Thinking I was about to die …

February 11th, 2018

Photo courtesy of twitter@rvlerts

It was around 8.10 am, on Saturday 13th January 2018. Peta and I were sitting having breakfast with seven Americans and two Canadians in Wailuku, central Maui – one of the Hawaiian islands. We were in particular conversation with a Hawaiian. She was a criminal prosecutor on the Islands. She had explained that her 12 year old daughter was a talented tennis player, and that she was competing at a competition nearby, escorted by her dad. The mum explained that she used to go to her daughter’s matches, but she found it a little stressful and was concerned that she transferred this stress to her daughter.  All the other people, including us, were on holiday from further afield.

Part way through the conversation, her mobile phone buzzed. As she was picking it up, two other mobile phones in the room also buzzed. The mother’s face suddenly took on a look of complete horror, “Oh my god, oh my god” she said, and started fumbling with the key pad. “What should I do, when’s it going to happen?” “Let’s stay calm”, said an elderly gentleman from Texas who was also perusing his phone. The tennis mum stood up, and then sat down again, “What should I do?” she asked, looking at Peta and I – but Peta and I were completely in the dark …

“What’s the matter?”, I asked, keen to understand what had brought on this sudden panic. “There’s a bomb on the way to hit us” she said, and handed us her phone. There was a message across the screen which read, “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL”. The same message had appeared on other people’s phones. The owner of the hotel turned on the TV and that same message was on the TV screen.  I now understood the panic.

My first thoughts were, “Well, if it us who get hit, how long have we got left?” A perfectly sensible thought for someone who likes detail and facts – but I had no way of answering the question.

My next thoughts turned to our children. Should I contact them? If I had a few minutes or hours to live, did I want to say a few words to them online whilst I still had the chance? Or if I thought that it probably wasn’t going to happen, did I want to leave it so that I didn’t unduly concern them?  This was a more helpful thought process as it made me consider whether I thought the threat was real or not.

Was it real? Could North Korea really have set this ballistic ball rolling? Surely not? But the messages on phones and TVs seemed real and pretty convincing …

I decided not to contact the kids – 60/40 or perhaps 70/30 on the balance of probabilities (based on little or no evidence – so it was more likely a gut feeling) I didn’t believe this missile attack would occur, or if it did, we wouldn’t be ‘hit’. Therefore, to attempt to contact them would only raise their concerns.

Then I noticed the gardener – what about him? As we sat around anxiously and strangely surreally discussing how many minutes or hours we had left to live, he was oblivious. I watched him waving his trimmer from side to side like a scythe, headphones on, in a state of contentment with no idea at all as to what was going on. He was in his own world. I started considering whether his world was a better place to be. I asked the hotel proprietor, “What about your gardener?” Was it best to leave him there, oblivious to our unsettling reality, or should we let him know what was going on? Did we have a right to not tell him? Would it be kinder to leave someone so they didn’t know? It was weird. He was physically so close yet emotionally so far away. But ultimately I left it to the proprietor – I had other priorities.

So where would I find further evidence as to whether this ballistic weapon was on its way? I needed to access the internet to see if I could find anything to support or negate my view. Before that though, I wanted a coffee.

I went to pour myself one – but this took me too close to the windows for the proprietor’s liking. “I need to ask you to move away from the window, in case there is an explosion”, she requested quietly and calmly. “I’m not sure the proximity of a window will have too much of a consequence if we take a hit from this missile”, I responded with a slightly nervous laugh, “but I will move away once I have a coffee”.

We had already established that the hotel did not have a shelter, nor was there one nearby – so we couldn’t action the one piece of advice in the text. We all congregated in a corridor as close to the centre of the property as possible, away from any windows – apart from the Canadians, who had disappeared to I know not where.

I looked up how to contact Sky News and sent them a brief email as to what was happening as there was nothing on Sky News. If I really was going to get blown up, then why not be blown up live on Sky, I thought – I’ve discovered I can get a bit blasé when I think I’ve only got minutes left to live. They didn’t respond (and still haven’t responded, so I’ll not be contacting them again next time this happens to me … I’ll try the BBC next time).

