Monthly Archives: March 2012

Saturday morning learning error

Today is the first day of holiday at home and (surprise!) the kids still got up at 7. Now, call me a bad father, but I had a cheeky solution…. TV :-/

I gave my eldest the remote control and told her how to pause, skip and play. As my 2nd daughter tends to get scared easily (by Disney!) I thought this could help extend my peace and quiet.

After 10 minutes, I heard a voice:

Annabel: “Papa. Lilly is scared.”

Me: “Just skip forward”

Annabel: “I don’t know how to”

Me: “I showed you how!”

Annabel: “That doesn’t mean I can do it!!”

Good answer from a 7yr old. Good lesson for a learning expert :-/

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Kill your sacred cows

Phaedrus remembered reading about an experiment with special glasses that made users see everything upside down and backwards. Soon their minds adjusted and they began to see the world “normally” again. After a few weeks, when the glasses were removed, the subjects again saw everything upside down again and had to relearn the vision they had taken for granted before.
(excerpt from the philosophical novel “Lila” by Robert M. Pirsig)

In any culture, business or organisation the glasses we wear affect the way we see things. I wrote about this is my blog-post on Active Empathy, noting that we need to be able to put our go in check in order to really show empathy to other people.

In the excerpt above, Pirsig talks about the impact of time on the way our glasses shape the world. After while, our minds adapt to what was at first backwards and upside down. The same is true in business and other organisations. The question is: How can we take the glasses off?

I recently had a training participant in a course on “Proactive behaviour”. She was new to the company and came with her own special glasses, the ones she had formed in her previous company. She encountered 3 major “difficulties”:

  • She couldn’t really see things the same way her new colleagues did – she disagreed with much off what she saw and heard
  • She had difficulty getting herself heard; her new colleagues couldn’t see past their own glasses
  • She wasn’t really truly aware of the impact of her own glasses on her perception of her new environment. She found it difficult to “be fresh” or open-minded

In “Four Hour Work Week”, Tim Ferriss tells us to “kill our sacred cows”. These are the assumptions that we have which form the way we operate and do business. In India, a sacred cow can stop traffic and in some cultures, the sacred cow would never be eaten, even when starving. Ferriss talks about how his own assumptions about the way to do business were crippling his ability for growth. His glasses were the problem. Pirsig says the same thing, although in a slightly more philosophical manner: “In any hierarchical (metaphysical) classification, the most important division is the first one, for this division dominates everything beneath it. If the first division is bad, there is no way you can ever build a good system (of classification) around it.”

If we want to innovate, develop, grow and do things differently, we need to be able to kill our sacred cows. To do this, we need to be able to see our glasses for what they really are. And this is tough.

On a high-level, 2 approaches to first identifying sacred cows may be of use:

  • Go out in the world and look at how other people are doing things – although you will probably do this with your own glasses on, it can still help you to see what you are taking for granted in your own system
  • Get someone from outside to come in to your own organisation and LISTEN to what they have to save

Personally, I find it easy to just ask a few good questions to understand where the sacred cows are:

  • What do you absolutely believe to be true about the way you operate?
  • Which people and processes can you NOT live without and why?
  • In all the business you do, what 3 elements always seem to be present?
  • If an outsider came into your culture and told you to stop doing certain things, what would you really hate to hear from him?

The answers to these questions may be an indication of the kinds of assumptions, glasses and sacred cows that are helping to run your business. But they may equally be the things that are stopping the traffic, development and innovation.

The question is: What are you going to do about it?

Thanks or reading!

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I could use a trainer …shoe pun :-/

This post has nothing to do with trainers. Well, sort of. It is about getting a job, getting seen or self-branding..


In 1999, a good friend of mine tried to get a job in a highly esteemed London Ad Agency. He was amongst 1000 hopeful graduates just on the market trying to get into the best spots. Big names, big competition. I wonder how many of them did what he did…

Instead of sending a CV, he sent a plastic moulded cast of his foot. In a shoe box. When the box was opened, there was a simple message: “I need a trainer. Call me” (+ his number).

I suppose that most other people sent in a CV. My guy didn’t. He did what everyone needs to do if they want to get somewhere with the help of other people….


