Fundamental Movement Skills (FMS)

Over the weekend I was privileged to be able to offer some of my time to helping others in a sport I adore. As some of you will be aware I am a qualified British Cycling level 2 coach and throughout the year I have the joy of sharing my passion with all kinds of people from all walks of life and in all age groups. I regularly feel like this is pure selfish indulgence as I can pretty much guarantee that I get just as much out of it as those do who I am honoured to coach. Nonetheless it is purely a voluntary position and therefore it does have to fit in around my other commitments and getting that balance right can sometimes be a challenge.

When Sunday morning arrived I wasn’t entirely rested as the night was a little shorter than usual due to a late night with my lovely wife and then an early wake-up call from my energetic little 3 year old son resulted in some very tired eyes. After a quick breakfast I embarked upon the trip over the Pennines to the the National Cycling Centre in Manchester to be greeted by a very friendly face and a VERY welcomed cup of coffee.

After a short introduction we were split up into 2 main groups and logically all the coaches were together in one group whilst the volunteers were in another. We, the coaches, were then taught the latest in coaching techniques to facilitate the further development of FMS.

So what is FMS? – For those of you who remember the youthful days of climbing hills and trees, jumping in and out of back gardens and kicking a ball around an empty field; you’ll be subconsciously more than familiar with FMS. It is, as the name suggests,  “Fundamental Movement Skills”. What is very sad about having to be taught how to teach these is the fact that we now have a second generation growing up in the western world who do not have them. As for the first generation it is already too late for them to ever reach their full sporting potential in a large majority of cases, but it ISN’T too late to reverse a significant portion of the damage already inflicted; if we all take ownership of what it is we’re failing to do right now.

FMS then! The ability to perform simple tasks such as jumping, skipping, kicking, hopping turning, twisting, balancing, catching, rolling…. the list goes on. It is brutally alarming that we’ve already got one generation arriving into their adult life who are missing these basic skills and a second generation already in the making with the same deficit. Why?? well the simple answer is us! We are to blame really. We’ve allowed our children to not become bored, we’ve wrapped them up in cotton wool and we’ve created a society where protectionism prevails over common sense. We give them electronic entertainment devices to feed their need for everything to happen right here and now and they rarely go outside, especially if its raining, to enjoy simple playtime with their peers.

It has therefore become my job, and coaches like me, to help children find their FMS so that when their raw talent does shine through, and they are picked to progress into the elite training environments of our sport, that they do have a chance to attain their full potential because they’re no longer lacking the Fundamentals.

Applying this same logic to the world of business I wonder how long it will be before we realise that we’ve also got a “fundamental management skills” deficit and that this selfsame protectionism (or as I like to call it the “passing the book” attitude) has resulted in a wave of talent coming through who no longer know how to take ownership. They’ve never been allowed to fail as somebody has always found an excuse for them, “Oh the resources weren’t available sorry they couldn’t deliver on time” or “Ah yes the power went down so they didn’t have access to the internet” or “Actually they did deliver 2 out of 4 so I think that’s good enough don’t you?” Consequently they have now been attuned into finding the blame elsewhere rather than looking at themselves first, and all this from a very early age.

I really don’t want this to be viewed as a “When I were a lad” post, because it isn’t. I’m actually taking ownership of this outcome. I want everyone who reads this to think about their own situation, as a parent, as a business owner or as an employee and ask yourself a simple question. How does what I do make a difference?, and more importantly, what is the difference that it makes? Once you’ve rekindled yourself with this then apply a few basic foundation building skills of your own so that our younger generation can grow up and gain a full and extensive experience of real life, with all it’s beauty and hardship that comes with it. Encourage them to take ownership of their own outcomes and give them the confidence that they can tell you when they’ve messed up without the fear of you blowing your top and then covering up for them. Together we can help realign the next generation of talent with reality, because the world they are going to be living in will be far more demanding than the one we’re all living in right now. It is our duty to ensure that they have the Fundamental Skills of Life to prosper in it.

