When will the Extraverts ever learn?

Last week I had a meeting with the Head of Organisational Development in a large public sector organisation.  I’d never been to their smart Headquarters before, so my genial and outgoing host enthusiastically showed me around.  It wasn’t long before we found ourselves in a room which I think was called “Creativity Zone” or something like that.

This is Google's.

This is Google’s.

It had funky irregular shaped seating, soft toys to play with, a big blowup plastic desert island and strips of flashing lights.  There was even a white toy monkey sitting on top of the projector.  It was brightly lit, a bit like being in a McDonald’s, and clearly it was intended to stimulate alternative thinking.

I found myself asking what sort of person this room would appeal to.  As a trainer you quickly learn that you can’t please all the people all the time, so how to find a good compromise is a consideration which often pops into your head when you’re sitting with a fellow learning professional.  We quickly concluded that the room was designed by Extraverts, and would appeal to them far more than it would to Introverts.

Invite an Introvert to join in a “creativity session”, probably involving a group brainstorm, in a room like this, and they will run away screaming (mentally, if not physically).  The brightness, the flashiness, the whole mental noisiness of the place would, as I understand it, be a complete turn off.

So how do you unlock the creative genius inside the 50% or so of the population that has an Introversion preference?  In a way, you do the opposite of the “Creativity Zone” approach.

Here’s what I’ve learnt over the years:

  • Give them a chance to think by themselves
  • Recognise that they find solitude a catalyst for innovation
  • Don’t expect them to get excited, talk fast, be outgoing, get all “jazzed up”.

Give them time to think about the problem in advance of any creativity session.  Design processes for sharing ideas which do not require them to do it face to face (eg write them down and submit independently).

There is undoubtedly a bias towards Extraversion in the workplace and arguably in society as a whole.  Too many of our processes were designed by gobby Extraverts, without considering how to involve the Introverts without pointing a finger at them and shouting “what do you think?”  They have such a great contribution to make in developing new ideas.  Look at how helpful all this is:

“It’s not that I’m so smart.  It’s that I stay with problems longer.”

“It’s not that I’m so smart. It’s that I stay with problems longer.”

•Better at regulating excitement, and sticking to a plan

•Less likely to take risk or be impulsive.

•Less likely to give up, and more likely to work accurately

•Ask ‘what if?’, not ‘what is?’ (Extroverts)

•Know how to truly focus to generate innovation

•Patient, serious, committed.


What might you need to change to allow more room for your Introvert colleagues?  Are you guilty of designing processes which suit Extraversion only?

Let’s finish with Susan Cain’s TED talk, in which she explores the world of the Introvert as brilliantly described in her book “Quiet.  The power of Introverts in a world which can’t stop talking.”



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Posted in Creativity and Innovation, Personality types | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The joy of relearning

I have recently taken up playing the church organ again.  I studied it from the age of 13 (when my legs were long enough to reach the pedal keyboard), won an organ scholarship to Oxford, studied music for 3 years, and then went to work for a brewery.  Ahem.  I’ve been playing off and on ever since, but not for the last 8 years or so.  Having moved house recently and started to put down some roots, I have thrown my organ playing hat into the ring and am gently getting back into it (the ring).  I am relearning, and it’s giving me a real buzz.

This is Simon Preston, sitting at the Westminster Abbey organ.  He awarded me the scholarship.  Top man.

This is Simon Preston, sitting at the Westminster Abbey organ. He awarded me the scholarship. Top man.

On Saturday I tried out the organ at our parish church.  It has been recently restored (a mere £75,000 worth), and is a wonderful instrument,  All the power you could wish for, a beautiful sound, and an easy action (so your fingers don’t get worn out).  It inspired me to dig out some of the more challenging stuff I learnt years ago, and as I was hacking through it I started to notice something.

