Monday, December 23, 2013

All I want for Christmas

As I tidied up the kids debris post a ''can i sleep in her room'' sleepover a couple of nights ago, I came across letters to santa that they must have written whilst hidden under the blankets.

''Dear Santa, I really don't want much for christmas this year because I already have so much'' was how one started.  the other was written in a smilar vein, and wished santa health and happiness. it made me feel pretty good, I have to say!

Here's my own christmas list....

From the summer edition of the village voice
(with a couple of changes....)

All I want for Christmas
This week both children have come home from school with 'letters to Santa' , written in their best handwriting, and detailing the gifts they hope to receive. Let me say here that i am quietly confident that Santa will be rather impressed with my children's suggestions in terms of the SIZE of their gifts, but possibly less excited about the value!  
I have been feeling pretty unChristmassy until now - maybe it's the last minute mad rush of winding up in the office, the continuous stream of end of year parties and the (yes I know I'm complaining!) already oppressive heat - or maybe it is just not time yet for me to get my tinsel on.  The tree is up, the lights are hung, and most of the presents are bought, but I haven't even yet decided what we will do on Christmas Day (that's another story for another time).
I do however have my own Christmas list.  I'm not too fussed about gifts - I'm more of a ''quality time'' and ''words of endearment'' kind of person myself.  So, what I want for Christmas.... for the children to get through til New Year without being stuffed full of sugar and artificial colourings (given to them by others, not me) a good nights sleep to be able to get a pile of cherries from the tree on Christmas morning to get through the next ten days of madness and stay sane (or pretend to be...) to avoid hearing Snoopy's Christmas, which I'm sure contributes to the spike in crime, alcohol consumption and bad tempers the world over because it's just so darned annoying to resist the shops for just a few more days and be satisfied with the shopping I've done
... is the company of wonderful friends and family, some good food, an engaging book, and maybe a nice glass of champagne a few fine days, maybe a couple of hot ones, and not too many rainy ones lots of kisses and cuddles from the people who matter most

To everyone in my favourite part of New Zealand, best wishes for a smooth and happy start to 2014, and may the true spirit of Christmas be with you.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

When commitment isn't enough

I have recently returned from the national conference of the organisation I work for.

We have 38 ''branches'' around the country, each with it's own CEO (or similar), it's own membership, and executive board, but also a national body, and a loose geographical hub system.  There are national sponsorship agreements that we can all take part in, and more localised programmes unique to each town/district.

One of the biggest challenges we face, particularly in a crowded marketplace, is finding a strong ''voice'' both at local and national level, that is reflective of each community, but is also unified in terms of advocacy for the NZ wide business community.  Much discussion was entered into about this, and we almost unanimously agreed that as CEO's (that's me) we need to work hard to share the ''stories'' of our National identity, as well as use this collective approach to be a more effective voice to Government, and other stakeholders.

As the conversation wore on, it occurred to me that we have some disconnect between commitment and engagement of not only our members, but also, in some cases, the boards, and even employees of these organisations.

What do I mean by this?  Well, there are literally thousands of businesses who pay a fee to belong to us.  And happily do so, year on year.  So they have some commitment.  But around 80% almost never come along to a networking evening, a training workshop, or even take advantage of the buying privileges that their membership gives them.  Many do not take part in surveys, awards, or offer feedback on local/central government issues - hence we can surmise that their engagement is minimal.

The question is, therefore: how do we move someone from commitment to engagement? Do we even need to? If they are paying the bill does it even matter?

I would argue that we can only represent our members properly if they are engaged.  We could, I suppose, assume that if they are paying a subscription each year they are reputedly happy with us - but there are many reasons for membership - some see it as altruistic, for some its tradition, for others simply a habit.  What we need, in order to be a truly effective organisation, is to have strong engagement - good conversations, for lack of a better description - with the people we claim to represent.

It means getting ''out there'' and talking to them.  Survey monkey, Facebook, e-letters simply won't cut the mustard. We need to be engaging with THEM in order to encourage them to engage with us.

Face to face conversations, personal invitations, tailored networking solutions - these things might be the start.  and it also means listening very carefully to the ones who ARE already engaging to ensure that we not only represent them well, but communicate their opinions and views to those less inclined to contribute.

We also, I think, both at local and national level need to consider which ''causes'' we can really have some impact on (where can we have the most influence), and which parts of business do we need to leave for other organisations to deal with.  How can we really help our members to be even better at what they do? One size might not fit all - and of course a big city branch can offer a whole lot more than a small town one like mine - but consistently of brand is key.  The common descriptor of ''telling the story'' really does apply to us.

I'm always glad when one of my members happily pays their subscription fee. But I'm happier still when they take part in our calendar of events, offer opinions, seek help, and use their membership privileges to the max.  That's what being engaged will do. It really is a two way conversation - and to not do this is to risk our organisation and many others like it - we are our members and our very existence depends on them.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

what is happy?

I've been reading through some of my old posts this week and the same theme keeps popping out at me - the very same idea that was in fact one of the original premises for this blog - reflections on what is really important in life (wow lofty goal!).

In November 2011 I wrote a post about blessings ( and in December 2012 I wrote one about goals and dreams and the way we share them with other people - and I dared to share a list of some of the things I want to achieve in the next couple of years.

