What's In Your Sandwich?

What's In Your Sandwich?

They say you can never trust a person who, when left in a room alone with a tea cosy, would not pop it on their head and see how it looks as a hat.

Here is a picture of a tea cosy for those of you who do not live in 1950 tea room England.

And here is a photo of me with a tea cosy on my head.

I know I am not on my own, but I still wanted to see what it looked like.

Curiosity – you see. It killed the cat and it defines George but it is a vital component of creativity.

What would these shoes look like with this dress? What would happen if we went the other way at this junction? Let’s just see what’s on at the other movie theatre instead?
All lead to different outcomes. These outcomes might be more interesting, they might not; but if you are not curious you will never know.

My Dad used to tell the story about a mate he worked with on the docks when he was a young man. Every day the man would open his sandwiches, lift a corner and with a disappointed sigh say “jam.” By Thursday the sigh was deeper and the disappointment greater. Jam… again. On Friday my Dad asked the jam man, “Why don’t you ask your Mum to give you something different?” The man looked at my Dad and told him, “I make the sandwiches myself.”

We can all laugh at that man. I mean imagine being so routine and formulaic, so obvious and so lazy. Imagine setting yourself up to be disappointed, to never be surprised or engaged. But when it comes to work are we just the same as that man? Do we do the same things in the same way, almost by rote? Do we slavishly follow the diary and the meeting room protocol and the agenda? Do we repeat patterns of behaviours that have worked well enough in the past? Do we replicate presentations and pitches and programmes for clients because they are no more curious than we are to see what it would be like if we tried it another way?

Curiosity is what keeps us fresh. It is asking the What If questions. It is turning things round another way and seeing what happens. It is taking the leap and asking someone new onto the team; someone who will hopefully think about things afresh with a curious mind on the problem.

This is not just about imagining great tactics for our clients, creativity is well rehearsed there; but also about changing the ways we work every day. The processes that we slavishly follow, the routines that that we never question… the jam in our everyday sandwiches.

Go on be curious. Mix it up, ask questions, check out possibilities. Pop a tea cosy on your head and see what it looks like. 

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The Extra 26.2

The Extra 26.2

For 87 years, Ketchum has taken pride in always going the extra mile for our clients. 

But 26.2? 

Yes, that’s a full marathon. Sally Arnold’s snap decision to go for it — the entire distance — was actually made when all but one entrant had completed last Sunday’s London Marathon. 

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It was ten minutes into my 30 minute presentation. I looked up to make eye contact with the senior client and … he was … sound asleep.  Chin on chest, snoring, the head bob. 

The man was Mayor in the Land of Nod.

You can imagine how disconcerting this was.  But it was a boardroom in Tokyo 20+ years ago and I am almost over it now.  Afterward, my Japanese colleagues were quick to explain that this was actually a compliment – if the senior-most client nods off, it means he has confidence in the presenter and his colleagues, who he trusts to make the correct decision.

At least that was the line my new friends were spinning to the naïve American (and I was only too happy to believe it).

All these years later, it turns out my conked out client was on to something.  A recent study from the University of California at Berkeley shows that an afternoon nap can boost a person’s brain power. 

Our friends in Madrid may be able to confirm this – the study also indicated that the afternoon siesta not only contributes to work-life balance, but is “essential if the brain is to take on additional information needed for work or study.”

According to a story in “The Independent,” the study was comprised of 39 healthy volunteers who were divided into two groups (Note to Cal Bears everywhere – 39 is not an even number.)

At noon, both groups took part in a series of demanding learning tests, intended to fatigue a part of the brain called the hippocampus.  (If I recall correctly from the story I just read, the hippocampus is connected to short-term memory.  I think.) 

Anyway, one group was asked to take a 90 minute nap at 2pm, while the other group continued to work away.  At 6pm, the two groups were reconvened.

By golly, don’t you know the group that enjoyed the afternoon nap not only performed better, they actually improved their capacity to learn. 

I don’t know that anyone engaged in gainful employment could ever get away with a 90 minute nap on a regular basis.

But 10 or 15 would be sweet. I have just the presentation for you.



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The Good Solider

Ever hear of the “Good Soldier Syndrome?”   

He’s the one who asks “How high?” when a superior tells him to “Jump!”  He’s the can-do guy, the one with the sterling reputation as the ultimate team player.  

Describing a colleague as a Good Soldier may sound like a compliment, but it isn’t.

According to experts who study managerial behaviour, Good Soldier Syndrome is one of the biggest silent killers of projects.  

An unremitting inner drive for the constant pleasing of people inevitably leads the Good Soldier to making commitments they (and their team) can not handle.  The Good Solider often succeeds in the face of long odds, which leads to a perverse reward.   More challenges come his way, with the ever-increasing expectation of pulling off even more small miracles.  In fact, unchecked, this leads to a downward spiral and eventual burnout.

Any of this sound familiar?

According to a US-based expert in project management, the most effective project managers follow these steps:

1. Confirm the request by playing it back in your words

2. Take the time to analyze the impact of the request

3. Return with fact-based information.  (“It can be done. It will add £50,000 to the project cost and take about 12 weeks to complete.  We will have to redirect 3 people to do this. That means we will have to reassign their work to other staff, or delay completion of those assignments.”)

4. Have alternatives and make a recommendation.  (“Let’s do it this way, with these cost and timing implications …” Or, “My recommendation is not to proceed. Here’s why … But what if we looked at the problem this way …”)

5. Affirm your commitment.  (“We want this to be a success.”) 

6. If efforts to shape the request to your requirements fail, accept it.  But constructively  – and diplomatically – spell out your views on the details associated with the delivery of that request (risk, required resources, deadline, etc.).

The agency business is a service business, and one of Ketchum’s greatest strengths is its collaborative, swarming, aim to please culture.  So it’s not surprising most of us are preconditioned to say “Yes.”  

But saying “Yes” when we need to say “No” or “Here’s a better way” puts the organisation and profits at risk.  

Just a thought.




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