In Workspace, No One Can Hear You Scream


The tongue-in-cheek title of this article is a reference to the tagline of the classic movie ‘Alien’. Apart from a couple of iconic horror-ish scenes, much of the drama of that movie is suspense – long periods of nothing with intermittent interactions with the unexpected. That sounds a lot like office workspaces – long periods of nothing then getting quite startled by the smell of whatever the last person cooked inside the microwave. And, in the dystopian future of the alien franchise and in most offices, everything is done for the benefit of the company.

We’re regaled in LinkedIn posts and magazine articles about the sexy workplaces, usually in Silicon Valley with mini-golf courses in corridors and fireman poles connecting meeting rooms to a bat-cave. Those kinds of googly environments do exist, and even exist in New Zealand. TradeMe have quite a centrepiece in their office of a five-storey slide. At the top is a sign very clearly indicating it is unacceptable to “drink and slide”. Also, there’s some wisdom about not carrying laptops at the same time.

Whether you think it nice or silly or engaging to have such trinkets and playthings, there are many other more affordable and overtly practical trends and developments in work space design. As long as they’re pragmatic and purposeful and not just change or funkiness for its own sake or that of the ego of a designer, I do not have a problem with them. Novelty by its very nature wears off, like welcomes.

One trend is hiding the wires. Those of us with home offices or who like to muck in and help shift ourselves at work know the excitement of the Russian Roulette of unplugging cables, shifting, then attempting to re-plug things in. With LANs, HDMIs, VGAs and RCAs, it’s hard to tell that I made up one of those previous terms. (One is a record label that signed at various times Duke Ellington, Kenny Rogers and Britney Spears). Complete wirelessness is not yet with us so I look forward to hidden compartments and doors, ala Hogwarts, to keep cables out of sight and out of mind. Until, of course one of them stops working and who knows which one that is or where it’s hidden in spaghetti limbo?

Bringing the outdoors inside is a thing. We’re way beyond potplants now. Some countries are making rooftop garden spaces and parks compulsory. Even Auckland has beehives set up in the CBD for all those folks with balcony yucca, cherry tomatoes and small grazing spaces for ponies that will fit in a handbag.

Multi-purpose spaces are becoming commonplace. From ‘non-assigned seating’ to casual breakout areas to standing meeting spaces, I’ve even seen ‘town squares’ and a caravan repurposed as a meeting room with its own coffee machine with more tech than Apollo 11 had, which admittedly wasn’t that much.

Given that mobile devices are, well, mobile, spaces that used to be for cubicles, pods, or customer desks are now general lounge areas that can be used for laptop work, meetings or general lounging.

Areas within areas can be designated and differentiated discretely or glaringly by colour. The ‘red zone’ is for boisterous play where creative juices can run riot and innovations generated. If you’re trying to meditate in the red zone, that’s a rookie play. Wise up and head for the chill blue space. Duh.

Community tables are happening. Some look like King Arthur is expecting his knights to arrive at any moment but the general idea is sharesies. If the table seats 12 and you’re having a chat for two, don’t be surprised or offended if another two or more people show up and encroach your space. Outside of offices, I’ve been to cafes with community tables and they’re popular and I hate them. The thing I don’t like about being a people-person in my own time is the people. But, apparently, in workplaces, they’re collegial and collaborative. In fairness though, it takes a village to raise a project.

I’m not saying ‘Get Him To The Greek’ is a good movie but there is an amusing drug-addled scene in which various characters interact with a furry wall. Office designers refer to this premis in their new designs as influencing wellness and productivity with a variable texture vocabulary. I am actually a fan of this and have years of bubblewrap popping experience to back myself up. Flat is out.

Permanent layouts are out and flexibility is in. So, it seems like office space is being treated much the same as office people.

If you’re worried everything is changing, fret not, there’ll still be timeless classics like flickering fluorescent tubes, partitions blocking natural light, and Barry from Accounts trying to sell you his daughter’s fundraising soap. Whatever happened to fundraising chocolate?!


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Recruiting or Cloning? – Building The Perfect Beast


I have a number of fears. I suffer from Agoraphobia – fear of open spaces. (Not to be confused with Angoraphobia – irrational fear of expensive goats-wool sweaters.) I suffer from axiquixotyltlatamsgpixzaphobia – the fear of mispronouncing words. Most recently, I have been gripped by the debate on cloning and genetic engineering and the fears raised by that debate.

I have recently conducted an extensive and elaborate exercise with an awful lot of job descriptions (as opposed to a lot of awful job descriptions.) I sat with my colleagues and wistfully compared our practice of pulling bits of roles from here and there to build a composite role to the practice of Doctor Frankenstein. How often when looking at an almost equal group of candidates have you said something akin to “If only we had a candidate with the experience of person A and the communication skills of person B?” Hmmmm.

Is genetic engineering a good metaphor for the recruitment profession? If scientists can grow a human ear on the back of a rat, then the technology can’t be far off. A call centre operator with extra ears can only be positive for service levels. Parking wardens with thicker skin. Used (sorry pre-loved) car salesmen with a conscience.

Genetic engineering is a big worry for me. Peanut plants are very sturdy and resistant to bugs and diseases so it is very tempting to use peanut genes in other crops. I’m very allergic to nuts. If I eat them I could die. If I go out to eat, the subject of my nut allergy always comes up. If I mention it to the waiter they always look at you funny (well, funnier than waiters normally look at customers.) If I don’t mention it, I might eat nuts then die all over the table. Either way, it gets drawn to the attention of people and becomes part of the conversation. “Excuse me, I like the look of the Thai style prawn. Does it have nuts in it?” The waiter or waitress generally gives me a look at this point that says “Fussy.” Anticipating this from experience, I then respond “The reason I ask is not that I’m being fussy. It’s just that I’m allergic and I could die or at least make a scene which could make the restaurant look bad in the eyes of the other diners and will adversely affect your tip.”

The point of that story started out being about genetic engineers messing with nature and the potential for unexpected and unpleasant consequences. By the time I finished the paragraph, I got side-tracked onto waiting staff. That’s an occupation with which we are all familiar and probably one where we’ve experienced the complete spectrum of service. Why is that? It is supposed to be an entry-level role isn’t it, with basic easily learnt skills? Yet service varies wildly. Exceptionally skilled people with wonderful attitudes can be recruited until the cows come home but if they are not working in an environment that supports them, they are constrained and likely to move on. In my experience, organisations of whatever size or nature have a “way of doing things round here.” Bring in a star-clone by whatever magical recruitment methods and they encounter that “way of doing things round here.” In a restaurant they way things are done round there is the way the boss done things round there. I recently worked in a large organisation with five divisions. It was almost as if it was five different organisations who just happened to share the same corporate wardrobe. You know how sometimes owners start to look like their pets? It was like that with these divisions and their general managers. This organisation was investing time, money and commitment in a corporate-wide approach to recruitment with no parallel effort in ensuring a corporately consistent “way things are done around here.” Maybe I’m stretching the cloning metaphor but I went to a website containing the most frequently asked cloning questions. One question was about how feasible it would be to clone Russell Crowe. The scientist’s answer avoided the ethics but apparently even if they could get close enough to grab some DNA, the development of the clone is just as affected by its developmental environment as it is be the genetic factors. So the metaphor holds true, even for our recruitment clone it is the environmental factors that can mess with our star-clone recruit. Might be an idea not to look at recruitment in isolation, but as part of an ongoing process including job design, orientation, performance management etc. (Actually, I can’t imagine it being a problem getting Russell’s DNA. More of a problem avoiding it.)

Even if it were possible, ethical and desirable, I’m still not keen on being cloned personally. German mythology has the doppelganger. They reckon everyone has someone who is their exact duplicate and when you meet them, you die. How could you avoid your doppelganger? If you weren’t of Chinese descent and went to live in China, you could safely socialise with a billion and a half people. Of course there was that Seven Years In Tibet movie where Brad Pitt played a German living in Tibet which is now under Chinese rule, so I suppose there is a small risk, if you are the exact likeness of Brad Pitt. In this case, my advice is to take your chances and place a call to Jennifer Aniston this very minute.

