Thinking in the bath – what’s your Eureka moment going to be in 2012?

My plan for today:

1. Download some new iTunes and spend my Christmas gift cards…
2. Go to the gym…
3. Eureka! Think up a brilliant new business idea…

You don’t need a mobile telephone provider’s enthusiastic sales person to tell you we live in a pay-as-you-go world, where all businesses are seeking innovations to make themselves different in very cluttered markets, with a differentiated added-value offer distinct from their nearest competitor.

But big ideas can’t be planned like growing tomatoes in your greenhouse, we stumble upon ideas, and although we can sometimes recall how we got there, we could not have anticipated the discovery in advance. Now I’ve had plenty of baths this Christmas period, it’s a haven for tranquility where I get to relax with Sudoku, my Kindle and general reading (Jamie Oliver’s Christmas With Bells On being a particular favourite this year), but whilst I did some good thinking whilst paddling with the radox, alas I didn’t have one Eureka! moment to shout downstairs about.

The Eureka! exclamation is famously attributed to the Greek scholar Archimedes when he stepped into a bath and noticed that the water level rose – he suddenly understood that the volume of water displaced must be equal to the volume of the part of his body he had submerged. He then realised that the volume of irregular objects could be measured with precision, a previously intractable problem. He is said to have been so eager to share his discovery that he leapt out of his bathtub and ran through the streets of Syracuse naked!

Updating Archimedes thinking, The Innovators DNA: Mastering The Five Skills Of Disruptive Innovators – by Dyer, Gregersen and Christensen, was a book I got for Christmas and it gave me some useful insights whilst lingering Archimedesque-like. The key message from their work is that innovation is well within the reach of mere mortals not named Jobs, Bezos or Zuckerberg, anyone can innovate if they follow the five skills of disruptive innovators.

The Innovator’s DNA emerged from an eight-year collaborative study in which they sought to uncover the origins of innovative and often disruptive business ideas. They interviewed nearly a hundred inventors of revolutionary products and services, founders and CEOs of game-changing companies built on innovative business ideas. Their aim was to understand as much about these people as possible, including the moment (when and how) they came up with the creative ideas that launched new products or businesses. As they reflected on the interviews, they identified five discovery skills that distinguish innovative entrepreneurs from everyday folk. They are:

  • Questioning which allows innovators to challenge the status quo and consider new possibilities, often drawing connections between unrelated fields
  • Observing scrutinizing the behaviours in the activities of customers, suppliers, and competitors that suggests new ways of doing things.
  • Networking meeting people from diverse backgrounds, to gain radically different perspectives, including contradictions and paradoxes.
  • Experimenting constructing interactive experiences and provoking unorthodox responses to see what insights emerge, to relentlessly take things apart and test new ideas.
  • Associational Thinking – drawing connections between questions, problems, or ideas from unrelated fields – is triggered by questioning, observing, networking, and experimenting and is the catalyst for creativity.

When engaged in consistently, these actions – questioning, observing, networking, and experimenting – they triggered associational thinking to produce pioneering, original breakthrough ideas.

One interesting moment I did have was reading that scientists have discovered why Archimedes had to relax in a bath before discovering his famous principle. Psychologists have been interested in learning what thought processes are involved in those moments of clarity, when the solution to a vexing problem falls into place with a blinding flash. Now a study published in the journal PLoS ONE by a team led by Dr Joydeep Bhattacharya at Goldsmiths College, London, and the Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna, reveals how relaxing the brain, and not being too focused, is the key to creativity.

The team studied brain rhythms while volunteers solved verbal problems. Often the participants reached a state of mental block and could not progress further, marked by excessive amount of gamma brain rhythm (one linked with focused attention).

This was confirmed when the volunteers were given hints. Researchers found that by studying brain rhythms, it was possible to predict the success or failure three or four seconds later. Those showing higher alpha brain rhythm (linked with a relaxed brain with free floating ideas) in the right side of the brain would lead to the correct solution. Those showing gamma rhythms and stuck in one particular way of thinking were less successful.

It was the great scientist Louis Pasteur who declared that Chance favours the prepared mind, and it seems that sudden flashes of insight don’t just happen, but are the product of preparation when the brain is relaxed and receptive to free floating ideas.

