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IOIC Live 2016 (part 2)

August 8, 2016

IOIC Logo

I remember the question I asked myself. “How can having a mindfulness practice help someone to function as a ‘Stand-up Chameleon’? ”
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Again, ‘events’ have meant that my response is later than first planned. Pleasant events – in that our local Dartford arts group finally got the green light to install an outdoor public art exhibition. This had been some 20 months in the planning, creating, funding and negotiating… so when the call came we had to move quickly and decisively. A lot of the work was literally hands-on, along a 75m stretch of building site hoardings. Meanwhile I suppose I was reminded of one of the answers to my question. PATIENCE! Particularly in the sense of allowing things to emerge in their own time, when there is time.
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My answer to the question has had time to meld a little too, but the main points are those which fell quickly into place when I first asked the question.
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How can having a mindfulness practice help someone function as a ‘Stand-up Chameleon?’
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1. The same way is it can help anyone. Mindfulness practice, and the application of mindfulness insights, will help anyone with their job and with their life as a whole – not to mention the balance or integration between these. Mindfulness supplies emotional resilience and self-awareness which better equips us to deal with home life (both the mundane and the exceptional) and with the situations created by work. In this respect I’m not setting up IC professionals as superheroes, although I have outlined what I consider to be highly distinctive about their current role. This mindfulness foundation is something we can all benefit from.
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2. Switching and Transition. I think these are key to so much of what I perceived in the role of today’s IC professional. They happen on many levels. On the action level, this is about the fact that you are managing so many different strands, on different timelines, including new and urgent things that can crop up RIGHT NOW! Mindfulness is a great skill for allowing you to focus fully on one thing at a time, and to commit to this. That doesn’t mean forgetting all those other important tasks, it means you can hold them in your awareness without being distracted, pulled around or fatigued by your reaction to them. ‘Transition’ is the way I look at the planned and managed movement from one mode or situation to another. You may be going from an urgent phone call, to a more strategic meeting, then to a creative session, then a 1-1 with someone you manage or who manages you. You may be starting your working day, taking a meaningful break, or ending that day. IC professionals seem, to me, to have to make a lot of transitions. You can manage these not only with a mindful approach but with an actual brief mindfulness practice or technique. This could literally be on the walk to a meeting, or whilst waiting for others to arrive. What this achieves is letting go of the last thing you did, parking the thoughts and reactions, so that you can be fully present for what you are about to do now – particularly if it calls for a different skill or approach.
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3. Openness… This comes closest to the ‘Stand up Chameleon’ thought which prompted all this. On the one hand your role requires you to be open to many points of view and to the circumstances of many different people. Mindfulness is great for helping us to recognise habits – habits of thought and assumptions as well as behaviour. Awareness then leads to choice. We can hold on to those habits and opinions, quite strongly, when we consciously appreciate their value and relevance. But mindfulness also slackens the bonds between those habits or assumptions and our sense of identity or self-worth. This makes it much more practical to suspend them for a while. Regular mindfulness practitioners often describe themselves, or are described by others, as ‘more open’. A good quality for a Chameleon.
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4. … with Authenticity. But what about the ‘Stand Up’ bit? This dimension arose from several references at this year’s ‘IOIC Live’ conference to the requirement to “Speak truth unto Power”. It seemed to apply irrespective of where your IC role placed you in the hierarchy of the organisation. If you are truly a connection for two-way communication, or even more accurately a ‘node’ in a complicated network, then you will have very valuable messages and insights to share with those at the top of the organisation. In addition, the interpretation or prioritisation of some of these messages will involve your own perspectives and values. You are not simply a conduit – though you might sometimes consciously choose to work that way. Particularly in a situation where you need to deliver challenging messages to the leaders of an organisation you will need to know what you yourself really think! That might sound obvious – of course you know what you think. But:
