Feedback is a gift

Feedback is a gift. Or it is like a gift in many ways. Or at least 10.

My Auntie Rosie was the worst gift giver in our family – and also brought the most joy. Watching my cousin pretend to be delighted at receiving an electric lemon squeezer as a present for getting into University was a special moment.

Likewise I appreciated the selection of Postman Pat books I received when I was 16.

Anyway, I digress… This is how feedback is like a gift

  • Sometimes someone gives it to you and you think ‘Pants, now I have to do the same for you and I didn’t think we were that close’
  • Sometimes someone gets it just right and it is a really pleasant surprise
  • Sometimes the wrapping is awful but it is still a really good gift. Sometimes the wrapping is brilliant, but the contents…
  • Sometimes you think ‘You’ve known me years and that’s what you thought I’d like? Wow’
  • Sometimes it is obviously regifted and just what they had left spare in a drawer
  • Sometimes the thought that has gone into it is really clear and that makes the gift more valuable
  • Sometimes the person giving the gift looks at you like you should be really impressed – and internally you are just doing a confused shrug
  • Sometimes it’s like being given deodorant. You understand it is useful but you think… Hey, are you trying to tell me something else here?
  • Some people only give once a year and still get it wrong
  • If you don’t say thank you or make use of it then it reduces the chance of gifts in the future

Version 0.1

Someone once told me that version 0.1 is the most important. I now tell my teams that version 0.1 is the most important.

Because I agree that version 0.1 is the most important

Version 0.0 means we are discussing a blank space, nothing has formed.

Version 1.0 means that you think we are good to go. The thinking has been done. You have an emotional investment in the work. If I disagree with contents then I’m disagreeing with you. If I don’t like the layout I’m undoing your work

Version 0.1 means we are thinking together. We are exploring. We both know we aren’t there yet and are still looking for solutions.

It might be an oversimplification, but there is something at the heart of it that is very important.

Bring people 0.1.

Bring them openness and a chance to contribute. Bring options. Bring humility. Bring puzzles and possible solutions. Bring a shared purpose rather than work you want over the line.

One of the best ways to create trust is to solve problems together – start with asking for 0.1

Evidence Based Playfulness

Evidence Based Playfulness

I’ve been doing a couple of things recently and I’ve been watching some conversations develop that suggest they aren’t compatible. I think they are – so I thought I’d outline why.

What are the two things?

  1. Encouraging people to embrace a more evidence based approach to their work
  2. Encouraging people to experiment more – and in particular play about with different things in conversations. Be more playful and inventive

The reason I do the first is because we don’t have enough time to do the wrong things. We are busy and taking time to methodically think through possible approaches, the evidence of what we already know and then reflect on outcomes makes perfect sense.

The reason I do the second is because the first approach urges you to test a hypothesis. It asks you to think about what you know already and what you can understand from elsewhere. Influencing well is a key skill in HR and leadership – if you only have one approach to conversation (rather than a broad range of approaches) then you limit your possible outcomes.

So think, plan, experiment, reflect. Keep playing with different approaches until you get better at picking the right approach for the right concept. The more you learn the better equipped you are to succeed. Try starting or ending conversations in a different way. Try holding them in a different place. Watch for different impacts of those changes.

The notion of working from an evidence base can seem restricting – and is too often portrayed as such – but combining that with attempting to experiment to learn more…

Well that’s pretty much an instruction to play about with things. It’s not an instruction to give into fads – it is permission to try and learn. It would be ridiculous in any other situation to see science and innovation as mutually exclusive. Can you use VR in your org? Probably. Should you? It depends on context and benefit. Is it worth playing about with it to work that out? Possibly.


– try things

– be humble enough to admit failure

– be smart enough to see success

– be brave enough to admit you are always learning

– be open enough to let others learn from you

– be astute enough to learn wherever you can

Experience is a source of evidence. Go try something new – but keep your eyes on the prize.

Discomfort vs Fear

I’ve just hopped off a stage where I was talking about the future of work. The people who had been on before me had talked about being positive about it so I went for a more dystopian view (for a sense of balance and because I’d had a bad commute).

