Mind-mapping – like a Magic Eye picture for a jumble of ideas

I’ve used mind-maps for myself for years when writing reports, planning holidays, events and major projects – and during Covid-19 lockdown. I have now used it with a client for the first time to conduct an online session. It was terrific – definitely my go to tool for a fact finder, and worked so well to get to the heart of the issue.

I cannot recommend this enough as way to capture everything that may or not be relevant to just get the ideas down, follow all the swerves in the conversation and, most importantly, leave nothing out! You can park random ideas, dead ends and gradually move them around until at some point they tend to emerge as a pattern, a little like those 3D reveal pictures.

The mindmap generated acted as the minutes for the call, and gave my client plenty of food for thought, and an easy way to see the strands for further consideration before our next session.

For me, this initial mindmap creates a checklist for when I’ve made more concrete plans – checking that all the original ideas, concerns, risks, stakeholders have been incorporated into the final version, and not strayed from the original objective of whatever that first conversation was about. It’s been a lifesaver so many times.

In my opinion, simple software helps far more than any books or theories – just pick one and start playing. (Mindjet my current favourite, though it’s not cheap after the trial). The important features are the ability to move whole chunks of ideas into groups, or park outliers, which you can then drag into place as some form of hierarchy comes to mind.


The Listening exercise

Thanks to my connections with Volcano Theatre, I have had the opportunity to be involved in workshops and performances that have made me rethink the way people communicate.

We did a wonderful exercise where, in pairs, we had to talk about a topic for a solid 5 minutes without interruption. It’s very hard as a listener not to interrupt, to clarify, to agree or disagree, to somehow make the conversation all about us.  As a speaker it’s very effective in terms of making us delve deep into the one topic, exploring our stream of consciousness.  I learnt more about my new colleague and gave more of myself away in one single cross-conversation (different topic each) than I think I would ever have done and our business interactions are that much more connected.

The session was beautifully curated and put together (you have to be there to truly get it I think) but the lesson is a simple one – take the time to listen, and be generous with your honesty.

5:1 – Stay positive

I went to a seminar recently which reviewed how as leaders we can take advantage of Neuro Plasticity  (put very simply, it’s never too late to learn, and never too late to change). The course itself reinforced my belief that great leaders and coaching can really inspire people to let go of their self-limiting behaviours and I’m going to bring more of that into my personal and private life (my poor kids are forever being subjected to my new ‘just been on a course’ Kool Aid’ techniques!).

This was the evidence which most struck me however:

Evolution-wise, humans are 5 times more driven to protect themselves from danger than they are to pursue comfort.  The theory therefore is that we are (times 5) more inclined to notice, or act upon, or expect a bad outcome than a positive one. Who amongst us gets an  invite to an unsolicited meeting with our boss and expects it to be good news, for example!

As leaders, we can mitigate this fear, and the natural defensiveness that is felt by challenge by ensuring that we NOTICE and PRAISE 5 positives for every 1 ‘could do better’ that we comment on.  The brain then adjusts to accepting these in the way they were intended and becomes more open to all feedback.


Bringing your message to life

Imagine a room where everyone is hanging onto your every word, checking in with each other and bringing an energy into the room that sets you up for a great discussion. Feels good doesn’t it? I’ve just demonstrated a simple technique you can use to get people interested in your meetings, presentations and workshops: ask a question or set a scene that transports the listener into your story.

Whether presenting or running a workshop, the surest way to get someone from drifting off into shopping lists, to do lists, “why was I sent here” is to make the discussion about them. Ask them to imagine something that fits your agenda and they will be with you for the duration!  For example, if you have the unlovely task of persuading people to follow GDPR principles (it’s 2018… is there any other topic?!) – What happens if you start with a scenario such as “imagine you’ve just mistakenly sent your boss the most embarrassing photo or you, or email thread… what would that be?”. Everyone goes a bit white – everyone is making the story about themselves and from now on… they are listening!

