Monday, 24 May 2010

Walk the walk

I have been reflecting on and off about my search for the Voom. In so doing I have been asking people to tell me what is the single biggest issue or challenge they face right now.

I have had some wonderful and frank responses. 

Biggest concern/issue?

The future of America
The state of public education
The "looming" European financial crisis
BA strikes
The World Cup draw
Sick partner
Personal finances
Moving house and attendant issues
Career angst
Where to go on holidays
What to eat for dinner
New Haircut
Children's wellbeing

And of course global warming, volcanoes, terrorism, crime, illness, disability, unemployment are always lurking in the shadows.

Clearly, a huge range of issues plague us and the comments reflect not just personal situations but mindset and perspective. I felt a little humbled by some of the replies. They certainly put my carbuncle into a new light...

You see, today I hobbled around town in my semi-dressed up "work" shoes. I have several blisters, bruised ankles (from where I repeatedly smashed one heavy heel into the other foot) and a carbuncle to show for it. Today was a warm day and my first opportunity to wear the shoes in question this year. I was pitching for a price of work. I did not win the work. I am waiting to receive some feedback about the meeting and looking forward to learning from the situation. If not for the next time I am pitching my skills and experience, at least so as to better manage my footwear in the future.

So earlier today, the sun beating down on my weary brow and my feet aching and sore, my biggest problem was how to get home and get those shoes off. Thankfully, my problem was temporary and relatively tiny. Many are not so lucky.

So what can be done?

Should we focus on small, solvable problems? Like making lists replete with myriad tasks you would do anyway - like have a coffee, make the bed, buy new train ticket. Such a list is exceedingly gratifying; a seemingly endless plethora of tasks can be achieved with ease and aplomb. The satisfaction that flows therefrom can light one from within - like a lighthouse - a beacon for lost souls, at risk of foundering on the rocks of life. At least for a time - or til the next list is drawn up and the pen wielded.

Should we stay focussed on the big issues because it makes no sense to stress the small stuff?

Or should we concentrate on something in between the two extremes?

I daresay one needs to be flexible. Sometimes, the big stuff looms up and puts the little into a new perspective, after all. Now that my feet are bare, the off-Spring asleep and the work of the day completed, I turn to the Voom conundrum once more. It sits beside me, my loyal companion, like a sleepy old dog at my heel, wondering when it will be thrown a bone or a toy to gnaw on. I wish it would move just a little forward and centre though so I could prop the old plates of meat up.

Now I know that you will be saying to yourself - the inner voices are saying it loud and proud - get a life Springgirl. Get some real problems. Count your blessings - you have nothing else to worry about. 

Fair points. I do have other concerns but I choose not to make them worries. And I do have a life, but it is pretty contained and slow and pleasant and I am very happy with it and grateful for it. No, I am not smug, just grateful and aware of how lucky I am.

And as for the Voom, well I have some ideas about that too and how to use the Voom which is already part of my perspective and mindset; ideas about getting the Voom out there, as it were.

Anyway, I find that I return often to the whole perspective and mindset piece and realise that what I am in fact most grateful for is not my situation or circumstances, though they are by any standard good and fine - but rather, the perspective and mindset. 

In other words, while I have the luxury of musing over the Voom, I need to remember that for many Voom is just a word. An irrelevant little sound that will never penetrate their reality. They might think they heard "tomb" or "kaboom", "vacuum" or "doom", "messy room" or cars that "zoom".

To put it metaphorically, I wonder if we all need to walk a mile in someone else's shoes and see what really matters for them before we can truly comment on what matters or what needs Voom. Though perhaps we would not need to go for a mile in every case; maybe just around the block.

Will you come with me - in someone else's shoes? I am almost certain, unless you have fat puffy feet like mine, caused by ill fitting shoes worn too long, that you will feel very happy with your own shoes afterwards.

Come on then. 

Where to start. There - I saw her first. Hey, you, teetering in the high backless heels, you know you want to throw them off and touch the ground for a moment. Come on, I will take really good care of them. (She is short, eh?) Let me try those things on. Crikey, these should be illegal, This is like a pogo stick or being half way up a pole vault. Wow. (No wonder she looks so pinched in and miserable.) She must spend more on her feet than small nations do on their road systems. But hey, horses for courses. Who am I to comment? Seriously, I need to take these off. That's better. 

Moving along. You, there in the flip flops, all too eager to dash about barefooted, why not come and share your slip-slap-flapping-on-the-flagstones freedom with me? Not bad. But I feel I am clenching every muscle. Do you clench? Oops, it came right off. How do you walk in these things?

I think I will try another pair. Hello. Can I try your shoes for a moment? These look rather fetching. Sparkly and casual and daintily supportive. The straps cut in somewhat, no? Pretty, but slippy. Very flat. Mmm. Ouch! Shees man. Skinned my knee...

Maybe another go. I see you there, you, at the back. Those brogues. Classy, masculine - nice. A little constraining, but neat and - conformist? But so comfortable! Now this is my sort of foot apparel.

I like these ones. Time to swop though. I might just give these crocs a crack. Uughh. Bit stinky. What are they made from? tyres? Eco-friendly then? Why is there so much dirt on them - oh the holes. Maybe those other ones instead? Yes the recycled denim ones. Not bad, if a little tight.

