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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Being nice and being a mensch

“She’s such a nice person.”

“Isn’t that nice.”

“What a nice guy.”

Mr Decker my English teacher always told me that nice is not a very nice adjective. I think he said it was a bit soft, weak or anaemic.

Like all good lessons, it has taken me 30 years for this to hit home in the real world of people and relationships.

What is mostly ‘nice’ in people is not always real.

It is often the veneer on top. The superficial. 

Nice people could also have the real depth that sits underneath, but not necessarily. 

I’ve found that nice people can be found lacking when a real test of character comes along. 

Conversely, the people who are not so nice, a bit rough around the edges and not as polished, often shine brighter when their true mettle is tested.

The above may be too simple of course but then my take away is more profound.

When describing character, the word mensch is reserved for the special people. The people who go way beyond just nice. 

Nice is for everyone else. Those who are just, well, nice.

Nice is not always as nice as you think








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I don’t do politics

Yes you do.

Well ok unless you’re reading this alone while holed up in your retreat a hundred miles from civilisation. 

The moment two or more people get together we do politics.

You know those conversations. Where words, dressed up beautifully, are laced with toxic venom for the people who aren’t with us.

Even if we are just listening, we are giving credibility to the politicians.

We do not need to be the politician to be doing politics. 

We have a choice though. Do we stay and listen? Do we show up the cleverly disguised venom for what it is? Do we force the politician to say what she really means? Or invite the person who is the subject of the conversation to join us, forcing the politician to speak directly.

The question is not whether I do politics or not.

The question is, how do I do politics?

I don't do politics. Yes you do.

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The upside of rejected

Many people worry about pricing themselves too high and not closing the deal.

Being turned down for being too expensive is in fact a positive experience for your brand.

Thinking about the things you cannot afford will give you a sense of what it feels like to be on the other side of you when you are turned down for being too expensive.

[You may need to read the previous sentence twice]

I would rather have someone walking away saying they cannot afford me than being pleased that they have persuaded me to work on the cheap. 

That is of course only if what you have to offer is credible and valuable and you are not seen as a rip off.

The other side or rejected

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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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Communication #2

It is never guaranteed that the intentions I have when I communicate with you will be realised. 

The process of transmission from one person to another is fraught with many obstacles which can distort the message. 

In fact if you really think about it, it is remarkable that we understand each other at all.

The process of transmission from one person to another is fraught with many obstacles which can distort the message. In fact if you really think about it, it is remarkable that we understand each other at all. 

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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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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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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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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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