Tapping into our invisible powers!

clark_kent_standup1You’ve probably heard the expression ‘glass half full’? We sometimes encounter people like this, the cheery kind who always seem to see the bright side of things, who see reasons to be optimistic when others are all doom and gloom.  The fact is we don’t see the world directly, but through a filter – a framework of ideas and beliefs – that colours our perception of the way things are. Psychologists call it a ‘paradigm‘ and coaches who work with clients suffering from negativity or depression seek to achieve a paradigm shift.

Sometimes this shift happens to us as a result of a trauma or a shock to the system – perhaps a redundancy, the death of a loved one or a deeply moving experience? Tony Robbins the American motivational speaker recounts the story of a woman at one of his seminar days, an event which took place in Hawaii some years ago. Just after the seminar she’d called her boyfriend, someone she’d fallen out with prior to travelling to the event. She told him she loved him and regretted what she’d said about breaking up. But this was the second week of September 2001 and her partner was working on the top floor of the World Trade Centre in New York. At 3am in the morning Hawaii time, after she’d gone to bed, a call came in from her boyfriend explaining how a plane had hit the building and that he was about to die.

For the woman concerned her outlook changed dramatically from that day. For her it brought home how important it was to seize every moment of every day – and to cherish the relationships we have. Robbins talks about ‘Decisions of Destiny’, questions we ask ourselves at moments of crisis. They are:

  • What are you going to focus on?
  • What does it mean?
  • What actions are you going to take?

I have a friend going through a crisis right now. He’s feeling down, powerless and frustrated with his lot. If Robbins got his hands on him, he’d no doubt work on those 3 questions. Are you going to focus on the good or the bad? Does your situation represent a beginning or an end? What are you going to do to move forward?

In any crisis situation it’s easy to focus on the bad stuff, and look at all the SH*T the world is throwing at you. But those are the externalities. And we can’t influence stuff like the housing market, toxic debts, interest rates or the weather. But we CAN control the BIG 3 – what we focus on, how we make sense of it and what actions we take. And that’s reason to be optimistic.

We’ve all failed to achieve certain things we’ve desired in life. And too often we’ll focus on what’s gone wrong, and blame certain ‘externalities’ for our disappointment – there was too little time, technology, money, etc. But for Robbins, the key is not a lack of these (resources) but a lack of resourceful-ness. It’s what he calls the ‘invisible forces’ that largely determine success – things driven by emotion – things like passion, determination, resolve.

So at times of crisis it’s important to remember that we have a choice. We don’t have to let the world happen to us, as if we have no say in the matter. It’s crucial we focus on the right things and strive to draw positive meaning from the world around us – the ‘new filter’. This enables us to set new targets and as long as we pursue them with those invisible forces, there’s little to stop us!

To watch Tony Robbins talk about these invisible forces, click here.

Reds in Business – a Manchester networking group

My friend Duncan Drasdo has launched an interesting networking initiative around the world of football. Duncan is the founder of Reds in Business and CEO of the Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST). He’s started up some business networking events scheduled around the Man Utd home games and they’ve got off to a flying start. Oh, and you don’t have to be a United supporter…or even into footy! It’s just a great opportunity to meet before a big sporting occasion.

Next two ‘Reds in Business’ events:

Sat 31st Oct (Blackburn at home)

Ramada Hotel, Salford Quays biz meeting 2pm for 2.30pm – 3.30pm (Blackburn Rovers (H) KO 5.15pm)

Full details of Blackburn (H) meeting 31st Oct and bookings via Business Scene (see below).

Tues 3rd Nov (CSKA Moscow at home)

Premier Inn, Old Trafford biz meeting 4.30pm for 5pm – 6pm (CSKA Moscow (H), KO 7:45pm)
Full details of CSKA Moscow(H) meeting 3rd Nov and bookings via Business Scene (see below):

Watch it on video!

Reds In Business event videos on YouTube

How to Book

If you’d like to attend either or both events please make your booking now. Bookings are being taken via Business Scene which is a completely independent website from Reds In Business and the upgrade option offered on completion of your booking is a Business Scene premium membership not RIB (which is free)..CLICK HERE to book for 31st Oct or CLICK HERE for 3rd Nov.

4 Business Events with the Purple Cow feel

purplecowFollowers of this blog will probably recognise the Purple Cow reference – my marketing hero Seth Godin coined the phrase when he pondered the notion of being remarkable. According to the New York-based guru it’s a key strategy for companies looking to stand out from the crowd, when occupying a field full of competitors.

So with this in mind, I’d like to bring FOUR Purple Cow events to your attention, all taking place in Manchester over the next few weeks and all exhibiting something unusual that brings value.

If you want to attend all or any of them, drop me a comment.



