One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.

Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums
How to Make your Writing Reader Friendly

How to Make your Writing Reader Friendly

Posted by martin.parnell |

When I am writing, whether it be for a blog, the next chapter of one of my books or a talk I am preparing, I often have to conduct research. I read articles, check facts, read other blogs and try to get a wide range of opinions to compare. 

Something I have noticed is that, although being very knowledgeable on their subject, there are many writers who do not adjust their writing to make it “reader-friendly”. This applies, in particular, if I am looking at studies which have been carried out on the subject I am researching, or looking for alternative opinions. 

Obviously, some studies are meant to be directed at others who work or study in that particular field and one would expect them to be more technical in their approach. But, there are times when these pieces of writing are put out into the general realm of readership and would benefit from being more accessible to the reader. 

In his free weekly e-zine, available at www.mediacoach.co.uk."The Media Coach”, Alan Stephens recently wrote: “You have to be sure that people who read your posts understand what you mean by them. Does that mean you have to use simple words and ideas? Basically, yes.

It's no use using abbreviations, jargon, and references to people that few of your audience will know or comprehend. It may make you look or feel clever, but it isn't communication. It can happen by accident, simply because we all make assumptions at times that our experience and knowledge is commonplace.

The most obvious indicator that your posts are too complex is comments that say "I don't understand", or feedback that has misinterpreted the point you were trying to make. A more effective way is to ask a friend or colleague to read them. If they don't understand, a re-write is required. Keeping things simple doesn't mean dumbing-down. It's real communication.”

Note that he said “Keeping things simple doesn't mean dumbing-down.” You need to use everyday words to create basic, simple sentences, which is, mostly easy to do. However, there will be times when you may need to refer to a more complex theory or use a technical term. In that case, it’s important that you explain it fully.

If you are going to use an acronym, make sure you make it clear what those letters stand for (this applies in conversation as well as in writing). If you are known for writing on a particular topic, you may think you attract the same audience all the time, but this isn’t necessarily the case. You never know who might come across a piece of your work for the first time and you need to engage them.

Keeping your writing current is also important. You want readers to think about what you have written and hopefully take something away from it. It also helps if you are enthusiastic about the subject and a little humour never hurts. If you are writing a blog or article, try to give more than one opinion on the subject. There is one school of thought that shorter pieces are best and it’s true that you don’t need to waffle and cause the reader to lose interest. But, on the other hand you want to give enough information to support your idea.

If in doubt you can always refer to articles you have read, in order that the reader can gain more information on the subject. Always remember to give credit to other writers and state where you found a particular piece.

Whatever you are writing, whether it be a blog, an update to your website, a memo, letter or report, make sure you know what parts you wish to emphasise. Make your sentences and paragraphs limited in length and focussed on the subject.

If you’re not sure whether your piece is worth publishing, just ask yourself “Would I want to read this?”

About the Author

Martin Parnell is the Best-Selling author of MARATHON QUEST and RUNNING TO THE EDGE and speaks on having a “Finish the Race Attitude – Overcoming Obstacles to Achieve Your Full Potential”. Martin has written for, or been covered by CNNBBCCBCThe Huffington Post, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, Runners World, Men’s Journal, Canadian Business, and Maclean’s.

In a five year period, from 2010 to 2014, Martin completed 10 extreme endurance “Quests” including running 250 marathons in one year and raising $1.3m for the humanitarian organization Right To Play. Find out more about Martin at www.martinparnell.com  and see what he can do for you in the long run.

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A lot of high-profile companies are recognizing the benefits of power napping. . . . It's like kindergarten all over again.

Stefanie Weisman author
Why Sleeping on the Job can be a Good Thing.

Why Sleeping on the Job can be a Good Thing.

Posted by martin.parnell |

Every afternoon, if I happen to be working from home, I take a short nap. I find it reenergises me and revitalises my work and it’s especially beneficial if I have an evening meeting or professional engagement. 

Lucia Binding in the UK’s Evening Standard , 30th. April 2018, quotes a study, first published in the Telegraph, conducted by the University of Delaware. It considered the link between a post-lunch sleep and brain function in early adolescents. A total of 363 youngsters were included in the study and it resulted in the conclusion that nap times should be scheduled into the school day, in secondary schools.

The study, which was published in the journal Behavioural Sleep Medicine, also revealed that those who napped more often tended to have a better night time sleep. Xiaopeng Ji, leader of the study who has studied the natural sleep and wake pattern of cells known as the circadian rhythm, said: “Young people who napped five to seven days during the week had better nonverbal reasoning ability, spatial memory and sustained attention, they found.

The optimal amount of nap time was found to be between 30 and 60 minutes. Midday napping, night-time sleep duration and sleep quality was measured by the researchers, along with performance on multiple neurocognitive tasks. The study also revealed that teens who put down their smart-phones an hour before bed gained an extra 21 minutes sleep a night and an hour and 45 minutes over the school week. So this would appear to support my opinion that napping is a good thing.

However, on the Chron website, Lisa McQuerrey  tells us that on MayoClinic.com a study shows: “Napping in the workplace can have both health and productivity benefits, like reduced fatigue and increased reaction time”. McQuerrey then looks into why napping in the workplace might be challenging: “Even if you get employer support for a mid-day siesta, consider the logistical elements that come into play when it comes to catching 40 winks at your desk. 

Where to Sleep

Cat naps can be productive if they truly provide good rest. If you don’t have a dark, quiet place to sleep, your sleep is likely to be spotty, which can actually add to your tiredness and make it more difficult to sleep at night. If you’re the type of person who takes a while to doze off, you could find that trying to catch a nap in the middle of the day is more trouble than its worth, especially if you take 20 minutes to nod off and you’ve only allocated 30 minutes to a nap.

When to Sleep

MayoClinic.com indicates that the best time to catch a mid-day nap is between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. Anything later has the potential to interrupt your regular nighttime REM sleep. If you can’t regularly carve out this portion of the day, erratic nap habits can make it difficult for your body to adjust to a beneficial sleep schedule. If you work by appointment, or need to be available to customers, clients or colleagues on a regular basis, napping at work can hurt your productivity.

Perception

Napping at work can be perceived as lazy or selfish. You might have colleagues who think you’re taking unfair advantage or getting special treatment if you’re allowed to doze at work. Customers or clients who walk in or call during a nap period may also question your professionalism, which can have a negative effect on your reputation, and your company's reputation.

Increased Tiredness

For some people, a cat nap is refreshing; for others, it can lead to daytime drowsiness and make you feel even less rested than before you took the snooze. If it takes you awhile to perk up after sleep, the latter part of your workday could be slowed down. You may find it difficult to get refocused and not be as productive as necessary.

In some countries, an afternoon nap is part of everyday life. As explained on Sleep.org. The tradition began due to the fact that temperature climbed to such a degree, in the afternoons, that it is becomes too hot to be outside and therefore difficult for certain work to be carried out.

Over time, different cultures have tweaked the napping habit to suit their preferences. For example:

In China: Workers often take a break after lunch and put their heads on their desks for an hour-long nap. It’s considered a Constitutional right.

In Italy: The riposo may begin anytime between noon and 1:30pm and run until 2:30pm to 4:00pm. Businesses shut down, and public venues like museums and churches lock their doors so their employees can go home for a leisurely lunch and a snooze.

In Spain: The siesta is deeply ingrained, as businesses often close for hours to accommodate the mid-day rest. While the siesta can span two hours, only a fraction of the time is actually spent napping; first, there’s lunch with family and friends, then a rest. Because of the mid-day break, people often work later into the evening.

Many people have advocated for the benefits of taking a regular nap. Albert Einstein claimed that his daytime naps to fuel that amazing brain of his. Other well-known “nappers” include Leonardo Da Vinci, Thomas Edison, Ronald Reagan, Aristotle and Margaret Thatcher. 

I’m no Einstein, but I do know that my afternoon nap leaves me feeling refreshed and ready for my next task. If you find that you are fading by mid-afternoon, why not try taking a few minutes to close your eyes and take a brief nap? 

You may find that, like me, it’s just the little boost you need to set you up for the rest of the working day.

About the Author

Martin Parnell is the Best-Selling author of MARATHON QUEST and RUNNING TO THE EDGE and speaks on having a “Finish the Race Attitude – Overcoming Obstacles to Achieve Your Full Potential”. Martin has written for, or been covered by CNNBBCCBCThe Huffington Post, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, Runners World, Men’s Journal, Canadian Business, and Maclean’s.

In a five year period, from 2010 to 2014, Martin completed 10 extreme endurance “Quests” including running 250 marathons in one year and raising $1.3m for the humanitarian organization Right To Play. Find out more about Martin at www.martinparnell.com  and see what he can do for you in the long run.

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I laugh at the way some people think graffiti is all selfish tagging and vandalism. Thoughtful street art is like good fiction – it speaks out on behalf of everyone, for us all to see.

Carla H. Krueger, Author
From Blogging to Banksy, it’s all in the Message

From Blogging to Banksy, it’s all in the Message

Posted by martin.parnell |

There’s a scene in the 2011 movie CONTAGION, where Dr. Ian Sussman (Elliot Gould) says to conspiracy theorist, antagonist and blogger Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law) “Blogging is not writing, it’s graffiti with punctuation”. The comment was meant to be taken as an insult to bloggers. More often than not, the word graffiti will conjure up images of buildings, trains, subways, memorials etc. being defaced. 

Use of the word has evolved to include any graphics applied to surfaces in a manner that constitutes vandalism. In many places it is regarded criminal act. But, being a cup-half-full, optimistic sort, I decided to find out more that might reveal a positive side to the practice.

I turned to Wikipedia and was amazed at all the information on offer. Here are just some of the fact I discovered: Simply put, the word Graffiti means: “ Writing or drawings that have been scribbled, scratched, or painted, typically illicitly, on a wall or other surface, often within public view.” 

It turns out that graffiti has been around since ancient times. The term graffiti referred to the inscriptions, figure drawings, and such, found on the walls of ancient sepulchers or ruins, as in the Catacombs of Rome. The eruption of Vesuvius preserved graffiti in Pompeii, which includes Latin curses, magic spells, declarations of love, alphabets, political slogans, and famous literary quotes, providing insight into ancient Roman street life. 

The ancient Romans carved graffiti on walls and monuments, examples of which also survive in Egypt. Graffiti in the classical world had different connotations than they carry in today's society concerning content. Ancient graffiti displayed phrases of love declarations, political rhetoric, and simple words of thought, compared to today's popular messages of social and political ideals. 

It was not only the Greeks and Romans who produced graffiti. The site of Tikal in Guatemala contains examples of ancient Maya graffiti. Vikings graffiti survive in Rome and at Newgrange Mound in Ireland, and a Varangian scratched his name (Halvdan) in runes on a banister in the Hagis Sophia in Constantinople. Errors in spelling and grammar in these graffiti offer insight into the degree of literacy in Roman times and provide clues on the pronunciation of spoken Latin. 

The first known example of "modern style" graffiti survives in the ancient Greek city of Ephesus (in modern-day Turkey). Graffiti, known as Tacherons, were frequently scratched on Romanesque Scandinavian church walls. When Renaissance artists such as Pinturicchio, Raphael, Michelangelo, Ghirandaio, or Filippino Lippi descended into the ruins of Nero’s Aurea, they carved or painted their names and returned to initiate the grottesche style of decoration. 

There are also examples of graffiti occurring in American history, such as Independence Rock, a national landmark along the Oregon Trail. French soldiers carved their names on monuments during the Napoleonic campaign of Egypt in the 1790s. Lord Byron’s survives on one of the columns of the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion in Attica, Greece. These early forms of graffiti have contributed to the understanding of lifestyles and languages of past cultures. 

During World War II and for decades after, the phrase “Kilroy was here” with an accompanying illustration was widespread throughout the world, due to its use by American troops and ultimately filtering into American popular culture. Shortly after the death of Charlie Parker (nicknamed "Yardbird" or "Bird"), graffiti began appearing around New York with the words "Bird Lives". 

The student protests and general strike of May 1968 Paris bedecked in revolutionary, anarchistic, and situationist slogans such as L'ennui est contre-évolutionnaire ("Boredom is counterrevolutionary") expressed in painted graffiti, poster, and stencil art. At the time in the US, other political phrases (such as "Free Huey" about Black Panther Huey Newton) became briefly popular as graffiti in limited areas, only to be forgotten. 

Graffiti may also express underlying social and political messages and a whole genre of artistic expression is based upon spray paint graffiti styles. Controversies that surround graffiti continue to create disagreement amongst city officials, law enforcement, and writers who wish to display and appreciate work in public locations. 

Wikipedia covers graffiti in great detail and I found it all fascinating.  In some quarters it is regarded as a modern-day art form. In 1979, graffiti artist Lee Quinones and Fab 5 Freddy were given a gallery opening in Rome by art dealer Claudio Bruni.  Its value is highly contested and reviled by many authorities while also subject to protection. In fact in some circles, it has been positively encouraged. 

In 2001, computer giant IBM launched an advertising campaign in Chicago and San Francisco which involved people spray painting on sidewalks a peace symbol, a heart, and a penguin (Linux mascot) to represent "Peace, Love, and Linux." Due to laws forbidding it, some of the "street artists" were arrested and charged with vandalism, and IBM was fined more than US$120,000 for punitive damages and clean-up costs. 

