Friday, 19 February 2016

A phenomenal woman re-framing the "best years of your life"

Today is the 85 birthday of  Toni Morrison, writer and teacher. I first heard about her a couple of years ago via my favorite website and curator over at Brain Pickings that ran a story on her children's book called "The Book of Mean People" (this is a brilliant little book if you have kids or not).
Most recently I listened to her commencement address to graduates of college in the States. It's a brilliant piece of writing/speaking. One part of it especially resonates with me and my frequent sadness for, and wish to help those, especially in the media (and occasionally myself), who tend to focus their lives just a little bit too much on nostalgia,
"I’m sure you have been told that this is the best time of your life. It may be. But if it’s true that this is the best time of your life, if you have already lived or are now living at this age the best years, or if the next few turn out to be the best, then you have my condolences. Because you’ll want to remain here, stuck in these so-called best years, never maturing, wanting only to look, to feel and be the adolescent that whole industries are devoted to forcing you to remain.

One more flawless article of clothing, one more elaborate toy, the truly perfect diet, the harmless but necessary drug, the almost final elective surgery, the ultimate cosmetic-all designed to maintain hunger for stasis. While children are being eroticized into adults, adults are being exoticized into eternal juvenilia."

Doesn't really need a lot of explaining does it?

As another brilliant 
American writer (Maya Angelou) put it, Toni Morrison is without doubt a "Phenomenal woman"

The whole talk can be found here:https://soundcloud.com/brainpicker/toni-morrison-wellesley

Thursday, 11 February 2016

The smallest gestures often make the biggest difference (paying backwards)

"I've been meaning to write to you to say thank you for 40 years...", that's how my letter to Sir David Attenborough began.  

I had been sitting in my study writing and thinking when Sir David's image above my desk caught my eye.  He has been present in my life since, as the say in Scotland," I was a wee boy".  Initially as, "that posh man who likes birds", then the person every biology student wanted to be or work with.  In the last 15 years he has been an ever present in my memory palace as a personal adviser, on my TV and laptop as late night inspiration and most recently I've been thrilled by his writing (Life on Air especially) and his unbelievable work ethic as he approaches 90.   "It's a bit weird" I thought to myself as I looked at his picture "...that I feel like he is part of my life but that I've never met him and said thank you..." So I wrote a thank you letter.

Then last week the picture I've pinned to the top of this little note popped up on LinkedIn and Facebook.  The image is of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and John Wooden.  To be honest, not being a basketball fan, and whilst the older chap fired some of my dendrites, I had no real idea who they were.  It turns out that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar  is regarded by many as the "greatest basketball player of all time" who has inspired millions and even turned his hand to documentary making ("On the shoulder of giants") and to writing fiction about Sherlock's big brother Mycroft!  John Wooden, on the other hand, was also a decorated player and Kareem's coach.  Wooden is one of the most revered coaches in the history of sport.  He is also famous for his 7 point creed, his TED talk (attached), his book the Pyramid of Success and for the quote I've used as the title of this note. 

Now to these two pictures which, unlike a few others on social media, is real - I've checked it!  Despite having no idea who the people in the picture were I was really drawn to it.  I just liked the feel of it - it showed affection and oozed gratitude.  A young man listening to his boss and then many successful years later thanking him very publicly with very obvious respect and care.  The story becomes yet more inspiring when you investigate the lives these two men lead and the time in which they met one another; a time of racial and religious conflict and fear. 
All of this, and my Attenborough moment, reminded me of the importance of taking the time every now and then to connect or reconnect with the people who have been important in your life.  Oftentimes relationships at work are nothing but powder-puff, veneer thin routes to promotion or an easy life.  However, on other occasions these relationships can be life changing and I think they should be recognized as such.  
There is a dimension to this that many many people forget, including my old-self.  The person who helped you in you career (and/or life) is often very proud of what you achieved despite your relationship having been brief and lost in the mists of time.  Reminding them that you are where you are thanks to what they taught you, even if you do it in a very small way, means a lot to them and enriches their lives just as much as it does yours.
..and yes Sir David wrote back to me to say thanks...

