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.


What does it mean to be a “Sage” ?


Rumi – timeless wisdom from many centuries ago

This year I am focussed on the term Modern Elder :

“A Modern Elder is someone who serves and learns, is mentor and intern, is student and sage, all at the same time” ~ Chip Conley 

This got me to thinking, what does it mean to be a sage ?

It is a word used frequently around all forms of ancient wisdom, though often considering (including by the Stoics) as unattainable.

Nonetheless, words like, wisdom, calm, patience, listening, tranquil come to mind to me.

This also reminds me of a model called “Seven Leadership Archetypes” taught to me by Ed Percival (that he himself learned form a mentor called Ray Bell).

I’ve since passed on this learning to many, and share it today.

It simply outlines different archetypes and links them to the energetic impact of that style, with the higher up the table, the more followers are energised, and the lower down, all those below the “status quo” level drain energy from followers.

Perhaps I agree with the Roman Stoics. As being a Sage is the top level, it is something to be sought, yet never truly attained.

SAGE Timeless, Universal Principles

VISIONARY Goes out to the Future, brings it Back

MAGICIAN Limited Resources to work with, “pulls Rabbits out of the Hat”

STEWARD Status Quo tending to Entropy :  
“a process of degradation or running down or a trend to disorder”

WARRIOR Battle, Fight, Soldiers, Survival – saving the kingdom from attack

POLITICIAN Save Face, Not looking for real change – internal focus

VICTIM It’s the fault of the outside the weather/economy/them


Smashing Paradigms – Trains without Timetables ?

{latest in a developing series on Smashing Paradigms}

For my story-telling explanation of the definition of a Paradigm, see “What is a Paradigm“. 

One way of defining a paradigm is “an unconsciously held belief that limits us from fresh thinking” or “we’ve always done it this way”



Today I’ll talk about two paradigms to smash. One is the idea of abolition of railway timetables, the other that of revolutionising rail ticket pricing.

First, timetables. Trains run on time. Well, most of the time. The driving force behind this since the very early days of rail travel has been the railway timetable. All systems and processes centre around it.

In fact, in 1840 the Great Western Railway introduced the concept of “Railway time” in order to have uniform times at each station, all on “London time”, co-ordinate from the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, from where all time around the world is still set.

So, since 1840 trains have run based on consistent times and from railway timetables.

It was therefore hugely refreshing this week to hear Sir Peter Hendy, Chair of Network Rail, foreshadow the end of the railway timetable. No more railway timetables ? What does he mean ? “We’ve always done it this way” (paradigm alert !).

You see, before his role with Network Rail he headed up Transport for London, home of the “Tube”, the London Underground. As he noted in his speech for the George Bradshaw address (pdf here), the Victoria line on the Tube has 36 trains per hour at peak times. Anyone who rides the tube knows there are no timetables, nor would we want one. Instead, on each platform there is simply a display that indicates how many minutes until the next trains arrive.


Wisdom from Warren Buffett

Recently I posted the latest in a series of articles referencing elite sports and leadership, featuring this quote from John Wooden :

“Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable.”

Success is peace of mind. Wisdom.

Now, one might counter that peace of mind is all well and good, but the most conventional measures of success for business leaders are about money.

In the short to medium term such monetary measures can be measured in revenue, profit and other related metrics, including market price (and don’t get me started on the intrinsic value, or absence thereof!) of the likes of Bitcoin, Uber and more!).

In the long run, though, I quote Benjamin Graham, author of “The Intelligent Investor”, still, many decades later, a bible for so many.

‘In the short run, the market is a voting machine but in the long run, it is a weighing machine.’

In other words, ignore stock market swings, in the end, the intrinsic underlying value of any business will be what counts. Concentrate on building value, in other words.

In that long run, the most successful investor in my lifetime also worked under Benjamin Graham at the start of his career. He has built a business based on that principle and it has rewarded shareholders most handsomely indeed for around 60 years now.

His name is Warren Buffett. He is 87 years old, and, as he says “I intend to retire five or ten years after I die”. A Modern Elder indeed !

I’ve closely followed Buffett for about twenty years myself, reading voraciously around his career, his business, and particularly all of his many annual letters to shareholders. You may find those at and they are wonderful reading.

(Oh, do go to that site for a moment anyway. This business is value at around $500 billion and a website could be build for under $100 that looks slicker than they have. Substance, not form!)

So, back to Coach Wooden for a moment. Success is peace of mind. Now what about peae of mind and Warren Buffett ? In “Smashing Paradigms – Stop the “Busyness”” I wrote about how he is not “busy”. He prefers free time to read, think, rest. He always has. He doesn’t clear a barrage of emails, instead he reads about five hours per day.

Peace of mind for Buffett AND and a stratospheric company valuation. Perhaps we can learn from him ? Some quotes from the man himself, allied with thoughts from me  :

“Be fearful when other are greedy, and greedy when others are fearful”

Know the intrinsic value of investments you hold are those you are considering buying, then trust yourself.

“If you were the golf manager and you hired Palmer and Nicklaus, why would you waste your time telling them how to swing”

All the CEOs Buffett has run his many companies are people he likes and admires, who are deeply knowledgable about the businesses they run. He then trusts them.

As I would say, “coach, don’t play”. Empowered leadership works, so his numbers tell us !

“Lose money for the business and I will be understanding. Lose reputation and I will be ruthless”

To Buffett, culture is EVERYTHING. I’ve read many books about Buffett. The one that gave me the biggest light bulb moment was this one. For all the numbers that Buffett and his people crunch on intrinsic value of investee businesses, the secret sauce of his business is Culture.

BRK beyond buffett

In addition to the annual letters and Cunningham’s book, the one biography that rings the most true (and is a terrific read) is this one, as Alice Schroeder had a long standing relationship with Buffett as a journalist he trusted and respected, so she has full access and also wrote from a space of deep knowledge :

snowball buffett


Movies with Meaning – Leadership Lessons

Weekly series. Please send in your movies via email, twitter etc. Our format  :

  • Three movies with meaning (and movies you love and recommend!)
  • One sentence on the core meaning you take from it
  • Send a link to a YouTube clip from the movie that speaks to that meaning

This week three movies I love, each with powerful leadership lessons.


Writing I Love – Philosophy from Calvin (and Hobbes!)

calvin hobbes attack deranged

Here in 2018 we do still have newspapers (they’re not quite wiped out yet!), but the idea of a daily comic strip in newspapers is in the past.

My favourite of all was Calvin and Hobbes, every day stories of Calvin, a six year old boy and his imaginary friend, his stuffed tiger , Hobbes.

Bill Watterson created these daily comic strips for a decade until 1995 (wow, was it really that long ago he stopped writing them !?).

They are now collected into books, all with great titles, with my favourite being “Attack of the Deranged Monster Killer Snow Goons“. Awesome !

Funny ? Absolutely !

As to the character names, though, with them named after two 16th/17th century philosophers, one would expect some funny AND thought-provoking comic strips.

Here are some favourites to have you both chuckle and pause for thought, each with a link to an earlier piece on that line of philosophical thinking.

Stoicism – (“Stoicism – The Tao of Bobby Orr“)

Calvin and Hobbes


Actions speak louder than words – (“Unthinkable, unforeseeable leadership“)

calvin and hobbes justification

The Power of Simplicity –  (“Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication“)

(I love my three boys with all my heart.. and this still made me laugh out loud !)

calvin and hobbes simplify

Why don’t we do the important things ?

big rocks

Today, some lessons from yours truly, then Stephen Covey and finally Seth Godin.

About what ? The fact that most leaders spend the vast majority of their time working IN their business not ON, their business.

All of us have things we need to DO, yet when we have our “Leader” hat on, the role is to be “keeper of the vision” then keep complete focus on ensuring everyone you lead is moving in that direction. “Coach, don’t play” is the adage here.

One granular area, therefore, that I’ve often coached leaders around is their “to do” list. I start by putting it to them that the things on that list fall into three categories :


Urgent and Important


When I ask them where they spend their time, the answer is always in the order I showed here. In short, this tends to bring a realisation that they don’t spend anywhere near enough time on the IMPORTANT stuff.  They start with the fire-fighting, the urgent stuff, then the stuff that is still urgent but perhaps has more long term value. The important stuff just sits there.

Big Rocks – Stephen Covey

One tip is to try the “Big Rocks” method. I was taught to “never make a point without telling a story, so here is the story as told by Stephen Covey :

One day this expert was speaking to a group of business students and, to drive home a point, used an illustration I’m sure those students will never forget. After I share it with you, you’ll never forget it either.

As this man stood in front of the group of high-powered over-achievers he said, “Okay, time for a quiz.” Then he pulled out a one-gallon, wide-mouthed mason jar and set it on a table in front of him. Then he produced about a dozen fist-sized rocks and carefully placed them, one at a time, into the jar.

When the jar was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, he asked, “Is this jar full?” Everyone in the class said, “Yes.” Then he said, “Really?” He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the spaces between the big rocks.

