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May 2011

Windsurfer, the beach, the baby

Last Thursday morning Linda and I decided to take a long walk through King's Park, across to the Woodland Walk and then down to the beach, from where we could walk onto the centre of Bournemouth. Quite beautiful. As we hit the beach at Boscombe we realised there was – what technically might be called - a “helluva” wind blowing. And alas, it was blowing against us!

By the time we reached the centre of Bournemouth and could get out of it we were truly done in! Along the way, though, I had spotted one amazing thing.

The wind was up, the waves were rough, and the sea was empty: across the horizon I saw no boats, and even the gulls seemed subdued somewhere else; except, there, just beyond the Boscombe pier, a solitary windsurfer – a speck – out there on the deep – surfed the waves in a kind of joyous abandon. He caught my eye and I slowed to watch him now I had spotted him.

He, in fact, traversed an arc – a long arc out from his starting point on the beach, between two groynes – which returned him back. So far out, it looked extremely difficult and dangerous to navigate in such waters. He returned safely in, paused for a few short moments, and then launched out to do exactly the same thing again. I say exactly, but of course, we never enter the stream at the same point twice – the danger and the difficulty were, perhaps, the same, and may be his courage too, but in launching again who knew if he would come back?

I was reflecting on why he was doing it. The beach was denuded of people; and the promenade itself had few – and they all were hurrying away, coping with the wind, no time to stand and stare. This was not one of those summer pose type of people – LOOK AT ME! Nobody else in the whole universe could have existed, yet still he would have done what he did.

The great poet – probably the greatest of the Twentieth Century – WB Yeats had an expression: “the fascination of what's difficult” - and here it was in action. The conquest of the elements, or better still the subduing of them till they bend not just to the human will, but to its imagination. Like a musician sitting at a piano with a whole bunch of notes and keys in front of them – a C, a E and so on; and from these creating an unexpected musical masterpiece.

Thus did the proud windsurfer strike me in that moment of bleak and blustery glory – composing his work of majesty on the very tracks of the sea and through the very power of the wind. How transient – the sea opens and accepts the force that splits it and allows the way through and the way back to the shore. And then closes behind and there is no trace left that he was ever there. So the music sounds, and after there is stillness.

On Saturday in Bangkok, my eldest son, PJ, posted on Facebook pictures of the birth of his third child – his little mouth open and crying for the light of the day. May he surf sublime all the days of his life.

Building unshakeable optimism 2

Step 3 is to recall past achievements and better performances. Many people have problems recalling good events and high achievements. I once coached a young man whose only recollection of success was being able to recall winning a swimming race when he was ten! Clearly, this is wholly debilitating. One secret to overcoming this handicap is to remember that small things are an achievement. For example, your ability to make someone smile is a great achievement – ultimately, 85% of the satisfaction we are ever going to achieve in life will come through relationships. In other words, by serving and helping others we achieve wonderful things. Small things can be highly significant. See Step 5 to help you further with this.

Step 4 is to detect patterns – and having done so to break bad patterns. This is easier said than done – but the first thing is to notice the pattern. Most people don’t get that far, so cannot possibly destroy bad habits or increase their optimism. For example, it’s easy to snack on chocolate bars all day long without realising they are responsible for our weight increase! We have not noticed the insidious pattern. Similarly, it’s easy to spoil a relationship because one habitually says the wrong and thoughtless thing without seeing our action for what it is. KEEP A DIARY - keeping a diary is invaluable for spotting a pattern - log stuff.

Step 5 is to record good events and achievements. Our self-talk tends to be 75% negative, so we need to consciously reverse this. Keeping a diary and looking to log at least 3 achievements a day is wonderful in this regard and helps step 3 as well – go back over your diary and start ‘dwelling’ on high achievement moments. Re-create them in your mind – re-live them – can you ‘feel’ how you felt then? Can you see it? Hear it? Even taste or smell it? For example, that swimming race he (at Step 3) won, can he smell the chlorine on that day as he recreates it in his mind? Can he hear the cheers? See the applause? If you can do this, then you can ‘anchor’ these experiences into your conscious mind and call them up whenever you want. This is important.

