My Sight…

I was always very proud of my eyesight. I am not sure why that was…but I passed any eye test I took for years. And then I didn’t. I could blame technology – reading text on computer screens, laptops, iPhones and Blackberries. But in truth I know what happened. I got older…and so did my eyes!

My first effort was ‘self-help’ – reader glasses bought from the pharmacy. These were necessary when I wasn’t in bright natural light or early in the morning when I was jet lagged. Soon enough I succumbed to proper eye-tests…and the rest as they say is history.

My current pair are varifocals designed so that I can wear them all the time…a simple solution to overcome the fact that I could never find my readers when I needed them. They also darken in sunlight – a great idea when I am outside in the sun (I don’t need sunglasses)…but no use at all when I am driving in the summer!

I found myself thinking about my eyes and what I see last week. A great colleague at work suggested a very interesting idea about a new way of us working together. An idea of how we could help each other and help our customers. I was – and am – very excited by his idea, what we could do and how we could help companies and their projects.

I also could not believe that we hadn’t thought of this idea before. It was right there – right in front of our eyes…and yet I hadn’t managed to see it. Everyone else I have mentioned this opportunity to, has been similarly excited…and similarly qualifies their excitement with some level of frustration and surprise that none of us had spotted it before.

Sometimes we just seem to find it hard to see what is obvious…until someone else observes it for us…observations about our work, our families or ourselves.

This is intriguing to me. We all see things all the time. We use so many view-related words – vision, foresight, farsight, insight. And yet we all are amazingly good at missing important ideas or objects or opportunities.

And maybe this is both the problem and the solution. Our views – what we see – are based on our experiences and our beliefs. We have all seen different things and we are all capable of seeing things differently. I believe this is a manifestation of diversity. It has to be one of the reasons why we seek out second opinions…why we invite alternative views.

It is also why we value colleagues and friends with different experiences. People who can see what we see…read what we read…and yet think and suggest different ideas. They – literally – help us to see things differently.

Whether suggested ideas and opportunities are right or wrong is a different matter; not least because a great deal of science and research is much more a matter of opinions than it is a case of right and wrong.

Human nature can sometimes drive us to avoid differences in opinion…whereas in reality there are likely to be more opportunity where we have different views from each other.

And yes I am disappointed that I missed this opportunity my colleague revealed to me last week. But more so I am pleased that he was able and willing to highlight to me something that we had all missed. And above all I am excited by what we could do together and what else this alternative way of thinking (and seeing) will help us achieve.

Either way, I know I am due another eye-test…and I am sure that will help me see more and see better.



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Thirty Years…

The defining moment of my week in the UK was a funeral on Friday. My uncle – my father’s brother. I knew it was a long time since I last saw my uncle, but I also knew I wanted to be there. I wanted to be there for my aunty, my cousins, my father, my brother, my sisters and also for myself.

I was very glad I went. The service was as inspiring as it was moving; as full of joy as it was full of sadness. Celebrating and remembering a long life, very well lived and very well loved.

I stayed at my sister’s house on Thursday. I drove directly from our site in the afternoon. I knew the traffic could be bad and I didn’t want to risk being late on Friday. My elder sister and younger brother chose to do the same thing…for the same reason. We all stayed at my sister’s. We realised it was the first time in thirty years we had all slept in the same house.

We have all stayed at the same hotel. Or large cohorts of our own families have stayed in the same house. But all four children in the same house for one night – not for thirty years. And yet there we were – for a funeral and for each other.

My own children weren’t able to come…but they were able to watch Thursday evening play out, courtesy of modern technology – social media can be both a great benefit and…well…not.

Thursday evening was memorable. A very late night and what felt like a very early morning. Lots of stories, laughter and tears as we remembered and reminisced together. Thirty years is a long time…with a lot of moments and memories. We were all there…and were all there together.

I don’t often look back to reminisce. I have my moments in the past – of course I do – I’m sure we all do. But if I do look back, I try to look back to learn and I tell stories of people, situations and events all the time.

On Saturday my wife and I chose to visit our old University town. It poured with rain. We visited all the locations where we lived, learned, met and fell in love. Some places looked the same. Most looked worse than we remembered. A couple we could not believe. One even looked better.

It felt appropriate this weekend. It was thirty years ago my wife and I left university…we arrived alone but we left together. We had most fun remembering and telling each other stories about people and situations and events…

I sent messages during the day to my sisters and brother. And to my cousins. It was a special couple of days.

