Japanese Mugs in Watercolour

Japanese Mugs in watercolour
Japanese Mugs  (watercolour 12.5 cm x 12.5 cm)

This pair of Japanese mugs mark the beginning of another painting series. I took this photograph for Tracey Fletcher King’s Cuppa With Friends project.

That action sparked two watercolour ideas:

– Firstly I decided to have a go at painting them myself,

– and secondly it spawned the idea for my new Precious Artifacts collection.

I have emailed a few friends (and may ask them to nominate a few other) asking them to send me a photograph of one item that is precious to them (not a person or a place – an item) along with a very short description of why they love the item. I really want to know the story behind the image. I will then paint that item (almost certainly in watercolour) and it will go into the collection. The style of painting may vary as will the size. All of these factors will be guided by the photograph and the item itself.

So if you’d like to join in, please feel free to email me a photograph of your item and it’s story. I’ve got a few to do already.

Now I need to give you the story of the mugs in the watercolour.

These mugs were bought for me on a trip to Japan. I saw them and fell in love with just about everything about them. They have no handle – just a dent for the thumb which you can see on the right hand side of the blue mug. Each one is a slightly different shape and they feel fantastic to hold.  There are iridescent coloured squares placed under the clear glaze so that they wrap around the mug, and there’s a wonderful black granulation effect from oxidisation during the firing process.

I am absolutely mad about the aesthetics of these mugs. The Asian melding of utility and style works perfectly. And they remind me of one of the best journeys I’ve ever taken. Everything about that trip was just right.

The next Perfect Artifacts watercolour will be done very soon. I’ve got two items in the pipeline.



Twenty years ago, your sphere of influence was probably limited to the people you knew personally, and perhaps some who knew them. Most people didn’t create waves much further than that in their circle of family, friends and business Now:

  • Its much easier to talk to people all over the world, but
    • its also much harder to be heard above the noise
  • Messages on Twitter, Facebook and other ‘broadcast’ sites are quickly overlaid with new ideas, but
    • profiles and facts about you are on the internet forever
  • Its easy to hit the ‘send’ button and spread your ideas and your messages, but
    • each idea has so much more capacity to help or harm your reputation.

Seth Godin’s post about person brand tells three powerful stories illustrating why we should care about everything that’s ever written about us online. Your reputation is your most valuable asset – protecting it should be a priority.

So here’s a challenge for you – have you ever typed your name into Google and done a search on yourself?  What does your online personal brand look like? What does the world read about you? Hopefully there are no disruptions or dents in your image.  But if there are, what are you going to do about it?

Leaders are people too.

I went to a fascinating talk yesterday. Jo Salter was talking about her experiences and the first female fast jet pilot at an Ideas Centre event. Jo is a fabulous speaker and she had all of us spellbound with her stories.

After the event we had a conversation about organisations where leaders just issue an edict for change without backing that up with solid structure and communication to support the process.

Often, the barriers to change in an organisation are purely emotional. People are unthinkingly afraid of what will happen to them: “How will the change affect me?”, “Will my job be safe?, “Will I lose influence and/or status with the change?”, or even as simple as,”Will I have to cope with all the uncertainty that comes with a new role?”

Even in organisations with a relatively open culture, its the emotional elements that are the barriers to people being open. As a leader, you cannot underestimate the impact that has on behaviour and the pace of change.  So why is it that so often, leaders ‘forget’ to ensure there is appropriate support to get people through the change smoothly?

If we accept that the leaders of organisations are generally pretty capable and competent (because they need to be to get to be the leaders), then we have to ask what stops them from doing what is so obviously the sensible thing. No company would consider starting a marketing campaign without a comprehensive plan.  Can you imagine a finance or procurement department implementing a major capital equipment purchase without checking every angle and making sure that all aspects are right?
Why, oh why, do we think its not necessary to do the same when the change involves people?

Actually, I’m suggesting that perhaps its not that leaders forget, or think its not necessary. Perhaps its something altogether different that causes this problem.

