Tumbling Dice

The world is a complex place and most significant decisions aren’t truly either/or, it’s usually a lot more nuanced than that.  However that makes it complex to explain, hard to report on.  The media prefer the simplicity of a straight choice and we tend to get caught up in these arbitrary black or white choices.

We are faced with many choices daily. For many of these there are no facts to determine the best course of action, or they are of little consequence.  For such choices it’s good to simply trust your ‘gut’ instinct.  This is your sub-conscious reaction and may be based on all sorts of reasoning that happens outside of our rational consciousness.

It can be hard to tap into these instincts sometimes.  If we find ourselves stuck my family has created a useful process for tuning into our ‘gut’. We simply flip a coin, roll dice, or draw straws.  It isn’t the result of the coin toss that is interesting but the reaction to it.  If you find yourself asking for the best of three you know what your instinct is saying to you.

The danger comes when you roll the dice and are bound by the result, regardless of your gut feel.  That would indeed be stupid.

Women think I’m tasty, but they’re always tryin’ to waste me
And make me burn the candle right down,
But baby, baby, I don’t need no jewels in my crown.
‘Cause all you women is low down gamblers,
Cheatin’ like I don’t know how,
But baby, baby, there’s fever in the funk house now.
This low down bitchin’ got my poor feet a itchin’,
You know you know the duece is still wild.
Baby, I can’t stay, you got to roll me
And call me the tumblin’ dice.

The Rolling Stones


Born to Run ?

Four months ago the date was set for the UK’s EU referendum on EU membership and today we go to the polls.  It’s been a long campaign.  In many ways it’s been a classic example of a change journey.

Initially the public didn’t really engage with it.  It was very much a political argument that only mattered to the politicians.  Slowly we all became more interested as we realised it would affect us.  Then we wanted the facts.  We wanted to know how it would impact us personally.  Facts were produced and discredited in their droves and battle lines were drawn up.

A number of well informed, respected and impartial bodies came forward with simple and unbiased explanations of the various claims and counter claims.  Armed with this knowledge we started to firm up on our positions.

Now everywhere I go people are openly discussing it, putting forward their views and seemingly listening to the counter arguments.  Yesterday my own team had quite a long discussion while our IT network was down.

We’ve just started using the Predictive Index and one of the many insights it provides is whether an individual will tend to rely on facts or feelings in decision making.  Now I am not claiming that PI can predict your political views but those who had a tendency for decision making based on facts were in the Remain camp and those with a preference for emotions were for Leave.

In my view Remain won all the fact based arguments, they made the logical case to stay.However they comprehensively failed to counter the emotional arguments that Leave put forward.  So at the wire we are faced with a choice between Head and Heart.  And we all know you can’t win an emotional argument with logic or vice versa.  Neither side seem able to switch between and pull together their thinking and feeling modes.

So maybe in this case Bruce was right, some of us were born to run.

In the day we sweat it out on the streets of a runaway American dream
At night we ride through mansions of glory in suicide machines
Sprung from cages out on highway 9
Chrome wheeled, fuel injected and steppin’ out over the line
Oh, baby this town rips the bones from your back
It’s a death trap, it’s a suicide rap
We gotta get out while we’re young
‘Cause tramps like us, baby we were born to run

Bruce Springsteen


I’m one of those ‘big tournament’ football fans.  I pay scant attention to the beautiful game most of the time – but come  the Euro’s or World Cup and I become an instant expert.

Underdog1In my youth I was a regular as Barnsley FC, never missed a home or away game, but I felt the soul drained out of the game as the money poured in.  So it’s natural that I still root for the plucky underdog, winning by dint of sheer effort and team spirit.

Yes I’m all for the underdog.  But actually as an impartial observer I prefer a bit of excitement and flair, watching 11 defenders dourly defending a 0-0 scoreline soon bores.

And flair and excitement is all right until I have something invested in the game. Then I want the reliability of steady, assured results. Solid and unremarkable keeps my stress levels down. Once I can rely on the result then a bit of flair is welcome, even encouraged, but get the result first.

