Gliding Segway…

I tried something last week that I had never tried before. Something I had only ever seen other people do. Something I had laughed at. And scoffed at. Something I never expected to do…ever…let alone last week. I rode on a Segway.

Or more accurately, I went gliding on a Segway.

Yes really. We took a ‘guided Segway tour’ of a city near where we are staying. There were six of us. My son. Me. And four friends (three adults and another teenager). And we all loved it. Every one of us and every bit of it. The training only took us five minutes. Training which was – at the same time – very hard and very easy.

The hard bit was the moving, turning and stopping – all of which involve actions that are completely counter-intuitive. The easy bit is that despite this ‘non-instinctive control’, it was amazing how quickly we all picked it up and how confident we all felt after only a few minutes ‘gliding’ around the car park. And then we were off. We glided on roads, on the boardwalk, side walk and even up to a local castle. We covered miles and miles in no time at all and with no effort. We listened intently (well I did at least) to the local history from the excellent guide. We saw so much. We had so much fun together.

I have no idea what the Segway inventor had in mind when he innovated and created. What was the problem he was trying to solve? What was the opportunity he had in mind? I can’t believe that guided city tours were top of his mental check list. Or Shopping Arcade security. But that’s where you see them…and laugh at them (but not me – not any more). Presumably he conceived of replacing bicycles? Or walking? Or both? Whatever his idea, I have to say that the Segway is an amazing piece of technology. It balances itself (with you on) and even ‘self-regulates’ its own speed.

In truth I think Segway was a solution to a problem that did not exist. I drive when I need to get from where I am to where I need to be. I walk when I am in no hurry. I ride when I want exercise. Segway gliding is none of these.

Creating a solution to a problem that does not exist is a risky business strategy. If it works it can change everything for everybody – think iPad – if it doesn’t….it won’t.

But it seems that Segway has found its niche. Guided city tours are perfect for Segway. But someone else had to come up with that idea. A guided city Segway tour with a teenage son is simply an outstanding vacation morning. We both enjoyed ourselves and have talked about little else since.

So any ‘game-changing’ concept – by definition – has potential to ‘change the game’. But such an idea will only work if you are a true genius (at marketing as well as invention), or if you truly understand your target market and the problems, issues and opportunities that genuinely exist.

I haven’t come across many geniuses in my time. So – unglamorous as it may sound – quality market research is always a good thing. The better the Voice of the Customer….and the more you listen to that Voice…the better.

But I am a Segway convert. I have even looked up how much they cost (wow), and how much you can them for second hand (still wow).

I know I won’t buy one though. But I also know I will ride one again. With my son. Soon. 




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Breakfast Network…

I had breakfast with an old friend last week. Actually I had dinner with him as well…he just didn’t realise. I was out having a superb outdoor evening meal with my family…we were just trying to decide if we were going to treat ourselves to desert…when my old friend sat down next to us. He had his back to us – not being rude I hasten to add – just sitting so he was looking at his wife! He didn’t see us. I didn’t see him initially, but rather I thought recognised his voice, and when I glanced over I recognised him as well.

I hadn’t seen him for the best part of three years so I definitely wanted to say hello. But I didn’t want to interrupt his evening (or ours for that matter) so I didn’t say anything until we were about to leave. As I passed his table, I put my hand on his shoulder, said hello and immediately put my hand out to shake his.

He was fine. Surprised but fine. My wife and children were amazed. They assumed he was a stranger in the restaurant and – apparently – they thought I was about to offer some ‘trip advisor-like’ advice on menu choices! They realised we knew each other immediately we started talking. I was pleased to see him and we agreed to connect via LinkedIn.

We had breakfast later in the week. Breakfast allowed me to be out and back before my family woke up. But it also provided a great chance to re-connect and catch up with each other. Three years is a long time.

The amazing thing I have (re)discovered is that networks are virtually unconditional. Unconditional in so much as that my old friend and I have had no contact with each other directly or indirectly for three years…and yet we were both delighted to invest our time to meet for breakfast (after the chance meeting at dinner). Unconditional since we met because we could and because we wanted to rather than because we had to. My only agenda as I arrived was to not eat too much and to avoid getting sun burnt. My friend’s was simply to reconnect (and probably a bit of the same about food and sunshine).

And it is amazing how much fun this sort of networking is. In total it was about 90 minutes. We could have talked for much longer. There was lots of reminiscing about people, situations, projects…and even more about people in those situations and projects. We laughed a lot. Sometimes in amazement and sometimes in amusement.

And it is wonderful how these memories are always so good. I am sure that my old colleague and I had some disagreements, but I don’t remember any of them…and neither (apparently) did he.

And it is good how positive I felt as I left. Positive about myself. Positive about my friend. Positive about what we had done together and positive about how we had done those things together. And in addition I didn’t eat too much (very hard) or get too much sun (easier).

And it is intriguing how often I leave such networking sessions with more opportunities and more ideas than when I arrive. Last week was no exception. As we talked through what we had done together, talked over what we’ve been doing since we last met, we inevitably moved onto what we are looking to do in the future. And that’s where unexpected – but potentially very exciting – opportunities always appear.

Networking is always a good – no a great – investment to make…I knew this…breakfast last week just reminded me.



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Vacation Anticipation…

I was really excited on Friday. And not just because Friday was the end of the week. Although Fridays are always intrinsically exciting. No…last Friday was my last day at work before vacation. That last day at work before time off always feels great. It is almost as if the anticipation of the vacation has more power to make us feel good than the actual vacation itself.

Well I am not sure I agree with that. I agree that the anticipation is a great feeling. And more often than not the actual day of travelling on vacation can be somewhat stressful. Packing, driving, flying or sailing. There are always things that happen that aren’t supposed to….and things that don’t happen that are supposed to.

Either way I felt happy and excited and positive last Friday. Happy that I was about to spend time with my family. Happy that we were all together. Excited about what we were going to do together. Positive about the year so far. What we have done. How we have done.

The surprising thing is that I found myself working hard on Friday – whilst at work – to control those feelings. To prevent myself from feeling good. Its strange really when I think about it. Almost as if I was anxious that feeling happy, excited and positive would somehow interfere in my last day at work? Almost as if I was trying to stop myself feeling too excited about my impending vacation.

So far then, we have had a superb vacation. Only one day mind you but still superb. Despite some questionable weather. And despite me working hard on Friday to not get too excited. Or happy. Or positive. And the only thing we ended up worrying about all day yesterday was where to buy some sandwiches for lunch (and what fillings to get).

So today I feel more relaxed. Calmer. Happier. I am not sure what that scale is mind you, but whatever it is, I feel better on it. Vacations are good and are very important. They are time to spend with people we don’t get as much time to spend with as we would like. They are a time to reflect. And laugh. And consider. And cheer. And contemplate. And enjoy. With family and friends.

But I still wonder about that day-before-a-vacation feeling. It is very real and it is very strong. And – despite my best efforts – that anticipation of a vacation is a very happy feeling. And when I thought about it some more, I realised that I have the same feeling ahead of any vacation long or short. At home or abroad. It seems as if planning and anticipating a vacation is the big deal (although of course it only applies if that planning and anticipating is followed by an actual vacation of some sort).

Taking to the logical conclusion then, more holiday trips of any duration would be of more apparent value – in terms of feeling good – than one big vacation. And almost certainly that whole thing about trying not to tell everyone that you are about to go away – but yet still telling them – is part of the ‘feeling-good-and-positive ‘dynamic.

Again – a good theory. But I don’t buy it completely. I am certain that the actual vacation itself has to be great to drive that anticipation…and if my vacations were only ever a day or two they would just be like weekends!

So my answer then is to take my vacation. But to plan what we are going to do in the vacation. Day trips. Experiences.

Plan. Anticipate. And enjoy!



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Lead Communication…

I frequently find myself involved in projects or initiatives or opportunities…big or small, strategic or tactical, local or global, internal or external. And there is one thing I have learned. Avoid ‘work streams’ called Change Management.

At least I thought I had learned this. Change Management work streams are – in my experience – associated with efforts to get people to change what we do, or how we do those things…or both. Change Management involves communications, training courses and workshops…facilitated by passionate people looking to encourage, mandate, or convince equally passionate people to change our ways.

I can’t remember any time where I can honestly say my efforts on a Change Management work stream have been a success. Yes – a Change Management work stream always has ‘success criteria’ and yes – we always carry out activities as listed…only to realise that completing activities is not the same as achieving results. It takes more than a ‘work stream’ to effectively and successfully change what we – or anyone else – does.

Change Management came to mind again last week when I was on a flight to the US East Coast. The air crew seemed much more nervous than usual…and it transpired they had a ‘manager’ (from Head Office) on board with them. I realised this was the case when said manager introduced himself to, and welcomed on board, the young man sitting next to me (we had swapped seats) – a mix up that lead to our conversation…

In our brief conversation, the manager recounted that part of his ‘mission’ was – yes you guessed it – Change Management…and he flew at least once a month to help first hand with his initiative. I thought briefly about passing on my experiences…but decided it wouldn’t be helpful at that time and in that place. But I still thought it – his Change Management work stream was unlikely to succeed.

