More Beautiful to Look Through

Last Saturday, my wife and I went to visit Chartwell, in Kent – Winston Churchill’s famous country home.

I am a huge Churchill fan, so this was an occasion I had been looking forward to for some time.

It did not disappoint.

Among many things that I was fascinated by and thoroughly enjoyed gazing at was a beautiful window etched into a wall outside the house. In fact, the whole patio area where it was situated was one of my favourite parts of the property.

It simply made me realise once again, how many different perspectives there always are when it comes to anything. It also made me realise that if you ever get the opportunity to see more than one perspective, you should grasp it eagerly, simply because it will present to you something that is far closer to the truth than you can ever muster on your own.

It is also invariably more beautiful to look through.

Road Trip Playlist

There are certain times in life I have found, when someone else makes you feel incredibly worthwhile.

Or cool.

Or just plain good.

It is lovely when the compliment comes from a relative stranger – probably because they are blissfully ignorant of your not so obvious flaws.

It is far, far better however, when it comes from someone who has known you for a considerable amount of time and are probably related to you – if not by blood – by some other, virtual umbilical cord of connection.

When it is one of your children and the compliment comes in an area of life that you thought had long since been surrendered to them and their corresponding generation, it is a truly satisfying moment and you had better savour it because the chances are, it will almost certainly be pretty rare.

One such moment came for me on a road trip back to Brighton recently.

We had spent the entire day driving up the M1 to Leeds, moving her furniture and seemingly endless other bits and pieces into her new flat, ahead of her permanent move in a few weeks, for her university course.

In the end, by my reckoning, I had clocked up around eleven hours of driving a long wheel base Mercedes van and by the end of it, I was truly exhausted.

But it was so worth it, just to listen to my daughter saying on more than one occasion that based on what she was currently listening to, she would need to look up my Spotify playlist – aptly entitled Road Trip.

Which songs had impressed her so much you may well wonder?

Well, I could lie and pretend that I remember which ones she loved so much but the truth is, I cannot remember now.

Besides, it doesn’t matter to me which ones she loved.

The fact that she loved songs I loved meant a great deal to me and reminded me of the beautiful cycle that never stops evolving between parent and child.

Parent teaches, child learns.

Child teaches, parent learns.

Or as my Dad announced recently after we had conversed about something (I remember not again!)

“Dad teaches son, son teaches Dad.”

Simple Lessons From a Bit of Watching & Listening

Yesterday morning, I went for a two hour hike, or rather, a bit less than a two hour hike with a good half hour sat on a concrete platform. Where would that be you might ask? I live very near to Ditchling Beacon, a beautiful vantage point where all kinds of people go – some more regularly than others. Joggers, mountain-bikers, dog-walkers, and people like me, who simply like to go for a good walk, clear their head and have a good think about things coming up in the not-too-distant future.

As I’ve written before, there’s nothing quite like a beautiful blue sky to get you thinking creatively and yesterday, I felt the need to get some mental preparation in for a couple of important work projects that are coming up.

I knew I would see a lovely blue sky and the panoramic view across the South Downs but while I sat down on the incongruous piece of concrete (that had some water running underneath it by the sound of it) I was surprised by how much I really saw and heard.

Simple things…

Like two men walking and talking, enjoying the countryside…

A flying spider (I have no idea what it is really called!) that I was absolutely captivated by as it advanced towards me and then leapt into the air and landed on a different piece of grass…

I listened to the buzz of the ubiquitous flies, the distant murmour of conversations between walking as well as cycling couples, the gentle ‘pat, pat, pat’ of the jogger’s trainers on the dirt track. It felt to me like life had slowed right down and allowed me to absorb some really simple things.

Eventually, after having scribbled down a few possible ideas, I began walking back the way I had come and took in even more of the not-so-obvious sights.

Like the view beyond a section of barbed wire. We can all be restricted by the wire, the fence, the wall, whatever it is in front of us but most of us are able to look beyond that potential hindrance and begin to get a vision for what could be…

It’s a pretty subtle difference on this occasion but then that’s the point.

Some stuff mars our view, our perspective and much of the time, we don’t even know it’s there.

Invariably, all you have to do is take a few steps forward and look at the thing but this time without the subtle hindrance…

Isn’t that so much better?

I watched an old man playing with a model aeroplane. He had a unique way of throwing it up in to the air and then it would fly for a few seconds. It didn’t even look like he had a remote control box. I was heartened to see someone so relatively old playing like an innocent young boy. (He was however, a bit far away for a candid photo!)

I saw a sign for the South Downs Way and thought about the signposts I have tried to follow during my own life and how amazingly blessed I am to see all three of my children follow their own road map as well as get paid to help others do the same.

I came across another sign shortly afterwards but this time there was a racing cyclist hurtling down towards me. I remembered how I used to take photographs of a pub football team and sell the best ones to those who were excited to see themselves scoring a goal or heading the ball. I wondered if I still had it in me to capture the cyclist as he flew past…

 

As I came to the end of my return to the car, I saw three friends – older men again, enjoying their retirement by the sound of it – and was reminded once again, of our desperate need to do this journey we call life, with our friends and other loved ones. Anyone who thinks they can do it all on their own is deluded…

Finally, as I came through the gate, I saw another racing cyclist who appeared to have just finished riding up to the top of a ridiculously steep section of road that runs from Ditchling village all the way up to the Beacon. He was taking a well-earned rest, refuelling with some food and drink. If I ever needed reminding again…the journey can be extremely tough, it can take a lot longer than we imagined and cost us more than we planned but in the end, it is definitely worth it.

 

The Road Looked Narrower Than the Car!

Occasionally, as a driver, I come across roads that look ridiculously narrow or steep. Very occasionally, I have come across a combination of the two but I have never, in all my thirty-four years of driving, come across a road that is both narrow and incredibly steep, and is littered with genuine hairpin bends!

I was away last week with my family in Italy, where we stayed at a truly beautiful Airbnb in Tuscany. I hesitate to reveal too much about the location as I would almost prefer we keep this little bit of heaven to ourselves.

What I will say is I am so glad we arrived during the daylight hours, as the drive up to Andrea and Laura’s place was truly terrifying (and I don’t scare easily when driving). On one side of the car, I had passengers pleading with me to create more distance from the sheer drop down the mountain, and on the other side, I was acutely aware how close I was driving to the wall. We came onto one stretch of road where it literally looked like the road was narrower than the car! I promise you, I was hugging the left hand side as much as I could but from the dashboard, it looked like we were about to go off the other side of the road…

Just in case you’re wondering, my wife took the photo from the passenger seat on the right.

But it was worth the risk. The view is always worth the risk. I trust you will agree…

So what? You may say; lovely view from a Tuscan kitchen window. And indeed it is.

My point is this: Many times, it takes a huge effort on our part to secure the view we now enjoy. That may be a financial view, a relational view or something even higher – that gives us the necessary vantage point to be able to offer something back to those who could do with a hand up, or a word of encouragement to keep moving along that narrow, steep, terrifying road that keeps throwing blind bends at them when they least expect it.

Someone has to have gone before them in order to tell them it will be okay, even when it doesn’t look okay. Someone has to have bothered to have made the ascent themselves and then offer the unique encouragement that comes with having had the experience.

That can make all the difference between someone giving up or pushing through and then seeing the view for themselves, and perhaps deciding that they too, can offer some perspective or encouragement.

Beauty, Rubbish and Danger

I am currently in the middle of the first two week, summer holiday I have had for a very long time – soaking up the sunshine in Greece and making the most of the time to relax and do… next to nothing.

Whilst I could share many images, a few stories and one or two restaurant reviews, no one really wants to read about that. I do however, want to share three personal images…

The first image is a picture postcard view.

It is, of course, a beach.

And the scene before me was so similar to hundreds I’ve seen before of idyllic holiday destinations that I just had to share it.

The location is ‘Kathisma Beach’ and it is quite simply, stunning. There are no jet-skis; no water-skiers (though I love to do both of these activities!).  There is nothing that can disturb the tranquil beauty of the turquoise sea – apart from those who can’t resist cooling off, swimming or just splashing about.

As some of you know (from my experiences last year), I can now swim front crawl ‘properly’ (head down, mouth up every third stroke) and I can swim further and faster than ever before, using a fraction of the energy. This holiday has given me the opportunity to push through and actually swim like this in open water for the first time. After struggling to swim through either misty or reed-infested water in the UK, swimming here has been a totally different experience, providing clarity like I’ve never seen before. My wife counted thirty-three strokes before I stopped to see how far I’d got. Previously, I’d never swam more than about six strokes in the sea!

