Critical Thinking – what can carbon fibre teach us?

Maclaren racing car winning the 1981 Grand Prix

In 1979 racing car designer John Barnard was exploring the use of carbon fibre as a material for making Formula 1 cars and critical thinking was key to this research. His interest was in making the chassis narrower and lighter, without any loss in strength or torsional stiffness (the ability to withstand twisting.)

Barnard approached British Aerospace, who were working with this new product, and asked for their help. Arthur Webb, an aeronautical engineer and carbon fibre (and carbon fibre composite) expert, came on board (in his spare time!) Together Barnard and Webb changed motor sport history. What they did was to think about this new product differently to the way other people were approaching it.

Lesson 1 – Barnard realized that their competitors were trying to use carbon fibre in the same way as they had been using metal. However, aluminium is “stretchy” whereas carbon fibre is brittle. Both products would behave very differently under stress and in an accident.

Critical thinking lesson 1 – techniques that work in one situation don’t necessarily work in another, even if the materials look the same.

Lesson 2 – Hercules Aerospace, an American firm, were funding the construction of the new chassis. Their technicians calculated that the design that Barnard and Webb had come up with wouldn’t work. However, in their calculations they had treated the carbon fibre as “black metal”. Arthur Webb was able to convince them that their calculations were based on wrong assumptions.

Critical thinking lesson 2 – challenge the assumptions you and others are making.

Lesson 3 – Concerns were raised by competitors and in the sporting press, that this new material was dangerous and wouldn’t protect the driver in a crash. Their main objection was that carbon fibre was brittle. What they didn’t take into account was

    1. that brittle in engineering terms has a different meaning to what the man in the street means by brittle.
    2. the carbon fibre composite material has fibres running in many directions to give it all round strength and is sandwiched around a honeycomb of aluminium.
    3. carbon fibre maintains its strength right up to the point where it breaks, unlike metal, which loses its strength as stress is increased.

Critical thinking lesson 3 – check that everyone understands something in the same way.

Maclaren racing car winning the 1981 Grand Prix
What a car! A win for carbon fibre.

And Finally

Their new car, driven by John Watson, won the British Grand Prix for Maclaren in July 1981. Later that year, Watson crashed his car at the Italian Grand Prix. Webb and Barnard had built into the design weak points where the chassis would break, giving them a safety advantage. The engine mounts broke, so that the engine sheared away from the rest of the car, reducing the kinetic energy and putting distance between the driver and engine. Watson walked away unharmed and concerns about this new product faded.

 

References

A Different Sort of CV

Photo of Janet looking into the camera

Janet Webb, Chartered MCIPD, Learning & Organisational Development Consultant, CV.

Instead of giving you a personal statement, I thought I would let others do the talking – a rather different sort of CV.

If you want to see my work history, then hop over to my LinkedIn profile.  
Photo of Janet looking into the camera as part of her different CV.
Could I be your next wingman?
For a fuller CV then e-mail me: janet@janetwebbconsulting.co.uk

Key Skills

Critical, but objective, partnering.

Mentoring, coaching and training.

Project and people management.

Creativity and energy.

 

Work History

What People Said

Janet Webb Consulting

L&OD and HR services and project management

“Janet really helped me with a new project. She is a great listener and really understood what I needed, keeping me focused and on track. She is a great strategic thinker, just the right person to help with organisational change.”Michelle Gavin, Business Development Manager

“Janet is a joy to work with. She brings high energy and enthusiasm to any project. She is straight-talking, down-to-earth and practical in her approach, yet she also brings tenacity, strategic thinking and an ability to see the bigger picture. Values-driven, generous, caring, fun. Don’t under-estimate her approachable and informal style; you can be sure that Janet knows her stuff.”Sarah Harvey, Leadership, Culture & Conflict Coach

 

East Sussex County Council

Interim Project Manager

 