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a) I’ve just described a world in which you are making rapid transitions between different modes and speeds of operation. There may sometimes be little time or space to sift out what you ‘think’ from all the other noise. If you are under time pressure there is a far greater chance that habits and assumptions will cut in… possibly without your even being aware it is happening.
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b) I’ve just described a world in which you have to be open to a wide range of perspectives and opinions, sometimes trying these on for yourself, in order to understand and be understood. What happens when you need to shed these for a while and get back to what you actually ‘think’ or, indeed, believe?
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What we actually rely on here is sense. We maybe idealise a process of assimilating all the facts and arguments but so often this can be augmented, or overridden, by our sense of incongruity, inconsistency or incompleteness. This can go two ways. If we aren’t aware of the impact of our felt sense, we may be being hijacked by habits, assumptions and prejudices. But if we are aware of it, and can learn how to let it run, then we have direct access to our accumulated experience and insight. This can often operate more quickly and comprehensively than analysis – it’s why we talk about “having a sense that”, or “something not feeling right” and this is what is in play when we sense a sports match beginning to turn or when a sailor senses a shift in the wind and tide before the instruments confirm this. Above all access to this sense, to how we literally feel about what we are thinking and saying, tells us whether there is a gap, whether we are being authentic.
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If you have decided it is important to deliver a challenging message to someone, then the odds are that you have a strong belief in both the message and the necessity of sharing it. But being able to affirm this, to reach down and feel the foundations beneath it, will confer authenticity on your delivery. This counts every bit as much as the evidence. When we need to deliver a challenging message to someone, the fact that we really believe it and know for ourselves that we really believe it, has a very powerful effect on the recipients. Much that has been written about “charisma” in recent years repeats the theme that the most charismatic quality of a person is authenticity – that person’s ability to be themselves and to be comfortable with who they are and what they believe. This can be very powerful and, again, it’s something that others seem to ‘sense’ innately. [I’m not talking about performers and demagogues here, using all manner of techniques to fake it, but even there we have all experienced how this can be trumped (sic) by a very simple and sincere delivery].
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One outcome of mindfulness training is an increased awareness of this ‘felt sense’ of our bodies and the interplay between this and our thoughts and emotions. By becoming aware of it we can be on our guard against being carried away by habitual responses and judgements. But then by tapping into it we can get a stronger sense of our own conviction and commitment, particularly when we are working with experience and intuition. This authenticity, in turn, lends authority to our delivery.
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On a much simpler level mindfulness lends a calm confidence which can be useful in any difficult situation. By recognising and accepting this ‘felt sense’ we can remain flexible and respond with simplicity and even creativity, rather than just digging in behind the same old habits and arguments.
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That’s my pitch, then, for mindfulness in the world of Internal Communications professionals – not least when characterised as ‘Stand-up Chameleons’.
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Mindfulness helps with:
* resilience, focus and balance
* the management of transitions between different tasks and different timescales
* openness to the experiences and perspectives of others and to new sources of information
* authenticity and ‘really knowing your own mind’, particularly when it comes to big decisions
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All I would add to this is that I have approached it from the standpoint of you as an individual. In reality you will often be seeking to achieve these things as part of a group or team. Here, for all the same reasons, mindfulness enhances people’s ability to work collaboratively.
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So – give mindfulness a try. Wherever you might get it from – books, apps, online resources, face to face or online courses, or as part of a coaching programme – I hope that you find mindfulness useful. In fact, given a little persistence, I know you will. If you have tried mindfulness before, or dabbled, or done a workshop… but then let it lapse or didn’t see it as a core skill for the long term, maybe I can persuade you to go back and try it again in a new light.

