“Don’t own so much clutter that you will be relieved to see your house burn down.”
American author and farmer Wendell Berry

After 13 years of ownership we have recently sold our home near Bordeaux … with mixed emotions. There is an expression here that the happiest day in your life is when you buy your first French chateau, surpassed only by the day that you sell it. I know well what they mean.

At this stage in our lives we eventually found 15 acres, 8000 square feet of home, 2 additional cottages, several extra outbuildings, assorted staff and various animals and livestock to be somewhat restricting to our changing lifestyle needs. We will look for a smaller home (2-3000 sq. ft.) on a more manageable parcel of land (1-2 acres) just a bit further away from the city of Bordeaux, and closer to the small pretty village of St. Emilion, where most of our friends live. This should also give us the freedom to be able to spend more time with our daughters, grand-daughters and friends in Australia and New Zealand.

Author: Fabien1309 (own work); CC BY-SA 2.0 FR license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Fabien1309 (own work); CC BY-SA 2.0 FR license; via Wikimedia Commons

This “downsizing” has necessitated the need to seriously unclutter, as having previously lived in a house of similar size in Singapore, we have now had 20 years of living in large homes with unlimited storage.

We have already ordered a large rubbish skip, made multiple trips to the local dechetterie (tip/dump) and charity shops to dispose of accumulated memorabilia, keepsakes and souvenirs including old electrical equipment … TVs, DVD players, VHS tape decks, old irons, PCs and other assorted bits that still worked, so the hoarder in me just found another storage spot for them in our voluminous attics. We have also made a number of trips to the local dog refuge with 4 old large kennels and assorted dog paraphernalia, which we kept after our old dogs went on to doggie Valhalla, despite now only having 2 small terriers. I even finally disposed of the vast assortment of chargers that I have accumulated in a box over the last 20 years, a box that I am sure many of my contemporaries can also claim to own.

Author: Speculos (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0, 2.5, 2.0, 1.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Speculos (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0, 2.5, 2.0, 1.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

I admit that we still have a long way to go !!!

It has made me think about the clutter that most managers tend to accumulate during their careers, and the need that they have to regularly clean out their own “house” in the same way that we are now doing. This includes:

– Followers … Most executives will over a successful career accumulate a coterie of followers, and the tendency for many successful and mobile managers is to take them along in their travels. I believe that this is mostly wrong. A key role of every manager is to create and develop talent for the whole organisation rather than only for themselves. Furthermore, keeping a team of people with you, across different roles and different companies, means that you just continue to perpetuate your own image and beliefs in an ever changing business environment. Your direct reports, especially those that are skilled, are like your children, in that you can train them, grow them, teach them values such as integrity and honesty, and then cut them loose to build their own successes rather than to trail along behind yours. New situations and new companies will need new people and different ideas.

– History … I have no question that it is important that we all learn from history, but it is critically important that we do not become prisoners of history. The fact that something worked (or did not work) some time ago in your past does not mean that it will (or will not) work today. Philosopher and novelist George Santayana (1863-1952) is believed to have said “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it”. The point is that many of us build patterns that we tend to repeat whether they worked well or not. Successful executives tend to try and address new situations with an open and fresh approach rather than to believe that past patterns will always provide a solution to new challenges.

Author: W. J. Robertson and the Education Department of Ontario; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: W. J. Robertson and the Education Department of Ontario; via Wikimedia Commons

– Beliefs … While key human and business values may not readily need to change, beliefs should be questioned at all times. One such example is the belief that women are mainly only capable of succeeding in certain management roles such as HR and Finance, and that executive roles in fields such as Engineering and Sales are much more suited to males, this being a statement made to me recently by a company CEO. What a load of bollocks, as it has been proved over and over again that management skills and management roles are not gender specific. My father believed that medical practitioners sat at the right hand of god and were infallible, and that bank managers should be revered and feared, both beliefs that have been proved to be entirely incorrect today. To be successful, managers need to ensure that they are not building their environment on ingrained, but outdated and hence questionable beliefs.

– Successful strategies … I have met quite a few executives who seem to have a belief in the “one size fits all” approach when it comes to developing business strategies, based on the simple fact that something has worked for them in the past, and so they are reluctant to let it go. Successful strategies in the past need to remain exactly that … in the past. I have come across people who on their resumes claim to have 15 years of experience, but who on closer examination really may only have 3 years of experience five times, having implemented the same approach and the same strategic initiatives each time, and often having then moved on before this one approach to business challenges even had a chance to be well tested.

Author: Pkor43 at English Wikipedia; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Pkor43 at English Wikipedia; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

– Busyness rather than business … Many executives clutter their day with meetings, emails, attendance at conferences and other commitments on their calendar that keeps them incredibly busy, but in areas that add little real value to their careers or to their company. Simplicity is not about how much we can do with how little, but is more about how well we can prioritise and how good we are at doing the important things first. When you are clear about your role, your purpose and your priorities you can more easily discard whatever is unnecessary.

