Sitting on the cold floor of the assembly hall at school, when I was about eight years old, Mr Hydon, the headmaster, was doing his usual Friday morning chat: a story, a few hymns and off we’d all go to lessons. Art on Fridays, fun.
This particular Friday was different. He seemed to drift away as he told the story of visiting a wooden furniture maker in Birmingham. The Director of the family owned business showed him around the workshops, explaining how they cut the wood and selected the oak planks just right for each job. He heard how at the end of each day the artisans sharpened their tools, swept the floors and left everything prepared for the morning. He smelt the special varnishes and oils they used, and watched the workers fixing wooden planks so you couldn’t see the joins.
As he was leaving he spotted an old guy polishing the underside of a huge family table. Mr Hydon asked him: “Hey, why are you polishing the underside of the table? No one will ever see it!”
The carpenter smiled and replied: “Only my best is good enough for me.”
In the Better Than Great Club we’ve just done a workshop on ‘table making’.
Not that sort! The kind where you bring wonderful people together, share ideas, learn, and maybe break bread. Because the thing about tables isn’t how shiny or polished they are, it’s about who is at the table and your shared purpose.
The problem is, I’ve never been very good at sitting on other people’s traditional tables – I’m a bit too noisy and distracting. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve tried – I was on the committee for the Institute of Electrical Engineers in Birmingham for 3 years (chaired it for one, ‘firing line ascension’ everyone else stepped back). I ran a Women In Management group, but I was too inclusive. I was the head governor of an inner city school but got in trouble for falling asleep in a meeting (they really liked the sound of their own voices).
I chaired the ‘One Goal Internal Communications’ group when I worked for Apricot Computers a hundred years ago (some big shot consultants said it would help us stop losing money so fast). My first interview for the internal magazine (to help us communicate better) was with a software engineer. I asked him: ‘So, what is the internet?’ I married him a few years later. I also surreptitiously re-branded the newsletter to ‘Own Goal’ (we were on a downward spiral, don’t blame me).
I like making tables. And, I like being at other people’s tables.
But if you want to move yourself ‘above the line’ to take the stage as an expert and then as the consultant’s consultant, the coach’s coach, or the trainer’s trainer… you need to build your own tables. See the pic below…
I have sat at tables. Sometimes even tables I was invited to. The problem for me was that those tables weren’t inclusive, they didn’t move fast enough, they were rigid and had ulterior (nefarious*) motives, they didn’t make me feel safe; and the ones I tried to influence were too afraid.
The most fun I have is when I make my own tables. Here’s how you do it:
Start with a purpose for the table (A to B transformation & MWR)
Make a compelling reason to join you (use the Thought Leadership Canvas)
Make the table bigger than your business (not just commercial)
Invite the right people (start with fans & referrers)
Signal your expert status (so people want to join)
Start small & stay humble (leave egos at the door)
Skin in the game (some form of ‘payment’)
Be an energetic, thoughtful leader (YOU!)
Some of my tables:
Better Than Great Club: We’re kicking off a Write & Publish Your Book Sprint on the 28th February. You can join this table by clicking here. These are very small, intimate tables – focused on making a new business generating asset every quarter.
Intellectual Perspectives Press: a select, small group of experts whose books will be published under this umbrella brand. There is only one space left at this table – pop me a message if you think it should be yours.
I like making my tables more dynamic, and full of fun. They are safe places for everyone – all voices are heard and important.
And I always aim to be the ‘dullest knife on the table’ – I love surrounding myself with smart people.
What tables are you sitting on, and what are you making?
Ciao for now,
- I’ve been trying to use ‘nefarious’ in an email to you for ages, phew, finally found a way.
PS: If you want the PDF workbook about ‘table making’ hit reply and tell me why!
PPS: If you want to create hyper-competitive, never satisfied with their own work, perfectionist adults tell your children the Mr Hydon table story, they’ll love you for it!