Category Archives: travel

Are you passionate about your job?

On Tuesday I went to listen to wildlife film producers Patrick Morris and Huw Cordey tell their stories about the making of the BBC series Life and Planet Earth at the Royal Geographical Society in London.

They told stories of rats and leeches, caves and deserts, rivers and jungles. We saw the Tibetan fox with a strangely square head, watched monkeys in a hot tub at Hells valley in Japan and were wowed by breathtaking aerial shots of sand dunes covered in snow.

We learnt about some of the challenging conditions that Patrick, Huw and their teams had encountered; filming emperor penguins at minus 70 degrees, cameras broken by giant prehistoric fish and living inside caves for days with no daylight. And let’s not forget learning the process involved to make a cling film ‘burrito’.  (I’ll let you use your imagination with that last one)

Patrick and Huw’s brief with Life and Planet Earth was to raise the bar on previous wildlife films. They were tasked with enthralling the audience with epic cinematography and capturing the beauty and wonder of the planet in which we live by weaving stories around central lead animal characters to make the audience care about the wildlife they were watching.

They highlighted the importance of failure, how you need to have money to take risks and fail in order to push boundaries. They shared some of their failure stories, featuring eccentric Frenchmen in hot air balloons and giant trees (you may also imagine how that played out).

What struck me most was watching them effortlessly present, enthrall and capture the hearts of the audience, simply because they were talking about something they were passionate about. Their enthusiasm and passion was infectious. Can you say that about the work that you do? I hope so.

As if Patrick and Huw were not enough, he event was introduced by Sir David Attenborough.  And I got to meet him. Which was very exciting as he is one of my lifetime heroes. (Not that I had anything intelligent to say because I was too much in awe).

Thank you Patrick, Huw and David for your curiosity about our planet and the animals that inhabit it, and for inspiring the audience this week. Big thanks also your teams who fearlessly venture with you to some of the most remote places and tolerate extreme conditions in order to capture, share and inspire more of us to learn about the planet on which we live.

The event was organised by Epilepsy Action in memory of Octavia Morris who died age 27 as a result of her epilepsy.

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. 

Focus on where you want to go

Over the last few weeks I have been travelling in Australia and New Zealand. Sometimes I have been travelling with friends and sometimes on my own.
ImageI’ve learnt lots of new things, mostly through trial and error and with the help and kindness of strangers. Who knew you were not allowed luggage on the train from Wellington? (it has its own secret carriage) Or that shops often shut at 4pm and lunch finishes at 2.30?

I’ve been grateful to many people for their directions and help. I also have several observations.

  • People are kind and happy to help – and pleased to be asked for help.
  • People are proud of and keen to tell you about the area in which they live.
  • People like to recommend places to go and things to do and see.
  • People are interested in where you are from and how you have enjoyed visiting their country.
  • Most people have a friend or relative in the UK that they wonder if you know.
  • Most people are rubbish at giving directions.

Most people are rubbish at giving directions because they know too much about the area and tell you information that is irrelevant. Most people also start by telling you the way not to go. For example….

Helpful person 1

  • Helpful person 1: “So you come out of the station and on your left you will see the water.”
  • Me: “Great – So I look for water…”
  • Helpful person 1: “Don’t go to there”

Helpful person 2

  • Helpful person 2: “Go to the end of the road. At the roundabout see the big council building, with a yellow and blue sign and to the left of that there is a park.”
  • Me: “Great – so I’m looking for a council building, yellow and blue and a park”
  • Helpful person 2: “Don’t go that way”

Helpful person 3

  • Helpful person 3: “At the bus stop you see a deli type shop with beautiful flowers in the window and it does excellent coffee.”
  • Me: “OK – looking for the deli and flowers”
  • Helpful person 3: “Don’t go that way – go the other way”

OK so I think you get it. My question is; wouldn’t it be better to focus on what I should be looking for and where I should be going, rather than giving me information about the landmarks that I should avoid?

It makes me think of a driving analogy that a friend told me.

“You are driving. The road is icy and your car spins out of control. There are telegraph posts at about 10 metre spaces along the roadside. If all you think about is not hitting the post, the likelihood is that you will hit the post as that is what you are focusing on. What you should be focusing on is aiming for the gap. You need to focus on where you are going.”

We often spend time concerned with where we don’t want to go, whether in work, relationships, life or simply giving directions to hapless travellers.

If we focus on where we do want to go rather than on where we don’t want to go, surely we stand more chance of arriving at the right destination?

