Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

‘Roll up, roll up. Come on ladies and gentlemen, try the hall of mirrors, mystery around every corner.  You there, yes you madam, come along you look like you could do with an adventure’. He twirls his fingers around his waxed moustache, then lifts off his top hat and waves it towards the crowd. People melt away, avoiding his penetrating stare. Some move on toward the  big wheel turning in the dark evening sky, lights blazing in the night air. Others drift away and head for the noise of  fifties dance music and the shrieking, as the dodgem cars bash and clash together.  Marina  though stops and in some way is attracted to what he is offering. She slowly slides her arm out from the comfort of the man she is walking with and without consulting him, steps towards the fair attraction.


‘Good choice, good choice’ the stall holder keeps his banter going as he rams his black hat onto his head and then disappears into the pay booth ready to receive the cash. ‘Enjoy, yes enjoy the maze of mirrors.’ That’s two, yes’? The money disappears under the counter. There is a pause, then reluctantly he passes back the change, grubbing about in his pockets until the finds the right coins.  Marina waits, knowing the exact amount that should come back.


‘Come on Seb let’s go’ and she pulls the nervous looking young man towards the entrance, her hand wrapped in his. The curtains look old and smell musty. There is a tear in one corner and above their heads a bulb buzzes, flashing off occasionally.  Marina confidently pushes through and they find themselves in a room, mirrors all around them, reflecting back to each other. Suddenly they find many versions of themselves creating infinite patterns. She pulls him towards her and the kiss is bounced around them. Then as they turn to both face the nearest mirror, their happy smiles travel away too. Their laughter as they enjoy the moment seems to echo around the room in parallel to the reflections.


They spend several minutes trying out different poses, giggling at each other, watching miniature versions of themselves disappear away into the distance.  Then Marina, becoming bored,  begins to look for the next curtain, but there isn’t one.  As she turns, she just sees mirrors all around them. Then after some searching together Seb finds the door behind a reflection of himself.  The way leads to another room, this time filled with distorted reflections. So, now they are sometimes tall, short, fat, thin. Seb admires Marina as she turns to ripples in front of him and she adds to the effect by practising her Rumba dance routine, throwing her arms into the air.


‘Come on let’s see what’s next’ and she pulls at the edges of the mirrors around them looking for a new door. When one suddenly opens, without thinking she steps through. Which is a mistake, as the entrance slopes away and she slides inelegantly downwards ending up in a heap in the new room. The door behind slams shut and disappears into the myriad of mirrors around her.  Glancing back she realises she has no idea where the exit is. Her voice comes out as a squeak as she calls for Seb. There is no reply just silence, except in the background the same fizz and pop of electricity and with it the occasional dimming of the lights around her.


Marina feels her normal self confidence beginning to slide away. Getting onto her feet and beginning to breath more rapidly she  takes in this new room. No distortions, no infinity, just mirrored glass all around her, a complete circle. ’Stay calm’ she says to herself  ‘It’s just a fairground illusion, a maze of some sort. There’s always a way out’.  Taking a deep lungful of air, she pushes and pulls each panel repeatedly, leaving a sweaty hand print on the shiny surface of each one. None move. Her face becomes paler as she looks back at herself.  Her forehead crinkles, worry lines seem to appear.  This isn’t her. She is an assured professional woman, not this person looking back at her. There is smudge on her make up and she tries to fix it. ‘No tears I don’t do tears’ she mutters. Sniffing she wipes a hand across her face and begins a second circuit of the room.  ‘Just think it through, just think it through’. Logic works, she knows it does. It always has and will this time.


Her rational brain is beginning to click in now as she assess the problem. People at work say she has a great way of dealing with a crisis, a difficult customer,  a worried member of the team and now she feels back in control.  Then with one last crackle, the lights go out.  All that is left is the glow of an old safety  lantern hanging by a loose wire up in the ceiling above her head.  ‘Calm, stay calm’ she mutters, deliberately remembering her yoga class, pulling air in through her nose and out of her mouth.  She sees the blurred outline of herself in the mirrors, all detail now gone.  Yet as she squints at the images, something changes. In one, a scene begins to appear, fuzzy at first then clearing. More details and colour seem to be added as she looks on. Spinning around she sees the same happening in each mirror.  Marina gulps, steadies herself and forces herself to look at the scenes one by one, looking carefully at each mirror. In one, she is with her two brothers and her mother and father, no more than three years old. Everyone is laughing, she is on a swing, kicking her legs out to go higher.  The next scene is at school.  Marina sits and works diligently at her studies with the discipline that will ensure her top marks throughout her education and into her professional training. Turning slowly around she follows her career and her relationships, across the years. The highs and lows, all the way through to being a CEO. Mostly ups, rather than downs. Generally things have gone well.


Then the last few mirrors change. She is caught by the image of the one showing her current business. The colours draw her but then fade as she looks at it.  A sadness comes over her  as she studies herself in the scene.  The last picture is of her in her office . She is sitting at the desk, writing, writing, writing, then dropping the letters out of the window and watching them drift away in the air.  This picture makes Marina even more depressed as she reflects on the toughness of work right now and the marketing they’ve done and redone to try get through the down turn. Not letters but endless emails, social media, you name it they’ve tried it. It feels like the business is failing.  As she watches, the woman in the mirror moves in closer to the window and studies the activity in the background of the scene. There are people out there, picking up the messages, waving the notes in the air, smiling and moving towards her, saying something she can’t hear.  It seems clear she knows what she has to do. Putting her pen down and without packing any of her things lying around the room, even leaving her lap top open with the latest budget flashing red, she moves to the door. It won’t open though, it’s stuck. This is for her safety after all. The security company says. you never know who might try and get in and steal something. Where is the key? Marina watches herself in the scene. Her other self tugs at the door handle again, then turning begins a frenetic search. Papers fly. The marvellous structured filing system for copies of the letters asking for business is pushed off the desk and crashes to the floor.  No key appears. She pauses, seems to stop and then makes a decision. Going over to the wall opposite the door and kicking more papers and revised budgets aside, she brings one foot up behind her against the wall and using the leverage leaps forward across the room. Her shoulder crashes against the door and with a bang it swings open. Warm sunlight bursts into the room and the trapped Marina races forward toward freedom and a new future. She hears cheering and shouting.


‘Hello, you all right in there? Need a bit of help to find the exit from the mystery mirror maze’? The voice booms into the room. The lights came on, the scenes disappear and as Marina comes back to herself looking around a mirror swings open. The night time fairground appears in front of her. Lights twinkle, the smells of candy floss wafts in, the sharpness of the evening air comes towards her, she hears the shouts of enjoyment from people having fun.  And there, waving at her is Seb,. The stall holder next to him is bowing, in his hand the black top hat thrown outwards.

’Voila,  there you are. Our beautiful lady reappears and as you see is different but not different. Wonderful. Who is next for the journey of a life time’?


Grahame Pitts – December 2022



I am intrigued by the idea of mirrors and how they reflect back to us, sometimes very plainly ‘this is what it is’ and other times maybe a touch ‘distorted’.  We may see things as they truly are, or there may be something else waiting to be spotted in the refection which can help us into the future.  So, a couple of questions going into the Christmas break…..

  1. When you look in the mirror what do you see? All good, or anything needing consideration at this time?
  2. If you let the lights dim a little and scrunch up your eyes, what do you see for the future?
  3. Anything practical action you might take to help you move forward? Who do you need to meet, spend more time with in 2023?

