Be realistic

You’ve found your dream job, the one you’ve always wanted – it is just perfect. Are you sure about that, or are you overlooking some important detail? How do you respond when a few potential problems emerge?


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New Year’s Resolutions – think big and eat more chocolate

I wrote this last year but decided to reblog it this year. After all, it still makes a great deal of sense.


With only three weeks remaining of the well-worn 2012, our attention starts to turn towards the sleek and shiny new 2013. Full of possibilities, excitement, opportunities and challenges, it looms large on our horizon. For many it will be the start of something new; for others it will bring something to an end. One thing we can be sure of – uncertainty.

December is traditionally the time for setting New Year’s Resolutions – those promises we make to ourselves and others about what we’re going to do differently in the new year.

Before rushing to add “join the gym; eat less chocolate; drink less wine” to the list of resolutions, I would recommend reading this lovely poem by Nadine Stair (aged 85). More about its background here.

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Are we losing our ability to plan ahead?

I wonder whether being able to download things at the touch of a button is giving us a false sense of time and practicalities. Is the last-minute purchase of insurance policies, bill payments and money transfers, hotel and flight bookings, gift vouchers, music, films, books and so many other day-to-day commodities tricking us into believing that everything is possible?snowman Continue reading

Powerful words

“Father Forgets” is one of those little pieces which, dashed off in a moment of sincere feeling, strikes an echoing chord in so many readers as to become a perenial reprint favorite. Since its first appearance, “Father Forgets” has been reproduced, writes the author, W, Livingston Larned, “in hundreds of magazines and house organs, and in newspapers the country over. It has been reprinted almost as extensively in many foreign languages. I have given personal permission to thousands who wished to read it from school, church, and lecture platforms. It has been ‘on the air’ on countless occasions and programs. Oddly enough, college periodicals have used it, and high-school magazines. Sometimes a little piece seems mysteriously to ‘click.’ This one certainly did.”


by W. Livingston Larned

Listen, son: I am saying this as you lie asleep, one little paw crumpled under your cheek and the blond curls stickily wet on your damp forehead. I have stolen into your room alone. Just a few minutes ago, as I sat reading my paper in the library, a stifling wave of remorse swept over me. Guiltily I came to your bedside. There are the things I was thinking, son: I had been cross to you. I scolded you as you were dressing for school because you gave your face merely a dab with a towel. I took you to task for not cleaning your shoes. I called out angrily when you threw some of your things on the floor. At breakfast I found fault, too. You spilled things. You gulped down your food. You put your elbows on the table. You spread butter too thick on your bread. And as you started off to play and I made for my train, you turned and waved a hand and called, “Goodbye, Daddy!” and I frowned, and said in reply, “Hold your shoulders back!”

Then it began all over again in the late afternoon. As I came up the road I spied you, down on your knees, playing marbles. There were holes in your stockings. I humiliated you before your boyfriends by marching you ahead of me to the house. Stockings were expensive – and if you had to buy them you would be more careful! Imagine that, son, from a father! Do you remember, later, when I was reading in the library, how you came in timidly, with a sort of hurt look in your eyes? When I glanced up over my paper, impatient at the interruption, you hesitated at the door. “What is it you want?” I snapped. You said nothing, but ran across in one tempestuous plunge, and threw your arms around my neck and kissed me, and your small arms tightened with an affection that God had set blooming in your heart and which even neglect could not wither. And then you were gone, pattering up the stairs.

Well, son, it was shortly afterwards that my paper slipped from my hands and a terrible sickening fear came over me. What has habit been doing to me? The habit of finding fault, of reprimanding – this was my reward to you for being a boy. It was not that I did not love you; it was that I expected too much of youth. I was measuring you by the yardstick of my own years. And there was so much that was good and fine and true in your character. The little heart of you was as big as the dawn itself over the wide hills. This was shown by your spontaneous impulse to rush in and kiss me good night.

Nothing else matters tonight, son. I have come to your bed-side in the darkness, and I have knelt there, ashamed! It is a feeble atonement; I know you would not understand these things if I told them to you during your waking hours. But tomorrow I will be a real daddy! I will chum with you, and suffer when you suffer, and laugh when you laugh. I will bite my tongue when impatient words come. I will keep saying as if it were a ritual: “He is nothing but a boy – a little boy!” I am afraid I have visualized you as a man. Yet as I see you now, son, crumpled and weary in your cot, I see that you are still a baby. Yesterday you were in your mother’s arms, your head on her shoulder. I have asked too much, too much.