I just wanted to thank those who’ve booked on to the opening night of Pecha Kucha (Japanese for ‘chit-chat’) on Tuesday 1st Dec. What a fantastic response – over 70 reservations in 3 days! You may recall that PK is a global social phenomenon, now running in 250 cities worldwide. It’s an antidote to bad Powerpoint, and allows people with passion for their subject to engage with an audience for exactly 6 mins 40 secs – that’s the 20/20 Rule (20 images, each rotating every 20 seconds). Joanna Lumley, Johnny Vegas and Jon Snow have presented at PK but mostly it’s people with an insane enthusiasm for ‘their thing’ – whatever that might be (Lumley’s was about being a fashion model in the 70′s, Vegas talked about his old VW Passat!).

Phil Harris and I will be hosting this not-for-profit event on 1st December at Contact, the superb theatre on Oxford Road, Manchester by the University. I reckon we’ll fill it, but we need your help to make it a fantastic night. We need you to come and support some enthusiastic people who have a story to tell. It’s a fiver to attend (covering costs) and after we’ve held some rehearsals we’ll announce the list of speakers (10-12 normally). Mixture of business and creatives in the audience – great networking opportunity.

£5 to attend, drop me a line to book.

Other events…


A chance to meet the team behind this highly successful Business Growth Programme, devised by award-winning accountants Wilds. This programme attracts funding support from the Train to Gain scheme, making it highly affordable for qualifying businesses. And as testimony to its effectiveness, Mick Seddon of Wilds is bringing along some success stories – business owners who’ve applied the Ambition principles with fantastic results. Includes skill workshop section organised by Carol Saunders of training providers Rubicon Developments, winners of the National Training Awards (North West) 2009.

FREE to attend, numbers limited.



Now approaching its first anniversary, this personal development club for business owners helps you sharpen your skills with the aid of a guest presenter (in this case Sandler sales trainer Mark Pickles). There’s a facilitated discussion and plenty of time to network too.

£10 payable on the door (includes light refreshments).

These are all unusual events and excellent opportunities to widen your network, gain some insights and perhaps even enjoy yourself – at minimal cost!

Drop me a comment if you’d like to attend any or all.

Adaptability – the most important business skill?

dolphin-faceIn my business talks I often make reference to professional sport as a source of inspiration for business. After all, it’s a highly competitive environment so we ought to be able to learn a thing or two about how to survive and thrive. But this pales into insignificance when compared with the ultimate competitive arena – the natural world.

Watching the marvellous BBC series Life (I think Sir David only does ‘marvellous’), I was struck by the amazing adaptability of creatures of all types, when faced with shortened food supplies or threats from predators. In the latest programme we were shown a satellite image of the shallow waters off the coast of Florida. There were strange circles formed in the sea, and it turns out they were made bottlenose dolphins beating their tails hard on the silt below. The lead dolphin in a small group made the silt rise so it formed a wall in the water, and by creating ever decreasing circles it trapped a shoal of fish. As the circles contracted the fish panicked and, in attempting to leap to freedom over the silt wall, flew straight into the mouths of the other dolphins!

Dolphins are among the most intelligent creatures on the planet, and this extraordinary survival strategy underlines their reputation. Humans are normally considered more intelligent than mammals but you’d be hard pressed to find such innovative hunting techniques among the average UK company!

Perhaps it’s because the stakes are so high in the natural world that creatures evolve such extraordinary ways of surviving? Whatever the case, we’ve certainly experienced a more hostile environment in the business world over the last 12 months. With a limited food supply and hungry predators on the loose, it’s a sensible strategy to get smart and adapt.

The need to improvise

whoselineisit3I had the pleasure of attending an improvisation course (beginner level) this weekend, organised in Manchester by ComedySportz. My friend John Cooper (a comedian of some standing – stand up?) told me about it and his partner Bron signed me up for the 8-week course at the Comedy Store, Deansgate. The course was clearly popular with about 20+ participants from all walks of life, and I was interested to learn why they were doing it. Some were there to develop confidence, some to spruce up their acting skills and others just for the sheer fun of it.

Chris Johnston, author of ‘The Improvisation Game: discovering the secrets of spontaneous performance’, explains why we might benefit from improv. In his view, it’s for…

  • Researching ourselves, increasing self-knowledge and exploring our capabilities.
  • Learning how to communicate better with each other, to manage our emotions and develop our basic life skills.
  • Learning how to understand, manage and reconcile conflict.
  • Fun!

Like many others, I’ve watched and enjoyed shows like ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway’, admiring the spontaneity and confidence of the performers. But as I watched, listened and participated in the session yesterday, I began to see some really valuable lessons, skills I could develop and perhaps coach in others too.

