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The Surprising Lie About Motivation ?

In the new world of work, we are (supposedly) all free, all mobile, all connected. But is it really true?

In his book “Drive”, the author Dan Pink tells us “the surprising truth about motivation”: What really gets us up in the morning is not capitalistic benefits packages, but a search for purpose, mastery and autonomy. Gone are the days of my grandmother dragging herself to a factory to scrape a penny together to survive. Now that we have everything we need we can work on what is important to us, to develop ourselves and because we want to. This is motivation 3.0.

 

But is it truly so awesome that IT professionals working for a ROWE company can punctuate their programming work with surf sessions on a beach in Thailand? Or is it rather absolutely bloody terrible that when they take a holiday the other side of the world, they can’t stop thinking about their jobs and never switch off? Addicted to their iPhone (laptop, iPad) and mobile internet-based you-can-work-anywhere-anytime work ethic, they work in their “free time” to avoid Information Deprivation Disorder.

 

And many “engaged” American white collar (no collar?) workers today work far more than they ever did before: The amount of work required to survive a week in medieval times has not at all been replaced in the 21st century by Tim Ferris’ best-selling notion of the  “4-Hour Work Week”. And despite office conditions being more ergonomic, open-spaced, ping-pong-table friendly, more and more workers suffer from burnout, depression and stress.

Fashionable HR gurus like Nigel Marsh continue to talk about work-life balance, the need for “engagement” and the joy of working from home. I train new leaders on the same topics. But has our quality of life actually improved or is it just work propaganda that has everyone has “sold” (including the people in HR closing the sale)?

 

In her book “Get Real: How to see through the hype, spin and lies of modern life”, author Eliane Glaser tells us that much of what we are asked to believe about our wonderful life today is actually some form of covert ideology. This “soft power” is designed to get us to believe that we, the people, are doing better. But in reality, the invisible hand pushing many of these modern models of freedom of choice and people-power simply aims to reinforce the same kinds of class-control that have always existed: Politicians who are supposed to “listen to the people” outsource market-research sessions with their “customers” in order to find better ways to tell them whatever they want to hear, whilst they continue to eat 5-course meals in Harvard and Eton; the Britain’s Got Talent “everyone can succeed” dream of Susan Boyle hitting the big-time conceals the fact that the majority of people are watching this dream at home on a credit-paid oversized TV, no better off than they ever were before. Regardless of what policies may or may not actually be implemented by our politicians and regardless of the inability of the majority to rise above the mundane, we continue to believe that we actually have a say and can all become famous.

 

When it comes to new forms of motivation for work, Eliane Glaser suggests that whilst we are encouraged to want it more-and-more, work actually gives us less-and-less. Work seems more purposeful (yet relaxed) but its concealed demands are greater than ever.

 

I interviewed Eliane Glaser recently to get an in-depth look at this idea and find out if it’s true that I work 60 hours a week because I’ve been sold a lie, or if we really can find purpose and enjoyment at work…

—–

DAN: What made you start thinking that this new motivation story was not all it seemed to be?

ELIANE: According to ‘Motivation 3.0’ as I believe it’s called, we are no longer wage slaves oppressed by authoritarian bosses, but we now work because we want to, because it fulfills us. We don’t just work to live, we live to work. The new language of management – and, incidentally, of marketing – is all about ‘engagement’, ‘two-way conversations’, and authenticity. Workplaces offer free food and drink and install ‘break-out’ or ‘chill-out’ areas with bean-bags and table football. But, as I argue in my book, I believe that this funky, pseudo-spiritual language of empowerment really masks a new power-grab by employers and financial elites more generally. In an age where people are working longer hours than ever before, where union rights are being eroded, where job security is diminishing and wags are stagnating, this rhetoric about fulfillment and ownership functions as a kind of fig-leaf or window-dressing for what’s really going on. And in many work sectors, for example creative and journalistic work, there’s a new notion that you don’t just work for money, you work ‘for the love of it’, as if working for money is some narrow, materialistic endeavour. The internet is awash with utopian promises of freedom, democratisation and empowerment for ordinary people, but if you are not paid for your work, you simply cannot afford to do it, unless you are lucky enough to be independently wealthy. Which is not very egalitarian after all.

 

 

DAN: You say that we now “live to work”. I remember when it used to be fashionable to say exactly the opposite: Work was ONLY about what it could give you outside – more partying, more holidays, more “stuff”… Surely if we’ve all been “sold” something else, we must have been ready to buy it? What is it in the working population that made us ready to switch to “the engagement ideal”? 

ELIANE: I think that we all have a desire and a need for community, camaraderie, and meaningful individual and shared goals. Employers have realised that if these desires and needs can be situated in the workplace, this will result in greater investment by employees. By offering on-site free food, social events, social spaces, and away-days etc, corporations and other employers encourage workers to find what they need at work. Furthermore, opportunities for social and community participation and idealism outside of the workplace have declined: there are fewer opportunities for civic and community engagement, or contact with networks of neighbours or extended family. The rise of new technologies, commuting, consumer culture, and long working hours themselves – all these developments are eroding the opportunities for finding satisfaction and meaning outside work.

 

DAN: In your book, you talk about politicians who no longer talk honestly and openly about their own ideals, oil giants who position themselves as “green” and mass-produced brands who pretend to be artisanal and ethical. What would you say to the readers who brush off your ideas as cynical and simply “anti-establishment”?

ELIANE: I think there is an assumption that cynicism and optimism are opposed; that to be cynical is not to be constructive. But I think that questioning belief-systems and being critical is an underrated activity. By critiquing the deceptions and illusions in our politics and culture we can start to see things as they really are and start to influence things in a real way. So actually I am pretty optimistic, because I believe that by pushing concealed agendas out in the open, we can start to have a proper explicit debate about the kind of world we want to live in. I’m not sure that I’m anti-establishment, but I am critical of the elites in our society that unfairly monopolise power and resources. The gap between rich and poor, powerful and powerless in our societies is getting ever wider. It’s also ironic that those elites regularly adopt anti-establishment language themselves – for example that ‘radical’ Yahoo slogan: ‘The internet is under new management: Yours’ and the funky T-Mobile ‘flash-mob dance-athon’ ad campaign. Big corporations and political leaders are exploiting anti-establishment imagery in order to claim that they are not themselves the establishment.

