I find it fascinating that so often when I’m talking with senior leaders they talk about wanting to win the hearts and minds of their people and engage the talent they know they have in the workforce. But very frequently the ways in which organisations work seem almost designed to work against this.
Telling people what to do does not cause them to become more proactive, more self-reliant and nor does it give them an understanding of what they’ve got within them. This is where I find myself quite often talking about the value of a different kind of approach. If you wanted to give it a label I would call it ‘The Coach Approach’. Why the coach approach? Because coaching has fundamentally an assumption which is that people have skills and talents that need to be drawn out. The way you draw them out is not by trying to shove things down people’s throats. You get the best from people when they are able to access it themselves. This is a process of internal exploration and then action.
Here’s an example – I have just come back from working with a whole bunch of people who are very talented leaders in all sorts of different specialisms. The reason I was speaking at their conference is that they wanted to be better able to have the sorts of conversations which they know make a difference to clients and also illuminate what it is that clients really want. This is how they wanted to add value as they knew there was something that they weren’t doing.
In the course of our time together I was looking at one of the critical skills that indeed comprise the coach approach which is knowing how to ask good questions. The art of good questioning involves timing because you can ask the same question at different moments and get wildly different responses. It also involves understanding what you don’t know and are therefore engaged in an act of genuine enquiry. You are provoking thought. Whenever you ask a question what you do is you send a person on an internal search in terms of the neuroscience of it all.
There is an interesting aspect even in the word ‘question’. Look at what else is contained in that one word. Very often I will say to people the really important question is ‘what is the quest in your question’? Where are you directing attention? What is the journey you are sending people on when you ask them a question. When you do so that is exactly what you do, you send them on an internal search.
This is just one of a whole bunch of coaching skills which seem to me to be far too important to be left exclusively in the hands of people who are called Professional Coaches. This is why I have spent a lot of time making these skills available in a learnable format to people who frankly have very little interest in being coaches but who really do want to know how to adopt a coach approach – which means stop telling, start listening. Start a different kind of working relationship with people. That relationship will be characterised – not by a loss of authority on the contrary you can have your own clear position but the way you engage with people will enable them to do more than they have done before. It is almost like designing an alliance where the two of you, three of you or even a team begin to have a way of engaging in what is naturally there as latent talent. It seems to me that this is a skill pretty much anyone would benefit from knowing how to utilise.
I have taught this to people all over the world and they come from very different backgrounds but have one thing in common – they want to draw on the talent they know is there.
This is why I would say that coaching skills is something that pretty much anybody would benefit from learning about and becoming proficient in. They are skills and skills require practice.
You can read a book but you can’t get it from a book. That’s why we have a coaching programme and funnily enough, most of the people who come on the coaching programme are interested in applying it across the board in their life as a whole.
I was recently on a Panel and was asked what did I consider one of the most important professional skills that any manager could have? Without hesitation I said ‘knowing how to make relationships work.’ Why? Because ultimately, being a manager is about managing people. The same applies to leaders. The most effective leaders know how to engage people and that means knowing how to have a relationship with them.
So there is a real question here for anybody who wants to progress professionally, namely, do you know how to make relationships work with peers, subordinates and with those above you? They’re all relationships but often people are better at doing one of these than the others.
Even if they are good at all of them, I have yet to meet someone who couldn’t be better. And how about taking these skills home too? Why leave them at the office? Your family might appreciate them!
Being able to start and maintain good relationships is obviously one of the keys to professional success. If you can’t do that that then you just get peoples’ backs up and it’s very hard for them to take you seriously. It also makes it hard for them to collaborate with you. But it is also really important for your personal happiness. Why? Because when we relate well we feel real, we feel valued and we feel understood. We also act differently – we are more ourselves.
When this is not happening all sorts of things begin to unravel. In the case of professionals if you don’t relate well you can pay dearly for it through lost credibility and lost promotion. I’ve worked with many people who had great technical expertise but were seen as a liability when it came to customer relations. Kept in the back room their careers were suffering and they would have stayed there if not for the coaching we did.
In our personal lives being able to relate authentically is obviously important. And it’s not just about being with someone. You can be living with someone but that doesn’t mean you’re relating well to them. I’ve certainly worked with people who describe feeling pretty lonely as they look across at ‘the stranger at the breakfast table’.
For me, one of the pleasures of working with people has been developing the tools to start and maintain great relationships because there are real things you can do.
Pretty much any relationship can be enhanced. I have worked with couples where things are actually pretty good and they want them to be great. Now that is of a different order. Can you make a good relationship great? Yes you can!
What about future relationships? Can you prepare now to make them work? Of course!
Knowing how to do these things is a practical skill. There are some very important how tos that go with knowing how to make relationships work.
Because of this I’ve decided to commit to doing a day in the autumn to share with people some of the tools I use which help ensure relationships work. So if you’re interested for yourself or for others in ‘How to Make Relationships Work’ I’ll look forward to seeing you then.
Last week I had the pleasure of accepting an invitation to become Dean of Innovation and Learning for the Purposeful Planning Institute. The PPI consists of legal, financial, wealth and lifestyle advisors to high net worth individuals and ultra-high net worth family offices. They are a great bunch of people who, as their Institute’s name suggests, seek to go beyond simple financial planning and look deeper into the purpose it is meant to serve for both this generation and those yet to come. To do this they need to find out what really matters to their clients so that financial and legal decisions are driven by and serve the client’s fundamental beliefs and values. Being able to do this is a real skill and that’s where I come in.
I have been working with them over a number of years and indeed I will be speaking at their conference as I do each year in Denver in August.
They did a very striking thing recently. They surveyed members about the most pressing kind of innovation needed in the field. What came back was that approximately 60% of respondents said that the greatest need for innovation was in the area of client conversations.
