Being an Author

I met with a client recently who has read a copy of my new book, “Meaningful Conversations” and provided an amazing review, even though he sort to purchase a paperback version, we share many thought provoking discussions through our relationship and one is writing and the writing of other’s.

We chatted about a relatively new author called David Sedaris who has just written ‘Me Talk Pretty One Day’ and before you ask, the spelling of the name of the book is correct. 😊

The book is so frank, that any author will resonate with the words, his sense of humour, delivery writing style and comic timing are the best.

He wrote: ‘When a book you have been working on is finally published, the first person you normally hear from is the friend or family member you dedicated it to. In a perfect world he or she will cry, the way they might if you named your baby after them, but for me it’s never worked out that way’.

My third book, ‘Holiday’s on ice‘, was dedicated to a friend who appeared thankful but stopped short of crying, and this one, your notice was for my father. I sent him the first advance copy I could get my hands on, and when a week went passed, and I did not hear anything, I mailed him a second, thinking the earlier copy may have gotten lost. Another week went passed and then I called.
‘So did you get my package?’
‘I did’
‘And?’
‘I just told you I got it’, he snapped, I got two as a matter of fact.’
‘Did you notice I dedicated it to you?’
‘Of course I noticed,’ he said, ‘How could I not notice with the damn Post-It note stuck in there?’ He paused. So, are you coming to North Carolina on your book tour? Let me know because I have a lot of crap in the basement and I want it cleared by the end of summer.’

The next people you hear from when a book comes out are the armchair grammarians. These are readers who dream of working as copyeditors, and desperately need to inform you of the dangling modifier at the top of page 128.

‘And how is it that nobody caught the colon that should be a semicolon in your author bio? They want to know.

So funny……I think all writers can recall instances that make you feel flawed, I recall a good friend of mine who is a great lawyer, she read my first book “Freedom after the Sharks”, saying ‘Geoff, I have read your book twice and what happened to page 115, there is a full stop missing’, I know the look of amazement I gave – looking at her when she said this, and then there are the people who want to critique your published work, your heart and soul, with words on their interpretation, but they would never write and publish a book of their own.

So how did Wordsworth deal with these subjectivisms?

Wordsworth was a poet who never seems far from critics’ minds. From the moment of his first publication (in 1793), there has been no shortage of critics ready both to dismiss him and to idolise him. His close friend and fellow poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, recognised early on that the sheer amount of critical attention threatened the poems themselves: ‘His work produced an eddy of criticism, which would of itself have borne up the poems by the violence, with which it whirled them round and round’. It is within this whirlpool of critical voices that Wordsworth’s poetry exists for us today.

It seems that new generations of critics never tire of evaluating and re-evaluating the ideas found within Wordsworth’s poetry, and reinterpreting their significance for a new generation. Whether they love him or hate him, critics of every age have felt it important to communicate their views on his verse and his critics include Hazlitt, DeQuincey, Matthew Arnold, T.S. Eliot and Harold Bloom. Just what is it about the poetry of Wordsworth which seems to provoke such disparate responses?

Stephen King has had an uncanny ability to hit the commercial bull’s-eye from the beginning of his career. In the 40 years since his first novel, Carrie, he has published more than 50 books, all of them international best sellers. Shortly after its release, Carrie was turned into a blood-drenched film by Brian De Palma. And in 1977 King’s novel The Shining, set in a wintry ski resort and featuring a paranormal child and a maniacal father, further showcased his unparalleled gift for psychological terror. When Stanley Kubrick turned that novel into a film in 1980, the Stephen King industry was born. There are now more than 100 films and TV programmes based on his work, and he shows no signs of slowing down – not with his legions of fans, hungry for more.

But the respect of the literary establishment has always eluded King. For years, the question of whether he was a serious writer was answered by a quick tabulation of book sales, film deals, income and sheer volume of output, which added up to a resounding ‘no’. Commercial triumph did not equal literary value. Being a best seller was anathema.

Sissy Spacek earned an Oscar nomination for Carrie – a film that brought both the actor and Stephen King to wide attention.

From the beginning, King was dismissed as a ‘genre writer’.

Here is the sad truth: most people who write a book will never get it published, half the writers who are published will not see a second book in print, and most books published are never reprinted.

What’s more, half the titles in any given bookshop will not sell a single copy there, and most published writers will not earn anything from their book apart from the advance.

So, do not expect anything from your writing apart from the personal fulfilment of having learned your craft and created a work that did not exist before. By all means hope to get published, and dream of having a bestseller or even a long string of them, people do, after all. But writing talent is not nearly enough; thousands of people have it. To succeed, you have to write the best story you possibly can, for the genre you’re writing in, and be professional in every other way. It is the writers who work hardest at every aspect of their craft, and never give up, that get there. And when you do, enjoy the adventure while it lasts, but don’t expect it to last forever. It probably will be short lived, but at least you have your legacy. 😊

A rare few will ignore all this and succeed, but they are the lottery winners like JK Rawling and Harry Potter. As an Author of two books ‘Freedom after the Sharks’ and ‘Meaningful Conversations’ take my word for it, everyone else has to work hard at it. Just do not expect success or you are bound to be disappointed. Publishers are in business for the long term and they have to make a profit. If you write books that sell, your publisher will love you. If you do not sell books, it’s goodbye, no matter how much he or she likes your writing.

