I love nuts, the salted kind. I’m not a huge fan of the unsalted kind, they taste pretty bland to me. Nuts are a good way of me staving off my hunger pangs with something that, in moderation, is pretty good for me.

With nuts you pay by weight. You pay for all the weight, shells included. In an average bag of pistachio nuts you get around 5 to 10% of nuts which are still closed or not sufficiently opened from the roasting process to be edible. That means you’re only getting 90 to 95% of what you paid for, and less if you count the weight of the shells.

For me it’s the unfulfilled promise of unopened pistachio shells. They go straight into the food bin or the fire, even though I’ve invested in their promise of taste and nutrition, in that order.

OK, so sometimes you get a burnt piece of cereal, but it’s one of maybe a thousand or more in the pack, which I’m prepared to tolerate from a 3- or 4-sigma variance point of view. But with pistachios, it’s different. It’s 5 or 10% of the flipping things. It’s more real, more tangible. It’s like buying broccoli when you never eat the base of the main stalk.

How hard can it be for the highly sophisticated food production or processing plants to exclude the nuts that don’t open sufficiently after the roasting phase and are not worthy of making the final cut?

Is it too hard, or is too lazy, or too greedy on the part of the producers?

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I’ve written before about how powerful our sense of smell can be for evoking feelings, memories and so on.

Some things obviously have a recognisable smell to them, like a chocolate factory for example – d’oh! – that immediately connects. I get the ‘recognisable smell’ feeling whenever I walk into a health food store.

What is that smell? Is it the supplements? It smells strong, other worldly and hard to identify, but it’s unmistakeable nonetheless. All health food stores have this smell. It seems impossible to counteract, even if you wanted to diminish or alter it.

For me it’s not a particularly nice smell. It feels artificial, chemical almost. But it is recognisable, identifiable, connecting, which is a good thing if you have such a store.

‘That’s mental!’, as they sometimes say over here, meaning something is crazy or mad. But that’s not what I mean by mental, at least not in this post.

I played in a table tennis tournament a few Saturdays ago. I’ve been playing quite a bit lately, but it’s been all practice and no matches. Some practice matches, sure, but it’s not the same thing. I played quite well in the tournament, at least for someone in his supposedly declining years, but I lost all 3 of the matches that went to a 5th game ‘decider’.

What I told myself, and anyone else who would listen, was that I wasn’t match tight, I’m not playing enough matches. That might be true, but it masks the fact that the mental side of the game has been my weakness. The talent and the work-rate is there, but the mental part has been not as strong, and it’s resulted in a failure to close out more than my share of matches in my favour. In sport, at all levels, so much is down to the mental side – belief, confidence, trust in one’s abilities, positivity, good decision-making in the heat of battle, presence of mind to close out the victory.

It got me thinking about the working world, and whether we’re neglecting the mental side of our development as well. We work hard, we update our learning, we follow process, we’re open to best practice. Do we make decisions and execute to the same high level with the top two inches? I came to the conclusion that we probably don’t, and it’s probably an area we should work on more.

In my last post my 3 big things with workshops grouped conveniently – if a little artificially – into an ABC aide memoire. No such luck this time?

I’ve mentored staff in my marketing and sales teams, and I’ve also mentored early stage companies, which can often be a one-person company, over the last handful of years in a consulting capacity. Here’s what I’ve found to be best for those being mentored, again helpfully arranged in an A-B-C format.

Ask questions. As a mentor you’re a sounding board for the person being mentored. It’s a chance for them to talk through their rationale and approach with an experienced other party who is detached, impartial and objective. Probing with questions can allow you to drill into the detail and challenge, play devil’s advocate and ultimately help validate what they’re doing.

Build structure and process. The job of a mentor I think is to help the person being mentored see the next few steps towards their desired destination. Structure and process combine to give them some direction long after the mentor session finishes. Structure provides the framework to hang the various elements and process gives them an order for doing things.

Coach. I think our job is to coach, providing suggestions and approaches that we’ve seen work well before, rather than to tell them what to do. That seems to be the best way for them – and their businesses – to improve over time, as they grow in confidence and independence.

I’ve done a few workshops over the years, and, as they say, I’m learning all the time. Each workshop is different and requires a unique preparation and approach, but when you’re repeating the same workshop content to a different group of attendees then you definitely improve as you go. Some things work well, and others less so.

Here’s my ABC of things that work well in workshops.

Advertise collaboration. OK, so the A is a bit forced, but ABC brings the post together nicely. The day is much more productive for attendees, and goes more quickly for everyone, when there’s plenty of interaction and discussion, so I always ask for it and encourage it. Otherwise it turns into a one-directional classroom arrangement which is tedious and no-one learns anything. We learn by doing and getting feedback from our peers as well as the workshop leader.

Build in Breaks. Secondly, make sure the day is punctuated by breaks, because attendees often have urgent things to attend to with their day job and also they get invaluable benefit from being able to network with other attendees. As long as you’re punctual with the punctuations, regular breaks work really well.

Behaviours. Here a bonus B. Workshops are often mini-change management exercises, and are simply a nicer word for training. If you’re looking to establish new behaviours, then you need to treat the workshop as one step in a process. I like to give pre-work to be done before the workshop, to get people to start thinking about what I want to cover, and I like to follow up after the workshop (anything from a week to 6 weeks after) to see how the new behaviours are bedding in and offer some corrections if required.

Challenge. It tends to be a benefit to the attendees if their assumptions, assertions or approach are challenged by the workshop leader or other attendees – constructively. If their approach is found to be robust enough to withstand criticism or questions, then great, that’s good validation. If not, then it will improve as a result of the additional viewpoints, input and recommendations.