So, not fancy new products, just how to engage in good conversations that ensure people are clear about how to create a future for themselves and others that is in keeping with their goals, values, beliefs and aspirations. To achieve this you need to be able to shift from presentation to elicitation.
That’s why this year my session is entitled “How powerful are your questions?” While some questions are more useful than others in drawing people out there is no magic set of all-purpose ‘powerful questions’ which you can just fire off in any situation.
In addition to having the right question there’s the small matter of rapport and timing. Ever noticed how someone can be technically very competent but not good at putting others at ease? Well it’s the same with elicitation: if you don’t have the rapport it doesn’t matter how good your questions are. Similarly timing really can be everything. It may be the right question but is it the right time to ask it? Instead of defaulting to a few favourite questions which just become a habit, it’s better to have an understanding of what’s going on when you ask a question. Then you can engage appropriately.
So in a nutshell, whenever we ask a question we send the brain on an internal search. The question is how useful was that search? One thing we can do to improve our questioning skills is ask ourselves, what are we’re really going for?
Advisors then would do well to ask themselves a question before they ask their clients anything, namely, ‘What is the quest in my question?’ Or to put it another way, what kind of search am I seeking to trigger?
Although this is a perfectly learnable skill, very few people exercise such intellectual discipline. It’s incredibly helpful because if you know what you’re going for, you’re far more likely to notice if you don’t get it and you’re much less likely to be distracted by an out of left field answer. Outstanding communicators invariably know what they’re going for and don’t get distracted.
As ever innovation begins with how we think. Just how rare this is as a mindset was brought home to me by a student in an Innovative Skills program I was running recently who exclaimed: “You want me to think before opening my mouth? Wow! That’s pretty innovative!”
Last week I spent a couple of days in half hourly conversations with all sorts of different businesses who are interested in what we are doing and in particular the ways in which they could innovate more effectively using the tools that we are currently making available.
This was exceedingly interesting, many contacts were made and offers proposed. However, in some of these conversations I found myself pointing out how innovation is really all around us, how people are almost oblivious to it and why it’s useful to begin recognising it.
Some examples? Around 2007 more people in the total world population started living in cities than in rural areas. That is a huge shift and the consequences are pretty difficult to overestimate.
To give you an example of just how profound these can be, if you look at the US there are a couple of staggering statistics; 90% of US GDP and 86% of all US jobs are generated on just 3% of the landmass of the continental US. And that 3% is in cities.*
Now those cities often don’t get to keep the wealth they have generated and hence can have poor infrastructure. But that doesn’t alter the fact that cities are hugely important innovation and wealth generators. Indeed the very process of urbanisation is itself a demonstration of innovation. And we’re only just beginning: in the next 25 years it is estimated that 300 million Chinese will move from the countryside to cities like Shanghai. This represents the largest migration in human history.
This is why I sometimes say that innovation is hidden in plain sight and people go about their business without realising that it’s happening all around them.
Here are a couple more less dramatic but equally pervasive examples, this time from the world of fashion. How about high heels? The heel as we know it is something of a recent invention – and it started as something for men.
Louis XIV was a short man and he wanted to be taller so he wore heels. Thus the court and all the men began to wear heels. This, by the way, is why we talk about people being well-heeled: it means they have cultural standing and financial means. Eventually heels become the province of women and they are reinvented again and again.
And then there is the little black dress. Historically this is a very recent creation and yet it is absolutely ubiquitous. Pretty much every woman has a little black dress. Thank you, Coco Chanel.
If you really want to know where the little black dress came from you need to know where she came from. She grew up in a Catholic orphanage in the 1890s surrounded by nuns in black habits.
Right up until the early 1920s the only people who wore black used to be servants, nuns or those in mourning. So the idea of a dress that is the complete opposite of the Victorian bustle with its voluminous crinolines, a dress that is simple and black is not just innovative, it’s revolutionary.
Fast forward to the 1920s and the little black dress is born. It really takes off when Zelda Fitzgerald, the wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald, wears one. The flappers are gone but the little black dress lives on. Now it’s a part of every woman’s wardrobe.
We are surrounded by innovation. Look around!
*‘A Country of Cities’, Vishaan Chakrabarti, Metropolis Books, 2013
I’m looking forward to this weekend: on Saturday it will be
an opportunity to meet up with old and new friends because it will be our third
25th Anniversary Celebration Day.
One of the things
I’ve been spending time on these past couple of years is the very idea of
innovation and how to be innovative. A lot of people want to innovate but don’t
necessarily know how to. It is true that innovation is the life blood of
commercial success, but it’s also the basis of personal well-being. (If you’re
in any doubt about that just ask someone whose relationship has gone stale).
Being able to innovate then is very important - which is why
I began to work with Professor John Bessant who’s background is innovation in
organisations. We got together because John had got to the point where he was
very clear that the next stage was not organisations but what happens inside
people that makes it possible for them to be innovative. We met when he came to
take the Practitioner with me. Many of the NLP techniques are potentially
useable to foster that overall capacity to be innovative. This is not the same
as being creative: you could be creative and not really do anything. To be
innovative you need more than an idea: you have to follow through and do.
Something has to actually happen.
John is going to be joining me this weekend and we will be
sharing some of the tools that we have in our new programme that will be
starting in the Autumn.
I also want to spend some of the time looking at the long
and winding road that is a person’s life. Having a way of making sense of where
you are on the journey, knowing how to take charge and go in a direction that
is meaningful to you is crucial. So often what I hear from people who have taken
trainings with me is that what they found most valuable was how it helped them
re-orientate in their own life. They have a new awareness of what they are
about and where they want to be going.
I am very pleased that Lawrence Kershen QC, who took his Practitioner with me in 1990,
will be joining me on Saturday. Lawrence’s journey can tell us a lot about how
to engage with our inner calling. It has immediate relevance for anyone wanting
to be true to themselves. More of that on the day.
