Warning Sign

This week the main road through our small town has been closed for resurfacing. For a couple of weeks before large electronic signs were in place telling everyone that this would happen and diversions were put in place.

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We are lucky enough to live in the countryside so many of the alternative routes are very narrow and with a lot of quarrying locally we also have a lot of heavy trucks.  The diversions were therefore very long  but well signed with the traffic supposedly being diverted over 10 miles away from the actual closure.

Fortunately we live right at the end of the works and so could exit (in one direction only) from our cul- de-sac.  I’ve had to make numerous trips and I’ve been amazed at the number of drivers ignoring all the signs then getting angry when being turned back.  On my return home I usually have a little convoy follow me past all the closure and diversion signs and into my street past four signs showing that it is a no through road, only to be disappointed when it turns out that I didn’t know a secret route – merely my way home.  My record is three cars, a van and an agricultural feed lorry, that took quite a while to untangle themselves on the residential roads.

How often in our lives do we ignore all the warning signs and continue on, hoping that all the evidence is wrong, that something will turn up or that because others are on the same path they must know something we don’t?

Taking a different route, even if clearly signed, can be hard.  But reversing out of a dead end is harder still.

 

Just another warning sign that failed to show.
Looking for reason why, I knew we’d never know.
And every time it leads us here, we’re high and dry.
Show me these years of hope won’t die.

I never knew a warning sign could hide and fade.
Looking for a new road out and I’ve got a life to save.
But now I don’t feel you here by my side.
Show me these years of hope won’t die.

Scars on 45

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Identity

Having dusted my old bike off and headed out for a few short spins recently I was accused of being a mamil (middle aged man in lycra).  It is true.  Form fitting clothing is simply more comfortable, allows ease of movement and does not flap about.

It reminded me that during the Winter Olympics a few months ago that for every high intensity event the uniform is one piece, skin tight, lycra. These established sports and athletes have huge research budgets and so it seems probable that there are advantages to this that extend beyond showing off their impressive physiques. Less drag, ease of movement etc.

But the freestylers wear baggy clothing – one competitor, Henrik Harlaut, had his trousers fall down in competition.  I may be wrong but it seems that these clothes are not simply about performance.

 Sweden's Henrik Harlaut performs jump during men's freestyle skiing slopestyle qualification round at 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games in Rosa Khutor

We humans are highly evolved social animals. In prehistory our survival depended on our being supported and protected by our tribe. it’s no surprise then that we are all keen to show our belonging and to conform to social norms. Being evicted from our chosen tribe isn’t simply a matter of identity it’s one of survival.

Our innate desire to conform is possibly why stereotypes tend to have a degree of validity. It also is a great part of the success of many Brands. A Brand, the marketers will tell you, is the encapsulation of the customer experience. It’s what is promised and delivered. For the consumer a Brand can be a shortcut to an identity, a stereotype if you like. And identity is generally not about individualism it is about belonging.

Dressing in a certain style or wearing a certain Brand makes a statement. In one simple logo a whole raft of information about your ideals can be broadcast.

Marketers exploit this strong desire to belong and it’s very hard for an individual to truly break free. Indeed there is arguably a tribe one can belong to whose central doctrine is ‘not belonging’. This tribe of course has a set of rituals, social norms and a dress code just like any other.

Historically freestyle ski-ing and snowboarding were the choice of the rebels. The free spirits. They showed their individuality by dressing in a baggy, looser style of clothing and that has carried through to those competing at a high level, even if it carries performance penalties.

It will take a real individual to start competing in a suit scientifically designed to enhance performance, rather than ensure belonging. A change of identity from rebel to high performer.  That would take real courage.  A need for authentic leadership perhaps?

Identity
Is the crisis
Can’t you see
Identity identity

When you look in the mirror
Do you see yourself
Do you see yourself
On the t.v. screen
Do you see yourself
In the magazine
When you see yourself
Does it make you scream

X-Ray spex: Identity

Chasing Pavements

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This morning I presented a client with a first draft of a small piece of work.  My client felt that it did exactly what he needed – all that he wanted to be changed was the delivery mechanism, I’d suggested a process that I’m very comfortable with and have used before.  It’s a little clunky but tried and tested.  He wanted me to do something that would make it easier for his staff .

I was a little annoyed with myself for missing something so obvious.

After finishing work for the day I took my youngest to Ballet class. Rather than sitting and waiting I went for a run around the surrounding sprawling residential development.  I know the area reasonably well and based on having driven around I planned a route that would take me about 5 miles in a loop.

It soon became clear that it was not going to be straightforward.  It was starting to rain and looked ominously like a heavy shower was likely. The roads were busy with commuters returning home in a hurry.  And I kept running out of pavement.

Frequently only one side of the road had a pavement and this flipped from side to side.  This meant I kept having to cross and recross roads.  In places, especially at junctions, there was no obvious route for pedestrians.  At times the pavement forced me, off the road I wanted to follow, into smaller backstreets leaving me to guess the way out.

It reminded me of a time I stayed in a Hotel near Chicago.  I wanted to walk to a diner I could see across the road – but there was no safe route for  pedestrians.  The hotel offered me a free ride in their courtesy shuttle bus and treated me like the eccentric I clearly was for wanting to walk. And as for running routes, well they had treadmills in the gym!

Tonight it felt as if the pavements had not been designed, they had simply been fitted in around the roads and the housing like an afterthought.  They met the needs of motorists and maybe they fulfilled some minimum local authority requirements but they did not meet my needs as a pedestrian.

