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if we want the best to choose from, someone has to make a difference


We often choose something; sometimes because we want to, and other times because we have to, but how do we choose? There has to be some form of measurement that helps us to compare. It may be as subjective as colour or style or more objective as in, say, performance or size. These choices may be personal or business, but we all make them every day.

Those who try to influence us in these choices will strive to pander to those choice triggers. The world of advertising had a field day in the post WW2 eras as the production capacity switched from military needs to consumer goods and fed an increasing affluent society.

From the 1970s onwards a series of events; oil crises, financial downturns and such saw the boom years come to an end and competition to persuade us has become more and more sophisticated, these days with social media and the like playing their part in parting us with our cash.

Some of all that is on a personal level, but business has seen a parallel experience although the choices here are normally much less subjective. Whether we are in facilities management, logistics or any other business discipline we are much more performance related in our decision making and so those who would sell us have looked to raise the bar in that area.

We talk of excellence in what we sell and what we seek. Consider this quotation; “In anything at all, perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away” Antione de Saint-Exupery sums it up well there, but what is this state to which we aspire?

Does competition drive excellence? To some degree it does, but if we take sports as an example of competition, there are those who will demonstrate how to win with minimum effort; Sir Jackie Stewart will tell you all about winning at the slowest pace for example. Following this example there are a lot of companies that are content to just be better than the rest rather than to excel.

Am I suggesting that we abandon the quest for perfection just because of this? No I’m not. The point I’m making is that what happens when we look at competing solutions is that we pick what we see as the best to fulfil our need as we see it at the time. Now that may not be a great solution, but better than what we have now and better than anything else so we choose it. If it helps us achieve something then it may well be worth accepting but, if not, we probably won’t, or shouldn’t bother. Hobson’s Choice, as we used to say.

What we want is to have great things to choose from, and that is what those of us in the service industry try to create and deliver. It is what competition should be all about in this context, and there will be times when we have the right thing for the moment; when we catch the wave and ride it in. It will be a transient moment, sure, but getting it right and creating the thing of choice is such a buzz that you’ll want to do it again and again.

If we truly want to make a difference we have, as my friend Ian Berry down under will tell you, you have to change what is normal.

Perfection made be hard, even impossible, but doing something extraordinary is within reach of us all, so why not try? Make a difference.

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You can’t take yourself too seriously. If you do you are buying your own con – Ferrol Sams


It’s a quote I found in a book entitled Last Bus to Albequerque and it struck a chord with me when I first read it back in 1994. I used the first half of it as one of my over the desk mottos; the whole thing was too long and, in any case, if anyone thought that I was a con artist I didn’t want anything over my desk that appeared to confirm that view!

But the sentiment is a strong one, and it took a while for me to realise that I had fallen into the trap of taking myself very seriously indeed;  the blinding flash that showed me what a complete idiot I was making of myself was an unpleasant realisation. As I write these words now I am transported back to about 1984 when I had that moment on the road to Damascus so to speak.

Having been able to see the problem and deal with it made a big difference to me in many ways, both professional and personal. I began to enjoy myself and I got even better at what I did as a result. When I adopted the strapline of “25 years of having fun whilst making things happen” last year, that is exactly what I meant.

Getting a laugh out of every day isn’t always easy, and there have been times when black humour has won through. I won’t repeat some of the jokes here because I recognise that they were offensive to some, but in the context of our team and the moment they were just what we needed to lift the mood. The best ones were, of course, the ones that punctured my dignity and I’ll share a couple here.

My team and I managed a diverse property estate and most of the team would have to travel to get to a common location, so hotels provided a neutral venue, but at the previous couple of meetings I had felt it necessary to mention standards of dress; we were on show and the welcome board in reception told everyone which company we represented. After the second warning one of the team challenged me quietly and suggested that suits and ties were maybe too formal, so could we not have a smart casual regime, maybe golf clubhouse standards? I took the point and smart casual was the order of the day for the next meeting. I turned up in golf shirt and chinos to find the rest all in their best business suits – game set and match to the team.

Another time I had been banging the environmental drum and we had begun to have our site vehicles and equipment painted green in an effort to raise awareness amongst our tenants and generally push the Green boat out. Then came a meeting to discuss the issue of the latest set of site manuals for our tenants. “I suppose you want green binders?” I was asked, and the answer was, of course, “Yes”. On leaving that meeting I was reminded that I should wear overalls when on that site as it was both protocol and would be part of the new Health & Safety plan in respect of wearing personal protective equipment (lead from the front John). I mentioned, sheepishly, that my girth had outgrown my overalls and that a new set were needed. No problem, they’d be waiting for me on my next visit. And they were, in lurid green! Team 10, Bowen 0.

You can’t take yourself too seriously.you do, no-one else is going to take your side.

Destiny is no matter of chance. It is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for; it is a thing to be achieved.


