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Category: 10,000 Steps, a blog and a frog

The Russia Conundrum

The Russia Conundrum by Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022 I’ve been devouring audiobooks on Russian history. I’ve been naïve and ignorant: I couldn’t fathom why, in this day and age, we could have large scale war and conflict on our continent. I’m sure that casually interested people can cite basic reasons about geo-politics and historical boundaries etc. But I felt compelled to go deep.

I think my audio book journey has ended for now with this (relatively lightweight) assessment from a native Russian. Albeit a Russian living in exile, with an axe to grind… and an ex-Oligarch – but he used to regularly chat and meet with Putin. So it’s an interesting insight of money, greed, botched principles of privatisation at the end of the Yeltsin period and the need for ‘The West’ to be portrayed as the ‘enemy’ in order to perpetuate the need for the ‘strong man’ state of authoritarianism.

And Mikhail corroborates the words of the other authors I’ve read. What is the Russian Conundrum?

Is it a ‘politics of eternity’ verses a ‘politics of inevitability’ compounded by a lack of succession principles? Timothy Snyder and ‘The Road To Unfreedom’.

Is it the complex history, Tsars, the loss of empire, revolutions, the loss of the Soviet Union that forces Putin to mourn those losses? Or is Russia too big and lacking strong and the well established local governments that are needed to facilitate anything other than authoritarianism ? Orlando Figes and ‘The Story of Russia’.

Is authoritarianism the consequence when ordinary people don’t uphold and pursue basic principles – such as supporting quality journalism and not being blindly obedient. Timothy Snyder and ‘On Tyranny and On Ukraine’.

And what was it like living and working in Russian under Putin. Media manipulation, propaganda, ‘narratives’, state intervention, businesses seized, charges falsified, bribery and so on. Peter Pomerantsev and ‘Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible’.

Are there answers? Is there any hope? I haven’t a clue.

The Vanishing Art of Salutations: A Middle Manager’s Guide to Cold-Hearted Emails

In this era of rapid communication, where emails zip across the digital realm at lightning speed, one would think that a simple salutation wouldn’t be too much to ask. Alas, it seems the humble greeting has been abandoned, left to wither away in the bleak wasteland of corporate email chains. “Dear,” “Hello,” “Good morning,” and even the unassuming “hi” have fallen victim to the callous indifference of middle managers everywhere. But why? What has become of the once-mighty salutation?

The absence of a salutation in emails is the new norm. Instead, we are greeted with an immediate assault of curt sentences and cold demands. It’s as if our bosses have morphed into emotionless robots, programmed to crush our spirits with their concise messages. Gone are the days of cordiality and basic human decency; now it’s all about getting straight to the point, devoid of any semblance of warmth or camaraderie.

But one must ponder the underlying motives behind this sudden salutation scarcity. Could it be a deliberate strategy to distance managers from their minions? Is it a tactical move to assert authority and remind us who’s in charge? After all, nothing says “I’m the boss” like a stern command devoid of pleasantries. Perhaps they believe that by omitting the salutation, they can maintain an air of unapproachability, leaving their subordinates trembling at the sight of their electronic missives.

Or is it possible that managers have simply become enamored with the idea of sounding more “managerial” and “in charge”? Maybe they’ve attended one too many leadership seminars, where they were taught that every word must carry an aura of assertiveness and efficiency. Gone are the days of politeness and human connection; now it’s all about sending emails that scream, “I’m busy, I’m important, and I have no time for formalities!”

One can’t help but wonder, what will be next? Will we witness the eradication of “please” and “thank you” from our digital discourse? Will politeness become an ancient relic of a bygone era, reserved only for those rare face-to-face encounters? It’s a chilling thought, but it seems we’re heading down that treacherous path.

So, dear readers (if I may still call you that), let us reflect on the consequences of this salutation scarcity. The loss of a simple greeting may seem insignificant, but it speaks volumes about the state of our corporate culture. It reflects a growing disconnect between managers and their subordinates, a disheartening shift towards impersonal communication.

In a world where interactions are increasingly mediated by screens, we mustn’t forget the importance of basic human decency. It’s not just about getting the job done efficiently; it’s about fostering a sense of community, empathy, and respect within our organizations. The humble salutation may be a small gesture, but it carries the potential to bridge the gap between us, reminding us that we are all part of a collective effort.

