See You at the Top – a tribute to Zig Ziglar


“We are designed for accomplishment, engineered for success, and endowed with the seeds of greatness” – Zig Ziglar

See You at the Top Zig ZiglarZig Ziglar passed away this week. If you have no connection to self improvement, goal setting or sales, you may never have heard of him. And yet he touched millions of lives in an inspirational career spanning five decades.

And without knowing it, he save my life…

See You at the Top was his first and most famous book, first published in 1974*. It was initially called Biscuits, Fleas and Pump Handles – referring to three of his parable-like human interest stories he used in his talks on attitude and personal success.

I’m glad he changed the title. To me, See You at the Top was more than a title, it was some kind of invitation. Rather like John Lennon’s Imagine, with that line ‘I hope someday you’ll join us…’ Zig was suggesting to me personally that I join him, at the Top (whatever that was, but it sounded good). Just reading that title was motivational. It felt like an acknowledgment that I was somehow good enough to be there, with him, at the Top. To me, through that book, I came to think of the Top as being an abstract destination, a journey, not necessarily defined by financial wealth or fame and glory, but something more powerful…

There may well have been better written, better researched or cleverer books published since on self development and goal setting. But they’ll never be a better book for me than this, the original.

I first came upon Zig when a friend of mine lent me the book when we were at university. I swapped it for my copy of Dale Carnegie’s How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.

I was immediately impressed with the look of it. The bold, graphical cover of that big arrow and that great title. It was set in a block font called Eurostile, my favorite typeface (also used throughout the 1960s, in Vic Reeves Big Night Out and of course in my own logo).

The book was different. It looked different. It had graphics and cartoons in it. And jokes. It began with a graphical metaphor of a lift that was labeled as the lift that would take you to ‘the Top’. But a sign on the door said ‘Out of Order’. The implication was that you’d have to take the stairs, with each step a milestone on the way to becoming the type of person who belonged at the Top. The steps were: Self-image, Your relationship with others, Goals, Attitude, Work and Desire. The bannister was labelled ‘Character and Loyalty’.

The jokes were tame, but fun:

“An optimist, as you probably know, is a person who, when he wears out his shoes just figures he’s back on his feet.”

“We need a check up from the neck up”

“People often say motivation doesn’t last. Neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.”

“It’s your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.”

But there’s a phrase that permeates the book, and Zig’s work:

“You can get everything in life you want, if you just help enough other people what they want”

It put the book into a context. This was effectively a fifth Gospel. An allusion not lost on Zig, who, with his powerful faith, coming to Christ in 1972, pulled no punches in relating the concept of motivation to the message of Jesus. Zig’s catchphrase was just a contemporary way of saying the golden rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’.

Then there was a further revelation for me. My friend Dommy also had a tape of Zig speaking. It was just thirty minutes, recorded at some business conference in the early 1980s. Having the messages (and jokes) of See You at the Top, spoken in that accent, and that voice, live, was like having a recording of the Sermon on the Mount. Impressive as the words were when written down, they were so much more powerful spoken in front of a live audience.

It inspired me to give my first professional motivational speech in 1994 at a training event for the Students’ Union at Oxford Brookes. I felt that Zig’s messages were all too good not to share so I paraphrased Zig’s messages. I didn’t do the accent though. OK, I did a bit in two places, on the drawl that he did at the end of “You can get everything in life you whaaant, if you just help enough other people get, what, they, whaaant” and “Positive thinking won’t let you do everything. But it WILL let you do everything, better, than, negative, thinking, wiiiiiiiillllll”.

I knew nothing about the self development industry or the speaking business. I had no idea that Zig was still active or that other motivational speakers were also working in businesses around the world. All I wanted to do was to motivate and inspire people as Zig had done for me so I just hunted down any opportunity to speak. Knowing nothing about business, the only places I actually found were comedy clubs.

So for a time I became a motivational stand up comedian. You can see clips on YouTube, notice the Zig quote at the start and end, inviting the audience to join the Smile and Compliment Club.

But none of that was the moment that Zig saved my life.

That came when, after discovering that my (then) wife had had a string of affairs throughout our time together. She revealed that news, and then walked out, never to return. I had a nervous breakdown.

I could have gone way down. I could, so easily, have reached for the wrong thing. But instead I found a tape called ‘How to Be a Winner’. It was a live talk by Zig. I played it constantly until it wore out. For day after day I lay there, unable to function, just able to listen. It was then that I found Zig’s website and that he was still performing and still writing.  I got his CD set and listened to that over and over again. I knew the material so well I could have delivered it verbatim – including the Southern accent.

But instead I got up and started living again.

I never met Zig in person. But I did write him a version of the above story as an entry in his 80th birthday testimonial book, organised by his son Tom.

Today I deliver my own material, and not as a comedy motivational speaker, but hopefully as some kind of genuine one. I know that the chances that I have anywhere near as big an impact as Zig, who touched and improved millions of lives over five decades, is remote.

But on the day of his passing, I had another thought, inspired by his life. As one of the first ever motivational speakers who defined the concept and the author of numerous best-selling books that spanned decades, there was little or no coverage of his passing in mainstream media.

If the great Zig remained niche, known only to the few, we are but mayflies with our influence. It was a lesson in my own relative importance. A useful footnote in how I measure my own success.

And yet I feel he would somehow have wanted it that way. Zig was a great salesman, one of the original and best and yet he didn’t ‘play the game’ that so many of his weaker successors do in using emotional blackmail, hypnosis techniques and snake oil tricks to sell his books, speeches and programmes. He didn’t play on the desperate, needy and vulnerable with ‘get rich quick’ schemes; his material and methods were honest, honorable and transparent.

