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One thought at 50

A good day (pic by @wadds)

I turn 50 today. I’m pretty relaxed about it, but it does feel like something of a milestone. I had thought I might do a ’50 thoughts at 50′ post but, let’s face it, I’d struggle to get to 50 and I doubt you’d want to read them.

In musing it, though, I realised there’s only one thing that really matters to me these days. It’s the people around me.

I’ve had an amazing summer, largely because I’ve been reminded of what an incredible group of people I’m privileged to have as family and to call my friends. From late-June and Sarah and Stephen’s beautiful wedding – a celebration of love and friendship as joyous as any I can remember – through a family holiday with my mum, brother, wife and children, an amazing weekend at home celebrating my birthday, and numerous dinners, drinks, and days out with friends who couldn’t make it here.

I feel blessed, but I’d hesitate to say I feel lucky. I’m not a big believer in luck. I believe that most things that happen in life – good or bad – are the result of choices you make (good and bad) and the effort you apply.

Personal relationships are the same. We have a choice regarding those connections we make, and the effort we put into nurturing and sustaining them. Some have deep roots and can withstand a good amount of rough weather; others are younger and require careful cultivation. Some relationships aren’t meant to last, burning intensely for a while before dying out, while others will happily smoulder away for years with the odd poking of the embers (get your mind out of the gutter…). But it’s up to all of us to choose well and make each of them count.

I can’t claim to have always been the best at managing relationships, and I’ve made a few poor choices. But whether personal or professional (and often a mixture of the two) it’s the relationships I have that make my life rewarding. It’s a network that’s evolved, been constantly added to, pruned every now and then, regularly fed and watered (figuratively and literally). And it’s worth it, because it provides me with so many essential things: support, companionship, advice, fun, inspiration, opportunity and love.

There’s one rather important person who I’d love to have been around to celebrate with, and that’s Dad. I miss him, we all do, but he influences me every day, and makes me a better person. Quite often, if I’m stuck with something – in particular in relation to personal relationships – asking myself the question, “what would Dad do?” sets me on the right path.

Dad’s values – fairness, compassion, hard work, respect, kindness, humour – are the ones that, I believe, build the depth of relationships which provide the best force field in life you could wish for.

I’m so grateful for mine. You know who you are, and thanks x

Lessons from Dad #1: Get your affairs in order

My Dad was organised. I mean, really organised. Almost – dare I say it – to a compulsive degree. A neat and tidy man in himself – how he dressed, trimmed his beard, combed his hair – this neatness was reflected throughout his life. Any papers on his desk would be arranged in a sharp grid of perfectly aligned piles; any loose change would be stacked in strict descending order of coin size; files labelled and neatly settled in a filing cabinet; and the shed and garage would be as ordered as an operating theatre. Indeed, having worked in the healthcare sector for his whole career, perhaps the order and organisation he applied to his whole life was influenced by the discipline needed in hospitals? Hospitals like the one in Nottingham where he started his working life, and met Mum.

It turns out he was as organised in death as he was in life. And it’s an absolute blessing.

When Dad died, he and Mum were in Shropshire for a few days’ holiday. I went up there immediately to be with Mum, as did some friends of theirs, and started handling the inevitable administration. I took Mum back home a couple of days later, and within 10 minutes of getting home she opened one of the above-mentioned filing cabinets, pulled this out and handed it to me. “Dad filled this out a few weeks ago. Should make things a bit easier”.

Book

I’ll be honest, it made me cry. It was such a perfect representation of everything he was. Always considerate of others, helpful, organised, prepared. I flicked through it to see his familiar handwriting listing every detail of mum and dad’s life admin: bank accounts, credit cards, direct debits, insurance (house/contents/car/life), utilities, solicitors, financial advisor…the lot. It was both wonderful and crushingly sad.

It’s a lesson for me in thinking about those you leave behind when you die. Why make a difficult time even more horrendous for loved ones? In organising your affairs, in detailing everything that they’ll need to know about and access once you’ve gone, you’re allowing people to grieve for your loss, and move forward positively, rather than start a stressful period of navigating endless administration and bureaucracy.

As my Mum said in a text message yesterday: “After 52 years of being a little frustrated at Dad’s fussy ways of keeping everything in order, I am so grateful to him now.”

The only thing we’ve found that Dad failed to tell us has been the code to unlock his iPhone. But, as my brother pointed out yesterday, as “he used it more often as a torch than a phone” that’s probably not the biggest issue!

You can buy a copy of the book above here. Making a will is also really important. There’s a basic guide from the Government here, and plenty of low-cost online services to help you make a legally-binding will. And if you’re over 55 years old, Cancer Research UK even offers a free will writing service. Find out more here.

I know none of us wants to think about dying but, believe me, having your affairs in neat and tidy order makes a real difference to the loved ones you leave.

Don’t delay. And thanks, Dad.

Mark x

 (This is the part of a series of lessons I’ve learnt from my Dad. Find the backstory here, and more lessons can be found here.)

Curiosity might have killed the cat…

…but for the previous eight lives she’d have had a lovely time finding out about all sorts of interesting stuff.

It’s funny how sometimes a word keeps popping into your consciousness. For me, right now, that word is: “curiosity” (definition: a strong desire to know or learn something).

I interview quite a lot of people, and many of them are relatively junior. Quite often, when I ask what questions interviewees have for me, they’ll want to know what qualities I look for in employees. Curiosity has become almost always the first one I mention.

Funnily enough, my mate Wadds was also mulling the qualities he looks for when interviewing people and came up with this list. I chucked my new watchword into the mix, and was rapidly seconded by the splendid Matt Muir with this beautiful example of straight-tweeting:

desktop

I couldn’t agree more.

For people working in a creative agency (as I do) curiosity is not only essential in doing a good job, it’s critical in enjoying the one you do (which, let’s face it, are two things that should nicely align). I want people who are curious about what their clients do, what the clients’ objectives are – both organisationally and individually – what’s going on in their clients’ industries, what their clients’ customers are interested in. Asking questions often leads to opportunities I’ve found. “What do you need to achieve this year?” is a good place to start.

Curiosity is a hugely valuable human quality, both inside and outside the workplace. I’ve recently finished reading Ruby Wax’s book, “Sane New World” (which is excellent if you’re interested in your own and others’ mental health) and there it was again – the penultimate chapter, “Curiosity”. I liked these bits:

If you are curious about someone else, and show it, it is the most flattering thing you can do for them; they will give you anything; the keys to their car, their business, they’ll probably even marry you.

In business, if you learn to listen and be curious about another person and pay attention to how he feels, negotiations would be a breeze. Huge amounts of money, time and energy are wasted by people talking at each other rather than with each other. There should be training simply to learn to be curious rather than endless MBA programs. People are what sells, nothing else. You like and trust the person, you’ll do business with them and if you are genuinely curious, people won’t be able to resist you.

So, why not build a bit more curiosity into your day. What’s the worst that could happen? Unless you’re a cat.

 

 

Cynicism

I read Caitlin Moran’s ‘How To Build A Girl‘ recently. As a father with a 12 year old daughter, I thought it might help prepare me for the years to come. I think it did that t an extent, though I’m not sure it’s made me feel any less worried!

But it’s a good read, not least because it’s set at the exact time I was in the same stage of life as the central character, Johanna.

However, the passage that has stayed with me is about cynicism. It’s brilliant and I agree with every word. Here it is:

“…when cynicism becomes the default language, playfulness and invention become impossible. Cynicism scours through a culture like bleach, wiping out millions of small, seedling ideas. Cynicism means your automatic answer becomes ‘No’. Cynicism means you presume everything will end in disappointment. And this is, ultimately, why anyone becomes cynical. Because they are scared of disappointment. Because they are scared someone will take advantage of them. Because they are fearful their innocence will be used against them – that when they run around gleefully trying to cram the whole world in their mouth, someone will try to poison them.

“Cynicism is, ultimately, fear. Cynicism makes contact with your skin, and a think black carapace begins to grow – like insect armour. This armour will protect your heart, from disappointment – but it leaves you almost unable to walk. You cannot dance, in this armour. Cynicism keeps you pinned to the spot, in the same posture, forever.”

Fantastic stuff. Show me a cynic who ever created something amazing.

Pintagram: a new social social

 

Image

First up, pronunciation: not ‘pin’, but ‘pint’. Pintagram.

As anyone who follows me on Instagram will know, I take a fair few pics of London. I never get tired of it (even if, I’m sure, many of my followers do). It’s a ridiculously obvious thing to say, but London’s an incredible city in a million different ways, and quite a few of them make half-decent snaps.

There’s nothing I like more than a wander around London on a nice morning or evening, taking in and capturing the city. And with the evenings getting longer and the weather improving (hopefully) there’s even more time to indulge.

Another thing I quite like is a decent pint or glass of wine in one of London’s many splendid pubs. So why not, I thought, combine the two?

Welcome to Pintagram, a new social social. A gentle meander around London’s streets, grabbing a few pics along the way on a route defined by a handful of pit-stops at some nice boozers.

I haven’t sorted a date for the first one, or indeed a route, but if you think you’d be up for it then leave a comment below along with some method of getting in touch (email, Twitter handle, etc) and I’ll keep you informed.

The success equation

Apropos of absolutely nothing, I was thinking while on my bike the other day (I do a lot of thinking on the bike) about an equation for success. On the ride I distilled it down to:

Ability + Opportunity = Success

But I’ve since realised that there’s something else needed. After all, plenty of people with both the ability and opportunity have failed to succeed. I think it’s either perseverance or perhaps commitment. And given the former’s more difficult to spell, I’m going with the latter:

Ability + Opportunity + Commitment = Success

It’s difficult if not impossible for an individual to control all these things. In fact you might argue that the individual can only really control their commitment to something: ability being largely genetic and opportunity environmental.

From a societal perspective, we should be concerned about giving more people with ability the opportunities to succeed. The commitment, of course, is down to them.

Brainstorsms

Deliberate typo in the title.

I had a brainstorm over SMS today. It was great and I reckon there’s something in it. Here’s why:

No geographical barriers. I contributed my first idea in one country and my last in another. Enough said.

No technological barriers. SMS is about the most democratic of communication technologies. Low cost, doesn’t require access to wifi or any expensive kit, mobile.

Reduced time pressures. More often or not, a brainstorm forces the participants into being creative within the time it takes place, usually an hour. My SMS brainstorm today lasted more than five hours in all. You just need to sow the seed and give some rich creative thoughts the time to grow.

It encourages brevity. Nobody’s going to tap out a 300 word explanation of their idea. And a good idea succinctly communicated is halfway to being sold to a client I reckon.

Uninhibited thinking. You’re less worried about looking silly on SMS because nobody can see you.

Fewer red flags. You either can’t be bothered or don’t want to be the one to commit criticism of another person’s idea to an SMS.

You can all talk at the same time. The clever technologists sort it out.

You’ve got it all recorded. There it all is, on my phone in its nice little speech bubbles. Nothing gets lost.

I wish I could show you a screen grab…

Try it for yourself. Let me know how you get on.