Walking and the Anxiety of Interactions

I tend to be a solitary walker; I like it that way. I like to be with my thoughts and the inspiration of a good audiobook.

I don’t dislike walking with other people, I quite like people, but while I’m out solitary walking I find that interactions with other people, strangers in particular, can cause all sorts of anxiety.

For me, each interaction is loaded with choices and moral dilemmas.

Let me explain by giving you some examples.

The other day I was out walking and ahead of me was a couple who were walking slower than me, that’s normal. They had a dog and people with dogs always walk slower. Where they were was not too far from a path that I was wanting to take.

This is what is going on in my head: Do I speed up, zip around them (as much as anyone walking ‘zips’) and head up the path? Do I slow down and let them pass the junction so that I can continue my route without disturbing them? If I go slower, how much slower do I need to go to leave them enough room so that it isn’t obvious that I’m waiting for them to get out of the way? How do I do that without looking weird? What happens if I go slower and they slop altogether, what do I do then? If I catch them up, I will need to interact with them, what does that look like? What kind of interactions would be appropriate?

As it was, I decided to move a bit slower and let them pass the fork, then I could be on my way. Unfortunately, my pondering had missed another option, what would happen if they also decided to take the junction? Which they did.

I was getting close to them when this happened, and an awkward interaction was now inevitable. I was either going to have to stay behind them all the way up the forked path, which was narrower than the main path. This would look awkward as they knew I’d already caught them up, or I was going to have to ask them to let me past. That’s what I thought anyway. As it was the couple stopped just a few steps up the fork and let me past, giving me a smile as I went.

Is this just me?

Another study case.

Over a week ago I was heading along a wide path when I noticed a man walking towards me on the same side of the path. As he was a little way off, I crossed over to the other side so that we didn’t crash into each other. It seemed like the polite thing to do and walking down the extreme of a path is a COVID thing that persists around here. As the man approached me, I recognised him and I’m quite sure that we’d previously smiled and said “hello.” This time he completely blanked me. In that split second, I recognised that he was from a different racial heritage to myself. Again, my brain goes into super-drive: what if he’d seen me crossing over and interpreted it as a racially motivated act? Deliberately crossing to the other side of a street to avoid someone can be an immensely powerful statement. Was I a bit overenthusiastic in my movements? What will happen the next time I see him?

A few days later I saw the same man, this time we were already walking down opposite sides of the path. He looked up, smiled, and said “hi.” I returned the niceties.

Interactions with single women are especially burdened with dilemmas. I know that I am safe, but no woman out there knows that. I can see how an approaching man on his own, without a dog, is a potential threat and needs to be treated with suspicion.

I’m not a dog owner, but I have noticed how men walking dogs are regarded as somehow safer than men on their own. With a dog is OK, without a dog is somehow strange? Perhaps it’s that the presence of a dog indicates the person with it cares about it at least enough to take it out for a walk.

Anyway, getting back to the subject – approaching women.

I go through all sorts of anxious mental gymnastics when approaching women walking on their own. The worst scenario for this is when I am out walking down a narrow path and approach a woman from behind. In most cases I am going faster and will need, at some point, to make a choice between staying back and overtaking.

This is a bit like the first scenario, but worse. Again, my brain goes into a spin: I don’t want to catch up quickly that would feel especially threatening, but slowing down and following is especially strange? It’s a narrow path there really is no way of overtaking without interacting and how do I do that without being threatening? How much eye contact is polite, too much eye contact makes me a threat? Do I say “Hi”, or not? What about a smile? If I stay back, will I be noticed, or not? If I am noticed, how will they respond? Is there anywhere wide enough to overtake? How do I indicate that I would like to come past? It’s a minefield of dilemma.

On a narrow path a woman walking towards me has a distinct set of anxieties: When is the right time to step to one side? Is there somewhere obvious to get out of the way? If there isn’t it feels very weird to only make a narrow space to pass, but it would be strange to climb over a fence just to make space? What is the best way to interact? When is the right time to interact?

There are no clear rules here anymore. I’ve wondered about reintroducing the tradition of doffing. What do you think, would that just make me look eccentric, or strange?

We aren’t particularly good at discerning the feelings of others and many of my anxieties are predicated on how the other person views the interaction. I’m sure that most of my worries are unfounded and that the other person isn’t thinking what I think they are. I suspect that most of the time they’re not anxious about my presence at all. That knowledge doesn’t, however, stop me processing each interaction.

Please tell me that I’m not the only one who has these thoughts?

Header Image: Sunrise from my morning walk a few weeks ago.

I’m reading… “Utopia for Realists: and How We Can Get There” by Rutger Bregman

Do you live in “utopia”? Looking back on the last two years of pandemic I can’t imagine that there are many of us leaping to a positive answer to that one.

Now imagine you are living 200 years ago and picture a time in the future when:

“billions of us are suddenly rich, well nourished, clean, safe, healthy and occasionally even beautiful. Where 84% of the world’s population still lived in poverty in 1820, by 1981 that percentage had dropped to 44%, and now, just a few decades later, it is under 10%.”

Rutger Bregman, Utopia for Realists

Is this “utopia”?