Feel free to let me know how and what you’ve done.


Just as true today as it was 4 years ago

A little under 4 Year’s ago I posted a blog about people’s search activity and when I read it today I thought that it would be a great idea to re-post it, as the content is just as valid, if not more so, as it was back then. Instead I’ve copied the content into a new post so that I could add an interesting little footnote.

MAY- 2013

I recently read a post by Barry Schwarzt that highlighted a decision which Google made to drop a service that they said was rarely used and this action got me thinking about why this might be.

Very simply put the service enabled users to type in search criteria in a their native (source) language and then use a drop down tab to choose a different language to search in.  Google would then use its own Google translate MT engine to fulfil the search request in that language and produce the results, again using Google translate, in the original source language .

It was particularly useful if you were searching for legislation changes in foreign countries, market leading influencers in industry sectors in foreign countries and invaluable when researching companies or individuals in foreign countries.

Now some of you may be asking “what’s the big deal? I only ever search in my own language anyway” well that’s the point.  Google has evaluated this service and decided that its usage is so negligible that maintaining it as a service is not worth it.  In other words “People only search in their native language!”

So why is this?

  • Is it because people don’t trust Google translate? There are enough horror stories around to suggest that this could be one of the reasons.
  • Is it because people didn’t even know the service existed? Another very plausible possibility; I certainly only found out about it through accident and I would consider myself fairly tech savvy.
  • Or is because we humans are just too frightened of making a mistake and therefore adding another potential failure variable into our search for answers is just a variable too far?

My personal belief is that it is predominantly just human nature and that we are predisposed to take the easy, or tried and tested, option.  If we haven’t been shown how to use something or don’t understand how to use something then we just won’t do it, which leads me nicely on to why over 72% of internet users only visit sites in their native language and why over 52% will not buy ANYTHING from a website which is not in their native language and only 30% will buy something if the Ts&Cs are in their native language.

Consider the following:

You are walking down the high street and there are two shops both advertising the same thing in the shop window.  Shop 1 is selling this item at a price which is 10% more than Shop 2. The problem is Shop 2 is selling a Dunstabzugshaube and all the specifications are in German.  Shop 1, however is selling an Oven Extractor Fan with the specifications in English, now which one would you buy???

Transfer this simple logic to a website and suddenly even finding the shop becomes a major task if you don’t speak that language.

February 2017

With the next 2 billion internet users to come online not having English as their primary, or even secondary, language the time to start opening up your shop window to a new audience has never been more critical. If you want to learn how to do this effectively and in line with your budget then just get in touch I’ll be happy to listen.


Ultimately I’m the one who is to blame

All too often in life people are looking for somebody to take the rap if something doesn’t go to plan. It is has stemmed from quite a healthy notion of … “Okay this hasn’t quite worked out right, let’s take a deeper look at where things went wrong so we can learn from our mistakes”  but this has long since become an exception to that initial notion.

Sadly there are a whole raft of bad practises now in play who’s sole aim has become to exonerate blame in the event of something going wrong, my personal pet peeve is the COPY THE WORLD into every email… but let’s not go there right now.

So let’s take this back to basics. I am in sales, I am the outside representative of my company and I have a duty of care to every one of my clients. If something goes wrong it is my fault… NO… it IS my fault!! What goes on behind the scenes has nothing to do with it, what happens in world politics has nothing to do with it, and what happens within the client’s company has nothing to do with- This is my mindset and therefore I am solely accountable for everything I recommend to all of my clients.

Clearly upon dissection of each individual occurrence it is most likely going to have been a fault outside of my immediate control but by taking on this mindset I am doing two things.

  1. I am extremely diligent in my scoping of every project- and I have an amazing team behind me who help me do this.
  2. I am ALWAYS available to my clients and no request or enquiry goes unanswered (I don’t have my head in the sand hoping it will go away).

