Good habits of mindful startup entrepreneurs

Raise your hand if you can start working immediately whenever you want, never get tempted and never get distracted by social media or email or reading the newspaper? No? Me neither. But I’ve learned something that helps a lot. It’s all about our willpower and habits, the part of our mind where we decide on actions to take.

The philosopher Plato first described our internal willpower struggle around 400BC with the allegory of the chariot. In the driver seat, you have the rational mind with a certain amount of willpower, and the chariot is pulled by two horses representing our spirited energy. The charioteer can guide the horses for a while, but if he fights them for too long, or is too weak, the horses will eventually take control of the chariot and go against our demand, and thus lose our focus.

So it is with our minds. Staying productive and managing our impulses is all about strengthening our chariot driver and making sure we can steer our energy in the right direction. To do that, we must build up our willpower and focus on our good habits.

This is especially important for startups, where time is of the essence and building that PoC to test with customers is the most important priority. However, as noted, we all get distracted. What about just adding one more feature here, pitching to another potential investor this week, talking to a marketing agency? All are like the horses if you’re not careful, they’ll end up pulling you in the wrong direction, distractions from your primary focus.

At its core, willpower is your ability to get things done and shape good habits. It determines how easy it is for you start working and resist eating that third cookie and playing a You Tube video.

Think of willpower as a muscle: it’s something that you can flex and relax as you need to, strengthen with training, and lose if you don’t use it enough. This was shown in the radishes and cookies experiment, where scientists brought in participants who had skipped a meal and asked them to do one of three things:

  1. Eat radishes, but avoid eating cookies
  2. Eat cookies, but avoid eating radishes
  3. Just do nothing (i.e. participants weren’t shown either food)

Afterwards, subjects were asked to solve an impossible geometric puzzle. Participants who had eaten the radishes while resisting the cookies gave up much more quickly than those who got to eat cookies or weren’t shown food. Why? Because they used up their willpower resisting the cookies, and couldn’t use it on the puzzle.

If you’re reading this and thinking ‘I’d cave and grab the cookies. I’m just weak-willed,’ don’t worry: science has also shown that willpower is something you can train. So how can you develop a will of steel that that helps you work your way through the toughest tasks? Simple: pay attention to your mental and physical health.

No, I’m not going to go into tree-hugging mode and talk about good diet, exercise, get more sleep, drink a gallon of water a day to become more hydrated, then move onto mediation, yoga or pilates. I’m going to focus on habits, and practicing good habits to build that mental muscle.

There has been much documentation about the habits of successful people, thanks in large part to Stephen Covey’s highly successful book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. While this has been a key piece of reading for the business community since the late 1980s, the traits are different for a startup leader.

Habits form our professional lives. They provide a framework on which we build the success we desire. I often study founders’ routines and how I can emulate them myself. Here are the some interesting habits I have gleaned from entrepreneurs I’ve worked with that can help give you starting points for your own successful daily routine in your startup.

Habit 1: Don’t take no for an answer, always look forward Being an innovator is all about disruptive thinking, to go beyond an existing market, seeing an unfilled gap in the market – or create a new market itself. You need to be a pioneer, keeping your eyes open for new opportunities to create your own market space. This means taking chances, but if anything is a critical part of a good habit set of a startup founder, it’s a willingness to do just that.

Habit 2: Put customers first A startup is an experiment, and progress requires an unwavering commitment to the customer, rather than your product. You need to develop an obsessive habit and mind-set of living in your customer’s world. Understanding customers provides you with a greater opportunity to earn their attention. Spend time on what touches a customer, and don’t do anything to your product that doesn’t generate value for them, and revenue for yourself.

Habit 3: Minimise low impact decision-making You have to be action led. From daily operations to strategic direction choices, waffling with indecision just will not work. The ability to make decisions is directly related to your sense of confidence, so if you find yourself not knowing which choice to make, remind yourself that you have more insight into what you’re doing than anyone else, and trust your instincts.

Habit 4: Avoid the crowds Conventional wisdom yields conventional results. Joining the crowd – no matter how trendy or ‘hot’ the moment, is a recipe for mediocrity or ‘me2’ at best. Successful startup founders by definition habitually do what other people won’t do. They go where others don’t because there’s less competition and a much greater chance for success. Make some bets, make your business about one simple problem, test it, and solve it.

Habit 5: Take one further step than everyone else – always look for the upside Problems are a regular part of startup life, it can often seem like everything is jam side down. To achieve success, look at both sides of the coin – every problem has an opportunity. Keep going when others stop, being opportunity focused makes you more positive about seeing potential in every situation. The habit of a positive mind-set is key.

Habit 6: Be visible – get out of the building The startup founders I’ve worked with consistently name the one habit they felt contributed the most to their success. Each said the habit and ability to ‘think customer’, be visible and get out of the building is key. Having conversations with potential customers is a key habit to building value in your product and building relationships. You don’t need to sell, you just need to be in conversations.

Habit 7: Start at the end Average success is often based on setting average goals. Decide what you really want: to be the best, the fastest, the most innovative, whatever. Aim for the ultimate. Decide where you want to end up. That is your goal. Then you can work backwards and lay out every step along the way. Never start small where goals are concerned. The habit of thinking big, looking to the horizon and working backwards is key to growth.

Habit 8: Be organised and shift gears, out your meetings on a diet Sometimes having a head full of big ideas can lead to thinking being a bit scattered. The difference between an ideas person who remains ineffective in implementation, and someone who achieves success, falls on having an ability and habits to be organised enough to follow through and execute them. Prefer action to thinking, spend time planning but a lot more time doing, but know why and where you’re heading. Jettison protracted meetings and flabby agendas, make stuff happen.

Habit 9: Make small bets and make them quickly There is no guarantee anyone will buy your great idea. Your resources are limited and you don’t want to risk everything on one roll of the dice. Get out in the market fast and let potential customers tell you if you are onto something. Respond to feedback, change course and act. The habit of being flexible allows us to respond to changes without being paralyzed with fear and uncertainty

Habit 10: …and they don’t stop there, play tomorrow’s agenda today Achieving a goal, no matter how huge, isn’t the finish line for most startup founders, rather it just creates a launch pad for achieving another goal. Startup founders are restless, and don’t try to win just one race, they expect to win a number of subsequent races.

Habit 11: Be true to yourself Steve Jobs succeeded by following his own ‘inner voice, heart and intuition’. He said, Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice, heart and intuition.

Habit 12: Reflect on critical open questions through different lenses Most disruptive thinking is borne by a long cultivation of an open question, followed by the nurturing of a slow hunch. If you get a mental block, work at the problem each day from different angles, under different lenses – looking at extremes, considering what essential assumptions are and how to test them. Eventually I find some real traction with an idea that seems novel and has a good chance of working.

Habit 13: Plan tomorrow’s agenda today Before the close of business, go over what’s coming up the next day. Review and forecast what tomorrow is going to look like and how you’re going to get through that. It gives you an opportunity to prioritise, and also allows us to go to bed at night with a clear head. Your mind does a lot of work for you while you’re sleeping. You get there the next day and are much more efficient and productive

Similar to this habit, I have my own evening retrospective on the day just ended. Every night before bed, I think about this question: If I live every day the same way I did today, what kind of future would that create? It forces me to constantly evaluate whether or not my actions are lining up with my priorities. The future is shaped one day at a time, and it’s never as far away as we think.

We are stereotyped creatures, imitators and copiers of our past selves. The startup founder who wants to reach the top appreciates the might of the force of habit and understands that practices are what create habits. He is quick to break those habits that can break him, and hasten to adopt those practices that will become the habits that help him achieve the success he desires, as outlined above.

My own thoughts are that if I can get victory over myself, the odds are high I can help fix ideas into stuff that works. If I can’t fix myself, the odds are equally high I will never be able to add value and do good things. As Flaubert said, Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.

So many hats, so little time; the habits and rhythms of successful startup founders.

Simple – ship weekly (or ship weakly), test, talk to users. The rest makes you mediocre, like wasting time on Twitter. As Elon said, work like hell.

You’ve probably heard someone say this before, or maybe this statement has even come from you too. Why is it that almost everyone claims to have the next big startup idea but only a small number of people have the courage and audacity to start something new and make it happen?

It’s another thing all together to go out and start something. To make a start exposes us. It is fundamentally this fear that stops us from being bold that stops us from taking action. We fear what others will think and say. We are afraid that our own self image will be tainted in the event of failure.

Its much safer to say things than it is to go out and try things. It’s also much easier to give ourselves the satisfaction of believing that if we went out and took action that we would succeed than it actually is to just give it a try. We don’t know and nether does anyone else. The only true indicator of startup success is reality. The unpredictability of the startup experiment frightens us and keeps us locked in a prism of self-made excuses.

Those who are able to ignore their own fears are the ones that start things. They are bold and give themselves permission to start and thus the opportunity to succeed. Everybody else, just self-sabotages their own success. Fear in the form of resistance is created by our need for certainty, safety and comfort.

How do you make the shift from talking about a startup to acting on your ideas? The struggle is not in the idea it is in the process of overcoming the fear to start, then beating your own resistance to complete it and finally dealing with the fear of failure in order to get it out there.

With so many internal battles it’s no wonder that we find it easier to talk about them than to start take action towards achieve those visions. Breaking this cycle of fear is something we must learn if we wish to produce results.

Start it. Ship it. Repeat. Seth Godin talks in detail about the mindset of people to start things and ship things. His book, Poke the Box, discusses the innovation mindset from a new point of view:

The challenge, it turns out, isn’t in perfecting your ability to know when to start and when to stand by. The challenge is getting into the habit of starting.

You’ll need to learn to identify these key fears…

  • Fear of success: the fear that we are not worthy of success. You must believe in yourself in order to take action.
  • Rationalisation: beware of the excuses you make in your mind of why things happen a certain way.
  • Self medication: beware of when you feel the desire to heal yourself or taking a break. This can often come from a place of fear rather than truth.
  • Victimhood: do not identify with your failures.
  • Self-doubt: beware of self-sabotage, when you unconsciously act in particular ways to reduce your ability to succeed.

In Steven Pressfield’s book, The War of Art, he discusses the resistance we all face when launching something new, specifically though he lists a number of ways to make the shift from self-doubting mindset to work to having a more determined mindset:

  • Show up everyday, show up no matter what
  • Stay on the job all day
  • Commit over the long haul
  • The stakes are high and real: this means that we must have sense of urgency with our work.
  • We are focused on results
  • We do not over identify with our work: we must be willing to change our work based on feedback of relevant sources
  • We master the technique of our work
  • We have a sense of humour about our work
  • We receive praise or blame in the real world: we expose ourselves to external feedback.

As Elon Musk says, When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favour.

As I learn more about startups and the community, the more intrigued I have become with startup founders. I have supported a number of founders from tech startups, and I am constantly inspired by how they execute at speed within such uncertain circumstances. I’ve observed a pattern amongst many of these folk, regardless of their product, service or industry, these founders all had the following characteristics in common:

Vision and Purpose What are you trying to achieve? There will be highs and lows throughout the entrepreneurial journey of building a business. Remembering why you started in the first place and being able to see the end goal gives you the conviction to move forward through the toughest obstacles.

Persevere with an ability to get stuff done The founders I’ve worked with all carry a positive attitude and possess a winning mentality. They have fallen, but always return with a sense of resilience. They see the positive in the negative. They understand that to grow, they must raise the bar, as there is always the next stage, a higher challenge to meet.

They are guided by unwavering passion for what they do Passion (their why?) brings the sunshine on a rainy day. They started their business out of passion over profit, motivated by their interest in good impact. You want to make sure what you’re doing is what you love, because you will ultimately feel less of a slave to your business if you’re following your heart and not the money.