Imagine you are going for a job interview. You feel nervous. You have made a deal with yourself. Every time you say the words ‘swim win’ you flash the images of that glorious winning day. You do this just before you go in to the interview. How differently do you think this will make you feel walking into the room? Try it (using your formula to re-create the high achieving moment).

One final comment to make here is on being persistent. People become more enthusiastic and energetic when they can go for goals that are quickly obtained; however, persistence isn’t about the ‘quick’, but the long haul. To develop resolute optimism requires persistent application in the same way that running a marathon requires constant training. So you can start with the affirmation of step 2: I can do it! From there, press on.

Building unshakeable optimism 1

Optimism is one of those prerequisites for a successful life. Why? Because fundamentally it is about our belief system: the belief that things will turn out well. To those who believe, as Jesus himself said, all things are possible. And the well known law of attraction also informs us that what we don't want will come our way if we spend most of our time thinking about it.

How, then, can we get more optimism in our life? Belief is not something static – a sort of, we have it, that's it. It grows – like the mustard seed; it needs exercise and constant handling to ensure it reaches its full potential. We need to differentiate in our minds between real belief that is organic, and that static kind of dogmatism that embraces 'propositions of faith' and then proceeds to build a wall around all mental activity. That isn't really faith or belief; it's a kind of deadwood rigidity that derives from the termites of fear that corrode our being. Don't get me wrong: I am not saying that propositions of faith are valueless – we need these things to understand what we do think – but unless they can 'grow' we are shut off from life.

So to return to the central idea of optimism: how do we get more of it in our life? Here is a five step process for generating more optimism in your life:

Step 1 is to question frustrations. Can our frustrations be changed? Are we just accepting situations and problems. A good starting here is to write down exactly what the frustration is. When we see it in print we can begin to become more ‘objective’ about it – we can more literally ‘handle’ it. Is your boss causing frustration – who, when, why? The more specific you are, the more you will be able to see specific avenues that may remove you from the impasse. This will make you feel more in control; this will make you feel more optimistic.

Step 2 is to affirm that I can work this out. Affirmations are incredibly powerful. Feed your subconscious mind a continual diet of positive thoughts. Affirmations need to be: personal (‘I’ am/have/do something), present tense (avoid the future and past as the subconscious mind does not recognise them), and positive (again, do not say ‘not’ as the subconscious mind can’t read it – ‘I do not think of pink elephants’ – damn! Foiled again.)

Performance, Motivation and What Else?

We have long held at Motivational Maps that performance is down to three core components: direction, skills (including knowledge), and motivation. So far as the operational work goes at middle and technical levels, then we are really concerned with two aspects: skills and motivation, and this since the direction – strategy, plans, goals, objectives – is invariably set at senior level and cascaded down. Thus, our homely and simple formula: Performance equals Skills times Motivation. And to make this really understandable we often ask individual to rank themselves out of ten points (maximum) for skill in their current role, and then do the same for their motivation levels. This gives a neat performance percentage score which is easily understandable and generally pretty accurate.

But let's be frank: it is not always enough. Yes, skills and motivation are what performance is about in all normal human work activities; however, unfortunately, there are abnormal situations where a 'fourth' component enters and clouds the picture. Unless one is wary of this, one can get trapped into thinking one has a solution to a motivational problem when in fact motivation is little to do with it.

What am I talking about? What is the 'fourth' component? Before answering that question it comes down to realising the source of motivation itself within us. One prime source is our self concept – our beliefs about our self – which includes our self-esteem, how we feel about our self. I have always maintained that the one instance where the Motivational Maps don't work is where we are dealing with chronically low self-esteem. This may affect somewhere between 10-15% of the working population – so a small number of the whole, but not insignificant.

So how do we know when self-esteem is chronically low? The absolute answer to this question is summed up in one word: games. People who suffer from chronically low self-esteem always play games. Bizarrely the Map reading can still be 100% accurate – right – but because one is dealing with a game player, it makes no difference, since the game player seeks primary motivation from the co-dependence, not the internal motivations aligned to the healthy self concept.

A case of this came my way recently. I was asked to deal with a member of staff who was not meeting performance criteria and over a two year period seemed to be slipping. Further, other members of staff were complaining about him, and he seemed to be out of control. Sometimes he seemed enthusiastic and committed, and others he just went off the boil. The point was that this up and down behaviour was extremely destabilising not only for the team, but also the managers.

