I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a while, it’s probably been formulating in some way or another since I decided to leave my last job (a year ago), initially it felt too raw and too personal, then it felt too risky, then it felt pointless, and then this week it felt necessary again. It’s a blog post about leadership, management, connection and self – feel free to jump off now if that’s not your bag. This week three key things influenced my thinking:
1) Terry Dunn, a manager at Wigan Council, caught the headlines due to his unique email style. Terry who has worked for the council ‘man and boy’ since starting twenty years previously as an apprentice, now as Head of Environment, was communicating with colleagues about staffing restructures and also commented on his weekend plans and forthcoming wedding. A spokesman for the council said that Terry was ‘acting on feedback from employees that said they wanted to know more about senior managers’. A union spokesperson compared him to David Brent, we’ll come back to that in a minute.
2) I watched Ken Loach’s film Spirit of 45 a stunning documentary made using archive film and recent interviews, it charts the phenomenal achievement of the post war Labour government who established the Welfare State, the NHS, national infrastructure for transport and so much more. The most striking impact for me came from hearing people describe the power of the collective, the shared vision, the wish and want for a better existence, ‘The Spirit of ’45 hopes to illuminate and celebrate a period of unprecedented community spirit in the UK, the impact of which endured for many years and which may yet be rediscovered today’.
3) Finally, I started reading The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin. I’m not sure why I started it this week, I’ve had it for months, but I decided to start it on a flight home and I couldn’t put it down. The basic premise of the book so far (I’m forcing myself to take the second half more slowly because I don’t want to finish it!) is that Godin is laying the challenge to his readers to identify what their art is and treat work as such, the opportunity to create art. The title draws on Icarus who disobeyed his father, flew too close to the sun and plunged to his death, ‘The lesson: Play it safe. Listen to the experts. It was the perfect propaganda for the industrial economy. What boss wouldn’t want employees to believe that obedience and conformity are the keys to success? But we tend to forget that Icarus was also warned not to fly too low, because seawater would ruin the lift in his wings. Flying too low is even more dangerous than flying too high, because it feels deceptively safe’.
What does all of this have to do with leadership and management I hear you ask? As someone who has held several management positions over the past ten years, I’ve been thinking a lot about my fit with a management role. Considering myself, my skills and attributes, what drives me, what drains me, where I’ve come from and where I might be going. I’ve also been thinking about what I admire in others, especially quiet leaders and the power of introverts. Anyone who has read this blog before will know that about twelve months ago I quit a job I’d loved dearly, with no certain path for the future. My father’s (long anticipated) death coincided with my last working weeks, a perfect storm in some way. Since then many hours have been spent considering the future, I’ve established myself as a freelance knowledge transfer consultant, which has afforded me the opportunity to take more time deciding where to focus my energy and to pick and choose my work, the novelty of which has yet to wear off. It also affords me the freedom to structure my time and effort, to spend time working for love not financial reward, whether that is supporting the development of Social Care Curry Club or taking photos of the Rowcroft Hospice Choir, and it also allows me to work anywhere with a decent wifi connection.
One thing I’ve come to realise, helped this week by the three influences above, is that while I don’t think I was a particularly bad manager, in fact if I’m completely honest I think I was an alright manager, it still didn’t drive me or satisfy me enough. The act of managing people just doesn’t resonate well with me, shepherding people to conform and obey, and neither does the notion of being managed either if I’m completely honest. There’s a line in Godin’s book where he says ‘Just because you’re winning a game doesn’t mean it’s a good game’, twice in my career I’ve taken a job with less responsibility than my previous one, a significant pay drop to boot, and on both occasions I’ve climbed up a ladder quite quickly to end up with managerial responsibilities. It would be easy to start applying for management jobs again now, but just because I can be a manager doesn’t mean I should be.
Leadership however, that’s a related but different game. I love leading and I love being led, I seek out leaders all the time and I love watching people lead others. I particularly enjoy watching leadership on social media. One of the things I love most about social media is it’s flat structure, I love analysing communities and discussions and watching people lead, from within the network. The flip-side can be watching people who think they know more, the self appointed gurus, stumble around offering approval and advice, some of which seems to me stuck in an old school management culture. For all the talk of digital leadership, what we seem to be too often stuck on (at least in discussions around social care) is digital management – issues of access, barriers, permission, control. Trying to shepherd people into conforming and using the right platforms, the right hashtags, fitting in to some pre-arranged mindset.
I’ve already raved about Dan Slee and colleagues work on Best by West Midlands, but the more I have thought about one element, the discussion around barrier vaulting, the more I’m not sure I agree with the observation that it’s harder to take a JFDI approach in 2013. If people wish to remain in their organisations, their silos, then yes, social media is much more above radar now, but if they really want to make a break, to change the status quo, to do it differently then I think they absolutely need to take a JFDI approach, if they can afford to live with the consequences. They could be inspired to harness the Spirit of 45, to consider a different future, a brighter future, to expect and deliver on that. They need to dig deep and find their grit!
Grit is the enemy of the industrial age! The industrialist prioritises conformity and obedience to ensure efficiency at all costs, the last thing they need is grit clogging up the machines, or scratching their goods. To quote from Godin ‘Digital smoothness is the antithesis of grit’. I wonder in our discussions of digital leadership whether we are focused on ironing out the grit, creating a digital smoothness, when instead we could be releasing true individualism, encouraging people to stand out, supporting outliers and creatives. Instead it seems that the focus is subtly on control, external motivation and approval as a weapon to ensure compliance (hence the obsession with Klout scores and other measures of influence).
Where does this leave us then? I think we have a workforce that craves connectivity with their managers, who wish to know about them as people, and we have managers with the best of intentions getting it wrong. How does this happen? I would hazard a guess that HR had informed the management team that staff when surveyed had indicated a desire to know more about their managers. Of course they do, because staff aren’t robots, they’re not machines, they wish to be led, they crave connectivity, they want to know that their managers are as human as they are. There isn’t a management text book that will successfully teach you to care authentically; I don’t know but I’d reckon that Terry Dunn is hampered by his environment, a man who does genuinely care about his colleagues, but whose sincerity is lost in translation in that email. Personally I think staff ‘wanting to know more about their managers’ is code for ‘staff wanting to feel connected and trust their managers’.
