It’s January the First. Happy New Year. And wouldn’t it be great if you could make this year your best year ever?
Well this is the mission of one of the biggest names in today’s self-help industry, Michael Hyatt. His ‘Your Best Year Ever’ online program has been running for a number of years now. And last year, he published it as an ordinary book. No more are we reliant on a high-priced wait-listed program. For a few pounds or dollars, you can read his guidance and follow his plan.
2019 promises to be a difficult year, globally. So, let’s find out how you can have your best year ever.
Every few years we seem to get a new aspect of psychology that is ‘more important to success than intelligence’. In the 1990s it was Emotional Intelligence. In the Twenty-teens, it’s Grit.
So what can we learn from a woman whose father told her that she was no genius? Well, when that woman has a string of academic, commercial, and social successes to her credit by her early 40s, perhaps we should listen to her.
There is one idea that can increase your effectiveness exponentially. And that’s not a boast: it’s mathematically precise. It’s the concept of marginal gains.
Sometimes a big idea seems new, because lots of people are talking about it. But in fact, this one is a very old idea. Everyone is talking about marginal gains because this old idea has had one more recent and stunning demonstration.
What makes the idea of Marginal Gains so interesting to us, is the way it ties together a number of other big ideas.
Why do you get up every morning? Is it out of a sense of obligation, duty, or even compulsion? Or is it ikigai?
In Japanese culture, ikigai is a reason for getting up in the morning. it is the meaning to your life and your reason for being. It is your ‘raison d’être’, but in a more profound sense than English speakers commonly use that French phrase.
Ikigai is a big idea for English speakers, because we don’t have our own word, but the concept is important.
How do you become an expert at something, and truly master it? The answer, some will tell you, is with 10,000 hours of practice.
The so-called rule of 10,000 hours originated in a best-selling book, ‘Outliers’, by journalist, Malcolm Gladwell. He based the ideas at the core of his book on research that Anders Ericsson carried out, along with Ralf Krampe, and Clemens Tesch-Römer.
Then, he was a Professor at the University of Colorado. Now he’s at Florida State University. But here is the thing… Ericsson has been openly critical of the 10,000 hours formulation. And that offers both good news and bad for any of us who want to become world-class masters of any field.
In understanding how we think, one big idea has dominated in recent years. It became widely known through Daniel Kahneman‘s phenomenal best-seller, ‘Thinking, fast and slow’. It’s the idea that we process information in two ways. There are two parallel thinking systems in our minds: System 1 and System 2.
There are many terms for these two systems. They have been called:
associative and rule-based
implicit and explicit
intuitive and analytical
experiential and rational
and many more
The terms System 1 and System 2 are marvellously neutral. They first emerged in a paper by Keith Stanovich and Richard West. But it’s Kahneman’s adoption of this language and the popularity of his book that gave them fame.
John Grinder and Richard Bandler are credited as the co-founders of NLP. This is a basket of behavioural, therapeutic, and influencing techniques that comes in and out of fashion in the organisational world.
However, in the self-help world, its ups and downs are less pronounced – it has continually received accolades and steadily grown its influence.
So here then is the central dilemma of NLP for managers and professionals: how important is it? And therefore, how seriously do we need to take Bandler, Grinder, and their ideas of NLP?
John Grinder was born in 1940, and studied psychology at the University of San Francisco. After graduating with a BA, he joined the US Army as a Captain in a special forces unit. He then joined a US intelligence agency, before studying for a PhD in linguistics at The University of California, San Diego.
Grinder completed his PhD in 1971, and after a short time in George Miller’s lab at Rockefeller University, he joined UC Santa Cruz as an Assistant Professor in Linguistics. His research interest was the then very new and fashionable transformational grammar pioneered by Noam Chomsky.
In 1972, a psychology student called Richard Bandler came knocking, looking for help with a research project in which he was transcribing hours of Gestalt Therapy sessions. Bandler wanted help in analysing Fritz Perls’ language.
This was the start of a collaboration that led to the founding of Neuro-Linguistic Programming. The story of their collaboration, and of the other people involved – it was far from a two-person endeavour – is well documented elsewhere. So too is the acrimonious breakdown of their working relationship, and the court actions over ownership of the NLP name and ‘brand’.
The upshot of this, by the way, is the court’s decision that NLP is a generic term and no one can own it. This meant that, after the split, Grinder could continue to develop his own new ideas, which he came to call ‘New Code’ NLP in contrast to the earlier work he did with Bandler, which he refers to as ‘Old Code’.
Grinder has authored many books with Bandler and others, and continues to teach NLP, through his own business (Quantum Leap) with his wife, and for other NLP schools.
Richard Bandler was born in 1950. His first few years were spent in New Jersey, before moving to California. He studied Philosophy and Psychology at US Santa Cruz, where he graduated in 1973.
There, Bandler met John Grinder and other early collaborators in developing what became NLP.
Bandler and Grinder became close colleagues studying and teaching the communication patterns of a number of therapists, like Fritz Perls, Virginia Satir, and Milton Erikson. They gathered a number of other interested researchers and teachers around them.
Inevitably, as what they were teaching became more popular – and therefore more commercial – tensions arose. Like Grinder, Bandler formed his own business and continued to teach and develop new ideas. He too still teaches NLP, along with hypnotherapy, around the world.
Bandler and Grinder were co-authors of a number of the seminal books in the emerging subject of NLP. None are aimed at ‘lay’ readers. They are written for aspiring and experienced practitioners and, even having studied NLP and received Practitioner and Master Practitioner certificates, I find them barely readable.
There are many more modern books aimed at introducing NLP to interested readers. Browse your favourite book site and take your pick.
Neuro-Linguistic Programming: NLP
So, what is NLP? It stands for Neuro-linguistic Programming (yeah, I know), and it is fundamentally an assorted bag of methods and models designed to help understand communication and behaviours and elicit behavioural change.
At the root – and this is something Grinder constantly emphasises – is the idea of modelling. Whatever you want to be able to do, find an example of someone who does it to a level of excellence. Document everything they do, say, and think when they are doing it. Then try out being exactly like they are. Start to strip away elements, to find out what parts make no difference and which parts, when lost, become significant.
You’ll end up with a core of beliefs, behaviours, and communication patterns that materially affect your outcomes. Fritz Perls, Virginia Satir, and Milton Erikson were the first people extensively studied in that way.
From them, Bandler and Grinder extracted two of the biggest and most influential models within the NLP corpus: The Meta Model (from Satir and Perls) and The Milton Model (from Erikson).
The Meta Model
The Meta Model documents language patterns that allow the therapist, coach, salesperson (choose your role) to spot patterns of thinking in the other person. A long list of linguistic patters betray distorted perceptions, generalisations, and subconscious deletions of possibly relevant information. By challenging these, coaches and therapists can open up new possibilities to the person they are helping, and salespeople can breakdown objections to buying.
Bandler and Grinder’s primary books that originally documented this were The Structure of Magic, volumes 1 and 2.
The Milton Model
Milton Erikson was a masterful user of hypnosis in his therapy. Indeed, his style is sometimes called Eriksonian Hypnosis. Once again, Bandler and Grinder documented his language patterns. They found a similarity to the meta model, but that Erikson was being deliberately vague, to elicit gaps in thinking, through which he could insert therapeutic suggestions. The Milton model can help move a listener into a more receptive state. Again, this is useful to therapists, coaches and salespeople.
Bandler and Grinder’s primary books that originally documented this were Patterns of the Hypnotic Techniques of Milton H. Erickson, M.D. volumes 1 and 2.
Evaluation of NLP
NLP is like Marmite: it evokes love and hate reactions in broadly equal measure. And its popularity goes through peaks and troughs – big ones for business, smaller troughs for the self-help industry. It is currently a multi-million dollar industry world-wide.
Three factors are perhaps responsible for the extreme views:
NLP is presented with a lot of complex and intimidating jargon. Indeed, the name Neuro Linguistic Programming suggests a level of mind-control which can intimidate or seduce. Some wonder if the jargon is merely designed to create a quasi-academic glamour the discipline does not deserve.
Some practitioners make extravagant claims for what NLP can achieve. Everything from magical sales efficacy to curing phobias, to curing serious mental and physical illnesses.
There is a limited research base. A lot of the evidence for the efficacy of NLP techniques is anecdotal, and many serous academic therapists have offered detailed critiques.
On the other hand, there are also three good reasons to learn more about NLP:
Many people find that much of it really does work. The ideas are taken from observations of effective behaviour. You can apply the modelling process to find out how to replicate the results of your best performers
NLP is respectful of our potential. It encourages personal responsibility and asserts that we can all access the resources we need to make the changes we want
The criticism that much of NLP is ‘just common sense’ can also be seen as a strength. By codifying common sense, we make it more accessible.
You can find much in NLP that is of value to you; and much that is not. If you are prepared to be selective and evaluate each tool on its merits, NLP is a powerful resource.
Here’s a video I did for another business that will echo much of what’s here.
Whitney Johnson has changed her career direction several times. And each time she has become, arguably, more successful. That’s her point. If we can disrupt our comfortable career habits – and do it right – we can see ever greater success.
Johnson was named as one of 2015’s Thinkers50 top 50 management thinkers for her insights into how to achieve this. As a friend and co-worker of Clayton Christensen, whose academic work focuses on disrutive innovation in corporations, she has chosen to adopt and adapt his language.
Whitney Johnson was born in Spain, in 1961, and grew up in California. She studied Music at Brigham Young University, also visiting Uruguay for two years, as a Mormon missionary. After graduation, she and her husband moved to New York, so he could pursue a PhD, and Whitney Johnson got a job as a secretary in a Wall Street firm.
There, she recognised that to progress and start to match the salary levels of the traders across the office, she’d need to gain business skills, which she did. By 1996, she was working as an equity analyst at Salomon Smith Barney, moving to Merrill Lynch in 2000. She was enormously successful, and specialised in Latin American stocks.
In 2006, following a meeting with Christensen at church, they co-founded investment company Rose Park Advisors. Johnson was responsible for fund formation, capital raising, and the development of the Fund’s investment strategy. She served as Rose Park’s President from 2007 to 2012. They used Christensen’s theories of disruptive innovation to invest in early stage companies.
Whitney Johnson’s First Book: Dare, Dream, Do
While she was running Rose Park, Johnson wrote her first book, Dare, Dream, Do. This of course triggered another career disruption for her. This book is about how women can build a happy life by pursuing their passions.
In the modern world of work, Johnson observes that we are staying in job roles for ever shorter times. In addition, to make a radical change in our career prospects, we need to do something radically different.
Her prescription has seven components.
1. Take the Right Risks
Johnson makes a helpful distinction between what she calls Competitive Risk and Market Risk.
Competitive Risk is when we take on established players in a secure market that is lucrative, and which we understand. Johnson observes this is the risk most of us take on, yet is not likely to yield the best returns. Instead, we should put more focus on taking…
Market Risk. This is where we play in a new space. It involves finding new opportunities, and building new capabilities. However, the competitive risk is small, because few will be addressing this market. The new market you take on needs to give you the scope to meet a need better or more cheaply.
However, Johnson also says that if your market feels scary and lonely, then you are probably in the right place. Hmm. Maybe you are, or maybe you are just somewhere scary and lonely. You need to do your research!
2. Play to Your Distinctive Strengths
What are your strengths, and which ones can you match to the market needs you have identified? Johnson refers readers to Strengths Finder 2.0, and also adds some helpful questions. These will support you in gaining a little insight into your strengths. For example:
What skills have helped you survive so far?
What makes you feel strong?
When do you feel at your best; invigorated, inquisitive, successful?
Daniel Goleman is a psychologist and journalist who catalysed a significant shift in the way we see human potential and capabilities – not just at work. It is not as though we did not know about the importance of our emotional response. Nor was the work he described his own. But his combination of timing, accessible writing, and psychological training made his book, Emotional Intelligence, a stand-out best seller that started a revolution in management and leadership training.
Daniel Goleman was born in 1946 and grew up in California. He went to Amherst College, Massachusetts, but spent much of his study time closer to home, at University of California, Berkeley. He majored in Anthropology, and graduated Cum Laude, winning a scholarship to study Clinical Psychology at Harvard.
There, Goleman’s mentor was David McClelland, whom he quotes in his writings. His doctoral dissertation was on meditation as a treatment for stress. He travelled to India to study ancient psychological knowledge and returned after his PhD, where further research resulted in his first book, The Meditative Mind: The Varieties of Meditative Experience, summarising his research on meditation.
After a spell as a visiting lecturer at Harvard, teaching the psychology of consciousness, Goleman was invited to write as a journalist for Psychology Today, and found he liked writing. In 1984, he moved to the New York Times on the science editorial staff, covering psychology. While he was there, he realised that many of the stories and research he was covering came together in his mind and demanded a deeper treatment than his journalism would allow. From that, came his massive 1995 best-seller, Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More Than IQ.
