The Bullog – November 2019

Greetings Bullogers!
“So, did it meet expectations?”

I’ve been asked that question many times in the aftermath of our very first Business Decelerator pilot or “Launch Lab” as we called it, which took place from 18-22 November on the beautiful Isle of Bute. When you’re bringing together about 35 people from incredibly diverse backgrounds and an age range spanning more than five decades – then exposing them to a whacky ‘cast’ of trainers who would take them way out their comfort zones, it was hard to know what to “expect”. Hope would better describe what I had… and a deep belief that this was an important thing to do, at the right time, in the right place.

To my great delight (not to say significant relief) this crazy experiment not only worked – I’d go as far as to say it was a transformative week for many of the participants. This was the most significant thing I’ve done in a long time and for that reason, I’m going to devote the majority of this month’s Bullog to it – a special edition of you like. Let me give you a flavour of what went on.

Blurring the lines

We kicked off on Monday afternoon forming one large circle comprising business professionals from the likes of Deloitte’s and Accenture in London, senior executives from banks including Hermes and Standard Chartered in Hong Kong, professionals from organizations in the non-profit/social enterprise world such as the Clinton Health Access initiative, mixed in with five locals from the local Bute Community who had been offered free places. There was only one rule – you couldn’t talk about what you did for a living. No job titles. No long list of professional qualifications and achievements which tend to be the hallmark of introductory sessions at business gatherings. Just your first name, who you were and what had brought you to the Launch Lab.
“But what can I say if I can’t talk about what I do?” one of the senior business participants was heard to ask. Lesson one: how many of us are so fixated on what we’re doing that we’ve lost touch with where we’re going and who we really are?

We were blessed with a beautiful sunny first day and in the spirit of “letting go” we ditched the agenda and went to the beach to visit the colony of seals that inhabit sandy Scalpsie Bay which had the stunning snow capped mountains of Arran as a backdrop. We walked in pairs, sharing more on hopes and fears for the event and practicing deep listening techniques. Later in the week, it was incredibly inspiring to hear from many of the business professionals that their most significant and profound conversations had been with the local participants.

Over the next couple of days we split into smaller groups – some would explore their inner artist. Others would let go of their egos as they explored improv comedy, a great tool for collaboration and innovation. A third group went on a long walk in nature with former special forces Marine Calum, who got nicknamed The Humble Warrior. Many even chose to swim and I can assure you that 8 deg C water is a fabulous way of shaking oneself out of the comfort zone!

The agenda became even more loose and malleable as the week went on and we deliberately blurred the lines been participant and trainer, or Avenger (the tongue in cheek term we started using for what is more of a Performing Troupe than classic business trainers).

By Thursday afternoon we were co-creating much of the day, where people could choose to host their own session or join someone else who was hosting a session that was of interest. We had participants training the trainers/Avengers, Avengers training other Avengers, older participants learning from younger and so on.  It was a powerful cross-cultural, cross sectoral and inter-generational mix that broke down the rigid silos we so often find ourselves in.

Yes, it was clearly a very busy week but we also built in what we termed “Ma” space – it’s a great concept which basically means intentional space full of opportunity. Or the space between the notes if you prefer a musical metaphor. Another important lesson:  it’s tempting to cram our days with as much activity and tasks as possible, thinking this is productive – but it’s often in the gaps that the magic or breakthrough thinking appears. 

We ran activities most evenings culminating in a Scottish Ceilidh night (basically a big music, dance and drink party) which had pretty much everyone on the dance floor. Fabulous fun. 

We closed off the week with a visit to the Craigberoch farm ruin. Again, the weather was kind to us and the sun came out from behind the clouds as we gathered around the ancient Standing Stone that’s such a prominent feature of the surrounding land. The plan to regenerate the farm fusing old with new, ancient with modern is a fitting metaphor for a programme whose goal is to regenerate business and the communities in which they operate. But that can only start when we regenerate ourselves. Clearly that happened for many people based on the feedback we got. Here’s just a couple of quotes:

“Amazing – no bullshit, the week really has changed me and my life – thank you!”

“Wow, wow, wow!!!  What a week that was! Amazing experiences, fabulous people and life-affirming moments I shall never forget”

We also got some decent press coverage and were featured in The TimesThe Scotsman, Scottish Business Insider and Scottish Business News.   I promise you that the Messianic gesture of the Scotsman photo was not posed 😉

Our plan is to re-assemble the cast of Avengers and do a few more Decelerator Labs in 2020. Dates are still to be confirmed but sign up for more info at Craigberoch.

So what else has been going on in the busy month of November?

Consulting the Community
Well, still on the same theme, we held s community consultation event on Bute on 7th December as part of the application for planning permission. These are normally tick box exercises where you hope very few people show up and don’t throw spanners in the works of your project. Instead our objective was to inform and engage the community and I was delighted when over 50 people come along. I gave a brief overview of the vision for the project and the derelict site and then the architect talked about the design and sustainability considerations. We got nothing but constructive feedback and some new ideas which bodes well for the future. 

Intrapreneurship goes East
Quick quiz: Is Bratislava in Slovakia or Slovenia? (see answer below)

The reason I ask is that I had been invited to speak at a Business Leaders’ Forum CSR Summit and had to make sure I went to the right country. I gave a keynote on my usual themes and then hosted a breakout on intrapreneurship. Got lots of interest on this theme which is encouraging to see.  I’d been invited by Alena Kanabova from Accenture and ran an event the next morning talking about the links between well-being, innovation and intrapreneurship. It’s a beautiful city and I’d highly recommend a visit, but perhaps wait until it’s a little warmer and you can sit out in lovely squares in the old town. 

….and on the personal front

Regular Bullogers may remember my first gospel choir experience back in July. Well as if that wasn’t scary enough, I went back for more. Glutton for punishment you might say. The choir master Maestro Nehemiah Brown (wouldn’t you love to have maestro as your job title?) is a hard task master and I love the way he just makes it up as he goes along. You practice a couple of songs and their harmonies and then he decides to go with a completely different song one hour before the final concert. You just have to let go of control and flow with it. It fits well with the whole deceleration concept and so I’m giving fair warning to any future attendees of the Decelerator Lab that you might find yourself in at the deep end!

That’s more than enough for now folks. If you enjoy this monthly ramble then do feel free to suggest others sign up here.  Until next month,


P.S. Answer: Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia! Did you get it right? Be honest now…..

* The Bullog  = Bulloch + BlogMake sense?  Not bulldog, nor is it bulls**t although I’ll let you be the judge of that! It’s a brief synopsis on recent articles, events and opinions from my world and the things that have caught my attention over the past few weeks.