Understanding ‘happiness’ as the secret ingredient for successful teams

In the teams I lead, the happiness of individuals is something that matters to me and the reason it matters is because people spend a lot of time at work and I want that time to enhance their lives in some way. 

In a previous blog post, I wrote about helping people to experience ‘flow’ and I acknowledged that we would all probably prefer to be at home, in a sunny garden, with our friends and family, enjoying our time.  Instead, we probably all spend more time than we would like at work with many of us racing the clock to get everything done and the sad fact is that too many people have jobs and managers that make them miserable.

Figures show that ‘over half of the British workforce are unhappy at work which is both a tragedy and a waste of potential’.  The stress that unhappy workplaces create seeps into our personal lives, leaving us in a situation where, even at the weekend, that time with friends and family cannot truly be enjoyed.

So often, I have talked about the importance of happiness in the workplace and I know that many senior leaders misunderstand why this is important and think happiness is a ‘nice’ thing rather than something critical for success.  They see happiness as a concept that is too soft and fluffy for a serious working environment.

It’s understandable that they think this to a certain extent but if they fully understood the concept of happiness, they might well take a different view.

Happiness and Change Coach, Samantha Clarke, describes happiness in the workplace as being something which allows people to ‘bring their whole self to work’.  When I speak about the importance of people being happy at work, this is what I am referring to.  It isn’t happiness for happiness’ sake, it’s about making work satisfying so that they are not stressed and miserable for a start but more importantly because if they are happy at work, then they are likely to be loyal, committed and productive.

In measuring staff engagement, one of the indicators in the Gallup q12 index is whether people ‘have a best friend at work’.  This doesn’t seem like an important question for satisfaction at work but Gallup say their ‘research has repeatedly shown a concrete link between having a best friend at work and the amount of effort they expend in their job’.  Really, it’s about connection.  We spend so much time at work that when individuals feel a greater sense of belonging, it makes them feel more engaged.

What we need to realise to understand this fully is that happiness has two components:

Hedonic well-being is the feeling of pleasure in the moment.  It’s the kind of happiness you might get from going to a party.  It’s a feeling of heightened enjoyment which is sensory and short-lived.  It’s like a dopamine hit – a high that feels immediately satisfying but quickly fades away.

Lasting happiness is what we gain from having meaning and purpose in our lives. In positive psychology, this is known as eudaimonic well-being and is about fulfilling our potential and feeling we are part of something bigger than ourselves.  It’s about having a purpose and links to a range of work on leadership and motivation such as Dan Pink’s ‘Drive’ and Simon Sinek ‘Start with Why’.

The key to understanding happiness is noticing the difference between pleasure and satisfaction.  Most probably, those who have been less convinced about the importance of happiness at work, connect the concept of happiness with that of pleasure.  The concept of satisfaction however, is what you need to consider for this to make sense.  For an engaged workforce, these feelings of happiness need to be encouraged.

If you are asking yourself now how you can create this in your organisations?  This blog is founded in positive psychology so if you look through, you will find lots of ideas for motivating and engaging individuals.  My top 3 articles to read next if you want to increase the levels of happiness in your teams would be the 80/20 balance, results-only working environment, how ‘warm and fuzzy’ motivates teams.

If you have successes to share or questions about how to raise the levels of happiness in your teams, please add them to the comments below.




Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

What ‘The Post’ tells us about the role of intuition in decision making

Have you watched the film ‘The Post’? If you haven’t, I recommend you do. It’s a true story in which Meryl Streep plays Katherine Graham – this first female publisher of a major American newspaper. It’s an interesting watch if you are interested in women’s leadership and it also reminded me of the role of intuition in any decision making which is the main thing that inspired me to write this blog.

Firstly, I want to consider the experience portrayed of her as a woman in a senior role. The film shows her having difficulties showing her authority in a world dominated by men. She had inherited the paper; her father passed it down to her husband and when he committed suicide in 1963, she found herself at the helm. A situation she was not prepared for.

One of the first scenes of her in a work setting was at a Board meeting. She had done all the right things, had read all the papers and knew her stuff but struggled to use her voice and let her male colleagues undermine her. I guess this wouldn’t be unexpected in the 1960’s but I still see plenty of this happening now which is disappointing for the 21st Century.

