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A plan big enough to include now!

Feb 8 2009 High Street South & Steeple snow pi...
Image by joolney via Flickr

Will your degree really take you where you want to be?

I’ve just read story in the TimesOnline about a mature student who returned to university and read psychology, very successfully, only to find that there are insufficient places for students to complete their professional qualifications.

I am sorry to hear this story. There is a breach-of-confidence here that shames us all.   When students go to university, they accept in good faith our implied promises of progression within their degree and access to their chosen profession.

Very sadly, these promises are often made lightly.  And quite often universities deliberately conceal the facts, if not by commission, then by omission.  They quite consciously don’t collect information on student destinations, and they just as consciously don’t make these facts available.  It is certainly time for regulators to insist that these facts are published on University websites and kept up-to-date!

Not only do I think publishing student pass rates and destinations should be mandatory.  I think universities should loan fees to students and recover the loans themselves!

Caveat emptor

Until the day that regulations are tightened up, then I afraid it is a matter of caveat emptor, buyer beware.  Students need to be wary of making large investments in services that have no warranty!  Should they discover that the university’s promises are inflated, they will be able to recover neither their money nor, more importantly, their time.

Craft a life plan that is far bigger than uni and the professions

So what can students do to avoid this trap?

The advice from contemporary positive psychologists is this.  Don’t plan your university studies around a specific job and employment route! Neither is guaranteed.  Indeed, we have seen from the banking crisis that nothing in this world is guaranteed.

Rather, see your university education as a supplement to your life plan.  Let me give you this example.

Young Nick Cochiarella from my village of Olney has already launched his first social network, SpeakLife while he is at college.  He’s a hardworking guy and he also has a job at the local Coop.  He is taking a slightly circuituous route doing technical training before he goes to university.  But he is not waiting for anyone.  It is true that his hard work still guarantees him nothing.  But he is not deferring his dreams, and his university training supports, rather than defines, his life’s purpose.

But I need a job now!

It can be tough to start living our dreams.  We often get into an enormous tangle.

The biggest distractor is the desperate belief that we will somehow be safe when we follow a road carved out by others.  But it is not safe, as we have seen.

And even if it were safe, why do we think that other people’s dreams will be enough for us?

Wouldn’t it be better to have our own dreams and to work with others to find where we can temporarily work together to make the path easier and broader for both of us?

A plan big enough to include now

Ned Lawrence has been challenging me to refocus this site on the needs of the ordinary person – the person who lives these dilemmas.

What do you think?

Is it possible to make a plan that is big enough to include now?

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Young Olney to Australia! And back?

Ben Thompson at MuchAdo
Ben Thompson at MuchAdo

Brits leaving for downunder

Ben is leaving us today for a year long working holiday in Australia.  Sad for us.  Happy for him!

I’m sure many young people in UK are checking out jobs in Australia.   This is an inevitable upshot of the recession.  Actually, I think it would be a good thing to upgrade the agreement with Australia that allows young people from Britain to work temporarily there and young Aussies to work temporarily here.

Swap young people during the recession

I think we should go further and set quotas to swap young people.  We should even provide an year return ticket!

Build a resilient young generation

Experience abroad broadens the mind, expands our skills, deepens our resilience, and rekindles hope.  We will be stronger country for it.  Our future at the end of recession may depend upon a better reservoir not just of skill but of character (selfish, aren’t I?).

MuchaAdo Cafe

I’ll miss Ben.  He’s been with MuchAdo Cafe in Olney since it opened a year ago.  I understand he began his career as a schoolyard at the Courtyard Brasserie tucked away in Rose Court off Market Place.  He went off to Australia, came back, and is now associated with a very successful start-up with the most delectable food and friendly adaptable stylish service.   MuchAdo have a daily blackboard menu with food from the delicatessen next door and they happily adjust the dishes to your taste.  They’ll also send you home with delicacies too and the recipes to prepare something special.

Bon Voyage, Ben! Enjoy the sun and sand.  And be back soon!  We’ll be waiting for you.

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3 rules for beating the recession!

Are we making the recession worse?

On Friday, official statistics confirmed what many have us have known for a while.  The UK is in recession.

What the government statisticians cannot tell us, is how long the recession will last, or how deep and painful it will be.

