It Started in Ohio

I love my conference trips to the USA. The chance to meet people who I’ve come to know via blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram et al is just too good an opportunity to miss.

Ohio is holding its 41st annual state HR conference this week, and though I can’t be there in the flesh this time, I’m there in spirit. Despite United Airline’s best attempts to foil my plans, my USA conference adventures started in Ohio last year, and so it’s a special place for me.

It was in Ohio I first met:

Steve, Jason, Joe, Fred, Erin, Karen, Heather, Dwane, Jennifer, Julie, Mary, Nicole, Ashley, Desiree, Amy and many others too.

And on it goes.

It was in Louisiana I first met:

Bryan, William (king of cupcakes), Robin, Douglas, Christine, Dominique, Crystal, Dwane (no hang on, that was Ohio – and yes, I met him here too), Nisha, Brad, Janine, Sarah, Broc and Cheryl and many others too.

And on it goes.

It was in Illinois I first met:

John, Sabrina, Susan (well OK I first had lunch with these three fine people in Chicago earlier in the year – but you get the point), John (songs about trains are the best!), Abe, Brew, Dave, Paul, Daniel, Dwane (are we following each other around or what?!), Cathy, Kris, Crystal (again – yay!), Maren and Donna and many others too.

And on it goes. Where it stops, nobody knows.

It takes effort to make and build connections and relationships, and it is truly worth it. I learn from these people, enjoy their company, share…you know how it is. Grateful to know you all, and apologies to anyone I’ve forgotten to mention by name.

Connections give us meaning.

Without People, You’re Nothing.

Steve Browne sent out his HRNet email recently with some HR adapted lyrics to London Calling. I’ve murdered them here and added a wee bit more too.

Photo credit: Steve Browne

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.

Love’s Great Adventure

I took a trip to the High Line earlier in the week. It’s a disused high level railway line remodelled as a walkway/park, a simply stunning piece of urban renewal. You get to see Manhattan from a new perspective and the details in the paving, planting, seating…well everything really, are a credit to the designers and team of people who keep it looking great. Cue some pictures:

The Details

The Art

The Ads

As I walked along the High Line I became increasingly aware that all the places to stop and sit were designed for more than one person, and that pretty much everyone else walking around was with someone else. I sat down just for a minute, 3,500 miles from home and I’ve rarely felt so alone. I’m having a fantastic trip and missing Carole and Keira enormously too.

I loved my visit to Ohio, it was outstanding. The people and the atmosphere and the sharing and learning was great. And Steve Browne’s ‘Hey Doug, let’s go hit each other!’ line to me at the carnival on the second evening will forever be my favourite invitation to play.

I’m loving my visit to New York City. Places revisited, new experiences, I’ve met up with an old friend and seen some lovely people in real life for the first time too. And tomorrow promises to be an interesting day as the New York office of Thomson Reuters gets to experience an unconference, UK style.

I’m loving the online time too – sharing photos and ideas with people here in the US and back home, and Skypeing with Carole and Keira most days has been wonderful.

And I love my family. I’m just about ready to go home.