Monthly Archives: May 2011

You’ve got nothing to complain about

When I was a child my Catholic upbringing was extremely successful at making me feel guilty about the good things I had.  Because the moment I complained about this or that, someone would always say “think of the poor starving children in the world and stop complaining”.  From toddlers that whine, to angry adolescents and grumpy old men and women, we all, it seems, have a lot to complain about.

2016-11-17T08:24:56+00:000 Comments

Who would volunteer to do their current job for free?

When financial circumstances get tough it is not unheard of for companies to come up with schemes to try and get them through the difficult times, one of the most popular being early retirement packages for their ‘older’ employees.  But with people living longer, healthier lives has there ever been a more illogical time to think about getting rid of one’s most experienced staff, purely on the grounds of trying to save short term cash?

Recently, in the UK, many police men and women with over 30 years of experience were forcibly retired, however the worst of it was, literally only weeks after they received their official dismissal notices, some senior police managers woke up to the fact that they had just got rid of an extremely important layer of their force.  So they sent the best ones letters asking them if they would consider coming back to work but as volunteers, completely unpaid!

If someone kicked me out of the organization I had worked for after thirty years of loyal service (no matter if I loved my work or not) I would be heartbroken, so try as I might I simply cannot imagine how those unfortunate professionals must be feeling when just two weeks later they receive a letter asking them to consider coming back to work but this time for free!  

Most forced early retirement schemes are plainly silly but I suppose they can allow people the opportunity to consider new careers; possibly starting their own business or taking up a full time occupation like; fine art painting or sculpting, whatever (even voluntary work oversees).

With Bob Dylan reaching his 70th birthday today, I believe he typifies the ultimate worker.  He learnt his craft young and has spent a lifetime perfecting it, writing and performing almost nonstop.  As he has grown older his writing has matured with him, bringing stories and messages to both young and old alike (even if today the radio and TV stations have mostly chosen to only play the work he wrote 40 years ago).  And as long as his work is appreciated I believe he is entitled to expect a fee for performing, just as much as his younger colleagues.

Sometimes I simply fail to understand the arrogance and naivety of a government or organization that thinks that doing one’s existing job for free could even be considered as a viable option.

Please do not get me wrong, I am a strong supporter of voluntary work: people choosing to give up their precious time for the benefit of the community.  I even actively promote it.  But I would never dream of abusing my employee’s dignity by expecting them to come to work for free.  Or am I missing something here?

Have a good week,


2016-11-17T08:24:56+00:000 Comments

The trouble with you is…

When was the last time you heard those words and what were the circumstances in which they were spoken?  None of us like being reminded of our failures but the simple truth is that for most of us it will have been our life partner, close friend or possibly even our boss that points them out in this clear and unambiguous way.

Being told ‘the trouble with you is’ once in a while might not do ever lasting damage and can at times even help to keep our ego’s in check but heard too often and we begin to recoil into ourselves and fail to perform anywhere near to our ability.  

It is a fact that many leaders are over confident of the capacities of others.  So when those around them fail to perform to the standards expected, instead of offering an apology for pushing them into something for which they were either not capable of or unprepared for, the worst leaders dish out unwelcome criticism on top!

It is a complex blend of encouragement, belief, patience and perseverance that obtains the best results in others.  It can be a useful exercise to remind oneself that not everyone is as cleaver, knowledgeable, or as motivated as you are and that probably for them doing OK is fine.

There is an accepted malaise in many companies that simply turning up for work and doing one’s job is somehow sufficient.  However I am a person that likes to go the extra mile, that likes to deliver my work to the very utmost of my abilities.  I am almost never satisfied with my own results and that is one reason why I am never completely satisfied with the work of others either, people like me find it all too easy to find fault in everything.

One of the tricks of a happy and well balanced life at work and at home is to learn when to keep one’s mouth shut and to avoid saying ‘the trouble with you is’, whenever humanly possible!

Have a good week


2016-11-17T08:24:57+00:000 Comments

Trying to build a sense of community

If you have ever tried to put together a community newsletter then you’ll know just how depressing it can be.  After the fun and sense of achievement of producing your first edition, you can all too quickly find yourself lost in a vacuum of new ideas.  So when I was recently asked for advice for putting together a community newsletter, my immediate reaction was – “don’t!” 

Because my enquirer deserved a more serious reply, I began by asking the usual series of questions:
  1. How frequently do you intend to distribute it & via what channels?
  2. How many people can you reliably turn to for content?
  3. Have you ever run a successful newsletter before, if so, for how long?
  4. What is the problem that you are expecting the newsletter to solve?
Her responses were a little thin until she came up with a killer answer to question 4: Her newsletter was intended to ‘help build and maintain a community’ within her department.

Small companies are, almost by definition, communities in themselves.  However very large companies (that tend to scatter employees from single departments into satellite offices across the globe) often suffer from a sense of lack of community. 

We humans need communities; families, professional institutions, sports clubs, church or other interest groups, in fact almost any kind of kinship band.  Without them we become lost, even broken.  And because so many of us live detached and often fragmented lives, regular well written newsletters can play an important part in creating a sense of community, no matter how frail.   The problem is, to be any good, newsletters have to actively stimulate the notion of belonging and creatively communicate the stories and achievements of their members. 

For many, Facebook transcends the notion of a community newsletter and actually becomes the community itself.  Its snapshots of life, coupled with expressions of fun, sadness anger and anxiety, combine to create an experience that many accept as real.  What’s more, the content is kept up to date and interesting by the sheer number of its contributors. 

With over 500 million users, of which apparently more than half log on everyday to view over 30 billion pieces of content, one must say that Facebook is indeed extremely well supported! However, when looked at objectively; Facebook is a giant honeycomb of millions of communities, each of which (in principle) is open to all and able to share with the other, even if its content appears to be largely disappointing and futile.

A statistic that I find interesting about Facebook is that its average member has 130 ‘friends’.  When you compare this with the knowledge that since the beginning of time, successful nomadic tribes consisted of around 150 members, then you begin to see that small communities (where everyone knows everyone else) are as an important human need today as they ever were. 

Perhaps it is because of our broken and disconnected social structures that Facebook has become so popular, the fact that with any PC or smart phone your ‘real’ community is right there with you in the palm of your hand?

Have a good week,


2011-05-10T01:05:45+00:000 Comments

Some scientists are not nice people

While waiting for a guest to join me at my lunch table in a busy Brussels restaurant last week, I overheard a person at an adjoining table say “some scientists have unpleasant personalities, you just have to live with it.  They’re obsessive; it’s all they think about.”  From what I could hear, I was pretty sure the couple engrossed in the conversation were both academics, most likely scientists. This got me wondering.  We all have unpleasant personalities to a greater or lesser extent but does being a scientist, engineer, artist, CEO or whatever we are in anyway excuse it?

From many psychologists we can learn that one’s personality is pretty well fixed, but behavior not. Therefore (and I can testify for this) significant behavior pattern changes (‘improvements’) can be witnessed in the work place, assuming the person in question sees a benefit.

I do not like the idea of excusing unacceptable behavior, not even on the grounds of the person being a genius, or even a scientist!  On the other hand, we do not all need to be smooth talking socialites either. Surely an acceptable balance needs to be established and maintained, too far in either direction and we have a problem?  

So here’s this week’s dilemma: if some of the genius’s of this world can only come up with extraordinary achievements that could benefit the whole of mankind, by being objectionable; possibly with bullying, obsessive or even just anti-social behavior, do we still have to put up with them?

Have a good week,


2016-11-17T08:24:57+00:003 Comments