Teaspoons: Lessons of a Failed Experiment

Some weeks ago a wrote about the teaspoon situation in the office where I work. I had a theory that the presence, or lack, of teaspoons in the kitchen was an example of scarcity theory. Having provided new teaspoons most of them stayed in the kitchen for a while and then disappeared quite quickly. In that article I set out several resolutions to the challenge of disappearing spoons, one of these, was to buy some more spoons and see what happened.

My expectation was that these teaspoons would also, over time, be removed from the shared facility, it happened once the most likely outcome is that it will happen again. If the last set of tea-making cutlery vanished in just a few weeks, then surely the same would happen to another set. I’m giving the plot away far to early, but I can tell you that I was wrong, so far at least the majority of the spoons are still in the kitchen.

This is what happened – with the generosity of Christmas in my mind I decided that I would replenish the supply of stirrers the brew facilities in late December. This resulted in me adding four dozen (48) new teaspoons into the kitchen in the week prior to the Christmas break.

My expectation was that I would be able, within a couple of weeks, to write an article stating that yet again all of the spoons had vanished and that a nice chart would show a rapid drop off once numbers became scarce. To prove this we decided that we should take regular audits of the number of spoons by a manual count.

I didn’t get to write that article because this is what has happened:

The Teaspoon Experiment – Round 2

That’s right the number of spoons did drop off reasonably quickly, but then it stopped and has stayed steady for a couple of weeks now.

Why should that be?

This experiment has left me with more questions than answers, although I do have to admit that some of the questions are caused by my own tinkering.

The normal rule of experimentation is that you only change one thing at a time so you can understand the impact of that change, I ignored that rule and have made things confused in the process.

Could it be Posher Spoons?

When buying the second set of spoons I wondered whether people would treat better spoons any differently to cheap ones. Someone commented to me that they had broken at least one of the first set and I couldn’t be sure that others hadn’t met the same fate. I also wondered whether people might be more inclined to look after a posher teaspoon.

Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not talking about the difference between a cheap spoon and a silver spoon; the difference was between a cheap teaspoon and a very cheap teaspoon.

Anyway, the smarter stirrers have lasted longer than the cheap ones, but I can’t say whether that’s causation or just correlation.

Have we reached saturation?

Another theory is that we’ve reached the peak of people who regard removal of an item from a shared utility as an acceptable thing to do. This is partially evidenced by the fact that some of the cheaper spoons have returned, these being people who want their own teaspoon, but also want it to be the best spoon.

We definitely haven’t provided everyone in the building with a spoon, that would take significantly more spoons to achieve and quite frankly I’m not sure I’m willing to go that far for a bit of fun.

Will it change over time?

Perhaps this chart reflects people’s New Year’s resolution to be better people and to be kinder to their fellow human beings. Or, maybe not.

Perhaps the cause is people’s desire to drink more water as part of their January health kick resulting in lower usage of teaspoons. Or, maybe not.

Is it because the kitchen has changed?

Some of you will have read: The Suboptimal Kitchen – The 10 Steps to Getting a Cup of Tea

Since publishing that post someone decided that sub-optimal wasn’t good enough and we needed to make the place super-sub-optimal. The change in the kitchen is deserving of another post at some point, but for now you know all that you need to know, there has been a change. This change has meant that for many people getting access to a teaspoon has become something of a challenge causing many to abandon their use.

Are people messing about?

Another, less likely, theory is that people read my previous post and have decided to mess with my experiment. I’d like to think that this was true, but my ego isn’t so big as to think that many of the people in my office have even read the post.

Concluding

The scientific method is there for a reason, the implications of messing with it were obvious in this case. I will keep an eye on teaspoon numbers to see if anything changes, but perhaps it’s time to move on to something else.

Doing experiments with people is always fraught with unexpected complexity.

At least now there are plenty of spoons available in the kitchen again.

Header Image: These are Rydal Caves where we decided to hide for a while whilst the rain descended.

Walking in Conversation – Talking Side-by-Side

I was out for a walk with a friend the other day; as we walked and talked my friend said something along the lines of:

“The conversation always flows much better when you are on a walk.”

I agreed wholeheartedly.

There’s a phrase that I use, which is a quote from someone but I don’t know who:

“Women talk face-to-face; men talk side-by-side.”

This isn’t a rule, but more of an axiom that I see playing out regularly. What better way to be side-by-side than to go for a walk.

I’ve led all sorts of walking groups, sometimes the groups are just men. When it’s an exclusively male group they will fall into line two-by-two and the conversation will be contained within the pairings for almost the entirety of the walk. There’s something in this arrangement that men find safe and helps the conversation to flow. I’ve also led groups that are exclusively women (except myself, of course) and they interact in a very different way, but still the conversation flows.

From time to time someone will ask me if they can have a chat about something, whenever this occurs I try to make our meeting include a walk. This is how the meeting normally goes, we meet at a cafe and have a drink during which time we’ll chat, but the conversation won’t go very deep. Once we have finished our drink we’ll start off walking, almost instantaneously the level of conversation will go deeper. The further we walk the deeper the conversation goes.

I’ve been in situations at work where things were getting tense in a meeting room. When I’ve had the opportunity I’ve arranged for a break in the proceedings and encouraged everyone to go out for a walk. The change in conversation as people walk and talk is remarkable. The change of posture dissipates the tension almost immediately, the fresh air lightens the mood considerably, and it all flows together to make for a much better outcome for everyone. There was a time a few years ago when walking meetings were the latest management “thing”. Walking meetings may not be a “thing” anymore, but that doesn’t stop them being a very valuable tool. If you’ve never tried it, you should.

Some of my fondest memories are of conversations that I have had whilst out for a walk with friends and family. There are more of these memories than there are of conversations over meals or sat in a coffee shop somewhere.

“The conversation always flows much better when you are on a walk.”

Steve

Walking to be Present – Being Here and Now

How much of our lives do we spend in the future or the past?

I’m someone who can chew on regrets for days. If I make a mistake, or embarrass myself, that can become the burden of my thoughts and feelings for far too long. I know that I’m overthinking each of these situations but that doesn’t stop me living in the past. Interestingly my temperament is such that positive experiences rarely have the same impact, I let delight slip from my thought far too easily and hold onto the negative far too quickly.

Worrying about the future is another pastime that has been a prevalent companion. I have an expert level certification in imaging catastrophe, not surprisingly most of these imagined disasters have never happened. I’m living in a future that doesn’t exist and will never exist quite how I imagined it.

Neither chewing on the past nor worrying about the future are worth anything like the amount of time that I spend on them.

There are times, though, when my time travelling starts to feel like it’s getting out of control and that is when I need to make a conscious effort to return to the present.

The best way I know of returning to the here and now is to go for a walk.

I’ve written previously about starting a walk at a high pace and how it takes a while for me to drop into my rhythm. My mental presence follows a similar cycle.

When I start out on a walk my head can be in all sorts of places depending upon the events that happens just before setting out. Sometimes my thoughts race between something that’s just happened and a worry about the future, like a tiger in a cage pacing backwards and forwards. I’ll then switch inexplicably to another concern and a different worry, but still bouncing from one to another, backwards and forwards in time. After a few minutes, having visited the various corners of the cage the tiger starts to calm down and move to a place of rest. This phase doesn’t, normally, take more than a few minutes before peace starts to build.

On one of my regular walks there’s a gate just a few minutes from my house, reaching the gate is often the symbol for me to step out of the cage and into the present. There are times when the steps before the gate are a blur as all of my attention has been soaked up mentally pacing the cage.

Stepping through the gate and into the present I start to notice everything around me. This morning I’d hardly noticed how misty it was until I stepped through the wooden kissing gate. It’s in the present that I start to put things into perspective and set aside my worries and concerns. It’s in the present that I start to see hidden things. It’s in the present that delight arrives. It’s in the present that in a strange way I step out of the present and into a daydream.

You are a success when you have made friends with your past, are focused on the present, and are optimistic about your future

Zig Ziglar

Header Image: A sunset on one of my morning walks. It’s taken a little way through the gate.

Walking for Physical Self Care – Learning from the Bus Conductors

Two of the books that I’ve read in the last 6 month have referred to the same study by a team lead by Jeremy Morris in 1949 to 1952.

Morris was interested in the connection between cardiovascular disease and physical activity. The link between exercise had been a long-held popular view, but there was little data to support it. On his daily commute in post war Britain, where money for research was scarce, Morris noticed a perfect sample for an experiment in the two people who operated the famous London double-decker buses on which he travelled – the driver and the conductor.

The driver with a mostly sedentary working life, the conductor on their feet most of the day, up and down stairs and from front to back. The difference in cardiovascular disease between the two cohorts was significant with drivers twice as likely to experience a heart-attack as the conductors. Neither of these roles required breathless physical exertion, the difference was between sitting all day and walking about all day.

Since the 1940’s the population in the west has moved from active jobs to sedentary ones. We may not be driving buses, our vehicles are apps, our steering wheels are screens, mice and keyboards.

Sitting all day is killing us, and it’s not just our cardiovascular system that is suffering, extended sitting is linked to a whole cluster of conditions. The recommended counter measure to these issues is exercise, in particular, walking.

Speaking personally, I can’t say that I can directly attribute any particular aspect of my physical well-being to regular walking, but I do feel the difference between active days and sedentary days. On active days I am less stiff, my brain is more alert, I sleep better, I feel less stressed, my posture is better, I am more creative, I am more motivated, my mood is better, I breathe better, in short I feel better.

One thing I’m not doing is walking to burn calories. While walking gives a reasonably good return on energy burnt, I’m more interested in the broader benefit to my overall well-being.

There’s still some debate about how much walking is enough walking, but for me I’m not sure that’s the right question. It appears that the 10,000 steps movement was created as a marketing event in Japan with no scientific research to support it. For me the question that I’m asking myself is how I build in as much activity as possible; can this meeting be done as a walking meeting? Can I take this call while I go for a walk? Even if I need to be near a screen for this discussion can I stand? Can I park my car away from the office door to make me walk in? I find it interesting that as a society we still regard these approaches as a bit weird.

Another question I ponder is which type of walking is best for me? In this regard it appears that we have to walk in a way that increases our breathing and heart rate. A number of people reference that phrase “you can still talk, but you can’t sing”. I rarely amble anywhere, but I don’t speed walk either. Perhaps I should be a bit more exerting as I walk, or perhaps I should just do more walking.

My morning walking routine has made a significant different to the amount of walking that I do, sadly it doesn’t stop me from sitting at a desk for 10 hours at a time occasionally. Most of the time this is broken by a lunchtime walk, whilst this walk does do something for me physically I find that it’s primary benefit is to my mind, perhaps that’s a subject for another day.

Header Image: Seathwaite Valley on the way back to the car after a fabulous day walking.

Walking to Listen – What are you listening to?

The other day I was walking back towards my house when a cacophony of bird noises grabbed my attention. My hearing told me that there were magpies and birds of prey somewhere nearby. I searched the trees above me and sure enough at the top of some tall trees a group of magpies and a few buzzards were in the middle of an altercation. As I watched the buzzards would, one by one, fly in to one of the trees only to be sent packing by a angry response from a few of the magpies. Once one buzzard had been repelled another one would fly in from a different angle which was again repelled by even more magpies. If it hadn’t been for the noise I’m not sure that i would have noticed this fascinating behaviour.

There are so many different birds to hear as I partake of my morning ramblings.

Last summer I watched a flock of noisy long-tailed tits leap from bush to bush along a local hedgerow. Their call is distinctive, particularly as they move around in these small flocks chattering away to each other as they go.

I love to listen to nature as I walk around but that’s not the only type of listening that I like to do. Recently I received a present of some bone-conducting headphones from Sue, my wife. These headphones don’t go in my ears, but rest on my cheek bones, because my ears are still open to the air I can still hear all of the ambient sounds around me while I listen to a podcast or an audio-book. The headphones are also quite good for music, but although I love music I tend to prefer the spoken word while I’m out walking.

There’s something about walking and listening to an audio-book that enhances the experience of both, for me. Listening regularly, even for relatively short periods of time, means that you can get through quite a lot of material. Some of my listening is fiction and as I walk I enter into the scenes that the author has painted. There are times when I feel like I am equally in two places at the same time, the real one and the fictional one. At other times my listening is more factual learning and listening as I walk helps the learning to become embedded in my mind. Walking is, after all, supposed to have a positive effect on creative thinking.

Often, as I walk, the loudest noise isn’t an external one, it’s the one in my mind. There have been times when, before a walk, that voice has become almost deafening and blocked out every other sound. As I set out on a walk that voice drives me to walk at a pace, but without any rhythm, and little delight. The voice may be setting the pace at the beginning, but something about the activity of walking steadily arrest and calms that voice and returns my steps to a normal tempo. Calm steps and calm thoughts. Sometimes I don’t have to walk very far before I experience this effect, but there are other days when I can walk miles before the calm descends. If I am out hill walking the motion and effort of an ascent is a great facilitator for calming the voice. It can feel like I’m fighting the hill at the beginning, but anyone who has been hill walking knows that it’s always the hill that wins. Once my inner voice has been calmed it’s then, and only then, that I can really hear it.

My life would be far poorer if I was to loose the ability to walk and listen, but more than that, I suspect that my mental well-being would be significantly impaired.

There are days when my primary reason for walking is to listen, that’s particularly true when I need to listen to myself.

header image: This is the side of Yewbarrow looking towards Pillar from a recent walk when I listened to the entirety of Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell.

Walking to Discover – Finding the Paths Less Travelled

I’m writing this post having returned from a day of discovery.

Today I walked a route I have never walked before and went to a place I have never been to in my previous 50 years. This place was number 197 on a list of 214 places that I have a plan to discover.

My journey started from a place I know well having already been on several different adventures from this base. Only recently I travelled a route that took me to the top of a hill called Base Brown, number 187, from the north. Today’s route took me around the south of that same hill with delightful views that were hidden from my previous route with rugged crags emerging through the low clouds that became the theme of the day.

The south of Base Brown

Up to this point I had been walking a well defined path which is one of the routes to a Lake District favourite and England’s highest peak. Even this was a discovery and something new for me. Having reached a small stream it was time to join a faint path branching off to the right, it was time for the real discovery to begin.

