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Influence Without Authority

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It’s appraisal time at work right now and it’s our custom to seek 360 degree feedback, which is starting to stream in.  One recurring theme over the years has been that some of my work is too conceptual or theoretical and this makes it hard to directly implement.  I’ve thought long and hard about how to act on this feedback, it’s not easy.  Strategy requires that I work on the big picture, not get bogged down in all of the implementation issues; to challenge and inspire people of the need to change, not to give them specific instructions; to unleash the creativity of others, rather than always relying on my own.  This blog post seeks to confront the hard realities of working on strategy at my level and with my constraints and to explore the approaches that I’ve adopted over the years to address them.

Before I get started though it’s helpful to understand something about my job, which is defined by the fact that I have lots of influence, but no authority.  It’s also important to know that on average I work about 8 hours a week, although I actually do two 16 hour weeks, followed by two weeks off.  My job title is Strategy Advisor and I advise a billion dollar end-user computing services business unit in a much larger company.

Not having ‘authority’ might seem like a major impediment for a strategist, that is until I look at the success rate of those who do have authority in my industry.  All around me I see an endless stream of pronouncements that never get executed on, projects that go no where, initiatives that ‘wither on the vine’, massive investments in tools and technologies that are often not fully implemented before someone decides to replace them with something ‘better’.  In that context authority to execute on ideas doesn’t seem so attractive.

Admittedly at times when I had the authority to execute on my ideas, I did succeed in bringing a lot of them to life, but looking back that life was often short lived.  When I moved on to a new role, or the organisation changed, they rarely survived intact. Even when they did ‘survive’ the reality of poorly disciplined execution often meant that there was a significant drift away from my original concept over time. 

Looking outside my industry at companies which seem to execute flawlessly on their strategy you find a very different reality below the shiny surface.  Take a look at the story of how Apple developed and evolved the iPhone and you see a lot of chaos, desperation, many failed ideas, lots of luck and fortuitous timing.  As the iPhone evolved the strategy swapped and changed many times, the company was riddled with politics and infighting, but huge profits helped to cover these up and in the end they muddled through, learning as they went.  Even now they aren’t perfect but billions of dollars of profit a year helps cover over the cracks nicely.

So what to do? lots of people ask me this question and my general response is “be patient” but actually I have quite a few strategies, the most important of these is to apply my thinking at multiple levels:

  1. As a strategic, I work on the big picture, to inspire, to provide frameworks to guide the way that we think, to bring structure to chaos, to provide direction and give people hope
  2. As a an architect, I try to make sure we think holistically during projects and service execution, to make sure that we are considering the interplay between process, organisation, location, data, application and technology; to recognise that we are dealing with real people with strengths and weaknesses. I spend a lot of time reviewing in this capacity
  3. As a manager, I work on improving the way that the business actually works, clarifying accountabilities, shaping processes, keeping projects focused on the business needs, helping people understand their jobs and the challenges they face
  4. As a technologist, I read about, explore and use a lot of technology so even though my focus is strategy I spend a lot of time positioning and reviewing technology, identifying and solving technical issues, coming up with new product ideas or new ways to use technologies.  I also spend a lot of time reviewing in this capacity
  5. As a coach, I’ve picked a small number of people who I believe in and who want to be coached in some capacity, that coaching involves a mix of inspiration, support, guidance and challenge.  It’s also a great way to introduce some of my own ideas or to nudge them along
  6. As a maverick, I have a lot of exposure to ‘external’ ideas, I’m not part of the ‘group think’ that exists within the company, I’m also not ambitious or afraid of upsetting people or challenging established ideas, poor quality execution, or scratching below the surface of the myriad of problems that I see every year to reveal the underlying issues

What this means in practice is that there’s rarely a direct causal connection between strategic ideas that I have, and promote, and the execution of those ideas often years later.  The reality is that those ideas spread like tendrils throughout the company, some wither and die, lost forever, but many live on.  I nudge them along when I get the opportunity, I’m happy for others to present them as their own.  Sometimes they take years to really take root.  I have to be patient, humble and creative.  Regardless of the success of my strategy though I apply that strategic thinking and context in the five other roles and that’s just as useful.

