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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.

Different but the same..

August 24th, 2014

Red arrows

Today we were lucky enough to see an air-show where we we saw World War 1 style bi and tri-planes, followed by Lancaster bombers and a Spitfire, finishing up with The Red Arrows in the Hawks.  The physical vehicles could hardly be more different but I suspect the men inside perhaps are not so very different.  In companies, much changes but some things never should, such as those traits and values that are at the core of the business.  Institutions such as the RAF are very good at instilling not just skills but values in their people.  Companies that succeed can and do this. 


Making Change Permanent

July 11th, 2014

This another of our occasional guest blogs.  This one is penned by my brother Quentin, a 7th dan black belt in Aikido.  He is addressing one of the key questions in Change.

Most of us have been on a course at one time or another and learnt some really important things, only to find that by the time we reach the office on Monday morning, what seemed so simple at the time now looks rather more difficult. By way of example, I went on a First Aid course recently and as a result now have my certificate updated for the next 3 years, but in honesty, I don’t feel that much better equipped to deal with an emergency now than before the training and I’m hoping I do not have to find out for real, whether this is the case or not.  The truth is that unless you use it, you lose it. So the only real way to bring about a change in the way you think and act is to practice hard until the new habit is deeply embedded in your psyche and in your body.

aiki ext 2One powerful tool for this is aikido, which many people think of as a martial art, but I prefer to think of it as a way for life that uses martial arts techniques, to prove that even when physically attacked, it is possible to manage stress / conflict peacefully and positively. The idea is not to hurt your attacker, but to blend with them, and to use the energy of the ‘attack’ to direct to a better place, whilst maintaining your own safety and integrity.  You have to see them not as an attacker but more of a partner.quent aikido

Over the years, I have had many people come to my club, and pretty much without exception, they are amazed at how this can be done and they are genuinely in awe of the way in which it can be achieved so gracefully. Of course the truth is that it only looks this way, because I have practised regularly and studied deeply for some 30 years. This being said, I have had students come and go, and many report back that what I showed them on the mat actually changed their lives and helped them deal with some big problems. It is this that keeps me motivated. By way of example the following story comes from one of my students who has studied on and off for a couple of years

Oh Deer by Janet Shiel – Burwell Aikido Club – England – 5th Kyu

Sensei said to us,

“Eventually, you may find yourselves using aikido in everyday life in everything that you do.”      

Well, it was not long before I found out that this was true.

I was driving back from Cambridge in my little Vauxhall Tigra one foggy evening, with my partner, Chris, and two friends, Fred and Lucy. The visibility was very bad, and then suddenly through the dense, but patchy fog, appeared a very large deer. It paused on the grass verge to the right. Nothing fawn-like about this beast, it looked more like a blooming great stag.

RELAX! I thought – taking my foot off the accelerator. Lucy was screaming in the back seat, fearing we were about to crash. Fred in the front covered his face. FFF********!!!!!!

NOW BE AWARE OF EVERTHING AROUND YOU. Hedge to the left, deer to the right, road clear ahead. It was about to cross in front of us. No time to brake!

RELAX AND AVOID THE DANGER. I waited just a millisecond.

TIMING IS EVERYTHING. Then. at the very split second it crossed in front of us, I turned the wheel to the right. We missed the animal by a hair’s breadth and then I steered the car left, back to my side of the road. It was so close that we could see its white hairy belly, and the breath from its nostrils, as it seemed to fill the whole windscreen.

Waiting for the right moment to move meant that we avoided disaster. The deer was now safely on its way as were we, both parties uninjured.

With my sensei’s teachings ringing in my ear, the morals of this story were clear:

Avoid conflict whenever possible.

Whatever life throws at you, try to stay calm!

clip_image002 clip_image002[1] clip_image002[2]    Copyright © 2014 – Cooke the Books

clip_image002This is just one simple story from a collection of over 80 stories from around the world, just published in a book that I have edited called ‘A Way to Reconcile the World’ that illustrate how people have taken what they learned on the mat to deal with problems they faced in life of it and managed to produce wonderful results.

Some of the stories come from immensely experienced practitioners and some from almost complete beginners, which given what I said at the beginning of this article about the need to practice new skills, is miraculous. I guess the truth is that people found that when they actually practised what they learnt on the mat in real life, that no matter what their level of experience, the ideas were so powerful that even for the beginner they worked.  So if you want to read some inspiring stories, and see some wonderful examples of change coming through practice then ‘A Way to Reconcile the World’ (http://quentincooke.tumblr.com/) might prove a useful text.

