Hollow Hills

“Baleful sound and wild voices ignored” [Bauhaus]

The unfortunately ubiquitous proclamation that we are in an “era of unprecedented change” can usually be found immediately preceding someone who hasn’t stopped to think about it. Or who paid no attention in history class. Unfortunately the statement is often heralded by a downloadable ring tone of your choice.

The recent excellent post by my favourite “short-term pessimist/long-term optimist” @FlipChartRick addressed this with a focus on technology – but this post isn’t just about the technology. It’s about – well, everything. Because in pondering this “an era of unprecedented change” we are drawn to consider that we are privileged – that we are living in a sparkling, nerve-tingling time of which previous generations might only be paralysed with envy. Our guard drops, we get sucked in – and don’t consider fully enough that perhaps – just perhaps – that is bullshit, that actually, we could be deluding ourselves, that we are instead entering a long-term plateau of comparative tedium and are monumentally unprepared for it. Dissenting views are shouted reactionary, generationally adrift.

Consider for a moment the possibility that:

On a grand scale, politically the world may be at far less risk from our own insanity than at any time due to the end of the cold war and the resulting dispersal of both threat and power. It could be argued that there was no event in history more dangerous to humanity than the Cuban Missile Crisis, as fingers quivered above large red buttons saying “do not press under any circumstances whatsoever, moron”. We are still breathing the sigh of relief, and fragmentation has made us progressively and collectively safer. But this isn’t a political blog, so let’s get more granular.

Instead of heralding greater freedom, more leisure time, more meaningful and satisfying work, technology may have been a conservative force, solidifying the master/servant relationship, creating greater opportunities for observation, measurement, manipulation, monitoring, control and intrusion into our personal lives, and while automating swathes of mundane process has in reality introducing even more in its stead. And we are still talking about robots taking our jobs.

The drift towards self-determination and networked, democratic organisational structures may be illusory, and that in parallel with the wanton surrender of hard-won individual rights, protection and security have emerged less overt and visible methods of control. Hierarchical structures have survived since we emerged from the caves, proving themselves highly adaptive through far more radical societal change than that brought on by a smartphone and a chat account.

Social media may have actually made us less social, lazier, disinterested, uncommitted, less likely to act and more expectant of the social content of our lives being delivered to our door (or left with a responsible neighbour) than having to actively seek and develop interests and inspiration – that it has created, formalised and institutionalised the Easy Option.

The exponential increase in self-published – our “writing ourselves into existence” – may have been nothing more than geometrically increasing, inconsequential, low-quality impedance, cupcakes in the window – distracting, fresh and colourful one day, stale and discarded the next – making it harder to discover anything useful or insightful than ever before. The needle the same size, the haystack overwhelming, and the algorithm useless. This post, just more interference.

Not easy, is it?

These are merely hypotheses. Disappointing and uncomfortable as they may appear, we need to ask the question as to whether we might be ready for an uncomfortably dull reality, bobbing gently around in the dishwater when we were promised flumes and a wave machine. If the present is deemed an era at all, it is possible that it may prove not to be of unprecedented change, but of generating and believing our own vaccuous hype.

It is far from a pessimistic proposition. If it comes to pass, what might it mean for us? We will need to be more creative, more inspired and inspiring, more genuinely social, more reliant upon our own resources as human beings – but most of all, far more inquisitive and questioning. If we have to try harder, take more initiative, it could bring a deeper understanding of ourselves.

As we walk the hollow hills, philosophy might just save us after all.


#workstubs 2

You don’t “manage” change, you make the space for it to happen.

Work is a verb (you do it), a noun (it’s a place where you do it, wherever that place may be), and an adjective (it describes some things and actions) – we make most sense of it where they all join up.

PowerPoint is only crap if what you say with it is crap – have a better story, and tell it well.

Unless you’re Google, you’re not Google – stop trying to be, and stop wishing you were.

All professions are made up of bits of other professions – our skill is made up of the skills of others.

The best thing to do in a pause….. is pause.

The only reason to wear a suit and tie to work is because you want to.

If you think social media is a waste of time, it’s doubtful anyone knows you think so.

Introvert, extrovert, it’s all a distraction. It’s about what you have to offer, not what you have to say.

A mirror is the only motivational poster you will ever need.

Few people are as prepared as they appear, but those that appear most prepared prepare to appear so.

When you need a desk, there is no better answer than a desk. Not everything needs radical reappraisal.

If you think about a problem as a solution you haven’t found yet, you are more likely to find a solution.

We only seem able to declare the beginning of an idea as the end of another – yet ideas begin in a mess, and hide in the shadows when we have no need of them.

Work cannot exist without the meaning you give it.



Some of these might be useful….

Whenever you can, do stuff that you haven’t been asked to do, that you thought of, that benefits others or makes a difference.

