Richard Oliff - My fear and loathing of training days

Richard Oliff
Richard Oliff

John Peel once confessed that he’d always hated to be taught anything.

He simply didn’t have the wherewithal to want to absorb information being espoused in a classroom environment. I couldn’t have agreed more.

Not just during my schooldays but also in my professional life I’ve always lived in dread of the itinerary of my expected attendance, sometimes for a few days, at a given time and place, to be a ‘candidate’ with colleagues from all over the UK.

Sales training courses were always the worst, ever placing one in situations where one’s weaknesses were exposed for all one’s contemporaries to witness. There were the telephone customer service scenarios to be played out on video, or the sales techniques that, frankly, only a few sad individuals would learn parrot fashion. They called it ‘role play’.

Then, in the last week of April 1994, a little piece of paper arrived on my desk which was described as the definitive modern team-building exercise – the ‘last-say’ in bonding experiences.

It was my greatest nightmare.

The one week hell which saw 30-odd soft-handed individuals thrust into a wilderness in the middle of the Lake District. On reflection, many of them were already somewhat athletic with their golf this or football that. There were even a couple of people whose hobbies included mountaineering, and a few others who would think nothing of running the odd marathon or two.

I had to face facts. The only ‘wimp’ on this little venture was me. These were the days when sales and marketing divisions had mouth-watering budgets to spend on such jollies into the great unknown. All of our expenses were paid: petrol, hotel, three square meals a day and a free bar.

To prove one’s faith in colleagues one had to sit on a wall with one’s back to the rest of the group. The drop of the wall behind was at least three times that of the drop forward. The idea being that upon a given signal one would simply fall backwards, putting one’s life and faith in the fact that the others would break your fall. Then we all went off orienteering into the great unknown. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried this little gem, but one thing is patently clear: fitness is essential. I’d been given a map, compass and a clipper-thing to mark given points to prove that I’d actually completed the course.

Whenever I drive to Scotland I find myself looking at a particular junction that leads to that one specific place. I just keep driving.