{im}perfect is as good as it gets

 

The nearing horizon flattens and remarkably the third World Cup since I’ve been blogging about football bends into view.

I have in some ways detached myself from the sport. There are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ reasons for this. The primary ‘good’ reason is that I have as far as my writing is concerned, successfully transferred my football thinking over to other topics and because of this have reached more people. I always intended to use football as a metaphor and am glad my hunch was right, people do ‘get’ it. BALL BEARING

The ‘negative’ reasons for me being less involved in football are more basic. Both my domestic and my international teams have embraced mediocrity and achieved little. There is nothing as powerful as failure if you want to un-love something and both Arsenal and Italy have done this for and to me. They have lost a lot and are withered, weak and imperfect.

I have frequently written about the emotional pain that is football’s inevitable long shadow and that fans buy into a team because they somehow value the particular flavour of the pain/pleasure doled out by their side. I have also confessed how I’d like to be completely un-committed to any team and am frustrated as to why I am forever pulled towards an entity, a pseudo tribe that knows nothing of nor cares for me.

In 2012 I began to sidestep soccer and address other (more important) subjects such as mental health, emotional wellbeing, isolation and nostalgia. Although these subjects may have random elements in common with each other I now realise that as a group they reflect the fact that our lives and our world are dominated by flaws. It always was and shall always be this way. Even if something appears to be perfect e.g. a ball bearing, when examined under a microscope it is dented and scratched and even worse its constituent neutrons keep shivering and shaking. Dancing a jig as if to poke fun at observers who talk about objects being solid and reliable. There is basically nothing fixed or in a steady state in the world. It’s all in flux and vulnerable.

It’s as if hidden within the collective psyche people sense the imperfections of existence. It defines our mortality and confirms our impermanent nature and I suggest the single greatest reason why humans have invented and bought into faiths and dogmas is that they come with seemingly perfect frameworks on which questions and answers are hung side by side. As theories and paper-bound manifestos these things appear all knowing and protective but the physical realities of life can undermine any scheme in a moment.

Being of a Learning & Development disposition I have tried in these blogs to come up with ways of vaulting over or at very least, accepting life’s pitfalls. However, ‘Positive thinking’ and I divorced some six years ago when I was picked up in a seedy bar by a dominatrix called Madame Stoicism. In no time at all she signed me up and ever since then I’ve been an almost committed (reminder, I am Mr 70%) modern stoic. Phrases like it’s pretty bad, but as not as bad is it could be and expect the worst and hope for something just a bit better have helped me see things from a better perspective that has its strength based around having lower expectations

wabisabi-cup
This old Japanese tea cup is cracked. The fissure has been enhanced in gold to show how a flaw can enhance an object, and does not need disposing of.

Taking matters further, Madame S. introduced me to the Japanese philosophy of WABI-SABI. A concept more sedate and demure then stoicism, Wabi Sabi is based on the notion that flaws are inevitable and can be seen as differences not errors. They should therefore be embraced and even enhanced. A good example is that of older people. An old person has crinkled skin and failing eyes but their insight and experience can add to many situations and ought to be valued. Equally, a person with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder might have different ways of dealing with life and can bring other skills to the party such as deep knowledge of a special interest or have the ability to see into and around a quagmire of numeric data that looks like random digits to most neuro-typical people.

Completing the centre circle.

WABI SABI is purloined from Buddhist teachings that look at the three marks of existence; suffering, impermanence and emptiness.

If this trio doesn’t sum up being a football fan, then nothing does but when it brings in the acceptance of differences as part of the whole we can maybe feel the suffering a little less. It also brings us nearer to the Olympic ideal that: The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well. (Baron Pierre de Coubertin). Given that my team is not in this World Cup I shall observe the unfolding events and with an impartial view accept flaws and difference within the concept of a beautiful game without having to feel sad.

 

Some useful references:

https://savvytokyo.com/wabi-sabi-the-japanese-philosophy-of-embracing-imperfectionism/

And here’s a cynical and predictable counter argument;

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/thinking-man/wabi-sabi-new-hygge-spare-half-baked-philosophies-new-age-bilge/

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/ethics/sport/overview/introduction.shtml

Ball Bearing; https://www.brickwerks.co.uk/ball-for-gearlever-detent-t3-5spd.html

Wabi Sabi Cup: http://eclecticgirldesigns.com/index.php/2017/01/21/the-wabi-sabi-of-collecting/

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Reflect inside and laugh aloud

Peace of Mindfulness Part 2

It’s no secret that I frequent charity shops (for American readers; Thrift Store). There are various motives. One is that it winds up my wife that while she constantly donates stuff I go to these places to buy stuff. Although annoying my wife is not a primary motivation in my life this kind of low level nudging is amusing and she would, if pushed, admit from time to time some of my purchases are quite impressive. Burberry Coats