Stimulus and Response – The Love Affair

‘I love you, I really do’. He slides up beside her, his hands reaching out to take her face gently into the palm of his hands. His lips touch lightly onto hers and his eyes twinkle in delight.

‘I can’t live without you Stim, I really can’t’ His hands slide to the back of her head and gently move through the glossy blonde hair. Then strangely, he feels her hand on his chest as she gently pushes him away, before running her fingers through her hair to organise herself. She looks at him, her eyebrows dipping slightly.

‘You know I love you Res I really do, but I need to be honest with you…..’ He senses the rebuff and moves slightly away from her, but still holds her hand so she cannot move too far away. They are getting ready for a party, all old friends coming  together. It is a regular, relaxed, fun time with people they’ve known for years. She had been standing at the mirror, choosing ear rings when he came up and kissed her, his aftershave mixing with her perfume as they came close.

His face crumbles at her words. She has been a little bit off over the last few days, certainly not her usual loving, close, caring self. He tries to listen, but his heart rate has risen and he senses the  blood surging through his veins. Their love was beautiful, everyone said so – a whirlwind romance, wonderful to watch, a classic love at first sight, a match made in heaven. And now, living together after all these years, it had seemed perfect to him. Yet here in the bedroom, he feels a sense of fear and concern. He doesn’t want to say anything, doesn’t want to speak, but he has to.

‘What’s the matter Stim’? The words come out slowly, quietly, tentatively. It seems wrong to even ask.

‘Look Res’ her voice is confident, sure, straight. She takes him over to the bed and pulls him down to sit on the edge, their legs touching. ‘I love you, just as I did when we first met. You are very special, we’re meant to be together for ever and ever I’m sure. I don’t want to be without you,  I really don’t, but …….’. The air seems to shift between them. Stim sighs deeply and squeezes Res’s hand. They’re both silent.

‘I just need a bit more space that’s all. Just a bit, not too much just a bit. I need to be my own person. I think you need to be too’. She can see he is trying to hear, but he seems close to tears as he looks at her.

‘I just want to do what is right for you, give you what you need, be there for you. I love you Stim I really do’. His voice is quiet, hesitant. He squeezes up tight to her, only to find her moving away again slightly, creating more space again between them. It feels wrong.  All of it is wrong and he wants to move to her. Yet no matter how he hates it, he stays where he is, because that’s what she wants, but he feels very uncomfortable.

‘Look’ Stim tries again. ‘We can continue on how how we are, but it will be the same and then, more of the same’. Res looks confused. ‘You know…. I do something, you respond in the way you always do. We know the routine and everyone around us does too. It feels like the same old, same old’.

‘But isn’t that good, you know predicable, comfortable….’? Res looks at her, his voice rising slightly as he replies. There is a fine line of sweat across his top lip and red patches are beginning to appear on his neck above his shirt collar. ‘Isn’t that how couples work, you know like in tandem’? He senses her irritation and stops, watching as she pushes herself up off the bed and moves away.

‘Okay, okay, what do you want’? He drops his head into his hands, so the words are muffled and indistinct. Inside he’s expecting disaster –  a break up, news of another man, divorce looming.

‘Just to try some things differently. So, there is space for something else to happen, rather than just the usual, what we always do. Something different’ Stim responds. Then she smiles. ’How about we practice tonight? You know, I do something and you respond differently, check yourself before doing what you might always do’. She winks at him, which is most disconcerting, because she has never in all their time together winked at him. It is  such a simple thing and he wants to react straightaway, or to say something to tell her that it’s just plain weird. He can’t stop the automatic reaction, his eyelid beginning to twitch. Instead though, he takes a deep breath and counts to ten. Which seems to take an age, but during that time he thinks. There is just the tick of the bedside clock filling the silence. He really wants to wink back, get them both in sync again, but he doesn’t. Instead, as ten clicks through his head, he pushes out his tongue and rolls his eyes. She bursts into laughter.

‘Okay let’s do this Ms Stimulus. Let’s go courting again, do some things differently at the party. See what happens to us and maybe to others tonight too’. He slips on his jacket and takes her respectfully by the hand. She is smiling now.

‘Thank you Mr Response, that would be lovely, very lovely. And we can count in the gap together. Ready to give it another go’? Her eyes sparkle at him. They both hold their breath, heads rocking to and fro as they go through the count. Then before Stimulus can stop him, Response is heading out of the door, taking the stairs two at a time, whooping and cheering.

Grahame Pitts – December 2020


This story comes out of a number of leadership conversations about habitual reactions. Sometimes simple everyday situations, sometimes tougher emotional loaded moments. Unless we check ourselves we can often respond in a certain way and in a way which we know is pretty predictable. This can be beneficial, we all know what to expect  from each other, but this habit can also limit us. So, a particular stimulus – perhaps a situation, a person, an emotion – can immediately invoke a particular response. Stimulus and response are powerful and almost symbiotically linked. Yet in all this, we may be missing larger, more interesting, opportunities.

How do we change our responses? By being aware of what is going on right in the moment. Then by creating a gap between the stimulus and the response. Actively working at stopping a habitual response – watching out for instance for those ‘yes buts’, ‘no that won’t work’ type of comments – by creating more space before responding. Perhaps, as in the story, using a count of  ten, taking a long deep breath. Maybe, just checking in with your heart and mind or sensing the reaction occurring in your body. Most importantly, doing something which stops you immediately reacting.

Enjoy pausing!

Some possible reflection questions:

  1. Where do you get into unhelpful stimulus response situations? At home, at work? Do you know what triggers them? Are these specific situations, or is there a reoccurring theme?
  2. Sometimes, can you give yourself a gap before responding? What method would work for you, giving you more time to respond with a different choice?
  3. Where can you experiment right now? What one place can you try this out in the next few days?
  4. And turning the model on its head – what new stimulus do you need in the coming months to create opportunities for new and different reactions?

Paths, Patterns & Choices

There is just enough space on the bench for one more. Well almost enough if they all shuffle along a little. Christine hauls her rucksack off, feeling lighter already as she dumps her bag on the floor. She stretches, her back cracks with relief as she rolls her shoulders, life coming back into the muscles.

‘Hi, mind if I take a seat’. Three faces look up at her, a mixture of welcome, curiosity and one with what seems like down right hostility. ‘I won’t stay long but could you shove up a bit, I think the seat is meant to take four’. Bottoms shuffle on the wooden bench and she squeezes in at the end. 

‘Phew I needed this’ and as the others settle and readjust, she pulls out her water bottle and takes a deep slurp before looking around. It’s been a long walk to this point, interesting though, lots to see, a real adventure and her fitness levels have improved over time. 

‘Well this seems a good spot to put this seat’ she says quietly looking around. The four of them are sat on a junction, a multi junction. The path she came up, the one they all came up she assumes is almost behind the bench, you can just see it out of the corner of your eye. Ahead the track splits and there are a number of choices. Immediately, directly ahead, is a wide reassuring asphalt path which arcs straight and disappears into the distance. To their right and left are a number of paths which split away in different directions. Some have clearly been walked by others, some are barely noticeable, maybe a single set of steps have gone that way.

‘Any idea which way to go from here?’ she asks enthusiastically looking around, her eyes sweeping over her three new companions. Right next to her is a man alternating between opening and shutting a book and lifting a pair of large black binoculars to his face. He takes one more sweep of the vista ahead, his head swivelling through one hundred and eighty degrees.

