Dance like a Puppet

It’s time you realised that you have something in you more powerful and miraculous than the things that affect you and make you dance like a puppet. – Marcus Aurelius

Seen: The Shape of Water

This is a review of The Shape of Water a film starring Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer and Michael Shannon.   None of my reviews contain spoilers and only broad comments on the plot of a film.

I’m continuing my sweep through the best picture nominees for this years Academy Awards, and what better way to spend a cold Sunday afternoon than in front of the Shape of Water.

Elisa (played by Sally Hawkins), is a cleaner at a shady research lab in 1960’s America, her nights spend watching black and white movies with her artist neighbour played by Richard Jenkins. She spends her days with Zelda (played by Octavia Spencer), in turns moaning about the scientists they clean up after and then curiously watching the work of the lab.

Shape of Water

One morning, a metal tank containing a ‘monster’ fished from a South American river arrives, accompanied by a brutal security guard, Strickland, played by Michael Shannon.

The creature is dangerous, but Elisa is captivated, befriending the monster with boiled eggs and big band jazz.   Of course, being a top-secret research facility, this relationship comes under threat, first from the menacing and violent Strickland, and then the traditional 1960’s U.S. adversary of Soviet Russia.

The romance combines with B-Movie thriller in the final act of the movie, with beautiful effect.

I loved this film,  seeing and hearing shades of Amelie along with monster movies of the 1950’s – the soundtrack was beautiful and the monster is expertly played, not too CGI and enough character to be believable.  Sally Hawkins is excellent, and Octavia Spencer is a great buddy in the adventure.   Michael Shannon is always brilliant (remember Boardwalk Empire?) and keeps his menace up all the way to the end.

The Shape of Water has been nominated for 13 Oscars, it’s very hard to see how it won’t win an armful.

Overall. 9/10. IMDb


How I Work…

A couple of people have sent me a list of questions entitled ‘How I work’, here is my completed list.

Number of unread emails right now?

  • Personal (Gmail) – 15 / Work (Outlook) – 2

I keep personal and work email separate, and try to batch process email.  I have no notifications on my PC or phone.  I don’t believe in endlessly pursuing Inbox Zero.

First app checked in the morning?

  • Outlook, then the Guardian newspaper.

First thing you do when you come into work?

  • Drink my coffee, wait and look out of the window peacefully for 10 minutes. I use this time to recover from my commute and settle myself for the day.

What is your email management strategy?

  • I ditched ‘filing’ email a long time ago. Automatic folders for common emails, a single archive for everything else.

Most essential app when traveling?

  • Daily Commute – The Trainline App / Otherwise – Uber

How do you keep yourself calm and/or focused?

  • Pause. Deep Breath. Carry On.   The key is the length of the pause if something is really bothering me, then the pause will be longer.

What’s your perspective or approach to work/life balance?

  • I change the word ‘balance’ for ‘blend’ – I don’t live to work, but I know when to switch between the two to protect the ‘crystal moments

Are there any work rituals critical to your success?

  • Not really – although I always carry a notebook, as much as I love Evernote as a second brain, I need a blank paper page to help focus.


  • Work – Central London, in the Shard
  • Home – My Ikea standing desk

Current computers:

  • Work – HP ProBook G4 running Windows 10
  • Home – Old Dell desktop as a media player/server & Ipad Air

Current mobile devices:

  • iPhone 7 / Kindle / Apple Watch 3

What’s your workspace like?

  • Organised, clear – at the start of the day

What’s your best time-saving shortcut or lifehack?

  • I’m pretty good at batch reading and processing email on my phone whilst on the train, saves a lot of time in the office. I think this is a good way to use time, whilst listening to music or podcasts.

What everyday thing are you better at than anybody else?

  • I put together an Excel spreadsheet pretty quickly.

What are you currently reading?

  • I’m trying to read more in 2018, and review as many of those books on my blog. This weekend I started reading The Rules of People by Richard Templar

What’s your sleep routine like?

  • Pretty good – I get to sleep around 11pm, up at 5.23am – I like odd alarm times. We have a dual control electric blanket that we use in the Winter to warm the bed, which helps me get to sleep quickly.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

  • Keep moving, even if its the wrong direction, you can course correct – but you must keep moving.

Working Out Loud Circle – Week Two

This is part of a series of posts documenting my journey with a Working Out Loud circle, as defined in John Stepper’s book; Working Out Loud: For a better Career and Life.  You can read the rest of the series here.

Friday was the second meeting of the Working Out Loud Circle I am in, and so I started my day with 3 of the  4 people I met the previous week. One person couldn’t make it, and whilst we missed them, we pushed ahead with our video conference and started our day off with the same energy as last week.

