If You Can’t Stand the Heat….


I’m thinking about heat here in Qatar. I’m thinking about 29 degree early mornings and 40 degree afternoons. Walking out of air conditioned buildings into a heat that shocks – dry, dust-filled mouthfuls of hot unforgiving air. When you open the oven door and the heat slaps you in the face & makes your eyebrows feel they are curling? That sort of heat.

Last Saturday I went full-tourist and rode the brightly coloured hop-on-hop off bus from one end of Doha to the other. I was the only person on the bus to begin with, (so feeling really good about my choices and in no-way conspicuous) As it drove along the gorgeous Corniche, the Gulf mercifully threw a breeze from the sea which was pleasant enough. So I was hot and bothered, but well within my tolerance zone…. then the bus drew into the city and concrete, glass and steel surrounded the little yellow double decker as we stopped for some time at the Central Mall. I began to realise I was slowly boiling….. laughing to myself as I thought of the apocryphal tale of frog-boiling that sometimes gets used in change workshops. The heat and discomfort slowly creeping up on me and I hadn’t noticed. It was only when I went to drink my water and I realised how warm the contents of the bottle was, that I thought: OK.. you are really out of your depth here. You need to go downstairs to the air-conned bit.


Working in the heat. Living in the heat. It requires something different from living in a moderate temperature. The heat is a strong physical presence – it takes its toll on me. My brain feels sluggish – part of me constantly uncomfortable – so it’s more of a challenge to be fully functional. I need to move more slowly.

I’m remembering my basic Chemistry lessons: Heat changes the properties of molecular structures.  If I walk too far outside, I become more liquid ….

and yet I’m marvelling at my human ability to adapt. In the first days, I had the aircon in the hotel room down to its lowest setting – 18 degrees – which would be a good balmy day in Edinburgh..out and about light clothing with no coat –   so my room felt like a warm spring day. One week on and 18 degrees aircon leaves me slightly shivering… I’m choosing a very comfortable 21 degrees already.

I have been walking to the local supermarket and already I notice I can move more freely, that the temperature has become altogether more normal…

Watch how we adjust in the heat…..


And I’m thinking about cars….. about the insanity of  design of a metal box, with rubber wheels, in the relentless, challenging heat. I’ve heard stories here of sunglasses in cars melting. Dead mobile phones. Burnt palms on metal gear shifters….. the mothers who leave cars running, keys in ignition, Air-con on,  for 10 minutes before they put the babies into car seats. The trust that no-one will steal the car because everyone gets it would be unfair to nick a car cooling down. How many millions of people rely on the design of something that is not fit-for purpose in heat? It throws up questions abut who is in charge of design and…. how we just make do and adjust in the face of a seemingly unnecessary challenge…. if I knew anything about how to design cars, I’d start with the premise that there might need to be some major adjustments anywhere between the tropics of Cancer & Capricorn…..


and then there is the work…

In Adaptive Leadership, there is a metaphor for understanding the activity in the system you are seeking to change. They talk about “heat in the system” and encourage change agents & leaders to understand and even regulate that heat..

The premise is this: Too little heat and nothing much changes – in the cool, calm conversations and actions, there is little emotional or social reason to shift, everything is pretty ambient – teams and systems will mostly remain as is.

Too much heat or pressure and things are over-cooking … people will fall over or fall out with each other, the good work required to move things forward into a new state is unlikely to be happening. It’s too hot. We’re all getting a bit bothered. Change is the last thing on our minds – we close off to cool down.



In many ways, I’m loving the discomfort…. I’m feeling all my edges, my Scottish Skin freckles and objects to the lack of North Sea chill. My brain has to disconnect a little from the constant data from my body. Dialling down the heatometer that would just whinge and have me lie down quietly in a cool room.. as ever, my body takes longer to adjust to the world than my brain does. But it feels worth it. As a place to experience change, to experience what happens when you are discomforted and how fascinating it is to experience the adaption…. It’s a case study.

I’m home on 12th June. I wonder how I will adapt to a temperate climate?

One thought on “If You Can’t Stand the Heat….

  1. A wonderful piece of writing that has my brain buzzing… Most western organisations use the same template for the workplace and expectations as to how people should operate and behave in every location (perhaps a colonial legacy – I have images of Victorians in voluminous dresses and tweed suits having picnics in the sweltering heat of Africa or Scott the explorer insisting on taking a fine bone china dinner set into the Antarctic). As you have so clearly expressed, the environment has a huge impact on us (and hot-frog-like) that often goes unnoticed until it is too late. How much better it would be if greater thought was given when pre-planning work and the workplace. People are more likely to thrive, learn and grow when treated in an apt manner and this includes consideration of the bigger picture within which they are based. You might enjoy these comments made by unhappy holiday makers, complaining that their new environment was not as they expected, without meaning to they say a lot about the cultural myopia of so many people http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/picturegalleries/5005019/20-ridiculous-complaints-made-by-holidaymakers.html?image=17

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