The Universe Conspiracy – Pronoia

And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it. ― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

I have been developing a unifying theory about success (I know that sound a bold claim) partly influenced by Philip K.Dick’s book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? First published in 1968, the book served as the primary basis for my favourite film Blade Runner. The novel is set in a post-apocalyptic near future, where Earth and its populations have been damaged greatly by nuclear war during World War Terminus. Most types of animals are endangered or extinct due to extreme radiation poisoning from the war. To own an animal is a sign of status, but what is emphasised more is the empathic emotions humans experience towards an animal. But there is a problem with my theory; it is developing too easily. Someone told me that it was ‘cool’ because the Universe was conspiring in my favour. I am suffering from pronoia apparently.

Joseph Heller’s line in Catch 22. “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you” – might have to be turned on its head for Hollywood star Susan Sarandon. “Just because you’re pronoiad, doesn’t mean they aren’t for you,” the actress might say. Susan Sarandon talked about her belief in ‘pronoia’ as she was revealing what a joyous experience it had been to make Cloud Atlas, the film adapted from the award-winning novel. Some might say this is nonsense because it is a Hollywood actress telling us this ‘fact’.

Pronoia is defined as the opposite state of mind as paranoia: having the sense that there is a conspiracy that exists to help the person. It is also used to describe a philosophy that the world is set up to secretly benefit people. Almost a Zippie mantra promoted by Saradon. A Zippie is a person who does something for nothing. Any supporter of free culture, free food, free books, free software is a Zippie – and the Universe conspiring a central belief.

But does it make the proposition wrong? As students of logic should know, not every appeal to authority is a fallacious appeal to authority.  A fallacy is committed only when the purported authority appealed to either does not in fact possess expertise on the subject at hand, or can reasonably be supposed to be less than objective.

Hence if you believed that PCs are better than Macs entirely on the say-so of either your technophobic orthodontist or the local PC dealer who has some overstock to get rid of, you would be committing a fallacy of appeal to authority — in the first case because your orthodontist, smart guy though he is, presumably hasn’t much knowledge of computers, in the second case because while the salesman might have such knowledge, there is reasonable doubt about whether he is giving you an unbiased opinion.

But if you believed that PCs are better than Macs because your computer science professor told you so, there would be no fallacy, because he presumably both has expertise on the matter and lacks any special reason to push PCs on you.  That doesn’t necessarily mean he’d be correct, of course; an argument can be mistaken even if it is non-fallacious. Similarly, not every ad hominem attack — an attack against the man or women — involves a fallacious ad hominem.  Attacking the person can be entirely legitimate and sometimes even called for, even in an argumentative context, when it is precisely the man / women whom is the problem.

Attacking a person involves a fallacy when what is at issue is whether some claim the person is making is true or some argument he is giving is cogent, and where the attacker either

  • essentially ignores the question of whether the claim is true or the argument cogent, and instead just attacks the person giving it or
  •  suggests either explicitly or implicitly that the claim can be rejected false or the argument rejected as not cogent on the basis of some irrelevant purported fault of the person giving it.

So the question arises – does pronoia exist, ignoring who told us it might?. I have been exploring the idea that it if you do the right thing often enough, good things happen. The sneaking suspicion others are conspiring to help you and you them. Pronoia is also a prevalent theme in the 1988 novel The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho. In it, the protagonist, a young boy is told by an older man to pursue his dreams.

He tells the boy, “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” The book also deals with omens, signs that the universe wants the boy to follow a specific path, which will lead to his goal of fulfilling a dream.

The writer and Electronic Frontier Foundation co-founder John Perry Barlow defined pronoia as the suspicion the Universe is a conspiracy on your behalf.The academic journal “Social Problems” published an article entitled “Pronoia” by Fred H. Goldner in 1982 (vol 30, pp.82-91). It received a good deal of publicity at the time including references to it in Psychology TodayWired Magazine published an article in issue 2.05 (May 1994) titled “Zippie!”. The cover of the magazine featured a psychedelic image of a smiling young man with wild hair, a funny hat, and crazy eyeglasses. 

The simplest definition of pronoia may be to say that it is the opposite of paranoia. A person suffering from paranoia suspects that persons or entities (e.g. governments / deities) conspire against them. A person enjoying pronoia feels that the world around them conspires to do them good.