Oh look, wellies. So cool. So nouveau rural. Lovely. Hot and gapey, but they do go with everything.

Finally, bright white trainers. Just do it Springgirl. Feel the spring in these bad boys! Love them. Everyone should be wearing these. What? Everyone is wearing these? Where have I been?

Oh I like those - those pink loafers, they look like mine. Suede and soft and beautiful. Pragmatic yet elegant. 

Shall we stop there. Are we all back in our own shoes (and socks(!))? Is that a pack of antiseptic wipes? Excellent!

Where was I? That was rather fun. Rich learning there. Lots of Voom moments!

Yet, the grass is not greener, nor the sky bluer nor the air fresher in spiky heels. One is taller though. 

And in wellies? Well the grass did seem greener...

And in those brogues, everything seemed cleaner...

Mmm. Maybe I should do this again. Only next time I will make it a mile, afterall...

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Z marks the spot

I am mindful that I have not posted a blog for a few days. Perhaps I am hoping that absence might make the heart grow fonder. Or maybe I am anxious that my readers do not get too used to me -novelty wearing off and all that. The truth is that I have had some rather interesting thoughts this week, but I needed a little time and space to sort them out. The ideas pertain to setting up a school or a college. Mmm.

Not just any old school though. Mine would be a special school where one could learn all the things that heretofore only life and work and the slings and arrows thereof could teach about leadership and innovation.The genesis of the idea came from Simon Sinek's Why University. The part of me that loves the fact he has taken something obvious and simple and made it his own with a few playful concepts and a natty little website wants to jump on the bandwagon. Thus I am dreaming of founding the College of Z. I did a quick check and there doesn't seem to be one anywhere. Mind you, the search engines will be rather confused since all the universities seem to have an A-Z.

But perhaps that will not prove to be too much of an issue.You see the "Z" is not really used enough. X is overdone these days and A, B and C get loads of attention. But Z is sort of down there at the back on its own. People cannot even agree on what to call it. I like Z because my non-blogging/non-web identity is Z. Indeed, I was known to many for some time as "Zed". I have always liked the fact that not too many of us have a Z in our name. My initials never seem to be confused with anyone else's and somehow growing up as the only person whose name began with a Z in the school was quite fun and special.

So that is the spirit that the College of Z will be imbued with; a sense of the fun and special.

I have not progressed very far with the curriculum or details as to location, courses, faculty and such. I have focussed on the golden circle though - the Why, What and How.

The Why - Today's leaders are intrinsically motivated blue sky thinkers and innovators with incredibly rich life experiences, huge right brains, loads of EQ and bearing all the Habits of successful people. The College of Z is  founded to teach the followers and masses to be more like the leaders and innovators.

What - The College of Z will offer students the chance to experiment with their own and others' minds so as to develop their creative and leadership potential in a safe and unfettered environment. Nothing will be wrong, no idea will be stupid and no one will fail.

How - The College of Z will teach and guide its students in the whys and wherefores of day to day life in the world of big thinking. Blue sky concepts, brainstorming, integrated and holistic approaches will be the order of the day. Spread sheets, details, term papers? No way. The College of Z will test your mental agility, intellectual acuity, perseverance, capacity to influence and ability to get along with your peers.

So that is the cornerstone, the ethos if you like - the foundation plinth of what may become a truly amazing institution. Now I am not going to labour all the minor details like set texts or field trips or assessment procedure. No such details have yet been determined.

Rather, I will just give you a sample list of some of the amazing courses that will be offered. Remember that as an integrated, holistic college for the real world of the 21st century and beyond, The College of Z will offer subjects that will provide a solid and comprehensive grounding in all the knowledge and skills needed to lead and innovate, be seen to be leading and innovative and being paid to be seen to be leading and innovative. At the end of the day we will not just unearth and develop our students' natural capabilities, we will do all we can to see that they secure the status, experience, mentoring, networks and credibility necessary to make their way in the world as leaders and innovators. Whether that involves paid work or parenting, politics or crime, we commit to prepare you to lead in the real world of your making.

The College of Z will have five main faculties or departments as follows:
The Department of Applied Innovation
The Department of Persausion and Panache
The School of Natural Leadership
The Department of Personality (including media, lack-of and cults of)
The School of Integration, Responsibility and Cohesion

A sample of courses that will be offered will include:

BS101 - Brain-hurricaning - the art of blowing air and destroying all in your wake.
INOV8 - Innovation - a moveable feast.
POO106 - An Introduction to writing popular business books.
PER201 - Getting away with it with style.
INT304 - Making The Big Picture Bigger.
INT307 - Clairvoyance and annoyance.

The College of Z will also run highly interactive summer schools where students keen on fast-tracking their studies or just complementing a more traditional education will be able to sample and taste the delights of the Personality faculty. Courses will include an intensive in passive aggressive leadership styles, a refresher in subtle bullying for maximum effect, intro to applied mysogynism at work or why "diversity" needs a new definition and a very hands on programme exploring manipulation and guile and the myriad pitfalls they can involve. Finally, a rigorous short course in new media skills will also be offered through which students can learn how to self-promote, harass others and waste time with style and the semblance of substance.