Your network and the people around you are your search engine, remember to ask – they usually know stuff you wont find alone and online.

Insert a space between yourself and a rant – whatever the need you feel, it’s probably not worth it – what goes out tough usually comes back tougher, and you won’t be ready for it.

If it has to be bad news, find some good news in it – there usually is, you just have to remember to look.

Stop trying to be “disruptive”, and make a contribution instead.

If you think of something good, check if its been thought of before – if it has, make sure you shout out the person who thought of it, and be happy that they thought of it first- it means you’re on the right track.

A lot of what we think of as work is bluster – get to know the difference, and help others who may be struggling to, which is usually most of us. I owe this comment to someone, I just can’t recall who – if it’s you, thank you!

If your kids are asleep when you get home from work, what was your day for?

E-mail is useful but it doesn’t run your life, so don’t let it – forget all the poncey “strategies”, just leave it alone, and do something other than watch your InBox.

If you must send an e-mail, write only to the person you need to – cc = conspicuous clutter, there is a confidence in not contributing any.

Remember people are the way they are and say what they do because of stuff going on with them you don’t know about – give them a break, it’s probably not about you.

There is room in what you do for style with substance – what’s presented well gets noticed, just look around you, don’t kid yourself in a highbrow way that it’s not important.

If you don’t talk in business bullshit, soon others wont either – simplicity is infectious.

More to follow, perhaps.


A manifesto for everyone

Work – it should be simple….

Look me in the eye and say “good morning”

Know my name, even my first name

Listen to me, sometimes

Trust me to do what I say I’ll do, because I want to get it done well

Take an interest in what I am doing, even if you are only interested in the results

Consider the challenges I face, they wont be the same as yours but they will be just as important to me as yours are to you

Ask my views on something – anything – just because

Cut me some slack sometimes, I may not always be at the top of my game but may just need a little space – I’ll be back

Understand that I have a life, however simple and dull my stories would have you believe, outside of this place

If I come up with an idea that saves or makes you money, let me have a slice – I may be inspired to think of another one

Balance the view that sometimes I want to get on, and sometimes I just want to be

If I’ve taken some time off because a family member is unwell – remember, and ask me how they are, it can be a lonely place

Make allowances for the fact that I am human – vulnerable, emotional, unpredictable – and don’t behave like the machines and computers all around us – you can’t just reboot me, you might have to talk to me

Tell me how I’m doing – not once a year, but regularly – and give me some tips from your experience of how I can do better

Allow for the fact that I am probably not as bright or resourceful as you

Let me talk to my mates about the football at the weekend – we get a buzz, we feel good, we work harder

Make sure the place and the stuff I work with is safe, my kids want me home in one piece

Talk in a language I understand, not management guff (like forget “objectives” – what do we need to get done?)

Give me the stuff I need to do my job – I can’t cut down trees with a rusty penknife, or even a sharp penknife

Ask me how my weekend was, even if I would rather not tell you or I can’t quite remember

Make sure I can have a decent cup of tea and a healthy(ish) lunch while I’m here, and that I wont owe you more for it than you pay me

Say “thanks” – it makes me feel good, and if I feel good I try harder

Buy me a beer once in a while, I won’t spill it

And if all that happens – work will be great for us all


If change managers were organising Christmas

They would at first point out that they were not here to “manage” Christmas but to facilitate it using your natural skills and resources. Especially your financial resources.

The programme would see Christmas Day on 23 January, because they really should have been brought on board earlier to have been effective. If Christmas Day has to be 25 December, all contracted deliverables are void.

They would organise an all-expenses paid trip to interview Father Christmas, to understand his vision, motives and world view. In Selfridges.

Expectations would be aligned around a common goal. Like a heated massaging footspa, for example.

The importance of disruptive behaviour would be encouraged. Like drinking advocat.

They would convince everyone that without their involvement Christmas would be a total disaster, and that old habits like giving and receiving presents and pulling crackers would continue.

They would encourage the use of positive language at this time of year. Like “Merry Christmas” and “Happy New Year”. Nice.

Its important to be yourself at work.Post-Christmas party moral bankruptcy would be handled sympathetically, through the posting of pictures on a specially-constructed Authenticity Board. And Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

They would superimpose the Grieving Curve on the whole thing. The low point would be unwrapping the heated massaging footspa having asked for a PlayStation.

Carols would be replaced with crustacean mating calls. They’re tricky.

They would deploy a troupe of Associates (all available) to convince you that the heated massaging foot spa was far more what you wanted than the PlayStation you actually asked for, and that you are actually eternally grateful.

A session would be planned for Boxing Day on “letting go”. Of the TV remote.

The appointment would be extended until Easter to ensure all behaviours were bedded in, and that all of the advocat had gone.

They would be returning next year, free of charge, for more of the same. Because it was the best fun they ever had.

Back in 2015, Happy New Year!


