Slamming into the pot holes on the road less travelled

I’m pretty sure I don’t necessarily believe in karma. If I did, I would have put down last week to a karmic episode, instead I’m now forced to find some other life lesson in what happened.

I had been really looking forward to last week, as much as it meant me leaving Dennis (the camper van) and Daisy (the camper trailer formally referred to as Goldie) for a few days it was going to be the most radical example of our Life Work Adventure. It involved me flying out from our trip to present at three events across three states within three days and then flying across the country to be back with the girls in time for a hot dinner on day four. But I was soon to find that sometimes things don’t quite go as planned.*

*Oh yes, I fully appreciate the irony that my last post was about how great preparation makes planning less necessary…but more on that later.

The expectation was that we would park up the van Tuesday, somewhere around Nelson Bay in NSW, then on Wednesday morning the girls would deliver me to Newcastle Airport (30 minutes away) where I would then catch a flight to Melbourne. Once in Melbourne, I would be picked up by a driver at the airport and driven to a client’s office to run a three hour workshop (on enabling technology adoption) before heading back into the Melbourne CBD for the night. Then on Thursday morning I would rise early and head to the Arts Centre to do a keynote on using technology to deliver more engaging tourism experiences before returning to the airport and continuing to Perth. I would run my final event, an all-day bootcamp for my Digital Champions Club, on Friday before an early Saturday morning flight back to Newcastle (via Melbourne) to catch up with the girls…and catch up on some sleep.

On paper it looked like everything would dovetail in nicely but almost immediately things started to unravel.

Plane cancelled

Firstly, my flight from Newcastle to Melbourne was cancelled with only a couple of hours’ notice (due to a lack of crew) and as there was no other flights leaving Newcastle I then bought a second ticket (on a different airline) to Sydney and a third ticket (on a different airline again) to take me through to Melbourne. Unfortunately, my second flight out of Newcastle departed late (also as a result of crew issues) which meant that I only made it to Sydney in time to watch my connecting flight back out of the gate and take off down the runway. And even though the client was incredibly accommodating (with all the participants volunteering to stay back until 6pm) the multiple delays meant we eventually had to pull the pin and postpone the workshop until a later date.

My plane leaving without me

Thankfully the other events went far more smoothly, though Qantas put on a domestic leg of an international flight to Perth which has different security requirements that resulted in having a $100 bottle of my favourite wine…that I’d bought from the cellar door…in the Hunter Valley…as a gift for the guest speaker who was presenting at the Digital Champions Club the following day, confiscated at the airport.

Bottle of wine confiscated at the airport

If I was a believer in karma or fate I’d probably put it down as some form of retribution for my previous posts on how well prepared I felt for just about any eventuality, or as a good friend of mine in Perth pointed out, perhaps it was the necessary punishment for being so bold as to think I could just go and live and work on the road for three months with my family.

But as I am not a believer in karma I’ve now being forced to come up with a different explanation as to why all these things went wrong. Here’s what I’ve got so far.

  1. If you plan on doing anything, something will generally go wrong
  2. If you plan on doing something irregular or uncommon, then the chances of things going wrong escalates rapidly.
  3. When something does go wrong, you will always wish you built in some additional capacity
  4. If things are important ALWAYS build in some additional capacity
  5. Every time something goes wrong it’s an opportunity to learn
  6. The biggest risk is we don’t learn when we should, and we end up with the same problem at a later date

Oh, and the best thing is this. You don’t necessarily need to wait for the ‘something’ to happen to you. The power of the internet and open sharing means that you can just as quickly and easily learn from other’s mistakes…with far less downside.

So, if you’re ever travelling with your family, working from a van and need to fly out from a regional airport for an important gig, half a day of spare capacity is not enough. Always fly the night before.*

*You might think that this is incredibly niche advice but I guarantee that someday in the future I’m going to get an email to a long defunct email address saying ‘Oh my god Simon, your advice saved my life’.

Update

We left Lake Macquarie on Friday and headed to the Hunter Valley for an impromptu birthday lunch and a spot of wine tasting. We camped for a couple of nights before heading back towards the coast. We stayed a couple of nights at Anna Bay before heading to Nelson Bay…which was the start of the adventures described above.

Birthday lunch in the Hunter Valley

I stayed on in Perth a couple of extra days to catch up with friends and spent a magical day at Rotto on the Sunday before heading back towards the van and the girls on the Monday. After dealing with a couple of days of awkward rain in Nelson Bay (awkward because we haven’t really had to deal with much of that since leaving Melbourne) we packed up and headed north again. We are currently at a farm stay just near South West Rocks and Byron Bay is now clearly in our sights.

The view at Rotto

The answer to poor short-term planning is good long-term preparation

We are now a little over a month into our three-month Life Work Adventure. One of the key motivators behind the trip for both Nomes and myself was to get a break from our tightly scheduled existence (fully acknowledging that neither Nomes nor I have schedules that are either tightly packed or terribly well planned). What this meant was that by the time we left home five weeks ago we had little idea of where we were going or what we wanted to do on the trip.

Our camp at Glenworth Valley with the bed in Dennis set up for Mum and Dad. Are we the only people travelling the coast with a spare room?

This approach, and its potential short comings, were on full display on Mother’s Day when a good three hours after we were meant to check out from the caravan park we were staying in we decided to depart and head off to do some camping in Booderee National Park, which was in the exact opposite direction from which we were meant to be travelling in.

The incredible white sands and amazing sunsets of Booderee National Park

Although a little frustrating at the time I shouldn’t really have been surprised at such lack of planning. In fact, right from the very inception of the trip any attempts I’ve made at planning have gone badly. Perhaps at some point feeling a need to get to ‘somewhere’ I tried instigating a pre-departure planning conversation with the girls. It went something like this

Me: So, girls (this includes Nomes), where do you want to go?

Nomes: I want to go to Byron Bay, and I want to go to Brisbie [Island] to visit the cousins

Girls: Yeah, we want to go to Brisbie!