Yesterday, in a conversation with a friend, I jokingly remarked that life seemed chaotic - and for the last month it has felt like everything I have touched has broken - my spa pool, my house alarm system, my car, my health (bent rather than broken), you name it, I've had a bill for it.

The friend responded ''a simple and fun life, that's what I want''.  And I agreed. After all that's what we all aspire to isn't it?  Although fun and simple may not necessarily go together all the time - depending on your taste for excitement - I think overall, most people want to be able to see a relatively well mapped out future with not too many distractions or nasty surprises, and as little drama in their lives as possible. And I think the majority of people want to find that (somewhat elusive) balance between doing things that make a difference to the lives of others (because I think that's part of human nature), and spending time doing things that make us happy as individuals.

It was timely, that conversation, having read those other posts earlier in the week. I'd like to think that actually, my life is pretty untroublesome - and yep pretty fun.  Maybe not in a ''fly to Paris at a moments notice'' kind of way (although if I had a date to work to....) but certainly for me in terms of thinking about life in general, it's probably, by most peoples standards, fairly straightforward.  I work, enough to pay the bills and have a little extra, I have great friends that I do simple, fun things with, I have some cool hobbies (thank God the baby sitting issue is finally sorted) and my family, by most peoples standards, is reasonably normal;).  In fact, most of the dramas that butt up against my life, are those of other peoples. (note to self: its not personal;)).  In the past couple of years in particular I have been the envy of many of my friends, experiencing things that they can only wish for.

Absolutely there are things I would like to change, things I'd like to do more of (or less of...or differently....) but on a day to day basis, things are pretty uncomplicated. I'm certainly not afraid of complication, nor of challenges or obstacles. and that's largely due to one of my core beliefs:  that whilst goals are important - make that vital - for moving forward in life, the most necessary thing of all, is to find a way to be happy in the now. Counting blessings. Delighting in what is real and good. Treasuring people over possessions. Simple pleasures of food, sunshine, conversation, music, friendship. Loving and being loved. Taking risks with caution. Dreaming big dreams and daring to share them. Sometimes it even mean shaking off the stupid rules that ''society'' places on us and following our hearts.  Believing that even though that crap stuff happens, dramas play out, and plans go awry, that its just part of life, and by hanging on to those core beliefs, everything will work out in the end. (Sometimes, being idealistic rather than realistic can make all the difference!)

What is happy? My definition: all of the above.

Friday, September 20, 2013

stop look and listen

Yesterday should have been a fantastic day.  And it was, right up until the last hour.

My daughter had a school production and all the family came to watch - I had to work late so put grandparents in charge of dinner and taxi-ing.

On return to the house, it was raining, it was late, we were all tired and a bit hungry.  Grandparents decided to head home. Children had decided they were staying. Everyone was talking, then everyone was shouting and then everyone was crying.  The kids were perplexed, upset, remorseful. All the things you don't need at 8 pm on a week night. Grandparents left, distressed. No doubt horrified at what had happened. I sat on the couch and cried at my own inability to manage my own reactions.  It was horrible horrible horrible. Sometimes I really do turn into the worst version of myself:(. I know anger, frustration, all those emotions are valid ...but they still don't feel good.

Of course, in retrospect, I knew that it wouldn't have mattered if the kids had an extra 10 minutes to unwind. It wouldn't have mattered if the grandparents had stayed or gone.  It was me, wanting to tidy up the day as quickly as possible, that contributed to, and probably exacerbated the maelstrom.

It settled, eventually. Today is a new day. Thank God for the quick forgiveness of offspring.

The lesson learned - I should have just stepped away from the edge.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

needs must - the curse of closing the sale

Back when I was working in sales training, I used to talk a lot about needs and wants.  Supposedly there's a world of difference - what a customer wants is not necessarily what they need.  The difference was defined as being about emotional satisfaction, and it is the job of the salesperson to ''meet the need'' rather than the want. For example, you want to feel secure, therefore you need insurance. You want to feel important? You need a later model car.  You want to feel successful - you should find a challenging and satisfying job. We live in a world where we think a product can solve every problem. A neat and tidy solution, that's what the salesperson wants.

I now don't think it's that complicated - in fact I think that its more likely that needs and wants are, in their simplest form, the same. Sure the ''product'' that is offered might vary - the solution can be packaged differently but ultimately isn't it the same thing? I want this thing, need this thing - at the moment of the first decision it's all the same. I want to feel important therefore I need to feel important. I want a satisfying job therefore I need a satisfying job.

I spoke to a friend yesterday who works incredibly hard. I said, if there was one thing you could have that you don't, what would it be, and she said ''time''.  So using, that example, she wants time, she needs time.  Sure you can dress it up with she wants time because she needs to relax/have a holiday/bake a cake, but its all the same to me.

A child wants the attention of an adult - its that simple.  Mummy I need you or Mummy I want you - all the same. Its base human emotion, not some complicated formula that separates out problems and solutions.

So often, particularly when relating to human relationships, we hear ''what I need is''. And the standard response is: just because that's what you think you want, doesn't mean that's what you need''.  I say rubbish. If someone wants a particular outcome, then for them, at that time, it's what they need.  Unpack it for sure, see what motivates you - does the child want attention/reassurance/love, does the customer want to feel important/valued/acknowledged - it's all the same to me.