The second point to note, on the walk back up the hill from a taverna the other night, was that of a collection of rubbish that caught my attention. I was extremely impressed with not only how much rubbish had been squeezed into a relatively small, twin public street bin but how much care must have gone into the final few pieces that had been added.

We all have rubbish in our lives (even if we think we don’t!) and – of course – it’s good to try to be a bit careful with it. Some of us however, for whatever reasons, find it difficult to be at all tidy about our rubbish – that’s okay too – but we could take inspiration from this bin.

Whilst taking some time out, and reading a challenging book, I’ve been considering how I for one, can be a little bit more patient with others, regardless of whether their rubbish is obvious or not.

Third point.  On our second trip to the beach, we took a wrong turn and ended up driving on some hair-raising, dangerous narrow roads that contained no barriers and a sheer drop down several hundred feet of mountain ravine.

It wasn’t a massive problem to me as I was driving (!) and for the most part, the drop was on the passenger side! I can’t say the problem was as small for my wife… but we survived, and eventually made it to the beach. (No photos were taken during this particular road trip for obvious reasons).

Coastlines are special places for me and so – facing a bit of danger – maybe even dealing with a bit of rubbish along the way – is always worth it. I’m tempted to say, ‘Life is a beach’… but (as detailed above) not always in the way you might think it will be.

We should all take time to sit with our fellow travellers and enjoy the view:

Is It Really Smart to Use a Smartphone?

Yesterday, a survey was published that chronicled the huge impact smartphones have made in our lives in the past decade.

I am well aware of course, that for every negative story about smartphones, there will probably be one positive story highlighting how a smartphone enabled someone to be rescued from a grizzly bear in Alaska (perhaps by using a translation app that caused the bear to think it was communicating with a hybrid-looking, fellow bear). I jest of course, but the truth is, the technology that feels like it is emerging every single day is truly astonishing at times.

As you will have guessed however, some of the facts I am about to present to you below will be more inclined to suggest we need less, not more of the influence that smartphones have brought into our world.

The headline and frankly, extremely shocking fact behind the proliferation of smartphone domination is this…

The average person in the UK spends more than a day a week online.

That’s right. One entire day out of seven. Or approximately 14.29% of a person’s time.

This represents a doubling of the time spent on the internet compared to ten years ago.

Here’s another shocking statistic…

One in five of all adults spend as much as forty hours a week on the internet.

Part of the reason behind this huge increase is due to the rise in use by those aged sixteen to twenty-four, who average 34.3 hours a week on the internet.

For the first time, women are spending more time online than men, fuelled by a rise in internet use by those aged 18 to 34 and the explosion in social media. They spend half an hour a week longer online than men of the same age.

The report, compiled by Ofcom, attributes a large part of the surge in time online to the rise of smartphones, which are now used by 78 per cent of the population compared with just 17 per cent in 2008, the year after the first iPhone was launched.

Here’s truly shocking (or not so shocking depending on your mobile tendencies) fact number three…

Britons are now so addicted to smartphones that they check them every twelve minutes.

The report, entitled A Decade of Digital Dependency, says 40 per cent of adults look at their mobile phone within five minutes of waking up, rising to 65 per cent of those aged under 35.

37 per cent of adults check their phones just before switching off the lights for bed, increasing to 60 per cent of under 35s.

Predictably, given the smartphone culture that has become firmly embedded in the lives of so many of us, the younger generation is the most addicted. Those aged fifteen to twenty-four spend on average, four hours a day on their smartphones, compared with 2 hours 49 minutes for all adults. The young also check their phones every 8.6 minutes, more frequently than any other age group.

While Ofcom highlights benefits such as keeping in touch with family, it cites stress and disruption to personal and family life.

“Some find themselves feeling overloaded when online or frustrated when they are not,” said Ian MacRae, director of market intelligence.

Fifteen per cent said smartphones made them feel they were always at work, 54 per cent admitted they interrupted face-to-face conversations with friends and family and 43 per cent admitted spending too much time online.

More than a third felt stressed and “cut off” without their phone and 29 per cent “lost without it” – while one in 10 said that giving it up was “liberating” or made them more productive.