Try it – just don’t then ask them to tell you what it was they imagined… that’s really going in a whole new (dangerous) tangent!. The point then is to get back to your “look after data, keep only what you must and think who can see what” principles. They will still be listening, but now…. they care, because they are still feeling the shame of their own imagination.




Business to IT – the translation gap

My career has been driven largely by my ability to recognise the gap between what users (or clients, or employees, or any stakeholders) what, or think they want and what technical staff (networkers, coders, designers, DB developers) want to deliver. The levels of frustration between the two camps used to hit heady heights during the early Internet years – not surprisingly given the fast pace of technology change and the ambitious plans of customers based on hyperbolic news articles during the dotcom crazy years.  Each was operating based on the news and trends used within their niches (for techies and creatives: Creative Review, Wired, .Net, … for our clients they were the standard industry papers, depending on their sector: Timber Trades Journal, TES, BMJ, Industry Week – the list was endless. )

Understandably – the tech teams wanted to push forward the latest and greatest, and coolest, that’s what turned them on, that’s how these self taught IT wizards came to be operating at this level – no University courses existed to give them these cutting edge skills. By contrast,  the clients wanted what had already happened, because that’s what *they* knew – they relied on recent launches, on already proven successes.

There’s a fix though! Motivation is the common bond – it’s a cliche, but it applies here: look for the win win situation, usually via a mediator such as an account manager or business relationship manager that understands the drivers on both sides. The right person can translate the requirements, and the blockers and most importantly piece together a common path that each side cares about.



Why saying no is often better than yes


One of the biggest barriers to organisational change is a collective unwillingess for people to say no. I’m not in any way suggesting that people should become militant and unhelpful, so let me clarify:

If you are asked to do something, it is in everyone’s interest for you to take a moment to establish whether
a. the request will lead to a consumate benefit;
b. whether you have the right skills, experience; and
c. whether you have the time to complete the task in the required time

You would be amazed at how often the task can be simplified, met in some other better way, even if you remain the best person to complete it.

You will also be very surprised at how often team members are happy to help you out and learn new skills/ gain new experience when you delegate to them. Especially if you take the time to make it clear that you have conducted a, b and c above.

Sure, people like the instant power and satisfaction of someone saying to them “yes, no problem, leave it with me etc.”, but the overall gain of a pause will generate a more sustainable satisfaction and respect for your part in a more efficient, more thoughtful business.

But what does it mean for me?!

The first thing that a person’s going to do, when they are told something’s going to happen to their work – whether it’s a new office, a change in seating plan, a new piece of software, phone, whatever – is ask themself “how is this going to affect me personally”. It really doesn’t matter how something is ‘sold’ to them, how it’s better for the business, it’s going to help make savings, be more competitive, make life easier… a person is going to continue being suspicious (until they are told) “but what does it mean for me”.  And it’s amazing how few people ask that question out loud to the right person, they frequently mull it over and water-cooler it…

Handled badly (not through malice, but from not recognising this unavoidable consequence of change – response), suspicion and a will for the project to fail will prevail. Logically, why would people embrace a new anything if they have no reason yet to believe it will not cause them harm. I work in IT at the moment – the team develop systems which are cost effective because they make processes streamlined, self- fullfilling and reduce paper-based / labour intensive tasks. So, it’s very possible that the software we roll out WILL make some of the day to day practices redundant this point ….tasks…..

It’s a perfect opportunity to inspire staff – e.g. ” when we make the repetitive, boring jobs automated, you’re going to have time to do those really challenging, career-progressing tasks that we keep talking about but somehow never find the time to arrange. How about we start thinking about those and getting you trained up?”  See how different that is from a person being expected to embrace the software that does the work they currently do most of the time? Suddenly, it’s not just the tasks which feel redundant…

In summary – projects, by definition,  bring about change, and change has the potential to be amazing. Failure to explain the change and fast-forward to the world where the change is in place and fill in the gaps for those at the receiving end of the change is not only insensitive, but is also bound to affect the enthusiasm with which projects are received.

Isn’t it better to plan for amazing rather than insensitivity and a lack of enthusiasm, surely? You’ve just got to fastforward a little and think like the end user thinks.

Pareto Principle and the law of diminishing returns

As with many of the my heroes, Vilfredo Federico Damaso Pareto, is an economist and a philosopher (See also Daniel Kahneman) and his simple idea resonates in today’s business as much as in his own day (early 20th Century). It’s a simple idea that states that, in general* you get your first 80% of benefit from your first 20% of effort. This could be the effect of a sales promotion, or a new staff incentive. It also applies in the sense that 20% of workers do 80% of the work etc.. his model was founded on  observations of his such as that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population.

For me, what it means is…. focus on the first 20% of effort, get lots of 20% effort events going on and come back to squeezing the last remnants of benefit out afterwards if you have that luxury of time. Obviously, if you are a nuclear scientist you will need to do thoe whole 100% no matter how painfully slow those last test, test, retest etc. are to generate results, but in business generally, it’s a rare person that hasn’t got something new lined up that should jsut be getting started to reap those easy rewards!

*normally distributed stats/ caveat emptor etc.

Meetings – the illusion of effectiveness

Meetings are such a common cause of complaint, such a timewaster, and such an easy thing to improve upon, yet people seem to accept this drain on their working world without actually doing anything to improve matters.

I love collaboration, love talking and involving people, it’s just that I believe that long drawn out, flabby meetings so often get in the way of genuine engagement. If you want to make your team impressed with your respect for their worth, here’s some meeting tips:

  1. Have 5 tiny catch ups if you can rather than 1 mammoth meeting if people are only needed for a specific section of it (think like a Venn diagram, join up the people who genuinely need to overlap)
  2. Circulate the meeting purpose (n.b. not what it’s about, but what it hopes to achieve) with the invite
  3. Give people the option to ask questions and prepare specific items before the meeting
  4. Give people a real opportunity to decline the invite if they don’t think they have anything to contribute
  5. Restate the purpose at the start of the meeting and ask if everyone knows why they are there. If they don’t know – tell them, or encourage them to go spend their time more wisely
  6. Thank people for coming – bring doughnuts, make coffee, take them somewhere interesting for the meeting, do something which tells them you value them
  7. Start on time
  8. Ask people for feedback on the meeting – could its objective have been met in a better way?
  9. Send notes/minutes/photos/whiteboard pics whatever as soon as possible after the meeting and make it clear what the next actions are
  10. Do your next actions and check progress on others before the next meeting

You will find that people start to take your meetings much more seriously, and respect that you value their input and time. Now you’ve read about it, just do it – and let me know how you get on : )

It’s our differences which make us amazing

Stephen Covey (7 Habits of Highly Effective People) talks a lot about synergy. It’s a word that sounds so ‘buzzword bingo’ that people are afraid to use it when trying to work out how best to work as a team, and this is a real shame. If individuals in a team, especially if peers (say, managers working together on a business plan, or scenario planning, can find a way to agree to celebrate their individual skills, and approach shared problems in a ‘thank you, I couldn’t do it this well alone’ mindset, the creative juices start to flow and the results are (always, in my experience), amazing.  There is great potential in working with each other’s strengths to create a result that is only possible if you channel the differences, the unique problem solving responses. Too often, people bring fear and protectionist thinking “my team, my reputation, my budget etc.” and the goal seems to be solely to ‘prove my way is better’, talk louder to make sure my point  is put across most strongly and demonstrate what I am capable of.

In changing times, (and let’s face it, in this economy, at this time, I doubt there’s a single working person who isn’t experience an unprecedented amount of change in their workplace), we should call upon the experiences, insights, worries, skills and simple ideas of everyone we know, supporting each other to create a ‘middle way’ – not a compromised position, but a high point – like the seat on a stool, where the individuals are the legs, providing a unique core of strength and a wide spread of knowledge.

Yes, it Imagesounds clichéd, but if you can find away to trust your co-workers to pick up where you don’t excel, and in return, generously give of your strength to make magic out of their weak spots, you will both come away looking, feeling, and performing a class apart from the individuals who think they’ve got it all.