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Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Want more productive meetings? Change your agenda!

When someone says they’re “dieting”, how can you tell it’s working?

Because they lose weight, yes?

When someone says they’re “teaching”, how can you tell that’s working?

Because the children are learning.

But what if someone says they’re “discussing”? How can you tell if that’s working?

That isn’t so easy, is it? After all, what’s the output of ‘discussing’?

And this is a huge problem with meeting agendas. For example, if an agenda item says …

       “Discuss Project X”

… you know “discussion” is the input. But what’s the desired output?

You can’t tell, can you?

But, if you don’t know what it is, how do you know when you’ve achieved it? You can’t. So you’ll all just keep on talking about it, but not achieving anything.

Instead, imagine the agenda said…

       “Agree our new priorities with Project X, including our immediate next steps”

… well, the output is crystal clear now. And because you know where you’re going, you’re much more likely to get there.

And how does this affect you?

Well, you know all those meetings that don’t work? You know the ones – too long, too pointless, too boring…

Look again at their agendas. I bet most of them contain input verbs – discuss, review, share, update, download … and so on.

But these make no reference whatsoever to what the desired output is.
So you don’t get any.

The good news is that this is pretty easy to fix: simply change your input verbs into output verbs.

For example, which agenda sounds better? Agenda #1

  • Discuss Project X 
  • Update on Initiative Y 
  • Download on Strategy Z 

Or Agenda #2
  • Agree our new priorities with Project X, including our immediate next steps 
  • Identify quick wins we can make with Initiative Y 
  • Agree on any final changes we need to make, to ensure our Strategy Z launch works brilliantly 

Agenda #2 is better. No question. It’s the same meeting as Agenda #1. But it’s clearly going to achieve outputs.

In fact, Agenda #1’s meeting will just be a Talking Shop. The agenda’s input-focus means it’s been set up to fail.

So, let’s end with another question: think of the agendas you write – are they more like Agenda #1 or #2?

Action point

Look at the today’s meetings’ agendas. For each agenda item, replace the Input Verb with your desired Output Verb (for example, ‘discuss’ becomes ‘agree our next actions with’). This will make a huge difference – you’ll achieve much more, and in much less time

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Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Why we should treat our communication like a First Date

I just learned something very interesting about First Dates…

I was reading an article on the BBC site about people’s breakfast habits.

Increasingly, we’re breakfasting in restaurants, not our homes.

Lots of reasons – better quality food, more choice, restaurants open earlier, they’re good places to get things done early, better coffee than you get at home, and so on.

It also said people on First Dates often meet for breakfast, rather than going out in the evening.

I know – it sounds odd, doesn’t it?

But then, as I read on, it makes perfect sense.

It’s much less stressful meeting for breakfast than in the evening. It’s easier to get there on time; to look your best. You aren’t as tired. You’re less likely to drink alcohol and all the challenges that can bring. There’s a clear reason to leave without causing offence. And, of course, there are no awkward discussions about where to go next.

In fact, here’s what happened to my mindset as I read this:

  • I’ve never heard that before 
  • It can’t be true, can it? 
  • Ah, I get it 
  • Yes, that makes perfect sense 
  • In fact, it’s so obvious 
  • Of course – why doesn’t every First Date do this? 

So, utter surprise to total conviction in one article!

My customers tell me they go on a similar journey when I teach them this rule about communication:

It isn’t what you say. It’s what you cause.

In other words, the least important thing about the communication is the communication itself.

Much more important is what happens after it. Did they do what you wanted? Feel the way you wanted? Make better decisions? Look at you differently? Recommend you to others? Something else?

And, given that your communication isn’t as important as what happens after it, the first step of your prep is not “what do I want to say?”

Instead, it’s “what do I want them to do after I’ve shut up?”

Once you know this, work backwards from there, to find the simplest, quickest, best content to make sure they do it.

So, when I wrote this Tip, what did I want you to do after reading it? Other than go on a Breakfast First Date, of course. Well…

Action point 

For your next communication – the one you’re about to make – ask yourself “what do I want them to do after I’ve shut up?” Then, base what you say on achieving that (sometimes it’s as simple as just saying ‘Please will you do X?’)

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Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Do this and you'll gain an extra 50 hours a year!

Happy New Year!

I trust you had a wonderful break with family and friends, and are now getting back into the swing of things.

But not the same swing of things as last year.

And here’s why…

You might remember my post from mid-December, suggesting you use the Christmas/New Year break to help break your communication bad habits (I’ve copied the tip below for you).

Well, now’s the ideal time to start doing this.

As in, right now.

After all, if you don’t do it now, you’ll quickly get back into your old habits – even if you don’t want to.

Action Point

Re-read the Tip below. Identify the communications you should stop/reduce.

And stop/reduce them right now. Trust me on this: if you don’t do it now, you won’t do it.

To help motivate yourself to do it, remember that saving one hour a week equates to nearly 50 hours – over a working week – every year. And who wouldn’t want to remove a week’s worth of Update Meetings?

Here’s the Tip again for you…

A very quick tip in the run-up to Christmas…

In the final few workdays before Christmas, things are different.

There’s a different atmosphere. There might be the odd office party or customer dinner. You’ll have a few final things to get wrapped-up before year-end. Your water-cooler conversations will be different than usual. And so on.

And your typical Communication Week will be different too. In other words, you might miss one of your regular-as-clockwork weekly Update Meetings. You might not send some of your regular daily emails. One of your regular team presentations might get cancelled.

And as you experience these changes to your Communication Week, ask yourself this:

What problem would it cause if we made this temporary change a permanent one?

So, when you missed your weekly Update Meeting, did it cause cataclysmic harm that you didn’t know what each other had been doing?

When you didn’t send your daily email, but picked up the phone instead, did it make things worse?

When you didn’t do your team presentation, did your team suffer?

The reason this question is so important: we communicate based on habit, not logic. This means that this week’s communications will be similar to last week’s - even if they aren’t needed.

For example, I’ve met companies who have weekly Update Meetings that everybody – and I mean everybody – hates. So why have them?

I’ve seen people who create proposals by cutting/pasting bits from last week’s proposal… even though that one didn’t win.

I’ve seen people frustrated by others who don’t reply to their emails. And then they keep on chasing by email. And guess what? They still don’t reply.

We see actions driven by habit, not logic everywhere. The person who wants to lose weight who has a biscuit at 11 am every day. The person wanting to stop smoking who pops out for a cigarette break every lunchtime. The salesperson who always begins her pitch with “We were founded in 1922” but is yet to find anyone who cares.

So, as the build-up to Christmas forces you to temporarily change your habits, question whether these changes should become permanent. And, if they should…

Action Point

… for all the communications you don’t need to have, stop having them.

Or, at the very least, reduce something – their frequency, duration, the number of agenda items, the number of attendees... anything that means they take less time.

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Sunday, 25 December 2016

Merry Christmas

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

NES Christmas Quiz 2016 - Answers

Here you go…

Have a wonderful Christmas and New Year.


Good Luck! 

Question 1

Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion are meeting the Wizard in the Emerald City in 17 minutes. They must all cross a bridge to get there.

All four begin on the same side of the bridge. You must help them cross to the other side.

It’s night time and it’s pitch black. There is one torch. A maximum of two people can cross at one time. Any party who crosses – either 1 or 2 people – must have the torch with them. The torch must be walked back and forth – it can’t be thrown etc.

Each person walks at a different speed. A pair must walk together at the rate of the slower person’s pace:
  • Lion – 1 minute to cross 
  • Scarecrow – 2 minutes to cross 
  • Tin Man – 5 minutes to cross 
  • Dorothy –10 minutes to cross 

For example: if Lion and Dorothy walk across first, they’d take 10 minutes (the pace of the slower one – Dorothy). If she then returns with the torch, a total of 20 minutes have passed and they’ve missed the wizard.
  • Lion and Scarecrow cross = 2 minutes (total = 2) 
  • Lion goes back = 1 minute (total = 3) 
  • Dorothy and Tin Man cross = 10 minutes (total = 13) 
  • Scarecrow goes back = 2 minutes (total = 15) 
  • Lion and Scarecrow cross = 2 minutes (total = 17) 

(alternative answer: swap Lion and Scarecrow)

Question 2

Three switches outside a windowless room are connected to three light bulbs inside the room. You don’t know which switch turns on which bulb.

How can you determine which switch is connected to which bulb, if:
You’re outside the room with the door shut
You can touch as many switches as you like
But are then only allowed to enter the room once?

Turn on switch #1, leave it for a minute, and then switch it off again. Then turn on switch #2 and immediately enter the room:
  • Switch #2’s bulb will be on 
  • Switch #1’s bulb will be off, but warm to touch because it was on for the previous minute 
  • Switch #3’s bulb will be off and cold 

Question 3

If you drop a small marble into an empty wine bottle and replace the cork, how would you get the marble out of the bottle without taking out the cork or breaking the bottle?

Push the cork into the bottle, and shake out the marble

Question 4

A table tennis ball falls into a tight deep pipe. The pipe is only a bit wider than the ball, so you can’t use your hand. How would you take it out, with no damage?

Fill the tube with water so the ball floats to the top

Question 5

A five letter word becomes shorter when you add two letters to it. What’s the word?


Question 6

How can you throw a ball as hard as you can, and make it stop and return to you, without it hitting anything and with nothing attached to it?

Throw it straight up in the air

Question 7

A farmer owns a beautiful pear tree. He supplies the fruit to a nearby shop. The shopkeeper asks the farmer how much fruit is available for him to buy.

The farmer knows that the main trunk has 24 branches. Each branch has 12 boughs; and each bough has 6 twigs. Since each twig bears one piece of fruit, how many plums will the farmer be able to deliver?

None. It’s a pear tree, not a plum tree

Question 8

What can you hold in your right hand but not in your left hand?

Your left elbow

Question 9

Where does JASON appear in the calendar?

The initial letters of five consecutive months – July, August, September, October, November

Question 10

In which sport are the shoes made of metal?

Horse racing

Happy Christmas!

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