Easy now, here comes the future… #HRTechEurope

Easy now, here comes the future… #HRTechEurope

A number of recent research papers have suggested that within the next 6 months the entire world will be run by a robot army, thereby leaving us as a species with little to do except sit around puzzling as to the role of humans in an economy that is run by robots. Of course, we don’t need to do that thinking either, as that could easily be done by robots. I imagine the last thing that people will relinquish to the robots will be the joyous act of putting funny cat pictures on the internet but, being a pessimist at heart, I fear that even that most sacred of activities is under threat. The only element of debate appears to be whether the robots will look like Arnie in Terminator or more like Johnny 5 in Short Circuit. Frank Sonder considers some of the potential impacts in this excellent and far less flippant piece.

I attended HRTech in Amsterdam last year and it is fair to say that one evening I became horrendously, horribly drunk. I assume someone must have cunningly spiked my 12th rum and coke, as it really hit me quite hard. As is the case with this new information age the results of that event were captured and instantly shared. This photo of HR professionals delicately balancing some traditional Dutch cuisine in their mouths was almost instantly available to anyone in the world with a connection to the internet (about 40% of the world’s population). Being drunk is, of course, a not unreasonable thing for an adult to experience occasionally – but it wasn’t previously the case that 40% of the world would have access to that information.


Alone (and drunk) in Amsterdam I should have done the sensible thing and called a taxi, instead I started tweeting that I was lost – and alone and drunk. David Goddin, it turns out, used to live in Amsterdam and guided me back to my hotel whilst I took photos. I considered those photos to be very arty at the time, but they were strangely quite blurry when I revisited them in the morning. Yes – social media is simply that responsive. It is a network like no other. Everything has changed.

Possibly the biggest differentiator between these times that we live in and any other period in history is the level of interconnectedness of people and the ability to have information on demand. The fundamental nature of ‘smart’ has changed from being knowledge orientated to being a function of the ability to acquire and process new information.  A new age – with new skills, new values, new capabilities and the same old problems for organisations. The very advances that allow us to share pictures of HR professionals eating also allow us to tackle far more challenging and entrenched organisational puzzles.

I, technically, started my career in old fashioned Personnel. I worked in Personnel for one year before the organisation I was in ‘rebranded’ the department as Human Resources. On the launch day of this brave new world I came in to find the door to the office had been labelled ‘Human Remains’. I later found out that this had been done by the HR Manager herself as an act of rebellion.

The key issues articulated to me as ones to solve for HR when I started my career were

  • management/leadership competence
  • problems caused by functional silos
  • proving commerciality to ‘the business’
  • an appreciation that communication cascade wasn’t effective enough to maximise productivity

I’d argue that the issues remain largely the same. The potential solutions are, however, far more accessible, affordable and likely to succeed. I believe we are at a tipping point in terms of technological capability and that is why I’m looking forward to HRTech in London. The possibilities for technology in HR are intriguing – not because they are ‘new and sexy’, but because they are starting to be able to address entrenched and deep problems that have existed for years.  The line up of speakers is excellent (I’m particularly looking forward to Costas Markides), but there will also be value to had from conversations and connections in the Exhibition.

If you are attending and fancy a coffee then tweet me – because that one act shows how technology doesn’t have to be impersonal. It isn’t technology or humanity; it is how we use technology to enhance our lives that matters – and I’m a firm believer that HR technology can help improve our connections and decisions in the workplace.

Come along and see some solutions. Come along and debate solutions. The future is coming and luckily it may solve the very problems that I faced in the first days of my career.

#StreetWisdom – life changing L&D?

This could be the most important blog you read this year. Not the best, just the most important. Stick with me.

I dithered over my question

I knew the question that I should ask (but would be uncomfortable) – and I knew the questions it would be more comfortable to ask. I went for the difficult question. We’ll come back to that.

Last Friday I went on the best development event I’ve ever attended. It didn’t involve incredible content delivery, it didn’t require incredibly talented facilitators, it wasn’t high tech blended learning – but it was truly fantastic. I’d like to help more people have similar events. I’d like to help promote Street Wisdom. 

This is part of that promotion, but I’ll also be delivering a few sessions in the near future to help encourage other people to spread the word too. I haven’t joined a cult – although if I have it is a pretty well intentioned cult with very low requirements for entry.