Examples of graffiti can be seen in every corner of the world, from Brazil to Iran, from London to Tokyo. If you consider the aim of the graffiti artist, it tends to be to make a political comment or statement about the order of the day. Graffiti often has a reputation as part of a subculture that rebels against authority, although the considerations of the practitioners often diverge and can relate to a wide range of attitudes. 

I would argue that, in this respect the role of graffiti is very similar to that of the blogger, in today’s society. Wikipedia defines a blog as: “A discussion or informational website published on the World Wide Web consisting of discrete, often informal diary-style text entries.” 

Graffiti is a means of prompting discussion in a different way, but it voices opinions which can be informal, engaging and thought-provoking, just as a blog might. As with graffiti artists, bloggers use their social media platforms to do the same and blogs promote perfect reader engagement. 

There are also many differences between the way in which the blogger and the graffiti artist communicate their ideas, messages and opinions, but I don’t necessarily think that the use of punctuation is the most obvious.

About the Author

Martin Parnell is the Best-Selling author of MARATHON QUEST and RUNNING TO THE EDGE and speaks on having a “Finish the Race Attitude – Overcoming Obstacles to Achieve Your Full Potential”. Martin has written for, or been covered by CNNBBCCBCThe Huffington Post, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, Runners World, Men’s Journal, Canadian Business, and Maclean’s.

In a five year period, from 2010 to 2014, Martin completed 10 extreme endurance “Quests” including running 250 marathons in one year and raising $1.3m for the humanitarian organization Right To Play. Find out more about Martin at www.martinparnell.com  and see what he can do for you in the long run.

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Handwriting is an imprint of the self on the page.

Dr Rosemary Sassoon, Handwriting Researcher.
Why Handwriting still has Value in the World of Business

Why Handwriting still has Value in the World of Business

Posted by martin.parnell |

In my role as an author, I write – a lot. In my other profession, as a keynote speaker, I also write in order to keep up with my platforms on social media. If I’m not working on my latest manuscript, I’m blogging, tweeting, connecting on Facebook, preparing talks etc. The list is long. 

Needless to say, all of this work is done on a computer. The other day, I gave a talk and, afterwards, as with most of my events, I did a book signing. For this activity, I write a brief message and sign my name. I find it interesting that, even in this time when most things are written on one form of technology or another, people still value having a handwritten signature. 

They would not be impressed if I were to print off a set of labels with my printed name and stick them in my books. A signature is very individual and personal. It is used to identify us. We have it in our passports and on the back of our credit and debit cards. It is the defining example of our handwriting. 

Graphology, or handwriting analysis, is the study of handwriting shapes and patterns to determine the personality and behaviour of the writer. In the world of forensic science, handwriting analysis fits into the area of questioned documents and expert examiners in this field can recognise signs of alteration, forgery and authorship. The primary basis of handwriting analysis is that every person, in the world, has a unique way of writing. Just look at the criminal cases of Robert Durst and David Allen Lucas, to name but two. 

On a daily basis, I still have a notepad where I jot down ideas and things I need to do. Every year I buy a diary, to keep track of things like appointment, birthdays etc. I must admit, I’m still, to a degree, a pen and paper guy. But, for many people, the thought of having to actually write anything seems a pointless activity. 

They would argue that there is no point when everything can be typed on to their Smartphone, IPad or other device. And I do see their point. However, handwriting appears to be a dying skill and that, I think, is a great pity. I could quote you articles and statistics about the number of schools that no longer teach cursive writing. 

On the other hand, I could also quote you experts who tell us that learning writing is integral to developing fine motor skills in young children and aids in their learning to read. But, I want to focus more on why I believe there is a place for us to incorporate handwriting at stages in our day-to-day life. Who doesn’t get a thrill when a Birthday card, Christmas card or postcard from an exotic destination arrives in the mail. 

It tells us that we are being thought of in a way that goes beyond just sending a quick text, email or message on Facebook. Actor Steve Carell once said “Sending a handwritten letter is becoming such an anomaly. It's disappearing. My mom is the only one who still writes me letters. And there's something visceral about opening a letter - I see her on the page. I see her in her handwriting.” 

On the wall of my office, I have a charming picture drawn by our 4 year-old goddaughter and she has signed it with her name. Upper and lower case letters mixed and a back-to-front “S”, it’s a treasured reminder of her first attempts at writing. 

In business, probably the only time you might see someone’s signature is at the end of a letter. A busy boss hasn’t the time to be handwriting letters, he or she needs to let someone type them up or put them on the computer. It’s so much easier to reach a number of people that way and there’s no denying the convenience of having one’s spelling checked. 

Also, if yours is not particularly clear and decipherable, you may not feel inclined to put something down in your own handwriting. We’ve all heard the jokes about doctors’ handwriting being impossible to decipher and wonder if pharmacists have some sort of extra training to do so and ensure we’re getting the correct meds. 

But I do believe it’s worth making the effort. I keep Thank You cards to hand and will write a brief message and send one to an event organiser, or other contact that has engaged my services. I regularly get feedback as to how much they are appreciated. This personal touch resonates and shows how much you appreciate their business. 

At work, the only time you may only be required to write anything in your own hand is when you’re being passed a card for someone who’s leaving, had a baby or is celebrating some other event. But, why not think about other ways in which to engage by writing a note or card? 

I’m sure, if you are an employee, you’d really appreciate it if your boss dropped you a personal line to tell you “Job well done” or some other way to show you’re appreciated. “Handwritten notes are a rare commodity. They’re also more important than ever.” Those are the words of John Coleman, coauthor of the book Passion & Purpose: Stories from the Best and Brightest in Business. They’re also the title of an article he wrote for the Harvard Business Review in 2013. 

How many of you take handwritten notes when attending meetings? Robinson Meyer, in The Atlantic, May 2014, under the heading “To Remember a Lecture Better, Take Notes by Hand” referred to a study conducted by Mueller and Oppenheimer which found that: “People remember lectures better when they’ve taken handwritten notes, rather than typed ones. What's more, knowing how and why typed notes can be bad doesn't seem to improve their quality. Even if you warn laptop-note takers ahead of time, it doesn't make a difference. For some tasks, it seems, handwriting’s just better.”

The study also found that:  “The people who were taking notes on the laptops don’t have to be judicious in what they write down.” If you locate Meyer’s article, you can read the way in which the 3-part study was conducted. In conclusion, the study demonstrates that: “taking notes on a laptop seems to lead to verbatim notes, which make it tough to study well. We don’t write longhand as fast as we type these days, but people who were typing just tended to transcribe large parts of lecture content verbatim,” This result could feasibly be the same for those taking notes at business meetings.

I am not proposing that we all give up our laptops and computers and start writing everything by hand. I, for one, would find this far too time consuming and inconvenient. I need to be able to send written work to multiple contacts. The convenience of cutting and pasting, taking quotes and articles and use them for reference is obvious.

But, I would encourage everyone to at least make some small effort to write something by hand when looking at the ways in which we communicate. We need to find ways in which to show that we are engaged with colleagues and employees.

It doesn’t have to be time-consuming. Make it brief, make it personal and watch it make a difference.

About the Author

Martin Parnell is the Best-Selling author of MARATHON QUEST and RUNNING TO THE EDGE and speaks on having a “Finish the Race Attitude – Overcoming Obstacles to Achieve Your Full Potential”. Martin has written for, or been covered by CNNBBCCBCThe Huffington Post, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, Runners World, Men’s Journal, Canadian Business, and Maclean’s.

In a five year period, from 2010 to 2014, Martin completed 10 extreme endurance “Quests” including running 250 marathons in one year and raising $1.3m for the humanitarian organization Right To Play. Find out more about Martin at www.martinparnell.com  and see what he can do for you in the long run.

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It is our attitude at the beginning of a difficult task which, more than anything else, will affect its successful outcome.

William James - American philosopher and psychologist
How to Manage a Mammoth Task – See it as an Elephant

How to Manage a Mammoth Task – See it as an Elephant

Posted by martin.parnell |

In 2005, I embarked on a cycling trip through Africa, from Cairo to Cape Town.  A total of 11,500 Kilometres and 10 countries in four months.   I kept a detailed journal and, on my return used it as a basis for my book “How Do You Eat An Elephant?” I chose that title because it pretty well sums up how I approached the ride, the answer being “one bite at a time.”  In my case, I just had to get to a campsite at the end of each day. This certainly helped me succeed and made the trip less daunting. When I present my workshops on thetheme of  “Finish The Race Attitude”, I encourage participants to do just that, when embarking on a new project.

The workshop title is “Unlock Your Potential: Set Goals and Achieve Results you Never Thought Possible.” Key areas include Goal Setting, Goal Execution and Goal Completion. We discuss what resources they will need to achieve their Goals including tools, time and funds available.  We discuss the need as to how they are going to manage their project. This is when the doubt can creep in. For those who have not tackled a large project before, the task can seem overwhelming.

To ensure that they do not become discouraged, I ask them to look at ways in which the task can be divided up into smaller, mini projects. Working in this way, allows for each area to be thoroughly researched. It encourages creativity by way of looking at various aspects of working and allows for evaluation at each stage.  It is important that deadlines are set for each stage, in order to keep the project on track and stick to a predetermined timeline. When a part of the project has been completed, it gives a sense of achievement and acts as a prompt to embark on the next step. It also provides a sense of accomplishment and, psychologically, it motivates us and gives us less chance of failure.

According to Lauren Marchese's “The Psychology of Checklists: Why Setting Small Goals Motivates Us to Accomplish Bigger Things”, on the Trello Website, January 27th. 2016: “When we experience even small amounts of success, our brains release dopamine, which is connected to feelings of pleasure, learning and motivation. When we feel the effects of dopamine, we’re eager to repeat the actions that resulted in success in the first place. Neuroscientists refer to this as self-directed learning. This is why achieving small goals is such an effective way to stay motivated during long-term projects and processes.”

Of course, this approach may not be right for you and Mike Martell, in his piece “Don’t Eat the Elephant One Bite at a Time!” originally published on Dumb Little Man,  argues that :  “The real problem with taking it step by step is that most people lose interest and end up quitting. If they can’t quit at let’s say a job related task they get so sick of it, they find every reason to get the project killed by their boss.”

He suggests that, instead of breaking things down into “bite size” pieces, we should create: “Big chunks that can be taken on at the same time. In the information technology world, you call this parallel instead of serial processes. You have several things running at once, instead of one at a time each after the other. In addition to breaking the item into big parts, you find others to help you with it. This might be outsourcing, it might mean finding partners, paying affiliates, or even bartering your skills for assistance. Getting outside help with these big chunks will make it go much quicker and you will get the results you wanted while you still remember why you wanted them.”

He does add, however: “Now I am not saying that this is for everyone and for every situation. Some people have a very disciplined mindset and a methodical, linear approach works for them. In my experience though, there aren’t that many people like that around.” What I would argue is that, whether you take small bites or large chunks, approaching a project in manageable pieces can be more productive, less daunting and more satisfying. What we all want is to make sure that we achieve our goals and can celebrate our success. In business, as in life, it is important that we see things through.

On thePsychology Today website, in an article “Why we hate not finishing what we start”, posted Mar 31, 2014 Stephanie A. Sarkis Ph. D explains: “According to the "Zeigarnik Effect," you are much more likely to recall uncompleted tasks than one you completed. In a 1927 study Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik asked subjects to complete a set of tasks. During some of the tasks, the subjects were interrupted before they could finish. When asked later about the tasks, they recalled the tasks during which they were interrupted at a much higher rate than those they were able to complete. It turns out that the brain has a powerful need to finish what it starts. When it can't complete something, it gets stuck on it. Intrusive thoughts about what we could not finish may pop into our heads as a way to remind the cognitive system that something still needs to be completed.” 

So whether you are confident enough to tackle a complete task head-on or find that chunking things down in to more manageable pieces, it is worth looking at different ways of achieving your goal.

I’m a great believer in the premise that anything is achievable, if you take the right approach.

About the Author

Martin Parnell is the Best-Selling author of MARATHON QUEST and RUNNING TO THE EDGE and speaks on having a “Finish the Race Attitude – Overcoming Obstacles to Achieve Your Full Potential”. Martin has written for, or been covered by CNNBBCCBCThe Huffington Post, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, Runners World, Men’s Journal, Canadian Business, and Maclean’s.

In a five year period, from 2010 to 2014, Martin completed 10 extreme endurance “Quests” including running 250 marathons in one year and raising $1.3m for the humanitarian organization Right To Play. Find out more about Martin at www.martinparnell.com  and see what he can do for you in the long run.

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Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority and don’t interfere.

Ronald Reagan
Know when it's Time to Intervene but be Cautious not to Interfere

Know when it's Time to Intervene but be Cautious not to Interfere

Posted by martin.parnell |

Being a manager requires a great deal of skill when it comes to the way you interact with your colleagues and employees. You have been given your role because you are well versed in the workings of your company and have, hopefully, demonstrated excellent skills relating to that role. There is, however, one skill that, despite their competencies in many areas, some managers find it difficult to master. 

I refer to the ability to know when it is appropriate to demonstrate a valuable hands on approach and when that can be come intrusive. I am talking abut the difference between intervening and interfering. 

