Saturday, 26 January 2008

Blindicles for the Arts or Articles for the Blind?

'Articles for the Blind' frequently fall through the letterbox of my blind friend.

I use the term blind rather than the PC 'visually impaired' because many of us sighted people hear the term 'visually impaired' ('VI' to those in the know!!) and think instinctively of someone who 'can't see very well'. I use the term blind because this friend does not have any perception of light or dark, let alone image discernment; her vision is 100% impaired … plus some!!

I have learnt a huge amount from this friend, including that two of the most frequent misconceptions are:

  • Guide dogs are not so well trained that you say, “Take me to the corner shop” and then just follow them. It is the owner, not the dog who learns the route; the function of the dog is to get their owner to the destination in one piece … most of the time!
  • They are 'Guide Dogs' not 'Blind Dogs': it's the owners who are blind, not the dogs!
So, why do I choose to tell you about a blind friend in particular? Well, despite a complete lack of visual function she is incredibly creative!


Isn't creativity a visually inspired thing?

Obviously not.

When I first discovered that my friend had no perception of light and dark, I was intrigued to find out what she 'saw' when she closed her eyes: Was it black? Was it white? Was there colour?

Her response made me take a step back … "No! There is just nothing!"

Yet, as we talked about colour and shade and clothes and house decorations I was staggered that she had the most amazing concept of colour and co-ordination. She could go into her wardrobe and pull out clothes that matched and then go to her jewellery and find an appropriate necklace and earrings. It didn't matter to me whether what I saw as green related to how my friend saw green. I was confronted with was a lady who, when she closed her eyes (or kept them open for that matter) could 'see nothing' yet could perceive in her mind colour matches and co-ordination to fine degrees of detail.

My friend could describe pictures she saw in her mind, musical pictures that were stimulated through conversation, sounds, taking a walk … many things. During discussions new light would be thrown on old problems simply because she was able to see things from a different perspective. And it was amazing how many times those ideas were the key that unlocked the door to new discoveries and new ways of doing things.

I was struck how differently we could see situations; metaphorically and physically (though she had a slight disadvantage!) and yet how synergistic these views often were. They weren't 'right' or 'wrong'; they complimented each other, rubbed against each other, challenged each other and in so doing released something new. One of the great things about creativity is that it can be sparked when we come face-to-face with people who see things very differently from us, in this case, quite literally! Some magic moments occur when my view is challenged or even destroyed by that of my friend. These are the times when connections are made between things that don’t naturally connect for me and true creativity is born.

I know that my perspective on life has been greatly enriched by knowing this friend. I hope that each of us can find something fresh from relationships that we have in business or our personal lives that may have become stale or contentious because of our very different views.

Perhaps if we see the potential rather than the problem we will all benefit.

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Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Taking Personal Responsibility for Etiquette

As a follow-up to a recent post ... I was very interested to read an article just now on corporate e-mail etiquette and was left asking myself the question,

"Do we really think about what we're doing?"

I suspect the answer is probably 'No' in many cases as we try our hardest to either empty our inbox, or look for someone else to solve the problem. Neither of these intentions is bad unless we are the one who should be solving the problem. But is the e-mail inbox the only problem? I think not. Myopia (short-sightedness) is common in so many areas of our daily existence. We have often become pre-conditioned to respond in such a way through repeatedly acting that same way; sometimes acting before thinking. The result is that we often, inadvertently (or intentionally?) overload others.

Perhaps you, like me, are looking to make 2008 a year where those knee-jerk and pre-conditioned responses are identified, addressed and resolved. This is not an easy or pain-free course of action and will undoubtedly need to continue to be re-addressed. However, I am confident that the benefit of my actions will be much wider than just myself: the change in me and my attitudes will impact those around me.

So, instead of looking for some kind of 'policing' in situations like excessive e-mail, might it not be a good idea to address the problem at the root: the people who are sending them and bring about a change in attitude and awareness. Rather than being reactive to something that has already happened, wouldn't it be better to stop it from happening in the first place?

