Reflections on my 2015

2015 was a pretty huge year for me, some lessons I’ve learned and some highlights are below.

 

Work

In January 2015 I ran/led my first direct mail campaign (of course I have been involved with them before but this one was my baby as I was head of the team at the time) with my team and we smashed all previous records raising over £250k with an impressive ROI. I still can’t quite believe I did this and I think it will certainly be one of my proudest work-related achievements for many many years.

In 2015 I have had the pleasure of having two terrific bosses who I have learned a lot from and have taught me so much. Although I am no longer managed by either, I still talk to them both and trust that our relationships will continue for many years. What is particularly interesting to me is that one of these people taught me that sometimes things happen for a reason and I shouldn’t let “now” get in the way of what is really important to me. I dreaded his arrival as he was to be the permanent solution to my “acting up” role – it turned out it was pretty much the best thing that could have happened, I loved my time “acting up” but, deep down, I didn’t really want to be designing mailings and liaising with printers and designers, I just thought I did because that was the opportunity that was there and was being threatened. I’m now much happier in a new role with a direct report to line manage and much more scope to play with and do cool stuff with data.

 

Speaking

Wow.

Toastmasters

I joined my local Toastmasters branch in May and have never looked back.

I decided to enter my first proper contest, Humorous Speech, starting out at the Club level in September. I won that and moved to the Area where I won again and advanced to Division level, which necessitated a trip to Bristol. After unexpectedly winning here (and being the first person in my club to get to a District final in HS since 1999), I then won the District final becoming District 91 (UK South) Champion.

Selina Jones at District Contest - Nov 15

I hope to write more about the experience in the near future.

Conferences

Having attended a number of CASE conferences as part of my job, I set a long-term goal at the start of 2015 to speak at one. Little did I know that by the end of 2015, I would have spoken at two!

I formed part of a panel (on solutions to problems) at the Development Services conference held in Birmingham in October. I was disappointed with my performance at this panel – having expressed an interest in speaking on it in June, I wasn’t told until late September that I was wanted (I assume someone dropped out) which meant I didn’t have much time to prepare what I was going to say (let alone remember what my original idea which I thought had been rejected had been). A panel session also meant using a mic behind a lectern. Ugh.

My other slot came at the Regular Giving conference in December (which I had attended in 2014), this year held in Leeds. I had been paired with someone I hadn’t met from UCL to talk about our approaches to predictive modelling. We had a couple of phone conversations and I was able to travel up to London to meet him face to face and do a dry run through the week before (thanks to going to a West End show!).
I was happy with my performance at this conference, I came up with some good slides, had prepared what I was going to say and had some terrific feedback from someone in the industry who I greatly admire who attended my session @adriansalmon  and from the Conference Chair herself.

 

Running

My greatest achievements were at the start of the year – getting two 20 mile PBS in March, managing to duck under 3 hours in Oakley 20. After an incredibly disappointing 8th marathon (which led me to write this post) – I finished in 4:50:48 – so in effect it took me nearly two hours to run a further six miles! Stupid marathons… I didn’t do that much running for the rest of the year.

I had an enjoyable half marathon in June where I supported a stranger to complete their first ever half in 02:01:58 (and wrote about it here). I also completed Oxford half again in October completely untrained having not run longer than 4-5.5 miles at a stretch a maximum of twice a week, I managed to finish in 01:57:35 which, I was actually pretty pleased with. I ran most of it with my neighbour and I drove us there as well so it was nice to have some company.

I tried another Men’s Health SOTF which I had loved so much the previous year, but sadly it coincided with the only cold week we have had this winter (in November) and I could barely use my hands let alone climb. I don’t think I will be back, it’s not worth the risk of another freezing cold day (I’ve got nothing against running in the cold, it’s the obstacle side of it that means I can’t do it, if I can’t feel my hands I can’t climb or pull myself anywhere).

MOOLs

Wow – September already and I’ve not posted since June. Where has the time gone?!

I’ve been busy – a bit of running (not a lot though, I’ll admit) and some changes at work – a new boss, then a new job (doing more stats and analytic type stuff, yes!) and another new boss.

MOOLs/lynda.com

Anyway, around this time I was offered a free trial of lynda.com LinkedIn’s new acquisition. The site offers courses in leadership, management and lots of software programmes (including things for CAD and Photo editing). As it was a free trial I was signing up for; I signed up for a premium account which means access to additional files to download – you can still get your own free 10 day trial.