This clearly does not make me some kind of superman; all this does is makes sure that no matter what I promise I deliver, and the same goes for my personal life too. The thing is, this isn’t just something you can switch on and off at will. Once you start taking ownership, you start to do it in all walks of life and in my view that is predominantly a good thing. However here’s a small word of caution. If and when you do make this mind shift, be prepared to let people down! Not because you’re getting things wrong all the time, but because you will stop taking on everything, as the sheer volume of responsibilities you will have will become overwhelming.  At first this is a difficult one to deal with, especially if you are always one for “helping out”, but believe me in the long run you’ll be thankful that you’ve read this because a little disappointment here and there is much better than loosing your integrity through not keeping your word.

Have a great weekend and be mindful of what you promise.


A new world of risk within Europe

Over the last 20 years businesses in Europe have become very comfortable, with corporate risk being established as low and indeed very low in some countries. Most of the middle and senior management teams over the last 20 years have rarely had to make decisions that could seriously impact their company when choosing a European export destination and as a consequence have opted for this easy track and become risk complacent. However with a new wave of politics sweeping across the globe this is no longer the case and our safe havens of Europe have taken on a shaky existence.
I am myself a victim of this. Believe it or not, because most of my income can be deemed as coming from a non-sterling source (more specifically the Euro) all the main mortgage lenders here in the UK won’t include this income in the “safe and regular finances” category and as a consequence we currently can’t get a new mortgage. All this despite paying full UK taxes as a UK registered company.
Bizarrely, for those who have not been keeping up to speed with the happenings across the globe, the safe havens of outward investment and export communities are no longer where you would think they would be. Typically the UK has looked to Germany, France, Holland, Ireland, the USA etc as their safe export locations. This recent shift in politics has warped this so much that investors and risk analysts alike now have a preference towards the Middle East, Far East, South America and Africa- (Mozambique and Nigeria to name but two).

So what does this mean for you?

Increasingly the financial stability of the West is being seen as “unstable to severely unstable” depending on which risk factors you include, but what is clear is that “business as usual” no longer applies. 20 years of risk adversity and a distinct lack of risk assessment expertise (the type where you don’t push in a bunch of data into a software program and repeat that well know satirical phrase “computer says no!”) all means that a large persuasion of modern companies are struggling to make decisions and this is killing both productivity as well as company growth. Being able to review a situation and all the data involved and then making a “gut instinct” choice of direction, instead of relying solely on a software package is going to be a step backwards in some people’s eyes. But in reality it is going to be a breath of fresh air to those of us who both know and still believe that it is people who do business and not computers. Good old fashioned common sense is going to make a glorious comeback over the coming months and so if your intuition and instinct has been dumbed down by technology then you may need to just start fine tuning it again as the road ahead is going to need it.

So here’s my first 3 questions:

  • Have you reviewed your risk exposure?
  • Have you opened yourself up to explore new export markets yet?
  • Are all the eggs you have in a newly labelled “unstable basket”?
Exporting can significantly improve your business growth and bottom line profit but knowing where to start and who to speak to about it can be almost as challenging as exporting itself. So if you want to understand more about how to reach outside of the European comfort zone then get in touch.

English is our lingua franca

It has always been somewhat of a mainstay objection which I come across when talking to potential clients about their need for linguistic services, that English is the company’s lingua franca and therefore all their training and internal documentation is done in English.

How shocking then to see that in one such industry sector (Aviation) that over a 1000 deaths can be attributed to miscommunication between native speaking English air-traffic controllers and non-native speaking pilots. Read more here

It was a Harvard Business Report which highlighted this to me in an article last November Upon a more detailed scrutiny of the data there’s actually an alarming amount of non-conscious (I hope at least) arrogance running through the whole idea that everyone in business speaks English. My hat, however, is most deservedly doffed to the German trade unions, who’s country fair quite highly in the list of proficient English speakers in the workplace, but who insist that delivery of company learning the material to their German workforces is in German regardless of the level of their English competency.