In many ways it wasn’t a surprise to find out the airline was trying to implement a change management project. Most of us have something – big or small – that we are trying to change, or make happen, or achieve, at any particular time. But my philosophy remains the same – to do whatever I am trying to do or achieve…without the eponymous Change Management work stream. Avoiding Change Management often involves different people doing different things and, although this can feel like it takes longer, it is the only approach that truly effects change.

And then I met my new communications partner. Someone with a very different set of experiences and beliefs. And his words of advice? Crystal clear and precise. Change Management work stream? Yes – that’s exactly what you should do if you want an initiative or strategic project to work. Change Management!

OK – I was confused. I pushed back and recounted my experiences. But he stood firm. Change Management – that’s the answer. In truth he had to take me through his logic several times before I worked out the subtlety of his message…

…that the way to succeed in managing change….is to change (the) management!

In my version, ‘change’ was the noun – change is the thing we are looking to manage. In my communication lead’s version, ‘change’ is a verb – change is the thing we are doing (to management).

Obvious really. And correct. But astute. Any successful project or initiative is all about people and we often involve people with a ‘different view’ – in transient or full time roles – because they will do different things…and because they will do those things differently.

Or maybe because they will see and say things differently…just like my new communications lead….



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Worrying Feeling…

I found myself thinking about worrying last week. I was on site in the UK all week. It was hot. I met lots of people. I drank lots of coffee. Some may say I was worrying. I say I was thinking. It’s a subtly. But there’s an important difference. Worrying is a cyclical process from which it can be hard for us to escape. It seldom leads anywhere. Thinking is a logical process. It is about pros and cons. Options and ideas. Priorities and plans. Thinking will always lead to a way forward.

I concluded there are two major dimensions to worry – the past (what we have done) and the future (what we will do). We have all made mistakes – me especially. We have all done or said things that didn’t work out as we wanted or expected. Nothing can be done to change this. All we can do is learn from our experiences and move on. Anything else is a dead end and an energy ‘drain’.

Similarly, none of us can predict what is going to happen tomorrow, and yet it’s so easy for us to spend so much time trying to do just that, and – worse still – getting worked up about everything that could possibly go wrong. Not only is this an energy ‘black hole’ but it’s also a great way not to do something… something that could just as easily turn out wonderfully for us…and for others.

But worry we all do. Internally. We seldom express our worries to each other. Certainly at work. We are – most of us in our industry – scientists after all. Scientists who – by our very training – love to measure and analyse and theorise about everything. Sharing our worries is pretty close to sharing our feelings. Not part of our training…not part of our culture.

There is some benefit from this. There are times when it helps to be able to control our emotions. For example, anyone who consistently demonstrated negative emotions (like frustration or anger) will likely as not only encourage more frustration and irritation. On the other hand, us being aware of our emotions and being willing to share those emotions with others can be dramatically positive.

For example, when I think about anybody who I truly admire – leaders or friends, colleagues or peers – it’s obvious that my admiration isn’t just based on what they have done, it’s as much about how they have done those things. In effect it is because they impacted me on an emotional level.

This ability to reach people in a way that’s more than just intellectual or rational is crucial. And many would say this is the mark of a great leader, or peer, or colleague. The ability to inspire us. It’s a simple as that. To inspire: to create a feeling – especially a positive one – in a person. And when I feel inspired, I feel able to deliver more and better.

I don’t really know if our training as scientist makes this ‘emotional intelligence’ harder for us to demonstrate. But I do know that as scientists we are good at experimenting and at analyzing results. Perhaps we should experiment our way to success? After all, we are all passionate about our work. We are excited about our opportunities. We are proud of our people. We are confident about our future. We are happy to be with friends. We enjoy what we do.

Yes, we all have to develop our own individual styles, but maybe we should experiment a little at communicating our emotions – especially our positive emotions – with our colleagues, friends and partners.



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Picture Words…

I like pictures. I am not sure if it’s true that a picture tells a thousand words, but a good picture can certainly convey a message very clearly and succinctly. And a picture can somehow become a memory in a much better – and more long lasting way – than any set of words. 


I have been up in Scotland this weekend helping my daughter move house. It has been great fun, but very tiring…enjoyable, but hard ­work. I became ‘man-with-a-van for the weekend. And it was a very big van. Much bigger than the one we ordered. A time when a ‘free upgrade’ wasn’t what I was after. Even my daughter (who doesn’t drive) observed that I seemed more tentative. And that was because I was. It’s amazing how disconcerting it is when something you are very used to doing (like using a rear view mirror) suddenly stops being possible…and yet you still have to deliver.


And we took lots of pictures and sent them to my wife and son. The van. The empty van. The full van (about 5 hours later). The tired daughter. The happy but sweaty father. And the Italian dinner that night. These are the days that inevitably become special memories…and the photos always help…


I found myself thinking about pictures a lot this last week. Prior to my removal trip to Scotland I had been in the US mid-west for a meeting of my leadership team. I presented on day 1 for some three hours…and I used lots of photos and pictures. I always use slides with pictures wherever possible, and I avoid slides with words as much as possible. I know I enjoy presenting like this…but I found myself with time (waiting at airports) to consider why.


A slide with two or three pictures – and nothing else – is easier to produce. All it takes is some dexterity with cutting and pasting Google Images…and the occasional need to crop or animate. So much simpler that all headings with never ending sub-bullets….


And I know that a good picture will often communicate the message I am trying to share in a far better and far simpler way. The power is the visual. The metaphor. The symbolism. The more striking the better. My simplest example is team membership. Imagine a slide with lines, boxes, names (in boxes), titles and roles. Or imagine that only has photographs of the team members. No words. Which will be more engaging? Or interesting? Or engaging?


But I also realised that a slide with only pictures and no words can be easier to create…it can be harder to present. There is no ‘comfort blanket’ of words to read. But there is always a time limit for the presentation. It’s no good having a great set of slides with pictures and then spending all available time talking about the first slide!


The flip-side of this ‘challenge’ though is also interesting. I realised that what I say with each picture slide is much more spontaneous. Yes…I have an outline in my mind – I chose the pictures after all – but I don’t have any words prepared. I say exactly what comes into my mind as I look at the picture on each slide.


And maybe this is the most important aspect. Spontaneous is good…and real. My excitement and enthusiasm comes through. Any disappointment or anxiety will always be evident.


When we got home after our removal weekend, I looked at our photos. Most were great. They captured the story of the weekend. They immediately brought back memories. But the best – by far – were the most spontaneous. 





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United Family…

I have just got home after spending the weekend at a family reunion in the North of England. Even just saying the words ‘family reunion’ to colleagues or friends can cause responses ranging from pity to jealousy; from laughter to sighs. A number of years ago my parents decided to get the family together once every two years. Although everyone kept in touch we never really all got together on any sort of a regular basis. And so the Street Family reunion was born. In truth these events are everything you would imagine – fun and laughter, arguments and tantrums, emotion and tears…and that’s just me!

We always hold them over a weekend – Friday and Saturday night – and a couple of years ago we all agreed we would move our reunions to every year. None of us is getting any younger and, as all our children grow up, their lives get more ‘complicated’ and competing interests increase. Once every year was designed to make the event less of a ‘big deal’ for everyone.

This year’s event was a big deal for everyone. 2014 has been a big year for my parents not least because of my dad’s broken hip, and them having to sell and move house, via hospitals and care homes. The whole family were there – literally we arrived by planes trains and automobiles. From Thailand, Spain, Netherland, as well as the North, South, East and West of England. Everyone came. Nothing would have stopped any of us. This reunion weekend had inevitably taken on much more significance. Being there was important. For each other. For my parents. For ourselves.

And yes there was lots of fun and laughter. For everyone. Lots of shouting (but only at the remaining teams in the World Cup). Lots of stories being told…and occasionally being embellished. About this year. About the family. About previous reunions. About my parents. About all the family. Lots of love and lots of affection. Lots of care and lots of support.

My mum was a little subdued on Saturday after an infection. She was much better on Sunday and she just loved the family photos on the sunny Sunday morning in the garden. She never stopped smiling at her family around her. We all smiled back. We hugged her. And each other. We held hands with her. And with each other.

My dad was less mobile than last year…but so much better than only a few weeks ago. He wasn’t as keen on the photos in the sun, but was happy to be with everyone all weekend. He bought a new electric wheelchair on Saturday (more independence). We had to have the top speed lowered (less independence). I shook his hand when I arrived and left, and at the end of each day…as I always used to. I hugged him and gave him a kiss him each day as well…as I never used to.

I have my mum and my dad. My wife and my children. I have two sisters and one brother. Two brothers-in-law. One sister-in-law. Four niece’s. Four nephews, and one nephew’s near fiancee. Today we are twenty one.

My work is important. Our industry is essential. My friends at work are exceptional. My team inspires me. My colleagues amaze me and our opportunities engage me.

But these are my family. These are my people. We enjoy ourselves and we laugh a lot. We sometimes argue and we don’t always agree. We have our moments and we have our fair share of tears. But we help each other and we are always there for each other.

They are so special. And I am so lucky.



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