Category Archives: Change

Banksy – An Artist in Radical Change

I have a fascination with people, situations, products and historical events which have changed the way we live.  Let’s be a bit controversial today.

“The greatest crimes in the world are not committed by people breaking the rules but by people following the rules. It’s people who follow orders that drop bombs and massacre villages” – Banksy

Banksy is a graffiti artist who likes to keep his identity anonymous.  He wasn’t the first Graffiti artist, I think we have to attribute the creation of the genre to our ancestors who crafted images upon the walls of caves.  In fact he didn’t even invent modern graffiti which achieved popularity / notoriety with the rise of hip-hop in the 1980’s.  He didn’t create the stencil technique and style used for many of his pieces; this has been attributed to French artist Blek le Rat.

No, what makes Banksy a Paradigmeer is he has made this type of expression popular.  Ask many graffiti artists what they think of Banksy’s work and they retort that he has ‘sold out’.  Ask art critics for an opinion and they are dismissive.  Ask some people and they say it is just vandalism and encourages others to deface public property.  Ask an art teacher and they will tell you Banksy has encouraged people to create art. 

What he has done is to challenge the rules of art and political expression in a way that has captured the attention of a wide audience. Most importantly he has made it accessible and acceptable.

With so many people involved in addressing structural change there are some basic principles which have proved successful for Banksy.

1.       Clearly identify what you want to improve.

2.       Put your intention out there for all to see.

3.       Make it accessible to all, so they can become involved and help to shape the future.

4.       Have a strategy for coping with your critics.  Critics are protective of the status quo. 

5.       Use humour to temper emotions in order to allow your communication to become constructive.

6.       Park any ego.  The art, the message, the customer, the patient, the issues which need addressing are more important than status and ego.

7.       Be passionate about what you are doing.  It has to mean something to you otherwise why should it mean anything to anyone else.

My favourite Banksy quote: “One Original Thought is worth 1000 Meaningless Quotes.”


In 1923, a reporter from the New York Times asked George Mallory why he wanted to climb Mount Everest.  His reply became seared into mountaineering history and will resonate with climbers forever.  He simply retorted; ‘Because it’s there’.

There is something magical about starting a challenge.   Whether it is a personal challenge, in your business, or within your marketplace, the moment you decide to set yourself a goal and head off into the unknown raises the spirit and heightens emotions.  There is always an element of risk. No doubt you will consider the pros and cons; complete your risk assessment and a SWOT analysis, but without risk there is no challenge.  The learning is, as they say, in the journey. It is only by having a go, experiencing your Everest that you can discover what is possible.

Mallory and his climbing partner Andrew ‘Sandy’ Irvine died in their attempt, however there is still debate as to whether they were the first to set foot on the summit of the world’s highest peak.  When they set out they were well prepared, at the height of their physical and mental powers and understood the consequences of their endeavour.  They wanted to find out what was possible.  Indeed their courage continues to show others what can be achieved.
As I write this today the news from around the world is dominated by retrenchment, risk aversion, and clinging to what is familiar.  The challenge we are presented with is not about discovery, or development, or even progress.  Yet surely going backwards cannot be the way forward. 
Perhaps we need to consider how we challenge ourselves and our people.  Maybe this is the time to look up and ask what we can do to make a difference in the world.  Conceivably there could be more, not less.
100 blogs ago we set ourselves a challenge to explore ‘What more can there be?  We believe that within realms of customer experience, change and striving for the next level we can offer stimulation to our readers.  Our challenge is to at least open minds to the possibility, just the possibility, that by thinking differently we can create a better world.
The likes of Mallory and Irvine are our inspiration, long before we posed our question they dared to answer it.   Why write this collection of blogs? What makes us want to make our small contribution to a challenge so huge?  Because it’s there.