I had been searching the internet for about a minute when, about 10 minutes after the initial alarm, the elderly Texan who had suggested staying calm said, “It’s a false alarm – I have found it on the internet”. He then read out further details. I guess my only emotion should have been huge relief at this point, but it wasn’t – there was some relief, but I was also mildly cross that he had found it before I did.  The emerging story was that apparently someone had ‘pressed the wrong button’.

Photo courtesy of pro.teechip.com

There were deep breaths and visible relief, and then it all became mildly funny. Slowly we returned to the breakfast table. Eventually the Canadians returned (although they didn’t seem to find anything about it the slightest bit funny).

Around 8.50, the phones were set off again (which made one of the Canadians swear) – this time with a message to say that the first message had been a false alarm. I wondered how or why it had taken them 38 minutes to find the right button to press to say it was a mistake. But perhaps they had to make that button – as I guess they never intended to press the first button in error, so why would they create the second button to say they shouldn’t have pressed the first one? Anyway, that’s their problem …

What did I reflect on?

  • Even without the false alarm, Hawaiians are concerned about being targeted by North Korea – but this made them share their concern. And I guess it’s the same the world over with people hiding their own personal alarm and concerns well – until something happens to trigger them, or, more importantly and helpfully, until someone asks the right questions and listens to them. We can all do that.
  • I should have spent more time with Peta during the period of uncertainty. She didn’t have the same confidence that it was a false alarm, and would have preferred me not to have spent time looking for evidence on the internet. I get that, and it also illustrates how different people and personalities function.
  • How the Texan ‘beat me’, but that’s just my competitiveness!
  • Technology is wonderful, and it can be very, very useful – but people using in this type of situation must be competent
  • I wouldn’t have told the gardener – and if it happens to me again I hope I am somewhere with my headphones on, in blissful ignorance …

But what would you do in that situation if you thought you might only have 10 minutes left to live?

I know, it’s a very unfair question. Impossible to put yourself in that position? Probably. It’s a bit like footballers practicing penalties for play-off games and cup competitions – you can’t create the required circumstances, so they don’t really know how it will go on the day.

Four days later we were on a plane leaving Maui, and one guy on the plane had a shirt with the words, “I survived the Hawaiian ballistic missile attack”. Peta pointed to it; I laughed out loud. “Yes, we’re still here” she said.

Paul

Allport’s model of Prejudice and Discrimination

January 22nd, 2018

Prejudice and discrimination. How relevant is Gordon Allport’s model to America today? This short vlog, recorded from Manassas National Battlefield, scene of the first battle of the American Civil War, explores the relevance of this model in Trump’s America. How divided is the US at the moment, what is Trump doing to polarise these divisions (intentionally or not), and where is the US against Allport’s model? And finally, how does this relate to your own organisation?

Six Category Intervention Analysis

April 21st, 2017

John Heron’s 6CIA model is, arguably, the best guide to the most fundamental foundation stone of developing performance in individuals – effective choice and use of the most appropriate and helpful intervention in each particular situation. This short vlog will explain it, give you examples of its uses and describe its benefits.

 

Clear Focus, New Heights #9

March 5th, 2017

Scare Yourself Today!

December 7th, 2016

I have finally got around to tidying up the three vlogs I recorded in Glacier National Park, Montana US earlier this year. I did really scare myself with this first one – I came face to face with a grizzly bear and her cub! But we can learn by scaring ourselves – but it needs to be managed! This will show you how!

Living the American Nightmare

November 10th, 2016

As an interested Brit, I stayed up most of the night and watched the US Presidential election unfold, eventually turning in around 5.30am by which time it was all over bar the shouting.  So it was real rather than a nightmare, but events from the past have slowly brought this election day result to the boil, which has resulted in the nightmare scenario.

That scenario is Donald Trump becoming President elect of the USA.

I found myself in a state of disorientation yesterday, trying to make sense of it all. Judging by comments I saw from American contacts on Facebook, and interviews on news bulletins there was (understandably) far more disorientation for those on the other side of the Pond.

The American Dream was defined by the American writer and historian James Truslow Adams in his 1931 book The Epic of America as, life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement … regardless of social class or circumstances of birth”.

Trump has certainly succeeded in making his life own life better and richer, and seized opportunities – he has been selected for the role of President of the US when in any job application process he would have failed at the paper sift stage due to lack of experience.

Sadly, he didn’t get to the social class bit of Adams’ definition. Which is where he divides opinion. He appears to judge everyone as to what they will do, what they will say and what role they should play in society due to their ethnicity, their race, their sex, their sexual orientation their physical disabilities … and he probably uses other discriminators too. This is what makes him so odious – and unacceptable to so many people.

How did the dream turn into a nightmare?

On the face of it, any Democrat should have beaten Trump – so what went wrong for the Democrats? Trump supported his campaign with huge amounts of money – the New York Times suggests loans to himself of $50m. Clinton had her share too, though – she raised about $75m, again according to the New York Times, through ‘super-PACs’.  These are, according to the Oxford Living Dictionary, “A type of independent political action committee which may raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, and individuals but is not permitted to contribute to or coordinate directly with parties or candidates”.

Bernie Sanders didn’t have access to that sort of money – because he refused it. There may well have been other reasons why he didn’t beat Clinton, such as him not believing he could win, but this was key.

Whilst in the US in June this year, I found myself in conversation with a campaign manager for Mike Huckabee, the Republican candidate who by this time had dropped out. His view was that the Republican Party was very pleased that Clinton had beaten Sanders as she would be easier for the Republicans to beat than Sanders.  Since the result earlier this week, several people have argued this point, backed up with convincing data.

The result was that the electorate ended up with the two most unpopular presidential nominees in the history of NBC’s ‘Popularity Poll’, which dates back some 25 years. Clinton scored -20 and Trump -29, the scoring being the percentage of registered voters with a positive opinion of the individual minus the percentage with a negative opinion. For comparison purposes, within the same poll Obama was +8, Sanders +7 and Putin -51.  And this was prior to revelations about alleged sexual assaults and the FBI email server investigation, both of which would surely have only taken them further into the negative.

I felt for the electorate. I’m not sure I could have voted for either of them. Neither of them reflected my values.

And the last piece of the jigsaw to help Trump over the line was the “constitutional relic” that is the electoral college ‘first past the post’ method of election. At the time of writing this, Clinton is likely to have received 200,000 more votes overall than Trump, yet she loses. I cannot start to imagine how galling that must be for her and her supporters – although Al Gore knows the feeling, too.

That’s partially the history of how we have arrived at this nightmare – but that was only the falling asleep after eating too many carbohydrates too close to going to bed … the nightmare has yet to start.

The USA is a country of beauty and splendour, and many, many good and lovely people live there. It is also, however, deeply, deeply divided. Primarily in relation to colour and race, but also – like many other countries – in relation to socio-economic terms.

I have written here before about my own experiences of this in both New Orleans and more recently Kansas. The model I see is more akin to informal and culturally accepted racial segregation than effective racial integration. This is something that at some point the US must address more proactively.

Over the past 18 months, Trump has been building a tinderbox. He hasn’t created all the materials for it – those have been around for a long time – but he has brought them altogether. We are now waiting to see if he ignites the box.

The fear – expectation in some quarters – is that he will. As a result, there have already been marches and protests at the outcome of this election. It must be particularly worrying being a black person, a gay person, even being a woman at the moment in the US – and understandably so. We have seen in the UK how the Brexit vote has led to an increase in cases of racial discrimination and abuse.  One of the conversations on Facebook yesterday between friends in a southern US state included reference to how Trump’s election would empower the Ku Klux Klan and has “taken us back 50 years in time”.

Thankfully there are also many individuals taking responsibility and attempting to galvanise positive actions and intentions. One of my contacts, Scott MacLeod, put it particularly well on Facebook on the day of the election saying, You’ve done your civic duty. You voted. You probably, as I did, had some level of hesitation as you selected your choices. You recognize the importance of this election, and your role in the outcome. You are concerned about the future of the United States, and you voted, to the best of your abilities, for candidates that embraced your values. But for now, your role is over. The ballots have been cast and the democratic process is underway. Now, let’s embrace a new set of values – kindness, humility, compassion, and strength. Let’s pledge not to gloat or complain about the results of the election. Let’s treat each other with a newfound civility, and recognize that most participants in this election, even if many seemed misguided, voted their conscience and moral compass. United We Stand, Divided We Fall. Let’s come together and heal – the divisiveness can end if we want it to”.

