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As you are aware Change is all about people, and it starts with us. This is an exploration of some of the ideas and issues that I've encountered along the way. I've created this also to enable a dialogue to begin around this subject and hopefully produce a forum where we can all learn something.

Profits v Growth

July 2nd, 2015

W150519_MERRIFIELD_PROFITSVSGROWTHI came across and interesting article in the Harvard Business Review, comparing and contrasting the strategies of Microsoft and Amazon.  The former was the gold standard tech company for decades due to the success of their Windows operating system and Office products which were the de facto standards for businesses round the world.  You don’t need too long a memory to remember when Apple were just a tiddler compared to Gates’ baby.  However, there is a theory that their very success has prevented them changing direction quickly enough and thus handing over the baton to Apple who saw and seized the mobile market years before Microsoft tried to get in on the action.  They invented a machine that just made money and they kept feeding it.  It is only now that they have a new CEO that they have begun to change direction, and it looks like Windows 10 will be a much more successful than it’s ill fated predecessor, Windows 8. 

By contrast, another US giant, Amazon, has pursued Growth, and is yet to make a profit, but it believes its momentum will carry it forward and it can be seen that they have been bold in introducing new goods and services and I’m afraid I am one of the many who just keeps using them. 

The argument goes that because Microsoft had so much to lose its strategy was all about protecting the status quo, and thus losing sight of their dynamic roots which gave birth to their golden geese.  Meanwhile Amazon stays much more entrepreneurial, and truer to their vision. 

The lesson is that once you stop changing, and driving change, you are bound to be overtaken by it!


  1. HBR 

Leading or Managing

June 29th, 2015

leaders-vs-managerI came across a provocative article the other day that says that if you are weighed down with decisions, you aren’t leading, you are managing.  The thesis is that we pay managers to resolve disputes and make decisions in order to make our policies and strategies effective; the job of a leader is to set direction and train or recruit others to do make those micro-decisions.  As coach for many years, I see all-too-often, bosses who no doubt think they are leaders but are just too busy in the day-to-day stuff to think about the future.  Strategic thinking is usually reserved for the odd meeting I run to help them raise their eyes to the heights.

Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter and present CEO of Square, has the same approach. He believes it’s an organizational failure if he has to make a decision. He says his role is to see that decisions are being made, not to make them  “If I have to make a decision, we have an organizational failure. I can help provide context of what’s happening in the industry. But I definitely see the organization and the people in it as the ones to make the decisions, because they have the greatest context for what needs to be done.”


  1. Article

Fitness trackers and positive, personal change

June 25th, 2015

Regular readers will know that I have been experimenting with the use of a fitness tracker for the last few months, and finding them quite useful.  I came across an article which looks at why they work, or rather what they need from us in order to work.  The thing is that of themselves, they do nothing but measure; what they are counting on is that we will do something with that data… like change!  There is an old saying in Change Management “You get what you measure”.

HabitsSo here we have the intersection of two elements, change and technology.  In order to work, they look to help us change our life styles and get more active.  Professor Andrew Lane, a sports psychologist at the Centre for Health and Human Performance says that habits are, “A learned behaviour or thought that occurs automatically.” On a neuro-scientific level, “the pathway for habitual movement involves consistent messages, these messages are strong enough to stimulate action.”

The process of forming new habits is extremely complex, but Duhigg writes that generally there’s a three step loop when it comes to forming a habit, “A cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode; a routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional; and a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering.”  In other words, the more a synapse in the brain is used, the stronger and more automatically we can use it, so that we don’t have to think, we just react.  The manufacturers of these trackers are aware of this and support their hardware with software that encourages us to act.  They send encouraging little messages, give tips, make it easy for us to compete against our friends or ourselves.  It may seem silly… I guess it is only I find that it works and you can’t argue with that. 

Win arguments … by keeping schtum

June 22nd, 2015

imageI am often left flabbergasted when I watch some of the people you see on reality TV argue.  Think of Jerry Springer with two unsavoury types both talking at each other and it seems to be a trial of strength to see who can keep going longest and who is loudest.  Both talk simultaneously with no pretence at even listening to each other.  If you are like me, then it is easy to sit there in your middle class, self righteous sense of superiority and think “How shocking!  I’d never do that!”  The thing is if you were well brought up you have to at least pretend to listen to the other person, you keep a polite silence, and look at them.  However, what many of us do, (in fact I’d go further and say what most of us do!) is not to really listen to their point, but to await our turn to prove them wrong.  We may not do this out of any sense of maliciousness, but we all do love to be right!

However, if you want to win the argument, or better still, if you want to win respect; then you should really listen to them.  You should actually show you are listening by nodding at appropriate times, making ahha type noises, looking at them, in other words, actively listen.  When they are done, ask questions.  Then, summarise what they have said and make your point.  Either agree with them, or perhaps suggest that in order to meet the agreed goal, that there might be better strategies or additional steps required.  People are far more likely to give serious and honest consideration to you and what you say if you first do the same for them.  It is the Law of Reciprocity; society has brought us up to offer back what we are given.

