Happiness explained……

Following last week’s blog (“Do we have the power to say and do ‘when’?”), I was having extended thoughts on the subject on the ‘quality of one’s life’ and without using too many metaphor’s, ‘happiness’ is proven to be a major contributing factor to the quality of one’s life.

I have written extensively on the subject of happiness with blogs such as “What is Happiness?”, “Are good story tellers happier in life and business?” and many more subjects around love and relationships in today’s world – Richard Layard’s book ‘Happiness’ explains the paradox of happiness at the very heart of our lives – he has drawn on economics, psychology, neuroscience, sociology, philosophy and social policy – frankly there is little to disagree with his theories or indeed his findings. Neil Pasricha wrote ‘The Happiness Equation’, drawing on the same as Richard, but searching the collective wisdom of positive psychologists, dozens of Fortune 500 CEO’s and thousands of personal interviews, effectively attempting to solve ‘what is the simplest formula for a happy life? And Steve Hilton wrote ‘More Human’, a book that debates that much of our daily experience, from food we eat, governments we elect, the economy on which our wealth depends, to the way we care for our health and well being, has become too big, too bureaucratic, and too distant from the human scale, truly effecting our happiness and there are 100’s of more authors and books that study the human mind and behaviour on exactly how do we become ‘happy’.

In June 2016 the OECD committed itself “to redefine the growth narrative to put people’s well-being at the center of governments’ efforts”. 1 In February 2017, the United Arab Emirates held a full-day World Happiness meeting, as part of the World Government Summit. Now on World Happiness Day, March 20th, the OECD launched the World Happiness Report 2017, once again back at the United Nations, again published by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, and now supported by a generous three-year grant from the Ernesto Illy Foundation. Some highlights are as follows.

Norway tops the global happiness rankings for 2017 – it jumped from 4th place in 2016 to 1st place this year, followed by Denmark, Iceland and Switzerland in a tightly packed bunch. All of the top four countries rank highly on all the main factors found to support happiness: caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, health, income and good governance. Their averages are so close that small changes can re-order the rankings from year to year. Norway moves to the top of the ranking despite weaker oil prices. It is sometimes said that Norway achieves and maintains its high happiness not because of its oil wealth, but in spite of it. By choosing to produce its oil slowly, and investing the proceeds for the future rather than spending them in the present, Norway has insulated itself from the boom and bust cycle of many other resource-rich economies.

To do this successfully requires high levels of mutual trust, shared purpose, generosity and good governance – all factors that help to keep Norway and other top countries where they are in the happiness rankings. All of the other countries in the top ten also have high values in all six of the key variables used to explain happiness differences among countries and through time: income, healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on in times of trouble, generosity, freedom and trust, with the latter measured by the absence of corruption in business and government. Here too there has been some shuffling of ranks among closely grouped countries, with this year’s rankings placing Finland in 5th place, followed by the Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia and Sweden tied for the 9th position, having the same 2014-2016 score to three decimals.

Happiness is both social and personal. This year’s report emphasised the importance of the social foundations of happiness. This can be seen by comparing the life experiences between the top and bottom ten countries in this year’s happiness rankings. There is a four-point happiness gap between the two groups of countries, of which three-quarters is explained by the six variables, half due to differences in having someone to count on, generosity, a sense of freedom, and freedom from corruption. The other half of the explained difference is attributed to GDP per capita and healthy life expectancy, both of which, as the report explains, also depend importantly on the social context. However 80% of the variance of happiness across the world occurs within countries.

In richer countries the within-country differences are not mainly explained by income inequality, but by differences in mental health, physical health and personal relationships: the biggest single source of misery is mental illness. Income differences matter more in poorer countries, but even there mental illness is a major source of misery. Work is also a major factor affecting happiness.

Unemployment causes a major fall in happiness, and even for those in work the quality of work can cause major variations in happiness. People in China are no happier than 25 years ago. Our China chapter is led by Richard A. Easterlin, who pioneered the economics of happiness more than 40 years ago. It contrasts the sharply growing per capita income in China over the past 25 years with life evaluations that fell steadily from 1990 till about 2005, recovering since then to about the 1990 levels. They attribute the dropping happiness in the first part of the period to rising unemployment and fraying social safety nets, with recoveries since in both.
Much of Africa is struggling. The Africa chapter, led by Valerie Møller, tells a much more diverse story, as fits the African reality with its great number and vast range of experiences. But these are often marked by delayed and disappointed hopes for happier lives. Happiness has fallen in America. The USA is a story of reduced happiness. In 2007 the USA ranked 3rd among the OECD countries; in 2016 it came 19th. The reasons are declining social support and increased corruption (chapter 7) and it is these same factors that explain why the Nordic countries do so much better.

The terms ‘quality-of-life’ and ‘happiness’ are often equated. This conceptual connection is more or less implied in the use of words. The phrase ‘quality-of-life’ suggests that life is good in all aspects. Such a good life must be a happy life. Both terms owe much of their popularity to their suggestion of inclusiveness. They came into use as slogans in discussions. ‘Quality’ of life was contrasted with mere ‘quantity’ of life (prolonging life at all cost).

Over the centuries, the term ‘happiness’ has been used as a catchword for all above mentioned meanings of ‘quality-of-life’. In philosophy the first two meanings mentioned prevailed: in social philosophy the meaning of good living conditions (happiness as the good society) and in moral philosophy the meaning of good performance (happiness as virtue).

In current social science the third meaning prevails; the word happiness is commonly used to denote subjective enjoyment of life. Subjective enjoyment of life is not a one-dimensional matter. One can enjoy the thrills of life, but at the same time suffer under its tensions. Likewise one can like life in one domain, such as marriage, but at the same time dislike life in another, such as work. In the literature on subjective quality-of-life, these appraisals are referred to as respectively ‘aspect-satisfactions’ and ‘domain-satisfactions’. These partial appraisals of life are distinguished from subjective appreciation of life-as-a-whole.

Happiness is the degree to which a person evaluates the overall quality of his present life-as-a-whole positively. In other words, how much one likes the life one leads.

So why it is so hard to maintain a continually happy and peaceful mind if we have all this potential for peace and happiness within us?
The term ‘quality-of-life’ suggest that the various things we deem good tend to coincide. Happiness is believed to be part of this syndrome. Happiness does indeed concur with several qualities of life, for instance with environmental qualities such as freedom and personal abilities such as autonomy.

Yet more of these qualities does not always give more happiness. Most of the relations are subject of the law of diminishing utility and much of the relations seems to be bound to specific conditions.

Further happiness does not concur with all cherished qualities – for instance not with state-welfare or with personal intelligence. Something deemed good may even reduce happiness. In reality there is thus less inclusiveness than the term ‘quality-of-life’ suggests. We should use the term only as a token, and base our reasoning and measurements on more distinct concepts.

