Monthly Archives: August 2013

The consultant you want to hire

One day, a client told his consultant: “I have a problem. Can you help?”

The consultant replied: “If you want to discuss new solutions, please call me Resource Manager, Pierre.”


The next day, the client repeated his question to a competing consultant, working on the same project.

This consultant replied: “Is it about Java?” and when the client said “No”, the conversation slowly died.


On day 3, the frustrated client spoke with another consultant, again from a competing firm: “I have a problem. Can you help?”

Exercising beautiful active empathy skills, the consultant found out exactly what the client needed.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t a problem he could solve.


On day 4, the client met the consultant he had been waiting for. Having successfully understood the problem, but out of his own area of expertise, this consultant took the issue away and into his wider network. His colleagues were able to take the ball and run with it. A few weeks later, he went back to his client to see how things had progressed. Client happy.



Are you the consultant we have been waiting for?

Gardening for happiness

A young woman was dissatisfied with her garden. She didn’t find it pretty.

One day, she stumbled upon the local garden centre and went inside.

Hearing her unhappiness, the garden centre employee proposed: “Why don’t you add some flowers?”

So the young lady bought roses and begonias, daffodils to plant and many other varieties of colourful flowers. She went home and planted them and waited a while, but even when all the flowers were in bloom, she still wasn’t satisfied. She still didn’t find it pretty.


Some time later, she went back to the garden-centre. A new employee suggested flowers and the young lady explained what she had already planted. In reply, the new employee said: “Perhaps you could put a bench and some other furniture and ornaments?”

So the young lady bought a bench, an ornamental watering can, some solar-lighting and many other things to fill up her garden. She went home and put everything in place, sat back and looked at her new garden. But she still wasn’t satisfied. She still didn’t find it pretty.


In despair, she drove back to the garden centre the next day, only to find it shut. As she walked back to her car, she stumbled upon a little old lady and explained her situation. She told how she didn’t find her garden pretty, how dissatisfied she was and all she had done with the flowers and the ornamental furtniture.

The lady replied: “Why don’t you try a little weeding ?”



Experimenting with Dice Life

I am always “Dan Steer”.
My preferences, habits and “personality” are recognisably quite stable: “Dan Steer”.
As I go through life, those things can change. Sometimes slowly and occasionally, or sometimes might I prefer something radically different. I might break an old habit or seem to be happy or sad. But the thin red line remains “Dan Steer”.
Can this be changed?


Having recently re-read Luke Rhinehart’s book “The Dice Man”, I decided to experiment with other forms of Dan Steer (note, no inverted commas here). In the story, the author is fed up with life and bored of always doing the same things with the same people in the same way. So one evening, he thinks of 6 things he might do and decides to toss the die to see what will be his fate. 2 of the options are normal habitual activities, the other 4 are not (no spoilers here… read the book!). When he casts the die, he is instructed to do something new. As the book progresses, the author realises that in fact, he no longer has one stable “him”: He has become a radically new person made up of all kinds of new preferences, habits and “personality”.


The book evokes the idea that people are always capable of numerous actions, preferences, habits and “personality”. But at any one time, we can only choose one approach. We tend to choose the most comfortable for ourselves going towards what we already prefer and avoiding what we don’t. We repeat whatever actions seemed to work before and, mostly, get the same results.


But what about all those other things we could have done? What about the things we didn’t do? Or didn’t think of? By using the random element of rolling a die, Rhinehart does 3 things which are highly important for self-development and happiness:

  • He thinks a little bit “out-of-the-box”
  • He gives himself permission to do other things which come to mind, but might have been too quickly judged or dismissed as “not best”
  • He does not get stuck on deciding what is “best” or “not best” because any judgement he would make would be made by the normal “him” (preferences, habits and “personality”)


So, I’ve been experimenting with this. Instead of living on autopilot with all my normal behaviour, I have started to introduce a little random dice-life from time-to-time. Now, I am not going to list all the occasions I have already played with, but here’s a few things I decided with the die, rather than just doing my normal thing. Recognise that this is a list of inhabitual things, chosen in a new way:

  • I had a bath with bath-salts, instead of reading email
  • I decided that a quote I was working on would be done gently over 2 days, instead of in 1 twelve hour day
  • I read a bedtime book to the girls (normal). The book was chosen by one daughter (she rolled a 5), we read the book on the bed of my other daughter (who rolled 4), with their mum (3) and no-one was allowed to cry afterwards (the die landed on an even number).
  • I worked in the kitchen, rather than my office.
  • My smallest daughter is no longer afraid of spiders. She rolled an even number and just accepted the result!


None of these things are to me particularly remarkable in themselves (except the last… I’ll come to that). But they are all new options. They are all different iterations of Dan Steer, chosen in place of the standard activity of “Dan Steer”. Here’s what would have happened if “Dan Steer” had decided:

  • I would have read email at 20h30
  • I would have attacked a big important project in the usual “Dan Steer” fashion of “go, go, go” and tried to do it all in one day
  • Either I or my wife would have read one of the same books in the same place, while the other one tidied up dinner and the bathroom
  • I would have worked in my office as usual and I wouldn’t have seen anyone between 9am and 8pm.


