I saw this article on Harvard Business Review earlier today, which argues that a CEO should step out of the saddle before losing relevancy. There are some really well made points about tenure length, growing ‘stale’ and it leading to a cessation in ‘adaptive changes,’ much of which I agree with. The balancing piece that the article didn’t address was - How do you continue to stay relevant if a leader in a large business?
Speaking at the Telegraph Festival of Business in November, I outlined a philosophy I simply call Out/On/In (OOI) for how I broadly manage my diary. I use this to dictate how I invest (not spend) my time as head of a large organisation. It’s pretty simple and looks something like: -
OUT – 1/3 rd of time. Experiencing, seeing customers, visiting conferences, establishing new relationships, media relations activity, networking, connecting and creating. What’s changing in the external environment?
ON – 1/3rd of time. Processing what I’ve seen and the impact it has on our strategy, direction, course, decisions, organsisation. Reviewing the high level impacts of the things that I’ve seen and experienced for the longer term 3-10 years, so you can always keep rolling perspective of the future. What should we change about our direction now from what we’ve seen and heard?
IN – 1/3rd of time. Being in the business, reviewing process, people, performance and culture. Dealing with the practical implications of it all aswell as the other things that you need to service a large business as a leader. What should we change about our practice, process or culture to deal with the changes we need to make?
It’s a very simple system and it serves me really well, I don’t run it strictly to 1/3rd all the time, it’s a broad brush. Some months I’m more in that out. ‘ON can mean being in the office or thinking ‘OUT’ of the office depending on what’s going on and where I am relating to optimising my travel and diary optimisation. The key point is this, unless you spend time ‘Out’ you can quickly become one of those CEO’s who do become stale, losing perspective, relying on past data for decisions not the current day climate. You become the person in the HBR article.
Unless you are feeling, experiencing and seeing what is going on at a ‘meta’ level with the world, it’s so easy to fall asleep at the wheel oblivous to the landscape whizzing by at 125mph like landscape from a train window. By investing time ‘OUT’ in this way, you can make highly relevant decisions relating to your ‘ON’ and your ‘IN’ that are meaningful for the climate of today.
As a leader it energises you, pushes you to constantly ask yourself – “What does this mean for us?” Meeting lots of people, studying organisations, people, cultures and management styles gives you a shot in the arm to ensure you are always keeping up, learning, absorbing and keeping your skin in the game for mood music of today and tomorrow. If you do that, in my view, you won’t hit a sell by date because you are always remaining relevant my drawing on the now.
Boosted by reading books, being open to everything, staying approachable and always seeking feedback is a framework for staying in the saddle and galloping towards the future – saddle up!
Fear stifles, it stops people from doing things and creates inertia, driving the voices in your head to trigger often irrational feelings. Fear can manifest itself in many ways, inaction, procrastination and physical symptoms. Ten common fears are: -
- Fear of failure
- Fear of Ridicule
- Fear of Death
- Fear of Rejection
- Fear of Loneliness
- Fear of Misery
- Fear of Disappointment
- Fear of Pain
- Fear of the Unknown
- Fear of Loss of Freedom
You wonder how we ever get to do anything in life? Fear may be stopping you from achieving something wonderful right now, but are you conscious of it?
You’re probably aware of things like a fear of heights or spiders, but is ‘fear of failure’ or ‘ridicule’ stopping you from changing a career, starting a business or doing something you deep down want to? Fear of success is also a distortion believe it or not.
It all starts with consciousness and truly understanding those elements in your belief system which are acting as deterrents in you taking big steps towards your goals. The bottom line is people over-analyse things. Successful people I’ve met generally care very little about the opinions of others, unless they help move them towards their goals. They have developed the right emotional armour to quickly decipher what does/does not serve them (see this
previous post for more info). I’ve witnessed a common trait in their ability to face their fear and manage the consequences, often being close to the brink, yet still taking one further step into the unknown – managing fear.
