Tag Archives: consulting

Please Disable Your Out-of-Office

In my last post I said this blog was about to get really interesting, and I have more than exceeded expectations.  I’ve been back at work for over two months now, and in my current role as a ‘leadership and cross-cutting issues performance driver’, the following quote in my Facebook feed today resonated with me enough to write a blog post:

“We must do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian-Darwinian theory, he must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors. The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.”

R. Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983)

In a glass building in London it is very difficult to make “I ran around 80 km per week” sound like a good use of time – especially if that time consists of a full (financial) year. What, I didn’t found even one teeny-weeny start-up? Or a charity to capacity build  indigenous women to make bracelets perhaps? Taught English? Nope. I just was. In Peru. And occasionally I ran.

“Yes, but what did you actually do?”

The funny thing is why I’m not asking the people in the office the same question. To an extent, a time could have been stopped for the whole year – bar some changes to a desk booking system (which doesn’t work) and the canteen, and a few greyer heads, everything looks more or less like I left it over a year ago.

If anything, I feel even less motivated by this emperor’s new clothes business, where I currently am the one with the responsibility for booking meetings for the senior needle and doing the admin for the senior specialist thread. As you might have guessed from my fancy job title above.

Your identity pends on your job, and not on the other things you do (if you have time to do other things).  On my career break, I used my business card to get access, and in the Immigration forms I would write as my occupation the one that I was having a break from. This would make others see that I’m not just a single mum, I am someone. Whether that job has any point is beside the point, and while it makes me feel worthless it is why I’m worth something, as the Conservative health secretary Jeremy Hunt recently reminded.

I’ve learnt there are a lot of things in the world that make me happy and that are not my job – or maybe any job out there apart from being a judge at the Great British Bake Off, and that’s ok! Perhaps it’s not in your job’s job description to be fulfilling in every sense, just like it’s not your partner’s responsibility to maintain your expected levels of happiness (although there are  some minimum standards).  I’d like to reclaim the word ‘passion’ and ban it from every single CV. I love writing, running, chirimoyas and my daughter. None of them earns me a living, but does that mean they are not valuable for their own sake? Today I managed  to get up at 5.30 am (this is much harder when it’s colder, darker and waaaayy lonelier than in Lima) and run 10km catching the sunrise over Alexandra Palace. A few hours later, in the office I responded to a request to invite someone to a meeting who had already been invited by another colleague, so I sent a couple of apologetic emails to clear the confusion. A bit of email traffic back and forth. Then I printed  a total of 160 pages of documents (containing an options appraisal for instruments to inspect inspectors, or something in this vein), which nobody in the meeting read, so I chucked these in the confidential waste bin.

Economists may disagree, but I think my most productive moment of the day was before 6.30 am.

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On doing what you love and being productive, last month I ran with the guys from Haringey Good Gym. There are GG groups all over London and the UK and they basically do a weekly running session combined with a bit of community work. The picture is from their Facebook page

Disclaimer:

If you are from work and you’re reading this, I’d like to say that I’m completely passionate about my job, the every day challenges it brings, the people I meet, the value I bring and the sustainable difference I’m making. I thrive on solving every day problems with printers and meeting bookings. Just in case that message was somehow unclear.  

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Consultancy In ma-La-La Land

I’m really happy that Malala has won the peace prize, even if I had my money on Vladmir. Hey, when I was seventeen, all I could worry about was looking fat.  Gendered problems all the same, but on the scale of feminism, more Emma Watson than Malala.

But I was fortunate enough to be born in a country where we shoot ourselves in the head so  the Taliban don’t need to; where both girls and boys go to school, eat organic, have lovely teeth and get good enough marks to put Finland on top of the PISA education league tables, year on year.  So as any mother would do, I’ve sold our things and moved to a country that has the poorest education out of all OECD countries, just behind Azerbaijan.

So is it a surprise that my first consultancy request is to run a mini workshop on the Finnish educational system. The request comes from Iquitos, Loreto, the largest city in the Peruvian rainforest and one that you can reach only by air or boat.  I know I was the one pretending to be busy whenever there was a risk of being sent on a consultancy somewhere you couldn’t access by the Northern Line, but that doesn’t mean it’s inappropriate to drop everything you’re doing and go WICKED WICKED JUNGLE IS MASSIVE.  (Watching Ali G with your 6-year-old is. Unless it’s done to maintain your cultural links to the Commonwealth.)

In my response email, I caveated my experience like no-one in possession of a Y-chromosome ever would, and suggested an agenda for the workshop. They were thrilled. I was exactly what they were looking for in this region that suffers from the poorest quality education in the country. I was the one to change this and train 400 teachers in 100 hours over two months.

Hold on.

Either Mr Rainforest is in lala land or something in my management consultancy CV gave the impression that compressing the five year Finnish teacher training into a two month course in the middle of the rain forest was my special competency. Was it the bit about operationalising payment by results to maximise value for money and optimal yet measurable and demonstrable outcomes in an effective, efficient and transparent manner while engaging and empowering project stakeholders, at the baseline and going forward? Need to re-word that. Again.

Deploying the same rigorous due diligence methods known to bluechip consulting outfits, DP then googled the prospective client, which hadn’t occurred to me yet.  It revealed that he had been on trial for paying for sex with an underaged girl. I started rewriting the agenda. Item 1: No sexual abusing of the pupils, paid or otherwise. Never. Item 2: the pillar of success of the Finnish educational system – all teachers are university educated with a post-graduate degree. Lunch.

But I decided to give it a benefit of a doubt – we’re after all in Peru, where it’s easier to buy the justice system than sugar free yogurt. Let’s be professional about it i.e. I need the money; and when before have I been promised “a team of psychologists to help because the atmosphere in Loreto is special,” despite the fact that in my experience the atmosphere is always a bit special from the moment management consultants arrive.

I email Mr Rainforest – so perhaps you are not looking for 100 hours introduction to the educational policy in Northern Europe, but a course in pedagogy. Which I’m not qualified to do, so best we meet or have a phone call to clarify the project objectives. In the meantime, if you could kindly tell me about the project…such as who it is funded and managed by?

To this email I didn’t get a response – and DP told me to forget it. But nearly a week later:

“It probably wasn’t a good idea to tell you about the reality of the educational level in Iquitos. But this is the truth and we want to change this little by little. We want to be taught to apply the Finnish educational system in our class rooms. Do not worry, we will find a specialist who is willing to do this. I profusely apologise for bothering you.”

Today I woke up convinced that I’d been in Peru a month longer than I actually have. I don’t think even a hundred hour workshop could have prepared me for all this insanity. To all my Facebook friends who are sick of seeing me wearing lycra at sunrise: running is no longer a hobby, it’s a lifeline. Because it really says something, if the sanest, most normal people I’ve met here are the ones who get up at 4am on a Saturday to drive 50km out of town to then run 7.5km uphill. And then for the fun of it, run it up all again. Booyaka booyaka.

If anyone is interested in an education consultancy, all expenses covered, a team of psychologists included and good prospects for a Nobel prize, send your CV and cover letter to the author.

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As the picture demonstrates, the hot topics here right now include online bullying at schools, hence commissioning a Finnish education consultant. Picture from DS Lands.

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