Monthly Archives: October 2011


“Are there any questions?”

The words “are there any questions?” usually spell the kiss of death for open debate.  However, last week, while on my way to a symposium on the green economy, I got chatting to the communications director of a petro-chemical company who told me a true story that happened to him at the previous event.


The dawning of the age of the epigenome and collaborative thinking

Today we in the west are so privileged and relatively wealthy that we can more or less do whatever we want to do. At no other point in history have so many been so free to explore and appreciate our planet. And while the ecological impact of this might be frightening, I am somewhat pacified by the fact that everything that is thinkable is now becoming possible in ever decreasing periods of time. I mainly put this down to the current trend for imaginative partnerships and collaborative thinking.     

Since the early 1950’s corporations have invested in research based around an almost paranoiac sense of secrecy to protect their intellectual property. So much so, that even within their own research structures, knowledge between their own scientists was very rarely shared. A ‘successful’ scientific career was often measured by the number of white papers and patents an individual scientist published, rather than their possible application. The result of all this has been a much slower rate of change than could have been possible.

Last week I heard of a major breakthrough in the field of epigenomes. These are the amazing nano switches that turn human genomes on and off.  It appears that their discovery could do more for the improvement of human health than the simple water closet did for people living in cities in the late 19th century.

Recent activities in Switzerland have also demonstrated the real benefits of collaborative research.The fact that when the CERN scientists got stuck with their unexplainable findings that Neutrinos seem to be travelling faster than the speed of light, they immediately reached out to the global scientific community for advice and feedback. Sharing whatever data was necessary.

Astronomers too are using the hundreds of thousands of amateurs around the world to help analyze data that would otherwise take a small group of university research scientist’s decades to wade through. The self centered, ego centric scientific research patterns of the past are now giving way to much healthier collaborative processes.

However, we humans are still far too slow to adapt on a local scale. Useful new technologies seem to take much longer to become the norm than one would imagine or expect. Too many of us still trying to fix our existing problems with the same old silo thinking that has proved largely in-effective for the last thirty years.  

At long last, the use of web-based collaborative tools is really beginning to bring about a significant change in human behavior when it comes to knowledge sharing and transfer, the likes of which have never before been possible.

Have a good week,


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I’ve made a decision

“Now listen here, it’s not as simple as you make out.  I don’t think you know the half of it.  I mean have you considered all the options?  What about your health?  You’re not as strong as you think you are!  And what about money?  Where the hell are you going to find the money?” 

“You’re not seeing this clearly at all. And have you considered the time it will take?  All those hours when you will be away from your family and friends; the very people that helped you get you to where you are today? I mean what about the risk?  What if it fails? What if you don’t make it? What then? What about your reputation, your sense of pride? Even your dignity for Christ sake!  I am not with you on this one, I am just not!  Sorry.” 

“When I was your age I thought I knew everything too, but I am wiser now. You’ve got to listen to those around you with more experience than you.  You’ve got to understand that they have your best interests at heart.  If you won’t listen to me, then who will you listen to? …No I am not saying you can’t, I am just saying that you shouldn’t.  There’s a difference. I mean why would you want to screw up your career right at the point in time when you’ve got it all?”

One reason why too few of us ever reach anywhere near our potential.

In memory of Steve Jobs,

Have a good week,



How to tell your boss off without getting fired!

More than once someone has said to me “that’s all very well and good for you Harley, you work at a very high level in organizations, for me it’s different. I have to contend with bosses and superiors. Getting them to deliver something on time for you is a nightmare, and if your boss won’t deliver then there is very little you can do!”  “Nonsense!” I reply.

I don’ think that I am any different from anyone else, we all have bosses, even the CEO has to answer to someone (most often his or her shareholders).  We’ve all had pain in the ass bosses and even the perfect ones become busy and sometimes let you down. Even the President of the United States has to hand in work on time and to the expected quality to someone.

The question is should we behave differently when delegating a task upwards as we do downwards? In short the answer is both ‘yes’ and ‘no’. ‘Yes’ in that everyone is unique and needs their own special way of motivation to agree to give you their full commitment; and ‘no’ in as much that it is your task to make it abundantly clear to everyone exactly what the impact is of the task they are taking on. In my opinion one needs to spend three times as much talking about the importance and context of the task as one does on the content itself.

However, most often the problem with our bosses occurs because we tend to send out reminders or chase them much later than we do our subordinates. And that’s a big mistake. The real secret is to not let them become exposed as non deliverers but to remind them that they will be if the deadline they agreed to is not met. After all you’re just doing your job. 

Very few people are ever made redundant for doing their job. Advice: Always remain polite and respectful (as you should to everyone). Be a little stricter delegating upwards than you are downwards (very clear timelines, commitments and consequences). Nine times out of ten you simply won’t have a problem and your boss will be impressed with your effectiveness and efficiency.

In the rare case that your boss fails to deliver after rigorous reminders and follow up, don’t be afraid to highlight the late delivery in progress meetings (but only after letting them know in advance that you simply have no alternative). You’ll be amazed how the delivery comes even moments before the meeting is due to start. No one likes to be the one that lets the team down...

And if all that fails, give them the “I am very disappointed in you” speech. You know the one, the speech that your teacher gave you in front of the class all those years ago when you delivered a poor piece of work, or even failed to deliver at all!

Good luck!

Have a nice week,