Lessons from an Astronaut!

I rarely get a chance to read book. Except that is when on holiday. I have been away this week – in the depths of Cornwall.


The downtime gave me a chance to read on of my Christmas books (!). Chris Hadfield – An Astronaut’s Guide To Life. It took me just three sittings!

The book is great – and some of the lessons he learned on his way to the toughest job in the world were really inspiring. But my favourite in the book follows and incident in an elevator where an old astronaut really thought it was beyond him to press the button!

Hadfield suggests that in a new situation there are three types of people. A Minus-one: actively harmful and creates problems. A Zero: you’re neutral and doesn’t tip the balance. Or a Plus-One: someone who actively adds value.

So that’s easy – we all know we should be a Plus-One. But therein lies the issue. If you proclaim yourself as a Plus-One you are automatically perceived as the opposite – a Negative-One! Hadfield notes that it is other people who have to decide you are a Plus-One by your actions being noted not shouted at them.

His example about how selection processes takes place was so similar to an actual interview I did recently. Recruiting for a new manager at the squash club we interviewed a handful of people. One of the candidates got lost on the way to the club (not an issue – it’s not the easiest place to get to!). But when the candidate yelled at the person on the end of a ‘phone who was trying to help him – little did he know that they were part of the wider panel we sought views on later… It’s a fail then.

As Hadfield later says, “When you have some skills but don’t underestimate your environment – there is no way you can be a Plus-One. The best you could be is a Zero. And that is no bad thing”. Wise words.

By Tim Garratt Posted in Business, Nottingham Tagged Astronaut, Chris HAdfield, lessons, Minus-One, Plus-One, Spaceman, Zero

The fine line in F1

I was at the Qualifying day for the 50th anniversary Grand Prix on Saturday. I have never been before and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I was hoping it might not rain – so I didn’t get wet, but the rain adds much to the excitement. I mean it increases the prospect of skiddy cars!


Hamilton got it all wrong – I suspect he thought as the end of qualifying approached that he was in a great position (pole!) and with rain falling no one would go out again. But they did – and he slipped to 6th on the grid for the start of the race.

You’ll now know that he won on Sunday. In impressive style.

I thought there were some interesting lessons…

1. Even when you are in front, never ever underestimate your opponent(s). They will fancy playing catch up.
2. Reliance on mechanical things offers a chance for things to go wrong – even when everything else is going right!
3. The use of anger (Hamilton was furious about losing pole on Saturday) can be turned into something positive – in his case a win.
4. Winning at this level requires a huge amount of concentration – both in keeping the car on the track (not easy in the rain) but also mental toughness in dealing with apparent failure.
4. You need a first class team behind you. The best of the best.

Useful in business?

Good news for the regions?

It wasn’t that long ago that this Government threw out the Regional Development Agencies. That was a bit of a baby and bathwater exercise as far as I could see. Some were flabby and useless, but they were not all bad. You can be sure of one thing about Government though – it can’t help but interfere. If it ain’t broke we most certainly must fix it – with bigger and better and brighter things.


The over-heating of the London market has been pretty obvious to see. It isn’t good – especially if you live ‘low down the pecking order’ there. There’s a wheeze around mortgage applications – which now require a MENSA type test for applicants – offering an insufferable spotty teenager with exceptional IT skills an opportunity to say ‘no’ to you. The stories are innumerable. And it seems to be slowing the housing market. The problem is we don’t actually have a problem in the East Midlands Mr UK Government. We were just recovering thanks. Still, one big hammer seems to fix all.

Today there may be a bit of a chink though. David Cameron and that other bloke are to announce some serious wonga for the regions.

The Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister will announce the first instalment of plans to invest at least £12 billion in local economies in a series of ‘Growth Deals’. The money will go towards providing support for local businesses to train young people, create thousands of new jobs, build thousands of new homes and start hundreds of infrastructure projects; including transport improvements and superfast broadband networks.

Our local LEP will get £47m – which is great news. Other Cities have done better, some worse – but that’s not too bad for Nottingham and Derby and the respective Shires. Lets hope we can make good use of this funding!

Nottingham – hot property!

Last week saw Nottingham feature in an article in the Financial Times – with a headline “Nottingham drives revival in the east Midlands”.


