Friday 23 August 2013

The Power in Reflection

As some of my longer standing (sitting? suffering?) readers may know, I completed an MBA a few years ago.  To say that it was a privilege would be a massive understatement – it was one of the happiest experiences of my life.  It was mind enhancing, brain stretching and ideas generating – I guess in common with education of any type.  I met lots of lovely people and it also taught me the power of reflection.  And in particular structured reflection.

So it was with some dismay that that I heard from my not-so-old tutor that the current offering of the MBA is less reflection oriented.  It caused me to pause and think.  (See, I did learn something!)

The rationale, apparently, is that it is better to be action-oriented than reflective.  I don’t know about you, but action isn’t necessarily one of my problems.  The right type of action, maybe, but I’m very capable of getting on and doing stuff.  What I’m less good at, and need to be reminded often about, is the need to reflect, in a structured way, about what I’m doing and whether it’s going in the right direction.

David Allen in his book, Getting Things Done, talks about the need to reflect, ideally once a week, on what you’ve achieved, what you’ve not achieved, what your goals are, and taking the long view.  It’s good advice, and from talking to people, advice that doesn’t always get acted on.

So this is my reflection for the week.  I need to make more time to reflect, to see where I’ve been, and where I’m going, and whether my goals still make sense.  And maybe update this blog more often.  I’ve said that before, though, so I don’t think I’ll repeat myself. 

Bon weekend, tout le monde!

Monday 17 June 2013

How to Create a Strong Brand

What is a brand?

A brand is an identify that differentiates your product or service from those offered by others.  Your brand tells customers what they can expect from your company.  In other words, a brand is a promise of your distinctive delivery.

Poundland communicate their cheap products through shops with no-frills in off-high street locations.

Coca Cola communicate a promise of good times through sharing a Coke with friends, backed up with adverts showing happy smiling faces in the sunshine.  Their promise is that Coca Cola delivers enjoyment.  Nowhere do they talk about the qualities of their product.  They talk about the value it delivers.

Why is Branding Important?

Your brand is the accumulation of every interaction that customers and potential customers have with your company.  Every tweet they read, every time they buy from you, the way you behave when things go wrong, your advertising, your web site, your Facebook page, you blog, your business cards.  The lot.

Just as every time someone buys a Coca Cola they want the Coca Cola brand promise to deliver the same taste, each time someone interacts with your company you want them to have the same experience.  Whether that is good value (as with Poundland), a high level of technical proficiency and ability to deliver a working system (as with a software business), or whatever your particular promise is.

All this takes time, money and effort.  If your efforts get fragmented or if your message is different each time a customer interacts with you, they become confused about your promise of delivery. In other words they are not clear what will deliver when they buy from you. No wonder companies consider their brands to be amongst their greatest assets.

How to Create a Strong Brand

First you have to be clear about your promise of delivering. 

This isn’t nearly as easy as it sounds.  You have to understand who your target market is, and why they might buy from you.  Why would they exchange their hard-earned cash for whatever you are offering?  Why will their lives be better after the transaction?  After all, whilst you are focusing on the money going INTO your bank account, they are acutely aware that it is coming OUT of theirs.

Secondly, you have to communicate your promise of delivery in a clear, uncomplicated way.  Not because your customers have difficulty reading, but because they are busy, pressured people with multiple stresses to deal with.  Their attention span is limited. 

So the message has to be crystal clear.  Coca Cola = good times.  Poundland = cheapest anywhere.  McDonalds = consistently good burgers.   The Tea Bush = Beautiful gifts for now and for future generations.

So what are the components of building a brand?

  • Distinctive identity – including visual identity and brand promise
  • Repetition of key messages
  • Consistency – in messages, and in interactions with customers.  Over a long period of time, with a large enough audience
  • Delivering on your promise

Tuesday 21 May 2013

6 Ways to Boost your Energy Levels at Work

No matter how well organized your “to do list”, it’s not going to help unless you have the energy and drive to get everything done.  So here’s six of the best to get more “get up and go” into your day:

  1. More exercise.  It’s counter intuitive, but really works.  Whilst you may be tired after the exercise, over a period of time it gives you more energy, more get up and go, and more resilience to cope with whatever gets thrown at you.  Walking or running at lunchtime has the added advantage of giving some thinking time, and a complete break from the computer screen.
  2. Less alcohol.  Although relaxing with a glass of wine or three at the end of the day is tempting, it tends to make the following day a little less dynamic.  Alcohol disrupts sleep, and takes the edge off your energy.  Best avoided during the week if you want to disappear early on Friday with a clear desk.
  3. More vegetables and fruit.  In that order.  Most of us don’t have a problem with eating enough fruit – these days it’s grown to be sweet and delicious.  For increased vitality try adding more vegetables; raw or lightly cooked.  Try small amounts of nuts and seeds for snacks.
  4. Less caffeine.  Tea and coffee is fine in moderation, but too much has a negative effect on energy.  You don’t notice it immediately, but little by little it creeps up.  Caffeine also affects your sleep and your mood, so knowing your limit will boost your energy levels.  Long standing Getting to Excellent readers – don’t say a word!
  5. More water.  It’s easy to get out of the habit of drinking water, but I always find it helpful when I remember.  There’s a lot of discussion out there in cyber space about how much water we should drink a day, but I think it’s fair to say that most of us could do with a few more glasses of water, and fewer cups of coffee or green tea.
  6. Less untidiness.  I sound like my mother now, but tidiness does help.  Working in a clear space calms the mind and reduces distractions.  So I’m told – this is work in progress for me! 

