Monthly Archives: May 2009

Zen and the Art of Business Start Up – Watering

How the hell, one might say, Zen relates to a business start-up?

To start with, Zen gives a way, which focuses upon direct experience rather than theoretical knowledge. So, out goes the argument that prescribes an MBA to start your business. We have a level playing field- as long as you are willing to learn.

In this article series I would present small practical ‘taken for granted’ ideas to supercharge your business start-up process. Wait till the end to grab the ’sutra’.

I was once given responsibility to water plants in my dad’s garden. It had to be daily, twice a day. Most plants were nearly dead. Two of them caught my attention. One was a three feet stump rooted in dry mud. Another was an empty pot, half-filled with damp soil. I saw no reason to water them. But orders were orders. Every day I indulged in this seemingly pointless exercise. ‘All they need is daily water’, my dad stressed repeatedly.

It’s a pain to do something you believe is useless and yields no obvious results. Somehow I started to think that my dad wanted me to do this just to keep me busy. I carried on, howsoever reluctantly. Every morning as a religion just before my breakfast, and, every night before my dinner I watered the dead plants. A few weeks passed.

Then something amazing happened. I started to enjoy the activity slightly. By now, I had stopped worrying whether watering would actually help the plants. I was just performing something without expectations. Because the task started to become a chore, I somehow had to learn to enjoy it. And lo! It was like meditation. Twice a day I was enjoying something with no worries about results. Think about it, how many such activities we do normally? I thought hard, but found none. Everything we do has an attached expectation.

Brand New Life

Brand New Life

Then, one fine morning the empty pot had a sapling. A brand new life was sprouting out of, what I considered to be, a bottomless pit that had been soaking all the water. The dry stump too showed signs of green growth. Suddenly, the whole garden looked alive in that moment of astonishment. Hard work paid off. Did I worry about this all that while?

Your small business also needs constant watering. Every day. Find out what constitutes ‘watering’ for your business. Is it daily networking? Or, honing your core skills? Or, seeking and learning ways of marketing? Although watering is directly related to growth, you would find myriads of activities in your business, which are not directly related to results. For example, learning some html if you have a web-based business. The knowledge of HTML wouldn’t come handy straightaway, or, may be never as you can’t be proficient enough. That doesn’t mean you don’t sharpen this skill. Remember, I had dead plants to water. Find out activities that you believe are essential to your start-up. They might not come into play right now, but remember that you need them in the long run. Do them as a religion. Enjoy them. You would soon find growth popping out of a seemingly dead well.

This article was kindly donated by Hersh Bhardwaj. You can find out more about Hersh’s work here.


Nipping it in the bud

Today I have been spraying weeds with weedkiller. Nettles, Docks, Buttercups, Thistles and Ragwort grow rapidly at this time of the year and if they aren’t kept under control, they will be covering the fields and there’ll soon be no grass left for the horses to eat. We have a backpack which holds 20 litres of diluted weedkiller – 20 litres of liquid is quite heavy when you have to lift it up behind you and strap it to your back! It’s a horrible job and one that I’ve been putting off for several weeks. The result of this prevarication is that some of the weeds are huge and they will require more than one dose of weedkiller to finish them off. So I’ve made the job harder and longer than it should have been.

The parallels in the workplace are obvious. When issues and problems arise, how often do we wait and see if they will resolve themselves? How often do we leave them and hope that they will be insignificant in the overall scheme of things? Do we avoid confrontation, which would resolve the matter, in favour of short term harmony?

In almost every instance that you can think of, it is better to deal with the problem early before it develops into something much worse. This is particularly true when managing projects and underlines the importance of both having an Issue Log, of some description and of aggressively managing the issues raised on it. Don’t assume that everyone is a diligent as you, so proactively ask your people to tell you their top three issues at any point in time. This should ensure that you are continually on top of the current issues within your project and you can head off any potential crises before they escalate.

Don’t leave it until you need to apply the weedkiller for the second time!


Rob Horlock specialises in part time project management and in helping the commercial side of businesses to manage projects ands improve individual and team working efficiencies. If you would like to find out more, see or email: If you’re looking for a new job – advice here:

Recession Survival – lessons from nature

Many parts of the world regularly suffer from drought and famine and the local people and wildlife adopt well rehearsed strategies in order to survive:

  • They use their resources sparingly
  • They may migrate to regions which have more abundance. The annual migration of the wildebeest in Africa is one of best known examples of this.
  • They understand and anticipate the side effects. These may range from an increase in disease or plagues of mosquitoes and locusts, to a rise in food prices (exacerbating the situation) and on to land degradation, bush fires and ultimately, social conflict and widespread death and destruction
  • They adapt, as best they can, to their new, temporary environment
  • They take advantage of unexpected opportunities – crocodiles and lions wait in ambush for the migrating wildebeest
  • Outside agencies attempt to alleviate the problems or at least, reduce the effects – Aid Agencies and other NGOs offer food and shelter in the worst effected regions.

As the Economic Recession continues, what lessons can we, in the business world, learn from the natural world?

