One of the many joys of Wimbledon fortnight is the satisfying binary nature of triumphs and defeats. Win or lose. In or out. The rules are clear, the result is clear. It’s genuine satisfaction: everyday life, especially at work, is so frustratingly non-binary.

I wonder whether we admit that quite enough?

During team sessions this week, I’ve seen again a huge reluctance to view situations as…. ambiguous.  This is not an artsy or fluffy view of the world: the notion of ambiguity is – since the work of great scientific thinkers such as Max Planck, Einstein, Niels Bohr – scientific.

Quantum theory opened our minds to a powerful notion – that of wave/ particle duality – it is possible for matter/ energy to behave as a particle in one set of circumstances, and as a wave in a different context.  Neither one thing, nor the other…but possibly both.

In a fantastic linkage between Captain Kirk and real life, news of a successful ‘teleporting’ experiment broke this week.  The principle is called ‘quantum entanglement’ – two particles react as one, even when there is no connection between them.

Would there be different outcomes for ‘change programmes’ if we could experiment with this way of thinking, rather than the mechanistic (and control driven) binary either/ or model? Could some way of acknowledging the mysterious energetic connections between people and their environments lead to success?

We need a new sort of Business School.

It might offer the Planck – Bohr Leadership Programme.


Way back in 2002, Donald Rumsfeld gave a News Conference at the Pentagon. It was a year before the invasion of Iraq, and barely 6 months after 9/11.  Shockingly that time (looking back from now) feels almost stable.  It was in answer to a question about available intelligence and evidence concerning WMDs in Iraq that the famous ‘known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns’ quote appeared.

It was, then, considered a surreal sort of verbal evasion that perfectly echoed the Presidential style of communication.

Times changed, and in the face of a never ending stream of unknowns the quote gathered a sort of wisdom. Most of us will have made some reference to ‘unknown unknowns’ when discussing tricky situations.

In the UK currently the results of a fate-changing national referendum and the findings of the Chilcott report are being digested. Both could be said to be prime examples of complex scenarios with many ‘unknown unknowns’ unfolding.

But they aren’t.

An uncomfortable theme links both of these scenarios; a theme combining two common behaviours,

  • The inability to speak frankly.
  • The failure to say ‘no’, or ‘this is not possible’, or ‘this is not true’ to those deemed more senior or powerful.

On a smaller scale, this theme appears in every example of dysfunctional team /or organisational behaviour with which I work.

The connection with Rumsfeld is simple.

Like a magician he directed us to an area of ‘unknowns’.

The real area we should all be watching constantly is the known.  And we should be calling it, every day, loudly.


F80pxtreeinding out what someone really feels about an idea is hard. It really is.

The most useful position to take over satisfaction scores, ‘likes’ and approval ratings is …healthy doubt.  One of the first focus groups I observed during trainee days, years ago, demonstrated this the hard way.

The new-product creative concepts were going down really well with just about everyone. I was loving it.  Phrases such as ‘those will work very well’ and ‘those are very clever’ and ‘yes I think people will really get these’ were scattered through my notes.
(I know, I know – naïve and inexperienced)

The moderator taught me a lot that day.

Prompted by a) brilliant instinct, and b) recognition of the pattern of the responses, he continued,

So we like them. Good.
Theoretically, which of them would you take home?

The answer?  None. Not one.

Approval could safely be expressed for an ‘over-there’ world, for ‘other people’, but personal buy in? Nope.

Personal buy-in is expressed actively, and…personally.

Which brings me to employee surveys.

I keep coming across the weirdest thing.

I am seeing leadership teams inside businesses whoop that scores for the question..
“How likely are you to recommend working here to someone else” have improved year on year, while scratching their heads that scores for a question such as…“ How likely are you to be working here in 18 months time?” have plummeted over the same period.

The recommendation question will tell you absolutely nothing: it’s impersonal.

It’s the thumbs up to the personal that matters.

It’s whether you would ‘take it home’.


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.

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



Penny Hunt's blog coffee conversationsI live in a part of London where a mysterious transformation happens every year at exactly the same time. It is an awesome undertaking, mysterious and magical. The forces at play are never seen. Like the shoemaker’s elves they do their skilled work unseen; their selfless and significant contributions to the locals’ well being is their only calling card. But there has been a disturbance in the force.  I’m not talking World Cup, but Wimbledon.

It is the day after. The clear up – hasn’t happened yet.

The station forecourt is still a summer wonderland of painted green hedges and oversized floppy tennis rackets. A few maps and guides still stand to attention, banners and creations in purple, white and green still cling seductively to buildings and lampposts (a co-incidence of colour scheme: visitors have occasionally probed, with a puzzled air, the apparent spontaneous and widespread hot bed of support for the suffragette movement in the area)

And it’s wonderful.