Looking quickly at how I nudge strategic ideas into life: 

  1. I start by evangelising them passionately, which launches them with some chance of success
  2. I write about them in blog posts, which makes them re-discoverable. Even if every blog post is read by only 20 people, over time that adds up to thousands of little chances to influence
  3. I nudge them along during the dozens of reviews that I do
  4. I champion them during the 50+ coaching sessions I do each year
  5. I use them as a deep repository of knowledge to challenge other ideas that I disagree with
  6. I use them as examples when people need inspiration or guidance to do something similar of their own which happens most weeks

This all works out quite well, I like to think that I see the influence of my ideas in most directions that I look at work.  There’s rarely a causal link, some of what I see might not actually be inspired by me, but I like to think that enough of it is, to give purpose to all the effort.  Working an average of 8 hours a week is a challenge, subtract all the administration, company briefings, social chit chat and other distractions and I’m lucky to get 4 hours a week of quality time to create and influence, that’s 1 hour a day! it’s a good job that I have plenty of time to think while I’m walking along the beach, the cliffs or the hills.

As usual I’m writing this blog post in Caffe Nero thanks to an early start.  I’m heading to Cleveleys later with my second eldest daughter for brunch and a movie.  Cleveleys is one of my favourite spots for doing an hour of relaxed research followed by a long walk. Today’s pic shows the beach in all of it’s glory, ‘decorated’ by an unusual sculpture that’s less than a year old but already looks like it’s been there for thousands of years.

My Relationship With Gadgets and Apps

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Gadgets of one form or another have been a constant in my life, I’m drawn to them in a way that I can’t fully explain, but there’s a constant niggling voice in my head encouraging me to give in to my desire to buy, to tweak, to enhance, to play. For most of my life I was happy with the way that gadgets shaped my life until I started to confront the overflowing boxes in the loft, the shelves in the garage, the mess of cables snaking around my desk and TV chair, concrete evidence of my addiction.  I started to see the financial impact and then more recently the psychological impact.  I started to see how gadgets fuelled social media and email addiction, provided ready access to mindless games, and one click shopping.

Last year I forced myself to stop buying anything, no new gadgets entered my life and I was surprised to find that my life improved, I grew more attached to the gadgets I already had, I appreciated them more, my lust for new and better decreased.  Every month when ‘Stuff’ magazine dropped through the letter box I thought of reading it as essential research for work, I was browsing things that I would never buy for myself. Most of what I saw I just considered evidence of how dysfunctional we were becoming as a society, happy to invest billions in useless ‘stuff’ that would soon be in landfill (or boxes in the loft) while billions of people were starving.

This year I’ve started to look at the gadgets that I still own more closely, at the apps that I use, when I use them, how long I spend using them, what value they add to my life, how compulsively I use them, how much duplication I see.  It’s not a pretty picture.

My first change was to delete the games that occupied my down time, Drop 7 has gone, so has Sudoku, then I withdrew from Facebook, I still have an account with email notifications enabled, but it has no presence on any gadgets.  Then I moved email off the home screen, out of sight, out of mind.  Next up I disabled almost all notifications and I created a list for Twitter that contained only people I actually know.

My gadgets now have a new purpose in life: to help me manage my time, and health, and get more out of my day; to provide focused (curated) reading, and listening experiences; to encourage me to get out into the real world and enjoy it; to update my diary and share real world experiences with my friends and family through photos, to keep in touch with my family through text messages and video.

My day has changed quite a bit: I block out major chunks of each day with focus tasks in Todoist ,which is one of the few apps allowed to notify me on my phone; all discovery of content is now done once a day using my highly tuned RSS reader, all reading is done in distraction free reading environments like Kindle and Instapaper, social media interaction is focused on Instagram once or twice a day, I don’t look at work email until after 12am and I don’t have it on my phone or tablet; I check personal email twice a day.  Even though I love podcasts and audio books I spend at least an hour a day walking without anything intruding on my thoughts.

I’ve noticed quite significant changes, my brain feels much calmer, more open to new ideas, lacking the constant drip, drip, of interruptions I’m more focused, more serene. I feel as if I can enter a meditative state with just one or two breaths. 

