You’ve got 8 seconds to get my attention!

“The average attention of a “millenial” is 8 seconds”.

Who said so?  Well, a “millenial” of course!  Not just any “millenial”.  This attention-grabbing claim was made by an impressive young man who was a presenter at a conference I attended this week in London.  Billed as a ‘disruptor’, (credit: Ilias Vartholomaios, Co-Founder of Owiwi) he spoke about the realities that those of us who identify with the 20th Century (I’m one) will have to come to terms with as we live out the remainder of our lives in the 21st.

Young people born after 1995 have not yet become part of the mainstream workforce. He informed us that, by the time they reach the age of 21 they will have spent (on average) 10,000 hours playing online games. As a comparator, that is pretty much the same amount of time an average US student will spend in high school between fifth grade and graduation, assuming a perfect attendance record.

So what?  Continue reading

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Talismanic coaching: where science meets superstition

This Article was published originally in Coaching Psychology International, Volume 8, Issue 1 (Summer 2015) – ISSN 1758-7719 – pages 16-19. 

In Daniel Goleman’s (2013) Focus, he proposes that in a world of ever-increasing 24/7 distraction, we need to become better at focusing in the here and now. In this paper we propose the benefit of “superstitious conditioning” through the use of a Talisman to help
clients focus their attention in post-coaching situations.

Learning, at its most fundamental, is based upon the creation of neural connections which either strengthen or inhibit behaviour, facilitated by attending or not attending to stimuli. Learning can be said to happen when a new state (ie, a new connection) or a new association of existing connections occurs. The stronger the associations become, the more they become embedded, meaning the associated behaviour will be more readily enacted.

As coaches, we are in a highly privileged position, able to utilise this knowledge of how learning occurs for the benefit of our clients. We can share with them tools and techniques to create and strengthen associations. Once changes are fully embedded, then the tools may no longer be required, but, in the early days, having a proxy association to aid the formation of a neural association assists with sustenance of early progress.

However, all too often in coaching, after gaining insight, clients return to the everyday fray of work. Here, they lose conscious awareness of their coaching goal as it becomes displaced by more demanding pressures. Continue reading

Committing to New Year Resolutions

So, another year is about to begin. Who knows what it may hold? For some, they approach it with trepidation. Others can’t wait to get started and to grab the opportunities that the new year will generate. It is a time when many people make plans and resolve to make changes, yet so many of those dreams will be but memories before January is out.

resolutionsEvery call to adventure is acted upon by two opposing forces.  In one direction we can choose to embark on the adventure, to take the journey into the unknown and face the uncomfortable challenges that will inevitably lie ahead.  In order to make this choice, the force of reward must be sufficiently strong to overcome the opposing force of inertia, the appeal of the status quo or the comfort zone we have become used to.

I spend a lot of time in workshops and working one on one with people who know that they are in a bind.  They know that their current world is less than satisfactory. They recognise that changes would be positive and could make life better in so many ways. And yet, there is no guarantee that people will make the necessary commitment to move away from the world they inhabit, to make the journey that is necessary to gain the reward, the change, the life that they would prefer.

People know they would be healthier if they gave up smoking, that they drink a bit too much alcohol, that they don’t exercise as much as perhaps they could, or that they are in a dead-end job and a change would breathe new life into their career. They may even make a resolution each New Year to do something about it.  Some may even get as far as joining a gym, giving up smoking or drinking for a while, or actively seeking job vacancies on the internet. And that does demonstrate some level of recognition that change may be attractive. So, why are so many of these attempts aborted so early?  What is missing when people embark on these annual failed excursions, which rarely mature into fully fledged adventures resulting in transformation? Continue reading

Collusion of Confusion

People do not go out of their way to seek data that contradicts their existing beliefs. On the contrary, they will select any data they find that supports existing assumptions. We may like to believe that we are open to having our minds changed, but the reality is that we are quite fixed when it comes to our mental malleability.

Evidence for this assertion is being played out daily on our radios and televisions, as people debate the pros and cons of Brexit. There is an uncanny collective agreement amongst the public that they do not get enough facts to help them arrive at a logical and balanced position. We hear this refrain in panel discussions, question time and vox pops. “How are we supposed to know what the truth is? One lot give us a load of statistics, and then the other lot come along and tell us that is all wrong and hit us with another load of statistics.”

I watched one such programme recently, where a member of the public made exactly this
point. He levelled his accusation at one of the ‘experts’ on the panel. His complaint centred around the costs of running the EU along with an assertion that Britain should not be run by unelected bureaucrats. The expert spent a reasonable amount of time patiently 141201.unbiasedexplaining the facts. He explained that calling all of the EU machine unelected was not accurate.  He pointed out that the EU Parliament, which is made up of elected national representatives, does in fact have a veto over recommendations put forward by the EU Commission. And that the EU Council is also made up of one member from each state in the EU, each of whom will have been elected as part of their home nation’s general elections.  This was all delivered in a tone of neutrality, and with a genuine desire to help alleviate concerns and misunderstandings.  At the end, the person who had raised the original issue was asked if the information provided had helped. His response was not positive. Exasperated, he accused the ‘expert’ of simply adding to the confusion and misconceptions, and “just who was he supposed to believe?”

I suspect the data provided Continue reading

No Time to Think

Perhaps ‘the’ most tantalising allure of any advancement in engineering or technology through the ages has been the promise of saving us time. Cars, trains and planes certainly get us places faster than horses ever did. Bridges and tunnels allow us to take short-cuts over rivers and through mountains, saving us hours. Advances in IT and robotics mean that tasks previously handled manually have been automated with exponential levels of increased productivity.

Why, with so much technology and time-saving gadgetry at our fingertips, do people still present at coaching sessions with issues and concerns about their ability to manage their time? After all, our lives have never appeared to be more organised ~ or perhaps I should say digitised!   More and more of us are hooked up to the Net from morning to night.

Our smartphones and tablets wake us up, we check our diary for appointments and read our messages before getting out of bed. We catch up on missed shows on iPlayer or Stitcher while we commute to work. We juggle collaborating on Sharepoint, with watching company Webcasts, while occasionally dipping into our personal Instagram, Twitter or WhatsApp accounts. We may even check in on Foursquare while grabbing lunch, and be just as likely to choose where to go by WiFi availability as the quality of the food. On the way home we might burn some carbs, having gained access with our fingerprint or iris, which are digitised on the gym’s customer database. We immediately wire ourselves up to the screens on the machines so as to catch up on news, or check Facebook activity.  And when we get home, after a microwaved dinner, and a quick skype chat with your mum, our relaxation and wind down time may well include logging on remotely to your work’s email to ‘finish off’ a few things, and give yourself a fighting chance of making a clean start on things again in the morning (fat chance!).

Continue reading

How much of ourselves do we really control?

“So much of control is not authoritative action but mindful waiting.”               ~Cameron Conaway, Caged: Memoirs of a Cage-Fighting Poet

In his book Drunk Tank Pink, Adam Alter describes a classic study which created quite a stir amongst sports coaches and prison warders, as well as psychologists and parents. The study by Schauss in 1979 suggested that simple exposure to one of two colours made a significant difference to people’s display of strength.  A large group of men were tested, one by one, on a simple strength test.  They were asked to raise their arms in front of their body while a moderate downward and opposite pressure was applied by the researcher to their arms. Nothing remarkable in this so far.  However, when the men were asked to stare at a large piece of cardboard which was coloured pink, their strength was dramatically weaker than when they were asked to stare at a piece of blue cardboard. Blue appeared to leave the subject’s strength intact, while pink depleted their strength.

source: http://www.mobypicture.com/user/PeterM_KOMO/view/10334383

source: http://www.mobypicture.com/user/ PeterM_KOMO/view/10334383

This curious finding quickly found practical application across a number of situations, one of which was the use of pink holding cells in correctional facilities. Angry inmates were reported as being calmed almost immediately by being placed in pink cells. The phenomenon went on to have wider application, and was even used in the world of sport, with boxers wearing pink shorts to ‘weaken’ their opponents, and American football teams painting their opponents’ locker rooms pink in order to reduce the visiting teams’ combativeness just prior to the start of the game.

Psychologists are now aware of many such phenomena which similarly influence our behaviour and our subconscious thoughts. They refer to these forces as cues. 

Within Drunk Tank Pink, the author goes on to chronicle a number of fascinating examples: Continue reading

Win a copy of The Vital Edge

To coincide with the release of “The Vital Edge” on Amazon, the start of the Football World Cup, and a great summer of sport, I am holding a competition in which THREE signed copies of my new book will be won. Read on to find out more…

Continue reading

From Curiosity to Attention

“You had my curiosity. But now you have my attention.”                                              as spoken by Leonardo DiCaprio’s character (Calvin Candie) in the move ‘Django Unchained’

“Be curious” is a very popular term used widely within the coaching fraternity.  It is of course great advice, as it encourages people to ‘simply notice’, without judgement, and with an open questioning mind. Being curious helps raise self-awareness. It also encourages one to consider and reflect on things that may otherwise go unnoticed. However, merely ‘being curious’, in itself, is unlikely to create the sufficient mental conditions for significant learning and change to occur. To achieve this, generalised curiosity needs to be cranked up to a state of sharply focused ‘attention’.

Being curious is the equivalent to being a casual ‘observer’ of the game. Having focused attention requires you become completely ‘immersed’ in the game.

source ackowledgement: crit365.com

source acknowledgement: crit365.com

I have touched on this subject many times in the past, most notably in Slow Down, you Move too Fast.  Before getting to agreements that something needs done about a problem, and long before specific actions are decided upon, it is vital that high levels of attention are shone on the issue. People simply do not agree to take action on situations unless they first of all recognise that it is important enough to do so, and that there are high enough stakes at play to make it worthwhile. Continue reading

Slow Down, you Move too Fast

“Slow Down, you Move too Fast”… so go the wise words of Simon & Garfunkel’s “59th Street Bridge Song” ……

Many people are inclined to jump to action rather quickly.  After all, isn’t this what people feel they are being paid for? To make decisions, to be decisive, to act !

Acting, in my experience, is rarely the biggest problem we face within our boardrooms, executive groups and operational teams. Our businesses and organisations are replete with people who plan, manage tasks, monitor activities, schedule, organise and control. I don’t sense that we need to build more skill in these areas.

The bigger challenges that face our business leaders are in the quality of conversations they undertake, their depth of problem analyses, and their ability to reach universal agreements on what actually needs to be done to bring about the major changes that will transform our businesses and organisations to turnaround their fortunes.

People tend to “over-analyse” the detail (or the parts we are most comfortable with) and avoid  tackling the real, hard, knotty issues. As teams, our conversations, seldom focus in on the major issues that would bring about significant and transformational change.

We tend not to bring sufficient attention to the most significant issues. After all, it is easier to focus on the trivia, or those issues that are most comfortable to discuss.  Bringing attention to significant issues is, after all, risky. We risk upsetting people, we risk our reputation, we risk being alienated if no-one else supports us, and we risk upsetting the status quo.

As a result, true agreement is rarely reached to the extent that it is clarified, confirmed and restated to everyone’s level of unambiguous satisfaction. How many meetings have you come away from where people start initiatives to resolve what they believe is the ‘agreed’ issue, but which is, in reality, subject to their own individual perspective?  This typically results in duplication of effort, conflicting initiatives, confusion and frustration.

Our organisations are action-generating machines,creating an illusion of efficiency, and productivity. Down the line, the most significant issues, which, if addressed and tackled, would result in radical change and improvement, remain untouched, lurking in the shadows in corners of meeting rooms around the globe (the proverbial elephant in the room?).

Here is a simple step by step guide – “The 4 As” –  to help leaders navigate Continue reading

Is being urgent a good thing?

Well, that depends!  Critical issues and problems more often than not benefit from early attention, and a ‘true sense of urgency’ is usually what is required to break-through barriers, obstacles and resistance.

The real enemies of ‘true urgency’ are ‘complacency’ and ‘false urgency’.  You may be familiar with those imposters.

Complacency is a dangerous state of mind, mainly because people rarely believe they are being complacent (at least until after the event). In this state, people are content, satisfied and cling on to the status quo. They don’t look for new opportunities, they are not great fans of change, and tend to stick with what has always worked for them in the past.

False Urgency can be equally dangerous. People displaying this thinking and set of behaviours, are energized, active and busy. They are likely to be anxious or frustrated. Their behaviour can often be mistaken for being productive and important simply because they are busy and active. However, their activity is often misdirected, lacking focus and chaotic.

True urgency is neither of these things.  People displaying true urgency do not Continue reading