Monthly Archives: December 2013

On a good talking to & little grey cells

The-Thinker-300x199Thinking is the way we talk to ourselves and the only way we can change what we do and how we do it. Most of the time it is just everyday chit chat to get us through the day but sometimes we need to have a major conversation about where we want our lives to go and the strategy we need to get there.

However, we are all so good at chatting to ourselves about day to day minutiae, that this has become a mechanism for distracting ourselves from serious thinking – instead we spend our time considering the next meal, the journey  home, the text we need to send to our best friend and so on.

There are times when we get desperate because we have ignored whatever it may be for too long (see previous post on procrastination). We know we need to sort out the issue but are exhausted by the sheer effort it takes just avoiding it. Often we are prepared to delegate, but this means inviting other people into our thought processes without necessarily considering any axes they might have to grind in our lives, without thinking about possible ulterior motives. Do they want us to do what what we want or rather perhaps what they want?

Have you noticed how willing these people are to give you advice? Often they do not ask questions or establish the facts, they just start to tell you what to do. What they think you should do. A friend once told me of the nurse who, only a matter of hours after delivery, was instructing her on how to breast feed – to the point of physically manhandling both her and the baby.  My friend was so exhausted by the recent birth that she didn’t have the energy to tell Miss Bossy the Breast Feeding Consultant (who had never in fact had any children of her own) that she had actually very successfully nursed four kids already and knew what she was doing thank you very much. These people are like the bull in the proverbial china shop.  They do not stop to ask questions or recognise the limited resources you might have to put into a project. They assume there is infinite money, time and that the matter is of the utmost urgency. They leave you feeling limp because they can see things so much more clearly than you can. They also have the expectation that you will accept what they say and then expect you to follow it through while they bask in all the glory; why is it so hard to say “Thanks very much. I have thought about it some more and decided not to do that”?

Now to be fair – sometimes our friends, families and colleagues are right, but invariably, and understandably, they see the problem from their own viewpoint. If it is a spouse worried about how the business is going they will usually advise the safe route to ensure the mortgage is paid. A friend who wants you to value them and their thoughts can be much bolder when handing out advice than they would be in their own lives. This is all very well, and normally meant with good intention – collecting ideas is great provided we remember where they came from and the bias they bring. However, using other people’s ideas does not take away the responsibility we have to ourselves to form our own thoughts, examine our own ideas, and craft our own solution, one that works for us.

Whether you are thinking about a personal issue or a business problem, this is your life, only you can live it. Make the space – both physical and mental – to talk to yourself about it. Stay focused and concentrate.

If you are still confused and unable to channel your thoughts, then get some help. But leave spouses and friends out of it.  Get help from a detective like me – someone who spends their life looking, with people like you, at issues and challenges like yours.  I’ll help you exercise your little grey cells and really look at the answers you come up with. The time has come my friend to give yourself a firm talking to and make your life what you want it to be – what are you waiting for, call me today.



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On winging it, tasting chocolate and herding cats


Me at 21

East End Girl: Wide-Eyed & Wide-Brimmed


At 21 I was in the east end of London running a hanging garment depot (the first in the UK). It might sound rather grand but most days it was terrifying. I had been pulled off a management training scheme having had only six months of training, largely because I was a trainee and had no experience of saying “not me thank you”. The depot was on the bank of the Thames at Woolwich squeezed between the Hayward’s Pickle factory and Tate & Lyle. I lived in Northwood so it was three tube journeys and a train ride away; two hours on a good day with the wind behind me.

Of course I was thrilled to be selected to do it; I was proud of what we managed to achieve (more by luck than judgement); and I grew to love my little empire.

Each management job after that was easier, I knew a bit more about what I was doing; more about how to get the best out of people; more about what the stake holders wanted; and mostly that whatever I did it was unlikely to be enough but likewise, it was unlikely to be the end of the world when it wasn’t enough.

Now, 40 years on I find myself managing a charitable enterprise. You know how it happens – there is something you believe in and no one is stepping up to the plate – if you don’t do it, there is no one else. So suddenly I am in the lead seat of a Fairtrade shop previously generating £25,000 a year. There are volunteers: not enough, some hugely committed and some great…..every five weeks…… for two hours max. There are all the demands of retail: attracting customers, building customer relationships and loyalty, obtaining the right stock, maintaining stock levels, anticipating peaks in sales at the right time.

We recently had our Christmas Spectacular – in October. We had our doubts about that. We had our doubts about lots of things.


Divine Fairtrade Chocolate

Its clear that everything is driven by the seasons and what customers want. Finding a customer is hard work so it is incredibly important to hang on to the ones we have; if they want to think about Christmas then we have to……… and so in July we started to think about Christmas. In August we went to look at the new Traidcraft stock. There were five of us in the Free Church in St Ives on that sunny August, day knowing we had to buy stock for Christmas presents. Each of us with a particular mission. So we shopped; we tasted new chocolate flavours; we shopped; we listened to fantastic presentations about the producers and the difference buying fair trade products makes and we shopped; we ate lunch and talked about what we had seen; we shopped: these socks, that hat, would 150 packs of Fairtrade Christmas cards be enough …… 5pm we were still there, the last party standing but we had formulated an order.

Then for two months we worried: had we ordered the right things? Had we ordered too much? Had we ordered too little? Where we going to put it when it all arrived? How were we going to deal with pricing everything? Were we spending other people’s money responsibly? Would anyone come? Would we sell it all on the first day?

I worried about rotas – to be honest, I was consumed by rotas night and day, asleep and awake. We had eight shifts to cover and I needed ten people on each minimum but it wasn’t happening.

By then we had a visual merchandiser on board who was used to working on a big stage; but at our level, every penny counts and the thing about volunteers is that they have all opinions but they do not all agree. Back in the east end I was the boss, once I had decided then it happened. It has not been quite like that in the last few months. Sometimes it has felt like herding cats; nice cats, willing cats, amiable cats but independent, capable cats who let me know their thoughts on decisions made and whether or not they agreed, regularly and without reservation.


Festive Fairtrade Fair at St Andrews Church, Bedford

Our October sale is now behind us and the punters have passed their fairtrade advent calendars on to their excited children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces.  They have hidden their carefully chosen presents in the back of a cupboard (they do hope they will remember where they are when the time comes). My team of chaotically herded cats was heroic and it was a fantastic event. About 250 paying adults attended and lots of children; 28 volunteers helped in one way or another; £4972.98 (important that 98 pence) was taken. So we achieved what we set out to do.

The October Christmas sale reminded me that the voluntary sector is fantastic and makes the UK what it is. This blog post gives me the opportunity to thank my team for all they do and to thank them for taking me back in time to the days of my east end depot forty years ago.  I thank them for reminding me how wide-eyed (not to mention wide-brimmed) I was in my quest to achieve something sustainable.  I thank them for reminding me how to play to individual’s needs and keep everyone happy (while achieving my own ends). And I thank them, most of all, for reminding me that – more often than not – winging it still works (fairtrade chocolate incentives are also very useful)!



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