Five Steps to Help You Reach Your Potential

This is an edited version of a post I first wrote for HSBC Bank, primarily for their small business customers. I was asked to write about a few things that I’m doing to help make work productive and enjoyable. I hope you will find something useful here too.

1 Be open to possibilities

In business as in life, there is no right or wrong, there is right and wrong. Absolutes are rarely the answer, and we are never in as much danger of being wrong as when we are sure we are right. At that point, just remember that all your other options go out of the window. Be mindful of the possibilities, and open to the reality of not knowing what comes next. You can plan for the future, but you cannot predict it. I am just like you. I am sometimes right, sometimes wrong. I rarely know which is which and I reserve the right to change my mind.

2 Take care of your body and mind

Never underestimate the power of a short walk to clear your mind or gather your thoughts.
Never underestimate the importance of a decent lunch break, with decent food.
Never underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep.

Health and wellbeing are essential – if you are not in good shape, neither is your business. And for me, part of wellbeing is about remembering to be you, not someone else. Apple, Google, Ikea and Accenture are current successful businesses, which have become successful by being themselves. I don’t think the point of going into business is to be like them. What works for them may not work for you. Be yourself.

3 Take risks and experiment

A small business should be agile. The ability to adapt and experiment should be one of your key strengths. After all, you don’t have layers and layers of well-meaning, yet restrictive bureaucracy, do you? No you don’t, so take advantage of that. A key competitive advantage should be your ability to respond quickly. In my role as a consultant to much bigger businesses, I make responsiveness a principle of my work. Let me give you an example.

I ran two business development events for a client, and after the events, I prepared the post-event summary: words, pictures and charts, all drafted and turned around in double-quick time. The speed of response was intended to help extend the post-event half life – and to prevent that inexorable enthusiasm decay that comes after the high of being together and co-creating new work ideas together. As a result of the quick turnaround, people were able to suggest tweaks and improvements while the ideas were still fresh in their minds, and a small group of people formed who were willing to take these ideas to the next level. The result? Stuff got done.

When we extended the project to a third location, I was asked to cut costs. I offered the client the option to dispense with the immediate post-event summary for a small reduction in fees. They accepted, and it subsequently took the client more than a month to process the post event summary, by which time day-to-day work, and the pull of the familiar had got the best of most people. The enthusiasm and action we made use of at the first two events failed to materialise on the third occasion, at least to the same extent. Could we be certain the delay was responsible for this? Not entirely of course, but we were in agreement that it didn’t help.

Did the client really ‘save’ anything from this exercise? I’m not convinced they did, and subsequently we agreed that I would revert to preparing that initial speedy response. I learned three useful things from this experience:

  • Don’t cut your price, reshape your service
  • Sometimes you have to let something go to get it back
  • Always be willing to experiment – we didn’t resist the client request and we all learned form trying a different approach.

4 Aim for “Flow” rather than work life balance

Working in a big business often means sticking to traditions like nine to five and wearing a tie, regardless of whether or not these traditions actually help you do better work. In your smaller business, these traditions don’t have to be compulsory. Be where you need to be, when you need to. Wear what you need to wear, when you need to.

A lot of people talk about the importance of work-life balance, and I’m not a fan. Balance is a tough thing to achieve – try standing on one leg for a while. Stay standing on one leg and start reciting multiplication tables. Now keep those things going and shut your eyes. If you are still with me, the chances are most of you will have fallen over by now. Balance is tough. Instead, think of your life as having flow.

The psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihaly describes flow as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

So when I’m talking with you, I’m attentive, listening and contributing. I’m not playing with my crackberry (do they still have those?) or staring out of the window pondering my next appointment. If I’m writing something, then my email application is closed. So are my social media channels. I’m focused on writing this, now, for you. And if and when I do start to run out of steam, I take a break.

5 Think about your direction of travel

Having a plan matters. Often I see people invest huge amounts of time and effort into planning, and I’m not convinced they get a good return on their investment. I think there are three reasons for this:

  • Things change quickly
  • We are not very good at predicting the future
  • We get wedded to things we invest heavily in and so are reluctant to change, even when we’re not convinced the plan is working anymore.

