Saturday, 30 June 2012


Dear readers,

From whichever corner of the world you come and for whatever reason you're led to this blog, I thank you for your readership and contributions. To my life, to your life, to all life.

Now, get ready for even more positivity and posting - at a new location (sorry Blogger users, I admit I've succumbed to the aesthetic pleasures of and guiltily made the switch).

Come and see sunshine, psychology and inspiration at:

Keep posting, and I'll keep watching. 


Sunday, 24 June 2012

Create consensus, not ‘Groupthink’

Is it ever possible to create group consensus without a little ‘groupthink’ setting in?

Well, first of all, what do these terms mean? Consensus means to reach “general agreement” according to the Merriam-Webster dictionarydefinition. ‘Groupthink’ on the other hand is a psychological term to describe when a group’s “strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action”, most famously coined by Psychologist Irving Janis in 1972.

As I mentioned in my last blog, I recently had the pleasure of learning about Board Basics at a Vantage Point session in Vancouver. One of the challenges for many not-for-profit organizations is how to run an effective Board which sets the vision and mission of the organization and drives its future. Why such a challenge? Often because there’s a lack of clarity about the roles of Board members versus staff members, and there’s a huge amount of grey area between the work of governance (by the Board) and management (by the staff, headed up by an Executive Director typically).

Many Board members are new to the role, elected for their passion and commitment, not necessarily their experience or skillset. And that’s a great thing – passionate people build momentum, generate enthusiasm, and are more likely to get the job done. But when it comes to knowing exactly where the boundaries should lie between staff and board, decision makers and executors, there may be a case of too many followers, not enough leaders. If this issue isn’t explored, Board discussions may turn primarily into social events rather than generative vision-setting sessions, or at the other extreme they may turn into raucous arguments which never reach a conclusion and there’s only a pause because people have homes to go to. Or the group may reach consensus because they know they need to make a decision, rather than at a time when full exploration into alternative options has been creatively carried out.

Phew. It even sounds exhausting.

And I return to the original question. Is it ever really possible to reach consensus without letting ‘groupthink’ set in?

Perhaps not. Perhaps there will always be a bit of shoulder-shrugging and idea-swallowing if groups are ever going to get decisions made, and then turned into strategies for the organization.

But there are certainly some healthier ways to run your Board – or any group – meetings. Consider the following suggestions and keep an eye on the situation. Knowing the challenge is half the battle. The rest is doing something positive about it.

1. Start as you mean to continue 
If you have the luxury of joining or creating a group now, consider how you can organize roles and accountabilities, set objectives, and lay out ‘session ground rules’ to start the meetings positively, openly and collaboratively. As you mean to go on. Involve everyone in this process so that you can uncover individual motivations, passions, goals and aims – and make a note to refer to them later.

2. Lead a fresh start.
If you’re already part of a group that could do with a refresh, suggest the group holds a ‘Fresh start’ session where you cover these challenges, share individual views, reconnect everyone to the vision, roles and accountabilities and agree some ground rules for all future meetings. Encourage every individual to have the opportunity to air their biggest ideas here, and put any concerns forward. If you can all see what’s on the agenda of the people around you, you’ll be able to work better together.

3. Set a clear agenda.
You may have a clear agenda, but as soon as one discussion starts, everyone brings up all the other issues you’ve yet to solve. Stop. Think. Stick to the agenda. Explore all options. And hear from everyone. But keep it focused. Giving the group a clear objective for each meeting will avoid going round in circles.

4. Create accountability.
If you’ve led your ‘Fresh start’ session and you’ve heard each individual’s views and motivations, why not build on this to create accountability within the group? Warning: This could be dangerous if you don’t have a healthy, open, creative environment because people might step onto the pedestal of their assigned accountability and not engage with others. However, it can work to give different people a focus and when it comes time to discuss financials (for example) that person can lead that discussion.

5. Provide breaks.
Breaks give an opportunity for ideas to build and tensions to clear. It may sound simple but are you providing refreshments? Is there a place to get air or take a walk? Get the hygiene factors right and you’ll have a more focused, less distracted, and generally happier environment when you get back down to business.