Me: Anywhere else?

[insert three sets of big, beautiful eyes giving me blank stares]

Me: Does anyone want to go to the theme parks?

Girls: Yeah, we want to go to the theme parks…for a week!

Me: Great! Anywhere else?

[insert three sets of big, beautiful eyes giving me blank stares…again]

So, before we left our collective plan was, quite literally, travel up the east coast, get to Brisbie Island, and pass through Byron Bay and the theme parks on the way…oh and hopefully get back in time to wash the school uniforms before the start of third term.

Less planning means more preparation

So how do you prepare for a trip where you don’t know where you’re going or what you’ll be doing?

Well assuming that you don’t want to deal with the fallout of things going off the rails, the only possible way to prepare is to prepare for everything.

And I wasn’t quite willing to let things go off the rails. One of my criteria for the ‘working’ part of the adventure was that my clients shouldn’t have to pay for it. What I mean by this is that my clients should expect to receive the same level of quality, service and professionalism that they do when I’m working from my regular office.

So, to ensure that we could have all the flexibility we desired whilst also ensuring the client experience didn’t suffer, I set out to get really well prepared for everything.

Red Teaming

To identify the possible risks and challenges of associated with three months working on the road I ran a red teaming exercise* with my staff well before Nomes and I committed to doing the trip. From this we determined a number of things I could do to better prepare.

*Red Teaming is a concept I picked up from an interview between Tim Ferriss and Marc Andreessen, founding partner of the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. The concept originally stems from the military but how Marc presents it, red teaming provides the opportunity to challenge or ‘torture test’ an idea even if everyone already agrees with it. The ‘red team’ is an internal group (with the privilege of insider knowledge) tasked with trying to pick an idea apart. A good red teaming exercise might not necessarily discredit the whole idea, it might just identify small weaknesses that need to be addressed. You can read more about this in Tim’s book Tools of Titans.

The two biggest potential challenges we identified was connectivity and availability. To address this, I ended up with two 4G mobile data plans on different networks to limit network availability, bandwidth and other connectivity risks and I also invested in a nine-metre-long squid pole that I could use as a mast to increase the range of my modem…but so far it hasn’t been*.

*This is something I learnt from my dad when we were sailing up in the Whitsundays a year or so back. I had no reception at sea level when we were travelling around some of the islands but when he hoisted my mobile phone up to the top of the mast with the hotspot enabled I was able to run Skype calls with my team from the front deck of the boat.

In addition, I committed to being ‘in range’ and available two full days each week so that Sunny could pre-book meetings and coaching sessions as required. This meant checking into a caravan park with suitable 4G coverage on a Tuesday afternoon and not leaving until Friday morning (this would leave me a minimum of five days per week for the Life part of the adventure which could stay relatively unplanned).

To assist with this my team would identify a selection of suitable locations for me to stay each week. They would use a combination of Google searches (for suitable caravan parks in nice locations), customer reviews, maps of Telstra’s and Optus’s 4G coverage and data from services like OpenSignal (where people voluntarily collect and share information on the strength and speed of their mobile phone signal) to identify three or four options and then plot them on a co-authored Google Map which I could then access from my smart phone.

Other risks we identified and prepared for included inclement weather (for which I’m carrying multiple different microphone options), lack of power (I bought both a car charger for my laptop and an external battery pack that would allow me to run my laptop for up to four hours), last minute keynote/workshop bookings (the team also plotted out regional airports along the route) and personal accidents and emergencies (they also identified and plotted out emergency medical facilities as well).

This might sound like an excessive level of preparation but as I mentioned earlier, it was important for me that the client experience wasn’t risked. And although it may seem excessive it is all relatively doable. From what I’ve experienced to date I would suggest the biggest risk with a trip such as this has nothing to do with technology, and everything to do with people.

Preparing others as well as yourself

The biggest limitation when it comes to taking off on the road for three months is the patterns of work and engagement we have created with others. If you were considering something similar the question to ask yourself is

‘How will your customers and staff take it if you’re physically unavailable for three months?’

If you currently feel your physical presence is required to either do the work yourself, or get other people to do the work for you then three months on the road might be a bad idea. The truth is people take a lot longer to change their processes. It’s taken me a good three years to prepare the people around me for my lack of physical presence.

I started preparing members of my team the day they started working with me (for Sunny and Camille that was over three years ago). From day one they have never been accountable to metrics and I’ve never tracked the hours they work (even though I know that many of my peers do). In fact, for the last two years all my staff have had access to unlimited leave because I trust that they wouldn’t abuse it. Instead, we are collectively accountable to our purpose our values and the quality of the work we do.

My team are also all remote, Sunny lives on the other side of Melbourne, Camille in Manila and Marc is a true digital nomad, travelling, living and working across the many islands of the Philippines.

And I started preparing my customers two and half years ago when I moved from Melbourne down to the Mornington Peninsula. I didn’t want to have to commute backwards and forward to the city each day (and most of my clients are interstate anyway) so since then every customer has been directed towards engaging with me over Skype for small group meetings (Sunny positions it as the flexibility of a telephone call but with the engagement of a physical meeting). For members of my Digital Champions program they have only ever known Skype based coaching and if anything, it sets an example to them about what they could be doing with their own clients.

This is not to say you can’t take off for three months without all this preparation. Many people quit their job, take long service leave (or some other form of sabbatical) and take off on journeys such as this. But this option requires that work is put on hold whilst you do some extended living. The limitation of this is that eventually the life bit will end, and you will need to go back to work. If instead you want to find ways of better integrating your work with your life, well then…you better start preparing.

Update

We finally got our first few days of rain just after my last update. We were holed up in Jervis Bay for a few days but managed to escape down to the incredible Booderee National Park for a couple of days of free camping. On Tuesday we headed to Sydney where we met up with my parents and checked into a hotel for the night (I was running a workshop the next morning and the client was paying).

I attempted to valet park the van and trailer at our hotel in Sydney… but ended up having to park it myself

After the workshop on Wednesday afternoon we headed to Umina Beach on the north side of the Hawksbury River with my parents in tow. After doing some coaching sessions on Thursday and squeezing in a game of golf on Friday we got back on the road again and headed to Glenworth Valley for a couple of days camping, horse riding and abseiling.

My office in Lake Macquarie

Monday, we said goodbye to my parents (who headed home to Perth via Sydney) and moved north again to our current location at Lake Macquarie. This week I’ve had a chunk of work to get done in preparation for a couple of workshops and a keynote I’m flying out for next week. A few days in one place has also given the girls a chance to get the van sorted out and restocked before we head off again tomorrow.

Can you inherit a mid-life crisis?

This week I took my kids surfing for the first time. We were staying at Broulee on the NSW south coast and its safe beaches and long easy waves make it an ideal place to learn to surf…or at least that’s what the brochure says. It turns out I had recently come into a brand new 9′ mini mal (more on that later) and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to get a lesson on how to use it. Better yet, I could do a group lesson, take the girls and triple the experience.

I organised a one and a half hour private lesson with Broulee Surf School. The instructor Shane was ace and he had as out and riding waves within 20 minutes. The girls, with their youthful flexibility, low centre of gravity and carefree attitude were complete naturals. I on the other hand, with my stiff joints, lanky frame and general lack of balance and coordination had quite a different experience. After an hour and a half of expert tuition I can’t honestly say I ‘surfed’.*

*It turns out that some people are born with a tight Achilles heel which in turn leads to a lack of flexibility in the ankle which in turn means it’s difficult to plant your foot flat and maintain balance when you’re lifting yourself up to a standing position on the board. Apparently when it comes to surfing my Achilles heel is my Achilles heel.

Now the fact that I didn’t manage to surf, with the help of a professional instructor, on some of the easiest waves in Australia might come as a surprise to some. It would most likely be a surprise to all the close friends who recently contributed $800 to surf shop voucher (an incredibly generous 40th birthday present) that subsequently resulted in me owning a 9’ mini mal. To be fair to them, this wasn’t a whimsical midlife crisis type gift, it was in fact a thoughtful gesture to help replace my previous surfboard that I’d bought myself as a midlife crisis type gift a few years earlier. Unfortunately, this first surfboard suffered irreparable damage after being blown off the roof of Dennis (our campervan) whilst driving along the freeway at about 100km/h on the way back from our annual camping trip to Barwon Heads 12 months earlier.

So, this all begs the question, when was it exactly that I started pretending to myself that I was a surfer.

It’s a convoluted story but it all started 30 odd years ago when my Dad took me surfing at Waikiki in Hawaii. I had been around the ocean my whole life but hiring long boards on the beach at Waikiki and riding the long rolling swells was my first memory of surfing.

Dad was a surfer when he was younger. I never saw the surfboards, except in one or two old photos, but what I remember quite distinctly was that he still had his old boardshorts from when he was in his 20’s…and was endlessly proud of the fact that he still fitted in them in his 40’s (having now experienced myself the negative impact that kids have on commitment to exercise and the positive impact they have on the consumption of comfort food and alcohol, I quite agree this is something my dad deserved to be proud of). I’m not sure if it was his own memories of surfing at Pondalowie Bay in his teens that resulted in him taking me surfing that day at Waikiki but regardless of the reason why, that day in Waikiki left a lasting impression. Not only did it result in an enduring and incredible memory, it also led me to mistakenly believe that I was a surfer.

I remember getting my very own surfboard not long after that. I wasn’t so keen that I went out and bought a board myself, instead I got it as a birthday or Christmas present. It was second hand and had a couple of dings in it, but owning your own surfboard is a great way of maintaining the delusion that you’re a surfer. I took the board out a couple of times, but I don’t have a distinct memory of ever standing up on it. In fact, the most use it ever got was for skurfing (a cross between water skiing and surfing) being towed behind a little power boat that was kept at my parents’ holiday house.

I used to justify to others, and myself, that the reason I didn’t take it out surfing was that it was a little too small for me (I was 6’6” and the board was only 6’2”). The real reason was probably that I just sucked at surfing. And if I needed further proof this was always the case I now have it in a board that is a good two and half feet longer than me which I still can’t seem to stand up on.

Now I’m not saying that my Dad sucked at surfing quite like I did. I’m fairly sure he was never afflicted with the same lack of coordination and flexibility as me. I’m only saying that my only memory of him surfing was one day at Waikiki Beach in Hawaii.

So, the other day as I stood out in the water (it was only waist deep) waiting for the right wave to fall off, I suddenly wondered whether I might have somehow inherited a midlife crisis from my Dad. Whether on that fateful day on Waikiki Beach 30 years ago he was just reliving his own youth. That taking me surfing was just his own midlife crisis playing out, and by inviting me to partake in the event, he inadvertently passed on the ’sham surfer’ gene to me.

And so, as I stood there in the waist deep water, looking back towards the shore where my two girls catching wave after wave, having an incredible time and creating their own lasting memories, I wondered whether I may have just inadvertently passed onto the ’sham surfer’ gene to them.

 

Update

This last week we’ve covered a lot of ground, but not all of it by road. After the surf lesson at Broulee we drove to Canberra via Batemans Bay. The next morning, we flew out of Canberra to Adelaide to catch up with my extended family for a surprise 70th birthday event for my dad.

From Adelaide the road trip continued with 25 family and friends boarding a bus and driving from Adelaide to the Southern Yorke Peninsula. We spent a couple of nights in Point Turton where my dad grew up and visited Pondalowie Bay where may grandfather fished during the summer, my dad spent his days surfing…and where my drone got taken out by an Albatross (all captured live and uploaded to YouTube).

Monday we returned to Adelaide and flew back to Canberra. On Tuesday we spent almost the whole day at Canberra’s incredible science museum, Questaconbefore packing up and heading back to the coast on Wednesday. As I write this we are currently camped up at stunning Jervis Bay feeling especially grateful we are currently missing the terrible weather back in Melbourne!

 

Play ‘Where’s Waller’?

What to do when a bird poos on your head during a business meeting

On Friday last week I had an early morning coaching session scheduled with a new member of the Digital Champions Club. Most of my meetings and coaching sessions are conducted over teleconference…which is rather convenient given that I’m currently working from a camper van travelling up the east coast of Australia.

Whenever I have a meeting there are certain things I do to ensure the quality of the experience*. The first thing I do is find a suitable distraction free environment to work from. The second thing is to run a speed test to ensure whatever network I’m using has suitable bandwidth for teleconferencing. The third thing is I setup an external webcam mounted on a tripod rather than the built-in webcam on my laptop (this provides the ability to better position the camera and avoids unnecessary camera movement that occurs when you invariably move your laptop around).

*Part of my commitment before leaving on my trip was that my clients shouldn’t be paying for it. What this means is that my clients need to receive at least as good an experience as they would get if I was working from my office at home. 

Finding a suitable location means putting some distance between the ‘camp’ and my ‘office’ when I’m working to avoid the inevitable distractions and interruptions that come with a young family. Normally this means driving our camper van Dennis a short distance away, preferably with a nice outlook over the beach, popping the roof, setting up my laptop on the desk and working from there.

But on this particular day I decided to take a different approach. It was still too early for most of the caravan park kids to be out on their bike, and the park we were staying in was fairly empty, so I thought I’d just find a quiet place within the park and work from there.

I found this lovely spot, on a picnic table, underneath a beautiful big tree, and I set up my office there. I got out my webcam and positioned this beautiful shot of trees and lawn in the background, connected to my hotspot and connected into the teleconference.

As soon as my video feed came up the other participants immediately commented on the incredible location. I told them a little about where I was working from and casually dropped one of the lines I like to use ‘It’s my job to live the dream and then show others how to do it’. Now perhaps it was karma or perhaps it was just bad planning but about 10 minutes into the call a couple of rosellas took up residence in the tree above me. The first issue was their incessant squawking meant the other participants could hardly hear a word I said, the second issue was that before flying off to find their next victim they shat all over my laptop…and myself.

Now I like to consider myself a professional and I wasn’t going to let a bit of bird poo impact the ‘client experience’. Apart from a quick glance to assess the extent of the damage I barely blinked an eye, I focused back in on the discussion and continued through another 40 minutes of the coaching session with bird poo in my hair, on my shirt and running down my left leg.

In fact, it turns out the only person who was more professional than me was the client. Obviously having seen the bird poo spontaneously appear on the left sleeve of my shirt he managed to wait right until the end of the coaching session to ask whether a bird had pooed on me (In hindsight I also imagine that if I didn’t insist on such a high-quality webcam the bird poo may not have been quite so obvious).

So, what does all this mean? Was it just karma for me being a smug bastard or is there something else for us to learn? I’m a huge fan of finding something to take away from any situation and for me the lesson was this:

Always think about the audio.

At the end of the day it wasn’t the bird poo that has the most impact on the client experience, it was the incessant squawking of the rosellas and after that it was the wind gusts that the microphone kept picking up. As my AV guru and all-around legend Dave Dixon has said to me many times before, people will put up with bad quality video, but they won’t put up with bad quality audio. Bad quality audio makes people’s brains work much harder, eventually they fatigue, and then they give up.

So next time you’re on a teleconference with a client from a caravan park somewhere on the south coast of NSW, or anywhere else for that matter, even your desk or your office boardroom, make sure your think about the aural experience you are providing other participants…and if a bird shits on you, put it down as a stroke of good luck.

 

Update

On Wednesday we left Mallacoota and crossed the border into New South Wales. Our first stop was the beautiful seaside hamlet of Pambula, nestled between the towns of Marimbula to the north and Eden to the south. Thursday was a work day and most of it was spent in my mobile office, parked up at the Pambula Surf Club.

On Friday, after the ‘poo incident’ we went and explored the Killer Whale Museum in Eden (if you ever want to hear an incredible and true story of cooperation between humans and animals I highly recommend you reading up on the story of Old Tom and the Whalers of Two Folds Bay).

On Saturday we left Pambula and headed north for our first free camping experience of the trip at Brou Lake Campground. This incredible campsite was recommended to us one of the Eden locals we met. It is located in Eurobodella National Park and sits right between a beautiful lake and pristine, unpopulated beach.

We reluctantly left Brou Lake on Tuesday (after our water and food started running out) and headed north once again to Broulee, another small seaside hamlet located just south of Batemans Bay.

 

This blog post has been syndicated to Medium. If you’d like to add comments or ideas, head over to this page.

 

Where’s Waller

Escaping an octopus’s cold embrace

One of the interesting challenges of life on the road is schooling Miah and Poppy. As we are only away for one term both their teachers have taken a fairly relaxed attitude to what this looks like and, like us, believe that what the experiential learning of the trip will far exceed what they might get from two and a half months of formal education.

An example of this occurred the other night when we started discussing analogies. I don’t remember exactly how the subject came up but we ended up playing a game of analogies around the table after dinner. The game involved one person saying an action, object or situation and then the next person had to find an analogy for it.

When explaining what an analogy was to Miah and Poppy I described it as “a comparison that aids in understanding”. Often we use analogies to aid the understanding of others but it’s interesting that in developing an analogy to help others, it also undoubtedly aids in improving our own understanding as well (This is why it is something that I get my Digital Champion’s to do for every project they undertake. Not only can it help stakeholders understand what complex software makes possible, it also provides clarity to the champions as to exactly why they are doing the project).

The morning after the analogy game I started reflecting on various aspects of our trip so far and thinking of analogies to better describe them. So far, the one particular aspect of our trip that has really stuck with me, and perhaps warrants the further understanding that analogy brings, was how come it is so freakin’ hard to get out of the driveway.