Will you donate just £1 for my birthday?

So its my birthday, I’m another year older. 38. How has this happened? Seems like only yesterday I was hanging out at Virginia Water Lakes with Stan Gower in my knee socks and sandals.

My priorities have changed a bit over the years. These days I’m a marketers dream; anything that says anti gravity or anti ageing or age defying and I’m there.  Can’t get enough.

This birthday I have to admit that I have been very impressed with the direct marketing I have received. Lots of organisations are helping me celebrate. Facebook Causes are onto me and even Next are offering me £5 off my ‘birthday’ order. This is a big improvement from the birthday direct mail I used to get a few years ago.

From about 1997-2003 I used to get mail from one of those companies that take free ‘glamour’ shots of you in Vaseline edged lenses and then charge you hundreds of pounds for the prints. I think they were featured on Watchdog once.  Every year the letter started, Dear *Harriet, Have you ever wanted to look really beautiful like the models in the magazines…? one year the letter made me cry real tears.

So my point? I’m getting to it. I treat my birthday like many people treat New Year, as an opportunity to reflect on what has happened in the last 12 months and hatch fresh plans for the future.

So this year I have been thinking about who has inspired me. Who has made an impact on my life. One such person is Simon Berry.

Simon and his partner Jane are the inspiration behind Colalife, a charity that hopes to be able to use Cokes distribution networks to get vital medicines out to rural areas in Africa in order to save lives. Simon and Jane have given up their day jobs and are about to move to Africa to get the Zambia Colalife pilot up and running. Awesome.

So, if you were thinking of buying me a birthday present, and actually even if you weren’t, please can you help Simon and Jane help children who are dying in Africa because they don’t have access to basic medicines that you and I take for granted.

Please sponsor the Colalife cyclists Nigel and Bill who are cycling 400 kilometres across Normandy to raise a target of £6,000  to save lives. So help them out.  You can sponsor them here. 

Just £1 will fill an AidPod with simple medicines to help a mother in rural Zambia rehydrate her child and save her child’s life (there are only 70 retail pharmacies in the whole of Zambia – and public clinics can be a 20 kilometre walk from home).

You can also tell your friends on Facebook and Twitter and perhaps some of them will donate £1 too. Or maybe more…….

So together we can help save lives. We don’t need to look beautiful like the models in the magazines. We just need to make a difference. Right now.

That’s all.

*yes according to my passport Harriet is my first name.

Today has been a bad day for customer service

Dear Richard,

Despite your entrepreneurial spirit and business acumen, I have had a decidedly below par experience of the Virgin brand this week.

Firstly, I have had to travel on Virgin trains a lot. And they are crap. They are crap because there are not enough luggage racks – on a long journey most people have overnight bags. Did no one think of this when they were designing your trains? While I’m on the subject, why put the luggage racks in the middle of the train?  It causes a bottleneck and panic as people scrabble to get off the train with their luggage.  The overhead racks are barely big enough to post a sandwich in. The trains are cramped, mostly because the aisles are cluttered with overnight bags, they are hot and stuffy and my carriage smelt vaguely of vomit. A shambles.

I’m only mentioning Virgin trains this now as I am freshly incensed by your brand today and the problems I’ve had with my internet connection.

In the last 24 hours I have spent over three hours on the phone to various Welsh people in a Virgin call centre. I’m sorry but life is too short for this.

At first I dialled the customer service number full of hope and optimism. My heart sank as an overly chipper automated person answered and asked me to key in my home telephone number ‘so that we can deal with your call more quickly’.

This initiated a multilevel filtering system, ‘to help us help you more quickly’. At some point in the process a helpful automated person suggested that I might want to go online to get help. Given that m I’m calling because my internet is not working, the offer just makes me more irritable. Which by this point is about 8 on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being very irritated indeed.

Finally, I get through to a real person who asks for my telephone number again and then puts me on hold because I need to speak to a the ‘national team’ whatever that means.  At this point I get the option of choosing my answer phone music. Presumably Virgin are aware that if you have got to this stage of so near but yet so far, that you might deserve some choice in how you would like your brain numbed. I zoned out after the pop and classical options and decide to stick with whatever genre I had been defaulted to for fear than any interference would prolong my wait time.

To be fair the various Welsh people who I conversed with were pleasant enough, if not somewhat patronising. I did resent having to tell my story afresh to each different individual. I also hate being called Madam as anyone who knows me knows – but today worse than called madam was being called Mrs Gower – that’s my mum.

So the helpful patronising Welsh person insisted that to test the service I have to remove the base of the phone socket to plug the phone line into a different socket. The last time someone tampered with these screws on the socket was probably about 1980 – so they are welded on. So there I am, wedged between the sofa and the wall face down trying to leverage the welded in screws with the helpful person at the end of the phone on speaker enquiring if perhaps I have any friends who can help, in a tinny voice laced with a level of irritation to match my own.

Eventually I got the screws off the wall. But I had to call back and navigate once more through the multi layer system. It’s apparently not possible to have a number to the right team, surely that would be helping me more quickly than me giving my phone number to every new person I speak to?

Anyway the outcome is that the internet works a bit, but like the internet worked in 1994. Slowly. Virgin say it’s the router and the router says its Virgin and I am now also broken with a fried brain from overexposure to hold music not of my own choosing.

This blog is like therapy. If I manage to post it and you are reading this – you are experiencing a miracle.

So I’m struggling to find a positive outcome, the only silver lining is in an attempt to find internet I discovered a great local café that has not only internet but excellent coffee and the best Chelsea buns I’ve ever tasted.

So whilst this letter isn’t a patch on this letter, I do want to highlight to Virgin and any other customer facing organisation some advice to keep customers happy.

  • Care about your customer
  • Employ real people
  • Answer the phone
  • Listen to people and record the conversation so they don’t have to keep telling their story
  • Don’t call me Mrs or Madam

Rant over. Thank you for listening.

A story of fish and focus

Imagine the scene, a small Mediterranean island, miles of beautiful beaches, warm sunshine, fragrant olive groves and a scattering of tavernas serving local, fresh food and wine.

A businessman on holiday strolls along the port and is fascinated by a fishermen hauling in his catch.

Noting the quality of the fish, the businessman asked the fisherman how long it had taken to catch them.
 “Not very long.” answered the fisherman.

“Then, why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more?” asked the businessman.

The fisherman explained that his small catch was sufficient to meet his needs and those of his family.
 The businessman asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”
 “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, have a nap in the afternoon under a palm tree. In the evenings, I see my friends and family, have a few beers, play the drums, and sing a few songs….. I have a full and happy life.” replied the fisherman.

The businessman ventured, “I can help you…… If you fished longer every day, you could sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra revenue, you could buy a bigger boat. With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you could buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have a large fleet. Instead of selling your fish to a middleman, you could negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant. You could then leave this little island and move to a city, from where you could direct your huge enterprise.”

“How long would that take?” asked the fisherman.

“Oh, ten, maybe twenty years.” replied the businessman.

“And after that?” asked the fisherman.

“After that? “When your business gets really big,’ replied the businessman “you can start selling shares in your company and make millions!”

“Millions? Really? And after that?” pressed the fisherman.

“After that you’ll be able to retire, move out to a small island, sleep in late every day, spend time with your friends and family, go fishing, take afternoon naps under a palm tree……”

I love this story. Sometimes, on the treadmill of daily life its easy to lose sight of the important stuff. The stuff that doesn’t really matter like the latest Apple gadget, expensive fashions, a bigger house or a bigger boat.

Are you swept along by what you think others think and expect of you? Or are you doing what you are passionate about and enjoy? Take a deep breath and think about what is important. Now focus on achieving that.

If you like this you might also like

Fish! – Stephen C. Lundin, Harry Paul, John Christensen, Ken Blanchard

The Fred Factor – Mark Sanborn

The Element – Sir Ken Robinson

The Four Hour Working Week – Tim Ferris 

Change is the natural state for the earth – it will never be finished

On Friday I went to Down House, the former home of Charles Darwin. Down House is a stunning property with beautiful gardens and a museum of Darwin’s life.

Apparently Darwin wrote The Origin of the Species here; his controversial masterpiece introducing his theory of evolution rather than the perceived wisdom of the time of divine creation, i.e. that life is designed by some divine power.

“Change is the natural state for the earth – it will never be finished.” Darwin

Darwin did not conceive his theory of evolution by natural selection in a vacuum. He was a collector of ideas, things and theories. He considered and developed his thoughts over a period of time, many of which were inspired and consolidated by his findings on his epic voyage of discovery aboard The H.M.S Beagle’.

Some ideas that fed Darwin’s imagination included;

  • Economic theories of supply and demand
  • The theory that scarcity led to competition between individuals for survival and that war disease and famine prevent over population.
  • Calculations by a number of scholars that the earth was indeed very old. In the 1600s Bishop James Usser calculated from the Bible that the earth was created on 24 October 4004 BC. (Love the specific date of 24 October!)
  • Fossils being proof that other species formerly existed and that they must have either died out or changed significantly.

The Origin of the Species was published 1859, the result of two decades of careful and cautious thought. Darwin delayed making his theory public for nearly 20 years. He knew that his view that life was not designed by a divine power would be controversial. Darwin wanted to have clear thoughts on how to counter arguments and he spent time evidencing his theory in a number of ways.

For example he investigated how plants spread from place to place. He immersed seeds in salt water for long periods to see if they could last the time it took to travel across the ocean and still germinate. He also sought opinions from a range of academic and professional disciplines.

As Darwin predicted, many were passionately opposed to the concept of evolution of the species. Including Emma, his wife who was deeply concerned by Darwin’s lack of religious faith.

My particular favourite opposition to the theory of evolution is based on the watchmaker argument. The watchmaker argument is that if you found something as complex as a watch lying on a path you would assume that someone had designed it. Therefore complex living things must have been designed. Brilliant.

I would place Darwin in the innovators of all time category for several reasons.

1. He had a sense of natural curiosity and bravely asked “why?”  – to challenge fundamental beliefs on creation itself.

2. He was a collector of things, theories and ideas. He wasn’t a lone genius, it was the combination of these ideas that inspired his first thoughts of the theory of evolution.

3. He was brave, even though it took him 20 years to share his thoughts and findings.

4. He was inspired by Rev John Stevens Henslow (1796-1861) who was a professor of Botany at Cambridge. Henslow advised his students to go out and ‘observe for themselves’.

5. He found a subject for which he had a passion and natural aptitude.

6. He remained focussed and continued to experiment to prove his theories after Origin of the Species was published.

Darwin described life as a constant struggle for survival. More creatures are born than the worlds resources can sustain. Any individual with an advantage over its fellows would be more likely to endure long enough to reproduce and pass on advantages to the next generation. Brutally described; those who did not adapt to circumstance will perish. Life is survival of the fittest.

So if we apply Darwin’s theory to business evolution.  Business is then also survival of the fittest. Those companies that cannot adapt to circumstance will perish. That’s why if companies are going to be successful, and survive they have to be innovative. They must be able to change to be better than their competitors and adapt to the needs of the customer and the marketplace environment in which they live.

Ask yourself – Are you adapting to survive in your environment?

If you are interested in this you may also like

Origin of the Species – Charles Darwin

The Element – Sir Ken Robinson

Where Do Good Ideas Come From – Steven Johnson 

You can help. Even if you just do one thing.

Two billion cups of coffee are drunk every day. I for my small part contribute to that total. Coffee has become a staple part of my existence, dare I say an addiction that I now rely on to kick-start my brain and body into action.

Ethiopia is the largest producer of coffee in Africa. 15 million people depend on coffee for survival in Ethiopia. It represents 67% of their export revenue.

The problem is that the Ethiopian coffee farmers don’t get paid enough by the West to survive.

Last week I watched Black Gold which is a film about Tadesse Mesekla who is the General Manager of the Oromia Coffee Farmers Co-operative Union. Tadesses’ job is to negotiate with coffee buyers so that they pay his farmers a better price than that currently set by the international commodities exchange.

In 1989 the International Coffee Agreement, which was responsible for regulating coffee trade prices collapsed. Since then coffee trade has not been regulated. Today the market is dominated by 4 multi national companies, Kraft, Nestle, Proctor and Gamble and Sarah Lee.

  • A cup of coffee in western countries costs approx US$2.90.
  • A kilo of coffee produces 80 cups.
  • The Ethiopian farmers receive US$0.24 per kilo.

You don’t have to be a maths genius to spot that the west are massively exploiting the Ethiopian coffee farmers.

Since 1990 the coffee retail market has increased from US$30 billion to US$80 billion, yet the farmers do not see any of this income.

Tadesee is negotiating so that the coffee farmers can make enough from their coffee to enable them to live; to eat, to have clean water, to buy clothes and send their children to school. As Tadesee puts it, “not for motorbikes”. This isn’t for luxuries but for the essentials that many of us are privileged enough to take for granted. An increase, for example to just US$0.50 per kilo would change the Ethiopian coffee farmers lives beyond recognition.

The sad truth is that Ethiopian farmers cannot survive on what they are currently paid for their coffee crops. Many are now growing chat instead of coffee. Chat is a mild narcotic plant banned in the US and most of Europe. It has a greater market value that will enable the farmers to afford to eat and have clean water. It’s a question of survival.

