Archive for January, 2010

Winter Seeds

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

At this time of year the earth nurtures the seeds that were formed in the autumn.  They sit there waiting for their time to come; when the soil warms up and Nature tells them that it is time to begin.  These tiny packages of potential were created full of purpose and only wait their opportunity to grow and  express these plans. 

We also make plans.  The bookshops are full of books telling that all we have to do is either plan and follow some American business gurus 5 step plan to wealth or sit and  visualise and it all comes to pass.  My experience tells me that neither works like that.  To me it feels much more like the seeds.  We conceive an idea, we move on it, and then at some point when we have done all we can we have to wait for it to grow and manifest.  Most of our plans have some areas beyond our control and here we too a wise to let them go as the trees do, distribute them and wait…

“Find the seed at the bottom of your heart and bring forth a flower.”    Shigenori Kameoka

“Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed.  Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.”     Henry David Thoreau


Technorati Tags: ,,,

10 Reasons Why Communications Fail

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

There is a slightly cynical piece of wisdom about communications called ‘Wiio’s Law’ which says that all human communication fails:-

  • Communication usually fails, except by accident.
  • If a message can be interpreted in several ways, it will be interpreted in a manner that maximizes damages
  • There is always someone who knows better than you what you meant with your message
  • The more we communicate, the worse communication succeeds
  • In mass communication, the important thing is not how things are but how they seem to be
  • The importance of a news item is inversely proportional to the square of the distance
  • The more important the situation is, the more probably you forget an essential thing that you remembered a moment ago

“The problem with communication … is the illusion that it has been accomplished.”   George Bernard Shaw

Like Murphy’s Law, this may seem more comic than real but I’m sure many of you have witnessed this playing out with serious consequences. In every company I have ever worked in, even senior staff always identify communications as a key problem.

So why is this apparently simple area so difficult to get right? Here are a few observations and thoughts to help you get it right, if only for today!

Communications is a TWO-way process and possibly the main reason for failure is the fact we tend to focus much more on what we want to say than listening and trying to understand the communication we are receiving. Imagine two champion dancers, one who is waltzing and the other doing the rumba. The only result can be frustration and confusion!

“To listen well is as powerful a means of communication and influence as to talk well.” John Marshall

Timing: Sometimes we get the message right but we deliver it at the wrong time and the other person simply is not receptive. The more important the message the more important it is for you to ask “Is this a good time?” If it isn’t, then they are far more likely to attend respectfully if you give them the time they need.
Another element of this is rushing something that needs proper consideration. Asking a complex question when there is no time to give it due consideration is another way to ensure that you get a poor result.

“Be sincere; be brief; be seated.”  Franklin D Roosevelt

Assumptions: When we begin our communication assuming that the other person is in the same ‘place’ as us, and has full knowledge of the things we know, then we tend to dive-in in the middle and this only leads to trouble. So take the time to make sure they have got the relevant information first.

One style suits all: People have very different preferences and needs when it comes to communication. Some people find it easy to understand data when presented in tables, but for others this is incomprehensible, and they prefer diagrams, and others still need narrative. Some want it in writing, some need to hear it. Some want to start at the conclusion, others want to be walked through your process. The more important the message the more we need to tune it to our audience. If there are multiple ‘targets’ then we need to use multiple styles to ensure everyone gets some of what they need.

Me first: It is natural to start with our own needs, preferences and styles but if we are seeking to sell, persuade or influence then it is much wiser to start with them! Where are they now and where do we want them to end up?

“Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools, because they have to say something.” Plato

Fighting’ to be right: We all want, and many need, to be right. We have invested in our position / idea and we want the other person to adapt to it. This may work if you have the power in the relationship, but there is always a price to pay. This can be in the form of resentment, failure to win ‘hearts and minds’ or even financial if they know something that you don’t and this actually is a mistake.
If we push our ideas, it is only natural that they will push back; this causes resistance and wastes a lot of energy and emotion. Start with a genuine enquiry, ensure you have all the facts first, then shift to decisions.

Values: Don’t assume that what is top of your priority list naturally has the same importance for the other person. What is urgent for you may just be chore for them. Find out before moving forwards as this can also lead to disappointment and frustration. How many times have we ground to a complete halt because we are reliant on the contribution of someone who doesn’t realise or share its urgency

Verbosity leads to unclear, inarticulate things ” Dan Quayle

Language: Okay English has become a global ‘lingua franca’ but there are so many different versions of it. Each profession and company seems to have its own jargon and patois. Also many people use words lazily, and some people say, for example “I feel this..” when they mean “I think..” Most of the time we know what this means but for many people there is an important difference between these two phrases. The first is emotionally or intuitively based, and the later a result of deductive reasoning. If we assume that they are using the word the same way as us there is more scope for confusion. Words like “Soon” might mean 5 minutes to one person and within the month to someone else. It is essential to take the time to clarify what you mean and what they are saying too.

