"This month I are
"This month I are
In the best traditions of the Learning and Development community I thought it would be appropriate to start a "Llog" of the things I learn as time goes by.
The learning isn't limited to strictly Professional life, and, as I live in a rural environment, I thought I'd blag the strapline from the Fast Show!
On the work front
I've been doing a lot of research for the book I'm writing for Pearson's and I've been getting into quite a bit of the psychology of self esteem and the Id, Ego and Superego, all interesting stuff and very pertinent to the matter of career choices and coaching.
What the effin' heck?
I came across an interesting example of "spell checker over reliance" that potentially had a major effect on the outcome of an email; the organisation sent out a request for help for their charity which is a very laudable hospice care group. Unfortunately, due to the vagiaries of the Qwerty key board the letters 'r' and 'f' are contiguous and if like me, you suffer from 'fat-finger-typing' it is possible to send out a request to charity support for a hospice cafe instead!
I'm helping a chap to write a sales book and so I've been doing a lot of research into the psychology of selling and the influence, again all interesting stuff.
After 7 months of using an updated version of Word I've finally learned how to "change case"...ah, well, better late than never!
I came across an advert for an upscale wedding venue which contained this photo, with the strap line "Smiling brides....a house speciality."
Looking at the position of the hand of the bride's father in the background I wonder if the venue thought through their use of this photo!
On the home front
I have got myself involved in the planning for my village's Diamond Jubilee event and amongst other things I was asked to design the poster/flyer for it. I learned that poster art from the early 1950s is actually not that easy to come by but we did eventually find a suitable design. Then we asked the parish magazine to put it in to the next issue and, of course they only have a bottom half page in A5 (which being a half page is going to be landscape) and my A4 portrait layout poster was totally inappropriate. Still, half an hour on Photoscape, free editing software sorted that out and I think we are cooking with gas.
I got an attack of plantar fasciitis in December and this is a painful (but not serious) condition. My wife discovered a couple of people who said online that FitFlops had helped the problem with them so I bought a knock down pair of Fitflop sandals; they are pug ugly but they certainly seem to have sorted out the pain in my heel.
The "sweet" Fisherman's Friend have just launched a new variety; a blackcurrant version, it is surprisingly nice and leaves a very pleasant taste in the mouth.
On the work front
I did quite a few 'webinars' this month and learned quite a lot about the delivery and feedback about the medium:
For instance, the use of the term "chat" to describe the written response option on Webex can cause people to see the use of it as peripheral to the matter in hand, rather than seeing that delegates responding via chat are interacting just as much as delegates who speak.
I also learned that whilst some organisations are very keen on the use of the webcam and perceive a webinar as a TV like medium, others don't use the webcam at all, preferring delegates to concentrate solely on the visuals and the trainers voice and see the medium as more like a cross between radio and e-learning.
I also came across a great little example of the discomfort of change; try folding your arms....you'll soon realise that you have an instinctive preferred "top arm"...if you are made to fold your arms the other way round it is actually quite uncomfortable.
If you have just sat through a dreadful presentation and slideshow and you want to cheer yourself up just take a look at this article.....and read down to the bit where the guy says"I speak for 10 hours with no script and 1,400 images" and that will put your suffering into perspective!
After much heartache and confusion the organisation that was publishing my eBooks, GA&P (George Associates & Partners) was struck off at Companies House and therefore ceased to exist as a commercial and legal entity. I'm in the process of trying to get back royalties and arrange for future sales. But if you happen to be approached by a Rupert Barlow offering to epublish, my advice would be to be a bit wary.
On the home front
I've wanted a pair of those leather country boots for some time as I seem to destroy rubber wellies at a rate of knots, sadly I'm not in the market to pay the £299 for Du Barry boots and even the Dublin River versions are outside my price range. Needing a size 12 and having "muscular" calves also put me at a disadvantage until my wife discovered these on eBay....I got a pair and they are absolutely brilliant. I don't know who makes them but I've been wearing them to walk twice a day in rain and mud and decent weather and they are great! And for less than £65 to boot!
I also discovered that fresh oysters go really well with hot, spicy sausage, I discovered this at a Rick Stein restaurant, and I have to say that standard of service at his hotel and the restaurants in Padstow and Falmouth were brilliant.
And finally to Christmas itself; we have a quite traditional Christmas and in stark contrast to all the folk who say that they hate the build up to Christmas and the anti climax of it all, we really enjoy a long "holiday season". Since ours seems so enjoyable I wrote it up; you can get a flavour here.
At the back end of last month I ran the second 'Customer Service Advisor of the Year' competition which was again a great success with comments such as
"The whole process is fantastic from start to finish"
"Thanks to the assessors for making what could be a nerve wracking process, quite enjoyable and fun"
One of the things I created was a word-search for the contestants to complete individually during their waiting time. I used this website to help create the actual test and I'd really recommend it
Interestingly in the feedback from contestants, a couple of people commented on the fact that a high proportion of the assessments seemed to be group activities and that these didn't allow some people to shine.......unfortunately they hadn't twigged that I had weighted the scoring so that 63% of the total marks awarded were for solely solo activities and the remainder for individual behaviours exhibited in a group activity.
I've just written a script for a training video....that last one of these I did was a 15 minute video.....this one was one and a half minutes! Boy did I learn to precis!
On the subject of brevity; whilst researching for a book, I learned that the eulogy given by Earl Spencer for his sister at the Princess of Wales' funeral was all of 1200 words in length.....Even Winston Churchill's eulogy for Franklin Delano Roosevelt was only 1800 words
A long time ago I read about a Harvard study that showed that writing down goals improved the likelihood of achieving and I wanted to quote this in a book so I went to look it up.....it turned out to be an urban legend! But I wasn't the only one and a couple of years ago an enterprising academic, Gail Matthews PhD of Dominican University, realised that she could make the legend come true by actually carrying out the mythical study herself. The study she carried out goes much further than the concept of writing down the goal, she also looks into the effect of sharing it with a supportive friend and the effect f then providing that friend with consistent updates and progress reports. This is an absolute godsend to business coaches as it is exactly what they do and this reliable data really justifies their stance.
Since the web address of the real study keeps changing I've uploaded a pdf of the results.
Art imitates art Kathy Reichs writes thrillers based on her experience as a forensic anthropologist. Her books are the inspiration for the TV series 'Bones'...in her latest book 'Spider Bones', she refers to a criminal as having just enough forensic knowledge from watching TV cop/forensic dramas, such as CSI and Bones, to be careful, but mentions that 'Bones' is probably over his head!
I've started a DIY/Tool blog which is both fun, educational (for me) and potentially informative for others.....if you are interested it can be seen here.
Earlier this month Paul Matthews who runs Alchemy sent out a round-up of the statistics relating to readership and downloads. Of the total of 123 topics on the site I wrote 7 of them....in this particular round-up period 10% of the top 40 were titles of mine!
As Paul says, though, it is "Shifting sands" and the interest in specific topics varies month on month.
I've always appreciated delegates on training events showing an attitude of a bit of cynicism....it gets discussion going and makes everyone think but I've always struggled with a way to clarify what level of cynicism is "healthy". This month I came across an unattributed comment that is worthy of note:
"Cynicism is good as it contains elements of both humour and hope.
Bitterness, on the other hand, has nothing but bitterness"
The recent debate about the copyright/trademark of the "Keep calm and carry on" material got me thinking, and with no malice or nastiness intended I'd like to offer this as a light hearted freebie to all foodies and Indian Restaurant Owners
Watching a TV programme recently I learned about a pub (arguable the smallest in the UK) called 'The Nutshell'. Its origins are interesting and I have converted them into a little exercise in business ethics; customer service or customer exploitation?
When looking into Process Improvement, I always recommend people start off by defining where the process actually starts....some people find this a difficult concept and suggest that we stop debating things and just get on with it....I have just come across a quotation from Carl Sagan that sums it up quite neatly
"If you want to make an apple-pie from scratch, you must first create the universe".
CARL SAGAN (1934-96)
Liggy Webb has has written a book that is released this month....it is a fascinating look at a simple topic that can make everyone a happier bunny; well worth a look.
I'm working with a client to develop a video based bite sized learning resource and came across this alternative methodology to Powerpoint.....it is certainly worth looking into!
And finally.....I've just completed the second of the now annual Customer Service Advisor of the Year Award competitions for a nationwide chain. The event was very different this year to last year and has been a monster success. There were so many learning points from the event (mostly on the 'learning from what went well' rather than the 'learning from mistakes' mould) that they can't all be shared but if you think you might like to run one of these highly motivational competitions, please get in touch.
I learnt that a pizza wheel makes a really effective herb chopper
The lock on my front door gave up the ghost this month and I replaced it....I learned that it is recommended that you should replace the external locks on your home and offices at no more than a five year interval. This is for several reasons:
1. After five years do you really know who has a key?
2. A lock is mechanical....you wouldn't leave your car un-serviced for 5 years, neither should you leave your lock; you need it to lock when you want to go out or to be and, perhaps more importantly, you want it to unlock if you need to get out in a hurry!
I also learned that "For sale, baby shoes, never worn." Is the shortest story ever written! (courtesy of QI)
I finally get round to laying the replacement floor in the utility room and back hall of the house (previous learning points; 1. Water an laminate floors don't play well together, 2. Builder who uses plastic push-fit connectors on copper pipes and then lays concrete over the top without protecting the pipes should be shot at dawn, 3. Whatever their adverts may say about covering you for the damage done to find the leak the insurers still manage to make a major drama out of it.)
Wanting to lay plastic tiles rather than laminate required the floor to be sealed and smoothed with self levelling compound. I mixed up the compound in a plastic bin but when I finished laying the floor still had about three gallons of compound left. It being concrete you can't pour it away but the instructions clearly stated that you should not add more water to the compound than the recommended amount as it will render it useless.....so I added about three gallons more water in order to destroy it......sadly the stuff is far better than the makers give it credit for and I am now the proud possessor of a plastic dustbin with a 12 inch solid concrete base!
I also learned that the "detail strips" that go between the tiles are laser cut to such accuracy that you can easily open your fingers to the bone if you press them down onto the adhesive by hand!
The end result, though, is pretty impressive.
Last month I reported that we had built a smoker in the garden and we have been experimenting with different mixes to cure fish and meat. Our recent discovery is that a 50/50 mixture of granulated sugar and table salt, used dry on a side of farmed salmon, with some nutmeg and some cinnamon, produces a lovely sweet smoked salmon if then cold smoked with some hickory chips.
Have you got an MP3 player and use iTunes? If so have you ever actually read the T&Cs that you agreed to?
We recently used a country pub called The Mill House at North Warnborough....I can't recommend it highly enough; the food was superb, the ambience wonderful, the service discrete, friendly and fast enough for efficiency but slow enough for comfort. And to top it all the bill was very reasonable!
Now that there are regulations afoot regarding fines and plastic shopping bags I have invested in an "Everest pocket sized tote" for £4.99 at our local bag-shop. It is big enough for a couple of baskets full of shopping and strong enough too. It folds up to the size of a mobile phone and has resulted in a dramatic reduction in the number of carrier bags cluttering up the kitchen
I've been editing/proofreading a book on presenting to multinational audiences and I have learned a great deal about the English language in relation to other languages; for instance we have between 7000 and 8000 idioms in English whereas most other languages have far fewer, but in France "to make a tobacco" is the idiom for being successful whereas "to make white cabbage" is to fail!
I was Hosting a webinar with a charming fellow by the name of Shaun Targett and he came out with a very thought provoking observation with relation to customers and visitors to our websites and premises. I've written it up as a download that you can get here.
A course I was writing recently required an icebreaker at the beginning and the client was very definite that he wanted something that would get the delegates talking to each other about themselves. I came up with this one which worked excellently so again I will share it with the world for free.
I've been writing a course entitled "Driving and Managing Change" and one of the objectives relates to encouraging staff and supervisory level managers to propose and drive self initiated change within their workplace. I came up with a mnemonic based tool entitled "SCREAMing out for change"....again I have made it up as a free download.
