Nearly over

Nearly over

I had a sense of slight disappointment when someone texted me to say that most of our restrictions were about to end. I was doing something very mundane – collecting my car from servicing – which almost felt normal although the “service” manager certainly kept his distance.

I’m watching the film Vicky Cristina Barcelona which at its heart is like many other Woody Allen films – about being yourself – at a level of authenticity beyond which we typically engage with in leadership.

Lockdown has been a real gift for me I feel. Firstly, to engage in structure – I’ve talked of that before – but also in deep thought on what matters. At a basic level we didn’t have a chance to have any new “things” for several weeks. Did we feel any loss for that? I doubt it. Did we actually enjoy and embrace more of what we have? I think so. Which might not bode well for the local economy if we realise we don’t need so many new things. Or even takeaway coffee. The $65 home machine is just fine! 

We’ll kinda go back to work if we want to next week, but we don’t have to – we can work at home still – and I suspect many of us will. Some will say they’re being cautious about the ‘rona, but I reckon some of us will stay at home because we like it more. In seven short weeks we’ve actually embraced, enjoyed and thrived in it. I think at a deeper level of personal growth about my own purpose I’ve thrived. I’ve also got far more from my work than the everyday normality – which for me is never too routine – but this was another level.

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There’s a scene in Vicky Cristina Barcelona where Vicky is out to dinner in Barcelona with her fiancé and another couple. The other three are in excited conversation about A/V systems, the latest high-def television, interior designers et al, for their new homes. Vicky gazes in the distance, dreaming of the meaningful life she could – should –  have in Barcelona, in art, with a man she’s passionate about, living life to its full richness.

It’s easy to get caught up in what appears to matter but if I take anything out of the reflections I’ve had in Lockdown it’s to never forget what really matters. They’re not just “to dos”. They’re everything. And only you can work that fundamental purpose question.

Barcelona still beckons.

Stephen

The coffee experience

The coffee experience

I’ve had two now. Both involved long (40 then 20 minutes) waits in the cold for a zap of espresso. Was it worth it? Hardly. It turns out the cheap pod coffee maker at home is just fine, maybe not quite as good, but overall, sadly for NZ Inc, the more pleasant pathway.

Instant reflection on that thought: self absorbed first world boomer problem! It’s raining today in Auckland – quite consistently – so there’s a warm cozy feeling in the apartment with E Kore Rawa E Wehe – Never be Apart – by TEEKS playing on the Hifi.

One of my neighbours escaped Russian aggression with his family as a young boy, fleeing into Nazi occupied Austria and eventually, by chance of where the ship went, to New Zealand. He proudly displays the crest of his country of birth on his motor vehicle. About a year ago his wife moved to hospital care in a rest home and his routine is sitting with her and having lunch each day.  He hasn’t seen her for six weeks. Even under a lockdown regime that isolated only those predominantly impacted by the ‘rona, he would probably not have got to see her. Whenever I see his car – it’s never moved – I wonder how he’s doing. It must be hard and I imagine him drawing on his early life challenges to put this into perspective.

The Worldometer continues to fascinate me, not just for the COVID-19 statistics, but the wealth of other information on other matters in real time – how long until oil runs out (43 years – don’t rush for the E-car quite yet, maybe, although there are other reasons),  World’s population (7,781,858,953 but it grows so quickly that this tally was there for less than a second),  deaths this year (almost 20m), today’s net population growth (145,000!), undernourished people in the world (852m), and deaths of children under 5 this year (2.5m). At least none of the under 5 deaths are from COVID-19, or under 10 for that matter. The statistics on COVID-19 continue to show that by far those most at risk are those over 65 with underlying conditions (which I think probably includes many elderly) and others with underlying conditions. Men continue to have about double the chance of dying from COVID-19 as women. I haven’t seen scientific basis for that, but you’d have to assume one will come.

Having a bit of time to catch up on news over the weekend showed the economic challenges are front of mind, with the health choices we’ve made as a country a close second. Those that consider that the elimination at all and any cost was the way to go, will always see it that way I reckon. A close consideration of risk likelihood and impact is still needed to see whether that is correct. Embedded in that analysis are ethical choices that have been made.

I do not doubt for one second that the approach has saved certain people from death this year.

Is a blanket “stop the ‘rona at any cost” ethical? Sounds it, but it’s not all about creating winners. I blogged about this in more detail on Day 12.  That approach does not consider fully the risk’s impact – who actually has been at risk – and the unintended health (and economic) consequences that flowed. The sick people who couldn’t get treatment during the lockdown. I won’t add my iliotibial band in there, but there are many thousands who had treatments cancelled and delayed. This has to have made a real impact on the lives of those people. It was an ethical call, preferring those most at risk from one illness to other sick people at known risk of damaging their health. And I don’t think we should shy away from a conversation about that.

And for all the country has achieved, don’t delude yourself we’re an outlier in achieving the low spread and deaths: Australia’s death rate per population is (slightly) lower than ours and there’s a total of 120 countries or territories with the same or lower death rate than us. Maybe that will change when the ‘rona spreads, but it may not. Afterall, it’s hardly spread here at all and there’s no saying it’s going to take off in Africa to the same degree as it has in the US, UK, Spain, France and Italy, where 60% of all deaths are.

Maybe it’s a good learning opportunity for the country. We all want the world to reflect our own version of Nirvana. We want more land for housing – but it costs rural production and adds to environmental damage; we want first class public transport – but someone has to pay; we want an easy drive across the city – but roads create cars (sort of), and so on.  Stopping COVID-19 in the manner we have done has a price, that we’re only just starting to see.

I remember my Grandma in 1990 the last time I saw her, at the South Auckland Hospice. She didn’t see me. She sat, head slumped, every breath was a rasp.  A few short months prior she had decided that there was to be no treatment of her cancer – she had seen almost all her siblings treated and then die – and declared that the Lord had given her “3 score years and 10” (70), plus another 14, and that was that. I’m not sure I could have that attitude, but that message shaped my thinking I think.

Feels heavy on a gloomy Sunday! And I quoted the Bible, on a Sunday.  I haven’t completed my thinking here, but I’ve well exceeded the desirable blog word limit, so thanks for making it this far!

And despite declaring I had no opinion on the End of Life referendum on Day 11, I now have.  That feels useful and I’ll take that as a win for deep work.

Time for a home espresso.

Stephen

 

A week in standard 3

A week in standard 3

Not writing each day upset my new structure. This surprised me as I had thought that the extra hour I would have not writing the daily COVID-19 Lockdown Blog would be helpful. It turned out that losing that part of the daily structure made me more disorganised – working after dinner again on the couch. Too much to do.

The traffic amped up significantly since Tuesday. At times it’s almost looked normal, but not quite.

But we really are in the calm before the economic storm. Twenty-four billion dollars spent and we’re still in a post-pandemic haze, wondering what that was all about, or maybe in my Bubble I’ve become too disconnected. Tens of thousands have lost their jobs, our tourism industry is dead, we can’t fly anywhere, most businesses still shuttered. And knowledge workers are still stuck at home, but we should be grateful that we can still work and working at home isn’t that bad. Level three feels no different to me than level four, a bit like Standard 3 and 4 was for me.

Mr Keen was my Standard 3 (and 4) teacher. I remember overhearing the other teachers talking about how the headmaster, Mr Matheson, was friends with Mr Keen and Mr Keen got to choose who his pupils were! Somehow I was a chosen one. Mr Keen was an enthusiastic musician and had us all playing the recorder, other instruments, and singing – that was his real passion.  He also used to talk about the horrors of Belfast.

A search of the name Keen identifies it from County Londonderry in Northern Island. The Troubles in Northern Ireland which started in the late 1960s was almost certainly what he was talking about, but it completely escaped my attention.   Driving through Belfast, the suburb in north Christchurch that State Highway 1 used to run through, never seemed that much in turmoil to me as I observed it from the back of the family car, although I never sought clarification.

Mr Keen also showed us – from the Christchurch Star or The Press – one of the most famous photographs ever taken – the photograph of Phan Thi Kim Phuc, the Napalm Girl – who epitomised the horrors of another war. What I never appreciated was that this young girl was the same age as all of us in the class. Mr Keen probably knew though, and I’m very grateful for the social conscience that he instilled in me about things well outside the confines of our little school. At the time I didn’t realise the significance of what he was trying to get across – but I do remember his passion about these two wars – even if I had no idea where one of them was!

Your leadership story grows with practice and this regular blogging has reinforced for me the memories that are stored in us all but not easily accessed without a mechanism to do so. I’ve quite enjoyed that part of this Lockdown. So maybe there was more than just the structure that I’ve got from it – re-living and reflecting on memories from many moons ago has brought a deep sense of contentment.

