Category Archives: passion

Pillows, helmets and hygiene

Dave Brailsford, Team GB Cycling Performance Director attributes much of his teams’ recent Olympic success to incremental improvements.

The principle of incremental improvements across the cycling team came from the idea that if you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improved it by 1%, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together.

This concept of incremental improvement or ‘aggregating marginal gains’ in sport is not new, but it has not been included into every element of a training strategy with such conviction before.

GB Cycling’s training included rigorous training schedules to improve physical fitness, a carefully planned diet, a series of marginal technical improvements to equipment and working with psychologists to adopt a winning mindset (which included reducing the number of racing days but competing in those fewer races with a focus on winning).

Brailsford also highlighted the importance of other things that might seem of little importance, like sleeping in the right position, having the same pillow when you are away, training in different places and being scrupulous about hygiene so as to reduce the chances of getting ill.

“They’re tiny things but if you clump them together it makes a big difference.” Dave Brailsford

The team also looked to worlds outside of cycling for answers. They hired Formula One engineers to model the aerodynamics of helmets and bikes, the “pillow” idea apparently came from the Royal Ballet and the emphasis on hygiene is the result of talking to surgeons about avoiding illness,  (Rumour has it that Brailsford had someone to continuously clean the door handles in the Olympic village lest germs should get into the camp)

For me, the team’s success is about the sum of the parts including; the dedication of the cyclists and the coaches, the physical training schedule, the best equipment, working with psychologists to ensure that cyclists were focused on success and the hard work and constant striving to be the best that they can be.

In addition to all of the above, the GB cycling team were doing something different to their competition, and I think that also contributed to making them outstanding.

Dave Brailsford and his GB cycling team bought home 7 gold medals at the London 2012 Olympics. Tell that to anyone who doesn’t see the value in incremental innovation.

What tactics can you borrow from the GB cycling team and apply to your fundraising?

Has anyone else cried a lot this week?

I have spent a lot of time in the last week crying at the telly. Who knew that the achievements and disappointments of the Olympic athletes could have such an emotional impact?

My first Olympic emotional moment was when I saw Roger Bannister carrying the Olympic torch across the finish line of the Oxford track where 58 years ago he became the first runner to run a mile in under 4 minutes.  Roger is now 83 and you can see his somewhat slower stint on that famous track and an interview here. 

The story of the first four-minute mile

On 6 May 1954 Roger Bannister ran the first ever mile in under four minutes. This, at the time was an incredible feat as athletes had tried to break through this time barrier for years and years. Some experts even said that it was physically impossible, that the human heart would explode under the pressure to run a mile in under four minutes.

There are several things that I love about this breakthrough story, firstly that Roger wasn’t a professional runner, he was a medical student and he just ran for 45 minutes every day. Secondly, he believed absolutely that he could run a mile in under four minutes. When asked how he did it he said, “ it’s the ability to take more out of yourself that you’ve got”.

Within 2 months of Rogers’ record, Australian John Landy set a new sub four-minute mile record. The next year, 37 other runners ran miles in under four minutes.

In fact, since 1954 hundreds of runners have broken this record. There were no great training breakthroughs, human bone structure, lung capacity and heart performance didn’t suddenly improve. So what happened?

Roger believed he could do it; he focused and did better than his best. Rogers belief raised the bar enabling others to also believe they could do it. I think that belief was absolutely key to Roger achieving his breakthrough success.

So when I saw Roger carrying the torch last week I welled up. For me Roger Bannister is much much more than a person who ran the first four-minute mile.

Roger Bannister showed others that something that ‘experts’ had believed impossible was possible. By doing this he allowed others to believe that they could do the impossible too.

Apply this principle to your fundraising or other areas of your life where you want to make great achievements. Next time you are attempting a seemingly impossible task, remember Roger.

Do what he did;

  • focus on what you want to achieve
  • believe in yourself
  • take more out of yourself that you’ve got
  • and make it possible.

First published as a guest blog by the Fundraising Detective.

 

Are you still useful?

This week I went to ‘Overturn’ the MA in Innovation Management Degree Show at Central Saint Martins. Who even knew you could do a MA in Innovation?

Innovation expert Max McKeown (taller than I expected) delighted the audience for over an hour with a great presentation and some rather interesting innovation discussion featuring;

  • If anyone wanted or expected future to be exactly the same as it is now
  • How washing machines have made women in America fat
  • Pondering over to what extent past experiences affect our behaviours

Pretty intense stuff for a school night, but the observation that really struck a chord with me was;

If you have been with your firm for less than 6 months then you are still useful.

You are still useful because new people have enthusiasm that something can change. New people bring diversity as they are external to established systems and can see where change could make improvements. New people ask questions. New people challenge ‘the way things are done around here’.  Six months were how long it took for a person to stop being new, to stop asking the challenging questions, to stop believing that something can change.

