Working in Less Obvious Ways.

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I’m over it.

To be honest, I’ve been over it for days – the news, the TV, watching the politics and the games and the claims and the counter claims. The inauthenticity of pre-prepped speechifying. Entire massive hulking gnarly issues conveniently disappeared. The egos. The stubbornness and blindness. The platitudes and clichés. The energy it takes to sense-make in the midst of all of this.

My deep need to hold to a change narrative that involves kindness, inclusiveness, tolerance, creativity and collaboration….My lived experience that true lasting change doesn’t happen without some of these things. How very sorely tested that belief feels right now – like I’m a dreamer, an altruist, a hypothetical tree hugging cloud-starer who doesn’t understand real power and politics.
Only I do…. I just don’t have the appetite to play that game. That mean, selfish, self-serving game.. which at the same time seems necessary…. And if I’m not in the game, how can I ever affect it?

It’s a puzzle.

What I’d say to my clients is: step back. Look after yourself for a while. Stop engaging with the poison around you, it will soak into your being. Go find some anti-venom. Find connection. Love. Kindness. Stuff that sustains you. Find purpose. Get folk round you who you trust and enjoy. Get stronger. Refocus. Return with renewed, different vigor. Work from there.
There is more power and courage in walking a different path, than re-treading the old ones. If you feel that stepping away is woose-ing-out, take heart..it’s only that way if you stay gone – the world needs you here. Stepping away might be just what you need… but come back. Gentler, stonger, heartfilled, joyeous, detoxed.

Physician, heal thyself.

So I’m taking my own advice for a bit. Turning off the telly. Listing to music which lifts or soothes. Seeking out those who nurture and refresh me. Walking the dog. Having silence around me. Cooking good food. Attempting to run a little faster. Putting time in on my travels to see the world through less-tainted eyes.

In a conversation recently, there was an element of: lucky you. That you can do that. In your job. You can just potter about & mull on stuff.
Nope. That’s not how this works. Running a business is rarely a part-time thing, if you want to make an actual living out of it. I’m carving that time. Intentionally. Trying to hold some regard for myself and others around me.
This is the work – my work – in all of the madness.
To look after myself and those around me.
My reach isn’t National.
I hold no power to put money in your pocket
This work could so easily be written off as unimportant….
But it’s not. It’s more vital now, to counter hate-filled, venomous, broken-ly furious narratives that take us down paths of division and separation.

I’m here and I’m part of this…. So I’m working to do the best I can… in less obvious ways, perhaps, but I believe they have power.

image courtesy of Brutallyhonest.org

After the Laundry, The Ecstacy?

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I don’t know where to begin.

this is not a “normal” fuchsia blue blog post – It feels more personal.

When you wake up and hear something that you cannot compute, mentally or physically… The UK is leaving the EU. We are choosing to leave our rather odd home for 43 years, presumably to downsize…
My first response was kind of horrified. No no no no.. what? What? I mean… What? And then I was so angry I could spit. Deep visceral fury at the TV. At authority. At those who voted to Leave –I’m muttering about idiots, biggots, using delicious swear words, harsh and blue with venom injected right into them … you name it, it came. And the worry – my business. The markets tumbling dramatically…My precious fuchsiablue. Wee and wily, not globally important, but the thing that sustains me and folk I love and cherish. Now under threat through nothing I have done…. It left me livid, speechless and confused.
And the white male voices given microphones, feeling my own prejudice and bigotry run free… knowing I’m not immune from looking at another and wishing them elsewhere…..
My faith in humanity leaking away..
My urge to run home, North, where social justice and a less bitterly phobic angry narrative seemed to run.
My need to talk to others.. to sense make.. help me. Help me sense make?
A sense of powerlessness and redundancy…. I want to take my teddy and go off in a huff.
How confusing. The day before I’d blogged about love. Where was mine? Where was my compassion? My generosity?

Then last night I went back to the After the Ecstasy, the Laundry blog post I wrote in the aftermath of the Scottish Independence Vote. The vote had gone the way I expected. I wasn’t in shock. I was working from a more calm, rational place. What I said then, I hold to now.

