Saturday, 31 December 2016

10 steps to a greener 2017

Sometimes the whole thought of the poor planet, what we have done and continue to do to it, seems overwhelming. If you look at the ever-expanding human population, destruction of the environment and the way we are running out of natural resources, it can seem as though we are on an inevitable path to self-destruction.

All rather depressing... so often we bury our heads in the sand and simply get on with life. However that's rather like being overweight and deciding to ignore it.

Why should being greener be your new Year's resolution? 


Just like a diet, small steps, over time, can add up to big results. Axing everything 'naughty but nice' from your diet overnight can cause dramatic short term results, but often is unsustainable and can lead to your weight yo-yoing, rather than stabilising at a more healthy level for the long term. It's also easy to think 'I've had one chocolate biscuit, so I might as well have more' when every little bit you don't eat will help.

With the environment it's exactly the same. You may think 'but I'm just one person, what difference will I make?' The answer is, potentially a huge difference.

To take a positive view, technology may one day give us some solutions to repair the damage we have already done, preserve our wonderful planet and ensure a long term future for generations to come. Every little bit we do to slow or stop the destruction will, in the worst case, delay disaster - and let's face it if the worst were to happen we'd certainly value that extra hour, day, month or year. Not only that, the more you opt for environmentally friendly alternatives, the more you encourage their availability and accessibility for others, not to mention inspiring more people to follow your lead. Every bit we all do to reduce waste and harm to our environment is helping us all.

And so this is a plea. When you make your New Year's Resolutions, make one of them to be a little bit greener, to think about your buying choices, your day to day actions and your life and try to do a little bit more to make your own impact on our wonderful home a little less harmful.

10 top tips for greener living

Here are a few handy ideas to reduce your impact on the environment. As my son loves to chant, 'reduce, reuse recycle' - this is a general good thought to have at the back of your mind, but there are some specific areas you can target and small life changes (some of them will also improve your life and your health as well).

Make considering the environment part of your everyday life. Try to take a moment to think about every item you buy or use. Do you really need it? Will it last? What is it made of, will it be easy to dispose of at the end of its life, is it re-usable, or recyclable?

1. Reduce your use of plastic bottles. Choose tap water over bottled water in restaurants, carry a reusable water bottle with you, and ensure that any bottles you do use go to be recycled. For more ideas to cut your plastic use, see these handy tips.

2. Switch to a Mooncup or similar sanitary product alternative. A Mooncup is a simple silicone rubber cup that collects your menstrual flow and is simply emptied into the toilet. No chemicals, no dryness, no irritation. This will save you money as well as a lot of hassle. Once you are used to using one, will make the time of the month much more pleasant as well - they are great for swimming, sports and even overnight. Imagine how much landfill, not to mention money, you would save if you never bought or threw away a tampon or sanitary towel ever again.

3. Buy secondhand. So much is readily available secondhand these days, thanks to the internet. Every time you buy a secondhand toy or book of item of clothing you are saving all the energy and materials involved in its manufacture. Our son's bike is a brilliant example; we bought an Isla bike from eBay. Well made the brand holds its value, our purchase looked like new and we will sell it on for pretty much the same figure we bought it for. Far better than buying a cheap bike new.

4. Avoid giving 'throw-away' gifts, especially anything plastic. If you don't know what to buy someone, buy something edible, or a subscription or donation to a charity related to one of their interests. For example, you could adopt an animal through the WWF.

5. Buy more organic, seasonal local food. Bear in mind where your food comes from. Look at the country of origin and choose items grown closer to home and which are in season. Plan your meals more carefully to reduce food waste, and compost food waste (many councils now offer this service). Eating less meat is also a good way to move to a lifestyle that has a lower impact on the environment, as well as helping with heathier eating.

6. Choose clothes carefully. Some fabrics can be a lot kinder on the environment than others. Not just in the processes involved in their manufacture, but also in what happens to them at the end of their life. Something that is pure cotton will biodegrade naturally, while a plastic-based fabric will end up in landfill. Buying more natural fabrics is a positive move, even better go for organic ones that avoid chemicals - better for you as well. Consider buying fewer, higher quality items. Read more about various fabrics and their environmental issues here.