Numbers, despite the meaning behind them, rarely communicate the full story. Bregman describes where we are now not as “utopia” but as the “Land of Plenty”:

“According to Oscar Wilde, upon reaching the Land of Plenty, we should once more fix our gaze on the farthest horizon and rehost the sails. “Progress is the realization of Utopias,” he wrote. But the farthest horizon remains blank. The Land of Plenty is shrouded in fog. Precisely when we should be shouldering the historic task of investing in the rich, safe, and healthy existence with meaning, we’ve buried utopia instead. There’s no dream to replace it because we can’t imagine a better world than the one we’ve got.”

Rutger Bregman, Utopia for Realists

In Utopia for Realists Bregman seeks to paint that “better world than the one we’ve got” to sail to – not as some kind of mythical unachievable state, but by outlining a set of ideas that are just there on that far horizon.

What are these grand ideas? That would be giving too much away, but they are very interesting.

The ideas that are there on that far horizon have all been widely tested, some have even been implemented in some countries, and yet all of them would be regarded as counterintuitive, even counter-logical by most people. (I’m continuing my run of books that tell me I’m wrong.)

In the UK, where I live, welfare is a constant political battleground. Just this week the deficiencies in the existing system have been brought into stark relief by stories of an elderly woman riding the bus to stay warm at a time of escalating living costs. Yet others argue that we can’t afford to do any more. Bregman has a big idea for that. Bregman’s approach to this problem is certainly radical.

We live in a time when work is going through a massive upheaval. Many people have spent the last two years working from home and now the bosses are seeking a return to “normal” office life. Vast numbers of people are dreading the idea of returning to a place which sapped them of energy and required them to sit in long queues on motorways for no apparent reason. Personally, I’m getting a bit tired of seeing people saying “working from home”, while putting the “working” in air-quotes, as if somehow the many hours that people have been putting in aren’t real work. Bregman has a radical, yet tested, idea for that, and no it’s not better hybrid working.

(hybrid working is another term I dislike, it maintains the suggestion that working in an office is somehow better than working from home when for many roles the office is the least productive place for people.)

You might recognise the “Land of Plenty” but there are hundreds of millions of people who wouldn’t. They are still living on less than a dollar a day. The global community has spent billions of dollars trying to overcome this problem, Bregman puts the figure at $11.2 billion a month, or $5 trillion over the last 50 years. Yet poverty is still a massive problem and, according to Bregman, no-one really knows whether this development money has made a difference. Again, Bregman has an idea for this problem, and it’s probably not what you were expecting it to be. Another idea that is very timely and massively counter-cultural to many global governments, to the current British government certainly.

This book is titled “Utopia for Realists: and how we can get there”, having the ideas is only a small part of the challenge. Implementing the ideas is the greater part.

In the epilogue to the book Bregman writes:

“For the last time, then: how do we make utopia real? How do we take these ideas and implement them?

The path from the ideal to the real is one that never ceases to fascinate me”

Rutger Bregman, Utopia for Realists

He concludes with some advice to the realists and an encouragement that “more people are hungry for change”. I hope so.

This book is, in many ways, a prequal to I’m reading…”Human kind” by Rutger Bregman which uses many of the same ideas but focussed more on the personal aspects of change. We need both personal and political change if we are going to move towards that “far horizon”.

Header Image: This is Loughrigg Tarn, it’s within driving distance of my home and is a fabulous place for a swim. In the background are the Langdale fells.

Walking and finding a phone

It was a lovely spring day. The walking had been lovely. The views were beautiful. The weather was crisp and clear.

There were a few people around, but for the most part it had been a quiet day, despite the car park being full when I arrived at eight in the morning.

I was loving a slow descent along the ridge from High Street to The Rigg which makes you feel like you are on top of the world and gives you panoramic views in every direction.

The “Birds, Beasts and Relatives” audiobook by Gerald Durrell was playing through my jawbone headphones. Occasionally I would pause the audio a few times to locate the skylarks singing overhead, they sing so beautifully.

As I stood for a little while taking it all in a different noise grabbed my attention. Initially I thought that it was on the audiobook, like the reader had inadvertently left their phone alarm on. Something made me stand a little while and eventually I came to my senses and realised that this noise was not coming through my headphones and was nearby. Looking around I noticed, a good way off the path a mobile phone beeping for attention.

Climbing down I picked it up and started to ponder my next steps.

When I initially picked the phone up it was receiving a call, but I wasn’t quick enough to answer it. After that it continued making a noise that I took to be the locator tone that most modern phones allow you to activate.

The phone was, of course, locked, so I couldn’t call any obvious numbers and this wasn’t a time to use the emergency call option.

I was half-way up a hill, which meant that I was also half-way down. There are routes that are mostly up, and some that are mostly down, but this one didn’t have that obvious inclination. If I headed down, there would become a point where there wasn’t going to be a signal and I suspected that I wasn’t far off that point.

While I was in the middle of my pondering a couple passed me, also heading down. Naturally I asked them if they were looking for a phone, they said they weren’t. The woman of the couple then said to me something that made me ponder: “There were those three young lads and the girl heading up the hill, I bet it’s the girls.” The man agreed with a nodding affirmation.

As she said this I was struck by the strangeness of this classification, why would it be the “girl”? What made her think that?

There was nothing on the phone to indicate a potential gender, the phone was in a nondescript plain black cover after all. The background image on the phone was of a group of four young women, but she hadn’t seen that. Even having seen the image I’m not sure I would have leapt to the assumption that the phone belonged to a woman. I’m not even sure why she felt the need to classify it down to one of the group, I would have expected a man to come for it just as much as a woman.