 

 

DAN: Back to motivation: The evolution of motivation/work seems to have gone from “get up and do what you need to do to live” (caveman) to “do it for someone else, provided they give you enough pay” (basic “carrot” work model) to “do what gives you a sense of purpose, autonomy and freedom, whilst getting paid for it” (“motivation 3.0”, the subject of this interview). What do you see as the next trend in motivation/work? How will things change in the future?

ELIANE: I’m quite pessimistic about work in the future, in the sense that I think there are big changes ahead and that existing ways of doing things are going to break down. In the age of austerity and economic contraction, unemployment is high and job prospects are poor. Those management values of motivation 3.0 are increasingly being applied in the low-pay, low-status sector: in call-centres and vast dehumanised Amazon warehouses. Our pay is stagnating and our job security is being eroded, but the management language is getting more and more focused on “fulfillment”. This is creating a kind of tragic irony. The other big change that’s happening is that a great deal of professional and creative work, like journalism and writing, is going online, and those workers are not being paid for their work. They are supposed to produce their creative or journalistic work for the love of it. This I regard as a really corrosive trend, because fulfillment is increasingly regarded not as a counterpart to pay, but as a replacement for it.

eliane glaser

 

Eliane Glaser is a writer for the Guardian and others, BBC producer, associate research fellow at Birkbeck and the author of “Get Real: How to see through the hype, spin and lies of modern life” which is published by Fourth Estate. She is based in London, UK and you can read see her press cuttings here: http://elianeglaser.blogspot.co.uk/p/press-cuttings.html

 

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Burnout: Causes, Symptoms and Positive Action

Burnout is the name given for the “breakdown” associated with the experience of long-term exhaustion and diminished interest. It can be considered as the opposite of “flow” and can include a number of different symptoms, although all are related to the temporal inability to manage life properly and a state of extreme exhaustion and dissatisfaction with the status-quo. This post is the result of my own research on and experience with the topic. It gives further information about the meaning of burnout, how to recognise it in yourself and others and what to do about it. There are 4 sections:

  • “Burnout can happen to anyone, for different reasons”
  • “Burnout symptoms differ for everyone”
  • “Immediate action is required”
  • “Burnout is an investment in a brighter future”

 

BURNOUT CAN HAPPEN TO ANYONE, FOR DIFFERENT REASONS

The most obvious assumption about burnout is that you have to work really hard to get it. Although it may be true that too much hard work (A) leads to burnout (B) this does not imply that (B) must be caused by (A) or that (A) necessarily leads to (B). Like other forms of stress (and potentially depression) the causes of burnout are different for each person, but there are some common factors:

  • Over-focussing on one area of life (work, a specific project, building a house, making babies…) at the expense of others (and at the expense of “balance”) may lead to burnout
  • People who push themselves too much for their own resources, competences and/or preferences (in whatever domain) are more likely to suffer burnout
  • Perfectionism and “other-oriented” people may be particularly prone to burnout as they feel they “must” achieve everything perfectly in order to be “acceptable”
  • Extreme engagement and passion for a project, subject or job at the expense of other things can end in burnout
  • Non-consideration of the connection between specific goals you are working on and their link to personal values, vision and belief may lead to burnout. Being extremely productive does not mean you are working in-line with the “real you”.
  • Read here for other causes of burnout or have a look at this burnout risk self-test and some ideas from mindtools.com on avoiding burnout.

 

Re-reading this list, the “thin-red-line” that holds it all together seems to me to be the idea of “getting lost” in something, losing work-life balance or the feeling of “wholeness” and general life-satisfaction.

 

BURNOUT SYMPTOMS DIFFER FOR EVERYONE

Not everyone reacts to burnout in the same way, but there is of course a standard definition of burnout and a known set of symptoms (read “How to recognise when you are on the road to burnout“). You shouldn’t superficially compare burnout symptoms between different people because each person is individual. But if you suffer from a few of the following symptoms, that should be enough to get you thinking about the possibility of burnout. Hypochondriacs aside, if you’re asking if you’re having a burnout, you probably are or will do soon. Symptoms include:

  • Constant sadness that doesn’t seem linked to any one particular cause
  • Lack of inspiration or sudden disillusionment for the work you had previously been doing with lots of motivation and effort. You can read more about this in the introduction to burnout from mindtools.com.
  • Inability to “get started” on things. This could range from a kind of apathy for “life in general” to one specific moment of literally not being able to get out of your car to go and visit the client you just arrived at.
  • Feeling that things will never get better or that the work will never be done
  • Crying regularly, for “no reason”
  • Finding no pleasure in everyday activities, from spending time with family, to sport or hobbies
  • Anger, sarcasm and other obtuse behaviours
  • Sleeping or eating differently, whether it be 14 hours of sleep a day or 4, loss of appetite or binging
  • Other physical symptoms like headache, anxious heart palpitations, fatigue or dizziness

 

IMMEDIATE ACTION IS REQUIRED

It would be wrong of me to post this piece without underlining the importance of medical attention or the fact that I am not a doctor. If you think you yourself are suffering from burnout, get help. In addition to medical support, here is my list of things to do to help deal with (and accept!) burnout:

