Thursday, December 04, 2014


Having been looking at lots of material recently on the subjects of Mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence, the penny suddenly dropped...

All this stuff about self-development and wellbeing - which is said to reduce stress, improve cognitive function, generally making you a more fulfilled person - can all be boiled down to one simple principle...


And in a sense, if you can do this - or at least aspire to it - everything else follows.

Simple, but not necessarily easy.

Mindfulness is largely about being aware of the movements of mind. And commonly, when you interrupt normal consciousness to look at what's going on, you'll find plenty of influences taking you away and back to the noise and activity that is so familiar and strangely comfortable.

Emotional Intelligence is about having more choice in our response to circumstances and people by interrupting our habitual reactions to them. And this is facilitated through awareness and observation. Try it over Christmas when over-exposure to the extended family starts to get to you. Simple but not always easy.

So in my mind at least, Mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence are fundamentally approaches for knowing ourselves. And that is all there is to it.

Let's see what better minds than mine have to say on this subject:

Lao Tzu: Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom.

Robert Bland: If men would search diligently their own minds, and examine minutely their thoughts and actions, they would be more cautious in censuring the conduct of others, as they would find in themselves abundantly sufficient cause for reproof.

Adam Smith: The first thing you have to know is yourself. A man who knows himself can step outside himself and watch his own reactions like an observer.

And there are plenty more where these came from.

So although these techniques and approaches may seen new and radical, the essence of what they are about is as old as the hills.

I don't know about you, but I find that quite comforting.

Monday, November 24, 2014


When I'm asked what Mindfulness is, I'm often tempted to offer a nicely parcelled definition, courtesy of Wikipedia or some other font of wisdom.

But I've realised over the years that it's easier to tell people what it's not, rather than what it is.

So here goes...

Mindfulness is not:
  • concentrating on an idea
  • getting rid of all thoughts
  • complicated
  • about transcendental experiences
  • religious
  • withdrawing from the world

Having said all of that, since Mindfulness is an experience, it's usually best to be it (or try it or do it) rather than talk and think about it. 

After all, there'd be little point in describing the taste of a strawberry if there's one sitting on your plate.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


In more lucid moments I realise that much of my time is spent trying to get somewhere...somewhere else, somewhere that I'm not already at.

And with that thought comes the realisation that everything that I've ever done, said, felt, thought or wished for has brought me to where I am now.

So in a sense I've already achieved what I set out to do. It might not be what I want now, but it must reflect what I wanted, otherwise what have all those actions, thoughts, feelings and aspirations been for?

Now I know this argument isn't bullet-proof at least at a rational level. But it feels healthier than the constant dissatisfaction of seeming to be never where you want to be.

Does it work for you?


Hat tip to Ian Glendinning for using this term which seems to indicate an uncontrollable urge to measure the unmeasurable, prove the intangible and generally reduce everything to some kind of number soup.

Ian goes on to quote Einstein (no messing about here):

What counts can't be counted

And from someone that could count better than most...

Anyway, finally I have a name for a phenomenon that's been irritating me for a while, often parading itself as tired old adages such as You can't manage what you can't measure

But Scientisitic Neurosis manifests in other pernicious ways:

  • An insatiable need to 'evidence' the bleeding obvious: "Studies show that lack of sleep is bad for your health" (possibly driven by post-grad grant applications?)
  • A refusal by organisations to countenance any intervention that can't demonstrate a measurable Return on Investment. This particular neurosis generates pseudo-statistics around intangibles such as engagement, well-being, even happiness.
  • Gaming: engaging in perverse behaviour in order to meet targets. E.g. keeping casualties in ambulances to reduce the time they spend in Accident & Emergency departments.

Even Deming (an Electrical Engineer and eminent Management Consultant) stated that you would never be able to measure the benefit of training a team of people in a particular skill:

 You may spend $20,000 to train six people in a skill. That benefit will come in the future. We'll never be able to measure that benefit. Never.

Any views to the contrary gratefully and respectfully received...


We all appear to invest a lot of time and effort in trying to change people for the better: our partners, our families, our colleagues, our friends. Sometimes even ourselves.

But it seems to me that the way we attempt to change people is often rather like trying to change the plot of a soap opera by fiddling with the telly. You might brighten things up a bit, or make it quieter... but you're not going to change the storyline. The only way you're going to do that is by getting to the script.

Now, you may have noticed that changing other peoples' scripts can be challenging, to say the least. Their behaviours are well protected by very effective firewalls. I suspect that many coaches will tell you that behaviour change is one of their prime objectives and that it is not always successful.

So how do you get to the script - how do you get behind the firewall?

Well my experience to date is straightforward: You Can't - that's right, you can't change other people's behaviour. I'm open to other points of view on this, but so far, that how it seems to me.

I'm also slowly coming to the conclusion that not only is it not possible, but that it's also not necessary and not even desirable.

Thursday, October 30, 2014


THerohe word struggle has a complex etymology and is linked to notions of contention, strife and dispute as well as the common usage of huge effort. Perjorative in one sense, in another it is ennobling, heroic, even. And it is a given in many circles that struggle is an unavoidable, even desirable prerequisite to success.

Well, I beg to differ... My experience of struggle (mine and others') is that it is a pointless dissipation of energy that leads to disease, a vainglorious ego-trip and a demeaning of the human spirit.

Hmmm, that's pretty strong stuff - I'd better have some substance to back this claim up with.

Ok - so firstly I'd like to say that I am not questioning the benefits of hard work and effort - they are a pre-requisite of survival, let alone success. Hard work and effort are natural - our brains and bodies are setup to work and suffer if they don't. But would you voluntarily apply your energies consistently to work that you don't like and aren't good at? Would you willingly, on a regular basis, spend time with people you don't relate to? Would you choose to struggle? Well, of course not, but we do nonetheless - so why?

At this point many of us would say: "Well, we have no choice - our bad luck and circumstances force us to struggle against them. There is no other way and everybody has to, so why should I be different?" This statement is wrong at a number of levels. Firstly our circumstances are neutral - they have no interest in us and no concept of success and failure. Our environment will just respond dispassionately to our actions. Secondly, the people we interact with are, for the most part, far more interested in themselves than they are in you, or me. So if you remove these external factors as the basis of the struggle, what is left? Yup, that's right, just little old you. So if you are experiencing struggle, the bad news is: you're responsible - and the good news is... you're responsible.

Struggle is an emotional response to the fear of loss. Now if that loss takes place, game over - end of struggle. If that loss doesn't happen, then the struggle has no justification. So either way, struggle is superflous. But more than that, because of the waste of energy that ensues through struggle, loss and failure become more likely. With the mind focussed on loss and lack, the value of what you do have is lost - this all adds up to a potent mix of negativity.

And the reason why we continue to struggle despite its absurdity is the secondary gain - that nice warm glow from the knowledge that we will valiantly struggle on, come what may, until our last gasp...

So what's the answer? Simple...not always easy, but oh so simple. Firstly stop struggling - just stop. Secondly, decide whether to walk away or not. It's your choice whether you invest any more energy into the situation or not. Remember that whilst you direct your energies toward it, you are supporting it - you are complicit in the experience. If you decide to continue, then use effort under discipline. Try stuff, assess the results, try again and always be ready to withdraw if needs be.

Finally, if any of this has struck a chord, rest assured that your need for struggle will have weakened as a result... and it's only a matter of time before you re-focus your energies more productively.

Monday, July 07, 2014


Beware of Control disguised as Preparation...

I find that many clients feel the need to prepare thoroughly for meetings. They understandably want to do things ‘professionally’ and minimise the risk of things ‘going wrong’.

That’s fine until you examine motives...

Often the preparation is about limiting the options that people have to express themselves. ‘We don’t want people whingeing about the same old things’ is a common cry; or ‘Geoff will hijack the conversation if we allow him’. This boils down to controlling the agenda to promote the outcomes that the organisers want and, indeed, is the way that many meetings are run.

The result is people feel unable to speak freely and the meeting will lack authenticity. The structure will also inhibit creativity.

Sometimes the organisers don’t even realise that they are attempting to control outcomes. They genuinely believe that limiting conversational freedom is beneficial for all concerned and that they know best. You may have a struggle disillusioning them and you may have to either go with it or walk away.

Paradoxically, when you explicitly encourage everyone to express themselves freely, many of the moans and whinges surface in more constructive ways as individuals take responsibility for the impact they have.

Of course a degree of preparation and planning is essential, but bear in mind Napoleon’s dictum:

A battle was never won according to plan ... and a battle was never won without a plan.

I like to have an agenda – most clients insist on it. But once the meeting has started I like to respond to the need and adapt as required - rip it up if necessary. Start, stop and break times should remain sacrosanct in my view as once these are transgressed, respect for the process is undermined.

The agenda needs to encourage freedom of expression, not contain it.

Finally, when there are particular core issues to be addressed, I find it helpful to start with a concise presentation outlining the issues. This then forms a stimulus for dialogue, but not a constraint upon it.

Saturday, May 24, 2014


"Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity" - General Patton

"If you give people freedom, they will amaze you... all you need do is give them a little infrastructure and a lot of room to change the world" - Laszlo Bock, Google Inc.

Thursday, May 22, 2014


I actually heard a client utter this phrase a couple of weeks ago. She didn't even justify it by adding "and it's always worked...". That's because it clearly wasn't working.

So now you and I can occupy the rational high ground and bask in our superiority.

Why not? We've always done it this way.

Monday, May 19, 2014


There's been a lot of interest in Mindfulness recently - particularly in a work context. In our over-active, western business culture, the focus is on how to do it and what benefits it will bring.

Well the benefits are potentially huge, depending on what benefit you are seeking. And practising Mindfulness is simplicity itself, but not necessarily easy.

The biggest hurdle to Mindfulness, and thereby what makes it so powerful, is that its real focus is not doing what we habitually do, rather than doing something new.

Being rather than doing...

Thursday, May 15, 2014


I popped into EIE14 this week to check out the latest offerings form Scotland's Start Up community. I had to endure a couple of after-dinner speeches before 10am which was unwelcome, even though something that Sir Brian Souter (founder of Stagecoach) said, struck a chord.

Having made a slight gaffe with a non PC and non funny joke about mental health, causing a sensitive soul to storm out, he went on to talk about the Mechanics and Dynamics of a business.

The Mechanics being the infrastructure, nuts and bolts, operations and processes of the business; Dynamics being the intangible thrust, ambition, direction and strategy of the business. He made the point that the interaction between the two is critical - it's a balancing act. It reminded me of many fundamental polarities: Yin-Yang, Light-Dark, Good-Bad, Hot-Cold, Male-Female etc. And that neither can exist without the other...

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


A recent Health & Safety issue prompted a client's management team to talk themselves into a doomsday scenario where no-one was safe to do anything, anymore. And in an engineering machine shop, this spelt disaster.

"Go down, have a look and talk to the people concerned." I urged. "That will just make it worse, there's no way around it and we'd be forced to take action now." they replied, hoping a blind eye would mitigate the risk.

At my insistence, they acquiesced, returning 20 minutes later with smiles having found a very practical solution.

I like this as an example of how easy it is to talk yourself into a hole, when listening to the right people may just fill in the hole for you.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014


Having thought of pop legend/impresario as primarily a source of vacuous inanity, I sat up recently when he said: 
"I’m ignoring my problems; I’m paying attention to my dreams"...
I take it all back - the guy knows a thing or two and clearly practices what he preaches.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014


... he spoke a lot of sense too:

"Whether you think you can, or you think you can't, you're right."

Question is, is this just a bit of positive thinking, or does it turn our concept of causality on its head?

Whichever you think, you're right.