Let’s be clear here, the group being described were people in their twenties, I guess, so not “boys” or “girls”. The couple who had classified them this way can only have been in her thirties themselves. I wondered how they would have felt being defined this way.

Sometimes procrastination is the best approach, I hadn’t finished my food or my coffee and decided that I would sit a while, wait and take in more of the surroundings. All this time the phone continued its occasional beeping, for which there didn’t appear to be any mechanism of responding while the phone was locked. While I sat there, I sent Sue a text to include her in the pondering. The skylarks continued their singing.

As I drank my final mouthful of coffee the phone burst into life with a different tone. Looking at it the screen told me that the phone was receiving a call from “Tom”. A thought flashed through my mind “what do I say now?” It hadn’t occurred to me before that point quite how to answer the phone. Swiping to answer the phone I said to myself “Just say ‘hi’ you muppet.”

Tom was, indeed, a member of the group that the earlier couple had mentioned. He explained that the phone belonged to the woman and that she was on her way back down the path. I stood up, waved to show where I was and told him that I was wearing an orange jacket. He could see me from where he was, and I could see the woman coming towards me. I headed back up the path towards her and handed the phone over. She said thank you, explained how she had been using the phone locator software to make it beep. I explained how I’d found it and wished her a great day walking.

I sent another text to Sue telling her that the phone had been returned to its rightful owner. The skylarks continued their singing.

Heading down I was so disappointed that the couple had been correct in their classification.

Header Image: The phone beeping away as I waited for something to happen. Slightly disappointed that the image has part of my finger it.

My Tools: AfterShockz Trekz Air – Bone Conduction Headphones

I was recently in a conversation about listening to audiobooks and the headphones that I wear. I was quite sure that I had already written a post about the headphones that I’ve worn for a couple of years, having checked it appears not, so here it is.

I like walking.

Several mornings a week I walk for at least an hour before work. I regularly walk further on a weekend. Most of the time I walk alone, apart from the company of an audiobook, or a podcast. Sometimes I listen to music, but that’s not very often. I prefer to get lost in a story or the narrative of a good podcast.

I have tried many headphones for this situation over many years, but none of them have come close to the AfterShokz Trekz Air. While other headsets may have given better audio quality, none of them come close to being the complete package of these bone conductive headsets.

Aftershokz Trakz Air

Bone conductive headsets don’t go into your ear at all, they vibrate the bone of your scull. They do this by placing what is effectively a small speaker on to the bone just in front of the middle of your ears by using an over-ear headband. If that sound weird, it isn’t, you hear the sound just like you hear all sound and you don’t feel anything. It turns out that you do a lot of hearing through these bone normally. The first time I put them on the only strange thing was how normal it was. The second time I adorned them I didn’t even think about it.

From my perspective these are the things that make AfterShokz so good:

  • Ambient sound – because my ears remain open the AfterShokz don’t block out any of the sound around me. Whilst out walking this is not only a safety issue, it also allow me to remain alert to the sounds of the day, including the activities of the local wildlife.
  • Waterproof – they perform brilliantly in any weather I don’t have to worry about them becoming damaged.
  • Comfortable, even with glasses – once I put these headphones on, I soon forget that I am wearing them. I wear glasses and the over-ear design is thin enough that it remains comfortable.
  • Steady – these headsets stay in place wherever and whenever. I’ve tried all sorts of in-ear headphones, but they all work their way out eventually and I spend part of my day putting them back in. When I am all gloved up in a snowstorm on a mountain rearranging my audio is that last thing I want to do.
  • Hood compatible – I quite like walking whilst wearing a hood in the wind and rain. The AfterShokz works really well in this situation staying in place and not requiring any adjusting. Some of this is down to the excellent hood that I have on my walking coat.
  • Simply work – I use these headphones with an iPhone and the integration is seamless. Turn them on and they connect every time. The buttons are responsive and easy to use.
  • Long battery life – I can walk all day and the Trekz have never run out of juice if they were charged. The power is so good that I sometimes forget to charge them, and they have run out in that situation. Having said that I owned them for several months before that happened. When it did happen, I was out walking and near to the top of a mountain when I heard an unexpected voice. It took me a little while to realise that it was the headphones asking, “charge me”.
  • Excellent support – the pair I currently have are my second ones. The previous ones stopped working in one ear (or should that be cheek?). A short phone call with the support team and a replacement arrived in a couple of days.
  • Built in microphone – the inbuilt microphone is useful if I want to make or receive a call whilst I am out walking, but I generally don’t want to, I’m out walking to disconnect.
  • Robust – these headphones have done a lot of miles in some inhospitable conditions. They’ve been dumped into backpacks, coat pockets, laptop bags and still look as good as they did when I got them. I don’t have to treat them like delicate electronics. They come with a protective case, but I’m not good at that kind of care.

There are a couple of times where the AfterShokz don’t work so well, just for a little balance:

  • Noisy roadsides – sometimes high-volume roadsides are unavoidable. In this context bone conductive headphones can struggle to compete with the ambient sound. I try to avoid these situations so it’s not too much of an issue but just this morning I cross eight lanes of the M6 via a footbridge and paused the audio part way across. Pausing the audio is a single easily accessed button on one cheek so that’s not too difficult a thing to do.
  • High winds – like noisy roads, high winds can make it difficult to hear. This is often fixed by the wearing of a good hood. AfterShokz do provide earplugs with the headphones to help block out the ambient sound, but I never saw the point of these.
  • USB Plug – I have several USB cables on which the plug isn’t long enough to charge the Trekz, it’s only a millimetre or so, but it makes a difference. To compensate for this, I have the cable that was supplied with the headphones plugged in to my charging block. I never have to use it more than once a week and it’s on my desk where I work, so not a hassle at all.

In conclusion, I am a big fan. If these ones broke I wouldn’t think twice about getting another pair, but I’m not expecting that any time soon.

Header Image: A windy wet day, with my hood up, on a local hill called Clougha Pike. These sculptures are by Andy Goldworthy and there is some debate about their name. It’s difficult, where they are located, to take a picture which gives you a good scale perspective, so it might be helpful to know that you can stand inside the pobs and there’s a step to help you.

A Year in Review – 2021 on grahamchastney.com

There are several ways of doing a review for a year.

I suppose I could talk about the statistics, but that seems a bit dull, just because something is popular doesn’t mean that it was any good.

If I were to do a review by the visitor numbers, I would tell you that the top three posts this year are:

As these were all posts from previous years it may suggest that I haven’t been writing this year, which I have.

The other way of looking at the last year might be to look at the posts that I’ve written and to comment on those.

Perhaps I could talk about the distinct types of post. I’ve written a few “I’m reading…” pieces, but only three. This again might suggest that I’ve only read three books this year which wouldn’t be true (that’s only counting the new books, I’ve also reread some). I tend to write these review type posts when I have something personal to say. There are so many great reviewers around that these books don’t need another one, what I try to bring is my voice.

It was fun writing about these books:

There are also the “Office Speak” posts which make me smile and provoke some of the best reactions. I hope no-one takes them too seriously.

I suppose I could talk about the where I felt provoked to write something. I particularly liked these ones:

There is one post, though, that will stand out for many years to come and that’s because it marked the end of an era for me. I’ve had a goal for several years to complete a set of mountain walks and this year I did:

This post doesn’t describe all the significance of achieving the goal, or the changes it’s made in me along the way. What it does do is give me something to look back on and remind myself that “I did that”.

Thank you for being with me on the journey.

Header Image: I’m writing this on the shortest day of the year so thought it was fitting to have a sunrise picture from my local morning walk. I’ve taken this same picture for a few years now – #fromthefencepost – it’s amazing to see the different weather and changing seasons.

I’m reading…”Team Topologies: Organising Business and Technology Teams for Fast Flow” by Matthew Skelton and Manuel Pais

There are a set of books that I have recommended to people more than any other. I’m a technical leader, but these books aren’t technical, they are all about designing and building teams.

The top three in this collection of books are:

I’m now pondering whether I should start with a different book – Team Topologies. It’s not that Team Topologies says anything different to the three books above, the readers of The Mythical Man Month, Peopleware and Drive will see a lot that they recognise in this book. What Team Topologies does is summarise many of the findings of these books into practical applicable structures, linking them to models and practices that others have found useful.

The basis of this book is a simple question based on Conway’s Law:

Any organization that designs a system (defined broadly) will produce a design whose structure is a copy of the organization’s communication structure.

Melvin E. Conway

In other words, your systems will reflect your people structures.

The question that Team Topologies asks is this – if you reverse Conway’s Law does it work the other way around?

In Graham’s overly simplistic phrasing – if you design your people structures will you get the systems that you want?

Spoiler alert: Yes, you will.

What are those people structures? That’s the bulk of the document in which Skelton and Pais outline Team First Thinking, Four Fundamental Team Types and Three Essential Team Interaction Models.

That’s pretty much where I’m going to stop the review of the book because I don’t want to rewrite the book, nor do I want to oversimplify what they have written. This book isn’t a long read after all, it’s only 185 pages without references, etc. If you want a summary, then this graphic is a good place to begin: Team Topologies in a nutshell.

What I will say is this though, this is a book of principles and concepts, types and models, it doesn’t contain team blueprints or a team design handbook. It’s not a Haynes Manual for teams and that’s a good thing. People aren’t components and teams aren’t vehicles.

Whilst there are types of teams, each team needs to be designed in its own way because each team is different. The people within a team make it unique and the context in which that team works makes it unique. The words model and type are there to tell us that these aren’t prescriptions. Prescribing a structure to a team is a folly that will probably cause more damage than good. Looking at a team structure through the lens of a model or a type may give insights into the frustrations that a team is experiencing and from that the next iteration of a team design will emerge, but that’s different to a team blueprint or a business process reorganisation.

We’ve learnt how to do iterative design for technical systems, it’s time that we applied that same design approach to the teams that build those technical systems. What Team Topologies tells us is that this Team First approach may have even greater rewards than the effort we spend designing the technical systems.

Header Image: This is Watendlath Tarn on a beautiful frosty autumnal day. My father-in-law was born in a house just to the left of this picture.

I’m reading…”Human kind” by Rutger Bregman


I like to challenge my way of thinking about things.

We each see the world through a complex lens of learning and experiences, some of the learning has been conscious, but so much of it has been absorbed through the subconscious as we go about our day-to-day activities. As an example, I have grown up with the understanding that keeping up with the news is a good thing to do, I happen to read the same paper that my parents do, I tell myself that it’s because it does a reasonably good job of reflecting a correct worldview, but what if it’s the other way around? What if this brand of newspaper is defining my worldview? Take the idea of “keeping with the news”, why is that important to me and is it truly important? What if reading the news regularly is doing me harm?

