How companies crush creativity

CreativityblocksEven when companies know the value of creativity, they unwittingly block it from happening.

Here are some of the subtle and more obvious ways creative problem solving is squashed like a rat under a rhino.


1.  No time to be creative

If people are rushing from one meeting to another and are overworked, they’ve no time to throw around ideas.  Downtime to think laterally, speak to people and have those coffee machine chats is where stuff gets solved, initiated and created.  Stillness and play are, for the most part, under-rated and misunderstood in business.


2.  Boring meetings

No results and deviating from the agenda don’t help.    Look here for how you can keep people to the point.  Meetings without energy mean that people have to work extra hard at shaking off the lethargy.  Part of the problem is that brainstorming meetings are confused with ones where information simply needs to be given, thereby crushing any vitality that may have been floating in the ether.


3.  Contracts don’t last as long as the cycle of the project

This means staff won’t even see the outcome of their designs so they will have little care about contributing to how the end looks. Furthermore, a lack of job security can affect the ability to think differently:  people will be more concerned with redoing their CVs.


4.  Demanding on the small stuff

Sweating the small stuff can be crucial but is more often a comfort blanket. Preoccupation with detail can delay reaching goals and result in bags of wasted time.


5.  ‘Yes but’

There are a thousand excuses for not being creative. Some organisations prefer to stick with the familiar old devils.   Changing – even if it makes more business sense – seems like too much of a hassle.


6.  Pressure for results

Too much stress on delivering outcomes rather than allowing time to test and tweak can mean relying on some half-baked idea from last time.  Oh well, keep your fingers crossed and hope, this time, it works.


7.  No allocation of resources

Time’s the big one but people, equipment and money may come into play as well.


8.  Too many ideas floating around and not captured centrally  

It’s fun coming up with ideas but how are they captured and seen through to realisation?  Innovation is creativity captured and made into something. Otherwise, it’s just an exercise in free thinking which isn’t bad in itself but may not result in the Next Big Thing.


9.   Demoralising environment

No natural light; sticking the kitchen half way down the corridor; lack of comfortable seating areas; screens everywhere: basically, a modern-day workhouse.


10.  Lack of cohesion between people

Too much tribalism between departments results in a limited way of approaching issues.  Groups that have no spirit of cohesion or too much fear and negativity around them will be very hesitant about giving their ideas, or building upon those of others.


Look here to see what other companies like Intuit and 3M are doing to make creativity lead to innovative, money-making ideas.


The 3 Communication Pitfalls for Technical Experts

hidingbehindscreenSome time ago, I walked into a client’s office to ask who the new CTO was:  all I could see was the top of his head behind the barricade of 2 massive computer screens.

Was he expecting a volley of fire from enemy territory or did I catch him in a game of hide and seek?

Whatever the reasons for his visual masking, one of the Directors seemed a bit concerned:  how’s he going to forge links with other departments and sell up services?  We only see him between the cracks of his fortress.

The new CTO seemed to be under the impression that for anything more than a face to half-face meeting, an email would suffice: a clear example of the challenges with which technical experts struggle, when they suddenly need to manage people, push strategy and develop business links.

Here are some of the 3 main obstacles these specialists need to overcome:


Over reliance on email

Sitting behind a screen shooting off emails or slugging through reports can have a pay off: firstly you don’t have to get up,  except for coffee,  the phone or the loo and secondly,  you are protected from the vagaries of pesky humans.

Unfortunately,  you can’t use an instruction manual to help you navigate their utter unpredicted lack of perceived rationale,  the proof of which lies in that email you’re replying to now.  You know as you press ‘send’  it’s like throwing a missile but sod it.  A point has to be made and you’ll be making it.

Unfortunately,  that email is not really a missile but a leaky boat –  and you’re both in it.

The best way to really ‘get’ what someone’s intention is by seeing them.  So if you want to get through those choppy little waves,  you better row yourself over to their desk and save yourself a mauling by a shark later on.


Too much detail

That PowerPoint with the 70 slides,  accompanied by aerial and close up photos of the processor you’re proud of is going to bore the pants off commercial when they see it.

