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’.

 

 

 

Be a Billy Elliott to avoid those Groundhog Days

The phrase Groundhog Day has entered common use as a reference to the feeling that each day repeats itself in a boring, humdrum way, day after day. It’s also the title of an entertaining film starring Bill Murray, which makes a comedic play on the repetition of the day.

It’s based on a real event. Punxsutawney Phil is a groundhog resident of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. On February 2, Groundhog Day each year, the town celebrates their beloved groundhog with a festival of music and food.

During the ceremony, which begins before sunrise, Phil emerges from his temporary home on Gobbler’s Knob. According to tradition, if Phil sees his shadow and returns to his hole, there will be six more weeks of winter. If Phil does not see his shadow, spring will arrive early. Groundhog Day was first declared and recognised in Punxsutawney in 1886.

In the film, Bill Murray plays Phil Connors, an egocentric TV weatherman who, during an assignment covering the Groundhog Day event, experiences repeats of the same day over, over and over again.

After the celebration concludes, a blizzard closes the roads and shuts down the phone service, forcing Phil to spend an extra day in Punxsutawney. He wakes the next morning to find it is February 2 again, and the day unfolds in exactly the same way, over and over again.

Connors’ Groundhog Day begins each morning with his waking up to the same song, Sonny & Cher’s I Got You Babe, on his alarm clock radio, but with his (and only his) memories of the previous day intact, trapped in a seemingly endless time loop to repeat the same day in the same small town.

Despite continually meeting the same annoying high school acquaintance turned insurance salesman Ned Ryerson, Phil creates an extravagant life for himself by robbing banks, seducing women and indulging his every pleasure. However, he begins to tire and then dread his existence.

He commits suicide several times, but even death cannot stop the day from repeating. After he dies, he simply wakes up in the morning again. In one attempt he kills the groundhog along with himself by driving a truck off a cliff, but even this does not stop the loop!

Subsequent to his indulging in all manner of hedonistic pursuits, he re-examines his life and priorities. He cannot escape, but he can achieve self-improvement by educating himself on a daily basis. There is enough time for Connors to learn to play jazz piano, speak French, sculpt ice, and memorise the life story of almost everyone in town.

The film depicts 33 different repeats of Groundhog Day. Eventually, Connors enhances his existence with the realisation that life is about self-improvement, development and authenticity. This allows him to find love with Rita, a TV colleague, and wake up on February 3, though again to I Got You Babe.

Groundhog Day is really a tale of self-improvement. Life may have an apparently monotonous repetition, but it’s down to you changing your attitude and decide to do something different.

The same, of course, applies to work. We all have a routine, task element to our work which has to be done, but there are opportunities for us all to remove the Groundhog Day feel it has by lifting our heads up and taking a different view, working in a more engaged way, not being so self-centric, and focusing on personal development and stretching ourselves to do something that matters to us.

This attitude is epitomized by one of my first school friends, Frank, who left school at 16 and set up his own bicycle shop in Burnley. He was bike mad, which in hilly East Lancashire, was a challenge! Today, thirty-five years later, I still see him every week, and he still runs his bike shop. For every bike he fixes, he charges by the hour, and even a small job takes an hour, but he does his best. Then he spends ten extra minutes doing something special.

Frank is a perfectly fine cycle mechanic, He pays attention to detail, is careful, focused and diligent. Like other very good bike mechanics, he gets the job done and earns his pay each day. In the last ten minutes though, Frank transforms himself from a mechanic into a craftsman. In those few extra minutes, he becomes remarkable, and memorable for his customers.

Sometimes all he does is carefully clean the chain, other times he’ll take the bike out to the street and ensure the gears are adjusted properly, and sometimes, especially if the bike is for a child, he’ll attach a horn, a water bottle – anything worth noticing – and give it for free. He’ll also spend just a couple of minutes with his customer telling them what he’s done for them, and also recommending some good cycle routes.

The astonishing thing isn’t how unusual Frank is, the astonishing thing is how easy it is to do what Frank does, and how many people don’t do it. Simply, he cares and that makes a huge difference. It doesn’t matter what your job is, those last ten minutes make it easy for your customer to find the difference between you and every one else. It takes 99% of the time you spend just to be average. The remarkable stuff can happen in 1% of your time – in a flash.

Frank has a passionate commitment to memorable customer service, making sure they come back time and again, but it’s the antithesis of Groundhog Day. He does something greater and far more purposeful than his everyday work of bike repairs. Yes, this is ‘Frank’s Cycles’.  You may smile at the relevance of this small bike shop in Burnley, but Frank stands for something, has a successful business, and enjoys great job and customer satisfaction. And the world, or at least Burnley, becomes just a little brighter and better. Frank goes the extra mile as standard.

Franks stands for something, and I admire that. Work gets a bad press, continually portrayed as an endurance test rather than a source of enjoyment. Work has taken centre stage in our lives, we are what we do. Surely work is a good thing, otherwise why is unemployment such a bad thing? The trouble with unemployment is that you never get a day off.

You have to do something that makes a difference to yourself. Another of my favourite films of recent years which highlights this theme is Billy Elliott, a boy brought up in the fictional northeast mining town of Everington during the 1984-1985 miners strike, and centres an 11-year-old boy’s love of dance and his dream of being a professional ballet dancer.

Billy’s father sends him to the gym to learn boxing, but he hates it and happens upon a ballet class that is using the gym while their usual studio is temporarily being used as a soup kitchen for the striking miners. Billy surreptitiously joins the ballet class and passionate about dancing but unbeknown to his father, continues lessons with his dance teacher’s help.

Billy’s good at something for the first time in his life and he won’t give it up easily, despite his immediate family’s perilous financial woes. The strike is biting and his dad goes bonkers when he finds out about Billy’s private dance tuition. His mates are ribbing him at school about his dancing.

Later, his father Jackie catches Billy dancing in the gym – but realises his son is truly gifted. He will do whatever it takes to help Billy attain his dream, so his fellow miners raise money and Jackie pawns Billy’s mother’s jewellery to cover the cost, and he takes him to London to audition for the Royal Ballet School.

Though highly nervous, Billy performs well, but he punches another boy in his frustration at the audition and the fear that he has ruined his chance of attaining his dream. He is sternly rebuked but when asked what it feels like when he is dancing, he replies It sort of feels good. It starts stiff and that but once I get going, then I like forget everything and I sort of disappear. Like I feel a change in my whole body — like there’s fire in my body. I’m just there — flyin’ like a bird — like electricity, — yeah, like electricity.

Seemingly rejected, Billy returns home but sometime later, he receives a letter accepting him to the Royal Ballet School.  Do you get that type of a feeling from anything that you do?

Billy Elliott can be seen as a deeply political film making a statement about community. However, looked at another way, the film is simply about is work. Billy wants a different kind of work from the people around him and wants to jump sisonnes rather than shovel coal. He wants to be fulfilled and work in a different environment that gives him what he wants from his life. And he does.

The fact is that we can all do a Billy Elliott and a Frank, avoiding groundhog days and chose our own paths. When you have a passion for something and your work is about realising it, you’ve got to go for it.

You must have great expectations as to what you can be, and what you want to do with your life. As Shackleton said, reach beyond your expectations. Live a life rather than simply make a living is my thought, but I see many people attempting to live their lives backwards, they try to have more things, or more money, in order to do more of what they want so they will be happier.

For me, the way it actually works is the reverse. You must first be who you really are, then do what you need to do, in order to have what you want. Otherwise the pursuit of money becomes an end in itself, rather than simply the means to a comfortable and interesting life. Work is then the way we meet our need for money rather than our need for meaning, fulfillment and growth.

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. Make sure you wind up your personal clock everyday, and make the best use of your time, whatever you’re doing. Make the most of yourself, because that is all there is of you: it’s not how good you are, it’s how good you want to be. The curious paradox is that once you’ve accepted yourself as wanting to do something different, you can then do something about it. Always expect things of yourself, otherwise you’ll be in the passenger seat for the rest of your life. Inaction creates nothing, action creates success.

So it’s up to you to be a Billy Elliott, making your work passion, talent and ethic an expression of who you are. The values by which you live your life are the same ones you should apply to your work. Don’t see work as just a job and limiting, get blown away by it, as Thomas Edison said, opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work. Stand out from the crowd by being yourself.

The enduring legacy of John Kennedy: self-belief

The Independent ran a story this week, which caught my eye: since 1927, Jack Haddock has lived in the same council house in Walsall – for almost nine decades, with only a brief pause during the war, Jack has lived in the same house.

His late father first received the keys from the council in 1927, and having taken over the tenancy, Jack has never missed a week’s rent. Haddock, who is perhaps Britain’s most loyal council tenant, is 86 and lives alone. He rides his bicycle every day, eats little and often, starting with five Weetabix for breakfast, and has not seen a doctor for anything more serious than a flu jab for 40 years.

He has no siblings and never married, partly, he says, because he is wedded above all else to his home – twice he was due to marry and backed out. One girl wanted me to move up the Delves (in south Walsall) but I said, ‘no, Jean, I’m not leaving here’. We parted amicably in 1958.

After the war in 1919, Lloyd George’s Liberal government passed the Housing Act, which for the first time required councils to provide subsidised housing to those in need. It triggered a building boom in the 1920s and established council housing as a social service. In Walsall, Haddock’s parents applied for one of the first new homes. When Haddock’s father died in 1963, 10 years after his mother’s death, the council assumed Jack would want the house for his own family, so let him inherit the tenancy for life at the age of 36.

Haddock, who boasts that he can hold his breath for a minute, says he never gets lonely and is determined to die in the only place he has called home. He wants his ashes to be scattered on the site of an old engine shed up the road, where he developed his love of trains as a child.

Jack’s a throwback to a bygone era, rich in personal social and economic history. Filled with the habits of a lifetime, soon to be lost along with the poignant passing of another generation’s way of life. We can only wonder the line of sight Jack had from his front window on the evening of 22 November 1963, fifty years ago.

Over in Dallas that day, President John F. Kennedy was killed by an assassin’s bullet. As the youngest elected President, Kennedy, who served less than three years, is ranked among the most revered Presidents. Just 46 when he died, he is praised for his youthful vigour, his leadership through the Cuban missile crisis, and his vision to put a man on the Moon.

On 22 November 1963, Kennedy and his wife travelled to Dallas for early campaigning for the following year’s election. Crowds lined the streets. As the presidential motorcade entered Dealey Plaza at around 12:30 local time (6.30pm GMT), Kennedy’s convertible passed the Texas School Book Depository.

Gunshots rang out across the plaza. Bullets struck the president in the head and neck. Half an hour later, Kennedy was pronounced dead. He was the fourth US president assassinated in office, but the first to have his death captured on film. The events of that November day plunged America into mourning, and many Americans still recall where they were when they heard the news.

At the beginning of Kennedy’s presidency, America was in crisis. The Soviet Union had put a satellite into Earth’s orbit, and Yuri Gagarin became the first human being in space. Kennedy could feel the anxiety, he knew America needed a bold stroke. On September 12, 1962, at Rice Stadium in Houston, Texas, Kennedy gave America back their self-belief. He said, The United States was not built by those who waited and rested and wished to look behind them. This country was conquered by those who moved forward.

Then he added what are for me, some of the most inspiring words ever crafted: We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.

Kennedy injected energy and self-belief with the speech, and a statement of ambition that was a turning point in history. Having ushered in the tumultuous 1960s with an idealistic message of empowerment – ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country, Kennedy captured the hearts and minds of an entire population, urging them to participate, engage with the world, and believe.

But just 14 months later, Kennedy would die in Dallas. Kennedy was silenced in a moment none thought possible. On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed the Eagle Lunar Module on the Moon, at the Sea of Tranquillity.  A few hours later, on July 21, they stepped out on the Moon.  From Kennedy’s speech to the landing had taken 8 years, one month and 26 days.

But although Kennedy’s legacy is muddled, the aura battered with the faithless and reckless womanising, and the tragedy of Vietnam, the Kennedy message of self-belief is tenacious. Polls regularly list him among the highest-regarded presidents. He lifted the country from a tide of anxiety, daunted by the future. His self-confidence emboldened an orator’s words marking a nation’s consciousness, he fostered a contagious idealism born in the belief that, with our own hands, we can craft a better future, stating: one person can make a difference, and everyone should try.

He has lingered in our memory, witness the number of articles and television retrospectives this anniversary week. Kennedy had an expansive vision in which, as he put it, no problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. He proved it by challenging Americans to go to the moon.

It was Kennedy’s positivity, vision and self-belief that made him such an iconic leader, traits you see in the founders of many start-up businesses. There’s a depth of research on the defining characteristics of entrepreneurs, but for me the common trait that I’ve come to recognise in successful start-up entrepreneurs is that shared with Kennedy – self-belief.

It only takes a few minutes in a conversation with start-up founders to feel their positive energy – it’s contagious.  They all share an overwhelming positive outlook even when facing daunting challenges that appear to have the bleakest of odds for success.  I’ve noted a set of core beliefs that they share:

Belief in self: First and foremost, starters believe in themselves, their abilities and their own strengths. They believe they can make great things happen. I’ve never met a successful entrepreneur with low self-esteem.  Self-belief is vital, how many things have you not done or tried because you lacked belief in yourself? As Eleanor Roosevelt so deftly put it: Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.

Belief in beating the odds: To be successful, we have to be open minded, with no sense of what you cannot do. But, bit-by-bit, life starts to teach you to limit yourself. Children don’t learn to limit their own horizons, so why does it happen? Successful starters don’t hope they can beat the odds, they believe wholeheartedly that they will.  There is no second-guessing.  As it goes, those who say they can and those that say they can’t are both right.  If you don’t believe you can beat the odds, chances are you won’t.
Belief to deal with the inner negative voice: When you start to doubt yourself listen for a moment to that little negative inner voice. Whose voice is it really? It’s often a collection of lots of different voices from different times and people from your past that causes self-belief to wane. One thing’s for sure, that little inner self-critical voice shouldn’t be yours. It may masquerade as belonging to you now, but it doesn’t really. One of the first steps is to re-examine and discard many of the limiting ideas you have about yourself, ideas that you’ve somehow collected along the way. Get rid of the baggage!

Belief in flipping a weakness into strength: Dumbo, my favourite cartoon character, was humiliated by his outsize ears. He hated them at first. But, through time, he came to use them, to fulfil his destiny, even changing his attitude. Like Dumbo, if we just focus on what is not right about ourselves rather than what is, then we miss opportunities for self-belief. We shouldn’t assume there’s nothing to improve about ourselves, but just focusing on perceived weaknesses without either taking steps to improve them or also giving fair focus toward our strengths gets us nowhere. Know that the positive flipside of a weakness, in the right context, can be put to good use.

Belief in intuition: Most entrepreneurs rely more on gut feelings to make decisions than they do on conscious analysis of a situation. Even though they may be highly analytical and accumulate data, their decisions are usually based on what feels right – gut instinct. Most people wait for the right opportunity to present itself, but the true self-starter is always on the lookout for yet another new opportunity. It is often just a matter of perspective. There is the famous story about the shoe company who sends an employee to a new country to ascertain if there is a market for their shoes. The representative reports back: There is no shoe market here. These people don’t even wear shoes. The founder, on hearing this news, exclaims This is wonderful! No one has any shoes yet! What a huge opportunity!

Belief in perseverance: This is a big attribute. The obstacles that cause many people to quit are minor setbacks for the true entrepreneur. Winners persist, losers desist. It is often that simple difference in self-belief that separates the happy successful person from the frustrated failure – to quote Calvin Coolidge, Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence; talent will not, nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent; genius will not, unrewarded genius is almost a proverb; education will not, the world is full of educated derelicts; persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.

Belief in the vision: For most of the successful starters I’ve met and researched, their vision is always bigger than just the money.  For most entrepreneurs that I admire, the money is never the goal.  Starters believe that they, and their start-ups, can make a real difference, and those that set out to leave their mark on the world usually do – Walt Disney and Steve Jobs are cases in point.

From Jack Haddock to John Kennedy to start-up entrepreneurs to you, life has a unique perspective. Along the way, various landing pages, trials and tribulations will offer themselves up. It’s self-belief that determines your direction and ultimately success – it’s not how often you’re knocked over but how many times you get back up that makes the difference.

Self-belief means being yourself, everyone else is already taken. As Henry Ford said if you think you can, you can; if you think you can’t, you’re right. It’s not who you are that holds you back, it’s who you think you’re not. Personally, I find it easier to believe than to doubt. You have brains in your head and feet in your shoes, and with self-belief, steer yourself any direction you choose. No, that wasn’t Kennedy, it was Dr Seuss.

Sean Conway and Sebastian Vettel: the stuff of champions

Sean Conway recently completed the first ever swim from Land’s End to John O’Groats, up Britain’s West Coast. He said it was the hardest thing he had ever done. Just moments after emerging from the water, he said It just shows that if you put your mind to something anything is possible. The hardest part was trying to deal with the weather, the cold and jellyfish in the face. I had to grow this ridiculous beard to stop the stings. That’s a great comment made in the moment of personal achievement. Check out his web site http://www.seanconway.com/

Since 30 June, Conway swam 900 miles and estimates that he took three million strokes. That’s a lot of lengths of my local swimming baths. Hazards on Conway’s journey included the jellyfish – he was stung 10 times – swallowing seawater and feeling seasick. In the last few weeks his jaw was so cold he was unable to chew solid foods and had meals pureed.

Conway’s philosophy is simple: Adventure isn’t all about climbing mountains or rowing oceans. Adventure, in its purest form, is simply a way of thinking. He follows two simple rules in everything he does: Either do it to be the best, or do it because you love it. If you can combine the two then even better.

Every year thousands of people attempt to walk, cycle or run the journey between Land’s End and John O’Groats, a distance of 874 miles by road. Conway said he undertook the challenge because people doubted it could be done.  He has so far raised £8,500 from the swim with proceeds going to War Child, which helps protect children from the brutal effects of conflict and rebuild their lives. To donate to War Child, go to http://www.justgiving.com/swimmingbritain

Conway is a champion in my eyes, and another holding that moniker is Sebastian Vettel, who emulated the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio’s feat of four consecutive F1 World Championships. He now has Michael Schumacher’s five-in-a-row record in hit sights.

An easy mistake is to assume that he’s only winning because he has the best car. He’s a very technical driver who really understands the car and how to get the best out of it, but with all the great drivers, whilst most of the work is done outside the car so what needs to be done inside it is easier, the a four-time world champion aged 26 is something special. Here’s his record:

  • In 2009, Vettel replaced the retired David Coulthard at Red Bull Racing.
  • He won his first F1 World Championship in 2010.
  • He dominated 2011, winning nine races and became the youngest back-to-back and double world champion.
  • In 2012 he won four back-to-back races in becoming the youngest triple world champion and winner of three successive titles.
  • In 2013, he claimed six wins in a row on the way to making it four titles in a row.

What is most impressive is that he’s done it at such a young age. Fangio was 45 when he took his fourth title, and Schumacher 32. Vettel is just 26 and well on his way to positioning himself as one of the sport’s great champions.

Vettel shows relentless passion for the sport, consistent striving for the perfection of his craft, unwavering commitment to discipline and determination, authenticity in accepting areas for improvement, focused goal orientation to achieve results, and positive views of adversity and danger. In the moment of victory, an F1 champion is someone special.

A carpenter’s son, born in 1987, Vettel began racing go-karts when he was just three years old.  Vettel isn’t your ordinary racing driver. The German doesn’t have a manager, instead negotiating all his own contracts. He lives in the mountains near Lake Constance in Switzerland, and drives around in a five-year-old Volkswagen people carrier, which he bought before entering F1. Apparently he does his own shopping too. Bet he speeds down the aisles with his trolley and corners fast. He’s a fast runner too, apparently.

I’ve never been a fast runner really, but I still recall, almost 40 years ago, running in my first competitive relay race at a school Sports Day. I remember the running track, grass freshly mowed and new white lane markings, and a sunny day. My race was over 400m, the second leg, one lap of the track. The baton came to me and I surged forward. I settled in behind the lead runner, calculating to overtake him on the last bend before the straight run to the handover to my next colleague.

My race went to plan until just as I reached the last bend, I tried to push on, but my legs just didn’t have the energy, my breathing was now hurting. The mental drive was there, but I lacked the physical capacity. I remember the feeling of shock and disappointment now as clearly as I did then, the disconnection between desire and ability. I came second in my leg, and we came second overall, but second was not what I wanted. I wanted first, not for the medal or the glory, but for my own personal reward as a champion, but it wasn’t meant to be.

We applaud Olympic champions, knowing that we would never have been able to do what they have, all attention on the champion athlete who epitomizes the Olympic motto of Citius, Altius, Fortius – Faster, Higher, Stronger. There is something deeply captivating about exceptional performance in sport, Voltaire spoke of this phenomenon when he articulated, Appreciation is a wonderful thing: It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.

The fascination for extraordinary performance as we think of the champions who stand proud on the podium, with their medals and their nation’s anthem ringing in their ears, is about human dignity as well as human achievement. For me it’s about saluting the person.

Sean Conway and Sebastian Vettel are champions in their own right, and share many characteristics, none of which are determined by their talent per se. How can we summon up the true character of the champion ourselves, and take this into our business? Here are some of those characteristics. How many of these statements also describe you and your business life?

Success comes to those with passion who strive. Striving is more than simply being competitive, it is an attitude that illustrates that the individual is as much competing with himself as with the challenge, or others in the same race. What set Conway as a champion apart from the rest is his relentless passion and uncompromising pursuit of extraordinary endeavour. Conway mastered his mental game which became his competitive edge, he persisted in spite of fatigue, tenacious in discovering his own style of beating the elements.

Authentic and inquisitive Champions are aware of their strengths and limitations, there are no pretentions to portray a perfect self-image free from any flaw or weakness. Such manifestations of authenticity bolster the courage in taking on lofty goals, but also in dealing with their true selves as well. They always seek the new frontier, pushing the boundaries, refusing to accept the status-quo. They begin every day hoping to learn something new, always searching for new insights, for original thinking, for something that makes them better.

Application, hard-work and discipline That is more than just the hours you put in, it is the discipline to set aside other things and concentrate hard on your own development. It is about focus and single mindedness. It is not just about deciding to work an extra hour, it’s about deep thinking, about getting down to the core of what you are trying to achieve. It is about knowing in your heart, when something is not good enough and can and should be better. Notice that this is self-discipline. Past a certain point, you and only you can provide that intensity of will.

Courage. No champion is without courage. It may be of mind or body. When things are in the balance, when you cannot be sure, when others are uncertain or hesitate, when the very point is that the outcome is in doubt that is when a champions’ mental toughness lets them step forward. The courage lies not in acting without fear; but in acting despite fear. Crickey, swimming in a rough sea with a jellyfish sat on your face would see me bale out sharpish! As for Vettel, the speed and danger in his sport demands it.

Optimism Another common characteristic is champions’ optimism. Conway expresses an ability to reframe adversity as an opportunity for achievement, to learn and grow and did not stop him from pursuit of his quest. Champions consider adversity as indicative of the merit of the pursuit for a real champion and thus welcome it. They reveal that beyond physical skill and training, there exists a champion mindset. They all have distinct cognitive and emotional make-up that allows them to relentlessly push themselves on their quest.

Live with failure What this means is that you must also be prepared to fail. This is a tough quality to possess, but the strange irony of the champion is they must be able to live with failure as well as enjoy success. The very act of stepping out into the unknown means you must accept that the risk, however calculated, may not pay off. Virtually no one I have met who has succeeded has not failed first. The question is what you learn from the experience and about yourself, the strengths you exploit, the weaknesses you must eliminate.

Within this, I think the four major criteria that make a champion are hard-work, courage, tenacity and mind set. These are what we use when we are functioning at our full potential. We each have them, but do we use them? The capability to constantly get out here and make an effort, the capability to work at what you want, the capability to believe in yourself, the capability to keep going when others have thrown in the towel. The capability to realise that you can achieve your dream, the capability to keep focussed.We all have them, so lets use them.

Champions are not just athletes, they are authors, artists, teachers, bakers, lighthouse-keepers in days gone by. There are people who the world sees in photos and on TV, people of fame and wealth, but it’s not about the external validation to be recognised as a champion, rather it’s champions of the human spirit, like Sean Conway, which is my definition. Recall his words as he stepped out of the sea in Scotland: It just shows that if you put your mind to something anything is possible.

Conway undertook the challenge because people doubted it could be done, he was willing to do what he needed to do, to get what he wanted. It’s not about medals of victory, it’s more about taking on the challenge. Champions believe in themselves when no one else does, it means going beyond your comfort zone and learning to win the game your own way – every champion was once a contender that refused to give up.

A final quote from Conway says it all: When my body got tired, my mind said this where winners are made; when my mind got tired, my heart said this is where champions are made.

Ten years on, how a vision with a back-to-front planning process shaped England’s rugby world cup winning team

Few England fans will ever forget that final passage of play from the 2003 Rugby World Cup Final – the lineout take from Lewis Moody, the break from Matt Dawson, Jonny Wilkinson standing in the pocket. Then there was Ian Robertson’s iconic commentary – He drops for World Cup glory. It’s over. He’s done it.

On 22 November, it will be 10 years since England lifted the Webb Ellis Cup. Captain Martin Johnson became the first player to lead a northern hemisphere side to the world title.  Wilkinson’s last-gasp effort was all that separated the sides after 100 minutes of rugby and a dramatic extra-time finale.

I don’t think I’ve ever shouted at the television as much as I did that day, although maybe the Coronation Street episode when Jack Duckworth died came close. Australia battled hard and were never out of the game but ultimately fell just short.  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 chose to keep the ball in hand and as the game progressed, so 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.

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 into their own half, and as referee Andre Watson prepared to blow for full time, 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, but 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 to put England 14-5 ahead
  • 80 mins: The hosts 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 planning. At the margin, with 38 seconds to go, this win had everything to do with composure and planning.

As in sport, it’s the same in business, the ability to remain composed is vital, the capacity to make the right decisions when under pressure differentiates leaders in good times and bad. 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 enable 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 under-pressure moments, and they took that from the training ground into the heat of the game. When interviewed after the match, Wilkinson was asked if he’d been nervous, one swing of his trusted 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 new focus to their 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 that 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.

Nothing gives you more advantage over another person in the heat of competition as to remain unruffled and think about your plan. Composure is the product of an ambitious mentality envisioning the outcome we would aspire. It requires persistence, vision, self-belief and patience. Being persistent requires constant thinking and developing an agile plan to accomplish our goals as the situation changes – a plan doesn’t require detailed steps, 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 a box of frogs, all sorts of stuff going off all over the place, and you’ve no chance of making the right decision. Dare to believe you can be the best, if you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there. But do plan ahead – it wasn’t raining when Noah started building the ark.

From this vision, Woodward instilled a new 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 with the England squad they did nothing but establish the teamship rules for being part of the squad.  Woodward took the time to get the team sorted out first, to establish what the team stands for, how it is going to work and what it wants 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 appear not be crucial to the team’s success, but in aggregate they add up. These included being in your seat ten minutes before a team meeting was scheduled to start, changing into new kits 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 into provide eye training for Jonny Wilkinson.

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, says 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, 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.

Will Winning cultures must have the commitment to win. It’s about the attitude they display. Woodward breaks 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 tasks on as their job and make sure 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 your competitors?  How do you maintain the state of mind that avoids complacency?  It’s all very easy to say but very difficult to do.

I think Woodward’s most insightful contribution was this 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 – and that in turn requires the present team to be operating with 315 caps – the England team that beat Australia last weekend had 213.

Where do we want to be? Where are we now? How will we get there? is the building block approach towards identifying the winning requirements of your business. If you concentrate on winning just 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 requires forward thinking.

Thinking backwards changes the focus from whether something might happen to how will it 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. Of course, you should never look backwards as you’ll fall down the stairs.

Woodward created a team culture of winning, where everyone was comfortable with the expectation of winning, and ensuring there was no hiding place – don’t look to the person on your left or right, do it yourself; don’t just turn up and put the shirt on, make a telling contribution. He make 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 ten years ago, England had the biggest heart in the world, underpinned by vision, discipline, clarity and focus. Make your team a winning team by following this approach.

Don’t let the tail wag the dog: 12 good habits of entrepreneurs

When your dog bounds towards you with her tail wagging furiously, you’d naturally assume she was pleased to see you. Look closer, however, and that tail might be trying to tell you something very different.

While all dog tails wag from side to side, it seems they do so with a certain left or right bias depending on the message they are trying to convey. Researchers at the University of Trento in Italy claim dogs use their tails to deliver signals to other dogs that are hidden from humans.

According to scientists, a wag with a bias to the right signifies happiness, and a wag more to the left, fear. Because dogs move around so much, this often goes unseen by humans. Fellow dogs, however, are fully tuned into the subtle signalling.

The behaviour reflects what is happening in the dog’s brain, and that left-brain activation produces bigger wags to the right, and vice-versa. When dogs see another dog wagging more towards the left, their heart rates pick up and they begin to look anxious. Dogs shown wagging biased to the right stay perfectly relaxed.

Study leader Dr Giorgio Vallortigara, from the Centre for /Brain Sciences at the University of Trento, said: The direction of tail wagging does in fact matter, and it matters in a way that matches hemispheric activation.

Earlier research had revealed that happy dogs wag their tails more to the right (from the dog’s point of view), while nervous dogs have a left-dominated swish. But now scientists say that fellow canines can spot and respond to these subtle tail differences.

Last year a team from the University of Lincoln found that dogs turn their heads to the left when looking at an aggressive dog and to the right when looking at a happy dog.

My dog, Tess, a thirteen year-old golden retriever, bucks this trend, her tail wags gyroscopically in all directions with velocity at the merest hint of the word ‘food’, ‘walk’ or when you call her name – the one thing I’ll miss more about her than anything else when she moves onto the great kennel in the sky is the ‘thump thump thump’ of her tail when ever she hears her name spoken. A dog can express more with her tail in minutes than her owner can express with his tongue in hours!

Tess’ responses are predictable, she’s a classic Pavlov dog in terms of her eating behaviours and triggers, and habits too. In order to really enjoy and understand a dog, you don’t merely try to train her to be semi-human, the point is to open oneself to the possibility of you becoming part dog, and empathise with their habits to understand them. In fact, the more people I meet, the more I like my dog.

Of course we humans also have habits, a more or less fixed way of thinking, which results in good and bad repeated behaviours. Habitual behaviour can be a simple form of learning, as in repeated practice, or sometimes compulsory or addictive. Old habits are hard to break and new habits are hard to form because the behavioural patterns we repeat are imprinted in our neural pathways,but it is possible to form new habits through repetition.

The difficult thing about studying habits is that most people want to know the secret formula for quickly changing any habit. If only it were that easy. The problem is that there isn’t one formula for changing habits. Individuals and habits are all different, but that doesn’t mean it can’t occur. Change might not be fast and it isn’t always easy, but with time and effort, almost any habit can be reshaped.

As behaviours are repeated in a consistent context, there is an incremental increase in the link between the context and the action. If you’re trying to achieve an objective or target, getting consistently good habits is vital.

So lets look on the positive side, good habits shape good behaviours, which can help achievement of objectives and positive outcomes. Practice, focus and training yourself to ‘do the right thing’, so that habits become routines of behaviour that are repeated without thinking, will ultimately lead to success. So what are the ‘good habits’ of successful entrepreneurs that we can put into our own ‘mind gym workouts’ to help improve our business success? Here are my thoughts.

Habit 1: Always look forward Being a great business innovator is all about being bold and forward thinking, to go beyond simply following current market trends. You need to be a pioneer, even in small ways, always keeping your eyes open for new opportunities to create your own market space. This means taking chances, and if anything is a critical part of a good habit set, it’s a willingness to do just that.

Habit 2: Be customer centric Business success requires an unwavering commitment to the customer. You need to develop an obsessive habit and mind-set of living in your customer’s world. Understanding customers’ wants and needs provides you with a greater opportunity to earn their attention. Focus away from profit as the purpose of your business, focus on finding, winning and keeping customers.

Habit 3: Make decisions You have to be decisive. 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 are an expert at what you’re doing and trust your gut instincts.

Habit 4: Avoid the crowds Conventional wisdom yields conventional results. Joining the crowd – no matter how trendy the crowd or ‘hot’ the opportunity – is a recipe for mediocrity. Remarkably successful people 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.

Habit 5: Be opportunity focused Problems are a regular part of business life, be they staff issues, customer misunderstandings or cash crunches. To achieve business 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.

Habit 6: Always be selling I once asked a number of business owners to name the one habit they felt contributed the most to their success. Each said the habit and ability to ‘think selling’. Selling isn’t manipulating, pressuring, or cajoling, but convincing other people to work with you, to build long-term relationships. You don’t need to sell, you just need to communicate.

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, the biggest, 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 innovative ideas can lead to being a bit scattered. The difference between an ideas person who remains an ineffective and someone who achieves success falls on having an ability and habits to be organised enough to follow through with them. Keeping your meetings and deadlines on an organised schedule, and sticking to it, will be what sets you apart from other small businesses that fumble in disorganisation. Make it a habit to be disciplined.

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. Using the habit of adaptability allows business owners to respond to circumstances to 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 highly successful people, rather it just creates a launch pad for achieving another huge goal. Remarkably successful people 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 – that’s a lot – but he learned from each one – that’s how I came up with the solution he said. Dyson’s point is that if you want to create 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.  The habit of maintaining your self belief is vital.

All of the above habits are set in the context of having another good habit – having a vision, a purpose and strategy for your business – It’s impossible to grow a business when you’re always busy putting out fires, the net result is wasted time, wasted money and wasted opportunities to grow, so no matter how many of the good habits identified above you have, jumping to tactics without a plan is flawed – how can you decide where to go if you don’t know where you are?

In the end, when you get to the critically important discussion about how you are to grow your business, jumping straight into tactics is a bad habit. Without having a big picture, ‘doing stuff’ is letting the tail wag the dog – you’ll be chasing business, not leading it – chasing sales for numbers and not chasing customers, and consequently your cashflow is managing you and not the other way round.

But back to dog’s wagging their tails, and their habits. When most of us talk to our dogs, we tend to forget they’re not people, but over the years I have caught more ills from people sneezing over me and giving me virus infections than from kissing my dog, or letting her lick my ears. I think it’s fair to say that outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.

Enough canine tomfoolery and their habits, in business terms, motivation is what gets you started, habit is what keeps you going – Just do it! first you make your habits, then your habits make you. Enthusiasm is the key to your business efforts, how do you get it? You act enthusiastically until you make it a habit, that’s what counts. And if you think dogs can’t count, try putting three dog biscuits in your pocket and then only giving her two.

Pie-oneers – how breakthrough thinking can earn you a crust

The cult television comedy The Inbetweeners raised laughs up and down the country, following the fortunes of four socially awkward sixth-formers and their escapades, and it became a hit film at the cinema too. The story, which follows the boys on their first lads holiday abroad to Malia, Crete, sees main character Will McKenzie in the opening scene on a coach getting frustrated by the boisterous singing of Burnley FC fans. Genuine Burnley FC fans filmed the scene on location in Magaluf, Majorca – check out the Your Tube clip here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=laaZOm163Vg

Now Burnley fans are again in the limelight, thanks to a piece of inspired technical innovation from the football club. With fans obviously having better things to do than wait for three minutes while their half-time pies are nuked by the staff at the refreshments kiosk, Burnley have launched a mobile app which allows supporters to place online orders for their pies in advance.

Developed alongside tech firm Preoday, the i-Pie online ordering app was produced to help increase food and drink sales and reduce queues during the traditionally frantic half-time service. Nice business case!

With the app you can place your order wherever and whenever you like. At half-time, look for the designated service point. Take your phone with you to collect your order, show the service staff the verification code on the phone. They will have your order ready for you, and of course there’s no need for payment at the till as its pre-paid on credit card.

The app is free and easily downloadable from Apple’s App Store and/or the Google Play Store, it’s simply called “Burnley FC”.

Truly heady days at Turf Moor as we sit at the top of the table – in both Championship and innovation leagues – as Manchester United, Liverpool and Spurs all turned down the i-Pie app. With 4,000 pies typically sold at a home Burnley game – that’s about one in every three spectators purchasing, the days of queuing are numbered. http://www.burnleyfo…813-996581.aspx

So, Pie-oneers. Of course in business terms, the birthplace of the modern co-operative movement on 21 December 1844 at 31 Toad Lane, Rochdale, by the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society, opening their store selling pure food at fair prices and honest weights and measures, were the first ‘pioneers’. The business revolution started there, alongside the Industrial Revolution in Lancashire.

The Rochdale Pioneers were local working men. More than half were involved in the textile trade. Initially there were 28 Pioneers, most of them were relatively well paid skilled artisans and some were in business on their own account. It was their idealism and vision of a better social order than inspired them to form the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society – the fore runner of the Co-Operative Society.

Stop dreaming. Be a Pioneer. I’ve always been fascinated by people who made their mark, and as the title of this blog shows, those who have been involved in Lighthouses have been particularly interesting.

Even in these days of automation and satellite navigation, the draw of a lighthouse is as strong and as romantic as ever for me. That the buildings exist at all is testament to the skill and determination of individuals, as many of these early lighthouses were constructed in some of the most inhospitable places imaginable. It is humbling to think that the towers, often more than 100ft tall to withstand the ferocious storms and mountainous waves, were built before the internal combustion engine was invented and the aid of none of the modern machinery taken for granted today.

The invention of the Fresnel lens in 1822 by French physicist Augustin-Jean Fresnel, revolutionised lighthouses, focusing 85% of a lamp’s light versus the 20% focused with the parabolic reflectors of the time. Its design enabled construction of lenses of large size and short focal length without the weight and volume of material in conventional lens designs.

In the UK, the first Eddystone Lighthouse was lit in 1698, though its third incarnation was the most enduring, designed by John Smeaton. Britain became the dominant sea power, but it’s the Stevenson family (Robert, Alan, David, Thomas, David Allan and Charles) who made lighthouse building a three generation profession in Scotland, who were the true pioneers.

The Lighthouse Stevensons over the course of generations from the late 1700s to the early 1900s, created lighthouses on some of the most storm-lashed and inaccessible outcrops of Scotland imaginable. They were responsible for a slew of inventions in both construction and optics. Stunning aerial photography of many of the locations demonstrates that creating these buildings would be a difficult job now, never mind then.

The family tradition was started with Edinburgh man Thomas Smith, who installed his first light on Kinnaird Castle, near Fraserburgh, in 1787. He passed the baton on to his son-in-law (and stepson) Robert Stevenson, who founded a dynasty of lighthouse engineers including sons, Allan, David and Thomas (father of Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Treasure Island, Kidnapped and Jekyll & Hyde), and in turn David’s four sons. Whenever I smell salt water, I know that I am not far from one of the works of my ancestors, wrote Robert Louis Stevenson in 1880. When the lights come out at sundown along the shores of Scotland, I am proud to think they burn more brightly for the genius of my father.

Fast forward to today, and with a dose of curiosity, today’s pioneers are driven by entrepreneurship and technological innovation, seeking to create a disruptive invention and positively impact and overcome the greatest of challenges, leaving their mark.

There’s a tome of research on what makes an entrepreneur a pioneer in terms of attitude, behaviour and characteristics. One of my favourite, recent and very readable books on this is Kevin Johnson’s The Entrepreneur Mind: 100 Essential Beliefs, Characteristics, and Habits of Elite Entrepreneurs. It captures lots of anecdotes from his own experience as a serial entrepreneur. Here are some one-liners which capture the essence:

Think big: Failing to reach your potential is a lesser-understood type of business failure.

Create new markets: Studies have shown that ‘blue ocean’ businesses account for a disproportionate amount of the profits and revenues.

Work ‘on’ your business, not ‘in’ your business: Doing lots of operations work leads to early burnout, spend your time making plans for growth.

Ask for help: Don’t let your ego get in the way.

Do what’s most important first: Successful entrepreneurs prioritise the important tasks, even though they are harder and take longer.

The business plan is overrated: Before writing one, research the competition, talk to customers, and develop a prototype.

Move on fast from a bad business idea: Tenacity can help entrepreneurs, but not when it makes you stick with a bad idea for too long.

A bad economy is a great opportunity: Many great companies were founded during bad times, and great entrepreneurs are the ones who can stick it out.

Adopt new technology early, technology is an opportunity, not a cost or threat: It’s hard to imagine that the newest technologies will become widespread, but they do. Adopt them early.

Always follow up: Don’t let your fear of rejection, laziness, or misunderstanding of what is polite get in the way.

Failure doesn’t kill you: it makes you stronger. Learn, don’t sulk, from when things go wrong, or your mistakes.

An idea’s execution, not its uniqueness, yields success: Focus on speed and time to market, not ingenuity.

Find an enemy: Finding an enemy can motivate your team and give you a benchmark and challenge.

Put out customer fires quickly: For customer complaints, respond quickly and calmly; listen after apologising.

Have an exit strategy: It will help you make decisions along the way and recognise opportunities to exit.

Spend the majority of your time with people smarter than you: You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room, you will pick up their habits and thoughts, and learn from them.

You need a buddy, a sidekick: Working with someone else can increase productivity by more than double.

Don’t manage people, manage expectations: Set expectations for deadlines rather than managing each step.

Fire unproductive people: Know what you’re looking for, don’t make rash hiring decisions, but don’t linger when you get it wrong.

Focus on building customers and revenue, not profit: profit is the applause, the reward not the purpose of a business.

You have sales before you have a business: That’s the sign of a promising idea – when money is paid for your product, you have a business.

Don’t waste time on people who can’t say yes: When building your business, ask who is responsible for making the final decision and target that person.

There’s no such thing as a cold call: Do research on prospects and their history, respect them, and they will respect you back

Sell the value of your products or services, and respect yourself: Ensure you have a value based pricing strategy, pick a price and stick to it, never price chip. Customers may say no, but they will respect you.

Act in spite of how you feel, push beyond fear: Don’t let your emotions or fatigue let you miss out on valuable opportunities, let your goals propel you.

Be a maverick: Lots of successful entrepreneurs are rebellious.

You have unbelievable endurance: Endurance is the most important trait for entrepreneurs.

Being successful is not the goal: Entrepreneurs should be motivated by creating a valuable product for customers, not success itself.

Be excited when Monday morning arrives: Entrepreneurs love Mondays because they get a fresh start with work, and the rest of the world is available to respond to them and move things along.

You sometimes get more resentment than respect: People are often jealous or can’t really understand what you do.