I want coffee, therefore I need coffee.  So what? Surely we don't need to go much deeper than that- generally at our first gut reaction to something we are not thinking about consequence - even if logic or reason comes later, it's not there at the beginning. (eg just because I want coffee at 11 pm doesn't mean its a good idea, but at the time, coffee is what was wanted AND needed).

I think we do ourselves a huge injustice if we attempt to solve the problem of someone Else's needs and wants without considering the two concepts together. The salesperson is simply that - selling a solution they believe will fix the need, rather than the want, of the client.  Listening to what your customer is saying is of course important - and vital if you are to help with the RIGHT solution of course, however if the customer tells you they want a 40 inch TV, then no amount of convincing them that what they need is a 30 inch one - or a projector - is going to make the slightest difference.  And rightly or wrongly, in the moment, which is how most of us live, it's the 40 incher that has our attention.  Absolutely there's an almost 100% chance they will go home and realise the salesperson was right all along - but that is their discovery to make, not the role of the salesperson to help them avoid the ''mistake'' in the first place, surely.

Of course what you want might right now not be good for you or the right decision.  In fact it probably isn't, in the long term. That's the things with wants and needs. Because they are so close together its almost impossible to separate them until after the event. To stick with the TV idea, it could create a whole other chain of events - can you afford it, can you fit it in your house, will it replace something else valuable. But in our ''want it now need it now'' society, we almost always go with want over need anyway.

And another offshoot outcome from this concept is this: by allowing ourselves to rely on someone else to provide us with a solution, we can then easily extract ourselves from the consequences. He made me buy that TV, even though in the end it wasn't quite what I wanted. My career counsellor encouraged me into that job, even though I wasn't quite sure.  So the upside - or downside, depending on your perspective - is that by going with your own definition of what you need and want, you have to also be prepared to take on board the consequences of your own actions.

So if I say, what I want right now is a double espresso, then maybe that's what I need too.  And I'm not sure that its the baristas job to dissuade me from buying it in the first place.  If I'm awake until Thursday, then it is up to me to deal with that, and ensure next time I buy decaf. Or not.

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

busy busy busy

Its the standard response these days right?
How are you? Oh, you know, busy as always.
Hey, haven't seen you for ages. Yeah I know...been really busy.
What are you doing this weekend - want to catch up? Erm...not sure, I'm pretty busy. Can I let you know?

Somehow we see using the 'busy' excuse as kinder.  More polite than saying ''actually right now life is pretty rough for me''.  Or ''I've been lying low, not feeling that sociable''Or, ''sorry, you are not actually a priority for me right now''.

Of course its nicer - and the thing with the 'busy'' excuse is that not only does it engender some sympathy, but it's pretty hard to argue with.  To say that you are disappointed with not hearing from someone when they have just told you how busy they are would seem churlish in the extreme. Probably a bit needy even.  Far better to nod slowly and empathise with how BUSY life is these days, and how DIFFICULT it can be to make the time to do the things you really want to.

Going by the amount of traffic that crawls over Facebook, Pinterest and the like, I'm guessing that most of us aren't anywhere near as busy as we like to make out.  Sure, even taking half an hour out of the day to blog says I'M not that busy, doesn't it?  But busy sounds important, urgent, focused - rather than the sometimes more truthful version - bored, needing distraction, unmotivated.

Sometimes we really are busy. That's modern life. Families, meetings, work commitments, ridiculous amounts of time commuting to work or ferrying kids here and there.  Boring stuff like lawn mowing and cleaning. Good stuff like sport and social events.  Challenging jobs.  Community commitments. None are bad things.

But yep,I'll admit it. I've used the busy reason plenty myself.  Busy sounds a whole lot better than any other excuse I might be able to come up with - and its a lot less painless for the excuse-recipient than the truth could well be. Seems like its just another way we are able to mask what is really going on in our lives though doesn't it?

How often have you said that in the past week? Month?

Were you actually busy?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A job well done

You know that life is busy when there's no time to blog.

It's been a month since my last confession and I swear I don't know where that time has gone - actually that's not quite true. I know exactly where it's gone - a haze of budgets, scripts, certificates, dress choosing, invitation writing and all the other things that go with putting on a BIG event.

Deciding we could maintain better control, and, thus, a better outcome, my colleague and I took on the job of running our regions Business Excellence Awards on our own.  No committees, no volunteers. Just us - managing every aspect (albeit by employing some fabulous subcontractors for the actual award night).  We had a budget, a strict one, a time line, also strict, but a fairly broad brief - make this the best awards ever and the sponsors, and entrants,  will love us for ever.

Although much of the focus goes on the glittering awards night - a black tie dinner and ceremony for 300, there was A LOT of prework.  Categories to be finalised and in some cases completely recreated,  criteria to be decided, a process map to write and then adhere too, marketing, sponsor relationships, the financial aspects, theming the process, recruiting entrants, launches and training workshops, communication with every interested party.  And then the work on the actual night - band, lighting, special effects,  sound, caterer, menu,  venue,  MC, theming, the balance between  keeping everything secret and having to arrange speeches, certificates, trophies flowers and power points - and of course the set up, pack up.  Let me tell you, it takes a LONG TIME to put Lycra covers on 300 chairs!!!   At times it felt overwhelming.  At times I wanted to hide under my laptop.  