Finally, all delusions function in this way, within our mind as well as the minds of others. They project their own distorted version of reality onto the world, and we become convinced that this projection must be true. When delusions arise within us we have lost our grip on reality and cannot see things as they really are. Because our mind is always under the control of, at least, subtle forms of delusion all the time, we should not be surprised at our seemingly never ending stress, anxiety and confusion. It is as if we are continually chasing mirages, finding only disappointment when they don’t seem to fulfil our desires or pacify our frustrations.

S. McCall once said:

“The best way of approaching quality of life measurement is to measure the extent to which people’s ‘happiness requirements’ are met. i.e. those requirements which are a necessary (although not sufficient) condition of anyone’s happiness – those ‘without which no member of the human race can be happy.'”

Do we have the power to say and do ‘when’?

One of my good friends recently visited me at my offices for coffee, we always have a set of thought provoking discussions and a set of “Meaningful Conversations”. The good thing about meeting my friend and associate is that I never close down the meeting early, we always have some much to discuss and we are both afraid of losing creative time.

We started to talk around one of his latest inventions ‘the listening map’ this gave me plenty to observe when suddenly if was my time to interject with my thoughts and I said ‘do we actually know when it is time to listen, for that matter do we know when to have the power to say or do absolutely anything in life? Is there a power of when?

This brought our thinking across to ‘What exactly makes for quality living? No two persons think alike on this matter. One may aspire for a bigger car, while another long’s for cycling lanes on main roads for a low-cost, pollution-free and safe commute. Rather than assuming what constitutes a high quality of life.

Quality of life around the world was revealed recently and the Great Britain did not even make the top 10. The UK has come 16th in a quality of life index of world nations. The index placed Saudi Arabia and Turkmenistan above the UK in terms of quality of life, as the country placed 9th in Europe. The data from Numbeo, the world’s largest database of user-generated content about cities and countries, was collated from online surveys, not official government reports.

Happiness is proved to be connected to the quality of life, or is it?

The first World Happiness Report was published in April, 2012, in support of the UN High Level Meeting on happiness and well-being. Since then the world has come a long way. Increasingly, happiness is considered to be the proper measure of social progress and the goal of public policy. You can read it here: Paris, 1-2 June 2016 OECD WEEK

There are many factors that can influence the quality of life, but let’s consider: what do modern people mean by “quality of life”? The modern conception of quality of life is a combination of factors: environment, standard of living, mental and physical health, social position, education, etc. But can we say with confidence that these are the only factors that determine one’s quality of life, or is there something else? Something that is more important than all the well known and well studied factors?

Philosophers say that when you change your attitude, you change your life. This does not mean that external factors are not important, but a person’s mental state is sometimes the key to understanding an illness. Thus, we can conclude that quality of life is determined mostly not by external but by internal conditions. If we want to enhance the quality of life, we must focus our attention on those factors that may change people from deep inside; otherwise all external conditions, including high living standards and social positions, will be meaningless.

Talking about new technologies, scientists must always keep in mind harmony and nature, and only after analysing their inventions from this point of view should they decide to give life to them. We also have to remember that our life depends on the natural environment, and that in caring for nature we care for ourselves. When every single person tries every day to bring quality to every kind of activity and for every kind of human being, this will enhance the quality of life for everybody in the world. Freedom, creativity, learning, harmony in everything we do—these are the real factors that produce a high quality of life and a healthy nation, and provide our progeny with a strong foundation for the future.

There were some really interesting studies from the Quality of Life Research Unit, University of Toronto whose findings showed:
0ur definition of quality of life is: The degree to which a person enjoys the important possibilities of his/her life. Possibilities result from the opportunities and limitations each person has in his/her life and reflect the interaction of personal and environmental factors. Enjoyment has two components: the experience of satisfaction and the possession or achievement of some characteristic, as illustrated by the expression: “She enjoys good health.” Three major life domains are identified: Being, Belonging, and Becoming. The conceptualisation of those three domains of quality of life were developed from the insights of various writers.

The Being domain includes the basic aspects of “who one is” and has three sub-domains:

  • Physical Being includes aspects of physical health, personal hygiene, nutrition, exercise, grooming, clothing, and physical appearance
  • Psychological Being includes the person’s psychological health and adjustment, cognitions, feelings, and evaluations concerning the self, and self-control
  • Spiritual Being reflects personal values, personal standards of conduct, and spiritual beliefs which may or may not be associated with organized religions.

Belonging includes the person’s fit with his/her environments and also has three sub-domains.

  • Physical Belonging is defined as the connections the person has with his/her physical environments such as home, workplace, neighbourhood, school and community
  • Social Belonging includes links with social environments and includes the sense of acceptance by intimate others, family, friends, co-workers, and neighbourhood and community
  • Community Belonging represents access to resources normally available to community members, such as adequate income, health and social services, employment, educational and recreational programs, and community activities.

Becoming refers to the purposeful activities carried out to achieve personal goals, hopes, and wishes.

  • Practical Becoming describes day-to-day actions such as domestic activities, paid work, school or volunteer activities, and seeing to health or social needs
  • Leisure Becomingincludes activities that promote relaxation and stress reduction. These include card games, neighbourhood walks, and family visits, or longer duration activities such as vacations or holidays
  • Growth Becoming activities promote the improvement or maintenance of knowledge and skills.

I said earlier in my blog that no two persons can think alike, when you start to examine this within human chronotypes it shows human behaviour in a large interindividual variation in temporal organisation. By this I mean extreme’ “larks” wake up when extreme “owls” fall asleep. These chronotypes are attributed to differences in the circadian clock, and in animals, the genetic basis of similar phenotypic differences is well established. To better understand the genetic basis of temporal organisation in humans, the authors developed a questionnaire to document individual sleep times, self-reported light exposure, and self-assessed chronotype, considering work and free days separately. A report which was written by T. Roenneberg summarised the results of 500 questionnaires completed in a pilot study individual sleep times show large differences between work and free days, except for extreme early types. During the workweek, late chronotypes accumulate considerable sleep debt, for which they compensate on free days by lengthening their sleep by several hours. For all chronotypes, the amount of time spent outdoors in broad daylight significantly affects the timing of sleep: Increased self-reported light exposure advances sleep. The timing of self-selected sleep is multifactorial, including genetic disposition, sleep debt accumulated on workdays, and light exposure. Thus, accurate assessment of genetic chronotypes has to incorporate all of these parameters. The dependence of human chronotype on light, that is, on the amplitude of the light:dark signal, follows the known characteristics of circadian systems in all other experimental organisms. The results predict that the timing of sleep has changed during industrialisation and that a majority of humans are sleep deprived during the workweek. The implications are far ranging concerning learning, memory, vigilance, performance, and ‘quality of life’.

