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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Values (2)

Values come in two forms.

The ones we talk about every day are our spoken values. These are the ones we normally reach for when asked, ‘what are your values?’.

The ones we live are our lived values.

The two are not always the same.

It is easy to talk about our values, it is harder to live them. Unless our values have been tested, we do not really know whether they are our values. 

If our values are intended as an inner compass, a guide for our lives, then they are worth a little more thought. Are my values aligned with my actions or are they but cheap talk?

We can test this easily enough by looking back at big decisions we have made in our lives and the values that have underpinned them.

Big decisions are easy to spot, they are the ones where something changed. A relationship started or stopped, a change in career direction, the start or end of an era in our lives or a shift in the strategy of our business. There are surely more examples. 

If the things we value come up as the consistent thread in these big decisions then our spoken values are aligned with our lived values.

If our values waiver with every decision, then perhaps we need to take a closer a look at what we consistently value.

Those are more likely to be our lived values, and the ones we should speak about. 

Are our spoken and our lived values aligned






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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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The limitation of experts

Whenever we spend too much time looking for an expert. When we have an expectation that someone out there knows the subject so deeply that they will be able to advise us to make the right decision. When this happens, we are in danger of making a poor decision. 

The number of experts in the world has increased in proportion with our ability to communicate easily. Some ‘experts’ even offer courses on how to be experts. Others put themselves out as guides to the world of experts, the meta experts who help you navigate the experts. All in all we are awash with experts on any topic we can imagine.

Perhaps the growth of experts is in line with the amount of information available to us. The world appears more complex with data on just about every topic imaginable starting at wikipedia and spreading through portals, blogs, Linkedin and Twitter. Decisions appear a lot harder with so many choices. It is natural to want to find guides to help us navigate.

Unfortunately the expert guides do not have a good track record of getting their decisions right. University of Pennsylvania psychologist Philip Tetlock interviewed 284 experts  who are paid for offering advice about political and economic trends. He gathered more than 80,000 predictions over 20 years. The outcome was that these paid experts performed worse when compared to assigning equal probabilities to each of their predictions. This very serious study on the success of experts in politics and economics confirms the numerous instances where monkeys throwing darts beat professional money managers (see Forbes and Toronto’s Globe and Mail for two examples).

Listening to an expert who has spent time studying a particular area is useful. Making a decision based on the decision they would make is not. At the end of the day we are left with ourselves and our decisions. The experts provide context, we have to live with our own decisions. 

All those in favour of delagting decisions shrug your shoulders











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All time is not created equal

“Time flies”, may be one of the most cliched sayings we use.

My physiotherapist on a visit this afternoon said, “I can’t believe it is already October.”

My father regularly shakes his head in dismay that another year has passed. 

I remember my childhood friend Carol asking her mother, ‘Which corner?’ after being told that Christmas was just around the corner. Everyone laughed at the naivety of a child thinking about time in a way different to months, weeks, hours and minutes. 

But is it really naive? Is time really fixed or can we think about time in ways other than what the clock tells us?

Here are some challenging thoughts about time:

  • Why do some events feel like they have flown past while others last an eternity even though they have taken similar amounts of time?
  • How come when we really decide to do something like go to gym regularly, the time opens up and we manage it even though it felt impossible before?
  • Why do tax returns take longer to fill out than visa applications for a desired holiday?
  • Why does the first day away on holiday feel so timeless and the last day before we leave feel so lacking in enough time?
  • Does time really go slower when we are anxiously awaiting something? 
  • Or more specifically, does a watched kettle really never boil? 

Author Bondil Jonsson observes how the arrival of measured, accurate timekeeping became first our tool, and then our master.

As with everything we all have a relationship with time. Some are better than others. Is time our friend or our enemy? 

Can time be used masterfully? For many business people, the constraint of time drives us to achieve more in less. Conversely creating open space, time with no expectations, allows creativity to be fuelled. 

With time maybe it is a case of friends close and enemies closer?

Time can be our friend or our enemy
















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Receiving feedback

Despite it seldom being very constructive we do get feedback all the time.

It may be the rejection of our proposal or the pat on the back for a job well done.

It’s worth thinking how best to receive feedback so that it is useful.

The first critical rule is to simply say thank you, whether the feedback is good or bad.

We may ask for some more clarity. If however we feel the need to explain why it is like it is, justifying the feedback that we have just received, then alarm bells should go off in our head.

This is a road to nowhere. Firstly because the person giving the feedback seldom cares and secondly because it activates our own biases to protect us from what is really going on. Thirdly, a poor reaction to feedback will guarantee we don’t get further feedback from that person. 

If the feedback elicits an emotional response (anger, fury, a warm glow), then even more reason to do nothing with it until some time has passed. Once the emotion has calmed, then a few further questions are useful:

  • How do I interpret this feedback?
  • Does it confirm any other feedback or hunches I have about how I am doing?
  • Why did this person give me this feedback now?
  • What agenda, if any, does the person giving me feedback have?
  • Are there things I should be doing differently as a result of this feedback?

Feedback is a gift. Receive it as such. 

Feedback is a gift.








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It underpins everything

Knowing ourselves is our most overlooked ability.

Today the advice section in our local book store overflows and talk shows have more experts than topics.

Since Stephen Covey gave us the 7 Habits of highly successful people, we have advice lists covering all our possible needs. From spiritual success to power, money and any other topic we can think of, someone has advice for us.

The one area where advice doesn’t count, and all we have is ourselves, is our awareness. Advice means nothing if we don’t know ourselves.

A life filled with advice and little awareness is like a house built on a weak foundation.

Sitting silently within ourselves, our awareness or lack of it, can be our greatest asset or our Achilles heel.

No advice can replace awareness









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When giving feedback we often believe we need to tell someone else how they should correct something or compliment them on doing something well. 

In business, feedback is often another way of saying, ‘let me tell you how you can do that better‘. 

Sometimes this is useful, but mostly it at best misses the point, and at worst raises defences preventing any change in behaviour.

When we take this approach we are sharing our judgement of a person’s behaviour, often mixed in with some advice. 

  • “What you need to do is practice your presentation skills.”
  • “I think you did a wonderful sales presentation.”
  • “You didn’t really make an impact in that meeting.”

A better way to give feedback is to be a mirror for the person. If we could see ourselves in the mirror, we could make our own mind up as to what we are going to change, if anything.

Getting feedback as if we are seeing ourselves, reduces the defensiveness which naturally arises when we are told that what we are doing should be done differently. Effective feedback done in this way is also the greatest gift we could give someone, allowing them to see for themselves how they are performing. 

If you are giving me feedback as I would see myself in the mirror or if you had a video camera rolling, then there is nowhere to hide. Stripped of judgements and advice, there is nothing to dispute or defend against. I get to look at myself and decide whether what I see is ok, or if it needs to change. 

The best feedback I ever got was a video of me on a presentation skills course in 1991. Watching the video permanently etched in my mind an image of what I looked like while presenting. It contains no advice nor judgement. To this day I carry that image with me whenever I walk into a public presentation. It informs how I present in many ways. 

So what does feedback delivered in this way look like using the same examples above?  

  • “In your presentation you looked at your notes twenty-seven times and the whole presentation was 10 minutes.”
  • “At the end of your presentation the CEO signed the order without asking a question.’
  • “You did not say anything other than hello and goodbye in that meeting.”

We need to ask ourselves why we want to give feedback? If it is to help a person improve themselves then the most effective way to do it is to allow them to see themselves through our feedback.

Mostly in business - feedback is another way of saying, 'let me tell you how you can do that better'.

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Learning organisations

Peter Senge put Learning Organisations on the map in 1990 with his book The Fifth Discipline.

It is a term that has been in fashion and now is less so. Nonetheless I don’t know any leaders who would dispute that being a learning organisation is a disadvantage. 

Often people think that organisations can learn but organisations are made up of people. 

And it is people who learn, not organisations. 

Learning involves experiencing, reflecting, conceptualising and practicing*.

People do need an environment in which they can learn.

The leaders in an organisation create the environment.

The richest learning environments create more people who are learning.

More people learning create a stronger learning organisation.

Although many people quote Charles Darwin as saying ‘survival of the fittest’, what he actually said first was those who can adapt quickest to their local environment out live those who don’t. This can be applied to business as those companies who are able to adapt quickest are more sustainable than those who don’t.

Adaption implies learning.

So learning organisations are those that through the actions of their leaders create an environment which encourages their people to learn.

* See David Kolb’s experiential learning

Learning organisations are filled with people who are learning.








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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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