Leadership

June 26, 2016
Friends will know that I have long half-joked that Eric Morecambe was a great 20th century philosopher who had a ‘theory of fear’. “Oh yes… it’s all based on fear you know.” is something he would randomly drop into interviews and conversations. In all likelihood he was talking about comedy, and the life and career of the comic. But, after all, comedy tells us a lot about the primitive human psyche and it suits me to imagine that maybe he was making a more universal observation on life.
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Fear is one of the most powerful emotions. In the short term fear, and the dramatic physiological changes it wreaks in us, can entirely hijack our thought processes, reactions and intentions. In the longer term chronic fear, little spurts of dread administered from time to time, can re-shape our judgement, our perception of the world, our character and our capacity for compassion. Fear drives us inward… if not to the self then to the family, the clan, or the tribe. People like us.
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When people are in fear, when that fear itself brings danger – as when a crowd threatens to bolt and crush some of its members underfoot – there are two things that true leaders can do.
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They can seek to calm that fear. Simply to earth and dissipate its power – because at that moment the fear, often unfounded or out of proportion, is itself the biggest threat to people.
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Or, if the fear is in part justified, they can investigate, identify solutions and then advocate those solutions… showing the way out in a reasonable way, and so again dissipating the fear itself.
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But there are people who see fear as an opportunity, something to be stoked and exploited rather than cured. These are people who use fear to their own selfish ends, for their own personal gain and aggrandisement or – perhaps even worse – to pull down structures and institutions in order to satisfy their abstract and eccentric world views. Or both!
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These people are not leaders. We should never reward them for their actions, even if they seem sober and a little chastened the morning after when they look around at the ruins. Equity and justice suggest that we should not reward them. But also prudence suggests that we should not create a precedent for those who might, in the future, seek to gain by shouting “fire!” in a crowded theatre.
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Let’s look for leaders now. Let’s look for people who, when fear starts to get a grip on an organisation or a nation, instinctively seek to reassure, understand, advocate, plan and implement.
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IOIC Live 2016 (part 1)

May 26, 2016
IOIC Logo
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Three weeks on from the excellent IOIC Live 2016 conference I am struck by several thoughts.
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The first is that working life, day to day demands, quickly close in over our experiences and pose a real threat to retaining or applying what we have just learned. Some of the IC professionals at that event will have taken away concrete intentions to apply or to further research something they saw. Others, whose role includes reporting on, or educating within, IC will be helping to preserve and sustain some of the best… in the face of our tide of ‘business as usual’. Impressively IOIC leaders clearly intended to distil much of what was said into a refreshed take on competencies, training and support.
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I’m not an IC professional, I was there to deliver an introductory workshop on mindfulness, but had decided to take up a generous offer to participate in the whole event. In this I drew on my past experience in the early days of applying social media within organisations. In the conversations I had during the two days I found much that was familiar, but also things that have moved on – in particular where social media has directly or indirectly overthrown any residual tendency for internal communications to be one-way traffic.
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I also found a group of people who were enthusiastic and optimistic about how their profession was developing, and about the part that it could play in changing organisations – changes that necessarily reflect shifts within society, and changes which equip organisations to cope with increasingly dynamic environments. Not just to cope, actually, but to begin to regard this elusive, morphing world as an opportunity… and adventure! Something else that struck me was how sociable [a phrase used by others too] this event was, how open everyone was to the ideas and experiences of their colleagues, how curiosity heavily outweighed cynicism. Of course you could argue that this is a characteristic of people who attend such conferences, in contrast to those who don’t, but I felt a real difference here.
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It would be hyperbole to suggest that IC professionals are in a unique position to influence the future development of our organisations. But I think they are in a very unusual and rare position relative to those organisations. In particular:
  1. They are required to communicate in all directions.
  2. This is no longer an alternative or a choice. The wide range of social media channels outside the control of the organisation mean that any ignored or suppressed feedback will quickly surface elsewhere.
  3. Similarly they are required, and therefore empowered, to scrutinise internal communications for congruence with the external projected brand image or messages
  4. This puts them in the front line as guardians of the organisation’s *authenticity*.
  5. This periodically requires them to ‘speak truth unto power’ [a recurring phrase during IOIC Live 2016] although, perhaps as a result…
  6. The IC function, and IC professionals, are therefore increasingly represented within the leadership team. [Something that was new to me a few years on]
  7. Most interestingly of all there was a clear positive, to set against much of the above list of managing potential negatives, and this was the case for the direct benefits of two-way communication, openness and authenticity. These are benefits in knowledge sharing, creativity, clarity of purpose, engagement, shared identity, brand advocacy… the list goes on and on.
  8. Finally, just stepping out of that line of argument for a moment, I think that IC professionals can be a great force for SIMPLIFICATION. In its origins this aspect was sometimes perhaps a patronising, or paternalistic, way of making the business understandable to ‘unsophisticated workers’ on a shop floor somewhere. But many things have changed since then and simplification is something that organisations themselves struggle for, not just in communications with colleagues and customers, but in keeping hold of what it is they are trying to do!
I noticed an item in Rachel Miller’s @AllthingsIC twitter stream last weekend which echoes some of this last point. So, with hat-tip, here’s the parody account post she quoted from @IntComGuru

 

In a way, that thought about simplification brings me back to where I started. IOIC Live 2016 was for me informative, enjoyable and sociable. But the rest of my life is quickly closing in over that sense and memory and intention. For something to persist, and be actioned, I will need to simplify it… and quickly!