Obviously, it is important to encourage employees and be an enabler, so that you get the best from your workforce. If you are a smaller company, there may be times when you will be required to coach them in certain skills, train them in new techniques and technologies and bring an awareness to any new company policy.  

You should be available to engage in planning sessions and be seen to collaborate. This will gain the respect of employees and make it easier for you to identify areas for their development. It is important to take an interest in their work, be a mentor, offer guidance, and provide feedback. If you have a new employee, it makes sense to observe them and ensure that they are fulfilling their role. It is also important to make sure they fully comprehend all the aspects of that role, in order for them to show their range of capabilities. 

Being an approachable manager will encourage others to seek your opinion and refer to your knowledge and experience. Always keep lines of communication open, so that employees are not daunted by the thought of having to ask for support or clarification. There will be times when you may need to intervene. If you see that an employee hasn’t fully understood a task, or if they need some support in a certain area. Perhaps they are lacking in experience in a certain aspect of their job. It may be that they have become overloaded with work and you need to help them prioritize. 

Of course, as a manager, you need to know what is going on in your company and, if you have a large enough workforce, this can be achieved by appointing reliable, skilled team leaders, in each department. They can be very effective in ensuring that employees are up-to-date with day-to-day requirements and any changes needing to be made. It is their role to demonstrate new skills and be able to prioritize when they have issues to deal with and know when it is appropriate to take them to the manager. 

Team leaders can be seen as people to go to when problems arise and may be able to decide what need to be overseen by the manager or dealt with there and then.

They can give support to both colleagues and management and reinforce company policy and standards. For some managers, this approach can sometimes be difficult to adopt, the reason being that they find it hard not to have complete control.

They want to monitor everything their employees do and have an input in to everything. 

This can prove very disheartening if you are a capable employee. You have been given your job because you were viewed as being knowledgeable and have the appropriate skills to achieve what is required of it. You understand the job description and produce good work and yet you have someone constantly checking and overseeing everything you do. 

This not only undermines the employee’s confidence but it would make it appear that the manager does not trust them to complete a task to a satisfactory level. Also, if you are constantly spending time checking on your workforce, it gives you less time to concentrate on your own duties. 

As a manager you might wish to maintain a certain level of detachment which may be necessary at times. It also allows you to focus more on the bigger issues relating to your company. Of course, there will be times when a manager will have to intervene. If a team leader is not being supported by employees, if there are issues they are unable to deal with or there is s disciplinary matter. 

For a manager, it’s all a matter of  being engaged enough that your workforce sees that you are aware of what’s going on, are taking an active part in mentoring and  supporting them, offering encouragement and the benefits of your experience, without interfering in their day-today- work and knowing when it is necessary to intervene. 

This will result in a workforce that appreciates your interest and confidence in what they are doing whilst not feeling they are being left to struggle when they are in need of support and guidance. 

About the Author

Martin Parnell is the Best-Selling author of MARATHON QUEST and RUNNING TO THE EDGE and speaks on having a “Finish the Race Attitude – Overcoming Obstacles to Achieve Your Full Potential”. Martin has written for, or been covered by CNNBBCCBCThe Huffington Post, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, Runners World, Men’s Journal, Canadian Business, and Maclean’s.

In a five year period, from 2010 to 2014, Martin completed 10 extreme endurance “Quests” including running 250 marathons in one year and raising $1.3m for the humanitarian organization Right To Play. Find out more about Martin at www.martinparnell.com  and see what he can do for you in the long run.

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What we agree with leaves us inactive, but contradiction makes us productive.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Do Contradictions Fail to Make a Lasting Impression?

Do Contradictions Fail to Make a Lasting Impression?

Posted by martin.parnell |

The other day, I was going through our bookshelves, looking for something to read. My wife, suggested a title by an author she’d recently discovered and thought I’d enjoy. I looked at it and wasn’t impressed by the cover, but decided to give it a go. It has turned out to be a really good read. It reminded me of that old saying “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” 

Last week, my publisher sent me 5 prospective covers for my next book, asking for my opinion. I really took my time, trying to decide which one I thought would most appeal to a prospective reader. After all, don’t “First Impressions Count”? Old sayings can prove to be very contradictory. Just consider these further examples: 

  • Great minds think alike.       Fools seldom differ.
  • Money is the root of all evil.      Money makes the world go around.
  • Too many cooks spoil the broth.     Many hands make light work.
  • Absence makes the heart grow fonder.     Out of sight, out of mind. 

It’s easy to find one of these little nuggets of wisdom to support our ideas. Sometimes, looking at things in different / opposite ways can help us learn and evaluate.  However, offering contradictory advice can be confusing and non-productive. Consider the effect if you are giving out contradictory messages to your colleagues or employees. 

In an excellent article for the Globe and Mail, published 13th. January 2018, Harvey Schachter wrote: 

“Don’t ignore work contradictions – leverage them. Life is full of paradoxes, contradictions and apparent oxymorons. Success is often determined through the tension between two contrary desired ends. But it is also in our human nature to avoid bringing those contradictions to the surface, particularly in our organizations. So we let them fester, blocking us from moving ahead as far as we might, and sometimes creating opposing camps fighting guerrilla warfare by memo and artifice.

Let's take one of the most common contradictions. Most organizations are dedicated to producing quality products and services. And most organizations are also committed to efficiency. But at times, quality and efficiency can be contradictory goals. It might be difficult to achieve both at the same time. Similarly, it's often difficult to achieve quality and cost reduction at the same time, as the "more for less" gang claim.

The prevailing management position is to ignore the contradiction. Managers will choose whichever of the two goals seems most pressing at the time, and let it triumph. That might means efficiency rules for a six-month period, until anecdotal evidence surfaces that customers are concerned with deteriorating quality, in which case the tilt shifts in the opposite direction for a while. The other common technique is to simply go with instinct or the best case put forward at the particular time a decision is being considered. So in the morning, a decision favours quality at the expense of efficiency and in the afternoon the reverse occurs.

Meanwhile, employees' heads spin. They can't figure out what really counts in the organization. And many of them will take advantage of any inconsistency to criticize management, dampening morale. "They tell us quality is important, but look at how they are wrecking quality by that crazy decision to speed up the process," cynics will tell anyone willing to listen. Or they will feast on the contrary decisions in a short time span: "Yesterday morning, they decided to accept some inefficiency in the name of quality and then did you see what they did in the afternoon? Exactly the reverse! What a bunch of morons."

Meanwhile, you keep talking about clarity and alignment, just like the management experts urge, aloof from the reality of the workplace.

Running an organization is not simple. That's the challenge and fascination of management. You will always face contradictions and paradoxes. The trick is to identify them and grapple with them openly, so they aren't hidden. What makes managers look foolish is in not acknowledging the grey areas while talking in black and white terms. The result is confusion and cynicism, not clarity and connection.

Meetings, by the way, are loaded with contradictions. They are meant to build a team feeling but are best when people challenge one another, which can lead to conflict. The urge in a meeting is to plunge straight ahead to conclude an item but inevitably the best parts of meetings are when you get sidetracked, wallowing in some unexplored issue.”

Schachter offers some solutions:

“Start by identifying the various contradictions that bedevil your organization. There are probably a dozen or so, with three to five quite prominent. Everybody knows about them – people might even have divided into camps over them – but they have probably never been openly discussed in a general way, like quality and efficiency, or superb customer service and the need to keep staffing low. Less fundamental, but also important, might be the fact you say you want to hire the best people but you are always in a rush to fill a spot. Or perhaps you say you want to give developmental opportunities to your people but you tend to always hire from outside. Centralization vs. local autonomy, of course, is an eternal favourite.

Once you have identified these contradictions, talk openly about them. It can help to identify the positive elements in each element of a contradiction you have raised, to understand that both are still laudable intents and neither side is wholly wrong. How can you gain the positives each offers, a win-win in Western terms and a yin-yang in Eastern terms? Then try to figure out whether you can approach these dilemmas with more consistency and logic, developing some overall policy that keeps you – and staff – more balanced and consistent.”

 This may be a lot to take in and if you think your company is ticking along quite nicely as it is and your attitude to it all is “You can't teach an old dog new tricks.” However, I’d like to be a little contradictory and propose that “You're never too old to learn.”

About the Author

Martin Parnell is the Best-Selling author of MARATHON QUEST and RUNNING TO THE EDGE and speaks on having a “Finish the Race Attitude – Overcoming Obstacles to Achieve Your Full Potential”. Martin has written for, or been covered by CNNBBCCBCThe Huffington Post, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, Runners World, Men’s Journal, Canadian Business, and Maclean’s.

In a five year period, from 2010 to 2014, Martin completed 10 extreme endurance “Quests” including running 250 marathons in one year and raising $1.3m for the humanitarian organization Right To Play. Find out more about Martin at www.martinparnell.com  and see what he can do for you in the long run.

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If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.

Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
Why Empathy is an Essential Skill in the Business World.

Why Empathy is an Essential Skill in the Business World.

Posted by martin.parnell |

My friend and fellow marathon runner, Paul, has been sidelined recently, due to a foot injury. It’s easy for me to empathise with him as I am recovering from an injured ankle. I understand his pain and frustration.

On the website, psychcentral, Traci Pederson defines empathy as:  “the ability to understand and feel what another person is experiencing. Empathy is a necessary and essential component of any relationship or social group. It is at the root of all pro-social behavior and compassionate action. 

Empathy is distinct from the emotions of sympathy or pity. When a person feels sympathy, he essentially “feels sorry” for a person in trouble and views that person with a sense of separation. Empathy, on the other hand, is getting on the same level as the troubled person and, in a sense, feeling what that person is going through. Empathy is essentially minimizing the differences between oneself and another. 

We have had two very tragic incidents occur, in Canada, recently. On April 6, a coach bus carrying the The Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team, collided with a semi-trailer truck near Armley, Saskatchewan, killing 16 people and injuring 13. On April 23, a rented van was driven at speed along a sidewalk and into pedestrians along Yonge Street in the North York City Centre business district of Toronto, killing 10 and injuring 14.  

I have the very deepest sympathy for the families, friends and those injured, in both incidents. But, try as I might, I cannot, honestly, put myself in their shoes and truly begin to experience the emotions they will be experiencing. As Pederson explained, to feel true empathy, we have to understand what another person is feeling. In certain situations, a lack of empathy, can have very negative consequences. 

In a recent interview on the CBC’s The Current, with Anna Maria Tremonti. Doctor Brian Goldman, host of his own CBC programme, White Coat Black Art, explained that he strongly believes empathy can transform healthcare. An encounter with a patient led Goldman on a quest to better understand what it means to be kind and empathetic. 

"When patients tell you you're incompetent, there's a good chance that they could be wrong but when they tell you that you're not kind, that hurts because they know kindness — everybody knows kindness," said the author of The Power of Kindness. That research took him all around the world and what he found is that kindness is powerful and transformative — and a lack of empathy has consequences on both the doctor and the patient.

"When we aren't kind to somebody else, we walk away diminished emotionally physically. Our heart rate goes up, our stress hormones go up, our blood pressure goes up,” He added that the same results occur in patients when receiving unkind care. “I think that lack of kindness is like the death of a thousand cuts. And that’s one of the reasons why people who are in high intensity jobs like being a paramedic or lawyer or whatever burnout in mid-career.” When doctors are less empathetic, Goldman said, their patients become less engaged, and less trusting.

“They don’t comply with their doctors recommendations, their medications, their prescriptions, if it’s not handed to them kindly, with empathy,” he said. Goldman believes there’s no losing to showing empathy because it comes back tenfold. The benefits of showing empathy will always have you walking away happy and satisfied, “in a way that you would not dream possible,” he said. “It’s not hard to give yourself time to do it. But if you do, you will feel better and more fulfilled in your life, perhaps, than you have ever felt before.”

In the workplace, it is essential that we have the skill to empathise with people, in a variety of situations. In his book How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale carnegie wrote : “People who can put themselves in the place of other people, who can understand the workings of their minds, need never worry about what the future has in store for them.” He also suggested that: “To be genuinely interested in other people is a most important quality for a sales-person to possess—for any person, for that matter.”   

It is clear that being able to show empathy is important in all walks of life, but there are those who have not mastered this people skill. In business, this can be particularly problematic. In an article entitled “Empathy at Work”, the team at mindtools.com explains: “Workers with poor people skills can often find themselves in the middle of unnecessary conflict. This can be exhausting and stressful for all concerned, and it can destroy even the best laid work plans.

Many people are confident that they can develop new technical skills and knowledge through training and experience. However, there’s a common belief that “you are how you are” when it comes to “soft” skills (interacting with other people) – and that there’s little or nothing you can do about it. Fortunately, this is far from true. And a great place to start improving your soft skills is by developing the ability to empathize with others. To be empathic, you have to think beyond yourself and your own concerns.”

The team suggests that in order to start using empathy more effectively, we should consider the following:

1. Put aside your viewpoint: try to see things from the other person’s point of view.

When you do this, you’ll realize that other people most likely aren’t being evil, unkind, stubborn, or unreasonable – they’re probably just reacting to the situation with the knowledge they have.

2. Validate the other person’s perspective.

Once you “see” why others believe what they believe, acknowledge it. Remember: acknowledgement does not always equal agreement. You can accept that people have different opinions from your own, and that they may have good reason to hold those opinions.

