Previous month:
July 2012
Next month:
September 2012

August 2012

The Beauty and the Banal

Today my wife and I visited the Southampton City Art Gallery and had a wonderful time; it’s a place, if you like art, I strongly recommend you visit: The Burne-Jones Perseus collection is absolutely fabulous (and fabulous in the real sense of the word from fable) and reminds me of the essential characteristic of all real art. When I say ‘art’ I mean of course the full range, but especially including music and literature as well as pictorial art. And what is this essential characteristic?

What we want from and in art, I think, is beauty, because beauty is transformational and because beauty as Oscar Wilde said is: “… a form of genius – is higher, indeed, than genius, as it needs no explanation. It is of the great facts in the world like sunlight, or springtime, or the reflection in dark water of that sliver shell we call the moon”. Yes, it needs no explanation, it is self-evident, and in that magical way that it has it moves us, or more accurately perhaps, it  transports us, it elevates us.

When you say that art needs to possess beauty some take the view that that is some unrealistic expectation, that the world in many aspects is not beautiful, and that on the contrary art portrays or should portray all that is ugly, void and meaningless in the world because the world demonstrates all these things. This is to take a deliberately limited view of what I mean when I say art must be
beautiful if it is to be art.

Take poetry, where my knowledge is greater: if we consider a poet like Wilfred Owen, writing about trench warfare, the gas attacks, the disabled, the insane, and frankly the sheer horror the like of which, and scale of which, not many other world events can compare with, then we see he writes about the ugliness, the void and the meaninglessness, but – and this is the big but – he transforms the experience into something of heart-rending beauty and power. The poetry is in the pity, he says, and this seething compassion emerges from the darkness and irradiates it; in fact, as long as the English language exists, people will go on reading his works to refresh their mind and souls. Poetry transfigures; art transfigures.

Burne-Jones understood this, and his wonderful works on Perseus alone are masterpieces that haunt the imagination with their beauty. He said himself that he believed an ‘instinct for beauty … is inborn in every complete man’ and therefore art was ‘a positive necessity of life’. 

How awful was it, then, when we turned the corner to see the banalities of modern art posturing alongside these greats. For example, Chasing 1000, a video clip an hour long in which the artist Paul Maguire heads a basketball back and forth to a friend a thousand times. As you watch the ball bounce from head to head and see the number of times the ball has remained in the air ( we came in at 563 and left at 587) a cacophonous noise blares in the background.

Since we had just left Perseus, the great Greek hero, I was reminded of another Greek story: Sisyphus, rolling his stone up the hill for it to be forever tipping back and for him to have to start again. The thing was, Sisyphus was in hell and this was his punishment.

And there was the difference between real art and fake art, between beauty and the banal: real art would depict Sisyphus but would provide some beauty, some insight, some emotion, some depth to that condition. Here, fake art was simply repeating the myth of Sisyphus (although in this instance not necessarily aware of it) and thinking it was a good idea to just pointlessly re-iterate the meaninglessness. Apart from perhaps admiring the basketball skills – hey, we have the Olympics, do we need this here? – what was there of art in this? Where was the beauty?

The Programme for May-Sept blithely informs me that the curator of this piece has done a one hour ‘free’ talk on it! I guess it would have to be free because who in their right mind would want it even for nothing?

Art is part of the solution to the world’s problems – it is part of the healing that the artists and their appreciators can enjoy together. That is why we must speak out against this false and pernicious art which is no solution but an aggravating factor in the modern world: already suffering from a surfeit of
banality, this pseudo-art adds more. And takes up precious space.

Go to Southampton and see for yourself: the beauty of Burne-Jones and the banality of Chasing 1000.


Motivation and Social Media

Whatever our motivators are, they require we have rewards strategies to feed them. A motivator unfed produces a very unhappy person. In our Reward Strategy packs for the 9 motivators we have a small number of suggestions for feeding a motivator via Social Media. Recently one of our Practitioners asked me, How does that work then?

The Searcher for example wants to make a difference, so the suggestion is that what would be
rewarding from a social media perspective is actively receiving or seeking out Recommendations on a site like Linkedin. Why? Because the Searcher wants to know they have made a difference – what better way than somebody giving a recommendation to all that person’s contacts on Linkedin? Good? No, brilliant, but with one caveat: the Recommendations, to be effective, have to be quality
recommendations – they really do have to explain what the person has achieved, as opposed to simply being a generic lump of praise, ‘Joe’s marvellous’. Now that won’t float the Searcher boat.