7. Look at your household energy use. Not only can you try to reduce your energy usage, you can take steps to make your energy use greener. Simple steps include turning lights out, avoiding leaving electrical items on standby, turning the heating down, or moving to using a 'warm zone' in your house. You can switch to a 'green' energy supplier - this helps to send a message to the market that you would choose to get your energy from renewables, not only can you feel better about he energy you do use you are helping to grow the demand for greener energy.

8. Encourage breastfeeding. You knew I'd say that, right? For some it doesn't work out, and that's partly about a lack of support. If you're not in a position to feed yourself, you can help by supporting and normalising breastfeeding to help enable others to do it. Think how much energy is saved. No artificial alternatives that need to be manufactured, no sterilising or cleaning, no plastic bottles or teats, not to mention less medication. Read more about supporting breastfeeding and why we should all care about it and can all play a role in helping to promote it here.

Camping in the New Forest involved a short drive, but provided a wonderful escape. You can see our son's bike in the picture - purchased from eBay we will be able to sell it for pretty much the same price we bought it for.

9. Minimise your travel. Even if you cut one flight from your plans for next year you will make a difference. Try holidaying a bit closer to home, try using public transport. With our toddler, public transport is an adventure - taking the bus is enjoyable both for him, and the elderly who use it more regularly and take joy (well most of them do) in interacting with a lively toddler.

10. Switch to environmentally friendly cleaning products. Whether you switch all your products, or just some of them, this is a simply and positive move. As well as ingredients that are less harmful to the environment, these products are less harmful to you. Try a soap nut ball for washing, and try wearing your clothes a little longer before washing them.

There you have it, 10 ideas to get you started. There are plenty more. Most of all remember, every little helps, just like saying no to dessert, or that extra chocolate biscuit! This is for our children's futures and the generations that are to follow them. Let's do everything we can to protect and preserve our wonderful world.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Children's books: seeing with new eyes

One of the most amazing things about children is that they help you to see things with fresh eyes. I have always loved books and after having my son I couldn’t wait to read to him. Before he could crawl I was reading aloud to him.

Okay in the early days it was the sound of my voice and the rhythm of the words that he enjoyed, not to mention giving the pages a quick chew or pulling the flaps off Where’s Spot, Dear Zoo and Rabbit’s Nap.

The classic books of my childhood 

My own childhood book memories go back to the age of three. Mouse Needs a House and Flippy the Frog, the former I learnt by heart, convincing myself that I could read before I was four. I have a vivid memory of my mother reading the opening few pages of Tolkien’s The Hobbit when I was five, which shows it's never too soon to share a good book. I remember battles at school to read the books I wanted, rather than those I was supposed to read. I remember being transfixed as my aunt read my cousin and I The Magic Faraway Tree, having to leave the room when The Castle of Adventure got too scary and wishing I was the girl in Ballet Shoes.

I also remember the magic of opening a John Menzies or WHSmith paper bag containing a holiday book. How a book token was the best prize I could win. How school fetes meant a chance to buy more. I read my way through school, the popular, the classics, from thriller to historic romance. I read everything by Enid Blyton, Noel Streatfield, Malcolm Saville, Roald Dahl, Mollie Hunter, Nina Bawden, Arthur Ransome, Paul Zindel, Judy Blume. I hoovered Jean Plaidy, Tolkien and Austen. I devoured Dickens, Hardy and Tolstoy.

My extensive reading grew my mind, widened my understanding of the world and honed my English skills. My reading got me through my exams, gave me my career and still gives me an escape today.

Now I’m enjoying a whole new world of books. Although many will talk about the demise of print, there’s one area where it is certainly thriving and that’s children’s books.

Surrounded by books, aged nine months. The children's picture book market is healthier than ever with a wealth of great books - pictured here Cyril the Snowboarding Squirrel, Slinky Malinki, Giraffes Can't Dance and What the Ladybird Heard.

My favourite children's picture books (for 1-3 year-olds) 

These are the books I have loved reading aloud most, not just the ones my son has enjoyed but the ones I have taken delight in too. I haven’t included the classics like Pooh, Paddington, Dr Zeuss, Thomas the Tank Engine (the original books, not the simplified modern ones, which lack the lovely rhythmic writing), the Mr Men books and Beatrix Potter. Those all deserve their place on any child’s bookshelf, and I’ve loved re-discovering them with my son. This is a list of some of the new books I've discovered, the books that weren’t there to inspire me when I was a child. 

