ADVANTAGE ALL OF US

T80pxtreehe two main subjects of conversation in the café today are the heat and the tennis. (Well, we are in SW19) And indeed there does seem to be a particularly jolly atmosphere at this early point in the tournament in down-town Wimbledon.

Is the jolliness an accident?

I think there are at least 5 useful tips from how Wimbledon fortnight is run that we can take into the workplace. No practice or tiny white outfits required.

*A little spruce up.

The forecourt of the train station was transformed in a 2-hour period last Saturday. So effective; a modest outlay; passers by not only cheered but also moving in cunningly efficient crowd management patterns.  I went straight back and tidied up the office.

* Light hearted reminders.

The most serious and dull of shop-fronts (so many estate agents!) are wearing a little smile. Nothing too dignity-reducing, mind. There are more oversized shocking pink tennis balls peeping coyly from shop windows than you could shake a tennis racket at.  Small symbols of affectionate subversion and support really make a difference to the mood. They make us feel better disposed towards the businesses, too.

* Ice.

The AELTC has invested hugely this year in players’ comfort and fitness and health by installing ice baths. Exercise science is still a mystery to me, but this apparently helps tired muscles recover super fast.

http://www.pressreader.com/uk/london-evening-standard-west-end-final-b/20150629/281578059316304/TextView

Miss Sharapova has been praising the club for thinking ‘from the players’ perspective’.  So two little nudges here. Firstly, literally. Employers, it’s going to be a very sweaty week. Is lots of ice laid on? Secondly, have you had a walk round and looked at everything from the employees’ point of view? Please do.

* Colour.

The colours of the tournament (purple white & green) are everywhere and actively adding to the gaiety of the nation. (They are the colours of the Suffragette movement too. The colours denote dignity, purity and hope.  In 1913 there was even an arson attempt by an outraged suffragette. It was stopped by the newly appointed watchman on his first night. )

Colour in the workplace – try it.

* Strawberries.

Titter ye not. I ran a workshop a couple of weeks ago where we placed bowls of strawberries within reach of every one of the 30 or so participants. I think it was a key ingredient to the meeting’s success. There’s something about the luscious, summery, treat-y, juicy sweetness of strawberries that just seems to make everyone feel better. (Yes we did check allergies)

Hmm. An easy guide to increasing happiness in the workplace based on Wimbledon fortnight? Let me see..…

Photo of strawberries at Wimbledon
28,000 kg of strawberries will be eaten during Wimbledon

 

3D AND OUTSIDE

T80pxtreehe first major exhibition of Barbara Hepworth’s work for nearly 50 years opens this month in London at Tate Britain.  And a Henry Moore exhibition is to open at the Gagosian Gallery; almost as if these two titans of Modern British Art must continue to be linked as rivals and friends.

Sculpture. Abstract sculpture. Why might it matter?

image00

They both forged an approach – one more influenced by human form, one more influenced by natural form – that was direct; a direct interaction with the material. They were both about carving, rather than modelling.
Chipping away, cutting back, sanding down, finding a way through by piercing wood or stone, Hepworth especially touched and felt her way through the work.

I am a messy and cluttered hoarder. I find the ability to take away and reduce almost a superpower.  (Reduction is the essence of good curation and of good design, too. Coco Chanel said ‘Elegance is refusal’).  But there’s another reason for looking to sculpture for inspiration in the workplace this week.

It’s June, it’s midsummer, and we can be outside. We can take our coffee outside.

And sculpture can be outside.

In fact when sculpture moves outside, extraordinary things happen.

I wondered around the Yorkshire Sculpture Park at the weekend.  Here, over wild beautiful acres, sit Moores and Hepworths and other sculptures. Bounded by sky and earth, they can be touched and walked around and seen from far away and right up close.

The wide open setting encourages closeness (isn’t that strange?) as well as a new perspective. An abstract piece which seemed familiar from a picture becomes new in a wild and open setting.

Something on your mind?

Go outside. Touch wood or stone.

It will suddenly seem different. It will sort itself out.

MERETRICIOUS METRICS

A80pxtree café conversation yesterday grew and grew.

It started with an innocent exchange around the signs of a good café.

(These are never turnover or profit, or size. Those so called key metrics tell us nothing we really want or need to know.)

