Wednesday, 11 September 2013

New Blog Location!

Hello everyone,

The ITS blog now has a new residence - please visit for all future articles and updates from Ian.

Happy reading!

The ITS Team

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Why Learning Coaching Skills Will Be Useful To You

I find it fascinating that so often when I’m talking with senior leaders they talk about wanting to win the hearts and minds of their people and engage the talent they know they have in the workforce. But very frequently the ways in which organisations work seem almost designed to work against this.

Telling people what to do does not cause them to become more proactive, more self-reliant and nor does it give them an understanding of what they’ve got within them. This is where I find myself quite often talking about the value of a different kind of approach. If you wanted to give it a label I would call it ‘The Coach Approach’. Why the coach approach? Because coaching has fundamentally an assumption which is that people have skills and talents that need to be drawn out. The way you draw them out is not by trying to shove things down people’s throats. You get the best from people when they are able to access it themselves. This is a process of internal exploration and then action.

Here’s an example – I have just come back from working with a whole bunch of people who are very talented leaders  in all sorts of different specialisms. The reason I was speaking at their conference is that they wanted to be better able to have the sorts of conversations which they know make a difference to clients and also illuminate what it is that clients really want. This is how they wanted to add value as they knew there was something that they weren’t doing.

In the course of our time together I was looking at one of the critical skills that indeed comprise the coach approach which is knowing how to ask good questions. The art of good questioning involves timing because you can ask the same question at different moments and get wildly different responses. It also involves understanding what you don’t know and are therefore engaged in an act of genuine enquiry. You are provoking thought. Whenever you ask a question what you do is you send a person on an internal search in terms of the neuroscience of it all.

There is an interesting aspect even in the word ‘question’. Look at what else is contained in that one word. Very often I will say to people the really important question is ‘what is the quest in your question’? Where are you directing attention? What is the journey you are sending people on when you ask them a question. When you do so that is exactly what you do, you send them on an internal search.

This is just one of a whole bunch of coaching skills which seem to me to be far too important to be left exclusively in the hands of people who are called Professional Coaches. This is why I have spent a lot of time making these skills available in a learnable format to people who frankly have very little interest in being coaches but who really do want to know how to adopt a coach approach – which means stop telling, start listening. Start a different kind of working relationship with people. That relationship will be characterised – not by a loss of authority on the contrary you can have your own clear position but the way you engage with people will enable them to do more than they have done before. It is almost like designing an alliance where the two of you, three of you or even a team begin to have a way of engaging in what is naturally there as latent talent. It seems to me that this is a skill pretty much anyone would benefit from knowing how to utilise.

I have taught this to people all over the world and they come from very different backgrounds but have one thing in common – they want to draw on the talent they know is there.

This is why I would say that coaching skills is something that pretty much anybody would benefit from learning about and becoming proficient in. They are skills and skills require practice.

You can read a book but you can’t get it from a book. That’s why we have a coaching programme and funnily enough, most of the people who come on the coaching programme are interested in applying it across the board in their life as a whole.

So if that interests you see you soon.

Also listen to Ian's blog here:

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Making Relationships Work

I was recently on a Panel and was asked what did I consider one of the most important professional skills that any manager could have? Without hesitation I said ‘knowing how to make relationships work.’  Why? Because ultimately, being a manager is about managing people. The same applies to leaders. The most effective leaders know how to engage people and that means knowing how to have a relationship with them.

 So there is a real question here for anybody who wants to progress professionally, namely, do you know how to make relationships work with peers, subordinates and with those above you? They’re all relationships but often people are better at doing one of these than the others.

Even if they are good at all of them, I have yet to meet someone who couldn’t be better. And how about taking these skills home too? Why leave them at the office?  Your family might appreciate them!

Being able to start and maintain good relationships is obviously one of the keys to professional success. If you can’t do that that then you just get peoples’ backs up and it’s very hard for them to take you seriously. It also makes it hard for them to collaborate with you. But it is also really important for your personal happiness. Why? Because when we relate well we feel real, we feel valued and we feel understood. We also act differently – we are more ourselves.

When this is not happening all sorts of things begin to unravel. In the case of professionals if you don’t relate well you can pay dearly for it through lost credibility and lost promotion. I’ve worked with many people who had great technical expertise but were seen as a liability when it came to customer relations. Kept in the back room their careers were suffering and they would have stayed there if not for the coaching we did.

In our personal lives being able to relate authentically is obviously important. And it’s not just about being with someone. You can be living with someone but that doesn’t mean you’re relating well to them. I’ve certainly worked with people who describe feeling pretty lonely as they look across at ‘the stranger at the breakfast table’.

For me, one of the pleasures of working with people has been developing the tools to start and maintain great relationships because there are real things you can do.

Pretty much any relationship can be enhanced. I have worked with couples where things are actually pretty good and they want them to be great. Now that is of a different order. Can you make a good relationship great? Yes you can!

What about future relationships? Can you prepare now to make them work? Of course!

Knowing how to do these things is a practical skill. There are some very important how tos that go with knowing how to make relationships work.

Because of this I’ve decided to commit to doing a day in the autumn to share with people some of the tools I use which help ensure relationships work. So if you’re interested for yourself or for others in  ‘How to Make Relationships Work’ I’ll look forward to seeing you then.

Also listen to Ian's blog here:

Monday, 22 July 2013

On Becoming Dean of Innovation and Learning

Last week I had the pleasure of accepting an invitation to become Dean of Innovation and Learning for the Purposeful Planning Institute. The PPI consists of legal, financial, wealth and lifestyle advisors to high net worth individuals and ultra-high net worth family offices. They are a great bunch of people who, as their Institute’s name suggests, seek to go beyond simple financial planning and look deeper into the purpose it is meant to serve for both this generation and those yet to come. To do this they need to find out what really matters to their clients so that financial and legal decisions are driven by and serve the client’s fundamental beliefs and values. Being able to do this is a real skill and that’s where I come in.