Some insightful stuff in that list, which when taken together, shows that pioneers make their dreams come true by being thoughtful, resolute and creative.

All pioneers want to make their mark, and of course, earn a decent crust along the way. Pie-oneers are no different, and just goes to show that some breakthrough thinking around how to wow your customers in a way they didn’t expect can create an opportunity that is hot, filling and tasty for your customers, and can put you on top of the pile ahead of all your rivals.

Are you the MasterChef of your business?

I’ve watched Celebrity MasterChef right through to the final recently. There’s something inspirational about seeing the level of contestants’ effort and passion laid out bare and vulnerable. Each contestant struggles with the constant presence of the challenge to their ability and their confidence, triggering anxiety. Hands shake uncontrollably as they struggle to place the final drizzle of gravy on the plate.

Ade Edmondson was crowned the winner, beating fellow finalists Les Dennis and Janet Street-Porter by cooking a faultless three-course meal of venison and sea bass for judges John Torode and Gregg Wallace. Torode said the winner’s dishes were delicious and absolutely mind-blowing, Wallace said: I love the look of his dishes, I love the style, I love the cleanness of them – beautiful simplicity.

Ade Edmondson’s winning menu was:

  • Starter: pan-seared loin of venison, with a pepper crust, served with celeriac remoulade and lambs lettuce.
  • Main: butter fried fillet of sea bass stuffed with scallop mousse and served with a deconstructed ratatouille sauce.
  • Dessert: strawberries in caramel syrup, topped with a caraway shortbread and a raspberry sorbet.

From 8am till midnight, day in and day out, they’re ordered about by egotistical chefs in Michelin-starred kitchens while cooking complicated dishes against the clock and all this while being constantly nagged by the judges bellowing YOU ONLY HAVE FIVE MINUTES LEFT. India Fisher’s hushed narrative and voiceover gives me goose pimples. It was a great final week. Highlights included Gregg saying Two tarts and an ice-cream as if it were the title of a new release by One Direction, and seeing Les Dennis’s little face crumble and bottom lip quiver when told he hadn’t won. But the overriding memory will be Janet Street Porter banging on about her love of cooking roadkill.

I’ve long been a passionate cook – although I didn’t learn to cook until I was a student at university. My first meal was a roast chicken, and I didn’t even know which end of the bird you shoved the stuffing in when I started. I read books (Delia was and is my kitchen inspiration) and started to really enjoy it, and my years at university developed my culinary craftsmanship. I soon became a big entertainer in our student house – I did our Graduation party in 1984 for 50 people and made a huge chilli con carne, mixing it in the bath at our student house. Never did get those stains out properly.

As far as I’m concerned, food is about taste, texture and well-sourced ingredients, and cooking is not an opportunity to make a climbing frame out of vegetables or building blocks out of meat. My food is chunky and unpretentious, a bit like me! Having said that, I am confident about flavours and what works together. Just this weekend I cooked a nifty Sole Meuniere, coating the fish in a sauce made from grated toasted walnuts, fresh herbs from the garden and lemon zest.

I’m an avid reader of cookbooks for inspiration. Giorgio Locatelli’s big Italian book is a great read – sometimes I take it into the bath with me – Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s veg book has a load of good ideas and Rosemary Shrager’s recipes are simple and fool-proof, so ideal for me. Heston Blumenthal is just too posh and too fussy for me. I spend more time trying to use the letters of his name as an anagram and spell something rude. That lush nobleman is my best effort.

I love basic and traditional English food. My ‘signature dish’ is a Desperate Dan pie – braised steak with morel mushrooms and pink shallots, in rich chestnut-flavoured gravy, with a puff pastry topping, served with sprouts pan-fried with chestnuts and garlic, and carrots braised in Manuka honey. Gregg and John would love my dish, although there would be some whingeing about my presentation as I’m all about substance over style.

But back to MasterChef. Under pressure, the dignity of someone utterly wholeheartedly committed to his or her craft is incredible to watch. This is competitive cooking that is hard to imagine, and they produce unbelievable dishes. The effort really gets to me, by committing to their goal, they truly expose themselves. By trying so hard, they leave no room for comfort should they fail.

How many of us commit ourselves to our business like this? Very few I suspect. Most of us settle for a bit of effort but we seek to avoid at all costs any loss of dignity, the risk of appearing foolish, or being criticised. We don’t put ourselves out there, exposed, vulnerable for all to see. They step out of their comfort zones in the glare of national television and bare their soul. And sometimes their sole.

As always when looking at something like this, I always try to find lessons we can take into our business:

Bosses come in all shapes and sizes and have different personalities Greg Wallace is kind, wants them to succeed but is firm and professional. John Torode is sarcastic and likes to watch people sweat, quick to anger, but has plenty of heart too. Occasionally, lessons come at you in a loud, angry voice, others supportive but still critical. You can focus on the anger or you can hear the lesson.

Keeping it simple can be the best option Sometimes the contestants try to take it too far, using a particular ingredient just to be different. Occasionally, it works, but it’s a risk and the competitor with the simple, well-prepared dish rarely goes home. Attention to detail and back to basics are good business principles.

Strategise before filling the pans The contestants are told the goal of the day and then have to think through each and every small activity from the ingredients they require, to the time allocated and how would they present. Little time is given but it has to be quick, effective decision-making, goal driven. Having a clear strategy is key.

Have a Plan A – and a Plan B After strategy, to obtain the desired culinary result a good plan is needed. The process means an assessment of resources and potential influences – in this case the judges’ preferences. In business, when resources such as time and money are finite it is vital to have a plan to execute the strategy.

Dessert malfunction for Les highlighted the need for agility, to be able to respond quickly and have a contingency. Businesses operate in a dynamic environment and unplanned events of significant adverse impact occur. The ability to recognise these risks and be able to respond with a back-up plan is vital.

Stay cool when the heat is on What happens when the dish doesn’t turn out the way you wanted? Yes, you have a Plan B, but often Plan B is now under extreme time pressure and there isn’t time to deliver fully. You have to stay calm and present what is completed with conviction, even if failure is at the back of your mind, go with what you have.

Accept criticism in positive manner You thought it was your best shot but the judges say you fell short. These contestants go though it every time yet they face it with grace, and take feedback positively. A resilient, positive attitude is the key, recognising feedback is useful. We deal with rejection of our business offering every day, learn from your mistakes and put learning into practice.

Be goal-oriented and time-aware As the saying goes, If you can’t take the heat get out of the kitchen. In each episode there is a challenge, with a clear goal, but a ridiculously short amount of time to complete it. The contestants are motivated to win, but it’s remarkable how much pressure the contestants put themselves under to achieve their short-term goal of winning individual challenges, and their long-term goal of winning the series.

Resilience and dealing with setbacks MasterChef gives us an insight into how people handle stress and demanding situations. The time pressures and increasingly difficult tasks set showed us how well they were able to manage themselves under pressure and produce the goods. You could often see the demands of a given situation getting to them. It was unrelenting at times. Those who were able to hold it together and ‘manage’ themselves when under added strain performed better.

Processes deliver productivity Cooking to a recipe is very much following a process with clear instructions. In business, ambiguity or inaccuracy in a process can lead to wildly varied quality and results. The importance of including detail and clarity in a process so that the same results can be delivered every single time is a key element to successful outcomes in business.

The pressure of MasterChef is a perfect example of how to get things done, not just in the kitchen, but in business. Any project requires five key components to succeed:

Be clear about the big picture – the end product Contestants are shown the dish they are required to prepare, and they visualise the process and the end product. The same applies to business outcomes we want to achieve. We need to use our imagination, to visualise our goal, to see it, taste it, feel it, smell it and keep it in our heads at all times through the ‘cooking’ process.

Break up the goal into its component parts The contestants cook dishes with many ingredients. Looking at it as a whole, they often seem overwhelmed, but as they run to their benches and read through their recipes, they become confident and methodically work through the recipe. In business, we can do the same by breaking down our goal into steps and achievable chunks of work. When you make a detailed plan for each task, you create your ‘recipe’.

Research and prepare in each episode the judges stress the importance of the ‘meson plus’, or preparation. It is important to have all your ingredients ready before you start on a task. One little mistake, one missing part and you future could be lost before you start. In business, have all you resources ready and plan in place before you start on each task.

Review and check Several contestants have been eliminated by missing a vital step or ingredient from their dish. Sometimes they get caught out by the time pressure and forget to go back and double-check. In business this translates to knowing your key project milestones and knowing which tasks are completed and make sure you follow-up on those outstanding.

