Lessons in life

When I think about the things that my father taught me, two immediate pieces of wisdom come to mind:

– Never put a cork back in an open bottle

– Life is too short to stuff a mushroom

I’m sure there were others. He probably told me not to go in to hotel management (I listened), not to get married young (I didn’t listen) and not to do drugs or get a tattoo (I’m staying silent on these elements).

That’s the way we roll.

When I think about my approach to organisations, to management and leadership, however, I realise that I’ve maybe taken a little bit more on board over the years. Dad was a leader, a leader of people in some of the hardest circumstances that you can imagine. He ran prisons throughout his career, dealing with the good, the bad and the ugly.

Dad believed in trust. I know, because I heard this time and time again. He believed that people were best when they were trusted and should be trusted until they proved they couldn’t be. Dad believed in fairness, in equity and in transparency. Dad believed in building a workplace that showed respect and in turn earned respect.

My dad was a pretty awesome guy.

When I talk to people about my organisational philosophy, they often tell me that, “it won’t work in larger organisations”, or “it is fine in the creative industry”. I even hear, “that’s fine with professional people, but my staff….”

All of which are, of course, just excuses for inaction and ineptitude. Because dad was doing this years ago and in environments that would make your hair curl. Indeed, when a prison publicly melted down in 1995, they called on my dad.

Dad turns 70 today. We don’t always have a perfect relationship, we don’t always see eye to eye, we argue and say things that we don’t mean. But deep down, I’m starting to realise that so much of what I believe, so much of what I do, so much of who I am is driven by the way in which he ran, led and managed his organisations.

I hope one day to get to the top of my profession, in the way my father did. To be the exemplar, in the way he was. And when I do, I know that so much of everything that I believe is down to the early lessons I learnt as a kid. The beliefs bashed out over the dinner table.

Life IS too short to stuff a mushroom. You should NEVER put a cork back in to an open bottle. And you should lead people with dignity, respect and trust. Those are the lessons that my father taught me.

You can’t ask for more than that as a son.

Four decades of connection

I was born in Cardiff on November 11, 1973. It was the same year that Motorola showcased the first mobile phone, although I was ten by the time the first handset was commercially available. I’m not sure either of these things really concerned me, but for the record it was also the year that Ethernet was developed, in case you’d care to know?

By that time, I’d moved to the Isle of Wight. I moved there in 1979, the year the Commodore PET was released here in the UK. For a (then) astronomic £914 you could get yourself a whole 32KB of RAM. It was also the year that the compact disk was invented, but I don’t really think I cared. I was settling in to a new school and making new friends. Life is tough when you’re six, you know?

I was still there in 1990, when Microsoft released Windows 3.0 to take on the dominance of Macintosh and IBM. In 1991 when the first website was made publicly accessible by the clever chaps at CERN. And 1992 when IBM introduced the ThinkPad. But I was more interested in sex, drugs and rock and roll. I was a six former god dammit and I was ready to shape the world.

In 1993 I was living in France. That was the year that the IBM Simon was launched, arguably the world’s first smart phone it combined a phone with a pager AND a fax. It was also the year that the first Pentium processor was released by Intel. I’m not sure I noticed. I was too busy falling in love and reading poetry. These things take time to do properly.

I got married in 1995. The first Playstation was launched that year. I had other things on my mind. Hutchinson communications were launching this brand called, “Orange” and Sun Microsystems announces this thing called Java. I was more interested in coffee. It is important to get your priorities right.

When I was making friends, we hung out, we played, we talked. When we partied, we arranged things by phone, or letter, so we had to plan things well in advance. When I was falling in love, we braved the cold winter evenings to find a phone box at an allotted time. We hand wrote letters and we accepted silence.

On Saturday night, I got to spend an evening with friends and family to celebrate my birthday. It was a collection of the old and new. People there that had been with me throughout my life, people who I had grown up with, played with, drunk with, fallen in love with, cried with and married. And people who I’ve met more recently, that I’ve felt a connection to, that are close to my heart. We’ve got to know each other through so many different ways.

Whilst I’ve been growing up, technology has been too. And in the same way that it has become more consumer focused, I’d like to think I’m also a more sophisticated, more complicated, but ultimately more user-friendly version of my former self.

Yet still some basic facts remain.

The thing that connects my school friends, to my professional friends, to my social friends, to my family is mutual respect, love, understanding. It is true connection. It isn’t about the means or the reason, it isn’t about the timing or the technology. It is about the people.

I’m incredibly blessed to have such amazing friends, family and colleagues. People who interest, challenge and care for each other. And people who care for me.

So as I start my 41st year, as I write this blog on my MacBook Pro, using WordPress on broadband, before publicising it on Twitter and LinkedIn, I want to say an old-fashioned thank you. Thank you for being you, for those that were there and those that weren’t, for those that I speak to once a day and those that I speak to once a year. Life is nothing without people, life is nothing without connection. Both old and new.