6. Manage the process. 
Try assigning someone to be the ‘Observer’ in your next meeting. As well as being involved in discussions, their role is to note down how the process is running, who’s contributing, who’s staying silent, how discussions go and how agreement was reached, if at all. Take five minutes at the end of the meeting for the observer to share what they noticed, and plan some actions for next time if things need to change. Swap the ‘Observer’ role regularly keep the observations fresh and objective.

7. Celebrate, Evaluate, continue to grow. 
Every few months, take the time as a group to celebrate all that you’ve achieved. Ask each person what they’re most proud of and where their hopes are for the future. Remember to evaluate where there could still be improvement, and plan what you’ll do differently next week or next month. The best groups remain dynamic, reflective, positive, open, collaborative and progressive.

Where’s your group or Board at the moment?

Where do you want to be?

What will you do tomorrow/ next month to move closer to your goal?

Good luck and enjoy the process. 

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Inspiration from anywhere

A different type of inspiration came my way today.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend a VantagePoint workshop about ‘Board Basics’. Vantage Point is a Vancouver-based not-for-profit organization whose strapline is “the talent will take you there”. Using leadership coaching, development, workshops and governance labs, Vantage Point supports not-for-profit leaders to deliver their strategy by rethinking the way they engage ‘talent’ i.e. their people. All their people. Those who are paid, and those that are paid in other ways.

In fact, I am a perfect example of how they’re using ‘talent’ to deliver on their own objectives. I am currently volunteering with them, and not just offering manual labor (as most voluntary roles tend to ask), in fact I’m offering consultancy skills and experience from my years in the corporate sector.

Vantage Point’s Talent Team of skilled volunteers are known as ‘Knowledge Philanthropists’. And that’s where it’s really different. I’ve never seen such a strong example of using willing and talented people from the local community to deliver your goals. How can more not-for-profits follow their lead?

But it’s not just Vantage Point’s vision, mission and approach that inspired me. Today was inspiring for a few others reasons too:
  1. I met fellow Knowledge Philanthropists with fascinating backgrounds, exciting futures and common interests.
  2. I discovered a lot about the way that Boards function in not-for-profit organizations and how they can be more effective.
  3. I stopped. I listened. And I learnt completely new things, completely out of my comfort zone or sphere of current knowledge.

When was the last time you attended a workshop purely for inspiration and a fresh perspective rather than to develop a skill you use every day? When was the last time you created a personal development plan, not for where you’re going in your current company or role, but for your 5, 10, even 20 year plan? Do you see development as ‘getting better at your day job’ or as ‘increasing your fulfillment in life’?

Inspiration can come from anywhere. A new book. A new song. A place you visit. A person you meet. A traditional workshop learning format, or an informal conversation with a peer from a different industry.

Look for it.

Encourage it.

Ask for it.

Never miss out on a fresh perspective that could change your life and never judge a learning experience because you don’t think it fits with who you are now.

Open your mind to who you could be. Because you just might surprise yourself with what you find. 

For more information, visit 

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Happy Father’s Day

To all the fab fathers, soon-to-be fathers, wish-they-weren’t-fathers, and frankly-exhausted fathers.

Father’s Day, like Mother’s Day, provides the perfect excuse for us all to stop what we’re doing, remember what matters and say a heartfelt thank you to the people that raised us. The people we love.  

But what if you don’t know your father?

Or you don’t get on with your father?

Perhaps this is the perfect time to reunite, to start a dialogue again and hopefully resolve your differences?

Or perhaps, as for many of us in this modern world living in modern families, it’s not a day for fathers at all. It’s simply a good opportunity to connect with the people we do love and take the time to thank them, just for being who they are.

Aunties, uncles, grandparents, siblings, partners, colleagues or friends. Who are the people you trust? Who do you love spending time with? Who do you turn to when you need a shoulder to cry on? Or a good laugh? Or some advice?

Those are the people to treasure. So why not take a moment this week to send a message, pick up the phone or knock on the door of your most beloved pals.

Say hello.

Say thank you.

Say you love them.

And if you haven’t got anyone you can think of, it’s time to make some more meaningful connections in this world. Put yourself out there, take time for your friends, and you’ll soon find it reciprocated.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Think like an MBAer

Without the huge cost and time investment. Sound good? I thought so too.

I’d always been intrigued by the idea of doing an MBA. I wasn’t brought up in a high-powered business family, in fact quite the opposite. I was brought up in an artsy, spiritual and soul-seeking environment. I was brought up in a way that was open, accepting, supportive, constantly loving and frankly, wonderful.

Then I landed my first job in the fast-paced, results-driven corporate world and I was hooked. Fascinated. Intrigued. And desperate to fly along with the fastest, highest top performers I could find.

Now I’m not saying that businesses can’t be supportive, loving and accepting.

Nor am I saying that a supportive environment at home can’t produce business tycoons of the future.

I’m simply sharing my roundabout route into the world of the MBA. As soon as I got the buzz for business, I wanted more. I felt like there were things I’d missed out on during my Psychology training that would benefit me in this corporate world. Surely everyone else had the answers I was desperately seeking? Was I on the outside looking in? Would MBA status get my foot through the door and give me an invite to the business-school-members-only club I was sure everyone else was a part of?

Well, no. In fact, if I’ve learnt anything in my career it’s that if you don’t have an answer, there are a million ways in today’s technological age that you can find it. Fast. It’s about being critical as well as creative; practical as well as pioneering. It’s about mindset and confidence rather than what the CV says.

So I decided to read around the subject. I decided to make the most of my time, freedom and love of reading to gain the insights that an MBA graduate gets, from the comfort of my own home.

Which led me to Nicholas Bate’s book, ‘Instant MBA’.

And there I found a kindred spirit, inspirational thinker and provocative writer that gave me just enough of the WHAT I wanted to know, with an awful lot more of the HOW I needed to be to get there.

I downloaded the book onto my iPad’s Kindle and within a few days, I’d devoured its contents, coming out of the other side feeling inspired, energised and hungry for more. Not a bad place for business.

Rather than drowning you in concepts and jargon, the book challenges you to think for yourself.

Rather than trying to impress you with technical speak or ‘Psychobabble’, the book provides common sense suggestions that force you to get off the sofa and act.

If you’ve ever thought about doing an MBA, wondered how to increase your business acumen, wished you could set up your own business or perform better at work, I implore you to read this book.

It might not change your world. But, I have no doubt it will motivate you to change it yourself. 

(Read more from Nicholas Bate at

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Business, Done Better

As discussed in the last blog, when it comes to leading a socially responsible business, you might have an advantage if you’re just starting out and can dedicate your entire mission, vision and business strategy toward your charitable purpose or sustainable goal (demonstrated beautifully by TOMS Shoes).

But what about the well-established global multi-national companies that grew during a booming economy and built business strategies focused upon profits and expansion?

A few notable exceptions aside (i.e. WWF, Greenpeace, Human Rights Watch), most global organizations are only now getting around to the question of Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability.

But it’s a hot topic and it’s fascinating to observe how different companies are approaching the challenge. You can see signs of it everywhere you look;
  • In Starbucks, the Ethos® Water bottle you buy contributes money to providing children with access to clean water as part of the Starbucks Foundation.
  • This Spring, H&M launched a new ‘Conscious Collection’ of clothing made from organic linen, recycled PET bottles and Tencel, a fabric produced with minimal environmental impact.
  • Nike, too, has an entire ‘Better World’ product line with shorts, trainers and pants made from recycled materials. Their innovative production and marketing enables the customer to see exactly what impact they’re having on the world through their responsible purchase: “Nike Zoom and Flywire technology turn feet into explosive devices. 100% green rubber in the outsole eliminates the majority of toxic compounds, so your only impact is on the court.” (From

Nike’s ‘Better World’ strapline, “Kick Ass without Kicking the Planet’s Ass” nicely sums up the challenge of socially responsible business. And everyone seems to be responding to the call in different ways; some through Foundations and donations; some through socially responsible product lines; some through dramatically altering the way they run every part of their business to become more sustainable.

In 2009, Unilever took a bold step as a multi-national consumer goods company, declaring a new business mission “to double the size of the business while reducing our overall environmental impact across our entire value chain.”  They soon transformed this mammoth goal into specific achievable targets as part of the ‘Unilever Sustainable Living Plan’.

The Leadership Team set the mission. And a chunky one at that.

Individual employees, managers, teams and volunteers work tirelessly to deliver it.

This is an excellent model for other multi-nationals to take on board. It can seem a daunting task to change the way a successful business is run, to take the time to look into the inner workings of every single part of the company and ask yourself – is there a better, more sustainable or more socially responsible way to do this/ produce this/ deliver this?

Without change, though, your customers will be drawn to competitors that do demonstrate how well they’re thinking of society and the planet. And in cases where all other factors match up, it’s hard to imagine that customers will turn down the warm, fuzzy feeling that comes with a charitable action.

Alex Hannant writes for Sustainable Brands about a model for Social Innovation delivered by getting behind your talent. Without repeating his excellent article, well worthy of a read itself, I will quote one important line, that “…if you want a low-carbon society, don’t get too hung-up on the technology or regulation – what you really need is holistic and iterative approaches that enable new models of social leadership, collaboration and innovation to emerge.”

Hannant goes on to describe a three pillar approach used at the Hikurangi Foundation in New Zealand. First, developing competencies required to conceive of and lead change, secondly facilitating the platforms (spaces, events or processes) that allow people to build relationships and align their goals, and finally developing the solutions that will change whole systems.

The first part of this solution must be the most critical because, if you can get the PEOPLE bit right, the rest will follow.

The role of leaders is to set sustainable goals and clarify boundaries, and then to step back and allow creativity to flourish. Before you know it, your company will be finding answers from within, connecting with the community in ways you couldn’t have imagined and initiating important viral change.

Develop talent, yes, but ensure that you inspire leaders, engage employees, equip managers and reward teams too. It’s a whole-world challenge, so it makes perfect sense to give it a whole-system answer.   

Friday, 6 April 2012

No more paradox of choice - now, choose charitably.

In California, TOMS are everywhere.

I remember the first time I found a pair of TOMS shoes in a House of Fraser store in the UK. They were just the style of canvas shoe I’d been looking for – perfect for spring, takes you right through to autumn and available in a host of colours to suit any personal tastes.

And the best bit of all? I felt good for making the purchase because the company is founded on the commitment that for every pair sold, they'll donate a pair to a child in need. Which certainly beats post-shopping regret. 

The website states their vision clearly: “With every pair you purchase, TOMS will give a pair of new shoes to a child in need. One for One.”

In that case, I’ll have two please Sir!

Looking at the website now, the business is clearly expanding at pace. They’ve gone global, they’ve expanded to eyewear and the movement, One for One, is hosting global awareness events including “One day without shoes” {self-explanatory} on April 10th to share knowledge and garner support.

TOMS was founded in 2006 by an American traveler, Blake Mycoskie, after a trip to Argentina. Within a year, Blake returned to Argentina to meet the children who had inspired his movement, armed with 10,000 pairs of shoes – made possible by the sale of 10,000 pairs of shoes to Westerners like me.

Two years later the business had $9.6 million in revenue.

Why such rapid success?

Is it because people like the style? Trust the brand? Or is it because they feel good about their purchase?

Probably a mixture of all three. But when you’re standing in a store looking at three types of canvas shoe that are similar in style and quality – but one will match your purchase with a charitable donation – the choice seems obvious. You get your new shoes and you get a warm, fuzzy feeling thrown in.

It’s social pressure too. If you’re seen to be wearing TOMS, perhaps you’ll be seen as a good person?

Even if you’re unconscious of the psychology affecting your buying behaviour, the business model is a great one. In today’s commercial environment, where there’s increased pressure to be socially responsible as well as environmentally sustainable, founding a business on a One for One principle seems foolproof. And the sheer volume of TOM-cladded feet I’ve seen in California over the past month suggests that it’s working.

So how do established global businesses replicate this model?

To be continued in the next blog…