Last season saw Leicester City win the Premiership.  A lot was written about team spirit and the lack of ego’s.  They worked as a unit and reaped the success.  But I suppose being owned by a Thai businessman who has invested heavily in the infrastructure can’t have hurt.

At the Euro’s Iceland are confounding the pundits.  A nation with a population the size of Coventry, a ridiculously harsh climate and no professional football clubs may yet get through to the knockout stages.  An Icelandic male has a 1 in 2000 chance of making the team.  Talk about plucky underdogs, proudly representing their nation and playing with heart and soul as a team.  But I suspect that a 15 year long programme of investing in all weather pitches and professional coaching has also had a lot to do with it.

Passion alone is not enough and as some of the more established Nations demonstrate neither is talent. Talent has to apply itself to deliver great results. To be successful you need both, along with a third catalysing ingredient – Leadership.  Football knows this well, which is why managers are so regularly hired and fired.  A change of leader changes the culture which changes the results.  For better or worse.

Yes, you need TLC.  Talent, Leadership and Culture.  Invest in the infrastructure and your people to grow Talent.  Invest in Leadership to create and role model the Culture that engages talent and together delivers great results.

And on that basis you’ve always got to fancy the Germans.


Kill me if you dare, hold my head up everywhere
Keep myself right on this train
I’m the underdog, live my life on a lullaby
Keep myself riding on this train
Keep myself riding on this train

Love in Technicolor sprayed out on walls
Well, I’ve been pounding at the pavement till there’s nothing at all
I got my cloak and dagger in a bar room brawl
See the local loves a fighter, loves a winner to fall

Feels like I’m lost in a moment
I’m always losing to win
Can’t get away from the moment
Seems like it’s time to begin




Other people’s driving really is terrible. I am the first to admit my own driving is no great shakes, especially when it comes to manoeuvres, but I do feel I have good road sense.  It often seems that some drivers have no clue what they are supposed to be doing.

Picture a three lane, light controlled, junction (left lane to turn left, middle lane straight on and right hand lane to turn right).  A car was in the left lane completely in front of the stop line, blocking a pedestrian crossing. Meanwhile a guy on a bike waiting to turn right had pulled off the road onto the pavement right across the crossing.

An elderly couple trying to cross were giving hard stares and very English ‘tuts’ at the cyclist and driver.  As the lights changed the car in the left lane started to pull right.  Some of the drivers behind were caught out by this action and in traditional London manner hit their horns.


What was he thinking?

A few nights ago, cycling home, I could hear a siren somewhere.  This is not unusual in London and I checked behind as I approached a junction.  A three lane, light controlled, junction. As I was turning right I moved into the right lane and rolled up to the Stop line as the lights turned red.There was a line of cars to the side of me waiting to both turn left and move straight on and a single car behind me waiting to turn right.

The siren was getting closer and a check revealed it was a Fire Engine approaching from behind.  I moved forwards alongside the barriers and at the pedestrian crossing entry point hopped the bike up onto the pavement.  The car behind me could then pull forwards and over to the left to allow the emergency services through.

With a blast of the sirens Fireman Sam was on his way.  An elderly couple using the crossing seemed put out that we were partially blocking their way.  When the lights changed the driver in the wrong lane started to move right, only to be met by blasting of horns as he slowed the passage of those behind.


What were they thinking?

(What the?)
(What the fuck was that?)

You burden me with your questions
You’d have me tell no lies
You’re always asking what it’s all about
But don’t listen to my replies
You say to me I don’t talk enough
But when I do I’m a fool
These times I’ve spent, I’ve realized
I’m going to shoot through
And leave you

The things, you say
Your purple prose just gives you away
The things, you say
You’re unbelievable

EMF – Unbelievable

It’s (hardly) Rock’n’Roll, but I choose to like it

UnknownI often spend months on end working away from home and staying in a budget hotel chain Monday to Friday. This statement alone elicits different responses. Some think that this is quite nice: no household chores; no cooking; no familial responsibilities. A strange new place to explore and the freedom to do exactly as you please. Others think that this is quite unpleasant: dining out at tables for one; not seeing loved ones; spending evenings in a bland room with only a small television set for company. A solitary and lonely existence.