“Janet was my right hand in the modernisation of the Registration Service in East Sussex. She showed exceptional skills in change management, strategy and vision. She took the staff with her on a very difficult journey. She was so good, I used her again and again and again.”Irene Campbell, Assistant Director, Communities

 

East Sussex County Council

Personnel Manager and Business Partner

 

“I worked alongside Janet at East Sussex County Council when she was managing the projects team in what was then the Personnel and Training department. I’m sure the role wasn’t always easy, but working with Janet was a joy. When times are tough, a smile and a good sense of humour go a very long way! Janet had a well-deserved reputation for being a safe pair of hands as a project lead, a supportive line manager, and a dependable colleague.”Tom Elliott, HR Business Analyst

East Sussex County Council

Training & Development Officer and Training Centre Manager

 

“Janet brings both humour, wisdom and professionalism to her work. She not only delivers to meet the objectives of a project but is flexible and adaptable seeking continuous ways to improve.”Liz Felstead, Head of Corporate Training & Development 

St. Richard’s Hospital

Training Officer to Training Manager

 

“We’ve regraded your role to reflect what you are actually delivering. You’ve gone up two pay grades!”Julie Dodd, HR Director 

Selfridges Ltd

Everything from a temp to Training Consultant and a number of management roles along the way

 

 

After a month of being a Christmas temp “Will you stay on as a permanent member?”Then three months into that role “Will you be team leader?”And after a year “I’m putting you forward for the management training programme.”

Juliet Quinton, Buyer and Department Manager, Greeting Cards

 

Dorlann Productions

Professional Dancer

 

Michou “Would you take a contract in Cairo?”Me “Who will be team leader?”Michou “You!”Michou Dorlann, Director and Choreographer after 6 months of working for her. I was 20!

 

 

 

When The Management Policy Is “Don’t Come To Me …

Orange lifebelt ready for deployment

… with your problems; come with your solutions.”

I hear this style of management quoted often as being great practice; after all, a manager’s job is to coach.

An orange lifebelt ready for deployment by management.
When someone is drowning they don’t need a coach; they need a manager who jumps in.

And I would like to raise an alarm bell. If someone is drowning, they need you to throw a line, or even jump in with them. They don’t need you to coach them to swim.

How Would This Management Policy Work Here?

A few days ago, someone came to speak to me about a very current and desperate issue that they had been struggling with for days. They were at the end of their tether with a problem and were close to tears. If I had said

“and what do you think you should do about that? What are your options? What has worked before?”

I rather suspect that would have finished them off.

They didn’t need coaching. They did need someone to listen but they also needed some help. I wasn’t the expert but I was in a position where I could offer some ideas because I wasn’t the one drowning. I jumped in and offered a life belt. It was just enough to give them some space, take hold of their emotions and see a way through.

So What Is A Great Management Policy?

A manager’s job is to build the environment where individuals can thrive. Sometimes they need telling how to do stuff. Sometimes they absolutely do not. A blanket policy of “don’t come to me with your problems” means you never get to hear about their problems. And that’s not great either. So a policy that decides how you reply before they have spoken is no good. It doesn’t work for them and it doesn’t work for the manager.

Instead, dial up the empathy, listen carefully and then choose the right approach:  Tell, Teach, Mentor or Coach. Be the manager that people can come to and get what they need (which may not always be what they want.) You can only do that if you are empathetic enough and flexible enough to choose how to respond.

If you say don’t come to me with problems, what you are saying is “Don’t come to me, particularly when it’s really difficult” and no employee wants to hear that.

You can find other thoughts on great management practice here:

A Good Manager Asks The Target For Feedback

Help Your Team Find Some Solid Ground

What is Beyond Appraisal?

Devoting Resources and Supporting Parents – Living in a Neolithic Village

Chapter Two – Supporting Parents For The Future

(You can read part one here.)

The Context – Protecting Resources

Gog's mud and thatch house in his Neolithic Village, with two other houses.
Gog’s lovely house

The village needed a number of important resources to survive, including food, water and people. Without protecting these resources, such as supporting parents to have children, they would all perish.  The water source was drying up and in 20 years there would be no fresh water supply. Disaster. However, the elders knew that there was a fresh spring a few miles away. If only they could find a way of getting it.

The Answer – Devoting Resources

Gog, the person in the village most skilled at making things, had an idea for a system to carry the water to the village.  He would build a pipeline underground to protect the water from other tribes. This would take some time and effort to do and for the sake of their survival, the village would need to give up resources to Gog. The village gave it’s blessing. Crucially, no-one suggested that if took on this project, then that was his decision alone and he was on his own. After all, the village need this pipeline.

Gog decided how long it was going to take – the village agreed that he was best placed to make that decision – and he set off with precious resources; tools, food and other workers.

The work was sometimes tiring, sometimes exhilarating. There were setbacks. There were advances. Gog and his crew learnt much. Meanwhile, the village waited patiently.

The Outcome

A few years later Gog returned triumphant because the water supply had been secured for the future. Hooray! The whole village celebrated; they were happy to have their friend back and they also knew how important this work had been. They rewarded him and gave him status. He had grown in knowledge. He returned with a new outlook and perspective. All of this was helpful to the growth of the whole village. What a party they had!

Gog had his old job back but he wanted to carry on working on other engineering projects. This made sense, so again the village agreed.  In addition, in order that he could catch up on what had changed, he was given attention and support. It was a wonderful time of joy, growth and confidence.

Nobody criticized him for leaving the village for a year or two. No-one complained that the village had to give up resources so that he could do this. Everyone understood that there had been some short-term cost for a long-term investment in their future.  As a society they are going to survive. As a society they benefitted.

 

The Learning – Supporting Parents

Now compare this with how society is supporting parents today in having children and protecting the future.

Having children is not some hobby that parents indulge in.

We are all somebody’s child. Also, our employees and customers were somebody’s child. The businesses that we buy goods and services from – their employees were somebody’s child. Society needs this pipeline.

 

Management or Leadership Development?

What’s best, management or leadership development? Where should I put my energies?

Good leaders are really important. They give an organisation drive, focus, spirit and hope. But good leadership can’t make up for poor management. If the boss is terrific at cheering on the team, but incapable of dealing with an individual’s poor performance, then the whole team suffers. Or if the boss is great at inspiring followers but hopeless at communicating what actually needs to be done, then nothing gets done. An inspiring vision wont help a team that is at loggerheads.

Peter Drucker is quoted as saying

“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”

Management is often seen as a poor relation to leadership – certainly the price tag of leadership training and coaching would suggest that. But fundamentally managers need to manage well; to do things right. The right things, yes, but in the right place, in the right way, at the right time.

And they need to be able to manage themselves; manage their time, their critical thinking, their communication and their assertiveness.

What’s the Answer for Janet Webb Consulting?

Excellence in management can have a significant impact.

So I have nailed my colours to the mast and decided to concentrate on helping managers be great managers.

Yacht masts decorated with colourful bunting.
Yacht masts decorated with colourful bunting.

How I do that I’ve written about in various places, including here.  They’ll almost certainly pick up some good leadership skills along the way; if they are concerned about managing well, then they’re half way there.

I’ve worked for really amazing managers who were shy and unassuming. And I’ve worked for poor managers who had an excess of charisma and passion. I know which I preferred and I know which environment I thrived in. It certainly wasn’t the one where we got a daily dose of guano; manure is really only good for the roses.

Taking Risks To Grow – What Can We Learn From A Hermit Crab?

I absolutely love hermit crabs; I have since childhood.  They are so intriguing and they have a lot to teach us about taking risks in order to grow.

A hermit crab not taking risks but staying put.
Herman Hermit in a compact and bijou “house.”

A Hermit Crab’s Life

Unlike other crustaceans, Hermit Crabs don’t grow their own shells when it is time to expand. Instead, they take up lodgings in a shell that has been cast off, such as a snail shell. It’s an efficient system, made more so by a procedure of co-operation and management of resources. This BBC video, narrated by the wonderful Sir David Attenborough, shows how a housing chain is set up when a large “des res” becomes available.

 

All the time that the Hermit Crab remains in its shell it is safe, but it will eventually need to take a risk and move to a new house, if it is to grow.  Whilst it is moving to another shell it is vulnerable to attack. However, if it doesn’t move it will die, as the shell becomes too small for it.

What Can We learn?

Our Hermit Crab taking a risk and moving house
Herman is taking the risk and making his move.

To grow, survive and thrive, we have to face up to taking risks:

  • to try something new
  • to say no to a request when we usually say yes
  • to say yes to an opportunity when we usually say no
  • to change jobs
  • to leave a relationship
  • to challenge bad behaviour
  • to move house

All these things take a certain amount of risk as we step outside of what is familiar and safe. Taking a risk stimulates our Limbic system and we feel fear – as if we were under threat of death.  I’ve written about some of this here.

But unless we face these things, we stagnate, shrink even. Our outlook shrinks, our options shrink and our opportunities shrink. To make the most of what we have, we need to take chances and risk what we have. Sometimes we lose, but even if we lose, we gain learning.

 

So What If We Do Lose?

Mark Twain said

“Good judgement is the result of experience and experience the result of bad judgement.”

When we get things wrong we learn. When we get things right we grow. But if we never try we gain nothing.

Our Hermit Crab settled into a new house
Hooray! Herman has moved in and loving his new life.

A Hermit Crab hides in its shell for safety, but sometimes it leaves that safety in order to gain something new and of value. We could learn a lot.

 

 

 

Cartoons by Janet Webb, who had a go at something new.

The Best Development; is it Reactive or Proactive?

There was a really interesting discussion on Twitter on the morning of Friday 5th Jan under the handle #LDInsight.*  We were discussing up skilling. One of the threads was about proactive versus reactive development and learning.  What has the most impact? It got me thinking about the management development that I am most happy delivering.

A Twitter chat that gave me the insight into the best management development.
#LDInsight Twitter chat

 

When we learn to drive we are given instruction, we have a go, we get feedback, we reflect and we try again. Instruction, practice, feedback, reflect, repeat. Eventually we are deemed competent to do it alone but the skill of being a good driver carries on being refined in the crucible of time and experience. (Of course, eventually, without care, we can become rubbish at it again!)

We learn best by being both proactive and reactive; by learning new “things”, applying them, reflecting and implementing new ways of working.

My Eureka Moment!

I was thinking about how this applied to training managers; what gives the best management development?

You can go on a course; there are plenty. There are courses for all levels, though you will find that the more senior you are, the more likely it is that the course is called Leadership Development. (And will almost certainly cost more.)

You can have a coach to help you through and refine your skill. Again, there are plenty. And again, you will pay more for a Leadership Coach and even more for an Executive Leadership Coach!  (There are various definitions of what is leadership and what is management. It does seem to me that leadership development costs more!)

And?

But how do you get both training and coaching in one place?

And then I realized that this is what I do.

In fact I would go so far as to say that this is what I am called to do. To mentor.

My Mentoring Service

To proactively give people input on:

  • how to do things differently
  • what makes our brains work the way that they do
  • how to support staff
  • how to be assertive  etc.

But also, to act as a coach. To help them:

  • reflect on what is currently happening for them
  • apply new techniques and learn from that
  • gain insight and alternative perspectives
  • develop their own coaching skills

Good managers need to be refined in the crucible – either one-2-one or, better still, with others in an Action Learning Set. For me this would be the best management development.

I genuinely think that is what I am here for.

 

* This is a weekly discussion, on Friday’s, hosted by @LnDConnect. We (and by that I mean anyone) discuss learning and development, it’s impact, it’s best practice and how to do it really well. Also organisational development, HR, life, the universe and everything. Join us?

 

 

 

 

PowerPoint Tips and Tricks

PowerPoint Tips and Tricks to help you look elegant.

PowerPoint Tips

  1. Put the audience first; what do they need and what will help them?
  2. Be certain about your desired outcome before you start designing slides.
  3. Read from your notes or laptop, never from the screen. Preferably don’t use notes at all; you know your stuff.
  4. Keep the amount of information on the slide to a minimum and use high quality images rather than text if appropriate.
  5. Use one font and one background for text; keep it consistent. Make sure that your theme matches you or your organisation.
  6. Make your slides clear; use contrast and a large font (two sizes max).
  7. Use short sentences; slides are visual aids not a reading test.
  8. Limit the number of points on a slide; four is enough.
  9. Limit transitions and animations; use what is appropriate to your audience.
  10. Get to know (practice!) PowerPoint tips and tricks so that you can use them elegantly.
  11. Practice – practice being brilliant. Practice out loud and practice with others.
  12. Have a back up plan – always!
  13. Finish professionally with a flourish.

PowerPoint Tricks

  1. Show presenter view on your laptop;  click on Slide Show tab, then select Set Up Show. In Multiple monitors box, select monitor to display slide show on. Tick Show Presenter View and your speaker notes will display on your laptop.
  2. F5  starts your slideshow.
  3. Shift F5  starts slideshow from current slide.
  4. Full stop or b blacks out the screen.  Repeat to return to slideshow. Turning the screen off brings your audience’s attention back to you.
  5. Comma or w whites out the screen.  Repeat to return to slideshow.
  6. Number Enter takes you to that slide e.g. “5 enter” takes you to slide, which is so much more elegant than scrolling through.
  7. Right click brings up the menu.

Remember: you are not the projectionist, you are the event – the energy comes from you.

And Breathe; take care of yourself

It’s important to take good care of ourselves. If we have learned nothing else from Covid19 we have learned that. Surely. Haven’t we?

Take care by looking along the groynes covered in seaweed
Groynes covered in seaweed

Trouble is, when you are feeling under it, covered in metaphorical seaweed, you don’t necessarily have the strength.

This is not going to be a top ten list of self care hints – there are plenty of those out there. Just Google well-being top tips.

Sometimes what we need to do is just stop and breathe.

We have known for a long time that “taking the sea air” is very restorative. Brighton through to Bognor was built on wealthy Victorians and Edwardians taking care of themselves. Worthing Museum has a wonderful collection relating to just this.

However, if you are a long way away, this might help – sunrise on the 23rd November, at Rustington.

No Covid19, Brexit or Christmas. Just breathe.

 

A Good Manager Asks The Target For Feedback

How does a good manager know that they are?

Imagine you were an archer. You fire your arrow and you get feedback immediately; either you hit the target or you don’t. You can adjust your technique and get instant feedback on those adjustments. In time you become better and better as an archer.

Suppose that you can’t see the target; it would be very difficult to hit and you would have no idea of the result.  The only way you could tell how well you were doing was if someone, like a coach, told you.

Archer gets help from a good manager
A medieval archer helps a modern man to hit the target

Now suppose that they also can’t see the target – how can they give you feedback? All they could do is share with you some data about how often you fired the arrows or whether your technique looked OK or not. You might tell them how you felt; probably you would be frustrated.

Eventually the coach would stop talking about it because nothing helpful would be happening.  In turn you would stop bothering and just fire off arrows in the right direction, probably as fast as possible, to get it over and done with.

Now let’s look at managing and coaching staff. How do you know if you hit the target? You probably try various things and look for feedback through outcomes and whether the member of staff looked happy or not. You might even have a discussion with your manager about how you think it is going.

But not directly paying attention to the member of staff and getting their feedback is as hopeless as firing arrows at a board and not knowing whether they hit or not. Ask your direct reports how well you are doing if you really want to improve as a manager.

 

Of course, if you don’t care whether you are a good manager, then that is a different problem altogether.