Although the planning for our Life Work Adventure had started six months previous, although we had done all the big things like organise transport and accommodation (our van and camper trailer), work arrangements, schooling and dog sitting, the day of our departure was spent frantically running around packing, cleaning and organising random ’stuff’. Our initial plan was to leave at 10:00am, this got pushed back to 1:00pm and we finally left at 2:30pm…without actually getting everything done.

When describing the challenge of starting the trip to others, I first suggested that the frustration was like trying to extract yourself from mud or quicksand but I have hence determined that it could more accurately be described as ‘escaping an octopus’s cold embrace’.

In our day-to-day lives there are all these things that hold us in place. There are big ones such as pets, children’s schooling, jobs, houses and gardens to maintain and mortgages to repay as well as many smaller ones such as sports teams, extended family, friendship groups, tv shows we want to watch and the familiarity of our daily routine. In essence, each of these is a tentacle that embraces us, making us feel safe and providing a sense of belonging but also serving to trap us and ultimately hindering us from pursuing other opportunities, even the ones we truly value.

One of the most common comments I heard from friends and family before leaving was “I wish I could come with you” or “I wish I could do that”. My response at the time was a somewhat flippant “Well of course you can, anyone can do it” but the reality is that we are often so tightly held by all those tentacles that extracting ourselves feels near on impossible. We may manage to sever one or two of these tentacles but in the time it takes to free ourselves from the rest, the old ones regrow and entrap us once again*.

And much like the octopus’s prey, the risk is that eventually we stop fighting. The dreams we might have had of something more or something different slowly start to fade and we justify to ourselves that a cold embrace is better than no embrace at all…

…and once we have given in, the octopus strikes. It pierces our skin with its beak and injects us with a toxin that liquifies our internal organs before sucking our insides out. As our consciousness slowly slips away we realise that we are just feeding the beast that will ultimately prey on the ones we love.

OK, it’s important to realise that like any model, the mental model of an analogy has it’s limitations. Not every tentacle offers a cold embrace…and (perhaps) your insides won’t be liquified. Some of the things that hold as back, such as friends and family, also provide important support networks and are integral to our sense of self. For me, the analogy helped clarify some of the tentacles that made it so hard to get out of the house and onto the road such as the holding power of material possessions, debt and work.

What was perhaps most interesting of all was that as soon as we were a couple of hours out of Melbourne these challenges had largely been forgotten. As soon as we were too far away to turn back and therefore too far away to do anything about them, the holding power of those things dissipated. The truth is, in three months time we will return home and our house, our possessions and our mortgage will still be there. Bar getting rid of all of them (like my inspirational friend Craig Skipsy) what I hope for is that next time leaving will be significantly easier. I expect that we will worry about these things a whole lot less…and perhaps more importantly, I hope we believe in our ability to escape the octopus’s cold embrace a whole lot more.

*This is not the first time I have experienced this. I remember back in 2010 when I quit my corporate job with Rio Tinto and left Perth to move to Melbourne. When I told coworkers I’d quit the most common response was the question “Who are you going to work for?”. The assumption was that if I’d quit then I must have already lined up a better role with one of Rio Tinto’s competitors. When I told them I didn’t have another job lined up and that in fact I’d quit because of conflict of values, the next thing I heard was “I wish I could do that”. I realised in hindsight that so many of my coworkers and friends were trapped in a vicious cycle of working in jobs they didn’t enjoy for companies they didn’t like and then spending the money they earned on bigger houses, nicer cars or more lavish lifestyles to justify why they did these jobs in the first place. Unfortunately their high cost of living required them to continue to work in jobs they didn’t enjoy for companies they didn’t like…

Update

On Wednesday last week we left Mount Eliza and travelled to Seaspray, situated on 90 Mile Beach, just east of the Gippsland Lakes. Thursday was my first day of work on the road with a meeting in the morning and three coaching sessions in the afternoon. We stayed at Seaspray until Saturday before moving on to Lakes Entrance. On Monday we travelled to Mallacoota close to the Victoria – NSW border.

This blog post has been syndicated to Medium. If you’d like to add comments or ideas, head over to this page.

Where’s Waller

Hitting the road less travelled

A quick word of warning: I’m taking a break from my usual style of newsletter for a few months to share something a little more personal…in fact I’m not just taking a break from my usual style of writing, I’m taking a break from my usual style of life.

For the next three months I’m going to be living in and working in a camper van as I travel up the east coast of Australia with my family. Along the way I will also be capturing what I learn and sharing it via my newsletter and on YouTube. I hope you join me on this adventure…or even better, start planning your own.

If you’re not interested in sharing in this journey, please feel free to unsubscribe here.

Back in August last year I announced my plan to take off on a three-month Life-Work Adventure (the announcement was posted to my YouTube channel that has but four subscribers so there’s a good chance you missed it). The idea was to spend three months travelling with my family in a camper van up the east coast of Australia but rather than treat it as just a holiday I wanted to see whether I could maintain much of my current workload and continue to support my clients while I did it.

The idea was spawned about a month or so earlier from an offhand conversation with my good friend, confidante and fellow schemer Mykel Dixon. We’d spent the day hanging out around Brighton Pier, talking about the need for professional speakers and other types of advice givers to more fully embody their work. Our shared belief was that in a world where more and more people start positioning themselves as expert consultants or ‘thought leaders’ it was no longer enough to just have a couple of spiffy models and throw away one liners. The validity of your ideas and ability to develop a sustainable following would ultimately depend on your ability to demonstrate your ideas in a congruent way through your own life and work.

On that fateful day I also told Mykel about my unfulfilled dream of taking my family on a road trip uptake east coast of Australian in our camper van, a.k.a. Dennis (Dennis has his own webpage here if you’d like to check it out). Dennis is a 1990 Nissan Homy (yep, that’s what it was called) and I’d originally wanted to do the trip in 2015 to celebrate Dennis’s 25th birthday…unfortunately ‘stuff’ got in the way and it never eventuated.