Human kind is a book that challenges several Western European worldviews – including reading the news on a regular basis. The news isn’t its main target though, that is veneer theory and the underlying assumption that we are all innately selfish, only interested in personal gain and it’s only the veneer of society that is stopping us sliding into anarchy.

The book is based on the difference in thinking between two philosophers – Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. This isn’t the first book to look at these conflicted philosophies, this is a debate that’s been going on for a long time.

Hobbes, to massively oversimplify, believed that people are basically “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”.

Rousseau believed that “People in their natural state are basically good. But this natural innocence, however, is corrupted by the evils of society”.

The Hobbesian argument is characterised by the novel Lord of the Flies which many of us, across western society, read and studied as children. It’s the story of a group of boys stranded on an island and the tragedy that follows. Through it we take in the Hobbesian viewpoint and adopt it as fact. This is the viewpoint that tends to dominate in Western cultures. In Human kind, Bregman investigates whether Lord of the Flies portrays the reality of what would happen by searching for a real-life example of boys stranded on an island, this he finds, and the outcome, it’s fair to say, is more Rousseau than Hobbes.

There are numerous other examples of experiments being undertaken to prove the Hobbesian perspective. Like many books of its type, Bergman, in Human kind, reviews each of these experiments and finds many of them to be wanting.

This book tells stories of television shows that are set up for dramatic conflict that are so full of collaboration that they a dull in the extreme.

There are experiments where people are supposed to have behaved like savages, naturally, where the reality was riddled with manipulation.

The Norwegian Prison system is used as an anti-pattern for most Western incarceration institutions.

There’s a fabulous story of a community peacefully subverting a march by fascists in their town, rather than engaging in the annual fight.

Therein lies the big question of this book. We treat people from a worldview, one that has been influenced by repeated affirmation, by literature, by science, a worldview that tells us that people are out to get whatever they can get for themselves. What if that worldview is wrong? What difference would it make if the opposite worldview was correct and people are generally decent, corrupted, but decent?

Sadly, we are fixated with the negative. Near the end of the book Bregman quotes Richard Curtis, film producer:

If you make a film, about a man kidnapping a woman and chaining her to a radiator for five years – something that has happened probably once in the whole of human history – it’s called a searingly realistic analysis of society. But if I make a film like Love Actually, which is about people falling in love, and there are about a million people falling in love in Britain today, it’s called a sentimental presentation of an unrealistic world.

Richard Curtis

What difference would it make to our world if we stopped spending so much time pushing people away, treating them as potential kidnappers and instead embraced them?

Imagine the impact if our default position was compassion rather than suspicion?

Bergman finishes the book with 10 Rules to Live By of which number 1 is “when in doubt assume the best” and number 7 is “avoid the news” 😉

Throughout this book Berman refers to his upbringing as a preacher’s kid and has a good deal to say about the prevalent Christian worldview, and, in several places, the words of Jesus. Speaking as a Christian, it led me to ponder how much of what I believe is more influenced by Hobbes than by Jesus. Time to do a bit more reading while asking different questions.

If you want to find out more, Bregman’s interview with Daniel Pink is a great listen:


Header Image: The autumn leaves have been fabulous this year. This is a place called Wood Close, just off the Coffin Trail near to Grasmere.

Workplace Collaboration Advice for Introverts (Revisited)

I wrote most of these words in 2017 and I’m revisiting them now, given the significant change in the workplace in that time.

You walk into a restaurant on your own and see that there are two choices for where to sit.

To your left there’s a bar with a few people sitting around talking, the barman looks chatty and you recognize one of the group as an acquaintance.

To your right there’s an alcove with a table and a couple of chairs.

Which do you choose? 

If you thought that going left sounded great it’s likely that you are an extrovert. The opportunity to go and chat with a group of people sounds interesting, exciting even. You get your energy from interacting with other people. 

If you thought that going right sounded wonderful, it’s likely that you are an introvert. The opportunity to spend some time on your own, and perhaps get that book out of your bag, sounds like just what you need. You can make your own energy. 

Given the choice above, I would choose to sit on my own in the restaurant and I’d probably have a book with me. I’m a bit of an introvert but nowhere near the extremes. In fact, 70% of people are somewhere in the middle. I might choose to join the group at the bar depending on whom the person I recognized was. 

You’ll notice that I haven’t correlated being an introvert with being shy, because they aren’t always the same thing. 

Many of us spend our days in a work context that prefers the extrovert.

Meetings, for example, generally favor the extroverts. They are dominated by the loud and the interactive, even if the loud and the interactive don’t always deliver the most. 

Open-plan offices favor the extroverts as well. Being thrust into a group of people with limited barriers to interaction is an extrovert’s view of heaven, but an introvert’s view of hell. One of the stated benefits for open-plan offices is the ability to interact fluidly, which is only helpful if you are an extrovert. 

Our collaboration tools tend to favor the extrovert. The constant interruptions and interactions give them energy to feed off, but draining the introvert.

In a world of complex problems and complex solutions we need to interact and we need to collaborate, all of us, introverts and extroverts alike. 

How do we build a world where the introvert brings their best value in collaboration with a team?

Here are some techniques and tools that I have observed. I also asked several colleagues – via a couple of social collaboration tools – how they collaborated as introverts which provided some really helpful insights.

Understand the Difference Between Synchronous and Asynchronous

If you have a few hours and want to start an interesting conversation, ask a group of people what their favorite collaboration tool is. People can be quite passionate about which collaboration tools work and which don’t. There are many reasons why people like one tool over another. Some of that has to do with their view on how collaboration happens and some of that is influenced by whether they are an introverted or an extroverted themselves. Extroverts, in general, aren’t fans of collaboration tools because they “just want to speak to someone.” When they do use a tool, though, they prefer ones that provide feedback immediately – synchronous tools. A phone is a synchronous collaboration tool, as is a web conferencing system. Zoom is a dream for extroverts. 

Introverts are different, as they prefer to consider before they respond. Therefore, they are likely to prefer collaboration tools that allow them to respond in their own time – asynchronous tools. Enterprise social networks like Microsoft Yammer and Facebook Workplace are asynchronous collaboration tools. Chat based tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams are asynchronous tools as well but they blur the line between synchronous and asynchronous. These messaging apps are really asynchronous tools, but we expect people to respond synchronously. The grandparent of asynchronous collaboration is, of course, email but even here some cultures expect an immediate response.

Maximize the Asynchronous Mechanisms and Tools

As an introvert, asynchronous collaboration tools are your friend. They allow you to respond in a considered way, as you don’t need to respond immediately.

Try not to get sucked into cultures that expect you to respond immediately. Remember that your power is in your ability to consider and then respond. You still need to respond, just not immediately. Unfortunately, you can’t assume that the extroverts have considered your response in the asynchronous tool, they’re too busy on conference calls to read anything.

Minimize or Ignore the Synchronous Mechanisms and Tools

Meetings are inevitable, and they’re not going away any time soon. I live in the hope that the world will move beyond the current teleconference-dominated work cultures.

As an introvert, you probably view meetings as things that get in the way of doing work. If you are working with a team of extroverts they probably have a different viewpoint.  You’re only real option is to try and minimize your involvement in meetings. The ways of doing that will depend on the team that you are a part of and your place in that team.  You should also turn down all of the notifications on the tools so that you aren’t being constantly interrupted.

Work in the Open

Sometimes as introverts we want to go off into our little corner to formulate our response and only return when we’ve got the full answer. We don’t really want to show people our work, and we definitely don’t want people asking how we are getting on.

Modern document collaboration platforms like GitHub, Google Docs and Office 365 allow us to work on our thing in the open so that others can see in without having to interrupt. We may not like people rummaging around in our workings, but it’s better than sending regular email updates, or responding to endless instant message requests. 

Stay Visible Working from Home

Having said all of the above, in our working from home world, there is a danger that you might become invisible to the extraverts. You do need to have some visibility, even if it’s detracting you from being productive. This is a balancing act, I tend to keep myself signed in to one of the collaboration tools and also choose to attend certain meetings partially because it means I remain visible. There are also certain people, extraverts, who I choose to take a call from, again because it’s important to be visible to them.

Collaboration isn’t a tool, or even a process, it’s a culture. Part of what makes up that culture are our various personality types. Use the tools and techniques that enhance your contributions whilst recognizing that others need to use different tools and techniques to draw out their contribution. The magic happens in the meeting of these different facets. 

Header Image: This is the view from Tongue Pot, a great place for a swim.

Wainwright’s 214 and the end of a Subplot

This story has two beginnings.

One beginning is no longer recoverable from my memory, lost in time and masked by other memories. This beginning is on a family holiday in my early childhood with parents of three children determined to enjoy the countryside.

The other beginning is in a small room with a group of young men talking about life. I am supposed to be the experienced one in the room, but the truth is that I’m learning just as much as they are. We are looking at a book with the title Storyline. The basic thought of this book is that many stories follow a pattern, and if you consider your life as a set of stories you can decide where in that pattern each of your stories are. What is more, you can choose the stories that you want to participate in and consciously write your own life stories.

One of the stories that I wanted to write was around my fitness and sustaining a lifestyle that would enable me to be healthy.  I don’t play a sport, and I’m not really a fan of the gym even though I attended one at the time. I’ve always enjoyed hiking making it the obvious choice for my fitness story, but what would the aim be? How would the story go?

Many great stories have a climactic event near the end where a target is met or a goal achieved. Sometimes it’s easier to build the story from that event backwards, which is what I did? I needed a hiking goal that would give me something to aim for over an extended period, which was also interesting enough for me to keep going.

Not far from where I live is the Lake District National Park and within its confines are a set of mountains, some that I have walked many times, others I would never choose to visit. The paths and peaks of this area where described in a set of guidebooks written by A. Wainwright known as Pictorial Guides of the Lakeland Fells. There are 214 hills described and climbing each of them has become a goal for many, and seemed like the obvious aspiration for me. Goal set.

There were a couple of options for the climactic event, I hadn’t climbed the highest of the 214, the highest in England, Scafell Pike. I wanted the big day to be a social occasion and leaving a big one to be that hill would exclude several people including family members. The alternative was obvious, a smaller hill in a prominent place which many could climb, even the smallest amongst us. The most northerly hill of the 214, Binsey, is number 191 in size and sits on its own. It’s not naturally part of another walk, you walk it on its own and I’d never walked it, so it seemed like the natural choice. Binsey would be the final walk with family and friends, a climactic event to look forward to, an occasion to celebrate.

