I don’t believe in Experts


expert, thought leader, expert success, entrepreneur revolutionHave you ever met someone who had a particular faith, let’s say an evangelical Christian, or whatever, and then one day, something happened? Perhaps a particular set of incidents conspired to create a new realisation that knocked the legs from under their faith. Suddenly they found themselves no longer believing. Suddenly they had to modify their identity in light of this loss of certainty.It must be devastating and yet liberating. It must be embarrassing and yet empowering. To realise that many of the precepts that your day-to-day life depended on now have no meaning, or a totally different meaning. It must be unnerving and exciting. (Just for the record, it may be a similar process going the other way, from being agnostic to believer in something, I imagine).But I’m not talking about religion here. But the metaphor is apt. The preoccupation I’d like to discuss with you is not organised traditional religion, although it shares may of the motifs of a religion. I have lost faith in the Cult of the Expert.

In my model there are perhaps four types of businesses; those that are so large that they are a system, those that are so small that they are a family and those two that are an individual who operates as either a skilled freelance tradesperson selling action, or as a consultant selling ideas.*

So to make it clear, a large corporate company like Tesco or IBM operates as a system where individuals have their tasks but are unlikely to have overarching big-picture roles and are probably siloed into departments or divisions (let’s call them type A).

A small business like an engineering firm or accountancy company operates as a family as everyone knows everyone (lets call them type B).

A freelance tradesperson is a plumber or graphic designer or even a marketeer or business analyst. They do things for the other two types of businesses (let’s call them type C).

It’s that final category where the ambiguous role exists; the individuals who are ‘Experts’ (type D).

It’s been said, by Malcolm Gladwell, that an Expert can be defined as someone who has done constructive, consistent practice or work in a particular area for around 10,000 hours. (I’ve explored this myth here). The ‘Cult of the Expert’ would use this evidence to label Gladwell as a type D ‘expert’, in light of him having written the book Outliers, as an ‘Expert in Experts’. This is my loss of faith. I say he is not an Expert. He is a journalist and author. His expertise makes him a type C. He may be paid to deliver talks. In that role he is a type C, paid to share his experiences that people may learn from, but more likely he has added a new form of type C to his portfolio, that of an entertainer.

At this point let me explain that I’ve been running my type C business for 12 years. I’ve been selling my services as graphic artist, publisher and professional speaker and trainer in creativity and innovation. Perhaps there was a while when I though I might be a type D Expert. But no, I am not.

I’m proposing that Experts do not exist except in the egos of people who believe they are, or have convinced other people that they are.

If you’re a disciple of the Cult of the Expert, you may not agree at this point, or I may not have explained my thoughts clearly enough. So I’ll try harder.

Let’s imagine you are a dentist. You are not an ‘Expert’, you are a dentist. You are not even an ‘expert dentist’, you are a dentist. You might be a good or not-so-good dentist, but you are still a dentist. Your expertise is dentistry. But you are not an expert.

The Cult of the Expert would claim you are an Expert and should write a book, create a training programme and range of products to sell to others, your followers, who are not Experts, to help them become like you, an Expert. But you are not an Expert, you are a dentist. You either operate in a type B or type C business model.

In other words, to move to type D means that you are actually leaving your expertise behind to become a mediocre trainer, internet marketeer or author. If you excel at any of these new models then you have become a new type C business person; you are now a dentist and an author, trainer or internet marketeer. You have new expertise, but you are still not an Expert.

The Cult of the Expert suggests that expertise exists in isolation from actually doing something. It’s a subtle difference between the person who has expertise in an area that they have practiced and delivered and then also have the expertise to explain and train some element of that expertise or experience. This is the concept of putting a type C business person on a pedestal (or putting themselves on that pedestal) as an ‘Expert’.

Confused? Consider this. A teacher has expertise in a subject and in the teaching of that subject. They are not an Expert, they are a teacher as as such command a certain salary. Likewise a trainer gets paid a market value fee for showing someone how to do something. Then there’s a motivational speaker, who has a story to tell and some experience or expertise to share. They command a certain fee (usually a lot more than a teacher). The fee is often proportional to how famous or how wealthy they are. This is where the Cult of the Expert kicks in. It is in effect similar to the Cult of Celebrity. People will pay more for the Expert because they believe some of their magic celebrity, charisma or money making power will rub off on them.

