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!

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

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


A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future

A Whole New Mind I can see it now – mathematicians, accountants, engineers and doctors all sitting around at lunch time in their new careers as petrol pump attendants and hamburger flippers while the artists, designers and outrageously dressed run the corporate world.

Well, perhaps that’s not quite what Daniel Pink was getting at with this book.  In fact the first part of the title does say what he’s getting at and the second part, well that’s the section of the title that makes you buy it.

The book itself is also in two parts – the current problematic situation entitled ‘The Conceptual Age’ and the solution called ‘The Six Senses’.

The current problematic situation…

… is down to three things: abundance, Asia & automation.

Abundance: in the western world we are short of very few things.  In fact for the most part we have an opulent abundance of ‘things’ whether it’s cars, computer mice, orange juice or toilet brushes – the range and choice of options is often staggering.  There is no doubt that we can do mass production.

And in a world of abundance, where you can get a thousand different chairs that all function perfectly well holding you off the floor, a great way to compete, is through design.  Imagine a designer toilet brush!  Oh yes, absolutely – why else would you pay £22 for a 10 pence cents of plastic?

Asia: in countries like India and China, there are millions of people with access to education and skills that match that of the west.  If you pair that with a lower cost of living you can see why outsourcing and off shoring to Asia is a growing trend.  If the skills exist and they are cheaper to obtain, then why not?  OK, I’ve simplified it somewhat but that’s the essence of the Asia part of the argument.

Automation: finally, computers are not sitting on their Loral's, or their chips.  They just keep getting faster and software gets more sophisticated – if your job could be done by a computer, watch out… you may have noticed that they’re happy to work 24 hours a day for very little pay… your job could be automated.

Daniel’s summary about whether your role is safe is in the form of three questions:

  1. Can someone overseas do it more cheaply?
  2. Can a computer do it faster?
  3. Are you offering something that satisfies the non-material desires of an abundant age?

Before tackling the solution consider this.

We’ve come from the the industrial age of factories and efficiency where the individuals were characterised by their physical strength & personal fortitude into the knowledge worker age.  Where we have achieved our current state through our proficiency in L-directed thinking – that is left brain directed thinking.  And now, we’re entering the conceptual age where the individual starts are creators and empathizers with a mastery of R-directed (right brain) thinking able recognise patterns and  create meaning for our fellow humans.

So, what are the aptitudes of this conceptual age?

The Solution…

… is down to six high concept (rather than low level detail), high touch (close to human) senses, where we all need proficiency:

  1. Design – not just function
  2. Story – not just logical argument
  3. Symphony – not just focus.  The ability to see the bigger picture and put disparate things together to form new solutions and products.
  4. Empathy – not just logic
  5. Play – not just seriousness
  6. Meaning – not just material accumulation

Each of these areas has it’s own chapter which includes a handy and extensive ‘how do I improve my ability’ section.  For example, for symphony one of Daniel’s suggestions is to learn to draw - and he recommends a book and course by Betty Edwards called “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” (I’ve already ordered my copy).  And under meaning one of the suggestions is to read Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” (which is an absolute must-read; I delayed reading it for a few years thinking it would be too morbid – the context is Frankl’s experience in the Auschwitz concentration camp – I wish I hadn’t delayed).

On one or two occasions I thought that Daniel had included too many examples (if I’d been reading the book, rather than listening to the audio I would probably have skipped a few pages) – but even if you don’t read all of the detail in every section, I have no hesitation in highly recommending it – particularly, if like me, you’ve trained yourself well in l-directed thinking!

Format: Book 248 pages, Audio 6hrs 15mins and DVD 55 mins
Author: Daniel H. Pink


Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us

TribesTribesSeth Godin’s latest book Tribes follows his successful formula of being short and like many good books, based around a set of stories.

The key points of the book, as indicated by the title, are tribes and leadership.  But, leadership delivered very differently from say Stephen Covey in The 8th Habit.  Seth’s perspective of leadership is the leader as a heretic – which fits with his Big Moo (be/represent something remarkable) approach.

A heretic here is someone with unconventional beliefs, someone who has an opinion that doesn’t confirm to the status quo.  If you add to that passion for their heretical view, you have the core makings of a leader.

The reason that passionate heretics should lead is that they are a force for change and their very heresy is a reason they will be listened to – or at least listened to by a key set of people who like their particular flavour of heresy.  And if the passionate heretic leads those people who want to listen, they become a tribe… and even a small tribe of say a thousand people can create change; and change is what makes the world go around.

