Got those Queues Blues?
There are just weeks to go until the Olympic games begin here in London and the queues have started already. Not at the stadium, I should add, but at the airport. The delays are breaking records. And not in a way that’s going to win us any medals.
Increased security at passport control is at the heart of the problem. But the Border Agency is not repentant. “So be it” says head of UK’s aptly named Border Force. Meanwhile the British Tourist board are up in arms, fearful of the impact on the UK’s image. And the things is, they are both right. Protection is important. And so is the customer experience of Brand UK. The problem is when these two perfectly admirable intentions clash head on.
It’s something I have been watching happen for the past couple years as I have been researching why so many business meetings don’t work for my new book Will There Be Donuts?.
I was curious to discover what’s really behind the pandemic of meetingitis which affects business, government and voluntary sector alike and causes them to haemorrhage literally billions a year in wasted person hours and lost productivity and mind crushing boredom. To preserve sanity, I’ve simplified the problem into four words: How, Who, What and Why.
The practical detail of how meetings are staged is a key factor in their success or failure. Another is who attends (and who does not). What is covered in meeting, poor content – like poor diet - is a major contributor to meeting ill health. But, for me, the pathogen deep in the DNA of wasteful meetings lies in the ‘why’.
Bad enough when a meeting has no real intention. We’ve all suffered these meaningless rituals. Worse still, when the meeting has two or more intentions which are in conflict. It’s the mismatch of intentions that undermines so many potentially valuable meetings. They are not really meetings at all – but missings.
If you don’t know why you are in a meeting. Don’t be in the meeting. If you are invited to a meeting and they don’t explain the intention or it isn’t relevant, don’t go. And where intentions do clash be unfront about it and instead of holding onto yours like a dog a bone, see where you can find a way of aligning. When you start to align your intentions you see that the customer v security squabble at Heathrow is an example of ‘furious agreement’. Those for the customer and those against the terrorists are two factions barking at each other but fundamentally on the same side. Actually these Olympic games are not about image OR security. To be successful people must have a great experience AND stay safe.
Whenever we humans meet with shared intentions, pool our ingenuity, working with not against, we create value. Now, that’s really meeting.
David's New Book Will There Be Donuts? Start a Business Revolution one Meeting at a Time is published by HarperCollins on May 24th. Cli ck here to preorder your copy from Amazon and beat the queues...
The Only Two Gears We Need?
"Goooold!" Well, it sounds better than Plaaaaastic!
I recently cycled from London to Brighton for charity*. Nobody was more surprised than me. Or more specifically my BRAIN.
Picture the scene. It's been two months preparing for this, cycling round and round Regents Park in London. And on every circuit my BRAIN has been telling me - you cant do this...it's going to hurt...you're too unfit...you dont have sports in your background...you should have done this when you were kid...name me one famous Jewish cyclist...'.
And yet here I am, 80 kilometres into a 100km ride at the foot of the famed and feared Devils Dyke, a cliff that rises ominously above me and separates me from the finishing line on Brighton's sea front. My negative mental symphony is now in full cry, made worse by the fact that everyone looks grave when they talk about Devil's Dyke. Even the name is Diabolical. The rational truth is it's no higher than a hill we climbed without difficulty 3 hours ago, but my BRAIN isnt going to be deterred by the facts.
My friend Nadav is waiting patiently up ahead. I have done the obligafory stretches, eaten my half banana and adjusted the lycra shorts, eaten the other half of the banana. Nothing for it now... I look down at the handlebars and think which gear should I select?
And then it hits me.
My brain has 20 gears, like my bike, but it needs only two: not just when I am cycling, but in life generally. There's one mental gear that assesses the situation and sees what needs to be done. And there's another - the action gear - that does it. And where do I spend most of my life? Where do most businesses? On one of the 18 gears in the middle, thinking about doing what needs to be done. Or worrying about not being able to do it. Or fantasising about what it will be like when I have done it. Or speculating about the other things I could be doing. Or distracting myself from doing what I know I must do and then criticising myself for not doing it.
This is where we and our businesses spend a huge amount of time, our mental wheels spinning and actually going nowhere.
The only one I need now is the action gear to get up that hill. It is steep, so steep that my front wheel lifts off the tarmac at times. But I stay in the right mental gear and with some help from my mate (relax, breathing might help...) we crest the hill into cloudless sunshine and a perfect view of the English Coast.
So it turns out, the Brain is a spectacularly inadequate assessor of what you can and cannot do. The Brain was convinced I was a couch potato. My body knew differently. Our bodies have a knowing that the Brain can only observe. For most of the trip to Brighton, it was like my brain was being carried along for the ride - like a slightly jittery traveller.
Newly enlightened, I powered over the finishing line, knowing all I needed was these two mental gears.
As soon as I had claimed my medal along with 1500 riders (some of them looked about eight years old) I was thinking about my next challenge. Where would it be? Would it hurt? What if I was too slow? What if this time it all went wrong? Could I delay training for a little while?
Ah, our BRAINS do like those middle gears. But next time I am at the foot of an steep climb, I hope someone will remind me there's only two I need.
Know what you have to do. And do it.
*Thanks to everyone who kindly sponsored me to raise money for the educational charity Norwood
If you don't know of Business in the Community's annual Awards for Excellence, think Responsible Business meets the Oscars. Picture London's huge Albert Hall decked out for a five-star celebratory dinner, the great-and-the-good of British Business all there and 1400 pairs of eyes looking at - YOU. With suspicion.
Three months earlier it had all seemed such a good idea. "Why don't we get all the participants to create, learn, rehearse and record a one-off piece of choral music?" It seemed to fit the evening's theme - Small Actions, Big Difference - which had been proposed by the evening's hosts Unilever (BITC's Company of the Year 2010). Gail Greengross, BITC's Comms Director, is enthusiastic and mischievous in equal parts. And so here we were...
The moment of truth. Would we Brits, famously polite and buttoned up, rise to the occasion? Or would skepticism win the day?
For 11 glorious minutes an audience of award-hopefuls, guests and onlookers was transformed into the biggest instant Business Choir you have ever seen. They raised the roof of the Hall - helped a little by the backing band (from our musical improvising company Impropera) - as though it was Last Night of the Proms. Even I had goosebumps and I was juggling conducting, cajoling and Powerpoint! Tears were shed, hugs were hugged and the great English Channel which separates so many of us from strangers we meet temporarily dried up.
It was an evening I will not forget. Nor the simple lesson it taught me...
How do you get 1400 British business people singing when they don't really want to? First, forget they are British. (Italian is a good substitute). Then forget they have anything to do with Business. The truth is, we are all just people who want to connect. And when we give ourselves permission - that is exactly what we do.
The Tower and the Tin Can
The Shanghai Expo takes your breath away. The vast scale. The mind-numbing numbers of people. The two- hour queues for the Lithuania pavilion! I was defeated by the never-ending crocodile that wrapped itself several times around the Italian exhibit (come to think of it perhaps the unmoving queue is the Italian exhibit) and wandered off to look for the USA pavilion. And I looked and looked. I could see Canada’s sprawling woodshed, the Emirates gilded tent and even the noble temple to Luxembourg. But there was no sign of the world’s supposed superpower. I had almost reached the exit when I turned a corner and found what looked like a modest shopping mall with the following sign.
The USA may be literally and graphically ‘on top’ in the sign, but USA’s tin-can of a site is dwarfed by the mountainous, blood-red Chinese pavilion that looms high above Expo 2010 like a giant spaceship cum nest of coffee tables. Perhaps the US decided not to compete with the host nation. Perhaps they didn’t want to appear spendthrift abroad whilst tightening belts at home. Whatever the reasoning, the signs are unmistakable. The geopolitical equilibrium of the planet is shifting fast.
Expo was for me another reminder, in case one was was needed, that it is a very good idea to be preparing oneself for radical change - in life and in business.
But how do you do that?
Can you do Change aerobics? Head off up to the ashram for a Change Intensive? Or is it just a question of looking Change right in the eye and daring it ‘come on, if you think you are hard enough!’
There are any number of theories on change and shelves groaning with literature about how to do it properly. So why do most change programs fail? It’s something a change-minded client asked us recently. Good question. And I got together with Kai Grunewald of Fluxior to find some answers. We crunched through a stack of books, went on several long walks and did our best to distil our many combined years of experience in organisational and personal change into a coherent 'take' on Change.
It seems to us there is one over-arching reason why change programs tend to come unstuck. We put our attention in the wrong place. We concentrate on the visible (and relatively) easy-to-handle parts of the Change iceberg - the strategic, structural, rational – and overlook, or underestimate all the behavioural, cultural, personal EMOTIONAL stuff that’s ‘below the waterline.’ We fail to recognise the power, both positive and negative, of Resistance. We’re not candid about the Pain, compelling about the Vision or smart enough with our Plan. We impose a tempo rather than following the natural rhythm of change, forcing the pace when we should pause, or vice versa. We hang on when we should let go, and force people to take on the new without leaving space to grieve for the old. And because of this, our best intentions get holed by the iceberg and sink without trace – until the next change program, that is.
This is all what used to be called ‘the soft stuff’. Now it’s a central skilled for the most hard headed businesses.
But there’s another reason. More of an attitude than a technique. It’s the perspective that recognises that not changing is harder than changing. Change is happening all the time, without our involvement or, indeed, permission. While you are reading this your body is changing without you actively willing it to. So is the world around you, unstoppably. It was ever thus. Today’s unchallengeable truths were yesterday’s new-fangled ideas. Change wants to happen and has chosen us to help it.
As improvising performers in our ‘other lives’, Kai and I both know how much better the emergent idea often is than the one we have pre-prepared. It’s like the improvised show or jazz tune has plans for the player – rather the other way around. Instead of asking what do I need to do to make things change?, we’re often better off considering what is trying to change here and how can I get out of its way?.
Certainly, as I stood there looking at that modest sign in Shanghai, with the mighty USA picked out in Chinese laqcuerware red and supported on Chinese characters, it did seem to me that change has plans for us all - individuals and superpowers alike. And as we live through these changes we could do worse than bear in mind a couple of thoughts from a pair of great thinkers on Change, one Chinese, the other American.
They must often change, who would be constant in happiness or wisdom. Confucius
When you're finished changing, you're finished Benjamin Franklin
Please click here for a summary of our presentation on Living Though Change
Practice Makes Practical
I often ask my business audiences, the ones who really want to make changes and do things differently, how much time they have in a working week to practise something new. A day? There are guffaws of laughter. Don't I know how busy they are? OK, how about 2 hours – 2 hours a week to make the changes they say are crucial to their future effectiveness? People are looking at the floor, avoiding my eye, giving me the look that my Italian builder often does which says you clearly have no idea how difficult my life is – and now you are trying to make it harder. Finally, grudgingly, they usually concede they have 5-10 minutes a day free to practise.
By now it is clear I am talking about one kind of ‘practice’ and they are hearing another.
They are thinking basketball practice, trumpet practice, golf practice. They are picturing something that you have to find a gap in your work for. They are imagining I am asking them to clear time in their busy diaries and dedicate this to a practice period. I am not.
The kind of practice I am encouraging them to do is not something you do as well as work, it is a way of doing your work differently. It’s not the practice your violin teacher chased you to do (at least, she chased me!), forcing you to scratch away at scales in your room while your mates play frisbee in the street. The kind of practice I am referring to is an idea or technique you keep in mind throughout the day and apply to everything you do. It’s less a what, more a how.
It’s an approach that I first came across in the performing arts world. Before you go on stage, a good director will give you a point of concentration to bear in mind as you do the show. It could be anything – keep the pace crisp, tell the story, keep it real, it’s cold, you have a pain in your leg... The purpose is to keep the performance fresh, to stimulate the cast so they avoid falling into routine and formula.
The practices I am talking about in business are similar; they have the same effect, jolting us out of our familiar ruts and reminding us there are many different hows for a given what. This kind of practice is essential if you want to take that fanstastic new idea you heard or read about and make it a new skill. Practice enables you to move useful ideas from your brain and incorporate them into your life. Practice makes practical.
