20 thoughts for business from Sir Mark Elder

mark elder

Described as one of “Britains greatest cultural assets”, Sir Mark Elder is music director of the Halle Orchestra in Manchester and one our nations leading conductors working with the English National Opera, the BBC Symphony Orchesta aswell as assignments all over the world.  I recently held a dinner in Manchester for some customers where Sir Mark attended and spoke for over two hours about some of his experiences.

He is one of those individuals that you can just sit and listen to all night.  I fiercely scribbled notes down, let me share some of his quotes which came out in conversation (in bold) with my additional interpretation about what that would mean for a business.  Here’s 20 things you can learn from one of the countries leading conductors (in no particular order): -

  1. “An Englishmans greatest enemy is his routine” - What elements of you or your organisations routine needs changing, renewing or deleting?  Routine stifles creativity, it’s easy to slip into routine – fight it, stop people going through the motions.
  2. “Fresh champagne, not old champagne” – Sometimes a new player coming in, lifts the whole orchestras performance.  Important to consider if people need to be moved around your organisation, to get their ‘fizz’ back and to provide fresh challenge or whether to bring in new people.
  3. “A performance can misfire but still stay on the page” – This is about resilience and the show going on, despite setbacks.  Learning must be done ‘on the fly’ – in the performance, and you need a team around you that will ‘self-correct.’
  4. “How do you ignite a performance?” It’s a conductors job to inject the passion and your job to ‘ignite’ your team.  Great leaders are a combination of ‘Pyromaniac’ and ‘Fireman’.
  5. “Being a conductor is a combination of head, heart and determination” – Important to understand that as leaders we need to enable the heart, have courage and make balanced decisions.
  6. “If a conductor keels over, the first violinist conducts” – Whose ready to take the stage on your team if you fall over?  Importance of succession planning.
  7. “The oboe always tunes the orchestra” – Which one person or thing is setting the tone for your organisation?   Is yours a perfect note or is someone else nominated to drive the culture to your standard?
  8. “Tell your truth quietly.” – Understanding the impact of big conversations with individuals and how these are best handled sensitively and in private.
  9. “The orchestra must exist separate from me” – In the same way our businesses must be able to function and run without us being constantly present.
  10. “A poor orchestra is a ‘safe’ orchestra who play with no emotion.” Each player must express themselves through their music.  How are you alowing individuals to express themselves and their inividuality?
  11. “The business of conducting is a psychological game” - not unlike the workplace!  People are complex, the chemistry of human performance is complex.  Think through your culture, your assets and ask yourself how you can ‘cook up’ a better outcome by changing or modifying elements of your own behaviour?
  12.  “Champagne without bubbles is a great Chardonnay’ – not everyone can fizz with enthusiasm, particularly introverts.  Seek out the Chardonnay and keep your eye on any extroverts that might be ’going flat.’
  13. “Unless it’s perfect, there’s no beauty” -  What does that beauty translate into in your own team or organisation?  Do people know?
  14. “Rolling a drum takes 12 years practice” – Looks simple, surely everyone can do it? Don’t underestimate tasks that may look operationally simply, they make be complex than you imagine.  Always take time to “understand how the work works.”
  15. “Leave ideas to marinate” – Warren Buffet said “You can’t make a baby in a month by making nine women pregnant” – some things just take time to mature.  Mark said “My chilli is really spicy when its marinated.”  Pressure is for us as leaders to decide everything quickly.  
  16. “A concert hall has to have the right combination of acoustics and size” – Important point about creating the right environment for people to work within to get the best outcomes.
  17. “The Sydney Opera House is a great building, but an awful concert hall” – Who’d have thought it?  It’s an iconic building and loved by Australians all over the world as a symbol of their national pride.  So, sometimes first impressions can be deceiving and some things may not be fit for purpose?  
  18. “You must seek feedback, but keep it to limited people who know you well” – Mark maintains a trusted circle of people who he can trust to give him the critical feedback he needs after a performance.  It is something he seeks a couple of days afterwards, when the dust has died down.  Feedback is key, particularly in understanding your organisational shadow as a leader which is often unintended.
  19. The importance of thinking time.  Mark spends long periods alone to think through his future performances.  He takes time out to access the ‘Alpha’ part of his thinking frequency, essential for a creative person but also equally important for every leader.  Look after yourself, give yourself time to think, away from screens, something I’m always banging on about.
  20. An orchestra has a clear chain of command.  The conductor will always communicate with a section leader but approach a player individually if a performance is not up to scratch.  Like all organisations, chains of commands exit, empowered leaders move across, up and down in order to get the best organisational performance.

Breaking Bad – Chemicals in the Workplace

breaking bad
Occasionally a piece of insight hits you in a big way, something that really gets you thinking.  Attending the Benchmark for Business Visionaries Conference in London this week, an insight from speaker Simon Sinek on chemicals in the brain and how these have an impact on people and ultimately the workplace, was my ‘Breaking Bad’ moment.


The deeper you dive into human performance and the link to neuroscience, psychology and biology, the clearer things seem to get in terms of better understanding of why human beings do what they do, act like they act and why cultures develop as they do.  It’s complex though, unpacking it all, but fascinating.

I’ve long been a fan of developing Emotional Intelligence in self and others.  People with an ability to ‘self-manage- develop better coping mechanisms, emotional armour and adaption to change.  Adding the perspective of ‘chemical reactions’ in the workplace added an interesting dimension for me on top of insights already identified from reading books ‘The Chimp Paradox’ by Dr. Steve Peters.  When you become conscious of something, you can be more aware of behaviour and reactions which have a common theme.

Neuroscience and the role of Dopamine, Seratonin, Oxytocin and Cortisol are things to pay more attention to in the future for better understanding of the human beings you work with and management of self.  ‘Cooking’ the right culture is something that may well be of high value if the results are increased performance and equipping yourself with the necessary skills to be a scientist of human workplace performance.

Situational Awareness

Situational Awareness

As someone that rides around 4,000 miles a year on my bike, I’m well aware of the need for ‘Situational Awareness’ or SA.  As I cycle along, there is a constant scan going on in my mind: -

  • What’s ahead? – Potholes, puddles hiding potholes, pedestrians doing something unexpected, a hill, a turn, a junction, a set of lights, a car getting ready to exit a junction.
  • What’s behind? – Is the car behind getting impatient?  Is the engine revving?  Is there space ahead if someone was to recklessly pass me?  Can I safely move across the lane?
  • How am I feeling? – Am I fatigued? Have I made any assumptions? Am I on auto-pilot?  Am I rushing?

Having a “360 degree view’ in the moment is key to make good decisions.  Situational Expert Dr. Mida Endsley determines it as “…..the perception of the elements in the environment within a volume of time and space, the comprehension of their meaning, and the projection of their status in the near future.”  SA is used extensively by pilots who need to synthesise significant amounts of information, whilst retaining the ‘landscape’ view at all times.  If you’ve ever watched Aircrash Investigation on Discovery, you’ll know why as many accidents have been caused by a pilot ‘over-focusing’ on one set of data under pressure.

Your own SA can be determined by many factors including stress, poor sleep, confusion, uncertainty, distraction, fixation on one outcome or failing to recognise contradictory statements or situations.  It happened to me only last week, when paying for my lunch.  I was focused on a till LCD which told me one thing, yet I was failing to listen to the operator who was telling me something else.   I didn’t see the contradiction as someone was talking to me in the queue, I was focused on the screen and handed over the exact amount on the LCD, which was incorrect (it was the last transaction, not the total).  Looking back, I was distracted, maintaining two conversations.

