf, the other a kindly, energetic, grateful and hard-working wolf. “Who wins? The one you feed.” The police man explained. Mikey paused and reflected.

At this point he could have gone one of two ways, resentfully rejected the prompt and slipped further into self-pity, anger and addiction or resolved to pull himself up and choose a different route.

Reflect now:

When was the first time you experienced an overwhelming adversity, conflict or failure?

What was the nature of that event or situation? Was it gradual and slowly draining or unexpectedly sudden?

What coping strategies did you employ?


Your ‘Seven Ages’ interrupted

January 15, 2017

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Learning is Life Long.

History illustrates that where education falls behind the pace of technological change, workers become idle.

Once education catches up, prosperity follows.

The problem is that the life long learning necessary to keep up (or ideally out pace) technology favours those who are either young or already educated. It also tends to favour those who have general rather than specific skills.

Although there is a current reaction against globalisation and migration, which tends to exacerbate the woes of the middle aged specialist worker, it is unlikely to be halted. The world is simply smaller now and will become even more integrated, eventually.

Change will happen and it may be difficult. The career/job for life no longer exists. And more and more people are becoming self-employed, either as specialist or generalists through the so called ‘gig’ economy.

These workers are de facto taking responsibility for themselves and will need to know how to and what to develop competences in. This is even more important for them now, given that working lives are getting longer and time to market for technological innovations shorter.

The ‘Seven Ages of Man’ may need revision. Those of us moving from six to seven may need to put our grumpiness on hold and adapt. Those in five or six may need to learn responsive learning patterns.

Those new ways will include developing resilience to change and the emotional intelligence to keep being flexible, learning and risking try new ways to contribute. I have no doubt we will want to do so with organisations that take us empathetically in mind.

We need a real, inclusive Community College for Careers and Commerce for ‘5th ages giggers and beyond!’


How to be ‘Ill at Ease’

January 12, 2017

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The modern world would have you pop a ‘pill and flop back to work’. It’s almost like there is no time to pause and recover. The government stats bare this out; sickness per employee is dropping still. It is below four days a year. Hurrah for productivity! Hurrah for progress! But are we really getting better?

The government stats also bemoan the number of people who present at over worked A&E with flu like symptoms’, because they simply don’t know how to be ‘ill at ease’, that is how to stay at home and recover properly.

Of course, if necessary we, patients, should seek right medical support for urgent or critical illnesses, but there is also a case for being ‘patient at home’ with ourselves, by arming ourselves with proper rest rather than harming ourselves with over work (which also includes over working the emotional berating we can put ourselves through for not being ‘better enough’. There is a sense of social exclusion driven by being perceived as ‘feeble’ or a ‘shirker’.

Many of the pharmaceutical peddle this view throughly highly advertised ‘miracle cures’ and have us believing we should bounce back instantaneously. Before they existed, like back in my 1960’s childhood all the kids with mumps and measles would meet up and play together. We would keep ourselves isolated in community!

But today, kids, even big kids like you and me, are wheeled down the doctors for antibiotics for a sore throat. Why? Because our busy, important world demands it!

Instead, honey & lemon, gargling with salt water, warm rest and fluids will suffice, best done of course, quietly without grumbling or bowing down to demands to be perfectly fit!

In essence we just have to be a bit kinder to ourselves and others. To encourage us all to take better care of ourselves. Let’s not threaten each other with terrible things that might happen if they don’t get better, quick!

Ideally, they should rest at home, sparing the rest of us, too! Maybe, if you make just one resolution this year, forget wearing yourself out at the gym and, instead, make life a little easier by embracing the art of being ‘ill at ease’.
‘There is one consolation about being sick; and that is the possibility that you may recover to a better state than you were ever in before.’ Henry David Thoreau


Busily doing nothing

January 2, 2017

imageA degree of IDLENESS is essential to an efficient and effective life. This is an oft forgotten insight in an age when mindfulness apps set targets for sitting still and for exercise, and of course for monitoring our hearts, bloods and other bits! God forbid that any of them should raise!

Rumi, Sufi story teller, speaks of a father who well loved his three sons and was wise as to the art of idleness. He wanted to know what his off spring knew of the power of ‘Doing Nothing’, so he asked the

The eldest explained his adept at ‘doing little’. It had made him patient. He explained how, for example, he could read another man’s mind by the sound of their voice and, if they refused to speak, he could watch him for three days and get to know them well. The old man smiled

Laziness had a different impact on the second son. It had made him crafty. He too could understand another by the sound of their voice and, if they refused to speak, the second son would start talking. The other was then bound to reply, and give them-self away. Not quite so impressive, thought the old man; craftiness is a common human trait. All you have to do is know the trick.

