Wrestling With an Octopus

Published: Jul 03 , 2015
Author: Alan Smith

It used to be that people had so much time on their hands that they were forever looking for things to do to fill it. When I talk about wrestling with an octopus I am talking literally, not making an oblique negotiating reference about dealing with slippery salesmen or procurement slight of (many) hands.

Throughout time people have been looking for ways to occupy themselves. In the 18th century, for example, fox-tossing was a popular event in Poland. In fact at one prestigious event 687 foxes and an assortment of badgers, hares and wildcats were tossed into the air using slings. Sounds fun, not!

Other noticeable events were canon baseball (baseballs being fired at batters by canons), human fishing (an Australian event were human swimmers were reeled in by fishermen) and balloon jumping (no explanation needed or offered).

The bigger problem we face today, in my humble opinion, is not how we fill our time, it is how we prioritise and use it.

Humans now have a lower attention span than goldfish, according to new research. A study by Microsoft has shown that we are able to remain focussed for a mere 8 seconds, since you ask a goldfish can manage 9. And it is getting worse. Multitasking feels great because we get instant gratification, and it may even make us feel more efficient, but are we just busy fools?

A couple of months ago I had to have a fairly major operation. My left hip had run its course and needed to be replaced. Years of rugby and running, not as my wife so eloquently said age, had restricted my movement and so the inevitable was duly booked in and endured.

One side effect was that I was unable to drive for 8 weeks.

I am not sure how unusual we are as a couple, but we have both drifted into certain tasks. I tend to be the one who cuts the lawn, my wife tends to do the online shopping order. Bit gender specific but there it is.

One of the tasks I seem to have is to be the driver. Whenever we go out, I am the one who takes the wheel. I suspect my wife is a better driver than me, she certainly thinks so, but the habit has stuck.

During my hip recuperation my wife took over driving duties and much to my amazement I really enjoyed being driven around. I was able to notice so much more of the area in which we lived, the countryside and architecture than I ever did when in the driving seat when my mind was occupied with gears, mirrors, traffic signs and other motorists.

It also reinforced my view that in difficult and complex negotiations it makes sense to take a colleague to the meeting who can simply observe what is going on. Without a speaking role the observer can far easier examine what is driving the session, pick up things that may be missed when leading and test the temperature and tone of the meeting.

Make sure it is well rehearsed and well briefed though and don’t be tempted to leave your role or - as I did - become a back seat driver. You might not be invited out again. 

Alan Smith


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