My wife and I called our children in the evening. They had seen the pictures from our trip down ‘memory lane’. We recounted a little and we all laughed a lot. But as ever we spoke more about what we were doing today and all our plans for next week. Friends and work. Essays and events. Travel and meetings.

And this makes sense. I always try to be present. Here today. With the people I am here with, and with them as we are today.

Yes, I celebrate and recognise…and I absolutely appreciate who we are, where we have come from and what we have achieved together to be here. But we are here today and we can influence and impact what happens next. What we chose to do. Why we chose those things. And who we chose to do them with.

Today is our day and tomorrow is our future.



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Old Friends…

I met an old friend last week. Someone I used to work with some six years ago. Someone I hear about often since we worked together. Someone who I was always very impressed with. Someone who I used to meet and interact with regularly…and occasionally even had chance to work on projects with.

I knew we were going to meet up again. And despite the relatively long time that had passed, and the relatively infrequent connection that existed when we worked together, I was still excited. And surprised…I felt surprised as I headed to our meeting…surprised I was so excited!

We had an excellent time – despite the length of time since we last spoke – our discussion were engaging, thought provoking and great fun. We recounted events and we described places. We caught up on people we knew who were doing great and different things…and we even reflected on people we knew who we miss. We reminisced about our joint history…and we compared our more recent independent histories.

I am often asked if I miss working for my previous company. My answer is always the same. “No – not at all. How can I miss a company? But I do miss the people”. People I worked with every day. People I learned with and shared moments with. I miss people.

I tried to keep in touch with people. I hated the idea that someone or some people who meant so much to me – people with who I went through so much – could somehow just fade into memories. It feels so unfair. Dishonourable even.

But no matter what I wanted to do or tried to do…it simply wasn’t practical. Another group of people appear. New friends who reward and delight me. Amuse and teach me. Help me learn and grow. Inevitably new friends become our focus.

And then, every so often, I have opportunity to meet an old friend, and despite all my fears, I only experience pleasure and happiness. There is never any resentment on either side. Never any unfriendly feelings.

I am not sure I really understand this…but I am grateful for it. I realise it’s nothing specific to me – we all experience the same feelings – the highs and even highers – when we meet old friends.

My old friend and I talked about different places and times. We talked about different versions of ourselves. We talked about important and impactful times in our joint history. I realised as I left that in many ways I felt closer to my old friend at that moment than I probably ever had previously.

Friendships presumably can – or must – have a time. We all move on – as individuals, in families, at work. To assume that our friendships will stay the same over time would be unrealistic. And yet, despite time passing and events unfolding, it would seem that important friendships stay important to us. We just have to accept that our friendships take on different forms over time.

I think this is true. I know it is difficult. I believe it is harder (or is it easier) with important friendships born through significant shared experiences.

My friend and I shared our contact details and agreed we would keep in touch moving forward…but even now, I am not sure I know what we will do differently from what we have been doing over the last six years.

But I do know that I am looking forward to the next time we meet…whether that is six weeks, months or years. And also to my next meeting with an old and important friend…

…whoever you are and wherever we may meet…



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Groundhog Day…

Groundhog Day is a great film. It is funny and poignant and thought provoking and rewarding. By some process – some sort of cultural-popular-resonance process – the phrase “Groundhog Day” has entered common use in English language. Groundhog Day is used to describe a situation that continually repeats (or seems to)…and is often an unpleasant situation.

Groundhog Day is also an old film – 1993 to be precise. And I have watched many times. And I know I use Groundhog Day a lot…over and over again!

I used the phrase last Monday. I was at a global leaders meeting on the East Coast and I had been asked to present on Day 1 on what our team does. The session was designed to help increase understanding across all 250 attendees. The twist was that the 250 were divided into 9 groups. I had to give the same presentation 9 times – 20 minutes each time. More like combining Groundhog Day with Speed Dating with Jet Lag.

I enjoy these big meetings and I like to be involved. It always feels like a long way to travel (because it is) so I feel I should go for it in terms of involvement to get most value out of that time investment. Presenting on Day 1 is always a great start. Everyone sees you and hopefully remembers you. New conversations and friendships begin…and information starts to flow. All are of value.

But my real measure of success is that I leave with more than just a pocketful of business cards and copious notes on discussions…success is that I leave with better and different ideas than when I arrived. Ideas for actions we could take or projects we could start. Ideas that excite me. And I know (as I arrive) that in order to leave successfully I have to engage and participate…and have to just believe that good things will come.