  • They use their resources sparingly – This lesson has obviously been learned by most of us. Spending is down (which is, of course, deepening the recession), many people are overpaying their mortgages every month and credit card debt is being paid off faster than before. ‘Eating In’ is the new ‘Going Out’ and the large supermarkets and take away chains are the main beneficiaries. In the workplace, budgets are being cut and we are all asked to ‘do more with less’.
  • They may migrate to regions which have more abundance – Many people will look around for a new job, either at home or abroad. Whilst vacancies are more limited at the moment, those of us working in IT with strong transferable skills are better placed than most to take advantage of new opportunities.
  • They understand and anticipate the side effects – The side effects, of course, include redundancies, and longer working hours for those who survive the cull. Personal relationships may suffer as a result of this and you must recognise if this is becoming an issue in your own relationships, both at work and (more importantly) at home.
  • They adapt, as best they can, to their new, temporary environment – this point is absolutely key to your survival during this recession. Here are some thoughts for your consideration:

    1. Network

    Make sure you get to know as many managers as possible in your organisation and make sure they know who you are. This means getting outside of the IT department!

    2. Operate above your payscale

    Offer suggestions to your boss, offer to make presentations at departmental meetings. Take the initiative and start (or carry on) doing things that your boss should be doing but for which you can take responsibility.

    3. Make yourself indispensable

    Help your line manager as much as you can. If you’ve moved around in the IT department, help those who are currently working in an area where you’ve worked previously (without annoying them, of course).

    If you know people in other departments of the organisation, spend time with them and understand their issues – can the IT department help them to overcome these?

    4. Go the extra mile

    If your line manager asks you to help him/her prepare for a board meeting, for example, go the extra mile and prepare some presentation slides too. They may not be the finished article but it’s much easier to finesse something that already exists than to start with a blank piece of paper.

    5. Socialise with your colleagues

    Integrate with your colleagues. Go for a drink after work. Get involved in societies and clubs. You never know who you might meet and the deeper you dig yourself into the fabric of the organisation, the more difficult it becomes to do without you.

  • They take advantage of unexpected opportunities – If your line manager leaves, for whatever reason, you may find yourself running the team in a ‘holding capacity’. Take the initiative and do more than just ‘hold the fort’. Make your own decisions and add your own stamp to the team. In times of recession, it is more likely that you will be offered the job permanently, if you show promise, rather than recruiting externally.

    Budget cuts may also offer opportunities for you to develop skills which are currently under-utilised. Perhaps you know some html or java but don’t use it at work because web development is outsourced. Offer to help with support and development – you never know where it may lead.

  • Outside agencies attempt to alleviate the problems or at least, reduce the effects – In the business world, the government(s) is responsible for tackling the recession. They do this in a number of ways. Currently, interest rates are extremely low. If you have a mortgage that’s not on a fixed rate, overpay your monthly payments. You will be pleasantly surprised how this affects the length of your mortgage term. If you are on a fixed rate mortgage, check out how much you will pay in redemption fees to move to a Tracker mortgage. This may be worth your while.

    Haggle! If you’re buying something over and above the usual weekly shopping, ask for a deal. You’ll often get something off the price – it all helps!

There are many survival lessons to be learned from the natural world and a whole lot more that apply in our world. The most important lesson of all is that in YOUR life, it’s up to YOU – Nobody’s going to do it for you!


Rob Horlock specialises in part time project management and in helping the commercial side of businesses to manage projects ands improve individual and team working efficiencies. If you would like to find out more, see or email: If you’re looking for a new job – advice here:

Wolfram Alpha is launched

Wolfram Alpha, the new search engine, launched this week. Unlike Google, Wolfram Alpha gives the user an answer to a query, rather than links to other sources.

Try it here:

Looking for a new job? Lots of help here:


Banana Test 
There was a very, very tall coconut tree and there are 4 animals,

a Lion a Chimpanzee a Giraffe and a  Squirrel 

They decide to compete to see who is the fastest to get a banana off the tree.

Who do you guess will win?

Your answer will reflect your personality.

So think carefully.  Try and answer within 30 seconds.

Got your answer?

Now scroll down to see the analysis.






If your answer is:

Lion = you’re wrong
Chimpanzee = you’re wrong.
Giraffe = you’re wrong.
Squirrel  = you’re wrong.




This is a great example of us seeing what we expect to see, or anticipating an outcome which we expect, but which was never going to happen.

It’s often said that the High Street in every town now looks the same – same shops, same signs, same people in many cases. This is true but not if you look up. Look at the architecture of the buildings, look at the rooflines. There are some wonderful old buildings around in our High Streets and we never take the time to notice. Or we look where we usually look. We look where we expect to find the answer. When you’re working, how often do you look for the unexpected? How often do you walk a different path? I bet you park in the same parking spot every day! (If you get in early, it’ll be a parking bay where the driver’s door of the car next to you is less likely to damage your car – am I right?)

So take a lesson from the Coconut tree and don’t try to find bananas growing on it. Don’t assume that you’re going to see or hear something before it happens. Don’t anticipate a negative response to a sales question because that’s what usually happens – prepare for a positive response. The tone of your voice will change and that alone may subconsciously direct your prospective customer to agree with you. Try it, you might go bananas!


Would you like to reduce your business rates? Help is at hand: No saving, no fee. No pressure, nice people…

Swine flu jokes

Not in the usual style of ‘lessons from nature’ – something to brighten your day…
Like to review your business rates?