Category Archives: Nature

Planning to win

Stonechat

Stonechat

July in The New Forest and walking in the open forest is what summer evenings were made for. The sun is shining and the forest looks very different than it did six weeks ago, let alone six months ago. It’s a sea of green with bracken growing up to six feet high intermingled with gorse bushes. As Lucy (the dog) and I walk along, a strong twittering and chirping attracts our attention. The source of the agitated chirruping soon becomes apparent. Standing on the highest branch of a nearby gorse bush, a male Stonechat guards his nest. His equally agitated mate sits in a tree nearby, noisily encouraging us to move away. We move on and leave the birds to their solitude.

In the winter, it’s possible to walk anywhere in the open forest, apart from the boggy areas. In the summer, the ponies and visitors follow pre-defined paths through the bracken. You can still walk anywhere but it’s much more difficult to force your way through the bracken. It can be dangerous too as you can’t see where you’re walking – you wouldn’t want to tread on an adder!

We follow the well worn paths through the forest in same way that we follow the well worn plans that help us to manage our projects. How often so we stop and think about other ways of approaching our work? Just because it was done this way last time and the time before doesn’t make it right. Did we involve the right people – the people at the sharp end? Did we check the results of last year’s project? Was an evaluation of last year’s project ever written?

Take time to think about your plans and see if there might be a better way or at least a different way to reach the end goal. There almost certainly will be. Don’t make the mistake that just about every politician makes with depressing regularity – don’t fight the battles in this war with the strategy from the last war. Time moves on and the environment changes – ask the Polish Cavalry!

So think about looking for a new path but watch out for any adders along the way.

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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 www.ef-ef.co.uk or email: info@ef-ef.co.uk If you’re looking for a new job – advice here: www.mynextrole.co.uk

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Change in the Workplace

Camouflage is one of nature’s basic techniques for ensuring the survival of species. Flatfish have the same colouring as the seabed where they dwell. Females of bird species which nest in vulnerable places tend to have less colourful plumage then their male counterparts, to conceal them from predators while they incubate their eggs. The pheasant is a good example of this. Stick insects resemble the foliage of the plants on which they live. There are hundreds, thousands of similar examples. Some animals and birds actually change colour depending on their surroundings. The Artic Fox is brown in summer and white in winter, to match the snow. The Ptarmigan, a type of grouse that inhabits the snowy arctic tundra, does the same. It is not only the famed Chameleon which changes colour to camouflage itself. To stand a chance of seeing a camouflaged creature, you have to look carefully, in the right places.

How is this reflected in the business world? Who uses camouflage techniques to conceal themselves? Many people at work put on their camouflaged ‘business face’. The face that nods agreement sometimes when they should really be shaking their head to disagree. The face that agrees with you when in the same room, but who spreads discontent, rumour and innuendo amongst friends and colleagues behind your back. The face that tells you what they think you want to hear.

This is especially true in times of change within the company. When processes are reviewed, waste of one form or another is almost always uncovered. This ‘waste’ will be all or part of some people’s daily roles within the company and they will become very uncomfortable if they think that their job is in jeopardy. When told of impending changes in their department they may smile and nod agreement with the proposals. Underneath, they may be very worried and can react in a number of ways:

  • They can decide that it is time they found a new job with a new company and so will start job hunting. The organisation may or may not wish to keep the employee and the follow up action will depend on this position. Ultimately, the employee’s actions will have a fairly ‘passive’ effect on the proposed changes.
  • The employee may seek clarification from their line manager –‘how will the changes affect me?’; ‘if my job goes, will I find another position within the company?’; ‘How much redundancy pay can I expect to get if my job goes?’, etc. If there is a likely to be a positive outcome and the employee finds a new position, this too will have a ‘passive’ effect on the proposed changes.
  • Alternatively, the employee may be a ‘blocker’, someone who reacts negatively to any change. They may start off with a camouflaged face but quickly come out in to the open. They may still nod in agreement in public, but will spread negative (and usually exaggerated) rumours about the implications of the changes amongst the other members of staff. These people have very ‘active’ (and negative) effect on the proposed changes and they can change the overall opinion of the workforce unless they are managed correctly and speedily.

The important point is to recognise that some people wear a disguise when at work. Understand this and its implications. Key to this is Communication, the topic covered in the next instalment of ‘Natural Processes’.

