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Forty percent of working Brits routinely wake up in the middle of the night to check emails, according to a new study.

New research looking into the stresses and strains of modern working life has found a third (34%) regularly tackle work issues in the dead of the night, rather than leaving it until the morning.

In fact, 44% of those polled by British Summer Fruits, claim they frequently send emails to colleagues and clients between the hours of 11pm and 6am, while one in ten say they would fear for their job if they didn’t respond to emails promptly.

As many as 16% said they often end up burning the midnight oil due to pressures from colleagues and the boss, while 11% describe their life as ‘all work and no play’.

Even at the weekend, the average Brit spends around three hours catching up on emails and dealing with issues they simply haven’t had time to address during the week, while 64% of workers admit they lose sleep over work worries.

Additionally, 33% said their dinner is often interrupted with work demands, while one in twenty have put a stop to intimacy with their partner due to disruptive work queries.

A further 45% complained that their boss often called them during non-working hours and 28% have been disturbed on a family holiday.

Over half (53%) of the 1,000 British employees polled said they rely on strong coffee to keep them focussed during the long working week. However, 61% say their reliance on high caffeine drinks makes it harder to switch off when they get home.

A lethargic 14% resort to energy drinks to stay alert in the office and 27 admit to eating sweets all day to perk them up. A third (33% ) of those polled said they had been made to feel bad by the powers that be for not taking calls or answering emails out of hours.

64% of workers admit they lose sleep over work worries Click To Tweet.

 

Counting sheep

Dr Emma Derbyshire, Nutritionist for British Summer Fruits said: “This research paints a bleak picture for British workers.

“While the advancement of technology has helped us in our professional careers, it also means we are contactable 24 /7 and for many it makes the ability to switch off very hard.

“We spend such a huge proportion of our lives at work anyway, it’s depressing to hear that so many professionals are having to work until the early hours of the morning in order to catch-up on their heavy work-load.

“Relying on caffeinated drinks and sugary foods to keep us going is compounding the issue, making it harder for us all to switch off. With new research shedding light that berries can keep you going for up to six hours with no adverse side effects, we think they offer a great-tasting alternative to caffeine and sugar.”

Relaxing baths, friend’s weddings and even funerals were also events that workers had had ruined because of work dramas, while 37% of us have ended up logging on when abroad and working during our annual break.

And 37% of employed Brits say their phone is like a technological umbilical cord to their office and work, while more than four in ten (41%) confessed they are often at their wits end with constant grief from work.

Source: ResponseSource

 

 

It won’t surprise you to know that we’re more distracted than ever.

 

And here’s the real punchline…

We’ve stacked the deck against ourselves.

 

At first, our brains evolved to seek new stimuli. This helped us stay alive as we found fruit, water, attractive mates, and better trees to live under. Each discovery jolting our brain with dopamine, so we kept seeking out more, thus we survived. Neuroscientists call this bottom-up attention and it’s the first system of attention in our brains.

But we’re not just discovering fruit anymore, are we? Our technology has also evolved, to the point where new stimuli surround us every second. Our phone will never run out of shiny things to look at – not to mention our other devices. And looking at shiny things is one of the primary functions of our brain.

Our brains desire distraction and our technology provides it.

The Great War between humans and robots isn’t coming, it’s here now, and we’re losing. Click To Tweet

 

A stacked deck in the workplace

This is a bad situation when you’re trying to get something accomplished. Especially when you need an entire team of other people to help you accomplish it, and each of those people is just as distracted as you are. After all, Facebook’s busiest hours are 1-3pm, Monday-Friday.

Let’s put some numbers on it: Since 2007 (the year Apple released the iPhone), interruptions have increased to make us waste up to six hours a day. One estimate calculates these interruptions as costing 28 billion hours (with a ‘b’!), resulting in nearly $1 trillion in lost productivity. Even without distractions, a different study found that the mental sluggishness due to multitasking costs the economy $450 billion annually. All of that, just in the US.

The Great War between humans and robots isn’t coming, it’s here now, and we’re losing.

But we can still win.

We have two interdependent weapons.

Our first weapon is what neuroscientists call our top-down system of attention, devoted to planning. This system is what allowed us, after discovering new fruit, to restrain ourselves from eating all of it – and instead save some for planting. It’s a system that sacrifices current stimuli for future benefit.

Which is great, but how many times have you clenched your fist and declared, “Starting now I will lose weight and gain muscle!”, only to find yourself eating red velvet cake before dinner that night? If you’re anything like me, it’s pretty often.

The top-down system isn’t enough by itself, it also needs: community. Doing things together invests everyone in the outcome. If you agree to meet your friend at the gym every day at 7am – and you put some kind of penalty in place for not going, like $5 – your will to succeed increases immensely.

 

Attention at the team level

Liberating your workplace from distractions and generating focus starts with a conversation with your team. Here are the six areas where I’ve found the most productive starting questions:

 

Communication

For example, how and when do you allow yourself to be reached? Is everyone available at all times? Is there a system for sequestering in an unreachable “vault” to accomplish work that requires active focus? Is e-mail the one place for everything?

 

Technology

Does your technology promote focus instead of interruption? Does it add value to make all information available to everyone, does that add clutter? Would productivity software be helpful, or would its learning curve sap the resources it’s meant to preserve?

 

Office Design

Does every sphere of attention have its own space? How can you best signal to others not to interrupt with walk-bys and “quick questions” in times of active focus? To what extent does your team feel compelled to respond to external demands on their attention?

