5 Things 15 March 2017

Each week I hear, see and experience things which could be of benefit for others. Picking up on an idea from Tim Ferris – I thought I’d do a short blog to share some of them. Here goes.



Quote I’ve had in the back of my mind. “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away”. Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Thinking along these lines in a world of ever increasing complexity can be refreshing. I’ve been viewing my morning routine through this lens and simplified some of the questions I ask myself each day. What are you doing that could benefit from simplification?

Metaphor to apply. “Do homework on a Friday night“. This one comes from Davina McCall. She was writing about getting the ‘stuff’ you don’t like doing out of the way, to free up your energy for more interesting activities. She learnt this with her kids and the inevitable weekend school homework. What are your equivalent tasks that nag away at the back of your mind when you don’t do them? Accounting for expenses would be fairly highly on my list.

App to explore – Habit List. This was a tip off from Chase Jarvis. I work a fair amount with people looking to introduce or eliminate habits to improve their overall performance. As a result, I’m always on the lookout for tools to help with this. I’ve been exploring this app which is straight forward enough in its concept – to encourage you to develop the habits you want. There are plenty of alternatives available. I liked this one for its simplicity and ease of use. Give it a go.

Taking your cycling to the next level. For those of you who enjoy your cycling and have a particular event you want to train for, here’s a programme that could be of benefit. Elliot Lipski is one of the talented sports scientists who work for Trainsharp Coaching. He has put together this programme which was recently featured on Road.cc.

Seth Godin Wisdom. In the context of thinking about your brand “no one gets a Suzuki tattoo”; in contrast to Harley Davidson. Does your brand and performance mean your customers are willing to go to significant lengths to demonstrate their loyalty?

5 Things 10 Feb 2017

Each week I hear, see and experience things which could be of benefit for others. Picking up on an idea from Tim Ferris – I thought I’d do a short blog to share some of them.  He shares his every week. I suspect mine will be a little more sporadic. Here goes.



Blog post I really enjoyedIs the money in the tin? I met Steve Sutherland the author of this post a few years ago and he mentioned this story. It’s great that Steve has taken the time to share it with a wider audience. Using the tin analogy can be a helpful test when you get ahead of yourself when thinking what progress has really been achieved.


Fortune cookie wisdomDedicate yourself with a calm mind to the task at hand. At the end of a belated Chinese new-year dinner I received this little beauty. I’d spent a day flitting from activity to activity without too much tangible progress. Felt like a timely reminder.


Website and app that got me thinkingStickk. A nice solution to ‘encourage’ your motivation towards a goal. Their approach is to draw on the power of loss aversion.  Essentially you determine a goal, and nominate a sum of money for a cause that you don’t like. Next find someone you trust who will referee your performance towards the goal. If don’t do what you’ve committed to the cause gets your cash. Of course, you don’t need Stickk to do this. However, they do have extra motivational bells and whistles. Worth considering for those new-year commitments that perhaps have fallen by the wayside?


Billboard challenge. Saw this quote outside a church “the problem with the world is that intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid people are full of confidence” – Charles Bukowski. I’ve sat in several meetings over the last week where I’ve pondered this as different people have spoken. What could you be doing as a leader to help mitigate doubts in the people you lead?


Prioritisation tip. This one courtesy of Tim Ferris. When faced with a list of tasks with competing priorities try the following criteria to help cut through the complexity. Ask yourself which of these tasks would make the others easier or unnecessary? It can help bubble to the surface what to do next.




Five Things 4 Feb 2017

Each week I hear, see and experience things which could be of benefit for others. Picking up on an idea from Tim Ferris – I thought I’d do a short blog to share some of them.  He shares his every week. I suspect mine will be a little more sporadic. Here goes.


App of interestInstasize After numerous, quite frustrating hours working to right size a particular image for social media I finally admitted I needed help. After a brief conversation with my nephew he introduced me to the Instasize App. Within a couple of minutes the image was all sorted. Is there something you could use a little external help with?

Quote I’ve been pondering – Comparison is the thief of joy – Roosevelt. I’ve also seen this with the word happiness replacing joy. I like this version more. Sorry FDR.

Film I’ve enjoyedTheory of Everything I’m fairly late to the party with watching the highly acclaimed and award winning 2014 movie which depicts the life of Professor Stephen Hawking. It was even better than I’d anticipated. Multiple examples of personal resilience. Certainly Hawking’s challenges with motor neurone disease (ALS), put the challenges I face into perspective. If you’ve not seen it, check it out.

Wine I’ve enjoyed – Giant Steps – Really tasty Pinot Noir (2014) from Yarra Valley, Australia.  Thanks PL.

Business insight that made me think. I was lucky to have a meeting with Barnardos, Education, Training and Skills team this week.  They do a huge amount of great work in supporting young adults to get employment. Often the challenges of holding down jobs and apprenticeships are a stretch for many as they make their transition to become self-sufficient; given their challenging start points. The team have a range of supportive interventions to help. Patience and small incremental progress is the key to success.  It takes time to reinforce the basics that so many of us simply take for granted. Their powerful Believe in Me campaign captures this spirit nicely.


Five things 28 Jan 2017

Each week I hear, see and experience things which could be of benefit for others. Picking up on an idea from Tim Ferris – I thought I’d do a short blog to share some of them.  He shares his every week. I suspect mine will be a little more sporadic. Here goes.



Book I’m readingTools of Titans, Tim Ferris. He describes this as a ‘collection of tactics, routines and habits of billionaires, icons and world class performers’. It draws heavily on his interviews over the years, which if you’re interested in learning more about you can catch on the four hour work week podcast. For me this book has things you can use straight away, things that you’ll want to skip over (as they are just not relevant to your circumstances) and things that will challenge the way you think.

A phrase I’ve heard – strategic patience. Patience is a relative word. This made me think about some of the projects I’m involved in. Are there things you’re doing that need more time or if you’re really honest you just need to call time?

A podcast that made me thinkMobile Talk at #SXSW with Bonin Bough – this is a great example of a clash between new and old media. Gary Vaynerchuk in full flight taking on more established marketing thinking.

Music I’ve been Listening to – Bad Bad Not Good. Canadian jazz hip hop group. Gilles Peterson put me on to this at the back end of 2016. Quirky off beat tunes. Time Moves Slowly – isn’t typical of the group. It’s more mellow. It resonated with me though. Thanks GP.

Service that made me smile – I was eating with a client in Cafe Rouge. When taking our order the waiter was nervous. He got one of our orders completely wrong. Realising what had happened, he came back this time extremely nervous and apologised. He explained it was his first night and had messed up. He got things sorted quickly (also they took the dish off the bill). By showing his human side and taking responsibility he got us both on his ‘side’. How often do we ‘mess up’ and then look for excuses rather than take responsibility?

Routines – good idea or bad idea?

There are mixed views on the benefit of routine to our effectiveness and resilience. I find it surprising that people think of this as an either or subject. When working with others and in my own personal experience there’s a place for both routine and more free flowing activity. Here are three pros, cons and things to consider when it comes to routines.




  1. Having routines can help take the pressure off our shoulders and free up capacity for more taxing activities. For many having a routine to help get a consistent start to the day is an example of this in action.
  2. Routines can help provide certainty and build confidence as we approach situations. This can help bring out the best in ourselves – an example of this could be preparing for the start of a sporting event or business meeting.
  3. Providing the routine is effective, it can help achieve consistency in results. Preparing to travel is a good example of this.


  1. Routines can stifle creative thinking – repeating the same approach to a task when in fact the environment you operate in has changed. This runs the risk that you could be overlooking more effective ways to do something.  I have had two conversations recently with people who found a different and more effective route for their commute as a result of transport strikes.
  2. A variation on the above is that an over reliance on a routine means that we can close out others input and experience. The ‘my way is the best way’ syndrome is a trap worth avoiding or at the very least having the humility that you may not be right.
  3. An over reliance on routines can mean that if for some reason we are knocked off course we find it hard to cope. As a result, our confidence that we are capable of handling a particular task or situation gets eroded.


Some things to consider
  1. Develop a routine to help you prepare better for a situation you will face regularly. One everyone faces is their morning routine. If you need a little inspiration head over to mymorningroutine.com – there are stacks of ideas.
  2. Deliberately mix up the routine every now and then. If you have a particular commute look for three alternatives to explore.
  3. Write your routine down and then get feedback and input from others on how you might improve it.


Have a go of a least one of the above examples in the next seven days. At the very least raise your awareness of the pros and cons of having a routine.  As always, I’m interested in any thoughts you have.

Why ‘weight’ for 2017?

mince-pieI’ve had three conversations over the last week with people talking about a goal of loosing weight in 2017. Eating well is a core component for resilience. So I’m always interested to talk about it.


As I would always encourage, start today. Christmas is 10 days away. So instead of waiting until after the festivities, why not kick start some pre holiday good behaviours. This doesn’t mean living like a monk. Here are three choices to consider:

  1. Go for a better breakfast – try porridge. The sachets you can get now are easy to prepare and if you get plain ones you can customise to your hearts content. 
  2. On the breakfast theme – instead of meeting people for drinks after work, how about meeting for breakfast. The reduction in alcohol will make a big difference.
  3. Think about the day ahead and plan your intake accordingly. For example, if you’re out for dinner or drinks in the evening make the commitment not to tuck into the mince pies that turn up at lots of business meetings during the day.

A little proactivity will go a long way to getting you tee’d up for the start of the holidays. You never know you may even loose some of that weight. Whatever you decide to do, make sure you are happy with the choices you make. And most importantly have fun and spend time with the people you care about over the Christmas and New Year break. 

Learning from Toast


We’ve all done it. Forgotten the toast under the grill and ended up with something less than appetising. So, what leadership lesson can we learn from the humble slice of toast?


Making toast could never be described as difficult. Could it? Even for people with the most basic culinary skills. However just because it’s a relatively simple process doesn’t mean it’s easy to do. There are some basics you need to get right. Do that and you are almost guaranteed tasty toast every time.


All too often in leadership positions we overlook the most basic elements of what we and our people need. Unfortunately, unlike burnt toast it’s not so obvious when things haven’t gone to plan. Have you experienced or witnessed any of these in your career?


  • People left confused about where organisations are heading.
  • People working on activity that doesn’t make sense to them. Or worse, they find out someone is doing the same thing elsewhere in the organisation. Or even worse, they find out someone in the same organisation is doing something in competition or conflict with their work.
  • People not letting you know how they feel about something because their appraisal discussion is being conducted in a busy public area.


So how can we check if we have the basics in place. Setting and being able to answer high-level questions is one way. Here’s some examples in three common areas. Don’t be fooled by the simplicity.


Quality of your vision

Is it compelling to the people it is meant to provide direction to?

Is it long enough to be meaningful and short enough to be memorable?

Could you use it to make decisions?


Agreeing objectives

Are they aligned to the organisation’s goals?

Is there agreement about what success looks like?

Is there understanding about the steps towards success and how you’ll assess them?


Running an appraisal session with a member of your team.

Are both parties clear on what is being appraised?

Have you got the right physical environment for the conversation you need to have?

Have you given the right attention to time: when, how long and balance between feeding back and feeding forward?


You may well have your own version of what the basics are in the three examples above. I’d love to hear about them if you do. What’s more important than the number of questions is actually using them. To understand the basics at an intellectual level is not enough. It’s about the execution.


As always I’m interested in your views,






End in mind

end-in-mind-graphicThose that know me will be aware that Stephen Covey was a big influence on my life. A chance purchase of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People at a motorway service station in the mid-nineties, introduced me to the world of personal development. I’ve been fascinated with the subject ever since. I was coaching someone I’ll call Joe recently, who had got ‘stuck’ about what to do next in his career. I say stuck, it was more like overwhelmed by the uncertainty and choices about ‘where next’. Covey’s Habit 2, Begin with the end in mind, proved to be the solution.

Looking to make short to medium-term decisions and choices without an objective criteria to base them on, puts us under pressure as our brains look to make sense of multiple variables. Often our self-defence mechanisms kick in as we think about the consequences of different options. For some this will lead to negative self-talk. So, how can you practically work with Habit 2 to improve this situation? Here are five suggestions:

Step 1. Determine what ‘end’ means. You’ll need to flex your judgment muscle and get an aiming point of what ‘end’ looks like. Determining a time horizon is a great place to start. There are others if time doesn’t work for you. In the case of Joe, he decided to work back from the age he’d like to retire.

Step 2. Get your thoughts out your head. It amazes me when I work with people the number who look to manage all their thinking about a subject in their head. This puts the brain under pressure as it looks to hold an increasing number of variables in the conscious mind. This often results in people getting frustrated and stressed. Getting a pad and a pen or whatever you want to capture your thinking is of real benefit. Joe and I explored what he’d like to have achieved and avoided in his career by the time he retired. I recommend not overlooking the avoided component of this exercise. Often people will find it easier to talk about the things that they don’t want than the things they do. That’s a subject for a future blog. In Joe’s case, he decided that he would like to retire with at least six-years of operating at senior management level in his organisation. He also had one particular role he’d like to do. We ended up with a fair amount of information on the page. This included other roles he’d like to do/avoid, what he knew about the promotion process and other questions he’d like to find answers to. Lots of information is typical at this stage.

Step 3. Chunking up your options. It’s important you do not get lulled into the false sense of security that with things out of your head you are now ‘done’. You’ll probably already feel a lot happier having only just completed this part of the process. Chances are that feeling will be short-lived, as you haven’t actually determined what to do next. This is where chunking kicks in. In Joe’s case, we decided that chunking against a timeline from retirement to today would work best. Our time horizons were:

  1. Next 90 days
  2. Within a year
  3. Within three years
  4. Within five years
  5. Greater than five years

Chunking the thinking from Step 2 against these horizons allowed a structure to flow. It also prompted some additional things to explore. The further out Joe went, the less certain he could be. This is typical and to be expected. To mitigate this, it really helps if you can identify specific time points when you’ll reappraise your plan. This takes the pressure of the brain needing to answer everything in one go.