As Ernest Hemingway once said:

“For a true writer, each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed.”

The Truth about Writing

I read a really interesting quote by the famous Ray Bradbury recently – it said: “Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers.” Ray was an American fantasy, horror, science fiction, and mystery writer, I have followed some of his work and, as with Woody Allen, one compelling fact is that they both shared tremendous passion for reading and writing, Woody Allen once said: “Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time, if you have imagination”.

When I decided to become a writer and made the commitment to write “Freedom after the sharks” and then “Meaningful conversations”, every single day, was not a working day, it was the one factor of writing that kept me awake for the next 1000 words.

Sometimes I would not sleep, try to sleep and then wake up again, I would surface, get up early, make my exceptionally strong coffee, and sit down to write, I was incredibly fortunate the words just flowed in abundance.

When writing “Freedom after the sharks”, I was fortunate to be in one of the most spectacular destinations in the world, Sedona, Arizona – I compare Sedona with the Hawaiian Islands and even remote places of inspiration like Deia in the Spanish Island of Majorca, a remote and inspired destination where you can look out to mountains, space and feel the creative imagination flow.

“Meaningful conversations” was born in Eugene, Oregon on a beautiful May afternoon with my business partner and associate with his wife – we were discussing some of the problems of leadership in business today, whilst drinking a fine glass of Oregon Pinot Noir, watching the sunset over the Jasper Mountains and Mark expressed how he enjoyed ‘Meaningful Conversations’ across leadership.

I only ever had one point of writer’s block to date, and this was with “Freedom after the sharks”: it was with chapter 13 of the non-edited version, which finally made itself to becoming the epilogue in the book. Writing has a funny way of making you confront your fears, anxieties and only focus on your heart and the truth.

I have learnt through this experience that choosing a wrong point of view to avoid “the truth”. Perhaps you are writing from someone else’s point of view and not your point of view, which is generally why readers will purchase your book. Writers who uphold someone else’s version of a story rather than their own will find the unconscious hesitate if the flow of words and content. If you are blocked or you come to a stop, ask yourself. “Am I writing from my point of view?” Sometimes coming to that realisation can be enough to help your writing to flow once again, being true to yourself is being truthful to your readership, because it is from the heart.

Writing about something unimportant to you. Sometimes “writer’s block” is the way your unconscious has of telling you you are not writing about something important enough. Sometimes the writing flow is waiting for you to come up with a more substantive idea, your unconscious really does have a way to push your imagination, breaking new or better grounds to accomplish an idea that will command your loyalty. If you feel blocked, explore your current topic: does it warrant the time you are putting into writing it? Sticking to a topic of secondary importance is not conducive to good writing. It doesn’t command your loyalty.

We all love a great story. Whether we read or write or both, great stories can take us on emotional journeys of excitement, anger, love, despair and can live on for centuries. For thousands of year’s people have been moved by storytelling told around campfires, at bedsides, in theatres, in public squares… and today on Medium, Pulse, Thrive Global, WordPress, Twitter, Google+, Linkedin, and books are sold in the Million’s everyday via Amazon, Barnes and Noble (Nook), Waterstones, Googleplay and iTunes etc.

The way the story is structured does not really matter; what does matter is the power of the story, how the story engages and connects with its readership.

Tell the right story the right way and you can illustrate even the most complex issue into one that is engaging and easy to understand and one that unlocks the mind’ creativity and imagination.

One of my hero’s in writing is Joseph Campbell – he explores the theory that important myths from around the world which have survived for thousands of years all share a fundamental structure, which Campbell called the monomyth. In a well-known quote from the introduction of his book “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”, Campbell summarised the monomyth:

“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

In laying out the monomyth, Campbell describes a number of stages or steps along this journey. The hero starts in the ordinary world, and receives a call to enter an unusual world of strange powers and events (a call to adventure). If the hero accepts the call to enter this strange world, the hero must face tasks and trials (a road of trials), and may have to face these trials alone, or may have assistance. At its most intense, the hero must survive a severe challenge, often with help earned along the journey. If the hero survives, the hero may achieve a great gift (the goal or “boon”), which often results in the discovery of important self-knowledge. The hero must then decide whether to return with this boon (the return to the ordinary world), often facing challenges on the return journey. If the hero is successful in returning, the boon or gift may be used to improve the world (the application of the boon).

Very few myths contain all of these stages—some myths contain many of the stages, while others contain only a few; some myths may have as a focus only one of the stages, while other myths may deal with the stages in a somewhat different order. These stages may be organized in a number of ways, including division into three sections:
Departure (sometimes called Separation), Initiation and Return. “Departure” deals with the hero venturing forth on the quest, “Initiation” deals with the hero’s various adventures along the way, and “Return” deals with the hero’s return home with knowledge and powers acquired on the journey.

“The Hero with a Thousand Faces”, Campbell’s theory, has been consciously applied by a wide variety of modern writers and artists. The best known is perhaps George Lucas, who has acknowledged Campbell’s influence on the Star Wars films.

