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Sex and the City: should I stay or should I go now?

April 8, 2014

I saw a colleague today who is thinking of leaving my firm.

If I had one more chess book for every time over the last twenty or so years that I have had such discussions, I would be a very happy man (a man can never have enough chess books, even when he has over 500). But today's was different, memorable and special. For the colleague, who I like a lot, didn't seem to have a good reason to leave us and yet possibly, perhaps probably, will.

I would like to say I followed a firm approved methodology, perhaps learnt from an HR or similar course; but I didn't: I just talked to her, or, rather, we just talked to each other. That was a few hours ago, and since then I have hardly thought of anything else, and had to blog to try to sort out in my own mind what I am thinking.

I draw, therefore I think, to misquote Descartes: when I have things to think about, I have to scribble things down, draw things, put them in order. (I was lucky enough in 1981, at the start of my time at Cambridge, to hear Tony Buzan talk about his then new concept of mind maps, and have used them ever since, latterly using the excellent ithoughtsHD app on my iPad). So I started to write down and put into a framework some of the things my colleague had thought about, and some she needed to consider.

To help the conversation, I suggested that she thinks through how she answers whatever she thinks are the important questions for her life at this stage, and this thought led to me mention the narrative structure of Sex and the City.



Carrie (not my favourite, but it will be a secret who is) starts each episode with a central question, often preceded with 'I couldn't help by wonder' and then the episode proceeds, and then ends with the question being answered. Some examples (which prove that whatever you google can be found):


So, questions I think my colleague should answer are:


I couldn't help but wonder what you want from your job?


We all want different mixes of things from our jobs, and what we want varies over time, but identification of what is important, what is gained and not gained by the present role, and what changing might bring, must be an important element.

I couldn't help but wonder why you are thinking of leaving?

I couldn't help but wonder how you compare the risks of staying to the risks of leaving?


I couldn't help but wonder whether you have explored changing your role at our firm?

Viewers then watch the episode, listen to what is said, and then watch how Carrie tries to grapple with them and turn them into a clear, unambiguous conclusion. Carrie often failed: often the question remained balanced, just as many decisions in life.

In the end, I suspect in my present colleagues case the decision will be very hard. She and I discussed going with gut feel, instinct; which is how I would in the end decide, probably having slept on it; I also mentioned flipping a coin, 'heads I go, tails I stay' and then when it lands, capture the instant feeling: if it lands on heads, how does it make your stomach feel?

Garry Kasparov wrote a book, How Life Imitates Chess, which (sorry, Garry), I haven't read yet, but in chess many moves require decisions, comparisons, weighing up of advantages and disadvantages: often in uncertain and unfathomable situations, but decisions have to be made and lived by. And often, perhaps most times, your intuition proves correct.

A client of mine, an extremely experienced serial FD presently working as a partner in a PE house, explained they use the technique of five whys which, since I learnt it, I have applied on occasion to my practice. It might help my colleague here, too.


My colleague's question was of course posed by the Clash, as alluded to by this blog's title. And answered by one of my favourite songs, by Chicago, If you leave me now; or ultimately, by Snow White and the Seven dwarfs, what will make you Whistle while you work.


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  1. Decisions, decisions | allanbeardsworth

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