I think that the remarkable combination of demands and privileges I listed above puts IC professionals in a situation that is both exciting and pressurised. They definitely have to walk a lot of talk – balancing openness and honesty with prudence and judgement. This is a recipe for almost losing oneself, through having to adopt any number of points of view or positions of interest. How do you adapt, and make yourself understood, to so many different groups without losing your grip on the anchor of your own values, beliefs and purpose?

In the end, for me, this was encapsulated by a phrase which slipped from my own lips during the Friday evening exercise. I’m not taking credit for it – it simply formed on the spur of the moment. A couple of groups had independently lighted upon the metaphor of the chamaeleon. But at the same time this chamaeleon couldn’t simply keep changing colour. At times they would have to take courage and confront one party or another with something they didn’t want to hear. This escaped from me as the phrase “stand-up chameleon”.

I came to IOIC Live 2016 with a thesis about how mindfulness was particularly appropriate to the working life of an IC professional. By and large this seemed to survive the test. I emphasised Listening, Culture and ‘coping with Change’. The latter leading to actually thriving within change.

But I came away with much more to think about. This is now beginning to simplify to

How can having a mindfulness practice help someone to function as a ‘Stand-up Chameleon’? ”

I’m still thinking, but intend to write a short piece on this some time in the next week or so.

In the meantime – a big thank-you to the organisers of IOIC Live 2016 for their invitation, flawless logistics and hospitality, and to all those delegates I met and talked to, for their openness and positive outlook.

[Footnote: I just went to check a few things and, in googling, alighted on the landing page for IOIC Live 2015. Where I found a huge… … chameleon. So maybe this was being echoed a year later. I’m not sure whether this strengthens or weakens my case]

Mindfulness Course for Dartford. Starts 7:30pm Friday 6th November

October 3, 2015

UPDATE: Just a reminder, that you can simply turn up at the first session to enrol – but if you want to be sure of getting a course pack in week one please mail, text or call me beforehand. Contact details below under “How to sign up”.

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I am running another four week Mindfulness course for friends and community in Dartford during November.

Mindfulness at Work have again agreed for me to use the ‘Mindfulness is Now’ course, which we normally run for business clients, at a fraction of the usual price. Only 30 places are available. The main details are below – followed by some explanation about what Mindfulness is and how it works.

Apart from anything else, these sessions will be a chance to let go of your week and get into the right frame of mind to enjoy the weekend ahead!

Dates and Times:

Friday 6th November, 7:30pm to 8:30pm then each of the following three Fridays at the same time [November 13th, 20th and 27th]

 

Location:

Holy Trinity Church hall [Spilman Suite], High Street, Dartford. DA1 1DE

 

Cost:

£48 for the four week course including sessions, printed notes, audio downloads and e-mail ‘daily prompts’.

[16-18 yr olds – £16.  Returning participants wanting a refresher – £16]

 

How to sign up:

Please e-mail me on nick[at]soshall.net or call me on 07958 516967 to reserve a place. Similarly, please get in touch if you want to find out more about me or the course. You can just turn up on the first night – but advance booking ensures you won’t miss out, and that I know how many packs to prepare.

I can take payment at, or immediately after, the first session – by cash, cheque [payable to SoShall Consulting Ltd] or I can give you bank details for internet payment.

The course is not open to under-16s. Please also consult with your GP or other professional, before taking the course, if you are currently receiving help with a condition such as depression or anxiety.

 

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a way of approaching life, and in particular a set of regularly practiced techniques, which helps you to pay attention right now, without judging, to things as they are happening and as they actually are. This is an antidote to constantly mulling over what has happened in the past, or worrying about what might happen in the future. It reduces our tendency to obsess about whether we are doing well, doing the right thing, look OK to other people or deserve to be happy. By making us aware of how our thoughts and actions can just bundle us through the day on a kind of ‘auto-pilot’, Mindfulness allows us to pause more often and make conscious decisions rather than just reacting.