  • Stop working. Turn it all off. This is probably the hardest first step for people suffering from burnout. Daring to stop is tough. Many people suffer from “Information Deprivation Disorder“. Believing the world will carry on without you and you’ll be OK is even tougher. If you work for yourself, add to that the false idea that no-one will ever hire you again and you are set to keep on working even when all the signs say stop. You need a leap of faith to make this first step, or an intervention from someone else, or a complete breakdown or putting your back out or…. But it has to happen. Stop.
  • Try and keep things in perspective. This is tough, because prior to burnout you didn’t keep things in perspective and at the start of burnout you just may be crying, miserable and lost. Good “perspective strategies” include speaking with different people you trust and love, writing down any little realisations you might have and a whole lot of trust. If you can remember that human beings tend to live to nearly 100 these days, you might be able to realise that this is only one point in time and things will change, one way or another. As George Harrisson sang: “All things must pass.
  • Do things that please you. This is a tough one. If you are feeling depressed and someone says “Do things that please you” it is likely you won’t have any idea what to do. Nothing pleases you! But if you can think of just one little thing you wanted to do at some point, but didn’t (because you we’re doing too much or working too hard) now is the time to do it. Go surfing. Play your guitar. Read that novel. Get a massage. Watch a movie at 1pm while the kids are out. Lie on the grass and walk in the snow. Not everything needs to have a reason and these previously seemingly irrelevant things that don’t advance your project or career need to have their space too. Start now.
  • …but don’t throw the baby out with the bath-water. If you are burnt-out, you might get to thinking its a good idea to quit your wife, your job, your kids or sell the house. Don’t. Those are big decisions that need to be made with good mental health. Although you might get the idea that the causes of your burnout are all interlinked and therefore one major change will affect everything else, this doesn’t mean that the results will be positive and you are certainly in no state (yet) to implement massive life changes. Slow down!
  • Sleep if you need to. Although at some point you will have to “get up and get on with your life” don’t be too tough on yourself. If you feel you need to sleep, do it. You are exhausted from the rhythm of your life to-date. Take the time to get your breath back.
  • Move a little. Get out for a walk or do sport. Before burnout you were probably doing the same things in the same way all the time. Now you are taking a break from that. Although you may well spend a fair bit of time sleeping or doing nothing, just getting outside for a little fresh air and gentle movement can make a massive difference to your physical state and your mood.
  • Focus on little wins. Going for one little walk or cooking a nice dinner or cleaning a cupboard or whatever you might fancy, success in doing something small is a wonderful thing. But keep it small! Then relax again. One thing at a time. This advice is the same for getting back to work, which we’ll get to in a minute…
  • Find a way to express yourself on the subject. In a certain way, burnout can be seen as the previous non-expression of some part of you that now forces itself to be heard. (If you don’t understand what I mean, read “I think therefore I am. Not.“) This could be any facet of your ego/personality, but whatever it is, it refuses to lay down and let the intense workaholic one-track mind takeover anymore. You need to give that part of you some space. In the film “The Beaver” with Mel Gibson, the main character Walter Black (who is suffering from depression) manages to express another previously-silent “brighter” side of himself by wearing and speaking through a puppet. Although this film is not a lesson in how to deal effectively with burnout and depression, Gibson’s character at first finds a way to say what is on his mind and share with his family and friends. There is no shame in burnout and no reason not to share.
  • Don’t think people are judging you. Mostly, they are not. People understand. And if you are an engaged, highly motivated passionate worker like many burn-out sufferers are, chances are that some of the people you hang around with will have had their own experience with burnout. As for everyone who judges you and thinks bad of you for your burnout: It will be hard to do, but you have to let these people go. They are not helping you and they don’t love you.
  • Get advice, even from non-experts. Don’t try and do everything alone. Many other people have already lived what you arriving during burnout and there are plenty of experts out there, from medical professionals to life-coaches. But there are also friends and family, business acquaintances and random strangers. They might have something useful to say, something that enlightens you a little to your situation, style or options. If you trust these people, why not listen to what they have to say? And let’s face it: If you burnt out already all by yourself, you could probably use a little help from someone else.

 

For more ideas and resources, check out this very complete page from mindtools.com about recovering from burnout. It includes ideas about changing jobs and other things i have also written on like doing a SWOT analysis and creating strategic action.

 

BURNOUT IS AN INVESTMENT IN A BRIGHTER FUTURE

When you buy a nice new car, you tend to look after it. You get it serviced and you keep it clean, topped up on all the right fuels and oils and filters. It runs for years and you continue to love it. If you don’t service it and follow the maintenance instructions, one day you find yourself stuck on the side of the motorway, loaded down with bags and screaming children, no longer able to go on holiday and wishing you had done it differently.

It is easy to go through life at 120km/hour. When you are new to a job, young, fit or successful and healthy it’s easy to give 150%. When you can see the results that that gives and you want to grow even more, it’s easy to just keep going. But if you don’t sharpen the saw and maintain yourself, you will eventually breakdown. With a little luck you will have a burnout. If you’re unlucky, you’ll have a heart attack. Even a Ferrari needs to stop moving from time-to-time.

When you have a burnout, it might feel like the end of the world. its difficult to imagine that things will get better, but actually burnout is the start of something new and better. When you are done with the “immediate actions” noted above, you will start to reflect on what needs to change and how you can get better and stay sharp in the future. The following list of ideas may help you get back to “work” in a healthy and sustainable way:

  • Realise that life is an opportunity to express different sides of yourself, not just one. Even if you are the CEO of the biggest company in the world and you made it all yourself, you are still a father, musician, husband, lover, runner, writer, fun person etc etc as well. Those sides of you need to have room to breathe and flourish. When you are feeling a little better from your burnout, sit down and list the different things you like to do and be and how you will help them to have more space.
  • Make a schedule for a balanced life. At work, you plan time for the activities and projects that have the most importance. That is what they teach you in leadership courses and management classes. The same must be true for “post-burnout you”. If you think it is important for your physical and mental health to do some sport, plan it. If you wish you spent more time eating dinner with the family, plan it. And on the work front, if you hate admin and can only stand to do it one day a week, plan for it one day a week.
  • Focus on little wins at the start. If you go back to work at 150% trying to “fix all the mess you made” you are going about things in the wrong way. Focus on small actions that show small successes and move you in the right direction. If, for example, you find yourself faced with an overflowing inbox, focus for 1 hour on just seeing what is in there. Don’t try and answer or deal with everything, just assess the contents. When that is done, stop. Do something else. Relax again. Even the biggest mountains in the world can be climbed in little steps. Don’t fall back into the old obsessive behaviours from the start…
  • Get a post-burnout buddy. This could be a formal coach or just a good friend. But you need someone to help keep you stay on track. Burnout happens a lot to people who think they are indestructible entrepreneurial self-starters who can do and be anything they want. If you already burnt-out you know that this is not the case. To avoid the risk of just doing it again, find someone with whom you can discuss your plans and promises and who can call you up from time-to-time to see how you are doing.

 

What is important to remember with everything here is that without some realisation and tools, left to your own devices, you burnt out. Now you had the realisation, it is important to implement some new tools, until they turn into new habits…

 

I hope this post helped. Maybe you will realise that you need to take action now for the future, maybe you know someone who is having a burnout and this will help you help them, or maybe you can think about preventative actions for your own organisation.

If you have an experience to share or a reply to any of these ideas, please comment.

 

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Change your relationship with time

In the beginning , man got up with the sun and went to sleep with the sun. The passage of time was measured in days or seasons. Time was spent slowly by hunting, farming and sleeping.

Sometime after, with the invention of clocks I suspect, new measures of time took over: hours, minutes and seconds. The passage of time immediately sped up. The longer time between days and seasons was replaced by the shorter time it takes to download an email, to microwave a potato or to clean the house..

Today, our obsession with time and the way we use it may well be killing us. Many people never stop moving and never stop doing, as if the time they have on Earth must be filled to the very last second. Our relationship with time has gone from non-conscious slow natural living in time to an obsessive fast-paced processed life, dominated by time.

But there are many ways to look at time and no-one way is right. Although our upbringing, culture and evolution may have pushed us in one direction, it is still possible to change our vision of and relationship with time… In this post, I propose 4 visions of time-spending.

 

Being productive

Imagine a couple preparing for a big dinner party. At 5pm, Jennifer starts to peel potatoes. She stops at 6pm. John, her husband, plays guitar from 5 to 5.30, then peels potatoes for 30 minutes. In terms of potato peeling, Jennifer has been twice as productive.

Productivity is one of the preferred measures of time used in many factory environments, including, in the past, call centres. People judge their time-usage in terms of how much time they spend doing “stuff”. Their “performance” is clocked in and out. The most productive person is the one who “performs” the longest.

In my last full-time employment, I knew a very productive girl. She would arrive at 7am and “do stuff” until at least 7pm. She rarely took the time to stop and chat, eat (or breathe) – she just worked, worked, worked. Unfortunately she wasn’t very good at her work, which was in itself not of the greatest importance to the company. But she was productive.

 

Being efficient

Between 5 and 6pm, Jennifer peeled 40 potatoes. Starting 30 minutes later, but finishing at the same time, John also peeled 40 potatoes. John was twice as efficient as Jennifer.

Many (poor) time-managers focus on being efficient. Its all about getting the most amount of stuff done in the smallest amount of time. Systems and processes are created to better multi-task. We text while we drive (!) and swallow the last mouth-fulls of dinner whilst already clearing away the dishes.

In the fitness world, much time has been spent maintaining the body through efficiency (or speed) based programs (in 30 minutes, do as many bicycle kilometres as you can…) but in recent years this has changed considerably to the concept of minimum effective dose: do the minimum required of the right stuff to get the desired result.

 

Create quality, in time

John proudly announced to Jennifer that he had peeled as many potatoes in half the time. At dinner time, all the guests sat down to eat the results. Those on Jennifer’s side of the table said nothing about the potatoes, simply enjoying their meal. On John’s side of the table, there was much discussion about the potatoes, from the fact that there were none left to the fact that each potato was so small. In his “efficiency rush”, John had completely ignored any sense of peeling potatoes well. The potato skins were chopped off in 4 exaggerated slices, leaving a small chip-like result.

Although quality output may seem to go hand-in-hand with time and despite the temptation to associate Jennifer’s potato-peeling time with the good results, quality output is in fact entirely nothing to do with time. When we approach every activity as either a “time-filler” or a race to get things done quickly, quality output is sometimes left aside.

But what is the point of the work anyway, if not about creating good results?

 

Create quality time

While Jennifer and John were concentrating on the evening’s potato requirements, their son William was playing in the garden. As he went up and down the slide, he created nothing. Going in and out of the wood cabin, each time opening and closing the door in a methodical yet meaningless way, he was lost in time and again created nothing.

In some Eastern cultures, the “single-minded” focus on the quality of some activities has a meditation-like focus. The Japanese tea ceremony is certainly not about the amount of time spent drinking tea, the number of cups drunk or the tea itself. When we sit down to read a novel, we tend not to notice the time fly and most adults don’t proudly count the number of pages they have read.

In Pirsig’s book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, the author notes the difference between making quality time on a road-trip (getting there fast) and making quality time (having a good trip). Creating quality time is about being in “flow“, mastering and loving a task, or doing it for its own sake. * The output is in some respects irrelevant.

 

* …according to the Yerkes-Dodson law, it also happens to produce the best output.

 

————–

 

I am writing this post because I have issues with time. For many years, I have been rushing to get “everything” done. After a long working day, I would proudly announce the number of hours worked to anyone who would listen. I would add that I had done “a thousand things” and go to bed satisfied that my time had been well and efficiently spent. And if I should be bothered by any non-quality-output detail, I might even get out of bed to fix it. “Everything” could never be done and certainly not perfectly, but it was my mission to at least give it a shot.

But in reality, I have been wearing myself out. For the last few months (years?), I have lacked focus and lost flow; only thinking about the next objective and a future that never arrives, less in contact with the present moment. Look at my “2012 annual report” and you may realise that I have spent all my time working. And a LOT has been done. Good output too. I have been both productive, efficient and successful.

 

Now it is time to focus on creating quality time. On time well spent: flow and passion inducing, McLovin’ it. Because I’m worth it.

If you feel the need to do the same, I would encourage you (to):

  • Don’t be afraid to go “all-in”
  • Delete as much as possible that doesn’t bring joy to your life
  • Make sure your goals are PERSONAL
  • ..and don’t be afraid to just do nothing!

 

Good luck!

(Time for a walk…)

 

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4 personal memories of Bob De Groof

Tomorrow the Belgian media and learning world will say goodbye to Bob De Groof, deceased earlier this week. Much has been shared and said about Bob this week via Twitter and at the end of this post, I will direct you to those “in memoriams”. If you knew Bob, I invite you to think of him tomorrow morning and if you want to know how I knew him, read on…

 

Read the 2005 article “Wie is Bob De Groof?” from De Standaard  and you will see that by the time I was watching Star Wars for the first time, Bob had already done so much as a media-man in Belgium. I can’t add anything to his career notes, as I simply don’t know enough. I just wanted to share 4 of my own Bob stories, to share what Bob means to me. These stories remind me of an inspiration, an industry standard and one of the world’s last true gentlemen.