For all you business coaches out there, you will find many ideas that are core to your work, and potentially a new way of embedding that knowledge in your clients. Just find an aikido teacher to work with. You can reach me below:-


  1. Quentin Cooke, Chair of Aikido for Daily Life & Director of Aiki Extensions
  2. www.burwell-aikido.co.uk
  3. q.cooke@ntlworld.com

Clean communication

July 9th, 2014

Yesterday, a friend and colleague reminded me of something that I always advise others to do, thus reinforcing the observation that just ‘cos you know something doesn’t mean that you actually do it!  I had written a business letter about something that had got under my skin.  It had been on my mind for sometime and I had not had the chance to deal with it appropriately.  I had drafted a letter which I’d shared with a few people to check I’d made my points clearly and persuasively, and had had good feedback.  However, my friend spotted something the others missed.  passive agressive 1The language I had used whilst clear and powerful was not ‘clean’.  In other words, the phrasing I had used had revealed my underlying feelings of blame and annoyance, and thus was likely to subliminally put the recipient on the defensive.  This is a good way of not getting what you want!  It is going to elicit a pushback rather than “I see your point.”  By using terms like “You will see..” rather than a more impersonal “It can be seen..” I had made it personal, therefore less likely to enable an objective consideration of the facts.

passive agressive 2If you say something like “Any idiot can see that ..” you are clearly implying that if they don’t agree with your point of view they must be an idiot.  We tend to let this kind of thing leak into our personal communication, and it usually lands us in trouble, but in business it is definitely a mistake.

I cleaned it up and was very grateful for a timely reminder.  Either say outright what you think and feel and deal with the consequences of that conversation or let the facts speak for themselves.

Good news not only works but is required…

July 1st, 2014

facebookRecently Facebook ‘fessed’ up to to manipulating some 689,000 users emotions in the name of science.  Facebook’s data scientists manipulated the news feeds of 689,003 users, removing either all of the positive posts or all of the negative posts to see how it affected their moods.  They wanted to see what effect the presence or absence of positive news had on people’s moods as registered via their posts and status updates.  Adam Kramer, the lead data scientist, said ““When positive expressions were reduced, people produced fewer positive posts and more negative posts; when negative expressions were reduced, the opposite pattern occurred.  These results indicate that emotions expressed by others on Facebook influence our own emotions, constituting experimental evidence for massive-scale contagion via social networks.”

I think this confirms something we know intuitively, that people who are in a positive environment feel better, and perform better.  This means that one of the key jobs of a leader is to ensure that his messages are delivered in a positive fashion.  This does not mean ignoring problems or not addressing issues but suggests that the team will learn more and succeed more, if instead of asking “Who c*cked this one up?!”, they asks “What did we learn from that and how can we ensure that we don’t repeat it?”  This isn’t rocket science and I don’t doubt many of you know this, but the question isn’t “Do you know it?”, rather “Do you do it?” 

We all want to be successful and Change is inherently threatening; by communicating in a positive fashion, by not blaming, by focusing on the benefits of the goal to all, the leader can make the journey quicker, slicker and make arrival more assured.


  1. The Guardian

Lessons from the Bahamas – part 3

June 25th, 2014

DSCF0584One day, we went deep sea fishing. It was a pretty expensive trip given the cost of the boat and all the equipment, we travelled miles off-shore and whilst it was a great experience, and despite our crews very best endeavours, no fish were caught.  We enjoyed the ride, enjoyed seeing flying fish, and the view of the island from the sea but it was a relatively poor return on investment.  By comparison, we went on a birding trip, at a fraction of the price, and just a few yards off one of the main roads, were shown a cave that was full of bats… it was amazing.  Night heronWe also found humming birds and many other bird species, it was great.  Sometimes the really rewarding things are under our noses, such as when we were walking back from a meal one night, and I saw what I thought was a statue just over a garden wall, and then it moved!  It turned out to be a night heron just a few feet away. Some times you can get a huge ROI on the smallest of investments. It is a proven fact that a little attention will boost productivity.

Lessons from the Bahamas – part 2

June 19th, 2014

DSCF0581The beach was regularly ‘patrolled’ by locals who were plying their wares, Cuban cigars, dresses and bangles, cruises, drinks and time-shares.  You might have found it annoying but one had to admire their enterprise.  One thing that was very interesting to observe, was they seldom came up and said “Do you want to buy…” which normally provokes the answer “NO!”  They would ask you your name, then introduce themselves (they were keen that you remember them), and then asked about what you were doing there.  The thing is that experience had taught them they  sell more once they have established rapport and some kind of relationship.  Life is a great teacher if you are alert to its lessons, and in the UK, salesmen pay a lot of money for this kind of education.

We learned another interesting sales lesson at a location that specialised in local Bahamian food.  It is called Fish Fry and consists of loads of competing restaurants and stalls mostly serving the same kind of food.  We were told that if you were savvy, you could get a free cocktail and appetisers as people competed for your trade.  However, we also were informed that the best place was called Goldies, and once we had eaten there we knew just how good it was!  They never offered us freebies; they didn’t need to, it was that good.  Quality speaks for itself and allows you to dictate the terms.

