September 21, 2017

Archives for March 2015

How’s your own “brand” doing?

Two business peopleWe perhaps tend to think of “brand” from the purely business point of view of supporting a premium price for a product or attracting customers.

But the concept is also very relevant to relationships at the individual level.

If we have a favourable personal “brand” reputation, we can achieve the same result with less effort or a better result with the same effort.

I’m surprised sometimes how big a factor this can be, resulting in orders of magnitude difference in effectiveness, or determining success and failure. We tend not to be that aware of how critical brand is to our achievements and so others may not get the same results with the same actions, for example.

To clarify, logos and suchlike are not brands as such, in my view. They seek to represent a brand or even evolve a brand, but they are not themselves a brand. A brand reputation is something a market or a community determines based on its experience, not something we can control directly—influence, yes, but not control. (So a “rebranding” is really a “re-logo-ing”.)

Anyway, the thing is…

How’s your own brand doing?

The fine tuning of big change

Fast yacht sailingWe tend to think that big change requires brute force and large, broad strokes.

Maybe not…

Sometimes, the bigger the change required, the more delicate the approach needs to be—the more finely attuned is the effort that will succeed.

It’s a bit like getting a sailing boat to go fast—fine adjustment is required—just the right amount of force on the controls—not too much, not too little—everything in balance; “in the groove” of the optimum.

Marketing is like that: Push too hard and you end up with less.

It’s very obvious sometimes that people in positions of authority apply too much force and end up with less result. They’re not matching their input to the natural dynamics of the system.

They’re not in the groove.

And nor is the system.

Of course…

They need to be demanding, but not beyond the ability of the team to keep up, otherwise the result is, in fact, diminished rather than increased.

A more distracting environment than there’s ever been?

Woman with BlackberryIs this true?

Watching my early teenage years children struggle at times to focus on their homework in the face of diverse and increasing electronic distractions, I wonder whether their generation is growing up in the most distracting environment there has ever been.

Of course, living in a war zone might be rather worse. That’s true.

But assuming we’re not in physical danger, is our ability to focus more challenged than it’s ever been?

If so, that reality isn’t going to go away, and no doubt it’s going to intensify.

So it seems to me, we need to develop more skilful ways of coping; of sustaining our concentration. In fact, we need to get better at that just to stand still. We need more “one-pointedness” – the ability to focus on just one thing at a time.

Paradoxically, the modern world may drive us to be stiller in order to cope with its character; to be able to ignore its apparent insistence when we choose. Actually, the freneticism might force us to be calmer.

What do you think?

Are there more distractions that ever?

If so, how should we respond?

Feeling included (or not)

Mixed group of peopleHow is it that it makes such a difference if we make sure people feel included?

I understand the explanation to be a deep-seated part of our nature—the need to belong to a group to survive—literally. In earlier times, if we became separated from the group, we would be in serious trouble. So we have powerful, unconscious—you could say “instinctive”—programming about wanting and needing to be included.

It’s surprising then how many people neglect this easy way to make a difference. Just by taking the trouble to include everyone present, we can establish useful influence, sometimes to a remarkable degree.


We underestimate the hurt of accidentally or deliberately excluding someone, even temporarily.

That’s often an avoidable error, if we take the trouble to avoid it.

I find it helps to think of oneself, not as a node within a group, but more as a container for the whole. That sounds a bit weird, I know. I had this realisation in an exercise once… I initially saw myself as the hub of a wheel (thinking of a wooden spoked wheel) then I realised I identified more with the rim, holding everything else together.

What about you? Are you the hub or the rim of the wheel or something else?

Irrespective of that…

What do you do to make everyone feel included (if you think that’s a good idea)?

What’s the difference between espoused theories and theories in use?

Group in discussion at computerThe short answer is ego.

Organisations, teams, and individuals (including ourselves) have a habit of claiming to operate according to a set of theories that apply to our work. With the best of intentions, we set out to do our business based on a set of assumptions we would like to be true.

In fact, observation of what actually happens will usually reveal something different. In a perspective first articulated by Chris Argyris, we operate according to a rather different set of assumptions—our “theories in use.” It’s these theories-in-use that govern what is really done.

For example, espoused theories might be around customer service. In some organisations, unfortunately, the theories in use might have more to do with profit maximisation. The result is a debilitating disconnection between what management claims to be about and what it’s really about.

When challenged on this, leaders will typically resist admitting what drives them isn’t what they would like it to be. Their ego won’t let them.

