Clear messages and great stories shine through

Clear messages and great stories always shine through

There’s no world shortage of content – and yet quality content has never been scarcer. I have been, am and will always be unashamedly passionate about the value of great content for business. But you can – and must – pay lots of time and attention to it.

Why? It’s important because it sets the tone for everything that happens afterwards. The services that you sell are central to any successful business and the simple, clear and direct messages you send out about them is the way in which you let the world know.

Notice I wrote “messages” in that last sentence – not the “media” you use. The media we use to convey messages have changed greatly in recent years. They will change some more – media will come and media will go – but clear messages and great stories will outlast them all.

Do you know how to “stop” time?

Have you read “The Art of Stopping Time” by Pedram Shojai? I would encourage you to do so – I got it at Christmas and it’s been a revelation to me.

As we hurtle towards another weekend, thinking about the things we have or haven’t done, it’s easy to be too tired to think, too stressed to focus and less effective than we want to be. And if our work then encroaches into the weekend, we start to feel guilty about the time not spent with loved ones.

The book has a compelling premise – the need for a more positive perspective on the unforgiving flow of time. Without it we lack a real sense of enjoyable purpose, rather than a fear of deadlines and failure.”

Shojai’s goal, therefore, is to nudge us towards “time prosperity” – having the time to accomplish what you want without feeling compressed, stressed or hurried. If it sounds like mindfulness, then it is, except at the extreme practical end of that particular spectrum.

The book has 100 short essays which contain habits in which you literally learn to “stop” time. Some habits will stick, some won’t – and that’s OK. Just take the ones that mean something to you. I did and I feel it’s working well for me already. Have you read it – or do you have another book you swear by?

Optimism is a choice

A new week: Are you feeling optimistic – or pessimistic? How are you feeling right now, as you read this? It’s good to be aware of how you feel, but don’t become a slave to your view of the future. It creates the script for what will actually occur.

In truth we are all both optimists and pessimists several times a day, faced with different situations. Whenever something “happens to us” we have a choice to be one or the other. What is more interesting is the way we come to our perspectives. The brain invents a “counter fact” to events – an alternate scenario our brains create to help us evaluate and make sense of what happened. It could be “Well it could have been a lot worse” or “That’s pretty unlucky” – or anything in between.

This goes on to influence far more than one’s attitude to an individual event. Those who pick positive counter facts open their minds up to a whole range of subsequent perceived benefits to spur their motivation further. Research shows that people with positive counter facts have more successful careers, relationships and even live longer. For this reason alone my usual sense of optimism is deliberate and pragmatic, rather than wishful.

Better Collaboration = Greater Business Value. It’s an Equation, not a Coincidence.

Are your collaborative efforts with workplace colleagues all show and no substance? How good are you really at collaborating in the workplace? And what stops you from collaborating more? I’ve not met anyone who will tell me that collaboration is a “bad thing”, but they also tell me they and the businesses they work in struggle in going “further” with collaboration – or even understand why they should.

Humans have been collaborating with one another for many thousands of years – but in a very, very limited way. Now, technology – the key driver behind most of major recent changes in our daily lives – has become the reason “why” this will soon change. Technology’s march means that we miss many opportunities every single day to collaborate more closely in the way we work and learn from one another.

Everyone instinctively “gets” collaboration – but very few know how to talk about it or develop it in a workplace context. That’s also now changing – because it has become clear to me recently that those that do have enjoyed a rapid increase in extra business value. I know this, because I’ve been worked with highly collaborative teams that go on to do more, earn more – and enjoy themselves more.

Better Collaboration = Greater BusinessValue. It’s an Equation, not a Coincidence.

Are you missing the obvious?

This weekend, ask yourself this: Am I missing something really obvious? It can be really good to stop and think about this. Three things occurred to me the other day:-

  1. How little we stop and look at the things right in front of us. With the exception of our phones, how often do we stop and look twice at everyday objects, the buildings we pass every day – or even those we claim to hold dear?
  2. When we do something routinely, how often do we think about doing it in a different way? We are so often told we can’t do things well if we do it “that way”, but how can we know if we don’t allow ourselves the time to find out?
  3. And how often do we actually do things differently on an everyday basis? Whenever we do, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that we discover so many new and beneficial outcomes that we hadn’t previously even thought about.

So whether you take a different route in the car today, try out that new restaurant or stop and look around you – I urge you to go and do something – anything – differently today. And every day from now on. Time to take the blinkers off.

3 questions to get social media clarity

Have you ever felt bewildered by the number of social media and online community options you have? I have, though I now have 3 questions I can use to cut through the fluff.

Where are your buyers – or others you want to influence? If they really don’t use online communities, then don’t use them. It’s simple. Don’t though make it an excuse for inaction – there are few business or leisure interests for which this is still true. Concentrate on one main channel through which your community prefers to operate.

What do they want? Your community could be the quickest and most comprehensive resource you will ever have ever have for understanding all sorts of trends affecting the way your community thinks and acts. So ask them for their views to find out more.

Why should they want to engage with you? You want him or her to share their views and their questions. To do this though, they need to know that the content you are sharing is about the issues that directly affect them. What can you do to make them feel comfortable?

Ask yourself these questions and clarity will come.

The new European Spam Law: What does it mean for your business?

You may have already heard about a new law coming to the EU governing mass emailing and email marketing. It has created concern among many companies scrambling to get their subscribers to “properly” opt-in. You may well have, ironically, received an email to that effect. So what does this mean for the people sending the emails – should you panic?

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a regulation coming into force for all EU member states on 25th May 2018. If you send any emails to businesses or individuals within the EU after the deadline then you will need to work within the new regulations or you could face fines of up to €20 Million or 4% of a brand’s total global annual turnover – whichever is the greater. By the way, UK’s decision to leave the EU does not affect this, the Government has confirmed that the UK’s decision to leave the EU will not affect the commencement of the GDPR.

What are the challenges?

No “Soft Opt-In”

“Soft Opt-In” is when you have a list of email addresses which you have obtained through channels not specifically related to the marketing of your services, yet is reasonable to assume the people receiving the emails know who you are and might expect emails from you. They may be, for example, previous customers or part of your close business network. These lists are marketed to without first asking specific permission and expecting the recipient to “Opt-Out” if they do not want to receive any more – though a way to do so is made available on every email sent.

‘Soft Opt-in’ is seen as quite a grey area concerning current email laws. After all, what does “people who might expect to hear from you” mean? Previous customers? Your LinkedIn contacts? Some companies push it as far as paid-for lists where the recipient agreed to be contacted by “Third Parties”.

Opt-in must be specific

The GDPR takes a hard line against this practice. Consent will now have to be “freely given, specific, informed and unambiguous”. In order for recipients to receive your email, they must have specifically nominated themselves to receive it. The burden now falls on the sender to obtain consent before mailing, rather than with the recipient.

Another common tactic to bolster subscription rates is to use pre-filled checkboxes or clever wording to count as consent when offering something unrelated such as a free white paper or competition. The GDPR again outlaws this specifically. While giving consent may still include checking a box on a form, ‘choosing technical settings for information society services,’ or ‘other statement or conduct’ it goes further to say ‘silence, pre-ticked boxes, or inactivity,’ does not count as consent.

So what do you do now?

The time to act is now. If you have used any of these tactics in the past – or have lists in which addresses have been gathered outside of the new guidelines then they could become useless to you once the law comes into force. Business should pro-actively contact their soft opt-in subscribers with a request to sign up properly, also known as a “Double Opt-In”. This is seen as the best approach after the law comes into effect. There are no allowances for any lists created before the act and so any list compiled in any way that does not adhere to the new legislation is unlawful.

If you need any help getting your business ready for GDPR, contact Merriborn Media. Email our Managing Director, Trevor Merriden on trevor.merriden@merribornmedia.co.uk or 07771 926197. We are proud to have practised what we now preach. We have always believed in the privacy and integrity of subscribers to our free weekly newsletters and, as such, have had to make no changes to be up to date with GDRP and now advise existing clients in the same way.

Sir Winston Churchill and the lost art of dictation

I spent part of my summer holiday reading Boris Johnson’s “The Churchill Factor: How one man made history.” Love or loathe Johnson as a politician, he’s a fantastic storyteller and one chapter – revealing the extraordinary writing habits of the great wartime leader – grabbed both my professional and personal attention.

On Sir Winston Churchill’s love of dictating late into the night to one of a team of fatigued typists, Johnson speaks for all writers when he says: “I don’t know anybody else who is capable of knocking out first-class copy after a long drunken dinner.” Yet Churchill somehow could – and did.

Reeking of tobacco and alcohol, he would pace the wooden floorboards of his home at Chartwell Manor in Kent, dictating for several hours at a time to one of his typing team. Sometimes he would even take the flummoxed assistant with him into bathroom and bedroom, dictating and disrobing simultaneously to save time, if not their blushes. Then, once they had been sent away, he would go through and correct mountainous sheaves of paper by hand and send the whole lot off to be retyped, before finally turning in for the night.

Chartwell Manor, says Johnson, was effectively the home of one of the world’s first word processors before they even existed – with Churchill as the “gigantic engine for the generation of text.” And almost uniquely, he managed to reconcile quantity with quality – he generated more published words than Dickens and Shakespeare combined, while winning the Nobel Prize for Literature and many other accolades for his works along the way.

There will never be another Churchill. And I don’t suggest you try to become one late into a drunken evening at home – it’s likely only to cause difficulties in your personal relationships. But for all those who struggle with writing – and every day I hear from people who tell me they do – I would recommend that you adopt at least one of Churchill’s habits, that of the lost art of dictation.

Churchill of course could afford to employ a team of typists. You probably can’t – and you are unlikely to have a PA willing to following you all over the place. Or indeed you may be the PA. It doesn’t matter – we all have something to say and we are blessed these days with affordable voice recognition software, which Churchill never had.

So I always say to clients who tell me they can’t write to speak instead. It takes a supreme mental effort to assemble the right words in your head in the right order, so don’t. Just talk as you would normally and if your words come out in a jumble, so be it.

It’s time to rediscover the lost art of dictation. Like everything else, writing is a habit. So whatever is in your head, just get it out of your head. And when the wonders of technology allow you to see down on paper or screen what you have just been saying, you will find it much easier to edit quickly.

None of us will be like Sir Winston, but before you know it, you will be creating something you didn’t know you had in you.

High-speed collaboration the way forward for Ferrari and friends

Last weekend’s British Grand Prix was really exciting to watch – I love this time of year, when Wimbledon, The Open, Test cricket and the Tour de France all jostle with it for attention in the summer sporting calendar. It also reminded me of an excellent talk given earlier this year by Tanja Levine, director at Ashridge Executive Education. Formula One is often seen as a very self-contained world, but appearances are not always what they seem. Tanja has helped Ferrari develop a high-speed approach to collaboration, via a consortium approach with other companies to solving digital challenges.

Her presentation, made at the inaugural MERIT Summit in Barcelona to over 200 HR and L&D and senior business school figures earlier this year, highlighted a number of business challenges facing Ferrari as it recently approached its 70th anniversary. In particular, how could Ferrari prepare employees for a future where the only certainty seemed to be uncertainty and disruption? And how could it turn the digital environment to its advantage?

Ferrari chose Ashridge (part of Hult Business School), to help it find a way forward. Two things quickly became clear. Firstly: innovation and new ideas needed stimulation and fresh thinking from a diverse mix of outside corporations and not just from existing Ferrari employees. Secondly: as the new digital world touches every function and hierarchy, any collaborative approach between businesses would need an equally diverse range of experiences from tech disruptors, thought provocateurs and future millennial customers, as well as senior executives.

The concept of a consortium community to share knowledge, experience, failures and solutions at its heart. Businesses as diverse as Puma, Unilever, Uber, Tiffany & Co, Deutsche Telekom, Merck and Coca-Cola became involved in working on innovative new digital futures for other businesses as well as their own.

One important feature was the way in which the collective brainpower of the consortium group was used, through sharing failures and barriers (and not just success stories) and the use of the programme’s virtual team collaboration space, before, during and after the programme.

The full story is covered in more detail elsewhere for those who want to find out more. It’s fair to say though that the Digital Futures Programme is itself highly innovative, with a strong emphasis on live, immersive and collaborative learning for the benefit both of those working for Ferrari and its partners. Regular readers of my blogs will know this is just the sort of thing to get me excited and it has become embedded in my mind as a great example of good inter-company collaboration.

Ferrari says it has learnt a lot from others – and the others say the same thing. The programme now has a consortium group of 20 organisations who have emerged with tangible and measurable ideas to strengthen their businesses. A senior executive from GM Merck says: “It was amazing to be able to get a hugely diverse team to work on [our] digital case challenge. It yielded many new innovation ideas on how to design and leverage digital innovation and new business models. I took many ideas back home to my team, which we will follow up.”

This initiative has, at its core, been about been about partnership and allowing those previously outside to tap into the brainpower of consortium learning. So why not look outside your own business – and give a deeper level of inter-company collaboration a try?

Tanja Levine spoke about the Digital Futures Programme at the inaugural Merit Summit in Barcelona earlier this year. The next Merit summit will be held next January 2018 in Lisbon, Portugal

Never forget how far you have come – how 20 middle-aged Dads learnt to just keep going

Two weeks ago, we had a pretty big adventure.

By “we” I mean 20 middle-aged men from Garden Fields Cricket Club, from #StAlbans, #England, enjoying highly variable levels of fitness. We decided to walk for 3 days, 66 miles (over 106 km) and just under 9,000 ft of climbing – and descending again (think Scotland’s Ben Nevis twice – and then some).

To say the walking the route was tough was something of an understatement – it was brutal …however, we also had lots of fun and stories to share as we walked – never a dull moment – and, of course, lots and lots of blisters.

We did all this to raise money for Great Ormond Street Hospital and Children’s Charity in memory of Maisie Ryan of Garden Fields JMI School. Our children all attend this school – and when Maisie died suddenly aged 6 last year, we felt we needed to do something to honour her memory. So we came up with the idea of the walk and set a highly ambitious £20,000 fundraising target.

For a very long time, as we were planning our adventure, it really looked and felt as though we would fall flat on our collective faces in fundraising terms – we were nowhere near where we wanted to be. Yet, somehow, with the help of 450 separate donations – from not only our wonderful friends, family, colleagues, but also many complete strangers and a little extra help from the wonderful UK Gift Aid tax break – we have crawled slowly on and on and on. We now stand proudly and look back down our metaphorical mountain at close to £22,000 funds raised in total.

So the point of this week’s post is to encourage any one out there who feels frustrated; who has had a bad day, week, month or even year; who doesn’t feel that they are progressing; to stop, reflect and look at the view. You probably have climbed higher and travelled further than you may have realised.

Celebrate what you have already achieved, before you focus on what you have not. Then just keep putting one foot in front of the other and tick off the small steps on the way to big progress. And let’s not forget that the journey is at least as important as the finish line: just as we did on the walk, you will travel with amazing people and meet some incredible and generous people on the way. So just ….keep … going!!!

By the way, yes, there is still time to support us … Please click on the link for more details … and please share the post if you want to as we enter the last week or so of our fundraising drive. We’d love you to help us take a few more steps before we finish.