Failure takes adequate practice
Everything you do well you have practised. That includes, all the things you complain about in life and want to improve. If you are good at making yourself overloaded, annoyed, stressed, late, financially stretched...it takes practice. Lack of confidence, hesitance, bad temper, missing the point – these are all attitudes which take quite a bit of practice to get right. Disappointment, distrust, depression all take adequate preparation for you to be successful at them.
Bottom line, all the ‘negative’ things happening to you right now, as well as the ‘positive’ ones are the result of dedicated practice by you. Congratulations. You are a lifelong practiser.
Looked at this way, clients recognise that they have almost unlimited time to practise. Each task, each interaction is a chance to practice. Indeed, if you are not practising something new, you are practising something habitual. Practising isn’t an option. They only question is what do you intend to practise – today, this week, this year?
That’s where we had the idea of POWcasts; a Practice Of the Week that we are now sending out free to all those who’d like to subscribe. Some or our subscribers told us they assume POW means Pearls Of Wisdom, which I can only take as a complement. My daughter, Elsa, is convinced it means Prizes On Wednesday...and come to think of it, why not?
This month we are looking at decisions and how, connecting to your deepest intention, can help you make better ones. June is about Change and in July we’ll be sharing practices we have developed to help our client Work Smarter.
I think my violin teacher lied when she told me ‘practice makes perfect’. I don’t know many of us who are capable of perfection – or who would want to be. But from what I have seen and experienced in the business world, I do think ‘practice makes practical’.
Do subscribe if you would like to receive a weekly POW. And do leave a comment here to let us know how you get on when you start putting your POW into practice.
It's a Trilemma!
How using your Deep Intent can help you with those hard-to-make choices!
In literature the world over, there comes a moment where the protagnist faces a fork in the road and has to choose. It’s not a rational call, not the kind of choice which logic or data is going to crack. It’s a dilemma, the choice between two or more equally attractive rights or worrying wrongs.
Most of us don’t feel particularly heroic slumped on our sofas in front of the quasi-drama that is the UK General Election 2010. Yet, archetypally that’s exactly what we are. It is time for a new government. And it is our job to choose. But all this talk of three-horse-races and hung parliaments is a fancy way of saying one path looks suspiciously like the other. In the beauty parade that is personality politics Cameron, Brown and Clegg are hard to tell apart. We are facing a tri-lemma!
So now what?
My wife has a theory it’s all decided by the hair; the lushest growth wins. Ulimately it may indeed be backcombing that carries the day but our presidential, sorry, Prime Ministerial hopefuls, are not leaving it to chance. To shape and influence our choice they are resorting to the same time-honoured tactics the hero has faced since the birth of storytelling. There’s Fear (“if you vote for them your DOOMED”). There’s Greed (“vote for me and I will give you what you most desire…”). And there’s Bland Reassurance (“don’t worry about a thing, just Trussst in me…”)
"If you come to a fork in the road, take it"
We may indeed by swayed by these manipulations but before we make our mark on the ballot paper I’d like to recommend another option, one we often suggest when working with business leaders facing dilemmas.
First, remember the dilemma is there for a reason. Storytellers from Homer to Hollywood deliberately include these tough decisions. Sadism? No. The purpose is not torture the protoganist, but to force them to go within; to consult heart not head; to connect with their deepest values, highest aspirations and all that is truly important. It is what we call our Deep Intent. It’s the pulse that runs beneath our actions, informs our choices and helps guide us through the fog.
Do we all have a Deep Intent? Certainly. Do we know what it is? Rarely. The purpose of these impossible-to-rationalise conundrums is to help the protagonist, usually blind to their deeper motives, to discover who they really and what they deeply care about.
The dilemma challenges us “do you mean what you say?” and if so “are you prepared to do something about it?”
Whichever of them actually wins the Election, it is very unlikely any of these three Leaders will actually give us what we really want. Ultimately it is our responsibility to realise our own Deep Intent. If the tri-lemma of the UK Election helps wake us up to that fact, it may have just earned our vote.
We have developed a series of tools and techniques to help you discover and use your own Deep Intent. if you'd like to try some of these out FREE, please subscribe to our regular POW-cast.