Courses on lynda.com take the form of video lectures with a transcript – because of this I kind of think of them as MOOLs – Massive Online Open Lectures – there is no interaction via community message boards with fellow students or tutors, you simply watch the lectures and make notes, downloading any reference material if provided. Courses tell you how long they are (I think the shortest I did was about 16 minutes the longest over 5 hours) and material will be broken down into chapters.
There is also no assessment or requirement for interaction – all you need to do is click on every segment/chapter of the video – you do not even need to let it play through, just click on it, and it will count as being completed.

Courses

The subjects I looked at were:

  • Leading and Working in Teams
  • Data Visualization for Data Analysts
  • Data Visualization Fundamentals
  • Developing Political Savvy
  • Leading with Stories
  • Business Storytelling
  • Leadership Fundamentals
  • Presentation Fundamentals
  • Developing Executive Presence
  • Building Self-Confidence
  • Stepping up to Leadership
  • Managing and Analysing Data in Excel 2010
  • Thinking Like a Leader
  • Macros in Depth
  • Body Language for Leaders
  • R Statistics Essential Training
  • SPSS Statistics Essential Training
  • Up and Running with R

Some were a lot better than others – the tutor for the Body Language for Leaders stood out for me; so much so I actually sent the tutor an email via her professional website. Leadership Fundamentals also had some great content. The guy on the excel videos (Dennis Taylor) was also extremely good at delivery and I would certainly recommend any course by him; I was also able to preview what was coming up and skip to the areas that I knew I had a couple of gaps in or were in need of refreshing.

So, I guess the more soft skills courses were a lot like going to a seminar – except you can pause and rewind bits that perhaps you missed or want repeated.
The software courses can be useful to work alongside – as it had been a few months since I’d used SPSS last, I borrowed a laptop with it on, found myself a room and worked through the exercises – everything came flooding back (though I admit I didn’t learn much new on that one).

Lynda.com is also fully integrated with LinkedIn so after completing a course you can link it directly into your profile with just a couple of clicks – I did this for a few courses but not all of them.

Conclusion

I can certainly see the value in a business signing up for an account and allowing staff to work on subjects and brush up some skills with Microsoft office or other products, but for an individual learner it isn’t cheap and I am not sure how much you would benefit; is anyone going to hire me on the strength of the fact that I sat through some MOOLs on R, SPSS and leadership? No. But, I did have great fun and did learn quite a few things (note – once your trial is over your access including to courses you have completed shuts off – so make sure you have taken all the notes and downloads that you want!) so I would certainly recommend people signing up to the free trial when they can time it right so they have the opportunity to get as much out of it as possible.

 

My rules for success

I have come up with my own rules for success/a happy life, which I share here:

1. Make your own rules

You must come up with your own rules that mean something to you, don’t just copy mine or anyone else’s, be true to yourself – there is no right recipe for success, just the one that means something to you.

2. Acknowledge the situation, but don’t let it define you

Yes you are the only woman in your office, yes you didn’t get your training done and now you’re on a marathon start line, yes the last time you tried this it didn’t work – but move on, move forward and get it done.

3. Move

Moving feels good. I’m not saying you have to run miles and miles, just stretching your body first thing in the morning, dancing to a song, waving your arms around, sitting down on the floor rather than a chair, going for a walk all feel good. Look at the joy that children get from running around and jumping about – do you remember that? So move. A lot.

4. Read

People who proudly claim that they haven’t read a book since they finished school scare the hell out of me. Yes, you can learn a lot from watching documentaries on TV or listening to radio 4, but you can get also so much from reading (and it doesn’t have to be books – there are plenty of good blogs and magazines on the internet). Even reading trashy novels (I’m a big fan of John Locke – Goodreads, but I count his novels here!) is just so pleasurable, all those worlds you can just escape to at the drop of a hat, and because you have to work to read rather than passively watching TV, I find you can get more engaged and switch off more easily.

5. Drink water

I do not understand people who don’t drink water.

6. Don’t let the stuff that’s meant to be fun become a chore

I like running, but some days I don’t want to run, so I don’t. I have enough chores and stuff I have to do in life without making something I am supposed to enjoy and do for fun into a chore. Don’t beat yourself up about it, it’s supposed to be your hobby, not a stick to hit yourself with.

7. Say thank you

If someone does something for you, thank them. Thank colleagues, thank strangers, bus-drivers, waiters, just say thank you. And, if you can then also send a thank you note (or, if you have to, an email). Didn’t your mum teach you this when you were little?

8. Work HARD. PUSH further. Dig DEEP.

From an earlier blog post – sometimes you do have to work hard to get the results that you want – to study and work full-time, to have a career and run a family.

9. Recuperate – take time to sharpen your axe

Also from an earlier blog post – you can’t go at it 100% 100% of the time and you shouldn’t feel bad for not doing so! Athletes know they can’t be at their peak year round and they plan around it, we should too.

10. Believe in yourself

Also from an earlier blog post – as Henry Ford said:

Whether you think you can or think you can’t – you’re right

You need to have an amount of self-belief before you can achieve anything.

11. Be open to opportunities/ASK

You are very unlikely to have the world handed to you on a plate. You can be content and happy in what you do (or your pace!) and still keep an eye out for opportunities to make progress, develop or broaden your horizons – the two are not mutually exclusive. If there is something you want or are interested in, never be afraid to ask – you may not get it, but it will change how the person you asked perceives you, often in a good way.

12. Be honest or be quiet

Don’t say you agree with something or think something is good if you don’t, just don’t say anything. Remember you can be honest and constructive – praise what was good and give examples were things could be improved or were an improvement on before.

 13. All that matters is you keep at it

I tweeted this quote by Runners World columnist because it rang so true to me, and like the best philosophies, it applies as strongly to running as it does to the rest of life:

Inspired by Karen’s talk at TEDx Aylesbury last month, I decided to make up some rules of my own. I admit I stole the first two from Karen (how’s that for irony?), but they say something about mimicry being the most sincere form of flattery don’t they?

Fun run

After my awful awful last marathon I decided that I needed to approach my next race very differently and actually have some fun and enjoy it, rather than slogging round with a time in mind.

The morning of St Alban’s half marathon arrived (I hadn’t even ran more than 6 miles since early May) and in a first for me – I left my Garmin at home and took of my watch so I would have no idea of the time at all.

I started off steady and having fun and then at about mile 2 or 3 I found a guy who was running his first ever half marathon, he’d only ran 14k before (for those imperial-minded amongst us a half marathon at 13.1 miles is 21.something-I-think-1 k) and was a little worried and hoping to come in under 2:30. I offered to run it with him, we stopped for a brief walk every now and again, I gave him some tips to tackle the uphills (“forget about your legs, just concentrate on pumping your arms backwards”), tonnes of encouragement and we finished in 02:01:58.

And I had a PB of my own – a race I really enjoyed. I had a lovely time both talking to my new friend and feeling like I was helping him. The course was great, very beautiful, spectacular organisation and I loved the mementos, a really nice technical t-shirt with big fun logo (I will snap a pic and add it), a medal and an ice lolly which in my hurry to wolf it down, I managed to stick my tongue to it. Ouch.

But to run without the pressure of a watch, knowing that my time was irrelevant because it was his time – wow, that was freedom!

Will probably do this race again; (maybe I will even race it). The next one is on Sunday June 12th 2016 – there is also a walking half marathon option which I think is a terrific idea and a 5k (which I think I could have got an age category place in as a senior woman – most adults who could run well did the half!).

My review of TEDx Aylesbury

On Saturday 9th May, Aylesbury’s Waterside Theatre (the “Second space” – so the smaller bit used for screenings of live operas and that kind of thing, I hope one day TEDx will be so popular in the area the main theatre can be used!) played host to the first TEDx (x = independently organised, even if it does mean it sounds a bit “sexier”, Roy Bailey!) in the area. The theme for the TEDx was Misfits and Pioneers.

What is TED?

TED is “a platform for ideas worth spreading”. No, I don’t know what it stands for either, but basically incredibly good speakers talk about particular ideas at a conference (TED talks) and these are filmed and shared on the website. Speakers can speak for a maximum of 18 minutes and some very famous people have done them – Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs etc. I intend to make an effort to take a look at the site once a week/fortnight.

How did/Why did I hear about TEDx Aylesbury?