As an adjunct to the more formal learning programme we will also offer an intensive cross-disciplinary programme for extra credit in which participants will carry on a "mock leadership life". Law schools use the Mock or Moot Court, Business Schools, the "case study", teacher training colleges the "prac". At the College of Z we will encourage the best and brightest to embark on the practical and demanding programme of "I lead therefore I am".

Extra-mural one-off courses will complement these fantastic offerings - Eye Contact and its Uses or How to Look Like you Care, CSR for Non-believers, Global Warming Catchup, Dressing for Long-Haul Upgrades, Time Management - the Art and Science of Busy and a Name Dropping Masterclass. Finally, for the prescient among the students, those eager to to pre-empt the potential pitfalls of a life too glamourous or too debauched (could there be such a thing?!) - "How to Have it All and Not Hate It".

As you can imagine, the fees will be steep. But the benefits!

Imagine the appeal of a one-stop shop for all of this learning. A veritable Eden Project for the leaders of tomorrow - a hothouse for hot innovators.

I am truly committed to making this a reality. I know for myself that many of the courses will be hugely informative. And yes, before you ask I will be lecturing in some. Which ones?

Integration, ideas and influence are my pet area, though I do have quite a lot of experience with silence. I am toying with the idea of a course focussing just on awareness raising around silence. I could discuss its use as a weapon of mass humiliation, a form of denial, a blissful respite from a busy life, a means of achieving greater harmony and assent, a tool for rest and recuperation (something true leaders know is how to use rest, holidays and absence to their advantage), or a frightening and still thing that we control not in those hours before dawn.

So - that is where I am. I am conscious that the "Z" might not speak clearly enough of my dream for this college - or tell the story of the Y. A pragmatic part of me is also aware that many students would rather live their life than pay dearly to learn what the College of Z would purport to teach.

Perhaps the college is too ambitious or even misconceived. Perhaps jumping on other people's bandwagons is over-rated. I daresay that I seek not so much a school but a place at the table for "z". As in Doctor Seuss' classic tale of the Cat who came back, it was "z" who brought the voom and saved the day.

And that is really what this is all about - the voom.

I want to capture the VOOM!

I want to know where to buy green eggs and ham, ready cooked and delicious. To be born in Octember instead of September. And ultimately, to be like Horton and hear the Who, as well as the What, How and Why.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Hormone Replacement Therapy

The BBC reported last week that:

The working mother who cannot be at home to cuddle a distraught child can relax - her voice on the phone soothes as much as a hug, a study suggests.

Don't worry. I am not going to write another lengthy critique of studies that show things. Oh, really, you would like me to? Are you sure? You have time? Well, we'll see. I had thought to do a short post, experimentally, as it were. Just to say I can, you know?

I have spent some time lately checking out various blogs - I will one day create a guide for the uninitiated. I wrote a guide to swings in the parks and gardens of the east coast of Australia in 1980. It never really got read or noticed but it was useful to have the record at the time... Nevertheless, what I have seen is that most blogs are really quite short. Some are pictures or links to videos. Some involve linking lots of other people's things. That seems to be rather a good way of saving time and effort so I will have to try it at some stage. I like to think that the side bar area will accommodate quite a few links or recommendations, in time.

But I am eager not to compromise my own standards as a blogger, so for now I will continue with the story telling approach in the main. I am not as yet a "professional" blogger, I hasten to add. I am learning that such is an occupation now. Good luck to those enterprising and tenacious writers. You will notice that I am trying to monetise my musings with my little link to Amazon in the side panel. I apologise if you find this mercenary. It is a bit of a sell-out, especially since I want all of you and all of your contacts to buy my book from my publisher, thereby supporting the little, independent writer and publisher industry. I can say though that Amazon makes it very easy to link to their stuff and to make it look nice and presentable, which is also very enterprising.

Given I wanted to see how it feels to be brief and succinct, I had best focus on my topic now.

A mother's voice.

I guess it is good to know that science has proven that a mother's voice can be calming and reassuring and result in increased levels of the hormone oxytocin. I know about oxytocin from my child bearing experiences (sounds foreboding doesn't it?). Don't worry - I will never enlarge on those experiences here. Suffice to say, oxytocin is associated with bonding as it is released in lactation - just look it up if you are curious. Anyway, it supposedly gives rise to feelings of calm and contentment.

However, rather than putting 60 girls aged 7-12 under stress in order to test the theory, the study people could have had a quick look at my phone bills circa 1995 - 2009. I was single handedly keeping One-Tel afloat there for a while with my calls to my mother in Brisbane (from London). I was enjoying soaring oxytocin levels every week after those lengthy chats, whether I was stressed before or not. It was like shot in the arm: love, comfort, sympathy, unconditional acceptance, humour, wisdom, optimism, news, perspective, challenge.

My mother was something else though - she could provoke all of that as well as adrenalin, guffaws, joy, frustration, longing...

And I am not the only one. So yes, it is great to have the proof now that 60 little girls have felt a similar hormonal surge following contact with their mother, after a stressful situation. 

