Small change, big difference

Tc-9R-road-diversion-warning-signIf you’ve ever read a book on organisational development, you’ll probably know the quote (variously attributed to Henry Ford and Tony Robbins) “if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” This is closely followed by Albert Einstein’s “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  

So the message is ‘dare to do things differently’.

Translating this to self-help personal development, the theory is that if you feel stuck in a rut and/or want to boost your creativity you should take a risk, break a routine and jolt your brain into a new orbit.

The standard suggestion is to take a new route to work (or it you’re doing a Fitbit Challenge, you can get off the bus a stop early and take the stairs instead of the lift when you arrive at work). Only small changes, but the idea is that because they’re small and specific they’re less scary (we tend to fear change) and more achievable – think how many new year’s resolutions come to nothing because they are too ambitious and vague.

In my case it’s my regular running routes that I vary. I try to run circular routes and alternate clockwise and anticlockwise if nothing else. Whether I introduce other diversions depends on whether I’m in mindful mode (I stay on track) or problem-solving mode (I explore new routes).

Then there are people who do something different because…

One person did what would be unthinkable to many – deleting over 700 e-mails without reading them. They had arrived in his inbox while he was away on a two-week holiday. He didn’t find any real downsides – most e-mails were time-wasters and the ones requiring action were eventually re-sent to him. He saved hours of trawling time that would have undone the good of the vacation.

I once worked in a place where a member of another organisation dressed in black every day of the working week (and at weekends for all I know). I don’t think he was in mourning – he did it for years, and nor was he a goth. I think it’s just he didn’t want to have to think what to wear in the mornings (a bit like a business suit I suppose). He had an appropriate first name – so we called him ‘black rod’.

Then there was someone else I worked with who cut his hair once a year – on July 4th. If you saw him on July 3rd (long hair) and July 5th (head shaved) you wouldn’t know it was the same person. He wasn’t from the USA; I never found out the significance of 4th July or why he did it.

Recently, as part of a course I was doing, I said hello to strangers (only to women if there was eye contact). Most seemed pleased and said ‘hello’ back to me and I didn’t get as many strange looks as I’d expected!

So why not be bold – do something different and see where it takes you?

 

From tabletop to laptop – Recover

Latest in the More Expert by Experience series. For other profiles, see http://bit.ly/1rd75hZ

Recover logoWhen I last spoke to Ian Block about his business plan, he’d three years to achieve self-funding from sales of quality upcycled pre-loved furniture. At that time (February 2014) Recover – the social enterprise he leads in Welwyn Garden City – was one year old. I wondered how the three year plan had progressed over the previous two years.

“Our mission has remained the same throughout” confirms Ian “It’s about helping people reintegrate and get themselves worthwhile employment that will stay with them, and help them to be the best they can be; that they feel fulfilled and their lives are worthwhile.”

I asked whether there had been any surprises – good or bad. Continuing the theme of benefiting the volunteers, Ian points to success at the rate at which people have gained and used new skills. Recover has helped raise expectations to the stage where, says Ian, most volunteers are keen to progress.

Looking back, Recover have learnt some hard lessons about the reality of working with people who are furthest from the jobs market. One lesson is a well-known ‘problem of success’ for many social enterprises – that the most capable and productive unemployed volunteers move to paid jobs – an occupational hazard! And for those that remain…

Recover people and products

“There are a broader range of issues facing our volunteers than we anticipated. Their lives are complicated and it takes more time and support for people to move on and stay moved on, particularly when they are older or have lower self-esteem.”

“We thought that the majority of volunteers would progress relatively quickly and then help run Recover. But once out of treatment, when they come to us, the original problems may resurface; they need a lot of hand-holding to develop a sense of self-worth.”   

The first step, of what is often a long journey, is turning up on a regular basis – establishing some structure and routine. Recover offers work and life skills development through refurbishing quality, high-end furniture and Ian doesn’t underestimate the challenge.

“We’re not making sandwiches here – the work takes skill, concentration, focus, practice creativity, Recover recoveringtechnique. We’ve developed methods, systems and processes to keep it as simple as possible, but it still takes a lot of time to teach and embed the learning.”

The intensity of the hands-on support for volunteers means that Ian is finding it harder to balance the books from sales than he’d anticipated. Recover is currently aiming for 50% of income from sales and 50% from funding.