1 – Tune in to the situation, values and needs of the other person

This is key to any “sales situation”, whether it be getting a job, selling a house or service or convincing your friends to come out on a Saturday night. You need to put your active empathy skills into practice and tune in to the other person. You’ve gotta be FAB. The shoe in a box was tuned into the need for creativity and an original dynamic approach.


2 – You have to stand out . You might say: That’s easy in the advertising world, but not in real life. OK, a good point – but I’m not asking you to be creative and wacky all the time. Just different to the other guy. What makes you different? Even if you have a simple classic CV, you have to have something that the others don’t have. A USP.


3 – But don’t bullshit. What I liked about the shoe in the box was that it didn’t make any great claims-to-fame that wouldn’t hold up. The action itself suggested “creativeness” but the need for a trainer underlined a lack of arrogance that needed supporting. Nice. Subtle. But cool.


These lessons may come from a world of advertising and recruitment, but they are valid for a lot of communication situations. Tune into the situation/values/needs of the other, stand out and keep it real.

Have fun!

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4 quick sure ways to screw up strategic thinking + action

If you want more ideas on creating strategic action, read my other blog post.

This is about how to get it wrong!

4 simple ideas to keep in mind….

Not taking time to think things through

When I ask people how I should best get ready for an IronMan, they always reply “Train”. But in my working schedule, I don’t have time and if I DID train, it would surely lead to divorce and that would make every even harder (for the IronMan) …as well as decidely less nice.

I know training is not the answer here because I’ve done my SWOT and I have been thinking about my position. I am tackling first-things-first (liberating time by improving business …. THEN training)


Stubbornly sticking to the plan or just never reassessing your position

Strategic thinking is not something that happens once a year. By definition, it is about linking your current position to a mission. Since your current position is ever-changing, this means that strategic thinking and action must be a dynamic process, rather than just setting a bunch of rules to apply in any situation in the coming 1,2,3 years.


Not thinking things through before acting

I see a lot of great promises made in training rooms by people about how they are going to tackle leadership and teamwork situations. On paper it looks really good.

Then I give them a task to work on. As soon as I do, everyone forgets what they said about “taking the time to assess position” and “assigning roles based on competences” and “creatively looking for new resources”. They just start doing stuff. One of the biggest tips for strategic action I can think of simply to SLOW DOWN.
Not seeing and seizing opportunities when they are there

One of the by-products of not slowing down is that you don’t tend to see things for what they are. The more quickly we treat our situation-assessment, the more likely we are to just filter all the new information through our existing ego-filters and come to the same conclusions as usual. To be really strategic, its important to look at things from different angles and be open-minded. In this way, we are likely to see a lot more opportunities.



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You’ve got to WANT it (or not, I suppose)

Today is day 7 without Coca-Cola in my life.

Its tough! After years and years of more than 1litre a day of the brown stuff, I’ve stopped. Since I don’t drink coffee, this makes me caffeine free for 7 days. And significantly lower in sugar too.

I tried this before and failed. You can read my other blog-post about it here (PERSONAL goalsetting). This week, I’m confident I’ve got the key (touch wood) and I realise that’s its the same as when I quit smoking… You’ve got to WANT it!


When I first “tried” to stop smoking (last century) I was20 years old. I had been smoking for 8 years already and thought it was bad. I thought “I must stop” and I “tried”. For a day or two I managed not to smoke, but it was hell. I wanted a cigarette so badly.

That failing experience was repeated a couple of times over the coming years, in differing degrees of “success” and hellishness.

But one day (a Sunday) at the age of 26 something different happened: By habit, I went to get a cigarette and suddenly realised “I don’t want this crap in my life”. And I really didn’t. I had suddenly understood. As Charlie Sheen says: “I blinked and cured my brain”. I haven’t smoked since and stopping was the most easy natural thing I’ve ever done.


Trying to stop drinking Coca-Cola has been the same in the past. I’ve told myself “I should” and “its bad” and despite several good runs of not drinking it, I always wanted it, craved it. I was fighting against another stronger motivation (for Coke). I failed and like alcoholics, I suppose, falling off the wagon was worse than before I got on it…

Last Monday at 6.29am I suddenly realised: “I don’t want Coke”. I thought I did. My body thinks it does. But I don’t. There’s no should, or must, or “you’re going to die if….”  ….I just get it. And its easy. (OK, my body hates it, but its easIER).


