Key Principles of Better Communication

Just choosing to focus on the numbers is not the whole picture of running an organisation.

Whilst knowing what the Company financial or other performance goals is crucial, it is not the reason why people get out of bed and come to work. We get out of bed because we are inspired, challenged and emotionally engaged with the business.

The task of a leader therefore is to inspire people to achieve great things by understanding that how they feel and how they are made to feel is so important. If we feel terrific, repsected and valued, we can do wonderful things.

12 Principles of better communication

  1. To be the best communicator you can, learn to be comfortable being yourself.
  2. State a compelling mission and powerful set of values that promotes emotional buy-in.
  3. Relentlessly communicate a vivid picture of your vision to change present behaviour and attitudes.
  4. Keep employees focused on the relationships that the business depends on for success, making the building of trust a priority.
  5. Make workplace engagement a goal.
  6. Understand the audience before communicating with them.
  7. Listen attentively to feedback and learn to ask the right questions.
    1. “The quality of your answer depends on the quality of the question”.
  8. Be enthusiastic and passionate when communicating your point of view.
  9. Use more stories and anecdotes to inspire the behaviour as set by your values.
  10. Be aware of your signals you send beyond your words.
  11. Prepare properly for public platforms – your reputation is at stake.
  12. Learn, rehearse, review and improve – strive to the a better communicator.

From listening to those who have the experience and skill of leadership, a common theme I hear is the power of communication. Leaders  and those aspiring to lead, should place communication and people skills at the top of their personal development agendas. With great leadership Companies can innovate, develop new products and serve customers better whilst growing through difficult times. Great leadership is the difference!

Steve Jobs 1955-2011  “My job is not to be easy on my people. My job is to make them better.”

As with many things, it starts with awareness, then practice, practice, practice!

 Reading: The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You [Paperback] John C. Maxwell

How positive is your mindset for growth?

Are you falling into the recession mindset?

With the media of the world taking constant delight in telling us we are in economic turmoil at every opportunity they can, is it starting to effect you?

“There is a major global recession” ….and no-one seems willing or able to fix it; not the banks who caused it nor the world leaders who tell us they are trying everything possible to resolve the situation. From a business perspective this appears reason enough to be cautious.

I believe the current economic climate is generating many opportunities, particularly for SMEs and entrepreneurs who are willing to seize the opportunity.

  • Are you really a risk taker?
  • Are you willing to change your business to set it up for success?
  • What investments are you making to become stronger?
  • Are you happy with the current state of the business?

Below are some straight forward scenarios that can highlight current attitude to risk and identify if you have been dragged into the recession mindset, holding you and your business back.

  1. Fresh Insight – You engage an objective third party to present you with fresh insights into your business. The suggestions made could improve your profits but require some minor changes.
    • Do you embrace the suggestion?
    • Do you reject it and provide a rationale to yourself that they don’t understand your business?
  2. Feedback – You ask your Customers for objective feedback on your service, products and performance. When you receive feedback, it is polite but critical.
    • Do you embrace this feedback, say “thank you” and action the improvements?
    • Do you ignore it and justify the current situation to yourself?
  3. YouTube – Your competitors are yet to embrace YouTube – you know from research that it is an inexpensive way of marketing your business, products and services.
    • Do you throw yourself into it wholeheartedly?
    • Do you put it on your ‘to do’ list but never actually action it?
  4. ‘DIY’ marketing – You are concerned about your business growth so start to cut costs, because it’s easy and you’re losing confidence. Marketing used to be an investment, now you think of it as cost.
    • Do you start a ’programme’ of do it yourself marketing?
    • Do you really expect your ad hoc efforts will achieve marketing and long term business success?
  5. No growth – You’ve been in business a number of years but over the last year nothing has really changed.
    • Do you cling on and hope to survive another year?
    • Do you switch things up and make changes to really promote your company and its products or services?

Remember all the good decisions you used to make? Start making them again for the good of UK Business and more importantly, your own mind!

How are you responding to business today, one of cost-cutting or investment opportunities?

Does stress make great business?

The word ‘stress’ means different things to different people.

Yes, we thrive on stress!

Competition is the root of our success!  We arrived on earth, naked, hungry and full of danger. So why would anyone think that we are programmed for anything but a stressful life? Work without stress results in companies and employees dying sooner. We think we hate work, but we are wrong. Work extends life, it even makes us happy.

Many business managers and even Owners can fall into choosing an easy-life over the stress of competition. They grow too timid and lazy to harness the competitive drive of employees and the market. By doing this they unconciously steer their companies into ‘the business abyss’. Who pays the price? the employees and shareholders.

To me, the business abyss is the time when you are unable to tell your customer that your product is better, faster or more reliable. When a customer asks how your product compares to others, all you can say is “we got what they got”. That means you have no pricing power or profit margin. The manager thinks he has eased the pressure by opting out of driving the business forward, creating a cushier, simpler place for workers. But anyone who leads a firm into the business abyss is driving employees to the dole queue.

Stress brings out the best in people and develops them to achieve in areas they never thought possible. By stressing employees, the hope of glory and peer recognition provides a rush of good feelings – a massive bonus!


No, stress is harmful!

The word ‘stress’ means different things to different people. There is a big difference between pressure and stress with each persons definition being different based on their mind and skill set. Pressure is motivating, stimulating and enables people to achieve both work and personal aims. But when pressure exceeds an individuals ability to cope, then you’re in the stress zone and illness may result.

