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.

Ask Better Questions

Stop asking a dumb questions like, ‘what do you do?’.

Ask better questions. Every day. In my earlier years when I was naive I thought that my success would increase in proportion to the number of business cards I handed out. I handed them out in droves (printers loved it…) but I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t getting any business. After a few years of experience under my belt I realised that it wasn’t the numbers that count, but the quality of relationships that I nurtured.

To be a great networker you must become “you” centred rather than “me” centred. Recognise that people want to talk about themselves more than anything. They are their own favourite subjects. Take advantage of that and learn these 10 questions that will make people feel warm, appreciated, and important.

Zig Ziglar, the famous sales trainer once said,

You can get everything in life you want if you just help enough other people get what they want. 

This is so true. Thanks Mr. Ziglar.

The following are ten questions that Bob Burg, author of the book, “Endless Referrals” gives to help you get to know potential referrers and leave a lasting positive impression. Try using them today and see this amazing thing happen.

You’ll notice something in common with each of these questions. They all centre around the person you are talking to and allows them an opportunity to talk about themselves. Don’t expect to ask your Centre of Influence each of these questions, but do have a few ready when you talk to others. Think of it as a game – watch Brian Walters brilliant explanation…

 

 

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.

 

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

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

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.

A Passion For Customer Service Excellence

A had a meeting last night with the smartest guy in the room. It was a big room too, at the Hoxton Holborn. Boy he knows his stuff. He asked whether I was superman. He could not comprehened someone (me) writing 132 articles in 180 days (let alone reading them) as well as training every day, inspiring thousands of clients, running a business, training 4 restaurants, 2 Hotels and coaching lots of people.The answer is of course no, I am not Clark Kent. I am just living the be amazing every day programme. So my connection (call him Mr T), whom I have the total respect for, asked me to write about something in today’s article.

What is customer service excellence? 

Actually it is is a brilliant, highly complex and difficult question. Except it is very simple. Customer service is just a day in, day out ongoing, never ending, unremitting, persevering, compassionate, type of activity. Watch this first: 3.14 seconds of Tom Peters A Passion For Customers:

 

 

Now think about the last hotel you booked in and had poor service:

Customer service excellence has always been and will always be one of the critical competitive advantages for any business. Richard Whiteley In his popular book, The Customer Driven Company, (1991) emphasises the theme saturation with the voice of the customer as the key to ensuring excellent customer service and consequently a successful and profitable business. Failure to listen and respond to the voice of the customer causes stress, anger and frustration for millions of customers and the ultimate failure of those businesses that are not happily and intimately connected with their customers.

So Mr.T, here are my Seven Excellent Customer Service Commandments

1. Under promise, carefully understate and over deliver. Exceed customer needs and expectations. If customer satisfaction has one sure thing, it’s about exceeding expectations and how well it works. People like to be pleasantly surprised, within limits. Build relationships with your customers. In a highly competitive service environment, meeting customer expectations may not be enough. Successful companies strive to not just meet, but to exceed customer needs and expectations. Nothing impresses a customer more than an employee who goes, “above and beyond the call of duty” to ensure total customer satisfaction. Today, customers expect something more than this traditional customer service. They not only expect, they demand exceptional customer service. They are particularly pleased when businesses exceed their expectations, show that they care about them personally, and employees work swiftly and effectively on their behalf.

2. Ask the right questions.Spend a lot of time talking to customers face to face. You’d be amazed how many companies don’t listen to their customers. Never stop learning about your customers. This means really listening. Often, the only thing a customer wants is to feel understood. Learning how to listen effectively is not a widely held skill. However, it can be taught, and listening training is a common feature of many customer service courses. Know your customers so that needs can be anticipated. This best practice requires that owners and employees constantly ask questions, collect, analyze and use data. Feedback from the customer is a source of constant business renewal and adjustment. As the business environment changes and as customer needs shift, continuous feedback allows a business to adjust and change accordingly. The critical question is, “What do my customers need, and how can I best provide it?”The purpose of a business is to create a customer who creates customers. ~ Shiv Singh

3. Maintain happy employees. Remembering that happy employees make happy customers is a critical bit of advice for every chief executive. Happy employees mean happy customers. In most businesses, especially service oriented businesses, the employees’ attitudes and behaviours determine the quality of customer service. Herb Kelleher, former Chief Executive Officer of Southwest Airlines, argues,

Put employees first and customers second.

At first this may seem contrary to the notion of having a company that is customer focused. But, if we adhere to the notion of a happy employee makes a happy customer, then this makes sense. Southwest Airlines has been successful in a very competitive business (see / read again my blog on 10x companies by Collins on Great by Choice) Southwest has instilled a spirit of entrepreneurship in all its employees. The philosophy is that Southwest Airlines is in the people business and it just happens to run an airline. Companies that consider they are in the people business are companies that provide excellent customer service. Tom Peters, (1999), says that we should make work fun. In a company that makes work fun, employees look forward to their job where they are valued and appreciated.

4. Create and use service standardsYour customer doesn’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. ~ Damon Richards. Successful companies that provide excellent customer service clearly define the service standards that are essential for business success. Service standards serve two purposes. First, they are a powerful force for shaping the image that your customers have of you. Secondly, they are a great tool for measuring how well each employee in your business meets the levels of service, which are essential for your business success. Service standards should be measurable because you can manage and train for things that of excellence in customer service.

5. Have a written plan for ensuring excellence in customer service.

This one, Mr T I am always amazed by – organisations that don’t have a plan. A written plan helps to ensure a total organisational culture you can measure. Especially critical is developing a mission and visionary plan that stresses the importance of customer service. The mission statement for the customer-oriented company clearly puts the customer in the spotlight. If a company cannot clearly identify the customer within its mission, the mission statement does not contribute toward the goal of customer service. The visionary plan should be developed among all employees with leadership from the owner or chief executive officer (CEO). It should have a limited number of goals that powerfully speak to the direction of the business and its emphasis on customer service. It’s recommended that not more than five to seven goals be developed. Customer service may be incorporated into one of the major goals or it may be inherent but clearly recognisable in all the goals. Having a plan in writing and frequently making reference to the plan is a way to put customer service in the forefront of a company’s business plan. This written plan should be based on customer input. The customer should be involved in the development of the plan, and it should be continuously updated and adjusted, as customer needs and expectations change in the changing environment.

6. Smash the barriers to excellence and adopt Excellence, always.

Here is a simple but powerful rule: always give people more than what they expect to get. ~ Nelson Boswell. 

It seems to be the natural tendency for organisations and businesses to develop a bureaucracy over time. The longer a business has been in existence, the more rules, policies, and regulations it seems to have in the rulebook. Frequently, these rules, regulations and policies are barriers to customer service excellence. Employees must be freed of the shackles of too many rules, too many regulations, too much paperwork, and overly restricted communication channels. Only then, will employees be free to truly focus on the customer and provide excellent customer service. The employees themselves are the best data source for identifying and eliminating these barriers, but the customers too can be an excellent source of this critical information.

7. Offer your customers options. If you can’t satisfy your customers needs and expectations, the next best thing is to offer options for other sources of service, even if it is a competitor. This shows the customer that you truly care about them and not just in selling your service. Good customer service is made, not born. Most companies find that employees require training to provide good customer service. Some of the areas in which employees often get help from customer service training include:

Then and only then can you walk the talk at the top. It is critical that the owner or chief executive officer of the business demonstrates a genuine concern and desire to provide excellent customer service. Tom Peter’s called it MBWA (managing by walking around). Nice.

So, Mr T, my 7 rules for Customer Excellence can be found in companies that exemplify a decision to do only excellent work.These practices are not just something the company does, these practices are the company. Every employee in the company must understand and carry out these practices on a daily basis. Hiring people with the right attitudes and keeping them constantly trained, rewarded and recognized for demonstrating the best of these twelve practices is the way that companies achieve success. It is essential that the top person in the organisation, CEO or owner also demonstrate these practices; not just among external customers, but among those internal customers, especially employees.

Get closer than ever to your customers. So close that you tell them what they need well before they realise it themselves. – Steve Jobs

I am no Superman Mr T. I amazing, every single day.

Be Amazing Every Day.

Secret World: Your Brain gets Fooled Again

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Three people check into a hotel. Sounds like the beginning of a joke. Well in a way it is, as they clearly don’t, they use Airbnb and get a really good deal. Unless, like me you try and book a room in Edinburgh in August when nothing is as it seems. All the advertised rates for booking are suddenly ‘unavailable’ when you book (because of demand for the world’s largest Arts Festival) and therefore they are doubled or triple the advertised price. Particularly annoying as I am doing a brilliant 4 week show there this August.

But imagine they did check in to a hotel and they got to pay the standard rack rate of £300 to the manager and go to their room (let assume there was no room tax or VAT and the manager accepted cash). The manager finds out a bit later that the special daily room rate is actually only £250 and gives £50 to the bellboy to return. On the way to the room, the bellboy reasons that £50 would be difficult to share among three people, so he pockets £20 and gives £10 to each person. Now, each person paid £100 and got back £10. So they paid £90 each, totalling £270. The bellboy has £20, totalling £290. Where is the remaining £10 pounds gone Who cares? Well if you do, the answer is at the end.

Your brain is so easily tricked that the retail and hospitality industries use this processing error for good and less ethical reasons. Tricks begin as soon as you walk into a shop or hotel, or are handed the menu… whether we like it or not, they playing brain and neuroscience games with us.

People aren’t rational thinkers because our brains takes short cuts all the time. In truth, research shows that a huge amount of decision-making is actually based on subconscious factors. An example of these subconscious factor comes from smells; they can transport us back to powerful and emotional memories from the past more effectively than sounds. The theory behind this has been around a while. French writer Marcel Proust, who in his novel À la recherche du temps perdu (In search of lost time – yes I have read it) describes a character vividly recalling long-forgotten memories from his childhood after smelling a tea-soaked madeleine biscuit. It is a well known fact that your memory and smells are tied closely together and there is a brilliant paper on this called ‘Odour-evoked Autobiographical Memories: Psychological Investigations of Proustian Phenomena’. Let’s call it (for simplicity) the Proust effect. It is used across retail, hotels and restaurants. Companies know this all too well and make use of scents and sounds to jolt your brain into liking or enjoying something. The true secret of successfully marketing a product is to pair a store or a product with a specific scent. If you feel at home in a store, you are more likely to buy.The first time you notice a new type of scent you will subconsciously connect this scent to an item or a person. After that the scent will trigger the response that you experienced to that person or item and hopefully a happy response.

Lets take a simple example: M&M’s don’t actually smell – try it next time you buy a packet. M&M’s are as I am sure you know, colourful button-shaped candies produced by Mars, Incorporated. M&M’s originated in the United States in 1941, and are now sold in as many as 100 countries. The company’s longest-lasting slogan reflects this encasing and sealed in essence:

Melts in your mouth, not in your hand.

But the famous M&M World Store in London (35,000 square feet store selling M&Ms products and merchandise is the largest candy store in the world) has a surprisingly strong chocolate scent when you walk in. You would expect that wouldn’t you? You want to feel like you are entering Willy Wonka’s chocolate lab when you go there. But then you look around and realise that all their wares are prepackaged. And you realise that the strong smell of chocolate is being sprayed at you with a vengeance. And your happy chocolate bubble bursts.

The Holiday Inn hotels chain has been using scents combined with the right kind of music to invite you to stay longer in their rooms, lobbies and bars. The company uses a rose scent for weddings and a leather-based scent for business meetings and similar functions. Even the chlorine pool smell comes from a bucket of powder that is added to the air system in the mornings! Should you have something to celebrate, the Holiday Inn will make your party smell fruity! This type of sensory marketing is used by many hotel chains.

This leads to an odd unintended consequence in hotels. Your glasses (on the fridge, mini bar or shelf of most hotels) have a lemony flavour. According to industry expert Jacob Tomsky, it’s Pledge lemon furniture spray. Jacob should know, he has worked on the front lines of hotels for more than a decade, starting as a lowly valet in New Orleans and ultimately landing at a front desk in New York City. He’s also the author of Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality and a man with some hospitality secrets to spill.He says that furniture polish is sprayed on a thick white base, rub it in, and you’ll be face-to-face with a spotless, streak-free mirror. The housekeepers kept this move behind closed doors along with another dirty secret he didn’t discover until he walked in on cleaners with Pledge in one hand and a minibar glass in the other. Keeping those glasses clean-looking was also part of the job. So the next time you put a little tap water into the glass and wonder why it has a pleasant lemon aftertaste, it’s because you just took a shot of Pledge.

Another neuromarketing experience that you should know (but probably have never thought about) it that you go into a restaurants or hotels knowing exactly what they want to order or how much they want to spend, and we can be influenced by all sorts of things that we’re not aware of. It appears there is a growing industry at the centre of all this is, the humble menu. You might think that the restaurant menu merely tells you what items are available in a certain establishment. Actually, it is a very sophisticated piece of marketing and advertising. In fact, it’s the only piece of advertising that restaurant owners can be certain their customers will read. As a result, restaurants invite in specialised menu consultants (people like me) whose job it is to lay out a menu that will persuade you to spend more money than you’d expected. I know it is all my fault and I apologise.

You may have noticed that increasingly the prices on menus no longer employ the Pound sign (£) (or Dollar $ Sign) or even any evidence of pence. Where once a steak might have cost you £16.00 now its price is stated as ‘16′ no full stop or pence. Have you noticed this happening? well it’s not just happening in the high end restaurants. I have found there are no pound signs at Carluccio’s, Byron, Giraffe or Cafe Rouge either. This is not a coincidence. A study by Cornell University’s Centre For Hospitality Research in America found that when, in a similar move, dollar signs were left off a menu, sales increased by eight per cent. For that same reason, you now never see dots leading the eye from the description of the item to the price.

Why might an item on the menu have a box around it? It’s not because it’s a dish the chef is particularly proud of, it’s because it earns a high profit for the restaurant.Alternatively, the menu might use other methods to draw our attention: an item in a different colour; an accompanying illustration; a different typeface.

Professor Charles Spence, a psychologist at Oxford University, is the co-author of The Perfect Meal: The Multisensory Science Of Food And Dining, and alert to the techniques in play. ‘I was in the burger restaurant Byron the other day,’ he says. ‘The menu is all in black and white, except for one item, which is highlighted in bright red. And it’s their most expensive item.’ Professor Spence says that people are also likely to spend more if menus and especially wine lists are heavy to handle. Even the use of hypnotic language words that menus now use (sorry again – my fault) can persuade us to splash out more.

If you want to learn more about the is exciting field, I suggest you take a look at the very brilliant Kate Nightingale’s Style Psychology site. She really is the expert on how you can use the human brain for good in the retail sector.

 

Oh and to put you out of your misery about the missing £10 (or should I say ‘10′ Count how much money each person started with and how much each person ends up with. Each person paid £90, totalling £270. The manager has £250 and the bellboy has £20. The bellboy’s £20 should be added to the manager’s £250 or subtracted from the guests’ £270, not added to the guests £ 270. Simple really.

Now who has a nice place in Edinburgh for me to rent in August at a fair price?

Be Amazing Every Day.

The 3 Most Powerful Brain Words

Fah Fah Fah.

Yes these 3 simple words (or sounds) are, in fact, amazing. I know that might be a stretch and maybe a bit difficult to absorb at first; but please bear with me. It is not just that I have been away, (although I have just had a brilliant short break, skiing the powder in the French Alps); or that I have been eating some amazing Michelin Star food (at the very brilliant Ferme de Montagne, in Les Gets, France); or even talking to some super bright people about the meaning of life. Oh no.

Nor have I gone completely off the rails (I hope not), not even with the ‘dread’ of a return to work (because I really love my work). However, on arrival back in the UK today, I immediately wanted to go back skiing again. Greedy maybe, but you know that our eyes are often described as bigger than our stomachs; the same may be true of the need for better (and more frequent) hospitality trips, extreme pleasure experiences, conversation and great company. You see we are so completely dependent on our 27 + senses, every moment of the day, that we totally forget how poor and easily mistaken they can be. Yes, read this if you have any remaining thoughts of there being 5 senses.

Our multiple senses aren’t just giving a flawed view of what’s going on in the world; they’re affected by what’s going on elsewhere, by your pre-programming and by complex sensory interactions. Your reality is in fact cobbled together from a bunch of different parts of your brain working in conjunction. It’s a bit like a crazy ski lift queue (or line in the US) full of insane snowboarders, from different countries, all going in different directions: trust me, that is pretty messy. In fact, I am sure your brain does it’s best to convince you that it is working just fine, despite the reality of it being a messy, chaotic place.

Let’s take food as an example of the chaos and confusion that exists in your brain. Many people have experienced the following parental statement: You can’t leave the dinner table until you finish your food (or think of the starving children and other versions exist). That common parental mantra turns out to have left a mark.You may know that if you are offered varying amounts of food on a plate, you will end up eating more if there’s more food on the plate. This can happen regardless of how hungry you are. We eat more ice cream if we use a larger spoon than if we use a smaller spoon. According to new research, adults from many different cultures around the world typically finish almost all of the food that’s on their plates. It may make you a member of of the Clean Plate Club – you eat pretty much everything you put on your plate. The new Cornell University study shows that the average adult eats 92% of whatever he or she puts on his/her plate. Brian Wansink Ph.D., author of the forthcoming book, Slim by Design, says, If you put it on your plate, it’s going into your stomach.

Wansink and co-author Katherine Abowd Johnson analyzed 1179 diners and concluded that we’re a Clean Plate Planet. Although diners were analysed in 7 developed countries, the US, Canada, France, Taiwan, Korea, Finland, and the Netherlands, the results were nearly identical. If we serve it, we’ll eat it regardless of gender or nationality.

A further study finds that hungry people see food-related words more clearly than people who’ve just eaten. The study, published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, finds that this change in vision happens at the earliest, perceptual stages, before higher parts of the brain have a chance to change the messages coming from the eyes. The research 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.

Not convinced? Ok, so here comes the most amazing demonstration of how to confused your brain becomes by just 2 of those 27 senses.

Your Eyes Can Make You Hear Different Words.

When you hear someone talk, the whole process is normally pretty straight forward and I am sure you are pretty confident you won’t be fooled.The sound comes out of the other person’s mouth, it travels into your ears and you just heard what they said….this must be so, because you experience it every day. If your hearing works fine, what could possibly go wrong?

The very short answer is your eyes are playing a deep and powerful trick on you. You see, vision is the most dominant sense in humans, and that means that what your eyes are seeing will sometimes override what your ears are hearing. So let me prove it in this extraordinary clip from a brilliant documentary on BBC2 called Horizon: Is Seeing Believing?

You will see (and hear) a guy saying bah bah bah over and over. Afterward, he changes his tune to fah fah fah … or so your eyes would have you believe. In reality, the audio never changed, only the picture did. That is, the voice is still saying bah, but since it’s now dubbed over a picture of the same guy pronouncing fah, your brain actually changes what you’re hearing so that it doesn’t conflict with what you’re seeing. If you close your eyes or look away, fah automatically goes back to being bah. This illusion is called the McGurk effect, and even knowing know full well what’s going on, you can’t get your ears to hear the correct sound. The McGurk effect tends to be minimised when you’re interacting with familiar faces, but it gets worse if you’re dealing with strangers. Things like the way the person is dressed or even what they’re carrying can influence the words you think you hear them say.

So all this research indicates that our perceptions increase toward items that our body wants or needs. But how does this relate to hospitality and my need for another holiday?

Well the simple answer is, it is very complex.

What really motivates people to want to travel, go to a posh restaurants or spend more money on goods and services is driven by internal (old) programmes, powerful external stimuli and by conflicting patterns and hierarchies within the brain.

So if ‘food hunger’ enhances our senses toward food, what does our selection of attractions tell us about what we are lacking, or hungry for, in our day to day lives? Because that is what is guiding our attention to travel magazine, TV shows and advertisements. While I was bashing the new powder snow, what were the things that motivated me to eat at the best restaurant? Why did I seek fine minds to discuss neuroscience with? What do these and many other choices that we make, say about our motivations and needs? What further adds to the improbably hard equation to solve, is why are these so different from one person to the next?

These are the kinds of questions that are getting me (and others) excited. By seeking new clues and answers from a variety of fields we might get closer to the secret of human decision making. If we can understand this powerful mechanism then the following 3 words make perfect sense,

Bah Bah Bah

Be Amazing Every Day.