Swim against the tide

Sometimes it is right to go against the crowd and do your own thing. Today many people were giving or receiving Valentine’s Day cards and presents with most doing so because everyone else does it. For the past few weeks every time I have walked into a shop or supermarket I have been confronted with hearts and flowers. It is easy to feel the pressure and get sucked into buying things.

Standing out from the crowd is not easy to do. Human nature is that people like to be part of groups and feel that they belong. I think that you can still have that sense of your place but also have individualism about life where you make up your own mind.

It is easy to understand why people can end up doing things that they know are not right or that they may be concerned about. Because if we want to fit in that much we can lose our moral compass. The focus goes on being able to be part of the group and doing what they do. This can at worst drag us down and could mean poor decisions being made that may affect our lives.

Being able to cast a cynical eye over things and question what is happening is an important skill. In a world where image matters and social media allows people to broadcast their thoughts and views we have to be able to question what we are told. I have written a few blogs about my concerns that young people are not learning to question things. They seem to accept what they are told through the news and social media without ever asking any questions.

When we are young we ask why an awful lot. We lose this as we get older but asking why is something we should do more the older we get. With more experience of life we can see a lot clearer and identify when things don’t feel right. We should never accept it when things feel odd.

In the future will we all believe everything we are told and accept what those in authority tell us? Will we just flow with the tide of activity? I hope not as only by swimming against the tide can we sometimes find the right path.


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All too superficial

I turned on the television this morning to watch the news and was treated to the latest headlines. Then I decided to try and have a look at what was being posted on Twitter and Facebook and I got more one line updates from a range of people. Everything is so fast that we got a few bits of information and then move on.

It is just so superficial. We don’t seem to have any time to find out what sits behind the headlines, to be analytical and to delve a bit more deeply. I find myself doing this rushing from one thing to another grabbing the headlines but I still do try to get into the detail. I love to read through the Sunday Times and the detailed articles providing the background to some current issue in the news.

We are also in an era of celebrity where people are looking for instant success, wealth and I suppose happiness. People want to look their best all the time and will get plastic surgery to look better. These days we feel we can have everything and more than that we feel entitled to it.

This is the same attitude that so annoyed me in the run up to Christmas when people were being told everything had to be perfect. They had to ensure they had everything that looked right, and that on the surface it was all as it should be. Again, it is just a superficial approach to life.

I wondered today if this was why people chose certain careers or jobs. Do they want to do things that provide some form of instant gratification? Will they move around to find the next big thing or at least what appears to be the next big thing?

We are missing so much if we never feel the joy of learning more and more about a particular subject, questioning what is happening and getting beneath the surface. There needs to be a change in attitudes. I know that we are in a fast paced world where everything moves quickly, but if we don’t stop and take the time to really understand things then I worry we are just going to stagnate.

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Space and gratitude

I have been in a reflective mood today probably because I had some time on my hands and a day off work. It made me realise that in the busy week when I am rushing from one thing to another, dashing from work to the stables and vice versa I often forget to focus on what matters.

For the past 18 months I have been trying to change my perspective on lots of things and develop a more positive outlook. It hasn’t been easy because it goes against my nature cynicism and ‘glass half empty’ approach. My position is usually to expect the worst and that way you are less likely to be disappointed. But that isn’t the best way to live your life, or certainly it isn’t for me.

I want to make sure I can enjoy every day I have and be as happy as possible. Taking a negative position is never going to be the best way to achieve that. So, I have set about learning tips and techniques that can help me to change my perspective. At the end of 2014 I was lucky enough to be drawn to a special person who is a life coach among other things. It all sounds a bit odd but trust me it was an important meeting.

One of the key exercises that play an important part in assisting my mood is to spend time recognising what I have and being grateful for it. This sounds like such a small thing and in some ways it is but it has such a big impact. It can change your mind set really quickly. We rarely focus on what we have got and instead prefer to focus on what we haven’t got. The gaps in our lives become our focus.

During the past seven days I have neglected this and that definitely hasn’t helped my state of mind and sense of happiness. After a day to reflect and consider recent events I am now back on track, I have so much to be grateful for and that is definitely worth remembering


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Stepping off the treadmill

Have you ever felt you are treading the same path at work and that you are doing the same things day after day? I know people who are quite comfortable with specialising in a particular aspect or area of work. But I really would struggle to accept a working day where I knew what I was going to face. The predictable would be major turn off for me from any work environment.

The reason this has been on my mind is because I have had a fast and furious 48 hours. During the past two days I have so far managed around two hours sleep with the demands of work keeping me up from the early hours of this morning. I won’t give a rundown of what my day has included but it was anything but boring.

When I am faced with new problems, challenges, opportunities and situations I think it is when I am at my best. I like it when things don’t happen as you would expect and particularly when the day takes a few unexpected twists and turns. I know that if this happened all day every day it would become quite wearing but I can’t feel creative when it feels like I am stuck on a treadmill.

This is what keeps me still enjoying police communication. It is a role that is never predictable or straightforward. If there isn’t something you are trying to manage at home, there will be some national issue that impacts on you. No two days are ever really the same and every day is definitely a learning experience. There is always the opportunity to use your experience and find ways to deal with emerging issues.

I have an amazing position as head of communication in such an interesting area of work. It may mean I face a lot of pressures from demands, threats, risks and national issues but it is never predictable or boring. There is always something new, different or unusual that you face and you have to be able to meet it and respond. I may be tired but I am feeling incredibly lucky.


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Are we failing to connect?

The work of the team was put under the spotlight today by a whole range of people from diverse communities and groups. It was a good opportunity to explain more about the communication work we do but also to then check whether this is resonating with a range of communities. If it isn’t then what do we need to do?

I was interested to meet those taking part as I didn’t know most of them and they were able to provide a new perspective on the work we do. The value of the four or five hours was significant and opened my eyes to a few things. But what a common theme was throughout was the importance of engagement.

Through the use of social media we have convinced ourselves that we are connecting with communities. Don’t get me wrong it has brought us a lot and we are able to have two-way communication in a way never before seen. But this is only a section of the community, and there are still many people who won’t do business online and avoid using social media. The challenge is how we can ensure direct engagement in other ways particularly as there is still a squeeze on staffing at all levels.

Communication and engagement are two sides of the same coin. We need to have strong communication activity that can get the message out to the right people at the right time. But we need to have the support of an engagement strategy to assist in the delivery of those messages but also to do much more. I don’t think organisations have really started to think in those terms and I don’t believe engagement is only an issue for public sector communicators. I think engagement is called other things in businesses but it amounts to the same understanding the perceptions and views of the organisation and then working to improve things for whatever end.

I have seen many organisations where communication has been split between a range of functions and engagement is kept somewhere else. There may be good reasons why things have developed in a particular way but I would question whether this is maximising the efforts of all those people. Think how much more could be done if all aspects of communication and engagement were kept together and had a direct link to the CEO.

I am very grateful for the time and energy that people put into the discussions we had today and I just hope I can now bring the ideas and suggestions into the development of communication.



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Do we value experience?

Tonight’s blog post came from a suggestion from my mum and of course who would go against a suggestion from their mum? I think it is borne from the fact she is reaching a milestone birthday this year (and I won’t mention which one!). In this fast world where things are not allowed to age and we are all looking to keep wrinkles and grey hairs at bay, are we spending too much time valuing youth and not enough recognising the wisdom that comes from age?

Of course just growing older doesn’t give you automatic wisdom and you can avoid learning anything during your years. However, one thing that you do get through age is experience and it is that which brings something you can’t gather despite widespread reading or teaching.

Experience is mentioned on nearly every job description that I have ever seen. There are skills that you can list but experience is the essence of what you have gathered through your years doing something. In this case it is the broad knowledge of work.

In a nutshell experience is “practical contact with and observation of facts or events” and the more exposure we have to this, through aging, the more we have to put current issues, crises or other factors into perspective. We know after experience that when things are bad they generally get better, when we are under pressure at work we get through it, and when we face a problem we have a wide range of solutions and experience tells us what is likely to work.

When people are young and enthusiastic they can bounce in with bright ideas and others can get swept along. Don’t get me wrong there are times when this is what is needed and this approach can benefit a team, group or organisation. But I don’t think we give enough recognition to those who have gathered years of experience in a role.

Experience should never be a lazy way of getting people to agree. The ‘listen to me because I have the experience of this’ approach should never be allowed. What people need to do is explain what the experience is telling them and share the knowledge that they have gained.

I might appear to rarely listen to my parents now, in the same way I ignored their advice in my formative years, but there is a lot to value from life experiences and knowledge that is gained from every day of our lives.

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Speed or innovation?

I was considering today whether the speed of modern life is behind a lack of creativity. Does the fact that we are constantly rushing between things mean that we don’t ever spend time truly considering an issue and finding creative solutions? This is something that I think all communication professionals should consider.

Most communication or public relations teams are now smaller in numbers than they were five or six years ago. The demands placed on the individuals have not reduced and realistically is now more than it was when we had staff. Because of the lack of people and resources we have to find new, creative and innovative ways of doing things. But I wonder whether we have got to the point we are treading the same water now.

The key to the situation has to lie with us as individual communication professionals. We have to be able to manage our time much more effectively than we have ever done before. We also need to ensure that we are spending time in the planning of activity, we need to bounce ideas around with others, and we need to try and knock ourselves out of our comfort zone.

When we made the significant reductions in funding for communication we knew we had to shake things up. Social media had arrived on the scene and it presented opportunities to take to try new things. Five years on social networks are a standard part of daily life which we use as communicators every day. In fact, I am wondering whether our use of it needs to change quite dramatically to make more innovative use of the developments. Are we standing still again after we had the chance to transform communication?

I think we can only grasp creativity if we are prepared to look at things in a different way and consider alternatives. We need to stop being comfortable with where we are now and start to want more even with smaller teams. With all the pressures on professional communicators we need to ensure that we are making time to review things, consider alternatives and really develop our creativity.


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