Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The power of nature

Watching on TV the Hurricane devastation in New Orleans and the surrounding area makes me grateful that here in little old England we do not really suffer such extreme weather affecting such a vast area.

The pictures I have seen are frightening and both Annie and I want to express our sincere best wishes to anyone in America affected by this tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.

This is another reminder of the awesome power of nature and how helpless we all are against that power.

We saw the Tsunami and we have seen numerous earthquakes. Even in Birmingham recently we saw an unexpected tornado that caused incredible damage in a very small part of the city – amazingly there were no fatalities although roofs were literally ripped off houses!

It is great to live in a time where there is phenomenal technological progress – I think we are living through a revolution in that sense. And yet if we need a reminder about our place in the ‘pecking order of nature’ the latest destruction in America is a timely one.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Stress Relief!!

Having today spent 7 hours driving and travelling 320 miles - constantly frustrated by either road works or other problems on the road I am more convinced than ever that we must do something positive about improving public transport in England.

If it were not for the sheer impracticality of getting to some places by train I would use railways all the time for inland travel.

The best solution to such a stressful day may not necesarily be a bottle of chilled white or a warm red but that is my proposed solution - the diet can wait another day - I am off to the Off-Licence!!

A sporting theme

Back to work today after another lovely English public holiday weekend.

England beat the Aussies in the Fourth Cricket Test match and we now look likely to win the Ashes for the first time in almost thirty years! - Brilliant

Manchester United remain unbeaten in the Premiership with three wins and they have not yet conceded a goal after three Premiership matches so far -

Last night (Monday) Annie and I with Ryan and Lucy went to Coventry Speedway.

Speedway is popular in England again after a few years in the doldrums. For instance Sky TV now shows live Speedway matches every week.

English professional football has many prima donna characters but there are certainly not many prima donnas in Speedway as we witnessed last night.
It is indeed a sport full of brave men!

Three or four riders had heavy crashes during the event and all of them dusted themselves down and got up off the track to ride again.

Considering these guys are riding 500 cc motorcycle machines that have no brakes and travel at 60 - 70 miles per hour within inches of each other, I reckon they deserve every penny they earn.

I am a great sports fan and I love to watch football which will always be my favourite sport but to see these speedway riders' bravery and risk taking is awesome.

Good luck to all speedway riders who literally risk their lives every time they take to the track in order to entertain their many fans.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Nothing is impossible

Once upon a time there were two eccentric guys in America who thought they could get heavy machines called aeroplanes to fly in the air for many miles. Many people thought they were mad and said it would never happen.

Then there were some people who thought that man could walk on the moon. Again there were people who thought it was a crazy idea.

It was science fiction according to some that something called a computer would one day be on every desk in every office and in almost every home.

Ten years ago it was impossible to believe a small lump of metal 3 inches by 4 inches could contain 10000 or more music tracks.

As you will see from a previous posting Tom Peters mum died over the weekend at the great old age of 95 years. In a reflective few moments today I just wondered what will be ‘normal’ when I am 95 in 42 years time.

It is exciting to think about it but - for me anyway -impossible to imagine.

Mrs Peters, as a young woman, would probably not have believed possible some of the things that we take for granted in 2005.

Progress has come about thanks to people pushing boundaries and challenging current perceived truth. A thirst for knowledge and improvement drives such people.

I would love to hear your ideas about what might be ‘normal’ in 40 years from now.

How’s this short list for starters?

  • No coins or notes – all financial transaction done electronically?
  • Will anyone work in an office?
  • Short break holidays to other planets?

A few things won’t change – sadly there will still be wars, world poverty and children will still die from diseases that cannot be treated – although we can pray that may not be the case.

On lighter note … In 42 years time;

  • The UK Conservative Party will still be trying to elect a leader capable of leading.

  • The Russian Mr Roman Abramovitch, multi-millionaire owner of Chelsea Football Club – who by the way is now the Heir to the Throne - will have purchased every footballer, cricketer, rugby player and golfer in England just to make sure no other club than Chelsea has the slightest chance of ever winning anything again.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Men don't cry ...... or do they?

