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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.

Small talk is a big deal

July 27th, 2015

We are all guilty of dismissing small talk as a waste of time and I know I’m not the only one who has loudly declaimed how much I hate it.  However, a little more thought and study shows that far from being a waste of time, it is a vital piece of social glue.  Think about monkeys and their mutual grooming routines, these build trust and interdependence.  The thing is we are never going to reveal our secret heart to a total stranger (at least not without a significant amount of alcohol first!)  Think about it, the first thing you want to know about a stranger is what are they like, or more importantly, are they like us?  Do they come from the same ‘tribe’ or background?  We explore to discover if we have the common ground or history we can build a relationship on.  So what happens first is a series of relatively bland questions that create a space which we invite the other to step into.  Think of it like a dance, we each take a turn around the floor and then make space for the other person to follow suit. 

small talk penguins

I found it interesting when researching this to discover that people who study this kind of thing have categorised (and ranked) our communication on a scale according to the amount of task related (or ‘real’ content) it carries, thereby dismissing all else as ‘small’ talk.  Feminists have described this as patriarchal disrespect for the important and more female task of building relationships and maintaining harmony.  This kind of language is now referred to by sociolinguistists ‘social language’.

I have often noticed when attending networking meetings, that once I have ‘bumped into’ someone more than about 3 times, I tend to think of them as someone I know and feel warmer towards them; they are a safe, friendly face in a sea of strangers.  Familiarity (and the absence of negative experiences) tends to breed trust.  This then opens the door to a more substantial exchange of ideas and stories.  In other words, you have to earn the right to share and build a relationship and ‘small’ talk is the entrance fee we pay.

So next time you are feeling like it is a waste of your time, think of it a token down-payment on a new relationship.


Bending the rules?

July 22nd, 2015

Toshiba ceo - CopyYesterday it came to light that Toshiba had been cooking the books to the tune of £780m and as a result the CEO & Chairman were forced to resign.  They are not the first Japanese company to run into trouble after the global financial crisis earthquake in Japan, Olympus also had problems.  It seems that failure was a loss of face and therefore unthinkable, and rather than change what they were doing, and admitting it wasn’t working, they decided it was easier to ‘adjust reality’.  I have written before about company culture and the importance of being able to admit to mistakes and learning from them.  History teaches us that the most successful companies constantly try new things and some of these are bound not to work. Think of all the mini-projects and services that Google launches and then pulls the plug on such as Google glass.  If it isn’t safe to admit that you have failed then inevitably people will lie, attack and cover-up the truth.  This is a failure to create the right culture rather than just a business failure.

Change is always frightening but it starts from a place of admitting we want more or we want something different.  If we can’t say this then all we can do is stay on the rails and inevitably the light ahead is an oncoming train…

The story of OK…

July 20th, 2015

I wonder if, like me, you have ever wondered what the word OK actually means and where it comes from?  Or whether you ever tried to find the answer to these questions…?  I never succeeded until now and as a little favour to other lovers of words, here is the story of Ok.

As a little aside, isn’t interesting how we use this word as social lubrication and how often people use it to mean the very opposite.  We have all been there when we asked someone “What’s the matter?” and got the response “I’m okay…” when it was patently clear that they weren’t.  However, what we do with this insight is a dependent on all sorts of things like how much time do we have, where are we, what is our relationship with the person, what we are trying to achieve and many other issues.  This simple phrase allows us to hide or escape under the guise of coping when we are struggling, or ignore this in another if we feel unable or disinclined to help.

Two little letters that have a versatility and utility that even transcends English and works almost anywhere.

TomTom Go510 Review

July 13th, 2015

rsz_1tomtom_510I have owned a TomTom since I bought the very first Go, about 15 or so years ago.  I have had at least three of them, each better than the last and I recently upgraded to the newest version to Go 510.  So you understand your options available, this is an incremental upgrade on last year’s 500, incremental but significantly better.  The 5 refers to the screen size of 5”, so you can also buy the 610 which is an inch bigger, but most feel this is a little too big.  There is also the 5100 & 6100 which are the models with a built in sim for data, rather than relying on your phone’s data connection.  I chose the 510 as I don’t use it every day and don’t take it abroad often.  The only downside is you have to ensure you have bluetooth tethering enabled on your phone to enable it to connect to the device.  You use this connection for searching the net and getting traffic updates.  You can use it as a basic GPS with no connection.

I didn’t buy last year’s 500 model because it didn’t allow you to upload your own POI (Points of Interest) files, which I used to upload things like speed cameras.  You can upload them on the 510, but you no longer have the ability to have the TomTom warn you when you are approaching them so for my purpose this isn’t a big improvement.  The new range of satnav has had a radical overhaul of its interface.  I knew the old one inside out, and used most of it.  They have stripped away options than most folks didn’t use and streamlined the whole thing.  They have removed the ability to pair your phone and use the TomTom as an in-car bluetooth.  I didn’t need this, so I’m not fussed.

Initially I was a bit flummoxed at how to make it work, it really is different.  However, once I twigged it, I started to see the benefit.  The on-screen interface is much clearer.  You have much more and better information about what is coming up.  On a recent journey up the M1, it told us just how long the 50mph restriction would last, what our average speed in the average-speed camera controlled zone was, and when we would encounter the next one.  It managed my expectations beautifully, just like a good management consultant. 

The other key part of this deal which made it irresistible for me was that now instead of getting a free year of traffic data, which is invaluable and accurate, then having to pay £40 pa, you get free, lifetime traffic information, plus, instead of just covering Europe you get the world version, maps are updated free for the lifetime of the device and free traffic cameras (which used to be £20 or more).  I paid £40 to upgrade my maps after 3 years use so these represent real savings, and over the life time of the device, mean the upgrade is almost zero for me. 

It genuinely changes the way I drive and is, in my opinion, hands down the best you can buy, and only £169.  I traded in a very old one at Halfords and got an amazing 20% off.  I also have no doubt it suits me much better than using my phone even with the TomTom app on it.

Handy Hint:  In order to link with your phone you have to enable a mobile hotspot and bluetooth tethering.  In order to avoid having to do this each time you get into the car, use the app Trigger.  I have set it up so that as soon as it connects with the car bluetooth system, the tethering is turned on and then off when it is disconnected.

Are you a Guitar Star?

July 6th, 2015

Guitar starI tuned into Sky Arts talent show today called ‘Guitar Star’, and it knocked my socks off.  I guess if you are auditioning on TV, you have already beaten many other people just to win your moment in the sunshine, so we know they will be good.  The thing that slightly shocked me was just how good they were.  There were 12 year olds I’d pay good money to listen to. 

It is wonderful to live in a world so brim full of talent and potential.  The thing we need to ask ourselves is what talents are lying fallow both around us and within us?  These guitarists are ‘ordinary’ people you may have working in your office or living next to.  Clearly they are a self-selected group who have dedicated themselves to their art, but at one point they needed help and guidance.  What can you do to help those around you grow?  That is one of the key jobs of a leader.  What better gift can you give someone other than the chance to become the person they dreamed of?

Another thought, is what dreams lurk within you that if nurtured, if allowed to grow might take you to somewhere new?  And what are you going to do about that…?

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.