People found answers to some of life’s biggest challenges in 2 hours. If you wrote down a list of the biggest questions life can throw at you – then you would have found a group of 50 people grinning at having resolved them last Friday afternoon.

Short background

At the CIPD L&D show I met a guy called David Pearl. We talked about what I did, what I believed in and he said ‘look, I’ve got a not for profit thing that I do, it’s called Street Wisdom and I think it might be right up your street’. We exchanged details and a couple of days later I got an email with an invitation to a Street Wisdom event and a link to his TED talk. I watched the talk and signed up for Street Wisdom. I had a bit of faith.

In the run up to the event I was asked to think of one question I’d like answered. I toyed around with some career stuff but eventually committed to the big question I’ve been struggling with ‘what can I do to get better prepared for when someone close to me dies of cancer?’. There was no pressure on me to go with a big question, except that answering that one, in particular, seemed most likely to be of benefit to me and my family.

What happened on the day

We met in Trafalgar Square and were allocated to a facilitator. It was a diverse group – differing backgrounds, differing reasons for being there. We had a short introduction to Street Wisdom with particular focus that the intent is that it should become a movement – it isn’t owned by anyone, it is just about making a difference.

For the first hour we were set a series of challenges. Simple, simple challenges designed to get our heads into a space where we would be in a position to solve problems effectively. They were solitary adventures and I’m not revealing them in case losing that sense of unexpected spoils the learning journey for someone else. You don’t need to be scared, they are interesting. You do feel different when doing them.

After that you all get together to share your questions and then head off to see what the street can answer for you. I took photos as visual anchors – you didn’t have to but you weren’t told you couldn’t. I’m sharing about 70% of them, some of them I can’t as they are too personal or refer to other people involved.

I left feeling as in control of myself and my environment as I have done in the last 5 years. I left with things that I was committed enough to that I went home and talked my wife and brother through them. I left with a clear head about a difficult problem that I’ve wrestled with for over 2 years. I left with good things and a hope that I could share the simple techniques that gave me that benefit with others. 

Here we go – these are my resolutions and realisations. Nothing dramatic – but all gained in about an hour of wandering and wondering.

I need to exercise more. Even in the hustle and bustle you can find time to commit to it. Whether it is walking instead of the tube or getting up earlier for a jog, I need to make sure I’m feeling less sluggish and more energetic.


And I need to take more holiday too. I let my free days become cluttered days and don’t get enough genuine time to relax and refresh.


And I have to realise that when I take that time out it won’t always be that the bits all click together like a jigsaw. Some things can’t be solved. I need to be OK with that.


I need to find more opportunities (and plan more opportunities) to have conversations with people that I enjoy. With the people that I’m most glad to catch up with.


Even when things are busy I need to find time to communicate. When I don’t feel like communicating – I still need to do it.


I need to focus more specifically on what my wife and daughter need to make them happy. If we can sort out the three of us then that makes everything else far more manageable.


I need to keep learning and keep seeing new stuff. It gives me energy (as long as I balance it with the need to not clutter that I’ve mentioned above).


I need to make use of the weekends to do cool stuff with family, but also find ways to do that during the week too.


I need to hold it firmly in mind that stuff can always be rebuilt. It just takes time.


I enjoy going to watch sport. Sandro is a Spurs player, so this is my reminder to try and get myself up to watch my club a bit more often.


Most nights I only get a short window of time with my daughter before she goes to bed. It’s up to me to make sure we make the most of that time during the week.


I need to not expend energy on things that don’t matter. I can spend a few months not getting animated about the little annoyances (like people paying a premium for Apple products without checking out alternatives that may be a better value fit for their needs…)


Buy my daughter toys she will cherish and enjoy


Make use of the countryside that we have where we live…


Remember the importance of environment in how I feel. I’m always listening to my IPod, I need to ensure that I’m picking tunes to pick me up.


Take family up on offers of babysitting more often, so my wife and I can have time out and about enjoying London.


Give gifts to people more often. I diverted from my reflections to get this for Simon Heath. If you haven’t read 3 Men in a Boat then you’ve missed out on a lot.


What happens now?

Kate Griffiths-Lambeth, Simon Heath and I will be running one in the near future in London. Let me know if you are interested in taking part. Kate and I have also agreed to do one in Edinburgh. Simon and I thought it might be a good addition to an unconference format.

Most importantly – I’m doing things differently. And that, after all, is what L&D and life is all about. 

For more information head here

Humane, Resourced – on the way!


