The coffee cup that reminded me I was human

So, there I am. It’s a little after 9am and I’m on an aeroplane.

I’ve been up since 4am and my brain has become a bubbling hybrid of two extremes. Sleepiness and pre-holiday excitement.

When it comes to travel I’m a reader. I love to read when I’m on a flight or a long drive. It’s guilt-free reading time when you have nothing else to do but lose yourself in words that inspire and interest you.

So, to keep myself sharp, I order a coffee. This turns up:

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I assumed that the bit on the top was to allow the coffee to cool down. I left it for a while and came back to it…only to find out that it was too hot.

So I pull the lid off, let it cool down, and then take a sip. Damned if I don’t get a mouthful of coffee suds.

Instantly my stunned mind went to blame the airline. Why on earth would they serve coffee with such sediment?

The flight attendant walks past, smiles at me, notices that I put my lid on the floor and asks me if I want another one.

Why? Why would I? I just took the lid off…


And then it hits me. The ‘cooling off bit on the top’ (great phrasing) is actually a filter…to stop idiots like me getting a mouthful of coffee suds.

And so I gratefully accepted the new lid and enjoyed my coffee through the filter.

For a moment or two I felt the thing that we all fear most…idiocy.

It was so obvious…how did I not realise?

Hindsight has a way of making you feel ridiculous, doesn’t it?

But that feeling didn’t last long. Pretty soon it disappeared into the clouds around me and slipped away from everyone else’s memory.

I mean, after all, in a world where we try our hardest to know everything and to uncover every secret…it’s nice to sometimes realise just how stupid you are.

Why do you need such a big fridge/freezer?

Several years ago, between the second and third years of university, I clinched a summer job as a repair guy for several student accommodation blocks.

Now, truth be told, I have all the DIY prowess of a five year old – so, quite how I got the gig is anyone’s guess.

The days consisted of painting walls, manoeuvring sofas, checking inventory sheets and talking to each other in silly voices over the walkie talkies that we carried.

Also on the site were a large group of cleaners. We were just a bunch of students looking to make some summer money whereas they were very serious and at a completely different stage in life.

Both sides kept themselves to themselves, asides from the occasional lunch time conversation.

It was during one of these lunches that I learnt an important truth. Something which we can apply to marketing, advertising, writing and life in general.

Don’t over-complicate things. Sometimes things are as simple as they seem.


As I sat there, munching on my £4 convenience store sandwiches, one of the cleaners was talking about buying a new fridge/freezer in his characteristically gruff way.

He was going to buy the biggest one he could see.

He didn’t care if he had to move his house around to fit it in.

He wanted the biggest one money could buy.

I thought about it. All sorts of questions went round in my head. Did he have an extra large family? Did he have loads of pets he wanted to keep feed for? Did he bulk buy food from one of those stores that only sell things in industrial sized packages? Did everything in his house have to be a certain size?

And so, with a mouthful of slightly stale bread, I asked him:

“Why do you need one so big?”

There was a moment of silence as he, and the rest of the cleaners, looked at me incredulously.

Another moment passed. A few of them started to laugh.

Then came his reply:

“So I can get more fucking food in it”.

And that was that. Simple.

A lesson learnt. Sometimes things are as simple as they seem on face value.

Why do our minds naturally look to over-complicate them?

If you’re selling a big fridge. Go for the natural USP. The customer can store more food in it! Simple.

I do miss that summer, although it did show me that my future wasn’t in being a maintenance man.

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)

A kinder, gentler philosophy of success…

It’s weird sometimes to think that, even in this digital day and age, we have philosophers.

But…we do. The guy in the video, Alain de Botton, is one of the ones that I like the most.

As a creative you may well berate yourself at times for not quite being where you want to be right now.

I know I do.

So, watch the talk above and see how it makes you feel!

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.

footballmdw
(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)