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Monday, 29 August 2011

Some years ago we went to a marvellous Festival of Music and Wine in the south of France and on one occasion were treated to an extraordinary recital of Schubert’s piano sonatas by the redoubtable and remarkable Moura Lympany.   She played the whole evening entirely from memory, without any written music in sight, and we were entranced.

At the cocktail party afterwards she revealed (unwittingly perhaps) that memory can be very selective as she wandered round introducing people to each other by the simple expedient of:

“Darling, have you met darling?”  

By the way, she was well into pensionable age at this time.

It is said that as we age or better, become more mature, our memory starts to fail.  Apart from the sad impact of dementia and other similar conditions, I don’t believe that this is necessarily the case. Perhaps it is because as we age we generate more and more experiences against a limited ability to recall.

The crux of the matter is, of course, that ability to recall.  The memory is there all right, however old we may be, but recall sometimes can be a problem.  In addition, we also tend to remember things in a selective way so that, for instance, two people from the same family can have vastly differing recollections of events in the past.

It is possible to train ourselves to improve recall and Vistage speaker, the very entertaining David Thomas, tells how he managed to remember and recall Pi to well over 23,000 decimal places (we did suggest when he did a limited demonstration for my Group that perhaps he needed to get out more).  Of course, David has trained himself to be able to do that and some more equally amazing feats, by using relatively simple methods which are centuries old.

There are so many distractions in the world in which we live that even though we may start the day knowing precisely what is needed to be done, as time progresses through the day, we forget some things and start to remember others which may or may not be of comparable significance.

The “to do” list does help, of course.  I went to see a client once who said that he had a “to do” list on which he worked every day.  Impressed, I asked to see it and was slightly surprised to find that he had 72 items on it.  I suggested that it was more a “things that I hope I may get round to doing” rather than a “to do” list as such but he said that unless he wrote them all down, he wouldn’t remember them anyway.

That is a fair point; writing down something that you feel a need to remember immediately enhances the ability to recall even without looking at the list.  Perhaps I should do that when I go upstairs and then try to remember why.

Keeping a daily journal is a great way to assist in recall: noting down the things to do and the things that you have done, as well as other useful bits and pieces on a daily basis, can be invaluable.

The key to it all is to accept that memory is selective.  We recall things that are significant and tuck the rest away.  The trick is to decide what we need to recall and put a system in place to help it happen. 

Now all you need to do is to remember to do it (and where you left it will help as well).

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Sunday, 21 August 2011

Lowest Price? Not From Us – We Sell Quality!

He sat at the front of the class of Managing Directors that I was taking at a business school, arms folded and a belligerent look on his face as he said: “We won’t stay in business if we don’t quote the lowest prices in the industry”.

There were two fallacies there.  Firstly some research uncovered the fact that his prices were about mid-way in comparison to the rest of the industry, and secondly, he did go out of business.

It all came to mind as I listened recently to a radio programme when a Managing Director of a German engineering company was being interviewed.  As is usual with radio interviewers, he was asked how difficult it must be to remain “competitive” when the Euro is strong.

The response was illuminating and demonstrated a totally different attitude and possibly even culture.  Slightly surprised by the suggestion, the MD said: “We are extremely competitive because we manufacture to very high quality.  Our customers know that they can buy cheaper in the Far East but they prefer quality and reliability so they come to us.  Because of this we can charge higher prices and we are very busy”.

Slightly shocked, the interviewer went banging on about “being competitive” without realising or even accepting that being competitive does not necessarily imply low prices.  In fact, research has shown that when considering a purchase, price can come about fourth or even fifth on the list of purchasing priorities.

The fact is that lowering prices by, say, 10% can mean that you need to sell nearly 50% more just to stay the same and there is no value in that exercise.  On the other hand, Vistage speaker, Jeremy Thorn, demonstrates that only a 5% increase in prices and a 5% decrease in costs can double the bottom line.

