Let the Expert Through!

Several years ago, when I was working as a salesman for a company that supplied food wrapping machinery, I found myself in a large produce processing factory with an engineer called Billy. I was there to see how their current stock of machines were doing and explore the possibility of selling them one or two new ones. Billy was there as our referral agent but also on that day, to urgently repair one of the older machines that had broken down.
A55 wrapperNow most people don’t get to see what it is like inside any kind of food processing factory but from experience, I can tell you they are extremely busy places. The sheer volume of product that comes down the highly automated lines is mesmerising in itself. So you can imagine, when a machine suddenly stops working, the line it was stationed on immediately becomes very clogged indeed with product that would normally be flowing at the rate of anything from 50-120 items a minute!

 

I will never forget the relative calm that Billy examined the machine and then looked inside his tool bag. I seem to remember that one of his bags was in fact, an old briefcase with a sealed compartment where he stored amassive variety of nuts and bolts and all kinds of fixings, gubbings and all the other technical terms for things that make bigger things work. Inside this compartment, there was literally a sea of stuff that was so deep, half his hand disappeared into them as he searched for an identical screw from the one that had worked itself loose from the machine in question.

DN7M5P Shine of coin ina sea of old screws

“I know it’s in ‘ere somewhere,” he muttered in his raw, “Lancashire,
God’s own county” accent. I had absolute confidence in his ability to
fix the machine amid the increasing clamour around for us for the
resurrection of the line but how on earth would he find that single
screw? A few seconds later, I was open-mouthed in amazement as he pulled the screw out of the sea of seeming infinity. A few minutes after that, the entire line was up and running and everyone was happy.

I don’t think we ever did sell them a new machine. The reason? The
sheer expertise and technical genius of Billy from Lancashire
to regularly resurrect their machines from the dead of course.

 

Then, just the other day, I needed some help from a client actually, to help me to retrieve a really important folder that had seemingly disappeared from my USB stick. We ended up talking on the phone as he was driving (hands free of course!) and the route he took me around the laptop to run some initial tests would have had me more lost than ever if I’d attempted to do this alone. The fact that he was doing this without even seeing the screen in front of him was impressing me with every minute that went by.

computer-engineer-e1428561170306
The time came to try and locate the folder in another part of the computer and then fully retrieve it to its original location and
there it was! A quick check in with one or two of the files that I had found earlier but were strangely empty and sure enough, the
content was restored. “Thank you Daniel, you’re a genius!” came the very relieved and grateful response down the line.

We all love it of course don’t we, when someone who really knows what
they’re doing is able to literally lift us out of our apparently helpless,
hopeless pit of frustration. That is true value in action right there.

So, when was the last time someone came along and did that for you?

Or more importantly, when was the last time you were able to do something for someone else?

What is your expertise, your natural ability that can always help another human being?

It may have nothing to do with your business or job – it’s just something you can do, whenever the need arises.

I was with someone this week who needs my help and guess what I’m going to do?

If it wasn’t for Daniel this week and his genius reminding me of that epic feat of mechanical resurrection performed by Billy from Lancashire, perhaps I may not have been so willing to get involved on an ongoing basis. As long as it doesn’t involve fixing any kind of machine or remotely trouble-shooting a computer, I’ll be fine!

My Best Mate from School

I was reminded this week what a small world we live in. My eldest son walked into a pub and saw one of those photo collages that you see on the walls sometimes. You know the type – full of faces of regulars from the past and present. Images I would imagine, of trophy-winning football teams, darts triumphs and pool tournament heroes. Imperfect portraits of punters who have invested heavily in the livelihood of whoever owned the pub at that particular time. Anyway, my son looked at the photos and said out loud, a little excitedly, “My Dad might be in one of those…” An older man, same age as me in fact, said to the young man in front of him, “Who’s your Dad then?” “Paul Hatcher,” came the reply.”No way! I went to school with him. He was my best mate.”

My son was understandably surprised by this minor revelation. Not by the fact that I had a best mate at school of course but by the fact that he had somehow stumbled upon him in this very small bar in my home town.

Photographic evidence was produced and before long, they were both waxing lyrical together.

Why do I share this little story at all? Because, in a sentence, I was touched when the said Best Mate called me to inform me of this random rendezvous and we had the longest conversation we have had for many, many years. To hear him describe me as his “Best Mate” was a lovely testament to our genuinely long and lasting friendship. The fact that we have not spent any time together for the past twenty odd years suddenly seemed irrelevant. We’ve both been busy doing our own thing and yet to hear him speak like that proved yet again, how powerful a childhood friendship can be.