Hmmm… Britain’s Got “Talent”

By complete coincidence the very day after my last post, on Hidden (collective) talent, I heard the results of the Britain’s Got Talent competition final, which was won by Ashleigh Butler and her dog Pudsey.  Between them, the duo netted prize money of half a million pounds, and it is easy to imagine even that vast sum being eventually be dwarfed by sponsorship deals over the coming year.

It is not completely clear whether the talent lies with Pudsey (for his unusual dancing abilities) or Miss Butler (for her ability to train the dog).  Either way, the contrast with the talent uncovered in James Whinnery could hardly be starker.  Certainly there are commercial realities involved, but even taking this into consideration, it makes me question what value we place on talent – and actually what we really mean by “talent”.

The Hidden Talent show didn’t appear to be a big budget production.  There was no prize money on the table.  There was no big pay day for the experts involved in developing the latent talent in James – they did it because they love to discover and develop talent. James has clearly gained a great deal personally; viewers of the programme will have derived enjoyment from it, and the experts will have too.

By contrast, Britain’s Got Talent was very much a big budget operation.  The prize money was very significant.  The “experts” (or judges) who selected the winners in each round weren’t doing it for altruistic reasons (rumoured figures vary wildly, but the general consensus seems to be that Simon Cowell earns £20 million for the series, with each of the other judges earning around £200,000).  The winner gained through the prize money, the future value of sponsorships etc.; and as with Hidden Talent, viewers of the programme will have derived enjoyment from it too.

As said, commercial realities cannot be ignored, but somehow this just seems plain wrong.  One could argue all day about the relative entertainment value of a dancing dog, compared to that of discovering latent linguistic talent.  But the point here is that the money seems to be going to the wrong people.  When a dancing dog wins a talent competition, it reminds us that we all enjoy being entertained.  But surely, when set alongside something more worthy, the comparison speaks volumes about what we value.

When there is so much valuable potential in the world, it seems somehow wrong that we can’t see big entertainment value in worthy causes, and that we should therefore give such prominence to trivial and shallow pursuits.

Is it my imagination…

… or are things getting more complicated since the advent of the web?

I recall that in my last year at school, I wrote to universities and asked for a list of organisations which might sponsor me on a degree course.  Then I wrote to a couple of those organisations asking for details and followed up with a completed application form.  It was pretty straightforward, and relatively painless.  And when I say “wrote”, I mean by hand, and “posted”, meaning through the mail service.  These days it seems to be strangely more complicated.

I just did an exercise to see how it works these days, and I put myself in the shoes of an imminent school-leaver.  I figured that with the benefit of the web, it should be even more straightforward than it was all those years ago.  Where to start?  University websites generally don’t have lists of potential sponsors, or partnering organisations.  Extensive web searching reveals plenty of such organisations, but they all seem to offer different things – placements, internships, training schemes.  It’s absolutely not obvious (to me), and for a student it must be quite a daunting prospect.

Are there any websites which make this easy (or easier) for students?  Do we expect school-leavers to do all this searching for themselves?  Is this part of a survival scheme, where only the fittest (or in this case, most persistent) reach the end?  Where should the responsibility lie to resolve this?  Should it be with the universities to forge closer ties with organisations, or should it be with the organisations themselves?  Or should schools be taking some of the responsibility to create these relationships?

I was naively hoping that somehow the web would help close the gap between the “for sale” and the “wanted”.  Why isn’t it as simple today as it was 25 years ago, when all it took was a few nicely worded letters and a bit of time waiting for the postman?

It’s not fair. Let’s just accept that, and determine to make it fairer.

Young people looking for work are regularly faced with the problem of needing experience in order to get a job, but they can’t get a job without experience – the “chicken and egg” situation which we all recognise.

Employers regularly talk of graduates and school-leavers who are looking for work but don’t have any real-world experience.  Again, this is something we recognise.  It’s not unnatural for employers to expect some experience, after all, there are inevitably some young people who have managed to acquire experience “somehow”, albeit probably unrelated to their chosen field.

It’s absolutely not fair, and it can’t be right.  The problem is that we’re so used to the idea that “life isn’t fair”, that we justify this situation to ourselves and take no action to improve it.  The result is that we continue the stand-off, and nobody wins.

Here’s a radical thought…  Let’s accept that it’s not fair.  But at the same time, why not do something to make it fairer?

  • Employers who seek experience in young recruits should also be prepared to offer places where experience can be acquired
  • Employers should offer places on a “no experience needed” basis

This is a little like the idea of “for every tree we chop down, we plant at least one to replace it”Because we value experience, we help create it.

Employers should take a share of the responsibility for creating the experience.

  • It needn’t be costly
  • It needn’t be time-consuming
  • It needn’t be a major commitment

It will never be completely fair, but employers can (and should) make it fairer.

Unlocking Britain’s potential

A fascinating report has been published at

Two quotes jump right off the page – “We are failing our youth and creating a lost workforce“, and “Education is failing employers and employees“.

And a few key statistics:

67% of employers think there needs to be a collaborative effort between government, employers, parents, individuals and the education system to ensure that those entering the workforce have the skills required by potential employers.

50% of respondents (46% of employees; 53% of employers) say that university does not equip graduates with the right skills for the workplace.

Employers rate future potential on attitude (91%); work experience (55%); education/ qualification (35%).

This report was an initiative from the Adecco Group, partnered with Deloitte and Cisco.  It is a brilliant read, with a number of key recommendations.  The only real worry is that it’s going to take time, money, lots of effort, joined-up thinking, and some serious collaboration to resolve.  That usually only happens when there is clear leadership.  In the report, there is a call to government to take action – will the resultant action be positive, or will there be an “official response”, acknowledging that something needs to be done but disagreeing with much of it?  Some of the actions proposed:

There needs ot be structured collaboration between employers, education, government and other stakeholders to better define what we need from the education sector, and how we measure it.

Employers need to be more engaged in education, and in particular not restricted to major employers.

Teachers need to be given wider support and training, in understanding the needs of employers and workplace norms.

Work experience in schools needs to be formalised.

It’s absolutely brilliant to find such a major study with such clear findings.  The recommended actions are clear.  Let’s see what happens next.

We’re creating a problem for ourselves

There’s a big problem coming down the line, and by the time it hits us, it will be too late to fix it.  It takes years to educate, motivate, train and deploy people effectively.  And it takes even longer before those people are experienced.  Right now, we’re knowingly wasting much of the talent which is leaving schools at the end of every academic year.

Bright, enthusiastic young people are leaving schools hopeful of an exciting career in their chosen field.  Some are choosing to avoid university altogether, fearful of the huge costs.  Others are going to university, expecting that a degree will give them the advantage they need to get onto the professional ladder.  The harsh reality is that whichever path they take, young people are ill-prepared to embark on their careers.  Hiring companies complain that they don’t have the needed soft skills, and that their qualifications are often inadequate.  It doesn’t take long for those bright, enthusiastic young people to lose their early motivation and excitement and to fall back into a less challenging state of mind.

The only way of maintaining the sense of excitement and motivation in this raw talent is by doing something different with them.  By not treating them the same as everyone else.  By actively nurturing them.  By taking them under our wings and showing them how to fly and do all the other things we need them to do.  They need to be properly cared for, rather than treated as cannon-fodder.  Hiring companies need to be taking the opportunities to do things differently, and to avoid the problem which inaction will inevitably result in.

I was lucky

For me it was all quite straightforward – get a good education, go to university and get a job.  Couldn’t have been simpler.  It was hard work of course, but the process was simple.

So, why was I lucky?  Timing.  In those days, “sandwich courses” were popular – especially for engineering courses.  I spent six months of every year at university, and six months in industry.  I did that for three years, followed by a full year at university.  And whilst looking for a job in my final year, I was able to refer to my 18 months of industrial experience.  Imagine being my hiring manager – “You’ve got a qualification and relevant experience?  Music to my ears”.  And let’s not forget that when I graduated, I had already been on the company payroll for four years.  I was rich!

In the years since then, things have changed a great deal and those university courses are harder to find.  Others are not as lucky as I was.  That early experience was absolutely critical to me; those formative years played a huge part in my development, and continue to affect me even now.