The problem is a deep seated one and is cultural.  Very few items are truly price sensitive although conventional thinking says that we must reduce our offer to obtain the business.  In fact we often think, as did my student, that this is the only way to generate business.

Take a leaf out of the German MD’s book.  Buyers demand quality and reliability right across the board from a supplier and we need to be brave and charge a price which reflects that fact.  That way leads to success.

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Sunday, 14 August 2011

You’re Entitled to What? Take Personal Responsibility!

The turmoil and tumult of the past week led me to recall the experiences of my grandfather who, in the 1870s, was sent by his parents to England from Poland, at the age of 10, to escape the prevailing persecution.

Unescorted and unable to speak English, he travelled by cart, train and eventually a ship, with a label attached to his coat bearing an address in Manchester where some relations lived, having come to England a few years before.

Miraculously, he arrived safely, survived and made a new life in this country.  When I knew him, he was a voracious reader, had taught himself English as well as Hebrew, Latin and Greek, and was making a somewhat tenuous living as a tailor.

In all his 80-odd years he paid his taxes, never asked the state for anything and, indeed, never expected anything.  He was an intensely fulfilled individual who had survived through his own efforts and had made a happy life in this country, having married and raised a family of five children.

A recent broadcast by a “community” leader complained that the state was not helping them and that they needed more assistance.  My grandfather would have been totally bemused by this; what can the state do to help people if they don’t make an effort to help themselves first?

If we consider the situation in business, much the same criteria apply.  To employ people who spend their time whingeing and moaning, constantly complaining and in “something needs to done about it” mode, is depressing and corrosive for other members of staff.

We need to give our people the freedom to express themselves, to encourage initiative and decision making and to ensure that if anything goes awry, then it is looked upon as a learning experience not a case for reprimand.

As the Prime Minister, David Cameron said in the wake of the troubles this week, we must get away from the “it’s my right” syndrome and encourage the “it’s my responsibility” approach.

I am absolutely at one with him there.

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Sunday, 7 August 2011

Try the Saintly Method - Cut Down on Tension!

A recent broadcaster on Radio 4 mentioned a saying by St Thomas Aquinas, 1225-1274, (now there’s name dropping for you) that life is like a bow – if the bow string is left on so that the bow is permanently in tension, then eventually it will break.  The tension needs to be released from time to time to allow the bow to relax.

That is some metaphor for modern life.  The impact of smart phones, laptops, tablets and so on has made communication so much easier but, frankly, now to the point that it intrudes into every facet of our existence.

Not only do we check our emails, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn at the office or workplace, but we can (and do) check them while we watch TV, sit round the dining table, go to the cinema, play golf; in other words anywhere we feel it necessary to see who has been in touch.

It is worth asking the question: when did you last get a message out of normal working hours that was so vitally important that something needed to be done instantly?

The follow up question is: how important are the messages that you normally get after normal working hours that they can’t wait until the next day to be actioned?

The trouble is that all this communication (if that is what it is) can be very addictive or even compulsive.  Simply because our smart phone “pings” we deem it essential to take a look to see what has come in irrespective of where we are or with whom we are.

So, back to the saintly Thomas.  He got it absolutely right.  Unless we release the tension in our lives, (and that is something well within our control), then eventually we can break.  It’s all a matter of balance - balance between the day to day needs of the business and leadership, and the equally pressing needs of life outside business.  One of the nine fundamentals of the leader as propounded by Vistage speaker Walt Sutton is “Get a Life”.

There IS life outside business, believe it or not, and there are so many things that we can do which contribute to a fuller and less compressed existence.

One of them it to switch off that smart phone, laptop, tablet from time to time and do something else.  The mission statement of Vistage is that we are “dedicated to increasing the effectiveness and enhancing the lives of leaders”, and that can only be achieved by making a determined effort to get some balance into our lives.

One way is to unfasten that bow string and let the bow relax a little.  Thank you, St Thomas Aquinas and whoever it was on Radio 4 who mentioned him.

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