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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.

The nail that sticks out..

October 21st, 2014

nail sticking outThis part of the world is very popular with weekend cyclists who flock here to both enjoy the countryside and the sections of the Olympic cycle route.  We get all sorts from the mud spattered off-roaders, the grey haired gentlemen who are sensibly not trashing their knees by running, to the lycra clad racing fraternity.  One thing I noticed a lot recently is a sub-set of the latter variety clad entirely in black.  The lanes here often have high banks and what with the overhanging trees are pretty gloomy even in the middle of the day.  This means our black clad brethren are rather hard to see.  The second of so difference it takes to spot them might be the difference between an accident and safety. 

This observation got me pondering on the value of standing out.  Particularly in certain cultures, it is considered unsafe to stand out from the common herd.  The Japanese even have a proverb that covers this, Deru kugi wa utareru, which translates as “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down”.  However, sometimes you have to be different from your background if you want people to notice you, and it is hard to pay attention to someone or something you don’t even notice.  So if you are attempting to lead from the middle of the pack, or if you are a ‘me too’ competitor in a crowded market place, you need to be brave, put on your pink lycra outfit and dare to be different.  Speak out and tell people what you really see and think to help them see things from a different perspective.  It only takes one brave voice to say “The emperor has no clothes” to enable others to see this too, and that is the beginning of the change, seeing the problem.

Big Brother and why we should care

October 14th, 2014

Post the Snowden affair we discovered just how much our governments were spying on us.  We have heard about the iCloud leaks and various big companies who have had their databases hacked, so security is very much in the news.  People are talking about using Tor to surf the net, and phones are being sold & developed  on the basis that they are less susceptible to government  spying.  At the same time we have the threat posed by organisations like Isis and many reasonable people will think “We need to protect ourselves from these kind of threats.”  In fact, I caught myself thinking something very similar the other day.  Today I came across this video, from Glen Greenwald, which is one the TED talks.

He certainly makes a good case for resisting this kind of intrusion, but it also got me thinking.  One of my main jobs is to facilitate meetings which are designed to find the best solution to serious problems.  When there are strong leaders present people naturally tend to censor their opinions to avoid criticism and appearing stupid.  Instead of sharing their insights or concerns, they will remain silent.  However, the very purpose of meetings is (or at least should be) to mine the wisdom and collective knowledge of all present, so putting people in a place where they self-censor is self-defeating.  Using an external facilitator is one way to help mitigate this risk.  There are also various tools including modern technology that enables people to vote and input anonymously that can help counter this tendency.

We all know people who are ‘out spoken’, and that phrase tends to carry an implicit judgement, but it takes a brave man to just bluntly say what they think.   Those opinions may or not be correct, but once in the open they can be explored and addressed and consensus built upon them.

I don’t want terrorists killing innocent people, but neither do I want to live in a country that changes itself into the kind of oppressive state we started resisting in order to protect me.

Change lessons from the campaign to prevent FGM

October 10th, 2014

FGMI listened to an interesting article today talking about the British government’s decision to spend £35m to help counter Female Genital Mutilation.  They were interviewing Lynne Featherstone, Minister for International Development and a woman called Nimco Ali who suffered this. They were talking about a campaign that is attempting to change the culture in Africa, where some 30 million girls are at risk, and thus help the 20,000 UK girls in the same position.  Accepting this is a huge injustice to all young girls, it was the language they used that interested me.  Nimco said “If they are never spoken to, just talked about and talked at”   referring to the African girls and women, however the same is true of any group you are trying to influence.  If you don’t listen to them, why should they listen to you?!?

fGM CHANGELyn Featherstone talked about the importance of shifting behaviour which as to start with the realisation of that this is not a good thing for them or their daughters.  So first comes information, then awareness, then listening, then change.  She made the point that the laws that are already in place will make little difference until these steps are taken.  The other key part of the strategy was getting this change championed by women.  You have to have allies / champions within the group you wish to change in order to make progress.

The other element is getting this practice reframed from a cultural thing to one of violence against women, from being the norm to being unacceptable.  I thought one very good example was Chinese foot-binding which at one time was considered a thing of beauty, which became seen as a form of torture.

There are lessons here which are closer to our homes and work places.




  1. http://www.thegirlgeneration.org/
  2. http://www.dofeve.org/

Changing times, changing me

October 7th, 2014

weigh in 2I wrote a month ago about my new regime.  I was reflecting on it today; I began when I came back from holiday in May and saw my photos.  I thought, “I don’t want to see any more pictures where I sport a Buddha-like belly!” and, thanks to my daughter started to use a bit of software to track what I did and ate.  We all know that measurement is a useful tool and for someone who has never had to worry about calories, I am afraid I discovered I was pretty uninformed about where they hid.   One key to my strategy was I didn’t want to find a new diet which magically made me thin; I needed to find a new balance point that I could maintain for the long haul.  I knew that I didn’t want to remove all those little treats we all enjoy, if I was miserable it was only a matter of time before I succumbed.  So it went in for a very slow and gentle method, which was a mixture of measuring, moderation and exercise.  I have lost around a pound a week over this period despite going on holiday, and am within 2 pounds of my original goal weight.  Clothes fit better and I am fitter too.


