Seeing past the [music] 'box' – Unconscious Assumptions

This morning my two year old brought what he called a ‘box’ in to our bedroom.  It was in fact a bucket that contained toy musical instruments - you know the type, small plastic pan pipes, a colourful rain stick, a Saxophone shaped whistle, a lollipop shaped device connected to two pieces of string with a bobble on the end that drum the lollipop head when you spin the stick in your hands, an old microphone, a single Maraca, elastic-band connected Castanets, and a couple of infiltrators in the guise of two light plastic balls and a toy motorcycle.

Each of the musical toys were taken out of the bucket and 'played' for perhaps 15 seconds each, which eventually left him with an empty bucket.  Naturally, the bucket went on his head. Which caused him to generate his own 'musical' noise and had his eight year old sister come to see what was going on.  After the fun in the two them alternately wearing the bucket had run out of steam, it became a receptacle for target practice with the two balls.

If I'd been analysing the child growth potential or even simply the length of time these toys stayed entertaining, the bucket (box) would have won hands down!  Just another case of the wrapping paper being more exciting than the now cast aside toy it once wrapped.

Instant MBA: Think, Perform and Earn Like a Top Business School Graduate, by Nicholas BateBut more importantly, the typical adult perspective would have seen the bucket as a container for all the fun important stuff.  Earlier this week I attended the Instant MBA workshop run by Nicholas Bate and right at the start, when he's reminding us to start thinking, he showed how we see patterns everywhere and those patterns unconsciously restrict our thinking - after all it's what our brains are fabulous at doing - sorting and categorising the world into understandable chunks.

A simple illustration is the nine-dot puzzle that shows how we need to think out of the box - we see a box, a naturally constraining pattern, so we want to fit the solution into it.  For Nicholas of course this was just a side note in the opening of this excellent workshop based on his similarly excellent Instant MBA book - you'll find a version on his blog too which is well worth adding to your subscribed list.

So, if you're in need of a different solution, take a look at your unconscious assumptions - like meetings at work are always organised in a room with a table, chairs & a projector for a minimum of 30 minutes (the default length of an Outlook Calendar invite) - there's a bunch of patterns that tampered with might lead to a different and better outcome!

Great World Success Quotes #1

“The real differences around the world today are not between Jews and Arabs; Protestants and Catholics; Muslims, Croats, and Serbs. The real differences are between those who embrace peace and those who would destroy it; between those who look to the future and those who cling to the past; between those who open their arms and those who are determined to clench their fists”

Bill Clinton, 42nd US President

Great Success Quotes #8

"It occurs to me, Jim, that you spend too much time trying to be interesting," he said. "Why don't you invest more time being interested."

The advice given to Jim Collins in 1988 by John Gardner

John Gardner, then professor at Stanford University and author or Self-Renewal gave Collins this advice during his first year on the Stanford faculty.  The simple summary “Stop trying to be interesting and become interested” for me connects directly to working on things you have passion for. Jim is of course author of ‘Good To Great - Why some companies make the leap... and others don't' and co-author with Jerry Porras of ‘Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies’, both research based exposes on successful leadership styles certainly seemed to find his passion.


Make a Difference – Doh!

I’ve just had one of those ‘well, it’s all over now’ conversations – referring to the Christmas / New Year celebrations of course. That’s the way some people feel about the Christmas holidays – a bright spot during the winter gloom... fortunately in this particular conversation we had some bright winter sun to brighten the mood.

Gloom does appear to be a somewhat common response to January and I can’t pretend that I’m looking forward to the short days; although even there the shortest day passed on the 21st December – the sun is staying out just a little longer each day (I can see the raised eyebrows now Smile)

I have to say I am looking forward to the year ahead – and that’s as much about being determined to look on the brighter side as anything... just like avoiding the downbeat British soaps it takes some effort, but it’s worth it.

What do you have planned or what are you trying to achieve in the coming months? In my experience New Year resolutions tend to be of the ‘join the gym’ or ‘lose weight’ type rather than the ‘change the world’ type – nothing wrong with the former of course (though ‘working-out at the gym’ is probably a better than just joining), they probably reflect our natural tendency to go with what’s front-of-mind.

Personally I like to make Christmas a long holiday, which post Christmas day leaves plenty of time for contemplation. It’s time to refresh my thoughts on health, family, finance, business and relationships. In reality, being a somewhat slow-burn type (much to my own annoyance) most of the changes are things I’ve been thinking about during the general run of things for some time. The extra space during the holiday is useful to make something of them.

