Christmas Presence

Christmas Presence

Christmas background

There are many mediation techniques, lots of approaches to fit different preferences.  And all of them have one thing in common – retraining your attention.

Try concentrating on one thing for 30 seconds… look at something in front of you and simply keep your attention on that one thing.  How long does it take before some other thought pops into your head and steals away your attention?  For me it’s seconds.

In life the things that get our attention are the things that most affect us.  If it’s a task, the task that gets our attention is the task that gets done.  The feedback we pay attention to leaves the lasting impression, and the mood we dwell in affects how we feel and react to others (if you’re a parent or carer, you’ll have regular reminders of how easy going you can be when in a good mood, and how short you can be when in a bad one).

Like any ‘downtime’ at Christmas it’s easy to be thinking about what’s next, whether that’s the challenges facing you when you get back to work, your impending diet, or your new year’s resolution.  Wouldn’t it be nice to just enjoy the break and let our attention dwell on the pleasant things in life and the people we care about, at least for a day or two.

I wish you, very Merry Christmas Presence.

Be remarkable,

Speaking – Tip 2


Questions – Part 1 – Questions are fundamental

Questions is a big topic, more of a chapter than an article.  So this is part 1, and the tip is that questions are fundamental to any talk.

Why?  They help create engagement.  If we are looking for an answer, we are more inclined to stay engaged until we find one – so you want your audience asking you or even more importantly themselves questions, and looking for answers in your talk.

Perhaps this point is just too obvious, but it is easy to forget.  A monolog of information delivered with an unclear reason (a question) is hard going.  When we’re delivering information through a talk, questions are the hooks that we hang the information from.  And as the speaker, we should be proactive in generating the right questions, which may be explicit, but often they’re not.

Storytelling generates implicit questions; in entertainment we’re often left hanging as the book or film changes to a different scene or the closing music of the soap opera kicks in… you want to know what happens, it’s uncomfortable to leave a thread incomplete.  An unanswered question, is a powerful draw.

Even the simplest of jokes "A horse goes into bar, the barman says, ‘why the long face’" is quietly laced with questions.

A talk then, is a planned route from one or more big questions, through a maze of small questions and answers to reach a point of answering a big question(s) – or just to confuse things, cause the listener to answer a big question.

Questions are our most basic, fundamental engagement tool.  What we do as speakers, is package them beautifully.

Be remarkable,

Is Genius next to Madness?

Gaudi-Casa Batllo_s[5]

I’ve always wondered if there is any truth that genius is next to madness.  So when I was reading an interview with Dean Keith Simonton the other day and he brought it up, I was naturally intrigued.

Simonton is one of the worlds most respected researchers into creativity in the historical record – that is, analysing historical data looking for specific, objective information.  In the interview he mentioned that among geniuses, creators tend to display higher rates of mental illness than leaders, and that depression and alcoholism are the most common illnesses.

Genius here appears to be described as ‘exceptional creativity, measured through productivity’. So, we’re talking about highly creative individuals who publish, or otherwise make public, information that can be analysed.  And you can split creative genius by discipline, for example leadership, scientific, artistic, athletic and so on.

As ever, when you look at the science the results are more complex than the simple summary statement, but I was intrigued to see that a summary statement was being made.  And goes something like this:

  • Among creative genius, creators who rely more on imagination display higher rates of mental illness than, say, leaders.  And, if you break down the kinds of creators, then artists tend to show higher rates than scientists.  Simonton summarises that “in general, the more constraints on the genius in the particular domain, the lower the rate of psychopathology.”

My interpretation looks like this…


The more concrete the concept of the creative topic, the lower the incidence of psychopathology (mental illness); the more abstract the creative topic, the higher the incidence of psychopathology.  For example, leaders show less psychopathology than creators and among creators, a scientific creative genius in Physics is less likely to show issues than a creative genius in an art like poetry.

It’s worth noting that although there does appear to be link between creative genius and ‘madness’ – there is a higher percentage of psychopathology among creative geniuses than among us regular folks – it still means that most creative geniuses are mentally well, despite how headline worthy it might be to say otherwise.

Be remarkable, and stay well!

Speaking – Tip 1

Newtons Cradle_s

Your audience will reflect your energy

If you’ve watched the X Factor or any show where the contestants are expected to entertain the audience and be judged on it, you may be familiar with the uncomfortable feeling an obviously nervous contestant causes.  The contestant is uncomfortable and so are you.  Similarly you might be familiar with the opposite feeling where you are drawn in to the entertainment and the sofa commentary halts for just few minutes.

It’s different from liking or not liking a performance – a great singer can sing a song you don’t like – it doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable (well, unless the song itself has it’s own history for you), you just don’t like the song.

Whether this reflection is due to our mirror neurons as discovered by Vittorio Gallese et al, or something entirely different, it is a phenomenon a speaker should appreciate and use.

Simply, when you’re speaking the audience will tend to reflect your energy.  Bring the pace and energy down for something that needs consideration or sympathy, take it up when you want engagement or motivation.

Of course you can read the audience energy too – are they engaged, on the edge of their seat when they should be, and sat back looking thoughtful when you’d like them to be?  If not, are they reflecting you?

It’s not the only consideration, but it is speaking tip number one.  I first heard this tip from Nicholas Bate during one of his Instant MBA workshops – it was one of those ‘of course’ moments for me… thank you Nicholas.

Be remarkable,

Is Positive Emotion relevant to Business?

bussines eggs

We all like to feel good, don’t we?  I recall many years ago the BBC Radio breakfast DJ Chris Evans said something like ‘in order to appreciate feeling good you have to feel bad’, or some variation on that duality. But, does feeling good have any benefits in the workplace beyond, well, feeling good?

One of the worlds leading researchers in positive emotions is Barbara Frederickson.  With her colleagues Dr. Frederickson formed the Broaden-and-Build Theory of Positive Emotions which you’ll find summarized at her PEPLab site, and in her book Positivity. Positivity-Book-Barbara-Frederickson

Among the things we can learn from the research is the effect positive and negative emotion have on our ability to creatively engage in a task or activity.  From my own experience, approaching a problem in a good mood certainly helps with engagement, leading to a frame of mind open to opportunities and possibilities.  When I compare it to approaching a task or problem in a negative mood, I’m much more likely to create a ‘why this is doomed’ approach, or at least find it harder to engage.

Although rarely black and white, it does seem like common sense that approaching an activity with positivity increases your chances of a great outcome.  What isn’t common sense and why I think Frederickson’s research is so interesting, is that it’s unusual for us to take advantage of this, that is, to actively try and engage positive emotion at work.

The quick version of the broaden and build theory is that positive emotions make us more open, they broaden our mind so we are better able to make connections and discover new information.  It’s perfect for problem solving, enabling a more creative state of mind.  This in turn means you’re more likely to learn new things and have a wider range of approaches and experience, which buildsyour resources over time.  So, not only are we more successful in the moment, but over time we grow our talent as well.

This is very relevant for business.  If individuals whether solo or part of team are more engaged, it can positively impact the business.  So, how do you help foster positive emotion in the workplace?  There are lots of ways, here’s a few:

  • Consistency between your internal and external view and approach to customers
  • Opportunity to work in and on your strengths
  • Having a better appreciation for the different kinds of personality among your team (putting some effort into understanding your colleagues)
  • Positive leadership and role models
  • A moral purpose
  • Fairness & openness
  • An unbalanced approach to criticism

Just taking this last example ‘an unbalance approach to criticism’ – Frederickson put a number on the amount of positive to negative emotion shown in successful and unsuccessful business teams.  The magic number is a ratio of 3:1… 3 times more positive emotion than negative.