It would appear that fear and uncertainty at the top level may have a major part to play as well. You could argue that if the leaders simply issue an edict without providing full support for it, then if it fails, they can push the blame somewhere else (“*they* weren’t ready to take the change on board”, or “the people who implemented the change weren’t good enough”, or any one of million other excuses) . But if they put resource behind it, plan it and stand accountable for it –  and it fails nevertheless, its much harder to distance themselves from the failure.
Perhaps this all comes down to their level of fear.

I don’t know how often this is the case, but it did strike me that perhaps we don’t like the leaders of an organisation to have emotional reactions. We want them to be right all the time and not subject to the (sometimes irrational) emotional reactions we all have to change. Perhaps another point is that organisations should recognise that their leaders are people too and they need solid support structures if we’re going to expect them to plan and implement major change in the best possible way.

And in these challenging times, that may be all the more necessary.

Photo credit: Dunechaser

The Art of Presentation

The art of persuasion with voice, gesture and slides – not necessarily all at the same time – is an awesome ability. Today I’ve read blog posts which feature all three of these facets of great presentations. And they are truly impressive.

Guy Kawasaki gives us links to the top three slide presentations in ‘Winners of the World’s Best Presentation Contest. And Garr Reynolds gives us an example of how a good speech can be like a symphony.

All three of the slide presentations are outstanding and evoke strong emotions.

  • – ‘Thirst’ made me want to start saving water. The message is frighteningly convincing – and so it should be.
  • – ‘Footnotes’ makes me want to explore the world.
  • – And ‘Zimbabwe’ is sad, and shameful evidence of what can happen when we all sit by and let one man gain too much power. We’ve done it before, and tragically, we will likely do it again. I hope this presentation helps stop that happening.

There’s a fabulous diagram (and it is literally on the back of a napkin) in Garr’s post, that clearly illustrates the pattern of intensity in a good story.

Looking at these posts on two expert blogs demonstrates brilliantly that good presentations come from having a great toolkit. Strong visuals, a great story, and compelling oration – they all have a part to play, and they don’t have to be used all at once. Choosing the right tool for the job is the first step towards great presentations.

Energy or engagement – which takes the lead?


Have you noticed that people who are really engaged with what they do, also seem to have a special kind of energy. So here’s the question – what comes first: the energy or the engagement?

Can we be energised by being more engaged with what we do? Or should we find ways to boost our energy levels in order to become more engaged with our careers?

What do you think?

Dragon’s Den may be bad for office morale

Last weekend an episode of Dragon’s Den was on TV when I was sitting in the lounge. I don’t usually watch it but my interest was piqued and I got drawn in. My opinion of it hasn’t changed, and I won’t be adding it to my almost very short regular viewing list.

But I did start thinking about the reasons I dislike it. They both show a distorted view of their subject – for the plain and simple reason than reality would not make good television. And the raw fact is that their agenda is to make good television – and nothing else

Sadly, I think Dragon’s Den may actually do more harm than good. In the interests of viewer numbers, what gets shown predominantly are ideas that are not going to get funded. That gives the Dragons ample opportunity to show their ‘hard-headed business brainpower’ and cut the applicant’s business concept to shreds with unflinching and unforgiving conviction, and no softening of the blow at all in many cases. In pure business terms their judgements may well be absolutely correct. But there are a number of reasons this is just plain wrong:

Firstly, the programme treats its contestants like commodities. They are there to provide a canvas for the Dragons’ sweeping and dramatic illustrations of business acumen – and nothing more.

This takes no account of the hours, days, months and sometimes years that have gone into their business to that point. It gives no credit to the blood and sweat (I would guess, in a few cases quite literally) that has been expended over this business. It does not recognise the courage and determination of each and every one of the applicants. In most cases the personal and financial risks they have taken already are much bigger than the relatively small risks the investments they are asking for represent to the Dragons. And what about the risk they take just being prepared to go on the show.

