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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.


Almost 10 killer questions for great decision making!

In a high-tech world we’ve been fascinated that last week the world was focused on the roof tops of the Vatican, where it was a very low tech smoke signal that was the sole indication of the decision-making progress of 115 Cardinals forming the Conclave.

In the scheme of things it was a quick decision. The longest ever Papal election followed the death of Pope Clement IV and lasted from November 1268 to September 1, 1271, a whopping 3 years!

So it got me thinking about some of the strategies we can employ and questions that we can ask ourselves to support our own decision-making, and ensure that well thought through decisions don’t take, or feel like they take, almost 3 years to achieve.

We’re not saying that many of our decisions are of such a magnitude, but they are often significant enough to make our hearts race a little as we want to be sure we get them right.

The modern science of quick decision-making is called heuristics and it’s concerned with finding simple rules for making good decisions.

One of its discoveries is that drawing up a simple list of ‘for’ and ‘against’ and then going with the longer list, can produce as good or an even better result.

It’s even the approach that Charles Darwin took when trying to decide whether or not to marry his cousin Emma. The upside was that she was ‘better than a dog’ but a downside was that he would have less money for books. Lucky for Emma (possibly) was the fact that the list of pros was longer!

Given that making good decisions is a crucial part of business, we thought that we’d have a go at creating
9 and a half killer questions to make decision-making easier for you.

  1. What is the outcome that I want to achieve?
  2. What will I need to see, hear and feel to give me confidence that my decision was the right one?
  3. What deadline am I working to? (Time gives your perspective, so if you have plenty of it available don’t rush too quickly to a decision)
  4. Who else should I involve to ensure that I’ve covered every angle and aspect of this decision?
  5. What can I learn from great decisions that I’ve made in the past?
  6. Am I going to be able to live with this decision?
  7. Have I considered all of the available options?
  8. What are the potential short and long-term implications associated with it?
  9. If I listen carefully, what are my instincts telling me?

and for the half……Will it make my mother proud?

It’s also worth remembering that not all decisions are created equal, so if it’s just a case of deciding what to have for breakfast rather than electing the leader of the Roman Catholic church  then a really quick gut feel decision can be just as effective!

Image credit: http://www.layoutsparks.com

Calamine Lotion & Proximity

Calamine lotion & the importance of proximity……

“Mummy Mummy, I’ve got even more chicken spots. They’re everywhere!” 

Having found the first evidence of this particular lurgy on Saturday lunchtime, after unwittingly infecting c.20 preschoolers at gymnastics, we seem to have gone from just one little blister behind the ear, to a gazillion spread head to toe, and all in the blink of an eye. It’s clear to me already that having smugly secured the very last bottle of calamine lotion from the supermarket shelf that I’m going to need an ocean of the stuff between now and the spot-free future I’m already dreaming of.

No nursery for a week means either we leave a 4-year-old home alone with a steady supply of crisps, juice and Cbeebies or we have to pull off a masterclass in juggling, balancing the demands of work and family with the role of paediatric nurse!

Being a good parent has a lot to do with proximity, being there right next to your Little People at exactly the right moment is massively important. But I’ve got a lot of important work stuff that also needs my attention and my to do list is well stacked.

Anyway I’ve made the choice to sit on the sofa with an iPad, a mobile phone and a pile of reading and with one eye on the little person, one on Toy Story 3 and the other…..no, wait that’s way too many eyes. Anyway, I’m working out ways to get the customer-critical stuff done (and relying on other people in the business to carry on doing their bit) whilst applying aforementioned calamine lotion and administering cuddles on demand to the pink and spotty thing curled up next to me.

Before you think I’ve gone slightly mad by sharing the trials and tribulations of the Holden family with you in this way, I will leap straight to my own defence. Just as proximity matters when you’re trying to be a good parent, it matters when you’re trying to be a good boss.

When my Little People don’t get their own way and are feeling disappointed (a state often accompanied by a hissy fit), I’m there to talk them down and help them get some perspective, and to help them realise that it’s right to keep trying.

When my Little People experience a big change, like starting school or even changing teachers, I’m there to prepare them and to guide them to find a way through it, because I want them to know how to embrace change as a skill for the future.

When my Little People are ready to try something new, I hold their hands at the start, then I encourage them to have a go for themselves, and I stay close enough to cheer them on, to help them if things go wrong and to celebrate when they succeed.

Given my real life lesson in the benefits of proximity, it’s got me wondering….

What do you do to make sure you are in close proximity to your Big People at the times when they need you the most? I’m not naive enough to assume that everyone can be physically in the same room as their people at the drop of a hat. But with super-sophisticated communication methods at your disposal it is possible to be there, in virtual close proximity, even when you’re separated by geography;

Whilst my Little Person fights off a fairly commonplace childhood illness, she needs me to be close by. She’s already developed powerful influencing skills and can command my time and attention with her sad little face, and what can only be described as whimpering. I also know that what she demands is exactly what I should be providing for her, it’s not in any way unreasonable.

A challenge that you might face is that your Big People may not have such obvious symptoms as Chickenpox spots, and they may not make their demands of you in quite the same clear and direct way that a 4-year-old does, (or perhaps they do???), but their needs really aren’t so different.

Proximity is everything. If you’re not close enough to your people when they need you, and close enough to notice the symptoms when they are not as clear and obvious as Chickenpox spots, then how will you have measured up as a boss?

Image credit: Fotolia

The difference between horse meat and beef…..

…..or 3 things you’re probably doing to erode trust

Over the weekend I received four emails from big companies that count me as one of their valued Customers. Even though they didn’t explicitly say so, all four emails were about the same subject – Trust.

Two emails were from businesses that were proud to let me know that they had a trustworthy supply chain and that what they called ‘beef’ was actually beef. The other two emails were from businesses that were being upfront about the mistakes that had been made in their name and were assuring me that they would be doing better from now on.

I read them all and then deleted them from my inbox. I am confident that the story is sufficiently huge that things will change for the better and as a trusting soul I shall hope that this is the case. The jury is still out on how this has changed my relationship with each company, I don’t even know the answer to that yet, but I’m sure that time will tell. What I do appreciate is that fact that they’ve had the good sense to hold their hands up and say, “We made a mistake and we are looking at how we can make amends,” which in my book is a great starting point.

The whole horsemeat palaver has not only created some pretty funny jokes (I’m sure that you’ve seen then circulating on various social media platforms) but it has hopefully been a wake up call to businesses about how trust (a highly valuable commodity that is possibly taken for granted until it is put to test in this fashion) is an integral part of doing business and when it is damaged there’s a whole lot that needs to be done to get things back on track.

The reaction has been significant and, for example, the frozen burger market has seen a 43% drop in sales since the situation was reported. It’s not difficult to jump to a conclusion that trust has a direct link to the bottom line.

Stephen M.R. Covey, in his book ‘The Speed of Trust: the one thing that changes everything’ says:

‘There is one thing that is common to every individual, relationship, team, family, organisation, nation, economy and civilisation throughout the world – one thing which, if removed, will destroy the most powerful government, the most successful business, the most thriving economy, the most influential leadership, the greatest friendship, the strongest character, the deepest love.

On the one hand, if developed and leveraged, that one thing has the potential to create unparalleled success and prosperity in every dimension of life. Yet, it is the least understood, most neglected, and most underestimated possibility of our time.

That one thing is Trust.’ 

And when you think back over the news stories of recent months I’m sure, like me, you can see far too many examples of how trust is being eroded, typically by people with power over our food, over the legal system, over our money, over the way our country is run, the list goes on…..

When we’re getting on our ‘high horses’ (ahem…excuse the pun) about how these organisations have let us down, it’s useful to turn the tables once in a while and reflect on what each of us might be doing that erodes trust with our people and our customers.

Here are 3 things that you’re probably doing to damage trust:

1. You’re not being clear enough about expectations. 

Perhaps you think you are, but do you know for certain? Your people have an expectation of you as the boss; they want reliability, predictability, dependability and consistency.

But if you’ve never really spelled it out to them, if you’ve never said what they can expect of you, how you will behave around them and what exactly you will do for them, and even more fundamentally, if you’ve never thought it through for yourself, then you may find you are falling short of the expectations your team have created for you, and are secretly harbouring!

2. You’re breaking the promises you have made

You’ve committed to a regular meeting with a team member, but it’s not always at the top of your priority list so it regularly gets bumped for something else.

You wouldn’t have committed to it if it wasn’t important. It’s your opportunity to spend quality time with an important member of your team and to understand how they are progressing against their objectives and how you can support them. It’s also a chance for you to collaborate on the kind of issues that could propel your team to greatness.

But it’s one of those things that is consistently being pushed back and rescheduled to fit around something that you think is more pressing and business critical. When you do keep the meeting you often turn up a few minutes late.

Confidence in you as a boss is shaken by this because the perception you’re creating is that you don’t think the meeting is important, you don’t think they are important, you don’t keep your promises, so why should they? Unwittingly, you begin to create a culture of broken trust and mediocrity.

3. You create a communication vacuum at really crucial moments

Change is afoot; isn’t it always? But communication about the change isn’t forthcoming and it’s from you that it’s expected to come forth!

You inadvertently create a communication vacuum, and it’s a space that your team expertly fills with supposition and speculation. They start to imagine the worst and before you know it, the practicalities of making the change actually happen become a real battle as your people play out their scepticism by throwing up unusual objections, refusing to modify ways of working, and complaining about what’s being done to them. They are no longer sure of your motives or if you are worthy of their trust.

What this means for you……

When there’s not enough trust in a relationship, you can expect progress to slow down, whether you’re trying to keep your people motivated to do the day job, or introducing a change in the workplace with your team or even negotiate a deal with a customer. That slow-down costs you money which makes trust more than just a nice-to-have; it creates motivation and inspiration, making it an essential element of modern business.

The development of trust within your team and organisation has never been so vital. Could it be that the rogue contents of a frozen beef burger that has served as a timely reminder to do something about it?

The very talented Mr Pettigrew

The very talented Mr Pettigrew

The very talented Mr Pettigrew

We work with a carefully chosen team of Associates who share our passion for people development and bring a range of expert skills and operational experience to Clear Thinking. This team is known as The Sticky Thinking Forum.

As well as supporting us to provide bespoke people development services to our clients, the Forum is a “think tank” where members collaborate and continue to develop together by sharing knowledge and expertise with each other.

This month we’ve asked the very talented Ian Pettigrew from Kingfisher Coaching to give us an insight into his work and to share some of his thoughts with you…..some of you may already have met him!

What do you absolutely love about the work you do?

Seeing a sustainable positive difference in people when they realise their strengths and I love the fact that I can act as a catalyst to drive that through playing to my own strengths.

What do you think are the top 3 challenges faced by the leaders you work with?

It is really hard to generalise and I see different challenges in different sectors, but these are some common themes:

1 – Time to do their job, attend to everything that needs attending to, keep on top of email, and still get the best out of people.

2 – Time and headspace to drive strategic change.

3 – Driving a more agile and innovative organisation.

What do you think is their biggest opportunity?

To take control and make bold moves on all three fronts.

What do you do when your work with a client doesn’t go the way you planned? What enables you to get back on track?

A crystal clear focus on what success looks like and the desire to use feedback to move (sometimes flexibly) towards that successful outcome. All key skills that are useful for my clients as well.

Describe the journey that has brought you to the Sticky Thinking Forum? What do you value about it?

The journey started with meeting Kate on a course and then getting to know Bev and Kate a lot better. What I value about the Sticky Thinking Forum is time with people who I like, respect, and trust.

If you could invent something that could rock your client’s world, what would it be, and how would it work?

An App that would prompt people to stop and think about the past week, to reflect on it and learn from feedback and experiences and then help them plan the week ahead and create time in their schedules for the important things.

When you’re not helping people realise their strengths how do you like to spend your time?

I’m married with two step-children and a Border Collie. I’m into sport (Liverpool FC & Formula 1), I’m a lay minister (‘Reader’) in the Church of England, and I’m a trustee of a charity called Retrak who work with street children across Africa.

When I’m not doing anything connected with these, I really enjoy reading and watching reality TV (not Big Brother; anything medical or police-related and things like ‘The Hotel’, ‘The Hotel Inspector’, and ‘The Apprentice’).

A quick word from Bev and Kate!

We love working with Ian as his passion, energy and enthusiasm shines through in everything he does. He asks great questions and is happy to challenge our thinking to stretch our outlook and perspective. You can find out even more about Ian on his website. www.kingfishercoaching.com

Choose one thing, tell everyone!

Last month we started to look at how we could successfully work the doing more with less trend and avoid the impact of the almost inevitable budget ‘squeeze’.

In January our focus fell on the ‘small is beautiful’ approach and for February we have been thinking about how the ‘Let’s Tell The World’ approach can become both an instant hit and a timeless classic.

The ‘Let’s Tell The World’ Approach

Rather than target a small population with your learning & development activities, you could choose an area for development and give everyone in the organisation some exposure to it.

Rather than depth of understanding this is about breadth, it’s about your message ‘going viral’ in the business and your aim is likely to be universal adoption of an idea or concept, and a subsequent change in attitude or behaviour.

This approach challenges the organisation to have a really good grasp of ‘The Ground Truth’ – knowing what’s really going on in the business, even in the dustiest corners – and to identify one thing that could have a significant positive impact on the success of the organisation.

There are some immediate challenges to overcome:

1. Getting traction for something on this scale

2. Demonstrating relevance to everyone

3. Identifying just one thing to focus on

Finding and focusing on just one key improvement area and talking about that makes it easy for people to grasp, key messages are broadcast universally (and hopefully heard!), it’s BIG, it has impetus, it has traction and people feel part of something that is important to their on-going success.

Success isn’t guaranteed, particularly if the focus is too short and sharp. It can be seen as a flash in the pan with little substance, leaving people too little time to change and practice new ways of thinking and behaving.

If the message is too broad or has too many elements to it then the audience cannot interpret what’s happening around them and they are unsure about how to take the learning from their experiences or translate it into action.

With a big audience the message can be diluted and interpreted differently as it cascades through the structure of the organisation, so there’s a drift away from the original outcome that the business had in mind.

5 ways to maximise your Return On Investment with this approach……

  1. Choose your focus wisely! You get what you focus on so be sure to choose the thing that will make the difference you actually want. If you’ve not read / seen Freakonomics yet, now could be a good time to take a look!
  2. Create a buzz in the business by tailoring your approach to suit all your audiences. If it’s sexy enough people will want to be a part of the movement. 
  3. Be specific about what you want people to do with what you’re telling them. If you want them to spot learning and embed it back in the day job then you need to get them talking and let them decide how they will translate it into meaningful action.
  4. Link learning to organisational communication and highlight success stories from around the business. Talk often about what’s evolving and about successes and show them how they are creating the change.
  5. Adopt a little and often approach so people are reminded about what’s staying the same, what’s changing and how far they have come, and why it matters to them.

Sticky Thinking Top Secrets for Doing More With Less

Following on from our previous blog ……..

Number 4: What lurks at the back of your training cupboard?

If you want to get more from your training budget, take a leaf out of many a fashionista’s book and have a good root through your wardrobe – which in Learning & Development terms means digging out the training & development programmes from the past and looking for the past gems that are ready to be recycled.

What key messages have you delivered in the past that are relevant right now? What fantastic material can be dusted down, spruced up and put back into circulation with an up-to-date twist that makes it super relevant for 2013?

Working this way gives you a real opportunity to do more with what you already have.

Number 5: DIY Development

On a more personal level why not take advantage of the many and varied opportunities to grab a bit of web based inspiration and register for a free webinar? Easy to fit in and a great way of exploring a topic that is important to you.

Number 6: The Big Question…

“What’s the Ground Truth in your organisation? What are the things that are contributing to your success and what’s holding you back? Do you really know the truth?

We’ve shared some more of our ideas, but how are you going to do more with less during 2013? We’d love to hear your thoughts and we’ll be happy to share them too!

Get in touch at hello@clearthinkinguk.com and tell us how you’ve been approaching the doing more with less trend in your organisation.

We hang out at www.clearthinkinguk.com

Image Credit: Microsoft