Monthly Archives: October 2012

//October

Playing Patience

I have just been spending a quiet evening going through my backlog of business cards, turning each one over like in a game of Patience to discover if there is any useful metadata on the back of them. As a consequence, today, some of the people whom I met several weeks and months ago will be receiving an e-mail from me out of the blue, inviting them to connect up with me or for a lunch in the near future. Others will most likely never hear from me again, according to their ranking in the Harley Lovegrove selection process. This is how it works…

Every day I empty my latest business cards onto the pile already stacked up on my desk. The urgent ones are either placed in my PA’s in-tray or are entered directly into my Outlook database. However it is the left-overs that intrigue me the most. They are not so important that I am scared that the cleaner might accidentally misplace them, nor are they so unimportant that they are immediately dumped into the bin.  They lie in a kind of limbo, collecting dust while their fate is decided, being too important to give up on entirely.

How many times I have reflected on a meeting, convincing myself that the person I just met is going to be vitally important to my business in the very near future? And how many times have I left their card on my desk waiting for an appropriate stimulus to contact them? Somehow, too many things seem to get in the way and the vital person either never calls me first or simply becomes less important in the elapsed time.

But here they all lie, my ‘to be sorted’ business cards. Some with fancy embossed printing, others spectacularly colorful. Some so innovative that I remember only the trick of the card and not the person who handed it to me. There is a Dimitri and a Bernard, a Hans and a Carsten, even a Mario and a Koen.  And yet all these people will not go into the database, what’s the point unless I know why?  But then again I cannot possibly throw them away.  It feels as if that they will somehow know and become offended!  So they will be the ones that will remain under my computer screen until the next game of Patience begins. Perhaps they will send me an email or call me and gain an immediate promotion in meantime? Or maybe will jog a creative thought in me about how I might be able to help them, or they me, who knows?

Such important things business cards,

Have a good week,

Harley

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A simple dilemma

Here’s a simple dilemma for you. You have just printed ten sets of hand-outs for a meeting. It’s a shame that they are needed but it is the format that has been agreed. Your boss is very ‘green’ minded and hates the use of paper in all its forms. Unfortunately, in your rush, you pushed the ‘Print’ button too quickly and they came out single sided and in colour, the worst possible combination.  Question: Do you a) Throw them away and re-print them double sided in low toner, black and white, pretending that it never happened? Or b) Keep them as they are and apologise during the meeting?

Your answer will clearly show how far you are prepared to go to cover up for your mistakes or admit to them. But more importantly it will reflect the kind of culture you are working in. Whether your organization or department readily accepts the fact that people are only human and can make mistakes (especially when they are in a hurry) or whether mistakes are simply not acceptable or expected and are hidden at all costs.

I far prefer to work and live in environments where honesty is always the most important criteria.  I find it very sad to see employees lying to cover up for their mistakes out of fear of ridicule or some other form of punishment. In our case, people repetitively making the same mistake would encourage the IT department to set all the printers to the right default settings and thereby help stop the problem form re-occurring in the first place.

I am now off to give my morning lecture. My hand-outs are all neatly printed, two up, double sided in black and white on non-bleached, 80 gram paper. Perfect!

Have a good week,

Harley

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Plans for the future

I know it is silly to talk about my laptop this way but I had plans for its future when it finally comes up for replacement in the next few weeks. It has been faithful to me for the last five years, its XP operating system never crashed once. Its performance has remained as super-fast as the day it was handed over to me. I wrote my second book on it, built spreadsheets that turned around complex situations but now fate and my stupidity has dealt it an unexpected blow.  

A few seconds after entering the slip road onto the motorway, I heard a loud thump on the roof. At first I thought it was a branch from a tree flying in the wind. There was no lorry in sight. In the rear view mirror I saw a thin black object flying through the air and crash on to the ground, breaking in two spinning off both left and right. I checked my speed – 90Km per hour.

When I finally found a safe place to make a U-turn and got back to the landing site I was amazed to see that my laptop was still in one piece, apart from the battery that was lying in the middle of the road and mashed out of shape under the weight of several cars.

The DVD draw was open and the lid had broken away from its left hinge, it was badly buckled and torn.  I had given it up for dead but my colleague re-assured me “it’s an IBM ThinkPad he said, those X300’s are stronger than you think”.  Back home and connected up to an external power supply it booted up as if nothing had happened. The screen worked fine and all my data was intact, even the DVD player still worked. What a relief. I had hoped to keep it forever, running my MP3 music files into my Hi Fi system, later donating it to a private collection of IBM computers when I was no longer around.

