The Hard Art of Standing Apart

I’m always struck by that question, ‘Are you a dreamer or a thinker?’ because it presupposes you can’t be both. I give you one example of why this isn’t true:

Lionel Richie, the silver-tongued musical god of such classics as ‘All Night Long’, was an accountant before he hit the easy listening big time. Irrefutable evidence that no individual is so binary that they must either have their head in the clouds, or their nose in a spreadsheet – yes, even accountants know how to let the music play on…

Increasingly, businesses are unlocking value by turning this misconception on its head and exploring the ways in which creativity across their organisations can drive commercial outcomes. Continue reading

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Are you happy at work?

What if you asked your friend if they were happy in their marriage, and they answered ‘not really – I’m bored, I don’t love them, but I don’t really know what else to do.’

You’d be quite clear they need to sort it out or end the relationship.

Yet how many conversations have you had with your friends about their job, and they’ve said almost exactly the same thing? Did you reply with the same conviction?

Perhaps you’ve said the same thing, yourself.

Matthew Taylor, CEO of the Royal Society of Arts, makes this point in his compelling and timely focus on employee engagement in the UK – and our failure to deal with it. Continue reading

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Man in the mirror

I never thought there would come a day when I would begin an article by quoting a Michael Jackson song, but I’ve been humming it for days and now it’s your turn to go silently mad when you can’t get Man In The Mirror out of your head: ‘I’m starting with the man in the mirror / I’m asking him to change his ways’.

There is method in my madness. You see, without realising it, Jackson was a trailblazer for something multi-billion pound companies the world over are beginning to realise the value of. Sure, he had a catchy chorus and a pet monkey, and some pretty natty white socks, but that was all a front for the real deal – The King of Pop was urging us all to drive innovation through a diverse workforce.

Honestly, stay with me on this one. Continue reading

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Being Human

“Flight versus invisibility? This question is only for you. Whichever you pick, you’ll be the only person in the world to have that particular superpower. You can’t have both. Which do you choose?”

The question’s from John Hodgman. He’s an American author and performer, and a little while back he decided that he needed a more interesting opening gambit at parties and weddings than the standard questions about where you live and work. Sure enough, he found that for most people having to choose between two superpowers opened up a passionate and divisive topic of debate.

Let’s be honest, who hasn’t thought about a new world reality in which we get to pick and choose our superhero qualities? Yet what was most interesting about this thought experiment was not so much which superpower people chose, but what they planned to do with it. Continue reading

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Big Blonde

I’m wearing my Mum’s coat today; it’s older than I am. An old-skool classic Burberry mac, a size too big and the hem hanging somewhere down by my ankles. My friends say I look like Inspector Gadget, but I love the coat. I love it because my Mum bought it with her first ever paycheck from writing. I love it because as soon as she bought it she found a perfect copy for 50p in a scouts’ jumble sale. So the real one went into storage 30 years ago, and she wore the thrifty ersatz version with as much joy and wear-and-tear as a young, fierce writer from Toxteth, starting her life and her family in London, could give it. Continue reading

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Getting our gym knickers in a twist

As part of my ongoing attempt to be as nauseatingly middle class as possible, I ran a marathon last week. I say ‘ran’ – it was more of a flat-footed lurch, evidenced by the grotesque photographs the organisers kindly sent me afterwards where I look like I’m standing still in every shot. I’m not entirely sure who the bugger was in my small circle of chums who suggested we do it, but before long we found ourselves chalking up the miles, the playlists and the carbohydrates. And the lycra. All the sodding wick-away-nasa-designed-microfibremyarse running gear you believe you can’t live without. This is the problem with running; I naively thought it was the sport of Spartans, requiring only the soles of my feet and a bowl of olives to get me round. Is it bollocks.

My own experience of shopping for running gear rendered plain the absolute lack of compassion some major sports manufacturers still have about women’s bodies when engaged in physical activity. Continue reading

Posted in Body issues, Celebrity, Feminism, Sport, Women | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Hawking another cosmic myth

So Stephen Hawking doesn’t understand women, apparently. It’s a neat little PR hook, spun out ahead of the celebrations and mental machinations to be held in his honour to mark his 70th birthday, and the kind of thing press officers at the New Scientist must fantasise about in a desperate bid to make science speak for us all, even the most bone-headed.

His claim is a tragedy in two respects. First, it implies we cannot empathise with a man who finds the secrets of the universe as intellectually challenging as I find a 12 piece jigsaw puzzle, unless he is ruled by matters of the flesh. And second, it perpetuates the myth that women are so very different, so very other, that even the brainiest man on the planet cannot begin to fathom us.

It’s the second point which irritates me. Stephen Hawking, master of intergalactic and space-time thinking is being played into the sweaty palms of the people who kindly brought us the astronomical fallacy that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. Are we saying that women are as alien to men as, well, aliens? Look! Space and planets and women! And bloody Stephen Hawking agrees! It MUST be true! Give me a break.

I don’t know the man, so I can’t speak for Hawking’s feminist credentials – he could be a Friedan-reading, pro-choice placard-waving sister – but my sense is that he falls foul of the same pitfall beholden by a worrying number of clever and influential men, the iron-cast belief that thought rules where action fails. Hawking admits that he spends most of the day thinking about women (Really? Doesn’t he have better things to do?) but despite these daily intellectual gymnastics, women remain “a complete mystery”. Given that we occupy more than half the world’s population, and he’s married two of them, he must go quite some way to deliberately avoid hearing what women actually have to say.

Let’s stop patronising each other, shall we? Let’s allow Hawking to live out the rest of his already impressive life doing what he does best – being a voice for cosmology, not for gender studies – and let the rest of us focus on practical changes in equality, rooted in the real world where we have real conversations and experiences with one another.

I would have hoped that the more we learn about life beyond our own tiny galactic experience, led in no small part by people like Hawking, the more we would realise we have in common with each other, here on Earth. So it’s a sad state of affairs when it appears we have achieved quite the opposite, and that star gazing has become an acceptable excuse for the failure to bring our minds back down to terra firma and answer questions about how we, as humans, can relate to one another – regardless of our gender.

Posted in Feminism, Men, Women | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment