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, all centred around the ideas of #OpenLeadership. Enjoy…

Ok is not ok

ok is not ok

Thank you to Alton Byrd for posting this online. Alton was one of my first sporting heroes, the greatest player I ever saw in British Basketball.

He and I were both fortunate enough to be taken under the wing of the late, great Ed Percival, who Alton calls his rabbi, I call simply “Yoda”. I consider Ed my greatest guide and mentor, as does Roger Philby, who wrote this eulogy:  “My Hero – Ed Percival”.

My first significant interaction with Ed was when I’d said something in a group that had overpowered the conversation. In a break, I apologised and told him I’d “dial it back”. Ed was furious. He rose up to his considerable height, stepped in towards me, and said: “don’t you EVER {expletive deleted} do that! This world needs your full self!”. Ed’s famous phrase was “Be More You“, and that simple phrase can be life-changing.

So, the phrase “ok.. is not ok” comes to mind when I read what Alton posted.


Realising Potential

Realising potential Linton Kwesi Johnson

Seth Godin recently wrote :

My purpose in life is #MakingPotentialPossible. Like any such intention in life, there is a strong element of service to others, and also a mirroring reference to what we seek for ourselves.

“It’s tempting to enter a field where mastery is assured, where you have a very good shot of being as good at it as everyone else.

It turns out, though, that the most exciting and productive fields are those where there’s a huge gap between those that are perceived to be the very best and everyone else.

The wider the gap, the more it’s worth to push through it.


What a Fool Believes about Bitcoin

“But what a fool believes he sees, no wise man has the power to reason away.” 

Michael McDonald of the Doobie Brothers has one of the most exquisite voices and this is an almost perfect pop song. It also contains the powerful lyric above.

As I write this, it seems everybody is talking about investing in BitCoin.

I do actually believe that Blockchain in 2017 is at just such a moment as Netscape and the “WWW” was in 1994. Distributed trust is going to change our world, and at such a speed we cannot even imagine.


Try something new

Recently I ran a workshop in Edinburgh called UNTHINKABLE. From this, I was inspired to write a series of articles on Linked In on the theme of #Open Leadership, which at the time of writing this post has taken me some time to consider and I’ve written six of probably around a dozen articles from the workshop.

So, probably at least 10 hours of work into those articles. At the workshop itself, I ran over the allotted time (sorry to the attendees!) and took about 2 hours.

A few days later, Rebecca Bonnington, who had been at the workshop, asked me if I could capture the workshop essence for a series she had called “1-minute wisdom”.

10 hours? 2 hours? Sure, but 1 minute?


Presence…and Vulnerability

One of my favourite TED talks of all time is this one from Amy Cuddy.

I recalled this as I was going to write about the power of self-awareness of the body, hormonal responses (testosterone, cortisol) and the power of the body for presence.

Yes, this talk is amazing for that, so please do watch it all from the link in the image above.

That said, I won’t be writing about all of that today. Instead, as I watched the talk again in preparation for writing this, once again by far the most powerful part of the talk was when Amy Cuddy told us WHY this was so important to her. Every single time I watch this segment of the talk, I am moved to tears. Every. Single. Time.

Yes, watch the whole talk, but please watch the segment starting at 15:39

I believe strongly that the new paradigm of #OpenLeadership has Vulnerability as a core foundational attribute. As Amy tells her very personal story of feeling like an imposter, she then transforms that experience into leadership, power, creativity.

I share here the first nascent iteration of the #OpenLeadership model. For more, see the series of articles posted to Linked In called Unthinkable.

Unthinkable model vulnerability

No longer will leaders serve their people and their vision by seeking to be all knowing, all powerful and invulnerable. To the contrary, knowing our fears, having that self-knowledge, ability to manage our energy (and those of others), being reponse-able rather than reactive in moments of stress and crisis… these and more are attributes of #OpenLeadership… and from these “Let Go” attributes, leaders can then attract their people to them and realise their highest potential through humbly collaborating while being the “keeper of the vision”.