I tend to buy ‘designer’ menswear, sports clothing and art books i.e. those with lots of pictures. I noticed today that while I was browsing the Cancer Research Shop’s bookshelf I actually laughed out loud. I had spotted a charity shop favourite; John Berger’s Ways of Seeing. We humans make some odd noises which are I suppose a kind of sub-language and if this chuckle/snort had been properly worded it would have said: I know that book, I have owned it since 1978 and somebody has decided they don’t need it. They’re wrong, it’s a very good book. It influenced me a lot. The author died last year, so why did they ditch him? At least, however, somebody out there once had something in common with me. I am not alone, but then again I’ve kept my copy, so maybe I am alone after all. pexels-photo-333984.jpeg

Another reason I might let forth an exclamation is that some clothing labels tap into the depths of my nostalgia. Only last week I tried on a London Fog raincoat, not because I need it, but a voice from the1960’s returned to my mind to inform me that this was a respected American brand worn by Madmen styled New Yorkers in an age when men last wore (proper) hats. Over the years I’ve unearthed gear by Burberry, Armani, Lacoste, Etro and many other Premier League clothiers and every time I’ve set eyes on the item it has given an instant sense of pleasure because I recognise it.

It’s partly a case of being able to afford an unaffordable thing, but it’s also the treasure finder’s feeling of triumph of discovery. Somewhat like the detectorist that pulls up a Roman coin, much of the pleasure lies in the secrecy of the find. There’s the feeling of picking up a personal message from the past. Like looking up at a blinking star and knowing that its explosion came and went many thousands of years ago and, as the viewer, I’m experiencing a message from a private history. It’s them to me and as the light traverses time and space my eyes pick up a unique signature at the end of a letter that nobody else was shown because it was written to me. With kind regards…

pexels-photo-141876.jpeg

With reference to silence and calmness, the senses I have been out to capture, they can, it feels, be touched in an unpredictable way. Somewhere wrapped up between the nostalgia of my own past and the recognition that a momentary deja-vu is so personal. As it is meant for my eyes and ears only it forms a vacuum pocket that is hermetically sealed in a moment for me forever. If ageing offers just one thing it is perhaps the ability to smile inwardly (even if I may laugh out loud) when something of this nature happens. A younger person still reaches out for meaning and explanation, but the mature one can appreciate a split second of irony or familiarity for the history of their own journey.

And talking of journeys, I previously mentioned Slow TV. There is a kind of viewing revolution afoot and its’ heart is the notion that people no longer watch TV just for entertainment or data gathering (i.e. the news). We are now able to watch our screens to observe relax and exhale.

Simple TV is loveable.

Assuming that producers and critics highly value programmes that capture the viewer’s imagination I have over the last few years developed a preference for the opposite; programmes from which I can walk away. Call it simple TV. If I can go off to pour a glass of beer, delete some emails or jot down an idea, I am a richer person because I am owning greater control of my own mind and body and am semi-free from the screen.

I do not think that the first makers of Slow TV thought of this as a plus point of the genre and this is probably an oblique approach, but Slow TV at its centre is raw and in the nicest way, crude. In my view, it is better for the fact that it comes across as a back drop rather than a central activity. My favourite type of Slow TV programmes are railway films. I do not mean Murder on the Orient Express, Brief Encounter or even Michael Portillo’s documentaries (although I do enjoy them), but film shot from cameras mounted in the driver’s window and/or other locations on the engine. The viewing experience is a simple form of virtual reality and allows you to experience journeys of varying lengths. The most famous is Norwegian TV’s 7 hours plus journey from Bergen to Oslo but they also offer a snow blinding trip across Norway that lasts for over 20 hours. Additionally, Slow TV also offers experiences of canal trips and Norway’s National Knitting Evening.

The box (TV, laptop, ‘phone, tablet…) is becoming a window and through the pane we can observe, sit back and take in as much or as little as we need. I’d call that a definition of calm.

 

Walk This Way. Life lessons from Walking Football

 

Arriving at Barnet’s Hive to play Walking Football (WF), I felt that same trepidation and excitement as when I first played. I hadn’t kicked a ball in eight years and I later learned that others hadn’t done so in decades. As I looked around at this sample of middle age Britain, I realised that at 58, I was neither the youngest nor the oldest. To be honest, I looked at some of the other players and wrote them off because of their physical appearance.Aerosmith13

LESSON ONE; never write anybody off! As we began playing regularly we got fitter, better and some rediscovered close-ball skills they thought were lost.  