The principal proponent of pronoia in the 21st century has been the astrologer, writer, poet, singer, and songwriter Rob Brezsny. Brezsny’s book Pronoia Is the Antidote for Paranoia: How the Whole World Is Conspiring to Shower You with Blessings, published in 2005, explores the philosophy of pronoia.

 

Can we reject it on the basis of the non expert status of the writer? Well maybe we can relax and suspend our disbelief and imagine that if we do good things –  good things may happen to us in return. Maybe it does not matter in the long run. No act of kindness (no matter how small) is ever wasted.

Be Amazing Every Day.

How to chop wood then carry water.

Smile, breathe and go slowly but don’t look back in anger, I heard you say. This combination (mash-up) of two quotations (one from Oasis and one from Thich Nhat Hanh)  is having a profound influence on my life at this moment. You see, I am listening to Oasis and reading The Art of Power and loving both. In this moment, right now – they matter deeply and profoundly to me.

I have come across many clients who are living in anger and hate (living in the past) and are only looking forward in fear and towards perceived uncertainty. I have learned a great deal over the last few years about looking around and being totally aware. Right now. You see for me anger, hate, resentment, fear, jealously, envy, worry, doubt, mistrusting, conflict – these are all things that can feel very real at that (this) time. At the time I was experiencing them, they were the frame for my world. However, they are of the mind and just excuses to hang on to yesterday or to live in tomorrow.

Thich Nhat Hanh is one of my stronegest influencers in the last ten years. He is a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk and peace activist.  His key teaching is that, through mindfulness, we can learn to live happily in the present moment—the only way to truly develop peace, both in one’s self and in the world. Thich Nhat Hanh has published over 100 titles on meditation, mindfulness and engaged Buddhism, as well as poems, children’s stories, and commentaries on ancient Buddhist texts. He has sold over three million books, some of the best-known include Being PeacePeace Is Every StepThe Miracle of MindfulnessTrue Love and Anger.

His writings offered me some very practical methods of bringing mindfulness and loving kindness to the very centre of my being. You don’t need to be a Buddhist or spiritual to benefit from his teaching and learning this technique.

If you haven’t come across him before, here is a quick biography. Thich was born in Vietnam in 1926.  He became a Buddhist monk at the age of sixteen. During the Vietnam War, Thich chose to help villagers suffering from the bombings and the aftermath of war rather than to sit and quietly meditate in his monastery.  In the early 60’s he founded the School of Youth Social Service, rallying near 10,000 student volunteers to rebuild homes, organise agricultural cooperatives, and re-establish order in the lives affected by the ravages of war.During travels to the United States during the 1960’s, Thich spoke for peace in Vietnam.  During one of his visits he spoke with Martin Luther King, Jr and convinced him to oppose the Vietnam War publicly.  This helped to galvanise the peace movement that continued through the 70’s and until the war was finally ended.  In 1967 Dr. King nominated Thich Nhat Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize.

So Sally can wait, she knows it’s too late as we’re walking on by /Her soul slides away, “But don’t look back in anger”, I heard you say. –

What I have come to accept (it has taken a lifetime) is that being present is an experience everyone should aim for, every day. It is a time when I feel completely at peace with the moment  I am in, right now. It is the basis of being amazing every day. If you get in the habit of being present, then you may notice some (or all) of what I have noticed –

  • I have feelings of intense calmness (only good eustress).
  • I notice I am smiling more (as do other people).
  • I am kinder to myself (physically and emotionally).
  • I am trying to be kinder to other people (with no motive – altruism).
  • I am not rushing as much to meetings (I am not late, but not early).
  • My reflexes are faster and I join the dots quicker.
  • My mind is clearer and this clarity solves problems.
  • I am more decisive and take better decisions.
  • I know what I want, right now.
  • I know what is right for me, right now.
  • I am better at public speaking, training, coaching and performing.
  • My confidence is deeper without arrogance.
  • I am dealing with death and life as equals.
  • I know and accept that am not perfect – but I am becoming more real.
  • I accept I have many faults and I own them (I eat too fast for one thing).
  • I feel stronger and more passionate about making a difference.
  • I am quieter and read more.

The old Zen standby, chop wood, carry water simplifies this to a feeling of not multi tasking or running faster, yet getting nowhere. I can now see how the past keeps creating my future, and when I am conscious of this, I get to make another choice. I get to forgive the past and embrace the now. When I was living in the past or future, I missed out on the freedom and peace in the now. Lately, I am becoming aware much sooner and quicker when this happens.

The simple truth is being present is when you choose to focus on a particular time frame. There are only three possible time frames: past, present and future. Once you become aware of the thoughts you are having and the content of those thoughts, you will notice which timeframe you are in at any given time. You will begin to notice how often your thoughts and feelings are focused on the past or the future. These thoughts are riddled with judgments, comparing the past or future to your present situation.

Most busy people spend so little of their time being fully present. The rest of the time, they drift in and out as there attention wanders. Your mind may even seem to be out of your own control. How can you be more present?

I start with the power of the breath. By taking many slow rhythmic, even breaths, I concentrate on this cycle; no gaps or holding the breath. Some people say do this through the nose, others through the mouth. I don’t mind as long as it is slow, rhythmic and even. Breath, along with change, is the only constant. I believe being present starts with the breath.

Now take a moment to consider what are you doing right now.  Consider, as a correspondence to that moment of suspended breath-time, what you’re doing right at that moment.

  • Are you ‘just’  reading this post?
  • Where are your thoughts?
  • What are you thinking about?
  • What are your emotions?
  • Where are your hands?
  • What is the time?
  • Is it moving slowly or fast?
  • So you are reading – that’s it…so, just read.

Part of the answer to being present is to learn how to become a ethnographic observer. A witness if you will. Become a witness to becoming aware of what you are doing – exactly what you are doing – in any given moment. Try to observe it, name it and stand away from it. When we cling to a now rather than simply bearing witness to it and letting it pass by, we become trapped in time as it passes.Then develop the routine of letting the rest go; much like bearing witness, whatever is not there in that moment let go.

Be there, right there, right then.

Then gently come back to the breath, when the world or your thoughts begin to again intrude, simply come back to the breath. The constancy of breath can create the constancy of presence for us, if we choose to show up. The act of being present is, in a sense, a meditation without meditating. The stillness here, though, comes from action – breathing, attending, witnessing, releasing and breathing again. This simple cycle can profoundly change the way that you experience our world.

Be Amazing Every Day

Go slowly, smile, breath (slowly evenly and rhythmically) and don’t look back in anger. Chop wood. Carry water.

 

Which is better: Aggression or Collaboration?

It must be obvious surely? Or perhaps a trick question? Well the answer is not as obvious as you may think. Human beings probably have killed in war more members of their own species than any other animal species on this planet. It is undeniable that ours is a pretty aggressive species when compared to the rest of the animal kingdom. Aggression and war are hard-wired into the brain, but so are acceptance, empathy and collaboration. But which is better? There’s only one way to find out: FIGHT! is a recurring feature within Harry Hill’s TV Burp.

The term aggression comes from the Latin aggressio, meaning attack.Every night on the news there are reports about murders, wars and rapes. You might want to start by stop watching the news. But the news isn’t the only place where people encounter violent or aggressive behaviour. We see it at work, while commuting, on the tube and in the home. You can observe it in queues, shops offices and in sport. It starts in the school yard and grows as we get older.


I am a huge fan of Psychologist Robert Plutchik, whom identified eight primary emotions which he coordinated in pairs of opposites: joy versus sadness; trust versus disgust; fear versus anger and anticipation versus surprise. He created the 2D wheel and a conical 3D version in 1980 as a tool for understanding his psycho-evolutionary theory of emotion. Intensity of emotion and indicator colour increases toward the centre of the wheel and decreases outward. At the centre terror becomes fear and then apprehension; ecstasy becomes joy and then serenity. Secondary emotions are displayed as combinations of the primary ones. The cross over and closeness is revealing when we look at our emotions towards aggressiveness.

Researchers in ethology (which is the scientific and objective study of animal behaviour under natural conditions) believe that aggression confers some sort of biological advantages. It all comes down to economics and the notion that aggression, much like anything else, has benefits and costs. Aggression may help an animal secure territory, including resources such as food and water. Aggression between males often occurs to secure mating opportunities, and results in selection of the healthier/more vigorous animal. Aggression may also occur for self-protection or to protect offspring.

Konrad Lorenz stated in his 1963 classic, On Aggression, that human behaviour is shaped by four main, survival-seeking animal drives.Taken together, these drives—hunger, fear, reproduction, and aggression—achieve natural selection. Well maybe. Humans share aspects of aggression with non-human animals, and have specific aspects and complexity related to factors such as genetics, early development, social learning and flexibility, culture and morals. What are these benefits and costs of aggression? Aggression between groups of animals may also confer advantage; for example, hostile behaviour may force a population of animals into a new territory, where the need to adapt to a new environment may lead to an increase in genetic flexibility.

It is interesting to note that during the Cold War, politicians on both sides used their belief that war was highly likely to justify the manufacture and deployment of more and more nuclear weapons. Yet the belief in the near inevitability of war makes war more likely. In 1978 Harvard biologist E. O. Wilson published a ground breaking book On Human Nature. The book tries to explain how different characteristics of humans and society can be explained from the point of view of evolution. Aggression is, typically, a means of gaining control over resources. Aggression is, thus, aggravated during times when high population densities generate resource shortages. According to Richard Leakey and his colleagues, aggression in humans has also increased by becoming more interested in ownership and by defending his or her property

With increased understanding of the relations between genes and environment behavioural scientists have acquired a deeper understanding of the bases of aggression than was previously possible. The brain is awash in chemicals, including hormones and neuro-transmtters that accentuate or dampen its responses and influence its organisation and operations. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that relay, amplify, or modulate signals that are sent between neurones and other cells.There are many different hormones and neurotransmitters, of which the most important are glutamate and GABA, which excite and modify synapses. From all of the possibilities explored and the theories made, you might think that there has been a conclusion made about exactly where aggression originates as well as what could incite a particular aggressive action, but there has not been. However the following compounds seem to be most active:

  • Adrenalin, which triggers the fight or flight response
  • Testosterone, which stimulates aggression
  • Oxytocin which instills trust, increases loyalty, and promotes the tend and befriend response
  • Oestrogen, which triggers the release of oxytocin
  • Endorphins, which reinforce collaborative experiences with pleasure
  • Dopamine, which generates a reward response and fortifies addiction
  • Serotonin, which regulates moods
  • Phenylethylaline, which induces excitement and anticipation
  • Vasopressin, which encourages bonding in males in a variety of species

Out of the last few years of neurophysiological research has emerged a new hope that solutions may indeed be found to the chemical and biological sources of aggression. But there is a caveat. While War has yet to be reduced to a simple set of deterministic biochemical events taking place exclusively within the brain, research clearly demonstrates that basic neurological processes provide all of us with alternative sets of instructions that lead either toward impasse or resolution, stasis or transformation, isolation or collaboration. While no one really knows the exact causes of aggression or if it can even be said that there is one thing that causes it. So, although, there may not be one conclusive answer to why people are aggressive, it doesn’t mean that a combination of theories can’t be right or that someday, researchers will find the answer.

The Cold War and the resonant fear of nuclear fear is now largely over, but old wars continue and new ones have been initiated in many parts of the world. You may hear that the waging war as an inevitable consequence of human nature. This attitude is not only dangerous in encouraging the view that war is the method of choice for settling disputes, it is also very wrong. To get the right answer requires not only a profound understanding of how the brain works, but a global shift in our attitude toward conflict, an expanding set of scientifically informed techniques, a humanistic and democratic prioritisation of ethics and values.

We don’t need a fight to know, we need to begin with a willingness to start with ourselves.

Be Amazing Every Day.

Radical Leadership Wisdom

  • Leaders who don’t think like leaders.
  • Leaders who look for blame
  • Leaders who think like managers
  • Leaders who devalue their leadership
  • Leaders limited by their belief structure

So it is time to create some new Radical Leaders, right now. Why? Well looking up the dozens of Google synonymous or conceptual triggers of this word, consider these as applied to radical leadership: Amazing, Innovative, Uncompromising, Profound, Rigorous, Far-reaching and Essential.

Radical is in fact an amazing word, contaminated by it’s evil cousin ‘radicalisation’, which has a connections to extremism, which, in turn has a connotation of extreme violence. However the good version of radical can be twinned to the biochemical version ‘radical’: group of atoms behaving as a unit in a number of compounds. So radical leadership seems to induce alignment, one team, synergy of hearts and minds.

Using the principle of my knowledge leadership ‘still’ (and modeled on my memories of synthesis biochemistry), I have ‘distilled’ a potentially precious droplet of Radical Leadership Wisdom (RLW). Great abstractions are the distillation of an ideal and can be formed with just that ideal in mind, devoid of specific assumptions. Starting from what we see now and abstracting from there is not unlike solving a maze backwards. The best way to explore these radical leadership ideas is to start from a blank slate with lots of research behind it. Starting with an abstraction allows you to research and explore with that abstract solution grounding your explorations.

So my radical droplet proposition for leaders, is that leadership knowledge, wisdom and insight may sound like synonyms, but they are not. Though they all refer to the mind and an accumulation of thoughts and experiences, they have some very real differences in the essence of their meanings and their applications for Leadership.

Radical Leadership Wisdom is the ability to discern and judge which aspects of that knowledge are true, right, lasting, and applicable to your business. It’s the ability to apply that knowledge to the greater scheme of life. It’s also deeper because it is the knowing the true meaning or reason. RLW is all about knowing your why and what it means to your business.

Wisdom is the result of the distillation of your experiences 

-Adamus Saint-Germain

Insight is the deepest level of knowing and the most meaningful radical leadership. Insight is a deeper and clearer perception of life, of knowledge, of wisdom. It’s grasping the underlying nature of knowledge, and the essence of leadership wisdom which changes everything. So Radical Leadership Wisdomwould be uncompromising leadership that is rooted in integrity, authenticity and the ability to create (biochemical) ‘radicals’ of commitment.These radical leaders would be also uncompromising travellers in search of the truth, with high levels of antibodies to bullshit, and determined to make a profound difference.

Discussion is always good and here we could debate what Radical Leadership Wisdom (RLW) might look like:

  • RLW always creates more leaders (not just) followers
  • RLW change from the old (management) style of ‘I Leadership’ to ‘We Leadership’. Radical Leadership begins with We.
  • RLW moves from controlling people to aligning passions. Successful leaders align the passions of their teammates with organisational mission.
  • RLW enables people to simplify, edit and amplify. Some leaders enjoy the feeling of importance that complexity creates. But, any fool can make something complex. Leaders always simplify.
  • RLW requires change from deciding who was right to what is right. In the world of RLW, it doesn’t matter who comes up with solutions.
  • RLW create pursuing clarity and abstraction of truth. Most people don’t have the discipline or endurance to bear the frustration of pursuing clarity. They just want to get something done.
  • RLW is massive movement from receiving praise to giving it.

To have this Radical Leadership Wisdom means to have a new powerful positive vision in life and be able to see beyond the ordinary. This radical vision when combined with massive action can truly change the world. Now is the time to re-take the word ‘radical’ and use it for new breed of leaders. It’s time for Radical Leadership Wisdom to be at the core of the curriculumSince we can’t simply carry on applying exhausted leadership to our vibrant enterprises, the time of Radical Leadership Education (RLE) has also come. [Ask me how]. It is my experience that RLW and RLE combined with discipline and perseverance, are the most important skills you can have.

Individually, we have one drop of Radical Leadership Wisdom. Together, we are an ocean.

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.

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

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

Less is More

The common phrase ‘Familiarity Breeds Contempt’ is a familiar dictum to many managers and leaders, who have had this concept drilled into them since their earliest days of MBA school and management training. I’ve heard it from family members, teachers and employers. Indeed I am sure you can can recall horror stories about bad managers who lost control of their authority by becoming too familiar with their juniors and people they were meant to be leading.

So a crucial leadership question is, does the familiarity really breed contempt? If it does, how does the leader maintain the perfect balance (the so called Goldilock’s Syndrome) where he/she has to get it just right level of familiarity? Is less more which would offer camaraderie and also avoid the potential contempt by the subordinate? In the first decade of the 20th century, an obscure British journalist came up with a newer version of the phrase. His name was Holbrook Jackson, and he was pretty well known among the journalistic intelligentsia of the time. He said,

Familiarity breeds not contempt, but indifference

The far better known (both at the time and subsequently) Gilbert Keith (G.K.) Chesterton’s had a particular preference for paradox, and was never hospitable to platitudes. Chesterton adds to the Jackson quotation, with an acidic,

But it can breed surprise. Try saying ‘Boots’ ninety times.

Excellent, and worth a try! Benjamin Franklin went further (not in a management sense) and proposed that fish and visitors have something in common. Both begin to stink after 3 days. The present research offers empirical support for Franklin’s quip. The more people learn about others (and anyone who has had houseguests knows all too well how much one can come to know in a short time) the less they like them, on average.

The present neuroscience research shows that although people believe that learning more about others leads to greater liking, more information about others leads, on average, to less liking. It seems ambiguity (i.e. lacking information about another) leads to liking, whereas familiarity—acquiring more information—can breed contempt. This less is more effect is due to the cascading nature of dissimilarity. Once evidence of dissimilarity is encountered, subsequent information is more likely to be interpreted as further evidence of dissimilarity, leading to decreased liking.

The evidence seems to be on the whether familiarity always breeds contempt, is that it depends on a variety of factors. However is seems that familiarity can breed contempt, more often than does not. To give some hard evidence and big data for this theory, Sirota Consulting, they surveyed and looked at employee job satisfaction of 1.2 million employees at 52 companies over 30 Years. According to Sirota’s research there is a significant decline in overall job satisfaction after an employee has been working with an employers for an average of six months or more.

The leaders who always maintained a safe distance with subordinates at all times, so that those employees did not cross the line of respect, earned more respect. It certainly involved non-transparency from leader in various matters, but the show still went on successfully. There were absolutely no complaints, even though the annual raises were poor and performance ratings were below average. The subordinates often praised the leader, and even justified the low raises as not being the leader’s fault (Stockholm syndrome )

It seems the leaders who offered total transparency and camaraderie to their subordinates, often found some of their subordinates being disrespectful and deceitful towards them, despite their good deeds and commitment to employee development and promotion. interestingly there were complaints from employees who always received good raises, but received only one time low raise and below average rating (which was fair and just because of the subordinate’s poor performance).

The 4 things that seem to matter most are (and are regarded as being savvy):

  • Equity – to be treated fairly
  • Achievement – to be proud of the job and company
  • Confidentiality – knowing when not to share
  • Camaraderie – to have good, productive relationships with fellow employees

It always makes sense in keeping the correct and careful balance in maintaining professional relationship between the leader and the subordinate at all times. Socialising with those we lead is to be cautioned, for it can most probably lead to contempt and loss of respect. Nonetheless, the leader can still opt to socialise with subordinates at company functions or special occasions, yet always maintaining the socialisation at arms-length.

In summary there is no doubt that familiarity can breed contempt, but the savvy manager must understand how to develop a working camaraderie without crossing-the-line into revealing personal details.
 The last word and best insight on this Familiarity Breeds Contempt story comes from Mark Twain, who said it most appropriately:

Familiarity breeds contempt. How accurate that is. The reason we hold truth in such respect is because we have so little opportunity to get familiar with it.

Be Amazing Every Day.

For Every Promise, There is Price to Pay.

 

Your clever brain knows when you are going to break a promise long before you are even willing to admit it to yourself. So be careful what you promise people. We make commitments to others and ourselves all the time. We have our personal and our organisations promises to observe. You are not just obliging yourself to keep your promises; other people will hold you to account for them as well. The big question is whether we keep them or break them? There is some new neuroscience research that indicates that there is a pattern, and your brain knows in advance that you will break your promise.

study by Dutch Researcher Manuela Vieth, investigated how the behaviour of other people and one’s own behaviour influences future behaviour. If other people say they trust you, you actually become more trustworthy. If you believe you are trustworthy, you oblige yourself to keep your promises.Just so we are clear, a promise is: a declaration that one will do or refrain from doing something specified; or a legally binding declaration that gives the person to whom it is made a right to expect or to claim the performance or forbearance of a specified act.

When we don’t keep a promise to someone, it communicates to that person that we don’t value him or her. I see it all the time in work and networking situation. They have in fact chosen to place something else ahead of our commitment. Even when we break small promises, others learn that they cannot count on us. This will result (almost always) in an erosion of trust in our relationships (business or personal). More importantly, we are telling ourselves that we don’t value our own word. Researchers in Switzerland discovered that they could predict who would break a promise based on the brain’s reaction during the basic three-stage model of promise making.

  • Stage 1: The Promise

Let’s use a classic example found everyday in the office. You perhaps have told your coworkers that you would absolutely, definitely, help them finish a project. At this initial stage, you haven’t fully decided whether or not you are going to keep or break the promise to your coworkers. Your brain, however, has already registered an emotional conflict because it knows that you don’t really intend on keeping that promise. Because of this, the brain will activate your negative emotional processing centres.

  • Stage 2: Anticipation Phase

Now that you’ve told your coworkers of your promise, you have to wait and see whether or not they will trust you to keep that promise. The anticipation of their response causes you increased stress and cortisol, which of course your brain will register. Your brain is already preparing you for possible negative outcomes and future consequences.

  • Stage 3 Decision Phase

Now you’ve decided to break your promise to your coworkers because you are too busy (or insert any number of excuses). The decision to break a promise promotes a reaction in your brain similar to that of a lie or deception. You will probably feel some guilt and fear over how breaking this promise will affect you. To combat these feelings your brain will remind you of the motivation for breaking the promise by activating your reward-based decision making part of the brain.

It is so easy today with the battleground of social media at our fingertips for someone in the world to rubbish your service or product. Your brand promise can counter any negativity by telling potential clients what your brand stands for and why they should choose you. It is vital you make your personal or business brand consistent, from products and services, strategy and execution, consistency needs to reach all corners of the business. If you are not consistent you will lose credibility, you will look confused and vague to your clients and the impression you will leave them with is that you haven’t been in business very long.

The promises of yesterday are the taxes of today.

-William Lyon MacKenzie

It has never been clearer that we need to embed your brand promise throughout the whole of your organisation. It doesn’t matter whether the promises are personal, or if you are a solopreneur, or an SME: you need to be feel that it is part of everything you deliver and not just a statement that appears on your website.So here is my quick methodology and protocol for what you (or your business) need to do:

1. Make Small Promises You Can Keep: be realistic in your daily commitment. Start small and create a private victory. You can build on this with other small promises and enlarge your victory until you establish healthy habits for your life. Make a promise and keep it.People often dismiss small promises as unimportant, but that is just not true. You don’t call back when you say you will, you don’t repay a loan that’s outstanding, or maybe it just doesn’t seem important to keep a confidence. If you fail to take the minor promises seriously, you destroy trust and damage your reputation. Failing to keep these small promises gives the appearance of being disorganized and irresponsible. You make the other person feel dismissed and unimportant. Conversely, you can build trust by demonstrating that you keep your word even on seemingly inconsequential things.

2. Make it Your Number #1 Priority: don’t let anything get in the way. Following through on a difficult promise not only gives you satisfaction, but also raises the level of respect you receive from others. If you truly want to be successful in life, have better relationships, and advance your career or business, hold promises as sacred agreements, don’t miss deadlines, and make a practice to follow through on your commitments. Don’t make excuses (see Rule 5).

3. Surprise Them and Yourself: make a promise your customers aren’t expecting. Speed and delivery are probably a given for all express transportation companies. Why should your customers work with you rather than someone else? When you are clear about them, wrap your brand promise around these key benefits. Make your brand promises short, simple and direct

4. Write Down Your Promise: keep it somewhere visible at home and at work. Make your promise clear and make them concrete. Make sure that are certain that you will be able to do something before you commit to it. Then be clear on the expectation, action, or result that is agreed to. Then set a firm deadline. Firm promises that are set in stone are more likely to be kept. Never make a promise that you are not sure you can keep.

Every promise fulfilled will help you to associate your name with positivity and trust. Making promises you can keep is instrumental to helping you build and maintain any relationship in life. So, right now make that promise to yourself.

For Every Promise, There is Price to Pay.

Be Amazing Every Day.