A busy old month this month; I've had a topic published on Knowledge Pills which is about planning a presentation using the mnemonic IMPACT. I learned a lot about developing online distance learning in a very compact format and am hoping to produce several more topics on the site
I've been commissioned to write a video script and whilst doing some research for that I discovered that the traditional "Four Ps" of the marketing mix is now up to as many as 10Ps !
The Editor of TrainingZone has been talking with me about launching some networking/CPD/Community of Practise web meetings for L&D people. I logic is that whilst many people don't want or can't commit to travelling to and attending a half day or evening meeting they may be able to log on (and contribute) to a small group virtual meeting. We hope to go live with these in the next couple of weeks.
Pearsons, the big educational and business publisher, have commissioned me to write a book and it has been a real learning experience going through the pitching the idea and taking it through the commissioning committee.
One of my little e-books is currently the No 1 seller on iTunes in Australia, I won't tell you which one but you can check out the current offerings here. Lots of people are finding the content of these little books quite useful.
I answered a question on TZ's 'Any Answers' page and it seems to have been a popular response, though some felt they hadn't the bottle to actually use it, so I've put it as a free download on my website.
I casually used the phrase "pose, pause, pounce" to an L&D colleague last week and he asked me what I was talking about~ I thought it was such a common term, taught on TTTs that I was surprised to hear he's never heard of it, so I've written it up as a free download.
My Mum-in-law's car developed a fault in the engine and it looked as if it would need a replacement inlet manifold. These beasts cost £160 plus VAT, have to be shipped from France and, due to the age of the car, are a special order at 6 weeks lead time. I popped down to a local metal fabricator and they turned and TIG welded in a new piece for the princely sum of £25!
My son came home from University fired up with a desire to "build something"...my other son did a small landscaping project and dumped a quantity of old scrap timber in the garden (it was an old lean-to conservatory). A short while later our latest "extreme recycling" project was fired up; a food smoker!
To date we have made smoked crayfish, smoked cheddar, smoked salmon, smoked kippers, smoked chillies, smoked garlic and smoked peppers.
We have also honed our skills in cake making, producing a pony cake and a replica racing car...for the man who drives it!
One of my clients insists that all their associates carry Professional Indemnity and Public Liability Insurance.......so I started searching around. I checked out the discounted versions for CIPD and TrainerBase members and did some comparisons of meerkats and then my wonderful wife found an outfit called Westminster Indemnity....their policy (which is underwritten by RSA) was less expensive than even the membership discounted options AND it includes both PI and PL.
I've recently been writing a pilot script for a client for a series of bite-sized videos....it has been great fun and great learning in two areas; firstly to create in a medium which is so limited in it's ability for facilitator/delegate interaction, whilst at the same time needing to be comprehensive but very brief. I'm hoping that this will blossom into a piece of proper "work" and that I can go on to write the entire series of 15 scripts on this particular subject and then go on to other topics. It has also been very interesting to learn about the topic I'm writing on in more depth....I've written on the subject in the past but now I'm actually seeing it from a different angle.
My son has just completed his degree at University (achieving a First by the way!) and so for the first time in my life I attended a graduation ceremony. About 150 graduands (another lesson learnt; a university student is a graduands until the actual graduation ceremony when they become a graduate) each get about 30 seconds in the limelight when their name is read out, they get a handshake and a "well done!" from the presiding dignitary and off they go. This is the culmination of three years of hard work and a debt in the region of £20,000. In contrast, the University gives an Honorary Degree or Doctorate to someone who has been earning a pretty good income over the past three years, pursuing their chosen career path. This person, often a "celebrity" already successful in the public eye, is feted with a speech and a glowing testimonial. He or she then makes an acceptance speech themselves and receives thunderous applause from the assembled families of the new graduates. The Honorary award puts this individual in the limelight for about 40 minutes. It hardly seems equitable, does it?
People talk about the "googleisation of learning" and the inability of people to read maps as a result of the Satnav.....here is a picture of a poster produced by a major high street bank which shows that they cannot even tell east from west....which may explain a lot.....
Caroline made a birthday cake for a self confessed foodie who wanted a Sunday joint cake....the resultant cake is a leg of lamb complete with three veg and the carving knife and fork, all crafted out of chocolate and cake and fondant icing.
Someone, having seen so many "Ace of Cakes" numbers where so much is made from wood or styofoam, asked whether it actually was a cake so we had to put up a photo of the cake during its cutting.
I walk along the canal twice a day and recently took on the volunteer role of "lengthsman" along my home stretch. I frequently meet guests from the Hampshire Four Seasons Hotel who ask directions or questions about the local area. This got me thinking that perhaps there was an opportunity to make this a more formal offering so last week I took the concierge and the head of guest relations for "an accompanied stroll" around the four mile circuit of the "Dogmersfield Loop". It looks as if this may be something that the Hotel is prepared to trial for their guests.
As some may know I used to run a website for people who are looking at three generation living; having your kids and your parents and you all under one roof. I have distilled the information plus more into a small ebook which is cunningly entitled "G'night, Grandma, G'night John-boy" which the sandwich generation will recognise as lines from "The Waltons". The book is subtitled "an adults guide to living with your parents and your kids" and aims to cover all the practical, legal and emotional issues of this form of living, which if the harbingers of economic doom are to be heeded will become more popular (or at least more common) over the next ten years! Priced at a very reasonable £1.71 and available on Amazon
Oh Lord I've failed again!
I've not been keeping this blog up to date and that is bad; how do I know? Because I've just edited a very enlightening e-book called the Ultimate Guide to Blog Marketing and one of the cardinal rules of blogging, like gastric health, is to keep regular.
Not only have I edited that book but I've also edited a smashing little book called 101 Tips for Starting and Growing a Business ~the writers have turned around the traditional 7 Ps of planning:
Proper Preparation and Planning Prevents P*** Poor Performance
And come up with a positive version:
Proper Pro-active Planning Produces Practical Positive Performance
Which I think is quite cool!
I've also been involved in a fantastic programme of Corporate Social Responsibility, doing this taught me a great deal about the ability of organisations to reduce their carbon footprint not only to save the planet but to save money. For instance the organisational target for the local branches is 20% reduction of CO2 in three years; several of the pilot branches actually achieved a higher reduction figure in 10 months, without recourse to enormous expense. As part of the Energy Saving element the client company delivered the entire communication and training via the internet- 249 branches attended a Virtual Classroom that I wrote and set up, some of the feedback comments were fantastic;
My first webinar but "wow" what a fantastic and efficient way of delivering training! Well done!
Andrew E, Group Operations Director
In our location in xxxxx means we really appreciate this type of training. Having done the training on site I was immediately able to start improving processes on site. Often by the time I travel home the enthusiasm generated by the training is lost.
George M, Centre Principal
This was the first time for me that we had used webinar, what a great idea and how much energy was saved by 11 people not driving miles.
Jim A, Aftersales Director
Putting the training together also helped me to learn even more about the Virtual Classroom/Webinar methodology and I have put together a top tips paper to help people in the future. You can download it free here.
I recently needed to capture some screen shot from a video and was introduced to a fantastic free product called VLC, you can download it from here
Moving on, I'm currently reading a book entitled "Will It Make The Boat Go Faster?"
I'm still on Chapter 2 but I've already come across a very useful anti-procrastination tool called the "10 minute rule"- rather than avoiding doing something get off your bum and do it for 10 minutes…..then if you are enjoying it carry on, if not stop….surprisingly you'll find that starting very often is the hardest part! (Yes, it was the 10 minute rule that got me off my bum [well, onto it actually] and sitting writing this blog!)
I've also recently written and published several ebooks which are selling quite well;
The Guide to Company Downsizing is a "how to" for managers in two areas; how to actually give people the bad news that they are to lose their jobs, and how to manage the survivors after you have done the deed.
The Guide to Surviving Redundancy is aimed at the other side of the coin; it is a series of practical things to do in order to survive getting a P45
Dealing With Negative People does exactly what it says on the cover; it is a guide to strategies for dealing with those all-too-common types who just seem to suck the joy out of life! Surprisingly this is the best selling ebook on iTunes in Australia!
Motivating Beyond Money is again a Ronseal title; this book looks at ways that managers can motivate their staff without just throwing money at the problem; very pertinent for these austere times.
Great Eggspectations is a dozen questions you need to answer before you decide to join the growing hobby of keeping chickens!
I have a couple more in the pipeline; G'night, GrandMa is a guide to setting up and living a three generation lifestyle; very pertinent to all the current discussion about elderly care costs and Event Planning is another Ronseal title. I'm also currently editing a work by another author entitled The Quick Guide to Handling Conflict in the Workplace**********************************************************************************
On the work front
I set up and ran a virtual classroom development programme entitled "Event planning and management". This was 'attended' by four people from the charity and conference organising sector and was deemed to be a great success scoring very highly on the value element of the post event evaluations. I'm planning to offer more "titles" using this medium in the future….see below.
I've started writing articles for a website entitled www.disabledunited.com and one of these is around the subject of setting up your own business. I'm offering a web based virtual classroom programme in this arena and you can see details on this website here.
The publisher I mentioned in my last Llog, who specialises in epublishing for Kindle and Android, asked me to produce a series of 'guides'; published next week is a guide entitled "Surviving Redundancy: 12 Practical Actions To Keep You Alive, Sane And Solvent" I have learned a great deal (to add to my personal experience, sadly!) about the whole issue of having the rug pulled from under your feet and so, to follow this I have also got a title in proofreading as we speak which will be called "In The Event of Imminent Downsizing..". This is a two part guide for managers who have to
a) make people redundant and
b) manage the survivors to do more with less.
One of the slightly frustrating things I've discovered when writing for this medium is that diagrams or tables have to be in a JPEG format rather than created in Word. I discovered that if you create in PowerPoint you can then save the slide as a JPEG….which works perfectly.
Finally in this arena I've also written a guide to "Dealing With Negative People", this aims to help people to deal with their own negativity, negative family members and also negative peers and staff at work. Whilst writing this I've done quite a bit of research into the psychology of happiness and I've generated from this research a little list of 10 practical things that can be done to make someone feel more positive and less negative. I've written this up as a pdf which you can download here.
If, as a trainer you are looking for a little "experience" to share with delegates on a training course, from which you want them to extract learning points for different people, please have a look at this little download. The story is true and happened this month and there are several lessons for several people. Enjoy
As a result a desire to broaden my horizons I've started touting for more writing business outside the training area…..I've just picked up a small contract to write an article about the development of a new product…..a sex-toy! Am I now officially a pornographer? The story is currently embargoed until the product's website is up and running but more news will be forthcoming shortly.
On the Home Front
Regular readers will know of the cake making business. We have recently taken a commission for a very large, very chocolate wedding cake that is going to need about £200 worth of modelling chocolate. Consequently we have tried making our own and have discovered that home made (and it is easy to make) is about one sixth of the price of ready made. We also 'market tested' it on a cake which was a replica of a Louis Vuitton handbag and it models just as well as the commercially produced variety and tastes better and has a better "mouth feel".
August 2010 to January 2011
On the work front
I have been very busy during this period and I have learned a great deal; I've learned that:
-when creating a project such as a nationwide Customer Service Advisor of the Year Award competition version control on documentation becomes absolutely critical as things go from the originator to the project manager to the proof-reader to the client and back.
-when planning the training for the launch of a new product you need enough time to specify, write and produce all the documents, you also need the input of the client to sign off the documents and the content.
-you can actually make a really quite effective website mock-up in PowerPoint.
-the aerospace and defence industry supply chain is really quite fascinating and that getting recruitment consultants to carry out a simple little exercise in this arena opens up an enormous number of potential business development opportunities for them.
-www.salesresearcher.co.uk is a very good resource
-even in the grip of a recession, some people can turn a company round in only three months from being an absolute dog to being a saleable asset. But those people can still use a bit of help with their CV and covering letter.
