Where did that time go?!

My graduation picture
My graduation picture from 1994 – just months before my professional career started (with my very proud Mum!)

On 1st November 1994 a fresh-faced, newly-married young man, with a full head of hair, reported for his first professional job, thrilled to have found an opportunity within his passion – the environment.  Years before David Attenborough and Blue Planet, he set about trying to reduce plastic waste and to increase recycling.  That was me, 25 years ago.

As I look back on my quarter-of-a-century of working life, it is interesting (to me, at least) to think about what I learnt in each role (I’ve only had three!).  So, a brief career resume:  that first job was at a consultancy (Babtie), providing waste regulation and recycling promotion services to the people of Berkshire.  I was headhunted from there to Biffa, a leading waste management company, to work in the emerging field of packaging waste producer responsibility.

I ended up running a small team with a big financial turnover under a great boss and with amazing colleagues.  After four or five years there I was getting bored, and tired, and I heard of this new profession called coaching.  An opportunity came to work part time in sales for a coach training business, and to build my own coaching business part time.  I started that in 2002, and 17 years later I’m still doing it (and still writing newsletters every month!)

If I were to meet my 22-year-old self, what advice would I share, based on what I have now learnt?

It’s all about people – be connected

Whether that be mentors who share their knowledge and develop you without you realising, or whether it be the teams you work with, the customers you get to know or the wider network who provide support and opportunities for you, it’s about people.  I am indebted to two bosses (both called Phil) for the starts they gave me, and am then indebted to hundreds of others who have helped me over the 25 years.  The coach training school I worked for had a mantra that “People Grow By Connection” and I have always believed this.

When I mentor young people growing their businesses, or just developing their careers, I am always keen that they create, maintain and develop their personal network – within their firm, within their marketplace or within their support community (other professionals, suppliers and even competitors).

How well connected are you?  What could you do build your network more deliberately?

Make every day a school day

I am reminded of my school days every morning, having married my teacher, but in those 25 years I have always been learning.  My professional field has always been developing, my management and self-development skills have always benefitted from polishing, and we’re routinely exposed to new situations that we can learn from: if we choose to.

Some of the value I bring to clients is the range of other clients I have talked to: the diverse spread of industries, belief systems, methods of working and management theories that I have seen and experienced.  They didn’t all work, but they all provided feedback and intelligence on what might be worth a try next time.

How do you learn every day?  What opportunities do you have to work smarter, be better, have more impact?

Inputs are important, but success is about outputs

One of my pet frustrations in my career is that professionals are often judged by how many hours they put in, not by how many outputs they create.  When I was at Biffa my business unit made more per head than most of the units managed by my peers.  But they would judge me on whether I worked an 8, 10 or 14 hour day, not by the profit I produced (or the brand value I created from great customer service).

Don’t get me wrong, throughout my career I have put in a shift when it’s been required.  But a business that requires key personnel (or any personnel) to work 50 or more hours a week isn’t successful, it’s broken.  As a coach I am forever stretching business owners to build a business that is sustainably successful – and that isn’t true of a business where people have to work long hours.  If you can’t make money working 45 hours a week or less, charge more or stop faffing about…

And if you require your teams to work those sorts of hours, you’re out of touch with the modern workforce and will hamper the progress of care-givers and others, who may be your brightest talent.

What’s your own relationship between inputs and outputs?  Are you getting out what you want?  Are you putting in a sustainable amount to get it?

Slow and steady wins the race

At school, I was a long-distance runner.  Not for me the 100 metres, I much preferred the cross-country or the 1500m.  Business, or a career, is much the same – it is rarely about short bursts of pace but more often it is about gradual, determined, planned progress towards a goal.  I have worked with some very financially successful people, and none of them got there overnight.  For one or two there was a “hockey-stick” of sales or profits where it suddenly jumped, but that was always after many, many other nights building up to it.

My interest in personal investing has meant I have come across all manner of get-rich-quick schemes, stock tips or “overnight-millionaire” ideas.  Yet the person I worship in the field is Warren Buffet, who has spent decades quietly and determinedly building possibly the largest personal wealth in the world.  Small, repeated steps over a LONG time, allied with the power of compounding, delivers unbelievable results.  Whether that be in building a career, investing for retirement or in growing a business.  So, I would tell my 22-year-old-self always to have patience, always be moving forward and always keep an eye on the long-term goal.

What’s your long-term aim?  What slow and steady steps do you need to take action on to get there?

What about your career lessons?

These are my thoughts after 25 years.  What have you learnt in your career?  I’d love to hear! I

If I Could Turn Back Time…

Many friends and colleagues will know that I watch very little television.  I am blissfully unaware of the comings and goings on the latest celebrity Dance/Bake/Jungle Off.  Mrs Butler and I do like settling down in front of a movie however, and I watch hundreds a year.

Some are inspiring (try Hidden Figures or The Upside, for instance) and others stop and make you think about life.  Sometimes the ones that make you think are not the ones you expect.  This week we watched the Richard Curtis film About Time – a soppy rom com featuring Rachel McAdam and a range of great English actors (including one who looks spookily like one of my clients!).

Without stumbling over a spoiler, the story relates to a guy who can travel in time – and so has the opportunity to practice wooing the love of his life (think Groundhog Day or 50 First Dates).  Of course, he also has the power/responsibility of changing other things in life, and changing the path of his personal history.

Which got me thinking about what any of us would change if we could go back in time.  Would we choose a different course of study, would we take/not take specific jobs?  Would we have another go at managing that difficult conversation with a colleague?  Would we make smarter hiring or firing decisions?  If you could change one thing in your business life, what would it be?

Even more powerfully, I woke this morning and thought “what do I need to do today to ensure I wouldn’t want to come back and change anything?”  What an opportunity, to be able to consider what standard my future self would hold my current self to, and seek to emulate that.

For over six years I have kept a daily gratitude journal, so that I reflect each day on good fortune in my life.  At the same time, I reflect on whether I have taken the daily actions that will take me towards my goals – whether fitness, health, relationships or in business.  I also reflect on whether I have lived to the standard I have set myself.

Unlike the time traveller in the film, I cannot go back and change what has already happened, but I can use the reflection to determine how I will be tomorrow.  And I believe that has helped me better honour the standards I have set for myself.  Most of the time.

So, how will you live tomorrow, to ensure that you would want to change it afterwards?

As you reflect, feel free to channel your inner Cher:

If I could turn back time…

If I could find a way…

I gift you that ear-worm. You’re welcome.

The Naked Truth

Channel Four have recently aired a series called Naked Beach, a reality TV show centred on the premise that if you spend time around people comfortable being naked you will become comfortable with being naked yourself.  In each show, three guests with body confidence issues are hosted by a group who are very body confident (despite not having supermodel bodies).

What limiting beliefs prevent you revealing the naked truth (on a beach or otherwise)?

I recommend watching the programme, some of the psychology is fascinating.  As I watched I wondered whether it was something other than the nakedness of the hosts that had an impact on the guests.  The hosts, as well as being comfortable with their bodies, were unfailingly positive in outlook.

To see the guests’ reactions to the exercises emphasised the importance of this outlook – those guests that had positive mindsets (growth mindset as Carol Dweck would call it) seemed to respond more quickly to the challenges.  In fact, seeing the guests undertake the same exercises and react differently reminded me of the maxim:

Two people can experience the same thing but have very different experiences.

The impact of what happens to us is as dependent on how we react as it is on what happens.  Our mindset determines our experience.  To see the power of our preconceptions, watch this excellent video from camera manufacturer Canon (and thanks to Chaz Snell for introducing me to the video).

I believe our experience is our choice.  Of course, to quote Forrest Gump, “Sh.t happens”, but how we experience that happening is our choice.  We can choose how we react.

How do you generally react?

Are you positive or negative?

Are you a multiplier, increasing the positivity, or a Death Eater, sucking the energy from a room?

What do you choose to be going forward?