Today feels different. Today I’m moving away from the personal affront, getting over myself and looking at what happened in a different way.

I think the vote to leave was inevitable, in many ways. I think people who have been disaffected, who have not been heard, represented, cared for, listened to and spoken for get really tired of being in that place – or really pissed off about it. I think there are amazing MPs and local authority folk who try to get them heard. I think there has been a sneering arrogance at the highest eschelons of politics for too long. I think humbleness, humanity and the notion of being a Public Servant has been too far away from the thinking and the actions of those who are more concerned about to leaving a personal legacy.

I think the parallels with some of what happens in Corporate / big organisational life are painful.

I think it is a case study in the need for diversity and inclusion in thinking and action. I think it’s been missing for too long. I think the hate-filled bile that I occasionally heard was the existing power system setting itself up to reject that diversity and inclusion. Diversity would challenge the power status quo. The power status quo REALLY likes things as they are. Diversity needs to be labelled as “bad scary threat”. .. but the paradox is that power had to align itself to the powerless to get the job done.. and now of course, the powerless have more of a voice and …oh.. that’s a challenge to the Status quo….
Yup.. we are about to live in even more interesting times.

I’ve lived in interesting times before in my life. What I learned was a few things:
No sudden moves. When the world around you appears to tilt on its axis, inaction is often the best course of action. Go slowly. Wait and watch. Think and reflect. Do bits of stuff and see what happens, but don’t make Big Plans and Try to Make Stuff Happen. That’s not how it works. Life is a series of conversations and unfolding circumstance. The recovery after the big stuff tends not to happen fast. Go with that.

If you want to alter what’s happening “Out There”, Start Here. With yourself. First. Work on your own responses. Work to be better, kinder, less of a git and encourage others to do so too. The rage and the fury etc? know they are there pay attention to them, and work to do better. And I mean that – pay attention to the bad stuff.. don’t’ brush over it like an inconvenience – That’s part of what just happened here. It leads to long-term disaffection and disconnect.

Don’t walk away. Stay with the situation, even when it gets tough. Put folk around you that remind you of the daftness of any given situation. Have a place to rage or cry or bang the table… then get up and keep going… contribute as well as you can to change, to the world you want.. that stuff.

And look after yourself. This referendum stuff has been bruising…. If you are bruised, you need salve, rest and a lot of fresh air… go do that, rather than raging at the telly.

I don’t know how this goes. But I know I need to work with what comes.
Think I found some of my love.
Interested in where you are at. x

Stories & Telling & Asking & More

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Yes – I’ll help set up a storytelling zone. In the exploration of the social age, I’ll happily find a place for folk to gather and talk and think and question and share. I’ll make a nook – a place to hang out and meet and mull. Laura will make a Newspaper office right next to it, handing out nips of whisky and chatting over typewriters…..stories created here & captured there…. That works.

Stories? Sure, that’s part of what life and work is about – your story, our story, the story of the organisation; tales of the unexpected and of the known – specific tales that bring hypothesis somewhere more understandable or tangible… the Theory is this: my Reality is that…. Ah.. this is helpful – I can see more clearly now.

If I coach you, we work with your story – your narrative of yourself. How you see yourself and tell yourself to others. How you know yourself. What you allow yourself to do.. or not do… or think… or say… I’ll offer counter narratives.. can we re-write this together? Can this be a different tale?

As the Safari unfolds, I hear metaphors & how useful these can be to work with. How a shared story helps people gather and understand. How the plea for Purpose in organisations is also a plea for a simple narrative – what do we stand for here? Will you stand for that with us?

I hear about working in small streams; river tributaries that might eddy or might flow out to the ocean; I hear of someone quilting – piecing odd fabrics together to create something beautiful and new and original.. the pieces becoming a whole different entity; we hear Social Media sharing not as an act of self-promotion, but as an act of generosity – sharing content and knowledge specifically to generate change… the self-lessness a thing I forget about at times in the midst of broadcasted cultivated messages….

And so much I don’t know about stories – what do we do with messy narratives that don’t follow a proper arc? The archetypes available… the questions you can ask: are we in an organisational tragedy? Comedy? Farce? So much still to learn, to ask, to discover.

Catherine and Selby work with creative voices. Poetry and music bring narratives to life – protest songs and lives spoken into being… lyrical, lilting riffs that are unexpectedly touching, moving and powerful. The words sung or spoken have a effect that cannot easily be expressed….articulated in emotions and sensation – beyond words in many ways… I enjoy the irony.

Later, I leave early, my own fairy tale of being able to push through a flu-like cold thing truly undermined by the very factual story of shivers and temperature, of sand-papered throat and woolly brain-function. As I find myself sitting on the floor of a packed train, feeling terribly sorry for myself and telling my woes on a Slack channel to my beloved friends, Amanda asks: Would you like a story?
And I relax – Yes. Tell me a tale from beyond this train – and she does… and it is beautiful and human and poignant… and then Fi shares her Tale from the Underground… and I’m elsewhere and warmer and more connected all at once and somehow it makes things better.

There is power in stories… and in those who tell them.

——–

Thanks to inspirers/ co creators Geoff Stead, Carol Read, Julian Stodd, Damian Corbett,  Sukh PabialJonathan Anthony  Johanna Wyers, Amy Burvall, Stephanie Morgan  SeaSalt Learning Crew including (but not exclusively) Laura Williams, Valerie De Pauw,  Hannah Moxom, Phillip Kingsbury, Paul Draper, Rich Stannard, David Jarrett & Emily Pykett

to Amanda Arrowsmith & Fiona McBride

seek out #socialAgeSafari

Check out Spoken Artist & Poet Joseph Selby & bluegrass/ folk musician Catherine Burke

Noodling

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This has come out of the #ldinsight chat today on what have we learned from the Friday Twitter chats.

In response to the plea to let things emerge and the very lovely open space principle that “the right people will be arrive” to be in a conversation – I’m thinking about the difference between being interventionist & making stuff happen vs being non interventionist & letting stuff happen as it happens.

So I’m thoughtful that most of the client systems I hang out in err to the interventionist – lock it down on a plan, with dates and budgets. Plan. Organise. Control. THIS intervention means THESE are your Learning Outcomes (Really? They are? How do you know? Are these my only Learning Outcomes? Am I allowed more? Fewer? Where’s the part where I got a say in this intervention?)
See… too much of that stuff & it all gets a bit daft.
I’ve worked with people and systems who cannot leave well enough alone – changing for changes sake, just because they need to intervene… it’s arguably harmful.

And then there is an alternative route – emergent possibilities – working in a way that is inherently more complex (LOADS of stuff runs, mostly all at the same time, as many ideas as you have folk) Slower – it takes time to work with emerging agendas, you need to let stuff run to see where it is running & if that’s working. It’s free thinking, self-organising and non-interventionist. It’s arguably a tougher route. Certainly it requires a whole bunch of personal maturity and resilience to just kind of let stuff go.. inner control freaks start rearing their head, people can feel very unsettled …

Both suit folk. Lock it down, intervene to ensure an outcome, seems safer, faster… and then generally, in the long term, the unlocked stuff leaks all over the place, muddying the nice neat boxes constructed.
Emergent agendas – going where it goes, with whoever happens to be around, working with what is new – seem more creative, more fluid, fairer…

Which leads me to noodling.
I can noodle. It’s a bit of a fuchsiablueism – by noodling I mean I can work with a big bowl of muddled up noodles and love the complexity, follow the threads, play with the forms.. work with what emerges. I can do this for ages – it’s fascinating.
I’m also guilty of some personal noodling – blogging might be part of that – hanging out with a thought – poking at it and considering it… noodling away by myself without fully paying attention to the world around me, my context, the relevance of my stuff.
I like a bit of noodling. I like the emergent, slow stuff. I had to learn how to sit with some of it, because most of my early working life geared me to NOT NOODLE and get to the point/ purpose…that and I was not bestowed with infinite patience… it’s an ongoing battle for me

My point is: if I don’t want to disappear into some strange noodley ether, I kind of feel I have to find anchors and reality, structures and systems that allow me to come back.
When I’m facilitating, it’s as important to bring stuff back to the core point, the purpose, as it is to enable and encourage folk to go away from it. Emergent work just doesn’t work for some people. It’s freaky and weird and scary. Just like a neat 16 box matrix is likely to make me want to gently bang my head off the desk… but you kind of need both.