“The newest computer can merely compound, at speed, the oldest problem in the relations between human beings, and in the end the communicator will be confronted with the old problem, of what to say and how to say it”   Edward R Murrow

Intent: we tend to assume that the purpose of communication is to reveal or share information, but there are certainly occasions when it is used to quite the opposite effect. Just think of every interview you ever heard with any politician being asked a tough question. So you need to decide whether the other party is actually sharing your aims and agenda or has a completely different one [see the Sir Humphrey clip below for a wonderful example]

Frequency / Volume: How often you talk and how much time and sheer content you share will influence the result. You can’t expect a five second comment to have the same effect on the person you speak to once a year as the person in the next office.

This is a huge subject but I think this is enough for one commutation!


It is worth asking for what you want

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

Regular readers will remember that we had the kitchens in Cook Towers refurbished some time ago, and this was accompanied by a wholesale  replacement of our pots, pans etc.  Much to the chef’s dismay, we discovered that both sets of new pans have started to lose their coating /surface.  It caused some distress as we had hoped that they would last us for many years. 

Our initial reaction was to curse and do little constructive; next came resignation (“They’ll never exchange it..”)  One of the sets was purchased over the net and there was no contact information, the other came from a store that had since ceased to trade.  Clearly the Gods were messing with us…

Then, the other day, I looked online and found a number for the first one.  They were heavy cast iron pans and it was going to cost a fortune to post them back.  However I talked to a lovely lady and she only asked for some photos; the next day she told us she was sending out brand new ones.  For the other set I called another dealer and explained our problem and they gave me the manufacturer’s number and said they were very helpful.  Another nice lady called me back and once again requested photos.  I explained that not only was the coating coming off but the handles were unsafe, and that if possible, we’d prefer their other design.  Whilst this has not been finalised yet, I am confident that it will be satisfactorily resolved. 

It is a great lesson in the power of asking for what you want and not listening to that disempowering little voice in your head which tells you they will never give it to you and you are wasting your time.  I’m a big believer in giving feedback and it is great to have it so well received. 

Sometimes you just need to ask….

“Living with integrity means: Not settling for less than what you know you deserve in your relationships. Asking for what you want and need from others. Speaking your truth, even though it might create conflict or tension. Behaving in ways that are in harmony with your personal values. Making choices based on what you believe, and not what others believe.”   Barbara De Angelis

Mary Schmich’s "Wear Sunscreen Speech"

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

This speech was written by Mary Schmich and published in the Chicago News Tribune in 1997, but is often falsely attributed to Kurt Vonnegut as the MIT commencement speech in that same year.  I thought it was worth reproducing as there is just a chance my kids will read it and benefit from Mary’s wisdom:-

“Ladies and gentlemen of the class of ’97.

Wear Sunscreen.

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they’ve faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.

Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 pm on some idle Tuesday. Do one thing every day that scares you.


Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts. Don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.


Don’t waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself. Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how. Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements.


Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year- olds I know still don’t. Get plenty of calcium. Be kind to your knees. You’ll miss them when they’re gone. Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll divorce at 40, maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody’s else’s.

Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don’t’ be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.

Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.

Read the directions, even if you don’t follow them.

Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your parents. You never know when they’ll be gone for good. Be nice to your siblings. They’re your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.

Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.

Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft. Travel.

Accept certain inalienable truths. Prices will rise. Politicians will philander. You, too will get old. And when you do, you’ll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble, and children respected their elders.

Respect your elders.

Don’t expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund. Maybe you’ll have a wealthy spouse. But you never know when either one might run out.

Don’t mess too much with your hair or by the time you’re 40 it will Look 85. Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.

But trust me on the sunscreen.”


Technorati Tags: ,

After the snow

Sunday, January 17th, 2010

So in deepest Surrey we haven’t quite lost all our snow yet, but there is more green than white on view now.  The world has reverted to its more familiar form, but the bushes are looking squashed, there are tree branches on the ground and other bits of detritus.  The snow came, changed everything and then went.  Not so different from many other changes when you think about it.  You’re poodling along, then everything changes, you’re floundering about, wondering how you will cope, then, bit-by-bit it fades and ‘reality’ returns.

We have a list of things to do that we didn’t have before, cars to be fixed, houses to be repaired, and of course all the rest of the to-do’s we had before!  