The points worthy of note if you are a business reader, rather than a slimmer, are these:-

  1. Measure where you are and your progress towards your goal
  2. Don’t be overly aggressive in your targets, real life will always intervene and blow you off track; pick something you have the resources to sustain
  3. Invest in the tools and resources you need to succeed
  4. Celebrate and enjoy your small achievements
  5. Change your life (work) style to conform with your new goals

Unforeseen consequences

October 1st, 2014

We tend to forget that one change begets another and once you start this process you can’t necessarily either predict or control what results.  I watched a fascinating video about the impact of reintroducing wolves in to Yellowstone Park in 1995, as a result they changed the course of the rivers!  Watch this…

Businesses, communities, families are all complex ecosystems and changing one element impacts all the others who react to this, adapt and then those changes give rise to further changes.

Lies. Damn lies and Statistics…

September 30th, 2014

Regular readers may have noticed that I’m quite keen on rugby and these days follow things reasonably closely.  I wasn’t there to witness out first home game; one which was always going to be both tough and telling if we want to challenge for the title this year.  It turned out to be a total rout so I wasn’t so sad to have been elsewhere.  Both pundits and fans agreed this was a total disaster from the Quin’s perspective.  A few days later I got this analysis of the game through.  It is a very accurate and scientific description of what happened based on GPS data and computer analysis.  The thing is, if you read these stats, you will notice that Harlequins had more carries, made more metres, beat more defenders, passed more and made more offloads than Saracens.  Usually the coaches would be thrilled with this but we lost and lost badly!

It kind of makes my point beautifully.  Change programs usually come with a set of measures to keep them on track.  Measure the wrong thing and you get the wrong behaviour and the wrong result…. like us you lose!  Measurement is crucial but you better measure the right things.  These ‘hard’ factual measures ignore the ‘soft’ more subjective measures that the fans made intuitively, we were rubbish.  Be careful what you measure.  Be careful how you report ‘facts’ to your people, because they, like the fans, know instinctively whether they reflect the truth.

Match Stats








Stats courtesy of Opta, the Official Data Provider to Premiership Rugby.

Getting close to your customers

September 9th, 2014

I was running a workshop yesterday and one of the topics up for discussion was the importance of forming strong customer relationships.  One global company has succeeded more than almost any other in turning its customers into raging fans, despite the fact that not all of their offerings are anything like as trouble free as we might be lead to believe.  Apple has people queuing at its stores as I write to pay full price for its latest offering; the new iPhone 6 will fly off the shelves in its millions in the next few days… Why?

Well one reason is its in-store employees are trained with the following acronym A.P.P.L.E. that gives them a step-by-step guide to keep customers smiling:

  • A pproach with a personal, warm welcome
  • P robe politely to understand the customer’s needs
  • P resent a solution the customer can take home today
  • L isten for and resolve issues or concerns
  • E nd with a fond farewell and an invitation to return

If you think about this it is just common sense, but not by any means always practiced.  I’d argue that you should Listen before you Present your solution, but I’m sure they do that. 

So maybe an APPLE a day will keep your customers here rather than away..

Change is inevitable.. YOU can choose what you do about it!

September 4th, 2014

RDC transition gif I have reached the age that makes it hard not to realise that Life is changing.  When I look in the mirror and I can’t help noticing that I no longer have a head of dark, thick hair.  I also noticed that I am no longer as svelte as once I was.  It was one holiday photo that showed me that I had developed  a stomach which might not be unusual but as someone who has always been slim and never had a weight issue was a bit of a shock.  These things creep up on you and  you don’t realise that all these small changes add up.

People, like businesses, mature and and need to adjust to their new situation, state and environment.  As someone who has always (up-until-now!) been able to eat whatever he likes without any issue, it has been a shock to have to think about calories and exercise.  However, that was my choice;  I have put myself on a new calorie aware regimen, and introduced much more regular, rigorous exercise.  My day has a different rhythm now and I have to recognise that I like it way too.  The thing is, that Change is happening to me whether I like it or not, and my only choice is, do I let it happen all over me and accept that each day I will be a little less fit and healthy, and more rotund or do something about that.  Is this the best I will ever feel and every day from here on in I will slowly deteriorate, or do I want to continue to enjoy my life and my health, and ensure that I stay (almost) forever young?

Your business maybe in a similar position.  The routines and procedures you have used for years may no longer be the best for you, or what your customers really want.  Your staff may need to move around to bring fresh eyes to old challenges.  You need to listen to new starters to see what they see.  Businesses, unlike people, can refresh themselves and make themselves over, just look at Apple.  Microsoft are currently in the midst of this process. 

Is it time for you to look in the mirror too?

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