There is an ease, a reasonableness in the air; a relaxed atmosphere that allows everyone to acclimatise to a change. As I pass the out-of-date props I can sigh and think farewell to that midsummer fortnight of excitement and sunburn and re-adjust.

It is dawning on me that the customary scene-change that the clear up ninjas have with cunning and skill executed every year has consistently created the impression – again and again – that ‘ it never happened’. In a mental Fosbury flop that lands me on the plump cushions of a new opinion, I wonder whether that’s healthy. (After all, the key plot twist in many a suspense thriller involves persuading a character that something ‘didn’t happen’, no?).

And in the way these things unfold, the benefits of a non-ninja approach gently insinuate their cheery selves into other other places and conversations as the week progresses.

Spookily, two client meetings this week have been billed as ‘open’. We dedicated the time to talk to each other about – in one case the brand, in the other the company’s culture – without an agenda. What subversive little monkeys we were. Horrors! A professional encounter in a business environment with no ninja plan to maximise efficiency and effectiveness!

What beautiful dividends. With no agenda, energy flowed naturally into asking and listening. Participants found themselves talking to subjects in a different way – unformed thoughts, hints of ideas, observations, instincts, regrets, speculation, all took the place of the usual packaged judgment. We were, I suppose, ‘noodling’ aloud with each other. The flow was energizing. Conclusions were reached that felt understood, and owned. We’d given ourselves time to acclimatize to each other, and to new thoughts. And a couple of amazingly brave ideas were created. It was a joy to participate.

Penny Hunt's blog photo

I’m going to champion noodling. (NO, not the art of hand-fishing for catfish in Oklahoma) But the noodling that means playing, experimenting and improvising. Not a fan of the word? We can always re-claim and re-purpose some old favourites. ‘Wool – gathering’ anyone? ‘Gongoozling’?

And I think the perfect place to do some of that will be the café. I’ll just scuff some of these tennis leaflets out of the way….

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:



Penny Hunt's blog coffee conversationsIn Wimbledon the Verona TCS sighs out a little steam, the ceiling fan lets out a teeny squeak, and we all look like crumpled extras in a film about …being hot and sweaty. Set in Havana in April perhaps.

I wonder if anyone else is thinking about ice?

Everything’s slowed down. We are a sleepy, drama free zone. Possibly a little bored. Should paper sound that loud?

So right on cue some entertainment arrives.

Crisp linen, dazzling white, a little scented waft of freshness, and a team bundles in. I’d guess they’re straight out of a presentation, or a talk of some sort.

It’s something I hear, booming across the sleepy tables, that gets me thinking.

‘ Whose FAULT was THAT?’
There are a few reactions to this (as well as running away of course).
What actually happened surprised and impressed me, but we’ll get to that.

There’s something important here that I really mind about.

When I was a munchkin at Leo Burnett, we would all watch, as part of our training, the grainy black and white video of Leo’s speech (made when he was 79) entitled ‘When to take my name off the door’ . Yes, there would be a chortle, and cynicism, about this coming from a seller of cigarettes.
But it speaks to a couple of thoughts that seem even more important now than then.

The idea of building ‘ A corporation with a conscience ….. that sense of the fitness of things’ and the importance of never getting to the stage ‘When you disapprove of something and start tearing the hell out of the man who did it rather than the work itself’ feels of the minute, doesn’t it?

Criticise the issue and not the man, he’s reminding us.

Perhaps you think this sounds holier than thou, or ‘nice’, or soft, or downright unrealistic.

But it’s good business.

I worked in a company this week – a fast growing digital company – where the issue of ‘Leaders that tell the truth’ came up. As I enquired a bit more, it emerged that this wasn’t the whole story. A particularly charismatic leader had the habit of painting everything in glowing terms, essentially ignoring and denying anything other than successes.

And this had a most important effect on everyone.

Steadily, corrosively, a culture of ‘no mistakes tolerated’ had begun to grow. The innovation ‘pipeline’ had begun to slow down as two things came into play – a blame and cover up pattern of behaviour, and teams losing their energy, finding it easier and safer not to try stuff or to experiment.

It is so simple. Mistakes are how we learn. It’s really not smart to wish them away. Demand them, in fact.  So remember Leo: talk about the work, don’t blame – and the more mistakes the merrier.

You wonder what happened to the finger pointer? A team member slapped her on the back and said ‘It was my evil twin, boss. Shall we all work out how to make it fly next time?

Buy that man an iced coffee.

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: