Thursday 21 October 2010

Slow and steady progress to your goal

The lessons that business can learn from sport are well documented. I’ve written before about sports psychology in business, in particular about goal setting. At the time of my previous post I had only just started running. I was bright-eyed with my new running shoes and a great deal of enthusiasm.

My running shoes are now rather muddy and annoyingly prone to giving me blisters. And I am decidedly frustrated at my slow-coach style. I had to pull out of the track exercise last night because my legs just wouldn’t respond when my brain said accelerate. There was no more go in them. No matter how positively I thought about it. It’s a wry lesson.

In business, as sport, there is no substitute for slow and steady progress with an eye held firmly on the target. In business, as in sport, progress is often painfully slow.

Confucius is credited with saying:
“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.”
I repeat that advice to myself almost constantly as I run (completely ignorant of Confucius and his musings): just run, don’t stop, keep running. As you can tell I’m not what you might call a natural at this running lark, but after 6 months of plugging away at it I have just completed my half marathon. When I started I couldn’t run a mile without medical assistance.

So when I read Gretchen Rubin’s blog post quoting Vincent Van Gogh, it got me thinking:

“If one is master of one thing and understands one thing well, one has at the same time, insight into and understanding of many things.”
It is beginning to dawn on me just how difficult it is to make real progress with my running. Difficulties in business can be equally frustrating. Yet keeping on going, continuing to make small steps may be the answer to both. Maybe understanding my limitations with running will help me understand my business better too.

I wouldn’t have believed 6 months ago that I could run a half marathon, and now I don’t believe I can run one in anything like a decent time. But if I continue to train, maybe I won’t be quite as hopeless in another 6 months. Maybe.

Friday 15 October 2010

Blog Action Day: Water

I live in the country. I’m a lucky girl. I’m so lucky that we have a bore hole to pump water from the ground to the house. It’s what you do in the country, apparently. It’s wonderfully clean, fresh water. And none of those pesky water bills. Kind of ideal really.

Now before you get all carried away with the romance of taking it in turns to go pump the water by hand from the bore hole, I have to say that we do have electricity in the country. So the electric pump does all the hard work of getting the water up from the ground. I’m put to no more trouble than turning on the tap. Or shower. Or flushing the loo. We have all mod cons in the country.

Apart from when our local electricity supplier gets a problem and cuts us off, which has happened a fair few times. I don’t know whether that’s to do with being in the country or not, I just know it’s annoying. No lights. No fridge. No dinner. And, wait for it, no water. No water!!!! Arrgghhh!

So no water means no shower, no water to cook with, no water to drink, no water to flush the toilet. No water to clean clothes. No water to do anything with. The last time the bore hole pump packed in, we had to get water from the neighbour in plastic containers. That was sort of interesting. And heavy. And not too easy to deal with.

Why am I telling you all of this? Because it’s Blog Action Day when bloggers from around the world discuss one topic, and this year it is water.

So why am I telling you about my bore hole? Because when my bore hole pump stops working, and I have no water, I’m put in the same position as nearly 1 billion people across the world who do not have access to clean water. Whereas I know my water supply will be restored within a few hours, women living in Africa often have to walk miles with heavy containers to get the family’s water. Day after day, week after week, year after year.

It makes you think, doesn’t it?

My inconvenience of not having water is shocking to my friends. We take clean water for granted, attaching almost no value to it. If you are out of champers, orange juice and beer, you would be embarrassed to only be able to offer a guest a glass of water to drink. Yet in too many places in the world, the value of clean drinking water is immeasurable.

Read more about the problem of water and if nothing else, be thankful for the clean water you have.

Thursday 14 October 2010

Dig deep for Ovarian Cancer Action

Many of my long suffering readers already know that I completed my first half marathon last Sunday. Indeed many of them have been encouraged to support Ovarian Cancer Action - the charity I was running for. They have already heard me moan about how unbelievably difficult it was to run 13.1 miles.

I guess completing a half marathon is an achievement, even if it did take me a full 3 hours to do it. I only marginally beat the pantomime horse, who seemed to have walked most of the distance. But who cares? I ran most of the distance (yes, I know, I am the slowest runner ever … ) and learnt more about myself than I really wanted to know.

First of all I learnt that not being fully prepared isn’t the greatest idea in the world. I hadn’t done enough training, not lost enough weight and hadn’t really understood what running 13 miles meant. My iPod was overestimating my practice runs, so I was lulled into a false sense of fitness security – thinking I had been covering longer distances than I had. You live and learn. But the psychological trauma of realising I had only run 9 miles when my iPod said 10 miles, and my legs said 24 miles was not something my head was ready for. And the humiliation of needing to be talked up that endless hill by a 14 year old boy on a bicycle is something I will train long and hard to resist next time.