So, the next time you receive an email devoid of a salutation, take a moment to pause and reflect. And perhaps, in your response, consider reinstating the lost art of pleasantries. Let’s not allow the sterile world of email to drain every ounce of humanity from our interactions. Instead, let’s bring back the “Dear,” the “Hello,” and the “Good morning” – for the sake of our sanity, our relationships, and our dwindling sense of common courtesy.

And as for the future of “please” and “thank you”? Well, that’s a topic for another day. For now.

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Last week I went to Berlin for 5 Days. I’ve never been to Germany before apart from a short period of time spend on an RAF base years ago.

The trip was part of my wife’s University course – (visual and graphic design) and she was touring design studios. Which meant I had a lot of time to walkabout.

I didn’t want to spend time in galleries and museums. When I go somewhere new, I want to explore. My history knowledge is poor. I’ve spent the last year trying to understand Russian and Soviet history. So Berlin was especially interesting. But I didn’t expect to be so emotionally overwhelmed. The Berliners are not letting anyone forget the brutality of the 20th century in Europe.

Book: ‘Spare’ By Prince Harry

I’m not attempting to do serious book reviews. In fact, I don’t even read anymore – I listen to audio books which is a relatively new activity for me and I love it. However, audiobooks tend to be overlooked after they’re finished, whereas a real book might hang around for a while, or be glimpsed on a bookshelf on a regular basis etc. And I’m also finding that my memory of audiobooks are starting to blur and merge. So these blogs are really just my way of documenting and reminding me what I’ve listened to.


Jeremy Paxman has described Prince Harry’s claims in his memoir Spare as a “series of moans from a very privileged young man”

Interesting review Jezza – I think that’s the whole point.

The book is in 4 parts. Parts 1-3 are fairly autobiographical which I enjoyed – listening to an audiobook means there is no imagery of the privilege and opulence (I’m not sure if the paper book has photos in it). And he refers to relatives as ‘Pa’, or ‘Granny’, or ‘Uncle’ etc – I thus frequently found it quite nicely detached from the Royal Family – much of the book felt like an autobiography of a military officer, of which I’ve read a few. I’m an ex military officer, helicopter pilot and a man with an older (and younger) brother – so I actually found myself relating to him in many ways!! I’ve also seen him around at RAF Shawbury – I was doing an instructor course at the same as when he was going through basic helicopter training – so I saw him knocking about with everyone else in the mess at lunch times etc. Just one of the guys.

I also had no idea of his true passion for Africa and the work he does in various countries within that continent.

Part 4 is where he dishes the dirt although I only perceive this is in the context of some fairly ‘common or garden’ family bickering. It’s the press and the ‘Royal’ aspect that amplifies this bickering into dark and deep treachery. I’d advise (for want of a better expression) a bit of ‘emotional intelligence’ all round to be honest.

I think the way Harry rationalises the fraught family disagreements is contrived because I’m sure they weren’t as controlled and one-sided as Harry describes. But there are also some cohesive themes and continuity throughout the book that I don’t think could be fabricated. I think the smoke does indicate fire.

But for me the overriding themes which no one seems to be talking about are: anxiety; mental health; bereavement; PTSD, harassment, stalking; racism, drug abuse. He doesn’t really talk about these per se at any great length but for me they’re the ‘elephant in the room’ – if he wasn’t royal, then you’d be giving him helpline numbers.

But Harry clearly wants to escape his gilded cage. And the pain of his mother’s death is central to what drives him. The Royal Family are all clearly living their own version of ‘eternity politics’ – driven by history, protocol, anniversaries and taking meaning from the past. He fears history repeating itself. Can you blame him for wanting to do what, in his very abnormal world, he thinks is right for protecting his family?

Ultimately it’s a love story?

Stop looking for what went wrong – and look for the things that go right. Part 1 (Introduction)

In 2020 I re-entered the world of professional aviation; we had all been in lockdown – and at home scrolling through Facebook I’d seen an advert for the National Police Air Service. I hadn’t flown for over 5 years but I comfortably had the experience they were looking for. I applied via an online process which included a Skype interview – my intent was 100%; my self-belief? about 10%. I simply had not been involved in the industry; safety in aviation is often correlated to recency of operators, and is not always about experience per se. Plenty of experienced pilots make mistakes… with tragic consequences. Anyway, they offered me the job.

Flying the helicopter is the easy bit. But safely navigating human behaviours? That’s more difficult. Healthy doses of humility, spoon-fed frequently, are required. And continue to be required. I was very excited and keen to be flying again but I wasn’t going to take this lightly. And, to be honest, I realised that the organisation which I had joined does not have a learning culture outside of its own safety management and reporting system (SMS).

I took to self-educating myself and finding all manner of accident and incident reports online for Police and HEMs helicopters around the world. I then started reading about aviation safety… and watching YouTube videos and a world of internet content – I was really heartened by what I found! There is some fantastic developments in the understanding of safety, performance, CRM (Crew Resource Management), Flight Risk Assessment models etc. What intrigued me most was the work of Erik Hollnagel and Sidney Dekkar in the concepts of resilience and Safety II. These are scholarly people. I could only interpret and extract the basic elements of their concepts. But it really resonated with me – because, in the context of their work, if you simply replace the word ‘safety’ with ‘quality’ then you also acquire a whole load of concepts that work for improving business and employee performance.

I had previously already discovered and begun to understand these concepts through my business and employee development. Analysing why something went wrong with a client’s contract (usually when an employee didn’t meet the client’s expectations) never really led to useful understanding and lessons. Because human behaviours get in the way – fear basically – fear of admitting mistakes, and an ingrained aversion to being open about anything that might threaten personal security, confidence and status.

But talking about the contracts that went right was always much easier! Emphasising and learning what went right, and how to apply it every time, was a more successful path of reinforcing and cementing good habits and standards.

Anyway, back to aviation: in late 2022 I attended a Flight Safety Course run by the UK Flight Safety Committee. I was excited. Then, when I attended, fairly quickly became disappointed. The content of the course was just a bit typical of the usual concepts that I remember from the last 20 years in the RN. There was no learning path, no suggestions for wider reading, no meaningful attempts at examining recent developments and concepts in Safety. Unfortunately, it was very much along the following format: ex military pilot with (X-000s of hours) stands up in front of the audience and speaks confidently about safety in various contexts. It was all very firmly SAFETY I – ie looking for what went wrong. Whilst this of course has value, I don’t believe it’s the whole picture. And the problem with churning out the same content, the same (swiss cheese) models and the same case-studies is that we stagnate; our openness deteriorates, we become numb to the messages; we become complacent.

It’s time to look for things that go right as well as looking at the old chestnuts of wrongness , error and violations. Learning new ideas and how to do things well is inspiring – and largely unexplored.

Part 2 of this blog is a copy of an article I wrote for an internal newsletter and builds on these concepts.

10,000 steps, a blog and a frog.

A Frog

Supposedly Mark Twain advised that if you swallow a frog in the morning, then you’ll have done the most unpleasant thing that day. My wife put me onto this idea. The analogy is to get up and complete the most awkward or difficult task of the day ASAP. Then the rest of the day is better. It’s a good idea – a useful framing mechanism for a serial procrastinator such as me.

10,000 Steps

The general advice is that 10,000 walking steps is the daily target for adults aiming to maintain a basic level of fitness. Bearing in mind that I sit in a cockpit or sit at a desk or sit playing the guitar, I’d say that 10,000 steps should be something to aim for. But it doesn’t count as a frog.

A Blog

I think a lot. I can drift off into a reverie and develop whole trains of thought… so many trains… all organised and running off in different directions. Years ago, my friend Bruce, who I’ve since lost touch with, said that instead of being ‘away with the fairies’ I would be ‘away with the theories’. I used to think that was a neat description.

I sometimes put so much mental energy into thinking about a subject that it keeps me awake at night… churning around in my mind. It’s time to write this stuff down in a blog… however, I would be mortified to think that I might publish, in a public place, something that wasn’t at least backed-up by some credible references and research. I f**king can’t stand speculation; eg, people who make sweeping political statements based on their emotional feeling about something… I’m sensitive to it because I do it! I recognise it within myself… which then makes me withdraw and not want to contribute to a conversation for fear of being wrong… and let’s face it: it’s almost impossible to know everything about a subject… and in all subjects there are the little knock-on effects, permutations, repercussions unintended consequences that I know exist but I I don’t know what they are… so why have a conversation about anything at all? Because the chances are I’ll be wrong or at least have incomplete understanding. Basically, it’s too easy to talk bollocks.

Which is why writing a blog (or an email for that matter) is a nice thing to do… it gives you time to say what you want to say after spending time thinking about and researching your point.

New Year’s Resolutions.

So there we go… not a list of prescriptive or objective aims. But a set of principles for 2023: 10,000 steps, swallow a frog every day and write regularly. Let’s see how I do…

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