I had my hair done, a trip to the beauty therapist, a fantastic new dress (didn't manage to lose the 5kg I wanted to but ho hum).  My young man had a fab tuxedo and all that goes with it.

The awards night itself would appear to be the end of the process, but in fact for me it isn't.  Although one of the areas of responsibility this year was managing the event, in some ways it's now that the really hard work starts - paying bills, balancing the books, getting feedback (from both ends of the spectrum) from entrants, sponsors and guests.  Reviewing every decision in order to continue improving next year.

But the show goes on, and right now I'm in the afterglow of a fabulous awards night, where 300 people were wined and dined and got to wear their finest outfits.  There was an air of celebration that only small town NZ can appreciate, and yet it was still slick and professional enough to please even our toughest big city critics.  There have been lots of positive phone calls and emails in the last couple of days, far outweighing the odd negative comment received - and a great reinforcement for we two CEOs of a job well done.

Onwards to next year.

Friday, June 21, 2013

STRANGER DANGER - the unfortunate series of events

There has been a lot of stress around the village over the past few weeks. Unfortunately there are lots of versions of the truth.  this is mine:

3 Fridays ago my child and two friends (aged between 10 and 12) were dispatched to the next street (about 200 metres away) to collect my other child (7) from a play date. It was 5 pm and still light.  They returned within about 30 minutes and reported being followed by a man who kept going down driveways each time they turned around.  One of the girls vaguely recognised him and even said hello at one point but stopped this when the others said they didn't know him.  they stayed in a group, came straight home and told me what happened, where he had been and so on, in quite good detail.  They each gave an independent description of the man, all matched.  They described him well and included the idea that he looked ''like he should be an adult but kind of looked like a kid''.  At the time I remained calm, thinking it was probably some poor old soul walking his dog who was freaked out by kids thinking they were being followed. I let the parents of the other two know, and these two had also mentioned it, without stress, to their mothers.

After consideration (it was a long weekend) I rang the school on the Tuesday morning and spoke to the Principal - just in case someone else had also reported this, and she urged me to phone the Police, which I did.  I had a long conversation with the Constable during which time he told me that he recognised the description, that they were aware of this person, that he was considered a nuisance but not dangerous, he indicated the area the man lived in, and told me to be ''aware''. It was a conversation by phone and i did not make a written complaint however it was lengthy and detailed.  I suggested we hold a Neighbourhood support meeting which he strongly agreed was a good idea, and that this issue could be discussed on the night.

Meeting was duly called and although in the ensuing few days the story got rather contorted, the facts remained largely the same, and as a result more than 50 people came to the meeting.

To my absolute astonishment, the same constable , whilst addressing the fact that there had been an ''alleged'' following, announced that there was no description offered, no times, no details and Police were confident that there was no one in the village who was of concern.  (weird incident one)  People were confused but relatively satisfied that everything was hunky dory.  At the end of the meeting I told the group it had been my child followed and that I had spoken at length to the Constable and hence the calling of the meeting. I also asked for him to give a definitive guide to what people should be doing if there was any other incident.  Of course, he urged people to contact Police.

the next day (Saturday) a parent posted a description on Facebook.  It didn't match the description of the person followed by my kids which now meant, we believed, we had TWO people in the village.  I posted the description on our community Facebook page but took it down at the request of the person who had it - we needed to make sure the school knew everything and we didn't want to cause undue stress.  In the meantime 5000 people had read the post and the page was busy with people talking about this.

there was a very broad overview of the two incidents including the fact that accordingly to police the descriptions didn't match (what? how could this be? the police told the community they didn't HAVE a description - weird incident four) but included this:

 • Children walking or biking to and from school should stay together and use the roads that MOST people use
• If approached, politely say NO, turn and walk fast to the nearest shop, house, or home if it is close by and tell them, what has happened. If with friends, always stay together.
• Always tell your parents or an adult if you are approached by a stranger and they will ring 111 
• Adults if you see children in the village being spoken to by an adult, ask if the child is OK and check that they know the adult, if you have cause for concern. Be a busy body, that’s what neighbourhood watch is about.

Well blow me down if not the very next day we DID have an incident in the village where (we are told) a man attempted to coax a boy into a car outside the school.  Again, speculation was rife and people panicked.  The next night a group of parents met at my house and we talked about what we could do - it was another long weekend so in light of this, how could we keep our children safe until school time again. Overall there was a frustration at the small amount of information we had - we still don't know why this was but can assume it was because both school and police needed to have exact facts before sending anything home.  (weird incident two)  We agreed we needed to wait for the school to produce some facts, but that in the meantime we needed to remain extra vigilant.  There were some ideas on what the vehicle was like although this was unsubstantiated.  There were also a couple of other people who told of stories of their child being followed by what appeared to be the same described vehicle. These people were also encouraged to talk to the police.