Air conditioning provides a useful way to support this hypothesis.  One night in 1902, an ambitious young American engineer named Willis Carrier was waiting for a train, watching fog roll in across the platform, when he had a sudden flash of insight: he could exploit the principle of fog to cool buildings. He patented the idea, protected it fiercely, put his new invention into production, and made a fortune. In 2007, the still-surviving Carrier Corporation generated $15bn sales. As eureka moments go, even Archimedes might have had to concede that Carrier’s was impressive.

So what’s going to be your Eureka! moment for 2012? According to the Mayans and their Mesoamerican Long Count calendar (did I tell you I got a book for Christmas….), 2012 is the year in which we all call it day. Just imagine for a moment that all the doomsday prophets are right and that in less than a year the South Pole decides to take a holiday somewhere near the Equator.  Apart from the obvious death, despair, heartbreak, texting and twittering that would go with such an event, it would also make the 2012 plan you’re working on right now your last. Your legacy. The sum of what you stand for.

So when you look at your plans for 2012, would you want it to be the one that defines you?  Is it the one in which your innovative thinking enables you to renew and accelerate the growth of your business? Or is it a cut and paste from the ones that have gone before – a Plan B (there isn’t a Plan A, so let’s settle for this…) who’s biggest achievement is that it maintains the status quo?

Make Eureka! your mantra for 2012. Be like Dick Fosbury, develop a be different revolutionary plan full of agile thinking and push your aspiration towards a Personnel Best. Remember, it’s not how good you are, it’s how good you want to be.

Be curious, adopt an innovation-fuelled mind-set. Curiosity moves you from the sidelines right into the game. It’s an entry ticket to the playing field, without curiosity, you are a mere spectator. Think of your business as a game of chess; at any point in the game, several ingenious and audacious moves may be possible, and at the same time, cautious and restrained alternatives will also present themelves. Be bold, relax (remember the research) and go for it. As Ernest Shackleton said, reach beyond your expectations.

Happy 2012! The dna 2012 motto is Innervation© Make it count, where it matters – inside. I wish you the very best with those ideas that you plan to pursue and make them a reality!

Crossing the Rubicon

I was on the London Underground sometime ago and was struck by the signs Mind The Gap. Of course, it’s part of a safety campaign to get people to pay attention when entering and exiting the train. However, as I was sat musing amongst the throng of morose passengers, upon closer inspection Mind the Gap struck me really more of a philosophy than just a simple tube safety sign.

Each of us is someplace in life, and we’re all probably trying to get somewhere else. The gap is the distance between those two. For Londoners, the Underground is so second nature that many of them don’t even think about the gap, minding it is almost automatic. For me, my instant thoughts were how do I close the gap between where I am and where I want to be? I found it really stimulating my thinking as I sat there waiting for my stop. Why would anyone ignore the gap? Make it happen, do what it takes!

In a life context, ignoring the gap comes with consequences like missed opportunities, unaccomplished goals and ignored dreams. In business terms, failure to Mind the Gap means lost client opportunities, missed innovation and sales shortfalls.  Perhaps I should simply read the newspaper rather than musing when on the tube!

Just over two thousand years ago, another ‘gap’ was crossed with dramatic results. The Rubicon is a small stream in Northern Italy that marked the boundary between Gaul and Ancient Rome. Any one crossing it was automatically committing an act of confrontation against the state, so when Julius Caesar, then a general, crossed the Rubicon on 10 January 49BC, he intentionally declared war on the Roman Senate. This is the origin of the phrase, Crossing the Rubicon, meaning to take an irrevocable step, beyond the point of no return. As he crossed, Caesar is quoted as saying Jacta alea est, (the die is cast) as he made the decisive move, a bold statement of his intent. There was no going back, he was audaciously locked into that ambitious course of action.

Enough of early Roman history you cry! Well, we all have a choice in how we run our lives and whether we want to cross our own Rubicon. The decision not to cross the Rubicon is why people look back on their lives and think if only. There is another famous Latin motto, Carpe Diem, seize the day, which applies here. Doesn’t it feel good to push yourself out beyond your comfort zone and try to achieve something new? Doesn’t it feel fantastic when you succeed? The question to ask yourself is this: Just how much of a Caesar am I prepared to be? How much of a don’t just sit there do something about it mindset do you have, and are energised and motivated for action?