I’ve seen too many so-called ‘thought leaders’ and motivational experts who claim the ability to change the world and/or make us all rich. Zig gave us clear, tested and testable suggestions to improve our outlook, attitude and therefore our lives.

Can anyone change the world (for the better) anyway? A few perhaps, but it’s so unlikely.  But more importantly we’re not here to change the world, if we think that, it’s our ego talking. But we all can inspire individuals, even if it is just one soul at a time.

Zig didn’t invent goal setting or positive thinking, but he made them relevant and practical. He presented them as tools we can all use to improve our lives. There was no magic and no mystical invoking of a universal power of attraction required. Just simple, honest human truths told in a way that you could remember and use.

I never met Zig, but he did ‘save my life’, even though he may never have known it. We can and should, always, and only, do our very best, with integrity, for everyone we meet, our clients, our relationships, the audience on the day. That’s what Zig personified for me.

And he did it with style. And he did it with humility. And he did it with humour.

A genuine hero.

Zig Ziglar in 1978

Zig Ziglar in 1978. Click on the photo to read Zig’s obituary in the Washington Post

In 1997 I wrote a song called See You at the Top. I recorded an unfinished version of it, you can hear it here.

*He self-published the book by the way, having to keep hundred of boxes in his home initially. It has sold over two million copies to date.

Ayd works with people and businesses to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com

Can a paperclip save the world?


Can a paperclip save the world? Probably not.. but wait a minute…

Perhaps it’s because the paperclip is such a simple and yet ingenious, ubiquitous artefact that it’s used as a trigger to start thinking more creatively (well, by me anyway).

The first patent for a bent wire paperclip was awarded in the United States to Samuel B. Fay, in 1867. This clip was originally intended primarily for attaching tickets to fabric. His doesn’t resemble the familiar object we know today. That was invented in the 1870s in Britain by the Gem Manufacturing Company (and is still known technically as the Gem Paperclip) although no patent was filed, leading to many later claims and variation on the classic design.

So here’s the task:

How many non-uses of a paper-clip can you think of? Things you cannot use a paperclip for.

Most people find this quite hard which shows they are not fluid at activating the right side of their brain. This is a lateral thinking task because you have to get off the track of thinking of actual uses of a paper-clip. This tests how random you can be.

The task is actually quite easy since there are actually very few sensible uses of a paper-clip. You can use one to clip paper together (obviously) and you can use one to eject stuck CDs from computers. But not much else. So almost anything else will do, except people find it so, so difficult.

Here are a few examples:

You can’t fly to the moon on a paper-clip. You can’t marry a paper-clip. You can’t use a paper-clip to teach snails quantum physics.

One of the reasons people freeze up and can’t think of anything, especially in groups, is that someone has said something clever, witty or particlularly good so now they have to compete with that. This doesn’t help. When generating ideas you do not and can not compete with anyone, it’ll modify how you think and shut down your creative process. The point is not to outdo one another or try to be funny or clever. The point is to come up with ideas. You ned to be influenced and riff off what others come up with because ideas comes from other ideas.

So what else?

You cannot use a paper-clip to solve world poverty…. hang on, perhaps you can. If we do this…. and this… and suddenly a brave new idea has been found that changes the world. And all because judgemental thinking such as ‘that won’t work, that’s stupid’ has been turned off. Try it yourself.

Ayd works with people and businesses to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com

An Unnatural Equilibrium


AutumnI’m surprised each year at how fast autumn falls, how dark the evenings get, how dim the days. To us, this consistent and progressive loss of sunlight and warmth can feel like doom. Our ancestors felt so uncertain of this time that they went to enormous superstitious lengths to attempt to bring back the sun.

And yet to the flowers, trees, animals and bushes it’s known that this time will come. The pattern is part of their being. As a one-off event it may look like death, but to nature, who knows the pattern, it is just a time to acquiesce, part of a known cycle. The sun will return.

What separates us from nature is our consciousness, the ‘me’ inside that identifies me and you as being separate from each other, separate from the bees, the table, the ground and the water. Without this internal self we would be separate only in the way a cog is separate from the machine; it is an individual part of the whole and without the whole and its part to play, it is worthless.

It’s our individuality that makes us separate from nature, that makes us think that a cog has worth on its own without the machine and that creates uncertainty and self-doubt. The story of this realisation that we’re separate from nature is documented in many ancient philosophical and religious writings, most famously perhaps in the story of Genesis and the Fall. The Garden of Eden that Adam and Eve were evicted from was the state of being intrinsically part of nature and in constant communion with it in that personification of it, God. By gaining self-awareness, humanity gained consciousness and self-determination but lost that direct link to God. All human societies since that awakening, wherever and whenever it happened, have spawned cultural devices, called religions, to try to get back to oneness with nature and, or, our creator gods.

Religions have two purposes. One is to aim to explain the complex world and add meaning to people’s lives, attempting to answer philosophical questions such as ‘who am I?’ and ‘what happens when I die?’. The other is to maintain a stable community through some mode of control system. Religion is therefore just a shared model and set of beliefs that can create a mode of behaviour that can glue people together to make a society. It doesn’t require gods or God, just a set of shared beliefs in anything. This is why talk of ‘getting rid of religion’ is a pointless and impossible task as even agreeing on that task is itself a religion. This also why a ‘religion verses science’ is a pointless debate, you might as well debate which is better ‘Oranges or Tuesdays’. Science is a method of attaining knowledge through testing and measuring. Religion is a shared model for behaviour. The two naturally  compliment each other.

