Silver Lining

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These days I am spared the daily commute into London.  The occasional trips I now make serve to remind me that life is better without the 7.10 am from Swindon, even when things run smoothly.

Last week I only had to make the one trip. An 11.00 am meeting followed by lunch meant I could avoid the rush and get the first off peak train.   On my way to the station I heard on the car radio that there were problems but at the station I was assured that the 8.59 and 9.11 would be on time and the issues were resolved – they were just clearing up the backlog of trains.  So I cheerfully bought a ticket and presently got on the train which did indeed leave on time.

When we did slowly come to a halt I accepted that this was to be expected and there was little point in raging or stressing.  I had half an hour cushion in any case.

Eventually the train Supervisor made an announcement.

 On behalf of First Great Western I apologise for the slow running of this service.  This is due to congestion caused by an earlier closure of the line because of a fatality.  The line is now open but due to the backlog of trains we can expect a delay.  I’ll keep you updated.

It’s worth pausing to reflect on the cause of the problems – a suicide in Slough.  Not that long ago I might have moaned at how selfish it was to hurl yourself in front of a speeding express train during rush hour.  Now I am genuinely saddened that someone was driven to the point where suicide felt like their best option, to a point where they truly believed that their friends and family would be better off without them.  If you have ever stood close to a passing train you will realise that throwing yourself in front of it must take a huge effort of will, it isn’t a cry for help it’s a desire for oblivion.  I spare a thought too for the driver, powerless yet left with truly horrific memories and often feelings of guilt.

We did move forward very slowly.  My 30 minute cushion had been eroded but my client was understanding and we exchanged emails joking about my OCD tendencies when it comes to timeliness. Then we picked up speed and moved on, to palpable relief in the carriage.

Then we stopped again.   The next announcement came

 …All lines are now open, there is congestion due to a backlog of trains.  All platforms at Paddington are full but as trains are coming out of the station they are freeing up platforms…

Surely that must mean we’d soon be moving on?  Once again there was a flurry of texting, but I sensed a general feeling of acceptance.  The issue was not one created by First Great Western and certainly not by the train crew who were busy helping passengers who had onward connections to make.

However we stayed where we were for a long, long time.

Around an hour after the scheduled arrival time I was reflecting on the stoic way that the passengers were waiting.  I couldn’t hear any angry complaints, most phone calls I overheard made light of it and that traditional British characteristic of smiling in adversity was coming to the fore.  Strangers were even talking, breaking the cardinal rule of public transport in and around London – under no circumstances must eye contact be made with fellow passengers.

A further announcement came

Once again I apologise for the delay to this service due to an earlier fatality. There is congestion getting into Paddington station. All the platforms are full and we are fourth in the queue.  Unfortunately a fire alarm has now been triggered and the station has been evacuated.  Therefore there can be no movement until that is resolved…

I was, I admit, getting a bit stressy.  Being over an hour late for an hour and a half meeting was bad form.  Worse still my client confessed that he had nearly asked to switch the venue but left it in the City as it was easier for me.  However I was deliberately trying to see the positives in the situation and not allow this to ruin my day.  It was important that when I did get to my client I was on good form.  Likewise the rest of the carriage seemed to be bearing up and the good old ‘blitz spirit’ was coming out in force.

Then the next announcement came.

We apologise for the continuing delay to this service.   I am pleased to say that the station has now re-opened.

Unfortunately due to the combination of issues many trains and crews have been displaced and are not where they should be.  Crews are only allowed to work for a given period before taking a break.  Many crews have reached that limit and so there is now a shortage of crews to move trains out of the station.  Therefore we are now waiting for fresh crews to come, or the break period to be over before trains can be moved and free up platforms.

For most people on the train that seemed to be the straw that broke them.  No longer was it ‘one of those things’ it was now ‘a bloody shambles’.  Train crew became ‘jobs worth’s’ in that instant.

I started to smile because it occurred to me I had found the silver lining.  Here was a clear demonstration that in being open and honest in his communication the train Supervisor had initially won the support of most passengers – but the last disclosure was a step too far.  It seems that generally being open pays off and sometimes discretion really is advisable.

The trick seems to be knowing when to fully disclose and when to be more circumspect.

 

PS  I was very late for my meeting but my client worked round it and we still managed a pleasant lunch.

PPS I tried to get to Town today and left very early to avoid a repeat. Arriving at the station there were  obvious problems.  There was a train at the platform and another outside the station.  The board simply said delays and suggested that slightly later trains were on time. I later discovered that due to a broken down freight train all services were in fact suspended.  After 30 minutes of waiting staff did finally advise us that there was little prospect of movement for at least another hour, then there might be slow running ‘due to congestion’.  Being a quick learner I took a refund on my ticket and am sat writing this in my sunny garden, another silver lining.

And it’s hi-ho silver lining
And away you go now, baby
I see your sun is shining
But I won’t make a fuss
Though it’s obvious

Hi Ho Silver Lining – Jeff Beck

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Dog new tricks

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

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But you can.  Easily. Without  even meaning to sometimes.  I have the very literal proof.  My geriatric labrador, jake, is, mainly, a well behaved creature.  For thirteen and a half years he has had the same food every day.  He rarely gets fed treats from the table or has doggy treats outside of his meals.   Therefore, unlike many pets, he was  never overweight and rarely showed too much interest in our food (well – for a labrador).

