Thursday, 21 December 2017

My 2017 Journey Back to Fitness

Setting the scene, setting goals

Towards the end of each year, I do a little exercise reflecting on what was important to me in the previous twelve months, and where I want to focus my attention and effort in the following year. I call these 'directions'. They are definitely not SMART goals, nor are they resolutions. A SMART goal would be something like 'run the Berlin Marathon (on 24 September) in a time of 3:15 or faster', while a resolution might look like 'run five times a week'. Instead, they mark a direction I want my life to take.

Here's one of them from last year's exercise:
Get super fit; especially prepare for Berlin Marathon
After a couple of years of injuries, I was feeling in a rut with regards to exercise. What had been an essential part of my self-identity throughout my life was missing. I do sport, I am a sportsman. I'd somehow forgotten to be me, and I wanted to get back on track.

Signing up for the Berlin Marathon set me off on my new journey. My previous best marathon time was 3:32, and I thought - with the right training - I was capable of beating 3:15. I was relatively unfit a year ago, but with the right training over the nine months ahead, I believed I could get there. I determined to hit a 45-minute 10km in March, a 90-minute half marathon in June and then the 3:15 marathon at the end of September. Spoiler: I failed in that specific goal.

Running was only part of my ambition. I wanted to 'get super fit', a deliberately vague term, which I intended to mean make progress across a range of fitness standards: strength, speed, stamina, flexibility, agility.... And to be able to participate in whatever physical activity came around, just as I always had.

I'd been a member of a gym for aeons, but on average I was only going about once a month. In the distant past, when I was playing rugby, I loved going to the gym. I found an excellent personal trainer, and we enjoyed working together. But fastforward to a year ago, working alone and without a specific objective, I was finding the gym boring.

My gym was a couple of miles away. I'd joined it years before when I lived nearby and I went along quite regularly. When I moved home in 2014, because it was very cheap, it was hard to give it up, even though my attendance was now very poor. At £15 a month, if I just went once a week, I figured, the cost would be down to about £3.50. But in the dark of winter, my motivation to run up to the gym where I would be bored was lacking. I began to take a look around at gyms closer to home.

Idly browsing through Netflix, before I cancelled my subscription, I came across an awe-inspiring documentary about the CrossFit Games. So yes, on the one hand, I discovered CrossFit through Netflix; on the other, I inhaled 65 hours of Breaking Bad in just four weeks. I'm almost in tears thinking about all that I could have done during those 65 hours.

In January, I noticed a CrossFit gym less than half a mile away from home. I must have seen it before but I had never taken any interest. I signed up to a free taster session. There were just two of us giving it a go. We did Jackie, one of the girls. The girls are a series of standard workouts with girls' names. Yeah, I know how it sounds to an outsider, just as I was at the time. Jackie consists of:
  • 1000m row
  • 50 Thrusters @ 20kg
  • 30 Pull-ups
This high-intensity, short workout makes you sweat hard and it's fun. 'Scaling' is an important concept in CrossFit. You take a workout and if you're not up to the prescribed standard, you can modify the movement, the measure and the volume. For example, 50 thrusters at 20kg, could be scaled to 25 (lower volume) squats (easier movement) without load (reduced measure).

I got hooked. I signed up for the next introductory sessions, and soon I was paying ten times for my gym membership to what I was paying before, but I was attending 13 times a month.

What is it about CrossFit?

London Box Battles April 2017: working towards 1RM Thruster
For me there are a number of factors that make it highly addictive.

Every session is coached. You book a one-hour timeslot, and a coach guides you through the WoD - Workout of the Day. They prepare you for the actual workout, guide you through the technique to maximise performance and avoid injury, and keep an eye on each person, providing feedback as you go.

Gradually - actually pretty quickly - you begin to notice the effect. And as you progress in fitness, you begin to learn more, so that the movements that you scaled down, you begin to do in earnest. This year, amongst other things, I've learned to do handstand pushups - pushups while in a handstand - and double-unders - skipping with the rope passing twice under your feet between jumps. I'm still not 100% proficient but it feels exciting to improve in ability and to learn new movements, even at my 'masters' age. But because there are scaling options for every movement, and the coaches will take you through the progression from easiest to hardest, anyone is capable of starting.