But before we give up on generic recommendations, let’s remember that ‘Joe’s marvellous’ will work for one of the other motivators: it will work for the Star, who wants recognition, which may or may not be linked to making a difference. Thus, Recommendations on Linkedin can work for the Star, and quantity here is important, or for the Searcher, where quality is more the issue. Alternatively,
which social media programs are higher status, higher value? Perhaps Linkedin confers more prestige than Facebook, and more work-related promotion. 

What about the other seven motivators? What social media activities might work for them? Well, the Expert – the desire for learning and mastery – is pretty self-evident, isn’t it? Give them a blog to do – let them demonstrate what they know and prove their guru status! Alternatively, or complementarily, let them play with one media and become the expert in its own particular discipline.

The Friend is surely going to be happy on Facebook (or might have been on Friends Reunited once upon a time). On the other hand, the Creator loves the new and the latest ‘breaking’ technology; in terms of Social Media that makes Twitter a little passé, so perhaps we should direct them to Google+. And the Director – who wants more control? A paid Linkedin account where they can slice the data and create profiles and do a whole lot more: they’d love that.

Which leaves the Defender, the Spirit and the Builder. The Defender wants security and the key thing that supplies that is communication, communication, communication – messages reinforced and repeated many times. Where better than Twitter – using or receiving should provide endless satisfaction if used judiciously. 

As for the Builder, then using social media to commoditise products and services – heaven! Amazon
seems like an ideal place to learn how to do it, or EBay even.  

Finally, the Spirit – the most difficult of all to classify or define. Spirits want choice, so for them it’s the smorgasbord approach: playing with all the social media as the spirit takes them. Let them set-up on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and Google+ - do not restrict their enthusiasm!

Getting Strokes, Giving Strokes

One of the most overlooked aspects of persuading, influencing and ultimately loving people – and to love them is to exert the greatest influence we can ever exert – is to meet their deepest psychological need. Which is what? Probably to respond to the great question everybody is asking, consciously or subconsciously, whenever they enter a room with at least one other person present in it. That question is quite simple, but before proposing it we need to be aware of the dangers of love.

Put at its most basic, it’s all very well wanting to influence people, wanting to love them in fact, but there is always a necessary corollary: namely, that to the exact degree that we influence and love people, so we must be prepared to be influenced by them. If we love them, then we will hear their voice and respond accordingly. So many people in sales and business think that they can learn influencing tricks and yet be immune to the two-way exchange that real influencing is; they can, for a short while, but people rapidly see through that superficial vapidity, and eventually turn away in disgust.

No, the question that needs to be addressed in persuading  anyone is this: How do I get strokes round
here? And the easiest way of conceptualising this is to think of your cat or dog, because that is what they are continually thinking about – how do I get strokes round here? Meow! First, for them it’s food, but rapidly after that they literally want strokes, physical strokes, and if you were never to stroke your pet, then it wouldn’t really be a pet – it would be an animal that you kept (which is why, incidentally, snakes, lizards, fish and others of that ilk aren’t really pets in the way cats, dogs, and horses are: the stroking makes a massive material difference to how we feel about them and how we can feel about them).

But for humans, while physical stroking is essential, especially in young children where it plays a vital role in building self-esteem and self-acceptance, there comes a point where the stroking morphs into the emotional and psychological: people are asking, how do I get my psychological strokes round here? What are the rules by which I get recognition? How can I be accepted for who I am?

And of course, people are different. The strokes they need are not the same; there are basic strokes that work for most people, but some people have really specific needs, just as they have different motivators from others. With that in mind, then, here are some good ideas to help you stroke people

First, do you make good eye contact? Good eye contact indicates recognition and openness to them. Then, what about listening? Most people need a good listening to because they have a story they want to tell, and which nobody most of the time is heeding. Part of good listening is, of course, to ask good questions – to find out more about their story, and to let them embellish it.

It’s always powerful, as Dale Carnegie observed long ago, to use people’s names – they like it – it reaffirms their identity and shows that you have registered them as important enough as to remember their name.

More subtly, it’s sometimes a good thing to ‘give yourself away’, at least a little. Ever had that conversation where you are telling somebody something and you realise after half an hour, that you have learnt nothing about them. This is particularly disorientating with professional counselors – they are doing their job, and so are not really involved despite the fact they appear to be listening. What can you reveal about yourself?

Start rewarding people for good behaviours, good ideas, and good expressions: that’s a stroke that most people love profoundly! You have really noticed them when you reward them – think, how your young children respond to this – it’s amazing.