A potentially bigger problem is the way in which people are treated. Harsh, judgemental words uttered on television give tacit permission for others to speak to colleagues and juniors in their workplace in the same dismissive, disrespectful way. Particularly when the statements are made by someone who is bound to be a role model to aspiring millionaires all over the country. Are we allowing a mindset to develop where if someone successful heaps verbal abuse on others it’s ok, just because their success makes them feel entitled to do so?

So next time someone at work speaks to us or others in a disprespectful way, do we just chalk it up to their lack of people skills and move on? Or should we start considering whether we are partly responsible?

By watching these shows like Dragon’s Den and The Apprentice on TV, we provide the payoff for the television companies in the form of viewer numbers.  More of these reality TV shows get made, and we are giving the less sophisticated managers in our midst tacit permission to behave as they please when speaking to colleagues.  The cycle will continue until something breaks the chain of events.

Possible solution: Switch off the television or change channels? [Radical idea, I know]

Honing the blade – 5 good things about an economic slow down.

We know its inevitable from time to time, but we all dread a credit crunch, a slow down, a recession – or whatever name you personally put to the current economic climate faced by businesses. Fear of recession is such strongly embedded ‘pack-thinking’ that the mere sniff of a slowing down makes us lose all rational decision-making ability. Or so it seems.

But what if a credit crunch could be seen as a good thing? What if it was navigated calmly and rationally, with a view to the potential beneficial outcomes? After all,

  • It sorts the men from the boys. Perseverance and ‘smarts’ are key
  • It clears out the market. Businesses that lack focus don’t survive
  • It makes us think about spending more carefully
  • It makes us think about customers more carefully. If not, then we may be in the group of market clear-outs
  • It creates better (lean) working practices, and once those become a habit, they stick.

And if we have a clear plan for operating in tough times, we’re likely to be incredibly sharp when we slide out of the other side and times are good again.

“That’s just the way it is”

I’ve been an O2 iPhone non-business customer for 6 months now. When I decided to convert to a business tariff at the same time as upgrading to the 3G handset, I found myself in the twilight zone of the mobile phone world. (For those outside the UK – so far o2 has had the sole rights to the iPhone in the UK. Naturally, this severely limits the options for customers, and for the moment, puts O2 in a sweet spot which that can use to build immense customer loyalty for the future – or not!)

On Friday in the O2 shop I was told I could convert to the same tariff as I have now but as a business customer. The only real difference seemed that it would deliver a slightly different mix of minutes and texts. It would just take 3 days to do the credit checks on the company. This in itself is a little surreal given the fact that in the digital world credit checks are usually an on-the-spot service.

A little later on Friday rather than starting the credit check process, a customer service operator informed me that converting to the chosen business tariff was impossible – because that tariff, although advertised as an iPhone tariff in store, was not available for iPhones. (Confused!)

On Monday, a customer service operator contradicted this directly, telling me that the business tariff is available for the iPhone. (Now who is confused?)

Then the really weird fairy tale stuff gets started. A business tariff comes with a compulsory monthly £10 ‘bolt-on’ for the iPhone. The conversation went something like this:

Me: “What is the £10 bolt-on for?”

Customer Service: “You get WiFi”

Me: “But I already have WiFi on my current tariff. Why should I pay an extra £10 just because the tariff is called ‘business’?”

Customer Service: “That’s just the way it is!”

Me: “Can I speak to someone who can explain what the £10 extra charge is really for, please? It can’t be for the WiFi because that’s standard with the iPhone.”

Customer Service: “Nobody is available to talk about that.”

Me: “In that case, could you please give me the name and email address of the head of your customer service department. I will email the question through.”

Customer Service: “Please hold.”

Now, from being unavailable to talk about the issue, a customer service manager was suddenly free to talk. I repeat my question.

Customer Service Manager: “The bolt-on charge is for using the iPhone on a business tariff.”

Me: “Why would you need to charge me £10 extra for using the iPhone on a business tariff when you don’t on my current non-business account at the same tariff?”

Customer Service Manager: “Because you can choose from a wider range of tariffs when you sign up as a business customer.”

Me: “I’m struggling to understand the logic here. On a 24 month contract you are going to charge me an additional £240 in total, so that you can sell me a wider range of packages when I sign up. That seems like an advantage to you, but not to me. I’m not sure why I should be paying any extra for that.”

Customer Service Manager: “That’s just the way it is!”

Me: “OK, please could you just tell me what additional value I get for the extra £10 monthly charge I will be expected to pay if I move to a business tariff?”

Customer Service Manager: “Nothing.”

Me: “ So why are you charging a bolt-on fee for something which has no value for customers?”

At this point he told me I was “attacking” the customer service department. (Strange. I thought I was just asking for a clear explanation of the difference in their charges)

His final statement made it all utterly clear.
He said, ” We don’t have to justify the £10 charge to you.”

Sorry. No. I’m afraid you do if you want me to pay it. That’s just the way it is!

Clearly this is O2’s magic no-added-value special just-for-businesses-because-they’ll-fall-for-it tariff.  Its not the amount of money that I find offensive. I have no objection to paying for the value I am receiving from a service. I’m just not all that keen on having my intelligence insulted.

The Craving for Clarity

I noticed a new pattern of conversations last week. In all the meetings I had with associates and others in business, whenever the subject of credit crunch, recession or the euphemistic ‘cut backs’ (which for some reason makes me think of hedge trimming – sort of neat and green) came up, one theme came through loud and clear:

The desire for clarity.

People are concerned about the downturn in the economy. But when you listen to them, its clear that they are more concerned about the uncertainty it brings. If we all had crystal clear knowledge of the extent and timescale of the downward trend, it would all be easy. We’d know exactly what action to take to sail through tough times. Trouble is, when there is less clarity, we have more options and therefore more choices we could make – but we have no clear indications of which we should take.

We’re told that we should cut back on spending, sit tight and ride out the storm. Then we read that companies that do so seldom thrive, but those that have taken risks and used recessionary times to expand have come out of the other end ahead of the pack. “Focus!”, we’re told – its critical. But wait! We also need to diversify to make sure our sales don’t suffer.

Last week I heard all of these opinions at some point or another and it just confirmed that its panic that causes the problem. Everyone has a view but no-one really knows how to respond to the changes in the economic state of the country. We’re all just guessing to a large extent and therein lies the real problem.

Clarity is what we crave in order to reduce our choices and and increase our chances. Its easier to manage when we simplify the activities being completed but that’s not an easy thing to do. We feel compelled to work faster, harder and smarter. In fact, perhaps all we have to do is pause for long enough to make some clear decision.

Clarity of thought is what helps us to make better decisions on the actions we take.

The trick is not to seek clarity in the media, or from associates or colleagues. We have to learn to trust our intuition to some extent. Get to the essence of the problem, work out which actions will potentially give us the best outcomes, and then roll up our sleeves. That way we’ll spend less time worrying about what’s going to happen in the next couple of years, and more time focused on what actions we can take to be effective.

Do you have a one-buttock business?

Benjamin Zander , conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra talks about passion and music in this remarkable TED presentation.  But if you listen to the message in the spaces, he’s also talking about leading people and finding ways to provide a vision and excitement in what you do.

His realisation that the quality of his work depends on his ability to awaken possibility in other people, is a phenomenally powerful insight.  There are many facets to that art – allowing people to see themselves differently; showing them that they too are capable of running a marathon, or taking on that project, or going on that fantastic trip. Sometimes just giving them permission to give it a try is enough. Sometimes its just a case of stepping out of the way. And sometimes its getting behind them and giving them a shove that does the trick.

Working out just which actions to take to awaken those possibilities can be a daunting task for many leaders. But looking at how we act and the messages we’re giving, is probably a pretty good first step.

Our stance and language combine to speak volumes – perhaps more than we sometimes intentionally say.

So what does this have to do with the one-buttock business?  Awakening possibilities is an emotional act – you can’t do it without being passionate about the people. I think where you place the emphasis in your business is the key. Benjamin Zander’s presentation has a lot more than music at its heart – but you’ll have to watch it to find out.