Which brings me back to Godin who argues that the future lies in the connection economy. One that rewards the leader, the initiator and the rebel, where value is directly related to the information we produce, the trust we earn and how often we innovate. The future he paints is one where we each need to identify a journey with which we wish to commit our heart and soul, one where we are willing to speak up, to speak our truth, not to just conform and perform, he defines grit as ‘the attitude of someone who realises he has the power to care and is intent on doing something about it’.
I’m not sure where my personal journey will take me just yet, I’m taking my time to figure it out, but I intend to continue to carve my own path, to not buckle to conform to fit in with the crowd. I’ll not apologise for it either, I am that irritating piece of grit in the bottom of your shoe, I am the lump of grit that clogs up your smooth efficient machine and asks the difficult questions, I have no manager to rely on to motivate me, I will motivate myself and not give that responsibility to someone else, and better still I will not seek the crowd’s approval. For once if this post gets no hits, no comments or reaction, I’ll not assume it’s because it’s not good enough, or didn’t resonate, I’ll not try to identify the lessons for next time so I can change my style so it gets more attention or hits. I’ll accept it for what it is, I’m creating my own tune, not seeking to dance to someone else’s, this is my view and that’s ok as it is. It doesn’t need the crowd to approve, in the words of the management guru David Brent, I’m riffing:
A month or so ago I wrote about positive fundraising and a bit about crowd-funding on my work blog, you can read it here if you’re interested. It led to quite a lot of discussion on twitter about the role of positive and negative in getting attention to your product or brand, and also a bit about how appropriate it was to crowd fund certain activities or services. It seemed that lots of people were cool with the idea of crowd funding one off projects or start up business ideas, but less convinced that it should be used as a model for other services. So this post is hoping to capitalise on that energy about funding new businesses, ideas and projects.
Oxblood & Co. is the work of Adam Greasley, a graphic designer from Salford. Adam is launching a small range of hand lettered t-shirts that you can pre-order through Kickstarter. Each t-shirt will be a hand pulled screen print (I’m not sure I really know what that means but it sounds good) and for a mere £20 you get to support a new business, an all round sense of ‘I’ve done good today’ smug satisfaction and a unique t-shirt.
You may be wondering why I care so much. I quite simply love the iceberg tee, as a southerner I’d love it more if it had another ‘the’ in it, but I love it nonetheless. I can think of so many situations in life where I’ve been doubted, or in some way judged, by people. I think this is normal, but this t-shirt speaks to that in some way, all anyone is ever seeing is the tip of the iceberg, in any interaction. It’s deep for a t-shirt and worth remembering in life, it’s also worth remembering all we ever see of others is the tip of their iceberg!
Annnnyway. I don’t know Adam, I can’t guarantee this will come good, I do know it’s a risk I’ve been prepared to make, and I also know that Kickstarter rules are that if the idea isn’t funded by the deadline (July 27 2013) then Adam will have no cash and I’ll have no t-shirt! This is a very sad situation I’m sure you’ll agree. So you know what to do, visit Adam’s kickstarter page, watch his video and if you like what you see there, dig deep, pledge away and walk around feeling good about yourself for a bit and knowing you’ll be getting a cool t-shirt in a couple months!
20 July Update
Adam has changed the design so it’s lost it’s Yorkshire twang but (in my opinion at least) gained a better comprehension.
There are only seven days left to show your support and get your order in. This is your chance to support a young designer who has chosen to take the plunge to try and establish his business, through working hard in his spare time. He has drive, ambition, skill – all the things the media would have us believe aren’t apparent in our country any more. Not only that, but by pledging your support to his kickstarter campaign you’ll be giving work to the printer who will hand press each of the t-shirts in Leeds, thereby supporting the local Yorkshire economy. To top it off you get your own t-shirt, a more perfect t-shirt for your annual appraisal I can not imagine, or for graduation, or even a job interview. I’m also quite excited about the fact that you’ll also get the designs as wallpapers to use on your laptop or PC, I’m already imaging my ‘All you’re seeing….’ screensaver!!
Adam’s not asking you to part with your cash just for the sake of it, this isn’t about handouts, it’s about investing in someone’s potential, after all it’s worth remembering All you’re seeing is the tip of the iceberg. Go on, it’ll be the best £20 you spend this month: KICKSTART ADAM’S BUSINESS BY CLICKING ON THIS LINK
Earlier this week I had a brief conversation on twitter with @crouchendtiger7 and @GilesCharnaud in response to Andrea sharing that she was on the panel for the HSJ Most Inspirational Women in Healthcare Award. Andrea was asking for views (especially from people outside the NHS) about who inspires them and why. I offered two suggestions, @amcunningham for her relentless quest to support, encourage and engage people in discussions about healthcare in the broadest sense (that’s more than 140 characters so it probably wasn’t that coherent) and my second person was Sister Clare from @RowcroftHospice‘s Hospice at Home team. Clare has been involved with the service since before it was established, talks about it with a passion I’ve rarely seen when people describe their jobs, and of course for me she is the figurehead of the phenomenal service that supported my family when my Dad died. To be fair each and every one of the people from that team equally deserve the credit, they are all inspirational, to me at least.
I guess that’s a bit of a challenge when you start identifying individuals to award praise or gratitude to and I guess I’m guilty of that by responding to Andrea’s question. I commented that I’m not overly keen on awards and was reminded of the value of recognising those who would not nominate themselves:
Giles touched a nerve for me here as often inspirational people nominated for awards are exactly that. A quick sweep of my twitter archive would reveal a number of people who I am regularly inspired by being nominated for (and on occasion winning) titles like this. That’s great, it really is, I don’t think there’s enough good news or celebration in the world. However it does sometimes feel like there’s a bit of a formula to these things and a pattern in those chosen. Rarely am I struck by someone I’ve not heard of, nominated for keeping their heads down and solidly, reliably, quietly going about their work. My hastily thrown together theory or hunch is that a quick survey of ‘inspirational award winners’ would reveal a preponderance of louder, more extrovert, self confident and voluble individuals.
