To wear the trousers: to be in charge, to be the one making the decisions…

Is this sexist, or at best chauvinist? Probably both. Apparently the phrase originates from the convention that men always used to wear trousers, whereas women always used to wear skirts or dresses, and the trouser-wearing man made the decisions. These days you’ll still hear variations on: ‘Yeah, Paul does talk a lot but it’s wife you need to talk to. She wears the trousers in that relationship.’

I assumed, wrongly as I’m sure you’re thinking, that the phrase originated in the fact that the male adult wore trousers and the male child wore shorts, so it was the senior person who wore the responsibility-laden garments. The parents are in charge, and supposedly one parent in a two-parent family is more in charge than the other.

How far are we from this scenario: ‘Yeah, it looks like his wife is in charge but it’s Paul who wears the skirt in that relationship.’

I know, there’s 3 ways to think about that conundrum: the sexism, the sartorial aspect and my ability to be in charge of anything…

 

 

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I’ve been mentoring for a few years, to a range of SMEs, and I’ve learned a lot. Here are 5 of my distilled thoughts on mentoring. It’s not intended to be a how to, more a set of observations.

  • Listening more than talking. As a sounding board, I think our job is to listen and absorb, then to suggest, rather than to tell
  • Focus on the few. Any business has a thousand things it could do, so I try to focus on a small number of key points. If you end up handing out loads of pointers, then your mentee goes away confused and overwhelmed
  • Process is important. When you’re in the thick of all those entrepreneurial factors, it helps if someone external is helping you with simple approaches to process, structure, and priorities for execution
  • It’s easy to say, hard to do. It’s all very well for consultants, mentors and advisers telling people what they should do. We then get to walk away and leave it to them to do the difficult bit, which is executing. I’m acutely aware of this, which is why my company’s ethos is to focus on using my experience to being responsive and practical in my recommendations
  • Be humble. Generally you’re advising someone who’s getting out there and giving it a go with their own business. They deserve a ton of praise for that alone. They’ve put themselves out there and it can be a nerve-wracking, lonely existence. The last thing they need is arrogance or haughtiness. They need empathy, constructive criticism – which comes from our experience – and encouragement

Mentor can mean teach, but for me it’s better to think in terms of advise and support.

To tender or not to tender, that is the question.

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind etc… when I worked in the sales effectiveness business, the golden rule was that your success rate for an unsolicited tender is between 0 and 5% – yep, a terrible return – for a host of factors too numerous to mention here. Perhaps for another post.

This is a statistic that should bring out the most sober analysis of how our business development time is best spent, but the truth is that it really applies to the private sector. The public sector is often duty-bound to go out to tender from a pretty low base contract value, and with increasing levels of sophistication at higher threshold amounts.

I decided to respond to my first tender in a long time last year. It was a pretty good fit for my skill-set, but it’s still an agonising decision to invest the considerable time into collecting references, getting legal documentation signed and writing the response.

I wanted to go through the process for the journey itself, to get a feel for it since it would better colour future decisions. I ended up winning the tender, and the reasons why you win are always invaluable when you do a ‘drains up’ – win or lose – with the awarding company.

Emboldened by the fact that I was batting 1,000 as the Americans would say, I promptly entered another tender, and lost it, thereby killing my excellent average.

So what can we conclude from this? My $0.02 is this. Unsolicited private sector tenders, don’t touch them. If you weren’t expecting it, you’re simply making up the numbers. Public sector tenders, if it’s a genuine project, and it’s worth it to you, and it’s a good fit, and you intuitively feel you’re in the top 3, it’s worth throwing your hat in the ring.

 

In the last of this week’s cluster of posts on the spelling and meaning of a couple of words in this glorious language, I want to touch on the application called Grammarly, about which I profess to know very little.

I often see ads for Grammarly playing before I watch a video on the BBC international website, and by the American accents on the ad and the American base of the company, I assume the application helps with US-English phrasings, spelling, meanings, syntax and so on. There may well be a UK-English version too, though I doubt there’s an Irish-English version, or a Scottish-English, Welsh-English or any other variant that blurs the edges between language and dialect.

Two lads from the Ukraine founded the application, so perhaps its real benefit is for those for whom English is a second language. For many of us, however, we already have a lot of this functionality built into our office productivity applications and our browsing applications. For instance, if you erroneously search for ‘Grammerly’ – presumably an easy mistake to make if you’re the person who might need and want to use the correctly spelled version – on Chrome, you get returned suggestions for Grammarly.

Those of us who already get help from our everyday software and have a decent command of the language are using our skill and judgement on the grammar and phrasing side of things anyway. We use the tools to correct typos and omissions, and we use ourselves to correct the other more subtle areas of the language.

Which possibly explains why the application is probably very successfully catering to the vast numbers of people who need to converse in the dominant language which is not their dominant language.

Hmm, discrete os discreet? Tough one.

Just when you thought there wasn’t a difference – or should I say just when I thought there wasn’t a difference, lo and behold there is. The root Latin word is the same, but the spelling and the meaning has diverged. I’m not sure why.

Discrete spelled this way means separate, as in the map can be split into discrete parts. In that sense, ironically, it’s the opposite of concrete.

Discreet spelled with the double e means careful, circumspect, delicate almost. It means something completely different to discrete. You could say they have discrete meanings :-).

And then, to further confuse, there is the abstract noun discretion, which is not connected to discrete as would make sense, but to the double e version. I must exercise proper discretion with these two words in future…

‘Always learning’, or so they say. Well I am, anyway.

Do you know the difference between cache, caché and cachet? I thought I did. I was quite confident in fact.

Cache – pronounced cash – is a hiding place, most commonly known these days as the place where your cookies, Internet and browsing history files reside until or if you clear it out.

Caché – pronounced cashay – is the past tense of cacher, to hide in French, so it means hidden. OK so far I think. It is not the correct spelling for the next meaning, however.

Cachet has a bunch of different meanings. It originally refers to an official seal or stamp on something, like a document, but lately is most commonly used to denote prestige, as in ‘her job carries a certain cachet’, or ‘this food has a cachet within the fitness community’. In this sense, it is not, as I thought it was, spelled caché. D’oh!

Speaking of which, who decided that d’oh! should have an apostrophe? What’s missing or owned there do denote such a mark?

What is it about those inclusive hotel packages? In this last  in a 3-post series on holiday musings, I have a confession to make.

We recently went on holiday and opted for a half-board package. You get breakfast and dinner, but no lunch. Not only that but it was all the breakfast you could eat, in a self-serve stylee, and all the dinner you could eat. The food was excellent.

I couldn’t help myself. I can’t help myself. It’s something about the bountifulness and being able to go up as many times as you want. I would have 4 small courses for breakfast, topped off by buck’s fizz, natch. I would also have 4 small courses for dinner. It was like tapas on steroids.

We decided not to upgrade to full board – the all inclusive package – while we were there. It was €30 per day to upgrade, for which you also got lunch and all the drinks you wanted from a specific list. A long specific list, including mojitos that were €12 a pop to the non-full boarders. It was ludicrously good value.

I wouldn’t have been able to control my intake with a 24/7 carte blanche. With all inclusive it’s as if the laws of supply and demand no longer apply. We can suspend Newton’s 3rd law of physics and gorge on a seemingly unending supply of body fuel.

It’s a good job there was a gym and a couple of pools in the complex. An extra stone over the course of a week does not sit well on a 10-stone frame.

In this second post of a 3-post series on ‘musings on holiday stuff I come into contact with’, I wanted to talk about water.

When we’re at home we try and get the kids into the habit of having a quick shower, no more than 4 or 5 minutes if possible. It’s not only good practice for when Ireland finally gets its act together in terms of water metering, but it’s good for us and future planetary inhabitants too.

We were on holiday recently, in the warm-all-year-round canaries. It’s always a pleasant surprise to come out of the shower into into a naturally warm environment. The first day or two I was tempted to have a long luxurious shower. After all, there’s loads of water around here. We’re surrounded by an ocean of the stuff, I was thinking.

Of course, this is stupid, selfish thinking. As the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner goes, ‘water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink.’ The island still has to treat all that sea water to turn into the water that comes out of our taps and shower heads and flows into our pools. They’re as keen on conserving water as any other country, probably more so.

So I kept my showers down to the minimum time, having had a word with myself. Water is a precious resource, so conserving it – even for a business like a hotel, with lawns, plants and flowers to keep looking good – makes sense whatever your circumstances.

Since I went away with the extended family for a warm weather break a few weeks ago, this is the first in a 3-post series on holiday travel. I was tempted to call this post the Ryanair Scam part 2, since they have recently introduced a rule by which you can only have your cabin bag in the overhead locker if you’ve booked priority boarding. Otherwise it goes in the hold. This is fine if you already have a large bag in the hold, but a pain if you’re travelling light, since you have to factor in extra time and effort to retrieve your bag from the destination baggage belts.

I recently experienced this policy at first hand. The reality is that it works pretty well if, as I mentioned, you already have large holiday bags checked in, at additional expense of course. We did, so it was a no brainer and it means less to carry on and off the plane. However, it’s a ton more work for the hard-worked, exasperated gate crew – the check-in/boarding staff and baggage handlers – who now have to manually tag and load around 100 additional non-priority bags per holiday flight.

As it happened, our flight was delayed leaving. The conveyor belt into the plane from the baggage carts broke, presumably under the workload of having to deal with many more bags than it was used to. This turned a useful conveying device into a shelf, so the bags had to be manually carried into the hold.

This is what often happens to a process which you’re constantly tweaking and looking to improve. You pinch here, you feel it somewhere else. Ryanair do keep moving, changing, innovating though. Fair play to them for that.

‘Can you just move a smidge to the left for me?’

‘I’ll take a smidge of milk with my tea please.’

What exactly is a smidge? It’s hardly an agreed unit of measurement, either by width or volume. I use it from time to time and always assumed it was a quaint olde English word from the 16th century, probably coined by Bill Shakespeare, who seems to have more coinages to his credit than extant plays.

It’s actually a shortened form of the equally arcane smidgen – the origin of which is uncertain, but you can also spell it smidgin or smidgeon – and American English in its origin.

WordPress wasn’t happy with smidge or smidgeon, giving them the red dotted underline of shame. All the more reason to use them.

Fabulous.