Genetic engineering seems like a great idea at first. Like my idea for a combination coffee thermos and cellphone. It seems like a great idea until the first solicitor’s letter arrives…


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wash hands

Here’s an excerpt from my book ‘Live Work Love: #Add10QualityYears

  • Men repressing emotions are damaging themselves physically,
  • There are practical alternatives to talking about feelings,
  • Apreciating the small things you have makes you healthier.

Are we becoming less caring? A survey of Christmas wishes resulted in the following:

Top Result

2010   Peace and happiness

2011   iPad

That doesn’t necessarily prove anything. I included it for a laugh. But if we were more interested in iPads than peace and happiness, would it matter? I don’t mean would it matter in a moral sense but in a literal sense. Does caring more improve our longevity, health and enable us to be more productive? If it does, does it matter what we care about?

New Zealand’s Mental Health Foundation promotes their five winning ways to wellbeing:

  1. Talk and listen. Be there. Feel connected,
  2. Give your time, your words, your presence,
  3. Take notice. Remember the simple things that give you joy,
  4. Keep learning. Embrace new experiences. See opportunities. Surprise yourself,
  5. Be active. Do what you can. Enjoy what you do. Move your mood.

We flourish when we are being relied on. There is a necessity to being necessary.

Dr Laura Carstensen of Stanford University observed that once someone begins to consciously anticipate death, they tend to disengage – to not care.

It’s not enough to care; you need to express that you do. Many of the books and studies I looked at emphasised how men are the ones who die first. Often, a reason cited beyond the physical ones is a general reluctance amongst men to speak freely and express emotionally. I’m not advocating a total hugfest here but men need to pick up the pace. Michelle Duff on wrote that a New Zealand Ministry of Health report shows death rates are as low as they have even been since mortality data was collected, but men are far more likely to die of preventable causes than women. Heart Foundation medical director Professor Norman Sharpe said it is a gap that will continue to widen as a “new wave” of health problems caused by obesity start showing up in the statistics. Men are up to twice as likely to die from preventable illnesses like heart disease and diabetes. In 2010, the male rate of death from coronary heart disease was 85.3 percent higher than the female rate. When it comes to dying in motor vehicle crashes and suicide, the gender gap becomes a chasm. Men are three times as likely to die in a car crash and more than twice as likely to kill themselves.

There are lots of reasons why men traditionally do not take care of themselves and do not express themselves. More important is the question of what it will take to encourage them to do so as soon as possible. Recent years have seen social media and advertising campaigns such as Movember and Blue October have highlighted mens’ health issues. Celebrities have been drafted in to raise awareness. Former All Black great John Kirwan’s work around depression and his book ‘All Blacks Don’t Cry’ is an obvious and effective example of this.

Ultimately society can chip away at big changes like this. I’m more interested in what individuals like you can do right now. You need to have a powerful reason to want to change your unhelpful and unhealthy behaviours. Again, the question of why you should is probably going to be answered with a who. Post their picture on your car’s dashboard. Next time you’re on autopilot and your car is steering itself towards a fastfood drive-through, hopefully that person’s image can remind you to steer away. We need powerful immediate and personal motivators to overcome ingrained behaviours, many of which have been with us since childhood.

If the Government is serious about reversing the obesity epidemic, it must introduce tough new rules on the packaging of children’s treats, Consumer NZ says.

The consumer advocacy group is calling for the control of marketing gimmicks on food packaging – particularly cartoon characters, free toys and on-packet puzzles targeting children. As reported by, Consumer chief executive Sue Chetwin said under-13s were particularly susceptible to tricks of the advertising trade. With a person’s lifelong food preferences formed at an early age, if companies rope them in young, they’ll likely be hooked for life, the watchdog’s report says.

American researchers have found children preferred the taste of McDonald’s-branded food over that in plain packaging, even though both were identical – and the same effect was seen with cartoon characters like Dora the Explorer. Chetwin said licensing kids’ characters from companies like Disney was costly, and companies would not invest the cash unless they knew it would pay off.

The problem with caring about things is that you get upset when the things you care about die, leave or don’t care back. That is a risk but the research clearly shows that life as an emotional roller coaster is more worth living than a flat emotional conveyor belt.

Counselling has its place but for situations that are less needing of expensive external professional intervention, try ‘Expressive Writing.’