I can’t help but wonder whether we are overlooking quiet inspiration and leadership and simply suggesting we should all aspire to an extrovert ideal.
I’ve recently been reading @SusanCain‘s book Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. As someone who readily identifies as an extrovert, albeit with bookish tendencies, Susan Cain’s work has been a fascinating insight for me. I first stumbled across her giving a TED Talk last year, I think it should be recommended watching for everyone, extroverts and introverts alike.
It’s an engaging, inspiring and educational talk. Cain’s book (I’ve not finished it yet) details her thinking in more detail. Quite early on she sets the context as follows:
As adults, many of us work for organisations that insist we work in teams, in offices without walls, for supervisors who value “people skills” above all. To advance our careers, we’re expected to promote ourselves unabashedly.
In response to that reality, this post is to start the ball rolling in acknowledging five women who quietly inspire me, who you may not know or have previously heard of, who are not promoting themselves unabashedly, and yet who are as pivotal and necessary and inspirational as those that you do.
1. @amcunningham Anne Marie is a very visible presence on twitter, but I don’t experience her as promoting herself or forwarding her own causes. As mentioned above she collects, collates and supports discussion like no other and I’m quite convinced she never sleeps! Im not sure where she gets the energy and enthusiasm from but for me it’s contagious. You can check out Anne Marie’s blog here.
2. Sister Clare and the Hospice at Home team @RowcroftHospice Life changing, quiet, competent, steady midwives of death (my Mum came up with that phrase) with a palpable compassion that I will never forget. You can learn more about their phenomenal work here.
3. Anji Mehta, you’ll sometimes find Anji on the @PSSRU_LSE twitter stream but you wouldn’t know it was her! I’ve known Anji for a couple years now, I don’t know her well, but I do know that she is as reliable and steady as they come. Resourceful, creative and the definition of calm, I have never had an interaction with Anji that hasn’t left me feeling better about life. I think it’s safe to say that the bridge between getting research into practice would be even more flimsy if it wasn’t for the Anji’s of this world; check out the Social Care Evidence in Practice project that she is a driving force behind.
4. A year or two ago I met Nat through work @NatAltDesign when she came to draw one of our meetings. Nat went on to live-draw several events and I’ve followed her on twitter ever since. I should confess that I’m a little starstruck by Nat’s art. I have spent a lot of my career facilitating discussions and writing lists on flipchart paper, despite the fact that I often see things in images! I live in hope that one day I’ll learn to draw properly, but until then I get a creative kick from Nat. You can see her work on her website, and you can commission her too!
5. @GrangerKate An almost celebrity these days, Kate has chosen to share her life and experience of living with cancer with the world. I find her humour, resilience and courage show-stopping. I’m not sure that she would seek the attention she is getting but she is doing all within her gift to share her learning with us all – check out her blog for more.
So there you have it, my starter for five. I’m not saying these women are introvert, and I’m not saying they are more important than anyone else, and the fact they’re women is sort of irrelevant (I’ll do a male list another day) but they are all people who (quietly) inspire me and you can follow them all on twitter if you wish (another criteria for this list).
I’d love to know who else I should be paying attention to and who are the quiet inspirations for other people.
Unusually for me I didn’t check twitter the moment I woke up this morning, instead I visited the twitter website as soon as I turned my mac on. It was this that meant I spotted something quite surprising, to me at least – that last night I’d reached the (completely meaningless really) marker of 35k tweets.
That got me to thinking about how much of my life is contained in my twitter archive. I joined twitter on 8 September 2008 and really had no idea of what I was letting myself in for, or what would come of this new social media thing. I also couldn’t have predicted the twists and turns my life would take over the last four and a half years. So, I find myself 1714 days later, pondering how many amazing people I’ve met, the adventures I’ve taken, the loved ones I’ve lost.
It’s this last point that really sticks. My 35 thousandth tweet fell at the end of
#dyingmatters week and it was sharing an article in The Telegraph that talks about the amazing Kate Granger @GrangerKate:
We need to relearn the art of dying
A doctor tweeting from her deathbed deserves our attention – and our thanks
It’s worth a read, as is Kate’s article at the start of Dying Matters week in The Times, and perhaps more importantly as is her blog which you can find here. To get back to the topic of this rambling, pondering blog post, quite a few of my 35k tweets have focused on death. I’ve always been interested in death, fascinated by our inability to discuss it as a society and simultaneously intrigued and grateful for those that do.
My experience of death has been unavoidable in the recent past, in fact it is unavoidable for us all however much we may hide from the opportunity to discuss things. Six months after Dad died I find myself with less of an urge to talk about death, but with more of a drive to study it and watch how others face it. This past week has thrown up some fascinating resources and conversations that I’ve tried to capture on Pinterest here on my various boards.
The thing that stopped me in my tracks the most was a video from Lord Philip Gould, filmed a couple years ago as he faced death with oesophageal cancer. The film, When I Die, is beautifully shot and starts with the words ‘In six weeks time I will be dead, I will be cremated, I will face huge fear but it is an extraordinary experience’.
I urge you to take ten minutes out of your day to watch this film. It captures a courage and strength that stopped me in my tracks, a sense that I often feel when eavesdropping Kate Granger’s life as I do through the power of social media. Dying Matters week has been and gone for another year, my 35k tweets have passed us all by, charting the conversations and support of friends and strangers alike.
I do think we need to relearn the art of dying, and I think we need to continue to develop and learn the art of dying with social media. Philip Gould and Kate Granger are pioneers in this, sharing their most intimate experiences with us so that we might be better equipped and prepared when we face these situations for ourselves or with those we love.
My 35,001st tweet will share this blog post in gratitude to them. Thank you.
A couple months ago I blogged some feedback about the new First Great Western online booking system. I also blogged about one particular member of their staff who I felt had dealt with me, and my fellow tweeters, particularly well – Ollie. Since then I have received lots of tweets and comments from fellow train users, I’ve learnt about the background of the booking system, had it inferred that I’m a simpleton, moron and indeed zombie, and also been promised a new upgrade to the system in April that will make it easier. Check out the comments on the first post for more of the picture.
So imagine my frustration when I went to book a ticket to Gatwick airport for later this month. Strangely trains seemed to run every hour but the FGW site didn’t allow me to book the 10.32 train direct to Gatwick – it would allow me to book two separate journeys – to Reading and then again on from Reading, at higher cost of course, but the 10.32 isn’t given as an option.
Reg, on the FGW twitter account today, replied to let me know that they all use the same booking system so it shouldn’t be any different – which is what I’ve been told before. I’m partly writing this post to share with Reg to provide evidence that there’s a gap between what *should* happen and what does happen. I’ll wait to see if this changes but in the meantime I’ll be taking my zombie arse down to the station to book in person later today and will have to hope the price hasn’t escalated in that time.
There’s nothing like technology making life easier, and more efficient….not.
Last month Mum mentioned she’d seen a talk advertised in the library, it was being held at our local hospital and was being given by Sarah Tobin. It was on a Monday evening, a day I worked at home, Mum was curious and thought it might be of interest to me from a work perspective. So we agreed we’d go and I did a quick google to find some info and came across this. The event was the first attempt at a Health Science Cafe event being held at the hospital and most importantly they’d be free parking, a small but important manner. If you were to play a word association game with anyone who has had anything more than casual use of the health service I’m confident it wouldn’t take long before they mentioned parking – finding a space only being half the battle. Anyhow, I digress, this was an early evening event with free parking and Sarah Tobin, what was not to like.
Who is this Sarah I hear you ask? Sarah was one of the many professionals who provided support for my Dad, and all of his family, when he was first diagnosed and through his treatment for bile duct cancer. Specialist nurses are worth their wait in gold, they have intricate knowledge of what you are facing, have always made themselves readily available, always *always* return your phonecall if you have to make one, have the ability to unlock doors and generally give a sense of confidence in a quite daunting experience. I guess you could think of them as nursing sherpas who guide you through it all….we were lucky to have the support of several different ones and they all helped enormously.
Last Monday we arrived at Torbay Hospital, parked up and I checked in on Foursquare and was delighted to see I’d not been to the hospital in nearly six months. Dad died last November and until then I think I had visited at least every four months and in the latter stages of his life far more frequently, with a large number of visits as an emergency admission. The last time I’d been at the hospital was to drop Mum up to deliver thank you tins of chocolates to the staff who had cared for Dad. I still wasn’t really sure what to expect but off we went.
We were greeted by Helen, the Trust librarian who came up with the idea of the Health Science Cafe at Torbay. She had mentioned in the press release linked above that she felt it was important for people to have the chance to visit the hospital site for occasions other than just to meet medical need. One of my take home thoughts from the evening was how good it had been for me to return to the hospital that has played such a significant role in our lives over the last five years, with a positive reason. To drive up without the nagging doubts, the butterflies, the anxiety, the stress. To be honest it felt a little odd, after we’d parked up I had to remind myself that there was nothing to worry about!
The talk was very informal, there were about ten of us there although I think most people were previously associated with the hospital in some formal way. Sarah introduced herself, she now works 0.5 as a specialist nurse and 0.5 in teaching and education. She told us a little of her own personal experience, and indeed what fuels her interest in this area, and about her masters that focused on whether you can teach compassion and her current PhD studies in the same area.
She went on to talk about a number of key approaches adopted within SDHT (South Devon Healthcare Trust) to support work on compassion. These included:
Patient storytelling – this was introduced as a benefit to patients, where they are given the opportunity to share their experience. Their experience is tape recorded, transcribed and then shared with teams in a facilitated discussion designed to identify future improvements.
Observations in care – after a day long training session people are given 2o minutes to observe a ward/healthcare experience. Observers work in pairs, they note down what they see, hear and smell, purely as objective observations with no reasoning or judgement attached to them. They compare and contrast their notes after 20 mins and feed back to the staff members they have observed.
Schwartz rounds – this approach developed in the US at The Schwartz Centre and piloted in the UK by the Kings Fund provide a monthly, one-hour session for hospital staff to discuss difficult emotional and social issues arising from patient care.
Other approaches discussed included the development of a Leadership Programme for nurse leaders and ward managers, the introduction of the Friends and Family test, and Jeremy Hunt’s new requirement that nurses work for a year as healthcare assistants before training. The discussion was wider than just the steps taken to increase compassion, we also discussed the issue of complaints (90% focus on communication in some way), the changing shape of training over the years to include a greater focus on communication skills, the balance of positive to negative feedback (3:1), pride in nursing, how to gather feedback to get a hospital wide picture, the number of patients in hospital and their reasons for being there (80% of the surgery carried out at Torbay is now done as day surgery – this leads to changing methods of patient care, changing demographic of inpatients and so on).
Media Impact Mention was also made of the media and the negative expectations that many people have of hospital care, before experiencing it for themselves or those they care for. Initial analysis of the Friends and Family test feedback at Torbay commonly reports ‘it was loads better than I was expecting’. The local paper had been invited to advertise the Health Science Cafe and run a story on it, they had declined the opportunity. I can’t help but feel bad news sells more newspapers than good! Maybe they’ll get behind the later events, perhaps even send a reporter along to share with a wider audience.
Our discussion of the impact of the media also extended as far as two fly on the wall documentaries currently showing on TV, 24 Hours in A&E filmed at King’s College Hospital now in it’s third series, and Keeping Britain Alive: the NHS in a day filmed across the NHS on Thursday 18 October. I have a real interest in these documentaries, part morbid fascination with something new, part as an example of human behaviour and within that the compassion captured, part also as a reminder of how lucky we are to have a national health service.
While I imagine only certain people are interested in these programmes (best viewing figures for an episode of 24hours in A&E just top 3million people, Eastenders and Coronation Street routinely get double or three times that), that is still a large pool of people who do appear interested in this user generated content. One Born Every Minute, another Channel 4 documentary series now in it’s fourth series is set in an NHS Maternity Ward and clocks viewing figures of almost 5million; it’s not clear what exactly it is that people are interested in but I’d hazard a guess that it is part real-life stories that could as easily feature us and our family members as players that attracts them. Thinking about the three approaches Sarah had discussed one of the common features of them is reflected in this documentary approach, they all give a real-life focus and focus on the experience (of patients or staff) and allow for reflection on that experience as a prompt to identifying learning points, or building resilience, and also in humanising people.
This blog post was designed to share the experience a little more widely, partly because I was left with quite a few ideas and questions I’d like to think of further, so your own thoughts and experiences are very welcome. A lot of my thoughts were about how it’s possible to create a common team/organisation wide focus that focuses on an individual’s experience of compassion; how you define, or develop a shared definition of compassion; how you keep learning and reflections alive and tangible; whether there is enough focus on positive feedback as well as negative; how important and value laden compassion is – perspective being key; whether certain environmental circumstances are likely to reduce, or increase, compassion; and whether greater focus on staff members’s as individual’s could create behaviours among patients that increase their own chance of being treated compassionately (and vice versa)! What do you think?
I had a moment this evening, a little one, where my frustration peeked when I went to book my train tickets for next week. I try not to book with The <insert mode of transport>line because they are explicit in their charges of a booking fee and a credit card transaction fee. Of late I’ve tried to book with First Great Western, the train provider on my route. I’m not completely sure that it ever works out any cheaper, my hunch is that they sometimes roll the associated fees into the fare and hope you won’t notice, but I used to give them that because their booking process just felt cleaner than the other service.
Except relatively recently FGW redeveloped their website booking system. I’d been very fortunate until the end of last year to be in a position which afforded me Rachel, an angel sent from heaven, who was employed as my shared PA. It took me a while to become truly dependent on Rach but eventually I gave in to my inner-working class guilt and decided to allow her to organise my life, and she was great at it. No longer did I have to worry about booking train tickets, or finding the best fare (because I’ve got an almost compulsive obsession when it comes to finding cheap travel), this was all looked after for me. Right now I’m cursing that I allowed myself to indulge and develop such dependency, and I’m also cursing First Great Western for their changes. I offer you the background in case it is just me being mardy, and to legitimately allow anyone to call me on being precious if I am the only one with issues!
So what happened I hear you ask….the following screen grabs indicate what happened (don’t worry you don’t need to be able to read them, although if you click and zoom you probably can, they’re just indicative):
2. Enter details and you’re presented with this screen. The top boxes are possible fares, the bottom boxes train options. Given I specified a time I think two or three train options, four at a push, would suffice – there are only three options within two hours of the time I specified.
At this stage I now know (from talking to awesome Ollie who mans the FGW twitter account) that if I select the fares I’m interested in the fares according to each train will be displayed.
3. Taking Ollie’s advice this is what show’s up.
However, having no Rach in my life, and until this evening no Ollie either, I have simply selected the train I wanted – after all I’m motivated by getting to London in time for work. So let’s start again:
4. Bizarrely on this occasion when I went to book a return it only gave me one window to complete (as though I wanted a single) – I suspect this is a minor bug because I returned to the booking page from within the programme. Anyhow I enter my details having hit refresh to fix that.
5. This is what happens if you pick by train – the only indication of what fare is available is the feint grey line around the box – none of the pink colouring used earlier, and it’s not easy to spot.
6. This was the screen once I’d checked out – this is really just to draw attention to the overlapping frames, minor, but again not the sleek experience I’d hope for.
All of this is intended as feedback for First Great Western because I don’t think it’s possible to make clear in a tweet. At this rate I may just go back to the other provider, depending on whether my feedback is acted upon, a gauntlet thrown down by @JamesMB.
Ollie who was on the @FGW twitter account was awesome, and James was quick to acknowledge how good he is too, so let’s see if the rest of FGW respond with the same customer facing skills. Watch this space, I’ll keep you posted!
It’s 101 days since Dad died today, I’d been thinking about this (non)-anniversary all week and was fully aware of it yesterday but couldn’t bring myself to concentrate long enough to write this post then. I’m confident Dad would appreciate the quirk of it being 101 days anyhow. So I’m going to keep this short (I tried…it didn’t work, sorry) but share some of my reflections on life after Bobby. I did a few posts in the immediate weeks following Dad’s death, one after a month and another after two months, but I’m hoping the passage of time will make this one slightly more considered and reflective.
It seems that the normal timescales for grief and grieving suggest that we should all be a little raw still, given how soon it is since Dad died. I’m not claiming I’m out the woods, but mostly I feel like I’m doing ok. The grief is there but it’s almost like a washed pebble, it’s like a lump that’s present around and within me, but it’s by no means raw and jagged. I wonder if part of that is because we had so long to come to terms with Dad’s illness, I’m confident part was due to the amazing support from the Rowcroft Hospice team when he was dying – it was almost like our grieving started when they arrived in with us, and they were phenomenal in that regard.
Don’t get me wrong, I do miss Dad, there are loads of occasions where I’m stopped in my tracks at my sense of missing him. I’ve had an almost visceral response on a handful of occasions, the most recent was when I was strolling around the Vasa Museum and I was thinking how much Dad would like it, it hit me like a ten foot wave, Dad would *have* liked it; past tense. I thought I was alright with that until I turned to remark aloud Dad would have liked this and the words stuck in the back of my throat, hard to form without an extra gulp of air or two.
