Why your insignificance matters, speak up, act.

This week on hbr.org blogs there is a short post  referencing  a high school commencement speech that went viral in The US a week or so ago. The speaker tells the class that they are not special, in an amusing, wise and still inspirational way.

You can find it here Hbr.org  In it, Sarah Green makes reference to another much older commencement speech I had not read before today. I won’t publish the two links here because they deserve to be read within the context of her “get to work” article.

I had not read or heard of  the older one by John Chapman until I read that blog post this morning. Why would I, I am a Brit and we didn’t do commencement speeches or graduation from school. I just walked out of the door on the day of the last public exam happy in the knowledge I would never have to return there again.

I think we missed a trick, maybe it happens now.

Stirred on by her quoting the final few words I followed the link and read.  Simple, unambiguous.

Speak UP.

It is a hard argument to balance.  We learn early that discretion is the better part of valour.  We learn to weigh that up against not being silent when you can see something that is not right.  We wait for others to speak because they know better, are better connected, perhaps are braver ( you think?) . Then there is the exhaustion angle, sometimes if you have been speaking up it becomes tiresome for others and tiring for yourself. What to do then? The classic/biblical when to speak and when to be silent dilemma.

Who are you to question? What is your significance,why should your opinion count?

What does it feel like to remain silent when you should have said something? I bet you can think of occasions looking back when you wished you had found the words, any words, to say something. Say Something.

It doesn’t have to be about a hugely significant thing, though it is easy here to think of Martin Niemöller

and his poem:

First they came for the communists
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

It can be as seemingly insignificant as “please stop making me eggs they make me feel ill”, or “what are you trying to achieve by doing X”.  Chapman is saying question what you are seeing and imploring everyone to do so.

It is the  insignificant things that add up to your life being your own, or someone else’s. He is saying don’t be passive.

Insignificance is underrated, and yet it is the insignificant who in so many ways change the world. Either because they have no caring about who they are and go about things that seem important to them; some view this as humble, others might conclude arrogant. Or because they don’t care what happens to them. The Cause has become bigger than them, more important to them.

Being in nature gives you a sense of insignificance, your place in the universe. At times this is a good measure to decide whether your concerns are proportionate and how to respond. Delve into the dilemma of speaking up or staying silent,  contemplate this whilst emersed in the enormous.

Nature can remind us of our insignificance in other ways too.

Recently I was in a forest on a hill-side. There was a path I had seen but not taken before, previously I’d just enjoyed the serenity the green light gave me. That evening, without my fully understanding why,  I decided I wanted to see how this path went up. It got steeper and steeper and wetter and wetter as a storm suddenly came in.I could hear a new waterfall nearby and realised my moment of enthusiasm was NOTHING in this place of trees, with a torrent of rain coming and a sky full of relentless black clouds indicating more and more.
At that moment I probably had less to help me than the insects that were under leaves just waiting for it to be over.

I did not have that option. I couldn’t wait. I had to get up there because the way back down from there was certain. I knew what the path lead to if I could get there, something solid and wide from which I could descend. Whereas turning back was now impossible to do safely.

My knowing my insignificance against the elements told me, I had to get up there, I had to complete.


To lead one’s life

Have had a guest blog post published.. very excited..

What a lovely way to start the week 🙂

It is about leading your life.

You can find it here

It is the blog for a very  marvellous UK company called ContactPDA which always remembers people are individuals

You can find out more about them  here

Meanwhile in other news, work on a permanent website begins in earnest this week and I shall be delving into the details of CPanel and channelling a former me when I liked doing that stuff.

What did it for you?

This post stems from a conversation had in a coffee break over a year ago now, in the land of the Red Rose. I had the answer then ( for me) but I’ve played with it a bit in my head ( and in reality since)

We’d been talking about Hands and the enormous amount of brain connectivity  that is given over to the hands both for sensory function and motor function, proportionate to other parts of the body..

There is a superb One minute Twelve second video about it here take the time and watch it. You will smile!


Two initial examples cropped up in conversation. Despite the person concerned being highly educated and still having “insatiable curiousity” about the world, and dedicating time to learning new stuff as well as mastery old stuff, despite having  travelled the world, met interesting people and listened to them:

The skill named?  Touch Typing.

Because no matter what job, role or business they were in whether typing up notes, reports, writing marketing materials, searching the  internet, developing thoughts and ideas. Having the skill to touch fingers to the keyboard gave a fluidity of thought.  Practical? Of course.  Much better than that: a freedom of mind because the fingers could move swiftly to recording..without paralysing the thoughts.

For me, it was a different example. I can sort of touch type, I am looking at the screen as I do this not the keyboard and I am relatively fast. I am not in the same league as a touch typist. We discussed how in some colleges this certainly used to be a mandatory skill everyone was taught, and what a great idea. A sort of driving test for the fingers, giving freedom of thought movement.