There’s still a long way to go though, I still find it difficult to read a book for more than 15 minutes at a time and I regularly reject any Instapaper article that will take more than a minute to read.  I’m still going to invest in new gadgets, but with a purpose in mind, to help me achieve my objectives in life:

  1. Write for myself (wiring is very therapeutic and I want to do it most days)
  2. Read a factual book for an hour (I really want to spend more time deeply engaged in reading, my fitness reading habit is so solid that I don’t need to track it)
  3. Move around most of the day (no long periods sitting for me)
  4. Eat mostly whole foods (obviously)
  5. Drink mostly water (I need to kick my Diet Coke habit)
  6. Do Meditation, Yoga Nidra or listen to music (obviously)
  7. Spend time with friends and family and hug (obvious, but sadly not so easy as they grow up and get busier)
  8. Be kind and do good deeds (worth the daily reminder)
  9. Stretch and do strength exercises throughout the day (sadly I still need reminding)
  10. Go to new places, learn new things (all too lacking in my life)
  11. Draw (one of my key habits to establish this year)
  12. Make a difference at work (obviously, but really making a difference is harder than it might seem)
  13. Improve the house or garden (very rewarding)

I’m writing this post in Caffe Nero, it’s my haven, it background hum of ‘quiet’ chatter makes me feel connected to the real world while also allowing me to be focused and distraction free.  I’m in the window seat, looking out at a blue sky and contemplating a walk in the dunes later, so I’ve chosen a photo of the beach a few minutes walk away.

My Productivity Highlights From The Last 20 Years

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I’ve been thinking about my productivity a lot over the last few months, it’s struck me that for all the new innovations that have been delivered it hasn’t improved that that much.  As I look back over the last 20 years the high points are not the obvious ones, it’s not been the iPhone or iPad, it’s not been the fancy big screen I’m using now, it’s not been Facebook or the endless cycle of collaboration tools that my company has provided with great fanfare and them withdrawn a few years later.  These are the high points as I remember them.

It all starts with Windows NT 3.51 which I fought hard to introduce as the standard desktop operating system in my company nearly 20 years ago.  NT revolutionised my work experience, providing a relatively rock solid, work focused, local and internet connected working environment with seamless file sharing across the enterprise and publishing to our Intranet.  I’ve never looked back, Windows NT has been my faithful friend ever since and it’s never let me down.  We quickly adopted Windows NT 4 which provided the task bar and since then there’s not been any really significant productivity improvements that I remember that I couldn’t get through free third party utilities.

Next up was Lotus Notes 4.6 which I introduced into the same company, replacing the text based All-In-1,  Lotus Notes brought in the era of easy emailing of attachments, discussion databases and easy calendar management.  Although this was probably 18 years ago I don’t really remember any significant improvements to my deskbound email productivity since then.

Next is the best laptop I’ve ever owned, the ThinkPad A20P, which although it’s 14 years old had a higher resolution screen than the laptop I’m using today, an ultra-bay that allowed me to install a second hard drive, battery or DVD drive in seconds.  It was powerful, flexible and light enough in a backpack.  It was the first laptop that allowed me to easily run a couple of virtual machines, a task my current laptop struggles to achieve even though I now have 16 times as much memory, such is progress.

Now it’s the turn of my beloved Nokia 6310i mobile phone, which is 13 years old.  I still have it, and still use it, it’s battery still lasts days longer than my iPhone and it has better phone reception.  At the time I had a full car kit that was fully integrated.  I loved the single button dialling (press and hold 6 to call home).

Then a miracle happened, 12 years ago I got a Blackberry 5810, a device designed perfectly for my road warrior period.  It revolutionised time on the road, it was perfectly designed for processing and writing emails.  It buzzed when a new email arrived, auto-opened that email when I took it from it’s holster, email was pushed to it every few minutes, it had superb calendar integration and battery life.  It even had a phone (but no car kit).  I loved it, my email productivity peaked all those years ago and has only gone downhill from there.  My team even setup it’s own server to get the Blackberry service up and running, we loved it so much.

Then 12 years ago comes the best tablet I’ve ever owned, a HP TC1100 with a 2G GPRS data card, a stylus, hot swap battery packs and the perfect A4 like form-factor.  It had a better keyboard and docking solution than the Surface Pro 3 and a better feel in the hands.  I loved sketching and brain storming ideas on this little tablet in a way that has not yet been bettered.  A modern device that looked like the TC1100 would fly off the shelves, or at least I would buy it!  I had one of the first TC1100’s ever made!

At this point, also about 10 years ago I started to work from home and adopted a desktop with three screens, a big 27” central screen running at 1920×1080 resolution with two 19” 1280*1024 displays either side.  For high need knowledge work this was a dream setup and I’ve never been more productive sitting at a desk.

Then 10 years ago I got my first good Smartphone, the Treo 650, I’d had a 600 but I didn’t like it.  Wow what a great gadget, it wasn’t as good for email as the Blackberry, but it was an all-rounder.  It was a jack of all trades and master of one, the one thing the Treo 650 delivered for me was podcasts and it was the best podcast experience I’ve ever head because of the app Pocket Tunes and utilities like Freedom and Headset Control that provided customised double-click and triple-click controls.  Podcasts transformed my productivity because they let me get work done while walking, cycling and even swimming! 

