Saturday, March 18, 2017

Who is Simon? Why is Simon, Simon?

Simon through the years


I am currently taking part in my first Working Out Loud circle (more on those later). My personal goal in that circle is to create new content (blog/Facebook posts, comments and so on) and I have been doing that. My main output from the circle in fulfilment of that goal is to do a reflective piece on me hence this post.


This blog post is effectively a “state of the nation” of my life as at March 2017, some nearly 55 years in.

This is a summary of my life story to date and is intended to be a major checkpoint as I sort out what it is I should be doing next.

I have never taken the time to properly do this and my life to date, especially career-wise, has been reactive and rarely proactive.

The intention is to provide a foundation for further reflection beyond the end of March 2017.

Early Years (1962 – 1980)

I was born in Nottingham in 1962. Dad was from Manchester, Mum was from Aberdeen. I have one sister who is 3 years younger than me.

Dad was a university academic at Loughborough University in Analytical Chemistry with a passion for working with overseas students and being a PhD supervisor to significant numbers of students.

Mum was in schools education including being a Head Teacher in inner city Nottingham and then in Hounslow, became the Chief Inspector of Schools in Merseyside and latterly was in a senior role in Grampian. Mum was also a Captain in the Women’s Royal Army Corps in the Territorial Army.

I was brought up in Shepshed in Leicestershire and then Loughborough in the same county.
School education was at Arcot Primary School in Long Whatton, Fairfield School in Loughborough and Loughborough Grammar School (1973-1980). LGS is one of the oldest schools in the UK, founded in 1495.

With Mum and Dad both working, me and my sister were looked after by my maternal grandmother (Nana).

My “O” level results were 2 x As and 6 x Cs. Jake Fernandez was a favourite teacher and the A in Maths was down to his amazing teaching.

My “A” level results were 1 x B, 2 x Cs and 1 x D. It may be interesting for later to note that my best result was for General Studies which we did not get lessons for and covered a wide variety of subjects.

LGS was an all-boys school and girls back then were like an alien breed.

I had (have the remnants of) quite a bad stammer and went through speech therapy for a number of years while at school.

I was never that good at sport but always enjoyed taking part and played hockey for the school – a key member of a 3rd XI !!

I was in the army cadets in the Combined Cadet Force at school and went to all the Easter Adventurous Training exercises (including walking 150 miles of the Pennine Way in 7 days including white out conditions on Cross Fell and waking up to snow at Tan Hill Inn, walking in Germany when we pitched camp in snow) and the Summer Army Camps (including Warcop in Cumbria, one of the largest army training bases in Britain, live round firing in Dundee, a camp at Sennybridge which is the part of Wales where the SAS train).

Outside of school, I was a regular attender at church and a member of Sunday School and a youth group at church that met on Sunday afternoons, went to the evening service and met after socially.

I was also a member of the Boys’ Brigade (BB) and became an officer. I was also the drum major of the bugle and drums band.

In the summers of 1979 and 1980 I spent a week at the BB’s National Training Centre on their King George VI Leadership Development Programme. They were memorable days and the start of my interest in all things leadership-related. This culminated in me being asked to give the after closing dinner speech to round off the programme. This was a challenge with my stammer but was a real honour to be asked and it went well. I remember what I spoke on to this day. A fellow delegate was from the Danish equivalent of the BB which was FPF and I used the acronym to summarise my experience of the programme as Fellowship, Participation and Fun. Amazingly, those three factors are still key to me in whatever I still do.

Over this time I became a huge music fan with earliest memories of Music Star magazine, my first live gig when I was 11 (The New Seekers at Leicester de Montfort Hall in 1973), first album “Sladest” by Slade and Abba, recording songs off the radio from Radio Luxembourg, Radio 1 charts and John Peel.

Family holidays were a highlight for me. We used to hire a caravan in Welsh Newton in the middle of the Welsh/English border countryside and then later I was introduced to the Isle of Skye that has become a favourite holiday destination for me over the years. We spent a few summers at Lochcarron on the Scottish mainland.

When it came to university, while most of the school were targeting Oxford and Cambridge, it was clear that going there would be out of the question for grade reasons. I had an emerging interest in Banking and Finance, probably due to my Maths O level grade, and my first choice was Loughborough University to do Banking. Stirling to do Business Studies was down at 4th place as they would have taken me almost regardless of my grades.

When the A level results came, I was off to Stirling as the grades were not what I was expected to get or what Loughborough needed.

Undergraduate University Years at Stirling (1980 – 1984)

These were four amazing years. My motto rapidly became “work hard, play hard”. By the close of my studies, I was awarded the first “First” that the university had ever awarded for the joint Business Studies and Management Science degree.

Stirling University, loved studying here
Stirling is one of the newer UK universities receiving its royal charter in 1967. It is its 50th anniversary this year. Business Studies was an emerging discipline at the time under Professor Tom Cannon.

I knew from the very first Management Science lecture delivered by Professor John Woodward that I was in exactly the right place doing exactly the right subject – understanding how organisations worked and how to make them more efficient and effective.

I was not a huge fan of the 2 years of Economics or the 1 year of Business Law. The 1 year of Accounting taught me the importance of management accounting to give management teams the numbers on current performance and help them address issues ie a forward look whereas financial accounting is more of a rear view mirror look at how the organisation has performed.

Management Science back then was an emerging discipline. I remember the operations research and simulation of business problems. I loved being able to mix the numbers with the “fluffy” softer analysis of business problems. It was great to understand that actually there is a science to organisations and not just an art.

Mike Donnelly was an influential educator on me over these years with his passion for his subject and career as well as appropriately stretching each of us as his students and setting the bar high.

In my 4th year (1983/4), Stirling appointed a Chair of Retailing (John Dawson). At the time there were only 2 such chairs globally, the other being Harvard. Although I could not do the course, I sat through the lectures of the first semester’s content.

Also memorable was representing the university in the Stirling group that met the UK Government’s University Grants Committee when funding of UK universities was under review. I was in the unique position amongst students and staff of straddling the Business Studies and Management Science departments.

Life was busy away from the studies. I played hockey for the university a few times in my 1st year. I was a regular table tennis and pool player with an occasional 5-a-side football game.

Over the 4 years, I was a regular at The Grange (university-owned bar and night club). Loved dancing including either on my own on an empty dancefloor or with a mate.

In the summer after my first year, I had a spinal operation in which a harrington rod was inserted and left me wearing a thick full torso plaster cast for 6 months (I was hard to miss in my second year).

My first live gig at Stirling was seeing Echo and the Bunnymen – I was in heaven after only buying their first album a month or so before going to Stirling. Their “Stars are Stars” is still my big event psych-up song after playing it as part of my pre-exam ritual.

It is in my first year at Stirling that I became an evangelical Christian. For the first time I had to make a decision for myself as to whether I went to a church and believe in and follow Jesus or not.
We were never really forced to go at home and I wanted to go at home as it was where friends were.
There was no Damascus Road conversion experience. I am one of those Christians who went through a gradual process. I attended Logie Kirk, Church of Scotland where the Rev David Smith was the minister and his fire and brimstone preaching kept me on the straight and narrow through these university years. I was a Sunday School teacher and a BB officer at the church for all 4 years.

Music continued to play a big part in my life. In the 1981 January holiday I saw U2 for the first time on their first significant UK tour – The Boy tour – at Loughborough University for £1. Less than a couple of hundred of us there. A life highlight.

I saw a few gigs at the university but mainly went to gigs in Edinburgh and Glasgow with the university’s Music Society which I was on the committee for. Memorable gigs including U2 twice at Tiffanys in Glasgow, Simple Minds, ABC, The Human League, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cure and Tears for Fears.

I continue to this day to play music while I work/study. A typical Thursday/Friday night in my 3rd year went like this. Study till 8pm. Out at The Grange till 23:30. Listen to Billy Sloan on Radio Clyde midnight till 2am. One such radio show included first 200 people to write in on postcard will get 2 free tickets for filming of Simple Minds’ Waterfront video. Postcard in the postbox at 2:10. 2
Saturdays later me and mate in Glasgow Barrowlands for an amazing day of filming and a live gig.

The video for Waterfront by Simple Minds

… and so on to my career post University.

Career to Date

This is a recurring theme in my career. I still do not know what my ideal job is or what I want to do when I grow up …

At university, I applied for 8 positions, was interviewed for two and had a second interview for one.

In August 1984, I started with Asda (now part of Wal-Mart) on their first ever graduate store management training programme. Over the next 8 months, I worked in every part of a food/non-food superstore. This was an ideal foundation of real world practical experience to go along with all the academic business knowledge I had acquired at university.

In March 1985 I was counting money in the cash office at Asda Leicester when I took a call from HR offering me a role in the IT team at Head Office in Leeds. The following Monday I started working on my 1st IT project team. I worked on a number of projects at the core of Asda’s business including the Item/Bar Code etc database. We used James Martin’s Information Engineering methodology for data and process modelling. Later I started in a team of 3 in the same business area. This time we used IBM’s Business Systems Development Method for data and process modelling after having training in those techniques and consultancy from an IBM-er called William Reynolds (we used to say he had a brain the size of a planet). The techniques I learned and used then I still use today and have stood me in good stead.

From Asda, the project manager there took me with her to Comet (the then electrical retailer) in 1990 where we set up a data admin and data analysis team working with all of Comet’s project teams. This was my first exposure to facilitating requirements workshops and separating out compromises for business reasons and those for technical reasons. My role and the managerial role were made redundant as well as a number of other IT and business roles in 1992.

I then started with Swinton Insurance as Data Services Manager and then Business Consultant implementing BPR type projects with the leading insurers that Swinton was an intermediary for. This was at the start of Direct Line and Churchill’s entry into the market at a significant cost advantage as they had no branch network across the UK.

I moved to Yorkshire Electricity (YE) in 1996 as Business Systems Manager of a team of Business Analysts and Project Managers delivering services to projects in various locations across Yorkshire. This was complex as all IT services were competitively tendered and transfer priced to the business divisions within the organisation. We had the whole range of one business division outsourcing all their IT to a third party to one retaining the internal IT team’s services with variations in between. I implemented account management at YE as the IT response to the complexity of operating with the business divisions in this way. Latterly, I was part of the Supply Design Authority team of senior business and IT managers controlling system designs and the change process across the organisation. When Innogy/npower bought YE, a majority of YE’s senior management team roles were made redundant including mine.

Next role from 2001 was a Senior Consultant working for a consultancy firm doing significant project work for 2 household name clients while I was there. The work was fine and it was great being able to just get on with the project work with no organisational politics distractions. However, being away from my wife and young family started taking its toll as I was never seeing them. As a direct result of reading  Rob Parsons' Heart of Success: Making It In Business Without Losing It In Life and John Ortberg’s “If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got To Get Out of the Boat”, I resigned my position with no job to go to.

From 2002, I started a 10 year stint with Emerald Group Publishing as Manager: Business Analysis and Project Management introducing business analysis and project management processes for the first time in the organisation. This was my first exposure to internet-based systems and included me project managing the implementation of a new web site and delivery platform for the company’s content and loading that content onto the new platform. This involved a user interface and technical design company in London and offshore developer resource in India. For a period of time, I was Head of IT (Interim) in the aftermath of numbers of staff from a then small team resigning including the Head of IT. Following that, I was lead requirements consultant and user acceptance testing manager working with a third party to implement Microsoft Dynamics CRM/GP for a majority of Emerald’s core business processes including the global sales and content access processes (subscription and access in perpetuity). This latter role was then made redundant.

Following this redundancy notice at Christmas 2011, I contacted Claritas which was the company who hosted Emerald’s new global web site and who I had good relationships with and I was taken on immediately. Two main roles to date. I spent 18 months as a Project/Service Manager for Amey/Enterprise’s contract for United Utilities for water new connections and meter installations across the North of England. For the last 18 months I have been project/service managing the supplier-side workstreams for the live support of Victim Support (VS)’ existing case management system and replacement with a new case management system both based on Microsoft’s Dynamics CRM. This has included facilitating multiple workshops to understand and document VS’ requirements working with staff at all levels of their organisation. The new system is now live and the old system is in the process of being decommissioned.

Post-University Education and Training

Latterly in my time at Asda, I applied for and received sponsorship to do an MBA by distance learning at Strathclyde Graduate Business School. It was to take me a number of years to complete and three employers later I graduated. It was great studying after I had a number of years of practical experience. At the time, Strathclyde were the only traditional university that offered MBAs by this route. At the time they had the largest Marketing faculty of any business school in Europe. Lasting benefits from the MBA content has been consumer and organisational marketing, organisational development and strategic management. It has been great doing my formal business education in Scotland.

In 1997 I was one of the first people to successfully go through Prince 2 Project Management Practitioner certification. This has informed all my subsequent work in every sphere of my life. I also did a programme management course that was the forerunner for the material that ultimately became the UK Government’s Managing Successful Programmes.

While I was at YE the gas and electricity market opened up to competition. As part of YE's massive cultural shift from monopoly to commercial competition, the entire company, from call centre operator to the chairman of the company, went through a "Managing Extraordinary Service" cultural change programme delivered by Kaset International (now part of Achieve Global, I believe) in 1997. The content of that course went deep into me and I still use what I learned on that course on a regular basis. It is a part of who I am. Key was "moments of truth" or those occasions when a customer (internal or external) comes into contact with a member of YE and what impression they are left with. This content is even more applicable these days as many "moments of truth", or customer touchpoints, are electronic as the customer interacts with the company's web site - so called omni-channel contact. I went on to incorporate 360 feedback questions used on that course in my team’s performance reviews.

