Who Leads The Leaders?


Studies into the characteristics of highly effective leaders find that ‘vision’ is usually at the top of the list of characteristics. Any individual moving others to sustained and purposeful action would need to be future-facing, goal-setting and inspirational. All that requires an ‘eye on the prize’. There are many leadership phrases using eye-imagery. I’d like to add another: point of view.

A couple of my own recent experiences have hit home to me the power of point of view to stunt or stimulate leadership, to send it in a direction that may turn out in ‘hindsight’ to be right or wrong, better or worse.

I attended a seminar lead by a scientist concerned about ethical leadership in science, specifically designing in ethical considerations  within artificial intelligence systems (AI). The people doing the designing are very public in declaring that ethical filters and values will be designed into the systems. Less overt and public are exactly what ethics are being designed in. It’s stated almost as if ethics are ethics and yours are the same as mine so, as long as the AI has ethics, then we’ll be fine. Ethics are a lot like cheese. The stuff you find acceptable might be offensive to me and a significant minority of people are dairy intolerant.

This scientist was calling for more diverse points of view. A video montage of the scientists making a lot of noise and getting a lot of attention around AI did seem to be entirely of a certain age range, nationality and gender. Ethics are hard enough to get some agreement around within a family of four humans. Once you start bringing robots into the equation, it’s complicated and diverse points of view would help.

I’ve been running a series of diversity workshops for a large and established manufacturing firm, mostly around unconscious bias. The firm for the most part has a great track record with diversity. The workshops are a regular United Nations. However, they are behind the eight-ball on gender diversity. They know this and they’re trying. They know what the AI scientists might be a bit late in realising – the dangers in having a highly homogenous worldview – opportunities lost and threats unrecognised. Their customers are diverse. Their community is diverse. Yet, things historical and structural are hamstringing their efforts to counter the imbalance. In short, women aren’t applying for the jobs or those women don’t exist yet.

Most of the AI online customer service ‘robots’ I’ve seen have been given female personas. I don’t know why this is. Statistically a disproportionate number of human frontline customer service roles are female. Maybe the designers took that into account? What proportion of the designers were male? Does it matter? The newer AIs are now quite adept at recognising emotion in the voices and expressions of their customers and adjusting their responses accordingly.

You’re not designing terminators with emotional intelligence. You’re an employer. Maybe you’ve already got balance and diversity in your workplace overall. But, how is it like at the leadership level? What systems, checks and balances do you have in place, now and for the future that will ensure leaders have, develop or access diverse points of view? If through randomness or statistics, you’ve just ended up with a bunch of leaders in your organisation who are all big fans of the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac, there’s a real chance that they’re lacking diversity. But, if you’ve got the right systems and tools, they need not act like it. While you and the world are catching up and eventually defeating glass ceilings and velcro floors, your leaders can still make good leadership decisions. Train and coach them. Provide them with tools. What’s important for each organization is to identify the relevant dimensions, measure them, and make that part of how managers are evaluated. If you want diversity of thought, you have to bring in people around leaders who have diverse experiences. In the meantime, you can ask questions to capture and codify those experiences so the leaders you have at the moment can filter their decisions through those different points of view.

One of my catchphrases for the year has been, “The person who asks the questions controls the conversation”. I’ve been doing a lot of reading around the relative effectiveness of telling people stuff versus asking questions. I like to call the latter ‘structured curiousity’ ABC – Always Be Curious.

The irony here is back with the topic I started on – AI. Experiments have already been done with people reporting to on-screen AI personas. They’re not perfect but they have two skills many current human leaders lack. They do ask questions and they are capable of recognising emotions and adjusting their actions accordingly. These two skills alone would put them in the top 25% of bosses I’ve ever had.


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  • Sitting is as bad as smoking,
  • Poor movement can be a sign of potential health issues,
  • Exercise is not as important as having activity as part of your everyday life.

“I believe that the good lord gave us a finite number of heartbeats and I’m damned if I’m going to use mine running up and down a street.” – Neil Armstrong (on jogging.)

A clinical review from doctors at the University of Alabama at Birmingham suggests that mobility limitations are a litmus test for healthy aging and urges primary care physicians to take a more aggressive role in ascertaining the mobility of their patients. They suggest that doctors should ask all patients two questions: for health or physical reasons, do you have difficulty climbing up 10 steps or walking 400m at a brisk pace; and because of underlying health or physical reasons, have you modified the way you climb 10 steps or walk 400m?

Can you sit on the floor, then get up again without using your hands, knees or elbows? Go on, try it right now. The physical inability to do that, or struggle to barely do that, has been cited as an indicator of potential heart problems. Such is the inter-connectedness of our physical systems. Muscular strength, balance, bone density – none of these things are our hearts, but they can help or hurt our heart, depending on how we maintain them and they give us constant information on how things are going inside.

Dr Steven Blair in studies with both the Cooper Clinic in Dallas and the University of South Carolina tracked thousands of people over dozens of years. They determined that fitness levels (not fatness levels) are significant predictors of mortality. Poor fitness accounts for sixteen percent of all deaths. Move it or lose it. It’s never too late to start to reap benefits but it’s always too soon to stop. Some people say that they’re too old to exercise but the truth is that they’re too old not to exercise.

A University of Hong Kong study made similar findings. Twenty percent of deaths in people over 35 could be attributed to physical inactivity, greater than the risk caused by smoking. (Of course, that doesn’t bode well for smokers who are also physically inactive.) Physical inactivity increases risks for the following causes of death:

Cause Men   Women

Cancer                     Up 45%        Up 28%

Respiratory Illness  Up 92%        Up 75%

Heart disease          Up 52%        Up 28%

Modern medicine is amazing but can it be improved on, or even replaced, in some instances? A study published in the British Medical Journal by scientists from the London School of Economics, Harvard Medical School, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute and Stanford University reviewed the results of 305 previous trials with over three hundred thousand people to see if physical activity was as effective as drugs at preventing death among people with coronary heart disease, rehabilitation from stroke, treatment for heart failure and prevention of diabetes. “There was no difference between exercise and drug interventions for the people with coronary heart disease and for the prevention of diabetes.” You don’t hear about this because pharmaceutical companies can’t sell you a bottle of walking. Although, one of the authors Huseyin Naci was at pains to stress, “The results of our study by no means imply that people should stop taking their medications, especially without consulting their doctors.”

The BBC reported a study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine that followed 3,500 healthy people at or around retirement age. Those who took up exercise were three times more likely to remain healthy over the next eight years than their sedentary peers. Exercise cut the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and depression.

The University of Bath studied a group of 26 healthy young men. All exercised regularly. None were obese. Baseline health assessments, including biopsies of fat tissue, confirmed that each had normal metabolisms and blood sugar control, with no symptoms of incipient diabetes. The scientists then asked all their volunteers to impair their great health by doing a lot of sitting and eating way too much. But half the volunteers had to do a hard-out 45 minute treadmill session a day. Other than that session, they lay around all the rest of the day.

The New York Times reported the results: After only a week, the young men who had not exercised displayed a significant and unhealthy decline in their blood sugar control, and, equally worrying, their biopsied fat cells seemed to have developed a malicious streak. Those cells, examined using sophisticated genetic testing techniques, were now overexpressing various genes that may contribute to unhealthy metabolic changes and underexpressing other genes potentially important for a well-functioning metabolism.

But the volunteers who had exercised once a day, despite comparable energy surpluses, were not similarly afflicted. Their blood sugar control remained robust, and their fat cells exhibited far fewer of the potentially undesirable alterations in gene expression than among the sedentary men.

“Exercise seemed to completely cancel out many of the changes induced by overfeeding and reduced activity,” said Dylan Thompson, a professor of health sciences at the University of Bath and senior author of the study.

Fitness for health isn’t about gyms and jogging as much as it is about a physically active lifestyle that exerts strong system-wide effects on our body. Rather than exercising for the sake of it, make changes to your lifestyle and environment that encourages you to move. Ride a bicycle. Walk. Park your car further away. Use the stairs. Chances are, you’ll sustain that physical activity longer than most people sustain their gym membership.

The ‘runner’s high’ that we experience when we do break through the initial tough bit of exercise is due to brain chemicals called endocannabinoids. (Yes, it’s one of those cannabinoids…) Some suppose this was an evolutionary outcome to support us back in the day when if we wanted dinner, we had to chase it and catch it. And it might be why stoners get the munchies.

People in western economies sit 9.3 hours a day and that doesn’t include sleeping.

Physical inactivity leads to muscle and bone weakness, immune system compromises, narrowing of arteries, metabolic decline, central nervous system compromise and general frailty. Sitting can be as bad as smoking. They should print warnings on couches and office chairs. Even if the chair is perfectly primed by a professional Ergonomist and made safe from any posture or health and safety issue, the very act of being sedentary and sitting for long periods is not what humans are suited for. In fact, it’s the opposite.