‘What would you do?’ he says turning towards her. ‘Oh sorry forgot my manners, I’m Bill’. He shuffles book and binoculars around so he can shake her hand. ‘It’s just that it’s says here ‘Look for the long term, build for future success, not just the immediate’. He seems to be reading from a particular page. ‘Here, take a look’. He passes her the glasses which she has to adjust to get into focus, then everything springs up large and bright in front of her. ‘Can you see all the good things just down the main path there and some more just a bit further on, then beyond that it all begins to peter out’? Christine is not sure what she is looking at, maybe they are trees, she’s not sure. The closest seem to have a lot of fruit on if that’s what they are. Further on they have less fruit and in the mid distance the trees look bent, broken and the soil underneath arid. 

‘Now look a bit to your left’ and he guides her hand, nudging the glasses across. For a short while it is all distorted then coming into focus is a very large patch of land with saplings growing, spreading right and left across the span of her vision. The soil looks fertile ‘The problem is I can’t see a path to get there, possibly a sheep or cattle track, but not much more’. He’s right, the tarmac path clearly  leads straight through the closest trees and on until it disappears into the arid landscape she first looked at. That route is clear. Swinging the binoculars back, he’s right, no path seems to go to where the rich soil seems to glow red in the distance.

“I think I have a decision to make, go for the short term, straight in front of me, or look for a way to a better long term future’. He pulls out a pristine white handkerchief from his pocket and polishes the lenses, flicks through the book one last time, then snaps it shut. With a purposeful nod to them all he starts off down the tarmac road, stepping  out in a regular stride. Then after a hundred metres and with a wave back at Christine, he plunges off the path heading towards the fertile field.

‘Good  for him, I admire that determination’. A woman pushes herself along the bench filling the space left by Bill. ‘I hate decisions though don’t you. She looks directly at Christine unafraid of eye contact. ‘It means having to make a choice, it’s so hard isn’t it’? She’s waving a piece of paper in front of her. ‘A friend sent me this poem, said it might help me’. Her face crinkles. ‘Help me! Well it did get me started I suppose, it made me move, but now I’m in a right muddle. It says here’ she pauses to find the right sentence ‘Choose the most interesting path, the least travelled path. Which one though I say to myself, Jane which one, they didn’t say there would be loads of choices’. She sighs deeply. In frustration, she screws the sheet into a ball crushing her hands together, then quickly unwraps the crinkled sheet to study the words once again.

‘I love this poem, I love all this inspirational type stuff’. Her face opens up and she beams at Christine. ‘Here you keep this love’ and the worn creased paper changes hands between them and Jane stands up. She ponders all the paths arrayed out in front of her, looking around, seeming to do some sort of metal equation. Then she starts off down a well marked grass path before coming back, pointing at another, shrugging her shoulders and setting off down a less well marked but interesting track which bends  away through the fields and towards the woods ahead.  Occasionally she stops, looks back, stares at the other paths leading in other directions and then moves on until she disappears from view.

The last person on the bench ignores Christine completely. He’s crunched up in a dark raincoat, even though the day is quite warm, he’s staring at his shoes which are highly polished.  Christine considers moving along the bench but senses he needs space. 

‘Nice day hey’. Christine leans back looking at the wide spread of countryside ahead of them. Bill, a tiny spec in the distance, seems to be walking back and forth through the saplings. Occasionally the glass in his binoculars flashes in the sunlight. Jane has disappeared into the trees. High in the blue sky above, a Red Kite circles seeking a thermal in the warm air. 

‘Choices, choices, there is no choice whatsoever, they’re both talking nonsense’ the voice mumbles out of the folds of the coat. ‘Idiots the pair of them, believing you can take a different path’. He turns and glares at her, his eyes are red rimmed with dark shadows below. ‘See that’. A slender hand is pulled out of a pocket and points at the path behind and one in front of where he is sitting. It seems to run directly under the bench. ‘You’ve got your life patterns, you can move a bit but mostly you go along your tram lines following the stuff your parents or grandparents gave you. I know I’ve trained in this stuff. That woman should have tried a different poem, something more realistic, maybe that one by Philip Larkin ‘They fuc……’. He is cut short as Christine interrupts him.

‘Yes, I know that poem, a bit depressing actually, I prefer optimism and hope myself’. He looks at her, ponders on the comment, before a broad smile breaks out across his tired face. 

‘Maybe you’re right’. He takes a moment to reflect. ‘Perhaps a bit of both ideas makes more sense. So, accepting there are patterns, but choice and experience makes a difference. Our patterns are just patterns wherever they come from. Some are good, some are bad, but they help us manage our complex lives. We need them. I was just thinking about my old dad, he had good intentions I think. He worked hard, was never at home, that was probably a family pattern, but he made some good choices too.  I think I’m a bit better, I work hard too, but still probably too much, if my marriage is anything to go by’.

He pauses and looks up at the Red Kite, which is hovering closer, focused on something below ignoring them completely.  ‘And we’re adults aren’t we, we have to make choices and remake them regularly, that’s how our patterns shift in the long term. I have to choose the next step, the next path to go down’. He takes a deep breath. ‘I’m being a a bit stupid really, I know this stuff, I’ve been through it a few times. Maybe I’m just a bit tired right now and can’t see anything clearly. So, you go right ahead and make your choice, I think I’ll just sit here a while and enjoy the sunshine’.

Christine leans back on the bench and watches the bird swoop down, flash across the ground, then up and away. 

’You know I might sit here a while too if that’s okay? I can see two or three options ahead but I’m not sure yet. Would you like some lunch’? She unbuckles the top of her rucksack and begins searching inside. ‘Would you be willing to share some of your choices, the paths you’ve taken while you’ve been working hard’? She knows he will because he’s tapping the end of his nose as he thinks, a smile appearing on his face.

Grahame Pitts

December 2019

Postscript – One book, Two Poems 

The ideas in the first part of the story comes from a book I have just read (thanks Bryan for the recommendation) – The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek (https://simonsinek.com/product/the-infinite-game/). He talks about the need for organisations to move from our current model of short term results, to a broader longer term perspective, where we create sustainability for future  generations, rather than just our own. Although the book applies this to business it has the same resonance at a personal level.

The second part of the story pulls on the themes from two well known poems by:

Robert Frost – The Road Not Taken – (https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44272/the-road-not-taken)

Peter Larkin – This Be The Verse – (https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/48419/this-be-the-verse)

Both poems are often quoted in personal and leadership development workshops and are used to stimulate, challenge and inspire.

Some possible reflection questions:

  1. Are you making good choices? How much are you driven by your patterns? Which of these patterns support you, which ones are potentially sabotaging you?
  2. Do you need to sit a while as you consider your next choice? Who would you like to chat to about your next step (someone with a different perspective, or at least different patterns). Or do you simply need your own quiet reflection time?
  3. Are you able to consider both your immediate short term choice and how this fits into the much longer term perspective? If you are in an organisation, are you able to see the long term picture (probably beyond your time there) and therefore what foundations you need to put in place now? 

Knockout Fight

“In the left hand corner representing joy, hope, anticipation, creativity, please give it up for Jhac our latest contender for the world title” the announcer’s voice boomed around in the darkness followed by muted clapping from the auditorium. Jhac waved and after a tentative half confident walk around the ring, settles on his stool in the corner and as his gloves are tightened, listens to his coaching team go through the final briefing.

“Come on Jhac you can do it ” calls a lone voice making him smile, his mum is in the crowd, willing him on, as she has at every bout since he’d chosen to take up boxing. Now she’s up on her feet chanting his name and others are half heartedly joining in. It doesn’t matter one way or another to her, she is there for her son and will be forever. Now she’s turning round shouting up into the rows behind and that gets the boozed up ones going, jeering, cat calling, telling her to f* off, sit down.

The pa systems booms into life drowning the argument and then the lights are flashing, followed by billowing iced smoke which swirls around the long corridor from the changing rooms to the ring.

“And now ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the defending and heavy weight champion of the world, representing doubt, worry, failure, despondency, Mr DWFD, or, as we know him Baaaaad Boooooy. The crowd are on their feet, stamping to the music, clapping, shouting and there emerging out of the smoke is the biggest boxer Jhac has ever seen. He fills the space, not just physically but emotionally and mentally too. He’s huge and threatening and ignores the crowd completely as he strides to the ring, squeezing through the ropes and eye balling Jhac with a sarcastic, arrogant look. The commentator reels off the belts, the titles Bad Boy has won. The crowds howl their delight and everyone can feel the anticipation of another annihilation ahead. It reminds Jahc of a fox hunt, a blood letting, the closest people can come to war without getting hurt themselves, baying for damage and destruction. Jhac’s mum does her best, shouting back and waving her arms, until a steward physically pushes her down into her chair and holds her there as she screams at him.

Bad Boy begins his ritual, pacing round the ring, beating his chest and growling, coming closer to Jahc’s corner every time, before finally walking right up to him and spiting on the floor between his legs. Jahc looks at the globule of phlegm and laughs, before standing, screwing his boot symbolically into the spit and raising his gloves. The bell hasn’t rung, the referee is about to intervene and give the normal set piece lecture, but it is too late they are off. Jahc is dancing round the ring, skipping to the music, which is then suddenly turned off as the management realise what is happening. Bad Boy isn’t happy, he’s used to dominating from the word go. He growls a ‘fuck you’ growl and lumbers across toward Jahc and swings. The right cut slices through the air, he’s fast and he knows it, the silence in the crowd says they know it too and they suspect it is all over before the bell has even rung for the start. Not Jahc though, he ducks, pivots and the boxing glove hisses past his face making Bad Boy stumble as he boxes into empty space.

Jahc’s mum is on her feet again yelling, the neutrals in the crowd are suddenly shouting for Jahc and new bets are being placed. Jahc’s heart is bounding, he’s following the drill the team has agreed, take the game to the opponent, don’t let him get into a groove, keep him guessing. Right thinks Jahc, great theory, but this guy is huge, deadly and now he’s mad too. The sweat begins to trickle down his face as he dances away and around the ring, making Bad Boy chase him and he neatly ducks away as his opponent tries to trap him in the corner, even managing to get a soft punch to the Bad Boy’s arm as he slips away again.

One minute, two minutes he’s still there skipping, weaving, occasionally making a punch but largely staying out of trouble, following the game plan for round one. Stay on your toes, stay focused is the last thought he has as the pile driver hits him, the glove smacking into his face, the soft leather crumbling against his cheek, before fully making contact and lifting Jahc off his feet and throwing him across the ring. He sees the crowd, the lights, his mum in the corner of his eye as she gasps and her hands go to her mouth in horror. There isn’t much more because his head hits the floor and he’s out cold.

“Five uh, six uh”, Jahc can hear the count through the haze, he knows he has to get up, but can’t, everything has gone to mush. His corner are yelling, he hears them. “Seven uh, eight uh” its all over he can’t get up, then he’s on his knees, blood drips from his nose onto the canvas. “Nine uh” he’s on his feet, just, bent over but up. Bad Boy snarls and charges toward him, the bell rings, the referee tries to intervene, but Bad Boy has none of it and brushes him aside before smacking Jahc on the nose and crashing him back onto the ropes.

There is uproar, the crowd want a fight but a relatively fair one, Jahc’s mum is climbing into the ring and being pulled back by the radio commentator whose microphone she has just sent flying as she stands on his crib notes. Jahc is a crumbled heap on the floor, he looks dead and his team gather on their knees around him, the smelling salts are waved under his nose. The referee mutters about stopping the fight, the competition doctor is being summoned, it looks like it is all over and Bad Boy has done it again.

Jahc remembers getting to his feet, seeing the red stain on the canvas and hearing the sound of his nose breaking, then nothing else. Now he thinks he can hear people talking, a face with a bow tie peering at him, looking in each of his eyes, then he slips away.

“Wo there boy where you going” and Jahc wakes to find himself walking past a gardener digging a vegetable patch, who is now leaning on his spade and eyeing him up and down, his eyes sparkling under his weather beaten cap. Jahc can see the path stretching off in the distance and turns to go.

“Funny gear to be wearing for a walk if you don’t mind me saying” and he points a dirty finger at Jahc’s bright blue shorts and then at the boxing gloves on his hands.

“Um, yea, well, you know, well never mind, I’ve got to be going now” and his eyes are drawn to the road ahead which looks warm and inviting, with the sun glinting in the distance.

“Ah ha, okay but you want a bit of advice”. Jahc doesn’t want to hear this old boy’s thoughts, he just feels a right idiot standing here half dressed and he waves his gloves around in a circle trying to be polite and without realising it does a little jink and circle as though he’s sparing in the practice gym.

“Classy, real style, if I didn’t know better I’d say that’s natural talent I’m looking at there” and the gardener rams his spade into the soil and moves over towards Jahc.

“ I have plenty of people pass me here you know, most don’t even see me, they’re just busy rushing by. He turns to look at the sun in the distance and it plays onto his wrinkled face creating shadows and highlights.

“You know they’ve had a go at something given it their best shot, hit some failure, I guess that might have happened to you hey” and he winks and then points at the soft gloves on Jhac’s hands.   “I don’t judge, because using your talent, well that isn’t easy. I know everyone who comes past here has given it a good go, there are others that don’t even start, so well done you, but I wonder….” and the gardener seemed to drift away into his thoughts, before turning, picking a large ripe tomato and fitting it neatly into the palm of Jahc’s right hand glove. “Known to have super powers these toms you know. Me I don’t know, but they taste great with a bit of salad though. Enjoy”. So Jhac does, but it’s tricky, not just holding the tomato in a boxing glove but eating it too, because it slips and slides and bursts as he bites into it. The taste though is exquisite and fills him with warm, hopeful sensations as he swallows.

“Come on Jahc let’s go” the shock of the water on his face and then the towel is roughly rubbed over his nose, coming away red and snotty brings him round. Then the bell rings and he’s on his feet, wobbly yes and nervous, but he’s out there ready to fight again. He tastes tomato on his mouth, have his back up team been feeding him supplements between rounds, he can’t remember. He can though hear the crowd who are rooting for him now and booing as Bad Boy comes lumbering towards him leering and cursing. He must have been given drugs he thinks because he can feel energy coming back and he’s back on his toes, dancing a little, bruised but already thinking through his plan. Audaciously he waves to the crowd, they roar back and he feels their support and notices his mum standing on the press table howling too. The commentators are going mad, not at mum, they’ve given up controlling her, apart from peering round and through her legs up to the ring shouting into microphones. They sense a shock is on the cards and it is.

Jahc wipes his nose with the back of his glove, then spits on the floor and quietly says to himself “ My way is the right way, but you’ve got to fight boy and fight smart”. Then he’s away parrying, jabbing, bouncing in and out of range. His team are yelling instructions, the gym work comes back, the practice moves, previous fights, he can see it all in his mind and then he sees the final move.