Anyhow, the paper is struggling and the Editor is keen to do something that would claim their place as a player in the news industry. They struggle to get their break and Graham is cautious at first, not wanted to create waves or rock the boat. However, an opportunity arises to uncover some uncomfortable truths about the Vietnam war and it is time to decide how bold they ought to be.

They seemed to constantly be one step behind the rest and to stand out as a leader takes something cutting edge. In a fortuitous turn of events, one of their main competitors was prevented from printing anything on the war while they waiting for a court ruling after they printed a controversial story.

The Post had managed to get hold of the same document and were writing their own stories in the hope of filling the gap. It became clear though that they could find themselves in hot water if they went ahead so at crunch time, Graham had an extremely difficult decision to make.

The risk was that she could be found to be in contempt of court if she allowed the story to be published. Her advisers wanted to leave it and her Editor could completely understand why she would but she wrestled with her conscience, weighed up the risk and opportunity and made her decision.

It reminded me of the importance of intuition in decision making. Certainly for me, I find that intuition is not a good justification for a decision when I am trying to persuade someone to take a chance on something. However, the right choice isn’t always the obvious or most sensible choice.

We see Graham go through the process of decision making:

  1. She is made aware that there is a problem.
  2. She is briefed on the situation and asks questions to fully ascertain the extent of the risk.
  3. She considers the alternatives and evaluates all options.

At this point, she knows that the logical thing to do is to pull the story. When you look at the facts and information, it is the only option.

However, she then takes a step back and asks her gut. This is the ultimate decider and the point at which she knows what she has to do.

When she considers the role (or mission) of the media and the paper to inform the public and guard the national interest, it tells her something different.

When she considers her role as publisher and business leader to be viable, innovative and cutting edge to ensure their place in the market, it tells her something different.

When she weighed up the risk and opportunity, drawing on how it made her feel, it told her something different.

She made the decision to publish.

Her decision did see her in court but after The Post took a lead in publishing the story, so other titles followed. On June 30th 1971, the court ruled in their favour. In 2013, the Graham family sold the paper for $250m.

It was bold, it was brave but it was intuition told her was the right thing to do. Never underestimate that.

Does this story chime with your own experience? Share your thoughts in the comments below.




Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

Does the Humble Inquiry have a place in a culture of collaboration?

This is a guest post by @Gemma_Lelliott

I joined the
@Doers_Improvers in Autumn 2019, after connecting with some amazing, passionate and engaged people at GovCamp Cymru. The group are interested in ‘wellbeing, sustainability, doing things differently & improving stuff … learning & sharing together’.

When the group chose Humble Enquiry as their December read I had no opinion on the book – I haven’t read any of Schein’s other books and I am always interested in learning and improving my communication skills, so I was happy to get stuck into it.

I was surprised to find I had quite a visceral reaction to the book, almost physical. I found the language and tone of the book a challenge – words like subordinate, respect, and hierarchy litter it throughout. I am lucky to have experienced very few examples of an autocratic, dictatorial management style of what Schein refers to as ‘the culture of tell’. Being managed by people who use this approach has universally left me feeling like I need to find a new job!

I found it quite hard to make myself read beyond the first few chapters. I felt that Schein was encouraging readers to use Humble Enquiry as a way of manipulating relationships, to feign an interest in the other person’s point of view in order to complete a transaction – if I humble myself to you then you will feel more positively disposed towards me, you will feel more inclined to help me/do what I want/tell me what I want to know.

Speaking to those working in more process-driven environments I find that my reaction to the language and the approach is not universal – other people don’t have the same visceral reaction to the word ‘subordinate’ for example, seeing it purely as a descriptor rather than as a pejorative term. While I find the implied power dynamic problematic, for others it simply describes a chain of command which makes clear where the responsibility lies and who allocates tasks.

Living and working in Wales, there is much more of a culture of collaboration, of community, and of shared purpose than the author describes in America. I am also very fortunate to have largely worked in environments and for managers who have seen and expressed the value of collaborative approaches to tackling problems, and have worked with me in a way which recognises my knowledge, experience and value. Perhaps part of their strength as managers was down to their effective use of Humble Enquiry?

