Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Illumination through interaction - Day 48

Day 48 (Wednesday 17th January 2018)
48% of those who voted in the UK referendum on June 23rd 2016 wished to remain
in Europe and 52% voted to leave. A year ago, on 17th January 2017, Prime Minister
Theresa May made her much commented upon Brexit speech at Lancaster House in
London, which resulted in EU Chief Donald Tusk commenting that the UK was "getting
more realistic". It is a year later and we still seem to have much yet to be agreed.

Last night I went to an interesting talk on the future of personal investment with a focus on diversity, social mobility and the changes impacting the wealth management industry. It was hosted by the Cornhill Club (a club founded in 1931 by a group of City bankers early last century with a view to bringing learning, awareness and CPD to people who work in financial services - L&D long before it was a thing). It was a wonderful mixture of tradition and future thinking and  the speaker was Sarah Bates, the Chair of St James' Place Wealth Management and an excellent example of social mobility and success through personal endeavour.

Today's post is by Rob Baker, the Founder and Director of Tailored Thinking. He is based in Durham and I rather wish that I had hooked up with him when I was in the City at the start of the week - ah well, there's always next time... Rob initially studied Psychology at Loughborough and was an international athlete and coach. He then commenced a career in HR (spending 5 years as a consultant with PwC; 2 years as an HR Manager for a joint venture between Rotherham Council and British Telecom where he established an HR shared service centre for 12,000 employees; and worked in HR supporting academics in Sheffield University for six years), before uprooting himself to work in a range of HR related positions at the University of Melbourne. Whilst in Australia he also managed to attain a first class Masters in Applied Positive Psychology. Rob returned to the UK in autumn 2016 and resumed working at Sheffield until March of last year, when he took the entrepreneurial plunge he had been planning (more of this below). 

Rob is both a chartered fellow of the CIPD and the Australian HR Institute. He is passionate about helping people thrive and is an advocate of positive business approaches. He writes a good blog on his business site. You can get to know him better via Twitter (his handle is @BakerRJM)


In March I was in the dark. I knew I wanted to start my own business, which I had been planning for some time, but I lacked clients, contacts and (at times) confidence.

Hard to start
In this contribution to Katie’s (fabulous) advent blog series, I wanted to share how I have been building my personal and professional network and “shedding some light” on different perspectives and experiences of the world of work through a personal challenge I set myself in April.

My challenge was to have 100 interesting conversations with 100 interesting people about work.

It is my hope that in a small way my experiences may encourage someone else who is thinking about, or facing, their own personal or professional challenge.

How it all began

I was speaking to a good friend Lesley in March about one of the key challenges that I saw in starting my business - developing a personal and professional network, of leaders, practitioners and researchers who had interest, experience or curiosity in positive psychology, positive approaches to business and HR consultancy.

Knowing that I was someone often inspired by (sometimes stupid) challenges she jokingly suggested that I could set myself a target of meeting 100 new people during the year.

Whilst I initially dismissed the idea, it rattled away in my mind.

On a train a couple of days later, I took out a notepad and scribbled a few further thoughts. Rather than just meeting people, I wondered whether I could use a positive psychology approach, and frame the challenge so that it played to my strengths and interests. Perhaps I could use my curiosity of learning about different aspects of work to – in my mind at least - help shape and frame the purpose of any contact and conversation?

By the end of the journey I had written a myself a challenge “to have 100 interesting conversations with 100 interesting people about work” during the first year of starting my business, Tailored Thinking.  

Nine months, in, I’ve had 112 conversations.

How have the conversations gone?

My criteria for what constituted a conversation was (and is) quite fast and loose, but involved a meaningful discussion about some aspect of the world of work.  

I’ve had these in person, by phone, on Skype, over breakfast, lunch, coffee and (often most entertainingly) beer. They have ranged from 5 minutes to 2 hours. They have all been (almost entirely) enjoyable and – if I am honest, one of the most fun parts of starting up my business.

What have I learnt?

Well, quite a bit. I am still in the process of unpicking the many themes and points of wisdom generously shared, but here are a few immediate learnings that have jumped out at me (in no particular order):

1)     People are kind and generous, often incredibly so.

I have often been sideswiped by how generous people have been with their time, ideas and personal contacts. I’ve found this both tremendously humbling but also inspiring and of great support to me during what has, at times, been a lonely process as a start-up.

2)     My “natural” networks aren’t very diverse.

It turns out that my engineered serendipity led to meeting people who shared broadly similar age, education and ethnicity. This is perhaps not a big surprise, but something I am conscious of.  It would be dangerous to assume that the ideas, views and experiences which have been shared with me are representative of a wider population. 

3)     I really enjoy making connections amongst those people I have met

An unexpected, but positive, outcome of my experiment is that I have been in the position to connect people with others and spread ideas and resources that have been shared with me. This has been a real joy and a small way to “give back” to those who have taken the time to meet with me.

4)     It turns out there might be something in this social media malarkey

A small, but significant number of my conversations have resulted from people I have “met” through social media, Twitter in particular. Having been a serial lurker for many months, I plucked up the courage to get involved in the fabulous #HRhour and have never really looked back.

5)     You never know where your conversations will lead

A bit of a cliche I know, but opportunities to write, learn, consultant, present and podcast have all come about through my conversations – and many of these opportunities have come someway along a chain of conversations I have had, where one person connects with another and so on (I think my record for a chain of conversations is 8 people).

6)     Things sparkle and fizz when you connect over common ideas

I have often found myself swept upwards in a spiral of energy and excitement during and after my conversations. Rifting on, developing and picking apart existing ideas and developing new ones has, at times, been some of the most fun I have had during the last 9 months (I know I should get out more).

I’ll continue to reflect on, mine, and potentially blog about some further reflections of my 100 conversations about work project later in the New Year.

I would like to say a big thank you to everyone who was a part of this (knowingly or not) and for those I have met through social media or in person for continuing to share, stretch and stitch together ideas, thoughts and communities of practice.

Good luck to those of you setting, or facing, your own personal or professional challenges in 2018. If you would be willing to share some of your thoughts about what works well at work then get in touch (@bakerrjm). I would love to hear from you.

Monday, 15 January 2018

Darkness to light - Day 47

Day 47 (Tuesday 16th January 2018)
47 years ago, on the 16th January 1981, Leon Spinks (the American professional
boxer who in only his 8th professional fight 
won the undisputed heavyweight championship
in after defeating 
Muhammad Ali) was mugged and robbed. After being attacked in the
street he was taken to a motel and had $450000 worth of clothes, accessories and jewellery
taken, including his gold teeth. Spinks' boxing heavyweight title was short lived and
after boxing he became a wrestler, winning the world title in 1992 (he is the only person to hold
both the boxing and wrestling world titles). He has suffered heavily as a result of boxing - in
2012 he was diagnosed as suffering from shrinkage in his brain due to the impact of opponents' punches
Today is my father's birthday. He is turning 87. He is an amazing man (and a much loved father and grandfather) and I hope he has a wonderful day. 

The author of today's post, the highly talented photographer Paul Clarke, took a wonderful picture of my father at my eldest son's 21st birthday and I treasure it. If you have not seen his work, I urge you to click onto Paul's website: paulclarke.com - it's no wonder that he has won multiple awards. He has an eye for detail (he writes beautifully too - his blog on his business site is worth reading). You can also find Paul on TwitterFlickr, and Facebook. He is witty, engaging, perspicacious and highly intelligent - a joy to spend time with.

It perhaps should come as no surprise that a photographer has much to say about darkness and light.

PS I have used various photos that Paul took this year to illustrate his post - you can see them (and more) on his blog and website.


In my professional world, the world of photos and images, nothing happens without light. Literally, nothing. Seeing it, shaping it, playing with it – that’s what we do.

