Archives for category: General

When you live in the west of Ireland, it’s easy to get down about the weather. This is especially true if you’re not from here and you’re used to a slightly kinder climate. It can be wet, windy and cool, all at the same time. It probably pours, rains, drizzles, mizzles or spots at some point during the day, 300 days a year.

I’ve taken a very crude measure of the weather in Galway every day over the past 10 years. If it so much as rains one drop, I put ‘Wet’ in my diary for that day. I daren’t go back over a sample 12 months and count the number of Wets, which is why 300 is an intuitive guess rather than evidence-based fact.

The amount of times I’ve been on the phone to my Mother, a mere 300 miles away in the south of England and it’s been tipping down here and glorious there…

Anyway, I know I’ve been looking at this wrong. I’m not trying to underplay the seriousness of SAD syndrome, but I know I’ve been looking at it wrong.

Weather is wallpaper. It’s simply there, in the background. Sometimes you notice it, sometimes you don’t. You get on with things regardless.

There are many benefits to a temperate climate, after all. And anything dry, or warm, becomes a bonus. Then, the background comes to the foreground, is more noticeable, and is enjoyed for that.

I think that’s what people from here have been doing all along…

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Town planning is a tricky but fascinating thing, isn’t it?

When you think about your own town or city, is it new or old? Has it grown organically or in a more structured way? Can you easily get where you need to get to, and out again? What’s the transport infrastructure like for public and private travel to a big event?

I live in a small town and I work from home a fair bit, so my measure of how well a town has been planned is how quickly I can get to strike all the errands off my list at lunchtime. You’d be surprised at how much you learn about traffic flows, parking, accessibility if you’ve only got 20 minutes and 3 different places to go.

My town is well served by trains, but not well served by bridges, which means it’s well served – if that’s the right word – by train barriers to block pedestrians and vehicles while the train traverses the road to get from A to B. The upshot of this is that it’s not uncommon for you to be caught for 5 minutes at a barrier both on your way into town and out of town. If you’ve 20 minutes for errands, driving or walking, you’re stationery for half of it in this scenario. Your alternative is a long detour round the town’s medieval and therefore maddeningly narrow one-way streets to use the one railway bridge.

We have loads of train advocates in our area, and it does provide an important link to the east and west of the country. I’m not sure, however, if those advocates factor in how it plays with the other 2 modes of transport, especially at lunchtimes when you’re under pressure.

When we’re introducing ourselves to people for the first time, even if we’re not in the selling business, there’s the opportunity to sell ourselves, to make a good first impression, or to influence people in a positive way. They might not need our services, or to be our friend, but they might know someone who does.

So what are the four introductory must dos? I see four questions that we should answer for the person we’re meeting:

  • Who? Who are you? What’s your name? Not necessarily the organisation you’re with, your name is more important. They have to remember it. I’m sometimes not a fan of leading with yourself, but in this case they need to remember your name when you accompany it with a handshake
  • What? What do you do? What do you provide? Can you describe this simply, without jargon? This is the bit that’s going to catch their attention, since they will use it to pigeonhole you in their mind
  • For whom? Who do you provide what you provide for? Who are your customers, stakeholders, patients, students or constituents?
  • Why? Why should the people for whom you provide what you provide care? What do they get out of it? This is the bit that adds value, your chance to say what makes you different

For some people, you don’t need to cover these four bases. “Hi, my name’s John Smith, I’m a dentist.” You can pretty much stop at second base. But for others, perhaps those in more complex business-to-business roles, you’ll probably need the last two, especially if you’re networking. “Hi, my name’s Paul Dilger, I’m a sales and marketing consulting to small to medium-sized companies so they can grow their business more quickly.”

If it feels unnatural to add the fourth point, you can always drop it into the conversation later, especially if the first three points resonate, make a connection or provoke a positive reaction.

 

You can tell a lot from a handshake. First impressions and all that.