I believe all religions (or models for society if you prefer) want peace (although they may differ on how to get it). By peace we want not to be interfered with so we can go about our business. But we also want a piece, a piece of the action. We want what we can get. We have these two modes, of collaboration and antagonism. They’re have been referred to as hawks and doves. It’s a model that shows simplistically why we have war and peace and why one needs the other.

If you have a society of doves, that is a collection of creatures whose nature is to collaborate, have community, but never fight to either attack or defend, you have a model of a utopian peaceful society where every individual is equal.

If you have a group of hawks, a collection of individual aggressive fighting creatures, who will kill to get what they want, you’ll have a hierarchical society, a pyramid of power, with the most successful fighter at the top and everyone else in their place. Here too you will have a model of a utopian peaceful society, this time where every individual knows their level. As soon as weakness is perceived in a level above, that individual will be removed, everyone jostles for position before a stability is reached again.

But if you put just one hawk into the society of doves, you have disaster. The doves, who will never fight back are wiped out, enslaved or, are transformed into hawks just to stay alive. This is the story of conquest and invasion, from Barbarians, Vandals, Vikings and Romans to the Third Reich and beyond.

If you put one dove into a hawk society, he will most likely be destroyed. But if you continually put in a dove, eventually, some hawks will transform into doves, a dove mentality will sweep through the community. This is the story of Moses, Jesus, Ghandi and others.

In the hawks and doves model, neither of the pure societies are stable, both are easily overturned into chaos.

The answer to this paradox is found in nature where we see hawks and doves, spiders and flies, lions and gazelles, all co-existing in equilibrium. There is always just the right amount to balance societies of each other alongside the available natural resources they both need.

But we are individuals. We don’t want to be the one who has to die for the good of society. We’re far too selfish for that. But neither do we want to willingly sacrifice the most vulnerable within our society; the young, the old, the sick and the lame for the greater good. We’re selfless enough to care about the weak. What makes us human, and unique is that we are both selfish and selfless at the same time. We are both hawk and dove in one creature.

This is the paradox of the human condition which lifts us up above function and survival. We want to win, but we don’t want others to lose. We want to conquer, but we have mercy. We want freedom from dominion and judgement and yet we seek out our creator God. We plan for the future and yet we waste resources today.

Our human dilemma is that we feel comfortable in the extremes, which is unnatural and which is where danger lies. We want the ultimate society – but that requires sacrifice and the loss of individuality. We want to be individually free – but that means the breakdown of shared values.

What we need is equilibrium. Just as in the Book of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, ‘to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven’ (you may know this entire passage as the lyrics to the 1965 hit, ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’ by the Byrds).

Now we have our consciousness, I don’t believe we should surrender it to ‘get back to nature’ to lose free will, to lose self determinism and dissolve the ego, as some systems promote.

Neither do I think we should abandon the search for oneness, meaning and the deep questions of the universe, as other systems suggest.

We need, what is to us, an unnatural equilibrium, to embrace these paradoxes, to live within art and science, with logic and chaos, with strength and meekness; at the same time. We need to have a greater knowledge of patterns, to work with and within nature, to accept and reject power and to strive for a balance in all things.

Ayd works with people and businesses to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com

My adventure in Iran


Last week I was walking through the streets of Tehran. There was a turquoise domed temple behind me and a large snow peaked mountain range in front. Other than that it could have been any (slightly run-down) area of London. But it wasn’t. It was Tehran, in Iran. A place that the UK has no diplomatic relations with. On the British Consular website it says in large unfriendly letters ‘Do not go’.

So what was I doing there of all places?

4th World Advertising and Marketing Conference, Tehran, Iran

The 20 foot high banner advertising the conference in Tehran.

Quite a few of my speaker friends had been over to speak at large conferences in Iran since 2009. I’d never asked or sought to get involved but in spring this year I was recommended and then asked direct so I thought I’d better consider it.

The conferences are organised by Sepehr Taverdian, who runs one of the very few businesses in Iran able organise big international conferences. He’s also a translator and former translator to the government, enabling him a freedom that’s quite unique, able to bring over international speakers. Last month he had Brian Tracy, one of the most famous business speakers ever. At this event, Sepehr was awarded an honourary doctorate by an American university for his business achievements.

But since 2009 a few things have changed. The international concern over Iran’s nuclear programme, the international community’s, especially Israel’s,  decisive opinion on that and of course all Europe and the US placing trade sanctions. There were lots of questions: would it be safe? Would my material work (especially with simultaneous Persian translation)? Should I be going at all?

Should I be going? I’m not in violation of any trade sanctions and travel there has not been banned. It was a valuable experience for me, and hopefully for the delegates we all presented to as well. They were certainly very grateful that we were there. In some small way perhaps we were some sort of unofficial peace ambassadors, a cultural exchange. I had obviously no political agenda. We were told of course not to refer to politics, religion or sex in our talks. But that’s not unusual. Those topics are rarely relevant in a business context.

The centre of Tehran, Iran

The centre of Tehran

Whether we think we speakers are great business experts with valuable content and experience or not, we are definitely motivational speakers (although nearly everyone in the industry has turned their back on that term). By that I mean our primary job is to inspire and motivate some form or change or action within the delegates in the audience. Otherwise it’s just an entertaining sixty minute performance. This is where it becomes interesting. In the audience, it was hinted, were representatives from what we might perceive as ‘secret police’ (they were more likely cultural ministers). My guess is they were there to make sure we didn’t incite revolution or distort or inflame Islam or Iran. I was very careful not to do this. Mainly because you respect the culture you are guest in, plus I don’t want to upset anyone anyway, anywhere.