I’m not a big lover of heights, yet I always stand by the window in a glass lift or peer over the edge on the top of a tall building. Why? It’s about managing that fear and getting on top of it. I’m conscious of it, so must work to convert my ‘fear of heights’ into a ‘fear of falling’ then rationalising just how safe I really am in reality to make it logical and evidence based. A favourite saying is fear is “False Evidence Appearing Real”. You need to turn your fears into evidence based enquiry, hence standing at the edge and ingoring the irrational.
Society brings with it a whole load of baggage about what is/what isn’t acceptable in terms of things that may place invisible barriers in the way of your success. Being the best possible version of self is about walking your own path, being true to your values, your higher purpose and those things you feel passionate about. The opinion of others should not distract you, always beware the collective, be your own story.
Walk your path without fear. Take steps into the unknown, create something, align with your true purpose and realise you may well have been getting in your own way.
Your brain is so powerful.
It is like a permanent recording system, putting every single life experience into it’s memory – a hard disk with unlimited capacity to store information. What’s really powerful is how it can also store not just the data that it sees, but also how you felt, what you experienced and heard, regardless of when the event happened. It stores that information in order to make intelligent decisions quickly when faced with the same experiences. It creates a query into your database of experiences and it it finds one, it can cleverly call on your previous event experience to inform how it should react/respond to the present.
Now, this can be a good thing and a bad thing. Remembering the birth of your first child, a wedding or the day you graduated will serve you with great memories, these are the sort of things we need in our life database, giving us energy, positivity, perspective and reinforcing data.
Negative past experiences, will simply validate your negative feelings about a situation, person or event if you allow those thoughts to purvey. They can create fear, trepidation, poor self-esteem and inertia amongst a long list of distortions which may well not serve you in your present form.
So, the trick in life is to figure out what bits of information are in front of you and whether it is something that you need to learn from (reflect) or not allow through your emotional armour (deflect) as it does not serve you. Once you re-frame your thoughts, particularly commentary which you feel impacts on your self-esteem, you can quickly deflect it so that it doesn’t validate any self-image you may hold in the present. Some thoughts: -
- Criticism says more about them than you (if someone chooses to be critical towards you, it’s generally down to their self-esteem so don’t take it on).
- You can’t be responsible for the emotions/reactions of others (only your own).
- If you’re feeling negative towards an individual or situation, then you need to reflect why? What is it about this situation that might be reminding you of something in the past which no longer serves you today?
- Everyone has an emotional rucksack. You choose whether to put the heavy rocks in it or remove them.
- Forgive regularly. Forgive yourself, forgive others. Forgiveness is not about condoning, it’s about moving on for your own emotional health.
- Always ask the question of yourself. Does this feedback/or these thoughts serve me or not serve me? If not, deflect and dispose!
- If you receive some feedback that says you are for example – “judgmental of others” – then there is likely to be a reason for that. That is definitely a point for further reflection which you should gain further feedback on.
I’ve massively over-simplified this for the sake of a quick read article. In my experience, many individuals that I have met are in their own way of achieving their full potential due to poor self-image or historical events which continue to validate and dominate their thinking, even if they from school days or growing up as a child. The only way to move-on (and I am talking from personal experience) is to give up your past, forgive, update your personal self-image to the current version and then to be selective about what data you choose to store, query and validate information in the present.
Today, I experienced a first.
On checking out of a hotel, a surcharge of £3.00 was added to the bill for paying by credit card. As a frequent user of hotels all over Europe, I was puzzled why this charge had occurred and the answer was due to the group wanting go give more ‘transparency’ to their customers – fair enough (Macdonald hotels).
As my hotel was booked through an agent, I don’t recall seeing the condition of this charge in advance, nor was it raised at check-in. No signage was in the reception area, detailing the charge or rationale, leaving quite an awkward conversation with the receptionist who – give her the due – was on message but shared the immense customer disattisfaction she was experiencing on the front line.
This is about trust and left my sponsoring thought about the hotel group as one of disappointment, despite a lovely stay, nice dinner and good staff. Customers remember small things and particularly if it’s the very last thing they do at the end of their stay! That should be the moment of installing the positive attributes of the stay, to ‘bake in’ in the experience.