I have been working with them over a number of years and indeed I will be speaking at their conference as I do each year in Denver in August.

They did a very striking thing recently. They surveyed members about the most pressing kind of innovation needed in the field. What came back was that approximately 60% of respondents said that the greatest need for innovation was in the area of client conversations.

So, not fancy new products, just how to engage in good conversations that ensure people are clear about how to create a future for themselves and others that is in keeping with their goals, values, beliefs and aspirations. To achieve this you need to be able to shift from presentation to elicitation.

That’s why this year my session is entitled “How powerful are your questions?” While some questions are more useful than others in drawing people out there is no magic set of all-purpose ‘powerful questions’ which you can just fire off in any situation.

In addition to having the right question there’s the small matter of rapport and timing. Ever noticed how someone can be technically very competent but not good at putting others at ease? Well it’s the same with elicitation: if you don’t have the rapport it doesn’t matter how good your questions are. Similarly timing really can be everything. It may be the right question but is it the right time to ask it? Instead of defaulting to a few favourite questions which just become a habit, it’s better to have an understanding of what’s going on when you ask a question. Then you can engage appropriately.

So in a nutshell, whenever we ask a question we send the brain on an internal search. The question is how useful was that search? One thing we can do to improve our questioning skills is ask ourselves, what are we’re really going for?

Advisors then would do well to ask themselves a question before they ask their clients anything, namely, ‘What is the quest in my question?’ Or to put it another way, what kind of search am I seeking to trigger?

Although this is a perfectly learnable skill, very few people exercise such intellectual discipline. It’s incredibly helpful because if you know what you’re going for, you’re far more likely to notice if you don’t get it and you’re much less likely to be distracted by an out of left field answer. Outstanding communicators invariably know what they’re going for and don’t get distracted.

As ever innovation begins with how we think. Just how rare this is as a mindset was brought home to me by a student in an Innovative Skills program I was running recently who exclaimed: “You want me to think before opening my mouth? Wow! That’s pretty innovative!”

Also listen to Ian's blog here:

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Innovation – Hidden in Plain Sight

Last week I spent a couple of days in half hourly conversations with all sorts of different businesses who are interested in what we are doing and in particular the ways in which they could innovate more effectively using the tools that we are currently making available.

This was exceedingly interesting, many contacts were made and offers proposed. However, in some of these conversations I found myself pointing out how innovation is really all around us, how people are almost oblivious to it and why it’s useful to begin recognising it.

Some examples? Around 2007 more people in the total world population started living in cities than in rural areas. That is a huge shift and the consequences are pretty difficult to overestimate.

To give you an example of just how profound these can be, if you look at the US there are a couple of staggering statistics; 90% of  US GDP and 86% of all US jobs are generated on just 3% of the landmass of the continental US. And that 3% is in cities.*

Now those cities often don’t get to keep the wealth they have generated and hence can have poor infrastructure.  But that doesn’t alter the fact that cities are hugely important innovation and wealth generators.  Indeed the very process of urbanisation is itself a demonstration of innovation. And we’re only just beginning: in the next 25 years it is estimated that 300 million Chinese will move from the countryside to cities like Shanghai. This represents the largest migration in human history.

This is why I sometimes say that innovation is hidden in plain sight and people go about their business without realising that it’s happening all around them.

Here are a couple more less dramatic but equally pervasive examples, this time from the world of fashion. How about high heels? The heel as we know it is something of a recent invention – and it started as something for men.

Louis XIV was a short man and he wanted to be taller so he wore heels. Thus the court and all the men began to wear heels. This, by the way, is why we talk about people being well-heeled: it means they have cultural standing and financial means. Eventually heels become the province of women and they are reinvented again and again.

And then there is the little black dress.  Historically this is a very recent creation and yet it is absolutely ubiquitous. Pretty much every woman has a little black dress. Thank you, Coco Chanel.

If you really want to know where the little black dress came from you need to know where she came from. She grew up in a Catholic orphanage in the 1890s surrounded by nuns in black habits.

Right up until the early 1920s the only people who wore black used to be servants, nuns or those in mourning. So the idea of a dress that is the complete opposite of the Victorian bustle with its voluminous crinolines, a dress that is simple and black is not just innovative, it’s revolutionary.

Fast forward to the 1920s and the little black dress is born. It really takes off when Zelda Fitzgerald, the wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald, wears one. The flappers are gone but the little black dress lives on. Now it’s a part of every woman’s wardrobe.

We are surrounded by innovation. Look around!

*‘A Country of Cities’, Vishaan Chakrabarti, Metropolis Books, 2013

Also listen to Ian's blog here:

Friday, 31 May 2013

Celebrating What’s New!

I’m looking forward to this weekend: on Saturday it will be an opportunity to meet up with old and new friends because it will be our third 25th Anniversary Celebration Day.

One of the things I’ve been spending time on these past couple of years is the very idea of innovation and how to be innovative. A lot of people want to innovate but don’t necessarily know how to. It is true that innovation is the life blood of commercial success, but it’s also the basis of personal well-being. (If you’re in any doubt about that just ask someone whose relationship has gone stale).

Being able to innovate then is very important - which is why I began to work with Professor John Bessant who’s background is innovation in organisations. We got together because John had got to the point where he was very clear that the next stage was not organisations but what happens inside people that makes it possible for them to be innovative. We met when he came to take the Practitioner with me. Many of the NLP techniques are potentially useable to foster that overall capacity to be innovative. This is not the same as being creative: you could be creative and not really do anything. To be innovative you need more than an idea: you have to follow through and do. Something has to actually happen.

John is going to be joining me this weekend and we will be sharing some of the tools that we have in our new programme that will be starting in the Autumn.         

I also want to spend some of the time looking at the long and winding road that is a person’s life. Having a way of making sense of where you are on the journey, knowing how to take charge and go in a direction that is meaningful to you is crucial. So often what I hear from people who have taken trainings with me is that what they found most valuable was how it helped them re-orientate in their own life. They have a new awareness of what they are about and where they want to be going.

I am very pleased that Lawrence Kershen QC,  who took his Practitioner with me in 1990, will be joining me on Saturday. Lawrence’s journey can tell us a lot about how to engage with our inner calling. It has immediate relevance for anyone wanting to be true to themselves. More of that on the day.

When you start thinking about the journey that is your life, being able to just keep going is also a crucial part of the art of succeeding. So the other thing that I really want to focus on are those secrets of perseverance.
Winston Churchill’s adage of “never, never, never give up” is really to the point here. After having guided ITS through 25 years of ups and downs I think there are some things I can usefully say about how to ensure that you do not just survive but you actually thrive.

It is going to be a jam-packed day and, hey, here comes summer!

Also listen to Ian's blog here:

Thursday, 16 May 2013

On Leadership & Overwhelm

One of the most important things I do is working with people who are in leadership roles in very different organisations all over the world. As part of that I find I am frequently asked to engage in coaching the next generation of leaders in how to be effective as leaders.

A hallmark of leadership is you have responsibility but you also frequently feel there are many things you need to attend to. So, it is often the case that leadership and the experience potentially of overwhelm go together.

How do you address overwhelm as a leader? This becomes a question which any effective leader has to have an answer to. One of the things that’s fascinating to me about being overwhelmed (or fearing that you’re going to be overwhelmed) is that no one is ever really overwhelmed by what they are doing. In fact they are overwhelmed by the number of things they are not doing and that they feel they should be doing. You therefore have this very curious thing that overwhelm is not about what you’re doing but it is about what you feel should be doing. 

The secret of dealing with overwhelm is getting very clear about what matters most. If you don’t know how to prioritise it is going to be really difficult to avoid feeling overwhelmed. If on the other hand you cultivate the art of prioritising then overwhelm is not something you are going to be on the receiving end of because you will always be addressing the questions like... what is most important here? Where do I need to focus my attention first? What is requiring my attention now?

You are therefore constructing timelines for yourself as well as asking, ‘what is my top 10, my top 5, my top 3 things to do? Being able to do this is a learnable skill but without practice it’s something which is very difficult to do in the moment. Until you actually have some means of stepping back you are unlikely to do that because you are way too busy being busy.

One of the things I notice about people is that the longer they are in the world of work, the busier they get. The busier you are the greater the danger of you not being strategic because you are just doing your best to keep up.

How to ensure that you don’t get lost in your own busyness or you don’t get overwhelmed by the drama of the day? Well, you know what it is like when you come back from holiday - you frequently see things differently. Why? Because you’ve taken a break and stepped back. You’ve created a breathing space.

I think very often that is what good coaching does and it is absolutely why the CEOs I work with value having a coaching space. It is because every so often, on a regular basis, they step back from the drama of the day and they do something really important. They take a breath, they take stock, they look at the big picture and then determine what really matters here. Again they are prioritising, but they are doing so based on their own values and there is an understanding of what is important going forward. They also look at what is in keeping with their own primary values and the goals they seek to realise. If you don’t do this on a regular basis you will forget what your primary values are and what you are going for because you will just be trying to keep up.

Good coaching creates the space to be strategic not just in your leadership but in your leadership style. This prevents overwhelm and that means you get to be a whole different kind of leader  – one who can inspire others to learn how to do this too.

That has got to be a skill worth learning.

Also listen to Ian's blog here:

Thursday, 25 April 2013

15 Videos!

I have just had a very video based day. It has been extraordinary really and a contrast between the old and the new too.

Many years ago I was approached by The Open University to see if I’d be willing to contribute to their MBA programme as they had a course which was on “Creativity, Innovation and Change”.  Indeed I think they still do.

That saw me going with a group of ITS alumni to the BBC studios in Marylebone High Street and recording a piece which has been used for many years now.  As it happens, somebody who took that MBA Open University programme was particularly taken with what we were doing regarding how to be more creative and how to generate innovative strategies. This person contacted me a little while ago to say that he would very much like to come and video me talking about creativity, innovation and also leadership.

Times have moved on and instead of me going to a studio he just came to the house. He is actually Italian and this will be going out through an Italian portal for leaders who are English speaking.  It was interesting how we did it remarkably easily, with no fancy studio equipment. It was just fascinating to do. Also to hear his take on how taking the Open University course had made a real impression on him. That was one piece; the old way and the new way all in one.

On the same day I also got a series of links - 15 altogether  - each being a short link to a video I had recorded at the request of some students. These videos feature different topics looking at innovation, entrepreneurship, branding, work-life balance, the role of collaboration, keys to successful living and how to survive in a recession.  And they are ready to roll. I have just been having a look at them. I could wish for better lighting and so forth.  Nevertheless it seems to me they are very much of the video age. None are more than two or three minutes. 

A video is a useful way of saying something to the point very briefly and hopefully to give people a steer on different ways of coming at being more resourceful and of course more resilient. Of course I had something to say on the role of Applied Neuroscience - you would be surprised I think if I hadn’t! - but also on the nature of entrepreneurialism and why it isn’t just to do with business.

Learning to have an entrepreneurial mind set would be an incredibly useful skill to develop as part of every child’s learning experience. In essence being an entrepreneur is about having a dream and being able to follow that through, being a self-starter, creating something, making changes based on whether or not you are succeeding and daring to dream.

One of the videos is called, Do You Need a Plan?  Yes, you may but you won’t just need a plan, you will need some passion  too. You will also need to go with your gut when the plan says one thing and your feelings say something quite different – I know which I’d trust.

These kinds of thoughts and being able to offer them in videos is very satisfying and very simple. My hope is that we’ll be able to put these out fairly soon. I’ll keep you posted.

So, the world of video...Good Lord!

Until the next time. 

Also listen to Ian's blog here:

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

How Neuroscience Can Help Trigger Innovation

Well this past week has been one of those wonderful times when some of the themes that I’m particularly passionate about have been coming together in ways that I thought would probably happen but I didn’t quite know when.

So earlier in the week I was talking with Professor John Bessant with whom I’m preparing some material on innovation and how to be innovative. He is somebody who has spent many many years at the forefront of exploring innovation in organisations and we first met because John was just interested in what he considered to be the missing piece - namely how to be innovative at an individual level; what can you do and what can you give people that can enable them to be more so. That has been the focus of our attention. We’re in fact going to be doing some work later in the year showing people exactly how to do this and as team leaders how they can enable others to be more effective too.

A few days ago I was also talking with Professor Patricia Riddell about neuroplasticity and the ability of the brain to essentially reinvent itself and the extraordinary potential possibilities that this throws open. Of course this started with a re-understanding of the field of neuroscience of just what was possible. Initially it was assumed that the brain was the brain and there you go: you got what you got. However, what has been so clear in the last ten years is that essentially the brain can re-invent itself, not just to any degree at all but beyond our wildest previous imaginings and we really don’t know the limits.

Now, when you put these two things together; innovation and what is called neuroplasticity do you think they might just have anything to do with each other? Well of course, because what we’re taking about with neuroplasticity is not just people having a new idea once in a while, it is about the brain literally changing itself at the bio-electrical and chemical level. When you have, for instance, new insights, you are changing the organic structure of your brain. It is not just a nice idea, there is something going on internally laying down new neural pathways.

This has got amazing implications. People recovering from traumatic injuries? Well clearly this will be good news because much more may be possible than we thought. In addition, just in ordinary everyday life, pretty much anybody can learn to become more able to do things that they previously thought they couldn’t. If that is true for an individual then it is also going to be true for a group of individuals who might just be known as a team. Or for many teams who might just be known as an organisation.

Now think about this, what would it be like if we started looking at teams and organisations as able – or not - to encourage more people to be more innovative, that is to say, to be become more capable of demonstrating their own brain’s neuroplasticity. Or are we working in organisations where there’s an extraordinary kind of rigidity? As in, it must be this way because it has always been this way. It is not that we don’t want procedures, it is not that we don’t find protocols useful as they have an enormous role to play in making sure we don’t wake up every morning and re-invent the wheel. But if you want to stay stuck make sure you don’t believe that change is possible, that you don’t believe that your own brain can deliver an extraordinary rate of change that you can barely imagine - and make sure that you don’t think other people can do it either. Well who on earth would want to do that?

And of course that is why bringing these different worlds together is so potentially rewarding and for me incredibly exciting.

We are actually going to be having a Celebration Day on 1st June and John’s going to be joining us on that day. He and I will be exploring some of the dimensions of innovation and how to be innovative as an individual. But before then Trish and I will be exploring the promise of neuroscience as it relates specifically to this new quality of being able to achieve greater plasticity - and thus greater flexibility and greater creativity.

Our whole world opens up if we just understand what is possible for our brain. That’s why I’m looking forward to this coming weekend on neuroplasticity. So, until the next time.

Also listen to Ian's blog here:

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Low cost Innovation

In the era of Apple it is very easy for people to get hooked on the artefact and fail to appreciate the kind of thinking that gave rise to it.

To achieve effective innovation what is frequently needed is the ability to ask some basic questions and think afresh about what we are doing. (Which of course is exactly what Jobs and co. did consistently).

What does this really mean in practice?  Here are two case histories I often use when considering what would innovative thinking look like if there’s no extra budget but things need to change?

In the first few years of the Second World War Hitler’s U-boats were taking a terrible toll sinking a huge tonnage of Atlantic shipping. Ensuring Atlantic convoys would continue to get supplies through to the UK was the single most important determinant of ensuring continued resistance to Hitler. If the Atlantic convoys were all sunk then so was the possibility of resistance to Hitler. However the British kill rate for destroying U boats was abysmal – about 1% of those sighted were sunk.

Enter Patrick Blackett, physicist and Nobel Prize winner. Blackett developed what we now call organisational research. With a very small team he started to ask some questions. The Navy knew that the U-boats could only move at a certain rate. Something like 45 seconds elapsed between sighting and dropping depth charges. They knew that the U-boat would probably dive to about 150ft so you set the charge to go off at 150ft. Well that’s fine, the depth charge explodes but it’s is in the wrong place because what they hadn’t taken into account was that the U-boat might change in direction not just depth.

So what did Blackett suggest? That the parameters be changed. You would only go for attacking U-boats if they had been out of sight for no more than 25 seconds and that you would set the depth charge to 25ft because they could not have gone any deeper than that in 25 seconds.

The net result of this was that it improved the kill rate from 1% to 10%. That is the equivalent of having a new secret weapon which is ten times more powerful than its predecessor. But actually there was no new secret weapon - just a different way of thinking.

Much of the time U-boats travelled on the surface so they should’ve been pretty visible. Given an estimated number and the distances they travelled it was possible to calculate how often they should have been sighted,

In fact only thirty percent of the sightings that should have been achieved were being achieved. Why was this? All sorts of fancy ideas were suggested. Again some basic questioning yielded vital information. The planes used were converted night bombers. Because they were used at night they had been painted black. However they were now being used as spotter planes in broad daylight and black is the most visible colour against a daytime sky! Repainting the underside of the wings white led to a doubling in the number of sightings. That is like suddenly doubling the number of planes you have available.

When I share these cases with business leaders they immediately grasp that the innovation lies in rethinking the challenge and asking new questions. 

So  you might want to consider what is the equivalent for you in what you are trying to do? How might you do more effectively what you already do now?

Also listen to Ian's blog here:

Monday, 18 March 2013

Neuroplasticity – New Tricks for Old Dogs

The other day I was in the pub and I heard one guy saying to the other ‘well you know me, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ as if this was an explanation for why he was going to stay the same.  Of course, actually it is no explanation at all because the fact of the matter is we now know you can teach an old dog new tricks, not only that but every person can learn new things regardless of their age. Why? Because the brain isn’t just some sort of static soft round mass of tissue it is actually a living system and your brain is always changing. That change shows up in lots of different ways. It exists at every level, at the level of the cells, at the level of your behaviour and indeed there is an expression in the neurosciences which I think is a very apt one which covers a lot of the what fires together, as in neurons wires together. If it starts happening  on a regular basis it becomes part of the structure of how you do what you do and maybe even how you think of who you are.

What might this mean for us? Well it means that actually old dogs can learn new tricks whenever they wish but they do have to want to do it and they need to know how to do it. This is not just dogs but everybody. For me this is particularly exciting because of the work I’m doing with Professor Patricia Riddell and bringing the world of Applied Neuroscience into our everyday learning and understanding using the tools of NLP to make it possible to apply this new understanding. All of that becomes so much easier with the work that’s being done now which makes it very clear that the best way to understand your brain is to think of it as a system. For me that made life much easier because I spent a lot of time focusing on systems and systems thinking. Indeed I wrote a book about it and one of the things that happens when  you start thinking systemically is you understand the power of feedback; arguably no feedback, no system. Feedback is what tells us whether we are on track or off track, are we doing too much of something, do we need to do more of something, are we doing enough? It is there in every aspect of our lives it is just that often people do not recognise it as such. 

If I’m driving my car, the engine only works because of all sorts of very clever feedback that has been sort of built into it. I can take all the parts of that engine apart, I can pile them up in a heap beside the chassis and I still have all the bits of the engine but I do not have a functioning engine any longer and that’s because the bits are only part of the story. The engine is more than the sum of its parts, the engine is the feedback loops that make things happen to a greater or lesser degree so that the car can move forward and be under my control in the same way our brains have feedback loops and we can begin to engage with those and that changes the way we can be, it changes what’s possible for us and that makes it possible for us to have a new understanding, not just of what we can do but who we might become. 

It creates all sorts of extraordinary opportunities which up until very very recently were not thought to be possible by science itself so there is a real revolution taking place over the past few years within the field so that neuroplasticity has come to be seen as the norm. It used to be the case that we had these myths of location where almost like what Trish calls advanced phonology, you know like there are bits of the brain that do particular things and the classic example of that is the left right brain split that many people still assume is the case, whereas actually what is going on in the neuroscience makes that very old hat and not even true any longer. What therefore becomes possible is that we can start to work with our brains and we can literally create new pathways, have new abilities and we know what is really needed to make that really stick and guess what, so much of what NLP has been doing is giving us the tools to turn this understanding into a practical reality. 

That’s why Applied Neuroscience is so valuable right now. That’s why we’re going to be having a high old time doing a half day Sunday morning exploration of neuroplasticity for you and for me.

I can’t wait. Until the next time.

Also listen to Ian's blog here:

Excellence – Walking the Talk

You know one of the most common words I hear banded about when I’m talking with consultants and when I’m consulting myself in organisations is the word ‘excellence’. And invariably people say that they want it or that they would like to see more of it. But what I don’t hear so often is people talking about how they would ensure that within their own organisation and within their own practice they would make certain that their excellence was consistently being achieved. That I think is rather more challenging and in a way excellence is a bit like charity, you know, it begins at home. 

So it is all very well talking about achieving an excellent product or an excellent service but who’s to say it is excellent and would you be willing to submit yourself to the scrutiny of assessors who would determine on a comparative basis how excellent is your excellence? This was a process that many years ago set us thinking about how we might ensure that we really did walk our talk. I am mindful of this today especially because a little why ago I had a call from the ITS office telling us that for the 9th consecutive year we have just been awarded our IS0 9001 badge because of outstanding organisational excellence. What that means is that the ISO inspector has been on the premises for much of the day looking at the way we do things and determining do these work to the benefit of our clients and customers and do we have practices in place that ensure that pretty much whatever happens we have a consistent way of working which delivers. 

While we might like to think we do, the real test is when somebody from outside, who is passionate about this kind of excellence subjects us to scrutiny and tells us yay or nay. And actually here we are as I say for the ninth consecutive year, ITS has just been given a big thumbs up with compliments to the team regarding the quality of those processes and how they have improved over time and every year rather than us being told well you’re nearly there instead we pass with flying colours. There might be some little tweak that can be offered which is actually very valuable where we learn other processes which we can add to what we do.

So this set me thinking, much talk about excellence but I don’t know how many organisations are willing to subject themselves to this kind of scrutiny, to really do what it takes to say ‘Yes, we want to know’ and ‘Yes, we want the feedback’. It is only when you are willing to do that can you get an external view on ‘where are we?’ and ‘what might we do to enhance performance?’. So this is just by way of course congratulations to the team doing an absolutely outstanding job and frankly for doing it whilst carrying on with business as usual. It is now at the point where the structures are so robust that it is not some frantic last minute preparation before an examiner comes in, it is just a way of doing business. I think that there is a lesson here in terms of creating structures that allow excellence to just bubble forth and to be the norm.

So, another year and I have no doubt that we will be enjoying our tenth year, a year from now because we will be putting our minds to it and making sure that we don’t just talk about excellence we really do it. Congratulations to the team and all this in the hope that we can better serve those who are our clients and whose lives we seek to benefit by offering the kind of experiences that are part of the parcel of what makes us who we are.

Until the next time. 

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Wednesday, 6 March 2013

New Learning and New Techniques

Well at the beginning of this week I had a communication from one of my publishers telling me that the very first book I ever co-authored, ‘Principles of NLP’ is virtually ready in its second edition to be launched onto a new world indeed in a new millennium even. It was very striking for me because it is as if what was the beginning is still incredibly relevant. They were very excited at being able to get the rights to be able to publish it again. And so the principles that are at the heart of NLP remain the very same principles from when I first  started writing. But of course the difference now is that we have the potential of demonstrating from the neuroscience just why those principles really matter and what it is that makes them so incredibly effective when you have ‘how-to’ techniques and the technology that goes with those ideas. Really simple things like the classic example, ‘the meaning of the communication is the response it elicits’. Now what does that even mean? Most people think the meaning of what they say is what they decided it means. Well yes, except that if you really want to know what you think you said, you want to find out what other people think it is that you have just said because whatever they think it is you have just said is actually what the meaning is as far as they’re concerned. So you have this really curious paradox which is the true meaning of what a communication really is is what the receivers  of that communication make of it.

This has got unbelievable  implications. I can remember some years ago being involved in some earnest discussions with Civil Defence Authorities about emergency communications and how very frequently they just didn’t seem to get it when a communication was issued in a test for for instance in a fire, earthquake or what have you and this was in the context of Italian Civil Defence and people just didn’t pay attention. The curious thing was that the authorities in question, decided that that just meant they weren’t paying attention as opposed to saying ‘No, the meaning of our communication is a response it elicits’. If it doesn’t produce a response we want, namely ‘leave now to stay alive!’ then we need to change the way we’re communicating.

Now that is true at a general level for a large population for potentially a life and death matter but it is equally true in our own lives, in businesses where we  change what we want to say so that other people can get it so that we say it in a way that makes sense to them. What we now have is an understanding at the level of Neuroscience about why does this matter? What is going on in the brain?  And so for me there is enormous excitement about the fact that we’ve got this technology, we’ve tested it over many years and now we can actually demonstrate increasingly why it works and have a cognitive understanding of what is going on in the brain which of course is why I get excited about the next practitioner starting in a couple of days. 

This new programme that we’ve created, whereby people both learn the tools and techniques of NLP but then have the Neuroscience input which gives them an understanding of what is going on in the brain and allows them to speak with authority I think about their new learning. This is proving to be a very successful synergy and the new synthesis is incredibly stimulating certainly for both myself and my colleague, Professor Patricia Riddell with whom I co-train this material. So we have in a sense what has been developed over many years and which is there in that very first book I wrote, ‘Principles of NLP’ has now been revised, developed further, new generation of techniques and tools have been added to it and now we have the neuroscience to make sense of it in a way we really couldn’t when we began. 

So for me it is just a fabulous opportunity to build on our learning and see this coming together across disciplines really, promoting a new understanding of practical tools that we can use in our daily lives that change what we can do professionally and enhance our lives personally. I can’t wait and I know Trish is looking forward to it as well. So, until the next time.

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Thursday, 21 February 2013

What Work Would You Like to be Doing if Money Didn’t Matter?

I think one of the most rewarding things I probably do is working with people to clarify just what it is they want to be doing in life and in which direction to be going in in order that they have a sense of engaging in purposeful activity and indeed meaningful work. I think this is particularly on my mind at the moment because in the last two weeks I have been focusing on this area with different people of wildly different ages and yet the same kind of questions arise. So, talking with a number of people who are in their very early twenties who really have been grappling with ‘what is my career path?’, ‘where am I heading’ and ‘what should I be doing?’. The kind of schools career approach didn’t seem to be really very helpful for them apparently and so I tend to go a different route which is to actually fall back on a number of ways of asking questions that take us to the heart of the matter.

To give you an example, many many moons ago, Alan Watts had an interesting question that he would ask in a variety of different ways but essentially it would all boil down to saying that if money was no object what would you like to be doing? However you choose to come at that you’re really of course saying let’s separate money and remuneration from the activity and let’s be clear about what would be the optimal activities as far as you’re concerned and what would you want to be doing?

This immediately takes us into questions about what is satisfying to you, what is meaningful to you, what is energising for you and what allows you to feel that what you’re doing is worth continuing to do and could be the basis of a fulfilling life. Now obviously there are very good reasons for wanting to get clear about this, not least if you spend about a third of your life working it might be a smart idea to be doing something that is rewarding. But of course people often think that rewarding must mean financially and yes, you need to be able to eat, you need to be able to pay the mortgage or whatever it may be but I think very often people jump straight to economic necessities they perceive rather than getting clear about what I would really get turned on by doing is this. Now, how could I do this and derive some kind of worthwhile income from doing it. At the start of a professional life it is an important question but you know it is just as important down the road, thirties, forties and fifties.

 I have worked with people who have been in the bizarre position of spending years doing something they really did not enjoy because they felt that they were restrained and they had to because it was the only way they knew how to bring home the bacon. That doesn’t really make a lot of sense to me just because you end up then living your life doing something you don’t like in order that you can do more of it tomorrow again. What? So really whatever one’s age these I think these questions get to be really important.

And myself I know that, many moons ago, I became very clear that the most rewarding things for me were being able to engage with people so that they could create the kind of life that was meaningful to them. I just found it incredibly rewarding, basically to be assisting people to become really more of who they could be. I also found it very motivating , it got me up in the morning and made me create a variety of businesses that are based on that fundamental premise that it is possible to find what is meaningful to you, it’s possible to move in that direction and you don’t have to give up the day job necessarily but you gradually edge in the direction that makes sense to you. For me that has been unbelievable satisfying, fulfilling, and frankly, intensely moving so that I end up having people coming back. A couple of weeks ago I had someone who said they would like to give me their book, and that without me it would not have been written. There was also a little dedication inside which was lovely.

So, I guess it doesn’t matter what age we are, the question is if you separate the money from what you love to do, what would you love to be doing and how might you begin to move in the direction of doing more of that?

Creating your own legacy happens on a daily basis by having the intention to move in the direction that is right for you. 

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Wednesday, 6 February 2013

“It’s All Moving Forward Mate!”

The past ten days or so have been really extraordinarily fulfilling because various projects have come to fruition in the way that I could only have dreamt of until their realisation. The weekend before last we completed the first of the new NLP Practitioner and Neuroscience programmes which has just been a blast because it has been so fascinating putting the two together; myself teaching the NLP and Professor Patricia Riddell, who is the professor of Applied Neuroscience talking about the Neuroscience of what we’ve been doing. I’m not too surprised but I am delighted at how people have been absolutely fascinated by this overlap and the kind of rigour that Neuroscience now can offer to an understanding of what it is that NLP can do and has been delivering on.

So there has been that on the one hand and then this past weekend we have just been seeing how  it is coming into its own  in the domain of coaching because we have just done three days together as a kind of double act on Neuroscience and Coaching; the applied dimension of neuroscience and how having an elementary understanding of some of what is going on in the brain can make a huge difference to the way you think about, ‘well how do I function?’ and indeed how do clients function? If you are planning on being a coach this is clearly got lots of applications but frankly a lot of people in the room aren’t planning on being coaches but they do want to know how to coach people in their teams more effectively how to draw out the best in them, how you would use what you could call a ‘coach approach’. The room was amazing, people were just hungry for this knowledge and were enquiring for more about the brain and ways in which they can practically apply their knowledge.

These last three days have just been so inspiring and not just for me, I’m talking for Trish as well. Afterwards she was saying she had been waiting thirty years to be able to do this, it is no good being in the lab unless it can come out and having this practical application. Well, we can see now that the dreams we both had when we started talking about how this could be really are possible.

This morning my kind of Monday weekend I went out for a walk and it was just gloriously sunny. It was the pleasure of just being out and about with a feeling that things were moving in the right direction and that really a vision I had had some years ago had finally started coming  to fruition. As I am on my walk I notice that there is a guy who is delivering a new empty skip to a house which is being built nearby, but I notice what he’s got in his truck which is across the road and is properly stabilised are two skips. One is empty and then that is containing another skip that is full to the brim and what I see the machine doing is raising up both, taking them over and dropping down both then he goes along takes the chains off the bottom one and then puts the chains on the full one and lifts that back onto his truck. I asked him if it was a new way of doing things  as I used to think you had to bring the empty skip, put that down, pick up the old one, put it on the truck and move the new one into place. The man told me that is exactly what you used to have to do, he said it took “Bloody forever, Gov.”. He then said something which I was thought was so, so brilliant, “You know, it’s the new technology, it’s all moving forward mate”. And of course he was talking about his skip but I thought how true and what a great summing of my experience.

So, I think I could say, along with man with the skip, it is this new technology, it is all moving forward and it certainly is. I am looking forward to it all moving forward. Certainly we’ve got plans for the next moves and I’ll tell you about those but for now it is just great to be enjoying simple ways of making good use of the brain that each of us has been endowed with.

So, it’s all moving forward, mate. Until the next time. 

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Wednesday, 23 January 2013

A Confident Future - New Possibilities

Well this past weekend, snow notwithstanding, we had our second ITS 25th anniversary Celebration Day and I was really struck with how celebration is also about moving forward in time and celebrating possibilities for the future. One of the themes of the day was very much about confidence and how important it is to understand what kind is needed, where and when, and how there are different kinds. I’m particularly struck by this because later next month I’m going to be talking to about 400 independent financial advisors who have a one day conference put on by MDRT (Million Dollar Round Table) which is an organisation specifically for financial advisors. 

The theme of the day is ‘A Confident Future’ and in the present economic circumstances it is a particularly interesting theme because it is of course rather important to know how to boost confidence, whether it is your own, or indeed clients’ confidence in you. Arguably it is one of the most important business skills you will ever develop and the interesting thing is that by using some of the more recent discoveries in the neurosciences, harnessing those with some of the techniques developed with NLP it is perfectly possible to say that whether you want to boost your own confidence or clients’ confidence in you this is now a learnable skill there is no two ways about it. But actually that wouldn’t be enough because if you want to enjoy a confident future you will also need to know what to do when things don’t quite go the way you'd imagined and this is a time when people experience a loss of confidence or even a crisis of confidence. So I think in a funny sort of way the real test of confidence is when it is in some way challenged.

Nobody is just confident all the time. Part of the art of being able to have that resilience, that capacity to bounce back is recognising how important innovation is to being able to be confident about the future; your own and others. This shows up in a mind-set, it is not just about trying very hard but it is a way of thinking. Again, it is learnable. 

Here is an example, there are so many I use when I am talking but here is one: Pretty much everyone I know uses a microwave and you take it for granted but a microwave has a very curious history. It actually came out of the Second World War not by design at all, it was the direct result of one man having an understanding of possibilities. Specifically what happened was there was a man called Percy LeBaron Spencer and he was involved in designing combat radar equipment. At the time, the heart of radar equipment was a magnetron which was a huge piece of equipment, very precision made and consequently very few were made in any given working day which was a bit of a problem for the allies. For instance, in 1941 the production line was about 17 a day and by the end of that year the US had entered the war and a different way of doing it had developed so it went up to 100 a day but that is still very little. By 1945 they had figured out a way of generating 2800 of these a day. While all of that is going on at the same time in 1945, Spencer just happens to be standing in front of one of these operating magnetrons and he has got a bar of chocolate in his pocket and blow me down he finds that it has melted. For a lot of people that would just be a source of aggravation, but of course what happened for him was he became curious and begin to think about possibilities. He went to get a bag of popcorn, puts is close to magnetron and low and behold a few moments later it begins popping. He then goes to get a pale of water, an egg and starts boiling this egg which dually explodes and splats itself all over one of his colleagues. So then he realises this huge potential here and he focuses on how this could be used for cooking. No one had thought of this. The first microwave ovens based on this principle were six feet tall weighing 350 kilograms, so huge they had to be cooled with water and it was not until 1955 that the first domestic microwaves pop up.

But you see there is a mind-set, a way of thinking. It is innovative, it is confident and it creates new  possibilities and that is so much of what we need. That is partly what I’ll be doing with these independent financial advisors but it is also what we’re going to be doing with ITS throughout this coming year. New possibilities, I’ll tell you more soon.

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Wednesday, 16 January 2013

New Year…Some Truly New Possibilities!

Here we are at the start of a new year. Already half way through January. How are those new year’s resolutions by the way? It is around this time that many of them seem to evaporate or don’t quite happen in the way that you imagined. I hope that yours are still with you  because I know that for most people when they make them they are real aspirations, they are things that would make a big difference if you can make them happen. If you’re wanting some assistance to be able to achieve this then this Sunday is a special time for me because it will be a time of real celebration as we start the second 25th anniversary celebration day for ITS and one of the things we will be doing is looking at what neuroscience can do to help us make resolutions that actually work. Gosh, what a concept. I think I said in the last update, that this was the year of neuroscience and it most certainly is because I am delighted to say that we now have got  to a point where Professor Patricia Riddell and myself have been able to draw together the many strands that comprise the field of research that is neuroscience and apply it to ways of working that are going to be useful to people in ordinary everyday life. We have a certificate in Applied Neuroscience which will be happening later in the year, but before that just a happy day together with people, some of whom I have not seen for years and I gather loads of people are coming this Sunday.

We are actually going to kick off with what I think is one of the most important topics in pretty much anybody’s life, namely confidence and how to have it and experience it. I had not really appreciated how important it was until I wrote the book on it and it became a really fundamental insight for me as it is so pervasive to be able to have confidence. I have just recently been asked by MDRT (Million Dollar Round table) which is an organisation for financial advisors if I would speak in their very prestigious  London conference in February  called ‘A Confident Future’. I shall be talking about the business of confidence because I think it is so important for each of us in our own personal lives but also in our business lives. That will, therefore, be part of what I want to share by way of a thank you during the celebration day. I have some very particular tools I want to offer people because I think confidence is something people really don’t understand, they often think they want a lot of it or more of it but in fact we are already confident in some areas and not in others. Understanding the difference and how we can build on what we’ve got and supplement where it’s needed is a skill and it is easy to learn.

I also want to start the year, not just focusing on neuroscience but also discussing how can people build their own dreams which is why I shall be working with Adrian Baker who has much experience in working with people to help bring things into being, be they full-scale businesses or aspirations that could potentially change people’s lives. They may involve generating revenue, they may not but together we’ve been speaking about this for years and we are now ready to roll with it so I see this as an excellent opportunity to make new dreams possible. It is absolutely independent of whatever the economic circumstances of the larger nation’s state may be and we’ve done this in different ways at different times. So all in all I’m really looking forward to a day of celebrating by giving new things to whoever chooses to be there and there will be lots of people from very varied backgrounds.

If you’re interested in how to have those resolutions come to fruition and be part of your life in an on-going way then I shall I be delighted to tell you the basics of success and we will also have a look at the neuroscience that supports it and gives a new understanding for how some things work much better than others. That is all to come, but in the meantime the year is well under-way, it seems to be racing along already and I trust that yours will be a fulfilling and rewarding one in which you will not just be successful but also enjoy the experience of being happy. I look forward to assisting you in that should you be interested. 

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What I did on my Holidays

On my travels I’ve certainly seen some different parts of the world and this past Christmas, Paulette and I were in a place that neither of us had ever spent a festive season in before. If I was to tell you that in that particular part of the world you can walk down the street cast your eye to one side and see a very non-descript parking lot with a sign affixed to a broken down brick wall which says ‘parking lot available for film hire’ with a phone contact number, I guess you could probably figure out what part of the world we were in. Yes, only in LA.

We had a good time and we happened to be there at a rather interesting time because the end of the world was supposed to be happening  according to some people given the complete
misunderstanding of the Mayan calendar which a number of people had
decided to take upon themselves. On the particular day in question we were actually at the Griffiths Observatory which is a wonderful observatory that also has a newly re-conditioned beautiful planetarium. When you walk in the observatory main doors there was a great big design above the doors about the Mayan calendar saying that the end of the world was not happening and that the show inside the planetarium consisted initially of the apparent end of the world. Somebody then says ‘Stop, hold it all!’ and walks down and begins to say ‘no it isn’t ending’. It was a splendid show and we got down to some real science. By the way, the thing about the Mayan calendar, which I find so fascinating, is that it is very striking to me how people often are of an apocalyptic disposition and have a very linear mind set in that it is always going to be a complete end. There is no conception of a cyclical process because of course the Mayan calendar is just going through a process of ratcheting up numbers to come to the end of a cycle; very much as a milometer does on a clock where it gets to 999 and then goes to 000 which of course does not mean the car no longer exists.

I had a very pleasant opportunity while I was there to kick back with Albert Einstein, unfortunately he was only there in brass form but nevertheless a memorable meeting. We then went on to a very extraordinary part of the world, the La Brea tar pits which are quite remarkable. They are pits which are in the land close to the Los Angeles Museum of Modern Art and they have an amazing number of animal specimens, about three and a half million in fact at the last count and there are far more than that now. They are the result of fossil fuels that have become liquefied and bubbled up because of the extraordinary environment that is part of the fault in LA, faults that are in the earth. They were absolute death traps for animals who got stuck in them rather like you would in tar and have produced amazing fossil remains that go back 10 to 30 thousand years. You can actually see the excavation taking place, all of this with traffic going by on the highway nearby. So, a very interesting experience and they also have some animals that you can be photographed with if you wish.
A different kind of Christmas which was absolutely in order. I recommend it , getting away and being somewhere different in another world. We had a great time but I am now back and looking forward to a different kind of year as we are moving in to new opportunities. We are celebrating the 25th anniversary of ITS by preparing for new ventures some of which we will be talking about very soon on the celebration day. You will hear about them I’m sure, if you’re interested, because the world of neuroscience beckons making it something approachable, useable and understandable in a practical way. That’s where we’re going next, tell you all about that soon. Until the next time. 

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