SA in Business

Losing ‘Situational Awareness’ in business is easy.  Being over-focused on something, wanting a specific outcome, being under pressure be that time or other, failing to step-back and seeing each issue in isolation, looking at one set of data or not listening are just some of the things that can lead to poor decision making.  Developing your SA, is all about thinking about things in a bigger picture: -

  • What is the context for what am I being asked?
  • What data do I have to help me?
  • Am I ‘in the right place’ to call this?
  • How does this decision impact others?
  • Is there any conflicting information about this situation?
  • Is there a personal agenda at play?
  • Who or what is pressurising this decision or situation and why?
  • How does this impact the future?
  • Does this add risk or de-risk us?
  • What assumptions are being made and are they evidenced?
  • Are we fixated on one outcome?

Making quality decisions is all about ensuring you are thinking wide and expansively, you have to ‘Look, then Think, then Act.”  As business speeds up, decisions can get made quickly, sometimes too quickly.  Maintaining ‘Situational Awareness’ is a key attribute of any leader being faced with multiple decisions.  It leads to better decisions in the long term, so speed isn’t necessarily always a good thing if you want the ‘best’ decision to be made.  SA is also a very good technique to use in your personal life if you’re faced with big decisions, see if you might be able to use it next time something big or ‘out of the blue’ crops up.


hbrI 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?

Staying Relevant

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!

So what are you going to do next?

 pool table

“Nice shot Dad, but what are you going to do next”. Those words hit me and this blog title came straight into my head. Picture the scene, a bar in Faliraki, Rhodes.  My son and I playing pool whilst my wife and daughter did some holiday shopping.

I’d just potted a difficult ball and was busy self-congratulating myself (helped by a few beers) when I saw the white rolling behind another ball which effectively left me snookered to pot the black and win the game.  There was the business lesson right there, it’s all about thinking one shot ahead.
Reality is, I normally do, however I’d taken my eye off the ball. This was the last shot before the black, competitiveness had kicked in, my need to win had distracted me from the normal process of potting one ball at a time and thinking ahead to the next shot.  There are a few thoughts which came to mind: -
1.  Competition in business can lead you to chase for short term wins with the potential to lose the big picture goal. Adrenalin, excitement and the environment you are in can contribute to this.
2.  Always be aware of pressure and how it can impact your thinking and ability to drill your pre-defined processes.  Elite athletes are taught this way, to simply execute what they do in training day after day, regardless of the occasion.
3. The metaphor for thinking one shot ahead is a great way to think about business planning. If we do this, what would the shot after be and are we well positioned for it? 
4. Every situation is a potential moment for learning, look for the insights.
5. Be quick to reflect on the level of your success before calling in the massed marching bands.
6. There is another obvious one related to alcohol intake, but hey I was on my holidays :-)
Seeing how my son had improved both his pool and table tennis playing skills over our holiday was another important insight about the brains ability to quickly learn and adapt.  Both of us rapidly increased our skill by playing every day, committing to memory (both mental and muscle) the strokes, weight and movements needed to improve our respective games.
Ecoutez et Repetez
Like anything in life, if you systematically repeat something, the brain quickly creates new synapses to accommodate the new information.  A reminder to commit to those things that are important to you through regular review, so that they become committed to your sub-conscious.
During our holiday, I invested time in re-reviewing my personal vision, mission and values aswell as writing a 50 point plan of all the things that I feel are contributory to living a life of happiness, success and unlimited potential. 
This information, processed, documented and validated remains stored in the parietal area of my brain like an auto-pilot or wiki, for constant referral to.  By this regular review, like the table tennis or pool, it can only serve you and improve you by participating and repeating the practice regularly.  
As your brain then runs your systems like breathing, heart regulation and digestion, it can also run your positive direction of travel, improve your circumstances and potential to achieve your goals and make the whole process second nature.  An easy win for anyone wanting to improve their personal success in life.

The M.E.A.T. of the Matter

More scandal this week as it has been established that Findus Lasagne has been discovered containing 100% horse meat, not beef as advertised.  It’s the latest in the on-going headlines about horse meat being discovered in processed food products, sold by supermarkets and brands.  I’m sure we haven’t heard the last of this issue, as no doubt all parties in the supply chain are now busily drilling down to the root cause.

