Archive for May, 2011

>The Advocate – Part 2

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Thus the scribe continued for a few days, reading or writing for his customers. He found the words of the scroll echoing as he listened to their stories, which gradually appeared to him in slightly different perspective. What some of them sought to cling to, or wish could be otherwise, he could see as holding them back: from finding any sufficient meaning in their current existence to let them move on; or to let them find a measure of happiness. It was not in his mind, though, for him as a humble scribe to be giving them advice.

A week or so later, as he trudged down to the bazaar laden with his writing materials and silently bemoaning his own fate, he stopped, struck with a sudden realisation. What he had lately been observing about his customers’ situations applied equally to his. Wishing things were otherwise gave his days nothing extra, and sapped his own ability to be happy.

He set up his small stall that morning, and looked around the bazaar. He noticed the vibrancy, the natural rhythm of the commerce which surrounded him, the colours of the stalls, the cries of the stall holders. He felt the gratitude of his patrons, for the aid he was able to render them despite their often sad tales. He became attuned to the natural joys which many of them were sharing, joys which he had not previously focused on. He felt his own spirits lift as he read or wrote of them.

At the end of that day he packed up his stall and returned to his modest lodgings with an unaccustomed lightness.

In the succeeding days the scribe’s life felt as though it were filled with a little peace, which he had not experienced since his humbling change of circumstance. Then as such things happen, his former accuser whose lies had laid him so low, was caught out in another falsehood. The untruth of his accusations against the scribe was revealed; the local prince reversed the previous punishments and added interest by way of compensation.

The scribe could be an advocate once more, with assets sufficient to last him for life.

The once-again-advocate returned to his former home. He sat amidst his comforts and possessions. As he glanced around, his eyes were drawn to the scroll. He remembered the foreigner’s parting advice again: “Find your purpose through its words.” He reflected on his recent happiness in accepting his own life changes and even finding small joys within them.

He knew then that he would no longer be an advocate.

He retrieved and unrolled the scroll from his writing materials. He unrolled it, and observed that its spaces, where his name had appeared on first reading at the bazaar in the presence of the foreigner, were once again blank, and shimmering softly.

The scroll called to him. Its potential to transform and enlighten others became clear. The foreigner’s parting words retuned to him – “Find your purpose through its words”.

He gathered a pack of travelling clothes and his writing materials. He carefully stowed the scroll in his pack. He returned to the bazaar, and put his feet upon the road out of the town.

>The Advocate (part 1)

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A successful advocate, in another place and time, had made a sound career and a good income from representing wealthy merchants, to protect their assets from depreciation or loss. He was prudent enough to put aside a healthy store of funds, so that he would be able to maintain his situation when he was no longer advocating. A childhood spent in relatively modest circumstances had taught him to hang on to what he had earned.

It was difficult as an advocate to avoid some parties suffering loss, if he was to succeed in representing his own parties. One of those losers took some malicious tattle to the local prince: a story with enough seeds of credibility for the prince to be convinced of malfeasance on the advocate’s part. Sentence was delivered after guilt had been decided: revocation of advocacy rights and confiscation of assets. The advocate was reduced to the thing he most feared and had clung to most tenaciously – loss of current and future circumstances.

The no-longer-advocate fell on hard times and struggled just to eat. Former friends and colleagues shunned him, forgetting or ignoring services he had performed or favours he had rendered. “This should not be happening to me,” he said to himself. “I took all precautions I could against such adverse changes.” He railed against whatever fate had foiled those measures to ward off adverse change.

The no-longer-advocate was forced to seek such work as he could. He could at least read and write, rare enough skills in that time and place. He found occupation at the bazaar. For a coin, he would read letters to people who had received them but could not read them, and write letters for those who wished to send them but could not write them.

For a year the now-scribe toiled at his new craft. He heard, as he read or wrote, many tales of gain and loss, pleasure and pain, fame and ill repute, life and death. Along with his patrons he shuddered against the consequences of change.

