Archive for April, 2012

Marilyn’s lessons in managing your reputation

Friday, April 27th, 2012

“All people see is Marilyn Monroe.  As soon as they see I’m not her, they run.”  Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn

It is arguable that she created one of the greatest brands of all time, it still makes around $4m pa, and was recently acquired for something like $30m.  This quote of Michelle Williams is interesting because it suggests that Marilyn was aware of the power of her brand, almost before the term was coined.

Not many of us get to make this kind of money whilst we are working for it, let alone when we have been dead 40 years!  This shows the value of reputation.  In my work as a Change Mentor, I am heavily dependent on people saying good things about me as mine is a highly personal, confidential and intangible service.

If you are in this kind of work, you are the brand.  So how do you affect what people say about you?

Well, of course there are a number of things you need to do:-

  1. The results you deliver are obviously important, but it isn’t just what you do, but how you do it.  It is the difference between driving a BMW and an ordinary car.  They both get you there but one delights you en route
  2. Your ability to tailor your service to your client’s individual needs; a premium product needs to be tailored to the user
  3. Your ability to know what they need, sometimes better than they do themselves, and to always work in their best interest
  4. Your personal values come through in this kind of relationship and they have to fit with your client, but they should also be something they can respect.  If they hear you say unflattering or indiscrete things about other clients, then why should they assume you won’t do so about them?!
  5. It can be useful to take a little control over what is said.  Sometimes a client will say something wonderful about you or your work, in your presence, if they do, not only thank them but ask for permission to quote them, or put it on your website.  Ask them to repeat it to others. Repeat these quotes to others
  6. We hear a lot about authenticity these days, but it is very important to be yourself and to do business with people who enjoy and need who you are and what you do best.  You will always be a better you than anyone else and a second best anyone else.

So unlike Marilyn, make the real you the one that you market and brand and that way you will never suffer the pressures she did of maintaining  an image.

A journey of a thousand miles…

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

..starts with the first step, so said Lao-Tzu.  The same wisdom is at the heart of Change.  I’m delighted to report that my latest client has recognised, for themselves, this simple yet profound truth and thus done much better than many bigger and more ‘sophisticated’ companies.  We had an initial session to map out their Change journey and as with every company I have ever worked for, communication was identified as as a key missing element.  So, within 48 hours they briefed their entire team on what had happened at this meeting and engaged them in some of the thinking that the senior team had wrestled with.  They realised the value of a strategic focus and initiated a series of monthly strategic meetings, off-site, to continue mapping this journey.  Next, they set up a regular weekly meeting for the senior team to ensure that their communication was better.  This simple step has transformed other companies I have worked for and should not be undervalued because of its apparent lack of complexity.  It is commitment and persistence that wins the race, rather than cleverness, as so many who recently ran the London Marathon found out.

You can pay clever consultants a lot of money but nothing will work as well as beginning, and then sticking to it!

Corporate lessons from ants

Saturday, April 21st, 2012

I was watching a program about driver ants and they have a lot to teach most corporations that I encounter.  The millions of individuals in a colony each know their role; they know how they add value.  They focus their energy on common goals and support each other.  From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs.

They find their food by ceaselessly exploring, and never writing off any avenue for progress without first trying it.  When one succeeds, they communicate their findings and then they co-operate to exploit them.  Where one cannot succeed, many can.  They are the very embodiment of synergy.

They are masters of logistics and transport back 150,000 food items from a single raid with the ants turning themselves into a living rolling road.  The largest ones take the front end, with little guys bringing up the rear, whilst the soldiers guard them and mark the route home.

When the colony gets too big to sustain, it splits, with a young queen (new leader) taking half the colony to literally explore pastures new.  Once ensconced in her new nest, she produces up to 2 million eggs to carry on the work.

They are able to take on superior, seemingly impregnable opponents like crabs by co-operating and exploiting their vulnerabilities.  They attack the crabs joints to gain access to their soft internal parts.  Slugs are covered with sticky slime in which a single ant gets stuck; however the others soon turn up with particles of soil that neutralises and absorb the slime and then the slug becomes ant food.

It all comes down to communication and co-operation.  I recently worked with a company with ambitious growth plans and guess what their issues were?  Maybe they should have hired an ant queen?

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent.”  John Donne

“Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable.”  Kenyan Proverb”Coming together is a beginning.  Keeping together is progress.  Working together is success.”  Henry Ford

”None of us is as smart as all of us.”  Ken Blanchard


  1. Stigmergic SystemsStigmergic systems combine information technology with stigmergy and other structures found in nature – to create self-organizing Web sites and low cost knowledge management systems.

Taking getting paid chicken feed to a whole new level!!

Monday, April 16th, 2012

In Uzbekistan, teachers are being paid (literally) with chickens!  Although the authorities said receiving the chickens was voluntary, a teacher in the Bukhara region in central Uzbekistan said the chickens had been forced on them.  “We were forced to take ten chickens each,” he said. “One Serbian chicken is valued at 5.5 soms ($3 at the official rate)… Local chickens are cheaper but we were left no choice.”   Does this mean that slowly chickens maybe become an accepted medium of exchange there?  If you start breeding them would you literally be making money? 

I guess this is one creative way to deal with an economic crisis.  In Germany after the first world war, when there was hyperinflation and the currency became effectively useless, cigarettes became a de facto currency, as you needed a wheelbarrow to carry round your bank notes!

When systems stop working, people will find a creative way round them, the real trick of Change is not to wait till disaster strikes, but to keep asking, “Is there a better, smarter way of doing this?”  When I was a mere snip of a lad and first started work, I’d often ask older and wiser folks why we were doing it this way and was usually told “That’s the way we‘ve always done it..”  It was a poor answer back then and a dangerous one now!  If you don’t challenge yourselves, then someone else, somewhere else will….

“I want there to be no peasant in my kingdom so poor that he cannot have a chicken in his pot every Sunday” – Henry IV

“The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it.” – unknown

“Sticking feathers up your butt does not make you a chicken.” – Chuck Palahniuk


  1. News report
  2. Poultry pay
  3. German Hyperinflation

S.O.S. – How the Titanic established the need for wireless telegraphy or radio

Sunday, April 15th, 2012

The Titanic is much in the news at present with its centenary and the 3D re-release of the hit movie of that name.  As a proud citizen of Godalming, we remember Jack Phillips, the senior radio operator, and local hero.  He is credited with manning the radio to the end trying to get help for the stricken liner.  I knew all this, but what I didn’t realise till this week, is that at that time, the radio was seen as a piece of new fangled gadgetry with dubious serious use on a boat.  Post-disaster it became de rigor.  It is hard to imagine that radio was once seen in this light, so essential has it become. 

On a smaller scale I remember when I was working for SmithKline Beecham some 20 years ago, a huge global corporation and early adopter of email, being sent on a training course with the site director.  He sat next to me and scornfully enquired why he was learning this when he had a secretary?!  By the time I left, a mere 4 years later, people of his grade were spending 2-3 hours a day working with email!  These days, in Britain alone, we send 2,000,000 emails   a   MINUTE!

What is unthinkable at one moment in time becomes taken for granted moments later.  Such is Change!  Try to think the unthinkable and maybe you can be the author of Change in your Life and your business

“It’s not true I had nothing on, I had the radio on.” Marilyn Monroe


  1. Titanic and radio
The distress signal picked up by a 14 year old

This is what the radio was like back then











Why Welsh Rarebit is called that and its very strange uses! …and what it teaches us about reputation

Saturday, April 14th, 2012

According to Mark Forsyth, author of the Etymologicon:-

“Welsh rarebit used to be called Welsh rabbit, on the basis that when a Welshman promised you something nice to eat like rabbit, you were probably only going to get cheese on toast.  The English also used to believe that the Welsh were crazy about cheese.  Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1811) records that:

The Welch are said to be so remarkably fond of cheese, that in cases of difficulty their midwives apply a piece of toasted cheese to the janua vita [the gates of life] to attract and entice the young Taffy, who smelling it makes vigorous efforts to come forth

So myths become locked into language and accepted by all.  This makes and interesting link back to yesterday’s blog, where people try to control what is said about them (or their clients) in order to build reputation.  In other words, if you get enough tongues repeating the same phrase it becomes unchallenged and thus, to all intents and purposes, true.   This is a very good reason for keeping important messages clear and simple; it makes it possible for people to repeat them without distortion.  The harder a message is to remember, the more likely it will morph into something quite different. 

We tend to think that the more we say, and the longer words we use the more clever we sound.  However there is huge power in simple words and concepts which can not be misunderstood.   Think about it…. one of the most powerful sentences in the English language, one that has changed more lives than any other (probably!) consists of only three words and  eight letters.  I Love You.

So if you want your message to linger (like the taste of a good bit of Welsh Rarebit?!) then keep it short, keep it simple and make it punchy…

“Cheese – milk’s leap toward immortality.”   Clifton Paul Fadiman

“The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.”   Willie Nelson

“How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?”   Charles de Gaulle

Reputation… what’s that?

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

Reputation is a thing of two parts, the things that we do, and the things people say about them.  If I was going to be more accurate, I would add that the key thing is not just the things that we do, but how others perceive them!  These days managing this is a multi-billion dollar industry.  The idea is that by controlling the media they can modify what others perceive and therefore say about us.  I guess, like they say, money talks, and they think it tells us how to think.  However, I’d like to suggest a more fundamental focus, and ask you to focus on the first element… what you do.

If you do the right things, and even better, if you do them for the right reasons, then that makes not only a statement, but builds a truly solid foundation for your reputation.  Hopefully these actions spring from the core of who you are, hence the current attention to the importance of authenticity.  There is an exercise that can be quite telling, and that is getting you to write your own obituary.  If you don’t like it, or don’t feel it is enough, now is the time to change and do something different, or something more!

I would suggest that you don’t so much ‘manage’ your reputation as build it, in the same sense that a mason builds a wall, based on solid foundations, with things that have substance.  One thing you can do is to see if what you are doing is valued by those whose good opinion you seek.  In other words, if you are focusing your efforts and resources on things they don’t care about then they are unlikely to hold you in high regard.  Make a difference to their lives or businesses and you’ll be a hero! 

The second element of influencing what people say is more subtle.  I would suggest a key is explaining your plans and actions in language they can understand and in terms of things they care about.  For example, an MD talking to his workers should be talking about growth in terms of bonuses and job security not share price.  One might lead to the other but don’t expect your audience to make that leap.  Also they will, probably rightly, assume the things you talk about are what you care about.  Tell them the truth, clearly, and you will earn respect, if not popularity, and that is a step in the right direction!

“Sincerity – if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”  George Burns

I started out with nothing… and I still got most of it left!

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

Apart from being a wonderful piece of modern American culture and answering the question “Can white men sing the blues?”  this is a great example of using language to convey two meanings at the same time.  The structure of this sentence would normally be used to report something positive, but by making the object a negative word, we have a joyful exercise in pathos. 

In art this can be a source of pleasure.  Most often this kind of contradiction is not deliberate and management double-speak is usually seen through.  Statements that say nothing are futile, and seen through instantly.  It is my experience  that most people are pretty expert at smelling BS and (to paraphrase my mother) “If you can’t say something nice, at least say something clear!” is a great rule.  You may not win any friends but you’ll win a little respect at least!

“Develop a built-in bullshit detector.”  Ernest Hemmingway

“Facts an’ facts, an’ t’ings an t’ings: dem’s all a lotta fockin’ bullshit. Hear me! Dere is no truth but de one truth, an’ that is the truth of Jah Rastafari.”  Bob Marley

Cat and Mouse .. or how to teach a young cat new tricks!

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

This afternoon our kitchen was like a scene from the killing fields, dead blue tits garnished with mouse nose avec whiskers … you can see our cat is a ferocious huntress. However, this evening I came across her finding a more 21st century use for a mouse! Which only goes to show that whilst you may not be able to teach an old dog new tricks, a cat seems more amenable to change!

So what can you do to make your workers more like cats than dogs? Perhaps let them approach change in their own way and at their own pace? Let them get comfortable with it. Let them understand how new technology benefits them!

The Easter Bee?

Sunday, April 8th, 2012

Easter was originally a pagan festival dedicated to the goddess variously named as Ostare, Ostara, Ostern, Eostra, Eostre, Eostur, Eastra, Eastur, Austron and Ausos.”  Her name was derived from the ancient word for spring: “eastre.”  It was essentially a festival of fertility and renewal, hence the eggs and the very fecund bunnies!  The Christian church took this festival over too, and replaced the symbology with the death and resurrection of Christ.  His willingness to die for mankind’s sins was seen as the ultimate expression of love. 

I have a friend who is a keen keeper of bees and I was contemplating her hive yesterday.  The bees are the ultimate expression of selflessness, constantly working for the good of the hive, and when required, laying down their lives to protect it from attack.  It occurred to me that they were perhaps a perfect symbol of Easter.  Natures most prolific little fertilisers and a perfect expression of ‘Christian’ love in one small colony.

Do you think the Easter Bee will catch on?

“No bees, no honey; no work, no money”  Proverb

“For so work the honey-bees, creatures that by a rule in nature teach the act of order to a peopled kingdom.”  Shakespeare