Each time I played a piece I hadn’t played for years, it was a sort of “for old times’ sake” rendition – fairly inaccurate and clumsy, albeit capturing the spirit of the piece.  Then when I played it again, maybe a tad slower and with more conscious effort on my part, it started to come together much better than I remember it doing so before, when I played it regularly.  I started to notice things that must have escaped me for years;  for instance, in Bach’s  Chorale Prelude BWV680 ‘Wir glauben all an einen Gott’ (‘Giant Fugue‘) he introduces a 5th part just before the final pedal entry, which adds to the sense of climax at the end.  How could I have not spotted that after playing it so many times years ago?

Here’s the point (“At last!”, I hear you say): I’ve got a funny feeling that if I put enough time into it, I might end up being able to play this stuff better than I used to, when I had youthfulness, flexible fingers and a pretty reasonable technique built out of practising for over an hour per day.  I certainly feel as if I am able to understand the music better now, and appreciate what is going on better than I used to.  Maybe it’s because I am thinking more slowly about it, and I realise the value of doing things well if it all.

Balliol Chapel organ

Balliol Chapel organ

I find that an exciting prospect.  Maybe some really fulfilling creativity is awaiting me, if I’m prepared to put the time in (which I am).  Some slightly creaky finger joints and one or two aches in the leg area should be no barrier to some half decent performances in the fullness of time.  I didn’t expect that.

So if I can relearn something from years ago (we are talking nearly 40 years since I was at my “peak”), and end up better at it, what else could I relearn that might offer similar rewards?  What about all those books I read at school and never really got to grips with?

What might this mean in the business world?  How many careers have developed in a particular direction because skills have lapsed?  Might the person who used to be a great team leader but has since moved into a individual contributor role have some great people management and coaching skills to revisit?  Could the creative flair in the marketing executive be rekindled in the Marketing Director some 20 years later?

I reckon at least 50% of the behavioural skills training I deliver is relearning.  People know this stuff, they have just lost sight of it.  If they’re prepared to put the effort in, and give it some time and an opportunity to practice, they can be, I would argue, way more effective when they apply these skills than when they first tried them.

So what skills have you allowed to slip away, and how about polishing them up again?

Footnote; when I learnt that I had won an organ scholarship I thought I had better build myself an organ repertoire, so started practising for between 3 and 4 hours per day.  This punishing regime had certain side effects:  my fingers used to literally ache by the end of a session, but also I developed what I suppose you might call “organist’s bottom”, from repeated movement up and down the wooden bench.  Just as John Lennon once famously complained of “blisters on my fingers”, I had developed “blisters on my arse”.   There is no known treatment for this other than to stop practising so hard.

Posted in Life Skills, Personal Development | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

How to get people to remember something for life.

It was 6am on a freezing January morning.  We were standing on the bridge in total darkness, shouting at each other.  Shouting because the River Dart was in full spate, roaring only a few feet below us.

Looks innocent enough here, doesn't it?

Looks innocent enough here, doesn’t it?

We had been given the brief.  “Get one of your team over the side of the bridge, under it, and back up the other side.  He has to remain attached to a safety rope throughout the exercise.  Everything you need is in the van.”

We were a disaster.  We spent an hour coming up with ideas and then shooting them down.  “That will never work”.  We used safety as a cover up for our fear.  Never even got the stuff out of the van.

When we debriefed afterwards we got the dressing down of our lives.  A bunch of useless ditherers, not an ounce of Leadership between us.

Two days later, on the same Leadership course, I found myself deep underground in a pothole.  A group of six of us, plus a leader at the front and one bringing up the rear.  Somehow I got split away from the group.  Their voices faded into the distance, and I realised I was alone.  The battery on my headlamp stated to go weak, but I could see that ahead of me was a small hole, with a pool of water at the bottom of it.  I realised that to get through it would require me to put my head underwater and push through whilst holding my breath.  I either had to do it or sit there whimpering whilst they came back to get me.  I did it.

I remember the rest of the week in similar detail (it was 23 years ago, by the way).

Not me.  Not cold enough.

Not me. Not cold enough.

The cold dormitories, the early starts every day, the feeling of putting on wet clothes every morning.  I don’t like swimming much, and I remember the kayaking exercise very well.  They made you get into it on the river bank, and launch yourself in.  I was saying to myself “Whatever you do, don’t capsize when you launch.”  I launched, and ten seconds later found myself upside down in freezing water, my head actually in a nice rich layer of mud.  “Two options here, buddy.  Wait for help, or get out, quickly.”

