What if . . . . . . .

Sunday,31 August, 2008

Not all relics of the industrial age are quite as ‘photogenic’ as this old tub!

By now, we are pretty familiar with the principle: ‘the polluter pays’.

Our cars must be disposed of responsibly, we have to pay to get rid of materials containing asbestos, and so on.

But could we, and should we, apply this principle to other aspects of our life?

Here’s a few ideas for starters.

  • There’s a clear link between fatty and sugar laden foods and obesity – which is set to cost our Health Service a fortune in the years to come.  Should such foods attract a special tax, both as a disincentive for consumption, and to make sure those eating these foods meet the total cost resulting from consumption?
  • Late night pubs and clubs spill people onto streets at times when shopkeepers are not around.  It costs money to provide police at this time, taking resources away from previous normal daytime duties.  And if a drunken fracas develops and a shop window gets broken in, it rests with the shopkeepers to answer a call in the early hours, arrange emergency repairs, and then install security shutters.  Should the cost of all this be met by taxing those who run licensed premises which serve areas where these problems occur?
  • People end up in hospital for all sorts of reasons – sometimes as a result of accidents caused by dangerous driving, sometimes because of violent assaults.  Expensive therapy may even be needed to help victims cope with the aftermath of criminal activity.  Should the costs be met by the perpetrator, rather than by the tax payer?
  • Disposing of household rubbish is increasingly expensive – whether for landfill or by recycling.  Most householders battle with junk mail they don’t want, as well as with unnecessarily elaborate packaging.  Shouldn’t those generating these materials, be expected to meet the cost of disposal?
  • How much money is spent on cleaning up after chewing gum?  Shouldn’t clean up costs be met by the companies who make and sell it?

What do you think?

Would this help people understand the full consequences of their actions?

Can you think of any other examples?

Is anybody there?

Friday,15 August, 2008

As well as being wonderful, every now and again our dog looks a bit ‘vacant’.

Our dog looking a bit ‘vacant’.

Sometimes we’ve got into conversation about this and, rather than using ‘vacant’, a variety of expressions have arisen – such as the usual:

• “Not the sharpest knife in the drawer”;
and
• “One sandwich short of a picnic”.

But we’ve also had suggested to us:

• “The lights on, but nobody’s in”;
and
• “The wheel’s still turning, but the hamster’s long since gone”!

Have you got any other creative, fun suggestions?

Do share them with us . . . . . . . .

And in the meantime, how about this picture of an owner looking like his dog (or should it be a picture of a dog looking like his owner)?

A date with a surprise? 08.08.08

Friday,8 August, 2008

Sometimes we only see what we expect to see.

Intense study of incense

It’s reasonable to expect that, in a Japanese temple, we’ll see a group of people gathering around a dish of burning incense.

The pictures make a nice composition, with everyone’s attention on the flames and smoke, and the viewer is drawn to the rapt faces.

Richard Wiseman’s book “Did You Spot the Gorilla?” encourages us to expect the unexpected, so that we can learn to see hidden opportunities.

It’s a great read, and it can also change our way of doing things – and even our lives!

When I took this photograph I didn’t realise the gift within it. And it was only after several times of looking at the finished article that I spotted an extraordinary irony: the enthusiastic Japanese participant holding up the little girl to see burner, has a shoulder bag emblazoned in English with the words “Fire Fighters”.

If you spotted it, you may just have read the ‘Gorilla’ book, or be a genius . . . . . .

Is “can’t do” BAD? Is “can do” GOOD?

Friday,1 August, 2008

Thoughts on an upside-down world . . . . . . . . .

Are you, and others, seeing the ‘real you’, or just a mere reflection?

Surely it’s obvious that being bad at something will hold us back?

Yes, well – walking past a building whose roof was being repaired, a colleague turned to me to complain about the behaviour of the scaffold workers. “It’s obvious that if they do that it will be dangerous. Can’t they just see that . . . . . . . ?”