Discussing this with other writers subsequently there has been an interesting response. Some need pencil and paper to think to get their ideas down. Some can send their thoughts straight to their fingers via the keyboard. Personally if an idea is clear, it will come out whole using a keyboard. If there is still some work to be done on the thoughts, in the end the swiftest way to get there for me, is completely manual. A hunt will ensue for a writing implement and the back of an envelope if no sheets of paper are around.

I’ve blithly summarised what must be an exhaustive set of things that being able to Touch Type has made a  significant difference to. I know because it was not my personal experience that I have massively understated it.

The person I was talking to is a highly visual person.

Initially my thoughts went to literacy. Being able to read early gave me transport into other worlds, and minds. Being able to read means the internet is an infinite playground for me. Literacy is the passport to so many things without which life in the 21st century would be permanently hobbled. Literacy it seemed  wasn’t the right answer for me. It didn’t sound right. But it was close to it.

As a highly auditory person, I listen for HOW things sound. Even when reading it is a sort of combined  auditory and visual experience. Of course typing adds in another sensory experience and one using the hands so a lot of neuro connectivity there.

In the end it became startlingly obvious what it was for me. Learning to read music.

Learning to read music as a child was useful in the moment, because I could start to play music with others because of it. And I LOVED doing that.  But later in life the realisation has come that so many things that feel innate were developed from that time, were given some magic boosts.

Learning to read music gave me:

An understanding of symbology

An understanding of rhythm and tone

An appreciation of harmony and dischord

Because I could read music, I learned a few instruments and sang. Because I did that, I developed more brain hand connections. Because I did that  my music playing ( as  child!) developed. Because my technical skill developed, I learned to play in groups. Because of that I learned to Listen to HOW things sounded. Because I did that I learned to work in a team for something unimaginable and greater than me. Because I learned that I learned about responsibility to the group and to myself. Because I played in wider groups I was exposed to all sorts of different people, through the music and through the people I played with I was exposed to different cultures and different stories. Because I learned that …

List goes on.

What Pivotal thing, what skill was it that you learned early on, that when you look back  you know was the foundation and the stepping stone to things you have done subsequently?

What was it?

And are you actively using and honouring it today?

Comments are enabled so I would love to hear, please chime in.

What did it for you?

Why Rest days make THE difference to overall performance. Everyone needs refreshment

In 2001 Harvard Business Review published an article called The Making of the Corporate Athlete by Jim Loehr  and Tony Schwartz  ( he of The Energy Project)  which stands the test of time. I still regularly go back to reread it.

Even if you do not subscribe it is about £4 to download, long, detailed and well worth it.

They outlined in the article  a carefully argued comparison between sports professionals and people who work in business. To remain fit to grow, you need to be take care of your whole self, with a focus on your body and specifically with making the time for regular and deliberate rest.

A line that hits home every time is this one:

“By alternating periods of stress with renewal, they learn to align their work with the body’s need for breaks.”

They demonstrate with examples the interaction between the mind and the body to be able to fully engage, to adapt and develop, to grow stronger at what it is you are engaged in.

Fitness means so many different things to different people. Being the right fit for a job, being physically fit, emotionally fit, mentally fit. All of these aspects of Fitness apply to business people. Sure, it is super clear with an athlete and we watch them typically on competition days.

But what about days when they are not competing ( with others) what about when we are not watching, what is it that the top performers do that other performers do not do? And for ourselves, what days are we not competing at least against ourselves?

Rest, reflect, hydrate, take refreshment.  That makes sense doesn’t it?

Think about yourself? You know you  can only keep going as long as there is a will to do so. As long as you have the mind for it. If you never pause for refreshment, take the time to break out, how can you make space for new ideas, remind yourself of what you know, what is important.

Refresh yourself?

In simpler terms an article this time directly from sport talks about rest. The quote that may mean all the difference to you  is this one.

“adaptation takes place during the rest and recovery phase, not during the workout! ”

( you can find the article here )

Still wondering how valid the comparison with an Athlete is? It is used a lot but does it apply really to you?

Competition – sound familiar? Competing for customers? Endurance and maintaining performance through difficult times, like a recession, or training up for a new role?  Coaching a good performance out of your team or those you work with? Collaborating with others, building a team? Being in a team?  Are convinced yet?

And finally Hydration.

When you are dehydrated even adrenalin will stop helping you after a while.

Working hard, focussing, competing, engaging, collaborating, studying, learning, supporting etc etc, it is all very energising for a while but without the time to rest they all take a natural toll on your mind, your body and your spirit.

Refuelling isn’t always enough you also need to refresh too.

Re Fresh – Get Fresh again.

The ability is there but no time out for refreshment will render you unable to deliver, will fundamentally limit your opportunities for adaptation,development, growth and change.

