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System 1 and System 2

System 1 and System 2
System 1 and System 2
System 1 and System 2

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.

Continue reading System 1 and System 2

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John Grinder and Richard Bandler: NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming)

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 and Richard Bandler: NLP
John Grinder and Richard Bandler: NLP

John Grinder

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

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.

An earlier Pocketblog gave a Brief Introduction to NLP Skills.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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:

  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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.



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Whitney Johnson: Disrupt Yourself

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
Whitney Johnson

Short Biography

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.

Her current work life is a portfolio of non-executive roles on company advisory boards, coaching, podcasting, speaking and writing. In 2015, she articulated her story and her lessons, wrapped up in the disruption metaphor in her best-selling book, Disrupt Yourself: Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work.

Disrupt Yourself

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?
  • What made you different as a child?
  • What are your hard-won skills?

3-5. After this, the other five components are:

  1. Embrace Constraint
  2. Battle Entitlements
  3. Step back to Grow
  4. Give Failure its Due
  5. Let your Strategy Emerge from Discovery

Whitney Johnson in her Own Words


You might like the Career Transition Pocketbook


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Daniel Goleman: Emotional Intelligence

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

Short Biography

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.

This ignited a huge interest in the public, and also, to Goleman’s surprise, in the business world. It led him to write Working with Emotional Intelligence (1998) and also one of the most reprinted ever of Harvard Business Review’s articles, ‘What makes a leader?’ Finding this a fertile area, and having left the New York Times, Goleman then collaborated with former Harvard Grad student colleague Richard Boyatzis, and Boyatzis’ former student Annie McKee, to write The New Leaders: Transforming the Art of Leadership (published in the US as: Primal Leadership: Unleashing the Power of Emotional Intelligence).

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).

For a first rate primer on the topic, you may enjoy The Emotional Intelligence Pocketbook.

Goleman’s more recent work

Goleman’s actively curious mind continues to synthesise and create ideas. Having established links with the Dalai Lama, his 1997 book Healing Emotions: Conversations with the Dalai Lama on Mindfulness, Emotions and Health was followed in 2004 by Destructive Emotions: A Scientific Dialogue with the Dalai Lama.

His other books include:


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.

Why aren’t we More Compassionate?

Daniel Goleman at TED, in 2007.

[ted id=200]


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Nicola Horlick: Asset Manager

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 Horlick

Short Biography

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:

  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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Roy Baumeister: Ego Depletion

Roy Baumeister is one of the most widely cited psychologists. His research interests are broad and range across much of social psychology, leading him to be able to take a multi-disciplinary and synthesising approach to understanding large and important psychological questions. Yet he  also engages in careful and detailed experiments.

Roy Baumeister

Very Short Biography

Roy Baumeister was born in 1953, in Cleveland Ohio. He describes his upbringing as ‘a series of lucky accidents that helped bring me to a calling perfectly suited to me’. And he describes his parents as ‘harsh, strict, dogmatic, Nixon-worshiping immigrants who plodded grimly and dutifully through life [who] clung to each other and feuded with the rest of the world … and insisted on unquestioning obedience and allegiance to their theories about everything.’

As a result, Baumeister has no allegiance to any point of view and is therefore able to change his mind, as he learns of new evidence. This makes him an ideal scientist, and well placed to revise long-cherished social and psychological theories.

He gained his Bachelors degree from Princeton, switching from Maths after two semesters to Psychology – a compromise between maths (which his father favoured) and philosophy (which Baumeister was drawn to). He did an MA at Duke, before returning to Princeton for a PhD, that was awarded in 1978. After a one-year post-doctoral fellowship in sociology and University of California, Berkeley, he took a teaching post at Case Western University in 1979. There he remained until 2003, becoming a full professor in 1992. He then moved to his present appointment, as Francis Eppes Professor of Psychology at Florida State University.

Baumeister’s Work

Baumeister rapidly realised that scholarly review articles would give him the opportunity to survey large amounts of literature and answer larger questions than individual experiments could tackle. Consequently, his wide research interests and his big-picture approach have led to him producing a lot of important thinking over the last 35 years. This has resulted in a vast array of academic citations, around 30 scholarly book publications and a huge following of academic researchers who rate the impact of his work extremely highly.

Among the topics Baumeister has tackled are:

Among these are some topics that are of particular interest to us, with a focus on management.

Free Will and Self-defeating Behaviours

Of course, free will has fascinated philosophers for centuries, and now neuro-scientists are highly engaged in the debate. Baumeister’s contribution is to define it in psychological terms, as being made up of four components:

  1. Self-control
  2. Rational choice
  3. Planful behaviour
  4. Autonomous initiative

He argues that exerting free will results in three things: control of our actions, socially-directed choices, and enlightened self-interest (choices that define our self-interest in the wider context of our social groups and broader society). Free will does, however, sometimes lead to self-defeating behaviours.

Some have argued that certain people have a self-destructive urge that powers these kinds of behaviours. But Baumeister’s research rejects this hypothesis. What he finds is that apparently self-defeating behaviours are the result of trade-offs we make, unexpected consequences, or at most, an attempt to escape from our perception of who we are (linking back to his interest in identity).

Ego Depletion

His most significant contribution to date is the concept of ‘Ego Depletion’ and the two related ideas that:

  1. Willpower literally requires energy
    (the ‘battery’ metaphor)
  2. Exercising willpower deliberately can strengthen it
    (the ‘muscle’ metaphor)

Baumeister coined the term ego depletion as a deliberate description of an effect that was first observed in a simple experiment. People had bowls of chocolate cookies and radishes placed before them and were told which they could eat. Those who were allocated the radishes were disappointed and showed desire for the ‘lost’ cookies.

In a subsequent test, Baumeister and his colleagues found that those who had had the radishes were far less persistent in solving puzzles than the group who had got the cookies and than a control group who had not been shown the choices. The conclusion is that the ability to exert conscious control (a function of what Freud called the ‘ego’) was depleted among those who had been forced to do so earlier. Baumeister was heavily influenced by Freud’s approach early in his career.

Your willpower, Baumeister says, starts the day at a peak, after a restful night, but diminishes through the day, as you use it up. (Toddler bedtime?) It needs recharging with food and rest. Indeed, his subsequent research has implicated blood glucose levels as a part of the physical mechanism, so the battery metaphor is highly apt.

More recent work also finds that if we practise willpower, our ability to deploy it grows stronger. The technique is regular practice at deliberately overriding your habitual ways of doing things and exerting conscious control over your actions. It is also worth noting research (including that of Angela Duckworth) shows that levels of willpower are highly indicative of lifetime satisfaction, wellbeing and success.

Whilst Baumeister is an accomplished academic author, he chose (wisely, I think) to team up with experienced journalist John Tierney to write about willpower. The resulting book, Willpower: Why Self-Control is The Secret to Success, is an excellent addition to any library: insightful, thought-provoking and easy to read. It is in a class with books by authors like Ariely, Thaler, Csikszentmihalyi, and Kahneman, and therefore one that scores exceptionally high on my ‘marginal notes and post-its scale’.

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David Maister: Trust and Professionalism

David Maister was described to me by a friend and colleague* as ‘the first good consultant’s consultant’. A former Harvard Business School professor, who hails from the United Kingdom, Maister carved out a niche as perhaps the most influential thinker about professional services and and the role of trust in business.

David MaisterBrief Biography

David Maister was born in London, in 1947,and studied Maths, Economics, and Statistics at the University of Birmingham. He went on to achieve a Masters in operational research from the London School of Economics and a DBA from Harvard Business School, in 1976. He then taught, first at the University of British Columbia, and then, from 1979 to 1985, at Harvard Business School.

During this time, he specialised in transportation and logistics. His books on the topic are now all out of print. He left academia to establish his own consultancy and started to focus on advising professional firms, like accountants, lawyers, marketers and consultants. This led to his keystone work, in 1993, ‘Managing the Professional Services Firm‘. This remains in print and a strong seller. Maister had found his niche. I came under his spell when given a copy of his 1993 book, ‘True Professionalism‘, while a manager at Deloitte. It was written for people like I was then: professional services managers, looking to build a career, a reputation, and a client portfolio.

Perhaps Maister’s most influential book, however, was his 2000 book (co-written with Charles Green and Robert Galford), ‘The Trusted Advisor‘, which introduced us to ‘The Trust Equation’. His last book (to date) is ‘Strategy and the Fat Smoker: Doing What’s Obvious But Not Easy‘. The subtitle summarises the book’s thesis succinctly. At the start of 2010, Maister announced his retirement, shortly after being awarded the Carl S Sloane Award for Excellence in Management Consulting. He now spends his time in his home town of Boston, having forsworn air travel, enjoying the arts with his wife. How unusual and refreshing to see a top business person enjoying a fulfilling retirement.

Five Inter-connected Ideas

I’d like to summarise and interpret some of Maister’s ideas and how they link together by isolating five inter-connected themes, and showing how Maister joins them up.

1. The Trust Equation

At the heart of ‘The Trusted Advisor’ is The Trust Equation, which Maister and his co-authors use to illustrate how the ‘four realms’ of trust interact, to answer questions like: ‘My client knows I am credible and reliable, so why doesn’t my client trust me?’. Trust (T), they argue is the result of four factors: Credibility (C), Reliability (R), Intimacy (I), and Self-orientation (S).

T = (C + R + I ) / S

But trust, they say, is not about knowing and it is not about tactics: it is all about attitudes and character. People will trust you if you show an interest  in them, demonstrate a genuine desire to help them, and have a low self-orientation – that is, you are less interested in yourself than in them. Excellence, Maister says, arises from acting according to agreed principles and values, which also build trust (through reliability – or being predictable in your ethical choices).

Here is the first link: A high trust business will experience high growth. Trust is the best business strategy.

2. Business Strategy

Maister observes that many professional services firms in the same market will often have near-identical strategies. So what will determine which one wins, competitively. Since they are all smart, it isn’t the choice of customers, products, services or marketing: it is the drive and commitment to implement the strategy effectively. And this comes from people and how the leaders of the business manage and lead them.

Here is the second link: To deliver a business strategy, you need energy, excitement and enthusiasm from your team

3. Management

Management is about people, passion and principle. Maister says that one-on-one management is the only real managerial activity, because this is the only way to properly engage with people. A manager’s agenda must be to create a great place to work, rather than working at building their own career: that will follow.

In an article published in 2002 (Business: The Ultimate Resource), Maister sets out 13 rules on which successful managers model their behaviour. I have selected some of my personal favourites:

  • Act as if not trying is the only sin
  • Act as if you want everyone to succeed
  • Understand what drives individuals
  • Know all your people as individuals

Here is the third link: Management is about doing what’s right over the long term for your clients and people. This is the route to great client service.

4. Client Services

Maister sees the world of client services in a fairly simple way. But his work has been able to justify this with logic and evidence. A manager’s role is to energise their people. These people will then serve their clients excellently. Clients will reward the company with their patronage and loyalty. This will lead to great financial performance.

So stop focusing on the financial results – they are a lagging indicator of what matters: focus on energising your people. Maister notes that formal systems, policies and procedures do little to build a business: what it needs is managers to use their informal influence on employees, and demonstrate honour, character and integrity.

Here is the fourth link: Honour, character and integrity are the foundations of a meaningful career

5. Career – Professionalism

True Professionalism was where I started with Maister, and his subtitle neatly summarises Maister’s point of view: ‘the courage to care about your people, your clients, and your career’. His definition of professionalism takes in four critical commitments:

  1. to provide the best, most effective services to your clients
  2. to self-improvement
  3. to caring about your clients
  4. to not compromising your values

Here is the final link, back to the start: Not compromising your values is the key to ‘values in action’. Without this, there can be no trust.

* Michael Coleman, who sadly died in September 2011.

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Brené Brown: Shame, vulnerability, worthiness and courage

Brené Brown is a social work researcher, working at the Graduate College of Social Work, at the University of Houston. I am sure that is what her job description says, but she describes herself as a researcher-storyteller. And the subject of her research and stories is vulnerability and shame, and all that flow from these two, very human emotions.

Brené Brown

Brief Biography

Brené Brown grew up in Texas and attended the University of Texas at Austin, where she took a Bachelor of Social Work degree. She later gained a Masters degree and then a PhD in Social Work, at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. In 2010, she spoke about her research at a TEDx event in Houston. That talk has since become one of the most viewed TED talks, with over 16 million views to date. You can see it, and her subsequent TED talk, at the bottom of this blog.

Brené Brown’s Work

Brown started out to study the connections between people, and quickly learned, through many formal interviews and focus groups, that when she asked about connection, people rapidly started to speak about disconnection and their fear of it. At the heart of her understanding of connection emerged shame – the fear of disconnection and of not being worthy of connection.

Brown characterises shame as a feeling that ‘I am not good enough’ and even of asking ourselves the question: ‘who do you think you are?’ Shame, she points out, is a reflection of our sense of self, which she compares with guilt, which is about our sense of what we have done. Her research shows that depression and poor social functioning – even mental illness – is linked to a sense of shame, but not to guilt. People who have a strong capacity for guilt can address their behaviours, whilst still holding onto their sense of self-worth, or worthiness.

Worthiness is fundamental to Brown’s thinking. The difference between people who have a strong feeling of love and belonging, and those who struggle to find love and belonging is that strong sense of worthiness. This arises from four things: courage, compassion, connection and, crucially, vulnerability.

It is when we own up to our own imperfections and vulnerability that we can find our authenticity and start to feel worthy. People who do this are ‘wholehearted people’.

Brown has articulated this powerfully in her second book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to be and Embrace Who You are. Her subsequent book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, extends these ideas further.

Brené Brown’s relevance to Management

At the start of her 2012 TED talk (below), Brown tells how businesses who want her to speak at their events constantly ask her to speak about three topics: creativity, innovation, and change. She points out that:

‘Vulnerability is the birthplace of
creativity, innovation, and change.’

However, I think the strongest link from her work to management is in the way we manage and lead. Daring Greatly is about taking the risk of making yourself vulnerable – of admitting your fears, rather than hiding them behind the fake certainties of dogma and the false strengths of arrogance and blame.

Too much management and leadership is based on a need to be certain, a need to be right, and a need to be a hero. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable to new ideas, to mistakes, and to weakness opens up a raft of opportunities, not only for new ideas, but also for your colleagues and team members to shine. If you do nothing else, watch the first of these videos.

The Power of Vulnerability

Brené Brown’s 16 million+ views TEDx talk from 2010.

[ted id=1042]

Listening to Shame

Brené Brown’s subsequent TED talk in 2012 has had over 4 million views.

[ted id=1391]

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Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: In the Flow

Pronunciation: Me-high Chick-sent-me-high-ee


Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is a US psychologist at forefront of the field of positive psychology; the study of human strengths and how we can have a happy, flourishing life.

His research into flow states has made a famous figure among specialists and interested general readers alike, with several books including his two best-sellers: Flow: The Psychology of Optimum Experience and Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi


Brief Biography

Csikszentmihalyi was born to a Hungarian family in a city long disputed by Hungary, Italy and Croatia – now called Rijeka and part of Croatia; it was, at the time of his birth in 1934 a part of Italy, named Fiume. He emigrated to the United States at the age of 22, and got a BA and PhD from the University of Chicago, going on to become a a professor and chairman of the Department of Psychology. He is the founder and a co-director of the Quality of Life Research Center – a non-profit research institute that studies positive psychology.

Flow, in a Nutshell

Csikszentmihalyi’s signature research was into Flow States – those states of mind when we are totally absorbed in an activity, and can therefore want nothing else in the world, at that time, than to continue uninterrupted. He describes these Flow States as the optimum states for a human being, and catalogues the three conditions under which they arise:

  1. The task has a clear and worthwhile goal
  2. The task is sufficiently challenging to stretch us to our limits (and maybe a little beyond) but not so challenging for us that we find ourselves anxious and hyper-alert for failure
  3. The task offers constant feedback on our progress and performance levels

For more details on Flow, see our earlier blog: Flow and Performance Management.

Contribution to Management Thinking

It would be easy to write a long blog about Csikszentmihalyi’s contributions to positive psychology, but from a management perspective, I want to focus on his work on creativity, in documented in his book: Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention.

In the book, he relates interviews with over 90 creative people from many fields of the arts, sciences and humanities. From those, he distils a great many lessons. For me, one of the simplest is most valuable, his five steps to creativity:

  1. Preparation
    Becoming immersed in a problem that is interesting and arouses curiosity.
  2. Incubation
    Ideas churn around at an unconsciousness level.
  3. Insight
    The “Aha!” moment when the answers you reach unconsciously emerge into consciousness.
  4. Evaluation
    Evaluating the insight to test if it is valuable and worth pursuing.
  5. Elaboration
    Translating the insight into a workable solution – Edison’s ’99 per cent perspiration’.

This to me explains why we seem to get our best ideas when out walking, sipping a coffee, or in a shower. These are not the times when we solve our problems: they are the times when our conscious mind is sufficiently unoccupied to notice the answers that our unconscious has developed.

What does this mean for managers?

If you want creative thinking from your team, I think it tells us four things:

  1. You need to give people time to understand and research the problem, making it as interesting and relevant to them as you can.
  2. You need to let people go away and mull, allowing a reasonable period for ideas to incubate.
  3. You need to bring people back together with no distractions and pressures, so that the ideas can naturally emerge.
  4. You need to create separate stages of your process for evaluating the solutions and then for implemental thinking, when you hone the preferred solution into a workable plan.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi at TED

Here is an excellent video from 2004 of the man himself…

[ted id=366]

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Dr Stephen R Covey

Stephen CoveyIf you were expecting Part 2 of
Let’s Sort out Poor Performance,

we have deferred it for a week,
to make space for this tribute to
Stephen Covey.







Books that change the way people think

When business authors (like me) start writing a new book, we allow ourselves to fantasize for a while that it will be the next book to transform the way hundreds of thousands of people think about this concept or that.  We have in mind the achievements of books like “Who Moved my Cheese”, “Fish!”, “The One Minute Manager” and, of course, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. Continue reading Dr Stephen R Covey

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