Referendum

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Mindfulness Download

Businessman - head in the black cloudsWhat does mindfulness really mean and how can we use it to our advantage?

We never or very rarely have completely empty moments – our brains are almost always full of ideas, thoughts, criticisms, judgements and concerns.

Mindfulness is a state of awareness, of focusing and being able to return to that focus.  Meditation is a practice that helps train the brain to be more mindful.  We’ve put together this awesome little download as an introduction to mindfulness and its benefits.

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Our leadership team are currently practising mindfulness with this amazing app if you’d like to learn about how we’re finding it useful follow me!

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Intrepreneurial Thinking

EntreprenuerLet’s not argue about the spelling…

The word entrepreneur is certainly the flavour of the moment, it’s even been reported that school children and college students are beginning to use this phrase in connection to their career aspirations.

So what then is an Intrepreneur?  And why has it become so popular within a business setting?

In this download we hope to explore some of the key attributes to Intrepreneurial Thinking and how if at all, we can develop those attributes.

Spoiler alert.  Yes we can.

Click on the image and magic will happen.

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Why Perfectionism Isn’t Perfect

Peas 400x265Why Being Mr. (or Mrs.) Perfect may not be so perfect after all.

Perfectionism is one of those wonderful character traits that we all aspire too, but can often lead to drastically negative behaviour.  It continually points to our failures, no matter how small and undermines our achievements.

Culturally, we prize perfectionism; Steve Jobs is frequently held as an ideal for insisting on perfection.

As we’ve discussed elsewhere, adaptability is a key ingredient in resilient people.  And resilient people are the ones who will come back time and again to face a challenge.  The irony of perfectionism is that eventually, the perfectionist will give up.  And whatever challenge they faced will be left un-conquered.  Was Steve Jobs a perfectionist?  Or was he able to adapt his ideas to the modern marketplace?  That debate still rages on in our office today.

But research now shows us that perfectionism is an acquired trait, we’re certainly not born with it.  How perfect were your idle doodles as a 4 year old?  Could they have been better?

One interesting shift in modern society is the pressure we place on our children to succeed.  Without the requisite social skills in place, children often perceive this pressure as criticism.  And it’s this perceived criticism that works its way into the psyche and develops as a trait.

One side effect to perfectionism is a focus on control; it encourages rigid thinking and behaviour.  That’s precisely the opposite of what is required from individuals across organisations in the modern context, where we want to see innovation and flexibility.

According to Psychology Today:

“Perfectionism reduces playfulness and the assimilation of knowledge; if you’re always focused on your own performance and on defending yourself, you can’t focus on learning a task. Here’s the cosmic thigh-slapper: Because it lowers the ability to take risks, perfectionism reduces creativity and innovation—exactly what’s not adaptive in the global marketplace.”

“Yet, it does more. It is a steady source of negative emotions; rather than reaching toward something positive, those in its grip are focused on the very thing they most want to avoid—negative evaluation. Perfectionism, then, is an endless report card; it keeps people completely self-absorbed, engaged in perpetual self-evaluation—reaping relentless frustration and doomed to anxiety and depression.”

Totem Gummi Bears

Below we list some of the personality traits exhibited by perfectionists.

Concern over mistakes: Perfectionists tend to interpret mistakes as equivalent to failure and to believe they will lose the respect of others following failure.

High personal standards: Perfectionists don’t just set very high standards but place excessive importance on those standards for self-evaluation.

Parental expectations: Perfectionists tend to believe their parents set very high goals for them.

Parental criticism: Perfectionists perceive that their parents are (or were) overly critical.

Doubting actions: Perfectionists doubt their ability to accomplish tasks.

Organisation: Perfectionists tend to emphasise order.

In a team environment we’ve experienced first-hand that the rigidity of perfectionism is difficult to work with.  The drive for the perfect answer doesn’t make space for the weird and wonderful world of collaboration.

What can you do to overcome the drawbacks to perfectionism?  As a starting point, we can take a leaf from Taibi Kahler’s book on drivers.  He identified ‘Be Perfect’ as an inherent driver type and offered these suggestions:

  • Encourage playfulness in your thinking process
  • Cultivate mindfulness when dealing with others
  • Practise accepting imperfection from others as well as yourself
  • Acknowledge the effort that’s put into meeting challenges
  • Invite feedback and embrace it

Perfectionism can be problematic because it can lead to obsessiveness, which in turn leads to a whole host of issues around attendance, performance, and morale.  For example; you’ll often see a perfectionist procrastinate because they’re afraid of failing before they start.

