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Written by Eddie Kilkelly on 3 March 2014

Alistair Simm was without doubt a very talented man. There was something about his voice that held your attention and just the expression on his face was reported to have removed the need for pages of dialogue in many a script. As well as playing Miss Frinton, the dubious Headmistress of St Trinians, undoubtedly the best Ebenezer Scrooge ever (amongst many other roles), Simm had other qualities. He was a benefactor and a philanthropist and especially believed that you should invest in the development of young people.  

It is widely believed (although apparently not true) that he adopted George Cole who played the young Ebenezer Scrooge in the movie and went on to become Arthur Daley in television's Minder.  George Cole recounts the tales of Simm trying to teach him to think by asking him to stand in front of a tree.  There was no correct answer as the tree had neither a front nor a back.

Alistair Simm was elected the Rector of Edinburgh University and delivered a fabulous acceptance speech about the opportunities that lay ahead.  This speech has been transcribed and is well worth reading and this leads me to the subject of this blog post.

One of the things that Alistair Simm is reported to have said and believed is that if he had the power to do so then he would not permit anyone over the age of 25 to vote.  Why you might ask?  Because he believed that everyone under the age of twenty five was still looking for the answer while everyone over the age of twenty-five believed they had already found it.

Eric Hoffer the American social philosopher wrote that "In times of change it is the learners who will inherit the earth, while the learned will find themselves beautifully equipped for a world that no longer exists."

Both are examples of intelligent thinking. Yes you can argue that Simm's proposed age of obsolescence is a little "Logan's Run" and as sweeping generalisations go they are both pretty good examples, but nevertheless ask yourself - Have you ever found yourself getting in the way?  "We tried that once and it didn't work because …" That reminds me of another TV programme "The Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin" with the late Leonard Rossiter in which the belligerent Managing Director "CJ" would repeatedly say "I didn't get where I am today by …" fill in the blank with (generally speaking) anything that he didn't want to do, see the logic in or agree with.

Pushing Boundaries

The sad irony is that it was pushing the boundaries, moving the goalposts and generally testing the orthodox that got us to be precisely where we are today. So at what point does this change and have you noticed how the more senior you become the lonelier it gets? Somebody recently asked me when I had last had my knuckles rapped because I had overstepped the mark.  Surprisingly, I couldn't think of a single occasion and I have pushed a few boundaries.

So how do you ensure that you continually keep challenging yourself?  In particular doing the following:

• "Sharpening the saw" in the words of Stephen Covey

• Acting swiftly, maintaining the pace for everyone

• Being inclusive and yet decisive

• Rising above the day job and taking a helicopter view on what comes next

• Leading as opposed to managing

• Taking a chance sometimes

These are precisely the behaviours that we expect from others and we should continue to pride in ourselves.

I have worked out my own attention span in any role. It's not in years or months or weeks - it's in events.  The moment I see the same event coming around the track again I know that it's probably time to do something different before I have time to explain why we didn't do it this way the last time.

That is why I enjoy the world of change management so much. Every few years we start something completely new and it challenges us. As human beings we need a good balance of anxiety and boredom. Too much of either is a bad thing but the right balance of both can keep us feeling young.

About the author
Eddie Kilkelly is managing director at insynergi®. He can be contacted via or follow on Twitter @insynergi.

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