So we all shared the clues we personally liked to use that signal, or short cut, what would take much longer to find out through experience. And of course, everyone goes through a similar process when starting work with any new client.
Why hadn’t we thought to ‘professionalise’ this before?

image00I’ll spare you the huge amount of reminiscing involved in generating some useful signals (and some of the stories were pretty incredible) and cut straight to a list for you to recognise, enjoy, and possibly use.  They might even replace those meretricious metrics about business performance that we are all being fed constantly – especially during this phony-data election time.

Here are a handful:

The splendor and comfort of Head Office will be in inverse proportion to the quality of conditions in which everyone else is working.  (I interviewed Directors at the The Co-operative, as part of a project, while watching the new huge, glistening and overweening HO building rising into the air through the window behind their heads. We know how that story ended.)

The bigger and glossier the pictures of people, or the outside world, on meeting room walls, the less actual contact with actual people in the outside world there will be.
(Big media companies, anyone?)

The more automated the visitor registration system, the greater the repetition and duplication of projects and work inside the company. (I’m not sure why either – could there be a link between visitors not speaking to each other and…..?)

The funkier the furnishings and environment, the less tolerant the culture will be of difference or dissent.
(It’s the ‘but look what we do for you’ pattern. Counter-intuitively, young companies are particularly prone to this)

The more frequent the staff satisfaction surveys, the lower the morale.
(I’ve always suspected that this is because the map begins to replace the territory in leaders’ minds. It’s such an easy trap to fall into.)

Shall we extend and develop this list?

A subject for another day is that of the language used by organisations and what that inadvertently reveals. Keep your ears open and do send me any gems that you find. It’s time to spread the use of real metrics that actually tell us something…

LET’S DE-SKILL


Y80pxtree
our irony–free in-box is probably stuffed with de-cluttering advice at this time of year.

De-clutter your house, your body, your car, your life..….

The bigger that bag that you hurl out, the bigger the feeling of freedom:

more space for more fun.

(My favourite café has succumbed.  Funnily enough it was hard to open the door, the rejected-stuff bag was so big)

But what about the stuff we can’t see?

What about the stuff that’s become so ingrained, it’s part of who we are and how we behave?

I’m going to suggest some de-skilling as a top- tip for this week for enjoying work more, and for being better at it.

It’s a particular skill that I’ve got in mind.

Do you rehearse in your imagination, over and over again, before any ‘big’ meeting or discussion?  Do you anticipate in gory detail all the obstacles that are going to be put in your way?  Do you squirm as you think of all the criticisms that are being prepared by others (you know they are doing this).  Do you practice a few put-downs of your own, just to be ready?

Do you – whisper it only – practice some facial expressions for this all-out attack that you are about to face down?

Penny Hunt delivers a knock-out blow

You are very skilled indeed. It’s called sciamachy.

It means shadow boxing, with an imaginary opponent.

Lets think that through one more time – you are fighting with a thing that doesn’t actually exist.

Exhausting!

So take your skill of imagining-the-worst (wrapped up in beautiful, but dishonest, wrapping paper bearing the word ‘preparation’), take your shadow-boxing gloves, and hurl them into the rejected stuff bag. And relax.

Still want to do some imagining?

Still want to call this preparation?

Then imagine the best that can happen.

Prepare for the very best.

 

FEAR ‘n CHEER

Penny Hunt's blog coffee conversationsA little blast from the past in the café again this morning.

A TV drama had been watched at the same time by everyone there. Just like the olden days.
The talk was of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror: White Christmas, a compelling, disturbing, yet plausible futuristic story that had been screened the night before. Plausible, because the technology involved is surely almost here already. Disturbing, because the casualness of ‘blocking’ and cloning each other seemed so heartless A– and yet horribly reasonable. Compelling, because Don Draper starred in the story. (And Rafe Spall)

Our spontaneous TV club found some cheer within the fear.
(Coffee is very good for optimism)

  • How energizing it was to play with dark thoughts and ideas in a Christmas setting.
    We all noted the makings of a rather fine new-year resolution: not trying to find
    sweetness and light all the time.
  • The future did not look a happy place in the story. All these incremental technology upgrades and improvements that we love so much will, little step by little step, lead to some horrible stuff if we’re not careful. But Mr Brooker had left a sliver of hope. Some moral questions were being asked, somenindependent thoughts were being thought, by everyday people living everyday lives even in this frightening future. Let’s hang on to that this week when parts of the world seem to have gone mad.
  • The blocker device. Imagine being able to effect a sort of immediate exile on anyone annoying you. People became vague fuzzy unreachable shapes when ‘blocked’ in Black Mirror. As we compared notes on the places we had worked that week, we realized that ‘blocking’ happens here and now pretty effectively without the help of any yet-to-be-invented gadgets. The Behavioural Psychologists call these behaviours ‘micro exclusions’ – the thousands of hard-to-identify ways we find not to acknowledge or include another person.

