Leadership Limerick

Canoe snowy backgroundAs part of their ‘Looking at Leadership’ programme, apprentices from O2 had to compose a limerick on the topic of leadership. We were so impressed by their poem that we thought we’d share it here.

We are the guys from O2,
learning to lead with the Boulder Crew.
We know what you mean,
when you say task, individual, team,
so we reckon we know more than you!

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.

    Big Screen Magic

    Using a slide-show for reflection

    This article first appeared in Horizons magazine, Issue 55 (Autumn 2011)

    When was the last time you managed a quiet, focused fifteen minutes of reflection and review with your group? Almost no speaking, just the occasional smile, laugh or tear. A mental journey through the physical one they have just been on.

    Unless you are working with Trappist monks, the chances are that this is a rarity for you, as it is for most of us. However, there is one fool-proof way of making it happen.

    A slide-show of pictures from a group’s adventures is a beautiful way of rounding off a programme and with modern technology it is easier than it has ever been. If we embrace reflection as a key part of experiential learning, and believe that an image is worth a thousand words, we can help the participants relive the emotions of a programme and reinforce the learning that they bring.

    Capturing Images

    The key to a good slide-show is having lots of good, relevant images. The days of slide film are almost behind us and, if you want to use the images during the course, you are going to have to go digital. Digital cameras are cheap and ubiquitous and most participants will have one on their mobile phone. Read More »

    If success interests you…

    …you could do a lot worse than listen to Desert Island Discs. One of the BBC’s longest running programmes, celebrating 70 years of broadcasting this month.

    The format is pretty simple, guests, who are normally famous or highly regarded in their field, chose 8 pieces of music, one book and one luxury they would take with them if stranded on a desert island. Previously presented by Michael Parkinson and Sue Lawley, it is now hosted by Kirsty Young (r).

    While the music is played in full, the real interest comes in the conversation between Young and the guest as she probes into their past lives, gently but without shying away from revealing questions. Since by definition they guests have all be successful, it provides a fascinating insight into how they got where they did. If success and successful people interest you, it’s well worth a listen.

    If you want to give it a go, it’s on BBC Radio 4 on Sunday at 11:15 and repeated on Friday at 09:00, or you can get it as a podcast.


    What is your Cargo Cult?

    North East of Australia are the islands of Melanesia. New Guinea and Vanuatu are probably the best known of them, conjuring up images of blue seas, white beaches, palm trees and cloudless skies. However, in the years following the Second World War, some very strange goings on took place in this tropical paradise.

    The islands were of strategic importance to both the Allies and the Japanese as a launch pad for both aircraft and ships patrolling the Pacific Ocean. At different times, both side set up bases on the islands and with them brought many of the accoutrements of Western civilisation. Manufactured clothing, medicine, canned food, tents, weapons and other goods arrived in vast quantities for the soldiers, who often shared some of it with the islanders who were their guides and hosts. Such luxuries were previously unheard of and had a significant impact on the quality of life of the Melanesians.

    With the end of hostilities in the Pacific theatre, the military shut up shot and the soldiers, sailors and airmen headed home. Gradually the remains of the supplies they had brought dwindled until nothing was left.

    With little understanding of the events that had brought the cargo into the islands in the first place, some of the islanders began mimicking the activities and clothes of soldiers, such as performing parade ground drills with wooden rifles.

    Read More »

    The 5 Eyed Method of Problem Solving

    It isn’t that they can’t see the solution. It’s that they can’t see the problem -G. K. Chesterton 

    There are a number of systematic ways of solving problems. Some are useful in very specific situations, while others are powerful but very complicated. One of the ways we teach people to solve problems at Totem is using the 5 eyed method.

    IDENTIFY what success looks like

    You can only really solve a problem when you know exactly what outcome you are after.  When the problem is solved, what situation will you be in. Step one is to sort out what it is you are trying to achieve.

    ISOLATE the real problem

    If you have ‘flu which has given you a headache, you can stop the headache with an aspirin but while it might make you feel better, you will still have the ‘flu. You have tackled the symptom not the cause. The key to problem solving is to be able to look at all the symptoms and decide what the underlying problem that is causing them is.

    INNOVATE multiple solutions to the problem

    Once you have isolated the problem, you should come up with multiple solutions to the problem. It is unlikely that your first idea will be the best so produce as many as you feel necessary before committing to one course of action. This is known as ‘divergent thinking

    IMPLEMENT the chosen solution

    You then must chose a solution from the many that you came up with. Consider the merits of each and the drawbacks, eliminate one at a time if you need to until you have your chosen path of action. This process is known as ‘convergent thinking‘.

    Once you have chosen a solution you must implement it to the best of your abilities.

    INVESTIGATE whether the solution solves the problem

    Finally, it’s important not to assume that because you chose the best solution from the ones you thought up, it will automatically work. Put a system in place for investigating whether your problem has really been solved. Make sure that all of the symptoms have gone away and the underlying issue has really been resolved.


    “Here’s to the crazy ones” – Steve Jobs (1955-2011)

    Steve Jobs (1955-2011)

    We are a Mac based workplace here at Totem. I could bore you with why we made that decision, ease of use, low support costs, etc, but you probably don’t care. We like them and we like the customer focus that Apple has.

    It was for that reason that we were very sad to hear of the the death of Steve Jobs. Aside from the human tragedy of someone dying so young,  the world has lost a maverick, a visionary and an incredible business man. He probably wasn’t easy to work with but people wanted to work with him. He stood on the shoulder of giants, in the form of his team of engineers and designers, but he assembled that team in the first place. He gave them their goal and ensured they stayed focused. He defined one clear model of leadership in the tech industry.

    Fuller obituaries are elsewhere, everywhere really, a measure of the impact he and his team had. If we can have 1/100 of the impact on the world that they have, we’ll be a pretty happy team.

    Hidden in one of Apple’s core products is something that I think sums him, and Apple, up well.

    Read More »

    Do virtual teams work? One of 2052 people seems to…

    In a moving video, composer Eric Whitacre led a virtual choir of singers from around the world. He talks through the creative challenges of making music powered by YouTube, and unveils the first 2 minutes of his new work, “Sleep,” with a video choir of 2,052.


    Via TED