Much more on these themes in future articles, but for now, marvel at the vulnerable presence of Ms Amy Cuddy !

Never in the history of calming down…

Never in the history of calming down Calvin and Hobbes

I adore Calvin and Hobbes and love that Bill Watterson based on them on two famous philosophers!

I was reminded of this famous Calvin and Hobbes cartoon recently by Francis Briers, who facilitated an amazing leadership experience called “Samurai Games”.

Francis speaks and teaches of somatic presence and spoke of this during the two days our group was with him. Thank you, Francis, for your teaching and your modelling of what you taught. I learned a lot.


Doing from Being

Before I started to really look into the Japanese concept of Ikigai, “A reason for being”, I had already discovered this image as a Linked In meme:

ikigai venn diagramme reason for being

I love this visual representation, and at the same time, I recognise how many of us focus on the “what you can be paid for” part first and foremost.

What if, instead, we focus on our “Being” and then choosing to “Do” what is fully aligned with who we are, so “Doing from Being”


Make Music

Just remember to make the best music you have the ability to make. If you do that, you are a successful musician.

It is said that it takes 30 days to make a habit, to engrain something and build neural pathways.

From an earlier post, I am committing myself to lead a “Wild and Precious” life, and one of Presence.

As part of my creative process, I’m writing again.


Ikigai, Pleasure and Meaning

I’ve been drawn to the concept of Ikigai for some time. In September 2017 Ken Mogi published “The Little Book of Ikigai” and from such a short book full of wonderful stories I have taken so much. Making it ultra concise and also visual, I honour the talent of Dani Saveker and her Visual Synopsis of the book :

Ikigai Visual Synopsis Pleasure and Meaning

At the base of this visual synopsis are the five pillars of Ikigai, and I will come back to these often in upcoming posts, as I see them as powerful tools for self-knowledge, one of the pillars of #OpenLeadership.

For now, I focus on the combination of “starting small”, “joy of the little things” and “be in the here and now” as represented in the two examples of simplicity and perfection below.

There are many wonderful stories in the book, starting with the choice of Sukiyabashi Jiro as the restaurant for President Obama to eat in for his welcome dinner with the Prime Minister of Japan. The owner and operator, Jiro Ono, worked for over sixty years with an unrelenting focus on one thing, making the best sushi in the world. The documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” tells the story :

Now, back to London, where I often ride my bike out to Richmond Park. I love the feeling of being present to the moment that comes with cycling, particularly in nature and out of the city. In less than an hour, I can ride out of the centre of the city, make a lap of the park, and then I can make a stop at a special place.

That special place is Pen Ponds Cafe, a small trailer run by an Italian family and that makes excellent coffee, and probably the best bacon roll I’ve ever tasted. Given that I am on a lifelong quest for the simple pleasure of finding the best bacon roll ever, this is high praise. If you see me sitting at a bench in my cycling gear with my black coffee and bacon roll, know that I am truly appreciating every moment and every sensation.

I give you this photo from the other day at my latest visit and ask you to consider the parallels between Jiro and the master of the bacon rolls as he stands at his post 364 days per year, year after year…

bacon rolls

…in this modern world that we make so complex, what does it teach us to see someone at work taking pleasure and meaning from the perfection of one simple task?

Life is Wild and Precious, Be Present

"Tell me what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

January 2017, a glorious winter’s day at the top of a mountain in the Alps with an amazing group of inspiring entrepreneurs, or “Snowhowers“, including Dr Rachel Morris, who had been so inspired by this phrase that she used this when she left the mountain as inspiration for her business, “Wild Monday“.

I love the phrase and the emphasis on simplicity and presence in and focus on each moment. Please take a few moments to read the poem, then read it again, then one more time, slowly, before reading the rest of this post.

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

— Mary Oliver

So, what does this say to you? What are you reflecting on?

It is an anchor for me to both be present to every moment and also to live my purpose of #MakingPotentialPossible.

