Find Your Love

This message was sent to me today:

Find your love.

  1. Spend your life working at it.
  2. Trust your instincts.
  3. Ignore doubters.
  4. Chase the work, not the money. The money will come.
  5. Use your ideas to push this world forward.
  6. Don’t let your ideas down: Execute well.
  7. Work with great people. They are not always the easiest.
  8. There are no short cuts. Do the work.
  9. Great coffee helps.

I don’t know who originally wrote it but it seems to me very good advice; and great coffee really does help.


Criticism Is Better Than Applause

Do perfectionists despise praise?

I’m not a true perfectionist, but I imagine they might. Praise on its own never rings true if you’re seeking self improvement; for that you need constructive feedback and criticism. You pay your trainer in the gym to shout at you to give one more rep when it feels like you’ve got nothing left to give, not to tell you the first ten were just fine, you look ripped and you should grab a milkshake as a reward. Still, some people hate criticism, in fact at times we all can when it’s given badly.

In a work environment it can be difficult to separate criticism of an outcome from criticism of a person. Whether it be a customer, a colleague, or a boss, dissatisfaction of a result can sound like dislike for a person, which will always result in that valuable feedback getting lost in a lot of emotion as it hurts to be told you’re crap.  It’s not surprising we take it personally, look up synonyms for criticism and you get ‘disapproval’, ‘disparaging’, ‘denigration’. Ouch. But that should never be the intention of the criticism, the true intention is to help someone do it better next time.

If you’re giving criticism then a simple way to avoid causing offence is the “hamburger method” where you place the meat of your criticism between two “compliment buns” to make it a little easier to swallow.  A slightly better method is “Continue / Stop / Start” where feedback is structured with first what someone is doing well that you want them to continue doing, then what behaviour or outcome you want them to stop doing, and finally what they don’t do yet that you can recommend they start doing to help. I use this all the time, with work colleagues, suppliers, or when I am giving feedback as a customer. If you’re getting criticized and it hurts, think about asking the person to re-frame what they’re saying like this.

Enough about giving criticism, I want to receive it! Mark Thomas on The Guardian’s Professionals blog gave a succinct list of Six Reasons Why Criticism Is A Good Thing about a year ago. My favourite is that feedback makes your product stronger, and of course the product is your work output.  Whenever I do something new I will ask others an open question like: how could I do it better? Often times friends or colleagues feel much more comfortable giving praise (“you did great”, “well done”, etc). I never take that, I want the bad news more than the good. Praise makes me lazy, it makes me complacent. I want to surround myself with people who are happy to be honest about the things I missed. And the more criticism I get the easier it is to hear it. It’s often the people who shy away from criticism and latch on to praise that I see get the most upset when they eventually are confronted with someone asking them to change a behaviour or action.

These days I’m so comfortable listening to criticism I often smile as I am being given it. (Which does sometimes disconcert the person giving it to me). When doing presentations to large groups of people, colleagues say to me: “You don’t show any nerves! How are you so calm?” I respond:  “That’s easy, I have no fear of failure… because I am completely comfortable with failure!” I know I won’t be perfect, I’m human, and I look forward to finding out something new about myself every time.

Goodbye HMV – A Tribute

I had to share this amusing parody of Elton John’s “Candle In the Wind”. Mark Read (previously a member of the boyband A1) posted his ‘tribute’ on January 18th 2013, almost exactly one month before the real Elton John was reported  in  The Guardian (19/02/2013) to be considering a series of gigs in HMV stores to try and save the retailer. Could Elton have seen this video?

‘GOODBYE HMV’ – A Tribute to HMV (Parody of Elton John ‘CANDLE IN THE WIND’)



I Still Have A Lot To Learn

I like to categorize people who are successful in getting promotions or new jobs in business into two types; ‘Knowers’ and ‘Learners’. I’m interested if anyone else has experience of this, or agrees with me.

Knowers come with predetermined skills and knowledge; they often consider themselves an expert in their field. They exude confidence. They believe 90% of their decisions are right (when in fact the percentage is probably worse than 50%). They work on gut instinct or some “facts” that they know from a previous experience that supports their position but never present those facts for others to see. They hate concepts like testing or trial and error, they want ‘full roll out’ of their ideas now. When they’re wrong they react with confusion or incredulity and look for the person or event that should be apportioned the blame.

Businesses bring these people in to fill a skills gap that is deemed urgent. They want someone who requires little or no training and can ‘hit the ground running’. Perhaps these types will be incorrectly labelled in their business as ‘fanatic’ or ‘passionate’; they can be the person who rarely listens to any alternate point of view and goes about discrediting all opposing ideas. People will naturally be drawn to Knowers because they always look like they know what they’re doing. These people can do some good in a business with their singular purpose and strength of will, but they can also do an inordinate amount of harm when they are wrong. They have the chance of taking one small mistake and pushing it through to become a catastrophe.

Learners happily admit they don’t know it all. That never changes through their career. A Learner may not have the great big idea on day one but will double their value to their business in thirty days, after a year they will know exponentially more than they knew at the start and be equally more valuable; but they will be the first to say: ‘I still have lots to learn’.

Learners have no fear of making mistakes or taking responsibility for them as they know that mistakes only teach them more. Sometimes labelled ‘thoughtful’ or ‘enthusiastic’, they can often be the one who gets very excited by new ideas, and finds new ideas everywhere, from the colleague sitting next to them to the shop where they buy their groceries. They want to test ideas, and they may make many mistakes in that process, but they are small errors that help course correct to a much more favourable long term outcome.

I think these two personality types are at either end of a bell curve. 90% of people cluster somewhere in the middle. They know some things and they learn some things. The people at either end of the curve, the extremes, tend to stand out to employers. In business I think both extremes tend to get promoted faster, partly because they are simply different from the crowd, also because they tend to represent what businesses are looking for: an expert to be parachuted in to save the day (the Knower), or more like a healer to assess the patient and offer some new direction (the Learner).

Knowers do not improve with time. What they know after a year is the same as what they knew on day one. While they can show a benefit initially, as a business moves on and evolves they are left behind, they eventually look obsolete if they remain, or some will leave to find a new role with another desperate business in need of a quick fix to start the process again.

After a few years people start to think the Learners are indispensable, that they couldn’t function without these people, as the business evolves they evolve with it, they often lead that evolution.

Of course, we all start out as Learners. It’s just some people fall out of love with the idea or never liked it much in the first place. For others learning can be a more potent self improvement drug than steroids.

Make Things Happen

One of my favourite quotes is:

“There are people who make things happen,

there are people who watch things happen,

and there are people who wonder what happened.

To be successful, you need to be a person who makes things happen.”

It was said by the U.S. astronaut James Lovell, from Apollo 13 fame and also the first man to fly to the moon twice.

I’ll take advice from a guy with that track record. I always keep it in mind. Even when I know in a particular situation I may be waiting for something to happen, it gives me the hunger to want to get in there and make it happen; and it makes me fear being that person who ever wonders what happened.

My Favourite Record Store Has Me In It

I love a metaphor, and a few years ago I was told a great metaphorical story that opened my eyes to how developing my career was entirely within my control. As background, I spent the first six years after leaving school working in a record store. Some years later, an older friend who also started in a record store told me how he looked back upon his career; his name was Jon.

Jon saw himself as a compact disc.

At first, he was a new release. Not a huge Justin Bieber / One Direction type release. No, Jon was something a bit more specialist, a bit more obscure, Jon was an acquired taste. Maybe a Jazz release or an unknown and eclectic Indie band just starting out. As such, Jon’s CD was filed in the range, what we call the A-Z. And there Jon stayed for awhile, maybe selling a few copies now and then.

But one day Jon’s CD started to get noticed, it started to develop a small fanbase, and it started to sell. So with increased popularity Jon’s CD was taken from the A-Z and put on a display rack closer to the front of the store, a “Recommended Rack”. More people came across Jon’s CD, he got more fans, and more sales. And soon Jon’s CD found itself on the Top 40 Chart.

Jon started to realise that like any CD, there were a few things he could do to influence where it went in the store. A bit of good A&R got more attention for the CD, playing it in store, advertising it, getting it played on the radio; all these things helped Jon’s CD attract more notice, more sales, and move up the chart towards the Top Ten.

Equally, not doing anything to promote Jon’s CD would see it start to decline in sales and move down the chart, fans would buy other albums and so those other CDs would overtake it.

So Jon told me how he could see the arc of his CD sales, and his career. While he spent time working on his A&R and growing his popularity, he also knew in time that his CD would become old-fashioned one day, sell a little less, and become obscure once more. So his CD would fall in chart positions, and move back to the range one day, occasionally being found by someone with the persistence to look. Jon also knew that one day sales would be so bad, his CD might be de-stocked and removed from the range entirely… and, god-forbid, eventually it was destined for deletion. This is the story of most CDs, we can’t all be the Beatles White Album.

Even though I was told that story more than ten years ago, I still think of it often, and I’ve retold it to more people than I can count. I truly believe I am my CD’s greatest fan, and I work tirelessly as its A&R, Marketing, and P.R. executive to promote it. Oh, and I forgot president of the fanclub too.  And my promotion is in the store, above the line, via social media, through public performance, and in traditional media. I’ve worked hard to get it on the Chart wall, and so I thank Jon for the story and the impact telling it to me had on my life.

Postscript: When Jon told me the story of the CD as metaphor for the career, I saw the metaphor went even further than I think Jon had intended. A record store is only successful by having a lot of CDs to choose from. Nobody goes to a record store that sells just one CD, or stocks only the one album in 100s of places. Even the number one album can’t save the record store on its own, people like variety and a good record store has lots of it. Only by all the CDs working together and being in stock does the record store become successful, and all the individual CDs sell even better as a result. That’s why I share the story.

No One Will Ever Care As Much About Your Career As You Do

I often see people at work complain that their boss isn’t doing enough about their development. When yearly appraisals come round these people turn up with little more than folded arms. But if they are not going to put any effort into developing their career, why expect anyone else too? Most people learn this lesson at school. Teachers and parents may nag you to do your homework and study, but when do they ever offer to do it for you? Surprisingly, while I never saw a teacher sit an exam for a pupil, I often hear the complaint that “my employer doesn’t take enough of an interest in my career progression”. Unfortunately for those people, they usually realise all too late that their manager will be far more interested in their own career than that of their staff. Taking personal responsibility for your career is far more satisfying.

Something New

I’m revamping this blog. While it used to support my love of photography, I’ve moved that to places like instagram and flickr.

Apart from photography as a passion, I have been working in an office environment for over 20 years and I’m passionate about helping people get where they want to get. So my blog is going to be where I share my ideas around both career happiness and career development.

Hopefully something interactive, because my ideas aren’t finished, they need some input from people with alternate points of view to make them good ideas.

So thanks for following me once. If you want to stick around, great!