There's variety in each workout. Part of the CrossFit ethos is to be able to take on whatever physical challenge is thrown at you. Jackie has three fairly different movements in it: rowing, thrusters and pull-ups. Kelly is quite different, involving running, box jumps and wall balls, although the running gets harder with each round as the box jumps and wall balls take their toll.

I'm looking forward to testing myself again on Fight Gone Bad on Boxing Day. This is a tough workout that consists of three rounds of one minute of each of the following:
  • Wall balls
  • Sumo deadlift highpull
  • Box jumps
  • Push press
  • Rowing
The idea is you put one minute maximum effort into each of them then move straight on to the next movement. At the end of the five, you take a one minute break and then go again, for a total of three rounds. There's also a five-round version. None of the movements is difficult, even if they have these obscure names. You quickly learn what they are: at the start of the session the coach will take you through the movements and prepare your for the specifics of each one.

Because every session is coached and limited to a specific number of people, and generally people will attend sessions at roughly the same time, you get to see the same people and form something of a community. You also get to know the coaches. Our box had a Christmas party, to which all clients were invited. I've never before been a member of a gym that does that. 

At our box, you sign up for a session, and if you don't attend or cancel three hours before the session, you lose the appointment. You have a limited number of sessions per month, and you don't want to lose them. When 7pm comes around and you feel a bit tired, you don't have to drag yourself to work out, there's a pull coming from your fixed appointment. So, at the start of the year, in the cold and dark of February, when I was supposed to be training for a 10km race, I was going to CrossFit much more than putting on my running shoes.

So how did the running go?

I ran the Regent's Park 10K on 2 April in 44:20. That's a long way off my best, but was below the 45-minute target that I'd set myself. I'd been on a grand total of six runs in the two months coming up to it but I was doing CrossFit three times a week.

A month later, at the start of May, I ran the same course again. I upped my training to about 5 times a week, with a minimum of two runs a week, except around Easter weekend, which I'll come back to later. I felt fitter going into the race, and so it proved. I knocked nearly two minutes off my time, finishing in 42:38. Still not a PB, but well on track.

And then at the start of June, right when I should have been starting my 16-week marathon training plan, I went away on holiday for two weeks.

Corsica: hiking the GR20

The GR20 is well-known in France as a particularly gruelling hike of nearly 200km over the beautiful Corsican mountains. I'd first heard of the route ten years ago, while on an active holiday of scuba diving, hiking and eating. The desire to complete the route had been lying dormant in my imagination all this time, until I was inspired by a dozen intrepid adventurers recounting tales of their expeditions at an event in March appropriately named A Night of Adventure. I booked my flights at once. 
Pen y Ghent

On Easter weekend, I got my old kit together, plus a new backpack, and hiked 80km of the Pennine Way in the Yorkshire Dales. One of my tent poles snapped, as I was pitching my tent on the first night in driving wind. I was able to repair it. On the second day, I could barely see where I was going as I was lashed by horizontal rain for about 20km. It was miserable; it was perfect. I thought, if I can do this, Corsica will be a breeze. By the end of the third day, my old boots were falling apart.

Corsica was not a breeze. Physically and mentally, it was very testing. I was quite often terrified of falling, and it was reported that one man fell 15m on the section that I was to be doing the next day. Carrying around 20kg on my back up and down steep tracks, with very uneven ground was challenging. By the end of the trek, I'd lost 10% of my bodyweight. Too much, too fast. While I looked lean, I'd almost certainly lost some of the muscle I'd gained in the previous months.

The question now was whether all that physical work, the mental break and stimulation, and the Vitamin D boost would pay off for running.

