What a glorious feeling, I’m happy again!

I’ve just had an email from Action for Happiness, letting me know that tomorrow, which is probably today by now, Wednesday 20th March, is the very first United Nations International Day of Happiness.

It seems that all around the world people are recognising that ‘progress’ should be about increasing human happiness and well-being, not just growing the economy at all costs. In fact, all 193 United Nations member states have adopted a resolution calling for happiness to be given a greater priority.

Recent research also shows that happy employees have higher levels of productivity, perform better in leadership roles and receive higher pay! So it seems that happiness certainly has many advantages. You can read more about it here in Shawn Achor’s article on Positive Intelligence in the Harvard Business Review.

Soon after I’d read about the International Day of Happiness the very next email into my inbox was advertising the musical ‘Singing in the Rain,’ coming to the Manchester Opera House in November 2013. That’s the random nature of in-boxes  and my inbox in particular! It’s the conduit for a vast array of emails relating to a myriad of topics which jostle with each other for my attention.

Today, this unlikely combination has not only got my attention, but got me thinking too. You have to be pretty happy to ‘sing in the rain,’ but what else can raise our happiness levels, not just for the International Day of Happiness, but every day?

If you know the song, then chances are the lyrics are swimming around your head already and you may have an inkling where this is going……

[All together now]
I’m singin’ in the rain, Just singin’ in the rain,

What a glorious feeling, And I’m happy again.

I’m laughing at clouds, So dark, up above,

The sun’s in my heart, And I’m ready for love.

Let the stormy clouds chase, Everyone from the place,

Come on with the rain I have a smile on my face.

I’ll walk down the lane with a happy refrain

I’m singin’ and dancin’ in the rain.

[Well done, you sound amazing!]

So it’s the really simple things can make you happy; singing, dancing, rain, walking, laughing and love. I’m inclined to agree.

Think of the pleasure of crisp cotton sheets that smell clean and wonderfully fresh, or how it feels when you belt out a rock ballad at the top of your voice with the car stereo turned up extra loud, or how the garden looks when you’re taking a bounce on a trampoline, or the joy of listening to children who are giddy with laughter over something silly.

There’s plenty to choose from. All wonderfully simple things that can make life richer and more vivid, there’s just one thing that stands in our way, we have to notice them to appreciate them.

In his book The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor describes how you can train your brain in 21 days to become more optimistic and therefore happier, by re-wiring your brain and scanning for evidence of the positive things that are happening all around.

It’s a simple technique inspired by the writing of Dr. Martin Seligman, founder of Positive Psychology, a branch of psychology which focuses on the empirical study of such things as positive emotions and strengths.

With a very practical bias, Achor suggests that by noticing, and crucially recording in some way, 3 new things that you are grateful for each day over a 21 day period, and hopefully beyond, you can build a more optimistic outlook on life. Sounds simple enough.

One of our colleagues, “the talented Ian Pettigrew” from Kingfisher Coaching has been giving this technique a go and sharing his thoughts publicly on Twitter each evening. I wondered what changes he’d noticed since he started.

Now, I don’t need much of an excuse to down tools for a chat, so this is his up-to-the-minute feedback, gathered just moments ago. I asked Ian to share with me what had happened since adopting this technique and here are a few highlights….

  • It encourages you to reflect at the end of the day, which is perfect for learning as well as appreciating.
  • Even on ‘bad days,’ of which there are very few, you can still find at least 3 thing to be grateful for, which can put a rather different spin on the day.
  • It encourages an actively appreciative ‘glass half full’ attitude, which puts in a really resourceful state for dealing with life’s little challenges.
  • And if you want to share your gratitude with the wider world, be honest and tweet like no-one is watching. If not, you’ll fail to share gems like ‘had a chippy tea’ or ‘bunked of work early to visit Mum’

Why not give it a try? Who knows, you might be dancing and singing, and appreciating the rain in no time flat!

And as a reward for getting this far, click here to go straight to You Tube and see Gene Kelly in action in a piece of iconic film.




Today’s thought was provoked by good friend and fellow entrepreneur Martin Johnson from www.YourBigPic.com

We’ve been successfully collaborating for a year and a bit now and it’s all good. We had reason to ask about the commercial proposition for something we’re working on and our conversation moved to the topic of Effectuation. (You can see a short video that explains the principles by clicking on the link).

We’ve not paid it much attention before and it struck me that there maybe others out there who have yet to discover it’s principles.We started by looking at it from a small business perspective.

Having seen life from the big business corporate perspective and more recently as an entrepreneur, at Clear Thinking we like to look at how entrepreneurial thinking can be applied to the corporate world. And guess what, the Effectuation people have read our minds. Here’s the link to the Corporate Effectuation video.

So, here are some questions to get your mind racing……

1. Which of the principles of Effectuation are being used in your business?

2. Who naturally brings effectual thinking into the way they work in your business  What can you learn from them about the way they think?

3. What if you switched to effectual thinking? What could the possibilities be?

We’ll be asking the people we work with about their experience of effectuation in practice and we’d love to hear your stories too.

Training isn’t the answer!

What was the question?

I was recently invited to talk to a brilliant organisation about their training needs. I went in thinking that I might come away with some thoughts on workshops I could facilitate for them to help them develop their people – a reasonable assumption as a training provider, you might say.

Anyway I adopted my usual stance, and explored their organisation with them to help me understand who the key people are, what the organisation does and how it does it. (I use Big Picture for this; it helps me draw out great information. Take a look at yourbigpic.com). I uncovered tonnes of great information about their organisation, found out about their key challenges, and some opportunities for improvement fell out of the discussion too.

However, what didn’t fall out of the conversation was any clear need for training – exit stage left for Sticky Thinker? No! I hung around a while longer – in fact what this organisation needed was some thinking time to establish their business objectives. We concluded that there was not much point in training folk if you hadn’t first determined what you wanted them to deliver for you and assessed if they had the capability or the desire to do it!

The drive home gave me time to reflect…….

  • One of the things that struck me about my conversation with this organisation was just how much value they got from sitting in a room, removing all distractions and having someone give them their undivided attention for more than an hour. They did some great thinking and found some clarity that had eluded them until that point. (It’s not the first time this has happened, it’s a trend, and you’ve probably gathered that we take thinking fairly seriously given the name of our business!)
  • How many organisations fail to spend time doing quality thinking? And what’s the cost to the organisation and the impact on their people. How much more engaged could employees be if their employers immersed them in activities that encouraged them to think and not just take action? Not all the time, obviously, but when it matters.
  • Some organisations must already be doing thinking brilliantly, and I’ve seen a recent example in a contact centre environment where designated areas have been created for their teams to think and collaborate. Google are always cited as being the exemplars in this, but there must be others to learn from?
  • What if…… organisations everywhere had a policy that encouraged their people to take 14 minutes every day to engage in some high quality crystal clear thinking, either alone, if that’s their preference, or with others, if that works for them. That’s just 1% of the day dedicated to thinking; what more could they achieve?

If you happen to be reading this, I’d love to hear about you experiences and thoughts on thinking.

Sticky Thinking……

Or inventing the new goat!

We had an idea about creating a ‘Sticky Thinking Forum’ (STF) a little while ago; and finally on Star Wars Day (May the 4th) it actually happened!

The STF brings together people that we know and admire; people with shared interests and values and who will benefit from collaborating on real projects and challenges that are important to them. So in essence nothing more fancy than a bunch of like-minded individuals happy to share thoughts and ideas and to be creative together for everyone’s individual and mutual benefit.

The STF brought together a small selection of people from our true network, a network of real contacts that has built up over the years. For example, I met Ian Pettigrew (Kingfisher Coaching) on an NLP practitioner event in 2006, we met Andrew Rea (Ten Minute Trainer) on a 3rd Sector training event in 2008 and Bev met Bridie Philpotts (Bridie Philpotts Associates) more recently, this year in fact, at an organised networking event. We are like magpies with the compelling ‘shiny’ people that we meet, and don’t like to let them slip away once we have met them. Ian, Andrew and Bridie are some great examples of people that we admire, relate to and want to spend our time with.

Our aim for the STF was to keep it informal but focused, so our venue was carefully chosen for ambience and their ability to provide great coffee and cakes! North Tea Power in Manchester did not fail us and provided an excellent platform for coffee, good food, laughter, fun, and stimulating discussions that were limited to 60 minutes each.

So……what happened? We had 3 topics for consideration and each one was put forward in turn. What followed was the opportunity for questions, thoughts, challenges, much excitement and the generation of many ideas.  Creativity flowed and we even invented ‘the new goat’!

What were the benefits? Each of the Sticky Thinkers who shared a challenge were asked to record the briefest of initial thoughts and you can listen first hand here.

Here are some words from Andrew Rea and Bev Holden

From my personal perspective, it gave us all an opportunity to work with people with a genuine interest giving real, positive help and support. Our discussions provided a much wider perspective on the subjects under the spotlight, challenged us all to think differently, to explain things clearly, listen to opinions, come up with great ideas, and get involved in stimulating conversations.

Ask Yourself…..

> Who would be in your Sticky Thinking Forum?

> What would you table as your discussion point?

> How might being part of a Sticky Thinking Forum benefit you?

> What’s stopping you??

Given the resounding success of our first experience, our next Sticky Thinking Forum is booked for October and I can’t wait.

We would be thrilled to inspire some more Sticky Thinking around the globe, so what do you think? We’d love to hear your views. Contact me at kate@clearthinkinguk.com

BABBle with the Boss

How a simple conversation between the learner and their boss can help make learning stick

Imagine this……

You’re an employee in an organisation getting on with your day job. You’re pretty good at it; when out of the blue you receive an invitation to attend a two-day training event delivered by an external training company. It’s in a few weeks’ time, there’s space in your diary, the topic seems relevant to you and generally you enjoy learning new things so you accept the invitation and get back to your day job.

Several weeks pass, there’s no further information about the workshop and your boss doesn’t mention the training to you either. You’re actually quite busy with your day-to-day tasks and so finding out more about the training doesn’t make it to the top of your list of priorities; then suddenly the first day of training is upon you. You make your way to the training room, take a seat and wait for something to happen. The question is – will being there make any real difference at all???

With the very best of intentions the company has provided access to training, recognising the value of developing its people and knowing that it’s a factor that helps employees feel engaged with the business. Employees have been nominated to attend, because presumably what they might learn could help them to improve their performance and hopefully help the business get closer to achieving its goals and objectives. But there are no guarantees!

If there was one thing you could do to increase the likelihood of trainees transferring learning from the classroom to the workplace, making the training worthwhile for them, and you, by delivering a meaningful return on investment, you wouldn’t want ignore it, right?

The super-simple and low-cost solution is the BABB(le), the Before & After Boss Briefing.

If we take a look at the world from the point of view of the learner and consider what they need in order to be ready for the learning environment; then the importance of the BABBle is revealed.

1. Learners need to feel good about attending the training event.

We’ve met many who think that training is a punishment and that being “put on a training course” means they are failing in some way. So consider the damage it could do to a person’s motivation if you nominate them to attend training without them knowing the intention behind it.

We also work with people who dislike the unexpected. They like to be prepared, to have given some thought to what they will encounter, to get a sense of structure and know they aren’t going to be put in a situation where they feel foolish.

Boss Briefing: Spend some time talking about the content of the training and what’s in it for the learner. Tell them why you nominated them and what they can expect and discuss ways they can make the learning event successful for them and how to get the most out of it.

2. Learners want to be free of the distractions of the day job.

Some careful planning, with involvement from the trainee, can ensure that during the event, the learner can give their full attention to the training. Trainers and facilitators will often use activities early in their sessions to help learners remove mental distractions, but the physical ones need to be anticipated and eliminated too.

Boss Briefing: Discuss with your learner how to cover the day job whilst they attend the learning event. What will you need to anticipate and who could take care of it instead, whilst ensuring service levels and delivery standards are maintained? Agree and implement the plan of action; share the responsibility for making it happen.

3. Learners need to know what they are already good at and what to look out for from the training that will help them to perform better.

A more immature learner may not have a high degree of self-awareness and so may find they struggle to understand what they are good at and what skills and knowledge they should work on building. They are often helped by understanding how others view them and can find a sense of direction from high quality feedback that is delivered well.

Boss Briefing: Prepare feedback around 2 / 3 key topics relevant to the training. Explore these topics with the learner, encourage them to express their views of their own performance and share real examples that illustrate the level of performance they are capable of. Consider not only what they do now but their potential in the future.

4. Learners need help to be able to spot which of the specific skills, techniques and knowledge that they are exposed to can (and should) be applied to their job.

When we understand how the training content is relevant to our roles in the real world it makes it easier for us to recognise when something useful pops up in the training. We tend to be predisposed to look for patterns and links between things as a way to make sense of them, so helping trainees to anticipate the links between content and the real world can increase their attention to and retention of information.

Trainees who go into a training event with a “mental checklist” of things that could be useful for them tend to be very focused, the event becomes less of a passive encounter and when they do spot something potentially useful they are ready for it.

Boss Briefing: Discuss future challenges for the learner’s role and the business function and at a high level identify the skills, techniques and knowledge that may be important. Align this with the content that is included in the workshop, and make it clear which aspects may not be covered.

5. Learners need opportunities after the training to practice what has been learned and to test it out, finding ways to make it part of “business as usual.”

Immediately after the training, and for a sustained period afterwards, a learner needs a chance to practice what they have learned. “Use it or lose it” is the phrase that springs to mind here. If your training provider has written some great content that fits your learners like a glove in terms of its relevance, then obviously you want them to absorb as much of it as possible and more importantly, implement it fully.