They run experiments like crazy The market opportunity is constantly changing and with that, there will always be new gaps, trends and demands. Good founders are like scientists and adventurers, they are always testing and experimenting. They recognise in order to stay relevant, market validation is a constant process.

Simplicity Whenever I look at a successful startup, it’s easy to admire how the moving parts, features and services, work in harmony, and do so with simplicity as the unifying theme. So when designed the V1 of anything there are four things we should remember:

1. It should be a solution to a singular problem, not a related multitude.
2. It should be easy to build & test against that problem.
3. It should be easy to explain.
4. It should be easy to adopt and use.

So, if these are the core features, attributes and outcomes arising from the study of successful startups, what are the individual habits of startup founders to make it happen? Here are my twelve thoughts:

Habit 1: Always look forward Being an innovator is all about being a disruptive thinking, to go beyond an existing market, seeing an unfilled gap in the market – or create a new market itself. You need to be a pioneer, keeping your eyes open for new opportunities to create your own market space. This means taking chances, but if anything is a critical part of a good habit set of a startup founder it’s a willingness to do just that.

Habit 2: Be customer centric A startup is an experiment, and progress requires an unwavering commitment to the customer, rather than your product. You need to develop an obsessive habit and mind-set of living in your customer’s world. Understanding customers provides you with a greater opportunity to earn their attention. Spend time on what touches a customer, and don’t do anything to yoru product that doesn’t generate revenue. Focus on making valuable things. Everything else is noise.

Habit 3: Make decisions You have to be action led. From daily operations to strategic direction choices, waffling with indecision just will not work. The ability to make decisions is directly related to your sense of confidence, so if you find yourself not knowing which choice to make, remind yourself that you have more insight into what you’re doing than anyone else, and trust your instincts. Don’t create obstacles. When others create obstacles, move on and keep building.

Habit 4: Avoid the crowds Conventional wisdom yields conventional results. Joining the crowd – no matter how trendy or ‘hot’ the moment, is a recipe for mediocrity or ‘me2’ at best. Remarkably successful startup founders by definition habitually do what other people won’t do. They go where others don’t because there’s less competition and a much greater chance for success. Make your business about one simple problem, and solve it.

Habit 5: Always look for the upside Problems are a regular part of startup life, it can often seem like everything is jam side down. To achieve success, look at both sides of the coin – every problem has an opportunity. Being opportunity focused makes you more positive about seeing potential in every situation. The habit of a positive mind-set is key. It’s easy to be critical. Especially in private. Don’t be.

Habit 6: Get out of the building The startup founders we’ve worked with consistently name the one habit they felt contributed the most to their success. Each said the habit and ability to ‘think customer’ and get out of the building is key. Having conversations with potential customers is a key habit to building value in your product and building relationships. You don’t need to sell, you just need to be in conversations.

Habit 7: Start at the end Average success is often based on setting average goals. Decide what you really want: to be the best, the fastest, the most innovative, whatever. Aim for the ultimate. Decide where you want to end up. That is your goal. Then you can work backwards and lay out every step along the way. Never start small where goals are concerned. The habit of thinking big, looking to the horizon and working backwards is vital to growth.

Habit 8: Be organised Sometimes having a head full of big ideas can lead to thinking being a bit scattered. The difference between an ideas person who remains ineffective in implementation, and someone who achieves success, falls on having an ability and habits to be organised enough to follow through with them. Prefer action to thinking, spend time planning and a lot more time doing, but know why and where you’re heading.

Habit 9: Make small bets and make them quickly There is no guarantee anyone will buy your great idea. Your resources are limited and you don’t want to risk everything on one roll of the dice. Get out in the market fast and let potential customers tell you if you are onto something. Respond to feedback, change course and act. The habit of being flexible allows us to respond to changes without being paralyzed with fear and uncertainty

Habit 10: …and they don’t stop there Achieving a goal, no matter how huge, isn’t the finish line for most startup founders, rather it just creates a launch pad for achieving another goal. Startup founders are restless, and don’t try to win just one race, they expect to win a number of subsequent races.

Habit 11: Don’t be afraid or embarrassed by failure James Dyson, creator of the famous Dyson vacuum, is no stranger to failure. In fact, he embraces it. He made 5,127 prototypes of his vacuum before he got it right. There were 5,126 failures. But I learned from each one. That’s how I came up with a solution he says. Dyson’s point is that if you want to discover something new, you’re bound to fail a few times and that’s okay. The habit of being resilient and not taking no for an answer stood him in good stead

Habit 12: Be true to yourself Steve Jobs succeeded by following his own ‘inner voice, heart and intuition’. He said, Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice, heart and intuition. If you must, put your name to it and articulate your analysis objectively. Say it to their face.

How many of these habits do you recognise in yourself? What else do you do that adds to the list? Let me know!

 

Set your inner voice to ‘authentic’

I was at an RSPCA Summer Open Day on Saturday, the lure of a glass of home made lemonade and ginger cake for £1 on the chalked sign was too much to walk past, so I popped in out of the cold.

One of my previous dogs was a shaggy, doe-eyed bearded collie cross, an RSPCA rescue dog. A more loving, loyal and hairy Wookie look-a-like hound you could not wish for. She had paws and a heart the size of a lion. I’ve been a sucker for supporting any dog sanctuary, stray or care charity ever since.

The great pleasure of a dog is that you can make a fool of yourself with her and not only will she not scold you, but she will make a fool of herself with you too. My last dog, Tess, a golden retriever who passed on aged 14 last November, liked nothing more than a good play fight and cuddle, and next to my wife, she was the best kisser ever. She was also great at cleaning your ears with her big wet tongue. Thoroughly. But let’s move on.

Dogs are miracles with paws, when they laugh they laugh with their tails, they share our lives in a way that most other animals can’t. Each evening Tess waited for me by the front door, face smiling, mouth open and tail wagging, ready to dote and bark for around twenty minutes to announce to the entire neighbourhood that I was home from work and we were off for a walk.

Dogs’ lives are too short, their only fault really if you ignore the chewing of the occasional CD or loss of cakes from the carrier bag on the kitchen floor as you fetch the shopping in from Tesco. We all long for affection altogether ignorant of our faults, and we get such unconditional love from dogs that we take it for granted.

I think we are drawn to dogs because they are the uninhibited creatures we might be if we weren’t certain we knew better.  They fight for honour and territory, make themselves heard without inhibition when they need to, and self-clean body parts with no moral restraint. You would think that for all their marvelous instincts that they appear to know nothing about numbers, but if you think dogs can’t count, try putting three dog biscuits in your pocket and then giving out only two of them.

The most affectionate creature in the world is a wet dog, happy to share the entire experience, but in order to really enjoy a dog, one doesn’t merely try to train her to be semi human.  The point of it is to open oneself to the possibility of becoming a dog. But enough about the dog, my reason for writing this blog was partly about the authentic behaviour of dogs, but really this blog came about because of a number on experiences this week where the unauthentic behaviour of humans really made its mark on me.

One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit and lack of authenticity everywhere. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his or her share, but we tend to take the situation for granted and totally ignore it. Most people are rather confident of their ability to recognise bullshit and to avoid being taken in by it.

So the phenomenon has not aroused much deliberate concern. We have no clear understanding of what bullshit is, why there is so much of it, or what functions it serves, and we lack a conscientiously developed appreciation of what it means to us. But set against the honesty and sincerity you get from your dog, the polarity of dog behaviours when compared to some humans led me onto thinking more about the meaning of authenticity.

Being authentic means that the gap between who you are and who you portray to be as close as zero as possible. In other words, being authentic means brining the ‘real you’ wherever you go, in every situation and conversation. You can look at it from a moral angle, but I’m particularly interested in the simplicity for being authentic.

Let’s start with what happens when you are not authentic. You will start with creating an image of yourself that is different from who you really are. It takes an effort to do that. Now, you will have to act out that image and make everyone believe that what you act out is who you really are. It takes even more effort to fulfill that.

Once you act this out, you need to remember this image for a long time, because you need to behave consistently with your image with all the people that have seen you portraying that image. That seems like a burden that you have chosen to carry to me. Politicians across the entire spectrum have consistently fallen into this trap.

I always believe in the best in human nature, and trust most people to be generally honest. Indeed society is built on trust. However the last week saw the culmination of a three-year legal case I was involved in as the primary witness for the prosecution on a  business fraud case, and this has been illuminating.

I fully appreciated I was one of the key elements in bringing an offender to justice, supporting the victim of economic crime and provide them some closure if no recompense for losses suffered However, my overriding thought is the lack of authenticity in the justice system, both the people and the process.

It is adversarial. The focus is on winning rather than discovering the truth. Criminal justice should be inquisitorial – the prime focus should be on discovering what happened and then on punishing or rehabilitating appropriately, surely? Listening and watching the interaction of both sides of the legal and moral divide tell me the system has given up on rehabilitation and simply focused on creating the most enormous and costly bureaucracy possibly.

Lawyers are motivated by wealth, yet recall In the Ancient Roman Republic, it was illegal for lawyers to accept money or gifts from clients as it was felt to be a corrupting influence. This has dire consequences and certainly corrupts the entire system as far as I can see, there is no authenticity in any aspect of the dna pervading. Victims are ignored, if not often forgotten.

This lack of authenticity in the process quickly set the tone for my daily interactions with most of the staff in the judicial system. After a week of missing authentic communication with the people I usually spend the week with, this a new theme that is becoming the cornerstone of everything I do. It all started with noticing how I greeted and responded to the court staff.

It usually went something like this: Hello, how are you today. Good, you? Good. Alright, see you later. Not only did I not really care about how the person was doing, I also played along with his fake enthusiasm, but it wasn’t just me! When other staff asked me How are you doing? they kept walking without waiting for an answer. How are you doing? has become the new Hi. Most people don’t really want to know, nor do they really mean it.

The idea is that we are interacting daily on a superficial level, but very few of us want to snap out of it and have a genuine conversation. Naturally, talking about authenticity made me hyper-aware of my own patterns and non-genuine conversations, and I tried to stay true and present at all times, even if it made for awkward situations. Trust in humanity will only continue if we cultivate authenticity and sincerity in face-to-face conversation.

With the domination of the digital marketplace, everyone is banging on about customer experience, customer engagement and customer loyalty, but the latest I reckon is customer romance. I say this as I was lashing on the Aloe Vera gel to my thorn-filled hands after a Sunday in the garden, the Holland & Barrett gel for bio active skin treatment was just the job, but the subtle we’re good for you struck me as an example of authentic branding.

Maybe an unfashionable brand, maybe I was just recoiling from being grumpy all week, but a visit to their web site gave me ideas around customer romance as a strategy, the authenticity of their style of communication is contagious, and there’s no better way to connect with a customer than to be sincere, transparent and honest.

We need authenticity now more than ever, and I must admit I’ve been an advocate of President Obama since day one, admiring his openness and evenhandedness, underpinned by his purpose and beliefs. This week his handling of a heckler at a LBGT event in the White House, and his presence and leadership at the Charleston memorial service for victim Clementa Pinckney, where he lead the singing of ‘Amazing Grace’, showed once again the authenticity of his leadership and character. It makes a difference.

One way out of this hall of mirrors is to insist ever more loudly that oneself is really, truly authentic, and innumerable products now advertise themselves as ‘real’, following the lead of Coke’s slogan ‘the Real Thing’. Even my Marks & Spencer’s underwear is branded ‘authentic’, posing the question of what an inauthentic pair of boxer shorts would look like.

However, too persuasive a performance of authenticity will be taken as a sign of falseness. In my authenticity-obsessed mindset I want something to be real, but I’m on a hair trigger to cry foul if it seems too real to be true.

It also reifies a simplistic notion of what is fake to begin with. A blanket privileging of the concrete and the in-person, an indie disdain for post-production or Photoshopping I just don’t get. The fetish for authenticity, here as in the realms of food and vintage clothing, shows itself to be inherently nostalgic, always looking back to an imagined, prelapsarian nirvana. Maybe it was just an easier way of life in Hardy’s rural idyll.

