Dress For Where You’re Going Not Where You Are

Like all good, reasonably experienced Brits, I pride myself on being prepared for any weather eventuality. It feels like a huge risk to me to travel anywhere without a jacket or jumper – even if the current weather forecast is very warm.

Yesterday, I was in Edinburgh to see a client, and as usual, I expected the weather to be decidedly cooler than it was going to be in my native Brighton. For the first time ever, we sat outside and sure enough, it was truly warm – and I wished I had worn a short-sleeved shirt!

We spent our entire meeting in the beautiful sun – a first for me in Edinburgh.

As I relayed my slight regret at not wearing a short-sleeved shirt, my client had a familiar tale to tell about needing to grab a raincoat to avoid getting drenched on the way to the airport recently, knowing that it was very hot (with no rain!) where he was travelling to.

All of this reminded me of a long weekend trip I took several years ago, with a business partner at the time. He arrived at the Virgin Atlantic check-in desk, only to be told that his wife’s French passport wasn’t valid for travel to the U.S.

Agonisingly, they had to miss the flight, go to the French embassy and apply for a new biometric passport and hope against hope, get it issued the same day.

Just before they arrived at the embassy, he took his wife aside and they found somewhere to get changed. He told her they needed to “dress for where we’re going, not where we are.”

The shift in their mind-set – merely through dressing smarter – gave them the confidence boost they needed. In fairness, it was only his wife who needed the boost as my friend is an outrageously confident person almost all the time!

It was literally impossible to get the passport issued the same day – given the lateness of the hour but due to their persistence and sheer determination, they did receive unique favour and got the new passport first thing the following morning, and showed up at the conference we were all travelling to just a day late.

How about you? How does your dress code impact your behaviour or attitude towards others?

What do you think about when you get dressed to go somewhere?

Perhaps take a minute next time you’re preparing to go out and consider if you are focussed on where you’re going as opposed to where you currently are.

If you don’t tend to ‘dress up’ unless it’s absolutely necessary, why not turn it up a notch and see how it affects your outlook. If you’re looking for some extreme inspiration, then check out this interesting article on how men dress.

Conversely, if you feel lost outside of your suit or other, formal dress code, how about seeing if dressing down for the day injects a little more of a relaxed attitude.

Whatever your preference or style, why not simply take a moment to consider where you are going as opposed to where you currently are.

An Adventure in Albania

Since October, last year, a friend of mine and I have been delivering a rolling leadership development programme, every quarter, to two teams at a micro-finance bank.

I love every minute of it, and it is my privilege to help business-minded people become even better at what they do.

Our most recent trip took place last month and it was a bit different to all the other trips we have taken. For me at least, it was more like an adventure in Albania.

I arrived late on Saturday night as my usual Sunday afternoon flight had sold out.

One of the bank’s drivers, Ershan, met me at the airport and off we went for the usually half hour drive to the hotel in central Tirana.

On this occasion however, once we arrived near the outskirts of the hotel, there were police roadblocks, lots of noise, and people wandering around in a not very organised fashion. By the time we got to the hotel, it was way after midnight and the journey had taken twice as long as normal.

The hotel we tend to stay in is situated right in the middle of the part of Tirana that contains all the government buildings. What I did not know until the following day was that there had been anti-government protests raging since February and another major march was planned for the coming Monday night.

I was given strict instructions to not leave the hotel under any circumstances, as the march could turn violent as people were becoming increasingly angry with the government as the Prime Minister, Edi Rama, faced accusations of corruption.

On previous trips, I have walked from the office back to the hotel and it takes about twenty minutes. It’s a pleasant walk, and I love taking in the sights, sounds and smells of a very different, foreign city. Walking back today was not an option. Plus, the rain was relentless.

I got into the car and we set off for the hotel.

The driver, Baksha, is a pretty old man I would say but very alert and as it turned out, very fit. He was becoming increasingly frustrated with the road blocks, hindering the normally straightforward journey to the hotel.

Then I saw something I have never seen before in all my various travels.

A man was riding a bicycle but because of the rain, he had one hand on the handle bars while his other hand held on to an umbrella! Then I saw another man and another. Clearly, this is something they do in Albania.

(This is another man on a bike with an umbrella, taken while I was eating some lunch. It’s actually a screenshot from a video I made – hence the poor quality!)

We went round and round the various blocks, trying to find a sides street that wasn’t blocked.

Eventually, I suggested to the driver that he drop me off anywhere and I would happily walk. I had a rough idea which direction I needed to go in. He nodded but I had no idea how much he understood my walking fingers.

He found a car park and then got out with me. I tried to explain that I would be fine.

He was having none of it. He took off in front of me and I had to walk very fast just to keep up. The main roads were deserted – due to the roadblocks and the impending protest march coming down them I imagined. The rain was cascading down and bouncing off the retail awnings but he wasn’t interested in getting even a minor bit of cover under the new but admittedly, small umbrella I’d only bought the day before.

We passed some familiar cafes and I once again, said I would be fine from here but no. I was beginning to realise he must be under strict instructions to deliver me right to the door of the hotel.

We came to the government buildings that had black marks all over them, where Molotov cocktails had been thrown on the Saturday night, when I had struggled to get to the hotel. TV crews were everywhere, with their OB (outside broadcast) vans strewn with cables and booms all over the place. We went round the corner and the driver turned to look at me with a big smile and said, “Hotel!”

“Thank you so much!” I said. It is a very humbling thing when you want to express genuine gratitude but are severely restricted by a language barrier.

I hadn’t realised quite how close my hotel was to all the action. It was literally about thirty yards from where the march would be commencing.

Later that evening, all I could hear were the loud hailers no doubt condemning the Prime Minister for his alleged crimes. Firecrackers kept going off. At least I hoped they were firecrackers and not gunfire. I’ve been within close earshot of gunfire before in my life but that is another story.

We delivered the workshops later in the week at a different hotel in the coastal town of Durres, which was lovely. Amongst other things, we taught them the importance of story-telling as leaders. I modelled this for them, revealing some very personal things about me that none of them knew. I wanted to demonstrate that vulnerability is a strength – when the time and place is right.

After they had been given some time to prepare, they followed suit. They were honest, vulnerable but triumphant in the midst of what could easily have been written off as tragedy for some of them. There were some tears, laughs and by the end of the two days, my friend and I were emotionally exhausted.

The two teams had bonded like never before and loved the challenge. We had loved facilitating a safe environment and I don’t mean simply away from the protests of Tirana.

It was a wonderful time. The sun even came out for us during those two days in Durres, where before it had been as rainy as elsewhere. We shared a drink on the terrace at the end of the day and I took a moment to reflect on how very fortunate I am to meet and work with the wonderful people of Albania.

“I Didn’t Know I Had it So Good.”

You may have heard about the extraordinary story of the mistaken bottle of wine last week. In short, three businessmen were dining out at Hawksmoor – a steak and seafood restaurant – in Manchester. They decided to compliment their food with a pretty expensive (I would say) bottle of Bordeaux, that was on the menu for £260.

Incredibly, a trainee manager accidentally picked up a much more expensive bottle and served them that instead.

The price of the ‘wrong bottle’? A cool £4,500!

Apparently, the diners did not notice the difference. Why would you, unless you really are a true wine connoisseur?

The mistake only came to light when the businessmen asked for another bottle and another member of staff spotted the difference. You can read the remarkable story in its entirety here.

Anyway, it got me thinking about how easy it is to either forget or be completely oblivious to all that we already have and fail miserably to appreciate that which we have become familiar with.

It may not be the £4,240 price difference in a bottle of wine we get to savour.

It is much more likely to be about the people in our everyday world.

Or the possessions we do have.

The places we have been to.

The work we do get to do and get paid for.

The list could go on.

The list of people I know who have muttered to themselves, “I Didn’t Know I Had it So Good,” is far, far longer than I wish was the case.

May this story serve as a small reminder for all of us to savour the things that perhaps we are guilty of taking for granted.

In the meantime, in my home county of West Sussex, some lovely people I know have produced another award-winning sparkling wine.

The Wiston Estate won “Best in Show” for their Blanc de Blancs Brut 2011, which was awarded only to those from among the Platinum winners. Overall, English wines won 138 medals at the Decanter World Wine Awards.

The price for this excellent sparkling wine?

£42.50. Compared to the £4,500 Chateau le Pin Pomerol 2001, it’s a bargain!*

*I do realise they are very different but you appreciate the thought I’m sure.

p.s. I read about the “wrong bottle of wine” story whilst working in Albania. Next time, I will tell you about my adventures there but for now, here is a photo of the view from my hotel for the second half of the week. The ‘view’ for the first half of the week was of relentless rain, roadblocks, angry protests and Molotov cocktails!

 

“I don’t think it’s possible but because it is you, we have a chance.”

If you haven’t worked out by now, I am sorry but my pet theme, call it my ‘life message’ if you like, is always this:

Never, Ever Give Up!

Overcoming enormous obstacles, outrageous odds, seemingly insurmountable mountains is the stuff that makes us uniquely human.

One thing you will definitely have worked out by now is that I simply love stories in sport where a team or an individual overcomes all expectations to triumph in their chosen field.

Normally, I would be happy to devote this illustration to the extraordinary exploits of Liverpool football club alone, who overcame a 3-0 deficit on Tuesday night to beat the red-hot favourites, Barcelona and win 4-3 on aggregate in the semi-final of the Uefa Champions’ League.

But that would be somewhat unfair.

The following night, another team, who I have always enjoyed watching – Tottenham Hotspur – performed their own amazing comeback to earn their place in the final.

The headlines read after the ‘Miracle on Merseyside’, this is ‘Amazement in Amsterdam’ as Spurs also reversed a 3-0 deficit and won on the away goals rule that count for double in the event of a draw.

For only the third time ever, a major European football competition will be contested in the final by two English teams.

In some ways, I don’t know where to start for the obvious lessons for us mere mortals but here’s what I love the most and I humbly offer it to you…

After the game was over, and everyone who had witnessed the enormity of what Liverpool had achieved, my real hero, Jurgen Klopp said this, “I said to the boys before the game, ‘I don’t think it’s possible but because it’s you, we have a chance.'”

They were without two of their first choice three strikers. Their captain, Jordan Henderson was hobbling on an injured leg for half the match, and one of their very best players, Andy Robertson, had to withdraw at halftime, after effectively being kicked out of the game by that well-known, gifted street-fighter (sorry, ‘cheat’) Luis Suarez.

But before I get carried away with endless words of adoration for my team, let us return to those magical, prophetic words of Klopp’s.

“I don’t think it’s possible but because it’s you, we have a chance.'”

That my friend, is all you need to remember from this blog, that night of football (regardless of who you support or level of love for football).

Because it is you, we have a chance.

Take the ‘we’ out if you prefer and meditate on this…

Because it is You, You have a chance.

Whatever your circumstance. Whatever you are facing right now.

You may feel a bit battered and bruised from time to time. So close to defeat that you’ve almost forgotten there could be any other outcome.

I remember someone using Rocky 3 as a great illustration and it goes like this:

Rocky and his opponent are both on the floor inside the ring – utterly depleted of energy – having given all they had and so much more. Rocky’s coach is screaming at him, “Get up! Get up!”

Sometimes, even when we feel like we have nothing left to give, all we have to do is get up and stand.

And after that, stand. You don’t even have to walk after such a battle.

Because the enemy, the opponent of your life – however that manifests itself – is down and out.

Or at the very least, complacent. Even asleep.

Just like some of those Barcelona players were near the end of match on Tuesday night.

A fourteen year old ball boy – who had been encouraged before the match to feed the ball as fast as possible to the players – so that every single second would count. He did just that when Liverpool won a corner.

Then another local, young man of just twenty – Trent Alexander-Arnold – came up with a ruse that fooled his far more experienced opposition and stunned the world with his ingenuity and cheekiness. It led to a winning goal – the likes of which no one has ever seen before.

A little bit like when David used his slingshot to defeat the seemingly undefeatable Goliath and became the icon for all underdog victories ever since.

Now it’s your turn…

 

 

The Blessing is in the Detail…

Claudio Ranieri is an Italian football manager who will never, ever be forgotten. For anyone who has no idea who he is, I am sure you will have heard about Leicester City winning the football Premier League at the end of the 2015/16 season.

It is widely acknowledged as the most shocking sporting team result in the history of sport. At the start of the season, they were 5000-1 rank outsiders to win the league but by the end of it, most people like me who had been following them with increasing amazement as the season progressed, as well as those who have been supporting them their entire lives were awestruck by what they had achieved.