In today’s expectation and sharing economy, this is a total own goal for me and it reminded me of an innovation process called “do the opposite” – which is when you come at the problem from the other way. Clearly, the group want to recover to make the cost of credit card transactions visible by making a token fixed standard charge. Here’s the example above using ’do the opposite’ which turns the charge into a credit: -
Doing the opposite
Instead of adding a surcharge, include it upfront in the cost of the room like everyone else does, rationale being:-
- Customer isn’t surprised.
- Customer establishes trust.
- Receptionists aren’t left feeling trepidation about every ‘check out’ interaction.
Instead, when it’s time to check-out, the conversation goes something like: -
“Here’s your bill Mr. Jones, would you like to take advantage of a further £3.00 discount by paying with a debit card?”
By doing this, you empower the customer to take the choice. Those that want it, will take it having a little moment of customer delight as they reduce their bill by three pounds, receptionists turn this into a positive and leave the lasting impression as good as the first impression. People who use company expenses don’t then have to process an additional line on their claim, assuming they can claim service charges back.
Decisions like the one above (let’s charge a £3 surcharge) are often quickly implemented without thinking of the longer term impacts. I was a high yield customer, taking one room but also paying for a dinner for x4 people plus drinks, tripling the size of my bill on its own. £3 is not an issue, it’s a principle and in a social world, word quickly spreads when a customer feels their trust has been breached.
In a service business, with plenty of choice, in my experience consumers want the cost to be clear avoiding the ‘Ryanair’ moment with a brand. Small moments like the one above leave a lasting footprint with a customer and what do they do? They either abandon or avoid future use, unless convenience in some other form over rides the moment.
Saturday, I sat down to watch the rugby highlights and was struck by the story of former springbok scrum-half Joost van der Westhuizen. He was diagnosed with Motor neurone disease in 2011 and has recently launched a charity to raise awareness and funds about the condition. The BBC played an interview with van der Westhuizen, which I found myself playing and re-winding, it was so striking that I grabbed the iPad and noted down the whole transcript which you can read below. The interview was with sub-titles as Joost pushed out every word, you only needed to look at his eyes to see the intent and emotion behind them…..
“I thought it was an old rugby injury but in April, my friend and now doctor spent me for tests and they told me I was diagnosed. Initially it was a big shock – I didn’t know what it was but now 38 months later after they have told me I only have 20% chance of making the new year.
And now, I have made a decision that I’m going to fight it, I am. I’m happy on the roller coaster of emotions. I’m a better person. I’m still alive. I have a family and two small kids and I’m fighting for them.
There are two things we as humans take for granted. That is – health and time. When you have Motor neurone you get told you have none left! Then you realise what life is all about. What’s important.
There is no time to worry about death or the stress about things. Or the petty things…money. There’s no time, I’m humbled by the disease and I know what life is all about.”
Lessons from the Interview
- Live Every Day.
- Time is a precious resource, treat it so.
- Never take your health for granted.
- Be grateful for the simple things in life.
- Money is not the answer.
- Don’t stress over small things, provide context for every thought you have.
- Experiences are sent to us to refine and define who we really are, in his words “I’m a better person” – a humbling statement.
Be your best.
In case you’d missed it, Oprah Winfrey is in the UK this week, promoting the new film she stars in – The Butler.
Arguably one of the highest profile females in the world, Winfrey is rich beyond imagination, powerful and used to dining with presidents, swinging – it’s reported- an additional 1M voters towards Barrack Obama in the American election through an appearance at a campaign rally.
I’ve noticed recently that Oprah has moved much into the realm of spirituality. Perhaps its always been that way, I don’t watch much TV (by choice) and don’t read the papers much either, so it could blissful unawareness. Whilst working from home today, I heard her give an interview on the television and the more I listened, the more I felt drawn towards her words, finding incredible similarity to the content of a talk I gave in Manchester last night called “Unlimited Potential” (UP!).
Winfrey spoke during her interview of having “higher purpose, serving others, knowing your calling, leaving a legacy, the importance of inner balance and congruency”, all absolutely key components in the journey of uncovering your true potential in life. Last night, I asked a room of people if they had figured our their true purpose, judging by the amount of blank faces, there are a few journeys that needed to be figured out yet!