Most of us face limiting self-beliefs of one form or another.  Many may hold beliefs that would stop us having the confidence to be naked – literally and metaphorically.  Yet we are brighter than we realise, and can achieve more than we can dream of.  Face up to the naked truth of how great you are, and be free to realise it.

When The Path Is Unclear

This morning I was hiking in Coquetdale, in the Northumberland National Park.  Whilst we were hiking across open heather moorland, there was a footpath.  But you wouldn’t have known it at first glance.  For much of our route the heather had grown closed over the path – we couldn’t see our feet or the path. 

When the path is unclear, we rely on waymarks.

As we hiked, I noticed some lessons that have parallels in our business lives:

  • It doesn’t matter if the immediate path is unclear, as long as you can see a waymark ahead.  When we couldn’t see our feet or the path, we had to rely on two things:
    • The occasional white-topped posts bearing the footpath arrows to give us our bearings; and
    • Faith that the trail was solid below the heather, so that we could put our foot down below the heather, out of sight.

Often in business the immediate path before us is unclear, so we rely on targets or key events in our business calendar as waymarkers.  We can’t always see that the steps we take today will take us to the goal, but if we keep moving forward we do know we will get there

  • The road to the top is rarely straight.  We were climbing to a cairn high in a ridge, but the route curved and chinked, following ridges and avoiding burns (the boggy bits).  In business we set linear plans and then can find that life takes us through some chinks and turns before we get there.  Staff, customers, competitors and ourselves are all complex parts of a large ecosystem, and the result of their interactions rarely provides a straight route to the top.  And this is fine, provided we are following our waymarkers.
  • Look up occasionally.  It is easy to get so intent on placing our feet carefully, so focussed on the immediate and the near-term that we fail to check we’re still on track for our waymarker.  It pays to look up occasionally and make sure.  And of course, it pays to take in the view from time to time.  At work we need to take time out of our busy days or weeks to make sure our activity is still taking us where we want to go, and to monitor progress and celebrate successes.
  • Beware false trails.  With a gazillion sheep in Northumberland, it is easy to deviate from the footpath and find you are just following a sheep trail through the heather.  Or a clear line through the heather looks like the path, and turns out to be a stream or bog.  We need to be able to recognise what is really taking us to our goal, and which is either leading away, or will transpire to be uncomfortable or dangerous terrain.  What do false trails look like in your business?
  • You walk faster near a waymark.  As we passed each white-topped post (and there were many) I noticed how we seemed to be more motivated and faster-paced, whereas when the way was unclear between posts, or we couldn’t see the next post in the distance, our progress was slower and more uncertain.  In business we need to make sure we, and our teams, have sufficient clear waymarks, at appropriate frequencies, to maintain momentum.  This is why I am a fan of daily/weekly/monthly/quarterly goals and targets.  It builds momentum.
  • Take small steps if the path is unclear.  When the heather was covering the trail, we couldn’t stride out like we could on the grassland.  We couldn’t be sure of a safe footing, and sometimes the bearing was unclear.  So we took sensible, smaller steps that kept us moving toward our goal, but didn’t place us in danger.  When the path is unclear in your business, what small steps will keep you moving forward, without undue risk?
  • Some things are harder when you’re small.  I noticed that it was hard work wading through the heather for miles at a time – with your shins are being continuously whacked.  When I commented on this to Mrs B I received some direct feedback that it is even harder when the heather is whacking your thighs.  We may each face the same challenges at work, but their impact will vary depending on our skills and attributes.  As leaders, we need to be open to the challenges our team is actually facing, and help them deal with them on their terms, not ours.  We may not fear presenting in public, or analysing a page of numbers, but a colleague might.
  • Don’t patronise.  I can tell you now that in the interests of team cohesion and a positive working environment, it isn’t wise to patronise an intelligent, independent woman just because she is a foot shorter than you…
  • Don’t multi-task.  Either keep on hiking to maintain progress, or stop to take notes on your phone for a blog that has just occurred to you.  Don’t try the two at the same time.  That’s how you step in a boggy bit and end up with a boot covered in mud.  At least I hope it was mud, there were a lot of sheep on that hill…

We reached our first objective and were rewarded with stunning views for miles in all directions.  We then achieved the secondary goal, and were rewarded with a pint of quality bitter, brewed on-site in a village pub.  I hope you can find a way to keep moving forward when your path is unclear, and will enjoy similar rewards when you reach your objective.