Step 4 Next Action. Plans are great however the real progress gets achieved when you take action. This sounds like an obvious point. And it is. I include it here as so often people are not specific enough about what the next action looks like. In Joe’s case, it was to review the promotion criteria, assess where he thought he was against it and then have a meeting with his line manager to discuss his plan. I wouldn’t have been doing my job if I’d not pushed Joe a little further. Before our session finished I got Joe to schedule specific time in his calendar to pursue his immediate actions.

Step 5 Involve others. Joe had developed a rough career plan with a specific end goal in mind. Involving others in reviewing this plan and seeking their ideas and input is an important part of the process. We all have blindspots. This is one way to help overcome them.

Joe commented on how much better he felt about his future. In reality, nothing physically had changed. This is the key point. By investing time to consider the end in mind Joe had taken the pressure off his brain. Our session was 90 minutes long. I suspect Joe had spent longer than that having I’ll-formed thoughts rushing around his head. Is there an issue or subject you’ve had whirring around your head that would benefit from a little ‘end in mind’ thinking? As always, I’m interested in how you get on and if I can be of assistance.


Team trust and openness – awkward topic or team enabler?

trust and opennessIn my experience when first asked the question about levels of trust and openness within a team, people can feel awkward about saying what they really believe. This results in an over estimation of how good things really are. So how can you become more informed? This may prompt the question, why does it matter? There are multiple reasons why this topic merits consideration. Quality of relationships, personal & team resilience and the quality of decision-making are just a few.


When you step back it’s a fair observation that trust and openness are a foundation of high-performing teams. That’s certainly my experience. Patrick Lencioni argued the case well in his excellent book the Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Trust and openness will mean different things to different people. Perhaps that’s because the presence of it is an intangible thing. It’s not that surprising when you think about it, as it’s based on feelings and emotion. To help with an assessment it can be insightful to look for evidence of things that typically happen when trust and openness exists. Here are three areas that you could explore.

Area one – feedback to each other

When was the last time you gave feedback to each other? In high-performing environments feedback isn’t an event (like a 360 appraisal). It’s part of the way the team operates day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month. To achieve this you need decent levels of trust. At the start, this can make some feel people uncomfortable. This can be about the process itself as well as the content. Consider using these two questions to get the ball rolling:


  1. What is one thing you value about a colleague?
  2. What is one thing they could adjust to increase their effectiveness?


Keeping question two positive and focusing on what you want and not what you don’t want can help get the recipient in a better frame of mind to take action. Use feedback and use it regularly to help breakdown that initial awkwardness.


Area 2 – knowledge of people in and out of the workplace

We are all human beings and as such internally we are not wired to neatly split our professional and personal lives. It therefore surprises me when I work with a team who know very little about the lives of each other. The relationships that have developed can be very transactional. With little to no investment in understanding the person you are interacting with. Some of you reading this may be thinking, “why would I need to, we’re too busy. It’s the responsibility of the other person to manage their lives”. I’d suggest there is a better balance that could be struck in many of teams I work with. Why not share something that others don’t know about you. You might just find that someone has a real challenge in their personal life that that could explain their sometimes ‘erratic’ behavior. Alternatively, you may find that you have skills or experience that the organisation lacks and are not being used.


Area 3 – ability to get decisions to stick

Very often decisions that ‘appear’ to get taken in meetings don’t stand up once people leave the room. A common cause for this can be linked to people not trusting the team to actually say what they really think and feel about situations. Creating an environment where people do feel like they can speak out can have a dramatic effect. This can take courage though. And real discipline from everyone to not shout people down when they have alternative points of view. Stepping back and asking as a team how comfortable people feel to speak out is an interesting exercise. Depersonalising the approach can have more effective results. For example, asking the question, how could we improve our team environment to draw out different views and opinions more effectively?


As a team, the three areas will give you more rounded indicators of trust and openness. Using a third-party to help facilitate the conversations can be beneficial too. The key characteristic is that this person is independent and people feel they can open up in front of them.


Have a go at assessing trust and openness in your team. As always I’m interested in how you get on.

Set the agenda not the tasks

I’ve recently been supporting the recruitment of a senior manager in Government. One of the expressions a candidate used has resonated with me. When answering a question about what he’d do to create an environment for others to be successful he explained that for him the role of the leader is about setting the agenda and allowing others to determine the tasks required to bring the agenda to life. I liked this way of thinking about things. Here’s three reasons why:

1) By asking yourself the question “agenda or task?” you can sense check which level you’re operating at.

2) Done effectively, it will give direction and empower your team or organisation.

3) You get to take out the pressure and stress. So many leaders feel, that they are responsible for coming up with all the answers. There’s a good chance you’ll end up with more creative solutions that really tap into the experience of your team. And as a bonus you’ll also free up more capacity for connecting with people and time to think about future agendas.
Like many things it’s perhaps not quite so black and white about which level you’re operating at. At least with the awareness of this question you give yourself the choice.  Give it a go. I’m interested in any experiences you have.