After the result was known, and in response to a comment, he added, “If you believe that immorality won, then we have to be better moral agents in the face of that opposition. If you believe that fear won, then we must stand unified and strong. If you believe that selfishness won, then we must be much more generous and compassionate. Trump cannot heal the nation. We can”.

I hope more people think and act like that. And I hope Trump listens and acts with reason.

These are politically uncertain times. The next few months are going to be difficult times in the US. They are difficult for us in the UK too, as we manoeuvre our way out of Europe and see how racial tensions manifest themselves – but particularly difficult in the US due to the racial divisions (and not helped by the way many of its citizens view the use of guns).

And where next? Look no further than France. It has elections in early 2017. We know it already has a strong right wing party headed by Le Pen. Trump took energy and learned lessons from Brexit and Nigel Farage. Le Pen will similarly take from Trump.

You and I can do little about that. But you can do your own bit – as Scott put it, you can help heal your nation.

Or perhaps the culture at your place of work? Political behaviour, harassment, disempowerment, victimisation – they all take place in the workplace, and that’s where you can make a difference. As my mum used to tell me, “If you look after the pennies, the pounds will look after themselves”.

Take your responsibility and lead the change. Fix the culture.

Paul

Clear Focus, New Heights – #8

October 27th, 2016

Contractual Outcomes

October 26th, 2016

I travelled down to London from Yorkshire by train last Sunday as I often do. It’s usually an uneventful trip, however, it was different this time. Overhead power cables at Retford weren’t working so Virgin East Coast Trains had to take a detour generally used by freight traffic which wasn’t an ‘electrified’ route. This meant they had to borrow non-electric trains from other rail companies. So I boarded my East Midlands train an hour late and ended up in London about two and a half hours late – and after the tube trains and other lines had closed for the night.

In fairness to Virgin Trains, they handled the situation as efficiently as possible and sorted out taxis for everyone for their onward journeys.

Their staff were also keen to make sure travellers knew about their Delay Repay scheme, which, as the name suggests, means that travellers get a percentage of their fare returned where they have arrived at their destination over half an hour late. This is a good scheme, and I’m sure it acts as a financial motivator to train companies – having been stopped in a field in North Dakota, USA on an Amtrak train for 9 hours recently, such a scheme would possibly change Amtrak’s mindset, or put them out of business within 3 months.

Earlier this month the UK Government announced that it would be reducing this half hour to fifteen minutes – so any delays over a quarter of an hour will mean the train companies having to compensate passengers.

Which? Magazine has been campaigning heavily on another aspect of this too – their view is that as only an estimated 20% of people claim their Delay Repay compensation, the train companies need to raise awareness of its existence and make it easier for people to claim.  That may be the case, and it is great that the time at which compensation kicks in is being reduced, but I think this issue needs to be approached from a different angle.

The contract with the traveller needs to be fairer.

What happens if I get stuck in traffic and cannot make the specific train I am booked on to due to arriving at the station 10 minutes late? I have to buy a completely new full-fare ticket – as you can only amend tickets for specific trains prior to the departure time.

What Which? should be pushing for, and the Government should be introducing, is a scheme whereby if such a situation arises, I don’t have to buy a whole new ticket, but have to pay an administrative fee or additional percentage due to being late – which could be linked to how late I was getting to the station. A scheme that echoes Delay Repay, for when the customer is later rather than the train. This could have been complicated a few years ago, but a software solution to calculate such penalties would now be straight forward to create.

And this isn’t just the case for trains – it happens in other situations.

If I return a hire car more than an hour late, I have to pay a fee. If it breaks down for part of my hire period I get no compensation.

The unfairness of contracts isn’t the only issue though – and in the situations already described we, the consumers, have to accept the offer that the Goliath has put on the table.  We have more influence in smaller scale situations. How do we create more meaningful contracts in the first place? How do we contract for business focused outcomes rather than simplistic outputs?

If I want to employ someone to cut my lawn, he or she may offer to cut it once a fortnight, however, I might want the contract to be that they cut it every time it gets above a certain height – the latter being a more effective approach for me but a potentially more difficult contract to manage for the provider.

It has been interesting reading the debates about contracts to run private sector prisons. The move towards payments for how a company reduces repeat offending as opposed to just running a prison are very positive. The Government is encouraging this more widely through Social Impact Bonds. Again, more difficult contractually, but focused on the required outcome rather than a more simplistic output or activity.