And then we have ‘reality TV’. To define a person’s authenticity as the perfect conjunction of outward seeming and inward being is not a new idea. But what matters most now is that such personal authenticity be performed plausibly, yet paradoxically, contestants routinely accuse their rivals of being less than genuine. If we all looked at each other through the same lens, what would we see – but let’s not go back to the Criminal Justice system.

Yet it is precisely in high-end product brand marketing that we can perceive the key aspect of the modern authenticity mania and yet the diametric falsehood that sits just below the surface. Such commodities are positioned as ‘aspirational’, because that is now how society has silently agreed to redefine aspiration – a yearning desire to control more wealth and to own more expensive objects.

It’s the same for the ‘Selfie’ and the taking of photos with your smartphone. Why do people take so many mundane photos and share them via social media? I think they’re trying to show their authenticity but it’s stimulated by the redefinition of authenticity.

So what is the implicit bargain when we buy an ‘authentic” Hermès bag? Or a Hublot watch, a clockwork marvel costing tens of thousands of pounds, which prides itself, like all luxury analogue watches, precisely on the amusing superfluity of its engineering? We are being sold the assurance that nimble-fingered workers in a French leather-working atelier or a Swiss horlogerie laboratory have sunk hundreds or thousands of man-hours into its making. It’s a classic timepiece.

It tells the time, unlike Stephen Hawking, our interest in time doesn’t need to extend to the nanosecond measurement.

The authenticity of such an aspirational brand’s product boils down to the promise that artisans have laboured personally on your behalf. A similar fantasy underlies the ferocious insistence that a coffee shop be ‘artisanal’ or at least ‘independent’. The self-appointed guardians of authenticity, it seems, want desperately to believe that they are at the top of the labour pyramid. In cultural markets that are all too disappointingly accessible to the masses, the authenticity fetish disguises and renders socially acceptable a raw hunger for hierarchy and power. And don’t get me on the ‘authenticity’ of Glastonbury. People go just to say they’ve been there and come home smelling for three days of the authentic perfume of mud.

Authentic’ is derived from the Greek authentikós, which means ‘original’, but just being an original doesn’t mean you, or a brand will be perceived as authentic. You could be an original phoney. At its heart, authenticity is about practicing what you preach, being totally clear about who you are and what you do best. When a brand’s rhetoric gets out of sync with customers’ actual experiences, the brand’s integrity and future persuasiveness suffers. It’s the same for people too.

It was a long, tiring, frustrating week. Weekend was good, I love the RSPCA, it’s purpose, vision, values and people, the event made me sad for my lost dogs, and simply highlighted what I truly value in my life, and that includes dogs over people. Institutions of State, or Holland & Barrett? I’ve become obsessed with authenticity and differences between echt and ersatz. Why bother doing anything if it’s not for real?

Authenticity starts in the heart. We have to dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be. Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen. Authenticity is the alignment of head, mouth, heart, and feet – thinking, saying, feeling, and doing the same thing – consistently.

 

 

A team is many voices, but one heart

Wednesday last week marked 100 days until the start of the 2015 Rugby World Cup, and the launch of the Rugby World Cup Trophy Tour to visit 300 events before arriving at the opening ceremony on 18 September. The full Trophy Tour schedule is here. The 100-day milestone also marks the start of the Festival of Rugby 2015 programme, which will run until to 31 October and match 48 of the tournament, the final.

I can’t wait. I’ve got tickets purchased for selected games, and planning the international food and drink festival to run alongside the schedule of televised games, together with a realignment of sofas and chairs in the front room to optimise viewing for a throng of visitors, and then the events planned at my local rugby club alongside this.

It brings back great memories of England’s victory in 2003, especially that that closing passage of play from the final – the lineout take from Lewis Moody, the break from Matt Dawson, Jonny Wilkinson standing in the pocket and Ian Robertson’s iconic commentary – He drops for World Cup glory. It’s over. He’s done it. Wilkinson’s last-gasp effort was all that separated England and Australia after 100 minutes of rugby and a dramatic extra-time finale.

On 22 November, 2003, captain Martin Johnson became the first player to lead a northern hemisphere side to the world title. I don’t think I’ve ever shouted at the television as much as I did that day, or been as emotional, almost shaking. Australia battled hard and were never out of the game but ultimately fell just short. Here’s what I remember of the game.

The Wallabies started strongly when Tuqiri out-jumped Jason Robinson to a huge Stephen Larkham bomb with just six minutes on the clock, but three Wilkinson penalties soon silenced the home support. In the pouring rain, both sides kept the ball in hand and the England pack began to dominate.

With just 10 minutes of the first half left, Ben Kay knocked on with the try-line beckoning. Minutes later, England silenced the doubters when Jason Robinson magically scuttled over wide on the left after a powerful midfield burst from Lawrence Dallaglio. Jason jumps up and punches the ball into the air. Queue mayhem in our house.

The men in white started the second half as they had finished the first. Johnson led from the front with a towering performance and Dallaglio and flanker Richard Hill out thought and out scrapped the Aussies down the middle of the pitch.  But just as England looked likely to pull away, two careless penalties allowed Elton Flatley to bring his side back within touching distance.

Lancastrian Will Greenwood knocked on inside the Aussie 22 and Wilkinson missed a drop goal as the match entered a tense closing quarter.  Runs from the powerful Stirling Mortlock and ebullient George Smith pushed England back, and as referee Andre Watson prepared to blow for full time, Elton Flatley slotted his third kick of the half to push the match into extra time.

People seem to forget the composure and mental-toughness Flatley had at that moment, ultimately lost in the euphoria of England’s victory, but it was an awesome kick under extreme pressure. Four times Flatley put the ball between the posts, a fine personal game from the inside-centre ultimately on the losing side.

Now the players looked understandably exhausted and when Wilkinson and Flatley again swapped penalties in extra-time, the match looked to be heading into sudden death. Then, just 38 second of extra-time remaining, and everything going to plan. Two breaks up field, then a long pass, Dawson to Wilkinson, who shapes up confidently, and with his non-dominant kicking right foot calmly bangs over the match winner. The World Cup winner. England, World Champions.

For the record:

  • 6 mins: Tuqiri try puts Australia ahead
  • 38 mins: Robinson scores a try after three Wilkinson penalties – England 14-5 ahead
  • 80 mins: Australia haul themselves back level with Flatley’s last-gasp penalty, 14-14
  • 82 mins: Wilkinson’s penalty gives England an extra-time advantage
  • 97 mins: Flatley strikes again to equalise at 17-17
  • 100 mins: Wilkinson’s drop goal wins England the World Cup, 20-17

England: J Lewsey, J Robinson, W Greenwood, M Tindall, B Cohen; J Wilkinson, M Dawson; T Woodman, S Thompson, P Vickery; M Johnson; (captain), B Kay; Richard Hill, N Back, L Dallaglio. Replacements: D West, J Leonard, M Corry, L Moody, K Bracken, M Catt, I Balshaw.

Rugby is a physical game – former England hooker Brian Moore once said If you can’t take a punch, you should play table tennis – but it’s not all about bashing and brawn, there’s plenty of guile and thought. At the margin, with 38 seconds to go, this win was about composure and planning.

In sport and business, self-control is essential, the capacity to make the right decisions when under pressure is a vital leadership trait. Composure is a telling factor in performance whether it contributes to the scoreboard or the bottom-line. Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm, but in the frenzy of the storm, holding your nerve, keeping focus and stopping the blood rushing to the head enables you to put your training into practice, and that’s just what England did.

England had a phrase in the 2003 World Cup – T-CUP – Thinking-Correctly-Under-Pressure – for those pivotal crisis moments, taking it from the training ground into the heat of the game. When interviewed after the game, Wilkinson was asked if he’d been nervous, one swing of the boot and England were World Champions? Not really he replied, the last 38 seconds had been six years in the making.

Under Clive Woodward, England had a clear focus on preparation. They had a vision, and worked backwards from that, what did they need to do to be World Champions? Leaving nothing to chance, they prepared for the moment – in the last few minutes of the final, close to the opposition posts, scores level, what’s the move that gives us the opportunity to win?

Watch the video of the move – Johnson, Dawson, Catt and Greenwood all took the planning and learning from the training ground, and with discipline and composure, got the ball to Jonny. The move had been rehearsed many, many times over the last six years, and they made it count when it mattered most.

Composure is the product of an ambitious mentality envisioning and outcome to which we aspire. It requires persistence, vision, discipline, self-belief and patience. Being persistent requires constant thinking and developing the process to create the plan to accomplish our goals as the situation changes. A plan doesn’t require detail, rather it guides our actions to ensure we are always progressing towards accomplishing our goals.

Our mettle is tested as pressure-filled situations create doubt. Having doubt is a natural reaction, which we all experience. But being composed and having a direction and destination we believe in is what helps us to endure and overcome anxiety in the moment. Without having a direction, your head is filled with what I call a box of frogs leaping around, all sorts of stuff going off all over the place, and you’ve no chance of making the right decision. If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there. It wasn’t raining when Noah started building the ark.

From this vision, Woodward instilled a disciplined thinking into the players, detailing the individual and team development principles he thought essential for a successful team:

Teamship At Woodward’s first training session they did nothing but establish the teamship rules for being part of the squad. There were no rugby balls. Woodward took the time to establish what the team stood for, how it was going to work and what it wanted to be remembered for, before tackling the what, the why and the how of accomplishing the task.

Critical non-essentials Woodward identified a host of smaller items that on their own appeared not to be crucial to the team’s success, but in aggregate they added up. These included being in your seat ten minutes before a team meeting was scheduled to start, changing into new kit for the second-half (no matter the score, we start again), and specialist coaching where needed – this included getting RAF Tornado fighter pilot eye coaches for helping Jonny Wilkinson with focus and accuracy on kicking placement.

Talent & Teachability It’s the base you start from, but talent alone is not enough, it’s too unpredictable to create a winning team. Individuals have to become students, their willingness to learn and accumulate knowledge around their role will give them the awareness of what they need to do to continually. Talent without training is like an octopus on roller skates – there’s plenty of movement but you never know if this is going to be forwards, backwards or sideways.

Pressure Individuals have to have a warrior spirit, said Woodward, meaning they are able to perform well at the critical moment – hence the acronym T-CUP. It’s the job of the leader to constantly put their team under pressure. People aren’t born to perform under pressure, they need to get used to it because only the winners perform their best under pressure.

Practice Woodward created an environment where the team constantly went through hypothetical situations under time pressure to reach a decision. It’s about role-play, after role-play, working through every eventuality so that the team has already gone through the thought processes needed to overcome them. This reduces the chances of coming up against something unexpected in the real world, allowing the team to use the little time they may have to think through the problem. Don’t win against the odds.

Winning culture – the commitment to win. It’s all about attitude. Woodward broke this down into three parts:

  • Obsession with the task: individuals focus on attention to detail and have an uncompromising level of excellence;
  • Responsibility: a readiness to take on their job and ensure they are seen through;
  • Enjoyment: team members have to ask themselves whether their colleagues enjoy working with them, and why.

Beyond number 1 For Woodward, this focused on what he did once the England team was ranked number one in the world, how did he behave, what culture did he instil in the team and how did they continue to improve ‘beyond number 1’?  So when your team achieves its goals, what do you do next?  How do you stay one step ahead of the chasing pack, motivated to bring you down a peg?  How do you maintain a state of mind that avoids complacency?

Woodward’s insightful thinking was built on the platform of back-to-front planning – he started with his vision of winning the World Cup at the Telstra Stadium Sydney, 22 November 2003. He asked the question: What is that World Cup winning team going to look like? and worked it backwards. He didn’t start with the squad he inherited and work forward, building slowly, gradually, pulling the pieces to culminate to a magnificent climax.