My own process works something like:

  1. imageOpen my mind
    being away from the usual day-day process helps with this as does reading great books like The Creative Habit
  2. Create a list of all the things I would like or like to do
  3. Test the list against a ‘how much do I really want it’ criteria
  4. This helps me prioritise
  5. So I can list some key actions to get going on the one or two things at the top of the list
  6. Take the first action quickly

A fuller version of which I cover at my Succeed in 2011 workshop.

This year ‘make a difference’ figured near the top... and my goodness the action list is long. I should have stopped at ‘lose weight’.

Happy New Year!


And what do you do?

AndWhatDoYouDo copyIs your work your passion?  If it is, there’s a great chance that you’re excellent at and excited by what you do.  In this case, you probably don’t need to read ‘And what do you do?  - 10 steps to creating a portfolio career’.

Working with your strengths, rather than working to ‘fix’ your weaknesses, has a high yield.  And people like Mike Pegg who runs the Strengths Academy makes a business of helping people do just this – I’ve been fortunate enough to benefit from his teaching myself.

Apparently Bruce Haldane was the first career development specialist to suggest that we learn best from our successes rather than our failures and developed the concept of ‘motivated skills’ – those skills where we have talent and interest.

An important thing about our motivated skills is that many of us aren't terribly aware of them.  Perhaps you’re young and working out what they are, or after years of working in a career chosen when we were in your teens, the ‘ladder’ with it’s dangling prosperity has led you away from them.  In either case, one of the three things I think this book is excellent at is helping you understand those skills.

It’s a completely practical book, quickly mapping the theories it describes through straight forward exercises to your life.

It’s actually about ‘portfolio careers’.  The second thing this book is excellent at, is describing what a portfolio career is or can be.  In summary it’s a career where you may have multiple roles (or jobs) that take advantage of your multiplicity of motivated skills.  For example in my own case I mainly work as a a software product manager, teacher, mentor, landlord, speaker and business owner (and father, husband, …); though there are plenty of more colourful examples described in its chapters and the stories section of the website.

The final area of excellence for this book is helping you decide both whether you would benefit from a portfolio career and if so, how you go about creating a successful one.

I really do recommend it, whether you think a portfolio career might be the right direction for you or not it’s 10 steps offer really practical and interesting insight into yourself and the modern world of work.


Title: And What Do You Do?  - 10 Steps to Creating a Portfolio Career
Format: Book, 234 pages
Author: Barrie Hopson and Katie Ledger

Please keep this manual…

The best instruction manual I’ve ever seen came with one of the far too many gifts my daughter received this Christmas, two “Bratz Babyz Twiins” dolls.  Here is it…


But the deep insight in the instructions isn’t the best bit, take a look underneath the picture ‘Please keep this manual.  It contains important information’ (and no, there’s nothing on the back).














Happy new year!


Zen and the art of self motivation

ZenMountainSml The beautiful theory is that the combination of passion, clear goals and vision is everything you need to achieve great things – or at least to achieve the things you want.

Allow me to quote Giles Long – medal winner in 3 consecutive Paralympics and 3 world championships including two world records for swimming:

“The love of swimming alone isn’t enough to get you out bed at 4.30 every morning”

The big picture is vital for direction but day-by-day, let’s face it, we could all do with a little supplementation.

My own simple method goes like this – if I have say five things that need to be done in a`day, two of which I want to do and three of which I don’t.  I’ll work on the three that I don’t and reward myself after they’re completed with the two I do.  Easy. 

But, I have to admit, not always effective – simply because sometimes there are 20 things to do and only one that I want to do.  Humph.

So, what’s the advice from greats such as Giles?

I was fortunate enough to hear Giles speak at a recent Microsoft event.  Giles did me the service of answering a much better question than the one I asked… which led to a description of how to stay motivated.

A fellow swimming athlete had a list of ‘100 reasons to keep swimming’ – which started with “I absolutely love swimming” and got progressively more tenuous down the list.  At around 50 it included “because I can eat whatever I want, whenever I want.”  This reason alone doesn’t cut it – but at 4.30 in the morning as I quoted above, love isn’t enough!

And Giles’ own method?  He loves full-fat coke.  And, unless he completed all nine training sessions in the week, he couldn’t have that precious drink on Sunday evening.

Both of these techniques are really simple… and lets face it, if they’re good enough to create daily motivation for the worlds greatest swimmers, they can probably help the rest of us!