Bad Boy is worried now, he’s run out of ideas and finds himself chasing Jahc round the ring hoping to trap him in a corner. He doesn’t see it coming, a shimmy, a duck, a punch to the stomach making him double up, then the hook to his chin and he topples backwards like a large tree. “Timber” shouts a smart aleck in the crowd and time seems to stand still, until bang the torso of Bad Boy hits the canvas with a resounding thud. Jahc doesn’t look, his right hand hurts too much, it must be broken he can’t go on, the pain is shooting up his arm and into his shoulder. He wants to sit down, lie down, anything to take away the shock, but he hears his team telling him to stay there, walk and in a daze he listens to the count. Then the auditorium erupts. He’s done it, he’s knocked out Bad Boy.

Jahc doesn’t normally dream, he’s usually just exhausted at the end of the day, yet tonight he does. He’s wearing his winner’s belt and he’s back with the gardener and they are both laughing, and recreating the fight in the garden. Jahc pretends to knock out the old man, which he does carefully as his wrist and arm are plastered up to the elbow. The gardener falls gently backwards in amongst the rows of vegetables and flowers, squashing the carrots and lies there giggling to himself before pointing up at Jahc and saying

“Yup that’s some talent you’ve got there, watch out world”.


Post Script – Just a few ‘mulling’ questions:-

1. Do you know your talent(s)? Are you using them well, honouring the skills you have been given?
2. Are there blockages you are facing, what can you do about them?
3. Who can support, help you, encourage you, challenge you to keep moving forward? Or, perhaps point to a new direction, or how to address an issue in a different way?
4. Who do you know who deserves your support and encouragement? Maybe someone younger, a friend needing to make  a change, a member of your family?
5. At work, how are talent people supported? Are you pushing individuals to work well and productively every day? How much talent does your team have, could these be used more?
6. In the world at this tough time, what can you and I do, with the talents we have, to help tilt the world back to to safer stronger place?


James Goes Running

James pulled out the dusty mud crusted trainers from the bag he’d thrown them in all that time ago. Down here in the cellar all was quiet, just the occasionally hiss of the boiler as it began heating the house for the day ahead. He sat on the steps and pulled each one on, tightening the laces to just the right tension ready for the road ahead. With a deep breath and pulling back his shoulders, he took the steps two at time, the running shoes creaking and leaving dried earth behind on the steps. Out of the house he walked to the gate, turned into the road and set off at a gentle pace, shaking the sleepiness from his joints and muscles. He remembered what a great time of day it was before everyone woke up, the calmness and tranquility, no noise yet from the houses as he padded gently past. Before long James was in a rhythm, his body remembering and adjusting to the style and pace he ran at. His breathing regulated and steadied. Now his mind dropped into neutral and he noticed the world around him, yet he had as much attention inwards mulling and considering the day ahead and beyond that his future. The birds chattered, another runner passed with cheery hello and smart BMW roared by as the ‘bright young thing’, as they called him, from next door, shot past on his way to catch the 6.30 commuter train to London. He ran on taking the slight hill ahead with ease and confidence, letting his legs stretch out and enjoy themselves.

“Morning James, good to be out and about hey. Lovely time of day for a jog I say” and James looking to his left found himself running next to a rather rotund man, with billowing shorts to his knees, bright yellow trainers and a blue basketball hat crammed down over a bush of bright ginger curly hair.  He ran with an unerring confidence  and strength considering his size and shape. He thrust out his hand.

“CC’s my name, Captain Confidence actually but most people abbreviate it. We all need to believe in ourselves hey James and I’m your man to help there”. He nudged James in the ribs, his elbow seeming to send shock waves into his chest and directly up to his brain, where a fizz and a pop suddenly made the world a bit brighter and sharper, the birds now chirruping loudly in his ears. CC settled into a steady rhythm next to him and whistled as they turned left together into the park and set off round the perimeter track.

“Morning CC, morning James, good to see you both”. James startled, moved his eyes away from CC to his left and saw a tall gangly runner next to him wearing a trilby hat and a long overcoat, neither of which impeded his movement. His height meant he seemed to walk rather than run and he strode along next to them.

“Reggie Resources here, good to make your acquaintance, now what do you need?” and he pulled open his coat to reveal pockets stuffed with everything you could imagine.

“Maybe a map, or a compass, perhaps some Kendal Mint Cake, or better still, a brand new pair of running shoes” and with a broad flourish dived into a pocket and revealed the latest Nike trainers.

“Later, later old chap” retorted CC. “Plenty of time for all that, let’s just get into a good steady rhythm first”. And the three of them set off along the path together.

“You’ll definitely need contacts, I have a whole book full here” whispered Reggie to James, showing him surreptitiously a small leather bound notepad, before sliding it back into his pocket. James smiled. He thought his first run would be hard but it wasn’t, not physically, not mentally and actually, running between these two he felt carried along and somehow supported by them both. They swept round the bottom corner of the park and headed toward the bandstand where to everyones surprise,  the local town band sat tuning up, just as though it was a summer Sunday afternoon. The bandmaster seeing them, lifted his baton and the music flowed towards them, almost lifting them off their feet with its depth and resonance. The notes fell and rose with their running and the instruments shared in their journey, from the big base drum with its steady regular deep beat, to the tiny piccolo picking out softer detail. James’s heart lifted and a broad smile came to his face and he felt his toes lift his feet and his stride grow, until he was almost off the floor and flying. CC, Reggie and James glided on past the town band and floated on and around the side of the park.

With a miss timed e flat on the tuba and a clash of the cymbals, the music came to a sudden halt as the band master leapt from the stand and rushed after the three runners, waving his baton madly.
“Wait, wait….. wait for us” and he beckoned behind for the band to follow him “Don’t you want inspiring music to help you along?”

“Sounds great to me” said Reggie ever resourceful and thinking of other places this band might come in useful. CC didn’t reply, he was still bobbing about and singing to the last tune, skipping lightly over the grass, jumping up on the park benches, floating, then landing perfectly back on the ground. James liked the band, the sound inspired him with his running and without a thought of the consequences, invited the band to come on the adventure with them. So off they went, James, Reggie and CC taking longer and longer steps and finding, with the music playing, they could hurdle the park benches easily. The band, not quite as fit or able tried to keep up, found they lacked the puff to run and play at the same time, starting being crafty and as the three went round the perimeter of the park, they cut across the grass saving time and energy and allowing the trumpet players to have a quick smoke occasionally too, while they waited for the three runners to arrive.

James came back to the park gate after several circuits and turned out into the street, the music faded and looking back he saw the band waving him off. There leaning against the metal railings, stood CC and Reggie.

“We’re around any time, for sure when you are running, but other times too. Just let us know and we’ll get out trainers on ready” and both gently saluted him as he sped away down the street.

At his house, James stopped and did some gentle stretches to finish his run. He felt calm and relaxed and ready to face the day. Not bad for a first time out in ages he thought and clicking through his mind were all sorts of ideas for developing his career. He marched up the garden path, humming a catchy tune he’d heard earlier and headed in for a shower …. work called.

Grahame Pitts

December 2016


Post Script
So, imagine you are  needing to shift something in your business, or yes, you are lookng to make a career move. A couple of questions:-

– Do you know the resources you have available that are within you? Or, are they other external resources you sense you need? Are there other people who you need to make contact with and ask for their help and guidance?

– How confident are you, what gives you more confidence? Is your confidence grounded in reality, will others see how practical, experienced and capable you are? Can you describe your skills and talents well?