Leave yourself enough time to test the final product During the presentation of each dish the contestants are often asked Have you tasted it? and often their response is No. Sometimes such trust in their own ability pays off, but sometimes it doesn’t. It’s a big risk to take in business. Leave yourself enough time to not only put the final product together (‘plate it up’) and make sure it works, but to also test it with some of your colleagues and selected clients to see if it can be improved.

Higher performing business people have tools, processes and techniques that help them develop strategies to enhance their self-awareness and emotional resilience, and allow them to make the most of their capabilities and the situations they find themselves in on a daily basis. That is what MasterChef is all about in a kitchen setting.

As Greg says: Cooking doesn’t get any harder than this. Business life does occasionally throw eggs at us. We have to be ready with our oil, salt and pepper, and the world is your omelette. Mary Anne Radmacher’s words sum up this attitude: Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says ‘I’ll try again tomorrow’.

Focus on deciding your own future for yourself, before somebody else does

Andy Murray moved up to second spot in the Men’s World Tennis rankings recently, but can he get to the number one spot? Moving up one place in the rankings might not be a big deal on most occasions, but it is when it means you are recognised as the best player in the world. Novak Djokovic, Murray’s long-time rival, currently has a significant lead at the top of the rankings.

Murray became world number two for the second time in his career, indicating he is winning a lot of matches, and being consistent. Besides the obvious physical qualities required to be a top tennis player, the mental approach is key, the main one being the time spent subconsciously assessing the trajectory, speed and movement of the ball, and what return to play.

Murray gains his advantage through his ability to execute the winning shot with more consistency.  Having decided what to play, he can position himself, swing his racket and hit the ball much more rapidly than most of his opponents. Decisive hitting of the ball is a result of judgement, instinct and decision-making, but the magic ingredient in reality, seems to be delay in making the decision on how to play the return.

I’ve observed that there seems to be a deliberate delay in making decisions in his play. Additional milliseconds are taken to observe the ball and his opponent’s situation, and hence more time to decide how best to respond. This suggests he delays his decision-making and takes extra time to gather and analyse information, a truly decisive advantage.

The paradox of tennis is that what looks like quickness is born of patience and reflection, whereby the top players look like they have more time. The game demands swift thinking, the entire decision-making experience can last milliseconds in which to assess information and reduce the risk that come with guesswork. Rush part one, observation and preparation for the choice of return shot, and you mess up part two, execution.

Decision making in tennis, like business, is in its purest form seems about not making a decision for as long as possible. Making quick decisions is often regarded as a sign of an effective leader, but I think this has perhaps missed the observation to be made from tennis, where apparent delay in not attacking the ball immediately creates an opportunity for decisiveness. The best players it seems to me are masters of adjustment, which is why they win more points and more games, as they make fewer errors.

Decision making in business is about balance – move forward in your thinking, then make adjustments in your thinking to leave yourself balanced and ready to move in either direction, enabling flexibility and agility, retaining more options than others. Later decisions are invariably better decisions.

It’s the same in comedy too, the pauses from a comedian in his delivery is because he’s gauging the state of readiness in the audience, making tiny adjustments to the calibration of the delivery of the final punch line, ensuring the maximum impact. Again, the best reactions are when the comedian gets his timing (decision making) right.

Legendary jazz trumpeter Miles Davis believed that timing of his decisions on what to play next when jamming was an act of instinct, a discovery. He knew that spontaneous decision-making (creativity) was the business of jazz. With less than 1% of the notes on the written score, Davis improvised the rest: I didn’t make a decision on what I was going to do until the last minute, it didn’t feel like pressure, it just made me play the right notes.

And consider Chess, where there are official time controls on the game which steer decision making: 90 minutes for the first 40 moves followed by 30 minutes for the rest of the game, with an addition of 30 seconds per move starting from move one.

In business, we’re often under pressure to make a quick decision, colleagues looking for direction expecting an instant, decisive verdict – because if we delay, our rivals will get there first. The hard thing is summoning the courage to take your time, to fight against the feeling that you have to rush to meet expectations.

I tested this hypothesis at a recent board meeting, where crucial decisions were needed on pressing matters. Many colleagues were restless, almost agitated. They huffed and puffed boisterously. However, the CEO spoke quietly and languidly, thinking outloud, outlining the options, weighing up the pros-and-cons – but not leaping to a decision. Noticeably when he spoke the others listened intently, the cacophony ceased, colleagues craned forward to hear his every word, anticipation building to hear his decision.

Business leadership demands many qualities, being bold and gutsy to make the big calls early is seen to be a vital characteristic, but is success achieved by making decisions faster than the competition, or by quickly identifying opportunities, rapidly zeroing in on the best ones, and then pursuing them relentlessly? There’s a growing body of evidence that rapid decision-making isn’t the key to success, and that by waiting that little bit longer, you are better able to make the right decision and wrongfoot competitors.

We see the same story in elite military pilots.  The OODA cycle – Observe, Orient, Decide, Act – is grounded in studies of the way they succeed in dogfights. The winner isn’t the one who reacts most quickly, but the one who decides how to act most effectively. To do this, they give themselves time, and they try to act in ways that deprive their opponents of time.

The timescales may be different in business, but the same principles apply. Successful people are going to be the ones which:

  • Build the ability to execute rapidly If you can’t execute, it doesn’t matter what decisions you make. As importantly, if you can execute well, that frees up time to make better decisions.  Successful people are going to devote a lot of time and thought to improving their execution (Murray trains 35 hours a week when not playing tournaments). They’ll build a realistic level of confidence in their ability to act, so they don’t knee-jerk a decision when under pressure and hence feel forced to decide too rapidly.
  • Build reflection into their decision-making processes Most of us are under pressure to act to show that we’re doing something.  But as well as building the ability to execute, we need the ability to stop and think. We need to become comfortable with inaction, with watching and waiting for the right moment to spring.  Most of us are really bad at this, we simply want to make a decision and get stuck in.
  • Understand the last possible moment There comes a point when it’s too late to act.  The exact point is determined by our ability to execute and by the decision context (what others are doing, how the environment is changing, etc.).  Beyond that point our actions are guaranteed to fail, and even before that last possible moment, the cost of inaction may start to grow rapidly as options become more expensive and eventually get closed off. Timing is everything in decision-making.

Daniel Kahneman, in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow identified the two systems that make up what he calls the machinery of the mind, reflecting on the speed of decision making. Kahneman presents our thinking process as consisting of two systems. System 1 (Thinking Fast) is unconscious, intuitive and effort-free; System 2 (Thinking Slow) is conscious, uses deductive reasoning and is hard work.

System 1 thinking includes an ability to recognise patterns in a fraction of a second, so that it will automatically produce adequate solutions to challenges. An even more remarkable accomplishment is expert intuition, in which after much practice a trained expert, such as a firefighter, can unconsciously produce the right response to complex emergencies. The classic example is the firefighting captain who correctly anticipates that a house on fire is about to explode and gets his team out in time yet cannot articulate why he knew that.

For Murray, as a tennis professional he finds himself in situations which Kahneman labels System 1, sufficiently regular to be predictable, in which Murray can train his unconscious pattern recognition mechanism to produce the right answer quickly, giving him that millisecond advantage – the speed of thought supports speed of movement.

Successful people develop an understanding of the impact of timing on their decisions.  They’ll manage this timing actively, not solely with a view to accelerating the decision, but more to find the right time to decide and begin acting. Not too fast. Not too slow.

How does this delay play out in different situations? We generally make decisions in one of three broad situations – routine, novel and crisis situations.

  • In routine situations, we understand how things work, so we can analyse the situation and choose the best option for action. In these cases, doing that analysis and delaying decisions until the last responsible moment makes a lot of sense, there is low risk and we are familiar with the scenario.
  • In novel situations, on the other hand, we don’t know enough to fully analyse what’s going on. We need to learn how things work, which requires action to test the environment and understand it more. So again it makes sense to delay our final decisions until we know more, otherwise we’d simply be making a random guess or uninformed choice without any real understanding of the situation. But the delay involves active learning rather than analysis.
  • In crises, we’re under immediate threat from something that’s happening, we need to act rapidly to stabilise the situation, buying time for further analysis and decision-making later.  So action must precede considered decision-making.

Decision-making is about more than appearing decisive, it’s about managing the context as outlined above.  Successful people are able to recognise these different circumstances, and adjust their decision-making strategies accordingly.

Business leaders show their mettle in many ways, but above all else they are made or broken by the quality of their decisions. Most leaders treat decision making as an event, but it’s not, its more of a process, with successful outcomes relying on a balance between deliberate and instinctive thinking, with personal nuances, rife with debate and choices. Making effective decisions is about discipline and good habits, building a process that works for you.

