When The Tech Is Not What’s Needed

Three humans blasted into space today. They were flying on one of the most complex pieces of kit ever designed, on their way to the pinnacle* of human achievement so far; the International Space Station.

These three men (they happened to be men – this is not a post about women in STEM) have undergone the most extensive and intensive training of anyone on our plant. Collectively they have the latest understanding on how to do the most technologically advanced job in history. And what did they have in their hands? Tricorders? iPads? Other technological widgets designed by NASA for the mission? No. Pads of paper with step by step instructions. Also, they had pointy sticks so that they could reach the controls whilst being pushed back into their seats.


Tweet from Spaceflight Now, photo copyright NASA – obvs!


Why the low tech solution? Because these things work. They are utterly reliable, easy to use and cheap. They are exactly the right tool for the job. Sometimes tech is not what is needed.

Yesterday I met up with the wise and gentle Niall Gavin. We chatted about life, work, family etc over breakfast. We challenged each other over current ideas and helped get new perspectives. We also discussed trust. In particular the trust that you need to let the mask down, to be a bit un-professional and raw, and to be confident that this won’t cause a problem. Your Venn diagram has to have a really good overlap to get to that point of trust. This doesn’t happen via e-mail and social media.

Sometimes face to face is better. Tech solutions open up all sorts of amazing opportunities for meeting people – see next blog post. But there is no tech in the world that builds a relationship anywhere near as well as chatting with someone over a cup (or glass) of something comforting.

So, if you can, go and meet your personal network, your client, your supplier, your delegates. Because that’s what works.
* in my opinion – happy to debate this. (Unless you think that the pinnacle of human achievement has anything to do with a sport! Or the Kardashians.)

Learner Centred – all very well but…

The degree to which a learning event is controlled by either the facilitator or the learner can be mapped on a continuum.  At one end, the “teacher” end, you have lectures and also published media such as videos, books and blog posts.  At the other end, the “learner” end, you have self managed learning which includes interesting concepts such as T groups, action learning and reflective practice.  Then along the continuum there is training, coaching, mentoring and a whole host of other interventions to help the learner learn – including directing them to useful videos, books and blog posts.

In the last few years there has been an understanding that learners learn

  1. through a variety of means
  2. mostly by actually doing stuff and then reflecting on that
  3. best when they are not bored out of their tiny (constantly expanding) minds.

The drive towards learner centred learning is to be embraced, encouraged and celebrated. Hooray!  The 70:20:10 model tells us to value all that lovely reflective, learner driven gorgeousness.  But…

With this drive I’m noticing a massive push towards throwing the baby out with the bath water; dropping the 10%.

  • Putting people into small groups and then getting them to chat about stuff without some direction to help stimulate the conversation. This can be a rather lazy (and frankly dull) way of filling in some time. People actually like something meaty to talk about; a bit of grit in the oyster. Get them to talk purposefully.
  • Deriding lectures. However, the sage on the stage may actually have something interesting to say. Let them say it. The learner will work out for themselves what is useful and interesting.  They’ll also process this information at a subconscious level and use it at some point.
  • Assuming that every course is some sort of low quality sheep dip. On the contrary, done well, a course might be exactly what someone needs.  Showing someone how to do something is not a bad practice.

When you learned to drive (those of you who did) most of your learning came after you passed your test, when you were left on your own and had to get on with it.  A lot of learning came from your instructor (and possibly your mum, dad or other) sitting beside you asking questions such as “What do you need to think about here?” or suggesting that maybe there is a better way to pull away from a junction than in third gear. (Just me?)  But I’m quite sure that if on your first lesson the instructor had said “Let’s just start the engine and see what happens” you probably would have got out of the car.

Drive for quality- yes in all things. Social learning is amazing if it’s the right thing at the right time. Reflective practice is brilliant if it is based on context and at a deep level. And being taught something can be just exactly what’s needed. Don’t throw away the 10%.


If We All Lived In A Neolithic Village

Suppose we lived in ancient times, there were about 500 of us living together and life was pretty good. What would we accept in terms of wealth?

I think we would expect that we all had a very similar standard of living. The leader’s family would probably have a slightly higher standard of accommodation with some items and artefacts at their disposal – to be handed on to the next post holder. Anyone showing a particular skill in useful things like farming, crafts or medicine would be rewarded. The best warrior, the best hunter, the best fisher and the best builder would no doubt also be rewarded. If someone was brave enough to travel to another village and set up a system of trade, then they would be allowed to benefit from their efforts. On the other hand, anyone who didn’t have skill or expert knowledge would be given a job to do and given a share of the village produce. Some would have slightly more, gained through their own efforts, skill and intelligence. But the majority of the wealth would be shared.

This is what I imagine. What I don’t imagine is that one person within our community would earn over 4000 times what the poorest person earned. I really don’t think we would accept it.

So why do we accept it now?

Getting the Best from Your Staff – a quick start guide


It’s an age old story; you’re good at making widgets so you get promoted which means now you have to manage staff. Or, you start a business selling gizmos, which does so well you have to employ and manage staff. Dealing with staff is not the same as making widgets or selling gizmos, yet your success at making or selling relies on your team and how well you manage them.