-there is a market for published works especially written for Kindle and Apple iPhones
-there is an excellent video demonstrating the creation of "learned helplessness" on YouTube and another amazing one on leadership and followership at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HawAl3eGLFU
On the home front
-why yew trees only ever seem to grow in churchyards in the UK; the leaves seeds and bark of the yew tree are poisonous to most livestock but yew trees were vital to the English war effort (for longbows)…so the only place where they could be grown clear of livestock was the churchyard!
-that Ben McIntyre is an absolutely brilliant author; his books "Agent Zigzag" and "Operation Mincemeat" are superbly written and absolutely un-put-down-able.
-Jimmy Carr the comedian reckons that an absolutely perfect Sunday would include a walk or a cycle ride past my house where I walk every day!
A musing on the work/life balance front
I was in a pub having a lunch with my wife and mum in law when a chauffeur-driven Bentley with a personalised plate stopped outside. A chap got out and came into the pub, took a seat at the bar ad ordered a drink and a meal, barely had he ordered when his mobile rang. He took the (obviously business) call and by the time he finished his meal was stone cold. He ordered a packet of peanuts instead and as the barman turned to get them from the display behind him the chap's mobile rang again. The guy was still on that call when we left the pub, two courses later.
Is it worth having a chauffeur driven Bentley to take you to the pub if having got there you just don't have time to enjoy even a bar meal?
Ouch! I've managed to go five months without making a single entry in this learning log...it isn't as if I haven't learned anythung over this period, but just that for some reason I simply haven't got round to putting "pen to paper" here. I say here because I've written several articles online at ezine, I'm part way through a series of articles on the "A to Z of Sales Productivity" for a client, I've written an entire Customer Advisor of the Year award competition for a UK motor dealership network and a load more besides.
On the work front
August has been a very quiet month in terms of paying work: 6 hours to be precise, and, "No, that doesn't pay the mortgage!"
I saw a tweet regarding a short video about management and out of interest followed it to here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc&feature=player_embedded
Not only is the format and style of the video very clever but the messages it conveys are really an absolute must for any manager or management trainer.
Earlier this month I took part in a webinar aimed at people who want to deliver training remotely.There were lots of people online for the event, geographically spread from the USA through to Dubai and many points in between. It was a fascinating learning experience (albeit very geared to the capacity of GoToWebinar from Citrix) that really highlighted the potential of the medium for both webinars for large numbers and for more interactive training sessions for smaller numbers. Interestingly one of the main unintentional learning points was that if you are running a "training session" try not to use a seminar facility….at one point there were several dozen attendees "doodling" on the live screen all at once….the presenting trainer wasn't too impressed but he kept his cool admirably.
Following an article in the press regarding the slow sales of Gordon Brown's latest book (allegedly 32 copies in two months) and the speculation regarding Tony Blair's potential book sales (as he is donating all the proceeds of his latest tome to Charity), I decided to find out how my books are doing. The Secrets series books came out in the last week of May, and so had been on the market for ten weeks at the last point at which sales were measured accurately, and Dragons' Den came out in the last week of July so it has been available for five weeks. Sales of the four books combined were a total of 21,797 at the last sales report with a further 122 e-books on top of that. So yes, I'm definitely better at this than the former Prime Minister, Mr Brown!
My book "People Management Secrets" is currently the number 2 best-selling business book at Waterstone's….sadly only at Waterstone's Basingstoke but you have to start somewhere!
Should you be looking at the Dragons' Den book online and wondering whether I did in fact write it, follow this link (http://browseinside.harpercollins.co.uk/index.aspx?isbn13=9780007364282) HarperCollins' website and look inside the book.
On the home front
We all know who Jeremy Clarkson is but do we know about his childhood? Do we know of his predilection for bears? Do we know of his mother and her business empire?......if not we need to have a look at this (http://www.harriman-house.com/bearlybelievable)
And whilst on the subject of Clarkson I learned something else surprising; who was the first presenter of Top Gear? Pop your mouse over here to find out….
If you happened to hear anything about a Mr Slater getting into the international news following a fracas on a plane, I'd like to assure you that any resemblance is purely coincidental.
Having got Office 2007 I've been getting to grips with slightly different format of many of the page appearances, it is the first time I've had a new word processing package in 8 or so years and it really hit home to me how much time you can waste when you are unfamiliar with something as simple as where the button is which saves a document!
Some work I've been doing for Startup led me to set up another website, expressly for Startup Mentors. I used Mr Site again, this is now the fifth website I've built, and this one has a downloadable resources area of specific tools for mentors, a forum for mentor discussions and support and a page for Startup Clients to network and publicise their businesses. The site includes password protection for the areas that aren't public and hopefully will provide a useful service to Startup mentors.
I've also been learning how to deliver training by telephone, this may sound simple but there is quite a lot to get your head around over and above the classroom training scenario. I also discovered that people generally learn and operate at 1.5 to 2 times the speed on a phone call than they do in the classroom (there is an empirical study that proves this fact) which makes for an interesting dynamic when running training by phone. I have now studied, practiced delivery and been coached in the design running of Phone Delivered Training™ as well as using Webex online to support the work.
I discovered that my Dragons' Den book that was due to be published on the 5th of August was in actual fact published early, in mid July, and is therefore already available
I still hadn't seen the final book but have now been sent a couple of copies and I have to say it does look really good, which is kudos to Thameside media for the layout and pictures. Though my name doesn't appear on the outside cover I am clearly recognised inside and just so you don't have to buy a copy if the book to prove it here is a copy of the inside!
Since the book is a comprehensive checklist for setting up a small business (it isn't solely for people who have invented the "next big thing" and who want £150,000 of a Dragon's investment) I am going to combine the two items above and set up to run telephone training programmes for people in "Starting Your Own Business". There is a dedicated page on the website explaining the proposal so if you know of anyone who is thinking of starting up either full time or part time, please direct them here.
I got sent a "joke" of fifty things you'd love to say out loud at work; some of them are very appropriate (not) for trainers. Number 13 particularly is one that should ring a massive bell for all training specialists at that moment when you are defining learning objectives, not so much as something you want to say yourself but as something that you think is the "internal dialogue" of the potential delegate. To see what I'm talking about download here.
On the home front
My wife and I have recently started using modelling chocolate for modelling figures in the cake making arena, it holds structural shape much better than fondant icing and doesn't dry out and crack. We got the hint from TVs "Cake Boss" which is quite compulsive viewing….if you like cake.
When is "Twin Peaks" not a rather surreal 1990s TV drama?
When it's "Twin Pekes" and it is a cake!
How "little things" creep under the radar: When I wrote the books I did so for a small fixed fee: no royalties regardless of how well they sell. Consequently I set myself a subsidiary objective to add links and mentions of my website to direct traffic there that may result on some earning potential. Horror of horrors….I have just realised that though there are several mentions of the website in "Getting Things Done", I completely forgot to put a single mention into either "Team Management" or "People Management"!
Learning Point: By not writing down the objectives and then checking back on them when I wrote and proofread the drafts I completely missed out.
I'm preparing a workshop on Problem Solving and Continuous Improvement at the moment so I've been revisiting to DMAIC process in some detail, this has been an interesting activity in itself, but the programme also requires facilitating action-learning sets remotely so I've been learning to use WebEx for conference calls and online live workshops.
Seeing books that I wrote, on the shelf in Waterstone's, was great buzz; especially when comments such as these adorned the labels:
The Dragons' Den book is due out in early August.
Having recently been on holiday to Italy I can share a little learning with you regarding restaurants. We checked out the menu outside the restaurant; the prices were ok so we went in for lunch. The waiter told us what the "daily specials" were, the special starter was baby squid….this isn't that unusual, and the most expensive starter on the menu was 15 Euros……so we ordered special starter all round.
The meal was lovely but when the bill came to a whopping amount! The starters were 28 Euros a head.
Learning Point: never buy anything without an express statement of the price!
When we got back from holiday we had a surfeit of eggs, some a month old. I needed to find out whether they were still good to eat or not so I Googled. Here is a little guide to egg testing.
Lower each egg into a big bowl of water:
If it Sinks on its Side it is still Safe to Store
If it Sinks on End it is Safe to eat Early
If it Bobs on the surface it is time to Bin it or Bung it at a politician!
I have recently read a historical novel set in Elizabethan times. A word that is frequently used in the dialogue is "bruited", meaning broadcast or discussed, made public. It isn't a term I've heard before but low and behold I then read "Parliament of Whores" a book written by the humorist PJ O'Rourke in the 1980s, and there it was again. This book by the way is both a brilliant discussion of what is wrong with western government and strangely prophetic of the current financial crises facing our nations, I strongly recommend it.
I've been helping Startup to set out their organisational structure and their overall "business" process. This has been a fascinating exercise and helps them to "sell" their message to funders and prospective clients alike. Whilst doing this I learned that you can embed pdfs and other documents (such as project flowcharts and Gantt Charts) in Word documents. This is a great way of presenting the process map and the organisation diagram as it allows you to link to the Job Description and CV of people or to other related documents. (It is done via "Insert" and "Object" in the Word toolbar.
Whist researching the latest book, "Dragons' Den, Start Your Own Business, From Idea to Income" I was looking for an example of the successful diagnosis of the cause of a problem. I came across a brilliant little story that exemplifies many little lessons about this area, three main lessons are:
a) Ask the right people
b) Ask the right questions
c) Don't just rely on the "expert's" opinion
Incidentally, with regard to the "don't just rely on the "expert's opinion":
Last year I contacted a company with a view to working with them as a writer.
On the 20th of May 2009 I received an email from their top
person, a Masters Degree educated "specialist in writing"…it said;
"to be perfectly frank I don't think that writing is your forte."
~Exactly one month later I received a contract from HarperCollins to write a book.
~Exactly 53 weeks after the email I had three books simultaneously published in the UK, Canada, India and Australia by HarperCollins.
27th of May was the publication date of my three books
by HarperCollins (who have at last, I hope, managed to get all the publicity material to not refer to me as a "moanagement" consultant). In order to generate some publicity of my own for them I wrote and sent out a half dozen press releases (revision from a training programme I wrote in 2007)….I've already got one interview lined up as a result!
I learned the origin of the word "mentor"; when Odysseus set off to besiege Troy he left his young son Telemachus in the care of a friend, to whom he entrusted the boy's the education and guidance. The friend's name; Mentor!
My Saddest Recent Conversation
Past Government introduced a raft of new University Degrees in part as an attempt to remove the "stigma" of the "lesser" vocational qualifications by making them subjects for University degree qualifications. In the village I recently bumped into a lad who went off to university a couple of years ago. He is finishing his degree in Automotive Engineering this summer and we talked about his career aspirations. I was amazed to hear that his hopes are to be awarded a place on an apprenticeship scheme in a main dealership after he has completed his studies and gained his degree…. my late mother started her apprenticeship in 1936 aged 14, four years later at the age of 18 she was a qualified Court Dressmaker. This lad will be 25 or 26 by the time he completes his apprenticeship, and he will have a significant student loan debt to boot.
Location! Location! Location!
I'm currently working on my laptop which I have set up on my mother-in-law's desk. This piece of furniture she inherited from her mother and it still has lots of rather ancient things in its drawers (for instance the cause of the jamming on the opening mechanism I discovered was an envelope addressed to Mr B Brock of Haywood House, Box Lane, Hemel Hempstead, dated the 5th of April 1945!) In the desk was a key fob
advertising "The Pyrotechnist's Arms, Peckham, SE15." Out of interest I looked up the pub on Google and it is still there. Nowadays "Peckham" is obviously too downmarket an address so it now calls itself "The Pyrotechnist's Arms, Nunhead Green"
People often say that you should steer clear of swans because they can "break your arm". What they don't tell you is that sometimes you can't steer clear of swans because they are into breaking and entering. This Cob swan was actually trying for some 15 minutes to operate the door handle on a neighbour's French windows!
Q. When is a VW camper van described as "sweet"?
See www.forheavenscake.co.uk for more magnificent cakes
A great month for learning both at work and at home with a range if interesting lessons and titbits.
I have been working mostly with Startup Now, a charity that helps people being released from prison to avoid re-offending by setting themselves up in legitimate business. I am currently helping them to specify and modify their database so that they can capture, store, retrieve and analyse all the data on clients, projects and activities. I'm learning shed loads about how databases work and the entirely holistic nature of planning what you might want to get out of it before you start. I'm also getting back into the non-directive coaching subject as we are going to be training our mentors in this area.
I've also been learning lots about PR as I've been producing and distributing their press release.
I have taken a small news article and created a little guide to heuristic learning from it, I did it for a number of reasons but it is a resource that might be of use to anyone involved in the "life-long" learning field, project management, or creating/proposing "Learning Logs"/informal learning or similar. It is available as a download by clicking here.
I'm also releasing the GRIPS mnemonic as a downloadable resource following a request from a TrainingZone reader.
My HarperCollins books are due for release this month so just to puff them again here is the link.
I also have a book coming out later in the year linked to the TV series, Dragons' Den, It is the first book in a series of three and this one is entitled "Starting your own business; From Idea to Income. There is an article about the series
On the home front
Years ago we bought a bread-maker and it hasn't been used for quite a while. Having watched a documentary about bread (no, honestly, it was actually fascinating!) I thought we ought to get the machine fired up again. Since that day it has run several dozen times and I have to say that getting up in the morning to the smell of fresh baked bread really is a joy. I also learned from my googling that the running costs of a bread-maker (electricity, not capital) are around three pence per loaf….well worth it.
Along the same time I learned, after extensive taste tests that the only butter substitute that actually tastes like butter is Clover!
I've extended the chainsaw carving to include hammer and chisel work and am part way through the creation of a small totem pole; here is the work so far ~
He is now awaiting painting!
A mad month……I learned that taking out one of those car warranty plans is worthwhile, private sewage treatment plants provide some interesting challenges, e-learning software takes patience to learn and use, PowerPoint is actually an amazing tool (it just seems to be abused by people who don't understand it), masses about starting a business, lots about mentoring business start-ups, and that I can carve wood with a chainsaw!
On the work front
I've spent most of the month writing a book on starting a business and in amongst much other research I learned that the old ruse of "it's in the small print, Guv!" is not always binding;
Under the Unfair Terms In Consumer Contracts Regulations of 1999, it is stated that if terms in a standard pre-printed contract (and this includes Terms and Conditions that appear online) are unreasonable, the Office of Fair Trading can make a supplier change their contract. This is an interesting and valuable lesson as it allows one to challenge the "small print". Suffice it to say this only applies to standard pre-printed contracts and not to specifically negotiated agreements.
Also this month I have been defining and writing an e-learning module for a Charity to train people who work for them as volunteers, mentoring business start-ups. Whilst waiting for the licence to arrive for the full-scale e-learning software I produced a mock up of the package in PowerPoint. I learned just how amazingly versatile PowerPoint is as a tool, though it is, as we have all learned to our discomfort, a sadly abused tool.
The package I have produced for the charity also took me to areas slightly unusual for me such as Equality and Diversity Policy and Health and Safety. This is because the learning objectives are part technical and soft skills training and part induction.
On the subject of the actual e-learning software we are using Adobe Captivate, which I'm finding really quite fascinating, the frustration is the amount of amazing stuff you can do with it but the time it takes to actually script and record the audio and video input. For charities there is a whacking great discount available which makes it quite affordable, our version was purchased at a very reduced rate from Pugh Computers Ltd who operate at a lovely, slightly old fashioned, speed…..it took 10 days from order to despatch and more for the copy to actually arrive!
Although I am a small business I have learned a huge amount about setting up a business; for instance; a business that exists solely to provide an income or activity for the principals with no intent to grow a saleable company is technically termed a "lifestyle" business….I never knew that though I've been running one for years!
I also learned a lot about confidentiality and non-competition clauses in employment contracts. The received wisdom is that though they exist they are seldom acted upon and are really quite without teeth, however, the case of Thomas v. Farr in 2006 set a lot of precedent that non-competition and non-solicitation clauses are enforceable and that the courts are prepared to enforce them.
I also learned that the work I have contributed to www.peoplealchemy.co.uk is now accessed by the staff and management of Audi UK, Home Retail Group, Argos, Coventry Building society and The National Police Leadership College.
Have you ever heard the word "Schlimmbesserung"?
It is one of those wonderful German compound words that means "an improvement that actually makes things worse"
If you are planning some improvements and want to avoid "schimmbesserung"; click on the sign above for a free download to help.
On the home front
I took it into my head that chainsaw carving would be fun and so I went and had a go…..
This snail is carved from a round of Scots Pine, it took me about half an hour and has inspired me to continue on this little hobby.
When we bought our car last year we took out an extended warranty through Tesco….the car developed a fault in its electronic system and required a new dashboard. Parts alone were £490 plus VAT but the whole lot was covered by the warranty so it was well worth it (though Tesco no longer do them). We are currently looking at extending the warranty through the Daily Telegraph service, which looks very good.
With regard to what I have learned about sewage treatment plants….I'm not going to repeat it here!
On the home front
I've often written about "sharpening the saw" in the metaphorical sense of taking a break and recharging the batteries, but this month I learned about sharpening the saw in a more literal sense. I own a chainsaw but it had developed a tendency for the chain to stop moving after a short period of a cut. I did some google-searching and decided that the problem was probably actually caused by a blunt chain. After discovering that an incorrectly sharpened chain can cause all sorts of other problems I found a company who will mechanically sharpen a chain for the princely sum of £6.25, even posting the chain back to you at no charge.
My son carefully managed to shut his mobile phone in the door of the car and this rendered the screen reminiscent of Peter Parker's worst nightmare. Being a touch-screen model this reduced the phone to receiving calls only since you couldn't dial a number. At £80 to get an engineer to look at it and £250 to buy a new phone it looked as if the old clunker was coming out of the draw. Until my wife discovered that a new screen (from the original manufacturer) was available via an e-bay shop for £16.59. It came complete with a link to picture-by-picture instructions of how to dismantle the phone and fit the new part, Whilst the job put a bit of strain on my eyesight it only took about 15 minutes and it restored the LG mobile phone to full working order!
The recent cold weather put me in mind of Polar Exploration and at the same time I discovered a big hunk of beef in the freezer that was "freezer-burned", putting the two things together made me think of "jerky" or "biltong". After a quick googlesearch I found the simplest of recipes at and now have a box full of jerky in the fridge and have saved what otherwise would have gone to the dog.
A strange but true fact..
Have you ever counted the spokes on your umbrella? I have an antique brolly with ten spokes, but all the modern brollies I've come across have eight spokes!
On the work front
I was discussing Assertiveness with a group recently and we were talking about Crumple zones (you know, types of people or situations where you find it impossible to be assertive and choose either to be passive or aggressive) I mentioned to the group that I wasn't going to ask them to share their crumple zones but to take some time to identify them so that they could then manage their behaviours. One delegate suddenly blurted out, "Oh God, that is my major crumple zone!" …"What?" asked her neighbour, "good looking guys….I forgive them anything!" She said, blushing.
It has never really occurred to me before but it is so true….good looking people generally get away with blue murder! Massive generic human crumple zone!
I got an email from one of my clients this month to give me my log-in details for their new finance system; I can now log in and track the progress-towards-payment of my invoices. Now that is supplier partnering!
An article that I read recently about companies making time for their staff to get on with their jobs really hit home, so here is the link if you want to find out about cutting edge time management methods
I am just embarking on a great new learning curve….I've started to produce an e-learning module for a charity….I'm doing this in a trial version of Adobe Captivate and I'm having fun and frustration, it has reminded me why people who have never used a computer package find it so hard to get their head around it. If there is anyone out there who is familiar with the package or who knows of a good idiot proof guide, please get in touch!
All of this was on the home front.
On the work front, surprisingly, I haven't made a lot of learning progress; the work I've been doing has been repetitive delivery of relatively familiar material, the only real lesson that has cropped up is the potential danger of using an old training video on the modern information age.
On the Home Front
I have a carving knife that had a sorbo-rubber grip in the handle. Sadly this has, over the years, disintegrated in the dishwasher. I wanted a repair that was hygienic and long lasting rather than a "gaffer-tape-lash-up". In the garage I had a cartridge of Wickes own brand silicone sealant; the type you use around worktops or baths, but black in colour. I spread this into the recess left by the gooey remains of the grip and smoothed it with a wet fingertip. After leaving it to cure for 24 hours it looked like this….
It has now been through the dishwasher three times and has been used repeatedly so it does appear to be a sound repair. It used about 10% of a cartridge of sealant which has to be a sight cheaper than a new 10 inch carving knife.
We wanted to send Christmas presents to my nephew and his family. Schlepping to the Post Office and queuing is such a nightmare in the lead up to Christmas that we went for a company called "Parcels-to-go".
You measure and weigh the package, look up the cost of delivery on their website and buy the service online. You then print the bar-coded label and they collect the package from you. It was cheaper that the Royal Mail and no trip out/parking/queuing etc. I placed the order online at 1145 and they arrived to pic up my parcel at 3pm!
We bought a battered antique writing slope. My wife found a supplier of tanned leather on the Internet and, wonder of wonders, detailed instructions on how to replace an inset leather surface. Now we have also fixed, waxed, polished and engraved the cartouche and it looks like a much-loved heirloom again...
In furtherance of my learning about plumbing I found that the ball valve in our cold-water tank was not shutting off properly, this meant that the overflow pipe (conveniently situated right above the back door) was constantly pouring water. I learned that there are several different types of ball valve but all are relatively easy to replace, as are the washers in same. A couple of weeks later the header tank on the heating system developed a similar problem; I reckon that I have saved about £200 by studying a DIY book and doing the repairs myself
Once again an interesting month with a range of learning coming from a range of sources….
Some time ago I ran the NASA exercise with a group and one delegate opened a debate regarding the "dark side of the moon" (the astrological phenomenon, not the Pink Floyd album). In a sad empty moment I researched this and discovered that there is no "dark side of the moon" (as in a side that is in permanent darkness); there is a side of the moon that never faces earth. The moon has days and nights in the same way that the earth does, except that a lunar day lasts for 364 hours, or 14.75 days. So the side of the moon that is dark is dark for just under 15 earth days.
I mentioned last month that I had been reading "Shackleton's Way" and in the current economic gloom I found myself reflecting on the leadership lessons from this excellent book and why they sometimes seem to go unappreciated in the world of business. I had a sudden realisation that is, I think, a valuable caveat for any business leader wanting to draw lessons from Shackleton or most of the "hero" based leadership works. The difference between Shackleton's situation and that of a modern CEO/MP/Head Teacher is that Shackleton was, quite literally "in the same boat" as the people he led. A modern CEO/MP/Head Teacher is not…there is a gulf of difference (real and perceived) between the salary/expenses/bonuses/lifestyle/security and so on of the modern business leader and the people they lead. This gulf makes for a very different dynamic in the relationship between leader and led (MPs currently take note!)
I'm currently reading a book called "Blood and Thunder" which is a history of the American West in the period up to 1860. I'm learning lots of interesting history (for instance I hadn't realised that the United States had no western seaboard until they invaded California and took it from Mexico, under a policy known as "Manifest Destiny").
I've also discovered that Kit Carson, mountain man, trapper scout and "all American hero" was really the inventor of the concept of the "one minute manager"; his memoirs (ghost written/dictated ~he was illiterate all his life) are full of sentences like this, "Decided to charge the enemy. Done that." No sitting around in his in-tray!