If I look back over the last decade as I’ve made the shift into this world, I can pick out distinct points when I started to think of light in different ways. How it might be brought into focus; how it behaves in a tight field of view; what colour it is (even when it’s “white”) and how it’s less important whether something is generally bright or dark, but much more important how light and dark contrast with each other.

This was taken in bright sunshine using the sun as the "lightbulb",
 but tightening up the camera to enable only the brightest light to get through

Over 2017 there’ve been times of deep personal darkness for me, but also plenty of light. Shakespeare nailed the very human need for contrast in Henry IV Part One, of course: “If all the year were playing holidays, to sport would be as tedious as to work” - and we have many modern equivalents.

We need the light so that we can recognise the dark, and the dark so that we can appreciate the light.

As I’ve hauled my way slowly into this new industry (from a post-40 standing start), my own lights and darks have happened in different ways. Sometimes they’ve been about finding any business at all. Or about overcoming some technical difficulty, or unfamiliarity with equipment.

This collection of more than 190 antique and modern pieces of photographic equipment
was neatly arranged and photographed by Portland-based photographer 
Jim Golden.
The equipment was borrowed from members of Portland’s photo community.

But the later stages have been the hardest to conquer. Putting it simply: if you try to do something well, you’ll get better at it. If you get better at it, you’ll attract tougher assignments. If you get tougher assignments, you’ll set higher standards for yourself.

It’s a spiral of expectation and challenge, and in the second half of this year it bit me. The particular client will never know of course – we’re good at hiding our own terrors in this regard. The job always gets done, and done well. But the process – that moment of realising that you’re through to a new level, and must deliver, can be awfully painful.

Composition study: shells by Amiria Gale

I think it’s something that’s particularly tough in the creative arts. What I make – by definition – has never existed before. I produce concepts, not just outputs. Were I making steel rivets, there’d be some opportunity to make a better rivet, but not much. I’d be measured on speed and consistency of delivery, but the product would be a known.

Making unknowns – whether in words, music or pictures – is different. Working with humans, as I do, means that the subject’s reaction to the unknown thing yet to be made will also be an unknown. Unknowns piled on unknowns! Where’s the light to be found in all of that? It’s very easy to fall into the dark.

I did fall, and at the lowest point I felt like giving it all up. If I lost confidence, then there’d be no creativity. No creativity, and there’d be no clients. No clients and… and so the spiral descends.

But I pulled back from the edge, this time. Going back to the simplest principles of how light works with dark. Sticking with my instincts about where the strength of an image would really be found. Stripping away composition and complexity to tell a story with as small a number of elements as possible.

October wedding photo by Paul Clarke
The job was delivered, eventually. The client was happy, immediately. The dark… didn’t recede as such, but took on a new texture. And so did the light. And so we head into a new year.

However brightly or dimly the light shines for you this year, I hope that you find plenty of contrast. That’s really what keeps us going, after all.

Seagulls by Paul Clarke

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Mindful reflection - Day 46

Day 46 (Monday 15th January 2018)
46% of people suffering from a mental health problem also have a long-term physical
health problem and 30% of people with a long-term physical health problem also have
a mental health problem
. Monday 15th January 2018 has been calculated as this year's
Blue Monday (the "most depressing day of the year".) The concept was devised by a
travel firm, Sky, in 2005 as part of an advertising campaign, but the concept has
been perpetuated by the media. A combination of factors such as period after the festive fun,
levels of personal debt, hours of daylight and weather are all included in a pseudo-scientific
calculation to determine Blue Monday's date. 
[W + (D-d)] x T^Q} ÷ [M x N_a], with ‘W’ standing
for weather, ‘D’ standing for debt, ‘d’ standing for monthly salary, ‘M’ for motivational levels
and ‘Na’ standing for the feeling of a need to take action. 
In fact, people suffering from
depression are not simply triggered into poor mental health by a date, people suffer at any
and all times of the year and there is no scientific basis to Blue Monday. This year the
Samaritans are turning Blue Monday into Brew Monday and simply encouraging people to talk. 
My son is safely returned to Durham and I have headed further north, to meet with a colleague who works across The Border. It is probable that he thinks of me as a Sassenach, but I actually think of myself as a Scot, despite living in London. My heart always sings as I cross the Border and many of the happiest times in my life have been alone, surrounded by awe inspiring scenery and wildlife or with family and friends near where my grandmother was born and where she returned to live near the end of her life. I must confess that I am looking forward to Burn's Night a bit later this month. It's fun to have an excuse to go out and celebrate.

Today's post is by Ian Pettigrew - a person who deserves to be celebrated. I am blessed to call Ian my friend and we have also done work together and travelled to Uganda together as part of the inaugural Connecting HR Africa team that worked with and for the charity Retrak that supports street children. Ian is Chair of the Board of Retrak and just last week the charity became part of the Hope for Justice Family (the charity Hope for Justice undertakes work to combat modern slavery and trafficking - both huge dangers for vulnerable street children). As you will see from his post, Ian lives a busy but fulfilling life. If you don't already, I urge you to connect with him on Twitter (his handle is @KingfisherCoach) or else read his blogs on his business site: Kingfisher Coaching. Ian cares deeply about people and is a superb coach with a talent for helping others to build upon their strengths.


It feels very self-indulgent for me to work out loud in reflecting on my year, but here goes…

2017 got off to a dreadful start on 1st January 2017 when our beautiful dog, Jake, collapsed and died on his afternoon walk aged just 5. If you know me, then you’ll know how attached I was to Jake and how I loved our long walks in Happy Valley. I was devastated to lose him so soon.

I was so touched by an outpouring of kindness from people and I was really moved when Simon Heath sent me a drawing of Jake.

After a few months of being a dog-less household, we took the plunge and another Border Collie, a little fluffy bundle of joy called Buddy arrived into our lives. I say bundle of joy, but I think he’s actually 10% Border Collie and 90% Monkey. He’s been a nightmare; being really disobedient and not really developing any connection with us. But, hard work and affection has paid off and he’s turned into a really lovely, loving dog. It is great to have Buddy although I miss Jake loads and I still can’t bring myself to walk in Happy Valley, as it doesn’t feel happy any more.

My other key reflection on 2017 is that is has been stupidly busy and I’ve worked far too hard. I’ve got three main things that I do; my work (Kingfisher Coaching), being chair of a charity (Retrak), and being a lay minister (a ‘Reader’) in the Church of England. In 2017, I’ve had a lot of times where it has felt like I’ve had full-on busy days of work work, then evenings doing charity work, and weekends doing church work. That’s why I’ve been quieter on Twitter; I have a level of busyness above which social media begins to feel like an unhelpful distraction. Top this off with an ongoing knee problem (which means I still can’t run) and a willingness to use my level of busyness as an excuse to put off some things I didn’t really fancy doing (e.g. writing and going to the gym!), and I’ve been a little frustrated with 2017.

Despite my frustration, my year doesn’t really qualify as darkness and I’m aware of the multitudes of people who have had terrible years and would very gladly swap for a year where their dog died and they worked too hard.

And if I’m being really, really honest with myself (and with you); I’m more frustrated with myself than I am with 2017. Because I feel like I’ve been a bit of a hypocrite this year. As I read what I’ve written above, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve helped people deal with the kind of frustrations I’ve described. I’ve helped loads of people:
   to accept that bad stuff happens
   to overcome irrational thought processes
   to appreciate that you can’t work too hard all of the time
   to realise that you can do anything but you can’t do everything
   not to get lulled into a false perspective and lose sight of the big picture
   to appreciate that self-care is not selfish
I enjoy working hard, I care about being professional, and I’m ambitious (not about image, status, or money but about impact) so it is important that I apply what I know.

The dawn? As I reflect on this year, work has been brilliant; I love what I do, I get to make a big impact, and I’m doing what I’m best at and what I care about. It does feel like I’m getting paid to do my hobby and this year, I’ve been joined by a full-time Project Administrator which frees me up to do more of what I’m best at. It is an honour to do what I do with Retrak, we’re making great progress in transforming the lives of street children, and another team of amazing people came to Uganda for the 2nd Connecting HR Africa trip (subsequently joining the people from the first trip in becoming amazing ambassadors and supporters!). And I feel similarly fulfilled in my work at Church.

In terms of practicing what I preach, there’s two other things I’ve said to load of people this year and I’ve not really said to myself:
   There’s a name for people who struggle with this kind of stuff: human
   Cut yourself some slack
As 2018 dawns, I’ll continue to work to ‘practice what I preach’ and when I don’t, I’ll remind myself that I am only human and I will cut myself some slack!

Here’s to 2018!

Saturday, 13 January 2018

The Wisdom Within - Day 45

Day 45 (Sunday 14th January 2018)
45 years - the length of time that Margrethe II of Denmark has been on the throne.
She was crowned on the 14th January 1972. Margrethe is the first queen to have
ascended the Danish throne since 1412 and the first Danish monarch not
named Frederick or Christian since 1513

Today I am driving to Durham.

It gives me huge pleasure to welcome back to the Advent Blogs series my former colleague and on-going friend Katharine Bourke. She is a co-founder and Director of South West Growth Service (@SWGrowthService), a consultancy that supports small businesses, enabling them to develop, adapt and grow. Katharine is a certified mBIT coach (for those who don't know, mBIT stands for multiple brain integration techniques). Outside work, she is keen on walking and exploring the beautiful countryside where she lives. When Katharine and I worked together we were based in London, but she was born and raised in a farm on Dartmoor and she has returned to her roots (but not farming, although she is helping things grow). Since moving West she has founded a successful IT business and spent four years helping to deliver the government's Growth Accelerator and Business Growth Service in Devon and Cornwall, before co-establishing the South West Growth Service.

Katharine has many varied interests and knowledge that she shares. I recommend that you follow her on twitter (her handle is @KatharineBDevon) and she assure me that 2018 is the year when she is going to resume writing - so watch out for her posts, articles and blog...

PS Most of the pictures have been provided by Katharine herself.


Darkness and Dawn: The people who inspire us and our wisdom within

As another year draws to a close, so begin the flurry of ‘best of’ summaries, which always make me reflect on the year that has passed. When Kate asked if I’d like to contribute this year, I thought long and hard and the topic that keeps coming back is a memory of someone really important to me which aligns with thoughts about the wisdom we have within.

With all the distractions of modern day life, it has become all too easy to ignore our inner voice, distracted by the next ‘must watch’ series on Netflix, whatever is trending on Twitter not to mention the constant challenges of keeping our home and work lives in some kind of balance. Everyone I speak with seems to have a tale of how they started searching for something on the internet only to find themselves somewhere completely different before they go back to what it was that they were looking up (and I blame the growth of digital remarketing for some of this!).

I feel I began to understand that we all had inner wisdom thanks to the wonderful relationship I had with my grandmother. She was physically disabled by a car crash near Dawlish in 1971, when I was 4, and as a result she lived with or near us for most of my childhood.  She was a remarkable woman, an avid reader, a lover of classical music, good coffee and great chocolate. Some of my fondest memories were Sunday mornings when she would make good coffee and serve it along with something extraordinary. I may not have drunk coffee in those days, but as a little girl growing up on a Dartmoor farm in the 70s and 80s I loved trying all the tasty things she had discovered! When I started working in London, I spent many hours in an era before the internet, tracking down a chocolate maker she had shared stories about, none other than Charbonnel and Walker, who were then only available from their little shop in the arcade off Bond Street. This was of course long before anything like an internet search engine. All I had to go on was her tales of them being delivered to the Scottish estate where she was working, and a London telephone directory or two. I was thrilled to find them and be able to give her a box similar to those she’d told me about on those mornings, wishing her a happy 90th birthday in lettered chocolates:

She also encouraged me to listen to music and put into words what I heard, what it meant to me and how it made me feel. It was like a game then and I loved giving it a go. Listening to Chi Mai, used as the theme tune for the Life and Times of David Lloyd George in the 1980s, always provokes a happy tear as I remember sitting in her lounge, trying to describe what I was hearing:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-0UhCjwUeg Try it. Do you hear a river? Or do you hear something else…?

