John settled himself in front of his state of the art computer, running his hand over the mouse watching the curser skip through his emails deleting them rapidly. He whistled as he sipped his cappuccino. Fridays were good days, working from home while everyone else schlepped up the motorway to the office. He wriggled his shoulders in pleasure and turned to the report he needed to write and get to his boss by lunch time. Two coffees and one chocolate biscuit later, time spent stroking the cat who taken up residence on the filing cabinet nearby and two hours closer to his deadline, he felt stuck. The words refused to flow, the issues seemed to elude him, the sheets and diagrams complicating not explaining things more clearly. He tapped his feet on the wooden floor in frustration. The soft thud on the oak planks did nothing to raise his spirits, in fact the sound irritated him. He pushed his ergonomic desk chair backwards and slumped down running his fingers through his hair.
“Damn Damn, this is supposed to be easy” he muttered to himself.
Horatio the cat didn’t mind, he leapt gracefully onto John’s lap and rubbed himself up against his face purring softly and deeply. Twiddling the cat’s ear John sighed and looked down. He saw he was still wearing his cosy slippers, warm comfortable, the old soft leather reassuring and relaxing, a sign he was at home.
“Why not Horacio, why not, I can wear what I like at home can’t I?” he muttered at the cat. “Do you remember the day I stayed in my pyjamas and almost got caught out by that surprise video conference”.
He smiled to himself, remembering how he’d dashed upstairs grabbed a shirt and had sat through the call, with the camera seeing his head and chest and completely missing his pyjama bottoms. Now he wondered, did what he wore make a difference to how he worked, to how he saw the world, how relaxed or focused he was – even though it seemed such a small psychological thing to him? Now as he looked down he wondered. Depositing Horatio on the desk, where he promptly lay on the key board sending a spray of random letters and figures across the word document, John pulled off his slippers and went looking for his most comfortable work shoes.
The wall clock ticked round to 1.00 pm, John pressed the send button and watched the email and the attachments leave. Wow, the last ninety minutes had been incredibly productive, the ideas had flowed, the words seeming to literally just appear on the page in front of him. Even though he said it himself, not a bad report at all. He decided there and then to wear his shoes when working from home. It was a little trick but it had worked, reframing his mind and approach to the business issues.
Monday morning he was in the office early, it meant he missed the worst of the traffic but it also meant no one noticed the the stuffed plastic bag he brought in with him, alongside his normal briefcase. He laid out the footwear in his office ranging from his best ‘important presentation’ shoes, trainers, loafers, through to those favourite slippers, which looked rather out of place; but then so did the pair of Dr Martins which he still wore out if it was wet, or when he just needed good walking boots sometimes. Jane his PA, ever professional, came in to plan out the day and her eyes swept over the shoes.
“Planning a party later, fancy dress?” she wrinkled her eyes looking at the shoes. John couldn’t help smiling, he knew she had a pile of her own shoes arranged under her desk too, from flats to high heels, although these were never talked about.
“Yup, well no, more an experiment”
“Aha, so which will you wear to the Board meeting later, slippers or Doc Martins?” she teased him gently, already knowing the impact of different clothes and shoes on situations. Wasn’t this blindingly obvious she thought, but maybe not, he was a man after all.
“Okay how about the loafers for the meeting, semi formal, won’t cause a stir, relaxing for you to wear. Maybe creates a picture of you on a sailing yacht, Americas cup that sort of thing”.
So he did wear them, did it make an impact he wasn’t sure, but the meeting went very well and certainly the loafers, the picture of the boat cutting through the water, his mind being relaxed and calm, all seemed to help.
Jane couldn’t stop herself over the next few days, encouraging him to try different shoes in different situations, even creating a mini spread sheet to measure the impact. The Doc Martins were an instant hit with the ops team – the bad news on budgets he presented was accepted reasonably well – maybe they were mesmerised by the size ten, highly polished, bovver boots. The slippers she noticed got worn in the lunch break and at times when he needed to recharge and they always went home in the evening and weekends with him, until he bought a second pair. Within a short time, the shoes became company folk law, with people arriving to see John and checking in with Jane on ‘what sort of shoe day was it today’, before entering his office. The anonymous witty article in the company newsletter John took well too and the regular teasing and banter from his colleagues. Better still he wore the whole variety of hats given to him at the staff Christmas party, selecting just the right one for what ever work he was doing.
He never could be absolutely sure if it was the shoes, the hats or something else which made him more productive, but he found himself promoted the following year.
Grahame Pitts – 9th September 2016
This story comes from my own experience and reminded me of NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) which was in vogue not so long ago. The need to reframe a problem in a different way, whether with words, attitudes, or activities is very important if you are stuck. Enjoy trying something different and remember, it is often the easier and simpler idea, rather than the harder one, which works. I am reminded of the leader who felt his annual appraisals were just ‘form ticking’ and lacked quality and depth. So, he went on walks with every member of his team instead (the sheets were completed later and actually more quickly than normal). Everyone enjoyed themselves.