He was the consummate athlete – brilliant at any sport he bothered to pursue. I remember introducing him to squash when we were much older and wondering how on earth he could beat me so easily in his first ever game!

When we were eighteen, we went to live on a kibbutz in Israel, where his big brother was already establishing himself as a well-respected member of the community. I stayed for seven months while he stayed for a while longer. I then went travelling around the U.S. and Canada, eventually moving to London, and we slowly but surely lost touch, save for the odd exchange here and there.

Jim & I in Israel

For some reason, which if I am honest with you, I am still processing right now, just hearing him describe me as “my Best Mate from school” has provoked a response in me that is I suspect, giving me a whole fresh perspective on life. I have always considered him as my “Best Mate from school”, so hearing me say that out loud does not change anything. For many years, we were like brothers. We worked for the same newsagent at the local train station, delivering newspapers and when he got bored of the best job, I took over his coveted position of selling newspapers, sweets, and cigarettes (yes, cigarettes when I was only fifteen!) from the tiny kiosk on the London-bound platform. That was where I learned how to give change from a twenty pound note for the Daily Telegraph, The Sun, 20 Rothmans, a box of matches and a Mars bar in less than ten seconds!Jim & I

We played endless games of tennis at the local park throughout the summer holidays, his Mum bought our house, we lost count of the number of sleepovers we had until they morphed into all-night party sessions with a wider crowd of others, as we got older and worked and played increasingly harder.

He is one of the most naturally sweet-natured people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing and I will always consider him one of my closest friends – however long it takes before we sit down together and remember life as it once was. Which reminds me, I really should go to that tiny pub and double check if I am in any of those photos.

And the moral of this story? I think you know already.

Memories are Made of This…

Apparently, there are three significant things that begin occurring when you start getting old. You begin losing your memory; you begin losing your hair; and the third thing is…I’ve forgotten!
Just to be clear from the outset here, I do not feel like I am getting old, even though I am most certainly, albeit rather reluctantly in the middle-aged category, despite my youthful looks and energy!
I have always been fascinated by the things we somehow remember as opposed to the stuff we simply forget. I remember watching a documentary many, many years ago about first memories and the typical age from which you can recall certain things. Afterwards, I tried to recall my very first memory and it was this: I was sitting in a high chair and there were a few people in the room. Someone was approaching me with a cake that had a lit candle on it. I checked in with my Mum and assumed it must have been my second birthday (the documentary said the average earliest memory that can usually be recalled is around age two.) I asked her, “But I could only see one candle on the cake. Did you lose the other one?” She replied, “No, of course not! It was your first birthday!”
I was impressed to say the least. The fact that most days I may go upstairs to get or do something and by the time I arrive there, I have completely forgotten why I went in the first place, or worse, come back down without even realising I’ve forgotten all about the original reason I went upstairs in the first place does not of course negate this brilliant feat of memory recall.
Where I do still genuinely excel is in the category of photographic memory. Now I don’t claim to be able to memorise telephone directories or reel off twenty-five digit codes a la secret agents old and new but I do recall with consummate ease familiar car number plates to such a degree that I will recognise a friend’s car instantly and in the past for fun, have called that person to enquire why they are speeding or chopping lanes so randomly. And pre-mobile-phone-address books, I would know virtually every contact’s number I needed without consulting my hard copy address book or Filofax. Perhaps this is where my memory works well with repetition, I forget.

So I have a small challenge for you as you consider your memories and the hopefully happy collection of images, smells, names and numbers – both recent and distant.

What is your favourite ever memory?
When was the last time you created a memory to even begin rivalling that favourite?
What memories have you yet to make?
How long will you give yourself before you forget your desire for those yet-to-be-made memories?
Making Memories

“Mindfulness” is all the rage right now and no doubt some are becoming increasingly cynical about the pressure to be so focussed on “being in the present moment” that it is very easy to miss the point altogether. What if we ditched that term and simply called it “Memory Making”?

How the Words of a Dying Man Could Save You

Today I listened for more than an hour to someone who was recently diagnosed with an inoperable, terminal illness and has been given only weeks to live. To be honest, I had never heard of him before one of the marketing experts I follow sent me an email about his situation. Persuaded by a close friend to deliver one last webinar, (an online seminar in case you’re unfamiliar) I listened to it live just this afternoon and was taken aback not so much by his material, because as both he and his friend made clear from the introduction, “What you will hear is not new but coming from this unique perspective, allow what you hear to be thought of in a new way.” No, I was taken aback by his willingness to make himself so utterly vulnerable, with emotions exacerbated by morphine and yet, still able to offer great wisdom in a way that truly resonated with me partly because of his use of a journey as a metaphor for life, which I love to ponder a lot.

He was extremely honest about the mistakes he had made and the things he is thankful for. In honour of his courage and genuine commitment to helping others, even during his literal dying days, the only other things I will post here today are the questions he posed for us all to consider and a link to the webinar itself, should you wish to listen to the recording.

His name is Mike Seddon and his friend helping him to deliver the webinar is Dov Gordon. If I didn’t think it was worth your time, I would not of course, have written this blog today. At the very least, I highly recommend you take time out to reflect on the five questions he got us to seriously consider:

1. “What’s My Why?” & “Am I Living It?”

Mike_and_Dov2. “What Does Success Look Like?”

3. “Am I Enjoying the Journey?”

4. “Am I Hanging Out With the Right People?”

5. “What Would Happen to My Loved Ones if I was No Longer Around?”

http://internetjetstream.com/the-last-webinar/

 

Safe is Risky

So Wimbledon is upon us once again. One of my favourite times of the year. Also, undoubtedly one of my least productive times! As I look back over the years I have watched this wonderful tournament, it has got me thinking about some of the greatest showmen in this beautiful sport. 

My favourite player ever was the super cool Swede, Bjorn Borg, who won the Men’s Singles title five times in a row in the late seventies. Of all the players of that era, Borg arguably solicited more cries of “Oh I say!” from the equally legendary commentator Dan Maskell than any other. I was almost in tears when he finally lost in the 1981 final to John McEnroe. 

Bjorn-Borg-Trophy

Borg was a completely unique player. I can barely recall ever hearing him speak (he must have done press conferences I guess but perhaps I wasn’t interested in what he had to say as a kid) but the focus was always on his amazing ability to buck the serve and volley trend which was still dominant back then. He had a mystique about him that was almost mythical and his utter brilliance on the court and relative silence under pressure was his show if you like. I remember he had a tradition that from the first day of Wimbledon every year, he stopped shaving and so by the time, he lifted the trophy year in, year out, he would sport a classic blond beard alongside his long, rock star-like hair. It was a long time before anyone captured my heartfelt support again, until finally, the ultimate showman from Las Vegas itself, Andre Agassi blazed his way onto the scene.

Andre Agassi

So what is it about the showman? They say the public loves an underdog and yes, I guess we do. But we also adore a showman who displays scintillating skills – however inconsistently – that mesmerise us. In short, they are the sporting equivalent of our favourite TV and movie heroes who take us away to a world where anything is possible. Most of all, we love a showman who has learnt how to be consistent in the midst of their almost supernatural brilliance, because they provide us with even more occasions to celebrate than we imagined possible. People like Ronnie O’Sullivan in snooker, Andre Agassi, Rafa Nadal. Contrast these guys with others who won even more trophies but who somehow, relatively soon after their initial burst on to the scene, appeared to win repeatedly with almost robotic precision. So much so, that for many of us, there was very little to love. People like Steve Davis and Pete Sampras, or Michael Schumacher from Formula 1 racing.

The best tennis players in the world almost invariably practise what is known as “percentage tennis”. That is, a wide variety of shots that they know will serve them well overall, so long as they play their normal game. The very best players of today’s game like Nadal, Federer, Djokovic and Murray aka The Big Four consistently play their percentage tennis but are good enough to take it up a level if they are losing or in a very close struggle against each other, and they can do so with some extraordinary shot-making and still win the crucial points they need to clinch victory.

What is fascinating however, is when a showman (let’s call them a “showplayer”) finds himself playing against one of the The Big Four for example. The only way they can have a chance of winning is if they play to their strengths. That is, non-percentage tennis. Shots that most players wouldn’t dream of attempting, unless forced to do so. This of course, is the complete opposite strategy to the top player. The French currently have these showplayers in spades and have always had one or two around at the same time. Henri Leconte was a fabulous example in the eighties. Yannick Noah was another, and the last Frenchman to win the French Open in 1983. Today they have Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and Gael Monfils. They are like musketeers with a tennis racket and on their day, can beat anyone in the world. But this is where sadly, they fall down. Their brilliance is exquisite to watch but their inconsistency forbids them from achieving what their potential promised when they began their careers.

Jo-Wilfried-Tsonga-007In a match last month at the French Open, Andy Murray found himself up against yet another flamboyant Frenchman, Jeremy Chardy. The commentator, a former champion himself, Jim Courier, began to explain the dynamics of what this is all about, “Murray is the house and Chardy is the gambler. Chardy has to throw the dice because that is the only way he can win. They don’t keep building casinos because they think the gamblers are going to come out on top, but some of them do get the roll of the dice.”