A practical example, and a setting used in the research, is the interaction between people in the same meeting.  For example, if an idea is raised, a positive interaction might entail people asking about and exploring the idea – ‘that sounds interesting, though I’m not sure I understand, tell us more’, whereas ‘no, that doesn’t sound like it will work’ is a negative one.  Of course, some ideas raised may well be untenable and exploring them a waste of time.  The point is that successful, high performance business teams showed a positivity to negativity ratio above 3:1, and unsuccessful business teams showed a ratio of less than 1:1.

Incidentally, there’s also also a threshold for being too positive, it’s 11:1.  Here there’s so much positivity as to be blind to the challenges or pitfalls of an approach, and the downsides aren’t considered.  Which makes it worth pointing out that some negativity is beneficial and realistic, specifically as we’ve just learned, a positive to negative ratio between 3:1 and 11:1.

So there we have it, well a bit of it anyway… positive emotion can make you and your organisation more successful.

Be remarkable,

Being Remarkable – 1

I bet you could easily name one or more people whom you would describe as ‘remarkable’.  Those people stand-out.  And what’s more, if we were all in a room the names we produced would have plenty of overlap –  Mahatma Ghandi is an easy one, and Mother Theresa is pretty likely too.

Some small percentage of remarkable people become famous for what they achieve, and so many of us can name them – and in the cases of Ghandi and Mother Theresa there would be little debate about the description.  If you search the web for ‘remarkable people’, celebrity will be mentioned pretty close to the top of the resulting articles, and in some of these cases the debate would stronger!

But being remarkable doesn’t require fame.  The teacher that manages to genuinely inspire her pupils to greatness, surely is a candidate.  As would be the soldier who is awarded the Victoria Cross and the list of Nobel laureates.

My ‘elevator pitch’ version of what I think it takes to become remarkable is – Positive, Passion and Purpose.

  • Positive – what remarkable people do, is for good.  Whether on a small or a grand scale, against insurmountable odds or simply unique – but certainly, for good.
  • Passion – being remarkable takes effort and time, the kind of effort and time that few people are willing to commit… and passion is an amazing driver to put in that effort and time.
  • Purpose –  I was tempted to include another ‘P’ for ‘people’ but decided that purpose and people are intertwined.  We are fundamentally social animals and to be recognised as remarkable by other people, usually requires an underlying purpose that benefits others.  And like passion, purpose and meaning beyond ourselves drives effort over the long-haul.

The rest of this series will go beyond the elevator pitch and I hope it goes some way to inspire the remarkable in you…

Be remarkable,

How do you measure positive character?

Back at the formal start of Positive Psychology in 1998 one of the many challenges was the lack of an agreed way to characterize and measure good character… on the assumption that good character is one of the elements of positive human development.  A project created in 2000 by the Mayerson Foundation called the Values in Action Institute, now known simply VIA Character, was the start of the VIA Classification of Character Strengths.

The classification came about through a broad study to identify cross cultural, morally valued virtues and strengths of character. Led by Professors Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman, it includes 24 character strengths such as teamwork, kindness, creativity and authenticity.

Today, I love using VIA Character as one of the tools to help people understand their strengths… I say love using it because being able to spend time with somebody talking about their strengths and how that translates into what they are great at, has been a universally positive experience on both side.  And with the recent release of the VIA Character Team Report, using VIA Character with teams has become even easier.

Practically, being clear about our strengths can make working on and choosing projects or work assignments easier;  and if you’re able to adjust or tweak your work so you can emphasise your strengths, it can make an enormous difference to both effectiveness and enjoyment.

In a team, sharing character strengths can help to grow the bond between the individuals and foster and improve the chances of successful collaboration – and so the results of the team.  It can also help highlight gaps that can be consciously compensated for or at least considered.

VIA have recently published a video study with Allied Health in Wisconsin, USA which shows how they’ve used VIA Character… it’s worth a view.

Allied Health Organisation and The VIA Survey


If you have any problems viewing the video in the page, you can watch it here)


Be remarkable,