Have a great first Alert Level 3 weekend!

Stephen

Day 33

Day 33

A very kind reader sent me a message today “I have learnt a lot more about you than I otherwise would in the business world.  You’re a great writer, you like the outdoors and walking, and you’re a big softy when it comes to your parents“.

Writing each day for the length of the Lockdown was about several things for me. Creating a worthwhile pattern or chain, straight out of Cal Newport’s Deep Work and something I mused on earlier on in the Lockdown. Practice is an under-rated thing, linked closely with the ability and time made to do genuine deep work. Work that truly makes a difference to what you’re trying to achieve.  The Lockdown was and still is, a perfect time for trying some deep work. The experiment of the daily blog has been rewarding, and hasn’t at all felt like hard work. It’s helped me process thoughts and feelings, and created a discipline of continuous work that felt meaningful for me.

I’ve always written in my blog as a reflective process too. In the leadership development work I facilitate, the power of reflection is always top of mind and I’ve, perhaps selfishly, used these last five weeks as a personal reflection. To see what might come out of a condensed, focussed, purpose-driven reflection to achieve lasting change. And it was doing something, when doing nothing seemed like a real possibility!

During the month, Facebook and the like has been great for connecting with family and friends, well that’s what I pretend it’s like, but it’s really full of feeds to meet your personal algorithm, echos of your own views and prejudices, and largely uninformed commentary building on the echos. It, along with Twitter, and an empty email inbox, will have zero consequences when the day comes and people talk about what was meaningful and memorable in your life. The shallow work things in your life don’t matter and the same applies in leadership. Ignore them. Cal Newport’s Facebook Amnesty can help.

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I noticed these last five weeks that a majority of the viewers came to the blog via LinkedIn, which has prompted me to look at it a bit. It’s nice to look at, clean, and the commentary is somewhat more intelligent. Is it just a giant for sale thing or is it just me? Is there anyone there buying? You might know that my main day job in client work is leading the PwC Forensic Services practice – you know, economic crime, conflicts of interest, fraud, anti-money laundering et al. Although during the last five weeks, most of the time has been spent in my people and culture lead role in PwC Consulting, as you might expect. Perhaps I should have spent time writing about all this stuff to sell! Maybe, really, that might have been a better use of my time and energy. Afterall, someone has to pay for all the nice things! Is it worthwhile reflecting and sharing?

Writing wasn’t the only chain I had. I walked everyday – total distance 322 km in 41 separate walks. I love walking and I’m sitting at 140 walks for the year, creating a habit for mental and physical health. The Lockdown has solidified the walking chain and I have a deep sense of contentment and achievement from that.

When we went into Lockdown 33 days ago, it felt quite scary and I was quite anxious.  Living close to the Newmarket Viaduct, the drop in city activity was obvious and confronting. I got irritated about the 80,000 people that were said to die if we didn’t do anything as it seemed obviously wrong. Today that was brought up again, sort of, in a rough looking chart that mapped countries that did nothing vs those that did. That binary message is too simplistic as I doubt anybody thinks we should have done nothing.  It draws from declarations of war language to fire up a community.  It’s hardly been challenged. I’m disappointed in that as it’s an opportunity for authenticity lost.

My anxiety passed quite quickly and I let my own thoughts about where I was each day into the blog.  At its core I think leadership and authenticity are inextricably one and the same. Together. Peas in a pod. When you write your own journal, you’re reasonably likely to write truthfully, honestly and authentically. So the same has always applied here for me. It can feel risky at first. It’s not smooth and manicured like a marketing message. What if you said the wrong thing? What if you offended someone? What if your thoughts today, are not yours tomorrow? Hey, so that’s authenticity right?

I’ve no idea about the writing as my kind reader has said. I’m pretty sure I’ve started way too many sentences, like this one, with “And”, although you are allowed to, apparently. What I do know, is that if you want to build trust in your life, with a team, your family, maybe your readers, you share a bit and build the trust bank. Trust is at the heart of meaningful business relationships.  Possibly even better than a LinkedIn Ad!

What you share must be authentic, things that matter to you. And the more you know about yourself, the more you have to share. Before you know it you have a story, your leadership story which will start with events long before you were in business, probably from your family. So of course, I’m an old softy about the folks!

