The importance of discipline in a successful life

I spent a glorious hour last week tuning into a live talk with the author Alexander McCall Smith, hosted by the Caledonian Club in London, but of course all on Zoom (which made it much more accessible, if less social). Anyway, he was, as ever, a delightful speaker – entertaining, modest, self-deprecating, intelligent, with a wealth of experience in life and work behind him. He is also (as his fans will know, and very much appreciate) a prodigious writer, and he was very clear in his talk about how he achieved this – through discipline and focus. He has a system – a certain number of words a day minimum, and a certain time of day when he writes – and if he does not follow this structure, he feels discombobulated … and he knows that he does not produce what his publishers, his audience, the world at large – and he – desire and need from him. Without Alexander McCall Smith’s self-discipline, the literary world would be a far less rich and interesting place.

This is a tale I have heard told multiple times over the years by authors speaking at the International Edinburgh Book Festival about their success and how they achieved it. I have also heard it from successful entrepreneurs, from professional sportspeople, from senior leaders in schools … from everyone, in fact, who has ever been successful at anything. Setting your mind to something, with rigour and focus, and sticking to it, finding ways to make it a part of your daily existence, is – it is probably fair to say – a necessity if you want to self-develop. This isn’t a novel idea – Aristotle pretty much had it nailed, in fact, when he wrote back in the 3rd century BC that ‘through discipline comes freedom’.

So what stops us? Perhaps it is the fear of what ‘rigour’ or ‘focus’ might mean in practice? Or the fear of change, of something different? Or perhaps we have tried before and ended up not quite achieving what we wanted to? My simple advice would be – quite simply – bin all of these thoughts, as they aren’t serving you well. You can’t change the past (although you can change how you think about it); you can, though, change the future, so do. Just take any inhibiting thoughts by the scruff of the neck, acknowledge anything they may have helped you with in the past, and then just put them firmly and definitively on the side of the path you are planning to follow. You need never be alone in this pursuit of a goal – choose your companions, guides and coaches, and you will set yourself up to succeed … and enjoy doing so. If you are looking for a modern, straight-talking guide to developing self-discipline, with exercises to help you, then I recommend Willpower by the fabulous Ros Taylor, executive coach and businesswoman extraordinaire. One of her key recommendations is to remember that the self-discipline or willpower required to fulfil your goals is a mindset: “Willpower is limitless, but remember: acquiring a willpower mindset is a journey, not a leap.”

So – take heart and have courage on this journey, and above all embrace it. Discipline … the key to success. Enjoy!

The global power of language learning

I loved reading this article in The Guardian last week about a ‘video pal’ scheme instigated by the University of Warwick during the pandemic and consequent lockdowns; designed to support university students in developing their French language skills despite being unable to travel, it started with 5 students and now has almost 7,000 enrolled, and it has clearly had a huge number of additional benefits for all those concerned, not least in helping older (and sometimes lonely) citizens feel connected. Learning, communication, connection … what is there not to like in this scheme?

Indeed, reading this Guardian article helped me to overcome my slight irritation at reading an article the previous week in The Spectator, where the author – well-respected and eminent in his field – effectively communicated that learning languages wasn’t really worth the hassle for a native English speaker. I do him a slight disservice; he made a very good point about ‘hidden asymmetries’, by which (as he explains) he means that what works in one direction might not work as well in the other – a Swede often has more powerful pragmatic reasons to learn English than a native English speaker might have to learn Swedish.

The author gives himself away, however, with the phrase ‘Much as I would like to learn Italian…’; while learning Italian might not offer him some financial or practical advantage, he has (wittingly or unwittingly) touched on the core value of language learning – that of human connection and exploration. Every language in the world is a gateway not just to transaction, but to an understanding and a deep appreciation of the different perspective on the world offered by a particular swathe or sliver of humanity who have experienced the world through a different lens, in the past and in the present (and, of course, in the future – a future which entices us, if we seek to share in this development together). Often this lens is similar to our own, although it is never the same; often, though, this lens is very different, and can be both – in equal measure – exciting and challenging to embrace.

We all know that the future of the world depends on co-operation across cultures, and on humans understanding one another, in order to work together more seamlessly. Fundamentally, however, this understanding will not just appear if we do not take responsibility for working to connect with one another, and to understand one another. Language is an easy first step – no-one is expecting fluency or native capacity from language learning, but I am more convinced than ever that every little step towards learning a language really, really counts in our progress as a world. This powers me in my advisory capacity to the lovely team of passionate educators at Dragons Teaching, just as it does with my own children, who I continue to encourage to learn language. And in case you were wondering, I learn some new language every day, too … my personal contribution to the global project.

So – learn some new words in another language today. Take every opportunity to extend your understanding of the human race. You will be helping to ensure the future of the world.

Dusting down and revamping your Board Strategic Plan – 3 easy steps

I wonder … how relevant is your current Board Strategic Plan? You may, of course, have a sparkling, succinct, highly relevant Strategic Plan, which has adapted to the challenges of the last year, and which sets out clearly your goals for the next few years, as well a roadmap and timetable for how you are going to achieve them – a Plan which is owned and known by all your stakeholders, who feel just as enthusiastic as you, and who are highly motivated to turn your collaboratively-sourced ideas into reality … if so, please don’t feel any need to read further. In fact, definitely stop reading now – you might become overwhelmed by your complacency, and that probably isn’t good for your health.

If, on the other hand, you have a nagging and lingering worry that your Strategic Plan is not quite up to scratch … in fact, where did you put it? Did you ever actually have a proper plan? … then now is the time to grasp the nettle and do something about it. I write having just participated in an uplifting and energising Strategy session with one of the charity boards I chair (watch out for the photos on Twitter!), and I wanted to communicate more broadly my key learnings, to support others in their quest to ensure that their organisations are well set up strategically for the next few years. So – here is my 3 step guide to creating a new Strategic Plan …  

Step 1: give yourselves a break

If you don’t have a really good strategic plan, don’t fret. It is what it is; there is no point wasting time or energy in regret or blame. We are often being reminded that these past 12 months have been the most turbulent in the history of humanity since WWII; I think this should be enough to allow yourselves to give yourselves a break. You are where you are as an organisation; don’t look back – only look forward, and think about what you would really like from your Strategic Plan.

Step 2: set a date, and then plan for it

A date in the diary is a marvellous stimulation for action. Work out when you think you can all get together, ideally avoiding evenings, when you are more likely to be depleted of ideas at the end of a long work day. If it has to be a couple of hours at the weekend, so be it – this is not something you will make a regular event, and if this is what it takes to get you all together and focused, do it. Once you have a date, plan for it – and, in this planning, start where you are. The shelves of bookshops groan with the weight of ‘how to’ business books, each of which will set out its own approach to strategic planning; only you as an organisation know where you need to start, however, and what will be of most use to you. Do you need to revisit your old Strategic Objectives and update them? Or do you need to re-evaluate where you are headed as an organisation, and what you want to achieve? Perhaps you have had a number of new Board members and you need to re-establish what your organisation does (and could or should do)? In any case, plan carefully, make sure someone (typically the Chair, but not necessarily) leads it, and that everyone has plenty of time in advance to prepare their own thoughts to bring with them to the meeting.

Step 3: remember that the plan is only a beginning

‘Aye, there’s the rub’ … in fact, your Strategic planning meeting almost certainly will only be a beginning. There is a very simple reason for this – like governance (about which I have written extensively in the past), strategic planning is not actually something which can be ‘achieved’ or ‘completed’; it is a constant process – of checking, nurturing, re-evaluating, adapting … and yes, this is so much easier to do when you have some clear objectives in writing, which you can use as a base point. Do not imagine, however, that the creation of a written plan will happen after a single brainstorming session; and even if it did, if you are doing your job properly as Board members, you should be looking at this plan regularly, asking how it is progressing, and making sure that it is still relevant. Static plans are – I might argue! – artificial constructs. Admittedly, they make it easier for reporting mechanisms to function; in an agile, nimble organisation which seeks to make change happen in an increasingly fast-moving world, it is a fair bet that you are going to have to keep looking at and re-evaluating your strategic plan, while not losing sight of the central aims of your organisation, and while creating a stable enough environment for your executive team. Whoever said that the work of a Board member was easy?!

Anyway, the essential message of this article is that you can do it. Start with Step 1 today …

Dr Helen Wright is a Board Chair, Education Advisor and Executive Leadership coach. She currently chairs 4 Boards and regularly advises Boards and Board members about best practice in Boards, focusing on pragmatic and effective solutions.

In praise of low self-esteem …

I am currently adding another tool to my executive leadership coaching toolbox by training to deliver the Thomas International TEIQue test, which measures traits underpinning emotional intelligence. As with all psychometric tests, this test uses a series of questions to capture insights into ourselves, which we can use to articulate and understand ourselves; in many cases, I find, this process can be not only revelatory but transformational – and certainly I see this time and again when I use one of my most favourite tests ever, the Thomas International PPA (Personal Profile Analysis), which explores work behaviours and preferences, based on the long-established DISC assessment. Delving into the indicators which emerge from these tests can take leaders on a journey deep into themselves, and can help them explain, ‘own’ and challenge their own behaviours, as well as often understanding better – and forgiving! – the behaviours of their colleagues. If one of our overarching aims in this world is to improve human relationships, then psychometric tests – well handled, and built on appropriately through coaching – go a long way towards this goal.

Anyway, as part of my initiation and training, I had a really good conversation the other day with a qualified TEIQue practitioner, to start looking in detail at the test.  Based on K. V. Petrides’ 1998 trait emotional intelligence theory, and registered with the British Psychological Society, as it has been audited against the technical criteria established by the European Standing Committee on Tests and Testing, the TEIQue explores 17 facets of emotional intelligence, and compares them to a representative group of the working population to establish where individuals place themselves in comparison with others – in which percentile, in other words, do they find themselves? This could, if you were not careful, lead to inappropriate interpretations of the scores, if we assume that ‘low’ equates to ‘bad’, because everything depends on context; after all, as one of the training materials pointed out, someone in a job such as an auditor who scored high on ‘optimism’, and who therefore assumed the best future intentions in everything, might not actually be very good at their job.

In the course of the conversation with this qualified practitioner, we also explored the concept of ‘self-esteem’, because again we are so used to being told in our society that low self-esteem is undesirable, and we should all be working on raising our self-esteem. This drive towards higher self-esteem can, I have noticed over the years, have a number of unintended consequences, because – if we define self-esteem as a trait – then in fact it is not very likely to change over time, and while it may be more comfortable and indeed more pleasant for individuals if they have higher rather than lower self-esteem, I am reminded of a conversation with a rather cross teenage girl a number of years ago, who said she was fed up of always being told that she needed to improve her self-esteem … she saw the world in a certain way, she was perfectly fine with this, and if her teachers kept going on about this self-esteem business, it was just going to make her feel inadequate and worse, so could they please just stop! She had a very good point.

Moreover, I have realised in the course of my training so far that many of the most successful sportspeople and other high achievers often have low self-esteem. We often say ‘suffer from’ low self-esteem, and yes – such high achievers do suffer to some degree, because it is not always easy to feel that you are less good than others, especially when, objectively, you aren’t less good, and could even be considerably better. When this turns into a downwards spiral of choosing not to engage with the wider world, and not to make the most of what the world has to offer, then – yes – it is harmful, and it is worth having interventions from trusted adults – parents, teachers, and so on. But when this low self-esteem turns into a driver, a desire to do better, to push the boundaries, to prove oneself … well, is it actually that bad? And couldn’t it actually be a good thing? Look what can happen when people are driven to practise, practise, practise in order to improve …

So – a few words in praise of low self-esteem. If you have it, flaunt it … And certainly embrace it as your friend. You are the best, most unique, special version of you there ever has been or ever will be, after all. Enjoy your low self-esteem as part of the whole ‘you’.

“Diversity is not an absolute”

I have had such fun this past week! Genuinely! My kind of fun, just to be clear, involves engaging in uplifting dialogue with potential change-makers, with a view to making the world a better place; when I do, in whatever format this is, I come away energised, determined, positive, optimistic … what is not to like in that?! Last week was the first week of the online course Matthew Savage and I are running for international school board members across the world, and the way this course works is that course materials and videos are released every week for 5 weeks, and in the interim we turn to dedicated forums where participants comment on what they have seen, share their experiences and swap ideas; Matthew and I engage in the forums too, and pose additional questions as well as contributing to our experiences too. What is emerging already is a rich resource of ideas, and what we hope for the participants is that they will have been able to reflect on their own practice, and that of their boards, and will be spurred on to take action.

One of the two key themes of last week was diversity on boards and it was a pleasure to tussle again with what diversity actually means. I would like to think that the case for the importance of diversity on boards was well made by now (I recognise that this might be optimistic), but I have noticed time and again that people’s understanding of diversity can vary in its depth. At its shallowest, diversity becomes a tickbox exercise – ie ‘we need to be seen to look or sound a little different, so let’s find some token different people and be seen to be thinking seriously about their inclusion’; and sometimes, the ‘protected characteristics’ which we are now used to, certainly in the UK, can feed this. If we are seen to look for people who are ‘different’, and can satisfy ourselves that we have been open and honest in doing so, then we feel that we are valuing diversity, and our embracing of diversity can effectively stop there.

The question, of course, is … who do we think these people are ‘different’ from? Do we mean ‘different from us’? In which case, are we harbouring a sense of bringing difference into the equation of our board simply as an add-on to a ‘normal’ core …? Gosh. What does that say about our sense of entitlement? Our sense of being ‘right’? At its deepest, though, I believe, an appreciation of diversity is a fundamental appreciation of collective, shared difference – you and I together create wonderful difference simply by talking together, sharing together … and in doing so, each of us is able to gain glimpses into other understandings and views of the world which enrich and enhance our own. In a board context, this leads us to gain a wider, deeper perspective – and therefore to make better decisions. And what is there not to like in making better, more grounded, more informed decisions?! If we could put our effort, therefore, into practising listening to others, and seeing the world through others’ eyes, taking time to find out what this experience is like, then we might have a better sense of being different together. And that difference will itself differ according to who is around the table, because every grouping of human beings is a unique body of people. Diversity is not an absolute; it is, as the word itself suggests, gloriously diverse.

In tackling our understanding of diversity, and in really, truly embracing it as a shared construct, we have to tackle our expectations of others – our unconscious bias – because this gets in the way of us being open to diverse thinking. I was in a meeting just the other day where I made a profound point that came out of left field (I like left field thinking)– and I know it was profound, because it caused people to stop, think and discuss it, and then to note down that this really should be thought about further. Then the Chair drew the discussion to a close by thanking a man (who had made a couple of supportive comments) for raising the issue; it was obviously easier for the Chair to forget that I had raised it than to assume that the eminent man in the (Zoom) room might have raised it. This is still not unusual, I find. Sigh. Bottom line – if a kind, thoughtful Chair who I would regard as largely open to change can make such a mistake, we have a long way to go. (I don’t intend to demonise him or others – just to highlight that we have a lot of work to do).

So, such fun awaits us all if we engage in thinking about diversity! I do believe that if we all took even a tiny little step each day in our journey towards appreciating the diversity we create by joining together with others, then the world could be a vastly better place … and certainly, so could Boards. Our #betterboards course is only for Board members of international schools (although we hope to launch a course for UK schools later in the year); if you are involved in an international school, and would like to join us, then registrations are open for the next course which starts on Monday 19 April – do pass on this link to anyone who might benefit from it.  https://www.lsceducation.com/betterboards-online-course-for-international-school-board-members/

And in the meantime, enjoy creating difference!

#betterboards course for International School Board members – starting next week!

Next week – the week beginning 25 January – Matthew Savage and I will release the first of 8 lessons in the LSC Education #betterboards course designed to help International School Board members focus in on what is really important in International School governance. Joining details will be popping into participants’ mailboxes over the next few days, and the anticipation is growing!

We have designed this course to make it as simple and accessible as possible for busy people – the lessons and videos are all on demand, and the lessons themselves will be spread over 5 weeks, at a manageable pace. Board members from some top schools around the world have already signed up, and the interactive forum will be the place to meet – this is where we encourage you to reflect, share relevant experiences, and meet and learn from one another. Matthew and I will be active in the forum every day to support this, too, and to share our own experiences.

You can read all about the course on the LSC Education website, and below is a preview of the areas we cover … suffice it to say that we are very excited about the opportunity to develop more robust governance in International Schools across the world!

The course is fairly full, but there are a few places left, and it is absolutely not too late to sign up, so please do – we would love to see you and support you in your governance journey, and this is a super opportunity to network with Board members from other schools. If you would like to sign up to receive details of the repeat of this course in March/April, please do so via the website, because a list of interested people is already underway.

See you in #betterboards!

Chessboard thinking? Web thinking? A ‘both/and’ question in navigating the world of relationships.

One of my interesting Christmas holiday reads this year was Anne-Marie Slaughter’s ‘The Chessboard and the Web’; part thesis, part memoir (it is peppered with references to her academic career, and to her time as director of policy planning at the US State Department), it prompted me to think about how we can teach (or, rather, enable learning) about the ‘strategies of connection in a networked world’ on which she describes. Society, Slaughter writes, “can be mapped as an overlapping set of human networks, some of which are more densely connected than others” (p.43); talking about geopolitics (which is the main focus of her book), she talks about the benefit of learning about networks: “Students steeped in networks will see policy and politics differently. They will appreciate how objects and people are changed by connection… They will see resources where a chess player sees only weakness; they will understand leadership as empowerment, structures as information flows” (pp230-231).

This is the kind of learning from which we would all benefit, it strikes me, because it opens up a world of possibility in our relationships – from the personal to the professional – and in our understanding of how to navigate the world in which we all live. It challenges us to think with more sophistication and nuance about how we interact with others, and how others interact with yet more others. The author does not reject the more traditional approach to relationships that is more akin to the game of chess – ‘I move, then you move, then I move in response to your move’ – but she points out how the world is increasingly (and successfully) marked by the power of the network, from the distributed nodes of the internet to the many-headed, Hydra-like, cells of terrorist organisations. She takes this further, beyond observation and analysis, to a proactive approach to network leadership, looking in turn at the skills she can see are needed for more nuanced – and more effective – leadership in a world where the network is increasingly our modus operandi, and she describes these as her 5 C’s – “clarification, curation, connection, cultivation and catalysis” (pp185-186). All of these words resonate strongly with me and my lived understanding of the personal and professional world; for those of you who know me well, you will chuckle at the last word of the 5, because I am proud to describe myself as a catalyst.

Anyway, how to teach these 5 C’s effectively? Without wishing to sit and invent an entirely new curriculum for schools – which would in any case be an example of the very ‘chessboard-thinking’ which dominates our educational policy-making – I venture here to suggest a simple formula which might help not only those in schools and other educational institutions, but also everyone else … we are all, after all, lifelong learners, and much of our joy as human beings, I am convinced, can come from our unceasing learning. Here is my first stab at a formula:

Awareness of concepts and ideas sparks greater clarity of thinking; articulation of this thinking is important to be able to open up the concepts to others and to sharpen up our awareness. Greater awareness leads to greater boldness in experimentation, in trying out the 5 C’s and testing how they work, but without the challenge offered by others and our own critical thinking, we run the risk of fossilising our thinking and seeking to squeeze the web on to the chessboard. Constant challenge, constant experimentation, constant articulation and constant awareness … think what we might achieve if we generated this kind of energetic thought! I am certain that the formula does not have to be in the clockwise round, as is depicted here, but could be depicted rather as spokes of a moving and living wheel, where each part is connected to every other part in an organic fashion, shifting and changing as we grow and develop our thinking. The stronger the connection, the smoother the flow of understanding, after all.

So … some brief holiday musings, which merit much more unpicking and exploration. What I love about reading about the thoughts of others is that once read, they cannot be unread; once planted, they are sown. Now we just need to tend them and help them to grow.

Happy New Year!

Governance and the art of the possible

I think about governance every day – not surprising, really, given the Boards I chair or am involved with – and my reflections have been heightened recently, as, together with Matthew Savage, I have been putting the final touches to our 5 week flexible online course for international school Board members, #betterboards, which is launching in January. Our mission is to help school Boards to become as effective as they can be, and this starts with their values, their boundaries and their practices – all areas which we look at in this course. Governance is hard, and Board members deserve support! And governance is never finished, or ticked off – as I say to anyone and everyone who will listen, I firmly believe that governance is not an outcome, but a process; governance is how we act as Board members, not what we achieve.

One of the areas we cover in our course is about how much Board members need to know about the organisation on whose Board they sit – ie schools, in the case of international school Boards – and this is something which I reflect on frequently, in coaching sessions with prospective Board members in a range of different industries and professions. The answer is: something, but not everything – one of the mistakes I see again and again in role descriptions for non-executive posts is a heavy emphasis on executive experience, and – often – very little reference to non-executive skills such as assimilating and synthesising information, asking insightful questions, maintaining an appropriate bird’s eye view of the detail, challenging executive action, and so on.

A little learning is a dangerous thing – and not just in education, where Principals, skilled professionals, are unfortunately used to everyone being an expert on the profession simply because they went to school many years ago, and think education is a very good thing … And this learning is particularly dangerous in a governance relationship, because it risks blurring the boundaries between governance and leadership, between non-executive and executive; when this happens, the value of the Board diminishes, and it can no longer offer the same degree of insight and oversight … it becomes, in the worst-case scenario, little more than a glorified Management Committee.    

Great Boards have a clear sense of purpose and of their role, and this is what makes them so impactful. Good governance is an aim for which they need to keep striving, and building reflection time into Board discussions – inside and outside Board meetings. Governance is a journey and an art … ultimately possible, it requires hard work, energy and reflection.

You can see a trailer for our #betterboards course here – do watch and please do share the details with any international schools you know. Great schools have great governing bodies, and a great governing body will keep reflecting, growing and developing … just like the young people in our schools.