The main causes of workplace stress are:

    • dysfuntional managers
    • a long work hours culture
    • poor management of change
    • inflexible work patterns
    • unmanagable workloads

Stress can also damage Team morale. A stressed team member can have a negative effect on how that unit functions and their ability to achieve targets. It can affect decision making too. I’m sure we know of individuals who have been under enourmous stress and taken inappropriate coping strategies – drink, drugs, isolation. The decisions resulting in losses and very poor deals for the business.

If your managing director, chief executive or senior managers have problems that they can’t deal with effectively, it can lead to devastating consequences on the business.


Do we know the difference between pressure and stress?

We all experience pressure regularly – often it motivates us to perform at our very best. It is when we experience too much pressure and feel unable to cope that stress can result.

HSE’s formal definition of work related stress is:

“The adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them at work.”

Stress is not an illness – it is a state. However, if stress becomes too excessive and prolonged, mental and physical illness may develop.

Work is generally good for people if it is well designed, but it can also be a great source of pressure. There is a difference between pressure and stress. Pressure can be positive and a motivating factor, and is often essential in a job. It can help us achieve our goals and perform better. Stress occurs when this pressure becomes excessive. Stress is a natural reaction to too much pressure.

So is it fair to say, one persons stress is another persons challenge?

When does a challenge become stress? A person experiences stress when they perceive that the demands of their work are greater than their ability to cope. Coping means balancing the demands and pressures placed on you (i.e. the job requirements) with your skills and knowledge (i.e. your capabilities) and your mind-set, do you feel able to do it? For example, if you give a member of your team a tight deadline on a project they feel they have neither the skills nor ability to do well, they may begin to feel undue pressure which could result in work related stress.

Stress can also result from having too few demands, as people will become bored, feel undervalued and lack recognition. If they feel they have little or no say over the work they do or how they do it, this may cause them stress.


What is the cost of stress?

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimates the costs to society of work-related stress to be around £4 billion each year, while 13.5 million working days were lost to stress in 2007/08. By taking action to reduce the problem, you can help create a more productive, healthy workforce and save money. Many organisations have reported improvements in productivity, retention of staff and a reduction in sickness absence after tackling work-related stress.

It makes great business to have capable people with positive mind-sets…..look after them!

As a responsible employer, you must assess the risk of stress-related ill health arising from work activities and take action to control that risk. For guidance and advice the HSE provide an excellent resource.

Steve Jobs: the Stanford Commencement Address—Love and Loss, Triumph and Death

Steve Jobs – February 24th 1955 to October 5th 2011

Just an awesome and inspriational speech…….and I only heard it for the first time 2 weeks before his death.

This is a prepared text of the Commencement address delivered by Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer and of Pixar Animation Studios, on June 12, 2005 at Stanford University.

I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That’s it. No big deal. Just three stories.

The first story is about connecting the dots.

I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?

It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife.

Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: “We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?” They said: “Of course.” My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.

And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents’ savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn’t see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.

It wasn’t all romantic. I didn’t have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends’ rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.

Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

My second story is about love and loss.

I was lucky — I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. We had just released our finest creation — the Macintosh — a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.

I really didn’t know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down – that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me — I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.

I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the worlds first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple’s current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.

I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.

My third story is about death.

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn’t even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor’s code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you’d have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I’m fine now.

This was the closest I’ve been to facing death, and I hope it’s the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960’s, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.

Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

Thank you all very much.

“Why do you never get ill?”

This morning I awoke to an eye-watering, sneezing, sniffling, croaky version of my usually gorgeous wife.
This led to me taking over nursing duties and thoughts of, “Why do some people, who seemingly take every precaution still get the flu, while others never even get the sniffles?

Being very fortunate, I’m very rarely ill. My basic stance is always down to a positive state of mind and a healthy…ish living.  A comment that went down like a lead balloon. So with my sparring partner feeling distinctly under the weather I decided to find a ‘proper answer’.

From a little reading I understand that  Professor Alfred Hero at the University of Michigan College of Engineering and colleagues from Duke University Medical Center and the Duke Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy have recently begin to unravel our complex genomic data and understand why some get sick while others don’t.

“Genomics is a discipline in genetics concerning the study of the genomes of organisms. The field includes intensive efforts to determine the entire DNA sequence of organisms and fine-scale genetic mapping efforts.” Thanks Wikipedia!

One of the primary analysis methods used to discover the genomic signatures associated with immune response and flu symptoms, was a pattern-recognition tool previously developed for processing hyperspectral satellite images of the earth, called Bayes Linear Unmixing. Professor Hero applied it with virtually no modification to image the gene expression patterns. (Another successful spin-off from space research and why the world should continue to invest).

Using these genomic signatures, researchers compared the responses of previously healthy participants innoculated with the flu, and found significant and complex immune responses in both people who got sick and those who did not.

The resulting gene expression data is the key to how the immune system reacts and structures its response to a virus, which then dictates whether people get sick or not.

The study, the largest of it type, looked at over 22,000 genes in 267 blood samples and reveals what happens after a person is exposed to the virus. The team inoculated 17 healthy individuals with the flu virus, with about half of them getting sick. The gene expression data from each individual was collected at 16 time points over 132 hours. The data showed a clear picture of the gene expression over time in those who developed flu symptoms and those who did not.

Eventually, if scientists can understand what happens at the level of the genome that makes people more or less susceptible to viral illness, they could potentially prevent the illness. Hero said the inflammatory genomic signature that differentiated the well group from the sick group was measurable up to about 36 hours before peak flu symptoms developed. It may, therefore, be possible to detect illness early, allowing people to take precautions and perhaps even prevent the worst symptoms.

So now the Scientisits can begin to discover the underlying biology to resisting infection. Flu free winters here we come!

Needless to say, trying to explain this this has not made my wife feel any better, but my Sunday afternoon was not entirely wasted.