My Writing

My Writing

I get my best ideas from listening to people. Fortunately, that’s my job.

I like to say that people are my library, and my daily writing practice is a way to discover what’s in it: new ideas, inspiration, wisdom, and a little whimsy for good measure.  As your humble librarian I invite you to check out a new idea every day. No late fees ever.


Don’t get better, be braver

be braver

The limits of technique

It’s possible that you no longer need to get better at your craft. That your craft is just fine.

It’s possible that you need to be braver instead.

Seth’s Blog, Oct 21 2019

Seth Godin’s habit of daily writing (for over 20 years now!) inspired me to start doing the same a little over two years ago. I hadn’t written regularly, perhaps subconsciously in part as I wanted to become a better writer first.

I love to work with leaders who are Hungry, Humble, Brave and Open. Yes, we all need to learn our craft before putting ourselves out there, but when the moment comes that the feeling of needing to lead change for ourselves and others is so strong we know we just need to be braver and get out there and do it, then bravery is what we need.

Own that Bravery, that Hunger. Ally that to being Open to learning and the ideas of others and Humble to know you will never have all the answers.

Focus on those four characteristics of #OpenLeadership and go make your dent in the universe a crater!

Who controls your Cognitive Map?

Cognitive Map

“..elites in a society typically maintain their power not simply by controlling the means of production (ie money), but by dominating the cultural discourse too (ie a society’s intellectual map). And what is most important in relation to that cognitive map is not what is overtly stated and discussed – but what is left unstated, or ignored. Or as he wrote: “The most successful ideological effects are those which have no need of words, and ask no more than a complicitous silence.

Quote from FT article on 20th August 2009 by Gillian Tett

Gillian Tett is chair of the editorial board and editor-at-large, US of the Financial Times. She is also a Social Anthropologist by training and one of the very few people I have heard link that area to Leadership and Business. The article linked above is a telling story which can help us understand how we got into such a global financial crisis around that time.

She has often referred to this around the idea of “controlling the cognitive map”. I recommend reading around the concept of how we construct out intellectual or cognitive maps both as individuals and societally.

In the UK and USA right now, the part of the quote I put in bold is one that I find quite chilling in terms of our social discourse and the cognitive maps we seem to carry individually and as groupings in society.

Perhaps if we all learned more about about how we end up developing such maps so as to understand how we can allow our minds to be controlled, then we may start thinking, acting, even voting more clearly.

A few earlier posts you may wish to read would include: “You cannot eliminate your biases“, “188 Cognitive Biases“, “A coaching tool from the 13th century“, “What are you risking due to your biases?“. Above all, remember, “the map is not the territory“.

To see ourselves as others see us

Robert Burns, To see ourselves as others see us

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion

Translation from Scots:

Oh, would some Power give us the gift
To see ourselves as others see us!
It would from many a blunder free us,
And foolish notion

From “To a Louse” by Robert Burns

A simple thought for a Sunday morning.

I’ve often mused on the thought that “we cannot see the goldfish bowl we are swimming in”, and how we can all benefit from an outside perspective.

My own focus professionally is around being that Sounding Board for leaders, yet of course, I cannot see myself as others see me, so I also am always connected to people I can trust to tell me, unvarnished, how I appear from their perspective.

We can never truly see ourselves as others see us, so let us have the humility to be open to both ask and to be told what they see.

Rebuilding Trust

Rebuilding Trust

Trust is at the heart of all relationships, whether business or personal.

We also live in a time where trust has been eroded in so many places. One where I feel strongly connected is the profession of Chartered Accountancy, a profession I chose to qualify in as it is one of the most pre-eminent management and leadership qualifications anywhere. Yes, it is that, and at the same time, the strongest part of being a member of ICAS has nothing to do with learning and skills and is not at the heart of why I am proud to be an ICAS CA.

Instead, a while ago I wrote: “Trust and being an ICAS CA“, highlighting:

“the single most powerful asset ICAS has in their brand is their unerring and strong focus on Ethics, so resulting in a worldwide membership in the tens of thousands who are known for being professionals that one can trust.”

ICAS has now put Trust front and centre in all they do and is communicating it loud and clear. Recently I’ve had the opportunity to once again meet the several senior leaders of ICAS and engage in conversation around this topic. I’m highly energised by the leadership they and ICAS are taking for their members, but more so for broader society.

