Are you Extraordinary?


Extraordinary SpeakersI believe what makes us extraordinary, in whatever field we work in, is not the accolades, awards or achievements, but the character, the personality and the way we have coped with adversity in our unique ways.

It’s to this end that a colleague and I have set up a new iTunes radio show called ‘Extraordinary Speakers’.

It’s hosted by me and BBC tv and radio journalist Jeremy Nicholas with a different guest in each show.

It’s full of tips and advice from professional speakers to professional speakers but the anecdotes, stories and tips are relevant for anyone working in a entrepreneurial or expert based business.

I think the show is unique in this field due to its style of a group of speakers late at night in a hotel during a conference swapping stories of gigs around the world.

It’s full of funny, heartwarming and inspirational stories as well as the downright disasters. This is a warts and all look at the world of the speaker. You’ll learn lots and you’ll laugh even more.

One of the questions we posed in the first show was about firsts: What was the first album you bought with your own money?

I put it to you that the one you answer with is not the one you usually say. You usually bend the truth and give a better answer to make you look cool.

So it turns out there are two answers to the question: the one you say, and the real, probably embarrassing one.

It’s true when we ask each other, “how’s business?”. There’s the public relations answer and then there’s the truth.

kwackers

This is our metaphor for the show. We want our guests to give us their real truth to our questions, not the usual self promotional answers which although may make the speaker appear ‘cool’ or successful, it doesn’t help the rest of us, or make for a good show.

We believe that it’s these answers that actually make us extraordinary, not the press release answers, not the one sheet descriptions, not the website copy, but the idiosyncrasies, the failures that led to the major rethinks, the real personality behind the Fonzy-like photo on the business card.

And that’s why I’m telling you that my first LP, spent with my own £2.50 (it was a double album) was well spent in 1976 on the Animal Kwackers.

What about you?

To listen to the show on iTunes click here. If you enjoy it, please do give us a rating.

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 run an Innovation Ideastorm Masterclass in your organisation.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com

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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. 

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

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

The story of ‘What if?’


PSA NSA Professional Speaking Association convention stage

My stage. That massive screen dwarfs the guitars!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The lyrics are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com

The Power of ‘What If?’


The Power of What if? Ayd Instone innovation creativity conference keynoteHow can we trigger innovative thought, consistently, deliberately and when we need it?

One way is to use the power of a simple question. It’s a question at the heart of creativity, invention and imagination. It’s the force behind all creative storytelling, especially Science Fiction which can be defined as ‘What If?’ extrapolated into a story).

The question ‘What If?’ can be thought of as an energy field that can power our creativity. Just like most energies, it can be used to manifest both positive and negative effects with very different results. The qualifying factor to the question is how we relate it to time.

If we ask ‘what if?’ about the past, which we have no control over, it can easily lead to feelings of regret. E.g. “What if that had never happened?”, “What if I’d worked harder?”

But if we apply it to the future it fires our possibility thinking and leads, either directly or indirectly, to hope.

“What if there was a better way to do this?”

If we imagine an undesired outcome in the future, our brains begin to work on methods to prevent that future coming to past, or at least find the path of least damage. Imagining even our worst fears of the future gives us hope because we are still in the present with some chance, however small, to shape and even change the future.

If we imagine a desired outcome, our brains begin to fill in the gaps to speed the passage of the present into the desired future by directing our subconscious to incubate the problem until solutions or opportunities present themselves.

The application of ‘what if?’ fires the imagination and problem solving capacities of the brain and that imagination begins to manifest the emotions of the outcome.

This isn’t an application of the supernatural, so-called ‘law of attraction’. This isn’t about asking the universe, or God, or wishful thinking. This is the relatively simple neuroscience of the imagination.

Negative emotions based on regret will slow us down, but positive emotions based on desired outcomes, hope and wonder, will drive us and motivate us to seek out and manifest the desired outcome.

Wondering ‘what if?’ defines us as scientists, exploring the universe of possibilities. Taking action on those possibilities to manifest an outcomes makes us artists. It’s this blend of being both artist and scientist is what it means to be a creative mind.

Asking the question and seeking the answer is the start of creative innovation. That’s the power of ‘what if?’

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


Most people are wrong


CrowdMost people don’t like creativity. They say they do, but they don’t. They say they’re creative, but they’re not. They say, “we need more creativity around here” but they do nothing to allow that to happen. They say “we value creativity around here” but they actively seek to stamp it out.

Most people tell me that “you’re either creative or you’re not” and “genius is born, not made”, despite the massive evidence and research done to prove the opposite.

Most people have very good reasons why they can’t pursue their dreams, use their talents in their work, do work they enjoy, set up their own business, write their book, make a difference. Most people are very eloquent when it comes to telling me why it can’t be done. (They must have really thought it through.)

What I’ve found is that most people appear arrogant and certain but are in reality dramatically lacking in confidence in their abilities and self worth. Most people appear to be confident and optimistic about the future but in reality they’re panicking that they can clearly see the end of the line zooming up ahead of them and their money is running out. Most people lash out and blame. Most people say “It’s not fair”.

Most people secretly feel they could do more with their lives. Most people have told me they’d be massively philanthropic if they could just keep the wolf from the door in the rat race of their run-of-the-mill clichéd employment.

Most people think they have liberal, enlightened views, but subscribe to dogma and prejudice. Most people think they might be an idealist with passions but are trapped by routine and conservative risk-averse thinking.

Most people think I’m wacky, eccentric, bohemian, odd, nuts, crazy, colourful, even dangerous. I like dangerous. I’ve been compare to Willy Wonka and Doctor Who. I’ve been called inspirational. But I’ve also been called rubbish. I’ve been told “I don’t like your suit”.

I’ve been told, “you need to tone it down a bit” and that I need to “look more business-like”. and “there are too many photos on your website”. I’ve been told, “we don’t want you around here again, you incite people to rebel”.

I’ve been told, “we don’t want you to speak at our event, everyone will want to leave the company.”

Really? What could I possibly say that could achieve that? If that statement is true, that company is already walking on thin ice. Can a stranger come onto the stage and in 45 minutes incite everyone to totally change their lives? They give me more credit than I deserve. I wish I had that sort of power. But I don’t. All I can do is describe how things could be better, perhaps should be better, perhaps can be better.

Some people are born mediocre, some people achieve mediocrity, and some people have mediocrity thrust upon them (thanks to Joseph Heller, author of Catch 22).

I’ve been told I need to be more like most people. Most people want us all to be like most people. Most people are wrong.

When we’re driving somewhere and can’t get there because there are too many cars on the road, we tend to say, “I’m stuck in traffic”. The truth is that we’re not stuck in traffic, we ARE the traffic. The responsibility for not being part of the traffic is about taking personal responsibility. Most people hide in the crowd and yet imagine they’re different from crowd and yet make up the crowd. The decision not to be like most people is a tough personal one. It comes with risks and dangers. But it also comes with rewards, satisfaction and joy.

Perhaps Steve Jobs and Apple put it best:

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”*

Let’s all make the decision today.

Let’s not be most people.

* Did you know that text is written on the icon for “All my files” (in Lion) and TextEdit (In Snow Leopard) in Mac OSX?

Book Ayd to speak about Creativity and Innovation Mind-flow at your event.
For more interesting info see:
www.aydinstone.com

How to Be Unique


I gave a talk at the Global Speakers Summit in Noordwijk in the Netherlands in April entitled, ‘Unique’. It was essentially about finding out who you are by looking at what you’ve always done. Below is 12 minute edited version. I discussed my realisation that what I do now with my work is exactly what I was doing when I was last given the choice, when I was aged 7 to 15. To find out what and how, you’ll have to watch the film.

Book Ayd to speak at your event.
For more interesting info see:

www.aydinstone.com

My Creativity Mission


You’ve got to have a convincing ‘why’ to motivate you to do something. I’ve learnt that it can’t simply be ‘to make money’, there should be a higher purpose, a goal beyond that. So I decided to write down what mine was. Once that was clear it was interesting to see how it then affected behaviour. If I now have a decision to make on whether to pursue a particular project, I can run it past the mission: will this new project support my mission in any way? If the answer is ‘no’, then the decision is easy to make.

So here’s my mission statement:

“To create environments where creativity flourishes, where people experiment with innovative ideas together, free of dogma and boredom, where adults and children are able to develop and use their talents, uniqueness and abilities to their fullest potential without judgement, to benefit themselves and others. Empowering all people to be confident so that they can innovate their personal and business lives. To invest in a more creative future for all.”

With that in place it seemed more like a good idea for me to speak more in schools, to help empower both children and teachers in supporting creative thinking and doing. I’ve put together a compilation of my recent schools talks in the video below.

Here is a testimonial from a head teacher:

“Organised, personable, entertaining, and with some very clear and relevant messages for our Sixth Formers. Ayd is sincere and the students do appreciate that, and are far more likely to listen and weigh up what is being said, as a consequence.

