Push the Button

Following on from Keira’s lessons in learning last week, when she suggested part of what makes a lesson interesting is ‘fun, especially when you’ve been good’, the subject of fun has been on my mind again – and in particular, how can you make something fun, without forcing it.

Forced Fun

I read a piece in the Wall Street Journal recently about ‘Spontaneity for Hire’ which is the cringingly awful sounding practice of paying for a flashmob to erupt ‘spontaneously’ at a conference. Here’s an extract from the article.

At a gathering of pharmaceutical-marketing executives in Las Vegas last year, attendees saw Flash Mob America in action. The keynote speaker, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, was running late, someone announced. A replacement speaker took the stage, but he dropped his notes and hit his face on the microphone, drawing audio feedback.

“My stomach sunk,” says Jeffrey Neil, a conference attendee. Suddenly, music started blasting and the speaker, along with dancers who had been disguised as conference goers, all started dancing. It was 8 a.m.

After the hoopla, Mr. Giuliani came to the stage. “That’s a flash mob?” he asked the crowd, stressing the word mob. “I thought I put them in jail,” he said, according to a YouTube video of the affair. Mr. Giuliani didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The point of this exercise was apparently to get clients excited and tweeting about the flashmob or discussing it on LinkedIn. After having paid $35,000 for the privilege I doubt the conference organisers were too happy with Jeffery Neil being quoted in the WSJ as above eh? Force fun at your own risk.

I was then treated, courtesy of Neil Usher to an excellent piece of writing about that most surreal piece of workplace design – the slide. Yep – you read that correctly – a slide. When I was a kid we had a slide in the back garden which I considered to be vaguely fun until the time I had an unfortunate incident involving my neck and the washing line. I also got into an altercation with a dog at the foot of a big slide in our local park many moons ago. The dog won, so I accept I’m biased – but slides don’t really do it for me, and as Neil’s blog post says:

Slides are part of the unfortunate genre of misplaced “fun” elements in workplace design (along with fussball, climbing walls, table tennis tables etc) that are fundamentally masculine – the modern equivalent of the black leather, smoky glass and chrome office set-up. They only serve to reinforce the notion that the workplace is a male environment. It is design straight out of Nuts or Stuff magazine, the titles of which tell you all you need to know.

Misplace fun at your own risk.


As you may have spotted in an earlier post this week, I was fortunate to spend last weekend away with three friends, all of whom I’ve known for a long time, thirty years and more. The weekend was planned in the diary some time ago. It was packed with reminiscing, bad jokes, beer, long walks and short nights. We had a hilarious time and as we parted company we all agreed how important it is for us to meet up like this from time to time. I also recall a great night out at a lively, lovely Iranian restaurant after the CIPD HR and Development conference in April. Good food, great company and great laughs among a group who have known each other for some time. The meal was spontaneous. The kind of fun that emerges from friendships is part of the percolation process, it takes its own sweet time and the less it is forced, the better it is.

Fun can just as easily emerge from more recent connections too. Last year at the Ohio State HR Conference Dwane Lay, Jason Lauritsen, Steve Browne and myself happily jousted with each other in a Gladiator style game during the evening festivities. This was the first time we’d met face to face and when Steve Browne puts his hand on your shoulder and says ‘Hey Doug – let’s go hit each other’ you know you’re in for something special.

Good work is good fun too, and by good work I mean the bits of your job that really play to your strengths and help you make a great contribution to the team. Whether it’s closing a mutually beneficial deal, finishing an insightful piece of research or delivering outstanding service to a customer or colleague, if you like doing it and you’re in an environment where you can do it well, that sounds like fun to me.

Push the Button

So what makes something fun? I remain uncertain about that, and I’m glad, it feels like a secret that never should be told. Old and new, planned and unplanned, always free flowing, never forced. It’s a thin line between fun and fake, and being at ease with fun seems to increase the likelihood of its occurrence perhaps? One thing I am sure of – the more you try and force fun, the faster it runs into the darkest corner of the room to hide, where it sits laughing at you, not with you.

photo credit

The Office is Closed for a Bereavement

We’ve lost one of the hairier members of our family. After taking Keira to school yesterday, Carole found Ginger the guinea pig lying dead among the grass she had previously so happily danced around in and eaten (in abundance). Selfishly – these means even more lawn mowing for me, as Ginger was quite the grass cutter in her prime.

At the time, Keira was at school, blissfully unaware of the loss of her pet. On hearing the news she is understandably very upset, and though I don’t much care for pets, no Dad likes to see his daughter cry. So – no blog post today, just a picture of Keira’s late friend.