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Monday, 14 January 2008

Honest Debate - A Creative Tool?

Hi! I've not written anything down for a while because I have had my nose in books researching for my business. My entry for today is short and basic.

I never cease to be amazed how many of the triggers that release creativity are so simple. Nothing deep and complicated; nothing highly theoretical; nothing special really ... just a gateway to looking at the same problem in a different way. For example, take a problem, look at the key elements in that problem and then start thinking about the effects of opposites: What would be the situation if that wasn't to happen?

And as I looked at these tools, it struck me that some of the greatest stimulators of creativity are when opposites meet; when we are placed in situations, or with people who take a different, possibly contrary view to our own.

And I wondered whether we lose creative opportunities because we are afraid to engage in open, honest, frank debate and in some cases take an opposing view. I'm not suggesting that we look for every opportunity to put people together who go for each other's jugular, but I am suggesting that by encouraging honest debate between people or departments which don't naturally fit together, we may be able to stimulate some new, otherwise unidentified solutions to our problems.

I also think that some our meetings would also be more fun and productive!

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Saturday, 5 January 2008

'Oh! I've known you for ages. I don't think it's my job to tell you when you've done something well ... just when you need to improve'

So ended a conversation with someone I'd known for years ... and it hurt ... and it set me thinking!

I see many people, especially young people/young adults with a desperate need to be affirmed, noticed, respected (in the true sense) and encouraged. They have many 'friends' and colleagues whom they have known for a long time, but somehow the familiarity has also put scales on the eyes of friends, so that they no longer encourage or feed positives into their life ... only a destructive neutrality.

And yet I am often just as guilty as my friend for either prejudging (appearance, comments from other people etc) or just looking for things I can improve in others, whilst missing the core values and reasons why they are my friend in the first place. What should be a relationship becomes a monologue: I forget their needs and aim to fulfil my wants.

I remember friends at school who were devastated when they had tried their hardest and yet weren't quite good enough because the standard of their work didn't compare to the standard of work submitted by other members of the class. Rather than being helped and encouraged, they were targetted by teachers and fellow pupils; they were the butt end of jokes; they were labelled 'thick', 'stupid', 'dunces' (and worse) ... and I was right there with the crowd taunting them!!

What effect did this have on the individuals concerned?

They responded in a number of ways. They became:

Discouraged ... they perceived themselves as not good enough.
Demotivated ... their enthusiasm and interest declined and not surprisingly, their marks got worse
Disillusioned ... long-term, some of my friends gave up in that subject
Some became Disenfranchised from the education system ... they continually got into trouble with teachers, pupils and in some cases the law, and very sadly, some lost hope.

But thankfully, some became very successful people, running their own business and enjoying life.

So what happened to buck the trend?

In most cases there was either an individual who took interest in them, coached and encouraged them, hung in there and made a difference. In other cases the inner drive of these people to prove to themselves that they had value and could succeed was so strong that they drove themselves to achieve what they had been told could never happen.

I hear sad stories about people like Robbie Williams and Mick Hucknall, two high profile, talented personalities in the music world who were told by teachers at school, 'You will never amount to anything.' Ouch! Wouldn't it have been so much better if their talents had been spotted, encouraged and nurtured so that they could reach and enjoy their success without so many hangups and low self image.

As we look to cultivate our relationships with others we should start by 'earning the right' to their friendship by building trust and demonstrating that we are worth having as a friend. And once we have built these friendships and relationships, it is the responsibility of each of us to accentuate the positive rather than highlight the negative or, equally as destructive, make no comment at all.

I believe that by applying these principles to our relationships, in all areas of life, we will benefit, our friends will benefit, those around us will benefit and ultimately our businesses and ventures will benefit.

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Friday, 4 January 2008

Success = Creativity + Integrity

I was reading an article in the headlines today which stated that fewer and fewer people trust what they read in adverts, and suspicion is at an all time high online as surfers are afraid to follow advertising links in case their e-mail address is somehow 'captured' and they are bombarded with unwanted communications from the company and third party associates.