One of the things that has always attracted me to Tom Peters ‘school of management thinking’ is that despite this man being a world icon in management and leadership for the last 30 years, he remains rooted in what I would called 'ordinary-ness' - please forgive the grammar.

I visit Tom Peters Blog regularly and he has just announced that his 95 year old mother has sadly died.

He has also reflected on his battle with depression for many years. Please take a look at this link

Why is it that when people admit to suffering depression it is considered some sort of 'brave' admission?

No one has a problem talking about their battle against cancer or diabetes or heart disease or broken limbs. So why is it seen as ‘brave’ if one admits that depression walks beside us.

I have had times in my life until when 'depression' has been my shadow – happily not for one second since I met Annie ..... and there is a moral there methinks!

I know I am not alone. Indeed I am in good company.
Robbie Williams, Tom Peters and John Cleese to name but three.

Many people suffer depression - it is more common than we like to admit – particularly among men who, of course, are supposed to cope and not bow to all this ‘silly emotional stuff.’

I would be really interesting to hear views about this one.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

As if by magic the computer came back from dead!

Great news - our technology is working again :-)

Annie and I have recovered from high stress levels caused by missing our computers and the consequent frustrating visits to our local library to use slow computers.
Watching paint dry springs to mind.

Isn’t it amazing how impatient we computer users have become with the slow speed of older computers when only a few years ago that was considered ‘quick?’

We had a power cut during the week and it seems the telephone line was adversely affected in a big way.

I had lots of phone calls with many skilled and knowledgeable young people who spoke a language called IT Speak - I am sure these people are from another Galaxy.

They talked intelligently about such things as 'synchronicity of ISP providers', 'whoosh attenuation tests' and other mysterious words and terms. I nodded and made the right grunting noises at the appropriate time I think – trying to reassure them there words were not falling on deaf ears. I am not sure I succeeded in convincing them!

One day I hope to visit their Galaxy.

And then .... As if by magic the Belkin wireless router starting working again for no obvious reason.

Despite all the mystical words I prefer to believe it was simply a case of waiting for things to settle down after the power cut. Maybe God took a hand as well :-)

Anyway it is great to have full IT services resumed again and I will be posting normally from now.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Technology is wonderful

Apologies but my technology has crashed!!

I am unable to post comments on my Simplicty Blog at present but I hope to be up and running again early next week.

I am posting this comment from my local library

Technology is wonderful when it works pefectly don't you think?

Monday, August 22, 2005

To qualify or not to qualify? – That is the question

For as long as I can remember this debate has taken place - What is the relative merit of ‘university of life’ training versus formal qualifications?

I have little doubt the greatest experience to be gained is through doing real work and learning on the job. But as I have become older and more experienced I have appreciated more than I perhaps did - the benefit of formal courses of study that lead to qualifications.

I gained all my initial management experience by actually managing and I would not change that at all but in the mid 1990’s I obtained – as a mature student – a Post Graduate MA in Healthcare Management which was really hard work. I was in a fairly senior full time and busy position in healthcare at the time and this was a three year course of study that I had to do over and above my job. Added to that of course is the everyday life that one has to lead and I have to say there were times when I asked myself why I was doing this. Nevertheless I plodded on and eventually emerged - after three years of what some might call 'hell' - with a highly regarded qualification of which I am very proud.

Ironically I do not believe the qualification and the study made me a better manager - perhaps just a person who now knows more theory. I think it helped me re-assess my personal development.

I strongly believe anyone who has worked hard to achieve formal qualification – however basic deserves to be recognised and celebrated for that achievement. This applies whether we are talking about hairdressing, plumbing, acting, underwater basket weaving – you name it – anything!

At times in my 35 year career I met people who had many qualifications but did not make good managers. Some people I met who had no qualifications made excellent managers. At other times I met people without qualifications and did not make the best managers and sometimes, those with a long list of qualifications did a fabulous job.

In my opinion it just is not a simple black and white argument. I feel success is more to do with the person rather than how many qualifications they have.

I really do not think we progress the debate by suggesting one or the other position as being the right or wrong one.