What was the stress? Giving an impromptu speech and solving maths problems. (Come on, have a heart. They were just little girls.)

I will not go to town over this; merely raise a couple of questions.

I wonder why they did not carry out the tests on any boys. Do boys not find impromptu speeches and maths problems tricky? Maybe it depends how much telly they watched at age 2. Or do boys not have oxytocin? Or respond to their mothers? What do we really know about men and women and how they respond to stress?

Does the child get the rush of oxytocin if the mother asks how many sums they got wrong, or what they said in the speech, what the panel seemed to think of them or how they did their hair for the event? Is there a corresponding surge in cortisol (stress hormone) when so interrogated by the mother? If oxytocin suppresses cortisol then they must not easily coexist. So which one is stronger in real life, where the mother has not been primed to let her child get stressed and then offer kind platitudes over the phone or a personal hug?

So the next big question is - where are the dads in all of this stress and bonding? Are they at work? On the golf course? Does a physically present dad's comfort give rise to any, more or less oxytocin that an absent mother on a phone? What about step-mothers, aunts, sisters, close female friends?

Does it work if the stressed child is shown a picture of its mother? Or a recording of her voice saying comforting things? 

Now this could revolutionise the way women work. Rushing home for dinner and homework and stories? No - just record your voice and have some stranger play it to them each evening! 

So, typically, I am looking for the learning for me in this piece of news.

Springgirl's to-do list:
1. Buy each of the off-Spring a phone. 
2. Get a job.
3. Find some friends to go out with after work.
4. Record myself saying soothing things.
5. Record myself saying non-soothing things on the grounds it may do nothing for them but would help my own levels of oxytocin to not have to harangue, pester and shout the same instructions every day - I could perhaps record myself saying them in gentle and soothing tones -
"Oh Sweetheart, dearest, will you brush your teeth, pack your bag, finish your breakfast, stop fighting/spitting/speaking with your mouth full/annoying people..."

(Just realised that 4. and 5. amount to Hormone Replacement Therapy for kids! No more cortisol inducing scolding episodes over the homework or the chores. Oxytocin on tap! if we can find the role the mother can play in suppressing adrenalin damage, insulin issues and even excessive testosterone (that can cause acne among other things), imagine!)

6. Give some thought to monetising the recorded mother's voice idea.
7. Stop blogging and get more sleep.
8. Spend more time remembering my mother and our chats.
9. Get more links into the blog.
10. Accept that slow-blogging, like slow-cooking, slow-dating(!), slow-golfing and best of all, slow-parenting, is here to stay.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Announcing: Quality tv - Apprentice meets Super Parent!

A newspaper reported last week:

Parents, beware CBeebies:
.. watching television makes toddlers fatter and stupider at primary school, according to new research.Scientists who tracked the progress of pre-school children found that the more television they watched aged two-and- a-half the worse they were at mathematics, the more junk food they ate, and the more they were bullied by other pupils.The findings, which support earlier evidence indicating television harms cognitive development, prompted calls for the Government to set limits on how much children should watch. American paediatricians advise that under-twos should not watch any television and that older children should view one-to-two hours a day at most. France has banned shows aimed at under-threes, and Australia recommends that three-to-five-year-olds watch no more than an hour a day. Britain has no official advice.

Take a moment or two to mull this over...

So, what do you think about that?

I am bemused, and a little confused. And yes, a little cross.

This is of no particular concern to me. I have managed to offer a range of amusements to the off-Spring that include occasional tv watching and thus far have not discerned any extraordinary evidence of junk food eating (another relative concept), victimisation or mathematical dysfunction. I may be speaking too soon. We are by no means out of the woods. Should any of them struggle in these areas though, perhaps I would be pleased to be able to blame it all on CBeebies. It would be preferable to thinking the kid was born dumb or a glutton for junk food, or that something I did or did not do, other than switch on the tv, was to blame.

Right now any such damage could be lying dormant, waiting to erupt and ruin their lives. Turning off the tv now would be shutting the gate after the horse has bolted. Thank goodness for the off-Spring and me, these findings have only now been published.  Admittedly, for the past 6 months we have enjoyed no tv viewing apart from a little bit of some alien oriented cartoon at a friend's house. The cold caller from British Telecom will be dining out this weekend on the fact that he tried to sell me their vision package only to be told we do not own a tv. He was silent for a few beats and then said "have you ever had a tv?". I said "oh yes - we are just exploring life without and so far it is all going quite well." Silence. 
"Well if you should decide to get a tv, maybe you should consider our great packages."
"Will do!"

Well not anymore Mister BT Vision. What if the study is wrong and the age for not watching tv is actually not 2, but 4 or 7 or 10 or late 30s? It would be a terrible shame if one's life was ruined so young by something so seemingly benign. And I am not defensive because off-Spring number 1 watched Finding Nemo every day for the first 6 weeks of his brother's life. Needs must, as they say. Sadly, he remembers so little of those times before he was 3, anyway.  In fact, I suspect as they get older much of life before 6 becomes a blurry half dream of teddies and long drives and bedtimes stories and grown ups talking about them ad nauseum. Who really recalls what they were up to at three? Also, if something is going to ruin your school years you would want at the very least to be able to remember it.