The result is reduced stress, better focus on one thing at a time, a clearer mind and better interaction with other people. This in turn can also improve your physical health, by reducing the damage that stress can do to our heart, circulatory system, immune system and digestion. More generally, it can help you to be happier and to appreciate more of life’s minutes – rather than just fast forwarding to the next ‘good bit’.

NICE [the NHS’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence] has recommended a particular clinical version of Mindfulness training [called MBCT] for addressing depression in people who are currently well but have experienced three or more previous episodes of depression.

A good description of Mindfulness can be found on the Frantic World Website. The authors Danny Penman and Mark Williams have had a leading role in developing Mindfulness in the UK, and I will tell you more about their books on the course. But here’s what they say about Mindfulness.

 

So is this just a Work thing?

No. Mindfulness at Work are normally commissioned by employers to deliver the ‘Mindfulness is Now’ course in the workplace – we have even won an award for it from the UK legal profession. The course pack reflects this. But Mindfulness is applicable to all aspects of life, and to everyone. We always adapt the course for each audience – anyone can learn and practice these techniques, for a few minutes a day, and feel the benefit.

 

What happens on the course?

The course is informal, welcoming and fun – but also purposeful. The sessions are made up of Explanation, Experience and Enquiry. I will explain what Mindfulness is, how it works, how to do practices, and how to apply Mindfulness to everyday life. I will also point you to other resources and activities you can use to keep going after the course finishes – because the purpose of the course if to help you start a habit that you can benefit from for the rest of your life. You will Experience guided practices – typically 10 minutes – as I talk you though placing your attention on your breathing, or moving your attention around your body, and there are also other exercises to help demonstrate why Mindfulness helps. Enquiry is about reflecting, and discussing, together what you experience during a practice and how your week has gone between sessions. This helps to reinforce your learning, and to encourage others, or be encouraged by them through sharing. Knowing that “it’s not just me” can be a big help!

You will be shown how to download audio tracks, which you can use on a mobile phone/tablet, PC or Mac, to do your practices during the week by listening to a trainer’s voice. You will also sign up for daily e-mail prompts which explain some of the applications of Mindfulness and suggest things you might try, if you are in the mood, some time that day.

There is a printed course pack which summarises the sessions, points you to other resources and suggests ways of continuing the Mindfulness habit.

 

Is this a religious thing?

Mindfulness practices are very similar to some kinds of meditation. The techniques can be found in many different religions around the world,  particularly Buddhism, which seem to have evolved similar approaches to dealing with life. When modern Mindfulness was developed in the 1970s and 1980s it was deliberately made more secular, so that a particular religion, or indeed aversion to any religion, should not be a barrier to taking it up. Mindfulness is compatible with many religious principles – not least compassion towards others and towards yourself! That second one is something many of us forget to have.

 

Other details:

I will give people other information when they sign up but, just in case.

The Spilman Suite can be accessed by walking between the church and the back of the Ellenor shop. The main entrance, via the cafe, may be closed. So please don’t be put off – you just have to continue clockwise around the building until you find the side door. As this is easy to miss I will try to put up a couple of signs, and I will lurk outside before the first session.

There is parking nearby in the Market Place (by Iceland), Market  Street (alongside the park), Overy Street, Acacia Hall and Darenth Road. Many of these are free after 6:30pm. Parking by Aldi, at the Orchards, is free but only for 1.5 hours – which may be cutting things a bit fine. You don’t want to be worrying about getting back to your car throughout the session.

 

Any suggestions or questions please contact me via the methods given above. 

 

 

Let me through, I’m a Bureaucrat!

September 22, 2015

BBC News Addenbrookes

For decades there has been a simple solution to cost cutting in public services. Sorry – not cost cutting – “efficiency improvement”.

This has been to get rid of those faceless petty bureaucrats in the middle orders; administrators and middle managers.

 

 

Simple. That way you don’t have to reduce the numbers of ‘front line staff’ such as doctors and nurses, firefighters or refuse collectors.