On the plus side I’ve learnt that it is possible for anyone, even me, to cry Cheryl Cole tears. You know what I mean, simple beautiful diamond tears cascading down a cheek and deftly caught in a tissue, as opposed to the full on, red bloated face, tear avalanche accompanied by full on shoulder shakes that was the hallmark of my grief in the very early days. It’s not so much a learnt behaviour, more a necessity. If you find yourself thinking of someone you’re missing on public transport (I’ve learnt I do a lot of my thinking on trains) the you can’t afford to make a spectacle of yourself!
When Dad died I changed my facebook profile pic to one of him holding me as a baby. It was in some way a marker and virtual acknowledgement of the role he’d played in my upbringing, but on a very factual level it also served as an alert. Most of my friends knew Dad had been ill for some time but I hadn’t actually told many he was dying so having a new avatar meant people looked and very soon found out that Dad had died – this cut back on my need to contact people and let them know individually. In addition Dad had an epic beard which was an awesome talking point. Here, take a look it was this photo:
The avatar was also a bit of a comfort for me over the past 100 days. Every time I looked at it I’d smile at Dad’s beard as a starter, but also at the memory of his chest! I spent hours looking at his chest the week that he died, he’d take every opportunity to get his chest out in the sun, famously stringing an extension line into the garden so he could iron in his shorts in the summer (once a matelot always a matelot). One of the advantages of him being at home was that he didn’t have to wear full on PJs as he would have felt obliged to do in hospital, so that chest is scorched in my memory, in a good way.
What has that got to do with moving on. Well this weekend, encouraged by a throw away comment on twitter and a new hair do, I changed my avatar back to a photo of me. I’d been wanting a reason to do it for a wee while, I didn’t want to change it too soon and I was worried that I’d feel like I was erasing Dad in some way or moving on to quickly, but hell it’s what he’d have wanted and my barnet won’t look this good for long, so it’s back to me!
One of the joys of Dad’s death and dying has been the excuse to reminisce and share stories. There have been lots of words about Dad over the past 100 days and I’ve caught myself occasionally glossing over the bad bits and just focusing on the good, turning Dad into an almost virtual saint! Anyone who knew my Dad would laugh at that, he was all manner of goodness and had a true heart of gold and would give anyone his last penny, but he wasn’t no saint. Catching up with Mum this weekend it felt good to acknowledge as much, to discuss the good but also some of the more irritating or less favourable bits.
The most striking bit for me is the sense of freedom I feel now Dad has died. It’s not that I actually think Dad would have judged me, all he ever asked was for us to be happy, and yet in some way we didn’t often see the world in the same way. We were quite different people and I maybe it’s completely natural for all children to want to please their parents, but it feels a relief to know there is only one left to have to please! I guess this is wrapped up with a growing realisation of how full-on and demanding Dad’s illness was at times over the past five or six years, not to mention how demanding my relationship with work had grown (I quit my job in September, just before Dad’s health seriously declined and was working my notice period when he died).
It certainly feels good to be free of some of those residual pressures, and it similarly feels good to speak freely of them.
Getting back on the social media donkey
When Dad was dying I received a lot of support via social media, it helped me no end to know that people hadn’t forgotten about me, despite my absence. I lurked occasionally, ignored it a lot and really questioned how futile a lot of the interactions were once I returned. It felt like everyone was moaning on and being negative, and the last thing I needed was negativity in my life. I worked hard to stay patient with it, to remember that it’s not all about me, to respond to the virtual invitations and connections offered, and to force myself back into a space that has provided me such support over the past few years.
I keep using the analogy of learning to swim with social media – you can’t really ever understand it, get it, or do it until you jump into the water. You can read, you can watch, you can study, you can question, but until you get in the water you won’t fully experience what it has to offer. When Dad was dying I spent a lot of time at the edge of the virtual pool and it took an immense effort to trust myself to dive back in and commit to it, it would have been easier to just stay close to the edge, or to give it a little time but then walk away, after all a lot of the interaction was so futile.
Yet it’s not, it might look like it is from the edge, but the very real and genuine connections and support I’ve received from a number of different people has reignited the value of social media for me, and I’m back there swimming lengths with the best of them….now if only that would translate to an actual swimming bath
Finally I wanted to reflect on the future. I’ve been really keen to raise awareness of the fantastic support we received from our local hospice, Rowcroft, and particularly their Hospice at Home service. To that end an extract from one of my blog posts features in their latest newsletter and on their website. I hope that by sharing our experience people will realise what is available to them, will find comfort and hope for what may lay ahead for them, and members of the local community may even dig into their pockets and provide some monetary support.
I’ve also been taking the time after Dad’s death to consider my own future and what it might look like. I’ve created a Pinterest board titled Work Less, Live More that includes my quasi bucket/to-do list. Take a look and let me know if you want to join me on any of the activities and please do feel free to suggest others.
101 days without Dad has sharpened my focus and enabled me to address issues of balance in my life. I’ve not felt as optimistic about life, or as creative or energised for a long time. Life will never be the same, but I have no intention of ‘getting over it’, rather living with his memory and tuning in occasionally to his voice in my ear, encouraging me to stretch myself, take risks and enjoy life to the full. I’m finally learning to Let it Go.
I tweeted today that it was my three year blogging anniversary and Sarah Carr sent this tweet:
140 characters would not suffice for such a question so this blog post is for Sarah, and anyone else who is interested. I hope you find it useful and I’d welcome your feedback, comments and own suggestions.
1. There are no rules
It’s your blog so you make the rules. There are scores of articles out there about how and what to blog, about what will get the most attention, but I think it’s a very personal choice. Why you blog and who you are aiming your blog at are very personal choices. In the spirit of top tip number one, what follows are suggestions, ideas and thoughts – they’re straw men that I’ve put up hoping people will debate, engage with, pull apart and disagree with. I’m not saying this is how, or why, anyone should blog, I’m just offering a few pointers as a starter for ten. Blogging is a bit like swimming, you won’t really get it until you jump in the pool and give it a go.