– Are you fit enough for the journey ahead, physically, mentally, emotionally? How do you maintain high performance, to move ahead daily to achieve your plans?

– What inspires you, keep you going when work may be tough? Listening to music, looking at wonderful art, being outdoors, reading great books?  Where do you go, what do you need  to lift you and give you creative direction?

PS James got the job he wanted, he persevered and got there!


The clock ticked through to 2.30 and Mark wriggled in his seat. The spare chairs around the conference table in his office sat empty, the coffee and the water fresh, with ten cups and nine glasses neatly arranged. He sighed, drank his own water and stood up.

“Any sign of anyone Jodie” he called as he checked through his IPad for messages and emails.

“No, sorry all looks pretty busy out there” she replied, while squinting down through the  broad open plan office. “To be fair it is one of those days and we do have that major client in”. Mark knew that and he understood the importance of this customer, he was in the round up and sign off later in the afternoon.

“Okay, no problem, but perhaps I’ll take stroll and see who I bump into” and he set off out of the executive suite, heading firstly to the marketing department who he intuitively felt more comfortable with. Fifteen minutes later his mood hadn’t improved. People were polite, engaging, some were clearly overwhelmed by having him stop by their desks, others interested, chatted amiably about the business. No one though seemed able, or willing to engage him in debate. He knew he had a bit of an abrasive style and he found social interactions a pain, so when the exec team suggested an open hour each week it had seemed like a great idea. Now he wasn’t so sure. He wanted fierce debate, challenge, honesty about the style of the business, ideas for the future. Yes, the weekly open meeting and his conversations had been some of that, but more about pay, conditions, toilets, the canteen. He was now seriously considering delegating the whole thing to HR.

He stalked off through operations and into finance asking questions and generally causing alarm and discomfort. He could see people slipping out from their desks and heading to the corridor, filling the toilets, creating queues at the coffee docks. Perhaps if one of his directors had been around they could have bridged the gap, but all the senior management were tied up. So, after getting one word answers from one of the IT analysts he headed downstairs to facilities. He had no interest in these things but he’d heard about Jim, head of maintenance, yet he never came to any meeting what so ever. Well he should and he would now. Mark banged his way through several safety doors, heading deeper into the bowels of the office. Past store rooms, skirting the central  heating boiler room, past a desk shoved up against the corridor wall and finally into what looked like the main electrical source centre. Large leads snaked across the walls into boxes, each marked and coloured ,acting as junction points and there laying on the floor two large leads waiting to be connected. Mark ever inquisitive went over to the large thick black cables, picked the two connectors up and looked carefully at the pins and sockets.

“Whoa there boy, slow down, don’t you be putting them together just yet” and a large gnarled, muscly hand lent over and took one wire away from him. “Just doing some work on that circuit so best not plug it in right now, we’re still running tests” said Jim, who knew exactly who Mark was and made no effort to treat him as the CEO.

Mark wasn’t used to having things taken away and later wouldn’t quite be able to recall why he did what he did next. Maybe frustration, or just plain curiosity, his mother and father always said it would get him into big trouble one day. Jim, when he told his mates in the pub later chuckling over a beer, would call it arrogance and stupidity. Yes he did, he really did, he grabbed back the two connectors and rammed one into another. The room exploded into light, a blue haze shot around them both, Mark’s feet lifted off the floor, his body vibrated and pulsed as the high energy current pulsed through him, pushing his hair up on end and his eyes bulging in their sockets. Jim momentarily stunned by seeing his boss illuminated, shaking and seeming to gurgle slightly, leapt into action launching himself across the room and slamming the main fuses off. Even without the power, Mark seemed to vibrate, his hands gripped the connectors with his fingers rigid around the plastic fittings. Jim prised his fingers free and guided him to a chair.

“Steady boss, steady, that was a real bolter you just took there, just sit for a moment. Do you need me to get the a first aider down?” Mark sucked in big lungfuls of air, ran his fingers through his upright hair, closed his eyes and then laughed.

“Now that’s what I call power, real power, you feel it right in your heart” and he thumped his chest “Power really does vibrate. Woo hoo, give me more”.

“Man, you are one crazy nut case” replied Jim looking at him “Who really enjoys being almost killed?”
“It isn’t that, it’s just real, that’s what power is” Mark sucked in more air. “Jim honestly that’s what it’s like in my job, but it’s so difficult to describe and I’ve just experienced it” and again he touched his chest. “Power at a senior level is just like that and if you don’t take care it is dangerous, yet fun, fun, fun”.

“Yea right and abusive too” retorted Jim “Some of you guys are just plain bullies, throwing your weight around”, including you he thought to himself.

“Yes, including me, I need to learn how to stop myself jumping in, bossing people about. And see,  I’m pretty good at guessing what you are thinking, so just say it from now on, tell it to me straight”. Jim nodded his head, shook his head, laughed and reaching into his lunch bag, pulled out his coffee flask. He added two large sugars to both drinks and watched Mark uncurl his fingers, crack his knuckles, take the coffee and swallow it in two large gulps. Jim sensing the opportunity lent over and eyeballed his boss, which was tricky as one pupil was massive dilated while the other had shrunk to a pin prick of blackness.

“You know you could take more of us with you, if you just thought about that power you have as executives. I’m used to electrical power, you felt it just know, you need to be professional, assess the risks and manage it well. I reckon management power is similar, not to be abused or mistreated but real important to get things done. Just take care how you use it”.

“Well maybe, hum well let me think” muttered David staring back, he’s eyes gradually normalising and returning to their normal green brown colour. He pulled himself out of the chair, put his mug down, shook Jim’s hand and with a slight stagger left the basement.

There’s nothing so grand as a story and this one whipped round the building. The meeting room was packed  at the next open hour, even Jim was there. The conversation was varied, soft and relaxed at times and sometime spiky and demanding. Mark mostly listened, interjecting occasionally and in the quieter moments, reflected on power and how a shock occasionally was a good wake up call.

Grahame Pitts – 21st September 2016

Post Script
Power is an interesting thing, we all need it and must use it. Yet applied without care and attention it can rapidly damage others and ourselves. So, thinking and reflecting about your power is important, in particular, being willing to try different approaches in different situations. How flexible are you with your personal or positional power? As a leader, are you aware of the impact of your power, does anything need to change?

Take a look  at the latest HBR Research on this in the article ‘Managing Yourself – Don’t Let Power Corrupt You’ in the October 2106 edition (page112) or down load it on  https://hbr.org/2016/10/dont-let-power-corrupt-you

Slippers or Shoes

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

Post Script
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.

Happy experiments.  

A Recipe and some Magic at Christmas

The oven thermostat clicked and registered two hundred degrees centigrade, the heat warmed John’s bottom as he rested his elbows on the work counter and studied the recipe. Flour, sugar, butter, teaspoon of vanilla essence, a touch of milk. Everything seemed to make sense, even to someone who’d never made a cake before. John adjusted his apron, a rather snazzy blue polka dot with a red trim and tightened the knot.