The implementation of account management at YE was informed by Pink Elephant’s Service Account Manager training and is practically useful to any organisation delivering any kind of service.

I came across John Zachman’s Enterprise Architecture Framework latterly at YE and had the privilege of being instructed by John himself in a memorable 2 day course. This further consolidated my prior data and process modelling experience and provides a sound foundation on which to base and drive enterprise change of any sort.

The last training I did whilst at YE was Techniques for Change’s Internal Consultancy Skills course. This was very helpful with lots of practical exercises and again built on my prior practical experience. That course was also memorable as the supplier had a library and I borrowed and devoured “Mastering Virtual Teams: Strategies, Tools, and Techniques That Succeed” (Deborah L. Duarte and Nancy Tennant) in the evenings during the course.

At Emerald, I did a management development programme which included an action learning project. I did mine on implementing a change culture within Emerald and was impacted greatly by “Leading Change” (Kotter) and “The Challenge of Change in Organisations: Helping Employees Thrive in the New Frontier” (Nancy J. Barger and Linda K. Kirby). The latter book used the metaphor of the American frontier and pioneers and did an amazing job using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to explain different people’s reaction to change and how to lead people through that process.

Emerald put me through the Common Purpose Matrix Programme in Bradford in 2004/5 which in summary is a leadership development programme that brings together senior leaders from the public, private and third sectors to learn from each other. For a day a month for 9 months, you are taken through how a major city functions. So there were days on health, crime & justice, culture and education. This was an amazing experience and I was able to bring my extensive experience of all three sectors to the table and learn more. This was also my first exposure to Chatham House rule.

Since working at Emerald, my education and training has been exclusively planned and done by me.

I fell into massive open online courses (MOOCs) when I came across MIT’s Learning Creative Learning four years ago. This is a way of learning online with content supplied by universities and other providers. I got the bug … badly. The first course had 100,000 learners from across the world, watching YouTube live streams and learning together in Google + communities. My mind was blown.

Since then I have now done the following 20 MOOCs:-
  1. Learning Creative Learning (MIT, Q1/2 2013)
  2. Web science: how the web is changing the world (Southampton University, Q4 2013, FutureLearn)
  3. Deeper Learning - DLMOOC (various organisations, Q1 2014)
  4. Future Classroom Scenarios (European Schoolnet Academy, Q1/2 2014)
  5. GSE1x Unlocking the Immunity to Change: A New Approach to Personal Improvement (HarvardX, Q3 2014, EDX)
  6. GSE2X: Leaders of Learning (HarvardX, Q3, 2014, EDX)
  7. Digital Marketing: Challenges and Insights (Southampton University, Q4 2014, FutureLearn)
  8. Size Up Your (New Business) Idea (University College London, Digital Business Academy, Q4 2014)
  9. Develop and Manage a Digital Product (Founder Centric, Digital Business Academy, Q3 2015)
  10. Understand Digital Marketing Channels (Founder Centric, Digital Business Academy, Q3 2015)
  11. The Influence and Impact Summit (Michael Hyatt, Platform University, 6-13 October 2015)
  12. Crime, Justice and Society (Sheffield University, Q4 2015, FutureLearn)
  13. Developing Cultural Intelligence for Leadership (Common Purpose, Q4 2015, FutureLearn)
  14. Justice (HarvardX, ER22.1x, Q4 2015 – Q1 2016, 12 weeks)
  15. How To Build a Sustainable Fashion Business (Ethical Fashion Forum, FutureLearn, 5 weeks, Q1 2016)
  16. Digital Leadership: Creating Value Through Technology (Henley Business School, University of Reading, FutureLearn, 5 weeks, Q1 2016)
  17. Why We Post: the Anthropology of Social Media (University College London, FutureLearn, 5 weeks, Q1 2016)
  18. The Power of Social Media (Southampton University, FutureLearn, 2 weeks, Q2 2016)
  19. Making MOOCs on a Budget (, 5 weeks, Q2 2016)
  20. Business Process Management: an Introduction to Process Thinking (Queensland University of Technology, FutureLearn, 3 weeks, Q4 2016)

For the community building (and tweeting) work I did on FutureLearn as a learner I was awarded the Inspiration on FutureLearn award in December 2015.

This summary of my MOOCs' experience may be of interest as may this summary of what I now look for in a learning platform to help me best learn.

I am now currently doing my 21st MOOC “Foundations of the Social Age” (12 weeks, Q1).

I am rare, apparently, in that I have completed every MOOC I have started.

I am also in the process of building a Project Management 101 MOOC on the Teachable platform.

Family and Church Life

On moving to Leeds in 1985, I did not go to any church for a number of weeks. I eventually went to a church on the outskirts of Leeds that with hindsight was more of a social club than a church. Then, not sure how, I stumbled across South Parade Baptist Church in Headingley. This became my spiritual home for the next few years. It was here that I was reintroduced to the power of small groups for study, prayer, fellowship and support. I was invited to go to something called Spring Harvest whilst there and this turned out to be a pivotal decision in my life when I accepted the invitation.

Spring Harvest is an annual Christian teaching event that takes place each Easter over a number of “weeks” on at least 2 Butlins sites – currently Skegness and Minehead. It is a teaching conference and holiday for all ages with a planned programme for each age group from the start to the end of each day. It is a parachurch organisation that organises the event but the speakers, youth workers etc are all drawn from the UK church across all evangelical denominations. To this day it remains the most creative and professionally organised event that I have ever been to.

For me, at the heart of its power and impact on people’s lives is the fact that those providing input and leading are from various streams in the church and not just one narrow section of the church. I have never been the same since going for that first time. It blew my mind seeing the variety and creativity in God’s church. And the size of it! Spring Harvest takes over the whole of the 2 sites and there is a special atmosphere onsite with that many like-minded people (thousands) being together for 5 days.

I love the tagline of the event “Equipping the Church for action”. Yes, I go there to get blessed, encouraged and have a holiday but fundamentally I go there to get re-envisioned and equipped for the following 12 months.

I met my wife Rachael there in 1989. We got married in 1992 and I moved to Bradford to our new home. Rachael is a nursery nurse in a primary school in Bradford. The school was featured in this BBC Radio 4 documentary.

We have three children (13, 16 and 18).

This year we will be going to Spring Harvest again. It will be my 30th successive event and Rachael’s 29th. The kids have never missed and they would freak out if we said we were not going.

Walking in to the Big Top for one of the evening sessions at Spring Harvest with a fave U2 tune on the PA. Heaven …

A good summary explanation of Spring Harvest for this year’s event
Spring Harvest has been a significant influence in who we are as individual people and who we are as a family. One of the best summaries of what I feel about God is the poem “Rob’s God” by Gerard Kelly that was written for Rob Lacey’s funeral. Rob was a creative powerhouse who influenced the UK church greatly.

We lost my Mum (75) four years ago to pancreatic cancer 3 weeks after diagnosis. We lost my Dad (80) without warning last June to a massive stroke. I wrote about Dad’s passing away in a recent comment on a John Stepper (Working Out Loud) blog post.

Rachael’s extended family are mainly local in Bradford and come from the city.

The church we go to as a family is Holme United Reformed Church (URC) on the Holmewood estate in Bradford. This is the church that Rachael started going to when she became a Christian as a teenager.

I have been heavily impacted by Peter Wagner’s book “Your Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow”. In the appendix there is a questionnaire that when you complete it indicates what your spiritual gifts are. I did that questionnaire and my gifts came out then as Leadership and Administration. Shortly after in 1994, I was asked by the senior leader of the church to be church secretary and join the church leadership team. He did not know I had completed that questionnaire but those two gifts are the ideal mix for the role I was asked to do.

In 1994, I went with him to the Willow Creek Leadership Conference in Cardiff led by Bill Hybels, the founding pastor of Willow Creek in Chicago. They are a service organisation case study at Harvard. This was another pivotal moment in my leadership experience. This was the first time I had heard a Christian speaker explaining leadership, vision, resources in a way that made sense from both a Christian and a commercial (or MBA!) standpoint. Here is one example of Bill in action.

Over the three years 2006-2008 I did John Maxwell’s Million Leader Mandate programme. In one session each 6 months. I went to York for a day to be taught content in a workbook to then bring away and teach that content at church. John Maxwell is the world’s pre-eminent leadership trainer and author. This was invaluable experience.

Here is John on his 5 Levels of Leadership

For all bar 2-3 years since 1994 I have been on the leadership team at Holme URC. For 30 years to the start of 2016 we ran  a social action charity delivering services such as a nursery, training the unemployed, a Job Centre, employment and benefits advice, but we had to put the charity into administration as our funding sources dried up (UK Government, Local Government and the EU) with the loss of c20 jobs. But the need is still there.

Spring Harvest also inspired me to start two streams of ministries at Holme URC. We saw All Age Worship being delivered at the event and as our kids were growing up we decided to do this at church. So for 15 years since 2001, we have led a 6-weekly all age event where all ages stay together for teaching, singing, prayer etc with these production values.