I also learnt something about digging deep. Alliterations always have a jolly ring to them, but when you are living them they look a little different. Digging deep last Sunday meant remembering why I was running (because someone else had to endure the pain of chemotherapy) and why it was important (because I want future generations to have a better chance). Digging deep also meant keeping on going, when all I wanted to do was stop. Digging deep meant trying to think of something other than what might be happening under my socks.

I also learnt that it is worthwhile to stick my neck out to try and achieve something worthwhile. I’ve now got a great deal more respect for people who regularly run, cycle, walk and abseil down buildings for causes they believe are important. Without those people we wouldn’t know half what we know about cancer, how the heart or head works.

So thank you everyone who supported me, and Ovarian Cancer Action. My Just Giving page is if you would like to add to the bellow of voices who want a higher chance of survival for the lovely women in their lives who are unlucky enough to get ovarian cancer.

Friday 8 October 2010

Making the right decisions when it all goes pear shaped

Last night I was at a Question Time-style session organised by The Marketing Society. It was lively, engaging, funny, frustrating and highly entertaining. There were some smart cookies in the audience as well as on the panel. One question that particularly interested me was: “What leadership qualities are needed to repair a damaged brand?”

Brands get damaged for all sorts of reasons – but mostly because something has gone horribly, horribly wrong. You’ve not delivered on your brand promise. BP, Toyota, Royal Mail, BA have all recently had operational problems that have tarnished their marketing image. So what to do? Is it a question of spending more on marketing, PR, sponsorship? Or as is being suggested for BP, changing your name in several countries?

Or is it a question of communicating?

When things go wrong at home, communication is normally at the heart of the problem. And so it is with brands.

When it all goes pear shaped, communicating clearly, honestly and openly about what’s happened is usually the best route. Food companies have become well-rehearsed with this. From time to time something gets into the product that shouldn’t. The press love it, and the marketing people have hysterics. But we all goof up from time to time. And explaining what happened, what you are going to do to put it right, how you will reduce the risk of it happening again – all go a long way to reassuring your customers. That, and saying sorry.

Nothing as simple as this came back as an answer to the questioner’s insightful probe. What do you think? How do great leaders repair damage to their valuable brands?

Thursday 7 October 2010

Feed the Addiction

I admit to having caught the tail end of The Apprentice last night. This hammed-up but fascinating series continues to annoy and delight in equal measure.

Making and selling sausages at a profit appears to have been the first task, which was lost by the boys team (I told you it was delightful). What was most fascinating though, was the team leader’s approach to management. “Standing around giving orders” seems to have been his management style – an approach most of us in business would find amusing if it wasn’t mixed with so much aggression and swearing.

The Apprentices do play up for the cameras, as do the Board, but beneath all the play acting are some serious business conundrums. How do people work when they are under pressure and haven’t had enough sleep (for whatever reason)? Do they rise to the challenge and help their colleagues or do they turn into bullying slave drivers? No wonder large companies wine and dine would be employees before deciding whether to send a job offer – they want to know what’s beneath the gloss and bravado. They want to see what kind of person they are really brining into the fold.

It’s no surprise Alan Sugar has indicated that underperforming bullies have no role in any of his companies, whatever the stresses and strains. His job was made easier by the so-called Sales Director’s inability to sell sausages. I hope his decision would have been the same if he had sold several pigs-worth of the things.

If you didn't see it, you can watch here:

Friday 1 October 2010

The Cloud’s Silver Lining

Cloud computing offers significant benefits to cash strapped businesses that need to Get Things Done. There are no high upfront costs of buying servers and software, rather you on pay as you go for what you need. The service is ready and waiting for your requirement, like a Labrador puppy – always eager for walkies.

But the silver lining doesn’t stop there.

Whilst cost and availability are pretty helpful (OK, more than just helpful in difficult economic times) one big benefit of cloud computing is its ability to join up geographically separate locations. If I want my Edinburgh office to see the same set of performance indicators as my Southampton office, I need a way for them both to be able to see the same data - and I need it to be secure. For smaller companies that don’t have their networks linked, this isn’t so easy.

Putting your application in the cloud takes care of all the communications issues in one monthly payment. No support costs. No need to hire someone to take care of the infrastructure. No necessity to deal with multiple suppliers: just a simple internet connection.

Whether a company is spread across town, across the country, or all over Europe – this is a big benefit. And the mechanics of designing the application are no different from any other business app.

So whilst cost is often trumpeted as the big benefit of cloud computing, I suggest there are others that are probably more important. After all, what price efficient communication?