When answered, defining your higher purpose will lay down an important road in your map of the world. Imagine a satellite navigation system in your head, without a destination, it may randomly take you anywhere from Lands End to John O’ Groats. With purpose, you build the motorway upon which you will travel to your desired destination, allowing your conscious and sub-conscious to generate positive and clear choices for you, without any need for reference.
When you add your mission and your values to your purpose (vision), you create the most powerful set of programming into your brain, like a super SAT-NAV. If you ever go off-road, it will always bring you back, automatically re-routing and keeping you on track like a life TOM-TOM.
With your values clear, you’re moral compass gets set in the same way you’d programme a SAT-NAV to avoid toll roads or B-roads, your clear values will provide clarity of which things are important to you in your journey and what things to avoid when presented with them.
Oprah Winfrey has this figured out and clearly it has served her immensly well. Finding your true calling takes a lot of thought and reflection however the best place to start is to ask yourself the question, What do Iwant people to say, think and feel about me? It becomes more powerful if you imagine your epitaph with your best friend delivering it at your funeral. What would they say if there was one thing that should stand out about your contribution to life?
Would you want them to say something like – “My good friend ______ worked all the hours that god sent in their pursuit of happyness” or “My good friend _______ changed the lives of everyone they met through their ____________”, you get the idea.
Unleashing your true potential is like installing the latest computer programme in your operating system, it updates your life “APP” to the latest version of you and gives you true clarity on your direction of travel, which is the only journey that matters.
This week I was very fortunate to be recognised by -Variety, the childrens charity with a Legend of Industry award, following 20 years service in the technology industry. It all came out the blue, culminating in an awards ceremony in Manchester, where I along with six other people from the world of business and the media were presented with the award in front of an audience of around 300. Other recipients were hairdresser – Andrew Collinge, writer – Lynda La Plante, Boxer -Joe Calzaghe CBE, MBE, Singer – Sheila Ferguson, Broadcaster – Eamonn Holmes, Actor – John Thomson and Philanthropist – John Kennedy CBE, DL, KSG, KHS, KMCO.
Invited to the stage to say a few words, I delivered the following, which a number of people stopped me and asked me if I could publish here for them to reference to, so here it is.
A quote I’ve always loved from Martin Luther King is “Not everybody can be famous. But everybody can be great, because greatness is determined by service.”
I’ve been hugely fortunate to witness some ordinary people doing extraordinary things and know many people who have achieved great personal success.
When recently asked what I’d observed about that success of these go getters I replied “They are not go getters, they are all go givers*, they serve others.”
And there lies the message in tonight’s awards.As Martin Luther King hinted, those that serve others as part of their higher purpose go on to achieve great things.
I’m immensely proud to be here on this stage, not as someone famous, but as someone who has realised that the key to success in life is simply to give generously.
Time, advice, energy, friendship, love – and the odd donation here and there – simply triggers a series of events which bring it all back to you. So, to be a go getter, be a go giver!
*With thanks to James Welch, who sent me the book “The Go-Giver” which put into two words something that always used to take me ten sentences to describe. I’d thoroughly recommend you give this a read. Please also take a moment to read this blogpost entitled – “The Flow”.
“Fear is a liar.” Entrepreneur Oliver Cookson shared this great one-liner with a room full with like-minded people at Insider Magazines annual 42 under 42 dinner, held earlier this month (14/10).
Telling a wonderful story, which started with a single bag of Whey purchased from a farmer who took a gamble on him, Cookson simply took the concept of Protein supplements, evaluated the supply chain and margin capability, then disrupted the sector by selling it direct through his own website. It worked. The business – My Protein – went on to sell for around £60M to The Hut Group. I’m always hugely interested to listen to stories from Entrepreneurs, there are always so many valuable takeaways which you can use for inspiration in life or business. Let me share a few things that resonated with me from the talk that Oliver gave….
- He came from a single parent family and left school with a single GCSE in Science, he left college after two weeks. So much emphasis is put on further education in life, however do not let it be an inhibitor to your ambition or determination to change your dynamic or outcomes if you weren’t successful at school. Time and time again, in successful people, is a back story of early adversity. No silver spoons, but a taste of life that they later choose to de-couple from and start anew. Look to all the big entrepreneurs, you’ll find a story.
- Gaining an apprenticeship kick-started his career. With so much focus on apprenticeships right now, you can see how valuable they are in providing structure to a young person, an opportunity to be coached, mentored, educated, moulded and injected with confidence. If you don’t provide apprenticeships in your business, why not consider it? One apprenticeship could change the life direction of a young person.
- He had an idea and actioned it. The major difference between those that seek success and those that dream about it. Those that seek it, take action. Oliver took his action by understanding the market, defining his own product, then pursuing it with a drive and passion. It all started with a single bag of Whey, purchased from a farmer who agreed to sell it to him to stop Oliver from calling him so often! That farmer later enjoyed a huge business with Oliver as he rewarded him with business to the tune of 50 tonnes of whey a month. There are so many lessons in this paragraph alone, take action, don’t give up and give someone a break! He commented during the talk – “the hardest thing was starting.” I’ve spoken before about fear and “fear of failure” is a big distortion which stops people doing things in life. The bottom line is fear is a manifest of our imagination, hence the brilliant but true line “fear is a liar”.
- Cookson went social, before the world went social. Back in 2004/5, web 2.0 was just starting. With little marketing budget or resources, Cookson set to convince the world of his product by spending time in forums and also introducing a referral scheme in his customer base. World of mouth soon spread and it went viral. This ultimately meant the business didn’t have enormous marketing costs and Cookson had no debt from the day he started until the day he sold it, retaining 100% of the equity. That is a considerable achievement and just shows the power of communities.
- Get the baby ready! An interesting part of the evenings talk was when asked about the sale of the business. Cookson had a beauty parade of top hitting investors keen to take the business off his hands including Nestle and Pepsi. Building a business from scratch, moulding it to be your own and then preparing it for sale is a tough job, particularly the last bit. Investors want to see robust processes, professional management, long term strategies and particularly that the business will survive independent of its original founder. That can be tough for a founder as they hand over control to others by bringing people in, having to give up the reins and see others take it in potentially different directions.
- What shall I do now? Sitting in a serviced office, a multi-millionaire, yet with a huge void in his life through the sale of his business he stared at a whiteboard with a pen and asked himself the question. What should I do next? And thus the next phase began, albeit with a shedload of money behind his next venture – Saints and Slimmers. The big lesson here is about purpose. Despite being incredibly wealthy, Cookson retains the desire to create, which is what I really admire. Money doesn’t buy purpose, purpose is a natural driver that every human being needs, money or no money. Define yours.
Serendipity and Synchronicity occur a lot in my life. It’s not always been the case, or maybe it was, but perhaps I wasn’t conscious of it. Over the last year it’s been truly bizarre and I could re-count numerous tales to you of opportunity simply walking straight into my life.
But why and how does this happen and can it happen to you? First answer is that it can happen to you too! It’s all about being absolutely crystal clear about your goals in your life, what regular readers will know I call your “Ding!“. The most important part of the whole exercise is to ensure that a huge chunk of your vision and mission involve serving others, assisting them in order to assist you.
In business this means being generous with your time, referring people, introducing people, connecting others, sharing your knowledge and genuinely becoming interested in the success of other people. When you do this, you’ll find that that generosity becomes re-paid in the long term in reputation enhancement, opportunity donation and business referral back to you. Ultimately, success will flow back to you.
The same applies to wealth creation, give generously to others without condition. The value of what you give is relative, not everyone is Bill Gates able to practice billion dollar philanthropy. It can be as simple as popping ten pence in a donation jar if someone hands you some change, I have a simple rule to put any change that is silver straight into a charity bucket each day. Small acts of giving create a flow of wealth back to you. To receive you have to give. There’s no direct rule or ratio to this, so a daily donation of 10p might not send back a million dollar lottery win but something will come back in a moment of serendipity or synchronicity, so be aware and look for those moments.
The point is, it’s all about flow. If you want something to enter your life, then be prepared to serve and give generously to another first and without condition, for it to flow back to you. Giving is a fantastic way of feeling great, increasing your self-esteem, confidence and sense of purpose. When I look back in my own life, I became one hell of a lot more conscious of this flow when I had become very specific about my higher purpose – “To inspire and encourage the unlimited potential (UP!) in others.”
Part of the mission to achieve that vision or purpose includes “growing myself through growing others”, which links straight in to the idea of other people – get it? That’s why I speak at conferences, write blogs like this, give generously to good causes (people or charities) and can choose the things that I prefer to spend time doing or working towards. It’s actually very simply, you can do exactly the same, all you need to do is get your personal “Ding!” sorted out (your higher purpose), then put that into action every single day and see what happens.
Also have a read of this previous blogpost which gives some further help on how to derive your personal vision, mission and values.
“I was on my own without a grand plan.”
Last night I attended the Northern Digitals BLAB event in Manchester to listen to two heavyweights (reputationally) of the creative world, Steven Bonner and John McFaul. A packed room of around 190 people gathered to hear them tell their respective stories of how they carved their niche in the heavily crowded world of design, to establish themselves as renowned in their peer group. Bonners line above conveyed well the risk he took to follow his dream of turning his love of “typography” into a business.
Highly creative people always really interest me. I’m a person that can happily generate ideas, however turning those ideas into original concepts, art or design is a skill I’d love to have. Both presenters showed amazing visual work, like the image to the right which Bonner helped to co-collaborate. After hearing him speak I’ll never look at a font again without a greater appreciation for the work that may have gone into it.
John McFaul (see pic below) demonstrated a real panache in his delivery, he articulated well his obsession with momentum. Always moving forward, pushing a new boundary, re-defining something new. No surprise that he now specialises primarily with sporting companies like Vandeyk, Ashmei and Beacon Bikes. He spoke of his personal journey, often troubled, whilst he ultimately defined what he really wanted to do in terms of working with brands which connected with his personal passions of running and cycling.
I’ve been fortunate to get to know John personally and professionally, through our shared interest of all things two wheels. In him, I’ve seen this obsession for the small details come to bear, I compare him to the level of obsessiveness that Steve Jobs had for perfection, seeing things others may not, taking care of the tiniest detail in order that a brand proposition be fulfilled. Precise and controlled, he looks for simplicity in a brand promise, de-layering a proposition to its truth – powerful stuff.
Driving home, I always like to think about take-aways for others, here’s a few things: -
- Both individuals had previously been unhappy at some point, which ultimately then led them to their individual passions. A lesson for us all there.
- Both were big collaborators. Never seeing themselves as the single solution to a problem, able to generate a single solution naturally, but always open to the critique, ideas and collaboration opportunities working with other like minded people may bring. A reminder to always be open and allow other people to develop you through new ideas. A saying I like is “When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.”
- Both were incredibly hard workers. Bonner citing “Hard work trumps talent.” He’d done the hard yards in learning the technicalities of his craft. McFaul spoke of the crazy hours he worked serving clients in different time zones across the world. Nothing on a plate here, listen up Gen Y!
- Both were habitual learners and de-learners. Never satisfied with the current, there always had to be something new. What do you need to de-learn in order to open up to new potential?
- Both took risks. Following their real passion, their hearts, getting aligned into their personal truths. Leaps of faith were regularly required, but they both took them in order to follow their desired pathway. Both ultimately are entrepreneurs, running their own businesses, but they would not label themselves that way. Both put thoughts and words into action, where creativity becomes innovations. Lesson – Stop talking, start doing.
I’m a great believer that you should always stretch your thinking by looking for inspiration anywhere. These two were great examples of individuals that the world needs. Radical and original thinkers who create cool, beautiful things. Inspiration aplenty. You can find both gentlemen on Twitter. @stevenbonner @johnmcfaul. Well worth a follow.