Then he smiled and asked the group once more, “Is the jar full?” By this time the class was onto him. “Probably not,” one of them answered. “Good!” he replied. And he reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in and it went into all the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel. Once more he asked the question, “Is this jar full?”

“No!” the class shouted. Once again he said, “Good!” Then he grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in until the jar was filled to the brim. Then he looked up at the class and asked, “What is the point of this illustration?”

One eager beaver raised his hand and said, “The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard, you can always fit some more things into it!”

“No,” the speaker replied, “that’s not the point. The truth this illustration teaches us is: If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all.”

Seth Godin adds an angle !

Very recently, the masterful Seth Godin expressed this a different way. I will share his blog and then unapologetically use it to support others in the future !

Fun, urgent or fear-based

Most of what we do at work all day is one of these three.

Fun: It’s engaging, it gives us satisfaction, people smile.

Urgent: Someone else (or perhaps we) decided that this paper is on fire and it has to be extinguished before anything else happens.

Fear-based: Most common of all, the things we do to protect ourselves from the fear we’d have to sit with if we didn’t do them.

Not on this list: important.

A day spent doing important work is rare indeed. Precious, too.

Elite Lessons : Modern Elders and Basketball

As I’ve written about here often, I’m absolutely fascinated by the opportunities for confluence of elite learnings between sports and leadership. A few examples :

Around these sports, two of my sons are competitive swimmers and I’m a referee, I grew up watching motor racing as my Dad raced, and I started cycling as I got older and also supported a pro cycling team.

However, one sport I love above all others is Basketball. I’m an ex basketball player and coach. It is a team sport where managing the energy and flow of the team and the individual players is so important. So many leadership lessons from the great players and great coaches.

As I think about it, I recognise that many of the coaches held in the highest esteem in the history of the sport reached the pinnacle of their ability to coach, mentor, guide, lead their teams only after decades of experience.

So much to learn from our “Modern Elders” (as I’ve written about before here and here), so I’ll write today and in future articles about lessons from great basketball coaches, some of the “Modern Elders” in our society that are honoured and revered.

One article already on this site is : “Humble Leadership – “that’s family business” about Coach Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs. Every time I watch the videos in that article I get goosebumps !

Gregg Popovich brought his team to the NBA playoffs for the first time at the age of 49. At the time of writing they have made the playoffs every year since. 20 years in a row. “Pop” is 69 now, and only getting better with age, it would appear !

Today I want to draw attention to John Wooden. Coach Wooden is regarded as the greatest college basketball coach of all time.

At the age of 53, he was entering his prime (I like the sound of this), bringing a lifetime of experience as a player and coach. That year, 1964, his UCLA team began a streak of winning 10 national titles in 12 years. Unparalleled.

Coach Wooden live to the ripe age of 99 and died in 2010. After retiring as head coach of UCLA, he continued to coach, guide and lead.

He was absolutely revered by those who played for him, the greatest of all being Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, with the two of them having a 50 year friendship. Sometimes a picture says it all :

kareem wooden

He was known for his (often concise) thoughts on leadership. If you’ve never heard of John Wooden but these quotes sound familiar, you can offer your vote of thanks now to the “Wizard of Westwood” :

“It’s the things that you learn after you know everything that count.”

“The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.”

“Success is never final, failure is never fatal. It’s courage that counts.”

and… Coach Wooden’s definition of success, featured in his wonderful TED Talk from 2001 (when he was 90).

“Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable.”

Listen and learn to the wisdom of a humble leader who never stopped learning and never stopped teaching.

Winter and “seasonally affected leadership”


So, it has been a bit snowy in London this week.

I believe that empathy is a super-power for leadership. Whilst it is not essential to have shared the same or a similar experience in order to empathise with others, what is critical is, as put in a NY Times article, “being able to imagine what it would be like to have it. ”

To be funny about it, recently I took my 14 year old to visit family in teh Scottish countryside. He was so excited to throw snowballs and make snow angels. The thing was, he hadn’t been cold since he was a tiny child, it doesn’t snow in the Cayman Islands ! At one point he said: “Dad, I had no idea snow was so COLD ! When I saw videos of snow angels, they looked so happy, but it is SO COLD!”

Ah well, now he understands!

Now, this is my first winter in a very, very long time. The last time I was very early in my career, so I have no experience or way of understanding the impact of winter on leadership in business. (more…)

Smashing Paradigms – Do Less, Achieve More

{latest in the weekly series on Smashing Paradigms}

For my story-telling explanation of the definition of a Paradigm, see “What is a Paradigm“. 