3. Examine your attitude.

Are you more concerned with getting your way, winning, or being right? Or, is your priority to find a solution, build relationships, and accept others? Without an open mind and attitude, you probably won’t have enough room for empathy

4.  Listen.

Listen to the entire message that the other person is trying to communicate. Listen with your ears – what is being said, and what tone is being used? Listen with your eyes – what is the person doing with his or her body while speaking? Listen with your instincts – do you sense that the person is not communicating something important? Listen with your heart – what do you think the other person feels?

5.  Ask what the other person would do.

When in doubt, ask the person to explain his or her position. This is probably the simplest, and most direct, way to understand the other person. However, it’s probably the least used way to develop empathy. Practice these skills when you interact with people. You’ll likely appear much more caring and approachable – simply because you increase your interest in what others think, feel, and experience. It’s a great gift to be willing and able to see the world from a variety of perspectives – and it’s a gift that you can use all of the time, in any situation.” 

It is evident that, in order to have an empathetic approach to situations, probably the most important skill we should develop is the ability to listen. As Ernest Hemingway once said: “When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” That means actively listening, fully concentrating on what is being said rather than just passively 'hearing' the message of the speaker. 

Listening is a necessary component of interpersonal communication skills and is fundamental to developing empathy.

About the Author

Martin Parnell is the Best-Selling author of MARATHON QUEST and RUNNING TO THE EDGE and speaks on having a “Finish the Race Attitude – Overcoming Obstacles to Achieve Your Full Potential”. Martin has written for, or been covered by CNNBBCCBCThe Huffington Post, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, Runners World, Men’s Journal, Canadian Business, and Maclean’s.

In a five year period, from 2010 to 2014, Martin completed 10 extreme endurance “Quests” including running 250 marathons in one year and raising $1.3m for the humanitarian organization Right To Play. Find out more about Martin at www.martinparnell.com  and see what he can do for you in the long run.

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All the tools, techniques and technology in the world are nothing without the head, heart and hands to use them wisely, kindly and mindfully.

Rasheed Ogunlaru - Speaker and Author
How to Value the Tools of Technology but not Become One

How to Value the Tools of Technology but not Become One

Posted by martin.parnell |

I recently read a quote by Henry David Thoreau that got me thinking. Not long after, I heard a new word that intrigued me and the very next day, I read an article that I found disturbing. Coincidentally, they all appeared to be inter-related, so I decided to delve a little further in to all of them and see if there was a feasible connection. 

The quote came from Henry David Thoreau, an American from Concord, Massachusetts, who was, amongst other things, an essayist, poet, philosopher, abolitionist and historian. He was born on July 12, 1817 and died on May 6, 1862.

The line comes from his book“Walden”, in which he states:   “Men have become the tools of their tools.” I went on to read several articles on what this probably means to us today and many contributors relate it to our reliance on the use of modern technology. 

But, bearing in mind when Thoreau wrote this I wondered how that could be the case and so I tracked down the rest of the quote and it reads: “Money is not required to buy one necessity of the soul. Most of the luxuries and many of the so-called comforts of life are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.” I feel that Thoreau was writing about society’s want of material things, which would have been household items or the latest in agricultural tools i.e. the latest technology of the time. 

With this in mind, I sought out articles about the quote and found brown7915's Blog posted on March 20th. 2013, in which the author writes: “Thoreau was part of the transcendental movement which took place between the years of 1830-1860. During this time a transcendental thought was based on philosophy, contemplation, and the discovery of one’s internal spirit. Transcendental thinkers despised consumerism, along with materialism. 

They believed that life should be purely intellectual and spiritual without the side effects of outside contamination. They also aimed for optimism. They believed in the beauty of life and that pollution of nature led to the pollution of the mind. Nonconformity was also a huge factor of transcendental thought.”

It’s interesting to note that Thoreau should make the statement when he did, as the industrial revolution was still happening. The transcendental time was right after the invention of the cotton gin. Also, telegraphs, sewing machines, mass-produced muskets, interchangeable sewing machine parts, and new uses for rubber occurred during this time period.  

If we think about the quote in respect to current lifestyles, it’s easy to see why many people relate it to our use of modern technology. Perhaps Thoreau became disillusioned by the rate at which things were changing, people’s preoccupation with these modern trends and their loss of appreciation for a more natural world. 

In response to the blog, Susan Reynolds, Teacher, StoryTeller at ABC Legacy responded on June15th 2017 by saying: “Instead of asking what this quote meant to Thoreau, I answer what it means to us today, especially for our teens. If this tool is a digital device in the times of digital dependence and potential digital addiction, we are at risk of becoming the tools of our tools, then the tools can manage us, rather than being a tool that we manage. 

When we narrow the focus to our SmartPhone and our reliance on the tool, almost as an extension of our minds, then we may become addicted to it, reacting to every ping, ding and alert. The research on the release of dopamine from a text message, tweet or like on our social media accounts are undeniable, so are we going to continue to be controlled by this if we are unaware of its power. The keyis awareness and intentional attention.  But it’s not that easy when the creators of the technology want to hook us.”

It was then that I came a across the word phubbing.

Apparently, it is a term coined as part of a campaign by Macquarie Dictionary to describe the habit of snubbing someone in favour of a mobile phone. In May 2012, the advertising agency behind the campaign, McCann, had invited a number of lexicographers, authors, and poets to coin a neologism to describe the behaviour.

According to Dictionary.com:

Phub - verb (used with object), phubbed, phubbing.

1.

to ignore (a person or one's surroundings) when in a social situationby busying oneself with a phone or other mobile device: Hey, are you phubbing me? 

In my opinion, it’s a sad, if not disturbing sign of the times that it was deemed necessary to actually invent a word to describe this antisocial behaviour. 

Which brings me to the article, provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited on April 9th 2018, with the headline:

 Quarter of children under six have a smartphone, study finds 

It reveals that, in a recent study: “Despite parents insisting that 11 is the "ideal" age for children to have a phone, 25 per cent of children aged six and under already have their own mobile and nearly half of these spend up to 21 hours per week on their devices. More than three quarters of parents paid up to £500 for their child's first phone with two-thirds admitting they don’t cap the monthly spend.

According to the poll: “Researchers also found eight in 10 parents don’t limit the amount of time children spend on their phones while 75 per cent don’t disable the data function so their children are only able to call and text. SmartPhones have become the most important piece of technology we own, connecting us with friends, keeping us updated on the world around us, and letting us capture our biggest moments," said Liam Howley of musicMagpie which conducted the research.

“The age at which children get their first phones, has got even younger, and while many agree that there’s no defined age to give a child a phone, there’s a lot parents can do to ensure their child’s day-to-day life isn’t consumed by one. Other than making calls and sending messages, it also emerged that 38 per cent of children used their mobile phone to play games.”

I have written in a previous blogs about my views on the use of modern technology:

  • Talk not Tech, remember how to enjoy the conversation / October 10th. 2016
  • Treasures in the mail and why handwriting still matters / January 23rd. 2017
  • The value of the personal touch when networking / March 20th. 2017
  • It’s important to recognise that communication is a two-way thing / March 27th 2017
  • Learning to be patient in a High Tech world / August 14th 2017

There is no denying that technology is becoming more and more sophisticated at a rate we could never have imagined, twenty years ago. We must make an effort and take steps to safeguard the future generation against becoming ill-equipped to relate on a personal level and too dependent on technology.

There is a place for smart phones, computers, computer games etc. But, we have a responsibility to encourage them to develop all ways in which to communicate and keep active.  

It is worth reminding ourselves of those words of Thoreau and try to relate them to our current lifestyles and make an effort to ensure that, in the modern-day context we do not allow ourselves to become “Tools of our tools.”

About the Author

Martin Parnell is the Best-Selling author of MARATHON QUEST and RUNNING TO THE EDGE and speaks on having a “Finish the Race Attitude – Overcoming Obstacles to Achieve Your Full Potential”. Martin has written for, or been covered by CNNBBCCBCThe Huffington Post, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, Runners World, Men’s Journal, Canadian Business, and Maclean’s.

In a five year period, from 2010 to 2014, Martin completed 10 extreme endurance “Quests” including running 250 marathons in one year and raising $1.3m for the humanitarian organization Right To Play. Find out more about Martin at www.martinparnell.com  and see what he can do for you in the long run.

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Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.

Steve Jobs
Is it Time for a Redesign?

Is it Time for a Redesign?

Posted by martin.parnell |

If I asked you to close your eyes and think of an umbrella, I wouldn’t know what colour that umbrella might be, but I’m pretty sure I could describe the basic design. 

I was fascinated, therefore, to learn that a company, in the Netherlands, has come up with a completely new design for the umbrella. It was developed by Dutch company Senz, founded by former students of Delft University. They wanted to make an umbrella that was storm and windproof.

The new umbrella is weirdly angled, with one shorter side and one longer one connected at a 135-degree angle. The shorter end is the front, and the longer part is the tail. The designer, Gerwin Hoogendoorn says that the umbrella works so well because it mimics the aerodynamic shape of a stealth bomber.

Many of us will have experienced trying to open an umbrella, on a windy day only to have it turn inside out and the Senz model solves that problem, too. Also, there’s less fabric to wrap up, so the umbrella travels surprisingly well. The spokes are reinforced, and the stem is quite short, which eases the strain on your wrist and Senz claims it can handle 100kmh winds. Apparently, it’s become very popular, in Holland. 

When you consider that the Encyclopédie Méthodique mentions metal ribs at the end of the eighteenth century, and they were also on sale in London during the 1780s it would appear that time for a re-design was way overdue. This got me wondering about things, in general, that might benefit from an overhaul. Could there be a better design for a tea cup, a sunshade, a barbecue, a space rocket?

The possibilities are infinite. We may be frustrated by a teapot that dribbles or a can opener that’s awkward to operate, but, even though we could find something more efficient already on the market, sometimes it’s just easier to accept things the way they are, if they appear to be working adequately enough. 

Then I started thinking about less tangible things. What about the space we occupy, both at home and at work, could the way we use it benefit from a re-design. Do you park your vehicle on the road because your garage is full of “stuff” and have to waste precious time, in winter, de-icing it? Are your kitchen work tops cluttered because you have items in the cupboards that you might only get out at Christmas or Thanksgiving? It might be an idea to box them up and put them in the attic or under the bed. 

The same thing could be said about our work spaces. Have you used those spaces in the same way for years? Do you have space that’s not being used? Would employees benefit from having things moved around? Is that photocopying machine easily accessible for everyone?  Are employees eating lunch at their desks? 

Do you really need an extra board room that’s only used for a few hours a week, when there’s not enough space for employees to enjoy their lunch in comfort? Then there’s the issue of how we use our time. Could that also benefit from an overhaul? Think about the way meetings are formatted.  Does the way annual reviews are conducted need reformatting? 

How about the forms we are required to complete. Are all those questions telling us anything we don’t already know? Are we duplicating too much information? Do we have too many employees working on a task when their time would be better used elsewhere? Perhaps the design of your website could benefit from an update. Does your company logo look dated? The questions are endless.   

Just as Senz has created a new design for the umbrella,  redesigning or overhauling aspects of your home or working life may be solving a variety of issues that affect  the way you or your business operate. You might already have a very efficient work space. You may have already decluttered your home.  You may be super-efficient at managing your time and not feel that anything in your life needs changing. But, if you are a leader, in business, take a moment to look around and make sure it’s not only working for you but your colleagues and employees too. 

You may not feel the need to redesign anything. Everything may appear to be working well and efficiently, but it doesn’t hurt to check.

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The most beautiful discovery true friends make is that they can grow separately without growing apart.

Elizabeth Foley
How to Deal with Missing your Work Buddy when they Leave

How to Deal with Missing your Work Buddy when they Leave

Posted by martin.parnell |

According to an article on the Human Resources Director website, (May2014) the average working Canadian spends 1,702 hours at work per year. That’s a lot of time. In fact, it’s probably more than the time spent with your family or closest friends. 

When you think about it, if you spend that much time with your work colleagues, its little wonder that you build up close relationships.  We’ve all had that person who we usually spend our coffee and lunch breaks with, who we tend to sit next to at meetings, and share details of our out –of-work activities with, like what we did at the weekend etc. 

So, what happens if one of your closest working buddies decides to leave? 

It is a question addressed in an article I found whilst browsing through an old copy of Rotarian magazine (February 2016). In it, Steve Almond describes a situation where he had an unpleasant encounter with his best friend, a guy whom he had worked with for years and who was also his editor and mentor. During a business meeting the person directed a harsh diatribe at Almond, who couldn’t understand why this so-called friend was trying to humiliate him. It was totally unprovoked and out of character. 

After some time, Almond came to the conclusion that the real reason for his friend and colleague’s true source of anger: “ A few days before that meeting, I had told him I was leaving, to return to graduate school” and he felt that the rebuke was “a punishment for a personal betrayal.” 

As a result, Almond asked people whether they had experienced anything similar.  His friend, Jen told him that when one of her friends left their office, it left her feeling unexpectedly bereft: “I was depressed for a month. There’s this huge void. You feel it every day, every time you go to lunch without them, every time you look at their desk and there’s this stranger sitting there.” 

Our colleagues can become close friends and confidents. They come to know all our little foibles and idiosyncrasies and we get to understand theirs. Not only will they be able to understand the pressures you face at work, but they will know about your family and might be aware of problems you may have in your personal life and be a shoulder to cry on. 

Is it any wonder then that, if they should leave, they will be terribly missed? You may be required to step into their position or take on an extra workload. You will most likely have to adapt to working with their replacement. This is a time of significant change. But, bear in mind it’s not only for you, but for them as well. If their decision to leave is sudden and they had not made you aware, it can be even more upsetting. Try to remember, there is obviously a reason as to why your friend has decided to leave. It may be something beyond their control. 

Whatever the reason, whether it be due to personal circumstances, a promotion or they need a challenge, be supportive. If congratulations are in order, make sure you show that you are happy for them. If they are not moving away, make a firm commitment to stay in touch. Make a date to meet for lunch, in the near future. If they are going to a new job, this is a stressful time for them, too. Even retirement, despite something most people look forward to, can produce its own challenges. 

Try to stay positive. This, in some ways, is a new beginning for you, too. It may be an opportunity to make a new friend, spend more time with other colleagues and get to know them better. With a new person coming in, your experience will be valuable to them and your team. It might even make you think about your circumstances and ask yourself if you might be ready for a change. 

There is no guarantee that the people we connect with so well at work are always going to be there. Just enjoy their friendship, but as all things in life, be prepared to adapt if the situation should change.

Be glad of your friendship, make an effort to maintain it and know that your friend is going to miss you, too!

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People would say. 'Girls don't play hockey, girls don't skate,' I would say 'Watch this'.

Hayley Wickenheiser
8 Hockey Sticks - Women’s Hockey in Afghanistan

8 Hockey Sticks - Women’s Hockey in Afghanistan

Posted by martin.parnell |

In the winter of 2016 /17, the NGO www.freetorun.com  started a very unique project in Bamyan, a town located in the foothills of the Hindu Kush Mountains, in Afghanistan. In partnership with the Canadian Embassy in Afghanistan and the Conservation Organisation for Afghan Mountain Areas (COAM), they facilitated the construction of a new ice skating rink, the very first one in all of Afghanistan.

International ice skating coach, Britt Das, was flown into the country for a few weeks in February so Afghan participants could experience the joys of ice skating. The project was aimed at young women (ages 10-25) from the region, but participants from other regions were also flown in to take part in a special Winter Sports Week.

 “The local girls were more comfortable with skating,” said Taylor Smith, Free to Run's Country Programme Manager in Afghanistan, “maybe because they grew up in a colder region and could ski already, so they were a bit more fearless. The girls from other provinces had not seen much snow or experienced sports, and were more hesitant. One was scared about falling through the ice, not realizing that it was only 10 cm deep.”

A big hurdle that young women in the Afghanistan program had to overcome was the opposition from the community, as well as conservative families who were not always comfortable with their daughters participating in sports. “That's why we focus on women,” explained Taylor. “Although apprehensive at first, the families were relatively open to allowing their daughters to participate in ice skating lessons because we’d already built that relationship and trust with them.”

Said one young woman from the program, “for me, ice skating was amazing because when I started skating, I was wondering, 'How is it possible to stand on a small blade and keep our balance?' It's another reason we can have confidence; if I can stand on ice with a blade, then anything is possible.”

I had met Taylor in the fall of 2016 when I ran the 2nd Marathon of Afghanistan in Bamyan and with the success of the ice skating initiative, Taylor approached me to see if I would fund raise for the re-installation of the ice rink and support the Winter Sports Week in 2017 / 18. My Annual December 31st Run / Walk fund raiser has been going since 2010 and last year we supported the first ever kayak and camping expedient for Afghan women and girls to the Panjshir valley.

So, on December 31st 2017, the 8th Annual Run / Walk took place at the Spray Lake Sawmills Family Sport Centre in Cochrane, Alberta. The temperature hit -48C and a total of 60 hardy souls came out that day and ran / walked distances of 2 km up to 50 km. In total over $6,000 were raised and the ice rink and Winter Sports Week became a reality.

In early March, Taylor sent me an email and told me that re-installation of the ice rink and Winter Sports Week had been a huge success. The coach they had hired, not only was an ice skating instructor but also had 16 years of experience in ice hockey. He donated sticks and pucks and introduced hockey basics and puck handling on the ice to the women an girls. 

Taylor continued that “Although we weren't able to get up to the skill level to play ice hockey- we were able to teach a lot of the basics through street hockey sessions. Given how much the girls LOVED the game, I'm confident they'll be able to play next year. We also now have 8 hockey sticks to practice with in the spring/summer as well!” 

So there you have it. The women and girls in Bamyan, Afghanistan have 8 hockey sticks. I think I know what my 2018, 9th Annual December 31st Run / Walk will be fund raising for.

If you want to watch the women and girls participate in the Winter Sports Week then go to: https://vimeo.com/262639823

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Deep rivers run quiet.

Haruki Murakami, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World
How to Support an Employee who is Shy or an Introvert

How to Support an Employee who is Shy or an Introvert

Posted by martin.parnell |

I was recently listening to a podcast of one of my favourite CBC Radio programmes, “Under The Influence”, presented by Terry O’Reilly. His documentaries focus on the changing world of marketing and are always interesting and entertaining. 

In this particular programme, O’Reilly explored the topic of using celebrities in commercials under the title “Celebrities: Living To Tell The Tales”.

He spoke about, Alan Arkin, Alec Baldwin, Kiefer Sutherland, Spike Lee and others. 

But the story I found most enlightening was about the day he was casting for a comedic actress, for a particular commercial. Amongst the forty well-known, experienced actresses who auditioned, there was one very young, inexperienced girl who sat very quietly, didn’t know anyone and was very shy. 

However, when she stepped up to the microphone and delivered her lines, she had everyone in stitches. Her presentation was absolutely brilliant and, when she’d finished, she just tiptoed back and sat quietly in the corner. 

As it turns out, the young actress would go on to stardom and had the ability to overcome her shyness when it mattered in order to demonstrate her talent. 

For some people this may not be something they feel they can do. 

You may be one of those people, which may make the working environment very frustrating. You may have great ideas that you wish to share, but are too shy to do so.

Perhaps you are asked to give a presentation, but find the prospect extremely daunting. In some cases, you may see your shyness as a barrier to getting the recognition you deserve. 

If you are a manager, you may have employees who experience these hurdles and it is worthwhile considering this, as you think about your team. Do you have someone who is always reluctant to offer an opinion or be forthcoming when it comes to volunteering for certain tasks? 

Although their work may be up to standard, it would be easy to see them as less engaged in the goals of the company. 

I found an article on the Business 2 Community website entitled How To Manage Quiet Employees by Jacob Shriar (August 16, 2016) in which he states: 

“Quiet employees often are more successful and are considered better leaders.”

He then goes on to say why he considers this to be true:

  1. Introverts Are Better Listeners

Introverts are naturally better listeners, which is great when you’re leading a team. Extroverted leaders on the other hand, tend to do most of the talking without taking into account much of their employees’ opinions. They’re generally better with the command-and-control type of management, whereas introverts are more inclusive.

  1. Introverts Are More Humble

The best leaders practice what’s known as “servant leadership”, which is essentially when you put your employees first and are acting to serve them. According to research about servant leadership, the traits associated with servant leadership, like humility, are found more in introverts.

  1. Introverts Are More Creative

Quieter employees tend to be more reflective and take their time to analyze what’s going on. That reflection makes you more creative and helps you make smarter decisions. Extroverts on the other hand, tend to be a bit more aggressive when it comes to decision making.

  1. Introverts Form Deeper Connections

Introverts prefer to build those deeper, one-on-one connections, which is important for employee engagement. They’re much more likely to get to know their team members on a more personal level, making employees feel more connected to the leader. Extroverts are more likely to have more connections, but less meaningful.

  1. Introverts Are More Self-Aware

Self-awareness is one of the most important things you can have to be an emotionally intelligent leader. That self-awareness lets them listen attentively, pick up on social cues, process information, and see the bigger picture. They love that time alone to process the information. 

Shriar then proceeds to give advice to managers about how to manage quiet employees:

  1. Don’t Assume

The best tip I can give you by far is not to assume anything. Like I mentioned earlier, they might be quiet in meetings or at their desk, but don’t assume that they’re in a bad mood or disengaged. They might be processing some information that was just given to them or thinking about something, but they could be one of the more engaged members of your team.

  1. Don’t Just Show Up At Their Desk

Chances are, they’ll prefer to communicate by email or chat, so respect that. If you just show up at their desk or catch them by surprise, they likely won’t give you a good answer. They need time to process and think about what they want to say. Respect that, and give them the space/time they need.

  1. Use One-On-Ones

Trust me when I say one-on-ones is where you’re going to get the best feedback out of your quieter employees. They’ll be comfortable in that calm, quiet environment. If you can, it would be great to send them an agenda 24 hours in advance to make sure they have some time to gather their thoughts.

  1. Ask For Their Opinion The Next Day

If there’s a meeting, discussion, or anything you want their opinion on, it might be a good idea to wait a while before asking them for their thoughts. Again, they need time to process, digest, and formulate a smart response.It doesn’t necessarily need to be the next day, but give them time to think and come back to you with their thoughts collected. It also might be a good idea to ask for their opinion using their favorite form of communication. For example, you can wait an hour or two and send them an email or chat message and ask for their opinion. 

  1. Give Them A Quiet Environment

It makes sense that quiet people would like to work in quiet environments. Try your best to create a quiet environment so that they can work their best. If the workplace is so noisy and there’s no real way for them to get the quiet they need, you might want to consider letting them work from home one or two days a week.

  1. Don’t Ignore Them

It’s easy for introverts or quiet employees to go unnoticed, but you need to make a conscious effort to notice them. Or what about when companies are recruiting employees and there are words like “outgoing” in the job description. You don’t want to miss out on these people. Just remember, Bill Gates, Albert Einstein, Warren Buffett, Steve Wozniak, and Michael Jordan are all introverts.

Finally, Shriar  reminds us that “A huge reason why I keep stressing the importance of building up your emotional intelligence is that it helps you deal better with all different types of employees.” 

These are all very good ideas. However, there is something I wish to point out.

Being shy or quiet and being introverted aren't the same thing, although they may look the same. An introvert enjoys time alone and gets emotionally drained after spending a lot of time with others. A shy person doesn't necessarily want to be alone but is afraid to interact with others.

Consider two children in the same classroom, one introverted and one shy. The teacher is organizing an activity for all the children in the room. The introverted child wants to remain at her desk and read a book because she finds being with all the other children stressful. The shy child wants to join the other children but remains at her desk because she is afraid to join them.

It’s the same with adults. Someone can appear to be outgoing, sociable and engaged, not in the least bit shy, but may, in fact be an introvert and will soon want to find a place to be on their own and recharge their batteries in order to cope.

So. There is a difference between being shy and being quiet because you are an introvert. Of course, some of the ideas for supporting an introvert may also be applied to working with someone who is shy.

As a manager, you may yourself be outgoing and sociable but inside, be an introvert as may be the case with any of your employees, or you just may have someone on your team who is naturally shy. It’s worth thinking about. Be aware of how employees respond to different situations and try to be sensitive to their reactions.

One last thing, the actress who sat shyly in the corner? It was Ellen DeGeneres.

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I hope I have helped to raise the profile of science and to show that physics is not a mystery but can be understood by ordinary people.

Stephen Hawking
How to Communicate in a Way that is Accessible to All.

How to Communicate in a Way that is Accessible to All.

Posted by martin.parnell |

On Wednesday March 14th. News headlines reported the death Stephen Hawking, at the age of 76. 

Hawking was known not only as a renowned physicist, but also one of the world’s most celebrated science communicators. This was despite his personal struggle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. 

Stephen Hawking has presented many theories, to the scientific community, covering such subjects as Black Hole Mechanics or TheUncertainty Principle that would have been incomprehensible to someone of my scientific background. But, in his book “A Brief History of Time”, Hawking ventured to make these concepts accessible to all. He wanted to share his knowledge and theories with the world, in a way that a layman could understand.

As Derek Hawkins explained in The Washington Post (Wed., March 14, 2018):

“In 1982, Stephen Hawking decided to put his years of ground-breaking research in theoretical physics into book form. His goal, he said, was to “explain how far we had come in our understanding of the universe and how humankind might be close to finding a unified theory of the cosmos.”

Several years and many rewrites later, Hawking’s A Brief History of Time defied all those expectations. The first run sold out in the United States in a matter of days, and soon the 200-some-page account of the origin and fate of the universe was flying off the shelves worldwide. It spent 147 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, and a record-breaking 237 weeks on the Times of London bestseller list. To date, more than 10 million copies have been sold and the book has been translated into dozens of languages.”

Even Hawking himself struggled with the reason as to why his book had become so popular “It’s difficult for me to be objective,” he wrote in the Wall Street Journal.

But, it is clear that he had an ability to explain complex concepts in theoretical physics, using a sense of humour and analogy, enabling us to understand his reasoning by relating his theories and observations to those more familiar to our own experiences.

Indeed, upon publication, the New York Times called Hawking’s work “a jaunty and absolutely clear little book” that shared his ideas about the universe “with everyone who can read.”

There is a message here for all of us who are required to present our ideas and opinions, whether in written or oral form.

It is not only important, but necessary that we convey them in a way that our audience can understand. That is not to say that we talk down to our listeners and readers, but are aware of  the fact that many people may not have had experienced things in the same way that we may have. This is particularly relevant when introducing people to a way of seeing, approaching and thinking about new ideas.

