A King’s Speech, A Pauper’s Lesson

It has been a wonderful week. I’ve been given the all clear, got myself a nightclub booking in London on Saturday and I have a tryst next Wednesday. So tonight I’m just chilling. And what better way than sat watching the Oscar proclaimed King’s Speech. You know it is such an inspiring film on many levels. It sent me off in search of an article I read some time ago. I’ve reproduced it below.

lessons-from-the-kings-speechIn a world where people start judging someone by what the person wears, how she behaves and how he talks, imagine the plight of a person with speech impairment. His problem is even more complex if he is the King of the country. This movie has some inspiring moments, some of which are discussed below.

1. Perseverance - The movie shows what a person can achieve with Perseverance. The more and more the protagonist King George VI practices the right way of speech, the more confident he becomes. The more that he learns and practices the right speech methods, the more he unlearns the methods that are not good for him. There’s so much that can be learned from this single aspect of the movie.

The Lesson
: It reiterates, in a compelling manner, the age-old saying “Try, try, try – until you succeed.”

2. Support - The protagonist’s wife is his sole pillar of strength. Her unconditional support and faith in her husband is inspiring. The wife’s acts and gestures clearly show what faith and support can do to a person. When you lose faith in your very self, and someone else relentlessly works towards reinstating that confidence in you, it changes your world for ever, for the better. If the protagonist did not have the support that he received from his better half, he might not have turned into what he went on to become, given that he was already devastated and low on self-confidence.

The Lesson
: When you are on the brink of giving up by virtue of losing faith in yourself, the faith another person has in you can turnaround your life. It can re-kindle your confidence, it can give you the energy to fight back with vigor, and it can do some many more things that you might never have thought you could do.

3. Unconditional Love – This is a tad related to the above point, but still worth a mention.  Where his very own sibling and peers would make a joke of the protagonist, here came a woman into his life who remains by him at every crucial moment of his life. That, someone can do, only from the seat of unconditional love – love that has no formalities, no clauses and no rules.

The Lesson: You don’t have to be related by blood to love unconditionally. Love is love – it has no set parameters or boundaries.

4. Self-fulfilling prophecies – The protagonist, somewhere at the age of five, faces situations that go on to make him speech impaired. As he grows, he makes himself believe that his speech difficulties cannot be cured. And that’s the very belief he holds every time he meets a new doctor. The movie is a great example of how self fulfilling prophecies can destroy a man. And when those self fulfilling prophecies are your own thoughts, something needs to be done immediately. And when the protagonist realizes that his speech impairment is more in his mind than a fact, he comes out victorious.

The Lesson: Your thoughts can either make you or break you. If you believe you can’t do it, you won’t and if you believe you can do it, you will.

All rights reserved © 2015 Source: https://randomwisdomblog.wordpress.com/2011/03/17/lessons-from-the-movie-the-kings-speech/

Hutch on Management

Occasionally I get asked to advise those embarking on a career in management. Well it certainly isn’t my style to be straight laced but I’ve never ceased to be amazed by those who take themselves a little too seriously. You had to be there to witness the look of horror on a certain recruiter’s face when I shared a few gems of wisdom garnered over twenty years in management. I considered the presentation to be such a success that it now forms the basis of one of my stand-up routines.
facepic Andrew
1 Never walk without a document in your hands
People with documents in their hands look like hard-working employees heading for important meetings. People with nothing in the hands look like they’re heading to the canteen. People with a newspaper in their hand look like they’re heading to the toilet. Above all make sure you carry loads of stuff home with you at night, thus generating the false impression that you work longer hours than you do.

2 Use computers to look busy
Any time you use a computer it looks like work to the casual observer. You can send and receive personal email, chat and generally have a blast without doing anything remotely related to work. These aren’t exactly the societal benefits that the proponents of the computer revolution would like to talk about but they’re not bad either. When you get caught by the boss and you will get caught your best defence is to claim that you’re teaching yourself to use new software to save valuable training expenses.

3 Messy desk
Top management can get away with a clean desk. For the rest of us it looks like we’re not working hard enough. Build huge piles of documents around your workspace. To the observer last year’s work looks the same as today’s work; it’s volume that counts. Pile them high and wide. If you know somebody is coming to your desk bury the document you will need half way down in an existing stack and rummage great when he or she arrives.

4 Voice mail
Never answer your phone if you have voicemail. People don’t call you just because they want to give you something for nothing, they call because they want you to do work for them. That’s no way to live. Screen all of your calls to voicemail. If somebody leaves a voice mail message for you and it sounds like impending work, respond during lunch hour when you know that they’re not there, it looks like you’re hard-working and conscientious even though you’re being a devious weasel. Which do you think came first, the telephone or the telephone-answering machine? Exactly. You are being a luddite if you answer the telephone, holding back progress and showing tremendous disrespect to the inventor of the answering machine.

5 Looking impatient and annoyed
Always try to look impatient and annoyed to give your bosses the impression that you are always busy.

6 Leave the office late
Always leave the office late, especially when the boss is still around. You could read magazines and storybooks that you always wanted to read but had no chance as a child – I missed out on Tin Tin. Make sure you walk past the boss’ room on your way out. Send important emails at unearthly hours and during bank holidays.

7 Creative sighing for effect
Sigh loudly when there are people around, giving the impression that you are under extreme pressure.

8 Stacking strategy
It is not enough to pile lots of documents on the table. Put lots of books on the floor etc (thick computer manuals are the best).

9 Building vocabulary
Read up on some computer and technical magazines and pick out all of the jargon and new products. Use the phrases freely when in conversation with bosses. Remember: they don’t have to understand what you say, but you will sound impressive.

10 Have two jackets
If you work in a big open plan office, always leave the spare jacket draped over the back of your seat. This gives the impression that you are still on the premises. The second jacket should be worn whilst wandering around elsewhere. When it is not being worn hang it in the cleaners’ cupboard. Get the cleaners’ permission and strike up a friendship with the cleaners – remember they are the ones who know what is going on.

11 Most important
Make sure your boss isn’t looking over your shoulder while you’re reading this.

Hang on a minute
Or more importantly instead of getting ‘all corporate’ and throwing a fit at the sight of such subversive advice, if you are an aspiring middle manager take pleasure in the fact that you have been warned about the antics of others. Of course if you are a leader in waiting you might want to reflect on the fact that all of the strategies outlined are a response to a management style which values control and draws its strength from a macho culture – a culture which sadly still prevails in too many organisations.

All rights reserved © 2014 Andrew Hutchinson

Snowballing

Snowballing is one of my favourite ways of clustering ideas or concepts when I’m working with groups.  It can be used in combination with brainstorming and it leads to the identification of themes in a large set of data.

It is particularly good for facilitating an equality of input, lessening the inhibition of individuals in group process, flexibility in the grouping of material, allowing for iteration, a bit of peace and quiet, and throwing up unexpected results, which appeals to my anarchistic tendencies.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAsmile

Process:

  1. Generation: Individuals write one idea, issue or concept relating to the subject under consideration onto post-it notes, one idea etc per post-it.  After a few minutes of generating post-its individually, the group (or facilitator) randomly place the post-its onto a large wall.  Then group members have another round of generating material having been inspired (hopefully!) by what colleagues have produced.
  2. Clustering: Silently (yes that means no talking!) the group members re-arrange the post-its on the wall/table into groupings.  Anyone is free to move any post-it, or rearrange clusters etc.  The idea is that the group will try various groupings/clusterings until there is an unspoken agreement on a final form and the process finishes. Expect “false-endings” when it appears to be over but sudden rearrangement by someone with a sudden insight…

The silence is important, at least for the first few minutes.  If one person explains why they have moved a post-it, others follow.  Silent clustering is more intuitive and allows more equal participation.  If there’s a near ding dong with a post-it getting passed back and forth between clusters, intervene.  Don’t arbitrate, just copy it.  You can’t be in two places at once but a post-it can (Hutchinson’s Fifth Law).

Once clustered – the group give a name to each cluster.

Variations:

  • Facilitator can read out all post-its having collected them in. Can iterate many or few times.
  • Facilitator or problem owner can intervene with more direction after each iteration.
  • Post-its can be placed on table as generated or kept individually in groups.
  • A “Plant” can seed ideas by putting in wacky suggestions etc (if you need to open up ideas)
  • Once clustered and named, each post-it could be numbered accordinGly, then the group could re-cluster into different grouping – this could be a way of moving from a traditional/safe approach to something more radical/innovative?
  • Technique can be mixed with others.
  • Experiment with what works for you.

Top Tip:  Remind participants to write with the glue at the top of the post-it!

All rights reserved © 2014 Andrew Hutchinson

Using the Press

A fascinating fact has just arrived in my inbox from HARO, one of the leading platforms used by independent journalists, researchers and media professionals. Do you know what two thirds of North American journalists do once a week? Abusive responses, ignored. They use press releases. Don’t be too shocked, even in the age of tweets, pins and likes, press releases are as relevant and vital as ever.

B photoYou can learn all that you need to know about maximizing this important vehicle with the mononews e-Guide to the Press Release. It features everything from best practices in preparation, format and content to how to construct sharable releases for the social web. This thirty-five page document is no less than the ultimate resource for a new generation of press releases. And it comes from a reliable source since mononews is the leading lifestyle news distribution service in Canada. It is a must-read guide for all communications professionals and those wanting to learn about the industry.

All rights reserved © 2013 Andrew Hutchinson

Interview Tips

As a consultant, a blogger, an article writer, or simply in looking for new material for my presentations and stand-up sets, I get to interview a lot of people.  In this brief article I’m going to share some of my tips with you.

In general:

  • Don’t over schedule – 3 x 1 hour interviews are a full day’s worth of work;
  • Save the big cheese to the last – when you’re more informed;
  • Find a comfy nest – pleasant, casual and neutral, with a few armchairs, a whiteboard, coffee-machine and no telephone;
  • Prepare – several pages of questions;
  • Don’t tire of asking, “Please give me an example?”

Remember that the main purpose of an interview is to gather stories and illustrations, so:

  • Measure your effectiveness by the number of sagas produced;
  • Don’t stop digging until you understand.;
  • Ask stupid questions, you’ll feel stupid afterwards if you didn’t ask the obvious;
  • Think small – get the details!

A Adefoun 2

Particularly in a work setting:

  • You want practical illustrations of things which work, or don’t;
  • Discover “the way we do things around here”, get the interviewee to jot down 10 statements which characterise the culture OR bring your best culture statements and ask interviewee to score on a 10 point scale from agree to disagree;
  •  Picture” a day in the life”;
  • How, exactly, did you spend your time yesterday?

And no matter what the setting, who you are interviewing or why you are carrying out the interview:

  • Don’t let your notes age;
  • After each interview write down 6 impressions and fill in the gaps in the notes;
  • Practice and observe other great interviewers;
  • Watch the processes others use and reflect on own;
  • What did you miss or fail to follow up on?

Good luck, feel free to let me know how you get on.

All rights reserved © 2013 Andrew Hutchinson

11 Top Tips for a Successful Brainstorm

There is a right way and a wrong way to run a brainstorm or ideation meeting. A little preparation pays dividends. It is very important to separate the two phases of the meeting. The first part of the meeting is Idea Generation when you use divergent thinking. The second part is Idea Selection when you use convergent thinking. Here are my top tips for a meeting that will produce great ideas:

Before the Meeting:

1. Choose a diverse group. Six to ten people is ideal. If at all possible bring in some provocative outsiders to challenge the conventional thinking in your team.

2. Appoint a facilitator. Ideally the facilitator should be external to the group. They can use different techniques to manage the process. The manager is often a poor choice for this role as they cannot stop themselves shaping the content.

3. Meet offsite. Getting away from the office somehow helps to break conventional thinking. Unusual locations are good. I have run ideation meetings in a zoo, a museum, an art gallery and a castle.

Idea Generation Using Divergent Thinking

4. Suspend judgment. No-one is allowed to criticise or even discuss an idea. As ideas are expressed they are simply recorded. This can be done on post-its, lap-tops or flip charts but no fault-finding or comments are allowed to slow the process of idea flow.

5. Go for quantity. Quantity leads to quality in brainstorms so don’t stop until you have a large number of ideas – typically 60 to 100 or more.

6. Go beyond reason. Wild ideas are useful because they challenge boundaries and provoke other fresh ideas. It is easier to tame a wild idea than to inject something radical into a bland one.

7. Ride on other people’s Ideas. When one person suggests a creative concept others should chip in with extensions, developments and specific ways to make it happen. Piggyback on each other’s notions.

8. Displace people out of routine thinking. There are many good techniques to do this – one of my favorites is SCAMPER.

Idea Selection Using Convergent Thinking

9. Set criteria. Make an initial sift of the ideas using some broad criteria agreed with the group. For example we want ideas that will please customers, increase awareness and can be implemented in the next 12 months.

10. Discuss the short list. When you are down to say 10 or 12 good ideas then discuss them constructively. Sometimes there is a clear consensus as to which are the best. Sometimes you might want to vote to see which are the most popular. Whittle the list down to a handful of really good ideas.

11. Assign actions. Start the ball rolling by assigning follow-up actions for the best ideas. Add them to your to do list and make sure they are expedited. The brainstorm is worthwhile only if it delivers actions.

You should run regular brainstorm meetings with your team. They should be fun and motivational for people. They can deliver the ideas and innovations you need to transform your organization.

All rights reserved © 2013 Andrew Hutchinson

17 Ways to Murder an Idea

It must be ten or fifteen years since I first came across 17 Ways to Murder an Idea.  I think that they were published by the Synectics Corporation in one of their promotional booklets of the time. Their excellence in the field of creativity and ideas generation is second to none. It fact at some point I’ll talk about synectics as a technique and how I’ve used it to great effect over the years but for now…….

Still as relevant today as they were all of those years ago.  Enjoy!

17 Ways to Murder an Idea

  1. See it coming and change the subject
  2. Ignore it. Dead silence intimidates all but the most enthusiastic
  3. Feign interest but do nothing about it. This at least prevents the originator from taking it elsewhere
  4. Scorn it. “You’re joking, of course”. Make sure to get your comment in before the idea is fully explained
  5. Laugh it off. “Ho, ho, ho, that’s a good one. You must have been awake all night thinking that up.”
  6. Praise it to death. By the time you have expounded its merits for five minutes everyone else will hate it
  7. Mention that it has never been tried before. If the idea is genuinely original, this is certain to be true. Alternatively, say, “If the idea’s so wonderful, why hasn’t someone else already tried it?”
  8. Say, “Oh, we’ve tried that before” – even if it’s not true. Particularly effective with new-comers. It makes them realise what complete outsiders they are.
  9. Come up with a competitive idea. This can be a dangerous tactic, however, as you might still be left with an idea to follow up.
  10. Stall it with any of the following: “We’re not ready for it yet, but in the fullness of time…”; “I’ve been wanting to do that for a long time, but right now…”; “Let’s wait until the new organisation has settled down…”
  11. Modify it out of existence. This is elegant, you seem to be helping the idea along, just changing it a bit here and there. By the time the originator realises what’s happening, the idea is dead.
  12. Try to chip bits off it. If you fiddle with an idea long enough, it may fall to pieces
  13. Make a strong personal attack on the originator. By the time he or she has recovered, the idea won’t seem so important
  14. Appoint a committee to sit on the idea. As Sir Barnett Cox observed, “A committee is a cul-de-sac down which ideas are lured, then quietly strangled.”
  15. Drown it in cold water, as in: ‘We haven’t got the staff to do it…the intangible risks would be too great…that’s all very well in theory, but in real life…’
  16. Return it to sender with, “You need to be much more specific about your proposal.”
  17. If all fails, encourage the originator to look for a better idea. Usually a discouraging quest!

All rights reserved © 2013 Andrew Hutchinson

Reflections on Leadership

As a child passing through the education system of the seventies I was introduced to magical characters such as Clive of India; General Wolfe; Cecil Rhodes; Captain Cooke; Horatio Nelson and Robert the Bruce. I cannot remember if I was told, if I believed that I instinctively knew, or if I somehow worked it out for myself, but these individuals were leaders of men, of that I was sure. It was not just the tales of do and dare but the contrasts and the contradictions that characterised their lives that held a draw for me.  Clive may well have been the first of the modern-era soldier-politicians who helped the British gain ascendency in India, whose fame and notoriety lay in his political and military conquest of Bengal but I was just as fascinated to learn how as a boy he climbed his local church tower and perched on a gargoyle to frighten those below, or attempted to set up a protection racket and vandalise the premises of local merchants who would not pay. Wolfe is remembered for his heroics in defeating the French in Canada and establishing British rule there but I remember sitting transfixed and hearing of how at Culloden he had refused to carry out an order of the Duke of Cumberland to shoot a wounded Highlander, saying that his honour was worth more than his commission. Tales of how a sickly, asthmatic teenager was sent to South Africa in the hope that the climate would improve his health and how he grew up to found De Beers diamond company and have the country of Rhodesia named after him had a classroom enthralled. Captain Cooke was remembered not just as an explorer, navigator and cartographer but for the violent and bloody nature of his demise and the fact that after his death his body was held by the Hawaiians and the flesh cut and roasted from his bones in a ritual reserved for the chiefs and highest elders of their society. Nelson was remembered as much for his seasickness as his strategic prowess and Robert the Bruce for inspiring us to never give up and try, try and try again in the face of adversity, after witnessing the efforts of a spider to spin a web in a cave.

The characters may no longer be popular, seen by some as cameos of empire and a best-forgotten past and the teaching methods which allowed young minds to ferment with such colourful imagery may be an affront to political correctness but it is in such tales that a lifelong interest in leaders and leadership was grounded. Perhaps a child fascinated by such textbook leaders is destined for a life that somehow seems unfulfilled. Witnessing the demise of industry, influence and confidence it should be of no surprise to learn that the child of the sixties, who had grown into the young man of the eighties, on scanning the horizon found leadership noticeable only by its absence. I did not recognise the leadership of my textbook heroes in the politicians or activists of left or right, in the bosses I met in the workplace, in the academics encountered at university or the sportsmen seen on the pitch or playing field. Like most childish things it was felt that an interest in leaders was best put away.

It was only while watching the 1990 BBC television series, Troubleshooter, hosted by Sir John Harvey-Jones that there was a reconnect. His character, his wisdom and his mission held an appeal and on further investigation it seemed that he too, like my childhood heroes had a complex past. Bullied unmercifully at school, naval college at thirteen, sunk twice during the Second World War and a post-war career in intelligence before joining ICI and rising to the position of Chairman. He was a man who maintained that his mission was to concentrate on putting more power into fewer hands so as to reduce the number of those who can say ‘no’ and increase the motivation of those who can say ‘yes‘. He is also a man who insisted that there are no bad troops, only bad leaders. So leaders did exist. Or at least my sort of leader existed, and had existed when I had thought that there were none. He had been busying himself in the boardroom of ICI while I had been busy looking elsewhere.  erhaps other sorts of leader existed too?

I increasingly became aware of this possibility as my career progressed, as I too became a management consultant, working in the private and public sectors and with politicians at a local and national level. It was only when I found myself working regularly with people whose job title was simply the word ‘Leader‘, as in they were the leader of a local authority, that I began to realise that I no longer had that childlike certainty that I knew what a leader was.  Increasingly I found that I was not alone but I also found that my expectations all too often differed from those around me. There seemed to be an agreement on an absence of leadership, a void, there was an expectation that something must be done but there was no consensus about what should fill the void, no shared understanding of what a leader was.

I’ve written extensively on the subject and no doubt the quest to define leadership will continue but the writer is also fearful that the search for leaders will seemingly bear less fruit. After all if you don‘t know what you are looking for how will you ever know if you have found it?

All rights reserved © 2013 Andrew Hutchinson

Just What Is Your Problem?

As a consultant I would say that fifty per cent of the time I am asked to solve either a non-existent problem, or the wrong problem.  There is no shame in not being a ‘sophisticated client’.  It is interesting how the meaning of some words change over time due to popular usage.  To be sophisticated is now interpreted as being something of an all-rounder, exhibiting taste and refinement, but of course its root is in practicing the art of sophistry – the power to twist and manipulate with a method of argument that is seemingly plausible though actually invalid and misleading, subtle but unsound or fallacious in its reasoning.  Enter the early-retirement graduate into the consulting business, the former local authority chief executive ready to change the world.  Don’t get me wrong, some of them are good but a lot of them aren’t, trading on once held positional power.

cupA Adefoun 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is no shame in not being a sophisticated client but there is shame a plenty in a ‘consultant’ who practices the art of sophistry, seeking a parasitic relationship more akin to an umbilical cord.