Quite the opposite, planning backwards, he knew what his team needed to look like in 2003 when he was appointed in 1997.  Stuart Lancaster has adopted this approach for England’s 2015 World Cup campaign, he’s identified his XV will have more than 500 caps as his platform. Let’s take this thinking into a business context:

Where do we want to be? Where are we now? How will we get there? This is the building block approach towards identifying the winning requirements of your business. If you concentrate on winning in the here and now, your mindset would take you to building a team for today, so it’s about having the courage to focus on both at the same time – the business team of today, and the business team of tomorrow, meaning you’re working in the business, as well as on the business.

Backwards planning means thinking ahead. Thinking backwards changes the focus from whether something might happen to how it might happen. Putting yourself into the future creates a different perspective. Thinking backwards helps to discover and evaluate different scenarios for how the future might unfold. This stops you looking backwards, which I think is a good thing.

Create a team culture of winning. Everyone has to be comfortable with the expectation of winning. Woodward ensured there was no hiding place – don’t look to the person on your left or right, do it yourself; don’t just turn up, make a contribution. He made a winning ethic the team ethic. He identified those he wanted on his team – energisers, full of drive, fire, intensity, passion, spirit, and those he didn’t – energy sappers, who bleed, deplete, drain, erode, undermine the team.

A team is many voices, but a single heart. On that day in Sydney, England had the biggest heart in the world, underpinned by vision, discipline, clarity and focus. If you build these qualities into your business team, you can create a winning mentality and success for your business.

Now, with 95 days to go to the World Cup, I’ll be keeping an eye on the preparation of England and the All Blacks, my second team. I’m looking forward to the tournament where, as former England forward Gareth Chilcott once said, rugby is a game where you can have a quiet beer followed by several noisy ones.

 

Winning mind-sets of Xavi & Bradley Wiggins

The weekend saw two remarkable sportsmen achieve significant success, on top of a career defined by continued success – Xavi Hernandez and Bradley Wiggins. What is it in their makeup that enables them to be relentless in the pursuit of challenge, to get up and go again when they’ve enjoyed success, never resting on their laurels, and be determined and hungry to win every time they turnout?

On Saturday, Xavi Hernandez lifted The Champions League trophy on his last Barcelona appearance, as the club completed a historic treble in Berlin. It was his last appearance for the club, and the result confirmed a staggering twenty-fifth trophy of Xavi’s career – 777 appearances for Barca since his debut in 1998.

The 35-year-old was handed the captain’s armband as he came on as a 78th minute substitute for Iniesta during Barca’s 3-1 victory over Juventus. His cameo performance was typically astute, appropriately economic and expansive in possession and intelligently positioned when he wasn’t. This was the fourth time Xavi has lifted the European Cup and victory offered a fitting tribute as he ended his career.

Born in the neighbouring city of Terrassa, Xavi joined Barca’s famous La Masia academy as an 11-year-old and made his debut for the first-team in August 1998.  Following an injury to Pep Guardiola in 1999, Xavi inherited the principle playmaking responsibilities and soon became the lifeblood of the Barca midfield.

On Sunday, Bradley Wiggins broke the one-hour distance record, considered one of the most prestigious and iconic records in cycling. Wiggins completed a distance of 54.5km (33.89 miles), smashing the record set in May by fellow Briton Alex Dowsett of 52.9km (32.9 miles). However, he did fall short of the 55.25km target he had set himself.

When he lowered himself onto his 3D-printed titanium handlebars, Wiggins simply focused on the black line ahead of him and the next 60 minutes. Sound simple! Wiggins, current World Champion and holding all the time-trial crowns – Olympic, World, British and now the Hour – knows his place amongst the pantheon of cycling legends is guaranteed.

Success proved again that versatility has been the bedrock of Wiggins’ greatness. With his metronomic pedalling style and cadence, no other rider has been capable both of taking multiple Olympic gold medals on track and road as well as conquering the Tour de France.

James Moore’s first unofficial hour record, set on a penny farthing in 1873, was 22.3km, which is incredible considering he spent 20 minutes of his attempt getting on the bike (I made that up!). The distance Wiggins covered in an hour is roughly the equivalent of cycling from Liverpool to Manchester. Except he didn’t get stuck in the M62 roadworks, or stop for a cup of tea at the services.

When Jens Voigt sparked the new set of records last year, he could barely stand at the end. Yesterday, Wiggins got off his bike and lifted it above his head, then got back on his bike to do a lap of honour. What an athlete. Whilst Xavi has retired, Wiggins’ swansong will be the 2016 Rio Olympics.

I have been intrigued with what drives and motivates human behaviour for many years, wanting to understand the concept of a ‘winning mind-set’. We have seen the likes of Roger Bannister, Jonny Wilkinson, Richie McCaw, Steve Redgrave and now Xavi and Wiggins, and many more amaze us with their passion and drive to succeed.

I have learnt that a winning mind-set is essentially having an attitude of mind, maintaining self-belief, and being relentless in sticking with a focus to achieve. With the right mind-set you will live, work and compete at your full potential. Virtually everything you do in your life is ruled by choices that you make. You can choose to focus on the negative or the positive, you can obsess about things beyond your control or you can focus on the things that you can influence. Focus on the right things, and you become a winner.

What does being a winner mean? What are winners made of? Is there any common denominator among winners? Yehuda Shinar, sports psychologist to Clive Woodward’s England rugby World Cup winners in 2003, has undertaken an 18-year research study into the mind-sets of winners, and identified how they attained their substantial level of achievement.

Shinar concluded that there are three key criteria for creating a winning mind-set:

Be self-aware Top performing individuals have a high level of self-awareness. Knowing your strengths, weaknesses, motivations and your approach to taking risks is key to your success. They keep themselves in balance, check-in and check-out, and always know where they’re at.

Stay in the zone Individuals that perform at the highest level have the ability to manage their thoughts, feeling, emotions and behaviours, essentially they are able to ‘manage the mist’ when they are under pressure. Maintaining an emotional balance manages your physiology.

Have a strategy Winners are goal oriented, they have a sense of purpose and direction – they know how to get there. They have a holistic strategy using a whole brain approach with a vision for the future desired outcome, a plan and an appropriate set of behaviours for achieving their goals.

Having the right mind-set and belief for achieving goals is the difference between winning and losing. Having a winning mind-set is not about being ruthless, stubborn or suppressing emotions. It requires openness to change, embracing failure rather than avoiding it. I am a strong believer that if you can dream it, you can achieve it. If you think it, you can become it. You can realise your potential.

Your thoughts become a reality and therefore you must be careful what you think about. Negative thoughts can become a reality too! There is a difference between accepting failure and being a failure. Failing at something is acceptable, accepting your failure is not.

Shinar has two further aspects to his definition of ‘winners’:

  • They repeatedly maximise their potential even when under pressure and in competitive scenarios.
  • They demonstrate constant improvement in their respective field.

His research shows there is no correlation between the extent of the achievement and the level of talent in the given area, or the IQ level of the winners, not even at the highest levels. Shinar thus defines the winning mind-set model as ‘winning intelligence’, a skill that can be learned, practiced, developed and improved, comprising the five elements outlined above, creating a model and a ‘capacity for winning’.

But what is the concept of ‘mind-set’. Mind-set is a simple idea discovered by world-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck in decades of research on achievement and success.

In a fixed mind-set, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are fixed traits and don’t develop them. They also believe that talent alone creates success. They’re wrong says Dweck.

In a growth mind-set, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work – brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.

Mind-sets are beliefs about yourself and your basic qualities. Think about your intelligence, your talents, your personality. Are these qualities simply fixed traits, carved in stone and that’s that? Or are they things you can cultivate throughout your life?

Since the dawn of time, people have thought differently, acted differently, and fared differently from each other. Why is this? Experts lined up on both sides. Some claimed that there was a strong physical basis for these differences, making them unavoidable and unalterable. Through the ages these alleged physical differences have included bumps on the skull (phrenology), the size and shape of the skull (craniology), and today, genes.

Others pointed to the strong differences in people’s backgrounds, experiences, training, or ways of learning. It may surprise you to know that a big champion of this view was Alfred Binet, the inventor of the IQ test. Binet, a Frenchman working in Paris in the early C20th, designed this test to identify children who were not profiting from the Paris public schools, so that new educational programs could be designed to get them back on track.

It wasn’t originally an intelligence test. Without denying individual differences in children’s intellects, he believed that education and practice could bring about fundamental changes in intelligence.

Who’s right? Today most experts agree that it’s not either/or. It’s not nature or nurture, genes or environment. From conception on, there’s a constant give and take between the two. In fact, as Gilbert Gottlieb, an eminent neuroscientist put it, not only do genes and environment cooperate as we develop, but genes require input from the environment to work properly.

Of course, each person has a unique genetic endowment. People may start with different temperaments and different aptitudes, but it is clear that experience, training and personal effort take them the rest of the way. I believe that a person’s true potential is unknown (and unknowable), that it’s impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil and training. Did you know that Darwin and Tolstoy were considered ordinary children?

You can see how the mind-set and belief that cherished qualities can be developed creates a passion for learning and slef-improvement. Why waste time proving over and over how great you are, when you could be getting better? Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them? And why seek out the tried and true, instead of experiences that will stretch you? The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mind-set. This is the mind-set that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.

So we have a ‘winning intelligence’ model to work into a ‘growth mind-set’ as an approach to understand winners such as Xavi and Wiggins. I recall watching Wiggins as he crossed the Tour finish line and before punching the air with joy and pride, Wiggins punched a button on his bike computer to log the ride data. He had a performance mind-set for sure.

Wiggins is also relentless, adopting Dave Brailsford’s concept of ‘marginal gains’, pursuing the tiniest gains in everything – the bikes, fitness, training regimes, clothing, nutrition, strategy. Similarly Xavi is renowned for his dedication to training, instilling learning into new habits, often being the last in the gym, out on the running track and on the practice pitch.

So whilst much of the research, philosophy and approach to determining how ‘winning’ is achieved comes from studying world class athletes, you can distil this thinking into application for a business context, to take your individual performance up a gear, by simply asking yourself three questions

  • Have you defined what the next level of success looks like?
  • Have you identified what the incremental, marginal gains will be in order for you to get to the next level?
  • How often do you examine what’s working and not working? Too often we focus on what is being done as opposed to how it’s being done.

Winners embrace hard work, they love the discipline of it. Losers on the other hand, see it as punishment and not worth the effort. Losers live in the past, they have not yet learned how to win. Winners learn from the past and enjoy working in the present towards the future. That, simply, is the difference.

The F-word: how Big Me will bounce back

Failure. We’re hypocrites about it. You find scores of pleasant aphorisms celebrating the inevitability of failure of underdogs and entrepreneurs, their determination to come fighting back and the importance of learning from it, but in real life failure is painful.

I had enough of the F-word last week, it wasn’t a good week. Burnley got relegated from the Premiership, the outcome of the General Election left me utterly depressed and I failed my grade five saxophone exam by two marks after I fluffed the sight reading piece. Suffice to say I played Joy Division and Radiohead tracks back to back on Sunday to lighten my mood.

So, I need to confront the F-word taboo this week and build some agile thinking into my routine. Failure is inevitable sometimes and often out of our control, but we can choose to understand it, to learn from it, and to recover from it. No one likes to fail, and while we all know the importance of learning from mistakes, individuals, teams and organisations can struggle to bounce back. How can we see the experience as an opportunity for growth instead of the kiss of death or shattering our dreams?

In his 1950 film Rashomon, the Japanese director Akira Kurosawa depicts the story of a rape and murder four times, from the perspectives of four characters. The message is clear- different people can see the same events in dramatically different ways – and this phenomenon is particularly evident when it comes to failure.

