Exocets

I texted the person I’m slowly turning into late last night:

“Phew wee – a really stretching week… grievances, gross misconduct, controversial and risky things to land before Xmas and much change being imposed.”

“I suspect like you at a similar stage – I am strangely both deeply affected and also somewhat distant in my reaction to all this – it matters and it affects me; but much of it is not my doing and not in my gift to change.”

“A dawning of a more realistic sense of personal responsibility and the limits thereof?”

Maybe so.

I also have fought off the desire to compete, undermine and fight back in the face of many provocations these last weeks. And this is a lesson well learned…

As I also admitted to my pal:

“One of the bigger lessons of recent years was that firing two Exocets into an adversary’s hull damaged me below the waterline more surely than it did them.”

It has been hard; but I’ve largely managed to let go of a week of days packed without pause with relentless interpersonal aggro.

As I sit here listening to happy tunes in the school carpark (having chosen to save my eldest from a cold walk home from dancing) I have refound my equilibrium, equanimity – and the all important inner peace.

It gets the blood up; but Exocets just aren’t worth firing.

Re-wiring

Talking to a nice person at work this week, as we descended several flights of stairs; she said:

"Yes John, but you're about the most positive person I've ever met."

I nearly tripped and fell down the remaining stairs… As I subsequently texted to one of my finest friends:

And a good week it has indeed been – against all the odds!

Which goes to show why being more positive and following my new motto: trust the universe to provide an answer – is a goodie.

Still, another marvellous former colleague of mine (now working in a real zoo; not just a human one) offered an even better motto to end the week…

Bees 

In a meeting this week I asked how people felt about ‘whacking the beehive again’. 


We are trying a new ‘change management’ approach (as opposed the University standard of ‘resistance management’) on a major move; part of which involves regularly asking people how they feel about what we’re doing to them and all the things we’re changing. 


It’s finely poised. As I pointed out, asking people to put on the beekeepers outfit again – as we bring out all the angry bees – feels like a big ask on the hottest June in record at the end of a long academic year…


Still the point of change management is to keep asking, keep answering and keep moving forwards; so we agreed to give the beehive one last whack before summer and ask people if they felt ‘adequately informed’, ‘knew what they needed to do’ and were ‘broadly positive or broadly negative’.

Afterwards, I sent two of my fellow beekeepers this [only slightly doctored] quote from Marie Curie; which serendipitously had landed in my inbox that morning: 

Nothing in life [including bees] is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less. 

Marie Curie (1867 – 1934)  

But later in the day we did have a laugh, agreeing that we might need to pump a bit of smoke in the hive afterwards, to calm it all down again. 


Still as I emailed them later: 

“A former colleague of mine who keeps bees claims that you have to keep your hive in a reasonable state of agitation otherwise half of them clear off and make a new one!”

And now we can practise the art with the real thing… on the vary same day, we discovered a bee panel has just been installed on one of our busy London campuses…

I’ll be making a bee line!
 

Cetaceans

Famously clever like us, Cetaceans are the smart cookies of the ocean – and they’ve been in my thoughts at work this week. The question being which one to be…

The Sperm Whale?

Wikipedia tells us the Sperm whale “has the largest brain of any animal on Earth, more than five times heavier than a human’s.” Sadly however: “the spermaceti oil from which the whale derives its name was a prime target of the whaling industry, and was dominant for use in oil lamps, lubricants, and candles.” Ouch – so much for my strategy of staying below the waterline.


The Dolphin? 

Fast, flashy, polygamous and a glossy surface performer Wikipedia cautions re the dolphin thus: “Dolphins engage in acts of aggression towards each other. The older a male dolphin is, the more likely his body is to be covered with bite scars. Male dolphins engage in acts of aggression apparently for the same reasons as humans: disputes between companions and competition for females. Acts of aggression can become so intense that targeted dolphins sometimes go into exile after losing a fight. Sounds like a young man’s cetacean to me – as I said in my performance appraisal this week: “I’m knocking on 50; I’m getting too old for some of this stuff!”


The Orca?

This is the chap: “a toothed whale with a diverse diet, there is no animal that preys on them. Killer whales are a cosmopolitan species; their sophisticated hunting techniques and vocal behaviours, which are often specific to a particular group and passed across generations, have been described as manifestations of animal culture. Killer whales are highly social; some populations are composed of family groups (pods) which are the most stable of any animal species.”  


As the pack ice breaks up, and lots of things start moving around; the Orca’s my pick of the cetaceans!

Everybody’s talkin’ at me…

I sat through nearly two days of interviews this week. And, as so often, was amazed by how much people like to talk – and what they shared! 

Surely the most valuable thing to learn in life (and certainly in interviews) is that the most important and influential thing you can ever do is stop talking; all the time you’re talking, you’re basically draining the interview panel’s energy away!

We all want to talk; but if you want to get a job, in the words of the otherwise flawed Aaron Burr, from the wonderful Broadway musical ‘Hamilton

“Talk less; smile more…”

Smile, surf, sleep

Smile

Talking to my daughter about her friendship angst this morning, I advocated she try a welcoming smile. 

I told her about the nice lady at work who told me about the cold snap in Romania and how it’s threatening the cherry trees; people are tending fires to gently waft smoke through the branches to protect the cherries. We both wished them well.

This lovely encounter grew from simply smiling, on three occasions as she made me a latte; and the smile developed into an exchange and then a conversation. 

Let’s see how my eldest gets on – I suspect it might take me than a smile with this ‘friend’.

Surf

I’m reading a rather terrific book about letting go of anxiety and fear and tapping into your own energy. 

More of this anon, but one of the many useful reminders is nearly everything that happens to us, in truth, is outside of our control. This means there are only two options, try to resist, control or avoid life – or roll with it. 

This week (like so many) looked on Tuesday morning (after an enjoyable but tiring bank holiday) like wave after wave of bother, problems, egos, unreasonable demands, risks and stressors; culminating in large forum event – at which I would have to orchestrate, perform and keep the whole show together. 

So it was; but by (largely) surfing along on the top of it all and not fighting it (and myself) I got through it just fine. By saving the energy on worry, avoidance and fear – I got it all done quite happily. 

As King Canute amply showed, there’s little point trying to stop the waves; may as well get up on your board and ride ’em.


Sleep

My old friend sleep. I need it so much, I never get enough of it and I never do enough to make sure I do. But I have improved in a few areas… to earplugs I’ve added eyepatches and from last week a booze curfew at 9pm. 

All the book and all the sage advice in them can’t help me when I’m tired. Without my sleep I’m hopeless; with it I’m smiling and surfing along.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi


This rather wonderful documentary was recommended to me nearly four years ago, when I visited Japan. 

With the hustle and bustle of family and working life I’d forgotten it; but thanks to the digital traces we leave everywhere, I re-found it the other day. 

I hardly ever watch TV and never have time to watch a film alone. But I consumed this in four (sushi-sized) chunks on my iPhone over this weekend. 

Jiro has made sushi for more than 70 years: and lives, works and dreams of nothing else.

It is Japan – its culture of craft and specialisation and seeking perfection – in a nutshell; or an eggshell given the 10 year of apprenticeship Jiro expects before you are allowed near the eggs…

Knots, Seeds and Red Lights


I’ve just finished Thich Nhat Hanh’s ‘Peace is Every Step’. 

It’s never a bad idea to have a Buddhist book on the go in the pile by the bedside. The basic precepts of living in the moment, breathing and mindfulness are always a good antidote to the hurry and rush of modern life.

This one is a little twee in places, but the Vietnamese Monk is as deep as he is light, and there are some memorable ideas in here.

Three that have stuck with me: 

1) Breathe when you see Red Lights – Thich Nhat Hahn points out that ‘while we are driving we only think of arriving’. So every time we see a red light (and in suburban London that’s every 10 seconds) as he gently puts it ‘we are not very happy’. Not half. His tip is to take a red light as a cue to focus on your breathing – and it really works… And not just in the car. I’ve found a couple of times on a bus this week that just as I’m starting to get het up at the queue of red brake light in front of us, a turn inwards and a consciously deep breath – and peace miraculously breaks out in my previously troubled soul.

2) Avoid Knots – any time something bad happens that we don’t understand Thich Nhat Hahn suggests a ‘knot’ is tied in us. If we deal with it – through reflection and understanding – the knot is easily untied. If we leave them though, the knots get stronger and tighter. And this is particularly the case with those we spend most time with. The best thing we can do for those closest to us is to help them untie their knots, but if you’re all tied up yourself the odds are you’ll be making them more not less knotty.

3) Think about the seeds you’re planting – like a pot of peaty soil we all readily grow the ’emotional seeds’ which are planted in us. Plant a healthy, ‘happy’ seed and more will spring from it – let a hostile, angry seed sprout and Thich Nhat Hahn assures us the seeds of hostility and anger will spread. 

A deep breath on the bus, a few of my own knots untied; but the most important things I did this week were to stop seeds of hostility sprouting in a few places at work. 