Many of the readers of this Llog will be familiar with Jan Carlzon's "Moments of Truth" concept. I enjoyed a recent Moment of Truth that I thought made quite a cute case study in customer perception. I have written it up and posted it in the "downloadable resources" section, with a brief explanation of MoTs
I mentioned last year that I had been given Eco button; it has now been installed for a year and has currently saved:
Me £77.42 in electricity
The environment 151.33 Kg of CO2Quite a good ROI for £12.99
An interesting month in all respects with some great new learning both in the business scenario and the home arena;
On the work front
I continued work on the manuscript for my second book for HarperCollins whilst I was on holiday in Turkey; it may seem sad to be spending good bronzing time sitting in the shade writing business books but it was a very good in-fill of time for someone who, being a bit "ginger", can't stay in the sun for too long without burning. It was also a time free from work distractions. Both of these elements were included in my last book!
One of the topics covered in the book is "delegation" and I developed a new mnemonic for the subject. I have condensed this into a new free resource for you to download.
In order to save luggage weight on books I took a download of "Shackleton's Way" on my ipod,
this provided me with six hours of "reading" material for about 2 grams of weight. The book is an excellent learning resource for leadership and management lessons from a man who was about ninety years ahead of his time. One of the nice things about the book is that it also draws on modern peoples' interpretation of "shackletonian" methodology and, perhaps more pertinently, how they have put it into practice in the real world. It is also clever that the examples the authors have picked span the public sector, corporate industry and entrepreneurs.
From the BBC's report on the Ig-Nobel Prize wards ceremony;
This is a great way of controlling the time usage at corporate functions!
Also This month I have uploaded and two new management guides into the online shop; These are "Client Account Management" and Mission and Vision"
On the home front
We have all had the problem of the dripping tap but we had a problem with a tap that turned but wouldn't run, never mind drip. I turned off the water and dismantled the tap to discover that the main shaft that lifts the washer had sheared off. A new set of taps can be purchased for anything from £20 but the cost of having them fitted by a plumber is in the hundreds. I went on the search and discovered that the "innards" of most bath taps are common and a replacement "Headstock" cost £1.98 at B&Q. Fitting it requires a screwdriver and a spanner and nothing else. Job done and huge cost averted!
Whilst researching the content I discovered a lot about circadian rhythms; for example did you know that teenagers' bodyclocks are biologically set about two and a half hours behind adults and children, which is why they are so adept at staying up til 3 am and lying in bed til midday; it's natural!
May was one of "those" months; there was no paying work and life was getting grim, when suddenly, out of the blue, came two offers of contracts in quick succession! Now all I need to do is find a way to deliver the new work until I start to get paid again.
On the work front
One of the offers of work is a project with the Jobcentre Plus, delivering "customer service" training to new people hired in consequence of the economic down turn. Most of these people are mature individuals with previous careers in the commercial sector and inevitably the question arises of the similarities and differences between customer service in a shop or pub or hotel and customer service in a situation like the Jobcentre. We realised that the similarities are enormous; customers of the Jobcentre are upset by the same things as customers of a retailer or an IT supplier. The single biggest difference is "choice" of final behaviour; in a commercial relationship, if terminally unhappy with the service, product or attitude of the staff in the provider, a customer can go elsewhere. In the Jobcentre Plus situation the customer is caught, they are a trapped "market", and this means that they cannot take their anger elsewhere, they take it out on the staff at the Jobcentre!
The other offer of work is an invitation to write two management books for a global publishing house! At this stage I'm just waiting for the actual contract to come through so all the details are under wraps but I can share a little learning with you;
>I did some work for free for a charity through CharityDays
>>Another organisation, Alchemy, offered charities a freebie by way of access to management guides online
>>>I was asked by the guy who runs Alchemy if I'd like to write (unpaid) some management guides for the website
>>>>I have been doing this for about a year now
>>>>>A friend of the man who runs Alchemy was asked by a publisher to write a book for them on his specialist subject, they also asked if he could recommend any other Subject Matter Experts to them,
>>>>>>He asked the guy at Alchemy for some recommendations and he proposed me
>>>>>>>I'm now getting some paying work out of it.
Karma does exist…..but it takes a while to get into gear!
I've recently run an Introduction to Presentation Skills Workshop for a professional services client and I learned some interesting "factoids" from the chosen subjects of the delegates practice sessions:
~The dome of St Paul's Cathedral is held together with an anchor chain
~The single lowest ever period of electricity demand in the UK was the three minutes silence in the wake of 9/11
~The Dutch spent £35 million on their pavilion at the 2000 world Expo but reckon that they made over £350 million in export sales as a result.
How about this for the link between teaching and learning;
On the Home front
As I mentioned, income has been rather hard to come by recently and I wanted a new compost bin in the garden, in the spirit of extreme recycling, I asked some contractors who were replacing kerbs if I could have their old pallets and hey presto….
Free, effective and environmentally friendly.
Q. When can you fit an entire baby grand piano, a Fulham Football Club Rug and a pair of skis into a 16inch square box?
A. When the whole thing is an anniversary cake!
April has again been a good month for learning new stuff; paying work being rather thin this month, I have been doing quite a lot of research and writing, I have two new titles in the wings and I have also taken the opportunity to re-write some of my past work in the form of proper e-books. These are now available to buy through this website here and via www.thecompletetrainer.com. More on that story later!
On Easter day we popped a turkey in the oven with all the trimmings and it wasn't until an hour later when my wife noticed that there was no delicious smell of cooking that we discovered that the element on our fan oven had blown. A quick search of the internet informed us that
a) this is a not uncommon problem
b) it would cost around £120 to get it repaired
c) a new element costs £19.99 and the detailed instructions for checking and fitting were available on the net
So, at an investment of 45 minutes of my time with a Philips screwdriver, we engaged ourselves in self-help and saved a ton!
Learning Points; the Internet is a wonderful resource, and this little quotation;
Spurred on by the TV programme "Who do you think you are?" and the fact that I never knew either of my Grandfathers, I have started to investigate my family tree; each new discovery raises more questions and a good few laughs. My maternal Granddad was invalided out of the Royal Navy after the First World War and was an Auxiliary Fireman during the Second. I contacted the London Fire Brigade to see if they had any documents relating to him and they found his service record card, which they sent me. They attached a brief summary in which they stated that he was a "café driver" in the Royal Navy. Intrigued by image of a nautical Starbucks I looked at the actual historical document and discovered that the cursive script actually says "Late Diver RN"…..Granddad was one of the fellows in the big brass helmet and lead boots, not a barista afloat!
Learning Point; you need to look at the original not someone else's interpretation, even when interpreted from English to English!
As mentioned above the lack of paying work has prompted me to re-jig my Alchemy topics and some other written works and put them up for sale as e-books. Several are already available on this site;
~Advanced Presentations Skills,
~Negotiation and Influencing,
~Mapping and Improving Processes
~PR for Smaller Organisations and
Three other titles; Vision and Mission, Problem Solving and Managing the Survivors of Downsizing will be available shortly.
Check them out here.
I am also selling elsewhere on the web. Fantastically, I made my first sale within 5 hours of the item appearing on the e-shelf! One sale does not a mortgage pay, but it is a step in the right direction!
Times are becoming interesting as the economic situation becomes more challenging and this in itself brings new area of learning.
I have learnt that Word tables can have formulae in them to automatically calculate outcomes, like a mini version of Excel, this isn't new to Microsoft but it was new to me!
During the last recession I was working with a large outplacement provider and I discovered a lot of research into "Survivor syndrome" and the proven, longer term, negative effect this has on the bottom lines of organisations that have downsized. Many firms are going through the redundancy cycle again but there still seems to be no coherent offering in relation to the folk who got to keep their jobs….so I've written a topic on the subject at Alchemy, which should be published around Easter. I'm also offering a short "Survivor Management Workshop" as a low-cost, low-key way for organisations to start to rebuild after a downsize.
As the tentacles of my influence spread I have now discovered that there are even readers of my advice in Iceland! Over the past couple of years I have therefore provided online coaching and advice as far afield as the penal system in the US of A, childrens' charities in Africa, manufacturers in India and consultancies in Iceland….sadly all this is done for love and no money (another learning point is that the "conscience box" on this site isn't tweaking any consciences)
…… "Please note that my client is looking for someone who is already in a permanent role and must be able to demonstrate career progression within an organisation."
Forgive my ignorance but one definition of "permanent" is "unchanging" and I'd have thought that someone who could demonstrate "career progression within an organisation" was likely to have undergone much business change.
You have heard of Murphy's Law but have you heard of "A Morrison's Alternative". This is my new life-law, providing a more scientific sounding and modern phrase for what is commonly called a "no-brainer"…it comes from the pricing logic in my local Morrison's Supermarket;
It isn't really a "choice" is it? It differs from the traditional "Hobson's Choice" in that there is theoretically a choice but it would be wholly illogical to choose one of the options, hence it is a no-brainer, or a Morrison's Alternative. Remember that you saw it here first.
I also learned that I have been (along with most of the population of the UK) labouring under a misapprehension that it is illegal in the UK to change the mileage readout on a car. It is perfectly legal and can be done for under £200 (£45 on a Vauxhall Astra!)…..what is not legal is to then sell a car with changed mileage without declaring same to the buyer!
(Why would you want to change the mileage on the dashboard? Well, if you have had to have a replacement dashboard fitted, for example, or, if like the Mercedes owner I heard of, you have had a fender bender and your electronic dashboard has started to count DOWN the miles!)
(I think that this is a very pertinent thought when looking at cost cutting or calculating ROI)
A thought for those of us in the UK; Jackie Smith (our Home Secretary) assures us that an MP needs a second home and therefore a second home allowance.
~An MPs base salary is 2.54 times the national average salary
~An MPs second home allowance is 97.6% (untaxed) of the UK national average salary.
Who set these figures?
February has been another great month for both the "Ah, Ha" light-bulb types of learning and the slow dawning types.
The management guide on "Communicating Change" is now live on both the web based, and download, versions of People Alchemy,
The topic on "Vision and Mission" is now written and with the editor, my thanks go to all the folk who responded to my question on TrainingZone; I did offer a small prize as an incentive and once the editor has finished this will be finalised and the "winner" announced here. One of the major points of learning during the research and the writing of this topic was that the creation of a vision or a mission is the easy part, it is what you then do with it that really counts!
I am part way through writing an Alchemy management guide on "Managing the Survivors of Downsizing", a very pertinent topic given the current economic climate and the frightening statistics that send the message that cutting the headcount is not the end of your task but just the beginning!
I was running a Time Management Course recently and one of the delegates said that fatigue was a major problem for her; we brainstormed ways to reduce the effects of fatigue and afterwards I did some thinking and research and have written a short guide on the subject. This covers two angles; coping with it on a very short-term basis and trying to avoid it in the first place.
If you can keep your eyes open and you can be bothered you can download it from here!
Oh, Deer, oh Dear.
In the middle of February I learned that nature is stronger than glass fibre. In spite of evasive action I clipped a stag (the fallow kind rather than the 1970s Triumph version). Its antler caught the extreme edge of the bonnet and then hit the wing mirror. Its body then tumbled along the nearside of the car from front to back; breaking every single panel and door on its way from front to rear.
Renault Espace ~ write off
Stag ~ asymmetrical headgear! Yes the stag got up and ran away, leaving only this calling card to show the insurance company.....
But.....If the insurers write off the car, you aren't entitled to a courtesy vehicle, even though it may take the insurer 10 days to actually process your claim and send the funds to replace your car.
On the work front
January has been another good month for discoveries and learning, including some learning about learning and specifically the learning log that I post on this site. I was browsing through the News and Features section of TrainingZone and saw an article entitled "free management and business training resources"
"Ah ha!" I thought and went to have a look.
Blow me down if I didn't find this site listed amongst the big players such as Learn Direct Scotland and the Voluntary Services Training Unit!
I have been developing some Presentation Skills Material for a client and we wanted to put in some content regarding defining the actual purpose of your presentation; for instance if you are trying to inform a group of knowledgeable professionals about a subject you will want to use a different presentational style to that which you might use if you were trying to pacify an angry group of members of the public. The word "impact" came up several times during the discussion and so whilst I was writing the material I started playing with the word in the context of defining what "impact" you are trying to achieve with your presentation. The outcome is a mnemonic to help you to plan your presentation to achieve that impact. It is published in short form in the Downloadable Resources pages of this site.
Publication of my fourth management e-book, Communicating Change, at People Alchemy has been delayed by staff sickness and an extended Christmas holiday at Alchemy but is allegedly imminent. I am now working on one relating to "Mission, Vision and Purpose"; I'm learning a lot about the attitudes on the shop floor to "mission statements" in particular.
Learning Points so far;
~Mission statements NEED to be relentlessly publicised or they just die in the welter of day-to-day pressures.
~DON'T use buzzwords in mission statements; management speak is for managers; it immediately raises the hackles of a lot of people at the coal face.
I hope to have this title ready for publication in the spring
Over Christmas we always make lots of small bite sized mince pies and lemon curd pies. They are little puffs of heaven with exceptionally short pastry, but this means that they are absolute buggers to get out of the patty tin intact. Just before Christmas we bought some of the new silicone muffin moulds…problem solved; easy eject mincers, the only problem; no damaged goods to be sampled whilst still hot!
I've always enjoyed whittling and woodcarving and have always wanted a Puukko knife, which is a traditional Finnish Sami style of woodcraft knife. They are, however fiendishly expensive so I've never bought myself one. Whilst searching for another woodcarving tool I discovered that the Scandinavians had developed an apprenticeship system for woodworkers which in English is called "Sloyd", this system utilised the traditional tools in many cases and so one of these is based on a Puukko knife, consequently I was able to get exactly what I wanted from a tool supplier rather than a camping/hiking/fishing/Ray Mears type supplier.
At the same time I got a "Twy Cam" which is a spoon or bowl carving knife and the learning point of that is that it really does make it easier if you use the right tool for the job, especially when you want to make something for a specific date!
The spoon is carved from solid Hampshire Oak and the arrow is Silver Birch
A little light and good news to brighten the gloom at Christmas
I have collected and collated some "feelgood" items for this little seasonal offering to spread the learning point that even in the gloom and doom of Britain 2008/09 there is some happiness; enjoy….
If you are a training provider, or a trainer, and you are currently feeling that life is pretty grim, just be grateful that you aren't in the same business as this organisation…
…as you struggle to work with your laptop and PowerPoint slides, your Blu-tac and flip chart, spare a thought for this guy, and count your blessings! At least you don't have to wear rubber gloves to work
An amusing anecdote regarding customer service;
My wife bought a new watch from a gift retailer she knows locally and after a couple of months it stopped. The retailer said that if my wife took the watch back to her, she would send it to the wholesaler and get a new battery fitted free….sounds good so far.
A few weeks after returning the watch my wife asked if it had come back yet.
There was a moment of embarrassed silence before the retailer confessed that she had completely forgotten about the return for a new battery and had…
…sold the watch to another customer!
Read On >>>>>>>>>>>
As regards Christmas Greetings click here to visit the Coach-and-courses Christmas Card for 2008.
Read On >>>>>>>
And finally, just to prove that even the criminal fraternity occasionally get an attack of conscience at this festive season:
A thief has been captured on CCTV footage returning the diary of a woman killed in a car crash to her parents' home on the Hampshire-Wiltshire border.
A figure was filmed bringing back the journal written by Lisa Wilson who died in a car accident in Australia in 2002.
Her parents kept the journal and other mementoes of their daughter's final days in a safe which was ripped out during the burglary on 30 November.
Lisa's father, Clive Wilson, 56, said: "This is the best Christmas present."
The thief returned to the Wilson's house a week after the burglary in Nomansland, between Southampton and Salisbury, while the couple were at a Christmas party.
The burglar was caught on CCTV cameras installed outside the house putting the stolen items in a cat basket.
He or she also gave back postcards, letters and photos belonging to 23-year-old Lisa but kept valuable family items including jewellery.
Mr Wilson said: "Lisa's journal was irreplaceable, it was full of her words and she will never be able to say anything to us again.
"We have had all her special thoughts returned to us which is amazing. In some ways it brings her back to life for us.
Lisa's mother, Patricia Wilson, 59, said: "She saw the good in everyone, no matter who they were. I think she touched the hearts of those guys who broke into our house.
"It proves her point that there is good in everyone."
Lisa's parents have set up a trust fund in memory of their daughter and have so far raised £160,000 to help students with financial problems.
Have a good Christmas and as prosperous a New Year as Messrs Brown and Darling will allow!
November has been an excellent month for new discoveries and learning for me, on both the direct work and the life side.
I hit 47 this month and in an idle moment was surfing around when I come across this website, http://www.fiftyplusnorthantsadventureclub.org.uk/, I suppose it goes to show that whilst life may not "begin at fifty", if you can find a group of like minded adventurous souls, it can certainly get a new lease.
Many of the readers of this Llog are laptop users and many of those fund their own machine (rather than having a large IT department to fall back on). In a similar situation my son found that his laptop was becoming depressingly slow and clunky and was hankering for a new one….my wife found this website, http://www.crucial.com/. This website will analyse your computer and tell you exactly what hardware you can buy to upgrade it, they then offer to sell you same for a surprisingly low price. We were able to upgrade the laptop for £26 and ten minutes with a screwdriver, all instructions included. Log on time has gone from 25 minutes to about 30 seconds!
If you happen to love seafood and you happen to be an un-precious sort who can cope with an eatery that is completely frill-free, make a trek to The Company Shed. Bare concrete floor, bring-your-own-booze-and-bread, mismatched glasses and cutlery and mindlessly fresh seafood-to-die-for at amazingly low prices (eg less than £50 for 5, two courses), fantastic!
In these days of soaring fuel prices and economic gloom I asked for a received an eco-button as a birthday present. This cunning little device drops your PC into sleep mode at the touch of a, well, eco-button. I've had mine attached to my home-office desktop for three weeks and to date it claims to have saved me £5.32 in electricity and the environment 10.41 kg of carbon. Extrapoliting that up if you have a personnel population of 50 and they only use it half as much as I do you could save over £4500 per year! Yes, I'm sure someone will point out that this simply speeds up a feature that is already on your computer, but, hey, it's that speed and ease that actually makes you use it isn't it?
Having written a response to a question on trainingzone I have been contacted by a US specialist publisher, the Bob Pike Group, who have asked to publish my answer in their regular newsletter entitled Creative Training Techniques, it is nice to learn that in the information age someone in a small village in Hampshire can have an effect on people as far away as Chicago, Illinois!
I'm writing another topic for Alchemy on "Mission, Vision and Purpose" (whilst waiting for "Communicating Change" to get through the editor's grasp!) and this is providing a great stream of "new" learning, from the varied opinions of what mission statements are, to how to produce them, to what to do next. Particularly insightful was the comment on a forum (from which I am seeking anecdotal vox-pops), which asked, "Have you thought about your personal mission statement in life?" This is a question I often used to ask in career counselling mode.
I'm also learning a considerable amount of new and revision stuff around contract law and court case history regarding non-payment of invoices…but I won't detail this as it may embarrass a certain organisation who is currently proving "difficult"
As times get more worrying in terms of income I felt it might be appropriate to see if I could get this site to earn me some money; loath to actually charge for the resources and downloads I've been giving away for years, my wife suggested an "honesty box".
Conscience box or honesty box?
I'd never really thought there was a difference, but I have learned that an honesty box is where there is a fixed price and an honour system for collecting the payment, whereas a conscience box is for people to donate what they think is fair.
So I learned how to set up an on-line shop but instead of "products" there are different levels of voluntary contributions, a virtual conscience box!
I also learned that, according to studies, an honesty box is more effective when accompanied by a picture of eyes looking at you or of Jesus looking down at you! The eyes I felt were a little threatening and recognising the rather one sided view of Jesus, in our multi-cultural and secular society, I'm afraid I succumbed to Jiminy Cricket;
I suppose I'll learn over time whether folk actually place a value on these things!
For the past six months I've been providing an online career coach and executive coaching service to a corporate client, I've also been providing some ad hoc career coaching to private individuals, again on line and via the phone. I have decided to make this service a more formal offering and thus have put it on the website here.
I came across an interesting little "policy" for improving "time management" and productivity, a download is available here, and don't forget, if you like this you can leave a little contribution on your way out!
The editorial staff at Training Zone took two of my ideas up this month as the Trainers tips, the first relates to the issue of senior managers failings in the area of speeling and gramer and appears here…
The second relates to making training manuals "sexy" and appears here
I live in a house with two other generations; our children and my Mum-in-law. I recently discovered that this three generation lifestyle is a growing phenomena so I have set up a website to provide advice and assistance to folk thinking of going to this lifestyle.
This exercise has taught me a lot about a wide range of things;
~Unlike the UK Border Agency and at least one Police Force, I learnt to create my own logo in 20 minutes before breakfast rather than spend thousands of pounds on it.
~I learnt how to write a PR plan and a press release; so well that I issued the press release and got my first request for an interview from a journalist within 6 hours!
~I learnt that I have some serious spelling problems and a rather iffy taste in colour schemes (I learned this courtesy of some of my virtual web colleagues at TrainingZone and TrainerBase from whom I solicited some feedback about the site)
Since we reopened the fireplace in our home I have noticed a frequent tendency for downdraft to fill the living room with smoke; I did a bit of googling and found the right product but whilst looking I came across this. It is a great lesson for any business thinking of cutting costs and going to a remote or virtual customer help desk.
Once again a lot of lessons have been learned on both the work and the "life" fronts….in the latter section there are some lessons that will be valid for a lot of folk particularly as relate to the roof over your head!
I have just completed the manuscript for the Management Guide on Communicating Change for People Alchemy- at time of going to press it is with the editor so should hopefully be live within the next couple of weeks. This work has taken me into the world of TJ Larkin whose extremely well referenced work explodes quite a few pieces of the received wisdom in regard to change management. Alchemy is now available online as well as a down load so it offers even greater flexibility to your people....and is very cost effective in these difficult times.
I'm now working on a Guide for Mission and Vision which again is showing me that there are, as Kipling said, "nine and fifty ways"!
During these studies I have come across two very useful websites; the first is a production of the HSE; it aims to dispel all those horrifying 'elf & safety myths that are promulgated in the press and on TV (mostly by Messrs Clarkson and Fry!), have a look http://www.hse.gov.uk/myth/index.htm.The second is one for anyone looking to give their company, product or service a name…it is humorous but real and therefore not falling into the category of "just a laugh." Take a gander at www.bspcn.com/2008/06/07/the-50-best-pun-stores/
We bought a VAX Mach 6 upright vacuum cleaner….this is the sort of machine that Jeremy Clarkson would buy; it is not a domestic appliance, it is a Weapon of Mess Destruction; if Hans Blix had found a couple of these in Iraq, Tony and George would never have had egg on their faces. If you want a vacuum cleaner that sucks the muck OUT of your carpet, rather than just OFF your carpet, get one of these!
It is also guaranteed for 6 years!
Being country folk we made a large batch of bramble jelly in July and after the fruit pulp had drained I added a bottle of vodka and four dessertspoons of sugar to the pulp that otherwise would have gone in the compost bin. I left this for a couple of weeks and then drained it off and bottled the vodka…the taste is heavenly!
Over the past two years my wife and I have been battling for my Mother-in-law over the sale of her previous home to a developer with a Deed of Covenant to her benefit over future planning applications. Many British homes have Deeds of Covenant and I would like to share some of my learning about these legal instruments.
~ A Deed of Covenant is worthless unless someone has the financial wherewithal to enforce it through the courts; a long and expensive process.
~ Legal Aid (it has a different name now but we all still know it as Legal Aid) doesn't cover you if you are the victim of a breach of contract
~ Having Legal Service insurance may well not cover you for what you think it does, especially if it is linked to your car insurance or a credit card.
~ You don't have to be a solicitor to represent yourself or your family in court....but it helps if you can get some free legal advice from qualified neighbours or friends.
~ There is a product called "After The Event" legal insurance which you can buy to cover the legal cost of suing someone....perhaps! (I'll let you know if this works when we have gone further down this road)
August passed half in Turkey on holiday and half in the UK back at work but again lots of lessons were learned both on the professional and the outside-work fronts.
One of our chickens has gone "broody" and the received wisdom is to pop her into a separate cage where she can't snuggle down warm and comfy. Broody cages seem to be about £60 if you want to buy them but I remembered from my Army Engineering days a thing called a "gabion basket" that sounded remarkably similar. B&Q sell a product called the "Qube" by Metpost, which is a perfect broody cage at c£8! I simply used some cable ties to connect it together rather than the structural spirals provided and Robert was my parent's brother.
I also learned (from a book) how to clip wing on chickens so now our little flock is truly free range…and the garden is slug-free to boot!
Should you ever find yourself needing parts for your car but not wanting to pay the full dealer prices/wanting to recycle go to http://www.1stchoice.co.uk/ this brilliant FREE service found me a steering rack, an exhaust manifold and a new wheel, all with a guarantee and at a saving around £500 on garage prices!
A client has asked me to help them to "refresh" their Balanced Scorecard and roll it out amongst their staff and managers to get some understanding and commitment to the management techniques and cultures appropriate to make it work. As a result of this I have been learning all about the history of the Balanced Scorecard and devising/adapting some management tools to support the achievement of successful outcomes. This has led me to delve deeper into Action Centred Leadership as well as SMART goals & objective setting, effective delegation, feedback skills, cascade briefing and leadership competencies. I'm producing a supporting e-book for the roll-out but sadly some internal politics have caused the project to be put on hold so I can't finalise the work, hopefully all will be re-started shortly and we can complete the material and get the workshops done.
I've had some very positive feedback from clients using the Process Improvement Module I have written for People Alchemy, in one particular instance a major insurance brokerage has found it perfect to help them to produce the documentation they needed to finalise some major business.
I recently came across a rather cute little joke that perfectly explains what an "osintot" is, for anyone who wants to use it in Project Management Training I've put it as a downloadable resource on this website.
July has been a quite quiet month on the work related learning side, partially due to the holiday season, but there have still been a few nuggets;
Some years ago I was contracted to write a workshop, which included a workbook. The client wanted the workbook to include a sample of a contract; the contract was the complete document, which, though obsolete still contained real client names and details. Said document was produced and placed on a password protected page on my website. A delegate had visited the password protected page of my website and "copied" the link in the address line at the top of the screen. This then somehow got posted as a link on Google, allowing anyone who did a Google search to simply click on the link and bypass the password protection straight into the confidential page. On discovering this I had to delete the page and the actual server download of the document.
Lessons learned; beware the apparent confidentiality of password protected pages; if a client copies and pastes the link it is still the supplier's website and therefore responsibility. Also beware of including ANY confidential information in course materials; they can surface years later with the only apparent attribution being the author's signature!
My third management guide has just been published on People Alchemy; this one is on Process Improvement and I learned a lot more about the tools as I wrote the piece. I'm now working on a module entitled Communicating Change.
We took our holiday in Turkey this year and this led to some learning about packaging; most packaging in Turkey has exclusively Turkish labels and so when we wanted a bottle of milk I bought a white plastic 500ml bottle with blue writing and pictures of cows grazing. There were also identical bottles with green writing, which I assumed to be UHT or skimmed milk.
I later discovered that in Turkish, milk is "Süt".
However, there is also a popular product called "Ayran"; this is strongly salted drinking yoghurt.
Lessons leaned; salty yoghurt does nothing beneficial for the flavour of PG Tips and sometimes a picture paints a thousand inappropriate words!
A little guilty secret
As a true Englishman I have always eschewed the American food staple of the PB&J, or peanut butter and jelly, sandwich. Recently I read a couple of excellent books by a female American writer called Nevada Barr and her lead character refers to a peanut butter and honey concoction. Purely out of scientific interest I tried it…..it really is very good!
June has gone and what a lot was learned in that merry month, on both the work and non-work related front.
I needed to put some sound bites into my laptop to allow them to be used on a Recruitment Workshop…having done so I discovered that my laptop's soundcard was burnt out and apparently you can't replace a soundcard in a laptop. However, I discovered that you could get a USB Plug and Play soundcard for about £14; this allowed me to use the sound on a computer that had no internal card. For any folk whose desktop PC in the office, being configured and built for work, has no soundcard, this is a useful way to be able to access e-learning modules that require this facility.
The laptop concerned above is slowly unravelling and desperately needs replacing…. those who know me will know that I'm nothing if not a bit tight-fisted, though nowadays it is more acceptable to dress this as "environmentally friendly"! Did you know that PC World on-line sell guaranteed, second-hand laptops for just over 50% of the new price? I've just received a very nice Toshiba wide-screen laptop for less than I'd have paid for a cheapy in Woolworth's; delivered to my door and in virtually brand new condition!
"Growth?"- A client wanted to run a team away-day for a large team which consists of several autonomous business sub-teams. They wanted to have each team give a presentation relating to their plans and needs for the future financial year.
I came up with a mnemonic-based "plan" of which I'm quite proud (on the grounds that it worked well both to focus the teams' minds and to gain feedback for management).
The mnemonic was GROWTH; Goals, Realities, Opportunities, Wants, Tools and Hurdles. There is a free downloadable resource for anyone who wants to get more information and or to use it.
I also learned that bookmarks and hypertext links in Word work in a very different way to the "same" things in .pdf documents; in fact it seems almost impossible to use bookmarks in a similar way on a .pdf, although sometimes they transfer faultlessly!
The Equation that:
Performance = Skill + Will has always been a favourite of mine and I heard another one last week which I think is equally valuable;
Failure + Excuse ≠ Success
I have a garden fountain that I don't like to run permanently as the water splashes out and it slowly empties. When it isn't running the water drains back down the pipe into the reservoir below which renders it useless as a birdbath. Not wanting to "plug" the feed pipe I popped a sheet of Perspex into the bowl, loaded it with large pebbles from the water feature and zapped it with a hot air gun. The Perspex softened and created a modernistic bowl inside the stonework….it just lifts out when I want to run the fountain and it doesn't detract from the look of the stonework!
May has been a good month for learning new things on both the business and the personal fronts.
Any fool can sweat...
On the personal side I discovered that even a cheap Woolworth's pressure washer can save you a ton of elbow grease in terms of getting all the green stuff off the garden furniture, I'm sure that the electricity it uses isn't very environmentally friendly but being able to avoid using any cleaning agents probably makes up for this!
Bok, bok, bok, bokaaaaa a hobby that provides a meal!
We have recently become the proud owners of four chickens who are gaily providing us with delicious free-range eggs, buckets of chicken poop for the compost heap and hours of delight. I'd never realised how pretty the 'umble chicken is! Apparently owning chickens is the fastest growing "hobby" in the UK.
Something to make you go "Huh?"…….
My son suddenly pointed out the following:-
~we use acronyms because they contain fewer syllables and are therefore quicker and easier to say than the words they represent, for example "V and A" (4) instead of "Victoria and Albert" (7) or MP (2) instead of Member of Parliament (6 or 7, depending on your diction)
~but the most common acronym in the modern world is probably "www" (9*) which is "short" for "world wide web" (3)
*[or 6 of you come from Texas and call the President "Dubya"]
Making corporate values earn their keep..
On the work front I've recently come across a situation where an organisation wants to ensure that their "Values" are more meaningful than a bit of paper in the bottom drawer. What they have done is to link their organisational Values to their Core Competencies so that espousing the values through behaviours becomes an element of their recruitment process and their appraisal cycle....
"What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say."
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Sticky notes rule...
I had been told that "Post-It" type notes (which I love) are not re-cyclable and gum up reprocessing plants…since the source of this was a highly qualified environmental scientist I accepted it as fact…however, I mentioned it on a forum and was taken to task by another contributor; follow this link to see the latest on how you can use "post-its" with a clear conscience! http://www.3m.com/us/office/postit/faq.html
Courtesy of any answers on Trainingzone.com I have discovered how to easily make a recording to put a sound bite into a Power Point presentation. I'm just producing some "listening" exercises to go into a training course I'm writing and this will provide a perfect repeatable resource for testing people's listening skills. To prove I can do it, and to tell you "how to", you can listen to it here (if you have a sound card and speakers!)
I have picked up a range of useable and insightful little learnings this month:
To avoid accidentally sending an unfinished or un-thought out e-mail
Make a Word document more interactive
By adding a hypertext link to a section of a word document you can then add a "screen tip" as an answer to a question or a clarifying comment…put the cursor over the words "hypertext link" above to see what I mean (but don't click!).
I picked this up as an example of how to blind 'em with bulls**t if you can't baffle 'em with brilliance.
Again I was approached for some input to an article about dealing with difficult delegates….follow the link below to see the outcomes.
Holiday-makers, prisoners and learners
Are you being "negative"?
This quote appeared during a BBC Medieval Season documentary.
"By doubting we come to enquiring and by enquiring we discover the truth"
Peter Abelard 1079-1142
It struck me as a neat encapsulation of why a cynic can be a useful catalyst to development.
Click here to see an image that could teach us many things; for example
"Men work better with a clear target"
"Prevention is better than cure"
"Not making a mess is better than cleaning it up"
"Customers are sometimes in control of their own satisfaction"
March has been a great month for learning new things;
I realised that I was being a bit free and easy with my outputs, giving away lots of stuff gratis…even to my competitors. (This realisation came about courtesy of a thread on TrainingZone). Consequently I have decided to prioritise my largesse into two categories;
a) exercises and short handouts which I'm happy to give away free to those in want
b) larger pieces of output, such as workshop plans or e-book manuals, which I will continue to offer but for which I need to be paid.
Hence there will continue to be a growing group of a) on the website and if anyone wants to buy the right to any of the b) type material, give me a call!
You just have to be commercial about things if you want to eat!
I was running a customer focus workshop for a business in the design and decorating business and the subject of "competitors" came up. Delegates were discussing who their competitors are and what they are doing in the field (in order to plan a the "Signature" of a Triple S approach). One of the delegates was from the Marketing function, which had just completed an awareness and attitude survey amongst actual and potential customers. Interestingly the survey told them that the single biggest competitor for the design and decorating business was Thomson Holidays!
You may be competing for the principle as well as the contract!
Another work related learning this month concerns to the issue of reviewing-yesterday's-learning-on-Day-2 of a training course. The colleague I was working with produced a series of 3x5 cards with the key aspects of Day 1 as one-word summaries.
He then divided the delegates into three teams of 6 and got them to play competitive Pictionary™ with a six-pack of Cadbury's Cream Eggs as a prize!
Simple, but highly effective.
I picked up the following list from a press release from the Carbon Trust:
Workplace emissions - fast facts
• Office lights left on overnight use enough energy in a year to heat a home for almost 5 months
• A 2°c increase in office temperature creates enough CO2 in a year to fill a hot air balloon
• Air conditioning an office for 1 extra hour a day uses enough energy in a month to power a TV for over a year
• A computer left on overnight for a year creates enough CO2 to fill a double-decker bus
• A photocopier left on standby overnight wastes enough energy to make 30 cups of tea
• A chiller door left open for 30 minutes a day wastes enough energy in a year to power a lighthouse for nearly 4 days
Even if you are a sceptic about the whole CO2, man-is-destroying-the-planet thing you can look at the wasted money and still see the point of cutting down on the power useage.
On the outside work front
When you buy something on the web using PayPal™ you are protected, right?
…Well up to a point and read the small print;
I bought a new laptop battery on e-bay and paid through PayPal. The seller didn't send the battery as contracted until I reminded him by email, it was 21 days before he mailed it.
It arrived and I put it on to charge overnight as recommended. It ran my laptop for 7 minutes!
I tried again
I contacted the seller, who responded, after five days.
I replied, he responded after another five days.
I sent back the damaged battery and waited for the promised replacement.
Two weeks later; no replacement.
I contacted the seller, he replies three days later he hasn't sent a replacement and won't.
I contact PayPal but….the protection is only for 45 days….I'm out of time!
Be aware of buying things from CHINA via PayPal…the cut-off period doesn't take into account the long reply and shipping times.
If you have a garage/shed full of part empty cans of paint did you know that lots of Local Authorities run a paint recycling scheme; you drop off your unwanted paint and charities can collect it for free.
Google "paint recycling" in your locality and clear the shed!
February has been quite a juicy month for learning new "stuff";
I was asked to stand in and run a two day assertiveness workshop in place of a trainer who had to go into hospital; I got the delegate workbook but there was no trainer guide material at all! It was quite an enlightening journey to work backwards from the end result through the to the timetable and the learning objectives. The delegates came from investment and retail banking, a global charity and a professional services firm so there was quite a range of personality types. Suffice to say it was a successful workshop with comments including "The BEST course I have ever been on"
I use the "Any Answers" feature on Training Zone as an exercise area to practice problem solving and this month there was a question relating to assertiveness strategies, particularly saying "no"…one respondent, Colin Boxer, proposed a novel methodology which I thought was so brilliant that I "stole" it!
If you would like to see the original post click the link below
Or, if you prefer I've written it up as a download
I've also learned a fair bit about glass fibre this month, and, having just gone through a minor outer circle of Hell with an insurance claim for a kitchen floor, I've learnt that insurance contractor Homeserve couldn't plan a prayer meeting in a church and not to try putting down expensive Karndean thermo-plastic tiles on "Sticks Like Sh*t" gap filling adhesive; this is what the tiler did and it makes the tiles go soft and the adhesive expands!
As you will see I've skipped a couple of months here, not because I've not learned anything new but from a desire not to overburden everyone with more mail in the run up to the festive season.
I'm happy to report that my son's friend has actually come out of the coma after three weeks and is now well on the road to recovery.
Learning Points: The human body is a wonderful thing and the NHS may have it's detractors but it is still a very good organisation at saving lives.
I have developed another e-book for a charity, this one is for successful planning and managing of charity fundraising events. it runs to 66 pages and seems (from feedback to date) to be pretty comprehensive. Whilst researching it I learned a lot more about scheduling and project management, tons about entertainment co-ordinating and party planning and quite a lot about the services available for charities in the UK.
Much of the content of the book would be as useful to someone organising a company conference or "do" so if you are interested in getting a copy please contact me.
As a follow up on the "virtual workshop" I mentioned in the last posting; it isn't going to happen. The chairman has decided that an on-line quiz should suffice as a refresher for the management topics, so web-based-multiple-choice software may be my next subject for learning!
October has been an interesting learning month with a range of discoveries in the work and non-work fields. Looking first at the non-work;
My home came with a 10-year guarantee on a section of hardwood floor. The varnish on the floor has deteriorated and the surface of the wood is now stained. I called the company and was told that the guarantee is on the wood not the varnish; if the wood wears through in 10 years they will replace it. So I now have an ugly, badly stained floor, four years old but the guarantee doesn't kick in until we've worn through 10mm of solid beechwood. I asked what I should do about the surface. "Sand it down and re-varnish it" came the answer….But "Of course, as soon as you sand it you are damaging the wood, which invalidates the guarantee". Choice; six more years of a stained and pitted floor or let the company off the hook and get a decent looking floor!
Learning Point: paying extra for a guarantee may be a false economy if it turns out to be a "weasel warrantee".
Teenage energy levels: last week was half term and I badgered my seventeen year old son to get out of bed before 2 in the afternoon and do something worthwhile. My entreaties fell on deaf ears. One day his phone rang just after midday but he was still in bed and didn't answer it.
Half an hour later he got up for breakfast/lunch.
The missed phone caller had left a message, it was a mate asking if he wanted to come shopping in the local town.
My son's lie-in had made him too late.
The mate took two of their female college friends and went without him.
Sadly, he ran off the road, hit a tree and rolled.
The girls both received cuts, bruises and a lifetime of nightmares.
My son's mate is still in a coma.
Learning Point: I'm still working on that, and preying for a happier outcome.
Looking at the work related arena:
A client company's chairman wants all managers to have refresher training but the downtime seems to be prohibitive. I hit on the idea of using an e-learning package that could be self-managed and following it up with a short "virtual workshop" via conference call. I've been investigating this and the benefits of using this methodology are many and varied. I've invested in some learning in design and delivery of learning by phone and am hopeful that the company will agree to at least pilot the method. I'll let you all know if they do.
I wrote a workbook some months ago which was a simple "download and read" Word Document. A delegate passed comment that whilst the content was good more interaction would have made the experience more engaging. Unable to invest in "proper" e learning, I filed the comment under "G" for "Good Idea, but not do-able".
I've just delivered a Workbook on Public Relations for a bit of Charity Days Work; it is still a Word Document but it is quite interactive through the use of bookmarks and links. The client and I are both quite pleased with it so I'll let you know how it goes down with delegates! I'm planning on putting this Workbook on the downloads site BUT selling it for a small sum on behalf of charity, If you would buy a "how to" guide to PR for a couple of pounds let me know.
Last month I mentioned that I was producing a little guide to SWOT analysis; it is now available free in the downloadable resources section of this website.
And finally Esther...
I published the charity e-book for Sebastian's Action Trust last month, priced at £5.40.
Not one copy has sold!
In the interest of learning I'd welcome all feedback as to why people didn't buy. Please let me know by e mail
Making an assumption that the issue was price I've reduced the price to £2.50....if it was price, buy it now and I'll know!
September has been an interesting month from the learning point of view; I have been developing a module on SWOT analysis for a Key Account Management workshop I run with a professional service firm and this has led me around the net and the library looking at posted and published "best practice", as well as having some in-depth discussions with end users who want their SWOT analysis to produce plans that produce results. I may publish some of the outcomes as a downloadable resource on this website in the fullness of time.
I've also continued to learn a great deal about the subjects I'm aiming to publish in my charity ebook, these range from protection against computer viruses through to business philosophy and even how to keep weevils out of your self-raising flour!
Self-generated learning about document layout, in-document search facility and bookmarks is also proving to be quite fun.
I still want input for the ebook so if you have been saving your snippet (on the basis of "save the best til last") please get it in to me very soon as I'm intending to publish this in time for Christmas. Please note I've added a new chapter subject of Health and Beauty if you have any tips (I certainly need them personally as well as for the book!)
I learnt a bit about travel this month and I also learnt quite a few lessons in the arena of customer service...travel first;
~When travelling with others DON'T have a suitcase each; if you do, and the airline loses a piece of your party's baggage, one of your party will have lost everything. 'Tis therefore wise to spread the content around, that way, though all will have lost some, no one will be left trying to fulfil a business trip or a fortnight's holiday with only the clothes they stand up in.
(I'm sure someone will point out the two questions you are always asked by the smiling happy security people at the airport; "Did you pack this case yourself?" and "Are you carrying anything for anyone else?"~~~I'm talking about sharing your luggage with people you know and trust!)
~Also pack your mobile phone charger in your carry on luggage....you'll need that mobile to phone the airline to track the lost stuff down.
Which brings me to the Customer Service stuff....
~If you are responsible for Customer Service for your organisation remember that good ways to upset a customer are:-
1) have a customer service phone number that no one answers for 6 days
2) have a non geographic number that may be barred on many peoples mobiles.....and that they are sure you get paid a proportion of the tarrif for
3) have a "For x department, press 1" system that ensures they have been on the line for 8 minutes before they are told "all our operators are busy please try later" and are disconnected
3a) ditto above but after eight or nine minutes the customer is given a different phone number to ring......number dictated at Mach 4 by a strongly accented recording
4) only having operators manning the "Sales" line when you are a 24 hour operation so a customer with a problem can't get any help
5) have a help system only available on-line....not every customer has access to the www.
6) ditto but a fax number, again not everyone has access to a fax, besides which the customer may want to do more than "tell" you something
July has been a quiet month, paid business wise, so it has given me an opportunity to reflect on the subject of "learning"; as some of my readers will know I am a consistent subscriber to the "Any Answers" forum on TrainingZone
I enjoy the challenge of finding answers to other peoples' questions as a way of learning through problem solving; this month a question was posted that went like this...
"I need to assess candidates' ability/skill in producing effective board-level documentation. It's a recruitment exercise, and although I will probably use some Verbal Reasoning tests, my client also wishes us to assess our candidates' writing skills in a more "real life" way. For example, writing a strategy document.
I guess it would be in the form of an in-tray exercise?? But I could do with some external inspiration on this one!
This being a recruitment question it isn't my area of current, day to day expertise, but my answer was...
"I'm reading this as being a recruitment exercise for someone who reports TO the board but IS NOT an executive member of the board.
In order to assess the "ability to produce board level documentation", rather than getting into an assessment of the ability to actually "come up with a strategy", there needs to be some clarity of what constitutes a "board level document".
My take on this would probably be akin to the production of an "executive summary" from a more complex document.
Perhaps you could get a weighty report (you know, organisations buy them by the kilo from management consultancies (joke)) and ask the candidates to produce an executive summary that could be read/presented in less than x minutes at a board meeting.
This might also give you an insight into the individuals ability to "extract" the pertinent bits for board members; HR implications, Accounting implications etc.
I hope this helps
The reply was gratifying;
"Very many thanks, Rus.
I'll be doing just that, and I appreciate your time.
I'll be giving them a wad of documentary notes, probably stuff from the company they're applying to, give them one hour to absorb, assess and analyse, Get them to produce a paper based on their assessment. From there, get them to prepare a presentation and deliver it to the Chief Exec. Over to him for final analysis/judgement.
Just hope it does the trick and makes me look like I know my stuff, and without me and my intervention, the world would stop spinning, his firm would go bust, and any chance of World Peace would be dashed....
Thanks again, Rus.
So learning can come from helping others, a true win-win situation!
June has been a surprisingly good month for learning new things (new to me at least).
~learned how to set bookmarks in a word document
~learned a great number of little hints on life and living from the input of other folk
~learned that a large proportion of the population either think that they have no knowledge worth sharing or are too busy to take 5 minutes to share it!
I have also taken on a commitment to provide some training to a charity called CHASE and am learning to build quasi-interactive learning tools in Power Point, which is fun and informative as well as potentially very useful. As part of this activity I am revisiting the subject of "Project Management For People Who Have Another Day Job".
In the non-professional arena I have also re-learned the skills of whipping and splicing ....
as regards jointing and tidying up ropes , as I build a support for the vine in my garden.
This month I are mostly learning the noble art of hurdle making! We wanted a tree seat around the ash tree in our garden but were put off buying one by a mix of the price and the lack of a suitable looking version.
My wonderful wife found a suggestion on the web of building one out of hazel and willow; we had an abundance of local hazel but willow was a bit short, so we created this tree seat out of hazel rods woven into hurdles ("continuous weave" we country folk call it!), backfilled with soil and turfed.
It is remarkably comfy to sit on, is as solid as a rock and I'm assured it should last about 6 years!
I also re-learned an old lesson (let's face it many a delegate attends a training event and says that they "learned nothing new, but it was really useful to be reminded of ....).
I have a 25 year old pair of sunglasses that I love but which have become so scratched that they are almost unusable.
Many years ago I saw my dad polishing a scratched watch face with jewellers rouge to make it clear again; he explained how it works and mentioned that it was the same theory as T-Cut colour restorer for cars. I tried it. 20 minutes with a soft cloth and some T-Cut and my sunglasses are as good as the day the Quartermaster issued them to me!
Also this month I are mostly learning...on a Professional basis I was asked to create a "Negotiation Skills" programme.
In doing this I found out even more about the "Three Greeks" especially in application rather than just theory. I also enjoyed and benefitted from generating some really well received practical exercises on analysing influencers and planning negotiations.
I also learned about creating password protected download pages on websites!
I've also been learning about "Value Engineering" as a subject for improving products. Overlaying this on the past experience I have of working with clients on Process Improvement I can see an immediate connection.