Between 1945 and 1995, the average adult daily calorie expenditure fell 800 calories. So the amount of moving we do each day has reduced by 800 calories, thanks to cars and machines and washing machines and so forth. 800 calories is the equivalent of a ten mile walk! In 1960, 50% of jobs required at least moderate physical activity. Today it is only 20%. Two thirds of desk workers eat lunch at their desk.

The Mayo Clinic takes credit for labelling a phenomenon it calls ‘Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis’ (NEAT.) I call it moving. Doing stuff burns calories. You don’t have to join a gym, swim an ocean or run marathons religiously. Make a bed, walk the stairs and stand while talking on the phone. They’re also licensing devices to be NEAT-certified to measure and motivate people, including special underwear. I presume the underwear is more about the measuring than the motivation?

We need to develop lifelong patterns of enjoyable activity.

Avoid, prevent or lessen fall risks with balance exercises. These don’t have to be yoga or tai-chi, though you’d probably benefit from doing that with a group socially. You can do them at home while watching TV to lessen the negative effects of being a couch potato. Here’s a few:

1.            Walk an imaginary line on the floor heel-to-toe while not looking at your feet, just like a cop suspecting you of drink-driving in a movie in the 1970s,

2.            Stand in that karate kid stance when he had the broken leg (but you don’t have to leap and kick a blond guy in the head),

3.            Get off and on the couch using only one leg. Change legs. Repeat. (Don’t go and get Dorritos between times – not even the new buffalo wings flavour when you got that 3-for-$5 deal at the supermarket.)

According to Oscar Franco of Erasmus MC University, walking thirty minutes a day for five days a week can add eighteen months to your life.

Sex is like cellphone credit – use it or lose it. Some research reckons sex three times a week can add two years to your life, bolstering natural levels of DHEA, HGH, immunoglobin-A and Oxytocin. Oxytocin is not only a painkiller but has some psychological benefits I’ll expand on later in the ‘Love’ section. “Men who ejaculate at least seven times a week in their 20s were found to be over a third less likely to develop aggressive prostate cancer in later life than men who only muster three,” says study author Professor Graham Giles from the Cancer Council Victoria. It is best if it is real sex with a real person though. Orgasms are healthy however you come by them but one-on-one consensual sex maximising skin-on-skin contact yields four hundred times the positive hormones etc. To try and achieve that by yourself, well, who has the time?

One book described orgasms using computer lingo, as a means of “rebooting your brain.” Well, every time you ring a help desk, the first question is always, “Is it turned on?”

Couples who have sex at least four times a week look more than 10 years younger than the average adult, concluded a Royal Edinburgh Hospital study. “Pleasure derived from sex is a crucial factor in preserving youth due to the release of adrenaline, dopamine, and norepinephrine,” says Neuropsychologist Dr David Weeks, who conducted the study. “Plus, sex triggers human growth hormone which combats free radicals from pollution, and exposure to other damaging environmental factors. This helps preserve skin cell walls and relax muscles which could otherwise cause wrinkles.”

A study in the journal Biological Psychology found men who had had sex the previous night responded better to stressful situations. All down to the soothing effect of another person’s touch, says Professor Stuart Brody, sexual psychologist from the University of Paisley. “A great deal of research has shown touch has a naturally calming effect,” says Brody. “And being touched by someone you care about significantly increases that effect.” Apart from the pleasurable sensation, researchers found touch actually reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

UK Men’s Health Magazine will spell out the sexual positions and activities that will optimise norepinephrine production. At least, I think so. My friend told me.

The body’s physical and mental systems interact. For example, aerobic exercise stimulates the production of Brain Derived Neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which supports the brain’s existing and new synapses and neurons. Columbia University’s Medical Centre in New York ran a study that found that the risk of Alzheimers is reduced by a third in the physically active. Add to that physical activity a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, and that risk reduces by a total of 60%.

A study published in 2010 in the American Journal of Epidemiology conducted by the American Cancer Society’s observed thousands of people between 1993 and 2006. They concluded, “Sitting for extended periods is a health risk as insidious as smoking or over-exposure to the sun.” Melbourne’s International Diabetes Institute found that even two hours daily exercise does not make up for the other twenty two hours if they’re motionless. “Blood levels of C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation) were twice as high in people who spent four or more hours a day in front of a screen than people spending two or less.”

