Creativity in Business

ray-charles-1Once in a while you come across a talent that makes you gawp. And when they’ve adapted something they’re good at into a business concept – well that does it for me. Take a look at this video clip, showing an artist who’s made a stage show of speed painting, in this case a gigantic Ray Charles image painted to the rhythm of the music (oh, and using two hands and upside down!).

This idea of introducing more creativity into business is something we can all benefit from – provided it’s of an ethical nature of course!  I hope this inspires you to find new business opportunities in otherwise challenging times.

Inspiration from the movies – lessons in business and life

dustinhoffman-tootsieEver since I was a kid, I’ve always been able to find some inspiration from the world of cinema. These are some of my favourite clips-with-a-lesson. Tell me what you think…and do let me know your own. For those of a delicate disposition, some of the language contained in these clips is a little colourful – but I guess it’s reflecting real life!

Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie

Playing a broke and frustrated actor, Hoffman walks into his agent’s office – “No one will hire you”, George tells him. His response?

Dustin Hoffman in Kramer vs Kramer

He’s lost his job and is fighting for custody of his son, an impossibility if he’s unemployed. He gets an interview for an inferior position – just watch his determination to get that post. Amazing what you can do when there’s sufficient motivation.

Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glenross

One of THE great sales-related scenes in the movies. Bit foul-mouthed but WOW! Big shot Baldwin is sent in by head office to sort out some underperforming real estate salesmen. Not exactly the type of selling style we’d encourage these days, but worth watching. ABC – ALWAYS be CLOSING!

Al Pacino in City Hall

Some great lessons to be learned from this, an inspiring, evangelical style of oratory. If you’re interested in knowing more about shaping a speech, using great body language and emotionally engaging with an audience, watch this masterful piece.

Rowan Atkinson in Four Weddings and a Funeral

When you’re presenting in public, give it your best shot and if the audience likes you, they’ll forgive you if you slip up.

Fit a square peg into a round hole – scene from Apollo 13

Wonderful example of teamwork, ingenuity and a ‘failure is not an option’ attitude. Remarkable what you can do with limited resources and enormous motivation.

Tim Robbins in Shawshank Redemption – Andy plays Mozart

Often voted the most popular movie of all time, Shawshank performed unremarkably in the box office when first released, but has since developed an extraordinary cult status. The film means many things to different people, but surely we can learn lessons from the story of Andy Dufresne, wrongly incarcerated for a murder he didn’t commit, who eventually outwits the corrupt warden of the toughest of prisons and discovers an inner-strength that can inspire us all. This Mozart scene is one of the most celebrated – the voiceover by Morgan Freeman is beautiful.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these and do tell me about YOUR favourites.

New discussion group in Waterstone’s

ast-talks-compressed1I was delighted with the response to the launch of our new discussion group in September. This is a joint venture with the Macclesfield (Cheshire) branch of Waterstone’s, who have been very supportive of the 7 Pillars book. The group is for anyone interested in personal development, business strategy or simply those who want to explore their capabilities.

Every six weeks we’ll meet in store for a facilitated discussion on topics ranging from effective networking to public speaking and leadership skills. The inaugural meeting attracted approximately 20 people, a variety of business owners, marketeers and members of the public who seemed to thoroughly enjoy a vibrant and positive session. Our first topic was how to build and successfully nurture a network of contacts, a core requirement for anyone intent on succeeding in business.


Vicky Greenhalgh of PEM Ltd described the event as “brilliant” and “thoroughly enjoyable” and procurement consultant Andrew Christophers called it, “a very informative evening.” The next meeting is on Mon 19th Oct starting 6pm and covers Leadership & Motivation. Anyone interested in the Waterstone’s Discussion Group should contact Lindsey Russell at Waterstone’s Macclesfield on 01625 424212 or

Photos courtesy of James Russell Photography and a HUGE thank you to Lindsey for her support and enthusiasm for this project.

7 Pillars Book Launch Party – a report

book-launch-2A HUGE thank you for those who attended my recent Launch Party for the 7 Pillars of Success book. We had about 80 attendees in the end and I was really touched by the support people gave me both before and during the event.

On the night I gave special thanks to a number of people – Chris Allen (co-founder of who mentors me via the TiE Entrepreneurs Network, Rob Buckley whose personal development library proved a source of inspiration during some tough times, Marj Boyer who always lends an ear and some much needed wisdom when I get over-excited about my latest idea, Tarik Toma with whom I launched the Business Skills Forum, Jennifer Shaw who supports all my endeavours, Mark Dicker who expertly put together my Word Press web site, Aileen Lockhart and Kevin Brown from Business Link and personal friends like Stephen Black, Janet Harrison, Edina Rwejuna, Florita Rouat and Jamilla Jalloh who are always delightful company.

As far the event itself goes, a big thank you to the excellent Golftorium on Ducie Street, a wonderful venue for client entertainment and networking right in the heart of Manchester. And of course to Lai and her team of caterers, to Barefoot Wines for sponsoring the wine on arrival, to Helen and Andre who played some wonderful jazz and to Stephen Black Solicitors for sponsoring the superb canapés.

The 7 Pillars book came about for a number of reasons. Someone once told me that I was a champion jockey on a donkey, and that such a combination never won races! In other words, he felt I was seriously undervaluing what I could do for people by simply teaching them to hit the golf ball better! After all, I’d worked in event management, business turnarounds, sales & marketing and had a spell in consultancy and journalism for a total of about 17 years before I ever started coaching golf.

But he urged me to develop this combination of sport and business and I’ve been doing just that for a couple of years now. Sport is such a wonderful metaphor for what we’re trying to do in business. It’s about survival in a competitive environment; it champions the nurturing of potential and the development of effective teams; it focuses on delivering great performances through careful preparation and intelligent review; and it recognises the pivotal role of psychology in the pursuit of success.

By drawing on my experiences in both the business world and the sporting arena, I endeavour to bring insight and inspiration to anyone looking to raise their game in the workplace – and REMEMBER, there’s funding available via Business Link at the moment for coaching in Leadership & Management skills.

So again, thank you so much for supporting me with the publication of 7 Pillars. We managed to raise £70 on the night for the Empowering Youth Foundation, a Manchester-based charity that uses golf as a medium for teaching life skills to kids. The game certainly served me well when I was growing up, but I believe we can find lessons in all walks of life, if we can only open our eyes and ears.


If you would like to contact any of our sponsors about the services they provide, please drop me a line.

  • The Golftorium (for golf, entertainment AND catering)
  • Stephen Black Solicitors
  • Barefoot Wines
  • Jennifer Shaw Events
  • Musicians (Helen & Andre)

COPIES OF THE 7 PILLARS OF SPORTING SUCCESS: AND HOW TO APPLY THEM IN BUSINESS can be obtained through me OR in Waterstone’s, Macclesfield.

Dealing with the unexpected

imagesSometimes in business we’re asked to deal with unlikely situations. Staff in the Bangor branch of Tesco were recently faced with an irate Jedi – AKA Daniel Jones, founder of a religion inspired by the Star Wars movies. The issue surrounded his hood, pulled over his head in true Jedi style, which broke store rules. The 23 year old was asked to remove it and objected to what he felt was discrimination.

As Helen Carter wrote in The Guardian (19/9/09), “the grocery empire struck back”, the store pointing out that Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker all appeared in public without their hoods. And you might expect from such a canny retailer, Tesco added, “If Jedi walk around our stores with their hoods on, they’ll miss lots of special offers.”

If you’re struggling to master a skill, try faking it

There’s a section in my book ‘The 7 Pillars of Sporting Success: and how to apply them in business’ where I refer to the work of Tim Gallwey, the former tennis pro who wrote the ‘Inner Game’ series, exploring the power of the mind in performance situations. He explained how he asked a golfer who was cursed with a bad swing to show him what he’d like it to be like – and had him hit some great shots with a FAKE swing!

I was reminded of this during a presentation skills session I was running for a client. He was apprehensive about a forthcoming speaking assignment and we were working on his speaking style. I asked him to read a paragraph and timed it. I then asked him to repeat the passage, this time taking longer. It sounded better, but lacked feeling. I read it out in my best Larry Olivier voice and asked my client how it sounded. “It was great, really sounded like you meant it. I wish I could do it like that.”

Remembering Gallwey, I asked him to show me how I did it. He stood up, cleared his throat and mimicked what he’d just heard. It was FAB! More expression, more passion, more rhythm and better body language. A triumph darling!

Performance coaches often use the formula PERFORMANCE = POTENTIAL MINUS INTERFERENCE. In this case we cut through the interference with a ‘what if’ approach. We know you can’t do this, but what if you could? What would it look like? Try it some time – you’ll be surprised.

Incidentally, if you have to present or speak in public as part of your job, you might want to take part in a POLL I’m running on LinkedIn. Follow the POLL LINK here.

A chance encounter with a literary giant

gladwell_malcolm_fIn the work I do I regularly quote some of the best business literature on the bookshelves. I run discussion groups where we discuss the work of Seth Godin, Tom Peters, Ken Blanchard and Malcolm Gladwell – and of course how to apply these ideas and insights in our everyday lives. I was sat in Starbucks (Manchester Piccadilly) yesterday with Dr Pete Hawkins, a world expert on career and life management, and a visiting lecturer at Harvard University. Pete took an interest in the book I recently published and I was fascinated to hear of his work on the Windmills project, a highly innovative approach to work and life planning. (I love their strap line ‘When the wind blows some people build walls…others build windmills’). Pete is no slouch himself on the authorship front, having published several works, but we were talking about some of the giants of the business world and how their writings had influenced us. Only that morning we’d been talking in a training session about Gladwell’s bestseller The Tipping Point. A New Yorker with a mixed Jewish/Jamaican background, Gladwell is the JK Rowling of published ‘thought-leaders’, having made a fortune from speaking and writing.

Sat with Pete, I was halfway through my decaf latte when BLOW ME DOWN if Malcolm Gladwell didn’t walk right past me to the Starbucks counter! Being a fan of his work, I walked over, said ‘Hi’ and explained that I’d been talking about The Tipping Point and other books to my clients that morning. It was a brief conversation but he was very polite and charming and of course I was thrilled to meet him.

I’m treating this as a sign. I guess he was on a speaking tour of the UK, but what were the chances of him walking by at that very minute (in all the Starbucks in all the world…?).

I read once that we get more of what we focus on, and it’s absolutely true. Ever since I realised what I wanted in life, some extraordinary things have happened, things which are moving me towards where I want to be. I’ve met Jack Nicklaus and Malcolm Gladwell in the space of a week and a host of new collaborations (eg with Waterstone’s) are starting to bear fruit.

I think it’s also linked to an attitude of reaching out, recognising opportunities that I’d have missed before and, as Zig Ziglar would have us do, helping others get what they’re looking for – then the things you want in life come your way too.

Now before I get too philosophical and start hugging trees, I’m off to prepare for Book Launch Night in Manchester – very excited!

How a day at the museum taught me a valuable lesson

When I was little I remember visiting the Museum of Natural History in London. It was an incredible experience for me and I hoped one day to return, perhaps with my children. Sure enough, when my eldest son reached the age of 7, we arranged to go too, a real father-son thing! We went on the train, to make a real journey of it, and when we arrived at the museum we did the lot – the blue whale in the main hall, the dinosaurs, the reptiles, the creepy crawlies and the monkeys. It took us the best part of a day, and on the way home I quizzed him about the highlights of his trip. “Of all the things you’ve seen and done today…from the blue whale to the T-rex and the scorpions and spiders…what the best part?” His response…? “The Maltesers you bought me in the shop.” I ASK YOU!

In hindsight, I realised I’d really taken the trip for me, not him. Oh I think he did enjoy it but in some respects I’d put my values on him. We went there because it was important to me.

I find this interesting as it’s something we do all the time in business. We expect our audience to think like us, to find the same things important, to see the world as we do, to be interested in what we’re interested in. But you know what? They’ve got their own agenda!

One of our biggest challenges in business is to think like the other person, to inhabit their world, not ours. To occupy their shoes. Only then can we start to understand them and find ways to help them. There’s no point offering aspirins if they’ve not got a headache!

As Dr Stephen Covey puts it in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “First seek to understand, then seek to be understood.”

From good to great – public speaking tips

speech-on-stageIf you’re presenting in business it’s essential to be prepared. That means things like knowing your audience, what issues they’re facing, what you want to achieve, and of course the practicalities like lighting, projection and sound. But in some respects you also want an element of spontaneity and freshness in your approach. Acting coaches encourage their students to make their performances as fresh as possible, assured but as if it was the first time they’d given it.

A couple of tips here…First, read the papers the day of your talk. Chances are you can draw something from the day’s news stories. I changed my opening yesterday in response to England’s qualification for the World Cup Football – the theme being leadership & motivation (and the impact Capello has had on the players).

Second, take a bit of time to mingle amongst the audience before the speech. You’ll chat to a few people and get to know them and their own stories. When you deliver you can draw from this, engaging with the people you’ve met which makes it more personal and interactive – and of course more ‘live’, natural and up to date.

These sorts of tactics make the difference between a solid performance and a great one.

The problem with surveys

I had a call today from my bank. Like most organisations, they employ call centre operatives and they contacted me to provide feedback on a call I’d had with them at 3.17pm (scary!) the previous day. They wanted to monitor the quality of how these conversations were handled, and as that’s the line of business I’m in I was happy to co-operate.

That’s when it rather fell apart. It went to an automated system where, through keypad technology, I was able to rate the service all the way from 1 (awful) and 7 (amazing). I felt frustrated. I was happy to give some feedback, but you know what?…I wanted to SPEAK TO SOMEONE – so I hung up.

It’s such a shame that companies use this type of feedback system. I suspect they’re going for 50,000 completed surveys to give them the picture. But maybe 500 quality conversations with people who take some effort to engage with the interviewer would produce a truer picture? It’s always a problem with mass surveys that people give you the answers that will get rid of you, what they think you want to hear. But you want REAL feedback, going deeper than such a thin-slicing approach.

I found it ironic that when the subject was the quality of human interaction, no human was available to speak to!