If you can dream it, you can do it.

A few years back, I was on the leadership team of a small community organisation. We had decided to have a leadership retreat one weekend. The weekend came and we were ride sharing to get to the venue. The person who I was sharing with was a senior executive at the time with a major Australian car company and we were taking his latest model top of the line car.

As we set off my colleague remarked “This should be a nice drive. It’s got the new Nissan engine in it. It’s a beautiful engine.”

Being a fan of our ability to make best in the world products locally, I remarked “We should be able to make engines as good as that in Australia.”

“Unfortunately, we can’t.’ he replied with just the slightest twinge of sadness.

Looking back now I’m sorry I didn’t follow up with him at the time and ask why he though we couldn’t make great engines here. But I didn’t.

The story has remained with me ever since though. And it fires me up every time I think of it.

Of course we could make the best engines in the world here. We have engineers and designers as good as any in the world and our best technicians are capable of matching any competition. Finally, if we need better machines, we can buy them.

So it’s not that we can’t make the best engines in the world.

It’s that we choose not to.

Saying “we can’t” is just an excuse for mediocrity. And I have absolutely had it with mediocrity and I’ve had it with the excuses I hear every day.

Getting back to engines, it is perfectly fine to decide not to make great engines in Australia. To decide we are going to focus our attention on something else. As long, however, as we don’t mask that choice by saying we can’t.

There may be many obstacles to overcome. We might have to change the relationship between management and staff. We might have to get government policy changes. We might have to learn new skills. Most of all though, we will have to overcome our fear that we’re not good enough. Our fear that we really can’t do it.

I could go on about how much different the world would be if countries and corporations removed themselves from this terrible pall of mediocrity. But that’s not what this blog is about.

The point of this story is not about “them out there” rather its about “us in here.” Or, more directly, you.

What is it that you could do but don’t because you are afraid you can’t? What gift or talent do you have that you are withholding from the world for fear of being wrong or because there are too many obstacles in the way?

Or perhaps you are afraid you will succeed beyond your wildest dreams.

We often hear the first two sentences of the following quote from Marianne Williamson. I think its worth taking a moment to read this longer version:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

What is it you dream of doing but tell yourself you can’t? What is it you want to do but you are afraid you can’t? Perhaps you are afraid instead that you can and you will have to do it.

If you would like to explore how you can turn “can’t” into “will”, book a Time with Chris.



On a clear day you can see tomorrow

Strange thought perhaps, but think about it.

Pink Drive

Just been reading Dan Pink’s latest book Drive – the surprising truth about what motivates us. One of those books I read to confirm everything I already believe about motivation.

As Pink says, we’ve know what really motivates people for decades, but we still cling to motivational techniques (eg pay linked to KPIs) that all the research shows actually reduce performance. (OK, that’s a simplified version of his argument but it will do for here.)

There are many radical suggestions in this book – for example perhaps ‘management’ is an out of date concept!

Thinking of performance based pay and salary I couldn’t help but continually thinking about Enron and more recently the GFC.

One thing I didn’t like was his analogy with software systems. He refers to Motivation 2.0 and Motivation 3.0. Fundamentally this is a great analogy. Where it breaks down is in the 2.0 and 3.0 bits. Anyone involved with computer systems knows you don’t go from 2.0 to 3.0. You have 2.0, 2.0.1, 2.0.3, 2.1, 2.1.1, 2.1.1 release 2 etc, etc until you get to about 2.5. When you get there you start working on 3.0 while you still supporting 2.6 and 2.7. At some stage you are ready to switch over to version 3.

The technical aspect of this is not important. What IS important is that we didn’t suddenly jump from motivation 2.0 to motivation 3.0. There were a whole lot of steps in the process (as Pink documents.) What bothers me in the way he presents it is it looks like just another big discovery and we all need to do this massive shift away from what we have been doing to what we should be doing.

The business literature is all too full of this tripe and in this respect Pink has fallen into his own trap. If we did want to move away from our current models of motivation, we would need to do it gradually. Try out bits of it here and there. Or do a 90 day trial and see how it works.

Regardless, with this one caveat, I highly recommend this book.

What happens when purpose is forgotten?

Haven’t been following Queensland much lately but wondered why everyone was saying Anna Bligh was so toxic in the state.

Went searching and found this fascinating and articulate article on the topic.
The biggest danger for political parties of all persuasions is a focus on power for power’s sake. NSW Labor comes to mind and perhaps explains the reactions to Rudd’s deposing.
What I like about Bahnisch’s article is his analysis of the effects of loss of purpose. It happens in political parties and it happens in corporations, as soon as an organisation forgets why it exists, it falls into decline.

Netfix’s “bizarre holiday policy”

Netflix lets its staff take as much holiday as they want, whenever they want – and it works – read the full article by Daniel Pink here

The modern world began in 1919

“The Modern World began on 29 May 1919 when photographs of a solar eclipse, taken on the island of Principe off West Africa and at Sobral in Brazil, confirmed the truth of a new theory of the universe.”1 The new theory of the universe was Einstein’s General Relativity, a radical, mysterious, new explanation of gravity, destined to replace the more intuitive and accessible theory of Isaac Newton that had inspired and sustained the Enlightenment.”

Paul Johnson Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Nineties


I finally got around to watching this talk by Seth Godin on Tribes this morning.

It got me thinking about another discussion I’ve been having recently on Thought Leaders Central regarding the perennial Mac vs PC debate. We don’t make buying decisions based on which product best suits our needs at the lowest cost. At one point or other we generally join a tribe (in this case Mac or PC) and then pretty much just buy whatever everyone else in the tribe buys. We ever try to bring others into our tribe.

When I first started thinking about this I thought we did this for social/emotional reasons. We like belonging to a tribe and we like to wear the badges of that tribe.

While I still think that’s true, I wonder if there is a pure economic element to it as well. Belonging to the tribe means we don’t have to spend time comparing all possible options when we are looking for a new product – we buy what the tribe buys. This might result in us having a product that does not quite suit our needs as much as another product and we might pay slightly more than we need to. However, we have save ourselves a lot of time and energy comparing all the available products. As well its likely other members of the tribe have already tried the product we’re thinking about and they’ll give us a good indication if it will live up to our expectations. This seems pretty efficient to me.

Symphony and the power of intention

In this article I discuss the connection between AWARENESS, INTENTION and SYMPHONY.

When you walked in the front door of your office this morning what was in your mind? I’m guessing there were probably 101 things ranging from dealing with an under-performing staff member to the argument you had with your teenager this morning. Perhaps there was a good segment on the radio that made you think and you were still pondering as you came through the door.

That’s usually a fair description of my state of mind as I walk into my office. However something I read just before I went to sleep last night made me think about how we all do this and in doing so we miss so much. The particular phrase is not important, just that it made me stop and think.

It made me think about the source of my awareness. What was I paying attention to? As I drove down the road was I aware that there were real people in the cars going past? What sort of day might they be having? When I take all the people I pass or pass me on the way to work is there one particular message I’m picking up? Maybe. Maybe not. I won’t know unless I tune in and become aware of the source of my attention.

If you do this your awareness becomes heightened. Now go back to the front door of your office again. (You can do this in your mind if you like.) What did you see when you came in? What was the mood? Who was there? What were they doing? What were they wearing?

Now ask yourself again what you were thinking about and how you felt as you came in the door. What was your intention? Did you have an overarching intention for the day?

So often I get to my desk and just start doing whatever is on it. I forget why I am there and what is important. I forget my compelling vision. Why I am doing what I’m doing.

So can I ask you to go back to the front door of your office once again (in your mind again is fine.) This time, just before you open the door, stop for a moment. Think about your intention for this day. What is it you want to achieve? What single message do you want to convey to your team?

If you can really focus on your intention, you’re ready to conduct a symphony. Not a physical orchestra but a metaphorical one. The conductor works with each part of the orchestra and then brings them all together for the performance. Each section coming in at exactly the right moment with just the right sensitivity of phrasing. One moment making the gentlest softest sound and the next with every instrument ringing to its full volume.

This is your job. To bring all the different skills, personalities and viewpoints of your team into one performance. You don’t want to make them the same – how dull would that be? You want the different instruments ringing out a tune in tune and in time with the rest of the orchestra.

Imagine that before you walk in the door. Your intention for the day is to conduct one of the greatest symphonies every performed and it’s all going to happen within the boundaries of your organisation.

Further Reading:

Education standards are falling?

Do you think education standards are falling?

I would hazard a guess that almost everyone reading this completed Year 9 (of Form 3) Maths (or Math is some countries.)

Here are some questions from the 2009 Year 9 NAPLAN Numeracy test. See how you go. You’re welcome to tell me what you think the answers should be in a comment on this post. I would be interested to know.

NAPLAN Arrow Question.jpg

NAPLAN Graphy Question.jpg

NAPLAN Area Questions.jpg

Silicon Valley sidelines best talent

The NYT article here raises two issues dear to our hearts at The Spiral Path: discrimination
against women in the workplace and cultures that frustrate innovation.

In another string to the argument business is irrational and makes decisions that hinder
productivity and profit, 
this piece 
in the New York Times points out the prevailing culture of sex discrimination
at Silicon Valley.

Women, although better at the helm of startups than their male counterparts, are rarely given
the chance. (Now of course The Spiral Path recognises that research is often
misreported so we mention quote the august NYT here with some slight hesitancy.

According to the article:

Women own 40 percent of the private businesses in the
United States … But they create only 8 percent of the venture-backed tech start-ups.

Candace Fleming, used as a case study for the article, 

“has a double major in industrial engineering and English from Stanford, an MBA from
Harvard, a
management position at Hewlett-Packard and experience as  president of a small
software company.”

Yet she was unable to obtain finance from any of the 30 venture capitalists she tried, instead
raising money from angel investors “including Golden Seeds
, a fund that emphasizes investing in start-ups led by women”.

More disturbing than this, though was the way she was treated by men on her journey.

  • one told her that she didn’t really need business cards because they would just
    say “Mom.”
  • another showed her a naked picture of himself as a way of inviting her on a yachting weekend
    with him.

Quoting further from the NYT:

Research indicates that investing in women as tech entrepreneurs is good for the bottom line.
Venture-backed start-ups run by women use, on average, 40 percent less capital than start-ups run
by men and are increasingly involved in successful initial public offerings of stock,
according to a recent white paper by Cindy Padnos,
a venture capitalist who compiled data from 100 studies on gender and tech entrepreneurship.

“When you have gender diversity in an organization, you have better innovation, and I don’t
know where innovation is more important than in the high-tech world,” says Ms. Padnos, who recently
founded Illuminate Ventures, which invests in
start-ups led by women.