Barefoot in the heart, part 10: the HRD

you probably don’t know me I’m the new HRD MSc CIPD here to dispel the legacy of personnel tampax and tea hired by witch trial fired by fax hardwired by policy deranged by iniquity its all changed of course now we are human resource the fanatical want to call us capital so we’re strategic not tactical but its comedic I know about human beings me want to be your equal your business partner your confidant your trusted advisor always on your shoulder the organisational direction your protection the quiet insurrection in your head the instead in your dilemma cracking the cemented code hacking fracking quacking the motherlode we’re all social media cupcakes now the stakes are higher we speak gen y they’re a limited supply no reason why born online with an endless capacity for the assonine we’re on the frontline in the trenches fighting the just war for talent filling benches with the itinerant/ambivalent/belligerent who end up leaving when they stop believing the inflated inculcated crap that led them out from the duvet and into the trap but they’re hard to find when you’ve been found out but when all alleys are blind we’ve still got Klout got an enviable litany of bullshit-free motivational inspirational transformational exercises oh yes a cacophony for success going to get crowned for turning this business around and when all else fails I still have the employee estrangement survey for an annual confirmation of derangement at the heart of the polis and through the monotony of my claim to a seat at the table I find solace in polishing the mahogany and crushing velvet for the backsides that reserve it through accidents of history the dream lives on in perpetuity but in my heart I am barefoot searching for identity and a place in posterity knowing my contribution would be immense if I could just be heard above the ambivalence so I fight push assert act extravert insistent bold but I’m a people person and it pierces my heart like a dart when you tell me I’m unapproachable distant cold

This post was first published in This time its Personnel: Humane Resourced 2 available on Amazon, all proceeds to charity

Not being there

No, I wasn’t at the event.

I didn’t read the liberty news on the train, free of the clasping jaws of the usual day, instead of the meeting action list.

I didn’t pause to collect the badge of awkwardness that I wear in my eyes as well as crooked on my lapel.

The promotional bag wasn’t mine to fumble through and discard all but the memory stick that I could stand in the drawer like the terracotta army. So much storage, so little data when it’s all just ideas.

I didn’t wonder at the discomfort of the opening stand, butter in a cold pan.

I didn’t feel the dislocation of the division bell, called from an entangled conversation to my seat, the momentary disorientation.

I didn’t feel the acupuncture of slides, the linearity of the message, the scattering of bullets on a marble floor.

I didn’t tangle with the ubiquitous frustration of the escherian stairs, the eternal ascent towards something meaningful, a stepping off point in which I could settle.

I wasn’t called on to juggle my thoughts, reflections, plate, napkin and glass with the struggle of searching for those I know, or those I don’t. And I didn’t have to worry about eating horseradish by mistake.

I didn’t wonder if I had been held underwater for longer than my burning lungs and scrambling claustrophobia could handle, such was my need for breathable daylight.

I didn’t feel the creases slowly stitching into my face as the day grew colder, and as the call of the mythical early train emptied the room.

And my spine didn’t ache from shifting in ever decreasing circles in a chair design for a set square, counting the loss of feeling one disc at a time, until the ache pillowed the spoken word.

I didn’t drink too much wine on too much coffee on too much expectation, and wonder whether next year I would expect less, consume less, and listen more.

No, I wasn’t at the event.

Was it good?


Humanity is a brand

In the midst of a discussion about branding a workspace, I found myself pleading the cause of humanity, and the need for comfort, warmth, welcome, ease. At which point came the realisation that we overlook the fact that humanity is itself the most important brand of all.

Consider the characteristics of a successful brand.

We are clear about – and continually communicate – who we are, what we stand for, what we offer – and why.

We are authentic, and even when behind a mask eventually reveal ourselves.

We are carriers of emotion, are driven by emotion, and make an emotional connection with one another and the environment around us.

We are of the same consistent genre, attracting loyalty and commitment – but each entirely unique, retaining an element of mystery and surprise.

We are full of energy, passion and life.

We stimulate all of the senses – sometimes we appeal to them.

We create so many conversations.

We have longevity, driven by evolution, adaptation and innovation.

Our very existence changes others.

In any environment, the overriding brand we see, feel and experience has to be human. Or what is it for?


The picture of futures, grey

He sat alone. He seemed to be the only person at the conference not peering apprehensively over a metaphorical shoulder. He caught my eye as I loitered gazing at the dog-eared manuscript sat across his lap, The Soul of Man Under Socialism. He smiled softly in my direction, perhaps a shared sympathy at the lethargy of the day, and the paucity of ideas. I imagined he was going to simply say “This is crap, isnt it?” It was a far more eloquent introduction.

“My dear chap, your workplace is a struggle for the soul. In the hundred and twenty years since I wrote this, the arena has merely moved from the theatre of grand politics to the denuded avenues of primary and secondary circulation.”