Great staff work for great managers; so what is it that great managers do to get the best from their staff?

Hire Top Staff

Putting the effort into finding great people is always worth the time investment. Ensure you know what attitudes, skills, experience and qualifications they must have; this is not a wish list. Be really clear about this before you start.  By all means think about what would be desirable but be rigorous in what is absolutely essential. Many skills, experience and qualifications can be acquired reasonably easily. So hire for attitude and aptitude and be flexible about those desirable qualities.

Then Get Out Of The Way

There is a difference between supporting a new employee to do well and micro-managing their every move. You hired them so you could stop doing their work, not so you could carry on. Give them well defined boundaries and then let them get on with it.

Let Staff Solve Their Own Problems

If an employee comes to you with a problem, help them solve it. Don’t take the problem away unless it really is your responsibility to do so. Let staff make mistakes and help them out by coaching, not directing.

Have Quality Conversations

Regular dialogue about what employees need in order to perform well is essential for them and for you. Support them; this support needs to be bespoke for each person. But also ensure that they feel some level of challenge; work that is too easy is boring. The degree of support and challenge needs to be balanced and also to match the individual. You’ll get that balance right by giving them your proper attention.

Give Effective Feedback

This should be objective and delivered in a timely manner. It should also be about the positive as well as the negative. Let staff know what they need to do, what they need to stop and what they need to carry on doing. Also, avoiding difficult conversations won’t make a problem go away or get better. It really won’t.

Show Respect

Your employees are fully functioning human beings. They’ve nearly always had to deal with terrible events at some point in their lives, probably negotiated the buying and selling of their homes, managed to organise their households to be legal, healthy and productive and have absorbing interests outside of work. They can bring all of that skill and experience with them or they can leave it at home. The difference is how well they are respected at work for being unique people rather than just a cost.

Make Work Fun

Research shows that having fun is essential to being productive. What culture do you have in your team? Is it conducive to people enjoying their work? If your team had a personality what would it be? Would it be yours and do you have fun?

Attend To High Flyers – Or They’ll Fly Away.

Most managers spend more time with their poor performers than their top performers. Though this is understandable, it is not effective. Be disciplined in making time for your rising stars. Find out what they need, what their aspirations are, what ideas for improvement they have. And when top performers leave, let them leave singing your praises.


Free Bitesize Training on PowerPoint – come and get some ideas.

I’ve seen so many poor presentations this year; something has to be done about it!

I’m doing a 1.5 hour course on using PowerPoint – just some simple tips and starting blocks to help people present with a bit of professionalism. We’ll be at The Dome Enterprise Centre, Universtiy of Chichester Business School, Bognor on the 26th July at 5.30. Book your place and come along.

Book your tickets here.


Communicate like the SAS – leave no trace!

In the last 6 months I have seen a variety of presentations, most delivered with PowerPoint. Here are some ideas on how to make communication so difficult and so baffling that it doesn’t happen at all, because that appears to be very popular!

  1. Don’t consider whether anyone can actually see what you have written on your slide until you get half way through the talk. Highlight the fact that your audience can’t see by saying “you probably can’t see that”. Audiences love this because up until that moment they weren’t sure whether they could see or not.

  2. Put loads and loads of text on to one slide. Then, to really perplex your audience, read out only bits of the text. This is great for confusing a brain that is trying to match what they are seeing with what they are hearing. This way they wont get any of the meaning at all – brilliant.

  3. Read with the most monotone voice possible. If you read from the slides without adding anything else, with practice you can take out all light and shade from your voice. This has the added benefit of putting your audience into a stupor.

  4. People don’t read reports they aren’t interested in, so don’t bother sending it to them. Instead, put the whole report on PowerPoint slides for them not to read. Saves time.

  5. Similarly, never give the information in a useful handout; this only allows your audience to be able to refer to it later – what’s the use of that?

  6. However, do print out all of your slides as a handout of tiny thumbnails. That shows your audience that you really can’t be bothered to think about what they actually needed. Excellent.

  7. Reuse someone else’s slides for the same reason. Preferably complain about the fact that they are someone else’s slides, thus absolving yourself from responsibility.

  8. Run out of time. Particularly important is to tell your audience that you are running out of time and then demonstrate that you aren’t going to adjust your talk to deal with this. Use up even more time by repeating that you don’t have enough time.

  9. Don’t finish with anything remotely suggestive of aplomb or finesse.

  10. At some point during your presentation, irrespective of what it is about, include the line “communication is key”. That’ll really stump ‘em.

What If There’s No Such Thing As A Wrong Choice?

This is patently not so… but what if?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the last few months and a lot of a lot, in the last few days. (The EU Referendum was 5 days ago.)

At times we do things and then wish we had held off or had done things in a different way.  “If only I had waited until after the weekend” “If only I had waited until after the second interview”  “If only I had turned East rather than West, left earlier, left later, kept my mouth shut, spoke up sooner, had stayed home, had gone out, had voted differently.”