But people treasure their smart phone more than any other device.

Almost half of adults said they would miss it more than TV (28 per cent) and a desktop or laptop computer (10 per cent) – a reversal of a decade ago, when 52 per cent said the TV was more important than the mobile phone (13 per cent). Among 16 to 24-year-olds, 72 per cent now say the smartphone is the device they would miss most.

Yet we spend less time making phone calls on it than ever before. Total outgoing calls on mobiles dropped by 2.5 billion minutes (1.7 per cent) in 2017 as people turned to WhatsApp and Messenger. Using it for phone calls is only considered important by 75 per cent of smartphone users compared with 92 per cent who say browsing the web is more important. It has, however, provoked a huge divide at mealtime, where using the phone was deemed inappropriate by 72 per cent of 18-34s as against 90 per cent of those aged over 55.

I took the above photo of a family who were supposedly eating together at an airport restaurant. What you can’t tell from it is how long this went on for. I was actually beginning to wonder after a while if they were travelling together or not!

So, is it really smart to use a smartphone or not? I guess the answer depends on how long you use it for.

This blog was inspired by and mostly copied from a Daily Telegraph article that I read on my laptop but could so easily have been on my smartphone. Oh the irony!

You can read the article in full here.

 

 

It Takes Teamwork to Truly Win

It is widely acknowledged that the best two footballers on the planet at this time are Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal and Lionel Messi of Argentina. Both players however, were forced to bow out of the recent World Cup on the same day and relatively early for their level of talent for a very simple reason…

…The rest of their team were not up to the task of winning football matches at the highest level.

And even they (Ronaldo and Messi) were powerless on their own to avoid defeat.

This fact served as a poignant reminder to me that in the world of team sport, as in so much of life, you cannot get very far on your own. Some people would vehemently dispute this and point to all their solo achievements but I beg to differ.

Study all the great teams in any sport but especially football, and you will see extremely high levels of commitment of course but also some other things that all the best managers, coaches and leaders demand of their teams…

Honesty – a willingness to be vulnerable and thereby build…

Trust – a total interdependency on one another.

Courage – being willing to go the extra mile for the team and always be looking to encourage – put courage into – each other at every opportunity.

Respect – that goes both ways between all involved parties.

Selflessness – a true conviction that what is best for the team is more important than what is best for you alone.

So how does this translate into everyday life – regardless of whether you think you are in a team or not?

Decide today to be a team player.

What does that look like exactly – especially if you live and work alone?

There is always someone you can interact with, someone to learn from or be a role model to – you just have to open your eyes and be willing to engage.

 

 

Flash it Forward

You will have heard of ‘Pay it Forward’ I’m sure.

Well, ‘Flash it Forward’ is all about paying it forward whenever you are on the road.

I have been cycling around my local city of Brighton & Hove recently, and in this seemingly never-ending and glorious sunshine, it is a pure delight.

It always encourages me when a driver who could quite easily pull out to make a right or left turn actually waits in order for me to go by on my bike.

I try my best to acknowledge this with a little wave and then go merrily on my way. Sadly, there are not many occasions you can reciprocate when you are the cyclist.

In a car it is easier of course.

And this is the beauty of ‘Flash it Forward’.

Next time you are in a queue of slow-moving traffic (or even merely normal traffic!) take the earliest opportunity to let someone out of their junction and then wait to see what happens.

Typically, they will soon be presented with an opportunity themselves to ‘Flash it Forward’ and you will have the pleasure of knowing that your small piece of generosity or kindness in letting them in front of you has probably inspired and motivated them to do the same thing for someone else.

I say ‘Flash it Forward’ (as in flash your headlights of course!) but I am acutely aware that the Highway Code disapproves of this action, as it can easily be misinterpreted and cause confusion, even an accident.

So, if you prefer to ‘Wave it Forward’ please do so.

Flash or Wave – it all helps!

Finally, this pro-active way of helping others doesn’t have to be restricted to the road. You can do this in any way, shape or form you like.

Where would you like to start today? And then think about the potential ripple effect…

The Southgate Redemption

It was 26th June, 1996, and England were yet again pitted against the Germans in a terribly tense penalty shoot-out. I remember so well – not just because we lost – but also because my eldest son was born about ninety minutes after the final penalty was taken, and we rushed off to the hospital!

