Don't gobblefunk around with words.

Roald Dahl

How to Ensure Everyone's on the Same Page

Posted by martin.parnell |

I have just bought tickets for the Old Trout Puppet Workshop’s Presentation of “Jabberwocky”, on February 25th, in Calgary. 

The production is based on a poem from Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1872).  It’s a nonsense poem about the quest to vanquish a creature called a Jabberwock and my wife can recite it off by heart. When she was teaching, she would often introduce the poem to her students as a prompt for some very creative art work. As the creatures are all fictitious, the students could let their imaginations run riot. 

The poem begins: 

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
  Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
  And the mome raths outgrabe. 

When you read the poem, images are formed in your mind as to what the people and creatures look like. You can even conjure up a picture of the “tulgey wood”, through which the Jabberwok appears, with “eyes of flame....” 

So often, in life we are required to interpret things to our own way of thinking, but as we know, what one person might imagine may not be as everyone else sees it. 


When we read a novel, people and places can appear differently, to different people.

Now, it’s not always essential that we always see things the same, as long as we get the gist of what is going on. But, sometimes it is extremely important to make sure that we are interpreting things the same way. 

In business, if you are giving a presentation, or even just sending a memo, it is vital that everyone concerned is getting the same message. The use of vocabulary needs to be appropriate to the subject matter, the details need to be clear and precise and any references need to be accurately reproduced. The use of too many “in-words” and acronyms can be confusing, especially if someone is new to the group and unaware as to what they stand for. 

In business, people have a lot on their minds, attention spans are short  so when giving a presentation, make it as brief as possible, without omitting important information. The same goes for anything you put in writing. Make sure it’s easy to read, the sentences are short and to the point. 

If all employees are getting the same message and understanding goals, expectations, information etc. it will mean things will go more smoothly as you work to the same end. 

Of course, there are times, in the workplace when it is appropriate to be creative and use our imagination to come up with new ideas, be a little unconventional or from a new perspective, but it’s important to know when those time are. 

For anyone who’d like to read the rest of Lewis’s poem, here it is:

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
  The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
  The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
  Long time the manxome foe he sought --
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
  And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
  The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
  And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
  The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
  He went galumphing back.

"And, has thou slain the Jabberwock?
  Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!'
  He chortled in his joy.

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
  Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
  And the mome raths outgrabe.

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Most of my important lessons about life have come from recognizing how others from a different culture view things.

Edgar H. Schein, Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling

Getting to the Point of the Matter

Posted by martin.parnell |

I recently spent a week in Cuba. I had been there before and was aware that there are certain customs that one should be aware of when visiting the country.

As Brittany Brumfield points out, on her site Cuba,“Cubans are very rich in their nonverbal language. They focus more on gestures and facial expressions than they do on emphasizing actual words. In Cuban culture, it is considered very rude to take a step back from the person with whom you are speaking.” Brumfield says that “Cubans step forward in comfort and are easily offended when the other party releases from this comfort zone.” It also known that Cuba has its Latin roots so much like Latin America, they feel comfortable being physically close to another individual. 

Another key gesture important in Cuban culture is eye contact. Cuban’s tend to be very direct and clear about what they need/want/are talking about, however, constant eye contact is a no-no. This is because too much will make them feel uncomfortable. Yet, refusing or avoiding eye contact is considered a sign of dishonesty. So finding the right median with eye contact is important and indirect. 

On another note, the initial greeting is VERY important. According to the Centre for Intercultural Learning, “a handshake, for male and females, is expected always. If the individuals have met more than once, a hug is commonplace and expected. This is to establish the comfort zone that they feel is important.” 

“El último”   

However, there was one aspect of Cuban culture that I was not aware of that I learned during this recent trip.  My wife and I decided we would like to see the Cuban National Ballet’s production of Don Quixote, so we took the bus from our resort and made our way to the wonderful National Theatre, in Havana, to purchase tickets. Outside of thetheatre, we saw a queue, so we joined the back of it. After all, we had both been brought up in England, where queuing has been turned into an art from, it’s in our DNA. 

Within minutes, a very irate Cuban lady came and told us we couldn’t stand where we were because it wasn’t the back of the queue, we were baffled. Fortunately, a very kind gentleman explained that all the people we could see wandering around, sitting on the steps of thetheatre and leaning against the pillars were also queuing. So we asked how one knows where to wait. He then explained that Cubans don’t typically form a single line, waiting until their turn comes. They will often find a place to sit close to the waiting line or just leave and come back later, still expecting to have the same place. 

