Friday, 2 December 2011

A lesson in how not to sell courtesy of a lady who said she was from BT

Had a really curious call this afternoon from a lady who said she was from BT. We use BT as our broadband provider and she said that she was calling to offer us a deal on the new BT Infinity service which it appears is now available in our area. Problem 1 was that the place where she was calling from was so noisy that it was difficult to hear what she was saying over the background hubbub. Then she started to ask me questions about which calling plan I was on, whether I made many calls during the day or whether I mainly used the phone in the evening. In other words she was asking me to describe in BT's product language what my service was. Stuck me that this is asking quite a lot of your customers - much better I would think to talk to them in their language rather than yours. I expressed surprise that having phoned me she didn't have such details to hand. At this point she cited the data protection act as the reason why she couldn't know which service I had, my calling profile etc! Most odd. Companies clearly can know about their customers and have discussions with them about their service/ account etc so I'm left a bit bemused as to why she would have been told the root problem was the data protection act. At this point part of me even began to question whether she was indeed from BT but in any event it seemed like a good time to say goodbye and return to playing a game of Rameses' Pyramid with my daughters.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

It's not always about leadership

I recently came across this video on YouTube which suggests that we shouldn't neglect the importance of the "first follower" in the success of a movement or change. I like the idea that it's not always about leadership but that people being willing to step forward and be the first follower are also key. We tend to focus a lot of learning on "Leadership" and this video has made me wonder if perhaps there shouldn't be more on "following" as well. As they put it so eloquently in the video ...."When you find a lone nut doing something great have the guts to be the first person to stand up and join in." How many times in an organisation do we recognise and reward these key "first followers"? I suspect the answer is - not enough.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

My first Geocaching Travel Bug

I was recently over in America visiting IBM's Learning Centre in Armonk (New York State).   I stayed one night at the Holiday Inn Express in Fishkill and visited the geocache  in the Van Wyke Homestead Van Wyke Homestead, Fishkill
where I found Sparky the travel bug. Sparky

 Sparky and his cache

Sparky was keen to travel around and see National Parks so I thought he could come back with me and see some of the lovely National Parks in the UK.

Sparky at Newark Airport
So he joined me on a British Airways flight back from Newark to Heathrow Sparky flying from Newark to LHR

Last week we tried to place him in a cache but it turned out to be a bit small and damp - definitely not the quality of accommodation that Sparky had become used to on his travels so far.  Today however we headed up onto Twyford Down and the "Bear Necessities of Life" Cache where he will have the company of lots of bears until he moves on to his next destination.  Sparky joins Cache GCQFR5

I've subscribed to his profile and will now watch with great interest to see where he gets to next.

Bye bye Sparky - it was good having you stay with us :-)

Sparky making new friends before continuing on his travels

Sunday, 7 August 2011

New Wine - Central and South West #NWCSW11

Today has been a day of unpacking, sorting, putting away etc following a fantastic week at this year's New Wine Conference - which marked for us a decade of attending this annual event.

I spent the week working as part of the medical team - one of the 1000+ volunteers who work on various teams to make the event happen.  Overall attendance at the event was probably somewhere over 12,000 people!

I had worked as a first aider on the medical team 2 years ago and it was great to catch up with some familiar faces and meet some new people this year.  The team is mix of first aiders, nurses, paramedics, doctors who come together to pool their experience and provide medical cover for the event.

The New Wine CSW event is held at the Royal Bath and West Showground near Shepton Mallet and it is a sobering thought that the number of people attending probably comfortably exceeds the local population. Clearly, were the delegates to try and access the existing healthcare provision in the area it would be swamped so the aim of the medical team is to provide a wide range of care while people are at the event.  This results in a medical centre on site that is a cross between First Aid room, GP Surgery and A&E Department which makes for a very interesting mix.

As a First Aider I clearly lack the depth of medical skill and knowledge of the professionals on the team but  none the less it was an intensely satisfying experience and an opportunity to use some of the limited skills I do have and gain some new ones.  It's also true that medical skills aren't always what's needed.  For example, being by the main door and welcoming people into the medical centre, finding out why they've come, capturing the right information and arranging for them to be triaged by one of the nurses.

At last year's New Wine I decided to set myself the target of reading through all 66 books of the Bible over the next year.   I found a reading plan  that nicely themed each day of the week and set about following that - I'm delighted to report that I finished the task on the first day of this year's New Wine :-)

I think this was the first New Wine where I've seen a Twitter hashtag advertised - #NWCSW11.  Setting up a quick search on Twitter enabled me to see a range of posts from people at the event which was great.  Also led me to a blog which has a good mix of entries that capture some of the essence of the event.

As ever it was a great, enjoyable, spirit filled and uplifting week - hard to imagine that we won't be back next year.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Leadership & Governance - Making an Impact

Last Friday I attended the Hampshire Local Conference for school governors at Winchester's Holiday Inn Hotel. The audience was a mix of primary school and secondary school governors with me and my fellow secondary governors definitely in the minority.

The Deputy Director of Children's services opened the meeting with some comments relating to the county's interaction and support of schools plus some thoughts on key challenges and priorities for the future,

The rest of the day was given over to Liz Cross who talked on the wide ranging topic of  "Leading in Challenging & Changing Times".

Liz is a founding partner in The Connectives and their website says that she is "known for bringing real break through thinking and fresh energy in her strategic work with organisations across voluntary, private and public sectors." and on the basis of what she delivered at the conference I can well believe that this is true.

Drawing on her extensive personal experience in governance she took us through considerations of the political, social and economic challenges facing governors; some models of leadership; considerations of different leadership styles and their impact; influence models; approaches to measurement and much more.

A big recurring theme through the day was the importance of partnerships and thinking more broadly than just the school gates.   Students only spend a comparatively small percentage of their waking hours in school and a lot of what happens outside school hours will influence their educational achievement.   Challenging question then is what are we doing as governors to drive increased partnership with other organisations that could help to deliver stronger outcomes?

There was much to take from the day but for me a few of the key points were :-

Importance of not getting distracted by other people's agendas and keep focused on what matters. In the midst of a discussion on another circular on a topic you didn't know you needed to know about it can be difficult to keep that focus on strategic outcomes we desire.

Everything you do has an impact and need to consider how to get the best out of people not write them off. Martin Luther King's famous speech "I have a dream" didn't then go on to say but I'm worried the rest of you aren't up to it!  Rather it sold a vision and invited people to be part of it.  In all of our interactions as governors we need to find opportunities to build up those we interact with - be they staff, pupils or other governors. Find something positive to say and you can have a real impact.  Nice quote from Rosamund Stone Zander "When leadership is defined not as a position you hold, but as a way of being, you discover you can lead from where ever you are." Don't underestimate the power we have to influence one child, one conversation, one community at a time.

The ability to keep on learning is key - what are we doing to ensure that the school turns out children who can continue to acquire skills and knowledge over the rest of their lives?  What do we think the world is going to be like in the future and are we preparing our children for it adequately?

Are we spending time discussing the right things?  What items get discussed with the governing body and which items are just acted on by the school's leaders?  Do we spend time talking about the decisions where it is clear that there is only one real option or do we spend time on the 49/51 decisions that are more finely balanced.   When there is no other choice why do we spend time discussing it?
When facing a big decision do we consider in what way it helps or hinders the attainment of the vision we have for the school?

Discussion on the question of whether it's a good idea to have students on the governing body. Why not have election at the end of the year to choose a couple of students from the top year group who will come back next year and be part of the governing body. Doing this removes challenge of having them take part in decisions that affect them directly (ie as current pupils) but at the same time capitalises on their recent experience as a "user of the service".

All in all a very good day with lots of thought provoking discussion.   If you you are a governor and ever find yourself invited to an event where Liz is speaking I'd encourage you to go - I don't think you'll regret it.

Monday, 6 June 2011

TEDx Oxbridge

On Saturday I attended TEDx Oxbridge which was being hosted at the Said Business School in Oxford.

Registration from 8:15am made for an unusually early, but completely worth it, start to my Saturday - not as early though as the group attending from Cambridge.

The wide ranging talks were split into 4 sets each of around 90 minutes. Between the sessions there was plenty of time to mingle and talk with the other attendees.  A drinks reception, dinner in local restaurant and after event party at Oxford Town Hall provided even more scope for conversation.  (As an aside I wasn't sure that I'd been to the town hall before but when we got there I recognised it as the location for an inter college Ballroom dancing competition that I took part in almost exactly 25 years previously !).

TED itself is a nonprofit organisation devoted to "Ideas Worth Spreading".   I can't recommend too highly spending time on their website viewing some of the TEDTalks.   The TEDx label signifies a locally arranged event run under licence from TED.   Living up to the quality and breadth of topics that get covered in a TED conference was going to be a tough challenge for the TEDx organisers but they did a fantastic job and the range of topics covered was absolutely huge.

I have quite a few notes from the day and links that I want to go and investigate further - hopefully a few more blog posts will follow in due course.   In the meantime if you want to get a flavour of the day you could have a look at the @tedxoxbridge stream on Twitter or just search for the #tedxoxb hashtag.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Manchester Business School's "Dean's Dinner"

Yesterday evening I had the great pleasure of attending a "Dean's Dinner" event in London.

The event was organised by the Manchester Business School and was hosted by De Vere's at their rather impressive Holborn Bars location, formerly the home of Prudential Insurance.

The event brought together about a dozen people from a range of organisations with a shared interest in Leadership Development.

