Report writing

A friend recently had to produce a report at work. A tight deadline caused significant stress, and an important topic meant that it felt like it mattered. However when asked if they thought anyone would read it the reply was — no.

I so clearly remember, in my first managerial job, being faced with a blank page in Word and the expectation that I would generate dozens of pages filled with — I knew not what. So I dug out an old document I had been sent, copied the structure, and began attempting to fill it in with content as relevant to my topic as I could manage. Much of it was padding. My language was stilted and awkward.

Another friend was recently presented with the results of a similarly pointless effort. Forty pages of wasted life. When they asked if the person who wrote it would ever read something like that themselves the answer was no. "THEN WHY DO YOU EXPECT ME TO?!" They replied.

Why do we subject each other to this nonsense? What if we all agreed to stop?


My friend Joan Keevill Recently referenced this Maya Angelou quote:

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” - Maya Angelou

Following on from my post on Wednesday about making an impact this got me thinking just how much of the world of work this applies to. The world in which we have fetishised “deliverables” and denigrated feelings.

Remembering bosses who may have done all the right things, may have been very busy and delivered lots of projects – but made me feel like a small, unimportant cog in the wheels of industry. This is what I remember. Or what about all those documents they were so busy writing that may have been full of information – but made me feel as if my life was slowly draining from me! That too is what I remember.

On the other hand what about those teachers who made me feel inspired and invigorated, ready to take on the world? And what about the toilet attendant I once watched in Vegas who made everyone smile with his witty banter as they benefited from his pristine empire over which he watched with a proud eagle eye!

Instead of showing off the next time someone asks how you are with that all too common “Oh, I am really, really busy”, stop for a moment to think about how you are making them feel…

Making an impact

We celebrate those who change the world rather than those who just talk about it. But isn't this the western disease? Seeing problems as out there in the world rather than within us, sorting others instead of sorting ourselves? Aren't most of the world's biggest problems the result of our previous attempts to make an impact?

Both of the main words in that phrase are problematic. Making something happen implies force or coercion, impact is what happens in collisions.

And isn't talking, even talking to ourselves in the act of thinking, how the world really changes?

Through having and sharing ideas we perceive the world differently. As a result we act differently. Doing so changes our world and the world of those around us. Perhaps in subtle ways, perhaps over longer timescales than we would like, but no need for "making" and no pain of "impact".

Don't just do something, stand there.


Hearing Mollie deal with the challenge of the unstructured nature of University after the imposed order and discipline of school brought back memories. Wandering around wondering what I was meant to be doing, feeling guilty about not doing it, lost in a slippery quagmire of expectations. Looking back I regret not having dealt with the challenge better. I would have done so much better with what I know now.

And what do I know now? After ten years of working for myself, and much of the time alone, I have become so much better at knowing what I need to do, refining my ability to do so effectively, and proactively seeking out the next challenge and opportunity for learning. In fact just in terms of reading I read more, and "better" now than at any time in my life. I am also more disciplined about how I spend my time and building my own structures to do so. Applying and refining David Allen's principles from Getting Things Done has been instrumental in this and a life saver in so many situations.

But this is not for everyone. I often make the mistake of thinking that everyone can, and should, work like this. I have to remember that some people respond better to an imposed structure, to tasks delegated by a boss, to clear and extrinsic rewards. I forget that for many the daily commute is part of that structure as is sharing space with others in an office.

My worry is that these structures look likely to become less common in the future. As our large corporations crumble under their own inefficiency more people will work for themselves or in small groups. Fewer people will commute to offices. As artificial intelligence nibbles away at work tasks the nature of the "knowledge work" that is left will become less routine and call for more individual input.

The comforts of our structures will become liabilities rather than benefits.

Growing up

While proud and delighted at Mollie leaving for university at the weekend, we have also all been dealing with the emotional wrench of such a dislocation. It got me thinking what a particularly middle class right of passage this mostly is. Talking to a builder and his wife who we met on a walk yesterday reinforced this thought. Their kids hadn't gone to college and so the transition out of the family home was much gentler and more gradual. The need for toughening up and coping with the emotional upheaval had been avoided.

I've also been thinking about the many ex boarding school students I encountered in my own university experience at St. Andrews. How much more grown up and intimidating they seemed to those of us who had stayed at home and gone to comprehensive school. In the hey day of public schools, the days of the empire, the emotional wrenches started earlier, the toughening up of the managerial class was more systematic.