One way of defining a paradigm is “an unconsciously held belief that limits us from fresh thinking” or “we’ve always done it this way”



do less achieve more

Do less, achieve more.

Yeah, yeah, I hear some say, we’ve all heard about work smarter, not harder.

First a few thoughts from me and a live example of why to do this, then some tips from Professor Morten Hansen from the in depth research he undertook for his new book “Great at Work”.


Do you have “skin in the game” ?

A very business-like post here. Yes, esoteric as this site can be, I do love business, so occasionally I may cogitate and share business lessons!

“Do not pay attention to what people say, only to what they do, and to how much of their necks they are putting on the line”, says Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his new book Skin in the Game.

taleb skin in the game

So begins the book review in The Times from Matthew Syed.

(Note: The Times is behind a firewall, so posting extracts only to start this post off.)

“Skin in the game comes with conflict of interest. What I hope this book will do is show that the former is more important than the latter.”

Taleb is provocative. A Brit might call him “marmite”, something I’ve been called myself. It refers to a spread for toast that is, well, uniquely flavoured. People either love it or hate it. Marmite.

I do love Matthew Syed, who himself writes in a similar field (Behavioural Economics) and I love all of his books and ideas, and I similarly love the way he reviewed Taleb’s book. My favourite Syed book is “Bounce – the myth of talent and the power of practice“, and you can riff off that with Outliers from Malcolm Gladwell.

However, for this post, let me simply cogitate on the idea of “skin in the game”.

A few examples then a focus on corporate and entrepreneurial business leadership. (more…)

Movies with Meaning – Movies that make you FEEL !

Weekly series. Please send in your movies via email, twitter etc. Our format  :

  • Three movies with meaning (and movies you love and recommend!)
  • One sentence on the core meaning you take from it
  • Send a link to a YouTube clip from the movie that speaks to that meaning

Recently I wrote “Be Brave, Own It ! – Keala’s “This is Me” Moment” about bravery and “owning it” and centred around the beautiful video where Keala Settle announced herself to the world through a video at a movie workshop.

Every time I watch that video, I first get goosebumps, then cry, then jump up and feel like dancing.

So, I got to thinking two things. First, I HAD to go and watch the movie that the song was in.  Secondly, I reflected on the post I wrote (with three video clips, of course) around “Cogito Ergo Sum, or Sentio Ergo Sum ?“. Is it our thinking or our feelings that makes us human ? through which we make decisions ?

I put it to you that, as leaders, we pay far too little attention to the power of moving people through feelings. Considering the power of movies to move us through feelings is a great reminder !

So three movies that MOVE me ! Ok, three movies that make me cry. Yup, feelings, people have them, including at work and with those you lead !


Writing I Love – The Big Leap

big leap

The writings on this site are all around #OpenLeadership. Having worked for many years as a leader and with leaders in all kinds of ways, I endeavour to look beyond typical writing and thinking on the topic, and often for me that means looking within, to self-leadership.

This week’s writing I love is an eminently readable book full of relatable stories and case studies that support self-leadership. A little on the book, then some thoughts and tips from me around the lessons given.


What limits do you place on yourself?

Take a moment please over this question.


I said take a moment, quietly.


I hear you.. “I don’t place limits on myself !”

Yes, you do… we all do, to at least some extent.

Gay Hendricks captures this as the “Upper Limit Problem” in his book The Big Leap.

We all have one or more of the four hidden barriers.


#MentorHer – Be the Change


“Be the change you wish to see in the world” is a wonderful sentiment attributed to the Mahatma (sanskrit for “Great Soul”) that was Gandhi.

What he actually said was “We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. ”

Similar, yet even more powerful.

How often are we dissonant with ourselves? Do we say one thing but do another?

For me, what am I doing about that? What is the change I am being in order to make a change ?

As a privileged white male, one area I have taken on for years is in promoting diversity? So many words, yet so little tangible results in our world. As I wrote recently :

I am simply all about change and being the change I wish to see in the world. I am purposeful and passionate about diversity of thought, as well as helping others #BeMoreYou.

What am I doing about it?

One of the areas I focus on is in mentoring women. This is something I have always done, added to which the majority of my coaching clients over the years have been women leaders.

Despite decades of talk, we are still a very long way away from diversity of thought being present where decisions are made in our world, whether that be in the workplace, in board rooms, in politics, in community action. Wherever you look, women are almost always under-represented.

One of my favourite books of recent years is Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. She clearly is someone who has a life purpose around empowering women, and she lives this wherever she finds an avenue.


Recently she launched #MentorHer through the LeanIn site. Please take a look at the site and consider what you may choose to commit to.

For women reading, ask yourself what you can do to lean into this, what men could you ask to mentor you? If you would like to talk to an inspiring confidence coach, Patrycja Skurzak approached me a few year ago via Linked In as she started her journey as a confidence coach. I’ve mentored her for years and she has inspired me. It all started with her leaning in, having the confidence to ask to talk to me. Talk to Patrycja about leaning into this, having the confidence to ask for what you need in all spaces!

For men reading, ask yourself what you can do to focus upon mentoring women. I’m also happy to talk to you, first listening to what drives you and what you feel you can do, then, where it resonates, share my thoughts and advice from my own experience.

For now,  a few thoughts from me based on that experience.

First, we need radical positive discrimination to really effect change in diversity of all forms (and, as per the “My Work” page, this goes beyond gender diversity, though this post today has that focus). Yes, I get and agree with the argument that one should always look for the best person, regardless of gender, ethnicity, age, orientation… and yet we are failing to represent adequately beyond the “pale, male and stale” stereotype, so we need discrimination in a positive sense to effect change!

A few real examples as ideas. I’ve used and still do use these for positive discrimination.

  1. If you are facilitating a Q&A, always take the first question from a woman. Always.
  2. If you are asked to be on a panel discussion, ask them who the other speakers are. Note to the organiser that you won’t be on any panel without a woman speaker.
  3. If you have the chance to select from a group of qualified candidates for a key internship, filter it to choose a woman.
  4. Make your first hire a woman (edited to note a caveat from feedback from a woman leader, “if you are only hiring one person then that woman you have hired first had better be the best person for the job. Lots of women wouldn’t want to be that person otherwise.”)
  5. If forming a peer group and setting up meetings through connecting with contacts, focus on women and other diverse groups for your initial members so as to create diversity of thought consciously.
  6. Create and launch a women’s leadership group. Yes, I did this, though at the time felt I couldn’t be part of it, I just conceived it and made the launch happen.

Finally, be part of groups supporting women in leadership. See point 6 above, where my own discomfort used to make me shy away from this. However, women themselves kept asking me to participate, so as the Mahatma said: “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.” Also, the #MentorHer site notes that men are increasingly uncomfortable working with (and mentoring) women. Step out, lean in, get comfortable being uncomfortable, change the conversation.



Be Brave, Own It! – Keala’s “This is Me” Moment

Yes, #itsyourfault Keala….

An oh so powerful story of owning your genius, of being brave, of stepping up, of inspiring others and yourself.

The story of one woman, one song. Read my words, then watch the video. You WILL laugh, you will cry (lots!), you will jump up and dance!

So, living in the UK, I find so much “deflection” of our genius. People are complimented and say “oh, it was nothing”. As Nick Hussey noted (I agree!)

What do I mean #itsyourfault?

Well, (plot spoiler alert!) the Oscar for best song this year will go to “This is Me”. Ok, so I’m predicting the future, but it is the surest thing in the history of surest things!

The success of this song is down to the woman who sings it, the amazing Keala Settle.

The thing is, in every interview, she starts out by saying “its your fault, Hugh Jackman”, giving the lead in the movie the credit for supporting her.

In response, Hugh has held the mirror up to her consistently, acknowledging her brilliance, and on Twitter he does it with the hashtag #itsyourfault.

Watch the video of the first time he heard the song at the workshop that gave the movie the “green light”. Watch Keala hide her brilliance, then let it shine. Watch the moment where she holds Hugh’s hands and he gives up fighting back the tears of joy.

#itsyourfault @Kealasettle, #thisisme #andtheoscargoesto


Unthinkable, unforeseeable leadership

Today I’m writing about the possibility that the most intractable and irrational issue in US politics may finally see change. That issue ? Gun Control.

I wrote yesterday about the power of saying “I was wrong” and why I feel that the “command and control” leaders in the USA and around the world simply need bravery, the bravery to stand up and say “I was wrong“, and gun control.

Imagine true and radical change happens in this issue, then it could be what makes the dam break on the intractable tribal nature of politics in the USA, and where the USA leads, other follow. Radical means banning guns like the UK and Australia did.

Unthinkable ? Unforeseeable ? Perhaps, but we live in the era of unthinkable change. Time for it to be positive change now.



Book a diagnostic meeting

Subscribe for Inspiration, Ideas, Tools

I offer you two newsletters seeking to offer inspiration to action, ideas and tools for leaders.

Open Leadership – Digest
Big Game Advisors – Ideas into Action