Unaddressed, ego will maintain the discrepancy between espoused theories and theories in use, preventing the organisation (or the person) from really understanding itself, in turn preventing it from adapting and changing and growing.

An important role of leaders is to overcome this tendency, both in themselves and in others.

How closely aligned are your theories in use and your espoused theories? Can you see any gap between how you say you operate and how you really operate?

Another way this manifests can be summarised by “we judge others by their actions and ourselves by our intentions.”

Time to reflect on our actions perhaps.

When you’ve got going, should you keep going?

Balancing a baseball batOne thing writing teaches you is, when you get going, keep going. When you’ve overcome your own inertia, keep that boulder moving. Lots of other things are like that too.

But what about planning and prioritising? Don’t we need to stop and assess our direction or switch to another, now more pressing task? Well, maybe. On the whole, I think we’re better to stay productive until we’ve covered some ground and really have run out of steam on that particular task.

Yes, we need to guard against applying lots of effort to the wrong objective.

But the thing is…

Provided we made a reasonably sensible selection of our tasks in the first place, we do need to do them all in the end anyway.

We’re inclined to think that a low urgency, low importance task can always be put to the bottom of the list, over and over again. Not so. It’ll have to be done in the end.

So prioritising might be over-rated.

Having effective flow might be more important. Prioritising isn’t that helpful if you have to get everything done anyway.

We don’t challenge what we say ourselves

Three managersWe don’t challenge what we say ourselves. (Not unless we’re like Gollum in The Lord of the Rings anyway.)

OK, we might be conflicted about some subject of concern to us, and have some inner tension around that, but on the whole, we don’t reject the things we say. We don’t argue with ourselves.

And other people are just like that too. They don’t reject what they say either.


It helps a lot to get other people to articulate an issue and possible approaches to solving it. Then they’re comfortable with what’s said. They said it themselves, after all. And they might even take action.

The way to get the answer to come from them is by asking questions (open questions), sort of coaching the other person to a co-created outcome.

What’s your way of guiding someone to a solution you can support? Is that a style you can choose to adopt when you want to?

Or do you just flat out tell them your view and hope for the best? That might be seem to be quicker and take less patience. But it might not work at all. And even if it does, it leaves you with the job of supplying all the drive and direction.

Better to get it to come from them.

The danger of creeping mediocrity

Run down houseIn owning and operating something complex, like a house, for instance, it’s easy to let small flaws grow into big ones. If we don’t deal with minor issues in a relentless way, eventually the whole entity is degraded.

It’s like that with a business or an organisation…

If we tolerate mediocrity, even in situations where the individual issue doesn’t matter very much, eventually we have a degraded organisation.

If we accept mediocrity in a business, eventually it’ll fail.

That doesn’t mean we should be paralysed by an attempt to achieve unattainable perfection. It does mean we should insist on the best possible—from ourselves and others.

How do you keep mediocrity at bay?

The talent that comes from clarity

Professional man and womanSometimes it seems that other people have special talents—talents we can’t match.

There may be some truth in that in some cases.

More often…

The difference is just that they’ve developed tremendous clarity in what they are about. And because they’re very clear…

They can be very focused. And because they’re very focused…

They can achieve highly. And because they achieve highly…

They seem very talented.

It might be that to get the same results, we need the same talent.

Or more likely, we just need the same clarity.

Overcoming ego

Four business people in a discussion

We all have an ego. We couldn’t function properly without one. We need our sense of separateness.

On the other hand…

Our ego can blind us to the feedback we need to receive in order to grow and to develop or make the right decision. Unfortunately, we tend to reject input that threatens to disrupt our independent identity.

Somehow we need to regulate that tendency in ourselves.

Perhaps that’s work enough, but we also need to deal with it in other people…

We need to find ways of presenting the information they need without them rejecting it out of hand, because their ego won’t let them accept it.

How do we get someone in a position of authority to hear what they need to hear? Often not an easy thing, especially if they’re unaware of the effect of their own ego—if they don’t have that wisdom.

What’s the best way to speak truth to power?

One is to build a deep enough relationship with the person that we can get the message across without it “landing in the ego” by communicating “heart-to-heart.” That takes time and patience, of course.

Another is to express the point in relation to a third party, as in “My friend John” had such and such experience and decided on a certain course of action.

A third is to use the structure, Feel-Felt-Found, as in: “I know you feel x. Person y felt that too. They found z worked out well.”

How do you tackle this challenge?

What’s your approach to get someone to hear what they need to hear?

How do you side-step the ego?