2. Ask yourself why
If you are thinking of starting blogging consider why. I’d suggest that the best reason is because you want to and the absolute worse are because you think you should, or someone has told you to, or you’re worried that you’re missing out. In my opinion you are missing out, but that in itself is not reason to start! My blog is a personal mish mash of thoughts, ideas and experiences. I blog about anything that takes my fancy so it is a very mixed bag. That seems to work, a lot of my visitors are one offs, I don’t really have a regular readership although 35 people are subscribed to my blog so someone somewhere must be interested.
3. Blogging should be a pleasure and not a chore
This is one of the biggest mistakes I see people new to blogging make, and I suspect that is why there are so many blogs out there with only two or three posts. Take the pressure off, now, stop viewing it as a task that needs done and consider it as a pleasure. I try to treat my blog as an online repository of what has interested me or intrigued me. It is not something I feel that I *must* do. When I started out I felt obliged to blog regularly, and arguably it’s a good habit to get into, but if i felt I had to blog every week it would remove the pleasure of it for me. Horses for courses so to speak (not a burger reference), if routine and structure works for you then by all means schedule your blogging, but personally I much prefer blogging when I feel like it.
4. Try not to overthink it
An extension of the last point really, and one that is much harder to do than suggest. My preference is for blog posts that offer a view, usually with some sort of base in evidence (or occasionally anecdote). I like it when bloggers cite their sources so I can trace back and get more information if I want it. That said my personal preference is that a blog post isn’t written like an academic paper or a formal report. I want it to be an easy read and so when I’m blogging I try to bear this in mind and I try to keep my own posts suitably light, while providing additional information if I can.
Most people write to be read. Tagging helps with this enormously because it allows search engines to find your content and send people your way.
6. Images and visuals
I always try to include at least one image or visual in each of my posts. Again this is personal preference I’m a visual learner and aesthetics are important to me, so I try to include images where possible. Since I’ve been blogging I find myself engaging with visuals far more, I take more photos and sometimes spot things and go out of my way to capture it because I know it will come in useful to illustrate a blog post at some stage. With the rise of Pinterest and Scoopit and other platforms that curate content with an emphasis on visuals, this need is probably a growing one.
7. The platform is not as important as the content
I don’t know much about this to be honest. I started blogging with WordPress and have found it straight forward and easy to use, so I have stayed with them. I’m not sure that the platform is as important as the content although I suspect people who blog for more professional reasons or to make money from it will have a different view? Hopefully this one will get picked up in the comments.
8. Remember once it’s out there it’s there for an eternity
Possibly an obvious one this one but if you put something on the internet it stays there, even if you delete it. Basic rules, mind your manners, don’t blog anything unless you’re happy for your mum and/or your boss to read it. Think before you hit publish.
9. Engage, engage, engage without over promoting
This is the crux of it for me. I blog so that I can share an experience, thought or idea, but the real value comes from the discussion or engagement with it. So I really *really* welcome comments and links back to my blog. I always try to cross reference and link people to other people’s content and blog posts too. That said, there is nothing worse than someone who is constantly shouting about their new blog posts. It’s a hard balance to hit and one that is important – you want the world to know you’ve blogged, because you want engagement and discussion, but you don’t want to be one of those people who is always self-promoting. Well maybe you do, in which case tip number one – it’s your shout, there are no rules; but if you don’t then maybe tweet your blog post when it’s first available, and then I have a rule of three, I never tweet about the same post more than three times – even if I know I’d appreciate input from people. I just hope that it will come to their attention.
10. Start thinking like a blogger and enjoy it
This is an extension of the point in tip six, in the same way that I wander through life now with an increased awareness of images that would support a blog post, I’m also always subconsciously tuned into look for content that would form the basis of a good post. An article, report, video or tweet that I think would warrant more attention. I have a massive long list of blog posts that I may one day get around to writing because of this, but I really have learnt to live tip three, so I’ll get there eventually and if I don’t the world wont stop turning. The absolute most important thing for me is to enjoy blogging, the connections I make and the discussion it promotes.
So on that note…..I’d love your comments and thoughts.
When someone is told (or they decide) that their time is limited, at somewhere or something, I’ve observed an almost primal attempt to do more, fit more in, go further or faster, squeeze maximum effort into the remaining time; that or an almost instantaneous acceptance that time is limited so there’s not much point trying now, accompanied by an inevitable decline in performance/enjoyment/participation*.
One of my most recent personal examples of this was when I decided to quit my job. I had a three month notice period, within that time there was leave to use up and in the end some compassionate leave, but when I resigned I had anticipated, and seemingly most other people had also anticipated, that I would feel an instantaneous relief, that the pressure would fall off and life would gradually return to a more balanced state over the following three months. As it happened my Dad died during that period as well, so I’m well aware that brings it’s own pressures but I quit some months before that and the work pressure didn’t fall off instantly as I’d naively hoped. I’ve been thinking about this period a lot and it seems to me that at the point I resigned, the pressure started to climb (from a level that was already demanding more than I’d routinely hope to give to work, and had done for some time), before reaching a newer, higher peak and then what would have normally been followed by a decline was replaced by more important matters, for me at least, of my Dad’s death.
The simple fact was as soon as my time was limited not only did I attempt to perform most of the duties I’d already been doing (granted I relinquished a few but my workload did not drop considerably at the point I resigned). I tried to finish others that had sat out of reach for some time, I prepared handover and context notes, I met with people who needed reassurance/confidence in the future, I negotiated, brokered and contributed to new business and new bids. I did all of this while trying to support a staff group who were perhaps unsurprisingly delighted for me personally, but with some reservations of the impact for them, and I also wanted to give my time and attention to an exit interview process to ensure learning was captured for other colleagues/the organisation’s benefit. So the pressure and demands just kept growing.
I think I was unlucky in the timings in some way, that I didn’t get to also experience the gradual winding up process, instead that was replaced by family business. I cleared my office out one weekend shortly after Dad’s funeral and then took some time out for a holiday before Christmas. I’ll do more holiday posts in due course and Christmas probably deserves a post of it’s own. It wasn’t a bad one, and I’m not the world’s biggest Christmas fan at the best of times, but there was definitely a Dad, and Grandad shaped hole left since last year. A subtle, but constant reminder, that life is short and our time is limited.
So what I hear you ask. I’ve been so lucky with the support I’ve received from my friends and family, in real life and on social media. I can’t tell you how supported I’ve felt by the contact, the tweets, DMs, messages, the cups of tea, the promises of cake – the people who have not ran in the other direction but have stayed put and gently encouraged me to (re-)engage with life. My blogging has suffered over the last few weeks, I’ve just not been feeling the love for it, or for twitter; two avenues for my energy that have always felt so positive in the past. I think part of the challenge is that I was brought us along the lines that if you couldn’t say anything positive, you shouldn’t say anything at all….and I’ve not really been feeling the positivity (yet). I’ve also not been seeing too much positivity in my twitterstream, lots of people moaning and complaining about life/politics/each other/new business/old business/health/religion/anything else you can mention.
Overall I guess I’ve been feeling a residual pressure, like I’m on high alert. I’ve discussed with a few people the cumulative effect of stress and pressure, from work and my family situation, and the impact that has on your performance and health over time. I’ve spent quite a bit of energy trying to understand where I’m at, I’ve felt quite directionless, lacking drive or energy for most things. Until yesterday, when I fell upon my latest theory, the one at the top of the page about time being limited and it’s impact on performance (and perhaps preference). If my theory re work is in anyway accurate (and let’s be clear it’s my theory scribbled on the back of an envelope, and isn’t very subjective at all), but indulge me, if we go with it then I wonder whether the last few weeks have been my self trying to re-establish an equilibrium. They’ve been about recovery, and regrouping, and observing and identifying what it is, or where it is, that I wish to put my energies next. Almost to be expected really, so I’ve no idea why it’s so surprising.
There were a few catalysts this weekend to remember that time is limited, and that this is no dress rehearsal. There were three articles/blog posts that stopped me in my tracks:
1) Crossword master Araucaria reveals in puzzle that he is dying of cancer - I don’t even do crosswords, I struggle on easy ones never mind cryptic, but as I sat yesterday reading the comments on this article I couldn’t help but feel that what really matters in life is what you give, and you might never know what that is. I’m sure that the Rev John Graham knew he had a talent, and knew he had a fan base, but I very much doubt that he knew before his announcement the way in which he had touched so many people’s lives and given such pleasure.
2) Back for Good from Helen Fawkes – I’ve followed Helen’s journey with cancer for some time now, this is her third diagnosis and she writes an incredibly humbling blog sharing the news and ends with the following I know how I’m probably going to die and roughly when it’ll happen. It’s weird having a likely expiration date. I really hope my Best Before is at least 2023. But you know it’s not the years in your life that matter; it’s the life in your years. Once I have my affairs in order I’m not going to dwell on the dying, I will soon have a new list and a whole lot more living to do.
3) Sad News – Alice Pyne became an online sensation when she wrote her bucket list when she was diagnosed with terminal cancer and started raising money for charity. Her mum wrote yesterday: Our darling girl, Alice, gained her angel wings today. She passed away peacefully with Simon, Milly and myself by her side. We are devastated and know that our lives will never again be the same, Vicky. 12 January 2013 #nightnightAlice
All of these reminded me that life, and our time, is limited. Why should we wait until we are told we are likely to die to think about how to spend our lives. Why do we get so readily seduced into thinking that life is what we squeeze into weekends or holidays. Number one priority on Alice’s bucket list was to get people to join a bone marrow register, I’m already on it, if you are healthy and wish to join to you can go here and get a spit pack sent to register, simples.
Alice’s second priority was for everyone to have a bucket list. I’m working on it, going to give it some more thought and start compiling. After all, we all have one life, if ever I was aware of that it’s now. I feel like I’ve an opportunity to consider really what I’d like to achieve/see/do and start doing it now. Watch this space….all suggestions very welcome!
* This theory may fall short on a number of occasions, such as when exercising or studying – however once the finish line is in sight, nearly every half marathon/10k runner/undergraduate/teenager I’ve ever seen picks up the pace for the absolute final burst
Pick what you’re interested in…
- @jaxrafferty was checking in before disappearing for some shut eye, you got lucky ;) @mattplaysdrum @NotSureJustYet tweeted 1 hour ago
- @mattplaysdrum hi Matt, sorry to hear about yr Dad....gd luck on Fri, post @jaxrafferty mentioned wp.me/pOLqj-Gw cc @NotSureJustYet tweeted 1 hour ago
- Postcards To Josh Postcards to Josh was the brainwave of his good friend Victoria Trow. Victoria cr pinterest.com/pin/3575436578… tweeted 2 hours ago
- @clare_horton will give you a shout before I visit and maybe we could grab coffee together if you've not been already? tweeted 3 hours ago
- @clare_horton now that is a *great* question :-D Don't know but will have to find out... tweeted 3 hours ago
- @PublicInvolve @trishgreenhalgh I'd be disappointed if he knew tbh!! My post from yday might explain why a little georgejulian.co.uk/?p=467 tweeted 3 hours ago
- December 2013
- November 2013
- October 2013
- September 2013
- August 2013
- July 2013
- June 2013
- May 2013
- April 2013
- March 2013
- February 2013
- January 2013
- December 2012
- November 2012
- October 2012
- September 2012
- August 2012
- July 2012
- June 2012
- May 2012
- April 2012
- March 2012
- February 2012
- January 2012
- December 2011
- November 2011
- October 2011
- September 2011
- August 2011
- July 2011
- June 2011
- May 2011
- April 2011
- March 2011
- February 2011
- January 2011
- November 2010
- October 2010
- September 2010
- August 2010
- July 2010
- June 2010
- May 2010
- April 2010
- March 2010