My top New Year’s Time Management resolution from Chris Croft has been to have a daily diary reminder titled ‘biggest problem’ as my first job of the day. 

Thanks to Thich Naht Hahn I changed it this week to ‘Biggest Problem/Most Difficult Thing’. And one of them was to email, while walking into work, to explain and apologise to someone I’d talked at and talked over in a large forum. 

Knot untied, seeds of future trouble nipped in the bud and onto a bus; red light – relax and breathe. Life is good.

Scienceing the sh1t out of it

I met some old professional friends for an annual reunion yesterday; and was pressed (as we all were) to recount my year. This made me think. 

First what did I want to say, why and to what purpose? Second, write it down (good old Chris Croft at work here again).

So I chose to describe my last year/18 months through five books:

1) Fierce Conversations

Gifted me by some free coaching from my previous employer, I was far more honest than I normally would be in workplace assessment; and was suitably diagnosed as: perfectionist, passive/aggressive and chronically unassertive with a strong tendency to take the problems of the world on my slender shoulders.  

Prescription: more ‘fierce conversations’ to assert my needs and proactively and reasonably manage the expectations of others.  

2) Depressive Illness – The curse of the strong

Faced with the first sight of what my new job entailed, I realised I’d made a horrible mistake… Massive construction projects with big problems, chronically unhappy people, no status, no power, no levers and probably hired as a fall guy. 

A very deep and sudden slump in my mood was explained and then arrested by this priceless little book. And since I’ve helped three other people by buying it for them. 

The essence: if you always work harder when more pressure comes on, and you don’t feel you can escape, you will blow a fuse. Simple and unavoidable; your body does for you what your mind won’t and cuts the power.

Prescription: ‘leave the Hoover in the middle of the room’ as I’ve written before; learn to deliberately leave some tasks undone, and some people potentially disappointed, as the inevitable reality of more demands than you can possibly meet.

3) Learned Optimism

Now this has been a BIG change… having written on it before I won’t rehearse it again.

Prescription: unless you are an Air Traffic Controller or a Loss Adjuster, as Eric Idle famously sang ‘always look on the bright side of life…’

4) The Anatomy of Peace

The simple if obvious discovery, that, nearly everything that happens to you, spirals out from your own attitudes and behaviour towards others. Correcting the behaviour of other people directly (however selfish, antagonistic or hurtful) is impossible; the only way to change things in others is by startling with yourself. 

As I said to someone this week, quoting Oogway from the marvellous Kung Foo Panda: “a man often meets his destiny on the road he takes to avoid it” as here

But I have discovered progressively (since an epiphany half way through this book on our family holiday in Italy last summer) change how you yourself are ‘being’ and everything else changes for the better. 

Prescription: stop trying to correct things in others and invest in listening, understanding and accommodating them.

5) The BIG Book of Happiness – 87 Practical Ideas

My current favourite – there’s just so much to learn from this as here

Having reeled of my five books and the linking story, one of my pals said: ‘it’s quite impressive how you’ve analysed, researched and read stuff and figured out a way through all this.’

That struck me as very kind. I’d simply thought of it as ‘installing new upgrades’ and a few ‘power ups’ as my son would say. 

But on reflection later in the day, I concluded I’ve largely followed Matt Damon’s advice from ‘The Martian’ when he was faced with a hostile climate and a low apparent chance of survival – I’ve scienced the sh1t out of it. 

Little Black Book

Among the numerous insights in Chris Croft’s excellent Happiness canon is this one – write everything down…

In my constant reinventions, modernisations and innovations I’d stopped doing this; at least with pen and paper. I gave up my A4 pad at work in the mid-2000s and gave up paper altogether a couple of years ago. But at what cost? According to Chris, a valuable contribution to productivity and achievement from my subconscious…

Although I’m not short of digital reminders, they’re somehow less real. Much like the realisation that reading on a Kindle leaves you with no sense of where you are in a book, similarly digital reminders feel more ethereal – they register in a different way than taking a pen and writing an action down.

Perhaps its a generational thing… albeit my Philosophy degree notes fitted comfortably in a co-op plastic bag, at least I’d written them down. I learned by writing. Perhaps I still do.

But the bigger idea is to harness the self-conscious; so the 95% of our brain which does stuff automatically without troubling us for permission, is harnessed to a purpose and to more purposeful action. And it works!

I’ve dug out the little Moleskine black books I used to use when travelling for work, plus a nice pen and I’m writing things down. Productivity up, fear of forgetting down and a reconnection with deeply human artefacts – an ink pen and nice little black book. Lovely.