I would love to hear more views on this one.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Reflections on Dublin Airport

How is it the same people who spend millions of pounds upgrading airports then have speaker systems that either;

1 Cannot be heard in parts of the building?


2 Are used by staff who seem unable to string together more than two words that customers can understand?

Also …. Why are customers asked to board the plane and then asked to stand in a queue for twenty minutes outside the boarding gate with no explanation of why that is? Or how long you are going to wait?

Not only that, there was uncertainty about which queue we were supposed to be in – there were two queues and frankly nobody seemed very sure of which queue they were supposed to be in.

Maybe we just chose a bad day (I don’t think so)

The joys of customer care.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

My rant on communications

I am intrigued about the communication process - please forgive this rant but I need to get it off my chest :-)

I constantly find myself chasing e-mails that have not been acknowledged and following up things that just don’t seem to happen despite being promised.

There is never a week when I do not have to chase some communication or other.

I find many people do not even acknowledge an e-mail, phone message, text message or letter. To me this is really no different than meeting someone in the street – saying ‘hello’ and being completely ignored as the person walks on by not even acknowledging you.

Through experience in my life and career I have found it is simply not good enough to ‘let the system happen’ and rely on the fact that people will always respond. They often do not. You just have to follow up. It may feel that you are being a right pain in the backside and you will be accused of being obsessional. I really don't care about that - I find it is the only way frankly to ensure things happen

I can only speak as I find and in my experience unless you follow up there is a distinct probability you will simply be ignored and you may miss something important.

There are of course notable exceptions. Most of my regular contacts respond to me and I love that.

I always try - at the very least - to acknowledge every piece of communication I receive – even if it is just a short e mail to let the person know I have got their message. I also like to do it quickly. I feel that is the least I can do – acknowledging the fact that someone has taken their time and trouble to contact me.

My late Dad would simply call that good manners!

Modern organisations like and are just fabulous at all this and their service is exceptional. The customer is kept up to date with progress of their order and the delivery is usually within two days – awesome service, underpinned by awesome communication.

As individuals we can learn from such organisations. They have realised that exceptional customer service relies on exceptional communication.

We can all use the excuse ‘we are too busy’ and do not have time. Tom Peters is clearly one of the ‘busiest’ people in the world. And yet Tom – with all that he has to do – has found the time in his manic schedule to acknowledge occasional e mails I have sent to him.

Has communication become so easy that we have become relaxed about it all and thus losing what I see as good manners of acknowledging correspondence?

'The Problem with communication is the ILLUSION that it has been accomplished' - George Bernard Shaw

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The power of story telling

Sometimes I have been glued to a story told well.

How is it that:

  • I remember the story almost word for word - without rehearsing?
  • I create pictures in my head from a story?
  • I can relate the story to another context and use it to transmit a message?

Stories are one of many methods of teaching and learning - but it is interesting to muse that before the written word, all information was passed on orally. Arguably, the oldest skill in the communications book of tricks is the spoken word.

With the words we speak there is no electronic spell check or grammar check. When we are talking we don’t think about left or right justified so maybe we are more ‘on the spot’ with our spoken word. Little wonder many like to think carefully before opening their mouth to speak – little wonder equally, that many regret speaking without thinking first. The power of the spoken word is immense.

I cannot recall a page of A4 text from Physics lessons at school - but I can probably recall almost word for word, some of the stories I have been told – twenty or thirty years ago.

In management and leadership I believe we are beginning to appreciate the value of story telling.

Below are some random thoughts about story telling and its relationship to effective management and leadership and how things get done.

  1. Story telling touches emotions and presses the right buttons for the listener. It is a very effective way of prompting a response and thereby creating discussion. A story can be a vehicle to transmit a potentially sensitive message.
  2. Stories told well, create pictures ….. A picture saves a thousand words ….. Hence, stories are therefore an efficient, as well as effective, communication method.
  3. At school some lecturers were “teachers” and some were “evangelist teachers.” Though I didn’t appreciate it at the time, the “teachers” were probably very competent in their subject …….. the “evangelists” were the ones who made learning interesting and enjoyable - part of their repertoire was usually the ability to “make it real” by telling a story
  4. How many times do we attend courses, conferences when what we remember of the speaker is the anecdote and the story rather than the technical information they imparted in their half hour of glory at the podium? In my experience it is more often the story telling and the anecdote that is remembered.