They assumed there was a motivational issue, but to their surprise they found that on doing the Map he was 84% motivated – staggeringly high, and 'in the zone' in fact. In examining the top three motivators there was general agreement that these accurately reflected what the person was like; there was general agreement that this person was highly skilled and knew exactly how to do the job – they had demonstrated this in the five years preceding the two year problem period. So if motivation was high, skill was high, why was performance very weak?

The answer is: it's not the motivation – so far as the job went, it was motivating; however, in reflecting on this particular case, and going back over the history, we find someone overlooked for promotion (and for whom the Maps establish prestige as critically important) and who as a consequence from that moment has decided not to play ball. In other words we find a human being who has made a decision, actually counter to their own motivational welfare, to go 'slow', as it were, to play things by the book, and to do as little as possible. Despite their conscious intention to play 'their game', however, at times the job got interesting, and they get more motivated than they intended. Hence the variations in performance.

Motivation goes with the grain of who we are; when we honour it, we feel good and get more energy; when we play with it and think our rational minds know better, we screw up, as this person did. Ultimately, our lack of commitment shows through, the bare minimum becomes not quite enough, others notice and ask questions. Finally, we are made redundant, having become so by a failure to work with our own motivators.

So, key lesson: if the motivational score is at real odds with the performance, ask the question – am I dealing with a game player here? If you are, then supportive action is probably not your best option.

What is difficult about Motivational Maps?


Every product, service and system has its difficulties, ranging from the sublime difficulty to the easy and the awkward. Awkward is the one we dislike the most; easy we can deal with, and sublime can throw us a challenge, so that when we prevail we feel good about ourselves. But awkward? Hmm, that's just damn irritating. 

 What about Motivational Maps – what is the most difficult 'thing' about them? We've been doing them now for some five years, and thousands have been done, so we should be getting a clear idea. And we are. Just recently, with the launch of Smart Development Solutions' Motivational Youth Map (, largely for students in schools, we have had a whole new audience – and they have identified exactly the same difficulty: loudly and clearly!

So what is it? It's the forced choice between the statements. Motivational Maps is a self perception inventory – like the Belbin Inventory. It works by getting you to allocate points between two statements according to how much you prefer them. However, the number of points is fixed, and furthermore, since there are an odd number (five in fact) and no half points are allowed, you are 'forced' to prefer one statement over another.

To give an example of how gut-wrenching this might be, and to take an example not on the Map, imagine you are a devoted animal lover with loads of pets. And you do a self perception inventory with the following two statements: 

I like dogs

I like cats


You have to choose between these two statements by allocating the five points. If you give the dog the whole five points, you have to give the cat zero points; and vice versa. But you love your doggy – doggy deserves all five; yet, you have two cats too, you adore. So in a shabby compromise one has to be worth only three, but treachery of treacheries, the other then is devalued with two. Can you feel the pain of this? 

The question I get, then, is: I don't want to do this, this is distorting what I really want, believe, feel. Why should I do it?

It is tough, but there is an answer, and here it is: the motivators of the Map are all in us. And like values they reside in a hierarchical structure whether we can discern it or not. The ultimate example of this in real life would be a life and death situation in which events conspired to make you choose between your two children, and you could only save one, and if you didn't save one, you'd lose both. 

In that situation, as instant as it might be, you would make that choice: factors conscious and subconscious, including potentially abandoning the choice to some irrational or superstitious 'sign' would prevail - you make the choice and the preference and its underlying value structure becomes clear. So with the motivators - we will always, faced with two highly desirable choices, attempt to get both, but if we can't our motivation will lead us to choose one. The key issue is knowing what that one is for you; and not allowing a 'logical' over-ride or second guessing to occur. 

Where we love both, then the scoring will be close to reflect that. So forced questions allow for this two-almost-equal by distributing the scores: here 3:2 or 2:3; but if you feel that strongly about one motivator, then you will certainly give it 5s when it is up against motivators you really feel little for. Or by analogy, perhaps when up against 'pets' you feel little for. Doggy 5, Snake 0!