The biggest single development over the past 12 months has been the transition to independence from Recover’s parent charity. Recover is now a Company Limited by Guarantee and Registered Charity in its own right. This means more paperwork as back office functions are taken in-house, including insurance, funding applications, and reporting to the new directors.

Despite the increased demands on his time, Ian is clear about what matters “My priorities are supporting our team and making money. The backroom work has to be fitted in around that. Reporting alone could become a fulltime job if you let it – I started out working on dining tables, now I spend a lot of time on computerised tables!”

Looking ahead, it’s about finding the right balance between growth and consolidation. For Ian the books must balance to keep the doors open. Recover aspires to raise their 50:50 funding/earning ratio to 100% income from trading, but wisely he doesn’t set a date for this.

In the meantime, Recover are getting to grips with pricing – an issue for many social enterprises and an area where Ian is learning fast ‘what works’.

                                                                     Ian gets hands on

“We’re educating people about value – the quality and cost of our work. We’ve been  able to reduce prices as we’ve got better  and faster at refurbishment. The pieces   that we turn into ‘artisan one-of- kind items’ are well-priced compared with mass produced generic flat pack furniture from economy high street chain stores. Items     we don’t refurbish are sold at considerably lower prices than charity shops. Sometimes, we just ask people on low income for a donation that suits their budget.”

Another ‘problem of success’ – in addition to losing the most capable volunteers – relates to Recover’s high profile (“done without any paid advertising” adds Ian proudly).  The two staff members are finding increased demands on their time – from media people, businesses (all support welcome!) and statutory sector staff.

A timely reminder that I’ve taken over an hour of Ian’s time. As I leave, he joins his team for lunch which, he tells me, will be a main meal of the day for some. Yes – two years on from our original meeting, the strengths and values of Recover are still very much in evidence.

 Further information and contact:

http://www.recoverteam.co.uk https://www.facebook.com/recoverteam.co.uk https://twitter.com/RecoverTeam

https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2014/02/19/the-art-of-adding-value (February 2014)

 

 

Keeping the past alive

Guest blog from Kathy Wilson, Royston Repair Cafe volunteer

IMG_0051Sometimes items arriving for repair at the Royston Repair Café are from a bygone era. This was certainly the case on Sunday 24th April 2016, when Naomi Wallen brought her grandfather’s 50-year-old Ekco Transistor Radio, which didn’t seem to tune into any modern radio stations.

Naomi fondly remembers the radio always on whenever she visited her grandfather’s house as a child, and expressed how lovely it would be to have it working again.

The volunteer repairers were clearly excited with the prospect of taking apart something so old and doing their best to get it working again. Because there are usually lots of owners bringing in broken goods, normally only one volunteer repairer can look at each item. But this was special, so next thing at least three repairers were eagerly bent over the partially dismantled radio, all giving their views on what the problem could be.

IMG_0050Most of the volunteers remember happily taking apart and putting back together all manner of items when they were young, which gave them a good grounding in ‘how things work’. After approximately 90 minutes, they managed to fix the radio to the point of picking up stations, but not completely clearly. They realised it was a matter of replacing one part, and the radio would work fully again!

There’s definitely a sense of satisfaction in repairing something, or at least attempting to do so. It’s not just that repairers feel a sense of personal satisfaction, but having fixed something, we feel we’re helping, in our little way, to overcome manufacturer planned-obsolescence and the concept of the ‘throw-away society’. And in the case of the transistor radio, we’ve given Naomi new memories to make.

Radio Fix success

Get updates on the Royston Repair Café at www.facebook.com/roystonrepaircafe 

Learning to be Mr Fixit at a Repair Cafe

Charlie Hull Mr FixitGuest blog from charliejuggler

While I was growing up my father would try to fix almost anything (I have happy memories of stripping down and rebuilding an elderly Suffolk Punch lawnmower with him, aged about 7) and at home I try to do the same. In the last few months I’ve replaced the heater elements on our cooker, patched up a few toys and rebuilt a greenhouse.

I’ve been looking into how I might help at a Repair Cafe – an event where people can bring anything that needs fixing, from lawnmowers to ornaments to cameras, to a community hall where volunteers will have a go at a repair. The idea is to reduce landfill and re-use items where possible, and help those who don’t have the confidence, skills or experience to have a go themselves.