They know you know your stuff, they just don’t know how it’ll affect them.  To know how much to tell them seems like a telepathic skills. However, all that’s necessary is that you find out what their problem is and how you can be the solution.  To do that,  ask and the way will be obvious.


Not communicating the bigger picture

Having mixed commercial and technical teams in workshops is always an eye opener: they realise that they’ve been working with only half a map in front of them.   Neither has the full picture and both realise how much they benefit from the missing half.

Management don’t communicate the bigger picture to tech teams: they think it either doesn’t concern them or they don’t care to know.   So,  technical teams need to be more proactive.   Ask questions such as:

  1. How does this affect the business in the long run?
  2. What difference will it make to you when this is completed?
  3. What’s  the rationale for this?

The last question could be replaced by ‘Why? But that could provoke a defensive reaction,  especially in email.

The developers and coders need this information – and want it – so it’s important to ensure that the context is filtered through the teams.

Once this information is clear,  tell everyone –  not just the decision makers.   Knowing why we do what we do and what difference it can make,  means teams can be more proactive and driven.


What other specific communication challenges do you think technical experts have?

Let me know right here…

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Why stories work

tell them your story

A story replaces information overload

“Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today,”

(Robert McAfee Brown)

There are two ways to share knowledge: either you can push information out or you can pull people in with a story.

Whether you need to sell a product or change behaviour, stories are vital to your success.  Here you’ll find 5 reasons why having an anecdote up your sleeve will immediately change how people perceive you.

1. Stories can simplify the complex through a metaphor.

For example, the tale of the pig farmer who realised that overnight his stock was worth half .  On the strength of the potential sale, he’d taken out loans for barn repairs and equipment.  The debts stayed the same but his income was halved, pushing him into further debt.
This story was used to explain the effect of the devaluation of oil in Russia.  A metaphor that those unfamiliar with macro economics would be able to digest.

2.  They make no claims so aren’t threatening.

So instead of saying, ‘If you don’t buy this anti-virus package for your computers, you’ll be in trouble’, you can tell the story of how using BungleBoo Anti Virus system allowed a virus into your computer like water though a sieve, destroying your client base, all your documents and forcing you to have to purchase a watertight new laptop.

3.  Want to change the way someone is doing something? 

Tell them about the time that you didn’t buy travel insurance, broke your legs in Albania and ended up paying an arm and another leg to get home .   Much better than dishing out the advice with ‘you should/shouldn’t’, which just tends to get up people’s noses.

4.  If you want to make a strong point, this becomes easier to internalize and remember by building a sense of anticipation.

When I give short seminars on cross cultural presentations, I tell half the story of Richard, who worked for a large US bank and was trying to tie up a deal in the United Arab Emirates. He had to fly to Abu Dhabi several times before he won the deal.  However, it wasn’t his PowerPoints that won the day but 3 small adjustments he made to how he communicated.  I start the story at the beginning of the presentation, and by the end, they’re dying to know what happened to him so that’s when I complete the tale.

If you make your audience want to know the outcome, they’re more likely to remember it.

Click here to see me telling the story.

5. Fires imagination and provides role models for action.

For those that need a bit of encouragement being resourceful when resources are limited, the story of Anita Roddick, founder of the Body Shop, could be encouraging.  The logo of the Body Shop is entirely down to the fact that when she opened her first shop in Brighton,  it was cheaper and easier to find a green colour to match the mould-riddled signage.  Purchasing new signage wasn’t in her budget.  That decision gave birth to the globally recognised Body Shop brand.

Such a story of resourcefulness can make you think  ‘Goodness, if she can do it, so can I.’

6. Potential customers can identify with an issue and are more likely to then want to buy from you

Instead of ‘selling’ a product or service you give a case study of a problem that existed before e.g. boring presentations or bullish managers.

People can relate to a commonly shared problem and will act on an issue to which they can relate.  If they empathise with it, you only need to say how you’d work with them because they have an instant picture of what you do and the challenges you can help them overcome.
By the way, the tales you tell reflect your experience, knowledge and what’s important to you, adding to your credibility.
And for those of you who say you’ve got no stories, I bet I could help you find one, even if it’s not your own…

Look on the courses page here or contact me and I’ll help you find your story.


So much for the melting pot…

touching headsYou go on holiday to the quaint country of Kapistan and expect the locals to be friendly and warm on this island.

In fact, many of the inhabitants live in mountain villages, cut off from main roads until 20 years ago, they’re cold, suspicious and unhelpful.

What you don’t know is that they warm up if:

a) you express your love of the antelope;

b) you know all 20 words for rock and

c) you nod a lot.

Although this is a fictional land, the spirit of the rules – if not these particular ones – is worth knowing in an increasingly complex world, where we’re expected to already know the etiquette by sniffing it in the air. That’s not very practical so here are a few tips to see you through the multi-cultural maze.


What it means to you is not the same for me

Andy was infuriated with his manager, Jacques, for pointing out unsatisfactory work in front of others at a meeting.

Deciding not to make his anger known to the group, Andy resolved to approach Jacques about his behaviour. However, Jacques was confused. He couldn’t see why Andy should be upset at being reprimanded so openly.

The fact that Jacques is French and Andy was American had much to do with the conflict of management style.

In France, managers are more concerned about professional jealousy and try to mitigate against that by reproaching in public and rewarding in private.

In the States, this is reversed.


‘Surely we show interest in the same way’

No, we don’t: coaching a Japanese Banker in Presentations revealed an interesting difference. We were discussing how to tackle difficult questions when he said that if his particular audience of Senior Managers in their late 50’s and 60s were to start asking him any questions, he would know that he’d already lost the game. However, this may not be the case with a younger audience.


Collectivism versus individualism:

The collectivism more common in Spain unsettled Ferdy, from Germany, when the Engineering company to which he was seconded had a team picnic at the beach. Not only were the team there, but the families: children, partners, fiancés: even a dog turned up with the crowd.


Directness versus indirectness:

The Indian clients I’ve worked with have thrown up several paradoxes that can cause problems in the West.

The Indians tend to be more direct in some circumstances than, say, in Britain, but the Brits are more pointed in other ways and this can very confusing unless someone decodes the behaviour.

For example, when presenting at senior level in India, there’s a huge expectation to embellish your talk with stories and side points .   In the U.K., it’s more like ‘We’ve only got 5 minutes left. Could you make it quick?’   New York will be 5 seconds on a quiet day.

However,  Indians can be more direct when making requests, and very much so when expressing an opinion. In order not to alienate a whole team, I’ve had to teach indirect requests and embedded commands. (To check out the Indirect Requests, go here…)


How does your body talk?

Since so much of how we communicate is non-verbal, are you aware whether your body language is telling people to ‘get lost’ or whether it’s saying ‘OK’?

I was watching a Japanese tour guide in a restaurant, as she was organising the orders of 25 Japanese tourists in Chihuahua, Northern Mexico, with the Mexican staff.

With tourists, she kept physical distance, even though she evidently knew them quite well. However, when conversing with the Mexican staff, she was physically closer and more tactile. When I say more tactile, she wasn’t launching herself in their arms, but there’d be a short touch on the forearm and longer direct eye contact.

There was conflict between Naaz, a male Indian client from Bangalore and a female British-born Indian woman, Sandra, who complained that Naaz dismissed her decisions.   Naaz, on the other hand, claimed she never seemed committed to her opinions.

What Sandra needed to realise was that in Indian culture, where gender imbalances are so distinct, it’s often the case that a women would need to come across with ‘more steel’ than in British culture. I’ve found that to be the case from Italy to the Middle East.

Much of this comes from three non-verbal cues:

1) direct and prolonged eye contact
2) depth of voice
3) physical commitment e.g. strong gestures rather than fidgeting

However, when you’ve put your foot out of sync with culture, you won’t always know. When people do make their dissatisfaction clear, they can’t always tell you explicitly what you’ve done to so offend.

It’s your choice whether you adapt to another culture, but finding someone who can help you through the cross-cultural maze will allow you to get your message across and keep relationships bubbling away at the same time.

3 ways to instantly increase your focus


He’s been listening to waterfalls

Motivation is like catching butterflies. Even if you work out what drives you now, that can change tomorrow.

Are you one of those people who can’t get down to work at your desk but whose focus turns razor sharp in the bustle of a cafe?