His assurance was calm, his assertion suffocating. And he had been listening.

“What, then, are we seeking that remains the same?” I asked hesitantly.

“To live, as an Individual. To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”

“But we are striving for this. It may be slow, but we recognise that we need to base our decisions, our organisations, our processes, our aims around people. We here today are committed to it. These are good people, with a shared vision. This is the right place to be, isn’t it?”

“As when I wrote this” he rolled his manuscript as though a weapon “the obsession with private property changes nothing, as it has made gain not growth its aim. While we reach for gain, our aims will remain underfoot. So obsessed with property are we that we cannot freely develop what is wonderful, fascinating, and delightful in mankind— in fact, we miss the true pleasure and joy of living. The important thing is not to have, but to be.”

“But we are challenging the soul of our organisations, we are upheaving measured taylorist monotony. We are fighting the inevitability that previous decades would have us live tomorrow. As you said so yourself in your pamphlet” I gestured to the scroll “man is made for something better than disturbing dirt.”

I felt a little self-satisfied, quoting the icon before me in my own defence. He nodded his head sympathetically, and not without a little pride.

“Ah, disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is man’s original virtue. It is through disobedience that progress has been made, through disobedience and through rebellion. Agitators are so absolutely necessary. Without them, in our incomplete state, there would be no advance towards civilisation. People like Perry Timms.”

“Organisations are becoming more democratic.” I responded. “The flow is with us, and will only grow stronger as the ideas gather credence and a practical footing. True, the germ-free hipster press don’t help, but its only a matter of when, not if.”

“The pursuit is foolish. Like so many ideas today, they gather pace before they have the oxygen to sustain them, they accumulate followers fearing abandonment, not those of conviction.” he laughed for a moment, drew breath and fixed his gaze on me. “Democracy is not your answer. Democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people. And be careful that the people who do most harm are the people who try to do most good.”

“So what is our hope?” I asked, by now expecting little.

“Our hope, dear chap, is Individualism. Not selfish, harmful or egotistical individualism, but the Individualism of the true artist. That is, the artist who shuns populism, who grows through joy. Your workplaces need to create, nurture, grow Individuals, to create only the opportunity, not prescribe the solution. The tyranny of the crowd – its “crowd” everything, right? – the collaborative, the artificial collectivisation of creativity is a damnation. Organisations and structures make only what is useful – while only the Individual makes what is beautiful. Art is the most intense mode of Individualism that the world has known.”

He leaned back, and appeared to survey the interaction, chatter, irregular clank of porcelain with sadness. He was lost in his own thought.

“And what of the soul of humankind? Why is the struggle here, in our workplace?”

“Its where the Individual of your age flourishes, or is lost. Not in politics, but in your social relations and your environment. Only when you realise this, will you think of your environment, your relations and your intentions differently. For now, all the rebellion and disobedience in the world is in vain. It is a mirror.”

In that moment I saw myself, or perhaps the parody of myself. As I turned my gaze to think, he was gone. We were summoned back to the conference. When everyone had meandered in, chattering, clutching teacups, lost in themselves, I dropped my badge in the bin and slipped away. I hoped I would catch him hailing a taxi, window shopping, sneaking a cigarette…. but the streets were already awash with the human tide.



Some of what Oscar Wilde says is taken directly from “The Soul of Man Under Socialsm”, some are his words that I modified, some I made up altogether because they felt right

Wilf has his appraisal

Wilf received the e-mail telling him it was time for his annual appraisal.

He was never quite sure why anyone bothered. Last year he got a C, with some comments on his good work and one or two things to “develop”. The year before he got a C, with some comments on his good work and one or two things to “develop”. Last year the things to “develop” from the year before weren’t mentioned.

Snaking back through Wilf’s memory, he had only ever got a C. One year when a very nice lady from an external company reviewed the appraisal system, he was put in a small group with people from other departments he didn’t really know as “flatliners”. He wondered if this meant he was dead.

He was asked to prepare for the discussion with Marcie, his “line manager”. Marcie didn’t know what he did, because she worked in another building.

Wilf thought about it, as he did every year.

He had worked hard, put in his hours, put in some more, and been a good friend and colleague. He compromised when he needed to, and enforced the regulations when he needed to. He went to all of the drinks. Everyone liked Wilf. And nothing fell over.

He hadn’t broken a new market – Kelvin had done that.

He hadn’t hit a personal sales record – Arnie had done that.

He hadn’t seen a way to remove 30% of the production errors – Pippa had done that.

He hadn’t re-organised his team reducing costs by 25% and boosting productivity at the same time – Kelsey had done that.

He hadn’t discovered and fixed a glitch in the financial process that was leaking the company thousands – Corey had done that.

But he had worked hard, put in his hours, put in some more, and been a good friend and colleague. And nothing had fallen over.

Just like every year before.

This year, Wilf got a D.