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Rob Horlock specialises 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 http://www.ef-ef.co.uk or email: info@ef-ef.co.uk

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.

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!

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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 www.ef-ef.co.uk or email: info@ef-ef.co.uk If you’re looking for a new job – advice here: www.mynextrole.co.uk

Swine flu jokes

Not in the usual style of ‘lessons from nature’ – something to brighten your day…
Like to review your business rates? www.381.co.uk

Eight Jays

Spring has definitely arrived in The New Forest. Two days a go I heard the first cuckoo of the year (two, actually). Today I saw the first swallow. One swallow may not make a summer but if definitely points in the right direction.

This morning I took Lucy for an early morning walk up to Stagbury Hill, in The New Forest. Stagbury is surrounded by gorse covered open countryside dotted with trees and even though it has a trig point at the top, it is not terribly high. It is, though, high enough to look down on to the tops of the trees. As I looked out across the sea of yellow flowered gorse I noticed a pair of Jays fly in front and below me, landing in a nearby tree. Then a saw another flying to the same tree from a different direction, then another and another. In all, eight Jays flew to the same tree. Jays are very distinctive birds and are easily recognisable. Seen from above, they are very distinguishable by a white lower back which is not normally seen when in flight as the watcher is normally looking up at the flying bird, not down.

Seeing eight Jays together is quite a sight. Seeing them from above was very unusual and made me think about the way we view other aspects of our lives.

At work, how often do we get lost in the detail of what we’re doing and don’t take the time to stand outside of the project and view it from a more objective viewpoint? How would a third party observe our work? What would they see in ten seconds that we’ve missed, because we’re too close to it? (both figuratively and actually).

Do you take the time to take the ‘helicopter view’ of your work or are you continually fighting to hit the next deadline? Do you review your work from the standpoint of anything other than ‘did it meet its objectives?’ You may well have hit your objectives (or not … ) but was it the right piece of work to be doing in the first place? Could your time have been better spent elsewhere?

Make an effort to stand back and look at your work (and your home life) from a different angle – you might be surprised what you see!

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Rob Horlock specialises in helping the commercial side of businesses with part time project management, review and map processes and improve individual and team working efficiencies. If you would like to find out more, see http://www.ef-ef.co.uk or email: rob@ef-ef.co.uk

 

Up close or far away?

We went on an organised walk on Brownsea Island recently. Situated in the middle or Poole Harbour, the island was the site of Baden-Powells’ first scout camp in 1908. Today it is owned by The National Trust and is a nature reserve. The Red Squirrel thrives here as the more aggressive Grey variety, which has killed off most of the UK’s Red Squirrel population, has not made the watery crossing from the mainland.

Brownsea Island is also a major bird reserve and thousands of migrant birds which live on the shoreline overwinter here. If you’re interested, you can view the lagoon through the webcam. Species that may be seen include Godwits, Redshank, Greenshank, Little Egrets and the striking black and white Avocet with its upturned bill. On the day that we visited, there was a flock of about 200 Avocets, quite a sight. Watching from the anonymity of a ‘hide’, several pairs of binoculars were trained on the feeding Avocets and the other waders enjoying the winter sun on the lagoon. Binoculars, of course, bring the subject up close by magnifying the image. Viewed from the other end, by comparison, the subject appears to be far away. Without binoculars, much of the interesting detail within the scene unfolding before us would have been missed.

Back in the real world, how often do you check the detail of your work? You’re not a detail person? Many of us like to take the overview and leave the details to others to worry about. It is sometimes illuminating to take the binoculars to a particular area of work to check that the details are being covered. You may head off some nasty surprises!

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Local News:

Mrs. Irene Graham of Thorpe Avenue , Boscombe, delighted the audience
with her reminiscence of the German prisoner of war who was sent each
week to do her garden. He was repatriated at the end of 1945, she
recalled – ‘He’d always seemed a nice friendly chap, but when the
crocuses came up in the middle of our lawn in February 1946, they spelt
out ‘Heil Hitler.”
( Bournemouth Evening Echo) 

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Rob Horlock specialises in helping the commercial side of businesses to review and map processes, manage projects ands improve individual and team working efficiencies. This also includes improving the effectiveness of your emarketing, particularly in the areas of working with agencies and turning prospects into customers. If you would like to find out more, see http://www.ef-ef.co.uk or email: rob@ef-ef.co.uk