Ultimately it’s about a focus on making decisions about your own future for yourself, before somebody else does. I am paid to make decisions implies early interventions, but avoiding making quick, snap decisions is a quality shown by people, like Andy Murray, at the top of their game.

Last year’s words belong to last year’s language, and next year’s words await another voice

So, 2012, what was that all about? One minute you’re wondering what the year might have in store, the next you’re wondering what, if anything, you’ll remember it for and what you achieved.

Paroxysms of tears and joy on the sofas of Britain from television-addiction to the Olympics aside, when you recall ‘2012’ in years to come, what memories will it conjure?  Some obvious things suggest themselves immediately besides the Olympics: the Leveson inquiry; the re-election of President Obama; Higgs Boson; Felix Baumgartner’s leap; the tenth anniversary of the death of Joe Strummer;  the Stone Roses reunion concert in Manchester. In the end, X Factor was won by the permanently bored and miserable-looking James Arthur, who presumably appealed to the UK’s teenagers as a kindred spirit.

History is capricious about what it preserves and what it consigns to its dustbin. Only time will tell. In retrospect, we can look back 200 years at 1812 and recognise that this was the year when the outcome of the seemingly endless Napoleonic wars was determined. All sorts of things happened 100 years ago in 1912 that would change history, principally by helping to cause the First World War, but most of us recall that it was the year of the Titanic disaster and of Captain Scott’s disastrous race to the South Pole with Amundsen.

Like every year, this one has been exhilarating in its complexity. There were many technological triumphs to celebrate, from the chic of the £20 Raspberry Pi to the shoot-out between Google’s Nexus 7 and Apple’s iPad Mini. Apple was furious with Samsung, and Samsung was furious with Apple, but bigger arguments raged over the relentless amassing of patents by technology corporations. Facebook saw its billionth user sign up to the service in October, but this was scant consolation to the shareholders who’d invested in the company in May and had watched the share price tumble – at one point to less than 50% of its listing price.

For a few glorious weeks in an otherwise miserable year for weather (big drought, big flood and big freeze), the clouds parted, the sun shone a bit and a nation fell uncontrollably in love with sport. Putting aside all the great achievements, the humility of the athletes was memorable: Sir Chris Hoy, modest and magnificent. I shut my eyes and I lunged and drove it all the way to the line, he said, of the moment he became the country’s most successful-ever Olympian: Then I heard this massive roar, and I hoped that it was for me.

So, I’m contemplating the year behind me and the year ahead. It’s important to take time to contemplate the milestones of 2012 and how you’d like to grow in 2013. I’ve certainly had a year of twists and turns, here are my personal notes to self.

Embrace failure Some days it’s just not meant to be, through no lack of effort, wisdom or enthusiasm, you just don’t hit the mark and you end up with an outcome far removed from that desired or anticipated. I used to beat myself up ferociously and drill down to find out what went wrong. In reality I used to spend more time and energy on the inquest than was healthy. Now I shrug my shoulders, reflect and look for the learning points. I recognise failure means that I am moving, and it’s the learning not the result that I should embrace. I sometimes feel like the big dog chasing the nimble squirrel. That’s ok. You can’t take anything personally, because no one knows what will work or won’t work, but you’ve got to keep moving because inertia kills.

Always think positively I’ve turned into a new age yogi in the last twelve months, ok, turning 50 was a tough gig, looking backwards and forwards at a milestone that could have become a millstone. The trick is to keep up your momentum and set yourself Big Hairy Audacious GoaIs. I find the more ridiculously stretching they are, the more you smile inwardly and believe you can. The best book I read this year for giving me this refreshed attitude was Steve Jobs’ biography, his phrase Reality Distortion Field has become my new personal graffiti. This phrase pushes me to keep pedaling, even on those days I don’t want to get on the bike. I also avoid negative people like the SARS virus, it’s draining to be around energy sappers. An optimistic fool does more than a pessimistic genius. Trust your instincts.

Be agile, be alert On your marks, get set…GO! You are never ready. I de-cluttered everything this year, from my iTunes library, my old client files, my garden shed, indexed my project library and even sorted the sock drawer. I removed all baggage and got myself ready. Not sure what for, but it felt good, renewed and geared up to take that plunge to the next challenge, no excuses. You’ll never be ready, but that shouldn’t stop you from being ready, if that makes sense.

Never use time for idleness Olympians spend hours practicing their technique, and seeking to improve. An ethos of deliberate practice ensures the bar continues to rise – but you’ve got to make the decision to focus on self-improvement. What investment in yourself have you made this year? You cannot borrow time, so think, act and push to be your best today, live in the moment, and don’t kid yourself you can cruise for a short-time, because others are overtaking you. Never stop striving for that personal best. Today’s laurels are tomorrow’s compost.

Plans mean nothing, but planning is everything. The Mars Rover landing of ‘Curiosity’ in August was an incredible feat, but lurking behind the technical pyrotechnics is a story of planning in the face of almost-unbelievable uncertainty. Often missed in the retelling of Curiosity’s landing is the fact that no-one at NASA could do a single thing about the outcome. Once the landing module had begun its descent, everything–every tiny movement, every one of the millions of microscopic adjustments–was being made by pre-programmed software. Either everything worked out okay, or it didn’t. There was no way to adjust on the fly. In the end, all those plans were essentially meaningless. But planning? Planning is what put Curiosity on Mars. It can get you anywhere you want to go.

Do not underestimate yourself I’ve always set the bar high. We grow up overly critical of ourselves, which is fine to a point in seeking improvement, but do not doubt yourself – in today’s busy world, you’re either remarkable or invisible – so seize the moment, it’s down to you. As Bradley Wiggins said There’s a point in every race when a rider encounters the real opponent – and he realises that it’s himself. I don’t think I’ve got a puncture yet, I maybe on the hill climb (still) but let’s keep peddling! When we get onto the downhill bit we can freewheel and stand on the handlebars – which will make it all worthwhile. Believe you can.

Be mentally tough. Successful people are consistent in their approach, control their emotions, pick themselves up after a setback, and go again. They are as fresh on a Friday as they are on a Monday. They are able to ‘get in the zone’ and have huge stickability. Never make excuses or feel sorry for yourself, it’s simply down to you. Boxers have 10 seconds to get back up from being knocked down, that’s mental toughness. As Mike Tyson said, everyone has a plan until they’re punched on the nose. Remember nothing worthwhile comes easily. Half effort does not produce half results. It produces no results. Keep trying, regardless.

Realise nothing is an overnight success I am where I am, which is a good place to be, but I’m starting to believe that it’s all about hard work. Having said that, If you ever meet a fairy who wants to grant you a wish, my advice is don’t go for beauty or wealth – they are not all they are cracked up to be – instead go for hard work and a set of clear goals. Without explicit goals you don’t have a chance of any major success. As the quote goes, Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people. Just keep going, stay hungry, however, as Einstein said doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is a definition of insanity. Remember, Vision without Execution is Hallucination, or is that the result of too many drinks last night?

It will get better, but it’s going to get worse before it gets better. This year I had a particularly frustrating surprise. I am a risk taker and tend to follow my instinct, so it is expected things sometimes veer off course. The unforeseen event that happened threw me and I stalled. I wasn’t prepared and I lost myself for a little while. I had to dig down in my soul to get back on course. What I couldn’t see was that this unforeseen event that left me flailing was a test of strength and character. This one particular experience made me a lot stronger but no one could have told me at the time that this curveball was actually a gift. You learn a lot about yourself, and other people, in adversity, especially when it’s human behaviour – and specifically a lack of integrity – that is contra to all your instincts and beliefs in the best of people, that lets you down.

Impossible Things There is a line in Alice in Wonderland about thinking six impossible things before breakfast. This has stuck in my mind, so I started to play with it, setting myself ‘a daily disruptive thought’ challenge to come up with new ideas. As a result, I have lots of answers and ideas to move ahead. But I have no particular wizard-like talent, it’s just that I am driven, focused, curious and inquisitive. It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I’ve got more tenacity than most and stay with challenges longer, and reflect.

Reflection is something I’m good at, and need to do more of, which reminds me of these lines from A. A. Milne in Winnie-the-Pooh: Here is Edward Bear coming downstairs now, bump, bump. Bump on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it.

This quote is a great example of our everyday lives. We have to move so fast to get by that we never get the chance to stop and think about what we do and why we do it.  I guess my key learning from 2012 is to take time to stop and think about the future – and my interest should be about the future because I’m going to spend the rest of my life there!

Ending 2012, as T. S Elliott said. last year’s words belong to last year’s language, and next year’s words await another voice,  I know I’m happiest when my hands are dirty and I’m creating things, that laughter leads to better work, and that not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts. Having said that, if I had the year to live over again, I’d be a roofer. Could I get one when needed this year?