In fact when I made the decision to study in Germany way back in the mid 90s I was told that before I could embark upon that journey in my chosen subject matter I would have to attain a mark that was within the top 2% in Germany in German, Mathematics and English ; and to do this I personally had to go to night school for nearly 4 years. Fortunately, my many sleepless nights were worth it and I managed to get the prerequisite grades required. This level of minimum requirements felt pretty harsh at the time, but I was being re-trained by, and entirely funded by, the Union so they weren’t going to just let anyone do it.

All of this is quite eye-opening but what I found most interesting about the results from the Harvard study was not just the lack of English competency across the board, but the alarmingly low scores in the industry sectors where I repeatedly hear the objection that English is the lingua franca of that industry.

I can personally see that, in light of the recent politic shifts, a new wave of language standards are on the horizon; with many countries from across the globe taking on the German principles that in order to do business with them, although you may be able to conduct every meeting in English, when it comes down to documentation and finalising of the contracts then they will want it  all in their own language, bitte!

Now we don’t want any miscommunication now do we?


Living in your #phone 2

I recently blogged about some trade-show etiquette and moreover my pet hate about living in your phone. I titled the blog “Living in your phone #part 1” and with good reason. I could probably do a whole series of these and still not find enough vocabulary in any language to describe my love-hate relationship with the mobile phone.

I am fully aware of their uses, I am fully aware of their flaws, I’m also fully aware that we all have a unique relationship with these inanimate objects. But for me to openly admit I love my phone (see love-hate relationship statement above) is actually quite worrying. It has been this realisation that has prompted me to become pretty ruthless in the way I use my phone and judging by my observations over the last month since making this shift, I think there is a huge percentage of people out there who should also evaluate their own relationship with their phone. Do you love it? Is it “your life”? Do you look at it last thing at night and then first thing in the morning before you even get out of bed?

If, like me, you’ve answered YES to any one, or more, of these 3 questions then you may need professional help, or at the very least a digital detox. It is remarkable how many people are now choosing holiday locations based on internet and mobile phone connectivity as opposed to going somewhere because they want to go on vacation.

So what have I observed? How and why has it come about? And what impact has it had on me?

What I’ve observed:

In the last month I’ve been very in tune with the mobile phone habits of everyone around me. I’ve taken mental notes, and I will probably go on to take written notes as I continue with this “one man’s view/study”. People, when staring at this little LED screen, are largely oblivious to anyone else around them. They genuinely have their noses buried into their mobile devices. I’ve seen people walk straight into path of oncoming rush-hour traffic and luckily been avoided by one of the 2 in 5 who weren’t using their phone whilst driving. In fact, on that note, there were a total of 7,966 penalty notices issued in a week of enforcement in November last year, which was a staggering increase from May where just a 2,323 were issued in the same location. (report from the Guardian in January this year) 

During my 2 days in London I was walked into, pushed to one side and plain ignored by people with their ears or heads in or on their phones. I even experienced a group of “executives” out on a business meal spending at least 60% of their entire networking hours stuck in their phones. It has really become a ignorance pandemic and I believe that we should lead a charge to reverse it.

How has this come about?

Let’s be honest I don’t really need to educate anyone here, mobile phones have become, pardon the pun, our right-hand man. Nothing in our lives goes on without us getting some sort of notification to tell us about it. Auntie Judith has her birthday, Uncle Tom is going away for 3 weeks, the dog needs feeding, Lucas needs his medicine, Julia has just reacted to Joe’s photo…. The list of constant interruptions are infinite. And we just keep on adding to them with app after app and social network after social network. – Ironically this blog will also be delivered to a bunch of social networks too, so you see what I mean. We can, however, take control of it and as a very recent convert I can assure you of the liberating qualities some of the following simple actions can have on you.