One day, into the bazaar, came a man in clothes which spoke of distant parts. The foreigner brought with him a scroll, tattered now but obviously once having been richly decorated. The foreigner had a sharp and worldly look about him.

“Scribe, I wish to engage your services,” said the foreigner, and unrolled the scroll. “Do what you can to decipher this for me.”

The scroll was written in an unusual script, in a strange tongue but in the common language as well, as though each passage had been lettered and then translated. In the first passage, in each tongue, was a blank space. As the scribe read, the space shimmered. He saw, as he looked back at the space, that it gradually formed into recognisable letters – his own name now appearing.

“All things are impermanent,” he read in the words now addressed to him. “They rise and they fall away. True happiness is not to be found in shoring up defences against change, which will all crumble, but by finding harmony in its midst.”

The scribe noted the words addressed to him, but could not fathom their meaning. Change had reduced him to this humble occupation – where was harmony to be found in that?

“I see your name has appeared herein,” said the foreigner. “The custody of this scroll now must consequently fall to you. Find your purpose through its words.” The foreigner then turned and disappeared into the crowded bazaar.

The scribe marvelled at the foreigner’s gift and parting words, but saw no sense or application in them for him. He shook his head and stowed the scroll under his writing desk. He returned his attention to the queue of customers who awaited him, to read or document their own tangles with change.

(To be continued.)

>Love, hate and intrigue

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That may sound a bit like the précis of a bodice-ripper, but I was caught in a reflection yesterday about my feeling towards my new Kindle, and a random collection of other things kind of grouped themselves in my head.

Love

  • I love that Kindle:
    • I love the black leather cover I got with it, which makes it look so solid and blokey.
    • I love the built-in dictionary. When an author goes literary on me and describes something as “marmoreal” I can cursor down to it and find out he just means it’s like marble (and is specifically outed by the dictionary as being “literary”).
    • I can still look like a moderately early adopter even though that’s not my usual stance.
    • And when I bought a Kindle-formatted version of the 6 volumes of Anthony Trollope’s Palliser series for US$1, the strength of the Aussie battler meant I only paid 96 cents.
  • I love competent professional advisers:
    • I love the way my accountant Greg doesn’t panic about deadlines with the Tax Office, and just calmly sorts out the issues which would otherwise have me in a bit of a twist.
    • I love the new contact lenses my optometrist Andrew just gave me, so I can read the Herald comfortably again. Plus I can decrease the font size on the Kindle and not look like I am reading a kindergarten book.

Hate

  • I hate the way it’s so hard now to lose those last 1 and a ½ kilos out of the 4 or so I seem to put on when I took up the role of chief taster for Brigitte’s new cupcake-baking endeavours.
    • I hate that once I would have burned it off with a couple of long intensive bike rides; now it just seems like a grind.
  • I hate those fitting rooms in Myer, which have mirrors allowing you to see yourself from every possible angle
    • and in particular I hate seeing where those last 1.5 kilos are hiding.

Intrigue

  • I am intrigued by what people think they can tell you about yourself:
    • Before the cupcake tester phase, people had no reticence about telling me I looked too thin.
    • The dust and dirt from the current renovations through which we are living have given me some kind of sinus reaction. A stream of people has felt quite comfortable telling me I look “puffy” or “unwell”.
    • But no-one ever seems to tell you that you look fat, which surely I did.
  • I am intrigued by the gobsmacked smile on the face of a barista when you say to them: “That was a really good cup of coffee.”
    • I reckon that unless you are going back to your regular place (which you only go to because the coffee is good) the ratio of great cups of coffee to ordinary ones is about 10:1. So when you get a good one somewhere else, surely it’s worth acknowledging.
    • I said one day in a cafe: “Who is the barista today?” One girl said: “I am. Why, what’s wrong?” Seems like the last thing she expected was: “Nothing – I just wanted to say it was a great cup of coffee.”
  • I am intrigued by the availability of a “premium leather” version of your good, old-fashioned, regular Blundstone boots.
    • I have taken it as validation of my right to wear them all this winter as going-up-to-the-village boots, and in fact pretty much wear-wherever-I-like boots.
    • It must be okay because the premium leather version cost $27 more than the standard version – even if they don’t look too much different, I know they are.

And finally, I am intrigued by the fact that stuff like the above wants to order itself in my head as a potential blog post. No doubt, there is more than one person out there who would want to say to me: “Get a life.”

>You said what? Astronomy in organisational design?

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Sometimes, many times, I just can’t predict where things will end up from a hum-drum starting point. You’d think I would know better by now.

There are times when what clients really want to talk about is “structure”. Or think they do. I have always found it a little dull, compared to other elements. I had spent some previous hours discussing “structure” with one of my favourite clients, and I guess it was essentially about that: how to frame your organisation to respond most effectively to the strategic and operational challenges facing it.

Structure must also respond, sometimes, to people. This client still sits in the post-start-up, pre-explosive-growth stage, with 2 inspiring co-founders running different streams. Happy and willing to share the power and the accountability of leadership. Neither wanting or needing the glory of sole control.

In corporate style show-and-tell during the previous session, I had sketched on the whiteboard a wiring diagram with boxes and arrows, depicting the “program” and “operations” sides of the organisation, and “joint CEOs” at the top of each stream. Not an unknown paradigm.

Now we were running a workshop to flesh out that paradigm with the full team. I started again on the whiteboard, with the two joint CEO boxes at the top. Then I said: “We need a box for Eric.”

Eric said “Do I have to be a box?” which was a question I had never been asked before, but a fair enough one, I suppose.

“No,” I said, “what would you like to be?” We eventually settled on putting Eric inside a fluffy cloud.

“When you put me up there, can I be a love-heart?” said Gabby, who is about to get married. So in one stream of the structure diagram we had a cloud, and in the other a love-heart.

At that point I suspended judgement, and said “Okay Anna, what do you want to be?” Anna went up on the board as a 5-pointed star.

Of course I then had to back-track to the joint CEO boxes: Mary-Ruth went up as a crescent moon, and Kim as the sun. There were no longer any lines or arrows in the diagram, just clusters like two constellations. We spent the rest of the session in discussion around what would be happening on the “moon side”, and what would be needed on the “sun side”.

It was liberating and effective. So there’s a new kind of organisational design structure: the astral plane version. It’s wonderful to walk out of a job feeling like I have learned at least as much as I have contributed.

>Running a decent meeting – it’s not rocket science

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Does anyone know how to run a meeting any more?

I have recently been to 2 annual general meetings, both for strata plan bodies corporate. Each has been chaired by a representative from the strata manager. In one of the meetings, for a body corporate which I chair, the strata manager actually asked if he could chair the meeting instead of me, “because there are a lot of technical points.” Okay, go for it.

In each case, people who do this for a living paid scant regard to any proper process. They will, I am sure, just purport to fix it up with a set of minutes which will attempt retrospectively to make everything sit properly.

Really, it’s not that hard. Here are 5 things which you can do (none of which were done in either AGM) when chairing a meeting which has some element of statutory requirement behind it. They will not only contribute to passing valid resolutions; they should also help the orderly flow of the meeting.