This Sunday I went to Royston to help out at their event. My score card reads as follows:

  • Black and Decker mains power drill – replaced the brushes, tested the switch, got it running but only slowly and noisily, discovered the motor armature was missing a piece which was happily trashing the new brushes, deemed it unrepairable. FAIL.
  • Digital camera which had been dropped, distorting the lens so it wouldn’t retract – took it to pieces (many, many teeny tiny screws) but it seems the lens unit is a single piece and hard to disassemble (not that I could remove it from the camera). FAIL. (note the same chap brought in both these items but seemed happy with the results, as at least he can get rid of the items now!)
  • Small lava lamp. Stupid moulded un-rewirable plug and inline switch (when I’m President of the World I shall legislate that everything should be held together with screws so you can take it apart). Tested and seemed that power was getting to the bulb holder, but neither bulb the owner had would work, so advised her to buy another. SUCCESS (if she gets a bulb that works).
  • Cast-iron clothes iron, used as an ornament. The handle had been damaged and many repairs attempted with Superglue but this hadn’t worked, so I cleaned off all the old glue, replaced a pin holding the metal and wooden parts of the handle together and re-glued it with two-part epoxy resin then strapped up with tape for drying: SUCCESS (if it held together all the way home).
  • I also consulted (which means hovered over other people’s repairs, making hopefully useful suggestions) – the most impressive repair was an old radio which needed a potentiometer taking apart and cleaning, the young lady was very pleased her grandpa’s radio was making a noise again.

I didn’t have my own toolkit, so had to borrow the cafe’s own donated one – it’s always difficult when you don’t have quite the tools you need but I got by. It was a fun morning and well organised – if not, these events could easily turn into a bunch of (generally) middle-aged men talking about their favourite spanners – not that I wouldn’t join in I suspect!

Hopefully I’ll be involved in a more local event soon – there’s talk of a roving event for the villages south of Cambridge.

With thanks to https://charliejugglerblog.wordpress.com

Balding and blogging

 

LawnMowerHeadI had a beard for 25 years. I grew it to look older and shaved in off to look younger. A similarly flexible response to the hair on my head is not possible. I’ve been balding slowly for the past 20 years which, as observed by comedian Harry Hill, means that each year I’ve had more face to wash.

I haven’t lost it (my hair) completely, but I’ve little enough to close crop it so as not to draw attention to the boundary between what’s hair and what’s bare. I like to think that balding doesn’t bother me and one of the ways we slapheads try to show this is by laughing at follically-challenged (or should that be ri-bald?) jokes.

The other week I heard two jokes about baldness on the same day (you wait ages for a bus etc ….) They were told by two men at two events at different ends of the day. The joke-tellers were definitely thinning on top; in fact, one looked like his head was shaved – baby’s bot style. I think the two jokes are worth telling.

Joke 1:

Balding Man: When I go to the barbers my haircut costs me more

Hirsute Man: Why’s that?

Balding Man: They charge me a search fee

Joke 2:

Balding Man: I draw little rabbits on my bald spot

Hirsute Man: Why’s that?

Balding Man: From a distance they look like hares

Yes, we can all joke about hair loss but for some it’s no laughing matter.

The boss of one of my relations didn’t believe him when he said he was stressed out with his workload until his hair started falling out. They finally got the message, but he’s had to shave his head ever since; if left to grow it would emerge in clumps.

Then there’s a friend who has recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. She’s just started the 21-week treatment and is preparing to lose her hair (which is expected to grow back). She’s also confronting the immediate future by writing a daily blog for personal reflection, to express her feelings and, knowing her, in the hope it will help others.

It’s certainly given me insights and, further equipped with some good advice for well-meaning but ill-informed people like me – see http://www.prevention.com/sex/cancer-support and http://www.notanotherbunchofflowers.com/collections/empathy-cards-by-emily-mcdowell I’ll think twice before I tell my next hair joke… and then probably tell it.