Heike Bruch and Sumantra Ghoshal’s landmark research revealed that only 10% of us work purposefully to get a Bias for Action and purposely get things done, whilst the other 90% dawdle (a word from my vocabulary, don’t think you’d find this in an academic research paper!) procrastinate and spin the wheels, inertia over action. From this, they identified four types of attitudes and behaviours:

  • Frenzied – 40% of us juggle tasks in a highly energetic but unfocused manner
  • Procrastinators – 30% of us work on the correct tasks but lack energy and focus
  • Detached – 20% of us are disengaged altogether
  • Purposeful – 10% of us get the job done

Apparently, what is missing is simply willpower to apply consistent and energetic behaviour with a focus on getting things done – action must be focused on achievement rather than on just producing activity – are we busy doing the right things, aimed at meeting our goals?  Discipline, Clarity and Focus – one of dna people’s core philosophies, resonates here.

Your Rubicon is something that will make you feel stretched, and yet their research showed that often people are negative about trying to cross their Rubicon. To overcome this negativity, you need the ability to visualise success and the courage to commit. Of course, Caesar’s actions in crossing the Rubicon were deliberately confrontational. For us, this is akin to taking clear and decisive action to move our business forward by introducing some new ideas, or confronting those barriers holding us back – something we’ve always wanted to do, but never done.

Time and again we make big plans but don’t follow through. Heinz Heckhausen and Peter Gollwitzer have undertaken extensive studies into this, and the two German psychologists have developed the so-called Rubicon model of motivation to identify the traits of people who achieve outstanding success in several walks of life and what stands them apart – take a look at their at their study, what can you take from it for yourself?

This links to the concept of mindsets, a simple idea developed by the psychologist Carol Dweck in her research on achievement and success. She expresses the concept of the growth mindset – where people believe their talent and abilities can be developed through commitment and hard work and aiming for targets and goals. Brains and talent are just the starting point, it’s all about focus, an appetite for learning and resilience to achieve those Big Hairy Audacious Goals. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.

A fascinating recent study by Dominic Johnson & Dominic Tierney (you can tell I’ve had some time on my hands to read recently) prescribes The Rubicon Theory of War. When people believe they have crossed a psychological Rubicon and perceive war to be imminent, they switch from what psychologists call a deliberative to an implemental mindset, triggering a number of psychological biases.

So there’s some interesting and easy to access academic stuff, which enables us to understand better those people who are focused on raising the bar to unbelievable heights of personal-best achievement and conquering  their own Rubicon. The common traits are focus on goals, and being action oriented. Ask yourself how clear your goals are, and what you’re doing to make it happen.

So, how to capture this in a simple take-away from a blog? Moses had his very own ten commandments, I’ve got three thoughts and seven suggestions (but more of those another time, they’re work-in-progress).

Three Thoughts:

  • Inner-Vation: Choose your attitude. Breakthrough self-imposed mental barriers, build a dragon-slayers’ mentality. Ask yourself why can’t I do this, and lean forward, don’t lean back – today’s laurels are tomorrow’s compost. Life’s too short to go unnoticed, so do something that makes a difference.
  • Ignition: Get the right mindset. Get started. Do stuff that has an immediate impact – we can’t do everything at once, but we can do something at once. Play for unreasonable short-term wins, and no matter how you perceive yourself, get stuck in – a barking dog is more useful than a sleeping lion.
  • Implementation: Engage and focus your willpower. Think Execution – literally! Actions speak louder than words, as the Chinese proverb says talk doesn’t cook rice. Life rewards people who take action – 20% thinking, 80% doing should be your attitude to getting stuff done and following a plan.

Well, all that from a bit of Roman history. History often signposts us to other ideas we can bring to our current everyday thinking. For example, take Edmund Blackadder’s statement Baldrick I have a very, very very cunning plan – to which Baldrick replies Is it as cunning as the fox that used to be Professor of Cunning at Oxford University but has moved on and is now working for the UN at the High Commission of International Cunning Planning? Yes replied Blackadder.

Keep an eye out for my next blog, The Seven Cunning Habits of Highly Effective People, a historical allegory to shape your cunningness, but more in the style of Baldrick, than Covey.