I also started a Culture Club in 2005 where we watch a film each month on a big screen and then discuss the film. This page lists all the films we have done to date. Starting this was a direct result of 2 speakers at Spring Harvest one year using separately clips from Romeo and Juliet and Moulin Rouge to illustrate their talks. On the way home in a Lincolnshire village with a very limited DVD range, I found a twin pack of those 2 DVDs! I took that as confirmation that I should get on with it.

As well as Spring Harvest holidays, family holidays, plus the mother-in-law, are often based on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. This and the mainland opposite is my favourite part of the world. The family love it too. We have amazing memories of holidays there. I have been going off and on for over 40 years.

My Life Online

As part of a MOOC exercise, I listed my technology milestones as follows:-
Some firsts for me personally:-
1) use of a typewriter in the 70s with a black and red ribbon
2) use of an IBM PC in my final year at Stirling University in 1984 after I had handed in my dissertation
3) email: struggled to remember but must have been when I worked at Asda in the late 1980s
4) use of the internet during my time at Yorkshire Electricity as-was in the early 1990s
5) Amazon purchase: November 1998
5) internet connection at home: AOL dial-up in 1999
6) broadband internet connection at home in the mid-2000s (fixed line then wireless)
7) blog post; November 2003
8) tweet: December 2006
9) full mobile access to the internet via a smartphone: 2010
10) tablet device (iPad): 2012
11) started/completed first MOOC Q1/2 2013
I am currently getting into Personal Knowledge Mastery (#PKM), Working Out Loud (#WOL) and Twitter chats. These are new to me since stumbling over the amazingly inspirational Michelle Ockers. Michelle from Sydney, Australia, was at ATD2016 in Denver, Colorado in June 2016 and I was backchannelling via the #ATD2016 hashtag (I did not know that was the term back then!).

Prior to this I was blogging and living life online/IRL. "Meeting" Michelle was the catalyst for taking my online working/playing to a whole new level. Although I was blogging, I was basically a dabbling amateur and increasingly I realised I needed to start writing more new content and not just point people to other people's content.

I recently posted about my input content challenges. Despite these challenges. I am one of the best consumers and sharers of content that I know. See my Twitter stats for 2016. I recently tweeted my 50,000th tweet.

I am currently doing a Working Out Loud circle (about to start week 11 of 12) and a further encounter escalated my ambitions. Sonsoles Alonso, from Barcelona, is an Executive Coach and is also in the circle. She asked for a 1:1 with me as she was not clear about my personal goal in the circle. In the 1:1 it rapidly became apparent that she was not clear about my goal because I was not! That 1 hour call was a life-changing encounter on many deep levels. In the days immediately post that call my posts and comments became increasingly passionate, deep and powerful. One such example is my call to action for all professionals to have at least one 12-week virtual WOL circle experience. This was documented in a comment on the "How can we help others develop strong learning practice?" blog post.

My personal goal in the WOL circle has been through a few iterations but is now effectively my manifesto and rallying cry:
"To create more long-form content than I have done prior to starting in my first WOL circle and to do so in a way that:-
(1) leverages both my personal knowledge and practical experience
(2) inspires people to engage and apply that content in their daily lives
(3) reduces any "barriers to entry" for the subject area
(4) encourages the reader to continue and build on the conversation
(5) is jargon-free and accessible to people unfamiliar with the subject area
and where the content takes the form of:-
(1) blog posts and comments on other people's blog posts
(2) Facebook posts and comments on other people's Facebook posts
(3) Tweets and replies to other people's tweets
and is either:-
(1) proactive with no specific prompt from another person's content
(2) reactive indirectly to another person's content
(3) reactive directly to another person's content.
This will include making explicit content that historically has been "hidden" behind "Like"s and "RT"s."
It has been eye-opening and exhilarating being part of a virtual WOL Circle with 4 other people so in 5 timezones (USA, UK, Spain, UAE and Australia) using Zoom (for video con calls) and Slack (for all other communication). I documented my experience and outputs here.

The Future

Why Now?

When I started the WOL circle, I was not expecting to start seriously questioning where I am at and what I should be doing next as deeply as is now the case and has triggered this post.

The Sonsoles chat that I have already referenced included the following exchange:-
Q: My question is much simpler than all of that. What do you want? What are you yearning to do? And not allow yourself to do right now? You are thinking and this is not a thinking question. This is a, just like that. Chuck (?), that!
A: I have never successfully answered that question in 54 years so that's the size of the task. Even though I'm getting really old. I don't feel like I am coming to the end of anything. ...
I have done a number of profile questionnaires in the past. These are listed below. Some may need re-doing as they were many years ago.