Monday just gone I had a conversation with the school Principal.  She was extremely concerned that I had added fuel to the fire of this and needed to assure me the police was involved.  It was a heated discussion.  I could certainly understand her concerns and she was getting it both barrels however my intention in publishing what I knew was to STOP speculation not grow it.  She was unaware that I had provided a description of the first man to police or of what the Police had said at the Support meeting (weird incident three).  That same day the police came to school (it turns out that they had been patrolling since the previous Friday although we didn't know this then) and talked to the children in general terms about stranger danger.  The same information was put in a notice to go home to parents (my child didn't think this was important and so I only got the notice yesterday - shows what kids take in!)

Yesterday I spoke with the person who had provided the description of the man in the car.  This description was given to her BY THE POLICE.  They say it wasn't to be shared and the local guy didn't know it had been (weird incident five).

There are a number of other anomalies in this story.  A school in another nearby town has had similar incidents. I found out about this through a friend but other schools have not been told.  A friend in the Police who lives locally also was not told about it.  The information shared by me on the Facebook page reached 5000 people - that tells me 5000 people got the exact same story - so how come all the Chinese whispers?  Why is it not okay to scare kids but its OK to play down something like this?
Overall it has left me with a very bad taste, and I am extremely uncomfortable about letting my children walk around town. 

Please note - this is MY version of events.  Your comments are welcome.

Friday, June 07, 2013

We could get a grant for that

I am involved with a number of not for profit organisations, that like most of them in this country, are heavily reliant on the good will of hardworking committee members to get their work done.

Money is always tight, and it rare to get through a meeting without someone suggesting we ''get a grant'' to help cover the costs of a particular project.
what a wonderful idea - fancy that there would be so many philanthropic organisations or there prepared to give money for the good of the community!

Yes, it true, that there are a few of these amazing groups, mainly attached to large corporates, who generously give money for the betterment of our small towns and communities.  But don't be under any illusions.  By far and way, the most generous of these, and the most common, are those that ''redistribute'' money from gaming machines.

Just this week I spoke to a trustee of a gaming machine proceeds Trust who mentioned that in the town he looks after (population 15000) the take each week of LOSSES in machines is $60,000.  Multiply that across the whole of NZ and it is a mind boggling amount of money that is disappearing out of circulation into those horrible shiny machines, and being ''given back'' by way of grants and donations.

So that's good right? At least the money is being returned to the community and not held in the pockets and profits of the businesses who house these thieving things?  The trusts are run by responsible people who ensure that the money goes to worthy projects that benefit their local communities right?  If it wasn't for these machines we wouldn't have restored buildings, lovely parks for our kids to play in, secretaries of NFPs being paid, community centres, and reading/cooking/life skill programmes for the disadvantaged right?

Well, may be not, but but we'd also have, in my community alone, an extra
sixty thousand dollars a week in our economy.  And I would argue that those people feeding slot machines, and losing, are funding projects that are by and large nice to haves not need to haves.  Especially when compared to the social cost gaming machines are having in the first instance.  Add to that the irony that those who are losing the most are getting a portion back by way of a cooking lesson or food parcel, and it seems to be an immoral industry all round.

Think carefully next time you suggest to your committee that you ''get a grant''.  Think about who is actually funding your project.

Then decide which focus of social betterment is more palatable.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

in praise of public transport - an alternative to the housing crisis

I've been doing quite a bit of reading about the Auckland housing crisis this week.  The blogs and opinion pieces from those on both sides of the story have made for interesting reading, and yet despite all I have trawled through, I am yet to find anything that concretely tells me what ''affordable'' actually means.

Seems the government (both local and central) have their minds and hearts set on opening up new development - supposedly cheaper housing, and close enough (they say) to minimise urban sprawl.  

Call me naive, but it seems patently obvious to me that this is a completely flawed approach.  The reality is that it will be very difficult to create desirable places to live in outside of the already favoured areas.  Also it surely must be obvious to the planners that these satellite suburbs are not going to be desirable to a very wide group if they are still going to involve lengthy work commutes and gridlock traffic.  There's a good risk that cheap housing will always be cheap housing and (as was evidenced in Hamilton 20 years ago) very quickly become the Kiwi version of slums.

Add to that the notion of affordability. We still don't know what that is but I guarantee it won't mean a decent quality house for under $350k - which means that probably 90% of the people who are wanting this housing wont be able to afford it anyway.  These homeowners - assuming they can own these houses - or renters of same houses, will be on low wages, then commuting to jobs elsewhere - I doubt that entire suburbs of retail  and industry are going to be popping up around the housing any time soon, especially with the proliferation of business parks already in Auckland - and the birth of the super mall.

Apartment living is an option I suppose, but certainly not attractive to many with young children (the very people needing affordable housing).  Moving to less attractive suburbs - well that's a possibility but again, those with kids are going to be looking at schooling first, and accessibility to their own workplaces second. 

I simply cannot understand the reluctance to create better commuter towns as happens abroad.  Allowing  Auckland to be the hub, and the smaller towns to spoke, with high quality, high speed commuter transport seems to me to be a far better answer.  Keeping people in their own communities is better for society as a whole, keeps money in small places, allows families to live in areas they may not have previously considered viable, and makes us an attractive nation to settle in for people coming from like minded countries.  In many places in the world a one or two hour commute to work is not unusual, but this is done by efficient, comfortable train, not slow bus or gridlocked traffic routes.  

Imagine if you could jump on a train in Pukekohe and be in the city in less than 30 minutes.  Or get on in Hamilton and take under 90.  I believe this would be good for everyone - less pressure on the Auckland housing market, continuing demand for quality (and far more affordable housing) in corridor towns, less pressure on the other infrastructure costs of growing a city and allowing people the choice of living somewhere that allows lifestyle other than city living.  I'd even go so far as to say there might be less pressure to maintain a double income family (due to not having to spend a million bucks on a house in a decent area of the city).

My generation, and those that follows are technologically savvy, and open to change - I think they'll embrace public transport if it's made easy and ''affordable''.  Younger people already use trains and buses as viable, constant alternatives to cars.  Tourists continue to be astounded at the poor transport options to move them around NZ. 

How do we make this happen?!?!

Your thoughts?

Friday, April 12, 2013

desperate times desperate measures

Things are pretty bad around here.  Shops are closing.  More and more people I know are having meatless meals (surely a sign of hard financial times).  Second hand shops are popping up everywhere.  Lots of people are walking or biking places. Seems every other person is being made redundant at the moment. Or looking for a new job that pays a bit better.  The day of the ''main breadwinner'' is over as increasing numbers of families need to have two incomes.  You could say its doom and gloom.  Economy crashing.  Heading into winter.  Surviving the summer drought.  Worrying about interest rates.  Stressing how to pay the bills.

I'm not immune.  My young man was made redundant and is looking for work.  My own job is ...tenuous.  Heaven forbid that the car breaks down, or I break a tooth!  My power bill seems to be creeping up, petrol is definitely costing more, and as the kids grow so do their expenses.  I'll admit it, I'm worried.

And I'm a bit grumpy.  See, every one's an expert.  Those who are comfortably employed simply cannot appreciate this situation (I know, I was that person and I didn't).  It's quite different to look in on the troubles of someone else, and oh so easy to offer advice.  Just do this. Just do that. If only.  But still. At least.

Today I applied for two jobs.  I could do both of them well, but both would mean major lifestyle changes for my whole family.  Needs must.   I spent ages rewriting my CV to be tailored to each job, and a relevant cover letter (because that's what the experts say to do).  I also sold, via Trade Me, a few more things I don't ''really'' need.  That will bring in a couple of hundred dollars - a false economy I know, but needs must.

I've started carefully planning - and subsequently reducing the number of - outings I have. I haven't had a proper holiday in over 2 years, but actually more like 7.  If I can work from home (and hence save money on petrol and the ever tempting bought coffee) I do.  To conserve water I'm only using the washing machine a couple of times a week with super full loads.  Every light in the house is off unless it HAS to be on.  Same with appliances.  I'm resisting putting on the winter heating, and instead have put extra blankets on the bed.  I'm grocery shopping every 10 days instead of once a week and taking every bit of produce that's offered to me.   It really is that tough.

And I know I am one of the lucky ones - I have a house, a job, a car.  We eat well. We live well.  I fear for others not so well off. Eventually we will all run out of things to sell.  There's cars that need replacing, teeth that need fixing.

What are you doing in these tough times? Are they tough for you? What advice have you been given? What advice are you giving out?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

the customer's always right, right?

Lately I've been thinking about the power of feedback.  About how perception is reality, and how just a tiny bit of bad publicity can wreck a reputation.

First - feedback. Not the direct ''I think this of your product/service'' kind of feedback, but more the ''I heard this about that business'' kind of feedback.   In my experience few businesses actively ask their clients for feedback (unless they are looking for warm fuzzy quotes to go on their website).  And when they do receive it, usually unsolicited, and more often than not at the negative end of the spectrum, they can easily come up with a counter argument for everything said - of course the customer was unhappy, the brief wasn't clear. Of course we went over budget, the scope changed.  Of course we were unable to complete on time, there was extra unallowed for work involved.  Of course she left the shop unhappy, she was miserable when she came in and was probably already having a bad day.    Problem is, whatever the reason for a customers misery - as the provider of a product or service, you will always be considered the one accountable for the experience.

Perception is reality - sure is.  The customer that THINKS you are a slow responder will be very difficult to convince otherwise.  The customer that FEELS you understand their business will remain loyal even if in fact you don't particularly value them as a client when the lights are off.  The person that sees you in a messy office, or cruddy old car, will always have a certain view of you, no matter how efficient or innovative you actually are.

And as for bad publicity...well actually whether a rumour is true or not, once something bad is said about you, your business is going to have a huge job convincing anyone to the contrary.  One barely bad experience from one small customer is just as damaging as making a huge stuff up on your most important client.  Everyone makes mistakes, and its important to own up to them, but it is imperative to do the very best to maintain the absolute best reputation you can for your business.  Acknowledge mistakes, fix them immediately (even if they are not actually your fault), apologise gracefully, and do better, much better, next time.

The customer is always right, right?

Friday, March 15, 2013

helpless and hopeless

I'm watching two people who are close to me go through some tough stuff.  They care for each other deeply and have also been through plenty of other own crises in the past few years, but now it's about the redefinition of their own relationship.  Things are messy and emotional.  I can see both sides of the story.  I can relate to both, agree with both, and disagree with both.

But I can't really get involved. It's not my place to do any more than be a listening ear.  And its hard, oh it's hard.  I want to be sympathetic, I want to offer thoughts and opinion.  I want to fix this.  But I can't.

I guess it's partly selfish - I have this ridiculous need to see everyone living happy ever after.  I have an abhorrance of conflict (sometimes to my detriment it must be said). I want to believe in an ideal world where everything is resolvable and we can all accept each others views.  Yes I know it's unrealistic.  Yes I know life is messy and unpredictable (oh how I know that!), yes I know that sometimes things actually AREN'T fixable - the only thing to lessen pain is time.

The crazy thing is it's not really even any of my business. I'm an onlooker. I have no right to an opinion other than as friend or confidante.  It's a good lesson for me.  Listen, learn, care - but let others do what is right for them.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

decisions decisions

Today I am feeling a little calmer than I did yesterday.  Yesterday I felt a little crazier than the day before.
Last week I didn't know which direction I was looking in.

I've got a lot going on you see, and am feeling like there's some major life decisions looming - and to be honest I'm nervous about facing them.  Thanks to the relative insecurity of my (otherwise terrific) job, I am seriously considering seeking new employment.  One child is fast approaching a potential school change as she is in Year 6.  The ridiculous size of my mortgage is leaving me feeling financially strapped.  I just had a mountain of blood tests and if the Doctors supposition turns out to be correct there's going to be some major lifestyle changes happening right here.  My car is making all kinds of scary noises and asking (more and more vociferously) to be be retired to trade-in heaven.

Life is good, don't get me wrong, but like most people, it seems that sometimes all the ''stuff'' happens at once and appears in an insurmountable pile that demands attention, right now.

I've often used the expression ''sometimes not making a decision is the right decision''.  That's worked out OK for me up until now, but I'm getting closer and closer to the point of ultimatum.  My right brain tendencies suggest that I'll make a list of pros and cons, get some specialist advice, be rational.  The usually stifled left brain arrangement means I'll most likely ignore my gut instincts.  Ahhh decisions, why are you so difficult to communicate with!?!?

How do you make decisions?  Once made do you stick with them or do you tend to prevaricate until there's no time left?

Monday, January 14, 2013

is blood thicker than water?

I've always been a bit envious of those people that have a ''strong circle of friends''.  You know, the kind where all the wives are besties, the husbands are mates, the kids play happily together, and it's all rather ''F.R.I.E.N.D.S'' like.

I'm also rather envious of those big families where there's lots of strong bonds - family get togethers, singing round the barbecue, and all that.  Sure, I get that it's a cliche.  I get that I watch too much American TV, but I still like it.

I'm lucky enough to have a circle of friends that kind of fits the description above, and I do come from a large family that (on one side anyway) has amazing annual get togethers.  And I have a close relationship with my parents and siblings if not the extended family in general.

This week I have had conversations for four different people who have all been lamenting the disconnect between their commitment to friendship (in particular) and that of the the friends involved.  Some people are really good at maintaining friendships with people they seldom see, and others just don't seem to want to put in the effort.

I suppose it's like any relationship, in that you have to both want success.  And it would seem that longevity is also not enough to guarantee the health of a friendship.  But the other observation I have made, is that for those people with very strong family ties, or a strong circle of current friends, there seems to be less need to maintain lasting bonds with seldom seen friends.   And for those that don't have good family relationships, the energy is put into friendships instead.

The problem comes of course, when one person values the friendship more than the other.  Or at least puts more priority on it than the other.

My guess is that if you have really strong connections with your family, it is impossible to understand what it would be like not to have that.  It would be difficult to understand why someone would put as much store in a friendship as they put into their family relationships.  It might even make the family-light person seem a bit ...well, intense?

Perhaps, but I would argue that friendships can be, and are, just as rewarding as the relationships we have with people we are biologically connected to - in fact sometimes more so.  After all, one is always related, but a friendship requires a real commitment from two sides.

Here's the question/challenge for you:

Do you value your friends as much (or even more) than your family?
What would happen if you had to choose one over the other?
Do you consider your friends an extension of your family?
How much effort are you really prepared to put into maintaining friendships with people you have known for a long time?

Friday, January 11, 2013

the power of friendship

This week I had the pleasure of meeting my SO's two closest friends, both of whom live overseas and are seldom in NZ.  It was a wonderful day, with kids and wives, extended family, lots of food and music and plenty of laughs (and ''remember when'' stories).

These guys met when they were only 14, and 25 years later still clearly have a strong bond that can only be formed through the trials and tribulations of the teen years.  There was a fourth in the group, who sadly died as a young man, and part of this day of gathering included a walk up the mountain these boys spend much of their time on as young people.  Some others joined us and we sat at the top of the hill enjoying an amazing NZ vista and slugging back quintessential kiwi refreshments (Schweppes Sparkling Duet anyone?).

It was great fun to see them in action, and be able to piece together a little more of SO's life pre-me.  And they (and their wives) made me feel so welcome that any potential awkwardness was gone before it even appeared.   Even though we had never met - in fact had barely even seen a Facebook photo of each other - it was fun, and relaxed, and conversation flowed easily. Social media is all well and good, but nothing replaces the joy of a real life conversation!