 

Bob is an early morning chat about what’s important in life, about following your dreams.

I first met Bob in 2006 at Logica, when I hired his “Presentation Skills” training services with Kluwer. As “Training and Development Manager” of that company, I was looking for the highest standard of trainer to help the top managers in the company to improve their ability to pitch, tell a story and sell a solution. Enter Bob. At 7.30am.

Aside from me and Bob, no-one was generally around at that time in the office, so we got to chatting. (Don’t tell my ex-boss!). In fact, every time Bob would come to Logica, we would spend about an hour before the working day waxing lyrical about everything from the day’s news to my kids or his, travel or everyday stuff. One day, I told him I wanted to be a “Presentation Skills” trainer myself and he encouraged me to follow my professional dreams. If I wasn’t satisfied with what I was doing, I should change it. Simple as that. Extremely polite and “correct” in his speech, I found in Bob a certain “direct authority” combined with the kind of objective but caring friendliness you might expect from a favourite uncle.

Bob is one of 3 or 4 people that really inspired me to make the decision to go it alone and do my thing. I’m very grateful.

 

Bob will always be THE standard. The point of reference for excellence in his domain.

At the end of the very first training Bob delivered at Logica, 2 of the manager/participants came to see me. I was worried. Had I made a mistake? Did Barbara Verscheuren sell me a dud? Far from it! They came to tell me that it was amazing to have such a trainer. “How could one man have SO MUCH experience to share?” Despite their years of pitching business, Bob was able to bring real value and improve their presentations. He was a master in “Presentation Skills”.

Jump forward to 2010: Kluwer asked me to pick up some of Bob’s training. What a compliment! I remember telling my wife that I (yes, little me!) had been asked to take over for Bob. (Yes, for Bob!!). I never pretended to be able to fill his shoes, but I was damn-well going to do my best to fly his flag high! I still am.

 

Bob makes you feel good about being whatever you are.

That’s a rare talent, I think. I do know one other person who comes close, but its still rare. When I was with Bob, I felt like I was the most important person in the world. Not because I was, but because he made me feel like I was. I don’t know if he consciously made an effort to find and tap-into the things that made people tick, if he knew he did it and did it on purpose, or if that’s just Bob. But it was the same everytime.

In particular, I remember one evening where all the Kluwer trainers got together on a barge in Leuven for a cooking party. As I left the boat, I bumped into Bob and Helena Van Caekenberge from Kluwer. Seeing me, Bob announced: “Ah, the rising star of Kluwer”. Again, I went home and told my wife. What a compliment!

 

Bob makes you raise your own standards. Or wear different shoes 🙂

As I already said, Bob De Groof was an excellent trainer. You follow his course, you improve. Simple. But it doesn’t stop there..

Last year, I was invited by Kluwer to speak at their evening Trainer’s Lounge on the usage of “Social Media for Training”. I saw Bob just before, dressed (as ever) in his suit and tie. Having myself had the day off, I was dressed in what I call my “Zuckerberg plus-1” conference look of jeans, trainers and a shirt (the shirt being the “plus-1”). Having always been troubled by how one should dress for a presentation, I shared my thoughts on the topic and asked Bob what he thought. His reply was simple: “Always dress a little bit better than the audience. And at least wear a nice pair of shoes.”

I can’t say do the first part, but I definitively swapped the trainers for a good pair of shoes the very next day.

 

So that’s “my” Bob: An inspiration, THE standard, a motivator and all round smart gentleman.

If you want to share your own ideas, please comment below.

Thanks for reading.

 

If you want to read more, here’s a selection of this week’s “in memoriams’:

 

 

Stop this obsession with price-based competition and marketing

The 1107 words here lead to and underline some questions you can ask yourself about how you bring value to your customers and what you are going to do to survive market changes… It is a long rant and potentially a little naive. I’m not a financial expert and maybe not the best strategist. But still…

 

It strikes me that we live more-and-more in a world obsessed by price. Or rather: “Cheap”. Given “the current economic situation”, credit-crunch, budget cuts, unemployment and austerity measures, I suppose this is natural. People want to get the best for their money. But that doesn’t make it good. Since when did “the best” equal “the most for the cheapest”?

In my recent visit to the UK, I was shocked by the apparent extent of this obsession. Everywhere I went, everyone was competing on price. Supermarkets that used to offer the best quality food ingredients now focus on “3 for 2” offers and “any 2 deserts for £2”. The motorway diners that used to boast “authentic fully-cooked English breakfasts all day” now have posters several miles before noting that “the whole family eats for £5”. And for some reason, my father has taken to supplementing a benefits-driven overview of his latest purchase with “…and it only cost me …”

 

But competing on price is not sustainable and doesn’t create a real value image in the long-term. Sometimes it can even destroy hope of having a long-term future, as is famously the case with HMV right now or, less in the public eye, the little DVD-hire-shop down the road from me.

Take the first example: HMV. The first HMV branded store was opened on Oxford Street, London, in 1921. Facing competition, it won the game by offering newer, bigger stores with the best most complete collection of music and film. When I was growing up in the 90s, if I wanted the latest number-1 CD I would pop into my local “Our Price”. But if I really wanted to shop for CDs, to find something a bit more obscure or to listen before I bought, I would happily wait for a trip to London to visit HMV.

In the example of my local DVD shop, it was all about getting the latest films first and the unprecedented offer of keeping them for 48 hours instead of the standard 24 rental hours. People who wanted to see something before anyone else would go there. And maybe even lend it to a friend before they took it back.

But markets change and in both cases these value-offerings came under attack from the competition. Facing the online offer of Amazon, iTunes, Napster and MegaUpload, HMV was no longer the only one to have everything in music and film. And the others were cheaper too. Instead of fighting back with any real innovation or added quality, prices were reduced. And as the bottom-line profits slipped away, gone as well were the listening-posts to “try before you buy”. The more expensive-to-run focus on specialist or obscure music was replaced by more of the latest number-1s at a cheaper price then anywhere else. My local DVD shop started to offer 3 films for the price of 2.

 

When competing on price alone, the cheapest wins and everyone else dies. Drug dealers know this and you don’t have to watch many mafia films to understand that the middle man always gets cut out. For HMV, consumers who could no longer see the added-value of a trip out to the shop (in the cold, using expensive petrol) would buy exclusively online. Everything being equal, price wins.

 

But everything doesn’t have to be equal and there are other ways to compete. In marketing terms, “price” is only one of the 6 “P”s and consumers might buy for any mix of reasons. HMV used to be about “products” and “people”. Another high-street shop in the UK claims to have the best KnowHow™ to help you install, maintain and use your product. * This is all about the “people” and “processes” they offer – a good reason to buy. In my own case, I currently focus on creating the minimum effective dose of training, along with authentic learning processes and improving formal learning with practical use of social media. Others focus on being the first to market, or the most deluxe product.

* Ironically, in my last trip to the UK, the window-sized poster- promoting this “people/process” offering was now obscured by 20 smaller shamefully off-brand posters shouting out the cheapest prices for X, Y and Z.

 

For the seasoned marketeer, I have said nothing new here. Its always been the same: Companies profit by offering value for money. Unfortunately, many companies seem to have forgotten all about the value, choosing instead to focus only on the money. They argue that its because of the tough economic situation and because no-one has any cash to spend. But even if the “boomerang generation” can’t afford to do live away from its parents, one look at the evolution of Apple’s share prices over the past 5 years will tell you that many people still have a lot of spare cash. Starbucks still makes £400 million in revenue selling coffee in the UK and Amazon has announced that its fourth-quarter revenues rose by 22 percent to reach US$21.3 billion. And despite training being the first thing to go when corporations aren’t making enough profit, many of my trainer colleagues are still fully-booked doing great business until the end of 2013.

 

People pay for quality. This doesn’t mean “top quality” or “deluxe” but simply “value” (or perceived value). And if you want them to pay you, then you need to offer value, whatever your price. The more value (and the more unique your value) the more likely people will buy from you. Despite the focus of so many on “price”, I believe that if you want to do well in bad economic times, you need to focus even more on the other side of the price/value equation.

 

So to close my little rant (“price competition” is after all one of my current pet-hates) I would like to ask you to take some time over the coming days to think about the following 5 questions:

  • Everything being equal, price wins. But everything is not equal. What makes you special?
  • What do you want your customers to say about your products, services and staff?
  • What do you, your company, people, products and services stand for? What’s your “thing”?
  • Assume money was not an issue for any of your customers. Why do they buy from you?
  • Why do people come back for more of your stuff?

 

Thanks for reading.

 

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Schizophrenic decision making

When it comes to making well-rounded business decisions, a little bit of schizophrenia goes a long way. If you work on your own or need to make decisions on your own, schizophrenic considerations might make things a little easier ..and possibly more effective.

 

This morning, I have been faced with a lot of planning decisions. There I was, lost in my agenda, trying to decide how to use the limited time available in the year ahead. As I went through my planning, I was automatically making choices based on one unique variable: “Revenue”. Fortunately for me, my wife caught me at it and asked: “What are you doing? Are you only playing ‘Chief Financial Officer’ today?”

Working by myself. I am in fact responsible for all roles, decisions and types of work: HR, finance, business development, sales, innovation… If I get stuck in one of them, it is always to the detriment of another.

If I were working in a company, there would be a management board to make decisions; if I was on a project team, we might decide together. Everyone would come with their own “2 cents”, defending their own territory and striving to achieve their own goals. If the team is good, the company or project does well.

Why not use the same principles for your own work? Or if you work alone, like me, for your own company?

Here’s how…

 

When faced with a decision to make, first list all the different points-of-view (or thinking hats) from which you might see things.

Today, I have decided to approach planning from the following points of view:

  • “Financial” – Which choices will maximise my revenue for 2013?
  • “HR” – What will develop my strengths and talents as a worker?
  • “Business Development” – What will help me find and develop new clients, products and services?
  • “Employee Satisfaction” – What will make me uber-happy in my job?
  • “Customer Service” – What will give my existing customers the best experience?
  • “Family” – What will get me home more, picking up the kids from school?

 

For each of those points-of-view, do your usual contemplative behaviour or try some of these techniques:

  • List your positive and negative reactions to the options
  • List potential outcomes of the options you are contemplating
  • Take a walk
  • Use some kind of numbering scale to rate options
  • Phone a friend, ask Twitter or consult a group LinkedIn
  • Research on the Internet
  • Try one of these “30 Ideas on How to Make A Difficult Decision” from @TinyBuddha

 

How you actually choose will not be changed doing all of the above. But your decision will be more informed and more rounded. More schizophrenic. And the potential outcome may be quite different to just doing “more of the same”. Try it. See what happens.

 

Want some more ideas?

 

 

Thanks for reading
Feel free to leave a comment!

 

 

Connect to your audience, like Yannick Noah

Several years ago, my wife’s company invited its employees and family to “Roi Baudouin Stadium” in Brussels to see Johnny Hallyday in concert. Now, I’m not going to mention his name again, or (dare I say it in Belgium) mention how terrible that entire experience was for me. But I would like to say something about his support act, Yannick Noah.

 

Noah was a tennis player first, but now makes music. Opening for Johnny, he was wild. Hs music was full of energy and so was he. And then it happened: With his cordless microphone in hand, he jumped off the stage and ran into the crowd of 60,000 people, running around singing IN the crowd. I’ve never seen anything like it. 60,000 people and he still jumped in. It was awesome!

 

Now, I don’t think this was a pre-thought strategic move from him. i think he did this out of pure excitement. It not as if he was greeting his fans – they were there for Johnny (or because they were Belgian, or out of some kind of “wifely work obligation”). But what he did was brilliant and a good lesson for any presenter: Get in there. Be with your audience. It breaks boundaries, creates dynamism and connects you to the people you are talking to.