But as you know if you’ve been following my stuff for a while, I talk about creativity. I talk about innovation. I talk about breaking out of barriers and restrictions that hold back our freedom of thought. Could I deliver my material properly without inciting the wrath of the establishment or upsetting a different culture and its beliefs?

The answer to this question lay not with them, but with me. How creative do I think I am? Surely I’m creative enough to be able to rise to this challenge, honourably and appropriately?

I made the decision to do it based on the fact that my good friend, Geoff Ramm, marketing speaker, and now president of the UK Professional Speaking Association had been three times already plus Alan Stevens, an international speaker and media coach of great repute would be travelling with me. They would be my barometers.

Tooba hotel, Tehran, Iran

View from the Tooba hotel, Tehran.

But I did have a wobble. When I did the opening keynote at the Professional Speaking Association convention in London last month, Sepehr came over and saw it. What I did there was plainly not what I would do for business people in Tehran but between you and me I don’t think Sepher was that impressed and I thought the whole thing might be off.

But what he said was that I couldn’t perform with the guitar. My first thoughts were of panic: Not take the guitar?! But that’s ME! That’s my act, my brand…

I had to take myself on one side. It’s not about me. It’s about the audience and what they want and what they need. Can I deliver a compelling talk without the guitar? Of course! The professional in me won through and we were on.

We couldn’t talk about religion or politics. That didn’t stop me thinking about them. We had a tangible fear that, just perhaps, if the US election went one way, it could be a green light for a dramatic change in attitudes in certain countries. When we got there we had no news and most websites and all social media were blocked. We learnt via emails that Obama had got back in. Not that any of our Iranian friends were that concerned with the result either way.

On arriving my fears were dispersed by my compatriot Geoff who not only had been three times before but, being the same age as me, we both started applying relevant quotes from Star Wars to the situation. As soon as I re-framed that it was rather like going to Tatooine, it all became a lot more light hearted. Although last time Geoff visited at this time of year they’d had three feet of snow. So we could just as easily be heading for Hoth.

The two day conference had 750+ delegates. I was closing the first day and opening the second day. My first talk was on branding, my second on creativity. There were moments when it felt perfectly normal, just like any other conference, but he reminders that this was a different place were there. Above the stage (and in every public room everywhere) was the portrait of that famous face of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic revolution in 1979, who died in 1989. A separate portrait of the new Ayatollah hung on the left of the stage. (In some rooms the portraits were combined into a single painting.)

The ladies who helped run the event wore, as is the custom, full length smocks and headscarfs that revealed just the face, like a hood with a gold trim, making them appear to us kids of the seventies like helpful Jawas.

Tehran market

The covered market in Tehran

We were instructed never to touch any women in any way, not even to shake hands. An easy rule to uphold, but it became tricky when, after our talks we were literally mobbed. Everyone, and I really do mean EVERYONE wanted their photo taken with us, both together as a group and individually. I’ve never been more photographed, more than at my own wedding. We must have had over 1000 photos taken. It’s a humbling thought to think that, most likely, I’ll never be this wanted and celebrated again.

It was like being at a Beatles press conference in the US in 1964. Coincidentally I was wearing a facsimile of the Beatles suit that they wore on their record breaking Ed Sullivan show. Not that anyone there would notice (except rock impresario Alan Stevens). But it made me feel good.

The people we met were lovely, normal, friendly, and very pleased we were there. I’ve been to a few unusual places and it’s always the same isn’t it? I bet you’ve found it too. People are people wherever you go.

In many ways, Iran is a place of paradox. It’s likely that the sanctions will start to bite and the situation could really change quite quickly in unpredictable ways. And as ever, it’ll affect the ordinary people first. Some of the businesses we spoke to were finding things were changing for them already.

My thanks go out to Sepher and his amazing team, and to all the friendly people I met.

I say in my talks that ‘we are all professional problem solvers’ and we are. We are also professional peacemakers. Creativity, marketing, business, collaboration and trade – these are the tools of peace, and have been for millennia. They enabled the first civilisations to rise where people built proud cities to live in instead of huddling in fearful caves. I found out that Persia has a proud past. And we all have a shared history, closer than you imagine. I sincerely hope we have a shared future, one where our descendants can look back and say ‘there was the turning point that led to a better way’.

In my next articles I’d like to go through with you what I specifically covered in my talks and how it went down. Plus I’ve got some great video and photos to add later too.

Oh, and by the way, we were perfectly safe, and looked after so wonderfully the whole time (except perhaps the Wacky Races taxi ride from hell – which I have video footage of too so stay tuned…)

Ayd works with people and businesses to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com

Thinking out of the box… but how did we get in it?


Commodore VIC 20

This can’t break its programming. You can.

Society has such an outmoded view of creativity. At best it’s a necessary evil, at worst it’s a waste of time.

If you don’t believe me, go and have a look at your primary national curriculum for schools and do a text search for creative thinking and see what comes up.

It’s a rhetorical question: why do we hold back from our creative potential? Because we were trained to. We were programmed to think we were good or bad at this or that and we’ve been running those programmes ever since.

Here’s proof. If someone asked you to do a drawing today, would your first reaction be, ‘whoopee!’? Or would it be one of fear and embarrassment? Ok, maybe you’re the exception, but most people would react in fear. Let’s remind ourselves why.

Let’s go back to being age 6, 7, 8 or 9. The teacher says we’re going to do a drawing. Can you think of anything more exciting? A drawing! It’s pure joy. We’re going to draw… an elephant. So we get going. Mine’s looking ok. But I’m not sure, so I look over at someone else’s which prompts a line of executable programming code from the teacher:

“Don’t copy!” the teacher barks.

