“You and me bud. Let’s do this. We’ve got a date with destiny.”

A ‘date with destiny’ is a phrase that’s become pretty popular these days. It’s got a nice ring to it, and it suggests an important milestone is coming up which could throw a serious shape on the future.

It got me thinking. Either you take an existential or a fatalistic approach to your destiny. By which I mean either you feel you shape your own destiny, or else you feel some higher power or a great systematic experiment has predetermined it for you. Whichever stance you take or belief system you adopt, isn’t it the case that every waking moment, every infinitesimally small action is a date with destiny?

Your destiny is your destination – I guess that’s why the words are related – so every division of time and distance is a part of the journey to get there. Not so much as a date with destiny then, as being on the destiny continuum.

Viewing destiny this way helps me stay in the moment, make everything I do of the best quality I can manage, if I have the energy, and avoid plundering time.

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It’s been some thirty-odd years since I last drove in France. I managed to correct this shortcoming over the summer with some long distance and local driving on holiday. In this post I offer you 7 observations about the experience.

  • They drive on the right (I’m starting with the obvious one. It pays to remember this one at all times…)
  • Their road signs are excellent. Why can’t every country adopt a visual picture that shows a 130 below a sun, and a 110 below some rain, so you know what speeds you can drive in what weather?
  • People obey the speed limit almost all the time. This might be something to do with the frequent speed cameras and the zealous gendarmerie
  • They don’t signal you in, flash you in, or wave you in, to allow you to pull out, or across or in front of them
  • They don’t acknowledge you when you signal them in, flash them in, or wave them in. I don’t know why this is. For me it completes the transaction and is simple good manners
  • They ignore or don’t see your offer and simply pull out, across or on front of you.  I don’t know why this is either
  • They touch park with gay insouciance

I don’t know if this correlates with your experience, but it certainly correlates with mine :-).

Your staff are your greatest asset. They form the culture of your organisation, and culture is almost everything.

It’s our job as employers – and plain common sense – to protect our staff. We get the staff we deserve, so it’s our responsibility to look after them.

I was reminded of this fact lately, when a story emerged in the English football premier league about a player who had transferred from a Spanish club to an English club at the very end of the last day for club transfers. Except that he didn’t. The papers had left the selling club, had been received and processed by the buying club, and all the papers except one had been received by the governing body. The last paper was received 15 seconds outside the transfer window, so the transfer hadn’t been completed properly.

Who suffers the most here? The player himself was in limbo, a kind of non-self-imposed purgatory. He wasn’t on the staff of either the selling club or the buying club. Both clubs were firmly in self-protection mode and distancing themselves from the situation.

In my day-dreaming moments of being a world-class footballer I naively imagine that my responsibilities would be to country first, club second, and self third. With money, stakes and ego all unbridled in football these days, that priority list looks more like club first, self second, country third.

It’s a pity that clubs can’t reciprocate, putting the player first and protecting their staff. It’s the staff that win the trophies, isn’t it?

Almost everything we do is guided by self-interest. It’s human nature. Heck, it’s in every sentient being’s nature, otherwise it would cease to exist.

This rule seems to apply to us humans at all levels of the famous Maslow hierarchy of needs, from the basic acts like food and warmth to the more sophisticated ones like self-actualisation, which I think means achieving our potential.

When we do something with family and friend interests at heart, there’s probably a degree of self-interest in there too. Even when we do something for people we don’t know, in an act of charitable kindness, self-interest figures in the mix, aside from the simple satisfaction we get from our generosity of spirit, time or money.

It always comes down to that, the underlying reason for why we do stuff.

The question for me is this. Can we rise above it? Can we do something that’s genuinely not self-serving? Not all the time, but once in a while, perhaps occasionally?

When you’re going for a walk or driving or taking a train, a plane or a boat, you’re looking for different scenery, a different view of the world. Variety keeps the interest and adds to our bank of experiences. Too much of the same view and we get bored. It’s no use changing our location if the scenery is still the same.

It’s the same thing with work and play. You’re looking for a different scenario, a new angle, another way of looking at and experiencing things. While we love our routine, within that routine we also strive for variety. There’s no point making the effort to change if we get the same view, the same scenario. In this case the pain of change is greater than the pain of the staying the same.

We want the pain of change to be less than the pain of staying the same. This is why, if were going to improve our lot, or seize an opportunity, or fix a problem, we need to look at a different scenario.

The same scenario doesn’t work for us. We tried it already. It’s done. Time to move on. Time for a different scenario.

Sometimes automation adds to a process rather than improves it. It automates the human chaos.

The first time I encountered the McDonald’s automated self-ordering system was at Dublin airport a year or so ago. It simply took too long to order my early breakfast meal so I went to the counter and did it the old-fashioned way.