In life we can make many plans, but we are humans and we are vulnerable to rush decisions and changing conditions. My motto is to live each day to the full and be thankful for the people I have around me that make life so much fun.

As for my laptop accident, I am just lucky my lapse of attention did not cause any damage to anyone else.  I will glue together the left-hand hinge and I will use it for my music, after all it will serve as a reminder of just how reliable and loyal a true friend can be!

Have a good week,

Harley

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“It won’t work.”

Once upon a time there was a young engineer who had just finished doing an MBA at the famous Vlerick management school in Belgium. He was in search of an adventure before going back into the traditional world of work, so you can imagine his delight when the Dean of the school offered him and his two friends the chance to go to Haiti on a charity mission.

The task in hand was to design and build a simple water supply system leading from the top of a mountain down into a small hillside village. Late one night, after a long and exhausting trip the engineer and his friends finally arrived in the village. The conditions were appalling, they expected hardship but the poverty and backwardness took them by surprise. The villagers had no electricity or running water at all. There were not even any roads.

The very next day the three men got down to work. They climbed the mountain and examined the small lake that formed the source of the supply. Over the next five days they measured and drew up maps, debated between them the very best route and designed and re-drew every little detail until finally they had a thoroughly tested and ready to implement plan.

“It won’t work” the Mayor told them. “With respect Sir” the young engineer answered “We believe it will. We have checked and double checked every aspect of our design”.

“It won’t work the Mayor repeated.” “You are not the first bunch of men to come to my village and make pretty drawings of your so called solution and your plan, seems very similar to the last one” the Mayor continued.

“I am sorry to contradict you Sir” the engineer interjected “We don’t know the last design but let me assure you that I am an engineer and I understand about pipe diameters and resistive flow and the need for intermittent, float based, storage tanks.”

“I am sure you do” said the Mayor “but it won’t work.”

“Well I can assure you that this one will” said the young engineer again.

“We have even checked the supply of suitable pipes and parts before we left and we know that they can be flown out within a matter of days.” added one of the engineer’s companions. “We can, with the help of a few villagers, build everything right here using the most basic of tools.”

“It won’t work” said the Mayor again “but if you say it will then that’s great” he added. “However, I have one last question for you. May I assume then that you have managed to successfully negotiate a sustainable deal with the two families that, for as long as anyone can remember, have been carrying the water to our village?” the Mayor concluded.

Have a good week,

Harley

‘Thanks to my friend Jacques for that story, I hope I have done it justice?’

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These days, anything goes…

I remember looking down from a balcony at a rock concert in the late 70’s. The rebellious youth below were all wearing blue jeans except for one poor soul who was wearing an orange pair!  In the office too, if your bosses didn’t tell you precisely what was acceptable to wear then your colleagues would certainly make fun of any attempt to show individualism.

Today however, anything goes: Cyclists arrive in the office looking like they’ve come off a Sunday afternoon hike. Top directors wear T shirts while office juniors walk around in three piece suits with matching shirts and ties, it’s become all so liberating yet confusing at the same time.

There’s a chain of clothes stores in Belgium that has banned their female staff from wearing headscarves in case they upset the customers. And yet the irony is that the same stores sell headscarves and many of their customers wear them!

I am lucky enough to live in a multi-cultural society where in some quarters diversity is celebrated. And yet all the while, narrow mindedness and a misguided sense of the need for conformity is trying to water everything back down to the pre-punk days where everyone wearing the same was hip.

The important stand point for me is that we simply must respect our colleagues for who they are. After all they are only a reflection of the culture within which our businesses exist.

Does this mean that I would honestly be happy having a receptionist who came to work dressed in a plastic bag and with a safety pin through their cheek? Probably not. Nor would I choose to wear my garden clothes into the office; they would leave grass stains all over the furniture and deflect the conversation away from the task in hand.

Since Adam and Eve, or whoever it was that came to the sensible conclusion that not being naked was a good idea, we have come to select our clothes for a specific purpose. And yet sometimes I think we as business leaders should invest a little time reflecting on what ‘fit for purpose’ really means. And perhaps, just perhaps we should lay down some gentle guidelines that truly reflect the diversity of the world in which our employees live, without losing sight on why we wear clothes to work in the first place.

Right now it is 06:30 am and a new day is beginning, I need to get dressed and to choose either to wear my white cotton shirt with its buttoned down sleeves or my white cotton shirt with all its buttons hidden? Choices, choices…

Have a good week,

Harley

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