35 steps to a Personal Best

The most important single quality of an individual pursuing a standout level of performance that can be considered ‘Personal Best’ is self-discipline. Self-discipline is having the ability within yourself, based on your strength of character and willpower, to do what you should do when you should do it, whether you feel like it or not. How much do you want it?. Perhaps the greatest display of self-discipline is to keep going and sustain momentum and pursuit when the going gets tough –  persistence is self-discipline in action, the attitude is right. Your persistence is in fact the true measure of your belief in yourself and your ability to succeed. Each time that you persist in the face of adversity and disappointment, you build the habit of not letting go. You build pride, power, and self-esteem into your daily plan, you become stronger and more resolute. By maintaining the momentum and focus, you become more self-disciplined. You develop within yourself the iron quality of determination, not letting go when others fall back. Striving for success is one quality that will carry you forward and over any obstacles thrown in your path, it’s ultimately one of the things which separates winners from losers.

Orison Swett Marsden noted There are two essential requirements for success. The first is ‘go-at-it-iveness’ and the second is ‘stick-to-it-iveness’. I like that! Referring to the quality of persistence he wrote, There is no failure for the man who realises his power, who never knows when he is beaten; there is no failure for the determined endeavor, the conquerable will. There is no failure for the man who gets up every time he falls, who rebounds like a rubber ball, who persists when everyone else gives up, who pushes on when everyone else turns back. Persistence is one of your greatest assets. In pursuing a ’Personal Best’, perhaps your greatest asset is simply your ability to stay at a task longer than anyone else. B.C. Forbes, who founded Forbes magazine and built it into a major publication during the darkest days of the 1930s Depression, wrote, History has demonstrated that the most notable winners usually encountered heartbreaking obstacles before they triumphed. They won because they refused to become discouraged by their defeat.

Adversity is what tests us. Throughout history, great thinkers have reflected on this paradox and have concluded that adversity is the test that you must pass on the path to accomplishing anything worthwhile. The very best qualities of strength, courage, character, and persistence are brought out in you when you face your greatest challenges and when you respond to them positively and constructively.

So, fine words from some fine people, but what’s the dna people mindset, and what is our journey and experience been like for working with start-up business or entrepreneurial  folk who want to make a difference? What does self-discipline, persistence and the attitude to overcoming adversity look like? Here’s my take on how it goes.

1. Start. This is memorable. It will make a difference. Great innovation.

2. Keep going. 
20% thinking, 80% doing, it’s starting to work.

3. You think you’re starting to get the hang of it.

4. You see someone else’s work and feel undeniable misery. 
Blown away.

5. Keep going. 
A blindman on a galloping donkey can see the opportunity. Grab it.

6. Keep going. 
Customers are coming, customers are coming.

7. You feel like maybe, possibly, you may just be onto something, I’ve got it now.

8. You don’t. 
Big sighs. Sulk. Reboot. Life’s a pitch.

9. Keep going. 
What do you want to be famous for?

10. A pitch for business – their response is standoffish, though polite. 
You go negative, glass is half-empty or half full? Doesn’t matter, it looks the same.

11. Depression. 
Those Joy Division songs make the soundtrack of where you’re at.

12. Keep going. 

13. Keep going. 
Got your spark back, shrug of the shoulders, dig in.

14. You ask someone else’s opinion – their response is favourable.

15. But not really. They have no idea what they’re talking about.

16. Keep going. 
Nothing else to do is there? Head up, head up.

17. You feel semi-positive, some small wins and progress, favorable feedback and maybe even a little proud of what you can do now. 
Singing in the car driving home.

18. Hysteria and hallucination, there’s nothing there. Get it sorted. Thinking too much.

19. Depression after a setback you just didn’t see coming. This feels like hard work.

20. Keep going. 
Put a man on the moon? If they can, I can.

21. You ask someone else’s opinion – they respond quite favorably but see the gaps. Analysis, paralysis.

22. Emperor’s new clothes. Steve Jobs would pack it in now.

23. Three times no. Depression. Final straw, there must be easier ways of earning a living. Check out career guidance for ‘international playboy’.

24. Keep going though you can’t possibly imagine why. 
Read the obituaries in The Independent. Other succeeded and made their mark. Roger Bannister. Dick Fosbury. Jonny Wilkinson. Carl Lewis. Steve Redgrave.

25. Become restless. 
Energised and energy sapping at the same time.

26. Receive some measure of encouragement from a trustworthy opinion.

27. Robert Stevenson. Ernst Shackleton. Joe Strummer. All made a difference. I want to be in their gang.

28. Keep going. You can hear yourself saying this in your sleep, now, even the dog is starting to look at you with concern.

29. Wake up, your dreamed the dog was saying Keep going.… Mastery arrives, you mistake it for a gust of wind.

30. Keep. Fucking. Going.

31. Manic levels of activity. Feels like a breakthrough. Haze clearing.

32. Blue Oceans rather than Red Ocean, weather forecast favourable too

33. Repeat business, scope and pricing agreed without arm-wrestling negotiation.

34. Glowing testimony from client, word of mouth and referrals too.

35. Get in there!

35 steps up and back down and sometimes sidewards, a bit like a game of snakes and ladders. However, achieving a standout performance, a Personal-Best, is what counts to us all. Some people fail to see the opportunity because it looks like hard work, but no excuses, get yourself in the right mindset and make it count, where it matters, Inner-Vation ©

4-2 (after extra time)

Tomorrow sees the 45th anniversary of the 1966 World Cup Final. Relying on the team which had seen them through the previous two rounds, Alf Ramsey’s England won a great match 4-2 after extra-time against West Germany. A winter sport played in the summer cheered everyone up no end: 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 30th 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 are in cherry red shirts, full sleeved with a simple round neck, plain – no daft logos or adverts. A simple football kit that today resonates with emotion. The English team comes out of the tunnel into the roaring light of English support. Rattles and klaxon horns. The weather forecast said ‘sunny period and showers, becoming dry later’. The Royal Marine band play a few tunes including the two National Anthems. Moore and Seeler, the captains, shake hands and exchange plaques and pennants. Bobby wins the toss with his customary elegance, 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, their captain, using his head to good advantage. It came as no surprise when Haller shot 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 quickly taken 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.

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. It wasn’t until Baddiel & Skinner undertook expert re-enactment in 1996 that with the aid of modern digital technology, it was 100% confirmed to be a goal. Well, sort of. 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. 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.

A day to remember – even if like for 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 day-dreams. It’s come to my aid on sleepless nights. It’s also helped when I’ve been stuck in dreadful meetings! My daydream. We are ten minutes into the second half and England are 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.

Alf Ramsey’s speech at full-time  – You’ve won the World Cup once, now, go and win it again– was akin to Henry V at Agincourt.

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?

  • Desire: The will to win. You’ve got to want it, to get yourself up to a new level of performance.
  • Commitment: Commit to yourself, and your goals, and make a commitment to stay focused.
  • Responsibility: You are responsible for your future. No-one else. You have the choices, you make the decisions. You alone are accountable to yourself.
  • Perspiration, not Inspiration: Don’t be shy of hard work – there is no alternative. Sacrifice and self-discipline are the norm for winners.
  • Belief in yourself: Not a platitude, what do you want to be famous for? Sir Alf used virtually these words,  who wants to be a winner?
  • Persistence: Concentrate and focus on what needs to be done. Without it, you won’t get very far. Dig in, make it happen.
  • Pride: Love what you do. Do it well, but don’t confuse pride with ego, it’s more about satisfaction and humility, quality and the individual go hand in hand.

So come 3 o’clock Saturday, 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.

Inner-Vation©: my ukulele world

Some months ago I met a Hawaiian lady called Melalia one Saturday morning on the bus into Burnley, and she lent me a book called Ho‘oponopono. There’s not much in common between Burnley and Hawaii to be honest – we’ve got a better football team, they’ve got the better beach – but to my astonishment we’ve got a Hawaiian café, run by Melalia,  just opened next to the bus station, so I wandered in there last Friday morning to return the book. As I sat in the Ala Moana café, I could have been in Honolulu, the soft, absorbing sound of ukulele music filled the room, the warm breeze wafted sweet smells and peace….Ok, it was lashing it down in reality, but the music did create a mellow ambiance not previously enjoyed in hilly East Lancashire. The café also sells second-hand ukuleles, an instrument I knew nothing about other than Elvis brandished one in Blue Hawaii and so with little better to do, I went into the back of the café to check out the ukuleles on offer. Twenty minutes later I wandered out again with a battered secondhand KoAloha soprano ukulele under my arm, just £20 spent, and my musical world has not been the same since. Neither, I hasten to add, has that of my family as my clumsy concrete fingers bash away seeking the melodic tunes of a faraway tropical idyll. in pursuit of Inner-Vation©.

After years of thrashing away on bass guitar in homage to Paul Simonon, cello and latterly saxophone – not to mention X-Box Rock Band, I’ve found the instrument for me. Not only that, I’ve opened up a whole new musical and cultural vista for myself as I had to find out some details about the origins of the instrument. The ukulele story began in Hawaii when the Ravenscrag docked in Honolulu with a boatload of immigrants from Portugal on August 23 1879. The story goes that one of the Portuguese, Joao Fernandes, was so excited to have arrived after his 15,000 mile, four month voyage he pulled out his braguinha, similar to the modern ukulele, and played joyful tunes on the quayside. The watching Hawaiians thought that his nimble fingers looked a little like a jumping flea, which in Hawaiian sounds a little like ukulele. Hence the name, so they say. I have entered Ukeworld. Believe it or not the ukulele is cool. Not only are the likes of Pearl Jam and the Black-Eyed Peas extolling its virtues, but when Neil Armstrong went into three-week quarantine after the first moon landing, he took a ukulele in with him. Isn’t Google a big help.

Playing a new musical instrument is all about technique and memory. How we learn and retain new information fascinates me. If I was to give you a list of short, three-letter words now, how many could you remember this time tomorrow? Net week, or in three weeks time? In 1885, Hermann Ebbinghaus did this exact experiment and his results are widely accepted as a general theory for how we learn and retain information.  He developed a formula for how long items remain in our memory. Some people may remember better than others, but the general trend for how long we retain information is the same. The result is called Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve. The bad news is, it’s steeper than you may think.  The good news is, there are strategies you can use to improve your memory retention.

According to Ebbinghaus, the level at which we retain information depends on a couple of things – the strength of your memory and the amount of time that has passed since learning. Keep in mind, your unique memory strength will determine whether you retain half the information for three weeks (a critical period for memory retention) or more, or less. Depending on what you’ve learned, I’ve read estimates that say we forget 90% within the first month – or even first week! Why is memory retention so hard? There are two primary factors that affect our level of retention for items in our long-term memory – repetition and quality of memory representation (I’ll get to discussing what this is below)

Repetition is easy enough – the more frequently we repeat something, the more likely it is to stick.  Practice makes perfect I keep telling kids as I strum a new ‘melody’ on my battered ukulele. Sounds obvious doesn’t it –  frequent review can help retention, but over time, we still tend to forget what we’ve learned. There is one caveat though, one aspect that can increase retention is that vague phrase mentioned above – quality of memory representation.  A better approach for long-term retention is to focus on the quality of the information held in your memory and the meaning of the information to you.  In plain English – the more relevant, meaningful connections you can make with the new information in your mind with things you already know, the better your memory retention over time – the underpinning framework of mind maps.

So  as a part-time hyperactive, I’m off on another learning journey, but Where to? might not be as important as How loud?, or as my kids said between guffaws of laughter when I got home with my new friend, What are you going to do next? I can’t play a tune on it just yet, I can finger pluck a couple of nursery rhymes. Anyway, the point I’m trying to enthuse is to just grab stuff as it comes across your face, be it a ukulele or a brand new idea – 20% Thinking 80% Doing. Get stuck in. For me it’s the tension between innovation and stability, of trying something new and settling for what you’ve got. I see these two distinct lessons forming the background for the pursuit of your business goals – on the one hand, you want your business to be full of interesting, challenging missions that force you to learn, adapt and improve. On the other hand, you want a stable routine which ensures you don’t lose what you’ve gained. The balance between these two is crucial. You need to have one eye always on what new innovation (personal and business) can be undertaken, trying to ensure you don’t burn yourself out. You need another eye on the routine itself, making sure it’s strong enough to maintain your skills, but light enough that gravity doesn’t completely pull it down. Similarly, a mediocre idea that generates enthusiasm will go further than a great idea that inspires no one, so just do things.