I remember my own transition into management and the stress of feeling that I was expected to be "in charge of" other people. The pressure to don the armour of the suit and tie was enormous. I was expected to join the grown ups.

I thought of friends who change as they climb the managerial ladder and of middle managers I meet who talk managerial bollocks and cultivate aloof distance from others. This urge to differentiate themselves as different, as more responsible, as more grown up, is endemic.

You will have seen me dismissively using the phrase "the grown-ups" to describe those in business who over enthusiastically assume this fictitious mantle of responsibility. Who throw their weight around at work, assuming that the "children" they are "responsible for" need controlling. Being hard nosed. Making tough decisions.

But do they really grow up? Is all of this toughening up a good thing? Does it result in well balanced human beings, happy in themselves, capable of inspiring and supporting others? Is it all necessary?

I wonder...

Every time

Every time I define myself by difference Every time I indulge in righteous indignation Every time I assert myself over a fictitious other Every time I play "the hard man" to hide my fears

I make it easier for Trump to exist.


This struck me as describing what bogging can be at its best.

Hope - by Victoria Safford.

"Our mission is to plant ourselves at the gates of Hope — not the prudent gates of Optimism, which are somewhat narrower; nor the stalwart, boring gates of Common Sense; nor the strident gates of Self-Righteousness, which creak on shrill and angry hinges (people cannot hear us there; they cannot pass through); nor the cheerful, flimsy garden gate of “Everything is gonna be all right.” But a different, sometimes lonely place, the place of truth-telling, about your own soul first of all and its condition, the place of resistance and defiance, the piece of ground from which you see the world both as it is and as it could be, as it will be; the place from which you glimpse not only struggle, but joy in the struggle. And we stand there, beckoning and calling, telling people what we are seeing, asking people what they see."

Finding life amazing

We think that we know all about life and have made it ordinary.

We label things and think that means that we understand them.

We focus so much on getting what we don't have that we miss what we do.

We get upset when life isn't as it should be without realising that it is perfect as it is.

We want the ups without the downs and fail to see that one can't exist without the other.

While doing all this we forget the power of just being.

We forget how amazing life is and how lucky we are that, despite incredible odds against it happening, we are here at all.

We might as well relax more and enjoy it while we are.

Drawing lines

Last night I read some of the anti-semitism being shared on Twitter. In one tweet the poster asked Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, whether his company was unable to police anti-semitism or just unwilling to. I then thought of Facebook’s decision to delete the iconic image of the child running along a road in Vietnam because it had crossed some line of decency (they later reversed this decision).

Both of these examples reminded me of the early days of the internet when too incautious an exploration of Usenet would invariably expose you to really disturbing images or ideas. We learned to look away, but we also learned what fellow humans are capable of.

It takes a lot of work by dedicated teams to filter extremes of human nature from any of the public facing platforms. Given my view that the greatest opportunity afforded by the internet is that it is a mirror, part of me thinks that this is important work – part of me worries that it is protecting us from ourselves.

Where do we draw our lines? Do we draw our own or do we rely on others to draw them for us? Is it better to be made aware of the darker side of our nature and forced to face up to it - or do we need protected from it?

Maybe there is no easy answer…

Mirror, mirror

Mirror, mirror

"The internet is full of idiots." "The internet is dumbing us down." "The internet is spoiling our kids." "The internet is destroying society."

The internet is wires and code.

The problem is you. The problem is me. I can't change you. You can't change me.

But we can see each other [waves]

Staying ahead by slowing down

I have always loved the phrase "Don't just do something stand there." It conveys the paradox that very often doing things is less productive than taking a moment to reflect. A moment to work out what is really going on. A moment to ponder what we we really want to happen. A moment to gather ourselves before stepping back into the hectic stream of modern life. 

This willingness to be still is becoming ever more important. The fad for mindfulness in the geek and startup communities that has emerged over the last few years is a sign that chasing the newest shiny thing and frenetically pursuing the ultimate in productivity eventually takes its toll. We end up "busily bored" as Todd Henry calls it. Never having enough time but constantly wondering what the point is.

I used the phrase "Staying ahead by slowing down" in my talk at Learning Live last week. My theme was that we need to get better at our most human characteristics if we are to add value when AI and robots can run rings around us in terms of efficiency. Rather than efficiency, effectiveness needs to be our main focus, doing the right things for the right reasons. Sometimes sitting quietly in a room on our own, even for a little while, is the best way to work out what those are.