To accomplish this, they always ask for “El último” (last person waiting). As long as they keep an eye in this person, they know their position in the queue. If this “último” leaves his or her position, it might also be wise to ask him/her who he/she is following, so that you can follow two people and never lose your position. If you need to leave the queue, it is also customary to tell the person following you. If you intend to come back later and want to keep your position, then you should tell this person, “I will be back in 10 minutes.” (even if you are going to be more or less than 10 minutes). 

Amazingly, it works. We found the last person, a young woman and stood behind her until someone came and asked if we were “El último” and we could proudly answer with confidence that indeed we were! 


It’s rude to point 

Not long after returning from Cuba, I read an article by Lucy Yang ( ) entitled  “You'll never see a Disney employee point with one finger — here's why”. She had been speaking to  INSIDER's Micaela Garber, an Orlando native who spent a summer working at Disney World, who explained that cast members must always point with two fingers or their entire hand — a gesture known as "The Disney Point" because, in some cultures, pointing with one finger is considered rude. 

 As professional keynote speaker Gayle Cotton wrote in the Huffington Post in 2013, (Gestures to Avoid in Cross-Cultural Business: In Other Words, ‘Keep Your Fingers to Yourself!’), pointing with your index finger is an offensive gesture in China, Japan, Indonesia, and Latin America. According to Cotton, who is an expert in cross-cultural communication, pointing with your index finger is also considered impolite in Europe. And in many African countries, the gesture is reserved for pointing at inanimate objects, and never at people. In fact, she lists several gestures that can be misconstrued, according to one’s culture, for example: 

In Brazil, Germany, Russia, and many other countries around the world, the OK sign is a very offensive gesture because it is used to depict a private bodily orifice. The OK sign actually does mean “okay” in the United States, however in Japan it means “money,” and it is commonly used to signify “zero” in France. Clearly the OK sign isn’t offensive everywhere; however, it is not OK to use in many parts of the world, nor does it necessarily mean “okay”!

Most people are aware that the V for victory or peace sign was made popular by Winston Churchill in England during WWII. However, it’s important to take heed of where you are in the world, because if you make this gesture with your palm facing inward in Australia, the United Kingdom, South Africa, and several other countries throughout the world, it in essence means “Up yours!”

On Inauguration Day 2005, President George W. Bush raised his fist, with the index and little finger extended, to give the time- honoured hook ‘em horns gesture of the Texas Longhorn football team to the marching band of the University of Texas. Newspapers around the world expressed their astonishment at the use of such a gesture. Italians refer to it as “il cornuto,” which means that you are being cuckolded (that is, that your wife is cheating on you!). It’s considered a curse in some African countries, and is clearly an offensive gesture in many other parts of the world.

Rule of thumb

The thumbs-up gesture is commonly used in many cultures to signify a job well done. However, if it is used in Australia, Greece, or the Middle East — especially if it is thrust up as a typical hitchhiking gesture would be — it means essentially “Up yours!” or “Sit on this!” The thumbs up gesture can also create some real problems for those who count on their fingers. In Germany and Hungary, the upright thumb is used to represent the number 1; however, it represents the number 5 in Japan. Take heed all you global negotiators: there is a big difference between 1 and 5 million!

Curling the index finger with the palm facing up is a common gesture that people in the United States use to beckon someone to come closer. However, it is considered a rude gesture in Slovakia, China, East Asia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, and many other parts of the world. It’s also considered extremely impolite to use this gesture with people. It is used only to beckon dogs in many Asian countries — and using it in the Philippines can actually get you arrested! The appropriate way to beckon someone in much of Europe, and parts of Asia, is to face the palm of your hand downward and move your fingers in a scratching motion.

The open hand or “moutza” gesture is insulting in parts of Africa and Asia, Greece, Pakistan, and in several other countries. It is formed by opening your palm with your fingers slightly apart and extending your arm toward someone, much like a wave in the U.S. This may seem harmless enough to many Westerners, however if someone does it with a more abrupt arm extension, its meaning changes to, “Enough is enough,” or “Let me stop you right there.” In other words, “Talk to the hand, because the face isn’t listening!”

When it comes to body language gestures in the communication process, the important thing to keep in mind is that what we say, we say with our words, tonality, and body language.

Two way street

Of course, it works both ways. In our Western culture there are certain things that may not be acceptable to us, but are perfectly OK in other culture, including: 

  • Turning up late for an appointment and not feeling the need to apologise (I experienced this a lot, in Tanzania)
  • When you first meet someone, being asked what you or your wife/ husband
  • Being asked why you don’t have children
  • Unsolicited marriage proposals from strangers.
  • People standing way too close.
  • Shop clerks who follow you around the whole time you’re browsing.
  • Staring
  • Ignoring queues and pushing in
  • Bartering in shops
  • Urinating in the street 

All perfectly acceptable behaviour, in some cultures. 

A sensitive approach 

As a professional speaker and Rotarian, I have developed an awareness of the importance of being sensitive to the cultural practices of people I meet and am learning all the time. 

In business, it is equally important to be aware of the cultural practices of those we encounter, whether it be prospective clients or people in our employ. It would be ignorant of us to expect someone to fully embrace the nuances of our culture, if we were not, at least, making an effort to be respectful of theirs.

And one final thought, although, culturally, we may have some differences, it is worth remembering....

“Individual cultures and ideologies have their appropriate uses but none of them erase or replace the universal experiences, like love and weeping and laughter, common to all human beings". Aberjhani, Slendid Literarium.

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Most other competitions are individual achievements, but the Olympic Games is something that belongs to everybody.

Scott Hamilton, retired American figure skater and Olympic gold medalist.

With Regards to the Winter Olympics, my ABC of the Games

Posted by martin.parnell |

I did a little research and discovered that, five years after the birth of the modern Olympics in 1896, the first organized international competition involving winter sports was staged in Sweden. Called the Nordic Games, only Scandinavian countries competed. It was then staged every four years, always in Sweden. In 1908, figure skating made its way into the Summer Olympics in London, though it was not actually held until October, some three months after all the other events.

A is for About the Winter Olympics and being”Alternative”

In 1911, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) proposed the staging of a separate winter competition for the 1912 Stockholm Games, but Sweden, wanting to protect the popularity of the Nordic Games, declined. Germany planned a Winter Olympics to precede the 1916 Berlin Summer Games, but World War I forced the cancellation of both. At the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium, ice hockey joined figure skating as an official Olympic event, and Canada took home the first of many hockey gold medals.

On January 25, 1924, the first Winter Olympics took place at Chamonix in the French Alps. Spectators were thrilled by the ski jump and bobsled as well as 12 other events involving a total of six sports. The “International Winter Sports Week,” as it was known, was a great success. Soon after the Antwerp Games, an agreement was reached with Scandinavians to stage the IOC-sanctioned International Winter Sports Week. It was so popular among the 16 participating nations that, in 1925, the IOC formally created the Winter Olympics, retroactively making Chamonix the first.

Modern-day Olympians tend to be recognised, at an early age for their talent at a particular sport. They will often spend all of their teens and into young adulthood training with the aim of, one day, becoming an Olympian. They are driven by a passion to succeed.

I tend to think of myself as an “alternate’ or “reverse” Olympian. As a child and teen, I took part in many sports and had no particular talent in any of them.

I was a very late starter when it came to my sport, running, and as for success, I am not the fastest, but I can run along way over a long period of time. My passion is driven by the knowledge that I can use running to improve the lives of children around the world. 

B is for Bobsleighs and Beer 

Most of us who were around in 1988, when Calgary hosted the Winter Olympic Games, will remember the debut of the Jamaican national four-man bobsleigh team.

Their story was retold in the popular movie, “Cool Runnings”. 

Promotion for the film reads, “Four Jamaican bobsledders dream of competing in the Winter Olympics, despite never having seen snow. With the help of a disgraced former champion desperate to redeem himself, the Jamaicans set out to become worthy of Olympic selection, and go all out for glory.” 

I was reminded of this story when I read this piece from the International Business Times: 

Cool Runnings II: Beer Company keeps Jamaican bobsleigh's Olympic dream alive

Dan Cancian 16th, February 2018.

The Jamaican women's bobsleigh team's Olympic dream is still alive after a beer company has offered to buy them a new sled.

Their participation was thrown into jeopardy after their coach, Sandra Kiriasis, an ex-Olympic and European champion, threatened to take the team's sled with her after claiming she had been marginalised. The German said she had been forced out of the team when her role was changed from driving coach to track performance analyst, giving her no access to the athletes.

Kiriasis also added she was legally responsible for the sled used by the two-woman team and would take it with her, unless she was reimbursed for it by the Jamaica Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation (JBSF). The JBSF, however, refused to pay her and disputed her ownership of the sled. The stand-off looked set to threaten the team's involvement in the games.

However, beer company Red Stripe has stepped forward and offered to buy the team a new sled. The brewer made the offer on Twitter, inviting JBSF to put the cost of a new sled on "Red Stripe's tab". "We have been gifted a bobsled from Red Stripe," JBSF president Chris Stokes told Jamaican newspaper the Gleaner.

"We have accepted their generosity and we are currently preparing the sled. The team is in competition mode and we are focused on one goal - coming to the start line prepared mentally and physically. We have had some challenges in Pyeongchang, but we stand united and thank our fans and colleagues for their unwavering support". The Jamaican women hope to become the first female competitors from the Caribbean island to appear in the Winter Olympic sport.

At the beginning of this blog, I wrote about the commitment needed to become an Olympian.  The following article, from the CBC website is a fine example:

How the salesman and the actor came to live their crazy skeleton dream: Sean Ingle Pyeongchang Friday February 16th.


Ghana’s Akwasi Frimpong (right) and Jamaica’s Anthony Watson 

One is a former illegal immigrant from Ghana who sold vacuum cleaners door to door to fund his “crazy” Winter Olympic dream. The other is a Jamaican who turned down a role as a hyena in the Broadway production of The Lion King to pursue an identical, if seemingly impossible, goal. Yet somehow Anthony Watson of Jamaica and Akwasi Frimpong of Ghana ended up pinging around a skeleton track at the Winter Olympics on Thursday, turning heads and creating history. It barely mattered they were the slowest by some distance, because when they hugged and told the world how their stories had converged there was barely a dry eye in the house.  

Frimpong’s extraordinary journey began in  a tiny one-bed home in Ghana, which he shared with 10 others as a child. Aged eight he had come to the Netherlands with his mother, where he lived as an illegal immigrant, but while he soon made waves as a talented sprinter he had a massive problem: he feared competing internationally because he worried he would never be let back into his adopted country. 

His solution was to tell his coaches he had lost his passport. It took until 2008, when Frimpong was 22, before he gained residency but his hopes of competing as a sprinter at London 2012 ended when he ripped his achilles tendon. Two years later, when he missed out on the Dutch bobsleigh team for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, he thought his career was over. His wife Erica had other ideas.  “In July 2015, she told me: ‘I don’t want you to be 99 years old and still whining about your Olympic dream,” he said, choking back tears. “So I spent two years going door to door selling vacuums to pay for my Olympic dream. 

I’d probably be still doing that now if I wasn’t here.”   He loved skeleton but knew it was not cheap. “And no one wanted to sponsor me, nobody believed I could do this. Everyone thought I was crazy but I proved to the world I wanted to do this and sponsors came on board. Now I am getting so emotional …” At this point Frimpong cried. Later, he was hugged by his wife and their nine-month-old daughter Ashanti, along with Watson, who has become a good friend since they met in September 2017 with the crazy plan to both make it to South Korea. “Since then we have been rooming together to keep costs low,” Frimpong said. “I always yell for him on the start. 

We want to get the best out of ourselves and also get a bit of diversity in the sport, inspire people in our country.”  When he competes he wears a helmet bearing an image of a rabbit escaping from a lion’s mouth – something that seems appropriate given his journey. “We know we are here on the bottom of the list and that is OK,” Frimpong said. “The best guys have been doing it 12-plus years. This thing is bigger than ourselves.” 

Watson has an amazing tale of his own – having turned down a role in The Lion King last summer to train for what looked like an unlikely ambition of competing in the Winter Olympics. It looked like a disastrous decision, until a few athletes dropped out late on. “Maybe you’ll see me holding a Tony 10 years from now, I don’t know,” he said, laughing. Watson also plays eight instruments, including the ukulele, and has an album on iTunes called Dreaming Wide Awake, which rather sums up his life philosophy. 

He laughed too, when asked whether he had heard from Jamaica’s most famous athlete, Usain Bolt, the triple Olympic 100m and 200m champion. “No calls, no texts, not even a shout out on Twitter,” he said, jokingly. “But I know there will be a lot of Jamaicans including him who are watching and cheering and that means a lot to me.” Every Olympic Games has its unlikely heroes, athletes who are catapulted into international stardom like Eddie “the Eagle” Edwards and the 1988 Jamaican bobsleigh team but Frimpong and Watson insist they have greater goals than being one-day internet sensations. 

Their plan is to return to the Winter Olympics in 2022, when they hope to have the experience to be far more competitive – and to also inspire more people. “For me, being at the Winter Olympics is about breaking barriers,” Frimpong said, “to show black people, people from warm countries, can do this as well. Second, I want to motivate and inspire people in my country, to show kids in a little corner what they can do. That little kid was just like myself, living with 10 other kids in a 4x5m room that would never see snow before. “Look at the world championships a year ago I was terrible,” he said, laughing, “but I am improving and that is what sport is about.” 

And he was just as self-deprecating when he was asked by one wag whether he would be pleading with Team Gb to borrow one of their skin suits. “You have to stop hitting walls first before you can go fast,” he sighed, “but I don’t mind. I want to show dreams can come true if you are resilient and work hard.” 

C is for Calgary, Cost and Clara 

Sarah Rieger recently reported, on CBC News that Calgary’s Mayor Naheed Nenshi along with other officials from Calgary, Canmore and the federal and provincial governments are currently in Pyeongchang this week as part of the Winter Olympics Observer Program.

"The program is a unique opportunity to experience the Games first-hand to learn how we could host a successful Games in Calgary — if we pursue a bid," Nenshi said in a statement on Friday. The program is estimated to cost $135,000, which will be split between Calgary, Canmore and the provincial and federal governments.

These costs are simply to find out whether or not it might be worthwhile putting in a bid to host the 2026 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.  Current estimates show that it would cost Calgary only around 4.6 Billion dollars to host the games.

I say “only” because, as stated by The Associated Press in mid-December and reiterated by Money Talks News week, it cost about $12.9 billion for South Korean, to host this year's Winter Olympics. A good chunk of those funds went toward transportation from the capital to Pyeongchang. There was also the cost of building six new venues and refurbishing six others. To get athletes and spectators to venues there is a brand new $3.7 billion express train running from Seoul to Pyeongchang. 

Now I’m not suggesting that Calgary would have to build a new railway, but there would obviously be huge costs associated with hosting the games.

And so, I have a suggestion. Instead of committing billions of dollars, why not buck the trend and have a “low-cost” Olympics. We could re-cycle all the old equipment, there’s lots of it sitting idle in the Canada's Sports Hall of Fame, located at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary and I notice Sport Chek have weekly deals on winter accessories. 

I know there would be a need to have more venues as there are some events that weren’t included in 1988 e.g. the Women’s ice hockey. But, there are place available. Cochrane has a wonderful facility at the Spray Lake Sawmills Family Sports Centre which has 3 Totem ice hockey arenas and a 4th arena off site. The Curling Centre features six regulation sheets of ice plus three junior sheets of ice.

If they got really stuck for space, there’s Mitford Pond, where this year 56 teams played in the Kimmett Cup Pond Hockey Tournament.

I’m sure accommodation wouldn’t be a problem, those Airbnb’s are springing up all over the place and as for sponsors well, I suggest they contact No Frills, Budget Car Rentals and the Dollar stores could donate all the bunting and flags they have left over after the previous year’s Canada Day. Tickets should be cheaper too, so that more people could attend the events. How about a dollar a seat and promote it as “A Buck A Butt”.

Anyway, that’s all hypothetical, we don’t even know if Calgary will decide to bid.

In the meantime, I hope, like me you’re all enjoying the sports and following our wonderful Olympians and looking forward to the upcoming Paralympics.

And, if you’re wondering why athletes put themselves through all those years of training and sacrifice. It’s in the hope that, one day, it will pay off and they’ll get to experience something that most of us never will and is perfectly expressed in the words of a friend of mine:

 “I still can't believe I won the Olympics. That's what I feel right now - completely alive as a human being. It's a really beautiful moment.” Clara Hughes”

Go Canada Go!!!!!!!

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