"Could you just do me a one pager on that?"

The Obvious?

I remember the sinking feeling those words triggered. You knew that you had lost their attention and they were resorting to diversionary tactics.

So many documents are diversionary. Putting off doing something by writing a templated bit of business fluff. Reading yet another fictional case study rather than inspiring your own. Faffing about with formatting and fonts rather than taking the leap and sharing what you have written. Burying the final document on an obscure file server with the confident expecatation that it will never be seen by human eyes again.

If you are tempted to write a document today, or asked to do so by your boss, resist. Do something useful instead.

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Anxiety Dreams

The Obvious?

Photo credit Andy Walmsley http://andywalmsley.blogspot.co.uk

Photo credit Andy Walmsley http://andywalmsley.blogspot.co.uk

I had a very vivid dream last night in which I was struggling to remember how to drive a very old continuity desk in the BBC World Service. It was a vertical, grey metal, “B Type” desk with kellog keys to start tapes and rotary faders for various sources. I had no script or running order, there was a mess of old paperwork in front of me, we were live on air, and I kept starting things late, using the wrong keys to talk to the engineering control room, and generally things were falling apart with millions of people listening
This was a first time dream. Usually I dream that I am doing a Latin American broadcast driving the studio on my own with lots of tapes to start remotely from the mixing desk. We’re doing a live broadcast with the presenters through the glass in the studio and me rushing back and forwards from the desk to a row of tape machines setting each one up as we go through the show. One of the tapes on a large 2400 reel which needs a plastic NAB centre. These were always in short supply and I can’t find one. It’s the next tape to go on air and in my attempts to lace it up the whole tape unravels and falls on the floor.

Interesting that after more than twenty years this sort of pressure still leaves scars that surface when I have something coming up that I am focussed on. I am doing a workshop on Friday in Brussels for a large number of Directors General (senior civil servants) at The European Commission. Looks like it matters!

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Public Speaking

Who hasn’t had a bad, embarrassing or totally off based engagement where you were christened as the person to speak publicly and you totally bombed?

Let’s say you’re part of a new team, a committee of sorts and you and the team are going to review a power point to get things rolling, and you’re deemed to be in charge of a various section of slides.

You think to yourself, “I got this,” and then that moment hits.

You’re on deck, next to speak and you totally lose you willpower and crack under pressure.

Your voice isn’t assertive, you are short of breath and that mouth is becoming dryer by the minute.

Yes, that experience is telling and traumatic all in the same breath, but the public speakers that know they’re good, or even the ones that aren’t as adept at it, know that one bad apple can’t spoil the bunch. Simply put, that bad public speaking experience shouldn’t define your career as a person who perhaps needs to be able to lead a meeting or speak in front of a group but can’t due to your fear that what just happened could occur again.

The key to public speaking really isn’t the idea of speaking, making jokes or trying to hard to succeed at it. Much like anything else, you need two things: practice and a penchant for knowing the subject matter and topic inside and out.

Part of knowing the topic is research but also practicing it as well as the two aspects of public speaking go hand in hand. The research means you have found a central theme to what you’re saying and everything else falls into place as you build the perfect speech and start going over and over it until it almost is committed to memory.

Another characteristic of a public speaking who is equal parts poignant and poised is knowing their audience and not trying to hard to wow the crowd as if you’re doing some sort of comedy act. The idea behind a competent speech is feeling comfortable that the information is tailored to who is listening.

If you’re presenting to your boss, you might want to get a little more technical, rather than perhaps pitching to investors who want to know how the topic at hand is going to benefit them without knowing the nuts and bolts of the business but rather how they get from point A to B. That goes back to finding a speech that is specific.

The trick is putting yourself back out there, almost as if that first experience was the bad date you know you can get over if you just give it another shot, and be opened mind that maybe the next time out, you’ll knock it out of the park.

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The Power Of Stories

The Obvious?

I spent the end of last week talking to a group of financial directors on a cruise. As part of my responsibilities I hosted four discussion groups, the topic for which was “Creating customer focused finance teams”.

At the start of each session I asked the participants to introduce themselves and talk a little bit about the businesses that they were from. The range of businesses that people work in amazed me yet again. Everything from the world’s largest supplier of daffodils to a company trying to export the idea of free range eggs to America. All of them, even those in more conventional businesses, had great stories to tell and flew in the face of conventional wisdom that would have us believe that accountants are not the most exciting people in the world!

In fact it became apparent that all of them had a significant role to play in the overall story of their businesses. Not only the story as it related to the customers, but also as it related to their own employees. In fact it was the potential of stories to help everyone make sense of what could otherwise be difficult to understand data that became the theme of the sessions.

Making sense of things, and helping others understand, are really key activities in the workplace. They are also aspects of work that the social media principle of “working out loud” is made for.

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Being bothered

The Obvious?

I can’t be bothered”. It’s a phrase I use all too often.

At the weekend Penny went sailing with a friend and talking to him how much faffing about it took just to keep the thing maintained and setting it up to go sailing I marvelled at how he could be bothered.