The Road to Berlin

I got straight back into running on my return with a couple of gentle little runs. I had to cut short a CrossFit session with knee pain, but I was ok to do a 10km training run two days later. Within a week of completing the GR 20, I'd been on three runs totalling 20km. The week after I ran three times totalling 33km, as well as going to CrossFit three times.

And a week later, I ran the North Downs Way half marathon. It was an arduous trail, and it was hot. My stomach was cramping by the end, and in the last few hundred metres I was overtaken by lots of runners. The time was irrelevant, and wouldn't allow me to gauge how fit I was. It was the wrong race: a mistake in my training plan. Yet it somehow felt good, once I'd eaten about 2kg of Haribo.

Entering the sixth week of the 16-week training plan, I was off course, and didn't know where I stood in relation to my goal of hitting a sub-3:15 marathon time, and gaining guaranteed entry into the London Marathon. I had a goal, and a plan, and I needed to execute it. Now, at the half-way point, it was crucial to be upping the mileage. But due to the half marathon over uneven ground, with a few short and sharp ascents and descents, I was suffering niggles that could easily become a full-blown injury, and rule me out of the marathon altogether. 

I cut right back. My training log is full of entries with cancelled or abandoned training runs due to 'niggles'. In place of a 10K, I noted a 5K 'being careful'; for a 24K, 8K 'being careful'. But I didn't stop altogether. I ran shorter; I ran slower. July was largely a write-off but I still had time.

Burnham Beeches Half Marathon 2017: the last stretch
The pains slipped away, and I entered another half marathon in the middle of August. This time Burnham Beeches. Far from a flat course, on another warm summer day, I set out with a reset objective of running 1:33:31. I felt strong from the start. Too strong, actually, too much endorphin. I ran the first 10km in 43 minutes, just a few seconds slower than the 10km race back in May. The second half taught me a lesson. I finished in quite a lot of pain, that final uphill mile seeming never-ending. I finished in 1:35:54. Outside my goal; outside my PB. 

Six weeks to go to take 18 minutes off my previous best over marathon distance. By now I should have done a couple of 20-mile runs, but the longest were the two 13-mile half marathons. I ran a 15-miler the week after Burnham Beeches, but an 18-miler a week later was cut short to 16, after I tried running on the hottest day of the year without water. Another lesson learned. At the end of week 13, I got up to 20 miles, but it was now time to cut back in order to hit the start line fresh. I ran 13 miles the following Sunday, and 6 miles the week after that with seven days till the starting gun.

I had switched out of the high intensity CrossFit activities, and it was absolutely the right thing to do. There is no real stamina work in CrossFit. While it helped me with my 5K, 10K and to a lesser extent half marathon, the marathon is a different beast altogether. Instead, I was doing much more cross-training, especially long rowing efforts, which continue to train the legs for long distances without the impact of running on a hard surface. Some elite ultra-marathon runners are now advocating no cross-training at all. 

Berlin Baby

Berlin Marathon 2017: you're smiling now

I didn't break 3:15. On a rainy day at the end of September, I ran a PB of 3:22. It felt good to have run a better time, but I had missed the main goal. My training had been less than perfect. The conditions on the day were less than perfect. My start position in the 3:30-4:50 pod was less than perfect. Some of this was outside my control, but the major factor was inadequate training, and I could have done better.

And yet...

The direction I'd set myself was principally 'get super fit', and I was progressing along that journey. Not only had I just run the best marathon of my life, aged 42, I had done so while also improving my overall fitness, learned some new skills and I'd undertaken a challenging and memorable hike.

I am also pleased with the specifics of my pre-race preparation. I'd given my body time to recover from training. I ate correctly, ensuring adequate calories. I'd been for a little jog the day before to loosen up and to recce the start line, so the shambles of 40,000 people milling about wouldn't faze me. I brought the lesson from Burnham Beeches, and slowed myself down in the first half to ensure I could make it to the end. My fueling during the race was good too.

What next?

The experience of Berlin had me hyped. The major shortfall in my training had been long runs. Well, now I had a 26-mile long run in the bag. So I looked for the next marathon to hit my target and I signed up to run Valencia six weeks after Berlin. I was advised by a more experienced friend to be cautious, but I ignored the advice, which proved to be right. My body hadn't recovered, and I felt sluggish in training. So I didn't fly to Spain, and I haven't run another marathon. Another lesson learned.

The CrossFit Open runs from the end of February to the end of March. I'm now preparing to do as well as I can. Will I run another marathon? Maybe... I haven't yet settled on the specifics, but in 2018 I will definitely continue along the journey to get super fit.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

A man walks into a bookstore...

Junot Diaz - Drown
I had 17 minutes until my train departed, so I went to the bookstore on the station concourse and began browsing. I've seen two authors, whose previous works I've read and enjoyed, advertised on the Underground recently, Arundhati Roy and Zadie Smith. So I thought I'd have a look at their latest creations. But quite quickly I picked up Christopher Berry-Dee's Talking with Psychopaths and Savages. Something about the cover grabbed me: maybe it was the sub-title A journey into the evil mind, or the sub-sub-title A chilling study of the most cold-blooded, manipulative people on planet earth. She can't possibly be in this. Can she?

As I scanned the shelf for a second title, the shop assistant asked: "Are you looking for something similar to that one?" and quickly we were engaged in a conversation. We discussed authors and genres, and she even read out an extract from a novel. Then she suggested the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, one of the most enjoyable novels that I've read in the past five years. She hadn't like Junot Diaz's later work This is how you lose her, which I thought was also insightful and entertaining, but she recommended nevertheless Drown, a collection of short stories that pre-dates both. I paid and ran for my train, hopping on as the doors closed.

The conversation I had on that day in that store with that woman is different to the conversation I had on a different day, in another store with a man. They are human and have the qualities that are uniquely human, each time distinct, yet familiar. Today, AI can't replicate this: your voice assistant doesn't even get close. And I don't want it to. I don't want a machine to do this human thing: I don't want Blade Runner. But I do want it.

One time: "What's your favourite book?", she asked. "The Hobbit", I conceded, a little coy. Alternatively: "Do you have The Sellout?", I enquired. "We've sold out, I'm afraid", he replied, suppressing a snicker. And most recently: "I could swear that horse had a name", she said as I approached the counter. "What do you think was the horse's name?" "Bob", she suggested.

Are you enriching human interaction and experience, or chipping away at it?

And as for those books? Psychopaths I found deadly dull; but Drown buoyed me up again.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Getting straight to the Punkt

As I slipped the SIM card into the Punkt MP 01, I was fully aware that my other assorted devices still had wifi connectivity. Only if I left them behind would I be truly bereft of the myriad digital services that punctuate my day with information, entertainment and connections.

Punkt is a Swiss company based in the beautiful region of Lugano, and the MP 01 is a mobile phone capable of… well, not a great deal really: calls and SMS, alarms and reminders. It has less functionality, in other words, than the Nokia 6100 that I’ve had for about 15 years. The makers call it a ‘dumb phone’.

Marek Pawlowski, founder of MEX, had passed the phone to me shortly before Christmas, and I was delighted to receive a device that I thought might help me break from obsessive phone checking: I can’t tell you how often I catch myself picking up my iPhone seconds after I’ve put it down, just to check on… who knows what? Punkt has this to say: “The more our phones do, the more they demand of us. Sometimes it’s good to take a break. But until now, the only alternative to hyper-connected smartphones has been the kind of phone you find at the back of a drawer. The Punkt MP 01 is a stylish, well-crafted mobile phone which focuses on modern simplicity, inside and out. It makes phone calls and sends texts. That’s all.” Perfect, I thought.

As I unboxed the phone, noting the 1970s retro-styling, I opened up the fat little instruction manual and turned to the heading “Inserting a SIM card”. Immediately, I encountered the first problem: “the MP 01 is designed to be used with a Micro-SIM (3FF) only… Incompatible SIM cards can damage the card or device…”. My iPhone 7 uses a Nano-SIM.