On reflection, once I had discussed the book with the group and others I was able to pull out some useful things to think about – if nothing else, I have taken some time to reflect on my preferences around language and how that might differ for other people. I also took some time to think about how I could use some of my natural curiosity in a more purposeful way, to help others feel more comfortable and to ensure I understand their perspective – potentially even improving relationships along the way.

Finally, would I recommend the book? Maybe, if you work in a very process-focused role or traditional hierarchy model. I’m not sure I would go out of my way to read Schein’s work again personally. I might, however, revisit an old favourite, Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits – I feel like ‘seek first to understand, before seeking to be understood’ might have tackled this question in a way that sits more comfortably for me and could help me in my quest to communicate more effectively!




The essential reading list for women who want to get on

A friend approached me the other week wanting to talk about a couple of experiences she had recently had in work that had surprised and concerned her. She has recently moved into an executive role and had come home after her second negative experience with a male colleague, saddened by the realisation that there are things she is likely to experience and will need to deal with purely on the basis that she is a woman.

She came to me because she knows I have spent years promoting gender equality in the economy, supporting women leaders and working with employers to ensure workplaces that allows them to succeed. She was shocked and disappointed by what had happened and wanted to know what she could do to prevent it in the future.

Sadly, gender stereotypes are entrenched and we still have a long way to go before the cultural and social ‘norms’ which hold women back are fully addressed. Whilst gender equality has come a long way, it is far from done and there is still a lot that needs to change before women can truly succeed.

In response to my friend’s anguish, I provided her with an essential reading list for women who want to get on.

These books don’t have all the answers but they do allow a better understanding of what is at play allowing us to better understand the dynamics and therefore how to respond when your male colleagues say or do something that weakens your authority.

  1. Executive Presence, Sylvia Hewlett – in this book, Hewlett identifies what it takes for others to perceive you as a leader. You might have got there as a result of qualifications and experience but to be successful as a leader, you need to have ‘executive presence’ which is a mix of appearance, communication and gravitas. You can buy the book on Amazon or find out the key points in this presentation.
  2. Your body language may shape who you are, Amy Cuddy – this work shows how body language can change people’s perceptions and also how you can change your own chemistry through different positions. It shows how men and women use space and how women can increase their levels of testosterone and therefore confidence. Cuddy’s ideas reached the world through this TED talk.
  3. You just don’t understand: Men & women in conversation, Deborah Tannen – this is one of the most useful books I have read because it increases our understanding of how men and women use language differently. In this book, Tannen shows us how women use language to build relationships and men use it to preserve status.
  4. Lean In, Sheryl SandbergThis book was huge in 2015, sharing valuable insight from Facebook’s COO who draws on her own experience as a women in business, sharing tips that will ensure you are taken seriously. Key takeaways for me from this book were making sure women have a seat at the table and having the confidence to speak up.


Is there an essential book on your reading list that we should know about?  Please share in the comments below.




[Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay]

Why a bit of ‘warm & fuzzy’ is important for motivating teams

How to motivate people has been a topic of conversation which has come up several times for me over the last couple of weeks.

Previously, I have written about the principles of autonomy, mastery, purpose which Dan Pink promotes in his book ‘Drive’. The theory set out in the book is one I believe in strongly but talking about it with others has made me realise that there is a further aspect that needs to be considered.

I’ve also written before about the value and importance of the ‘cuddle’ hormone oxytocin and I think there is something important here that helps to motivate people to come to work and give their best.

It’s a complex environment we are working in today and technology has sped up the pace of change. News is instant and we are expected to be able to respond and change direction very quickly. Certainly, working with lots of small charities, I see leaders and staff delivering in tough conditions, trying to push on forward despite high levels of uncertainty.

It takes a lot of resilience to keep going under these circumstances and I think that there is some ‘warm fuzzy stuff’ that leaders can easily implement which helps to keep people motivated.

Recognition – firstly, when people work hard, they want to be recognised for their efforts. This doesn’t have to take the form of big awards but just something to show that they have been noticed, whether that is an individual or the whole team, sometimes both probably, just let them know they have been seen.
Appreciation – say thank you! In whatever form you are most comfortable with and preferably often. A common view seems to be that work is transactional i.e. people come to work, do the job and get paid which should be thanks enough. It isn’t enough though if you want a motivated, high performing team. For that, you need to give a bit more which means saying and doing things that make people feel appreciated.