Like the work for my client earlier in the day the pavement was usable, if a little clunky. I still made it back in good time. It was just not the best solution that took into account the needs of all the stakeholders.

To get the best possible result our first task is to decide who the stakeholders are (I’d not thought about the clients’ staff ) and then secondly try and see the problem from these differing perspectives.  Then we can create a solution that balances these views. It may not be possible to satisfy everyone fully, but compromises can be made in the full light of all the competing priorities.

This approach can work in all aspects of our lives.  By asking who is affected by our actions and considering what their perspective might be we can create better solutions and improve the quality of everything we do.

Had someone asked ‘does the paving work for the developer , the home buyers, motorists, pedestrians etc?’ I might have had a more pleasurable run.

What are you working on that might benefit from seeking an additional perspective?

Should I give up,
Or should I just keep chasin’ pavements?
Even if it leads nowhere
Or would it be a waste
Even if I knew my place
Should I leave it there
Should I give up,
Or should I just keep chasin’ pavements
Even if it leads nowhere

Adele

 

 

Getting better all the time

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Over the weekend I found myself in an unfamiliar small town.  Happily wandering around I came across an old fashioned bicycle shop that had some very modern looking machines in the window.  I wandered in and fell into conversation with the owner.    Having worked our way up and down the ranges that might be in my budget he took me over to a stunning looking carbon fibre sculpture.  Weighing in at 6kg it sported the very latest lightweight technology.  Stiff, yet flexible it is designed to allow smooth power transfer from the rider whilst insulating the rider from the worst of the road vibrations.

And the crowning glory?  Electronic gears.  Ultra lightweight gears that change rapidly and smoothly at the, very gentle, push of a button.  For the professional (or wealthy) rider there is no more holding a lever down until, after a bit of grinding and crunching, the gear is selected.  Just a gentle click.

This technology is available to anyone, in a little old fashioned bike shop near them (for the price of a small car admittedly).

I was brought up having drummed into me

if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it

Whether this was simply to stop me taking perfectly good things apart and turning them into non-working things with a few leftover parts or from some other motive isn’t clear.  It seems to be perfectly sensible advice.  Don’t tinker around with things that are working, you might damage them.  Don’t waste your time on the things that are in decent shape, put your focus elsewhere.  And if nothing is broken presumably you can pull up a chair and put your feet up, take it easy.  No point in sweating over stuff that is working just fine.

Of course it is hard to tell if something is not working optimally if you have nothing to judge it by.  As a youth I was very happy if I could actually get my bike to engage all the gears it was meant to, never mind speed or quality of the change.  It wasn’t until I understood that there was a better way that I saw things as ‘broken’.  The innovators amongst us have nothing more than curiosity.  They wonder if there is a better way.  And they tinker, not always knowing where the improvements lie.  They make things smoother, lighter, better.  And eventually after much incremental improvement we end up with the Shimano Di2 gears.

We have a choice, we can congratulate ourselves that all is well and take it easy, until someone else shows us the better way.  Then, if we are still in business, we can copy their innovation and try to catch up.  Meanwhile they have likely moved on again.  Or we can look for continuous improvement and breakthrough innovations.

All of this seems so obvious and I started asking myself why incremental change is so difficult when the benefits are clear.

In practice it feels very dangerous to tinker.  Especially with your people.  There are so many interconnected elements that it feels like a big bowl of spaghetti, if you pull one piece others move in unpredictable ways.  It feels safer to do nothing.

As individuals we are all familiar with the concept that expanding our self awareness is the starting point of self improvement, but in businesses this seems to be less accepted. What a manager needs is a way of understanding the spaghetti bowl.  There are many tools out there that can be used to diagnose issues with a business and it’s people.  So why aren’t they used more?

The diagnostic tools can be quite costly, spending precious budget to identify an issue that no one is aware of and that may not exist is awkward.  They can also be quite specific, leading to the concern that if your only tool is a hammer all your problems look like nails.  They can also raise expectations – if a manager or the HR department carry out say an engagement survey they raise the expectation that issues identified will be fixed.  Therefore budget needs to be found not only to run the diagnostic but to fix the as yet unknown issues.  What if it transpires that the workforce feel that the culture is ‘wrong’ and yet there is no appetite to change it?  What if the pay system is broken and their are no funds to improve things? What if…?  Better not to know about problems you can’t fix, eh?

A friend of mine has developed a simple and currently free diagnostic that aims to cut through some of this for businesses.  It asks a series of straightforward questions and produces a score on eight categories related to engagement and performance of a team.  Completely web based it can be deployed to a single team, a department, a business unit or a whole organisation.  It’s a lovely simple tool that shines a light on areas that are stopping the business reach it’s full potential.  The very fact that the categories ‘overlap’ highlights the ‘interconnectedness’ of things.  Because of it’s low key nature and broad scope, expectations can be managed – indeed I am considering using it as a form of feedback for some of the executives I coach.

Carrying out a simple broad diagnostic such as this raises awareness of areas that do need attention, they may not be broken but they would benefit from some improvement or innovation.  Armed with a generalised picture the manager can focus her efforts and limited resources on the areas that will make most difference.

If anyone would like to try the Team Dynamic diagnostic please get in touch or click here to take a look, who knows where it might lead.

It’s getting better all the time
(Better, better, better)
It’s getting better all the time
(Better, better, better)
Getting so much better all the time

LENNON, JOHN WINSTON / MCCARTNEY, PAUL JAMES