Today I am sharing a post by Colleen Welch, winner of the Top 100 young CAs Trust category, who lays out why and how she sees a vision for the future. Despite major loss of trust in many areas of business over the past decade or so, ICAS CAs remain known for their ethics. Collen then goes out anchor a future where every single ICAS CA is known, above all, for being someone: “who is honest, who is transparent, who is trustworthy, who is morally courageous and who lives the values of our ethics every day”.


The challenge of writing a blog as a coach

Alex Davids coach
Alex Davids

Today simply curating a powerful post from the amazing Alex Davids, a wonderful coach, and past colleague, now part of the Next Evolution Performance team in New Zealand.

Everything Alex said echoes strongly for me. In addition, if you are thinking of working with a coach, what she says about the role of a coach gives wonderful insights. Over to you, Alex.


Perfection is the enemy of Progress

Perfection quote Confucius

This week I came across this line that stopped me in my tracks:

“The desire for theoretical purity strikes me as a critical failure of both mainstream and alternative economics”

Later that same day I met up with a start-up founder and we talked about uncertainty and opportunity. I shared the line:

“Perfection is the enemy of progress”

Confucious said:

“Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without”.

So what else made me think of these phrases today?

Read more

Watch how radically taxes on the wealthy have fallen

FAIR is a core value for me. I also believe in Business as a force for good, hence the model I developed of the new triple bottom line, putting Purpose, People and Planet as the core drivers, whilst also focussing on making a Profit so as to Scale the Impact for all society, not only shareholders.

Last week David Leonhardt of the NY Times wrote an article simply called “The Rich Really Do Pay Lower Taxes Than You“, which had in it a truly powerful infographic that tells the story of how far away from FAIR capitalism has moved.

To me a key marker in time was when, at the start of the 1980s, Reagan and Thatcher slavishly followed Milton Friedman, who simplistically told us to focus on self-interest and enriching shareholders while ignoring social impact (see my post: “Purpose and the Corporation“).

Again, I do believe in business as a force for good, and at the same time if the moving infographic below doesn’t convince you that we need radical change to our existing systems, paradigms and beliefs, perhaps recognise that we will see more and more extreme and polarised politics as things become more and more unfair.

Marking an occasion

mary oliver quote Marking an occasion

Two years ago today I wrote: “Life is Wild and Precious, Be Present“, where I posed the question above, from the last couplet of “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver. This was when (inspired by Seth Godin doing this for over two decades!) I committed to writing daily.

Today I feel to mark this as an occasion. When we choose to mark an occasion, we are honouring. We may be honouring many things, though often it comes down to the actions of an individual or group of individuals, taking time for them and us to reflect.

In that very first post, I wrote:

When people ask you how you are in a business context, have you ever replied: “busy”, to which they respond with pleased nods and “good”. Busyness has become something we all strive for, yet with this, we have so often lost our sense of presence.

So, for me, today I will take some time to mark this occasion, I’ll take time to be present on this occasion. On a personal level, I’ll go for a walk, stopping to take notes as my mind turns to certain experiences and thoughts, reflections on two years of writing.

For this post, I will first share a few thoughts that come to mind to mark the occasion.


Edit, don’t Accumulate

Your life is your story. Write Well. Edit Often. Susan Stratham

The first half of your life is focused more on accumulating: success, responsibilities, family, friends, hobbies, identities. A mid-life crisis is often about feeling weighed-down by all of this. Focus on what’s most important in your life and start the process of editing that which doesn’t serve or nourish you.

~ Chip Conley

So much wisdom from Chip Conley (for a great and recent summary, see the podcast notes from his talk with Tim Ferris, also listen to that podcast). The quote above comes from a post Chip wrote: “The Advice I Wish I’d Been Given at 10, 20, 30, 40 and 50” and was one of two pieces of advice to a 50-year-old.

So, inspired as I often am by Chip, some thoughts on Editing, Life and Leadership.


Learn deeply then distil to simplicity


This week I was complimented by a reader on sharing some incisive and concise ideas in my daily writing. That is wonderful to hear, as a) I can talk a lot when on a roll (!), and b) I love the Da Vinci adage of: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”.

The thing is, to get to simplicity in this age of soundbites and short attention spans takes commitment and focus to actually taking time to listen, read, learn from many sources. Only when one commits to deeply studying and learning can one reach what Oliver Wendell Holmes valued (blog post here):

“I would not give a fig for the simplicity on this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.”

An example around one of the most powerful philosophical maxims I have learned (and use in coaching).