My Belbin team roles are as follows:-

My highest scores were:
  • Shaper: Energetic, highly-strung, with a drive to get things done. They challenge inertia, ineffectiveness and complacency in the team, but can be abrasive, impatient and easily provoked. Good leaders of start-up or rapid-response teams.
  • Completer Finisher: Makes sure the team delivers. An orderly, anxious perfectionist who worries about everything. Maintains a permanent sense of urgency that can sometimes help and sometimes hinder the team. Good at follow-up and meeting deadlines.
  • Company Worker: The Organiser who turns plans into tasks. Conservative, hard-working, full of common sense, conscientious and methodical. Orthodox thinks who keeps the team focussed on the tasks in hand. Lacks flexibility, and unresponsive to new ideas.
My lowest scores were:
  • Team Worker: Socially-oriented and sensitive to others. Provides an informal network of communication and support that spreads beyond the formal activities of the team. Often the unofficial or deputy leader, preventing feuding and fragmentation. Concern for team spirit may divert from getting the job done.
  • Plant: The Innovator. Unorthodox, knowledgeable and imaginative, turning out loads of radical ideas. The creative engine-room that needs careful handling to be effective. Individualistic, disregarding practical details or protocol - can become an unguided missile.
Roles not appearing in either of these lists were:
  • Resource Investigator: The extrovert, enthusiastic communicator, with good connections outside the team. Enjoys exploring new ideas, responds well to challenges, and creates this attitude amongst others. Noisy and energetic, quickly loses interest, and can be lazy unless under pressure.
  • Chairman: Calm, self-confident and decisive when necessary. The social leader of the group, ensuring individuals contribute fully, and guiding the team to success. Unlikely to bring great intellect or creativity.
  • Monitor Evaluator: Unemotional, hard-headed and prudent. Good at assessing proposals, monitoring progress and preventing mistakes. Dispassionate, clever and discrete. Unlikely to motivate others, takes time to consider, may appear cold and uncommitted. Rarely wrong.


ENTJs have a natural tendency to marshall and direct. This may be expressed with the charm and finesse of a world leader or with the insensitivity of a cult leader. The ENTJ requires little encouragement to make a plan. ENTJs are decisive. They see what needs to be done, and frequently assign roles to their fellows. Few other types can equal their ability to remain resolute in conflict, sending the valiant (and often leading the charge) into the mouth of hell. When challenged, the ENTJ may by reflex become argumentative. Alternatively (s)he may unleash an icy gaze that serves notice: the ENTJ is not one to be trifled with.


These are the results from the questionnaire in Marcus Buckingham’s “Now Discover Your

You love to learn. The subject matter that interests you most will be determined by your other themes and experiences, but whatever the subject, you will always be drawn to the process of learning. The process, more than the content or the result, is especially exciting for you. You are energized by the steady and deliberate journey from ignorance to competence. The thrill of the first few facts, the early efforts to recite or practice what you have learned, the growing confidence of a skill mastered-this is the process that entices you. Your excitement leads you to engage in adult learning experiences-yoga or piano lessons or graduate classes. It enables you to thrive in dynamic work environments where you are asked to take on short project assignments and are expected to learn a lot about the new subject matter in a short period of time and then move on to the next one. This Learner theme does not necessarily mean that you seek to become the subject matter expert, or that you are striving for the respect that accompanies a professional or academic credential. The outcome of the learning is less significant than the "getting there".

"Where am I headed?" you ask yourself. You ask this question every day. Guided by this theme of Focus, you need a clear destination. Lacking one, your life and your work can quickly become frustrating. And so each year, each month, and even each week you set goals. These goals then serve as your compass, helping you determine priorities and make the necessary corrections to get back on course. Your Focus is powerful because it forces you to filter; you instinctively evaluate whether or not a particular action will help you move toward your goal. Those that don't are ignored. In the end, then, your Focus forces you to be efficient. Naturally, the flip side of this is that it causes you to become impatient with delays, obstacles, and even tangents, no matter how intriguing they appear to be. This makes you an extremely valuable team member. When others start to wander down other avenues, you bring them back to the main road. Your Focus reminds everyone that if something is not helping you move toward your destination, then it is not important. And if it is not important, then it is not worth your time. You keep everyone on point.

