Meeting Jim Lovell and Saving the Planet

I met Jim Lovell today!
Yes, Captain James Lovell of “Houston we have a problem” Apollo 13 fame!

Jim Lovell

I am not by any means a ‘space nerd’, but when I had the opportunity to shake the hand of the central character in perhaps the greatest human story of all time, I leapt at the chance.

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We travelled to Pontefract (where a
group of volunteers periodically
organise @Space_Lectures) to listen to
Jim Lovell tell stories of his days as
a test pilot for the Phantom fighter plane, successful missions with the Gemini
programme, and of course his
miraculous Apollo 13 adventure.

Travelling at 6000 miles an hour in space between the Earth and the Moon, one of the Odessey’s oxygen tanks exploded! Without the oxygen or power needed to return to earth, or the use of their rudimentary computer to recalculate trajectories, or a working filter to prevent rising CO2, their safe return was surely impossible! While almost every country on the planet united in hope, the bravery and skill of the crew, and the ingenuity of a few dozen people, turned this potential tragedy into a happy ending.

Jim Lovell described his resolve to “not be an orbiting monument to the space programme”; to find a way through any and all of the problems the situation kept throwing at them; and, to work out a route back to the Earth. As his disappointment over not landing on the Moon gradually faded, Jim began to see this as perhaps the best thing that could have happened to NASA – to show how people could work together to overcome unknown risks and unforeseen events, and continue to rise to the challenges of space travel.

As they made it around the Moon, Jim Lovell held up his thumb to the window, obscuring the distant blue globe that comprised everything every human had ever known. He realised what a special and privileged place the Earth is – that we don’t go to heaven when we die – “we go to heaven when we are born”.

As we all now hurtle through space on our special and fragile planet, running out of fuel and with rising CO2, sea levels and average temperatures, “Failure is not an option!”. Surely we can draw on that same ingenuity and unity of purpose that saved those three astronauts and, with the added advantage of a billion times more computing power, rise to the challenges of global warming and keep our home safe? or will we continue on our way to creating an orbiting monument to the human age?



Dream Your Next Job

Wondering whether it’s time to move on from your job? Thinking about what it takes to step up into a leadership role? Is there a way to prepare for your next role, ahead of time?

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Don’t just day-dream, imagine yourself successful in your dream job 2 years from now and ask yourself these 10 questions:

  • What are your role purpose and priorities?
  • What do you do differently?
  • What have you stopped doing?
  • How do you behave differently?
  • Who is in your network?
  • How have you built new relationships with colleagues?
  • What do your colleagues think about you?
  • What has been your biggest achievement this year?
  • What have you learned?

And finally…

  • What insight does this vision give you about how you can begin today to develop your skills, networks and leadership behaviours?

To bring anything into your life, imagine that it’s already there.
Richard Bach

The Ten Demandments

Came across this recently and really liked it so thought I’d share – Kelly Mooney’s Ten Demandments: what customers want, without all the nonsense of setting measurable targets.

  1. Earn my trust through respect, integrity, advocacy and quality.
  2. Inspire me through immersive experiences, motivating messages and related philanthropy.
  3. Make it easy with simplicity, speed and usefulness.
  4. Put me in charge of making choices and give me control.
  5. Guide me with expert advice, education and information.
  6. Give me 24/7 access, from anywhere, at anytime.
  7. Get to know me — listen, learn and study me, the real consumer, not just data.
  8. Exceed my expectations with uncommon courtesies and surprising services.
  9. Reward me with points programs, privileges of access or other worthwhile extras.
  10. Stay with me with follow through and meaningful follow-up.

Being Right Isn’t Enough

I used to think being right was the most important thing.

You know, that pleasure in the precision of resolving a complex problem into an elegant and correct answer  Screen Shot 2015-08-07 at 18.29.51 (Maths was my favourite subject at school:-)

But I soon learned at work that being right is almost of no consequence – unless you can convince others to believe in your great idea, and then persuade them to help make it a reality. And that is much harder than you’d think.

A Business Development Director colleague of mine is currently trying to come to terms with the fact that, after a year of number crunching, market research and business planning, his great idea for a new, profitable, sports facility is not being taken up. Does this sound familiar?

“Why won’t they agree? it’s obvious! the proof is all there!”

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 18.43.52Well, there’s timing… and budget cycles… and vested interests… and personal preferences… and petty jealousies and disputes… and politics… and short-termism… and jumping to conclusions… and confirmation bias… and competition… and lethargy… and stupidity… and egos… and fear of the new… and… it’s a wonder any decisions get made at all!

So, if being right isn’t enough, what else can you do?

Find the decision-makers
Find out what their interests are, what is their angle, what aspects should you highlight to them, what information do they find persuasive? savings, or profits, or a deserving cause, or publicity? What other similar decisions have they taken, or turned down, recently?

Build support
Engage influential colleagues who can benefit from your proposal, or because they believe in similar principles. Talk through your proposal before decision-time, resolve any queries, get their input and their buy-in, and hopefully get them advocating for you.

Talk to the blockers
Sometimes the blockers are the best people to talk to early on, because they will be the first to find fault – thus giving you vital information about how to make your counter-arguments.

Sell it
What’s the best way of making the argument? Some people love weighty tomes packed with financial scenarios! others a punchy presentation; or a heart-tugging personal story from a potential beneficiary; or to be there and experience something for themselves. The big sell? or ‘drip-drip’ the idea until everyone believes in it.

Give it away
Maybe best person to make the case is not you! Who is well-connected, well-respected, and might win over the decision-makers more than you? Is your idea important enough to give to someone else to make a reality without you getting the credit?

Be patient.
And opportunistic. Wait for the right time to present your idea – when a business problem crops up that your idea can fix, or a new round of funding becomes available, or another initiative is on the skids and we need a quick win…

Be a bit wrong
Or at least allow others to be a bit right. Compromise. Incorporate other people’s ideas into your own. Aim for the win:win

Too cynical? How do you get your best ideas adopted at work?

Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.
Peter Drucker

Back to Rachman ?

If anyone was in any doubt before 8th July, it is now crystal clear – the Tories just don’t like social housing.

The gradual erosion of building subsidies and piece-meal benefit changes of the last decade have been absorbed by social housing providers, in the belief that this couldn’t last and that we would adapt, get more efficient, use more private funding, but essentially carry on as before. Not any more….

The latest budget and policy directives send a clear message: the Government vision for a low tax, low wage, low public-spending economy means the end to grants to build affordable housing and limited benefits to make rents affordable (except for the most vulnerable). Coupled with the start of a negative media campaign, and hints about de-regulation and de-registration, I am in no doubt that the Tories would much rather Housing Associations dropped their pseudo-public personae and joined the ranks of big business – borrowing and building at scale for market and sub-market rent, with the sole objective of increasing supply, and ‘let the market take care of affordability’.

We are witnessing the start of a revolution as big as any of the last Century – the start of Council housing, the growth of home-ownership, and bigger than the right-to-buy of the ’80s. As much as I am fearful of the turmoil that will result, and resent the disregard for the poor people who will be hit by the changes, there’s a little bit of me that reluctantly thinks (dare I say it?) maybe it’s right….

I’ve long thought that subsidising home ownership simply drives up house prices, and that social housing has been wrongly obsessed with eligibility and access – forgetting that whereas you might need affordable housing at some stage in your life, this may change, and why should you hang onto this scarce and valuable social resource to the detriment of the thousands of others who are homeless or on waiting lists?

At it’s peak in the 80’s, social housing comprised almost 1/3 of the stock, and was a tenure of choice – unimaginable today and in a future where low-cost ‘safety-net’ housing might be available only for the minority of people most in need. Home ownership has started to decline and this trend will continue for the foreseeable future, as average house prices continue to outstrip average wages. Private renting has been on the increase since the early 90’s, with more than half the households in London now renting at exhorbitant market rents. Recent figures show the UK as having the highest housing costs in Europe with an average monthly rent over £900 compared to just £600 in Germany. We are building less and our scarce housing supply is being eroded by investors, rather than providing homes.

We’ve known for ages that the housing system in this country is broken – just blaming the Government and carrying on as before won’t fix it. Maybe the Tories will bring about the revolution we need to shock the system into a new paradigm: to rebalance supply and demand, to reset prices to meet affordability, and to have a healthy mix of home ownership and rented housing, with a social housing sector that is valued by all.

As well as stepping up and building more mores to rent, maybe Housing Associations have another role to play – no longer solely trying to maximise access to social housing, but to provide homes for people when they are most in need, and to protect the most vulnerable from the excesses of the market – otherwise who will prevent the exploitation and appalling conditions that prevailed when the private rented sector was last king?

Secrets and Lies

Secrets and Lies –
a birthday surprise

“A boy’s own adventure –
Sailing round the world
To visit rare islands and creatures
And people from different cultures
To have some fun,
While I’m free and young”

“I miss my boy, my joy and pride,
18 months he’s been away,
out of touch for weeks at sea.
a map and pen to work out where.
And now he’s reached the other side
maybe we can visit him there”

He’s hatched a plan
to catch a plane.
24 hours he flies
for a birthday surprise.
Sshh! keep Mum
and tell no-one.
Countless times we lied
the secret to hide,
and all worthwhile
for hugs, and smiles
and tears of unexpected joy,
and see my sister
hold her boy.


Good Business Sense and the End of Innovation

You see, we experienced managers have learned over the years how to organise resources, manage risks and finances, record progress, set targets and report performance data. Honed and standardised over decades, our well-established practices provide comfort and control.

But do they respond well to the challenges of a fast-moving, digital and complex workplace? – No!

“That’s a good idea! Can you write up a business case setting out the predicted costs and measurable outcomes, for the Management Team to consider?”
“Hmmm… No”

“Great suggestion! Let’s get more people involved by setting up a Working Group”
“Pfff… No!”

“Good news, your proposal has been agreed. We’ve set up a Project Board to oversee delivery”
“Oh No!”

“Can you let us have a project plan with key milestones and resource requirements?”
“Just No!”

“Yes! it’d be great if you could do that. And while you’re at it can you do this, this and this as well?”
“No, No, NO!”

“Focusing is about saying “no”. And when you say “no” you piss off people”
Steve Jobs
“The difference between successful people & very successful people is
very successful people say “no” to almost everything.”
Warren Buffet

Can you encourage your teams to say “no”?

And what should you say “no” to?