 

Here are a few simple ideas to try out the next time you speak in public:

  • Don’t stand in the same place all the time. If you read “What you can learn from Dora-the-Explorer about presenting” you already know that movement can reinforce presentation structure. But it can also improve audience relations. Movement will change the room dynamics, the connections you have with one or other audience member…
  • If you are presenting to a large audience (a big room, say 200 people) use whatever you can from the room layout to add dynamic movement to your presentation. If you can walk up an aisle to get closer to someone who asked a question, do it.
  • Don’t forget that movement goes up and down as well as left and right and back and forth. I like very much to squat down or perch on the edge of a table when listening to a long comment or group discussion during a presentation in a small room. I’m trying to send the message that its not about me anymore, so I get a bit more out of the way.
  • Meet people at the door. I’m sure if Yannick Noah could have shaken hands with the 60,000, he would have. The last time I spoke at a conference as part of Epsilon2012, I shook hands with every one of the 200-odd people coming into the room, looked them in the eye and thanked them for coming. Get in contact with your audience!

 

Almost every presentation you never see is either exactly the same as the last one, or a minor upgrade in terms of performance. Try these tips to make a mark on your audience and really connect.

 

 

i’m currently researching for more content for my e-book “Build and Deliver Awesome Presentations”. What else should I include? Please leave me a comment with ideas…

 

 

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A few of my favourite posts for today’s new visitors

If you’ve just read Juana Lloren’s “Inside L+D” emailing to the ASTD Learning and Development Community, thank you for clicking on my name.

Wondering why she says I’m a “just a really good writer” (me too!)? Or interested to see a little more about from that wide variety of L+D posts? Have a look around or subscribe via the menu on the right.

In this short post, I’ve collected some of the more popular resources I think might be interesting to new visitors… Some of my favourites too.

 

L+D general resources

 

Social Media for Learning

 

Gamification

 

Prezi, presentation and communication skills

 

(Self) Leadership Resources

 

Thanks for reading!

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37 easy Twitter tips for new users to get started

So, you’ve been on Twitter but you’re not sure of the best way to proceed. You thought about buying “The Twitter Book” but don’t have 20 euros to spend before Christmas/the end of the world/your next paycheque (choose appropriate). You can’t seem to find the free downloadable introduction to “Twitter Power” by Joel Comm.

Never mind.. just read on and follow these instructions for a great start to using Twitter. If you have questions, Tweet Me!

 

Choose a good Twitter handle

Take a little bit of time to choose your Twitter name (“handle”) well. Although you can change how your actual real name looks on your profile, you won’t be able to change your handle. Chances are your actual real name doesn’t exist anymore, so what can you do?

  • Beware the addition of cheap numbers after your name. Who wants to be @johnSmith6875? If you can find a creative way to use numbers, go for it…
  • If you are on Twitter to sell a product or service on Twitter, use your Twitter handle to reinforce your brand(name) – example @babybrussels
  • If you are tweeting for or from your place of employment, be careful to not badly use their name in your Twitter handle
  • Creative name creation is great. I use @BoyTurnsTurtle for non work-related tweeting and nobody said you actually have to use real words
  • Be careful with other wierd characters – you may want to communicate your Twitter handle orally, so don’t use odd characters – I think my own handle @dan_steer is about as non-letter/number as you might want to go
  • Make sure it is not too long. Twitter is limited to 140 characters and if you want people to “mention” you, you don’t want your long Twitter handle eating into their tweets – this will only annoy them

 

Take the time to make your profile good and complete

Along with your tweets, your bio is one of the first things people will see. Spend a moment on this…

  • Write something about yourself in the bio and make sure to Be FAB to Be Heard
  • Be consistent with other platforms – my original Twitter Bio is in line with my professional slogan: “I help people get better at stuff by creating and facilitating infinite learning opportunities”.
  • Include a URL to your website, LinkedIn profile, book etc..
  • If you are working on something specific or mid/long-term, you can consider having your bio as a kind-of static tweet. At the moment, mine is about the conference I will speak at in May 2013 – this will not change for a month or so

Background, colours etc..

 

Use your Twitter photo

  • Not having a photo/logo just looks sad – don’t be the guy with the wierd default Twitter egg. Fix it.
  • If you use a personal photo, make sure we can actually see you. People like faces. But you can still do something a little different like I did.
  • If you have a product or company logo that can look good as a Twitter logo, go for it
  • Be consistent with other branding

 

Create 1 or 2 first tweets before you do any more

Its a chicken and egg thing: Should you start tweeting first or start following first? If you tweet first, no-one is following you, so its pointless. But the first reaction of many people you follow will be to look at your profile to see who you are and what you share. If there is nothing there they might not find you interesting and not follow. So, write 1 or 2 tweets before you follow people.

  • Its OK to write something that announces your arrival on Twitter, but please don’t write the classic “So, this is Twitter. What is all the fuss about?” – its getting old…
  • Include something useful in your first tweet that sets the scene – this could be a link to your own website or could already be a resource that is on-brand or related to your own area of expertise

 

…then start following people

Twitter offers you a bunch of ideas of who to follow. Personally, I think you should follow in the following order:

  • Start with people who are on-brand with regard to your own interests (personal or professional) – in my case, this would be learning people
  • Add only the famous people that won’t make you look stupid or bad. Sometimes your new visitors will look to see who you follow, in need of inspiration of a final push to follow you. Hopefully they won’t see porn-stars, random Justin Beibers or other odd people.
  • By all means let Twitter use your contacts list to invite people to follow you, but think first if this is just going to be more spam in their inbox or if they are actually going to be interested in your tweets. Filter your list to include only the right people.
  • Follow people who follow you?? There are lots of thought on this topic. Should you follow everyone or not? Personally, I have switched between “follow everyone who follows me” and “only follow people who tweet interesting things” without having ever decided. To meditate on…

 

What should I tweet?

The first answer to this question will always be “Whatever interests your (potential) followers” but to add a little weight to that I advise you to read points 5, 6 and 7 of my “9 must-remember guidelines to succeed with social media marketing”:

Personally, I try to offer as many relevant resources as possible via my Twitter account, mixing in my own ideas (like this blog) with those of others. I like to mention people and I try to make every tweet work as a stand-alone tweet when possible. Every now and again, I slip away from reference sharing to social or personal commentary, but this is quite rare.

 

Technically, HOW do I tweet?