  • Be clear with the attendees about who is there, and on what basis, with what authority. This is particularly so with proxy holders and observers. Otherwise anyone may try to vote on the resolutions before the meeting.
  • Pass resolutions properly – and not just via the minutes:
    • After discussion on the motion, if there is anything different to what is set out in the agenda, summarise it for the meeting
    • If not, restate what the resolution is
    • ASK PEOPLE TO VOTE. It’s simple – “those in favour raise your hands; those against, raise your hands.” Then declare the resolution passed, or not passed, as the case may be.
  • Consider if things on the agenda make sense to be done in the order set out. If not, seek the meeting’s agreement to vary the order.
  • Be clear about what you can deal with in “any other business”. If it is an AGM, you probably can’t deal validly with anything if a resolution would be needed. Board meetings and committee meetings are different, and there is scope for a wide range of other business to be considered.
  • Be aware of discussion which doesn’t have anything to do with the agenda item or the resolution being discussed. Look, when people only get together once a year in a forum where discussion between them all is available, they may have plenty to say about a variety of things. It’s a great opportunity for them to connect and communicate. But if it’s off agenda, it is fair to the people who are there to transact the business of the meeting to say:
    “That’s a very good question. Let’s finish dealing with the agenda, then we can close the meeting and have a good discussion about it.”

Is it just me, living up to a nickname I once had of “that pedantic bastard”? Maybe. But if you hang out your shingle as a professional who does this kind of business, you ought to do it properly.

And if you are an accidental chair (i.e. no-one else could be conned into taking the job), then you probably need all the help you can get. If you use these 5 steps, you will have done better than at least 50% of people who run meetings.

(If you want to see a more comprehensive one page guide to running a board meeting, or running an AGM, just email me on zentricity@optusnet.com.au)

>“Doing it my way” – backing yourself for satisfaction and profit

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An unexpected sparkling blue-domed day. Contrarian in view of the forecast and after horizontal rain the day before, it came like a blessing. Especially on a little island off Auckland, which has a micro-climate especially suited to growing certain types of grapes.

We climbed aboard our little wine tour bus, guided by Wayne the local expert. He took us to our first vineyard, and the first lesson for the day: choosing your own path.

The vintner, call him Les, had constructed for himself one of those chequered careers which seem so typical of smaller wine-growers: originally a geologist, then morphing into a medical degree and a successful practice with a lengthy spell in Europe. Remarkable guy.

Then like so many Kiwis, the hobbit returned to the Shire; bought a few acres whose geology he could analyse and appreciate; carefully considered the history of the land including a volcanic eruption on the neighbouring island 900 years ago; planted his vines and waited.

Les only does single varietal vintages, and pretty much single paddock ones at that. He does what he reckons will work, and what he thinks he will enjoy, like:

  • Deciding that just doing a single cabernet franc vintage would be interesting, and “might appeal to some cab franc geeks out there”
  • Planting some montepulciano vines, which no-one on the island had done before, because the geography and climate of that part of the island remind him of the Abruzzi where he reckons montepulciano grows best (his wife is Italian)
  • Assessing that the section where some syrah is planted, split by a 1.8 metre wide creek, grows with different characteristics on each side of the creek, so he bottles each sides harvest separately.

I talked to Les about the commercial model, versus his kind of going your own way attitude, the Field of Dreams theory – build it and they will come. Plenty of money went down the drain doing that in telecoms in the recent past.

He just backs himself, his judgement and his knowledge. Marlborough is suffering a wine glut, but Les’s vintages sell out, and:

  • There turns out to be a community of cab franc geeks who snap up his strict varietal output
  • His east side of the creek harvest has produced a rich and uncopiable “rosé with attitude”
  • His second vintage of montepulciano is not yet bottled but has a long queue of punters waiting for it
  • One of the world’s leading wine writers has said of Les’s cab franc vintages that they would “club any Chinon into submission” – Chinon apparently being the cab franc geeks’ benchmark.

Look, I know Les is doing what he’s doing because he can choose to, after a long, arduous and probably lucrative career. But it’s still a pretty remarkable result built on:

  • Confidence
  • Self-belief
  • Cross-application of knowledge – geology, geography, medieval and Palaeolithic history
  • Intuition
  • The guts to back himself on all of that.

If it can work in a high-stakes, capital-intensive business like wine-growing, I reckon there’s scope for your humble blogger to back himself on a few more judgement calls.

 



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