Monthly Archives: March 2009


You are never too old to learn, just too stupid!

I heard this expression for the first time last week, with the timing of a true comic performer my brother in law delivered it with absolute style and panache. After quietly laughing to myself (for fear of causing upset) it got me thinking.
It is true that we humans seem to make the same mistakes over and over again, even when we are ‘old enough to know better’. Most of us are motivated to learn because we see an intrinsic benefit for ourselves. For example; we learn a new language because we want to go on holiday or do business in countries where the majority mother tongue is not the same as our own, We follow an MBA course because we want to advance our career by rapidly increasing our general knowledge of business and economics.
So needlessly to say, I get upset when I hear people say ‘I am too old to learn….’. I believe you are never too old, it is just an excuse. There are countless stories of elderly people learning the most amazing new skills. Twenty years earlier the ‘I am too old to learn’ types would probably have used some other lame excuse such as ‘I am not cut out for this kind of thing’. Why don’t people say the truth and just admit that they can not be bothered, that they are simply not interested enough in the subject to go through all the hassle of learning something new? And yet all of us, in certain aspects of our lives continue to repeat our old mistakes because we are too lazy (or dare I say stupid) to learn or know better.
I recently led an MBA course at the Solvay Business School in Brussels and it became obvious to me that not all the students had the same academic level. And sure enough some of the students scored very high in their exams while others, scraped through and although some of the difference can be put down to the amount of effort invested, another part is simply a question of intellect, or the ability to rapidly store and hold data.
I do not mind admitting that I was not the brightest student in my class, I always returned average results, so in order for me to do well in anything, I had to put in a lot more effort than the more gifted students. However, as I went into business, I realized that success is more about the application of knowledge and not so much the amount of knowledge acquired. By the time I was in my mid thirties, I had discovered my true strengths and worked hard to improve them to such a point that I began achieve real success and to understand my net worth.
Coming to terms with the fact that you cannot be good at everything is important. By selecting the best team available, to compliment your weaknesses, and then motivating them to work together, each one utilizing their unique skills to the advantage of the group – is one of the true secrets to having a successful and versatile business.
The advance of the personal computer has given people with higher emotional intelligence than academic intelligence an enormous boost. Pda’s and laptops can store and retrieve all the ‘unimportant’ information accurately and efficiently, whenever it is needed, meaning one’s inability to remember the exact date of a meeting or the name of a supplier you once met – is no longer so critical.
Even the oldest person on the planet can learn a new language – it might take them longer than a child, but a few words in the head of a wise person, are worth a thousand in that of a fool!
So if you are finding yourself saying ‘I am too old to learn’, correct yourself – you are not too old, you’re simply too stupid to admit that the subject does not interest you enough for the effort required.
Hans Eysenck apparently once claimed he could teach anyone enough mathematics to get them to university entrance level, so there is hope for all of us!
Be cleaver out there………

2016-11-17T08:25:40+00:000 Comments

The power of a really good story

To communicate well you need to find a common level of understanding. At its highest (most intellectual) point it can be a professor sharing knowledge to his or her students, on the lowest level it can be two people engaged in physical arm to arm combat or a couple making love.
However somewhere between these extremes is the power of a really good story. There is no doubt in my mind that a powerful story can have an enormous impact. For managers, consultants and leaders it is one of the finest ways of sharing personal vision, beliefs and insight. And if the story can be reduced to a single line or slogan, then the chance of it being remembered long after it was originally told will increase dramatically.

Take Shakespeare, for example – how many people know the story of Romeo and Juliet and how many people remember the line “Romeo, Romeo where for art thou Romeo?” Take Hamlet with its litany of one liners:
‘Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice’ (listen more than speak)
‘Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy’ (live within your means)
‘Neither a borrower nor a lender be, for loan oft loses both itself and friend’ (do not lend or borrow money, especially with friends because you are likely to lose both).

Last week a colleague told me a story about his childhood, growing up on a Greek island. The story was powerful and engaging, it shared with me the innermost thoughts and values of the story teller. It turned a colleague into a friend; someone that I felt I could rely on in times of need.

What is your story? Everyone needs to have their own. How do you ensure that people remember you after your first encounter is over? How do you install in your listeners a feeling of trust? Your story needs to be clear, engaging and in its very essence true (you can embellish a little but only for the sake of entertainment and good communication).

Make sure your story can be edited for length, to slip comfortably into the amount of time you have with your audience and not to fill it completely. A good rule of thumb is anywhere from thirty minutes to thirty seconds. Look straight into the eyes of your listeners. If you lose their engagement, adjust the length but never the content. It is your story, share who you really are. Your story should not be used as a weapon or a con trick to win the favor of your audience. For as Shakespeare wrote (again in Hamlet): ‘to thine ownself be true’ (be genuine, be true to yourself). You are who you are and although you may aspire to being someone else, it is you that matters and not who you might want to be or become that is relevant in business. Those matters are for you and your councilors.

Enjoy your week

2016-11-17T08:25:40+00:000 Comments

The guy ‘ s a liar

The guy’s a liar, he really is. He told me that it he didn’t go running to his N+1 when is all along his N+1 maintains it was him and him alone that briefed him from the very start.
Anyone working in change management knows that reading people and learning their motives is the trick to identifying the real challenge ahead. The trouble is that most people do not tell you the truth, at best they offer you their version of it. They tell you whatever it is they think you want to hear. However, there a few people that actually believe the lies they tell, converting them into a new and strange reality the moment the words pore out of their mouths. So when you speak with their colleagues (to try and get a 360deg view of the situation) you find that their version of ‘the truth’ is consistently out of line with the common view (assuming one can be detected).

Everybody wants to convince you that they are to be trusted (and indeed everyone should be). But some people are simply unable to objectively separate fantasy from reality. Interestingly, once this tendency has been identified, it can in fact make one’s life easier, simply because liars and fantasist are very often consistent.

A few years ago I worked with a guy that spent a great deal of time and effort telling people what he had said to this boss and that. However, once I had come to the conclusion that he was in fact living in a fantasy land of his own making; he became the easiest person to read of all. Everything he said was both the truth and a lie at the same time: it was the truth in as much that what he told me was indeed what he wanted to say, but a lie in as much that he had in fact done completely the opposite. For example if he said ‘I tried to warn the CEO that he was going in the wrong direction but he didn’t listen’ – in reality meant: ‘I congratulated the CEO on his insight and vision, unfortunately however I didn’t know what to believe in at the time, but looking back the CEO was obviously steering us all in the wrong direction.’ Eventually he became so predictable, I simply had to reverse what I heard and I was instantly very close to reality. It’s just like when people open with a qualifying statement such as ‘I am not a sexist, but……’ and then follow with a barrage of outrageous comments and observations. Somehow the pretence seems to make them feel immune from future attack or persecution.

So the guy is a liar, he is only telling me what he thinks I want to hear – and my knowing this, in a strange way, makes my job a little easier because if everyone told the truth, how would I ever know?

2016-11-17T08:25:40+00:000 Comments