Monthly Archives: February 2012

Memories Are Made of This…or are they?

Memory is a funny thing. You can rarely be sure about it. Recalling to mind an experience of the past is as much a work of creation as it is a reliable documentary activity. Perhaps more so.The point at which we remember something which, is of necessity after the event, we have other memories and experiences to load upon it. This changes however subtly, or even radically, our understanding of the original event.

Even writing stuff down to read at a later date doesn’t protect the integrity of the original event, because as soon as we read the description we are overlaying it with new perceptions from a later time.


Many arguments and disagreements at work are the result of two people remembering an event or an instruction differently. This is either because their understanding of the event was processed through their different receptors at the time and therefore interpreted differently; or because the act of remembering has skewed the way they recall the event.


In any case, holding out to have our version of the truth (our memory) accepted as the most reliable seems to be a pointless and provocative activity.


We try to get round this by putting everything in emails.  Hundreds of people get copied in to ensure a liberal smattering of our version of the truth. And we’ll dredge up those emails at a later date when something is in dispute or needs corroborating. It’s an evidence trail we leave like Hansel & Gretel’s breadcrumbs in the forest, which will lead us back to certainty.


Unfortunately, leaving the email trail is a misguided and wasteful strategy because even if it’s ever referred to again, it will be viewed from the perspective of a different time…that inevitably adds a different gloss.


Our justice system, which relies on witness statements given after an event, is easily hi-jacked by the fallibility of memory. I recently came face-to-face with a group of aggressive schoolboys who in very graphic and admirably creative terms described what they would like to do to my face and other parts of my body. But when I studied their mug-shots in the school files the next day, I couldn’t identify any of them.


This wasn’t a temporary lapse induced by trauma, or even a sign of my diminishing faculties. I would have been the same if I was twenty-something instead of forty-something. I couldn’t be sure: the memory wasn’t strong enough or accurate enough for me to be certain. Selecting a face from the mountain of mug-shots would have been tantamount to guesswork and led to a possible miscarriage of justice.


We take our memory for granted, and we rely on it to provide a photographic and filmic context for our lives. Yet, it is often little more than a faded sepia tint.


So the next time you get into a spat with a colleague about your understanding of what you think you agreed at some point in the past; or you fall out over your take on who said what and to who; try to remember that memory itself is a fabrication. It’s the breadcrumbs but not the loaf.


Make what you do in the moment count, but don’t expect to remember exactly what you did tomorrow.


Is Your Work Driving You to Distraction?

At a conservative estimate, I’d say that 95% of all mobile Apps are designed for fun and filling time. Most have no other function apart than that.

Extreme sports, bungee-jumping, sky-diving and a host of other high-octane activities have far less to do with keeping fit and healthy than they do with providing an adrenalin rush.

Social media for most people is less about keeping in touch and making friends, and more about feeling important and significant…and passing the time.

Gadgets, apart from emptying our pockets and bank-reserves quicker than a RBS Executive, are for many people just a way of bringing a bit of glamour and excitement to an otherwise dull day.

I’m not a Luddite. I’m not against all this technology and the fantastic things it allows us to do. And I’m really glad that thrills (whilst not cheap) are much more widely available today than I remember when I was younger.

What concerns me is the question: why is our work so dull, boring and unstimulating that we have such a craving for distraction which these things provide?


A quick dart into Marcus Buckingham‘s book, ‘Go Put Your Strengths to Work‘ quickly reveals an apparent universal truth that  less than 20% of people feel they are playing to their strengths for most of their time at work. When we play to our strengths we feel energised, focused, inquisitive, fulfilled. In short, we don’t feel bored! So 80% of us feel sufficiently bored (or stressed) by our work to need distractions. Lots of people find their work a misery. We need things to take our mind OFF our work. We feel the need to inject some life, energy, and excitement into our dull routines. We need to have FUN and we find it wherever we can.

Work just doesn’t do it for most people. And when people do appear to be having fun at work, I’ve seen managers and other colleagues start to get a little paranoid. “What do they know that I don’t?” It’s often frowned upon when there’s laughter in the office; when people make an attempt to brighten up their work space; or when staff get playful. Somehow, it seems to go against the grain.

But when did it become a bad thing to have fun at work? Who decreed that ‘work’ needed to be a drudge? Where did the idea surface that having a stifling work experience is as inevitable as death? How sad that so many of us need to compensate for our work by accessing a multitude of distractions that stop us thinking about it.

So managers get hung up on how long someone might be surfing the internet, or checking their Facebook page on their smartphone, or rifling through a holiday brochure at their desk.  They do this instead of asking: “why do they feel the need to do this whilst they are at work?” or “why is this so much more appealing than what we are paying them for?”

I’d like to propose a new mantra for work. It goes like this:

Work will be joyful

Work will be fun

We’ll want to do more

When our day is done!

What will this mean for all of us who work and all of those who manage workers? Maybe we’ll focus more on:

  • Outcomes – what people actually achieve
  • Productivity rather than presenteeism
  • Playing to Strengths
  • Getting the Culture right
  • Releasing Potential
  • Generating Trust
  • Creating appropriate Challenges
  • Building work streams that take full advantage of people’s Talents
  • Designing work environments that stimulate us rather than deflate us
  • Recognising and celebrating Successes
  • Giving people a break!
  • Having fun

This seems to be a far cry from what most of us experience…and that’s not a fun place to be! Which is why we need distractions.

I want my work to be a distraction. I want it to absorb me, impel me, nourish me, invigorate me, delight me. I don’t think I’m asking for too much. It’s asking for too little that has got us into the state we’re in.