Category Archives: Friends

Chucking bricks

My friend Howard Mann draws his inspiration for business from a college football coach. After a run of disastrous form he stops using a football for training. Instead the athlete’s have to throw bricks. Screw up on the basics with a brink and you’re really going to feel it. That’s a radical intervention. By getting them to focus on the basics, he turned the performance around.

Howard takes this idea and applies it to business: forget the fancy stuff, get the basics right. He’s distilled this approach into a punchy, free book downloadable here. My favourite dictum is on page 38:

Pay fast, get paid faster… Repeat after me, “We are not a bank”

Howard’s out to take his message out on the speaking circuit – which could be good timing as downturns are a great time for cutting out the froth and getting the basics right.


Hard on the heels of More Space I’m now waxing lyrical in another new book John Winsor’s Spark. The book’s subtitle is “Be more innovative through co-creation”. John’s interviewed innovative people from organisations like Patagonia Nike and Herman Miller and er… me, and each gets their own chapter. Mine focusses on using improv to co-create ideas.

This is the third book chapter I’ve produced, and it was by a country mile the easiest. John bascially interviewed me over the phone and then wrote up what I said. I did a quick edit and, bob’s your uncle, the chapter was done. John’s then added a simple bullet point summary of tools as well as a lost of additional reading resouces. He’s repeated this for 16 different authors.

So as well as making it easy to contribute, John has made it very easy to digest.

I bang on about facilitation a lot here, and I want to say that John hasn’t so much written this book as facilitated it. He has put the contributors in the spotlight and kept himself in the background. One of the great principles of improv is “make your partner look good” and John exemplifies that here.

PS It was good to see fellow blogger Jake McKee featured too, with a good, down-to-earth perspective on building a community, versus conventional marketing, in his work for Lego.

PPS John has a blog for Spark.

Jennifer’s back, and this time it’s personal…

Jennifer Rice took a long break from blogging and has come back refreshed. I’m finding myself nodding along with what she says here about changing her blog to put more of herself in, and being less restricted in what she writes about.

I also like what she says about Brand Humanity: From Processes to People

So we can keep talking about the importance of customer focus authenticity and co-creation. But well never get there until we recognize that its not that easy to overturn decades of societal depersonalization. We may have to make some difficult choices: letting go of talented employees who are more focused on being right than being empathetic; moving to a new job at a company that fosters a relationship culture; taking a risk and going out on your own. Im sure that part of the free-agent trend stems from a rebellion against the dehumanization of business.

Good thinking. Let’s not frame the challenge as overturning deeply-rooted powerful forces; humanising is something that is done moment-by-moment, conversation by conversation… It’s about taking responsibility for our own little piece of the puzzle first.

Moonlighting with Chris Corrigan

I’ve just finished a chat over Skype with Chris Corrigan. I wanted to pick his brains on a facilitation project I’m running. Chris was on his deck on Bowen Island watching the late night water taxi arrive from Vancouver, and seeing the harvest moon rising. In between giving me some great ideas for my project, Chris interspersed some audio commentary on what he was seeing – which was a sort of one minute vacation for me.

Clearly there was some sort of minute meme running as Chris gave a great example of how rules can support creativity, as in the radio show Just a Minute. A few simple rules for talking for one minute, producing decades of entertainment.

It was good to hear Chris enthusing about Open Space, a facilitation approach that uses a few simple principles to generate remarkable results. It’s about passion bounded by responsibility, in which participants are effectively asked what do you really care about? and why don’t you take care of it?. Open Space and Improv are approaches that share this favouring of simple rules to bound creative learning.

Chris also had some interesting things to say about spotting the difference between hands-off leadership and neglect. The challenge for a hands-off leader, who doesn’t want to micromanage, is to set some clear boundaries for people to work within, to create some banks for the river to flow in. I don’t suppose many of us immediately think of Nicholas Parsons as a leadership archetype, but maybe we should think again?

Gun for hire; only slightly used…

Paul Goodison is looking for work.

So I am looking, ideally a strategic role in either marketing or knowledge management and possibly with connections to Internet technologies (websites, software, hardware) but defintely something that allows me to use my considerable experience of taking ideas / products from inception through business case, design (particularly customer experience and process) and implementation. Ideally based within less than an hour of Farnborough in Hampshire, UK although willing to relocate if the right role is available.

As Paul points out, it might have generated more PR if he could have got himself sacked for blogging. But perhaps it would be even better to get hired for blogging. He certainly deserves to be.

Inside the Gherkin

The strangest building on the London Skyline is generally known as The Gherkin. I was invited a launch party there by my friend Sue Glasser and it was quite fun to hail a cab and say “Take me to the Gherkin”.

From the inside great views over London… and an interesting tour of high tech meeting spaces only lacking Blofeld and his white cat. I found myself discussing Building Management Systems, a topic on which I have recently become a bit of an expert*, thanks to a current branding project I’m invoved with. Quite fun to bluff my way with the jargon.

They were celebrating a fit-out and I was celebrating Sue’s new website – check it out, she combines her talent for dance and choreography to do facilitation work with companies.

* Update, April 2007. Let’s emphasise the word “bit” in this clause. I just got a phone call from a researcher on Building Management and had to admit to being unable to offer much intelligence on this at all. Fading memory etc.

The John and Jennifer Experience

Jennifer Rice has been talking about our meetings in Malmo. Modesty (the False brand of it) prevents me from quoting the very flattering things she says (but do take a look for yourself). But I’d like to dwell on this observation she made:

In our conversations it became clear that we see the world from two quite different perspectives: Johnnie’s approach is quite fluid, flexible and evolving whereas I look for boundaries and structure. Two quite complementary viewpoints

As one who delights in paradox, I’ve enjoyed trying to work this out. It came as a bit of a surprise to find that Jennifer thinks we have two quite different perspectives; if you look through our many blog conversations there’s a lot of common ground.

One of my dogmas is the importance of context. I can be quite a structural thinker myself but when someone else is doing structure, I tend to want to play against it. With Jennifer, this seems to lead to a good double act. That’s largely because she’s such a positive-minded person… and also because a bit of testing sometimes creates more effective structures. So both structure and freedom can work together. And we both like a bit of Zen.

Jerry Springer The Opera

I met Ton Zijlstra and his partner Elmine yesterday evening and we went to see the wonderful and bizarre Jerry Springer The Opera. How can I capture this experience in words? The idea of turning his show into Opera is inspired and the sheer hilarity is hard to convey… the vulgarity of the content set in operatic arias. Very funny… and also quite dark in that the relatively upmarket theatre audience becomes ensnared in the whole thing really in much the same way that the audience in the original TV show does. All this plus tap-dancing Ku Klux Klan and to top it off a mad chorus of dozens of Jerry lookalikes.

Ton and Elmine seemed to enjoy it even more than I did.