The impromptu drama critics were as one in their resolve. We would spot any blocking pattern wherever we worked, we would assume positive intent wherever we went, and we would look for the dark as well as the sweet.
And with that sense of achievement we wished each other – all – a very merry Christmas indeed.

John Hamm in Black Mirror.

A SWEET TRUTH

Penny Hunt's blog coffee conversationsDo you ever get the feeling that you are being watched, in a Truman Show sort of way?

The café lady and I had been chatting about raw food.

(I yield to no one in my ability to listen intently while scooping, methodically, every last powdery grain of icing sugar from a plate.)

The addiction to sugar on Penny Hunt's change chemistry blogAt that very moment an email pinged into the inbox – rather brusquely I thought – with a huge headline about sugar addiction.

(And no, it’s not a great look, reading all about how serious this is while some white sweetness floats from one’s chin.)

The article noted that the tongue map that is so familiar to us, with a small update for umami (a fifth taste), had remained more or less unquestioned for decades of the twentieth century. Had experiments conducted in 1901 by a German graduate student not been misinterpreted, then the ease with which the entire area of the tongue embraces the taste of sugar might have been more widely known. But since the 70s, the sheer level of this addiction to sugar, the intensity of the craving, has been oh so perfectly well understood – by food manufacturers.

Sugar junkies, all of us. Hopeless. Apparently the craving is of a biochemical nature that overrides all other ‘biological brake’ signals to …. stop.

So we think we know what we are doing, and that we are making decisions, but in reality an addiction has bypassed all available ‘control methods’.

And a train of thought pulled gently out of the station…

I had just finished a series of interviews in a medium sized company, and heard a word used quite automatically, and frequently. The word was ‘Change’.

I too love the word.

My consultancy is called ‘Change Chemistry’. The name came from a distinction between change that is reversible (physical change) and change that is real / permanent (chemical change). And my approach uses the idea of the change paradox– we cannot ‘decide to change’, we can only become super-aware of where we are so that change can emerge.

Check out a few current business articles and you will see how often the word ‘change’ is used – often alongside the word ‘disruption’.

Might the business world be addicted to the idea of ‘change’?

I think some companies and cultures are more entrenched than they realise: just too big to change in a season or two. Change is unrealistic. It would be far more worthwhile / profitable / sustainable and less painful for these companies to start little offshoots of difference and see where that goes and what it produces.

And in a glorious irony – or indeed homage to – the raw food conversation that was so rudely interrupted by the news of hopeless sugar addiction, I recall the raw foodies advice….

Don’t try to change your diet and cut things out. ADD the wholesome new thing, and let nature take its course.
So, business leadership teams – face your addiction to ‘change’, overcome your cravings. Encourage instead new wholesome off-shoots to spring up alongside your main business and effect the shifts you want to see: naturally.

The zones of the tongue on Penny Hunt's change chemistry blogThe myth of the tongue map;
that 1 tastes bitter, 2 tastes sour,
3 tastes salt, and 4 tastes sweet.

AHOY HOY

Penny Hunt and Change Chemistry logo imageSomeone called ‘ahoy’ to his coffee drinking friend as he came into the café today.

Fantastic beard (that Victorian explorer look has really taken hold, hasn’t it?), tweedy togs and fab trainers all signalled someone hipper than a hip thing.

Is ‘ahoy’ coming back, I wonder?

It’s an accident that we don’t all say this to each other all the time. Alexander Graham Bell’s favoured telephone greeting was’ ahoy-hoy’. While you may feel a giggle coming on, ‘ahoy’ wasn’t always just nautical.

image01But Edison preferred ‘hello’ and here we are.
(Or not. Is ‘Hi’ winning at the moment?)

The ahoy thing has wheedled its way into my head as being really rather significant.  If you can tear yourself away from the nautical imagery, what does ‘Ahoy’ feel like? To me it sounds confident, and makes me want to sit up and take notice. It feels like a word that should be shouted. Direct, but distant.