Does Your Mother Know?

For some time, I have been warning that this blog would morph gradually into including a travelogue alongside the usual musings on success and performance.  That process begins today, as I thought I would share the edited highlights of my recent trip to Florida.  With the police advising us not to advertise absence from the home for security reasons I refrained from posting in real time and after two weeks back at work it seems an almost distant memory.  However, some of you may find it interesting and entertaining.

First, some context.  Early retirement is now less than a year away, and the Florida trip was an important part of the research for the forthcoming travels.  Retirement plans include a 6-month trip around the USA in a rented RV (what the Americans call a motorhome) so this was an opportunity to rent one, sample that lifestyle, and also tick off a few iconic Florida tourist sites that are a long way off our intended route in 2021.

So, we arrived in Miami in mid-March.  We wanted a couple of nights to get over the journey and to celebrate Mrs B’s birthday, so we had a lovely hotel in South Beach, just back from the iconic Ocean Drive, but still firmly in the Art Deco quarter.  It turns out that mid-March is Spring Break in Miami (and elsewhere), which turns the whole strip of hotels and bars into a hedonistic sprawl of college kids wearing very little and smoking and drinking themselves into a riotous frenzy of all day and late-night partying.

Clearly it is no news to me that I am comfortably middle-aged.  I am well aware that although retiring early, I am certainly not the age of college kids.  I am also well aware that even when I was that age, I was relatively demure in my tastes and was never likely to be seen at a foam party or rave.  Even so, it was like a slap on the cheek to see these youngsters out for fun and realise how out of touch I was.  Rather than admiring these young women with very little on, I found my self repeating the mantra “if their mothers could see them now…” under my breath!

Part of the shock possibly came from the size of some of the women involved.  I like to think I’m a liberal, body-positive kind of guy who believes that beauty comes in many guises and who laments the drive to supermodel skinniness.  In retrospect, I have to admire the confidence of these young women who flaunted their bodies with no apparent concern for their plus-sizeness.  It definitely wasn’t demure, but it was definitely indicating comfort in their own skin.  And there was a lot of skin on show!

There is an adage in the entertainment business along the lines of “always leave them wanting more” and in over 15 years of selling coaching and training I have seen the benefit of not giving everything away up front.  This was a life lesson these young ladies had yet to take on board.  There would have been little left to surprise their date should they have made it back to the hotel room. 

Mrs B quietly advised me that they may not appreciate being told this at the time, so we left them to their parties and instead had a relaxed and pleasant meal to celebrate her birthday, and an early night.  We made excuses to ourselves that we had jet lag, and long travels ahead, but I know we both knew that we could have stayed in Miami for a month, nay a decade, and still never fancied the party!

60 Days to Change Your World

We now have about 60 days until the end of the year so now is the perfect time to be considering what you will do to finish 2018 in strong style and make the impact you want on your world.

Why does 60 days matter? Why is the end of the year important anyway? In some ways it isn’t. I could have picked 152 days or Valentine’s Day as the date that the period ended. The date isn’t the point. The existence of an ending is the point. A major influence on my productivity and time management thinking is Mark Forster, and he introduced me to the idea of “the end effect”.

In the week before you go on holiday, or before a major deadline, do you find that your productivity rockets – as you work hard to get so many tasks complete before that fixed deadline or a trip to the airport? How does that contrast to the first two weeks back from holiday, when it seems all your project deadlines are miles away, and progress seems slower?

I am constantly telling clients that the enemy of greatness is drift – the fact that so many projects can be done tomorrow, or next week – and so they get done much later than we might have hoped. Whether planning retirement, getting a business ready for sale or decorating the back bedroom, they all get left, because there was no deadline – and so no end effect.

