Archive for May, 2016

A painless path to change

Monday, May 30th, 2016

I wrote a blog a little while ago entitled “Little by little” which talked about the importance of small steps taken over a period of time.  I came across this similar idea called Kaizen, or the one minute principle.  It comes from two Japanese words, kai (change) and zen (wisdom).   It is a technique developed by Masaaki Imai and at its heart is the idea that if you want to acquire a new skill, or build a new discipline you can start with a baby step of doing something towards it for a minute every day.  No one is so busy that they can’t find a single minute!  So say you wanted to learn Mandarin as a client of mine is doing, if you learn two or three words every day, after a week you have a new vocabulary of 21 words.  If you consider that the average 3 year old can express themselves reasonably with only 4,000 words, you see it is possible to learn something useful in tiny steps, if you keep it up!

Another principle behind this method is that as you make progress and persevere, you get more committed and enthusiastic, and willing to devote more time to it.  How hard would it be to up your commitment to yourself and your project to just 5 minutes a day? At that rate you could learn over 7,000 words in a year and reach the level of the average 8 year old.

What is more, if you are dedicating such tiny investments, you can afford to take on several projects at a time.  Maybe walking a little more each day to get fitter, maybe reading more for your pleasure or enrichment, maybe talking to someone new to grow stronger relationships… Give it a go..

A handy problem solving methodology

Monday, May 30th, 2016


If you get hurt, and need emergency medical help the EMT people use the methodology on the left.  I have marginally changed the questions to make them more general but if you bear in mind their medical origins they not only make more sense but make it easier to adapt the questions to suit your own situation.

How did it begin?

What makes it better or worse?

Describe the situation.

What does it affect?

How important is it?

What is the history of it?

You can see that this systematic way of investigating you issue can give you or the person helping you a fresh insight or perspective to enable you to do something different.  It is always helpful to get someone outside the situation involved, get them to ask you these questions and explain it all to them.  In the process of explaining it to them you inevitably make it clearer to yourself too.

A useful decision making tool

Sunday, May 22nd, 2016


One of my very first lessons as a consultant was the value of 2×2 grids, which seemed to be used for everything from getting boy scouts out of horses’ hooves to proving they were geniuses!  Well here is another one, but it can be a handy way of making a decision.

Give honest answers to the following questions (and this can be used on your own or with your team)




1.  What will happen if this happens (and what do we get from it)?  What are the natural consequences?

2.  What happens if this doesn’t happen?  Will everything stay the same?  What are the advantages of not doing it?

3.  What won’t happen if this happens?  So what are the disadvantages of this course; what does it impede or prevent?

4.  What won’t happen if this doesn’t happen?  What are the disadvantages or costs of not doing it?  Be careful with the double negative in this question and make sure you aren’t answering question 1 all over again.

By taking four different perspectives on the same question, you are more likely to make a rounded decision.  Variants of this technique, when working with a team, are  to split it up and get every one to answer one or two bits of this and present back.  Or you could have people prepare their individual takes on it and add their new input to the growing answer.

How to get your team to share and collaborate better

Sunday, May 15th, 2016

Google tried an interesting experiment to see if it could get its teams working better together.  It was called Project Aristotle and it studied their team dynamics.  They found that in the most collaborative teams, no one person spoke for more than 80% of the time.  This enabled others to ask clarifying questions and voice their ideas too.

No one was actually forced to contribute but it was expected that they would contribute.  Interestingly enough, teams with more equality in air time, tended to be more profitable, more effective and members stayed longer.

It takes a certain confidence as a leader to step slightly to one side but the benefits are there to be seen.  In forestry work, you have to clear big trees to encourage growth of others, leadership isn’t so different.

Receiving Feedback

Monday, May 9th, 2016

I wrote last week about how you might give feedback in such a way as it may be better received.  Today a hint on how to handle it coming the other way.  As I suggested last week, if delivered poorly, it can feel a bit like being mugged.  So here is a little three step method on how to handle it:-

  1. Think:    Is what they said valid?  And you might pause to consider even if it might not feel valid within your reality or perspective, might it be so for them?
  2. Act:        If it is valid, do something to change what you are doing.  If you feel that the issue is “it is only valid for them” then you may wish to share a bit more information with them, so they can better understand your context and situation.  Then reassess if you need to change anything you do, even if it is only communicate better.  You may conclude there is nothing you can do, or nothing you choose to do.
  3. Forget:  Let it go now and move on!

In other words, having processed it let it go.

Feedback – the gentler path

Monday, May 2nd, 2016

I have long been a believer in the value of feedback.  However, I can’t help wincing internally when I remember the company I worked for that introduced feedback as a standard approach / tool.  Someone would approach you, full of self righteousness, with the phrase “Can I give you some feedback..?”  What followed was usually negative and often nasty, and you were just supposed to take it.  It takes real skill to deliver feedback well.  If you do it in such a way that makes the recipient go into their defensive shell, they won’t hear what you have to say, no matter how well intentioned. 

A common approach is the ‘Feedback Sandwich’ which suggests saying something positive, then your negative message, followed by another positive statement.   The trouble with this, is again, if not done skilfully, people tend to disregard the positives as so much much ‘flannel’ and just here the nasty bit.

So here is another way that might work better for you.  Find something good about what they have done and say “What I like about this is…” and then follow it up by “And what would make me really love it would be…”  This is honest and likely to meet less resistance to improvement. 

As with all feedback, if your genuine intention is to help them improve and grow, this communicates; if it is a thinly veiled way of telling them they are cr*p, that is what they will hear.