Christmas – Elf and Safety Issues

No this is not a statement from a fringe group who are avoiding the frayed nerves and expense associated with Christmas Shopping, cooking, boisterous children and upset tummies. Christmas is a time where a million and one things must happen and be in place (more or less) by the time presents are unwrapped on Christmas day.

To be honest most of us manage it. We enjoy (or tolerate) the influx of friends and family and for once we seem capable of multi tasking i.e. having a drink, fixing the tree, carving the turkey. Using Christmas as a metaphor, why can’t we do all these things in the workplace? Why can’t we encourage diversity, set objectives, plan and execute strategies?

A subtle clue might be in where the focus lies. As individuals, who do we focus on at work, who do we focus on at home (especially at Christmas)? Now think about where the most dramatic results are achieved!

So far we have considered taking Christmas to work, but what if it were to be the other way around? Here are just a few of the issues that might surface:

  • Tall object with pine needles – removed for health and safety reasons
  • Three Wise Men – disbanded because of contravention of equal opportunities policy
  • Baby in a stable – social services involved, baby now in care, animal rights protesters angry because of displaced donkeys
  • Larger house needed – health and safety dictate that there is not enough floor space per human/animal/present
  • Christmas dinner cancelled – no proper workstation assessment carried out on dining table and various rickety items of furniture that we use
  • No presents – Santa has not been on a manual handling course
  • CRB checks on family mean that our relatives must stay away
  • ISO assessors are getting annoyed because we want to have Christmas without first writing a Christmas procedure and having it approved

The list could be endless. There is a serious point to be made though. Yes we do need some frameworks to work within, and for someone to look out for the less fortunate and disadvantaged, but too many rules and too many people saying NO is stifling.

So its time to decide whether in 2011 you wish to embrace a more creative and productive way of working or wither away under a pile of rules and red tape. Remember, if Christmas really was like work, it would be cancelled. Long live Christmas!

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9 Days In Iran – diary of speaker in Iran

Azadi Sq, Tehran, Iran

Azadi Sq, Tehran

On Thursday 4th Nov, 2010 I travelled to Iran to speak at a number of seminars and conferences with speaking colleagues Larry Hochman, Kevin Kelly, Richard Denny, Paul Sloane and Sylvia Perreault. The following text attempts to illustrate the highlights without passing judgement or opinion.

Overall a great trip, interesting people and huge potential for the country. Their are of plenty of obstacles in the way though. Other good news is a measurable weight loss and a drop in trouser size!

Would I do it again if asked? Of course! Read on for some insights …

Thursday 4th Nov
A long drive from Cardiff to Heathrow, a bit wet on the motorway. Arrived in good time to check in around 3 hrs before flight. There was a notice at check in saying that we were going via Hamburg to get fuel. This is because of sanctions against Iran.Why does the UK government do this, it is pointless?

Iran Air is a little no frills but clean and very polite. There is no in flight entertainment but everyone is quiet and the children were exceedingly well behaved. Could the calm be a result of no drinks trolley trundling up and down the aisles?

First plate of food was a rather chewy cheese roll but thankfully this was just to tide us over to the fuel stop in Hamburg. I managed to get a can of coke that had been turned into ice somehow! Some part of that plane was a little cold. Actual meal was better than most aircraft meals that I have had.

Friday 5th Nov
Arrived in Teheran. Met by Moss, Hossein and Mehdi and then driven at high speed to Mehrabad airport for a flight to Isfahan. Other speakers arriving on the BMI flight were delayed and in danger of not making the Isfahan flight. Luckily the flight was delayed by fog for around an hour and a half so we did manage to join up.

Isfahan was very pleasant, sunny and around 10 degrees. Introduced to Beni, our ‘minder’ for the next few days. It is useful to have a good english speaking person to accompany you who can show you the local sights and help ‘colour’ your picture of Iran. Hotel Kowsar billed as 4*. I don’t think that it quite makes that grade but it is spotless and everyone pleased to see us and be helpful.