Before I get to the heart of today's post  - new concept for  a reality tv show - I just want to throw in my two cents worth on this topic.

My view, for what it is worth, is that the study sounds like cr-p for several reasons. Please note, I have not read it so I am only commenting on how the study was reported by the newspaper. But that must be ok, because the intent of the reporter and newspaper was not for us to run off and download the study and give it full and comprehensive analysis (are you kidding - in an age where these newspapers twitter and "feed" the news in 51 characters, there is no contemplation of detailed consideration occurring) - it was to sensationalise the issue of toddler tv viewing and scare a bunch of easily influenced, second guessing, trying very hard to do it all and to do it as well as they can, parents, into feeling guilty and harassed and switching the tv off and buying, or working harder to afford to buy, ever more stimulating entertainment for the little ones since the 42 inch flat screen is now responsible for the three biggest failings we can face as parents of small children. The dreaded trinity of being bullied, being no good at maths and eating too much junk food! 

This is just too much to bear! You see the tv was the fall-back, the saving grace. Sure the pesky little questions were always in the back of our mind - How much tv is too much? Should I watch with them and put off doing the ironing longer? Is Dora the Explorer good or bad? How many DVDs does a 4 year old need? But we consoled ourselves with providing age appropriate pseudo-educational programmes like Big Cook, Little Cook with colour and song and healthy food and even some maths thrown in. What else were we to do when the phone rang and the client needed a few minutes, or when the husband came in and just had to download his day straight away and the kids were screaming for attention, or when the little beggars were so overtired at 5 pm, so ready to beat each other senseless with the Meccano, so sick of not eating the play-dough and their dinner was still not made? Could we really have been expected to settle down with a good book or a grimy and wet and freezing walk to the park to slop around in puddles of mud and come home and fight until bath time?

But returning to the study. I want to know a few things. 

First, how old are the children they have tracked? How many, from where and what sort of home environments? What sort of diet have they had? How much discretionary spending did they enjoy and what were they watching at 2 and a half ? Also, what have they watched since? What exactly is JUNK food? How many kids did they study? Did the kids never watch tv apart from at 2? Was watching tv at 2 the sole distinguishing feature of the bullied dummies who ate junk food? What is too much tv? Who tells the truth about these things anyway - so how do they know what they really watched? Is it worse to be bullied than to be the bully? 

Seriously. How can they make these statements? What if it turns out that the kids in question have predominantly watched Sesame Street and the like; fun learning programmes that generations of toddlers were raised on? What if the junk food problem flows from underexposure to salty, sugary, artificial rubbish in their pre-school lives? What if they were spoiled rotten with electronic toys, too many activities or play dates and over-anxious parents who solved all their problems, played with them all day - apart from during tv time - and never enabled them to develop resilience or a capacity to amuse themselves. What if the bullied kids are more sensitive and regard the odd smiling tease from their best friend as intolerable?

I wonder if any of toddlers in the study were raised on a diet of Baby Einstein (have you watched any - so boring), Life on Earth or classical orchestras in concert? Of those who watched tv at 2, how many were underexposed to other developmentally challenging or interesting distractions/toys? Like an emptry box? Or a blade of grass? Or an old shampoo bottle?

In other words, what else was going on then and since? Of the tv addicts at 2 how many actually ate their tv dinner in front of the box while failing to learn how to count the chips on their plate? 

Also, show me a child in the "developed world" who does not love junk food and I will personally do a study on him! Chips, pizza, cup cakes and sweets (treats) are revered. Let he who is without junk food bribery guilt cast the first set top box.

However, even if there is a correlation between excessive tv viewing and challenges at school then perhaps the issue needs to be explored in more depth. 

Could it be that exposure to too much advertising is partly to blame for an interest in junk food, Barbies and fun parks? Perhaps too much time spent inert and passive contributes to the development of passive or reactive coping mechanisms. Perhaps tv watching children tend to be better at subjects other than maths - art, science or languages? Why did the study not highlight any of the great things tv can do for the child - like knowing all the colours really young or all the hits ever sung by Hi-5, or raising an awareness that there is a huge, amazing world beyond one's own house and street and nursery school?

Do you see what I am saying? This study raises a lot of questions.

Could it be one of those studies that is carried out in order to prove a point that is already presumed to be true. I hate to denigrate the survey writing people or "monkeys" as they are called on the internet - but most surveys ask a bunch of questions where the most accurate responses are simply not provided for. Have you ever seen a box for "well sometimes, but it just depends on the situation"? No. There you are. Perhaps these studies are skewed. 

Maybe I will do one of my own. I will ask all the parents I know to tell me how much time their children spend:
a) bickering;
b) fooling around;
c) making mess;
d) refusing to eat healthy balanced meals;
e) whining.

Oh gosh - I did not supply a category for "other" in my survey. Oh well, negligible, de minimis, won't worry about it as it might skew the results I need to get.

Perhaps I will come at this from a different angle. Rather than ask questions of parents, I could ask children. Oh no, if it were not confidential that might cause some problems.

Maybe the answer is tv after all. And the fame and fortune it offers. A test of mettle, perseverance and skill in a high stakes quest to find The Parent Extraordinaire (imagine the Apprentice meets Super Nanny meets Big Brother). 

The results may be staggering. 

Finally, returning to the study, why does Britain offer no official advice? Or are the British busy creating quality kids tv that teaches maths, social skills and healthy eating habits to the under fours?

And rather than ban tv for under 3s, why don't the French make watching it compulsory - is it not better to let everyone have the same chance to be hopeless? And why do those Aussies have to be so democratic. Surely 30 minutes of Bindy the Jungle Girl is not the same as 30 Minutes of MTV or the Wallabies live at Murrayfield?

And before I finish, could someone please commission a study into the impact of Youtube and facebook on these same children? 

Better go - need to catch my favourite show on demand and eat my daily fix of chocolate. It has to be better than being bullied on those discussion forums I follow.

Note to self - set some extra maths homework for the off-Spring.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Left, right, left, right - march it out - easy walk...

I have always struggled to remember which side of the brain is responsible for which type of thinking. This is topical because following on my foray into the world of Daniel Pink last week I ordered his book "A Whole New Mind". At risk of sounding churlish, I should let you know that I emailed Dan and invited him to comment on my post of 6 May (what motivates us). He very decently responded to say he would look at it when he had internet access - he was on a plane. I did not ask why he could receive emails but not read a blog  - there must be a special internet for best-selling authors or people who travel up front... Anyway, I was delighted to have his interest and am waiting and waiting for his comment. He still may be on the plane of course.

I don't mean to suggest he is not a man of his word. I am sure he is busy. I just hope he finds a moment before I make it big and my blogs emerge on the humour pages of the New York Times...

I am quite comfortable with the fact he is busy. So many of my friends and acquaintances are busy. I am in a unique place much of the time in that I am seldom particularly busy. I used to be busier, it is true, when I worked for someone else and had to be in places they needed me to be. But self-employed writer and coach is not too bad. People say; "how are you?" and I say: "good, keeping busy," in an animated sort of way with a slight upward inflection on "sy". It's not usually true. I mean, I am occupied. I am not twiddling my thumbs, as it were, but my days are not quite "ER" meets "The West Wing". Some days I realise I am rushing everywhere, but rushing does not correlate with busyness. In my case I rush because I get too involved with something and underestimate the time it takes to get the coffee I ordered, to get the off-Spring where they need to be (they are not very busy so it is only school or home usually), to buy things in supermarkets (what a mammoth waste of time), to wait for and ride on buses and to give directions to strangers. I always try to be prompt, so I burst blood vessels and look like a menopausal mess arriving places in a slight lather only, invariably, to be kept waiting 10 minutes anyway, as the person I am meeting is busy and delayed in another meeting (m. at toilet or on phone to wife/hubby).

So yes, most people are less available and as they are so busy, definitely more important and needed than me. The great thing for busy people is never having to apologise for not replying to emails or invitations to have a coffee and catch up. They don't need to return phone calls or observe other social niceties. Being busy is better than being happy and whole and relaxing, that's for sure. (As an aside I think there might be a book in the inverse relation between social networking and social skills.) Busy people are a little scary. I just wonder what on earth they are doing? Some people can't meet on weekends due to "chores" or "errands". I would love to be a fly in their handbags and see what they do and where they go. Busy people are like a secret society of special people who have meaningful and relevant lives. I sometimes feel like some poor country cousin (no offence non-city dwellers) interloping on the fringes of a cool clique waiting to hear the secret password to give me access to the big-time. "Dammit," they must be thinking  - "will have to avoid Springgirl. She is always hanging about with time on her hands looking for a coffee or a conversation. Doesn't she know we are busy. Where is the diary? Is that a text? I have to twitter that I am busy."

Sometimes people say to me, kindly, semi-indulgently: "where do you find the time to do so many things?" and I say - "oh, I am not that busy, you know - just seem to have more time than most people".

Perhaps "busy" is another of those relative concepts - like weight loss, fitness and being good-looking. I am struggling to think of absolute concepts. Today, for example, the relativity of fitness was proven yet again as I altered my routine (I gather from the crime books I read that if you alter your routine you  are less likely to be a victim of crime), and attended a TBC class at a different gym from my usual one. TBC stands for Total Body Conditioning. Depending on who is taking the class it can also mean This Bloody Crap or Tired Beyond Compare or occasionally Tanned Buff Chest. Today's was Toned But Cute meets Tough Boot Camp. Anyway, not far into the 469 wide legged squats and 84 burpees, it was clear to me that I am still not fit.  I seem to think I am an athlete because I go to the gym. I am essentially quite delusional about it.

The other day I did a BC class (that's non-contact Body Combat). Now, on a Saturday at the usual gym, I hold my own. I can do as many push-ups as the next chick my age; though it is challenge to tell ages in some cases, as the Body Combat face paint - I mean make-up - would throw Max Factor off. Full night-club eyes! One lady even does that thing where the eyeliner goes into a point way off to the side of the eyes - out on the edge of the eye-socket. It is Saturday at the gym - and not even cool super expensive one - not part way through a day on-set!

Nevertheless, as most of you know now, I am competitive by nature so I nab a good mirror spot to keep an eye on the others. I can see that I am in the top 10 (out of 40 or more) in terms of force of jab and upper cut. Some of them do not sweat. These women are forces of nature - they come in and really work hard and leave looking fresh and relaxed, not an eyebrow hair out of place. Others barely sweat because the barely moved other than to snarl up the corner where the mats are kept, chatting about what "he then said!". But, the fact that I am a contender for teacher's pet in Combat - my high knee moves are very good (many don't lift above usual thigh height!), my 128 jabs and crosses at the end are strong, in time with the music and consistent in force and direction, I laugh at the jokes and have even mastered that professional athlete hand on hip breathing thing between tracks (rather than the bent over double gasping for breath routine of former times) - means nothing on a weekday lunchtime, it seems. There is a whole different level of fitness happening in TBC, TBS (to be sure) at 1pm on a Tuesday.


Indeed, humiliated is how I felt mid-burpee when the skinny, veiny guy next to me was still going strong as I heaved my sorry leaden legs up once more (having already misplaced those pesky weights during the lunges and retied my laces twice), heart rate in the 300s and sweat pooling where my brow had been plastered to the floor.

You see, I had smiled a knowing inner smile at that skinny guy during the warm-up - congratulating myself on being so coordinated and knowing a side step from a grapevine. 

Well, imagine my mortification when I was one of the few not completing all the crunches and weird sideways dipping archy things at the end! So, having time on my hands of course, I stayed on for the gruelling follow up class in Body Balance. Man - people think that is a light weight option. It should be called TS (Thighs of Steel). After the TBC squats and one-armed push-ups it was no cake walk. But for the 34 toned, yoga queens in the room I would have called an ambulance. 

Clearly, my fitness depends on the day, class and venue. The question for me then is, do I raise the bar, risk injury and need knee replacement surgery by 40? Or just cruise, feel better about myself and steer clear of group exercise entirely? No pain (sigh) no gain, they say.

Yes! I shall push myself. I am certainly eager to keep dementia at bay and physical fitness is meant to help with that. Ohhh - which is where this all came from. 

Right and left brain.

I am tending to think I may be ambi-brained. Que? You know, like ambidextrous (which I am not).

Like in personality tests where I score right down the middle - I am an extroverted introvert, a perceptive judge, a feeling thinker and am very sensate in my intuition - I think I use both sides of my brain equally. Then again, I may have perception or judging issues and discover after reading Dan's book that I am deluded about my brain (as well as my fitness and talent in various other realms too).

I had occasion to test this ambi-brained theory in yoga class, would you believe? The Instructor is obsessed with breathing and noisy breathing, especially. I find it a bit off putting, to be frank. I mean I go to yoga to improve my plank, vary the workout and have a good stretch out, after sitting at the damn computer blogging like a maniac too long. But I play along with all the breath stuff and the "omming" and legs up the wall and so on - one cannot get the "nice warrior" compliments if one is grimacing during the less interesting bits. Anyway, she was having us use our right thumbs and ring fingers to block off our nostrils, alternately. Try it - weird eh? And as I have a head cold and hayfever, it was rather an effort to then hold the breath for 8 counts. I had to cheat and breath through my mouth at that point or I would have needed CPR and there was no one in the room I fancied having that from, bless them.

Well, yoga lady said that by blocking each nostril we feed the opposite side of the brain. She said we mostly breathe better through the right nostril and do more left brain stuff.  Mmm? Got me thinking, given my new book from Dan was sitting on my door mat right at that moment (he argues that right brain thinking is the way of the future - creative, empathic and intuitive). 

You see, my right nostril is almost completely blocked.

Hey - maybe I am not unfit after all. I struggled through TBC today due to this silly old head cold! You go Springgirl!

Sunday, 9 May 2010

The circle of life...

There is a point of view that leaders and innovators ask and show not only What is to be done and How to do it, but Why it is so. The three questions can be written inside concentric circles - the Why being the central one - the bull's eye.

Simon Sinek formulated this hypothesis - the Golden Circle

I grew up with a different Golden Circle. An Australian canner of fruits and vegies (slogans and labels are seldom original.) When I heard someone asking in reverent tones if I had heard about the "Golden Circle" I was unsure what to say. At first I thought it had something to do with rewards at school for good behaviour - but that is Golden Time. Then I wondered if the teacher makes the kids sit in a ring to enjoy their Golden Time. Then my mind turned to my favourite childhood dessert - pineapple meringue pie (missing my mum this Mother's Day). So I ventured - "What is so special about tinned pineapple and beetroot?" (lovely word "beetroot" with that pair of double vowels in each of the syllables; not many of those in English - moonbeam is close - I can think of no other actual word; poormoon, moonbeen, teendoor, spoonfeet, meetsoon, beetpoop, beennoon, teensoon...). 

Where was I? Golden Circle. Not exactly something to blog home about.
Then she explained.

Simon says organisations and careers function on three levels: 
WhyPurpose, cause or belief
The Why is your driving motivation for action. 
WhatTangible proof, results
The Whats are the tangible ways in which you bring your Why to life.
How - Guiding principles
The Hows are the specific actions that are taken to realize your Why.

He says too few organisations have a simple and comprehensible Why or fail to make it known.

This is good stuff - one man has taken over Why for himself - like the Riddler (Batman). He has all the merchandise - Why branded money clips, book marks, cuff links. There is even a Why University (looks uncannily like a coaching package, but what do I know?). Will a new WhyMCA be next? Any Whyne with your dinner? Whyte collar crime?

His website and his message is simple, clear and direct - no excess verbiage. It makes great sense and he is booked solid. 

I am coming at this from the wrong direction. (Come on Springgirl , when have you ever been wrong?) Ok, perhaps I should say I am using a less effective set of tangible ways to bring my Why to life. My Hows may not realise my Why. What did you say? What? Oh you mean, pardon? No. What. Exactly. Nothing seems to mean What it used to anymore.

Let me explain. Here I am, crafting a subtle blend of parody, irony, non-brevity and longevity in the hope that something of What I say will ring true for you or challenge you or make you laugh and I suddenly realise that I never clearly and overtly and authentically asserted my reason for doing so. Sure, you all assume I am blogging to amuse or amaze some faceless but influential writing talent scout in cyber-space who will pluck me from urban obscurity and turn me into the Voice of Small-Time-Crackpot-Wannabes the world over.

But you would be wrong - yes wrong! Hush now and listen. Simon says:
"It takes two things to be a great communicator: First, you need to be an optimist... (Springgirl: Phew - that's ok - I am definitely one of those!) Second:  you must be able to put what you can imagine into simple words that everyone can understand; it doesn’t help to use a big vocabulary.." (Springgirl: Not so good at that.)
Alright Simon. I will give it a crack (m. Aussie laconic expression for "try"). The Why - my motivation (in case you missed the last post watching Master Chef, participating in some real world social interaction or reading something less erudite) - is: Because I Want To.

Why do I want to? Because it is fun, interactive (people join in), engaging (I get into it and time passes) and stimulating (interesting, not too easy or dull).

See - the Golden Circle revolution is changing my life!

Perhaps I should reassess my What while I am second guessing my How. My subject matter is not simple or plain. I write about people and feelings and confusion and language and words. Should I just get over myself and tell you my child's favourite colour or What I ate for dinner or some such banality? Let me be truly honest - who cares? I don't even care What I ate. I happen to find the whole food obsession incomprehensible. I haven't had much appetite for 9 years since I subscribed to The Ecologist and began reading food labels in search of unmentionable and unpronounceable chemical additives. Sorry to put you off your dinner...

Maybe I need to try harder to find something that is simple and interesting. Chocolate....


That little guy on the end looks like the little Z in the "Cat in the Hat Comes Back" (next post topic?!).

But even if I find something simple and not too boring to write about there is a risk that my Why will be jeopardised. My What might be easier to convey if it were simpler but it might cease to prove my Why. I don't think I am allowed to change my Why willy nilly. And I mean the actual Why (the "I want to Why", not the "plucked from obscurity" perceived Why). So Where am I now?

Oh yes, for me the What has to stay more complex than simple, so that just leaves the How. The How is: blogging in a long winded way every few days. I think. How else could I communicate with you so as to make you laugh or think, without using these specific actions? I could phone you, I suppose, or write a letter, or a book. Oh no, I did that already. I could post comments on other people's blogs... That might get old pretty quickly, though.

Yet some of those alternative Hows might work, but they would be time consuming and might not appeal so much to you, who I think quite like being anonymous and removed from me and each other. Yes? And they would restrict my audience perhaps (given the huge numbers of avid readers I now attract, of course). So, the blog method of communicating seems to suit my Why. Rest assured I can be brief - I do Twitter! Not nearly as rewarding, though - feels like a waste of time actually - so I mostly use it to spread salacious gossip. 

I feel really ebullient now. I seem to be able to satisfy all the relevant criteria in order to hit the bull's eye and sit in the Golden Circle with all the leaders and innovators. 
The only outstanding issue is whether I can use fewer and less-big big words.  


I cannot change. 

If you are all in agreement then - let's move on. I want to share my vision for the future with you.

I see a world in which those who have the most uncanny grasp of the obvious and who can marry that insight with savvy marketing panache, cool catchwords, cliched slogans and celebrity sung jingles will run every company, every country and everything. 

What? You think I have no vision? Oh. You think I am describing current reality? Yep - you've got me there.

Ok. How about this then? 
I believe that we need to ask more of ourselves and of our leaders. We need to dream of a world in which everyone can struggle equally and freely to grasp complex and sophisticated concepts and ideas. We may not all master them, some of us may prefer to stay in our corners where we feel safe, where the words are not too big and the messages clear, and that will be ok, because in this future world there will be no right angles, no poles, no extremes.

In this future that together we will build, the Why and the How and the What will not be alone in their work to make sense of the difficult stuff. In this future the Circle will be squared - no, Pentagonsied - or even, dare we dream it - Hexagonised! The vertices will be replete and the Who and the When and the Where will take their rightful places in the quest for meaning and truth.

Just between us - I think I might graduate summa cun laude from a certain university...