Both viewpoints are of course completely valid. And completely wrong.

As I reflect back I can see that, especially in the early days, there were times when I felt aggrieved that I was obliged to be away, I missed family and friends and as a consequence became quite withdrawn and miserable. I ate alone in anonymous hotel restaurants, watched television in my room and counted the hours down to Friday.

More recently I’ve sought out colleagues to meet in the evening, avoided bland hotels and found family run eateries. I’ve made an effort to be more than a passing visitor and been rewarded with lasting friendships.

Often I use the evenings to run and swim, combating the tendency to gain weight when living this way. The extra time in the pool may not make me a great swimmer but I am undoubtedly improving. My runs let me discover a neighbourhood and help me feel a connection to this new place.

And on those evenings when I am alone with nothing to do I relish the prospect of reading a novel with a beer before an early night. Hardly Rock and Roll but I like it.

The only thing that has really changed is my attitude. I still miss my family, but being miserable makes it worse not better. I still crave company, but sitting alone in a room makes social interaction less likely. I still look forward to Thursday evening when I can pack my bag ready to go home on the Friday, but counting the hours down makes them pass no faster.

It’s all about choice. So much of life is, don’t you think?

I said can’t you see that this old boy has been a lonely?
If I could stick a knife in my heart
Suicide right on stage
Would it be enough for your teenage lust
Would it help to ease the pain? Ease your brain?
If I could dig down deep in my heart
Feelings would flood on the page
Would it satisfy ya, would it slide on by ya
Would ya think the boy’s insane? He’s insane
I said I know it’s only rock ‘n roll but I like it
I said I know it’s only rock’n roll but I like it, like it, yes, I do
Oh, well, I like it, I like it, I like it

It’s only rock’n’roll (but I like it) – Rolling Stones

Different People

pencilsAs a HR professional and coach I spend a lot of time encouraging diversity.  Diversity in terms of race, creed, nationality for sure – but most importantly diversity of thought.

It is patently obvious that none of us knows as much as all of us. Having a pool of knowledge, ideas and interests that is as a broad as possible can surely only be a good thing.

Yet there are increasing calls to protect our historic culture and values by keeping ‘different’ people out.  This goes much deeper than mere (ill informed) protectionism around jobs and wealth.

Most people judge their worth by comparing themselves to others.  If others are judged to have achieved less  (on whatever criterion is most damning) they are clearly inferior.  They must be lazy, stupid, untrustworthy etc.  We see this in in society at large – increasingly the poor are seen as undeserving.  If my riches are down to my effort your poverty must be due to you being feckless.  It has to be your fault as it cannot possibly be mere luck or family ties (or old school ties) that made me successful.  Penniless immigrants washed up on the shores of Europe are not only poor but foreign and must be kept out at all costs. Never mind that they have the resourcefulness,courage and strength to undertake a massive, highly dangerous journey.

This then creates a real problem when we find someone has achieved more – that surely makes us lazy, stupid, feckless… Of course that can’t be right.  They are obviously undeserving of their success – they stole it, got lucky, had rich parents…  But above all else they are different and must be made to conform or be driven out of the tribe.  After all someone ‘better’ than me is a constant reminder of my shortcomings.

We are social animals.  In our evolutionary past remaining part of the tribe was a matter of life and death.  We have evolved to be conformists, to fit in and follow the strong leaders rather than risk being exposed as ‘different’ and face expulsion.

Many (in)famous experiments have shown how we conform even when we ‘know’ our actions are questionable.  Otherwise bright students gave obviously wrong answers to very simple questions when following the lead of the planted stooges.  Subjects gave what they believed to be potentially lethal electric shocks to others when instructed to do so by ‘authority’ figures.

And so those who feel they have achieved less than they desire attack those who threaten their cosy mediocrity by having the talent, skill, persistence and creativity to achieve success.  They also deride those who have achieved less, those who choose not to or can’t afford to wear the ‘right’ brands and those who are poor as they are an unwelcome reminder of what might have been. Others in the tribe soon join in – maybe too weak to start the the pogrom they are still eager to conform and join the mob.  Some may feel uneasy but make sure that they are seen to throwing their support behind the attacks for fear of being next.

