recalcitrant teenager or knowing a good thing when you see it?

I like seagulls, or rather gulls as they should be called. Don’t get me wrong, I know that they are loud, they dive bomb you for no apparent reason, they love to return a lovingly cleaned car to its previous state in one fell swoop and they nick your chips. But I still like them. Well generally I do.

We live in a terrace. We’ve had gulls nesting amongst our chimney posts for about the last 6 years. Myrtle and Mr Myrtle (sorry, yes we’ve named them) have brought along their friends and there’s been a second pair nesting across the way from us (Sybil and Mr Sybil) for about 4 years. The normal routine is for the chicks to hatch early June and for them all to fledge around the 13th July and then they and all their friends fly off for their summer holidays and we see them back mid September in time for them to set up their winter quarters, we think in the industrial estate near here. Myrtle’s chicks normally do their stuff about a week before Sybil’s but they do seem to have a good plan for all this. MP900262747

But this year things haven’t gone so well.

It all started when one of Myrtle’s chicks jumped off the chimney and had a wander around the roofs when it was far too small. Myrtle and her mate went crazy. I’ve never encountered dive bombing that low before and the amount of car washing that had to be done was, well, irritating to be honest. Whether they managed to get the chick back, it flew off or the inevitable happened I’m not sure, but the dive bombing stopped after a couple of days and we just had to put up with the shouting. I’m sorry, I know this is anthropomorphising gulls but they really do shout.

Two weeks later, a little before they ought to be ready to fly off, Sybil’s two chicks both jumped off the chimney and with great skill, having fluttered around and stretched their wings somewhat, managed to fall off the roof and land in a neighbour’s garden.

Needless to say the behaviour we had previously experienced with Myrtle was as nothing to that we then went through with Sybil, because Sybil called in the cavalry and a number of other gulls were also engaged in protecting the babies. And the chicks, as I must remember to call them rather than babies, started a cacophony of noise. It’s probably impossible to describe the various calls that chicks use to attract their parent’s attention. It’s REALLY impossible to describe the noise the parent gulls make in these circumstances! The only thing I can say is that sales of ear plugs increased considerably around here so that we could all sleep at night, or rather from dawn which was at around 4.00/4.30am .

The neighbours, into whose garden the chicks had fallen, were really considerate. Boxes were provided as was food – but the parents were providing food as well. We discovered after a few days of the incessant calling by the chicks – or rather teenagers as we were by now calling them – that rather than being trapped in the garden, the chicks could in fact fly and were, when the parents arrived and landed on the edge of the roof, flying up, getting fed and then going back to their nice comfy boxes and having a bit of a sleep until the next feed. Now you know why I’m calling them teenagers.

There was great rejoicing in the street when one of the chicks/teenagers finally got up some gumption and flew off with some of the other adults. This is it we thought, peace and quiet will return until next year once the other chick gets the message and goes off as well.

This was three weeks ago.

The second teenager hasn’t gone yet.

He (sorry, yes I know you can’t sex a bird from a distance, but his mum is still feeding him and he doesn’t want to leave home) flies everyday, shouting loudly to tell everyone where he is because he’s so clever at finally doing what ought to come naturally to a bird.

Every, yes every, day he comes back to the nest – yes the one he jumped out of about 5 weeks ago – and he’s so proud of himself. He even pops down into the garden and pecks on the window to get the neighbours to feed him.

His mum is still feeding him – I’ve seen her today. She’s mad. He’s grown up enough now to find his own food isn’t he? And he’s still shouting all the time. He’s got three different calls – baby chick, nearly fledged chick and nearly adult gull. They are all loud and incredibly annoying. They all drill into your head. We sometimes imagine it’s stopped and then disappointment comes over us as we realise he was just taking a breath.

But as I said in the title of this blog. Is “he” just being a recalcitrant teenager? Or has he developed a lovely cushy number for himself?

If you could get fed from numerous sources with very little effort, do a bit of flying around to see what’s going on in the world but then return to the comfort of a home where your Mum will look after you – wouldn’t you?

Personally, I’m not sure I would because I liked the idea of standing on my own two feet and going around with my mates. But maybe that’s the problem with anthropomorphism. Maybe I shouldn’t transfer my feelings and human emotions on a bird.

But please, could someone tell this gull to leave home and give us some peace and quiet.


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how often do you answer the wrong question?

When getting feedback from clients on bid or proposal documents a frequent comment made is that the decision makers and evaluators didn’t really understand the solution or service as described or even, in some circumstances, that they didn’t feel that the answers given really answered the question posed. And it’s a criticism or critique given to teams regularly when I’ve been asked to review documents before they are submitted.

There are generally two schools of thought as to why this might be the case. The first is “the client asked the wrong question so we gave them the answer to the question they really should have asked”; the second, “we thought we had answered the question they asked”. Neither response will be satisfactory to your client; both suggest that the proposal or bid team probably need to talk to each other and the client to make sure that everyone is thinking along the same lines.

