Grey Matter

It's not all black or white

"To Bise or not to Bise...that is the question"

Published on 02/12/2014 by Paul Conway

William Shakespeare, Orleans, 1598

The latest thing to keep me awake at night (I always need something) is when and where to ‘bise’.  The bise (pronunce: beez) is the double-kiss French greeting.

At first, the rule looked so simple. 

Article 5467b of the Code Civil - In France, men shake hands with other men and bise women and children. Close male friends may also do a bise.

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Scared of High-Maintenance Costs?

Published on 21/11/2014 by Amrish Pathack

How many times have you heard that aircraft maintenance costs are too high and that they need to be reduced?  Do you feel that you can confidently compare and benchmark maintenance costs? We would like to approach these questions from a slightly different angle and introduce the impact mechanisms which affect airline efficiency and profitability. All safety aspects have been voluntarily excluded: the basic assumption is that the required level of safety is the baseline and this should therefore not be lowered.

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In the Year 2044 … a conversation

Published on 12/11/2014 by Paul Conway

Teenager: What exactly was a manager?

Father: Well when I started working we had managers in organisations who were there to help get things done.

Teenager: Yeah but what exactly were they supposed to do?

Father: Ok, well, erm … a manager was there to direct people so they knew their priorities, they gave advice to get people on the right track, they coached,  asked questions and they kind of motivated people to keep going. Got it?

Teenager: Sounds weird, why couldn’t the people do all of that stuff themselves?  Why did they need a manager to get them to decide things?  Were you more stupid when you were younger? Ha ha!

Father: No it was just that things were a bit slower back then.  When I started to work in 2014 I was in a team of 8 people and we had a manager who made sure we got a good idea of what was going on in the bigger company and gave us info that helped us make progress and basically challenged us to achieve more stuff.

Teenager: Sounds incredibly slow having that guy in the way.

Father: Well he wasn’t in the way..

Teenager: Sounds like it would just slow you down, if you need to find something out you could have just looked on your palmtop or yammered a question or something.  Did the managers own the company and that’s why they were so stressy?

Father: No they didn’t usually own the company, they were paid like the rest of us .. and what makes you say stressy?

Teenager: I dunno, all that checking up on people sounds like they had high blood pressure or something but mostly   don’t get why people didn’t just get on with things and if they weren’t motivated they could chew some Katgum and chill out.

Father:  Mmm, I guess in 2014 we didn’t have much info, not the immediate info you have now where you just have to speak a question into your palmtop and bingo! … oh and in 2014 khat was still an illegal substance, it wasn’t until about ten years ago that Schweppes made a gum out of it.

Teenager: What? Sorry?... Did you see there’s a guy in Ottawa who’s calculated that one bucket of water contains more atoms than there are buckets of water in all the oceans combined?

Father:  Beam me up!

Teenager: Stop talking weird!

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The Secret to Longevity

Published on 20/10/2014 by Paul Conway

Looking back at previous blogs such as “Keeping Your Balance” and “Think Powaqqatsi”, I thought about two people whose stories are worth repeating.  They involve people who have reached a good old age and who have shown tremendous resilience. 

The first is the grandfather of a friend who lives in the Hautes-Pyrenees.  He is 103 years old and is originally from Spain.  He started work in a coal mine at the age of 8. On one day when he was in the mine with the other male workers of his village, the Spanish authorities came to the village to test a new vaccination for Typhoid.  At the end of the day when the miners emerged from the pit, they found to their horror that all the women and children who had been subjected to the vaccination had died during the day and were already buried in a mass grave.  The vaccination fluids had been contaminated. 

Later in his life he married but moved to France alone to find work in order to send money back to his family in Spain; he found work digging ditches.  His granddaughter told me that for two years he lived on a diet of solely onions and rabbit (the only meat he could catch and not pay for) while saving money to send back home. This man is now 103 and lives near Tarbes. He has reverted to speaking only Spanish but still tends his garden every day.


The second story is about an old man who lives in Rabastens and he is in his late eighties but looks as fit as a fiddle.  His story; he was born illegitimately and his family did not acknowledge him. He was obliged to live in the hay barn and wear only rags. No-one really cared for him and he lived from the cast away food from the family.  At the age of 8 some charitable nuns came across him, took pity and took him to an orphanage in Auch.  In a twisted attempt to cope with their shame at having an illegitimate son, the family had forced him to always avoid eye contact.  And even now he still closes his eyes when he talks to you.

These stories would suggest that you don’t necessarily benefit from leading an easy life in order to remain active and live to an old age.  Maybe a difficult path where your resilience and your physical stamina are really tested is the best way to head for the 100s.  What do you think?


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Allez … Trottinette!

Published on 10/10/2014 by Paul Conway

Often I have to go to meetings at the various Airbus sites around Blagnac and I am always in a hurry, dashing from the car park to someone’s office, back to car park and onto the next site.  I used to walk fast and get in a fluster … until I bought a trottinette!


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Next time you are struggling to get motivated …think ‘Powaqqatsi.’

Published on 03/07/2014 by Paul Conway


I was sitting next to a senior manager at a dinner recently and he said something like … the trouble with people who get stressed at work these days is that they think they have a choice about whether they come in to work or not.  