As to purpose, in June 2017 I moved to a new city (London) in effectively a new country to me, having lived overseas for over 27 years until this move. I chose to take this leap with care and consideration and at the same time with instinct and intention, to look to more fully realise my potential to serve this world.

Now, as I write this I am several months into this adventure and already find there is a voice in me that looks to play safe, and also looks to keep busy, as I know how to have a comfortable life through being busy and playing safe.

However, what is it I plan to do with my one wild and precious life? I have no plan, yet I have an intention to hold every moment as Wild and Precious so I will say no to the safe, I will not fill my diary indiscriminately.

As to Presence, I recently read “The Little Book of Ikigai” by Ken Mogi. Ikigai is from “Iki” (to live) and “gai” (reason). It is also about finding pleasure as well as meaning through such pillars of Ikigai as starting small and being in the here and now.

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.

Did you perhaps reflect on that when you read Mary Oliver’s poem three times? Or, instead, did you only read it once, despite my request to read it three times, or even skip reading it?

In the book, Mogi reflects on the Japanese concept of Ichigo Ichie, or “one time, one encounter”, which originated with the Japanese tea ceremony.

Ichigo Ichie is the “appreciation of the ephemeral character of any encounters with people, things or events in life”, or, as my friend Morgan DaCosta puts it “no ordinary moments !”.

Mogi says: “Precisely because an encounter is ephemeral, it must be taken seriously”.

So, in our lives, how often over the years have we chosen to not be present to each moment, to laying in the grass and closely studying the grasshopper, rather than checking our phone or letting our mind wander to somewhere other than the here and now?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

UNTHINKABLE – 7: Open Leadership – What is it?

The UNTHINKABLE articles were first posted on Linked In. 

I smile as I recognise that the speed of change and evolution now means that I’ve put developing this leadership model on hold for now. I am, however, leaving these 7 articles up as I feel they do illustrate core source issues and opportunities for leaders to look at in themselves prior to developing and practicing their own evolution of their leadership.

(The seventh in a series of articles inspired by a Sep 26, 2017 Workshop for Entrepreneurial Scotland)

In the opening article of this series, I began with a summary of where I am with developing the #OpenLeadership model.

Open Leadership

The next five articles focussed on elements of “Let Go”, and now we move to Open Leadership itself.

When I wrote the opening article one month ago, two days after running a workshop that inspired me to create this series, I gave a brief summary of the three elements of Open Leadership as being :

  • VISION as a concept must change to a general sense of direction, subject to frequent course correction. A very different model for visionary leadership.
  • COLLABORATION. Open Leadership is truly collaborative
  • HUMILITY. The seven most powerful words in business “I don’t’ know, what do you think” (when delivered with confidence that the answer is within the collective).

It makes me smile at myself to recognise that my thoughts have evolved even in this month, as I have both written this series of short LI articles and also committed to write daily on on a wider range of themes.

I’m already feeling that what I came up with in the drawing above is evolving, so in upcoming articles around Open Leadership and the three themes above, I can sense things will evolve further.

For now, let me muse in this first article on the theme of Open Leadership. As I stay with this theme in the next few articles, let’s see what emerges.

So, a business hero of mine, Chip Conley, is the person from whom I first heard the phrase Vulnerable Visionary. I’ve listened to Chip speak many times, so let me try to capture some of his thoughts on what it means to be such a person. The sort of person with such Open Leadership characteristics as :

  • Absolute drive, passion and commitment towards the purpose of the business. They are, simply put, the “Keeper of the Vision” for all who are part of it.
  • Able, when asked for the answers by their team, to say the seven powerful words “I don’t know, what do you think ?”, and with an energy that is open and almost literally lifts up the team and draws the best from them.
  • Confidence. Vision, Collaboration and Humility lose much of their value if the leader is not confident that the Vision will be reached and that the team can do it together. They may have doubts that the vision is “nailed down” and they may have doubts on strategy and execution at times. All of that is absolutely normal, natural and real. However, it is also key that the leader has bulletproof confidence that everything will work out.

**Edit, found the video of Chip on an old Tweet I posted years ago ! :

Adding to this, I recently discovered a recent article by Tom Nixon. Tom is fond of referencing a few key people he looks up to, and at the same time I truly love when he then synthesises his own thoughts, as he does with these closing words in the article :

“Keep tuning into your need. Take responsibility for the process of realising it. Listen to all of the information and wait to get clear on the next step and then take it. Allow a creative hierarchy to naturally emerge to help you. And don’t stop until you’re done.”

Tom Nixon, modelling what being a vulnerable visionary is.

UNTHINKABLE – 6: “Let Go” – Response-Ability

The UNTHINKABLE articles were first posted on Linked In. 

I smile as I recognise that the speed of change and evolution now means that I’ve put developing this leadership model on hold for now. I am, however, leaving these 7 articles up as I feel they do illustrate core source issues and opportunities for leaders to look at in themselves prior to developing and practicing their own evolution of their leadership.

(The sixth in a series of articles inspired by a Sep 26, 2017 Workshop for Entrepreneurial Scotland)

Of all the books I read and recommend to others, top of the list is Man’s Search for Meaning. There is so much in this short volume to recommend, and at the core of it is Frankl’s philosophy that our core driver is to find meaning in life (which ties back to the Japanese concept of Ikigai, written about a number of times on my site, including here)

Today’s article focusses on the third of the elements under the them of “Let Go“. Once we have self-knowledge and then focus that on managing the energy, what level of ability do we have to be “response-able” when needed as leaders?

As Frankl puts it :

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” 


“The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.” 

I’ve heard leaders argue that they are under stress, they have too much to do, that others don’t understand what it is like. The first half of Frankl’s book tells his story of surviving in a nazi concentration camp. He was able to respond.

On a perhaps more relatable level for us, yet still literally unbelievable for many, an astonishing ultra-endurance athlete called Mark Beaumont in September 2017 smashed the world record for cycling around the world, beating the mythical “Around the World in 80 days” by riding 18,049 miles in 78 days and 14 hours. Do your own calculations on this. Unthinkable indeed !

After completing the ride, Mark did a 35″ interview with Global Cycling Network and a lot of it was about the physical endurance needed for the ride. Amazing though those elements of the interview were, what really struck me was Mark’s mental approach.

Listen from 5:54 to 7:15 here , where he talks about : “once you are fully committed….your ability to complete is your ability to suffer…..”

Also from 14:13 to here, including “after you are two or three weeks in…the body has an amazing ability to adapt…if you’ve not broken down and had to stop after the first two or three weeks”. Yes, he is talking about ignoring injuries and the mental fortitude of getting through the first TWO OR THREE WEEKS with injuries etc. Unreal.

I’ve known Mark for some years and always been inspired by him. Inspirational level of self-knowledge gained through his global adventures. I can imagine Mark would only very rarely react, rather than be response-able, whatever comes his way.

How about you, looking honestly at self, are you able to respond or do you react? If you have worked for or with a leader who tends to react, what is the impact on you and others?

UNTHINKABLE – 5: “Let Go” – Energy

The UNTHINKABLE articles were first posted on Linked In. 

I smile as I recognise that the speed of change and evolution now means that I’ve put developing this leadership model on hold for now. I am, however, leaving these 7 articles up as I feel they do illustrate core source issues and opportunities for leaders to look at in themselves prior to developing and practicing their own evolution of their leadership.

(The fifth in a series of articles inspired by a Sep 26, 2017 Workshop for Entrepreneurial Scotland)

As we progress through this series of articles on #OpenLeadership, we move now to what to focus on once we have some clarity on our Self-Knowledge. It is said that “knowledge is power”, so self-knowledge is key to leadership.

The next step from self-knowledge is to have the self-awareness of your state in any moment, as well as what influences your state.As my dear friend Suki Laniado Smithsigns off every email, “Awareness is the greatest agent for change”.

Once we have a degree of self-knowledge and then self-awareness, the next step is to do something with this, something I learned from Shirlaws to call “Managing the Energy”.