It was my turn to host the meeting, and I think we kept quite well to time, although we had a few interesting deviations to our conversations which are to be expected when you are with a group with diverse backgrounds and goals.

So, what did we do this week?

This week was subtitled ‘offer your first contributions’, a chance for us to make some connections and contributions to the relationship list that we previously drew up.

We spent some time checking in with each other, and reviewing what we had done in the week before.  We’d all worked on our relationship list and evaluated the level of intimacy that we currently had, and it was good to see other peoples perspectives on their lists.

Then we spent time talking through the first contributions we had made to our network and how those had landed.

Finally, we confirmed our plans for the coming week and agreed our time for next week.

My key takeaways

  • In the week 2 plan, there is an exercise called ‘The Generosity Test’. I like to think I’ve got good manners, so it’s not a stretch to follow the test – but I am rarely mindful of what happens when I do,  I need to think more about that.
  • Our group is very good at trying to help each other out by making connections, I’m keeping a separate list of the people I’ve been recommended to connect wit. The network can grow quickly!

What did I do after the week two meeting?

  • We talked a lot in the meeting about how I use Twitter and Tweetdeck specifically to interact with my network, and I offered to help the group understand the tool, so I’ve been researching how to run a quick ‘webinar’ on the subject. I’m trying to get that set up this week.
  • I deliberately went out and offered some contribution or feedback to everyone on my relationship list. I’m trying to form a habit there, instead of just retweeting information, but sharing something useful and positive.

Sunday Six Pack

Time to relax, pour yourself a coffee and enjoy the Sunday Six Pack, all killer, no filler, just six of the best links curated from a week of reading.

Put your feet up, click and enjoy.

Compiled whilst listening to Townes van Zandt (Spotify)

Seen : Mollys Game

This is a review of Mollys Game a film starring Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba and Kevin Costner.  None of my reviews contain spoilers and only broad comments on the plot of a film.

Winter hibernation is a wonderful thing,  although there is less time outdoors, there is also the opportunity to catch up on the films you want to see in the warm glow of the movie screen.

Last weekend, I sat down to watch Mollys Game, a film based on the true story of Molly Bloom played by Jessica Chastain.  Molly was an Olympic class skier, who ended up running high stakes poker games that land her in trouble.

Idris Elba plays her attorney Charlie Jaffrey, drafted in to defend Molly during a court case that threatens to send her to jail, and the exchanges between Molly and Charlie are the highlight of the film.

The story is told with a series of flashbacks to Molly’s childhood, and then her time running poker games in the early 2000’s.  The glamour of the poker scene and the people involved contrasts well with the legal scenes.

Mollys Game is adapted from an autobiography and is written and directed by Aaron Sorkin. I always like his TV work, and this film clipped along at a good pace. Despite being around the two-hour mark, it didn’t feel too long.  There is no doubt that Sorkin is a great writer, but I’m keen to see him making more cinematic movies to match his excellent scripts and characters.

The star for me is Jessica Chastain, whose recent output has been excellent. I loved Miss Sloane, and her roles in Interstellar and The Martian were outstanding.

Overall. 8/10. IMDb.

Five Newsletters that make your inbox (and you) smarter

I’m quite protective about what I allow into my Inbox, but increasingly, the most interesting things are curated newsletters from writers and blogs that I trust.

Over recent months, I’ve been building a small list of newsletters that carry ‘all killer, no filler’ content and draw my attention when they arrive in my inbox.

Here are five newsletters that I would recommend a subscription to:

  • Exponential View – excellently curated news on technology and society from  Azeem Azhar
  • HackerNewsLetter – a weekly newsletter of the best articles on startups, technology, programming, and more. All links are curated by hand from Hacker News.
  • Benedicts Newsletter – compiled by Ben Evans, arrives every Sunday with notes for the past week – the stories and links I saw that were actually interesting, and why they mattered. Focused on tech, business and some fun too.
  • Noticing – from, home of fine Hypertext products – now delivers a nicely written and loosely themed newsletter on a weekly basis
  • The Hustle – Technology and Business news every day, well written, from San Francisco

What newsletters have I missed, let me know your recommendations in the comments below? 

Measuring Customer Care Quality – a simple recipe

I was recently asked how to measure Customer Care Quality for reps – here are my key steps to setting up a simple quality monitoring process.

As your Customer Care team grows in size and volume, you’ll introduce more measures of quality, but this can get you on the road for a basic process.

Define the transaction.

What are the typical interactions that your customer care function has? Solving a technical problem? Changing a detail on a customer record? Taking an order and shipping an item? Booking a ticket or a reservation?  Keep it simple, and draw a process flow or flowchart of how a typical transaction happens.

Break down the steps.

