Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Only the good die young...

Randy Pausch died on Friday at the age of 47 (click on his name for more). A colleague, who is also a fan, told me this morning and we shared a moment of sadness. However, if ever there was a person whose life deserved to be celebrated, then it is Randy. Go find out about him!

When I was at university I remember having a conversation about the lyrics of the above named Billy Joel song (that should give you an opportunity to date me or pigeon hole me should you so wish). I remember being immensely proud of continuing the line with, "Only the good die young because they haven't lived" My immediate (inebriated) friends were almost equally impressed and I was convinced this was the first of many aphorisms I would coin that would eventually form a little book of wisdom which would make me famous.

Reflecting on this, once one has got over the shudder of disappointment that I was deconstructing MOR music at university (why weren't we talking about The Smiths, The Stone Roses, The Undertones or anything with an edge?) and the hilarious naivety of youth, I have to concede to my younger self that I had a point. A point I didn't understand and couldn't explain at the time. A point expressed by many greater thinkers than myself before and since. But a point nonetheless.

What Randy helped me understand is that my life is in my hands, if I don't enjoy it that that can only be my own fault. A good life is measured in experiences and friends not in years. I have known this for a long time. But as any decent learning professional will tell you, there is a difference between knowing something and actually doing something with it.

I found an echo reading Lucy Kellaway's article in the FT on Monday debunking the "sentimental pap" that no-one ever says on their death bed, "I wish I'd spent more time in the office". Now I am a huge fan of hers, indeed she is the only columnist I have actually written fan mail to (and received a response which surprised me). But it is easy to stand on the side and chuck rocks and I think there are more people with a dysfunctional relationship with work that hurts their life than there are rounded, complete individuals who just happen to get their completeness from work.

As Freud said, "Love AND work" (my caps), not one or the other.

Perhaps that is why I continue to write this blog. It is only by forcing myself to do something that I cannot control or completely understand that I stand a chance of learning something new.

Or as the Doctor Pepper ad says, "What's the worst that could happen?"

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

You can lead a horse to water...

I have been going around my business over the last few days talking about the impact that collaborative working in a knowledge economy will have. I have have tried to enthuse other people without simply being enthusiastic. And as a result I have been reflecting a lot on how to help people embrace change.

I think a lot of the reticence to explore new ways of working, communicating and collaborating stems from the age old problems of learning. That is our attitude to failure and the embarrassment that comes with it. "I can't learn a foreign language" or "I don't do technology" generally means, "I've had a bad experience trying to learn". Of course this is often masked by the standard excuses, "I don't have time", "How are we going to make money out of it?" etc.

And this in turn makes me think about how, as parents, we are bringing up and educating our children. Please notice that I am not amongst the group who think that this is the responsibility of teachers and schools.

I believe that to learn is to fail and vice versa. If you are not prepared to fail then you will learn little. And yet we have contributed, certainly in the UK and the USA, to the creation of a society that is predicated upon measurement, high stakes tests and school performance leagues rather than one in which people are taught to learn.

It is a long accepted business rule that staff will pay attention to the numbers that they know management are looking at. What if society's management is looking at the wrong numbers? When the rate of change of organisational skill catches up with us, we will have a generation of people who know longer know how to learn as all they have been taught is how to pass tests.

I suppose this brings me back to my central belief of parenthood. I cannot protect my child from pain nor should I. I can only convince her that I will be there to pick her up when she falls over. Such that when I am no longer there to pick her up and kiss it better she is not afraid to try and to learn herself for fear of failing.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Reading a recent post by gsiemens in elearnspace,

"Trust is tied to reliability and consistency. The "big institutions" - government, religious, corporate - that were the object of trust in the past have, in the last century in particular, been revealed as flawed. While people still pursue religious activities and subject themselves to government, the authority of these institutions is being replaced (is augmented a better word) by personal networks of trust" click here for full post

It occurs to me that lack of trust in "big institutions", whether secular or religious, is hardly a new thing. I would point to Martin Luther, George Washington or Robespierre (it is always fun to remind the French that the American revoltion preceded theirs by thirteen years and if you want to be really annoying that the British one preceded that by a century). In any case, my point is that mistrust is hardly a new thing.

What I would suggest is changing is the access to alternative viewpoints without obvious vested interests. It is widely held that adding user ratings to internet shopping sites was the thing which finally unlocked people's wallets to shop online. With hindsight it is easy to grasp that your average internet shopper was more prepared to accept the view of a complete stranger often from another part of the world than s/he was to believe the vendor or the manufacturer.

We believe "joe1890" or whomever, when he says, "I bought this and it's great, one small problem is changing batteries" because he has absolutely nothing to gain from me buying the same item.

It is the issue of vested interest web 2.0 turns upon. Perhaps large sites that wish to be trusted should declare a register of interests...

Monday, July 14, 2008

Randy Pausch - time management

Those who work for me will recgonise the name. At least those who read my emails.

Incidentally, a word of advice on emails, "The number of people to whom an email is sent is inversely proportional to the percentage of total recipients that will read and comprehend it".

But this post is about Randy Pausch, for those of you who haven't heard of him find a spare hour in your life and click on his name link and watch the You Tube video. I know that Europeans might find the first 10-15 minutes a little American but trust me it is worth sticking to the end.

For those who already know him, find a spare 80 minutes to listen to his lecture on Time Management. Brilliant stuff. I found this at the weekend and watched it with my wife. I am already working on two screens and may go for a third soon.

For advanced Randyphiles see his recent charge to the graduates of Carnegie Mellon University or his home page on which he blogs on his fight against pancreatic cancer.

It is rare that you meet people in your life who change the way you think.

Seek them out!

Does blogging need a narrative

In the interests of narrative congruency, I should tell you that my daughter is now much better. For other paranoid parents out there it is worth noting that Mesenteric Adenitis is much less worrying than it sounds and much better to know this than to see your little mite misdiagnosed with Apendicitis and go under the knife.

But why I am concerned with narrative? Life doesn't have a narrative. Unless you happen to have your own personal voiceover giving sense and structure to the many random things that occur each day. Or are one of those deeply annoying people who talk about themselves in the third person. If you are the former, I suggest you seek help; if you are the latter I am afraid you are beyond it.

But why do I feel the need to maintain a narrative in my blog? I think it is because I feel that I am writing for a reader, rather than myself, and need to help him/her along the way.

It is possible, in this, that I am missing the point of blogging... As a tool for reflection. Thinking out loud with feedback.

But having already confessed to making this up as I go along, I shant worry about this and will continue to meander along my learning path.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Not waving but drowing

I have managed to be quite successful in my first few days of trying to stop my bad management habits. The principle reason for this being that I haven't been at work. My daughter has a rather nasty flu type virus and has been runing a fever of between 37.5 and 39.1 degrees for the last four days.

This really makes you think about what is important. Now I am not talking in the trite and obvious fashion about how much my family means to me and how no-one says on their death bed that they wish they'd spent more time at work. That goes, almost, without saying. I have done my panicky parent bit, done the sleepless parent bit and done the trip to A&E. But I do not believe I am different from the norm in this.

The point I have been reflecting on is the inefficiency of communication as a whole.

I have made a number of mistakes in the last few days by trying to cut corners in my communication at home and at work. But I have also had some successes where by filtering out the unnecessary I have got to the point sooner.

It's something that Marshall Goldsmith (see below post) talks about in his book, that I have yet to finish for the reasons above. If you have any doubt about saying something, keep schtum.

Will social media, the exponential growth of information bring with it an overall improvement in communication skills? Or new skills entirely?

Can we surf or will we drown in an overload of information?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

What to stop

I recently saw Marshall Goldsmith (coaching guru) present and was struck by a number of things that he said. To the extent that I bought his book, "What Got You Here, Won't Get You There"

In fact if you click on the link for the book you will find a wonderful example of how web 2.0 keeps you on your toes. I was trying to insert a link with a summary of Marshall's book and I find a post that says pretty much everything I was thinking. So rather than list his idea that as you progress as a manager, the important thing is to think about what to stop doing rather than start doing you can just click on it to see the list.

Another of his key concepts is that if you want to change your behaviour you have to advertise what you are trying to change. Otherwise people will not notice. So for the benefit of people who work with me who haven't posted reponses yet, here is your chance. From his list of 20 are the things that I think I am bad at:

1. Winning too much: The need to win at all costs and in all situations - when it matters, when it doesn’t, and when it’s totally beside the point. - I'm very bad at this. Always competing even when it doesn't matter

2. Adding too much value: The overwhelming desire to add our two cents to every discussion - I am often guilty of destroying people's enthusiasm by telling them, in detail, the small and picky points they have missed in their idea (see below #6)

3. Passing judgment: The need to rate others and impose our standards on them - not immune to this either

4. Making destructive comments: The needless sarcasms and cutting remarks that we think make us sound sharp and witty - I still can't seem to detach myself from the notion that sarcasm is a display of intelligence

5. Starting with “No,” “But,” or “However”: The overuse of these negative qualifiers which secretly say to everyone, “I’m right. You’re wrong.”

6. Telling the world how smart we are: The need to show people we’re smarter than they think we are - This is probably my biggest failing

8. Negativity, or “Let me explain why that won’t work”: The need to share our negative thoughts even when we weren’t asked. - I do this on occasions but not all the time

14. Playing favorites: Failing to see that we are treating someone unfairly - I didn't think that I did this but I know a number of my staff think I do, so I accept that I need to work on this

16. Not listening: The most passive-aggressive form of disrespect for colleagues - On the whole I think I'm OK at this but always need to improve as some people still don't feel listened to...

20. An excessive need to be “me”: Exalting our faults as virtues simply because they’re who we are - I'm sure I'm guilty of this as well

These are the things that I am committing to try and improve. I will try and map my progress through this blog.

Out of 20 bad habits, I'm admitting to 10. This is pretty poor since they're the ones I prepared to admit to. This is an open invitation, without fear of criticism or reprisal, to anyone who works for me, or knows me for that matter, to add to the list. Tell me what I need to get better at.

Go on. Take a swing at the boss!