I’m pleased to say that Giles has a book, which naturally is on order…

Title: Changing to Win - An Incredible Story of Courage and a Template for Success
Format: Book, 256 pages
Author: Giles Long


The glowing face & Ignore Everybody!

Hugh MacLead Cartoon on a business card - gapingvoid.comHere I am again, sitting in front of big square light giving me a glowing face.  I do this a lot- for work, for buying books from Audible and getting them on my Zune, for managing the finances, for social networking, for … the list goes on.

So, how do I feel about buying a book, where most of the content can be found on the authors blog?    I could be sitting here, with my glowing face, piping the same wisdom into my skull!

This thought came to me as I was reading
Hugh MacLeod’s "Ignore Everybody -
And 39 Other Keys to Creativity
(and books from Seth Godin and Nicholas Bate for that matter).  Hugh’s route to fame was through his blog at which he’s persisted for years – starting sway back in 2001 when he was living in the UK (and when only the cool cats had even heard of such a thing)!  And his ‘cartoons on the back of business cards’.

The book came directly from the blog, in fact it was preceded by an online version called “How to be creative” and today you’ll find the first 12 ‘keys’ as in the book, online.

The thing about the content for me is that it comes from Hugh’s experience… he’s lived the challenges and put his thoughts out there – and the challenges are ones that I can connect with, and Hugh’s responses give me that “oh, someone else feels the same way, and that’s a good point!” feeling.

I loved it.

So, was it worth buying, when most of the wisdom is already online?  Oh yes - for this and all the authors I’ve read who publish their wisdom online.  I’m pleased for the break from the glow and revel in the space to enjoy the words away from the pace of my PC.


Title: Ignore Everybody – And 39 Other Keys to Creativity
Format: Book 158 pages
Author: Hugh MacLeod


What can you learn from someone two weeks old?


Today, my son Joel is six months old... just about the same amount of time since I last posted on this blog. Despite the personal importance to me of the words being espoused, sometimes things do take precedence.

In the first few weeks of Joel’s life, I found myself writing the things that I was learning (not the ‘how to change nappies’ stuff, more the ‘what does this situation bring to mind’).  Joel is our second child, so one would imagine there wasn’t too much to learn… what I didn’t realise is that I didn’t learn it first time around, things go so quickly, they’re experienced and gone.  Of the 26 things I wrote down 7 were related to sleep!

  1. How much you normally control your emotions
  2. Nature has a great way of installing a king of ‘beer goggles’ towards your wrinkly, vernixy residue loaded offspring
  3. The logic of humans, is not the same logic we learned in mathematics/computer science
  4. Human logic varies enormously, even in the same human
  5. Eenore is a great name for a mouse!
  6. Size is not a good indication of volume
  7. Size is a good indicator of your ability to have people running around after you – and small wins
  8. Focus generates a lot of housework
  9. You need quiet time to focus on long term goals
  10. Living in the ‘important & urgent’ quadrant of the important urgent / non-urgent, unimportant urgent / non-urgent 2x2 matrix is really hard
  11. There are more great names for girls than for boys (actually, we learned this before he was born)
  12. The response you get when telling others the name of your new child is vital to the balance of your day
  13. It’s really important to be unequivocally positive about the gorgeousness and great name of other peoples children – particularly when the children are new and the parents have only had two hours sleep
  14. The smaller the person, the higher & faster we jump
  15. Size matters & small is King
  16. It doesn’t take experience to be loud
  17. Lung capacity bears little resemblance to volume
  18. We know that change is inevitable & that there is nothing so constant as change – and these small beings only re-enforce these axioms, they are the most effective agents of change
  19. Some consider themselves ‘agents of change’ – these small beings don’t bother with the agent, they go direct!

Filtering out the sleep related ones…

  1. How important a good nights sleep really is, no really… only apparent after several days
  2. What a gift, sleep is
  3. At first - How could Maslow miss off ‘sleep’ in the hierarchy of needs?  Then, after checking, I realised that he didn’t, it simply wasn’t important enough for me to remember when I first studied it
  4. That falling asleep over your breakfast, isn’t the best start to the day
  5. What a beneficial impact really cold fresh air can have on your alertness!
  6. The route to a negative response, even with quite ordinary stimulus, is directly proportional to the number of hours you’ve slept
  7. Lack of sleep has similar effects to imbibing a large quantity of alcohol, but without any positive social boost