In this connected world of social media these attacks and exclusions are no longer physical, hiding behind a smartphone they are easier to commit by the weak but are no less wounding for the victims.

It takes real strength to dare to stand out by being different.  It takes strength to champion high achievers and see them as aspirational role models rather than threats.  To discover what can be learnt from them instead of silencing them for fear of having your own accomplishments diminished shows a real desire to be the best you can be – not simply the top dog in a weak pack.

It takes equal strength and compassion to stand up for those who have less than us, to support and nurture them.  Help them to be the best they can be. It takes real humanity.

Despite the fact that our differences make us collectively stronger it takes real courage to stand up to the mob and declare support for difference.  When we understand that the mob attacks from a position of fear and weakness they become much less intimidating.

Ask yourself if you have gone along with the status quo and stood silently on the sidelines, supported the mob or even joined in the attack.  How good do you feel about that?

Baby when you hold me
I can feel so wrong
You’re trying to console me
Your chance has long gone
So baby won’t you take my hand?
So we can do what the others can
We are alive tonight, we are alive tonight

I am going home forever and ever more
No I was never born and there’s no such thing as home
We used to stand so strong
That’s why the others have gone

Different person, different argument
In my shadow, no more compliments
One more person breaking the rules again
I’m still waiting for someone else to join in

Stand where the others stand
We’re alive tonight
Land where the others land
We’re alive tonight

Biffy Clyro – Different People

10,000 Hours*

guitar handsMy eldest daughter has just driven off to take her grade 8 classical guitar exam.  It seems very different from when she did her first music exam, but in reality not much has changed.

Outwardly driving herself to the exam is obviously not how it was back when she was in 2010.  Back then I recall picking her up from school and taking her to some church hall where I nervously hung around – adding to her tension. Now we are hanging around nervously at home.

She is older so we’ve let her determine the effort she puts in (well ok we do nag a bit) but the pattern is the same.  She slowly, over a long time, works on the set pieces, learns the scales, practices the aural tests.  Again and again and again.  She and her Tutor (a big thank you to Jim Bateman) break each piece down into tiny sections, perfecting the techniques to be used for each few notes.  Then slowly the sections are joined together until eventually the whole piece can be played.  At first this may be a little halting but repeated practice creates the fluency.

With the exam date looming there is a usual crisis of confidence and a lack of self belief.  Jim never falters in his absolute belief, tempered with realism.  He knows she can do it, if she puts the work in.  Two weeks to go and the pieces are ok but they lack the subtle nuances that create a true performance.  Practice, practice, practice.  Until her hands ache and her fingers are sore.

A few days to go and suddenly, as if by magic, those stuttering early renditions have metamorphosed into beautiful pieces that take the listener on a wonderful journey.  Reflective quiet passages, intricate finger work, joyous rhythm leading to a crescendo make the playing a true performance.

Watching her fingers you’d better believe she has a talent.  That’s a prerequisite.  But it’s not enough on it’s own.  Without the determination, without the effort, she’d still be strumming chords.

Tonight we’ll get a phone call.  Passing matters.  It matters a lot.  Enough to spend 10,000 hours* on.

*In the book ‘Outliers‘, author Malcolm Gladwell says that it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field.

I hope that God decides to talk through him
That the people decide to walk with him
Regardless of pitchfork cosigns I’ve jumped
Make sure the soundman doesn’t cockblock the drums
Let the snare knock the air right out of your lungs
And those words be the oxygen
Just breathe
Amen, regardless I’mma say it
Felt like I got signed the day that I got an agent
Got an iTunes check, shit man I’m paying rent
About damn time that I got out of my basement
About damn time I got around the country and I hit these stages
I was made to slay them
Ten thousand hours I’m so damn close I can taste it
On some Malcolm Gladwell, David Bowie meets Kanye shit
This is dedication
A life lived for art is never a life wasted
Ten thousand

Ten thousand hours felt like ten thousand hands
Ten thousands hands, they carry me
Ten thousand hours felt like ten thousand hands
Ten thousands hands, they carry me

10,000 Hours Macklemore