Opening Doors

The Gilbert Scott Building at the University o...

The Gilbert Scott Building at the University of Glasgow. Taken by myself with a Canon 5D and 100mm f/2.8 lens. It is a four segment HDR tone mapped and stitched image. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Depression is a medical condition, best diagnosed by medical professionals.  I am not a medical professional, although I do have knowledge of the effects of depression.

My interest therefore was captured by BBC News coverage of Scottish research on depression, led by Prof Christopher Williams, from the University of Glasgow.

The Professor makes a pointed observation about a significant obstacle to self-development.  He notes that:

‘Depression saps people’s motivation and makes it hard to believe change is possible’.

From my – non-medical – experience without the belief that change is possible an individual’s situation tends to stay the same.  The doors through which the future is accessed, remain firmly closed.

Actually that type of inability to contemplate change is a larger issue.  The inability can come from a variety of sources, including:

–       Upbringing and the expectations it leaves behind

–       Inadequate support system, to make self-development possible

–       Inherent characteristic (age, disability, ethnicity, faith identity, gender, sexual orientation) that mean some doors seem to have their ‘Sorry, We’re Closed’ sign showing.

I wonder if policy changes in the United States to open up military combat roles to women mean the last principle is not written in stone ?  Women believe they can do more jobs than those prescribed for them, and seemingly the administration agrees.

Maybe it goes to show, if there is a strong enough case for change and a belief that a closed door should be opened, then change can happen.


Details about the US military policy on women in combat are below:


More details about the Scottish research into depression is available by following this link:

Folsom Prison Blues

Johnny Cash 2209720084

Johnny Cash 2209720084 (Photo credit: Heinrich Klaffs)

Johnny Cash died nearly ten years ago (the exact anniversary is September 12).  I knew a little about his music – for instance his reinterpretation on Trent Reznor’s song ‘Hurt’ is achingly intense

Despite my interest in the criminal justice system I did not know about the role Johnny Cash took in US prison reform.  The BBC has filled in the blanks, in recent coverage of his activism from the 1950s onwards.

Apparently he used his growing profile as a musician from the late 1950s to draw attention to the unnecessary harshness of the penal system.  His faith-based view was that prisoners could be redeemed.  Speaking about Johnny’s prison work his brother Tommy says:

“He identified with the prisoners because many of them had served their sentences and had been rehabilitated in some cases, but were still kept there the rest of their lives. He felt a great empathy with those people”.

Seemingly the US recidivism rate means more than four out of ten offenders return to prison within four years.  As I posted on 24 November last year (see Inside Out) in the UK six out of ten offenders return to crime within nine years.

There was an interesting radio documentary recently about faith-based interventions to help disaffected youth, and people on the margins of society, linked to David Wilkerson’s work as a street pastor.  The book ‘The Cross and the Switchblade’ says more about how that got started.

In the final analysis, maybe the UK needs more community outreach towards people on the margins.  Perhaps it also needs an advocate with the persistence and credibility of Johnny Cash to start the conversation about the potential for the criminal justice system to change peoples’ lives?

Everyday Values


Barclays (Photo credit: bbodien)

The world of work seems to be changing rapidly and in unpredictable ways.  Well established names such as Comet, HMV and Jessops can go into administration because they cannot keep pace with market changes.

Perhaps then these days, more than ever, it is important for individuals and organisations to know how to adapt to changing conditions.

Holding on to a set of core values and beliefs may help.  As long as it is clear what their core values are everything should be okay.  Shouldn’t it?

The new mood at Barclays, ushered in by their new chief executive, Antony Jenkins, made me wonder about this.  According to BBC News coverage Mr Jenkins has been very upfront about the Bank’s purpose values under his leadership.  He has said these are:

–       Respect

–       Integrity

–       Service

–       Excellence

–       Stewardship

Not a revolutionary set of messages to live by, but arguably different to the old regime where, apparently pockets of bad practice – like Libor manipulation – could fester without those in the know sending up distress flares to senior colleagues.

Equally there were question marks about the extent of the problem in the sector and senior managers weren’t too curious to find out if the Bank was the exception to the rule.

There’s more.  Unlike his predecessor, Bob Diamond, is actively concerned that the Bank’s staff adopt the corporate values as their own.

Mr Jenkins has also said:

‘There might be some of you who don’t feel they can fully buy in to an approach which so squarely links performance to the upholding of our values…My message to those people is simple: Barclays is not the place for you. The rules have changed. You won’t feel comfortable at Barclays and, to be frank, we won’t feel comfortable with you as colleagues’.

Ouch.  That is a pretty hard message about the values that will now prevail.  I wonder how many ‘Sorry you are leaving’ cards will be doing the rounds this year?  There might be a few I think, as people realise their values and the new corporate values of their employer, are out of step.

At Your (Civil) Service

English: Martin Donnelly, Permanent Secretary ...

English: Martin Donnelly, Permanent Secretary of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in the United Kingdom (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

UK public servants come in for some real stick.  Unfairly in my view.

Pay freezes, head count reduction and the relentless pressure of producing more results with less resources take their toll.  At least one civil service representative body, the Public and Commercial Services union – – seems set to ballot for strike action.