It’s not that the handshake is the only component of greeting someone. It’s the accompanying smile, the eye contact, the body facing the other person.

I once attended a corporate speaking engagement where the guy said the optimal time to clasp someone’s hand in a business handshake is 2 seconds. Anything shorter is a touch disrespectful, anything more is uncomfortable for the other person. Then there’s the angle of hand of the person leading the handshake. Palm down is a power play, palm up is subservient but also friendly.

As I said, it’s not only the handshake. It’s about eye contact, a ready smile, and physical engagement. I’ve seen people line up a handshake and actually be turned away for the moment of contact as they move onto the next person or thing. Not good.

When I shake someone’s hand, I extend my hand upright, with the arm at three-quarter length. A straight arm and they’re too far away, half arm makes them come into your personal space, another power play. My fingers are slightly splayed to stop someone gripping too soon and getting your fingers and none of your hand. I smile, face the person properly and apply a medium grip. If someone has a strong grip I increase my grip pressure; if a weaker grip I ease off on the grip. I don’t bother to adjust the angle of the power player’s or servile/friendly hand, as you’re advised to do. I simply go with it. Ladies and Gents, a medium grip is the minimum really. You don’t want to offer some a wet fish, and you don’t need a handshake like a docker’s vice to assert your personality.

Always good to say one’s name slowly to help the other person remember it. Telling them it’s good to meet them never hurts either.

There is such a thing as an Irish secret, at least according to my in-laws. It goes something like this:

‘I told you that in confidence! No-one’s supposed to know, it’s supposed to be a secret.’

‘I only told my [insert family member of choice], honest!’

‘So?! Which part of secret were you not getting?’

‘No, no, I thought it was an Irish secret…’

‘Meaning?’

‘With an Irish secret you only tell one person at a time.’

Interesting concept. A secret is one of those absolute things. It’s either a secret or it isn’t. In reality, of course, it’s not absolute and you could argue there’s no such thing, unless only one person in the world knows and how plausible is that? Maybe you could argue that it doesn’t actually exist if only one person knows it – rather like the tree falling in the forest not making a sound because nobody heard it – and only becomes a secret once more than one person knows…

It appears from a communication point of view that there are degrees of information, from narrowcast or one-to-one up to broadcast, and secrets are no different.

If you’re genuinely the only person – or one of a very small number – that the secret-holder has told, and you keep your promise until the original secret-holder decides that the secret can be told, then you are a secondary secret-holder of high worth and value, in my view. Not easy, or sometimes desirable, to do. If the secret is bad, and someone has suffered adversely, then you can make the reverse argument and all bets are off.

A divoteer is an old-fashioned word for a golfer. It appeared on a recent page of the daily edition of Jeff Kacirk’s Forgotten English calendar, which sits on the desk of my home office.

I’m not a regular player anymore, more of a lapsed player, so not really a devoted divoteer. I do, however, like to watch it when I can, either on screen or very occasionally at an event.

With golf more than anything, I feel, you miss it when you don’t play, and then wonder why you missed when you do play. You have to practise, practise, practise; the margins are so fine that you have to trust to a very well grooved swing and feel.

As such, for me the sport often feels like a template for work as well as play. Not necessarily a case that you miss work when you’re sunning yourself on the beaches of the Med, more so that the more you hone your craft, the better you get at it. The devoted divoteer can take the same approach down the fairways and corridors of work too.

I’ve blogged on the concept of waste before. In fact I’ve done it here and here.

I’m not a big fan of waste. You observe it everywhere. Food waste, materials waste, packaging waste, energy waste, resources waste, and wastes of time.

What about cut flowers? They look lovely, but their lives are literally cut short for personal pleasure rather than longer pleasure that benefits the wider community. In fact, anything we use for something that doesn’t last long enough – and we all make a judgement on the enough part – or doesn’t create anything new, is not a good return. It’s a waste.