Whether we practice it or not, we are aware of the importance of managing our own energy, and some of us may have hired performance coaches. For lots of wonderful thought leadership, tools and information on this, take a look at the site of the amazing Vanessa Bennett and her team at Next Evolution Performance.

I will also be writing often in my posts on my site on topics such as self-knowledge, self-awareness and individual energy management. A recent post is on “Doing from Being” as an example.

However, for this post I want to focus on the importance for leaders of managing the energy of their team. For today then, two simple stories.

First, recently I met with a business leader of a fast growing specialist software company. As they sat down, I asked them how they were. “Stressed” was the reply. They then started to talk about their business and in general they were unconscious of their physical presence.

When they asked me for my thoughts on what they had downloaded, perhaps they were a little surprised to hear me reflect specifically on their state. I told them that they were emanating physical stress, from a tightness across the chest, to constriction of blood vessels, slight shortness of breath, tension in neck and other muscles.

After a joke along the lines of “should I get on the couch now ?, we changed the subject to talk about the business matters they had raised. However, a few minutes later I abruptly paused, looked at them, and said “what do you notice about yourself right now?”. They smiled, laughed a little, and said “I’ve relaxed”.

For this leader, by simply bringing awareness to their state being one of elevated stress, they had the tools to shift their state to one of relaxation, which then changed their thinking, the conversation, the energy they emanated. I would further suggest that when they went back to their office, the energy they radiated would have had a positive and productive impact on their team.

One more story of managing the energy, and this one a famous one from Rugby.

In 1990 the Scotland Rugby Captain, David Sole, chose to emerge onto the field for a critical game by, instead of the tradition of running out, leading his team on a “slow walk” with intent and focus in their stares and demeanour. As a young Scot, I remember watching this and feeling the game was already won before it actually started.

For more on this, watch a 7″ video here that tells the story.

How often do you pay attention to your state and bring awareness to it ? “Awareness is the greatest agent for change”, and sometimes all it takes to make a change is a little awareness.

As the Law of Thermodynamics says, energy cannot be created or destroyed, it may only change form. As a leader, be aware of your state, and where you feel stressed, look to convert that restrictive energy to one of positive and expansive energy for yourself and your team.

UNTHINKABLE – 4: “Let Go” – Self-Knowledge

The UNTHINKABLE articles were first posted on Linked In. 

I smile as I recognise that the speed of change and evolution now means that I’ve put developing this leadership model on hold for now. I am, however, leaving these 7 articles up as I feel they do illustrate core source issues and opportunities for leaders to look at in themselves prior to developing and practicing their own evolution of their leadership.

(The fourth in a series of articles inspired by a Sep 26, 2017 Workshop for Entrepreneurial Scotland)

The previous two articles in this series looked at our fears as individuals, the importance of understanding them and the impact they have, as leaders, on our business and the people in it.

This then leads on to the three focal areas under the theme of “Let Go” that, when we focus upon them, support us in letting go of our fears so s to be able to lead effectively in times of unthinkable disruption.


Self-knowledge is a lifelong investment and I do encourage all of us to continually invest in ourselves in this area.

There are so many sources, resources and tools that come to us all the time once we open ourselves up to self-knowledge

One recent one for me was to discover a lady called Scilla Elworthy (hat tip to Justine Clement for sharing this knowledge with me).

Please do invest fifteen minutes to watch this stunning TED talk about the importance of self-knowledge in addressing conflict with non-violent approaches. As you watch it, please also observe the presence of Scilla. In this talk she openly discusses her own journey of knowing herself, and it clearly shows in her powerful and calm presence.

As an exercise from this focus on self-knowledge, please reflect on any or all of the powerful stories Scilla tells and find one story from an event in your own past where you felt present and aligned, and one story where you felt far less than your best. Write them down, by hand (there is power in writing by hand)

I’m keeping each article in this series short and with only a few points. Please do share your thoughts, ideas, tips on self-knowledge, I love collaboration !