Sunday, 17 August 2014

Brain Soup - Cooking Up a Magic Number


I'm on a bit of a mission right now where I am trying to seek out and find evidence for many of the ideas and "facts" (especially numbers) used in the leadership and personal development community.  One of my favourite questions is:"how many neurons are there in the human brain?".  The answers given to this vary wildly but the favourite seems to be 100 billion.  In this TED talk neuroscientist Suzana Herculando-Houzel investigates this question and comes up with a tasty solution and a new magic number.


Friday, 25 July 2014

The Indiana Jones Approach to Your Career Development (and avoiding teenage angst)

I remember being 16 and sitting in a windowless room at my school in Carluke (Lanarkshire, Scotland) with the school career advisor.  She was a middle age lady with messy hair who clearly wasn't much interested in me or my future career. As if reading from a script she said "...I think you should get an apprenticeship at Ravenscraig as a turner or draughtsman...".   Now the "Craig", as we all knew it, was a great place  (long gone and much missed steel works); my Grandfather worked there and a couple of my friends were keen to do apprenticeships. However, this suggested career direction didn't make any sense to me.  I was studying the 3 sciences, was hopeless at mathematics (I got a C "twice" in my exams) and metal work and technical drawing were terrible distant memories - of confusion, nasty teachers and failure.  Why on earth would I want to be an engineer?

Despite my reservations, I felt I had no options and was on the verge of filling in the application forms.  Fortunately my Grandfather was on hand to steer me clear of this nonsense and I went on to study for a science degree.  I was reflecting on this recently and wondered what would have happened if I had gone to the Craig?  There would be a good chance that I'd still be an engineer (a bad one) and an even better chance that I would be miserable.

This made me think - I wonder how many of us are locked into careers thanks to decisions taken by our teenage selves?  Would you take a 16 year old's advice on what to do for the rest of your life?  I certainly wouldn't have taken my advice!

This sort of thinking has had an impact on me and the advice I have given to clients for many years now. Finding your passion is often difficult and certainly wasn't easy nor clear for me.  I hated psychology at College and it was only when I met yet another mentor, Professor D.L. Gardner of the Pathology Department at Edinburgh University, that I realised I had a lot to learn about myself and, most importantly of all, about learning.
The good news is, it's never too late to find your passion and if you look hard enough you will find it. I frequently challenge people to think about the question:

"for whom do you work?"

How people answer this question and how well they understand the consequences of their answer, the more exciting the outcomes can be.   Often this acts as a catalyst for a period of serious reflection (involving a lot of personal-life archaeology - hence the article title), soul searching and in some cases it has even lead to resignations!

The good news is that many of my clients (and myself) have managed to find their passion and my friends, who as teenagers actually had an aptitude and passion for engineering are still engineers and happy to be so.  Other friends, family and clients haven't been so lucky and are stuck in jobs they feel they have to stay in given the life investment (sunk costs) they have made in their careers - "...at least I get a good pension eh?"!!

The lessons? - beware making teenage mistakes for the rest of your life, it's never too late to change and make sure you get help from a mentor(s) when faced with life changing decisions.

Dogs, Bears and Magic Numbers (INCOSE Keynote 2014)

Here is my recent keynote  for INCOSE (in a couple of formats) which took place in Vegas in July:


Full presentation can be viewed here:

To those of you who were attendance - thanks very much for all the great feedback, glad you got so much from the session - it was a privilege to work with you.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Find Your Purpose @ "The Zone"

I'm delighted to confirm that we will be running "The Zone" in the Rosebird Centre in Stratford Upon Avon on the 11th & 25th of September and on the 9th of October.

Join us for some insight into the fascinating world of behavioural economics, career development and organisational magic.

This trilogy of events is designed to help you find your personal "Zone" and so help you love your work and blur the lines between work and play.

 £40 for 3 sessions or £15 for single sessions (students, the unemployed and pensioners, donation only). Limited to 30 places.

Friday, 11 July 2014

The Disastrous Consequences of Focus - A Case for Non-Peer Review?


I was given the opportunity to provide a keynote speech at this years INCOSE (The International Council on Systems Engineering) International Symposium in Las Vegas.  The focus of my talk was on the challenges that systems engineers face in successfully implementing large scale change programmes.  Although focused, during the keynote, on systems engineering the challenges are without question universal.

One of the key messages we discussed was based on the work of Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons and their classic piece of psychological research on selective attention and framing described in The Invisible Gorilla which suggests that:

"...our minds don't work the way we think they do. We think we see ourselves and the world as they really are, but we're actually missing a whole lot"

Selective attention is demonstrated brilliantly in this video experiment:


To emphasise just how important it is to bear this aspect of human behaviour in mind I told the fateful story of flight 401 in which an Eastern Air Lines flight crashes due to the human consequence of a $12 light bulb failure.

Whilst approaching JFK airport the pilots notice that an undercarriage dashboard indicator light fails to come on when they lower the aircraft undercarriage.  Having consulted air traffic control the pilot decides to switch to autopilot and to circle the airport and then, with his co-pilot's help, to fix the offending bulb.  They focus on the problem, so much so that they fail to notice that the pilot has accidentally knocked off the autopilot with his elbow. So focused are that they miss a land proximity alarm (which can be clearly heard on the black box recording of the incident).  Too late the pilots notice the plane's altitude and they crash with the loss of 200 lives.


When applied to the work environment (and to life generally) this story provides a very serious lesson for those looking for opportunity and innovation.  Simply put, what you are looking for may be right in front of you but you are so distracted by your sales targets, bosses behaviour, personal issues, bonus scheme etc. that you fail to see the real opportunity.


I will return to this theme and discuss what strategies you can adopt to help you spot your own gorillas.  However, what it immediately made me wonder was, is there a case here for the introduction of non-peer review?  The point being - if we seek feedback on our ideas, business plans, research etc. only from like minded colleagues and professional peers are we in danger of missing opportunities?

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

You Think HR Is "Soft" Stuff - Imagine If Numbers Could Think

I'm often asked what it's like working in the "soft" side of business.  If you have ever asked me this you know how robust my response can be....this prezi screenshot from one of my keynotes is a good starter for 10 if you ever find yourself in a similar situation.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Problems at Work? You Have An Ostrich Problem

In the past year a significant proportion of the things I have been asked to help with have been to resolve issues between parties where their relationships are in trouble. In the majority of cases, after some investigation and thought, most of these issues were found to be down to what I call "little niggles" which have resulted from a "moment". That "moment" could have been a conversations that didn't go well, a misunderstanding of the contractual relationship and in some cases, hearsay. The resulting relationship niggles are at best annoying but at their worst they can be very expensive, putting multi-million pound contracts at risk. 

Bill Kahn, organizational psychologist at Boston University's School of Management suggests that there is a sequence of events that leads up to these "niggles" which he calls the Ostrich Effect.


The basic sequence he proposes is this:

1. People have difficult moments with one another
2. Something about those moments makes them anxious
3. People avert their gazes from the source of their discomfort
4. They fasten instead upon compelling distractions that allow them to express emotions triggered by the difficult moments—but not have to deal with those emotions or moments
5. This sets in motion waves of counterfeit problems among people whose sources and solutions remain unknown
6. People then work on the wrong problems, which escalate and spread to involve others.

The sequence, claims Kahn, transforms ordinary problems into unsolvable ones.

I think this is a really interesting insight and in particular the "compelling distractions" idea. I'm testing this by using this structure to get the route causes of some of my client's issues.  Thus far it has proven useful and we have made some progress.  The next stage is to work out what to do about it?

Monday, 2 December 2013

What can HR learn from Sales and Marketing ?

In this 15 minute interview Neil Rackham (of SPIN selling fame) discusses the changing landscape for those of us involved in selling.  It struck me as I was watching this that those of us involved in HR could learn a lot from his straightforward approach to selling products and services.


 

The video encouraged me to think through some steps for an HRD to ponder before their next meeting with the CEO:

1. Write down at least three potential problems which your business may have and which HR might solve.
2. Write down some actual Problem Questions that you could ask to uncover each of the potential problems you’ve identified.
3. Ask yourself what difficulties might arise for each problem. Write down some actual Implication Questions that might get the prospect to see the problem as large and urgent to solve.
4. Write down three Need Questions for each implication.

If you want to know more detail about SPIN have a look here

Friday, 18 January 2013

Gamification - that's the name of the game HR

I have to be honest and say that I am seriously excited about the potential for the use of games in the HR field. Gamification is the use of game-thinking and game mechanics in non-game contexts in order to engage users and solve problems. There seems to be the beginning of movement developing lead by the likes of Professor Byron Reeves and supported with some excitement by Gartner, Deloitte, NixonMcInnes etc. etc. Here is a short video by Professor Reeves:




Virtually all areas of business could benefit from gamification as it can help to achieve three broad business objectives 1) to change behaviour; 2) to develop skills; or 3) to enable innovation.

Changing Behaviours
- The most common use of gamification is to engage a specific audience and encourage them to change a target set of behaviours. By turning the desired behaviour change into a game, people become engaged and encouraged to adopt new habits. For example:

• Brands can leverage gamification to engage consumers to better understand their products, and become advocates for the brand to provide product endorsements, and drive customer loyalty.
• Companies can use gamification to improve employee performance and to motivate adoption of new business processes.

Developing Skills - Gamification is increasingly being used in both formal education and in corporate training programs to engage students in a more immersive learning experience. While many approaches are being used, they can generally be divided into two categories:

• Building a game layer (more on what this means coming soon) on top of the lesson material, where competition and/or collaboration between students is encouraged with game mechanics such as points for actions, badges for rewards and leader boards for competition.

• Turning the lesson into a game, where in addition to the game layer of points and badges, simulation and animation is used to immerse the students in the environment and allow them to practice new skills in a safe, virtual environment that provides immediate feedback.

Enabling Innovation - Innovation games are typically structured quite differently than games designed to change behaviour or develop skills. Innovation games use emergent game structures that provide the goals, rules, tools and play space for the players to explore, experiment, collaborate and solve problems. Innovation games generally use game mechanics to create a more engaging experience, but the key is to engage lots of players, solving problems through crowdsourcing.

 As I said earlier, I'm really excited about this new field and about its potential for HR professionals. However, a word of warning; Gamification is not easy. According to Gartner 80% of current applications will fail to meet business objectives largely due to poor design. In the past 12 months I have spent time developing a relationship with games organisation Quota in the delivery of Sales Force Development solutions. The potential results for HR professionals and their organisations are immense but - I promise - so is the learning curve!

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

The Importance of Seeing Things As Others See Them

This presentation focuses on what I call the "Golden Rule of Communication". It's a much talked about theme, but one which many many companies and leaders seem to forget when they are communicating to their people.


Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Good Day at Work Annual Conference 2012

I am going to be chairing a session at this tremendous conference on the 1st of November.

If you are interested in well-being at work please come along and hear from the likes of Will Hutton, Cary Cooper and John Timpson.
 

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Twitter In Real Life

I use Twitter and, of late, I get something out of it....but when you think about it sometimes it's just daft


I'm on Twitter as @Scott_McArthur follow me if you dare.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

The Now Is Bright

I love this little story about what makes now such a good time to be alive.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Challenging the Talent Management Myth

I was recently asked to review an organisation's Talent Management process and come up with some recommendations from "best practise".  I sat down and read the policy then spoke to several of the "star" performers in an attempt to find out how effective the process was. 

After much discussion and research it became pretty clear that the organisation's approach certainly provided the HR department with a sense of control over the process.  However, from an employees point of view it was seen as a route to development opportunities and, in their view, very little else.  Indeed even people on the "star" programme had low expectations of what it would do for their career at this particular employer.  It also doesn't take a genius to imagine the effect it was having on "non-stars"!

When working with individuals and firms in this context I always ask 2 critical questions:

"Who do you work for?" and


"How much do you spend on your personal development every year?"


In my experience how people answer these questions is critical in understanding weather or not they are likely to succeed in an organisation.  By this I mean, if someone appreciates that they are working for themselves and sees the necessity of investing in their own development then they are set to progress.

So what do I advise?  To be honest, I'm still thinking about that. However, a recent article published by the Fast Company by David Clutterbuck suggests 4 things that represent are a pretty good start:
  • Start thinking of talent and succession as complex, adaptive systems. Stop trying to control them and focus instead on enabling talent to make itself visible. Think of talent as a wave: energy that needs to be pointed in the right direction.
  • Instead of filling vacancies with people like the previous incumbent, encourage people to propose how they would transform those roles. Take more risks and don't panic when a few fail spectacularly--that's still better than a lot of mediocre performances!
  • Open up a wider, more honest dialogue with employees about talent and put more effort into supporting them in managing their own career development.
  • Look for talent in less obvious places. For example, in many organisations there is informal, often unrecognised leadership emerging every day in the intranet-based social networks. This leadership is distributed, has no respect for hierarchy, and can be the main source for innovation.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Sculpture Consulting's Solution Portfolio (Prezi version)

I've had a go at a presentation about my Company and what we do using the presentation technology called Prezi.  Like often happens when designing such things I found the process really helpful in getting my "story" right. 

Hope you find it interesting and your feedback would be appreciated.


Fun Theory and Behavior Change - Using Fun To Change Peoples Habits

My current commissions are almost exclusively focused on effecting behaviour change in challenging environments.  This is a tough ask at the best of times but one which I am usually able to help my clients with.  One issue that I often face is initativeitis - where client shave been there done that and are looking for new ideas


Volkswagen (or rather ad agency DDB Stockholm) appear to have come across a way not only to create viral video and so build brand awareness and sales but also to change people behaviours. Their new campaign “The Fun Theory” is a series of experiments, captured on video, to find out if making the world more fun can improve people’s behaviour. The top video, Piano Stairs, has achieved over 1 million views on YouTube.

Among the experiments: does turning a set of subway stairs into a real-life piano encourage people to use them (answer: yes, 66% more). Another experiment asks whether making a trash can sound like a 50ft-deep well will make people pick up their trash. Yet another encourages people to obey the speed limit by entering the compliant in a lottery in which they share the offenders speeding fines.
 


I think this is fascinating and can see how this methodology could be used the change behaviour at work in the context of issues such as process change, systems implementation, sales etc.?  Change Managers and HR Directors get your thinking caps on!!

 

The brand placement is as subtle as it could possibly be: a simple VW logo dropped in at the end. And yet the content carries that logo all around the web, as tens of thousands of people pass around the video, along with their positive associations for the VW brand. Isn’t that the definition of a perfect brand campaign?

Monday, 11 June 2012

The Memory Palace - Elementary Trick of the Mind That Actually Works

The technique known as the memory palace (or as Mindstore's "house on the bank") was depicted in the BBC series 'Sherlock' in "The Hounds of Baskerville", where Holmes uses his "mind palace" to seek important facts and associations in his memory relevant to the case.  Just what this "palace" is and how it can be applied is detailed in this TED talk by Joshua Foer.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Relationship Mastery - David Fraser Tells Us How


During a recent trip to Glasgow I had the pleasure of meeting with Dr David Fraser, author of Relationship Mastery: A Business Professional’s Guide.  David is a genuine force for good and his book is a really useful guide to going about improving your relationships - both personal and professional.  In this interview David shares some of his thoughts on this fascinating subject.

Relationship Mastery by David Fraser

1.       As someone with a background in engineering and management, how did you get involved in relationship work?

Well, I learned eventually that being a good engineer, manager or even leader wasn’t enough: it was how well I dealt with other people in general that determined whether I was successful or not. It was my ability (or inability) to handle all the complex relationships involved that determined the outcome.

2.       So what did you see as the problem?

I felt I had never really received an education in this. Life most professional people, my training had emphasised first the technical and later the managerial skills—loosely-speaking, all the “left-brain” stuff. I felt there was a crying need for a methodical “how to” approach to the “right-brain,” subjective, emotional side.

3.       How did you set about solving the problem that you saw?

I was fortunate to meet a great teacher of practical psychology, NLP, mindfulness and other aspects of what I would refer to as ancient wisdom. Not only did that help me with the issues I had at the time, I also thought this was much of the answer I was looking for. I gradually gathered from what I learned over about a four-year period in what I call a formula.

4.       So what is the formula for relating well to other people?

You can see this as both a family of skill areas and a series steps in a learning journey. It begins with paying proper attention to other people—bluntly, getting out of our own heads—then upgrading our attitude and developing our self-control. Then we have several aspects of understanding what makes people different and how to tune in to that. Working with what’s important to people comes next. After that, there’s understanding what people say at a deeper level, then what’s important to us and how we balance all that. And finally—the thing that rounds it all off—how we handle our human interconnectedness. That in the end is the most powerful thing. That’s the formula in outline. Every element merits learning and practice in itself.

5.       What makes the most difference at first, do you think?

Well, the first step in the formula is first for a reason. The thing that makes the most difference most of the time is being conscious of where our attention is—on ourselves or the other person. That sounds elementary and yet doing a great job of putting the other person first takes great skill and discipline, especially when the situation is difficult. And that’s when it matters most, of course.

6.       What kind of effect can this systematic approach have?

It changes dealing with other people and the emotional side of that from being a mysterious, nebulous problem to an area of life that we can understand, enjoy and excel at.

7.       How can we learn these skills for ourselves?

The first step is just to switch on to the subject. Much useful wisdom is hidden in plain sight. I’ve gather what I’ve found into my book Relationship Mastery: A Business Professional’s Guide, which is available anywhere books are sold. I run workshops and things like that too, of course. More information at http://www.drdavidfraser.com.

Friday, 4 May 2012

How Does Social Media Effect Recruitment?

As the world of social networking shows no hint of slowing down, it is about time we took a step back and inspected just how much of a role social networking plays upon our lives.

Although people seem to be spending more and more time logging on to the digital world during their private time; just how much influence does it have upon our professional lives?

Although there are systems in place, such as Recruiting Software with CIPHR, it has been discovered that more and more employers are turning to social networking to screen potential candidates in their search for the perfect employee. Thanks to a survey which interviewed three hundred randomly selected employers, we can now get an insight into just what role social networking is having upon the employment industry.

Out of the three hundred, 91% of employers were found to have screened a candidate through their social networking pages. Out of the social networking websites used, 76% screened via Facebook, 53% utilized Twitter and 48% used LinkedIn.

Out of those three hundred, a massive 47% screened candidates almost moments after receiving a candidate’s application and a massive 61% said that they had rejected candidates because they had viewed their social networking pages

  • 13% of employers rejected candidates because they were found to have lied on their social networking pages.
  • 11% had rejected because inappropriate photographs, comments, poor communication and comments about a current or previous employer.
  • 10% rejected because of blatant references to drugs and 9% because of excessive references to alcohol.
  • Another 10% had also rejected candidates because they had found discriminatory comments on a potential employee’s social networking page.
The news isn’t all bad however as a greater number of employers had been found to accept candidates than those who had rejected. Coming in at 68%, we can see just how candidates benefited from social networking pages.
·         39% of employers accepted candidates because they showed attractive personalities.
·         36% hired because candidates’ profiles supported the qualifications shown during the application process. Another 36% accepted because they found the candidates to be creative within their pages.
·         Another 33% were accepted through screening because they had shown to have good communication skills.
·         Interestingly, 24% of employers had found hidden qualifications and awards which had appealed to them.

If anything, the survey shows just how powerful social networking sites such as Facebook can be, whether we are aware of this influence or not.

Social Media in Recruitment Infographic

Social Media in Recruitment by Ciphr

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Wrapping a SCARF Around Maslow Can Lead to Real Change

I've spent a lot of time lately looking into the science of change and reflecting on whether or not the traditional change models actually work.  Change is no trivial matter and one thing that is for certain is that it is VERY difficult to change people's behaviours. 

Take for example heart attack victims - even in this case where there is compelling and potentially lifesaving reasons why people should change their diets following a heart attack the shocking fact is that only 1 in 9 people are actuially able to effect such a change.  So perhaps it is no wonder that so many change programmes in organisations fail (just how many actually fail is open to debate - some new reserach woudl be helpful in this space).

The good news is that there is hope out there in the scientific community.  One of the best writers and thinkers in the field is David Rock who has produced several tremendous "how to" books focused on personal, organisational and leadership change.  In this short video David introduces his SCARF model.  I will leave it to David to explain the acronym but what is fascinating is that research is suggesting that the classic Maslow pyramid of needs may need tweaked in a pretty fundamental especially in the context of "hygiene factors".  David suggest that what Maslow refered to as "Esteem" matters such as status and fairness are in fact more important to people than food!


This is pretty fascinating work and it just might be game changing for Leaders and HR professionals.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Why You Will Fail To Have a Great Career

Simple, funny and to the piont - passion in life, work and personal is critical to success - what are you passionate about?

Saturday, 10 March 2012

To Your Success

One of my fellow bloggers, Terrence Seamon, with whom I have spent several years on this blog journey has just published an interesting new book. When I heard Terrence say that the book is intended as a motivational guidebook for anyone who is 'in transition' searching for meaningful work I just had to find our more.
What were your motivations for writing the book?

Scott, Thanks for this opportunity to spread the message about my new book To Your Success! My motivation for writing the book is to help others who are in transition. Knowing that, here in the US, 14 million Americans are out of work and struggling to make ends meet and find their next position, I felt I needed to offer my input. My book is based primarily on my own experience of being downsized, going through the transition, and coming out stronger.
Who is it aimed at?

The book is aimed at those who are looking for work, as well as those who may be working right now but are unhappy and are seeking more meaningful work.



Why did you decide to self publish?


I decided to self publish because you can. I know that may sound flippant. But the publishing paradigm is shifting as we speak. In this new era of social networking, anyone who has a book inside of them can publish if they are motivated to do so.

If there was one message that you wanted people to take away from your book what would it be?

The one message I want people to take from my book is Believe In Yourself. Though it's tough, especially if you have been out of work for a while, you have to stay positive. You have to be enthusiastic about what you bring to the table.

Any further plans for a follow up?

Yes, I do have plans for a follow up. In fact, I have two books in mind. The next will be on leadership. Then will come the book on change. Stay tuned.

Terrence's book can be purchased here.