Guinea Pig

Nobody Said It Was Easy

I wrote this post as part of Alison Chisnell‘s excellent advent blog series. I expect a lot of you have read it already, and the main reason I am reposting it is simply so that I have a record of it here, under my roof as well as Alison’s.

2012 started in a burst of optimism. I’d set a goal of winning and delivering more ambitious, stretching work projects and I was hoping to forge some new associations to help make this goal a reality. Two really interesting ideas were taking shape, the first a piece of business development and marketing work, the second a project around smart use of social media to drive more colleague and customer collaboration. We had also lined up an Unchristmas lunch for a few people who had supported the business over the past year or so.

The lunch was on a Friday. It was great fun catching up with a lovely group of people and then heading off to enjoy the weekend. From my experiences lots of offices are empty on a Friday as a slew of people choose to ‘work from home’ (don’t worry – I won’t tell). For me, Friday is a good day to strengthen the social fabric that is woven throughout a great place to work; I’d like to see more people lunching together more often.

I digress.

Time Stands Still

“Summer’s going fast, Nights growing colder
Children growing up, Old friends growing older
Experience slips away”

It is late Sunday afternoon on January 22nd 2012 and my phone rings. One of my Sisters wants to know if I’ve heard from Dad, ‘he was due to pop round and he hasn’t showed’. Carole, Keira and I were just diving into a local restaurant for a family meal and I said I’d call him and check in afterwards. As we left the restaurant the phone rang again. This time it was my Brother in law, Steve. ‘Doug, I’m at your Dad’s place, sorry to have to tell you he is dead’.

Suddenly you were gone.

I took Carole and Keira home and headed off. The police came round to Dad’s to satisfy themselves there were no suspicious circumstances surrounding his death and then left. I encouraged Steve to head on home to be with his family and I waited for the coroner’s ambulance to come and take Dad’s body away. That was a weird few hours sitting in an empty old house, listening to it move and sigh like an old building does.

Prime Mover

“From the point of conception, To the moment of truth
At the point of surrender, To the burden of proof
From the point of ignition, To the final drive
The point of the journey is not to arrive
Anything can happen…”

Functions sometimes get in the way of feelings, and so it was as funeral and other plans were made. Dad died intestate, so I steeled myself for the mountain of paperwork that began to accumulate. The family and friends supported each other well through this time, and I had given my commitment to Dad that I would take responsibility for his affairs. This period of time was tough, I found it almost impossible to keep the business going and take care of family business to the point where I suffered a bizarre physical breakdown. My right knee stiffened and blew up like a balloon. My right arm and chest ached like I’d never felt before and for a few weeks I could barely get about. I was scared.

My physical condition was temporary and things began to improve. Through this time I took support and encouragement from many people and places. Most people aren’t aware of how important they became to me, and I want to recall one incident in particular that helped enormously.

Vital Signs

“Leave out the fiction, The fact is, this friction
Will only be worn by persistence
Leave out conditions, Courageous convictions
Will drag the dream into existence”

In November of 2011 Dad and I had talked about what the future may hold for the business. I told Dad I planned to go to America. I said I didn’t know where, to do what or how, I just knew I would.  Dad replied, ‘Go ahead and make me proud’. In March 2012 Steve Browne and I exchanged correspondence and a couple of months later I was booked to travel to Ohio for the annual state HR conference. This was pivotal for me in turning the sadness at the loss of my father into an opportunity to honour the simple exchange we had towards the end of the previous year. It also helped me get the flywheel of What Goes Around turning again.

The Big Wheel

“Wheel goes round, landing on a leap of fate
Life redirected in ways unexpected
Sometimes the odd number wins
The way the big wheel spins”

A business needs wheels to turn on. I used to think they were a little like bicycle wheels, spinning along the flat, whizzing down the hills and pushing up the other side. And they are not. The truth is that when you stop turning the business wheel, it loses momentum really quickly. And to get it started you have to put your shoulder to it and push, hard. And you need to keep going, persist, believe, persist, believe, persist. If you have the courage of your convictions, if you love people, and love who you are and why you do what you do, and if you can find a Steve Browne, you can choose to keep the big wheel turning.


“You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice
If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice
You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill
I will choose a path that’s clear
I will choose freewill”

I choose for 2013 to be a year of useful fun and support for one another when things don’t go quite according to plan. I hope we can continue to create opportunities to better ourselves and each other, and to continue to raise a well-intended challenge when we see something ain’t going quite right. Proceed until apprehended.


Alison Chisnell – for the kind invitation to write this post.

Steve Browne (aka The President of the United States of HR) – for helping me make something magnificent happen

Neil Peart – for lyrical support

Paul Shaw – for being my Dad and for showing me, through example, that it is better to be a critical friend than to strive to be liked.