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

For a creative life...some rudder thoughts

This is a time of year when we all take stock and remember what we have had and often dream about what we will have in the future.  If there is one thing we now is that predicting the future is pretty difficult, so many of us have new years resolutions that are lucky to see the 2nd of January.  I don't go for the resolution thing anymore, rather I think about things more from the bottom up (or perhaps from the inside out - I'm not sure). 

What do I stand for? What do I like? What can I do for others?  What is my why? All important questions.  As a kind of rudder to my life I always return to the "Holstee Manifesto" - it's a beautiful thing and I just love it.  Here is the poster version followed by a video version both of which are near the top of my "inspiring words" list:

Add to this Jack London's personal credo and you have plenty to be getting on with:

Friday, 11 December 2015

Recovery Letters

What a brilliant idea!
The "Recovery Letters" are all written with the intention to try and alleviate some of the pain of depression, to make the loneliness slightly more bearable and above all to give hope that you can recover.

I sat and read through some of the letters and found them really inspiring. Well done to @RecoveryLetters. I very much recommend a look and that we all support mental health initiatives. Thanks to @RichardWiseman for highlighting the site on Twitter.
Reading through these letters made me think of how we could use this communication technique for more trivial business matters.  
Imagine what we could do in the business world?  Here are a few ideas:
  • Coping with LinkedIn and Pulse (CLaP)
  • How to deal with a meeting with HR 
  • Silly strategy 
  • Performance review blues 
  • WooWoo and you
Any other ideas?

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Purposeful Stupidity Field Guide for Organisational Sabotage

I came across this manual for “purposeful stupidity" in the once top-secret "Simple Sabotage Field Manual", by the CIA.  It's a hilarious and terrifying read which suggests that “purposeful stupidity is contrary to human nature” and requires a particular set of skills. The citizen-saboteur “frequently needs pressure, stimulation or assurance, and information and suggestions regarding feasible methods of simple sabotage.  According to the CIA website:

"Many of the sabotage instructions guide ordinary citizens, who may not have agree with their country’s wartime policies towards the US, to destabilize their governments by taking disruptive actions."

The now declassified guide is now available to download.  Wouldn't you just love to know who has been downloading it?  The evil HR director?  Our politicians? Our Trade Unions?

Here are some of the highlights:

Organisations and Conferences

  • Insist on doing everything through “channels.” Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions.
  • Make “speeches.” Talk as frequently as possible and at great length. Illustrate your “points” by long anecdotes and accounts of personal experiences.
  • When possible, refer all matters to committees, for “further study and consideration.” Attempt to make the committee as large as possible — never less than five.
  • Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible.
  • Haggle over precise wordings of communications, minutes, resolutions.
  • Refer back to matters decided upon at the last meeting and attempt to re-open the question of the advisability of that decision.
  • Advocate “caution.” Be “reasonable” and urge your fellow-conferees to be “reasonable” and avoid haste which might result in embarrassments or difficulties later on.

  • In making work assignments, always sign out the unimportant jobs first. See that important jobs are assigned to inefficient workers.
  • Insist on perfect work in relatively unimportant products; send back for refinishing those which have the least flaw.
  • To lower morale and with it, production, be pleasant to inefficient workers; give them undeserved promotions.
  • Hold conferences when there is more critical work to be done.
  • Multiply the procedures and clearances involved in issuing instructions, pay checks, and so on. See that three people have to approve everything where one would do.

  • Work slowly.
  • Contrive as many interruptions to your work as you can.
  • Do your work poorly and blame it on bad tools, machinery, or equipment. Complain that these things are preventing you from doing your job right.
  • Never pass on your skill and experience to a new or less skillful worker.
Source: http://www.openculture.com/2015/12/simple-sabotage-field-manual.html