Your Responsibility theme forces you to take psychological ownership for anything you commit to, and whether large or small, you feel emotionally bound to follow it through to completion. Your good name depends on it. If for some reason you cannot deliver, you automatically start to look for ways to make it up to the other person. Apologies are not enough. Excuses and rationalizations are totally unacceptable. You will not quite be able to live with yourself until you have made restitution. This conscientiousness, this near obsession for doing things right, and your impeccable ethics, combine to create your reputation: utterly dependable. When assigning new responsibilities, people will look to you first because they know it will get done. When people come to you for help-and they soon will-you must be selective. Your willingness to volunteer may sometimes lead you to take on more than you should.

You like to think. You like mental activity. You like exercising the "muscles" of your brain, stretching them in multiple directions. This need for mental activity may be focused; for example, you may be trying to solve a problem or develop an idea or understand another person's feelings. The exact focus will depend on your other strengths. On the other hand, this mental activity may very well lack focus. The theme of Intellection does not dictate what you are thinking about; it simply describes that you like to think. You are the kind of person who enjoys your time alone because it is your time for musing and reflection. You are introspective. In a sense you are your own best companion, as you pose yourself questions and try out answers on yourself to see how they sound. This introspection may lead you to a slight sense of discontent as you compare what you are actually doing with all the thoughts and ideas that your mind conceives. Or this introspection may tend toward more pragmatic matters such as the events of the day or a conversation that you plan to have later. Wherever it leads you, this mental hum is one of the constants of your life.

Your world needs to be predictable. It needs to be ordered and planned. So you instinctively impose structure on your world. You set up routines. You focus on timelines and deadlines. You break long-term projects into a series of specific short-term plans, and you work through each plan diligently. You are not necessarily neat and clean, but you do need precision. Faced with the inherent messiness of life, you want to feel in control. The routines, the timelines, the structure, all of these help create this feeling of control. Lacking this theme of Discipline, others may sometimes resent your need for order, but there need not be conflict. You must understand that not everyone feels your urge for predictability; they have other ways of getting things done. Likewise, you can help them understand and even appreciate your need for structure. Your dislike of surprises, your impatience with errors, your routines, and your detail orientation don't need to be misinterpreted as controlling behaviours that box people in. Rather, these behaviours can be understood as your instinctive method for maintaining your progress and your productivity in the face of life's many distractions.


This is the most recent assessment I have done via a review of Ridgely Goldsborough’s The Nine
Whys, sourced via Sonsoles.

My Why is:-
To master things, or seek knowledge
People with this WHY seek deep amounts of information over a broad variety of topics. They will pick a specific subject and begin to learn about it, often for the sheer joy of curiosity of knowing something new. They gather and retain substantial knowledge in different areas. Typically viewed as "experts" in numerous disciplines by many, they will insist that they have yet to truly master them. They are fearless about new subjects or ideas. ln a discussion with a person with this WHY, you might hear them say "Wait. We need to think about this first." People with this WHY include experts, artisans, master teachers, artists, academicians, polymaths, master craftsmen, theorists, programmers, statesmen and surgeons.

Current Thinking

As I end this post and as I start the soul searching for where I go next, I am thinking the following:-
  1. As I have gone through the WOL circle, I have come across a number of books that may help in my further introspection, The first two are definite reads for me to apply:-
    1. “Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life”; Bill Burnett, Dave Evans
    2. "Reinvention Roadmap: Break the Rules to Get the Job You Want and Career You Deserve"; Liz Ryan
    3. "The Neo-Generalist: Where You Go is Who You Are"; Kenneth Mikkelsen, Richard Martin
  2. I need to identify what it is I want to do work-wise and play-wise.
    1. The excitement I get from WOL and my general learning could be just a good way of spending my leisure time.
  3. It was great having Sonsoles’ input by asking me questions that started this whole thing off. I may look to do the next part of my journey with 1 or more fellow travellers.
  4. I want to do further work on The 9 Whys to look at the How which I understand is the next step.
  5. The attraction of being asked to do anything to get a job done may be dimming if the bulk of the work is drudge.
  6. The putting on of workshops and events at work and at church to understand the need and then organising the running order to meet the need and then facilitating that continues to give me immense satisfaction. This includes sourcing multimedia content to put in to that running order. The main source of that satisfaction is impacting those on the receiving end of those events deeply and powerfully.
  7. I do need to resume the building of my Project Management 101 MOOC to nail it and then may be share my learning. This is after all the above has been done.
  8. I have a list of blog posts that I drew up while I was on the WOL circle that I want to write and publish.


  1. Hi Simon, this is really a lot to read and as far as I can see we have a lot of things in common. Thanks for your honesty and your openness. And I invite you to shift more from thinking to feeling as it comes to your soul aspects. For that I recommend the book "Directing the Power of Conscious Feelings: Living Your Own Truth" from Clinton Callahan. Wish you the best. Ralf

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