Touched by death on a Monday morning

Sometimes highly inconsequential things affect one deeply. Death, of course, is not inconsequential or even consequential to the one to whom it happens, for as Wittgenstein famously said, “Death is not an event in life: we do not live to experience death”; but for those of us who remain it is another 'object' that we observe to a greater or lesser extent.

That Osama Bin Laden has been killed may or may not be a good thing for the Western democracies; but I have not been affected by his death, although it may be extremely consequential. No, the things that touch us deeply tend to have roots that stretch long into our past, and perhaps in a strange way one never consciously thought what might happen if that person were no longer with us.

Such a thing happened to me today. I flicked onto the BBC news page and found the announcement of John Maus' death, at his home in LA, aged 67, from liver cancer, which he apparently had been struggling with for six months. John who?

John Maus is more popularly known as John Walker. John who? Yes, one third of that amazing pop trio, The Walker Brothers, who scored 2 major number one hits in the Sixties, and sold something like 23 million records. But again, the thing is, most young people today know nothing of those days; may be they know one or two of the really famous groups like the Beatles or the Stones who register because of their influence or continuous touring, but it is difficult now to see the impact of a group like the Walker Brothers.

Impact or not, sales or not, number ones or not, though, I remember them well; remember first hearing them in 1966, being intrigued by their sound, becoming a fan by about 1968, the time of their first break-up, and then going to acquire all their back catalogue, and subsequently all the material of the lead singer, the great Scott Walker.

The point is John Walker, whilst having a fine voice that harmonised with Scott's in some amazing classics, was very much in the shadow of the popularity of Scott. Scott is now a sainted 'classic' – Mojo Hall of Famer – one of the greats, endorsed by David Bowie, et. al., whereas John is view more simply as a 'popster'. Yet for all that he deserves big credit for his massive contribution to the sound that the Walker Brothers achieved, and which was the springboard for the greatness of the solo Scott in the five years following the first group split.

I saw John live in 2004 in the Solid Silver Sixties tour along with Peter Noone, Wayne Fontana and the Dakotas. He was absolutely superb and his rendition of the Walker Brother classics on which he had not sung lead vocals – The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore and Make It Easy On Yourself - was convincing and moving.

And I realised as I saw him then that he had always been with me. For over four decades I have been listening to him, either accompanying Scott, or leading vocals himself, as in that famous EP, Solo Scott, Solo John. He was the lesser light of a great group, but he was still a real talent; now he was gone. The world seemed emptier; the route to the past more difficult to trace. A domino had been knocked out of place. I miss him already.

Getting success clear in your mind

"What's your definition of success"? - a question I was asked recently by someone who claimed that "no one I know has a satisfactory answer". Curious how others would answer this. Anyone?

There is a tendency to regard this as an entirely personal matter, as if by simply defining what you want means that therefore if you get it, then you have been successful; this is a dangerous approach, and actually about as far from the truth as it's possible to be. Success, then, is is not simply subjective, no matter how many people brainwash themselves into believing it is. What large numbers of people have considered over a long period of time has a weight and compelling power, and we ignore it at our peril.

One useful thing to do to establish what success may be is to ask a room full of colleagues or friends what they think it is. You will find that most people have at most 3 concepts. But take somebody who says, ‘It’s achieving goals’ and you write that down. Another says, ‘It’s about family’. When you then ask the person who said ‘goals’, so family is not important to you (or the other way, ask the ‘family’ person why goals are not important to them) they invariably concede, ‘Why, yes, family is important to success as well’. It’s just that most people never fully think through what success means, or – more cruelly – haven’t got the memory to remember more than either two or one thing!

Success, then, is not a smorgasbord of one or two things, but seven areas in which we need to achieve a result; and each of these seven things are interdependent. At different points in our life one or more might be highlighted and become critical for us. What are these seven areas? They are: self-esteem, energy, loving relationships, wealth, meaning, growth and self-awareness.

To avoid misunderstandings let's briefly provide a little more detail about each one of these. Self esteem has three core components to reflect upon: our peace of mind, confidence and communication. Energy has a two-fold aspect: our literal energy or zest on a daily basis, as well as our physical and psychological health. Loving relationships – long term relationships are foundational: how may do we have and what is their quality? Quality relationships are a key indicator of success. We are fed this story all the time – because it is true – in all Hollywood (Citizen Kane) and fiction: to gain the world and not have love and friendship is a sad and tragic place to be.

We also need wealth; by wealth I do not mean being rich: I mean having enough money to stop worrying about money! And here we see very clearly how the 7 areas are interdependent: for lack of money causes worry, which affects peace of mind and our self-esteem, just as it can affect loving relationships – it is estimated that something like 50% of marriages breakdown over financial matters. And, too, we need meaning in our lives, as Victor Frankl's book, Man's Search for Meaning, makes clear: meaning, purpose, direction are all vital to our well being. In fact immunises us against stress: people without purpose or direction quickly find themselves depressed and ill when they aimlessly drift into difficulties and problems.

Finally, we have growth and self-awareness. Growth is about the Maslow Hierarchy: the need to become all that we can become, to realise our potential, and not to die with all the music still inside of us. That is a terrible fate: I could have been … - but I never did, never committed or seized the opportunity. Self-awareness is different from the other six areas in that it is the guarantor that they are 'real'. Human beings have a huge capacity for self-deception: for imagining that they are one thing – cool, hot, handsome, beautiful, attractive, skilful, intelligent, powerful, acute, reasonable, trustworthy, generous and so on – when asking the six people who know them best would immediately confirm that their 'virtues' are entirely delusional. In short, we need to examine ourselves scrupulously in order to become more self-aware, so that we can genuinely grow.

Thus, if we look at these seven areas and ask ourselves how are we doing in each of them we should be able to spot our weakest link: where do we have a problem in our success chain? Is our self-esteem weak? Do we lack energy? How are our quality relationships? Are we becoming more financially secure? What about our purpose, is it clear, is it being lived? Are we growing as a person – learning new stuff, for example? And finally, how self-aware are we really – and what mechanisms do we have in place to make us more self-aware?

The key thing here is to see success for what it really is and then identify your weakest link and go to work on creating a plan to improve it. If you work on your weakest link for 18 months or so, you will find that all the other areas improve too.



Thinking about appraisal 2

What then is appraisal? A good starting point for this is to understand what psychological principles performance appraisal is based on. William James, the founding father of American psychology, discovered that there were three conditions that always led to enhanced performance.

The first was that people always performed better when they had or were given clear aims or objectives. Goals or targets would mean the same thing here. The importance of this cannot be overstated. Basically, the aim or objective is the directional mechanism. It is what we are looking for and forward to – it gives us not only direction, but as it impacts our imaginations then it stimulates energy and enthusiasm. Notice, however, that linked with ‘aim’ is the word ‘clear’ – many goals are vague and woolly. This can be fatal. We must, as far as possible, remove all ambiguity. One method for doing this is via the well established principles of creating SMART targets and Standards.

Secondly, people perform better when they are involved in the formulation of the aim or objective. This is obvious when you think about it. For those who have young children, think back. You can stand towering above them and tell them what their objective is in visiting aunty Helen – and then hope they behave! Or, you can kneel down at their level, talk at their level, and say a few things about what you hope will happen at aunty Helen’s and let them say what they hope will happen – and so go on to draw the threads together: what you both agree is going to happen at aunty Helen’s! This has much more chance of being effective. It might be now be technically called empowerment: give people an input into the project ahead and you get buy-in.

And third, people perform better when they are given adequate feedback. However, I must add: adequate is an ‘inadequate’ word to describe what I have in mind. People really perform better when they are given quality feedback. The kind of feedback where what they do is noted, its consequences articulated, praise is free, they are asked to repeat it, and confidence in expressed in them.

It should be clear that these principles which William James discovered are precisely what a good appraisal should cover: goals, involvement and feedback. The tragedy, then, is why do so many people dislike appraisal, and why does appraisal so often seem to fail to work?

The answer lies in the three elements: managers find it difficult to set SMART goals, they somehow also often find it difficult to involve the staff member in setting the goals, and finally, probably most difficult of all, giving quality feedback is all but impossible: well done, is the best they can muster.

Thus, managers need motivation to enhance their skill set because unless they do they will always be spending time, which will be wasted. Staff deserve better. The result for the organisation is colossal if the appraisal process is truly maximised.