Author Archives: Terry Williams - The Brain-Based Boss

Who Puts The ‘FIT’ In BeneFITs?


I picked a survey online at random that supposes to know what the employee benefits are that are most appreciated by, you know, employees. According to that survey, the top five were health care, paid time off, performance bonuses, paid sick days, and retirement savings contributions. If that’s accurate, that’s good to know, but of course being a survey, it’s aggregated and averaged and, at best, indicative. We talk a lot about ‘employee fit’ these days in building teams and driving employee engagement. Fit applies in a lot of situations and benefit offerings should be one of those. Just because you think something is an incentive for you doesn’t mean everyone, or possibly anyone, else does.

I, for example, would include in my top five, support for and contributions to, my personal and professional development. That might include directly paying for or subsidising training, as well as time off or time flexibility to attend lectures. That has always been and will always be major for me. If that previous survey is to be believed, I’m in the minority. I was coaching a senior manager recently. Afterwards, they negotiated a benefit with their employer that effectively set them on a low-risk path to being able to work on their own quite separate business whilst remaining employed – win:win. That is not a common benefit yet made a major positive difference for both parties.

I subscribe to Daniel Pink’s mailing list. He has a micro-podcast called ‘The PinkCast’. (At some point, I am going to work out how my boring name can be twisted into some kind of pun-based witty publication name. How about ‘Conspiracy Terry’? Yeah nah). In a recent episode of ‘The PinkCast’, Dan tackled one of the critical issues of the day – how best to choose what gift to give to people for Christmas. It seems most people imagine the best gift to give would be a uniquely tailored surprise that captures the essence of the person to whom you are giving it. It showed that most people thought that asking people what they wanted or, horror of horrors, giving them cash or vouchers would be perceived as lazy, insensitive and insulting. Perhaps surprisingly, when questioned further about the reality of having received novel, high-effort gifts, very few ever hit the mark. And, shock of shocks, in retrospect, most people most of the time would’ve preferred to have been given the gift of choice and flexibility via being asked what they wanted or the cash or vouchers.

Personally, I like to hedge my bets and try to use both techniques. The big swing for the ‘wow’ gift doesn’t pay off often but when it does, it knocks it out of the park. After watching the video, I reflected on my own gift receiving experiences. I could recall three over my moderately lengthy life that even the memory of still chokes me up a bit.

Let’s slide this gifting thinking back to our topic of employee benefits. They’re not gifts. They’re not entitlements. They’re part of a remuneration package with some elements possibly at risk. Not everyone is so high up the food chain, nor confident enough or special enough to negotiate an array of shiny benefits into their contract at the point of employment. Let’s go back to first principles – what is the point? What are we trying to achieve or support via the mechanism of whatever form of employee benefit? It’s that whole attraction, retention, engagement, loyalty, morale thing, right?

That top five from that original were health care, paid time off, performance bonuses, paid sick days, and retirement savings contributions. On average, you’ll hit most people’s hot buttons most of the time with those. But how can we fashion into our processes some means of capturing outlying benefit possibilities? How might my own desire for personal development support as an employee benefit for me have been captured? As a young person starting out, even if a genuinely altruistic employer had asked me, I might not even have known myself at that stage.

How about a menu like at a restaurant? (And, by ‘restaurant’, I mean one with a drive-through). A simple-to-read-at-a-glance listing of the employee benefit options that most people choose in descending order of popularity. You could choose to combo some perhaps. You might cash in others. There might still be the option to make them your way off-menu.

Employees don’t know what they don’t know and neither do employers, so diminishing those blind spots around what particular individual employees value in a benefit would be valuable. Asking people is fine but not exhaustive. Asking individuals is better but not exhaustive. Having some flexibility at various points to review and introduce new offerings seems smart.

If you hire someone and tell them their pay is $20 an hour but in three months it’ll be $22.50, when you ask them when they want to start, don’t be surprised when they reply, “In three months”.