Talking about stuff is random and disorganised. The process of writing requires you to think about what’s happened, its consequences, the alternatives and the future. Thinking then writing puts it into a structure and gives it meaning. And that’s what our brains require – to make meaning. We see shapes in the clouds because our brains like to find meaning in randomness. Until we get meaning, we do not get closure. The Expressive Writing technique has been shown to provide a:

  • Boost in a sense of personal well-being,
  • Reduction in health problems,
  • Increase in self-esteem and happiness.

Expressive Writing has been shown by Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough to make people happier, more optimistic, healthier and even got them exercising more. And it’s not just for getting closure on traumatic events. It is equally effective for reminding us of the positive things in our lives for which we should be grateful and a gratitude attitude has physiological health benefits too. In the same way that we can walk into a room with fresh bread baking, get wowed by the smell then not notice it after a few minutes, we get desensitised. If you walk out of the room, then back in again, you re-notice the smell. Expressive Writing enables us to re-notice the positives. Once a week, make some entries in a gratitude journal. You should probably do it daily but let’s start with tiny habits… Complete the following:

Weekly, when I _____________________________________

Then I will update my gratitude journal.


A practical manifestation of caring is washing your hands. It is nothing but a hassle in the now but it saves lives. People might die from an infection caught off your dirty hands but it is unlikely. It is probable that they’ll get sick. Every instance of preventable sickness is another unnecessary experience of inflammation, non homeostatis and disruption that our bodies have to endure. If we cared for ourselves and others, we’d wash our hands, as evidenced by the interior of my friend Mike’s toilet door:

A survey of people declared that 91% of people washed their hands after visiting restaurant toilets. The actual truth was 82% which is less bad than I was expecting. It just means next time you and four friends are out to eat, you have to work out who that 18% of non washers at your table are. A 1992 study by the New England Journal of Medicine found that 30-48% of staff at Intensive Care Units did not wash their hands properly. At this point, I’ll just finish by noting that Louis Pasteur refused to shake hands with anyone ever. Smart guy.


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Robotic Recruitment


At the risk of taking a defence from racists, I”m not a recruiter myself but some of my best friends are recruiters. I dabble on the edges of a number of overlapping industries so my LinkedIn network is awash with recruity foks and they seem to be quite prolific on the posting front. Online and IRL, I’ve observed one particular trend with concern: automatic applicant filtering systems. I get it; I really do. And I know, for the most part, it’s not actual recruiters driving this approach. It’s bean counters or time poor execs who view people as interchangeable commodities. My recruiter buddies are actually pleading for some humanity to return to the hiring practices of the primarily large employers employing robot recruiters.

Applicant Tracking Systems is one term. There are others. (SkyNet is one I suspect). I’ve been an employer. I appreciate that time is money and it may seem a super low-value use of time to have a human or humans look at early-stage applications. Even the time-old tradition of farming out the early-stage grunt work to recruitment agencies is diminishing. The latter’s argument, often true, was that they added value by having an expertise and an appreciation borne of specialisation. But that ain’t free or as cheap as a robot. And what most of these systems do is not added-value triage or assessment or filtering – it’s culling.

I’m not a tree-hugger, bleeding-heart type. Time is money. Open vacancies are a cost and a burden. Online job ads have created an influx of highly unlikely applicants. The obvious, instant and superficial benefits of robots is clear. But, I’m not sure their users appreciate the costs and risks. Babies and bathwater.

It’s even gotten to a point where a mini industry has mushroomed coaching potential applicants on how to write CVs and letters and tick boxes in online forms so as to cheat the test. I bet there’s an automated system you can pay to do your automated application for you.

One filter might be 5 years relevant industry experience. Humans might have that filter too but they can see a CV from someone who is a superstar in every other respect but they only have 4 years experience in a relevant industry. A human might toss that CV on the yes or maybe pile. A mindless, soulless robot culls without hesitation or appreciation of the consequences. A talent is lost to the employer, plus that system rarely replies in any meaningful way to the culled applicant, if at all.

My view is that one of the major attractors of genuinely top level talent to an employer is that employer’s ’employment brand’. I know there’s a lot of consultant-speak and management gobblegook terms but this one I like. If you’re an employer, even if you don’t know what an employment brand is, and you haven’t done anything conscious or deliberate to create one or mantain one or change one, you’ve got one. If you advertise a vacancy and a couple of talented potential applicants discuss it as follows, you’ve got one type of employment brand:

Talent 1: “Have you seen that job ad for ABC Limited? Are you going to apply”?
Talent 2: “I’d rather stick rusty fish hooks into both my eyes”.
Talent 1: “Yeah they talk a big game and dangle money but we’ve got choices and I hear they treat people like crap”.

Or words to that effect. Or the opposite of that. Or somewhere inbetween.

Would any of your current employees recommend you as a place to work to anyone they cared about who wasn’t absolutely desperate for any job? On a scale of one to ten? You don’t need to hire a consultant. This is pretty lightweight DIY inhouse research. Just like you might do some net promoter score research for your products or your brand-brand, how do you do with your employer brand? And, if it’s less than a nine on that scale of one to ten, what can you do about it?

There’s lots you do or don’t do (or say) that can nudge you in either direction but one that hits early on and one that affects more people outside your business who’ll tell their networks about you is that application process, especially that automated one.

A lot of manufacturing processes are automated and for logical, obvious reasons – efficiency, cost, time, etc. But you know what, they don’t trust those factory robots entirely. They have human intervention and assessment and quality control. They can’t affod to have a messed up Toyota make it past the robots or a perfectly fine Toyota get rejected by the robots.

I’m not saying to cull the culling systems. They have obvious efficiencies. But within the system’s electronic pathway needs to be a human element to the applicant’s journey. That’s not hard. There’s probably an AI robot that can write the code and you can play chess with them afterwards.


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Employee Engagement: Transactional vs Emotional (No one ever washes a rental car)


Does it really matter if employees are genuinely engaged as long as they behave as if they are? This article gets all up in your grill on this topic. It back-refers to a previous article on how some employees, when surveyed about their engagement, might say what they think their bosses want to hear. One reader’s comment summed it all up nicely, “No one ever got a pig fat by weighing it.”

What I’m choosing to believe he meant by that remark was that engagement surveys are not how you engage people. A set of scales will definitely tell you the progress of fattening a pig. An engagement survey might tell the progress of engaging your people at work. And IF it does, that’s about all it does. And, as I’ve said before, most employees work for small employers who don’t have HR departments and tend not to be able to afford soft consultants. Engagement is important because it enhances performance and profitability. Obviously, some form of measurement and tracking would be helpful. Walking around and purposefully observing might be more useful and timely for the majority of employers.

I’m probably over-simplifying things when I say that when it comes to people at work, you cannot over-simplify things. By all means, have your HR departments pay consultants for surveys so you can tick a box that says you’re managing the engagement levels of your people at work. You might also be ticking boxes on workplace safety because you’re identifying risks and filing forms. BUT until everyone is emotionally committed to safety…

In my simple way, I like to stick to any definition of employee engagement that includes “discretionary activity.” People doing things at work that they don’t have to because they choose to. I don’t especially care if they’re happy or if they consider themselves to be whatever they mean by engaged. Don’t care. Well, maybe the world might be a more pleasant place if everyone was happy and thought they were engaged at work but that hasn’t been directly proven to be related to productivity and profitability in the same way that employee engagement in the discretionary activity sense has been.

The other quote I liked, again from a commenter and not the article, referred to how some employers treat employees in ways unlikely to support a culture of engagement. The quote was, “Nobody Ever Washes a Rental Car.” (Hint: The employee is the car…)


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2 Dangerous Things A Year

Snapshot 14

I have a brand-new presentation for conferences, associations and businesses and it’s all laid out at I talk about you deliberately doing things that scare you to exercise your resilience muscles and to stretch and develop yourself – to get better at getting better. I launched it last week in front of 300+ educators and the feedback was great: distinctive, memorable, entertaining, motivational, inspiring, challenging, practical, funny, entertaining, interactive…

I talk about you deliberately doing things that scare you to exercise your resilience muscles and to stretch and develop yourself – to get better at getting better. For you, your colleagues, your friends and family, it leads to a happier more productive life and less regrets looking back. I’m no one special. I’m just like you. I’m no adventurer like Indiana Jones. I’m no daredevil like Evil Knievel. I’m certainly no life-risking, challenge-smasher like Felix Baumgartner who based jumped from a balloon in space. But, I have since 2001 done 2 dangerous things a year. Dangerous by my own definition – things that scared, stretched and challenged me and yes even a few things that were literally dangerous by anyone’s definition. I focus on my ‘dangerous’ journey into becoming a stand-up comedian. I’m not talking about the glib cliché of ‘do something every day that scares you’. I’m talking about 2 things a year that have big pay-offs but could also go wrong.