Problem Definition

I would always encourage a client to sit down with his or her team and scope out the problem, to dry to determine if the ‘problem’ is really a symptom.  This is the most important stage, don’t solve the wrong problem!

The objective of the problem definition is to develop an objective statement of the problem that is clearly understood by all members.  The group may develop a statement of “the desired state” (or an “I wish….”) to be achieved by solving the problem.

I’ll share a few examples of how this might be achieved.

Guidelines

Develop an objective “as is” statement of the problem, that is free of cause and solution.  E.g. ‘32% of order forms processed by our department contain errors’.

The desired state in that example may be “order entry errors reduced by 50%”.   The desired state often helps provide focus, a target and direction.   A quantifiable goal makes evaluation of the solution easier.

Here follows three methods of problem definition:

Method 1 

  1. Start with the presenting problem, a general statement about what is ‘wrong’.
  2. Ask the Problem owner what they have done to solve the problem, provide some background to the problem, what’s been tried, clarify their power to act (don’t try and own someone else’s problem).
  3. Break the problem down into smaller problems – ‘what are the possible reasons for this problem?’.  (Idea:  Can use ‘Cause and Effect’ to identify problem components and Brainstorm the branches or use ‘Force Field’ Analysis).
  4. Review the ideas one by one (grouping and combining where appropriate – idea: use Snowball Technique) – seeking clarification from originators where appropriate.
  5. Select a few ideas that seem to best reflect the problem  (idea: use ‘Weighted Voting’ for gaining consensus for a group-owned problem or ask the Problem Owner).
  6. Can use criteria to choose the problem to look at.  Criteria may include:
  • Control (‘Are we the right people to tackle this?’)
  • Importance (urgency, seriousness)
  • Difficulty (‘Is it possible to do this?’)
  • Time (‘How long will this take?’)
  • Return on Investment (‘What is the pay off?’)
  • Resources (‘Have we got what it takes to do this job?’)

Method 2 – Forwards & Backwards Planning

  1. Start with the presenting problem (Ask the problem Owner).
  2. Write this in the middle of the flipchart
  3. Ask the Problem owner what they have done to solve the problem, provide some background to the problem, what’s been tried, clarify their power to act (don’t try and own someone else’s problem).
  4. Write underneath the presenting problem (‘forwards planning’) – “What new opportunities does this give you”, or, “If you had achieved this then what would you be able to do”).  Repeat twice.
  5. Write above the presenting problem (‘backwards planning’) – “What other problems does that solve”, or “Imagine this was your solution.  What does this solve?”  Repeat twice.
  6. Ask “What stops you from making this happen?”
  7. Ask the problem owner to choose the problem that now best fits their problem.

This method is more effective with one Problem owner – if it is a group owned problem then a representative could be chosen to own the problem and then consensus reached before progressing with the problem, or try Method 1.

Method 3

  1. The problem owner presents the problem and states what they would like to get out of the session.
  2. All participants spend a couple of minutes writing down questions beginning with Who? What? Why? Where? When? How? to ask the Problem Owner about the problem.  The aim is to challenge the Problem Owner’s assumptions and definitions of the problem.
  3. Each participant, in turn, asks the Problem Owner their questions, with supplementary questions as  necessary.
  4. After the Problem Owner has answered the questions each participant spends a few minutes listing “how to’s” that set out what they consider to be the main elements of the problem.
  5. Participants read out their “how to’s”.  The facilitator writes these onto a flip chart.
  6. The Problem Owner selects the one(s) (or rewords the one) they feel represent the main problem(s) that they need to solve.

It is very unusual for a group to easily and clearly state their problems.   Don’t start solving problems before you have a clear understanding of the problem! – Let me know how you get on.

All rights reserved © 2013 Andrew Hutchinson