These were non-people, or ‘other people’. It was OK for everyone to resent them. They supposedly sat down all day. They often didn’t have professional qualifications like doctors, engineers or lawyers. If you were frustrated by bureaucracy it would often be one of these people who signed the letter or ultimately answered the phone [“Let me speak to your manager”].

The role was conveniently vague in definition, such that it couldn’t actually apply to you, or to a friend or family member. These were ‘other people’ remember? In the 80s I remember seeing lots of infographics (no, they’re not new) where these targets were represented by rows of little cut out men in bowler hats. A common post-war object of resentment.

This solution also became blurred with automation. Clearly many of these roles could be replaced by ‘computers’ or systems, like those you see front line staff frowning over before they turn their attention to you. This would be cost effective no matter how much it cost to develop, deploy, re-develop, update, de-bug, troubleshoot and above all help-desk those systems.

There seemed little room for the idea that these were real people, individuals with personalities and the capacity to act with judgement, creativity or compassion. Little room, too, for the idea that the roles they filled may have been the result of evolution, trial, error and learning – not merely stagnation and rote which could be swept away by wholesale ‘business process re-engineering’.

For decades, then, our leaders have cut the administrators and middle managers. They have done this when the number at the bottom of the spreadsheet was still too big, and when the other realities of cutting expenditure seemed even less acceptable. They have done so out of genuine belief in the principle, or out of relieved deference to feasibility studies, or out of fear that public opinion, mobilised by the more rabid anti-bureaucracy pressure groups, would turn against them. [An oft-repeated plank of the UKIP manifesto seemed to be that austerity could be made more bearable by turning our attention, yet again, to managers and officials.]

This morning I saw a news story about how the oft-revered Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge had been taken into special measures. This is a very large trust and one which when I was a little younger was synonymous with ground breaking, almost miraculous, life-saving medicine. It probably still is.

The analysis will go on for some time. But I was struck by the summary that senior management had ‘lost it’s grip’ on what was happening around the hospital. Problems that emerged were not ‘picked up’ and then acted on. Failings included ineffective ways of ‘moving people through the hospital’. All of this, we are told, is in spite of the fact that staff are very highly skilled and extremely caring.

Like a neurologist who sees sluggish responses in an otherwise articulate and intelligent patient, I find myself wondering what sort of deficiency in the nervous system of this hospital could lead to such a disconnect between the brain, the eyes and the hands?

[Image:  BBC News]

Two Lakes

August 5, 2015

Lake

Lake

I see two lakes.

They are identical – in every detail.

The shape of the lake emphasises a wide expanse – the way distant slopes frame a turn which could lead on and on. The way trees mask the nearer shores so the whole lake cannot be seen, but its edges may be guessed at.

 

Before one lake sits the traveller who has sought and found, yet also stumbled upon, this place. They have crossed the wilderness that lies all about it. They see the stillness of the surface, hear the silence. When a breeze ruffles the lake or a bird cries they know that it is the breeze and the bird, not the lake, which bring the passing change.

The traveller may stay as long as they wish. Others may come and go too. One day the hungry and thirsty traveller must move on, in the hope of returning some time.

Before the other lake sits the monarch. They own this lake, having amassed the power and wealth to build it. The finest artists and gardeners, and a hundred thousand labourers, have elegantly captured the expanse and unseen extent of a natural wilderness lake.

Only the monarch or their guests may visit this place. All around, just out of sight, stand the walls of a great palace. Beyond that a fortress. Beyond that a sprawling city.

The monarch is free to sit here until the end of their life. Guards, unseen and ever vigilant, provide protection from those who have been defeated, outwitted or simply robbed in course of the monarch’s rise.

When a breeze ruffles the lake or a bird cries…

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Represent Me !

April 3, 2015

I watched the ‘Leaders’ Debate’ last night. Apart from two nationalists, both significantly women and including the almost poetically compelling Leanne Wood, I wasn’t impressed by what I saw. I didn’t expect to be. There’s no point my adding to the online flotsam by ranting on about why. I’m just going to suggest one of the root causes, take a positive attitude to solving it, and then tell you who to vote for!

The underlying pattern last night, the usual selective quoting of facts and quasi-facts along with abstract rhetoric and a concentration on the faults of the other side(s), stems from Party. Individual politicians’ primary purpose is to get elected or re-elected. Political parties’ primary purpose is to get as many members elected as possible or, rather, to have enough elected to form a majority, take control and allocate Ministerial office to their most powerful members.

Working on the principle that you can’t do anything without power, getting elected comes first for them – getting votes by any means. They can get around to ‘doing good’ and ‘being more honest’ or even ‘listening’ once they have won. This is true both of party and of individuals in a party system – mutual permission to behave a certain way and accepted as “politics”, out of habit, by us. [I’m sure there are learned and subtle people who will tell me that the system of permanent parties is a well-evolved and sophisticated solution which delivers less evil, and more stability, than other forms of government or democracy. Even if they are right I’m not worried – I can’t see us overthrowing the model just yet.]

The only solution I can see is to bring back genuine representative democracy at constituency level. That means people voting for the individual (not the party) they believe will best represent the interests of the constituency in which they live. Government, including dealing with all those necessarily national and international issues, then stems from these elected individuals aggregating around policies or leaders in which they believe. Perhaps that’s how parties started – though I’m inclined to believe they derived from existing outside interests – but the party is no longer a necessary piece of infrastructure. There are now sufficient technological and communications means for a crowd of elected representatives to broker and organise a majority, and an allocation of roles, around a set of sufficiently consensus policies and agendas. Is there really a reason why power could not flow upwards and inwards from representatives of the people, rather than downwards from the tyranny of party nomination? I’m not going to tackle the big theory here [I’m sure there are hundreds of people whose day job that is in academic institutions around the country] nor am I going to suggest a detailed mechanism.

But this principal, that politics would be better if elected representatives were loyal and accountable to their constituency electorate rather than to their party, does point to something that you can and should do, right now, for this general election. If enough people were to do this, pledged to do this, the party monoliths would start to at least crumble a bit around the edges – as nervous candidates saw their future riding on genuine local engagement. It involves going to a bit of effort, but it will then demand some corresponding effort from your local candidates. I think politicians rely on us ultimately being too busy, too turned off, or just too lazy, to do this sort of thing.

Here’s the formula:

Get in touch with your local candidates – or at least as many as you can. Don’t limit yourself to big parties or ‘those who have a chance’. [Even their accessibility and responsiveness should be your first clue].

Ask them the following questions:

  1. If there was a straight simple conflict between the interests of your party and the interests of this constituency, which would you side with? [Insist on a one-word answer, “Party or Place?”]
  2. What are the priority issues for the majority of people who live in this constituency?
  3. What hard evidence do you have that these are really their priorities – rather than your projecting a national party agenda onto this constituency?
  4. What practical steps have you taken, over how long a period, to help local people to identify and express those priorities?
  5. Parliamentary candidates talk about wanting to have the privilege of serving their community. Outside of your political campaigning (and anything done in the capacity of MP if you are seeking re-election) what have you already done to serve your local community – e.g. voluntary work or something involving sacrificing your own interests?
  6. If elected how will you make yourself accountable, against those local priorities, over the life of a Parliament?

Share their answers, or the fact that they don’t give you answers, with as many other people as you can. After all, each candidate should only have one set of answers, so it only takes one constituent to ‘get through’ and obtain them…. these can all then be shared and compared between candidates.

The gist of these questions, and the focus of my proposal, is the single overarching question:

How Will You Represent Me?

That is my proposal. You should vote for the person who gives the best account of how they can earn your vote, by making it count, by representing the diverse and complex beliefs and interests of local people, by representing you. DON’T take any old central office flannel – look for hard, simple answers, backed up by evidence of local knowledge and action. Good answers will only come from remarkable people. We need our MPs to be remarkable people – not party footsoldiers.

This is the challenge to all candidates: #representme

If you support this idea.

Ask the questions. Find ways to share the results. Point others to the questions or to this post – and/or post similar suggestions and links of your own in social media, where appropriate using the hashtag #representme

I’m putting a shortened version of the questions into an image. A sort of reverse pledge card……

You want to be properly represented? Fed up with cartoon politics and political marketing? Do something about it. Don’t vote for a ‘protest party‘, vote for a candidate who will plausibly undertake to represent you, and your place. Visibly support, and rally support for, candidates who are prepared to do that on record. It’s a start.

representme card

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