Archives for the ‘Enterprise Gardening’ Category

Lead for Greatness

Grow Leaders

Everyone a Leader

I have a dream. I dream of my two year old little girl all grown up, doing what she loves and loving what she does. She tells me how much fun she’s having at work. And that she’s great friends with the people there. And of how what she does makes the world a better place.

When I explain how far mankind’s relationship with work has come in the past twenty years alone, she laughs. She shakes her head at ideas such as “putting people first”, “Intent-Based Leadership“, “self-actualisation” and “collaboration”.

She tells me, “It all sounds like common sense, Mama. Why would people want to live and work any other way?”

I reply, “Because all too often, common sense isn’t common practice, Darling. And even though some ideas sound simple, they’re not easy to implement.”

She asks me to tell her the Ship story, of how long ago I made a wish to learn how to lead. And how one day, I met a former U.S Navy submarine captain who gave his power away to turn his ship around, taking his crew and boat from poor performance to greatness.  And of the leadership course that transformed the way I live and lead.

My grownup little girl turns to me and says with a bold and brave smile, “I intend to… make the most of my life because anything less would be a waste of the gift you have given me.”

And with that, we hug and I look forward to a brand new adventure of making more dreams come true.

Changing Jobs

Which path will you choose

Romancing a Dream

When I was 18, I met a boy in Paris. One summer, I was invited to stay with the family at their holiday home in Normandy. There I learned a lesson I would always remember.

As I understood it (as all our exchanges were in French), his father was someone important. Monsieur E. worked as part of the entourage that protected the interests of the French President at the time.

He was evidently successful both in terms of career and at home. And so I asked him for a life lesson. It’s amazing what insights people will share if you ask politely and listen carefully.

“If you’re unhappy, don’t cheat on your wife or leave your family. Change your job. It has an overwhelming bearing on things.”

Ever since then it’s one of the first thoughts that springs to mind whenever I’m unhappy with my job.

Monsieur E.’s advice has served me well over the years and I’ve found jobs I enjoy doing a little bit more with each move.

Of course it makes sense to change jobs every so often. Circumstances change, ambitions grow, people morph.

And yet, when I look back at the well-trodden path of my professional life, I now see something else. A recurring yet subtle pattern that sticks out like a sore thumb when emotions fade and memories crystallise.

It’s easy to condemn a job for things like office politics, insane bureaucracy and a toxic culture. It’s even easier to leave.

Sticking around when the going gets tough is hard. Running away is almost always the easier option.

What can you do to change the system around you to help create the place where you long to belong? It won’t be easy, but you could make it worth your while.

Strike a Pose

Whether you’re a first time developer, manager, leader or parent, according to Amy Cuddy in her Ted talk, the key to increased confidence in what you do is to strike a pose. Literally.

While your mind can clearly control your body, according to research, changing your posture can significantly affect what you think. Especially how you perceive yourself.

Years ago, while I was totally daunted by the prospect of my final year French spoken exam, a girl who lived down the corridor shared with me the secret to her consistent high performance in exams.

“Of course I study for every exam,” Miss High Achiever said. “But there’s something else I do right before I go into the exam room. It’s very silly, but it works.”

It turns out my friend would spend a few minutes psyching herself up in front of a mirror, usually in the ladies toilets. She would stand tall, look herself in the eye then say just loud enough for herself to hear, “You’re the best. You’re the best. You’re the best.”

At the time, out of desperation, I tried out my friend’s tip. I did much better than I ever imagined in my final year French spoken exam.

Of course, spending a year out in France as a language assistant helped as did my intense revision.

Standing in front of the mirror just before my exam telling myself “You’re the best” didn’t turn me into a narcissist anymore than it did with my friend. Instead, it reminded us that no matter what happened, we were going to give it our best shot.

And that’s my takeaway from Amy Cuddy’s Ted talk. “Fake it until you become it.” With enough practice, preparation and self-belief you, too, can make it.

This tip got me through one of my scarier moments in 2012 when I gave my first TedX talk last year.

How are you going to fake it until you become it?

Transforming Workplaces into Somewhere We Belong

A lifelong journey begins with a baby step…

Do you feel all washed out and chewed up by your daily slog? Are you snowed under an ever-growing mountain of low value work? Do you dream instead of making a dent in the world through positive contribution to the world from where youʼre sitting? Then itʼs time to try the latest great indoor activity to reach corporations both small and large: Enterprise Gardening.

You’ll find the presentation content here. Click past the YouTube video to see the full presentation, complete with speaker notes on Slideshare.

… with help from some special friends

A BIG “Thank You” goes to:

  • Team TEDxMiltonKeynesJo, Gareth, Hannah and Jane
  • Pioneer Enterprise Gardeners who showed me how a lot of toil and even more heart can help us slowly but surely transform our workplaces into somewhere we belong: with special thanks to Dan Talpau, Chris Lane, Maria Bortes, Dyan Corutiu and Chantal Ellam and teams I’ve worked with over the years


The Curiosity Garden

Blooming Heck

“A rose by any other name…”

Sometime ago, I witnessed a curious story on a gardening programme about an elderly couple, a pair of husband and wife, who loved each other very much. Together, they had brought up a nest full of children, and now have a tumble of grandchildren. Of course, there’s nothing out of the ordinary about all this.

What made their story curious was when we stepped into their garden. The first thing you notice was the fence that ran straight down the middle of the garden. In one half was a meticulously mowed lawn edged with majestic trees, a few of which must have been centuries old. In the other half, was a gravel path that twisted and turned, guiding us through a maze of carefully crafted meadows and a rainbow of flowerbeds.

“Well, this is a remarkable garden!” exclaims the presenter with his floppy hair and woolly jumper. “Or should I say, two remarkable gardens?” he chuckles. Because upon closer inspection, it was exactly that. Two gardens, lain side-by-side, each with its own gate into paradise and its own “Keep Out!” sign.

A Garden of One’s Own

It turns out that the husband loved trees and cared only for Nature’s skyscrapers. “The first thing everyone notices when they step into my garden, is that big oak in the back,” he said. “Their first question is, ‘How old is it?’ And when I tell them it’s 200 years old, they are very impressed. The older and taller the tree, the better.”

Next was the wife’s turn to walk us through the intricacies of her garden. “I prefer flowers to trees because I enjoy noticing every tiny change, from a single bud to a blossoming flower,” she said. “There’s a place for every little thing, including weeds in my meadow.”

After all this, the presenter, with his floppy hair and woolly jumper, then started quizzing the couple about their different approaches to gardening.

The wife smiles and replies, “Life happens all around us and it’s important to notice small changes so that we can nurture them into great medleys. For me, flowers are what defines a beautiful garden.”

The husband shakes his head and points first to his garden then that of his wife’s in contrast. “Flowers are insignificant in the grander scheme of things. What matters are the big structures because they give shape to what would otherwise be an unruly mess.”

Our Secret Gardens

For the longest of time, this encounter has intrigued me. It has made me think hard about the relationship between creations and creators. And, of course, the relationship among creators themselves.

To paraphrase Toyota’s perspective on quality, “the product you produce is a reflection of those who created it”. Likewise, in software development, “the quality of your codebase reflects the teamwork and organisation that produced it”.

All of this gives rise to a few vital questions. Why do so many of us think in terms of black- or-white (aka False Dichotomy) or what I call “Either-Or-Thinking”? Does it really have to be either trees or flowers that make a garden beautiful?

What about “And Thinking”? Could it be that trees and flowers would together result in an even more beautiful garden? Why? Because seeing the big picture (trees) and keeping it in mind is just as necessary as finer-grained details (flowers) for getting things done.

And the most important question of all if we are to achieve greatness beyond ourselves is this: How can we leverage each other’s strengths and weaknesses to help us achieve our goals more effectively and harmoniously?

After all, the pleasure of a garden comes from sharing it with those we truly love.

Starting out with Social Gardening

Gnomes know

Ask for help

One of the things that Agile has taught me is this: “When in doubt, ask for help“. So when it comes to gardening, who better to seek help from than seasoned experts with a passion and an excellent track record for helping people grow? I know as a green gardener I’m going to need as much nurturing as my garden does if we’re to start creating a place of beauty and keep it growing.

Where to go for help

Colleagues, friends and family. We’re surrounded by people who have the credentials and who are willing to help. By simply asking around for help, you’ll uncover an abundance of people ready to share their advice and ideas. The key is to find people who care about their craft and has genuine experience with some knowledge and skills to boot.

In my experience, the kind of experts you want on your project behave like ambassadors, people who are willing to share their stories in a respectful way. They won’t tell you what to do. Instead, they’ll share with you what they did, the good, the bad and the ugly. And their lessons learned. And how they’re no expert. That they’re still learning. They’ll usually quickly let you know how much experience they really have so that you both understand where each of you is coming from.

Working together to get started

Next, you’ll move forward together where you clarify your goals and together come up with real options for next steps. The secret when working with experts and consultants is to consult them. You’re under no obligation to take up their advice, but you’d be wise to listen. And if you find yourself strongly disagreeing with one expert, ask someone else for help and see what they come up with. Then, if after speaking to a handful of these experts, you find they’re not providing any value (and all saying the same thing), you’d do well to dig deep. Do some personal root cause analysis and figure out why you’re always right and everyone else wrong.

Some things money just can’t buy

The best help I’ve had over the years are from people who stay hands-on and care deeply about what they do. They take time to understand the situation and your goals before making suggestions. Most important of all, they’ve learned to see the big picture even if we’re stood in a field of weeds.

How does your garden grow?

Patience is a Virtue

Green Fingers

I’m green to gardening. I took up gardening recently and have been pleasantly surprised by how a spot of rooting around in dirt can refresh the mind and provide a different perspective on things.

My 3Ps of Gardening

“P” is for Patience. How long does it take for a seed to turn into an oak tree? Depending on your perspective, quite a while or not long at all. One thing’s for sure, it takes time. And no matter how much we try to hurry the seed along, Nature will run its course. Assigning ten gardeners won’t make the seed grow faster. In fact, fussing about with the seed could put it in peril. Better then to provide what the seed needs and give it the time and space to grow. That’s what good gardeners do.

“P” is for Practice. There’s lots to learn when it comes to gardening. Depending on your goals, interests and stamina, it’s a lifelong experience. As my father says, “A garden’s for life. And it needs you.” Given this commitment, it’s natural to want to make repetitive tasks, like weeding, as effective and efficient as possible so you have time to “grow” things. This reminds me of Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000 hour rule“, that’s the time it takes to get really good at doing something.

“P” is for Pragmatism. Asking someone to create a garden overnight is like asking someone to swallow the sun. It’s physically impossible. Even if you manage to plant everything, the plants still take time to bed down, breathe and fill their space. It takes time for visitors like the birds and the bees to discover the place. It takes time for a garden to come alive. Gardening is about recognising potential. Through the art of the possible, we move forward, sometimes with great leaps forward and mainly with baby steps. Especially if you grow your own and have only the weekends spare.

Going social with gardening

I’ve spent less than 24 hours toiling in my garden and I can already see it’s going to be a lifelong adventure. Most importantly, it’s helped me look at work from a fresh perspective. It’s given me the idea for what I call “Social Gardening”, the concept of applying the principles and practices of gardening to work. One that is filled with challenge, anticipation, and hope. And, of course, fun. Lots of it. Watch this space!