I interviewed Dr Grant Schofield of AUT University’s Human Potential centre. I’ve included more excerpts of his passionate smarts in the ‘Eat’ section. In walking into his office in the Millennium Institute of Sport and Health on Auckland’s North Shore, the first thing that struck me was the view of the athletics tracks outside his office window – a great metaphor for moving if ever there was one. The second thing I noticed was the furniture, as I made the traditional foray to find a seat to continue our chat. I didn’t recognise any of it.

My experience with workplace ergonomic furniture came from managing a call centre where the mission was to get people seated as comfortably as possible, whilst minimising the potential for any physical harms that might occur from poor angles and heights and such of the furniture. I never knew then that the very act of prolonged sitting was, itself, harmful.

Grant proudly described his team’s self-made furniture as ‘UN-ergonomic. The stools, if they could be called that, were boxy and the seat component was angled. It was not only not designed to be sat in for long periods, it was purposefully designed to encourage people to get off it frequently. The height and layout of the ‘desks’ makes standing very practical and the overall layout provokes efficient movement.

Later on in the ‘Work’ section, I’ll suggest a concept called ‘Walking Meetings.’ Having a running track outside would be ideal for those. But not everyone has a running track at their work, nor purpose-built UN-ergonomic furniture. If that’s you, your need to move is going to have to be self-managed. But if you can re-jig your physical environment, it’s proven to be the most effective way to instigate changes and maintain the new wiser behaviours.

If you truly feel that you’re absolutely chained to your desk then there’s always the option of ‘Deskercise.’ Here are a few variations, using your chair or desk as tools for movement and that won’t get your ‘LA Law’ fashion work clothes all sweaty:

1.   Incline push-ups against desk,

2.   Tricep dips with chair behind you,

3.   Standing up off your chair using only one leg,

4.   Alternate knee-rises while seated,

5.   Plyometrics – push sideways against the interior walls of your desk like you’re The Hulk trying to break your legs out of prison.

If you need safety warning about your chair being on wheels and so forth, then I should probably tell you:

·              Coffee is hot,

·              Don’t use that new hairdryer while in the bath

An Australian study of 12,000 people found that, after the age of 25, each hour of TV watching decreased life expectancy by 22 minutes. A cigarette only reduced it by 11 minutes! Best not smoke while watching TV then, that’s for sure. Again, it’s not TV per se that’s the problem, it’s the associated social disconnection, mindless eating and sitting motionless. Average six hours of that kind of TV watching a day and it’ll take five years off your life. How can you add activity to your TV watching? Suggestions include wobbleboards, exercycles, light dumbbells and resistance bands. Certainly the latter can be stored wherever the remote control lives and be easily accessed for a few plyometrics with the coffee table. Even fidgeting is better than sitting still.

‘Breaking Bad’ was a classic and well-produced TV show. At fifty or so episodes, was it worth losing 18 hours of my life on top of the time I spent watching it? ‘Geordie Shore’ is definitely not.

The Baltimore Longitudinal Study on Aging found some good news for couch potatoes who never bother to start any physical efforts because they know they’ll never run a marathon. The biggest gains in health from physical activity are not accrued at the top end of the fitness scale. The biggest gains are from the first steps – from being a zero-effort couch potato to being a 10-minute-a-day walker. Oh and get some good shoes – they lessen any risk of inflammation to your joints and back.

You don’t need to start triathlons or join a gym, although the social aspects of that and the routine might be helpfully encouraging for some. They are for me. My weekly basketball game is highly social and physically akin to my caveman ancestors’ sporadic hunting outbursts.

You do need to crank out thirty to sixty minutes of activity five times a week that combines aerobic work, balance and muscle conditioning. Try deliberately inconveniencing yourself so you have to go downstairs to fetch the laundry basket. If you have to go get a latté, go to the 2nd closest café. Park further away so there is at least a bit of a stroll at the start and end of your work day. Get off your butt every twenty minutes and try to automate that. We’re all tethered to smartphones these days so have a regular alarm set to vibrate to remind you to move.

This does make a difference when it all adds up:

           Average daily Steps Obesity Rate

USA              5117  34%

Australia       9695  16%

Studies show that a mere twenty minutes of moderate activity significantly improves your mood in the subsequent twelve hours. Find others to be supportive and move with you.

I’m a latecomer to, but a fan of, the benefits of being a gardener:

·              45 minutes of gardening will burn the same number of calories as a 30 minute aerobics class,

·              Better sleepers,

·              Lower risk of osteoporosis,

·              Lower risk of diabetes,

·              Improved coordination, balance and strength means fewer accidents and better recovery from falls in later life,

·              The fresh food you grow is the best source of nutrients you’ll ever get,

·              It’s a project with purpose that multiple generations within a family can share and bond over,

·              Save money and spare money is always good for health,

·              Reduced anxiety,

·              Sense of purpose,

·              A routine / ritual and your body and mind like those,

·              No jogging required.

Gardening and yoga are great. Do yoga in a garden. With others.


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First Impressions

first impressions

The halo effect is a cognitive bias where one trait influences our general perception of other traits of that person or object. Remember, right at the start of the book I mentioned that interesting-but-useless study showing that people with asymmetrical faces make better leaders? Symmetrical faces are seen as better looking. Here’s where the halo effect often kicks in as the first thing we experience of a person is usually how they look. If we’re not conscious and careful then that can unduly influence how we see everything else about them.

Solomon Asch studied this Halo Effect or, as psychologists tag it, ‘exaggerated emotional coherence.’

There are two names below with a few describing words for each. Which person do you view more favourably?


intelligent, industrious, impulsive, critical, stubborn, envious


envious, stubborn, critical, impulsive, industrious, intelligent

Most people prefer Alan but, soon enough, you realise Ben has the same describing words but in the reverse order. Because Alan’s positive words came first, they coloured most people’s perception of him positively overall.

It may be when you read Alan’s and Ben’s descriptors that you summarised the situation clearly and logically in an instant and declared they were effectively the same calibre. Well, this is a book full of psychological tricks and you went into that little exercise expecting a psychological trick and that is exactly what you got. At work and in life, you aren’t waiting for psychological tricks around every corner. When you enter a job interview, meet a salesperson or conduct a performance review, you need to be aware of the potential for the halo effect and its flipside that I’m choosing to call the pitchfork effect. Falling for it isn’t a weakness, it’s natural, if you let your brain take that easy effortless road it desires so much.

The Halo / Pitchfork effects combine dangerously with cognitive dissonance. Daniel Kahneman not only studies and practises psychology, he also teaches it. He is compelled to mark exams and term papers. Often they come in bunches and often there are multiple pieces of work from the same students. He found that the first piece of work he marked for each individual influenced his subsequent marking for that individual. For example, if I scored highly on the first paper, that must mean I’m good at psychology. That subconscious assumption gets me the benefit of the doubt every time Kahneman subsequently marks my work. And it works to my detriment if the first piece of work scored poorly. Ambiguity gets forced to fit an existing pattern. Kahneman attempted to allow for these effects by making the papers as anonymously and randomised as possible.

If you’re leading someone and they make a mistake, to what extent is your reaction to that mistake coloured by your initial experiences with that person? This is called the ‘Diagnosis Bias.’ Once we label someone, we put on blinders to any evidence that contradicts the label.

Homophily is the tendency to like people who are like us. How often when conducting a job interview and you get ‘a good feeling’ about a candidate is that due to homophily?

I have to add one last comment about Kahneman as I’ve referenced him a lot. He’s a psychologist. For his co-development of the theory of behavioural economics, he won a Nobel Prize – in economics. That’s not even his main discipline. How does that go down at academic parties? “Oh, you got a Nobel Prize? I got one too, for economics, AND I’M NOT EVEN AN ECONOMIST!” (I did look up the Nobel website. They don’t call it ‘Economics.’ They call it ‘The Economic Sciences.’ Who says the Swedish don’t have a sense of humour?)


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We overvalue what we already have


Duke University’s basketball team does consistently well and its small gym is always sold out. They have a bizarre but traditional system for fairly rationing out the precious and scarce resource that is Tar Heel tickets. People have to camp out and remain present in their camps as demonstrated in role calls just to get into a lottery for the right to buy a ticket. Dan Ariely got a list of those who’d made it into the draw which showed those who’d won and those who hadn’t. He rang them up and posed as scalper offering to set up a deal for the losers to buy a ticket and the winners to sell. Bear in mind that both groups were very similar and both had gone through the highly committed, emotional and harrowing experience of the camp-out and the lottery. The average buyer was willing to pay $170. The average seller wouldn’t accept less than $2400. These people were students and $170 was a lot of money. The potential buyers spoke of it being the equivalent of an evening out with friends plus drinks. The potential sellers spoke of priceless, irreplaceable memories and stories for the grandkids. This seriously distorted their perception of the true value of the tickets. Be it our family home, car, job, boss or favourite TV show, we over-value what we currently have.

It is much easier to not give somebody something in the first place than to take it away from them later.