Sadly he has been off his food recently.  So we have been trying to tempt him with all sorts of tidbits.  Suddenly he get’s toast crusts, plates of vegetables, scrambled eggs, cheese – anything to stop his falling weight.  And within the space of a few weeks he now ‘begs’ at the table at every meal.  He pesters for scraps whatever it is we are eating.  And of course we indulge him because, well to be honest we all know where this has to end.

I did wonder what would happen if the vet suddenly found the miracle cure for arthritis, liver disease, and ageing in dogs.  How long would it take to re-establish the ‘no scrounging’ behaviour?  I suspect that given the amount of reinforcement he has had recently (weetabix, followed by toast crusts and milky tea for breakfast today instead of dried dog food for example) it might be quite a task.

Reflecting on this there are a number of lessons:

  • Old dogs readily learn – so what’s my excuse?
  • It’s easy to create new patterns of behaviour – so be very careful with the behaviours you reinforce, or even just tolerate.
  • And, of course, there’s no harm in indulging an old dog.  life really is too short.

I wish I had not woke up today
Everyone mistakes the things you say
Take the simple truth and
Twist it all around
Make it sound important
Make it seem profound

Dog New Tricks – Garbage

If I Fail

I am not a natural networker, I’m learning, slowly.

At a recent networking event I joined a new group of strangers who all peered at my name badge.

” Ah, Empowering People.  I’ve not heard of that business.  Tell me more.” said one very helpful delegate.

Feeling very relieved, yet a little humble as all of their name badges were FTSE 250 companies I responded by saying ” Oh it’s just me, I am a coach and business consultant. ”

“Oh.  If you hadn’t said we’d have never known that you weren’t a terribly successful niche business we really must get to know.” came the reply.

Mmm

A week later at a similar event a similar opportunity presented itself and this time I replied “It’s a Business consultancy.  I work with individuals, teams and businesses to help them reach their full potential.”

“Oh, tell us more – any particular sector?”

“I’ve personally worked in a number of sectors, with different types and size of business and my associates give us an even broader range of experience.”  Feeling confident now, seeing they were all from HR I pressed on “I have a particular interest in HR. ”

“Oh why?  No-one usually cares about HR.”

“Precisely.  No-one cares and no-one invests so HR functions are rarely as good as they could be.  They tend to be passive or reactive at best.  I want to change that.”

“Well we aren’t hopelessly passive!”

Mmmm

Maybe next time I should say “Precisely.  No-one cares and no-one invests so HR functions are rarely as good as they could be.  I want to change that by helping them make the case.”

The point is that there will be a next time and even if it is one sentence at a time I’ll get there – because there is no failure only feedback.  I’m getting plenty of that.

To take this theme further it can be argued that businesses and individuals simply do not take enough risks.   If we stay in our comfort zone and simply do what is in front of us to a reasonable standard then we will fail to create our own pipeline of future success.  By definition if we take risks we have to expect to fail.  We can learn from our failures and it’s often noted how many times highly successful people failed before making it big.

At a personal level the idea that failure takes you closer to your goal is counter intuitive and yet strangely liberating.  If you take action and it fails you have crossed one possible approach off the list which has to be better than doing nothing.  So we should celebrate failure.   Our own negative self talk is often a barrier, failure should not be taken personally or seen as all encompassing and permanent.  The real trick is to try again with a different approach, again and again.  Learn from the failures (they weren’t mistakes) and triangulate on your goal until you have an approach that can be honed into spectacular success.

The challenge from a corporate perspective is keeping discovery and invention alive whilst controlling a complex organisation.  This involves creating a ‘fail safe’ environment where staff can take calculated risks without damaging their careers or the business when it does not work out!  One answer lies in the style of leadership (organisational self talk?).  A directive style will make staff risk averse as it can create a blame culture.  Whereas an inclusive coaching style allows flexibility whilst creating a safety net.  Encourage and celebrate the failures – they are the ones who will create the next big thing.

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2Pac

Thank-you

Much has been and will continue to be written about the remarkable life of Nelson Mandela by more authoritative and erudite authors than I am.  And yet I feel compelled to mark this moment and reflect on an incredible story.

There are many things we can learn from Madiba, I won’t presume to identify his greatest achievements or characteristics.  Instead I’ll leave that to you.  I urge everyone to look behind the sensational headlines at the real man and his story and ask yourself ‘What small thing can I learn?  What will I do that is different, better?’

We can all feel sad at his passing and humbled by his greatness and if we all take one small action to change our behaviour and really do something differently his legacy will truly live on.

For me I am struck by how he was fully present for everyone he met.  Be they a disabled child, a lowly worker or a senior statesman he gave them the gift of his full attention and made them feel very special.  So be careful – when we next meet I aim to give you a damned good listening to.

Let me say thank-you to those who love many
Let me say thank-you to those who still play fair

John Cougar Mellencamp