Lessons from The X-Factor

1. Life isn’t fair
2. Despite quotes to the contrary, wanting it lots isn’t always enough
3. Not everyone achieves their dreams (and those that do don’t always enjoy them as much as they thought)
4. The person with the most money in the room can wear their trousers however they like
5. Just because everyone is talking about something doesn’t mean it is worth talking about
6. The fact something is ‘all you ever wanted since you were x’ does not entitle you to it
7. If you are talented and choose to work for someone else, then at the end of your career they will have more money than you. They took the risk.
8. If you do the same thing year after year you might get diminishing results – but you can still make more money than the people writing about how you are doing the same thing year after year
9. People sing, money talks

This blog forms part of the 2014 ‘less effort than normal series’.

Here is my daughter cuddling a statue of Margot Fonteyn – popularity is fleeting, talent endures.


Otter sex and observation

So… otter sex

My daughter is four years old and in the last year we’ve given her the opportunity to see otters twice. The first time was at a wildlife park last year. As we approached the otter enclosure there was a sign saying how shy they were and not to be disappointed if we didn’t see them. When we got there we met a wildlife photographer who had been waiting over an hour for a glimpse. As I lifted my daughter up to see the enclosure an otter poked his head out of the water. He then swam to the edge and started cavorting about like he was auditioning for a place in the next Michael Flatley production. I swear if someone had started playing ‘smooth criminal’ he would have started moonwalking. We watched for ten minutes and then left him to it.

Fast forward a year and we took a trip to Chessington World of Adventure. They had an otter enclosure, I lifted my daughter up for a better look…


There were two otters having frantic sex. Not a relaxed Barry ‘love walrus’ White type sex, but more ‘1990’s Michael Douglas film’ sex. That most shy of creatures.

There are some interesting parallels with organisations…

1. We know that people behave differently when they are observed, but we often don’t take that into account enough in our assessments of situations. We believe our eyes. How often do we form opinions based on anecdotal interactions? My daughter must think otters are the most sociable of all animals (together with the ray, fact: all rays in an aquarium look like they are waving)

2. The counterpoint is that we allow our expectations to be anchored by information given by others. We wouldn’t have been surprised to see the behaviour from the otters if we hadn’t seen signs suggesting a certain type of behaviour should be expected. This is one of the reasons that people need to work twice as hard to shake a reputation as they do to earn it

3. Luck plays a big part in our world view. For the wildlife photographer, waiting hours for his snap, there will be the belief that patience is rewarded. For my daughter? All the world is there for her personal enjoyment.

I guess that’s what you would like your 4 year old to keep believing.

Same old song in recruitment.

I read this post today pondering why so many job adverts still require a degree, even though there are other ways of gaining expertise and experience. It seems almost like a default. And I think part of the answer is that it is a default. This isn’t a glamorous macro answer reflecting on the value of education, it is a thoroughly micro answer based on observation. The question I’d ask is nice and tight – how does a job description get published?

The simplest way to approach any problem to assume the last solution. We might be bad at recycling waste but we are pretty spiffing at recycling other people’s work. Most job descriptions aren’t written from scratch, they are organisational relics.

When you need to recruit a new hire you dig out the job description you last used and maybe give it a cursory check. Maybe you don’t even do that. So mistakes are carried down through the organisational generations.

If you do need to to create a new JD there is a tendency to cut and paste from already existing ones (hell, it saves typing AND thinking) and the desirable/minimum criteria are easy to copy. The first one is often the requirement for a degree – so it seems the most important – and nobody wants to be bold and delete the first thing that occurred to someone else. Candidates are losing out due to unthinking choices.

Two examples of this phenomenon

1. A few years ago my firm was struggling to hire for a Product Manager. I was asked to look at  the JD to see if I knew anyone who could do it. The role was UK based with no international exposure. The essential criteria, nevertheless, required fluent German AND French. It turned out that 6 years ago someone had copied those criteria from an international role and they had stuck. Nobody currently in the team spoke German or French fluently. When I challenged it I got an awesome response ‘well, I didn’t notice it was there, but it wouldn’t hurt…’. Ah yes, the essential criteria that you aren’t fussed about….

2. I did a recruitment event and reviewed the contact details form afterwards. We had guided the first person through the form and on the first side 90 per cent of the details were completed by interested students. However, when I turned over the page the first person to fill it in overleaf had declined to give an email. Only 10 per cent of people completing the second half of the sheet have full contact details. We look at what has gone immediately before for our standards.

We play unthinking ‘follow my leader’ and our actions echo in a way we wouldn’t expect. Why do we need degrees? We didn’t even reflect on that, we just knew the last person did….