If your subject matter is of a technical nature,  I found some valuable tips included in an article for the British Council in May 2015 entitled  “How to present complex ideas clearly” by Dr. Emily Grossman, an expert in molecular biology, broadcaster and educator. Grossman states:

“When trying to explain complex information to an audience, the first task is to get the content of what you're saying right. You can’t hide poor or boring content behind a charismatic delivery technique, and expect your audience to let you get away with it. But how we communicate is also crucial. When someone is speaking, most of the information we receive comes through their body language, enthusiasm and tone of voice. It's our overall experience of the speaker that counts.”

She explains that the reason for this is that:

“Our brains contain ‘mirror neurons’ which automatically make us copy the emotions of the person we are engaging with. Have you ever noticed that if you see someone in the street smiling, you will start to smile too? If a speaker appears happy and relaxed, the audience will feel that way too, and will be more likely to absorb the information the speaker is trying to get across.

The more complex the information, the more important this is. Imagine trying to explain your latest scientific discovery in a flat, monotone voice. If you don't sound excited, the listener won't feel excited either. They will find it harder to engage with the information, and therefore, crucially, it will be more of a challenge for them to understand it.”

Grossman also addresses the issue of how much technical detail to include:

 “Generally, as little as possible! Try not to use technical language. If you do, make sure it is absolutely necessary in order to help the audience understand or appreciate your point – and ensure that you explain the word or term immediately afterwards.

Remember that there is a difference between using language that is simple (easy to understand), and simplistic (treating the problem as if it is not actually very complex at all). Keep your words as simple and clear as possible, and use real-life examples and illustrations where possible. But don’t patronise your audience by pretending that something is not as complicated as it really is.”

Much of what Grossman is saying can be applied whether you are covering something that is highly technical or not. Like Hawking, she recommends the use of analogy. It is also essential to clarify make everything you say, or write, without patronising your audience.

Like Stephen Hawking, we must find a way to share our passion for a subject in a way that we can communicate to the widest of audiences.

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Some people see problem as obstacle, some see it as challenge and few visionary see it as opportunity.

Shesh Nath Vernwal
How to Diagnose and Cure an Ailing Business

How to Diagnose and Cure an Ailing Business

Posted by martin.parnell |

When we’re not feeling too well, it’s easy to go online, look up your symptoms and try to self-diagnose, but, as we all know, what might look life-threatening could just as easily turn out to be something far less serious, or vice versa.

The Internet may be useful for many things, but generally speaking, if you’re not well, the best thing to do is go and see an expert who, in most cases will be your family doctor.

They will be able to ask the right questions and usually be able to treat the problem or refer you to someone even more experienced in a particular field.

Fortunately, when it comes to business, the opposite is sometimes true. When you sense there is something wrong, you may not know an expert to go and consult. You may not be able to afford the expense of recruiting an expert to assess your situation and offer advice. In this case, with some careful research, it is possible to go online to diagnose the symptoms, discover why your business may be failing and get help and advice.

Being an entrepreneur has many challenges. The Small Business Association (SBA), states that 30% of new businesses fail during the first two years of being open, 50% during the first five years and 66% during the first 10. But, even if your business has been up and running for several years, it doesn’t mean that, at some stage, it could face a degree of failure. You may not have had a new customer in a while, you may be experiencing a high turnover of employees or you can’t pay the bills on time.

These are all important issues that need to be addressed.

In part of his contribution published in Forbes magazine, June 2014, under the heading “7 Reasons Your Business Is Failing -- And What To Do About It”, Jayson DeMers suggests other factors that may be having a negative effect on your business and offers some solutions:

“While every business is different, there are some typical reasons for small business failure. See if any of these resonate with you, then check out the “What to Do About It” section to turn things around.

1.    You Don’t Know How to Market Your Business

Not every business owner is born knowing how to get the word out about their business, and that’s fine. But when a business owner’s shortcomings put their business in jeopardy, that’s when somebody must take responsibility and take action.

If you think marketing is too hard to figure out yourself, or you assume it costs more than you’ve got to hire someone, you’re essentially shutting down the possibility of finding new customers. Yes, marketing is an investment in time, money, or both, but an essential one.

What to Do About It: Start marketing. If you lack money, then invest an hour or two a week to read a few marketing books, blogs, or articles and teach yourself how to use social media, blogging, and PR to draw more people to your website and/or your store. If you’ve got more money than time, get a quote from a few marketing consultants or freelancers.

2.    Your Prices are Too Low

If you’ve got more work than you can handle but are still having trouble making ends meet, it’s time to assess your pricing.  Pricing products tends to be a bit easier than pricing services because you know what it cost you to buy or make those products, so price can be determined easily based on desired profit margin. But even with business services, you’ve got to factor in things like overhead (Internet service, heating/cooling), salary, and office expenses. Your profit shouldn’t be so scant you have difficulty paying your own bills.

What to Do About It: Don’t double your prices overnight. Instead, raise prices for new clients only and see what the market will bear. If you’re getting pushback, you might have raised them too much. If you’re closing sales too easily, you might have room to raise those rates even more.

3.    You Don’t Really Know Your Customers

You know who you think they are, but unless you’re really clued in to your demographic, know what makes them tick, and understand their problems, you’ll do a terrible job of trying to present an appropriate solution.

What to Do About It: A little market research can go a long way. Talk to actual customers. Use surveys. Ask questions on social media. Build out buyer personas that will turn numbers into humans, and solve the riddle of how to connect with each type of customer you’ve got.

4.    You Think Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Social Media Don’t Apply to You

Regardless of whether you’re a global accounting firm or the bakery down the street, you should engage in an SEO campaign to help you get more customers. After all, it’s the keywords you use on your website that help the right people find you, and the links you’ve got online that help solidify your brand reputation. Social media is becoming more intertwined with SEO, but has also established an extremely strong niche of its own in the online marketing sphere.

What to Do About It: Again, it comes down to time or money. Teach yourself SEO tactics that work and stay on top of Google’s latest algorithm updates to make sure you don’t get shot down those results. Or, hire a professional SEO company that’s well-versed on the subject and can help you focus on other areas of your business while remaining competitive online.

5.    You’ve Got the Answer for Everything

There’s a bit of ego that comes with running a business. After all, if you were smart enough to figure out how to launch this company in the first place, surely you’re smart enough to figure out how to design a logo. Or manage your finances. Or tell everyone else what to do. Unfortunately, the more micromanaging you’re doing, the more harm you’re probably doing. Entrepreneurs know the things they excel at, and outsource the things they don’t. The most successful entrepreneurs do only the things that only they can do. Anything else can almost always be outsourced more efficiently.

What to Do About It: Get out of your own way. Think about those tasks that take you far too long to do, or result in shoddy work (that logo that took you 18 hours to design still doesn’t look as good as what a professional could have done in an hour), and outsource it. If you’ve got staff, trust them to do what you hired them to do. If they aren’t doing it correctly, fire and re-hire. Focus on what you do best: running your company.

6.    You Can’t Handle Growth

You started small and didn’t expect to burgeon overnight. Just ask any business that’s ever been the recipient of the “Oprah Effect” or even the “Groupon Effect”and then had a flood of sales the next day: rapid growth isn’t always a blessing. If you’re not prepared for the strain your servers will experience, the number of sales to process, or the flood of customer service calls, you risk seriously harming your brand’s reputation.

What to Do About It: Overall, rapid scaling should be a good thing, but you need a plan to quickly hire more staff and train them, as well as how you’ll manage more website traffic, phone calls, and customer service requests.

7.    You Don’t Have Business Savvy

While it’s not imperative that you have an MBA to start a business (or even a college degree) a solid understanding of finances, management, marketing, leadership, and sales will take you far. If you’ve mixed your personal and business finances, have trouble managing staff, or are just throwing your hands up at running your business in general, your risk of failure is multiplying by the minute.

What to Do About It: Consider whether you truly want to be an entrepreneur. Many business owners start a business because they want to “do what they love.” That’s respectable, but without a CEO that knows how to run a successful business, any business is doomed. And to be honest, many business owners get far away from the actual thing they love doing once the business takes flight; focus shifts from fulfillment work, and toward running the business. If you’re committed to sticking it out, invest time in classes, workshops, and resources to beef up the skills you’re weak in.”

Also, on the Entrepreneur website, I found a piece from March 29, 2017 7 by Guest Writer, Chidike Samuelson entitled “6 Lifelines That Could Save Your Failing Business”. In it, Samuelson tells us that before giving up on your business, you owe it to yourself and your employees to take certain steps. Two of these Lifelines are:

Invest in your team.

Your team has played a significant role to get your business to this critical point. Now, more than ever, you need to transform your staff into an asset. It's possible your employees don't understand your business model or the business itself. Some might be barely there for the pay check. This isn't good for any business.

Nothing grows a business like having a dedicated team whose members commit themselves to its success. Your employees must believe they are committed stakeholders and an active part of the business. By extension, your executives must become master salespeople.”

Go back to the drawing board.

Return to the root of the problem. There must be reasons why you are where you now find yourself. If you've started collecting data and monitoring negative feedback, you should have more than idea of the true causes. Now, what can you do about it? Go back to the proverbial drawing board and ask yourself some hard questions. Are you paying out more in salaries than your incomes can carry? Do you need to lay off some staff, make adjustments to compensation packages or consider other cost-cutting measures? 

Redefine your value Proposition, you deem it necessary. It could be that the very thing setting you apart from other businesses in your marketplace is a reason for your failure. Consider following the working trend, if only as a marketing test. Being different isn't best in every circumstance or space.”

He also offers this tip to help you find resources you may need to keep your company going or look at changes that need to be made:

“It's also worth researching whether you might qualify for a grant. Federal, state, county and even local development programs exist because these agencies and organizations have a deep interest in fostering small businesses.”

Whilst there are many websites offering advice and online services to help you deal with business problems, it is always good to remember that, for the same reason you make that trip to the doctor, you need to seek out contributors who have expertise in their field. Check their credentials to ensure the advice and solutions they offer are relevant to you and your company.  Also, seek out experts based in your own community as they will have local insight. 

Whatever happens, don’t despair and don’t give up until you know you have pursued every avenue in an effort to get your company back on its feet and on the road to success. 

If your problems are tackled properly, advice taken and solutions implemented, you will, hopefully, be able to look back on the whole experience as a huge learning opportunity.

Remember to involve your colleagues and employees. If they understand the reasons for any changes you might need to make they will see the possible advantages and appreciate your efforts. After all, they are in this with you.

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With teamwork we are able to multiply our output and minimize individual input.

Ogwo David Emenike, Management consultant, inspirational writer and speaker.
Team Talk. How to get the Best out of a Group Presentation

Team Talk. How to get the Best out of a Group Presentation

Posted by martin.parnell |

Occasionally, I am asked to make a presentation as part of a team. This can be a challenge, especially if you do not know the other presenters and your time to meet up beforehand is limited. This is when Skype and conference-calling come into their own.

Ideally, though, all parties would be able to make time to get together before the event. Things are a little easier if you are asked to present alongside colleagues, especially if you are already part of a team. However, for some people, this can still be somewhat daunting.

Therefore I have turned to a couple of experts to give some valuable advice. Every week, I receive a free weekly ezine from The Media Coach, Alan, Stevens. www.mediacoach.co.uk. Alan is a highly -respected Speaker and media consultant, based in the UK.

I’d like to share with you some of his thoughts under the heading:  PLAYING AS A TEAM:

“Sometimes, you need to make a team presentation. You may be pitching for business, talking to shareholders, or explaining a new development to residents. The rules of presenting still apply to the person who is speaking, but there is now more to consider. For example, who will be presenting? In what sequence? How will transitions be made? Will you have a facilitator?

As always, it comes down to good preparation. One person should take charge of the planning and co-ordination, and ensure that the whole team understands what will happen. Ideally, the separate presentations should fit together to form a coherent message. That will probably require several rehearsals, for both words and visual aids (if used).

Even the staging is important, and whether the whole team will be on-stage together, or appear one at a time. In the latter case, remember to practice the changeover, particularly if microphones are involved. Never, ever, try to switch from one laptop to another - something will go wrong, leading to embarrassed asides to the audience. If you are on stage together, remember that you are all on display at all times, so show your respect and attention to the person speaking. I once saw a pitch ruined by a two team members who clearly had a private joke running about another speaker’s style of delivery. They lost the pitch, of course.

Obviously, it’s all about good teamwork. If you are going to win people to your point of view, you need to be at your best, at all times. Plan, prepare and practice.”

In her article posted on www.presentationxpert.com,  entitled 6 Tips for Presenting With a Team, As A Team, Lisa B. Marshall explains that there can be benefits to presenting as a team   “You’re not alone! Someone can come to your rescue, if you need it. Teammates also can contribute their unique perspectives and experiences which adds dimension to a presentation.”

Marshall suggests some tips and techniques to incorporate, if you are aiming to deliver an unforgettable presentation:

1) Mutual Understanding

Often when working in teams, the presentation material is divided into small sections and distributed among members. Then everyone runs off and only learns their required area.

For a presentation to be really professional, everyone should understand all of the material, possibly even be able to present all of the material. Take the time to make sure each group member has a solid grasp of the subject and material.