Combine this with an all-time low level of trust in business marketing campaigns as a whole and we face a bit of a crisis ... We need to communicate with people about our products and services, but how do we achieve that without being thwarted at the first step?

Can I suggest that one word sums up the answer ... integrity.

Over the past few years there has been a significant change in both the offline and online business arenas, from being company driven to being consumer driven: What do our customers want? rather than What do we want to give our customers? Creative (or not so creative) techniques have been used to 'breech customer defences' and get them to buy. Unfortunately, a lot of these techniques, though very creative, were also one-sided, excluding the customer.

However, the wind of change now means that customers have what, to some, may seem like too much power in dictating markets.

As I looked a little closer at this problem something very basic struck me: this new modus operandi is sales and marketing (offline and online) driven by relationships. Sure, we can dress this up in all sorts of jargon, but the basis is now,

"If you want me to buy from you I want to know you, I want to know what you stand for, I want to know what you are trying to sell me, I want to know how I benefit from having it and then I can make a decision on whether I want to buy it"

Unique Selling Points (USPs), selling the benefits of products and customer focused selling have always been good techniques and known to bring improved customer response. However, now the customers have caught up! They are tired of being given half truths or part information about products; and rightly so.

Unfortunately, presenting only the advantages and successes of a product, whilst omitting to declare some of the disadvantages has been the accepted norm in many companies, particularly if those disadvantages have no associated health risk. However, the more scary fact is that this practice also occurs in the health and pharmaceutical industries where the consequences are nothing short of dangerous or life-threatening. Newspaper headlines with significant impact on the company, publicised when it is discovered that certain unwanted side effects or adverse effects were conveniently 'omitted' from the dossier submitted for approval.

If we take time to consider this, the effects seen in the relatively small, selected population used in clinical trials are certainly going to be seen when the drug is released to the wider community and used by millions of patients, often worldwide. Integrity is compromised in an effort to gain (often short-term) return on investment to please the shareholders. Creativity without the integrity leads to compromise at the least; disaster at worst.

But the impact on the wider business community in these situations. There is a massive loss of trust by the customers; not only against in the 'offending' company but against all companies in the same business sector. We all suffer from the lack of integrity of others.

So, I welcome much of the shift that has taken place because I see it as a return to the basics of human interaction and relationships. As businesses we are now accountable to our customers and we are required to be open and honest if we want their custom, business and loyalty.

Historically and in the future, the most successful businesses are/will be those that display integrity and use their creativity wisely. No longer can we simply sell to our customers ... we need to gain their trust and loyalty first, and we can only really do that by establishing a relationship with them, by including them in our decisions and listening to what they have to say, even if we can't act on every request we receive. However, once we have their trust, it is easier to be open about our mistakes and we are seen to be human and not just some corporate threat. We may also be creative in asking our customers their ideas for solutions to our problems?

2008 is a new start for me as I venture out in my own business. After 18 years in the pharmaceutical industry I have witnessed much that is good and bad. My priority is to take the best that I have learnt, be transparent in what I do and keep an open ear to those I deal with.

I want to ensure that my creativity is tempered, no, driven by integrity.

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Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Another Year of Potential

As Big Ben struck 12 o'clock, another new year dawned: a year full of potential to do good or bad, to help or hinder, to get stuck in or give up.

And yet with all this potential in front of us, we are probably still reeling and recovering from the previous year and its activity, demands, successes and failures.

If we are to adapt to the ever-increasing rate of change in our world it will be our ability to recognise the changes, be open to them and respond to them. It will be an ability to work together with our colleagues and friends. It will be our ability to be open to new ideas, to work with new people (perhaps even those we don't like) and be prepared to engage and increase our creativity for problem solving, product identification, relationship building, selling ... or whatever aspect of life impacts us most.

There is great potential in our schools, colleges and universities to inject passion into our students, to find new ways which enable them to discover their own talents and abilities, and not least, find new ways to resurrect and increase our own passion for what we do.

I'm excited by all that 2008 holds ... challenges and triumphs ... hope you are too.

I wish you all a very happy new year.


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