Engaging (and the truth about hugs)

I’ve learned from my daughter that real engagement often happens at that moment when we want to disengage. 

This is that moment in a meeting when we stop listening and start thinking about what we want to say.

Sitting face to face with a customer who is telling us a story, we prepare our response before listening to the end. 

At the end of an engagement with a colleague we stand up and start moving away when there is a silence. It appears to be the end of the encounter, but is it?

What I learned from my daughter is that hanging on for another 30 seconds makes all the difference.

With her it is the end of a hug. I’ve learned not to be the first to pull away. It makes all the difference. Stay another few seconds. Be prepared to stay forever if need be.

That seldom happens but mostly some magic happens, if I just wait a little longer. 

Back in business, that thing your employee wanted to really say pops out if given the chance.

My colleague gives me the real feedback beyond the ‘nice’ safe comment they felt comfortable to say.

Our customer tells us what she really wants us to know.

Without giving it a little more time, real engagement is elusive. 


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My manifesto on art and life

My life is the sum of what I have created and what I will create.

If we judge everything we do as creative, we set our own bar for what we put out into the world.

Rather than setting goals, step back and evaluate what I am creating and what do I want to create. Creation is more than goals.

Collaborate with others because life is more interesting creating with people.

And more complicated.

Borrow and lend freely.

Success is judged by others. 

When I judge it myself I am mostly wrong.

How much do I care what others think?

Comparing to others limits creativity. 

All that really matters is what is left behind when I am no longer here.

My manifesto on art and life








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Taking the noise out of situations

Some people add to the noise and some people reduce the noise. 

I think this is one the most endearing attributes of the people we work with. In a noisy world with many dramas, near misses and stress, the people who can remove some or all of the noise are significantly valuable. 

And the question we have to ask ourselves is, are we adding or subtracting from the noise?

Taking the noise out of situations










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When we look at our life backwards, we get a unique perspective.

Looking at another person’s life backwards can be inspirational.

The question is will our legacy be an inspiration for those people who know us?  

I thought of this when I read about Hiroshi Yamauchi, the long-time leader of Nintendo and an icon of Japan’s video game industry who passed away last week at the age of 85. Having transformed the company from a small card manufacturing business into a global gaming giant, it is tempting to think that his legacy is bigger than the average person.

The truth is our legacy counts more for those who we personally touch during our lives, than those who indirectly benefit from our work. This is why it is important to pay attention to each of our important relationships.

Our legacy is built one relationship at a time. Sure the people we touch indirectly count, but not as much as the people with whom we have true connection.

Perhaps our real legacy is the people who show up at our funeral and have something to say.

Our legacy can be measured by our connections







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The big blue bubble

Think of it as a big blue bubble. It travels with us wherever we go and it is filled with the things we say and do. The contents however tend to linger well beyond our words and actions. It is like our history travelling around with us.

If we are genuinely a well meaning person who has mostly valuable interactions with others then one fallout is not likely to have a big effect. Similarly, if we mostly fight with the world, it makes it harder for us to get on with anyone.  

Our bubble is there for anyone to see. It is surprising how accurately people can describe us just from experiencing our bubble. Before we open our mouths people have a sense if who and how we are. Blink.
Likewise there are bubbles around families, companies, churches, cities and countries. The French bubble looks and feels different to the British bubble. The Catholic bubble is different to the Jewish bubble.
Our own bubbles interact with each others and with those of the organisations we inhabit. 
When somebody says something like ‘trust me’ while their bubble is telling you to run a mile, we feel uncomfortable.
The question we need to ask ourselves is how are we influencing our bubbles with what we say and do?
Do our bubbles represent who we would like to be? And if not, what can we do about it?
Our bubbles follow us wherever we go.
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This is an interactive presentation

People who say their presentation is interactive seldom give interactive presentations. 

Asking for interaction in presentations is normally a quiet plea for acceptance.

“Please like my presentation by interacting with me.”

What presenter wouldn’t like their audience engaging with them and appreciating what they are saying?

To get engagement however, we need to create the possibility for interaction.  

Asking open questions,
looking at people expecting a response,
asking people to discuss an issue and summarising their outcomes.

These are some ways to get interaction. “What questions do you have?”, followed by a pause encourages questions, “Please interrupt me if you have any questions” , doesn’t.

And our body language often says far more about whether we really want interaction or not. 

When presenting we are not just saying words and showing pictures. There are many other subtle messages that our audience is receiving from us. If we don’t think about them, then we can cause confusion or even work against the message we are trying to convey.  

People who say their presentation is interactive seldom give interactive presentations.










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The shortest meeting

When not managed properly, meetings compete rigorously with email for the title of greatest time wasters.

There are hundreds of books written on how to better manage a meeting. Unfortunately all of them make the faulty assumption that sitting around a table discussing and deciding is a requirement for a meeting.
One of the most effective game changers I have seen in the meeting space is what my Dutch boss did when I was working in the Netherlands. We would start a Monday morning with a cup of coffee while the ten of us would update each other on what we were doing, make decisions for the week ahead and ask for support from each other. 
This sounds pretty normal behaviour until I point out that we did that while standing up. It’s amazing how focused everyone gets when they are not comfortably lounging in a seat around a cozy table. In fact it turns out that sitting around a table is one of the worst ways to stimulate creative thought, something most meetings could do with a lot more of.
The best thing is that you don’t need to read a book to try this out. Do everything you normally do in a meeting except do it standing up. Standing creates a shift in the energy of your meeting. It is also guaranteed to be shorter. 
A sobering thought for those who organise meetings is the observation from Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister (Peopleware, 1999) that most meetings are a ceremony to reassure the organisers’ ego rather than an opportunity for people to get together and collaborate. True collaboration most often happens in an ad hoc manner rather than a scheduled meeting.
Standing meetings are crisper and more efficient
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Give me sticks and stones any day

“Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me” – source unknown

Words however can hurt, can’t they?

A word said in malice can eat away at our beliefs for years. 

Many a person can still cite a childhood injury, meted out in the playground by a harsh tongue.

Families are fertile grounds for words that have lasted longer, even than the people who have said them.

It is true that sticks and stones can break my bones. They, however mostly heal.

The hurt from words tend to stick around a lot longer. 

Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me is false

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Bad Powerpoints

‘Presentation’ is not a good name for standing up in front of people telling them about a concept or idea.

The word is too impersonal. A ‘presentation’ sounds like something which is not central to us. A presentation is something we are a part of, a bystander to. ‘I’m doing a presentation’ is different to ‘I am making an appearance’ or ‘I have a performance’.

Which is why an artist making an appearance or a performance would never tolerate the inane crap that is somehow acceptable for presentations.

“I’m sorry I have quite a few slides so I will go through them quickly.”

“The text on this slide is quite small, let me read it for you.”

“Let me see, what was I trying to say on this slide”

Calling it a presentation creates an artificial separation between presenter and what they are presenting.  
Shouldn’t a presentation really be about presenting ourselves, together with the idea or concept we are trying to put across? All as one?

If we called it an appearance we would definitely take more care not to stand up and show slide of after slide of written notes.

If we were doing a performance we would need to take pride in every aspect of what we shared, because it is our performance. There are no slides to blame. 

Often people will string together presentations devoid of any humanity by taking endless facts and putting them onto Powerpoint slides. It is almost as if they are ok with being boring because it is not really them, it is just a presentation. 

The next time we have a presentation, let’s think about it differently.

I’m making a performance. I’m making an appearance. I’m putting on a show. My show.

Now, what am I putting into my show? How am I putting my message across and how would I like it received?

After all, it is you that can make the connection with your audience, not your slides. 

Instead of doing a presentation, let us make an appearance or have a peformance

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