Being at work

A long time ago I wrote a post entitled "When an office becomes a liability". It was about how having an office was shifting from being a status symbol, a place to get things done, to being a place where the network was slower than at home, someone controlled what apps and technology you could use, and your creative energy was sapped by endless meetings.

Ten years later, having experienced over that time the joy and increased effectiveness of being a freelancer in charge of my own productivity, I marvel at organisations agonising over whether or not to give their staff the choice to work at home, over engineering the technology they feel is needed to allow them to do so, and having time wasting meetings about whether they can be trusted not to waste their time!

Work is more about attitude of mind than place. Most of us can do it anywhere. I am writing this on my phone in bed! It could be a report or an email. I could even be taking part in a phone conference - with the camera turned off!

Too often being at work is about being seen, about politics, about insecurity. Given how much time and valuable natural resources we waste getting to and from the places where we may, or may not, be able to get things done, we need to get braver about taking the alternatives seriously.

We the media

A friend in Australia just asked me what I thought about an article on celebrities leaving Twitter as a result of trolls and the amount of vitriol they increasingly face. My initial response was "Don’t follow celebrities or people who post bile! Oh, and stop reading newspaper articles about it."

I said this for two reasons. The first is that I see none of what she was talking about. I don't see celebrities, nor the appalling behaviours that they unfortunately attract, when I visit Twitter. My experience is deliberately limited to the 100 smart people who I pay attention to on there.

The second is that the journalist who wrote the article works for a newspaper and is part of the media engine that has a commercial interest in building up celebrities and thereby making them a potential target for the envy, and at the worst abuse, that they attract.

Many years ago, when Stephen Fry began using Twitter and the early conversations he was able to have in the relatively small world of Twitter users began to turn into something very different, someone commented that "On Twitter celebrity doesn't scale". My response was that the problem was with celebrity not with Twitter.

But Twitter chose to aspire to be a media company. They chose to be part of the problem not the solution. If they are going to play that game they have to take responsibility and be more assertive in managing the behaviour of those who use their service.

As to the long term, the Internet is a mirror that is forcing us to see aspects of our behaviour that we may not be very proud of. I remain optimistic that, eventually, more of us will realise that "we all have a volume control on mob rule." We will take responsibility, both individually and collectively, for what we link to and what we ignore, what we react to and what we resist. We will more actively manage the attention which both celebrities and trolls crave.

We will realise, at last, that we are the media.


I am enjoying reading Kevin Kelly's new book The Inevitable. It does a good job of laying out the consequences of technological change in twelve main themes. The themes are very familiar, have formed the basis of my own work, and are still inspiring. I know, or have met, most of the people he mentions in the book, from Tim Berners Lee to Jimmy Wales, Jochai Benkler to Brewster Kale. Smart people doing good things.

But reading it I find myself swinging wildly between feeling reinvigorated and affirmed - and tired and depressed. Why depressed? I met most of these world changers more than a decade ago. Their ideas, which still feel revolutionary, are glacial in their impact. There is a degree to which the book feels like banging on about old news, rehashing ideas that have missed their chance.

Most people still have no grasp of what is happening around them and to them. They are unaware of ideas that are shaping our world, and in many cases don't care. The utopian idealism of the early days of the web is looking tarnished and naïve. Commercial interests have slowed, corrupted, or assimilated many of the more potent innovations that we got so excited about.


It is so import to remember that we are just getting started. Kevin talks in terms of thirty year horizons and most of you will have heard me saying that it will be fifty years before we fully understand the true impact of the internet. This is why it is important that Kevin wrote the book. It's why I do the work I do.

On a good day I do believe that what he describes is inevitable - just not imminent. Those of us still excited about changing the world have to be in it for the long game. We have to be patient and yet at the same time help others to catch up. We have to learn to go fast and slow.

No one said that the inevitable was easy!

Losing control

Four years ago the Olympic Committee's attempt to ban social media at The London Olympics seemed laughable. The collapse of that ban, and the resulting enthusiasm and fun that social media enabled, subsequently played a large part in those games' success.

And yet four years on here they are making silly pronouncements about what people can and can't share from the Rio games.

It's like they are in denial. They really don't appear to know what to do with the loss of control. Instead of opportunity they see threat, instead of seeing new money making opportunities they protect their old ones.