When you start thinking about the journey that is your life,
being able to just keep going is also
a crucial part of the art of succeeding. So the other thing that I really want
to focus on are those secrets of perseverance.
Winston Churchill’s adage of “never, never, never give up” is really to the point
here. After having guided ITS through 25 years of ups and downs I think there
are some things I can usefully say about how to ensure that you do not just
survive but you actually thrive.
It is going to be a jam-packed day and, hey, here comes
One of the most important things I do is working with people
who are in leadership roles in very different organisations all over the world.
As part of that I find I am frequently asked to engage in coaching the next
generation of leaders in how to be effective as leaders.
A hallmark of leadership is you have responsibility but you also
frequently feel there are many things you need to attend to. So, it is often
the case that leadership and the experience potentially of overwhelm go
How do you address overwhelm as a leader? This becomes a
question which any effective leader has to have an answer to. One of the things
that’s fascinating to me about being overwhelmed (or fearing that you’re going
to be overwhelmed) is that no one is ever really overwhelmed by what they are
doing. In fact they are overwhelmed by the number of things they are not doing
and that they feel they should be doing. You
therefore have this very curious thing that overwhelm is not about what you’re
doing but it is about what you feel should be doing.
The secret of dealing with overwhelm is getting very clear
about what matters most. If you don’t know how to prioritise it is going to be
really difficult to avoid feeling overwhelmed. If on the other hand you
cultivate the art of prioritising then overwhelm is not something you are going
to be on the receiving end of because you will always be addressing the
questions like... what is most important here? Where do I need to focus my
attention first? What is requiring my attention now?
You are therefore constructing timelines for yourself as
well as asking, ‘what is my top 10, my top 5, my top 3 things to do? Being able
to do this is a learnable skill but without practice it’s something which is
very difficult to do in the moment. Until you actually have some means of
stepping back you are unlikely to do that because you are way too busy being
One of the things I notice about people is that the longer
they are in the world of work, the busier they get. The busier you are the
greater the danger of you not being strategic because you are just doing your
best to keep up.
How to ensure that you don’t get lost in your own busyness
or you don’t get overwhelmed by the drama of the day? Well, you know what it is
like when you come back from holiday - you frequently see things differently.
Why? Because you’ve taken a break and stepped
back. You’ve created a breathing space.
I think very often that is what good coaching does and it is
absolutely why the CEOs I work with value having a coaching space. It is
because every so often, on a regular basis, they step back from the drama of
the day and they do something really important. They take a breath, they take
stock, they look at the big picture and then determine what really matters
here. Again they are prioritising, but they are doing so based on their own
values and there is an understanding of what is important going forward. They also
look at what is in keeping with their own primary values and the goals they
seek to realise. If you don’t do this on a regular basis you will forget what
your primary values are and what you are going for because you will just be
trying to keep up.
Good coaching creates the space to be strategic not just in
your leadership but in your leadership style.
This prevents overwhelm and that means you get to be a whole different kind of
leader – one who can inspire others to
learn how to do this too.
I have just had a very
video based day. It has been extraordinary really and a contrast between the
old and the new too.
Many years ago I
was approached by The Open University to see if I’d be willing to contribute to
their MBA programme as they had a course which was on “Creativity, Innovation
and Change”. Indeed I think they still
That saw me going
with a group of ITS alumni to the BBC studios in Marylebone High Street and
recording a piece which has been used for many years now. As it happens, somebody who took that MBA Open
University programme was particularly taken with what we were doing regarding
how to be more creative and how to generate innovative strategies. This person
contacted me a little while ago to say that he would very much like to come and
video me talking about creativity, innovation and also leadership.
Times have moved on
and instead of me going to a studio he just came to the house. He is actually
Italian and this will be going out through an Italian portal for leaders who
are English speaking. It was interesting
how we did it remarkably easily, with no fancy studio equipment. It was just
fascinating to do. Also to hear his take on how taking the Open University
course had made a real impression on him. That was one piece; the old way and
the new way all in one.
On the same day I
also got a series of links - 15 altogether
- each being a short link to a video I had recorded at the request of
some students. These videos feature different topics looking at innovation, entrepreneurship,
branding, work-life balance, the role of collaboration, keys to successful
living and how to survive in a recession.
And they are ready to roll. I have just been having a look at them. I
could wish for better lighting and so forth.
Nevertheless it seems to me they are very much of the video age. None
are more than two or three minutes.
A video is a useful
way of saying something to the point very briefly and hopefully to give people
a steer on different ways of coming at being more resourceful and of course
more resilient. Of course I had something to say on the role of Applied
Neuroscience - you would be surprised I think if I hadn’t! - but also on the
nature of entrepreneurialism and why it isn’t just to do with business.
Learning to have an
entrepreneurial mind set would be an incredibly useful skill to develop as part
of every child’s learning experience. In essence being an entrepreneur is about
having a dream and being able to follow that through, being a self-starter,
creating something, making changes based on whether or not you are succeeding
and daring to dream.
One of the videos
is called, Do You Need a Plan? Yes, you may but you won’t just need a plan,
you will need some passion too. You will
also need to go with your gut when the plan says one thing and your feelings
say something quite different – I know which I’d trust.
These kinds of
thoughts and being able to offer them in videos is very satisfying and very simple.
My hope is that we’ll be able to put these out fairly soon. I’ll keep you
Well this past week has been one of those wonderful times when some of
the themes that I’m particularly passionate about have been coming together in
ways that I thought would probably happen but I didn’t quite know when.
So earlier in the week I was talking with Professor John Bessant with
whom I’m preparing some material on innovation and how to be innovative. He is
somebody who has spent many many years at the forefront of exploring innovation
in organisations and we first met because John was just interested in what he
considered to be the missing piece - namely how to be innovative at an
individual level; what can you do and what can you give people that can enable
them to be more so. That has been the focus of our attention. We’re in fact
going to be doing some work later in the year showing people exactly how to do
this and as team leaders how they can enable others to be more effective too.