(I kept Scafell Pike to for my penultimate walk. My penultimate hill was Great End which seemed fitting)

There was also the challenge of when this event would take place and several years back it seemed sensible that I should be able to do this walk by my fiftieth birthday. A goal with a date.

Working back through the other phases of the story was just as important though, and one of the phases in every good story is the time of struggle. There aren’t many great stories that where everything goes according to plan, struggle is normal, and the Storyline approach encourages you to recognize what those struggles might be and to prepare for them. The primary constraint was always going to be time, I have responsibilities and people that are important to me who are always going to be higher on the priority list. My preparation for this struggle was simple, I was going to hold the target of my fiftieth birthday lightly and keep a good record of my progress to stop myself becoming dispirited. As it happened my fiftieth birthday came and went without my climactic event, but I am proud of the priority choices that I made instead, important people and family situations that needed my time.

Intermittent goals were also important. It seems like a lifetime ago that I was stood part way around the Fairfield Horseshoe with two close friends taking selfies as we reached a third of the hills climbed (which is, of course, part way between 71 and 72). I reached the halfway mark on Great Mell Fell where my celebration was a picture on social media and great encouragement from family and friends:

Every story needs a beginning, a reason to start. Most of the time these beginnings occur when something happens unexpectedly and the only response is to start out on the journey. It doesn’t have to be an unexpected beginning though, there are parts of our lives were we get to write the story, we choose the beginning and the journey, we even design the ending.

Completing the Wainwrights has been a story that I wrote, I didn’t write every detail of it, that would have been dull, but I did create the plot and saw it come to fruition. The journey was an adventure and completing it with friends and family was one of those life occasions that will stay with me. An extra special treat was that I got spend it with my Grandson for whom it was his first Wainwright, hopefully the first of many.

The questions I’ve been asked more than any other is “what are you going to do next?” What’s the next climactic event? I haven’t decided yet. I love hiking and will continue to do that. There are many of the hills that I didn’t see the top of because of the weather, perhaps I’ll revisit those. There are other routes up many of the hills, perhaps that will be the goal. I counted all of the hills that I climbed in my childhood and prior to starting the story, perhaps I’ll revisit those. Some suggested swimming all of the lakes in the Lake District, but I’ve nearly done that already, for the permissible ones that is. No, I won’t be aiming to complete the Munros. All I can be sure of is that I will be writing a new plot. Thank you to everyone who has joined me on this one, whether it’s been in person or online.

Heading Image: This is Jimmy and Grandad who have accompanied me on many of my walks. When I started taking them with me I had no idea that I would become a Grandpa before I completed this subplot. The best stories all contain something unexpected.

Experience – The Teacher

Experience may be a great teacher, but it’s not always a good teacher.

Anonymous

What have you leant from experiences? I suspect that for most of us the list of experiences is long and extensive.

Experiences that built us up.

Experiences that taught us not to go somewhere or do something.

Experiences that showed our limitations.

Experiences that we would happily relive every day.

Experiences that we will do anything to avoid them happening again.

Experiences that have taught us who to trust, and who to avoid.

Each of these experiences have formed a part of our character, parts of our personality and our way of thinking.

I approach a situations differently to you because my experience is different to yours.

Sometimes our experiences give us an intuition into a situation that others don’t have, but there are just as many times when our experience result in unhelpful bias. Our experience has taught us well, but hasn’t always taught us correctly.

It’s always a good time to build new experiences, perhaps it’s time to deliberately seek out experiences that challenge our biases.

Header Image: These are the edges of the paths near where I live – full of life.

The Power of a Ticking Clock

A few months ago I changed the location of my home office, it’s still in my house, it’s just in a different room. There’s now a bookcase behind me, and on that bookcase is a clock. It’s an analogue clock with a small pendulum that used to reside on the mantlepiece at my grandparents. It’s a relatively plain wooden clock, but it carries with it memories.

For years that clock has stood silent in various location around my house, the thought of keeping it wound was somehow daunting and so the pendulum remained still. A busy life and clockwork machinery didn’t feel like companions.

The clock is in a prominent location and visible just over my shoulder when I am on video calls. Several of my colleagues have commented on the clock telling the wrong time to which I would normally joke that it told the correct time twice a day, which is better than many clocks.

Recently the thought occurred to me that, as I was spending more time in my home office, I should give the clock a try and see what happened. Perhaps it would stop the comments.

The first hurdle was that I had the clock but no key to wind it, but that’s no impediment in the age of Amazon and next day delivery. As you would expect, also in the age of Amazon, I now have two keys, because two were cheaper than one.

I opened the clock face and looked at the two keyholes trying to decide which one was the clock and which the chime. My intention was to have the clock working without the chime because I wasn’t sure that I wanted the chimes going in meetings. I couldn’t decide which was which so wound both of them just a couple of turns to see what happened. A quick tap of the pendulum and the familiar tick-tock eased into it’s gentle rhythm as if it had only stopped a couple of days previously. I turned the minute hand around to the top and listened as the chime rang out – bong, bong. The chimes were out of sync by several hours, but that was easily fixed after I referenced YouTube.

The clock continued for the rest of the day and it kept remarkably good time so I left it running.