I recently read a fascinating book by Dr. Michael Breus PhD called “The Power of WHEN”, his ground breaking studies and easy to read book details the best time for you to have sex, ask your boss for a raise, and talk to your children. Exciting new research proves there is a right time to do just about everything, based on our biology and hormones. Dr. Breus’s new program supports us with a getting back in sync with your natural rhythm by making minor changes to your daily routine. Watch his video here: Why did Dr Michael Breus PhD write the book video

Scientific knowledge can improve the quality of life at many different levels from the routine workings of our everyday lives to global issues. Science informs public policy and personal decisions on energy, conservation, agriculture, health, transportation, communication, defense, economics, leisure, and exploration. It’s almost impossible to overstate how many aspects of modern life are impacted by scientific knowledge.

Final word, change is inevitable in life and your body will change over time, therefore it makes complete sense for you need to understand your biological clock and scheduling, you will learn when you can maximise your energy levels to get the most out of yourself and significant relationships in areas like sex, love, family, planning an event, work and even decorating the home. When you can identify improvement in these areas you can enhance your health and your life in ways you could never have imagined.

Napoleon Bonaparte once said:

“One must change one’s tactics every ten years if one wishes to maintain one’s superiority.”

Writing life’s tapestry and our journey in life

I was sharing coffee with one of my great author friends recently, discussing my new book “Meaningful Conversations” and we discussed how do we write life’s tapestry if the heart is blocked.

The feeling I am describing is when you sit down to write and instead of feeling an energetic creative flow, you sit completely paralyzed, staring at your computer screen & seething at the injustice of your lack of creative life, many people describe this as writer’s block.

Studies have found writer’s block to be a simpler problem: an inability to allow the creative process to flow because of unhappiness, this happened to me personally when I wrote “Freedom after the Sharks”. But there are different kinds of unhappiness, and it’s the writers job to be honest about which one they’re suffering from and in some respect this can be a very important part of a writer revealing the truth about his or her unhappiness, the truth is always revealed in writing as in photography Robert Louis Stevenson, wrote: “I doubt if these islanders are acquainted with any other mode of representation but photography; so that the picture of an event (on the old melodrama principle that ‘the camera cannot lie, would appear strong proof of its occurrence.”

Woody Allen makes fun of writer’s block. He wrote a play called “Writer’s Block”, and he wrote, directed, and starred in a film called “Deconstructing Harry”, in which the protagonist, Harry Block, tells his therapist; ‘For the first time in my life I experience writers block….Now this, to me, is unheard of….I start these short stories and I can’t finish them….I can’t get into my novel at all…..because I took an advance.’

This is the trailer:

Writers block immediately disqualifies Harry Block from being Woody Allen because Woody Allen is one of the most productive film makers of his and possibly any generation. Between 1965 and 2014, Allen was credited in for than sixty six films as a director, writer or actor, often and more than not, all three. To take writing alone; Allen has written forty nine full-length theatrical films, eight stage plays, two television films and two short films, in less than sixty six years, a rate of a script a year.

I have studied Woody Allen and when you look at his miraculous life you can ascertain that time was of the most importance to his every moment, this quote really says everything about his passion for writing:
‘I never like to let any time go unused. When I walk somewhere in the morning, I still plan what I’m going to think about, which problem I’m going to tackle. I may say, this morning I’m going to think of titles. When I get in the shower in the morning, I try to use that time. So much of my time is spent thinking because that’s the only way to attack these writing problems’
Allen had many philosophies which I admire but I feel the one that resonates with me the most is intrinsic motivation, ‘self-motivation is the only motivation’. In life there are natural forces that we cannot guide or control, but I have learned as a writer that the power to create always comes from within, you will see some of my personal quotes where I use ‘never, never give up on your dreams’, the truth always comes down to how much you really want to achieve your dream, do you like the idea, or are your driven to achieve your idea.

One of my mentors many years ago would say to me stop procrastinating and just do what needs to be achieved, I have never forgotten these words.

Writing is subjective, each and everyone of us has a distinctive view, like and dislike to genre, fiction, non-fiction, biographical or fantasy, you will never please everyone, but with passion you can create your best.

Much of writer’s block comes from fear of the unknown, worry across what others will think, Woody Allen also quoted why indifference is so important, something that we all can relate to in business today, when he said: ‘longevity is an achievement, yes, but the achievement that I’m going for is to try to make great films. That has eluded me over the decades.’

Finally, I would like to leave you with some thoughts on passion, I believe every single person on the planet has passion whether we like to recognize this or not, passion if directed in the right way or focus can create amazing things, however passion in the opposite can destroy. So many of us, for reasons only we can answer, do not implement, execute or action our true and resolute passion/s. Unfulfilled passion creates a cavity between our present and our true potential. You have all heard of the saying ‘if only’ or ‘it might have been different if’, we all need to chase our dreams, you need to be careful what you wish for, because it may just come true. Unfulfilled passion can only create negative and malicious intent which takes us away from our ultimate desires and purpose in life.

Steve Brunkhorst once said: ‘As we weave the tapestries of our lives, we gradually begin to see our designs from a wider angle of years. We may or may not be pleased with what we see. Yet, no design–not in the living world–is carved in stone. We have the gift of free will to change our designs as we wish. We are each a thread in the tapestry of our human family. Our outcome is woven of endless possibilities, because we can choose from a universe of endless possibilities. Every person can make a difference. Each thread is a possibility, chosen by the design of divine imagination. Our life-time designs arise from our divine gifts, unique talents, desires, thoughts, choices, and actions. At times, old choices–old threads–wear out. We see the past while we live in the present, and we can replace the old…with new ideas, new choices, and new actions. We can view the future through today’s eyes, and time blends all experiences, dark and light, into an awareness of authentic joy. May you live joyfully and abundantly today and throughout every season of life!’

Has technology killed love and romance?

love-and-romance

The London transport system commonly renowned for ‘The Tube’ and ‘Mind the Gap’ reliably transports 1.34 billion people a year across its network and the busiest train station in London is Waterloo station which commutes 95.1 million passengers a year (research provided by transport for London http://tflgov.uk). The most common factor in any commuters possession is a mobile device, catching up of online dating, facebook, linkedin, email or an embarrassing phone call for everyone to hear to the date, girlfriend/boyfriend, wife/husband about what is wrong with the relationship.

The facts, do we actually have time for our most precious relationships, do we give the time to build lasting, loving relationships around trust and values or do we constantly feel we can always do better with the latest api or technology app?

As children, we are taught that there will be one true love and that they’re going to solve all our problems and we’ll be happy forever, we are taught to wait for our perfect fit. But that’s not really how it works, is it?

Staggering advances in technology, communications and sciences across the world is one of the defining aspects of the last few decades. From social media websites to free video calling services from anywhere in the world just being a phone’s click away it would appear that the millennial generation has it all. But if we move past all the smartphones and gadgets and websites and take a hard look at the lives of Gen Y, we will notice that dating has become harder than ever.

Some people find it easy to fall in love, others not so much. We tend to fall in love with people who meet a certain criteria in our mind. This subconscious criterion is based on our past experiences, relationship with our parents or events that have happened in our lives. Based on each individual’s subconscious criterion, the reasons vary from person to person on why it’s so hard to fall in love.
When you think about it, despite feeling difficult, the problems people struggle with in dating sound pretty trivial.

For instance, we have been walking and talking our entire lives, yet walking up to an attractive person and opening our mouths to say “hi” can feel impossibly complex to us. People have been using a phone since they were children, yet given the agony some go through just to dial a person’s phone number, you would think they were being waterboarded. Most of us have kissed someone before and we have seen hundreds of movies and instances in real life of other people kissing, yet we still stare dreamily into the object of our affection’s eyes hour after hour, telling ourselves we can never find the “right moment” to do it.

Why? It sounds simple, but why is it so hard?

We build businesses, write novels, scale mountains, help strangers and friends alike through difficult times, tackle the thorniest of the world’s social ills — and yet, when we come face-to-face with someone we find attractive, our hearts race and our minds are sent reeling. And we stall.

Dating advice often compares improving one’s dating life to improving at some practical skill, such as playing piano or learning a foreign language. Sure, there are some overlapping principles, but it’s hard to imagine most people trembling with anxiety every time they sit in front of the keyboard. And I have never met someone who became depressed for a week after failing to conjugate a verb correctly. They are just not the same.

Generally speaking, if someone practices piano daily for two years, they will eventually become quite competent at it. Yet many people spend most of their lives with one romantic failure after another.

Why?

What is it about this one area of life that the most basic actions can feel impossible, that repetitive behaviour often leads to little or no change, and that our psychological defense mechanisms run rampant trying to convince us to not pursue what we want?

Why dating and not, say, skiing? Or even our careers? Why is it that a person can conquer the corporate ladder, become a militant CEO, demanding and receiving the respect and admiration of hundreds of brilliant minds, and then flounder through a simple dinner date with a beautiful stranger?

As children, none of us get 100% of our needs met. This is true of you. It is true of me. It is true of everyone. The degree of which our needs are not met varies widely, and the nature of how our needs are unfulfilled differs as well. But it is the sad truth about growing up: we have all got baggage. And some of us have a lot of it. Whether it is a parent who did not hold us enough, who didn’t feed us regularly enough, a father who was not around often, a mother who left us and moved away, being forced to move from school to school as a child and never having friends — all of these experiences leave their mark as a series of micro-traumas that shape and define us.

The nature and depth of these traumas imprint themselves onto our unconscious and become the map of how we experience love, intimacy and sex throughout our lives.

Psychologists believe that romantic love occurs when our unconscious becomes exposed to someone who matches the archetype of parental love we experienced growing up, someone whose behaviour matches our emotional map for intimacy. Our unconscious is always seeking to return to the unconditional nurturing we received as children, and to re-process and heal the traumas we suffered.
In short, our unconscious is wired to seek out romantic interests who it believes will fulfill our unfulfilled emotional needs, to fill in the gaps of the love and nurturing we missed out on as kids. This is why the people we fall in love with almost always resemble our parents on an emotional level.

AppleMark
AppleMark

The attributes that have come to define us and the overexposure that the 21st century human is subjected to leaves no dearth of psychological problems. More and more people each year are diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety problems. This becomes a detriment when it comes to dating. With dissatisfying home, office or academic environments the relationship in many cases become the dumping ground for emotional baggage.

While sometimes it is good to share and spell out feelings as they stand, it is not healthy to keep using your date as an emotional crutch over and over again. It is therefore advisable to work on your trust, abandonment or other issues before embarking on healthy dating choices.

We as human beings have a nasty tendency to crave for more in every aspect of our lives. Before we desire more, we have to learn to be grateful with what we already posses, only that is going to help us obtain more.

Life is confusing, and dating nowadays is more confusing than it has ever been.

Everyone is a commitmentphobe, everyone has attachment issues, no one takes anything seriously.

Maybe there aren’t any right or wrong answers, maybe nothing is black or white. Maybe life is just a big grey blob and you’re meant to create your own rules as you go along; not what that dating book said, or the advice your friends or your therapist gave you.

The fact of the matter is, romance isn’t dead – we’re just in danger of neglecting it. My advice? Visit your Grandmother and Grandfather and have them re-tell stories of how she was wooed by your grandfather; how they spent evenings dancing on the kitchen tiles and how a love note said it way better than a sweeping 140-character tweet.

Brene Brown puts these words into gret prospective:

“I now see how owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.”

10 ways to start 2017 on a positive note

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As someone reminded me recently at a conference, agility is a very positive thing. Apple didn’t create the first digital music player, the first smartphone, or the first tablet computer, yet it came to dominate each category. Amazon wasn’t the first to sell books on the Internet, either. These companies succeeded not because they were faster, but because they developed products that were demonstrably better than their competitors.

2016 was a milestone year, let’s have a look at some of the year’s achievements:
March – Microsoft released a bot framework at BUILD
April – Facebook opened its Messenger platform at F8, and Telegram announced a prize for bot developers
May – Google announced its own Allo Messenger and voice-enabled home speaker at I/O, and Amazon made the successful Alexa accessible via a browser, without Echo hardware.
June – Today at WWDC, Apple opened up iMessage to third-party integrations and announced the Siri SDK
September – Salesforce adds AI: The new Einstein features will be able to deliver more predictive and personalised customer experiences across sales, service, marketing, commerce and other areas.
November – The announcement comes a day before Microsoft is widely expected to release its Skype Teams messaging app. Slack has also been busy in recent weeks making moves to integrate with Microsoft Bot Framework and IBM Watson artificial intelligence services.

But truly great companies don’t scramble to adapt to the future, because they create the future. Take a look at any great business and it becomes clear that what made it great wasn’t the ability to pivot, but a dedication to creating, delivering, and capturing new value in the marketplace. The technology companies that endure are the ones who spend years — or even decades — to create the next generation of products.

Which brings us to something else Theodore Levitt said, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole.” Clearly it is not a particular business category that defines a company, but its ability to solve problems for its customers. And you can’t solve really tough problems by simply moving faster. Great companies prepare the ground long before. Great businesses can be launched any time, even when there’s a downturn in funding.

While the start of 2016 might have spelled trouble for some well-established start-ups, it also saw the birth of companies tackling things like a cure for cancer, superfast internet, and competition for Uber.

Business Insider, http://uk.businessinsider.com, spoke to founders and venture capitalists and took a look at funding data to identify some of the start-ups that had the biggest starts in 2016.

Some names on the list are officially launching out of stealth, while others are still in their early months of forming a company.
Valuations for venture-backed companies doubled over last year to an average of $100 million, the highest in more than a decade, according to Pitchbook, a private financial-market data provider. Total venture dollars invested are on track to hit $74 billion in 2016, second only to 2015 over the past decade. And venture capitalists are basking in their best year since at least 2006, expected to end the year with $32.4 billion after raising $9 billion in the third quarter.

Here are 17 of the top start-ups to launch in 2017
1) Starry – is making more powerful Wi-Fi for your house. Website: https://starry.com
2) Juicero – wants to make the freshest juice you’ve ever tasted. Website: https://www.juicero.com
3) Cheddar – is betting it can be the new CNBC for millennials. Website: http://www.cheddar.com
4) Grail – wants to develop a test for cancer at the earliest possible stage. Website: http://www.grailbio.com
5) Juno – wants to be a driver-friendly alternative to Uber. Website: https://www.gojuno.com
6) Otto’s – self-driving trucks could revolutionise the industry. Website: http://ot.to
7) Simple Habit – wants to help stressed-out millennials. Website: http://www.simplehabitapp.com
8) Comparably – can show you how much you’re being paid compared with your peers. Website: https://www.comparably.com
9) Zipline’s – drones parachute blood and medicine to remote Rwandan cities. Website: http://flyzipline.com/product
10) Nanit – is a super powered baby monitor. Website: https://www.nanit.com
11) Truebill – wants to stop you from getting ripped off on subscriptions. Website: https://www.truebill.com
12) Winnie – wants to be the Yelp for parents. Website: https://winnielabs.com
13) Ritual – is making a better vitamin. Website: http://ritual.com
14) Recharge – lets you rent hotel rooms by the minute for whenever you need a rest. Website: https://recharge.co
15) Lola – is a new kind of a travel agent. Website: https://www.lolatravel.com
16) Pearl – will help turn your ‘dumb car’ into a cutting-edge model. Website: https://pearlauto.com
17) KnuEdge – wants to one-up Google and Intel. Website: https://www.knuedge.com

It is a fact that no business is guaranteed to succeed. But with the right level of energy, passion, determination to a belief in yourself and your product/service you can progress independently with your dream idea and business.
The beginning of the year has arrived and while it’s important to take some time to assess the positives and negatives of 2016, it is also worthwhile ensuring everything is ready for the year ahead so that 2017 does not start with unnecessary stress.

Many entrepreneurs are passionate about their chosen trade but aren’t always strong when it comes to the financial side of business. It is the little things that people often forget about. Simple things, like cash flow and budget that can make all the difference.

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The following 10 tips would make sure business owners cover all their bases and have a successful 2017.

1) Budget for the year ahead
2) Understand your business and its customers
3) Analyse your monthly management accounts
4) Keep your accounts and taxes up to date
5) Secure your IP/IPR
6) Know your limitations
7) Invest in good legal and accountancy experts
8) Build revenue streams with trusted relationships – no matter how small
9) Invest in cash recovery experts
10) Take a holiday and exercise every now and then

If you follow the tips you will see the benefits returned ten-fold.

As Henry Ford once said:

“Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.”

A Christmas and New Year Message

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May peace fill all the empty spaces around you, your family and your friends and your colleagues at this special time of year, and in you, may contentment answer all your wishes.

Raise a toast to yesterday’s achievements and tomorrow’s brighter future.

May comfort be yours, warm and soft like a sigh.

And may the coming year show you that every day is really a first day and a new year.

Let abundance be your constant companion, so that you have much to share.

May mirth be near you always, like a lamp shining brightly on the many paths you travel.

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Work with the best of your abilities in 2017 and show to the world your power to create wonderful and superior things.

New Year 2017 may turn out to be a year when you are put on the road to everlasting success and prosperity.

Be the change that you wish to see at your workplace and take initiatives to make things better.

Wish your tomorrow is more prosperous, happy and successful than yesterday and today.

Looking forward to another year with hunger and passion to exceed at work and you are sure to meet with success.

Let new beginnings signify new chapter filled with pages of success and happiness, written by the ink of hard work and intelligence.

May the New Year bring us more wonderful opportunities for success.

Here’s wishing you the gift of peace and prosperity throughout 2017.

What It Takes To Become An Inspiring Author – Huffington Post interview

Today Huffington Post published the interview that Ehsan Khodarahmi (@eksays) held with me on being a writer, my first book (“Freedom after the sharks“) and my second one (“Meaningful Conversations” – to be published in January 2017). As you can understand, I’m very proud and happy to share it with you – enjoy!

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Having read a book called Freedom after the sharks by Geoff Hudson-Searle, I became curious to find out about the author of the book and to learn what drives him. Here are a few questions I asked him and I believe you’ll find what Geoff has to say quite interesting and inspiring.

Why do you write?

Like most writers, I write through experiences, my first book Freedom after the Sharks was a true story, the facts were that I was planning to write another book. Once a writer starts to put pen to paper the truth will run through them, at times it is impossible to stop. It’s not exactly a compulsion, but it really does come quite close to that. Writing makes sense of one’s world, which is what most of us want to do on some level or other.

Which authors do you admire most?

Some of the most powerful authors that have inspired me or touched my life have come from the business world. The first book was from my late Grandmother authored by T.A.B Corley titled Quaker Enterprise in Biscuits, Huntley & Palmers of Reading 1822 -1972, Mark H McCormack was a huge inspiration to me with What they don’t teach you at Harvard Business School, Paul R. Lawrence and Nitin Nohria with Driven, Stephen M.R. Covey with The Speed of Trust, Meister Eckhart with the book of the same name, Joseph Campbell and Hero with a Thousand Faces, Nicholas Sparks with True Believer, Richard Layard with Happiness, Carl Honore with In the Praise of Slow and Robert Greene with The 48 Laws of Power and Mastery.

Describe the route to ‘Meaningful Conversations’ being published…

I started as a writer with a non-fiction and Meaningful Conversations was always to be a fiction the book deals with the constant root cause of today’s plethora of life and business challenges. It explores the whys and wherefores of communications, strategy and development and growth in our ways of thinking and experiencing the world, and then uncovers a way ahead through 50 short stories based by MIT, Harvard, Stamford, Oxford and Cambridge research in to valuable timeless logic. It draws upon Eastern and Western wisdom and blends philosophy with pioneering new thought. Are you up for crossing the threshold? Here we find the answers to our pressing challenges.

In a few sentences please describe what this book is about?

This book demonstrates the relationship between communications (human-to-human), strategy and business development and growth. It is important to understand that a number of the ideas, developments and techniques employed at the beginning as well as the top of business can be successfully made flexible to apply. This book provides a holistic overview of the essential leading methods of techniques. It will provide you with a “hands on guide” for business professionals and those in higher education.

Where do you write from?

I live in London, United Kingdom however most of the creative origins for the book were established with my time in Arizona, United States of America.

Briefly, what led up to this book?

I was writing weekly on communications, strategy and development and growth as a different persona. The terms ‘Communications’, Strategy’ and Business Development and Growth’ have become overused during the last decade and have become devalued as a result. In this book, I aim to simplify these terms and to re-value management and leadership by addressing topics and subjects in each distinctive chapter.