A few days ago I was also talking with Professor Patricia Riddell about
neuroplasticity and the ability of the brain to essentially reinvent itself and
the extraordinary potential possibilities that this throws open. Of course this
started with a re-understanding of the field of neuroscience of just what was
possible. Initially it was assumed that the brain was the brain and there you
go: you got what you got. However, what has been so clear in the last ten years
is that essentially the brain can re-invent itself, not just to any degree at
all but beyond our wildest previous imaginings and we really don’t know the
Now, when you put these two things together; innovation and what is
called neuroplasticity do you think they might just have anything to do with
each other? Well of course, because what we’re taking about with neuroplasticity
is not just people having a new idea once in a while, it is about the brain
literally changing itself at the bio-electrical and chemical level. When you
have, for instance, new insights, you are changing the organic structure of
your brain. It is not just a nice idea, there is something going on internally
laying down new neural pathways.
This has got amazing implications. People recovering from traumatic
injuries? Well clearly this will be good news because much more may be possible
than we thought. In addition, just in ordinary everyday life, pretty much
anybody can learn to become more able to do things that they previously thought
they couldn’t. If that is true for an individual then it is also going to be
true for a group of individuals who might just be known as a team. Or for many
teams who might just be known as an organisation.
Now think about this, what would it be like if we started looking at teams
and organisations as able – or not - to encourage more people to be more
innovative, that is to say, to be become more capable of demonstrating their
own brain’s neuroplasticity. Or are we working in organisations where there’s
an extraordinary kind of rigidity? As in, it must be this way because it has
always been this way. It is not that we don’t want procedures, it is not that
we don’t find protocols useful as they have an enormous role to play in making
sure we don’t wake up every morning and re-invent the wheel. But if you want to
stay stuck make sure you don’t believe that change is possible, that you don’t
believe that your own brain can deliver an extraordinary rate of change that
you can barely imagine - and make sure that you don’t think other people can do
it either. Well who on earth would want to do that?
And of course that is why bringing these different worlds together is so
potentially rewarding and for me incredibly exciting.
We are actually going to be having a Celebration Day on 1st June and
John’s going to be joining us on that day. He and I will be exploring some of
the dimensions of innovation and how to be innovative as an individual. But
before then Trish and I will be exploring the promise of neuroscience as it
relates specifically to this new quality of being able to achieve greater
plasticity - and thus greater flexibility and greater creativity.
Our whole world opens up if we just understand what is possible for our
brain. That’s why I’m looking forward to this coming weekend on
neuroplasticity. So, until the next time.
In the era
of Apple it is very easy for people to get hooked on the artefact and fail to
appreciate the kind of thinking that gave rise to it.
effective innovation what is frequently needed is the ability to ask some basic
questions and think afresh about what we are doing. (Which of course is exactly
what Jobs and co. did consistently).
this really mean in practice? Here are
two case histories I often use when considering what would innovative thinking
look like if there’s no extra budget but things need to change?
first few years of the Second World War Hitler’s U-boats were taking a terrible
toll sinking a huge tonnage of Atlantic shipping. Ensuring Atlantic convoys would
continue to get supplies through to the UK was the single most important
determinant of ensuring continued resistance to Hitler. If the Atlantic convoys
were all sunk then so was the possibility of resistance to Hitler. However the
British kill rate for destroying U boats was abysmal – about 1% of those
sighted were sunk.
Patrick Blackett, physicist and Nobel Prize winner. Blackett developed what we now
call organisational research. With a very small team he started to ask some
questions. The Navy knew that the U-boats could only move at a certain rate.
Something like 45 seconds elapsed between sighting and dropping depth charges.
They knew that the U-boat would probably dive to about 150ft so you set the
charge to go off at 150ft. Well that’s fine, the depth charge explodes but it’s
is in the wrong place because what they hadn’t taken into account was that the
U-boat might change in direction not just depth.
did Blackett suggest? That the parameters be changed. You would only go for attacking
U-boats if they had been out of sight for no
more than 25 seconds and that you would set the depth charge to 25ft because
they could not have gone any deeper than that in 25 seconds.
result of this was that it improved the kill rate from 1% to 10%. That is the
equivalent of having a new secret weapon which is ten times more powerful than
its predecessor. But actually there was no new secret weapon - just a different
way of thinking.
the time U-boats travelled on the surface so they should’ve been pretty visible.
Given an estimated number and the distances they travelled it was possible to
calculate how often they should have been sighted,
only thirty percent of the sightings that should have been achieved were being achieved.
Why was this? All sorts of fancy ideas were suggested. Again some basic
questioning yielded vital information. The planes used were converted night
bombers. Because they were used at night they had been painted black. However
they were now being used as spotter planes in broad daylight and black is the
most visible colour against a daytime sky! Repainting the underside of the
wings white led to a doubling in the number of sightings. That is like suddenly
doubling the number of planes you have available.
When I share these cases with business leaders they immediately grasp
that the innovation lies in rethinking the challenge and asking new
So you might want to consider what
is the equivalent for you in what you are trying to do? How might you do more
effectively what you already do now?
The other day I was in the pub and I heard one guy saying to
the other ‘well you know me, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ as if this
was an explanation for why he was going to stay the same. Of course, actually it is no explanation at
all because the fact of the matter is we now know you can teach an old dog new
tricks, not only that but every person can learn new things regardless of their
age. Why? Because the brain isn’t just some sort of static soft round mass of
tissue it is actually a living system and your brain is always changing. That
change shows up in lots of different ways. It exists at every level, at the
level of the cells, at the level of your behaviour and indeed there is an
expression in the neurosciences which I think is a very apt one which covers a
lot of the what fires together, as in neurons wires together. If it starts
happening on a regular basis it becomes
part of the structure of how you do what you do and maybe even how you think of
who you are.
What might this mean for us? Well it means that actually old
dogs can learn new tricks whenever they wish but they do have to want to do it
and they need to know how to do it.
This is not just dogs but everybody. For me this is particularly exciting
because of the work I’m doing with Professor Patricia Riddell and
bringing the world of Applied Neuroscience into our everyday learning and
understanding using the tools of NLP to make it possible to apply this new
understanding. All of that becomes so much easier with the work that’s being
done now which makes it very clear that the best way to understand your brain
is to think of it as a system. For me that made life much easier because I
spent a lot of time focusing on systems and systems thinking. Indeed I wrote a
book about it and one of the things that happens when you start thinking systemically is you
understand the power of feedback; arguably no feedback, no system. Feedback is
what tells us whether we are on track or off track, are we doing too much of
something, do we need to do more of something, are we doing enough? It is there
in every aspect of our lives it is just that often people do not recognise it
If I’m driving my car, the engine only works because of all sorts
of very clever feedback that has been sort of built into it. I can take all the
parts of that engine apart, I can pile them up in a heap beside the chassis and
I still have all the bits of the engine but I do not have a functioning engine
any longer and that’s because the bits are only part of the story. The engine
is more than the sum of its parts, the engine is the feedback loops that make
things happen to a greater or lesser degree so that the car can move forward
and be under my control in the same way our brains have feedback loops and we
can begin to engage with those and that changes the way we can be, it changes
what’s possible for us and that makes it possible for us to have a new
understanding, not just of what we can do but who we might become.
all sorts of extraordinary opportunities which up until very very recently were
not thought to be possible by science itself so there is a real revolution
taking place over the past few years within the field so that neuroplasticity
has come to be seen as the norm. It used to be the case that we had these myths
of location where almost like what Trish calls advanced phonology, you know
like there are bits of the brain that do particular things and the classic
example of that is the left right brain split that many people still assume is
the case, whereas actually what is going on in the neuroscience makes that very
old hat and not even true any longer. What therefore becomes possible is that
we can start to work with our brains and we can literally create new pathways,
have new abilities and we know what is really needed to make that really stick
and guess what, so much of what NLP has been doing is giving us the tools to
turn this understanding into a practical reality.
That’s why Applied
Neuroscience is so valuable right now. That’s why we’re going to be having a
high old time doing a half day Sunday morning exploration of neuroplasticity
for you and for me.
You know one of the most common words I hear banded about
when I’m talking with consultants and when I’m consulting myself in
organisations is the word ‘excellence’. And invariably people say that they
want it or that they would like to see more of it. But what I don’t hear so
often is people talking about how they would ensure that within their own
organisation and within their own practice they would make certain that their
excellence was consistently being achieved. That I think is rather more
challenging and in a way excellence is a bit like charity, you know, it begins
So it is all very well talking about achieving an excellent product or
an excellent service but who’s to say it is excellent and would you be willing
to submit yourself to the scrutiny of assessors who would determine on a
comparative basis how excellent is your excellence? This was a process that
many years ago set us thinking about how we might ensure that we really did
walk our talk. I am mindful of this today especially because a little why ago I
had a call from the ITS office telling us that for the 9th
consecutive year we have just been awarded our IS0 9001 badge because of outstanding
organisational excellence. What that means is that the ISO inspector has been
on the premises for much of the day looking at the way we do things and
determining do these work to the benefit of our clients and customers and do we
have practices in place that ensure that pretty much whatever happens we have a
consistent way of working which delivers.
While we might like to think we do, the
real test is when somebody from outside, who is passionate about this kind of
excellence subjects us to scrutiny and tells us yay or nay. And actually here
we are as I say for the ninth consecutive year, ITS has just been given a big
thumbs up with compliments to the team regarding the quality of those processes
and how they have improved over time and every year rather than us being told
well you’re nearly there instead we pass with flying colours. There might be
some little tweak that can be offered which is actually very valuable where we learn other processes which we can add to what
So this set me thinking, much talk about excellence but I
don’t know how many organisations are willing to subject themselves to this
kind of scrutiny, to really do what it takes to say ‘Yes, we want to know’ and
‘Yes, we want the feedback’. It is only when you are willing to do that can you
get an external view on ‘where are we?’ and ‘what might we do to enhance
performance?’. So this is just by way of course congratulations to the team
doing an absolutely outstanding job and frankly for doing it whilst carrying on
with business as usual. It is now at the point where the structures are so
robust that it is not some frantic last minute preparation before an examiner
comes in, it is just a way of doing business. I think that there is a lesson
here in terms of creating structures that allow excellence to just bubble forth
and to be the norm.
So, another year and I have no doubt that we will be
enjoying our tenth year, a year from now because we will be putting our minds
to it and making sure that we don’t just talk about excellence we really do it.
Congratulations to the team and all this in the hope that we can better serve
those who are our clients and whose lives we seek to benefit by offering the
kind of experiences that are part of the parcel of what makes us who we are.
Well at the beginning of this week I had a communication
from one of my publishers telling me that the very first book I ever co-authored,
‘Principles of NLP’ is virtually ready in its second edition to be launched
onto a new world indeed in a new millennium even. It was very striking for me
because it is as if what was the beginning is still incredibly relevant. They
were very excited at being able to get the rights to be able to publish it
again. And so the principles that are at the heart of NLP remain the very same
principles from when I first started
writing. But of course the difference now is that we have the potential of demonstrating
from the neuroscience just why those principles really matter and what it is
that makes them so incredibly effective when you have ‘how-to’ techniques and
the technology that goes with those ideas. Really simple things like the
classic example, ‘the meaning of the communication is the response it elicits’.