!BoB cover

So, I’ve finally pressed the ‘publish‘ button after a near endless email chain with Hugh at Pressbooks. Essentially the issue that appears on my screen, previewer and physical Kindle – where the book starts in the middle of the index – doesn’t appear on his. I’ve therefore taken the gamble and published in the hope that for new readers the book starts at…the start. I’m hoping when I wake up it will be available in the Kindle store.

A few final notes:

-The book can only be ‘free’ for 5 days out of every 90. I therefore will make it free from Tuesday next week – so it is free to download throughout the CIPD conference

-This has been a ‘homebrew project’  – there will be formatting errors and I’m sure at least one typo will have managed to sneak in there. If you let me know any that you come across I will do an update in a month or so that will be available for anyone who has downloaded it. This a natural consequence of my relaxed nature to things like this and the speed of the book’s production.

– I guarantee someone has sent me something I haven’t included. It is just bound to have happened. To that person (or people) – I apologise, it wasn’t intent, it wasn’t an assessment of your writing – it is just me being rubbish. I’ll try and update it if I can, but please just let me know I’ve left you out without shifting into ‘I can’t believe you left me out you “£%”£$% mode’.

– There are links to videos and articles throughout, these won’t work on a ‘normal’ Kindle but will on iPad/Android/PC. It seemed a shame to leave them out and their presence is the reason that, at the moment, the book isn’t available as a physical copy. If it is successful then I might try and edit it so it makes sense in a print version. It would be nice, I’m sure, for all of the authors to have a physical copy of the book.

– There will be a second book that will improve upon the above….next year folks!

The final list of contributors is below, it is an incredible crop and I’m just delighted that the book has enabled me to come into contact with them. People haven’t just submitted articles they have supported, cajoled, edited, crafted the cover and promoted the book. They are great folk and they made this project happen for each and every one of the other writers

1.    Simon Heath (@SimonHeath1) – blog, glossary and cover
2.    Doug Shaw (@dougshaw1)
3.    Sukh Pabial (@sukhpabial)
4.    Ian Davidson (@ianandmj)
5.    Bruce Lewin (@fourgroups)
6.    Ben Morton (@Benmorton2)
7.    Richard Westney (@HRManNZ)
8.    Lembit Öpik (@Lembitopik)
9.    Emma Lloyd (@engagingemma)
10.  Gemma Reucroft (@HR_gem)
11.  Stephen Tovey (@StephenTovey13)
12.  David Richter (@octopusHR)
13.  Amanda Sterling (@sterling_amanda)
14.  Wendy Aspland (@wendyaspland)
15.  Peter Cook (@AcademyOfRock)
16.  Julie Waddell (@jawaddell)
17.  Leticia S. de Garzón (@letsdeg)
18.  Vera Woodhead (@verawoodhead)
19.  Nicola Barber (@HRswitchon)
20.  Tim Scott (@TimScottHR)
21.  Amanda Arrowsmith (@Pontecarloblue)
22.  Inji Duducu (@injiduducu)
23.  Anne Tynan (@AnneTynan)
24.  Neil Usher (@workessence)
25.  Louisa de Lange (@paperclipgirl)
26.  Megan Peppin (@OD_optimist)
27.  Ian Pettigrew (@KingfisherCoach)
28.  Steve Browne (@stevebrowneHR)
29.  Kate Griffiths-Lambeth (@kateGL)
30.  Tracey Davison (@mindstrongltd)
31.  Jason Ennor (@MYHR_NZ)
32.  Bob Philps (@BPhilp)
33.  Kat Hounsell (@kathounsell)
34.  Simon Jones (@ariadneassoc)
35.  Mervyn Dinnen (@MervynDinnen)
36.  Alex Moyle (@Alex_Moyle)
37.  Julie Drybrough (@fuchsia_blue)
38.  Susan Popoola (@susanpopoola)
39.  Ruchika Abrol (@ruchikaabrol)
40.  Simon Stephen (@simonstephen)
41.  Damiana Casile (@damiana_HR)
42.  Honeydew_Health
43.  Malcolm Louth (@malcolmlouth)
44.  Perry Timms (@perrytimms)
45.  Sinead Carville (@SineadCarville)
46.  Jon Bartlett (@projectlibero)
47.  Jane Watson (@JSarahWatsHR)
48.  Broc Edwards (@brocedwards)
49.  Sarah Miller (@whippasnappaHR
50.  Meghan M. Biro (@MeghanMBiro)
51.  Anna Lloyd (@buggilights)
52.  Luke Thomas(@springccr)

The Book of Blogs – progress update and FAQ

When I first set upon this crazy enterprise I wasn’t sure what I was doing or if it would take off. Whilst I’m still not sure what I’m doing, I’m delighted to say that the idea has very much taken off.

The individuals below have all agreed to contribute and if they all do then we have have more than enough content to justify the ‘book’ tag and it will be of incredible quality. I’m hoping that we attract more writers over the coming days, so please share this blog and the intent. It would be great to get a few writers from the US (edit: we now have!) , but as you can see from the list it is already very much an international project.

  1. @simonheath1 – Simon Heath
  2. @Projectlibero – Jon Bartlett
  3. @TimScottHR – Tim Scott
  4. @HR_Gem – Gemma Reucroft
  5. @OD_optimist – Meg Peppin
  6. @dougshaw1 – Doug Shaw – submitted: In Fear of Fear 
  7. @LadyLoki – Niki Rosenbaum
  8. @ruchikaabrol – Ruchika
  9. @Malcolmlouth – Malcolm Louth
  10. @StephenTovey13 – Stephen Tovey
  11. @paperclipgirl – Louisa de Lange
  12. @Jawaddell – Julie Waddell
  13. @HRManNZ – Richard Westney – submitted: Collaboration is the new Competitive Advantage
  14. @sterling_amanda – Amanda Sterling
  15. @Jsarahwatshr – Jane Watson
  16. @KateGL – Kate Griffiths-Lambeth
  17. @KingfisherCoach – Ian Pettigrew
  18. @conmossy – Conor Moss
  19. @dds180 – me
  20. @bphilp – Bob Philpin
  21. @fourgroups – Four Groups – submitted: A Physics of People
  22. @sukhpabial – Sukh Pabial – submitted: What is hope?
  23. @verawoodhead – Vera Woodhead
  24. @myhr_nz    – Jason Ennor
  25. @Joolztybura – Julia Tybura
  26. @BenMorton2 – Ben Morton –submitted: Leadership in a VUCA world
  27. @IanandMJ -Ian Davidson –submitted: Why thinking in averages is below average thinking
  28. @ariadneassoc – Simon Jones
  29. @octopusHR – David Richter
  30. @MrAirmiles – Jose Franca
  31. @MorrisElise – Elise Morris
  32. @sineadcarville – Sinead Carville
  33. @engagingemma – Emma Lloyd
  34. @kat_hounsell – Kat Hounsell
  35. @TashTasticNZ – Tash Pieterse
  36. @fuchsia_blue – Julie Drybrough
  37. @pontecarloblue – Amanda Arrowsmith
  38. @wendyaspland – Wendy Aspland
  39. @HRswitchon – Nicola Barber
  40. @mervyndinnen – Mervyn Dinnen
  41. @damiana_HR – Damiana Casile
  42. @EmilydouglasHC – Emily Douglas
  43. @MeghanMBiro – Meghan Biro
  44. @DwayneLay – Dwayne Lay
  45. @PamelaRoss – Pamela Ross
  46. @Nicky_T – Nicky Texeira
  47. @Lembitopik – Lembit Öpik  submitted: HR challenges on the USS Enterprise
  48. @LetSdeG – Leticia S. de Garzón
  49. @zoemounsey – Zoe Mounsey

So, I’m assuming at this point that people are in favour of the concept and I’m now getting requests for more detail. This blog is an attempt to give some of that detail…

FAQ (it stands for Faked Anticipated Questions)

Why did you decide to do this? 

I had the idea on a whim when I was thinking about crowdsourcing and in particular this list of HR social influencers http://list.ly/l/5qg. It seemed like a nice community project and, as I enjoy the content shared on HR blogs so much, I thought it might be nice to collate it. I then shot out an impulsive tweet and things took off from there.

So, what is your motivation?

My motivation is very much about giving people an open space to create as individuals, whilst at the same point creating something as a group. I’m unlikely to get a job from this (if you’d like to hire me have a look at goo.gl/fySbh  ) but  I currently have some space in my days I thought it would be fun to build something. The book will be priced at free, so this isn’t a stealth commercial project. It is a community project, plain and simple. I like ideas, I have the time to invest in helping and motivating people to share theirs. If you agree to take part then please understand that this is the ethos and don’t ask be complicated questions about who owns the rights etc. I simply don’t know and am probably disinclined to make things more complicated, if you are worried about this then just don’t take part. If you can think of it as a giant collection of guest blogs then you are in the right place.