What I find works better is this:

  • Have a direction of travel. For example, I help people increase business performance by improving their ability to collaborate. Is what I am doing moving me and my customers along that journey? If it is, I’m not too worried about timescales, if it isn’t, then why am I doing it?
  • Be adaptive. I like using the Business Model Canvas as a planning tool. It is simple to use and quick, and you can use it as a framework to evaluate your whole business, or a particular product or idea.
  • Introduce unpredictability. I find it helps to be open to possibilities and to expect the unexpected. In support of this, I use a set of cards which contain a random set of thoughts and ideas. When I get stuck, I just draw from the cards, and change tack depending on what the card says. It might encourage me to reach out for help via a phone call, or sketch out that problem I’m having, in order to see it differently, or go for a walk to clear my head. The point is that I get snapped out of my rut and often return to the opportunity refreshed and with renewed vigour.

What have I missed? If there’s something you’d like to share about how you’re making work better, feel free to drop a note in the comments section, thanks.


2012 – A Business Year in Review

Among all the Christmas cards falling through the letter box, came a letter from my accountant. Our third set of draft accounts have been prepared. They’ll be a matter of public record soon enough so I won’t bore you with all the details, and their arrival made me think it might be helpful to reflect on our third year in business, to see what we can learn to make year four our best yet.


What Goes Around is a limited company with two directors, Carole and me. As well as being an outstanding Mum and swimming teacher, somehow Carole finds some time to act as a sounding board for some of my daft ideas, and she adds valuable marketing focus, and drive (giving me an oft needed kick up the backside) to the business. Until the end of January 2011 we also benefited hugely from the support of an outstanding volunteer. Dad’s death left a big hole in our lives and in our work. In addition to unending encouragement, he also stood in frequently to look after Keira so that when Carole was working, I could continue to be out and about developing the business. This year more than ever, I understand the words ‘sorely missed’. For the coming year we need to continue to support each other, and build on that so that our focus is on who matters, and when.


Some wonderful customers have placed their trust and custom with us, including NEST, Yell, Sage, Careergro, BIG Lottery Fund, Xilinx, Ohio SHRM and Thomson Reuters. Our best work seems to happen when we are bringing different groups together, colleagues in different departments, customers and other important stakeholders alike. Unlocking and combining the knowledge of these different groups of people is a powerful way to help them make work better, and the feedback we have received from customers this year shows that we are helping to make real change happen in an engaging and fun way. All of these relationships matter and Steve Browne in Ohio, John Costello at Careergro, and Anthony Allinson and Diane Taylor Cummings at Thomson Reuters deserve special mentions for giving encouragement, trust and creative latitude in abundance. For the coming year we need to make it easier for more people to buy the services our existing customers say they love.


The business has benefited from a number of vital associations this year. A whole host of people, in the UK, the USA, Canada and other countries have provided advice and support, and it has been a pleasure to deliver useful work for customers with Gareth Jones and Steve Bridger. We have a useful relationship with the CIPD and continue to provide support and content for them, and in return we’ve had some useful exposure at their conferences. Thanks to everyone, you know who you are, for nudges in the right direction, constructive criticism, and all that jazz. For the coming year we need to help each other grow. Grow personally, grow as a network and of course, grow the market and create a bigger place to play. And I’d love to realise the dream of helping new grads into work via paid internships too.


The blog started as a teeny experiment towards the end of 2008. Since integrating the blog and website in 2010, the average daily numbers of views has grown, from 29 in 2010, to 67 in 2011 rising to 127 this year. I’ve published almost five hundred posts which have had 94,000 views, of which over 45,000 have come in 2012. The blog has received over 2,000 comments and whilst many of these are acknowledgements and responses from me, I appreciate the depth and diversity everyone contributes. Thanks to everyone for taking the time to be in touch. For the coming year I intend to mix in more video blogs to the mix and to think more carefully about what role the blog has to play in the business. I am in no doubt it is a big commitment, can we get more value from it?


I’ve participated in, facilitated, co-created and spoken at events all over the UK, in Ireland and in the USA. In previous years I have seen public speaking as a way to share my thoughts, and a useful way of marketing. This year I’ve started to get paid for giving talks too and this is a welcome addition to the mix. It’s been a nerve racking and exciting ride, packed full of practice and some highs and lows. The reception my talk and song to close Workplace Trends received bowled me over, it was lovely. And my talks at CIPD conferences seem to create a great buzz too. I had a tougher time at a recent talk in Dublin and trying to deliver two back to back hour long talks in Ohio after no sleep for 38 hours was tricky. I’ve learned loads from these tougher gigs and I am in the process of refreshing my approach to public speaking yet again, so that I can keep improving. I love to tell stories and I want to get better at it. For the coming year I will keep looking for diverse opportunities to speak, and for interesting events to help co-create and participate in.