So, if you want to win… keep schtum… at least initially.

Why saying “Sorry” might be a good idea

June 15th, 2015

i_m_sorryThe word sorry originates from the prehistoric Germanic root word meaning “sore or pained”, the English Dictionary offers us several different meanings a few definitions being “feeling regret, compunction, sympathy, pity”, but there is a study published in the Harvard Business Review which studies the social impact of apologising on your relationships.  The bottom line is over apologising, such as the wonderful English habit of saying “Sorry” when someone walks in to you, rather than being silly and unnecessary actual is proven to be a positive tactic in building trust.  It seems to demonstrate  our empathetic natures and people take that as showing we care about how they feel. 

I have often written here about how much we hate being wrong, and how we are programed from a very young age to always try and prove that we are right (or at least never wrong!)  but this study suggests that being gracious and saying “Sorry” even if we feel it is unnecessary can really work in our favour.

Being nice pays… scientifically speaking

June 8th, 2015

We all know that Charles Darwin said that survival was a prize won by the fittest, suggesting that we compete for scarce resources.  However this is only part of the truth, because if we look at nature, there is far more evidence that co-operation is the best route to survival.  You can look at colonies of insects such as bees, or birds and apes where non-parents will help rear the young of other females.  I watched some amazing footage of a bird of paradise who uses a young ‘apprentice’ male to woo his potential mate.  The pay-off being that the younger male learns the steps of the dance from his ‘mentor’, thus ensuring he will be more successful when it is his turn to mate.

Back in the days of the cold war, when there was serious worry about nuclear war, and what strategy would lead to safety and security and and which would lead to ending civilisation.  They developed a game called the Prisoners Dilemma which enabled them to test this theory.  They proved, that in the long term, safety was better assured by co-operation than selfishness. 

So perhaps instead of working to gain an advantage over your ‘rival’, you might be better off to come up with a strategy which is win:win…? 


June 3rd, 2015

choicesI came across a couple of things today which seemed to be on a similar theme.  The first was an interview with some Tech ‘experts’ who were discussing the impact of technology on our lives and how it impacted our free time; do we have more more or less free time when we could get emails from work at all hours?  Of course the key to this is twofold.  One element is the culture of the business and the country; in a very intense company, such as Apple, it isn’t abnormal for people to expect you to be available at all hours, other firms have different expectations.  However, you have a choice.  Do you choose to keep an eye on the email, and ‘manage’ it so as to make things easier for yourself, or do you stop after a certain time and switch off?  I don’t think there is one right answer to this.  It depends on our natures and circumstances.  What we should never ignore is that we do have a choice, and we need to make one that works for us.

The second note in this theme, was the idea that we might be used to the idea of saying “No..” to others but we seldom do it to ourselves!  At first it is a strange idea but how often do we hear a little voice in our heads telling us that we have to just finish this  or we can’t go home till whatever?  The fact is that we can and perhaps often should say “NO!” to both these thoughts.  It is usually very conscientious people who fall pray to this kind of self-imposed pressure but usually, the world keeps on turning, and the wheels don’t fall off the wagon if we don’t go the extra yard every single time. 

The trick is to work out what works for you.  When are you most effective?  What sort of things create pressure for you?  What do you need need to perform at your best; sleep or knowing you have a clear in-tray?  Don’t be afraid to explore different ways of working to find one that works for you.

3 Low cost, Fitness Trackers reviewed

May 29th, 2015

misfit shinejawbone-up-movefitbit flex

In the order I tried them, and as pictured above, these are the Misfit Shine, the Jawbone Move and the Fitbit Flex.  They are are all relatively simple and low priced fitness trackers.  Basically they use accelerometers to measure how active you are; you can think of them as high tech pedometers.  The thing that makes them much more useful than this is their related apps and websites that compile and track this data and combine this with other stuff to coach and motivate you. 

The Misfit Shine is the little brother of the more expensive Flash; functionally they are the same but the Shine is made of plastic and the Flash is metal.  They are both a removable disk that you can mount in either a bracelet or a clip-on carrier.  I didn’t have many issues with how this performed, either the tracker or the app, but I really was concerned about the security of the clip-on which detached from me at least three times.  When the strap snapped, that was it!  I sent it back, even though Misfit were great about replacing the strap.  I just felt that this device and I were doomed to be separated and even though it I’d only paid around £40 for it (now available for about £32 from Amazon,)  it wasn’t worth it.