If I’m going to be useful to clients, to the folk in my life, I can’t just noodle.
If I want my practice to be enriched, lively and stay relevant… I have to do a bit of noodling.
It can’t be all or nothing.

Now mulling on if I can get the concept of noodling into a 16 box matrix and sell it worldwide for interventions…….

Thanks to Meg Peppin & Jo Stephenson for the inspiration

Business Translation & Keeping it Real

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This is inspired by a recent conversation with Carol Read, who is doing some extraordinary, breakthough transformation and innovation stuff in the Horizons Team, within NHS England’s Sustainable Improvement Team. I met her through connections with SeaSalt Learning & I think we have started a conversation that could last for many years…. And as we talked, I was reminiscing….

Back in the day when I was an in-house Change Consultant, working with the slightly alchemical purpose of “changing the culture” at the Postal Authority in Jersey, I had an “ah-ha!” moment.

I’d been invited to present to the Board – what has happened, what we are planning to do next, budget stuff (something along the lines of: can you find us some money to do up the staff canteen to show we mean we are going to change and improve the whole business, inside and out? I’m recommending we don’t go down “fur coat no knickers” change route…etc)

I had the standard 10–15 minutes slot, which inevitably rolled over as questions needed to be asked and answered. Part of the Board’s interest was the future, unsurprisingly. In our world, at the time, one of the best ways we could stay competitive was to innovate. We were a small Postal Service, which meant we were, potentially, more agile and able to trial stuff across the operation than larger set-ups in, say, the UK or Germany.

One way we could innovate was to be a test-bed for new delivery methods or tracking tech; we could look at new ways to produce “direct mail” (you may call it Junk mail. 10 years on and I still feel I have committed a sin calling it Junk Mail); we could look at pick-and-pack fulfilment as an income stream (Amazon was in its infancy – we were looking to learn from their model). All these future possibilities…

And I remember going back to my desk, slightly fuzzy-headed with the whirl of future-promises & tech and experiments…. And looking at the list of stuff I knew we needed to get done now. The canteen upgrade suddenly seemed very….unsexy…. but still deeply necessary… and I found it hard to reconcile.

The Board that day were all future and commerce and budgets and business opportunities (as it should be) and I knew this stuff wouldn’t mean a hill of beans to the day-to-day experience of a Postie or a member of the Counter staff until it arrived (typically in bubble-wrap, with a training course & a lot of head scratching) in front of them.

Not because they were daft, or didn’t have ambition or vision. Not because they were lazy or backward or didn’t care about the job – far from it. They were so focussed on doing the job – getting the mail out getting customers served – that what was important was there here-and-now. That was what was real.The lived experience of the place being too hot or cold. The inconvenience of parking. The canteen ruled with an iron fist by the cook who was resolute about the food offerings available.. with chips….

And so my epiphany was this: the need to Translate.

I had (I believed for a while) invented a notion: Business Translation. I saw the language of the Board – all broad brush & future tech & strategy & hypothetical circumstance vs the language of the Operation – specific & tactical, and day-to-day tangible. Separate languages – or perhaps it was just different patois – but the Change work seemed to be about bringing those two closer together. Working closely to articulate and decode “that future stuff” so we could make the here & now actions more purposeful and (dare I say it) aligned.

It all seemed so simple. Just translate stuff.
Mostly, this thought took the team to good places. At the core of our Change methods was: how do we explain this is in different languages? The way it showed up varied. We paid more attention to our internal comms, we cut back on some actions that seemed overly grounded in future flim-flam or in the compromises that come with “this is how we do it round here”. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it burned.

Looking back, much of what we did was “push” and direct and broadcast. If I were to have my time again there, I’d have done a lot more of the pull/listen/adapt the big ideas stuff. I’d still have the fights with marketing about too-tight constraints on internal branding, but I’d probably be a little less strident in my confrontation… I’d listen more.

At the core of the change work, I still believe it’s about translation. Creating better conversations, spaces to think together, action that is communicable… that stuff. Too high falutin’ and it’s ethereal & wispy. Too grounded and it is ludding and static.

I’m grateful to Carol for the conversation – about the dreamy innovative cool stuff & the need to work closely with the here and now to deliver it.

The Poetry of Propaganda – (AKA when the “soft stuff” gets hard core)

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How do you persuade the deeply entrenched to surrender their positions?
If changing systems requires changing behaviours and behavioural change is, typically, triggered by something deeply personal (unless you go super-coercive, but that’s not an ethical/legal position most organisations would go for.. (thankfully?)) what does that mean?

When someone has made up their mind about something. About what is right or wrong. About what they can and can’t do. About what is or is not fiction or fact – and their position is harming them, or an organisation, or a country….. what actions can you take?

These are some of the questions that were raised for me from Jose Miguel Sokoloff’s TED talk as he explains how he & his team helped persuade Colombian Guerillas to demobilise.
I was first made aware of his story through the This American Life Podcast.
Sokoloff is, by trade, an advertising exec – more used to dealing with selling soap or dog food than getting involved in gnarly political/social change issues…but his reasons for taking up the challenge were, in part, emotional ones: He had never known a day of peace-time in his own country.

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The Importance of Thinking Beyond Your Bubble

 

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A few days after Paris Terrorist attacks, I’m in the pub with some friends and colleagues and I’m in conversation with someone about the attacks. Her response was very much aligned to mine, a sense of: more love/ less aggression = good response to the situation. Control, vengeance, fear = long-term scary response to the situation. We were blown away by the bravery the courage and the solidarity we saw.

But it’s where the conversation went next that stuck with me and I’m still mulling on. It was when she said everyone on Facebook agreed. Her timeline on Facebook, her Twitter feed, her news alerts all pointed to the incredible, liberal, make-love-not-war sense that she already had. And I realised, mostly mine did too.

But of course that’s bollocks. Not everyone agreed. Not everyone responded as we would like. Other Facebook feeds were doubtless awash with a counter-narrative that would have made me terrified/ want to weep.

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It Should Be Different….

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Oh Should.

How you haunt my change practice & my coaching conversations.

You hold a tempting promise of possibilities, marred by a vague whiff of judgement:

I should

We should

It should be…

 

Yup. Quite possibly. But it isn’t. Not right now.

So can we work with that? With what is real and present?

Can we look at the world as you currently experience it?

Can we look at this mythical “culture” that “should” change and spend time here, now, picking through what is, before lurching off to what should be?

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If You Can’t Stand the Heat….

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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.

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Vapour, Iron & Barriers to Change – a Story

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This is not what he’s going to want to hear.

Under pressure.
Scrutinised.
A big structural change to deliver.
Budget cuts to the quick of the organisation.
He wants a neat process.
A plan… with outcomes and goals.
Delivery of that plan. Stat.
Seemingly this is where I come in….

Only…
It strikes me, as we talk that he already has this – he and his team have long since mapped the process. They understand the outcomes they are seeking.
Hell – they even took the plan to the Board and it’s all approved.
For months now, it’s been All Systems Go.
They are more than capable of delivering a plan. Stat.

So I’m wondering – why am I here?
(That question seems to annoy him. He is, after all, a very busy man…)

I’m here because I am a Consultant – He needs someone to come in and make the change happen. Run workshops. Facilitate conversations. That stuff.
(I bite down my question… Why can’t you already do that without me?)

The plan isn’t working. The outcomes and goals are not being “owned” outwith the team. The need for cuts and restructures is not widely accepted.
There seem to be barriers and blocks… hard to say what they are…
The Board collectively said yes.
This means The Board are onside.