 

 

 

Often a simple ‘thank you’ is all people need for the acknowledgement of their work. Someone remembering or taking time out to tell them that their efforts are appreciated.

So it is with ‘please’, the mannerly corollary to thank you. Simple, thoughtful manners go a long way to getting what we need, and sometimes what we want too. It makes the person we’re asking feel better about donating their time too. I always try to say please when I’m asking for something, no matter how insignificant the ask is. It’s a basic human courtesy.

In my view, we should be demanding that voice activation technologies like Siri and Alexa be reprogrammed to only comply with our commands when we say please. ‘Alexa, can you play Ten Story Love Song by the Stone Roses on Spotify, please?’ How hard is that?

Much more importantly, especially with youngsters, what great behaviours would those engrained manners encourage for interacting with other human beings?

I write this blog post as very much a non-connoisseur of the operatic genre. In fact, I’m not really a connoisseur of any musical genre. I like pretty much all types, with a tendency towards the mainstream, non-fringe, anodyne even.

Like most people in their mid-twenties when the Italia ’90 World Cup was on, I had never heard Nessun Dorma. My Dad was fluent in Italian, lived there, and would occasionally regale us with the first couple of lines from Verdi’s La Donna √® Mobile. That was about the extent of my exposure to opera, except for a couple of very long evenings in the company of the English or Welsh National Opera for performances without a single song of note or recall.

The BBC chose Nessun Dorma as their theme tune for the event and catapulted Mr Pavarotti from serious fame to truly global renown. It may have helped the rise to prominence of the The Three Tenors, and countless other countries’ versions, but I’m not sure of the causality of that. Every time I come across his version of Puccini’s masterpiece on youtube or social media, I know that I will lose an ill-defined number of minutes watching various different recordings, all of them still spine-tinglingly good.

Other opera stars have sung this top 5 all-time favourite song of mine, but even to my untutored ear they don’t come close to the richness and depth of Signor Pav. You feel yourself lift off the chair as he moves to the massive tidal wave crescendo of Vincer√≤! So much charisma, so much presence, so memorable, even down to the obligatory white towel.

Don’t take my word for it, here’s one of the better recordings of the great man at work. I feel sure it will lift your spirits, at least for a while.

Back in 2002 I was in England working for a software company, in a sales and marketing capacity. I was in a meeting with the MD and we were discussing go to market strategy for a new product we were launching.

‘OK,’ he said, ‘let’s do a drains up on the product and we can prioritise next steps.’ I’d never heard the phrase before, but it seemed so apt. When you’re having kick-off meetings you need to get everything out on the table, warts and all, good and bad, so that everyone in the group is in possession of the same information and viewpoints.

Imagine lifting up the drains of a building to see what you’ve got. People aren’t shy about getting the good news stories out there for all to see, but they’re a bit more hesitant about revealing the sludge, muck and general detritus from things that haven’t gone as well.

Once you really know what you’re dealing with, and everyone sees the universe of good and bad, then you can list it all out and put the priorities in rank order. It gives you focus and the right order of things to tackle.

You hardly ever hear the term drains up in Ireland, and I don’t know if they use it in the US. You may prefer ‘brain dump’, ‘information transfer’, or ‘download’, but I like drains up. You know to know what you’re dealing with, eliciting both good and bad, and ‘drains up’ encourages that process and desired outcome.

I’ve written before about the need for product manufacturers to design and deliver the whole product solution, or in other words, the entire customer experience, rather than just their product.

This includes the packaging, the accessories, everything you use when you consume the product.

A case in point is the squeezable marmite jar. You either love it or hate it, as the advertising goes, and I’m one of the lovers when it comes to Marmite, always have been. The unmistakeable branding, smell, consistency, taste and round glass jar. In the last few years the Marmite folk have taken to using a squeezable plastic jar to deliver their gooey goodness.

The trouble is, the stuff is so damn viscous that you can’t get more than 70 or 80% of the product out of the jar; the jar won’t squeeze down enough. I purchase a replacement jar – glass – before I realised a good bit of my purchase was yet to be consumed. To get value for your money, and who doesn’t want that, you have to twist the top off and collect the stuff from the inside of the top and the mouth of the jar. It gets everywhere, and leaves your kitchen cupboard, the jar and your hands a sticky mess. Not a good experience.

All the stuff outside of the product itself is an important part of the overall experience. You have to get all of it right, or you risk turning away first-time triers and seasoned customers.

I’ve more or less banished paper from my work practices. I rarely keep information sheets that people give me in meetings, and take all my meeting notes in a notepad or text editor and arrange them in company or customer folders.

It’s a more organised way of carrying on I think, especially if your job is very mobile. No files or folders to remember to put in your bag, just your laptop and a power cable – happy days.

With one exception though. When I’m working in the home office I make to do lists as I go or as the thought comes to me: things I need to do, buy or ask. Once they’re done there’s no need to revisit the list or save it for digital posterity. And it’s great to take the scribbled list and shove it in your back pocket so you don’t forget any of the half dozen items or errands you need to complete while you’re in motion.

I have a tower of different coloured paper notes on my desk. They sit in a Jenga-like plastic dispenser, so there’s no need to buy ones with adhesive which either sticks them to a spine or to the sheet below and then to the laptop or wall once you’ve removed them from the block.

There’s also something cathartic about crossing stuff off a scribbled list and then recycling the paper note, that you don’t quite get by deleting an item off your digital TDL – that’s one of my most used TLAs – for ‘to do list’.