In fact, Seth’s view is that stability is an illusion and that the ‘fad focused early adaptors’ are the people that buy and the people that talk.  The fad focused early adaptors inspired by the heretic become partisans – passionate tribe members supporting the shared purpose of the tribe.

So the two key elements of a tribe are a shared purpose and a way to communicate.

It’s important that the communication happens not only from the centre or leader to the tribe, but from tribe members to tribe members.  It’s this element that really differentiates this new style of marketing.  Even in the current digital marketing world with permission email marketing and pay-per-click, the centre is the source of the communication.  Whereas a tribe of partisans communicating with each other will create a much stronger bond and so momentum for the cause.

The ‘cause’? – what happened to ‘product’?  I think the point here is that if the passion comes first, passion for a new way, a new style of product, a new ‘thing’, the product sales will follow.  And one way to describe that, is as a cause or a movement.

This passion/cause/movement first approach is also what defines a great leader - along with authenticity, able to create a culture, inclusive, curious, committed, able to communicate their vision and connect their followers to each other.  Oh, and that inclusiveness is at the expense of those that are excluded.  Excluded because they don’t get it, or don’t revolve in the right circles or… whatever.  Include passionate partisans and exclude everyone else.

Seth clearly points out that being a leader isn’t the same as being a manager; far from it.  A good leader can come from anywhere in an organisation – in The 8th Habit Stephen Covey uses the term ‘trim-tabbing’ to describe leaders in a company who lead from outside the management chain (the trim-tab is a small ‘rudder’ on the end of the big rudder that turns an entire ship – also check out the Buckminster Fuller description on Trim-Tab).

A leader could be an individual with no connection to an existing organisation at all. Gandhi is commonly sited as a model for leadership.  He had no given authority, no business or firm to back him up.  Yet, his leadership lead to India’s independence.

There’s much more to TribesTribes.  I really enjoyed it and as usual with a Godin, it’s the snap that brings into focus a concept or in this case a trend that is happening right in front of you, but just outside of conscious awareness.

It’s also a call, as is apparent by the title, to would-be leaders, to start leading.

Format: BookBook 147 pages, Audio 3hrs 42 mins
Author: Seth Godin


The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness

The 8th HabitThe 8th HabitWhen terms coined by a writer or a company enter our every day language, you know they’ve had an impact.  The cover of my copy of The 7 Habits of Highly Successful PeopleThe 7 Habits of Highly Successful People say’s that it’s sold over 10 million copies (and it’s still ranked 9985 on Amazon’s best sellers list, despite being first published in 1989) so you might not be surprised that phrases like ‘sharpen the saw,’ and ‘think win / win’ were made popular from this Dr Stephen R. Covey’s classic.

So, what’s so important about the The 8th HabitThe 8th Habit that it has a book all to itself (and an extra 10 pages ignoring the appendices, and 38 pages more with)?  Dr Covey’s concise description is that The 7 Habits lead to great effectiveness; and in today’s world that’s not enough so the 8th HabitThe 8th Habit builds on the previous seven and leads to greatness.  Which is even move concise in the books title!

One unique element is that it’s accompanied by 15 videos.  You can watch these online or order a DVD and pay the postage (which is $35 for the UK and $7.95 for the USA at the time of writing).  Although the book still works without them, I thought the videos made an interesting compliment.

There are two parts to the book – Find Your Voice and Help Others to Find Thiers.  Which might be broadly summarised as learn to lead yourself - more focused on you as an individual (like the ‘private victory’ of The 7 Habits), and then lead others - more focused on business (the like ‘public victory’ of The 7 Habits).

Then there are four core themes that pervade both parts and I’ve tried to condense Dr. Covey description to give you the essence of if for self leadership:

  • Mind
    • Assume that the half life of your profession is two years – now prepare accordingly.  What is your vision of the future? 
  • Spirit
    • Assume you had a direct relationship with your maker – now live accordingly.  Use your conscience.
  • Body
    • Assume that you had had a heart attack, now treat your body accordingly.  Have discipline.
  • Heart
    • Assume that everything you say about another can be overheard – now speak accordingly.  Live with passion.

This really does only give you a flavour.  Like many good books it’s full of stories and fitting with Dr Covey’s data orientation there’s plenty of charts, tables and research.