It won’t be every day from now on, but the blog feels that it has a much better meaning for me now.

I’m feeling grateful for the opportunity to reflect and share. There’s a lot of pain in the world right now and I, relatively speaking, have none. Just the leg a bit still. Thank you.

Stephen

 

 

 

Day 32

Day 32

It was another stunning day, helped by some rain overnight. I didn’t manage a COVID-19km walk because of my sore ITB but I got to 13. Dr Google says that I shouldn’t aggravate it by the activity that causes the pain, so I told myself on the walk that as long as it was short enough that’s not the actual activity. How we try and fool ourselves! Contrary to the impression I had that medical facilities were open during Alert Level 4, it’s extremely restricted – only primary care – with severe restrictions. So a physiotherapist will have to wait. To be fair I walk along Auckland’s Medical Mile frequently and it’s been quiet like everywhere else.

What didn’t wait was Mum’s birthday – coming ready or not – and according to the ancestry.com family tree that I maintain, she’s the oldest person on record in her line for many years. Obviously I don’t have all the dates but she has now moved ahead of my 12th Great Grandmother Mary Banestre who lived 1509 to 1598, although my 25th great grandfather Robert du Vaux is recorded as having died in 1194, aged 94 years.

Dad put on a special breakfast and when I saw the picture on Facebook this morning, with blurry morning eyes I assumed it was a shot of the Queen, and then I realised of course it was. Just our family’s! I did feel a bit sad I wasn’t there, as I usually see Mum on her birthday, but there’s a lot more pain going on that this of course. But after singing her Happy Birthday, she didn’t muck around with the niceties:  “Have you got yourself ready to go into work?” Now I remember why I wasn’t late for school! Wisdom brings with it refreshing practicalities I find with Mum.

A birthday breakfast in Lockdown for Mum

There were nine cases today and my running review of the eighteen deaths shows none of them appear to have COVID-19 as the underlying cause of death according the WHO. New Zealand has a remarkably low level of cases, and related deaths, and we’re being put in a group of five nations with similar statistics – Australia, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong.

The fact of elimination being touted up until the other day as ridding the country of the ‘rona, but now being used in a medical sense i.e just very low cases, has caused some disquiet as to whether our media are fact-checking the press conferences. It’s obvious they’re not – in fact as I’ve said before the whole thing looks like a propaganda exercise.  If you’re tempted to think it doesn’t matter because it’s our health at stake, that’s in the same genre of argument that can apply to multiple areas that is essentially government knows best.  In this category is the unlimited access to our data by government agencies (if you’d done nothing wrong, why worry etc). That’s not a system I want to live in. Freedom is far more important.

Be that as it may, our success is being analysed and includes the fact that we are quite socially distant anyway – low population density – and very isolated and relatively wealthy. The cost in this article is described as astronomical, with our Tourism sector as a major contributor to GDP effectively shut off. We have the strictest measures of these countries.

The sooner we can bubble with Australia the better.  Bring those Aussies over for the Ski Season I reckon.

I was lucky enough to escape the city for some essential maintenance at my rural property. I’m quite disappointed to have not had to use my evidence, nicely collated in a plastic sleeve – police exhibit style – I thought they might appreciate that, although the car is a bit cleaner that might be expected and my hands too smooth!.

One more day, and it’s a holiday. We won’t forget this ANZAC break for a while.

See you for the final Lockdown Blog tomorrow!

Stephen

Day 30

Day 30

It’s almost as good as a trip to Europe – Paris and London – replete with car chases, the main scenic attractions, historical buildings. Your film, should you decide to accept it on a Friday Night – Mission Impossible-Fallout. It’s a big film, non-stop action, appropriately big plot – Nuclear bombs to be detonated at three religious sites – and bonus, scenes filmed gloriously in the Southern Alps of the South Island. A helicopter chase through the mountains and valleys – borrowed partly from Bond’s Spectre opening scene – but much more too, and like the best promo for New Zealand tourism.

Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, South Island, New Zealand
Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, South Island, New Zealand

There’s talk we might have a “bubble” with Australia. That would be a great start to get trading and tourism kick started. It would also be a great lifting up of the ANZAC spirit. Relations at a political level with Australia have been under strain recently.  It would be the ideal ANZAC announcement. Two great friends as one.