Could you balance Purpose and Profit as a CEO?

balance profit and purpose

A while ago I wrote: “Do all CEOs “only care about profit”? No..” to address a commonly held (and understandable!) view that companies are only lead and managed around driving profits, often by working their people hard with limited concern for People, Planet or even Purpose, or as I call that, the “new triple bottom line“.

Purpose, People, Planet - Profit for Impact Triple Bottom Line

This came up in conversation with someone again this week, and it has me thinking that perhaps when I write or talk about this I focus too much on the Purpose, People and Planet side of the above model, not enough on the Profit that sits on the other side and is so necessary to spin the “righteous flywheel” and so allow social and societal impact to be scaled.

I did spend the first two decades of my career very much focussed on growth, profits, shareholder return etc, gradually integrating more and more concern and focus on People and Planet and then recognising that they go together in balance. So, a learning from that recent conversation is to be more balanced in how I talk about leaders can integrate this all together, achieving Profit while staying true to Purpose that serves People and Planet.

So, almost with perfect timing, the FT released a terrific scenario game this week!


What do you see? What do you not see?

perspective what do you see

How many pillars are there? The answer is seven.

Or, how many women can you see?

Most see pillars, only some immediately see beyond to the women.

This has me thinking about seeing what others don’t see.

This week I was at an event in London with a focus on both speakers and audience having a global perspective in their business, their careers, their outlook. These events are normally larger, but this time there was a smaller group, so more interactive.

What stood out for me most was that each person in the room had a different perspective, they could see what others could not see, based on their very varied types and levels of experience.

For me, as I listened to one speaker talk about how their business has rapidly developed in a burgeoning sector, they were focussed on the operational shifts and improvements they have made through new AI technologies and many other process and structural improvements.

I, however, got excited as I saw something else.


What can past predictions teach us?

predictions of the future

Six months ago I wrote: “WeWork and remembering lessons of the past“, in which I both predicted the crashing downfall of WeWork, as well as musing on past lessons from market booms and busts, dating back to own my experience observing the investing mania around the ’99 tech bubble. I got both of those right, but that is not the lesson I’m musing on today.

This week I found an archive with some monthly columns I wrote for the Cayman Journal around a decade ago, with the column title “Reinvent or Die”. One, in particular, strikes me today, called “How happy is Cayman?”, which I’ll reprint in full below, as it is striking to me how little has been learned by Cayman and those driving business and society in the intervening decade. Lessons for many, perhaps.

My thoughts for today are, though, less about accuracy or otherwise of predictions, but actually about recording and sharing our thoughts (whether by publishing articles or posts or simply keeping a journal), as in looking back at them there is much that can be learned both personally and in general about the journey we are on.

Oh, and also of being unafraid of our predictions, sometimes we are right, sometimes, wrong, but when we have something to say and to share that we feel strongly about, let us do so. Do not hide or otherwise dim your light.

Now, this bring to mind something to share. In business and investment, an all-time favourite is the annual letters Warren Buffett has written to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders since 1965. These are folksy, pithy, eminently readable and full of gems, predictions, opinions and more from one of the greatest investors the world has ever known. I devour each annual letter and have done every year for over twenty years. Oh, and he has got it right a lot, but also got it wrong.

Now to re-reading my more than nine-year-old article on Cayman, where several things strike me.


Turn it up, turn it up, little bit higher

Van Morrison

In 1978 a nondescript looking young man from Northern Ireland stepped on stage at the farewell concert of a group simply called, “The Band”. When he opened his mouth to sing, he created an incredible moment in time.

He created something out of this world. How? He simply chose to “go for it!”, to sing from heart and soul, from the tips of his toes to the top of his head, giving everything, leaving nothing undone, nothing unsung.

Listening to this again this week, it gives a powerful lesson. Anytime you doubt yourself, you are thinking of holding back, as an inspiration to #BeMoreYou, find your inner Van Morrison.


Saunter, don’t hike

John Muir Saunter, don't hike
John Muir

I love hiking. I love walking for the purpose of exercise, of a heart rate over 100bpm for hours on end, of the feeling of walking fast and strongly for exercise.

I also love to walk for a different reason, to walk to allow the process of walking to clear my mind, to solve a problem (see Solvitur Ambulando and here), to slow down (see here), to be creative (see here), to stretch time (see here).

Clearly walking is a repeated theme for me on this site! It is a miraculous thing and now that I live in a country with mild weather, I walk a lot, typically well over thirty miles a week.

Today I write about the power of sauntering as opposed to hiking.

Sauntering? What is that really?


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