2) Use the PEP Model

The PEP model (Point, Evidence, Point) teaches speakers how to support their ideas and make their points interesting and credible. Whenever you make a point, you should also provide evidence (such as an analogy, story, comparison or example) for that point. Then make the point again, but using different words.

To use the PEP model in a team presentation you divide the P-E-P. The first (or main) speaker makes a point, a different speaker provides evidence, and the first speaker summarizes the point again.

3) Know your Role

Before you present, make sure everyone is clear about their role. Will you present together? Will you take turns as lead speaker? How will you transition from speaker to speaker?

It doesn’t matter what you decide, but you need to decide ahead of time. It’s also a good idea to mark who is supported to be speaking in your presentation notes.

4) Practice…and Practice Again.

Practice early and practice a lot! You’ll want to practice two, maybe even three times more than you would if you were giving a presentation alone. Every member should at least understand all of the material – and that takes time!

5) Be Supportive

Remember, you’re in this as a team, as equals. This is not a competition between you and your co-presenter, it’s a collaboration. When your partner is speaking you should give him or her your full attention. Listen actively to what is being said. If they say something funny, then laugh; in fact, laugh generously. And if a teammate makes an important point, you can nod your head slightly in agreement.

6) Tackling the Q&A – Together

Try to distribute the questions evenly so all presenters have an opportunity to provide an answer. If the audience is favouring one person, the favoured partner should include the others by redirecting questions. “Tim, what you do think about that?”

The opposite also needs to be considered. If one member of the team is having difficulty providing an answer, the other team members should lend a hand – or in this case, a voice.”

So it is clear that, when asked to present as a team, preparation is key, especially defining roles and having the ability to adapt to your audience.

If you follow all the advice given here, I’ve no doubt your team presentation will be professional and well-received.

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Most other competitions are individual achievements, but the Olympic Games is something that belongs to everybody.

Scott Hamilton, retired American figure skater and Olympic gold medalist.
With Regards to the Winter Olympics, my ABC of the Games

With Regards to the Winter Olympics, my ABC of the Games

Posted by martin.parnell |

I did a little research and discovered that, five years after the birth of the modern Olympics in 1896, the first organized international competition involving winter sports was staged in Sweden. Called the Nordic Games, only Scandinavian countries competed. It was then staged every four years, always in Sweden. In 1908, figure skating made its way into the Summer Olympics in London, though it was not actually held until October, some three months after all the other events.

A is for About the Winter Olympics and being”Alternative”

In 1911, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) proposed the staging of a separate winter competition for the 1912 Stockholm Games, but Sweden, wanting to protect the popularity of the Nordic Games, declined. Germany planned a Winter Olympics to precede the 1916 Berlin Summer Games, but World War I forced the cancellation of both. At the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium, ice hockey joined figure skating as an official Olympic event, and Canada took home the first of many hockey gold medals.

On January 25, 1924, the first Winter Olympics took place at Chamonix in the French Alps. Spectators were thrilled by the ski jump and bobsled as well as 12 other events involving a total of six sports. The “International Winter Sports Week,” as it was known, was a great success. Soon after the Antwerp Games, an agreement was reached with Scandinavians to stage the IOC-sanctioned International Winter Sports Week. It was so popular among the 16 participating nations that, in 1925, the IOC formally created the Winter Olympics, retroactively making Chamonix the first.

Modern-day Olympians tend to be recognised, at an early age for their talent at a particular sport. They will often spend all of their teens and into young adulthood training with the aim of, one day, becoming an Olympian. They are driven by a passion to succeed.

I tend to think of myself as an “alternate’ or “reverse” Olympian. As a child and teen, I took part in many sports and had no particular talent in any of them.

I was a very late starter when it came to my sport, running, and as for success, I am not the fastest, but I can run along way over a long period of time. My passion is driven by the knowledge that I can use running to improve the lives of children around the world. 

B is for Bobsleighs and Beer 

Most of us who were around in 1988, when Calgary hosted the Winter Olympic Games, will remember the debut of the Jamaican national four-man bobsleigh team.

Their story was retold in the popular movie, “Cool Runnings”. 

Promotion for the film reads, “Four Jamaican bobsledders dream of competing in the Winter Olympics, despite never having seen snow. With the help of a disgraced former champion desperate to redeem himself, the Jamaicans set out to become worthy of Olympic selection, and go all out for glory.” 

I was reminded of this story when I read this piece from the International Business Times: 

Cool Runnings II: Beer Company keeps Jamaican bobsleigh's Olympic dream alive

Dan Cancian 16th, February 2018.

The Jamaican women's bobsleigh team's Olympic dream is still alive after a beer company has offered to buy them a new sled.

Their participation was thrown into jeopardy after their coach, Sandra Kiriasis, an ex-Olympic and European champion, threatened to take the team's sled with her after claiming she had been marginalised. The German said she had been forced out of the team when her role was changed from driving coach to track performance analyst, giving her no access to the athletes.

Kiriasis also added she was legally responsible for the sled used by the two-woman team and would take it with her, unless she was reimbursed for it by the Jamaica Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation (JBSF). The JBSF, however, refused to pay her and disputed her ownership of the sled. The stand-off looked set to threaten the team's involvement in the games.

However, beer company Red Stripe has stepped forward and offered to buy the team a new sled. The brewer made the offer on Twitter, inviting JBSF to put the cost of a new sled on "Red Stripe's tab". "We have been gifted a bobsled from Red Stripe," JBSF president Chris Stokes told Jamaican newspaper the Gleaner.

"We have accepted their generosity and we are currently preparing the sled. The team is in competition mode and we are focused on one goal - coming to the start line prepared mentally and physically. We have had some challenges in Pyeongchang, but we stand united and thank our fans and colleagues for their unwavering support". The Jamaican women hope to become the first female competitors from the Caribbean island to appear in the Winter Olympic sport.

At the beginning of this blog, I wrote about the commitment needed to become an Olympian.  The following article, from the CBC website is a fine example:

How the salesman and the actor came to live their crazy skeleton dream: Sean Ingle Pyeongchang Friday February 16th.

Olympians 

Ghana’s Akwasi Frimpong (right) and Jamaica’s Anthony Watson 

One is a former illegal immigrant from Ghana who sold vacuum cleaners door to door to fund his “crazy” Winter Olympic dream. The other is a Jamaican who turned down a role as a hyena in the Broadway production of The Lion King to pursue an identical, if seemingly impossible, goal. Yet somehow Anthony Watson of Jamaica and Akwasi Frimpong of Ghana ended up pinging around a skeleton track at the Winter Olympics on Thursday, turning heads and creating history. It barely mattered they were the slowest by some distance, because when they hugged and told the world how their stories had converged there was barely a dry eye in the house.  

Frimpong’s extraordinary journey began in  a tiny one-bed home in Ghana, which he shared with 10 others as a child. Aged eight he had come to the Netherlands with his mother, where he lived as an illegal immigrant, but while he soon made waves as a talented sprinter he had a massive problem: he feared competing internationally because he worried he would never be let back into his adopted country. 

His solution was to tell his coaches he had lost his passport. It took until 2008, when Frimpong was 22, before he gained residency but his hopes of competing as a sprinter at London 2012 ended when he ripped his achilles tendon. Two years later, when he missed out on the Dutch bobsleigh team for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, he thought his career was over. His wife Erica had other ideas.  “In July 2015, she told me: ‘I don’t want you to be 99 years old and still whining about your Olympic dream,” he said, choking back tears. “So I spent two years going door to door selling vacuums to pay for my Olympic dream. 

I’d probably be still doing that now if I wasn’t here.”   He loved skeleton but knew it was not cheap. “And no one wanted to sponsor me, nobody believed I could do this. Everyone thought I was crazy but I proved to the world I wanted to do this and sponsors came on board. Now I am getting so emotional …” At this point Frimpong cried. Later, he was hugged by his wife and their nine-month-old daughter Ashanti, along with Watson, who has become a good friend since they met in September 2017 with the crazy plan to both make it to South Korea. “Since then we have been rooming together to keep costs low,” Frimpong said. “I always yell for him on the start. 

We want to get the best out of ourselves and also get a bit of diversity in the sport, inspire people in our country.”  When he competes he wears a helmet bearing an image of a rabbit escaping from a lion’s mouth – something that seems appropriate given his journey. “We know we are here on the bottom of the list and that is OK,” Frimpong said. “The best guys have been doing it 12-plus years. This thing is bigger than ourselves.” 

Watson has an amazing tale of his own – having turned down a role in The Lion King last summer to train for what looked like an unlikely ambition of competing in the Winter Olympics. It looked like a disastrous decision, until a few athletes dropped out late on. “Maybe you’ll see me holding a Tony 10 years from now, I don’t know,” he said, laughing. Watson also plays eight instruments, including the ukulele, and has an album on iTunes called Dreaming Wide Awake, which rather sums up his life philosophy. 

He laughed too, when asked whether he had heard from Jamaica’s most famous athlete, Usain Bolt, the triple Olympic 100m and 200m champion. “No calls, no texts, not even a shout out on Twitter,” he said, jokingly. “But I know there will be a lot of Jamaicans including him who are watching and cheering and that means a lot to me.” Every Olympic Games has its unlikely heroes, athletes who are catapulted into international stardom like Eddie “the Eagle” Edwards and the 1988 Jamaican bobsleigh team but Frimpong and Watson insist they have greater goals than being one-day internet sensations. 

Their plan is to return to the Winter Olympics in 2022, when they hope to have the experience to be far more competitive – and to also inspire more people. “For me, being at the Winter Olympics is about breaking barriers,” Frimpong said, “to show black people, people from warm countries, can do this as well. Second, I want to motivate and inspire people in my country, to show kids in a little corner what they can do. That little kid was just like myself, living with 10 other kids in a 4x5m room that would never see snow before. “Look at the world championships a year ago I was terrible,” he said, laughing, “but I am improving and that is what sport is about.” 

And he was just as self-deprecating when he was asked by one wag whether he would be pleading with Team Gb to borrow one of their skin suits. “You have to stop hitting walls first before you can go fast,” he sighed, “but I don’t mind. I want to show dreams can come true if you are resilient and work hard.” 

C is for Calgary, Cost and Clara 

Sarah Rieger recently reported, on CBC News that Calgary’s Mayor Naheed Nenshi along with other officials from Calgary, Canmore and the federal and provincial governments are currently in Pyeongchang this week as part of the Winter Olympics Observer Program.

"The program is a unique opportunity to experience the Games first-hand to learn how we could host a successful Games in Calgary — if we pursue a bid," Nenshi said in a statement on Friday. The program is estimated to cost $135,000, which will be split between Calgary, Canmore and the provincial and federal governments.

These costs are simply to find out whether or not it might be worthwhile putting in a bid to host the 2026 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.  Current estimates show that it would cost Calgary only around 4.6 Billion dollars to host the games.

I say “only” because, as stated by The Associated Press in mid-December and reiterated by Money Talks News week, it cost about $12.9 billion for South Korean, to host this year's Winter Olympics. A good chunk of those funds went toward transportation from the capital to Pyeongchang. There was also the cost of building six new venues and refurbishing six others. To get athletes and spectators to venues there is a brand new $3.7 billion express train running from Seoul to Pyeongchang. 

Now I’m not suggesting that Calgary would have to build a new railway, but there would obviously be huge costs associated with hosting the games.

And so, I have a suggestion. Instead of committing billions of dollars, why not buck the trend and have a “low-cost” Olympics. We could re-cycle all the old equipment, there’s lots of it sitting idle in the Canada's Sports Hall of Fame, located at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary and I notice Sport Chek have weekly deals on winter accessories. 

I know there would be a need to have more venues as there are some events that weren’t included in 1988 e.g. the Women’s ice hockey. But, there are place available. Cochrane has a wonderful facility at the Spray Lake Sawmills Family Sports Centre which has 3 Totem ice hockey arenas and a 4th arena off site. The Curling Centre features six regulation sheets of ice plus three junior sheets of ice.

If they got really stuck for space, there’s Mitford Pond, where this year 56 teams played in the Kimmett Cup Pond Hockey Tournament.

I’m sure accommodation wouldn’t be a problem, those Airbnb’s are springing up all over the place and as for sponsors well, I suggest they contact No Frills, Budget Car Rentals and the Dollar stores could donate all the bunting and flags they have left over after the previous year’s Canada Day. Tickets should be cheaper too, so that more people could attend the events. How about a dollar a seat and promote it as “A Buck A Butt”.

Anyway, that’s all hypothetical, we don’t even know if Calgary will decide to bid.

In the meantime, I hope, like me you’re all enjoying the sports and following our wonderful Olympians and looking forward to the upcoming Paralympics.

And, if you’re wondering why athletes put themselves through all those years of training and sacrifice. It’s in the hope that, one day, it will pay off and they’ll get to experience something that most of us never will and is perfectly expressed in the words of a friend of mine:

 “I still can't believe I won the Olympics. That's what I feel right now - completely alive as a human being. It's a really beautiful moment.” Clara Hughes”

Go Canada Go!!!!!!!

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Most of my important lessons about life have come from recognizing how others from a different culture view things.

Edgar H. Schein, Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling
Getting to the Point of the Matter

Getting to the Point of the Matter

Posted by martin.parnell |

I recently spent a week in Cuba. I had been there before and was aware that there are certain customs that one should be aware of when visiting the country.

