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Strategy and Strategists – do we need both?

Not so long ago I attended a conference focused almost exclusively in the future impacts for law firms.  One of the speakers was a specialist in innovation and future thinking; and the resulting presentation was both fascinating and bordering on the scary!

The session centred on futures and what we need to know to be able to understand the future and how we can best plan to get the most out of it.

Two of his key messages were:

Firstly, as Douglas Adams (yes, of Hitchhikers fame) said “anything invented after you’re 35 is against your order of things”.  Yep, apparently after that age we are less able to embrace or even look to instigate change.  I was hoping for a little bit older of be honest…..

Secondly, as Charles Handy (organisational and social development guru) has said “change can take a long time to come but when it does it can be rapid”.  And there is a whole series of episodes across history that illustrate these lulls and then high pace of change – and research suggests we are in the midst of such a period as they usually closely follow a period of recession.

Carlota Perez describes these periods as 5 technological revolutions that have taken place where there is a first phase of development which is closely followed by a bubble or period of disruption or major upheaval.  Then from this downturn stage there is born a “golden age” of technological development.  And looking at the last of these revolutions suggests we could be on the cusp of our next golden age.

What will this bring, what do we need to do and how will we respond?

This is where a Strategist might help within your business.

Traditionally a Strategist or Chief Strategy Officer had responsibility for creating the strategic plan for a 1 – 3 year period.  Nowadays this isn’t enough – this is now a normal function for the business and the value a Strategist can provide is to stretch much further beyond an annual planning process and into the realm of really understanding the external environment, what developments are much further down the line and the impacts these can create both positively and negatively for the business.

Whilst fighting my fears when we explored the glory of AI and the opportunity it brings to our workplace I stopped to question myself – “surely things like this are just for the big boys in the major technology space?”.   Whilst it probably suited me to think this I was quickly brought back into reality when speaking to the lady next to me who works at a similar sized firm nearby who explained to me they employ a Strategist specifically to keep the Board thinking and planning for the future.

Food for thought? Absolutely.

If nothing else your business depends on being competitive  – and if others are ahead of you in this area and nothing else, they are ahead of you and this can’t be good for your business.

Anyone know a Strategist?

 

 

 

Mojo – where did you go?

This weekend I took a really big step forward – literally!  I rediscovered my running mojo.

Just over 12 months ago I ruptured my achilles tendon which resulted in 12 weeks with my leg  in plaster or a Beckham boot.  A difficult time for all involved……

Before the injury I had been a committed runner, having run a couple of marathons and being a serious late in life running evangelist.  I loved the thinking space, I came up with my best ideas when running, and I loved the fresh air in my lungs running on the hills.  And I loved the challenge to run further and faster.

Having waved good bye to my boot a good few months ago now I found I’d lost my running mojo.  Although I could remember all the good things I enjoyed when running, those feelings for some reason just weren’t strong enough to get me out on those hills again.

Whilst one calf is half the size of the other I’m clearly not as fit as I was but still in better shape than when I’d first starting running so this couldn’t be the total problem.

But does analysing the problem actually help with finding the solution?

Shouldn’t I just simply focus on the practical steps to move forward?

So, that’s what I did.

Instead of continually questioning why I wasn’t desperate to go out running again I started to take more practical steps to see if that would work.   It happens – all runners suffer from their mental block, their lack of mojo, their dampened desire to run.  After an injury it’s pretty obvious it’s more likely to happen but it can happen at any time – suddenly busier at work, a couple of weekends with big nights out – and before you know it the momentum is lost.

I bought some new trainers.  Some lovely new trainers that didn’t cost the earth but that I wanted to wear.

The sun was shining – I obviously can’t take credit for making that happen but it certainly helped my motivation.

And I went running with my boy – we chatted and laughed and we had fun together for half an hour and I ran further than I thought I would.  I ran happy!

My mojo is back.

I’m aching all over, but my mojo is back and I’m looking forward to running and re-building both my leg, my confidence and my fitness.

Now, all I need to do is to move on to my work mojo……………..

Wish me luck!

x

Mothering Sunday vs Mother’s Day? And a Simnel Cake….!

As a child of the 60’s I was brought up understanding the fourth Sunday in Lent (or three weeks before Easter) as Mothering Sunday.   It’s now called Mother’s Day and I assume d this was the same thing.

Or is it?

Well apparently it isn’t – Mothering Sunday and Mother’s Day are two different things.  But are the same thing.  Confused?  Well, hopefully this will help you work through the fuddle.

In the UK and Ireland, Mothering Sunday dates back to 16th century and has no connection to us mothers at all (sorry fellow mums!).  It actually refers to the “mother church” which is to say the church at which you were baptised, the local parish church or cathedral of the area.   On this day apparently (called Laetare Sunday) people would return to their mother church for a special service and this was referred to as “going a-mothering”.   As time went on this day became a special event, with domestic staff being given permission from their employers to visit their families as well as to attend their mother church.   The day became one of the few when whole families could join together due to long working hours, conflicting working hours and young people working “in service”.  Often this visit back to the family to celebrate also resulted in presents to their mother as part of the celebration as they may not have seen them for the previous year.

However,  by early 20th century the tradition had largely disappeared – only then to be revived again by a lady called Constance Penswick-Smith who started the Mothering Sunday Movement in the 1920’s in the UK.

Constance took her inspiration from Anna Jarvis in the US who a few years earlier (c1910) had invented Mother’s Day in order to honour her own mother who had been a peace activist during the US Civil War.  Anna’s ambition was to create a formal “Mother’s Day” for all American mothers was initially rejected by many until in 1914 President Woodrow Wilson officially signed Mother’s Day into existence.

Interestingly, Anna Jarvis herself was the first person to condemn a growing commercialisation of Mother’s Day, and started organising boycotts of the event she herself created. One of her anti-Mother’s Day protests even led to her arrest for disturbing the peace, and she was particularly appalled by ready-made Mother’s Day cards, saying “A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world.” Buying chocolates was a no-no as well. “You take a box to Mother,” she scoffed, “and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment!”

Fast forward to the 1950’s and in the UK we started to see the development of the commercial opportunity afforded to retailers hence the date was , and has been since, relentlessly promoted as Mother’s Day.   Anna Jarvis would no doubt turn in her grave!

As a final snippet of Mothering Sunday/Mother’s Day history – did you know that the Simnel Cake is actually tied in to the Mothering Sunday tradition?  Generally regarded as purely an Easter related tradition it was historically a bit of indulgence to make up the austerity of Lent and a nice home baked present to take home to your mother on Mothering Sunday.

So, come Sunday – will you be celebrating Mothering Sunday or Mother’s Day?  I’ll leave that up to you and your familes.

 

Manchester and things I’ve learned today

I recently purchased a book and I need to tell you about it!

The book is called “Lost & Imagined Manchester ” by Jonathan Schofield, and its probably one of the most interesting local history books I’ve read in a long while.   So good, I have to tell you about it.

The introduction explains its all about 50 lost or imagined buildings in Manchester.  Some you might be able to see the traces of and others which never actually got off the drawing board.  You will find anything from the Clarion Cafe through to Maine Road and the Assizes Court.

I won’t go through all of them for you, as I really think you should buy the book, but one of the highlights for me is the Manchester Art Treasures Palace.   Having studied Victorian art at University which included a focus on the Great Exhibitions of London, Paris and Glasgow, I was surprised to discover I didn’t know anything about the Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition of 1857.

Without going in to too much detail on the exhibition, size of the building, attendees (Queen Victoria and co obviously!),  Ia couple of the building of the exhibition facts I found fascinating, .

Apparently the building of this enormous temporary exhibition structure which “covered an area of 2 football fields and had its own railway sidings, landscaping and catering arms” in Old Trafford went something like this:

Idea for the exhibition first discussed in February 1856

Money for the exhibition was raised in March 1856

Royal approval for the exhibition granted in May 1856

Building began in August 1856

Building completed February 1857

16,000 pieces of art all installed and the exhibition opened in May 1857.

The Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition was open for 142 days, and visited by over 1.3m people.  Mills were closed to allow and encourage people to attend.

The “Manchester Madonna” by Michelangelo which is currently in the National Gallery was one of the treasures displayed.

Charles Halle assembled a group of musicians to entertain visitors and as a result of the praise received he then set up the Halle Orchestra.

In September 1857 the exhibition closed (as planned) and within a few months everything had disappeared.  The building was demolished and dismantled.

Pretty much sums up Manchester in the Victorian age in a nutshell – engineering, ambition, confidence, and education.   I’d like to think we’re on the verge of something similar today in Manchester.

 

 

Jonathan Schofield’s Lost and Imagined books are available for a number of UK cities.

 

Be Bold For Change -International Women’s Day 2017

Today is International Women’s Day 2017.

Whilst I’m familiar with the concept and some of the messages that come out each year on this date I am less familiar with it’s history, intention and objectives.

As a woman in a good job living a largely middle class existence it got me thinking about whether this is something aimed at me (eg gender pay gap and senior leadership positions)or is it far more relevant to others in society and across the world.

According to the International Women’s Day official website the day is “a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.” Their theme this year is #beboldforchange.

In my ignorance I thought the concept of the IWD was a fairly recent thing.  I’m not sure why this would be and I’m ashamed really that, as a woman, I don’t understand it in more detail. It’s not after all another National Pie Day!

Apparently (and pretty obviously when you think about it) the first official IWD was held by the Suffragettes in 1911 in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland and over a million women and men attended IWD rallies in these countries to campaign for women’s rights to work, vote, be trained, to hold public office and end discrimination.

Even before this time, in 1908 in New York City over 15,000 women had marched to demand shorter hours, better pay and voting rights as inequality really became a matter for debate and unrest.

The following year, in 1909 the first National Woman’s Day arranged by the Socialist Party of America was observed in the US. And then in 1913, on the eve of World War 1, campaigning for peace, Russian women observed their first International Women’s Day in February 2013.

The date was then transferred to 8 March and this day has remained the global date for IWD ever since. More European countries became involved with rallies held across Europe by women to campaign against the war and to express women’s solidarity through 2014, including London where there was a march from Bow to Trafalgar Square in support of women’s suffrage.  Sylvia Pankhurst was indeed arrested in front of Charing Cross station on her way to speak in Trafalgar Square at the event.

In 1917 the day was declared an official holiday in the Soviet Union and remained an important part of their communist and socialist calendar.   And even now the day is an official holiday in several countries including Afghanistan, Cambodia, Mongolia, Vietnam and Zambia and for women only in countries including China, Madagascar and Nepal.

Fast forward to 1975, and International Women’s Day was celebrated for the first time by the United Nations, followed then in December 1977 when the General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming a United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace to be observed on any day of the year by Member States, in accordance with their historical and national traditions.

So, what is it’s aims and is it relevant to me?

Absolutely it is.

The UN describe is as “a day when women are recognised for their achievements without regard to divisions, whether national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic or political. It is an occasion for looking back on past struggles and accomplishments, and more importantly, for looking ahead to the untapped potential and opportunities that await future generations of women.”

I can relate to that – irrespective of pay.

A blog a day keeps the doctor away!

Why do it?

Well apparently it’s good for us!

As well as being enjoyable, and as well as it potentially being good for business, it’s actually good for us.   And these are some of the reasons why –

  1.  It’s therapeutic to write about your personal experiences, feelings and inner most thoughts.
  2. It improves memory.
  3. It improves sleep.
  4. It boosts immune cell activity, and
  5. Even helps speed healing.

Research was done a few years ago in America to help understand the impact of blogging and according to Alice Flaherty, a neuroscientist at Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital the placebo theory of suffering is one window through which to view blogging. As social creatures, humans have a range of pain-related behaviors, such as complaining, which acts as a “placebo for getting satisfied,” Flaherty says. Blogging about stressful experiences might work similarly.

A similar study also reported that cancer patients who engaged in expressive writing just before treatment felt markedly better, mentally and physically, as compared with patients who did not.

Flaherty, who studies conditions such as hypergraphia (an uncontrollable urge to write) and writer’s block, also looks to disease models to explain the drive behind this mode of communication. For example, people with mania often talk too much. “We believe something in the brain’s limbic system is boosting their desire to communicate,” Flaherty explains. Located mainly in the midbrain, the limbic system controls our drives, whether they are related to food, sex, appetite, or problem solving. “You know that drives are involved [in blogging] because a lot of people do it compulsively,” Flaherty notes. Also, blogging might trigger dopamine release, similar to stimulants like music, running and looking at art.

As a runner I can totally get that – I’ve stopped running due to injury and now instead have a blog. I’ve transferred my energy from one to the other and now I need to work out how to do both…..

Another scientist is continuing to investigate the link between expressive writing and biological changes, such as improved sleep, that are integral to health.

And even it appears that some hospitals have started hosting patient-authored blogs on their Web sites as clinicians recognise their therapeutic value. Unlike a bedside journal, blogging offers the added benefit of receptive readers in similar situation as well as individuals actually connecting to each other and witnessing each other’s expressions in similar circumstances.  A shared community of non clinical support whilst in the care environment (and beyond).

Personally – I like that its self expression.  Working in the type of industry I which doesn’t always encourage self expression (perhaps discussion ripe for another blog?) perhaps for my emotional and psychological wellbeing I will feel the benefit!

St David – who exactly was he?

Last summer I ticked off one of my “must do’s”.  I visited St David’s in Pembrokeshire as part of a wonderful few days away with William.   St David’s had always fascinated me from afar and it almost felt as though to visit there would be a pilgrimage for me.