In that transaction, there will be key stages that you can identify. Using ‘Solving a technical problem’ as an example – you might have these (simplified) steps in the journey:

  1. Answer the phone, greet the customer
  2. Take the details of the problem
  3. Raise the ticket
  4. Solve the problem
  5. Inform the customer
  6. Close the ticket with the correct details

Identify the moments of quality.

What are the ‘marks’ that you want your care team to hit in this process?  It might look like this, with your own ‘moments of quality’ in place of my examples:

  1. Answer the phone: Was the correct greeting used? Did the rep clear security and entitlement? Was the voice and tone of the right standard?
  2. Take the details: Did the rep use active listening to uncover the problem? Did they establish the customer problem correctly?
  3. Raise the ticket: Does the ticket have the correct details? Is the explanation of the problem clear for other tiers?
  4. Solve the problem: Did the rep find the right solution?  Did the rep solve the problem with a specific timeframe?
  5. Inform the customer: Did the rep contact the customer efficiently? Did they share the solution clearly and follow up correctly?
  6. Close the ticket: Was the ticket/case closed with the right details and categories for reporting? Were downstream systems updated?

Build a scorecard for the transaction.

Take these moments of quality and define a scoring mechanism for them – simplest is YES/NO or 1 to 5 for each question.  Imagine listening to hundreds of calls or reading hundreds of tickets and deriving a quality score.  Some of your errors (e.g. failing to check security) might fatal errors which fail the whole transaction, some might coachable opportunities to help your rep do a better job.

It really helps if this is a percentage at the end – so that reps know where they are and what they can do to improve.

Find a baseline

Measure some or all of your transactions for a period of time to get a baseline.  Only by listening to calls and reading tickets will you have an understanding of where you currently are in your quality scores.

Build scorecards

You’ll need two sets of scorecards – one for the whole operation showing how many transactions you are monitoring and the average scores.  You’ll want a second scorecard per rep, which you can share directly and use for coaching and performance management.

Train everyone

Quality is like safety, everyone’s responsibility – you’ll want to invest in taking everyone through the process and getting support to allocate time to listen to calls and review tickets to score quality.

As you add more ‘eyes’ to the process, you may also want to work on calibration, making sure that everyone knows what good quality and bad quality looks like.

Set sample levels

Define how many transactions you will review.  For example – x transactions per rep per week will be quality monitored, scored and published back.

Set targets

Once you have a baseline for how your quality is performing, you’ll want to set some targets – maybe base this around your best rep.

Then it’s time to coach, coach, coach and performance manage the team to targets.

Tools: SiteStacks – spy on on any website

SiteStacks is an excellent addition to the toolset, allowing you to examine the technical stack of any website and understand how it is built.

I’ve used a number of similar tools in the past to examine the WordPress theme and extensions in play, but this tool is slightly different in that it gives the entire tech stack in play.

When you visit the SiteStacks homepage, you simply put in the URL of the page you wish to analyse, and a list of the technical components in play are displayed.

This is useful for finding server platforms, analytics tools, e-commerce services, email and even security tools.

Each component gets a link to a description/review on Siftery which gives you more information on the service. SiteStacks also has a Chrome extension to deliver the same functionality.

SiteStacks is currently free and delivers a useful service which is a great addition to the toolbox.

Seen: Darkest Hour

This is a review of Darkest Hour, a film starring Gary Oldman, Lily James and Kirstin Scott-Thomas.

There have been a lot of Winston Churchill ‘impersonations’ recently, Brian Cox in Churchill, John Lithgow in The Crown and now Gary Oldman inhabits the role for Darkest Hour.

The film takes place in the early days of World War Two, with Winston Churchill taking over the role of Prime Minister at a crunch point in the fight against Hitler.  The storyline is well known, against long odds and a seemingly insurmountable situation, Winston manages to rally the British people, and then his party to have the confidence to fight back.  The film ends with boats sailing towards Dunkirk in another passage of war that we know well.

darkest hour

No review of this movie can be written without considering Gary Oldman’s amazing interpretation of Britains most famous wartime PM.  It is an excellent portrayal, aided by prosthetics and some poetic license, Oldman takes on the physicality and persona to great effect.  From the drinking habits, a healthy disrespect for the rules and his nap time, to his irascible treatment of staff – he is amazing throughout.  The speech patterns and mannerisms match completely, and I came away feeling I’d watched a fly on the wall documentary for some of the scenes.

This isn’t a perfect movie, the dreamlike car journeys through London followed by an ill-judged (and made up) scene on the London Underground made me realise this had some license.

All of that said, Darkest Hour will win awards. Gary Oldman is superb, and Lily James plays his secretary Elizabeth Layton brilliantly.  Kirstin Scott-Thomas is imperious as Clementine Churchill and the whole supporting cast are top notch.

Overall. 8/10. IMDb.