Within 24 hours, one of our students changed her university course application to match her new understanding of the challenges the future might bring.

There was food for thought for all, and I would also consider booking Ayd for an hour at the start of a  staff inset day, particularly if the teachers needed to embrace change in a creative way. His anecdotes are also clear evidence of the huge power of teachers to add or detract from peoples’ lives, and we often forget this as we go about our everyday interactions with kids.”

— Ken Sullivan, Head of Sixth Form, Leighton Park School

If you’d like me to come and speak in a school near you, please do get in touch.

In the meantime, what’s your mission?

For more see:
www.aydinstone.com
www.sunmakers.co.uk

Where it’s @


Ayd Instone PSA award

It says "For his outstanding contributions to the PSA"

There’s one thing I hate about the annual Professional Speakers Association Convention: lunchtime on Sunday.

We’d all been locked in the hotel together, around 100 professional speakers, since Friday morning, having seen nine speakers present from the main stage, attended 6 workshops, had two dinners, lunches and breakfasts, three hour panel session, lots of networking coffee breaks, a multitude of catch up chats, numerous laughs and far too many late night/early hours of the morning ridiculously silly joint ventures planned. So for it all to come to what seems like an abrupt end come Sunday lunchtime is a jolt to the system.

The cure for that deflated feeling is what I’ve been doing now. Getting out my notes and once again getting excited about what I’ve seen, heard and learnt and most importantly what I’m going to do differently to benefit my own business. The main part of my review of being at such an event is to look at who I’m now going to contact and connect with, to thank them, to further some conversations and to discuss ideas with.

Is it a bit flippant to say it was the best PSA Convention I’ve been to? (I’ve been to the last 6). Objectively I think perhaps it was as the best. All the speakers were powerfully enlightening, entertaining and at the top of their game. Subjectively it certainly was, and I’m not just saying that because they gave me an award.

It was the first time I was actually embarrassed going on stage since I was awarded my 2 metres swimming certificate and sew-on patch for my trunks… aged 14 (my primary school had lost it, then later found it and forwarded it on to my subsequent school.) So on Saturday night after the awards were given out for speaker excellence to the great and the good I would have kindly refused had it not been such a nice piece of etched glass with the words ‘The presidents award for outstanding contribution’ on it. My thanks to Peter Roper and the board. Better than a badge with a fish on it. But I won’t sew it onto my trucks, might cause me to sink.

And anyway, it’s not about me, it’s ‘all about you’ as new PSA president @grahamjones has put it. Every year the PSA has a ‘theme’ to focus the mind for the year ahead and to have something different to put on the marketing materials. The new theme for the year is @. Can you see what he’s done there? It means it’s all about connections, because it is. Whether that’s online connections using technology or just by keeping in touch over the phone or having meetings. It’s about external and internal connections, just like how our brains work by neurons connecting together to fire new combinations of ideas.

Having a new theme doesn’t mean the old ones don’t still apply, and their have been some good ones, which apply to whatever business you’re in, whether you’re a ‘speaker’ or not. We should all be there to ‘enlighten and entertain’, we should still have ‘astronomical aspirations’ and we should all be embracing the ‘Spirit’ of creating a sharing community.

This new theme is no different. It should apply to us all. We all need to enhance the connections we make. But I’d like to squeeze a few bonus meanings out of Graham’s ‘@’ theme. As well as being the symbol for email and twitter, meaning ‘at’, it’s also shorthand for ‘and’. I’m taking that as an extra cue for the year: AND: what else can I do to be better? AND: what else can I do to connect with more people, AND: what else can I do to help?

#psa11

The PSA @ logo for #psa11

AND there’s a third significance for the symbol ‘@’. It’s a mnemonic, which is a device used to simplify a complex process. For example computer ‘machine code’ is actually an endless stream of binary 0s and 1s, but few people can program a computer and get it to do anything useful using binary. It would just be too complicated and take too long. So binary processes are group together and simplified by being given a mnemonic, a name that we can understand and relate to that represents the complex process.

This year, whenever you see the @ symbol, let’s all realise that WE are mnemonics with our businesses. We are all here to make complex processes easier to understand so that our clients, customers, audiences or whoever we serve, can take action, make changes and improve their lives in some way. WE are the connectors. We ARE the @.

AND that’s where it’s @.

For more see:
www.aydinstone.com
www.sunmakers.co.uk