Back to 60 days

For most of us the turn of the year is a noticeable event – festivities, mince pies, family, perhaps some time off work. At the very least, we have to learn to write 2019 every time we write a date! A perfect opportunity for setting up some end effects. And if we split those 60 days into manageable chunks, we have two clear 30 day challenges!

Now, the king of 30 day challenges is a reader of this blog, Chris. He is truly inspirational in taking up (or putting down) a range of activities – mental, physical and spiritual – for a period of 30 days to challenge his mind, his lifestyle and his physical limits. We can all learn from Chris. Thirty day challenges work.

What would your 60 day plan include? What could your 30 day challenges be? Don’t just pluck things out of thin air. Previous newsletters have encouraged you to think what you want from life – to have a bigger plan. I’ve also previously explained how that bigger plan can be broken into steps to get there.

So, your 30 day challenges can be to execute on some of those smaller steps to make your dream come true. And if you haven’t done the plan, or identified the chunks, there’s your first two 30 day challenges right there…

Other top tips for making a 60 day plan successful:

  • Write it down. On paper. This is far more powerful than it just being in your head, or on a phone/computer. Trust me.

  • Tell someone. Make yourself accountable. You can tell me if you wish. (I am good at keeping secrets.)

  • Keep focussed – don’t have 32 projects on the go. One or two themes will be far more productive.

  • Get started. Don’t fall into the trap of perfecting the plan and taking no action (a vice of mine). Do something today, and every day, that takes you forward.

  • Celebrate success, or redouble your efforts. As you make progress, notice the fact and enjoy it. If you fall behind, just keep going, don’t drop by the wayside.

Business Relationships – a Marriage Made in Heaven?

Last month I had the pleasure of giving a brief talk to the Henley Business Partnership networking meeting in the gorgeous setting of Phyllis Court in Henley. The talk came just days after the long-suffering Mrs B and I had celebrated our 24th wedding anniversary, so I used the topic of long-lasting relationships as the theme. I thought I would share the ideas with you in this newsletter. In a ten minute talk, I focussed on three key lessons that businesses could take from a marriage that lasts:

It’s about BEING married, not GETTING married

In 1994, when Mrs B arrived (late, I feel compelled to mention) at the front of the church, weddings were much simpler. In 2018 it seems a major logistical exercise to organise invites, locations, outfits, favours, seating plans, first dances, speeches, hen and stag dos, rehearsals, foreign weddings, hotel venues, fancy lighting and so much more. A huge amount of planning, attention and money is invested in the big day. And then it seems people just expect the marriage to happen, with no work at all. Bev and I had a far simpler wedding to get married, and then focussed more attention on being married.

In business, we can invest a huge amount of resource in starting relationships – marketing campaigns, prospecting activity, special promotions, sales commissions and much more – but then those businesses seem to forget to focus on serving those clients – they’ve moved onto the next sale, rather than making the most of this one.

I have a client who has trebled their business in about five years. They have worked hard to win new business, but the core of their growth has been retaining 98% of their customers year-on-year, way above the industry average. Knowing that new customers this year will be customers for many years to come, if they serve those customers right, has given my client a winning formula. But customers don’t show loyalty without some work on my client’s part. They make sure they lead the market in customer service and provide the little extras that make the difference. That client trebled in size in five years, by placing emphasis on being with customers, not just getting customers. And by hiring a brilliant business coach, of course…

Remember your vows – for better or worse

In a long term relationship it is a question of when you hit a rough patch, not if. You can do all sorts of things to reduce the risk, but the likelihood is that there will be some “worse”, as well as some “better”. At times like that you need, as a couple, to put the current turbulence into the context of the overall relationship and do what is needed to stabilise the ship. Both parties have to bend and bow at different times to flex with their spouse’s needs. We’ve had better, worse, richer, poorer, sickness and health, and we’ve made sure we support each other until the calmer waters come back.

In business, mistakes happen. In long client relationships it is probable that someone will miss paying an invoice, or a supplier will mess up an order. If you’re the “wronged” party do you go off the deep end and demand all sorts of compensation, or do you realise an honest issue and work with the other party to resolve things sensibly? If you’ve screwed up, how do you make things better?