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Do the right thing

Published on 26/05/2014 by Aine O'Meara

After my weekly aquagym, I like to go straight to the hammam for a nice quiet, relaxing 15 minutes or so. It’s my little treat to myself.

When you go into the hammam, it takes a moment to adjust to the visibility, the light is a little low and of course there’s lots of steam. But after half a minute, you can take in everything going on around you – the tiled walls that remind me of Roman baths, the other bathers, the steam pot on the floor, the sign on the wall that reads “absolute silence please”……

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The wrong answer is the right answer to a different question by Guest Blogger Paul Sloane

Published on 12/05/2014

A good way to start a brainstorm is to deliberately look for wrong answers.  Set the challenge and then ask people to think of crazy ideas which are just plain wrong.  Then take some of the more outrageous wrong ideas and kick them around. People will be outside their comfort zone and they will approach the original challenge from a new perspective.  Each crazy notion can be provocative and stimulating. What is more, each wrong answer is itself the right answer to a different question.  Sometimes these different questions are more interesting than the original challenge.  Consider these examples.

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Elected leaders?

Published on 14/04/2014 by Aine O'Meara

In the recent local elections here in France, I was fascinated by the story of 2 brothers running against each other for the Mayor’s seat of a small town.  Patrick and Gérard, elected members in separate villages until 2007, were now fighting for the same seat.  They are the only children of a mother who hasn’t been able to organise a family get-together for the last 7 years because her two sons don’t speak to each other.

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The freedom to choose

Published on 24/03/2014 by Aine O'Meara

I recently started working with a local charity which helps marginalised youngsters, mostly boys, to re-integrate into society, get back into the educational system and ultimately find a job.

I offered to help by offering advice on preparing CVs, and running interview simulations to get them ready to handle a face-to-face interview with a potential employer.

Before I went there, I really had no idea what to expect, so I went there with an open mind. Or so I thought. 

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Limited resources can aid creativity by Guest Blogger Paul Sloane

Published on 18/03/2014

If we are given unlimited resources to solve a problem then we can always come up with something – and often it is expensive and over-engineered. When we have to use the limited set of resources contained in the problem and its immediate environment then we are forced to be more creative – and very often the result is a solution that is elegant, inexpensive and effective.  Here is an example.  Two prisoners dug a tunnel from their cell 80 feet to escape from prison. Where did they hide the dirt? This is one of the examples used by Roni Horowitz of the consultancy group SIT to show the advantages of a method called Systematic Inventive Thinking (SIT).

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Keeping your balance

Published on 10/03/2014 by Aine O'Meara

My mother will be 94 next month and is as fit as a fiddle.  She takes art classes and computer lessons, is an active member of a Catholic organisation, goes to mass several times a week, does her own shopping, drives herself everywhere and keeps her mind fit by doing crosswords.  Everyone says ‘isn’t she amazing?’, but I just answer ‘I don’t know if she’s amazing, I’ve never seen her any other way’.

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Story Glue

Published on 04/03/2014 by Paul Conway

I think most families are held together by stories.  Remember the time when Basil fell sideways off his chair and sent soup up the wall?  Remember when the cat got stuck up the chimney?  Remember when the car wouldn’t start on that cross channel ferry boat and we had to push it into Calais?

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DIY.MBTI Part 3. Are you more T or F and J or P?

Published on 25/02/2014 by Paul Conway

So this is the third blog about MBTI, giving you a chance to predict your own MBTI profile through a Do-It-Yourself activity.  This week: Thinking (T) or Feeling (F) and then Judging (J) or Perceiving (P).

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DIY.MBTI Part 2. Are you more S or N?

Published on 11/02/2014 by Paul Conway

Remember this is the second blog about MBTI, giving you a chance to predict your own MBTI profile through a Do-It-Yourself activity.  This week Sensing (S) or Intuition (N from iNtuition).


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Published on 31/01/2014 by Paul Conway

Along with some other best friends at work, last week I got qualified to use the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, better known as MBTI.  I first came across MBTI in about 1990 and since then it has driven me nuts when people who know about MBTI have swapped apparently secret coded messages, such as ‘that’s his STJ coming out’ or ‘I always knew she was a ENFP’ or ‘relax, aren’t you overdoing your ST preference a bit!’

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Using sci-fi for personal development

Published on 20/01/2014 by Paul Conway

Science-fiction has a pretty bad name. Sci-fi is a genre often criticized … loved by geeks in badly fitting T-shirts, with its (obligatory) lack of realism and a hint of ‘bling’ that comes with fluorescent aliens and laser weapons whose noise reminds you of a cat being shaved.  But, in good hands, science-fiction can be more than entertainment and can be a vehicle for self-improvement.

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The art of patience

Published on 13/01/2014 by Paul Conway

If you arrive in Dakar airport at midnight knowing that you then have a one hour drive through the darkness to your hotel, the last thing you expect is a traffic jam.  But when I arrived at midnight in Dakar airport and got in the car … the anticipated 60 minute journey took us 6 hours.  In fact it was a stretch of about 10km which took us most of this time as the population of Dakar emptied into the night.

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