Now what does that even mean? Most people think the meaning of what they say is
what they decided it means. Well yes, except that if you really want to know
what you think you said, you want to find out what other people think it is
that you have just said because whatever they think it is you have just said is
actually what the meaning is as far as they’re concerned. So you have this
really curious paradox which is the true meaning of what a communication really
is is what the receivers of that
communication make of it.
This has got unbelievable
implications. I can remember some years ago being involved in some
earnest discussions with Civil Defence Authorities about emergency communications
and how very frequently they just didn’t seem to get it when a communication
was issued in a test for for instance in a fire, earthquake or what have you
and this was in the context of Italian Civil Defence and people just didn’t pay
attention. The curious thing was that the authorities in question, decided that
that just meant they weren’t paying attention as opposed to saying ‘No, the
meaning of our communication is a response it elicits’. If it doesn’t produce a
response we want, namely ‘leave now to stay alive!’ then we need to change the
way we’re communicating.
Now that is true at a general level for a large population
for potentially a life and death matter but it is equally true in our own
lives, in businesses where we change what
we want to say so that other people can get it so that we say it in a way that
makes sense to them. What we now have is an understanding at the level of
Neuroscience about why does this matter?
What is going on in the brain? And
so for me there is enormous excitement about the fact that we’ve got this technology,
we’ve tested it over many years and now we can actually demonstrate
increasingly why it works and have a
cognitive understanding of what is going on in the brain which of course is why
I get excited about the next practitioner starting in a couple of days.
new programme that we’ve created, whereby people both learn the tools and
techniques of NLP but then have the Neuroscience input which gives them an
understanding of what is going on in the brain and allows them to speak with
authority I think about their new learning. This is proving to be a very
successful synergy and the new synthesis is incredibly stimulating certainly
for both myself and my colleague, Professor Patricia Riddell with whom I
co-train this material. So we have in a sense what has been developed over many
years and which is there in that very first book I wrote, ‘Principles of NLP’ has
now been revised, developed further, new generation of techniques and tools
have been added to it and now we have the neuroscience to make sense of it in a
way we really couldn’t when we began.
So for me it is just a fabulous opportunity
to build on our learning and see this coming together across disciplines
really, promoting a new understanding of practical tools that we can use in our
daily lives that change what we can do professionally and enhance our lives
personally. I can’t wait and I know Trish is looking forward to it as well. So,
until the next time.
I think one of the most rewarding things I probably do is
working with people to clarify just what it is they want to be doing in life
and in which direction to be going in in order that they have a sense of
engaging in purposeful activity and indeed meaningful work. I think this is
particularly on my mind at the moment because in the last two weeks I have been
focusing on this area with different people of wildly different ages and yet
the same kind of questions arise. So, talking with a number of people who are
in their very early twenties who really have been grappling with ‘what is my
career path?’, ‘where am I heading’ and ‘what should I be doing?’. The kind of
schools career approach didn’t seem to be really very helpful for them
apparently and so I tend to go a different route which is to actually fall back
on a number of ways of asking questions that take us to the heart of the
To give you an example, many many moons ago, Alan Watts had
an interesting question that he would ask in a variety of different ways but
essentially it would all boil down to saying that if money was no object what
would you like to be doing? However you choose to come at that you’re really of
course saying let’s separate money and remuneration from the activity and let’s
be clear about what would be the optimal activities as far as you’re concerned
and what would you want to be doing?
This immediately takes us into questions about what is
satisfying to you, what is meaningful to you, what is energising for you and
what allows you to feel that what you’re doing is worth continuing to do and
could be the basis of a fulfilling life. Now obviously there are very good
reasons for wanting to get clear about this, not least if you spend about a
third of your life working it might be a smart idea to be doing something that
is rewarding. But of course people often think that rewarding must mean financially
and yes, you need to be able to eat, you need to be able to pay the mortgage or
whatever it may be but I think very often people jump straight to economic
necessities they perceive rather than getting clear about what I would really
get turned on by doing is this. Now, how could I do this and derive some kind
of worthwhile income from doing it. At the start of a professional life it is
an important question but you know it is just as important down the road,
thirties, forties and fifties.
I have worked with
people who have been in the bizarre position of spending years doing something
they really did not enjoy because they felt that they were restrained and they
had to because it was the only way they knew how to bring home the bacon. That
doesn’t really make a lot of sense to me just because you end up then living
your life doing something you don’t like in order that you can do more of it
tomorrow again. What? So really whatever one’s age these I think these
questions get to be really important.
And myself I know that, many moons ago, I became very clear
that the most rewarding things for me were being able to engage with people so
that they could create the kind of life that was meaningful to them. I just
found it incredibly rewarding, basically to be assisting people to become
really more of who they could be. I also found it very motivating , it got me
up in the morning and made me create a variety of businesses that are based on
that fundamental premise that it is possible to find what is meaningful to you,
it’s possible to move in that direction and you don’t have to give up the day
job necessarily but you gradually edge in the direction that makes sense to
you. For me that has been unbelievable satisfying, fulfilling, and frankly,
intensely moving so that I end up having people coming back. A couple of weeks
ago I had someone who said they would like to give me their book, and that
without me it would not have been written. There was also a little dedication
inside which was lovely.
So, I guess it doesn’t matter what age we are, the question
is if you separate the money from what you love to do, what would you love to
be doing and how might you begin to move in the direction of doing more of
Creating your own legacy happens on a daily basis by having
the intention to move in the direction that is right for you.