Lesson 1 – Communication skills (verbal and non)

A lot of the games in improv require you to watch and listen intently to the other protagonists. You might have to pass on a story, or a movement to another, or have it passed to you. You’re looking for signs, for signals both in terms of what is said and the facial and body movements made by the other. Sales people are told to look for buying signals, but this is tough if you’re trying to think of what YOU’RE going to say next. As they say in improv, the more you listen the better you become at picking up ‘offers’, things you can develop. Now that’s a fantastic for selling skills.

Lesson 2 – Loosening up

Making an idiot of yourself is positively encouraged in improv! But for most of us in everyday life, the fear of getting something wrong or being laughed at encourages a no-risk strategy. We’ll play it safe, save it for another time, let the others go first. Improv encourages free expression, a let-loose, have-a-go attitude. There are some rules but they’re few and far between and are designed to stimulate exploration and possibility.

Lesson 3 – Imagination

When a group of 8 people on a stage are asked to make an elephant, you see team work and creativity in action! (I was the tail BTW). When you’re asked to pass on a story from one person to another, your imagination can run wild. You have freedom to take the story which ever way you like. It’s wonderfully liberating and can have an extraordinary impact on otherwise non-creative thinkers.

Lesson 4 – Thinking on your feet

A great skill to have in ALL walks of life, and certainly one of the key traits of the improv pro. Imagine doing your next Powerpoint presentation – with no projector (the bulb blows!). If you know your subject and you have a story to tell, you can do it – and the funny thing is it would probably be better for it. A wonderful trait to develop for dealing with the curved balls life throws at us.

Lesson 5 – The Yes &… principle

Apparently the most important rule of improv. Rather than going against an opening line “Shall we go out tonight?” by replying, “No”, you’d be encouraged to answer in the affirmative BUT to build on it…

“Shall we go out tonight?”

“Yes, and let’s take Bernard too”

“Great idea”

“Of course, we’d better warn him not to do that thing in public”

“Ah yes, it might get embarrassing”

This takes us off into interesting territory, with plenty of comic potential. But in everyday conversation, it’s a great skill to expand and develop themes that are introduced by your partner. It helps to build rapport, enables fact-finding and develops relationships.

Lesson 6 – Storytelling

An essential skill for professional communicators. Human beings are hard-wired to respond to stories, that 3-tiered structure of beginning, middle and end. From rapport-building small talk to formal public speaking, this can move you from good to great.

Lesson 7 – Having fun

And of course laughter is good for the soul and apparently releases all sorts of chemicals in the body that have beneficial effects. When people are having fun, they’re more likely to engage and do things well. Remember that when you’re delivering your next Powerpoint!

Improvisation develops skills that are essential (and in too short supply) to our success as social animals. We see lessons in leadership, team work, communication skills and the exploration of our own capabilities. In a competitive world, it’s often those with the imagination and creativity to think differently that gain advantage and out-perform their rivals.

A simple example…

Take a look at Charlie Todd, director of Improv Everywhere, a company that goes out of its way to ’cause scenes’. In this video clip he talks about two large-scale stunts he orchestrated – the mirror scene on the subway and the people frozen in Grand Central Station. Great fun. Enjoy and start improvising!

Three great business tactics

LinkedIn trainer Mark Williams delivered some fascinating insights at yesterday’s Business Skills Forum in Manchester. The BSF is a personal development club for business people and includes a guest speaker slot and a facilitated discussion.  Mark engaged well with the audience of 30 or more business owners, and gave some valuable tips for using this fantastic on-line platform to promote your business.

Like everyone there, I benefited from Mark’s advice but I was drawn to comment on three aspects of the event – for me valuable lessons in good business practice.

First, Mark is a great ‘giver’. To me he exemplifies the principle of giving-creates-gain, offering snippets of advice freely and openly on the basis that this builds relationships. Of course, Mark wants you to attend his paid LinkedIn workshops, but he doesn’t hound you and he’ll still give of himself in order to help people. It’s a great way to do business and those he’s helped (payers or otherwise) will look out for him and happily refer clients.

Second, Mark uses LinkedIn as a platform to establish his credentials and his reputation. Again, through the process of giving (via the Discussion Forums for example) he builds his guru status, his reputation as an expert in his field. And of course appearing as a guest speaker (and a generous and helpful guy) further enhances his credibility. It’s a great strategy for becoming a ‘pull person’ instead of a ‘pusher’ of things.

Finally, I was impressed with his method of delivery, the way he got his message across. He could have projected a live LinkedIn page and showed us how to navigate its features. Instead, he prepared a ‘LinkedIn Stories’ book (binder included!) and delivered three fascinating anecdotes, case studies of people who’d used LinkedIn to great effect. People love stories if they’re well constructed, have a relevant point – and of course if they’re delivered with aplomb. Perched on his stool, he reminded me of the late, great comedian Dave Allen – without the whiskey and cigarette!

Pecha Kucha Night at Contact, Oxford Rd, Manchester 1st Dec

pech-kucha-nz-01I’m delighted to announce that the worldwide phenomenon Pecha Kucha is soon to arrive in Manchester. The term is based on the Japanese word for ‘chit-chat’ and has evolved into a social night with a difference. The PK concept was invented by two Tokyo-based architects, Mark Dytham and Astrid Klein as a reaction to the ‘death by Powerpoint’ experience we’ve all had from time to time.

Pecha Kucha Nights are a quarterly social gathering in a city where up to 12 presenters talk about something they feel passionate about, using an innovative 20/20 format – that’s 20 slides only, each rotating every 20 seconds. That makes all the talks exactly 6 minutes and 40 seconds long, a great way to encourage a concise, punchy delivery! Paradoxically, Dytham and Klein found that by restricting presentations in this way they unleashed previously untapped creativity – and the events became enormously popular.

The idea caught on, and the likes of Joanna Lumley, Johnny Vegas and newsreader Jon Snow have given presentations. PK now operates in 236 cities globally, a truly worldwide phenomenon…and it’s coming to Manchester on Tuesday 1st December.

I’m launching PK along with my associate Phil Harris (Chief Exec of Optic Glyndwr) and we’ll be hosting 4 events per year, starting on 1st December at Contact, Oxford Road, Manchester M15 6JA (starting 7pm). If you look at the PK web-site you’ll see that up to 1,000 people attend these events – but we’d be happy to get 150+ at the first one! A small fee of £5 is payable on arrival, just to cover costs.

So we have TWO questions to ask:

First, would you be interested in being one of the presenters at PK? It’s all done for the love of your subject, it’s up to you what you talk about and how you present it (music, art, holiday snaps, business – anything as long as it’s a socially acceptable topic) BUT you must conform to the 20/20 rule. We’re looking for creativity, expression, passion – and NO overt commercial selling! That doesn’t go down well.

Second, would you like to attend?

Phil and I are really excited about getting PK off the ground in Manchester. To be part of something with such global appeal is tremendous and I think it’s a great opportunity for two extremes of the City of Manchester – the creatives and the business types – to meet in the middle, socialise and form new, beneficial relationships.

It’s also a fantastic opportunity for the educational institutions in Manchester to mix with the business community – in a fun and creative environment.

I’d love to hear from you!

Pecha Kucha – Devised and shared by Klein Dytham Architecture


Become a guru in your field

learmountDavid Learmount (pictured here) is operations and flight safety editor of Flight International Magazine. He’s an expert in his field, and if there’s a serious aviation incident he’s often trotted out by the press to provide insights into why a plane crashed and what issues might be at play. To my mind, Learmount is a great example to business people who claim to be very good at what they do – whether it be printing, accountancy, cookery or PR. The problem is, it’s no good you knowing you’re an expert in no one else does. It’s a question of perception. Are you KNOWN as THE authority in your field? Are you the David Learmount or the Max Clifford of your niche? Would the TV or the radio call for you when there’s a story about your industry?

Guruism is a fantastic marketing strategy for SME’s in the modern world, and the internet lends itself to the development of a reputation as an expert. Part of the trick is to know what your niche is. Too many try to be all things to all people. Aim to dominate a small niche, and use on-line platforms like LinkedIn and Business Scene to establish your status as someone with authority in your line of work. Back this up with speaking, hosting events and publishing articles. Soon your reputation will grow in your area. You’ll begin to make some ‘noise’ but it’s the type of noise that pulls people in by giving, instead of pushing your sales message out to all and sundry. Like cholesterol, there’s good noise and bad noise!

Why we warm to a speaker

It’s always helpful when you’re a performer if you can get the audience to like you. Good public speakers manage to get the audience to warm to them and one technique is to use self-deprecatory humour. Take a look at this clip of Sir Ken Robinson, a former professor who now talks on the subject of creativity. In this presentation to the Royal Academy of Arts, Sir Ken explains how his earlier talk for the TED conference on creativity and the failings of the modern education system had been downloaded some four million times – something to be proud of. But his son told him the other week of a 90 second video clip of two kittens, seemingly having a conversation with one another, that’s been downloaded 17 million times!

As a speaker it’s important to be perceived as an authority on the subject in question. The audience will respect you for that. But a dose of self-deprecation and humility adds something extra. It makes you more human, more like the man/woman in the street, more like the audience. That strengthens the connection between you and them, a key component of successful public speaking.