Another client reviews quality constantly, and their intent is to meet every order right first time, on time. But when they fall short, they see an opportunity to really impress a customer – by the way they work to put it right. The MD often says that an initially disappointed customer can become their best advocate. Is that true in your business? What do you need to change to make it so?

Have a vision for your future, together

Mrs B and I were early in our careers when we got married (in fact, I was still unemployed as it was a week after graduating!) and since then we have forged careers, changed careers, bought, renovated and sold homes, made decisions about having a family, planned lots of travelling and more recently really focussed on our forthcoming early retirement. Throughout our 24 years we have evolved our plan, but we’ve always had a plan – a reason to stay together and be excited about the future.

Do you have a shared vision with your colleagues in your business? Do you discuss with them what their aspirations and dreams are, and align them with your vision for the business? One client of mine saw a young staff member as a future leader of the business and had very high hopes for them. But they never discussed it with the individual, and the young staff member left to pursue other opportunities. Would they have stayed if the shared vision had been explained to them? We’ll never know. If you have key people you want to retain, develop and promote, talk to them about their future and have a vision together – give them a reason to stay. Don’t wake up one day and find a Dear John letter because you were inattentive…

In the discussion after my talk, a few of us indentified a further key ingredient in making a relationship (personal or business) work: luck. I accept that is a very important factor (Mrs B is SO lucky to have landed me…), but that is not really in your control. The three factors above are – and will help you make the most of any luck you do have.

My own reflections

As I reflect on my 24-year marriage I realise that the recipe for success is like so much in my life:

  • have a vision, translated into a plan

  • take daily actions to make the plan come true

  • leave the dish to simmer for a couple of decades

  • enjoy the rewards!

My coaching helps clients get similar things in place (and it doesn’t usually take decades) for their business, their relationships, their money or their life generally. I have a couple of vacancies for new clients at the moment, so if you’d like some of that recipe in your life, get in touch soon.

Money, Money, Money, In A Rich Man’s World

My last blog post, which I shall trust you read word for word, considered the value in giving ourselves choices in life and business, and I hope you have been more conscious of the choices you have open to you as a result of reading it. Of course, our choices are wider if we are better able to follow through on more options – if we have the resources to choose alternative paths.

As a child I learnt that without reserves of resources (usually money), one’s choices were much more limited. In adult life, and in business, I realised that it was also important to have reserves of the other two critical resources (time and energy/attention). So much more is possible when you have a reserve in place.

Imagine jumping in your car and contemplating a day trip. The more petrol you have in the tank (your reserve), the more choices you will have for your adventure. The most resilient individuals, teams and businesses tend to be those with more reserve. Time and energy may be topics for future newsletters but this month I want to focus on money, money, money. (Thanks Abba…)

The most fundamental way to build a reserve is to spend less than you earn, as much of the time as possible. As a country, a company or a household, living within your means creates more reserve, and thus more choices. It would seem obvious to know whether you are spending more than you earn, but I meet many people who don’t. They either resist finding out because they hate numbers, because they prefer to spend their time and energy elsewhere, or because they’d rather just hide from the bad news.

Do you know what you earn, and what you are spending? Do you know the current and predicted future size of your reserve? Do you make decisions based on clear facts about your finances or subjective emotions such as fear or confidence?

As someone who is advanced on the path to financial independence and retiring early, it seems obvious to me that one would know what one expects to need in retirement, and how close one is to building a pot to generate that income. Yet the vast majority of us seem not to. Those I know who have taken the time to work it out seem to be the ones who are nearer to achieving the retirement they want. Hmm…

So, whether in your personal or business life, do you know the various choices open to you? What are the financial consequences of each of those choices? What cash will you need up front and what are the ongoing costs? What is the predicted return?

If you don’t know, how will you know if you have enough reserve? How will you make the choice?

In recent months I have invited you to consider your perfect life, and the steps you will need to take to get there, and the choices involved. Now I invite you to truly understand what reserve you have, and what reserve you will need. Then you can plan to get there.

I’m not a financial adviser, nor an accountant, but in recent months I have increasingly found myself coaching clients on these money issues. My practical, logical line of questioning and an appreciation of the consequences of various options has helped several clients make better choices. Happy to do the same for others, if you or someone you know would benefit.

Who leads the dance – the supplier or the customer?

Throughout my working life I have come to believe that, in any sort of service sector, that a successful enterprise reacts to the needs of the market. That is the essential underpinning of Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand” – the market invisibly works to match supply and demand.

Except in France. You have to admire the French economy’s commitment to workers’ rights and to a certain lifestyle. After a week here on holiday, I am still adjusting to an economy that closes for two hours in the middle of the day. Supermarkets are still all closed on a Sunday. Are the French horrified or delighted when they come to the UK and see shop workers arranging their lunch breaks so the retail outlet can stay open, or the hordes of eager customers queuing at Tescos or IKEA on a Sunday?

Today, a Sunday, I have visited the beautiful village of Riquewhir in Alsace – officially one of France’s most beautiful villages and a tourist Mecca. It is a popular stop for the European bus tours – I saw eight coaches at any one time, with constant change overs all day. Today there is a small festival with live music and extra tourists from France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, us from the UK and I am sure others. The main street is thronged with visitors, on a gloriously sunny Sunday afternoon.

And the tourist office is steadfastly shut. It is open tomorrow at 9.30, when I suspect the tourist numbers will be 10% of what they are today. So, should the office open when the “customers” are present, or when it suits the workforce? As I heartily enjoyed the tarte flambée and the smoky porter (Black Page no4) brewed on-site at the Brasserie Du Vignobles, I pondered why the retail outlets and restaurants can open on a Sunday, but the Office du Tourisme (ODT) was firmly locked.

Surely it is too simplistic to say that the ODT is government run, or is it? Many French shops close for lunch, and not just owner-managed independents. As a business coach it all seems to be missing an opportunity, yet I am sure France is statistically more productive than the UK, so have they got it right?

Luckily, the family running the vineyard where I am staying have a more commercial outlook, and I have enjoyed a tasting and have bought some lovely Alsatian Riesling to enjoy as I ponder this further…

A very welcome, cooling beer!

Lots of tourists, no tourist info..

One Small Step for Man…

As Elon Musk’s Starman makes his way off into outer space, I was reminded of Neil Armstrong’s famous words about small steps and giant leaps, as he stepped onto the surface of the moon.

Last autumn I had the privilege of being involved in an amazing charity project, which was the culmination of years of planning, hours of hard work by a dedicated band of volunteers and a substantial amount of fundraising.  When the idea of bringing 18 South African teachers to the UK to learn teaching methods, gain insights and to share their culture with schoolchildren in Oxfordshire, many said it was a giant leap, possibly unachievable.

But, by taking that grand vision and breaking it down into manageable chunks, the members of the group were able to take one step at a time and slowly but surely bring their dream to reality.  A large, complex task was just built of lots of smaller steps, which once executed in the right order, at the right time and in the right way, all added up to a successful outcome.

Of course, things didn’t always go to plan.  There were major stumbling blocks placed in the way – fundraising was hard, visa applications a LOT more stringent than in the past, and finding places for 18 Africans to stay for a week was not without challenges.  But small steps managed to work round, through or over even these barriers, like an unstoppable force.

[Whilst on the subject of unstoppable forces, I should note that this was not a small step for man, but a small step for woman – every one of the committee was female, so apologies to them for the masculinity of Armstrong’s quote]

In life and business, the same is true – almost any dream, goal or giant leap can be broken down into small steps – which can be taken each day or week and over time, especially with compounding, can add up to sizable impacts.  So, whatever your own version of walking on the moon is, you probably can achieve it.

  • Break the goal down into smaller tasks, or interim milestones, that will inexorably lead to success
  • Take action – do those tasks each and every day to move forward step by step
  • When barriers present themselves, take initiative and walk round, through or over them – step by step

What is the giant leap you want to take?

What are the first five to ten steps you can take to get going?

Why not start now? Or at least when you have finished reading this!