Things Used To Be So Much Better…

I’ve just listened to an interview on the radio with Paul Lambert, a former Scottish international football player and manager. The Scotland team are on a particularly poor run of form just now, having lost six of the eight games they’ve played so far this year, and the mood of the interviewer was very downbeat.

The interviewer positioned things as ‘not good’, ‘terrible’. Lambert suggested a big part of the problem is expectation levels. ‘People go by what happened in the past, we’re not there anymore. We need to accept what we have now and support the team’. I think Lambert’s right, yet to me, this inability to shake the past feels like our need for certainty, holding us back.

Things used to be so much better then…therefore they should be just as good (if not better) now?

While there clearly are things we can learn from what’s gone before – it feels pretty pointless to me to base our performance expectations on previous versions of ourselves and others. By doing this we risk setting ourselves up for additional stress and a reluctance to deal with failure. I come across this harking back to bygone days when working with teams and organisations, and I wonder, how can we acknowledge the past, remember the good stuff, and break free from the unrealistic expectations these associations often cause?

Maybe we need some sort of ceremony, a way of putting the past to rest? Not so much a funeral, but a celebration, a recognition, and a moving on.

Our Working With Uncertainty workshop takes place tomorrow afternoon and I’m curious, tempted to ask people if they want to play with this quandary of respecting the past without hanging on to it, as part of our work.

More to follow…maybe?

Fraud. A warning.

Recently published data shows that more than £500m has been stolen from customers of British banks in the first half of this year. £145m of that was due to authorised push payment (APP) scams, in which people are conned into sending money to another account. I’m sorry to say I’ve just added to that figure.

A few weeks ago I used social media to complain to my bank about a delay in obtaining bank statements. This has happened on a few occasions, and when it does I often struggle to meet my monthly accounting deadlines.  On this occasion, my bank acknowledged the delay and promised to escalate the matter to customer services.

A few hours later, Tom from MetroBank customer services called to apologise, and to offer me a solution to my problem. I could move my account from one banking service to another (business banking to business online plus) and this would mean, among other things, speedier access to bank statements every month. We had a long conversation about how this would work, discussing terms and conditions, and much more, The person on the other end of the phone was full of empathy, knew the products inside out, and was confident my problems would be solved. We went through some security procedures and the new account was put in place. In a few hours everything would be moved across, I’d have my statements and I could complete my work.

Sadly, Tom was not an employee of the bank, Tom was a thief. What was positioned as a simple switch from one account platform to another turned out to be a switch of a completely different kind. When I checked on my account later that day, it was empty. I felt sick to the pit of my stomach, and phoned the bank immediately. I was past around various departments for over 30 minutes, during which time the fraud team closed down for the weekend. I eventually got my account locked down – though this didn’t achieve much seeing as it was now empty, and I was told to go to my bank branch on Saturday morning to get a new bank card and have everything reactivated. My head was spinning, I felt angry, sick, I felt awful. I’ve let myself and my family down, and put us in a very vulnerable position, just before we head off on holiday. Perfect timing! I told Carole and Keira the news, and though their kindness towards me speaks volumes, I confess that in a way, it makes me feel even worse. How could I have done this to us? How could I be so stupid? I’m telling myself it’s OK, I fell foul of a beautifully executed professional fraud. I’m trying to forgive myself, but it’s not easy.

It is well known that victims of APP fraud rarely get their money back, and after a few phone conversations with my bank, they’ve made it clear this is on me. I can’t and won’t deny my share of responsibility, however I am disappointed with their response. The bank’s systems and processes leave customers vulnerable to attack, and I am taking my case to the ombudsman. In the meantime, I have learned a few very important lessons through this process, some of which may help you in future. You might want to take a minute just to ponder these questions:

Does your bank operate distinctly different telephone and online banking security methods? In my case both systems are almost identical – making it very easy for fraudsters to pretend to be taking you through security when in fact they are obtaining the information they need to access your account. My personal bank operates two entirely different systems (including voice recognition over the telephone) making it much harder for fraudsters to succeed.

Does your bank fraud department operate 24/7 or limited hours? In my case they close at 5.30pm every day and are closed all weekend. I think this leaves customers vulnerable.

Does your bank operate unusual activity flags and blocks? A friend of mine was recently defrauded in the exact same way as me, only their bank noted unusual activity (the account being emptied) and blocked it. My bank does not operate this safety net. Despite that fact I have never before emptied my account, they didn’t see fit to place a hold on things and check in with me.

Does your bank adhere to the same security standards it demands of you? When I called my bank for an update they disclosed account information to me without taking me through full security clearance, even though I was the subject of an active fraud case.

Does your bank seek video evidence to support prosecution? In my case – my bank knows that once the money was taken from my account, it was withdrawn over the counter at the other end of the transaction, yet I am not currently aware of any attempt being made to obtain/view the security camera footage to identify the perpetrators.

Do you currently use any form of social media to interact with your bank? If you do, then please be mindful, you’re being watched by Tom and others who may seek to do you harm.

I’m telling you all this for two reasons. I want to raise awareness of just how commonplace this activity is, and make others aware just how easy it is to fall foul of it. Thanks for reading, and take care.

Temporary Darkness
Temporary Darkness. Acrylic on canvas, work in progress.

 

A Gift Inside A Gift

I recently agreed to donate a piece of art to a fundraising event for Wallington Animal Rescue (WAR), an excellent local good cause, run tirelessly by Neil and Amanda. As the event drew nearer, I got more nervous. A painting of a cat had been requested, a subject I’ve only tackled once before now, and on that occasion I took a rather unconventional approach.

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I didn’t want to repeat the previous cat portrait, I needed to find something different. A few days ago, after a few failed attempts at cat painting using ink on paper, with uncertainty levels rising I found myself turning a small box over and over in my hands. The box was a gift from Simon Heath, containing some sketching charcoals. Simon gave me this gift several years ago, it’s a lovely little box with a sliding lid, containing six different coloured sticks. Over the years I have opened and closed the box many times, reluctant to disturb its miniature perfection by using it. On this occasion I broke the spell, took the sticks from the box and began to work. A vaguely cat-like shape began to emerge, and I pressed on. I ended up with a rather relaxed looking feline, and decided to title the art work, ‘Peace’. Uncertainty overcome, the good people at WAR appreciated the donation and Peace now has a new home.

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‘Peace’ in the studio, accompanied by the now used sketching sticks.

I told Simon I had finally got round to using his gift, and he kindly replied with a lovely short story, which I’d like to share with you here.

“My favourite teacher at school was, perhaps unsurprisingly, my art teacher. He was not your conventional idea of an art teacher. He had served in the merchant navy during the Second World War. He was torpedoed and his ship sunk during the Malta convoys.

He was an evocative storyteller. He did not spare us the hardships and horrors of his service. He had a wealth of tales of all kinds and liked to set us drawing and painting projects provoked by different types of music. He used to jokingly threaten us with “The Persuader”. A table leg studded with nails and drawing pins akin to Captain Caveman’s club. He had a favourite scary story called Skull Island. It was terrifying and accompanied by grotesque sound effects.

He brought in plaster replicas of works of the great classical sculptors like Michelangelo. He liked to think that the figure already existed within the marble. The sculptor’s art was releasing that figure. I’ve always cherished that idea. And so, thank you for patiently reading this story and understanding why I love the idea that your cat was sleeping within the charcoal this whole time. And you’ve now released it into a wider consciousness. My teacher’s name was Peter Clay. He died some years ago but his stories didn’t. He was brilliant.”

I love the idea that sometimes our work is already there, it just needs releasing. That’s a notion I shall seek out again, next time a goal is proving elusive.

I hope you enjoyed this piece of writing as much as I enjoyed handing the finished artwork over, and seeing Simon’s story. If the idea of working with uncertainty interests you, come to the next Working With Uncertainty workshop in London on October 16th, and explore new ways to do things differently, in a safe, encouraging environment. See you there.