Story telling is one of the most potent weapons in the arsenal of any manager and if used sensibly, wisely and sparingly it can prove a most effective way of:

  • Getting your message across
  • Inspiring others
  • Spreading your message
  • Making work an interesting place to be

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Hope you like this one

From a strictly mathematical viewpoint it goes like this:

What Makes 100%?

What does it mean to give MORE than 100%?

Ever wonder about those people who say they are giving more than 100%?

We have all been to those meetings where someone wants you to give over 100%.

How about achieving 103%?

What makes up 100% in life?

Here's a little mathematical formula that might help you answer these questions:

If:A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z is represented as:1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26.

Then:H-A-R-D-W-O-R-K 8+1+18+4+23+15+18+11 = 98%

K-N-O-W-L-E-D-G-E 11+14+15+23+12+5+4+7+5 = 96%

But,A-T-T-I-T-U-D-E 1+20+20+9+20+21+4+5 = 100%

And, B-U-L-L-S-H-I-T 2+21+12+12+19+8+9+20 = 103%

AND, look how far ass kissing will take you.

A-S-S-K-I-S-S-I-N-G 1+19+19+11+9+19+19+9+14+7 = 118%

So, one can conclude with mathematical certainty that while Hard Work and Knowledge will get you close, and Attitude will get you there, it's the Bullshit and Ass Kissing that will put you over the top.

Delight your customers

I am sure I am not the only one who notices these things.

It seems to me some people who deal with customers at the front line have that certain something that makes them present themselves with an air of happiness, a smile, friendliness and brilliant efficiency...

……And then there are those that are very efficient but cold and in need of a personality transplant...

…..And then there are those that I can only assume have been recruited because of their total eccentricity and complete lack of personal or social skills - These are the ‘joke folks’ who must have been recruited by a Psychopathic boss.

Ok I accept those are sweeping and exaggerated generalisations.

But I have commented recently on numerous occasions about (to me anyway) the total unsuitability of some people to be in front line customer positions.

Round pegs in square holes comes to mind.

I would have thought that if you own a business and you want to present a good image of yourself then the most important people representing you are the staff inter-acting with your customers.

Whether this is a mega-big company or a sandwich shop down the road makes no difference.

I think the well informed customer of 2005 expects and deserves to be treated in a special way.

Frankly in many places I have visited I would not employ some of the people I have had the ‘pleasure’ of being served by in the last few months. That is the down side.

The upside is there are many wonderful, caring, happy, smiley folks at the front line doing fantastic work delighting customers – let’s have more of them please.

Roller Skating Birthday

For Annie's birthday we had a fabulous day together yesterday culminating in a visit to the theatre last evening in Birmingham to watch Starlight Express, an Andrew Lloyd-Webber musical on Roller Skates!

'Awesome' is the only word to describe it.

Neither Annie or I knew anything about it before we went but it left a great impression on us - to such an extent we are going to go to the roller skating rink if we can find one.

Not to become stage stars of course - simply as another hobby!

Thank you Annie for a lovely day and I look forward to the next 50 years with you - maybe we will spend your next birthday on Roller Skates :-)

Monday, August 15, 2005

Happy Birthday Annie

Today is a special day.

Annie, who has made my life complete has her birthday on 15 August.

If you are fortunate enough - like me - to share your life with someone who;
  • supports you whatever you do
  • laughs and cries with you
  • cares for you
  • loves you unreservedly
  • tolerates your eccentricities
  • accepts you for who you are
  • does not judge you
  • makes you feel the most important person in the world

Then you will know what I mean when I say work, business and making a living is less important than the things Annie and I share.

There was a time in my life I wasn't really sure I wanted to live to be 100 but now I do - on condition Annie and I are still together making each other laugh.

Happy Birthday Darling - I love you x

Winning is not everything

A great Liverpool Football Club Manager called Bill Shankly once said "Football is not a matter of life and death - it is far more important than that"

The English Premiership Football (Soccer) Season got underway this weekend and my team Manchester United started off with a great win at Everton by two goals to nil.