The Path Ahead

This path isn’t on the maps, well at least it’s not on the maps that I use, but it is in various people’s guides to this walk. While the beginning of this path was visible it was clear that further up the hill the path was indistinct at best. Sometimes when I am out walking each step is a discovery. There were times when I had to take a step to see the next step, by taking that next step, the step after it became visible. Then there were points where even the next step wasn’t visible and I discovered by moving forward without a path. I knew the direction I needed to head to reach my destination and I expected the path to become clear at some point.

I headed towards a small tarnlet which I knew that the guided paths went past, by now I was up in the clouds with very little wind, when it’s like this the world shrinks to the size of the area that is visible. I like it when it’s like this.

A little way along the path reemerged, still faint, but clear a direct to the top where I discovered the two tops of Seathwaite Fell. There’s the summit on the map,and the summit defined by the guidebook writer Alfred Wainwright.

The Top of Seathwaite Fell (as defined on the map)

The best walks are continue their interest all the way up and all the way down, with discovery after discovery and this walk was one of those walks.

Not far beyond the summit there was another small unnamed tarn shrouded in cloud without even the faintest breath of wind. The reflections were wonderful in the cloudy gloom.

Misty Tarn

A little further along Sprinkling Tarn emerged, this is a larger tarn nestled into the hillside with an array of mountains looking down. While the path skirts around one side of the tarn I decided that this feature deserved a wider discover.

The tarn has an unusual shape with an isthmus shaped piece of land sticking out into the middle where I headed. It felt like I was on my own in the middle of the water. What a discovery.

Sprinkling Tarn

From the isthmus I headed back to the path and eventually discovered another path along the route of the stream that flowed out of the tarn and back to my transport.

The stream flows down a cascade of waterfalls and rocky ravines with a different view every few metres. Eventually the path dropped below the clouds and opened up wonderful views across Borrowdale and Derwentwater beyond. This was a new view of familiar friends, another discovery.

The path to Seathwaite with Derwentwater in the background

It was a lovely day of discovery, discovery is connected to newness, but you don’t have to go somewhere new to discover. On my regular morning walks there’s often something to discover. Having said that, I do love to walk somewhere new, I love to discover. I still have 17 more discoveries on my list of 214, and then I’ll have to find a new list to discover.

You can, perhaps, discover more things, more quickly in a car, but discovering as you walk allows you to take in the experience. There’s nothing quite like a walking discovery adventure.

Walking with Delight – It’s a World of Wonder

I was recently out and about on my morning walk and thoroughly enjoying the rhythm of it. It’s been very wet this year and my walking boots were covered in mud and wet inside, thankfully I had my waterproof socks on and my feet were fine. I was roughly half way around the circuit and I was starting to get that heading for home feeling as I left a country lane and headed onto a narrow path which runs alongside a brook. Just a few metres along a flash of blue down near the flowing water caught my eye. Instinctively I stopped still and turned slowly to look to where the flash had been. There, sat on a twig overhanging the brook was a kingfisher. It sat for a few seconds looked at me and darted off along the stream and into obscurity.

I was delighted.

That delight stayed with me for the rest of my walk and also as a slow fading feeling for the rest of that day.

On most of my morning walks I find something to delight in:

The drill of a woodpecker on a spring day.

The bronze glow of a beach tree in the autumn.

The taste of juicy brambles.

The look of disdain from a fox as is crosses the path and disappears into the undergrowth.

The roar of a stream in flood.

The smell of wild garlic and the beautiful white flowers.

The taste of plumbs ripened in a nearby field.

The mystery of a misty morning as trees turn into shadowy figures.

The excitement of seeing a deer effortlessly bounce down one side of a hollow and up the other.

The discovery of a new path that I’ve never used before and neither has anyone else from the look of the undergrowth.

The emergence of the buds in the oak trees and the promise of acorns.

The brilliance of a bank covered in bluebells hidden away from view.

The screech of buzzards circling overhead.

The crunch of fresh frozen snow.

The shock of startling a hare and seeing it speed across the fields.

The joy of the smaller birds as they scurry about their work.

The list goes on. I’m not upset if I don’t see anything new or unique there are plenty of marvelous things if I just have the eyes to see them. Seeing isn’t a passive thing, you have to train yourself to see, it requires attention, and walking gives that time for attention to build, but I think that might be a post for another day.

I’ve written about delight before – Count Your Blessings #143 – Delight – interestingly, also provoked by a walk and a song that I still love, who’s words I will leave you with:

Amid the rumours and the expectations
And all the stories dreamt and lived
Amid the clangour and the dislocation
And things to fear and to forgive
Don’t forget
About delight

Don’t Forget About Delight: Bruce Cockburn

Header Image: One of those wonderful misty mornings.