So if I’m not an Expert, who and what am I? I have experience in a few areas that others don’t and I believe I can explain them well. I deliver my knowledge as a facilitative trainer and as an entertaining speaker. If I was lucky enough to be on tv or to suddenly make a large amount of money (in any field) then I would be a celebrity and could command higher fees. But my new celebrity status would not have increased my experience or knowledge in any way, even though I would the be hailed as an Expert.

Likewise having written a number of books has not increased my expertise in any way but has given the illusion that I am perhaps a Expert in the Cult. But I am not. My books may be interesting, entertaining and educational but they do not add to my expertise (other than I am now an ‘author’). They are marketing tools that promote what I do and what I know. They do not make me an Expert, or to give the Cult its other name, they do not make me a Thought Leader. I do not want to scrabble to compete with other so-called thought leaders to compete with their thoughts to get in ‘the lead’. I have ideas, I may have even thought of something new, something before anyone else has thought of it. That’s nice (but unlikely) and it gives me something new to explain or train. But it doesn’t make me a leader. Neither do I want to have a bunch of disciples, following my so-called thought leadership.

Why am I so against the idea of the Cult (or any ‘cult)? Because having lost faith in the religion of the Cult of the Expert I now believe that it has at its centre an erroneous belief system that is perpetuated by deception. I feel that it has a dark side that sustains it by drawing energy (and money) from its disciples, who, like many religions, are the weakest and most desperate people in any given society or community.

I have woken up to a new dawn in which there are many wonderful talented people with expertise, but there are no Experts. There are plenty of great people who have plenty to say and from who we can learn a great deal, but they should not be worshiped.

In 1970, John Lennon closed his first solo, post-Beatles album with a moving and dramatic song called ‘God’ in which he dismissed everything he had ever believed in and had ever worshiped (including Elvis, Bob Dylan and religious and political figures). In the end he closes with the devastating confession, “I don’t believe in…. Beatles”. In that one line he destroyed the myth that he himself had co-created and that was worshiped by millions. The song ends with, “I just believe in me, Yoko and me. That’s reality”.

The Cult of the Expert is the desire to set up ourselves, or our favorite celebrities, as gods. The world has enough gods already and they don’t seem to do us much good.

As business people or people in business, I believe our role should be to add value, to increase knowledge and understanding for the benefit of ourselves and others in a symbiotic relationship, that benefits the whole. I believe in humility, humanity and the service of others for the greater good.

That belief now rules me out of joining the Cult of the Expert. What about you?

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

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

* Ok, it’s overly simplistic and there are blurred areas, so feel free to have your own model that’s different. These are my opinions, other opinions are available and encouraged. That is the essence of this article, to think for yourself, but not to conclude those thoughts are better than someone else’s. Just because I’ve lost my faith doesn’t make those that still believe wrong, because that would be an absolute. It’s just that I believe them to be wrong. But just because I believe something doesn’t make it right. I might be wrong thinking that they are wrong. The burden of proof is now on the Experts to prove they exist. 
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The eradication of doubt


The Creation of Adam Michelangelo Sistine Chapel God and man

Section from ‘The Creation of Adam’ by Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475–1564) in the Sistine Chapel, Rome.

Most people find it hard to sell themselves. How often have we come across people (including ourselves) who say ‘I can sell someone/something else, but when it comes to selling myself I can’t do it’. When the spotlight is forced on them by themselves, they’re riddled with self-doubt and lack confidence in themselves and their abilities. It’s interesting to notice what kind of people do find it easy to sell themselves compared with those who don’t, and what it is about themselves that they are actually able to promote.

So why is this and what can we do about it?

In my experience, the main category of people who struggle to sell themselves are the many different types of artists: painters, musicians, designers, dancers, performers and writers, and the thing they struggle selling is their art.

The main category of people who are able to sell themselves don’t have a particular name so let’s call them ‘salespeople’. They have in common a projectable self-belief that is not connected to any product, artifact or art that they have made, but is linked to confidence in something external and/or their ability to deliver a potential service in the future.

So now we can see a clearer difference. The ‘artists’ judge themselves and their self-worth on what they have created in the past, their ‘art’, which as time goes on, has less and less value in their eyes. They then project this lack of self worth, index linked to their fading glories or past failures, into the future. This pressure lowers self confidence in their abilities so much that they fail to be able to communicate the value of their work and fail to sell (or even pick up the phone or knock on the door).

The ‘salesperson’ does not really care about the past. They communicate with people in the present about the future. Their self-belief is index linked to an ideal service they may deliver in the future. This creates an unlimited potential in the future which builds confidence, enabling the person to sell their services.

So in part it’s a difference between products and services. A product already exists and can be judged, but a service has yet to be delivered so might well be perfect.

But there’s something more than that. The product that the artist is talking back is intrinsically linked to them. The salesperson may be able to easily sell someone else’s product precisely because it exists and is tangible. It exists to the salesperson in isolation and therefore can be linked to their own confidence about their own ability to communicate its benefits as a service.

The artist who created the product can’t do this because the product is too close to them, it is still part of them. The very fact that they are an artist means that their own feelings and emotions went into the creation of the art. This is unlike a bricklayer creating a wall to a set plan, possibly laid down by someone else. They might put their all into the construction, and may even be able to describe themselves as a highly skilled artisan or craftsperson,  but when finished, the wall is not art and not linked to the individual in the same way as art. Instead, it’s the product of a service rendered.

So for the artist to sell themselves and their art they have a few stark choices. One is to portray their art as a future service. This is how successful designers learn to think. The other way is to portray their art as products. This is how successful painters learn to think.

But there is another thing to consider and that is the power of a team mind. Obviously it’s easier to sell your product or service when you have a real physical team of people supporting and working with you. But when you’re on your own there is a secret way of being a team too.

Our consciousness gives us the benefit of an internal voice, the voice in our head. It lets us weigh up options and figure things out. It works as a stream of a conversation in which we are both the speaker and the listener. Many people have tried to investigate how and why this works. It’s related to the fact that we actually have two brains, two hemispheres. We often call them ‘right’ and ‘left’ and relation them to the different world views of abstract visual emotional concepts (right side) and logical sequential verbal mechanics (left side).

Another model that takes these basic concepts further is to think of one of our brains (the active dogmatic left side) as the Apprentice or Emissary and the other as the master (the unconscious holistic right side). The conversations we have, happen between these two beings, the Master and the Emissary.

A route to self confidence can begin by accepting this model and listening to the voice of the Master, who always has your best interests at heart, and allowing him/her to guide you to the best decisions. Now you’re working as a team. You’re also creating your art as a team, having internal conversations as a team. Many artists describe the creative process as a collaboration between a part of them carrying out the physical art and another part giving the instruction, often externalised, sometimes described as divine instruction, coming to them. John Lennon described his songwriting process as him as an antenna, picking up signals from a higher source.

If we, as artists, accept this model we may well just find that our internal team will also support us in the selling of our products and services, which, now, are not only our sole and lonely creation. Plus, safe in the knowledge that our Master will not let us down, we can rely on him/her in the future too, so can base our self confidence on that certainty.

This, I believe, is the secret to the curse that stops us selling ourselves and our art. This is the secret to the eradication of doubt.

For more on these ideas, read this excellent book: The Master and his Emissary by Iain McGilchrist.

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

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

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

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

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

Brainstorming doesn’t work


Is it time to start thinking of ideas generation in a different way and sacrifice the sacred cows of old? Should we admit what people have known for sometime, that so-called traditional brainstorming doesn’t work?

Ideastorm, brainstorming, ideas generation, training workshopIf brainstorming is simply dumping a bunch of people in a boardroom and expect them to suddenly ‘get creative’ and come up with some amazing ideas then it’s no wonder it fails.

There are two key elements of the classic brainstorm that we want to examine and challenge here and they’re both wrapped up together:

  • Brainstorming is a group activity
  • There should be no judgmental, critical or negative attitudes in the meeting.

So lets get stuck in on some clear and simple facts on the matter: Firstly, let’s admit that it’s individuals who think of ideas, not groups. But we all know from personal experience that one of the things that can inspire an individual to think of a great idea is being in a group. But it has to be the right group.

…Keith Sawyer, a psychologist at Washington University, has summarized the science: “Decades of research have consistently shown that brainstorming groups think of far fewer ideas than the same number of people who work alone and later pool their ideas.”

– Johan Lehrer in the New Yorker, January 2012

Large groups or groups that contain political or power plays will not work. People will feel inhibited or too much pressure to perform or conform. All those things ruin the creative process in the mind.

This is why the original brainstorming condition is to have no negative or judgmental attitudes in the meeting. This is the main mantra of idea generation practitioners because most people are so lacking in confidence in their own creativity that one harsh comment will shut them down.

But there’s another reason to get the group dynamic right. Think about yourself for a moment. It’s really annoying to be in a group that doesn’t ‘get’ where you’re coming from or doesn’t let you speak. They might not have the inside track on the issues or they may not be as engaged in the theme as you are. They may not listen to your valuable insight, preferring the sound of their own voices. In any large group there’s bound to be some arrogance or envy and let’s face it, people you don’t like or don’t get on with.

This leads us to that brainstorming rule. The only way to deal with this problem is to level the playing field by bringing in the ‘don’t be rude and don’t be negative’ instruction. It creates the democracy to allow everyone equal say and have equal value. Sounds good in principle but in practice something else happens.

Research has been done that ‘proves’ that by not having debate, criticism and argument, a soft and fluffy nice meeting is manifested where too many diverse ideas are generated that cause ‘cognitive fixation’ . The mind gets blocked and fixated on those multitude of ideas and fails to break out into something innovative. Everyone is too busy being nice.

Too many organisations are running their sessions under these wrong conditions. They may have too many people, too many of the same type of people or too many disparate people.

By fixating on the democratisation of creativity are we mixing up the different types of contributions that individuals and groups can bring?

Perhaps we expect too much from an ‘idea’ meeting. Do we expect great original idea after great original idea? Perhaps what we should be aiming for is smaller quantum jumps from ideas put forward. Perhaps the role of a group is to fiddle with ideas put forward by individuals, who have already made intuitive leaps, and to improve those ideas?

Throughout history, groups and teams have out-performed individuals in the elaboration, expression, development and manifestation of an idea. Yes, an individual may be remembered as the one who ‘thought of it’, the the combined group mind always improves and builds on it.

John Lennon and Paul McCartney ink drawingWith the Beatles the main ideas generating group for their songwriting was John Lennon and Paul McCartney, working together to create all those hits. So here we have a brainstorming group of just two. They didn’t even let George in on the songwriting meetings, he and Ringo would have to wait until the songs were more or less finished and presented to the group to arrange and embellish.

But Lennon and McCartney didn’t run a ‘let’s be nice to each other’s views’ songwriting brainstorm. It’s well documented that their differences and disagreements would cause arguments and fights. And yet it was these differences that made them great (and the same differences would eventually pull them apart).

We have the stereotypes of McCartney singing the optimistic, “It’s getting better all the time” and Lennon add the sardonic, cynical, “couldn’t get no worse”.

They’d do that with each other, face to face, opposite each other with guitars. With McCartney being left handed they would have appeared as if looking into a mirror.

Paul would sing, “She was just seventeen, you know what I mean” and John would stop and say, “I LOVE that!”. In Hey Jude, Paul sings a line he was unhappy with, “the movement you need is on your shoulder” and John retorted, “don’t change it, that’s the best bit!”.

We now know that although all those Lennon-McCartney songs were credited as equal compositions, they were nearly all instigated by one of the pair first and then worked up afterwards, together, then further developed with the other members of their team.

Paul McCartney may have thought of the ‘idea’ for the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper. But it was the team of the four Beatles, their producer and engineers that embellished, elaborated, enhanced and manifested that idea into the record.

This should be our new model for brainstorming (or Ideastorming as I call it). Here are the new guidelines:

  • get a small group of two to five people who you trust. Could you bare to be stuck with them in traffic for eight hours? Could you bare to be stranded overnight with them?
  • each prime mover puts forward their ideas and the others help to change, embellish, enhance or reject them as an evolving debate.

Can it really be that simple? Actually yes. The secret to making brainstorming work was not to leave your brain at the door. All along we should have been using a healthy dose of common sense and realise that no strict formula or rules of ‘do this’ or ‘don’t do this’ has any place in creativity.

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

Click here to learn about Ayd’s Ideastorm workshops.

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 anatomy of a dinosaur business


anatomy of a dinosaur business right brain thinking

The meteor that will wipe out dinosaur thinking in today’s world has already hit. And just like the crisis that befell the dinosaurs 60 million years ago, whatever it was, it didn’t wipe them all out overnight. There was an extinction phase during which a few species waddled on before finally becoming extinct and known only to us in the fossil record.

We are living in a new extinction phase now. How can we survive and thrive in this rapidly changing landscape? How can we stand out, add more value, cope with different expectations and be remarkable?

To survive, our creativity needs to be unlocked and applied in new and challenging ways. Only the agile and the warm-blooded innovators will make it. Those that are inflexible and dogmatic will not. We all need to step out of the imagined boundaries that keep us small and embrace our true creative potential.

But what is a dinosaur business? Here are the main characteristics shared by both the extinct giant reptiles and the soon-to-be-extinct businesses:

Dinosaur businesses are:

Designed to perform only one task, to hunt in one particular way.

They’ll never be able to truly embrace social media, new technology, relationship marketing and selling.

Lack of vision: Unable to see the big picture.

They may have great systems, but the constituent parts don’t always work as a coherent whole, all working together for a common aim. There’s no inspiring vision or direction. They’re focused solely on the bottom line, never looking up to see how their purpose may need to change.

Low I.Q. due to small nerve centre.

Decisions are made by a small group of people, usually all the same type of people from the same type of background who come up with the same ideas. They don’t seem able to inspire ideas from the rest of the workforce, let alone trust and implement any of them.

Cannot hear advice and unable to process and respond quickly to new information.

With operation systems being so inflexible and out-of-date, they’re unable to make changes due to new data, cultural changes, economic changes, market or attitude changes.

Incapable of manipulating situations and people in a delicate and personal manner.

They can’t inspire people to do their best, don’t share in a vision and treat people as a ‘resource’ that is nameless, stripping people of their personality and individuality. In return they get a bland workforce who work to live rather than live to work and couldn’t care less about the business, watching the clock to see when they can get away to do something worthwhile.

Needs to consume a lot of resources just to stay alive.

They’re so heavily loaded with personnel, buildings and plant that it takes a fortune just to keep the doors open. They probably waste a lot of resources too. Lean is not a word they have heard of.

Slow moving.  Unable to change direction quickly.

The momentum of their operations is so old fashioned and set in stone that they struggle to modify anything even when they see the need to.

Can’t regulate internal temperature, not totally self governing. Reliant on external bodies.

They’re often reliant on banks, investors and shareholders who can limit their movement and changes. Often a change in a law can throw a massive spanner in the works.

Powerful and strong but ungainly and cannot function without causing damage to the environment.

From massive energy usage, having to heat and cool large offices, fuel for large fleets of vehicles, unnecessary round the world shipping right down to departmental waste and individuals not caring about spend, they waste resources and create massive environmental footprints.

Cold bloodied, lack of care or compassion

From the extremes of environmental pollution and slave labour to careless health and safety measures, they caee about the bottom line over and above everything else, including people and communities (and often the law).

Cannot function without being destructive and competitive. The only strategy is to attack and consume.

Collaborate and share are words they don’t recognise. Their purpose is the be the last one standing and don’t care who or what get’s in their way. It’s war.

Don't tell the dinosaurs - right brain marketing for business

You may think those attributes are found only in massive and long established businesses. But you have a think. Do any of them apply to you too? If so, shake off the dinosaur and embrace the quick thinking vitality of the creatures that will very soon inherit the Earth, making it a better place in the process.

If you’re in a business, you might like to take a look at this masterclass about this topic, available as in-house training as well as for CEO groups.

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 deliver an innovation workshop in your business or CEO group or to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com