Thoughts like this can keep us awake at night, which is destructive both mentally and physically.  And wondering “what if…” is a waste of precious resources.  We have already spent time churning over different options and taken action based on our thoughts about those options.  It is pointless to re-do the thinking that we have already done, or that we perhaps should have done earlier.

How about looking at this from a different perspective? What if there was no such thing as a wrong choice? What benefit would there be if that were true?

No regrets

No angst

No waste of energy considering the what ifs

We will never know the result of taking a different path from the one we took.  We’ll never be able to compare the outcomes of all the choices.  It is possible that the way we chose was the better choice after all.  Since we’ll never know, to fret over it is to put energy into a pointless activity. That energy could be better spent moving forward on the path we did take.


This is not a manifesto to be careless about making choices; clearly we need to put our efforts into making good decisions.  It is also not a comment on what happened last week; there were intelligent people on both sides that voted with their consciences for good reasons.

Damp Ink; sing with me.

“It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life…

…and I’m feeling good.” (enter the brass section) Dum. Da dum. Da dum. Da dum, da.

A while ago a close colleague said that she was thinking about some ideas, mostly from “Damp Ink.” I immediately thought:

“What’s Damp Ink? Perhaps a repository of initial thoughts and ideas or something. Must look into it.”

What she actually said was “Dan Pink”! which made perfect sense in the context of what we were talking about. Set me thinking though. Which is how life works – someone shares a thought and that sets someone else off. Neurons fire neurons. Juxtaposition, changed perspective, looking through a distorted lens – it all works to stimulate, challenge, create and increase understanding.

So Damp Ink is born – my repository of first thoughts and ideas to set you off. Let the music begin.




Learning To Love PowerPoint, Not Just Live With It

PowerPoint was created in 1987. Not long after that the term “Death by PowerPoint” was no doubt also created. The OED defines death as “the final cessation of the vital functions” – you can picture presentations that appear to suck the life force out of the audience.

Business Week magazine estimated that 350 PowerPoint presentations are given every second – that’s an awful lot of people being switched off. But it doesn’t have to be like that, after all PowerPoint is just a tool and in the right hands can be used with mastery. Here are a few ideas to help you achieve this.

You are not a projectionist

If you went to see a new film and as you entered the cinema you were handed the script and told to read it for your entertainment, you would probably ask for your money back. Yet many PowerPoint presentations do just this—expect the audience to read all of the information for themselves from a series of slides. The presenter becomes a projectionist rather than a communicator. Instead, remember that you are the presentation—PowerPoint is just an aid to inject some impact, present pictures or give the audience a map of where the presentation is going. What it should never do is replace you.

Why not just write an explanatory document and e-mail it to your audience?

Why not? Because this way is more effective, more personal, gives you more chance to engage with your audience and is more interesting. Or at least it should be. The energy from your presentation comes from you. If not, then why are you there?

Don’t let your slides be more dynamic than you are

  • Nobody leaves an excellent presentation saying “that was so good; those slides were great!” A reliance on fancy transitions and bouncing graphics to try and give your presentation some excitement has a number of problems:
  • The implicit message is that your information is not interesting in its own right
  • Or that you are not interesting in your own right
  • The audience stops listening to you and instead waits to see what’s next
  • Some of the effects can make your audience seasick!

Keep control of those graphics; use only transitions and animations that genuinely enhance. If you are not sure then leave it out.

They’ll read it you know—they’re sneaky like that

If you put information in front of someone they will read it, whether this is on a slide or in a handout. You have to stage manage the sharing of the data. Use short bullet points, pictures or diagrams to give a flavour of what you are going to say and then expand the ideas. Alternatively, give your audience time to read what is in front of them.

It’s not where you start it’s where you finish (although starting well is also important)

Finish well and make that last slide something worth remembering. Think about what will be on the screen during the question and answer session. Don’t just leave any old slide up. Either ensure that the slide is a good backdrop, possibly with your name and company logo if appropriate, or turn the presentation off. If you hit the full stop key it will make the screen go black and the audience has to look at you. This can be very powerful. (Hit the full stop again and it will return to the last slide shown.) On the other hand, just leaving a slide hanging about implies that it doesn’t really matter and devalues it.

Life jackets will probably not be needed—but have one anyway

Have a back up plan for if (or when) the technology fails you. Take whatever measures you can to run your presentation on the equipment before the live event. Check compatibility of software versions and whether you are using a Mac or a PC. And be ready and able to deliver the presentation without the slides.


Practice enough that you don’t need your notes. Don’t write out your presentation word for word and then read it out because this is just dull. It removes any energy from your delivery and can be distracting for you and for the audience. Have a few bullet points written for each slide and then trust yourself. You may forget to give them some of the details, but consider this: a) the audience won’t know what you left out and b) they won’t remember all of your presentation anyway.

Your job is to make sure that the audience gets your key message and remembers it. Centre stage is the best place to do that. PowerPoint is just scenery.