So we’re programmed not to look at other people’s ideas. We don’t look to see what other people are up to. We don’t know what our competitors are up to so we can’t do better than them. We fear our ideas will be stolen so we hide them and never improve them. But paradoxically we fear that everyone else is better than us which undermines our confidence, but we can never look to see the truth because our programme stops us from finding out.

John turns to me to ask me something. This prompts the second line of code:

“Stop taking! Do your own work!” .

So we’re programmed not to discuss our ideas to brainstorm them with others. From now on we work in isolation and waste time re-inventing the wheel. We waste time making the same mistakes that others could have helped us with. We get stuck and don’t ask for help. We think that originality is better than collaboration and elaboration and never fully develop our ideas. We begin to doubt ourselves and what we’re capable of. We turn into perfectionists who never finish anything.

Then the teacher comes over and looks at my drawing. “That’s pretty good” she says.

Suddenly I’m programmed with a positive mind virus. It takes over my subroutine, re-calibrating my system with this logical argument.

Teacher is correct.
Teacher says I am good at drawing.
I am good at drawing.

Because she’s the authority figure, what she says must be true. Fast forward from that moment, a year, a decade, thirty years, and the programme is still running. Here I am. I can draw and I know it.

Then she looks at John’s. “Ha ha! What’s that supposed to be? It hasn’t even got a trunk.” She shows it to the class and they all laugh.

Teacher is correct.
Teacher says I am no good at drawing.
I am no good at drawing.

“She’s right. I can’t draw.” thinks John and he runs the further algorithm:

I cannot draw.
Drawing results in embarrassment.
Do not draw.

If we fast forward thirty years, not only does John actively avoid drawing, to avoid further embarrassment, he’s re-calibrated it as frivolous and irrelevant. Just to be safe, he’s lumped in all creativity with it, his software now labelling himself as ‘not a creative person.’

When I was seven I won a painting competition. The best in the village. I won £4.50. I bought a toy telescope with it. But was my painting really that great? If I showed it to you now would it really be that good today? Was it noticeably better than the 2nd place painting? Probably not much better. It probably wasn’t that much better than the worst painting. The painting is of course irrelevant. It’s the fact that I was programmed as a painter that counts.

Can we take credit for what we’re good at (or think we’re good at) today? We can certainly take credit for what we’re not good at.

Did we have talent that was encouraged and developed? Or were were programmed, sometimes randomly, sometimes arbitrarily? Have those programmes stuck, making us think we’re good at (or not good at) something?

The reason so many of us can’t ‘think outside the box’ is because we were forced into that air-tight box all those years ago and we’ve remained there ever since. That’s not really  ood enough. We need to do better. We need to break that programming.

I dare you to do it.

Make a list of the ordinary things you’re not good at. My guess is it will include some of the following: drawing, writing essays, maths, mental arithmetic, memory, sport, geography, finance, cooking, DIY, public speaking, selling…

These are all base-level skills that require little or no talent. They just require confidence and practice.

Pick one, and practice it. Seek the extra bit of training if needed to crack it, and break your programming.

You are not a color home computer loaded with a Beginners All Symbolic Instruction Code operating system and a flashing cursor awaiting instruction on what to do. You are a self-determining creative being. You need to start acting like one. We all do.

Ayd works with people and businesses to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com

Innovation is not welcome: a warning to creatives


Man shruggingInnovation is the process of making something better, or doing something better. It’s applied creativity. In some small way, almost everything could be made better. There are plenty of things that are crying out to be made better. Innovation is certainly needed. But it is not always welcome.

People don’t like change. They say they do, but they don’t. They don’t like things that are different and they certainly don’t like people who are different. This is a double blow to creative people like you because not only are creative people the ones who drive change by doing different things, they are also different themselves. They may even look, sound and act different to normal people. Normal people don’t like that.

This is a warning to creatives: you and your ideas are not welcome around normal people.

Who do you think you are getting ideas above your station? You’re paid to do a job, not to think. You’re paid to keep the status quo, not to upset the applecart. You’re paid to continue the ideals of the company, not to modify them (even if it makes them better).

Trying to get a new job? Who wants a troublemaker? Who wants a loose canon on deck? Who wants someone who’s multi-disciplined? They have a coat peg here for a job description, not an evolving mind. (If you don’t believe me on this, just check out any job advert and you’ll see that from a cleaner to an executive, the job description involves things that must be done, not things that could be thought.)

Trying to start you’re own business? You’ve got to stand out from the crowd to be seen, but if you stand out too much you may look flakey. If you look too exciting and fun you may be thought of as flighty and not serious (but of course if you look too ordinary you won’t be seen at all).

Most inventions and developments took ages and ages for the normals to catch on. The herd are too frightened to try anything new so they wait to see what everyone else does first.

If you’re too innovative, they often can’t even see what you’re offering, it is simply invisible to them, they can’t compute it. You remember that story about the ships coming over the horizon to the shores of South America for the first time? The story goes, that the natives, not ever having seen a ship, couldn’t see it. This is of course a load of hyperbole, it’s more likely that they simply explained it away and initially just ignored the phenomenon. Something like that anyway.

My favourite example of this is the Beatles 7th album in 1966, Revolver. It is now cited by all the experts as probably the most innovative rock LP ever recorded, certainly the most influential LP of the 1960s and definitely better than the one everyone usually thinks is better, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

But what happened on its release was unusual. It went to number one, obviously, but the critics of the day couldn’t review it. They couldn’t review it because it was too innovative to review. You can get hold of these reviews today and read them for yourself. They didn’t have the literary skill to properly describe what they were listening to. Even people you’d expect more from such as Ray Davies from the Kinks said he ‘didn’t get it’.