So, in summary, whether you’re a novelist, a poet, a short-story writer, an essayist, a biographer or an aspiring beginner, when you write great fiction, poetry, or non-fiction, amazing things can happen. The best way to increase your proficiency in creative writing is to write, write compulsively, but it does not mean write whatever you want. There are certain things you should know first… it helps to start with the right foot…..

Another interesting quote by Ray Badbury which states:

“You will have to write and put away or burn a lot of material before you are comfortable in this medium. You might as well start now and get the necessary work done. For I believe that eventually quantity will make for quality. How so? Quantity gives experience. From experience alone can quality come. All arts, big and small, are the elimination of waste motion in favor of the concise declaration. The artist learns what to leave out. His greatest art will often be what he does not say, what he leaves out, his ability to state simply with clear emotion, the way he wants to go. The artist must work so hard, so long, that a brain develops and lives, all of itself, in his fingers.”

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.'”

The Entrepreneurs Library – inside ‘Freedom After the Sharks’

Podcast with ‘The Entrepreneurs Library’ about my first book, ‘Freedom After the Sharks’.

“In this episode, Geoff Hudson-Searle shares his book Freedom After The Sharks where he helps you make dreams become reality and shows you how to be the master of that journey.

In his book Hudson-Searle takes you on his life’s journey after working in 160 countries to helping fortune 100 companies and starting his career into entrepreneurship. His goal is to show the truths, trials, and tribulations he went through when going into business and launching a company.

This book is perfect for entrepreneurs who learn what it takes to succeed in life by following the experiences of other entrepreneurs who have struggled and made it to the top.”

Enjoy!

Geoff

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.”

With all the apps in today’s world do we have time for reflection?

I recently caught up with a really great friend and colleague for lunch in Liverpool Street – this area is in the heart of London’s financial district, the City area is crawling with people walking, running, pushing other people and everyone is creating this chaos whilst on a device.

My friend is a technologist and very successful entrepreneur, we have worked together for years on various projects and in particular future innovation of tech, so we started by discussing the app’s market. I stated that there seems to be an app for absolutely every situation: you can have a virtual girlfriend app, a sleeping app, an exercise walking app, even a speed listening app – we live in an app world.

He started to laugh and smiled – seeing that he had pushed one of my human to human push buttons, he said I do understand, but what did we ever do without apps? I mean, aside from enjoying the outdoors and talk to our families and spend quality time with our friends, that’s rhetorical. The transformation of portable phones from conversation devices to fully functional mobile computers has created a tiny software economy that produces hundreds of new apps every day. While the great majority of those apps fade into obscurity within days, some become part of a global conversation. It’s hard to imagine life without Instagram or Dropbox, for example. Others, though, become big stories for other reasons. Some apps are just such bad ideas that people cannot stop talking about them. Some become popular for no reason that we can see. And some are just amazing.

While the world has gone crazy for app’s its growth and huge userbases are significant, there’s a growing trend in messaging where companies are taking different tactics on how people young and old should keep in contact. From keeping things secret to deliberately keeping the conversation quick and lively, messaging has come a long way since simply sending each other texts. Going back as far as Your Away Message, we’ve seen that people aren’t just using these messaging services to tell people think, but plan.

However, while app’s are really interesting, anyone who has a smartphone bursting with downloaded apps is a rare breed and getting rarer. Apps are on the wane. According to analysts at Comscore, most people (65%) are not downloading apps at all, and get by with whatever comes pre-installed on phones.

Not that apps are not being used. They are, but we are now in a one-app world; 42% of people spend most of their time on a single app.

We will soon see a paradigm shift in terms of where people get their information from. By 2020, smart agents and virtual personal assistants (VPAs) will handle 40% of mobile interactions, and the post-app era will be in full swing.

“We are witnessing a shift from apps to new advanced forms of using artificial intelligence to create smart agents,” says Mark Armstrong, European MD of global app development platform Progress. “They can positively and autonomously generate the next decision or suggestion.”

He adds: “Autonomous decision-making will be taking place on a grander scale, and involves an ecosystem of complex data sets acted on dynamically, and based on user-preferences.” With that kind of tech on the horizon, apps are beginning to look archaic. Whether they had massive user bases, dominated the news media for a cycle, or just pissed people off a whole bunch, these apps made people straight up lose their minds.

So how do people reflect, relax and spend time in today’s world?

We live in a world of frenetic activity. Reflective practice is hardly possible or practical in this age of the busy corporate executive who is socialised to be a person of action, not of reflection. Action is required. Delaying decisions is seen as a sign of weakness, even if the delay may subsequently produce a better decision. CEOs want an answer rather than a question; they are looking for solutions rather than problems. Yet, is it possible that the frenetic activity of the executive is a drug for the emptiness of our organisational souls, that constant action may merely serve as a substitute for thought?

Society gives reflection and its counterpart, listening, short shrift. We do not seem to be interested in the whole story. We even perfect the art of interruption so that we can show our ‘‘proactivity’’ and gain the boss’s attention. There was a time before instant replay when humans had to get the whole message or it would be lost forever. We seem to be unwilling to perfect the art of public reflection, in which we show a willingness to inquire about our own and our colleague’s assumptions and meanings.