“Right let’s go” he mused to himself.  “Heat the butter mix in the rest, don’t forget the egg. Yes, this is ‘a piece of cake’. Oh, so that’s where that phrase comes from”. His mind buzzed happily along.
“How are you doing honey” called Mary from the living room, where she was writing Christmas cards. She smiled to herself, what was going on, John had never baked a cake before and it was for the family party coming up too. Redundancy had seemed like a disaster at the time, but now she was really enjoying having him around. The same person who she’d married, the man who smiled, laughed, whistled as he put the dustbins out and jived around the lounge with her to their favourite songs.
“Great, great, but there’s something here I don’t understand. Can you come and help me”. John peered at the recipe, looked back to mixing bowl, then back to the book. His forehead furrowed, he squinted, he scratched his head and sucking a deep breath in, exhaled loudly.
“What, really, no, no way” John muttered to himself. He turned the page and studied the next recipe. Just the same. “What the heck, why, how, who”. He flicked quickly through the hundreds of recipes, there it was on every page.
“What does it mean Mary ‘add a bit of magic and mystery’, where in the cupboard is magic? According to this I need 20 millilitres of it for my cake”. Mary came through to the kitchen smiling to herself, she pulled open the cupboards, she searched through the drawers, picking up and putting down packets and bottles.
 “Nothing here honey, maybe we’d better go to the store and buy some more, or maybe we can get some online”. She looked at him, her head to one side, her eyes sparkling. John gazed back.
“Is it like a liquid then, do you get it in a bottle?”
“Almost honey, it’s a thing my grandmother used a lot, it kinda gets passed down the family line I think. Maybe it’s a female thing but I don’t think so, not if you’re reading it in the recipe there”’. She smiled and looked at him with love, compassion and care. “Any good recipe always has some secret ingredients, something that makes it unique, the touch of the person who is making the cake, perhaps a little more of one thing than another, maybe an extra egg, the oven one degree hotter. Cooking has science, you can follow the instructions, but then something else happens, the mysterious piece. Sometimes a cake rises, or tastes great, other times it doesn’t and mostly we don’t know why. So what’s your magic?”   
“What my magic, my own magic” John looked confused and concerned. “I’ve never even baked a cake before, can’t I just follow the instructions, won’t that work?”
“Yes sure, but as my grandmother said, just add a bit of yourself in some way. Maybe in how you stir the mix, fold in the flour, sprinkling some granulated sugar on top. Or, just do the whole thing with a good spirit and thinking of those who’ll be eating it later – our kids, your mum – and wishing them well as you cook”.
“Right got it, okay let’s see”. He rubbed his hands together and taking the wooden spoon, tapped the side of the bowl three times and sang his favourite Elvis Presley song (using the spoon as a microphone) as he poured the mix into the tin. He slid the cake into the oven, licked the spoon clean, threw it in the sink, pulled Mary to him and danced her round the kitchen to a fine rendition of Love me Tender.
The family party was a great success, that first cake a great hit with everyone. John wanted to bake more afterwards and did. He followed recipes, but always remembered the mysterious bit, the magic. Didn’t assume it would just happen, wasn’t sure what particular thing made the difference, but always respected, included, and welcomed mystery into his cooking and into his life.
Two weeks later, after a very interesting interview which John had prepared well for and then following his intuition, had a good free flowing discussion in the meeting –  he was offered a great job and just a fifteen minute commute from home. Mary and John jived that evening to every Elvis hit they knew.
Grahame Pitts
December 2015
Thank you Michael for this great analogy of cake making in relation to getting a job. In the recruitment process hard work, clarity of thought, good presentation, etc are all vital. Then sometimes, something else happens – a relationship clicks, your experience fits exactly the job requirement, your suggestions spark a new thought for the recruiters. Or even, their business has a change of direction just the next day and calls you up later with an offer (this one happened to me).  
And of course a recipe and mystery applies elsewhere too. A well, thought through plan being delivered in the detail, suddenly accelerates when an opportunity comes along which seems unconnected but complements and delivers the strategy perfectly. 

So, be professional, disciplined and organised and then maybe, welcome mystery and magic and let both work for you. These partners want to share the action and after all it is Christmas, so why not!

Spinning Plates

“Where do you want em boss? Some pretty ones here, not just those plain old white ones we seem to have hundreds of them”. Harry, the facilities manager, added the plates to the pile by the door of the CEO’s office, smiled at what he saw, felt slightly confused about it all, then picked up the old boxes and headed back to the warehouse. Caroline heard him, waved but hadn’t time to stop, too much going on. Life had been manic since the promotion, a whirlwind of meetings, decisions, financial information. She grabbed another plate and with one flick of her wrist positioned the crockery on the stick and neatly organised it, along with the others spinning around her.
Some in the office thought it was an art installation, others thought it was a new keep fit regime, some thought Caroline had shares in a homeware factory. It was though, they all agreed, an amazing sight. Endless plates spun in the sunlight, the canes supporting them wiggling and bending as they held the centre of gravity. And better still, was the skill and grace that Caroline had, in moving quickly and confidently between them, giving some an additional twist to keep the plates spinning. She hummed to herself, occasionally doing  a light jig, as she went about her work.
The plates spun in her office, out in the open plan office and now in service centre too. She had to pay special attention there, as phone calls to customers were key and any plates crashing to the floor would have been disastrous. Roger the service manager had taken to giving the most wobbly plates a spin. He knew what spinning plates was like, he’d had years of experience himself and now when he thought Caroline wasn’t looking, he lifted one or two plates from their poles and hid them in a cupboard.
“A head office plate has just arrived”  called Jane the PA, through the maze of sticks around her. Caroline turned her head and sure enough Jane was just taking a large hand painted plate from a jiffy bag and holding it out to her.
“Okay, wait, wait, let’s just clear a space and we’ll get it going” and between them they shifted the other plates around a little. Then with one huge throw of her arm and with Debbie, the FD who’d just arrived holding the stick, the plate began to spin. Everyone held their breath, the plate twisted , slipped on the pole with a screech, but with the combined energy of Jane, Debbie and Caroline working together and wiggling the stick, they got it centred and it began to spin and whirr in the air.
Even though she said it herself, not bad and provided she didn’t take a lunch break, stayed late and came in at weekends, it seemed to be working. Which was why, as she sipped quickly at her cold coffee, she didn’t appreciate Geoff the HR Director’s quiet reflective comment.
“Have you noticed how some of the plates seem more interesting than others”.

She muttered under her breath at the interruption but made herself stop and look around. He was right, some did seem more colourful and almost cried out for more space to spin in.  Caroline walked about under the plates looking up at them carefully, finding herself attracted to certain designs, shapes and sizes. Not all were huge by any means. Of course the head office one was, they all knew it had to be there and needed constant spinning. Jane brought her another coffee as she studied the plates and as she sipped and munched her favourite chocolate biscuit, she considered each one. Then she made a decision and sometimes alone, sometimes in consultation with her executive team (who had been summoned to look at the plates), she began to pull some out, neatly taking each unwanted plate and pole and putting it  aside. First the small side plates, then the white ordinary dinner plates and as they went, her heart lifted a little. Harry was hastily summoned and he repacked boxes and placed them on his trolley.  She ignored the coughs, the taps on the office door, the muttered comments “that was my plate, it’s very important in my department you know”, “wrong call you’ll regret that” and went about her work. Soon there were a just a few beautiful plates spinning and beside each one a director stood, occasionally wiggling the stick. Caroline walked around them all, checking they had the right ones, moving at the right speed, adding a twist to a pole now and then and watching as each plate seemed to change and grow in the sunlight. To her amazement one or two slowly turned into a golden colour, with beautiful embossing appearing around the edges and now these plates almost seemed to spin by themselves.
“Well would you look at that” said Geoff and pointed to the head office plate. It still spun rapidly but now it was smaller, not quite such a  bright colour, seeming almost to draw less attention. The executive team laughed together, as they watched the FD niftily reposition this plate near the golden ones and there, they continued to spin very happily together.
The white plates were later used on the ‘smash the crockery’ stall at the next family fun day. Roger owned up to the plates stored in his cupboard and his judgement was shown to  be pretty good, apart from one small plate which had some interesting swirls of colour in the design. This one, some senior managers kept spinning and they found it was a potential winner for the budget next year.  Caroline got home early some days, leaving others spinning plates, but knowing when to intervene, using her energy and her skills wisely. And it made her smile when visitors to the business asked to see the plates, particularly the golden ones. Sometimes she showed them, at other times she just talked about confidentiality and went about her business with a spring in her step. Head office seemed pretty satisfied too.
Grahame Pitts
October 2015

From previous newsletters, I have been given feedback to ‘please anchor the fable with some practical challenge, to take it back to my business’  So, in the spirit of this, a couple of questions below. However, knowing we all see different reflections in stories, from ‘ah ah’ to ‘bah what nonsense’ (keep telling me Nigel), your own thoughts and reactions are fundamental, so trust them ahead of my prompts. Enjoy your leadership thinking and analysis, then follow your energy to go and deliver the results you want.