So, ukulele player or business player, ask yourself Are the commitments, pursuits, and uses of my time currently taking me to where I need to be? Am I adding Inner-Vation © and stretching myself, and more importantly, is where I am going really where I want to be?

Personal Best: Inner-Vation©

The eponymous hero of Billy Elliott is a boy brought up in a working class mining community who fulfills his dream to become a ballet dancer. Against the backdrop of Thatcher’s clampdown on the working class miners’ community, it is an emotional film from many perspectives, not least from the father-son relationship and helping your children realise their potential – when you had different aspirations for them.

Billy wants a different kind of work from the people around him. He wants to jump sisonnes rather than shovel coal, and to express himself through his work. He thinks he’ll get more out of Covent Garden than a coalmine. For him, dancing represents freedom – freedom to go his own way, and be the best he can.

The Japanese painter Hokusai signed his work Old Man Mad About Painting, that’s what we all want and need, to have passion for what we do. If we are, we’ve a chance of being successful, and to a level I’ll call Personal Best, a term often used in sport for a level of personal success. I’ve always been fascinated how great athletes perform at a level of Personal Best in a vital moment of competition, when the chips are down, going from ordinary to extraordinary, I believe there are some essential lessons from those performing at the extreme, beyond the norm and creating success, and I’ve captured them in something I’ve called ‘Personal Best – Inner-Vation’©.

High achieving individuals, no matter their personal background, domain or expertise are virtually identical in one way – every day they strive to achieve their best, and what sets them apart from their peers is that they continually grow – setting and beating goals. They have what I term ambition without compromise.  There are many people who live in no-man’s land, a place where they’re not realising their potential, but not unhappy enough to do anything about it. That’s a dangerous, nowhere place where people become numb, where they dismiss expectation and accept what’s in front of them instead of being agitated and determined, driving forward, building momentum and raising the bar. Who knows what they can achieve?

So what is the difference that makes the difference? Success leaves footprints, and whatever your personal goals, you can make an exponential leap towards them by modeling what others have done and adapting it to fit your own circumstances and objectives. We all live lives of infinite potential but few of us make the most of what we’ve got. Opportunity is everywhere, but some people miss it because it looks like work. What’s the bird’s eye view of what does success look like for you? I mean, why wouldn’t you want to explore your potential and be the best that you can be? I’ve looked at the achievements of outstanding individuals and how they reached beyond their expectations, and identified 10 ‘genes’ in the dna of high performers:

  • Clarity & Discipline High performers maintain a laser-like focus on their highest priority goals whilst minimising near term distractions;
  • Risk & Reward As determined as they are to avoid unnecessary risks, high performers are the first to recognise when a risk is worth taking;
  • Proving & Improving: High performers aren’t defined by what they do to reach the top, but what they do to stay there – continuous renewal;
  • Attitude & Aptitude: What separates high performers from lesser competitors isn’t just talent, it’s the way they fuse their capability and mindset;
  • Foresight. High performers not only seize opportunities, they plan for them. They concentrate on preparation, not second guessing;
  • Inner-Vation©. High performers sustain their success by focusing less on surpassing the competition, and more on surpassing themselves and what they want to be;
  • Future Focus. It’s not what you did last time, but what you will do next time, raising the bar of expectation, no time for resting on your laurels;
  • Flexibility High performers blend rigid operating principles with a knack for changing shape: it’s not a set-back, it’s a test of ingenuity;
  • Consistency & Willingness. We all embrace the idea of continuous improvement, high performers actually practice it as a core competency;
  • Classical & Jazz. High performers not only excel at the fundamentals, they’re also brilliant at instinctive improvisation.

We can all do a Billy and chose our own path, the point is It’s not how good you are, it’s how good you want to be. From Carl Lewis, Pablo Casals, Anita Roddick, Sir Edmund Hilary James Dyson to Maggie Alphonsi, the attributes and habits of high performers are reflected in the list above and can guide you towards your own aspirational. But there is more to it than that, it’s all about setting your standard of Personal Best. You’ve got to make it matter, where it counts, and that’s inside: Inner-Vation©