An outcome that an employee regards as satisfactory may be seen by her manager as entirely unacceptable. When a project is an unequivocal flop, colleagues disagree over the reasons why. These reactions, and their effect on workplace relationships, often become more problematic than the original event. As a result, how people respond to failure is of great importance. It’s often harder to lead a team past a failure than it is to help one person. Some people may be very resilient and others might feel more bruised.

Not all failures are created equal, so an understanding of failure’s causes and contexts will help to avoid the blame game and institute an effective strategy for learning from failure. Although an infinite number of things can go wrong in organisations, mistakes fall into three broad categories: preventable, complexity-related, and intelligent:

Preventable failures in predictable operations Most failures in this category can indeed be considered ‘bad’, they usually involve deviations from a defined process or routine operation. With proper training and support, employees can follow those processes consistently. When they don’t, deviance, inattention, or lack of ability is usually the reason.

Unavoidable failures in complex systems A large number of failures are due to the inherent uncertainty of work in that a particular combination of issues may have never occurred before. Triaging patients in a hospital emergency room, responding to enemy actions on the battlefield, or running a fast-growing tech start-up all occur in unpredictable situations where system failure is a perpetual risk.

Intelligent failures at the frontier Failures in this category can be considered ‘good’ because they provide valuable new knowledge that can help an organisation leap ahead and ensure its future growth – which is why they are sometimes called ‘intelligent’ failures. They occur when experimentation is necessary, so discovering new drugs, designing an innovative product, and testing customer reactions in a brand-new market are tasks that require intelligent failures – in essence it’s about discovery and ‘trial and error’.

At the frontier, the right kind of experimentation produces good failures quickly and you can avoid the unintelligent failure of conducting experiments at a larger scale than necessary. Tolerating unavoidable process failures in complex systems and intelligent failures at the frontiers of knowledge won’t promote mediocrity. Indeed, tolerance of these failures is essential for any organisation that wishes to extract the knowledge such failures provide.

But putting the type of failure to one side, as a leader of an organisation, how do you face up to your team at the point of failure? How do you dust yourself and your team down, and go again? Here are some thoughts.

First, take control of your own emotions Research shows that a leader’s feelings are far more contagious than a team member’s so do whatever you need to move on from the disappointment yourself so that you’re ready to help your team deal with their crisis recovery. You need to be genuinely in control of your feelings or your team will see through you. Mental toughness is a key leadership quality at a time of failure

Give them space At the same time, you shouldn’t become a ‘beacon of positivity’ before the team is ready. It’s okay to let everyone wallow in negative feelings for a little while before saying ‘Let’s move on’. When you acknowledge the disappointment – with comments like ‘This is tough for us all’ – you’re not just stroking people’s emotions you’re facilitating a critical appraisal of the situation.

Be clear about what went wrong Don’t cover up what happened or resort to simple dismissive comments that abdicate responsibility. Avoid phrases like ‘let’s look on the bright side’, instead, be clear – ‘We didn’t get the result we wanted because they were more talented than us’. When you focus on the facts, you can call it like it is without being demotivating.

Don’t point fingers It’s more important to focus on what’s to blame, rather than who is to blame. If the fault really does lie with one person or a few people, then talk to those individuals in private and focus on their actions, not character, something like: ‘Here’s the mistake you made. It doesn’t mean you’re not in the team, but we need to understand why so it doesn’t happen again and we can move on’. You can also address the group but be sure to do it in a way that doesn’t single anyone out.

Shift the mood At some point it’s also important to move on from analysing the failure to talking about what comes next. The mutual commiserating and examination of what went wrong is useful only up to a point, then pushing the team to look forward and be more strategic, open-minded thinking and discussing how you will avoid similar mistakes in the future. Ensure the tone is positive and energised.

The wisdom of learning from failure is incontrovertible, yet organisations that do it well are extraordinarily rare. This is not due to a lack of commitment to learning, but the lack of a learning culture that counteracts the blame game and makes people feel both comfortable with, and responsible for, facing up to and learning from failures.

Paradoxically, people feel psychologically safer when leaders are clear about what acts are blameworthy – and there must be consequences – but if someone is punished or fired, tell those directly and indirectly affected what happened and why it warranted blame.

Optimism is key, as Friedrich Nietzsche said, That which does not kill us makes us stronger, after all, isn’t it the lack of fear of failure, a willingness to stumble during a quest, that gives the motivation to spur us onto success against all odds in the first place? Don’t let failure remove your spark, but having said that, embracing failure to encourage entrepreneurship is misguided.

Failure should not be celebrated, yet there is a macho cult of failure at times surrounding entrepreneurship. Accepting that failure is a natural part of doing business, and developing the right perspective on its value, will help fix the fear of failure. But having said that, having done the post-mortem on the analysis of failure, how do you then bounce back from failure and turn it into a success? Here are some thoughts about ‘bounce-back-ability’:

Define success on your own terms Failure is a subjective term, so why pin your sense of self-worth to something that hasn’t happened as you wanted it to? Success is how high you bounce back having hit the bottom. You should not be okay with average. As Michelangelo says, our biggest tragedy is that we set low goals and achieve them.

Find the value in failure I could give you all types of statistics for entrepreneurs that eventually succeeded after abundant failures, and it’s not only about monetary success, but about personal success, bouncing back and continuing to move forward on the path that makes you happy.

Act on what you’ve learned Anything can be useful if we learn from it and then do something with that knowledge. We know that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Alas there is no magical formula for telling us what to keep doing and what to do differently. We have to gauge for ourselves what’s working and where we could improve and then we have to keep going, knowing full well there are no guarantees.

Focus on the process, not the results Just because you didn’t reach a specific outcome, that doesn’t mean you can’t still do what you’d like to do. It’s not over just because you didn’t hit one specific outcome. If you keep going, you will inevitably identify new possibilities – adopting a process-oriented approach means it is easier to be mindful and focus on the action steps.

Stay Positive Keep your self-belief and keep your eyes open, you will inevitably see opportunities when the mist clears. It’s the difference between walking with your head held high reaching for the sky and walking with your gaze on your feet and seeing only puddles.

Find opportunities in adversity I forget where I recently read this story, but a young boy was looking to get a job. Everywhere he went, he heard they weren’t hiring, so he decided to set a new goal: for each company he visited, he would either get a job or sell them a “Not hiring” sign which he would make.

Failure is an opportunity to try again through revised eyes, but it should never stop you trying because you’re afraid to do so – reflect, learn, go again. Failure is a signpost alerting you to the fact that you need to change course, or you’re not ready yet. Failure is not thinking you’ve failed, rather that you need to go better next time.

We all want to feel free to try, stumble, fall, get back up, try again, and learn as we go. What we need is also the same – to realise success isn’t about getting where you want to be, rather it’s about accepting and appreciating where you are at each point.

Whilst we want to be positive and optimistic, there are times when life doesn’t go according to plan and we get disappointed – last week showed me that. The challenge is to ensure that the impacts of our disappointments are minimal and to bounce back as quickly as possible whilst still acknowledging the let-down and not living in denial.

I read an interesting blog by James Clear (http://jamesclear.com/), which inspired me. It talks about the two identities we all have – Big Me and Little Me. Big Me is the version of you that comes out when you’re at your best, the identity you display when you live up to your potential, and achieve your goals. Big Me is who you are when you’re fully engaged in life rather than partially engaged. Big Me is you on top of your game.

On the other hand, Little Me is the version of yourself that shows up when you’re inconsistent, when you lack focus, and when you fall short of your potential. Little Me is that side of you that makes excuses and hesitates when faced with uncertainty or discomfort, and sulks in the pool of failure.

Here’s the thing about Big Me and Little Me – they are not different people, they are two versions of the same person and these two versions of yourself compete to show up on any given day. So what makes the difference?

We all have good days every now and then, days when we feel motivated, productive, powerful, and healthy. But having a good day every day is really hard. What makes the difference between the days when you show up as the Big Me version of yourself versus the Little Me version of yourself? It’s all about choosing your attitude, do you kick-start or sit-back?

For me, keep pushing yourself forward and maintain your enthusiasm for life is the answer – to quote Winston Churchill, Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm. For me, maximum effort is the minimum requirement, I simply keep going, being relentless, being limitless, but not simply doing the same thing as last time. Failure is an experiment that had an outcome, just one you didn’t want.

The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. Rousing words from President Abraham Lincoln, taken from his 1862 annual address to Congress. I’ve written it on a post-it-note and pinned it to my study wall. Just like Burnley and the Labour Party, I’ll bounce back, with agile thinking, clumsy fingers and the need for more practice won’t stop Big Me passing that saxophone exam again.

16.2% of the year is gone, what have you done?

At the outset of each new year, collective humanity sets out to better itself, resolving to eradicate our unhealthy habits and cultivate healthy ones. But while the most typical New Year’s resolutions tend to be about bodily health, for me the most meaningful ones aim at a deeper kind of health through the refinement of my mental and emotional habits.

It’s an intriguing thought first thing on the first Monday morning in March that the new year is not so new any more, we’ve done 16.2% of the year, and by the end of the month we’ll have swallowed 25% of the year.

My working life has a drumbeat which has order and chaos intertwined, and whilst I have a determined focus, it’s hard to set priorities consistently as through opportunity, spontaneity and serendipity good stuff generally happens to me which means it’s hard not to get distracted by the constant flow of stuff and pulls on my time.

I try to follow the Eisenhower Box (http://jamesclear.com/eisenhower-box) of determining the urgent but not important and securing a sustainable and scalable level of productivity, drizzled with some nice to haves, but before you know it another week will have passed by. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not sleepwalking into a random future feature set, I do have a plan based around a set of macro assumptions – it’s not all improvisation like a stand up comedian – it’s a plan based on an ideal future state and the steps required to make it happen, it’s just that sometimes stuff comes at me which can either boost or batter me.

I also read an interesting blog by James Clear (http://jamesclear.com/), which talks about the two identities we all have – Big Me and Little Me.

Big Me is the version of yourself that comes out when you’re at your best, the identity you display when you fulfill your potential, live up to your values, and achieve your goals. Big Me is who you are when you’re fully engaged in life rather than partially engaged. Big Me is you on top of your game.

On the other hand, Little Me is the version of yourself that shows up when you’re inconsistent, when you lack focus, and when you fall short of your potential. Little Me is that side of you that makes excuses and hesitates when faced with uncertainty or discomfort.

Here’s the thing about Big Me and Little Me – they are not different people, they are two versions of the same person and these two versions of yourself compete to show up on any given day. So what makes the difference?

We all have good days every now and then, days when we feel motivated, productive, powerful, and healthy. But having a good day every day is really hard. What makes the difference between the days when you show up as the Big Me version of yourself versus the Little Me version of yourself? In my experience, your habits make the difference. The top performers in nearly any field of life have developed systems and routines that help them make better decisions each day.

So that’s what I took into 2015, clear the clutter and a desire to perform near the top of my game on a more consistent basis, be a Big Me, then I have to understand how to build habits that stick. From this I identified the five barriers I needed to overcome that were holding me back:

  • Lack of time due to too many commitments
  • Inconsistency with taking action
  • Procrastination – almost laziness at the extreme
  • Self-doubt and lack of confidence
  • Lack of clarity and focus

So, at the end of February we are 16.2% through the year, how are my resolutions, plans and strategies made with good intent and purpose, shaping up? How many will involve a ‘note to self’?