It took the listening public a year to ‘get it’ by which time the Beatles had released a less innovative LP, Sgt. Pepper, which was lapped up as the greatest human artifact every created in history. But they weren’t really praising Sgt. Pepper (they thought they were), they were praising Revolver, which had finally stretched the audience to be able to listen to rock music. All rock journalism changed that year, along with everything else in culture. Revolver was just too advanced in 1966.

Now, that was just a record we’re talking about and not really very important, but the same problem can happen with your new products, your new services and even your new ideas: if they are too innovative people just aren’t ready for them. They just won’t ‘get them’.

I’ve spoken in front of the wrong audiences many times. They didn’t get my topic of creative thinking. They didn’t get my guitar. They didn’t like my purple suit. They didn’t like my mad hair. It was too much. They just didn’t ‘get it’.

So what do I do? Unlike the Beatles, I can’t rely on my popular cultural icon status to be able to release Revolver onto an unsuspecting public. I did get a haircut. But I have to either dumb my message and approach down to an acceptable level or find a different audience, one that is ready. One or the other.

I suspect that you have a great new product or service and yet you can’t get anyone to take it up. I bet you have a great new idea but are struggling to find people to ‘get it’.

My guess is that, because it’s you, and I know you’re one of these ‘creative types’, it’s probably not because what you’ve got isn’t any good. It’s probably because what you’ve got is TOO good. Too good to be true and just too different.

I’m not in a position to offer advice. (I’m in the position to buy a new suit). But if I were to give advice, perhaps it would be this: keep looking for ways to find your audience. They’re not going to be down the street. They’re not going to be coincidentally in the next conference or networking event you rock up to. You’ll probably find, like me, that they’ll be 3% of your audience hidden in every batch of normals you come across. Our challenge is to increase those odds by being more strategic.

The other thing you could try would be to stop being so darn clever and knuckle down to be mediocre and boring just like everyone else. Play it safe and sound, that’s best.

But I can’t imagine you can do that anymore than I can. We just don’t have ‘being ordinary’ in us, do we?

Ayd works with people and businesses to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com

Is creativity a form of madness?


People have been asking my opinion on this article and the research behind it. So here it is.

Creativity ‘closely entwined with mental illness’

Are creative people ‘mad’? Is creativity a ‘madness’? Or do they mean that we had all better watch out, because if you’re one of those creative types, you’re probably going to go mad and be depressed, and if you try to ‘get creative’ you may even end up killing yourself.

This is, of course, not what the researchers are saying.

“Lead researcher Dr Simon Kyaga said the findings suggested disorders should be viewed in a new light and that certain traits might be beneficial or desirable.

For example, the restrictive and intense interests of someone with autism and the manic drive of a person with bipolar disorder might provide the necessary focus and determination for genius and creativity.

Similarly, the disordered thoughts associated with schizophrenia might spark the all-important originality element of a masterpiece.”

The fact that lots of famous authors killed themselves, or were depressed, proves little as there are plenty of authors who are happy and still alive. There’s a tendency with statistics to point to the conclusion you want to make.

For me, the danger with the popular media view on this topic is that creativity and mental illness are portrayed as interchangeable. Beth Murphy of the mental health charity Mind agrees, “It is important that we do not romanticise people with mental health problems, who are too often portrayed as struggling creative geniuses”

And by the same token, we shouldn’t label creative people as ‘mad’.

I’ve been introduced on stage as being “totally bonkers, off the wall and crazy mad” which wasn’t really very helpful when all I was really doing was being interesting and entertaining in a unique way, with a guitar. It just shows how totally boring the other speakers on the bill must have been.

The media also often gets cause and effect confused. It may be that a ‘mental illness’ such as bipolar disorder helps an individual in a creative role to be more productive and creative OR it could mean that someone with bipolar disorder seeks out a role in a creative industry. Either way, we may find a higher proportion of people with bipolar disorder in a creative role. It says nothing about a disorder being necessary for that role. However, the research showed that someone working in a creative role is no more likely to have a mental disorder than anyone else, thus nullifying the commonly held inference and making this paragraph, like most journalism on the topic, void.

Here’s another article that makes me a bit cross:

Creative minds ‘mimic schizophrenia’

Which of course is not true. It’s not true because creativity is such a vast human endeavour and schizophrenia is an invented term to label certain types of mental illness conditions. We might as well say “Oranges mimic Tuesdays”. Except that would be totally mad.

It’s not the research that I’m questioning here, but the inferences that are being made.

I think we need to be more careful about the definition of what ‘mental illness’ is. If someone’s condition serves them, supports their work, is part of who they are and causes no long-term internal distress, then I don’t see why the medical profession, the media or anyone else has the right to call a person as having a ‘disorder’ when all they really are, is different.

If someone is suffering and in pain and can’t function in a way that serves them, then that’s a problem, obviously, and treatment may be needed. But if they’re suffering solely because of the way society has labeled them, treats them and doesn’t accommodate them, then that’s wrong.

In an age of political correctness, has society’s prejudice not been eradicated at all but instead changed its style? Has it moved from it being acceptable to discriminate out of malice or fun to discriminating by labelling anything different from a normal standard as being a ‘disorder’ and looking down elitist normal noses with pity at the poor disordered sick people.

It would make more sense if we found someone who was totally boring, who had created nothing, contributed nothing, who had lived a dull life – to be labelled as ‘mentally ill’. I’d say that person was really sick and in need of treatment.