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Time Is The New Currency


I have a friend who is a professional comedian. Being an HR soul through and through, I asked him what the remuneration and benefits were like. He said he did it for the love. He then added that once a client actually offered to pay him with love. They finally agreed on a dollar figure and a couple of free beers.

It is all too easy to assume people are little economic robots making purely rational decisions like we were all encouraged to believe at school. There’s the old adage about the shipwreck where an engineer, a physicist and an economist were marooned on a desert island with only a crate of tinned food to sustain them. The engineer said, “I’ll build a raft.” The physicist said, “I’ll construct a fire.” The economist said, “Assume a can opener…”

It might make theoretical understanding of economic concepts easier if we limit things to two variables, assume people are rational and spout, “Ceteris Paribus”[1] but we all know people aren’t always rational. This is even true of their choices and reactions to remuneration and benefits. Sepia-toned men with clipboards and stopwatches in lab coats in the 1950s no doubt made many graphs showing some kind of cause and effect between money paid and productivity. Perhaps that was true (or at least truer) back in the day?

Further back in a more distant pre-industrial day, issues of remuneration and benefits were more clear-cut. A subsistence existence will do that for you. You produced or you perished. You ate, wore or lived in what you yourself produced and the benefits you received were ‘not dying.’ Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it and with the economy the way it is, you may be trying it sooner than you think! Relax – I’m talking about growing your own vegetables not anarchic tribal feudalism, although that would probably make a great reality TV show. Our nomadic and early farming societies made or traded for what they needed. As productivity expanded they could elevate themselves to what they wanted as well, not just what they needed. Those economists again would refer to ‘Need Hierarchies.’ Traditionally this would have the basics at the bottom of a visual pyramid like food and shelter. Nowadays, I suppose that includes ultra-fast broadband and high-def TV?

I suppose the point I’m making is that once to encourage productivity in another you could offer an extra couple of chickens. We got to a point where that offer could be made in a medium of exchange we call money. I am proposing that the new (well, new to most of us) economic recessionary climate calls for a mixed approach. What is the new money? What can be dangled in front of those of us left with jobs to encourage and inspire us to bust our humps to be more productive? Not that we’re not already busting our humps but it’s generally true that we keep a little spare hump-busting capacity just in case. It’s only human.

I’m a firm believer in time as a new currency. It has value and limited supply. The Government can’t print any more time like they can money. The average life span of a kiwi woman is 81 and a kiwi man is 78. We can argue about why that is later but whatever your number, that’s all there is. If you knew what that number was for you, how differently would you live your life?

Reward talent with time. Maybe they ‘spend’ that time with their kids and society benefits? Maybe they ‘invest’ that time in a moonlighting sideline making macramé sandals that turns into an export boom that revitalises the economy but in an environmentally friendly way? What other innovative remuneration avenues can we develop?

The iconic New Zealand game show was ‘It’s In the Bag.’ If you’re over 30, you must remember that show. (If you’re under 30, this is what a recession feels like. How’s that carefree Gen Y attitude of yours now punk?) In the ultimate round of the show, the host would entice the ‘winner’ to choose between a known amount of prize money and a bag in which resided a mystery prize. There were a number of bags. Some contained a voucher for an awesome appliance of much greater value than the money. Some contained booby prizes. The host would cajole the ‘winner’ with small incremental increases in the offer whilst shouting to the audience, “What should they do New Zealand – the money or the bag?” How cool would this be come remuneration review time at your organisation? Sure some people lose but if Barry gets that state-of-the-art barbeque then everyone wins. And if you get the booby prize of a packet of vegetable seeds, then you’re all set for the post-apocalyptic anarchic tribal feudalism the media is hyping up.

[1] All other things remaining equal

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Age Diversity Will Be A Massive Source Of Strength


Last weekend, I was skimming through some old papers I’d received at a Human Resources conference some years ago. I was supposed to be cleaning out the shelves in the basement. My possessions undergo a rigorous protocol to determine whether or not they remain in my possession. Items in constant use stay where they are constantly used, like on the bench. Items occasionally used get slotted into a cupboard, although a nearby cupboard. Items rarely used get posted to a distant cupboard up the back in the dark that you can only reach with a stepstool, a torch whilst dislocating vertebrae in the process. There follows a descending evolution of merit to the pile out the back of the shed in the garden which is a prerequisite to the local Council’s inorganic collection. (Oddly enough, many organisations have a similar descending proximity approach to their people, particularly the bit about the distance, the dark and the garden. Hence the term, “gardening leave.”)

So, I’m looking at the conference papers for the first time since the conference, not so much out of interest but out of a desire to avoid doing the actual cleaning. There was a list of the tools employers can use to assess the suitability of candidates for employment. Each tool was ranked in order of its proven effectiveness in determining the eventual success of candidates in the workplace. The number one tool had an effectiveness of 0.52 which places it fractionally above tossing a coin or picking red or black on a casino’s roulette wheel. Fortunately it suggested that combining a number of tools was the best way to increase the odds of selecting suitable candidates. Good advice – more people should read advice like that more often. But that wasn’t what caught my eye as I read the paper amidst the dust, spiders and unknown sticky floor stains covered in sawdust of my basement detritus. The lowest scoring determinant was age.

A recent Department of Labour report showed New Zealand is leading the way in employing more older people in the workforce. (Older? Older than what? Age is such a relative concept. Comedian Mitch Hedberg has a joke about someone giving him a photograph of themselves then said, “This is a photograph of me when I was younger.” Surely, every photograph of you is a photo of you when you were younger? Anything else is way too Dorian Gray for my liking.)

It is said that ‘older’ workers (55-59) are less likely to want to climb the corporate ladder, more likely to want to add value in a job they enjoy and are more loyal. It didn’t say if they were more prone to writing impromptu letters to the editor, criticising the haircuts of their younger colleagues or making constant glowing references to some unspecified semi-fictional period known as the “good old days” when it only rained at night, the All Blacks always won and everyone had two well paying jobs yet still had sufficient spare time to coach their local primary school’s rugby team that went on to produce several All Blacks who always won on gloriously sunny Saturdays.

Older workers do stand out though for other reasons. They have names like Stanley, Harold, Gladys and Edith. I have not once ever met a sixty-year-old named Kylie or Madison. Mind you, I’ve never met a five-year-old Gladys either. Perhaps I should search Perhaps not.

Many employers would struggle today to survive without workers who immigrated here. From high tech companies to the local supermarket’s checkout, we are greeted by people with different cultures, languages and skin tone. Hopefully we generally try to accept those people and ease their transition to their new environment. If we do that for folks from another country, why wouldn’t we do that for folks from another time? (Which is effectively what older workers are.) They have a different culture, a different language and a different skin tone, no matter how much moisturiser they’ve plastered on themselves over the decades. Time travel is possible; it just happens to be one-way and a very slow process.

Older workers sticking it out have adapted to a changing work environment and so should employers. I was in Burger King recently and couldn’t help overhearing the mobile phone conversation of a lady at the table next to me – probably sixty (the lady not the table.) She was engaged in a blackmarket online exchange of knitting patterns, using a similar business model to the music file-sharing concepts of Napster. Wow, that is a successful collision of cultures. I almost regret turning her in.

People are not like household possessions. Employers should not shunt them down some informal ladder as they age until they lay unwanted on a pile behind the garden shed awaiting the employment equivalent of the inorganic collection to come and take them away. (Although if it’s the Council doing the taking, maybe they put them to work and that’s why my #$%@ resource consent is taking so long!)


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Your Brain Is Awesome But Inherently Untrustworthy

grey blocks

Anchoring & Adjustment


This article is an extract from my book ‘The Brain-Based Boss’

Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman have done several studies on this heuristic where people overly and disproportionately rely on one piece of information (or ‘anchor’) when making a decision or engaging in a behaviour. Once the anchor is set, there is a bias toward adjusting or interpreting other information to reflect the anchored information. Through this cognitive bias, the first information learned about a subject can affect future decision-making. (Warning to those averse to the touchy feelies – many anchors originate in your childhood. Thanks Mum.)

Kahneman writes of a study done at the San Francisco Exploratorium. Visitors were surveyed about their guesses of the height of the world’s tallest redwood tree. They were each asked two questions. The second question was always, “What’s your best guess of the height of the world’s tallest redwood tree?” but the first question varied. It was either, “Is the height of the world’s tallest redwood tree more or less than 1200 feet?” or “Is the height of the world’s tallest redwood tree more or less than 180 feet?”


Anchor In Their 1st Question Average Guess In Feet
1200 844
180 282


Clearly there is anchoring and adjustment going on but how great is the effect? The difference between the two average guesses was 844-282=562. The difference between the two anchors was 1200-180=1020. 562 divided by 1020 is 55%. That’s the significant anchoring effect in this instance.

Another study looked at whether the original listing price for houses in the real estate market affected expert’s assessment of the houses’ actual market values. Because researchers like a laugh as much as the next person, they studied a group of real estate agents versus a control group of random students with zero housing experience. The anchoring effect for the students was 48%. The anchoring effect for the realtors was 41%. The delightful conclusion wasn’t just in those numbers. When told of their results and then having the anchoring effect explained to them, the students accepted it. The realtors vehemently denied it. That kind of close-mindedness does not lend itself to personal or professional development and long-term success. You might want to bear that in mind yourself.

Feedback is important here. Realtors don’t get much and it’s a long time coming. ‘Calibration’ is the balance between your real and perceived abilities. Young male drivers, on average, have very poor calibration between their real and perceived driving abilities. According to Joseph Hallinan, weather forecasters have excellent ‘calibration.’ The reason for this is the quantity and quality of feedback they get. Everyone is willing and able to let weather forecasters know when they’re wrong. Young male drivers are long gone from much of the mayhem they cause thus avoiding feedback until they’re not and then it’s too late.


This article is an extract from my book ‘The Brain-Based Boss’

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Work – What Is It Good For?

“Work saves a man from three great evils: boredom, vice and need.” – Voltaire (Real name: François-Marie Arouet. He changed it to a one-word non de plume, like Prince or Madonna. If he’d lived today, I think he would’ve tweeted a lot.)

This article is an extract from my book ‘Live Work Love: #Add10QualityYears


A very common piece of advice from centenarians is to spend less than you earn. A bank advert in New Zealand boldly claimed that money is neither good nor bad, it depends what you do with it. That may be true but it seems, from a health perspective, that debt sucks. I’m on the fence with this one because to get a freehold house, you need a mortgage. To build a business that outlasts you, initially you probably need a loan.

Happy Money, a book by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton outlines numerous studies into how best we can use and trade-off our money to improve our lives. Doubling your income will at best only ever increase your happiness by nine percent. And above an annual income of $US75,000, additional income doesn’t influence our daily happiness levels at all. They identify five core principles to guide us in our money-using decisions if happiness is what we’re after:

1.   Buy experiences not things,

2.   Make treats a treat,

3.   Buy time,

4.   Pay now & Consume later (Anticipation se rejouir),

5.   Invest in others.

We’re bad at saving for the future because we have a hard time imagining ourselves there. Hal Ersner-Hershfield from Northwestern University conducted a study with Stanford in 2010 on ‘High Future Self Continuity’. They developed a mirror that gave subjects an avatar reflection of themselves as they would look when they were seventy years old. Compared to a control group, those having a conversation with their seventy year old selves set aside twice as much for retirement savings. The sooner they develop a smartphone app for that, the better.

Envision a future and design it. Diversify and invest, not just financially but in all aspects of your life. Nourish your social relationships. Work longer and save more. Anchor your development around lifelong learning.

Some say that the future of crap jobs belongs to robots but that potentially has its own pitfalls. A union boss was taking a tour of a Ford car factory with a senior manager in the 1950s. The factory was experimenting with robots performing manufacturing tasks.

Manager:      “How are you going to get the robots to pay union dues?”

Union Boss: “How are you going to get the robots to buy cars?”

So, how are we affected when our work is impacted by robots or mismanagement or bad luck? In 2008, the Economic Journal published a study by Clark, Diener, Georgellis and Lucas. They followed 130,000 people over decades looking at lags and leads in the impact of life events. They asked, “Do individuals tend to return to some baseline level of well-being after life and labour market events?” They found, “Although the strongest life satisfaction effect is often at the time of the event, we find significant lag and lead effects. We cannot reject the hypothesis of complete adaptation to marriage, divorce, widowhood, birth of child and layoff. However, there is little evidence of adaptation to unemployment for men. Men are somewhat more affected by labour market events (unemployment and layoffs) than are women but in general the patterns of anticipation and adaptation are remarkably similar by sex.”

They looked at major life events and how we bounced back from the knocks of the negative ones. The death of a spouse is a tough one but the longest negative impact on wellbeing, perhaps permanent, comes from long-term unemployment.

They don’t just lose income with the poor health effects of that but they lose self worth and identity. People, especially men, who are carefree, undependable and unambitious in childhood, and have unsuccessful careers, have terrible mortality rates.

John Holland’s Theory of Career Choice (RIASEC) maintains that in choosing a career, people prefer jobs where they can be around others who are like them. They search for environments that will let them use their skills and abilities, and express their attitudes and values, while taking on enjoyable problems and roles. Behaviour is determined by an interaction between personality and environment. He identified six types:

Mismatches in personality and career path does heighten risk of poor health and mortality but that risk is significantly lowered by a productive perseverance, a sense of mastery and accomplishment. These happen to be fundamental drivers of employee engagement. My last book ‘The Brain-Based Boss’ is a resource for employers trying to create a work environment that would allow their workers to be engaged. Engagement is the application of discretionary effort – people doing more than they have to because they choose to. There is ample evidence that engaged workplaces have higher productivity, revenue and profitability. That’s great for the boss but what about non bosses? Why should they want to be engaged? Well, how about living a longer and more meaningful life?

Having a long commute sucks but did you realise how unhappy it could make you? Many voluntary conditions don’t affect our happiness in the long-term because we acclimate to them. People never get used to their daily grind driving to work because sometimes the traffic is terrible and sometimes it isn’t. Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert says, “Driving in traffic is a different kind of hell every day.” We rationalise this to ourselves and the family we don’t see as often as we’d like by looking at our bigger house or higher salary. These rationalisations don’t work. Swiss economists researched the effect of commuting on happiness and observed that such factors could not make up for the despair caused by a long commute.

The 10,000 hours thing has been done to death and back. The original piece of research by K. Anders Ericsson discovered much more than expertise requires an average of 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. In looking at the highest performers across many and varied fields, yes, a focused type of practice over time was critical but two other factors do not get enough attention. The highest performers get enough sleep and they do their ‘work’ in short productive bursts. Typically, these would be no more than ninety minutes. Not many jobs lend themselves to that but if we’re genuinely interested in results rather than just cranking out hours at a desk, it’s a provocative idea.

Remember back to this book’s section on ‘Moving.’ Having a desk job can double your chances of contracting cardiovascular disease. Sitting is a big factor behind that problem. Here are just some of the downsides of prolonged periods of being motionless:

·              Shuts off electrical activity in your large leg muscles,

·              Calorie burning in your body drops to one per minute,

·              Production of your fat-breaking enzymes drops by 90%,

·              Two hours of sitting drops your good cholesterol levels by 20%.

Maybe you should be reading this standing up?

One technique I’m a fan of these days is the ‘Walking Meeting.’ I’ve read of various companies that have meetings in rooms with no chairs. Their motivation, or more accurately – their boss’s motivation, was to have more efficient meetings. The unintended upside is health! The Walking Meeting is self explanatory. I used to work for a City Council and I can imagine how much more efficient and pleasant experiences Council meetings would have been if we’d been strolling around Lake Pupuke. Quite aside from the health benefits and efficiencies, it might’ve reduced the length of some of the monologues.

Joking aside, the best conversations that took place in my experience as a Manager for that Council were the ones that took place in the field. Politicians, officers and residents would show up at the site of the building / pothole / proposed bus stop or wherever. Standing, walking, pointing, arguing etc was made all the more purposeful and productive not just because of the location in the real world but because of the movement. It literally ups everyone’s energy levels which positively impacts creative thinking, attitudes and productivity. Things get done and you feel like things are getting done. You do not feel like that in a meeting room on your butt and that feeling drives negative physiological consequences.

“I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work, I want to achieve it by not dying.” – Woody Allen


This article is an extract from my book ‘Live Work Love: #Add10QualityYears

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Is Talent Management A ‘Dog & Pony’ Talent Show?

dog and pony

The term ‘talent management’ first popped up in 1997 – as did my son. As I write this, he is turning 21. Technically, he was born very late in 1996 but he kept his head down in the early days. It was the holidays after all. I’m both wary of new terms and frustrated that I have never invented one myself. I’m testing ‘Brotivation’ at the moment – encouraging men to be emotionally supportive of other men in the workplace. (Note: I made this up but didn’t it seem plausible for a moment?)

Employment is one sphere where terms come and go and evolve. Just bandying around the latest consultant-speak terms for the sake of appearing superficially fresh when nothing other than the label has changed leaves me unimpressed. A rose by any other name. There’s a classic 1970s John Clarke real estate parody where he rattles off a bunch of terms such as ‘innovation opportunity’ to describe a hovel.

However, if terms change to reflect a genuine, deep and lasting progression, or a distinctively original offshoot, then I’m all in favour of that. Payroll begat personnel that begat HR that begat talent management, people & capability etc. I think I’ve written this next question before but it’s worth repeating: Do you know who was the first significant proponent of the term ‘human resources’? It was Stalin.

Actually, it wasn’t Stalin. It was John Collins in 1893. He wrote a book called ‘The Distribution Of Wealth’. But didn’t it seem plausible for a moment that it was Stalin? Workers categorised as a version of a capital asset in the economic sense of the word and managed as such – a commodity. And the thing about commodities is that they’re inter-changeable. One metric tonne of milk powder can be bought and sold with thousands of others because the differences are insignificant and inconsequential. People, especially talented people, are not commodities. It took some decades for large-scale employers and Governments to develop systems to acknowledge and work with people’s differences in needs and abilities.

Seemingly semantic, that acknowledgement of differences is at the heart of this thing we currently choose to label as talent management – a comprehensive and living strategy to locate, attract, recruitment, induct, develop and retain people with the right abilities who fit and grow with what the employer needs and will need. And it needs to do this in a manner that is efficient, cost-effective and sustainable.

My son and his younger sister are the talent that is going to be managed. As someone who works with organisations training, coaching and speaking, I see a range of talent management approaches on a spectrum from negative to neutral to positive.

Developing in parallel with talent management strategies has been the rise and rise of the ‘gig economy’. A gig economy is an environment in which temporary positions are common and organisations contract with independent workers for short-term engagements. The trend toward a gig economy has begun. A study by Intuit predicted that by 2020, 40 percent of American workers would be independent contractors.

Ironically, both the words ‘talent’ and ‘gig’ derive from the world of show business. When those words originated, society at large enjoyed the performances of performers and, at the same time, generally looked down on them as people. Shakespeare (or whomever he temporarily contracted via the sixteenth century equivalent of once wrote, “All the world’s a stage”. Originally, theatre troupes were travellers and did not have a home base or theatre building. They performed on their stagecoaches and that is where the word stage originates. A type of coach was a gig and therein lies the origin of that word. There’s a lot of symbolism in that – paying people to perform for you literally on the means of transport to get them to leave as soon as possible after they’re done.

Is the co-development of talent management strategies en masse with the gig economy our modern equivalent? Clearly some people are more talented than others. That’s never not been the case but now it’s being demarked on an industrial scale. Do my kids have to hustle to ensure they’re the talent and not the giggers? Maybe it’s the giggers who become the entrepreneurs? It’s likely as they start out, and we’ve already observed this, that they plan on both for a while.

My son gigged for a couple of years before starting his engineering degree. I have many engineers and employers of engineers amongst my contacts. Engineering is about talent. They know to develop their talent. Their junior engineers and wannabee engineers need to get some dirt under their fingernails, meet some folks and garner many hours of coalface experience. These are gigs but purposeful ones. For my son, it’s money and hours and exposure and experience. For employers, it’s looking for evidence of being able to fit and being easy to work with.

I’ve spoken to many such employers and they all report that they won’t hire the super-talented if they’re jerks. Now, there’s a real talent to look for and develop – not being a jerk. (I’m still working on it….)


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LinkedIn: Are You LinkedIn Or Are You LinkedOut?

chris reed book

Hi team. Here’s a precis of a speaker I saw at the Global Speakers Summit in Auckland in February. Chris Reed is a LinkedIn expert with over 500 recommendations. We know this because he tells us in his job title and first lines of his own LinkedIn summary. What does that real estate on your LinkedIn page tell anyone about you?

You’ve probably been told you need to be into ‘personal banding’ as a professional and LinkedIn is one vehicle for that. This is one aspect of management-guru-speak with which I agree. How are we like someone or something that potential employers or clients already like? AND how are different in a positive way? I learned this in book publishing and it’s true of people in business too.

Chris is frenetic, magnetic and rocks the anarchy tee-shirts I wish I had when I had cool, rebellious band names on my pencil case at high school. Yet, he had lots of specific, practical tips. I recommend checking out his book.

As you can see from his pic above, he has a blue mohawk. Perhaps that’s contrary to your expectations of the professional business headshots you’re being told to post on LinkedIn? (Chris had some great advice on what not to do – couples shots anyone?) It’s deliberate (clearly not for everyone) and is part of (and symbolic) of differentiation. Personal branding is personal and thus different. It works for him. I think my differentiation is my combination of serious and comedy – making the complex practical and accessible.

What’s your ‘blue mohawk’?


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the stuff you own

”The stuff you own ends up owning you.” – Tyler Durden, Fight Club

I realise that receiving the most improved player award in your Year 5 cricket or netball team’s end of year barbeque presentations twenty years ago may have been a highlight for you but that little trophy takes up space. Worse still, it represents you hanging on to some meaningless token of long past their use-by-date glory days. You need to assess its recycling value before your life turns into one of the less commercially popular Bruce Springsteen songs.

There was a survey done of a group of random university students. (Yes, I know most students look pretty random but I mean random in a statistical sense.) Each subject identified who their close friends were. Those close friends were then asked a series of questions about the subject. Separately, a group of complete strangers wandered through the subject’s home. The strangers were then asked the same questions about the subject. To cut a long story short, it turns out that complete strangers can tell more about us more accurately from wandering through our house than the people we think know us best. Maybe this means that rich people who install elaborate security systems aren’t really concerned about burglars? Maybe they’re more concerned about people discovering them as they really are?

“Life – travel light!”

Our stuff says a lot about us. The beauty of that is we have almost absolute control over our stuff. If you want to achieve success and happiness in your personal life and career, then maybe you should scrutinize your stuff? You want to be happy and successful so it should look as if you are. It’s counter-productive if your stuff says you’re an emotionally immature and backward-looking depressive with barely repressed rage issues. So, lose the teddy-bear collection.

Credit didn’t exist in this country until recently so it had to be imported from Mother England in large ships along with shoes and oranges, many of which ironically were made from New Zealand wool. As a result, young people starting out back then struggled to accumulate many possessions, so decluttering wasn’t an issue for them – quite the reverse. You’ve probably noticed your grandparents’ generation are into hoarding in a big way. They keep old newspapers and cats for years after they’re no longer any use. They grew up during the depression and things that broke down needed to get fixed because you couldn’t just rush out onto the interweb and order a new fridge to be emailed to your fax. If your fridge broke down, you needed to get your brother-in-law to fix it using old newspapers and cats. But this paradigm is hopeless in today’s age of throwaway built-in-obsolescence where we all have to regularly upgrade our iPods because they’re “so last week.” Modern houses and apartments are so small that there is no room for old newspapers. That’s why there is a boom in rental storage. People need a place to keep their stuff they don’t want anyone to know they have but they can’t bring themselves to throw away. You can be one of those people if you want to be. Just bear in mind that there is a price to pay and it’s more than the invoice from the storage company. Your stuff is a perpetual reminder to others, and more importantly yourself, of just the sort of person you actually are and aspire to be. This is why that first visit to a potential boyfriend’s or girlfriend’s place can be such a turn-on or turn-off.

Decluttering Techniques

  • Take every hanging item of clothing out of your wardrobe. Put them all back with the hanger facing the wrong way. After you use an item, replace it with the hanger facing the right way. After a year, remove the items that are still facing the wrong way. You haven’t used them in a year. Gift them, donate them, sell them or otherwise dispose of them. If you’ve got some excuse like it’s the dress your grandmother was buried in then you have problems way beyond the scope of this book.
  • Any new item you buy has to result in the disposal of an item you already own. This approach is also recommended when you get a new boyfriend / girlfriend.
  • Literally diarise one day a year to sort your stuff. Be ruthless.
  • You’ll have a drawer or seven that is full of miscellaneous crap. Get some boxes and put the drawer crap into the boxes. If you ever use any item from the boxes, put it back into a drawer when you’re finished with it. After a year, biff the boxes and their dusty contents.

Don’t accumulate things; accumulate experiences. Don’t gift things; gift experiences, preferably ones that you can share with the recipient.


This post is an excerpt from my first book (with Mike Loder) ‘The Guide: How to kiss, get a job & other stuff you need to know’. More info at

“…an essential family resource, like a dictionary or an atlas…” – Radio NZ National.

Provides the young reader with the confidence to take a big stride both into adulthood and towards achieving their dreams. They will be armed with enough knowledge to avoid the top 100 future-wrecking errors that can be made, big and small. Packed full of information on such wide-ranging topics as getting a drivers license, job seeking, avoiding cons, OE travel, alcohol and drugs, flatting, pets, and relationships, the book is an immediately useful, fun toolbox to aid a young person in finding self and demystifying adulthood. It says: ‘Don’t be scared. You are not alone. Here is some well-supported wisdom to help YOU make decisions.’ And the best thing about THE GUIDE is IT’S FUNNY. Not preachy, not boring, it doesn’t sound like your mum; it’s laugh-out-loud funny.

Click here to view kindle version

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Don’t Be A D*** (Diva)


My next few posts will be gems of wisdom I’ve picked up from a conference I recently attended in Auckland – the Global Speakers Summit. It’s primarily aimed at pro speakers with a strong streak of thought leadership, plus a theme of ‘from leader to legacy’.

Fredrik Haren is a one-man wisdom machine, well-researched and sought-after. Just plucking one observation, his research shows upon what criteria people decide to buy a pro speaker’s services. They’re probably applicable to any role as a lawyer, plumber or scientist but don’t get the attention they deserve in many recruitment processes:

1. Have a great presentation (ie be good at your job);
2. Be easy to work with; and
3. Don’t be a d*** (diva)

The first one goes without saying but numbers 2 and 3 relate to ‘fit’. How well does a person interact with, or add value to, a team without being unproductively negative or disruptive? Yes, we can throw behavioural profiling tools at people and they can be helpful. I’m a fan of immersion – get candidates in for a half day to do real work with a buddy. Both parties get a tangible and visceral sense of fit or discomfort and it’s better for all concerned to know that before anyone commits to anything.

I can always get better at what I do and I think I’m trying. I’m pretty happy with myself being someone who is easy to work with and I’m no diva. JUST MAKE SURE YOU REMOVE ALL THE BLUE M&Ms AND WE’LL BE FINE!!!


Why should you do 2 dangerous things a year?

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