So Christmas was a digitally-enhanced event. Taking my iPhone along to the family gatherings, I was able to take various pictures, and share them instantly with one or two friends over WhatsApp and iMessage. And I was able to book a cab home using Uber.

Then Marek informed me that there was a Nano- to Micro-SIM converter somewhere in the packaging. I had missed it, although it had been hiding in the same little black envelope in which the SIM tray opener pin (does this thing have a name?) was to be found. To be fair to Punkt, the manual does also say: “Permanent use of SIM adapter is not recommended.” However, the omission of the definite article (“the”) leaves some ambiguity.

A short time passed and I found myself back at work, unable to relinquish my smart device. The MP 01 remained in its box. Until last weekend. I was going to see a preview of the film Fences, followed by a Q&A with Viola Davis, who plays the principal female character. The plan was to put the SIM into the MP 01, and head down to the BFI. Who needs a phone at the cinema?

But I couldn’t do it. Despite the fact that my iPhone always goes into airplane mode before a film starts, and remains so for the duration, I still felt the need to have it with me. The moments around the viewing are where it plays a leading role. At MEX/16, Apala Lahiri Chavan of Human Factors International, made reference to the term ‘unwaiting’, the act of shifting, through a mobile device, to another world. Like many others on the tube, I find myself so immersed in my phone that I would struggle without it: whether it’s communicating via email or text, picking up a signal at each station along the way; or listening to music, from my own library or downloads on Spotify; or scrolling through Twitter and Instagram; or, quite frequently, using the time to compose my own words on the tiny keyboard.

Before I even get on the tube, I’m checking Citymapper to ensure I optimise my time by standing at the ideal end of the platform for the exit at the other end. And on this specific occasion, after the film, I took out my phone and snapped a couple of photographs of Viola Davis, which I shared on Facebook and Instagram on my way back home.

A recent article in Wired UK rails against the notion of the digital detox: digital devices are not de facto bad for us, and I find myself agreeing, while noting, on the other hand, that there are potential side effects. The huge utility that my device, with the various applications running on it, brings to me is so obvious that to say so seems superfluous. Modifying notification settings is important to avoid being repeatedly distracted while in mid-flow. However, the compulsion just to pick it up and to have a speculative look is more problematic. So is setting out to take some specific action and being drawn elsewhere, whether by a visual notification such as a banner or a badge, or an another, unconscious motive.

The solution might be to take short breaks from the iPhone, coping with the Punkt alone. But when? Perhaps I don’t need it when I go to do my groceries, perhaps I don’t need any sort of phone. Then again, I have my shopping list on it, and often make use of the time to listen to a podcast. I don’t carry any sort of device when I’m out running, but on a ramble? Well, in that case I like to take pictures of things I see, and occasionally take notes, but I would have to carry a notebook, pencil, camera… Ironically, I could handle being without the telephony, or the messaging.

To make good on my promise to Marek, I finally made the switch. First, I set a reminder. With an iPhone, you can ask Siri to remind you to do something at a particular date and time, at the press of the home button. But when you take away voice activation and a touchscreen interface, you’re left with multi-level, hierarchical decision trees. While these are logical, they are not natural. Yes, of course, we see them in biology: trees, veins etc. But in our daily activities, the rigid, linear paths rarely occur. So the simplicity of the device engenders a particular kind of complexity arising from the unfamiliarity of the system.

Creating a contact follows a similar process, and is not particularly difficult. Press the contacts key, scroll to ‘add contact’, ‘create new’, and follow the rest of the steps… But being used to having all the fields visible and appropriately sized, it felt strange to step through each one individually. Of course, with regular use, this sort of thing could become more natural.

Next, try typing a text message that says “I’ll call you in 10 minutes”. The lack of a full keyboard on the MP 01 means you input this: 4550225509680460######10#06467*HOME. The multiple # strokes toggle the input mode to enable numerals. I realised it would have been quicker to write “ten” (08360 – zero is a space). There is predictive text, but it is no surprise that txt spk came into existence, along with emoticons, during Nokia’s reign. To send the thing, you have to go through a whole decision tree again, unless you select the contact first, and go down the path before composing the message.

