Three treasures

I was listening to the radio recently, and heard an interview with Clare Bowditch, who was describing her three most treasured objects as part of a running series in the Guardian Australia.

It got me thinking what I might say if asked the same question.

How does this relate to leadership you might ask? Maybe it doesn’t, but taking time to reflect on what’s important to you, and particularly the ‘why’, is a key part of gratitude, which is shown to be a powerful tool in increasing well-being and mental health.

I’m going to ignore those who are now thinking you shouldn’t be grateful for ‘things’, and you should be grateful for your health, or the fact you’ve got a roof over your head, food on the table. Of course you should be grateful for those, I couldn’t agree more. I wouldn’t shed a tear if the three things I’ve listed burned to the ground in a house fire but my family made it out safe.

This is really just an exercise in taking time to appreciate the small things, and a fun thing to think about on a sunny afternoon. So what are my three most treasured objects?

My 1965 Fastback Mustang

Is this thing a luxury? Of course it is. No one needs a 1965 Mustang, but for me it’s a regular reminder of the importance of having something to work towards, a goal. If you’re wondering what on earth I’m talking about, take a look at this post, and scroll down to Sabotage.

A year or so ago, my wife and I had a fantastic kid-free weekend in a place called Broke, in Australia’s Hunter Valley. We had a fantastic lunch at Mount Wilson, and took the back roads from there to the little place we were staying in. As we were driving, I asked my wife how she was going….”Well it’s a bit uncomfortable, it’s pretty loud, and there’s a fairly strong smell of petrol”.

I grinned back at her – “I know! It’s awesome isn’t it?!!”

Driving it is a visceral experience. It is a bit loud, it does occasionally take a while to start, it leaks when it rains, and the seats are a bit uncomfortable, but for me that’s the exact purpose of the damn thing. It’s an experience.

I’m not going to say driver and machine are ‘at one’ with each other because this is clearly nonsense. It’s a big dumb chunk of American iron not a pacemaker, however every. single. time. I get into it, I smile.

And surely that’s enough.

My Chatbooks App

Yes, an app is one of my most treasured objects. Well, not really the app itself, but what arrives in the letterbox every few months because of the app.

We all live on our phones these days. You could well be on it right now. Thank you for being here by the way – I know you could be spending these 4 minutes gawking at TikTok. We use our phones to capture hundreds, if not thousands of photos every year, and promptly do nothing with them except the occasional flick through when waiting for the bus.

Chatbooks (and hundreds of other apps like it) is a service where you upload photos from your phone, they get printed into a little book and sent to your house in the post. Every few months I’ll spend an hour scrolling through my photos and knock up an order. A few weeks later the book arrives, and as I’ve usually forgotten I’ve placed the order, it makes for a pleasant surprise indeed!

We get the cheapest option, being a 6″ x 6″ softcover book, and now have quite the collection.

Because the books are small, it’s easy every now and again to just pick one up and flick through it. Again, it’s a gratitude thing – being able to look back at all the fun times we’ve had as a family, nice photos of the kids with their grandparents and everything in between makes for a fabulous distraction for 5 minutes.

These are the modern version of the old school hard-copy photos stuck in an album, and for us, very much treasured (and well used) keepsakes.

Signed copy of Extreme Ownership

It’s a tattered First Edition, full of sticky notes and hand mark-ups, I lost the dust jacket a week after I bought it, there’s a few ripped page, and there’s a giant red Sharpie scrawl on the front, and it’s one of my most treasured possessions.

The Sharpie scrawl is a signed note from one of the author’s, and there’s another hand written note on the inside from the other – which I sheepishly lined up for at a 2-day leadership event they ran in December 2019. Almost a year later and it still feels like yesterday – the event, not the sheepish lining up.

I’ve written before about the impact this book and its authors have had on my life, both as a Project Manager and human. I’ve bought at least a dozen copies of it for team members and can’t recommend it highly enough.

I should do a review of it sometime, and share it’s 12 guiding principles which I try my best to exemplify every day.

Why is it on my list? Well apart from being a genuinely good book, for me it is a marker in time. The point whereby after reading it, my leadership journey really took off, and I had finally found a philosophy which resonated with me. I regularly take it off the shelf and flick to some of the sticky notes. The lessons are simple, but not always easy, yet every single one is as powerful now as it was when I first read it.

Actually I might shed a tear if this one was burned to a crisp.

So that’s it, my current Top 3 most treasured items and the reasons why. We know taking time to be grateful is an important part of taking care of your well-being and overall mental health. Being that 10 October is Mental Health Day, take some time to have a think about what you’re grateful for. It could be objects or possessions like I’ve described above, or it could be your oldest friend who has moved overseas but with who you still maintain an unbreakable connection. Have a think, write them down, share them – or not. It’s a personal thing and whichever way you choose, I hope your list makes you smile – because isn’t that what it’s all about?

Stay safe, stay healthy, be grateful, and get after it!

If you’ve got any comments, suggestions, or want to share one or more of your most treasured items, drop a note in the Comment box below!

What I learned from some plastic bricks

Today I was humbled by a kids toy.  Well technically speaking, it was designated 14+ which means I was humbled by a toy for teenagers (or precocious 7-year olds).

Last Christmas I was given an 1,158-piece Lego kit.  A charming Ferrari F40 in fact.  It’s currently School Holidays in Australia, and in between bouts of sheer bewilderment as to how parents over the years have survived this terrifying period, I upended the enormous box of perfectly engineered pieces onto the floor and kicked off the build.

It started off reasonably easy, with the chassis and engine bay the first elements coming to life.  It wasn’t until the body started to take shape that I realised simply how far away I am from being an actual Engineer.

Dramatic revelation for a Lego build, I know.

As the perfectly sculpted, 99.9999% consistent pieces fitted together into small chunks, and those small chunks fitted together into bigger chunks, and the bigger chunks evolved into an elegant feat of engineering magnificence, I couldn’t help but feel somewhat inadequate.

The way in which these little pieces came together was just astonishing.  Now I’ve built a lot of Lego in my life.  Like, a lot.  I don’t however, recall having the eye-widening, brow lifting response to the thought, the intricacy, the engineering marvel that is the 1,158-piece F40 kit.  Chunks were coming together to form graceful curved edges, out of straight bricks!  Chunks that didn’t appear to have any rhyme or reason would effortlessly slot into sub-millimetre exactitude, forming delicate wheel arches and passenger foot-wells.

And here I was calling myself an Engineer.

Did I expect that when I left University I’d be neck deep in calculations, clutch pencils and reams of sophisticated looking computer outputs?  No.  I failed Engineering Computations in 1st year, and probably failed it again in the subsequent Summer School (I think I may have been awarded a Pass Conceded out of sympathy?).

Confusing then, out of reach now.

No, I was never destined (smart enough) to be a design engineer, and I knew early on that my career would likely be in the people side of things; solving problems together, leading teams, delivering outcomes as a group.

Which as it turns out I really enjoy and appear to be OK at.

What it did show me though, is that as Project Managers in civil infrastructure, we underestimate, and I suspect, under-value the expertise, input and often brilliance of the designers in our industry.  How often have you complained that a design drawing is poorly set out, or about how some element would be difficult (and in some cases, impractical) to construct, or any number of other apparent grievances?  Honestly, for me, it must now tally to the hundreds, if not thousands.

How often though, have you marvelled at the fact that someone, somewhere, has coordinated the design of an entire structure, from function, to form, to reinforcement detail, to integration with any number of complex elements, and shown it all in a set of (mainly) easy to read drawings, and then gone to said designer congratulating them with a hearty “Well done!“?  Honestly, for me, it must now tally a total of about 3.  In 18 years of working construction.

Which makes it about 0.00045 times / day.  Which is just not good enough.

Being a Designer must sometimes feel a lot like being in IT.  How often do you ring IT and say “Hey there, all my systems are working fine.  My email is good, my printer drivers are all up to date, I’ve remembered to change my password in the allocated time, and I just wanted to say Thanks!“?

Honestly for me, it must now tally a total of…..


We only ever ring to complain.

So the next time you see something that’s smart, or innovative, or just a job well done, tell someone.  Tell anyone.  Send them an email.  Do something!  Make an effort to find the person or team that designed it, or built it, or maintained it, or swept it up, or cooked it, or whatever’ed it, and tell them.

Covey wrote about it back in 1989 and nothing has changed.

“Satisfied needs do not motivate… Next to physical survival, the greatest need of a human being is psychological survival, to be understood, to be affirmed, to be validated, to be appreciated.”

– Stephen Covey

Apart from the obvious, that thanking a person is just a nice, polite thing to do, there are 5 reasons why positive encouragement is important in the workplace:

  1. People want to feel important
  2. Encouragement reinforces the right things
  3. Encouragement inspires people in tough times
  4. Encouragement builds employee loyalty
  5. Encouragement is free, and gives huge returns

All that from some Lego.  Now that’s a lesson in the every day.  And isn’t that what it’s all about?


Have you thanked a designer lately?  Have you thanked anyone today?  Grab someone (politely) and tell them you appreciate them!