Whilst out riding my bike this weekend, I got to thinking about this issue and what thoughts it triggers within consumers when scandal hits.  Believe it or not, the words that came up happened to make an acronym called MEAT!  Scandals tend to boil down to four major things, whether you are Lance Armstrong, a merchant banker, an MP or Findus.  Generally speaking they tend to fall into one of the categories below.  I’ve made some comment against each of them relative to the horsemeat scandal.

M = Morality.  In the UK, we have an issue with eating horses.  To us, they are primarily pets, not a food source unlike other cultures across the world.  It’s funny how no-one has picked up the taste difference, when smothered in sauces, sugar and colouring!  So, it’s not about the taste, it’s about the ingredients.

E = Ethics.  No household name brand on earth would risk their reputation by substituting constituent ingredients in their products.  The risks are simply too large, starting at shareholder value.  Nestle previously owned the brand up to 2000, but sold rights to Findus Group.  Ethically, major issues like this can set a brand back years and many other food processing businesses will be working overtime to see if they too are affected.  Major brands spend significant sums of money protecting their Corporate reputation and suppliers will have been audited, so there is likely to be foul play.

A = Accountability.  Consumers will want the root cause to be quickly established.  The brand involved – Findus – has already launched its own investigation which points the finger at a Romanian supplier.  They’ve been quick, as with all PR crisis management, to get a statement up on their website.  The major supermarkets will be applying the pressure big time, exerting their full weight on the supplier to come up with some answers.  No doubt they are all busy checking their own brand and private label products, likely sourced from the same suppliers.  Consumers expect you to stand up, man up, and be honest if you are in the frame.

T = Trust.   Consumers put huge trust in big brands, supermarkets particularly.  They take the position that if a supermarket is selling something, then it must be OK.  I bet your bottom dollar that the category manager in charge of the ready-meal/frozen foods category is looking at a chart that shows negative sales for value products in their range.  We (consumers) can be a funny bunch when it comes to establishing who we want to take the hit. Is it the supermarkets or the supplier who will feel the pain of our brand switch?  Worst thing possible for a consumer to lose trust in your brand.

Leadership M.E.A.T.

The acronym works for leaders of businesses too.  Stakeholders expect morality, ethics, accountability and trust as characteristics of the people charged to lead them.  It’s critical that you have these things in order, for example: -

Morality.  Doing the right thing, having a strong organisational and moral compass.

Ethics.  Never compromising your personal or organisational credibility for a quick short term financial win, always play the long game.

Accountability.  Being the buck stops here person.  Calling the big shots and standing behind them.  Saying sorry when you get it wrong.

Trust.  Keeping confidences, doing the things you say, being honest even when the news is difficult, having personal integrity.

In a social media driven world, leaders and brands are instantly accountable for their actions.  News spreads like wildfire, opinion spreads, blame spreads and your reputation can be gone in an instant.  Take the lessons from Findus and apply them to your own business in terms of your business and personal reputations.

2013 – Time for a tech time out?

One thing about being a child of the 80′s (growing up) is that I’ve witnessed a renaissance in technology over the the last thirty years.  When you just take a minute to step back and think a minute, you come up with a list that contains things like this (not exhaustive or in any particular order): -

  1. Fax Machines.
  2. e-Mail.
  3. CD’s (including portable CD players).
  4. The internet!
  5. MP3 downloads.
  6. Mobile phones.
  7. Personal Computers.
  8. Laptop Computers.
  9. Sky TV.
  10. USB.
  11. Portable flash drives.
  12. Wireless Networks.
  13. Digital cameras.
  14. Satellite navigation systems.
  15. Social Media – Youtube, Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, Wikepedia, Hotmail.
  16. The birth of Amazon and Google.
  17. Flat screen Televisions – LCD, Plasma.
  18. Apple (i-pod, i-pad, i-phone).
  19. Tablet computers.
  20. Cloud computing.

It’s quite incredible to think that in early 1990 when I entered the world of work, only a few of the things on this list existed in terms of technology.  Everything else has been invented subsequently, in fact, life has changed totally.  One characteristic of all this technology is that it has led to a world of consumption, with nearly all the tech listed contributing in some way to cramming every available moment we have.

The victim of this is quality thinking time.  Waking moments are spent with screens in our hands, devices buzzing, status updates demanding attention and a need to fill down time with something.  For you to be at your best, you need downtime from technology to re-connect and quieten the chatter in your head.  Over a year ago I did this presentation (see slides 6-8), highlighting how being in this busy mode keeps your brain in a “beta” state, which is massively under utilising your capability to think creatively.  Don’t get me wrong, I love technology and I run a technology company, however I also know the importance of keeping a balance.

When you disconnect and invest some time away from technology, it can have a re-charging effect on you.  Your brain moves into it’s “alpha” mode, which is far more creative, expansive and potential based – a brilliant place to be to come up with solutions to problems or your next big idea.  Your internal dialogue quietens down and relaxation becomes easier, you begin to re-connect with the inner you.

Things will keep speeding up, that’s for sure.  2013 will see more platforms, more tech and more reasons to stay permanently connected to the internet.  If you want 2013 to be a year of potential and achievement, combined with a feeling of peace and contentment, then make sure you disconnect regularly, don’t be a slave to the system and invest more time in quality thought to achieve your goals.  When you do, marvellous things start to happen. 

You’ll be amazed at the moments of synchronicity that come your way, how you navigate yourself sub-consciously towards your goals and how you can make more positive choice about your life direction.  Don’t do it half-heartedly with a smartphone in one hand and a pen in the other, the best time to think is either on your own with no distractions and nothing on in the background (radios, TV)  or when walking, running, cycling, swimming or partaking in some form of exercise.

Achieving your goals is about working hard and smart.  Give yourself the edge and make one of your New Years resolutions to invest more time thinking, it will deliver fantastic results.

Happy New Year!

Hindsight is not always a wonderful thing….

Hindsight in not always a wonderful thing, in fact it can be really damaging.  When you spend time remorsing about outcomes in the now using words like “I wish” and “I should” they are simply wasted thoughts and energy.

The only moment that matters is now.  You are where you are.  Reflection of what you could have done differently from what has passed, now that is a different thing.  Reflection allows you to take all the lessons and re-apply them to the future you to help refine and re-define who you really are, a better version of you.

Spending time remorsing about where you are based upon the decisions you have already taken is self-destructive.  Your brain will happily indulge you – if you give it permission to – in the thousand different reasons why you’re circumstances are why there are right now.  “If I’d of been six inches taller I’d of been a pro-basketball player and my life would be different to what it is now.”  All that says is “I’m not taking responsibility for my past decisions, my current version of me and the energy I chose to put into creating my future.”  If you want to stay stuck in the past or even your present, remorseful hindsight will keep you there.

Three Tips to Assist

  1. Eliminate the word “Should” from your internal dialogue and replace it with “could, but I didn’t”.  So, “I should have done this” turns into “I could have done that, but I didn’t”.  It quietens your internal dialogue, allows you to accept your past decisions and move.
  2. Always look to refine and re-define yourself.  Every experience is an opportunity for you to  learn more about who you really are.  Take the constructive lessons from what you’ve been through, but never dwell by going back and back by comparing your current circumstances.  Simply take the learning and get it applied – fast to your current circumstance.
  3. Fly TWA.  See previous blogpost on this subject here.

It’s amazing how much past experience dictates current thinking.  When you can move on quickly, life is far happier.  I meet lots of people that still wear their “black armband” of remorse for a past event or behaviour, keeping themselves in this period of mourning for what they should have done differently.  Ask yourself if you are wearing one? If you are – For what?  For who? And for how long do you want to keep going over this?

With 2012 coming to a close, it’s always a good point to have some personal reflection time.  Being the best possible version of you means simply taking all the learning from those experiences from 2012, updating your brains belief systems and moral compass and living “in the now”.

To all my readers, my seasonal thought for you is about “being happy”.    Happiness is simply that state of mind when you feel “peace”, “joy” and “purpose” in the things you do, a lovely balance where everything just falls into place.  You can re-create who you are in a moment with a brand new thought, what lies ahead of you is simply there to be created.  See you out there.

Learning from BIG businesses….

Yesterday I spoke at the Cheshire Business Expo (organised by Profile Communications) on what small businesses can learn from big businesses and leaders of big businesses.  I covered quite a lot of content but wanted to summarise some of the key points here for the people that attended as a reminder of the key takeaways.  Bullet form for easy digestion: -

Big Companies

  1. Have a clear vision.
  2. Have the right people, in the right seat.
  3. Understand their economic engine.
  4. Are disciplined in Thoughts, Words and Actions.
  5. Don’t just have a plan A, but also a B) Big and C) Contingency.
  6. Know what their main effort should be to deliver the vision.
  7. Have a stop doing list.
  8. Confront the brutal facts.
  9. Act quickly on poor performance at all levels.
  10. Spend more time thinking about the future.

Successful Leaders of Big Companies

  1. Manage their emotional state.
  2. Make evidence led decisons.
  3. Look to data  and facts.
  4. Check assumptions.
  5. Spend more time creating than reacting to things.
  6. Are focused on “being their best” not comparing to others.
  7. Are open to everyone and everything.
  8. Have their mind, body and soul aligned.
  9. Effectively delegate and spend their time coaching/aligning others.
  10. Know their Ding!

I spoke quite a bit about emotional intelligence, here are a few additional articles for you to read: -

  1. The Ocean of Opportunity (all about the future and not looking back).
  2. Fly TWA (why you should put thoughts and words into action).
  3. AFD-MO (why you should just forgive everything and everybody as the only moment is now).

Inspiration Injection…..

I do wonder sometimes about who are the high-profile role models for Generation Y+Z to base their lives upon.  Most of what is in the media is sensationalist reality television depicting lifestyles dominated by drama, micro-celebrity and the pursuit of money plus things to artifically elevate social status – not great for our next generation of young people.  Hopefully the London 2012 Olympics did it’s job in “inspiring a generation” of young people to take a different pathway inspired by different values of teamwork, personal success through hard work and recognition through personal sacrifice.

I spent a day at a conference yesterday , where two keynotes speakers inspired me, enter stage left – Sir Ranulph Fiennes OBE and Roger Black MBE.  Fiennes our greatest living explorer and Black a great former Olympian.  I seek out opportunities to hear stories from people like these as there are always transferable lessons from their achievements and timelines to transfer into your own.  These two guys are great role modes with bonefide achievements and life lessons.  I’ve bulleted five key points from each speaker to share and added some further thoughts in italics: -


Roger Black MBE

  1. “My Silver medal was my Gold”.  Perhaps one of the most profound comments of the day and one that I totally identified with.  The day he ran his own best race in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, he came second to perhaps the greatest athlete of that time, American – Michael Johnson.  Rather than say he failed, he re-framed the way he looked at that to say that he ran his best possible race and won a silver medal.  He walked away from that track knowing that he had delivered his full capability, in the moment.  When he looked in the mirror, he could say there was nothing else he could of done on the day and the result was the result.  He felt proud that he performed to his best when needed – This is a powerful lesson in moving on and acceptance, when all you aim to deliver in life is your personal best then it leads you to a really great place of accepting who you are.
  2. “Have the courage to change a winning formula. ” Black re-counted a race when they turned the conventions of running a 400m relay upside down by putting him as the first man, not the last, in order to beat the dominant Americans.  The night before they realised that they could not beat them conventionally and had to put immediate pressure on their competitors. The result was a thrilling race which saw them execute their plan perfectly and win – A great example to always question what, why and how you do things – are your competitors planning to switch their running order to outpace you?
  3. “Wanting to win isn’t enough.“  At the Olympics, every athlete wants to win so everyone is in the same place mentally, which neutralises everyone.  He spoke of the need to develop your own “need to achieve” which transcends “wanting to win” into a greater purpose.  I think this is a great metaphor for life, I see so many people “wanting to be successful” but not being driven by the purpose of “why they want to be successful.”  When you switch “I want to be successful because I want greater status in society” (short term happiness) to “I want to be successful so that I can help others less fortunate” (long term happiness) see what happens to your purpose and your results.
  4. “Champions are reactive, they are pro-active.”  Linked back to point one but a different point.  There was a time in Blacks career that he kept a close eye on his rivals, comparing race times to his, getting feedback about their winter training camps or form.  He spent a lot of time comparing himself to them and then trying to fine tune against them.  At one point he received career changing advice from a coach that he had to stop comparing against them and focus on running his perfect race.  I wrote a blog on this theme called “Being Your Best” which you can read here.  Bottom line is this, focus on your own potential, not others.
  5. “Talent is not enough unless properly applied.  “  Black was a talented runner, with a physique perfect for the 400m.  He has been gifted the physical attributes to run very, very fast.  He had the talent.  However, to maximise that talent he needed the right people around him to demonstrate how to use it.  Successful running is about many different things including tactics and he had to listen and learn to refine his talent to become world class.  If you are trying to be world class in your business, then don’t do it on your own.  Get great non-executive directors, hire great talent – the best you can afford, go to conferences and listen to how world class people achieved, read white papers around excellence in your industry and most importantly – develop yourself.

Sir Ranulph Fiennes OBE

  1. “You can sack someone on an expedition but you can’t get rid of them.“  If someone isn’t performing in the middle of the Antarctic, you can say “you’re fired” but there is nowhere for them to go as you’re in the middle of nowhere.  Candidate selection is vital for the expeditions that Fiennes leads, it’s also vital for business.  Spend time at the front of the process – particularly with key hires – to ensure best fit.  
  2. “We go for any record that any human has never done before.” How do you frame that?   Achieving what most think is the impossible.  Using your frame of reference as to what everyone else things is unchartered territory.  Are you confining your thoughts to the market as defined by everyone else or the potential of the market in a completely new unchartered way?
  3. “We had nothing but morse code for communication with the outside world. “  Describing one of his major expeditions which saw him circumnavigate the globe, a feat to which this day has not been repeated and took him three years, Fiennes described a world without GPS, satellite navigation and mobile devices.  He and his companion – Charles Burton – had each other and morse code only for communication with hunanity.  They mapped regions of the world for the first time ever, by hand for the great good of humanity.  Can you imagine life without a device, wireless access or 24/7 communication?  Are you comfortable with your own company?  Can you sit and think without agitaton to be connected?  Can you imagine having to walk for thousands of miles over ice, which is constantly moving only navigating by a compass?  The lesson here is all about the growing need to be connected to the matrix in order to feel in touch and the growing need for things to be automated which ultimately stops your brain doing the work.  It’s not a bad thing to be out of touch, to allow your mind to drift from “attention” to “possibilities.”
  4. “Have mental ammunition at the ready.”  A question came about how Fiennes kept going in some of toughest conditions on the planet, ravaged by frostbite, in constant pain with huge distances still to travel.  He said he had “mental ammunition” which he always fired at his brain to overcome the overwhelming need to stop.  Ability to cope under pressure and mental toughness is a fantastic quality, which you can personally develop.  You’re potential to achieve is far greater than you imagine and your pain threshold far further than you might think.  Have your own mental ammunition ready for the tough times to dig you out of a hole.  Good ammunition are things like: – “Pain is temporary, quitting is forever,” “How bad is this compared to being diagnosed with a terminal illness.”  Get some perspective and push on through.
  5. “I recruit on motivation.”  Many of the people that accompanied Fiennes on his expeditions were unpaid, took time out of their lives and risked their livelihoods to accompany him.  For Fiennes this meant that their purpose was not money or status, but the adventure.    Fiennes knew that these people would give every last drop in their tank if they had to because they had nothing to lose.  Fantastic lesson to find the fanatics in your business whose purpose is all about the adventure and the experiences.