So what of the Samprases and Davises of the sporting world? They knew how to focus on their work and perhaps that was the crucial difference when it came to total achievement by the time they retired from their chosen field. They saw it as their work, not merely a fun way to earn tons of cash and lap up the adulations of endless females. Sure they were not as entertaining as the other guys. But then they were not there to entertain primarily. They were there to win. And win they did. A lot. So much so that you could argue it even became a bit boring. This was one of the reasons why Steve Davis earned the nickname Steve “Interesting” Davis. During the nineties, when Pete Sampras dominated for much of that decade, I actually got bored of watching him win yet another consecutive Wimbledon Men’s Singles title. Three stroke rallies or less with the same guy lifting the trophy was not my idea of good sport, let alone entertainment.

For us mere mortals who have to carve out other, less glamorous, yet equally creative ways of earning a living, being entertained (when we’re not watching our afore-mentioned heroes!) and simply making a life for ourselves, we have to make a decision. Do we choose style or substance? Safe or risky? To win or to simply enjoy? Can we not have both? I think we can, if we choose wisely. As one of my favourite authors Seth Godin says, “Safe is risky.” Just ask or rather, watch the showplayers at Wimbledon.

You’ve Got Talent Part 2

A few years ago, I heard a fantastic speaker at a conference I was attending. The kind of speaker who one minute has you in fits of almost uncontrollable laughter, and the very next minute, pauses the way that a true professional (or total natural) instinctively knows how to. One of the many things he talked about that I have never forgotten is how he had no weaknesses. It sounded outrageously arrogant of course until he broke the pause with “but I have plenty of ‘non-strengths'”.

Subtle but I believe extremely significant shift in emphasis.

We all have talent right? But we can’t all sing. I for one, cannot sing like Susan Boyle, or anyone half decent for that matter. At age eleven or twelve, I was politely asked to leave the after school singing group in front of the entire class. The teacher, a very strict disciplinarian, was moving around the sound-proof music room, hunting down what she clinically described as the “howler in the room”. She inclined her ear down to my shoulder and the game was up. The truth is, I was only really interested in the girls in the group, not the music or singing. My lack of authenticity was bluntly and categorically exposed on the spot.

After the years of counselling following that traumatic expose (I’m joking of course; thankfully, children of the 70s were made of harder stuff!) did I ever sing again? Of course I did. Usually, only in front of an audience of one, and that was not always a human. I don’t consider my singing a weakness. But it is certainly a non-strength.

What is the lesson here then? If you want to unearth your true talent, you simply have to ask yourself one or two questions like, “What do I love doing?” Or “What am I actually really good at?” “What do other people tell me I’m good at?”

If for some reason, even those questions fail to unearth the thing that has thus far eluded you then ask yourself this. “What would I absolutely love to do?”

WhatMakesYouComeAlive

Acknowledge your non-strengths and from now on, call them precisely that. We all have weaknesses of course but for some of us, it helps to address them differently, especially if when you think about it, you could reel off a rather long list of them!

None of this necessarily has to do with your job or business but it could be. Who knows? Focus on your strengths and find a way to fill your life with those things, or that one single thing that makes you come alive. It is incumbent upon all of us to make the effort to find out what it is that we love to do. More often than not, that one thing will be something that after some initial practise and honing (depending on what it is will determine how long it will take to get really good at it) you not only love doing but you do it with the sort of consummate ease that almost makes you feel guilty. Some people call this operating in the ‘Grace Zone” – that place where you know that you know, this is part of your core being and that is why it comes so easily.

You’ve Got Talent Part 1

Okay, I admit it, I am a massive Britain’s Got Talent fan. And the reason is very simple. Despite all the dross, the time-wasters, unattractive strippers and a whole variety of other acts that I could happily live without ever seeing; I absolutely adore those moments – and there are usually at least one or two in every series – where a somewhat nervous, even trembling figure takes to the stage in the midst of uncertainty, sometimes even downright cynical, premature disapproval from the audience and then… whoa!

What a moment of utter surprise and joy when that person opens up their lungs and bellows out an incredibly divine singing voice, or a dance that leaves you completely mesmerised, or the magician who leaves you gasping for any clue as to how he or she did what they just did.

Arguably, the most famous example of this came in 2009, when a rather eccentric, middle-aged lady from somewhere in Scotland walked on to the stage and announced her name. Susan Boyle defied the vast majority of the total venue and TV audience (including yes, that poor, somewhat foolish, young woman who appeared to visibly sneer before a single note had been sung) and delivered the finest and undoubtedly most surprising audition ever heard, anywhere. I don’t need an excuse to remember that magical moment but in case you do, here’s the link. And look out for Ant’s wonderful remark to the camera after those glorious first few notes.