Somehow one has to set a new course and adjust one’s navigation accordingly…. That’s Change for you!

“Where does the white go when the snow melts?”

“Snowmen fall from heaven… unassembled.”

Technorati Tags: ,,

Stuck in the Middle

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

[To be read to the dulcet tones of Stealers Wheels singing “Stuck in the Middle with You”…]  Have you ever had a time when despite your very best efforts some big cosmic finger [visualise a Monty Python intro  style finger]  keeps punching your pause button?

There are times when you have a plan, and then it snows… or then the car gets smashed up… or then the gutters fall off… or then… or then..  It is the essence of Change that stuff happens to disrupt our plans, but how should we react?  Curse and scream?  Plough straight on somehow?  Listen to what the Universe is trying to tell us?  Find a way to make lemonade?

What do you do?  Wait patiently or take up knitting?

More questions than answers

Saturday, January 9th, 2010

Recently I have been spending time online on LinkedIn, since I discovered that it had a Questions section (though it is perversely called “Answers”.)  I was very interested and impressed by the contributions, so I found myself being drawn into the ‘game’.  However. the aspect that has struck me is the difference in what happens when you ask a question as opposed to answer one.  Come up with a clever answer and maybe you’ll maybe get an accolade for “Best Answer” or a reply from the questioner.  However, ask a stimulating question and you may get 20-30 people all talking to, and engaging with, you. 

In my work as a coach and facilitator I often note that the thing that clients gain most value from is my questions.  This is strange when you consider that we live in a culture that so values ‘the expert’*.  The media is full of ‘experts’ pronouncing, and displaying their erudition, like little bantam cocks, and yet, when it comes to our lives and our businesses, who knows more about it that you do?  If you want to help someone, rather than telling them what to do, try asking a question rather than offering an opinion and see what happens.  Really good managers have know this for years, but it feels that this style of leadership is seldom represented in movies or books in praise of leaders.

I’d love to gather some examples of good questions and the impact they that they have had on you, or equally valid, the effect your good questions have had on others.

* Definitions of expert:

  • Someone who knows one thing more than you do
  • The word “expert” is formed from the conjunction of two roots which phonetically can be represented as “x” and “spurt”. Everyone knows that “X” is an unknown quantity.  A “spurt” is what one gets from squeezing a drop of water. Therefore, an expert is an unknown drip under pressure.
  • ex means “has been” .. or once was or past … pert means “lively, sprightly, in good health .. bold, forward .. skilled” … so that an expert is one who has lost the innate intelligence of their childhood.


“You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.”   Naguib Mahfouz

“To be on a quest is nothing more or less than to become an asker of questions.”  Sam Leak


Snow Lessons today

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

I know that the schools are closed today, and there are no lessons, but there are Snow Lessons.

One of the things that I find breathtaking is the transformation that this weather brings about.  It covers up all manner of things and makes all these new shapes, the light is different, and we can literally see things differently.   We have to drive differently.  The town was full of people who had walked down.  They carried rucksacks to get food home.  Some were pulling sleds… in the middle of the road.  This weather unleashes all sorts of creativity.  People talk differently to each other.  The weather is a force for change.  It teaches us that if you provide a suitable environment, and sufficient stimulus, people change en masse

What have you learnt from this weather?



“The first fall of snow is not only an event, it is a magical event.  You go to bed in one kind of a world and wake up in another quite different, and if this is not enchantment then where is it to be found?”  J.B. Priestley

“Snowflakes are kisses from heaven.”  Author Unknown


“There must be another way..!”

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

After last night’s snow fall we had 9” of snow in our drive.  It slopes uphill to a narrow, ungritted lane, and had to be cleared if we were going to have any chance of getting out any time in the next 5 days.  So my family and I were out shovelling snow  but it was quite damp and stuck to the shovel even when inverted, this made it much harder to shift.  After a while my son said “There must be an easier way!”  This is a very important statement as it is so often the trigger for change, indeed, until someone says this, nothing will change.

So I had a think and came back with a board about 5’x2’ and we used it as a snow plough… much easier and we were clearing vastly more snow in half the time… 

So if you are confronted with a situation where you feel that what you are doing isn’t really working…. ask yourself “Isn’t there something different I can do?”

“Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought.”   Albert von Szent-Gyorgy



Saturday, January 2nd, 2010

A colleague found this super clip

This goes so deep.  Have you ever tried to just spend some time with just  you and a mirror?  i once was given this as an exercise.  Just me, and empty room and a mirror… look…. really look and feel what comes up.   Try it … I dare you!!

Happy New Year!!


Technorati Tags: