Communication #1

Communication always happens on at least two levels. 

What you say is the easy part. It consists of the words that come out of your mouth or from your keyboard.

The trickier part is the message which is not the same as the words.

The message is influenced by:

  • what you model (are you telling someone loudly that they shouldn’t shout?) 
  • the manner and way in which you communicate (e.g. succinct, verbose, subtle, direct) 
  • who you are (as a person) and 
  • what you stand for (your values)
  • your background (what have you done previously that impacts this communication?) 
  • the people you are communicating with (how are they likely to receive the communication)
  • body language (Albert Mehrabian is mostly misinterpreted) 
  • or written style (if you are writing)
  • the medium you use to communicate
  • and only then what you say

Communication - what you say and the message are not always the same thing

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Strategy and yoga

The game of chess is often rolled out as being useful for strategic thinking.

The chess requirement to think ahead and manage decisions on multiple fronts is valuable for strategists.

But the practice of yoga is more apt as both metaphor and training.

Chess masters can get obsessed with winning and losing, making it a zero sum game.

Yogi’s on the other hand spend their time challenging their awareness. Finding ways to continually improve. The winners in yoga are those who do the practice. Pushing the limits over and over again.

In the process we get to know ourselves. It is hard to be biased about our yogic abilities when we have to face them on the mat, in all their glory.

Strategists could learn from yoga that daily practice, awareness, learning and incremental improvements are more important than a fascination on competition and winning.

We can also think about Yoga as much as we want, but if we do not do the practice, nothing happens.

And the reward lies in reflection. Looking back on where we have come from provides the motivation to keep pushing the limits.

Thanks to Jarvis and the YogaSpirit team for giving me a magical place to practice and, without knowing it, the inspiration to make this connection.

Jim Harrington, world renowned Yogi showing Vashista-Padangusta on Table Mountain with Lions Head in the background

Image source: Jim Harrington Yoga

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The end of the classroom (as we know it)

The classroom as we know it is no more. It happened a while back.

When coal miners went underground, they would carry a canary in a cage. If the canary was still breathing, their air supply was good. When the canary died, they knew they didn’t have enough oxygen and were in danger. For the classroom, the emergence of the Kahn Academy a few years ago was when the canary stopped breathing.

Classroom’s used to be where we went to learn. We would find teachers there, and between the teachers, their knowledge, the pictures on the wall, the small library in the classroom and the main library down the hall, we would have all that we needed. Wherever it was, at school, at university or at the business training course or leadership development programme, the classroom was where the knowledge had been gathered. This is where we found it and where learning happened. 

With the stroke of the search engine all that changed.

An example is my daughter’s school experience. Pre Kahn Academy, the teacher would prepare the lesson by gathering information and the classroom would be used to share and tell. Children would sit in wonder and listen to the facts and figures and anecdotes. 

Since the canary died, what happens in the classroom is different. Teachers are suddenly the curator of information rather than the source of information. They are the glue that makes the information come alive, or not. 

Now, rather than her teacher arriving with all the knowledge, my daughter is required to seek out the information and together they assemble it and make sense of it under the facilitation of the teacher. This is kindergarden but the same applies in the business school. Teachers assemble a topic and rather than present the information, teachers present a core message, make it interesting, engage the participants and create an environment where learning can happen. 

The new classroom requires different skills for teachers: 

  • Rather than producer of the lesson, teachers now become directors of the lesson.
  • Questions from the teacher increase the value of the experience Telling the answer decreases it.  
  • Teachers are now more a clearinghouse for knowledge than a source of knowledge.
  • Rather than always being the person with the most knowledge in the room, teachers may need to help the person with the most knowledge to share their message. 
  • Instead of conveying the knowledge, teachers now need to make the knowledge interesting. 
  • More entertainment is needed to grab the emotional attention of the class. Reciting facts doesn’t cut it anymore. 
  • As doctors are finding with patients arriving self-diagnosed, students will know more than their teachers. Teachers need the humility to accept this and to work in collaboration with smart students. 
  • “I don’t know, let’s figure it out”, is now an acceptable approach for teachers. In the past it was a sign of an unprepared teacher.
  • Facilitators would be more a more apt name than teachers. 

With the answer to any question a smartphone and a few seconds away, we may feel we no longer need a classroom. This is wrong. The classroom will always play one crucial role that technology cannot take away and that is connection. Although technology allows us to connect, the ease with which we connect is inversely proportional to the quality of our connections. A quick text message doesn’t carry the same connection value as a face to face conversation. A Skype is useful, but not the same as a cup of coffee with a friend. Yes, it is quick, but not the same.

The classroom offers valuable human connection. Deciding how to communicate in the classroom is now as important as knowing what to communicate.

The classroom of the future is an environment for learning

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Slowly and suddenly

Real change happens like this doesn’t it? Slowly and then suddenly. 

Particularly when we set off on a significant new direction. The type of personal change where we fundamentally shift our outlook and start behaving in a different way. Or maybe we no longer accept something which we have accepted for a long time.

When we look back on our lives and are amazed at how we were previously, we know we have made a big change. 

However we seldom, if ever, notice the day when things are different.

On reflection, we look back, and say something like, ‘I can’t believe I used to think/be/behave like that’.

And yet looking forward, we often long for the day when something will change.

Here is the bad news.

Even if significant change happens, it is unlikely that you notice on the day it does.

Leading up to the change it feels like it is taking for ever or will never happen.

Only when we have made the change and look back on it, can we see the point where things suddenly changed.  

Leading up to the change it feels like it is taking for ever. Only when we have made the change and look back on it, can we see the point where things suddenly changed.

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I remember learning from Pat Coombe, my daughters play school teacher about balloons. 

Draw a picture of a balloon on coloured paper for every significant person in your life. Cut it out and stick it on the wall above your desk.

Now ask yourself the question. Every time I speak with these people, am I inflating or deflating the balloon. 

The funny thing I’ve noticed is that my balloon inflates or deflates in line with those around me.

My balloon inflates or deflates as those around me do









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The essence of a strategy

The essence of your strategy is contained in these four questions.

The first three set your direction and without the fourth we all struggle to keep up momentum and stay on track.

  1. Where will we be three years from now?
  2. What are we going to stop doing to get there?
  3. Once those things are stopped, what is left over that is really important?
  4. Why are we doing all this anyway? 

Use your strategy to make decisions and do your planning. Tell others about it and check that you understand each other.

Measure your progress towards it and constantly review that where you are heading is in line with where you want to be. 

Most importantly, don’t stray to far from #4.

Finding your way with essential strategic thinking










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Innovative disagreement

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.

– Rumi


The debate raging about what constitutes a healthy diet can be confusing for those of us in the dangerous position of having only a little bit of knowledge.

Professor Tim Noakes, a top rated scientist who has a lifetime achievement award from the National Research Foundation for his pioneering work in sports science, has in the past year weighed in against the establishment by challenging the so called “balanced diet” or “food pyramid” as is popular in the United States.

At the December 2012 University of Cape Town centenary debate entitled “Cholesterol is not an important risk factor for heart disease and current dietary recommendations do more harm than good”, a lively and sometimes confusing battle of the scientists raged between Dr Jacques E Rossouw and Prof Noakes.

I was struck by the shrugs and sighs and comments passed under people’s breath throughout the debate. Clearly many of the audience were colleagues from the medical fraternity and while it seemed only a few were supportive of Noakes’ views, the overriding feeling coming out of the debate was frustration and exasperation. When the moderator of the debate, Prof Jimmy Volmink, the Dean of the medical school concluded the evening by insinuating that Noakes was essentially a “bullshitter”, I wondered whether there was a more creative way to move beyond bitter and sometime acrimonious disputes of science.

The answer may lie in an approach from Nobel prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman.

One of the most influential scientists in his field, he has had his fair share of conflict with people who disagree with the work he is doing. In his book Thinking Fast and Slow he says, “On a few occasions I have responded to criticisms that I thought were grossly misleading, because a failure to respond can be interpreted as conceding error, but I have never found the hostile exchanges instructive. In search of another way to deal with disagreements, I have engaged in a few “adversarial collaborations,” in which scholars who disagree on the science agree to write a jointly authored paper on their differences, and sometimes conduct research together. In especially tense situations, the research is moderated by an arbiter.”

He goes on to say, “My most satisfying and productive adversarial collaboration was with Gary Klein, the intellectual leader of an association of scholars and practitioners who do not like the kind of work I do. They call themselves students of Naturalistic Decision Making, or NDM, and mostly work in organisations where they often study how experts work.” The NDMers adamantly reject the approach that Kahneman’s takes to the area of intuition accusing him of being too focused on failure and influenced by artificial experiments rather than the NDMers approach of studying actual people.

With the battle lines similarily drawn, adversarial collaboration would seem to me to be a constructive and creative way to move the debate on diet forward.

In the case of Kahneman and Klein above, their joint paper in American Psychologist (Sep 2009) is entitled, “Conditions for intuitive expertise: a failure to disagree”. Exploring the field of intuition (the type covered by Malcolm Gladwell in Blink) the abstract lays out their approach.

This article reports on an effort to explore the differences between two approaches to intuition and expertise that are often viewed as conflicting: heuristics and biases (HB) and naturalistic decision making (NDM). Starting from the obvious fact that professional intuition is sometimes marvelous and sometimes flawed, the authors attempt to map the boundary conditions that separate true intuitive skill from overconfident and biased impressions. They conclude that evaluating the likely quality of an intuitive judgment requires an assessment of the predictability of the environment in which the judgment is made and of the individual’s opportunity to learn the regularities of that environment. Subjective experience is not a reliable indicator of judgment accuracy.

Could Professor Noakes jointly write a paper on the subject with one of his adversaries. I believe this would offer an opportunity for much learning both by those involved and by the rest of us interested in the debate. It would also confirm my hunch that while there are differences, there are also many areas of agreement.

Disagree and move the debate forward










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Great questions

The best questions are those that don’t have an answer.

If the question is all over with a quick answer consisting of a word or two then we have missed the opportunity to ask a great question. Great questions allow us to grapple with big ideas. Ideas that make a difference. Complex and strategic ideas.

Great questions can change everything. They get us to reconsider, to ponder and to grapple with our existing thoughts. They can be the small lever that makes a big change in how we approach our challenges. 

They sometimes make us feel uneasy, they could even be unsettling.

In the end though, a great question will always come through, delivering rich and useful insights.

Pondering great questions can change everything

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Newspaper’s opaque purpose

Newspapers do not care as much about the news as we like to think.

Their core purpose is to sell newspapers rather than writing the best news stories.

Could it be that when a newspaper runs a headline that says,

“Thousands killed in Bangladesh. Pictures”

it is aiming to grab our attention in the same way as we slow down to have a good look while driving past a motor accident?

By reporting about disasters or looming disasters, papers tap into an anxiety which we ease when we buy the paper to find out more.

Either that or we make ourselves feel slightly better by conforming that someone else is worse off than us.

Or the third is selling the ideal, lifestyles of the rich and famous, so we can dream how it might be to be like them.

These emotional triggers complemented with offers such as,

“Hate your boss. Find a new job today”

when the weekly career supplement is published or,

“Win millions in jackpot”

all tap in to the newspaper’s core purpose. Sell more.

Newspapers will argue that they give their readers what they want but if that was the case the industry wouldn’t be declining as per the infographic below. An ever declining pool of newspaper readers is getting older every year and not being replaced by younger readers.

Papers and publishing are filled with conflicts such as balancing editorial vs advertising vs paid for editorial. Tricky areas to navigate as the world becomes more transparent.

That slightly uneasy feeling we get having just completed a newspaper and wondering, “is that it?”, is indicative of the gap between the actual purpose and the espoused purpose of newspapers. This incongruence is what is leading to the decline in the industry.

As we become more connected, we are ever more demanding that when we are the customer our purpose is aligned with that of the people we buy from.

If not, we will quickly uncover a better option and take advantage of it.

The Decline of Newspapers– An infographic by the team at Clickinks


Newspaper headlines are designed to sell newspapers not report the news










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Walking out the door

Ideas are easy. 

Everyone has thought of the new way to shake up an industry or take advantage of some new technology. 

Ideas are cheap.

Very little input capital nor expenses.

Ideas are hard to protect..

Ask the Winklevoss twins who first thought up Facebook.

Value starts accumulating when you walk out the door and start making things happen. 

The real skill requirement for today’s world is getting things done. Thinking about getting things done is vastly overrated.  

Ideas are cheap. They only start accumulating value when you walk out the door

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