It will sap your joy, personally and professionally.

What are you doing to build in the regular rest and refreshment?

How are you pausing to maintain long term momentum?

Making Time out a strategy for the long term will pay dividends

Interested in ways to build in refreshment  ?

Click here

the deadline for applications is May 14th

Your life story, ready for some plot changes?

“When patterns in engagments with the people around you become well-worn and ineffective, are they persistent because they have to be, or because the story demands it?”

This is the last line from Seth Godin’s blog post today, if you don’t regularly read him you are missing out on some wise words and simple wisdom. He sometimes says stuff that you know you always knew, but had forgotten. Other times he says things that throw a light on something you hadn’t considered before. He is always short, always entertaining. He writes well, understands the importance of that .


But he rates taking action higher than making things perfect.

I likes him!

If you are beginning to guess I have a lot of time for him, you would be right, there is nothing special about me for that he has 162,000 twitter followers to start with..

The headline to his piece is Extending the Narrative and you can find it here  http://sethgodin.typepad.com/

Sometimes ( always) when we lead or are asking to others to lead, there are voices in our heads telling us what people think, what we should do, how we should behave. These voices are not evidence of madness. They are evidence that as well as writing out our stories for the past, constructing them, we are in a very powerful position.

Instead of being caught at the whim of life’s events, we are able to create how we live by the simple measure of listening to what we say to ourselves ( and others) and then having the power to decide what we say and do instead.

We can choose, its just that we often forget as we live the story that we can choose, we can step out of the story at any time, change the direction of the story, the flavour.

There is a grand name for this Constructionism – of which there are many flavours, social, relational, religions, philosophies, scientific methods etc etc..

My simplistic synthesis of all of them ( by that I mean it works for me!) is that we are sense making creatures, we seek to explain what is going on around us, happening to us, within us and in doing so we build, we construct our sense of reality.

We don’t need to have lots of qualifications to do this, we don’t need to have lots of life experience or a grand job title.

A sense of humour helps, along with a sense that we can open our minds and remain curious.

Because we create, we can change whenever  we decide that the story (US)  would benefit from it





What would be on your Tree?

Look out the window. If you are in the UK the chances are, even if you are in a city, you can see a tree. If not visible from a window, perhaps around a corner in a square or a park, perhaps an avenue you walk along to and from work

Look at the Trees, look how varied and wonderfully they are shaped. Look how they grow and respond to the environment they are in.

Trees root deeply and so much more is beautiful about them but invisible to us most of the time. The roots provide water, the trunk strong and sturdy as it ages supports the branches that reach out

At Christmas time, some of us decorate trees, with objects that Might have symbolism to do with a religious festival, or because they are symbolic and important to us about something in our family and personal lives. Each decorated tree looks different. Each one is built differently, sometimes just thrown up quickly sometimes lovingly dressed as part of a wider family/group ceremony

Imagine you had your own tree and you choose everything about it. It being symbolic of you and your dreams, desires, what you care about, what you must have, what you expect from others. How you want to be in the world, at home, at work, with the teams you work with. An authentic essence of you.

Well you do have a tree, perhaps more than one..

Would you like to find out more about it and how you can use it? Support change  in your life and remain yourself?.



Environment is Culture

Lots of things make up the culture of your life. Primarily in the end the people you are with, choose to be with, the relationships you have – make up the culture.

In a work place how people are with each other  every day without thinking IS the culture. An example:  if you are in an organisation with rule books, lots of policies, that tells you something about the culture.  Another example:  how language is used gives you some key information about the culture.

All of this can be looked at another way

What is the environment like? What is it like to sit somewhere? Visiting  a different organisation and you immediately get an impression, sometimes it is hard to accurately decipher. Perhaps it is the “professional receptionist” with the automatic smile and up beat voice, perhaps you decide if it is real or plastic. There will be other cues

All of which you take in somehow, you feel it first. Then you decide if you like it or not.

It is the same at home and with your circle of friends and your career and business relationships. The feelings around the relationships are the culture you are living in.

Thinking biologically… in a lab cultures are used to grow organisms.. The right culture and the organism thrives. The wrong culture and the organism struggles.

Your relationships are manifested in how people treat you. How they routinely respond to you.  Equally how you treat others…

Imagine you are an organism ( which of course we all are). When you stretch out for growth are you encouraged or are you squashed, is there space for you or are you crowded out.

How do you routinely respond to yourself? Do you stretch out for growth or do you retreat and squash yourself.

Have you noticed that when you are confident and stretch out in a relaxed but certain way, others respond to you differently? It is all changeable.

Look around and ask yourself is the culture around you, the one that you are part of, that your behaviour contributes to for yourself and others:

Is it one that is supportive of growth where you thrive. Or one that stifles it, where surviving is the best you can hope for.

What would you rather have?

What will YOU change?