At least one central government permanent secretary (chief executive equivalent) has a job plan which includes doing something about that.


Martin Donnelly at the department for Business, Innovation and Skills has a job objective which includes improving outcomes amongst his middle managers and generally rewarding good performance in the organisation.

It must also be good for morale therefore to learn that David Cameron enjoys good relations with civil servants .

Armed with that reassurance it should be possible for organisational leaders to work with staff to identify some goals, including:

– their main goal for 2013 and how it benefits them individually + their stakeholders (including senior colleagues and, crucially, the politicians they answer to

– how to positively motivate stakeholders to pursue those gaols (Cabinet Office has some ideas though

– gainging clarity on what ‘success’ looks like, will acquiring skills such as project planning and contract management be important across government, as the Public Accounts Committee chair, Margaret Hodge, suggested in December 2012?

Where Are We Now?

English: Duncan Jones with his father David Bo...

English: Duncan Jones with his father David Bowie at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival for the exhibition of Jones’s film Moon. Photographer’s blog post about this event. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have always admired artists.  To my mind there is something liberating about starting with a blank piece of paper, or canvas, or roll of film and then making a unique impression on it


If you can be that creative, to your own and perhaps others’ satisfaction, then you can probably do anything you set your mind to.  Who knows, you might even inspire your off-spring to do something equally artistic too.


David Bowie has always seemed to understand that proposition.  His music, his art and the way he presents himself have all carried the signature of someone who is open to the idea of experimentation and inspiration.


I like the fact that the video for his latest single, directed by Tony Oursler, is set in an artist’s studio and captures an atmosphere full of possibilities.


I also like the canniness of Bowie quietly announcing his return to creativity on his 66th birthday and letting the media build the momentum for his upcoming album and retrospective exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum, both of which arrive in late March.


All this happening at a quiet time of the year, is icing on the cake.  A way of capitalising on a point in the calendar when many people are already in reflective mode, creating To Do lists for themselves.


Significantly many people are contemplating major change now,  I’m sure I read over the festive season that December can be a pressure cooker for many people, holed up for an extended period with friends or family and their own thoughts.  Unsurprising that January is a peak period for trial separations, and divorce petitions, as well as diets.

So, if people are already in the frame of mind to be asking questions, like:

–       When will I start living the life I should be living?

–       How do I change my occupation in favour of something fulfilling?

–       What can I do to create more happiness in my life?


Hopefully they will have support at hand to start working on the answers.  I expect supportive family, friends, faith groups and coaches will be in demand over the coming weeks.

This Year I Am Going To…


motivation (Photo credit: I am marlon)

I suspect any day is as good as another to change one’s life.  The start of January is popular since the year ahead is a clean slate.  Change seems more possible with 12 months to play with.


I wonder how many people pledging to make a change in their lives in 2013 know exactly what they are going to achieve by taking action ?


It seems to me there are complex psychological processes at work behind the scenes as change is mulled over.  It doesn’t matter whether that change entails learning a foreign language; eating five portions of fruit and vegetables per day; or doing something about the extra weight gained before Christmas, by the time this year’s summer holiday begins.


Thankfully someone has already done the thinking about the motivation for change in one area, health, which may have a wider application.


Dr Tony Westbury, a sports psychologist from Edinburgh Napier University, and ultra-distance runner Dr Andrew Murray are advocates for an active lifestyle.  They make the case for abandoning a life spent chiefly sitting down, in favour of one involving regular exercise.  They told BBC Scotland that:


‘The most important aspect of this [shift to an active life] is your motivation for changing. Psychologists refer to motivation as the ‘why’ of behaviour – why we do what we do… motivationally the person who changes their behaviour out of sense of guilt or duty is different to the person who changes their behaviour because they love the activity’.


If it is possible to generalise about change from that specific example, success in a new goal is more likely to come from a positive desire to benefit from a situation, rather than a negative wish to get away from something else.


So that focus on motivation could turn the initial example I mentioned that ‘I don’t like the extra weight I am carrying and I should do something about it’ into a more positive, commitment to ‘feel good about being a proportionate weight for my height and age by time the family goes on holiday in August’.


A clear motivating force provides one strong element which improves the likelihood of success.  The next steps in the example probably involve a calendar, some new trainers and – let’s be honest – a fair bit of will power.


At least with a positive end point in mind the journey from here to there is a bit more manageable.


Here Is An Inspiring Way To Spend 7 Minutes in 2013

English: New Orleans, LA., 11/16/2005 -- FEMA ...

English: New Orleans, LA., 11/16/2005 — FEMA Deputy Federal Coordinating Officer, Ted Monette talks to an Upper 9th Ward resident that has returned to his home to clean up following Hurricane Katrina. Andrea Booher/FEMA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been neglectful and failed to visit the TED Talks website for a while.  My mistake.  There are always little gems to be found there which intrigue, inspire or uplift.


Here is a case in point.


Candy Chang, an advocate for reclaiming public spaces and an artist, asked a simple question of the people of New Orleans: what do you want before you die?


She got a whole bunch of thought provoking answers.


She also started people much further afield thinking about the main thing that they actually wanted.


If you have a few minutes you might want to look at the talk, answer the question and then figure out what is the first step you are going to take to attain what you want.