At the beginning of each new season there is always great optimism among fans that their team will have a fabulous season and end up in May as winners of one of the competitions.

Of course only a few teams can win trophies at the end of the season and so success has to be measured by achieving a good position in the league table or maybe getting to the final of a knock out competition.

It always makes me realise that taking part is the important bit and not everyone can be a winner if you define winning as taking home the trophies.

This is also true in life methinks and certainly true in business.

Sure it is fabulous to aim high and I think we always should aim for the highest possible goals in our life and our work.

If we do not achieve them but work hard then we should be proud of that which we have achieved. Not everyone can be a winner but everyone can always do their best and aim high.

I will of course be hoping to see my team Manchester United up there at the end of the season challenging for all the top trophies.

With Wayne Rooney and Ruud Van Nistelroy getting United off to such a great start on Saturday the show is well and truly on the road.

In the meantime back at grass roots level of football. I am starting a comeback this season at 53 years of age after a retirement of a few years - no kidding :-)

If I stay the pace I will keep you up to date with progress of my new team

Friday, August 12, 2005

Check, re-check and then check again!

I recently wrote an e mail to Central Trains head office customer services complimenting a brilliant helpful young man behind the ticket desk at my local rail station.

After a month the lad had not received the 'thank you' from his manager despite me being told customer services had passed my compliment to the manager responsible to pass on to the worker.

Waht made me check up? .....I had a feeling - just an instinct - YOU KNOW HOW IT IS - the manager had not passed it on so I just asked the lad DIRECT and he knew nothing about what the hell I was talking about. I am not sure who was more embarrased him or me!!

I wrote an angry second e mail and was reassured the manager would be told to pass on the praise.

I will ask again, but for God sake, my point is, I shouldn't have to ask should I?

With all the complaints there are about rail services - it is surely not too much trouble for a manager to take time out to pass on a customer 'thank you' to someone at the front line is it ...maybe I am just an idealist .. I don't think so - this is just simple good manners, common sense and good management.

Sad to say - check, re-check, and re check is something that I feel I just have to do these days more than ever before.

My serious question is .... WHY????

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Command and Destroy

Wow ........ Work is very busy at present and I am spending a lot of time traveling so I feel a little bit guilty about not updating my Simplicity Blog every day.

Funny how this Blogging has created its own discipline on me!!

It got me thinking about something I have always believed - that the best way to make sure people do their job effectively is to leave it to them and not tell them what to do. But always be available to support them of course if need be.

People set their own standards in my opinion and the great majority - I would estimate approximately 99.9% - hold themselves accountable to extremely high self imposed quality standards about their work.

I believe people respond far more effectively to trust from their boss rather than being what I call 'over supervised.'

The best judge of whether I have done an effective job is always the person I see in the mirror.

I worked in the National Health Service for 35 years and there is probably no greater ‘supervision culture’ anywhere in the world than the NHS.

Being out of the NHS for 8 months has convinced me there is over supervision and far too much ‘managing people’ in the NHS. We really should allow those people just to fly. They are more than capable. The biggest thing that holds most of them back is old style management approaches of ‘command and control.’

I would rather call that style ‘control and destroy

Monday, August 08, 2005

Tony Benn - "Dare to be a Daniel"

I have just finished reading a fabulous book called Dare to be a Daniel by Tony Benn.

I am biased as Tony Benn is my greatest political hero.

For the benefit of Blogging friends of mine outside the UK, Tony Benn is a Labour Politician and is now almost 80 years old.

He never became leader of the Labour Party - more is the pity in my view.

But he was a leading politician – very powerful - and always outspoken with frank and honest views setting him apart from the normal dull and boring politicians who simply stick to their party line, come what may.

Tony Benn is a man of great conviction.

He is also - in my opinion - the greatest Political speaker I have heard since I started getting interested in politics around the age of 18 years - about 35 years ago.

His book is written with typical Tony Benn ‘upfrontness.’

There are no punches pulled about how British politics really works. His prediction about too much power being in other than democratic hands is worrying. He argues persuasively there already is too much power in the hands of a few highly wealthy people or corporations - and that it will get worse - threatening democracy in the west as we currently recognise it.