Nothing Fails like Success

I’ve just been searching through my old notebooks to find a list of addresses of family and friends to whom I want to send festive greetings. It’s in one of them. Somewhere! Predictably I go through this exercise every year.  When eventually the list is retrieved I make a solemn vow to either create a spreadsheet or at least to put it somewhere where I will find it next year.  As yet the addresses remain stubbornly elusive.
On the positive side, I’ve become reacquainted with pages of thoughts collected from conferences I’ve attended.  Ideas worthy of note but forgotten in this jumbled archive of assorted notebooks.  One set of pages was my record of a presentation by Stephen Covey.  The first line, and title for this blog, caught my eye.  Even though it was delivered before the Lehman crash 2008, in a time of plenty, the concept has resonance and is very much the subject of this site.
Covey’s primary message was that ‘successful practices no longer work today’. He used a wonderful metaphor to illustrate the point. 
If you are in London trying to navigate your way around the city with a map of Amsterdam to find your destination, it won’t be too surprising if you can’t find the place.  Your first inclination is to try harder.  After all, if we work harder success eventually arrives.  But you don’t arrive! The only thing that arrives is a sense of frustration.  Maybe you have an attitude problem.  Get this sorted, you need a PMA (positive mental attitude).  Get psyched up, come on you can do it!  Unfortunately, however positive you become, you will remain lost.
This has nothing to do with your behaviour or attitude, just a bad map. You have a map problem. 
Breakthroughs come from ‘breaking with’.  Changing what you are doing, finding a new accurate map is the key to making a difference. The map is the paradigm; the way we do things around here.  At one time the accepted paradigm was that the earth was at the centre of the Universe.  When a more accurate map showed this was not the case, unsurprisingly people wouldn’t accept it.  Changing a paradigm is really hard for people to even contemplate, let alone adopt. Maybe, the way we do business, the way we deal with our customers, how we work and the like might benefit from a new map.
Since I’ve already redoubled my effort, adopted a PMA and achieved frustration, maybe it’s the time to adopt a different approach towards finding this damned Christmas card list!

Be Aware

The no-cost trick to gain more customers, more engaged colleagues and a more fulfilled life.
How often have you travelled an oft-used route in your car, or on the train, and arrived safely at the other end with no recollection of your journey?  It’s not that you were asleep; simply that nothing caught your attention.  Perhaps your mind was elsewhere, musing on the pressing issues of your day.
Have you ever been in a shop, selected a magazine or sandwich, and have no recollection of the experience you just had as a customer? Amazingly, you were willing and able to spend your hard earned cash in their shop, but they made no attempt to make a connection with you.
Would your colleagues ever say you had missed an opportunity to notice a great piece of work they had done for you?  Maybe they made a special effort to hit a deadline, or had to overcome complications to help you out. I know if I asked you, your response would be that you always praise people, at every opportunity. We always like to thinkwe do.
Now, let’s consider another perspective.
You completed a piece of work to the best of your ability; hit the deadline by some miracle, after having all sorts of problems.  Ticked that box, now move on.  Did anyone thank you to show they valued what you did for them? Has anyone recognised the effort you made?  Did you notice the acknowledgement and thanks your colleague lavished upon you for doing a great job and saving their day? Maybe it didn’t register.
Your customers came and went.  They seemed happy with the service you gave them.  Or at least didn’t say otherwise.  There were some regular faces, but many you might see only once or twice and then never again. They didn’t make any attempt to make a connection; they’re in a world of their own.  Never to be seen again.
Beware. There is a great deal to lose when we take awareness for granted.
Perhaps if we make a conscious effort to be more aware, we might connect with more customers turning them into regular visitors, engage with our colleagues more, and ourselves feel more valued.  All this at no cost… What more can there be?
See how we’ve helped other organisations to become more aware and build engagement with their customers by viewing the short case study links below:

Why Change?

If I hear yet another speaker quote Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity as ‘doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’, I shall scream.  Not because it’s a statement I disagree with, more because it is used ‘over and over again’.  
Interestingly Einstein assumed that the Universe was static!  The Expansion Paradigm developed by Edwin Hubble proved that the Universe is actually constantly expanding, which led Einstein to concede that assuming the Universe remained constant was perhaps his biggest blunder.  The only real constant is change itself.
Unfortunately people’s desire to maintain equilibrium and have a high degree of certainty is strong.  Listen to those sages in every organisation who, for as long as I’ve drawn a pay packet, have uttered; ‘It’s not as good as it used to be, we’re always changing things, we need a period of stability…’.  The second constant is that change is uncertain.
If change is inevitable but we naturally hang on to what we know because the alternative is ‘the unknown’, what will force us to move?  The Big Bang was the violent starting point (the singularity) for our constantly changing Universe, thus what is also certain is that any behavioural change also requires a trigger point.  That moment when we become ready to accept that maybe, just maybe, we could do something different. We’ve reached the point at which it will only take a ‘nudge’ to set us in motion.
So far, it seems, all beyond our control.  Change happens, there will be a trigger point and the results will be uncertain.  It is how we perceive this inevitability that makes the difference, which makes this a truly exciting time.  Everyone accepts that whatever our organisation, there will be change; the economy has provided the nudge.  Now leaders can design organisations, encourage mindsets and create processes which will embrace the sentiment behind Einstein’s oft plagiarised words.  But beware:

“Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”  Albert Einstein

Old habits die hard.

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Absenteeism, Presenteeism & Stress… Taking its toll on the UK workforce

Here we go again. 

The headline screams: Absenteeism on the rise amongst British Workers.

Shock, horror, a news item that reveals short term unplanned absence due to ill health is rising.  What do we expect?
Uncertainty abounds.  Even if your organisation is secure, there is always an underlying threat of change.  The news reports problems in Greece, Italy and the Eurozone.  You are told prices are rising and your wages will remain the same.  You will be worse off.  So many issues that could affect you and your family are outside your control. You are helpless, your influence over your circumstances is getting weaker; your level of stress is rising.
Then you go to work.  Here you meet other people who are quick to add to your burden.  They reinforce the rumours.  Ask anyone in the organisation what the biggest issue is and they point the finger at a perceived lack of communication.  When your manager informs you that they have told you everything they know ‘at the present moment’, you want to know more.  What is it you are not being told? 
However hard you try the uncertainty grows.
Eventually this tips others over the edge.  They take time off.  This puts pressure on those that are working who have to cover; customers are met with stressed people or a less responsive service.  And through all this, managers become convinced that they are not being kept in the picture, the leadership team puts their collective heads in their hands and despair at why the level of trust is evaporating.
What do you expect?
How can you empathise with ‘John Smith’ whose call you are taking; one which is simply adding to your level of stress? It’s time to manage the situation.  Start with yourself.  What are you doing to take control over your level of stress? 
Too often we come across managers and leaders who keep taking other people’s stress on board and take no action to reduce their own levels.  Leaders in particular keep going until they suffer a catastrophic breakdown which will take months to recover from.  Leaders have to set an example to everyone else and show how individuals can look after their own wellbeing.  If we can get everyone in the organisation to recognise that they can take control and accept personal responsibility for their wellbeing, then any action taken by teams and the organisation to make this uncertain world more certain will have a far greater effect.
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Leaders as the custodians of ‘The way we do things around here’

Rules evolve from the need to control. Often people governed by the rules have no idea where they came from. Why 30 mph as the speed limit in a built up area? Why does the shooting season start on the 12th August not the 11th? Why is 9:00pm the TV watershed? Why do I need a licence to have a radio station?

Once the rules are established we get custodians of the rules; usually the leaders in an organisation. People who have a stake in maintaining the rules and identify with them. They become emotionally attached to the prescribed way. Their function is to continually limit what can happen. As people start to push the boundaries, so new rules are created to stop this. We find rules prescribing ‘best practice’ which means that any other good practice is not allowed. And so a patriarchal mindset prevails: ‘we do it this way because we know best’.

Interestingly if you read the above paragraph again from the perspective of your own personal rules it becomes easy to understand why people find it hard to break from the norm. We create our own set of immutable legislation to which we become emotionally attached.

The odds are stack against making a step change in performance. The rules are set either formally or informally. They are governed by others and ourselves. They are also used as a credible excuse for inertia, so even when we can see that something is not functioning as we want we claim our hands are tied; there can be no more.

‘Cos everybody has sometimes broke the rules’ (Status Quo – ‘Legendary?’ Rock Group)

Where are the brave Leaders who recognise that this is a time of opportunity? How often does a genuine challenge to the way we do things arise, giving us the chance to question the rules we work within and those we set ourselves? Maybe this is the time for Leaders to change from being custodians of the rules to become promoters of innovation.
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Follow the Leader (The ‘Sir Alex’ Method)

The football season is well underway and it won’t be long before some teams are failing to match the dreams of their fans and owners. As is the tradition at these times when your  team is doing badly, they have had some poor results and your expectations of Premier League success are fading fast, it’s the manager’s head that is called for. Is changing the leader the answer or is it a need to do something differently.  How many of these teams actually recover from a manager merry go round? 

Academic evidence (Bridgewater 2010) shows that a short term honeymoon improvement over the first 12 games of a new manager’s tenure is replaced by a level of performance below that of before the change.  The highest performing organisations are those that develop a winning culture, where everyone understands their long term vision, beliefs and values.

More interestingly, how many leaders are able to change their approach, mindset and behaviours to bring about a better performance?

I was particularly struck by the reaction of Sir Alex Ferguson after Manchester United were so comprehensively beaten by Barcelona in the Champions League final 2011.  Just looking at his demeanour suggested that he recognised that even at their very best his team wouldn’t have won.  The standard of competition had been raised and a new approach was required in order to become world-beaters again.  There was no call for the leader to be changed, after all this was an outstanding team.  It was the leader that recognised the need to change in order to compete with the best in the business. 

It’s a brave person who changes a successful team; there is so much to lose, so little to gain.  We often see successful businesses stagnate, afraid to do anything different.  We find good managers reluctant to adopt different practices because they might give poorer results.  What brilliant leaders like Sir Alex have is a clear vision of what they want to achieve and they are not afraid to challenge their own ways of doing things. 

Their vision does not change, everyone understands the goals, they share the values of the organisation, and they are not afraid to challenge their approach in order to get a better result.  If our market, the economic environment, our competitors, or even our team changes then sticking remorselessly to the way we know may well leave us heading for relegation or for the crowd baying for our heads. Great leaders are always prepared to change their rules.

Are you able to follow Sir Alex’s example?
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Flip Thinking: Part 1

Are you not curious? 

Turn over a stone in a stream to find if there is anything beneath.  Want a back stage pass to see what the performers are really like? Stand on the footplate of a steam engine to get the drivers view. Flip.  Look at something from a different perspective.  From the outside – in and suddenly you open up a new world of possible improvement.  A different way of thinking.  Flip thinking.
The concept has been around for as long as man has hunted for food.  Anthropologists have shown through their study of indigenous hunters that our ancestors realised that they would catch more prey if they thought from the perspective of what they were hunting, where would it feed, how would it react, how did it think. So if this is a primeval instinct why is it that people are so reluctant to think in this way?
Maybe it’s because really empathising with people, situations or behaviours isn’t easy.  We are different from them, we understand how we would react, that’s easy, after all we do that every day.  Russian theatre director Constantin Stanislavsky (An Actor Prepares,1936) the doyen of actors, revolutionised acting  by asking his actors to ‘be’ the character they were playing.  He wanted his performers to really understand their motivation, lifestyle, and background. One of his infamous exercises is to ask the actor to ‘be a tree’ to help them open up their imaginations.  His ‘method’ takes years of practice to master but the performance of the great actors is testament to its effectiveness.
Flip thinking encourages people to take a different perspective, one which can open up new possibilities and opportunities for improvement.  Few leaders and managers find this easy, they focus on their activity from a process point of view.  They understand what their role is, what their team needs to do, what has to happen to enable them to hit their targets, but this often has no empathy with their customer.  Opportunities for improvement are missed. Doing the same old thing results in continued inefficiencies.  They become very good at doing things which don’t matter.
As one sage remarked, ‘Their ladder is up against the wrong wall’.  Maybe it should be around the flip side?

How to develop meaningful learning?

I heard a trainer comment that he couldn’t teach the group he was working with, he could only help them learn.  At least he recognised the change of emphasis from teaching and training to focusing on the needs of the learner.  When we observed what this meant the reality was, as is so often the case, teaching and training are mistaken for learning.  This was then tested in an attempt to show some leaning had taken place.  Job done.
As average grades at A-Level, GCSE, Degree and the like go up year on year, it is not that students are getting smarter but simply they are being taught to pass the exams better.  I had a colleague who turned to me and asked what the ‘H’ in H2O meant?  It turned out she had an A grade in Chemistry and a high level University Degree.  How did she achieve this level of academic prowess and yet not know something as fundamental as the chemical symbol for Hydrogen? “I just learned the stuff for the exam and then forgot it.”  A brilliant example of superficial learning.
When have you really learned something?  Actually, consciously thought; I want to know that, I want to be able to do that, how does that work and then set off to find out. 
You now have a combination of possibilities.
  1. Vertical learning:  Get someone who is an authority to tell you or show you.
  2. Horizontal learning:  Ask your mates.  Get your peers to help you.
  3. Experiment:  Teach yourself in whatever way works best for you.

When I broke my ankle Fell-Running and was at a loss for something to do in the summer evenings, I decided to take up rock climbing.  First port of call was my mate who could lead up to HVS (technical grade for a climb ‘Hard Very Severe’). I was relatively safe and happy to have me belay him.  So far so good. 
The next step was self-teaching.  My ankle was taking weight so I started leading.  It was going well until I was half way up a crack on Stanage Edge in the English Peak District and ran out of knowledge.  I was suddenly a technique short.  I couldn’t figure out how to go up any further and I’d never tried going down.  At this point the self-teach, experimental approach resulted in a quite long plummet, the testing of safety gear and some use of colourful language.  That’s the point at which I learned something about how to rock climb. My next move was to do a training course. 
Only when we make a conscious decision to learn for ourselves does meaningful learning take place and it doesn’t always have to involve heart stopping moments.