My big inspiration came at dinner on Monday night after my nine presentations. I was at a table with new colleagues I did not know (a good start). My new best friend at work leant over to me after a while and asked me what I did (not as a good moment considering my Groundhog Day afternoon). But we started talking.

He was the individual I didn’t know, the person I was sure would exist and the one I most wanted to meet. He knew in detail what his part of our new organisation did, and he had thought about how his team and ours could combine to produce something different and – in my mind – very significant.

We spoke for ages over desert, wine, coffee and wine. And we exchanged business cards. I was very tired by the time I got back to my room…but despite everything I could not sleep. My mind was racing. There was something in what we had talked about over dinner. I knew it. But I also knew I had to sleep…eventually.

I talked a lot over the next days. I say talked more (croaked would be more accurate). I listened more. More information from more people. More business cards. More ideas. But my mind kept coming back to that one Monday idea.

I left the meeting tired and excited – both of which are good indicators – and arrived home Friday.

I just let my thoughts sit and stew on Friday. I have been here before…first day back is never a good day to go for anything of significance. I drafted my email on Saturday. It was long. I had to clarify my own thinking as I wrote. I hit send. I was excited.

And now I wait…



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Home Work…

I had an unusual week this week. I worked from home but I also attended meetings in two major European Capital cities…in person! I met old friends and new potential partners. I made new connections and discussed new and future opportunities. I travelled of course, but they were both short trips (in time) but longer (in distance). It was a very different – but potentially very successful – week.

I am not a big enthusiast for working from home. I enjoy the extra time I have with my family of course – assuming they happen to be in the house when I am. My wife enjoys me being there to share lunch and coffee/tea breaks. But is less happy if I want to use her computer and printer to sign and scan a signature. Overall it never feels quite the same as working from work.

Research and Development is a social science. Some may say that science is a social science…I could debate that one. But Research definitely is. We learn from each other. We build on each other’s ideas and listen intently to each other’s insights and observations. We draw – and modify – plans on pieces of paper or on white boards. We meet formally and we meet informally. We network.

Most really good ideas…ideas that lead to innovation or big impact…come from such interactions…they always do. We have to encourage these moments – personally and organisationally – and encourage ourselves to participate in these moments. With our teams and with our partners

And these interactions are energising. Every time we interact and communicate and share ideas…we share energy with each other. We know this is true. If we are more extrovert by nature, we find these moments energy giving. If we are more introvert by nature we find them more energy sapping. Energy is being transferred (somehow).

So my relative lack of enthusiasm for working from home is not just about me, but it is about the work that we do, and how we do it well…or better.

I recognise of course that that there are situations where any of us have little or no choice about working from home. These are specific and are very good situations and we always make them work. I also realise that others of us have little or no choice about only working at work.

So back to my Capital (City) meetings this week. I left both thinking differently about different topics than when I arrived – makes both a success in my book. And in both we agreed to think more, talk more and then follow up again…a classic process to take an idea from just an idea to a potential reality.

I also found myself telling lots of other people about the meetings. About the people I met, about the topics we discussed and about the ideas that I heard. Granted I was doing all this by telephone since I was working from home. But it was only happening because of those social moments.

My other tell-tale sign? Whenever I was talking later in the week about those Capital ideas, I always found myself walking around the house. I could not sit still. I was too excited and too energised. Probably another reason why me working from home is not ideal for me…

I can’t guarantee that either idea will come to fruition. But I am sure both are real opportunities. I am confident my short visits helped them appear. I do know I am still thinking about both. And I am certain I will discuss them more this week. To everyone I meet.

I am excited…and energised.



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Golden Ticket…

I fly quite a lot. It’s inevitable really. Even with the wonders of modern technology there is still nothing quite like meeting someone in person, or like a team meeting in the same room. Conversations are different, body language is apparent, mood is sensed, problems are resolved and opportunities are identified.

I always fly with the same airline. It is partly policy and partly habit. Most of my flights are to the same destinations. When I fly long-haul, I fly with a UK airline. Not that I am particularly patriotic…it’s more about the benefit of the majority of people on a plane being from the same time zone as me.

The majority of passengers on a UK-based airline flying back overnight from the US will be very tired and will want to sleep…like me. The majority of passengers on a US-based airline flying out overnight from the US flight will be wide awake and will not want to sleep…unlike me.