The past ten days or so have been really extraordinarily fulfilling
because various projects have come to fruition in the way that I could only
have dreamt of until their realisation. The weekend before last we completed
the first of the new NLP Practitioner and Neuroscience programmes which has
just been a blast because it has been so fascinating putting the two together;
myself teaching the NLP and Professor Patricia Riddell, who is the professor of
Applied Neuroscience talking about the Neuroscience of what we’ve been doing. I’m
not too surprised but I am delighted at how people have been absolutely
fascinated by this overlap and the kind of rigour that Neuroscience now can
offer to an understanding of what it is that NLP can do and has been delivering
So there has been that on the one hand and then this past
weekend we have just been seeing how it
is coming into its own in the domain of coaching
because we have just done three days together as a kind of double act on
Neuroscience and Coaching; the applied dimension of neuroscience and how having
an elementary understanding of some of what is going on in the brain can make a
huge difference to the way you think about, ‘well how do I function?’ and
indeed how do clients function? If you are planning on being a coach this is
clearly got lots of applications but frankly a lot of people in the room aren’t
planning on being coaches but they do want to know how to coach people in their
teams more effectively how to draw out the best in them, how you would use what
you could call a ‘coach approach’. The room was amazing, people were just
hungry for this knowledge and were enquiring for more about the brain and ways
in which they can practically apply their knowledge.
These last three days have just been so inspiring and not
just for me, I’m talking for Trish as well. Afterwards she was saying she had
been waiting thirty years to be able to do this, it is no good being in the lab
unless it can come out and having this practical application. Well, we can see
now that the dreams we both had when we started talking about how this could be
really are possible.
This morning my kind of Monday weekend I went out for a walk
and it was just gloriously sunny. It was the pleasure of just being out and
about with a feeling that things were moving in the right direction and that
really a vision I had had some years ago had finally started coming to fruition. As I am on my walk I notice that
there is a guy who is delivering a new empty skip to a house which is being
built nearby, but I notice what he’s got in his truck which is across the road
and is properly stabilised are two skips. One is empty and then that is containing
another skip that is full to the brim and what I see the machine doing is
raising up both, taking them over and dropping down both then he goes along
takes the chains off the bottom one and then puts the chains on the full one
and lifts that back onto his truck. I asked him if it was a new way of doing
things as I used to think you had to
bring the empty skip, put that down, pick up the old one, put it on the truck
and move the new one into place. The man told me that is exactly what you used
to have to do, he said it took “Bloody forever, Gov.”. He then said something
which I was thought was so, so brilliant, “You know, it’s the new technology,
it’s all moving forward mate”. And of course he was talking about his skip but
I thought how true and what a great summing of my experience.
So, I think I could say, along with man with the skip, it is
this new technology, it is all moving forward and it certainly is. I am looking
forward to it all moving forward. Certainly we’ve got plans for the next moves
and I’ll tell you about those but for now it is just great to be enjoying
simple ways of making good use of the brain that each of us has been endowed with.
So, it’s all moving forward, mate. Until the next time.
Well this past weekend, snow notwithstanding, we had our second ITS 25th anniversary Celebration Day and I was really struck with how celebration is also about moving forward in time and celebrating possibilities for the future. One of the themes of the day was very much about confidence and how important it is to understand what kind is needed, where and when, and how there are different kinds. I’m particularly struck by this because later next month I’m going to be talking to about 400 independent financial advisors who have a one day conference put on by MDRT (Million Dollar Round Table) which is an organisation specifically for financial advisors. The theme of the day is ‘A Confident Future’ and in the present economic circumstances it is a particularly interesting theme because it is of course rather important to know how to boost confidence, whether it is your own, or indeed clients’ confidence in you. Arguably it is one of the most important business skills you will ever develop and the interesting thing is that by using some of the more recent discoveries in the neurosciences, harnessing those with some of the techniques developed with NLP it is perfectly possible to say that whether you want to boost your own confidence or clients’ confidence in you this is now a learnable skill there is no two ways about it. But actually that wouldn’t be enough because if you want to enjoy a confident future you will also need to know what to do when things don’t quite go the way you'd imagined and this is a time when people experience a loss of confidence or even a crisis of confidence. So I think in a funny sort of way the real test of confidence is when it is in some way challenged. Nobody is just confident all the time. Part of the art of being able to have that resilience, that capacity to bounce back is recognising how important innovation is to being able to be confident about the future; your own and others. This shows up in a mind-set, it is not just about trying very hard but it is a way of thinking. Again, it is learnable. Here is an example, there are so many I use when I am talking but here is one: Pretty much everyone I know uses a microwave and you take it for granted but a microwave has a very curious history. It actually came out of the Second World War not by design at all, it was the direct result of one man having an understanding of possibilities. Specifically what happened was there was a man called Percy LeBaron Spencer and he was involved in designing combat radar equipment. At the time, the heart of radar equipment was a magnetron which was a huge piece of equipment, very precision made and consequently very few were made in any given working day which was a bit of a problem for the allies. For instance, in 1941 the production line was about 17 a day and by the end of that year the US had entered the war and a different way of doing it had developed so it went up to 100 a day but that is still very little. By 1945 they had figured out a way of generating 2800 of these a day. While all of that is going on at the same time in 1945, Spencer just happens to be standing in front of one of these operating magnetrons and he has got a bar of chocolate in his pocket and blow me down he finds that it has melted. For a lot of people that would just be a source of aggravation, but of course what happened for him was he became curious and begin to think about possibilities. He went to get a bag of popcorn, puts is close to magnetron and low and behold a few moments later it begins popping. He then goes to get a pale of water, an egg and starts boiling this egg which dually explodes and splats itself all over one of his colleagues. So then he realises this huge potential here and he focuses on how this could be used for cooking. No one had thought of this. The first microwave ovens based on this principle were six feet tall weighing 350 kilograms, so huge they had to be cooled with water and it was not until 1955 that the first domestic microwaves pop up. But you see there is a mind-set, a way of thinking. It is innovative, it is confident and it creates new possibilities and that is so much of what we need. That is partly what I’ll be doing with these independent financial advisors but it is also what we’re going to be doing with ITS throughout this coming year. New possibilities, I’ll tell you more soon.