American author Christina Scalise rightly said “Clutter is the physical manifestation of unmade decisions fuelled by procrastination.”



I do like a good lyric poem, which the dictionary defines as “a poem expressing personal (often emotional) feelings and are traditionally spoken in the present tense. Modern examples often have specific rhyming schemes and are sometimes also set to music or to a beat.”

I recently came across a modern version which comes complete with music and video called “Smart phones and dumb people” which resonated with me, and if you haven’t already seen it (tens of thousands have), I highly recommend it.

It starts with “I have 422 friends yet I am lonely” which is something that has been in my thoughts, and which I have found perplexing, for some time now (see “Fourth secret of success” posted November 4, 2010). Many people seem to be replacing real life and real relationships with social media friends and relationships (see “Who needs real life” posted February 17, 2011), and this short video and lyric poem covers exactly this situation today.

Author:  	彭家杰 (own work); GNU GPL, CC BY-SA 3.0, 2.5, 2.0, 1.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: 彭家杰 (own work); GNU GPL, CC BY-SA 3.0, 2.5, 2.0, 1.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

It really came home to me on my last trip to Singapore, when my wife and I sat in a coffee shop waiting for our kids and grandkids to turn up so that we could take them exploring through some of the wonders of our old stomping ground. We sat there amused that we were surrounded by young people (the coffee shop seemed to be a bit of a meeting place), and the fact that as soon as they had briefly greeted their friends, they immediately became fixated on their smartphones rather than each other. We were especially fascinated by a young attractive couple sitting near us who, in the more than 30 minutes we were there, barely exchanged a sentence with each other but instead spent the entire time playing games like “candy crush saga” (I sneaked a look when I went to get the drinks when our family arrived).

Author: wayne lee; CC BY-SA 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: wayne lee; CC BY-SA 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

At the same I have also long been fascinated by the fact that we seem to be becoming obsessed with abbreviation, and as such we seem to be losing our ability to focus on anything that requires our attention or focus for more than a very short amount of time (see “Abbreviation is gr8ly changing our world” posted April 16, 2012), which has even set the standard expected size of a blog post at about 800 words. I have even had some people comment on the fact that my own posts are a bit long as they tend to be between 1000-1200 words, and as such these readers find it hard to do more than just skim through them.

I therefore started to wonder whether people are still reading books … I mean real books rather than pamphlets with large print like “The one minute manager” and “Who moved my cheese”.

Author: Raysonho @ Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Raysonho @ Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine; via Wikimedia Commons

When flying back home from Singapore to France I wandered around the plane a few times as I was interested to see how many people were actually reading a book (tablets and kindles etc., included) and saw that there were actually very few. It seemed to me that that we had given up on books as a source of information, knowledge, entertainment and enlightenment, and this bothered me as I wondered whether people who stop reading will eventually stop thinking. I was therefore interested recently to come across some information that suggests that books (in all their guises), are not only surviving but are actually doing well, with an increasing number of titles being published each year.

The question that then arises is whether these books are actually being read. It appears that the simple answer is that they are not generally being read from cover to cover in many cases.

A Gallup Poll some time back found that there were many more people who said that they were reading a book or novel than did people a decade ago, but fewer people than before could say that they had actually finished a book in the last week. It appears that many books today are purchased to be skimmed or consulted, rather than to be fully read. It also appears that many more books are started than are finished, and I have to admit that I am also guilty of this, something my wife finds unacceptable as she insists on finishing any book that she opens. I stopped reading Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall”, after being about half way through, because I then went to see the Royal Shakespeare Company’s stage adaptation in London, and therefore felt no need to keep reading it afterwards. I also gave up on “The Luminaries” after about 200 pages, another Man Booker prize winner, despite loving the stunningly beautiful use of language, because I realised that I would struggle with its 834 pages of stunningly beautiful use of language.

Maybe one of the reasons that book sales are increasing is that books do seem to have replaced ties and socks as the gift of choice. I am amazed that every time I visit Australia or New Zealand people give me local picture books as gifts, necessitating my having to pack them into suitcases already at bursting point, and dangerously close to airline weight limits, to get them home. They are lovely coffee table books, but hardly books that I will ever feel the need to open after the obligatory flick through in front of the gift giver. I was the guest at a Bar-mitzvah in Melbourne a few years ago when the officiating Rabbi gave the 13 year old a bible and an umbrella as a gift on the lad having reached religious manhood in his faith, with the statement that at least the umbrella had a reasonable chance of being opened sometime.

Author: Mhhossein (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Mhhossein (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

I never stop reading in a normal day, but I have to sadly admit that it is less and less real books that I read rather than the writings of some management guru’s article or blog. I also spend a lot of time on my PC and tablet searching for opinions and information on the needed topics for my own blogs, lectures and speeches, but I do read fewer books than I did a decade ago.

All the information that I need is at my fingertips and easy to find with a few keystrokes, but I do wonder whether this easy access to information is actually making me more immediately knowledgeable but actually less smart in the long term. I too seem to have become a victim of my smarter phone.