Coaches know that practice leads to improvement yet WF shows that this can happen at practically any age. Forgotten abilities return, albeit at a lower level and poignantly this rediscovery triggers enthusiasm and joy.

As a work-place coach I help people improve performance. Whether in an office, classroom or restaurant kitchen I know by guiding them back to their motivation, their work (with further input from technical experts) will meliorate.

I ruptured my ACL 21 years ago and consequently have a biscuit leg. Walking Football suits me and my best contributions are when I stick to the classic lean moves of STOP the ball, CONTROL, DISTRIBUTE/SHOOT. BARNET

Even if I wanted to walk/dribble at pace I couldn’t and hope that once the sport’s laws are officialised it becomes three-touch. WF also reminds us of the value in playing economically and does not suit those that still try to go it alone.  

LESSON TWO: I was coaching the directors of a group of Boutique Hotels who were getting deeply confused by overcomplicated accounts processes (management accounts, forecasts etc). I suggested comparing the whole business to a football team and to decide which player the finance office was. We settled on Defensive Midfielder because the tasks were clear; STOP (or reduce) money going out, CONTROL it once it was in (bank and log it correctly) and DISTRIBUTE it properly. We know that these functions should be undertaken by all players (and hence other departments), but by letting managers visualise the department as a particular position, it became easier to communicate to other sections.

LESSON THREE:  A key technique of WF is not to pass ‘into space.’ To find your teammate you must pass to feet or risk the ball flying into touch. We learn to play to where our colleague is rather than where they will be. It’s a great life lesson; listen to peers and customers and provide what is needed right now; tomorrow may never come.

To conclude, the reduced speed of Walking Football forces re-evaluation. You’d assume that older people would readily adapt to playing slowly but strangely even with leaden legs the mind still wants you to run. Football and work activities all tap into old habits. These habits can actually change, but to facilitate this we have to slow down, contemplate and practice.  

 

 

Bitter? Nah

I spent a morning in a conference room listening to these speakers;

Two tax experts whose joint message, to my ears, was ’you’ve blown it now. Your pension is misguided and small and you’ll spend your few remaining years in poverty. But, if you know anyone younger who’s happy to pay our fees, do please send them my way’.

One retired (mid 50’s) millionaire with a hair transplant who has bought and sold over 30 companies and that was his ‘work’. His personal message to me was to get a time machine, go back 41 years, avoid education, work hard and all will be well.

Following Mr Pubic-Hair Head was

One tall Welsh ex, (but not famous) with intact ears and nose, rugby player  that had climbed Everest during the 2015 quake that killed 6000 people below and 19 of his climbing ‘colleagues’. Thankfully his passion and talent helped him survive and he made it back to the highest ever champagne dinner that he shared with his mates and the best paid surviving Sherpa in Nepal. He omitted to mention how many dead/dying bodies littering his downward path he assisted on the descent, but the good news for we delegates is that we got to meet him. Oh and did I say he delivered all this with immense passion and talent? I hope I did because that is what he wanted us to know.
sheep mountainAt this I messaged my broker and told him/her to buy me 20,000 shares in cruise liner standard vomit bags but before he/she could confirm the deal, the rugby player with the straight as a dye nose and non-cauliflower ears finished and there wasn’t even a joke about sheep (yes I know, I know.)

At this point the organisers played a video about a charity they are supporting and I walked out.

Some months ago I wrote a piece on STOICISM and I suppose that if I gleaned anything from today’s motivational morning it’s that my position hasn’t shifted.

The points above had two effects on me. As already stated, the money monkeys and tax tinkers just made me feel inadequate, poor and too old to sort it out. The two ‘successful’ men exuded a strain of smug ‘I’m alright Jack’ that made the Wolf of Wall Street look meek.

And as for the charity video, perhaps I’m doing it an injustice, but why wasn’t a representative from the charity giving a live presentation at the very beginning of the day? I’d have felt much more comfortable if this had been the starting point and backdrop to proceedings so that when tax experts hint at helping with avoidance/evasion and Wide Boy/City Boy reports how cushy his life is, the delegates would have had a dose of humility from the start.demotive

The event lacked humility. Conceivably it humbled down after lunch but by then, this delegate had lost the desire and was happier to buy a sandwich from the CO-OP than scrounge from the buffet networking with suits.

I have attended many business events over the years and never liked them. Until today, I did not know why, but now I do.

I went to these events because I thought I was going to learn something new but now I believe that with very few exceptions these various congresses, conferences, workshops and summits are built around agency pushed speakers that boast about how well they’ve done and how the hang-dog faces in the crowd can do well too. This is meant to be motivating but I for one cannot get spurred on by somebody that punches the air and says ‘Hell yeah’.

Speakers need to realise that the people in the audience are possibly uncertain, unhappy and even desperate. If they were successful they’d be elsewhere, not fishing for opportunities.

If I were a motivational speaker giving talks during this, the filling of the Recession Sandwich (2008 in the past, Brexit in the future) I’d say to the people that it’s good they’re still here because many of our peers aren’t.

If I were a motivational speaker I’d be telling them that this country has had no viable government for as long as memory stretches and yet we can all breathe (albeit polluted air).

If I were a motivational speaker I’d say ‘if you’re not in pain and you’re not suffering from mental health issues, you’re doing as well as can be expected.’

If I were a motivational speaker I’d say ‘If you haven’t anything on your mind other than your godless business and your focus on money, look at helping the homeless and speak to the tax authorities you’re so keen to avoid.  As their sugar daddy order them to invest your donations to support those with hidden and visible disabilities and if they fancy a fight, tell them to take action against the corporations who at once scare you rigid and simultaneously sell you coffee coloured tepid water.

Bitter? Not me.

 

artwork:

https://www.discogs.com/Yeehaw-Demotivational-Speaker/master/953038

We are Tangent

My team leader returned a particular student’s exam paper to me and told me that despite the answer being relatively eloquent and logical that I had over marked it and I was required to reduce. Although my instinct was to argue the case, I ceded to my superior and dutifully did as I was told. What a pity.

The pity is not that as a mature person I kept qTangentLine_1000uiet and obeyed, it’s that students, especially in the humanities arena often score lower than they should because they ‘fail to answer the question’. Ever since I was that type of student myself the rebel devil in my head has thought: Actually mate, I have answered your damned question but I’ve taken it upon myself to add something else of interest. What you asked is limited and predictable and as an arty person I’m giving you more. More in fact than you deserve.

Nothing has changed, least of all the continuing conspiracy that places a science template over the bones of creative thought with the sole aim to ‘straighten it all out’ because as we know, ‘they’ have never liked deviation and tangential ideas.

When I was young…I declared myself a romantic thinker in the vein of Goethe and Shelley, I subsequently signed up to Surrealism and Existentialism. I bought into everything I could to demarcate myself from my friends who were homing in on business and science. The main problem though was (and still is) that I had too little talent to be a really great artist and despite my medalling with a guitar, a few pastel on sketchbook etchings and an attempt to make Mime the new language  of global communication I pulled back from faux creativity and became an observer.

I’ve been marking exams for about 6 years and have seen all kinds of variations on the correct answer. The easiest ones to mark are the blank pages because zero is zero in any language and by the way kids, that old wives’ tale about scoring 1 for spelling your own name properly is incorrect. We don’t see or even care about your name and in true ‘Prisoner’ terms you really are a number and not a name.

But I digress.  Students who put nought get nought. Waffle/padding is easy to spot and is not worth including. Eventually what leaners need to put is the right answer. I enjoy reading the extra stuff and once in every two hundred the candidate persuades me to give them extra marks. I however resist that temptation because although I may think it’s deserved, my performance too is being watched and if I were to unilaterally add bonus points I’d be sacked very soon after.exams

The pity then is that the 1 in 200 extra bit of inspiration evaporates. The student probably forgets what she wrote and the assessor can only focus on the correct stuff. Brilliant, inspiring spur of the under-pressure moment ideas arrive and depart in a flash. Tangents are erased and words like plan, focus and quantify continue to maraud the future.

Photo credits
http://mathworld.wolfram.com/TangentLine.html
 http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1354174/University-blunder-exam-papers-handed-answers-stapled-back.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mark Zuckerberg, over 2U!

 

More and more frequently I am finding myself falling into the Facebook trap of liking (their word not mine) links to the support of people with disabilities and I sometimes even get channelled over to signing online petitions. I don’t normally like ‘liking’ and I avoid overt political statements and things that might come back to haunt me one day, but when it comes to acknowledging things such as bullying and mental health I find an upsurge of a need to scream ‘injustice’ coupled with the as-yet-unnamed emotion ‘World, please see me as a good guy’. hide and seek

I suspect one reason for all this is that I feel guilty for being ignorant and guilty for not being helpful to people I ought to be helping. I also suspect I am not alone in this and that by opening our Facebook souls we are somehow assuaging this guilt. If you think I’m about to say this is wrong and shallow, I’m not. Indeed although a public airing does little to immediately support those that might benefit by creating awareness, which in business terms is a chief function of Marketing, a first step is being taken. But it is only a first step.