Gareth Southgate remembers that night well too, due to the fact that he found himself a member of the worst club in English football history – those who missed their penalty in a major competition and cost England the match.

Ever since he was appointed caretaker and then permanent manager of the England football team, I have taken so much more notice of him than ever before. It comes with the territory; but more than that, with every passing interview accompanying the slow but steady progress of an exceptionally young team, I have watched and listened with increasing respect for this young manager.

He always speaks in mature, measured tones and – during interviews – does not get drawn into answers that will not help anyone.

He doesn’t blame, he doesn’t criticise.

He rarely accepts credit – acknowledging that success is always all about the players… and when defeat comes, then it is his turn.

As manager, he accepts responsibility for the loss.

What I admire most of all about Gareth Southgate is his bold innovation and creativity. He has spoken much, during this World Cup, about the players “writing their own stories” and not being “defined by the past”. On the dreaded prospect of penalties, he has spoken of the players “owning the process” through diligent practise and not simply leaving it to chance on the night.

And so, when England magnificently won the penalty shoot out against Colombia this week, millions of people around the nation – and ex-pats all over the world – will have jumped for joy (or thumped their pouffes like I did!) and been pleasantly surprised by a team of very young players who held their nerve and secured a win.  They – no doubt – also felt extremely pleased and proud of the manager who never got the chance to redeem his own penalty miss personally but has gone one better in bringing  a whole team to victory.

He has instilled in his players a belief that, perhaps, hasn’t truly been there before since 1966. A belief that says…

They can play exciting and intelligent football and win.

They can even win on penalties if they have to – and who knows how far they can go now?

As a leadership lesson, this is priceless I think.

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again” we were told as children; and this is good, old-fashioned advice.

What is far better, however, is if at first you don’t succeed, help others to succeed with you… and in so doing, there is redemption multiplied.

The Southgate Redemption.

It’s All About the Connection

Yesterday, I took part in a very challenging exercise designed to improve your connection with an audience.

The fact that my audience was only two women merely made it a lot more intense.

The facilitator got us take to in turns to stand up and spend thirty seconds simply looking at the ‘audience’ in total silence.

Yes, I know. It sounds a bit weird, certainly awkward and if it had gone on any longer, extremely difficult. With more people in your audience, you are asked to spend a whole minute doing this.

So what is the purpose of this I hear you ask?

Well, this was the latest stage of my Time to Think development and the idea is that as you take the time to simply look at and appreciate each other – both as presenter and audience – as I said, in total silence, a genuine connectivity takes place.

And it does. It really does. Not in any weird or awkward manner at all either.

You are very tempted to become completely self-conscious and wonder what they must be thinking about the way you are dressed, what that says about who you are and a million other questions always designed to chip away at whatever confidence you have left after placing yourself in this highly uncomfortable situation.

But if you flip that thought and begin to focus instead on the other person (I only had two to choose from but normally, there might be five or six in a training exercise, or in a real-life speaking situation, hundreds in your audience) it suddenly becomes a whole lot easier.

The thinking goes that if you deliberately shelve your instinctive thoughts about your self and how you might be coming across to the other person, and choose to think about the other person in your audience – looking intently at different individuals – you begin to imagine them as your Thinking Partner, letting their attention encourage you. You can also consider them as the Thinker, giving them generative attention as you speak.

Once I made the decision to do that, instead of worrying about how I might be being perceived, it was so much easier and truly fascinating. I was reminded of those short films or commercials where the camera focusses on a single individual staring back but with no words, and then cuts to a different individual doing the same and so on.

I was also reminded of a time recently in the supermarket when my wife and I both had the same thought…

We could see dozens of other random people, queueing at the various checkouts and we realised how each individual person or family present had their own situation they were dealing with.

There we all were, performing the most basic of functions – buying food so that we wouldn’t starve.

How many times do you take time to think about those other people? Every single one of them leaves that place of fundamental purchase and eventually returns to their home. To face what? Who knows. What we do know is that not everyone is problem-free. In fact, the vast majority of people will be going home to deal with something – screaming children, unhappy partner, broken boiler, terminal disease and anything in between.

The somewhat vulnerable exercise of standing up in front of an audience of any size is one thing. Spending the first thirty seconds to a minute appreciating everyone else in total silence is a very different matter but it is definitely worth the effort.