Sunday, 31 May 2009

"The Emperor's Appointment"

One of the interesting paradoxes about time management and creativity is that we can often be more productive and creative when we do nothing than when we do a lot.

Or to put it differently, when we pause in our busy, hectic, time-filled lives and let things catch up.

The story is told that when Emperor Hirohito of Japan travelled, his every day was planned down to the last minute. On one occasion, he was scheduled to meet with a delegation of monks and tour a local Buddhist temple for exactly ten minutes. The Emperor and his entourage entered the temple precisely on time, but the building was empty and the monks were nowhere to be found. The aide responsible for setting the Emperor’s schedule alternated between desperately searching for the missing delegation and making panicked excuses for their absence, but the Emperor simply stood in the centre of the room and said nothing. Exactly ten minutes later, the Emperor indicated that it was now time to leave. On their way out of the temple, Hirohito turned to his aide and said "I enjoyed that appointment very much – please schedule me another one tomorrow."

When we plan every waking minute with purposeful activity, we run the risk of crowding out moments of insight, joyful "Ah-ah" moments, and the fun of playing around idly and purposelessly just to see what might come of it. In most organisations, there is nowhere in the schedule for such moments. And as a result, creativity is less than it could be.

On our ManageTrainLearn Time Management courses, we use a model of time management based on the Four Elements of Earth, Fire, Water, and Air, each one a symbol of four aspects of time and task management. We show our delegates that they are most productive when they devote roughly equal amounts of time each day to each element. And Air is the element and symbol for doing nothing.

Dr Nathaniel Branden is a psychotherapist and philosopher who has sold over 4 million books on personal development and creativity. He says, "It is generally recognized that creativity requires leisure, an absence of rush, time for the mind and imagination to float and wander and roam, time for the individual to descend into the depths of his or her psyche, to be available to barely audible signals rustling for attention. Long periods of time may pass in which nothing seems to be happening. But we know that that kind of space must be created if the mind is to leap out of its accustomed ruts, to part from the standard and generate a leap into the new."

In the coming week, why not find space in your busy day for your mind and imagination to just float and wander and roam and listen to the barely audible signals speaking to you? You might be surprised what you hear.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

The Speeding Ticket

On our ManageTrainLearn courses in Presentation Skills, we always have a session on anecdotes or funny stories. Understandably, it is often the highlight of the course, as trainees research, choose and then tell a tale that fits in with their theme.

As a result of this session, we usually come up with a list of what a great presentational story should be like. This runs something like this...

1. it should be told as a narrative with dialogue and description
2. it should contain some drama and suspense
3. it should build and build
4. it should have a great punchline
5. it should have a moral with a universal message.

Well, this week, I heard a story from Paul Matthews that meets all of these requirements. Plus, it also made me chuckle out loud. See what you think. It's called "The Speeding Ticket".

A driver is pulled over by a policeman. The policeman approaches the driver’s door.

‘Is there a problem officer?’

‘Yes sir you were speeding. Can I see your licence, please?’

The driver responds, ‘I’d give it to you but I don’t have one.’

‘You don’t have one?’

The man responds, ‘I lost it four times for drink driving.’

The policeman is shocked. ‘I see. Can I see your vehicle registration papers please?’

‘I’m sorry, I can’t do that.’

The policeman says, ‘Why not?’

‘I stole this car.’

The officer says, ‘Stole it?’

The man says, ‘Yes and I killed the owner.’

At this point the officer is beginning to panic. ‘You what!?!’

‘She’s in the boot if you want to see.’

The officer realises he is dealing with a dangerous man and slowly backs away. He calls for back up. Within minutes five police cars show up, sirens everywhere, whirling lights...

The captain slowly approaches the car, clasping his half-drawn gun. The captain says, ‘Sir, could you step out of your vehicle please!’

The man steps out of his vehicle. ‘Is there a problem, officer?’

‘One of my officers told me that you have stolen this car and murdered the owner.’

‘Murdered the owner?’

The captain responds, ‘Yes, could you open the boot of your car, please?’

The man opens the boot. It is empty.

The captain says, ‘Is this your car, sir?’

The man says ‘Yes’ and hands over the registration papers.

The senior officer, understandably, is quite stunned. ‘One of my officers claims that you do not have a driving licence.’

The man digs in his pocket, revealing a wallet, and hands it to the officer. The officer opens the wallet and examines the licence. He looks quite puzzled.

‘Thank you sir. One of my officers told me you didn’t have a licence, stole this car and murdered the owner.’

The man replies, ‘I bet the lying bastard told you I was speeding, too!’

For pure creativity, quick-thinking, and inventiveness, - all necessary management skills these days, - I hope the guy got off!

Monday, 18 May 2009

"Turn the Lights Off When You Leave"

There's an old saying in self-development training that says, "Winners never quit; and quitters never win".

OK, but what if you're in a situation that sucks? One that you've been beating your head over for what seems like ages and just isn't getting any better. Do you quit? Do you fear that quitting will make you a loser?

All of us go through such situations at various times in our lives and many of us don't change for fear of quitting and fear of losing. We often weigh up the risks of staying the same against the risks of change and lack the courage or support to let go and move on.

If you're currently in such a situation, there are different ways you can sense the need for change.

One of my favourite writers is Danielle LaPorte. She says that giving up on what's not working doesn't mean failure; it means you make way for success. I like that. Danielle adds that there are 8 indicators that tell you when things are not working:

1. You use "it sucks" in a sentence to describe any aspect of your situation.
2. You "drag your ass" to it.
3. Sunday night anxiety (dreading Monday.)
4. Dismal sales (yes, the universe speaks to us through cash flow.)
5. The bleak absence of synchronicity.
6. Not a whole lot of thanks coming your way.
7. Your mother is your best customer.
8. Seething resentment.

Another indicator that I use is to get in touch with that "pit-of-the-stomach" feeling. If it feels bad down there, then something's not right. You have a block that you've got to remove.

So what can you do?

In any situation that just isn't working, you always have three choices:

1. leave the situation alone but change your attitude to it. This suggests that you are blocking out the inherent benefits in the situation and you need to do some work on you, your attitudes, and your way of behaving.

2. change the situation. This works if you think the blocks are external to you, for example with other people's attitudes and behaviour. If you have great assertiveness, influencing and negotiating skills, this might be your best option. In reality, of course, the changes in the situation result in a change in your attitude to the situation, so we're really back to point one.

3. leave the situation. This is the route that many of us want to take but feel guilty about taking. It implies that the problem is all your own fault and that, somehow, you have failed. However, when routes 1 and 2 are not possible, this option is always better than doing nothing at all.

Danielle LaPorte says that when you've been through this list and know that you've got to leave a situation that's not working, you shouldn't worry about how you're going to manage the next steps. Once the decision is taken, you'll probably feel a sense of elation. You now have a new vantage point on where to go next.

Letting go of a bad situation gracefully and moving on without regret is the sign of a winner, not a loser. As Danielle, says, look forward, don't look back. Just turn the lights off when you leave and announce your new destination.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

"Don't Take My Word For It"

If you're a trainer like me, how often do you take a reality check on the theories you present to your trainees?

Some years ago, I read the case of George Turklebaum, a New York print worker who had died at his desk in Manhattan and because of his normal work habit of arriving early and leaving late, none of his colleagues had noticed for 5 days. Since George also lived alone, nobody else had noticed or reported his disappearance from home.

I remember using the story of George Turklebaum in my regular newsletter as evidence of the growing lack of humanity in our workplaces.

Needless to say, I was fairly red-faced when the emails started pouring in to tell me that the story of George Turklebaum was nothing but an urban myth, totally untrue in fact if true in other respects.

That's why I now run reality checks before every course I give just in case there are similar stories lurking there that I have come to accept as true.

Here are 3 that I now think twice about before using them.

1. The Communications Myth

This is ascribed to communications expert George Mehrabian who said that 7% of our communication comes from our words, 38% from how we say it, and 55% from our body language when we say it. I now have some concerns over the figures even if I accept the premise.

2. The Presentations Myth

This one comes from the Sunday Times Book of Lists and suggests that the greatest fear that people have is standing up to speak in front of an audience. It even outranks the fear of flying and the fear of death. Since only a tiny proportion of us ever have to give a presentation, while all of us face death, and many of us take air flights, this one just has to be an exaggeration.

3. The Change Management Myth

The third urban myth is the suggestion that I often use on Change Management courses to explain the complex nature of change. It's the theory that the beating of a butterfly's wings in Mexico can change the climate of New Zealand. Like most urban myths, this holds a grain of truth that can be both illuminating and instructive. But, when you consider the facts rather than the premise, it is palpably untrue.

Of course, like most trainers, I'm rather attached to my urban myths. Like a good and relevant anecdote, they can convey a truth in a way that theories can't. They're stories that coach, but still only stories.

So, how do I go about insuring myself against claims of false story-telling? Well, I have found a disclaimer that I'm thinking about getting everyone who comes on my courses to accept before they come. Here it is.

"Do not believe in what you have heard; do not believe in the traditions because they have been handed down for generations; do not believe in anything because it is rumoured or spoken by many; do not believe merely because a written statement of some old sage is produced; do not believe in conjectures; do not believe in that as truth to which you have become attached by habit; do not believe because of the authority of your teachers and elders. After observation and analysis, when it agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and gain of one and all, then accept it, practice it and live up to it."

This piece of advice is an excellent way of still putting out your theories while getting people to think about them carefully before using them.

The quote is ascribed to the Buddha who lived from 568 BC to 488 BC. But, like urban myths, don't take my word for it.

Monday, 4 May 2009

A Word to the Wise

If there were a poll to find the top leadership trait, which one would you select? And how would you decide?

I've been musing over this question for a few days now after reading of the attributes of many of those top banking leaders who ruined some of our most respected financial institutions.

Their traits of greed, arrogance, and miscalculation are unlikely to figure on my top ten list. I think I'd prefer honesty, honour, and courage, which, incidentally, was the favourite of Walt Disney.

But, having given it some thought, I've now picked my personal winner.

It's an attribute that is very much out of fashion at the moment. In fact, trawling through other peope's lists, it rarely figures on them at all.

What is it? It's "wisdom".

Wisdom probably doesn't have a very good press at the moment, associated as it is with experience, maturity, and humility. In other words, it's something that comes with age. Of our world leaders, it's an attribute demonstrated by only a handful, for example the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela; though we have high hopes of Barack Obama making the final nominations.

So what exactly is "wisdom"?

For the answer, I turned to Abraham Maslow, originator of the theory of the Hierarchy of Needs. If you recall this theory, you'll know that Maslow said that we all have two kinds of needs: lower order needs such as survival, security, esteem, and recognition; and higher order needs which he described as "self-actualisation".

What I didn't know was that, when Maslow put together his higher order needs theory back in the mid-20th century, he based it on his studies of people who he believed were self-actualisers, ie people concerned with bringing the best out of themselves and others. What today we would call "leaders".

Maslow found that all the leaders he studied had a number of attributes in common. They were inner-directed people. They were creative. They appreciated the world around them with awe and wonder. Central to their lives was a set of values that Maslow called the B, or Being, values: wholeness, perfection, completion, justice, aliveness, richness, simplicity, beauty, goodness, uniqueness, effortlessness, playfulness, truth, honesty, reality, and self-sufficiency.

Maslow summed up this list in one word: "wisdom".

And what does that mean in practice? What do the wise do that others don't? Well, for that answer, let me quote what Cop Macdonald says about wisdom on his website "wisdompage". Macdonald says that wisdom involves:

* seeing things clearly; seeing things as they are
* acting in prudent and effective ways
* acting with the well-being of the whole in mind
* deeply understanding the human/cosmic situation
* knowing when to act and when not to act
* being able to handle whatever arises with peace of mind and an effective, compassionate, holistic response
* being able to anticipate potential problems and avoid them.

What a pity our banking leaders didn't study Maslow and Cop Macdonald and take a degree in Needs theory rather than dodgy accounting. If they had, and if they had developed the attributes of Maslow's self-actualisers and Macdonald's wise leaders, what a different world we would be in today.