What was the time frame for writing this book?

I wrote this book in direct response to being told that you cannot call yourself an author with only one book, thanks Lisa! Now I have produced my second book, I am being told you cannot call yourself an author with only two books. The time frame between Freedom after the Sharks and the release of Meaningful Conversations was approximately 3 years.

What were your one or two biggest learning experience(s) or surprise(s) throughout the publishing process?

You have to be yourself in your writing. You have to pick a genre that suits you as a person and you as a writer. There are enough obstacles for a new author, don’t create more for yourself, write in a style you are comfortable with. If you are not enjoying writing it, if you are not comfortable writing it, nobody is going to enjoy reading it.

Do not take it personally, I do read the bad reviews, writing is completely subjective you may have 1,000 people that love your perspective, genre and story but 3 people may just not get your point and they never will, you are in the creative industry accept criticism with a smile.

Books and publishing is such an up and down industry – you can be flavour of the month one minute and struggling the next, even when you have had a certain level of success. Until you have enough money coming in to be able to justify it to yourself, don’t give up the day job.

Everyone wants to live the dream and write full time, but it is a very difficult industry to get into and a very difficult industry to stay in. Learn to write around your day job in the beginning.

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Looking back, what did you do right that helped you break into writing?

I think it was what I did wrong that helped me break into writing. In life you survive. You move on but with a purpose. A great philosopher and friend in the US once told me that you are in this world by divine right and you have the right to reach your highest potential through your own uniqueness. I know so many people who are only in bliss when they are miserable. They blame their parents, their spouse, their family, the system, their employers and event friends.

You can do whatever you have to do to get past the challenges of writing and writer block etc., you can do it. The question is how much you want the right way, your dream or the purpose.

On that note, what would you have done differently if you could do it again?

Every audience has a different dynamic, a different rhythm, and a different reaction. The audience wants, needs, and expects pertinent, real-life information to enhance and support their lives and importantly what they’re facing. I believe it was my destiny in life to push things to the limit. You only get one chance to make an impression. I gave Meaningful Conversations every opportunity I had and I believed to be right book at the right time for readership, I am not sure I would change a thing given a second opportunity.

In what ways do you ‘service’ your books?

If one is fortunate enough to have one’s books taken up in a significant way, there is a tremendous amount to do in ‘servicing’ the books. Speaking opportunities, blogging, social media, interviews, PR, travelling and often attending book festivals and other events all over the world. Although it can be quite burdensome, it is always very interesting to meet the readers, and I think that is what keeps me going.

What advice would you give to an aspiring novelist?

Trust yourself and never give up. Be determined right to the end. You should always write about what you know and love. This is not just a matter of principle but solid writing advice. Editors and readers have a good understanding whether a book has a purpose, it is their intuitive know-how.

You have a story to tell that cannot be told by anyone else, in any other way, and if you’re talented and lucky and work hard, you will find the right way to tell it. In other words, be truthful to yourself and you can communicate the truth to others through writing. This is not to say that you cannot be creative, but rather that your voice, your true voice, is what will draw people in to your manuscript.

On another note it is quite possible that one publisher will reject your book for a number of reasons while another loves it for those very same reasons. The trick is to secure a great editor and find a publisher whose interests align with yours.

My advice is to write a book and then immediately go on to the next one and to the one after that. In other words, the more you write, the better you will become.

Best piece(s) of writing advice we haven’t discussed?

Always, in every place across the world, people have written. Writing has not changed since the Roman days. Writing affords me a chance each and every day to just sit with my thoughts and be still. I live in a very busy city with people everywhere on mobile devices, and I love that. But I also think it’s important to sit and be quiet, to reflect and to use creativity with yourself and your thoughts. Writing for me is very meditative and calming, and helps to keep me peaceful in a very frantic world.

Every writer is influenced by everything they’ve ever read or seen. All the books and news articles that have passed through your hands have also somehow made their way into your thoughts, whether you are aware of it or not. I love that idea. I love to think that when I write, I am in some ways sitting down with all the books I have ever read, and in some ways, sitting down with the writers who wrote those books. I like to think that I’m connected to a long line of people just like me; people who also loved to write with the ability to leave a legacy of my work that someday will be read and hopefully inspired upon by others.

What’s next?

As my good friends and colleagues constantly remind me on a daily basis, I must write version 3.0. I do have some quite amazing and credible ideas. This is in my thoughts and given the time I am sure it will come. I need to be in a creative space with my notebook and some great coffee. It will happen! Outside of 3.0, I am enjoying my weekly blog writing, spending time with fellow authors, sharing experiences, PR, interviews, and of course my day job which is always challenging and interesting, never ceases to amaze and surprise me in life.

Meaningful Conversations will be available via Amazon in late Janauary 2017. I hope this interview with Geoff Hudson-Searle proved to be helpful to you if you’re planning to write your first or even second book.

ehsan khodarahmi – Follow Ehsan Khodarahmi on Twitter: @eksays

To download this artical in PDF-format, click HERE.

This interview was originally published on 6 December 2016 by Huffington Post UK here: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/ehsan-khodarahmi/what-it-takes-to-become-a_b_13200850.html

Do fables really convey the power in storytelling and education?

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Recently I was discussing the positioning of brands with some friends and saying that some of the biggest and best known Fortune 500 brands still have not told their stories, the best brands in the world are companies that have the ability to continue their stories to craft and sculpture to any situation, circumstance and change, one that is totally transformative.

This provoked some very interesting discussion, then my friend, sipping on his coffee, said: “What about fables?”

Our discussion just became so much more interesting!

A fable is a short, fictional (made-up) story. It usually features animals, although fables can also include mythical creatures, inanimate objects or forces of nature.

One of the most famous fable writers of all time was the legendary Aesop – believed to have been a slave in ancient Greece. Aesop’s Fables contains many classic ones, including “The Tortoise and the Hare” and “The Lion and the Mouse”.

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This is an extract from “The Tortoise and the Hare”:

One day, a hare made fun of the short feet and slow pace of the tortoise. The tortoise just laughed and said, “Even though you are as swift as the wind, I will beat you in a race.” The hare thought the tortoise was crazy, so it agreed to the race. The tortoise and the hare asked the fox to choose the course and set the finish line. On the day of the race, the two started together. The tortoise never stopped once. It simply walked with a slow but steady pace to the finish line. The hare, though, believed it would win easily. So it stopped to rest for a while and fell asleep. When the hare finally woke up, it moved as fast as it could. However, it saw the tortoise had already reached the finish line and won the race. Slow but steady wins the race!

What lesson does this fable teach? Do you see how the last line, ‘slow but steady wins the race’, sums up the moral lesson of the fable…. It means that if you keep working, you finally succeed in achieving your goal.