Or even worse, they may position themselves as a martyr. Certainly in a business context, the employees we regard as heroes, the ones who come in early, stay late, and solve every problem can actually mask inherent business issues.  The simple fact that heroic measures are required means at least some things are not working right.  So whether we call a person hero or martyr – we need to ask the question, what is really going on and what can we learn from that?

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Psychological Capital

12It’s a bit like hope, but with a purpose!

As part of our continued updates from our PhD studies, we’re exploring Psychological Capital or PsyCap, (which we really aren’t keen on as an abbreviation)  Psychological Capital is an umbrella term for the personal resources we have, specifically our self-efficacy, optimism, resilience and hope.

There’s a brilliant book about it which we’ve reviewed here.

These resources have been shown to help us engage with our work, develop a positive mind-set and deliver great performance.  Some have even gone as far as saying that it underpins the value in an organisation.  So making sure that we have each in abundance will make all the difference to our experience at work as well as our productivity.

So let’s take a look at those four factors individually:

Self-efficacy is a term that has been around in the academic literature for a while.  It’s about whether we believe that we are able to contribute and this has been shown to have a significant effect on our performance and the goals that we set ourselves.   It’s not about just telling ourselves we can do it – it’s about an honest evaluation and creating a plan to ensure that we are able to contribute.

Jelly Bean Diversity

Developing our self-efficacy is about listening to the conversations we have in our minds and the self-limiting beliefs we might hold, challenging them and taking action to ensure that they are eradicated.  So what are your personal limiting beliefs?  And how can they be challenged?

Optimism is another term that we’ve all come across.  As a part of our psychological capital, it represents our disposition and is not necessary linked to ability, but it has been linked to reduced stress and improved commitment and performance.  You can read more about Optimism here.

Hope – whilst optimism involves expecting a positive outcome, hope focuses on the actual execution of reaching goals, thus linking it performance and goal pursuit.  Individuals high in hope are likely to find a route to achieve their goals and adapt their route as it changes and challenges occur.  Three incredibly bright researchers named Luthans, Youssef and Avolio refer to two components of hope:

1) will-power (motivation) and

2) way-power (capacity to determine alternative methods to reach a goal).

Which is quite different from our day to day understanding of hope.  Without hope, the will to accept challenges is not present and the way to overcome those challenges will not be found.  Two more super clever researchers Peterson and Byron found that hopeful sales employees, mortgage brokers and management executives had higher job performances.

Totem Lollipops

Resilience – whilst the behaviour related to resilience could be described as persistence, resilience is a wider capacity found at a personal or emotional level.

Luthans described resilience as:

“a positive psychological capacity to rebound, to ‘bounce back’ from adversity, uncertainty, conflict, failure or even positive change, progress and increase responsibility”

This suggests that resilience produces a buffering effect whereby engagement is maintained despite burnout-inducing job demands.  It’s been demonstrated that there’s a link between resiliency and the performance of sales staff; finding a positive correlation with their adaptive selling behaviour.

And if you follow this link, we have a fair bit more to say on resilience!

Most importantly each of the components of Psychological Capital can be measured; can be developed over time and have a positive impact on performance.

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Building Trust

Totem-Trusting-2-400x265The Art of Building Trust

In a previous article we explored the importance of trust in the work place and the dangers that can arise if we don’t trust our colleagues.  With the support of a very popular book, we offer some insight to business partners and mangers in building trust in the workplace.

Working with professional services firms and support functions within any sort of business, we find a common challenge: How can we be better business partners?

Whether you’re building relationships with external clients, or supporting teams within a company through service provision of HR, IT, Finance support etc – we all need to be great business partners.

The Trusted Advisor book gives a great introduction as it helps us understand why we call one person a supplier – yet call on someone else in the same position or profession a friend, confidant or – you guessed it, trusted advisor.

In a nutshell we need to listen, ask questions and advise effectively.  Sounds ridiculously simple?  Well, yes it is – but we all know common sense is rarely common action.

Totem Gummi Bears

It makes sense because if I’m going to trust you, confide in you and think you can help me, I must believe that you’re in it to help me, not yourself.  In spite of the common sense this seems to tap into, this is the number one area where people fall down.  We’ve all got our to-do lists, priorities, objectives and we come to every meeting with an agenda – so how can we possibly demonstrate that we’re in it for others?

Here are some tips on how you can do it better…

Drop your Agenda

Or as one of clients puts it – “suspend your agenda.”  Put your own agenda to one side.  You might be here to win a sale or to get agreement on a project you want to go ahead with – but what do they want?  What does the other person in this conversation need from you?

Listen

And that means actually work hard to understand what they’re saying and what they mean.  This is different to “waiting to speak”!

Ask questions

Ask to clarify your understanding of something – “do you mean…?”  Ask to explore something further – “what might that look like?”

Advise effectively

In the book, the authors talk about this as – explain each option, give the pros and cons of each option, make a clear recommendation with a rationale.  If you have asked questions and listened well, this should be easy for you to do.

Be more curious

We’re often asked how we know what questions to ask – whether that’s in a coaching context, consulting situation or everyday conversation.  This book nails it by simply explaining why we need to be more curious.  Of course there’s not much in the way of practical tips on how to be more curious – as it’s simply seen as a yes or no mindset.  Are you being curious right now or assuming you already know everything you need to know?

The powerful point here is that we can choose at any moment to be more curious and ask more questions.

The Trusted Advisor is a great read and is available from all good book stores.

 

 

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Lotus Flower Creativity Tool

Totem-Lotus-Flower-400x265Bringing back the genius with Petals of Creativity

There’s a great deal of evidence to suggest that we’re actually all born geniuses.  By genius we mean a person who displays exceptional creative ability, or divergent thinking. Ken Robinson gives an outstanding account of this in the video here (click forward to 7mins40 if you’re tight on time and just want the relevant bit).

But by the time we’ve become young adults, our linear and regimented education system has taken its toll, we’ve learned that there is one right answer to every question and we have been strongly encouraged to stick with that.  So when our employer one day tells us they want us to be creative, to innovate, to think outside the box or brainstorm – we can face a pretty serious challenge.

Aside from not having developed skills and practice in creative thinking, we also face the challenge of our lazy brains.  It’s a good thing that our brains are lazy and operate on auto-pilot most of the time, because otherwise we’d be reaching burnout many times per day.  We know our route to work, how to drive the car, how to interact with colleagues in an appropriate way (sometimes!) and how to get routine jobs done.

The issue is that when we are confronted with a new challenge, we go into that same autopilot response.  We subconsciously jump in rapid speed to something in our past that has worked before – and that becomes our solution.

Totem Lollipops

Someone slightly more reflective might come up with two or three ideas to consider – but again these come to mind quite quickly based on previous experiences and our beliefs.  We analytically select the most promising approach based on our past experiences, and we have our best solution.

This paints a bleak picture – we have been trained not to think in a divergent or lateral way, and our brains are so quick to come up with an autopilot answer anyway, creativity is going to be a struggle.

There are thankfully well researched tools and ideas that can help us, by giving us a structure or framework for stepping out of our usual ways of thinking.  The creative thinking tools split into two types: One encourages you to think of lots of very different ideas, encouraging associative thinking; whilst the other encourages you to really drill down into a particular theme, investigate your assumptions and move beyond them.  This second type is great for really interrogating an issue or problem – and the Lotus Flower technique is one of the most powerful.

Originally developed by Yasuo Matsumura of Clover Management Research in Chiba City, Japan, the Lotus flower technique helps you to organise your thinking around significant themes, starting with a central subject and expanding into themes.  Just like a flower opens to reveal more of its scent and its bloom, so this exercise enables us to fully appreciate and explore the creative opportunities inherent in a particular problem.

Lotus-Blossom-720-x-340

Round 1: Place an open question in the centre of the flower and ask people to generate as many ideas as they can in response IN 2 MINUTES – the time is important because it prevents people self-judging and thinking too hard. This round is about getting the generic ideas and the assumptions out in the open.

Let’s say as an example that the question was “how can we attract more customers to our website?”  A 2 minute brainstorm will get out all the classic things we’ve tried before, and it can highlight assumptions being made like “we don’t want to invest any money in this, so I’ve only come up with cost-free options” or “we won’t go for the Google Adwords approach because it didn’t work last time.”

Round 2: Take each of the ideas and “re-pollinate” them, giving pairs or trios of people other people’s ideas to work with.  The groups are given 15-20 minutes to generate 8 more complete ideas.  It is very important at this point that you introduce constraints to the ideas – ie some criteria on what you’re looking for and what sort of ideas you want people to develop.

In our website example, we might say that we want ideas to be specifically describing what exactly we would do.  We might also say that all ideas need to be things each person can directly do something about, avoiding the tendency to say other departments need to do X and Y.

Each group then presents their ideas and the next step would be to choose the best ones and develop them further – but that’s another story…..

Any final idea can of course form the centre of a new lotus flower and the process can begin again.

We may have lost our natural creative genius through our schooling, but with some careful facilitation and some useful tools, we can still be great collaborative innovators.

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Collective Creativity

Totem-Creativity 400x265Is creativity a collective effort?  How do we create creativity?

A recent article published in the British Psychological Society (BPS) Magazine ‘The Psychologist’, suggests creativity may be more about teamwork than individual genius.  Is that a viable idea, and if so, how can we make the most of it at work?

Finding an idea that makes a company grow rapidly, or saves the company millions – that’s gold dust.

Finding the sort of creative genius who comes up with ideas like that – perhaps that’s even more rare.  Or is this idea of a few, wonderful creative types coming up with all the great ideas, a bit misleading?  Research quoted by the BPS suggests that those moments of creative genius are outcomes of favourable circumstances and strong collaboration.  Most great innovations have one name marked against them, followed by a team of collaborators.

The 2012 movie about the creative genius of Alfred Hitchcock depicted the important role of his wife Alma Reville.  The teamwork between the pair was apparently critical in developing the movies that shocked and impressed audiences.  Steve Jobs is the one name put to the rise and rise of Apple – yet his team of innovators is expansive.

And when we think of personal examples of creativity and innovation – big or small – we usually find one idea sparked, with plenty of support to build it into a reality.

Whilst there’s no doubt that certain people are indeed creative wonders, this research does point to a brighter opportunity for businesses.  Rather than waiting or hoping for a creative genius to come along, companies can encourage collaboration and sharing in order to grow their creative output.

Of course that’s not necessarily a simple thing to do, as the research with actors in improvisation highlights that you need each person to be focused on working as part of the team – not out for their own success.  That can be a real challenge in what is often seen to be a high pressure situation: The creative brainstorm.  Egos, concerns over saying the wrong thing, wanting to look good, not wanting to fail – all of that noise will get in the way of strong creative collaboration.

Totem Gummi Bears

What can we do with this information?

Creating a safe space for people to leave their egos, fears and concerns at the door, would be really quite useful for encouraging creativity.  Easier said than done.

If we know that more creativity can come from groups who are focused on the team and effectively collaborating, than that is definitely a starting point.  We need to consider how our organisational culture promotes the individual ego, the drive for personal achievement and how we respond to failure.  If we ask a few people how things work around here – do they talk about teamwork, true collaboration and a focus on learning from failure?  Or do they talk about hardworking silos of people who do everything they can to succeed and hate to admit or explore (“dwell on”) failure.

Before jumping into the brilliant tools out there for getting the creativity flowing, it seems it’s critical for us to explore and challenge the culture in the business.  How we respond to someone’s crazy idea or failure could make or break creativity before it begins.

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Growth or Fixed Mindsets?

Totem Mindset GrowthWhy does our mindset matter?  Let’s explore an experts research…

Carol Dweck’s research is world-renowned for its far-reaching importance and application in our work, personal life and our relationships.  Dweck’s research points to two types of mindset – and she found the mindset we have has a big impact on how we live, how we learn and how happy we can be.

Often our mindset is something that develops as we are growing up. We need to understand which mindset we lean towards and recognise the benefits of this mindset and the benefits of making a change.

To understand your current mindset and consider ways of thinking that can be more helpful, consider these questions:

Setting up a Business

Your good friend Jane is thinking of setting up her own business. She had a similar business a couple of years ago which she said she gave up on due to pressures at university, but a mutual acquaintance told you that she didn’t understand how businesses run.  Jane will come to you for advice on whether to pick it up again.  What are your initial thoughts?

A) She won’t succeed, she is not very business savvy

B) She should give it a go, she had to give up before as she had no choice

C) If she works really hard to understand her market, she is sure to succeed

Rock Star

You and your friend are at a music festival watching a band play. Your friend says to you  “I’d love to play guitar on stage, but I’d never be good enough… I’m all fingers and thumbs.”  What would you say?