Wales has always been very important in my life, although I’m not actually Welsh.  My mother is part Welsh;  called Bronwen she couldn’t be anything else really! I have family in the Valleys in South Wales where I spent many a wonderful family holiday when I was young.  I studied in Cardiff for a short time, and spent all my student summers and Easters working at a hotel in North Wales.   I support the Welsh rugby team,  much to the annoyance of my husband…

So visiting St David’s felt very important to me – a religious and special experience.  And to be fair the experience didn’t let me down.  It (the Cathedral primarily) really is a very special place to visit – peaceful, contemplative,  beautiful, simple and inspiring.

St David’s Day is a celebration of Welsh identity and culture.  The 1st March was designated as the feast day of St David in the late 14th century and was celebrated in churches throughout Wales and England.  The protestant reformation in the 16th century resulted in the disappearance of the feast days, with the St Davids Day celebration being then reinstated in the 18th century.

St David, as with many other saints and their legends, appears to be based on a firm foundation of fact.  The son of Sant (or Sanctus), a King of Ceredigion and Non, a nobelwoman, he was born on the site of Nons Chapel on the outskirts of St Davids in the 6th Century.  Throughout his life miraculous events occurred around him and he founded a monastery which is on the site of the current St David’s Cathedral.

The Christian culture he experienced and preached about was based up on the Celtic Christian culture from the early Roman church and he preached throughout South Wales and western England and founded for example, Glastonbury (another of my magical pilgrimage sites) as a Christian religious centre.

St David was recognised as a saint by the Church in the 12th century and his shrine in St Davids Cathedral became a popular pilgrimage destination, Pope Calixtus II decreed that two pilgrimages to St David’s were equivalent to one to Rome.

One of his most notable miracles was when he was speaking at a synod and the ground rose beneath him and a dove settled on his shoulder (he is also the patron saint of doves).  His final advice to his monks was to “Be joyful, keep the faith and do the little things that you have heard and seen me do.”  Beautiful in its simplicity.  I think I would have liked St David.

So on the 1st of March I will spend a few minutes contemplating and following St David’s words of advice.

Happy St Davids Day.

 

Worth Their Weight in Gold

Funnily enough, it’s children I’m talking about!

I’m the luckiest mummy in the whole wide world ever and I regularly tell my son.  My luck is based on so many different things – and it would be hard to articulate all of them here and now.   This weekend, however, served to illustrate perfectly how children can add a completely different dimension to our lives – or it certainly has to me.

William is 9 and one word every teacher has used to describe him has been “enthusiastic”.  He simply wants to grasp life by the scruff of its neck and do something with it.   Clearly he doesn’t realise this is anything different to anyone else – it comes so naturally.  And that in itself is something we should feel lucky about when surrounded by children.

It can be hard, don’t get me wrong, keeping up with him.  It’s really hard sometimes to not be the mum who says “that’s too hard”, or “not sure how we would go about doing that”.  I’ve never been a negative person myself so saying things like this really irk me, but still I have to check myself and think differently.  Is it really too hard?  No, often it just isn’t something I know about, or have done previously, or even worse – fits into our plans!

A few months ago I told William about a colleague who had raised money for a charity involving an 8 year old boy who had a very rare disease.  What I told him obviously struck a chord  and he decided there and then he was going to raise money to help Oliver.  Within weeks he had raised over £250 by running in a local family run.  That was quite easy to arrange and something very familiar to me so I was comfortable with that request and obviously incredibly proud he had managed to do this.  As soon as he finished he started to develop ideas for the next bout of fundraising and over the next couple of months he um’d and arr’d until he decided on setting up a sweet stall in the local farmers market all in aid of the charity.

At this stage, I started with the “that’s too hard” and “not sure how we do that”  thoughts which were followed by “let’s think about something else we can do”…… Clearly this flies in the face of all personal development training I have delivered in the last 20 years and something I was very ashamed of.  But the thoughts were still there, even if I knew better!

Undeterred he carried on with the plans and on Sunday we held our first charity sweet stall at our local market!

The last few weeks (“surely we’ll need more time to do this…”) have been simply wonderful.  William has shown me again how we can do whatever we want to do.  He has shown me that there is a solution to every problem.  He has shown me that if you want it you can do it.  I am incredibly proud of him.

So far he has raised in excess of £400 from the sweet stall.   We had the most amazing day.  The friends who helped him visibly grew in confidence as they gradually moved from behind the safety of the stall to talking to customers about what they were doing and why.  They were developing skills they don’t even know about .    And I learnt so much about myself too.  I learnt not to say “that’s too hard” and to just get on and do it.

I’m the luckiest mummy in the whole wide world ever!

Thank you William.

x