Lead the change 4


How to say it so they can hear it

By Dan Gregory and Kieran Flanagan | Jan 23, 2018 | 0 Comments


“You can’t handle the truth!” So said Jack Nicholson in A few good men. And he’s right.

The truth is; we are all delicate flowers wrapped in paper-thin skins, indulging unconscious (and occasionally conscious) biases and prejudices. Furthermore, to add insult to injury, half of us are below average intelligence!

So, did you handle those truths? Or, did you just laugh them off assuming I was talking about everyone else?

Either way, we might all agree that some of that was hard to hear, or in this case, read.

If we want to lead people, sell product, drive change or increase our influence with our team, our customers and our community, we had better learn how to say it so it can be heard… in fact, what we should really learn, is how to say it so that our message is actively sought out.

This means more than simply saying what others want to hear. Although, one of the most annoying things about click bait is that it works. For instance, I know that, statistically, having the words “How to” in the headline above will increase opens, clicks and shares. Does that mean we are all predictable sheep? Sure. Do I care if it works for me? Well… no!

However, choosing to fuel or ride on the back of others’ prejudices or vulnerabilities is a rather cynical manipulation. This if often taught, albeit in a more benign fashion, as a sales and persuasion technique known as “mirroring”. Which is not to say that mirroring cannot be a more empathetic and ethical tool of influence, but perhaps only when practiced by someone with more sensitivity and deftness than a large number of those who profess to teach it.

On the contrary, saying something so it might be heard is more concerned with an understanding that communication isn’t about the transmission of information, it’s about moving multiple parties towards a sense of shared meaning. In other words, if you’re talking and you think we’re just not getting it, I’m going to suggest that it’s actually you that’s not getting it.

The point is, having truth on our side, or being right, or having a weight of evidence behind us, is usually insufficient to drive change and engagement.

The problem is, most people would rather be right than rich

(If you don’t like the word “rich”, please feel free to substitute it with “… than win” or “… than be successful” or “… than be listened to”.)

The reason for this is, we love our rightness like a teenager obsessed with their first crush – and the more intelligent we are, the more this will get in the way of our success.

For example, scientists and academics are notoriously egg-headed in the intellect department but mostly sit at the tail end of the bell curve when it comes to their Influence Quotient. “But we’re right Dan, that should matter!” they’ll exclaim, stamping their feet like a precocious toddler.

So let me put this in language the scientific folk are more familiar with: You’ve been carrying out double-blind testing of the “But I’m right” hypothesis for over 100 years and it is still not producing consistent, or even vaguely positive, results. In fact, in 2017, despite all of your evidence, your research data, your peer reviewed white papers and academic accolades and awards, we’re still debating climate change, the efficacy of vaccinations, what the word theory means with regard to evolution and whether contraception and reproductive rights are a good thing or not.

All of these are issues the scientific and academic world put to bed a long time ago… so, perhaps it’s time for a new hypothesis to test.

Scientists and academics, it transpires, are just like the rest of us – we become attached to a hypothesis simply because we want it to be true. (NB. Clearly the above paragraphs were framed precisely to provoke an indignant response from scientists and academics and should not be interpreted as an illustration of the central theme of this post.)

In my opinion, a better, or more useful, hypothesis is that we all need to learn how to sell – even though we’re right, even if we don’t like that word and especially if we think we shouldn’t have to!

If you want to get people on board, to create support for your cause, lead an organization in change or even to just sell some stuff, we need to learn how to stop banging on about our rightness and talk to “them” in a way they might care about what we care about.

So, how might we achieve this?

1. Frame your value in their values

Recently, I was listening to Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski discussing what he calls “fish love”. He retold the story of a man who claimed to love fish. The Rabbi questioned him asking, “But you take the fish from its home, kill it, boil it and eat it. Is it not more accurate to say that you love yourself.” I have little doubt that as he said this, a voice inside the Rabbi’s head vocalized the word, “Ziiiiiiiing!!!”

The point he makes is an important one. Our initial response to the world around us is driven by self-interest. In fact, our capacity to view the world through this lens has been critical to our survival as a species.

Rather than fighting this tendency and expecting people to come around to our way of thinking, we would do better by showing them what’s in it for them.

2. Link your message to existing Belief Systems (even if they really is BS)

One of the reasons affirmations are so ineffective (as opposed to mental rehearsal which does, in fact, measurably improve performance) is that when we’re lying to ourselves, even with great passion and enthusiasm, we know we’re lying. What’s more, our brains are incredibly, and unconsciously, capable of delivering a barrage of evidentiary arguments to support this fact with the brutal demeanor of a prosecuting attorney.

Consider the scene from American Beauty where Annette Benning plays a Real Estate agent who chants, “I will sell this house today” until she deteriorates into tears.

This cognitive dissonance, even though it may be on logically shaky ground, is incredibly powerful. A better strategy, rather than talking from a contrary point of view, is to link what is new to what is already understood and accepted.

Metaphors and similes are extremely useful in this regard as they create vivid and visual connections to ideas and beliefs that we may no longer even question – thereby increasing the validity and salience of our new message.

3. Use anesthetic when the truth is painful

One of the things researchers in hospitals have discovered is that doctors with a good bedside manner increase the rate and efficacy of a patient’s recovery. This rather elegantly makes the point that it is not just the “what” you say that drives effectiveness, but also the “how”.

This is why humor can be such a powerful way to set people at their ease, establish rapport and broach topics that might otherwise be difficult to hear.

Certainly this is a skill that requires some skill and judgment, but when used judiciously can move those who are otherwise resistant.

The broad conclusion we can draw from all of this is that persuasion is to be found on the other side of the table from ourselves, the sale is in the prospect not the product and that all influence is ultimately a product of empathy.

Of course, even this is not always easy to hear.

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Why you should forget work life balance and have cocktails instead

By Dan Gregory and Kieran Flanagan | Jan 22, 2018 | 0 Comments


Work life balance makes me vomit in my mouth a little. It’s one of those phrases used constantly but in truth it sets all of us up to fail. I prefer the notion of work life blending. Here’s why.

Work life balance is an oppositional concept. 

On one side we  have life and the other work. ‘In the red corner we have life… love, family, fun stuff and in the blue we have work… hours, money, stress’. Not necessarily the truth, because if we are honest, family can be stressful at times and work can be meaningful and a source of joy. But the game makes it one or the other. It’s a battle that makes the Hunger Games look friendly.

That’s right, the game we have somehow found ourselves playing is to attempt to have them as equals. It is a fantasy state of perfect equilibrium, a nirvana where everyone and everything is in perfect harmony. Then real life happens and we rarely have anything remotely resembling balance and we feel like enormous failures.

Balance is hard to maintain

Balance is something that is ridiculously difficult to maintain. It’s like a seesaw (or teeter totter for my American readers). Easily out of balance. Do you remember as kids trying to get a see saw to maintain equilibrium? You shuffled up and down, you added kids and took them away and it was nearly impossible to do. Sometimes, almost by magic you managed to get the weight to distance ratio correct, for a perfect moment you hung in the air. It was beautiful, but it was fleeting. The slightest shift from one of the kids sent it back out of balance. So too with work life balance. It is precarious and too easy to upset.

What we are balancing is a ridiculously long list

Thirdly we have made the list of things that go towards ‘balance’ stupidly long. To have balance today and be deemed successful apparently we need to: be a rockstar at work, solve problems like a ninja, find an outlet for our creative expression, have a huge social following, be working on our legacy, have a 5 year plan, a life plan and a plan to give something back, we should be crazily in love, make time for date nights and other random romantic gestures, read bedtime stories to our kids, attend every assembly, performance and swimming carnival, share our feelings, get present to what we are grateful for, meditate, light candles, take time for ourselves, have lots of baths, see old friends, make new friends, call our mums every week, have the flexibility of plasticine, breathe regularly, eat whole foods, blend our own smoothies, serve food in cute jars, have a house that belongs in a magazine, throw away things that don’t bring us happiness, know more than one language, travel the world, climb mountains, collect memories, try the karma sutra, try something that frightens us,have a signature dish, a signature move and a surprise move or two so we don’t get predictable. Arghhhhhhhhhh!! I can’t take it, the list never stops.

It is exhausting just reading the list of things we are trying to balance, let alone attempting to balance them. Then we have to review them, get honest with ourselves and sometimes even give ourselves scores in each category. Sigh.

You can see why the very idea of work life balance makes me feel rather nauseous.

I say forget balance, try work life blending.

As technology blends our work lives and our personal lives together so should we. Trying to have them separate is onerous. We need to re-think the model and allow them to co-exist. To take a broader look than simply are they in balance? If the traditional model of balance is like a set of scales where you attempt to balance things by adding and removing things from each side, work life blending is rather like cocktails.

Work life blending is like mixing cocktails.

Everybody likes cocktails! Cocktails are made with a cocktail shaker and a whole lot of ingredients. You chuck in your ingredients, shake it up and voila!

Of course there is a finite volume and you have to be honest about how much you can fit in. You cannot have everything. But you get to choose the ingredients you like, how much of each you want and how they blend together.

I like to make mine a long cool drink, meaning I take a longer view of my mix. Often over an entire year. I ask myself did I have a blend that I loved this year? Did  I get school holidays off to hang with Darcy, did I kick the big work goals I have, have an adventure, learn something that made me better and did my extended family and friends not feel completely abandoned?

My mix won’t be yours and yours won’t be mine. But that’s the great thing about cocktails, there is no one right way.

Just your way.


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You’re boring and it’s costing you

By Dan Gregory and Kieran Flanagan | Jan 22, 2018 | 0 Comments


I imagine about now you’re thinking, “Wow, thanks for the positive affirmation.” But hear me out, because we’re pretty sure it’s not your personality, it’s simply who you are at work and consequently, what defines your personal brand.

For some reason, otherwise interesting and personable people tend to put on their work clothes and check their humanity and individuality at the door.

To be fair, it’s not entirely your fault. The corporate world has spent decades trying to beat the humanity out of us and transform human beings into homogenous, replaceable cogs. And let’s be honest, on the back of last century’s industrial revolution, it was a good plan. Work was mostly routine, repetitive and ritualized.

However, it’s 2017 and the world of work has shifted. Repetitive work has either been off-shored, out-sourced or handed over to robots with AI that are more efficient, more obedient and less likely to unionize.

This, as it turns out, is actually a good thing. It means that what makes you human, unique and interesting (and interested) is your new competitive advantage.

So how do you take advantage of this? How do you unlock what is unique to you and transform it into a commercial advantage? How do you build a reputation as an influencer? An innovator in your category? And command the respect of your peers and the new business and fees you desire?

If you want to stand out (and you really do) you need to know your 4 Stands.

1. What do you stand for?

What is the contribution you wish to make in your world? What are you creating? Changing? Improving? Reinventing? What is it that you do that makes people’s lives that little bit better for intersecting with your work?

2. What do you stand against?

Whose apple cart are you upsetting? What status-quo are you challenging? What is the righteous fight you are starting and on whose behalf are you fighting for?

3. Who do you stand with?

Who is on your team? Who do you collaborate with? Where are the gaps in your expertise and experience and who will advocate for you and make these connections?

4. How do you stand up?

What is your tone of voice? What language do you use? What intellectual property have you authored and which media platforms are you using to seed your revolution?

This is an extraordinary time to be alive. The opportunities we have and the work we do is more interesting than at any time in our history.

So stop being so boring and take advantage of it!

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Is Self-Help making you feel worse?

By Dan Gregory and Kieran Flanagan | Jun 8, 2016 | 0 Comments

Originally published with SUCCESS


Isn’t personal development or self-help meant to inspire us so that we can make our lives better? It’s supposed to motivate us, but does it?

That’s a question we sometimes face in the self-improvement industry, where the difference between where we are and where we want to be looks so stark sometimes, it ends up disappointing us.

It’s a little like the beauty industry, which shows us perfect lives and perfect bodies that can’t realistically be attained, but we try anyway because that’s what we see.

The question is this: Does constantly working toward a better us cost us accepting who we are right now as good enough?

It is important to understand that the self-help industry usually doesn’t design for reality; it usually designs for an ideal. Subsequently, we conclude that we are always missing something, and to compensate we devour books, we invest in idea boards, we repeat mantras in our heads.

And when things don’t work out exactly as we visualized, we feel let down. At least you didn’t land in the mud, we tell ourselves, as if a pithy pick-me-up will make everything better. Underneath our relentlessly optimistic facades, we blame ourselves and our sad lack of discipline.

But rarely do we stop and question the systems we are buying into. It’s true, we do learn a great deal from many wonderful teachers and thinkers, and their sage advice can prove invaluable. Except we also learn to think of ourselves as “not good enough.” We spend so much time focused on where we come up short, constantly trying to change who we are in order to fit the model of a successful human being, when perhaps we would be better served doing the opposite and making the most of who we are right now.

If we can accept ourselves—our flaws and failings included—anything on top is a bonus. Here are four ideas to make the most of who you already are:

1. Look to systems instead of self-discipline.

Look beyond positivity and discipline as the sole solutions to all of your problems, and instead look to your systems and processes first.

Take the example of saving. The majority of people will agree that saving money is a good idea, but most people have no savings. Why? Most of us blame a lack of discipline, keep the goal on our list, and hope we will somehow transform our behavior with the right mantras and cork-framed visualization. Perhaps if we accepted the fact that saving is hard and that we need better, non-discipline based systems to make savings automatic, we would do better.

2. Realize the main thing wrong with you is that you think there is something wrong with you.

None of us are disciplined in every facet of our lives; we are disciplined in alignment with what we value. The higher up something is on our values list, the more attention and effort we attribute to it—and that is what others see as discipline.

Who we are is perfectly human and we must learn to accept that and work with it if we are to succeed.

3. Use what you are, not what you might be.

Instead of imagining the person you want to be, try making a list of the qualities you have right now—the good and bad. Then re-read the “bad” ones and try to reimagine them as more positive.

For example, if you consider yourself a chatterbox and think being outspoken is a negative characteristic, see it instead as being direct and honest. Stop thinking you are broken, worrying about what you need to fix, and start focusing more on what you have working for you.

4. Don’t just reach up. Reach out.

It’s not all about lofty goals and ambition. This is not to say we should not have big dreams; it means we should not let our big dreams make us feel small. We can’t let what we want in the future stop us in the now.

Today, right here, right now, we can do something to make ourselves proud, even if it’s small, by using what we have and who we are.

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Rethinking the S.W.O.T. Analysis

By Dan Gregory and Kieran Flanagan | Jun 1, 2016 | 0 Comments
Originally published with The CEO Magazine


Anyone who’s sat through a strategic workshop at anytime during the past decade will be familiar with the SWOT analysis. Simply put, it stands for Strengths Weaknesses Opportunities and Threats and has informed not only planning days and leadership forums but also a large majority of the decisions that executive teams have made regarding the future of their businesses.

The logic is rarely questioned – play to your strengths, sure up your weaknesses, and be vigilant to opportunities and threats.

One of the issues with this approach however, is that it can lead to some rather predictable thinking and formulaic results and may in fact increase the risks we face – even more so than simply leaving things to chance.

Often, in our work with boards or executive leadership teams, we’ll start with a typical SWOT analysis, but then flip it on its head – a process that can be just as informative.

For instance, what we’ve found is that strengths are typically industry or category generic. In a room filled with carpenters, being good with a hammer is hardly an asset. In this context a contextual strength becomes table stakes or cost of entry.

In fact, we like to suggest that strengths should in fact be considered vulnerabilities. They’re the things we think we know. The things we rarely question. This confidence and assuredness in our own ability can be costly as we end up playing in a commoditized market where strengths are neither unique nor considered a competitive advantage.

Contrast that with our weaknesses. We believe our faults and our foibles are in fact opportunities for uniqueness and remarkability. Typically, they’re unique to us or to the culture of our organization and yet these are the things we try to hide under the carpet or bury in our organization’s public face when an embracing of a weakness is not only distinctive, it engenders trust. When we convinced Coca-Cola to admit publically to commercial failure for the first time in their history, it not only changed the way they engaged with their customer base, it stimulated the most successful brand resurrection in the company’s history.

Now let’s look at opportunities and threats:

If opportunities are so glaring that they are borne out of a cursory SWOT analysis, then there is every chance that our competitors are not only looking in the same direction, but may in fact be much further advanced in their exploration than we are.

Which is not to say that identified opportunities should be ignored, simply that they may not provide the competitive lift we desire.

As for threats – an externalization of threat is also an error in our opinion. If the greatest threat to your business, organization or cause or movement is not yourself, then you’re in trouble.

A better strategy than trying to avoid or evade threats is to manufacture them in-house – to future hack your organization and lead your industry’s change rather than simply managing it.

So what does this all mean for the future of SWOT?

1. Learn to question your Strengths

Rather than seeing them as assets, consider how your strengths expose you to risk or else render you generic in a commoditized market place.

2. Own, embrace and amplify your weaknesses

Consider how you might find uniqueness in your weakness. How could your disadvantage be turned into an asset? Small doesn’t have to mean vulnerable, it can also mean more nimble, more personalized, more exclusive. We need to move beyond a binary view of our attributes and develop a capacity to see opportunities where no one is looking. Which leads rather nicely to…

3. Don’t look for opportunities, go to where there a few and create them

If the best way to predict the future is to create it, we need to learn how to identify not just blue oceans, but to also explore what lies in the less exciting regions of our category.

4. Be the greatest threat to your own business & host an “Insider Revolution™”

Don’t wait for change to dictate your future to you. Innovation should be category leadership and it is a leader’s role to set the course, not just for their organization but also for the future of their industry. This requires a willingness to break what’s currently working.

The S.W.O.T. analysis will always have its place as a strategic planning tool, but perhaps, we could be using it in a less predictable way.

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