I was again reminded of this fact recently in France, when my whole family was in with another family for a special treat. There’s hardly ever a queue for the ordering ‘machines’, but it took simply ages to navigate through the menu 7 times for each order, then figure out which part of the restaurant we were in so the staff could deliver our food. There appeared to be no option to go up and order the old fashioned way.

After we had got our meals I watched a Welsh family trying to order deserts and coffees. They couldn’t find the screen with the coffees. It had disappeared. They didn’t have much French, and tried to enlist the help of a staff member, who tried to do the same with her slightly broken English. She couldn’t help so then had to find another staff member to help. This staff member then said ‘the coffee machine is broken and coffee is not available today, sorry.’ Obviously someone had the ability to disable the relevant screens when a product is unavailable, but this was not apparent to the customer. 15 minutes had passed during this process.

A more traditional ordering system might have taken a third of the time, even with traditional queueing, and gone like this:

‘Hi, can I have 2 McFlurries and a coffee please?’

‘The coffee machine is broken and coffee is not available today, sorry.’

‘OK, just the McFlurries then please.’

People, process, technology. If you don’t get the mix right, you make it worse, not better.

Here’s an odd thing. The word ‘WC’, developed from the delightfully old fashioned words ‘water closet’ to disguise with true Victorian values exactly what it’s really for, is not really used in English anymore. Indeed, its prim origins remind me of the American ‘restroom’. You’re hardly going to say ‘give me a couple of minutes, I’m just going for a quick rest’, are you?

I was recently using the facilities of a French campsite and there were instructions in 4 languages about what you could not put down the toilet. Pretty standard stuff, both in terms of what you couldn’t put down the privy and in the language used. Except that, in the English sentence the word ‘toilet’ was used, and in the French, Dutch and German the word ‘WC’ was used.

I thought this was hilarious. Here’s a case of foreign languages adopting the initials of olde English words – initials that don’t mean anything in their native language – and staying with them, long after the English had abandoned their use.

Now that I think about it, there are so many slang words for toilet, at least in English.

These are the sorts of things that I pick up on, to ponder over, on a regular basis. And you thought you had problems.

I was in France for a family holiday recently, and it got me thinking about how many French phrases we’ve incorporated into English. I mistakenly wrote ‘thinning’ on my first pass at this post, which is what I need to do after a fortnight of sublime croissants, brioches and baguettes has turned me from svelte to felt.

Déjà vu is a prime example of such a phrase, where a combination of visual stimuli brings back a memory where we pocketed exactly the same combination – or something very close – a long time ago. It’s quite a powerful thing.

Even more powerful I think is the recollection we get from one of the other more minor senses, namely smell. The smell of a certain food can instantly bring us back to our childhood. There is also a certain foul smell that makes me think of the smell of burnt bones from the glue factory near my childhood home. The smell of cinnamon always makes me think of Christmas shops in the mid-west US around December time – obviously…

It often occurs to me how compelling a force smell would be in marketing, even B2B marketing, away from the food and drink-related B2C areas where it is already deployed to great effect. ‘If you could bottle that’, as they say.

I don’t think the French would use the phrase, but if they did it would be ‘déjà senti’, I suppose, meaning ‘already smelled’. Doesn’t have the same ring unfortunately.

‘Try the fruit scones Miriam, they’re to die for.’

‘Do you see that dress in the window, it’s to die for.’

‘That woman’s figure, the one off the telly, oh it’s to die for.’

What an odd, extreme phrase that it is. To die for, really?

It seems a bit self-defeating that you would die for something that you wouldn’t be able to experience, because you would be dead…

The phrase strikes me, and I’m generalising here, as one more often used by the female gender. The more male version is of course more violent.

To kill for.

‘He’d kill his granny for a fiver, that lad.’

At least in the ‘kill’ scenario you’d have a chance of experiencing that which you covet, albeit briefly.

 

 

Many books have a beginning, a middle and an end. An introduction with an outline, a body and a conclusion. They tell a story. You start at the beginning and you work through the end to follow the narrative flow. This is true for works of fiction and non-fiction, or business books and leisure books.

Occasionally, a book is a collection of self-contained, separate topics that don’t fit into this conventional format where the narrative hangs the content together naturally. I’m coming to the end of the drafting stage of a self-help book I’m writing. It’s more than a hundred different ideas around a very broad topic, loosely arranged into 4 themes. Each idea fits into the typical length of blog post that I’ve been writing for the past few years.

The challenge – without the guiding structure of a narrative flow – is arranging and presenting the ideas in an order that works for the reader. I could present each of the themes in turn, but that might appear uneven. Or I could sprinkle all of the ideas randomly, but that might appear disjointed. Alternatively, I could go for a mixture of the two approaches, but I might not be able to build momentum to get the reader to the end.

I’ll get to the bottom of how the book will hang together, but it’s an interesting challenge.