Saturday, February 6, 2016

Things British

DSC08588It’s a day for doing laundry and catching up with domestic work.  With a full suite of housemates, I needed to take my laundry out to be done, seeking a launderette (nee Laundromat for the Americans).  They are a bit competitive, people jostling for machines and trying to shame people who just bring their drying and mess up everyone else’s sequence.  Fortunately, there is an attendant who keeps everything ordered and moving along.  IMG_20160116_093044A few pounds, a couple of hours, and I’m out.

It’s about a day at the house: I have to find the washer free in the morning, and check that the drying rack isn’t filled with towels and motorcycle gear.  Things need to sit in the airing cupboard overnight to dry, a thoroughly British closet where the hot water heaters create a warm dry space for finishing laundry.

And so it goes, every day, in so many ways, to be reminded of how things are different, are British.  It is in the (to American eyes) quaint architecture along my street, a brick facade in Parkstone, a coffee shop in Ashley Cross.

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It’s in getting aspirin in blister packs instead of bottles, making sweet drinks out of squashes rather than syrups, and backing my car into parking spots instead of nosing it in.  I keep a bag of change in the car and go light on emotive words.  I’ve grown accustomed to having a raffle drawing after DSC09809 (1300x887)village social gatherings. Every restaurant enjoys a perfect Food Hygiene Rating. 

I understand humor that is either subtly ironic or coarsely dress-up, and can riposte when need arises.  I’ve learned answering ‘You okay?’, as a greeting instead of a concern, with a purse of the lips and ‘Yeah’ with a nod and a slight upward inflection to sow doubt.  (I prefer sowing doubt using the Yankee-style replies 1) ‘Swell, you?’, 2) Hangin’ in!, 3) ‘Never better…’, which all confuse others.)

I may be just about ready to convert my ILR to a passport (another £2000, but then done, right?).

DSC08756 (1266x1300)I bought a toaster the other week, and inside was a half-off coupon for Virgin Wines.  I took a look online and found that a selection of 12 luxury red wines cost around £6 per bottle, less than it costs for plonk at Tesco.  So I placed an order, and was rewarded with a big red box a few days later.

This has turned out to be a mixed blessing.  First, my housemates are now wondering why I am having wine delivered by the case.  The box dominates a corner of my room, raising questions even if unopened.

Then there is the moral hazard of having 122 bottles of wine in the corner of the room.  After a hard day and thirsty on return from exercise, the fruity dry varietals call out to me.  There’s not the usual friction of having to go to Tesco to spend money: they are just sitting there, going bad if I don’t drink them.

Finally, there is the quality.  I think that they are better than the sharp / sweet reds that  are usually on sale, but nowhere near the buttery / heady selection offered by local wine critics.  The I discovered that Virgin is putting a #25 / mo charge on my Amex, a subscription that needs to be drained and cancelled.

I had toyed with the idea of joining The Wine Society while I was in Cambridge: it looks like good value and better bottles, so I’ll likely switch, months from now when I’ve drained the Virgin stash.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Along the Cam and back in class

DSC08527 (1300x861)I always look forward to teaching each spring.  It puts experiences into perspective and focuses my thinking on what makes a difference in business and in life.  This year I’m mentoring a GapSummit team as well, bright young things with amazing ideas for improving healthcare. 

Ethos, Pathos, Logos, observed Aristotle, are the three pillars of successful public speaking.  My team certainly has two of those qualities in abundance.

And while I strive for all three, as I reviewed my slide deck from last year, it seemed absurdly naive.  Life teaches lessons if you listen, and people do change.

I’m not sure that it’s a good thing that I understand how to construct a Quality Management System in just one month.  But I do know understand the process and importance.  I worked until 1 am, two nights running, revising all 70 slides, and got a result that I’m pleased with. 

‘good feedback from the class as well.

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‘rainy day around Cambridge, weighing a bit on my spirit, but perfect for getting quality time with my camera, finally back from the shop.  I went in search of people, reflections, and colourful umbrellas.

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The best scenes, as always, are found down along the River Cam.

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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Changing the conversation

DSC08511The call was about the future.  There was now a clear, risk=-free path to getting our product into the market, and the discussion turned to what to do next.  What is the best way to drive commercial growth, product line expansions, clinical adoption, and rising revenues in the first year after introduction?   Would an independent trial or an independent channel yield greater returns: would demonstration of clinical effectiveness suffice, or was economic evidence the key?

We’d had a good walk-through of the issues, weighing evidence, stories of other companies, and enumerating alternatives.

Good, I closed, well, is there anything else?

“You don’t get off that easily.  You’re a great one for letting a conversation go without a conclusion.  Now I’m going to hold you to giving one.”

I was a bit taken aback (not the least because it’s very un-British to be so frank).  Does every business DSC08512conversation need an agenda, minutes, summary and action points? It reminds me of similar maxims: ‘No action actually happened unless it is documented’ and ‘The right things won’t happen consistently unless there is a procedure and training’, or ‘signatures are only valid when made with a black pen’’.

The truth is, I need to think about a wide-ranging conversation before I am ready to summarize and decide.  I might want to bounce some points off of other people (in fact, I did) or do some reading.  I need a block of quiet time, wind whistling over the car,  without thinking about it, for my intuitive side to agree with my rational one.

I did summarize and give a bias towards an answer, but left the conversation open-ended.

DSC08575I’ve been getting a number of suggestions about how to conduct better conversations recently.  A favorite was the notion that the order of events in emails should be inverted.

I tend to order correspondence as Hi, ‘hope that things are going well and that your weekend was fun.   I have been going through the proposal and wondered if I could ask a favor before the next meeting….

Simon Sinek holds that this tends to make people cynical about my good wishes if they lead to asking for something.  ‘better to say Hi,  I have been going through the proposal and wondered if I could ask a favor before the next meeting…. ‘hope that things are going well and that your weekend was fun.  best, Dave

I’ve been reversing the order and think that it strengthens my correspondence, a good tip.  (and never, ever say ‘best wishes’ in closing a letter in the UK: its often a backhand way of saying that you don’t wish them well at all).

DSC08545Another criticized me for holding up decisions until I understand the issue being decided.  Good people, the sort that I bring on board, do understand the facts and know what needs to be done.  They get frustrated if they feel like I’m not respecting and trusting them. 

I get that, it’s not a control and authority ploy. Rather, I feel like I need to understand the actions that I am responsible and accountable for.

So, we have agreed that I will delegate without interfering, but on the agreement that the solution will be patiently explained to me after it is implemented.

DSC08515Another, finally, says that I am too averse to confrontation, and that this keeps me from dealing effectively with problem people.

That is, indeed, a character flaw.  I am much more likely to avoid an argument and withdraw from passionate advocacy to let tempers cool and facts to become known.

So, I’m drawing bright lines, deadlines and actions with consequences for underperformers that I can feel just about enforcing.  And I am leaning into some arguments, trying to engage better and let a bi of passion show about issues that I care about.