  • I first of all consolidated my entire social media apps into one folder. I don’t want to give these up completely as they do serve a very useful purpose but I do not need to know about Julia’s astonishment to Joe’s photo followed by Joe’s baffled reaction as to why and the ensuing public airing of their personal dirty laundry.
  • I then turned off ALL notifications for social media. not even that annoying little red number telling me how important these 32 messages between Julia and Joe are.
  • I then consolidated all my news apps into one folder and repeated the same exercise for anything else battling for my 4.7″ of LED attention.
  • Next up was email, the productivity killer of all sales reps. Not a single tone or vibration occurs when I get an email. I have time scheduled to respond to emails on a daily basis and outside of that, if something is urgent, then people can call me. After all I do have a MOBILE phone.
  • I have stopped commenting on political threads with opinion and or reflection of my own. If you comment, you do so to get a reaction, so thereafter you’re ego self is looking constantly to gauge that reaction.
  • Finally I have taken a 4 week break from all social media. This was done so that could break the chains of addiction. The rabbit holes of conversation threads have been an Achilles heal in my life for far too long and I needed to abstain for a period of time in order to break free. Don’t get me wrong, some of the things I’ve written have been posted, I just haven’t checked to see what reaction they’ve been awarded, this is not about me this about me helping others, and I do hope that some of you find it useful.

What impact has this had on me?

I feel the word profound has been a little over used in recent times, but in this case I am going to use it. The profound impact this has had, alongside a series of other life changes, has been overwhelming. I have uncovered so much more time to invest in areas of my life which have previously been neglected. I have been able to listen to and observe things with much greater awareness, and in sales believe me that is such a powerful asset, but most importantly I have been able to take back control of my distractions. I don’t have to answer every single message immediately, I’m not going to lose touch with everyone if I don’t open up Facebook, Twitter or Instagram every 2 hours and I can embrace and even enjoy the benign bickering of my two young children as they push each others’ trigger points with such incredible precision; a talent I am unquestionably envious of because if I knew how to do this that accurately my job in sales would be so simple. In short the return to my phone being an asset as opposed to being a self-imposed life-line has been an exhilarating experience. It is a digital detox journey upon which I’ve begun to travel but one I know that is going to continue throughout the rest of my life as new distractions compete for my attention in the future. Taking back control of this is just the beginning, remaining in control is chapter 2.

The new Machine translation kid on the block

So here’s a quick overview of NMT. If you’ve not heard of it then it might be a good idea to get a little more familiar with it as this is likely to come up in conversations quite a lot over the coming months.

A handy little overview can be found here

And for what it’s worth here’s my take on it.

Neural Machine Translation has been reported to be so good that native speakers can barely tell the difference between that and human translation… Well that’s the headline we’re reading all over the web right now. Fortunately for our industry this is, once again, a very murky window into reality.

If you ask native speakers, as they have done in this study, to review a completed translated text in their own language they will award it merit upon how easy it is to read, both grammatically and contextually. However without having visibility and being able to understand the source text this is a flat and singular viewpoint 2D if you’d like.

Upon deeper investigation this is where the serious flaw of this new art of machine translation lies. In fact it is more dangerous than you can imagine. Let me elaborate.

The translated text is highly inaccurate when compared to the source text, so much so that regular Google MT translated text is significantly more accurate. As we all know the accuracy of Google MT translated material is already decreasing through their own admission of “Garbage in, Garbage out”. So the main issue here with NMT is, unlike regular Statistical Machine Translation, that the way it is written it is conceived to be true; even though it can be a wholly inaccurate account of the source material. Think misleading information from the gutter press. You take a single statement out of context and build a story around it that sounds believable but in reality is devoid of almost all truth.

As it stands right now, this is where NMT sits. It is in the long line of attempts to automate a human process that really cannot be done, particularly if accuracy and accountability are your end goals.

Yes there are very legitimate and viable uses of MT and a number of companies have them. By using a hybrid of human and machine it can eliminate a huge amount of unnecessary overheads, but here’s the heads up. Please be wary of the claims to NMT; it isn’t there yet and for all the good intentions it is not likely to be for some considerable time.