I’ve experienced the benefits. I’ve done the study. I share these with my audience. More specifically, I encourage you, provoke you, and tool you up to do your own ‘dangerous’ things – to test yourself regularly so you’re ready when life tests you later.

Firstly, most people do not challenge themselves deliberately, proactively and frequently. I tell you why not. Secondly, those that do challenge themselves deliberately, proactively and frequently reap the benefits of significant personal growth across their life and I tell you what those benefits can be. Thirdly, I provide you an 8-part framework to get past those obstacles, get you started, keep you going, AND pass these ideas and encouragement onto others you care about.

Who Would Benefit:

  • Professionals and workplace leaders attempting to prepare or improve their and their team’s resilience for inevitable stresses and changes.
  • Sales managers wanting to move their people away from inertia.
  • Educators and community leaders wanting to safely provoke positive change.
  • Managers, Team Leaders and business leaders trying to snap their teams out of complacency and encourage their people to develop themselves personally and professionally.
  • Professional associations wanting to experience a session with practical, relevant and appropriate content that is interactive, memorable and engaging.

Terry Williams ‘2 Dangerous Things A Year’ Video Clip 1

Terry Williams ‘2 Dangerous Things A Year’ Video Clip 2

Terry Williams ‘2 Dangerous Things A Year’ Video Clip 3

Snapshot 15

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How To Help Your People Deal With Difficult People

difficult people

1 out of 5 people are difficult. Look at the 4 people around you. If it’s not them – it’s YOU!

OK, the 1 out of 5 statistic above is a joke. It might be true but that can said of 57% of all statistics. Tony Schwartz in his HBR blog writes that the difficulty in the dealing does indeed actually lie with YOU.

He makes some good points. It’s bad enough for you if you have to deal with someone you find difficult at work and you’re stuck with having to deal with them every working day. Schwartz stresses how much worse it is when that person is your boss. Firstly, it’s a natural stressor when you choose to believe you’ve lost control and / or are powerless. Both these situations will add to that. And, of course, when it’s your boss, you’ve got a dollop of fear thrown in for good (bad) measure. Baseline security fear, the powerful kind. (Thanks Maslow.)

Schwartz uses a very helpful ‘lens’ metaphor as a possible solution. There’s the lens of ‘realistic optimism’, the ‘reverse lens’ and the ‘long lens.’ The stress, the feelings of control and power and the fear are largely driven by how you choose to react to situations. So, choose to stop and look at it from some different perspectives. What are the facts and what am I telling myself about those facts? What is this other person feeling that is driving their behaviour? To what extent can I influence that? Ask some other questions about how this might play out and what can be learned and how important it is in the scheme of things.

So far, I’ve written from the angle of you having to deal directly with a difficult person of your own. If you’re reading this, you’re probably an experienced grown-up. You’re probably able to take care of yourself instinctively. But how can you help your people who perhaps aren’t as instinctively clued up?

I like Schwartz’s approach of using questions, only instead of asking yourself, you engage your team member in a private conversation. They may come to you with a problem in dealing with someone else in the workplace. You cannot realistically give them some miraculous piece of advice that will work every time. You do not want to create a relationship of dependence with you having to always step in and solve others’ interpersonal problems. But in engaging them with these questions, it’ll drive them to think, not just with this person they’re having difficulty dealing with today but in the future as well.

I read of a social experiment. Individuals were told they’d be working with a partner in a another room. Each would do one of two tasks, one of which was unpleasant. You got to choose who did what & your partner would never know. (Of course, there was no partner in the other room.) The researcher left for a few minutes while the subject decided. They had a coin in a sealed plastic bag in case they wanted to “decide fairly.” 90% of non-coin tossers gave the crappy job to their partner. Of those who tossed a coin, the crappy job was given to their partner…


The only variable that made the decider make fairer decisions = putting a mirror right in front of them.


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Three Ways To Engage A Business Audience With Humour

 crowd laughing

About a third of my work is comedy-related. I don’t have ‘funny bones’ but I’m workmanlike enough to know how to construct and do funny. I realise LinkedIn isn’t Comedy Central but enough non-comedy business folk have contacted me via LinkedIn for help with speeches, presentations, training, journal articles and such that there’s clearly a latent demand out there from the accidentally comedic to the professionally unfunny to amp up their game when the occasion requires it.

Not everyone should attempt to write or perform jokes or standup. Some of these ideas I’m suggesting do come from that world. Neither you nor I should expect a NetFlix special to be offered to us. Let’s calibrate our expectations. Maybe you’re a self-employed professional or you’ve got aspirations within your newly joined firm or industry association? How do you stand out and engage people, drawing attention to your key messages and aiding people’s retention of those messages and of you? One way is workplace appropriate humour. They don’t have to be jokey jokes or even obviously a joke per se.

These are tools to put in your toolbox, techniques from which you can choose. They can be a bit ‘colour-by-numbers’ but if you’re competent and confident enough to be asked to write an article or deliver a speech, then the humour aspect isn’t any harder than the technical aspects of architecture or whatever your subject is. Once you know the basic principles of architecture, you can give it a crack. (Note: I do not know anything about architecture).

1. Defined-interaction Questions.

This is a good technique to start with in a low-risk and engaging way. (It’s low-risk for both you and your audience). Indicate how you want them to answer – “Raise your hand if…”, “Shout yes on the count of three if…”, “On a scale of one to five raise some fingers…”.

“Who’s got kids? [Raise hand – Pause] Who’s ever been a kid? [Raise hand – Pause] Who’s waiting on DNA tests? [Pause] I like to include everyone.”

My quote might be a joke for the sake of a joke but it also has the purpose of connecting and creating opportunities for involvement. That principle is fundamental to every field in which I work – writing, training, facilitating, speaking, MCing, comedy. Even if it gets no laughs, as long as you’re not left hanging desperate for a laugh, everything is fine if you’ve created an opportunity for involvement. These are inherently engaging. Here’s a short video on the three critical ingredients for the optimal engagement environmen

For your own opening, what might be your questions relevant to your topic, your audience, this place and time?

2. Point Out Inconsistent Behaviours

“You know how you look at a photo of yourself from 20 years ago and think oh that haircut how embarrassing? You know how you look at a photo of yourself from 10 years ago and think oh that haircut how embarrassing? Yet all of us at some stage today looked in a mirror and said, ‘Nailed it’!”

What might be some inconsistent behaviours in your industry, organisation or team? You can poke at sacred cow topics and at least raise avoided topics using this technique. Does your firm talk a big game on customer service but don’t walk the talk consistently?

3. Misdirection + Dramatic Reveal

I was MCing a conference at which a speaker was talking about workplace drug testing. Her objective was to sell workplace drug testing. She had one session in the morning and the same session with a different audience after lunch. At one point she asked the audience what they thought the percentage of the population who had tried the drug ‘P’ (meth) was. People shouted out numbers and it escalated quickly getting to 40%. When she told them the answer was 15% it was something of an anti-climax. She made no sales that morning.

Over lunch we had a bit of a chat. I talked about a particular type of joke-writing technique called the dramatic reveal. You give some information leading logically in one direction then the punchline is a surprise. Usually this requires a minimum of three steps. She constructed a slide showing the preceding years’ ‘P’ usage that were all very low and only gradually rising – 0.2, 0.4, 0.9, 1,9 Then she rhetorically asked what they thought the last year’s figure was and before they time to answer but while their brains were in a state of curiousity, she dramatically revealed the last bar in the bar graph – a staggeringly larger 15%. That afternoon she made three sales, the least of which was worth to her $10,000.

“I learned most of my job skills via trial and error. Unfortunately, I’m a lawyer”


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Why Does Going Home Seem Faster?


This article goes into an experiment by Ryosuke Ozawa and other scientists from Kyoto University who found that subjects perceived a journey from A to B as seeming longer than B to A. In this case, ‘A’ is home.

You can read the article yourself but first I’ll quickly summarise the possible reasons why, then I’ll suggest how we might use this finding on ourselves and those we lead or influence in order to nudge ourselves into more positive mindsets and better results – or, at least, results about which we might feel better.

The first reason centres around familiarity. The bits of our brain that were on duty back in caveman times (caveperson) were really attuned to not getting eaten by predators. Back then the food chain wasn’t just an abstract concept to humans. Something new was noticed and time and energy in the brain given to assessing it. Could it eat us? Could we eat it? Could I start a family with it or at leats give it a go? That’s about it. It’s that time and energy given by the brain to the unfamiliar that may generate a perception of longer time. Similarly, under stress oneof the physical effects you may not have noticed is the dilation of the eyes’ pupils. This is let in more light so we can react more quickly in a fight or flight situation, doing punches ‘Matrix’-style. I guess we’ve evolved from successful fighters. With stress memories seen through dilated pupils, those memories seem bigger and slower than actual reality. Interviews with victims of armed robberies regularly report the robbers as being significantly bigger than they actually were.

For those journeys away to unfamiliar places, perhaps for an event that might stress us like a new client, job interview, presentation, etc, we may well perceive as longer due to the strangeness / unfamiliarity. Returning home, the stress is less and there is at least one previous experience of the route.

A morale for this story – if you’re trying to be creative or inspire someone, take them for a walk away from the familiar workplace. I’m not suggesting you drive them into the woods at midnight – just hit up a different cafe from the usual watering hole.


The second reason was overestimation / overconfidence. Before the first journey is taken, most people usually underestimate how long it will take. On the return, we over-correct and over-estimate so relative to our 2nd guess, it seems quicker. Disneyland and such themeparks regularly use this effect for queue management. A sign may suggest this point has a 45-minute waiting time whereas it’s only 20 so when you fly through in 20-25, it seems quicker. (Either way you’re probably buying an over-priced soda on the way).

The third reason was a contrast between worring or anticipating about the purpose of the trip and generally positive feelings about home after some sense of completion. Other research has shown that time does fly when you’re having fun and drags during calculus class (or whatever your ‘calculus class’ was). Also, time flies, at least in your brain, just after you’ve had fun.

So, leaving aside driving to places for gigs, interviews, etc, in what situations might the ‘return-trip effect’ be useful to us developing more positive mindsets and better results?

If you’re planning a project, you need to programme in some last steps to ‘return home’ – to compare and appreciate how far you’ve come. If you’re in a relationship and blocking out date nights, don’t stick to the same safe favourite place. Mix it up. If you do the regular family holiday, consider the pro’s and cons of always going to the same place. Cost-aside, the brains of your family will remember more positively and for longer the unfamiliar. Ironically the word familiar, of course, is derived from family.


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To what extent are you seeing what you want to see and disregarding the rest?

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Meta-cognition is a fancy term for thinking about how we think. We don’t often do it because we’re all so caught up in actually thinking or, more probably, doing stuff with as little thought as possible. (I might be judging myself on that point). The mindset and beliefs we have got us to this point and if this point is OK or better, there are risks in changing and challenging. But things won’t get better if you don’t.

In short, one answer is to deliberately surround yourself and seek out and expose yourself to information sources that you know will challenge you. I’m not suggesting you live in a perpetual state of stressful heightened awareness and self doubt but at the very least you gotta have someone who’ll call you out. Diversity is the broadest sense is even better. Source from beyond your bubble.

You won’t have time to think about everything, after-all that’s why you revert to confirmation bias to begin with, but perhaps approach conversations with an open mind. Don’t be so quick to judge.

Surround yourself with different types of people. Don’t label yourself. Be well-rounded and willing to hear different types of opinions on politics, religion, and life in general. This is a sign of intelligence not passivity.

It takes incredible mental strength to challenge your own deep-seated beliefs. Stand by your convictions, of course, but just realize some of that just may be rooted in confirmation bias. Be open. After-all. life is full of the gray stuff. We wish it were simple. This is right. That is wrong. It doesn’t always work that way. That’s why it’s good to be aware. Self-aware.

This article explains confirmation bias and some more thinking around addressing it.

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