Given that two of the things I talk about are a) how technology enables a better quality of life and b) how technology allows us to now work from pretty much anywhere, it felt like doing this road trip, not just as a holiday but as an experiment on how we might take a different approach to managing the way our work integrates with our life, would be a great way of me embodying the ideas I talk about with others.

The last six months or so have involved much planning and investment in the background. On the travel side Dennis has been gone through a roadworthy and the registration transferred from WA, we’ve had a tow ball fitted and trailer brakes installed, we’ve bought a second-hand camper trailer and kitted it out, we’ve arranged to take Miah and Poppy out of school for a term and spoken to their teachers about home schooling during the trip.

On the business side I’ve also been working with my team to identify potential challenges and risks that would stop me meeting the expectations of my clients and we’ve put in place plans to help manage this (a strong belief I had about the adventure was that my clients shouldn’t have to pay for it through greater inconvenience or a lower quality experience).

I’m sure there are unaddressed challenges on both the travel and the work side that we’ve missed but after six months I finally feel like we are ready to get started…and the truth is some things just won’t become apparent until after you’ve already started.

So here we are now, exactly one week out from our adventure starting. In seven days’ time we will be driving out of Melbourne in Dennis, towing our new home, a (yet to be named) Goldstream Storm pop top camper trailer. For the next three months it is my intention to do most of the same work as I do now. I will host coaching sessions and meeting over Skype, I’ll capture content and develop ideas for my keynotes, I’ll even fly out from the adventure on the odd occasion to speak at conferences or run events and then fly back in again. Oh, and along the way I also hope to get a good chunk of my next book finished…but more on that another time.

But most importantly I will be doing all this whilst embarking on an incredible adventure and creating amazing memories that Nomes, Miah, Poppy and I will look back on, and talk about, for the rest of our lives.

Want to follow the adventure?

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This blog post has been syndicated to Medium. If you have any comments or ideas, head over to this page.

Why our fear of technology is greater than our fear of death

In 2015 Chapman University in the United States undertook researchers to find out what Americans feared. 1,500 participants ranked 88 different items on a scale of one (not afraid) to four (very afraid). So, what did they find?



It turns out people (or American people at least) are more afraid of technology than they are of death.

​Of the top five fears in the survey, three were technology related. Cyberterrorism came in at number two, corporate tracking of personal data came in at number three and Government tracking of personal data came in at number five. In fact, robots replacing the workforce (25), trusting artificial intelligence to do work (34), robots (38) and artificial intelligence (40) all ranked above ‘death’ which didn’t make an appearance until position 43.

​So why are so many people more scared of technology than they are of death?

​In general, the things we fear have three common characteristics:

​Firstly, the outcomes are undesirable. People who suffer from acrophobia, or a fear of heights, don’t fear heights per se, they fear what would happen if they were to fall. We are more likely to fear things where the outcome would be to either lose something we already value or miss out on something that we really want.

​Secondly, the outcome is somewhat uncontrollable. Galeophobia, or a fear of sharks is compounded by the fact shark behaviour appears unpredictable, they are much faster swimmers than humans are…and it’s hard to see them coming. To assert control people with galeophobia are likely to avoid going in the water altogether (and for extreme sufferers this might extend to avoiding inland lakes and rivers even though there is no possible risk of sharks being present).

​Thirdly, the outcomes feel unavoidable. Arachnophobia is one of the most common fears because in our day to day lives spiders are so hard to avoid. You might argue that people with galeophobia can avoid their fear by avoiding swimming at the beach, but as soon as they go near a large body of water, even an inland lake with no possibility of sharks, their fear once again comes to the surface.

​At this point it is also worth defining the subtle difference between fear and anxiety. Although closely linked, one way of understanding the difference between the two is familiarity. Fear is a based on genuine, well understood threat whereas anxiety is a mostly unfounded feeling of concern. From this perspective a fear of heights, sharks and spiders can be seen as quite legitimate, on other hand, very few people are familiar enough or informed enough about artificial intelligence to be genuinely fearful. It is more likely that they are suffering from a bout of digital anxiety.

​Now back to our comparison between the fear of death and our fear (or anxiety) around technology.

​It is fair to say that both technology and death can create undesirable outcomes (though death perhaps more so) and in our current reality both technology and death are unavoidable. The real difference between the two is that we have a greater sense of control over death than we do over cyberterrorism, artificial intelligence and robots. This is not to say that we can cheat death over the long term but on a daily basis we have a fairly well tuned sense of how to avoid it happening prematurely (such as looking before we cross the road and not drinking paint stripper).

​But it’s not just at a societal level that these anxieties about technology are being experienced, they are just as likely to occur within organisations. Some of the fears identified in the survey can be directly linked to the workplace (robots replacing the workforce, trusting artificial intelligence to do work). In addition, there are also more immediate issues that people are dealing with such as how to use the new Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system or who might read what I write on Slack/Yammer/Microsoft Teams.

​It is perhaps unsurprising that in the current era of organisational digitisation (or digital transformation) has seen an escalation on technology related anxiety. The desire to roll out multiple technology solutions quickly means that people are being given less time and less support to build familiarity with the technology they are expected to use. This lack of familiarity means people are both less likely to see the opportunity that such systems offer but also, they are more likely to catastrophise the outcomes of getting it wrong. This in turn leads to them exerting what limited control they feel that they have over technology, they take every opportunity to avoid it. As a result, organisations are experiencing an increased sense of ‘push back’ on technology deployment.

​This anxiety around new technology is not new. We have most recently experienced concerns about WIFI frying our brains, prior to that it was the risks associated with sitting too close to the TV, before that it was concerns about telephones being the communication device of the devil (and this was prior to the inception of telemarketing) and earlier than that again was a belief that the speed of steam powered train travel would make our bodies explode.

​In each case people have eventually managed to overcome these anxieties and as a result take advantage of the opportunity that each of these technologies represented. Eventually our experience of artificial intelligence, robotics and CRM will be no different. The question is, are we willing to wait for this anxiety to dissipate naturally over time (in which case we forgo the short-term benefit that such technologies bring) or do we intervene to help people overcome these anxieties sooner?

​A successful intervention is fundamentally based on helping people building familiarity. To build familiarity we need to provide users a safe and supported environment in which to experiment and test out new technology, and if we want people to start actively experimenting we first need them to believe that doing so is worth their time. What this means is that ultimately, if we want people to overcome their anxieties and adopt new technology we first need to help them identify what’s in it for them, not necessarily what’s in it for us.

​Most technology decisions are so often made by a small handful of people for benefit of the organisation. This approach is based on the premise that employees have no choice as to what technology they use but this is not true at all. People always have a choice, they have a choice to avoid, a choice to subvert, or more drastically, they have a choice to leave.

​If we want our digital transformation programs to succeed, if we want people to adopt and use the technology solutions that are being deployed, if we want to build an innovative culture that helps us retain our best talent, then we will first need a rethink on how we engage with, understand and support our people to use the incredible technology that is now available to them. 

This blog post has been syndicated to Medium. If you’d like to add comments or ideas, head over to this page.

The power of choice

The power of giving people a choice lies in what their decision tells us. If we insist that people use a particular piece of software or work in a particular way, we may find out that there are better ways for things to be done.

The PC era of technology was defined by the standard operating system. Computers would be preinstalled with Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office. People were largely expected to do their work with just a handful of solutions, Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Outlook. This used to make a lot of sense, firstly because there weren’t that many other options to choose from and secondly, end users mostly lacked the knowledge and skills to identify other options and use other options.

But we are now operating in a new era where much of the software we need is now web based and can be purchased on a subscription basis. There is now an incredible number of options that can be accessed cheaply and easily, and from any device we choose to use. But most organisations provide little or no opportunity for people to have a say in the technology they use.

Now we could pretend that people don’t have a choice. That, as employees being paid a salary, they should be expected to use whatever technology and tools they are given, but the truth is people always have a choice. The first, the smallest, and perhaps most common choice they have is to abstain, to actively find ways to avoid using the solution they’ve been given. The second, medium sized choice is to go and source an alternative (and in a world of web based software that you can purchase with a credit card this is not all that difficult). And although it seems a rather drastic response, the third possible choice is to resign. In fact research shows that when high performers don’t get the technology they need to do their best work they are twice as likely to leave the organisation.

Once we accept that people always have a choice, the next question is ‘how can structuring these choices help provide meaningful feedback to the business?’ Providing people a certain level of choice as to what technology they use (or even whether they use the technology or not) helps organisations understand whether the tools being provided are what people want and need. Clearly, if our people adopt and actively use the technology solutions they are provided then we are doing a pretty ace job. But each of the alternatives: abstinence, seeking alternatives and abandonment give insight into what might be wrong.

Abstinence suggests that either the espoused or actual value proposition for the end user doesn’t stack up. If someone is unwilling to try the solution at all, or tries it and then discards it soon afterwards, then we need to accept that for whatever reason, it doesn’t appear to be a good use of their time.

If someone is seeking alternatives then it reflects a belief that there are better, more useful or usable solutions available than the one that’s been provided….and if they are also unwilling to tell you about their proposed alternate it also implies that they don’t trust the IT department to work in their best interest.

Perhaps the most worrying of all is resignation or abandonment. We generally abandon something if it has no perceived value now, or in the future. The decision to resign implies that not only is the current technology inadequate but there is little hope that this will be addressed in the immediate future.

We are in an era of rapid digitisation. In many cases organisations are rolling out multiple large technology solutions that have the potential to provide incredible value to the organisation…if they are used effectively. On the other hand, if these solutions are not embraced or are not used effectively the benefits will go unrealised and all that the organisation will be left with is the cost.

People always have a choice and the success of our digital transformation projects ultimately rests on what people choose to do. Once we acknowledge this then clearly the best course of action is to help our people make better, more informed choices…whatever the outcome of those choices might be.

This blog post has been syndicated to Medium. If you’d like to add comments or ideas, head over to this page.

Comfort with discomfort

It was hot
 
Over the Australia Day long weekend I went camping with a bunch of friends to a place called Taggerty. Taggerty sits just north of the Yarra Ranges in central Victoria, and by want of its position further from the coast and in the lee of the Yarra Ranges it misses out on some of the more variable weather patterns that Melbourne is famous for (it is generally four or five degrees warmer during the day).
 
In summary Taggerty is hot…  
 
…well actually…
 
…it’s not THAT hot, it’s just hotter than I’m recently used to. Over the weekend it averaged 35 degrees celsius (95 degrees fahrenheit)  most days while we were there, but growing up in Perth this was just normal summer temperatures. And for my brother-in-law who lives up in Queensland, anything less than 30 means it’s time to put a jumper on. And for players at the Australian Open who were dealing with a court surface temperature of 69 DEGREES CELSIUS our 35 degrees would have been quite welcome.
 
The heat felt outside our immediate comfort zone, but only because we spend so much time at 22 degrees celsius. We live in air-conditioned houses and travel in air-conditioned cars to air-conditioned offices which are all regulated at 22 degrees. It is all very pleasant right up until we are unable to regulate the temperature any more and then we struggle to adjust.
 
An elaborate metaphor
 
You might not have picked this up but my camping story is also a rather elaborate metaphor for…
 
…the impact of job-destroying robots.
 
Research shows that improvements in Artificial Intelligence and related digital technologies mean that over the next decade almost all jobs will change, and a number of jobs will no longer exist. Which means that everyone who has a job is going to have to deal a bit of change and discomfort. And if we are constantly seeking out what is familiar and stable in our work, the less capable we will be when change becomes inevitable. 

It is entirely possible to avoid discomfort in the short term, but over the long term this is likely to have some dire consequences.
 
  1. We will be ill prepared. If we struggle to operate outside of our comfort zone and our comfort zone eventually disappears, then it goes without saying that we are then more likely to struggle. Seeking out discomfort is an important strategy for building job resilience.
  2. We will miss opportunities. The more we focus on the status quo the less in “Who’s to say the status quo is the best we can do anyway?” There are a whole bunch of people who are currently working outside what we might consider OUR comfort zone (even if they are operating well within theirs)…and many of them seem to be having a great time or doing great work. What’s to say that if we were willing to extend ourselves a little bit we might find incredible new opportunities.
  3. We feel less alive. Ultimately, it is variability of our experiences that makes us feel alive. Happiness is relative to sadness, excitement is relative to boredom, and comfort is ultimately relative to discomfort. We tend to appreciate and enjoy things more when we have also experienced the alternative.
 
The little known power of experimentation
 
In his best selling book How To Lead A Quest: A Guidebook for Pioneering Leaders Dr Jason Fox talks about the power of experiments in developing corporate strategy. Experiments are cheap, simple, easy ways of trying something new whilst also giving yourself a safe way out. This same thinking can be applied equally for an individual level as it can for an organisation.
 
Experiments come in all shapes and sizes but involve a few common elements. They start with a hypothesis (or question you hope to answer), they involve taking action, and there is time given to analysis and reflection.
 
But I imagine you knew some of this already. The little known power of experimentation is that it is a safe way to just do something. And in just doing something we will not only learn the things we hope to learn (answering our hypothesis), we will also learn other things we didn’t expect…and most importantly we will become more comfortable with discomfort.
 
My two grand experiments
 
I’m currently in the process of running two grand experiments. I call them grand experiments because they have the potential to significantly impact the way that I work, and even the way that I live (that being said, they still provide a safe out should they fail to deliver the outcomes I hope for).
 
The first of these experiments is called Project Live. Project Live aims to challenge how I present my keynotes. It is based on the hypothesis that  through the more sophisticated use of images, colour and lighting I can create the type of immersive experiences you might otherwise associate with music concerts. If it fails I can always go back to the structure of my existing keynote presentations but if it succeeds I have the opportunity to dramatically improve the audience experience.
 
The second of these experiments I call my Life Work Adventure. My Life Work Adventure involves me working from a camper van for three months whilst travelling with my family up the east coast of Australia. It is intentionally not just a three month holiday, in a sense that would be too easy. I want to prove that as long as we have access to the right technology and we treat our colleagues and clients with love and respect we can effectively work from anywhere. If it fails I can always go back to working next to the pool in Mt Eliza but if it succeeds I have the opportunity to have similar, or perhaps even longer adventures with my family in the future.
 
If you can’t stand the heat
 
Leading up to our camping trip some of our friends were genuinely concerned about how they were going to deal with the heat (one family even left their camp stove at home so they could pack an evaporative air conditioner) but in some ways the reality was far better than the expectation. Yes it was hot but we quickly found ways of staying cool the best of which involved floating down the Acheron River on inflatable toys and inner tubes drinking a cold beer. The truth is, this isn’t something we would have tried unless it was so damn hot…yet ultimately this was perhaps the ultimate memory we will have from the camping trip. Thirty-two people, on a flotilla of inflatable toys, slowly floating down the Acheron River.
 
In the end it was the unexpected heat that created the most amazing opportunity.


This blog post has been syndicated to Medium. If you’d like to add comments or ideas, head over to this page.

The divide between IT and…well, everyone else in your business

Back in around 2007, I spent a few a few years working for Rio Tinto. It was my first and only proper corporate job…and it came with a proper corporate IT team. When I started there the IT team was located just a couple of floors below me, but even then I only remember meeting one member of the IT team face to face. His name was George. Unlike the rest of the IT team that stayed at their desks, George use to walk each of 20 odd floors of Rio Tinto employees every couple of weeks. He would drop by each desk, identifying problems people were having, and showing them simple tips and tricks with their laptop or Blackberry (it was 2007 after all).

Photo by Alex Kotliarskyi on Unsplash

…That was until the Helpdesk function got outsourced to India and then I never saw George again, or anyone else from IT for that matter. Getting IT issues fixed ended up being a lot harder and often it was just seemed easier to leave them broken.

Many would find this a rather typical experience of corporate IT. The commoditisation of IT services and the pursuit of lower costs have seen many IT functions either outsourced or rationalised out of existence. But the impact of this is much bigger than the pain and frustration of end users not being able to get simple computer issues fixed. The big cost is in the unrealised potential of new technology solutions to be applied within an organisation.

There is little doubt that some of the biggest opportunities in modern business are being driven by innovations in technology. Yet if the people who understand the technology aren’t (or can’t) effectively engaging with people in the operational side of the organisation, many of these opportunities will never be identified, investigated, or ultimately implemented.

This physical separation between people in IT and operations is just a facet of the IT-Operational Divide. In addition to the physical divide, there is often also a language divide (people in IT and operations use different words, abbreviations and terms), a role divide (people in IT and operations work in fundamentally different ways and don’t understand how or why that is the case) and potentially even a respect divide (IT professionals are often seen as a roadblock and struggle to get the respect of their peers).

As long as this continues, the impact on the bottom line has got little to do with what the cost of the IT function and a lot to do with the improvement opportunities that are never identified.

To proactively realise these opportunities, we ultimately need to overcome the IT-Operational divide…and somewhat ironically the best way to overcome the divide would be to get IT and operational people working together to realise some of these opportunities. But left to their own devices this is unlikely to occur (like mixing oil and water this may initially require a bit of shaking, or for the nerds out there the addition of an emulsifier). Instead organisations need to provide a structured ‘learn by doing’ approach that facilitates direct engagement and breaks down the physical, language, role, and respect barriers that are currently holding the organisation back.

This blog post has been syndicated to Medium. If you’d like to add comments or ideas, head over to this page.

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Simon Waller is a author, speaker and trainer helping organisations get more out of their technology. He is also the founder of the Digital Champions Club, a program that develops internal digital experts who can identify, investigate, and implement the technology projects that matter.