All that to say, Claudio Ranieri is starting low all over again – this time with south-west London club Fulham. Now I’m not saying they will win the league this season or even next season but my attention was captured by a simple story about the wise Italian’s instant impact at the club who currently sit at the bottom of the Premier League.

With their previous manager in control (or not as the case may be) the Fulham players would eat their lunch in the club canteen and then get up and leave.

Not with Ranieri around they don’t. He has insisted that no one leaves until the last person has finished their lunch.

It may sound simplistic. It may even sound legalistic.

It is neither of these.

Even their warm up routines have been subtly but dramatically changed to increase the cohesion and harmony in the team. If the player leading their warm-ups leads with his right leg for the first move, everyone has to move with their right leg.

This is what is known as ‘cognitive cohesion’. (Actually I just made that up but it sounds quite good I think!)

Whatever you may want to call it, whenever and wherever you encourage, or even dare I say it, force people in a team to come together to build a greater sense of unity and togetherness, great things can potentially happen.

In Fulham’s case, that will mean simply staying in the Premier League for next season, Beyond that, who knows but I’m not sure I would bet against Claudio Ranieri doing something extraordinary again.

And while the headlines are what we tend to remember, for the players and those closest to the real work behind the scenes, the blessing is in the detail.

 

How Much Time Do You Have?

“How much time do you have?” When you hear someone say this to you it usually indicates they may have quite a lot to say.

What about if you ask yourself the same question?

There is no accurate answer of course.

Not if you’re thinking about how much time you have until you die.

I find myself coming back to this question more often than perhaps I care to consciously admit. The work I find myself doing is rich and varied but it all comes down to the same thing in the end…

What are you going to do with the time you have in your possession?

Many people’s lives are dictated by the extreme time constraints they have become accustomed to as part of their work or simply, their expectations of life in general.

“I don’t have time for that…”

“It takes too much time…”

“If I only had the time to do…”

You and I all have our own version of this familiar, almost daily script.

A little which ago, I heard a story about Ed Sheeran and Paul McCartney. Apparently, Ed Sheeran heard about something that his hero, Paul McCartney had said about his obsession with guitar playing.

Many people have heard about the ‘10,000 Hour Rule’ which stipulates that in any given area of expertise but especially in the area of performance of any kind – you need to have practised for 10,000 hours to get into that revered space of ‘expert’ or ‘world class’.

Anyway, Ed Sheeran heard that Paul McCartney reckoned he had chalked up over 100,000 hours – simply because throughout his life at any opportunity, he keeps picking up his guitar and plays.

Ed Sheeran was so blown away by this accomplishment that he apparently decided to get rid of his XBox and any other form of ‘gaming distraction’ and instead, use the time he would have spent playing on these things to apply to his own guitar-playing. In addition to his presumably regular practise sessions.

It remains to be seen if Mr. Sheeran maintains this high level of commitment to his craft but I thought it was yet another reminder about how we choose to spend our time.

In my own life, I am developing a passion for helping others find creative ways to use their time – especially while they’re at work – in order to become more productive, more effective and hopefully, more satisfied with how they spend their daily allotment of time.

Here I am delivering a workshop about just that and hopefully, all of the attendees will put into practise even one change that will enable them to feel more fulfilled by what they do every day.

 

 

 

Be More Snail

I’ve unashamedly stolen the title of this blog – based on a charity piece of art I walked past in Brighton this week.

I was on my way to meet a friend for lunch when I suddenly saw a giant snail…

To be honest, I didn’t have time to stop and read the blurb about the local charity that was being represented but it did give me a reminder about something I am interested in.

Namely, we do well to take a minute, assess the speed we tend to live at, and see if we can at least try and slow down.

Even if it’s only for an hour.

Or a day.

You may have heard of the ‘Slow Movement’ – which was spawned by the book by Carl Honoré called In Praise of Slow.

I read the book a few years ago and many of the ideas contained within it fascinated me.

Did it radically change me?

Probably not.

Do I still walk fast more often than slow?

Yes.

Do I like to take time out and slow down whenever I can?

Absolutely.

With the passing of time, I like to think there are at least some areas where I am practising being slow…

Slow to anger…

Slow to taking offence…

Slow to interrupt…

Slow to being irritated…

Conversely, there are one or two things I would actually like to speed up from time to time…

Speaking to relative strangers…

and falling asleep at night (although I suspect I’m often out for the count faster than I think!)

 

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.