Three Little Words

Setting your own signposts and nudges for the year ahead.

Happy New Year

Towards the end of 2012 I made an attempt to distil some of my 2013 aspirations into three words. On that occasion, I chose Focus, Finish and Fun as my three little words. In the coming months, I struggled to hold onto my three little words and though I’m sure my 2013 contained elements of focus, finish and fun – the experiment didn’t stay with me as I had first hoped it would.

I didn’t repeat the exercise last year, but over Christmas I saw that Michael Vandervort had posted a blog post by Chris Brogan about the idea on Facebook, which you can read here. In his post Chris suggests avoiding words like ‘focus’ because they are too vague. This may go some way to explaining why my first attempt at this experiment didn’t sustain. He also suggests avoiding negative words too. So – after a failed attempt followed by a rest year, I’m going to give this another go. I’ve thought carefully over a period of time about some of the things I need and want in order to have a successful and enjoyable year, and here’s my attempt to distill things into three little words:


I want to be more conscious about the good stuff that happens to me and around me. In part this means getting better at recognising and acknowledging good work. When I get positive feedback about the work I do, I will take it more readily than I’ve done in the past, and think about how I can build that feedback into my own development. When I see good work happening around me I will offer timely feedback with as much clarity as I can. I will also invest in deepening my understanding and my use of Appreciative Inquiry as an additional framework for making work better, and I’m currently investigating a few training courses to help with this.


I’m good at planning for things in the near term, this has been identified as a strength for some time now. However I am much less able to set an effective direction over time, which is In part because things change often, but too often I think I’ve used that reason as an excuse to drift. This year I’m going to build on my ability to prepare and plan short term and sketch some longer term thinking out too. Nothing too detailed because like you I’m hopeless at predicting the future, but enough to improve and sustain my motivation. This is the biggest challenge of my three little words, and if you have any ideas on how I can bring this to life, I would love to hear from you, thanks.


I want to develop more improvisation into my practice. This means, among other things, a greater focus on my continuous professional development so that I have a broader range of options to offer up in my work as a facilitator. Art for Work’s Sake is a great example of improvisational process, of being open to possibilities, and to adapting and improvising. I can now be very loose with an Art for Work’s Sake session or more structured – depending on what people need and want. I’d like to explore improvisation further so I have invested in The Comedy Store Players Improvisation Academy Foundation Course.

So there you have it, my three little words: Appreciate, Plan, Improvise. Not so much a set of resolutions (because nobody makes those, right?), more like a nudge in a helpful direction. Will they work better for me than finish, focus and fun? I hope so – this certainly feels like a more intentional, useful set of choices. We shall see. Maybe you’d like to try this three little words idea for yourself?


Don’t Settle…

I started reading a new book a few days ago. It’s called ‘How to Get Things Done’ by Richard Templar, and almost immediately, I began to struggle with it. Maybe it’s because the previous two books I’ve read (Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman and Adapt by Tim Harford) were both extremely thought provoking and quite deep, in an unassuming way, whereas this new book on my list smugly purports to be clever, and apparently full of ‘secrets’ about how to get stuff done. Whatever the reason, each night I find myself flicking through the book looking for a helpful point to jump off from, and very quickly failing and letting it fall to the floor.

This morning on a rare pre-breakfast weekend wander around Twitter I happened upon something called ’50 Inspiring Quotes from 50 Top Social Media Power Influencers’. Rachel Miller had shared the article and despite it’s crappy title, I chose to read it based because Rachel often shares interesting stuff. I haven’t worked my way through the whole piece yet, but so far I’m particularly struck by this observation from Chris Brogan:

“Don’t settle: Don’t finish crappy books. If you don’t like the menu, leave the restaurant. If you’re not on the right path, get off it.”

Sorry Richard – on this occasion Chris is right. I think your book is crappy. It comes across as smug, twee and…crappy. I’m quitting on it, even though I spent £10 of hard earned cash, on this occasion I will not fall foul of post purchase rationalisation. On this occasion I will not finish this crappy book.

Anchors Away!


The minute you are exposed to a piece of information, the price of a product for example, you are very likely to base your future thinking on that price. Your thinking becomes anchored to what you now know, and as much as you may not like to admit it – there’s not much you can do about this.

The Anchoring Effect

In his book Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahnemann talks about the anchoring effect in a number of ways, here’s the essence of one I like:

Two groups of estate agents were asked to assess the value of a house after visiting it and reading some detailed sales blurb, which included an asking price. One group were shown a much larger asking price than the other, and all were asked what would be the lowest price they would be willing to sell the house assuming they owned it.  They were next asked what factors had influenced their decision making. The estate agents maintained that the asking price was not one of these factors, rather that they took pride in ignoring it.

The test results showed they were wrong, and that the anchoring effect (the ratio of the difference between the lower and higher groups of prices expressed as a percentage) was 41%. A group of business school students were also asked to carry out the same task, and whilst the anchoring effect percentage was similar at 48%, a key difference was that the students acknowledged the influence of the starting price on their thinking.

Working Without an Anchor

Earlier this week I was invited to pitch a product idea to a networking group and to get feedback on three things.  The things I chose were:

  • How do I promote this product?
  • How do I improve this product?
  • What is a fair price for the product?

The group listened to me talk for about three minutes and read 200 words of sales blurb I’d put together. They were then invited to scribble down ideas for the first two questions and put them on a wall where we could all read them. I invited everyone to remain silent on their answer to question three, and to write down their suggestion and hand it to me. Why did I do this?

Based on my understanding of the anchoring effect, I was concerned that once someone posted a price on the wall, other people would be influenced by it and indeed, may choose not to contribute an answer. They might have thought – well that’s close enough to what I was thinking so no point in adding to the mix. They might have thought – wow that price is nowhere near my idea I’ll keep quiet, don’t want to embarrass me or Doug. I’ve seen versions of this play out in numerous meetings where a more assertive member of the team will forever put their views forward first, and it dampens and biases the views of others. What I hoped to gain was an unfettered source of independent perspectives. How did we get on?

Suggested Product Prices

I received 18 responses, nearly everyone contributed. The range was considerable, from £25 to £1,500. Five responses landed at £200 and below, six at £500 and above. The average was £414. Clearly I can’t go back in time with this group and redo the test with an anchor price included, but if I could, then based on Kahnemann’s research I’m confident I wouldn’t have gained such useful, unvarnished feedback.

So why does this matter to you?

Well I guess that depends on whether you want to avoid the anchoring effect like I did in the example above, or, put it to another use, perhaps like Chris Brogan does via this interesting blog post written by my smart friend, Paul Hebert. Either way – I think it’s important you are aware of it so that next time you are looking for feedback on an idea or you’re positioning something, you do so a) with the knowledge that you are applying an anchor, or not, and therefore b) that you are aware of the likely bias in the responses you get.

Kudos to my friend Vandy Massey, who suggested the idea to me of working without an anchor.

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