Answering the wrong question can happen so easily. It happened to me recently when I asked a friend what their plan was in relation to a family situation. The response I got was a list of all the activities that they would be doing over the next six months, what I wanted was dates and a timeframe because that is what I meant and what would affect our ability to do other things. Did I ask the wrong question or did we forget about the context of the response needed? This situation can be easily remedied between friends because we talk to each other and explain when the response isn’t correct, but it can be more difficult when the situation arises between proposal or bid team and the client as you generally only get one chance to offer the correct answer.

How often when you are replying to your client in a bid, proposal or tender do you actually check either what they mean by the question they asked or even better why they asked the question? The answer to both of these questions can make a huge difference to the way in which you respond in your document and solution and satisfy the client’s needs. I’d suggest we never forget that the bid or proposal document we create isn’t for us. Everything should be written to help the client recognise themselves, their business drivers and their specified requirements. To be compliant and client-centric you must always answer the questions as asked (or clarified) by your client and if you have an alternative solution or approach, put that forward as an additional response.

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has perpetual motion arrived?

A few years ago a couple of friends and I spent some time reading about the perpetual motion engine that was apparently invented by the 17th Century Bohemian Johann Ernst Elias Bessler. We talked about what a magnificent contribution it could have for the world today if someone could work out how the engine could really work from Bessler’s writing and diagrams – all of which appear to have a certain missing something. We also agreed that we would follow Bessler’s edict that no-one should make money from this phenomenon directly as no doubt we could pick a good deal on spin-offs. We were so enthused that one of my friends even bought a whole load of Meccano on eBay so he could build a working model – yes it’s still all in his garage.

According to Google, one of the definitions of perpetual motion is “a state in which movement or action is or appears to be continuous and unceasing”. This got me thinking about whether we’d got any closer to achieving this in the last couple of centuries. My first example was the Mexican Wave, but I quickly dismissed that because the wave generally only lasts about 3 circuits after which the participants become self-conscious or just want whatever sporting event they’re attending to just start again. Then I considered the introduction of the chain letter which promises great wealth, health or luck as long as you keep them going. But they don’t succeed because the “non-believers” just don’t keep it going. And then I realised the technological age has developed a phenomenon that could be described as perpetual motion – viral videos!

Viral videos really do seem to have a life of their own and their spread is really ubiquitous. I’m sure there are some that are still doing the rounds after a couple of years. Maybe this isn’t what Bessler had intended but it’s probably the best we can come up with the moment and to be honest I’m not sure the perpetual motion engine actually is possible but it’s fascinating reading.

Oh and in case you’re interested, this is my favourite viral video of the moment.

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to plan or not to plan that is the question

As I was watching the tail end of a programme about Agatha Christie over the weekend, I heard some words that really echoed with a truism that is so often quoted in the world of proposal and bid creation.

David Suchet, the actor who plays Hercule Poirot so expertly, and a Christie super-fan, who owns some of her original notebooks, were discussing why her stories are so compelling and easy to follow. They both agreed that the reason for this was that she planned out her stories so completely, getting to know her characters and dismissing those that were superfluous to the important messages that she wanted to get across.

Those of us who work in the field of bid and proposal documents all know that best practice says you should plan what you want to write, using storyboards or outlines. And many of us do carry out these planning activities as we all know how much it can help to define the “story” of the service or solution we are describing to our potential client.

So why do so many people then ignore these well thought out plans when it comes to writing their documents? It’s almost as if panic sets in and the goal is to complete the response rather than write a good/winning response that describes how you will meet the client’s business needs and objectives.

So often I hear the words “ok we’re running out of time now we just need to get on and write” and then those same people are really disappointed when reviewers (or the client) says that they can’t see how your solution/service will meet their needs.

Good writers of all persuasions plan what they are going to say to help their readers stay with the story; they know how all the components fit together; they know how the story ends – and in bid and proposal development we hope that the story ends with the client buying from us.

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does the weather affects your use of words?

With high summer returning today in the south of the UK, for some reason I started thinking about how the weather affects people’s vocabulary, thought processes and general demeanour. I’m sure we’re all aware that cold can have a direct effect on brain function and the speed at which we can complete tasks, as can extremes of heat. But as the weather improves does our use of words become freer, do we become laconic, lugubrious or laid back? Are we energised or enervated? Do we care or are we careworn? I think the answer comes in the catch-all of “it depends” and there are more factors to take into consideration than the weather….thank goodness.

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Using Facebook for inspiration…..really?

I’ve always thought of Facebook as an excellent means of communicating with friends and family, sharing just enough information to show an interest but being able to withdraw whenever things get too much. Never in my wildest imaginings did I think that I would find it an inspiration for discussions in my business life…..shows how much I know!

avoiding spelling 

I spend a lot of time helping teams and individuals put together compelling arguments for documents and presentations to their clients. This picture made me realise how often this kind of situation occurs. If you are proud of your spelling ability, think how often you do this because “someone” may not know the true meaning of the word you are using…….and how often is that person you?


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