What impressed me most was my 4-yr old. She used to say that “she” was afraid of spiders. In my mind, this seems as if the first 4 years of her life had decided already decided how the next 80 to 100 would be. In fact, not even the first 4 years of her life, but the last 30-odd years of her mother’s spider-fearing life, handed down through various screams and “go-and-get-your-father” reactions. When I asked her what she wanted to roll the die for, she replied: “To see if I’m afraid of spiders”. I asked her which numbers would be which outcomes and she gave 2 in 3 chances to “not being afraid” and only a 1 in 3 chance to “being afraid”. Then she rolled. The die said “not afraid” so she is not afraid anymore.


What seems so important to be about all this – the reason I am writing it – is the following:

  • In the case of my 4-year old, the options she gave herself and the possibility given to each had an immediate impact on the outcome she got – be careful how you set and weigh the options for things in your own life
  • I am reminded that each habit or belief has grown out of previous experience, or maybe the experience of others – if you want to kill your sacred cows, start by naming assumptions you have and thinking about where (or who) they come from
  • If you do the same things, you will get the same results – if you are not happy with the results you are getting, change some of the inputs, even randomly
  • If you don’t try it, you can’t (dis)like it – who knows what other sides of you you MIT find when you give yourself permission to drop the usual “you


So, go forth and experiment.

Or, as Rhinehart would say: “Die will be done”




What is a surfer? (A cultural inquiry)

“What is a surfer?”

This is the question that got me thinking these last two weeks at La Pointe de la Torche.

It’s clear that I am not.

Not because of inability, but because to be a surfer means more than being able to surf. It is no more the case that everyone able to surf is a surfer, than that everyone able to write is a writer.

Not because I’m English, because surfers come from everywhere. You don’t have to be Hawaiian or Australian.

And not because I don’t have dreadlocks. You can be a surfer whatever your haircut.


surfer culture onion


So what is a surfer?


My first definition would be “One who organises his life around surfing activities”. Here at La Pointe, there is a small surf shop and school that opens at 10am and closes at 6pm. Just before and straight after, the young sole employee is found 800 metres down the road getting his twice daily minimum dose of surf. Occasionally in the middle of a really good day, he slips off for an hour or so whilst his manager holds the fort. It doesn’t matter how many tourists are in shopping. The surf dictates. The waves must be followed.


In some extreme cases, the surfer follows waves around the globe around the year. Not Kelly Slater, nor Point Break’s Bodhi, but normal real surfers who simply want to ride every day. They seek out swell and different breaks like a train-spotter might seek out platforms and engines. A small percentage of people who do this are funded by sponsorship, a successful start-up sold to “the man” or some inheritance or lottery winnings. But the bonafide surfer type who is the subject of this exposé is more likely to meet his limited economic needs with seasonal or informal work or by trading some service in return for meals and board.


The surfer is not concerned with health insurance and pensions or other future-safe solutions. Not through ignorance or naïveté, for he knows very well that tomorrow may not look as good as today. But living with the swell is a momentary thing and each moment follows another in a simple way, without fear and anxiety. Those “other guys” can deal with that. The surfer has better things to do than spend his lifetime worrying about later, trying to please “the man” and living as long as he can at all cost.


The extreme version of this “here and now” surfer archetype is the big-wave surfer. His church is where the open ocean meets land with force and speed and wondering about tomorrow is the last thing he can permit himself when taking-off on a 64-foot wave. He has chosen his wave. Mother Nature will take care of the rest.


Believing in Mother Nature, the oneness of the universe or the simple kindness of “kin” is another fundamental piece of the surf culture. To live in the “here and now” requires a great deal of trust in one’s own ability as a human, as well as the actions of others. You can see this on the faces of the real surfers. Stoke. This is not just the giddy wide-eyed “stoned” look that follows an awesome ride. It is a deep look of calm and peace and integration with one’s surroundings.


At La Pointe de la Torche there are a lot of people faking it. Not people like me. I am just a regular guy who comes to surf. No longer trying to prove anything. I am not a surfer and I know it. But some of the others are pretending. You can tell they are pretending when the laid-back beach behaviour is aggressive in the water. This is “my” wave and “you” are “just” a “tourist”. The real surfers are not claiming anything or fighting anyone. Everyone and everything “is” and that’s all. It always has been and always will be. There is nothing and no-one to fight against. We are all one and there is enough stoke for everyone. The real surfer is more likely to offer a small advice or grin from ear-to-ear when the tourist does something groovy.


So what would a surfer be without a wave?

If we were to start stripping away the layers of Trompenaars’ “culture onion” in search of a surfer, we would be tempted to point at words like “awesome” and “cool” and the poster-image of floppy clothes and tribal tattoos. Looking for norms and values, we might label the surfer as “carefree” or “anti-establishment”.

But in fact, “surfer” is nothing to do with these stereotypical labels and ideas. The core of the surfer onion is simply “one who organises his life around surfing activities”. Everything else is just bling.


..and so I can extrapolate to other cultures and domains: A musician is not just someone who can play music, not even someone who plays music for a living, but simply someone “who organises his life around music-making activities”. A writer organises his life around writing activities.


In conclusion, I suspect therefore that what makes a surfer a surfer, a musician a musician and and writer a writer is neither the surf, the music nor the writing. It is focus. It is the single-minded pursuit of one core thing that directs everything else. It is living in its own here and now, akin to others of its own type, sharing its own beautiful universe with anyone riding the same wave.