Often old personal habits and established work routines get in the way here and someone has to clear a path for the learner to play with their new skills, techniques and knowledge so they can make a real difference in the business.

Boss Briefing: After the training recap on key learning points and encourage the learner to point out when and how they can apply their learning. Agree specific opportunities they can access to implement their learning and plan these in; offer encouragement and revisit the plan often to check learner is integrating learning as agreed. Setting targets for performance improvements can sometimes work well here.

6. Learners need help to recognise success and celebrate it.

The pace that most people work tends to mean they find little time for reflection and celebration of success. However, when you ask people about the defining moments in their careers, whilst some will share horror stories to make your toes curl, many more will refer to moments when their boss gave them some positive feedback and praise about their achievements and allowed them a moment to revel (even briefly) in their success. Some learners need a little help to notice what’s going well, and it’s important to give them this if they are to replicate great performance again and again.

Boss Briefing: Set a review schedule, 30, 60 and 90 days out from the original training and at each stage highlight successful outcomes. Reward improvements with something that is meaningful to the learner and encourage more of the same.

The Before & After Boss Briefing is not a magic bullet, it’s just one of a wide range of tactics that can boost the return on investment for your training activities! It does allow you to create the right learning conditions for your employees and even a small incremental shift in what is learned, retained and implemented through workshop-based learning will make the results of your training investment more impactful and help your training budget go further; and that’s no bad thing!

Do you have Conversations With Consequences?

I was speaking to a client at the beginning of the week and he was talking about a meeting that he had attended the previous week that had not resulted in anything positive from his point of view.

This got me thinking about the quality of the conversations and interactions that happen at work and about having conversations with consequences – it also challenged me to make sure that the conversation with him was insightful, useful and had lots of positive take aways!!

A Conversation With Consequences sounds serious, and it is, if you look at it from the point of view that every conversation you have should have an outcome and (hopefully positive) consequences, or if not, what’s the point, you might as well save your breath.

It seems that much of our time at work is spent in meetings, on conference calls and in discussions, all of which are meant to move the business forward in some way, that’s what you’re paid to do.

When you reflect on the interactions you have had this week, have all of your conversations had an outcome or a consequence? Or have you spent valuable meeting time thinking about stuff that’s not on the agenda, or allowing yourself to be distracted by interesting but fairly meaningless conversations that have no outcome or follow-up actions.

I agree that the discussion element of an interaction plays a vital part in exploring possibilities and shaping future activity, but I’m curious about how much time is wasted in conversations that don’t have a tangible outcome or positive result. How much time at work is just spent talking and not really achieving anything?

So……how can you shift your conversations up a gear to ensure there are positive consequences for all those involved?

You could invest in a TIM (Time is Money), a simple gadget that calculates how much money is wasted at a meeting by multiplying the number of people present with their average hourly wage and the amount of time spent. For every second spent in your meetings you can see the cost escalating. It’s certainly one way of focusing your mind, but ultimately it’s just a gadget that might help you to have shorter, more purposeful meetings!tim

Perhaps a more effective approach is to spend just a little time before every conversation that you have thinking about what you need the conversation to achieve. Think about your desired outcome; what positive consequences do you want at the end of it?

In the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven R. Covey tells us to ‘begin with the end in mind’, and I have always found this a simple yet powerful concept, helping me to keep my thoughts and actions on track and ensuring that my interactions and conversations are purposeful. It hasn’t inhibited my curiosity or need to explore before I come to a conclusion, but it has helped me to cut down on the meetings and conversations that I walk away from thinking “well, that was a big waste of time!”

Here’s a quick guide to conversations with consequences……

Before your conversation:

1. Decide what positive consequences you want from your interaction; how will things be different as a consequence of the conversation?

2. Ask the others involved what positive consequences they want

3. Ask yourself, what type of interaction is going to get you to your outcome, then set up an appropriate format and behave in a way that creates that type of interaction you need

During your conversation:

4. At the beginning, review and agree your outcomes for the meeting, being realistic about the time you have and the people who are involved. Make sure you know what your priorities are.

5. Keep your outcome clearly visible during the meeting and revisit it often to check your progress

6. Note down decisions, actions and great ideas as you go so nothing is lost or overlooked and there is good evidence of the quality of your interaction

At the end of the conversation:

7. Review your actions and allocate sponsors for each one along with a deadline for completion

8. Note anything that has yet to be discussed and agreed and carry forward

9. Make a commitment to take action as a result of the conversation, and keep your promise.

Finally you can feel that glow of satisfaction that says you’ve achieved your outcome, and had a Conversation With Consequences. Good luck with your conversations and we’d love to hear about your successes!