Of course, time is the greatest waste of all. It’s what I feel most keenly when someone dies before their time, if you pardon the clumsy pun. Even if it’s someone I don’t know. The lost potential, the lost possibility for them to further touch and improve the lives of others. We’ll never get that back.

Which is why the exclamation ‘what a waste’, for the smallest detail like a missed shot on goal, or to express the biggest ideas, is probably the biggest criticism we can make. It’s a huge, damning insult.

So, calling someone a time-waster is a deep criticism to level at someone. They’ve wasted your time, and the time of others, and that is indeed a heinous sin.

I feel sure, without any empirical evidence to back it up, that some of the greatest inventions, jokes, phrases and so on started their lives as a mistake. A transcribing error, a misheard comment, a miscommunication, or maybe misheard lyrics.

The title of this blog post is no typo, I meant to write it. But it did begin as a typo, when I was writing an email on strategy, and wrote startegy instead.

When you think about it, strategy is all about starting, about getting started. It can sometimes be daunting to ‘do’ strategy. There are processes to follow, people to involve, data to collect, decisions to be made. Then you have to execute on it, as strategy is nothing without execution.

If you’re stuck, start! Somewhere, anywhere, to get the process moving and make the early mistakes.

My typo reminded me that strategy is as much about doing as it is about thinking, planning and plotting. Startegy – the science of starting.

I have carried out another of my detailed, nay exhaustive, studies into the human condition and have come to another shattering conclusion.

We are an overweight nation. I’ve reached this conclusion after a sustained 2-hour session of people-watching in a provincial airport departure lounge.

I need to qualify this on two fronts. Firstly, I mean the male side of the nation. They were the study. Secondly, it’s not that we’re an overweight nation, it’s that we’re an overweight and under-toned nation. I saw enough men with slight or pronounced paunches that if you gave me a buck for every one of them I could have paid for my return flight.

The men with slight paunches were not overweight as such, it’s simply that the weight was not distributed correctly. We’re talking younger and middle aged men, younger than me, not older men for whom the slowing metabolism and decreasing activity exerts an inexorable toll on their midriffs.

What’s the cause? Modern lifestyle, unquestionably. Modern diets, modern mobility, modern commitments. And the Internet, which now accounts for the working day and a lot of our free time. We’re simply so much more sedentary than we used to me. We can send an email to Susan rather then walking a report over to her desk. Lifestyles have changed quickly and evolution will never be able to catch up.

It takes a lot of effort and time to put aside to stay in shape. If we’re not athletes by profession, we have limited time to devote to it and exercise is usually the first to go when it should really be the last. Look at any former athlete. How many look like they used to? How many are still in shape?

So it’s not just that we’re an overweight nation. We’re an overweight race.

 

I carried out a detailed study in pubic transport the other day. Actually, it wasn’t that detailed, it was a data point of one, one journey.

I went to visit my mother, who lives near Bristol in England. I live near in Galway in Ireland. It’s perhaps 300 miles as the crow flies, if even a crow can fly that far, except that there’s the Irish Sea in the way.

I had decided to go via public transport, rather than a car. Normally I would drive to the departing airport and hire a car from the destination airport. The public transport option was cheaper and better for the planet. It would simply cost more of my time, a very precious commodity as far as I’m concerned, but there you go.

These were the legs of the journey:

  • Walk to local train station, 10 minutes
  • Train to Galway, arriving 45 minutes before coach trip to airport
  • Coach from train station to airport, supposed to take 95 minutes, but took nearer 120
  • Arrived at departing airport 2 hours before flight
  • Flight to Bristol airport (1 hour)
  • Bus to Bristol city centre (wait 10 mins, 30 minutes journey)
  • Bus to my mother’s neck of the woods (no wait, 45 minutes journey)
  • 10 minute walk to mother’s house

Total elapsed time via public transport: 10 hours exactly

Total elapsed time if I was driving both ends: around 5 hours

I think 10 hours is far too much to travel from one neighbouring country to another. So do most other people I guess, judging by the amount of people who, if they have access to a car, take one.