Now to make that call. It’s fairly easy to assign numeric keys 2-9 to speed-dial favourite numbers. But you’ll have to remember which is which, because it dials the number instantly, rather than giving you the opportunity to confirm the selection. It is simpler, when you have just one contact in your phone, to press the contacts key, select the contact and hit the ‘send’ key.

I will find opportunities to use the MP 01. Perhaps meeting up with friends in the evening. I’ll need to make sure I know where I’m going and how to get there before setting out, but otherwise all should be good. Unless they communicate a last-minute venue change on the WhatsApp group.

There are certain things that I instantly loved about the device. The styling first of all is gorgeous. While you might feel ashamed to pull out a 15-year old phone in public, the MP 01 makes a statement. I love the silk matte finish on the chocolatey brown. The shape of the back, with its dimpled surface, is unusual, but it fits very snugly in the hand, and is quite delightful to hold. At 88g it is only slightly heavier than the Nokia 6100, and 50g lighter than the iPhone 7. The screen is big enough for its limited functionality; while the typeface and the range of type sizes are good, albeit in monochrome. It has a micro-USB socket for charging, synchronising with your laptop, and using the handsfree earpiece. Just like the iPhone 7, there is no dedicated headphone jack, and it is Bluetooth-enabled.

A few design choices seem strange to me. The mic is at the bottom, off to the right, which could affect call quality. The USB socket has a cover with a rather flimsy looking hinge. I can’t see it withstanding much use. And while I like it that the volume and lock buttons are flush, it would be easier to change the volume during a call if the buttons had some shape for the thumb to find.

A moment ago, I picked up an email on my iPhone (over wifi), sent via Paperless Post, inviting me to an event. With one tap, I accepted the invitation; and with two taps, I added all the details to my calendar. Shortly, I will go for a run. When I get back, I will log the time and distance in Strava, and the data will then be imported, via the Health app, to Zingy, in which I’ve been logging today’s food, so that it can calculate my energy expenditure and modify my nutritional requirements for the day. 

The world has adapted to the smartphone: many pre-existing systems have been uprooted. It is difficult to do things the way we used to do them. It is not only the phone that has changed, but the world itself, both society and individuals. We do things differently, and many of the processes and objects that we once used have disappeared. There was a time when the A-Z was many people’s most helpful possession, residing in handbags, jacket pockets and glove compartments all over the country. Attempting to turn back the clock is about as easy as choosing to heat your home from time to time with coal.

The MP 01 is a philosophical statement: it is not a phone.

This piece originally appear at

Sunday, 13 November 2016

On failing fast and the fartiness of bread

A small shitty loaf
I baked a shitty loaf of bread today. I was pretty certain it was going to be shitty almost from the start. Why? Because I now have sufficient knowledge and experience of baking bread to determine when things aren't going to plan.

My wholemeal bread recipe calls for:
  • 300g wholemeal flour 
  • 200g strong white flour 
  • 10g salt 
  • 5g yeast 
  • 150ml cold milk 
  • 150ml hot water 
  • 5ml olive oil 
Usually, I put the dry ingredients into a mixing bowl. Then combine the milk and water and pour it into the bowl. Mix it all up with my hands. Then add the oil and mix it up. Then we can start kneading.

But things went wrong even before I got to the kneading stage. I was 30g short of wholemeal flour. Not a drama, it would be sub optimal but ok. I compensated with an extra 30g of white. Of course, I could have reduced all the amounts by 10%. That would have been the better option.

I was distracted, listening to Queen Calypso Rose on Cerys Matthews’ show on BBC6 Radio. Lovely music. Instead of mixing the liquids together I poured the hot water straight into the bowl. Not only that, but I poured a full 300ml in. Actually, using only water for the liquid is fine. Not quite as good a result – for my taste – but still delicious. I also overpoured by 20ml, which means a wetter dough, not ideal, but again still very workable. Such a small difference can be ignored, or rectified with a little more flour. The problem, however, is that the water was really hot, and high temperatures kill yeast. Dead yeast don’t eat, and dead yeast don’t fart, and it’s the yeast farts that make the dough rise. Yeah, sorry, bread’s a load of farty gluten.