As Brittany Brumfield points out, on her site Cuba,“Cubans are very rich in their nonverbal language. They focus more on gestures and facial expressions than they do on emphasizing actual words. In Cuban culture, it is considered very rude to take a step back from the person with whom you are speaking.” Brumfield says that “Cubans step forward in comfort and are easily offended when the other party releases from this comfort zone.” It also known that Cuba has its Latin roots so much like Latin America, they feel comfortable being physically close to another individual. 

Another key gesture important in Cuban culture is eye contact. Cuban’s tend to be very direct and clear about what they need/want/are talking about, however, constant eye contact is a no-no. This is because too much will make them feel uncomfortable. Yet, refusing or avoiding eye contact is considered a sign of dishonesty. So finding the right median with eye contact is important and indirect. 

On another note, the initial greeting is VERY important. According to the Centre for Intercultural Learning, “a handshake, for male and females, is expected always. If the individuals have met more than once, a hug is commonplace and expected. This is to establish the comfort zone that they feel is important.” 

“El último”   

However, there was one aspect of Cuban culture that I was not aware of that I learned during this recent trip.  My wife and I decided we would like to see the Cuban National Ballet’s production of Don Quixote, so we took the bus from our resort and made our way to the wonderful National Theatre, in Havana, to purchase tickets. Outside of thetheatre, we saw a queue, so we joined the back of it. After all, we had both been brought up in England, where queuing has been turned into an art from, it’s in our DNA. 

Within minutes, a very irate Cuban lady came and told us we couldn’t stand where we were because it wasn’t the back of the queue, we were baffled. Fortunately, a very kind gentleman explained that all the people we could see wandering around, sitting on the steps of thetheatre and leaning against the pillars were also queuing. So we asked how one knows where to wait. He then explained that Cubans don’t typically form a single line, waiting until their turn comes. They will often find a place to sit close to the waiting line or just leave and come back later, still expecting to have the same place. 

To accomplish this, they always ask for “El último” (last person waiting). As long as they keep an eye in this person, they know their position in the queue. If this “último” leaves his or her position, it might also be wise to ask him/her who he/she is following, so that you can follow two people and never lose your position. If you need to leave the queue, it is also customary to tell the person following you. If you intend to come back later and want to keep your position, then you should tell this person, “I will be back in 10 minutes.” (even if you are going to be more or less than 10 minutes). 

Amazingly, it works. We found the last person, a young woman and stood behind her until someone came and asked if we were “El último” and we could proudly answer with confidence that indeed we were! 

 

It’s rude to point 

Not long after returning from Cuba, I read an article by Lucy Yang (lyang@thisisinsider.com ) entitled  “You'll never see a Disney employee point with one finger — here's why”. She had been speaking to  INSIDER's Micaela Garber, an Orlando native who spent a summer working at Disney World, who explained that cast members must always point with two fingers or their entire hand — a gesture known as "The Disney Point" because, in some cultures, pointing with one finger is considered rude. 

 As professional keynote speaker Gayle Cotton wrote in the Huffington Post in 2013, (Gestures to Avoid in Cross-Cultural Business: In Other Words, ‘Keep Your Fingers to Yourself!’), pointing with your index finger is an offensive gesture in China, Japan, Indonesia, and Latin America. According to Cotton, who is an expert in cross-cultural communication, pointing with your index finger is also considered impolite in Europe. And in many African countries, the gesture is reserved for pointing at inanimate objects, and never at people. In fact, she lists several gestures that can be misconstrued, according to one’s culture, for example: 

In Brazil, Germany, Russia, and many other countries around the world, the OK sign is a very offensive gesture because it is used to depict a private bodily orifice. The OK sign actually does mean “okay” in the United States, however in Japan it means “money,” and it is commonly used to signify “zero” in France. Clearly the OK sign isn’t offensive everywhere; however, it is not OK to use in many parts of the world, nor does it necessarily mean “okay”!

Most people are aware that the V for victory or peace sign was made popular by Winston Churchill in England during WWII. However, it’s important to take heed of where you are in the world, because if you make this gesture with your palm facing inward in Australia, the United Kingdom, South Africa, and several other countries throughout the world, it in essence means “Up yours!”

On Inauguration Day 2005, President George W. Bush raised his fist, with the index and little finger extended, to give the time- honoured hook ‘em horns gesture of the Texas Longhorn football team to the marching band of the University of Texas. Newspapers around the world expressed their astonishment at the use of such a gesture. Italians refer to it as “il cornuto,” which means that you are being cuckolded (that is, that your wife is cheating on you!). It’s considered a curse in some African countries, and is clearly an offensive gesture in many other parts of the world.

Rule of thumb

The thumbs-up gesture is commonly used in many cultures to signify a job well done. However, if it is used in Australia, Greece, or the Middle East — especially if it is thrust up as a typical hitchhiking gesture would be — it means essentially “Up yours!” or “Sit on this!” The thumbs up gesture can also create some real problems for those who count on their fingers. In Germany and Hungary, the upright thumb is used to represent the number 1; however, it represents the number 5 in Japan. Take heed all you global negotiators: there is a big difference between 1 and 5 million!

Curling the index finger with the palm facing up is a common gesture that people in the United States use to beckon someone to come closer. However, it is considered a rude gesture in Slovakia, China, East Asia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, and many other parts of the world. It’s also considered extremely impolite to use this gesture with people. It is used only to beckon dogs in many Asian countries — and using it in the Philippines can actually get you arrested! The appropriate way to beckon someone in much of Europe, and parts of Asia, is to face the palm of your hand downward and move your fingers in a scratching motion.

The open hand or “moutza” gesture is insulting in parts of Africa and Asia, Greece, Pakistan, and in several other countries. It is formed by opening your palm with your fingers slightly apart and extending your arm toward someone, much like a wave in the U.S. This may seem harmless enough to many Westerners, however if someone does it with a more abrupt arm extension, its meaning changes to, “Enough is enough,” or “Let me stop you right there.” In other words, “Talk to the hand, because the face isn’t listening!”

When it comes to body language gestures in the communication process, the important thing to keep in mind is that what we say, we say with our words, tonality, and body language.

Two way street

Of course, it works both ways. In our Western culture there are certain things that may not be acceptable to us, but are perfectly OK in other culture, including: 

  • Turning up late for an appointment and not feeling the need to apologise (I experienced this a lot, in Tanzania)
  • When you first meet someone, being asked what you or your wife/ husband
     earns.
  • Being asked why you don’t have children
  • Unsolicited marriage proposals from strangers.
  • People standing way too close.
  • Shop clerks who follow you around the whole time you’re browsing.
  • Staring
  • Ignoring queues and pushing in
  • Bartering in shops
  • Urinating in the street 

All perfectly acceptable behaviour, in some cultures. 

A sensitive approach 

As a professional speaker and Rotarian, I have developed an awareness of the importance of being sensitive to the cultural practices of people I meet and am learning all the time. 

In business, it is equally important to be aware of the cultural practices of those we encounter, whether it be prospective clients or people in our employ. It would be ignorant of us to expect someone to fully embrace the nuances of our culture, if we were not, at least, making an effort to be respectful of theirs.

And one final thought, although, culturally, we may have some differences, it is worth remembering....

“Individual cultures and ideologies have their appropriate uses but none of them erase or replace the universal experiences, like love and weeping and laughter, common to all human beings". Aberjhani, Slendid Literarium.

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Don't gobblefunk around with words.

Roald Dahl
How to Ensure Everyone's on the Same Page

How to Ensure Everyone's on the Same Page

Posted by martin.parnell |

I have just bought tickets for the Old Trout Puppet Workshop’s Presentation of “Jabberwocky”, on February 25th, in Calgary. 

The production is based on a poem from Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1872).  It’s a nonsense poem about the quest to vanquish a creature called a Jabberwock and my wife can recite it off by heart. When she was teaching, she would often introduce the poem to her students as a prompt for some very creative art work. As the creatures are all fictitious, the students could let their imaginations run riot. 

The poem begins: 

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
  Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
  And the mome raths outgrabe. 

When you read the poem, images are formed in your mind as to what the people and creatures look like. You can even conjure up a picture of the “tulgey wood”, through which the Jabberwok appears, with “eyes of flame....” 

So often, in life we are required to interpret things to our own way of thinking, but as we know, what one person might imagine may not be as everyone else sees it. 

 

When we read a novel, people and places can appear differently, to different people.

Now, it’s not always essential that we always see things the same, as long as we get the gist of what is going on. But, sometimes it is extremely important to make sure that we are interpreting things the same way. 

In business, if you are giving a presentation, or even just sending a memo, it is vital that everyone concerned is getting the same message. The use of vocabulary needs to be appropriate to the subject matter, the details need to be clear and precise and any references need to be accurately reproduced. The use of too many “in-words” and acronyms can be confusing, especially if someone is new to the group and unaware as to what they stand for. 

In business, people have a lot on their minds, attention spans are short  so when giving a presentation, make it as brief as possible, without omitting important information. The same goes for anything you put in writing. Make sure it’s easy to read, the sentences are short and to the point. 

If all employees are getting the same message and understanding goals, expectations, information etc. it will mean things will go more smoothly as you work to the same end. 

Of course, there are times, in the workplace when it is appropriate to be creative and use our imagination to come up with new ideas, be a little unconventional or from a new perspective, but it’s important to know when those time are. 

For anyone who’d like to read the rest of Lewis’s poem, here it is:

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
  The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
  The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
  Long time the manxome foe he sought --
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
  And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
  The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
  And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
  The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
  He went galumphing back.

"And, has thou slain the Jabberwock?
  Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!'
  He chortled in his joy.

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
  Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
  And the mome raths outgrabe.

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What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness?

John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America
How to get the Better of those Winter Blues

How to get the Better of those Winter Blues

Posted by martin.parnell |

A recent item on the CBC encouraged listeners to “embrace Winter”. Indeed, it’s great if you enjoy skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing or just being outdoors, generally. In fact, one guest suggested we should try winter camping. We are often reminded about the importance of getting out in the fresh air and enjoying as much sunlight as possible, during these long winter months.

But, what if you’re a person who has to get up and go to a workplace, or have other responsibilities, which keep you indoors? Whether you are an employer or an employee, there are things that you can do to make life more bearable if you are stuck inside for most of the day.

Do you get to work and then home again in the dark? 

Many people do and if you work somewhere with poor lighting and/ or ventilation it can seriously affect your mood and, consequently your performance.

Pull up the blinds and let in as much light as possible. Most experts believe that the lack of sunlight during the winter season throws off the body’s rhythm and leads to hormonal changes as well as a decrease in the production of serotonin, the chemical your brain produces when you have a lot of energy and are in a good mood. 

Open a window on those really sunny days (so long as nobody is sitting in a draft) and make sure thethermostat is turned to a comfortable level.

Amongst other things you can do is to introduce some plant life. In his article “Beating the Workplace Winter Blues and Avoiding Seasonal Slumps” on Humanity.com, David Galic refers to a study performed by Virginia Lohr of Washington State University which claims that “even workers who are on their computers all day see an increase in productivity and lower blood pressure when they are working in a room that is full of plant life. The presence of plants at the workplace boost productivity and it helps workers to feel refreshed and focused”.

 If you’re business doesn’t lend itself to having plants around, you can always include paintings of the natural world, in your décor.

It can be hard to be motivated during the winter months, especially if your company experiences some form of downturn in production. It’s important that employers ensure that the extra time is put to good use. Take it as an opportunity to engage with the workforce, have meetings and discussions that will reinforce and accomplish outstanding goals and set new ones. Getting together as a team can be motivating and refreshing.

This is also a time to take care of your general well-being. Get enough sleep, eat well and do try and do some form of exercise. Colds and flu are prevalent and you need to be proactive in keeping yourself fit and healthy.

If you do get sick, take time off. You will recover more quickly, but, more importantly, you won’t be spreading your germs to other people.

In some people, the winter months can lead to lethargy and even depression. If you find you are affected in this way, do read up on the condition referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). On the CTI Technology website, Chief Executive Officer, Aaron, S, Kane, addresses this issue in his article:  5 Tips to Keep Employees Motivated in Winter. He writes:

“If you find yourself feeling increasingly lethargic and in a very negative mood most of the time during the winter, there’s a good chance that you have SAD to some degree. He points out that “People who suffer from SAD are often overwhelmed when it comes to creating plans and getting things done. If there are any big projects that you need to tackle, try to break them down into small increments and focus on these small projects one by one instead of trying to deal with a giant project and being overwhelmed by it.”

He goes on to explain, “Sometimes it’s all about simply getting by for people with SAD. Get through the winter being as productive as possible and when the winter thaws and you start feeling better as spring approaches, then you can ramp up your work goals and take on the big projects that seemed so insurmountable to you while the weather was cold.”

Kane also gives advice to managers:

“Remember, as a manager, there is probably a solid percentage of people at your workplace who find it tough to work when the weather is cold and the sunlight is missing from their work days. Do everything you can to help them out and take care of their emotional and mental wellbeing.

Helping yourself and your workers get through the winter will undoubtedly result in a stronger, more engaged, happier and more productive workforce once the spring season returns.”

So whether you embrace the winter months or not, try and bear in mind, it won’t be long before Summer is here and we are bemoaning the fact that “It’s just too hot!”

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