Thanks to Gabriella Driver for the link.


A side thought: a great degree gets you the opportunity to dress up like a donkey at the Fringe. There are still some things it does seem to entitle you to.

Superquick thoughts – more splodges

1. Which companies are building a lasting legacy?
2. Is helping others have a better working life a legacy? A life is temporary
3. How much does legacy matter? Is it important to be remembered or to have contributed?
4. We have been learning for thousands of years – isn’t it odd that we still haven’t worked out the best ways to help others learn? What does that say about collaboration?
5. What’s the hardest thing you’ve done in your career? What would have made it easier?
6. Are there any people that you can’t bring yourself to like (but know that you should)? What’s behind that?
7. What’s the worst lie you’ve told on the workplace?
8. What’s the best truth you have stood up for?
9. If you thought really hard about it… what percentage of the time do you spend telling the absolute in massaged truth? And telling slight fibs?
10. If you could go back in your career and have one conversation differently what would it be?
11. When is the last time someone told you not to do something and you ploughed on anyway due to your commitment to it?
12. Doing 11 is a bit arrogant isn’t it?
13. When did you stop thinking of astronaut as a viable career choice?


Plane silly – when common sense takes flight

Occasionally  I use my blog to highlight examples of great customer service. Occasionally I use it to highlight less than great service.

Occasionally poor service can be triggered by systems and occasionally it is a direct result of interactions by people – and quite often it is people feeling unable to overcome a poor system.

My wife and I are flying up to Edinburgh next week for the festival. We are going to stay with the artist currently known as Fuchsia Blue and originally we had planned to take our daughter too. Last week my daughter decided she would rather stay with my brother than come with us (ouch) so we now had 3 plane tickets booked (and checked in) when only 2 of us were going to fly. 

So my wife phoned up the airline to know it would be just the two of us. The substance of the conversation was this…

‘My daughter won’t be travelling now, so could we cancel one seat please?’

‘No problem’

‘I don’t suppose we get a refund?’

‘No, I’m afraid not’

‘Can I just check that my husband and I will still be sitting together?’

‘Well, your daughter was sitting in the middle so we may resell that seat to another passenger’

‘Ok, could you just make sure we sit together please?’

‘We will charge an administration fee to move the seat’

‘So if we cancel the seat you will resell it – and then we’ll have a stranger sitting between us and we won’t get a refund. What happens if we don’t cancel?’

‘You’ll still have 3 seats allocated to you’

‘We won’t cancel it in that case. Thanks’

It is interactions and processes like this that kill people’s faith in sanity. We aren’t angry, we aren’t any worse off (in fact we have three seats to spread out over!) but there was a ‘win’ available for the airline of reselling our ticket that seems like it would have been just a click away….

How often is customer service just one simple click away – but it’s a click that someone doesn’t feel empowered to take…

The future of work?

A great overview by Richard that has placed mr Berkun’s book higher up my reading list

Up the Down Escalator

This week I have been reading The Year Without Pants by Scott Berkun. This is one of those rare beasts – a book about management and leadership that had me engrossed in every word.

9781118660638_cover.inddThe book is Berkun’s account of working for Automattic, the company that built and runs WordPress. It’s really about how someone with a traditional management background at Microsoft coped with leading a team of techies at a company with no email, an open vacation policy, no offices and few conventional rules.

It is a fascinating insight to a futuristic work culture that many of us would love to experience.

There are no formal interviews for jobs in the company and they are not interested in CV’s. Automattic hire via a trial process doing real work with real tools. If you do well, you get hired. Simple.

Induction? Like all new Automatticians, Berkun spent his first few…

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why so serious, HR?

Great post from Broc on what happens when specialists in ‘the people bit’ (otherwise known as HR) forget that people tend to, you know, like to have fun like…um…people

fool (with a plan)

The Killer HR Robot, destroying fun in the name of credibility! The Killer HR Robot, destroying fun in the name of credibility!

HR has a credibility gap. We just don’t get the respect we deserve. Or, at least, it seems HR likes to think HR has a credibility gap. There is no shortage of HR folks who think they don’t get the respect they deserve. Maybe they don’t, but it’s interesting to see what they think will create credibility.

I attended the Illinois State SHRM conference recently (a great conference that’s worth crossing state lines to attend) and a participant, fairly new to HR, expressed concern that we weren’t allowed to have fun in HR. Um, pardon? Apparently her boss and other HR leaders in their community felt that having fun destroys credibility. They felt executives wouldn’t respect HR if we were ever viewed as having fun.

A significant part of my career has been in leadership development and I’ve traveled…

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