Last night we went kayaking along a stretch of the Thames. We nearly didn’t go because I couldn’t be bothered. In reality it only took us twenty minutes to drive to the river and five minutes to inflate and set up the kayak. In return we had the most wonderful trip in glorious low sunshine and came back full of the joys of life.

It’s the same at work. It so easy to slip into not being bothered. Failing to find the reason to put in that little bit of effort that can make work so rewarding and make a difference.

It’s worth finding the reason to be bothered.

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Losing your balance

The Obvious?

Many moons ago I managed the editors who worked on Panorama. In those days it was broadcast on a Monday night so the weekends were the busiest and most pressured time for the editors. Being at the end of the production process, editing is where all the pressure ends up coming to a head and to be frank the production team took advantage of the commitment of the editors and I had many run ins with them about the way they worked.

On one particular weekend I was laying roofing felt on our garden hut. I’d been fielding calls all day from work about some Panorama crisis, trying to protect my editors, keep the programme happy, and not get fired in the process. Eventually I lost control and shouted “fuck” at the top of my voice, hurled the hammer I was using spinning across the garden, and literally lost my balance at the top of my ladder.

Not all jobs work to deadlines like this and not all jobs involve temperamental luvvies like TV does, but we all have that moment when we lose it, when the world falls about our ears and we run out of things to do to keep our balance. It can be the loneliest feeling in the world and though rarely life threatening can get our pulse racing, hands sweating, vision blurred, the lot.

But it passes. It always does. No matter how long it takes. We recover our sense of perspective, the situation starts to resolve itself, solutions begin to emerge. We all know this.

It’s remembering it in the heart of the storm that is the hard part.

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We only have moments to live.

The Obvious?

I’ve always loved this phrase from Jon Kabat-Zinn. It is meant to convey the idea that rather than live in the past or the future we should be more attentive to the present moment. In fact all of our memories of the past and our imagining of the future can only occur in the present moment so it really is all we have. One moment after the other.

How different things are in business. We obsess about the past, raking over the coals of previous disasters, or we fantasise about imagined futures spending months strategising about events that we delusionally expect to control.

Even when we are talking to each other we are never there. We are always racing ahead, anticipating our next smart answer to the question we imagine to have been asked or implied. Senior people are often the worst at this. I used to describe them as propeller heads. Always looking around for the next, more important, conversation to have rather than taking part in the one they are meant to be engaged in.

But it can be different. We have all experienced leaders who are truly present. Who lift our spirits with their attentive listening, who engage with the real world in the current moment rather than holding it at bay with a barrage of management bollocks.

Real presence takes courage, a willingness to face down and grapple with the world as it is in this moment, and the next one, and the next.

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Tools of your trade

The Obvious?

Sadly I still encounter too many people who still feel that technology is being done to them. From the senior execs I worked with who winged at me about what IT wouldn’t let them do, to that sinking feeling when trying to send a client a presentation and they say “your file doesn’t work” or they can’t work out how to get it through their organisation’s firewall. Even using Skype or knowing how to bcc emails appears to be beyond the abilities of too many.

Don’t get me wrong. I am no geek expecting people to have PhDs in computing science. I have never been a fan of technology as an end in itself. I’ve never taken computers apart. I’ve only written as much code as I’ve written bad poems. My excitement about technology is as a tool to help me do more and better, along the lines of Steve Jobs’ “bicycles for the mind”.

In pretty much any job a computer, or smart phone, is the tool of your trade. It is a professional competence to know how to use it.

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The Obvious?

One of the hardest things about change, especially at work, is questioning what others take to be normal.

I so clearly remember that feeling of waking up to the madness of busywork, trying to talk to others about it, and watching them close down and close ranks.

There is an almost bullying collusion about clinging to “the way we do things around here” in most workplaces. Challenging office norms is seen as deeply threatening.

This starts at an early age. I am about to deliver a talk to the sixth form at my daughters’ school this Friday. The sixth-formers are allowed to not wear school uniform but are required to wear “office appropriate attire” which for the boys means cheap suits and for the girls a world of confusion!

“Office appropriate”. Two seemingly mundane words with so much behind them.

But it’s all stories. Appropriateness is a story. Normal is a story. We make them all up. Other people make them up. Other people assert their stories over yours.

They say that madness is being in a minority of one. I reckon it’s a sign of sanity. Make sure the stories that make up your sense of normal are your own and not other people’s!

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The Obvious?

I’ve not been paying enough attention to the election of Jeremy Corbyn to comment about his suitability as either leader of the Labour Party or as a potential prime minister. But I do get a sense of excitement about his appointment that signals bigger changes.

We are moving away from “mass”. Mass movements and mass media are things of the past. Our current political class knew how to handle mass, they appear at a loss as to how to harness networks of thoughtful individuals. Our old isms are outdated. We are shaping and forming new stories with each tweet, selfie and update. Large networks of individuals are beginning to emerge as the way we now make sense of the world around us.

None of us really know the rules for this yet. We are making them up as we go along. WE are making them up as we go along. Each of us individually has a new found responsibility, a new found power. It’s why the chapter in my book called “we all have a volume control on mob rule” will matter more and more.

It’s exciting – and the more we shake off our fears of ambiguity and learn to proactively shape our stories, the more exciting it will get.

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