Really?
Let’s break that down..

Well they are onside – but This Director will struggle to implement the structural cuts in Q2 & 3 because the looming deal means all hands to the pump and the disruption to resourcing is too high a risk. As a key income stream to the business, this area needs protecting.

This Director is going forward – LEAN methodologies in place now – so everything is being looked at carefully and, y’know, that all takes a while to show results. But they are absolutely committed to losing 25% of their staff and budget. It means their reach will be smaller in the Organisation, but they are fine with that.

This Director is close to the CEO and is pushing hard for things to change in their area – already the four Regional Heads are three and the resourcing has slimmed down massively. Staff are warning that it is too much too fast – there is currently a risk to retained knowledge –but that is just resistance to change, of course –that’s what you expect to hear at this stage of the game. This area is really role modelling what needs to be happening.

This Director has taken the Heads Of out for a couple of days. They have come up with a plan for how they can keep everyone and raise productivity. It’s not The Plan. It’s better. They have always prized themselves on their innovation and ability to overcome the odds. This Director is much-loved by the Team. They are the priority.

So here’s the news: The Board are not onside.

Collectively perhaps. Individually…. not so much.
I see fear. I see procrastination. I see care. I see carelessness. Protectionism. Jostling. Attachment.
Individually they have a lot to lose, staff, status, outcomes.

If you want the whole to change… you kind of need to put a lot of attention on the parts.
You want to get things moving differently? Help your Leaders deal with their emotional, relational and attachment stuff.
(Perhaps that’s why I’m here after all?)

He’s looking at me in a way that makes my tummy knot with anxiety.
On the one hand, my dialogue training tells me to inquire into both my own feelings and into the look he appears to be giving me (don’t assume, Jools. Don’t project your own nonsense onto someone else. Notice the phenomena. Work with the data. Ask what you don’t know.. he might really like what you’ve just said)
On the other hand, even my paltry knowledge of reading body language and facial expressions tells me pretty clearly:
I’m on the end of contempt.

He wants answers. I am here to give him answers.
To get the plan going.
To enable the outcomes.
To fix the barriers. Stat.
I’m meant to provide a process. Something clean and clear…. not start on about bloody-messy-fluffy-woolly emotional guff…..

I’m letting him down.

I feel squeezed.
I’d really really like the business… I sense it slipping away as I speak the truth as I see it.
Yet I can only speak the truth as I see it.

So I try to unknot my tummy and breathe into what I know to be true:

Far from being woolly and fluffy, the emotion and attachment stuff your leaders are experiencing is made of iron wills. Your barriers are metallic in their essence – not vapour-fluffy, but hard core emotion.
You want them to own damage to their organisation?
You want them to be onside with cutting jobs, budgets & risking their reputations?
You want the organisation not to be heartlessly, ruthlessly ravaged?
You need to start softening iron wills.
You need an Emotional strategy to back up your Business one.
A place for your leaders to express fear, understand where & why they procrastinate, work with care that doesn’t compromise the whole plan by overly protecting, be considerate not ruthless….
Right now all of that is being left to chance.
How about you have a cohesive plan that takes into account impact of your leaders’ emotions?

And you’re not onside with what I’m saying, I can see that – because you have your own pressure and attachments to this working. I get that, right now, this is not the answer you want….But this is the answer I’m offering you.

And breathe……

Silence ensues and I wait.
The sense of lost work and crumbling credibility drifts over me. This emotional nonsense doesn’t hold up in this world of data and process. It’s too out there….

I sit, checking in with myself – am I still breathing? How hard are my hands shaking? How much adrenaline is currently in my system? I’m working out if my knees will give as I stand. Ah well… if I fall over it’s not like I’m going to see him again.

I finally put my attention back on him.
His expression has changed. There is less contempt now – something is shifting….

He sighs.
Fatigued and irritated he asks:
So what, specifically, would your Emotional strategy to back up this Business strategy be, then?

and it’s here the work really begins….

* this is a composite tale. I never blog directly about clients. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons or organisational situations, living or dead, is purely coincidental… though quite possibly likely