How do you know that?

With. once again, a reverent and grateful nod to the ever-inspiring Edward Tufte (@EdwardTufte) – The deepest and most probing question you can ask both yourself and others: “How do you know that?”

Asking this question, in my opinion, is the best possible way to slow yourself down and prevent yourself from jumping to conclusions without actually finding out the basis of an opinion. It can be tricky to ask this without sounding like you are challenging someone, but it so often the key to opening a subject up to proper scrutiny that it’s worth mastering!

For example, my team and I are in the middle of a very tricky programme of works at the moment, so many teams coming together for the first time to agree sensible approaches to achieve a lot in a tiny timeframe and it’s really quite something to see the amount of assuming that is going on. Not through arrogance, and definitely not through a lack of skill or intelligence, but seemingly through a need to answer a hard sum by making it an easy one and ignoring the tricky truths. This inevitably leads to problems later on in the project (sometimes too late) so by ensuring that everyone feels they have to properly examine everything they know (or think they know) you would be amazed how much more effort people make to be prepared and also to ask a stupid question.

Better to find out early on what you don’t know – and of course, what the other person has made up on the spot – before you come to rely on that knowledge.


Tackle the elephant in the room

The elephant in the room is an English metaphorical idiom for an obvious truth that is either being ignored or going unaddressed. The idiomatic expression also applies to an obvious problem or risk no one wants to discuss) crops up everywhere (thank you Wikipedia).  

I personally love an elephant in the room with a new team as you can engage so many problem solving approaches to really help people to view problems from a new perspective.

Denial (it’ll be allright), blame (it’s not our problem), avoidance (we haven’t got time) are all examples of barriers to effectiveness, and are very common human responses to change and uncertainty. Working together boldly to chip away at the elephant in the room creates a real sense of trust and enthusiasm once the first wave of “can’t do it” passes. We’ve succesfully conquered 2 elephants by a mixture of 6 hats, asking Why, following every “we can’t” statement with an “UNLESS?” question and giving the most creative, random suggestions proper reflection with no shooting. Helping to contribute to a sense of “we did that impossible thing” is priceless, and that’s why I would encourage you to dig deep and find out where your own elephants are.

People don’t b…

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it

— Simon Sinek

Show some respect

On Twitter today I found the most perfect illustration (courtesy of @amontalenti):

To me, this sums up why it’s not OK to assume you know someone else’s job. Nothing worse than being told “you just need to do this, it’s easy” by someone who has absolutely no idea what is required and has never done it, nor has any intention of learning the skill.

So, just don’t do it. And if you have found yourself doing it, find the recipient and apologise for treating them like an idiot. Next time, ask questions to understand the task, ask the specialist opinion of the person doing it, and work together to agree the best and quickest means to achieve the goal. Together.

Let your customers do your marketing

Social Media Week is just coming to a close – there’s so much amazing information posted about the opportunities available to you. I advise you to spend some time reading around it. But for me the simplest way to get involved is to find a way to get your customers talking about you – Facebook is as easy a toe in the water as any.

If you provide enough opportunities for your clients to talk about you you will reach a bigger market than you can afford. And you’ll end up with a few things:

1. Free market research. Your customers are always comparing you to the market – if they are particularly unhappy (or happy), it’s usually because of your service or products in comparison with the alternatives. Listen to them, act on their findings, and you’ve already got an advantage on your competition.

2. Free advertising. Your customers collectively know more people than you ever will. Remember, you’re only 6 degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon! Give them a reason to talk about you – what are you doing that’ll make them proud to talk about you. Promoting you tells a story about themselves too, so if you make them attractive to their friends, they’ll get your name out there.

3, Stickiness. Reward your customers for giving up their free time to bother to talk about you and you’ve made them feel good about themselves, and more loyal, so they’ll keep on talking about you. Reward can be as simple as a “thank you, I noticed”, or as generous as you like. It’s the recognition that’ll do it for you.

I was prompted to write this by #SMW, and it’s report on what Yelp’s been up to. Yelp – a nationwide review site has conducted research with it’s top ‘citizen-critics’ and this paritcular comment says it all for me:

“I don’t trust slick advertising,” said one panel member. “Not a lot of people do nowadays. I prefer personal experience. If someone has taken the time to do a review – for free – then what they have to say is important.”

Work Happiness

Apparently, there’s a word for this in Scandinavian countries. I was lucky enough to see Alexander Kjerulf making it seem so easy.

You might be wondering what that’s going to do with you, in business. Well, think about it. If YOU are happy in work, you gain yourself another 5 days a week of your life, and regain all the ones you spend wishing you didn’t have to go to work.

If your staff, or peers, are happy, you spend time in a positive environment. Simple.

And, to hear Alexander say it, it is simple. He had us shaking hands, smiling, making conversation, looking people in the eye, and we all, instantly felt happier! Try it now.

Top tips to be found at the best-named website you will ever come across:

Fag-packet workings

I found out today that not everyone knows what Fag-packet workings are. Whilst I wonder what the modern equivalent is called, I do hope there is one, as I believe it’s a critical part of business planning.

Fag-packet workings are just a magic way of checking some basic numebrs out before you commit any emotional investment or personality to an idea. It’s a way of sanilty checking the ‘eureka’ moment of, “we’ll make a shedload of cash, it can’t fail”. You just quickly think through and write down in simple numbers* ) key steps:

1. what would it cost?

2. what would we hope to sell it for?

3. how much do we want to make for the effort we feel it’s going to take

4. how many/much would we need to sell

5. does it still sound like a good idea? If YES – now go properly number-crunch, research the market, identify suppliers etc. If no – grab another beer, laugh at yourself, and move on**

*in the olden days, when you could smoke in your local, you’d probably rip the glossy bit off your cigarettes and use that, the alcohol prompting creativity

** this will/should probably happen at least 80% of the time (see pareto)

If something’s not working, it’s time to be brave

It’s the sign of a madman (or a wasp flying into a window) to keep doing the same thing and expect a different result. No matter how good an idea seemed, or how much research, money and rationalising you have invested, if you have put together a plan and it’s not working, it’s time to try something new.

This doesn’t always mean you just ditch it and start again, but you could invite feedback from anyone involved (customers, staff, honest friends) to be as critical as they like, and listen to what they say with a view to implementing it. Your goal is to get it right, not win points by defending your idea.

You will almost definitely need to be brave and ditch the ego. But it’s far better than celebrating an excellent result than making excuses for a bad one.

What does success look like?

The best sports people imagine things going right – think David Beckham viewing the ball going in the net – and this guides everything they do. In business, in any project in fact, if you picture the end result it’s so much easier to work out how to get there.

So, look to the future, what does “success” look like? Now, zoom in and what do you see. What needed to happen for that successful scene to appear? Start there.

With massive thanks to Dorret for the phrase “what does success look like?” I use it on a daily basis… :

Don’t ask for help if all you want is a listener

I’ve learnt that most of the time, when someone asks me what to do, they don’t actually want to be given answers and to-do lists. I’ve spent many an hour coming up with detailed plans, ideas, research ideas only to find that a month later nothing’s happened.

So I have spent some time wondering why …

I have worked out that if you are serious about making things happen, you will have done whatever it takes and just need some help analysing the results. Too often, people ask for help because they want to create the illusion of doing something or they just want someone who will listen to them.

So, I no longer give solutions. I simply ask “what are you going to do about it”, or more often, “what have you done about it”. And it works, people have to be honest about what they are doing with that problem – are they ignoring it by talking about it, or are they serious about fixing it. In which case, they are the person best placed to fix it.