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

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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