Hi. Just to say, I’ve moved all of the posts on this blog across to markpinsent.com, and will be publishing any future ones there rather than here. Thanks!
An old friend told me a lovely story about my Dad a few months ago. I’d completely forgotten about it – indeed, at the time it probably didn’t even register with me – but to my friend is was a small gesture that he appreciated enormously, and held as a mark of what made Dad so special.
I would have been in my early-20s – my friend the same – and I was selling my cherished Fiat Strada 105 TC. Now, the Fiat Strada wasn’t a particularly well-loved car, but the 105 TC was a different story. Or at least its engine was: a fantastic 1.6 litre, double overhead camshaft, 4-cylinder gem. The body, obviously, being a 1980s Fiat, would eventually rust into dust, but that motor…
Anyway, eventually I decided to sell the car, and my friend said he’d be keen to buy it. No problem, he knew the car, knew me, easy deal. For whatever reason, when he came to pick it up I wasn’t there to hand over the keys, but Dad was.
The point of this story is that, when my Dad realised that the car’s fuel tank was only a quarter full, he insisted on going to the local petrol station to fill it up for the new owner.
I mean, who does that?! It was a small gesture of goodwill that has stuck with my friend for more than 25 years.
Little things make a big difference.
It was only doing things for other people though. Dad was born in 1940, and grew up during and after the Second World War in ‘Austerity Britain’. He comes from a generation that looks after things, that makes things last, that fixes rather than replaces (and more on that in a future post).
Dad knew that small bits of regular maintenance would pay dividends in the future. He’d always clean the lawnmower and garden tools immediately after using them, not leaving mud and grass to dry and solidify which would make the job 10 times harder the next time he wanted to use them, and extend their life. He’d also regularly check the levels and pressures on the family’s cars, which he was also diligent about cleaning, and gently point out that I might have been less than attentive myself (“I put a touch of air in your cars tyres…seemed a little soft to me”).
It doesn’t take much effort to make a small gesture that has a big impact. That’s been so evident to me in the days following his recent death. Numerous text messages, emails, calls, and social media comments offering condolence, support, help. A few seconds to write and send, but they’ve meant so much.
I read something recently somewhere on social media which I think fits. A post which highlighted that many works of fiction are based on the premise that people travel back in time and make a tiny change that has a big impact in the future (think Back to the Future I, II, and III…), but few people believe that doing something tiny today will have a huge effect down the line.
Seems worth a try though.
My Dad was organised. I mean, really organised. Almost – dare I say it – to a compulsive degree. A neat and tidy man in himself – how he dressed, trimmed his beard, combed his hair – this neatness was reflected throughout his life. Any papers on his desk would be arranged in a sharp grid of perfectly aligned piles; any loose change would be stacked in strict descending order of coin size; files labelled and neatly settled in a filing cabinet; and the shed and garage would be as ordered as an operating theatre. Indeed, having worked in the healthcare sector for his whole career, perhaps the order and organisation he applied to his whole life was influenced by the discipline needed in hospitals? Hospitals like the one in Nottingham where he started his working life, and met Mum.
It turns out he was as organised in death as he was in life. And it’s an absolute blessing.
When Dad died, he and Mum were in Shropshire for a few days’ holiday. I went up there immediately to be with Mum, as did some friends of theirs, and started handling the inevitable administration. I took Mum back home a couple of days later, and within 10 minutes of getting home she opened one of the above-mentioned filing cabinets, pulled this out and handed it to me. “Dad filled this out a few weeks ago. Should make things a bit easier”.
I’ll be honest, it made me cry. It was such a perfect representation of everything he was. Always considerate of others, helpful, organised, prepared. I flicked through it to see his familiar handwriting listing every detail of mum and dad’s life admin: bank accounts, credit cards, direct debits, insurance (house/contents/car/life), utilities, solicitors, financial advisor…the lot. It was both wonderful and crushingly sad.
It’s a lesson for me in thinking about those you leave behind when you die. Why make a difficult time even more horrendous for loved ones? In organising your affairs, in detailing everything that they’ll need to know about and access once you’ve gone, you’re allowing people to grieve for your loss, and move forward positively, rather than start a stressful period of navigating endless administration and bureaucracy.
As my Mum said in a text message yesterday: “After 52 years of being a little frustrated at Dad’s fussy ways of keeping everything in order, I am so grateful to him now.”
The only thing we’ve found that Dad failed to tell us has been the code to unlock his iPhone. But, as my brother pointed out yesterday, as “he used it more often as a torch than a phone” that’s probably not the biggest issue!
You can buy a copy of the book above here. Making a will is also really important. There’s a basic guide from the Government here, and plenty of low-cost online services to help you make a legally-binding will. And if you’re over 55 years old, Cancer Research UK even offers a free will writing service. Find out more here.
I know none of us wants to think about dying but, believe me, having your affairs in neat and tidy order makes a real difference to the loved ones you leave.
Don’t delay. And thanks, Dad.
…but for the previous eight lives she’d have had a lovely time finding out about all sorts of interesting stuff.
It’s funny how sometimes a word keeps popping into your consciousness. For me, right now, that word is: “curiosity” (definition: a strong desire to know or learn something).
I interview quite a lot of people, and many of them are relatively junior. Quite often, when I ask what questions interviewees have for me, they’ll want to know what qualities I look for in employees. Curiosity has become almost always the first one I mention.
Funnily enough, my mate Wadds was also mulling the qualities he looks for when interviewing people and came up with this list. I chucked my new watchword into the mix, and was rapidly seconded by the splendid Matt Muir with this beautiful example of straight-tweeting:
I couldn’t agree more.
For people working in a creative agency (as I do) curiosity is not only essential in doing a good job, it’s critical in enjoying the one you do (which, let’s face it, are two things that should nicely align). I want people who are curious about what their clients do, what the clients’ objectives are – both organisationally and individually – what’s going on in their clients’ industries, what their clients’ customers are interested in. Asking questions often leads to opportunities I’ve found. “What do you need to achieve this year?” is a good place to start.
Curiosity is a hugely valuable human quality, both inside and outside the workplace. I’ve recently finished reading Ruby Wax’s book, “Sane New World” (which is excellent if you’re interested in your own and others’ mental health) and there it was again – the penultimate chapter, “Curiosity”. I liked these bits:
If you are curious about someone else, and show it, it is the most flattering thing you can do for them; they will give you anything; the keys to their car, their business, they’ll probably even marry you.
In business, if you learn to listen and be curious about another person and pay attention to how he feels, negotiations would be a breeze. Huge amounts of money, time and energy are wasted by people talking at each other rather than with each other. There should be training simply to learn to be curious rather than endless MBA programs. People are what sells, nothing else. You like and trust the person, you’ll do business with them and if you are genuinely curious, people won’t be able to resist you.
So, why not build a bit more curiosity into your day. What’s the worst that could happen? Unless you’re a cat.
I read Caitlin Moran’s ‘How To Build A Girl‘ recently. As a father with a 12 year old daughter, I thought it might help prepare me for the years to come. I think it did that t an extent, though I’m not sure it’s made me feel any less worried!
But it’s a good read, not least because it’s set at the exact time I was in the same stage of life as the central character, Johanna.
However, the passage that has stayed with me is about cynicism. It’s brilliant and I agree with every word. Here it is:
“…when cynicism becomes the default language, playfulness and invention become impossible. Cynicism scours through a culture like bleach, wiping out millions of small, seedling ideas. Cynicism means your automatic answer becomes ‘No’. Cynicism means you presume everything will end in disappointment. And this is, ultimately, why anyone becomes cynical. Because they are scared of disappointment. Because they are scared someone will take advantage of them. Because they are fearful their innocence will be used against them – that when they run around gleefully trying to cram the whole world in their mouth, someone will try to poison them.
“Cynicism is, ultimately, fear. Cynicism makes contact with your skin, and a think black carapace begins to grow – like insect armour. This armour will protect your heart, from disappointment – but it leaves you almost unable to walk. You cannot dance, in this armour. Cynicism keeps you pinned to the spot, in the same posture, forever.”
Fantastic stuff. Show me a cynic who ever created something amazing.
Apropos of absolutely nothing, I was thinking while on my bike the other day (I do a lot of thinking on the bike) about an equation for success. On the ride I distilled it down to:
Ability + Opportunity = Success
But I’ve since realised that there’s something else needed. After all, plenty of people with both the ability and opportunity have failed to succeed. I think it’s either perseverance or perhaps commitment. And given the former’s more difficult to spell, I’m going with the latter:
Ability + Opportunity + Commitment = Success
It’s difficult if not impossible for an individual to control all these things. In fact you might argue that the individual can only really control their commitment to something: ability being largely genetic and opportunity environmental.
From a societal perspective, we should be concerned about giving more people with ability the opportunities to succeed. The commitment, of course, is down to them.
Deliberate typo in the title.
I had a brainstorm over SMS today. It was great and I reckon there’s something in it. Here’s why:
No geographical barriers. I contributed my first idea in one country and my last in another. Enough said.
No technological barriers. SMS is about the most democratic of communication technologies. Low cost, doesn’t require access to wifi or any expensive kit, mobile.
Reduced time pressures. More often or not, a brainstorm forces the participants into being creative within the time it takes place, usually an hour. My SMS brainstorm today lasted more than five hours in all. You just need to sow the seed and give some rich creative thoughts the time to grow.
It encourages brevity. Nobody’s going to tap out a 300 word explanation of their idea. And a good idea succinctly communicated is halfway to being sold to a client I reckon.
Uninhibited thinking. You’re less worried about looking silly on SMS because nobody can see you.
Fewer red flags. You either can’t be bothered or don’t want to be the one to commit criticism of another person’s idea to an SMS.
You can all talk at the same time. The clever technologists sort it out.
You’ve got it all recorded. There it all is, on my phone in its nice little speech bubbles. Nothing gets lost.
I wish I could show you a screen grab…
Try it for yourself. Let me know how you get on.
I’m a bit of a sucker for an airport. I’m not sure why – they can often be a pain in the arse to navigate. But they’re often quite interesting from an architectural perspective, which might be a bit surprising given they serve exactly the same purpose wherever they are. Or maybe that’s why they’re interesting architecturally. And despite the fact that air travel has lost most if not all the sense of glamour that it might have once possessed, I’m still a bit of a romantic about travelling: the journey as much as the destination (which is one of the reasons I’d recommend Alain de Botton’s The Art of Travel).
Anyway, one of the two airports I might consider as my ‘home’ ones is Bordeaux (the other is La Rochelle which is anything but interesting architecturally. Though it has other charms). I like Bordeaux Airport. It’s big enough to be a proper airport – really well connected – but you can walk from one end to the other in about five minutes. I also think it looks great. With its wavy roof and palm trees, it might be better placed on the Cote d’Azur. I also like the way you can see right through it, as the front and back walls are glass, and there’s nothing in between (you can *kind of* see that in the rather fuzzy picture I took at dusk a few weeks back).
I’m no expert in architecture, but I love the way it can improve the most mundane, functional things.