BY Russell Wardrop

DATE: 18 FEB 2013


Francois de la Rochfoucauld says that "Absence diminishes little passions and increases great ones, as the wind extinguishes candles and fans a fire." It's probably more lyrical in French, but you get the idea: If you are of genuine value it can pay to absent yourself to increase your worth.

So here is something you don't hear very often. "Choose not to get out there!" "Stay away!" "Leave well alone!" "Say you can't make it!" "Do not make that call!" "Wait a while before sending that email!"

Just like my great spotted woodpeckers, if you have a bit of something about you, if you are of genuine value, if you are a rare bird, absenting yourself can be a good idea.

I heard one of them yesterday while out looking for Felix, who had made his latest bid for freedom. Felix takes his chance when the postie forgets to close the gate, then bricks it and freezes nearby.  The sound of my great spotted woodpeckers, rattling a pneumatic beak into a tree, always excites. The rat-a-tat-tat echoes around the village hall car park and across the bowling green. I forgot about Felix for a bit (he was behind the neighbour's hedge, a proper scaredy-cat).

Of course the woodpeckers are not mine. I've seen them maybe a dozen times. Black and white and red they like only peanuts and never stay long. If I'm lucky the blossom tree next door will excite for a few minutes and they'll hop up a thick branch, nit-picking. Amateur twitching on the Internet means I know I am visited by a male and a female, though never at the same time. Their appearance on a drab grey morning lifts me for the rest of the day, especially if there's time to get the binoculars. For a while I think about little else.

Yet there are plenty other birds in the garden: blue tit, great tit, dunnock, blackbird, magpie, thrush, coal tit, long-tailed tit, chaffinch, rook, wood pigeon and robin. I love the belligerent robin and the polite dunnock, with his orange legs. My favourite is the blackbird, shiny black with a stonking yellow beak. I have two or three. Half a dozen long-tailed tits flouncing in and away again en mass is a treat.

But the woodpeckers are magnificent. So how about you? Are you magnificent? When you arrive do you look the part? Entering any environment you need to be physically visible. Camouflage, blending in, is hopeless. Get out there and flaunt it. In the words of the Blues Brothers, come on and let me see you shake your tail feathers.

(But that's not the main point of this piece and word of warning: don't get fixated on being too visible. In fact the woodpecker cares not at all how I view her. A little more conservative than you would like and a little more expensive than you can afford when it comes to being noticed is a plan. As I have said before, You're Not Bono.)    

There is something more subtle than being visible: scarcity. I anticipate the arrival of my woodpeckers. I look for them and think about them when they are not around. (I am doing that now!) I see them when they are not there.  At dusk, blood sugars low, I can convince myself anything might be a woodpecker. We have all done this with something, someone we are fixated upon, but hopefully not too often with a grey squirrel.

Blue tits and great tits are fixtures, the ever-presents. They are beautiful for sure, but my woodpeckers are rare. I celebrate them, anticipate them, remember them for that fact alone. And I tell others about them!

Taking yourself out of an environment- or not being present when expected- is dynamite. It gets you noticed. Yet the notion of scarcity is counter-intuitive, especially at a time when we think we need to go out there and get in the faces of our customers. Networking, that's called. But some people who are assiduous attendees would be better sometimes to stay in and watch the telly.

So are you rare? Are you a scarce commodity in a world where others are seen every day? The secret- like the woodpecker's regular rat-a-tat-tat reminder from the depths of the wood- is to have a subtle presence where it's needed, be all around but not visible. Then make infrequent, dramatic entrances.

Let's face it, we can't all be beautiful: some of us are destined to be chaffinches or coal tits. But if we are smart enough we can be a rare bird.


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about the author

Russell Wardrop is our Chief Executive. If you would like to know more about this subject, drop him an email and we will be in touch.

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