“But” I replied, “you’re assuming that they are endowed with sufficient imagination to predict what might happen in the future. Do you think that anyone with that amount of imagination, would want to work at that sort of height?”

My colleague had to admit that having a well developed imagination could be a problem for some jobs – in other words, being bad at something could be a benefit!

In the world of business management, some people lack either the analytical skills or the temperament to manage quantities of detail. This trait can result in them concentrating on the over-view, and then being seen to be ‘strategic’. And senior managers need to be strategic. Another example of when being bad at something could be a benefit!

And surely it’s obvious that being good at something will help our careers to advance?

Yes well – in years past, many people who were really good at their jobs were rarely given the chance to advance: they were called ‘secretaries’. They were so good at doing their job, (including ‘propping up’ their bosses), that they were rarely encouraged to break free and progress.

In the world of business management, those people who are skilled at handling detail can be similarly disadvantaged. Their skills can be seen as so valuable that they are not encouraged to develop. And because they are good at detail, it may also be assumed that they are incapable of strategic thinking – without ever being given the chance to prove otherwise.

If you want to break out of this, it’s worth working hard on the fact that ‘what got you to where you are now, might not be enough to get you to where you want to be’.

It can be important to think these things through – make sure that you, and others, can see the ‘real you’, rather than a mere reflection!

Mistakes are GOOD! Well, sometimes . . . . . .

Friday,25 July, 2008

These days we’re always being encouraged to innovate – to do things differently and improve.

Sometimes when we try to do things differently, we make mistakes. It seems that making mistakes is an essential part of innovation.

Sometimes the mistakes can be better than our first intentions! In 1928 Alexander Fleming was working with a bacterial culture which became contaminated and died. This ‘mistake’ led to the discovery of penicillin, which has saved countless lives ever since.

But unfortunately, sometimes the mistakes just make things worse, and then we have to learn from our mistakes and try again – what used to be called ‘learning by trial and error’.

In these days of extended accountabilities and media spotlights, risk is invariably seen as bad.

But if we can’t make mistakes, won’t we expose ourselves to the biggest risk of all – the risk of reducing our capacity to innovate and improve?

If we can’t learn from making mistakes, are we making a rod for our own backs?

So why don’t companies come right out and say “It’s ok to make mistakes”?

Of course there would have to be safeguards, but how would you feel if your employer said it’s ok to make mistakes:

  • Provided they are honest mistakes, made with the best of intentions and not because you were just being sloppy or negligent;
  • Provided you take responsibility for your mistakes;
  • Provided you learn from your mistakes, taking steps to make sure you don’t make the same mistake again; and
  • Provided you help your colleagues learn from your mistakes, sharing your experience with them in order to reduce the risk of them ever making the same mistake that you made.

If your company had a ‘Mistakes Policy’ like that, would you feel supported, more able to innovate and improve?

If this wouldn’t work for you, what would you need?

Happy 90th Birthday, Nelson Mandela!

Friday,18 July, 2008

Today’s the day to wish Nelson Mandela a “Very Happy 90th Birthday!”

A recent BBC Radio4 ‘Any Questions?’ programme was asked why established democracies don’t seem to get politicians of the stature of Nelson Mandela.
A great question!

It occurred to me that Nelson Mandela was locked in prison for 30 years, and then became a President for three years. In other words, he had 10 years to think, for every one year he practiced as a politician.

We are probably lucky if our politicians are given one year to think, for every 10 that they act.

Of course I am not suggesting that we lock all our aspiring politicians in gaol!

But the shear breathtaking audacity and generosity behind the concept of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, shows the power of thought – if only we can give ourselves sufficient time.

And action without sufficient thought, can be pretty dangerous – especially in the realm of world politics.

What would be YOUR answer be to the question “Why is it that established democracies don’t seem to get politicians of the stature of Nelson Mandela?”

Do share your thoughts.

Let’s CHANGE ‘Management Speak’!

Friday,11 July, 2008

Who invents ‘Management Speak’?