1. How many plates are you spinning? Are there a few high value ones which require more attention than others?
2. Who in your team needs to be attending to which plate? Where and how do you need to delegate and what do you need to do to ensure those plates become rich in colour, or even gold?   
3. Where do you need show courage? Is there one plate that needs your particular attention? 

4. Where else in the organisation are there plates, perhaps hidden, which need finding and spinning?

Hot, Cold, or Just Watch the Meter

Joanne watched the meter on the wall ticking, the numbers clicking over slowly as she studied and compared them to those on her plan in the folder in front of her, which by now was covered in red marks everywhere. “Come on, come turn over faster’ she muttered willing the numbers to roll forward, knowing though really, if anything, the clicks were even now a little further apart. In frustration, Jo grabbed her chair, climbed up and on to her desk getting to eye level with the meter which blinked happily back at her, making one more click as another sale came in “Move dam you, move’ she said quietly and lent her head against the warm glass surface willing the meter to rotate, which it did to her command and made yet one more shift. She sighed and shut her eyes.

“Ugh um, hello, um, what are you doing up there” said a voice below her and the new Finance Director standing in the doorway, smiled a professional concerned face up to her.

“Something wrong with this machine I think, it might need a service. We worked it too hard last year, now its on a go slow” the CEO replied. Brian liked Jo’s style, it was one of the reasons he’d joined the business, so he wasn’t surprised to see her slumped against the meter, but he was surprised when she ripped it from wall and hurled it down onto the floor where it smashed and parts shot everywhere.

“I’ll come back later shall I” said Brian breathing deeply, wondering if he’d be the next one thrown across the room. It wasn’t so good to know your boss worked out in the gym every morning, lifting weights and had a regular one to one judo class with a black belt teacher.

“No I’m fine” retorted Jo, kicking the plastic case across the room toward him, which he trapped neatly under his foot as it tried to escape from the room. The heat behind him wafted into the office. The both knew the business was working in overdrive to get the sales, you could feel the tension out there, the stickiness of the temperature really too high to be either efficient or effective. Being successful was one thing, maintaining success completely  another. Brian closed the door and as they sat on the soft chairs he put the remains of the box onto the coffee table.

“Never did like that thing anyway, glad it’s gone. Could see it blinking away from my office, so it must have driven you nuts”. Jo smiled, it did sometimes, but mostly she loved seeing the sales coming in and the margins holding up. Still now she’d have to do it by hand for a while, but the numbers were interesting so why not, pencil and paper, or computer, they’d do just as well. The air conditioning kicked in cooling the room and the two of them sat in silence, enjoying the quietness now the ticking was dead. The circulating air calmed them and the buzz of the business outside fell away.

Jo sniffed the cold air. “We need this ourselves you know, we each need some personal air conditioning don’t we”? she mulled, before pouring them both a glass of water. “I love being out there in the heat of the battle, working our way ahead through difficult terrain, finding the next solution. All the regular day to day business stuff, it gives me a real buzz. But you know, maybe our job is different now, we need to be able to manage the two worlds, the heat of the daily battle and the coolness required to think about the future, the market, the changes to our business model”.

“Surely we just balance both” suggested Brian and he got up and opened the door. They both stood in the doorway and felt the blast of heat on one side and the cold on the other. It made logical sense to be right there but it felt confusing, like being on the edge of a weather front. Jo pulled Brian back in the room and shut the door.

“Actually that’s worse, neither one thing nor the other, more a confusing muddle. We need the coolness, the reflective thinking and then we need to be out there driving, pushing, motivating everyone, setting the example”.

“But surely we just have to make the numbers, that’s the important thing and that’s what head office are looking for. You know the score, no if but’s, sorry’s, excuses, make the numbers every quarter, deliver”.

“Agreed, but they don’t dictate how we get there and that’s our role, our choice. Maybe its doing more of what we know works, driving things harder. Or, maybe its about doing things differently because its time to change. That’s our job Brian, to sit in that middle ground, to think well, to think coolly and then to apply it back into the heat of the day. Its hard for anyone to think when the temperatures in the 90’s and you’re being bitten to death by the mosquitos. I do know though, that just waiting for the meter to turn isn’t our job”.

“Okay so let’s agree some cool time for people, not off site navel gazing, but real good clear thinking, creativity, matched with hard sharp analytics, done on a regular basis” mused back Brian “And it’ll be great if we can avoid some of those weather fronts that sweep into our exec meetings sometimes”.

“Yup and what I need to do is to talk about why this it might help and how we’ll do it. Give a good context, get people used to the idea of hot and cold – good, fast paced delivery, with a lot of movement and agility – and also – reflection, planning and challenging the way we do things, whether our plans are right, checking assumptions and mind sets”.

“Right boss, lets start with us, I’ll round the executive team up for an air conditioned moment together at the end of the day. Meanwhile, I’ve some work to do and you know most of these sales figures anyway”. He left another folder on the table, stood for a moment under the central fan, the adjusted his white linen suit and left the room.

Jo smiled and turned to her desk and picked up the phone, it was time to set up a visit to a major customer and then make them the focus for the team meeting at 5.00. As she punched the number in, a beautiful tortoiseshell butterfly fluttered in through the office door on a draft of warm air.

Grahame Pitts

May 2015



This short story comes from being with a number of leaders who have felt the pressure to constantly maintain success year after year, particularly from a number one position, even though the market has changed dramatically. There is a need to change, but moving from the original source of success is difficult and indeed may be wrong, so clear, cool thinking is important. Some leaders naturally have the gift of ‘cool thinking’ , managing themselves and others well in order to handle these pressures, others find this much harder.

A well known and critical competence for senior leaders, is the ability to move confidently along the spectrum of ‘operations’ to ‘strategy’  and I have noticed over years, the most successful manage this movement well, whether in meetings, in 1.1 conversations, or at planning sessions. Those leaders move from detail to concepts easily and are also able take others on that journey.

Now I notice, the most successful leaders, also have the ability to move between cool, clear reflection and the ability to lead in the heat of battle, inspiring others to deliver more. They are not taken hostage by circumstances and instead use all the skills and leadership in the business to find the right way and the right style to go forward.


Thinking Fast & Slow Thinking – Daniel Kathneman

Hostage at The Table – George Kohlrieser

Who Moved My Cheese – Spencer Johnson

Good to Great – Jim Collins

The Other 90% – Robert Cooper