Let it go, let it go

Disprin box

When I was growing up the only pain killer we ever had in our house was Disprin. My folks swore by it. We’ve had a few heated conversations about Disprin over the years. My mum is unable to accept that Disprin is just a brand name and that the active ingredient is actually Aspirin……a drug which it is now widely accepted should not be given to children under the age of 16.

The other day I was talking to a friend on the phone and the conversation turned to our parents’ eccentricities. My friend told me that her mum also used to suggest that her boys take Disprin if they were ill or had a headache. My friend would refuse…..because Disprin is really Aspirin and children under 16 shouldn’t take Aspirin (see above). Turns out that both our mums believed it was OK to give Disprin to children because their GPs had told them it was……about 30 years ago.

The next day I was listening to Hans Rosling on the wonderful More or Less Rosling is a professor of global health at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute and he was talking about his Ignorance Project. Rosling has a series of questions about the world which he asks the general public, business leaders and politicians. Again and again they get the answers wrong. Each question has 3 possible answers. A monkey would have a 33% chance of selecting the right answer. Some of the most informed, powerful and influential people on the planet routinely score less than 20% in the test.

Here are some of the questions in the test:

  1. What % of adults in the world today are literate, ie can read and write?
  2. In the year 2000 the total number of children (age 0-14) in the world reached 2 billion. How many do UN experts estimate there will be by the year 2100?
  3. In the last 30 years the % of the World population living in extreme poverty has……

When the experiment was run in the UK in 2000 those with a university education did worse than the wider population. If you can bear to look then the full set of results is here.

So why is there so much ignorance?

Rosling realised that if even well educated people were regularly getting lower scores than a monkey could get then it must be because they thought they knew the right answers. The answers they gave were ‘biased’ by what they thought was knowledge. As Rosling says:

Statistical facts don’t come to people naturally. Quite the opposite. Most people understand the world by generalizing personal experiences which are very biased. In the media the “news-worthy” events exaggerate the unusual and put the focus on swift changes. Slow and steady changes in major trends don’t get much attention. Unintentionally, people end-up carrying around a sack of outdated facts that you got in school (including knowledge that often was outdated when acquired in school).

My Mum ‘knew’ that Disprin was safe because a GP, almost certainly trained before Reye’s Syndrome was discovered in 1963, had told her that it was safe. She wasn’t doing anything ‘wrong’ by offering Disprin to her children and grandchildren….she’d just never updated her fact base. Likewise when 1,000 UK adults were confronted by Rosling’s Ignorance Test they naturally drew on their out of date fact base about the ‘Third World‘ built up over years of watching Blue Peter appeals and shocking images of starving children on the Nine O’clock News.


This got me thinking about my own fact base. What things do I hold dear….learnt years ago….that it might be time to let go of?

Then I read some posts on yammer from colleagues who attended a workshop facilitated by Cormac Russell from Nuture Development and they reminded me of something my colleagues and I have been trying to unlearn in recent months as we evolve the Bromford Deal.

Back in the early 90s in Stoke I attended a training session on needs assessments. At the time (and for many years since) I have thought of that session as profound and I have shared the learning with many others. I can’t remember who the trainer was but he used a range of exercises to help us realise that too often we meet a new client and almost immediately start focussing on which of the services in our toolkit would be best to help ‘fix’ the client’s problem. The trainer’s mantra was that we should start by really understanding our client’s needs. He warned us that we would find this hard. We might get confused between needs and services. A woman in her 80s, living alone since her husband died did not need a befriending service. Her need was for human contact, someone to talk to, companionship; and that need might be met in a number of different ways.

Now that sounds fine and dandy. I have worked in housing, care and support for 30 years and starting by assessing someone’s needs has been at the heart of my practice.

What if we started in a different place?

What if we started a new relationship not by focussing on someone’s needs or deficits….the things they haven’t got or can’t do….the things that dis-able them or hold them back…but we started by asking them about what they like doing, what gifts they have, what talents they have to share? What would that be like? Would that start a different kind of relationship? One where we started to see the individual in front of us as a rounded human being and not a long list of deficits. Might that not start to change the way we interacted, the options and possibilities in front of us? Might it not set our relationship on a whole different course?

A home plays a central part in the relationship between Bromford and our customers. Matching the right individual to the right home means we need to know certain things about an individual and there are some basic legal things we have to check before we can hand over the keys.

But now we are asking some other questions too. Questions about where the customer wants to get to and how we might help them get there. We are just starting to explore what our part could be in helping customers connect with each other so they might share their talents, knowledge and time.

Perhaps it’s time to stop referring to the houses our customers live in as assets.

They are homes.

We are starting the customer relationship in a different place; where we are just as interested in how we can help them build on what they have as we are in assessing what is missing.

Maybe we’ll find that it’s the people who live in the homes who are the real assets.


2 responses to “Let it go, let it go

  1. Wonderful post that resonates on so many levels.

    We are planning a trip to Cambodia at New Year and when Karen told her mother she was genuinely horrified. “But you’ll starve. People are dying over there.” She’d be correct – if it was still 1978.

    I think we recognise this is people but don’t often apply it to organisational culture. How many of our companies hold onto beliefs founded on facts from another age?
    It’s going to be fascinating to discover them!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks Paul.
    It’s very easy to see others blindly holding onto ideas that have had their day but much harder to recognise it in ourselves……and as you say, for organsiations it is very, very hard….and is precisely what can lead them into extinction.


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