About Me

My photo
The business bit: I have had 25 years experience in the IT sector encompassing equipment finance to computer recycling. The coaching bit: is about delivering business mentoring and personal performance coaching. My clients range from senior executives to the unemployed and I delight in working with them all to build excellence and promote growth. My specialisms are working with business leaders and entrepreneurs who want to grow their businesses and enjoy themselves in the process, and helping individuals to realise their full potential. I also work with young people to build confidence and life skills so they can grasp life's opportunities and make the right life choices.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Whatchya got?

What is this thing about ‘having stuff’?  Is it a bit to do with Hegel’s idea that a person has a natural existence partly within himself and partly of such a kind that he is related to it as to an external world.  So by virtue of owning and having things we are partly building our existence in relation to our possessions?

Do we want our possessions to do our talking for us?  Does what we have validate us? Why does it have to?  What is so particularly human about the way we want things?  Should we worry about when our possessions and the getting of them starts to control us and get in the way of our moving forward?

One of the Mahavratas (great vows) in the Yoga Sutra is the principle of Aparigraha - non-possession, that no-one possesses anything.  It doesn’t deny the existence of the concept of possession, rather it promotes the idea of only taking what one needs from the world.  Andrew Hyde personifies the modern idea of getting rid of stuff:  “When we were growing up didn’t we all have the goal of a huge house full of things?  I found a far greater quality of life by rejecting things as a gauge of success".  

Our lives are led by a consumer based notion of happiness.  Having stuff makes us feel better, bigger, more successful, grander....or at least that is a widely held belief.  For some people it works, but alarm bells should ring when amassing stuff begins to be the purpose of our lives.  Aparigraha is the idea of not desiring or taking more than we need from the world, and as humans we find it difficult to do this, as we are socially conditioned to do otherwise.  And the more we accumulate the more time and energy we have to spend on looking after all that stuff, and the more anxious we become about hanging on to it.

This is not to suggest that we should all indulge in a mass ditching of everything we own and running off to discover ourselves in the horizon.  What we do need to do is be mindful of how we spend our time and energy and what we get out of having all that stuff.  If we are constantly harried by concerns over possessions, perhaps that energy could be better nurtured by streamlining or simplifying what we have in our lives.  And we can extend this to what beliefs and values we hold, and even to the people we have around us.  Fewer possessions require less maintenance, damaging relationships sap energy and personal resources, limiting beliefs prevent growth and consume us with anxiety. 

So a simple thought – ask yourself what you gain from holding on to the stuff you have, from holding on to the ideas and beliefs you have about yourself, from holding on to relationships that do not serve you well.  What would you miss out on if you let go of some this?  What doors would it open for you, what would it free you to do? How might you grow if you release your grip a bit?  Don't be governed by your stuff, take an objective view of what you need and what you really want and have a go at letting some of the unnecessary stuff go.

If this all seems a bit scary, and you could do with some hand holding to help you let go, we'll hold your hand and let it go when you are ready.

"I realise there's something incredibly honest about trees in winter, how they're experts at letting things go."  
Jeffrey McDaniel

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

The Trickle Down

How long will we be enthused by the feelgood emotions of the Olympics?  We heard today from double gold medallist Paralympian Natasha Baker that watching the Sydney Paralympics dressage team was her inspiration to one day win a gold medal herself.

The trickle-down effect is what makes you dash out and grab your tennis racket after watching Wimbledon, or dust down your running shoes after watching Mo Farah.  But how long is it before you are finding excuses for not actually making it to the tennis court or the gym?  If you are already engaged in sport an event like the Olympics will probably act as a continuing motivator, however if you are naturally not given to sport, it might not work for you.

Back in the 1970's it was suggested by John Bloomfield (the Chair of the Australian Institute of Sport) that watching amazing athletes might not actually be an inspiration at all.  Research [1] has suggested that to motivate people to maintain regular physical activity you need to supplement their enthusiasm with carefully constructed persuasive messages. It is not apparently enough to just get enthused by watching inspirational athletes, that will all fizzle out if you don't hear the right messages to keep you going.

The interesting bit is that the messages you need to hear have to be not just about what you are doing but also about why and how you should do it.   And there need to be a lot of these messages.  Natasha Baker talked about how important her mother was in her dream becoming reality. Perhaps her mother was a whizz at  delivering the right messages tailored in the right way, properly framed over a period of time and at the right times.

Elaborating on this idea to areas other than sports, it makes sense that if we want to maintain enthusiasm for something we do, discovering the 'why' and the 'how' of doing it is as important as the 'what', and ensuring that we surround ourselves with regular supportive and persuasive messages is essential to our success.  So our message to help you get the right messages ...... Get a coach!  It works

[1] http://www.ijbnpa.org/content/7/1/36

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Business funding, loans and grants...how? where? what?

The Government has tried hard, very hard, to get our banks to lend to businesses.  And some banks have lent, so long as the business is robust enough and can prove a decent trading record.  These recipients are however not the businesses that really need the funding.  What about the struggling entrepreneurs with the great ideas that have started small, thought big and grown carefully?

We're not suggesting that every new business idea is going to work, in fact about 7 out of 10 new businesses survive for only 2 years (although statistics fluctuate).  Mr Cameron realises what a significant sector the small business economy is in the UK:   There are 4.5 million small businesses accounting for 99% of all the UK enterprise. constituting 58.8% of private sector employment with an estimated combined annual turnover of £1,500 billion.  Not to be sniffed at.  No wonder all the Government enthusiasm for backing entrepreneurs.

So back to the thorny question of how to get them funding when they need it.  Firstly the banking route, the Enterprise Finance Guarantee whereby the Government guarantees lenders 75% of the loan funding for borrowers who lack sufficient security to get a normal commercial loan.  This is delivered through approved lenders (mostly banks) on amounts between £1000 and £1million to enterprises with a turnover of up to £44 million.

Then there is the Funding for Lending initiative where commercial banks can exchange existing collateral for Treasury bills at an interest rate of 0.25%.  They will then be able to borrow wholesale money cheaply using these bills as backing and lend the wholesale money to homes and small firms.  Or at least that is the objective. Four out of ten small businesses were refused bank credit in the second quarter of 2012 (FSB) so it will be interesting to see how the banks go with this scheme.

If you are a young person wanting to start a business then you can apply to the  Start-up Loan Scheme where the Government has made around £80m available to help young people start out in business.  Anyone aged between 18-24 can apply and the average loan is around £2500, repayable within 5 years.

Following on from the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) is the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS).    Investors can commit £100,000 in any tax year and spread their investment over a number of companies, receiving up to 50% tax relief in the relevant investment year.  Businesses eligible for loans under this scheme must be no more than 2 years old, have assets less than £200,000 and fewer than 25 employees.

If all the above is just too confusing or complicated, the alternatives include organisations which match lenders to borrowers.  Thincats target loans between £50k and £1m, Seedrs specialises in lending up to £150k seed capital to entrepreneurs, Iwoca offers capital to on-line market retailers and Funding Circle offers low cost loans as well as asset-based loans.

This week Prince Charles called small businesses 'the bedrock of any economy'.  The Princes Trust Enterprise Scheme has helped 78,000 young people into a new venture so there's another option if you are a young person looking to create a new business.  Or there is the Fredericks Foundation which offers microloans up to £10,000 to people in the South of England for businesses who have been unsuccessful in raising bank funding.

And we haven't event started yet on other forms of business funding - invoice factoring, angel investors, asset funding, leadership and management funding, high growth funding, local grants or specialist industry focused grants.  It's a wonderful gallop through the tulips getting the right money for your business.  Get in touch if you want some more tips!

Monday, 13 August 2012

Checking the Choke

Think about the last time you were in the flow of achievement and then you stalled.  What happened?  What did you suddenly become aware of?  In all likelihood, you started to 'think' about what you were doing while you were doing it.

Matthew Syed in his book Bounce talks about the 'choke' that sportsmen and women experience for no apparent reason that results in their performance diving.  These are high achieving elite athletes with years of practice and experience in their field and yet they suffer apparently inexplicable and seriously big performance failures.

Huge chunks of what we do in our lives is learned unconscious action - the obvious is the stopping at a red light behaviour.  If you break down all the individual learnings that constitute these unconscious behaviours you'd probably disintegrate into a jibbering wreck of processes and would not be able to function because of the protracted time it would take you to follow all the instructions that make up each action or behaviour.   So it seems that we do stuff well because we're not really thinking about it.

That's not to say we can all just be good at everything.  As Matthew Syed emphasises, we need to practice, a lot, over and over, in order to achieve excellence.  Once we do that, the behaviour becomes set in our unconscious and we can perform.  We still need to practice and we still need to be aware, but we are dealing now on a higher plane where the practice and awareness relate to the 'getting better' bit of our performance.  The process is one where you learn the behaviour to the point where t is unconscious  - so, you don't think about what you are doing when you are driving for instance, as this has become an implicit memory.  Choking happens when  our anxiety is such that we feel we need to take conscious control over something that should be done automatically from implicit memory.

This is the point when we perhaps we need to draw on other skills and techniques to prevent the choke.  Stepping out of the moment, concentrating on the breath, taking the time-out to make a break in the pattern of your behaviour.  Find out how some performance coaching can help you gain perspective.Take the pressure off by thinking that this is about more practice, there are other opportunities out there and this is one on the way to that, not the biggest and best and only win of your life.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Holiday Freedom?

How many times have you wanted to unleash unspeakable violence on your holiday partner’s Blackberry/iPhone/Android/ while trying to relax on a tranquil beach enjoying your holiday?  Or maybe it is you sitting/lying there with your fingers welded to the keypad, your ear finely tuned to the gentle insistent ringing of your mobile, not able to chill as you need to be on alert in case  ‘the office’ should call.

Heard of the Workcation?  Some of the 72% of business owners that can’t take time off without leaving their work behind are now taking these, just so they can keep an eye on their businesses.  Goodness, what are we becoming? Addicted to ‘noise’, constantly in ‘plugged in’ mode, making up things to think about in case we catch ourselves not thinking about things to think about?

Mindfulness is trendy now.  In a business context it has been shown that increases in mindfulness are associated with increased creativity and decreased burnout and an increase in productivity. [1] [2] In the education field studies presented in The Power of Mindful Learning [3] show that increasing mindfulness in learning, be it academic subjects, sport or music, encouraged  participants to use objects more creatively  and move away from mindsets that hamper competence in learning.  One study demonstrated that telling people to mindfully notice new stimuli improved attention and memory.

Let’s reframe the way we are when we are supposedly ‘on holiday’.  Freeing our minds, finding that freedom and personal space we used to have years ago before the digital age forced us to be constantly accessible to everyone 24/7. Let’s learn to stop, disengage and chill.  Replace the digital with daydreaming, the internet with introspection, texting with taking time out,  emailing with easing off , messaging with mindfulness.  Not only will we find ourselves being much more energised and creative when we return to work, we will be a far nicer person to be with on holiday! 

[1] (e.g., Langer, Heffernan, & Kiester, 1988) [2] (Park, 1990) [3] (Langer, 1997)

Friday, 11 May 2012

Innovatively Innovative Teams

Research constantly shows that people working individually come up with more ideas than when working in groups.  So why are we always striving to get the best out of teams - why don't we just separate everyone off into little private working areas and leave them to it?  It would create a pretty unsociable and tedious working environment although we might get  a lot of ideas for a while before everyone went doollaly with their own company.

The problem is that we put teams together to find the solution to problems.  What we should be doing is turning this on its head.  An example:  A practice meeting at a doctor's surgery aimed at improving the patient experience.  Instead of asking, how can we make things better, ask 'how can we make things really uncomfortable and unpleasant for our patients?'  Suggestions could include: reduce the number of chairs in the waiting room; do away with parking spaces; make checking in difficult by only having one receptionist;  ensure the phone is not answered until it has rung 20 times.  For every difficulty thus created, get the team to find the opposite.  So.....create more seating in the waiting room, address any parking shortages creatively, consider computerised check-in, put the phones on automatic answer if the receptionists are busy with a lovely polite message and a call-back option.

Genrich Altschuller had a Theory of Inventive Problem Solving (sounds great!) created from researching loads of inventions and the process in their creation.  He found that innovations used scientific effects outside the field of their own development.  So if we break down successful products or inventions into their separate components we can use these as 'pre-inventive' ideas with which to create new innovations.

Getting away from the technical and back to the teamwork, if you put people together working dynamically, distinctly and using their different knowledges and expertise to explore the component parts of an issue, you can get some really fabulous collaborative and innovative work.

“Creativity involves a large number of people from different disciplines working together to solve a great many problems,” he writes. “Creativity must be present at every level of every artistic and technical part of the organization.”  Ed Catmull - President Pixar and Disney Animations.

Come visit Yourcoaching to get some good ideas.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Calling all entrepreneurs - to leap or not to leap?

Jeff Bezos asked his boss at the hedge fund where he was Senior Vice President, whether he should give up his job to start up a business selling books on the internet.  His boss said "That sounds like a really good idea, but it would be an even better idea for someone who didn't already have a good job."

This is a dilemma faced by many entrepreneurs who have a great idea and have to make the decision about whether to take the leap.  It took Jeff Bezos 48 hours after that feedback from his boss.  His company Amazon, now employs 56,200 people and is valued at about $80billion.

A graduate from the Young Entrepreneur 12 Steps to Success programme recently said " Going to two job interviews after learning about risks, turning down the first job in the hope of being offered the second one which I thought would have a better future - and it has - and thanks to that - I have.   It was the best decision  that I made in my life last year!"

What stands in your way of taking the leap are probably concerns around having the conviction that your idea will work, doubting that you have the ability to find clients, feeling that you 'ought' to be doing a regular job (especially if there are other people dependent on you) or just the fear of making the wrong decision.

A word of advice from someone who leaped "The key is to just get on the bike, and the key to getting on the bike… is to stop thinking about ‘there are a bunch of reasons I might fall off’ and just hop on and peddle the damned thing. You can pick up a map, a tire pump, and better footwear along the way.  - Dick Costolo, founder of Feedburner.com and CEO of Twitter.

For help with leaping big, take a small leap and talk about it.

Monday, 5 March 2012


For those of you who missed this as it was reported a few weeks ago.....A recently published book written by a palliative care nurse has attracted huge interest in the press.  Bonnie Ware spoke to many dying patients and she wrote about the top 5 most commonly held regrets she heard:

    * I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
    * I wish I hadn't worked so hard.
    * I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
    * I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
    * I wish that I had let myself be happier.

We live in a world of shallowness and superficiality and yet we are worried about deep issues connected with making our lives meaningful and fulfilling.

"You are the only real obstacle in the path to a fulfilling life".  
Les Brown

"How soon 'not now' becomes 'never' "
Martin Luther

Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass - it's about learning to dance in the rain.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Sex and Getting On

Throwing up a few interesting questions to provoke a bit of debate:

Is it okay for Laura Maggi to wear revealing clothes to attract customers into her bar in Italy - much to the chagrin of her male customers' womenfolk? Her business has done rather well since she introduced the new dress code. 

What about Putin using his pecs to attract (presumably) the female vote? And in Australia a lot of men are surprisingly interested in applying for the job to test brothels?

Confusing moral issues?  Or just humans doing what they've always done to get ahead or get pleasure from their work!

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Too many Aspirations

Do we aspire to too much?

Twenty or thirty years ago we didn't have so much to yearn for, we were more contented with what we had.  Now we have so much choice, so many options, how can we know when to stop wanting?  It's worth noting that we are prone to set goals, then when we reach them we pick up the goal posts we've set and run with them to a new point, without marking the achievement.

One option then to sort out this business of 'over-aspiring' - get some personal coaching!

And some other options:

  1. Celebrate every goal you achieve in a recognisable manner and take time before setting new goals.
  2. Surround yourself with the kind of people you need to support you in your journey towards a goal.  The more people you involve in your aspirations who are going to be there for you, the more recognition of your success you will have once you get there.
  3. Do some work on identifying what it is you REALLY want to achieve in your life.  Getting a pay rise might buy you a flashier car, it might buy you more free time, it might buy you status...what did you want it to buy you?  Work that out and you might find out your true aspirations.  
  4. Be optimistic but realistic about your aspirations.  Don't stop dreaming, just be aware of where you are on your path to them.

"The true worth of a man is to be measured by the objects he pursues"
Marcus Aurelius

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Toughing it Out Gently

Last year we were told by a piece of NatCen research that we are taking more responsibility for our lives.  Today we are told that Britain has an 'integrity crisis' as we (especially the young) are less honest than we were 10 years ago.

To what do we owe this emerging 'dishonestly self-reliant' behaviour? How do these two facets merge?  The NatCen study inferred that we are becoming more self-reliant as a result of struggling with the recession and financial difficulties, feeling less able to trust those who make decisions for us i.e. the Government.  The author of the University of Essex study suggested that we were becoming more dishonest because we have poor role models.  Who are we talking about here?  Celebrities, footballers, politicians?

In any time of difficulty there is a tendency to build defences, to self-protect, to question and mistrust.  But there is also a welcome tendency amongst some of us towards selflessness and the general good, echo those who came out and joined together after the summer riots last year to clean up their neighbourhoods.

Whatever your lines of morality are about whether to keep the overpayment you receive from the shop cashier (does it depend on whether it is an independent or a chain?), keeping a perspective on how your actions affect others might be the issue.  Contextually it might make no sense at all to be rigidly honest and 'good' if someone is going to be hurt or damaged.  Mavis Cheek's heroine Nina Porter in her book 'Truth to Tell' comes a cropper with the truth.  On the other hand, truth and honesty are the basis of trust and that is what we need to feel sure of when we are battling adversity.  It seems this whole business about self-reliance and honesty is more about being understanding of others and how what we do affects them, as 'they' are our society and what happens to them affects us.  And sometimes we need to be able to trust those we don't know particularly well.

So..easy solution.  Roll up all you celebs and footballers and politicians and famous folk and dust down your behaviours and be seen to care about real stuff that matters!  Show us you've got the right perspective  and can add some social capital gloss!  After all, it's evident we can't seem to run our own lives without you!