Why am I telling this story? I think the same is probably true for any goal. As Dan Pink says, real motivation has to be intrinsic, with a sense of autonomy. Carrots (“buy yourself an iPOD with the money you save”) and sticks (“…or you’ll become diabetic”) might get some things done, but motivation gets everything done. I am motivated, all by myself …and it works.


If I compare this to the learning world…. I see that when people “get it” (the need to improve, that something else could be better) learning is easy. They just “do it”. I help them, but its easy. But when “my manager sent me” or “I ought to get better” or “I need a promotion” or “its part of my development plan” learning is a lot more painful.


In short: You’ve got to want it.

Thanks for reading.

(If you want to have a list of Coca-Cola-cold-turkey-symptons, mail me)




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Honest or not honest, that IS the question!

My father used to tell me that I wear my heart on my sleeve. People know where they are with me and I always thought that was a good thing. Today I am starting to doubt this…


I am reading “Lila” by Robert Pirsig and he talks about the way the American Indian plains-people tend to speak from the heart, with no attempt to hide or wrap things up in clever or manipulative language. As a fan of assertive communication, I think this is brilliant: Just try to say exactly what you really feel and really mean. But Pirsig also adds that American Indian people choose well the moment to speak honestly… and I think this may be a weakness for me.


Example: My mother asked my years ago “How was dinner?” I replied “I enjoyed it thanks. I found the chicken a little dry, but with the sauce it was great”.


This was clearly a fault – I lacked some emotional intelligence – I needed to learn when to keep my mouth shut, not to criticise to quickly.


Today I am much better with such “affairs of the heart” (ask my wife!) …but when it comes to business I still seem to be constantly open and honest, even when I might lose out in the long run. Its not that I tend to criticise (like with my mother) but I always share what I am thinking, even when it might be in my own best interest to keep my mouth shut…


Example 1: Being the nice guy, I might make a price proposal, see that it is higher than expected and then immediately say “But I’m open to suggestions”

Example 2: I share constantly my ideas with people on how they could do their business better, even if they are in the same business as me.

Example 3: I try to make everyone happy first, rather than trying to win for myself first.

Example 4: I explain by email to a client WHY I did something differently than planned, thus opening the door for disagreement where my actions may have simply been accepted “as-is”.


In training on negotiation and collaboration, I help people understand how their attitude to working with other people has an impact on their relationships and results. We learn about the difference between a “blue attitude” and a “red attitude”:

When I was a younger trainer, I used to tell people that it was best to play WIN:WIN (blue). Now I don’t say such things. (First of all, I have a tendancy to get them to figure it out and decide for themselves, secondly ….) I would prefer to say that one needs to have a preference for WIN:WIN, but be aware and open to when it is time to be a little more “red”, notably when others are playing “red”.


And so, I think today that sometimes I should not be so nice, so open, so clear and direct. I can still value these things, but NOT DOING THEM ALL THE TIME is not equivalent to being not-nice, dishonest or indirect. Just discrete or less naive or strategic. (“Purple”, as Gavin Kennedy would say in “The New Negotiating Edge”).

What do you think?


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Permission to Tweet?

I recently spotted this on Twitter during a break from training and wondered: Should you ask permission to Tweet?


When I go to conferences, it seems normal to Tweet about the conference content, speakers, themes etc .. and of course, there is often a hashtag available and we are encouraged to Tweet.

But what if we are not encouraged?

With the digital age and the ability to share anything anywhere anytime, its clear that people WILL decide for themselves to share things that cross their path. But where is the line?


A few weeks ago, I was in a small meeting with some of my peers discussing approaches to onboarding. One of them made an interesting point. He is on Twitter, so I tweeted it, with reference to him. Is this cool?

From my point of view, I was not unhappy to see the above photo tweeted during training ..but I can imagine some people would be.


I’d be happy to have your thoughts…

What do you think? Since we CAN share anything, CAN WE?

2 questions that seem to set me free

I’ve finished reading “Getting Things Done” by David Allen and I have to say it was great. I wanted to share the concept that really hit home the most..