On the 'non-political front' - the book contains many little gems of humour, humility, wisdom. There are numerous touching references to the love he shared with his wife of 51 years until her death in 2000. Tony Benn is obviously very proud of his family.

By his own admission he was born into a wealthy family and had a privileged upbringing in a loving and warm family. Despite that he comes across as a man who fought battles for people who were not so well off as he.

I just love the simplicity and creativity of the wonderful advice Tony Benn’s father him when he was 8 years old.

This is how it is described in the book.

"Father once said to me, ‘Never wrestle with a chimney sweep’, which was a curious piece of advice to give an eight year old, but I now understood exactly what he meant: ‘If someone plays dirty with you, don’t play dirty with them or you will get dirty too’ My attempts to keep personal abuse out of political controversy has been shaped by that simple phrase about how to steer clear of chimneysweeps. I recommend it to others without reservation."

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Hold on to your dream whatever the cynics say

I am indebted again to for another wonderful story.

When Laughter Isn't the Best Medicine
A Doctor's Remedy for Ridicule
Copyright Ó 2005 by Cynthia Kersey

In 1847, a small blonde woman named Elizabeth Blackwell made a very gutsy move. She applied for admission to a medical college in Geneva, New York. It wasn't the first time she'd applied to medical school, but all the others -- dozens of them -- had rejected her.

In Geneva, the dean was nervous about taking responsibility for this unprecedented request, so he passed the application on to a vote of the school. When the male students read it, they exploded in laughter. It was so obvious to them that this was a practical joke being played by a rival college. "Let's humor them," they decided. Amid a chorus of cheers, jeers, and catcalls, they voted Blackwell in, but the joke was on them. Students and townspeople were horrified when they discovered Elizabeth Blackwell was real. Initially, she was denied access to classroom medical demonstrations as they were deemed "inappropriate" for a woman.

Two years later, she graduated first in her class and became the first woman to graduate from an American medical school. It was publicized all across the country. Publicity however, is not the same as acceptance.

Blackwell found the only place she could continue her studies was in the more liberal minded city of Paris, and even there, she was accepted only as a midwife. While working with children, she contracted an eye disease that left her blind. Her dream had been to be a surgeon, but in the endless storehouse of dreams in the world, hers became just another one. Blackwell would become a physician instead and moved back to the States.

For seven years in New York, Blackwell struggled to find a position but every hospital turned her away. Once again she formed a new plan; she would establish a private practice. The years that followed were lonely ones, with few friends and little support. Her medical colleagues ignored her and she was barred from the city's hospitals and dispensaries. No one would rent her office space, and her mailbox was filled with hurtful, abusive letters. People called her immoral and shameless and compared her to a prostitute.

Finally she opened a small office in the ghetto. No one came. To attract clients, she gave lectures to girls on physical education in the basement of a church. The room was always packed, but her office remained empty. Undeterred, she offered her services for free, but still no one came. Finally, a woman collapsed ill outside her door. Although many male doctors had been unable to help the woman, Blackwell treated her successfully. Now at last, the people came.

Soon Blackwell's practice was thriving, but she didn't stop there. She founded the New York Infirmary for Women and Children, and later, a Women's Medical College. Applications poured into the college -- applications from people with names like "Marie" and "Lucy" and "Ann."

This time, no one laughed.

"A high purpose lives against every species of opposition."
-Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell

Good to be back..... I think

The most fabulous thing about going away is that feeling of ‘no responsibility’ other than enjoying some time away with the most special person in your life.

Annie and I had a fabulous break in the Channel Islands for the last week and we enjoyed every second.

One of the highlights has to be when I went to sit on my seat on the bus and found to my surprise that the seat had flipped up and folded into the side panel.

I am sure I looked very undignified on the floor of the bus - flat on my back with the enormous back pack I was carrying on top of me.

It made the 20 or so passengers smile and therefore I consider I did my bit for those who were maybe not feeling too happy that morning. Annie and I laughed so much we hurt physically!

Unfortunately the 'coming home' and 'getting back into the routine bit’ is always a challenge. The inbox is full and it takes ages to catch up.

Never mind ... Annie and I are eagerly looking forward now to our next break.