Good luck in your quest for good governance!

‘The stark and penetrable reality of diversity and inclusion …’

… is that they are not “nice to haves”.’ So writes Michael Bertolino from EY in a recent Forbes article about leadership in organisations, which you can read here. He lays out convincingly why this is the case, he refers to research which proves it, and he summarises succinctly what companies can do to become more diverse and inclusive. Take time to read it!

Why is it so important for us to embrace this understanding? Well, put simply, diverse perspectives around the table are more likely to provide a 360 degree view of an issue, and are more likely to lead to well-balanced decisions; if we surround ourselves by people like us, our view of the world will of necessity be limited. For these diverse perspectives to flourish, they need to feel valued and actively included, and this is not as straightforward as you might imagine; each one of us has been exposed to numerous biases over our lifetime, which are now firmly embedded as assumptions or unconscious bias. We often cannot help it – no matter how hard we try to educate ourselves, we are still likely to rate some characteristics (including but not limited to age, gender, socio-economic background, job title) as more important or worthy than others.

And yet, we need these varied perspectives if we are going to tackle the issues and challenges which face us; as Bertolino comments,
“Now, more than ever before, companies need an agile and diverse workforce”
This workforce will need to be at their best, able to draw on their diverse perspectives on the world; in other words, as Bertolino says, they will be
guided by inclusive leaders who can draw out their people’s fullest potential, … [and] … nurture workforces that reflect the communities in which their people live.”

Diversity and inclusion: the means to helping people make the most of themselves, for the greater good. This is a short blog this week … because it has a really clear and straightforward message: let us actively embrace diversity and inclusion in our organisations!

Onwards and upwards!

Dr Helen Wright supports and coaches Boards and senior leaders in their drive towards better governance. She is also a former Trustee of Changing the Chemistry, which is committed to more diversity on Boards.

Blessed be the tech makers

One of the great delights in my working life is working with other professionals, to achieve more together than we could as individuals. Besides, with the right people it is enormous fun, as was precisely the case last Thursday, when the lovely Matthew Savage and I co-presented a session for school leaders at an education conference. We spoke on the topic of ‘Managing Your School Board’, drawing on the work we have been doing as we prepare assiduously for our 5 week #betterboards online course for Board members of international schools, launching in the New Year. And – even though I say it myself – we managed our session really well! It felt utterly enjoyable to co-present, passing the baton to one another, and back again, from one slide to the next; it was a little like a conversation with an upbeat, positive purpose – which, now I come to think about it, is a fairly accurate summary of the videos we have recorded for the course. I derive huge joy from being able to create understanding through thinking about, articulating and sharing ideas in discussion with others – it was great!

You will already have guessed that it was a virtual event – a conference, that was, no less, hosted in Jakarta – GESS Indonesia. Aside from the slight inconvenience of the time difference necessitating us each in rising to the wintry cold of 5am, Matthew in London, I in Edinburgh, ready to sparkle and perform to the world at 6am, everything about the conference went swimmingly. The emails from the organiser provided us with efficient links to the presentation platform, where our PowerPoint slides, saved in fact as PDFs, were pre-loaded, and where we could be heard and seen loudly and clearly through the microphones and cameras in our computers. A few WhatsApp messages beforehand allowed us to check we were both ready; a Zoom call afterwards gave us the chance to debrief. We were able to achieve what up to a mere few years ago would have been impossible – appearing in person, at a moment’s notice, live, halfway round the world, from different points of origin, and communicating as naturally and easy as if we were sitting in the same room. The technology, quite frankly, was phenomenal.

We all know this, of course; it has become almost a throwaway remark to say that there is more technology in a slim mobile phone than on Apollo 11 when it took humans to the moon for the first time. But how often do we stop and reflect with utter gratitude on the curiosity, imagination, determination and perseverance of all of the people who have made this technology happen. The creators of today’s technology, of course, but also those who have stretched the boundaries of the possible over the centuries – millennia – from the very birth of humanity onwards.  Today’s tech-makers sit on the giant shoulders of countless inventors, thinkers, experimenters and learners; everything we can do today in the world of technology is possible because of the human spirit of adventure and exploration, in whose footsteps the makers of technology today are following – forging ahead, connecting the world, helping (when they turn their skills to good use) solve the problems we have created over years when we have gone astray. Quite simply, you are amazing.

And so, my daily gratitude list today starts with a simple shout-out to you all … thank you, tech-makers! Long may you code and create for the good of the human race …