There are parts of the book that I found a little difficult to keep my concentration, but overall it’s worth it.  If the super summary "Live, Love, Learn & Leave a Legacy" sounds good and you want to be a leader, this is one of the books you really should read.

Format: BookBook 382 pages, AudioAudio 14hrs 24 mins, Short video 48mins and WorkbookWorkbook
Author: Dr. Stephen R. Covey


Outliers: The Story of Success

outliers outliers

I've often felt somewhat disadvantaged. You see, I had a good upbringing in a loving family, with hard working parents. And, following in the footsteps of my older brother decided to go to University where I gained a great degree in computer science.

If you listen to enough talks and read enough books on success a theme quickly emerges – people that have great success did it in reaction to misfortune.  Terrible poverty, dysfunctional parents, illness, bankruptcy and so on feature in the stories of many.  And, let’s face it those rags to riches stories often make good listening.

Not having had any of those or any other major challenges I began to feel that I shouldn’t be succeeding and clearly could only go ‘so’ far encumbered by my privilege.

In Outliers – The Story of SuccessOutliers – The Story of Success , Malcolm Gladwell tells it differently.  Firstly an outlier in science is something that doesn’t fit the typical bell-curve.  In the context of successful people it’s those who achieve extreme success – create the most successful companies, make the most remarkable breakthrough, are awarded Nobel prizes, become the best sports stars and so on.  Outliers argues that these people all had advantages.

It’s true that some of the advantages may be seen as negative ones.  But, just as often they are advantages of timing, events, place, birth date, culture, socio/economic class coupled with the wherewithal and hard-work ethic to use the advantage.

If this doesn’t sound terribly profound, consider that being born in December would scupper your chances to become a world-class hockey player and being born in August could make it much harder to become a British football star – irrespective of your talent.

A couple of months ago I watched a TV documentary on the BBC called “The Making of Me” about Vanessa Mae the child prodigy violinist who entered the music scene with a bang at the age of 10.  It asked the question of her incredible talent was it ‘nature or nurture’.  One of the researchers had studied many musical superstars and found that each of them had 10,000 hours of practice before ‘making it’.

Gladwell sites 10,000 as the magic number of hours to create an expert.  Bill Gates and Bill Joy managed to get 10,000 hours of computer programming in before most people even knew what a computer was – fundamentally down to when and where they were born.

Both of Gladwell’s previous books Blink and Tipping Point are brilliant – combining research, great stories and something different from the common knowledge.  Outliers is even better.  It doesn’t provide a list of actions but it is brilliantly written, brings a new perspective and helps you see things just a little differently.

Format: Audio book, 7 hrs 17 mins Audio book, 7 hrs 17 mins and Book, 300 pages Book, 300 pages
Author: Malcolm Gladwell

Being the Best – The A-Z of Personal Success

CIMG1538CIMG1538I’d estimate that I first benefited from Nicholas Bate’s teaching in around 1995 when I attended one of his training courses.  I was struck by how different the course was from typical corporate training.  For example, Nicholas was the first trainer I’d met that focused on improving you as an individual in order that your work may benefit – rather than on specific work related skills that are still the more typical focus.  Both are of course required but the former will also help you find the right work as well as do your work right.

I discovered only recently that Nicholas was an author – quite prolific as it turns out with 18 or more titles!  ‘Being the BestBeing the Best’ was my first, the first of many I’m sure.  This one fits in to a category that I call ‘10 minutes a day’ books.

It’s quite literally an A-Z, each letter of the alphabet associated with a word and a few pages of description – A is Attention, B is Belief, C is Compass, … N is Niche… V is Vision etc.  Where each section is easy to read and full of the most profoundly sensible suggestions and advice.

You shouldn’t underestimate the the highly accessible format.  On that training course back in 1995 the attendees walked away with a compass – a reminder of what I think is the most important lesson in the book.  I’m not sure I realised quite how fundamentally important, thank goodness for ‘Being the Best – The A-Z of Personal Success’ for reminding me!

Format: BookBook, 200 pages
Author: Nicholas Bate

Incidentally, Nicholas has a great blog you should check out on the Business of Life + Life of Business


p.s. ‘work’ here is meant in the broadest sense whether it’s as the owner/manager of a business, part-time charity work, a job, running a household, whatever… everyone should enjoy their work.  If you don’t, change something - your approach, your attitude, your work…  If you’re not doing your ideal work, you’re probably holding a space that is someone else's ideal.