A) Yes, you have to be really talented to make it in the music industry

B) Yes, its all about being in the right place at the right time, you have to be so lucky to get spotted

C) Yes you could, you just have to practise and find out how to get noticed

Totem Gummi Bears

If your answers are mainly A’s then you agreed with the Fixed Mindset statements.  These statements suggest that talent or ability are fixed and that is the main reason why the individual may not succeed; it cannot be improved upon.

If your responses are mainly B’s then you seem to think of things as being out of someone’s control.  That can be a different version of the Fixed Mindset – as it’s not about being smart, it’s about being lucky – and there’s not much we can do about that.

If your responses are mainly C’s then you agreed with the Growth Mindset statements. These statements suggest you believe that, even if you have limited talent, ability or skill, it is possible with hard work or practice that you can improve.

In general, people with a Growth Mindset enjoy success and failure, they are curious and learn every day and from every situation.  People with a Fixed Mindset work to stay within their comfort zone, look for opportunities to be praised and recognised within that comfort zone and for them failure can be extremely threatening.

Some tips for success regardless of your mindset:

  • Focus on your effort and persistence – stay positive
  • Build in some strategies / some approaches to learning in different ways, discover what works and what doesn’t for you
  • Look at how you like to learn and use this preference when needing to learn something new
  • Seek out challenges and things that push you a bit outside of your comfort zone – we don’t tend to learn big new things when we’re relaxed in our comfort zone
  • Recognise your talent/skill and see how you can improve on this

Most of us have aspects of both mindsets, but generally we tend to lean more towards one than the other-each of which has its implications.

Are you guaranteed a life of ease, wealth and success purely by having a Growth Mindset?  Of course not.  But you’re more likely to stay happy and healthy against life’s challenges with a Growth Mindset – and that can mean you spot more opportunities and find you can be more successful.

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Resilience

Bull_Rush 400x265How to be Strong.  Like Bull. ™

Resilience is a determination to overcome obstacles and the ability to bounce back after setbacks. It’s often described as displaying a mental, emotional and personal toughness combined with a deep self-insight and learning capacity.

There are several distinct elements to resilience, as identified by our good friends at A&DC:

  • Self Belief
  • Direction
  • Goal Orientation
  • Emotional Control
  • Optimism
  • Ingenuity
  • Seeking Support
  • Adaptability

Arguably the most important of all of those elements is adaptability, being willing and able to adapt to evolving situations, finding alternatives way to achieve the same outcome.

How do you develop Resilience?

When we assess individuals for resilience we’ve found that the star performers all share some common traits:

Jelly Bean Diversity

Individuals have developed a wide set of skills and learnt to use them these flexibly.  They’re keen to understand and learn about a broad set of issues.

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They also tend to be highly self-reflective, understand their own capabilities, de-railing factors and their impact on others.  They’re also incredibly proactive about listening & acting on feedback

Importantly, they acknowledge when things go wrong, learn and move on.  They’ve also nurtured the ability to absorb pressure or difficulties and to act as a buffer for the team.

To learn more about self reflection follow me, or to learn about your impact on others follow me…

In many ways resilience is all about attitude; it’s about recognising that change can be a positive thing and changing your behaviour is sometimes necessary to continue to achieve your goals.  So for example when you put plans in place, anticipate what changes might occur and allow for that change in your planning.

Below are some questions designed to help you reflect on your resilience:

Describe a time at work when you have had to work under pressure.

Why were there increasing demands?  What did that mean for you?  What did that mean for others?  How did you respond?  Why did you take that approach?  What feedback did you get?

Think about a time when you have had to deal with a crisis or emergency.

How did this affect you?  What did you do to resolve the crisis?  What decisions did you need to make?  How did you do this?  Who did you have to work with?  What challenges did you face?  How did you overcome them?  What feedback did you get?

When have you  had to ask for help?

Why did you decide to go to them?  What did you say?

It will also be helpful to remember the locus of control – if you’re upset, annoyed or frustrated about something, think about what you can control and get to it!

We recently came across this little gem from Phil Dobson on wecommend.com – here he talks about Resilience Through Improved Brain Fitness and The SENSE Model, describing the five keys to improving brain fitness: Stress Management, Exercise, Nutrition, Sleep, and Experience (S.E.N.S.E.).

It’s well worth a click!

 

 

Strong.  Like Bull. ™ courtesy of Ben Stiller in ‘There’s Something About Mary’

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