While accepting that there is simply too much information, that we can get hooked into bad habits, there has to be another way of thinking about all this without the “Stop the world! I want to get off” model. Ten years ago, all sorts of people were giving fairly apocalyptic warnings about where this online dependency would lead. We were warned of depression and detachment, of a world where no attention could ever be sustained. We would no longer pause or reflect. All of us would just be looking for instant dopamine hits online. And yet, it seems very few actually have opted out, and that opting out is something of a privilege.

We no longer use phrases such as “digital natives”, because now we simply live in a digital culture. All the eye-rolling over teenagers having an umbilical attachment to their phones is somewhat pointless, isn’t it or is it?

It is possible to accept that social media may cause anxiety and unhappiness and that those networks do not often work out equally, but we surely have to move away from always opposing the real world to the online world. They are integrated. These huge shifts have reshaped the presentation of self, who and what we have access to, the boundaries between work and leisure, the very concept of privacy. It has happened. Simply telling people to switch off from a bad thing is unrealistic.

Professor Paul Dolan said iPhones and tablets distract us from our loved ones. He warned people could suffer ‘mental illness’ unless they ‘put them down’. In a talk on happiness he also said the married and religious are generally happier. Men in their 40s are among the most unhappy, he said ‘The secret to happiness is turning off your mobile phone and concentrating on your friends and family rather than text messages and emails, an expert on happiness has said.

Professor Dolan, from the London School of Economics, believes that the popularity of iPhones and other smart phones has seen people constantly having their attention drawn away from their nearest and dearest and to the devices instead. He warned that unless people changed their behaviour, they could suffer mental illness as a result.

He told an audience at the Hay Festival – a celebration of culture and social responsibility, in Cartagena, Colombia, that there are also now mental conditions called internet addiction and Phantom Vibration Syndrome, where you have a phone in your pocket and you think you have got a text message but have not.

He said: ‘We’re constantly having our attention distracted and distraction is a cost’.

‘When you switch tasks it requires attention. Paying attention to what you’re doing and who you are with and turning your phone off and enjoying being with your friends is much better for you than constantly checking your phone and checking emails’, The Telegraph reports.

Prof Dolan was once a member of the Cabinet Office’s Behavioural Insight Team. It was set up to suggest small ways that people could change their way of life to improve it. He said the solution could lie in introducing small changes to the environment in which people use their mobile phones.

Prof Dolan’s told an audience that unless high culture reasserted itself in the face of television and computers, society would face the prospect of an ‘authoritarian nightmare of a world controlled by technology.’

The number of text messages sent in Britian each year is around 38.5billion.

Final thoughts are that we do not need statistics to tell us we are over-attached to our technology. We already know this to be true, but we need to be reminded again and again: Technology has a power-off button. And the wisest of us know when to use it.
Learning to power-down technology is an important life skill with numerous benefits. It is becoming a lost art in our ever-connected world. But the wisest of us take time to learn the discipline. And live fuller lives because of it.

I challenge you to put away your phones when you are eating with people. Do not even set it on the table. Remove the temptation to use it and talk to the people around you. Truly listen to them, without distractions like phones. Maybe when you are using public transportation, talk to the person sitting next to you, asking that person how their day was, smiling at them and paying attention to them will be the highlight of their day. Your phone will never appreciate the time you spent with it like people will, even if it is during a short tube or train ride, and in the state of reflection and creativity, how can you reflect, be creative or even think if you have 200 messages a minute from social media channels or texting, is it time to turn you phone off for these brief but important interludes…….?

A great quote by Earl Nightingale:

“Learn to enjoy every minute of your life. Be happy now. Don’t wait for something outside of yourself to make you happy in the future. Think how really precious is the time you have to spend, whether it’s at work or with your family. Every minute should be enjoyed and savored.”

Why are our H2H relationships so disconnected from life?

Some time ago I wrote a blog called “The Cruel World of Human to Human Relationships” – this subject has been on my mind for several months, and a very good friend of mine and colleague had coffee with me at my office recently, and reinforced the subject when he said: “Can you please tell me why we do not trust one another to speak human to human as we are today, why are people so crazy to email, Whats App, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn , all part of the new and wonderful ways we can now connect with one another electronically, each with its own culture and unique set of rules. In one sense, the planet has never been more interconnected. And yet, this over interconnected world, while wonderful, also comes to human to human relationships with a cost?”

I pondered and then smiled, telling him “If you watch around you on the daily commute or even walking down the street, you will observe people reaching out for their smartphone as soon as an alert either vibrates or arrives to check email and respond to texts and social media channels. Brain scans have shown that dopamine, the pleasure neurotransmitter, is released every time we hear our phone beep. This means we can become addicted to using our phones to a certain extent and it can be tough to break the habit. You may need to put in place something to reinforce the change in behaviour until it becomes second nature. The rest of the day, people are constantly on a tablet, mobile device, laptop or desktop for personal or professional use. The whole world is messaging, browsing, friending, tweeting and sharing.”

It’s great that we have the technology to connect with people across the globe instantly, but there is also a sense of disconnection. If there’s an internet-capable device with a screen anywhere nearby, the immediate world does not get our full attention.

Much has been written about the dangers of Internet addiction. From sport to merely surfing the web, the Internet is clearly the television of the 21st century, an electronic drug that often yanks us away from the physical world. Like any addiction, the real cost, for those of us who are truly addicted, is to the number and quality of our relationships with others. We may enjoy online relationships using social media sites like Facebook or Twitter, for example, but the difference between these kinds of interactions and interactions with people in the physical world is clearly vast. As long as we expect no more from these online relationships than they can give, no good reason exists why we can not enjoy the power of social media sites to connect us efficiently to people we would otherwise not touch. The problem, however, comes when we find ourselves subtly substituting electronic relationships for physical ones or mistaking our electronic relationships for physical ones. We may feel we’re connecting effectively with others via the Internet, but too much electronic-relating paradoxically engenders a sense of social isolation.

I cannot tell you how many times I have wondered what someone did really mean by their words, whether on social media, in a text or over email. Unless you see the person’s face, hear their voice and understand the environment, you have no idea the context surrounding the written words. Misunderstandings, miscommunication s, wrongful interpretations and assumptions result, which have an impact on how we view others.

Online Contact Falls Short on Empathy: As a corollary to the context issue, there’s an utter lack of empathy when using technology to interact with others. “I’m so sorry your you feel this way” or “I heard you lost your job; I feel for you.” Where is the compassion and solidarity with loss? It certainly does exist within the soul of the person who texted, posted or emailed this, but words do not convey that.

Technology Fails to Deliver Essential Personal Touch: Tech Overload leads to an increase in stress and psychological issues: technology has become an electronic addiction for some, taking them out of the physical world as they cling to the features it offers. And like many addictions, there’s an impact on the number and quality of human relationships. Conversations through social media and email take the place of traditional interactions and discussions; eventually, a person doesn’t even need to leave the house to communicate with others – and many people won’t. The phenomenon leads to social isolation that can be crippling for some.

For transferring information efficiently, the Internet is excellent. For transacting emotionally sensitive or satisfying connections, it is absolutely not.

Even when we are all careful to use the Internet only to exchange information, problems can still arise. People tend to delay answering emails or block and ignore calls when they do not have what they consider to be good answers or when they want to avoid whatever responsibility the email demands of them. But this is like being asked a question in person and rather than responding, “I don’t know” or “I’ll have to think about it,” turning on your heels and walking away in silence. It is far easier to ignore an email sender’s request than a request from someone made in person because an email sender’s hope to get a response or frustration in not receiving one, remains mostly invisible. But it’s every bit as rude.

IFS research sampled 143 married/cohabiting women. Each woman reported how often certain devices, like cell or smartphones, tablets, computers, and TVs, interrupted interactions she had with her husband or partner. The women also rated how often specific technology interruption situations occurred, such as a partner sending text messages to others during the couple’s face-to-face conversations or getting on his phone during mealtimes.

Overall, about 70% of the women in our sample said that cell/smartphones, computers, or TV interfered in their relationship with their partner at least sometimes or more often. Many women also said that the following specific interruptions happened at least daily:

– 62% said technology interferes with their leisure time together
– 40% said their partner gets distracted by the TV during a conversation
– 35% said their partner will pull out his phone if he receives a notification even if they are in the middle of a conversation
– 33% said their partner checks his phone during mealtimes that they spend together
– 25% said their partner actively texts other people during the couple’s face-to-face conversations

Technology has become an integral part of our lives with more and more of us emailing, texting, tweeting and Facebooking. A recent survey by Facebook found the first thing 80% of us do in the mornings is check our phones. The average user then goes on to check their device 110 times a day.

This must mean that we are more connected to each other than ever but what exactly does it mean for romantic relationships? Are we giving our partners the time and attention they need? Or are we spending more time than we should in our own worlds with our always-on technology?

Research conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International on a sample of 2,252 Americans last year indicates cause for worry: 25% felt their partner was distracted by their phone when they were together and 8% had argued as a result.

The figures were worse for younger people: 42% of 18-to-29-year-olds said their partners had been distracted by their phones and 18% had argued over the amount of time the other was spending online.

Our “emotional invisibility” on the Internet perhaps also explains so much of the vitriol we see on so many websites. People clearly have a penchant for saying things in the electronic world they’d never say to people in person because the person to whom they’re saying it isn’t physically present to display their emotional reaction. It’s as if the part of our nervous system that registers the feelings of others has been paralyzed or removed when we’re communicating electronically, as if we’re drunk and don’t realize or don’t care that our words are hurting others.

Social media websites are wonderful tools but are often abused. A few common sense rules for the electronic world apply:

Do not say anything on email you would feel uncomfortable saying to someone in person
Do not delay your response to messages you would rather avoid
Relationships are affected by online communication
Balance time on the Internet with time well spent with friends, family outside interests

Finally, what we all need to remember is that real world relationships are absolutely vital to our mental health – it’s true that technology has given us the ability to stay constantly connected, constantly at work, but it’s not technology’s fault. Let’s instead look in the mirror and realise who’s really to blame here. It’s time to take control of our technology and our lives so that we can rediscover the wonderful treasures that are buried in those separate realities we once had. Remember, there’s a time to plug in and a time to unplug. Choose wisely.

All in all trust is a huge issue with online presence, the impact of technology on human interaction paints a pretty gloomy picture. But it is a valuable discussion to have, as it teaches us the value of balancing our offline and online communications with others, personally and professionally. I guess the best approach is to make yourself available through technology only when appropriate, so that it supplements our relationships rather than replacing them.

What happened to handwriting? What happened to privacy on a date? What happened to friends-of-friends? What happened to picking up the phone randomly to say hello or I love you? What happened to turning up to a date with flowers, and not sending a virtual picture of a rose?

As Anthony Carmona once said:

“Social media websites are no longer performing an envisaged function of creating a positive communication link among friends, family and professionals. It is a veritable battleground, where insults fly from the human quiver, damaging lives, destroying self-esteem and a person’s sense of self-worth.”

Is Customer Loyalty Sustainable in Today’s Digital World?

I had a very pleasant lunch with a very good friend of mine in London recently – he operates a very successful marketing company, where he mentioned: “do you think customers actually stay loyal to brands?”

I said back in the early 2000 era, we were all looking to deploy strategies across customer lifetime value – brand satisfaction and brand loyalty played a key part to our business survival toolbox. In today’s world customers staying loyal to companies for long periods are numbered.

The amount of trust consumers put in brands is decreasing all the time, and a typical consumer will now switch brands without hesitation if they get a better offer. The famous rule of 20% of customers accounting for 80% of the turnover has turned into more like 60/40 rule (40% of the customers generate 60% of the turnover) and it is slowly evolving towards a 50/50 rule where loyal and disloyal customers generate the same amount of income.

The conventional wisdom about competitive advantage is that successful companies pick a position, target a set of consumers, and configure activities to serve them better. The goal is to make customers repeat their purchases by matching the value proposition to their needs. By fending off competitors through ever-evolving uniqueness and personalization, the company can achieve sustainable competitive advantage.

An assumption implicit in that definition is that consumers are making deliberate, perhaps even rational, decisions. Their reasons for buying products and services may be emotional, but they always result from somewhat conscious logic. Therefore a good strategy figures out and responds to that logic.

But the idea that purchase decisions arise from conscious choice flies in the face of much research in behavioral psychology. The brain, it turns out, is not so much an analytical machine as a gap-filling machine: it takes noisy, incomplete information from the world and quickly fills in the missing pieces on the basis of past experience. Intuition, thoughts, opinions, and preferences that come to mind quickly and without reflection, but are strong enough to act on, is the product of this process.

This behavioural shift is putting some fundamental, established marketing tactics in doubt, but are we as marketers powerless to stop it?

Why customer loyalty is down
1 – Companies can not keep up with rising consumer expectations. Declining customer loyalty has been an issue for most companies in spite of heavy investments in service improvement. Consumers do not compare a company to where they were a year ago; rather, they compare companies to the ‘best-in-class’. If Amazon does not question a faulty delivery and deals with the problem immediately, consumers will expect the same of their local supermarket.

2 – Loyalty programs are missing their mark. Many companies thought there was a shortcut to creating customer loyalty: the loyalty card. However, all the latest studies agree that loyalty cards slash profit margins on existing customers. Instead of creating loyalty you’re really losing money.

3 – Digitisation makes everything transparent. The fast adoption of smartphones and tablets has further enhanced transparency. Today, more than half of the consumers use their mobile devices to compare prices while shopping. The online world has made price transparency very accessible, a trend that spells danger for any company out there.

4 – Focus on individual touch points instead of on the customer experience as a whole. Companies are divided into various departments, with every department being responsible for the customer’s experience of one specific aspect of the customer relationship. There’s hardly any contact between the sales and after sales departments and invoicing is housed three floors down.

5 – No unique relevance to consumers. When customers are disloyal, they are really saying that a product or service was not relevant enough for them to remain a customer there. Too little thought is put into the role a brand has to play in consumers’ lives. The relationship is too rational in nature instead of emotional.

So exactly what is the solution?

According to popular theory, there are two ways to escape the commodity market. On the one hand a company can work more efficiently, making it possible to sell its products cheaper. On the other hand, you can offer a unique added value, thereby reestablishing differentiation so you can charge higher prices again.

If we look at the history and look at people behaviour, historically people engaged into brand loyalty, but how do you get customers to become loyal to your brand in the first place? Here are a few suggestions:

Build targeted messages

With social media being the center of many people’s day-to-day lives, consumers want to see that brands care about them. Consumers are constantly bombarded with ads, so yours can easily get overlooked. How do you stand out? Try targeting your ads, using campaigns that appeal to your audience’s specific interests, and customizing your messages with a personal touch.

Develop a loyalty programme

Customer loyalty programmes are a huge factor in retaining loyal customers. 44% of customers have between 2-4 loyalty cards, and 25% have between 5-9 loyalty cards. 43% join loyalty programmes to earn rewards, and 45% say it’s a primary driver for purchasing from a brand. As you can see, loyalty programmes are a huge deal with customers, and it pays by getting them to come back to your brand whenever they decide to shop.

However, be aware that you’re more likely to retain customers through a free rewards programme. The majority of people (52%) aren’t willing to pay a membership fee.

Adopt a mobile strategy

Brand loyalty has gone mobile. Seventy-seven percent of smartphone users say that mobile offers have a positive impact on their brand loyalty, according to AccessDevelopment.com. This can include surprise points and rewards or exclusive content.

Another 66% of consumers say they’d have a more positive opinion of a loyalty programme if it was available on their smartphone or in a mobile wallet app. Furthermore, 73% of smartphone users are interested in having loyalty cards on their phones.

What happens if you fall behind your competitors and don’t offer a mobile solution to your loyalty programme? You’ll likely see a decrease in customers. 66% of companies that saw a decrease in customer loyalty in the past year didn’t have a mobile app.

Implement feedback

Another reason brands lose customers is because they don’t respond to their needs. In today’s fast-paced social landscape, customers expect brands to respond to their feedback, and quickly. 97% of customers say they’re more likely to become loyal to a company that implements their feedback. By ignoring them, you’re sending a message that their loyalty doesn’t matter, and with that, they’re likely to move on to a brand that shows them otherwise.

Although ideas about brand loyalty have shifted from generation to generation, people are still brand loyal today. However, you will have to adopt strong social and mobile strategies to retain customers who rely on the internet landscape to make buying decisions.

Finally, my personal opinion is that the subject of whether sustainable competitive advantage has disappeared, is greatly exaggerated. Competitive advantage is as sustainable as it has always been. What is different today is that in a world of infinite communication and innovation, many strategists seem convinced that sustainability can be delivered only by constantly making a company’s value proposition the conscious consumer’s rational or emotional first choice. They have forgotten, or they never understood, the dominance of the subconscious mind in decision making. For fast thinkers, products and services that are easy to access and that reinforce comfortable buying habits will over time trump innovative but unfamiliar alternatives that may be harder to find and require forming new habits.

Simon Mainwaring once said:

“Companies and their brands need to reach out and speak directly to consumers, to honor their values, and to form meaningful relationships with them. They must become architects of community, consistently demonstrating the values that their customer community expects in exchange for their loyalty and purchases.”

Are we really understanding our customers or ignoring the facts?

In my 27+ years in business, and heavily involved in the entrepreneurial community, I have observed the success of many businesses, and the fast failure of others. All these companies had superior products or service – so why did some fail?

This story epitomies the dilemma business people are facing in the world of big data. Sure, they have information on customers. This information is piling up in all sorts of places. For the most part, business owners are desperately making sure they do not miss any opportunity to record every touch point customers have with the company. But then what?

This is the entrepreneurial opportunity of the next five years. Turn your understanding of your customers into opportunities for real, meaningful connections with them. Listen to what they are really saying, not just their responses to surveys, but what they tell you when they do business with your company.

Your most precious asset, no matter what business you have, is your existing customers. You expended considerable effort to entice these companies to do business with you. So why not intensely focus on their behaviour as they do business with you? Rather than comb through the endless data about them, talk to them, humanise your approach.

Too many companies squander the treasure that is real customer feedback. The solution is systematically measuring the customer’s human voice and integrating it into a culture of continuous feedback.

Customer-experience metrics have proliferated over the past decade, and chances are that your business relies heavily on one or more of them. But many companies struggle with metrics. For some, the problem is a disconnect between the metric and business performance; for others, it’s a loss of confidence among front-line workers when the metrics do not seem to explain big swings in customer satisfaction. Further, in some companies, there is confusion about whether transactional or relational measures matter more, and, in others, a simple lack of results from too much focus on one top-line metric.

Alex Singla on Customer Experience – ‘Do the math’

McKinsey director Alex Singla illustrates how a typical institution has multiple chances to build customer satisfaction. Learn more: http://www.mckinsey.com

Loyal customers may represent no more than 20 percent of your customer base, but make up more that 50 percent of your sales. You need to be communicating with these customers on a regular basis. These people are the ones who can and should influence your marketing decisions. Nothing will make a loyal customer feel better than soliciting their input and showing them how much you value it. Still you need to consider the fact, that not all regular customers are loyal to your company. You need to be able to classify your customers and identify the loyal ones correctly if you plan to make marketing decisions based on their interests.

Taken together, these complications leave many companies tone-deaf to the voice of the customer and represent a formidable barrier to building the foundation of a successful customer-centric strategy. Happily, our experience shows that it matters less which top-line metric a business relies on; almost any one will do. Rather, what matters is how the business inserts the metric into a systematic capability to collect, analyse, and act on feedback in an effective and complete measurement system of the customer journey. Building that system can take time, but gains to a customer-centric culture and the bottom line can accrue quickly.

Customers have choices when buying a product. They seek options from trusted friends and family. Experienced shoppers explore what others are saying on social media and online customer reviews. Your companies product may be just one of many options. We can benefit from listening to our customers’ opinions about their level of satisfaction with competing products. Take the time to thoroughly explore what others are saying about your competition. What we hear might provide us with information critical to helping us deliver better solutions.

In summary, all great and successful company leaders have a clear understanding of their customers. It is the basis of why a company exists. It’s the foundation of an organisation’s vision and strategy. You have an exceptional product but if you fail to consider how it fits the needs of your buyer, you don’t have a business. We need to learn what our current and future customers need and make sure we deliver exactly what they want for a price they will pay. Customers, if we listen to them, will tell us all we need to know to develop the right products and services to grow a viable business. Great businesses, large and small, follow this model today. They talk to customers constantly, always taking note of any changes in thought or behaviour.

A great quote by George Bernard Shaw:

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

Collaboration with a big C

On a midsummer afternoon in 1957, a church fundraiser altered the course of music history. It was just after 4:00 when a group of teenagers took the stage. Rumour has it the boys were so anxious about playing in front of their neighbours, they downed a few beers before launching their set.

This may explain why several songs into the performance, their lead singer forgot his lyrics, struggled to improvise, and somehow mangled, “Come little darlin’, come and go with me,” into, “Down, down, down, down to the penitentiary.”

Most of the audience was oblivious to the flub. But not everyone. One listener was watching intently, impressed by the band’s antics. His name was Paul McCartney. And he’d just had his first glimpse of John Lennon.

Half a century later, Lennon and McCartney’s collaborative works are credited with launching a new era in music history, one in which it became acceptable to combine genres, play a sitar alongside a violin, and use technology as an instrument. We know the Beatles were creative, but how they got that way remains something of a mystery. So just what were they doing right?

Collaboration in the workplace is when two or more people work together through idea sharing and thinking to achieve a common goal. It’s teamwork operating at a high level.

A lot of social networking doesn’t necessarily equate to a lot of collaboration. People may frequently share information online, but they could still be holding back or more concerned about achieving their own goals or creating a particular image of themselves. Of course, getting to know people through social media can be a useful step towards collaboration; for example, where fairly casual and insignificant initial contacts lead on to offers of help or advice. And those who are comfortable using external social media will be more likely to quickly grasp and embrace the benefits of internal social collaboration tools.

There’s so much information out there about the impressive capabilities of social tools that we might be forgiven for thinking these are a prerequisite for effective internal collaboration.

In fact, there are a number of completely different factors that could be seen as the actual building blocks of strong performance in this area within an organisation:

Belief in a common cause – which requires strong and effectively communicated organisational vision and objectives

Openness to learn – which also means understanding your own strengths, weaknesses and where you could improve. This might seem obvious but unfortunately and, as illustrated by a recent Harvard Business School study, we don’t seem to be very good at self-awareness. This research, which gathered data from over 357,000 people, found an average correlation of .29 between self-evaluations and objective assessments (a correlation of 1.0 would indicate total accuracy). And the correlation was even lower for work-related skills. Over-rating our capabilities and our ability to accomplish tasks within a particular time frame could make us disinclined to collaborate, or have a negative impact on outcomes of team working

Trust – believing that your views will be listened to, considered and that you won’t be ridiculed or otherwise be put at a disadvantage for expressing them.

For collaboration to work over the long term, leaders must invest one-on-one time with the key implementers of the strategy and support them with adequate training and coaching, education is critical for ensuring technical capabilities and modelling collaborative behaviour.

My definition for collaboration is as follows:

Collaboration is working together to create something new in support of a shared vision. The key points are that it is not through individual effort, something new is created, and that the glue is the shared vision.

Coordination is sharing information and resources so that each party can accomplish their part in support of a mutual objective. It is about teamwork in implementation. Not creating something new.

Cooperation is important in networks where individuals exchange relevant information and resources in support of each other’s goals, rather than a shared goal. Something new may be achieved as a result, but it arises from the individual, not from a collective team effort.

All three of these are important. All three are aspects of teamwork. But they are not the same!

We can find examples of effective teamwork in all types of environments; sports, military, and even historically in politics (e.g. Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet). All high performance teams have common characteristics. But depending on their purpose and intent, they might rely more on coordination or cooperation than on collaboration.

When is Collaboration important?
In a network environment, where there is not interdependence, collaboration is not essential to the creative process. Through cooperative sharing of information and resources, creativity emerges through individuals and is hopefully recognized and supported.

However in an interdependent organization, collaboration is the bedrock of creative solutions and innovation.

If Yahoo is to reinvent itself, collaboration will be essential.

Collaboration will not occur by decree

Can collaboration occur at a distance?

Absolutely, if leaders are intentional about building collaborative environments, model collaborative leadership practices, and create opportunities to bring people together for occasional face-to-face conversations.
Collaborative leadership is based on respect, trust and the wise use of power. Leaders must be willing to let go of control. Collaboration does not naturally occur in traditional top-down, control-oriented hierarchical environments.
People need the freedom to exercise their own judgment. There has to be room for experimentation, failure and learning from mistakes. And there needs to be an opportunity for people to think together, valuing each other’s perspective and contributions, in order for creative new ideas to emerge.

Finally, Collaboration is all about achieving the best possible outcomes so it is important, when taking action to improve collaboration, to trap these as they unfold. Examples might be: new groups collaborating leading to the development of an exciting new product idea or service improvement; getting something to market quicker than would previously have been possible; better online collaboration, reducing the need for meetings and conferences, with resulting time and travel cost savings.

Dan Tapscott once said:

“Collaboration is important not just because it’s a better way to learn. The spirit of collaboration is penetrating every institution and all of our lives. So learning to collaborate is part of equipping yourself for effectiveness, problem solving, innovation and life-long learning in an ever-changing networked economy.”