It's like the music industry all over again. It's like companies who still ban Facebook or don't know that senior managers are using Whatsapp to communicate with each other because they are fed up waiting for the old world to catch up.

It's why I still reckon that it is going to take so much longer than people realise for the true impact of technology to become apparent.

Nice people

At school in the seventies, describing someone as "nice" was to sneer at them for being wimpy, compliant, a "goody two shoes"!

Even now I'm not drawn to people who try too hard to be liked, who fit in, who don't like ruffling feathers.

But I do know, respect, and value being able to spend time with some really, genuinely nice people. I want to be more like them. We need more people to be more like them.

Dealing with bullies.

Last week when we were in Greece two young "lads" from Manchester started paying attention to my daughter Hannah. The form this attention took was learing at her and making lewd comments. When she ignored them, though I wasn't aware of this at the time, they started calling her "a slag" and becoming more aggressive.

That evening, my daughters and I, along with some friends they had met on holiday, were sitting around a table having a chat. A stone suddenly landed on the table. We glanced around and there were the two lads sitting several yards away staring at us. When I looked back, trying to work out if it was them who had thrown the stone, they started posturing aggressively and asking what I was looking at!

At this point my inner 6'3" Scot kicked in and I went over and had a few words. The more aggressive boy's response was to suggest we go outside and sort it out. I said something to the effect of "you must be fucking kidding" and went back to the girls. I then had the challenge of ignoring him as he did his best to look menacing each time he saw me for the remainder of the holiday.

My initial response could easily have escalated things and I could have ended up facing charges. Should I have ignored them? Should I have been a snitch and complained to their mum and dad? Should I have invoked authority in the form of the hotel staff? I never got the opportunity to try it out but I decided that my next step would be to walk over to them and suggest that rather than throwing stones and making faces, they come and chat over coffee. Who knows where that might have led.

Why tell this story? It got me thinking hard about my options and about bullies in general. It is easy to imagine how in other circumstances they could have been carrying a knife, or even a gun. They could have been thugs representing a fascist movement, they could even have been in positions of authority.

Sadly bullies seem to be proliferating around the world. Sadly more of us will have to work out what we do about them.

How the other half live

So there we were, on our noisy tourist boat moored next to a beach on Paxos, as hoards of said tourists dived in and swam towards the beach.

Along side us was a massive private motor yacht. As we watched, the back of the yacht opened up to reveal a bay housing a smaller powerboat and to then form a platform for swimming from. Crew members hosed down the platform and carefully placed a director's chair on it.

Moments later we noticed an elderly man sitting in the chair as the crew put flippers on his feet and a snorkel and mask on his head. He then descended the steps into the sea followed by one of the crew who also got in the water. The old man then swam (well I say swam but it was more like controlled drowning) towards the beach. The crew member swam alongside him - towing a life belt - just in case.

We were left feeling more stunned than jealous.

Don't just do something stand there

So many of the world's problems stem from our inclination to seek happiness outside ourselves. Damaging the planet in our drive to manufacture and buy more stuff to try to make ourselves happy. Violence and wars driven by the idea that "If we just sort them out, or remove them, we will be happy". Marriages that become battlegrounds because if we could just force our partner to be more like us we'd be so much happier...

There is also a macho about taking action, about "doing something" about our problems, organising things, fixing things, being busy.

Even fixing ourselves is doing something. The self help industry is driven by the feeling that "If I just buy that next book all my problems will be fixed", "If I buy the latest app and meditate enough the pain will stop".

It's so much easier to do this than to face the real unhappiness which, deep down, we all know starts inside ourselves and won't go away no matter how busy we get.

To quote Blaise Pascal yet again "All of man’s misfortune comes from one thing, which is not knowing how to sit quietly in a room”.

We need to get better at facing that deep unhappiness, not running away from it or blaming it on other people.

We need to be more willing to work out what makes us a grumpy wee shit in the first place before we start sorting the rest of the world out...

The weight of the world

It is all too easy to feel overwhelmed by the world's problems. To feel powerless in the face of so much that we have been taught to trust falling apart.

But how were our institutions built in the first place? Where did our idea of civilisation, that we have perhaps taken for granted, come from? Where did the powerful people, who we may fundamentally disagree with and hold responsible for the destruction of all we hold dear, get their power from?

One thought at a time, one idea at a time, one conversation at a time, and increasingly, dare I say it, one Tweet at a time.

We can all manage that can't we?

It's never to late to try.