As a perfection-lover, control-freak and high-achiever (in my mind, at least) I really like to get things RIGHT. So much, that these “things” spin around in my head a lot. Sometimes they even keep me up at night. But not any more, it seems…

Is this because I’ve got no problems anymore? Or am I now perfect?

No – I just followed David Allen’s advice: 2 simple questions…


But first, why do things spin around in my head?

According to Allen, the human brain has a kind of RAM (short-term memory ability) like a computer. The RAM holds whatever is needed in real-time in order to quickly access it for usage. It doesn’t have a concept of “un-real time” and only knows the here-and-now. And it is limited. So it gets full if you don’t treat it right. The aim, according to Allen, is to empty the RAM and this is only done by “closing open loop”.


How do you close open loops?

Its easy: Tell the RAM that its done. To achieve this, you need to get it satisfactorily out of your head and somewhere else.

My chosen somewhere else is my calendar/task-bar…

…but the key is that word “satisfactorily”. To achieve THAT, you have to be CONCRETE and GOAL-ORIENTED.


What do you mean  concrete and goal-oriented?

For anything that comes your way, you won’t stop thinking about it until you are satisfied with the action-based-answer you have found. It doesn’t matter what the answer is, but it need to be clear, action-oriented and the first step to getting things done the way you want them done.

Everything else can wait, but not the first step…


Ask 2 questions to empty your RAM

I have been asking these 2 questions for about 2 weeks now and I can say that I really feel different. Check it out…

For anything that comes into your inbox (RAM…mind) ask:

  • What would be a satisfactory outcome for me? (Not perfect, just “OK for me”)
  • What is the next concrete action I need to take? (Not everything, just “next”)


That’s it! Whatever the answer is, write it down or put it in your calendar or on a list to do or give it someone else …. and then forget about it.

(Read the book for more details on strategies for the last part)


Thanks Mr Allen 🙂


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#LearningStyles “statement”

Economist like models, but don’t like stories ?

Marketeers like stories, but don’t like facts ?

Scientists like facts, but don’t like fun ?

Gen Y likes fun, but doesn’t like experts ?

Experts don’t like Gen Y, other experts or non-experts ? 🙂

Honey + Mumford like models, stories, faces and fun


I like granularity

Once upon a time there were 7 billion #LearningStyles

According to some people, different “students” have different learning styles. Some others say its not so. Who cares? That will be my question today…


Hypothesis N° 1  = There are 4 learning styles and we should adapt to them all


Trainers have told me this time-and-again. I learnt it in a TTT class 10 years ago and I have said the same thing to TTT participants myself. I feel so ashamed!

How can this be?? Is it really possible that of the 7 billion people currently alive on planet Earth that there are only 4 learning styles? Common sense knows this is wrong.


Hypothesis N° 2 = There are more than 7 billion learning styles


When I was a boy, my mother used to tell me “You are special”. The idea that “No human being is the same as another” is currently fueling the strengths-movement (read @mwbuckingham ). What can it do for the learning world?

If we believe in Hypothesis N°1, then every time we design a learning initiative, we need to either know exactly which learning style participants have (and adapt to that) or we need to include something for everyone.

If we believe in Hypothesis N°2 and the principle of adapting learning approach to learning style, we are potentially in BIG TROUBLE!


Hypothesis N°3 = It really doesn’t matter


This is my idea today, fresh from my morning shower. And its simple:

  • Learning = acquisition + implementation of required competences
  • Competence = knowledge, skills, attitude
  • There may be 7 billion ways that people like to acquire and implement knowledge, skills and attitude…


Solution –> Don’t adapt your learning initiatives to learning styles, adapt to the working reality of the people

I think the challenge for learning professionals is not to worry about adapting their learning initiatives to the learning styles of different people. Companies don’t adapt their working reality to those styles. PEOPLE have to ADAPT TO the working REALITY in which they find themselves.

What is the job of a learning professional? To help people become and stay good at the stuff they need to do. How can this be done in line with Hypothesis N°3 ?

  • Focus on the stuff people need to do
  • Help them to adapt themselves to their reality
  • Supply real-time real-world workflow learning opportunities
  • In training, put them in Authentic Learning situations


Thanks for reading

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