Monthly Archives: September 2013


Advice for a young person

Perhaps you are like me in that you sometimes find yourself been asked to give advice to young people? In such cases I am reminded of the words of the Nobel prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman who I once heard say in a radio interview that when he gives advice, he bases it on the fact that statistically the happiest people are those that in their late teens set for themselves achievable goals. 

When I reflected on Kahneman’s observation I had to find a way of sharing it in in the form of advice that does not come over as too trite or boring. I mean just coming out with “the secret to happiness is to set achievable goals for yourself” does not sound very inspiring, does it?

Kahneman uses the example that if money does not matter to someone at the age of 18, it will not matter to them at the age of 45 – so for this person, becoming rich will never be a life goal. However, for those that set making loads of money as a life goal can never feel really satisfied unless they actually achieve it. According to Kahneman, satisfaction, brought about by self-accomplishment, is the root of human happiness. So it is not surprising that statistically people in their fifties tend to be happier than young adults.

When I reflect on my own past and how, in my youth, I wanted to be a famous singer songwriter and the  pain I suffered from seeing my dream fade out of reach, I think that even if Kahneman himself had advised me on my eighteenth birthday, I would not have listened.

However, with the right support and coaching and a willingness to listen to an influential adviser, I do believe via thought placement and encouragement, sometimes other people’s suggested goals can be adopted, especially if there is a direct benefit for the receiver.

However, in my experience most of the time our young people need advice on how things can be achieved rather than what to achieve – after all, older adults have the missing piece to their puzzle: life experience.

So this week my advice on giving advice is not to give it at all until you first listen very closely to the person in question and then only to give it when you have reminded yourself that they are not you and that if they already have their life goals set, then any suggestion of a variance may well be taken onboard with a certain degree of resentment and later on, even with anger towards those they think blocked their originally desired path.

Another little tip is never to give advice when under the influence of alcohol! Although as adults it is often done (especially at dinner parties), it never ceases to amaze me how the influence of alcohol seems to turn us into professors with a wisdom going back centuries, and how it loosens up our inhibitions to share it!  “The trouble with the young people today is that….”  Or any other group or pet topic we want to pick on. :-)

Have a good week,


PS: Daniel Kahneman’s fascinating interview can be heard here (you can also download it to your smart phone to listen to whenever you like.

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We all make mistakes

It is commonly understood that if you want a thriving environment where creativity abounds, then it is vital that you allow the people around you to make mistakes.  There is a famous story about King Edward the seventh. Once upon a time a foreign guest was dining at his table in the company of his courtiers and friends, the poor unfortunate guest mistakenly drank from a finger bowl, confusing it with a water glass.  To save his guest any possible embarrassment the King immediately picked up his finger bowl and drank from it.

The question arising from this story is; if you were the King how would you have reacted? And, what culture surrounds you? Is it one of supportive correction when someone makes a mistake or is it one of finger pointing and ridicule?  In many religions, the state of humility is an important requirement for its leaders and sometimes, only sometimes, I find it in business leaders too. The higher you go, the less you have to prove, the less you have to prove, the more space and time you have to listen and to help others.

So the next time you sit among newcomers in an event or group, be sure to welcome them, be attentive to their needs and concerns because if you want them to come back you will definitely need to make sure that innocent mistakes are rewarded with a subtle method of knowledge sharing, rather than laughter and humiliation.

Have a good week,


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No hobby? Don’t feel guilty!

With all the talk about work/life balance, this week I want to get something straight.  When career people with young families tell me they have no time for hobbies, I find it completely understandable. There’s nothing to feel guilty about.  People without hobbies are not necessarily boring or void of interest; it may simply mean that they have little or no time for such activities. The question is, when gaps eventually become available, how do they fill them?

Firstly what is a hobby?  For me it is a kind of ongoing project that can be strictly defined as not being ‘useful’ but rewards the participant primarily in ways other than making money.  A hobby does not necessarily equal an obsessive interest in boat building or stamp collecting.  Sometimes we are lucky enough to combine a hobby with family activities, like building and flying kites for example. For many however, career demands and the limited time for family forbid doing what, deep down, one might like to do. (I can just hear some readers with young children say the word ‘sleep’).

In my book ‘Inspirational Leadership’ I discuss at length the importance of ‘Intellectual Curiosity’. But by this I mean the need to develop a natural curiosity in many topics, especially those far away from our normal daily lives. Many people do not have time to read books or visit museums or attend concerts but a really good way to stretch ones intellectual curiosity is to utilize the technology that most of us have in our cars these days – the ability to listen to podcasts via our Android or Apple smartphones.  Instead of listening to the daily misery of headline news and gossip, interspersed with worn out pop music, one can listen to programs on great lives or the latest scientific discoveries or even listen to audio books; and all this while on the way into work in the morning.

My tip for this week is to go to the BBC.CO.UK website and choose ‘Radio 4’ and then select program types and podcasts and select the automatic download of truly inspiring material; no adverts, just great content.  I would love to know of similar sources for French, Dutch and German audiences?

But for now, I am back to my hobby – writing books and listening to classical music! (Children left home years ago – and my wife’s busy career gives me loads of free time to fill with work and fun, it’s up to me)! :-)

Have a good week,


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23 years ago today, I sat in a room with magazines and pamphlets on side tables and posters on the walls. My cat was on my lap and I was waiting to see the Vet. Today I am living in a foreign country and my life has changed almost beyond all recognition. The vet is now my wife, she’s in the other room preparing breakfast while I write this blog. Now I am not one who likes to live in the past (there’s plenty to do in the present) but going back to significant moments once in a while is a very healthy thing to do, not just in our private lives but in business too.

Perhaps it’s the day an important contract was signed? Or the time in a café when an important decision was taken to merge the two companies? Or the day a new employee joined the firm? The list goes on.

I heard the story of Vodaphone on the news yesterday, it was told in terms of a list of strategic decisions and purchases. They were lined up like milestones on its road from small time subsidiary to the cash rich giant it is today. The reporter‘s list gave an amazing insight of the great management decisions and some fortuitous luck that the company enjoyed. I am sure there must have been a few duff decisions and some bad luck too but in yesterday’s story these were not relevant.

Company projects are measured in milestones, we use them as inspirational points to reach by a specific time; we use them to measure progress and as a cause for quiet celebration. But there are some anniversaries that are bigger than project milestones because, by all sense and purpose, one is expected to reach a milestone, even if it is tough going. No, some events are worth celebrating not only because of the enormity of what happened next but also as an important reminder as to how far we have travelled and indeed the way we were before the anniversary moment occurred.

Have a good week,


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