This is often bandied around as a motivational quote, but like many such quotes, it has its detractors. I don’t pretend to know what William Jennings Bryan had on his mind when he said this, but I have my own thoughts.

On the one hand I often argue here that the choices we make influence what we end up as, and that I’m unlikely to change my mind on. My own experience, both of what has happened to me and what I’ve seen happen to others, is that your choices have a big impact. Of course there are circumstances not of your making that will affect how your life turns out. I wrote last week about the fickle finger of fate and how none of us know how long we have here.

So no, we don’t choose everything that comes our way. The trick for me is in how we react to the slings and arrows through our lives. As with the quotation that started this off, there are loads of old adages, all of which have a modicum of truth in them. One that suits my line of thought here is “When the going gets tough, the tough get going”. You can roll over and moan when things go wrong, or you can try to turn something positive from the experience.

On that basis I have no time for the arguments of those who would reject the premise as not being a law of life. Of course we have no choice in many aspects of our existence; we don’t chose to be brought into life and many choices are made for us by others during our formative years, but we do have the choice of whether or not we learn at school for example, and we have choices about how we approach whatever job we manage to find ourselves.

Not everyone is going to make big sums of money, but that isn’t the only measure of success in life. You can either sit around and wait for something to happen or you can make an effort. You won’t win them all, but you have to be in it to win it, so if you don’t try you don’t have a chance. Even a lottery winner made the effort to pick some numbers and buy a ticket.

Having dreams is fine, but they need a little work to make them come true. It’s fine to look up in wonder at the heights and want to be there looking down, but those who go for a ladder have the right idea.

It doesn’t matter how hard things look there is always an opportunity to try something. One of my schoolboy heroes in the late 50s and early 60s was the great Swedish rally driver Eric Carlson. A bear of a man he could make those little 2 stroke Saabs dance over the ice and through the forests, and at a time when such cars were just modified production vehicles with little of the safety aids of today. There was also no route reconnaissance or pace notes, but when he was asked about what went through his mind heading over a blind crest at night in the forest at 100 mph, he shrugged and said, “Well, the road must go somewhere”.

For all of us we have these blind crests on the road of life; destiny may not always be in our hands, and whatever WJB had in mind when he uttered his words I don’t know, but for me they do make a connection. I’d rather go down trying than crying.

what will people remember you for?

January 31, 2011 1 comment

“At least you sorted the drains out”. Will that be my epitaph?

The comment came during a chance meeting with someone who worked for me twenty odd years ago, but whom I’ve not seen for five or six years. It refers to an incident at a site that I had taken over running the operations at and where there had been a perennial problem with flooding. I had been standing in the car park in the aftermath of the first big summer storm following a project to fix the problems admiring the gently steaming tarmac when my boss squared walked quietly up behind me and said, “There may be doubts as to whether or not Mussolini made the trains run on time, but at least you’ll be able to claim that you made the drains work as your legacy to mankind”.

To set out to leave some form of legacy by which you will be remembered may not be a bad thing, but it does require elements of conceit and vanity (both of which I plead guilty of from time to time). The danger comes when those vices get in the way of what you are trying to deliver and the end result becomes more about you than those who might otherwise benefit, and I’ve seen that blight often enough to be wary of it in anything that I set out to achieve these days.

As a young man I can remember being told of the bucket of water test. You plunge in both hands and swirl for all you are worth, but so quickly after you take your hands out do those waters become still again leaving no trace of your efforts. Along the same lines I am minded of an old Scots lament:

“Mony’s the ane for him makes mane, But nane sall ken whar he is gane.

Ower his white bones, when they are bare, The wind sall blaw for evermair”.

Very few people do something that leaves a long term mark, and often those that do are those who had the fortune to have circumstances collide with need rather than any plans for greatness coming to fruition. Cometh the hour, cometh the man sort of thing.

Maybe it is more the little things that you do that will make a difference. I sorted the drains by getting a CCTV survey done rather that spending a 5 figure sum every year on jet blasting as my predecessors had done. That meant that I could invest money in the two or three areas where there was a major problem and get them fixed properly. It worked and a significant irritant for the 1300 or so people who worked on the site went away.

That is classic facilities management stuff; making life better for the workers helps productivity and better productivity means more profitable business, more satisfied customers and all of those fine things. Facilities management people fix stuff. As Dara O’Briain said when he provided the entertainment at the BIFM Awards dinner a few years ago, we are like the fairies at the bottom of the garden, doing things un-noticed.

So we have a lesson in humility maybe? It isn’t about the individual so much as the part that the individual plays in their environment and the contribution that they make.

But the other lesson here is a leadership one. Recognition is a powerful reward: I got a nice glow from someone remembering and saying so. Why not thank someone today, and maybe your legacy will be to be remembered as a nice person. I’d settle for that.