Tag Archives: Nature

Planning to win



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.


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


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!


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


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!


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Swine flu jokes

Not in the usual style of ‘lessons from nature’ – something to brighten your day…
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All quiet in The New Forest

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the numbers of birds that I would expect to see on my walks in The New Forest. This morning I took Lucy (the dog) to the part of the forest where we usually go to get some exercise. We strolled along many of the same paths as usual, looked across at the same clearings as usual and jumped across the same ditches as usual. But today was different. The forest was eerily quiet and hardly any wildlife stirred. The only sounds disturbing the tranquillity came from the hum of the commuter traffic on the M27 and a ‘plane coming in to land at Southampton airport.

What had happened to change the picture so radically from a few days ago? Snow had happened! Unexpectedly (at least to us humans) the rain which had been forecast had turned to snow and the forest was covered in a white slushy blanket. Lucy loved it and chased around like a puppy. She was going back to a warm house- the wildlife living in the forest had all ‘hunkered down’ until the weather improved (which it did – by 2pm the sun was shining).

The birds and animals that live in the forest were all still there this morning, but all were quiet and out of sight.

When you manage a project, do you have phases when all is quiet and you assume all is well? That may be true, but equally, it may not. Something might be going badly wrong but people have buried their heads in the sand, hoping that the problem will go away. Unless you ask questions, you may not find out about the badly deteriorating situation until it’s too late. Or at least until the problem is worse than it might have been.

When all is quiet in your project team, don’t assume that all is well. Ask the pertinent questions. The Risks and Issues don’t go away but, like the wildlife in the snow, they may not surface for a while.



It’s a funny thing:

– You never ever run out of salt.

– Old ladies can eat more than you think.

– There’s no panic like the panic you momentarily feel when you you’ve
gotten your hand or head stuck in something.

– No one knows the origins of their metal coat hangers.

– Despite constant warning you have never met anybody who has their arm
broken by a swan.

– The most painful household incident is wearing socks and stepping on an
upturned plug.

– People who don’t drive slam car doors too hard

– You’ve turned into your dad the day you put aside a thin piece of wood
to specifically stir paint with.

– Everyone had an uncle who tried to steal their nose.

– In every plate of chips there is a bad chip.

– Triangle sandwiches taste better than square ones.

– Beneath every floating balloon is a tearful child.


Rob Horlock specialises in helping the commercial side of businesses to review and map processes, manage projects and improve individual and team working efficiencies. This also includes improving the effectiveness of emarketing, particularly aimed at marketing managers who use digital agencies. If you would like to find out more, see http://www.ef-ef.co.uk or email: rob@ef-ef.co.uk

Snowfall and contingency planning

During the first week of February, Britain was blanketed in snow. Over a foot deep in places, several inches even fell in London, causing the London Transport system almost to grind to a halt. It’s been almost two decades since southern England saw so much snow.

I took Lucy for a walk out in to the forest early in the morning when the snow was still falling. It was the first time that she had seen a decent covering of snow and after a few hesitant steps she realised that this might be fun and ran around like a young puppy. There was a distinct lack of wildlife around. No birds singing and no ponies grazing on the winter gorse. All in hiding, waiting for the snow to stop and the temperature to rise. They are adapting to the unexpected circumstances. They don’t have the benefit of a weather forecast but they are very sensitive to change and will have anticipated the arrival of the bad weather.

Inevitably, the disruption to business led to criticism of the authorities.

‘A couple of inches of snow and everything stops.’ ‘In Canada, we have 2 feet of snow, not 2 inches every winter and we cope, everyone gets about.’ That, of course, is the point. Canada always copes because it happens every year, not once every two decades. Canada is geared up to expect snow and has the resources allocated to deal with it. London, on the other hand, is not geared up to deal with heavy snowfalls. The authorities have assessed the Risk versus the Cost and decided that investing in a fleet of snowploughs that might be used once every 10 years is not the best way to spend their budget. They understand the Risks and have taken the decision not to make a contingency plan for heavy snow. They will deal with it when it happens, using their limited resources.

When assessing business risks, always assess the risk of something happening versus the likelihood of it occurring and the effect that it would have. If your decision is to accept the risk and do nothing, that’s fine, but make sure that this is understood by all interested parties. Don’t wait for them to be surprised when they wake up one morning to find themselves snowed in with no means of getting out of the garden!


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 area of 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