I ran a focus group this week in a certain company exploring the experience of working together and how to make things better.
There was lots of discussion about the differences between men and women – in how they work and how they communicate. It all felt pretty clear that the male mode was directness, the female mode was suggestion and circumlocution.

image00But the more we talked, the more this seemed like utter, unquestioned, rubbish in the workplace: in this particular workplace.
There are many meetings in this company. There are even de facto gatekeepers who police who knows about which meetings, and who attends. The CEO and his team is lofty and distant. Email circulation lists routinely have 20+ names on them. The management is very male. Yet the group felt distanced from discussion, from debate, from conversation; from what was really going on and being decided. A male culture existed, yet a communication behaviour that was not direct at all had grown up. The supposed male and female modes were completely mixed up.

And everyone in the group craved contact and involvement.

So what did the group conclude?

To ignore old fashioned male/female labels; to be more direct, and to make proper contact when they returned to work with their teams.

And my thought for the week?

Say ‘Hello’ not ‘Ahoy’.

THE LITTLE PRINTS

Penny Hunt and Change Chemistry logo imageHot chocolate slops about beside the coffee; the noise is at ‘oo-er’ levels; small groups are munching and studying maps; small hands are being wiped: pretend cobwebs still wisp across firework display posters: it’s half term in the café.

And it’s a living tutorial.
Un-write any applications for organizational behaviour courses, cancel any MBA plans; all we need to know is right here.
Just tune in to a quality within the noise.
There’s no overriding ‘culture’ or mood dominating. Ages, energies, feelings are all mixed up.
That mixed-up-ness is what I see ‘missing’ in most office environments at the moment. There isn’t much difference, or real messy contact, or laughing for that matter.
There’s no child part in the orchestra score.

We all know that work is a serious business.

Or is it?

Plunge a hand into the ragbag of current business vocab and you’ll retrieve words like ‘passion’, ‘inspiration’, ‘creativity’, ‘energy’ and other easier-said-than-summoned qualities. (Are you a teeny bit tired of hearing them?).  It’s as clear as a clear thing today in the café that these qualities are linked to play. It also feels very normal and right, as if ‘youngness’ mixed up with ‘oldness’ is not only a potent mix, but just….natural. Perhaps it’s the permission to play that is so productive.

Moedbius loop in Penny Hunt's blog

You may have played with a Möbius strip – studied rather than played? – at school. A strip of paper, with one twist as it is formed into a circle, magically creates a shape that while appearing to have 2 sides has but one continuous surface.

I wonder whether work (or our bosses’ style and wishes?) is increasingly forcing us to work with one side of ourselves? Yet those sides are magically and indivisibly part of a whole.

It’s not all sweetness, or indeed light, here today. There are arguments and tears; fights over food and phones and games. It’s not an idyll. But it’s real. The presence of some child-like quality inside us all has been let out, and is abundantly available.

The Little Prince in Penny Hunt's blogThe enduring popularity of The Little Prince (Saint-Exupéry: Le Petit Prince) is often ascribed to an ability to touch that ‘inner child’. Again, it’s not all sugar sweet jolliness. Saint-Exupéry crashed in the desert, and was lost for a week in 1935. He later began drawing and writing to make some sort of sense of that experience. He wrote to process his war depression, and misery at how quickly France fell to Germany in 1940. The child resources were as crucial as the grown – up resources in the process of working through depression and releasing his imagination.

Clearly children have more important things to do than spend time in our workplaces and offices. But perhaps something of the child approach to the world can be re-introduced. Not an adult’s interpretation of a child’s approach (just whimsy and infantilisation?) but real anarchic child energy.

I’d like small people to leave their ‘little prints’ on the contemporary world of work.

 

OBVS.

Penny Hunt's blog coffee conversationsAs I gently and tentatively remove the symbolic earplugs with which I imagine myself protected (a futile effort to resist the overwhelming noise that is the incoming news on every front, screen and page, an effort that truly is as useful as a chocolate teapot at this point in the 21st century) I can discern one particular message amongst the many. It is appearing in as many forms as it can in a pretty clear attempt to be noticed. It’s an internet meme wearing a very very short skirt.

I’ve escaped to the corner table in the café. Here’s the thing.  I keep hearing and reading the same phrase this week, in various recognizable versions.

‘To respect laws and sausages, it is better not to see them being made’.

Apparently (QI tells me) the originator wasn’t Bismarck, and the earliest appearance is probably a South Carolina newspaper,1867.  Why has this thought hung around unchallenged for so long, and why is it so popular at the moment?

I think it’s a thought with which I profoundly disagree.Scan 141960000(How lucky that I removed those earplugs. There really is nothing like a truly ineffective and changing-of-nothing rant, especially if encouraged by an espresso, to get the energy levels up).

This week some legislation is being rushed through the House of Cards. I mean Commons. It is called the DRIP bill. Data Retention and Investigatory Powers. The speed will mean no one will see it being made. There will be some glimpses of serious-frown faces, some echoing important-walking footsteps. A few statements beginning ‘It is right that..” (have you noticed this current lazy way of not having to think of an answer to a question?). The cover-up experts are to vote themselves the right to un-cover everything and everyone else. Some law. Some sausage. I can’t see the process. And no, I’m feeling no respect at ALL.

I would like to know exactly how this law is being made. I would like to know exactly what it involves and what the arguments are on both sides.

Respect is earned when the working out in the margin is available and shareable. Respect is earned when there is a clear line of sight to the details.

From where I’m sitting I can see ‘where I come from’ notes for several coffee blends. One poster invites me to ask the owner about sourcing, pricing and supply.

I’ve just been in a brand meeting where the team has decided to remove a profitable part of the range: they can no longer vouch for a stage in the supply chain. A lady ordering a piece of cake with her coffee is asking the barista about what’s in it.

She laughs and apologises for asking, for being ‘fussy’.

The reply?
‘No worries, you gotta know. Gotta know enough to decide – obvs.’

To which I can only murmur to myself ‘respect’.

 

changechemistry.com

Penny works with senior people who want change.

Her approach is unconventional, and fun.

By challenging perceptions, creatively re-framing situations, and reclaiming their energy and bravery, her clients create new options and successes for themselves and their businesses.

If you’re feeling stuck and want to get moving again, contact Penny: pennyhunt@changechemistry.co.uk

 

KANDAHAR INK

Penny Hunt's blog coffee conversationsIt’s all over my fingers and the dipping end of the pen. Smells lovely. I feel I’m back wearing plaits, sitting with ankles crossed, concentrating on hitting that pre-ruled upper line with the letter ‘P’. The ink concentrates on the nail / knuckle area of my third finger. There’s still an ancient callous-y bit there from all those years of pre-keyboard handwriting.

And it’s such a lovely feeling!  Get that pen and paper out!

image

I’ve just come back from a calligraphy project in a colleague’s house involving walls, children’s poems, mess, and a tight timetable. I experienced dedicated time, focus, and physical effort. It was wonderful.

So let’s celebrate CRAFT and all the wonderful feelings unleashed by doing something with your hands, with making something, with having a real object to handle at the end your efforts.

It’s a contagious feeling. A small person (wearing plaits!) approaches my table in the café to get a closer look.  So in a spirit of generational continuity we settle down to some serious paper folding. You can hardly see my fingery ink smudges on the flapping bird. Hardly at all.
We are in companionable silence, punctuated with little exclamations of effort and delight, as I realize that our heads are bowed at exactly the same angle, and that I have left my espresso untouched.

I guess a child doesn’t drink coffee.

I’m a child at this moment. No doubt about it.

My new partner in paper crime speaks seriously of a surface design required for the paper fan. We consider it thoughtfully and debate options. We are fellow artisans. We conclude – I did nudge a little – that a calligraphy design will fit the bill.
Ten minutes later and a happiness without price smiles its way around the table.

It will be a present for her mum.

A little problem I’d been noodling over effortlessly resolves itself as I wave across the café. The concentration on a physical action has worked its magic. Everything and anything can be solved creatively by not trying to solve it, it seems.

So this is my creativity prescription.  Make something. Anything.

First, some encouragement: a little book to dip into.

Alex Munroe is a craftsman, an artist. His jewellery is enjoyed around the world. He has now written enchantingly about how he came to craft jewellery. His childhood was free and full of love, a sort of benign neglect that encouraged a curiosity into the workings of….everything, in rural Suffolk. Here he is on youtube talking about how ‘Two Turtle Doves: a Memoir of Making Things’ came to be.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aq-TDxfmjCE

We’re not all accomplished craftsmen. But we all have a craftsman within us. We are all craft-y. And that crafty part just loves to be let out.
I reach out across the table. A Cruella de Vil ink–drinking scenario is avoided just in time.

I sip the espresso, and slip back into adulthood.