Which brings me to my primary line of work – training. I struggle to understand why companies almost all the time contract for courses to be delivered. If a provider is offering training, it should be to up-skill people, improve performance, change behaviours, etc. So why don’t organisations push for the contracts to be about up-skilling people, improving performance or changing behaviours – and pay providers for that, as opposed to just delivering training.  Focus on the required outcomes, not the simplistic outputs.

Harder to contract for, but ultimately more business focused – and it drives up performance within the training sector, and the really poor performers (of which there are too many) either improve or are consigned to history.

Contractually, industry shouldn’t give training providers such an easy ride, in the same way that the Government shouldn’t be giving rail companies such an easy ride.

Paul

 

Clear Focus, New Heights – #7

September 2nd, 2016

Is your toilet signage discriminatory?

May 30th, 2016

There was an interesting and thought-provoking Employment Tribunal case last week – one which the CIPD called a “Landmark” judgement.

In short, a transgender woman, Erin Bisson, had contacted a ferry company by phone asking them which toilets she should use. An employee had suggested, “use a disabled loo”. The other toilets on the ferry were labelled “ladies” and “gents”.

Firstly, the ferry company was found guilty of direct discrimination for the suggestion that Erin should use the disabled toilet. I understand that, although can also understand how an uninformed person would suggest that in a non-malicious way in an attempt to be helpful.

Secondly, the company was found to have indirectly discriminated against Erin by having the worded signage on the toilets rather than pictorial representations as the worded signage was “limiting”.

Personally, I have never understood why all toilets are not gender-neutral – they are in people’s homes, they are on trains and planes. It reminds of rafting the Grand Canyon last year and there were no toilets for peeing in, and eventually some men and women were peeing next to each other in the Colorado; there were no issues. But that’s another blog …

On the same day as this judgement, LifeSiteNews reported that, “The New York City Human Rights Commission has released a list of 31 different terms of gender expression employers must use or face $250,000 fines … The fines go as high as $125,000 for misnaming a person’s gender intentionally, and $250,000 for doing so maliciously.” The University of California Berkeley provides a helpful glossary, together with a table for the “pronoun-curious”:

Subject Object Possessive Adjective Possessive Pronoun Reflexive
Female She Her Her Hers Herself
Male He Him His His Himself
Gender Neutral Ze Hir Hir Hirs Hirself
Pronunciation zee here here heres hereself

On the social media front, there are now more than 50 custom gender identifiers for a person to select from on Facebook – accessible through an autocomplete drop-down menu.

Returning to our UK ferry boat finding, one sentence that Erin stated either during the proceedings or after was, “Gender is down to identity, symbols is one way of dealing with this”. This has been picked up by the vast majority of reports.

This comment has also been picked up on a lot of internet discussion groups, the main discussion point being that people don’t understand it. Many firms of lawyers who have also reported on it for their clients give no explanation of what it means for their clients.

The only attempt by someone to explain it that I can find on the internet is ‘BG’ on a Google forum, where he/ she / ze states, “However, whilst the stylised symbols *mean* “ladies” and “gents” they are just outlines. So, someone who is actually a gent (tackle-wise), but looks like a lady, can argue that he/she should undisputedly use the lady’s loo.” A valiant attempt in two sentences.

From a practical implementation and workplace focussed perspective, whilst the UK Government’s published guidance is helpful, I am left with a number of thoughts (and more questions than answers):

  • It is great that society is doing all it can to be inclusive, and both recognise and support all differences within the Equality Act’s protected characteristics.
  • At what point does it become too complicated for your average Jo / Joe to comprehend, learn and apply in every situation?
  • What are the implications for organisations in terms of staff training (I’m delivering some Equality and Diversity sessions in a few weeks and, from previous experience, I can imagine the reactions if I introduce signage on toilets to the session. But perhaps I need to?).
  • Are we losing the balance? Recognising and celebrating diversity is more than protected characteristics. It is very important, but purely focussing on this makes it very two dimensional. We also need to recognise differences between individuals not based on protected characteristics (their motivations, their communications preferences, other innate preferences, etc.) – recognising and valuing both strands is what makes a workplace truly inclusive.

I would value your thoughts?

Paul