But of course there's a downside to the 'see you every two years'' kind of relationship.  By living so far apart from each other we miss all those important events - weddings, birthdays, funerals, the birth of children - that were once the things that drew a community together.  Perhaps it shouldn't matter.  Perhaps its a matter of quality not quantity when it comes to friendships - but I still have this feeling that giving the choice, most of us would like to be surrounded by those people that mean most to us, and shared some of our most intense experiences (as only early-adulthood ones can be).

I too have a group of friends from that time and it has been many many years since the four of us have been together.  When we do, the friendships pick up right where they left off and time falls away.   That's the power of friendship.  But I can never quite decide if it's a wonderful thing, that the world is so small we can relocate to another country with such ease - and commute half way round the world for Christmas - or if in fact this is a tragedy: those incredible friendships that we develop as young people, despite remaining strong no matter how far apart people can be, could surely be so much more if we lived nearer each other?

Monday, January 07, 2013

call me loyal

This question was posted on a Facebook thread today:

Is "Loyalty" (to your partner, to your job, to your ideals, etc.) important? Is it a key ingredient of you as a person? Did it get you hurt in the past?

and I replied with:

I  think loyalty, much like leadership - in fact they are probably very closely related, is earned. That's about demonstrating those core values that people want to follow. What I'm suggesting though is that it can be easy to be loyal to a person (in particular, as opposed to a product) because of guilt. eg I will stay loyal to this person because of something that happened in the past or because I will feel guilty if i betray them (even if it opposes my core values) or maybe pride - I can't stop being loyal because I said I would remain so.  

In consumerist society, loyalty is the buzzword of the moment. I must have at least 20 cards in my wallet that are testaments to my supposed loyalty - cafes, takeaway, a supermarket, DVD shop, clothing store, even the hairdresser. Do they engender my loyalty? Not really. Most are places I would go anyway and - as an example - spending $50 on coffee over the course of 3 months, just to get a free one is certainly not my motivation for returning. On the other hand, by having that 'loyalty card'' in my wallet I am subconsciously reminding myself to return to the same stores over and over. Some are rather clever and offer me a reward even if I don't remember my card. 
Of course, the reason I return to those stores time after time is because of the quality of their product and/or service. They take the lead and I, encouraged by what I receive there, gladly give them my money.

Loyalty to a job - does this really exist any more? I am sure that there are many older people who are long time employees of an organisation, and who would consider themselves ''loyal'' to their employer. But most people these days don't stay in the same job for years and years - they move happily and readily to a better opportunity, and rather than viewing longevity in a job as a good (read responsible, sensible, loyal) option, would see long time employment as a sign of apathy or even incompetence. 
Loyalty to ideals - well maybe that's another story. Absolutely we should be loyal to what we believe in. Assuming loyal means to stay true to, rather than to cling on in vain hope? My thesaurus tells me loyal means unswerving or faithful. Sounds good to me. Provided its tempered with good sense. Why be loyal to something, or someone that is dishonouring to you? Why be loyal to something, or someone, just because they've been in your life for a long time? Doesn't loyalty, like respect, get earned in relationships too?
Yes, I'd say I'm a loyal person. I will be faithful to that which I believe in most soundly and those whom I love most. Have I been hurt by this? Oh yes, many times, and in some ways it has made me a little more judicious about the things I now defend. Not all in all I bad thing I think.

Loyalty, alone, in my view is unsustainable and unrealistic. It cannot be demanded, or given without far deeper motivations. 

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

well that's the plan, anyway...

2012s goals plans and resolutions
this was my not so private to do list for 2012.
When I read through it now there's an awful lot of things on there that haven't got even close to fruition let alone completion.  But there were a few other things I really wanted to do in 2012 that I DID achieve - little things mainly - and I'm delighted about them.
I went in a dancing competition (did terribly but that's not the point....)
I learned to play a board game I'd been wanting to try for ages
I visited a part of NZ I had never seen before, and revisited one of my favourite cities
I got my wish of (more than one as it turned out) a really fantastic dinner date
I got a pay rise and secured some more work for 2013, but managed to wind down two other contracts
I finished the next round of house renovations and got the spa I'd wanted for a long long time
My children finished their school year well and happily, and both had developed new talents and skills
The Dancing Queen made it to double digits and survived her first school camp, marae stay and Guide camp
The little Engineer perfected the art of bike skids and  formidable belly flops into the swimming pool
I said NO more, and have worked on feeling less guilty about it
I started going to the gym and found I actually quite like it
I got a whole nights sleep (yes just the one but that's momentous)

There's been some other things too, not necessarily for public consumption, and overall I'm feeling pretty good about my year.

I firmly believe in the ''write it down and it will happen'' theories.  Its absolutely true that once a plan/goal/dream is shared, you feel more accountable and more motivated to make it happen.

And so, will a little trepidation, here is a pared down version of my plans for 2013

- renew my passport (you never know...)
- upgrade my car
- keep focused on getting to the gym at least twice a week
- do the cheese making course I never got to in 2012
- spend a night in the tipi on the West Coast
- get a whole nights sleep (yep that's still on my list) more than once this year
- drink a Maitai, try a new ethnic food, find a new perfume I adore
- make a dent in my ''I want to see that'' movie list
- finish the books on my waiting-to-be-read pile

Do you make plans? Resolutions?  Set goals? Why or why not? Are you prepared to share?