I don’t actually get very much from the airline by way of recognition. I get a lot of surveys…and marketing. I was excited last year when I received a thick envelop…could this be the moment? Inside there was a ‘Golden Ticket’…sounded fantastic! But was it a reward? Or some sort of recognition? Well yes…but just not for me!

I read the letter; my Golden Ticket was ‘the chance to recognise staff who give outstanding service.’ Yes it was for me. But it was for me to give to someone I met during my travels that year who really made a difference.

Last year, I dutifully took my Golden Ticket whenever I flew…looking out for that moment when someone really made a difference to me. In the end I awarded it out on my last trip of the year…to someone at Chicago check-in.

I realised of course that I was thinking about it too much (no surprise there then!). I had lots of great experiences on my travels that year, and I always try to recognise and to say thank you. But I held onto that ticket…waiting for one special moment.

This year I received two tickets. I adopted a different plan. I gave the first in January to someone I see most every time I fly back home. He should have been my recipient last year. Always friendly, very helpful and always interested.

I resolved to give out my second ticket instinctively. Whenever the thought came to me. No matter when. Or what.

Last week I flew to the East Coast to meet one of our partner companies. After watching a film and catching up with my email I wandered down to the kitchen and asked if I could have a cup of coffee and a bottle of water. The coffee was for then. The water was for the transfer to my hotel. They had coffee…but there was no water left.

The stewardess apologised and I went back to my seat. A few minutes later she reappeared with a bottle – she had ‘borrowed’ it from the front of the plane. I was surprised but very grateful.

As she left, it hit me – that was the moment. A simple act…not necessary or even expected…but an action that made me feel special.

She had no idea I was carrying a Golden Ticket. She was amazed when I went back to the galley and gave her my Ticket. ‘For a bottle of water? Really?’ She looked shocked. She was delighted.

I smiled as I sat back down. I knew that recognising someone always feels good. Little did I realise how great giving my ‘instinctive’ Golden Ticket would make me feel.





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Team Union…

I agree – rugby union is an unusual sport. Rugby is like many other sports, but it is not the same. What is the same, though, is that when England play I get very excited. And when England play in the Rugby World Cup (which only happens once every four years) I get very excited indeed.

I admit – I have watched every one of the four games England have played. I didn’t own up to this any sooner because I just couldn’t bring myself to talk about it let alone write anything. It was all just so disappointing. Anyone who saw any of the games will realise why…once again England flatter to deceive.

My real issue with England is that we underperform against expectations. We (well me at least) raise our expectations of how England will perform to an extreme level. This level of expectation is evidently unrealistic…and inevitably England underperform.

In truth, there is little or no basis for this expectation…other than blind optimism perhaps? My best excuse is that Rugby World Cup is a rare event…and that every newspaper, TV channel, radio station and web site talks up the excitement…and expectation!

The tournament is now four weeks old. England have played four matches. And we are done. We are out. If the tournament wasn’t being held in England we would be ‘on the next flight home’.

Over these four week I have tried really hard to keep my expectations low…really very low indeed. And the outcome? Disappointment…actually really very disappointing indeed…even against my low expectations!

So why? So what?

Well I wondered about drawing comparisons between a great (or poor) team and a great (or poor) organisation. A great organisation is made up of a number of groups in great shape, focussed on their core competencies, key deliverables, internal or external customers, and advancing to plan. An average organisation? Some great groups and some not so good groups; or even mainly great groups that are just not all performing well. A poor organisation? Well that’s just poor.

My conclusion then? England rugby is more like an average organisation – they have one or two great players who didn’t play well and the rest of the team are average (on a world stage).

How could they turn this around? Well maybe in the same way that an organisation would look to improve itself. Focus on each individual component and ensure that it is in the best condition possible. Ensure all pieces are in place and that each piece knows exactly what it is responsible for and what it has to do individually and collectively.

Focus on the whole – the sum of the component parts. It is no longer enough for each component to be in good shape and to be making good decisions if the sum of the component parts doesn’t make sense. This would be like a team of individual, great players who just can’t come together to add value as a whole.

So my advice (as if) to England rugby is simple – for our players to focus on individual responsibility and personal excellence whilst at the same time being critically aware of their role in the team as a whole. Great players win matches – great teams win tournaments.

And an organisation? A great organisation succeeds with individual excellence and collective responsibility. We all apply ourselves to our individual projects and we apply ourselves to how our responsibilities complement and align with the rest of our team.

We seek out and seize opportunities to add value. We identify and implement opportunities to support other groups…and ensure we add value to the organisation as a whole.



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