Your surroundings can put you into a completely different gear. Here are some ways you can adjust your environment to make you more productive, focussed and creative.


Your soundtrack:

Music: Put some music on: it may be Primal Scream or Schubert as long as you can zone out to zone in.

Atmosphere apps:   Some people love apps like Coffitivity that offer listeners the sounds of various coffee shops around the world.  You can enjoy all the benefits of a coffee shop, without having to pay for your ‘dry-skinny-soya-latte’. However, the app doesn’t come with service.  You’ll have to get off your butt and make your own until they come up with an app for that too.

I’ve recently downloaded an app called Nature Sounds that’s improved my own focus 100%.  I have a mind that spans outwards and flies around so this helps me to stay on the task.  I love the sound of the roaring fire but the waterfall may well have you running for the loo.



I have a friend who’s just received an advance from a publisher for her 3rd book. The previous 2 written entirely…in bed.  One of my clients, a CIO, finds he works so much more productively in the kitchen at home.

I’d just moved and had to practically burrow in and out or mounds of empty packing boxes, to access my kitchen.  I discovered that my concentration was intensified when surrounded by brown card and in the absence of a huge advance from the publisher, it was just what I needed to finish the book.

Now, I’m not suggesting you live like a rabbit in a cardboard hutch but being aware of the order you need around you can help you knuckle down.



So many articles suggest that in order to be productive, you need to get up before the crack of dawn.  It’s got to be before 4am and not a minute later or you’ll spend all day playing catch up.   However, energy is cyclical. While I agree that early mornings can be tremendously energizing, it’s not the be all and end all of a day’s focussed work.

Night owls often feel a rush of ideas or focus at midnight. There are some who even regard the hours of 2pm-6pm as their peak period for productivity.

It’s a case of personal preference. What’s yours?


So soundscape, place and time cover the environmental aspects of motivation.

Being aware of these aspects of motivation can have you feeling more in control of your actions and zipping through your ‘to do’ list in no time.


What specifically drives you? Let me know below….

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20 reasons why you’re not creative

noideasThe very word ‘creative’ is a tripwire to many people.  After all, unless you’re paid to produce a video or write a script, what use is creativity in the workplace?

In fact, it’s simply the ability to solve problems or be resourceful.  To quote Steve Jobs, “Creativity is just connecting things.”

Looking at it this way, it’s probably not hard to see why an IBM survey revealed that CEOs all over the world rated creativity as the top leadership skill.  That’s ‘the‘ top, not ‘one of the top’.

So what stops you from being creative?  In a workshop I ran on Creative Problem Solving, the group generated a whole list of blocks.

See if any of these strike a chord:

  1. You’re too tired or drained from the day that’s been or was.
  2. Identity  –  ‘I’m not a creative’.  Creativity is who you are, black and white.
  3. If you’re successful, people will want me to do this again.  You can’t guarantee achievement when pure chance is what helped me the first time.
  4. If you achieve your goal, then your profile’s up and so you’ll be easier to find and shoot down.
  5. What’s the point?  Nothing will come of your ideas anyway.
  6. You’ve got so many ideas,  you don’t know where to start.
  7. You can only generate ideas with people you trust and the opportunity doesn’t happen very often.
  8. No-one will listen to you.
  9. You’ll be stigmatised/outcast/mocked/considered to be an upstart.
  10. You don’t have the money/time/equipment.
  11. You’ve failed too many times to believe you can be successful with your ideas.
  12. You can’t be creative until you’re financially secure.
  13. It’s not ‘important’ enough : it’s play you can only allow yourself to do in the shadows.
  14. It’s too much effort to put an idea into reality
  15. By concentrating on that, you’ll neglect things that really matter.
  16. Being creative means you don’t want a proper job and can’t hold one down.
  17. Creativity is frowned upon in your culture: it’s a sign of weakness.
  18. Your parents/teachers told you that you weren’t creative and it still sticks.
  19. Creativity makes you feel so happy: you haven’t deserved it.
  20. Creativity?  What’s that?

Addressing blocks in being creative – as well as revealing what creativity actually looks like in practice – is vital to understanding how to do it.

Let me know of any specific block that comes to mind in the comments below:


 If you want to know how you can apply creativity to problem solving and enrich your world, click here for a sample outline.

How to be heard effortlessly

There are some people who can walk into a room and effortlessly be heard by everyone, without raising their voices.  This is called resonance and is due to a power in the voice that doesn’t rely on volume (shouting) to have impact.

Here are 7 tips to help you increase your own vocal power so you can command attention and be heard.


Tip One –  Watch your posture:

Since you need your lungs to breathe, they’ll be quite limited in how much they can expand if you’re standing like a figure ‘C’, all hunched up, quite natural if you’ve been slaving over a laptop before you present.

Stand up straight with your feet firmly planted on the ground, looking out at your audience. This will help to ensure your voice carries to the back row.


Tip Two –  Open your mouth:

Most people simply do not open their mouths enough.  This decreases vocal projection.  In workshops, people often feel it’s really unnatural to open their mouths more.  When I film individuals ‘exaggerating’ and they watch themselves back, not only do they realise they sound more interesting but they look more expressive: both discoveries more likely to maintain the habit of opening the jaw more.


Tip Three – Breathe from your centre:

Breathe from the abdomen and imagine a beam of light from there, channelling out of your torso, throat and mouth, ‘zapping your audience’! The breath doesn’t generate in the upper chest but lower down in the ‘engine room’ around the belly.  Your voice will drop and sound more resonant if you breathe from here.


Tip Four – Look at the audience, not your notes:

It’s amazing how many times I see people either looking towards their notes, or at the projector. If you look towards where you’re speaking, you’ll have a greater chance of being heard.


Tip Five – Visualise being in a stadium:

Simply imagining you’re speaking in a vast stadium can help you increase your volume.


Tip Six – Avoid ‘dribbling’:

Audiences often get tired of listening to speakers who ‘drop off’ at the end of the sentence. That is, the presenter loses volume.  There are several physiological and psychological reasons why this may happen but ultimately it makes hard work for the listener, especially as the vital parts of information can be at the end of a phrase.  Keep the vocal strength up to the end of the sentence.  To avoid trailing off, think of pressing on the final syllable of the final word of the sentence or phrase.


Tip Seven – Use pauses to refuel:

Pauses can seem like uncomfortably long silences to the speaker, but to the listener they’re absolutely vital as a means to absorb and assimilate information.  Without pauses, the speaker has no time to reach into their abdomen to breathe.

The best way to get used to pauses is to record yourself reading for a minute or so.  We do this very consciously in workshops by pausing for a count of ‘one elephant’ at the following punctuation:  ,/:/;/-   and ‘two elephants’ (that means counting aloud ‘one elephant, two elephants’) for the ends of sentences.  Once everyone’s recorded reading something into their phones a couple of times, they develop a feel for pauses so that the counting becomes intuitive rather than conscious, thereby allowing them to feel calmer, breathe deeper and project more.

One of the main reasons for couples to row – and for workplace tiffs

Such is my influence that in the following video, I’ve managed to rope in Kevin Bacon, the Hank Hill family and even Clark Gable with Vivien Leigh – even though the last two are no longer with us.

All for one purpose:  to reveal one of the most common reasons that couples argue and what to do about it.

No, I haven’t gone into relationship counselling.  This issue also pops up at work but the effects are more dramatic at home.  Either way, this behaviour can be very irritating.  

Click below and my glowing supporting cast and I will help you…



‘It is what it is’ and other meaningless palliatives

Forgotten how good it can be?

Forgotten how good it can be?

Years ago I saw the film, Baraka.  It’s a visual treat, showing some truly beautiful aspects of nature and culture alongside the ability of ‘civilisation’ to destroy what is precious.

I remember one scene in the film showing a native tribe in Brazil, rowing along the Amazon. Next shot, native tribes boxed in tatty blocks of dark flats, squeezed against each other, perching precariously on a deforested mound.

Yet those families, who had been running free not so long ago, looked quite content in their cramped homes. It’s a testament to the enduring human spirit or rather, how we can get quite used to a crappy situation.

What we are often seeing is not the victories of the human spirit but the amnesia of the human mind.

We forget how great we can be, how rewarding our jobs can be, or, our lives, affecting the possibility of businesses and individuals to more than just ‘manage’.



1. Hit ’em in the gut

Persuading people to change means showing reminding them of two factors:

1) Exactly how crappy things are now;
2) Exactly how great it could be for them.

When presenting and persuading, you need a balance of the analytical – facts, data, evidence – and the emotion.

The reason for this is that although the numbers will convince, we’re ultimately stirred into action by emotion, a concept that Chip and Dan Heath wrote about in their book, ‘Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard’. They picked on a Deloittes survey that analysed the decision making process of 400 people in 130 companies across four continents and proved that when you hit people in the gut, those feelings will be more likely to generate action.


2. Make it tangible:

Something that can be seen is more persuasive than concepts.  In trying to prove how having numerous suppliers for any one item was reducing a company’s ability to attain competitive prices, a graph plotting the expenses could be projected on the wall.

Alternatively, throwing the identical and variously-priced objects on the board table,  the point of wasting money through decentralised purchasing decisions is made more succinctly.  It’s visual and real, allowing people to see and feel, in both senses of the word.

To read a case study of Joe Stegner did this at Deere, go here.


3. Focus on the individual:

When charities plead for money, they don’t show you a matrix of data but a face of a child (usually). In their literature, they will then focus on the story of this one individual to explain the issues. Take us for a moment into the life of another and we can walk in their shoes without having to take ours off.


4. Build an imaginary contrasted future

Paint a vivid picture of the situation now:

a) What are you seeing now that isn’t working?
b) How will this problem make everything worse?
c) What else will go wrong if we carry on like this?

Paint the enlightened future:

a) What would we see that will tell us the situation has improved?
b) What else would get better as a result of this?
c) What are the first steps to make this change easy, whereby we’d get our first small wins?


How to use these techniques:

You could apply them:

  • in a pitch or presentation
  • to change behaviour in feedback situations
  • in persuading teams of the benefits of forthcoming change
  • for marketing or advertising products


So when will you use one of these methods and how will you apply it?

Let me know here!






Why do boneheads get bonuses?




Being seen means you’re keen

Andy was seething between slurps of his Americano (formerly known as plain old ‘black coffee’).  “There’s this guy at work and he got a massive pay rise this year and now he’s managed to hop over to another company and he’s on £95k a year. He’s not heading a department or anything. He’s got a team of two and he’s coding and stuff.”

“He must be damn good then.” I suggested.

“No. He’s a bloody idiot, actually”

“So how come he’s doing so well, financially speaking, anyway?”

“One thing,” said Andy. “Visibility.”

Visibility is the key. Every time this guy – let’s call him – Guy (yep, my imagination is on freefall today) – achieved a milestone, set something up, resolved a problem he’d send an email out to managers.


Snatching credit vs. giving credit

Sitting with me was Andy’s girlfriend, Yolanta who voiced something that many of you may share:

“Doesn’t that make you an utter tosser, announcing every single thing you’re done. I mean, that’s like the whole Facebook thing: ‘look at me in a restaurant/on a beach.’ It’s so smug.”

I’d say there’s a thin line between having high visibility and being a total cretin and Guy crossed it regularly, appropriating a Wiki initiative that was set up by Andy as his ‘own project’.


Protecting your achievements

Since our conversation, Andy has created coding for a huge client with Guy regularly hovering over him wanting to know when it was ready so he could let management know about it (for which he’d take the credit, not Andy).

Andy lied, telling Guy he wasn’t sure the coding worked and there were a few bugs, thereby protecting his intellectual copyright.  Time passed and Andy suddenly announced the successful completion of the project to all.

What made Andy look more like ‘leadership material’ was not only the fact that he informed senior management of a completed milestone, but that he also named and thanked his team for helping him, copying them into the email.

As a result of his increased visibility, Andy has been rewarded with a handsome pay rise.

As for Guy the thieving Magpie, snatching triumph from below the noses of others, we’re sure that his high paying role is nothing but danger money for he has flown unknowingly into a highly adversarial atmosphere: no ping pong in the canteen there but a magpie fest of feather pulling where Guy comes off looking rather forlorn and burned out.

There now, that’s better: a little schadenfreude to help the coffee go down.