My four primary personal targets for 2015 were as follows:

  • Stop procrastinating, saving work for tomorrow, and waiting to be inspired to work. I like to save stuff up until I absolutely have to do it to meet a deadline, and work most effectively by putting myself under pressure. This technique is a high-risk strategy, but hasn’t let me down since I went to university in 1981. Yet.
  • At the same time, stop working at an unsustainable pace and to do things better, you have to stop doing so much. Stop mistaking confidence for competence. Stop getting defensive (not that we’re accusing you) and if you can’t stop doing any of these things… stop believing you have to be perfectly perfect every time.
  • Stop being so positive – research shows it’s not all that helpful for achieving your goals, and stop overdoing your strengths (lest they become weaknesses). Speaking of things that don’t work, stop searching for a silver bullet to your strategy dilemmas for clients.
  • Stop sitting so much. Seriously.

So, note to self. I have just re-read my 2014 diary and am much struck by the rapid haphazard gallop at which it swings along, sometimes indeed jerking almost intolerably over the cobbles. Still it was a good year, and if I stopped and took thought, and planned it more, I’d lose some of the spontaneity and new stuff that it swept up accidentally, several stray new opportunities and relationships which I should exclude if I hesitated, but which are the nuggets of the heap.

I was going to have a resolution ‘Stop Thinking So Much’, but there is a paradox here, what are we ‘doing’ when we do nothing but think? Where are we when we, normally always surrounded by our fellow-men, are together with no one but ourselves?

Occasionally I give myself a good talking to, but as I’ve got older I’m simply becoming more curious about everything and wander off down every garden path to find stuff out. My latest interest is bee keeping. Don’t know why, but just got loads of questions about it.

Consider the crucial necessity of never ceasing to pursue questions, those often unanswerable questions, of stuff we don’t know. Behind all the cognitive questions for which men find answers, there lurk the unanswerable ones that seem entirely idle and have always been denounced as such. Whilst I live in the moment, for the moment, 2015 will be a year where I just want to do more reading and thinking.

On how one orients himself to the moment, Henry Miller wrote, depends the failure or fruitfulness of it. Indeed, this act of orienting ourselves to the moment, to our own selves often leaves us fumbling, frustrated, discombobulated. And yet therein lies our greatest capacity for growth and self-development. I think something of this in me lies in my capacity to get lost in public libraries as a child. Oh, and supermarkets, beaches and football grounds.

I once read a quote from the pre-Socratic philosopher Meno. It read, How will you go about finding that thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you? I copied it down, and it has stayed with me since. The question struck me as the basic tactical question in life. To calculate on the unforeseen is perhaps exactly the paradoxical operation that life most requires of us.

So, this year for me was all about being more focused and reducing ‘the art of straying’ – not finding my way and losing myself. That thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you is usually what you need to find, and finding it is a matter of getting lost.

But before I run out of time, show my inconsistency, start to procrastinate, share too many of my self-doubts and lose focus…here are my reflections on 2015 so far.

Stop sitting, walk and be more present

No one has made a more compelling case for the bodily and spiritual value of walking than Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau reminds us of how this primal act of mobility connects us with our essential wildness, that spring of spiritual vitality methodically dried up by our sedentary civilisation – note I make a special point of differentiating the art of sauntering from the mere act of walking. Walk in silence, an expedition or tour, either way just get out of the building more, and I have.

Driven by urgent, dangerous and apparently irresistible drives, from hysterical acquisition of ‘stuff’ through to lust (‘perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame/savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust’), and being a bit sorry about that, then I do feel more present.

Make my life wider rather than longer

It’s knowing perfectly well that from the moment we are born, we are dying and yet, as the time clock ticks louder and louder and amiably lollops towards lights out time, being greatly surprised and personally offended by this every day as there’s just so much I want to do. In reality, it’s the most humdrum and unremarkable intrusion of all in my head, and I’ve not quite promised my children ‘I won’t be a burden’ – and then being a burden, and being a bit – but only a bit – sorry about that – but the clock is ticking so this year I’m going to pedal just a little bit slower.

Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realise that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is, we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it. Life is wider if you know how to use it.

Being genuinely happy and getting pleasure from work

I’ve taken a very long time to understand the difference between happiness and pleasure in my work, but getting there eventually. And being happy about that. I’ve resolved to work with a smaller, fixed number of clients this year, those who I respect, I can add value, be more intimate (doesn’t mean we are going to go on holiday together) and most of all, where I get pleasure from working with them. I do need the civilising influence of my wife to avoid the dark primordial spiral of gluttony and shabby indolence in my personal life, and I’ve used her as my mentor to declutter my work life and identified my ‘ideal’ client.

I’m trying harder to focus on doing stuff that earns me a living, fulfilment and learnings opposed to doing stuff that is simply interesting to me. It’s abdication and mental slothness, refusal and sprawl. I start off brimming with urgency about the day ahead, then hit social media and the internet after breakfast, shuddering slightly and staying in that nice, warm zone of ‘this is interesting stuff’. ‘Today’s laurels are tomorrow’s compost’ is now my motto.

So this is Permanance

I’m learning, just in time, to manage my addictions – no, it’s not to prefer toblerone over cocaine and the scent of home baked bread to the smell of marijuana, rather to reduce my Benedictine intake in lieu of more water, not to be personally responsible for 1% of the UK’s annual cheese consumption, and to stop the festering addiction to technology, devices and Apps. Fortunately our rural broadband fails at times due to the vagaries of wet/cold/windy weather and sheep breaking into and eating the BT broadband network kit in their shiny hub box on the lane, but I could just switch stuff off too.

I’m learning to substitute the pleasures of being older for the lost pleasures of youth. Three hours standing at a James concert provides a mix of euphoria and exhaustion viz sitting outside a café with a pot of fresh peppermint tea and a copy of a decent newspaper, staring vacantly into the middle distance. Anger is an energy, but drinking more tea is actually quite relaxing and a mellowing ahead of grey hair beckons.

Unknown Pleasures

Your own frailty never occurs to you, you don’t notice how much time has already passed, but squander it as though you had a full and overflowing supply. You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire. How late it is to begin really to live just when life must end! How stupid to forget our mortality, and put off sensible plans to our 50+ year, aiming to begin life from a point at which I have arrived, mentally and physically, somewhat unexpectedly.

It’s a bit like Sam Tyler in Life on Mars, only in reverse. It’s having too few regrets to mention, but boring on incessantly about them anyway. It’s insisting that one has lived one’s life ‘My Way’ while having in fact behaved exactly like everybody else – bipedal, vainglorious, self-deluded and yet, luckily, just lovable enough.

Egyptian pharaohs, Chinese emperors and European royalty have all consulted with fools, or court jesters, when faced with tough problems. The persona of the fool allowed the truth to be told, without the usual ramifications that might come with speaking blasphemy or challenging conventions. Give yourself permission to be a fool and see things for what they are has helped with all of this analysis.

So, 16.2% into the year, I’m a work-in-progress to wards a Big Me for 2015. We know what we are, but not what we may be. Life is divided into three terms – that which was, which is, and which will be. I aim to learn from the past to profit by the present, and from the present, to live better in the future.

The future belongs to those who prepare for it today. The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time. Make it matter where it counts, the most, inside. Be a Big Me.

Thinking about time – past, present & future

In the dining room of my maternal grandfather’s house stood a massive grandfather clock. It was old, dark wood and dark brass, a sombre and serious piece of furniture with dents here and there. Meals in that Burnley dining room were a time for three generations of our family to become one. The clock stood like a talisman and guardian over the laughter and stories that were a part of our lives.

The longcase clock, or grandfather clock, fascinated me with the constant pendulum movement and sounds from inside the tower of the case. The English clockmaker William Clement is credited with the development of this form in 1670. Until the early C20th century pendulum clocks were the world’s most accurate timekeeping technology.

The term ‘grandfather clock’ stems from a song written in 1875 by Henry Work, and the renaming from ‘longcase clocks’ caught on. The song was based on a particular clock found at The George Hotel, Piercebridge, Durham – where it still stands today. It was known to be an exceptional clock, it kept accurate time and belonged to the hotel owners, a pair of bachelors, the Jenkins brothers.

One of the brothers died and the clock curiously began losing time. Attempts to repair the clock failed, and the story culminates when at the remaining brother’s death, the clock ceased running altogether. Henry Work was a guest at the hotel at time. He was an abolitionist who helped thousands of slaves flee to freedom in the north, and imprisoned in 1841 and released in 1845, penniless. He began writing songs to earn a living on his release, including ‘My Grandfather’s Clock.’

But back to Burnley. As a child it fascinated me. I watched and listened to it during meals. I marvelled at how at different times of the day, that clock would chime with a wonderful resonant sound that echoed throughout the still house. The Westminster Quarter chimes, and the option of the Whittington chimes, always fascinated me. The clock chimed, the time line of my childhood.

Even more wonderful was my grandfather’s ritual as he meticulously wound the clock each day at 9am after breakfast, checking the time with BBC radio. He took the key from the mantelpiece and opened the hidden door in the side of the clock, inserted the key and wound – not too much, never over wind, he’d tell me solemnly – nor too little. He never let that clock wind down and stop.

When I was eight, he let me open the door and take a turn of the winding key. I remember the first time. To be part of this family ritual. Knowing how clumsy and ham-fisted I am today, I am surprised I didn’t do irreparable damage immediately!

After my grandfather died, it was several days after the funeral before I remembered the clock. The clock! We’d let it wind down, it stood forlornly quiet. The clock even seemed smaller, not quite as magnificent without my grandfather’s special touch. I couldn’t bear to look at it. The silence wasn’t a good sound.

A month or so later, my grandmother gave me the key. The old house was quiet. No ticking or chiming of the clock, all was still. The hands on the clock were frozen, a reminder of time slipping away, stopped at 10.20am. I took the key and opened the clock door. All of a sudden, I was a child again, watching my grandfather.

He was there, with me, and the key that held so much power. I stood, lost in the moment. Slowly, I inserted the key. But I didn’t wind the clock. I couldn’t do it. I imagined the clock working again, the slow deep sound, the tick-tock, tick-tock. Life and chimes breathed into the dining room, into the house, in the movement of the hands. But I didn’t wind the clock, we agreed to let it rest.

We never did rewind the clock, we left it silent. Life resumed, with a life remembered, but it remained silent and still. When my grandmother died a year later, the house had to be emptied, and we moved the bulky clock to my house. We had it restored and refreshed, it now stands looking large over me in the hallway. But I’ve never wound it up. It’s been stopped since it ran down the last time my Grandfather wound it.

The silent Grandfather clock stands as a sign that the passing of time is not simply an illusion, it’s actually happening, so we really have to make the best use of it we can and get out there and make things happen. Time is the currency of your life, you only get once chance, and only you can determine how it will be spent – be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.

Each of us has exactly the same number of hours and minutes every day, and no matter how much time you’ve wasted in the past, you still have an entire tomorrow. Time is of the essence is a saying known to us all, telling us that it is never too late to be what you might have been. As French poet Paul Valery said Until you value yourself, you won’t value your time. Until you value your time, you will not do anything with it.

Most productivity strategies focus on short-term efficiency, essentially how to manage your to-do list effectively, how to get more done each morning, how to shorten your weekly meetings, and so on. These are all reasonable ideas, yet we often fail to realise that there are certain strategic choices that impact our time on a larger scale. These choices can be categorised as Time Assets or Time Debts, a concept I read recently in a blog post from James Clear. http://jamesclear.com/time-assets

Time Assets are actions or choices you make today that will save you time in the future. Software is a classic example of a time asset. You can write a program one time today and it will run processes for you over and over again every day afterward. You pay an upfront investment of time and get a payoff each day afterward.

Time Debts are actions or choices you make today that will cost you additional time in the future. Email is a time debt that we all participate in each day. If you send an email now, you are committing to reading the reply or responding with an additional message later. Every email you send creates a small debt that you have to pay back at a later time.

This is not to say that all time debts are bad, or that all time assets are good, however, when you make these commitments you are also creating a time debt that you will have to pay at some point. Sometimes the debts we commit to are worth sacrificing for, many times they are not, and likewise what was a time asset at a particular moment turns out to have little realisable future value.

Each time asset that you create is a system that goes to work for you day in and day out. If your schedule is filled with time debts, then it doesn’t matter how hard you work, your choices will constantly put in a productivity hole. However, if you strategically build time assets day after day, then you multiply your time exponentially. Simply, time debts need to be paid, be careful how you choose them. Time assets pay you over and over again, spend more time creating them.

A similar theme runs through the Tim Ferris book The 4-hour week, a copy of which sits on my desk, reminding me of several things about my time assets and time debts. Like most people who have chosen to work for themselves, I try to build balance of ‘doing and building’ a pipeline of opportunities for today and the future. However, to be blunt, most days are chaotic with more good stuff than bad, and it’s my ambition and curiosity that frequently override common sense – I’m the time bandit who inflicts pressure into my day.

I’m good at planning, estimating, scheduling and meeting, if not exceeding my clients’ expectations and deadlines. The trick is to ensure I give myself enough thinking time, and I can then execute brilliantly in less time than most other people, with a level of insight, innovation and quality. If I don’t put the thinking time I disappoint myself – I can still meet client expectations, but I don’t ‘wow’ them with something standout – and that is my ambition, going the extra mile as standard.

But like the Grandfather clock, my time is running out! I know that is cruel to say, but it’s true and we need to realise that our time is limited, so we need to make the very best of it. I’m always looking for new productivity hacks – small steps I can take to work smarter, faster and better. So, what’s worked for me? I work on the basis that each day will bring a fresh set of ‘time-suck problems’ of unexpected distractions, so here’s how I work with four techniques that I use all the time.

Distinguish between urgent and important Steven Covey’s Time Management matrix is a really useful tool for this, here’s the link: http://www.forbes.com/sites/kenkrogue/2013/01/01/level-5-time-management-beyond-stephen-r-covey-and-ben-franklin/3/ This enables me to plan between stuff that is important/not important, and urgent/not urgent. Everything I need to do is in the plan, it just has a rank according to priorities. It’s also worth checking in on the definition of important and urgent, there is an important difference.

Honour the two-minute rule This one comes from David Allen’s ‘Getting Things Done’ methodology, http://gettingthingsdone.com/ In short, if you’ve got something to do that takes less than two minutes, do it right now, with his ‘GTD’ approach:

– Capture: collect what has your attention

– Clarify: process what it means

– Organise: put it where it belongs

– Reflect: review frequently

– Engage: simply do

When in doubt, resort to the Pomodoro TechniquePomodoro is a method for breaking large tasks into small chunks developed by Francesco Cirillo. Set a timer for twenty-five minutes and work nonstop without doing anything else. Then take five minutes to do whatever you want. Then do another 25-5 cycle. Shower, rinse, repeat. Frequent breaks improve mental agility.

Mark your progress Professor Teresa Amabile’s Harvard research has shown that the single largest day-to-day motivator is making progress in meaningful work (http://progressprinciple.com/). Sometimes it’s tough to see the progress we’re making, so checking in and reflecting on your headway at least twice a day is a good self-motivation technique.

Besides these techniques, I also apply some of my own thinking to sorting myself out, and don’t get me wrong, sometimes it’s very much a ‘note to self’ check-in to ensure good habits are preserved

  • Don’t waste your most productive hours A growing stack of research shows that each day we reach our peak productivity a few hours after waking – my natural rhythm of wakefulness and concentration kicks in at 7am. I don’t lose this window of time to checking email or playing around on social media, I use it to do my most important work.
  • Plan for interruptions I only fill my day 80%, that way I can get ahead if the day goes well and do +20% more, or adapt and absorb unexpected stuff as it happens, and still maintain a rhythm and output for the day. In reality, my ‘Plan B’ is also my ‘Plan A’ with built-in contingencies. This gives me the feeling and reality of keeping focus and momentum.
  • Create available and unavailable time Only I can protect my own time, so having set priorities I stick to this with a ‘do not disturb’ attitude. There is no reason you should be at the mercy of everyone else. Some things are not moveable, so set boundaries, have a process and respect yourself, whilst knowing the things you have influence over.
  • Visualise my day Before making a decision or choosing a course of action, start with the ending in mind. Our days often take unexpected turns. Since there is no definition of working hours,” it can easily feel as if we compress a year’s worth of experiences into just one day.
  • Add learning opportunities into your normal routine I always try to find time for research and learning each day. Rather than scheduling this activity separately, I work it into my normal routine, fitting in and around client commitments and deadlines. This keeps me fresh and thinking about new ideas to incorporate into potential future client projects, but also keeps me refreshed each day.

How did it get late so soon, it’s night before it’s afternoon, December is here before it’s June, my goodness how the time has flewn – how did it get lat so soon?  Ok, it’s a quote from the fictional Dr, Seuss, but it reflects the reality that time management is an oxymoron. Time is beyond our control, the clock keeps ticking, the hours are going by. The past increases, the future recedes. Possibilities decreasing, regrets mounting if we don’t do the things we want to do, regardless of how we lead our lives.

As Einstein said, the only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once, so make sure you wind up your personal clock everyday, and make the best use of your time, whatever you’re doing.

Anger is an energy

Anger has been in the headlines a lot recently.

In rugby league we had Wigan Warriors prop Ben Flowers sent off after just two minutes of last Saturday’s Grand Final for a brutal punch on St Helens stand-off Lance Hohaia. In politics we’ve had the usual pantomime characters exploding verbally over election results on our screens, and then there were people angry with Apple for putting the new U2 album into their iTunes library. And then we’ve had John Lydon on his book tour, Anger is an Energy.

Music has always had its angry young men – from John Lennon, to Paul Weller, Joe Strummer and John Lydon – venting their social and political ideology through the power of music. Lydon, formerly known as Johnny Rotten, has been angry and sticking two fingers up to the world since 1975 when the Sex Pistols formed. He hasn’t softened with age. It’s hard to imagine how powerful a counter-cultural force Lydon and the Pistols were in the 70s, but they were perceived enough of a threat to the Establishment for them to be discussed in Parliament under the Traitors and Treason Act. Via his music and invective, Lydon has spearheaded a generation of young people to show their attitude.

With his current band, Public Image Ltd, Lydon expresses an equally urgent impulse in his make-up – the constant need to reinvent himself, to keep moving. From their beginnings in 1978 he set the ground-breaking template for a band that continues to challenge and thrive today.

He’s also found time for making innovative records with the likes of Afrika Baambaata and Leftfield. Following the release of a solo record in 1997, John took a sabbatical from his music into other media, most memorably his own Rotten TV show for VH1 and as the most outrageous contestant ever on I’m a Celebrity …Get Me Out of Here! He then fronted the Megabugs series and one-off nature documentaries and even turned his hand to a series of TV advertisements for Country Life butter.

The melancholic howl of This Is Not a Love Song, Rise and Death Disco, Public Image’s new wave tunes sound as vital as they ever did. Anger is an Energy is Lydon’s autobiography, a line from Rise, and his prose is as spikey and angry as his music, packed with defiant energy and an unwillingness to be a passive spectator to his own life. ‘To stay relevant, sometimes you need to stay angry’ seems to be his driving force.

The charismatic Lydon has been angry, wailing and ranting for years, and has remained a compelling and dynamic figure both as a musician, and, thanks to his outspoken, controversial, yet always heartfelt and honest statements, as a cultural commentator. The book is a look back on a life full of incident, from his beginnings as a poorly child of immigrant Irish parents with meningitis at seven, which took him four years to recover his lost memory, to his present status as a vibrant, alternative individual.

John’s biography is a brilliant insight into the creation of ideas. Right from the start he needed to fight his corner and he’s never stopped, and he’s never made it easy on himself, his inner anger and restlessness being raw and uncomfortable at times, and all the better reading for it. I’d recommended for anyone interested in music and ideas. Well, all I can say is. . . thanks John! This is an absolute belter of a read.

As part of his book tour, John was on Radio 5 Live with Simon Mayo, and I was entertained by his warmth, humanity, honesty and clarity of thought. Download the podcast and listen for yourself:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p028dbfd

Bu what makes you angry? People shoving their way onto a train before you have stepped off it irritates me, or going to the fridge and finding all the crème caramel has gone just gets me every time… After a week of by-elections, most politicians are on my list too! These are just some of the things which make me angry. What about you?

There are a mountain of reasons why we lose our temper, research shows that the average person gets angry about four times a day. Anger can be expressed assertively, aggressively or in a passive-aggressive way. It rises within us when our need to be valued, respected and appreciated is threatened. The anger we feel reflects the times we live in, with ‘Twitter Trolls’ emerging in recent years, whilst in our house we have ‘bad internet connection rage’ as a new social phenomenon in the under 24s.

Strong passions, in ancient and medieval thought, were considered diseases of the soul. For the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, all virtue was about finding a mean between two extremes, and this was as true of the passion of anger as anything else. The Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, pointed out that the consequences of anger when acted on are almost always worse than whatever supposed wrong gave rise to it.

Anger is a powerful emotion, an energy that drives us to act. Every emotion we feel provokes physiological reactions that prepare us for a certain type of action. Fear makes us ready to flee, depression helps us save our energy, joy prepares us to welcome someone. Of all these emotions, anger is probably the most striking, and can create a decisive call to action.

Think about successful entrepreneurs, they’re passionate, but also logical and rational. In the face of opportunity, crisis or danger they remain steely-eyed focused. They don’t get angry – or at the very least they don’t show their anger. Or do they?

According to research conducted by Henry Evans and Colm Foster, emotional intelligence experts and authors of Step Up: Lead in Six Moments That Matter the highest performing people and highest performing teams tap into and express their entire spectrum of emotions, including anger, as an energy and driver of top performance. So Lydon was right!

Evans and Foster say anger is actually useful when harnessed and controlled because it fosters useful behavioural capabilities:

Anger creates focus Get mad and you tend to focus on one thing – the source of your anger. You don’t get distracted. You’re not tempted to multitask. All you can see is what’s in front of you. That degree of focus can be extremely powerful.

Anger generates confidence Get mad and the automatic rush of adrenaline heightens your senses and reduces your inhibitions. Anger, in small doses, can be the spark that gets you started.

Get mad about an action, not a person Say an employee makes a mistake. Venting by saying, ‘How could you be so stupid?’ may make you feel better – for about 10 seconds – but it certainly won’t help. Saying, ‘I’m really struggling to understand why you did that. Can we talk about it?’ Directing your frustration at the action and not the employee helps reduce feelings of defensiveness while still allowing you to express your frustration – which will help you both focus on solving the problem.

Use anger to overcome anxiety or fear When we’re nervous or scared we often later regret what we didn’t say. When you do, the rush of adrenaline will fuel anger and will help move you out of the fear zone and into a mind set where you’re excited and passionate and motivated – but not unreasonable or irrational.

So, stop trying to hide negative emotions, besides, the chances you can successfully hide how you’re feeling are slim. You may be angry and think you’re hiding it, but you’re not, everyone around you knows. So don’t pretend. Express the way you feel, but in a controlled and harnessed way. Be upset, but be intelligent while you’re upset, that way you sustain your professional relationships as you work through challenges, that way you can be your authentic self in a higher state of being.

Anger, manifesting itself as frustration, is prevalent in many start-ups. It may not always be obvious, but the combination of passion, desire, and expectation creates an environment ripe for frenzy. Most start-up schedules look like a mangled mess of meetings. Trying to maximise every minute of the day, they only leave a few minutes between each discussion to take a breath.

In this situation, when frustration boils over and anger strikes, it comes quickly. There isn’t time to anticipate the feeling, it just happens. Whether it’s a missed opportunity, a change in circumstances, or an unforeseen action by someone else, your mood quickly changes. Most entrepreneurs try to continue on with their busy schedule; they try to ignore it. They put on their best face for the remainder of the day, but the emotion continues to stir under the surface – and no matter how hard you try to find the silver lining, there just isn’t one.

When this happens, you need to stop trying to be positive and channel your anger instead. It’s exactly how sprinter Michael Johnson qualified for the 1996 Olympics in the 200m sprint event.

At the Olympic trials, Johnson was hit with a strong headwind during his semi-final heat, taking a half second off his time – a huge marginal impact. Consequently, Johnson didn’t win his heat and his time was slower than the sprinters in the first heat, so other sprinters drew the best lanes for the final. Michael drew Lane 8. Lane 8 means nothing to us does it, but it’s the worst lane possible. No Olympic Champion or World Champion has ever come from Lane 8 in a sprint to win the race.

In Lane 8 you have no room for strategy. You run the first half without even seeing your competitors. Michael had never in his life run from a Lane 8. This isn’t even the worst part. The other sprinters jumped up and down and pumped their fists when the drawings were announced. Johnson was filled with anger. But instead of letting his anger eat him alive, Johnson used it:

I let my eyes move from one opponent to the next and, for a moment, I hated every one of them. I hated them for celebrating my misfortune, but mostly I just hated them because I was about to compete against them and they were doing everything they could to make sure I didn’t succeed. The gun went off and I launched out of the blocks in a fury. I ran away from them all and won the race with a time that stood as the best in the world for four years. That day I found a deep store of power and aggression and raw competitiveness from my anger, and I’d ridden it to victory to find a joy and a thrill richer than I’d ever imagined.

Sometimes, bad stuff happens that will make you angry, and rather than internalise it you need to channel your frustration, it’s a chance to exert your force of will when the world is counting you out, just channel it into a constructive goal. Afterwards you can let go of your anger. That’s what Johnson did, using his anger as a motivating force to provide self-insight.

Anger is a vital part of that built-in ‘fight-or-flight’ response that helps you adapt to and survive challenges, personal and business. Anger is the fight component, the part that moves you to take offensive measures to defend yourself against actual or perceived threats – you get angry and suddenly you’re infused with a sense of empowerment, a feeling of strength, confidence, and competence. You’re standing straight up to the frustrations and conflicts you’ve been avoiding. There is a fire within each and every one of us, and like Michael Johnson, use it.

If your engine is fired up, get moving and get moving now. Set a list of goals or outcomes, and do not stop until you are in a more positive place. You can sort it out. You can turn anger into motivation. Keep angry to keep the energy, Get mad, and then get over it. Remember the four points from the Evans and Foster research, and remember John Lydon – anger is an energy!

What makes a collaborative team?

Today sees the 48th anniversary of the 1966 World Cup Final, where Alf Ramsey’s England won a great match 4-2 after extra-time against West Germany. The scorers were England 4 (Hurst 18, 101, 120; Peters 78) West Germany 2 (Haller 12, Weber 90).

This is the day we’ve all been waiting for says Kenneth Wolstenholme at the start of the BBC match commentary. Saturday 30 July 1966. Match day. The lads are there in a fidgeting line in the gloom of the tunnel, behind Sir Alf, waiting to come out. Four of them are bouncing balls whilst the others are staring ahead, getting into the space.

England is in cherry red shirts, full sleeved with a simple round neck, plain, no logos or adverts. A modest football kit that today resonates with emotion. The Germans are in crisp white shirts with black trim and black shorts.

The English team comes out of the tunnel into the roaring light of pandemonium English support, rattles and klaxon horns. The weather forecast said ‘sunny periods and showers, becoming dry later’.

The Queen takes to the Royal Box in time for the national anthem, the lyrics of which promise her the moon on a stick. She’s wearing an ostentatious hat, which matches her handbag. What’s in the bag? Programme and pie, I’d imagine. Perchance some toffees. Next to her is FIFA president Stanley Rous, presumably holding Her Majesty’s Bovril.

The Royal Marine band play a few tunes, then the German anthem, like the British one before it, is met with a silent and thorough respect that speaks volumes for the Sixties football fan. No need to be opening old sores 21 years down the line; there’s hope for us all yet. Then, as the last notes fade out, a roar of anticipatory noise. Bedlam, bedlam, bedlam. What an atmosphere.

Moore and Seeler, the captains, shake hands and exchange plaques and pennants. Bobby wins the toss and elects to defend the goal England has picked for the warm up. The spare balls are kicked away, and the two teams line up to go.

The Germans looked the more dangerous in the opening minutes, Haller and Held leading menacing sorties and Seeler using his head to good advantage. Haller shoots West Germany into a 12th minute lead following Wilson’s misdirected header. He thought scoring the opening goal entitled him to keep the match ball – that was the custom in German football – but there was someone else who wanted that ball too.

England, behind for the first time in the tournament, equalised six minutes later. Hurst positioned himself perfectly to head home Moore’s quick free-kick. The German defence gave little away in the second period and only 12 minutes remained when Peters scored after Hurst’s centre had struck a defender and looped invitingly into the air. From that range Peters could hardly miss.

As England hung on for the final whistle, Jackie Charlton was adjudged, harshly, to have fouled on the edge of the box. The free-kick, blasted at the wall by Emmerich, appeared to strike Schnellinger’s hand before rolling on for Weber to shoot, almost in slow motion, past Banks’ desperate lunge. Gutted. 2-2.

Alf Ramsey’s speech at full-time  – You’ve won the World Cup once, now, go and win it againwas akin to Henry V at Agincourt. England looked fitter and fresher in extra time, continuing to play with confidence and composure. Hurst scored with a drive on the turn, which hit the underside of the bar and bounced over the line with Tilkowski, the flamboyant German keeper, well beaten.

The goal was disputed by the Germans – and still is. The Swiss referee, Gottfried Dienst, asked the nearer linesman Mr. Bakhramov from the USSR (what is now Azerbaijan), and between them they agreed that it was a goal. Of course it was.

German heads dropped as they lost their concentration, such that with the last kick of the match, Hurst completed a personal triumph by scoring with a firm left-footer, cheeks sucked in as he lashed the ball forward. Proper goal. Apparently some of the crowd were on the pitch. Geoff, now Sir Geoff, remains the only player to have notched a hat-trick in a World Cup Final, as I’m sure you know. And he got to keep the match ball. Not bad for a bloke from Ashton-under-Lyne, near Manchester.

A day to remember, even if like me, it’s from videos and news cuttings. England lined up: Banks, Cohen, Wilson, Stiles, Charlton (J), Moore, Ball, Charlton (R), Hurst, Peters, Hunt.

I’ve watched the video of this match and had daydreams. It’s come to my aid on sleepless nights. My daydream. We are ten minutes into the second half and England is 1-2 down. A worried looking Ramsey is on the touchline about to make a substitution (of course, this wasn’t in the rules in 1966).

He is going to take Hurst off, strangely off his game, and bring on this tall, inelegant, somewhat clumsy, more suited to rugby, substitute player. Alf is telling this player what to do. And he is me. I go on and generate a 4-2 victory with the greatest thirty-five minutes of centre-forward play anyone has ever seen. We can all dream.

Of course, since 1966 we’ve not had much success, highlight for me was the 2002 World Cup. Recall England manager Phil Cope suffered a heart attack during qualification and had to be replaced by Mike Bassett.  Needing to beat Slovenia in the final qualifier to make it to Brazil, we only managed a draw, but a shock win by Luxembourg over Holland meant we went through on goal difference.

In the balmy summer, I recall a difficult group stage as ever and we were on the verge of heading home after a goalless draw with unfancied Egypt before losing to Mexico. Who remembers Basset’s press conference where he mixed flaming sambucas with anti-depressants? As the gathered press baited Basset, expecting him to resign, Basset recites If by Rudyard Kipling followed by: England will be playing 4-4-fucking-2 and storms out.  Of course we lost in the semi-finals to Brazil, but we had regained our pride.

We can all dream about playing for a winning team, getting the results and enjoying the success. But what qualities do you see in that 1966 England team that you can learn from? When tackling a major initiative like an acquisition or new IT systems development, companies rely on large, diverse teams of specialists to get the job done. These teams often are convened quickly to meet an urgent need and sometimes work together virtually, collaborating online.

Appointing such a team is frequently the only way to assemble the knowledge and breadth required to pull off many of the complex tasks businesses face today. When the BBC covers the World Cup, for instance, it gathers a large team of researchers, writers, producers, cameramen, and technicians, many of whom have not met before the project. These specialists work together under the high pressure of a live environment, with just one chance to record the action.

Recent research into team behaviour reveals an interesting paradox: although teams that are large, virtual, diverse, and composed of specialists are increasingly crucial with challenging projects, those same four characteristics make it hard for teams to get anything done. To put it another way, the qualities required for success are the same qualities that undermine success.

So how can we strengthen an organisation’s ability to perform complex collaborative tasks to maximise the effectiveness of large, diverse teams, while minimising the disadvantages posed by their structure, composition and individuality? Research by Gratton & Erickson (2007), and Newton (2014) offers some insight into how to maximise collaborative team performance.

Invest in enabling collaborative relationship practices Leaders can encourage collaborative behaviour by making highly visible investments in facilities with open floor plans and shared spaces specifically designed to foster communication that demonstrate their commitment to collaboration.

Modeling collaborative behaviour At companies where the leadership team demonstrates highly collaborative behavior themselves, teams collaborate well. Leading a networked, connected culture across traditional organisation barriers from the top breaks down the silos.

Get everyone on the same page By enabling a ‘we’re all in this together’ leadership ethos, people feel a sense of community and shared purpose, and they are more comfortable reaching out to others and more likely to share knowledge.

Assigning team leaders that are both task and relationship oriented The debate has traditionally focused on whether a task or a relationship orientation creates better leadership, but in fact both are key to successfully leading a team and fostering collaboration.

Building on heritage relationships When too many team members are strangers, people may be reluctant to share knowledge. The best practice is to put at least a few people who know one another on the team. Research shows that if more than 40% of a team are new to each other, team effectiveness suffers.

Understanding role clarity and task ambiguity Cooperation increases when the roles of individual team members are sharply defined yet the team is given latitude on how to achieve the task. Collaboration and team composition needs to reflect the desired outcomes – a jazz ensemble, a fire brigade unit and an international sports team each has different dynamics, roles and pulse.

Set expectations Everyone on the team needs to know what they have to do and when they have to do it by. Leaders need to connect and align the individual expectations with the shared expectations of the team.

Transparency If something isn’t going right, you need to be upfront with it. The more you hold back the more it will impede collaboration between the team. People love transparency because it makes them feel like they are part of an honest team.

Being an agent and a target of influence We spend a lot of time in leadership development helping leaders to have greater influence. Of equal importance when it comes to collaborative leadership, is being prepared to be a target of others’ influence. This requires openness to alternative ideas, inquisitiveness to understand the foundation of others’ arguments and recognition of the value the other party has and therefore can add to the collaborative venture.

We need to develop and disseminate an entirely new paradigm and practice of collaboration that supersedes the traditional silos that have divided enterprises internally for decades, and replace it with connected networks of partnerships working together to create a genuine collaboration. Collaboration is the best way to work. It’s only way to work, really, everyone’s there because they have a set of skills to offer across the board.

Collaboration is important not just because it’s a better way to work, but also to learn. Learning to collaborate is part of equipping yourself for effectiveness, problem solving, innovation and life-long learning in an ever-changing networked economy. Life is not a solo act, it’s a huge collaboration and we all need to assemble around us the people who can make a difference for each other.

So, come 3 o’clock today, just pause for a moment and reflect back on ’66. England, an outstanding team of individuals – not a team of outstanding individuals – everyone played their part, and everyone was over the moon, a genuine collaborative effort. As Shakespeare said ‘we few, we happy few, we band of brothers’.