If you like what you just read, the only thing now is to know how to ACTUALLY do it. Here’s a few simple ideas to get started with:

  • If you see something interesting elsewhere on the internet, tweet it – example
  • If you see something interesting on Twitter, retweet it – just click the button ..or “quote tweet” and use the letters RT if you want to add something to it yourself, like I did here
  • Mention people with @ + their Twitter handle
    • …you might “cc” them, just to say “hey, this is interesting” like here
    • ..you could say “I got this (on Twitter) via @name” like here
    • ..or if you included them in your own work, why not state it, like here
    • ..or maybe ask someone a specific question, like here
    • ..and thank people for retweeting/sharing your tweets/work, like here
  • If replying to tweets, remember that your followers won’t see “the full picture” without extra effort – when I look at the Twitter streams of people who regularly have bits of conversation with people on Twitter, I get annoyed to not understand anything and my first impression is never “Here is someone who is useful for me to follow”.
  • Favourite things you want to look at later, or to show you “like” the tweet
  • Use a hashtag # to show that your tweet relates to a specific topic. As a general rule, place this at the end of your tweet, like here… unless you use the hashtagged word as part of your tweet sentence, like here.

 

Have fun!

 

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Turn horrible text driven PowerPoint slides into awesome big bold visual messages

During Presentation Skills training, we learn all about the 4 pillars of an effective presentation: Message, Structure, Content and Style. In content and style, we also look at how visual supports are used to support and message and speech: What would be the minimum effective dose when it comes to discussing a certain topic? Is a chart a better way of showing growth than a table? Should I add some images to my PowerPoint? And what kind of visual style should I use?

In my other post “9 PowerPoint Essentials for Real Business People”, I listed some very simple pointers for fixing PowerPoint slides. In this post, I develop one PPT slide example to show how we can turn bad text-driven slides into awesome big bold visual messages…

 

First, let’s look at the original slide in question:

1

This slide comes from a PPT deck in support of a presentation explaining how a particular bandage is better than another. One of the primary reasons is because this bandage doesn’t hurt when being taken off an abrasion-injury…

 

What’s wrong with this slide?

If you appreciate the 9 PPT Guidelines then its clear:

  • There’s too much text
  • The title is bad
  • The colour contrast is not effective
  • Its not very visual

 

Let’s see what we can do. First, to get to the minimum effective dose of text, take out anything that doesn’t have power (that’s why they call it PowerPoint, after all!):

  • Look for what words carry the structural and content “weight”
  • Take out useless prepositions (if, by, and, of…) and articles (a, the, an…)

 

You might end up with something like this…

2

That’s already a lot better!

 

One the ideas I like a lot about PowerPoint is Vinod Kholsa’s 5 second rule – if you can’t tell what a slide is about in 5 seconds, then its not good enough. A good next step to helping solve that is to add a message-driven title that actually says something. Try this:

 

3

..now, in the context of the greater presentation, we know immediately what this slide is about. What next?

 

Personally, I think a better colour contrast on PowerPoint slides makes a big difference to how physically easy it is to look at something and how aesthetically pleasing it can be. Keep the following in mind:

  • Contrast is important to create good easy readability: Be sure to have light on dark or vice-versa
  • Your eye will focus on whatever is brightest. This means that a bright white background is going to get all your attention… that is tiring and leads to headache. Better to have a dark background…
  • …but if you do that, bear in mind that your printing costs will be higher. Consider having a dark-background for the wall and a white background for the handout.

 

Here is the new improved contrast version:

4

…immediately much better. Of course, don’t forget to customise your colours to suit the company branding, or your marketing guys will be really unhappy !

 

OK – its getting better. We are close to the minimum (maybe…) but its not very visual. A visual slide will work much better for the majority of people.

Here’s some basic guidelines for getting visual:

  • Avoid old boring dodgy clipart – we’ve all seen it all before and it doesn’t make you look clever!
  • Don’t draw things yourself unless you want to be “quirky” (like I did here) or you’re a really good artist
  • Don’t opt for the first results you find in Google – chances are everyone else already used that as well
  • Make sure your images are high quality – use the “other sizes” link bottom-right underneath Google thumbnail images to find better quality pictures
  • If you are going to steal copyright (which I know you wouldn’t do…), don’t take the image with a watermark for copyright on it. It just looks lazy.
  • If you are talking about numbers, pimp your table (blog-post to follow), use one of the right 4 chart types (blog post also to follow) or maybe even consider just showing an image which tells the story without reverting to numbers (you can put the numbers in a handout)

 

In this slide, the presenter added in an image that really shows you what he means by abrasions:

5

…but he kind of just slapped it on there without thinking. #Fail

 

Where should you put images when there is text on the slide?

Answer = left of the text block. Why? Its simple, because it lines up more nicely to the text block, like here:

6

 

Now, there are exceptions to this rule and the above example is not finished yet, so bear with me…

If you have text which is justified to the right, then of course you could line your image up better on the right. And if you have just a few bullet points that can be creatively placed to line up better, go for it. Click here to see one of my own examples.

 

In the slide above, the image is in the right place, but it is not looking beautiful yet. I think it would be much better to increase the size of the image to match with the size of the text block, like here:

7

 

Personally, I think we’ve come a long way from our original text-driven slide. We have gotten rid of a load of text, we’ve made more contrast and added a message-driven image, which is in the right place. Some people would stop here and depending on your style, that might be the right choice.

 

But personally, in terms of minimum effective dose (within the greater framework of the entire PPT) we can do a lot better.

First, let’s get bold with that image:

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Hurts to look at? It should! That’s the point!

 

..but hang on a minute: The text says that an example of an abrasion is road-rash or something you get from sports + play, that’s its a superficial wound, that it hurts and that its prone to infection. Doesn’t the image already say all that? Wouldn’t the following do just the same?

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For some people, this is too much. For me, it really is the minimum effective dose. For me, its an awesome big bold visual message.

 

The advantages of awesome big bold visual messages are many:

  • It will be understood more quickly by the majority of people
  • It will stick in people’s heads a little bit longer (certainly in THIS example!)
  • It will oblige you to talk around your point instead of reading from the slide
  • People will think you are awesome 🙂

 

Thanks for reading – I hope this helped

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