Over the course of a very tasty dinner we got to chat and then listen to our "Provocateur" for the evening - Prof Chris Bones who is Professor of Creativity and Leadership at Manchester Business School and former Dean of the Henley Business School.

In a talk that focused more on asking questions to get us thinking than providing prescriptive solutions he highlighted some of the challenges he sees with leadership, especially in large organisations.   He has recently published a book "The Cult of the Leader : a Manifesto for more authentic business" on this area in which he describes the problems and identifies areas for change that will be needed.  I think I can safely say that I have never previously heard L'Oreal, Mary Poppins, Dumbledore and Peter Drucker all get a mention in the same talk.

After some time for general discussion on the issues raised it was time to say goodbye and head for home - and in my case the mystery of why the 22:39 train from Waterloo was so full.   Clearly it was reasonable for me to be traveling at that hour but what was everyone else doing there :-)  One-off or always that full I wonder?

All in all a great evening, met some new people (and reconnected with someone who used to work for IBM but who I'd not seen in many years) and heard some new ideas/ broadened my thinking on leadership development.

My thanks to Manchester Business school for the invite, De Vere for hosting it and Prof Bones for the talk.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

The puzzling economics of Friends

My daughters have discovered Friends so I have recently had cause to buy some DVD sets from ebay to feed the new habit.

I'm puzzled by the economics of the transactions.

So far I've bought 3 series on DVDs paying total prices between £2.20 and £2.90

Thing is that posting a DVD set second class mail costs £2.16....

If you also allow for ebay and paypal fees then my back of envelope calculations suggest that the people selling the DVDs are effectively paying me to take them (and that's without allowing for costs of packaging materials, time, travel to a post office etc...).  The figures aren't large - just a few tens of pence but surely if you were selling something you'd be looking for a positive number.

Given that ebay allows you to specify the start price for the auction and set P&P fees and the actual postage costs are predictable I'm left bemused as to why this is happening?

Wouldn't the rational economic approach be to price them at a level that at least ensured your direct costs were covered?  If it doesn't sell then give them to a charity shop and save yourself the cost of paying someone else to have them.....

Most odd....

Friday, 13 May 2011

2011 Christian Resources Exhibition

Today I headed up to Sandown Park and the 2011 CRE event.   It's a couple of years since I was last there and fancied the chance to wander round the stands and see what was on offer.

I had hoped I might find some companies talking about accounting software for church accounts but sadly nobody was.

The "prize" for most surprising item goes to Cross Designs for their men's clerical hoodie .... and the single most potentially useful find was an organisation called 2buy2 who look like they might be able to reduce some of the church's purchasing costs which would be welcomed.

I had my lunch sitting on the terrace outside the royal box courtesy of The Bible Society - to whom thanks also for the much welcomed cup of coffee and cake.  The visibility was very good and could see a very long way (possibly as far as 20 miles as could see some towers in Canary Wharf) though the distinctive arch of Wembley Stadium did have a disconcerting habit of disappearing and then reappearing as the clouds / haze changed.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

"The Extraordinary Coach" by J Zenger & K Stinnett

Through work I recently had the chance to listen to Kathleen Stinnett talk about coaching so I thought I'd get hold of her book ( The Extraordinary Coach - How the best Leaders help Others Grow) and read it.

I'm glad I did.

In a foreward to the book Marshall Goldsmith writes "Read it, devour it, practice it, and you, too, will be an extraordinary coach!"  Having read the book this certainly feels credible.

They introduce some research that suggests there could be many benefits to leaders being better coaches including reduced employee attrition rates and greater engagement.   Given I'm a keen follower of BBC Radio 4's "More or Less" the authors get a bonus mark from me when they explicitly draw a distinction between correlation and causality at the start of Chapter 3 by saying "..the fact that things are correlated does not prove that one causes the other.  It only proves that there is some strong connection between them."

The core of the book is the introduction of the FUEL coaching framework -

  • Frame the conversation
  • Understand the current state
  • Explore the desired state
  • Lay out the success plan
In detailed chapters on each element they provide concrete examples of the sorts of questions the coach can ask to guide the conversation through each of the phases.

In a nice additional touch they provide access to some further resources including videos, at

The book is easy to read and has a very practical focus being full of ideas and suggestions that can easily be implemented.  It has already had a positive impact on some conversations I have had since reading it - I feel a long way short of the "Outstanding Coach" title but hopefully further down that route as a result of reading and reflecting on this book.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

First attempt at Geocaching

I first heard about geocaching some years ago - now that I have some suitable equipment in the shape of an iPhone I've been meaning to give it a go.

Looking on I found that there were numerous sites near us so we downloaded their iphone app and headed out, iphone in hand, this afternoon to find one not too far from us.

The app uses a compass image to give a rather nice direction and distance indication on the screen.  This got us to the right area and here the search began.   We knew we were looking for a "magnetic nano" but other than the expectation that this would mean it was attached to something metallic we had no idea what we were searching for.