Lessons from the Bahamas – part 1

June 9th, 2014


This was my first visit to the West Indies, and my first on holidays.  My nearest other trip was to Puerto Rico, but that was a strictly business, so this was a real opportunity to see what they were like and learn about the islands and their people.  Of course, it was hot and the beaches were golden sands and the seas the turquoise you only see on postcards, but there was so much more.  I had the chance to snorkel most days and saw so many different fishes.  There was a little reef just opposite the hotel, and initially, it seemed that it might be a bit limited.  However, going out day-after-day, and seeing it under different circumstances, I found that the more I looked, the more I saw and discovered… strange that isn’t it?  The biggest underwater thrill was seeing a sea turtle, in between the reef and the beach, passing right passed all the bathers who had no idea it was even there!

When, you are in the discovery phase of Change, it is important to use your eyes.  What might first seem to be the case is not necessarily the whole story, and in fact, seldom is.  There are often hidden treasures and quirky surprises if you look for them and don’t judge too soon.

Lessons from the Ceredigion Way–part 2

June 5th, 2014

20140514_124117 1

Whilst we were walking the Ceredigion Way, we learnt that it wasn’t a stroll along the beach, rather a series of seemingly endless ups and downs.  It was hard to decide which was harder, climbing the blooming hills or descending them, down steps that were all the wrong sizes or paths covered with shale, whilst your toes banged into the front of your boots. 

When climbing you needed to motivate yourself to keep going and would look up and go “It’s not far to the top..”, however, more often than not, that wasn’t, in fact, the top!  You’d arrive at the point you had seen only to find there was another ‘top’ another 100 yards on, then another and so on.  I can’t tell if this was heart-breaking or if, had one known at the outset how steep it was, one might have just not bothered!  The truth is probably both.

It made me think… in business, or sport, or just Life-in-general, one never really knows when you are ‘at the top’.  You might think you are and take your foot off the gas, only to discover that you have either been overtaken or that there was another player you were unaware of who is in fact better. 

The other thing that happened, luckily on the last day, was that we lost our maps.  The thing is, we had to use other means to find our path.  Again, in a Change program, you might find yourself ‘off the map’, and you need to find a way to get where you need to be.  You have to review the resources that you have and find an alternative strategy.  The journey will never work out exactly as you expected and you will always have to change, not just yourselves, but your plans too, and if not the destination, perhaps just how you find it.

How do you cut down a massive hedge?

June 2nd, 2014

20140602_151332We have lived here 20 years and the hedge in front was tall when we arrived, with a mixture of trees and other plants.  We always felt hidden behind our green wall and that was never really an issue.  However, as trees and plants are wont to do, they grew… and grew.  Every year I cut them back, but probably left it too long to try and stop them going up.  It now really feels a bit much and I’d love to be able to control it a bit more easily and my neighbours would like it a little lower too.

20140602_151345So, how do you approach a huge task like this…?  I discovered there are only two answers really.  Either you get in a tree surgeon (and they seem remarkably difficult to engage) or you do it yourself, one branch at a time.  It might seem a statement of the bl**ding obvious, but what seems overwhelming as a whole, can be reduced to a series of snips, each one of which makes the next one easier to see and do.

This is not so very different from a big change project.  When clients ask where they should start, I usually say that it really doesn’t matter what is important is starting.  That builds momentum and enables you to get a better feel for what is the next step.  The secret is having begun, keep snipping. 

The comeback Quins

June 1st, 2014

Easter rugbyRegular readers will know I am a keen rugby fan.  My team, the Harlequins, have had a difficult season.  Two years ago, they won the Aviva Premiership for the first time, last year they needed to prove it wasn’t a one-off and that they were genuine top four contenders.  They made it to the semi-finals and lost to Leicester, but they did win two other trophies.  This season we managed top four for a fair while, and certainly people were considering us a top team, but in the middle of the season we where hit with all manner of injuries and frankly we just weren’t playing awfully well; lots of silly mistakes and attempts at ‘forcing the game’ (in other words, just trying too hard.)  We were also hit hard by losing a number of our key players (Care, Brown, Robshaw, & Marler) to England during the 6 Nations.

However, in March, once they returned, we seemed to get our act together and there followed a series of narrow wins, but wins none-the-less.  The coach, Conor O’Shea, said that as we needed to win every single game in order to qualify for the play-offs, that we needed to play each game as if it were a cup final.  The first of these was a game against Sale, one place below us and another contender for top four; it was a ‘must win’ game.  We went there and, against all odds, beat them.  There followed a series on do-or-die games which we won till, the last one, against Bath, above us in the table but if we won, we qualified.  Astonishingly…. we did it!

The attitude and spirit of the players, their self belief and commitment enabled them to perform at a level that defied all pundits.  Being able to engage people in this way and evoking this kind of performance is what a real leader does.  He shows belief in them and encourages them to face their fears, and cast them aside and allows them to express themselves.

The story doesn’t end in a fairy tale way, as despite playing out of our skins for 40 minutes and going in at half time ahead, we succumbed to Saracens on Saturday, but it was still such a strong expression of passion and skill that no one can feel badly about it.