Oi Frog 
Kes Gray 
This really made me giggle on the first read. Apparently frogs can only sit on logs, cats sit on mats, hares sit on chairs, mules sit on stools and gophers sit on sofas. The frog isn't impressed, then he makes the mistake of asking what dogs sit on!

Stick Man 
Julia Donaldson 
You can't go wrong with Julia Donaldson. I could have included a load more on this list, especially The Gruffalo, Room on the Broom and Tiddler. This is the story of stick man who lives in the family tree with his stick lady love and stick children three. He ends up far from home and goes on lots of adventures before he finds his way back in time for Christmas.

Jack and the Flum Flum Tree 
Julia Donaldson 
This my absolute favourite Julia Donaldoson, 'Don't get you knickers in a twist says Jack, let's have a look in the patchwork sack'. Brilliantly written and such fun as Jack goes on a voyage to the island of blowyernose to get a flum flum fruit to cure his granny of the moozles.

You Can’t take an Elephant on the Bus 
Patricia Cleveland-Peck 
As the title suggests, plenty of outlandish ideas about where animals could go - or rather where they couldn't go.

Giraffes Can’t Dance 
Giles Andreae 
I love this story about a giraffe called Gerald who eventually finds he can dance, but he just needs different music. Great illustrations and fun to read aloud.

The Day the Crayons Quit 
Drew Daywalt 
Very amusing concept, Duncan finds letters from his crayons; some are overworked, others not happy about the jobs they have to do, while yellow and orange have fallen out over which one is the colour of the sun. There's a great follow-up book too, The Day the Crayons Came Home.

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt 
Michael Rosen 
As well as being great fun to read aloud, this is a book you'll find yourself repeating lines from on muddy walks. Its repetitive refrain and poetic rhythm are a big hit from early on.

Aliens Love Underpants 
Claire Freedman
A very silly book about aliens stealing underpants. Great around potty training time, especially when you are planting the seed of wearing pants.

Hairy Maclary From Donaldson’s Dairy 
Lynley Dodd 
Bottomly Potts all covered in spots, Hercules Morse as big as a horse and Schnitzel von Krumm with a very low tum and just a few of the characters you'll meet. There are a number of books in the series which feature lovely rhythmic writing and stories to make you smile.

The Journey Home From Grandpa's 
Jemima Lumley 
Barefoot Books publish some beautifully illustrated stories, most come with an accompanying CD so you can learn to sing them too. This one involves of tractors, diggers, trains and cranes. Other favourites in the series include Driving My Tractor, Up in a Balloon and My Granny Went to Market.

There are oodles more. For more great children's picture books, see my list of top children's boating books.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

3 reasons why sailing is good for you

Since having my son my fitness and exercise regime has changed... out of all recognition. It's taken a while to find a new balance, but through it all I have come to appreciate even more keenly why sailing is such an important part of my life. My sailing has not (yet) returned to what it was, but a winter outing this weekend reminded me yet again how much I miss it and got me thinking about why.

The sea is a positive force

Before we even get into the activity of sailing, simply being beside and on the water helps to lift and revive me. Perhaps it's the fresh air, perhaps it's the sound of the water, perhaps it's the sun or the abundance of natural light that's reflected off the water. We all know how important Vitamin D is for our well-being.

I'm sure it's also in part due to the sea air. It's full of negative hydrogen ions,which improve our ability to absorb oxygen and can also help balance our serotonin levels (the so-called 'feelgood hormone'). Plus sea water is a good decongestant, with strong antihistamine effects - so it's even good for hay fever, sinus infections and colds.

Just the sea itself is a positive force.

Dinghy sailing is a thorough physical workout

Even on a purely physical level, dinghy sailing is far more of a workout than a simple run. The variety of twists, turns and different burst of activity offer a full and varied workout. They stretch me out in a way that only yoga comes close. It's only when you really sit and think about it that you realise just how much of the body a dinghy race will exercise.

There's rigging and launching the boat. Hoisting the sails. Hiking, leaning out, moving in and out and twisting to look ahead or behind, for marks, win or other boats. There are the hoists, tacks, gybes, trimming the sails. It uses pretty much every part of the body. No wonder sailors are among the fittest athletes at the Olympics.

Sailing is very physical using every part of the body, it's hardly surprising that sailors are among the fittest Olympic ahletes. Photo Richard Langdon/British Sailing Tea,.

Sailing is my meditation

Add in a third factor; not just a a workout for the body more importantly, sailing is a workout for the mind. Sailing is so all-consuming, that it really works as a complete shut-off from life. Why is that?

Well, your brain is asked to continually multi-tasking. 'What's the wind doing? Where are the other boats? What's the course? Is that more breeze over that or just a tide line? What is the tide doing? Am I ready for the hoist? Oh we've got some waves, ease that sheet, bear off a little, back in flat water, back on the wind again. Are we going to make the mark? Just, maybe... if we're lucky. There's that pesky 300, he's a bit close. Oooh, breeze is up, time to hike. How's our speed? I can see the mark, looks like there's not much tide on it, must be pretty much high tide. Ok, so on the run we need to watch out for it turning...'

Some of this is verbal communications, some internal thoughts, one after another, continually occupying your brain as you work physically to get the most out of the boat, and so it goes on, usually for the whole race. Get ashore and it's as though you've been meditating. The world is still there, but for a brief moment it disappeared completely.

There you have it, three reasons why sailing is so key to keeping us happy and healthy.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

How YOU can help improve breastfeeding rates and why you should care

Breastfeeding IS best for babies, but no mother should feel guilty if they choose an alternative. The key word, however, is ‘choose’. Lots of mothers have their choice taken away from them. There are so many benefits to breastfeeding… here is my personal tale and a few thoughts that might surprise some. I know it’s a long post, but please bear with me this is important for all of us, and it is something that everyone can help with. 

 Nature cleverly provided us humans with the tools we needed to ensure our children survived to adulthood, even back in the days before modern medicine or vitamin tablets. A massive tool is breastmilk, and yet we underestimate its power, under utilise it, and breastfeeding, let alone natural term breastfeeding is no longer the norm in the UK. If our breastfeeding rates were higher, then our NHS bill would be lower, families would benefit from avoiding the costs of formula, of bottles and sterilisation, and the environment would benefit too. The only loser would be the formula companies.

First: lose the guilt 

Of course we all try to do the best we can for our children, and for some people formula is the only option, or a conscious choice and I don't condemn that (read my earlier post on parenting and doing what's right for YOU). There should be no blame or guilt attached to that.

However, I look on it in the same way as I do my son’s birth. I had a c-section, which I don’t believe was the best way for my son to enter the world for many reasons (both his health and my own, hospital costs and the environment) and I would not have chosen. However, I did all I could to achieve a natural birth. In hindsight I know what I would have done differently, but I didn’t have that benefit. I did my best. Another time I will do things a bit differently, research more, ignore some of the poor advice I was given, and have a better understanding of what I need to do to achieve the best for my child. I may still not manage it but I will try. I will also welcome education that perhaps enables others to deliver naturally where I did not manage to.

In the same way, I hope we can encourage every mother to try to feed, whether they previously struggled or not, but more importantly we need to give mothers the support they need to successfully breastfeed if they want to. Quite simply, in this country the support IS NOT THERE. Women are the ones who are made to feel guilty, but they shouldn’t, it is society that lets them down. If you consciously make a decision, there is no reason to feel guilty, if you do feel guilty it’s probably because you feel that you didn’t do enough – but the simple fact is, it was society that didn’t do enough.

Many women will say they didn’t have enough milk, but in the vast majority of cases they have been made to believe that when it is simply not true. A new mother’s faith in her natural ability to feed is constantly undermined, often by well meaning friends, family and medical professionals.

Asleep after a feed at just a week old.

My breastfeeding story 

I always knew I would breastfeed my baby. Before the birth I even had an amazingly realistic dream of my baby feeding. My mother had expressed regret at being pressurised to stop feeding me early, I was determined to learn from her. Everyone seemed so positive about breastfeeding. I thought my experience would be different.
Feeding in hospital at four days old.

I had a difficult birth, but my son was a natural at breastfeeding and initially it seemed easy (aside from the fact that I couldn’t even get myself out of bed or pick him up, and so relied on those around me to help). The midwife who delivered my son, a couple of other midwives I met along the way and partner were all amazing, but I lost faith in myself as all too many medical professionals around me planted seed after seed of doubt and were SO unsupportive when it mattered.

With the help of a few fabulous people I got through it, fought off the constant suggestions to feed him formula (which undermines breastfeeding for so many – more on that later), got my confidence back and settled into feeding my baby and being a mum. It wasn’t easy – feeding hurts, especially when they have a growth spurt and seem to want to feed almost constantly, I did all the nights, through two-hourly wake-ups, through mastitis, through constant self-doubt and worry that my son was putting on enough weight (he was absolutely fine, in retrospect I really shouldn’t have worried), the nerves about feeding in public. I reached the stage where it becomes easier, where you become thankful that you don’t need to pack anything apart from nappies, spare clothing and baby wipes where you go out, where you are glad that food and drink for your baby are always to hand.

How can we increase breastfeeding rates? 

So breastfeeding is a good thing for society, but how do we help more people to do it? It’s not as easy as to say mothers should breastfeed. That’s the problem, all the pressure goes on mums ‘this is what you should do’. And yet society’s support is not there, and the majority of people don’t really have the faith in it they should. Far too many medical professionals – doctors, dentists, health visitors even some midwives, give confusing, factually incorrect and advice that is detrimental for a successful mother-baby breastfeeding relationship. Far too many new mothers are made to doubt their natural ability to feed. Far too many families have lost the knowledge of breastfeeding, how it works and how to support it. Far too few people really understand its full benefits, from birth through to a year and beyond that.

It is food, medicine and comfort all in one, is there whenever it is needed and requires no preparation. It is amazing. It’s not the easy option in today’s society, and I can tell you that breastfeeding a toddler is generally not very pleasant, but it is right, it is the best thing I can do for my child and I simply wish that we work together to ensure that EVERY mother gets a fair chance to breastfeed if they wish to and are fully supported to do so. Education and normalisation of breastfeeding are key to this.

Here are just a few reasons why it is so important.

• Childhood cancer rates are higher in formula fed children.
• Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is higher in formula fed children.
• Formula fed babies are more likely to develop allergies.
• Cancer risks are higher for mothers who don’t breastfeed.
• Breastmilk helps a child to fight off infections while their immune system is still maturing = fewer hospital visits, lower use of antibiotics.
• Breastfeeding provides comfort and security.
• Breastfeeding helps most mothers lose their baby weight.
• Mothers who breastfeed are less likely to suffer Post Natal Depression.
• Breastmilk is individually tailored to each child, each feed is different depending on their needs and it changes as they grow.
• Breastmilk is highly nutritious and easily digestible, putting less pressure on a baby’s digestive system than artificial alternatives.
• Breastmilk includes important bacteria that help a baby to develop a healthy gut.
• Breastfeeding is far better for the environment than the alternatives.

A few breastfeeding facts 

• It is normal for babies to wake frequently, feed frequently, to want to be held close.
• Not every baby grows at the same rate, babies born to mothers on a drip will probably have their birth weight affected by this and may appear to lose more weight.
• Growth rate charts are based on an average of ALL babies – so they are distorted by formula fed babies who tend to be heavier.
• The more she feeds, the more milk a breastfeeding mother will produce. Simple.
• Every time you give a formula instead of breast milk you will reduce supply. Not just that, as formula is more difficult to digest, you have to feed larger volumes, so a baby’s stomach is stretched. • Pumping can help keep supply up but a baby is generally a lot more efficient and effective at removing milk - how much a mother can pump does not reflect her supply.
• The first six weeks in particular is tough as a mother’s body is adapting to milk production, but this normal and it is also the most vital time and when support is needed most. Once through this stage things will get easier. There may be issues, like a tongue tie, as one example, affecting feeding, but these need to be addressed rather than formula being offered as the easy solution.

My initial breastfeeding goals were a month, three months and then I hoped to manage the magic, recommended six months of exclusive breastfeeding before weaning onto solids. That all went well, my son loved solid food and I imagined that when he reached one and could have cow’s milk, I’d stop breastfeeding completely. However, my son had other ideas. He knew what was best for him, and while cow's milk became part of his diet, he still wanted my milk too. Even though there have been times when I have hated it, when I have personally been desperate to stop, having read all the scientific research and combining it with my own common sense, I couldn’t refuse him.

The power of breastmilk

My son is now over two and a half and some days he will go 24 hours without a feed, while others he asks for it all day long. Just a couple of months ago he suddenly asked lots during the day. I said no, he’d have to wait until bed time. That night he became very snuffly, he had a cold. I felt bad. More recently, a similar thing happened, although this time it was a stomach upset he was fighting. It’s a pattern that has repeated itself so many times. Ishould know by now - he knows better than I do. His body was trying to fight off the infection and needed the help of my milk to do it. Instinct told him that he needed ‘mummy mootz’ right then, just like I crave orange juice when I have to beginnings of a cold. By two a child’s immune system is only 60% of an adult’s. If he does become ill, my milk is not just a medicine providing antibodies to help fix him, it also provides so many of the essential nutrients he needs in an easily digestible form. It’s like taking a high energy health drink that’s also kind on the digestive system.

When will I stop? I don’t know. I’ve certainly been ready to since my son was 18 months old, but he’s not. At some point I will feel it is time for my needs to come first, hopefully he chooses to stop before I have to force him. The natural weaning age for human babies is generally between two and seven. While I can resist things that are bad for him - I don’t mind upsetting him by limiting sugar, salt, television, making him brush his teeth and saying no to things that are unsafe - I can’t deny him something that I know is both incredibly good for him and completely natural.

#normalisebreastfeeding #breastisbest #worldbreastfeedingweek

Saturday, 11 January 2014

There is no ‘right way', just 'the right way for you'

As a newly qualified teacher, all too many years ago now, I remember facing the reality of teaching a bottom set year 11 class the joys of Shakespeare. I tried sitting, then standing behind my desk, I tried standing in front of it. Then one day, when I was feeling buoyed by the delightfully enthusiastic year sevens that had preceded them, I perched my backside on the desk and felt myself relax.

"Never EVER sit on the desk," I’d been told on numerous occasions… but on the desk I felt comfortable, I felt more at ease, I felt more ME. That meant I came across much more confidently, and my authority was enhanced, not damaged, by the more relaxed approach. From that day on I took delight in sitting on the desk, sometimes even cross-legged, learning that the best classes I ever gave were when I let my instincts and enthusiasm take over.

"Don’t smile for the first term," they also said. But it was when I smiled, joked and laughed that I was much more successful in my classroom management – a stern, harsh, strict style simply didn’t sit well with my personality. There were many similar things I discovered over the following years of my career as a writer and editor about managing people, of any age. I had to find my own style... methods that worked for me as an individual... and I also learned that those approaches also had to vary depending on the individual employee, circumstance and dynamics involved. There is no right way, just the way that works for you.

Finding the right path as a parent

As a new parent I find I need to remind myself of this. Recently, I enjoyed reading Ava Neya's amusing article I Learnt by Going Where I Have to Go, which highlights the endless and conflicting advice that seems to come from every corner. She’s writing about sleep, but the same applies to feeding, weaning… in fact, as far as I can see, pretty much every aspect of child rearing.

“Naps should only be taken in the bed, never in a swing, carseat, stroller, or when worn. Letting them sleep in the carseat or swing will damage their skulls. If your baby has trouble falling asleep in the bed, put them in a swing, carseat, stroller, or wear them,” she writes.

“Put the baby in a nursery, bed in your room, in your bed. Co-sleeping is the best way to get sleep, except that it can kill your baby, so never, ever do it.” I’m smiling… the stream of advice is all to familiar: “Don’t let your baby sleep too long, except when they’ve been napping too much, then you should wake them. Never wake a sleeping baby…"

As a new parent you tend to feel you don’t know what you’re talking about. Everyone else knows better than you – and yet they all say different things. The reality is that every baby is an individual, as is every parent. While there are lots of tips, methods and ideas that are worth trying, you have to find your own way to the solutions that work for YOU. Information is very useful, but there is no RIGHT way that fits all, there’s just the way that seems to work best for you and your baby as individuals. And that doesn’t stay the same as the realities of life, and a constantly changing and growing child make every week and, at some stages, every night, a different one.

I think I’ll just keep on trying to take it all with a pinch of salt, chill out as much as I can and remember Ava’s concluding line: “Don’t worry. Stress causes your baby stress and a stressed baby won’t sleep.” A stressed parent won't sleep either!

I don't claim that I'm doing things right... but as any new family does, we're simply feeling our way through, doing our best to try to find the right way for us.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Struggling for new ideas? Get out of the office!

I had an eureka moment a few weeks ago. I realised just why working with the teams I do, in the way I do is so rich, so creative and so productive. I realised why I never seem to run out of fresh ideas. I realised why my enthusiasm and my drive can seem endless. I realised what satisfies me and how I have made a success of my life... and it's all down to the the magic that happens when ideas have sex! 