Despite her physical frailty, she continued to live her life as fully as she could with the adaptations that were available to her then (a walking frame to start with and a pretty basic wheelchair as she aged). She listened to her music, and as her sight deteriorated with age, and audio books were only just beginning, I loved spending time reading her favourite books to her onto cassette tapes as I was no longer living at home. I still have the recording I made for her of Richard Bach’s ‘Jonathan Livingstone Seagull’ along with one of Krishnamurti’s ‘At the Feet of the Master’.

In her late teens and twenties my gran spent time with all kinds of discussion groups including Theosophists which culminated in a visit to Ommen in the late 1920s to hear Jiddu Krishnamurti speak. I will always remember the way she described being out walking in the woods when she came across him, walking alone between sessions. Her recall of that moment was powerful. She spoke of the way he made her feel even though they didn’t speak, how he seemed so serene and peaceful, at ease in his body, taking time out in the beautiful woods near Castle Eerde. This photo reminds me of that moment, even though it is one of him in front of a large crowd:

I still remember having conversations with her about world religions and particularly her readings of Krishnamurti and his thinking. She spoke about having an inner voice, a place within us where we have the answers we need if we make the time to listen:

I have found my Liberation and because I have attained that Kingdom of Happiness which dwells within me” Krishnamurti – Ommen Camp Fire Talk 1927

Blessed with the time I spent with my gran after school most days and at weekends, she introduced me to the quietness we have within, to a form of meditation which began for me as that young child sitting quietly, listening to beautiful classical music in silence, then talking about what I had heard and how it made me feel.

Having spent more time meditating in these past few years (see http://kategl.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/what-is-this-life-day-49.html) I’ve realised that for me this has been the missing link for so many years. I feel different when I don’t make time for those walks or to meditate each day. I notice that I’m not as productive at work, it is harder to stay focused, and as an Executive Coach, harder to be present for my clients if I don’t make time to be still before a session.

Amidst the many other distractions we now have, I have found that time spent out walking, something that most of us are physically capable of doing, or sitting quietly, noticing our breath, is invaluable. And I know I’m not the only one! There is evidence that we make better decisions when we press the pause button for a moment. Business leaders talk about how they meditate or use mindfulness to aid them in making good decisions. Medicine has also recognised the link between our physical and mental health. Have a look at the number of articles that connect depression with irritable bowel syndrome and indeed how meditation has been found to help many sufferers.

In the last ten years or so neuroscience has also proved that we have centres of intelligence in our cardiac (heart) system and enteric (gut) system. With all the same hallmarks of the brain we all refer to in our heads, our heart and gut also have large numbers of neurons and ganglia, neural cells and the functional attributes that include perceiving and assimilating information. Is it any wonder we often feel a bit sluggish after a big meal?! Or hear how people have followed their heart when achieving a goal? We talk about passion in business these days, something I don’t remember when I started my career nearly 30 years ago.

All too often we ignore the wisdom these other brains offer, hence this attempt to encourage you to make a bit of time to be able to hear them. And to suggest that next time you shed tears unexpectedly, consider whether your heart may be trying to tell you something. Or when you take a really deep breath, perhaps your gut is inviting you to listen...

I will always fondly remember those quiet times with my gran, and am guessing that you may well have someone like her in your life, someone who encourages or enables you to be closer to the calmness that is within you. Someone who inspires you with their ability to face up to life’s challenges. Many have already contributed to Kate’s Advent Blogs this year and in previous years.

I hope this will have encouraged you to reflect on who you are and what makes you the person you are today. Please make time to listen in for that inner wisdom. Start with a few minutes each day and allow it to build. Making time each day to sit and breathe or take a walk can deliver powerful results. And when you discover what works for you, do more of it and enjoy exploring that peaceful place, the calm that leads towards your inner wisdom.