Celebration – celebrate often, let staff enjoy being at work and feel good about what they have achieved. Far too often, we finish one thing and move straight on to another with no looking back. If your team works hard and delivers success, encourage them to take time out to reflect and celebrate their achievements however small.

Whilst I believe these things are important all year round, I also think that Christmas is a point in the calendar where we should take a moment to reflect on what’s gone well, thank people for their contribution and celebrate the achievements of the year gone by.  So this year, why don’t you think about how you use these ideas to ensure you have an empowered and motivated team for 2020.


Like this article? Have your own experience to share? Let me know what you think in the comments below.




(Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay)

Why putting people first pays dividends for employers

A few articles have come to my attention recently around flexible working and in particular the challenges for working parents in what can sometimes be a fight to get employers to recognise the value in supporting employees to achieve a good balance.

Beginning my career working for myself, I was able to see the benefits of flexible working, being able to fulfil my professional responsibilities at times that worked for me and also manage personal commitments. Since then, I have championed flexibility in the workplace and heard both employers and staff challenge this over the years.

One article that really spoke to me recently shared the story of a woman who had returned from maternity leave and requested flexible working arrangements. As part of a restructure, her line Manager decided that all roles needed to be full-time and her application was turned down. A legal case decided that the employer had made this decision without evidence and the tribunal resulted in a finding of Unfair Dismissal and Indirect Sex Discrimination.

Another article that I came across yesterday, shared the story of an employer who came into the office and found a woman crying at her desk. When he asked why, he discovered that she had been up all night with a sick child and had come into work because she had no leave that she could use and needed to be paid.

Now, I’m guessing that many employers feel wary of giving an inch in case people take a mile and before you know it, you are paying for staff who are never there. I do think though that parents especially can be in a difficult situation, trying to pay high costs of childcare, deliver for their employer and meet the needs of their offspring.

It reminds me of a quote I saw the other week: “We expect women to work like they don’t have children and raise children as if they don’t work.” This isn’t exclusively women anymore but the pressure is still the same and I do hear strong opinion from other mums against women who choose to work full-time.

What I find in managing my team is that they want to be in work and do their jobs well. It’s a fact though that sometimes home and family commitments need more immediate attention in the same way that some days they need to work late or over the weekend. They don’t mind giving their own time for work commitments so why would I make it difficult for them when they have issues at home they need to deal with? If their car had broken down, I would let them take the time they need to fix it so why wouldn’t I let them have the flexibility they need when their child is sick?

Companies that have a flexi-time system can be useful in these situations but I still see so many of these systems based on initial theory from the model’s inception which fails to offer genuine flexibility. And I hear of even more employers that say ‘flexible working is great but it wouldn’t work here’. These are most likely the same employers that want their staff in the office late every night or working on demand.

What I’m saying here is that many people with caring responsibilities want to work and it’s often even more important for this group because they want balance but for very practical reasons, it needs to be both ways.

Also, I think that it pays dividends when employers put people first because it returns a level of loyalty and commitment that money can’t buy.

Do you manage people flexibly with positive results?  Do you have experience to share on flexible working requests? If so, please share in the comments below.




(Image by William Iven from Pixabay)

The challenges for charity leaders in a world of change and complexity

We live in a world of great uncertainty where the environment is changing at a rapid rate and as hard as we try to predict, we don’t know what the future is going to look like possibly because it is a future which is at present unimaginable!

Things we might have thought impossible a few years ago are actually happening today. Technological advances are pushing us forward faster than ever before. Driverless cars, for example, are going to become very real very soon. Drone delivery will perhaps become a common thing and maybe we will all be taking our holidays in space!

Of course, in the UK the immediate concern is if and when we will be leaving the European Union with or without a deal and what we will be left with when it all shakes down. It seems like we won’t know for sure until it happens and we certainly can only guess what impact that will have for the future.

Already, charities are facing challenging times with funding being reduced or cut completely and in some high profile cases of poor management or misconduct have led to serious questions about how charities operate.

Leading differently in an era of change sets out a number of challenges facing the third sector currently and offers a number of ideas for leading organisations through these complex times.

Those of us who work in the third sector know how much our work matters for beneficiaries and the knock-on effect for those around them as well. In the current climate, however, it takes a particular set of skills and qualities to be able to lead in such a complex environment.

When asked about what it means to be a leader in the third sector today, I decided to pose the question to other charity leaders to gather views from across the sector. In response, I received a wide range of views on the challenges facing charities today and the skills and attributes required of leaders in the sector during challenging times.

Here are the top 6 attributes we think charity leaders  need to succeed in the current climate:

  1. High levels of integrity – public trust has suffered as a result of poor management of funds or improper conduct which has come to light over the last few years. As a result, charity leaders must be exemplary, demonstrating third sector values in their behaviour at all times and acting with integrity.
  2. Ability to generate funding – accessing funds has always been a key priority for charities but in the current climate of austerity, leaders must be innovative in their approaches ad able to take calculated risks in order to secure opportunities.
  3. Commitment to good governance – in line with the first point, charity leaders need to ensure their house is in order and so ensuring robust procedures, monitoring and scrutiny is important for gaining trust and confidence from stakeholders and beneficiaries.
  4. Vision & optimism – in tough times, leaders need to be able to focus on the positives and bring people along with a positive vision for the future.
  5. Humility & gratitude – leaders need to be genuine and remain connected with those they represent which requires them to remain humble and thankful for all they have, do and contribute.
  6. Resilience – finally, I would say that leaders in the third sector right now need to be resilient because delivering in tough times requires leaders to keep going regardless of setbacks and maintain that ‘can-do’ attitude and commitment to the vision.

How to overcome some of these? A key message coming through from other charity leaders has been the importance of strong and supportive networks.  This article, ‘The power of coffee and conversation’ shows how making time for informal conversations and sharing is important for gathering ideas and developing strategies to overcome stubborn obstacles.

Finally, if you are a leader in the third sector in Wales and looking for an opportunity to meet other charity leaders, @HeadsUpCardiff offers a range of friendly and informal networking events which might be just what you are looking for!



Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Warning! Working differently can seriously improve the environment (and well-being)

In Cardiff and everywhere, there has been a lot of talk lately about clean air and reducing carbon emissions and indeed, in Wales, the Government has declared a climate emergency which suggests they are finally taking this seriously and we are going to see some critical action.

As ever with this conversation, the ideas and actions for tackling carbon emissions tend to be focused on getting people to switch their mode of travel from the car to cleaner, greener forms of transport such as electric cars, bike or train.

What I notice though is that those responsible for solving this problem rarely seem to ask themselves the very important question: ‘What if people didn’t need to travel?’

We are so entrenched in an industrial model that work is still seen as a place we go rather than something we do and so rarely given the consideration it deserves as one of the tools in the box when it comes to tackling climate change.

As someone with a long history of promoting flexible working, I can see a lot of opportunities not only for the environment but for individuals and employers too. So why are we not talking more about this and how working differently can reduce carbon emissions whilst also increasing community cohesion and overall well-being?

It’s a bold claim but I believe that it’s because so many managers are scared to let people get on with it and unable to tell if they are actually working if they can’t see someone at a desk in front of them. Too many organisations manage people on the basis of time and presence in the office. Just think what we could achieve if that switched to trust and outcomes instead?

Part of the issue is the number of limiting beliefs around different ways of working so here are some common myths and realities that will hopefully help to open up some new ways of thinking about how we can reduce the need to travel for work purposes, reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality.

Myth: When we talk about working differently, we mean people working from home on a permanent basis.

Reality: Working in an office and working from home are just two options in a broad spectrum and also not mutually exclusive. People could maybe work one day a week in their local community which could be at home or in a community hub or café or anywhere they feel inspired. This would reduce the need to travel and increase feelings of connections in the community.

Myth: If people are at home, they will have more distractions.

Reality: When people are working from home, they might put the washing out or get the dinner started and that is actually ok. When they are in work, they might be talking about what happened last night on Coronation Street or making everyone a cup of tea which is also ok. Regardless of whatever household tasks get done when at home, most people would say that working remotely is great for getting on with work projects because there are fewer distractions.

Myth: Working remotely has a negative impact on well-being.

Reality: If you work alone, at home, all day, every day, this can have a negative impact on well-being for some people. However, working from home sometimes can be beneficial because people can concentrate on a piece of work and save time travelling to the office which they can then spend getting jobs done or playing with their children. This can have a positive impact on well-being.

Myth: Supporting remote working requires expensive video conferencing platforms to allow people to remain connected.

Reality: We are better connected than ever before so utilisation of the wide range of free channels available to us means that teams can remain connected regardless of location.

Myth: Managers are automatically equipped to cope with any working arrangement.

Reality: Technology has transformed what is possible in the workplace, allowing people to work whenever and wherever is best to get the job done. Ensuring staff performance when managing remote workers is something that many feel less confident about so training should be built in to organisational development programmes to ensure managers have the necessary skills to cope with all situations.


Do you think working differently has the potential to help reduce carbon emissions? Do you have thoughts on how we can build confidence and skills to manage different ways of working? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


If you like this article, you might like to read this one too: Want greater staff retention, less sickness absence and increased productivity? Join the results based revolution and unleash the power within.






Perfecting an 80/20 ‘balance’ that nurtures talent and celebrates success

Recently, I was speaking at an internal session on managing performance and explained why I believe the role of a leader is to help people be the best they can be.

The discussion began when we were asked to identify measures of staff satisfaction and organisational success.  One of the first things that came up was staff retention with many believing this this is a sign of problems.

Now, I accept that if staff start leaving in numbers then it can indicate that there is a problem which needs to be addressed but I asked them to consider a different possibility: perhaps it shows that people are being managed well, developing skills and progressing to the next level.

When asked, I explained to the group that I strongly believe part of my responsibility as a leader is to develop people.  This means that they should grow professionally during their time in a role, gaining new skills and enjoying a boost in confidence.  Ideally, they would then rise through the ranks and feel the satisfaction and fulfilment of working for an organisation that nurtures talent, utilises this appropriately and rewards people for their success.

However, in a small organisation, it can be hard to do this and so it needs to be OK to develop people so that they can move on.  If people move on to better things as a result of what they learnt with me, then I consider that a good outcome for the organisation.  I also find that it means we have champions in the wider world and many of my staff are still working with us in their new roles.

Doing things in this way creates ambassadors who can raise awareness of our work with their new colleagues and partners.


The 80/20 rule

In terms of how I ensure people are able to develop, I believe in an 80/20 rule.  Put simply, this means that individuals should spend 80% of their time doing things they feel they are good at and 20% stretching themselves.

To help me identify their strengths and development areas, I ask staff to complete a personal development plan which allows them to list their skills, achievements and goals.  We then sit down and have a discussion about what they have included and I might make further suggestions about anything I think is missing.  People don’t always see something as a strength or a talent so I might explore certain things with them to highlight any skills I think they have but don’t recognise.

This provides a framework for which they can develop an action plan to push themselves forwards.

The theory part

One of the key theories that underpins my leadership style is Dan Pink’s work on motivation which argues that the three things people need to be successful at work is autonomy, mastery and purpose.

The 80/20 rule means that they spend 80% of their time utilising their strengths and working towards mastery.  If their time is spent mostly on things they enjoy and feel they are good at, then they will feel good most of the time and will be doing things that fire them up, satisfy them and allow them to feel confident.

From that place, they can focus on the other 20% which should be about things they either don’t want to do (we all have those things) and things that they want/need to learn to be the best they can be.

The key to success with the 20% is to have a clear action plan which identifies skills and competencies that need to be developed in order to achieve career goals.  This should include steps that will be taken to ensure that individual can push forwards and make tangible progress towards their goals.

In terms of monitoring, I hold individuals to account for completing their actions by making sure progress is discussed on a quarterly basis and then on an annual basis, I ask staff to reflect again and complete a new plan for the year ahead.


Achieving ‘flow’

If you look through the stages, you can see that the method is based on the high performance cycle – Plan, Do, Review and Improve.  In following this process and ensuring the 80/20 ‘balance’, I believe people can be supported to achieve ‘flow’ which, in positive psychology, is:

‘The mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity’.

This has to be the state of optimum performance and exactly where we surely would want our teams to be so I challenge you to try a different way and see the difference it makes.


If you can see the value of this approach or have similar methods yourself, share your thoughts in the comments below.

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