I’ve read lots of wonderful tips like splashing cold water onto your face, changing your socks and more besides.  But when you are feeling tired it’s the last thing you want to do.  For me at least, improving my energy levels is something I work at over a number of weeks and months. 

What’s your experience of working at your best?  Do share ….

Tuesday 14 May 2013

How to be Successful - Cultivate Calmness

I recently saw an old friend after a gap of several years.  It’s funny how you forget aspects of people’s personality when you haven’t seen them for a bit.  After only a few minutes, what came flooding back was his sense of calmness.  A quality I don’t always possess, I’m afraid, but one that is super-useful in business.

Why is it useful in business?  Simply because all sorts of things happen all the time – some good and some less good.  The person who can control their emotions and not let events throw them off course will be more successful.  Things happen to everyone – a cross neighbour, a child’s tantrum, or a nasty email from a colleague.  Unfortunately we have no control over other people’s behaviour.  We might try to alter their behaviour through discussion, persuasion and the like, but when all is said and done they are free agents to behave as they do. 

The key is not getting thrown off course, and not allowing external events and behaviours to upset you and your work. 

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying ignore input from other people.  That’s valuable additional perspective that we all need.  What I am saying is that emotional reactions and getting upset at things you can’t change isn’t helpful.  Trust me, I know, I’ve done my share of getting upset and it didn’t help.   

James Allen, the self-help author said, “The more tranquil a man becomes, the greater is his success, his influence, his power for good. Calmness of mind is one of the beautiful jewels of wisdom.”

So much for being calm, but how do you do it?  Unless, like my friend, you are blessed with a calm nature, there are several things that can help:

  1. Understand that we can’t change other people, or their behaviour.  We can only change ourselves and our reactions to external events.  It’s self-evident, but so easy to forget in the heat of the moment.
  2. Look at things from the other person’s point of view.  What might it have looked like from their perspective?  Maybe they weren’t being malicious, but clumsy or thoughtless.  They are different.
  3. Practice letting go and not reacting when things happen.  Start with being calm to little things like bad driving or getting caught in the rain.  Then practice smiling or pausing when someone says something particularly stupid.  Like physical fitness, the more you do it, the stronger you get.

I need to take some of my own advice, and react less to little things.  The truth is that it’s often very difficult.  The payoff to being calmer, however, is significant and therefore worth a little practice.

But I’ll leave the last word to the old wag Oscar Wilde who once quipped “Nothing is so aggravating than calmness”.

Quite so, but he also said "It is better to have a permanent income than to be fascinating."

Monday 4 March 2013

How to Write a Great Blog Post

I get a lot of value from both writing and reading blogs.  Blogs are first-hand accounts of the world as bloggers see it.  They are honest viewpoints of someone’s real life experience.  A trusted blog is like advice from a friend – personal and often (but not always) useful.  I even feel the same way about my own blog posts – after a while it feels like someone else wrote them!

So what makes a great blog post?  In the vast sea of information out there, what makes something worth reading?  I don’t pretend to be any kind of expert, but I have been blogging for a few years and one or two people have stopped by to have a read.  So here is my top six pointers for creating great blog posts:

1.     Address a real need.  Like how to give up caffeine, how to write a blog post, or what lead and lag indicators are.  By a real need I mean needs that more than one person might have.  One of the joys of blogging is that you have no idea whether other people have the same issues as you, but you write about what you think is important.  And people either respond or they don’t.

2.     Give practical advice.  It’s hard to give a personal view on a theoretical topic.  Of course we all know that in theory there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice there is a great deal.  Anyone can read theory from a text book, bloggers tell you when happened when they actually tried doing something.  The joy, of course, is that the path is rarely straight.  It took me 3 or 4 attempts to give up caffeine, and it would have been pointless to lie about the difficulties. 

3.     Get to the point.  Blogs are not essays, and most get to the point in 500 words or less.  I can think of at least one notable exception, but for the most part you can read a couple of blog posts before you finish your first cup of green tea in the morning.  I think people appreciate that.

4.     Make it easy to read.  Six points.  Top ten ways.  Three things I Learnt.  You get the idea.  This is fast-food information, not curl-up-on-the-sofa and get-in-the-mood reading. 

5.     Don’t aim to please everyone.  Some blog posts upset some people.  You just have to add value for that group of people who might be interested.  And yourself, of course.

6.     Write so you can be found.  No matter how great your advice is, how brilliant your breakthrough, if it can’t be found by people who need it, it’s no use.  As I started to write this blog post I titled it “The Joy of Blogging”.  It appealed to my long memory for self-help books, but wouldn’t have helped anyone find my six pointers.   

Thursday 24 January 2013

How to beat stress and get productive

Do you ever have days when you just can’t settle?  When everything is urgent and nothing is getting your full attention?  Being unproductive at work is no fun and although shutting up shop and coming back to it the following day is one option, it’s not a great one.  The work will still be there the following day.

So here’s my top ten list to beat stress and get something useful done.

  1. Go for a walk.  After the first ten minutes my head starts to clear, ideas come to me and I’m less stressed.  I sometimes take a notepad with me to jot ideas down so I don’t forget them.
  2. Have a cup of tea.  This always works.  In fact I often have a cup of tea even if I’m not stressed.
  3. Make a plan.  This really should be at the top of the list.  I find that NOT having a plan is the cause of the stress and once I’ve got something down on paper, even if it’s a simple To Do list, it starts to become easier.
  4. Do the first thing on the plan.  Ha!  Suddenly you are ahead of the game and stress starts to disappear.
  5. Tidy up.    
  6. Call a friend – a problem shared is a problem halved.
  7. Eat toast – it’s not the greatest nutrient in the world, but it has very soothing qualities
  8. Do a small job – it’s better than going round in circles doing nothing
  9. Do a difficult job – you feel massively better once you’ve made a start.  Suddenly the whole world seems brighter.
  10. Have a bath.  It calms me.  My head fills with ideas because I’m calm.  Then I jump out of the bath to get going on one of them.  Difficult in the office though …

What's your best tip to beat stress and get productive again?

Tuesday 22 January 2013

New Year Resolutions Don’t Work – Do They?

There is something a tad bizarre about New Year Resolutions.  What is different about 1st January to the 31st December?  If we are not inclined to do something one day, why should another be any different?  However illogical, New Year resolutions are hard to resist.  It may be a function of my age, but I’m growing weary of making a long list.  Experience has taught me that one will be tough enough – and maybe even too tough.  But as making half a resolution isn’t an option, I’m going with one.

So this is it.  My 2013 resolution.  Drum roll and all that jazz.

It’s to be tidier.  Consistently and thoroughly tidy.

I am annoyingly tidy in certain areas of my life.  And annoyingly untidy in others.  Those close to me might be hard pressed to say which is more annoying, but I’d hazard a guess the untidiness may win.

I can find no evidence that tidy people live longer, happier or more successful lives.  But I guess they spend less time looking for stuff.  Anecdotally I know at least one super-successful person who appears very tidy.  I mean, I haven’t been through his drawers, but the surface of his large desk at least is pristine.

So there you have it – tidiness.  Whether or not it is next to godliness or happiness remains to be seen, but frankly I’d settle for calmness.  Or at least less anguished panic attacks when I can’t find things.

I’ll keep you posted.  If you are even vaguely interested ….

Monday 7 January 2013

Making a Commitment

Well folks, I’m touched.  No, not that kind of touched - the “awe shucks” kind.  Some of you lovely people have noticed that Getting to Excellent hasn’t been updated in a while.  Quite a while, actually.  I guess I’ve been busy doing other things.  Which isn’t really the spirit of a blog, is it?  It should be updated for better or worse, come peaks or troughs. 
So not for the first time I’m making a commitment to keep up with it - as much for me as for you.  Because strange as it may seem I sometimes refer back to it myself – either looking something up or reminding myself mentally of something I know but am not following.  Getting to Excellent has helped me sort quite a few things out in my life.

Like caffeine.  Yes, I know I said I wasn’t going to mention it again, but I say a lot of things ….  To quickly recap – I drank a lot of caffeine, then tried to give it up completely for 100 days.  I failed first time, I failed second time.  I might have succeeded the third or fourth time, I can’t remember now.  But to cut a long story a tiny bit shorter, it wasn’t easy.  I found I liked caffeine.  So after years of veering from drinking enough to sink the Titanic, to giving it up completely, I have now settled into a routine where I drink no more than 3 or 4 cups in the morning.  Enough to get me revved up, but not so much that I stay awake at night.  Now I’ve come to thinking about giving up alcohol completely, I’ve thought back to my caffeine experiences and decided teetotal is not the way to go.  Moderation may be more successful.  A novel idea I know, but there should be some benefits to getting older.
All of which is a long way round of saying I’m back.  And making a New Year’s resolution to keep Getting to Excellent updated with my random thoughts.  For me, and you, and anyone else who stumbles into it by accident.  Happy New Year!