They’ll be no ANZAC parades but we’ve been told to stand by our letter boxes as a mark of respect in the morning. It’s one of the few times we can feel united in the horrors of wars fought in the past by mostly young men – just boys really – who sacrificed their lives, mostly unknowingly until the end, to create a better world. It’s easy to think the world isn’t a better place – there’s plenty wrong, but there’s also plenty that’s right.

I’m not sure if standing by the letterbox does it for me in an apartment with a panel of letterboxes by the main entrance. On the way into the lift I’ll hit “G” say “At the” and the lift will give it’s sober “going down” and I’ll say “of the sun and in the morning. We will remember them.”  I think this almost every time I get in the lift, it’s the way the lift voice says it, so now’s my chance to bring the whole building into thoughts I’ve had for ages.

And I really do think about those sacrifices and hope that once again we can make some good by rebuilding the ANZAC nation back. My paternal grandmother born in Tasmania in 1902, also on a 13th, would be proud of the thought. She’d also smile at the lift sequence. She’d know I meant no disrespect, which I don’t.

So maybe COVID-19 can be an ANZAC force for good.

Stephen

Victor and Ellen Drain 1928

Day 27

Day 27

It could have been the penultimate Lockdown blog, but we’ve still got five more days. David Bowie’s Five Years comes to mind for no other reason that it’s five, although that song is about the end of the earth coming in five years.

Thinking, hoping that it might be only one day to go I went back and looked at the earlier blogs of the Lockdown. Quite a bit of talk of anxiety and being indoors. It did kind of scare me a bit at the beginning.  The 80sqm apartment, my love of freedom,  I think I was a bit sceptical reasonably early on – or more questioning – as it worried me and still does, that the media have acted like an arm of the official information bureau, rather than any deep questions. I mused about what I would do – watch all 25 Bond movies – I’ve watched one only.  Moonraker with Roger Moore – great sets, actually a really good story, but the lines. Ouch, James Bond 007 The Sleaze!. I finished the third series of Ozark and nothing else on TV has really held up well in comparison. As the days stretched into weeks I’ve felt my rational mind more active and have read lots about COVID-19 and consumed a lot of data, some of which I’ve shared here.

People I know have a range of views but many people, sadly I think, appear consigned to defeatist – or they would say realistic – unquestioning compliance. At the risk of sounding like a consultant, that’s not to say that we’re not doing the right thing.  But I think we should, must! question such a massive imposition on our lives the impact of which is long term for many.

On our leadership programmes we really encourage the leaders on the programme to do serious self reflection. At first it’s not natural – it can be seen as time consuming when real work could be done. But as we do more of it, there are real moments of clarity and insights that can cause material and long-lasting change for people in their lives. This is the unquestionable beauty and satisfaction of this work. But it needn’t be a programme or a special event that drives reflection.

This electronic, public diary has helped me to process my thoughts. The changes forced upon us these last few weeks have given me deep and unexpected insights about my own behaviours. I’ve realised that I derive quite a lot of contentment from being much more structured that I have in the past. I feel confident that this new structure is something I take forward. It’s happened on the back of other reading I’ve done – Cal Newport’s Deep Work – is the main reading, so it’s been a happy coincidence. I don’t know whether reflecting each day has been the deciding factor in these insights, but it’s almost certainly accelerated it.

As a police cadet there were a few unusual things we learned. We learned a lot about death and dealing with it practically and emotionally. This has come up quite a bit for me these last few weeks as there’s been lots of dialogue about death, and as my rational mind has come forward, it’s played out here. I’ve felt it’s been quite healthy and therapeutic for me to discuss it here and I do hope it’s not been too confronting.

Another thing we learned about at the Police College was what act is the act that makes an attempt. That is, how close to the crime does the act of the suspect need to be to be an “attempt”? If you’re going to rob a bank, does buying the guns cut it? Does getting into the Ford Transit van to drive to the bank do it? Does marching into the door and demanding to be let in through the sliding doors do it? The answer is, you look for the “penultimate act”, which would be the last example here. The one before is the anti-penultimate act and doesn’t cut it. Of course there might be conspiracy, possession of weapons etc, but not attempted robbery. Some things stay with us forever. Hopefully yours are more useful than the need to explain anti-penultimate just because you started a short dialogue using penultimate. And I haven’t gone all totally structured!

Reflection using everyday tools of deep thought, writing, processing, sharing and being honest with yourself can bring amazing changes for the better for anyone who wants to give it a crack. Those things can stay with us forever and for good.

Stephen