But I persisted, wishfully thinking that somehow all would be ok. I kneaded the dough and left it to rise. I left it longer than usual and it only rose a little.

And still I persisted. I knocked it back, and left it to prove, turning the oven on to max, ready to receive the loaf. Quite some time later, the dough was rather firm to the touch, and had only risen a little.

Still I persisted. I prepared the loaf for baking, running my bread knife along its length. The cut should have opened up immediately. It didn't. That means there's no tension in the bread. The yeast hasn't done its job.

But I persisted. I placed the loaf in the oven, and during 40 minutes, I watched as a small heavy loaf gradually cooked.

I should have thrown away the mix right at the start. I knew the bread was doomed to shit, but it felt wasteful to throw away the ingredients, so instead I went ahead and wasted some more stuff:
  • All the mix, including the olive oil, which I hadn't yet added. 
  • The effort kneading the dough. 
  • Clingfilm to cover the dough. 
  • The time spent kneading, knocking back, putting in the oven, checking it etc. 
  • The energy to heat the oven. 
  • The energy to boil the water that gets poured onto a tray at the bottom of the oven. 
  • The hot water and washing up liquid to clean all the stuff used in the baking process. 
And for all my persisting, all I have now, is a small, shitty loaf of bread, when an admission of error, and a fresh start would have meant that at this moment, a delicious loaf would be cooling on the wire rack in the kitchen.

Now, if you think the lesson is about not hiring dead people to do work, you've missed the point. If you’re in this camp, let me just explain clearly what I’m trying to share. There are times when we push on with something, because we've made some effort. We know it isn't quite right; things aren't going to plan. Yet we stifle that part of our mind that is calling us to quit, and we persevere, hoping it’ll be all right. And the result is shitty.

There is another part to this, which seems to be rarely explored. Don’t get into things that you don’t fully understand. How can you know to quit, when you don’t know that you've cocked it up? How do you know when you've killed your yeast? How can you predict that your yeast won’t fart, when you don’t even understand the fartiness of bread?

The flipside, of course, is having sufficient experience to know that things are on track. You've mixed the ingredients together in the right way, and now there's a whole load of work to be done to move it along to the next stage. Sometimes, that work will seem arduous, repetitive and boring, but having the experience to tell that it's going to deliver results, makes it feel worthwhile, as it will prove.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Is Myers-Briggs up to the job?

The FT asks the question this morning and gives a summary of the debate:  It seems to me, however, that both sides of the table have it slightly off. 

Taking the example of the husband and wife at a party, saying that one of them wants to leave the party early because they're an introvert is the wrong way to look at it. 'Introvert' is merely the tag you give someone who wants to leave a party early. So explaining the behaviour as the outcome of the tag is simply saying 'you want to leave the party early because you want to leave the party early'. 

Nevertheless, that does have its uses. Once you begin to pay attention to personality types, you are, in fact, paying attention to personality, thereby accepting certain aspects of personality, which might include wanting to leave the party early. Accepting differences in personality, even if by the proxy of artificial personality types, can result in negotiating compromises, hence more effective relationships. 

The danger, however, arises from stereotyping, as well as the excessive emphasis placed on the I-E axis. My LinkedIn timeline is full of superficial, trite analysis and recommendations on the differences between I and E types. These are often simply wrong; but also fail to take into account all the many different aspects of personality. One of the important points of all the different introspective exercises that we undertook at IMD was the multitude of layers that might influence personality: culture, family, travel... 

In sum, using structures can help to understand differences in behaviour, thereby assisting in developing better relationships. But it's vital to avoid placing undue emphasis on the descriptor, and drawing superficial conclusions that stereotype, otherwise you miss the point, which is to better relate to each individual.