Monday, July 30, 2012

Lessons from the mountains

I am just back from an excellent holiday with my family in gorgeous Switzerland.

It was quality time away and a chance for me to get some great photos of the magnificent scenery that country has to offer,  but the holiday was not about relaxation. We took this trip to learn climbing.

Ready to go on the first day ... with no idea of what lay ahead of us

There could be no better place to learn this sport than the Swiss Alps and our ski instructor from last December spends his summers as a climbing guide an teacher.

We rented a small chalet in the quaint town of Grindelwald and off we went. Pushed by my ambitious kids, we scaled to heights I didn't think we could or dared achieve, and not wanting to let my children down, I had to brave my lifelong fear of heights and follow where they wanted to go. It was exhilarating. Hard work and physically demanding, but well worth it.

What I liked best about it was the teamwork required. It bonded us as a family and I couldn't help analogising this to business.

The first step in climbing is to find a suitable rock face. Choose something too easy, and it will be crowded ... too many people will be on the same face. Choose something too difficult, and you set yourself up for failure. It's important to know your ability and limits and set your targets on a face that pushes you within reasonable limits. I think this is similar. To choosing ones "market place" in business. Carve out a niche that plays to your strengths and has sufficient differentiation to others around.

My son up a rock face we chose to challenge us

You then need to start preparing for the climb. The climber needs to look up and plan his or her path. To just shoot up without a plan is going to lead you into trouble. Not unlike a salesman. He needs to be prepared before going out and meeting customers. He needs to scope the lie of the land and modify his approach accordingly. The salesman should guide the way (working within the scope set by the business) and he should have confidence that there is a competent team behind him.

Climbing is a team sport (I learned this on our first session). The climber has to have total faith and trust in his belayer (the guy holding the rope at the bottom). Clear communication is essential. The belayer has to support the climber in the direction he wants to go, but the climber can't dictate all the shots. He has to be weary of the belayers ability and perhaps slow down from time to time (if the belayer can't keep up). In climbing, it is life threateningly dangerous for any of the team to consider themselves and not focus completely on their partner / team mate.

My son and daughter supporting each other all the way

And so in business, a support function exists to aid a sales function, but each must know what the other is doing, their capability and limits, and they must keep communication open and alive at all times. There is no room for bickering and politics. There is one goal to be reached and it is a totally joint and shared goal.

"Hanging" as a family ... 200m up a rock face!

What exhilarated me in our climbing experience was the encouragement and support being offered by all the family to each other. We are a competitive family, but this was not a time for one upmanship. This was not a race to see who could climb the fastest. It was a challenge for us all to see how we could get to the top together.

On occasion, My young daughter had to belay me, and despite being less than half my weight, we adjusted ourselves. Climbed at varying speeds and made sure that climber and belayer were always comfortable and in perfect harmony. We achieved our joint goals. We all reached the various summit points we selected and it was an amazing team effort.

"Hanging Out" with my daughter

These are great lessons for any office. Alignment and shared goals are key. The understanding of each other is crucial and having a respect for what each team member is doing and what their ability is will help everyone reach a targeted goal together. Clear and frequent communication is a must and so is an understanding of how pointless and wasteful politics and arguing is (as opposed to "healthy discussion" about a way forward).

Single minded focus is also crucial. While climbing, you learn that there's no room in your mind to be distracted and to think about something else. You have your own (or somebody else's) life in your hands (quite literally), and with that kind of strong focus you can achieve great things.

This was a truly memorable holiday. We have fond memories, some great pictures and we are an even stronger family unit having experienced this together.

Another elevated rest stop

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

There is white ... and then there is white

We are just getting to the finishing stages of decorating our new office in Dubai. It's been stressful, but a lot of fun (design inspiration has been taken from Ari Gold's office).

On product I am a detail freek and I have really enjoyed the more anal parts of this project. Selecting the light switches, the specification of the doorbell, the correct thickness, texture and colour of the AstroTurf in our break out area and all possible combinations of AV wiring to be done to make this office as technologically future proof as possible.

But I was thrown on something as "straight forward" as the colour of the walls ... white.

I spent yesterday morning in a meeting trying to select the right shade of white. I thought this would be a no brainer, but it's proven to be one of the most impossibly difficult choices to make throughout the whole process.

Apart from the obvious considerations of getting matching finishing textures on different materials, Dulux alone has more than 30 shades of "Off White" (and that's from the selection that I was shown!)

I managed to short list 5 of those and am going to see larger swatches of those on-site. At the end of the day it's "Off White" and I can't believe it's going to make that much difference regardless of which one I choose, but this overly wide choice has just stressed me out.

I'm no different in a good restaurant. Give me steak and chips and I'm happy. Give me a wide selection of appealing choices and I become confused and totally indecisive!

I just wish that white was white and this choice could be made easier for me.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012



Dallas is back!

One of my fondest and most lasting memories is family evenings in front of the telly. Wednesday nights at 7. Back in the day when we only had 3 TV channels, this was everyones highlight of the week.

It was dramatic and over the top at times. The characters and their behaviours were extreme, if not ridiculous from time to time, but we all loved it.

I'm not sure exactly when it ended, but it was a sad day when it did. Other programmes and thousands of channels have since come and passed, many extremely entertaining and, in their own way, have more than surpassed Dallas, and it was strange to hear that Dallas was coming back after a 20 year break!

I downloaded the prequel, a 7 minute "timeline" that filled in the gaps since the very last episode and then downloaded the new "episode 1".

The old favourites (with the same actors) are back. JR, Bobby and Sue Ellen in the starring roles (so far). It is crass, cheesy, still over the top and that same fantastic theme tune … it's perfect. They haven't changed a thing. It's almost like the series just continued on. I loved it … well done to the new creators.

The rest of the aired seasons are waiting on my iTunes. I can't wait for a few days off next week when we shall sit down for "family viewing" once again.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Anticipation is a dish best served hot!

A nice treat this morning as I walked to our Shenzhen office. I found that Chinese Starbucks (or at least this branch in this city) serve an old favourite of mine ... a Coconut Mocha Frappuccino (mine is with no whipped cream of course). This used to be a staple for me in Dubai until the stores there consistently kept running out of coconut and the drink was eventually and sadly removed from their menu.

This reminded me of a recent experience I had in London dealing with a another Starbucks menu "alteration". In many situations I am person of fierce habit and I don't like change, and this one got me quite riled up with my favourite coffee chain.

Running for a connection at Heathrow, I had to grab a quick breakfast to go.

My regular readers will know that this should mean a fruit plate, but I decided to indulge and go to Starbucks instead. To accompany my hot mocha, I grabbed an old favourite of mine ... the Breakfast Panini (bacon, eggs, mushrooms and baked beans). Warmed up and served piping hot, it is always a lovely treat when I pass through London.

So I reminisced, bought it, had it heated and bagged and then ran for my flight. I settled on board and indulged ... and was hugely disappointed. It must be a year since I last had one, but the powers that be (in the starbucks financial department no doubt) have made a catstrophic decision to cut costs. My panini was poorly filled leaving me with more bread than filling, and the sauce of the now absent baked beans was sorely missed!

What a shame! One of the nicest emotions I know is anticipation, especially prior to a meal. When you order a dish you are familiar with and you start to taste it in your mouth before you even have the food. That's how I was feeling until I took that first bite, and then felt one of the worst emotions I know ... disappointment!

It seems the McDonalds Sausage Egg McMuffin regains its place as my "breakfast on the run" first choice ... I can taste it now!