Managing the Business

Turnover was down around 20% compared to the previous year, in part due to me taking time out to sort out Dad’s affairs. In addition a project was cut short due to changing customer requirements and in the spirit of What Goes Around we responded flexibly to that, which meant some contracted revenue didn’t materialise. Our travel and marketing costs increased significantly over the year, and if ever you were in doubt, putting on an unconference is something you do for the passion, not the profit! Costs overall increased by about one third, which meant our profit before tax represented 49% of turnover compared to 70% the previous year. We pay our bills quickly, and in the main our invoices are settled promptly too. We continue to retain healthy cash reserves and we currently owe the bank nothing. We intend to invest time and money into refining our service offering which we believe will translate into more sales. Can you believe I just wrote that? Boring huh?!

Looking Ahead

Writing this has been very helpful for me, I hope in some way it helps you too. In summary, for 2013 to be useful, productive and fun we need to continue to look after each other, our customers and our network, and I believe that will be reciprocated. In addition we need to be clearer about the good work we do in order to attract more enquiries and referrals and make our services easier to buy. I believe in what we do, it makes a difference and it’s hugely enjoyable. Here’s to more of that in the coming years. What do you think we should do differently, or do more of, or less of? If you have any ideas, I’d love to hear them.

Leap Day

Leap Year Leap Day

photo c/o rick harrison

Amid all the good morning and Happy February greetings on Twitter it struck me that 2012 is a Leap Year. Woohoo – we get a free, bonus day. What to do with it? Surely we can think of a few fun, useful and interesting things to do together?

So I hereby declare 29th February 2012 as Leap Day. I’d like to make a few things happen in London on that day and I’d love some help.

Maybe some of you will join in, maybe you won’t.

Maybe some of you will suggest stuff we can do, maybe you won’t.

Maybe some of you will come along for the whole day, maybe just a part of it.

Maybe some of you will organise your own Leap Days in other places, maybe you won’t.

If you would like to get involved in anything from coming along to suggesting and perhaps leading on a part of the day all ideas are would be very welcome. Time and enthusiasm will be given freely. Any cost for the day will be agreed in advance and will simply cover materials, any entrance fees or anything else that is suggested and co-created and all that jazz.

Warning! If you choose to take part you may end up meeting interesting people. You may end up enjoying yourself and there is a high risk you will learn useful new things.

So if you fancy a mini adventure, a Leap into the unknown – stick your name down here and we’ll start to make stuff happen.


Leap Day is Taking Shape

Bringing work and art closer together has interested me for as long as I can recall. Art helps us think differently, whether we are viewing it or creating it. Different parts of the brain are stimulated by different activities and I’ve seen for myself how applying art into a team environment can spark new and different ways of thinking, and solving.

I would like to invite all our Leap Day guests to explore and discuss and practice how we might bring work and art closer together, for mutual benefit. Developing creative opportunities, learning opportunities, business opportunities.

Vandy Massey, one of our Leap Day guests, is an accomplished painter, specialising in water colour. Vandy has kindly agreed to lead a painting workshop as part of the day. We’re also looking at visiting a gallery, and bringing some speed coaching into play too. Doubtless other things will emerge as more ideas are sent in and shared.

I’m in discussion with a quirky, different, and suitably lovely venue close to Waterloo which I hope we can use as a base, as a leaping off point for some of our activities. I’ll have more news on this soon.

The day will start around 11am with coffee and conversation and we’ll take it from there. I expect we may want to wind things up around 4pm and perhaps move on for optional beers and maybe even a bite to eat in the early evening. There will be opportunities for people to hook up with us through the day if the suggested start and finish times aren’t suitable.


Photography will be playing a part in the day. Some folks are bringing cameras so I wonder if we can try and make a photo collage and try out some cool photo apps too. We may have a poetry reading too.


Delighted to confirm the venue for Leap Day is Coopers Natural Foods, 17 Lower Marsh, London SE1 7RJ. Coopers was featured in the recent Rebecca Ferguson video – Nothing’s Real but Love. Awwww. Thanks to Tim at Coopers for agreeing to let us use his famous place as a base.