A summer holiday break in another wine region

Having a 10 day break in Champagne in North East France, having rented a cottage in the countryside near Epernay … luckily I like the Chardonnay grape.
There are over 5000 Champagne houses and another 14,000 growers who only sell their grapes, so there is a reasonable selection to choose from.



Stunning Chateaux everywhere as well as interesting old half-timbered houses,mainly from the 16th Century, making it a delightful place to just wander about.


The old town of Troyes which has been around since Roman times is a real perpetual “wow look at that” place to visit.


“An ounce of performance is worth pounds of promises.”
American actress and sex symbol Mae West (1893-1980)

I was recently involved in sitting in with a Regional Head while he reviewed his direct reports, just so I could get an understanding of how he interacted with his people. As I had just embarked on an executive coaching programme with him (at the request of his CEO), I was keen to see how he would handle these quarterly sessions, as I have long been against the whole idea of formal performance reviews, no matter how regularly they are planned.

Author: Rahulkepapa (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Rahulkepapa (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

I have long believed that the holding of formal performance reviews does little to actually manage performance, and flies against my strong belief that managers need to manage behaviour rather than manage people (see “People performance pitfalls” posted October 28, 2013)

These particular performance review sessions only reinforced my beliefs, and here are some of the reasons why:

– Neither side was particularly well prepared … I was surprised at how little preparation had been done on either side in readiness for these sessions, apart from some hastily scribbled bullet points, and could only surmise that this was because no-one treated them with a great deal of seriousness, which begged the question as to why they did them at all. The lack of preparation was actually mentioned by nearly all of them, and justified and forgiven because of the “pressures of work” taking priority. If you must do these formal reviews, then serious, studied and thoughtful preparation is key. When I had no choice but to do these, I found that a standard format worked well, and I mostly used the simple one of … Here are the things that I want you to do more of, do less of, stop doing and start doing.

– They tended to discuss business issues rather than how the subordinate was actually addressing them … The major part of the sessions tended to be informal discussions on what was happening in their marketplace, their competition and the global economy rather than how the direct report was performing against specific goals that had been set by their CEO, and cascaded down by the Regional Head, and that were actually documented in the strategic plan, of which I had been given a copy. Executives can chat about these topics whenever they want to do so over a coffee or a cocktail, but a performance review should be about discussing how a person is coping with the tasks that they have been assigned, and what is needed to sustain or improve the situation, and not be just an information sharing session.

By  Grahams Child; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

By Grahams Child; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

– They spent the major part of the actual review time discussing financial performance … I have yet to meet a surviving executive that comes into any review session without a clear understanding of what are his numbers and his performance against them at that time. This means that spending most of any real review discussion on an analysis of the numbers is the wrong focus. Discussing how the numbers can be improved makes sense, but for example beyond saying “watch your spending”, going through a fine tooth-analysis of why marketing expense is 7% over budget for the quarter is a distraction rather than a benefit to the business. If something doesn’t look good, the only valid question is “What are you doing about it ?”.

– The only time people issues were discussed was with the HR Director … I was surprised at how little discussion was given to people issues, particularly as I believe that people are the only true long-term sustainable competitive advantage. There was a long discussion with the HR Director about attrition, recruitment, engagement, succession and other related HR “issues de jour”, yet strangely none of these topics had been discussed with the line managers. What I also found fascinating was that there was no discussion at all with the HR Head as to his personal actual performance and what benefit HR brought to the business, only about the HR metrics on their dashboard. I felt like standing up and yelling “It’s all about people stupid” but held my tongue and wondered about whether I may have accepted a coaching task equivalent to Hercules having to clean out the stables of Augeas. The reality is that there are no HR problems, there are only business problems, and discussions about people are at the core of performance management in every division and at every level of the business for every executive.

Author:  	Muhammad Rafizeldi (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Muhammad Rafizeldi (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

– There were no references back to previous reviews … Interestingly, this company has a highly developed (if somewhat cumbersome) on-line performance management tool, but this was not referred to at any time by either of the parties, and the only recording that was done was some regular scribbling on pads and notebooks that seemed to be ubiquitous in this management team. The whole process to me seemed along schoolboy lines of “Johnny you are trying hard, but I want you to do better”. There is no point in doing any sort of review if one cannot look at a starting reference point and what actions were agreed in the last session. The objective should at the least be to see whether behaviour is changing in a way that will help to meet the objectives. I am not suggesting that the focus should be only historical, as it should rather be on future behaviour, but it is important that one can see whether you are actually making some headway.

– There was no feedback to the boss’s own performance requested, nor given … There was not even a question asked such as “what can I do to help you or to make things better ?”. I believe that any review session has to be bi-directional to be at all worthwhile, as no one does it alone, and the person at the top has the responsibility for the conditions and culture that those below have to work within.

It is worthwhile remembering the words of American statesman and retired 4-star general Colin Powell “Organisation doesn’t really accomplish anything. Plans don’t accomplish anything either. Theories of management don’t much matter. Endeavours succeed or fail because of the people involved.”