Pocketblog has already covered Emotional Intelligence in earlier articles. What Goleman has given us, in summary, are a five-fold emotional intelligence framework (in Emotional Intelligence), an inventory of 25 emotional competencies (in Working with Emotional Intelligence), and six leadership styles (in The New Leaders).
Goleman’s thesis in Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence is simple: to succeed in a busier, more complex world, we need to focus our attention. Variously seen as groundbreaking and disappointing, insightful or just pop psychology, there is no doubt that, in Focus, Goleman is really returning to his roots.
As a grad student, he started to ask what ancient wisdom could teach us about human psychology. In Focus, he alights on one valuable lesson: focus. I think it no coincidence that, when asked what the secret is to their great success, both Warren Buffett and Bill Gates have each cited one answer: the ability to focus on one thing at a time.
Whatever you think of the way this book is written, it is, without doubt, a message to hear.
Are top managers stuck being either corporate or entrepreneurial?
Or can they switch from one domain to the other?
These questions are often asked – not least in competitive TV business shows like The Apprentice (certainly here in the UK, with Lord Sugar at the helm).
Nicola Horlick is an example of a highly paid corporate executive who left that world and started a series of her own businesses. Let’s see what we can learn from her story.
Nicola Gayford was born in 1960 in Nottingham (England) and grew up in Wirral, Cheshire. She studied Law at Oxford University (where she met future first husband Timothy Horlick), graduating in 1982. After a year working in the family business, she went to London to join the Mercury Asset Management part of merchant bank SG Warburg, as a graduate trainee.
She did well, and in 1989, she was made a director. Two years later, she moved to Morgan Grenfell Asset Management, where she became Managing Director in 1992. From then to 1997, she grew the assets under management from £4billion to £18billion (around US$6 to 28 billion).
Then, in 1997, she was accused of planning to move to a rival firm and poach many of her team. Morgan Grenfell suspended Horlick and, despite a high profile meeting with the bank’s parent institution, Deutsche Bank, she left the business.
Horlick pretty quickly set up SG Asset Management and has been a serial business starter ever since. In 1998, though, she also had to cope with the death, from leukaemia, of her oldest child, daughter Georgina.
We don’t need to go into the details of all of her businesses, but it is instructive to summarise.
SG Asset Management – established 1997, Horlick sold out her shares after a dispute with an investor in 2003.
Bramdean Asset Management – formed in 2004, focuses on alternative assets.
Rockpool Investments – formed in 2011, focuses on private equity
Georgina’s – a restaurant/bistro, formed in 2012. Closed through poor trading in late 2014
Glentham Capital – formed in 2013, specialises in funding films
Money & Co – formed in 2013, is a web-based intermediary for crowdfunding small and medium sized businesses
What do we Learn about the Transition from Corporate Manager to Entrepreneur?
We cannot of course generalise from one specific case, but three things seem to me to be instrumental in Horlick’s successes:
She was successful when she started businesses in areas of her own expertise. Her one ‘vanity project’ (my words not hers) of a restaurant failed. I suspect this was partly due to lack of focus (she was running other high maintenance financial businesses at the same time) and largely due to not knowing enough about the restaurant business. It was a toxic mix of thinking you know more than you do (we all eat at restaurants, so we are all experts), not giving it the priority it needs, for you to learn, and possibly not needing it badly enough (she had other profitable businesses).
She has phenomenal energy and drive. Not for nothing, many of the UK newspapers and magazines called her a Superwoman, juggling high pressure jobs with being a mum to a large family. If you are going to start a business, you need a lot of commitment and energy.
She had a big chunk of cash behind her when she started her own businesses, from a considerable period of very high salaries from senior roles at prestigious City of London financial institutions. Big money can smooth out big bumps in the road.
So my conclusion – a purely personal point of view – is that an entrepreneurial mindset is different from a corporate one. It is of course possible to have both, but in Horlick’s case, her entrepreneurship was far from the ‘start from zero resources and low knowledge’ model of the stereotypical rags-to-riches entrepreneur. She approached entrepreneurship in a corporate manner: with deep expertise and a big resource base.
Is Nicola Horlick a Superwoman?
Maybe. But first and foremost, she is an asset manager.