The mention above of my own ignorance comes from a specific incident that happened today. One of my daughters was offered the chance to attend a free training programme (run indeed by a credible organisation) to help her set up her own business. My reaction was immediately upbeat and positive (i.e. pushy) and when she displayed reticence I went into the predictable parental assault/tirade about ‘missed opportunity’ and ‘it’s a once-in a lifetime chance’ when I ought to have realised, as pointed out by an observing third party, that she was basically scared and I ought have taken another more paternal approach.

Recap: Here I am; a writer, a Facebook sympathy giver and somebody who wants to look like a good guy failing at entry level Emotional Intelligence. I cannot even read my offspring’s feelings.

And yet again, I am sure I’m not alone. What is happening in this Facebook age is that many of us are taking to the touchscreen and demonstrating our nuanced skills of empathy and advocacy. This is a reaction to getting more information and hopefully (but with no guarantees), more knowledge about topics like depression, self-harm and cancer. A cost of this however is that some of us are creeping away from real-life interaction and hiding behind the cleanliness and safety of the keyboard. I don’t think we are to be blamed. So much of the modern world turns us towards selfish and egotistic behaviour and I believe the internet and its stable mates (smart phones, tablets, on-demand viewing etc.) all enforce and consolidate the message ‘you are alone, buy into it and act alone’.

At this stage I am not proposing a solution, I was the one that wanted to sacrifice Tim Berners-Lee  at the 2012 Olympics ceremony rather than celebrate him, but realistically had it not been him it would have been somebody else. I do think however that perhaps Mr Facebook himself could look into turning his behemoth into something that actively helps people to actively help. Mark ZUck

Mark Zuckerberg over 2U,

 

 

 

 

images:
https://uk.pinterest.com/susanjn/childrens-books/
http://metro.co.uk/2017/03/10/mark-zuckerberg-and-wife-expecting-second-child-despite-fears-they-would-not-conceive-again-6500466/

Travel Coach Weekend Thought WANTED: Time to Create

Dear Travel Coach

Q. The good news is that my classic-car rental business, that I began during the recession, has done well. The difficulty is that as it has grown, I spend more time being the administrator and less time coming up with new ideas. Also, I get loads of emails requesting internships and money requests from needy charities. I believe in CSR but it’s all too much. How can I address these issues?

Sid, Northampton.

Dear Sid,

A.  It looks like you need a ‘right-hand person’. You will need an assistant that shares your passion and knows everything about the business. This will help in two ways. Firstly when you need to brainstorm and bounce thoughts around, it’s good to do it with someone who reflects your normal self, allowing you to play devil’s advocate. Secondly, you need a trusted person to be able to step in either when you take a well-earned break or if you get run down by the proverbial bus or more likely, a dose of the ‘flu. Invest time in selecting the right person and be prepared also to invest substantially in their wages. You are appointing a professional and not just someone to fill a gap.

Hertz advert

Once your ’emissary-on-earth’ is in place you can shut yourself away and get back to developing schemes, meeting creative talent (designers, web-builders, young tech experts etc). Your team will soon get used to arranging their own lunch breaks, sorting appointments and returning forgotten baby-seats and roof-racks without having to disturb you at all.

Forward non-urgent e-mails to a second, secret (known only to you) mail box that you can look through in your own time. It’s good to support students needing work advice and it’s important to consider the needs of various charities, but do these things on the way home or indeed at any time that you choose.

 

 

If these strategies are designed to show your team where their interaction with you halts, you need to do something that allows you to engage with them too. The best way to achieve this is to hold a weekly scheduled meeting. As always, it needs fixed start and finishing times and has to be structured. Although this may initially feel a little too ‘bossy’, a viable agenda is to allow your staff the chance to ask advice and opinion and for you to answer their queries and to agree their goals and strategies.

Ensure somebody takes notes of what has been agreed and make it clear that there ought to be no reason to revisit what has been said unless there are problems. Remember, the aim here is to empower each person to have total control over what they do, in order for you to be free to do what you want to do. These strategies are for everyone to benefit and that in turn will benefit your business. apple advert

Many artists, creatives and innovators find their idea gets swamped by their business admin – don’t let it happen to yours!

 

 

 

 

 

 

(originally featured in Travel Bulletin’s Travel Coach /Ask Renato-October 2009)

 

 

Photo credits:

Hertz: q=Vintage+cars&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjCjJPtnurTAhVnLMAKHdwNAYgQ_AUICigB&biw=1094&bih=487#tbm=isch&q=Vintage+car+rental+advert&imgrc=d5EyWNKrvHUqFM:
Apple advert:
i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2013/01/15/article-0-16F3902B000005DC-58_634x919.jpg