Making Complex Ideas Easy to Understand

If you read my last blog entry you’ll remember that I discovered what is perhaps my key skill, making complex things easy to understand, following a long period of working with people whose background was very different to my own and thought very differently to myself. 

This discovery didn’t come overnight and it was only after working in often difficult and frustrating circumstances that I was able to find my talent, even if it did have to be confirmed by people around me before the ‘light went on’ and I realised what it was! 

In reality, the little phrase I now use to crystallise my skill, Making the Complex Easy was only finally formulated a couple of months ago whilst talking to my business mentor about it.  Thankfully, Sandra is very persistent and also very perceptive and the phrase eventually fell out as I tried to capture what I did in less than a paragraph!

We were discussing my experiences whilst studying for my PhD; whilst working in the pharmaceutical industry; whilst working in schools; with friends; in church.  Time and time again the examples we discussed had the same repeating theme: 

How can I make it easy for others to understand what I’m saying?

This was important to me becasue I have always been someone who has had to work hard to understand things.  Combine this with a  severe lack of contentment if I couldn’t really ‘get inside’ and understand what I was trying to learn.  Knowledge for me has more to do with its application than knowledge for knowledge’s sake

By understanding something I can use my knowledge in how I decide to move forward and use it in my own life and situations.

So, I suppose it was a natural progression that I should want others to enjoy the same opportunities.  Here are a few of the instances we discussed of how and when I’d made complex things easy:

  • My PhD was focussed on pain relief and what was involved in helping us control painful stimuli, so important in conditions like malignant diseases.  More than once I was asked to explain what I was investigating by friends who had no science background.  So, I was often trying to explain complex pharmacological and biochemical processes in simple terms like opening and closing gates, keys in locks, motorways and side roads.
  • One of my tasks whilst working in the pharmaceutical industry was training sales representative, many of whom were from a marketing and selling background and without any science input, on the decidedly unsimple process of our body’s immunological response to infection by viruses.  Here terms like cavalry, snipers, secret messengers and chewing and spitting were used to demystify the process.
  • My last role in the pharmaceutical industry before I accepted redundancy was to provide technical and information support to physicians and researchers on the data available to support the use of a specific drug in difficult-to-treat and potentially life-threatening conditions.  The problem I was faced with was that I had over 600 slides in my presentation with a usual time slot of a lunch break (i.e., between 10 minutes and 1 hour).  My solution was to reverse the process and devise an interactive presentation where my audience told me what they wanted to talk about and we ‘dipped-in’ and ‘dipped-out’ of the presentation and information available.  This seemed a revolution to many of my audience and I spent hours discussing how they could put together a similar format for their own work, thereby enabling the passing-on of important information in a more targetted way: reducing a complex array of slides to easy-to-digest, smaller segments.
  • Whilst working I often took time out to visit schools and help children to understand what they were learning in the science of sound arena.  As a drummer and percussionist I was used to making sounds (noise some would call it) and as a scientist I understood some of the principles behind the sounds I was making.  So I took samples of my drums and percussion into schools and we experimented together and began to understand what made some sounds high, some low; some loud and some soft. What amazed me after these lessons was that I received a lot of feedback on how the children had used some of the more socially orientated skills (listening, talking, thinking together) and the reasoning and experimental approaches in their other subjects and in generally working together in  other lessons.  Making it easy in one subject had been transferrable to other areas of school life (and hopefully in their wider life). 
  • My daughter, who is no scientist, was revising for her GCSEs and needed to understand the basics of the electrophoresis of DNA for DNA profiling.  Saying the word is difficult, let alone understanding it.  So I explained that the long strand of DNA is cut into lots of smaller pieces by enzymes (chemical saws).  The result is a bit like a shoal of fish:  some very small; some larger; some longer; some big and some huge. The plate onto which the sample of ‘chewed DNA’ is placed is like lines of fishing nets and when the electric current was switched on, it was a bit like a river or the tide flowing, taking the fish with it.  Little fish was pass easily through the nets and the longer and larger fish would get stuck more quickly or have to work harder to swim through the nets.  The huge fish wouldn’t be able to get through at all and would stay where they were.  At the end of the experiment when the electric current is switched off, it is like taking a snap shot or photograph of where all the fish are.  The ‘bands of fish’ are like the bands of DNA on the plate: smaller fish/pieces of DNA have travelled furthest, largest fish/pieces of DNA haven’t been able to move at all.  My daughter understood this more pictorial, less scientific approach and manged to answer questions on her GCSE paper, getting a Grade B which was a true miracle.

… and I guess that’s why I’m so passionate about making difficult things easy to understand … once we understand them we have chance to use the knowledge and achieve more than we thought possible.

There will always be those who like to keep things complicated because it gives them a sense of power and importance; they are the only ones who know.  But in a world where increasing co-operation is becoming a key factor (especially in business) and clarity of understanding paramount, the sharing of knowledge in an easy to understand way is, I believe becoming ever more crucial, not  only for success, but for survival.

Personal Development & Business Start Up Reading

There are a number of books that I have been reading over the past year-and-a-half that have made a significant impact on my thinking and how I view what I do, what I say, the decisions I make each day etc. These were all recommended to me personally by friends and other people I have met at business meetings etc (NB. All book titles are linked to The Book Depository, what I consider to be the best online bookstore; most prices are heavily discounted and all delivery worldwide is free. I always use The Book Depository: I have never been disappointed and I always use them in favour of Amazon, especially because of the postage I save).

Creativity, Change & Innovation Titles

The Element by Sir Ken Robinson – In all great people there is a spark, an element which enables them to reach their full potential and become world leaders in their field. If we can tap into our element we can reach our full potential too.

Out of Our Minds by Sir Ken Robinson – Creativity is at the heart of talent and success and there is a ‘war’ for talent. Yet just about every education system around the world focuses on only part of intelligence; the intellect. This book is quite deep and very thorough. It explores the need for creative people, both now and in the future, and the need to engage our emotions, not just our reasoning ability as we help people to reach their creative potential.

The Heart of Change by Dan S Cohen – Dan Cohen looks at the process of change and how to manage it effectively so that we take people with us, on our side, rather than alienating them and forming enemies within our own companies. A number of real-life stories provide case-studies on how change has been effectively managed in a range of different situations.

The Ten Faces of innovation by Tom Kelley – Available in Hardback and Softback editions, this book by the General Manager of the World famous design company, IDEO. He explores the strategies they use to foster original thinking and addresses how to overcome the ‘devil’s advocates’ in our organisations.

Personal Development & Enhancement Titles

I Want to Make a Difference by Tim Drake – How to make a positive difference in your own life and the lives of others by changing your mindset. Making life better for your family, friends, colleagues and customers.

S.U.M.O Shut Up Move On by Paul McGee– Paul investigates how we can move from the pont of wishing to achieving. By taking responsibility for our life we can change our attitude, learn to seize opportunities and even respond to adverse conditions with a positive attitude. humorous and pointed all in one go.

Starting Your Own Business Titles

Anyone Can Do It by Sahar & Bobby Hashemi– The founders of Coffee Republic tell how they moved from day jobs to risking everything as they set-up the UK’s first New York style coffee house and how that expanded to become a top brand with over 100 outlets around the UK and employing over 1000 staff. The story as it was … warts and all.

The Small Business Start-Up Workbook by Cheryl B Rickman– This book leads you through the thoughts, processes and activities required to conceive and start your own business; step-by-step. As the title suggests, this is a workbook and therefore, it contains activities to undertake and checks to help ensure that all necessary bases are covered. Very practical, thorough and well thought-out.

Spare Room Start Up by Emma Jones – This is a really practical help on how to start up your own business ‘in your spare room’ i.e., working from home. Emma uses 3 key themes; business, lifestyle and technology to provide a base on which to build a home business, from scratch and at low cost. Well organised, easy to read, easy to pick-up where you left off.

Start Your Business Week by Week by Steve Parks– The attraction of this book is that Steve Parks breaks down the process of starting a business into week-size chunks, thereby making it accessible and less daunting. Checklists, tasks, targets and useful contacts all help to set-up your own business over a six-month period.

The White Ladder Diaries by Ros Jay– Journalist Ros Jay gives insight into how she set-up White Ladder Publishing with an emotional, touchy-feely quality. The book provides plenty of helpful advice and helps you learn from Ros’s mistakes, providing a diary of the lead-up to the first day of trading and beyond.

Setting Up and Running a Limited Company by Robert Browning – Tackling more specific issues surrounding establishing and running a limited company, this book answers many of the questions you need to ask in order to meet the specific requirements relating to a limited company. Appointment of Directors, accounts, shareholders, meetings, minutes and more; the book takes some of the fear out of these formal procedures providing practical help and advice.

The Financial Times Guide to Business Start Up 2009 by Sara Williams– Formerly ‘The TSB Small Business Guide’ this book has sold well over 1-million copies to entrepreneurs and business owners. A comprehensive guide to starting your own business this is a highly detailed book with lots of useful contacts and advice. Also works as an ongoing business reference book.

I hope these provide you with hours of reading and the help you need to get yourself and your business up-and-running, and to keep you up-and-running.

What We Have Not What We Don’t!

I don’t know about you, but one of the biggest hurdles I’ve had to overcome (and still fight daily) is the idea that others know more than me, especially in areas where I am dubbed an expert.

I think a lot of it goes back to when I was younger, especially in my teen years where, although I was in the top set at school there were those around me who were like a cerebrum on legs: they oozed ability, knowledge and were more concerned with where they’d lost two or three marks in their exams than with where they’d gained them!

The problem with hanging out with these guys wasn’t anything to do with their personalities: most of them were really great people to be around.  It was the toll that it all took on my self-confidence and self-esteem.  My mind had a field day, reinforcing all those doubts that had ever dared to enter my thinking, or had been placed there by others.

It wasn’t until I was in my 40’s that I was forced to go back and revisit these difficult and confusing times when recovering from serious illness.  During the long, slow, often painful process that was called recovery I was forced (in the nicest way possible) to see these things in their true perspective and identify the lies that I had taken on-board and made an integral part of my life and psyche.

One of the biggest mistakes I had made was when I started looking at my abilities in comparison to others.  We live in a competitive world where we are continually compared to others BUT there is no need for us to do it to ourselves.  When we go for a new job, invariably our skill sets, talents and background will be compared to those of others competing for the same job.  That is the interviewer’s job. 

HOWEVER, we want to be at our best in those situations, showing others our true self and abilities. 

If we focus on what we don’t have and what we can’t do as well as others, then we will never see our own unique talents; our own unique skills and the things that we CAN bring to the table that others can’t. 

Here’s a couple of examples from my own life that may help:

  • When I left school, I went straight to university but was so clueless and dispirited about what I wanted to/could do that I gave up after a term (though I did return with my first drum kit … but that is another story!).  I worked for 3 years and then decided that I would go back to studying as I had a much clearer idea of where I wanted to go (and where I couldn’t go at that time without a degree).  I entered the first year of my degree expecting to be worse than the fresh young things entering straight after their A-levels.  I looked to the brightest of them for encouragement and help but I was always aware in my own mind that I wasn’t as good as them.  That was confirmed in my exams at the end of the year.  For some reason and I still don’t know why, I decided over the Summer holidays that I would really work for myself and make sure that I understood what I was doing.  This meant re-learning a lot of what I’d not learnt very well during my first year.  The second year was different.  Nothing changed in my ability to work with others, but my internal focus was now on what I could do rather than what I couldn’t.  I really WANTED to learn and understand to the best of MY abilities.  I came top of the year in my second year exams, something I could never have dreamed of.  I wasn’t the brightest on paper (my A-level results wer mediocre at best) but my focus had changed and I’d achieved my potential (albeit with a lot of hard work).  I passed my degree with a higher grade than I would ever have expected and then went on to higher study.  The point I’m trying to encourage you with is that if we look at ourselves it’s very easy to see what we lack.  But we have so much to offer that others don’t, and others rarely see the failings in ourselves that we do!  I’m definitely not trying to propose some self-help mantra but I am suggesting that a change of focus can bring a change of attitude and facilitate us reaching our fuller potential. 
  • Another example was when I was working as a member of a Medical Department’s clinical research team in the pharmaceutical industry.  I knew some of my strengths:  people skills, patience, generally up-beat and good to be around etc.  But, it took several years of working with the Dark Side, i.e., members of the Marketing Department, to really bring my core skills to the fore.  Medical Departments generally work to a dinosaur type time-scale; it takes a long time to design, set-up, run, and report clinical trials.  Marketing work very much in the here and now and want results today (or yesterday if possible). Initially I worked to set-up a Medical-Marketing Interface, a group of people from both departments who could get together on a regular basis to discuss what their priorities were at that time, what they were for the next year and the reality of what information was likely to become available or be wanted in that time.  These were not easy meetings but they gradually evolved into a broader set of discussion forums that really helped the two departments work together more effectively.  They opened the way for more constructive interaction rather than shooting at each other from the parapets.  Through them there was also much closer collaboration in the construction of sales and marketing literature and this is where I discovered something that had probably been obvious but I’d never seen it!  My personal ‘gem’ was an ability to make complex and highly technical scientific and medical ideas easy to understand by all, including those from a non-technical and non-scientific background.  This did two things: a) It boosted my confidence; I did have something special to offer and b) it paved the way for my last role in corporate business, that of communicating and building professional relationships with members of the medical and research communities and providing fora in which we could openly discuss  data supporting the use of specific drugs in difficult-to-treat-conditions.  It was also interesting that when I left my job, many of the most moving ‘good-bye’ messages came from these same people.

It took me a long time to realise that it’s not always simply how much we know, it’s a lot more to do with recognising our own skills and talents, developing and using these to the best of our abilities, whilst never missing the opportunity to hear what others are saying about us.  As we refine our path, we will be amazed at what we have to offer and as with my university exams, we may just move from being one of the crowd to being a leader. 

Even if we don’t, I can guarantee that you’ll feel so much better about yourself and be more confident with what you can offer.

Service or Ripped-Off?

So goes that start of a conversation I overheard today whilst out shopping at our local Market.

What a damning inditement on all those free offers we are continually bombarded with in order to grab our business; offers which, in reality, have nothing free in them.  They are a hook to get us to buy and clearly in the mind of individual concerned they had been forgotten:  it was the financial transactions that had been remembered, not his free gifts (if they had actually ever received any).

This set me thinking … again … about how we sell ourselves daily:  in business and in our own lives.  We used to have a saying at work;

‘There’s no such thing as a free lunch!’ 

 i.e., You don’t get something for nothing; everything costs.

To some point I agree.  But where that cost lies is the divider between something being perceived as an offer of service and being taken for a ride.

If we make our customers pay, they see it as being taken for a ride and their trust is often shattered.  If we take the cost, our customers see it as a service, as a favour, and it builds trust … and if we do make a mistake in the future they are far more to help us solve it than make demands.
This is a simple division, but one which businesses and individuals ignore at their peril …  every day.  We promise but don’t deliver.  We offer something for free … but there’s a catch!

Perhaps we need to think more carefully before we advertise our next free offer because if we fail to deliver on that offer, we make our customers (and friends) ever more cynical and thick-skinned: we turn them off rather than turning them on to what we really have to offer.  In reality, we turn them off to us because we fail to deliver on what we’ve promised.  It is ourselves that we are selling short and it is ourselves that get the bad publicity.  We gain the label ‘Can’t be trusted’.

The idea of personal integrity is getting ever more lost amidst spin and short-term fire-fighting.  High profile figures expect us to believe their words, even though we see they are contrary to their actions (the cover up).  However, for those who are prepared to match words with actions, the opportunities are huge.  There is a saying I like to use for personal encouragement:

‘Where the darkness is darkest, the faintest light shines brightest’

I’m not on my own when I say that by being honest and open, yes, even admitting our mistakes, we build an opportunity for growth and success; for competitive advantage.  Despite what the macho businessmen (many of whom are scared witless of failing) may say, customers like attention and they like vulnerability because that makes us just like them, complete with faults and failings, and they can relate to that.

Lesson from a Business Enterprise Day

Yesterday I visited a local secondary school to help with a business enterprise day for their Year 9 students (aged 13/14). 

The group I helped with comprised 4 teams with between 4 and 7 students per team.  Their task throughout the day was to create a business that designs and manufactures paper ducks for selling to potential buyers’.  Materials were provided, including paper for making the ducks and a range of extras for decorating and enhancing the finished product.

Meeting and observing the students was fascinating.  Some were confident, some felt they’d a lot to offer, some were team leaders and some were just bossy! 

However, there was another group that caught my eye.  These were the students who were shy, lacked confidence, were easily distracted and retreated into their own worlds, could so easily be overlooked or had been identified with special needs.  On the face of it, there wasn’t a lot they could offer in the face of more boisterous and confident competition. 

In reality, they were some of the most significant contributors to the day’s activities once they were engaged. 

The groups who included these students in their discussions and activities benefitted from a whole range of skills and insights that may otherwise have been overlooked or lost: 

  • Organisational skills
  • Sorting skills
  • Creative skills
  • The ability to single-mindedly apply themselves to the task they’d been given
  • People skills (an unexpected one this)
  • The ability to think wider than the problem
  • The ability to see different kinds of solutions

I was very interested that the winning group was ‘organised’ by a student who does not have a reputation for shining in lessons.  She organised, steered, encouraged and to quote the girl giving feedback, ” … was the boss!” 

From that same group came one of the most insightful comments of the day. 

As part of their ‘selling’ exercise, each group had to state why their particular products should be chosen.  Again, a ‘special needs’ student stated quite simply,

“Because ours are made with love!” 

What a beautifully simple selling point.  Their paper ducks weren’t just ordinary ducks, put together on some production line, each one a replica of the other; they were special because they were each made with love.  Care, attention and a bit of the maker had been invested in these little paper creations.  That won it for me!

Ability is far more than getting answers right or doing lessons well in class.  There are so many people who have skills that get lost in the crowd, or lost in the noise and activity of others around them. 

Diamonds rarely just appear on the surface; they must sought after, discovered and often mined from great depths in the earths crust.

I have been reminded  to spend more time looking for those gems that, once found, stand out from those around them, and to invest time and effort in encouraging them to use their talents and gifts.

Independence or Interdependence?

Independence breeds suspicion; interdependence cultivates trust and success … but dare we take the risk?

Making the Complex Easy

One principle that seemed to underpin many of my university lecturers and some work colleagues was, ‘Why make it easy when you can keep it complex?

This might seem a bit cynical but I think many of us have a real fear when it comes to being the ‘Knowledge Broker’ … we want to be the person to whom the others will come when they want help to understand something or learn about a particular process or even start a new relationship. 

The gaining of knowledge has always been important but for me the key is not so much what you know:  it has a lot more to do with how you use it.

Unapplied knowledge is largely useless, apart from a warm inner feeling of knowing it!  And the key to applying knowledge is often understanding it in the first place.  If we don’t understand we can’t act or apply.  The danger is of course, that we don’t step out unless we know absolutely everything which is equally paralysing and ineffective.

Many hold onto their knowledge from a position of power:  they know; we don’t; so they hold the power and potentially the key to our forward movement.  Some hold onto their knowledge because they may not know how to pass it on … for whatever reason.  The end result is the same: unapplied knowledge and no ability to expand and develop except through the restricted lines of access to single knowledge brokers.

But how do we make it easy for others to understand?

I would argue that in the first instance, we have to want to make it easy for them to understand.  If we have this attitude we will be prepared to take the time to think about how best to pass it on to our target audience, whether that is at work, our family, friends or even strangers.  There’s a lot of psychology that we can bring in here relating to our audience wanting to learn, their background, their ability to learn etc, but I think if we are prepared to look at our audience and also want to pass the information on we will find a way.

Let me give you a practical example that may help …

My daughter recently took her GCSEs and when it comes to science, she is definitely no Einstein! 


As part of her forensics course, she was learning about the process of DNA profiling (NOT a simple concept for GCSEstudents).  She was struggling to understand what was happening during the process of breaking down the DNA and coming up with a result from electrophoresis of the sample i.e., multiple bands visible on the gel plate.


Firstly my daughter has a very pictorial way of thinking.  Secondly, she has encountered the principle of fishing using nets.  Fishing using nets?? 

Yes.  I described the process to her in simple fishing terms as follows:

Imagine that when the DNA has been cut up into smaller pieces by enzymes it resembles a shoal of fish of all types, lengths and sizes.  Some pieces are small, like minnows.  Some pieces may be a bit longer, like small eels.  Some pieces will be larger, like large fish and some will be really big like dolphins, sharks and whales.  Imagine that the gel plate onto which the DNA is spotted is like a line of fishing nets.  When the electricity is applied to the gel plate it will be like a river or tidal  flow and the fish will try to swim with the current, through the nets.  The little fish will pass easily through all of the nets so they will swim through each net as they get to it and they will travel furthest in the time allowed.  Slightly larger fish may get through one or two nets but they will be slower than the little fish.  As the fish get bigger they will be less able to get through the nets and some will be too large to get through any of the nets so will stay where they started. 

The result is that at the end of the experiment, the smallest pieces of DNA will have moved furthest and the largest pieces will have moved the least distance, or even stay where they started, showing up as lines or spots along the gel plate.

My daughter understood the principle of fish swimming through the nets and so she also understood the basics of the physical principle of the pieces of DNA migrating along a gel plate under the influence of an electric current (electrophoresis).

The great ending to this story was that she had a question in  her science exam on explaining the electrophoresis of DNA … and she answered the question without referring to fish or nets once!

Sometime explaining things so others can understand is the gateway to future success.  As Richard Gerver quotes from a teacher he met in China, who bucked the trend and instead of expecting his class to bow to him on entry to the classroom and thank him for the knowledge he was about to impart, actually bowed to the class and thanked them for allowing him to teach them.  When asked why he did this he said something like, “Teaching is my privilege and I never know who I am teaching:  I may be teaching the person who will discover a cure for cancer.”

The advantages of making anything easy to understand are many and we hold the map to that road.  It’s not about trivialising; it’s about helping others take the next step along a road where they may achieve what we cannot. 

And if we can make the complex easy to understand, we open more doors for others to pass through.

Seeing Things Differently

Have you ever found it difficult making your voice heard?

Over the years I have had what I thought to be ‘moments of inspiration’, those thoughts and ideas that are going to make a big difference, that will help people change how they see things,  new ways of looking at familiar situations … only for my inspired thinking to make no difference whatsoever.

I’m not trying to make out that I’m some sort of genius, or a radical thinker, but I do get frustrated when I see things differently to others and my ideas are rejected simply on that basis; they are different to how others see them.  The most debilitating situation is where I have little power to test them out or no influence to bring about the change(s) I see.

When I was working in a large corporate business I would see situations that with little effort (and a bit of common sense) could be positively changed and improved:  a process; the situation in the office; how we dealt with customers; how people could feel a greater involvement in their job.  But if others didn’t see the same issues as important or relevant (defined as whether the idea would take their career in the right direction) the ideas would just disappear under a mound of ‘more important issues that needed to be addressed’.

However, in my own job within that business I did get some opportunities to apply my ideas to my own sphere of work;  how I dealt with others; how I presented the information I had; how I engaged people of all backgrounds and abilities in understanding what I was saying; how I helped others to have some influence in their place of work. 

Many of these things were quite small in comparison to the perceived ‘bigger’ issues but they made a big difference for myself and for those  with whom I worked.  I found I started to receive invitations to speak at a wide range of events and meetings which covered the full spectrum of academic medical and corporate involvement: Professors, doctors, nurses, administrators, students, specialist groups, school children.  I also received a lot of positive feedback along with a few invites to be involved in activities outside of my professional and work situation.

One prediction currently voiced is that unless businesses and organisations are prepared to try something different, to listen to and engage with ideas they wouldn’t normally, to find new ways of working and creating environments in which their staff are actively engaged in contributing ideas and to the health of the organisation, they will close.  Some of those ‘big boys’ currently ranked in the Top 100 or Top 50 businesses will not exist within the next 5 years.

I still hear many stories from friends who work in organisations and businesses obsessed with the bottom line at the expense of their staff. ‘Our strength is our people’ may be proudly displayed on their advertising and in their corporate lobbies, but in reality they pay not even lip service to these claims, instead actively demotivating their staff through ridiculous work loads and targets (knowing they can be replaced if the burn-out), justifying their removal of simple staff benefits and incentives which are needed most when the chips are down, failing to engage in training and skill-building so that when the recession reverses they are in a position to emerge strong and in-front, and perhaps most suicidal of all, allowing key, experienced staff to leave; removing their advantage when it is most needed.

Why is this?  I honestly don’t know! 

It defies common sense (which may be part of the issue) and it defies logic.  It seems that many companies engage in management styles and policies that would be a part of a great plan for killing-off their opposition … but they use it on themselves!

What better way to kill off a corporate or business community than to restrict its members’ ability to communicate, develop relationships,  create and engage with new ideas and yes, HAVE FUN!

Perhaps it arises from a fear of being different or thinking differently (even though that is what they may profess to want).

The world needs new ideas, new ways of thinking, new ways of engaging people in their daily work.  Perhaps listening to some of those weird and wacky ideas may just provide the escape route many are looking for.

Let’s stop resting in the comfort zone so that new ways of thinking and new ideas can at least be evaluated and given a chance …  and then we may just find the lifeline we’re looking for.

Busy Managers Least Effective

So reads the headline of a recent article posted on the CrimsonBusiness web site (view original article Here).

Here is an excerpt from the article that makes sober reading:

“Busy managers are inefficient because they remain focused on performing tasks and rarely get an overview of what their team is doing,” said Jacobs. “With these kind of people it’s not unusual to see staff sitting around with nothing to do, while their manager is racing around stressed out.

“An effective manager delegates as much as they can to their team, and invests all the time they release into developing that team. Overall it becomes a machine that’s driven to meet goals, with the manager turning into a true leader.”

Jacobs advised managers to be willing to delegate tasks without abdicating responsibility for them, as willing being on hand to review objectives and offer support.

He said it was very important to give clear and specific instructions when delegating and a failure to do so was the most common reason for problems arising.

Wow!  What earth shattering news!  Is common sense really so scarce in the business world these days that an article like this needs to be written? 

If it is then we’re in serious trouble.

I believe that it’s not only those managers who are overly busy that suffer.  Research conducted in the 1980’s showed that as a person took on an additional role, their efficiency at both jobs was greatly reduced.  There were also arguments for keeping people management and project management roles separated, partly for the efficiency reason but also because the skills required for the two roles are very different.  One involves objects and processes; the other involves human beings (who, though it may come as a shock to some, are NOT processes; neither are they objects … resources!).  Although people can be stretched, they are not as resilient as many materials and do snap, at which stage repair is a long, difficult and costly business for all concerned.

How many people do we know who are actually good at both jobs?  I suspect that the answer is, ‘Very few’.  Yet today it is commonplace for people to be split across multiple roles, in multiple divisions and to assume responsibility for people care.

People this does not work!

Not only do we end up with over busy managers, but we also have demoralised staff and I would argue that this is a deadly combination.

Perhaps it’s not just the busyness that is the problem, but the nature and the diversity of that busyness.

The problem is that jumping off this accelerating treadmill is a risk that could prove costly, but until people are prepared to take that risk, we chart a course to increasing inefficiency, stress and confusion and we chart a course to slow (or not so slow) self-destruction.

Knowing, Doing, Teaching

I meet many knowledgeable people who are excellent at their job or in their area of expertise who then make the mistake of thinking that they must also be good teachers.

No matter how much we know or how good we are at what we do, there is not some mysterious connection which allows others to ‘catch’ what we do.  Admittedly, it is often easier to pass on practically-based skills through demonstration. 

But is that enough?

Learning, the assimilation and acquisition of knowledge and skills, is as dependent on the recipient as the teacher, possibly even more so.  Put simply, unless our knowledge is translated into a form which can be received, understood and acted upon by the recipient our efforts are in vain.

The situation is made even more difficult by the fact that each of us thinks and learns in different modes:

  • Some learn best when the ideas are translated into mental pictures (I am one of these)
  • Some need to see things written down before they can take them in
  • Some learn better one-to-one
  • Some learn best in group settings where they can discuss ideas and bounce them around members of the group.

So, if we are to be good teachers we cannot adapt a one method fits all approach, neither can we simply assume that what works for us will work for others too.

If we are to be effective teachers we must recognise how our audience responds and which methods will work.  This may mean including a number of different approaches throughout a session.  But perhaps the most important skill it requires is the ability to listen to our audience and to read their body language.  We also need to take feedback at the end of our session so that we can learn how to be more effective in our communication.

We also need to be honest and acknowledge if we are not good teachers, wherever we ‘teach’ others.  If we are prepared to learn and acknowledge that we are a work in progress, our teaching and ability to pass-on knowledge and skills will evolve and become more successful.

Sometimes we will also need to acknowledge when we don’t have the answers, expertise or ability and look for those who do.

I remember times throughout my own education where people have crossed my path who were gifted teachers.  What stands out now is that these people had a real passion to pass on knowledge and skills in ways that I could understand.  The amazing thing is that many others in my class at the time also remember these people as being ‘inspirational’ even though their method of learning was different to my own.

For all the rubbish people throw at teachers/lecturers/educators, there are those whose vocation in life is helping others to learn.  Everyone needs to learn and we have all benefitted from those we all-too-often to slag-off.  We all know those little ‘funnies’ like, ‘Those who can, do: those who can’t, teach.’   What a load of spheres!  The skill of teaching others requires as much ‘can’ as any other job; probably more.

There will always be those who leave us cold or even turned-off; those who tar the rest with a bad image.

Our responsibility is to make sure that whenever we teach others, from bringing up our children, to helping others join in with our hobby, to teaching in schools or showing people what to do in our places of work, we take into account how our audience learns. 

That may even mean being radical and actually asking them!  Be assured that if we listen to the answers and act on them, our teaching will be more effective, more fulfilling and a great source of learning for our audience and for ourselves.

And sometimes we will need to be honest enough to admit that we need to ask others for help … or even let someone else do the job.