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

About Today

imagesI am not great at endings.  I hadn’t really thought much about this until Charlotte Sills at Ashridge raised the topic of managing endings in a coaching or counselling context.

Reflecting on this it would seem that I have some ‘unfinished business’ (see I was paying attention).  It’s no big deal, I have a tendency to avoid  ‘endings’. And, sometimes, thinking about past ‘endings’, I get the feeling that somehow I’ve forgotten something.

I recently finished a spell as an interim HR Director.  Recalling that session at Ashridge I re-read the chapter in Charlotte’s excellent Skills in Gestalt Counselling regarding endings, determined not to repeat past mistakes.

The key is to recognise the ending for what it is.  Sloping off with no marking of the event diminishes it and agreeing that you’ll be back soon (when everyone knows you won’t be) denies it.  Of course it may be appropriate to request or offer ongoing support and leave the door open for future relationships, but often this is simply a form of avoidance.

I decided that I’d make this ending ‘About Today’, not a raking over of the past or crystal ball gazing into the future.  We’d just have a day that was my last and clearly mark it as such.

We had a small team lunch, shared a few stories – nothing too serious.  Then we went back to work and I tidied up a few loose ends before leaving.  Perhaps we’ll keep in touch and maybe I’ll be back.  I’d like that.  But if not we’ll all be fine.

And yes even though it was very low key I’m pretty sure I didn’t forget anything.

Today you were far away
and I didn’t ask you why
What could I say
I was far away
You just walked away
and I just watched you
What could I say

How close am I to losing you

Tonight you just close your eyes
and I just watch you
slip away

About Today – The National

Feel to follow

guiding starA former colleague recently told me that he had spent a little time helping out at Medecin sans Frontiers. He had found it fascinating in terms of the nature of work this incredible organisation does. It put me in mind of another pal who gave up a good (if dull) job as a tax accountant and moved to Uganda to work for a charity. Organisations such as these offer low pay, no benefits and terrible conditions. Yet the level of employee engagement is incredible – it has to be.

Generally people aren’t excited by making money for the businesses owners, so whilst they want their employer to be successful (which gives job security) they ideally want more than that. Giving employees what one of my colleagues calls ‘a guiding star’ is increasingly seen as a vital tool in engaging with staff.

Of course it’s a pretty straightforward task to set out your core purpose in such an environment, there is an obvious ‘greater cause’ that barely needs spelling out. It is this sense of being part of something much bigger and worthwhile that enthuses people. This principle can be applied to any business, although it takes a little more effort.

If we can identify that higher purpose and the good emotions that go with it employees will surely feel to follow.

How was I to ever,
Believe it?
It’s never too late,
Until it’s too late,
And I’ve been stranded,
And I need something.

Now I can see it,
And I can feel it,
I believe it.
Ever since I,
Can remember,
It’s been as nothing.

Until I almost,
Feel to follow.

Feel to Follow – The Maccabees