Drank a lot of tea and slept a lot before dinner. Had dinner in hotel restaurant with the gang and then went for a walk with Paul and Beni. Bumped into a couple of Beni’s friends Sohail and Reza who were out cruising in their car. Reza was highly ranked at Tae Kwan Do so he was to be my friend if I got into any trouble. We walked across one of the many magnificent bridges spanning the river. Plenty of people out but completely safe. The traffic on the other hand was something else! Iranians seemed to have developed a unique blend of walking, talking on their mobile phones and body swerves that allowed them to cross the road with ease.

Noticed that the bank next door to the hotel was named the Tat Bank – an unfortunate name.

In bed by 10:30pm and slept like a log due to fresh air and excitement.

Saturday 6th Nov
Went to an extraordinary meeting with Mr Yazdanpanah, the MD of Lahzeha. His business is wedding photography and videos but with a certain wow factor. He certainly knows his stuff and the products are amazing. What followed was a little surreal as his staff photographed and video’d us doing just about everything! It was like having paparazzi follow you.

The lunch that followed was great and then soe free time, bliss. Tomorrow night we are having a party at the premises of the owner of Lahzeha. Don’t know what to expect but looking forward to it.

Ate in the hotel restaurant tonight but went out for a long walk afterwards taking in some delicious saffron ice cream and also a stroll up to the Abbasi Hotel. The architecture is superb.

Each time we go out we are introduced to business associates and cousins. Is everyone in Iran related? Lovely people though.

Chehel Setoun Palace, Isfahan, Iran

Chehel Setoun Palace, Isfahan

Sunday 7th Nov
Went on a tour of Isfahan with Beni and Paul. Saw Chehel  Setoun Palace and Abbasi as well as Imam Mosque and Imam Square. The latter has bazaars/shops by the hundred all making incredible textiles, metal an enamelled goods. There is huge potential to make money from tourists here!

Went to a well hidden café where you can smoke the ‘shisha’ pipe. Beni told us that this is what they call it but it is also the name for an illegal drug! Best stick to the arabic hookah I think! Went in the section with the ladies and took tea and smoked the pipes. Had our piccies taken their too! Very Persian and thoroughly enjoyable.

Back to the hotel for a rest, a slice of apple pie and catch up with home.

Mr Y’s party turned out to be a small gathering at his garden out in the countryside. What a place! A nice crash pad but I was not sure about the collection of motorcycles.

Monday 8th Nov
First speaking date in Isfahan. Venue is Isfahan Chamber of Commerce and is splendid. Because of the nature of the event timings went a little awry. It was a longish day with a late dinner.

Despite being briefed by Kevin about being mobbed and people wanting photos I was surprised by the attention. Is this what being a rock star is like? I am told that things may get more intense in Tehran. Still giggling at the sight of the audience being taught Irish dancing by Kevin!

Tuesday 9th Nov
Better organisation today. Stayed at the hotel until lunchtime and then went with Kevin to the venue just before lunchtime. Just in time for more kebabs!

Audience were much more enthusiastic and appreciative. It was a shame that we had to ruch to catch the plane to Tehran as the crowds were even bigger. We had to fend them off and make for the exit. It would have been nice to chat but there was not the time.

Flight to Tehran passed quickly but back at hotel late and went for a snack with Sylvia and Richard. Tried Skype and it worked for a while but felt as if the internet was turned off at midnight!

Wednesday 10th Nov
Lousy night’s sleep. Woke up with a headache a gulped a couple of ibruprofen before having a chat with a colleague in Mexico and catching up on my Iran diary. Feels like I should sleep for most of the day!

Went sightseeing and had a peek at the Golestan Palace, the Den of Espionage (former US embassy) and also Azadi Sq. The paintings on the wall of the former US embassy are great but I can see how it would upset the USA. Saw revolutionary militia dressed in black riding on their motorcycles in large numbers near Tehran University. Very scary indeed!

Thursday 11th Nov
Another bad sleep. Up at 4:15am instead of 5:30! Had brekkie at 6am and was ready to go to conference venue at 6:45am. Shame nobody else was. We left a little late but the start was delayed anyway. Venue very posh and I have a badge which says ‘keynote speaker’ on it – cool. First speech very good I thought but second did struggle a little as audience had a problem with the concept of time travel (or my explanation of the activity). After second speech Mehdi sold all of my CDs plus copies of the PDF files, brilliant!