You know, the sort of thing – phrases that get trotted out and, after a while, can become irritating clichés!

How about “Touching base” or “User-centred” or “Interpersonal”?

Some examples really grate, perhaps because they seem to divide the speaker from the audience by using the language in an entirely different way.

Other expressions seem to use English in a normal way, with the intention of conjuring up an image without which it would take a lot of effort to explain – a bit like “one picture being worth a thousand words” – even if the picture is imaginary.

But even these can get irritating if over-used!

Frankly, I don’t fancy your chances of getting these ducks in a row . . . .

Perhaps the only answer is to keep inventing new descriptions?

People used to talk of others “Moving the goal posts” to explain a changing work environment. This was inadequate to describe the rate of change imposed by our regulator, for whom I would talk of “Having goal posts on castors”. Then it got worse, and I referred to them “Having goal posts on motorised castors”.

I found that this got the listeners’ attention much better than if I had explained the mounting and changing bureaucracy in a more literal manner.

When explaining the degree of difficulty in getting things done, people often speak of “Trying to herd cats”.

A colleague used to talk of “Trying to catch fog in a bucket”.

I’ve often spoken of “Trying to run up a down escalator covered in treacle” and, more recently “Trying to juggle with jelly”. (I quite like this last one, because it’s impossible, gets messy, plus it’s alliterative!)

So why don’t we invent some new expressions (to replace the ones we don’t like, or the ones we have become tired of), and see how quickly they spread?

If you post your ideas here, we can share them and even begin using them.

We might just brighten up the world of work, communicate better, and have some fun?

And having fun can unlock creativity and make us more productive. I could call this a “Win-win situation”, but I’d better not . . . . . . . . . I wonder what we could call it in stead. Any ideas?

Happy Independence Day, USA!

Friday,4 July, 2008

America is not just independent. America is very independent.

Why?

Is it something to do with the personalities of its people and/or its leaders?

Honey and Mumford reckoned people have four different ways of learning (often called ‘learning styles’):
Activists just get on and ‘do it’ – acting first, considering consequences later;
Reflectors observe and analyse – slow to reach conclusions;
Theorists think logically – fitting things into a pattern; and
Pragmatists put ideas into practice – shunning endless discussion.

Is America very independent, because Americans have a preponderance of particular learning styles?

Were the people who left Europe and sailed the high seas, more likely to be Activists? (Who else would cross the Atlantic under sail with no guarantee of success, and no likelihood of ever returning?) If so, can this pass down the generations?

What learning style do you need to become President, given that you can only run for office if you have substantial personal wealth?

Does this have any relevance to the conduct of international relations, where different peoples learning styles can come into conflict?

Does it even have a bearing on America’s foreign policy?

What do you think?  Of course how you approach this question, may just be coloured by your own learning style . . . . .

Happy Independence Day, USA and The World!

Humour – where DOES it come from?

Friday,27 June, 2008

In deep sleep I dreamt up a joke: the joke made me laugh out loud – so loud, that I woke myself up!

In the morning the joke still seemed quite good, so I shared it with work colleagues. They all laughed out loud as well!

Then I forgot the joke . . . . . . . . . .

Later on I could recall that I’d dreamt up a joke but, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t recall the joke itself.

Then one day in the bathroom I was listening to a radio programme in which someone was saying that Sigmund Freud reckoned that laughter was our way of dealing with stuff we didn’t really want to deal with, or unpleasant stuff – and that reminded me of the joke!

(The picture is of a scary lead mask, decorating the roof of a Japanese temple.)

So here is the dreamt up joke – with apologies in advance, as it does have a high ‘groan’ factor:

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Did you hear the one about the bloke who couldn’t say “toilet”?

He could only say “toilette”! (ie with a French accent.)

It turned out that the reason he could only say “toilette”, was because he suffered from Irritable Vowel Syndrome . . . . . . .

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Recently we have celebrated the life of Humphrey Littleton, whose chairing of the Radio 4 programme “I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue” was shear magic.

A recent radio clip recorded Humph’ speaking of meeting a man who described himself as “an orthinologist”. Apparently Humph’s great disappointment was that he did not realise until the next day that he should have replied “So you’re a ‘Word Botcher’ then.”

This is an astonishing feat of creativity, as “Word Botcher” is both:
• an accurate description of what the man had done in creating the term “orthinologist”; and
• a phonetic spoonerism of “Bird Watcher” (having a meaning in parallel with the intended term “ornithologist”.)

It’s interesting that this complex idea didn’t come to Humph’ until the next day – after a night’s sleep.

Perhaps humour, our sub-conscious, and creativity, are all connected?

What do you think?

What will be the next BIG challenge for technology?

Saturday,21 June, 2008

Standing on the back of a narrowboat, I got to thinking – it’s what you do when travelling at 3mph:

just how much technology has changed since the canal system was first built!

To start off with, the Industrial Revolution was all about big being best. A bigger machine was more powerful, could do more work, and could create more wealth.

(The picture shows Richard Arkwright’s Masson Mills in Derbyshire, built alongside the River Derwent in 1783.)

Huge mill buildings were built to harness the power of the big machines, and the large number of people who were needed to work the machines were housed in terraces which nestled under the shadow of the mills. Ultimately, whole families – generation after generation – went to work in the factories with their big, powerful machines.

So this technology generated social stability, with large numbers of people knowing their place (physically and socially) over a considerable period of time.

But in the world of technology the real power now seems to rest with the small – smaller and smaller micro-chips make computers more and more powerful, because they can process information the quickest. And ultimately, in our knowledge-based economies, the most powerful thing of all is a good idea – which has no material substance at all!

Unlike the big factory machines, this new technology is extremely mobile – responding to the demands of the market, and increasing the need for social mobility. This has created its own strains and stresses when compared with the ‘permanence’ of the old mill towns.

Both of these technologies have allowed us to massively extend our human capabilities:
• Firstly, because big powerful machines have grown our physical strength, and
• Secondly, because computerised data storage and manipulation has massively increased our knowledge to augment our brains.

After ‘strength’ and ‘knowledge’, what might be the next challenge for our technology?

At a recent conference held in Nottingham, the Dalai Lama was reported to say that the next big challenge for humanity, after ‘strength’ and ‘knowledge’, is that of ‘compassion’.

So can technology transform our capacity to be compassionate, in the way it transformed our strength and knowledge?

Could this help society manage growth in population, and the greater social mobility inherent in globalisation?

How could technology make us more compassionate?

Is it for technology to do more of the same: by applying mechanical strength or enhanced thinking and artificial intelligence for compassionate purposes?

Or is it for technology to create wealth which can then be applied to compassionate purposes?

Surely yes, but would that be good enough?

Would compassion expressed through technology be missing something – that something which can only be experienced direct from a compassionate person?

Compassion is suddenly big news. During the last week our Health Secretary Alan Johnson has announced government plans for nurses are to be rated according to the levels of care and empathy they give to patients.

No doubt there will also be additional training to improve performance; and as watching a video of one’s own working practices can be very instructive, (helping us to see ourselves as others see us) perhaps technology will help staff to change their behaviour into a more compassionate style?

So technology can help exert strength or grow knowledge for compassionate purposes, and it can even help with behavioural modification. But what of our motives – does the direct experience of someone else’s emotions, values and motivations make a real difference, which technology can never replace?

If motives really do matter, what if the breakthrough for technology would be something which, when applied (even ‘switched on?’) could make the user more compassionate than they otherwise would be?

After iTunes and iPods, could we buy an iHeart?

(And before you think this is all bonkers, it wasn’t long ago when a group visioning possible futures came up with the idea that men would have babies – and media reports suggest it’s already ‘happened’!)

Or is the concern for people’s motives just ‘touchy-feely’ nonsense, and it doesn’t matter as long as the necessary services are provided in a caring sort of way?

What do you think?


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