Five Lines

At the slideshow on the last night of one of our residential programmes, participants are asked to sum up their week to their line managers, colleagues, team members, technicians and facilitators.

They have only five sentences to do it, with a suggested structure, and they are encouraged to write it in the form of a five line limerick, poem or song.

The suggested structure is: “I was/wasn’t expecting, I most enjoyed, The thing I found most challenging, My biggest learning point was, In the workplace I am now going to”

The poem below was written by a telecoms apprentice, who has kindly given us permission to share it here. We were impressed with his honestly, his self reflection and his rhyming skills, and all written after a 10 hour mountain day and with only 45 minutes notice!

Hope you enjoy it a much as we did.

Five Lines

I was expecting a challenge, people to be tested, possibly even sick,
I wasn’t expecting a day to feel like a week and yet the the end to come so quick,

I most enjoyed the bonding with my comrades on that ‘stroll’,
The hardest thing for me, I think, was owning less control,

I learnt the power of organisation and communicating needs,
Now at work I’ll focus and question, support to nurture, rise to challenge
Yet fundamentally still be me.

Photo: The Blue Marble

If we ever needed reminding that ‘we are all in this together’, today is the 40th anniversary of the “Blue Marble” photo, the iconic image taken by the crew of the Apollo 17. A stunning reminder of the fact we are all inhabitants of ‘Spaceship Earth’. Let’s look after it, shall we?

Photo: NASA

There is more history of this amazing photo on

Is it worth it?

If you are wondering whether giving up a significant chuck of your life towards a specific goal is worth it, watch these two videos and then decide.

The first is Chris Hoy celebrating after winning his 6th Olympic gold medal at London 2012. His face at 1:05 sums up quite what it all means to him.

BBC Video

The second is of Mark Rober who worked on NASA’s Curiosity Rover which successfully landed on Mars in Summer 2012. His introduction reads as follows “I was able to work on NASA JPL’s Curiosity Mars Rover for 7 years. This video is an attempt to capture what it felt like to have 7 years of your life vindicated in the 7 minute landing. Honestly one of the coolest moments of my life so far.” It’s a very human view of one of the most technically advanced projects in human history.

So, is your project worth it?

Yuri Gargarin’s Pencil

Yuri Gargarin brought back no notes in his notepad from his trip to space on 12 April 1961. The reason? His pencil floated away from him when he let go of it and he was unable to move far enough to retrieve it. In later flights, a piece of string was used to attach it to the flight suit.

What minor detail are you missing in your plans that could show up later? And is there a solution you could implement now to stop it being an issue?

Source : The Race by James Schefter

Photo: Original by the USSR government now owned and released by the Russian Federation

Toolkit for Independent Thinking

This poster was produced for a teacher who was trying to encourage more independent thinking in her classroom. The aim was to encourage the students to follow the three stages before asking for help from her.

1. Think through the problem yourself

2. Look in a book or other reference source

3. Ask your peers to see if they know the answer

    PDF copy here

    Creative Commons LicenseIf you want to use a copy in your classroom (or even your place of work!) feel free, we’ve released it under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

    The Kranz Dictum : Tough and Competent

    Gene Kranz was the Flight Director for NASA during the end of the Gemini programme and into the Apollo programme. He is perhaps most famous for being the Flight Director on shift when the explosion happened on Apollo 13 and is widely credited with leading the team that saved the astronaut’s lives.

    However, he was also in charge when the Apollo 1 launchpad fire that killed Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee happened. The following Monday morning Kranz called a meeting of his branch and flight control team and made the following address, which has become know as The Kranz Dictum.

    Spaceflight will never tolerate carelessness, incapacity, and neglect. Somewhere, somehow, we screwed up. It could have been in design, build, or test. Whatever it was, we should have caught it.
    We were too gung-ho about the schedule and we locked out all of the problems we saw each day in our work. Every element of the program was in trouble and so were we. The simulators were not working, Mission Control was behind in virtually every area, and the flight and test procedures changed daily. Nothing we did had any shelf life. Not one of us stood up and said, “Dammit, stop!”
    I don’t know what Thompson’s committee will find as the cause, but I know what I find. We are the cause! We were not ready! We did not do our job. We were rolling the dice, hoping that things would come together by launch day, when in our hearts we knew it would take a miracle. We were pushing the schedule and betting that the Cape would slip before we did.
    From this day forward, Flight Control will be known by two words: “Tough and Competent.” Tough means we are forever accountable for what we do or what we fail to do. We will never again compromise our responsibilities. Every time we walk into Mission Control we will know what we stand for.
    Competent means we will never take anything for granted. We will never be found short in our knowledge and in our skills. Mission Control will be perfect.
    When you leave this meeting today you will go to your office and the first thing you will do there is to write “Tough and Competent” on your blackboards. It will never be erased. Each day when you enter the room these words will remind you of the price paid by Grissom, White, and Chaffee. These words are the price of admission to the ranks of Mission Control.

    Tough, forever accountable for what we do or what we fail to do, and Competent, never take anything for granted, words to lead any project, expedition, team or organisation by.

    Edmund Hillary: An ordinary chap

    We’ve just ordered this poster from Zen Pencils, we thought it would look great on the wall at Totem HQ. Help remind us of what we are trying to achieve; motivation, goal setting and with a mountaineering theme. It could have been drawn especially for us!

    You can get your own at Zen Pencils.

    How do you cope under pressure?

    Watch the video below (2:49), it is the Air Traffic Control recording from the Boeing 777 that crashed short of the runway at Heathrow in 2009.

    Having suffered ice crystals in the fuel system, the plane lost power as it came into land at Heathrow, giving the pilots less than a minute to react and eventually crashed short of the runway. All the passengers and crew walked away from the crash with only minor injuries.

    What is impressive here is the reaction of the Air Traffic Controller.
    Read More »

    Mock-Assessment Centre Write Up

    Late last year we ran a Mock-Assessment Centre for Nottingham University, as an opportunity for their third year physicists to experience the pressures of job-selection in an environment when they could make mistakes and learn from them.

    The department wrote up the day in the Nottingham University in-house magazine and published some of our “Top Tips for Assessment Centres” at the same time. [Click the image to read the article in full].

    PS. That day also produced my favourite “contraption” we have ever had built as part of a challenge. Can you guess what it does?


    What is Courage?

    Over on Twitter, Lewis Pugh, extraordinary swimmer and climate change activist is asking a simple question.

    What is courage?

    I’ve been mulling the idea over in my head for a while and I still haven’t come up with a clear answer, espically not one that will fit in 140 characters. There are some great answers coming in and I thought about submitting the old chestnut about the exam answer and then I saw this image and I knew I had an answer.

    An Iranian women show her defiance to President Ahmadinejad of Iran

    It may not define exactly what all forms of courage are but it’s a pretty powerful example, especially the day after International Women’s Day 2012.

    Photo via The Guardian