Of Zen and coin flips

One day a great Japanese warrior named Nobunaga decided to attack an enemy outpost, even though he had only one-tenth the number of soldiers the opposition commanded.

He knew that he’d win. But his troops had their doubts.

On the way to the battlefield he stopped at a Shinto shrine and said to his men:

“After I visit this shrine I’ll toss a coin. If it’s heads – we’ll win. If it’s tails we lose. Destiny holds us in her hand”.

So, Nobunaga entered the shrine and offered a silent prayer to the powers that be. He then headed back out to where everyone was and flipped a coin.

A tense moment fell among his soldiers.

Their lives were hanging in the balance of a simple coin.

Heads.

Everyone was relieved, and also energised. His soldiers were so eager to fight that they won their battle with relative ease.

A little while later, after everyone had finished celebrating, one of Nobunaga’s assistants approached him cautiously.

“No one can change the hand of destiny,” he said.

“Indeed not” replied Nobunaga.

Then he shows his attendant the coin that he used.

It was double-sided. Heads either way.

So, there we go – whether it comes from faking it or not – a little bit of self belief can go a long way.


(adapted from ‘The World of ZEN” by Nancy Wilson Ross)

Oh, Mr. Wetherspoon…

If you’ve ever spent more than a week in the UK, you’ll likely know what Wetherspoons is.

Or ‘Spoons as some affectionately (and some not so affectionately) call it.

It’s a large chain of pubs spread out through the country. In a nutshell they open early, close late and serve cheap ‘n’ cheerful drinks throughout the day.

Legend has it that the chairman\founder, Tim Martin, named it after a teacher of his called Mr. Wetherspoon.

Apparently Wetherspoon had often doubted Tim Martin’s academic brilliance and so he decided to take revenge and prove a point by naming his super successful chain after him.

How’s that for triumphing over adversity?

P.S I’m also aware that Tim Martin has since come out and said: “”I decided to call it Wetherspoon’s after a former teacher – not because the teacher in question at my primary school in New Zealand had said I would never make it, as some people think, but because he was too nice a fellow to be running our particular class and he couldn’t control it. So I thought: I can’t control the pub, he couldn’t control the class, so I’ll name it after him.”

…but I prefer the version of the story that I posted…how’s that for fake news and alternative facts!?

(image – trip advisor)

3 lessons you can learn from my first car…

After being together for eleven years I’m now in the process of selling my first car.

As much as I’d like to have kept it forever and ever, life has a way of moving on. But, as I’ll mention later, that doesn’t mean you can’t keep the memories.

There was a badge on my first car that bore the legend ‘Independence’. Which is beautifully apt, as that’s what it gave me – a full sense of independence that I’d never had before. I could go anywhere that the roads could take me.

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My first car wasn’t the best model out there, it wasn’t the fastest and it certainly wasn’t the biggest. But yet it was with me through many adventures, and I learnt a lot from it.

Here are 3 lessons that you can learn from my first car…

Don’t be afraid to take the reins…

My first car didn’t have power steering. To get that car to swerve in any direction it took a lot of wrenching…and parallel parking was always a problem.

(For those not in the know power steering basically makes it easier to steer your car. It’s like having an extra hand on your wheel – helping you ease off into the direction of your choice.)

But I learnt that sometimes you need to use a bit of brute force, sometimes you need to take problems and scenarios in life by the reins and give them a metaphorical wrench to get things going in the right direction. Sometimes we look over our shoulders too much for assistance, and it’s not going to always be there.

Practicality can trump aesthetics

Another friend passed his test around the same time as me, and we both got our cars on the road at around the same time.

He was luckily enough to be given a car that was all bells and whistles. It had been top of the range just a couple of years ago and it even had a soft top…which made him look cool as hell as he cruised through the British summer of that year with his aviators on. My car was more than a couple of years old, much older and a lot more humble.

I went miles in my car – it got me from A to B with no fuss and no frills. I ran into my friend about a year later, and he’d downsized to a car a little like mine.

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While his car looked awesome it wasn’t well made. There were constant problems, and parts for that car were expensive. It had cost him a couple of grand, and they’d lost a lot of money on it when they sold it. Whereas I’d spent £30 on a new wheel and £2 on an air freshener that was meant to smell like pineapple.

The glossy pages won’t tell you this, but sometimes you need to prioritise practicality over aesthetics.

Become emotionally attached to it

I fear that we underestimate nostalgia and sentimentality sometimes. No matter how long you have it for, you’ll always remember your first car. So think about it as a friend, rather than just a tool to get from A to B.

As you’ll probably know, whenever you talk to older people they’ll regale you with stories from their past. Sometimes the same story over and over again.

I used to get bored, but now I don’t…because I’ve figured out that the reason people retell stories is because they like telling them.

Who am I to rob someone of that pleasure?

Life is all about making memories. So make the most of sentimentality and nostalgia, attach mental value to things…who knows how many times you’ll revisit, retell and re-enjoy the past.

And, of course – always drive safe and take care of yourself. The most important asset you have to the world is you.

Ashley Brown, 2017

How kebabs can teach you not to bullshit

I didn’t write yesterday because I spent a good part of the day chasing up leads for a new car.

Buying a car takes a lot of thought. Aesthetics, reliability and character need to be in abundance for me to even think about exchanging monies.