It’s the creative people who innovate, who invent, who drive the human race forward with their discoveries, that save lives, that enrich souls. And for what? So that dull people, who never look up from looking at their shuffling feet can moan that jumping safely from the edge of space is a waste of a Sunday evening when they could have been watching the X-Factor results.

John Lennon once said that “everything is the opposite of what it is” which sounds like a nonsense statement until you think about how often it appears to be true…

If to be creative, I had to drink from the cup of madness and risk insanity, rather than become a norm, a drone, whose life’s purpose was only to remain within the accepted parameters of ordinariness – I’d drink deeply, and accept the highs and the lows as a price worth paying for a life worth living.

Ayd works with people and businesses to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com

The story of ‘What if?’


PSA NSA Professional Speaking Association convention stage

My stage. That massive screen dwarfs the guitars!

Last Friday I opened the 12th Annual Convention of the Professional Speaking Association in London. I’d planned to do something different there for some time. I’d already worked out that my talk was to be called ‘The Power of ‘What If?’. But I’d had this idea to write a song called ‘What If?’ and not only to perform it live on stage with my guitar but to record a full band backing track and have a video synced too. I knew that the venue had the largest projection screen in London so it would be a shame not to take advantage of that.

But time passed and the date of the convention grew closer. I was also involved in support for other aspects of the event and almost forgot that I’d have to get a move on to be able to work out my own quite complex idea.

Two weeks before I discovered that my normal stage suit was unusable. It had just worn out. There was a particular outfit I’d always wanted so decided now was the time to get it. I spoke to a tailor in America who had Paul McCartney’s original 1965 Beatle suit that was worn at Shea Stadium, the Beatles most famous and biggest gig, and the world’s first stadium rock show and he made me a facsimile suit, stitch by stitch perfect.

It was now a week before the gig and I still hadn’t written the song. Maybe it was too big a task? To come up with a new song that was good enough to open a show, record it, learn it AND do a video in just a few days?

I wrote the song in an evening, or at least the tune and a few words (the two words were ‘What if?’, so no great lyrical creative leap that day). I spent the next day splurging out dozens and dozens of phrases and words and selected the best to form the lyrics. I only needed 90 seconds worth, but it still wasn’t easy.

Then I started working out how to record it. I didn’t have time to get my drummer in, I’d have to do it myself, and I’m not that great a drummer. Even to keep a constant time over 90 seconds would be tough. I pulled it off by recording a few batched of 8 bars and then duplicating them to create the drum track. The next day I overlaid the main acoustic guitar, then the complex bass line (I’m quite proud of that), then two tracks of 12 sting Rickenbacker, one track of lead guitar with a wah-wah pedal and one without. Then I laid down the main vocal and two extra vocals creating a three-part harmony. All the tracks were first or second take – I knew I didn’t have time for perfection.

I then mixed the recording to create the backing track. I turned off the main vocal and the lead guitar as I’d be playing these live. Then I had to figure out the video…

I wanted the video to feature the same outfit as the one I’d be wearing on stage. The only problem was that the new suit was being held in customs. It arrived on Wednesday (the conference was on Friday, and I’d be setting off to it on Thursday). As soon as the suit arrived I filmed various segments of me playing the various instruments and synchronised it to the music, putting footage of the Earth from space in between. By late Wednesday night, it was done.

All in all it was about 30 hours of work that went into 90 seconds of performance that opened the convention.*

You can see the finished video here (this version has the main vocal turned back on).

It seemed to go down well at the event, but of more importance to me was that it served as a reminder of what can be done when you put your mind and your passion into achieving the ideal outcome for something. To my mind, I’d achieved the impossible. And although the audience would have never seen or guessed the effort that went into it, I feel it was worth it.

So my question to you is this: what idea outcome could YOU actually pull of if you put your mind and your passion to the test? What if…

The lyrics are:

What if you were brave?
What if you took flight?
What if after trying hard you got it right?

What if you had time?
What if you had cash?
What if you could find that inspiring lightning flash?

And see, realise
As your dreams came back to life before you eyes
What would we see, what would we find?
With opportunity laid out before your mind?

What if you had hope?
What if you were great?
What if you find a way to escape your certain fate?

What if you had skill?
What if you went wild?
What if you still had the imagination of a child?

(* I was pleased to have the ‘subtle’ Beatle reference in my act as it was 50 years to the day that the Beatles’ first record, Love Me Do, was released.)

Ayd works with people and businesses to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com

How Apple understand both ‘art’ and ‘science’


Applestore bibleIt was always said that Jazz could be described as ‘a loose kind of tightness and a tight kind of looseness’.

That’s a really good description of how creativity works.

It’s the mix of art and science, logic and chaos, restriction and freedom, opening out and closing down and of course of ‘left’ and ‘right-brain’ working together.

And yet our world is polarised into two halves. We’re told and schooled and trained to be one thing or the other. The classic example is we’re forced to choose between being a scientist or an artist way early in our education. The system assumes that they are mutually exclusive and that you cannot be both.

The problem we have is that the great scientists, in all fields of physics, chemistry and biology, those that made the big discoveries, were also artists.

By the same token, the great artists and designers had to have an understanding of science.

Here are some simple definitions:*

Science = an understanding of the natural world, how it works and being able to describe it.

Art = doing something with that understanding.

Science = knowing how to make changes

Art = making changes

Let’s have a look at how this art/science paradox works in one of our favourite companies; Apple.

Let’s think about what they are known for, loved for and hated for (no-one is ambivalent when it comes to Apple)

• Gorgeous cutting edge design (of the products, the packaging and the marketing materials)

• A focus on creative lifestyle activities: music, design and film.