Here we are at the start of a new year. Already half way
through January. How are those new year’s resolutions by the way? It is around
this time that many of them seem to evaporate or don’t quite happen in the way
that you imagined. I hope that yours are still with you because I know that for most people when they
make them they are real aspirations, they are things that would make a big
difference if you can make them happen. If you’re wanting some assistance to be
able to achieve this then this Sunday is a special time for me because it will
be a time of real celebration as we start the second 25th
anniversary celebration day for ITS and one of the things we will be doing is
looking at what neuroscience can do to help us make resolutions that actually
work. Gosh, what a concept. I think I said in the last update, that this was
the year of neuroscience and it most certainly is because I am delighted to say
that we now have got to a point where
Professor Patricia Riddell and myself have been able to draw together the many
strands that comprise the field of research that is neuroscience and apply it
to ways of working that are going to be useful to people in ordinary everyday
life. We have a certificate in Applied Neuroscience which will be happening
later in the year, but before that just a happy day together with people, some
of whom I have not seen for years and I gather loads of people are coming this
We are actually going to kick off with what I think is one
of the most important topics in pretty much anybody’s life, namely confidence
and how to have it and experience it. I had not really appreciated how
important it was until I wrote the book on it and it became a really
fundamental insight for me as it is so pervasive to be able to have confidence.
I have just recently been asked by MDRT (Million Dollar Round table) which is
an organisation for financial advisors if I would speak in their very prestigious
London conference in February called ‘A Confident Future’. I shall be
talking about the business of confidence because I think it is so important for
each of us in our own personal lives but also in our business lives. That will,
therefore, be part of what I want to share by way of a thank you during the
celebration day. I have some very particular tools I want to offer people
because I think confidence is something people really don’t understand, they
often think they want a lot of it or more of it but in fact we are already
confident in some areas and not in others. Understanding the difference and how
we can build on what we’ve got and supplement where it’s needed is a skill and
it is easy to learn.
I also want to start the year, not just focusing on
neuroscience but also discussing how can people build their own dreams which is
why I shall be working with Adrian Baker who has much experience in working
with people to help bring things into being, be they full-scale businesses or
aspirations that could potentially change people’s lives. They may involve
generating revenue, they may not but together we’ve been speaking about this
for years and we are now ready to roll with it so I see this as an excellent
opportunity to make new dreams possible. It is absolutely independent of
whatever the economic circumstances of the larger nation’s state may be and we’ve
done this in different ways at different times. So all in all I’m really
looking forward to a day of celebrating by giving new things to whoever chooses
to be there and there will be lots of people from very varied backgrounds.
If you’re interested in how to have those resolutions come
to fruition and be part of your life in an on-going way then I shall I be
delighted to tell you the basics of success and we will also have a look at the
neuroscience that supports it and gives a new understanding for how some things
work much better than others. That is all to come, but in the meantime the year
is well under-way, it seems to be racing along already and I trust that yours
will be a fulfilling and rewarding one in which you will not just be successful
but also enjoy the experience of being happy. I look forward to assisting you
in that should you be interested.
On my travels I’ve certainly seen some different parts of
the world and this past Christmas, Paulette and I were in a place that neither
of us had ever spent a festive season in before. If I was to tell you that in
that particular part of the world you can walk down the street cast your eye to
one side and see a very non-descript parking lot with a sign affixed to a
broken down brick wall which says ‘parking lot available for film hire’ with a
phone contact number, I guess you could probably figure out what part of the
world we were in. Yes, only in LA.
We had a good time and we happened to be there at a rather
interesting time because the end of the world was supposed to be happening according to some people given the complete
misunderstanding of the Mayan calendar which a number of people had decided to
take upon themselves. On the particular day in question we were actually at the
Griffiths Observatory which is a wonderful observatory that also has a newly
re-conditioned beautiful planetarium. When you walk in the observatory main
doors there was a great big design above the doors about the Mayan calendar
saying that the end of the world was not happening and that the show inside the
planetarium consisted initially of the apparent end of the world. Somebody then
says ‘Stop, hold it all!’ and walks down and begins to say ‘no it isn’t ending’.
It was a splendid show and we got down to some real science. By the way, the
thing about the Mayan calendar, which I find so fascinating, is that it is very
striking to me how people often are of an apocalyptic disposition and have a
very linear mind set in that it is always going to be a complete end. There is
no conception of a cyclical process because of course the Mayan calendar is just
going through a process of ratcheting up numbers to come to the end of a cycle;
very much as a milometer does on a clock where it gets to 999 and then goes to
000 which of course does not mean the car no longer exists.
I had a very pleasant opportunity while I was there to kick
back with Albert Einstein, unfortunately he was only there in brass form but
nevertheless a memorable meeting. We then went on to a very extraordinary part
of the world, the La Brea tar pits which are quite remarkable. They are pits which
are in the land close to the Los Angeles Museum of Modern Art and they have an
amazing number of animal specimens, about three and a half million in fact at
the last count and there are far more than that now. They are the result of
fossil fuels that have become liquefied and bubbled up because of the
extraordinary environment that is part of the fault in LA, faults that are in the
earth. They were absolute death traps for animals who got stuck in them rather
like you would in tar and have produced amazing fossil remains that go back 10
to 30 thousand years. You can actually see the excavation taking place, all of
this with traffic going by on the highway nearby. So, a very interesting experience
and they also have some animals that you can be photographed with if you wish.
A different kind of Christmas which was absolutely in order.
I recommend it , getting away and being somewhere different in another world.
We had a great time but I am now back and looking forward to a different kind
of year as we are moving in to new opportunities. We are celebrating the 25th
anniversary of ITS by preparing for new ventures some of which we will be
talking about very soon on the celebration day. You will hear about them I’m
sure, if you’re interested, because the world of neuroscience beckons making it
something approachable, useable and understandable in a practical way. That’s
where we’re going next, tell you all about that soon. Until the next time.