Next up is the amazing productivity boost that came from RSS feeds and automated podcast downloading that came with FeedDemon about 10 years ago.  RSS feeds probably tripled my research productivity and FeedDemon was really fast.  I would queue up my articles to read in Firefox tabs (another great productivity boon). 

Finally, about 7 years ago, we get to a service that my company provided that had a productivity impact,  Lotus Sametime that provided presence and chat and then later web conferencing.  I’d been doing web meetings for many years using NetMeeting, and presence and chat using Windows Messenger but Sametime bought it mainstream.  I loved Sametime it made working with a distributed team practical, although of course working in distributed teams brought with it a significant productivity drop!

We are nearing the end now, a couple of web apps arrived 6-7 years ago that really made a difference.  Google as a research tool and Twitter as a discovery, social networking and diary tool.

That’s about it, a stunning condemnation of IT’s ability to deliver personal productivity improvements in recent years.  Most of the peak experiences having been delivered 10 or more years ago, most of the benefits since then having been delivered by Moore’s law. Many of the ‘improvements’ recent have just danced around the edges of innovations made many years ago, providing eye candy, distraction or all too often degradation.  Maybe I just have selective memory, or am feeling particularly nostalgic today, it would be interesting to see how others remember the same period!

I’m writing this post in Caffe Nero, using free WIFI and a ThinkPad x230, Caffe Nero is the latest of a long series of morning cafes in my life.  10 years ago I would have been sitting in the Cafe In The Park (now demolished) eating wonderful hot buttered toast, over looking the bowling green.  I would have been using my HP TC1100 Tablet, connected to the internet using my GPRS card.  As befits this nostalgic post I’m picking a photo to illustrate it from Haweswater where I was hiking at about this time last year.

Lessons Learned From Tracking My Life

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Over the last year I’ve used the Coach Me app on my iPhone and iPad to track all of the aspects of my life that I want to promote or prevent.  For example I wanted to have more family meals and less high pain days, I wanted to spend more time cycling and stop eating foods containing added sugar.  In all, by the end of the year, I was tracking an amazing 75 habits, The list grew gradually over the year from about 50, it grew because I realised, for example, that I wanted to make sure I gave my wife and kids a big hug every day, or that I kept my pain killer use below 15 days a month (to prevent rebound headaches).  This isn’t all that I tracked though, because working on my behalf the Fitbit app tracked my steps and weight; the Move’s app automatically tracked how much time I spent walking, cycling, at the office, in Caffe Nero and much more; the MyFitnessPal app tracked what I was eating;  I used the Chronic Pain Tracker app to record my medical information and using the Loggr app I tracked my finances each month.

All of this fragmented information is mostly aggregated automatically into Apple’s Health app and then, also automatically, into the Loggr app. Loggr provides nice trend graphs and automatically correlates information across all it’s sources.  In addition to all of this habit logging I also aggregate a huge amount of information automatically into Evernote, for example everything I tweet, everything I read online, every blog post I write and every Instagram pic I take.

A subset of this torrent of information also ends up automatically in the wonderful Memento app that automatically creates my diary.

I’ve learned a lot over this last year, but the highlights for me have been:

  1. Tracking really focuses the mind on what’s important
  2. I was shockingly good at deceiving myself, when I looked at the tracking data the truth was revealed.  For example I thought we mostly had our evening meal together, when actually we only managed it 3 times a week, now we manage it almost every day
  3. It’s difficult to focus on too many habits, instead they need to be built into systems, for example we fixed the eating together habit by giving Debbie responsibility for the evening meal.  No one else was allowed in the Kitchen, even if we were hungry enough to make our own
  4. Once a habit has been established, it’s not necessary to keep tracking it every day
  5. Habits that are established and hence not tracked need to be rolled up into a broader habit, to keep me honest

In the spirit of gradually simplifying my life then, I’ve gone through my 75 habits and decided to whittle them down to 25, of which 12 are positive habits that I want to promote and 13 are just trackers that I use for correlation analysis and general target tracking.  The positive habits are:

  1. Write for myself (wiring is very therapeutic and I want to do it most days)
  2. Read a factual book for an hour (I really want to spend more time deeply engaged in reading, my fitness reading habit is so solid that I don’t need to track it)
  3. Move around most of the day (no long periods sitting for me)
  4. Eat mostly whole foods (obviously)
  5. Drink mostly water (I need to kick my Diet Coke habit)
  6. Do Meditation, Yoga Nidra or listen to music (obviously)
  7. Spend time with friends and family and hug (obvious, but sadly not so easy as they grow up and get busier)
  8. Be kind and do good deeds (worth the daily reminder)
  9. Stretch and do strength exercises throughout the day (sadly I still need reminding)
  10. Go to new places, learn new things (all too lacking in my life)
  11. Draw (one of my key habits to establish this year)
  12. Make a difference at work (obviously, but really making a difference is harder than it might seem)
  13. Improve the house or garden (very rewarding)

Trackers and targets

  1. Whether I take pain killers that day (target 2 days a week)
  2. My daily pain level (target low or pain free)
  3. My daily stress levels (target low)
  4. Whether I keep to my agreed working pattern (target Yes)
  5. Whether I’m working that day (target 8 days a month)
  6. My fatigue level (target low)
  7. My Brain fog level (target low)
  8. Whether I’m fasting (target 2 days a week)
  9. Cheat Day (target 1 day a week)
  10. Don’t bite my fingers (target never, biting my fingers is a sure sign of stress)
  11. Don’t buy anything for myself (target never)
  12. Sick, i.e. I have an cough/cold/flu etc (target never)
  13. Visiting Chorley (my local office, target 4 days a month)

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I wrote this post sitting in Caffe Nero on a rainy day, I nearly came in the car, but just as I was walking out the door I remembered the habit ‘Move around most of the day (no long periods sitting for me)’ and so I wrapped up warm and ran for 5 minutes through the rain. To illustrate this post I’ve chosen two of my favourite pictures, at the top, a photo of the Hadza living simply and at one with nature (this is my Lock Screen image) at the bottom is a photo of the local beach (my Wallpaper image) which reminds me of the simple pleasures in life.

Trying The End To End Windows Eco-System

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Well, I took the plunge, inspired by Microsoft’s January Launch of Windows 10, I’ve decided that the only way to really evaluate it is to use it.  I’m already 2/3 Microsoft.  The heart of my home is a HP Micro server running Windows 8, 3 TB of media, backups and Plex. It’s the entertainment hub for my the Home Theatre PCs, Tessa’s Xbox 360 and Anna and Jennie’s Rokus, which also run Plex.  Then almost the whole family have Thinkpads except Anna who has a Surface Pro 3.  My Desktop is powered by a ThinkPad x220T running Windows 8.1 and my notebook of choice is a ThinkPad x230.

That’s where Microsoft ends though, in the spirit of using the best tool for the job we are all using iPads, iPhones and Kindles in our hands.  That’s what I’m going to try and change, for a while at least, I’m moving over to a Windows 8” Tablet and a Lumia Windows Phone.  It’s going to be a tough change to make as I’m very invested in the Apple eco-system having owned (and cascaded to Debbie and the Kids) nearly every iPad and iPhone ever made.  It’s the apps that will be the issue, I have too many to count and they fill lots of niches that I won’t even remember until that situation arises and I’m stuck.  Still I’m going to make the attempt and I’m hoping that it will bring some potential benefits:

  1. Using a single eco-system should be much simpler
  2. Massively shrinking down the apps I use will force me to focus more, to depend on the web more, I’m dumping many distracting app habits in this move
  3. I made some ‘bad’ app choices in the past, investing a lot of time, effort and money in apps that don’t have associated cross platform services
  4. Fortunately I made some great choices too, using apps like Evernote (my online brain), Twitter (my diary), Instagram (my photo diary) that are wonderfully cross platform
  5. I get to take my incredibly powerful Windows Desktop environment with me everywhere, including for example my whole eBook library in Calibre and an offline copy of my whole (massive) Evernote collection of notebooks
  6. I have everywhere access to all of my files, accessible through a real file system (not the iOS crippled version) including my archive!
  7. I get to take the full offline copy of my Twitter archive, using Twitter’s fantastic archive download, which has been my diary since 2007!
  8. I’m finally able to use remote desktop to drive my tablet
  9. I also get a tablet designed for keyboard and mouse
  10. I’ve found a way to acquire a fast phone, at a price I can afford
  11. I get to swap my personal Three data contract for a GiffGaff phone contract that provides ‘three’ times the data for only £1 more a week.  Which also means I can use my personal phone for work too and avoid the constant nagging that’s associated with the company supplied 1GB a month data plan.