The next question was how long we thought it takes for a new person in an organisation to get listened to.

There was a range of answers. All over 6 months.

So there we go, organisations employ people for their skills and experience to get the job done as well as their potential to ask questions and drive change. For the first six months they tend to do that, question and challenge, as time goes by they challenge less until they are one of the team, conformed to the status quo. That is just when they start to get noticed and gain influence. But by that point it is too late.

Sound familiar? Or not? Love to know your views.

P.S. Central Saint Martins Kings Cross Campus in London opened last September.  It is an awesome building, part of the regeneration of the Kings Cross area. Find a reason to visit if you can.

There are people dying now, so give me the money

On 31 May, hundreds of fundraisers gathered in London to hear 22 fundraising professionals share which fundraising ideas they wished they had thought of. I was proud to be included in the line up of speakers.

I took some inspiration away from every single presentation. So that’s at least 22 ideas (if I include my own).  Not bad for an afternoons work.

Rebecca Mauger from Red Cross spoke about Live Aid. Now this struck a bit of a chord with me because I really remember Live Aid.

The Christmas before LiveAid, I remember going to WHSmith with my pocket money to buy the 7” single, ‘Do they know its Christmas’ to help victims of the Ethiopian famine. Yes that is physically going into a shop (with my mum), and buying a vinyl record and coming home and playing it non-stop on my parents hi-fi system. Back in 1984 this made me very cool. And I haven’t been very cool since.

At the time it was the UK’s best selling single and raised an estimated £8 million. The point is that it made giving to charity very cool for not just me, but for many people.

I also remember my dad coming home from work being super excited that he had seen Bob Geldof getting on a plane (my dad worked at Heathrow). He rushed off to Boots (yes the pharmacy) to get his film developed (no digital then) and we were delighted several days later (one hour service didn’t exist) to see 24 shots of a small man with big black hair (or possibly a hat) in a white t-shirt getting on a plane in the very far distance (no zoom lens). You might have an app that makes your photos look like this. My dad was, nevertheless proud of ‘meeting’ Bob Geldof, even though he was ‘a bit scruffy’.

Live Aid was a music concert held the following July simultaneously in London and Philadelphia. 58 bands played over 16 hours attended in total by over 170,000 people and the broadcast was watched by two billion people in 160 countries. Oh and they planned and delivered it in 12 weeks. Oh and this was before the internet or email was invented.

In 1985 Live Aid was an entirely new phenomenon for the fundraising world. Nothing like this had ever happened before.

I remember being glued to the telly that day. And I remember Bob Geldof getting all shouty and sweary. Now I know that he was getting frustrated that there wasn’t an urgent enough call to action when he famously said ‘f*** the address! –  there are people dying now, so give me the money.’ You can watch below.

The original fundraising target for LiveAid was £1 million and the final figure raised was about £150 million. Outstanding.

So thank you Rebecca for indulging me on a trip back to when I was cool. But more importantly for reminding us all that with an urgent need, passion, determination, bloody mindedness, a strong ask and sometimes a bit of swearing we can achieve outstanding things.

It was much easier before the internet came along and wrecked everything

I’ve gone a bit techy this week. On Tuesday I went to the launch of ‘More than shaking an online tin – How can we take technology-enabled giving to a new level?’  – a new report by nfpSynergy for Spring.

Yesterday I went to the Institute of Fundraising technology group’s conference.

In particular I enjoyed the opening plenary by James Kliffen, Head of Fundraising at Medecins sans Frontieres  on fundraisers making the digital transformation. My key take outs were;

  • The importance of recruiting and keeping monthly givers.
  • Volunteer doctors and nurses working in difficult and dangerous places tell their stories to engage donors. Brilliant.
  • Thank you letters are written by the doctors and nurses working on the front line – very special and powerful.
  • When their emergency tsunami appeal raised all that they could responsibly spend on aid for tsunami after 5 days they stopped their appeal. Brave and transparent.
  • Their newsletters are sent only when there is news and they never make an ask for money. Interesting given the recent and ongoing ‘how often should we ask’ debate.
  • The pinball effect when people ‘bounce’ off different messages but only remember the last message they saw, so when you ask them how they found you the answer is often ‘I Googled it’ so its hard to measure what activity is more effective at driving traffic to your site.
  • The biggest challenge is data integration and there was no single answer on how to do it.

I heard a case study from Deniz Hassan from Merlin about their experience of fundraising from Facebook. He talked through the mechanics of how Merlin used Facebook to engage and grow their donor base. Three key take outs were;

  • Any campaign must be integrated into other fundraising and campaigning activities.
  • You have to test and refine and test and refine and test and refine…..
  • Do not forget the fundamentals of fundraising, engaging hearts and minds and telling stories.

Howard Lake did a great session, ‘Creation, curation, donation’ with lots of practical tools that you can use to find, edit, sort and present strategic messages and make the most of the good and relevant information that already exists on the web. My three favourites are;

  • Scoop it – for publishing your own magazine style content.
  • Storify – to build stories from a range of media on the web.
  • Wordle – for generating word clouds.

The conclusions from both the report and the conference are broadly the same.

  • Mobile is big, use of smartphones is increasing and there are real opportunities for charities to develop in this marketplace.
  • Integrating and measuring the impact of different digital tools is difficult, which also makes it difficult to choose which tools to use in the first place.
  • It’s important to remember the fundraising basics, engaging donors through storytelling and showing them how their support makes a difference.
  • Do not underestimate the resource needed to ensure you get the most from your use of technology.
  • Charities must take risks and test new technology to remain competitive.
  • It was much easier before the internet came along and wrecked everything.

You can download the Spring ‘More than shaking an online tin’ report here or see a brief overview of the report on the UK Fundraising blog.

You can also download the presentations from the Institute of Fundraising Technology conference here. 

I’ve never cried in a hardware store before. Although perhaps you have.

I was in E Hayes & Sons in Invercargill in New Zealand. A strange place to hang out on holiday amidst the natural beauty of New Zealand’s South Island you may think. And you would be right.

But this is why.

On the way to Invercargill I watched a film starring Anthony Hopkins called The Worlds Fastest Indian. It was made in 2005 and based on the true story of Burt Munro and his quest to turn his 1920s Indian Scout motorbike into the fastest motorbike in the world.

Burt was a somewhat eccentric motorcycle fanatic who spent his time tinkering with his motorbike in his shed, making improvements to the engine and bodywork. He would often work through the night choosing his passion for speed over sleep. He improvised with found items rather than ‘proper’ equipment. He would cast parts in old tins and make his own barrels and pistons.

In 1962 he travelled alone to the USA to fulfil his ambition to achieve a worldspeed record at Speed Week on the salt flats at Bonneville, Utah.

His local community, friends and family did not believe that he could do it. Even the local motorcycle club were sceptical about their eccentric neighbour. The only person who did believe in Burt was Thomas, the small boy who lived next door.

Against the odds, Burt and the motorbike arrived in Utah, 8,000 miles away in one piece. Burt charmed officials to let him race despite not registering, being 63 years old, riding the oldest bike in the competition with no apparent regard for his own safety. He had no safety parachute or fire extinguisher. Officially both were required in order to be eligible to race.

Burt broke the world record achieving 179 mph. Burt returned to Bonneville several more times setting more speed records in his lifetime. Burt died on 6 January 1978, aged 78.

“You live more in five minutes on a bike like this going flat-out than some people live in a lifetime” Burt Munro

Burt’s story inspired me because of his passion (for motorcycles) and his single-minded pursuit (of speed) – and his success despite the odds.

It is an enchanting and beautiful story told with love and humour. I fell in love with Burt Munro a bit. So that’s why, when I came across his motorcycle bike and memorial to Burt in a hardware store in Invercargill – it was all a bit emotional.

So if you ever feel in the need of inspiration against the odds, take 90 minutes out of your day-to-day life and watch The Worlds Fastest Indian. 

You can’t get romantic about baseball

I’m currently on route to the FIA conference in Australia. On the flight yesterday in between being fed like a Christmas goose I managed to get a spot of inspiration.

One of the in-flight movies was Moneyball Starring Brad Pitt and directed by Bennett Miller.

Based on the bestseller Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, Moneyball is the true story of the Oakland A’s baseball team general manager Billy Beane.

Billy knew that they couldn’t compete with the big budgets that the other teams had to buy players so he had to win using different tactics.

Billy developed a new way of recruiting players by using computer based analysis to buy combinations of players with undervalued, yet complementary skills to form a winning combination. From changing the ‘normal’ approach based on the collected wisdom of players, managers and coaches Billy focused on buying ‘wins’ rather than players.

At first he was criticised for reinventing a system that had been working OK for years and threatening the game and the way that ‘things got done’. Then his strategy started to work. With his team Billy changed the game. His strategy was adopted by others. In fact two years later the Red Sox won the world series using Billy’s philosophy.

Despite his overall success Billy still thought he failed because the Oakland A’s didn’t win the final game of the season. His personal goal was all about his emotional romantic attachment to the game and that last win.

What can we learn from Moneyball

  • It takes guts to try something new
  • You can’t win by being the same as everyone else
  • Helping people understand and bringing them with you is very important – it can be lonely without allies.  It was only when Billy helped the team understand his strategy that he started to see success.
  • You have to have passion. Billy’s passion for his team and emotional involvement with the game was a driving force.
  • Billy tells a baseball scout who criticises his strategy to ‘adapt or die’. It’s true. The world changes, your competition changes and you have a choice to adapt or to die.
  • Know what success looks like and celebrate it.

So watch it for yourself. It’s got a great song at the end that made me cry a little bit and proved me wrong. You can get romantic about baseball.