I believe we all have talent. You have talent. I have talent. The problem is often how to unearth it and then an even bigger problem is how to nurture and develop it. In Part 2, I will elaborate on why it is crucial to focus on your strengths but for now, here are some questions for you to consider:

What makes you come alive?
If you didn’t need to get paid, what would you absolutely love to do for a job or have as a business?
Who do you respect and admire in the marketplace the most and why?
What would you most like to achieve as a result of your ideal work?
What is stopping you from pursuing the thing you’d most like to do?

Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the dark place where it leads.
Erica Jong

Change is Here to Stay

Change

I recently coached a group of corporate executives on the subject of developing resilience when going through change. During my preparation, I was reminded of just how much choice we have when it comes to the nature of change. We can choose to embrace it. Or we can choose to fight it. The problem with the latter approach is it achieves nothing more than the illusion of defiance. Change happens whether we embrace it or not. And if we don’t, we simply get left behind, wondering where on earth our long lost “Land of Nostalgia” has been transported to.

That is not to say that all change is good. In recent years, I have had to deal with and adjust to massive change that many would argue has not been a good thing at all. But therein lies the secret of change…

…Change is a constant, both positive and negative. Like the sun rising and setting, it waits for no one. Our circumstances may not change the way we want them to and almost invariably, not as fast as we would like either but I’m not really thinking about that kind of change right now. I’m thinking about the kind of change that we didn’t choose. The kind of change that is going to massively affect our work place, or our personal space, the place where you are most comfortable and are very or at least pretty happy with thank you very much. The place where you have hung that oft-quoted adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The trouble with that thought however, is that no one said it was broke in the first place. It was simply time to change, even if no one in particular planned that change.

Speaking of which or rather, whom. Who decides this stuff anyway? Some may point to the Creator of the Universe, or some great architect of constant change; others may claim it is all in the karma that surrounds us; still others, it’s all random acts of kindness as well as plenty of not-so-kind stuff going on. Either way, assuming by now, that you don’t really want to be one of those people who are stubbornly digging in their heels, desperately seeking solace away from the change that is relentlessly looming over you, here are some ideas that might help you in your transition – however unattractive the prospect of change may currently feel.

  1. Don’t let what you do know stop you from discovering what you don’t yet know. Even if you do really know that the status quo in any part of your life is actually really, really good; never, ever take it for granted. From there, never stop building, investing, exploring and discovering stuff you didn’t know before.

  2. Visualise what you want rather than worrying about what you fear. This is huge. I heard someone say recently that he could never be a hipster, so instead, he had decided to become a hopester. I think that is genius. Choose to be a person who is always hopeful. Obviously, we can all hope for whatever we want but if we don’t actually do anything about it, the hope will eventually expire and we will simply end up hopeless. Which is why the act of visualising is so important too. However you choose to process your dreams, without goals, they will always be just that – dreams.

  3. Be confident in your ability to ride out the change; especially if no one expects it to be a pleasant journey. Think bereavement, separation, divorce, bankruptcy. It is difficult indeed, to even consider embracing stuff like that but this is where the power of change can be demonstrated most powerfully. Think about it. Your life, however insignificant it may feel to you, is still a part of history. That is, the story of time and space and all that has ever taken place. So make it your goal, your driving ambition with every last ounce of all that you have within you to finish your story well. I don’t have space here to elaborate but in today’s world it takes a couple of clicks and you can spend hours being inspired by endless stories of the good and the great, as well as the lesser known and almost anonymous heroes who have all somehow, against seemingly overwhelming odds made it through in the end.

  4. Let go of the stuff you can no longer control and focus on the stuff you can, namely your attitude and determination to overcome. There is an ancient phrase “more than a conqueror” which rendered in the original Greek, reads hupernikao. I used to tell all three of my kids when they were very young, “You can make it! You are hupernikao!” until one day they said it was simply too embarrassing hearing that in front of all the other kids at the school gates or the sports field! overcoming-obstacles-quotes-1

  5. Don’t shut down your emotional response to change but don’t be controlled by your emotions either. Depending on the level of trauma involved in your change, if you don’t let your emotions out on a regular basis, they are going to come out anyway, invariably when you least expect or want them to. In other words, if you need to do some serious crying, and in you’re in a safe place to do so, don’t let the curse of the stiff upper lip win the day or else you will find the tsunami of tears will  break out one way or the other, on a day of their choosing and you won’t be prepared.

change-is-difficult-not-changing-is-fatal_thumb