The extent and depth of our economic pain depends on us: on what we do, and on what we are able to persuade other people to do.

Many people in Britain believe that we are making the recession worse by reacting to all the news in the press. To stay on the safe side, we cut back our expenditure. We don’t spend our pounds, and the people we used to trade with are now short. They have to cut back, and by-and-by, the recession happens, and comes rounds to reduce our business in real terms. Now we genuinely don’t have the pounds to spend, and the spiral continues depressingly downwards.

But what else can we do?

It’s a matter of psychology. If we think of the economy as a soccer game (football to British readers), we are in defence. We have moved back into our own half, and we are defending our goal. Our defenders become very important, and our strikers are the supporting cast.

Rule One, in bad times, is defend the goal and to make very controlled passes. In business terms, we defend the bottom line, we make sure every process is profitable, and we are careful not to provide shoddy service. The opposition will capitalise in a flash on any inability to satisfy our customers.

Now if we continue thinking of the economy as a soccer game, we are in a bizarre position, where both sides have retreated into their half to defend their goal. Picture that for a moment – an empty centre field.

If we continue like this, we’ll have no game at all. That is we will slide into a depression, where the economy, or game, evaporates in front of our eyes.

We need to play against the other side to have a game!  We do to do business to have an economy.

Rule Two, is keep the game going. Keep the forwards looking forward. Dominate the mid-field, and take the game to the opposition. The difference between this, and the game in good times, is simply that our defenders are defending, assiduously. They are not going to move far up field. They are going to do a good job, and be seen and heard to do a good job, so that the forwards can move forward in confidence and do their job!

In a large business, these are the questions we ask.

  • Who is on defence? And are they confident they can defend our goal? When will they need the forwards to come back and help them? How will they know in good time, when to call us back, and what will be the signal?
  • What is our attack game with fewer people at the front? Where are the weaknesses in the other defence? After all they are concentrating their defence too!  What targets will we go after, clinically and surgically? What are our plans to move rapidly into defence when we are called back?
  • And how will we bring both these plans together to dominate the midfield?

In my youth, I was a basketball player. My high school were long term champions. When I went off to university, my university was the opposite. We did well not to be relegated! Playing in such different teams taught me a key element of strategy.

In my high school days, when we were under pressure, as the better team, we slowed the game down. With better ball skills and better training, it paid us to slow the game down, be more measured, and use set pieces. Our total score was lower, but the other side had to work harder to get possession, and were unable to rack up a better score.

At university, playing in a scrappy team in the city league, we took the opposite approach. When we played the very good sides, we took advantage of our youth and played a very, very fast game. When we got hold of the ball, we moved like lightning to score before the other, better side, could get the ball back. And when they had the ball, we hustled and hassled until they made a mistake. If they did not understand this basic rule in strategy, which they often didn’t, they gave us sufficient opportunities to win, or make a very respectable showing.

Rule Three: Though basketball and soccer are very different games, this is the basic rule. Play the game depending on your relative strength.

The big guys will try to slow the game down. They are the guys on defence! The weaker side needs to be quick and agile, but of course, not so dumb as to leave their goal undefended when they have the ball. The strong side may be playing slowly on purpose, but it will move quickly to capitalise on our errors!

The game will be ow scoring, but it will be a satisfying game. We must just remember to get into the midfield and play!

So how do we apply these rules if we are employees?

Do remember that we are not the big strong team!  A lot of advice on the internet is the advice that the big corporations need to follow. We don’t need to slow the game down.  They do. And they will try to convince you to slow down, because it gives them an advantage.

Don’t! You are the young and vigorous team! Play a fast game but also be focused. Name your defence, and keep you goal defended. Get out and hustle, and take your breaks. You have the big guys in their own half. They will sit there for the whole recession hoping for a 0-0 draw. As long as you aren’t rash, you have nothing to lose, and you win on a 1-0 scoreline!

Come with me!

Let’s make a plan to play this game! Why are we camped around our goal when the other team is 100 yards away camped around their’s?

Let’s send out some scouts!  Tell me what you find out! And we will stand together on the winner’s podium!

UPDATE: For an HR Managers perspective on the Recession, I have written a summary on a new post.

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Where will you be when the recession ends?

Where are you going to be when the recession ends? And when will it end?daffiodils-by-john-morgan-via-flickr

Out-and-about the parks and landscapes of the internet, three broad scenarios are being discussed:

  • Nothing has changed. This is a temporary downturn. Be careful with your money. Try to avoid being laid off. We’ll be back to normal in 2010, or soon thereafter.
  • The end is nigh. Capitalism is over. And if capitalism is not over, we are going to have a Depression. So go down to the video store to get out some movies on the Great Depression because that is were we are headed.
  • In recent years, we have been spending beyond our means and we need to rethink the basis of our wealth and political power. Cutting back is not the issue. Re-jigging the economy is the issue so that we can emerge ‘re-conditioned’ for the next 30-40 years.

Which camp do you fall into? This is my thinking.

Rough summary of our economic position

The USA has an economy around 5 times the size of the UK’s, and and they have 5 times the population. So we differ in size but not so much in wealth.

China and India have either overtaken the UK last year, or are overtaking us this year in the size of their economy, but they have around 15-17 times our population (each), or over 3 to 4 times the US population.

The US is well ahead of everyone else by a long margin. To stay ahead, though, whether there was a financial crisis or not, they have to do something about their economy.

Obama has been spelling out the issues. The US economy is too dependent on oil. Too many people are reliant on ‘old’ industries, which can be run more efficiently in China and India who also have lower input costs. The numbers of well-educated Chinese and Indian graduates far exceeds the numbers of comparable US graduates.

The issues are not dissimilar in the UK.

My sense of what is important

I get so annoyed to see people being advised to ‘hang on to jobs’ in industries which are in their twilight years. It’s true that as parents we may feel that we have to hang on to whatever income we have, just as as immigrants, for example, run corner shops and drive taxis to give their children a good start in life. But to be too defensive, is not wise.

Since I arrived in the UK, almost one and a half years ago, I’ve been amazed that so many people want to leave. And almost all the young people do.

This is ‘discourse’ to some extent. People talk about going to New Zealand as a way of getting away from something that irritates them. They don’t mean to go, but the idea that they could, relieves them of the trouble of sorting out what bothers them.

When young people say fiercely, “I am going to get away from here”, this too is ‘discourse’, and in part, a currently fashionable way of expressing ambition and determination.

My sense of what we should be giving priority

But, what if we treated the young people of the UK differently?

What if we celebrated their achievements more? What if paid more attention to their dreams? What if we put their dreams more clearly at the top of our national agenda?

Would that be molly-coddlying them? Would that sap their ambition and drive? I don’t think so. I think that knowing we value their dreams as much as their achievements would allow them to pursue their dreams with more confidence and to waste less energy on worrying about failure.

David Whyte, British corporate poet, talks of the dreadful alienation that adolescents feel when they realise that their parents are burdened with life. If we are not living joyously in expectation of where the economy is going, how do we expect our children to?

Come with me

Which industry do you believe is fit for the teen years of this century?

What is catching your eye?

How big will this industry be?

What are its opportunities?

Why does it fascinate you?

I would like to know your dreams.

Which industries do you feel are like daffodil bulbs,  and like to be planted in a good frost, so they can burst into exuberant life at the first hint of spring?

P.S. Thanks to John-Morgan for this wonderful picture of daffodils via Flickr

UPDATE: For an HR Managers perspective on the Recession, I have written a summary on a new post.

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The art of sailing in rough financial waters

Yesterday, I was talking to a young man who apologized for his loss of confidence.  He has had the spectacular privilege of being shipwrecked not once, but twice, in the grand drama of the 2008 financial crisis in the UK.

“Of course your confidence has been knocked”, I replied.  “But you’ve lost confidence in the world rather than yourself.  You just don’t get that yet.”

The earth is moving under our feet and I am seasick

The first time I went on a cross-Channel ferry,  I found myself suddenly feeling immensely ill, almost as if I had woken up in the middle of the night with food poisoning.  I was wide awake though.  I sat down abruptly, quite alarmed by the sensation of being critically ill.  Fortunately, my companions were experienced sailors and they realized the cause of my distress.  “We’re moving”, they said, very gently.  I would have worked it out eventually, but their kind words saved me from several minutes of worrying and the magnification of my physical discomfort.

I still get seasick, though I pride myself on my ability to puke neatly, to lie down quietly, and to take the discomfort without disturbing the rest of the party.  Yachting in the Caribbean last year, I resolved this has simply got to stop.  If I want to go on boats, and enjoy swimming in a warm sea, I have to learn to cope with ‘the earth moving under my feet’.

The unknown and the unknowable

I would rather not be made redundant of course,  and I would rather this had not happened to my young friend and many of his friends.  But it will happen. To many of us.

We have no way of knowing how long the recession will last.  This recession fits into the category of unknowable rather than unknown.  I learn all about it that I can.  I am collecting good explanations on the page Financial Crisis Visually.

But it is not knowable. Not even the experts know what is happening, or how long it will last.

So how do I cope with this ‘unknowableness’ and the equivalent feeling of being very seasick?

I need to plan for the very short term and keep lots in reserve.

  • What can I get done right now, today?
  • What are the wide range of choices of things I might do tomorrow?

If I can keep those two in balance, I’ll do OK.

A practical plan

Practically-speaking:

  • I need to spend some time every evening going over what I achieved each day, and adding it to my resume.
  • I need to be on top of my finances, to the last penny, and know exactly what I’ve spent and what I owe.  I also need to collect what is owing to me, promptly.
  • Then I need to list all my opportunities in a file or a loose leaf binder.
  • My fourth evening task is to pick out what I must do and will finish on the morrow.   I want achievements in-hand and on my resume.
  • Lastly, I leave plenty of time for the unusual and the unexpected.  About 80%.  That’s what’s needed in uncertain times.

It’s OK for me

Yes, I know. When we are facing a crisis, all of this feels like busy work. We just want it done.  We want it over.  Look at my posts from yesterday and last week.  I was in a blue funk myself.

But if you are in a ship wreck, the last thing you do is start swimming madly hoping to chance on another boat.  You must get clear of the boat that is sinking, but it’s best to get in a lifeboat with as much food, water and safety equipment that you can.

You can bring the sense of panic, or sea-sickness, down by sitting down every evening and doing the exercise I listed.

And if you miss a night, don’t beat yourself up. This is not a religious ritual.  It is a process which helps you get the results you want.   Get back to it the next day.

And let’s do it together

Let me know how to improve the advice.  When all is said and done, we are in the same boat, on stormy seas.

Plan for the near term, finish today what can be done today, put it on your resume, and keep lots in reserve.

See you on the beach!

UPDATE: For an HR Managers perspective on the Recession, I have written a summary on a new post.

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From badgers to pewterers

I always talk to people in queues, on trains, well anywhere!

Eurasian badger

 

Image via Wikipedia

I always talk to people in queues, on trains, well anywhere!  England is an interesting place!  This is who expanded my horizons this week.

  • An environment manager for a major infrastructure company, who amongst other things, is looking for a pheronome to discourage badgers.
  • A young buyer who negotiates purchases penny-by-penny for a fashion chain
  • A psychologist investigating whether executive coaching increases flexibility & success in senior managers.
  • AND two gentlemen from The Court of The Worshipful Company of Pewterers!

Ancient Companies of London

Did you know, which I didn’t, that there are 108 Livery Companies in the city of London?

Livery companies date from the 1400’s or so and were originally trade associations or guilds.  Membership of a Livery company may be by patrinomy – an ancestor may have been a pewterer, for example.  It is also possible to join by redemption, for example, by having something to do with the pewter trade.

The trade associated with some Livery Companies, such as “long bows” might have died.  The Companies live on, though, with people joining and rising through the ranks.  The Worshipful Company of Pewterers continues to support the pewter trade.  They organize competitions for design and arts students every year.  They support charities.  My travel companions were returning from a meeting of Neurologists (yes, doctors) who were doing research into the effect of heavy metals with financial assistance from the Peweters.  One of my companions had also visited an arts class at a school whom they support in north London.

And nominally, at least, Court members have freedom of the City of London.  They can sell oranges on the street if they wish, and herd sheep across London bridge.  I didn’t catch whether Free and Livery members have these privileges.

And now to give the pamphlet about the design competition to my neighbour who is a fine arts graduate!

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