Listening to other people’s conversations

Over the coming months I’ll be writing about my experiences as a student in the Coaching for Transformation program run by Leadership That Works. It’s a 9 month program for coaches from all backgrounds to level up their skills and attain their international coaching certification.

As you’d expect, a key part of the DNA of the course is aligned with that of a coach; specifics are confidential and absolutely not to be shared in a public forum.

However, there are plenty of more general concepts and ideas I’ve already picked up, and I hope these posts will provide some interesting insights into exploring a new set of skills and also understanding just a little bit more about the human condition.

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Introducing Sustainable Foundations

Sustainable Foundations

As regular readers of this blog will know I’m very interested in the future of work for people across the world.

Closer to home I’ve been following my brother Murray‘s path with interest as he works in a hugely complex, exciting, and rapidly evolving area that’s becoming ever more important to our future:  sustainability.

Off the back of him sharing his learnings and insights, I’ve started to scratch below the surface of what sustainability means and why it matters. It’s fascinating, and it’s everywhere; affecting just about every industry in every country.

A few months ago Murray called me to ask me about some of the innovation workshops I’ve been involved in. He felt sustainability and innovation were more closely linked than they appeared, and there could also be better ways to support freelancers, entrepreneurs, employees and companies in demystifying the topic.

Over this Summer we’ve been exploring how we could deliver education experiences in sustainability for people working in modern business, with a focus on content that’s practical, immersive and relatable.

During this journey we’ve seen there’s so much more to sustainability than meets the eye: it can be a lever for huge innovation and value creation no matter your industry or company size, and it’s moving way beyond being considered a compliance box to tick or a nice-to-have CSR initiative.

Here are some of the bigger indicators:

  • 1/3 of consumers prefer sustainable brands, £81bn market for ethical products
  • 75% of millennials would take a pay cut to work for a responsible company
  • United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals present a $12tn market opportunity
  • Sustainable companies have 46% better share price performance and 112.5% better return on assets
  • IKEA nearing 3x increase in sustainable product sales
  • Unilever’s Sustainable Living brands grew 50% faster than the rest of the business, delivering over 60% of growth in 2016

Outside of the innovation and value creation side, it’s not an overstatement to suggest that the future of the planet depends on us understanding and taking action on this topic – the pressures on our world are real, and increasing.

Whilst we can’t single-handedly save the world just yet, I’m excited to share our first offerings under our Sustainable Foundations banner, with more to come over the next few months.

> Sustainable Foundations Courses: In-Person

A series of fast-moving, interactive and practical sustainability workshops for modern business, lasting either 1/2 day, 1 day or 2 days.

We demystify the core concepts of sustainability, with a focus on innovation, growth and value creation.

Sessions are booking now throughout the rest of 2018 and into 2019 for teams of 10 or more.

> Sustainable Foundations Course: Interactive Webinar

Regular interactive 90 minute sessions focused on core concepts and providing you with a toolkit to take into your business.

> Free email course

A free 10-day self-paced email course to help you level up and explore what sustainability means for you, your business and the wider world.


Whilst the goal of Sustainable Foundations is to open up the topic for the uninitiated we’d also love to hear from you if you’re more experienced; we’re constantly seeking to get new insights, viewpoints and ideas so don’t hesitate to contact us if you’d like to see what we’re up to.

And if you’re in New York City on September 28th, join us for a special New York Climate Week edition of the course at the wonderful Betaworks Studios in the Meatpacking District. We have a couple of seats still remaining – you can register here.


Curious? Find out more at or drop me a line directly.

Intensity or Technique? You choose


In New York City there are a host of fitness studios offering innovative takes on a workout session.

One of these is a Box & Flow class. Ostensibly it’s for people who like boxing and yoga.

You get plenty of exercise from aerobic exercises, hitting the boxing bag, and yoga flow on the mat.

It’s varied, fast paced, energetic. And you sweat. You sweat a lot.

Of course, there’s a trade off. At that pace there isn’t time to check if your stance is correct, whether your power is coming from your hips as well as your fists, or the warrior two pose is  properly aligned.

So if you like boxing and yoga, the boxing & yoga class may not actually be what you’re looking for.

If you have more than a passing interest in one or both of these activities, you probably have a desire to also improve your technique, your craft, your knowledge.

It’s near-impossible to have it all at the same time, so you have to make a choice: focus on speed and intensity to get one kind of result, or on the technique and craft to get another. That means knowing what kind of trade-off you’re willing to make and the result you want to get.

We have to make these kinds of choices in other areas of our lives too, particularly in our work.

And if we don’t know which kind of result we want, we may end up with no benefit from increased intensity or technique.

The surprising thing is that a lot of the time we make these choices without really knowing why we’re making them.

So what’s it to be? Boxing, yoga, or a bit of both?

3 circles for managing control, influence, concern, and anxiety

A concept I came across earlier this Summer is that of 3 circles.

I first used it in a business growth and change management class I was teaching, but it’s come up several times recently with friends and clients who are feeling overwhelmed with projects to tackle, situations to manage, or decisions to make.

Circles of Control, Influence, Concern

The inner circle is the Circle of Control. In here is all the stuff we can have the power to directly ourselves. We can choose to send an email to someone, take a day off, or publish the blog post.

Second is the Circle of Influence.

And finally is the Circle of Concern. Here orbits everything else that we have an interest in, but we can do nothing about

Often our minds will wander out from our circle of control, into the circle of influence, and likely all the way out into that huge expanse that is the circle of concern.

Here we can do nothing to make our goals and desires happen, and our mind fills with nerves, worry, and existential dread.

When this happens we can just bring ourselves back to our circle of control.

Usually we’ll find there are a few things back here we’ve ignored, swept under the carpet or haven’t noticed before.

A nice side effect of owning our circle of control is items in the circle of influence suddenly draw closer towards and that enormous circle of concern becomes…well, less concerning.

What can you bring into your circle of control?

5 lessons from Manchester City coach Pep Guardiola

The latest in Amazon Prime’s ‘All or Nothing’ sports documentary series goes behind the scenes at the highly successful and somewhat polarizing English Premier League football team Manchester City.

Led by the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola, City swept all before them in the league last season, and the series goes behind the scenes of that 9 month journey.

There’s plenty to criticize; the lack of compelling story arc can leave a viewer cold, and frustratingly there’s not that much in the way of specific tactics and strategies used by Guardiola to motivate his side and outwit competitors, but there are a good few interesting insights to glean – for fans, coaches and business people alike.

Here are a few of them.

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How to survive your first year living in NYC

At the time of writing I’m approaching the end of my first year living in New York City, more specifically in the East Village of Manhattan, one of the most boisterous and lively parts of one of the most energetic cities in the world.

NYC isn’t for the faint of heart. My own journey has had its fair share of bumps in the road, and getting settled here definitely takes a while.

I’ve written this brief guide with the intention of helping others who are making or contemplating the move.

Disclaimer: this is just my perspective, and like all opinions it’s subject to change.

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Forcing Mechanisms

On Saturday my laptop gave up.

One too many times had the power cable been wrenched out unapologetically, dozens of Chrome tabs restored, the screen slapped shut without care. It was time for me to pay for my fast and loose attitude to a partner I probably spend more time with than any human (apologies to my wife).

I got through to Monday without too much trouble. The sun was out and the city was smiling.

On Monday morning I didn’t feel so easy. I took the laptop uptown to the repair store to discover further news of its condition. The initial prognosis was not good – in overnight for further tests, and no health insurance cover.

Setting up in a nearby coffee shop to check email and drink a sorrow-laden flat white (still a rare find in NYC; the sorrow-laden ones even more so I imagine), a number of things dawned on me in quick succession.

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Tall Stories – the importance of storytelling

Here’s a summarised narrated version of a talk I gave to an entertainment company in NYC on the importance of storytelling in our life, work ,and culture more broadly.

On the day itself we got into a bunch of other topics, from how to communicate stories on someone else’s behalf, which other type of story we can utilise, where we add more conflict or tension, and why this really mattered for their business.

This is (somehow) the first time I’ve done a narrated presentation like this – the lack of body movement and bad jokes definitely feels stifling but hopefully there’s some useful stuff here for you in this abridged version. Enjoy!


  • A story of a Citroen 2CV
  • A brief version of my story
  • A history of stories
  • Why you can can be a great storyteller
  • Types of story
  • Elements of story
  • A trip to the barbership
  • Why this matters


Jiu Jitsu, Influence, and Persuasion for creative businesses

This summer I’ve been working with Hyper Island as part of the program team running the AMP NYC accelerator for media & entertainment entrepreneurs in the city.

It’s been a fun ride, designing and delivering a unique curriculum for a diverse group of 22 founders growing businesses ranging from music PR agencies to documentary filmmaking, 3D data visualisation to pop-up improv events.

In our most recent class we got into marketing and sales, with a core focus on influence, trust and (micro) networks.

We framed the first part of the day around Robert Cialdini’s CLASSR model before jumping into an exercise I called ‘Jiu Jitsu’ – thinking about the persuasive jiu jitsu moves the group have already performed to acquire, retain and grow the clients and customers they work with.

The CLASSR model goes back to Cialdini’s classic book ‘Persuasion’, but we added a contemporary spin on each element which I’m sharing here.

In business, particularly in B2B situations (but far from exclusively), we usually want the customer to acknowledge we’re the expert.

We can get to this point purely through a display of expertise alone, but more effectively  when that expertise is combined with a feeling of alignment and trust.

Influence (1)

How do we get there?

As Dale Carnegie famously suggested;

Influence (2)

Or if we’re thinking in terms of funnels, we should build;


Robert Cialdini’s ‘CLASSR’ model covers 6 areas of persuasion that lead to influence and trust. It’s worth noting we approach these areas in a positive and mindful way; there’s certainly opportunity for more Machiavellian tactics but that’s for someone else to think about 🙂

4These 6 elements are everywhere – we’re affected and impacted by them almost every single day. It’s worth taking some time to consider where these appear in our daily lives – subway adverts, interactions in a retail store, hiring a new member of our team, going for dinner with friends; they really are everywhere we look.

First up:


People feel a strong urge to be consistent with things they’ve done or said in the past. That urge can be triggered by seeking commitments – usually small ones at first.

Cialdini cites the example of a doctor’s surgery reducing their patients’ missed appointments by asking patients to write down the next appointment details on an appointment card rather than the surgery staff doing it.

Writing is often a very powerful way of getting commitment and thus triggering the urge to be consistent, but there are other methods that can be used too.

One of the reasons companies give out stickers is to gain a small commitment. Putting a Supreme sticker on your laptop or bag triggers the urge to be consistent. If Supreme later suggest a larger commitment you’ll be far more likely to comply if you’re already sporting a sticker on one of your possessions.

It’s worth remembering that to get the consistency you desire you need to get the other person to make a commitment in that direction, even if very small to begin with.


In June 2018, 28 year old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won the congressional primary in New York’s 14th district, coming seemingly from nowhere to beat one of Washington’s powerful political figures.

How did she do it?

It would be reductionist to suggest there was only one reason, but a significant contribution was probably that simply she is well-liked.

We prefer saying yes to people we like. That’s pretty obvious. The 3 factors that lead us to liking someone are having an affinity with them, a feeling they are co-operating with us to mutual goals and that they pay us compliments.

While it’s harder to speculate on the third factor in Ocasio-Cortez’s case, the first two look to be strong indicators towards why she was so successful.

And this photo of her worn out (and affordable) campaign shoes probably added to it.

We may not find it easy to feel similar to everyone we come into contact with, or immediately pay them compliments without feeling insincere, but there are likely common goals we can get behind, as well as just being a decent human being of course.

Third, Authority.


These gentlemen work at Compass, a rapidly growing real estate company.

When I moved to NYC one of the biggest tasks was to find somewhere to live. I tried a bunch of realtors – some were focused and attuned to my needs, others less so.

On phoning Compass I was starting to feel a little jaded and also mindful of getting done over by net effective rent, brokers’ fees, guarantor fees and the various other hidden costs that are seemingly part and parcel of New York real estate.

The assistant in the Compass team I spoke to made me very aware of the specific experience of her team members – years on the clock, their interest in working with people with circumstances like mine, and examples of some transactions of a similar nature.

I felt more comfortable immediately. Why them? Because they made me feel they were an authority on this specific area of real estate.

Cialdini notes that we react strongly to people in positions of authority or expertise – whether policemen, doctors or established real estate brokers. Again, when combined with other CLASSR elements through jiu jitsu the effect is even more powerful. For example, the lawyer with 15 years experience doesn’t usually have any problem with displaying her certificates proudly in the office for all to see.

Footnote: On meeting one of the team, he showed up in some very natty sneakers, with a big smile and a bunch of Dad jokes. I had an affinity for him – I liked him.


Here are Supreme again. This is their store (or rather than line to get into it) on Lafayette Street in Manhattan.

Supreme excel at managing scarcity, and getting people to want more of what they (nearly) can’t have.

They control supply of product via ‘drops’, with product lines, sizes, colors, times and locations all planned meticulously.

They also control demand – the line outside the store looks like it stretches around 2 blocks even when it doesn’t. The line is split up into pieces so whether you’re coming from Broadway, Prince, Crosby or Lafayette it looks like something’s happening.

One of the challenges with scarcity is making the proposition unique. Some people are put off by scarcity tactics so make sure to extol the unique value proposition and also the downside for them if they pass up on what you’re offering.

Onto number 5, social proof.


Social proof is probably the most omnipresent of all the six areas of influence.

Simply, to decide what we should do we look at what other people do .

Examples are everywhere – from joining the line at Supreme, to avoiding the empty the empty subway car, and ordering the same drink as your new acquaintance when you visit a bar together.

The shaving company Harry’s launched their product with an ingenious scheme closely tied to social proof. Before the actual product was even available, prospects could sign up and share a referral code with their friends. The more friends signed up, the more products the original referrer could access. On top of this, the friends could see the original referrer has suggested they join. If it was good enough for their friend, why wouldn’t they sign up?

Again, the effect is particularly powerful when combined with other elements – scarcity and reciprocity in particular.

Other forms of social proof we see in business include client testimonials, influencer endorsements, accreditations and client logos.

The last of the six is Reciprocity.


My pal Brian is a respected creative director in the media industry in NYC. He also knows a thing or two about hospitality and reciprocity, having run a successful bar.

Brian told me the story of the napkin.

When you visit a drinking establishment, the bartender may put a napkin on the bar by way of greeting. This says ‘I see you’.

The next time you visit, a good bartender will say something along the lines of ‘good to see you again’. This isn’t just moving towards Reciprocity, it’s also building up the Like element of persuasion. This says ‘I know you’.

If you start going to the bar more regularly, the bartender will have your favorite drink ready to go almost as soon as you take a seat. This says ‘You’re home’.

At this point, the power balance tips – this gesture makes us want to reciprocate in some way.

Finally, when the little mint is placed on top of the check, the bartender’s influence over you is complete. The mint says ‘Now you owe me’. And you watch yourself tip generously.

The thing here is not the mint itself, it’s the way it was delivered – with care, over time.

Another type of gift adds the Like element. A consultant I met told me how he discovered a prospective client was a lover of Gil Scott Heron’s music. The consultant, completely unprompted, sought out some rare Gil Scott Heron records and sent them to the prospect’s office.

Feeling a need to reciprocate, a lunch meeting and a project followed soon after.


Lastly, the concept of presuasion.


It’s not just about the message you deliver, it’s about the timing. `As Cialdini says;

This “privileged moment for change” prepares people to be receptive to a message before they experience it. Optimal persuasion is achieved only through optimal pre-suasion. In other words, to change “minds” a pre-suader must also change “states of mind.”

The rather brilliant Rory Sutherland uses the example of the airport bus to explain this concept.

Imagine you’re on a plane that’s just landed. The pilot says there’s no air bridge and everyone will need to take the bus to the terminal. Cue everyone signing in frustration.

However, if the pilot informs the passengers that rather than the air bridge there’s a bus that will take everyone directly to the terminal, right next to the arrivals halls with no walking needed, suddenly everyone feels…well, pretty good.

We’ve been presuaded.

Following this session on CLASSR we jumped into thinking about our own jiu jitsu of influence – where we’d succeeded but also considering occasions where someone else may have leveraged the weight of their CLASSR against us.

And just like real jiu jitsu, combinations can be powerful. We may have used Authority, Like and Scarcity all together, or led with a Commitment before leveraging Scarcity.

Looking backwards and tracking the history of how we got our clients and customers allowed us to see certain tipping points, trends and also a few missed opportunities.

Taking those trends and insights we then looked into the power of networks, how to extend those we had, what marketing to them really meant, and make decisions on who we prospect and when.

This is just a small taste of the AMP NYC class and broader program; we’ve created dozens of ideas, provocations, exercises, reflections and workshop sessions.

if you’re interested in learning more about the program then drop me a line or head over to the landing page here.

The California chef’s foundations

It was a sunny Sunday afternoon in early March and we were on the open road, driving south down California’s 1 highway.

My wife and I were out on the west coast taking our first vacation after spending the previous 6 months getting up and running in our new lives in New York City.

That day we were heading from Santa Barbara to Venice Beach, and to its most famous street, Abbot Kinney Boulevard, upon which resided a restaurant called Gjelina.

I’d heard about it a couple of times; a cosy but stylish place with an eclectic menu, a highly desirable wine list, gently lit patio, and an effortlessly chic vibe in that way only a California eatery can have.

Operated by head chef Travis Lett, Gjelina has become something of a culinary institution, with its cuisine being dubbed “new California”.

Our dinner that night at Gjelina was tremendous, but I’m not here to write about that part – I’ll leave that to the food prose pros.

Instead I’m here to write about the Gjelina cookbook we picked up on a bleak winter’s evening in NYC a couple of weeks later.


The first thing that struck me was the layout.

The entirety of the first section (more than 70 pages) was made up solely of confits, sauces and reductions (I’ll call these ‘foundations’ for the sake of this post), with not an actual ‘meal’ in sight.

Many of these foundations were surprisingly complex and time-consuming to put together. Inevitably it also took a sizeable amount of produce to get down to something pretty small and seemingly unremarkable.

However, after that initial toil and time, the newly created foundations often had the capacity to be topped up easily, and just a small amount could go a very long way.

It didn’t take long for our fridge to look like a science lab, with the shelves being taken up by my various concoctions and their thin skins of plastic food wrap.

Some of these only lasted a few days of course, but others endured for weeks or even months. A couple of those very first experiments are still going in fact.

The second surprise was the cooking of the meals themselves. Despite my initial trepidation they were invariably pretty easy. Gjelina focuses mainly on vegetable-based dishes and although many recipes require a rapid-fire and very specific batch of steps to be followed, most of them are ready to be served in only 10-15 minutes.

But the secret of these delights wasn’t in the cooking of the ingredients. It wasn’t in the individual ingredients either (although good fresh produce definitely helps – somewhat of an expensive luxury here in NYC).

The secret was in those foundations used at the base of the dishes. Shallot confit, tomato reductions, garlic sauces, and plenty more. They featured almost everywhere, and without them nothing really worked properly.


Garlic confit. Photo: Chic Eats

As I was prepping another vat of oil and rosemary-infused garlic goodness it dawned on me that this process of combining, boiling, reducing, expanding, applying and mixing is pretty similar to the way ideas work in our minds, and particularly when it comes to making something new.

Around the same time I started my Gjelina experiments I was developing a talk on biases and mental models.

The various models to analyse situations and make decisions were my range of foundations.

Sometimes they weren’t perfect, but still useful enough to apply in small quantities to get a decent result.

On other occasions they gave me an entirely new way of experiencing and thinking about something.

My repertoire of foundations when it comes to both mental models and my cookbook is still quite small. I could probably spend the rest of my days creating new ones and never perfectly hone them all.  The same applies to designing, programming, just about any creative endeavour really.

But I do know two things to help get some successful results: have a decent stash of foundations on hand; and always be ready to test out something new.

Add them to a recipe, situation or an idea and you may create something wonderful.

Just remember to keep your fridge replenished regularly, and if you’re trying Gjelina’s foundations make sure you buy plenty of olive oil.