Wear sunscreen

sunscreenI have an iPod with loads of 80s and 90s songs held within its memory and, through the magic of ‘shuffle’, they randomly make re-appearances in my world (or at least my ears).

There’s one song that I really like popping up when I’m ‘away with the fairies’ running on the hills (this is fertile ‘brain fart’ territory).

The song is ‘Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)’, released in 1999 by Baz Luhrmann. If you’ve never heard it before then I’d describe it as a man eloquently talking through a series of life lessons, where his spoken word ‘rap’ is matched to an agreeable background beat. Groovy.

It’s pretty corny stuff…but that’s because there’s some level of truism in every line!

Now, there’s one short verse that I often think about whilst at work. Here it is:

“Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard.

Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.


Ok, I had better explain:

Why work?

I see a rather good analogy of:

  • working somewhere really great; and
  • working somewhere really not!
  • …and then, because you now ‘get it’, your work travels will become full of meaning.

If you’ve only ever worked somewhere really great: then you may not realise that it is great and, even if you do, you may not understand what makes it this way.

If you’ve only ever worked somewhere really terrible: then you may think that this is just what work is and, even if you wish for better things, you will likely be stuck as to what makes your work place terrible (I’m talking root causes)…and therefore whether it is changeable…and how to do so.

If you have worked at both ends of the spectrum: then you will likely have had some pretty important ‘aha’ moments and, even if you haven’t had these (yet), you are probably curious to explore the seemingly vast gulf between organisations.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with working for a figurative ‘Northern California’ all your life….but travel is a great thing – not for the destination, but for the journey 🙂

…and, whilst it might be great, I presume that even Northern California isn’t perfect.

How about me?

I realise that everything is relative, but yep, I reckon that I’ve spent years at both ends of the spectrum and I can confirm that I didn’t realise what good looked like whilst I was there! Looking back, I can say that it wasn’t perfect, but man it was GOOD!

Put at its simplest: it was about the people…and it was soooo about the customer…and it really was!

I can also confirm that, whilst I am a natural skeptic (where this is, I believe, a positive word), it was only on leaving my (unacknowledged) Paradise that my journey of discovery truly crystallised…and accelerated.

I might not work in Paradise now but, hey, I’m on an interesting journey.

Direction of travel?

Now, you’ll notice that the song lyric doesn’t give explicit advice on whether the order of habitation matters. Here’s my thinking on this:

  • if you prefer a smooth ride then I hope lady luck books you a ticket from New York to Northern California;
  • if you are a thrill seeker, and like a bumpy ride, then you should hope for the journey in reverse….you’ll probably learn a lot more.

…and for those of you struggling whilst on your travels, remember Charles Swindoll’s view that “…life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.”


Oh yeah, and to conclude – here’s my favourite, favourite line from the song:

“The race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself.”

That’s it – there’s nothing more to add to that.



Author of the song lyrics: One of the nice things about blogging is that, through checking things out before I publish, I find out a whole lot more in the process. I looked up the ‘Wear Sunscreen’ song and Wikipedia (and its source links) tells me that the lyrics come from an “essay written as a hypothetical commencement speech” by a columnist Mary Schmich in 1997. Baz Lurhmann then used it as the basis for the 1999 song.

Where you currently work: So there’s a small chance that your current boss happens to read this post, points it in your direction and then asks you whether you work in New York or Northern California.

If you honestly answer ‘New York’ and they respond badly to this…then they kinda prove the point. However, if they genuinely want to understand why this is so, then perhaps you’ve just moved a small step towards Northern California.


the-beatings-will-continueI’ve written about why cascaded personal objectives and contingent rewards aren’t a good idea.

Question: What’s the worst form of this practise?

Answer: A rigged game.

Now clearly, contingent rewards are set by those (hierarchically) above you so as to strongly encourage you to comply with their wishes. That’s the whole point. But we should be very clear that compliance should not be mistaken for motivation.

“Rewards and punishments induce compliance, and this they do very well…but if you want long term changes in behaviour…they are worse than useless – they are actually counter-productive.” (Alfie Kohn)

The rigged game explained:

Consider if the objectives being set and the carrots/ sticks on offer really mean the following:

Carrot: “We’ll pay you money for saying what we want you to say…which will then make us look good…and is effectively buying you.”


Stick: “If you don’t act as we want, we will make sure that you will lose out and even be disciplined.”

If a politician did this, they would be hung out to dry!

There was an interesting article on Stuff recently regarding an Australian company (Cotton On) that could easily be accused of playing this rigged game. Here’s an extract of that article, referring to their HR department’s leaked* four page code:

Failure to portray “fun, entrepreneurial, keeping it real, family, ethical, engaged” behaviour was unacceptable, the Australian clothing chain said.

It could result in counselling, warnings or instant dismissal, according to the four-page code** which was leaked to Fairfax Australia newspaper The Age.

* you don’t have to be a brain surgeon to see why it was leaked…being told to have fun ‘or else’ is quite a message to stomach!

** the need for a four-page code speaks volumes about a lack of trust. (Does your organisation trust you?)

Surveys linked to rewards:

Another example of rigging would be if you ask people to fill in a survey and then link (some aspect of) their rewards to the results of that survey. You can’t say that the outcome of such a survey can be unbiased.

An organisation’s culture will not be understood from reviewing survey results that merely capture how people felt they were expected to answer. In fact, the reverse is the case – the results from such a survey will hide, distort and confuse… leading to ignorance of the true state of play and the wrong conclusions being drawn.


I personally dislike the idea that an organisation thinks it needs to tell me what specific ‘attitudes’ I should be adopting at work. What is much worse (and moves towards the rigged game) is that I am then rated and rewarded according to their judgement as to how well I meet them! This is not far removed from the Cotton On example.

The only difference is that Cotton On were daft enough to spell out the ‘stick’ as opposed to concentrating on the ‘carrot’….but this misses the point that, in every carrot there is a hidden stick (that you can be denied the reward).

The crucial point:

Our behaviours are a result of the environment in which we find ourselves.

If you want me to be motivated, happy, collaborative, engaged, ‘real’ … [keep going with a long list of words in a dictionary that are blindingly obviously desirable!]…don’t tell me to BE these words…don’t blackmail me to SAY that I am these words….provide the environment such that I AM these words!

Oh, and the final crunch point: I (and most normal human beings) actually WANT to be motivated, happy, collaborative, engaged, ‘real’. I’d be weird if I didn’t. It’s down to the management system (which defines the environment that I work within) that determines whether I can be.

The above is perfectly reflected in the saying “the beatings will continue until morale improves”.

A clarification: I’m certainly not saying that attitude isn’t important. In fact, I think that ‘attitude’ is just about the most important thing there is for a human being!

Here’s one of my favourite quotes ever (I have it on my wall at home and at work):

“The longer I live, the more I realise the impact of attitude on life. Attitude to me is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than success, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearances, gift, or skill. It will make or break a company…a church…a home.

The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past…we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the string we have, and that is our attitude.

I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you…we are in charge of our attitudes”. (Charles Swindoll).

It is this quote that often helps me write these (professionally provocative) posts. My attitude is that there’s not a lot of point in moaning about my environment. I choose to try to do something about it.