Monthly Archives: September 2013

Default to believe, then conditioned for stability

When we are young we believe anything. If, like me, you have small children you have already seen this in action. They will believe literally anything. They can believe anything.

This inherent naivety or open-mindedness is key to development. Without it, we cannot discover or learn anything new. We need first to be able to treat new concepts before later discarding them as “wrong” or ill-fitting to our own reality.

 

As we grow older, we develop the capacity to distinguish fact from make-believe. We know (spoiler alert!) that Father Christmas probably doesn’t really come down the chimney and we congratulate ourselves on our ability to be reasonable.

But being “reasonable” is in itself the first pre-requisite for being closed-minded and too much of it leads to lack of innovation and inability to change. Copernicus was unreasonable, as were the people who wanted to put a man on the moon and anyone who thought a computer-game couldn’t load faster than a Commodore 64 did it.

 

So why do we trade pure open-mindedness for “reason”, new for old and creativity for stability?

I suspect the answer is about security or “blending-in”. and it is highly linked to values. Classical schools still today prefer to teach everyone to the same curriculum and anyone who doesn’t fit in has failed. Seeing things differently is not the point. Most corporations don’t do much better. Idioms like “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it” and the wish to maintain current processes in the name of “quality” and customer satisfaction are designed to ensure that things get done the same tomorrow. Attached to our own ideas of what is “good”, we start to live on autopilot.

 

Wouldn’t a little more childishness do some good?

 

 

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Job hunting strategy and 16 tips

If you are looking for a job, this post will explain the single most important thing you need to know about your job-seeking strategy. It also delivers 16 tips to get you on your way to employment…

 

First of all, a few assumptions

  • Assumption number 1: There are enough jobs for everyone
  • Assumption number 2: Most available jobs are not advertised
  • Assumption number 3: Most job seekers only reply to advertised jobs, in the normal way

 

 

Let’s use the following example to see what this means for you. I have applied the Pareto Principle and am convinced that even if the numbers are not exact, the point is true:

  • If there are 100 available jobs and 100 job seekers, there is enough work for everyone.
  • Of those 100 available jobs, up to 80 of them may not be advertised at all. And certainly not everywhere.
  • Of the 100 job seekers, 80 of them will only be looking in the usual channels for advertised jobs and will respond in the usual way by sending a CV and motivation letter and then waiting.
  • The other 20 job seekers will expand their searching horizons and use different methods to make their applications.
  • This means that 80 people are looking at 20 jobs (with a 1 in 4 chance of success) while the other 20 people can choose between 4 available jobs.

 

So: You need to be in the 20 group!

And you need to apply these 16 tips to look for a job:

  • Recognise that everyone you know is a potential lead. And considering “The Obama Effect”, the potential leads are far more numerous.
  • Email all your friends and family to tell them what kind of work you are looking for and ask them to send you any leads.
  • Think about your added-value and created a polished tweetable message about yourself.
  • Ensure any presence on social networks or the www reinforces your personal brand.
  • If possible, announce your intentions via social media platforms and request input and feedback from peers. Update your LinkedIn profile and get some relevant recommendations.
  • Research people with similar jobs in their targeted company and talk to them to get contact details, job leads and other relevant information.
  • If you see any news about your targeted company winning new contracts or creating a new product, service or office strike while the iron is hot.
  • Go to conferences in your field of interest and talk to people.
  • Email the person you actually want to work with. Tell them you want support and ask for a phone conversation. If you don’t get a reply, try cold-calling them anyway.
  • Adapt each CV and its content to the company you want to work with.
  • Be FAB and answer the 3 most important questions.
  • Use creative techniques to make sure your CV stands out.
  • If you make a formal application, make sure it gets in the hands of the right people, bypassing reception and generalist recruiters at all costs.
  • Follow up on your applications quickly.
  • Spy on your prospective company building at arrival and leaving times to see how people are dressed. Now you know how to dress for the interview.
  • Practice interview skills with a friend or coach.

 

To conclude, it is only fair to note whilst assumptions 2 and 3 are based on my experience with job seekers and recruiting companies, the first assumption could just be a wildly optimistic statement. All the more reason to apply the strategies noted above…

 

Good luck!

 

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Make Effective Tables for your Presentation – 8 Simple Tips

Too many numbers, lack of focus and bad formatting make tables impossible to understand and energy consuming for your audience. Follow these 8 simple tips to make effective tables that you can use with pride in your presentation.

 

If you need to present numbers, you may believe (like me and Gene Zelazny) that graphs and visuals are the best way to go. But if you (your company or audience) are number-hungry, maybe you’ll still need to include a table in your presentation from time-to-time.

 

But PLEASE: Don’t let it look like this…

 

Bad table formatting

 

This is the kind of table that might drive Don McMillan mad in “Death by PowerPoint” . It is bad because there is no message, there is too much data and nothing stands out.

If you insist upon including such a “raw-data” table somewhere in the appendices or giving it as a hand-out for the finance guys, then at least make it look like this:

 

raw-data table with good formatting

 

…or this, if you like a bit of colour …

 

raw-data table with good formatting - 2

 

To achieve an effective raw-data table like the ones above, consider the following 5 tips:

  • Differentiate row and table headers with different font formatting
  • Add background colouring to cells to seperate columns or distinguish headers from data
  • Put totals in a different font, or in bold
  • Use more white space to separate chunks of data
  • Make cells large enough to have some white space around the numbers

…now you have a nice raw-data table for your appendix or hand-out.

 

But if you are presenting numbers with tables as an integral part of your presentation, you cannot drown your audience with large data like the tables above. Follow these additional 3 tips to bring a clear message and focus to your numbers:

  • Identify your main message and make it the title for the table
  • Remove any irrelevant data – other numbers can always be seen in the appendix
  • Highlight anything that needs to stand out using formatting

 

Applied to the numbers in the raw-data table above, with a specific message in mind creates a table more like this:

 

good table formatting

 

So, if you want to make effective tables that you can use with pride in your presentation, concentrate on your key message, reduce useless data and bring more focus to what counts.

 

Thanks for reading!

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Goal-setting alone goes nowhere

This is an angry blog-post, fuelled by failure and feeling lost.
Trying to “get what you want” and “achieve goals” has driven me mad.
At the age of 35, I’ve had enough.

It may have started with my parents, who either pushed me towards goals or didn’t stop me from my own endless pursuit of the achievement of goals. It continued in school, where top grades were sought out for no reason but their own apparent top-grade value. And since day one in the corporate world, it has been shoved down my throat by Covey-inspired managers …and later reinforced by performance bonuses and general back-slapping. It hasn’t stopped. Goal, goal, goal. Do, do, do. Achieve, achieve, achieve.

But in a world where it is “good” to achieve targets, I fear that this achievement itself has become some kind of altar at which people like me pray. But where is the god of purpose for which this altar was erected? Without that, the prayer of achievement loses all sense.

 

When you get into the process (and life) of setting goals and achieving targets, it is fun. You can put ticks in boxes and say “I succeeded”. If you have an app like “Lift” you can share your goals and your success with other people, who will congratulate you for being like them and achieving what you all set out to do.

But I wonder how many people installed “Lift” and did like I did, just browsing though the habits and goals to choose from and picking things that sounded cool, then setting their goals? Or sat down on New Year’s Eve (or performance-review day) and asked themselves “What goal can I have for next year?” Like an achiever’s buffet-bar. Eat all you can.

In my own case, with the “Lift” app, it would surely have been better to actually have a real goal in mind (or better yet, some sense of purpose) before downloading the app and then use it’s social reinforcement mechanisms to help me get it done. But that’s not what I did. I heard about an app that let’s you share and track goals and thought it would be “good” just because it helps you share and track goals and because that is in itself a “good thing”. I think I am obsessed with (or at the very least, attached to) achieving. And apps that help you achieve are “good”. But what am I actually achieving? What is it all working towards?

 

And so I write this angry post: Goal-setting and achieving targets is bad. Dangerous. Goal-setting should be a means to a purposeful end, but for workaholic, other-oriented, self-esteem-seeking people like myself, it becomes the end in itself. And it is an end which goes nowhere when you lack any sense of what is “good” or purposeful outside of the goal itself.

 

As of today, instead of setting goals outside of myself for things to get, be or do I am going rather to focus on looking inside and stripping away everything I don’t want to get, be or do. I have always been told that I should create smart goals that are positive and focus on what I want to achieve. But since I now reject goals and don’t really know what I want to achieve, I will just be negative. I will instead focus on what I don’t want and just see where that takes me. Instead of trying to make a pretty garden with no clear vision of what “pretty” is, I am just going to focus on pulling out the weeds.

 

Maybe when everything is stripped bare and I’m left with nothing to be, have, do or achieve, I’ll know who I really am, what I really want and what can be done.

I suspect that then I will probably no longer care about goal-setting and achievement.

Just the garden itself.