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Posts Tagged ‘john bowen’

experience is as to intensity and not as to duration – thomas hardy


Quite rightly experience is valued. When we are recruiting an employee or engaging a contractor we look for relevant experience, and when we look at ourselves we talk about having paid our dues; done the hard yard and so on. Read more…

why do wives put up with it?


Lately I have been back on the train a lot, and have been reminded of a phenomenon I had largely forgotten. One of those strange ritual behaviours between the female and the male of the species that puzzles, even troubles me. So let me set the scene:

Join me on platform one at Swindon as I await an early Paddington train. As an avid people watcher I have plenty of material to work with in such situations; travel provides a fascinating insight into one’s fellow humans. The platform regulars are instantly recognisable, as is their pecking order.

But, just beyond the tracks, is activity in the north car park that has reminded me of a, to me rather sexist, behaviour that really should have died out in these enlightened times. A car will sweep into the car park, pull up near the station entry and from the driver’s side will emerge Mr Businessman, suited and booted for his day at the office. From the passenger side will emerge, well, for the purpose of this story, let’s call her Mrs Businessman, and she is dressed for doing stuff around the house.

Mr B will take his briefcase from the back and depart for his train, and Mrs B drives the car back to the 4 bed, 2 rec, 3.75 bath or whatever.

Now there are variations on the level of human contact in these vignettes, but most are pretty perfunctory at best, but one stands out: The Volvo estate is brought to a stop with some authority. Mr B emerges, takes his briefcase and strides away without a glance at his companion. She walks round the front of the car, seeming to distance herself from him as much as she can, and departs with a decent touch of wheelspin. It is a shame that she had to pause to adjust the driver’s seat and that the car is front wheel drive. If she had been quicker and had had rear wheel drive she could have sprayed him with gravel such was the violence of her leaving the scene.

What domestic strife had preceded this journey? What was the atmosphere in the car along the way? These are the joys of people watching, speculating on events.

But I digress. The point here is that this ritual, something that I have seen for as long as I can remember, still goes on. OK, it is none of my business how other people live their lives, but this behaviour is so alien to me and seems so insulting to the ladies, although they seem quite happy to accept it.

I would never have dreamt of behaving like this with any of the ladies I have shared my life with since I flew the nest over 40 years ago. I know I’m not unique here as the guy who lives opposite is equally as happy to have his wife drive him as he is to drive her, but he and I do seem to be in a very small minority judging by my observations.

Maybe all of this is covered in the Handbook of Inter-Gender Relationships, I don’t know. Perhaps the ladies concerned are quite happy to have things this way. Maybe it means that they don’t have their driving criticised by some chauvinistic oaf. Possibly one of them might read this and enlighten me.

I hope that they do, because I would love to know. Whilst I’ll never find out what the story behind Mr & Mrs Volvo was, my natural curiosity is aroused and do I like to learn something new every day.

never mind the hats and dresses, what about the organisation


It may come as a surprise to some that I spent most of Friday morning watching the Royal Wedding coverage on BBC. I didn’t watch it all, but had the TV on from about 0730 and finally turned my back on it after the fly past (which, prior to the day, was the only thing that I was interested in).

So what got my attention? Not the hats nor the dresses, nor, although I do love it, the pageantry. No, it was the organisation.

I grew up organised, even if I didn’t realise it for until well into adulthood, but my father was a gardener by profession and his bible was the Raeder’s Digest Gardener’s Year. He would pore over this time a couple of times a week, making his plans for the next 3-4 weeks and comparing where he was against his plan. He was never formally taught project management, but learned it along the way.

In similar vein my mother was a professional cook, and whereas Dad would be planning his projects in weeks and months, Mum would be planning in hours as she would juggle all the elements to land each course of the meal just when it needed to be served, regardless of whether it was a light meal for one or a banquet for a hundred. For both it was all about being organised and organising others.

Maybe then it was natural that I would end up working in areas where organisation and planning were crucial. From teenage work on the farm to my early days in retail and wholesale logistics through running M&E tenders to computer programming and IT project, corporate strategic planning, logistics management running big sheds and on to FM the one key thing that kept me climbing the ladder was that I got things done, and that came, directly, from organisation and planning. Perhaps it was truly bred into me.

Coming back to the Royal Wedding I was sat with the Berkshire Belle enjoying a mug of tea and watching the crowds enjoying themselves when the timetable for the event came up (the Wonder of Wokingham herself is an ace planner; she used to manage distributions for the largest retail network in Europe).  One of the experts on TV was asked about the time that the Royal couple would emerge onto the balcony, and said that it would be between 1315 and 1325 as they wouldn’t want to miss the fly past at 1330.

Now this was before 9 and we got to speculating on the organisation that went into an event like this and what it would take to pull it off over the course of the day, and that was what really got me riveted. Later in the programme Sir Malcolm Ross gave some insight into how they did things and I have enormous professional respect for the likes of him and those who put these events together.

As an FM I have been involved in all sorts of special events, including conferences and Royal and VIP visits and know what those take, so the sheer scale of something like Friday’s wedding fills me with awe, but also with pride. In the UK we know how to do these things and to pull them off with such élan.

We have the advantage of Royalty, tradition and venues, but that would be so easy to waste. The eyes of the world were on the UK last week and they were treated to a fantastic spectacle of pageantry that ran like clockwork. To those who made it happen, I salute you.

Perception and reality; are they mutually exclusive? Discuss.


It’s a funny old world at times. People talk about their rights; their right to be told; their right to the truth and all that, but what is it that they want to know? What is the truth, and will they believe it?

Over the years that I have trod the planet I have had, at times, to judge. I have been a soccer referee, I have done jury service, I have investigated accidents, I have investigated complaints and grievances, I have interviewed people for jobs and promotion, I have judged for awards and I have been a parent.

In all of these roles I have had to arrive at decisions and to decide what I believe to be right, or wrong. Judgement and experience play their part and, yes, I have made mistakes. At least, in the case of some decisions that I have made, I know in hindsight, that I made my decision on the basis of something that I now know was not as I believed it to be at the time.

People will believe what they want to. Take the flat earth mob; there was clear evidence that the world could not be flat, but they believed it for a long time after some had realised the truth (it isn’t round either of course). Conspiracy theorists love to ignore the reality that many others hold true, and there are those who will always believe in an ulterior motive for any action.

People’s expectations can colour their judgement significantly. Take the Obama situation. He was swept to power on a wave of optimism and yet now is rated possibly the worst US president. Is he really that bad? Almost certainly not, but compared with expectations the gap is so big. The bloke probably didn’t have a chance from the start; he was never going to live up to the hype.

When we put in place business deals, we set out all of our expectations in the form of a contract, we have key performance indicators and service level agreements and all those fine things, so we are going to be basing our monitoring of service delivery against reality aren’t we? Well we usually think so, but how many times does it all go wrong? We’ve seen a high profile one in recent weeks where two big organisations have parted company only a couple of years into a contract.

So what is the problem? I see it as one of not having used the right base for the agreement. The usual basis for working things out is on the basis of prior experience plus what we think that we want in future. The first problem is in measuring; that hackneyed old phrase “if you can’t measure, you can’t manage” gets trotted out without any understanding of what that means. Measures get taken from what can be measured rather that what should be measured, and then, because there is the desire to compare year on year, and to prove that the new contract is an improvement, it will be the same measures as last time.

I’ve been placed in the position of being drafted in the manage contracts like this. You can turn up at the review meeting and show that you’re delivering what the contract demands, but in the full knowledge that it isn’t what the client needs, or that you are delivering the latter, but failing the contract.

Perception and reality. They can be the same, but only once we get clients and suppliers working towards the right sort of deals and measures. We’re not there yet.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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