When do you have your best ideas?

This is a question I often ask busy managers. Here are the most common answers.

  • First thing in the morning (after a good nights sleep)
  • In the gym
  • Walking the dog
  • On holidays (but not deliberately thinking about work)
  • Swimming
  • Sitting in the garden
  • Standing on top of a mountain
  • or sometimes they say “it just came to me one day”

What is the common thread? They all have their best ideas away from work. No one so far has said to me I had a Eureka moment sitting at my desk staring at a screen. Newton is famous for “discovering” gravity sitting under an apple tree.

Why do we have our best ideas away from work?

The brain is an incredible machine that processes information in the background without conscious awareness. When faced with a challenge, it combines all the hard facts along with our experience, feelings and our values & beliefs to come up with the right answer.

But to allow the brain to do this work, we need to free it up from consciously thinking about the challenge. We need to allow our brains to process in their own mysterious ways and to resist directing it consciously. Psychologists call this incubation.

So if you are struggling to work something out, then forget about it and let your brain do the rest.


Choose operational targets wisely

I ran a workshop this week with a really great team at one of my clients and the topic of targets came up for discussion.

Targets had been introduced to this organisation fairly recently and the team had a very interesting discussion around how this impacted them. The role of the team was varied and involved working with other teams & suppliers. They also had their own processing targets to meet.

What happened on Friday morning when they hadn’t yet met their weekly targets? Focus on the target to the exclusion of all other work of course.  Logic might dictate that they should focus on the work that would add most value in the long term however when faced with a missed target then short term wins over the long term.

We can see this playing out in the recent controversy over immigrant removal targets at the UK Home Office. While at a policy level you might not wish to have targets for removal of illegal immigrants as this could introduce bias in decision making, at an operational level teams have targets set to ensure that they are working productively. Where work is outsourced this is further reinforced by contracts and service level agreements.

The natural incentive for a team and their immediate managers will be to focus on meeting targets they have been set. That is often how success is measured.

Bhudda said “We become what we pay attention to “ and if success equals hitting targets then it is entirely reasonable for teams to become proficient at hitting them irrespective of the wider organisational strategySo chose your operational targets wisely as they can lead to unintended consequences.

Walking the talk can be a challenge

Being a role model is an inherent part of being in a managerial or leadership position – your team looks up to you and expects you to lead the way in behavior and values. This topic often comes up in management & leadership workshops. From time to time I see delegates back away from being a role model but mostly it is accepted as “blindingly obvious”.

However when you dig beneath the surface, being a role model can be a serious challenge – as can be seen in recent newspaper headlines when organisations say one thing about their values but behave differently when problems occur.

Here are some challenges that I often encounter in organisations:-

  • The need to be constantly self-aware of actions and their impact on others.
  • When actions & behavior fall below an organisation’s (or personal) values they are addressed promptly and in a public way with those impacted.
  • Organisational values and cultures change over time and behavior needs to change accordingly.
  • When I see others failing to be a role model, I call it out.
  • Situations that potentially damage our reputation or commercial interests when we put our self-interest above our values.
  • Accepting that we are all human and make mistakes. It is how we deal with those mistakes that really demonstrate our values.

Walking the talk is easy to say but to do so requires courage and determination.

If you are interested in learning more about how we can help your organisation develop a values based culture, then get in touch with us today.


There is no them, only us

Like most people, having never been to a real prison, my knowledge of the prison system was limited to the often depressing news about them and their residents. That changed last week when I had the privilege of visiting Portland prison in Dorset with the youth offending rehabilitation charity, Key4life. There I met 30 young men who were serving time at this forbidding looking prison perched on top of a windswept cliff overlooking the English Channel. It felt isolated and on the very edge.

It is easy to think of offenders as being different from us – outsiders, poorly educated, drug-addicted, violent, dangerous and well….just criminal. But spend a day with them and you will find that we are more alike than we think.

They want their lives to be better
They want to provide for, and protect, their family
They want to do meaningful work
They get frustrated about things they can’t control
They want to be respected and valued
They want to have a voice and to be heard
They want their lives to have meaning
They miss their friends and family
They grieve for those they have lost
They want to love and be loved
They want to have a place to call home

They sound a lot like you and me…perhaps we are more similar than we think.

If you think we are more alike, visit the Key4life website at www.key4life.org.uk.

Small business owners – getting on with the job

BrexitFollowing the vote to leave the EU in June, you might have thought that Armageddon was just around the corner. We are doomed, the economy will crash, it will take years to negotiate an exit, EU countries will punish us with high tariffs….

But Britain’s small business owners, in my experience, have pretty much ignored the background noise. In fact they have been …

  • chasing up leads & identifying new potential customers
  • keeping an eye on costs
  • monitoring profit margins
  • training staff to develop their skills
  • increasing value to clients with new products and services
  • building relationships with other organisations
  • looking for new suppliers
  • providing excellent customer service
  • checking out competitors
  • looking at export markets now that sterling has fallen
  • adjusting prices to reflect input costs from overseas suppliers
  • doing their accounts
  • paying bills and salaries
  • dealing with issues
  • answering the phone

…and working hard to provide an income for them and their families.

In fact small business owners know the only person they can rely on is themselves and their staff. They don’t wait around for governments to make decisions or for EU negotiations to start…

They just get on with the job

P.S. My business is a small business and I have been getting on with the job too. I have done pretty much all of the above AND wrote this blog entry.

What can we learn from Olympic performers?

Discobolus of MyronI was at the gym the other day running on a treadmill while watching the women’s marathon. Normally I run at a modest 10 kph pace which keeps up my fitness without killing me. But on this occasion I noticed I was running faster and needed to increase the treadmill speed. The strange thing was not feeling as if I was working harder than normal and that made me wonder why.

As I was cooling off, I realized that I had been following along in the foot steps of the marathon runners without consciously knowing that I was doing anything different or working harder. So simply by watching others perform my own performance improved.

Does this apply in the business world?

Absolutely. Finding and following in the footsteps of people we admire can have a very positive impact on our performance. We’ve all worked with colleagues who can show us how to better handle difficult people or go about a challenging project. So surround yourself with Olympic quality colleagues and watch your skills and abilities improve.

[Editor’s note: Peter seems to be suggesting he was running at the same pace as the women marathon runners and frankly he is deluding himself. The winner’s average pace was 17.58kph over 2 hours and 24 minutes. Somewhat faster than Peter has ever run in his life.]

Take the toothbrush test

I was brushing my teeth a few nights ago and something was really bugging me. In fact it had been bugging me all day – while I was eating lunch, while I was working, while I was watching TV with my family in the evening. As I scrubbed my teeth, I asked myself “do I want to feel like this?“. The answer was an emphatic no, so I knew it had to be my inner chimp.

Who is this chimp and what is it doing in my head?

The Chimp model was created by Prof Steve Peters to represent how we think and act. The model has three elements – Chimp, Human and Computer.


Human. This is the logical rational thinking you that deals with facts. The person that is rational, looks at things in context and accepts that everything isn’t clear cut. This is the real you that has grown up and developed since you were born.

Your Inner Chimp

Chimp. Your inner chimp can be thought of as an emotional machine inside your head. It is something you are born with in the same way you are born with two arms and two legs. You didn’t choose your chimp, it just exists.

computerComputer. This stores information for use later. It also allows you to act in an automatic way for example walking or driving a car.


So what’s the problem?

Your Chimp (yes we all have one) is way stronger than your human so it always gets to decide what to do first. Unfortunately this means it can get carried away on a wave of feelings without considering the rational facts about a situation. And when your Chimp gets annoyed, it becomes restless and keeps bugging you about things.


What your Chimp bugs you about is different for everyone. Often it can be just feelings of unhappiness at a particular situation or it might be feeling stressed because your basic emotional needs are not being met.

How can I manage it?

The first step is to recognize when your Chimp has taken over. Instead of waiting until you are brushing your teeeth, just ask yourself the magic question “Do I want to feel like this?” This is a logical question that only your Human can answer. If the answer is no then your Chimp is running the show.

Once you know your Chimp is in charge you can slow down and start thinking rationally about the problem. Getting a perspective, formulating a plan and slowing down your thinking are all rational (Human) things that will calm and sooth your Chimp.

So if you are still being bugged by something while brushing your teeth at the end of the day, then you know your chimp is agitated and its time to sit it down and get rational.

If you would like more information on how this model can help you, please don’t hesitate in getting in touch.

P.S. What was bugging me the other day as I brushed my teeth? I honestly can’t remember it was so unimportant. But of course that is the problem with Chimps – they love to over react.

Different but the same

Odd One OutDifference is all around us. It’s easy to see others as being different whether it’s their gender, skin colour, size, clothing, nationality or lifestyle. But having worked with and trained people from all over the world it is clear that the challenges of leadership, handling difficult people and motivating your team are universal. So what else might we share….

We get frustrated about things we can’t control
We want to be respected and valued
We want to have a voice and to be heard
We want our life to have some meaning
We love our family unconditionally
We want to provide for, and protect, our family
We want to love and be loved
We want to have a place to call home and we miss it when we are away
We grieve for those we lose
We are all human

…perhaps we are more similar than we think.

Self-driving Terminator cars will kill us all!

Google Self Drive CarHow we make decisions can depend on a wide variety of things – how we feel at the time, what else is going on in our lives and, the granddaddy of them all, looking for information to confirm what we already believe (sometimes called Confirmation Bias, but I prefer to call this the “Ah-hah I told you so” bias).

There is another common error we make when taking mental shortcuts. We don’t like to consider things too rationally (because it hurts too much). Our brains like to seize on “facts” which we can then use to make decisions quickly without having to do a lot of thinking. But often these facts are not actually facts at all. Marketing companies understand this very well.

Look at ads for beauty products, anti-aging creams in particular. Appear younger, reduce this, enhance that and you too can look like this fabulous model who has been in professional make-up for 3 hours. But look at the small print and these ads will say something like “72% of 97 agree” (this is from a current ad by a French cosmetics company). So they did a test of 97 people and 72% agree so 66.24 people think it works. Hardly scientifically robust statistics but it’s the headline “facts” they want us to remember.

So politicians and marketers love to use these factoids, but it can also lead to poor decisions or perceptions in the real world as well. Recently I saw the following headline on the BBC website:-

Google’s self-drive cars had to be stopped from crashing”

Wow those robot cars are going to kill us all, I’d never get in one! This might be a “factual” shortcut to believing that self-drive cars are four-wheeled terminators but is this a short-cut to a bad conclusion? Here are some facts about the number of times a human has had to intervene in California in 2015:-

Google             13
Nissan           106
Mercedes     1051
Delphi           405 (& no I have never heard of them before either)
Volkswagon  260
Bosch            625 (yes I thought these guys made tools and home appliances)

Does that make it any clearer? Well it seems to confirm that our first response was correct. I mean look at how many times they almost had accidents – 2,460 times. Actually it is how may times there was  a human intervention not a potential accident, a subtle but important difference.  Once you add in the number of miles traveled in each test then things become a little clearer :-

Google             13     424,000 miles
Nissan           106          1,485 miles
Mercedes     1051          1,739 miles
Delphi           405        16,662 miles
Volkswagon  260        14,945 miles
Bosch            625             935 miles (perhaps these guys should stick with tools & appliances)

So Googles cars have had to be stopped by human operators 13 times in 424,000 miles of driving. I wonder how often I had to slam on the brakes because I wasn’t paying attention or someone cut me up or pulled out without looking? Probably more that once every 32, 000 miles or so. I live on a small crowded island, so I am guessing I have to do this every 32 miles or even more. In fact, two of the incidents reported by Google were because of traffic cones and the other 11….well would there have been an accident? Who knows?

So perhaps Google’s self-driving cars aren’t so scary. In fact it is estimated that humans have 4.1 crashes per million miles in the US (estimated because minor accidents are not always reported to the authorities). Google are running at a lot more than that (30 per million miles) so they have a ways to go. But I am pretty sure humans are not going to be wiped out by terminator cars.

This decision short-cut is unhelpfully called the Availability Heuristic, not exactly a catchy or intuitive name. So I prefer to call it the Schwartzeneggar Shortcut.

Postscript: One of the case studies I use in training is Tesla Motors, the US all electric premium car company. I test drove their Tesla Model S recently during which I used their autopilot feature where the Terminator…sorry the car, did the driving. It is very unsettling to start with but after a while you get used to it. I suspect that in 20 years time I will enjoy a drive where I can sit back, relax and have a glass of wine while the car does the driving.

You are good at your job

I am good at my jobHow hard is this  to say out loud? Acknowledging that you are good at something can be difficult – what if people disagree with you, what if you are wrong, what if they laugh at you?

I was working with a client recently who was clearly a very talented and dedicated individual. Without question they were good at their job. When I mentioned this in passing they were extremely reluctant to acknowledge the truth despite all the evidence. This got me thinking that despite all the evidence to the contrary people often lack confidence.

So what is the evidence that you are good at your job?

The signs of being good at your job are easy to see, you just need to look for them. Here are a few:-

  1. Your team respect you and work hard for you if you are a manager
  2. Your boss respects your opinion even if they disagree or override your views
  3. You get a good appraisal
  4. You have been promoted
  5. Your clients give you good feedback and come back for more
  6. Your peers respect you
  7. You got a pay rise recently
  8. You are happy at work (happy people are good at their jobs)

These are all simple things but each one is a vote to say

“You ARE good at your job”