Tag Archives: Enjoyment

The Prodigal Sun

What spring means in Sweden

The arrival of spring wreaks a strange change in this post-pagan land. One glimpse of sunshine wakes the icy giant, and the entire country comes out of hibernation.

Real giants are slow to wake. They snork and snuffle and rub their sleepy eyes before stirring their limbs. For Swedes the process is barely a process at all – rather, it is a rapid and electrifying event, as though a wild roommate has dipped the sleeper’s fingers in left-over schnapps and jammed them into the plug socket. Last week it snowed. But this week, spring has suddenly sprung!

It has been a long wait. There have been desperate sunbathers along the waterfront every sunny day for two months. The picture above was taken in early March – the water was still covered in ice, and most sunbathers were wearing winter coats.

But now the almighty sun streams down into the worshipping city. It is greeted by a Swedish hug lasting several months. A Swedish hug lasting more than a few seconds is a bone-crushing experience. No-one will go in until September. After locking themselves indoors through the winter, now they lock themselves out.

Pallid Vikings swarm the streets and riverside cafes. Young maidens and even aged hags begin to blossom. The local Boulebar reopens. The broad streets are narrowed by bustling tables – who cares if you still need a coat, at least your bum won’t be frozen to the seat.

Fast-forward a few months, and the world has turned again. Spring is gone, long live sweet summer! We arrived here in late August. Bronzed skin, blonde hair, long limbs and easy smiles were everywhere.

But something in this sun-kissed paradise was not quite right. In the background, very faintly… what was that? Can you hear it? Tick, tock, tick, tock… the seasons’ clock. The countdown to winter begins on the day the sun arrives.

So time is short. Already the prudent country-dwellers were gathering food and firewood for the hard winter ahead. But the city Swedes pump up the volume and drown out the clock.

When we first landed, in a blaze of sunshine and summery sweat, the only hint that we hadn’t redirected to Los Angeles was in the eyes. A very slight dilation of the pupils, or a stare that lasts just a little too long… there is a mania that grips the Swede when summer arrives. He knows this is his chance. He will retire to his summer palace in the archipelago and toast himself like a salamander on a rock.

Swedish residents are advised to take vitamin D throughout the year. The sun’s true goodness is squeezed into a short period, so when it does arrive it must be taken in highly-concentrated doses. Now the nights are shortening, the sky is bright, and water sparkles in the sunlight. The mania will soon descend.

/Todd

Don’t be the goalkeeper

My first football match!

Fleetville Juniors vs Camp School. Aged 8, I was pretty excited. And I was picked to play in goal.

Mum said:

Don’t be the goalkeeper. If you don’t let any goals in, all you will have done is what’s expected of you. And if you do let in a goal, you’ll have failed and you’ll feel bad.

I did let in a goal… well, several actually. We were 4-1 down at half-time, so the PE teacher moved me outfield and put someone else in goal.

But I still remember that advice.

It’s more fun to be in situations where it’s possible to create something new, and to go beyond just aiming for zero.

And I hate being in situations where the max possible result is to do just what’s expected of me — to keep a clean sheet and not mess things up.

I’m still a crappy goalkeeper though.

Pretty sure that no motherly advice can change that!

Thankfully it wasn’t cancer

There was a lump on my testicle and it needed to be investigated.

I went to the doctor and she sent me to the hospital for tests – a bad sign. There was a lump and the doctor was worried.

I walked around those few days in a trance. I couldn’t taste anything. I felt like my whole body was inside my head and that I was one step removed from what I was doing, like there was a pane of glass between me and the world.

Maybe I should have been thinking about all the stuff I still wanted to do with my life but actually all felt was fear. It consumed me, froze me, jellied my brain. I couldn’t talk to people properly but I didn’t want to tell anyone what was going on. I just wanted it all to go away, I didn’t want to be me any more and I really didn’t want to be ill.

I went to three different departments at the hospital and in the last one you could see people who actually had cancer and were going through treatment. I remember one guy in a wheelchair being pushed past the seating area I was in. He had no hair, his skin was pale white, he had the sweats you get when you’re feverish, and he looked totally zoned out, in a daze.

This guy looked really ill and I think he was going to die.

‘Todd Green?’ – my turn.

I stood up and walked with the doctor through to a dark room. I lay on the bed and the scan began. My head started spinning and it was like in books and movies where you see all the things you’ve done and people you’ve loved whirling past at once.

The doctor stopped scanning.

‘Mr. Green, you’re ok. It’s not cancer. You’re all clear.’

Thank fuck for that.

‘The lump is just a …’ – I don’t actually remember what it was because as soon as I got the all-clear my brain was flooded with relief and gratitude and love for this wonderful life and all I wanted to do was run up a mountain and jump the moon and sing ‘You and I are gonna live forever’ from the roof of that terrible, beautiful hospital.