• They create a ‘togetherness’, a club (or cult), of like-minded creatives, geniuses, fun, coolness.

But there’s more:

• Their products are expensive and exclusive.

• They operate in a closed system of their own making.

• Users have to surrender other freedoms to fully enter their ecosphere.

All of those points are true you can use them to add to your own beliefs, depending of what’s important to you, as to whether you hate or love the company.

But whatever we think, one thing remains, Apple is the most valuable company in the world.

Whether you refuse to buy an iPhone, one thing remains, Apple is the most valuable company in the world.

If you baulk at iTunes’ grip on the music industry, one thing remains, Apple is still the most valuable company in the world.

They were also recently voted the UK’s most ‘cool’ brand.

There’s no getting away from it.

So we need to ask ourselves, how did they do that? Is there anything we can learn?

The one thing that I’ve noticed is that they employ a loose kind of tightness and a tight kind of looseness – at the same time. We all think they’re arty and cool and yet their business acumen is more solid than anyone on Earth. We all think that amazing design is the big acumen and the ease-of-use that results from it gives us freedom to create and yet they control our thoughts.

There’s the story that Steve Jobs dropped the prototype iPod into a fish tank to see if tiny bubbles would come out from the device (they did). If there was air in the device, there was space and if there was space there was an opportunity to make the device smaller.

There’s the story of the room full of prototype iPhone boxes, all slightly different designs, so they could find exactly the right kind of user unboxing experience. If you’ve ever opened a new iPhone you’ll know they got it right. Can you think of many other companies that go to that level of control of the consumer experience?

Applestore employees are given a training handbook which has a section on ‘Getting to yes’ by controlling the language the employees use when talking to customers. Some of the most interesting, and revealing are shown in he photo below. Look at the heading ‘Do Not Use’. This is not a manual of suggestions, these are commandments.

So instead of ‘bomb’ or ‘crash’ they have to say ‘unexpectedly quits’ or ‘does not respond’. Instead of software ‘bug’ they have to say ‘condition’.

Fanatical control over your business is good. Looking at the big picture and encouraging artistic freedom is good. The real trick is to have them both at the same time.

That’s what Apple does.

That’s creativity.

That’s Jazz.

(* other definitions are available)

Ayd works with people and businesses to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com

Is this you: Too many ideas?


Too many ideasMost of my creativity work is involved with helping people and businesses come up with more and better ideas for their work, their lives, their businesses, to help them innovate, develop new products or new ways of working.

But sometimes I hear this: “but I don’t have a problem coming up with ideas. My problem is I just have too many and don’t don’t which to implement.”

Is this you?

From time to time, it’s certainly me. I have two finished feature film scripts, ideas for three other films, ideas for four novels, twenty finished short stories, hundreds of songs that need recording, dozens of recorded songs that need uploading to iTunes, three business ideas for Dragon’s Den, three big marketing ideas for my own business, three non-fiction books three-quarters finished, ideas for three more non-fiction books, ideas for three public events and three ideas for some big corporations that could innovate their businesses.

That’s quite plainly too much to work on today. Too much to work on this week. I couldn’t get all that lot done in a month and the fact that some of those ideas have been hanging around for ten years tells me a decade isn’t even going to crack it.

It’s obvious that I have too many ideas to do before 2022. If I could work on them all full time, maybe I’d break the back of the to-do list by Christmas 2014, or perhaps not.

Because let’s face it, developing and working on speculative ideas can never really be our full-time role. Most of the time we have to get the donkey work done, the bread and butter, sort out family life, keep the wolf from the door, pay the bills, work for the Man, please the boss, firefight, ambulance chase, deal with people, manage stuff and generally ‘get on’. Only a lucky few have the luxury to sit back and pick and choose from their creative list or religiously work through every single idea one by one without distraction.

So is it simply a question of time management, of project management and the old chestnut, goal setting?

Partly.

Those are topics well described (by me in the past and loads of others). Here’s a summary: Prioritise your projects, break ‘em down into bite sized chunks and do a little bit of work on them each day. That’s goal setting. Not much more to be said really.

But does that solve the problem?

No really, no.

Because goal setting, time and project management only work when you know what you’re supposed to be doing. The reason people don’t achieve their dreams (or even get the most humble of tasks done like reading the papers or having a break) is not through lack of time management or not having goal setting techniques.

Could it be because all of those wonderful ideas we have, we know, deep down that they’re not really that great after-all, or would require far too much time and effort to transform into a good idea worth making sacrifices for?

To put it simply, we’re right back at the start, if we admit it. We actually have lots and lots of pretty average ideas and a few very poor ones. The reason we don’t know which to choose is because none of them excites us, ignites our passions or gives that shudder of a thrill as if buried treasure has been found.

The fact of asking the question, ‘which idea should I pursue’ gives us a clue that perhaps we need to be more creative still; take the present batch of ideas as practice for coming up with something worth pursuing. If you were asking ‘which girl or boy should I marry?’ and had to weigh up the pros and cons of a group of men of women, it probably means that you haven’t found the right person just yet. It’s the same with ‘the big idea’.

Why should there be a ‘big idea’ you may ask? Because we know perfectly well that we can’t do everything. We know perfectly well that we haven’t got the time. We know perfectly well that multitasking produces multiple average results.

We know from everyone who has ever been successful that they concentrated on one thing at a time, to get it right, to power it, to complete it.

So the next time you hear someone saying ‘I’ve got so many ideas, I don’t know which to focus on’ tell them they’re just not being creative enough. And that includes me if you catch me at it too.

Ayd works with people and businesses to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com