 

Priorities

What are your plans, and how can you empower others to pursue them? Do your people know why they’re on your team, and can they articulate it? What are your company’s overall priorities, in order? How can you emphasize the difference between delegation and empowerment?

 

People Development

What are your expectations of your team, and how do you communicate those expectations? How can you make work-life balance a priority for your team and yourself? Do spouses expect to reach you and your team at work? Do bosses in your organization expect to reach your team at home?

 

Leadership

How are you trying to change yourself? How do you motivate when studies show 87% of employees aren’t engaged? If a paycheck can’t make them care, how can you appeal to their emotions in other ways? And what about yourself needs to change before you can lead the needed change in your organization?

 

These are just starting points. It’s also helpful to define incentives, both positive and negative, and to establish a system of reminders so your collective decisions don’t fall by the wayside.

Our nature and technology don’t have to win. But we can only overcome them if we’re together.

 

About the author

Curt SteinhorstCurt Steinhorst is the bestselling author of Can I Have Your Attention? Inspiring Better Work Habits, Focusing Your Team, and Getting Stuff Done in the Constantly Connected Workplace. He is on a mission to rescue us from our distracted selves. After years studying the impact of tech on human behavior, Curt founded Focuswise, a consultancy that equips organizations to overcome the distinct challenges of the constantly-connected workplace.

Diagnosed with ADD as a child, Curt knows intimately the challenges companies face to keep the attention of today’s distracted workforce and customer. He has coached executives, TV personalities, and well-known professional athletes on how to effectively communicate and create focus when they speak to audiences, lead their employees, and engage their customers.

Curt’s unique insight and entertaining speaking style has captured the attention of audiences worldwide. He speaks more than seventy-five times a year to organizations that include everyone from global leadership associations and nonprofits to Fortune 100 companies.

 

You won’t persuade anyone to your point of view or proposed course of action unless you grab their attention and keep it with you.

 

If you want to persuade then blending into the background is not an option. As a speaker you should be looking for contrast – to stand out from other speeches and presentations and block out the other demands competing for your listener’s attention.

 

Here are five opportunities for contrast when giving a persuasive speech or presentation:

 

1. Contrast in the opening of your speech

A polite, but innocuous platitude, such as “Hello, thank you for inviting me …” wastes those precious opening seconds when you need to make an impact and connect with your audience (the first step in persuasion).

A pause. A smile. Both are hard to pull off when you’re nervous, but dramatic in their impact. Everyone warms to a genuine smile. And a pause draws attention from whatever people are thinking about to focus on you and wonder what you will be sharing with them.

To keep their attention, open with a startling statistic, a personal anecdote (we all love a story), or a relevant quote from someone significant to your audience e.g. an industry expert.

 

2. Contrast in content

In most business communication, the goal is to persuade your audience to adopt your call to action. This might be to buy your sales pitch, affirm your recommendations, recommend you to others, etc. Effective persuasion requires contrast in content.

Evidence-based information, e.g. statistics, track record or citation of a reinforcing expert quote drive credibility, authority and recognition of your expertise. However, these alone are not enough to persuade. You need to contrast this ‘rational’ and ‘functional’ information with more emotive content that helps to build trust and relationships; connections with your listeners. Here, storytelling and anecdotes come into their own. They are your chance to demonstrate your passion and enthusiasm for the case in hand.

Juxtaposed, these two types of information can bring even greater potency to your message.

 

3. Contrast of language and words

Rich and colourful vocabulary stands out. They work well in a speech or presentation in a way they might not in an everyday conversation. We need to avoid words that are obscure. However, when we use rich language, it stands out as different and erudite, enhancing our credibility and authority. For instance, instead of ‘say’, try mutter, mumble, shout, whisper, etc. They all communicate much more than just ‘saying’.

Over and above words, we have rhetorical devices to contrast from everyday speech, for instance:

  • Alliteration, e.g. colourful contrasts communicate, startling statistic
  • Metaphor, an expression that describes a person or object by referring to something regarded as having similar characteristics, e.g. the city is a jungle, broken heart, bubbly personality
  • The rule of three pervades formal speeches, fairy stories, film titles, comedy. Examples proliferate and you probably have your own favourites. One example I like is from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass:

“The rule is: jam tomorrow, and jam yesterday, but never jam today”

Rhetorical devices like these give emphasis and colour, creating engaging and contrasting content.

 

4. Contrast of voice and body

I’m sure you’ve experienced the misery of the monotone. It’s hard to stay focused on a voice that drones on relentlessly, without any kind of variety of pitch, pace, volume, etc. A voice that goes faster and slower, louder and quieter, harsher and softer, higher and lower is interesting. That colour and contrast brings meaning and interest to our words and makes a greater impact. For instance, if you say “the words tripped lightly off the tongue …”, you will render them more memorable if you use a short, staccato, light enunciation, using a faster pace that, combined, suggest the movement of the words themselves.

While you are talking, think about how you can use contrasting body language and gestures to give emphasis to your words. If your hands and arms are constantly flailing around, you deny yourself the opportunity to use gestures. For example: to indicate height, position your hand to the relevant height, to indicate inclusion, use an all-encompassing sweep across your audience or wide arms coming together in a large, encircling gesture

 

5. Contrasting stage positions

It is, without doubt, important to take a solid stance on stage because it conveys confidence. A speaker shuffling about makes us feel uncomfortable and nervous and much less likely to be persuaded. That’s not to say that you have to stay fixed in that position. Different parts of the stage can represent different locations, different points in time. For instance, audience left for the past and audience right for the future. When you change position, the audience travels with you to that time, place, etc. The point is that these contrasting positions should always be taken with purpose, to reinforce your message.

Contrast provides subtlety, light and shade. It gives interest and the difference that makes your presentation stand out and helps your audience better remember your message. To hold attention and persuade make use of contrast.

 

About the author

Lyn RoseamanLyn Roseaman is from Toastmasters International, a non-profit educational organisation that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of meeting locations. Headquartered in Rancho Santa Margarita, California, the organisation’s membership exceeds 352,000 in more than 16,400 clubs in 141 countries. Since 1924, Toastmasters International has helped people of all backgrounds become more confident in front of an audience. There are more than 300 clubs in the UK and Ireland with over 7,500 members. To find your local club: www.toastmasters.org Follow @Toastmasters on Twitter.

 

 

The key question in this unpredictable era:

 

What is your sense of purpose that will enable you to flourish in changing times?

 

What is your purpose? This is probably the single most important question you can ask and your answer will shape your future.

However, it’s not straightforward. We are led to believe that our purpose is connected with how much we achieve, the accumulation of possessions, or attaining status in society.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Your personal purpose is your internal compass. It is your big why. It is the meeting point between your passion and your talent. When you are on purpose you are in flow. When you are on purpose you unlock the necessary skillset to thrive in today’s complex and unpredictable world. Ultimately your personal purpose is an aspirational reason for being. A deep conviction about what is most important. It shapes your mindset, behavior and actions. It has a timeless quality, which is beyond circumstance. It provides the meaning and direction of your life.

 

Discovering your purpose

One day I got a call from the Head of Talent of a major law firm. Jane knew me well and that I specialized in coaching leaders to discover their purpose. She said that one of her most talented lawyers was questioning his future in law and was looking for some support. I met Stephen in central London and we found a quiet corner in a secluded hotel. He was extremely bright, quick thinking and personable. Stephen came straight to the point. He had been practising law his entire career, specializing in doing due diligence on major deals. But now, approaching his mid-forties, Stephen was reflecting on his future options. Should he stay in law, move into doing deals, enter the corporate world as General Counsel, take a risk and set up his own practice, or retrain in education and teach?

I sensed quite a lot of confusion in Stephen and suggested to explore his purpose before looking at any external factors. I shared with him a definition of purpose and the steps he needed to take.

The starting point was to ask Stephen to think of the key activities in his life, and those which displayed him at his best. When he was most fulfilled and why? When he was in flow and why? When he was experiencing ‘peak’ moments and why? He recounted times like playing sports, academic achievements, pulling off deals, marriage and family.

The next step was to identify the key themes emerging from his key experiences in order to understand their linkages. Stephen highlighted relationship, achievement and creativity as the standout ideas. We then entered a dialogue to go deeper into the meaning of these and the ultimate end-game he wanted to reach. He landed on ‘Being the best I can be’ as his purpose.

We then road tested his purpose against found key factors:

  • Consistent – he could apply his purpose to all areas of his work, life and relationships.
  • Energizing – he was fuelled by the idea of it and it ignited passion.
  • Fulfilling – he knew that by being on purpose he would thrive.
  • Significant – he recognized that his purpose linked him to what matters most.

 

Living your purpose

Stephen went back out into his life to put his purpose into action. Eventually it led him to transition from law into setting up an impact investment services firm, which he describes as a ‘profit with purpose’ business.

The vital element to the discovery of purpose is to be open-minded, curious and committed to knowing what is true for you. Living your purpose starts by setting a deliberate intention to be purpose-led in your work, life and relationships. It then requires you to demonstrate a skillset which will inspire and engage those you interact with through your ability to listen, connect and bring the best out of others.

At the end of the day life is too short to simply have a job. What if there was something that could become your guiding light, no matter how rough the elements get or how you fly? What if you could be grounded in a state of being that would help you navigate any challenge, and enable you to keep perspective when everything is going your way? What if you had a clear framework for making big decisions and managing the big priorities in your work and life?

 

Finding meaning

Having a purpose is the gateway for having an inspired and meaningful life no matter what.

By discovering and following your purpose you will be on track, regardless of the obstacles you hit along the way. In fact, your purpose will give you the capacity to embrace roadblocks with a growth mindset and greater resilience. Your purpose will transform your work into a source of giving and service that will fully engage you. Your purpose will nurture your relationships so that you create new levels of communication, connection and shared reality. Your purpose will inspire you to be the best you can be and thereby inspire others along the way. To lead with purpose is simply the greatest gift life has to offer. It lies in your hands to accept the gift and use it well.

 

About the author

Ben RenshawBen Renshaw is a speaker, coach and author of eight books, including Purpose, out 24 May.

He has worked with leading organizations, senior executives and entrepreneurs including Allen & Overy, Boots, BT, Cadbury, Coca-Cola, Heathrow, Heinz, Henley Partnership, IHG®, M&S, Nationwide, NATS, NHS, P&G, Rolls Royce, Sainsbury’s Argos, SSE, Sky, UBS, Unilever, Virgin Media and Zurich.

To hear more from Ben, listen to his podcast – LID Radio episode 83: What’s your purpose?

 

As it turns out, sitting at a desk all day is, well, not that good for us.

Research shows that a lack of physical activity during the working day — known as a “sedentary lifestyle” — is bad news for your health in more ways than one.

Sitting for too long doesn’t just affect your waistline: it also affects your mood, your memory, and even your sleep.

The problem is that this sedentary lifestyle is only getting more common as office workers pull longer hours to catch up with the demands of a world accelerated by technology.

Even finishing the day with a gym session might not be enough to counteract the detrimental effects of sitting down for 9.5 hours a day, which include:

  • Increased risk of diabetes
  • Increased risk of heart disease
  • Loss of muscle and bone strength

 

Nick Pollitt has put together a few tips to help inject more exercise into your every day:

 

1. Neck strengthening

If you’re holding your neck still for long periods of time, chances are it’ll start feeling pretty stiff. To help strengthen your neck, place your palms on your forehead and gently push your head forward, pushing back with your hands. Do this for a few seconds, stop, and repeat. Sure, it looks a little strange, but it feels really good.

 

2. Head rolling

Loosen up your neck and increase blood flow to that big old brain of yours with a head roll. Tuck your chin into your chest, then slowly rotate your head around your shoulders until you’re back to the starting point. Then, go back the other way. If you put headphones on, it’ll just look like you’re really into the music.

 

3. Shrug your shoulders

Don’t know the answer to something you’ve been asked? Take the opportunity for a few shoulders shrugs. Lift your shoulders to your ears and hold for a few seconds before dropping to help strengthen the muscles in your back which improves posture, reducing back pain. Don’t do this too often, though; otherwise, people may think you really don’t have an opinion.

 

4. Make your shoulder blades touch

If you sit at your desk with your arms out in front of you, it’s likely that the sensation of your shoulder blades touching is pretty alien. Nevertheless, it’s important to do this to help open up your chest and relax the muscles across your upper back. If you yawn while you do it, no one will bat an eyelid.

 

5. Press your hands together

Work on those pectorals and triceps with this easy exercise. Press your palms together in front of your chest and press them against one another. Hold for a few seconds. You should feel some tension in your arms, shoulders and chest.

 

6. Pull your hands apart

Starting in the same position as in exercise number 5, turn one hand the other way around so one thumb points to the ceiling and one to the floor. Hook your hands together by your fingers and pull for a few seconds. This helps strengthen your biceps without having to get the dumbbells out.

 

7. Tense your abs

It probably won’t give you a washboard stomach, but tensing your abs every now and again can help improve your core strength. That means your posture is better supported: goodbye, back pain! You can take this up a gear by gripping the edge of your desk and swivelling in your chair left and right with your feet off the ground.

 

8. Pinch your glutes

You might be sat on them all day, but that doesn’t mean that your buttocks are getting all the exercise they need. Tense and hold your glutes for 5-10 seconds, release, and repeat. You can sync it up to whatever music you’re listening to at the time to keep up a steady rhythm.

 

9. Compress those thighs

Without regular pressure put on them, your thighs can quickly weaken. Give them a quick booster by pushing your knees together. Hold them for a few seconds and release. If you have slim thighs, put a book between your legs and press against that instead. You should feel the benefit in your groin and around your hips.

 

10. Raise your legs

One of the great things about a desk is that you can give your legs some exercise without anyone noticing. Put your feet together and slowly raise your legs until they’re at a 90-degree angle to your body. Hold for a few seconds, then slowly lower them again. Do this a few times until you can feel the burn in your calves.

 

Doing a little exercise at your desk a few times a day is an easy way to look after your body while you’re at work. Remember to pair it with regular, more active exercise after work to keep your heart healthy, your blood flowing, and your brain supplied with the oxygen it needs to do a fantastic job.

 

About the author

Nick Pollitt is Managing Director at office furniture suppliers DBI Furniture Solutions.

Remember that productive conversation you had with your colleague?

Yes, that one.

The one where you discovered next day that he or she had walked away with a completely different idea to what you thought had been agreed!

Unfortunately we can quite often find ourselves in situations like this where what we believe was clear communication turns out to have been a complete illusion!

And it’s not just spoken communication. Words can be misinterpreted in other forms.

Perhaps you have sent a perfectly innocent email or text, and realised that the email recipient took offence – their interpretation was not your meaning!

 

What causes communication breakdowns?

In conversations, the words that we hear and their meanings, are all filtered through our own unique context grid which is made up of our strongly held opinions, beliefs, and attitudes which have been shaped and reinforced over a lifetime.  This results in us all unknowingly, putting our own interpretation or spin on the words of others.

Within the work environment, when you are dependent on someone to get a task accomplished, it is essential that you build a relationship with that person that will lead to open task-related communication.

 

Listening and questioning

Traditional conversations tend to be defined by what we tell rather than by what we ask. What I have learned from all my coaching experience is that building relationships, solving problems, and moving situations forward positively, requires asking the right questions. As Stephen Covey said we need to “listen with the intent to understand, not the intent to reply.”

 

In order to enhance our relations – and our communications – we need to adopt The ABC of Courageous Conversations; the art of ENQUIRY:

Asking questions to which you may not already know the answer;

Building a relationship based on curiosity and interest in the other person; and

Clarification – seeking clarification so as you understand what is being said.

 

An objective of every courageous conversation is to enhance the relationship – whether it’s with a work colleague, family member or friend.  With courageous conversations we can connect, communicate and collaborate more effectively at a deep level of understanding.

I’d like you to think for a moment about an important person in your life that you may be avoiding having ‘that’ conversation with, it may be your partner, your work colleague or a friend.

Remember, you and the other person use different context filter grids and working through likely assumptions that may have been made is essential to improving our ability to handle conversations.

All Courageous Conversations starts will self-enquiry, which follows the WOW approach:

 

What happened

Without an overlay of our assumptions, what actually happened and how does that make you feel?  Who else is it effecting – family/work colleagues?

 

Own It

How might you have contributed to this situation?  Something you did/did not say or do?

 

Win-win it for you and the other person

When it’s resolved, what positive implication will it have for you/other person and family or work?

How does it make you feel?  Who else will benefit from this resolution – family/work colleagues?

Once you are clear on where you stand with this issue, is there someone you need to have a courageous conversation with?

 

Preparing for courageous conversations

Before you begin your courageous conversation bear these tips in mind:

 

Tip 1 – park your emotions on the shelf. If you are in an emotional state, this is not the time to have the conversation… WAIT.  Instead come from a place of curiosity.

Tip 2 – Have the end in sight. What is it you want to achieve in this conversation?

Tip 3 – Be patient and Listen. Slow the conversation down. And listen. We all like to be heard – really heard. They may well have insights you hadn’t counted on.

 

Courageous conversations can enhance your working relationship.  Making room for courageous conversations can deepen that connection, communication and collaboration.

Communication is vital in all aspects of work.  When communicating make sure that you are crystal clear.  Where you need to and it’s appropriate, seek clarification that what you meant was actually what was understood! “Let me clarify, I’m not sure I explained well. What did you hear me say?”  Similarly ask for clarification from others if you are not sure you are understanding them fully.

The skill of Enquiry is necessary to facilitate effective collaboration in the working environment. Work colleagues come with a variety of conflicting personalities and styles. . For those is the role of leader or manager, it is needed to create the relationships and the climate that will promote open communication

Getting to a point where everyone in a team can collaborate and work in harmony can be a challenging task. It can take time for everyone to develop the attitudes and skills required. We should always aim to understand as well as be understood. This is why actively encouraging Courageous Conversations and using the art of Enquiry can make such a positive impact on our work relationship and our ability to get the job done.  Learning the skills can of course benefit the rest of our lives outside work as well.

 

About the author

Karen O’Donnell is from Toastmasters International, a non-profit educational organisation that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of meeting locations. Headquartered in Rancho Santa Margarita, California, the organisation’s membership exceeds 352,000 in more than 16,400 clubs in 141 countries. Since 1924, Toastmasters International has helped people of all backgrounds become more confident in front of an audience. There are more than 300 clubs in the UK and Ireland with over 7,500 members. To find your local club: www.toastmasters.org  Follow @Toastmasters on Twitter.

What is better proof of original thinking than creating the ultimate management metaphor?

 

A shining example, for me, is the ‘black swan’. The black swan was introduced by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his bestselling book1 of the same name.

Up to about the year 1600, no European had ever seen a swan of any color other than white. White had thus become an inalienable attribute of the swan.

When Westerners started to explore other parts of the world, they encountered the black swan; an indigenous animal in Australia. This was a huge shock. The hypothesis that white was an attribute of a swan had to be revised.

Forced change causes pain; embedded beliefs have to be reviewed. After all, if you have never seen a black swan, you will forcefully deny that a black swan can exist. You rate such existence as highly improbable if not downright impossible.

Here enters Taleb. He postulates that what we perceive to be highly improbable or even impossible – like seeing a black swan when you don’t know one exists – is much less improbable than our mind tells us it is. As so often happens, we fool ourselves. A black swan is not fundamentally unpredictable, it is only unpredictable when we allow our minds to be closed to the possibility.

Upon seeing the black swan, the 17th-century Western explorers experienced a rare event. The event has at least four attributes:

 

–        Is objectively improbable.

–        Is, however, far less improbable than our mind makes us believe.

–        May have a high impact.

–        Looks unimaginable.

 

The latter is only true because our past experiences do not offer us cues on this event being possible. Our mind has its limits. Human minds don’t naturally tend to question that our vivid experiences are the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. What we see, however, is rarely all there is.

 

Black swans

The black swan is a blessing to me in my strategy work. It offers a metaphor-with-meaning for me to use to my management.

It is now possible to make a statement like: our prediction of the Brent oil price for the next six to nine months is only valid when no black swan events happen. In such statement the words ‘black swan’ function as an understood and accepted disclaimer. The words show that in our forecast we indicate not to have included what is unimaginable to us. But they also hint that unimaginable things do exist. Hence the words ‘black swan’ convey the whole concept.

By default we underestimate the probability of the occurrence of a high-impact event. This is not a problem as such but in strategy you have to be aware of it. It implies that there is just a bit more reason for caution than you might naturally think.

Reflecting on black swans, it seems that behind every black swan hides a form of self-deception. Let us call this the silent assumption2. Silent assumptions not only relate to black swans, they may more broadly affect the quality of our logic. By implication they often also affect the quality of our (business) decision-making.

 

Silent assumptions

Silent assumptions are generally the result of sloppy thinking. In the black swan metaphor it is easy to see what the silent assumption is. It is hard to assume that swans are any other colour than white when you have never seen one. The silent assumption thus is that ‘all swans are white’. In our mind the attribute of the white colour is unconsciously or silently added to the swan.

But such silent assumptions can negatively affect everyday decision making.