All that said I will be keeping the old iPhone 4S around, because it’s going to be my hiking GPS, it has a full offline copy of most of the interesting hiking locations Ordinance Survey Maps.

So what did I buy?  Well true my form I went for a manufacturer refurbished Nokia Lumia 930 32GB with a hip/belt case just like I use with my iPhone and a Nokia car kit.  This is the phone Paul Thurrott just bought for himself and there can be no better recommendation.  For the tablet I went for a refurbished Dell Venue Pro 8 64GB/3G which I got with two Wacom Stylus’ a 3 year warranty, a 128GB SD card and a keyboard case.  I got a years subscription to Office 365 and a free Fitbit Flex thrown in for free!  I got everything for the cost of a second hand IPhone 5S, which was my minimum upgrade option from my 4S prior to making this decision.

The big risk in this change over is Instapaper which is at the heart of my reading and research system, a system that I invest two hours a day in.  There is an old (poor) third party Instapaper client for Windows Phone and Tablet, but I may need to consider switching over to Pocket, it’s going to be hard!  The glimmer of hope is Microsoft’s new Spartan browser (coming soon) which as a built in reading view, a reading list that syncs across Phone, Tablet and Desktop, has full offline support and works with web pages and PDFs!  This sounds great, especially if it has good extensions for Twitter, WordPress and Evernote.

Wish me luck, although I doubt I will be selling my iPad Mini for a while!

The photo for today’s post was taken at Cleveleys, it’s the view I was enjoying yesterday as I worked through my decision to make this investment, sitting in the car, parked up at Rossall Beach.  I had my notebook on my lap, scouring eBay while also checking out the Windows Apps Store and trying to convince myself that I could conceivably make a successful switch. Only time will tell.

Microsoft Really Is On A Roll

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Microsoft continued it’s gradual unveil of Windows 10 yesterday.  It didn’t touch on any of the enterprise features, which have been strangely down played so far, but it did clearly demonstrate its vision of a single platform spanning all form factors.  For the first time in over a decade it looked like a there was a real benefit to buying into the Microsoft eco-system.  As a person who is currently all Apple when it comes to mobile devices and a dedicated Windows user when it comes to notebook and desktop, I ‘almost’ opened my wallet and bought an 8 inch Windows tablet and a Lumia 1520 and I still might. 

What got me excited wasn’t just the demos, which were great, it was being engaged in a compelling journey into the future with a company I believed in.  Unfortunately while I love Apple devices I dislike the company, their walled garden, lack of choice, inflated prices, lack of innovation and elitist vibe.  By contrast the new Microsoft is a revelation:

  1. services everywhere on all operating systems and all form factors
  2. a more humble, open approach
  3. a focus on Windows as the best, but not the only, client for their services, great news for me as a committed Windows user
  4. their renewed focus on power users: all form factors, multiple screens (and desktops), remote desktop, hyper-v
  5. the incredible innovation in, and choice of, hardware, from low end to the highest quality premium devices
  6. their amazing stream of recent innovation, from the band to the HoloLens to the Surface and Surface Hub none of which I will be buying, but all of which I might consider in their next, smaller and lighter, iterations
  7. their superb Plex support, which means I’ve finally forgiven them for not updating Windows Media Centre

Microsoft has won me over, I’m excited, I’m ready to invest.

I wrote this post sitting in the car, on my trusty Thinkpad x230.  I’m parked up on the beach front at Cleveleys looking out at waveless sea, enjoying the view that I’ve shared in the photo at the top of this post.  Next stop brunch at Vincent’s cafe and a few hours walking the cliffs and listening to podcasts, wondering how everyone else will assess Windows 10 and what yesterday meant to Microsoft and the rest of the world.

Finding A Passion In Retirement

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Passion is important in life.  People often develop a passion for their work because they work hard at it, get good at it, make progress and get positive feedback. It’s rare that they start out with this passion, they just take the first step ‘work hard’ and the rest follows naturally.  I’m no longer able to work as hard at my work as I’d like to, so I’m gradually losing the passion I had for it; this is compounded by a growing unease about the effect the technologies we are promoting have on peoples lives.

I’m keen to regain the passion in my life and to some extent I’m succeeding by focusing on regaining my health, but that’s a ‘two steps forward, one step back’ kind of endeavour; sometimes one step forward two steps back.  As a sustainable source of passion it’s not a good choice, so I need to find something else, ideally something that I can do to my own schedule, and that doesn’t involve a lot of sitting. Critically it needs to be focused on helping people.