I then moved to the Jawbone Move.  This was a much more robust clip.  The bracelet was also much tougher (and less attractive) but you had to buy this and it pushed the price up from £40 to £52.  The idea of all three of these is that you wear them at night  too as they notionally track your sleep.  In reality they do show when you wake, and to a lesser extent, how much you toss and turn.  Experts say that they don’t measure your sleep quality in any meaningful way,  but what all these devices do do is measure trends.  I have compared all of them with my GPS and they aren’t spot on but come within 5-10%, which is good enough for their main purpose.  Their virtue is they do push you to keep active and move.  I don’t know how much it is just the latest health vogue and how much it is serious but doctors are really hot on the negative impact of sitting too much.  I definitely do make more effort when I’m being tracked (see my earlier blog.)  The Move and I also parted company when I wore it with a thinner pair of trousers it came off.  I strongly suspect it would work just as well in your pocket and be much more secure.  The Move did survive a short spin in my washing machine, which it isn’t meant to.  However, this is another flaw in this kind of device it is very easy to forget to detach it and lose it or just break your measurement trend.  That is why I think the wrist worn device is a better solution.

That brings me to my final tracker the Fitbit Flex.  I rather like this.  It is easy to wear, you can wear it in the shower, and don’t have to move it when sleep.  None of these has a proper display.  They all have some leds.  I found the first two somewhat confusing to interpret and being on your waist, inconvenient to browse.  The Flex is simpler.  You just have 5 leds, an one lights up each time you achieve 20% of your target, simple and easy to see. 

You have to ‘tell’ these devices that you are transitioning from waking to sleeping modes by tapping them, or using the app.  Again, the Flex is perhaps the easiest to use. 

The real value of these trackers is in the accompanying apps and there is no doubt the Jawbone one is very good.  I think the other two are fine, with Misfit perhaps being slightly less useful than the Fitbit. They all pair with other apps such as My Fitness pal which you can use to track your calorie intake, and this interchange of information is very helpful.  You can, if you are so inclined, share your results with friends and colleagues and compete with them. 

I have no doubt that there is better, more clever devices coming down the pike.  This sector is developing fast, and the recent launch of the Apple watch will just speed this up.  However, unless you are in the market for a serious GPS running watch, I don’t think it is really worth paying more for the more expensive devices at this point.  The extra functionality is limited in its accuracy and probably not worth paying for.

I will keep you posted with further thoughts and progress.

Plus ça change… or…What will the general election change?

May 25th, 2015


So, despite what all the experts predicted, Mr Cameron managed to win and not just win but win an outright majority.  Millions of pounds were spent on polls and experts who were all wrong.  He doesn’t need the SNP or the Lib Dems.  So we have the same PM but now he will think he has a fresh mandate for his policies; that he was right and that we want him to pursue his vision.  Now I am certainly no political pundit, but given how wrong they were, maybe that is a good thing!  I don’t believe for a minute ‘the great British Public’ feels that way.  I suspect that either they felt that:-

  1. All the others were even more wrong or more dangerous, or
  2. At least we knew what he is like, or at least that,
  3. The Tories are least likely to make a mess of the economy,and probably
  4. That their vote would make no difference!

I suspect we believed we voted for as little change as possible and yet even though the same hand is on the helm, we are likely to get more extreme policies now than we had before, now that there is no need for a moderating influence of others.  Luckily, despite politicians best endeavours, the civil service will decide what they and we really need!  So despite the fact that we have the same man in charge, it is anyone’s guess whether we will see radical change or more of the same old thing!

Dealing with problem behaviour

May 18th, 2015

problem behaviourWhen I was training, this was labelled ‘feedback’, and everyone learnt to cringe as soon as they heard the phrase “Can I give you some feedback..”  which was inevitably an excuse for them laying into you whilst feeling superior about it all… at least that is how it felt!  However, from time to time we all have a problem with our work mates, our flat mates or our neighbours and we need to deal with it, so how should we go about it?

Firstly, never attempt this whilst you are hot under the collar, it doesn’t lead to good communication and they will just feel attacked and defend, as almost inevitably, you are attacking them.  So rule No 1, wait till you are calm and can check if the this is really worth raising.  If you still feel that it is, then, step two is to be clear what you want out of the conversation (and yes, Rule No 2 is you must do this face-to-face.)  Be able to explain what change you wish to see and how this will benefit not just you but them too. 

Do not not exaggerate when describing their behaviour and avoid words such as “Always” and “Never”, as this kind of sweeping generalisation is almost never true.  Stick to the facts, and if possible have a record of specifics, so you can give examples.

Don’t puff yourself up in expectation of a confrontation, talk to them nicely (as you would wish them to talk to you if circumstances were reversed,) expecting that they will want to see a happy outcome for both parties, that way they are much more likely to listen to you.

Be honest and clear about how it affects you, and state what you have tried to do to mitigate the issue before looking to them to change their behaviour.  If possible, show them the impact of the issue, to help them see / experience it from your point-of-view, but also take the time to look at their perspective too.

Basically, if you approach them in a calm, pleasant and factual way, you are much more likely to get what you want, and often they will be surprised that they are causing you an issue…