Dashed out at 5pm and returned to hotel to check out. Off to Mehrabad airport for flight to Mashhad. Translators did not make the flight for some reason but one seems to have been found. Mahan Air much better than Iran Air and we were greeted by the event organisers with roses. Temp was lower but air is clean. Reminds me a little of the north of Thailand.

Hotel basic but comfy and spacious (we have suites) so down to tweak PowerPoint, have a cuppa and off to bed. 

Friday 12th Nov
We now have a new translator who has never done this before but his english is good and he is keen! Also the conf venue does not have a translation booth. We start off with translator in a different room for my first slot, not brill but ok. For Paul we move translator in and he has to do one sentence at a time. Progress, things go better. In the meantime our powerpoint is translated in Farsi and so my second session goes much better. Q and A session could have carried on all night as could photos. Translator helped by lovely lady Negin.

Went into Mashhad itself with conf organiser Mr B and his wife. Went to trad restaurant where you sit on a raised floor. Food brill but we managed to innovate the cooking! One of the dishes we had was supposed to be eaten with bread but Paul and I ate it with rice. They told us that this was odd. We just put it down to innovation.

Negin met us afterwards and we all went to Haram to the shrine of Imam Reza. Paul insisted on seeing everything and led us around with the guidebook! Nagin wanted us to go to her garden for tea which was miles out of town but very pleasant. I fell down a hole next to the swimming pool!

We had 6 people in Mr B’s car and he drove like crazy. It was fun though. On arriving back at the hotel Mr B presented us both with gifts. A nice thought but I am not sure how to get the picture back to the UK. 

Saturday 13th Nov
Left hotel with very little time to spare. Mr B and wife insisted that they drive us to the airport but they stopped on the way for a pressie for John. Nice but we only just made the flight. Disturbing scenes of martyrdom on posters at the airport.

Ok flight back to Tehran and then transfer to Hotel Howeyzeh. Great lobby set in a timewarp and efficient staff. Rooms sparkling but bathrooms have ‘exciting’ plumbing. Tested the air con and I can say that the air con in every hotel room that I stayed in did not work!

Had lunch with Paul and Moss then went to sleep after trying the internet access (free – great). Met with Moss, Hossein and Mehdi, Paul and Richard for meal in the coffee shop. Only food was pizza and the oven only takes 3. Alas the 3 Iranian guys were forgotten and only got half cooked pizzas in the end. Still have not found out the Iranian equivalent of manana . An early night was called for with a 4:30am start the next day. 

Sunday 14th Nov
Up at 3:30am in order to leave the hotel at 4:45am for the airport. Trip to airport only takes 35 mins and then Mehdi has a disagreement with the taxi driver!

Mehdi takes us to the currency exchange where the inhabitant is asleep with his feet up. On being woken he says the exchange is not open! We go through security and then try the Meli Bank. They do change our money but only to Euros not sterling.

We check in and then go for a coffee. Richard appears as the business class lounge is rubbish – there is a god after all!

Flight is uneventful but we notice as that as we get further from Tehran the women begin removing their scarves!

Back to reality in the UK!

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Bullying Kills Creativity

Bullying kills creativity! Much has been written about bullying within organisations. Depending on which survey you read, statistics show that anything between 30% and 50% of workers are affected. The large spread may even be indicative of the fact that in some countries and cultures, workplace bullying is under reported. It goes without saying that this topic should be addressed purely from an HR point of view, but what else is it doing to your organisation?

On a personal level, bullying directly affects the motivation of employees. The effect on extrinsic motivation may simply mean that as an employer you notice a decrease in performance. Intrinsic motivation will also suffer as employees ask ‘why should I make extra effort at work?’ As an employer, there is a double whammy here if you are not seen to be tackling the issues. Along with knowledge and experience, intrinsic motivation is one of the biggest drivers of Creativity on a personal level so ignore bullying at your peril.

Creativity is also one of the major components of Innovation, something that many of us strive for in the current tough economic environment. One of the underlying principles for embracing Creativity and Innovation is the new type of ‘network’ that needs to exist within our organisations. It is more informal than those shown in structure charts and helps us to share ideas and expertise. These networks are ‘soft’, they are not built from cables and computers, and they incorporate real people, your employees. Such networks are built on trust and sharing and are of course easily damaged by systematic bullying i.e. bullying that is not personal but which is accepted as the norm.