People toss around the terms “ownership” and “buy-in” in workplaces a lot but what do they actually mean when it comes to performance and behaviour? The more work you put into something or the greater the time, emotion and commitment invested, the greater the depth and sense of ownership. Think of the online auction bidding process, the amount of DIY projects you’ve done on your home or trial periods for services you’ve subsequently purchased. The greater effort you’ve put in, the less likely you are to want to let go and walk away.


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How many coffee loyalty cards do you have (& do you know the meaning of the word ‘loyalty’?)


How many coffee shop loyalty cards do you have? (If you have more than one, you may wish to consult a dictionary for the meaning of the word ‘loyalty.’) Do they all operate the same way? Think about all the old-fashioned loyalty cards you’ve seen. Not the new electronic point-collecting plastic cards with magnetic strips or microchips. Think of the timeless dog-earred cardboard ones with ten squares or cups or whatever and purchases earned a stamp or a holepunch. At some delicious and delirious future time, you get that tenth stamp and the next cup is FREE!!! It’s like Christmas but without the immense tension, family drama and homicidal / suicidal thoughts.

Did those cards affect your behaviour? Did they drive your decision-making? In what ways? Which type of cards were most successful – for the cafe? The whole point of those things, one would presume, was to increase profit in the long run for the cafe. They’re not giving you free coffee because you’re awesome. (This is no way belittles your actual level of awesomeness.)

In 2006, a study was done at a carwash contrasting two different approaches to loyalty cards. Half the cards were normal ‘get eight stamps, get one free’ cards. The other half were the same except that the card needed TEN stamps but the first two stamps had already been given. For that second group of cards, the first purchase was, in effect, the THIRD stamp.For the business, the cost was the same for both types of card – the customer still needed to buy eight carwashes.

And this had what impact?

19% of the first group of cards got redeemed up to the tenth and final stamp thus rewarding the customer their freebie. And how did the second group of cards go? 34%! Almost double. AND they filled their cards quicker AND as they got closer to completing their card, the gaps between carwashes diminished. The closer they got to their ‘goal’, the more active they appeared to be pursuing it.

That’s interesting in and of itself if you’re running a business and considering implementing a loyalty card. That’s not what I’m writing about though. This is just a demonstration of a good old predictable human trait called ‘Endowed Progress.’ People are more likely to progress towards a goal if they perceive that they have already made progress towards it.

How can we help others move towards their work and life goals leveraging the endowed progress effect? Weight loss or a promotion are common goals. Although both would be better expressed using something like the SMART model. (Specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timebound. “Lose 10kg in 3 months etc”) Somehow we / they need to give themselves credit for the progress they’ve already made before they officially start. The weight loss or getting promoted equivalent of two free stamps.

Conversely, people can experience negative effects with endowed progress. Ever waited for a bus? The bus is late. The bus is later still. Maybe the bus isn’t coming at all? Again, research indicates that the more time we invest in waiting for something, the more irrationally attached we become to continue waiting. (That said, you just know that the moment you walk just far enough away, the bus will come around the corner… psych!!)


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‘The Difficults’

soup nazi

A big hit movie of 2018 was ‘The Incredibles 2’. Another Pixar hit with the amazing Holly Hunter, who I learned this week when starting out used to share an apartment with fellow Oscar winner Frances McDormand and was a study buddy with Jason Alexander who gained fame as ‘George’ in Seinfeld. We are indeed highly influenced by those with whom we associate

This becomes problematic when we are forced to associate with people who do not add value – people whom this article describes not as ‘The Incredibles’ but as ‘The Difficults’.

Have a read. It has some classic categories, albeit a bit cartoonesque: the tank, the sniper, the whiner (all of which follow the same naming structure as Seinfeld: the contest, the puffy shirt, the soup nazi).

A key takeaway from the article is to focus on that which you can control and to have clear, incremental goals on which to focus, plus to differentiate between difficult people and difficult situations. It also says its methods can be applied to difficult people outside work, such as family. That’s a job for a different and much longer article…


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Fancy Language


I rang somebody instead of emailing them today. (Very proud of myself). It went to voicemail, “My apologies, I am unable to speak to you at the present time”.

I don’t have a problem with big words if they’re the right words. If word choice is purposeful, efficient, clear, unambiguous and helpful for the other person, that’s great. There’s a lot of criticism of emoji use, text-speak and so forth for being unprofessional. That’s an argument for the history-writers of the future to decide. I would argue there’s almost the same problem / criticism but in reverse with many people deliberately choosing to use overly formal, professional-sounding terms from habit or what they think they’re supposed to say.

Using “with regards to” instead of “about” is the verbal equivalent of wearing a top hat, monocle and cummerbund on casual Friday. Maybe once but not now. Also, I just discovered I’ve been spelling ‘monocle’ incorrectly forever.

I get that you’re “unavailable to speak with me at the present time” but I would get it a lot quicker if you said “now”. I’m guilty of this myself but I’m trying. What are some of yours?


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Back To Work Because Blurryface Needs The Money


Unsustainable stress in the workplace and its physiological consequences have certainly had a much greater focus in the last couple of decades. Health and safety legislation has had an impact in driving behaviour change by employers to prevent and mitigate stressors to employees. High blood pressure can be independently measured and monitored and is one of those flags that may indicate aggregated stress exposure is having a deleterious effect on an individual. You can graph it.

Less easy to measure but still something we all experience is something delightfully called ‘brain fog’. You know the feeling – inconsistent memory, difficulty keeping your attention on what matters, and fighting your own tongue to speak with clarity. Our brains are the size of our fist, roughly two to four percent of our body mass, yet our brain consumes twenty four percent of our body’s energy every day. It’s a hungry little critter. At times of brain fog, known in those soup commercials as ‘3 o’clockitis’, our laser-like focus is diluted, distracted and distorted. The effort and energy to get back on track just isn’t there, and if you’re relying on soup to sort it out, you might be waiting a while.

The frustration piles on and it becomes a death spiral of an afternoon from a productivity and self-confidence perspective. Worse still, and not nearly acknowledged enough, there’s an accumulative effect.

A couple of years ago, I spent a while in the US. A big hit on the charts at the time was an album by ‘twenty one pilots’ called ‘Blurryface’ from which the biggest hit was a song called ‘Stressed Out’. Front-man Tyler Joseph said, “Blurryface is this character that I came up with that represents a certain level of insecurity”. Despite not existing in reality, Blurryface’s Twitter account has 194,000 followers. That hit song ‘Stressed Out’ starts out as a lament for the simpler times earlier in his life and ends up with the singer getting into a slanging match with Blurryface who insists he gets back to work because “Wake up! We need to make money”!

Alt-rock rap crossovers aside, the message in the lyrics is one of great relevance to employees and those employers with responsibilities for workplace wellness. (Full credit to twenty one pilots for their wisdom, especially as it’s super likely they never had a real job). There is an inherent conflict within us to knuckle down and get the job done, to muscle through the hard parts. Plenty of leadership books speak wisdom similar to Covey’s “Sharpen the saw” in his ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’. Essentially, take a break!

It’s hard to argue that a saw that never gets sharpened quickly loses its ability to saw wood swiftly and cleanly. Real saws do get sharpened by people who are reliant on saws. Covey’s metaphor means we should take breaks so when we get back off break, we’ll be more productive. Tru dat (alt rock rap term).

However, if saws were sentient, had mortgages and wanted a promotion with commensurate pay rise, maybe they wouldn’t let themselves be sharpened? Maybe they’d proudly declare how many hours they had sawed today, how much later than the boss they had stayed at work, and they could always get sharpened when they were dead. I have heard actual people say that about themselves in workplaces when told they should take a break.

So, there’s a battle overtly or covertly between some people at work and their bosses over taking breaks. And, if Blurryface is to be believed, there’s often a battle within ourselves about taking breaks too. We know we should, we probably will, just not right now.

One means of lessening brain fog is to remove distractions. Declutter your desk, workspace and your life. Your brain will fire up enough distractions, you do not need to leave obvious visual ones lying around yourself. Some people might perceive a towering and unstable in-tray as a mark of honour. It isn’t, it’s a stressor. Put it out of sight.

The same goes for multi-tasking. Not actually a thing. The best our brains can muster on a good day is ‘rapid task switching’. This is energy inefficient for our brains, so one thing at a time. We need to have absolute clarity at the start of what is important and why, so when competing priorities start slapping you in the face later when you don’t have much resistance, you can fall back on first principles – what is important and why.

At the very least, we should each try to diminish the job stress that is of our own making. Some jobs are inherently stressful, such as the Automobile Association’s Roadside Assistance Officers. They’re constantly heading for a breakdown.


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winter fun

New Zealand has a stretch between the first Monday of June and the fourth Monday in October when there are no public holidays. I’m not sure if there is any associated boost or drop in productivity during this period. Someone must know. They should do a graph. Maybe the department of statistics. I’ve always had a soft spot for statistics. It was the last remaining fraction of maths that I ever understood, and I have a pretty good batting average of pronouncing it without having to resort to “stats”.