Having seen Garr Reynolds in Oxford (who has himself done some TED talks, though I couldn’t find them on the site when I looked) and blogged about it, I heard about them and searching for ones nearby, found there was one in Aylesbury in May. There was also one in Oxford in January but I elected not to attend that one. It seemed like an obvious idea to go, so I put my name on the mailing list and when tickets went on sale, I signed up. Seeing Shappi Khorsandi (who I have seen on TV and heard on panel games on radio 4) was speaking certainly helped persuade me to attend, but I think I would have gone whoever had been speaking.

What happened?

The format of the day was 2-7:15pm.  There were three sets with speakers and one video from the TED website in each. Speakers were filmed (I will update my blog with links to the videos of the talks when they are put online) and there was Amin, a photographer taking some brilliant shots. There was a half hour break between each set for networking and some activities based around “dead TEDs” (people who are now dead but who we would have loved to have heard a TED talk from). Personally, I wanted to do a bit more networking and the half hours seemed to fly by leaving me very limited time to do so. I should have hung around for a bit after the event and tried to use that opportunity, but circumstances meant I had to leave shortly after the end. I tried to thank all the speakers but did not manage to find/approach all of them in the time and constraints.

Set 1

Karen used slides in her talk which was about staying authentic and that success is authenticity (and she should know, featuring in the Power List and heading up MediaCom, the UK’s largest media agency). She defined her rules for success – but, the first rule she gave us was, “Find your own rules” – which I loved. You can’t just copy someone else’s template for success, you must find what means the most to you. Her second rule (I think I can take two for myself?) was “acknowledge the situation, but don’t let it define you“. I got a lot from that rule
– acknowledge this job is a stretch for you/everyone you work with is a man/you are the least experienced, but then rise above it and carry on. Karen spent a lot of time talking about “covering” – when people act in a way other to how they would like to act, because they think their job/boss/workplace demands it. 61% of people (including 45% of white, heterosexual males) admitted to having “covered” at some point.  The study she references was this one by Deloitte. Some real food for thought here (I admit I cover, but not my personality; I think we all cover in terms of dress sense or we would all turn up at work in our pyjamas surely! (or I would anyway) but Deloitte would probably define this type as justifiable). Very smooth, professional, fluent delivery.

Grace lives with a debilitating illness and consequently, a sense of “otherness” but does not let it define her. She talked about her struggles and her belief that we can all be pioneers, carving out our own ways. Grace is a wellness expert and spoke passionately about her struggles and her beliefs.

Islam recounted how when he first arrived at school and said goodbye to his mother in Arabic, his teacher took him, muttering “no English” and gave him flashcards to study, one with a picture of a butterfly on it. Now he has a PhD in English – as he says, “how insecure am I?”. His talk was on continuing to learn, to be a scholar and to read and that despite our differences, as readers we share a common experience, with no excuse to be prejudist. Islam has spoken at many conferences, works in the Department of English at the University of Birmingham and even advises the BBC on Arabic pronunciations.

The link will take you to view the video too. Tom explains systems thinking by using an example of getting people to explain how they make toast – first with drawings, then with sticky notes and hen collaboratively. More steps (nodes) were needed as the ways progressed (from drawings to sticky, from sticky to collaboratively) and ideas became more “full”. He has a website drawtoast.com which helps you take his method of systems thinking and problem solving forward.

Shappi spoke passionately about her struggles growing up; how she felt like an outsider/misfit due to her nationality, chronic shyness and family life (they fled Iran after her father was threatened by the Iranian government) and told us some of her experiences and how this led her to comedy. “If I speak and you laugh, that’s a conversation. It makes me feel alive”. It was her first TED talk, which makes Aylesbury especially privileged!

Set 2

  • Roy Bailey

After the break, we returned to the room to see a man with a tambourine (Mark Block?) and a man with a guitar – Roy Bailey. Roy sang folks songs about socialism and dissent and even had us singing along to Undefeated with the lyrics that you can see in this tweet below.

Leslie’s talk took me back to my roots as I made parallels about NEET young people (Not in Employment, Education or Training). Leslie founded PRACTivate where gang members are encouraged to use their skills in the workplace rather than revert to a gang lifestyle. Leslie’s articulate talk focussed on perceptions and the cycles of poverty and crime. Once released from prison, the perception is that these people will only be capable of low-paid manual labour and so, they turn back to gang culture and crime. Society, the bigger “community” needs to recognise that these people have more worth than we are currently assigning them; we can then draw new value from these dismissed resources. Gang culture has many of the markings of hierarchical legitimate business enterprises – transferable skills.