Initial searching didn't yield anything but after a while we found it and discovered that nano does mean rather small.  However, despite its small size, it contained a tickertape style pice of paper on which to log your visit.  We left our mark (first people to do so in 2011) and then returned it to its hiding place.

Great fun, despite the rain, think we may well have a go at some of the other ones in the area now.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Bible in a year

Last August I decided to embark on a 52 week bible reading plan that should see me read all 66 books over the course of a year.

I looked around at a number of different plans and in the end opted for one by Michael Coley (  I liked the way he had split the task down based on the different sorts of books that make up the bible.   Sunday is spent on Epistles, Monday covers The Law, Tuesday looks at History, Wednesday is devoted to Psalms, Thursday brings poetry, Friday is for Prophecy and Saturday brings the week to a close with the Gospels.   This does result in a slightly uneven split of reading volume through the week from a couple of psalms on Wednesday to typically 5 chapters of History or Prophecy on Tuesday/Friday.  The upside though is that you get a variety of style and content during the week.

Yesterday marked the end of week 26 and hence the half way point on the journey.   So how am I doing?  Well, I am a few days behind schedule but pleased with the progress.  I've completed 20 books (Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Genesis, Exodus, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, Ezra, Job,  Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Daniel, Matthew and Mark.   The biblical scholars amongst you will no doubt have immediately spotted that Ezra and Daniel are out of sequence and shouldn't have been covered yet - these were covered by some normal daily reading notes I was following in addition to the bible in a year plan.

I like the way that the discipline of working steadily through the books is ensuring that I read all of them rather than just the more familiar passages.   I'm confident come August I'll have completed the remaining 46 books.

Today's passage from Philippians beckons so I'd best click on "publish" and go complete book number 21.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Death, love, courage and hope

This afternoon I attended the funeral of a lady that I have known through church for many years.

The love and respect in which Anne is held is well illustrated by the fact that this was the 2nd of 3 planned services.  There had already been a cremation service last week.  Today's funeral/interment service was held in St Catherine's church which she had attended for many years.  In a few weeks the 3rd service, a celebration of her life, will be held in Winchester Cathedral - the fact that it is being held in the cathedral again speaks to the number of people whose lives she has touched.

I always knew that she did a lot but it is still a surprise when you hear everything talked about at once in the address.  As someone put it - she was the epitome of the saying that if you want something done you should give it to a busy person.  Be it in the church, choirs, school or community Anne could be found taking an active role and making a difference.

She certainly fitted a lot into her life and was a blessing to many people.  One of the speakers at the service suggested that all of the congregation should find something we could do to help others - as he put it this would be more "pay forward" than "pay back" for all we had received from Anne over the years.  He certainly felt this would be a legacy she'd be pleased with.  We may already be busy doing things but in a way that would make it all the more apt for us to do something else.

Having just completed the annual appraisal process at work, with its focus on just 12 short months of impact, today's service has reminded me of the importance of stepping back and looking at the longer term and considering what our own legacy will be.   I was also reminded of a film I saw some years ago ( might have been "Death becomes Her") where 2 of the characters are seeking to live forever by taking a magical elixir.   The husband however refuses to take the potion - arguing that even though his mortal life will finish he will live forever though his family and through the impact that he has had on people's lives.

Over the years I've read a lot of articles/books/etc which talk about the importance and power of a positive attitude.  This is another area where Anne provided us with a great example to follow.  She has spent that last few years battling with cancer but though it all retained a positive outlook and a focus on what she could achieve.

There will be rejoicing in heaven but she will be sadly missed by those she leaves behind.  On earth she will live on through her powerful and wide reaching legacy that was encapsulated today in a eulogy to be proud of.  RIP Anne.

Monday, 17 January 2011

IBM Prize for Mathematics

This evening it was my privilege to present the inaugural IBM Prize for Mathematics at Oxford University which is awarded for the top performance in the Honour Moderations exams at the end of 1st year.

The evening started with a talk on the mathematics of bell ringing (think church rather than door or hand) from the retired head of mathematics at GCHQ.   I followed this with a short overview of IBM and why we are interested in mathematics graduates before presenting the winners with their certificates.

Sitting in the lecture room was an interesting reminder of attending lectures over 20 years ago when I was doing my own degree.  The room was much the same but I did notice the seats had been reupholstered and the blackboards have been replaced by whiteboards.

After the talks the other speaker and I were taken to Christ Church College for dinner which was very good.  Hall is impressive even without the floating candles I was sure it had when I saw it a film a while back....

Over coffee after dinner the conversation ranged over sculpture, ancient Greek manuscripts (Epic and poetry), Greek mathematicians, trisecting angles, Euclid, von Neuman, and all points in between :-)