When I conducted my Ph.D. research between 1988 and 1992, the lead Ph.D. tutor was a female professor of chemical engineering at the conservative Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. As well as being a woman, she was also small (certainly by Dutch standards) at hardly more than 5’4”. And as well as an eminent scientist, she was also a great storyteller. One of her stories went as follows:

 

One rainy autumn night, she was invited to be a guest speaker at a gala dinner of the Dutch Association of the Chemical Industry in a plush banquet hall. She decided to drive her own car, which she had to park some distance away. Anticipating she would have to walk a fair distance, she decided to wear boots and an overcoat, carrying more elegant shoes in her bag.

The moment she arrived in her wet attire at the formal entrance of the hall, she was stopped by the doorman. “Sorry madam, we have a private party tonight,” he said. She humbly replied, “To which I believe I am invited.” The doorman asked her for her name and she replied, “Gerda van Rosmalen.” The doorman subsequently apologised saying, “I am afraid something has gone wrong tonight madam. We only have Professor Doctor van Rosmalen on the list of invitees.”

Before she could reply the chairman of the Association walked by and warmly welcomed her, saying, “Gerda, we are so honoured to have you with us tonight. Why don’t you come in, what’s bothering you?” Still more surprised than embarrassed, Gerda said, “Well the doorman didn’t believe I was invited, having only professor van Rosmalen on his list,” upon which the chairman saved Gerda’s night and this story by gently telling the doorman: “She is professor van Rosmalen.”

 

Just as swans were silently assumed to be white, full professors of chemical engineering in the Netherlands in 1990 were silently assumed to be male…

 

Silent assumptions are avoidable, black swans are not

In business, and possibly in our personal lives, black swans will occasionally occur. We can’t question everything we know all the time and still make decisions. Silent assumptions, however, are avoidable. When we spot and tackle our silent assumptions by constantly asking ourselves the right open questions, we may even be better prepared when the occasional black swan does show up in our life at a time of its choosing!

 

Notes

.1.        Taleb, N.N. (2007), The Black Swan – the impact of the highly improbable, Allen Lane, London.

.2.        Acknowledgement to the writer Joris Luyendijk who pointed this out to me in a personal communication in early 2017.

 

About the author

Erik ElgersmaErik Elgersma is author of The Strategic Analysis Cycle Toolbook and The Strategic Analysis Cycle Handbook. He is the director of Strategic Analysis at FrieslandCampina, one of the world’s largest dairy companies. He speaks and lectures frequently at universities and on business seminars on the topics of strategic analysis, competitive strategy and related data analysis and management. Erik holds a PhD from Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands, and is alumnus of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Vienna, Austria.

If your internet connection is so slow that it’s driving you to distraction, don’t panic.

 

There are things you can do to speed it that don’t involve spending a lot of money.

Before you start, it’s best to MOT your setup by investing in robust anti-virus software, more memory, and a maintenance check by an IT professional.

Reposition equipment, such as your router, may be all that’s required to boost your office’s internet access. Configuring computers to download and install necessary updates outside of office hours will also relieve the workload on your bandwidth.

Although these are common issues in offices, they’re unlikely to be the main reasons behind your snail-pace connection. Here are some other culprits:

 

Cloud Services

Cloud services free up space on hard drives, which is a great benefit, but the more a Cloud service is used, the more bandwidth is consumed, slowing down how quickly employees can access their data, and potentially leading to bottlenecks. The movement of email hosting to the cloud (through Office 365 and Google Apps) also impacts internet speeds.

After you’ve migrated all of your system to the Cloud, identifying how much of your office bandwidth is used, and upgrading if necessary.

You can also tweak your Cloud service. For example, Dropbox is a very useful tool, which is designed to be smart about using bandwidth, but you can also manually adjust its bandwidth settings to choose Download and/or Upload rates you prefer.

 

Email

If you have to send 5GB of attachments, then chunking the attachments down and sending them in a number of emails is better, zipping the attachments is better still, and no attachments but including a Dropbox link is even better. Invest time to educate your staff about the most efficient ways to send information.

Spam can also be a big problem: many companies find that for every megabyte of mail traffic, there is twice as much spam.

If you’re a corporate body, there is nothing to stop other bodies sending you marketing-based emails, although many will comply with an unsubscribe request. However, corporate email addresses that identify individuals (yourfirstname.yoursurname@yourbusiness.co.uk) have Data Protection Act rights, which means that, just like a private email address, any request to cease sending marketing emails must be respected.

 

VoIP

If you’re already using VoIP, or you are considering it, there are many advantages including; streamlining your business (e.g. one supplier for voice and data); allowing calls to be diverted to field workers anywhere in the world; the ability to place outbound calls through Outlook (or other email clients); and savings in installation, maintenance and call charges. But it does rely on hardy internet connections.

 

Video Conferencing

Video conferencing allows people to be involved in meetings from any location with internet access. But that does use more bandwidth: for a low-quality desktop endpoint, video conferences can require anywhere from 128 Kbps, and for an immersive three-screen telepresence suite you’re looking at up to 20 Mbps.

 

Entertainment

These days people have multiple devices; phone, laptop, tablet and Kindle. There are many ways your staff will connect to the internet; they even need an internet connection to sync their Fitbits.

They may be merely keeping an eye on Social Media and/or news services, which are relatively easy on bandwidth, but the radio station that plays in the background could be being streamed from Seattle or Nashville. And if the work environment allows private offices or the use of earphones, each member of staff could be listening to a different internet radio station or listening to Spotify or Amazon’s Music Unlimited. And during breaks they may be watching YouTube or Netflix – both of which are bandwidth heavy.

It’s important to review your internet connection. Assess your bandwidth usage by first determining how much your actual business needs. Then look at the overall use by your employees, estimating the time they spend online and working out which parts of the working day sees the heaviest use. It may be that the only way to improve your internet connection is to spend more money, but it may be that by reorganising when certain tasks are carried out, by making tweaks to equipment and software, and by raising staff awareness of how to get the most out of your bandwidth, you will resolve your issues, or at least limit any extra spend.

 

About the author

Peter SouthgatePeter Southgate is from Frontier Voice and Data providing businesses with working, flexible, bespoke and price competitive communications solutions for more than thirty years. FVD is an independent supplier and carries a comprehensive, business grade suite of products to suit any type or size of company. See: http://fvdata.co.uk/

 

Survey sources:

Office grumbles

Millennials and video conferencing

 

 

There is a lot of hype about Artificial intelligence (AI).

 

We need to step back and face up to the critical issues that will shape the future economy and our lives.

Here we draw on key messages from our recent book Beyond Genuine Stupidity – Ensuring AI Serves Humanity to highlight five of the most critical issues and the choices facing governments, businesses, society, and individuals as we prepare for AI’s impact on us all.

 

1. Technological Unemployment and New Jobs

The AI technology vendors are struggling to hold a consistent line. On one hand they are selling the return on investment case for AI – predicated on headcount reductions. However, as this is a contentious issue they are now arguing the “augmented intelligence” angle. The new line is that AI will free people from routine tasks to do more creative/problem solving work. Whilst this is attractive, the evidence to date suggests most employers are going for cost base reduction.

Some evangelists argue that AI will create a host of new jobs and industries. Whilst this is possible, the majority of new jobs will require at least degree level education. Many new businesses will be highly automated, and also there could be a major time lag between bank staff and truckers being made redundant and the new jobs being created.

The challenge for governments is to model a range of scenarios, including extreme ones. From this, they can start assessing the tax implications of different levels of unemployment, explore policy options they might pursue, and identify immediate actions they should be taking because they are valid under all scenarios.

 

2. Reskilling and Education

For adults, in most countries, the provisions for retraining and lifelong learning are woeful. However, the facilities already exist in schools and colleges, and there is no shortage of people who can deliver training. Exponential change requires an exponential increase in provision for retraining – the cost of inaction will be higher unemployment costs, rising mental health issues, and skill shortages.

For schools, we need to take a hard look at the assumptions underpinning current curriculums. For primary school children the bulk of the jobs they’ll do probably don’t exist yet. Hence, we need to equip them with skills that will allow them to take up these new opportunities when they arise. This means a far greater emphasis on social and collaborative skills, conflict resolution, problem solving, scenario thinking etc.

 

3. Universal / Guaranteed Basic Incomes

There will inevitably be employment casualties from automation. How people will be able to afford the goods and services being produced by the machines if they no longer have jobs?

Many have argued for a guaranteed basic income (GBI) across society – that pays a living wage to everyone – at a rate typically higher than unemployment benefit. Countries around the world from Canada and Finland to India and Namibia have been experimenting with different models for GBI.

Governments need to work together to try different experiments and see the impacts on funding costs, economic activity, the shadow economy, social wellbeing, crime, domestic violence, and mental health. The experiments will provide evidence on which to base policy decisions when the need for action arises.

 

4. New Responsibilities for employers

Many potential issues around the introduction of AI and other disruptive technologies will arise from the choices made by employers. Will they retain staff freed up by technology or release them to make higher profits?

If unemployment costs rise, or GBI schemes are introduced – who will pay for them? One option is the introduction of “robot taxes”, where firms effectively pay a higher rate of taxes on the profits they derive from increased automation.

 Opponents of GBI schemes and robot taxes have yet to offer substantive alternative policy options for what is likely to be a genuine issue.

Large employers and governments need to think about viable policy alternatives for a world where we might need fewer workers.

 

5. Ethics, Governance, and Ownership of the Technology

Should the evolution of AI be left to the private sector? Voluntary ethical charters are starting to emerge to govern the development and application of AI and robotics. The challenge here is that AI is recognised as a critical future technology by leading industrial nations. Hence it has become an economic battleground, and a race for AI superpower status. In response, there is a growing argument for state regulation and oversight of AI.

Given the challenges, an option being put forward is for governments to nationalise the ownership of AI intellectual property and then licence it back to firms that deploy it. In this way, governments could regulate the deployment and raise revenues to cover the expected social costs discussed above.

AI is advancing at such a rate that identifying the future implications and impacts is getting beyond the reach of governments, businesses etc. There are difficulties but we need to take an enlightened and forward-thinking approach.  This means beginning to seriously analyse and assessment the most radical possible outcomes. We need to develop policy options for the worst case scenarios, and take actions now which we know will be beneficial to humanity however the game of AI plays out in the long run.

 

About the authors

Rohit Talwar, Steve Wells, Alexandra Whittington, April Koury, and Helena Calle are futurists with Fast Future – a professional foresight firm specializing in delivering keynote speeches, executive education, research, and consulting on the emerging future and the impacts of change for global clients. Fast Future publishes books from leading future thinkers around the world, exploring how developments such as AI, robotics, exponential technologies, and disruptive thinking could impact individuals, societies, businesses, and governments and create the trillion-dollar sectors of the future. Fast Future has a particular focus on ensuring these advances are harnessed to unleash individual potential and enable a very human future. See: www.fastfuture.com

 

Have you ever wondered what investors are looking for when deciding whether to invest in an equity crowdfunding campaign?

 

What makes the difference in their decision to invest or not?

The answers to these questions depend a lot on their motivations behind investing via crowdfunding.

Here we look at the different types of investors and the factors that play into their decision making.

 

Sophisticated Investors and Retail Investors

Generally, you can catagorise investors into two types: retail investors and sophisticated investors.

Retail investors invest more emotionally, basing their decision on the cause or brand, or because they know the people involved.

Sophisticated investors typically invest more than retail investors, but, contrary to popular belief, the amount they invest doesn’t necessarily reflect their level of sophistication. For the purposes of this comparison, a sophisticated investor can be either a private individual or an institution – they tend to exhibit the same characteristics.

It’s definitely more a spectrum than two clearly divided camps, but there are some common identifying features:

 

  • Retail investors make their investment decisions based on their emotional attachment / Sophisticated investors made decisions based on their rational attachment.
  • Retail investors want to be part of a journey, to tell their friends they’re involved / Sophisticated investors are investing only to make a return.
  • A retail investor will go with a gut decision / A sophisticated investor will have a process for appraising opportunities.
  • Retail investors are (or at least should be) gambling some of their disposable income / Sophisticated investors view crowdfunding as one of the riskier assets in their diverse portfolio.
  • Retail investors will typically look for reasons to invest / Sophisticated investors are looking for excuses not to invest.

 

I didn’t talk about their level of investment. And that’s because, in reality, I don’t think it matters. I’ve seen a retail investor put more than £150,000 into a company without even requesting the business plan. Equally, I’ve known a number of investors on both Seedrs and Crowdcube to exhibit all the signs of a sophisticated investor, but regularly only invest in the low hundreds.

Some of the vocal critics of crowdfunding have claimed that retail investors shouldn’t exist at all. I find this view incredibly patronising. Firstly, as long as you are aware of the risks, then it’s your money to do with as you will. Who are they to tell you how you should spend your money? Secondly, I’ve seen many well-managed and institutionally-funded companies still go on to fail. Risk exists everywhere. But is it any less noble to invest in something because you believe in the idea, rather than investing simply to make a profit?

And the crowd has proven it has greater foresight than you’d think. It turns out that the major crowdfunding platforms have similar success rates as typical VC funds. The data suggests that the crowd is often as good at predicting the future success of a company as professional analysts. It’s not surprising. The crowd is representative of the market, and crowdfunding is akin to the market voting with their cash for their favourite ideas.

 

Stand out in the crowd

Now that you know a bit more about your audience, what can you do to make sure you appeal to both kinds of investors?

Firstly, you can go into your campaign with your company in an already healthy state. You should be able to prove that there’s market interest in your idea and you’re already able to generate sales.

Even better, you can organise a consumer marketing and PR campaign to hit at the same time as your crowdfunding campaign, you’ll be able to update investors with your progress in real time. Having a buzz about your company during your raise will drive retail investors to your campaign and give sophisticated investors confidence in your forecasts.

 

What turns investors off?

 There are some faux pas you need to avoid entirely as they can quickly turn off either category of investor. These include:

 

  • Not making yourself available during the campaign. Appear in your own video, no matter how shy you are; have an open office, investor event or webinar. Investors are investing in you, and want to know you’re not trying to hide from them.
  • Not doing your homework. Find out who your competitors are, how big your market is and how much penetration you’re likely to achieve.
  • Not including a financial model. Retail investors want to see that you’ve done your homework. Sophisticated investors will want to scrutinise your assumptions and check if you still make money even if you don’t hit your forecasting targets.
  • Not answering questions openly on the public forum. I’ve seen campaigns stall completely because a founder refuses to answer a question. At best, it makes you seem unprepared; at worst, untrustworthy.

 

Passion Investments and Profit Investments

We’re living in exciting time. We’re starting to see the potential for many of the world’s problems being solved by innovative startups that are powered by the crowd, projects that, for example, recycle plastic into oil, or that use stem cells to regenerate damaged heart muscles.

These startups are known as passion projects, or passion investments. They’re exciting, they’re world-changing, and they’re predominantly supported by retail investors.

But, I believe, companies that can attract the full spectrum of retail investors and sophisticated investors have the best chance of success. Not only do businesses need savvy investors, they need people who feel passionately about their cause.

The good news is that all companies can make efforts to appeal to both kinds of investor. Solid financial forecasts and world-changing ideas can combine to create projects that are full of passion and generate a good return.

 

About the author

John AucklandJohn Auckland is a crowdfunding specialist and founder of TribeFirst, a global crowdfunding communications agency that has helped raise in excess of £4m for over 20 companies on platforms such as Crowdcube, Seedrs, Indiegogo and Kickstarter. TribeFirst is the world’s first dedicated marketing communications agency to support equity crowdfunding campaigns and the first in the UK to provide PR and Marketing campaigns on a mainly risk/reward basis. John is also Virgin StartUp’s crowdfunding trainer and consultant, helping them to run branded workshops, webinars and programmes on crowdfunding. John is passionate about working with start-ups and sees crowdfunding as more than just raising funds; it’s an opportunity to build a loyal tribe of lifelong customers.

See: http://www.tribefirst.co.uk

Twitter: @Tribe1st