The people before had said that fear dominates the narrative around this stuff and I sort of agree. I don’t want people scared, I think that creates the wrong type of response.

I do, however, want people to feel a bit uncomfortable. Like when you know you should be doing something and you aren’t. Like when you feel you haven’t quite prepped for a meeting or you left the cooker on. I want people to think ‘I need to spend a bit more time on my decision making and its implications. In fact I need to reflect on where I spend my time’.

We mistake driving people through fear with giving them appropriate context that provokes them to choose to move. I remember being at a leadership event years ago and someone saying that the only way you can get anyone to do anything is to create a burning platform. Everyone else in the room had lied to their teams to make things seem more urgent. I think that’s a despicable approach. I think that creates fear, fatigue and destroys trust if you are rumbled. I can’t imagine a more limited approach to leadership that telling lies by default.

Explore problems together. Talk about your concerns. But don’t spread fear. It is possible to have urgency without.

Hope vs faith

Every year my family meets up in Regents Park at the same time, same place. There are a lot of us (my grandparents had 15 children which makes for a lot of cousins…) and so the outside space works for us.

This year it was against the backdrop of Cabinet resignations, Trump protests and a heatwave.

It’s easy to find it difficult to feel positive with all that going on. It’s easy to find the world a little overwhelming.

This year we came across these folk. A group of Spanish friends who seem to meet on an occasional basis to build human pyramids. They had some equipment, but apparently it’s strictly an amateur effort. They just do it for laughs and to build friendships. Or at least that’s what the D’Souza troops that we sent to investigate/interfere came back with. The ‘pyramiders’ had a range of ages and, judging by some very risky wobbling, a range of abilities.

There is a lot of trust working with strangers. It involves – and I think this is an important distinction – hope rather than faith. I was chatting to someone about this last week and I think it’s important if you are leading a team to reflect on the difference. I’ve seen people demand faith – too early and with little substance to make it a fair demand.

I’ve also seen people who are dealers in hope. People who show a possible way forward that gives others something – a vision, confidence or space – that allows them to hope. Things seem possible with them about.

Hope might spring eternal, but keeping enough of it flowing to help people think that the task at hand is achievable… Well, that’s a more useful endeavour than asking for faith.

There are no short cuts. Stick with hope until people have faith that their trust is in the right place.

Why I strongly dislike PowerPoint.

(I hate it, but if I wrote hate in the title someone would contact me and say ‘hate is such a strong word, do you really hate it? In these days of conflict isn’t there enough hate in the world?’ – and I’d hate having to type a polite response to that)


  • Great PowerPoint skillz
  • Awesome transitions
  • Copious use of Smart Art
  • Reading out bullet points to me. Sitting and reading them out to me. Soaking up my precious life

These are a few of my very least favourite things

I wrote yesterday about my first 100 days in role and one of the things I did was let my teams all know that I have reservations about PowerPoint being a default as a method of communication.

Because PowerPoint is all too often shallow thinking in corporate clothes.

Over the years it has become an accepted method of communication in many businesses. Indeed in more than one organisation I’ve heard the words ‘great deck’ as if we were viewing a particularly well appointed ocean liner together.

Here’s some stuff I dislike about it

  • A long deck normally has less detail than a one page piece of writing
  • A long deck will then, on average, give me less useful information than a one pager
  • This means more questions that you have to make up the answers to – as you are giving me less information and I’m left less convinced you have thought this all through
  • If you just write something for me then you don’t have to fuss about with format, transitions, sizing and ‘I don’t know why that box is like that, it wasn’t before’
  • Nobody ever has to work out what keys to hit or what wires to connect or get IT involved when they just have to read a piece of paper
  • Smart art does not equal smart thinking. Your idea fits in a series of arrows? That’s fantastic but the impression of internal logic is not the same as consistent internal logic

I’m sure it’s good for some things. I’m always happy for people to choose from a full range of tools to get the job done – but the job people use it for most often isn’t one it is good for

  • Write a document. Circulate it beforehand. People read faster than you speak. The world saves time. Use your meeting to discuss and explore the ideas instead of just ‘presenting’. I found out Amazon do it this way – so you can even copy a sexy company and pretend that writing a one pager is a sexy new trend
  • Tell me a story. Be brave enough to step away from the slides altogether
  • Scan in your handwritten notes and send me them. Doodle some stuff
  • Grab a whiteboard or flipchart and draw as we go

Do anything except waste my life and deaden my brain via PowerPoint. Bring your ideas to life by being better than the poor default of modern business. PowerPoint is just going through the motions. You are better than that.

And if your response to this is ‘my company loves those decks’ then try standing out by giving them something else to love. And remember

(the face in the middle. That’s the genuine one)

First 100 days

Someone pointed out to me that I’ve had my first 100 days in my new role. Since that number is a purely arbitrary number I thought I’d jot down some working out loud style piffle about stuff I’ve done or should be learning from. I was slightly taken aback to read what I had planned to write in this article at the weekend – as that author had obviously proactively plagiarised me by writing their piece first, but if you choose to read that instead I’ll understand.

Stuff I’ve tried to do.

  • Not be overtly evil. When you first step into a new role people’s desire to spot signals of intent are heightened so I’ve tried to not be evil. It probably hasn’t always worked, but I’ve tried
  • Talk to people about them rather than the work. If I’m going to do good work with people that will be built on trust – so the work needs to follow the building of trust
  • Built shared frameworks/models that we can work to together. We’ve worked on common models and language so when we say a thing we know what we are talking about. Mental shortcuts that show shared understanding
  • Pushed for patience. That’s an odd one but I’m trying to focus people on not what we want to do now but what we want to start building for 5 years time
  • Set some clear markers as to what I will accept and won’t in terms of behaviour
  • Tried to make myself accessible to folk outside my immediate team – their teams, their teams’ teams and people around the organisation
  • Put stuff in buckets – fix, prioritise, investigate. This has helped us categorise work into a useful phased plan. Is it broken? Fix it. Is it one of a number of things we could do? Work out where in priorities. Is it unclear? Investigate it
  • Cold assessment of the facts, warm development of behaviours. I’ve got that up in my office and when people drift into the wrong frame of mind I just point. Now people have started pointing at it when I speak too – which means they trust me enough to tell me off whilst smiling
  • Plan communication and disciplines. Do this to allow time to think and create. If the basics are tight that frees up time for other stuff
  • Balance visible quick wins with less sexy long term stuff
  • Insist on guff free language and no PowerPoint unless that’s the best way of presenting an idea (clue: rarely)
  • Everyone gets a clean slate – as well as anyone can offer anyone a clear slate
  • Data, data, data, evidence. Just pile it up so we are dealing with more than hearsay – we have a bank of stuff we can check assumptions/hypotheses against
  • Try and balance our work between thinking and doing. Doing things that aren’t thought through ends up with subpar results. Just thinking about doing ends up with no results. I prefer good results

Stuff I’m learning from

  • My ability to say ‘no’ is improving. If my heart would sink if I had to do something tomorrow I won’t agree to doing it in 6 months. I’ll just hate it when it comes around
  • An overhang of commitments from my old role means that I have horrible pinch points in terms of time and that impacts my team and my ability to influence internally
  • I had one meeting where I really sucked and was grumpy. Due to the fact people are looking for signals that’s taken some clawing back
  • My ability to manage my own energy isn’t where it needs to be. Getting there, but could do better
  • People treat you differently even if you don’t want them to. That’s annoying but it is what it is. Me saying ‘no’ to something now has implications beyond me just disagreeing. Me suggesting something becomes a clear request
  • Letting go of some work is tough. I’m getting better at shuffling things on…
  • 4 times I’ve booked a day off and ended up working so that has to change. Over time that is the solution to the question ‘How do I make myself stupider through fatigue?’

Anyway, thanks to everyone for putting up with me. I’ll keep trying to get better.