I can’t speak for the nation but these are my peak times in my industries. But, winter is coming and it comes between those dates. It’s dark, cold and travel gets disrupted. Morale gets tested.

I love what I do, the results I get and the variety and ‘interestingness’ of the people I meet. Fun is often simply inherent in what I do. I’m well aware it is not in many workplaces. Engagement research and best-workplace-type criteria indicate the right amount of the right type of fun is conducive to effectiveness and productivity.

The article I’m linking to today has a few ideas around dealing with any dark or unfun downturns you might personally experience or encounter at work. It talks of “disconnection” and “feeling lonely without being lonely”. To what extent does this resonate with you and what can be done? Check it out.


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Everyone Has A Career Plan Until They Get (Metaphorically) Punched In The Face

fist punch

About two years ago in Wellington, I met Paul at a show in which I was performing. Backstage, we got to chatting. He was a man in his twenties with a job that perhaps many in their twenties might consider a snoozefest but a good job with prospects – a Government job. He’d just taken a step up and seemed settled in putting his artistic endeavours on the backburner into the hobbyist dilettante category and knuckling down to focus on his increasingly adult responsibilities. I was twice his age or thereabouts but could still vividly recall being in that situation myself and making similar decisions. Not that these things are one definitive decisions they’re more a series of decisions every day that you don’t make.

One day not long after (and I hope that I in no way influenced him), he made one definitive decision. He quit that job, disconnected his connections, sold everything he couldn’t carry and moved to Germany – a country where he knew no one and did not speak the language.

I’m prompted to write about Paul because today on FaceBook, he posted that his mission for 2018 was to do one new thing a day and he was asking the online hive mind for ideas. He sees this as a way to push himself into challenges and extend his personal growth beyond his comfort zone. I’m writing a book on much the same topic at the moment and have just developed a presentation on doing two dangerous things a year. Not so much Paul’s version of lots of little things but regular significant things with potential risks.

In this article as a provocative thought for my readers, I’m trying to contrast two distinctive approaches to proactive change. Most of the change we experience is probably happening to us rather than being initiated by us. That’s reactive change. We have our plans and we truck on until life sticks out a leg and trips us up or thrusts out a helping hand and gives us an assist. Plans are great but, as boxer Mike Tyson said, everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face. Plans are like the deadlines that author Douglas Adams wrote about, “I love the whooshing sound they make as they pass by”.

A thin slice of the population make proactive choices to change their employment situations. Brave souls. Do they make little continuous choices – like attending nightschool or starting a sideline online business? Or, do they pack it all in, quit the day job with no next gig in sight and see what happens? It’s certainly a wide spectrum. Where have you sat on that scale? Where do you sit on that scale? Where will you sit on that scale?

Marvin Zuckerman created a scale where we can complete an assessment and it’ll categorise our ‘type’ when it comes to sensation seeking – effectively our comfort and behaviour around change and risk. Whether this aspect of our character is genetic or learned is debated. Like everything else, it’s probably a bit of both. I chose to believe it can be a choice. Are you a thrill seeker, experience seeker, disinhibitor, or a boredom susceptible?

These questions are tough to answer off the top of your head and we’re often very poor assessors of ourselves. Track down those best friends of yours and ask them. Real best friends – ones who’ll tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. I send out an assessment to people after my presentation if they ask for it. (Everyone asks for it).

There’s a quick ‘n’ dirty way to know. Three questions. When going with a group to an exotic restaurant that wasn’t your choice, what do you consider when ordering? When arriving at 5pm on a business trip for which you’re fully prepared for a single night stay by yourself in a town you’ve never been to, what do you do that night? At a large gathering of staff, many of whom you don’t know well, what do you do during the scheduled break / networking time? See if you spot a pattern in your answers.

Or, you can look back on the changes you reacted to and initiated in your career to date and analyse those. The best predictor of your future is your past behaviour. And our past behaviour is exactly what got us to wherever we are today. If you’d like something different in your career, then proactively reviewing and adapting that past behaviour of yours is a necessary step.

I quoted Mike Tyson and Douglas Adams earlier in this article. Now, I’m going to quote myself. I have convinced myself I thought of this and I steadfastly refuse to google it in case 17,912 other people already did. So, at the time of writing, author speaker and trainer Terry Williams said, “People don’t resist change; they resist being changed”.

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