The Ethiopian coffee farmers should be paid a fair price for their coffee. The west should not be exploiting them. You can help. Even if you just do one thing and only buy Fairtrade coffee products.

Learn more and watch the movie. www.blackgoldmovie.com or check out the following websites.

Cafe Direct

Fairtrade Foundation

Global Exchange

Clipper

 

 

Deep sea creatures and volcanic vents…

Did you know that at least half the planet is covered in water that is more than 2 miles deep?  And that there are volcanic vents of the ocean floor? No me neither and frankly why would you?

I only know stuff like this because the second speaker at the London Diving Chambers’ lecture was Dr Jon Copley, a marine biologist at the University of Southampton whose research investigates lush colonies of deep-sea creatures living around volcanic vents on the ocean floor.

Jon shared findings and images from his expeditions thousands of meters under the sea.  Beneath the oceans lies an undiscovered world of mineral rich deep-sea vents, billowing out mineral laden ‘smoke’. The immediate areas around the vents, which significantly warm up the water, are teeming with marine life, including colonies of strange crabs and shrimps that have adapted to their unique environment of which we know so little about.

It’s an awesome thought that Jon and his team are the first people in the history of humanity to discover some of these things. There is no accurate map of 2/3 of the seabed, which means there is so much more to discover. There could be more deep-sea vents than anyone realises.

So little is known about these volcanic vents. They are shrouded in mystery. We don’t know if, and how they are interconnected, if and how currents run between them or if that has any significance. How does the vent activity and the activity of the animals that live nearby impact on other life in the sea and in turn the planet?

The excitement of the vent discovery has been compromised by plans by a number of nations to mine this mineral rich resource.

The mining will start in the near future. It is the equivalent of mining Yellowstone. Just because we can’t easily see the vents, does it make it OK to destroy them?

It makes me sad that every blog I write because of my awe and fascination with the underwater world ends with a warning that we are destroying the delicate balance of our oceans. I don’t think we are aware of the implications of our actions. I fear we may soon go past a point of no return. Then what?

To find out more about Jon and his teams work go to www.thesearethevoyages.net

Saving Nemo – film star fish the struggle for survival

Last Friday I joined a few hundred underwater fanatics at the Royal Geographical Society for the London Diving Chambers’ annual dive lecture in support of the Scuba Trust. Two specialists shared their passion for their underwater careers; John Boyle and Dr John Copley.

John Boyle; self-taught underwater film maker and owner of Shark Bay Films shared stories of his underwater film adventures. He encouraged us to take his lead and do what we love, and love what we do. Can’t argue with that – although he admitted doing what you love doesn’t always bring in the money and circumcision filming pays more. But that’s a different story.

As well as inspiring film footage John told us about the concept for his film ‘Saving Nemo’. A fishcumentary (invented word) to raise awareness about the increased demand for Nemos (or clown fish or anemone fish as they are also known). The market for these fish has increased massively after the Disney blockbuster Finding Nemo captured the hearts and minds of children across the globe and inspired them to find a Nemo of their own.

In Thailand the illegal Nemo trade is flourishing, putting the lives of these colourful fishy guys, and in turn the reefs they live on in peril. I’ve commented before on concerns about the destruction of our underwater ecosystems and the yet unrealised consequences that this may have on the health of our planet. Nemo farming adds to the picture of underwater destruction.

Disney objected to Shark Bay Films using the name ‘Nemo’ in the title of their Saving Nemo film. Disney forced Shark Bay Films to rename and edit Saving Nemo to remove all references to Nemo.  For a small operation like Shark Bay Films this was a considerable outlay.

Some may argue that Shark Bay Films were naive, perhaps foolish to call their film Saving Nemo. However, in my opinion Disney does have some responsibility in helping to protect the ecosystems that the success of their film has put at risk. The popularity of Finding Nemo has resulted in children across the world wanting their own Nemos. This demand has been met by illegal fishing and farming which is threatening the existence of this brightly coloured stripey species and the reefs they live on.  We are yet to realise the bigger impact this will have on our oceans and the planet.

So I think Disney should have been more gracious towards Saving Nemo, it was an opportunity for them to give something back to help a situation that they had an undeniable part in creating.

The Shark Bay Film production Saving Nemo is now more commonly known as Film star fish – the struggle for survival

Shame on you Disney.

Dr Jon Copley’s story to follow …..