RBS have done some research announcing that their growth tracker has shown the east Midlands as having grown by 1% in the first quarter – as against 0.8% in the UK as a whole. But more importantly they have also suggested that we are the only English region apart from London to have an economy bigger that that pre-recession. Manufacturing is a critical part of that growth.

But the article also focussed on ‘Science’ – which has a massive home here. Obviously we have Alliance Boots – but we also have Bio-City. There is a very significant scientific community. The MRI scanner was invented by Sir Peter Mansfield (he and I learned to fly at the same time!) and Ibuprofen was invented by Dr Stewart Adams at Boots. We are even making replacement blood – through Andaris at Ruddington.

The article harked back to a time when Nottingham was known for Raleigh Bikes and Players Cigarettes. By the end of next year the Imperial Tobacco factory will close…

Nottingham is capable of re-invensting itself. The Science is obvious, but I have touched before on the creative sectors. They too are growing and will allow us to differentiate ourselves.

We have a lot going for us – we just need to capture the talent, nurture it and retain it.

Hotels.Com – beware!

Last week I stayed in London. I had a long two days of meetings. It was a set of fairly late arrangements – I couldn’t book my usual hotel. I was also in the West End – away from the centre.


I searched via Google and found 196 Bishopsgate – ideally placed and reasonably (for London!) priced. The booking was done through Hotels.com. I had a confirmation email – with a long number.

I turned up at the Hotel after a long day of meetings to be be met by the poker faced receptionist who say ‘non’. They didn’t have the booking. I showed him the reference but alas he was not on my side. Worse still they were fully booked with people who didn’t share my name.

It was Hotels.Com fault apparently. I called Hotels.Com from the reception – 14p per minute. Despite their best efforts it was all lost – there was no room at the Inn. In fairness I was tired and marginally irritable at this point. The girl offered to call me back to make alternative arrangements. After 49 minutes I gave up. I do realise in this interweb age that the call centre is unlikely to be near where I live – but the girl was struggling with the concept of where I was and where I wanted to sleep. Heathrow may have been her idea of where London is in the world – but it isn’t exactly convenient for the West End. I had no idea where West-meinster was – presumably close to large Benjamin?

It took me 4 minutes to book on my phone what it had taken Hotels.Com 49 minutes to fail to do. I had to pay though – the choice was limited!

You may be surprised to know that I have complained – that was a week ago. No reply just yet… I’m not holding my breath.

So beware – just because you have confirmed booking doesn’t mean you have a confirmed booking at Hotels.Com.

UPDATE.. No I haven’t yet had a reply, but they did invite me to rate their booking ystem, which I did (‘poor’ but nothing rude!). Then I got this email … It seems that they don’t like the truth.


UPDATE 2 – it’s 24 days tomorrow since I lodged my complain – am hoping that they meant they’d be in touch in 24 days – and the suggestion of 24 hours was a typo?

Gerard F Sharp RIP

I was saddened to hear the news last Friday that my old boss at Walker Walton Hanson has lost his fight to Cancer. He passed away at Hayward House. Gerard was 72.

I have fond memories of him. My ‘professional’ life started at Walker Walton Hanson – I had previously worked for two breweries in their Architects Departments. Gerard (or ‘G’ as he was generally known) was the ‘Rent Office Manager’ – I joined a small team – looking after repairs and maintenance.

Gerard was probably the most organised and tenacious of property managers I have ever know. He was dogged in his pursuit of arrears! He was organised at a whole new level.

He was a man who took everything in his stride. He wasn’t easily phased. The sale of the business to Savills in 1994 may not have been what he would have done – but he carried on – as before. He finished his working career at Andrew Butler – looking after some of my mutual clients.

I have never come across anyone like him since – and I doubt I ever will. It was a privilege to have known him and worked with him.

His latter years were dogged with ill-heath but when I last saw him he was his usual pragmatic self – suggesting there was little point in moaning about it. You “just need to get on with it” he told me.


UPDATE – The funeral is to be held at the Derby Road Crematorium in Mansfield on Friday 27th June at 1.45pm

By Tim Garratt Posted in Business, Nottingham Tagged 11 June 2014, Architects Departments, fond memories, Gerard, Gerard Francis Sharp, GFS, Hayward House, RIP, Savills, Walker Walton Hanson

Notts TV … a first …

Last Friday Notts TV had a ‘first’. They had four people on the sofa for the 6.30pm show!


I was one of them. The 6.30 show is the Nottingham equivalent of the ‘One Show’. Topical, fast-moving and relatively light-hearted. I really enjoyed the experience. Becky Shearan was the presenter. We had a dad and son who collected Panini stickers – if only I could find my 1970 Mexico set – they are probably worth £5,000! Then there was a Michelle Obama lookalike – she really was a doppelgänger!

The time flew by – 30 minutes isn’t long!

I was fascinated by the whole process. I have done lots of radio in the past and have had my teeny bit of fame on the Six O’Clock news when the Mayoral debate was going on. But this was different – this was live TV in a new studio – based at Nottingham Trent University. The tech-toys are amazing!

I came away with a number of observations..

1. You need quite a bit of kit – the studio is filled with cameras. auto-cues, wiring and technology…
2. There are lots of people involved in a single show!
3. Presenting is not easy – I always found it hard when someone is talking in your ear! But there are visual cues too…Becky was cool under a lot of pressure!

I thought that the production really was professional and this is a great thing for Nottingham.

I don’t know the viewing figures – most of my friends remind me that I have a face for Radio – and that the figures would have dropped through the floor when I was on. They are just jealous…

Notts TV is on Channel 8 or Virgin 159 – in this neck of the woods.

North of Watford…

I was at the Derby Property Summit yesterday – an impressive showcase for Derby held at the home of (Championship) football – Pride Park. The great and the good were gathered and there was no mention of Bobby Zamora – or his being given freedom of the City (Nottingham). I digress.


We have heard the story before that the Soth-East is over-heating and the regions have it all to play for. I’m not convinced that it’s quite as simple as that; London and the South East have a different dynamic – associated with a Capital city sat firmly on the world stage. The market doesn’t operate in quite the same way as the regions – the inward foreign investment makes sure of that.

One of the questions addressed by the panel was whether the private rented sector was coming of age outside the M25. This translates into – “will the major Institutions invest in our regional cities?”. It’s a fair question. The answer is complex.

5 years ago there was little or no institutional investment in residential property to speak of – let alone that investment being outside the M25. But times have changed and there is Institutional investment now – the money chases money and return. Residential property has come of age and now can provide a reasonable return. It does need quantity to spread risk. It was suggested that you need 800-1200 units to spread risk and make the investment worthwhile.

But the really interesting comment was that the regional cities need to get visibility with the Institutions – they need to sell themselves. And herein lies the rub – this is not easy. It is quite difficult to get the men in suits out of their London offices. It was a bit harsh to suggest that the fund managers are lazy. They’re not – they’re busy and a trip up here takes a day…

It does show how important it is for our cities to go to London. Both Nottingham and Derby do this – and they need to keep on doing it!

The Muppet Show….

This is superb. WARNING – it contains adult language.

Having been the victim of the Tram works for the last 12 months at NG2 I can fully understand where they are coming from!

NTU – more talent on show

You may be having a sense of deja-vu if you drop by here often. I have blogged a couple of times lately when I have been at Nottingham Trent University.


Last night it was the Annual Friends of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment dinner in the amazing Newton Building. I am a friend of the University apparently. I’m certainly an Alumni – although that seems like a very long time ago!

The dinner was great fun – meeting lots of new people. There was even some ‘KT’ (knowledge transfer!) going on. One of the lecturers was really keen to understand how we are appraising properties in a rising market.

Part of the evening gives the guests a chance to look around the end of the year student shows. And this is where you get to admire the work done by final year students. It’s corny – but there are some very talented people. I love looking at the architectural drawings and designs – even if some are fanciful. Perhaps some of the ‘fashion’ is not really what I’d wear in the office (we have only just started to lose the ties!).

But the part I really enjoyed this year was the furniture design. There are some really beautiful pieces. In some cases it is art rather than furniture.

My favourite piece was done by Charlie Adams and is shown in the picture. It is a simple desk – the workmanship was ‘Audi’ standard and the lines and proportions just perfect. It was designed for the House range of John Lewis. I thought it was the star of the show!