As I’ve already mentioned I’m concerned that the march of technology is having significant negative effects on the average person.  I’m not keen to be involved in promoting that, although helping people find the right balance might be an option. 

These are the areas I know I want to avoid; anything that involves:

  1. large bureaucratic organisations of any type, which rules out for example the health service
  2. writing about, creating or promoting technology for it’s own sake
  3. a desk, a suit, significant travel, a schedule, a traditional boss

These are the things I’m looking for, something that:

  1. unambiguously helps people
  2. makes the world a better place
  3. involves working with ‘real’ people or an online community
  4. I will feel proud of

I have a few options in mind:

  1. helping with the evolution of my small town, for example the transition town movement
  2. helping organisations that I really respect like New Economics Foundation, or The Cradle To Cradle movement
  3. taking on an allotment, joining it’s community and growing a lot of my own food
  4. volunteering to help improve the quality of life of those less fortunate than myself
  5. looking after grandchildren
  6. writing guides to walks and cycle rides that I conquer
  7. simply taking delight in the places where I spend my time, writing, photographing, mindful exploring, getting to know the people, gardening, DIY, taking care of the place (beach cleans, volunteer gardening …)

Finding such a passion needs to complement the balanced life that I’m planning though, one with plenty of relaxation, reading, learning, creating, socialising and movement.  What’s clear to me is the need to find a passion, and keep that passion fresh over time (which probably means finding new ones every decade).

The inspiration for this post came from a chat with a friend of mine who’s recently retired and feeling bored and depressed.  It reminded me of the need to plan for retirement carefully and not rush into it blind.  I took the photo at the top of the post this morning while out walking on the beach before my usual couple of hours in Caffe Nero.

Moving On From Facebook

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Over the last few years I’ve found Facebook to be useful as a way to keep in touch with friends and family, to watch their lives unfold from afar.  Unfortunately when I open up Facebook now that’s not what I see, instead of news about people I care about, I feel like Facebook is trying to entertain me with an endless stream of news, cute videos and pictures.  I know that I could ‘tune’ my news feed to improve it’s relevance but I don’t feel like it’s worth the effort because I have an alternative.  I now have all my family on Instagram instead.  My Instagram newsfeed is cleaner, the Flow app I use to browse it is much faster and more visually appealing and the whole experience is a lot less ‘noisy’.  Of course I also still have my first love – Twitter, if I want to be distracted.

I’m still going to be using Facebook as a ‘tool’, because it’s the best way to interact with some communities that are important to me, but I’ve removed it from all of my mobile devices and I’ve restricted my viewing time to 10 minutes a day using the Focus add-in for Chrome. 

I’m also restricting my time on Twitter to 10 minutes a day, I’m online too infrequently to use it as a way of ‘chatting’ with my friends at work, but it’s still a good way to post updates to my diary, to keep loosely in touch with people and to scan the news.

I’m tapping away at this post in Caffe Nero, I started with a flare again yesterday after a long hard week spending 8 hours a day supporting Jennie in hospital, it’s probably put me in a bad mood, but if a bad moods what it takes to withdraw a little from social networking that’s one silver lining.  I did manage to get one nice walk in the sand dunes yesterday though and snapped the picture that opens this post.

Pitfalls Of CEO Led Workplace Design

IMG_9366I recently read the results of an interview with a CEO about their requirements for office space,t he result was bland and in my view useless, they said that the workplace needed to:

    1. Reflect the proper, as well as a positive image on the company to clients, investors, partners and employees.
    2. Enhance our ability to attract and retain key talent.
    3. Demonstrate to our employees we are concerned about their health and wellbeing, (i.e. natural light, amenities and security).
    4. Be designed to enhance collaboration and enhance operational efficiency.
    5. Be impressive, yet not overly lavish (i.e. cost effective).

Although it would be impossible for anyone to disagree with this wish list, I don’t think it provides any insight into the real distinguishing requirement that this CEO had.  In fact I think this list reflects the way that most CEOs think about workplace, they think that the workplace can be designed to meet a single requirement, as if all of their employees had the same need!

My perspective continues to be that workplaces need to reflect the diverse needs of teams who will work in them, and therefore they need to be flexible enough to adapt as the needs of the team changes, or as the mix of types of teams change (I’m using teams in a generic fashion here, to just mean small collection of people).

I’ve written about the, idea that teams should be able to design their own workplace in a previous post and as I’ve been reading about workplace design recently, I’ve become ever increasingly cynical of the bold ‘top down’ workplace design schemes that seem to be more about branding (reflect the proper, as well as a positive image on the company to clients, investors, partners and employees) than they are about working.

Of course I know I’m being a bit unfair, because at least this particular CEO didn’t just say “cram as many rectangular desks in as possible” but I have high standards.

I’m writing this blog post in Blackpool Victoria Hospital which has recently designed it’s new main entrance as a huge open space surrounded by shops, seating areas of all shapes and sizes and a very nice coffee shop (shown above) with pervasive free WIFI.  Ironically it’s a better place to work than many offices I’ve been unfortunate enough to work in.  This is good news as I’m spending 2 weeks and 8 hours a day in this hospital at the moment.

Work–Life Balance

10882339_10153401905280828_8366416532843201845_nI’ve been experimenting with improving my work life balance for decades and my approach has mainly been one of work-life integration; where I seamlessly integrate work activities with ‘life activities’ through the day.  But the idea of balance had gradually asserted more prominence in my approach; it no longer seems reasonable to me to do long blocks of any type of activity, they are too tiring physically or mentally.  Too tiring physically and I risk nudging myself towards a flare; too tiring mentally and I find my productivity crashing, my discipline evaporating, my eyes drooping or my brain desperately seeking distraction by entering the email, Facebook, Twitter checking loop.

On thinking afresh about balance my approach has been to consider each period of the day (morning, afternoon and evening) to be a balanced unit of 5 hours.  In each period I need to have a decent mix of activities: housework, socialising, exercise, relaxation, creativity, research and reading with a bit of travel and an hour of random activity to fill in the gap.

If I consider my average daily targets to be:

  1. 8 hours of sleep
  2. 1 hour of housework and household admin
  3. 1 hour of personal hygiene, shopping and food preparation
  4. 3 hours of creative work
  5. 90 minutes of work related research/training
  6. 90 minutes of non-work related reading
  7. 2 hours of socialising
  8. 90 minutes of exercise
  9. 30 minutes of meditation
  10. 2 hours of relaxation (including TV)
  11. 1 hour of travel.

Then if I plan out the rough periods of my day then I get:

Morning from 6:30 – 11:30
Afternoon from 11:30 – 5:30 (includes the extra ‘random’ hour)
Evening 5:30 – 10:30

Each of these period will look something like:

Morning from 6:30 – 11:30

Catching up with Debbie
Housework and a short walk to my health club for a swim and relax in the sauna
Breakfast at my favourite beach cafe
A short period of socialising with family and cafe regulars
60 minutes of research followed by 30 minutes of relaxation and reading
Another longer walk with some body weight exercises on the promenade benches
15 minutes Vipassana Meditation and more housework

Afternoon from 11:30 – 5:30 (includes the extra ‘random’ hour)

A solid 90 minute block of creative work
A 60 minute lunch while watching a conference video
15 minutes Yoga Nidra meditation and a few body weight exercises
Another 60 minute block of work
A short cycle to Caffe Nero for 60 minutes of non-fiction reading

Evening 5:30 – 10:30

30 minutes Catching up with Debbie and the kids
60 minutes scanning RSS feeds and social media for news/research to read tomorrow
30 minutes family dinner and then washing up
60 minute evening walk into town and fresh food shopping
60 minutes family TV time
60 minutes relaxing in the bath and fiction reading

Sleep 10:30 – 6:30

Of course no day will ever look like this in reality, sometimes I will be working in the local office, which means a 90 minute commute and lots of meetings, other times I will be doing a big supermarket shop, still others a long walk, or an evening out.  The general principal of seeking balance still applies. 

I’m also able to multi-task physical and mental work, for example I can listen to podcasts and audiobooks while driving, walking, cycling or doing housework, I can watch conference videos or attend audio conferences while on my exercise bike and eating lunch.

I wrote this post while on hospital duty, looking after Jennie who’s currently taking a nap.  This illustrates nicely the impossibility of planning my day as described above, but also demonstrates how the idea of balance works.  I still spent my morning following the pattern described, took exercise and relaxation breaks while at the hospital and enjoyed a mix of exercise, relaxation and housework in the evening after visiting time ended.  The photo is of Cleveleys beach, just a short hop from the hospital, Debbie and I enjoyed a lovely brunch at the beach front ‘Cafe Cove’ yesterday.