UPDATE: Childish ways to maximise happiness AND PERFORMANCE

On FormI’ve just come across the most wonderful story in the book On Form, by Mike Brearley.  Brearley, the former England cricket captain, now a psychoanalyst and lecturer on leadership and motivation, explores what it means to be “in form”, the wonderful state of being where you are at seemingly effortless peak performance. As you would expect, it includes a lot of cricketing examples.  One of them reminded me of this post I published in 2016.

Mike Brearley writes about Mike Atherton’s great innings in 1995 where he batted for almost 11 hours against ferocious bowling from Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock to score 185 not out to save a test match against South Africa. He quotes the journalist Scyld Berry, who covered the match, saying Atherton was “serenely calm” and in a “trance-like state”. He had no fear of failure, according to Berry: because he was

.. too far above the battle to notice, too inwardly certain of success to think for one moment of failure.

Mike Brearley says it’s the same quality that children have when they are absorbed in play. And he tells this lovely anecdote.

I like the story told by the educationalist Kenneth Robinson of a six-year-old who was asked by her teacher what she was doing. “I’m drawing a picture of God,” she said.

“But,” said the teacher, “no one knows what God looks like.”

Quick as a flash the girl replied: “They will in a minute.”

So there’s inspiration as you try to find form yourself.  Try to regain the seriousness and sense of infallible purpose you had as a child at play.


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The ancient Greek philosopher Plato believed that humans were born with perfect knowledge, but somehow forgot it all at birth. So acquiring knowledge later in life is actually recollecting things we already knew.
I remember thinking this was absurd when I first read it (at school where I appeared to be learning all sorts of things that seemed to be totally new). But, as time goes by, I increasingly think that he has a point.
I am currently working with an Indian media company. In the newsroom I saw a notebook with these words on the outside:

The creative adult is the child who survived.

This got me thinking. The amazing thing about the people who work in that newsroom is how incredibly hard they work. They are a business channel covering the ruckus of the Bombay Stock Exchange in a roller coaster of live output with flashing tickers, graphics and logos. Every moment there is a breaking “flash” as another company releases its results, or a stock price “tanks” or “spikes”. But despite working very long hours and under great pressure, they seem happy – childishly happy –  not that they are in any way childish themselves (they are utterly seasoned professionals). They are childishly happy in the way that a child is happy when totally engrossed in his or her play: demonstrating utter concentration and dedication, and a sense of fun and enjoyment. It’s wonderful to see.

So this article in Time 4 Ways to Live a Happier Life caught my eye when it popped up on my Twitter feed the same week. The author, Eric Barker, quotes the philosopher Nietzsche, echoing Plato’s theme:

A person’s maturity consists in having found again the seriousness one had as a child at play.

The article advocates smiling, laughing, touching and teasing as its 4 routes to happiness. These should all be easy to do, “child’s play” as the saying goes, because they are all things that kids do naturally. The article concludes, if you want to be happy:

resolve to approach life like a big kid.

When you think about it, it’s obvious: we instinctively know that it is correct …. and yet somehow we stressed-out adults have managed to forget that simple truth. Perhaps Plato was right after all.

UPDATE The 4-minute Pesto for Project Managers

Bowl by corinnapyman.co.uk
Bowl by corinnapyman.co.uk

This is an update on my previous post. I have done as I suggest below and worked hard to reduce my personal best time by applying the principles of Lean Project Management. On January 6th, 2019 I finally broke the 4 minute mark. 

I have updated the post with the comments in Red to demonstrate how I reduced the time. 

Here is the perfect recipe for the keen project manager. I’ve applied Lean Project Management methodology to the recipe for Pesto to maximise customer value (it’s yummy) and minimise waste (especially time – homemade is so much better than store-bought, but seems a hassle to make – or does it ….?)

You can follow the text below, or just watch the video to see how it is done.

We’re eradicating as much waste as possible. And we are going to do it in an iterative way. So each time you make Pesto you aim to shave seconds off your Personal Best, and adapt the quantities to increase the flavour. In particular we are going to avoid these wastes:

Travel: pre-position your ingredients and tools, making sure your food processor is right next to your hob to minimise time travelling across the kitchen during the cooking process.

Gold plating: the goal is to maximise the yumminess of Pesto. You are the customer, so you are the judge of what’s worth doing.  I like my pine nuts toasted so this recipe allows for toasting.  If you don’t care about toasted nuts – forget it and save more time.  You can waste a lot of time taking leaves off the stems.  I only cut off the tough bottom bits. Fine measurement of ingredients is unnecessary. You can’t have too much Pesto – so instead of following a pernickety recipe specifying “50g of basil leaves” [how on earth are you supposed to measure 50g of basil leaves?!?] always make the same quantity.

Waiting: It saves time if you do as much as possible simultaneously, rather than following a series of consecutive processes. And because toasting the nuts takes the longest time, you aim to complete all the other steps by the time the nuts are browned.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The slideshow shows my iterative attempts to get my Pesto making time below 4 minutes.

OK – here we go.

Put a hand-full of Pine Nuts (about 125g if you really want to measure) in a frying pan and cook on low heatThis was a critical factor in getting my time below 4 minutes. I did a 04:13:81 pesto with a teflon frying pan on the biggest gas burner on my hob, and it took 4 minutes to toast the nuts on full heat. I feared the 4 minute Pesto might be impossible. And then the most scientific of my children, George, came up with a brainwave: find a pan that conducts heat more quickly than Teflon! So to do the 03:40:82 Pesto I used a cast iron Wok – which toasted the nuts incredibly fast [beware of burning them if you follow this approach].  And that was they key to bringing the time well down below 4 minutes. 

While they are toasting, take 2 big hands-full of Basil. If you are removing stems, keep the basil in the bags and cut off the bottom of the stems while still in the bag.  This opens the bag and keeps the basil together. (You can save more time by cutting all 2-3 bags together in one chop.) Using ready washed saves a lot of time. Chuck the Basil in the processor and, while you are blending, tip some olive oil on top with a pinch of salt and lots of pepper (I like pepper!). Use just enough oil to keep the leaves from sticking to the sides.

Toss the nuts around the frying pan to ensure they toast evenly. You want to judge your heat so they do not cook too quickly and you have time to complete all the other steps before they have browned to ease the flow of your manufacturing process.

Crush 2-4 cloves of garlic.  You can save time by putting raw garlic in your Pesto (in which case you need fewer cloves).  I prefer to take the edge off the garlic by giving them a quick cook.  You are the customer so do what is tastiest for you. If you buy a head of garlic with big cloves, you can save time by using fewer cloves: getting those skins off is a time-consuming, pesky task!  I did consider cooking the garlic with the pine nuts but worried that without oil in the pan, the garlic would burn and taste horrible, and I feared that the pine nuts would not toast well in oil.  The alternative (which I have not tried yet) was a suggestion from my wife’s book club to soften the garlic in boiling water. We have a tap that produces boiling water – so this is an option and would allow the garlic to soften while the pine nuts are toasting … is a 3-minute pesto possible?!

Squeeze juice from half a lemon into the food processor. Not strictly necessary, but I think lemon adds a lot of taste to everything (and so does my Mum): value to the customer. Lime is also delicious! 

Grate Parmesan or Grana Padana cheese using a pyramidal grater positioned on your cutting board.  This keeps the cheese in one place, saving waste and giving you a way of measuring it.  I grate until the cheese comes halfway up a 16cm high grater. You may want more or less according to taste – and you may have to adjust depending on the strength of the cheese you use. Once grated, slide the grater with cheese inside across the chopping board straight into the processor – no wastage. It is quicker if you use a new piece of Parmesan or Grana Padano.  Old cheese hardens and is much harder to grate.

My personal assistant, Bubble, “helping” me review some project plans.

Now there is a potential problem here.  My trusty personal assistant, Bubble, quite likes parmesan cheese and used to enjoy the wastage that would fall off the side of the cutting board during grating.  So you may want “accidentally” to generate a small amount of waste and allow a little bit of cheese to fall on the floor.  Good assistants are hard to come by!

By this point, you want to have judged the heat on your frying pan so that the nuts are toasted.  Each time you make Pesto you want to adjust the heat to make this possible.  After a few goes you will be able to time this perfectly.  Turn off the hob, and tip the toasted pine nuts into the processor. Immediately put a splash of olive oil in the frying pan and scrape in the chopped garlic.  There will be enough heat still in the pan to gently cook the garlic to take the edge off it.

Once the garlic has softened for a few minutes, scrape it in, blend and add olive oil until the Pesto looks right.  You are the judge – some like it runnier than others.

And there you have it! A tasty Pesto which should take you no longer than 10 5 minutes to make. My personal best is 7 mins, 26.81 seconds 3 minutes, 40.82 seconds. It will improve each time you make it as you refine your technique. And you will also have learnt a lot about Lean Project Management – and if you’re lucky, you will salivate the next time you are at work using Lean to manage your project!


This recipe is dedicated to the BBC Spark team who first introduced me to Lean Project Management with the most mouth-watering still of a lean rump steak!

 

Pesto for Project Managers (in under 8 minutes)

Bowl by corinnapyman.co.uk
Bowl by corinnapyman.co.uk

Here is the perfect recipe for the keen project manager. I’ve applied Lean Project Management methodology to the recipe for Pesto to maximise customer value (it’s yummy) and minimise waste (especially time – homemade is so much better than store-bought, but seems a hassle to make – or does it ….?)

You can follow the text below, or just watch the video to see how it is done.

We’re eradicating as much waste as possible. And we are going to do it in an iterative way. So each time you make Pesto you aim to shave seconds off your Personal Best, and adapt the quantities to increase the flavour. In particular we are going to avoid these wastes:

Travel: pre-position your ingredients and tools, making sure your food processor is right next to your hob to minimise time travelling across the kitchen during the cooking process.

Gold plating: the goal is to maximise the yumminess of Pesto. You are the customer, so you are the judge of what’s worth doing.  I like my pine nuts toasted so this recipe allows for toasting.  If you don’t care about toasted nuts – forget it and save more time.  You can waste a lot of time taking leaves off the stems.  I only cut off the tough bottom bits. Fine measurement of ingredients is unnecessary. You can’t have too much Pesto – so instead of following a pernickety recipe specifying “50g of basil leaves” [how on earth are you supposed to measure 50g of basil leaves?!?] always make the same quantity.

Waiting: It saves time if you do as much as possible simultaneously, rather than following a series of consecutive processes. And because toasting the nuts takes the longest time, you aim to complete all the other steps by the time the nuts are browned.

OK – here we go.

Put a hand-full of Pine Nuts (about 125g if you really want to measure) in a frying pan and cook on low heat.

While they are toasting, take 2 big hands-full of Basil. If you are removing stems, keep the basil in the bags and cut off the bottom of the stems while still in the bag.  This opens the bag and keeps the basil together. (You can save more time by cutting all 2-3 bags together in one chop.) Using ready washed saves a lot of time. Chuck the Basil in the processor and, while you are blending, tip some olive oil on top with a pinch of salt and lots of pepper (I like pepper!). Use just enough oil to keep the leaves from sticking to the sides.

Toss the nuts around the frying pan to ensure they toast evenly. You want to judge your heat so they do not cook too quickly and you have time to complete all the other steps before they have browned to ease the flow of your manufacturing process.

Crush 2-4 cloves of garlic.  You can save time by putting raw garlic in your Pesto (in which case you need fewer cloves).  I prefer to take the edge off the garlic by giving them a quick cook.  You are the customer so do what is tastiest for you.

Squeeze juice from half a lemon into the food processor. Not strictly necessary, but I think lemon adds a lot of taste to everything (and so does my Mum): value to the customer.

Grate Parmesan or Grana Padana cheese using a pyramidal grater positioned on your cutting board.  This keeps the cheese in one place, saving waste and giving you a way of measuring it.  I grate until the cheese comes halfway up a 16cm high grater. You may want more or less according to taste – and you may have to adjust depending on the strength of the cheese you use. Once grated, slide the grater with cheese inside across the chopping board straight into the processor – no wastage.

My personal assistant, Bubble, “helping” me review some project plans.

Now there is a potential problem here.  My trusty personal assistant, Bubble, quite likes parmesan cheese and used to enjoy the wastage that would fall off the side of the cutting board during grating.  So you may want “accidentally” to generate a small amount of waste and allow a little bit of cheese to fall on the floor.  Good assistants are hard to come by!

By this point, you want to have judged the heat on your frying pan so that the nuts are toasted.  Each time you make Pesto you want to adjust the heat to make this possible.  After a few goes you will be able to time this perfectly.  Turn off the hob, and tip the toasted pine nuts into the processor. Immediately put a splash of olive oil in the frying pan and scrape in the chopped garlic.  There will be enough heat still in the pan to gently cook the garlic to take the edge off it.

Once the garlic has softened for a few minutes, scrape it in, blend and add olive oil until the Pesto looks right.  You are the judge – some like it runnier than others.

And there you have it! A tasty Pesto which should take you no longer than 10 minutes to make. My personal best is 7 mins, 26.81 seconds. It will improve each time you make it as you refine your technique. And you will also have learnt a lot about Lean Project Management – and if you’re lucky, you will salivate the next time you are at work using Lean to manage your project!


This recipe is dedicated to the BBC Spark team who first introduced me to Lean Project Management with the most mouth-watering still of a lean rump steak!