If you’d like to read my friend’s blog, go to https://community.maggiescentres.org/blogs/blogentrylist/1477635731391681/…no$002c_I$0027m_a_Gemini

Growing your enterprise – Nurture by Nature

Latest in the More Expert by Experience series

New Nurture by Nature logoNurture by Nature are connecting young people with nature and history at their stunning 6-acre site of ancient Norfolk woodland. Hannah Burns, fellow of the School for Social Entrepreneurs in Ipswich, is the inspiration behind the creation of an oasis of tranquillity. Exactly two years on from my first and last visit to Attleborough Wood, I get an update.

I’m surprised to hear Hannah summarise developments over the past two years as “laying the foundations and getting the structure in place.” This seems like an extended gestation period, but then I remember she’s in this for the long term; Nurture by Nature has a 20-year management plan. 

In reality, Hannah’s baby is now an energetic toddler as she explains “we’re trying new things, lots of activities, we’ve got a growing team, we’re working with more schools, we’ve got an office and tool shed [play area] and equipment [toys].”

But importantly, Hannah is clear about the reason she set up Nurture by Nature in the first place. “The ancient woodland is our priority – we’re here to take care of it as guardians and advocates. We’re trying to educate the next generation; make them more mindful about minimising their environmental impact.”  

The fresh air and exercise is obviously working well for the three staff members, four directors, and up to 15 volunteers. There is now talk of ‘scaling-up’ – hopefully with further support from the School for Social Entrepreneurs in London.

Hannah B - Nurture by NatureFor Hannah this is also about recognising her limits “admitting I’m not an expert in everything”, letting go “we’ve now got a strong team”, and bringing in outside help “we’ve had external marketing support to develop our public image”.

The painful pregnancy and birth that seem to accompany many, if not all, social enterprise start-ups are reflected in Hannah’s advice to other would-be entrepreneurs. “Don’t give up – it’s about your head and heart. I’ve been tired and tearful, had sleepless nights about taking risks, some months I’ve been unable to pay myself, and it can be lonely. But the change in the last year has been amazing. I’ve got supportive directors, each with specific expertise and, as staff, we care for each other.”

Another characteristics of people like Hannah is that they have too many ideas for the time available – mindfulness courses and weekend retreats being just two. Funding permitting, the next ‘big thing’ is a visitor centre, regular opening hours, and more work with schools.

“Think future, act now” could be Hannah’s mantra as she, no longer alone, continues to grow young people and ancient woodland in rural Norfolk.    

Further reading:

https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2013/11/27/freedom-to-think-outside-no-box-required (Nurture by Nature, November 2013)

Find out more about Nurture by Nature  www.nurturebynatureforestschool.co.uk www.facebook.com/NurtureBNature www.twitter.com/nbnforestschool

Repair Shed Star – Bob

The Repair Shed brings older men (and women) together to stay healthier and happier for longer by making, mending and learning. Member profiles are based on recorded interviews by evaluator Nick Parsons

IMG_7958“Even when I’m out shopping for clothes with my partner, which I used to hate, I now look at the display units and think what we could make in the Shed”

Bob, Repair Shed member since July 2015

I really enjoy making things from wood. My background is in all aspects of computing – hardware and software. I’ve helped the odd shed member with their IT problems, but in fact getting away from computing and making things is really so relaxing and rewarding. Its learning old skills again that I learnt at school.

I come into the workshop every week, but also help on other days in the community. I helped with refurbishing an outdoor metal play train at a nursery, and went out to look at a lady’s kitchen which needed some work.

The Shed group works well – I like meeting other people. But it’s important to see others who may not be integrating so well, pair up and involve them.

Making something that was defunct work again is rewarding. I also get a buzz out of making something out of a pallet that would otherwise be scrapped. I’m now making things at home – always thinking about new ideas for things. Even when I’m out shopping for clothes with my partner, which I used to hate, I now look at the display units and think what we could make in the Shed. In the more ‘arty’ shops that have things made out of wood – I think – we could make something like that. I sometimes take photos to study back at home. Even my partner has started to look at things and suggest ideas for me!

I feel good, happy to be here meeting people. I always go away from a session with more information and understanding than when I arrived which is good. Everybody has experiences of life that they are happy to share. Having been out of work for three years, being in the Shed shows a commitment on my part and is a real boost to my confidence.

More about The Repair Shed at:

www.facebook.com/TheRepairShed                                www.communityactiondacorum.org/The-Repair-Shed