And on this rewarding people campaign, carry around an address book, postcards and a pen, because the simple acknowledgement of a postcard can have a tremendous effect. So it should be apparent that all these ideas are leading up inescapably to the conclusion that one should plan to stroke people. Don’t make it something you accidentally do, when you can recall you should. Make it a habit and plan to do it. On the other hand, don’t be over numerous in your intentions, as that can be self-defeating.

Never allow ‘discounting’: if someone ignores you when say ‘hello’, repeat your greeting; if someone says, ‘That’s nothing’ when you praise them, be specific as to why it’s something.

Finally, loosen up and use humour: people like their funny bone being tickled, and there needs to be more of it about - without of course trying to be a joker. And on the subject of trying, remember: doers do and tryers try – stroking people is not about resolutions in the New year, but it is about practical steps here and now.

If you can give strokes like those I have mentioned, then you find a wonderful thing begins to occur: you start receiving strokes too. Strokes that you want, strokes that answer your deepest psychological needs and wants. Ain’t that good?


Chess and Motivation

Chess can be a very motivating game – at least, I find, when you win! But it’s very painful when you find yourself being ground down and inevitably in a position where you are going to lose. You know it – you can see it from far off – you try to stop it – you try to reverse that bad position you are in, but your opponent relentlessly takes advantage of your weakened condition, exploits the gaps in your defence, and ultimately out-thinks you to defeat. So, you sit looking, sadly, at what might have been. Ah!

Such is life and such was the fate of the five members of the Good Chess Club ( who dared to venture into the lion’s den of The Mind Your Head Challenge ( where Raymond Keene OBE, International Chess Grandmaster, took on 20 hopefuls from Dorset in a simultaneous exhibition.

I think Raymond lost one of the twenty matches, drew two or three more, and beat everybody else, myself included. It was wonderful to see him in action; most of the time pausing for little more than one second as he went from player to player and made his move. This of course was, for relatively inexperienced players at that level, quite unsettling: one gets the same kind of experience playing a computer. You move, and you have taken some time to think about the move, the computer responds immediately, and this undermines your confidence, your faith, in your own move. If the response if so obvious, then how can what you have done be good? Thus, Raymond, expertly intimidated the lesser players without their being, as it were, any intimidation. Doubtless, the bigger fry on the international circuit do precisely the same to each other: once you have a reputation, then moving with total confidence must undermine the opposition.

Chess, then, is not only a game of intellect, it is also a game of psychology, and without it I think it must be impossible to win.

But to return to the theme of motivation: whilst losing isn’t great, I have to say that chess is motivating, win or lose. There is something about the game that is intrinsically gripping and beneficial. This is essentially to do with the fact that chess is one of those few games where luck plays absolutely no part: many card games involve high levels of skill, but there is always the luck of the deal, and sometimes even the most skilful players can have an awful run of cards. But with chess every move is your own and has to be considered within the context of the very definite rules.

This is why chess is so frequently used as a metaphor for life: you have your opening moves as you set off on your young career. Do they give you a strong position, or are you drifting and other peoples’ agendas are beginning to dominate your life? If you have managed to sustain an opening position, you then go into the mid-game, which can be the longest part of all. One mistake can derail your whole career, your whole game. Finally, you play the end game – the goal is within sight. Can you hold your nerve and not blow your advantage? It is all down to you – nobody else makes those moves – you are entirely responsible.

So chess is motivating because ultimately it is about personal responsibility – about accepting that responsibility and not making excuses for your game. In terms of the nine motivators that account for what people want it is predominantly a Spirit motivator – chess expresses primarily our need to be free – to take the board constraints and dominate the ‘space’ we create.

Of course, once that freedom is achieved other motivators also come into play: the victory – oh yes! – the Star motivator – recognition big time. And the Expert motivator : the geeks study for this. And let’s not forget the Friend motivator – the belonging to the clubs and sharing one’s passions and enthusiasm with others. Yes, it’s all there in chess.

One final thing is that because every move is your move and your responsibility something quite
wonderful happens when you play chess: the room goes deathly quiet. It did when 20 people played Raymond Keene, and it does at the Good Chess Club, despite it being in Alex’s wonderful and lively restaurant. One enters, effectively, a state of meditation playing chess because one cannot think of anything else! That has to be good for you. Certainly the business people who come along to our club love precisely that: for the two hour duration of the session all business thoughts are abandoned as the game takes over. Isn’t that wonderful?