Lucy Cheke, a PhD student at the University of Cambridge’s Department of Experimental Psychology, expanded Aesop’s fable into three tasks of varying complexity and compared the performance of Eurasian Jays with local school children.

The task that set the children apart from the Jays involved a mechanism which was counter-intuitive as it was hidden under an opaque surface. Neither the birds nor the children were able to learn how the mechanism worked, but the children were able to learn how to get the reward, whereas the birds were not.

The results of the study illustrate that children learn about cause and effect in the physical world in a different way to birds. While the Jays appear to take account of the mechanism involved in the task, the children are more driven by simple cause-effect relationships.

Lucy Cheke said, ”This makes sense because it is children’s job to learn about new cause-and-effect relationships without being limited by ideas of what is or is not possible. The children were able to learn what to do to get the reward even if the chain-of-events was apparently impossible. Essentially, they were able to ignore the fact that it shouldn’t be happening to concentrate on the fact that it was happening. The birds however, found it much harder to learn what was happening because they were put off by the fact that it shouldn’t be happening.”

In summary, one of the reasons significant problems are not solved in organisations is that they don’t get confronted. When the stakes are high, the fear factor can be immobilising.

The fable, especially when read by many people within a group, can provide a way for them to first wrestle with issues in the form of a story, which is far less threatening, and then to apply those insights to their own situation in a natural evolution of thought.

Good fables have the incredible power of all good stories to influence behaviour over time. They can help individuals and their groups to become more agile in handling change, for example, in producing better results and, frankly, in having more fun. One of the beauties of a good story is that it can induce action from a broad range of people, in a manner quite different from most professional power’s of leadership.

Tom Peter’s, someone who I have huge admiration for, once said:

“A company brand is a mixture of tangible and intangible attributes, symbolised in a trade mark which, if properly managed, creates influence and generates value.”

Are good story tellers happier in life and business……..continued

A few months ago I wrote a post: “Are good story tellers happier in life and business“? I received an overwhelming response to it, so, with this in mind I decided to continue the subject in this weeks blog.

When we look at the constant and repetitive process of our own thinking, we see how habitually it creates a sense of self and other. The power of storytelling can access unconditioned and untarnishable space of mind; how storytelling can render the mind more pliable and alive with possibility; and the power of fairytales to move us personally.
Reflecting on this now, I see how it is a perfect example of how stories call to stories. While listening to a story, a child experiences all the emotions that are present: whether it is fear, determination, courage, kindness, or gratitude. Usually, storytelling is the domain of the adult; the teacher, librarian, or parent. Making space for children to tell their own stories acknowledges the value of their experience, while also reinforcing their sense of themselves as able to care for others.

Mindfulness sets the stage for this kind of reciprocal sharing, in which the positive values of friendship are powerfully reinforced, first through the images of the folktale, and then through the children’s association of their own life experience with the events of the story they’ve just heard.
We maintain our world with our inner dialogue. A woman or man of knowledge is aware that the world will change completely as soon as they stop talking to themselves.
When mindfulness is focused on the process of thinking, an entirely different dimension of existence becomes visible. We see how our ridiculous, repetitive thought stream continually constructs our limited sense of self, through judgments, defenses, ambitions, and compensations. Unexamined, we believe them. But if someone were to follow us close by and repeatedly whisper to us our own thoughts, we would quickly become bored with their words. If they continued, we would be dismayed by their constant criticisms and fears, then angry that they wouldn’t ever shut up.Finally we might simply conclude that they were crazy. We do this to ourselves!

Stories have value. As an author, I have come to respect their evocative power, I share many stories and quotations daily. But even these stories are like fingers pointing to the moon. At best, they replace a deluded cultural narrative or a misleading tale with a tale of compassion. They touch us and lead us back to the mystery here and now.
Perhaps the most interesting intersection in the business world is between mindfulness and technology, as they appear to pull in opposite directions. The practice is all about slowing down and emptying the mind, while the digital revolution is speeding up our lives and filling our heads with vast quantities of information.

Thich Nhat Hanh is a famous Buddist monk whose core message to the tech leaders was to use their global influence to focus on how they can contribute to making the world a better place, rather than on making as much money as possible.
He and a group of monastics spent a day at Google’s headquarters, spending time with the senior management as well as leading around 700 employees through mindfulness discussions and sitting and walking meditation. So many staff wanted to take part that the company had to open up two additional locations to live stream his lecture.

Thay speaks of the sharp contrast between the normal frenetic pace of work at the technology giant and the sense of peace that came from sitting in silence during his day of mindfulness on the Googleplex campus. “The atmosphere was totally different,” he says. “There’s a silence, there’s a peace that comes from doing nothing. And in that space, they can realise the preciousness of time.”
During his visit, which was themed “intention, innovation, insight”, Thay met a number of senior Google engineers to discuss how the company can use technology to be more compassionate and effective in bringing positive change to the world, rather than increasing people’s stress and isolation, both from each other and from nature.

When they create electronic devices, they can reflect on whether that new product will take people away from themselves, their family and nature,” he says. “Instead they can create the kind of devices and software that can help them to go back to themselves, to take care of their feelings. By doing that, they will feel good because they’re doing something good for society.
At the day-long retreat with the CEOs, Thay led a silent meditation and offered a Zen tea ceremony before talking to the group of largely billionaires about how important it is that they, as individuals, resist being consumed by work at the expense of time with their families: “Time is not money,” he told them. “Time is life, time is love.”

Back at his Plum Village monastery, near Bordeaux, Thay says of his trip: “In all the visits, I told them they have to conduct business in such a way that happiness should be possible for everyone in the company. What is the use of having more money if you suffer more? They also should understand that if they have a good aspiration, they become happier because helping society to change gives life a meaning.”
The trip was just the beginning, he adds. “I think we planted a number of seeds and it will take time for the seeds to mature,” he says. “If they begin to practise mindfulness, they’ll experience joy, happiness, transformation, and they can fix for themselves another kind of aspiration. Fame and power and money cannot really bring true happiness compared to when you have a way of life that can take care of your body and your feelings.”

As Jon Kabat-Zinn sums this up quite well when he quotes:

“Mindfulness is about being fully awake in our lives. It is about perceiving the exquisite vividness of each moment. We also gain immediate access to our own powerful inner resources for insight, transformation, and healing.”

Are good story tellers happier in life and business?

I recently travelled to Southern Europe, to assist a friend who has moved country for a new life and new business. At the airport I managed to fill my arms with the usual stack of daily news and happily found a copy of the Wall Street Journal. The ‘Personal Journal’ in today’s issue really raced my mind on an article around happiness, life, love. I have been writing for the last few years on the subject and then had a 38,000 feet epiphany: “it may not be how happy we are in our lives or in love, but it maybe the stories we tell”?

A Hopi American Indian proverb says: “Those who tell the stories rule the world.” Well, just maybe these words of wisdom are totally correct.
It is true that in our information-saturated age, business leaders “will not be heard unless they’re telling stories,” says Nick Morgan, author of Power Cues and president and founder of Public Words, a communications consulting firm. “Facts and figures and all the rational things that we think are important in the business world actually do not stick in our minds at all,” he says. But stories create “sticky” memories by attaching emotions to things that happen. That means leaders who can create and share good stories have a powerful advantage over others. And fortunately, everyone has the ability to become a better storyteller. “We are programmed through our evolutionary biology to be both consumers and creators of story,” says Jonah Sachs, CEO of Free Range Studios and author of Winning the Story Wars. “It certainly can be taught and learned.”

In William Shakespeare’s time, the word “conversation” meant two things—verbal discourse, and sex.
That’s how intimate the most well-known poet and playwright in the English language viewed the act of talking with another person.
Since the dawn of language, people have shared stories with others to entertain, persuade, make sense of what happened to them and bond. Research shows that the way people construct their individual stories has a large impact on their physical and mental health. People who frame their personal narratives in a positive way have more life satisfaction.
They also may be more attractive. New research, published this month in the journal Personal Relationships, shows that women find men who are good storytellers more appealing. The article consists of three studies in which male and female participants were shown a picture of someone of the opposite sex and given an indication of whether that person was a proficient storyteller. In the first study, 71 men and 84 women were told that the person whose picture they were looking at was either a “good,” “moderate” or “poor” storyteller. In the second study, 32 men and 50 women were given a short story supposedly written by the person in the picture; half the stories were concise and compelling, and half rambled and used dull language. In the third study, 60 men and 81 women were told whether the person in the picture was a good storyteller and were asked to rate their social status and ability to be a good leader in addition to their attractiveness.
The results were the same across all three studies: Women rated men who were good storytellers as more attractive and desirable as potential long-term partners. Psychologists believe this is because the man is showing that he knows how to connect, to share emotions and, possibly, to be vulnerable. He also is indicating that he is interesting and articulate and can gain resources and provide support.

Psychologists say it’s important to keep telling each other stories. They help you remember why you were attracted to each other in the first place. In tough times, they help you make sense of what has happened. Many marriage therapists have couples in crisis each explain their side of events and then weave their stories into one cohesive narrative. “It’s a way to build and maintain a bond over shared history,” says Anna Osborn, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Sacramento, Calif.

How can you use storytelling to continue to bond in your relationships?

Principles to Remember
Do’s:
– Consider your audience – choose a framework and details that will best resonate with your listeners.
– Identify the moral or message your want to impart.
– Find inspiration in your life experiences.

Don’t’s:
– Assume you don’t have storytelling chops – we all have it in us to tell memorable stories.
– Give yourself the starring role.
– Overwhelm your story with unnecessary details.

Embed conflict to motivate and inspire
Josh Linkner was worried his employees were becoming complacent. Then the CEO of ePrize, a Detroit-based interactive promotions company, Linkner had seen his company become the dominant leader in the online promotions industry almost overnight. In the mid 2000s, “we had double and triple growth every year,” he says. “I became worried that we would start clinging to our previous success instead of forging new success, and that our creativity would decline.” “Greatness is often achieved in the face of adversity,” he says, “but we didn’t have a competitor to gun against.”
So he made up a fake nemesis. At an all-company meeting, he stood up and announced that there was a brash new competitor named Slither. “I told everyone they were bigger than us, faster than us, and more profitable,” he says. “Their investors had deeper pockets. Their footprint was better, and they were innovating at a pace I’d never seen.”
The story was greeted with chuckles around the room (it was obvious the company was a ruse), but the idea soon became embedded within ePrize’s culture. Executives kept reinforcing the Slither story with fake press releases about their competitor’s impressive quarterly earnings or infusions of capital, and soon the urge to best the imaginary rival began to drive improved performance.
“It inspired creativity,” Linkner says. “In brainstorming sessions, we used Slither as the foil. Instead of saying, ‘OK, guys, we have to reduce our production time. How are we going to do that?’ I would say, ‘The folks over at Slither just shaved two days out of their cycle time. How do you think they did it?’ The white boards filled with ideas.”

Anchor the story in your personal experiences
Vince Molinaro, managing director of the leadership practice at Knightsbridge Human Capital Solutions, Canada’s biggest HR advisory, tells clients he knows exactly when his career direction snapped into focus. It was at his first job out of college, with an organization that helped needy individuals get back on their feet. Vince loved the mission but found the atmosphere uninspiring. “Everyone just went through the motions,” he says. “I remember thinking, ‘Is this it? Is this what working in the real world is like?’”
A senior manager named Zinta sensed that Vince wanted to have a bigger impact, and asked him to join several likeminded colleagues on a committee to make their workplace a more positive environment. They began to make subtle changes, and coworkers’ attitudes started to improve. “I saw firsthand how a single manager can change the culture of a place,” he says.
Then Zinta was diagnosed with aggressive lung cancer. In her absence, the office culture began to revert back. On a visit to see Zinta in the hospital, Vince told her about the disappointing turn of events. She surprised him with a confession: Since she had never smoked and had no history of cancer in her family, she was convinced that her disease was a direct function of putting up with a toxic work environment for so long.
Shortly after, Zinta sent Vince a letter telling him he would be faced with an important choice throughout his life. He could allow the negative attitudes of others to influence his behavior, or pursue professional goals because of the sense of personal accomplishment they offered. “In her time of need she reached out to me,” he says. “She was a mentor to me even though she didn’t need to be.”
Two weeks later, Zinta passed away. But the letter changed Vince’s life, inspiring him to leave his job and start his own consulting business devoted to helping people be better leaders. “I’ve seen the kind of climate and culture that a great leader can create,” he says. “For the last 25 years, I’ve tried to emulate that.” He still has Zinta’s letter.
When Vince first began sharing this story with his leadership clients, he was taken aback by their reaction. “There was a connection they had to me that was really surprising, he says. “It’s like they got me in ways that I wasn’t able to directly communicate.”
“It also gets them thinking about their own story and the leaders that have influenced them. In my case, it was a great leader. Sometimes it’s the really bad ones you learn a lot from.” Whatever the case, he says, the power comes from sharing your story with the people you lead so they better understand what motivates you.

A final thought: stories do grab us. They take us in, transport us, and allow us to live vicariously and visually through another’s experience. As I’ve said often in my work around presence, shared stories accelerate interpersonal connection. Learning to tell stories to capture, direct and sustain the attention of others is a key leadership skill. Storytelling also greatly helps anyone speaking or presenting in front of an audience.

As Steven Spielberg once said:

‘The most amazing thing for me is that every single person who sees a movie, not necessarily one of my movies, brings a whole set of unique experiences. Now, through careful manipulation and good storytelling, you can get everybody to clap at the same time, to hopefully laugh at the same time, and to be afraid at the same time.’