If it really had been a film then some profound life change would have happened that day – as I walked out through the hospital doors I would have gone down on my knees and sworn to the universe that I would never again take anything for granted, that I would love and honour my fellow human beings in some new and cosmic way, and that I would immediately quit my self-serving job and dedicate my life to helping the afflicted.

That didn’t happen.

But the thing that has stayed with me, nearly four years later, is the feeling of fear.

For that short time I really felt utter, engulfing terror. Writing this has made me peer back into the abyss but I was a few steps down there for a while, and I can barely imagine what it must be like for people who live there for real.

I’m pretty sure my brain prevents me from feeling that fear every day – the whole experience has been assimilated now because in the end I wasn’t ill, and because otherwise it would be difficult to get on with stuff.

And I’m glad of that, because I don’t want to be thinking ‘Make the most of today, who knows what tomorrow will bring!’ all the time, or even ‘This could be your last pizza, better enjoy it!’.

But revisiting that experience is a powerful thing, even if it’s only once in a while.

It does make me more excited about the day. It does make me more grateful. And it does make me worry less about what’s 5 or 10 years down the road, and focus on what’s happening right now.

Today I’m writing my blog, playing tennis, and going for dinner with my girlfriend. And I’m going to bloody well enjoy it.

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So I applied to be an astronaut

My life’s ambition is to go into space, so a few years ago I applied to be an astronaut.

At the time anyone could apply to ESA (the European Space Agency), so I went to the doc and to the hospital, had a bunch of tests done, filled out the application form and sent it off.

There was little chance I would succeed. But it made perfect logical sense to try.

There are two ways of getting into space: (1) become a billionaire, or (2) get hired as a professional astronaut. Maybe one day I’ll be a billionaire but I don’t want to count on it. So I just applied.

Actually, all my best decisions are made when I ignore the chances of failure and just do it.

  • Want to learn how to code? Ok, build a website.
  • Want to try building a business? Ok, start one now.
  • Want to find out if teaching would be a good career move? Ok, do it part-time and see whether it’s fun.
  • Like that girl a lot? Ok, ask her out.

These simple decisions are the best.

A) You can’t regret them

If it doesn’t work out, no big deal. You did the logical thing and tried. Your mind is at rest. Ssshh now little brain.

B) You know exactly why you made them

It’s a simple formula. You won’t get confused about your motives. Want something? Ok, have a go.

C) You always gain something unexpected

Building a website taught me how the internet works. Starting a business taught me a million things that I put into a recent post (How I lost £1,500 when I was 23). Teaching part-time right now is making me 10x better at explaining stuff and speaking in public. And the last girl I asked out is going to become my wife next summer, so that one worked out pretty well too.

Worrying about failure kills good decisions. Whenever I worry I lose the magic power to make simple logical decisions and I waste my life fretting. I’m glad that didn’t happen with applying to be an astronaut.

The physical tests and most of the application form were ok, though I couldn’t really disguise my lack of a PhD in astrophysics or biology. The weakest bit though was when I had to describe my experience in radio communications:

I did hospital radio for two years when I was at school. I was a presenter and had my own weekly show.

But since I haven’t actually heard back from ESA, I assume they’ve got me on the reserve list.

Hopefully someone will drop out soon.

 

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Killing off a half-finished po

Last week I started writing a post about what happened when Hacker News tweeted a link to my blog post on how to make a website.

BOOM!

I got almost 1,000 hits that day, and around 500 the day after. Since I don’t usually get that many visitors, the effect was quite noticeable.

Guess which day HN tweeted my post?

I wanted to collate all the stats so that anyone interested could see the effect it had on my site stats.

But once I’d started writing it, I couldn’t get around to finishing it – even after sitting down to it five or six times.

So now I’ve killed it.

Why? I can think of three reasons.

1. I couldn’t get the full stats – I could only find evidence of where about 50% of the clicks had come from, and that doesn’t make for much of an insight. (Of the referrals I could identify, 42% came from HN, 28% from Google Reader, and 10% from Twitter).

2. I think there’s a limit to which anything I could say about my post’s stats would be relevant to anyone else’s – people post all manner of tech-related things on Hacker News, so the response to any given individual link must surely vary considerably.

3. Most importantly – I got bored. I didn’t really want to write it enough to finish it.

Contrast that with the post on how to make a website – that one took me over a month and 10-12 sittings.

Thankfully, it made me reflect on why I finish certain posts, and why others fall by the wayside.

And I got a post that I enjoyed writing out of it!

This is the only 14 September 2011 there will ever be

This is the only 14 September 2011 there has ever been, and it’s the only one there will ever be.

Tomorrow I’ll have one day fewer to do all those things I’ve always wanted to do, but haven’t yet made the time for.

Same for you…

 

Reinventing CSR

[This post originally appeared on the Me In TV blog. Me In TV is a project I’m setting up to give young people from tough backgrounds access to the TV industry.]

Every big company has a corporate social responsibility policy.

Many of them do many good things.

But CSR is often at the bottom of everyone’s priority list because those things are perceived to be of little lasting value to the company.

There is no reason why CSR projects should not benefit the company as well as those it sets out to support.

But in order to do, CSR projects need to be rethought.

Projectzzzz

The typical CSR project model has three characteristics which restrict its potential by limiting the benefits that flow back to the company.

Such projects are ephemeral, unsustainable, and even a little embarrassing.

1. Ephemeral – once the project is over, many volunteers never think of or refer to it ever again

2. Unsustainable – taking several dozen people out of the office in one go simply cannot happen on a regular basis

3. And even a little embarrassing… – most employees are good people, but if they feel embarrassed when they don’t want to participate in a CSR project because they can’t see the point in it.

The combination of these three characteristics limit employee engagement.

When that happens, CSR projects do not fulfil their potential. They may well be seen as a drain on time, money, management attention, and morale.

No company would choose to run projects relating to their core business like this – there’s so little in it for them.

Why should CSR projects be any different? They could easily be so much more beneficial for the company as well as for those on the receiving end.

Another way

Wouldn’t it be great if even a simple CSR project – e.g. painting a mural on a wall – became a cross-departmental undertaking?

That way it could deliver all sorts of benefits:

1. Give someone who is lacking project management experience the leadership role = project management experience

2. Get them to recruit a team of volunteers = cross-functional collaboration

3. Then have the group figure out a design = collective creativity and problem-solving

4. Find people within the team to be responsible for getting the materials = resourcefulness challenge + budget management experience

5. Record the process so as to share it with the rest of the company = communication and marketing skills

What an opportunity!

At a time when training budgets are sorely stretched (or completely non-existent), this is a cheap way of developing the workforce, with a low opportunity cost and a high motivational value.

If a company ran a few of such projects a year, it would make a substantial difference to their staff’s personal development, their feelings of loyalty to the company, and ultimately to the company’s bottom line: a more skilled, more experienced, more integrated workforce can only be a good thing.

Meaningful CSR

Companies do meaningful core business projects on the one hand, and low-benefit CSR projects on the other – and the two coexist unhappily.

That schizophrenia has to be overcome.

CSR projects can be be highly beneficial for the company – the training opportunities in particular are fantastic.

To run them requires a simple change: CSR projects should be run like core business projects.

That change of approach, and the changes in attitude, opportunity and perception that result, can make all the difference.

Should education be designed with work in mind? No way.

If GCSEs prepare you for A-Levels, A-Levels prepare you for university, and university prepares you for work, does that mean that your GCSEs determine what you do for the rest of your life?

That seems to be the direction of UK government policy at the moment.

David Willetts, Minister of State for Universities and Science, recently published a white paper advocating a more employment-centric focus for university courses.

The basic idea is that education should be designed to prepare people for work.

Starting early (Photo credit: Flickr / Alexandre Lemieux)

This kind of teleological thinking is insidious.

It leads to the closure of ‘non-essential’ courses – those that do not contribute to GDP in a directly measurable way.

It leads to further devaluation of the arts.

It leads to tighter alignment of academia with mainstream businesses, because they’re the ones with the loudest voices.

Academia and business must be linked, but if they are bound too closely both will suffer: academic value will be restricted to subjects that are seen to contribute most economically, and business will get too many new workers with the same skills and the same perspective.

Students will suffer too, because if their suitability is judged against mainstream business requirements, many will be found wanting whose talents lie, undiscovered, in other areas.

That’s because it will be less able to help young people find what Sir Ken Robinson calls their ‘Element’: the thing that combines their innate skills and passions.

A life in which everything is artificially aligned from the start – a teleological life, leading inexorably to a job defined by your academic career – is likely to be less, not more economically useful.

How to fix work experience

Work experience is usually a waste of time for all concerned.

That’s because it’s looked at in completely the wrong way.

To change it – to make work experience beneficial for the people and the company involved – we need to look at work experience differently.

Are you experienced?

Work experience people are normally seen as extra manual labour. They are deemed the lowest of the low, and given mind-numbing tasks to do – filing, photocopying, DVD-burning, tea-making…

That’s because the starting point is their experience – or rather, their lack of it. The work experience person (let’s call him James) is the least experienced member of the team, so he gets to do the least exciting stuff.

This seems an intuitive approach, but it has deleterious effects.

It tells James that he has little to contribute, that what he can contribute is generic and not the result of his personal abilities, and that the world of work is going to be pretty dry for the first few years.

It also has a negative impact on the person charged with managing James – there’s little scope for development in the tasks he’s doing, so the manager does more babysitting than they do managing.

And there’s a negative impact on the team and the company as a whole, because it shows that working there can be dull, because it  feels faintly like exploitation (dull work for little/no pay, anyone?), and because it tells James (and he tells his friends) that this is a boring place to work.

All this proceeds from the starting point that Jim is inexperienced, and that lack of experience is his defining characteristic.

This is a sorry state of affairs.

But I don’t think work experience should be abandoned. Instead, it needs to be rethought.

A new model for work experience

To create a new model of work experience, we need a new starting point.

We should start by trying to figure out what James could usefully do. What could he – or any other school-age teenager – contribute to the team?

If we start by seeing James as a person with a unique perspective, a lot of things can change.

From that starting point, we can develop several ways of making work experience a more positive experience all round.

James is from a different generation to everyone else in the office. He sees the world differently. He uses technology differently. His priorities, his social relations, and his use of information are all different.

That makes him a valuable resource.

First, innovation is kindled by diverse opinions. James can help with that, because he won’t have absorbed the team’s in-built assumptions and shared reference points.

Second, for many businesses, James will belong to the target market – unlike everyone else at the company. His presence is a great opportunity to get an in-depth customer feedback.

And third, no-one in a modern office is an internet native, yet every business uses the internet in some way. James can’t remember there not being an internet, and he uses it in a different way to those of us who have had to learn how it works. He represents the company’s future customers.

The company can get much from James than better-arranged files. In doing so, they will give him a much more rewarding experience, which will in turn create a positive experience for his manager, a better impression of the team, and an improved self- and external image for the company as a whole.

By seeking more from James and his peers, work experience can be transformed – from a neglected act of charity to a deliberate effort to create tangible benefits for the people and the company involved.

Start as you mean to go on

Work experience can be something of tangible and lasting value, rather than a waste of everyone’s time.

It should be a means of getting new ideas and perspectives into the company, rather than a cheap way to get an extra pair of hands.

All we need to do is to have a different starting point: to define a work experience person’s in terms of their unique perspective, rather than their lack of experience, and so to unlock their potential to contribute to the business.

My advice to twenty-something year-old jobseekers

I wrote this out in an email to a friend a few days back. I believe in it wholeheartedly, yet it feels rather idealistic. I’m starting to think there’s interesting work to be done in bridging the gap – in helping people to find what Sir Ken Robinson would call their ‘Element’.

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In a nutshell, it seems to me that the challenge you face is this: There are lots of people in a very similar position to you. Why should someone hire you over them?

To meet that challenge, you need to stand out. I believe that it’s actually not that difficult to stand out. I think you can do it in three steps:
1. Find something that you’re really passionate about
2. Do something out of hours that demonstrates your passion for it
3. Make it easy to show people what you’re doing

#1 means thinking deeply about what you enjoy doing. You mentioned script-writing, and understanding how the TV station was set up. There are two things for starters.

#2 means finding an outlet for the thing you’ve identified. If it’s script-writing, start writing a script. If it’s how TV companies work, ask me and whoever else you know to help you learn more about it, watch a load of behind-the-scenes stuff, and read everything you can find that relates to it.

#3 means, usually, creating a record of what you’ve done on the internet. Post the script for others to read, or write a blog about your quest to find out more about how TV stations work.

That probably all sounds idealistic, or impractical, or too much hassle. But if you start by finding something you really care about, it will be interesting and rewarding – and you’ll find it much easier to stand out and get a job.

I can tell you – to some extent from personal experience! – that a lot of people spend a lot of years working on things they don’t care about. It seems to me from our discussions that you’re not 100% sure what you want to do. That’s absolutely fine – most people aren’t. But my advice to you would be to start with something you think you might want to do, and to explore it.

You said yourself that showing an interest is not enough – you need to have experience. I think that you can give yourself that experience if you want to, and that if you do, you will be the one who really stands out.

I hope that’s helpful, and that I’ve made it start to sound practical. I feel like I’ve led two lives for the past few years because I’ve always had personal projects on the go outside of work, trying to explore different ideas and things that I’ve found I like to do. I freely admit that as a result most of my friends think I’m mental (and sometimes I’m inclined to agree!). But they freely admit that they don’t enjoy their jobs, and that they have lots of interests they wish they spent more time pursuing…

So this has got to be worth a try:

1. Find something that you’re really passionate about
2. Do something out of hours that demonstrates your passion for it
3. Make it easy to show people what you’re doing

Good luck!