My adventures took me to a small coastal town, and as is common when you’re near the seaside, I indulged in a traditional dish of chips. Simple, honest food with a dash of ketchup, a spatter of vinegar and a generous dollop of Ketchup.

Sadly it was ketchup from one of those sachets which require you to have a degree in engineering to even open them.

It was while I sat there that I saw something of beauty. It was an advert for kebabs. Now, I don’t really eat them myself so initially I disregarded it.

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But, then my attention was drawn back. I realised that it was a near perfect advertisement.

The language was clipped and easy to follow. The picture caught the eye. The benefits were clear.

I could even overlook the lack of punctuation as it was just so easy to read. Sometimes it doesn’t take a writing degree to write some good copy in order to flog something.

It knows the target audience – speaks directly to them, and sells the product. No bullshit, no being too clever and no glossy language.

The art of cutting out the bullshit and getting to the point is in danger. I’m all for pretty prose and slick sentences, but sometimes you don’t need either.

The difference between failing things and nailing things…

At University one of my favourite things to do was to play football.

The big characters, the big moments and the crusty football socks.

It was great.

Most of the time we played on the University astro-turf pitches.

Now you’d think, as students, they might let us use them for free?

Well, that wasn’t the case.

So, every few days we’d have the problem of coughing up enough cash to book it. Which, for penniless students, was a stumbling block.

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(back in the day, 2nd in from the left in case you care).

Sure, everyone could scrape a few quid out of their sofas (along with old pizza) on the day – BUT someone had to actually supply the money up front and book it.

No one really wanted to do that. Our group chats on Whatsapp and Facebook would be full of “who wants to book today?” or “whose turn is it now? I did it last week”.

70% of the time no one would jump at the chance. So we’d either have to really coerce one of the richer kids (or rather one of the guys who could manage their student loan),  or we just wouldn’t play.

You know what the problem was back then? No one was accountable. It was no one’s specific duty to book, so everyone looked to someone else to step up.

We should have had a rota, or at least a plan…but it was just left up to being ‘somebody else’s job’.

It’s amazing how often I see this with real working adults, particularly those who are working on collaborative projects or trying to create things.

If you don’t assign ownership to someone, or make it their responsibility – there’s a high chance that it won’t get done!

Think of it from a sporting point of view. Imagine going out to play a team game and not giving anyone a position.

Sure, you may adapt after a while…but I don’t think you’d win much.

As much as I’m all for free-flow and creativity – structure is structure for a reason. So, next time you’re working on something make sure everyone knows their roles and responsibilities.

The dead project graveyard is massive, and I wonder how many of those projects died due to a lack of structure?

I’ll leave you with this little saying – the more creative things I get involved with, the more relevant it becomes:

This is a story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, 

Anybody, and Nobody.  There was an important job to be done and 

Everybody was asked to do it.  Everybody was sure Somebody would 

do it.  Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it.  Somebody 

got angry about that, because it was Everybody's job.  Everybody 

thought Anybody could do it but Nobody realized that Everybody 

wouldn't do it.  It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when 

Nobody did what Anybody could have done.

(http://www.columbia.edu/~sss31/rainbow/whose.job.html)

7 things to learn from Toyota…

“Toyota has a rather unusual production process. If anybody on the production line is having a problem, or observes an error, they pull a cord which halts production across the plant. Senior executives rush over to see what has gone wrong and, if an employee is having difficulty performing their job, help them.

The error is then assessed, lessons learned, and the system adapted. It is called the Toyota Production Sysytem, or TPS, and is one of the most successful techniques in industrial history”.

(Syed, M. “Black Box Thinking”).

Fascinating idea isn’t it? Think of your workplace, and a simple problem you face in your day to day – can you imagine the whole building grinding to a halt and coming to help you?

Sure, it sounds impractical. But, just imagine it – just imagine how quickly fires would be snuffed and how easily permanent solutions would be brought into place.

Like you, I spend most of my life dealing with problems. Some bigger, some smaller.

Most of the time they niggle at my mind and I kind of tolerate them…as long as they don’t affect my day-to-day too much then it’s okay, right?

But then, imagine a day where you throw your 100% into solving any problem as soon as it comes up. Whether it be a drawer that doesn’t close properly or an argument that you’ve just had. If you dealt with it there and then, put all of your resources into and solved it.

Just how productive would you be? And, to keep in with the general theme of this blog, surely you’d be more creative too?

After all the less that’s on your mind, the more you can put your full concentration into the blank word document in front of you….right?

When the world zigs, zag.

It’s a Saturday morning, and I thought I’d kick off the day by sharing this image. It’s one that I always go back to, in a effort to remind myself that sometimes the greatest ideas are the simplest.

It was 1982 and everyone was wearing blue jeans, as they had been for many years. Levi Strauss was considered the market leader and zillions of people all over the globe would visit their stores to get their jeans.

However, there were rumours that denim was going out of fashion and so Levi’s wanted to play a daring ace card…they wanted to launch black denim. Something pretty alien to their customers at the time.

They approached advertising agency BBH and thus the poster above was born, and it was a rip-roaring success.

Many fashionistas like to go against the grain, and be different from ‘sheep’ the world over so the image of the black sheep going against the tide appealed to them.

Not only that, but the clothes we wear are a form of expressionism and we all like to think we’re an individual – just like the black sheep in that picture.

Looking at this also makes me want to go out and buy Levi’s jeans…why must I be such an easy target for advertising bigwigs the world over?