This was my favourite TED video. The problem with education is that good teachers don’t want to go and work in the places where good teachers are needed the most! Sugata set up experiments (starting back in the 1990s) to see how children could educate themselves by leaving a PC with internet connection, embedded in the wall of an Indian slum. His experiments got more and more sophisticated – changing the accent they spoke English so a computer would understand them and a group of Tamil speaking 12 year olds were able to teach themselves biotechnology *in English!) on their own in two months so they achieved scores of 30% in a test. Two months later, after using the “grandmother method” (someone just being encouraging “that was good, do that again, wow!”), their scores rose to 50%. If children have interest – education happens; but the children must be in groups in order to learn like this. Sugata wants to conduct more experiments and take his findings, computers and granny programmes further.
If you only have time for one TED video, watch this one.

Ian Wright is a Professor of Planetary Science at the Open University. His talk began with he statement that the Earth itself is a misfit! Ian was part of the team getting Philae to land on the Rosetta comet – a ten year project. The tail of a comet may be millions of miles long, but the actual comet that produces the tail is very small, The instrument that Ian and his team put into Philae was called Ptolemy; about the size of a shoebox we saw pictures of the whole lab worth of equipment that Ptolemy was designed to condense. The project hopes to learn much more about comets (this one developed a tail earlier than expected and looked more like a rubber-duck shape than what was expected!).

Set 3

Alex calls himself an “adventurer”. He has pulled a sled across Alaska, ran across America,rowed single-handedly across two oceans and now plans to live on an iceberg as it melts. He spoke about fear and offered up the fact that fear cam be a great motivator – he wouldn’t be the person he was, or have done the things he has done, if it wasn’t for fear. Very inspiring.

Lucie is a doctor and a novelist; she gave one of my favourite talks. Lucie’s talk began as she shared some feedback she had received about a novel she was writing – it was unbelievable because the protagonist had no agency. Things happened to them in the story, but they did not react or take ownership. As readers, we know this is fake and are uncomfortable with it, but as patients modern medicine removes our agency and expects us to passively submit and surrender to doctors’ cures and medicines. Agency is a crucial part of human interaction – healthcare reads like a really bad novel! Illness appears as a random act of violence on a person but if the fact of speaking in public, or thinking about some other thing that makes us feel worried and engages the primitive flight/flight response; if our body is able to react physically to this kind of stimuli; why does medicine not account for this manifestation? Lucie talks about the clear links between illness, disease and stress and how treatments should have as a key component training and help to control our response (and our body’s response) to stress. Lucie’s talk was extremely articulate, peppered with soundbites (“science explains the universe, art experiences it”) and covered a topic she was obviously extremely passionate about.

This video shows the speaker, Derek, using a video of a man dancing like a crazy person to explain leadership. As the man dances, an individual joins him, then a few more, until eventually just about everyone is dancing with him. The principles are to treat your first followers as equals, new followers are really emulating the first follower and not the leader, leadership is overrated and it is your first follower who transforms you from a lone nut into a leader!

David is a poet and a lawyer. He opened his set with his poem “Slow down” – delivered in his lyrical Caribbean accent. He was engaging, wonderful to listen to and a perfect way to round off the speakers.

Conclusion

I really enjoyed the evening, I thought the videos were a good touch as they showed TED in a wider, international context (rather than just a bunch of misfits in Aylesbury!). However, it was sad to see so many empty seats. The organisers did well and I know they were trying to sell returned tickets, even selling some on the day, but it was a bit disheartening to see. Logistically, in terms of sound, microphones, lighting etc – it was all incredibly smooth and professional, very well done.

There was some talk on twitter not as much as I know the organisers would probably have liked, but the lack of decent mobile signal inside the building meant people struggled and batteries were diminished (I know wifi was available but you had to sign up for it). I think there was probably more talk after the event. I joined in a bit, thanking speakers and made a few comments (I also promised to write my own rules for success inspired by Karen – post to come!), and Amin continued to post photographs after the event which was nice.