But idleness was best achieved by best the youngest who had the mastered gift of presence – of being, not doing, some might say.

And what comes with presence? The ability to be receptive and sit in front of another and feel what the other felt. With that sense, he could understand anyone. Some call this ‘mindsight’. A means to receive insights from a place not influenced by either joy nor grief. It is a way that mediates between voice and presence; where information and energy flow, and relationship is at its deepest.

For me, it is a place of ease. Of doing little, but affecting much. This laziness, Jesus told his followers makes a burden light. If it feels heavy, hard work, impossible then something has gone wrong. Ease is the key principal.

Buddhist teach of “right effort”, which invariably means less effort. When your legs are dead, your back is aching, and your mind feels caught up in a storm, it’s time to stop meditating. A mindless, joyful chat with a friend will be more spiritually beneficial.

Idleness allows things to unfold without a need to influence or be in need of an outcome. Stuff just happens when you contemplate it.


Valuing Social & Business Progress

November 30, 2016

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Organisations, especially companies wanting to make profits, are increasingly becoming concerned with advancing social progress. It’s called ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ and forms part of an increasing drive by Companies to win back and enhance public trust.

In many cases their response is now becoming less about being ‘expedience’ i.e. doing so because it’s a ‘must’ and makes good marketing sense, and more about their recognition that a ‘social contract’ exists under which, in exchange for people buying from them, they will behave in ethical ways that enhance consumers utility from their products (thereby creating mutual profit), remedying their damage to the planet and enhancing our common social cohesion.

This is because businesses do not operate in isolation. They form part of a whole, and must be a cohesive force in an ecosystem comprising of social expectation, social norms and, we hope, sensible Government policies. Effective businesses will want to initiate collective community action, whilst measuring and reporting on the positive impact they are having.

As this process evolves it will be critical that people and businesses agree:

1. A common agenda or set of priorities.
2. An agreed means of measuring progress.
3. Mutually supportive and re-enforcing actions.
4. Effective communications – that is ‘good conversations’.
5. Commitment to support initiatives

All of which will lead to a set of shared and common values, focused on people, planet and profits.

Getting business and the community organised around this is essential and needs a structure to feed it.


Rational, Emotive, Cognitive & Behavioural (RECB) Business (and Life?) Planning

October 22, 2016

method1As a Business Consultant and advisor I often found myself caught between the different entrepreneurial stances to planning. Some entrepreneurs like the idea of a detailed, full and complete planning others, seemingly ‘fly from the seat of their pants’ casting off the constraints and effort involved as ‘too time consuming and restrictive’.

The great strategic management guru, Mintzberg, termed the first approach ‘Rational Planning’ – ‘Set your mission, identify your critical success factors (and measures), analyse your environment (SWOT), choose your best approach (strategy) implement it (take action) and feedback on progress (control)’ he lectured. It makes good, logical sense.

I call the latter one ‘Reactive’, not unlike the ‘Behavioural Response’ the psychologists Skinner (stimulus leads to response) and Pavlov (the bell driven salivating dog) describe to us. It goes like this – something happens in the business (‘ding’) and the entrepreneur responds (‘dong’).  I guess they are not really planning just reacting!

My experience has taught me that two further planning positions or entrepreneurial types exist between these extremes:

  1. Those who concentrate or focus on just on a few ‘Critical Drivers’ when planning their business. I term this ‘Cognitive Planners’. This saves time, but benefits from a degree of rational evaluation of what is important to the business (I mean, of course the egotistical entrepreneur!)
  2. That ego is not necessary a bad thing; it has often been honed through experience and instinct that means the ‘opportunist’ is not lucky, but simply confident in responding to their ‘Gut Instinct’ – I term these ‘Emotional Planners’.

This worked for me because as an executive coach, business psychologist and consultant, I was able to link my own  psychological research and RECB (Rational Emotive Cognitive Behavioural) and approach directly into tailoring the business planning intervention that best works for my client. Neither of the four approaches is any better than they other. The efficacy depends on context and the risk profile and ways of the entrepreneur.

It has worked for them and my suspicion (and further research focus) is how such an approach can support us all in understanding how we approach risks in and planning of our lives.