It was a video talk by Matt Ridley (When Ideas Have Sex) that, for me, clarified just why I have found such inspiration in looking outside whatever organisation I'm in. Why I've sought to find out more; see new things, meet new people, hear new experiences. Why I never feel I know enough, and constantly feel like I can learn from others. And why that has enabled me to achieve more.

It's how I have always run my professional life and how I run my business.

Using the best people
Some five years ago I moved from a salaried position, to working as a sub-contractor. It was a daunting prospect, but once I started thinking in a new way, the possibilities opened up. First I could tailor people's jobs far better than I'd been able to before. I wasn't stuck with a certain team for everything I wanted to do. I could use the best people for the things they were best suited to. If a member of my team wasn't so good at one task that needed doing, well then I could use someone else, instead of having to use them simply because they were on the payroll.

Un-used talent
There was another bonus: I could tap into talent that was being unused, parents who were at home looking after children. I didn't mind when they did their hours, it gave me access to some very skilled people who were delighted to have a position that they could work around their childcare needs. I got highly experienced and dedicated people that proved a real asset. My team was stronger. No longer was I stuck with appointing someone willing to work in a particular location, I could simply find the best people, regardless of where they lived.

And so the team was built... where you might have four full time staff, I had seven, all working part time. I had a wider team of freelance writers and photographers as well - again, rather than filling the hours of a core team with things that didn't suit their skills, I would use them for the bits that suited them.

The input of new ideas
As much as we worked as a team, we all worked on other projects, and this proved to be an added bonus, the true value of which took me a few years to appreciate.

Because we were all working with other clients, on other publications, other websites, or writing or taking photographs in other areas, we were all learning. Coming across new systems, different ways of organising things. Our experience working on the magazine together fed into our approach with those new projects, but in turn the new experiences fed fresh ideas back. New systems for communicating, for running meetings, for handling content. Ideas, ideas, ideas. We were in different parts of the country, working on other projects with different teams, and when we came back together, these experiences went into the pot, helping us to improve on what we were doing.

We were stronger for the time spent apart, fresher, and whenever we met up again, our new ideas met as well, joined together, interacted with one another, and produced new ideas of their own, resulting in improvements in the way we were doing things as well as injecting a fresh shot of inspiration.

It's when ideas meet in this way that your work, your business, your life moves forwards. Shut yourself away in your office, with the same people, the same processes, the same way of doing things and you'll stand still... get out there, harness the diverse ideas and input of others, and your business will move forwards, faster. You can become more efficient and better at what you do. I've valued the input of others for years... now I have a better understanding of just why it's so valuable.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

The attraction of solo racing

I interviewed Mike Golding recently for a feature, and as we chatted aboard Gamesa... his steed for the 2012-13 Vendee Globe Race, his passion for sailing, and solo ocean racing in particular was evident. He spoke with the enthusiasm of a child as his eyes gleamed at the prospect of 90 days of racing in some of the world's most remote oceans... while I couldn't think of anything worse! I like my home comforts; after a day's racing I like good, freshly cooked food, plenty of chit-chat with friends and a warm bed... not sleep grabbed in 15-minute catnaps between jumping up to get cold and wet changing a sail in the middle of the night, ready meals and the sat phone for company.

But then there was a gleam of understanding. I love my sailing. I love the way you can completely escape from the world in a way not other sport can seem to manage.

Gamesa powering upwind - photo Mark Turner/Gamesa
‘I think of it as three-dimensional chess,’ said Mike. ‘You can win on the top board or the middle board or the bottom board or you can win diagonally. It’s a crazy, crazy game and it involves so much. When you get immersed in something like that you’re living it so you feel a windshift you instantly are processing what that means for you in relation to the rest of the fleet… you’re fully immersed.’

For most of us that immersion is for a few hours, not 90 days, but that complete escape is invaluable. Why does sailing achieve this? I think it's due to its demanding, complex and varied nature. It’s such an escape because of its many different layers, including tactics, wind, waves, tide, other boats, the course, sail trim, boat trim... not to mention manoeuvres. You are totally occupied physically and mentally. There is no space for the worries of the world. Imagine doing that for 90 days… okay maybe I can see the attraction!