There are so many more things that you could also be damaging by ignoring individual and systematic bullying such as team working, scanning your external environment, developing initiative, organisational learning and decision making. ‘So what?’ you may say ‘Why should I care?’ To answer this simply take a look around you. The world has changed and to cope with the changes you need to change too. Old fashioned change management is not as effective as it used to be and to continually demolish and rebuild your organisation structure is expensive.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you had an organisation that changed according to its environment, that could change shape and function as the economy changed, and which could, as part of its normal day to day operation generate ideas for new products, services and processes? This is all possible, from the smallest business to the largest most bureaucratic government department. But you will never achieve any of this if bullying or harassment is rife within our organisation. Apart from physical or verbal abuse, this also includes deliberately delegating boring tasks, not carrying out annual reviews or withholding professional development opportunities.

Get started now before it is too late. You owe it to your employees and the other stakeholders involved in your business.

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Guerrilla Creativity – Creativity that works!

That’s guerrilla not gorilla, although I’m sure that apes are very creative in their own way. Have you ever been on a course, say project management, leadership or even assertiveness and then wondered why you had such a hard time dealing with colleagues or perhaps loved ones when you returned? What is your reaction when a colleague returns from a course? At a guess you say to yourself “don’t you try any of that stuff on me, I’m not going to succumb to your tricks or mind games”.

Despite the fact that most of us are responsible adults, we become childish when we think someone may be trying to influence us. The question is how to use our new found skills without anyone noticing. The answer is of course not to tell anyone that we are using our newly acquired skills! When introducing creative thinking techniques the problems are usually made worse by colleagues thinking that they will always be outside of their comfort zone and then battening down the hatches and resisting all your attempts to involve them.

Next time you wish to use reverse brainstorming, do not start your sentence with ‘I think that we will try and use reverse brainstorming on this one’. The words different, change, creativity and uncomfortable immediately flash before your colleagues’ eyes. Why not start your session with a pitch like that below:

“How many of you have encountered negative colleagues in the workplace? Would you like to be able to harness this negativity for the good of the company?”

First of all your colleagues only think that you are trying out a technique or showing them how to use it (which of course you are) and secondly they will jump in because they of course do not wish to be seen to be negative themselves. This type of approach can be used in all sorts of situations. This is guerrilla creativity, sneaking in by the back door, and it works.

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Crowdsourcing – why it may not work for you

This is not an attempt to malign the use of crowdsourcing as a valuable technique, it is simply a way of pointing out that it is not a ‘cure for all ills’ as some people seem to think. Any technique used incorrectly or inappropriately can be at best ineffective and at worst damaging or disruptive (in terms of both cost and reputation).

Following the recent election and subsequent formation of a coalition government here in the UK, much was made of the need to consult widely and get the input of real people to help in the formation of government policy. Ignoring the fact that this was probably a political ploy and that nearly all of the suggestions collected have been ignored completely, this was never going to work. But why?

The first (and possibly least important) reason was the method of idea collection. Simply gathering ideas electronically via bulletin boards or email is a very blunt instrument and places limits on how much people can say. Neither does it allow other contributors to build or add to the contributions of others. This would be a very good time to build a huge virtual nominal group!

Secondly, the biggest error when attempting to make radical (or progressive as the government labelled them) changes is to consult those at the sharp end, the people who are involved in day to day delivery. This seems harsh at first, but if you think about it the resulting ideas are not likely to be radical, just ways of trimming costs or reducing waiting times. The question for this group of people is ’what should the service look like?’ not ‘how should the service be delivered?’. These people can still participate in consultation but with a different label. They need to take a step backwards and see the bigger picture.

Rather than try to trim money from everyone’s budget, a holistic view is needed. Just as in a business when Marketing and Finance are no longer contained entirely within their respective departments, our new government should take a wider view. The questions should be ‘what is the best way to provide relevant education for our children?’ rather than ‘how can we keep exam grades up and chop 40% from the budget?’ To answer these types of questions simply asking people their opinion will not do. Maybe this is not coalition thinking and radical and progressive politics really are not on the agenda.

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