In just a day of running I started to notice something about the clock, it’s steady continuous tick-tock was having an impact upon me. As my mental state sped-up with stress, the clock acted as a metronome to bring me back to rhythm. The chimes that I had anticipated being annoying interruptions became soothing reminders of the day’s progression. The sounds of the clock were gently easing their way into my daily soundtrack. The constancy become comforting. I suspect it’s also having a positive impact on my productivity.

The clock is still ticking and I’ve become a little bit obsessed about winding it and adjusting it. It’s almost like it is talking to me and asking me to look after it.

The day after I first wound the clock, I was on a call with the colleagues who had commented about my clock and none of them noticed that the clock was now running until it chimed for the time that the meeting was due to finish. These chimes have a secondary benefit, people respond to them and end meetings as they chime. That wasn’t something I was expecting.

(This post has again demonstrated to me the madness of the English language – every time I typed wind, wound or winding I would look at it and have to convince myself again that these were the correct spellings and that I wasn’t talking about the movement of air, an injury or something you do to a baby.)

Header Image: This is the clock, on its shelf, ticking.

Walking into Redemption

The image in the header of this post is from last weekend, during a glorious day walking in the hills.

This following image is taken from a similar place on the same path in September 2020 which was the last time that I was out and about in the fells of Cumbria.

The difference in my feelings between these two days is stark. The scenes are similar, but I was in a different place altogether.

I have been trying to complete a set of 214 hills known as the Wainwrights for several years now, and in 2020 I was down to my last few. At the start of the year it seemed that there would be no reason why I couldn’t tick of the last few and celebrate a goal completed. But this was 2020 and the year of a pandemic and the associated restrictions.

Personally, the impact of the pandemic has been minor, there are things that I’ve wanted to do but not been able, but mostly things have carried on as normal. One of the areas that I’ve found the most difficult, though, has been the restrictions on access to the mountains. I wholeheartedly agreed with the lockdown measures, but that didn’t stop me missing the feeling of walking a path to a summit.

In late 2020 there was a short window when we were allowed to get out and climb. I was so looking forward to parking up, putting on my boots and heading out. I set out early and made the journey to my starting point in good time. As I crossed passes that gave a view of my destination, I was delighted to see that the peaks were free of cloud. Further along the journey the road runs alongside a lake that was mirror flat calm. It was going to be a wonderful day.

I parked up, put on my boots, checked my gear and headed out.

Part way along the path I was starting to warm up and it was time to take a layer off. A feeling of dread gripped me as I opened my backpack to put in the removed layer – where was the blue waterproof bag that had my lunch in it? This was going to be a long day and I was going to need some food at some point. Emptying the contents of the backpack onto the fellside just confirmed, sadly, that the food was back in the car. There was no choice but to return and pick it up.

Yomping back was frustrating and so was opening the boot of the car to see the bright blue lunch bag directly in front of me.

Heading out for a second time my steps took on a frustrated stomp. It was a beautiful day that may well be the only day for months that I would be able to this, and I was still in the car park.

Half a mile or so out of the car park the back of my legs started to feel wet. It took me a little while to realise that this wasn’t a splash of water, or even sweat, it was coming from my backpack, lots of water dripping from the base. For the second time dread washed over me as I reached into my backpack to realise that the drinking bladder had come apart and most of the water was now sploshing around inside. I took the bladder out, fitted it back together, but there was precious little water left. Fortunately, I had some spare clothes in another waterproof bag in my backpack, so I changed, emptied the rest of the water out of the backpack, checked that I was definitely carrying a spare drink in a bottle and, even more frustratedly, head out again.

I few miles further along and only about a half of the way up my back started to spasm. I’ve had this before in my lower back, it’s the result of too much time at a desk, but this was higher up and far more painful. When I get a spasm in my lower back I just need to slow down and walk through it, so I carried on. I slowed down, then I slowed down some more, eventually I was walking ten steps then breathing for ten breaths while I stretched, then walking ten steps. It was pitiful and my head was a swirling mass of frustration. Instead of enjoying an exhilarating walk in the mountains I was walking in treacle with a whirlwind in my head.

Eventually I listened to my body and sat down.

I looked around myself and couldn’t see the beauty because the mist of frustration was too thick.

I felt shame for wasting a glorious opportunity.

As I sat, I wrapped my arms around my legs and wallowed in the emotional and physical pain of failure.

I didn’t post any pictures that day, I didn’t want anyone to know that I had given up.

I’ve carried some of those feelings around for months. Last weekend that all changed.

The first real opportunity for many months arrived and I was determined to revisit and redeem that day of frustration, shame and pain.

I set off from the car park and triple checked that I had my blue lunch bag, I also checked a couple of times more after I’d begun my walk.

I’d replaced my water bladder, which was sitting comfortably, and without leaks, in a new backpack.

After some more research and conscious of my previous back problems I travelled a route which started in a different place.

It was wonderful. A fabulous spring day of blue skies and crystal-clear views across the Irish Sea to the Isle of Man, north to Scotland and south as far as Wales. The views from the summits and ridges were spectacular across the Lakeland fells.

Part way down I sat in roughly the place where I had submitted on my failed visit, and took a picture, the one in the header. I reveled in the sense of achievement, of having achieved what had been so frustrating. I felt the shame lifting as I succeeded where once I had failed. The weight I had been carrying for months was gone, I walked into redemption.

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