#1 Public Speaking Secret

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 21.27.02

I am aiming to be one of the best public speakers around. Arrogant? Maybe. But I am working hard to be the best I can be, using fanatical discipline, productive paranoia and the BAED training programme (see card at end of this article). By breathing slowly, rhythmically and evenly, reading more than I thought possible and learning more than I thought possible. But to be a truly great public speaker you need to exude passion. One of the most famous catchphrases of motivational guru Tony Robbins is, live with passion! He is spot on (of course) and that is how we all should live. That is also how we should all speak, with true passion. As a professional speaker, if you lack this passion, you’ll never fully convert your audience members to your point of view, no matter how much innovation, how exciting, how revolutionary, or invigorating your topic may be.

So what is true passion in public speaking? Passion is about being authentic and charismatic. Passion is also an exchange of energy. It’s about emotional connection with your audience. It encompasses truth and vulnerability. Passion is not easy to accomplish. We don’t fully trust people until we’ve seen them get emotional (angry, sad, ecstatic) because these moments allow us to take the measure of their values.

My 3 secrets (and for any aspirational speaker) for success are:

  • Purpose
  • Passion
  • Presence

You’ve got to show up and be present in order to reach people through communication, and that takes passion. Otherwise, don’t bother. The most important thing is being passionate about what you’re doing and always give it your all. That is the key to success. Under the right conditions, you and your audience can feed off each others’ passion and excitement, and you’ll create something special that will change their lives and yours.

So if you run your own business, you know that at some point or other, in some capacity, you’ll need to be able to speak in front of a crowd. The word, enthusiasm, derives from a Greek term that translates as possessed by a god. In English, this means you’re inspired, given breath, by whatever you passionately believe in and your business is your passion. Allow it to come out in your speech and your actions. Whether your audience is one or one thousand, one thing does not change: that passion for your business.

My advice is to do everything you can to transform your presentation from ‘ordinary’ to ‘unforgettable’ and it all starts with doing simple things well:

  1. Loving Your Topic. Find the one thing that makes your heart sing about your presentation and that will elevate your passion on topics you don’t care about. If you can’t believe in the topic so intensely you love to talk about it, then you’ll have trouble communicating your points to the audience. At the very least, find some aspect of it you can learn to love: a key takeaway, strategy, or story that makes your heart sing. Believe in what you’re saying, because most audiences can detect a fake almost instantly. Prepare carefully, and understand the topic so well you can’t help but be enthusiastic about it.
  2. Live Your Passion. Whether you love your topic or want to run it over with a rusted-out pickup truck, you need to believe in what your saying. This strikes at the heart of authenticity. If you believe in your message, your audience will believe in it too.
  3. Exude That Passion. The point of being a passionate speaker is to serve your audience. I’m always infinitely grateful for whoever will give me an hour of their time to listen to me speak. It’s important to keep your audience’s best interest in mind. It’s critical to serve them. It’s vital to not waste their time. Think what are your giving them. Enthusiasm requires energy, so give it everything, every time.

Sincerity of emotion shows up in nonverbal conversation through, perhaps surprisingly, stillness and openness. While the strong passions like anger, joy, excitement of various kinds, can all be signaled with energetic body movements, sometimes extreme stillness can be just as effective. Think of it like the voice where the point is to establish a baseline and then vary that to exhibit the emotions.

Great actors have something they call the offstage beat that they use just before they go onstage. Mediocre actors just walk on and deliver their first lines. But the great ones are already inhabiting the character offstage before they go on. The result is a fully believable character, and one you can’t take your eyes from. You need to develop a little of the same magic, and the way to do it is to prepare, just before the communication, not only what you’re going to say but how you feel about it: strongly, fully, and with all your physical being. Breathe – slowly, rhythmic and even. That, after all, is where passion originates. And that’s how you radiate passion, align the two conversations, and convince audiences large and small of your authenticity.

Being a passionate speaker (and one of the best) is a brilliant, noble and fantastic goal. If you love your topic, believe in your message and that it is the only message for those people, and finally give the audience the respect they deserve. You are on your way to passionate speaking. If you do it with enough conviction, you will be charismatic.

I will be Amazing Every Day.

Be Amazing by Thin Slicing

This is truly amazing: the latest neuroscience research reveal that our decisions are made 7 seconds before we become aware of them. We already know that within 7 seconds of meeting people decide all sorts of things about them, from status to intelligence to promiscuity. But this new research questions the very notion of free will.

When you meet a new business acquaintance for the first time you do some quick brain references and heuristics (short cuts). It could be when you first meet your new boss, a recent addition to your team, or a potential client you want to sign up. There are lots non verbal clues that your brain scans for to make these decisions. In fact, studies have found that nonverbal cues have over four times the impact on the impression you make than anything you say. The moment that someone sees you, his or her brain is asking as a hard wired survival mechanism:

  • Are you different?
  • Are you someone to approach or to avoid?
  • Are you friend or foe?
  • Do you have status and authority?
  • Are you trustworthy, competent, likeable, confident?

Indeed people decide on your trustworthiness is judged in a tenth of a second, or less based on your facial appearance. The Princeton researchers found this out by giving one group of university students 100 milliseconds to rate the attractiveness, competence, like-ability, aggressiveness, and trustworthiness of actors’ faces. Members of another group were able to take as long as they wanted. While other traits differed depending on time spent looking, trustworthiness was basically the same.

Psychologists call it thin slicing, the ability to find patterns in events based only on narrow windows, of experience.The term seems to have been coined in 1992 by Nalini Ambady and Robert Rosenthal in a paper in the Psychological Bulletin. One of the most popular books on thin-slicing is Blink written by Malcolm Gladwell. In this book, the author goes through and describes interesting examples and research which exploit the idea of thin-slicing. John Gottman, a well-known marital expert, describes how within an hour of observing a couple, he can gather with 95% accuracy if the couple will be together within 15 years. His accuracy goes down to 90% if he observes the couples for 15 minutes, supporting the phenomenon of thin-slicing.

Even more intriguingly, neuroscientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain found that decisions are made before you know. In the experiment participants could freely decide if they wanted to press a button with their right or left hand. Using fMRI, researchers would scan the brains of the participants while all of this was going on in order to find out if they could in fact predict which hand the participants would use before they were consciously aware of the decision. By monitoring the micro patterns of activity in the front polar cortex, the researchers could predict which hand the participant would choose 7 seconds before the participant was aware of the decision.What might this mean, then, for the nebulous concept of free will? “We think our decisions are conscious, but these data show that consciousness is just the tip of the iceberg,” says John-Dylan Haynes, a neuroscientist at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany, who led the study.

What does this mean for you? Well, be aware that people pick up your attitude instantly (less than a second). Before you turn to greet someone, or enter the boardroom, or step onstage to make a presentation, think about the situation and make a conscious choice about the attitude you want to embody. I encourage people to use their eyes first. Looking at someone’s eyes transmits energy and indicates interest and openness. While you do this slowly raise your eyebrows. Open your eyes slightly more than normal to simulate the eyebrow flash that is the universal signal of recognition and acknowledgement.

There a universal truth about the power of the smile. A smile is an invitation, a sign of welcome. Condition yourself to stand tall and move slowly. Status and power are nonverbally conveyed by height and space. Standing tall, pulling your shoulders back, and holding your head straight are all signals of confidence and competence. Leaning forward shows you’re engaged and interested. But be respectful of the other person’s space. That means, in most business situations, staying about two feet away.

Some people believe that thin slicing causes the phenomenon known as déjà vu as they happen within the same time frame of thin-slicing and might also have a direct correlation. So even if you think you have heard this all before, every encounter, from conferences to meetings to training sessions to business lunches, presents an opportunity to meet people, network, and expand your professional contacts by making a positive first impression.

You’ve got just seven seconds, but if you handle it well, seven seconds are all you need. But, I do find it a bit disconcerting that decisions are made by unconscious me 7 seconds before conscious me. Better still read my card below:

Be Amazing Every Day.

Brain Impulse Buying

If you’re reading this thinking that you aren’t susceptible to impulse buying, think again. In truth, we aren’t always rational thinkers when we buy things (online or in store). The fact of the matter is that your unconscious mind is often driving your behaviour as a consumer. It is under the influence of our basic evolutionary drives and the clever tactics of retailers. It is so easy to feel compelled to buy something that you may regret or justify later with some retro-fitted reasoning.

So what’s going on inside your head and what can you do to make fewer purchases that will turn out to be wasteful? Impulse buying can be defined as, a stimulus-controlled, spontaneous buying behaviour that is accompanied by strong positive emotions and low cognitive control. Bit of a mouthful, so to quote Lindsay Lohan, My mum says, ‘Go with your first instinct,’ but this can lead to impulse buying!

Research shows that a huge amount of our decision making is actually based on subtle subconscious factors. These tend to be accentuated when we are not focussing or distracted (sometimes deliberately). Indeed it appears that a wandering mind can not only lead to accidents and lost productivity but to powerful impulse buying. Yet the brain is the most complex organ in the Universe. It produces our every thought, action, memory, feeling and experience of the world. New research is indicating that focus is a crucial mindful choice and ideas of control (in retail) may be an illusion. Indeed real-time brain monitoring can be used to help people regain focus and might lead consumers to be more selective buyers as a result.

In the animal kingdom, humans are known for our big brains. This jelly-like mass of tissue, weighing in at around 1.4 kilograms, contains a staggering one hundred billion nerve cells, or neurons. The pattern and strength of the neural connections is constantly changing and no two brains are alike. Yet it’s structure determines how memories are stored, habits learned and personalities shaped, by reinforcing certain patterns of brain activity, and losing others. Researchers have uncovered genetic variations that help determine the size of key brain regions. These variants may represent the genetic essence of humanity and choice. Maybe.

This supposed free choice is deeply influence by some simple external factors. Most shopping is far too dull and time consuming to carry out with conscious attention. Imagine if every item you bought was cross-referenced with every other product available in the market; you would need to look at price, product composition, reviews and maybe even the quality of customer service supporting it. Even if you could find all the information in comparable formats it would take hours to buy one item. So instead we use heuristics [unconsciously held rules and short cuts] that help us make quick decisions that we’ve learned generally work out well.

However, these shortcuts when combined with loss of concentration and focus may lead to the idea of how we make poor decisions to buy. Neuroscientists at Princeton University monitored the brain activity of students who were asked to perform a repetitive task that required close attention. The findings, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, show that people can learn to stop their minds from wandering if they are made aware it is happening. This means if we (as consumers) can use real time brain activity as a basis of feedback (the app must be round the corner) we might be able to train our brains to be more sensitive to when their attention is starting to wane and gain real focus.

Another article in ‘Science Daily’ looks at the research on how what’s going on inside our head affects our senses. Children from more challenging economic communities think coins are larger than they are, and hungry people think pictures of food are brighter. (Science Daily, 3 March 2012). They found that when words were flashed very fast on a screen (too fast to read, but slow enough to imprint on the brain), hungry people saw the food related words as brighter and were better at identifying the food-related words when shown on a list after they were flashed. This research indicates is that our perceptions increase toward items that our body wants or needs. Our illusion of control and that idea we have a choice in buying is being further challenged.These exciting pieces of research indicate that we can all become neurosales savvy (whether to sell or to buy sensibly). The secret is by asking 2 questions:

  • How do we get more focus?
  • What we are really lacking, or hungry for, in our day to day lives?

It all start by telling a good story. By turning percentages and figures into a good tale capture and keeps your customers’ attention. Statistics are great but you need people to pay attention to your numbers to help drive sales. Our brains are wired to process stories in a more engaged way. Brain scan work shows that when people read a story with a lot of action elements, their brains actually mimic the motions.

Another area some retailers have learned to focus on is that we’re very susceptible to the loss aversion switch. Loss aversion, if you’re unfamiliar with the term, describes our innate concern to avoid feeling bad in the future. Normally this would affect our purchase decisions by causing us to prevaricate over a purchase: “Might I feel bad if I buy this and don’t have the money for something else?” But add in a discount that we’re told or we assume won’t last forever and our unconscious focus switches to the fear we’ll miss out on the deal. Retailers take advantage of this by packaging up products as bulk buys, or they include ‘free’ extras. We get the impression that it must be good value, and we go with this feeling rather than researching any further.

Our heuristic susceptibility to value and apparent discounts isn’t just down to the loss aversion switch; many of us have an innate desire to save. Retailers and manufacturers play on this by telling us how much money we could save by buying and using their product. Perhaps thousands of years ago, knowing that it was important to store up food and wood for the winter would be the difference between life and death. These days most of us no longer need to worry about our day-to-day survival, but the evolutionary drive remains. In short, we find it hard to resist the idea that we’ll be saving money or time.

Though we have already discovered an enormous amount about the brain, huge and crucial mysteries remain. One of the most important is how does the brain produces our conscious experiences? The vast majority of the brain’s activity is subconscious. But our conscious thoughts, sensations and perceptions, what define us as humans, cannot yet be explained in terms of brain activities.

Objectivity is an elusive virtue in buying.

Be Amazing Every Day.

Samsung, Big Data & Dumb Heuristics

Gerd Gigerenzer is a strong advocate of the idea that simple heuristics can make us smart. Yet heuristic might be the root cause of our deep fear of big data, big brother and our data being misused. Imagine you’re a turkey at Christmas. Every day you are approached by a man with a bucket of corn who feeds you. What kind of mental model of what happens when he appears, do you think you will build up? Gigerenzer is the Director of the Max Plank Institute for Human Development and might use this story to demonstrate how high tech firms approach big data to predict the future from past decisions. These organisation make predictions based on the past that are only ever correct by chance and we believe them in order to absolve ourselves of responsibility for when things go wrong. According to many it’s a waste of time, money and talent. Because systems will always go wrong. Because, of course, Christmas always comes.

In psychology, heuristics are simple, efficient rules which people often use to form judgments and make decisions. They are mental shortcuts that usually involve focusing on one aspect of a complex problem and ignoring others. This occurs when you talk with groups about Big Data. People’s gut reactions (heuristics) to things tell them that information about themselves or their loved ones, collected and disseminated, is bound to be used for evil rather than good. But how valid are their concerns about big data and this digital collection of our thoughts? Collecting information on us might fuel the fear of big data. Or as in this brilliant tweet, suggesting Samsung SmartTV instruction manual is taken from George Orwell’s 1984.

The Samsung revelation on Monday 19th February 2015 in the Daily Telegraph,

‘Samsung SmartTV customers warned personal conversations may be recorded. Voice recognition software could transmit ‘personal or sensitive’ information Families are being warned that modern televisions are recording their conversations and could transmit the messages to “third parties”. Many of the latest sets have microphones so viewers can change channel, turn on a DVD or browse the internet by speaking at the screen or remote.But the small print of the privacy policies for these so-called Smart TVs contain warnings that general conversations are also being recorded.Television companies advise users who are concerned to avoid discussing “personal” matters in their livings rooms.The practice, which emerged on internet forums yesterday, led customers on social media to draw comparisons to George Orwell’s 1984. It is unclear whether the information is used for marketing purposes or held on computer that could be hacked by criminals.’

Count on the great Isaac Asimov to have presaged it, much like he did online education, the fate of space exploration and even the rise of Smart TVs. In his legendary Foundation trilogy, Asimov conceives his hero, Hari Seldon, as a masterful mathematician who can predict the future through complex mathematical equations rooted in aggregate measurements about the state of society at any given point in time. Like Seldon, who can’t anticipate what any individual person will do but can foreshadow larger cultural outcomes, big data is the real-life equivalent of Asimov’s idea, which he termed psychohistory, an invaluable tool for big-picture insight into our collective future.
But here comes the irrational fear again. The human brain comprises two distinct parts (if not 3): the old simple brain in the back, which produces impulses and instincts that help us to survive, and the new brain in the front of the head, which we use to control those impulses.The problem is that, sometimes, the two conflict. For example, we might crave fast food even while knowing it’s bad for us. Or we might feel fear when standing on top of the Shard even though we know we’re not going to fall. New research challenged the idea that human beings are rational actors, but provided a theory of information processing to explain how people make estimates or choices.

Heuristics mean we (traditionally) don’t need complex models of the world to make good decisions. These rules work well under most circumstances, but they can lead to systematic deviations from logic, probability or rational choice theory. The resulting errors are called cognitive biases and many different types have been documented. Heuristics usually govern automatic, intuitive judgments but can also be used as deliberate mental strategies when working from limited information.

No matter how much I know about heuristics and concentrate on avoiding the sunk cost fallacy, I still naturally gravitate towards it. The term sunk cost refers to any cost (not just monetary, but also time and effort) that has been paid already and cannot be recovered. So, a payment of time or money that’s gone forever. The reason we can’t ignore the cost, even though it’s already been paid, is that we wired to feel loss far more strongly than gain. Psychologist Daniel Kahneman explains this in his book, Thinking Fast and SlowOrganisms that placed more urgency on avoiding threats than they did on maximising opportunities were more likely to pass on their genes. So, over time, the prospect of losses has become a more powerful motivator on your behaviour than the promise of gains

The sunk cost fallacy plays on this tendency of ours to emphasise loss over gain. A brilliant 1985 (nearly 1984) research study by Hal Arkes and Catherine Blumer is a great example of how it works. They asked subjects to assume they had spent £1000 on a ticket for a ski trip in the Switzerland, but soon after found a better ski trip in France for £500 and bought a ticket for this trip too. They then asked the people in the study to imagine they learned the two trips overlapped and the tickets couldn’t be refunded or resold. Which one do you think they chose, the £1000 good vacation, or the £500 great one?

  • Over half of the people in the study went with the more expensive trip. It may not have promised to be as fun, but the loss seemed greater.

The sunk cost fallacy leads us to miss or ignore the logical facts presented to us, and instead make irrational decisions based on our emotions (see the news and big data fears) without even realising we’re doing so. The fallacy prevents you from realising the best choice is to do whatever promises the better experience in the future, not which negates the feeling of loss in the past.

Could it be that our fear of Big Data emanates from this short cutting old brain structure? What exactly are we really afraid of? If big data can help us overcome these heuristic brain errors, it holds the promise of righting the balance of quality over quantity in our culture of information overabundance, helping us to extract meaning from (digital) matter. Just as the old brain interprets images in art and film as being real (this is why we feel afraid when watching horror movies) perhaps it conflates our hypothetical big data fears with reality.

Our best bet is to try to separate the current facts we have from anything that happened in the past. In a society that tweets more words every hour than all of the surviving ancient Greek texts combined, we certainly could use that.

Samsung can only hope we can separate the two very quickly.

Be Amazing Every Day.

Big Idea: Trivial Bikeshedding Management

Did you know that today is National Trivia Day* and 50 years ago (last Wednesday 5th February, 1965) trivia was invented? Well sort of true; a Columbia Spectatorarticle appeared on this day and used the term trivia to topics like,

  • Who played the Old Gypsy Woman in The Wolfman?
  • Answer: Maria Ouspenskaya (I did not know this either).

Columbia University students Ed Goodgold and Dan Carlinsky, who had proposed the new use of the term in their original article swiftly created the earliest inter-collegiate quiz bowls that tested culturally (and emotionally) significant yet essentially unimportant facts, which they dubbed trivia contests. The expression has also come to suggest information of the kind useful almost exclusively for answering quiz questions, hence the brand name Trivial Pursuit (1982).

The word originates from the Latin neuter noun trivium (plural trivia) is from tri- “triple” and via “way”, meaning a place where three ways meet. The word trivia was also used to describe a place where three roads met in Ancient Rome. Often misquoted with the comedic line that 2 are irrelevant (trivial) as only the one leading back to Rome is important. They did not, as some wag (Frank Skinner) suggested, pin pieces of rubbish information at these cross roads.

More accurately trivia are the three lower Artes Liberales: grammar, logic andrhetoric. These were the topics of basic education, foundational to the quadrivia of higher education, and hence the material of basic education and an important building block for all undergraduates. In management terms I came across Parkinson’s law of triviality on my MBA course years ago. It also known as ‘bikeshedding’ and was first described by C. Northcote Parkinson in 1957. His argument was that organisations give disproportionate weight to trivial issues.

Parkinson observed and illustrated that a committee whose job is to approve plans for a nuclear power plant spent the majority of its time with pointless discussions on relatively trivial and unimportant but easy-to-grasp issues, such as what materials to use for the staff bike-shed, while neglecting the less-trivial proposed design of the nuclear power plant itself, which is far more important but also a far more difficult and complex task to criticise constructively. As he put it:

The time spent on any item of the agenda will be in inverse proportion to the sum [of money] involved.

A reactor is used because it is so vastly expensive and complicated that an average person cannot understand it, so one assumes that those that work on it understand it. On the other hand, everyone can visualise a cheap, simple bicycle shed, so planning one can result in endless discussions because everyone involved wants to add a touch and show personal contribution.

Thus bike shedding involves discussions about relatively unimportant issues which result in extensive debate. Know that feeling at many a management meetings?

It may be the result of individuals who wish to contribute feeling that they do not have the knowledge or expertise to contribute on more significant issues. Bike shedding can result in discussions that, whilst on-topic, nevertheless effectively drown out other discussions on more significant issues.

My top 7 favourite pieces of trivia are currently:

  1. On Good Friday in 1930, the BBC reported, “There is no news.” Instead, they played piano music.
  2. In the 1980s, Pablo Escobar’s Medellin Cartel was spending $2,500 a month on rubber bands just to hold all their cash.
  3. M&M’s actually stands for “Mars & Murrie’s,” the last names of the candy’s founders.
  4. In 1907, an ad campaign for Kellogg’s Corn Flakes offered a free box of cereal to any woman who would wink at her grocer.
  5. The Arkansas School for the Deaf’s nickname is the Leopards.
  6. The Vatican Bank is the world’s only bank that allows ATM users to perform transactions in Latin.
  7. The unkempt Shaggy of Scooby-Doo fame has a rather proper real name of Norville Rogers.

*There is a National Trivia Day, but it is January 4th.

Be Amazing Every Day

Your Vast Prediction Machine

Think of the brain as a vast prediction machine. I drove my car to the station this morning; what colour is it?The brain’s desire to know the answer (I don’t have a car but to help your brain, let’s call it red) and indeed what the future holds in general is a powerful motivator in everyday life. We know that massive neuronal resources are devoted to predicting what will happen each moment.

Using research by the neuroscientists at Cal Tech it is becoming clearer that the brain needs to resolve some difficult and seemingly opposing issues to thrive.

Much is known about how people make decisions under varying levels of probability (risk). Less is known about the neural basis of decision-making when probabilities are uncertain because of missing information (ambiguity). Yet we know the brain loves certainty. This is the assurance you can avoid pain and gain pleasure (or even comfort). Some people pursue this need by striving to control all aspects of their lives, while others obtain certainty by giving up control and adopting a philosophy, faith or belief system.

Your brain is doing something quite remarkable right now. There around 40 environmental cues you can consciously pay attention to right now. Remember we have at least 27 senses (see here). Subconsciously this number is well over two-million. That’s a huge amount of data that can be used for prediction. The brain likes to know what is going on by recognising patterns in the world. It likes to feel certain. We learn much more than we ever consciously understand. Most of the signals that are peripherally perceived enter the brain without our awareness and interact on unconscious levels. This is why we say that learners become their experience and remember what they experience, not just what they are told.

Jeff Hawkins inventor of the Palm Pilot and more recently founder of a neuroscience institute explains the brain’s predilection for prediction in his book (On Intelligence),

Your brain receives patterns from the outside world, stores them as memories, and makes predictions by combining what it has seen before and what is happening now… Prediction is not just one of the things your brain does. It is the primary function of the neocortex, and the foundation of intelligence.

Meaning is not always available on the surface. Meaning often happens intuitively in ways that we don’t understand. So that, when we learn, we use both conscious and unconscious processes. In teaching, you may not reach a student immediately, but two years later he / she may be somewhere else and suddenly join the dots and get it.

The brain requires at the same time as this certainty a measure of uncertainty, causing variety. This is to avoid the boredom reflex and requires our brain to look for distraction. The evolution of play and creation of novelty stem from this quest for uncertainty. The need for the unknown, for change and new stimuli also makes us feel alive and engaged. This is in part caused by the hunger for information, just for the sake of it. Often that information doesn’t make us more effective or adaptive, it just reduces a sense of relative uncertainty.

Your brain loves a quick burst of dopamine we get when a circuit is completed. It feels good – but that doesn’t mean it’s good for us all the time. All of this explains many otherwise strange phenomenon. Knowing that we automatically avoid uncertainty explains why any kind of change can be hard – it’s inherently uncertain. It explains why we prefer things we know over things that might be more fun, or better for us, but are new and therefore uncertain. It might also explain why we prefer the certainty of focusing on problems and finding answers in data from the past, rather than risking the uncertainty of new, creative solutions.

This means that we are naturally programmed to search for meaning. This principle is survival oriented and is the basis of why your brain wanted to know the colour of my car (which I don’t have). The brain needs and automatically registers the familiar while simultaneously searching for and responding to additional stimuli.

We want to know what things mean to us. The brain likes to think ahead and picture the future, mapping out how things will be, not just for each moment, but also for the longer term. The paradox of certainty and uncertainty combined with significance and meaning.

Be Amazing Every Day.

Silence Your Brain!

Peter was after a talking parrot, so he went to the local pet shop in the hope of securing such a find. He was in luck. The shop assistant assured her that the parrot would learn and repeat any word or phrase it heard. Peter was delighted. However, a week later, the parrot still hadn’t spoken a word. Peter returned to the shop to complain, however, it appeared that the assistant was accurate in what he had said and refused a refund. Why didn’t the parrot talk? [answer at the end, but remember the parrot repeats every single word it hears].

Shut up! Like the mute button on the TV remote control, our brains filter out unwanted noise so we can focus on what we’re listening to. Most of us will be familiar with the experience of silently talking to ourselves in our head. That inner monologue usually conducted in silence. Self doubts, insecurities and a general soundtrack or commentary to life.

Have you ever been at the supermarket and realise that you’ve forgotten to pick up something you needed. You might say (outloud), ‘saugages!’ or whatever your temperoary lapse of recall was. Or maybe you have got an important meeting with your boss later in the day, and you’re simulating, (silently in your head) how you think the conversation might go, possibly hearing both your own voice and your boss’s voice responding. This is the phenomenon that psychologists call inner speech, and they’ve been trying to study it pretty much since the dawn of psychology as a scientific discipline.

Our Brain’s have a built in filter for unwanted noise. When it comes to following our own speech, a new brain study from the University of California, Berkeley, shows that instead of one homogenous mute button, we have a network of volume settings that can selectively silence and amplify the sounds we make and hear. They discovered that neurones in one part of the patients’ hearing mechanism were dimmed when they talked, while neurones in other parts lit up. Their findings, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, offer clues about how we hear ourselves above the noise of our surroundings and monitor what we say. Previous studies have shown a selective auditory system in monkeys that can amplify their self-produced mating, food and danger alert calls, but until this latest study, it was not clear how the human auditory system is wired.

With this in mind it might make more sense when we need to really listen to something that is important. Say you have to listen to fill a prescription or enter data that is potentially life threatening if you get it wrong. When we want to listen carefully to someone, the first thing we do is stop talking. The second more surprising thing we do is stop moving altogether. This strategy helps us hear better by preventing unwanted sounds generated by our own movements.

This interplay between movement and hearing also has a counterpart deep in the brain. Indeed, indirect evidence has long suggested that the brain’s motor cortex, which controls movement, somehow influences the auditory cortex, which gives rise to our conscious perception of sound. A new study, in Nature, combines cutting-edge methods in electrophysiology, optogenetics and behavioural analysis to reveal exactly how the motor cortex, seemingly in anticipation of movement, can tweak the volume control in the auditory cortex. The findings contribute to the basic knowledge of how communication between the brain’s motor and auditory cortexes might affect hearing during speech or musical performance.

And the parrot? The parrot was deaf. Therefore it couldn’t repeat a single word it had heard – as it had heard no words at all.

Be Amazing Every Day

Innovation is full of Paradox.

Whoever Makes the Most Mistakes Wins.

Tom Peter’s again, right on the money. Paradox can prove to be very revealing about human nature and leadership. Nobel Prize winner Niels Bohr was a Danish physicist who made foundational contributions to understanding atomic structure and quantum theory. He once said, ‘Now that we have met with paradox we have some hope of making progress.’ 

At the most basic level, a paradox is a statement that is self contradictory because it often contains two statements that are both true, but in general, cannot both be true at the same time. What generates real innovation is actually understanding why (and how) paradox can inspire people.

The origins of innovation can be found in the evolution and development of the neocortex. These higher centres of the human brain are the source of abstract thought and also our very human quality of learning from failure. The ability to Explore, Play and Create Novelty in a safe environment becomes critical. The word ‘innovate’ can be traced all the way back to 1440. It comes from the Middle French word [which apparently on my Linkedin profile is something I am an expert in] ‘innovacyon’, meaning ‘renewal’ or ‘new way of doing things’. This echoes Peter Drucker’s brilliant reflection on innovation,

Change that creates a new dimension of performance.

The act of introducing something new (innovation) begins with an internal brain process. We can look at where by using tools like fMRI to determine which areas ‘light up’ during the process but it’s origin is unclear. Somewhere there is spark, a neuro-chemical reactions and the beginning of the fascination over an idea. This state of innovation, constant fascination and being intensely interested in something, is a primitive survival mechanism that might not help survival (you might eat the wrong killer berry). Yet by making a safe environment, where we can explore, play and create novelty we create a spark that both motivates and innovates.

Daniel Pink beautifully describes (in his book Drive) the paradox of money as a motivator (watch the surprising results it delivers). Companies need to allow more autonomy and self direction. That’s why Google gives its workforce 20% of their time to explore projects on their own. That’s why 3M and W.L. Gore do something similar. They know that the root of innovation is fascination and failure.

Wise leaders accept their setbacks as necessary footsteps on the path towards success. In The Innovation Paradox, Richard Farson and Ralph Keyes argue that failure has its upside, success its downside. These two are not as distinct as we imagine. They co-exist, are even interdependent. Both are steps toward achievement.

It’s not success or failure, but success and failure.

Every company worth knowing has identified innovation as a core competency needing to be developed. However a large percentage of our time and our organisation’s energy is necessarily spent on activities that don’t require innovation. We also know that scaling up an innovation depends on the operation of relatively routine tasks and processes, many of which are in place and already have been proved effective. What’s needed in organisations whom aspire to a culture of innovation, is the energy to create a spark and then embrace success and failure as equals.

The key to the innovator paradox then is the development of this neurochemical spark within people. So what sparks people? If you do some analysis of the most creativity and innovate people in history, you will find that the spark lies deep in their brain. They are able to be curious and creative. They become fascinated, even obsessed by ideas. While it can certainly be supported by systems, it can never be reduced to systems. Because that’s where innovation starts, with the innovator and the inspired individual, compelled by their DNA to make a difference. Then all that person needs is from you is time, some resources, meaningful collaboration, and periodic reality checks from someone who understands what fascination is all about.

One’s only rival is one’s own potentialities. One’s only failure is failing to live up to one’s own possibilities. In this sense, every man can be a king, and must therefore be treated like a king. – Abraham Maslow

If you study the lives of people who have had those Eureka moments, you may well note that their breakthroughs almost always came after extensive periods of intense, conscious effort. They worked, they struggled, they explored, played and created novelty. They gave up, they recommitted and then the breakthrough came, often at unexpected moments. The conscious mind works overtime in an attempt to solve a problem or achieve a goal. Unable to come up with the breakthrough, the challenge gets turned over to the subconscious mind, which then proceeds to figure it out in its own, without time pressure and focus.

Coming up with the right question is at least half of getting the right answer. If you want a breakthrough idea, begin by coming up with a breakthrough question. Find the one that communicates the essence of what you’re trying to create. Perhaps Einstein said it best when he declared, Not everything that can be counted counts; and not everything that counts can be counted. He was referring, of course, to the part of the human brain that ‘knows’ intuitively; the part that is tuned in, connected, and innately creative.

If you, or the people who report to you, are not currently in a state of innate fascination, it’s time to turn things around. That is, of course if you really want to spark some innovation. Throughout history, the best managers and leaders always have allowed this special space of paradox and innovation to exist. Since failures so often lead to successes, and vice-versa, rather than try to sort these two out, wise managers focus on the innovation process and what can be learned from it.

What exists on the other side of failure, is fuel for your untapped creativity.

Be Amazing Every Day.

[If you don’t get this message, call me; if you do get it, don’t call. Spread the word.]

78% Negative Tweets on Premises

To address this astonishing modern-day phenomena, it is worth looking at some real word examples while recalling the old fashioned power of empathy. Empathy is a term that is often misunderstood. Empathy is perhaps the most advanced of all communication skills. If you are reading this and 100% of your reviews on Trip Advisor are negative (see below), you may have to accept that hospitality is not the profession for you.

The truth is that most hotels, bar and restaurants should have a healthy mix of good, bad and indifferent reviews. It seems that the secret to a successful hospitality business is being empathic in dealing with poor feedback. Responding to your (potentially poor) reviews with humility and honesty will prove you have that this highly professional skill and may change the mindset of your customers (for the better).

One way forward in dealing with these potential problems, is by keeping on top of your social media feeds. It provides an ideal opportunity to turn potentially negative experience into a positive one. The other way of course, which I don’t recommend, is trying is to BAN NEGATIVE REVIEWS.

In December 2014, the Broadway Hotel in Blackpooltried prohibiting bad reviews which only gives further credence to the issues raised and will encourage further negativity from other visitors. They charged retired van driver Tony Jenkinson, 63, and his 64-year-old wife Jan £100 extra after they described the establishment as a ‘rotten stinking hovel’ in their damning online review. The review sparked a row between the couple and the hotel, which said it operated a ‘no bad review policy’, as stated in its terms and conditions.

TripAdvisor spokesman, James Kay said, ‘While, thankfully, such instances are very rare, it is completely against the spirit and policies of our site for any business owner to attempt to bully or intimidate reviewers who have had a negative experience. ‘Where we find evidence of a business doing so, we will take action to protect the integrity of our site.’

The hotel is still (amazingly) open for business. At reception there was a large notice stating:

We no longer take verbal abuse as tips.

Their policy was only ever likely to create enough negative press for the story to go viral and no one wants that. Far from putting off hoteliers and restaurateurs, I would actively encourage hospitality leaders to engage with their customer feedback, across all social platforms, come rain or shine.

Most modern savvy gurus in the areas of communications, management and self-development refer in one way or another to the importance of empathy. Being able to step back and achieve a detachment from our own emotions, is essential for effective, constructive relationships.

While you should always treat complaints and bad reviews with a certain amount of seriousness and professionalism, there’s no harm at having a joke at your own expense. Indeed, some cafes and restaurants reference bad reviews on their sandwich boards (see above) or digitally on their website or social feeds. Again that word, empathy, is the key. All the research shows that it’s easier to relate to companies making light of their imperfections and making sure they correct them (as well).

Empathy is the ability to see the world as another person, to share and understand another person’s feelings, needs, concerns and / or their emotional state.

Empathy is a skill that can be developed and, as with most interpersonal skills, empathising (at some level) comes naturally to most people. So try this to improve your empathetic levels: Next time you eat out or go on holiday, write about it and post to your preferred site. While writing try and recall the feeling of reading a piece about your establishment: I bet it makes you think twice about the language you use and how you expect your review to be handled. Empathy is a selfless act, it enables us to learn more about people and relationships with people – it is a desirable skill beneficial to ourselves, others and society. Phrases such as being in your shoes and soul mates imply empathy – empathy has even been likened to a spiritual or religious state of connection with another person or group of people.

Being an empathetic leader requires just three basic components:

  • effective communication 
  • a strong imagination
  • shared experiences 

Part of this empathy journey is establishing real trust and rapport. Creating trust and rapport helps us to have sensible adult discussions. Establishing trust is about listening and understanding – not necessarily agreeing (which is different) – to the other person. Listening without judging. A useful focus to aim for when listening to another person is to try to understand how the other person feels, and to discover what they want to achieve. Dr Stephen Covey (of ‘The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People’® fame) is one of many modern advocates who urge us to strive deeply to understand the other person’s point of view.

There are plenty of methods that encourage good customer reviews to put against the less pleasing ones. Leaders need to decide which strategy best suits their main customer base and implement it now. It is difficult and rarely appropriate to try to persuade another person to do what we want; instead we must understand what the other person wants, and then try help them to achieve it, which often includes helping them to see the way to do it. So start by asking:

  • Does your website have a section (or links to areas) where customers can leave comments?
  • Do you mention reviews while customers are paying the bill or (better yet) on your business card?
  • Do you incentivise customer reviews with discount offers?

If your answer was no to any (or all) of these questions, then you need to ask an expert (try me!) what you need to do now. If we learn to work with our critics collaboratively, to see what they really want and then help them to get it, we can change everything. The act of doing all this establishes trust and maybe, just maybe those 78% of on premise tweets will become positive.

Be Amazing Every Day.

Wrong-Brained

Sometimes I just want to give up. I really don’t know why I bother with my epic quest for truth, science and reason.

You are such a right-brain thinker’, she yelled.

I probably should not have said she was so wrong. Maybe I should not have added that she was being a ‘meme sustaining poptart psychologist’ and ‘both neuro-scientifically and anatomically inaccurate’. Like the time she came in when I was watching the cricket and said, “It’s over” and I replied, “No, 3 balls left”.

Despite what you may have been told, you are not left-brained or right-brained. From books to television programs, you may have heard the phrase mentioned numerous times or perhaps you’ve even taken an online test to determine which type best describes you. From self-help and business success books to job applications and smartphone apps, the theory that the different halves of the human brain govern different skills and personality traits is a popular one.

According to this (wrong) theory of left-brain or right-brain dominance, each side of the brain controls different types of thinking. Additionally, people are said to prefer one type of thinking over the other. For example, a person who is labelled left-brained is often said to be more logical, analytical, and objective, while a person whom is labelled right-braine is said to be more intuitive, thoughtful, and subjective. So what exactly did this theory suggest?

The Right Brain Nonsense: According to the left-brain, right-brain dominance failed theory, the right side of the brain is best at expressive and creative tasks. Some of the abilities that are popularly associated with the right side of the brain include:

  • Recognising faces
  • Expressing emotions
  • Music
  • Reading emotions
  • Colour
  • Images
  • Intuition
  • Creativity

The Left Brain Nonsense: The left-side of the brain is (not) considered to be adept at tasks that involve logic, language and analytical thinking. The left-brain is often described as being better at:

  • Language
  • Logic
  • Critical thinking
  • Numbers
  • Reasoning

Too bad it’s not true. Short of having undergone a hemispherectomy (removal of a cerebral hemisphere), no one is a left-brain only or right-brain only person.In pop psychology, the theory is based on what is known as the lateralisation of brain function. So does one side of the brain really control specific functions? Are people either left-brained or right-brained? Like many popular psychology myths, this one grew out of observations about the human brain that were then dramatically distorted and exaggerated.

To try and put this to bed forever, a new two-year study published in the journal Plos One, University of Utah neuroscientists scanned the brains of more than 1,000 people, ages 7 to 29, while they were lying quietly or reading, measuring their functional lateralisation – the specific mental processes taking place on each side of the brain. They broke the brain into 7,000 regions, and while they did uncover patterns for why a brain connection might be strongly left or right-lateralised, they found no evidence that the study participants had a stronger left or right-sided brain network. Jeff Anderson, the study’s lead author and a professor of neuroradiology at the University of Utah says:

It’s absolutely true that some brain functions occur in one or the other side of the brain, language tends to be on the left, attention more on the right.

But the brain isn’t as clear-cut as the myth makes it out to be. For example, the right hemisphere is involved in processing some aspects of language, such as intonation and emphasis. Where has this come form because I am pretty sure you will have heard it? Experts suggest the myth dates back to the 1800s, when scientists discovered that an injury to one side of the brain caused a loss of specific abilities. The concept gained ground in the 1960s based on Nobel-prize-winning split-brain work by neuropsychologists Robert Sperry, and Michael Gazzaniga. The researchers conducted studies with patients who had undergone surgery to cut the corpus callosum – the band of neural fibres that connect the hemispheres – as a last-resort treatment for epilepsy.

They discovered that when the two sides of the brain weren’t able to communicate with each other, they responded differently to stimuli, indicating that the hemispheres have different functions.Both of these bodies of research tout findings related to function; it was popular psychology enthusiasts who undoubtedly took this work a step further and pegged personality types to brain hemispheres.

Brain function lateralisation is evident in the phenomena of right- or left-handedness and of right or left ear preference, but a person’s preferred hand is not a clear indication of the location of brain function. Although 95% of right-handed people have left-hemisphere dominance for language, 18.8% of left-handed people have right-hemisphere dominance for language function. Additionally, 19.8% of the left-handed have bilateral language functions. Even within various language functions (e.g., semantics, syntax, prosody), degree (and even hemisphere) of dominance may differ.

Additionally, although some functions are lateralised, these are only a tendency. The trend across many individuals may also vary significantly as to how any specific function is implemented. The areas of exploration of this causal or effectual difference of a particular brain function include its gross anatomy, dendritic structure, and neurotransmitter distribution. The structural and chemical variance of a particular brain function, between the two hemispheres of one brain or between the same hemisphere of two different brains, is still being studied.

Researchers have demonstrated that right-brain/left-brain theory is a myth, yet its popularity persists. Unfortunately many people are likely unaware that the theory is outdated. Today, students might continue to learn about the theory as a point of historical interest – to understand how our ideas about how the brain works have evolved and changed over time as researchers have learned more about how the brain operates. The important thing to remember if you take one of the many left brain/right brain quizzes that you will likely encounter online is that they are entirely for fun and you shouldn’t place much stock in your results. According to Anderson:

The neuroscience community has never accepted the idea of ‘left-dominant’ or ‘right-dominant’ personality types. Lesion studies don’t support it, and the truth is that it would be highly inefficient for one half of the brain to consistently be more active than the other.

We love simple solutions (see also 21 days to break a habit) Human society is built around categories, classifications and generalizations, and there’s something seductively simple about labeling yourself and others as either a logical left-brainer or a free-spirited right brainer. The problems start, however, when the left-brained/right-brained myth becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. What research has yet to refute is the fact that the brain is remarkably malleable, even into late adulthood.

It has an amazing ability to reorganise itself by forming new connections between brain cells, allowing us to continually learn new things and modify our behavior. Let’s not underestimate our potential by allowing a simplistic myth to obscure the complexity of how our brains really work.

Be Amazing Every Day.

Nielsen, J. A., Zielinski, B. A., Ferguson, M. A., Lainhart, J. E., & Anderson, J. S. (2013). An evaluation of the left-brain vs. right brain hypothesis with resting state functional connectivity magnetic resonance imaging.

Rogers, M. (2013).Researchers debunk myth of “right brain” and “left-brain” personality traits. University of Utah, Office of Public Affairs. Retrieved from http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0071275