What are the entry criteria?

Anyone can contribute – it can be their first blog or their hundredth. It can be new or their favourite old blog. It just needs to make sense standing alone. I’m sort of hoping that we do get to showcase some new bloggers and that the experience helps them go on to create more, that would make the project worthwhile in itself. There is no quality control – if someone has taken the trouble to write it then I will take the time to publish it. I haven’t approached anyone directly as I wanted people who were involved in the project and didn’t want to place any pressure on people to contribute. Please don’t attempt to sell a product – that is the only thing that won’t be acceptable.

What are the timescales?

A month from today for the content (!) should be enough for the length of writing required. So by 16/08 please have your content submitted or uploaded (see below). If you are able to do it earlier then please do, as there is only one of me so having 30 arrive on deadline day will doubtless cause issues.

*cough, cough* but you don’t know anything about publishing do you? 

No, I don’t, good spot. I do, however, love new technology and I’m also able to use Google. The combination of these things has led me to PressBook which is like a communal WordPress tool that will allow people to upload their own content and then for me to publish the content as an eBook to make available on Amazon etc.

So we are all uploading our own material?

It would be really helpful if once you have written it you could upload it yourself. If you write it in WordPress it brings everything over quite painlessly.Send me your email, I’ll send you a log in and then you can just paste your material in as a new chapter. Click on text and then new chapter…

If this seems like the scariest process in the world then there is a two step process

i) attempt it yourself, you only get to live this life once and being in fear of useful things isn’t very useful

ii) send me your content directly – I don’t want anyone to suffer undue emotional distress in what should be a pleasant process

How will the book be structured?

I’m undecided. I might attempt to collate similar entries together or deliberately leave them apart. Who knows? It’s fun embracing an open approach.

What if everyone writes on the same topics? 

I don’t think they will, but if they do then we will still have a book – just on a narrow range of topics. My experience is that people have their own style which means at the very least people will offer different angles on topics.

Is there anything I can’t do?

Please don’t link to any material that we don’t have rights for.  I like putting video and pictures in my blogs, if you are doing so then please make sure you aren’t breaking the law when you are doing so.

What will it be called?

I haven’t a clue. I’m accepting suggestions. In fact if you send me suggestions I’ll run a poll and we can choose together. That is how collaborative this can be.

Can I contact you with questions?

Yes, I’m weak on Geography, but I’m pretty strong in most other areas.

The Book of Blogs – if we build it…

I’m using this blog entry to add a bit more meat to the bones of a recent idea.

After the success of people contributing to a crowdsourced list of great bloggers (just scroll down a bit), I thought the next natural extension was to create a crowdsourced book made up of ‘blogs’.

The broad idea is to reach 100 pages + of content collected from a  multitude of contributors from across the HR twitterverse. I read so many great pieces each day I thought it would be fun to collaborate to create a ‘work’ and I think technology now makes this possible.

My best guess at the moment is approximately 30 contributors giving 1.5 blogs each of 3 pages each = 135 pages of awesomeness.

The rules/guidelines/principles  for anyone interested in contributing are below –

  • It must be your own work
  • You can contribute one, two or three articles. No more.
  • They can be new material or your favourite old blogs. Just enjoy writing about things you are passionate about
  • It must be loosely connected to business or HR
  • You don’t have to be a regular blogger
  • You can be as provocative as you like, but anything offensive won’t make the cut
  • It isn’t for advertising a product, it is for sharing ideas
  • I hope (and expect) that we don’t have a cut to make
  • I’m expecting the average blog to be about 1000 words long – a bit longer or shorter is fine, but I won’t publish a paragraph or a treatise – unless they are really good 😉

The book will be published electronically and for a grand price of free. It is about sharing knowledge, showcasing some great work and not about making money. It’s about giving people a chance to express and challenge. It’s about creating.

If you are interested please let me know, we hit 19 contributors in the first day (and I launched by random tweet over the weekend).

If you are signed up then just get writing. I’m hoping to set up the process for collation in the next week, collate blogs over the next month and publish within the next two months.

If something is worth doing it is worth doing quickly.

Hope to hear from you – and I’m accepting proposals for titles too

If you would like to know what exceptional company you are in then the following people are contributing so far

  1. @simonheath1 – Simon Heath
  2. @Projectlibero – Jon Bartlett
  3. @TimScottHR – Tim Scott
  4. @HR_Gem – Gemma Reucroft
  5. @OD_optimist – Meg Peppin
  6. @dougshaw1 – Doug Shaw
  7. @LadyLoki – Niki Rosenbaum
  8. @ruchikaabrol – Ruchika
  9. @Malcolmlouth – Malcolm Louth
  10. @StephenTovey13 – Stephen Tovey
  11. @paperclipgirl – Louisa de Lange
  12. @Jawaddell – Julie Waddell
  13. @HRManNZ – Richard Westney
  14. @sterling_amanda – Amanda Sterling
  15. @Jsarahwatshr – Jane Watson
  16. @ Kate GL – Kate Griffiths-Lambeth
  17. @KingfisherCoach – Ian Pettigrew
  18. @conmossy – Conor Moss
  19. @dds180 – me
  20. @bphilp – Bob Philpin
  21. @fourgroups – Four Groups
  22. @sukhpabial – Sukh Pabial
  23. @verawoodhead – Vera Woodhead
  24. @myhr_nz    – Jason Ennor
  25. @Joolztybura – Julia Tybura
  26. @BenMorton2 – Ben Morton
  27. Ian Davidson
  28. @ariadneassoc – Simon Jones
  29. @octopusHR – David Richter
  30. @MrAirmiles – Jose Franca
  31. @MorrisElise – Elise Morris
  32. @sineadcarville – Sinead Carville
  33. @engagingemma – Emma Lloyd
  34. @kat_hounsell – Kat Hounsell

Come join us,


PS Somebody asked me who the audience is, for anyone who has watched Field of Dreams, sometimes you just build something in the faith that people will come

Rodin’s longest success

So, for this blog I’m going to be reflecting on what you can learn from Rodin

The De Niro film, with the epic car chase – where they are all fighting over a briefcase with unknown contents?

No, that is Ronin. This is about the sculptor Rodin who created The Thinker and The Kiss. I was recently invited for a tour of the Royal Academy – and I recalled that, to my shame, the only other time I had been there was to visit a Rodin exhibition, which I found genuinely fascinating.

I knew very little about Rodin before the exhibition – but The Thinker holds a special place for me as I am, ashamed to say, a toilet reader, and we had a small scale version of it in the most private of rooms when I was younger.

You read on the toilet?

Look, it’s called lifelong learning and you can’t let the call of nature get in the way of the acquisition of knowledge. I’m moving on from this now…

Private reflections

In 1880 Rodin was commissioned by the Directorate of Fine Arts to create an entrance for a (still to be built) Decorative Arts Museum in Paris – with the theme and design being left to Rodin’s choice. The museum was never built and therefore the piece never got to fulfil its purpose.

The work Rodin created was called ‘The Gates of Hell’ and based on the work of Dante. Rodin worked and toiled on the piece for 37 years until he died he. It was incredibly complex piece of art that he had put time, creativity and effort into – but that never made it to public exhibition in his lifetime. 

So, Rodin wasted a huge part of his career then?

The interesting thing is that Rodin recycled this work into at least 11 other pieces of art during his career. The Thinker and The Kiss are essentially extracts from this larger body of unfinished work. 

Not only did Rodin recycle his work, but he did it multiple times, I had always laboured under the misapprehension that there was only one sculpture called The Thinker, but in fact there are at least 28 different casts of it on display around the world. 29, if you count my parents’ toilet. 

Rodin commercialised fragments of his one initial vision and then deployed the results on multiple occasions. Making repeated success out of a failed commission

The Gates of Hell – The Thinker in the centre

Lessons for HR

  • Even unfinished work can be brilliant – it still has value to you (and value to others) in both what you have learnt and what is new that you can use elsewhere
  • Once you have something that is uniquely you – the cast or model that forms your work – it can be deployed again and again in new environments and still feel fresh,. So don’t be afraid to change environments – you’ll just find somewhere else to make a difference
  • When you see brilliance, then just let it loose – these pieces all may not have arrived had Rodin not been given the ability to choose his own subject matter
  • Next time that you feel that your work is wasted – just reflect on someone who spent 37 years on something because he considered it a worthwhile endeavour in the first place. Time spent on things we value is never wasted – even if the results may not match our initial expectations
  • Failure is just a perspective. Rodin either spent 37 years on a piece that never fulfilled it’s purpose or 37 years creating his greatest piece of work. It just depends on how you tell the story

Thanks to Doug Shaw (@dougshaw1 )for the tour and the conversation that prompted this

Training a Great White Shark

About 3 years ago I started writing a book. That book was never published for a variety of reasons, chiefly that I only ever wrote 6 pages and it wasn’t very good. It was going to be on lessons for business from the movies – and then suddenly everyone was writing about business lessons from the movies, so I stopped and left my notes in an electronic dusty corner. 


Recently, with some time on my hands,  I have started reading some great blogs and one of them is by a gentleman called Neil Morrison (or @neilmorrison is his cryptic twitter handle). I’m looking for my next opportunity and he generously tweeted my CV (if he reads this ‘thanks!). 


Whilst following him I noticed that people referred to him as NeMo AND Finding Nemo is a film AND has sharks in. Now, if ever there was a sign that I should revisit some of my thoughts on Jaws and business, that seems like one. Non sequitur? Probably, but then the Blog title should be a hint. 


“They innocently assumed that they could get a shark trainer somewhere, who, with enough money, could get a great white shark to perform a few simple stunts…” Carl Gottlieb”

Some common facts that people know about Jaws and might volunteer in a pub quiz. 

What most people don’t know is some of the more detailed story behind the production – and that is awesome.The producers of the film, David Zanuck and Richard Brown were fresh from the success of ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’ and confident in the extreme and looking for their next win.  They purchased the rights to the book of Jaws with a somewhat sketchy understanding of what filming it involved. 

As the planning process progressed, it was explained to them that their original plan of training a great white shark to do stunts was a nonstarter- and if they had found a shark of the proportions mentioned in the book (25 feet) there was unlikely to be anyone in the world likely to fancy attempting to train it  -‘shark whisperer’ is a profession with limited progression opportunities. 

So, they got innovative and created a mechanical shark for some shots  – and for some of the longer shots in the film what you are watching is genuine footage of sharks;  filmed off the coast of Australia with a 4ft 9” ex -jockey, placed in a scaled down shark cage to create the illusion of a giant shark in the footage.
Despite these problems the film was an incredible success, if you adjust for inflation it is in the Top10 highest grossing movies ever made, and success from such a poorly thought out start holds some interesting business lessons
  1. Some things simply can’t be bent to your will – it didn’t matter how much resource Zanuck and Brown had – they were never going to successfully train a Great White to do stunts. Abandoning your plans – and sometimes gracefully walking away from people – can be the best path to progress
  2. Money is, sometimes, not enough motivation – a film studio with millions available to it can recognise that, sometimes, money alone will not be enough to motivate people (here’s some cash, swim out towards that fin..). Identify where are you paying people more simply because you are putting them into an unattractive environment – and fix the environment.
  3. Judging success and people on output only is too simplistic – if Jaws had bombed – and I told you the producers assumed they could train a shark to do stunts – you would have assumed they were raging idiots. Luck always plays a part in success – and the big wins and black swans simply don’t average out over time. Remember that when your annual performance appraisals come around…
  4. People can innovate under pressure when committed to a purpose we have spent millions on rights to a book and it turns out we know nothing about sharks. We still have to make this happen… Sometimes we think of innovation as being i) crushed by pressure ii) about ‘big ideas’. Pragmatism is an underrated little brother to innovation. A big, hairy audacious goal with some pragmatists committed to it – and a blank sheet of paper – can occasionally work wonders
  5. A good story can compensate for plenty of goofs – if I can engage with you and help you believe in what I’m telling you, then you stop looking for holes and start having fun. Wilful suspension of disbelief works in business too – if someone points out that your idea, metaphorically, looks like a cheap rubber shark, then you haven’t shared your vision well enough
  6. Doing the same thing again doesn’t represent progress  people get tired and results  get worse through simply following the motions – Jaws 4: The Revenge holds a 0% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, making it one of the worst rated films of all time.
    Tired business models = uninspired people = uninspired result

  7. Never attempt more than 3 bullet points on your blog – oops

    And if you think you are smarter than Zanuck and Brown, because you wouldn’t try to train a shark – try and work out if you would have known it was such a bad idea if they hadn’t had such success with Jaws…