I got out.

How come I can remember that week in such vivid detail?  How come it is by far the most memorable training I have experienced in a career full of it?

I think I know the answer.  It’s because it was so emotional.  We were scared, exhilarated, proud, angry, embarassed, in varying degrees off and on throughout the whole week.  It was THE emotional roller coaster of a course, and as I say, I’ve never forgotten it.

I’m not suggesting that we all have to get cold and wet in order to remember things,  but it does maybe explain why so much “stuff” washes over us and never makes any impact.  Too much corporate communication is sterile, bereft of emotion, meaningless.  If we do not connect with the emotions in some way, we shouldn’t be surprised when our audience shrugs its shoulders and moves on.

Here’s a little exercise to prove the point.  Close your eyes (not yet, when you finish reading this, otherwise you won’t know what to do!), and let yourself go back in your mind to the best holiday you ever had.  Ask yourself what you can see, hear, feel, smell.  What time is it?  What’s the temperature?  Who are you with?  How are you feeling?  Let your brain colour in the picture for you for a moment or two.

Right, now ask yourself what you were doing last Thursday.  Is that a bit more of a struggle?  Why do you remember the holiday in such vivid detail?  Because it was emotional (you were probably happy).

Action for the week:  add more emotion into your communication.  Let go a bit.  Be more real, more human.

What’s the most memorable moment been for you on any training course you’ve been on?  What emotions were at play?  Let’s see if my theory is correct.

Posted in Communication, Leadership Skills | Tagged , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Gorillas (and monkeys) in the mist

This week I have asked an old friend, Orlando Kimber, to write a guest Blog for us.  Orlando is a marketing specialist, and last week he and I were discussing some common dysfunctionalities we come across working with our clients.  It prompted him to put pen to paper so he could organise his thoughts (one of the many reasons for being a blogger!).

When you work as a consultant with many different kinds of companies, you come across all sorts of ideas and structures. Tech companies can be so fast-moving that their wheels drop off at regular intervals, whereas state-owned organizations can make glaciers look hyperactive.

Regardless of their size, style or industry, one feature is almost universally shared amongst sales and marketing teams: confusion about exactly how they’re meant to get from A to B.

Goals – particularly next quarter’s sales target – are often clearly described, but without much of a clue as to how to attain them. It’s the “I’ll shut the bear in the cabin and you can skin him” approach, also known as “I don’t do detail”. Couple this disconnection with ‘stretch goals’ and human nature and the result is a less-than-ideal working environment.

arm-wrestle1One survey tactfully puts it this way:

87 per cent of sales and marketing teams use negative language to describe one another.

The very few companies with genuinely exciting products or services, ambitious plans, strong management and the confidence of their financiers, have been noble exceptions to this. A good example was Sky Television during the development of both analogue and digital multichannel TV.

Although the management had a conventional structure they described themselves as “a board of one” in deference to the architect of their fortunes, Rupert Murdoch.

Out of my roster of perhaps a 100 clients over 25 years, only five could be said to have been highly focussed and fully functional before I started working with them; but it doesn’t have to be this way…

When invited to collaborate with a global telecoms outfit, I was introduced to the executive team. Jim, the super-confident, well groomed and extrovert sales director said to me “Of course, the biggest obstacle to us getting the sales is the marketing team.” He meant it.

gorillaThe sales team were all regarded – even the women – as the silverback gorillas striding through the forest of open plan desks, whereas the marketing team were the monkeys scurrying about pointlessly, with a scant budget and no autonomy. “It’s because they’ll waste money” said Sunil, the highly educated fast-track MD.

The consequences of this all-too-familiar scenario are a breakdown of trust within teams, so that communication (both inside and outside the organization) becomes almost impossible. People feel isolated and at best they make up their own solutions to problems without reference to anyone else. At the same time, they may have pressure from around the company to contribute to meetings with worryingly important names like ‘product roadmap’ and ‘three-year forecasting’, without a clue as to what they’re talking about, or the real needs of the team. Result? A feeling of inadequacy, desperation and futility! This inevitably leads to people looking for better opportunities elsewhere.

Then something changed at the telecoms company. The board recognized that although they had ridiculously talented and well-equipped players, a killer product and a well known name in the industry, they weren’t getting results. Once we had buy-in at the highest level of the company, we were able to bring both the gorillas and the monkeys together to share ideas on some specific areas of business:

  • The value of the company to prospects
  • How the prospects perceived the company’s products and services
  • How we could use resources in the most effective way
  • How to make clients feel connected to the company
  • How to coordinate and synchronize sales opportunities with brilliant marketing. 

We all recognized that the solutions to these issues spanned way beyond the next quarter, but that they were also vital to doing our job well from day to day. An awareness dawned that we were united in our desire to get it right, believed we could succeed and that the results would be highly beneficial to both the company and ourselves. The result was not only a clear agreement of how to reach the sales targets but also increased confidence, truckloads of trust, good humour and a sense of teamwork.

The perspective had shifted from ‘Me and Them’ to ‘Us’, and that made all the difference.

All the KPI’s and goals in the world won’t unlock great performance. The key is to find a meaning in one’s work that goes beyond the pay packet and includes both clients and colleagues. It’s counter intuitive to have long term strategy workshops when the business wants “Cash Now”, but in my experience that’s what works. Every time.

Orlando Kimber mugshotOrlando Kimber has over 35 years experience as a managing director, consultant and interim, with a particular interest in helping companies make more money, avoid wasting cash and enabling people to have more joy in their work. He’s achieved this with over 100 companies and public services worldwide.  He now offers writing services for business.

General interest articles by Orlando can be found at www.flightsofthought.com 

email: orlando@knektcommunications.com

Posted in Management Skills, Teamwork | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

How to unlearn something you’re great at.

It’s hard being me, at times.  I expect it’s the same for you (being you, that is).  One of my biggest frustrations is that there are certain things I do again and again which I know from bitter experience are going to cause problems.  Despite analysing them and working out a better way of doing them,  in the heat of the moment I let myself down.  And have done so for years.

To give you an example (and it also happens to be what I think is my biggest Achilles Heel):

I simply do things too fast.

In my eagerness to get things off my mental “To Do” list, I rush in headlong, and it lets me down big time, again and again and again.  It happened last week.  The brief was to remove a large shrub from the garden.  My wife had disappeared for the day, so I resolved to get it done before I started work so I could say “dah dah!” when she got back.

Not me.  That spade isn't big enough.

Not me. That spade isn’t big enough.

Out came the spade and the pickaxe (large, heavy tools, which produce quick and gratifying results, are popular items in my shed):  about one minute into the job I feel a twinge, and that is my back gone.  I spent the next 4 days shuffling around the house, hardly able to sit, stand, lie down even (kneeling was just about workable), popping painkillers and trying not to join my wife’s regular fits of belly laughter (because they hurt physically as well as emotionally).

I don’t have to go back far to find the same problem in a different guise:  when the TV stopped working, I checked the signal booster light, saw it was off, and replaced it with a newer version immediately off Amazon, only to discover the replacement wouldn’t fit etc etc.  6 days later, after several Amazon deliveries and returns, we ascertain that in fact the fuse on the original item had blown and needed to be replaced.

bull-china-shopNow, I know I have suffered from this “bull in a china shop” syndrome for years.  Probably inherited it, who knows.  It’s all my mother’s fault.

My question is this (and I am speaking here as someone who coaches and trains others in changing the way they do things, so I am somewhat invested in the correct answer):

“Why are some things so inextricably linked with the way you are as to be almost impossible to modify?”

I can think of so many changes I have made over the years, it’s not as if I can’t learn.  I say less in meetings than I used to, I ask more questions when I negotiate, I ask for something in return when I make concessions, I pause more when I present, I always look over my shoulder when I change lanes on motorways, and I spend longer before overtaking on country roads (ever since I drove under a lorry turning right, driving at 60 mph).

So, I can do it (thankfully) – we all can.  How come I (and maybe you’re the same) seem not to be able to change the most obvious things that are not helpful?  The benefits are there, staring me in the face.  If I slowed down a bit, had a think before charging in, I would save time, money, my health even.  What on earth is stopping me?  Please don’t tell me it’s a man thing!  I know at least 3 men who read the instructions on their new chainsaw before using, or check that all the parts are there before they build the flatpack bedroom wardrobe.

I don’t have an answer (otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this article, which by the way has taken me 20 minutes to write, and was started without any sort of plan, objective or structure in mind).  But I’d love to know your thoughts on this.  And also some reassurance that I’m not alone.  Please tell me you have the same frustrations.  Lie a bit if you need to.


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© Ivonne Wierink – Fotolia.com

Posted in Life Skills, Personal Development, Time Management | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

What are the Top 5 mistakes a salesperson can make?

I’m planning to make a film about Selling.  Not, you’ll be relieved to know, about how TO sell, but the opposite – how NOT to.  Can you imagine how much criticism I’d come in for if I tried to make a film showing the perfect salesman?  Mind you, that thought doesn’t seem to have stopped hundreds of writers and would-be video stars from having go, does it?

Jack Brymer

Jack Brymer

I once met a gentleman named Jack Brymer, who was principal clarinettist in the London Symphony orchestra for decades.  He was running a Masterclass, using the Adagio from Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto as the case study, and was asked the question “What does it take to produce a perfect performance?” of this wonderful piece.    I’ve never forgotten his answer:

“There is no such thing as a perfect performance.  All you can do is strive to get closer to perfection.  You will never know how much further you can go, but the thing is to keep getting closer.”

So, how foolish to try and model perfection in sales, for others to emulate!  Far easier, and much more fun, to produce a video showing the classic cockups that people make, and let people try and spot them.

My colleague Spencer Holmes and I have been developing a set of such videos over the last year or so, and we are just contemplating this subject.  So I am using my trusty Blog readership to help me out with making a list of the worst gaffes you can make when you sell.  I’ve been thinking this through for the last hour or two, and come up with this as my top 5 (in no particular order):

  • Interrupting – so you don’t find out what the customer is trying to tell you
  • Not asking good and plentiful questions – so you don’t know what world the customer inhabits
  • Closing too soon – so you don’t widen the conversation and explore other opportunities
  • Not checking out the customer – naively expecting every conversation to lead to a budget
  • Being inflexible – expecting your style to be fit for purpose for every conversation instead of flexing it to be more like the person you are talking to.

What would your list be?  Do please share.

I’ve perpetrated some, if not all of these over the years, I suspect.  I can also think of some horrendous social gaffes that aren’t on this list, because we can take “social flatulence” as kind of a given:  just don’t do it!

£20 a pop.  Bargain!

£20 a pop. Bargain!

There was the time when as head waiter I asked someone “Would you like a cigar sir – a Montecristo Number One perhaps?” and the man sitting next to him said “Excuse me, that’s my wife!”  Shudder.

I remember (I’m cringeing here) selling a publican so much wine on our Christmas drinks promotion that we had to send a brewery vehicle in January to take the lot back.  It only just fitted on the dray.

(I still won the Salesman’s prize for best performance against target on the promotion.  Double cringe).

Oh yes, then there was me trying to convince a group in a training room that some hairbrained of mine was going to work.  “If you like the idea, let’s see thumbs up”, said I.  “But I haven’t got any thumbs!” said the chap sitting at the end of the table.  Gulp.  Thank goodness he and the rest of us belly laughed our way out of that one.

There you are, I’ve told you mine, now it’s your turn.  Let’s call this week “please share” week:  your list of the Top 5 Sales Gaffes, and any special sales anecdotes that you have either perpetrated or been the victim of.

Watch this space, the video will be out before summer.

We’ll finish today with a real treat:  Jack Brymer playing that exquisite piece of Mozart.  it doesn’t get much better than this.  But we still can’t call it perfection.

Posted in Life Skills, Management Skills, Personal Development | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments