Engaging two levels of identity

Dan Gregory   @DanGregoryCo

As much as we like to think of ourselves as being intelligent, educated, rational and capable of reasoned decision making, that is scarcely what shows up in practice. We are far more likely to act and react intuitively or emotionally and then to post-rationalise our decisions with whatever evidence or justification we feel is necessary.

Sure, I can tell you all about Porsche’s racing heritage, the science of aerodynamics and sing the praises of German engineering, but that’s not why middle-aged chaps like myself buy a Porsche.

In fact, marketers, advertisers and sales people have long understood this. Unlike idealists, academics and social rationalists, their goal is not to deal with human beings as they wish they were, nor even to be too concerned with the origins of human behaviour and psychology, but simply to make a sale based on who they truly are and how they actually make their decisions.

This, rather unexpectedly, requires a more nuanced understanding of human behaviour than many research methodologies can reveal at a surface level. In focus group research, we all go to the gym regularly, exclusively read quality non-fiction books and only ever order a salad at the drive-thru.

Successful politicians and business leaders have also come to understand this dissonance between who we say we are and who we actually are and have learned to speak first to the heart before engaging the mind. 

So, what really is driving us and sits behind our decision making?

All behaviour is identity driven

Human beings fundamentally act out of a sense of identity and more particularly to maintain a sense of identity congruence. This is largely unconscious behaviour that is anchored in our childhoods, socially reinforced and largely self-correcting. It’s one of the reasons that escaping one’s past can be so difficult.

Few of us need to be reminded how to act our age (despite the protestations of our parents). A more accurate reprimand might run more along the lines of, “Act more responsibly than your age is currently demonstrating.” The same holds true for our national, ethnic, religious and even sporting identities. These codified beliefs and behaviours are so intrinsic to who we think we are that we rarely, if ever, question them

When you challenge identity… it challenges back

One of the greatest barriers to making change stick or in persuading someone to change their point of view is that, you’re not simply asking them to change their mind or adopt a new behaviour or practice, you’re essentially undermining their existing identity. This will immediately cause your identity to rise, however irrationally, to its own defence.

Just think of any argument you’ve had at a family BBQ over politics, sport or even preferred music genres. The more you tell me I’m wrong, the more I’ll defend my identity and that of my “team”.

This is often referred to in psychology as the “backfire effect”. The more you try to rationalise your position and brow beat me with facts, the more likely I am to stubbornly hold the line on my identity.

So, if we do want to drive change, to persuade others and even change our own behaviour, how might the science of identity help us?

Firstly, consider “Who am I?”

The first level of identity is the self, or who you see yourself as.

People reveal their identities in everything they do - how they dress, the words they choose when they talk, how they carry themselves, what makes them laugh and what drives them to anger. In other words, if you want to know what’s driving someone’s decision making, you need to get good at watching and listening.

People tell you how to increase their influence with them by demonstrating who they think they are and who they wish to project to the world that they are.

Despite this, walk onto the sales floor of most industries or eaves drop on most management meetings and, typically, the wrong people will be doing the talking and not a great deal of influencing.

Secondly, ask “Who are we?”

The second level of identity is one of group or tribe or association. 

This runs deeper than loyalty that exists across family lines - that’s to be expected. We’re biologically designed to feel some sense of loyalty to and a desire to protect those we are related to (even if we wish that were not the case).

However, social identity is what has allowed human societies to evolve to nation status that far exceed any notion of tribe in the traditional sense of only a few hundred at most and is what allows human beings to collaborate and make personal sacrifices out of a kind of “social selfishness.” Put another way, this is where our gain becomes internalised as my gain.

This might be as mundane as standing in the rain to cheer on our sports team or as significant as the sacrifices soldiers make for each other in combat.

If we want to be influential and to be more persuasive, trusted and position ourselves as leaders in our teams and thought leaders in our industries, we need to communicate with those we wish to lead at both levels of identity.

So, who do you help us to be?


Dan Gregory is an author, speaker, trainer and social commentator. He helps leaders, teams and other smart people to be “people smart” through developing Forever Skills including: 

#Purpose- Culture & Leadership

#Persuasion- Sales & Marketing

#Positioning- Thought Leadership & Personal Brand

#Performance- Behaviour & Experience Design


Find out how Dan can help you and your team increase your influence and “be people smart” though his Keynote Presentations & Training Workshops. Contact info@TheImpossibleInstitute.com or visit www.TheImpossibleInstitute.com



How to establish (or rebuild) trust

Dan Gregory   @DanGregoryCo

As markets and communities become more polarised around issues of ethics and values, with both sides shouting “fake news” whenever their team is disparaged and where once revered institutions are being held to account for historical crimes, we are experiencing a decline and even a deficit in trust. This is cause for concern.

Trust and reputational value have always been important considerations in human society and are in fact part of the glue that allowed human groupings to move from family, to tribes, to communities and ultimately cities and nations. Trust was hard earned, easily lost and hence regarded as incredibly precious.

So while technologies like social media have been critical in terms of positively mobilising public accountability of those in power like never before, the trust deficit also threatens to undermine shared social agreements as well as making commercial competition more perilous and indeed treacherous.

So how might we establish, or rebuild, trust?

Acknowledge their intuition

Protesting your innocence or reacting defensively without first addressing the intuition a particular cohort has regarding your trustworthiness is wasted effort. Human beings tend to seek justifiction for their intuitions rather than searching for truth, something psychologists such as Peter Wason refer to as confirmation bias.

This means that arguing your case will fall on deaf ears if all you do is offer information to the contrary. This makes it critical to find points of agreement, where you can affirm aspects of their points of view, before you can shift them.

In other words, play to the emotions before reasoning with the brain.

Listen openly and let them speak first

Some people gravitate to conflict and enjoy nothing more than a stand up argument over issues close to their heart. I am one of them. However, this is not always a winning strategy unless you characterise winning as shouting someone else down. Which again… I often do.

Robert Cialdini in his book Influence, described one of the facets of influence as “Reciprocity”. You do something for me and, if I am a reasonable human being, I tend to feel obliged to do something for you.

By allowing them to speak first, and listening to their views whilst affirming those you can find agreement on, you set in place an unconscious expectation of reciprocity - which makes them more open to hearing your point of view, or at least giving you the space to make your case.

Be inconveniently honest and confound their defensiveness

Trust almost always outweighs truth in human communications, however a divulgence of truth, especially inconvenient truth such as a mea culpa, tend to evoke trust in response.

From “their” point of view, it seems logical to assume that if you’re telling the truth about something that puts you at risk, even if it is only reputationally, why would you lie about less important issues. Radical honesty creates the expectation of universal honesty.

Used strategically, a vulnerable admission can transform the trust expectations within your audience.

Affirm their identity

All human behaviour is shaped by our sense of identity - both our individual identity and that of the groups or tribes we associate with to reaffirm that identity. This makes challenging a core tenet of a person’s identity a strategy that will only lead to them irrationally defending their position despite the robustness of your evidence to the contrary.

To avoid this, consider what values hierarchy are they using to make meaning and evaluate your trustworthiness, and speak through those, using the correct order of their ethics, from most important to least, to guide your narrative argument.

Give them a win

Finally, if you want to win, you have to help them feel like they won too. No one likes to be told their wrong, even when it is clear that we might be. Not only does a win/loss binary argument rob you of any of the benefits of reciprocity, it also frames you as a bully - someone they may give in to in your presence but then undermine behind your back. Hardly conducive to cultivating trust

In the end, trust and reputation are amongst our greatest commercial and social assets, and as much as the scientist in me would like to assert that truth and reason matters above all, the behavioural strategist in me knows that emotional responses, like trust, carry far more weight in human affairs.

Find out how Dan can help your team stand out as thought leaders in your industry through in-house workshops on Personal Branding. Contact info@TheImpossibleInstitute.com or visit www.TheImpossibleInstitute.com

Dan Gregory is an author, speaker, trainer and social commentator. He helps leaders, teams and other smart people to be “people smart” through developing Forever Skills including: 

#Purpose - Culture & Leadership

#Persuasion - Sales & Marketing

#Positioning - Thought Leadership & Personal Brand

#Performance - Performance & Experience Design

Pick a noble fight

Dan Gregory   @DanGregoryCo

Throughout our lives our parents, teachers, friends, politicians and police have told us to not start a fight, to avoid conflict and to walk away. “It’s just not worth it, man!” But what if the fight in question actually is worth it? And not just to you, but also to your community, the customers and clients you care most about and the people in your tribe?

What I’m going to suggest may seem a little politically incorrect, and even somewhat risky, but I want you to pick a fight.

Now, before you randomly wander out in the street like Brad Pitt and Ed Norton in the movie Fight Club trying to stir up trouble, let me be clear, I want you to pick a specific fight… a noble fight.

This matters precisely because in order to make change in the world, to become a thought leader in your field and build your personal brand as a professional, you will need to bring something new to the table, and that requires a willingness to challenge the existing. In fact, the very nature of life is growth and decay. One dominant species (or idea) cedes its place to a usurper who very likely fought their way to the top of the food chain.

So, what are the characteristics of a noble fight?

Your fight needs to be on someone else’s behalf

If you’re fighting for yourself, for you own gain, against a competitor who’s defeat conveys benefit primarily to yourself, you’re not in a noble fight, you’re a bully.

In other words, you need to be someone else’s champion. 

You might be the plucky underdog in the finance category who takes on the big banks, or the online book retailer who democratises eBook publishing or even the environmentalist tree lopper who decides chipping the trees you cut down is wasteful (and worse, releases stored CO2) and so you turn it into furniture. Whatever your noble fight becomes, it should be to someone else’s benefit.

There needs to be existing dissatisfaction with your opponent

There’s no point starting a fight with an enemy (be it an organisation, a belief or even a behaviour) if no one but you has a problem with it. You’ll look like a lunatic.

No. What you want is a rising sense of “finally, someone’s doing something” amongst those you seek to champion.

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately for you, there is seemingly no end of misbehaviour, poor service and outright deception present in every industry or category, so you won’t lack for opportunities for a very public altercation.

One thing to consider however, is that the size of your enemy determines the scale of your impact - and the visibility of your thought leadership and personal brand.

Build alliances with those who support your cause

If you’re taking on a sizeable opponent, you’re going to need supporters and allies who can be in your corner.

Battles and wars are seldom won alone, and they can be a bloody and lonely process if you’re waging them alone. So, leverage off your alliances and have them recruit their communities to your cause.

You need to know what you’ll do when you win

You don’t want to be like British Prime Minister David Cameron, who upon calling the ill-fated Brexit vote, immediately abdicated his position leaving the mess for others to clean up.

You need to have a plan for how to transition your identity from challenger to champion. This can be a challenging time as once you become the leading voice in your field, other contenders will begin to circle, measuring your thinking and testing your mettle.

You need to win

This seems like a moot point, but it really isn’t. History is written by the victors and too many of us get so caught up in our rightness and righteousness that we forget that, even though winning isn’t everything, it’s actually pretty critical to everything.

Building your personal brand and thought leadership is really no different to any endeavour you might undertake. Before you begin, you must clearly understand what a win looks like and early on understand whether you are willing to pay the price to earn it.

Find out how Dan can help your team stand out as thought leaders in your industry through in-house workshops on Personal Branding. Contact info@TheImpossibleInstitute.com or visit www.TheImpossibleInstitute.com

Dan Gregory is an author, speaker, trainer and social commentator. He helps leaders, teams and other smart people to be “people smart” through developing Forever Skills including: 

#Purpose - Culture & Leadership

#Persuasion - Sales & Marketing

#Positioning - Thought Leadership & Personal Brand

#Performance - Performance & Experience Design

Turn your weakness into uniqueness

Dan Gregory   @DanGregoryCo

We’re often told to play to our strengths and to play down our weaknesses or else outsource them to other people. Not only can this be counter-productive to lifting our personal performance (as our weaknesses actually offer the most upside for improvement), it can also cause us to miss the opportunities for thought leadership and building our personal brand that are hiding in our weaknesses.

One of the reasons for this is that our strengths are usually category generic. In a room filled with carpenters, a strength such as being good with a hammer is essentially worthless. When everyone can swing a hammer… so what? 

However, our foibles and failures are more likely to be unique to us as individuals and, used properly, can help us stand out from the crowd and even become an asset.

A chef who’s weakness is that they are rude, impatient and abrupt (think of Seinfeld’s “Soup Nazi”) might traditionally be thought of destined for failure. However, when that weakness becomes amplified, it becomes part of the theatre of visiting that restaurant, cafe or cart and people start to bring their friends for the spectacle.

When John Symond launched Aussie Home Loans, he didn’t look (or sound) like the head of a banking corporation. But it was his folksy, unpolished delivery that made him seem like “one of us” and helped him build a trusted personal brand and a business that took on the big end of town.

A car that was considered “ugly” and small when it launched might just become a global icon, as was the case with Volkswagen. A newspaper ad for the Beetle in 1969 depicted a photo of The Eagle lunar landing vehicle with the headline, “It’s ugly, but it gets you there!”

So why should we own our weaknesses?

The truth is, even though we think we conceal our weaknesses, they usually pretty obvious to all. If you doubt this, ask a group of colleages and judiciously honest friends to help you identify your weaknesses - you’ll be amazed and a little shocked by the consistency of the responses you receive.

Owning your weakness also builds trust. If you’re not only aware of your weaknesses but also disarmingly honest about them, you establish a reputation for being someone who has nothing to hide.

Additionally, owning your weakness rings with authenticity, confidence and comfort in your own skin. A famous maxim posits that, “When you tell the truth, you don’t have to work so hard.”

So how might we turn a weakness into a personal brand and thought leadership?

Firstly, consider how your weakness might actually be an asset.

Impatience might make you proactive, thoughfulness can make you strategic, being young could allow you to be unjaded and open-minded where as advancing years provide wisdom and experience. In other words, no weakness (or strength for that matter) is singulalry bad or good. So look for where your weakness might be useful.

Secondly, explore how amplifying your weakness might make you distinctive. A friend of ours, Jeffrey Hayzlett, is a “business cowboy” who is a mix of New York City and South Dakota. When he walks on stage in foreign cities he kicks off by admitting to what might seem to many to be a weakness, “So a lot of you are looking at me and thinking, ‘Great! Another loud American.’ I am not going to disappoint you!” And, he doesn’t.

Lastly, look for where your weaknesses align with the deepest fears of your customers, clients, staff and communities. The more the unconscious is made conscious, the more fears are brought out into the light, the less frightening they become. Certainly, ignoring them doesn’t make them go away.

Of course, you may not immediately find the opportunity hidded in your weakness, but don’t worry, you absolutely have more than one to experiment with.

Find out how Dan can help your team stand out as thought leaders in your industry through in-house workshops on Personal Branding. Contact info@TheImpossibleInstitute.com or visit www.TheImpossibleInstitute.com

Dan Gregory is an author, speaker, trainer and social commentator. He helps leaders, teams and other smart people to be “people smart” through developing Forever Skills including: 

#Purpose - Culture & Leadership

#Persuasion - Sales & Marketing

#Positioning - Thought Leadership & Personal Brand

#Performance - Performance & Experience Design

Culture IS strategy

Dan Gregory   @DanGregoryCo

One of my pet peeves is the phrase, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

I dislike it partly because I have an aversion to all of the corporate clichés and motivational psychobabble that polute the worlds of business and leadership. However, it bugs me mostly because it artificially separates culture from strategy and vice versa.

Typically, any leader trying to execute a strategy without a consideration for the environment they are working within, or of the current mood of the people they are looking to engage, will enjoy a rather short tenure as leader.

The truth is, a consideration of the context in which you operate, the opportunities and setting you provide access to as a leader, and the example that you set is critical to both the culture that grows (we don’t really create culture so much as provide the conditions in which it emerges) and the strategy you execute through it.

So where do culture and strategy intersect and how might they work together in a synergistic way?

Aligning WHY with WHO.

It’s often asserted that strategy is defined by the What, How and Why a team or organisation should function in the way that they do. A clear direction is set, some rules of engagement and behavioural norms are established and a sense of purpose and meaning is communicated. 

What can often be missed is the “Who” part of the equation. 

This is where culture and strategy very much overlap. So, rather than simply directing through pragmatic or rational instructions, it’s important to establish a sense of empathy for where people currently sit in terms of their emotional state and engagement levels. Additionally, leaders must evoke a vivid picture of who you help them to be through the process of executing your strategy.

Critical in this is aligning your strategic purpose with the identity of the culture you serve. It’s no good asserting a vision of innovation and challenging the status quo if the culture is one of risk aversion and consistency (or if your organisation happens itself to be the status quo). In fact, the exquisite BS detector located between your ears will likely reject any such directives as incongruent and even ridiculous.

This means, leaders who want to drive purposeful organisations must align their WHY with the WHYs of their people. An inspiring mission is clearly advantageous, but it is far more engaging when teams can engage with it at a cultural and an individual level.

Even more importantly, this alignment between culture and strategy fosters a sense of self-driven engagement as well as establishing behaviours that become self-correcting. Rather than vacilating over whether a course of action might be deemed appropriate by a superior, it can be evaluated by asking, “Is this the kind of thing people like us do?”

In the end, both strategy and culture require different tools and thinking, and must be actioned by different members of the team and at different times, however, by artificially separating one from the other, we risk conflict (internally and externally) and the efficacy of both.

Find out how Dan can help your team stand out as thought leaders in your industry through in-house workshops on Culture & Purpose. Contact info@TheImpossibleInstitute.com or visit www.TheImpossibleInstitute.com

Dan Gregory is an author, speaker, trainer and social commentator. He helps leaders, teams and other smart people to be “people smart” through developing Forever Skills including: 

#Purpose - Culture & Leadership

#Persuasion - Sales & Marketing

#Positioning - Thought Leadership & Personal Brand

#Performance - Performance & Experience Design

Starting with WHY can come across as manipulative

Dan Gregory @DanGregoryCo

Ok, so we all know that understanding our sense of purpose, our WHY, can add meaning to our work and also help make that work intrinsically motivating. However, starting with WHY in your communication can also come across as a little calculating and manipulative.

Let’s start with why that might be the case.

Part of the problem is that it frames our initial communication in a persuasive mode rather than one of simple request. 

In other words, by the time the request is actually made, it can almost feel like we have ambushed them. After all, given all the evidence and reasoning we’ve hit them with, how could they say no to our inescapeable conclusion and pitch?!

This means, someone might reasonably respond by saying, “Just tell me what your want and stop trying to persuade me.” Persuasion, in and of itself, can often come across as manipulative. You may even be able to think of ocassions where this happens in your personal life as well as in business.

So, how might we avoid this while still anchoring our communication in our purpose and sense of WHY?

Firstly, all influence ultimately begins with empathy. This means, to be influential and persuasive, we need to increase our understanding of their motivations and their WHY.

Until you are able to align your WHY with theirs, your communication will almost always come across as self-serving.

Secondly, demonstrate how your highest value serve theirs. Your communication strategy should borrow more from the world of cafe conversations and less from court room arguments. Too often, in the pursuit of efficiency we sacrifice efficacy and engagement.

Instead of thinking of communication as a linear, to and fro exchange where one of you wins and the other aquiesces, think of it as two or more people moving towards a shared sense of understanding and meaning.

Finally, be clear about the value your WHY provides for others, not simply how it aligns with your beliefs and passions. And, just as critically, understand that though personally motivating, it may not be for everyone.

If we want to appear authentic in our communication whilst not coming across as manipulative or scheming, perhaps, “Why should they care?” is perhaps a better place to start than why you do.

Find out how Dan can help your team stand out as thought leaders in your industry through in-house workshops on Culture & Purpose. Contact info@TheImpossibleInstitute.com or visit www.TheImpossibleInstitute.com

Dan Gregory is an author, speaker, trainer and social commentator. He helps leaders, teams and other smart people to be “people smart” through developing Forever Skills including: 

#Purpose - Culture & Leadership

#Persuasion - Sales & Marketing

#Positioning - Thought Leadership & Personal Brand

#Performance - Performance & Experience Design

The problem with good versus bad

Dan Gregory @DanGregoryCo

The truth is, none of us is exclusively good or bad, despite how we would like to characterise ourselves. Psychopaths aside, in our own eyes, we are all on the side of rightness.

This tends to lead us to increasingly polarising points of view where rightness becomes self-righteousness. (And if you’re thinking, “That sounds a lot like you Dan,” you’re really just proving my point!)

At a practical level, however, “good” people do do bad things and “bad” people do good things. Moreover, what constitutes good and bad differs from one individual’s values heirarchy to another and from one epoch to the next.

Trying to divide the world up into good and bad creates numerous problems, not the least of which is that we all regularly exercise compromised judgment and make poor decisions due to our inherent bias that “we’re on the side of the good.”

In other words, by seeing ourselves as exclusively, or even mostly good, we actually increase our chances of doing bad and making poor decisions - simply because we’ve cut ourselves off from insights available from “the other side.”

This also matters because it denies and inhibits our capacity to learn, to grow and to redeem ourselves from past mistakes. How many of our hyper-connected youth will struggle as a result of poorly thought through decisions that may “brand them,” perhaps for a very long time, in one camp or the other?

In a social media world all to ready to cast the first stone, it might be worth first plucking the plank from our own eyes. (How that for mixing biblical metaphors?!?)

Find out how Dan can help your team stand out as thought leaders in your industry through in-house workshops on Performance Design. Contact info@TheImpossibleInstitute.com or visit www.TheImpossibleInstitute.com

Dan Gregory is an author, speaker, trainer and social commentator. He helps leaders, teams and other smart people to be “people smart” through developing Forever Skills including: 

#Purpose - Culture & Leadership

#Persuasion - Sales & Marketing

#Positioning - Thought Leadership & Personal Brand

#Performance - Performance & Experience Design

Insights versus data

Dan Gregory @DanGregoryCo

In a world experiencing unprecedented change and, in fact, a rate of change that is accelerating itself, it’s very easy to become distracted by trends.

Trends, whilst interesting and occassionally very exciting, only tell half the story - data isn’t the answer… it’s input!

This makes our capacity to interpret and translate data into insights, or meaning making, a critical skill for leaders, business people and law makers trying to navigate an abstract and ever-evolving future.

This is principally because identical input does not necessarily lead to identical results.

For example, if you jump off a 1 metre high wall a hundred times, versus jumping off a 100 metre high wall once, you get rather different results. 

Both exercises involve you traversing a horizontal distance of 100 metres by jumping off a wall, but only one will win you a Darwin Award and, if captured on video, a chance for the rest of us to experience the power over life and death using our rewind and fast-forward controls!!!

The point is, data is only as meaningful as the meaning we create from it. This means we need to learn to look beneath the trends to identify patterns so that we might discover what’s really going on.

Find out how Dan can help your team stand out as thought leaders in your industry through in-house workshops on Persuasion & Influence. Contact info@TheImpossibleInstitute.com or visit www.TheImpossibleInstitute.com

Dan Gregory is an author, speaker, trainer and social commentator. He helps leaders, teams and other smart people to be “people smart” through developing Forever Skills including: 

#Purpose - Culture & Leadership

#Persuasion - Sales & Marketing

#Positioning - Thought Leadership & Personal Brand

#Performance - Performance & Experience Design

Psychographics are the new demographics

Dan Gregory @DanGregoryCo

Understanding communities used to be easy. In the past, communities were largely homogenous where most people knew their neighbours and friendly communities would even acknowledge those they didn’t know well with a nod in the street.

But today, many of us struggle to recognise, much less name our neighbours, and choose instead to walk at pace, head down and headphones in, in a desperate attempt to avoid eye contact lest we initiate human interaction.

A practice brilliantly portrayed in The Mash Report’s “Northerner terrifies Londoners by saying ‘Hello’” skit, seen here.

In fact, communities and even the very concept of community are today far more likely to be found online that offline.

So what happened?

One of the appeals of online communities is that it allows us to reach out to those who share our opinions and values, even if they do not share our geography or even demography. It allows us to feel connected and understood, especially when we feel like outsiders in the company of those around us. This is, of course, a tremendous positive to those who might have felt isolated in times past.

Compounding this is the fact that the internet and social media amplify that effect, creating filter bubbles where our own opinion is justified and repeated back to us (how reassuring). This leads to downsides too - increasing polarisation within communities, a reluctance to find common ground as well as questions we’ve never had to answer before.

For instance: In a world where communities are built online and threats to that community come from our geographic neighbours (eg. home-grown terrorists), who should the military protect? Where should our loyalties lie? And how might borders need to be defined in the future?

So what does this all mean?

Firstly, if we want to be better informed, we need to explore opinions beyond our own, to actively cultivate diversity of opinion in our online activity and a little open-mindedness in our conversations. In doing so, we reduce the risk of biases and blindspots clouding our thinking and strategies.

Additionally, it makes a capacity to foster alignment as critical as any effort to build engagement in our communications strategies.

It also means that if we want to build communities, to reach new customers and to lead change in the world, we had better learn how to look beyond demography and get a little psychographic!

Find out how Dan can help your team stand out as thought leaders in your industry through in-house workshops on Persuasion & Influence. Contact info@TheImpossibleInstitute.com or visit www.TheImpossibleInstitute.com

Dan Gregory is an author, speaker, trainer and social commentator. He helps leaders, teams and other smart people to be “people smart” through developing Forever Skills including: 

#Purpose - Culture & Leadership

#Persuasion - Sales & Marketing

#Positioning - Thought Leadership & Personal Brand

#Performance - Performance & Experience Design

What are you really selling?

Dan Gregory @DanGregoryCo

Like it or not, we are all in the business of sales and selling.

If you’re a leader, you’re selling your vision, your purpose and your ideas. If you’re a business person, you’re selling products or services. Parents are trying to sell things like bedtime and broccoli. And, if you’re in a relationship, or you’re trying to get into a relationship, you are very definitely in the business of selling.

Of course, sales is far from a logical process, when it is done well, it also engages us at an emotional and even psychological level.

Part of the reason so many people are uncomfortable with words like sales and selling is that many of us have had poor experiences with sales people who were either too pushy or else not really interested in meeting our needs or solving our problems. But the truth is, while few of us enjoy being sold to, almost all of us like buying things,

So why the disconnect?

Part of the problem is our definition of sales and selling. These words in isolation tend to conjure up images of sleazy sales people and manipulative pitching methodologies - and there’s more than a little evidence to support this.

Perhaps a better definition is, “to align your value with their values.” This shifts the focus of a sales conversation from the product to the customer. In fact, the sale is always in the prospect, not the product.

Another issue is that we tend not to think of things such as engagement, inspiration and buy in as a function of sales, but in truth, every great leader is in the business of selling their ideas and too many great ideas die on the vine, not for a lack of quality or efficacy, but due to a lack of influence.

If we want to be more influential, persuasive and engaging, it’s helpful to understand that there are 3 Levels of Selling.

  1. The Literal

  2. The Emotional

  3. The Psychological

The Literal Level of the sale is exactly what you would expect. It is the product or service you’re wanting to sell. This might be a physical product - in the case of the FMCG or manufacturing industries, a service - which includes such things as he trades, contractors and professional services, or it might be an idea, some intellectual property or Thought Leadership if you are a scientist, engineer, or leading a cause. This is what most people understand, but unfortunately, it is also where most people stop.

The Emotional Level of the sell is linked to how the sale makes people feel. This is often expressed as the shift from “features” to “benefits”. A faster computer processor (feature) might lead to less frustration in your work or greater productivity and confidence (benefits). This is where sales people tend to spend a lot of their time and it is the first shift from product or service centricity towards customer-centricity. But there is a further step that is critical to understand.

The Psychological Level of the sale may never be articulated out loud (as often it might be embarrassing or suggest a character failing) but it is incredibly important to understand as this is ultimately the real value your provide for your customers. In B2B markets it might be all about risk aversion, whilst in business to consumer sales, it could be all about selfish gain. In either case, it ultimately comes down to the identity of the purchaser and the identity they wish to present to the world. In other words, your sales pitch would start with WHO.

So what does this look like in practice?

A short time ago, my business partner Kieran Flanaganand I were running a program to help small businesses punch above their weight. One of the businesses in the room was an arborist or tree lopping business run by a young, optimistic 24 year old - Nick.

Whilst working with Nick’s Tree Lopping, we asked what he thought he was really in the business of. He replied, “I make people feel good about cutting down trees!” We looked at him for a moment before responding, “Yeah… let’s not put that on the website! What do you mean?”

He explained to us that he was in fact an environmentalist. Most arborists, when they cut down a tree, chip the wood to make mulch. Nick didn’t do that. If the tree’s diameter was any larger than 20cm (roughly 8 inches), he kept the timber and turned it into furniture. Amazing right? This was nowhere on his website but was clearly the greatest point of difference and story he could have used.

Immediately, we advised him to change the name of his business to “Treeincarnation”, which he did, and then we directed the three levels of his sell.

At the literal level, he was obviously selling tree removal. The emotional benefit was a feeling that despite having a tree cut down, you were doing it in the most sustainable way possible. But at the psychological level, we realised that Nick wasn’t actually in the tree removal business - he was in the guilt removal business. Now,  Nick will never say that to a client, but it does inform how he sells, the new services he introduces to his business and the insights he brings to conversations with his customers.

So… what are you really selling?

You're on before you're on

Dan Gregory @DanGregoryCo

It doesn’t matter whether your speaking to your team, presenting to the board or giving a speech at an AGM or annual conference, you are on before you’re on and being aware of that is critical to the success of your communication.

There is always an elephant in the room that you either need to tame or put down otherwise it will trample over any content you hope to impart. 

Sometimes it’s the way you look, the way you speak, an accent, a stutter, a hiccup in your gait, your professional position relative to those you're speaking to, the remnants they’re carrying from your last piece of communication or even the cultural climate you’re speaking into.

As a professional speaker, when I walk on stage, there are usually two thoughts running through an audiences head, “That guy’s fat,” and “I know that guy from somewhere.” So I take that thought off the table by referencing my weight and the TV show I appeared on for many years, “A couple of months ago I heard a woman at the next table whisperto her companion, ‘He’s the fat one off the Gruen Transfer…’” The audience can then relax, they know why they know me and also that I’m aware of my fondness for pie.

Sometimes the elephant in the room actually has nothing to do with you or what you're presenting. Matt Church, one of the world’s best professional speakers once took to the stage after a very popular member of the audience had had a heart attack and been taken to hospital. At that point, Matt could have decided to press <PLAY> and deliver his content on transmit mode, or as he decided to, he could meet the audience where they were emotionally and move them slowly to where he wanted them to be.

Too often we get caught up in what we're presenting: our content, our pitch, our sales patter of features, benefits, case studies and statistics and forget that the audience’s state is not always where we need them to be.

I once followed Paul de Gelderon stage. He’s a navy diver who had part of an arm and leg taken off by a shark in Sydney Harbour whilst on duty. It’s an inspiring, but bloodily graphic story. The audience was clearly impacted by his story. I had to follow up with some business content and my brief was, “Make them think, but make them laugh.”

I expected the MC, who’s a friend of mine, to reset the audience before introducing me, but what I got was, “Next up, we’ve got Dan Gregory talking about influence…” Before I could get into my presentation, I needed to acknowledge what the room had just experienced and shift their state so they could hear what I had to say and experience a completely different emotion to what they had been sitting in for the previous hour.

So how do we use the fact that we’re on before we’re on?

   1. Acknowledge the elephant in the room

There are many kinds of metaphorical elephants and the reason they’re called elephants is that they’re too big to ignore. So deal with what’s pressing in the minds of your audience before you move to what’s a priority for you. You don’t need to have a solution (if it’s a problem) or a joke (if it’s a personal feature), simply let the audience know that you know where they are.

    2. Turn your foibles or weaknesses into an asset

We like to think that our weaknesses are hidden. So let’s be clear… they’re not. When you’re communicating with someone and you’re nervous, or dismissive or angry, it telegraphs very clearly. The key is to acknowledge our obvious weaknesses in a way that makes them useful to our message. Not only does this take the elephant out of the room, it also connotes a sense of authenticity and confidence.

   3. Understand the state the audience is in

Never present without an understanding of the present context of your audience - even in a one to one conversation. Be in the room early or assess their emotional state through a third party. Even the best communicators in the world will struggle if they misread the mood of the room.

   4. Know what your presentation character is and how it will be experienced by others

My business partner of many years, Kieran Flanagan, has been a leader in a world dominated by MadMen for the past 25 years, despite being a short blonde with a bubbly personality. Kieran knows that she will often be underestimated, in fact, she considers it her super power. She also uses this underestimation as a source of humour. Kieran describes her presentation character as Reese With-a-knife (not Witherspoon) - she’s bright-eyed and optimistic, but sharp and cutting when she needs to be. She uses the audience’s prejudices about her appearance and voice as leverage to build the experience she wants them to have

So, how are the people you are communicating with perceiving you? 

More importantly, how do they perceive you before you’ve even said a word?

Rethinking the S.W.O.T. analysis

Dan Gregory @DanGregoryCo

Originally published with The CEO Magazine

Anyone who’s sat through a strategic workshop at anytime during the past decade will be familiar with the SWOT analysis. Simply put, it stands for Strengths Weaknesses Opportunities and Threats and has informed not only planning days and leadership forums but also a large majority of the decisions that executive teams have made regarding the future of their businesses.

The logic is rarely questioned – play to your strengths, sure up your weaknesses, and be vigilant to opportunities and threats.

One of the issues with this approach however, is that it can lead to some rather predictable thinking and formulaic results and may in fact increase the risks we face - even more so than simply leaving things to chance.

Often, in our work with boards or executive leadership teams, we’ll start with a typical SWOT analysis, but then flip it on its head – a process that can be just as informative.

For instance, what we’ve found is that strengths are typically industry or category generic. In a room filled with carpenters, being good with a hammer is hardly an asset. In this context a contextual strength becomes table stakes or cost of entry.

In fact, we like to suggest that strengths should in fact be considered vulnerabilities. They’re the things we think we know. The things we rarely question. This confidence and assuredness in our own ability can be costly as we end up playing in a commoditized market where strengths are neither unique nor considered a competitive advantage.

Contrast that with our weaknesses. We believe our faults and our foibles are in fact opportunities for uniqueness and remarkability. Typically, they’re unique to us or to the culture of our organization and yet these are the things we try to hide under the carpet or bury in our organization’s public face when an embracing of a weakness is not only distinctive, it engenders trust. When we convinced Coca-Cola to admit publically to commercial failure for the first time in their history, it not only changed the way they engaged with their customer base, it stimulated the most successful brand resurrection in the company’s history.

Now let’s look at opportunities and threats:

If opportunities are so glaring that they are borne out of a cursory SWOT analysis, then there is every chance that our competitors are not only looking in the same direction, but may in fact be much further advanced in their exploration than we are.

Which is not to say that identified opportunities should be ignored, simply that they may not provide the competitive lift we desire.

As for threats - an externalization of threat is also an error in our opinion. If the greatest threat to your business, organization or cause or movement is not yourself, then you’re in trouble.

A better strategy than trying to avoid or evade threats is to manufacture them in-house – to future hack your organization and lead your industry’s change rather than simply managing it.

So what does this all mean for the future of SWOT?

1. Learn to question your Strengths

Rather than seeing them as assets, consider how your strengths expose you to risk or else render you generic in a commoditized market place.

2. Own, embrace and amplify your weaknesses

Consider how you might find uniqueness in your weakness. How could your disadvantage be turned into an asset? Small doesn’t have to mean vulnerable, it can also mean more nimble, more personalized, more exclusive. We need to move beyond a binary view of our attributes and develop a capacity to see opportunities where no one is looking. Which leads rather nicely to…

3. Don’t look for opportunities, go to where there a few and create them

If the best way to predict the future is to create it, we need to learn how to identify not just blue oceans, but to also explore what lies in the less exciting regions of our category.

4. Be the greatest threat to your own business & host an “Insider Revolution™”

Don’t wait for change to dictate your future to you. Innovation should be category leadership and it is a leader’s role to set the course, not just for their organization but also for the future of their industry. This requires a willingness to break what’s currently working.

The S.W.O.T. analysis will always have its place as a strategic planning tool, but perhaps, we could be using it in a less predictable way.

Why we need to rethink motivation and engagement

Dan Gregory @DanGregoryCo

For most of this discussion, I’ll be referring to the above Motivation & Engagement Model that I’ve borrowed from Colin James - colinjamesmethod.com.au

I’ve used the words Motivated and Unmotivated in place of Colin’s "Active and Passive" - partly because it makes more sense in this context, but mostly so I can do want untalented pop stars do during the songwriting process - “Change a word and claim a third”.

The model is fairly self-explanatory; it tracks engagement on one axis and motivation on the other. Colin then breaks down who, from an organizational perspective, sits in each quadrant.

In the highly motivated and engaged quadrant we have the “Performers” - these are the stars of our team. In the engaged but unmotivated quadrant, we have the “Players” - they show up, do their job and play along but don’t yet match the performers. Unmotivated and disengaged quadrant dwellers are referred to as “Passengers” - they’re coasting along and benefiting from the first two quadrants mentioned. And finally, our motivated and disengaged quadrant are the “Pissed off” - they’re disruptive and damaging to culture, performance and profitability.

This is all fairly straight forward. However, when we overlay some of the results of Gallup’s Global Workforce Engagement Study, the proportions start to become a little alarming.

The “Pissed off”, or actively disengaged workers, make up 20% or one fifth of the workforce. Potentially worse however are the “Passengers”, or the simply disengaged workers, who represent slightly more than 50% of the workforce. If we’re feeling generous, we might assume a healthy 5% of our staff are star “Performers” which leaves only a quarter of our team coming in as “Players”.

In other words, only 30% of the workforce identify as engaged, and the larger your organisation, the more these number become statistically relevant. This is despite the best efforts of leaders to create cultures of the willing for the past few decades.

Engagement is key to performance, productivity, profitability & customer satisfaction

One other thing that Gallup’s study indicated was that organizations with high levels of engagement are more productive, have better performing staff, are more profitable and have significantly higher customer satisfaction measures than the norm. Put more concisely, the more engaged your staff, the more engaged your customers, clients, constituents and communities.

So this is a critical issue and it appears we are mostly getting it horribly wrong!

Our typical response is the carrot and stick

When faced with such a challenge our default thinking is to engage in a campaign of either discipline or motivation, or a combination of both. On the surface of it, this makes logical sense; increase motivation and the engagement will follow. Lift engagement and you’ll likely see a rise in performance and profitability.

This is often a sound strategy where simple tasks are to be performed by low or semi-skilled workers, but as complexity increases, the effectiveness of this approach diminishes.

We’re often told that motivation, discipline and engagement drive performance

Ask a professional athlete what made them successful and you almost always get a story of motivation and discipline - they just “wanted it more!” Of course, this is very good for their egos but hardly reflects reality or even probability.

Far more likely, they benefited from a specific genetic makeup, from being born in a location where their sport was favored or at least available, they probably had parents who were willing to get them out of bed for 5:00am training from an early age (giving them a ten year head start on less fortunate athletes they competed with in their mid teens) not to mention the sporting institutions, sports psychologists and specialist coaches that are enrolled to develop an athlete with demonstrating even a modicum of promise in the developed world…. but yeah, they just wanted it more!

This is not to dismiss the role of discipline and motivation, merely to reveal the untold side of the story and dial down a little of the ego-based hype and the ensuing blame that is leveled at those who are less successful - i.e. “You just didn’t want it enough!”

It is usually very lucky people who tend to claim there’s no such thing as luck. However, what is true, is that we can increase our chances of experiencing it.

Performance precedes both motivation and engagement

This seems counter intuitive and it certainly runs contrary to all of the stories of heroic success we’ve been raised on (or indoctrinated by).

What we know from behavioral studies carried out all around the world is that “Design beats Discipline”. In other words, a system, process or environment designed with a bias towards success and away from failure generates more reliable and predictable success than motivation and discipline alone.

An example of this is the work we do with financial institutions who have identified a "performance gap" between intention and action when it comes to personal savings schemes.

Ask any audience if saving for the future is a good idea and you’ll receive unanimous support. Ask the same group who has more money set aside in voluntary savings (things like bonds and shares) than they do in compulsory (or systematized) savings (things like a mortgage, superannuation or 401K) and the response is quite different.

In fact, the only time customers of banks and financial institutions achieve consistent success in saving for the future, is when the money is deducted from their salary or wage before they ever see it and is placed into an account they have limited access to.

In other words, when there is a bias towards success and failure is rendered highly unlikely, we get "lucky" or at least luckier.

Design drives success and performance, but how does this precede motivation and engagement?

One of the things that teachers observe in early childhood is that we work harder to be good at things we’re already good at. If, for instance, I demonstrate some artistic ability, I am more likely to spend my time practicing it. This in turn improves performance, which elicits praise and so the cycle continues.

I observed this same tendency as a guitar teacher (the profession that allowed me to live well whilst at university).

The traditional teaching method, which had informed my own learning experience, is to develop technical capability a little at a time and progressively move from one small gain to the next.

Then, years later after much disciplined practice, you might just be able to play a song or two. If you have ever tried to get a child to do their music practice, you’ll know that carrots and sticks soon ensue.

I decided to try something different. Instead, I asked the children I was teaching who their favorite pop or rock act was. Then, with no care for technical proficiency, I taught them to play a song by the artist in the first few weeks.

They had no real understanding of the musical theory behind what they were doing (I’d add that later) but their motivation and engagement went through the roof. Parents were effusive with their praise for both me and their children, telling me that their progeny were likely prodigies, such was their enthusiasm for practice.

All I had done, was to put performance (something that would usually elude them for months if not years) at the beginning of their journey and motivation and engagement followed.

Help us feel competent and connected and we’ll be more engaged & enthusiastic

So how might this play out in organizational life? Quite simply, it means a move away from the charismatic model of leadership (or less reliance on it) and a shift towards leadership that is more strategic and design-based. Develop systems and processes that make performance easier and more likely and engagement and motivation will follow.

Let’s revisit our model.

Most of a leader’s focus will be centered on the “Performers” and the “Pissed off” (outlined in red). Which is hardly surprising, we elevate those who do well and manage (or manage out) those who we deem to be destructive.

As logical as this may seem it is, I’m afraid, a mistake - a mistake because we are focused on only a quarter of our team and only a fifth of them are worth keeping.

Better, in my opinion, to focus on the bottom two quadrants (marked in green) and instead of berating them for not being more like the “Performers”, develop systems that allow them to play at that level with greater ease and less to lose (indicated in magenta).

Make this kind of performance possible independent of motivation and engagement and motivation and engagement will ultimately show up.

4 ways to avoid unconscious bias and situational blindness

Dan Gregory @DanGregoryCo

Most of what we believe, even with conviction and assuredness, may possibly be completely mistaken or, at least, fundamentally flawed as a result of unconscious bias and situational blindness.

Now, that is quite a statement, but it bears thinking about and indeed reviewing with the cold and emotionless detachment of an independently appointed statistician.

This can be a particularly important consideration; partly because such blindness can have a catastrophic effect on our businesses, our personal lives, in our communities and in our relationships:

• Situational (or contextual) blindness can rob us of opportunities and possibilities to innovate, to grow, to connect and to build and expand

• Unconscious bias can build unnecessary walls and frictions within our relationships and communications with our team, our customers or clients and within our communities and partnerships

• Ingrained prejudices expose us to risks, both reputational and financial, and can cloud our judgment and set our processes up for failure 

• And narrow mindedness, an intolerance of dissent or even a resistance to respectful questioning, can cost us dearly in economic terms as well as in our own performance and team engagement.

The other way unconscious bias might be detrimental, is that, by definition, we are unconscious and perhaps even resistant in our relationship to them. And where there is a lack of awareness, by omission or design, there is risk.

Consider what most of us tend to think of as our most important beliefs – our moral code or religious values.

Now this is not to question your personal beliefs, nor is it an argument for or against any particular religious or non-religious doctrine. So please relax, this post is not written to decry beliefs but rather to broaden situational awareness and in doing so, aid you in amplifying your influence and alertness.

So for now, let’s look at belief more broadly as a concept:

Firstly, no matter what your religious belief (which, again, is entirely your business), you will fall into a demographic statistic – a proportion of the human population.

For instance, roughly one third of the world’s population identifies as Christian, about another third call themselves Muslim and the rest of the religious population, plus those who are atheist or agnostic, make up the final third.

Additionally, all of these belief systems are essentially mutually exclusive – in other words, you can’t be both Muslim andBuddhist or Christian andatheist for example.

What this means is, regardless of what you believe, in terms of statistical probability, there is an approximately 65-67% chance (now brace yourself)… that you are wrong. That allor anyof us are wrong!

(Again, I’m not suggesting that you definitely arewrong, I’m simply doing the math… so deep breaths everyone.)

Simply put, this raw data, and the resulting statistical spread, necessarily point to the fact that, according to impartial probability, you, and indeed all of us, are highly likely to be incorrect. (Remember, not saying you are… just probably… OK. I think we got away with that…phew!)

Now, all of the above assumes that each of these groups is homogenous within itself – that one portion of the world’s Christians and Muslims (or the other less populous religions) do not fundamentally believe that the other denominations within their own number are in fact heretics who have misinterpreted the word of their god or gods. Of course, this is an erroneous assumption.

We know, for instance, that Sunnis & Shiers and Catholics & Protestants, and the divisions within many or most of the other thousands of religions around the planet from Judaism to Hinduism, often refer to each other with open skepticism or even thinly veiled hostility. And this is within their own particular belief system – outside of these cohorts, conflict likely increases.

So, even within a particular belief, homogeny is not assured. This means the chances of you, or I, making the correct choice are diminished even further. In fact, the statistical probability that you and I are wrong (not saying you are… breathe… breathe…) is actually higher, and indeed much higher, that the 65-67% I mentioned earlier.

Now, I wonder if I were to ask you to cross the road, assuming a less than 30% statistical probability of making it to the other side, if you would step up to the curb? Of course, that is precisely the statistic probability we all face in terms of making it to "the other side".

So here we are - the entire world’s population has a greater than average chance of being wrong (and possibly completely wrong) about the singular belief that they hold to be the most important in terms of informing their morality and codes of behavior.


Two things to note before we move on:

Clearly, I’ve chosen a provocative illustration to make my point. I’ve done this precisely because whatever discomfort you may have felt whilst reading the preceding paragraphs should alert you to how instinctively and passionately we feel the need to defend our long held and unquestioned beliefs.

Importantly, it must also be stated that statistics are not facts – they can only point to probabilities and tendencies. However, the underlying lesson here is that, though we might feel a personal certainty about our beliefs, we may still be arguing against the numbers.

Of course, this pattern of entrenched beliefs plays out in every area of our lives, from business to politics and even within our families and social relationships.

We have our own unconscious biases toward particular personality types, with regard to particular skills sets, methodologies and processes. Our prejudices and intolerances drive us every minute of every day, and yet we tend to assume that we are mostly acting out of clinical and logical decision-making using emotionally intelligent judgment.

This, it turns out, is a bit of a problem.

Which is not to say that we should abandon our belief systems - rather that we might approach the various situations we encounter in life with a little more humility, curiosity and open mindedness.

Moreover, it is in our interest to actively seek cognitive diversity in our teams, reading, research and social interactions – those who can respectfully challenge us and help us to see the world from points of view other than our own or of those who see from similar positions to our own.

Often, The Impossible Institute will work with an organization and be asked to conduct a “Cultural Audit”. Part of this often includes a measurement of Collaborative Intelligence (or We-Q™) - which is informed by the diversity of the skills sets and thinking styles within the team. We do this because, we believe, Team Geniusis a better outcome than the “overly harmonious” homogeny of the alternative.

What we often find through this process, is most organizations’ and business’ default position is a “check box” view of diversity along lines of gender, ethnicity and sexuality (all of which are incredibly important). However, a diversity of thinking styles is often overlooked.

For example, a leader might surround themselves with a male or female version of themselves, or an Indian, Chinese, Italian, English, American, Australian, German or South African version of themselves. This means that we’re still likely to be having the same conversations and reaching the same, predictable conclusions, just in different accents and inflections.

This leaves us vulnerable to falling in love with our own opinions whilst calling them due diligence.

So how do we avoid falling victim to unconscious bias and situational blindness when, by definition, we’re blind to them?

1. Firstly, be diligent in seeking alternative points of view

Often, it is those we consider “irritating”, those who push our personal buttons and whose counsel we resist who can offer us the most value.

This is not to say that we submit to contrary opinions or that we deny our own intuition, simply that all growth requires a measure of resistance.

2. Be a little suspicious of too much agreement

Harmony can be a good thing, even desirous. Too much can become a problem.

If comfort is sort at the expense of truth and critical intelligence, we run the risk of creating a culture that is unaware of its environment and insulated against present dangers.

3. Question first principles 

Long established processes are not always indicative of correctness or usefulness.

Too often we hold on to outdated processes and systems simply because there is a sense of “rightness” associated with past precedent that may in fact be irrelevant in current circumstances.

4. Be more attached to results than your own sense of rightness

Leadership of any kind demands that our focus should be more on outcomes than on our own preferences or comfort levels.

Leadership actually demands a greater sense of humility and self awareness than does followership.

In the end, this is simply an invitation to all of us to raise our collective awareness to possibilities, relationships, risks and results that may lie just beyond the limits of our beliefs.

Of course, this might just be one of my beliefs, and statistically, that’s a problem too!

How to move from storytelling to story doing

Dan Gregory @DanGregoryCo

It’s hard to argue against the power story telling wields as a tool of influence and persuasion. However, a more powerful tool is Story Doing.

Indeed, story telling is one of the oldest and most revered of our communication tools, one that allows us to take mundane facts and pedestrian ideas and render them memorable, personal and pass-on-able.

In fact, virtually every culture, be they national, social or organizational, is merely the collection of behaviors and beliefs codified in our shared stories.

I have a particular interest in storytelling, as it is a skill that has helped me build my business (and in turn fuelled my cash flow) in the work I do with C-Suite Executives, Board Directors, Leadership Teams and Sales and Marketing professionals. In helping them hone the craft of storytelling in their presentations, communications and pitches it has given me immense rewards, both personally and professionally, as well as building their confidence, presence and persuasiveness.

However, as compelling as a story well told might be, what I consider to be even more engaging, more influential and exciting, is a concept I call Story-Doing.

I define this as the capacity to design into our processes, systems and behaviors unique experiences that might be worth telling a story about?

In doing so, we move from the position of storyteller to story protagonist or hero.

So what are the core elements of Story-Doing?

1. Develop a signature move or “no-where-else experience”

We often assume that a good experience, good leadership or good service is worth telling a story about. I’d like to put it to you that good is actually a hygiene factor, the cost of entry or table stakes.

The truth is, we only really notice the outliers in our experience. If we expect good (and today we very much do) then we become blind to it – and rarely share it via our stories.

What we do notice, and take an interest in, is the unanticipated, the inspiring or the surprising. The key here is to engineer the extraordinary into the everyday, or to do the thoughtfulness before the thoughtfulness is required.

This is something I observed in an IKEA store foyer a number of years ago. The skies were teeming with rain outside as I ran from my car to the store’s entry way, and there, on a sandwich board handwritten in chalk were the words, “We’ve noticed it’s raining outside… so we’ve cut the price of our umbrellas in half.”

All of a sudden I liked IKEA a little more and felt more predisposed to part with some of my hard earned folding in their establishment.

I tracked the store manager down and, as a trainer of people myself, asked them what kind of training they were offering to ensure that this kind of proactive thoughtfulness showed up in their team’s behavior.

They shared with me, “We don’t train them to be thoughtful, that’s already done. The sign is always in a storeroom, we just train them to wheel it out when it’s raining.”

This made me appreciate the sign even more.

2. Ensure it is relevant & and make it personal

I mentioned earlier that Story-Doing allows you to become the hero of your story, however, the hero of the experience itself should be the person you wish to share the story on your behalf – be it your customer, a member of your team or a constituent in your community.

Too often, in designing our strategies, processes and systems, we filter the world through our own eyes, our world-view and our personal biases and objectives. This is a critical error in building engagement and establishing influence.

The more relevant we can make an experience, in terms of timing, personal salience and accessibility, the more enthusiastic others will tend to be in the sharing of it. Which leads me to my final point:

3. Make your Story-Doing “pass-on-able”

We live in a social media age where every meal or clothing decision is documented, photographed, peer reviewed, commented on, liked, challenged and shared, retweeted or “quoted”.

In fact, Nielsen research has estimated that 91% of our decisions are influenced by friend recommendations. These recommendation, unsurprisingly, often take the form of a story.

To encourage pass-on-ability, consider how your story might be retold verbally, in written form or even visually. The more you’re able to furnish the eventual storyteller with the tools that bring their story to life, the more engaging the story will be in the eyes of others.

So, by all means, learn to tell a story well (you might even consider getting some training from an expert in the field). But while you’re about it, consider also what activity you might add to the most mundane of your day-to-day tasks that are so extraordinary they might be worth telling a story about.

Why every court (or Board or ELT) needs humour and a Jester

Dan Gregory @DanGregoryCo

Humour is more serious than you might suspect.

You may be familiar with the phrase, “an ability to talk truth to power.” or have experience with someone who uses humour to amplify influence.  This has always been the role of the jester, or fool . The latter moniker was probably adopted as an insurance against misinterpretation and reprimand… “I’m just the fool, you can’t take anything I say seriously.”

The usefulness of both this skill and role have survived the age of kings, queens, emperors and courts and today, they have something to teach those of us who lead in more a contemporary context.

One of the risks Executive Leadership Teams and Boards face is that few of our people want to share bad news with us.

This should come as no surprise: historically, we’ve often been very quick to punish the bearers of bad news, so keeping your head down was rather a wise strategy.

This is obviously problematic - if something is going awry within our organization, we need to know about it before it becomes critical or perhaps even catastrophic.

Recently, the excellent Canadian journalist and social commentator, Malcolm Gladwell, in his podcast Revisionist History, suggested that satire and humour didn’t work. Of course, I’m oversimplifying the depth of his assertion, but I’d also argue that one of the issues with this observation is that the case study cited (recent American elections), was also too narrow both in terms of time and effect.

Essentially, the broader piece explored how American satirists, people like Jon Stewart and Trevor Noah of The Daily Show, Alec Baldwin, Tina Fey and the team at SNL and Comics like Bill Maher of Real Time fame, had failed to stem the rise of the Alt Right and that in fact, supporters of both sides of politics were able to project their own views onto satire and read into it their own interpretation.

Three observations here: Firstly, I’m clearly paraphrasing Gladwell’s podcast to make a point. Secondly, I think it would be a disservice to the US voting public to suggest that the election hinged only on the ineffectiveness or otherwise of satire, and lastly, I think that the greater effect of such satire is still in play and shaping opinions on both side of the divide. Conservatives are no less adept at the use of their own style of ridicule than are liberals.

This observation is born out by history. In fact, what we know from studying human behavior more broadly is that ridicule, in all its forms, can be a rather reliable (if clumsy) behavioral modifier.

The parent who admonishes a young child by suggesting they are “acting like a baby”, the sibling who laughs at another’s fashion choices and the peer pressure to join in an act of cruelty for fear of being perceived as soft, are, albeit undesirable, strong demonstrations of humor’s effectiveness as a weapon.

However, humour need not always be weaponized, in fact, it can be used to quite the opposite effect.

A skillful use of humor can anesthetize an otherwise unpleasant conversation, it can build instant rapport through a recognition of shared experience and our shared humanity and importantly, at lease as far as this post is concerned, it can challenge authority and rigidity in a playful and relatively safe fashion (assuming of course it is done with skill and sensitivity).

So, what are the keys to playing the fool without appearing foolish?

  1. Play the issue not the individual

I recall a conversation comedian Chris Rock shared with Jerry Seinfeld, Louis CK and Ricky Gervais on the nature of comedy. Rock stated that the rule that the writing team on his show adhered to was to work the issue, the story or the incident, not the person or personality involved. i.e. “That was stupid, not YOU are stupid.”

In other words, he resisted the cheap laugh at the expense of a particular person in favor of striking a point against their position.

In doing likewise, you can remove or decrease the desire for reflexive defensiveness. A choice can be wrong without necessarily making the decision maker wrong.

  1. Demonstrate the personal risk without increasing it.

Whilst ridicule and satire have their place, they are perhaps best used to create a sense of how a particular action might be perceived or critiqued by the broader community than delivered as a direct critique of those who are making the decision.

In this way, humor can be framed as a reputational risk assessment rather than as a glib criticism designed to score points.

By creating an arm’s length of distance through the use of phrases such as, “That might open us up to…” or, “People might say…” you free yourself to simulate parody without having to own it or its consequences.

  1. If you’re going to be funny… be funny

If people typically don’t tell you you’re funny, you’re probably not.

This is perhaps the most critical point in this post. Too often, otherwise serious or quite emotionally intelligent people will attempt to “be funny” in a leadership meeting and end up in waaaaaay inappropriate territory. You know who I’m talking about and if you don’t, it’s you!

Reassuringly, it’s entirely OK to not be funny – humor is not everyone’s gift. It is not everyone’s role to speak truth to power, however, all of us can support it and be freed by it when it is spoken.

  1. If you’re a leader, or you aspire to be, learn to love being heckled

A maxim dating back to the wild west of the United States posits that you can recognize a pioneer by the arrows sticking out of their back. The same, I’m afraid, often holds true for leadership.

Interestingly, the default response of most stand-up comedians when they begin their careers is to shut hecklers down with pre-rehearsed insults and zingy one-liners. However, as a comic develops their confidence and stage presence, there is a playfulness they learn to enjoy with their audiences – a dance they relish, even with those who cross the line.

Of course, they are still very much in control, but they have an ability take what is thrown at them, build on it and in doing so, earn both respect and develop a more bullet proof set.

Too often leaders and boards operate in echo chambers supported by managers who are too afraid to speak truth to power. This leaves them to navigate their organizations guided by half-truths, faulty intelligence and unconscious biases.

Perhaps the most important lesson to be learned from the Jester - is to be a leader who gets, and can take, a joke!

How to say it so they can hear it

Dan Gregory @DanGregoryCo

“You can’t handle the truth!” So said Jack Nicholson in A few good men. And he’s right. But the real truth is, it's all in the framing.

The truth is; we are all delicate flowers wrapped in paper-thin skins, indulging unconscious (and occasionally conscious) biases and prejudices. To add insult to injury, half of us are below average intelligence!

So, how did you handle those truths just outlined? Did you? Or, did you simply laugh them off assuming I was talking about everyone else?

Either way, we might all agree that some of that was hard to hear, or in this case, read.

If we want to lead people, sell product, drive change or increase our influence with our team, our customers and our community, we had better learn how to say it so it can be heard… in fact, what we should really learn, is how to say it so that our message is actively sought out. This requires some skill with framing and contextualising our communication.

This means more than simply saying what others want to hear. Although, one of the most annoying things about click bait is that it works. For instance, I know that, statistically, having the words “How to” in the headline above will increase opens, clicks and shares. Does that mean we are all predictable sheep? Sure. Do I care if it works for me? Well… no!

However, saying it so it might be heard is rather different than choosing to fuel or ride on the back of others’ prejudices or vulnerabilities which, conversely, is a rather cynical manipulation. The latter is often taught, albeit in a more benign fashion, as a sales and persuasion technique known as “mirroring”. Which is not to say that mirroring cannot be a more empathetic and ethical tool of influence, but perhaps only when practiced by someone with more sensitivity and deftness than a large number of those who profess to teach it.

On the contrary, saying something so it might be heard is more concerned with an understanding that communication isn’t about the transmission of information, it’s about moving multiple parties towards a sense of shared meaning. In other words, if you’re talking and you think we’re just not getting it, I’m going to suggest that it’s actually youthat’s not getting it.

The point is, having truth on our side, or being right, or having a weight of evidence behind us, is usually insufficient to drive engagement and change.

The problem is, most people would rather be right than rich

(If you don’t like the word “rich”, please feel free to substitute it with “… than win” or “… than be successful” or “… than be listened to”.)

The reason for this is, we love our rightness like a teenager obsessed with their first crush - and the more intelligent we are, the more this will get in the way of our success.

For example, scientists and academics are notoriously egg-headed in the intellect department but mostly sit at the tail end of the bell curve when it comes to their Influence Quotient. “But we’re right Dan, that shouldmatter!” they’ll exclaim, stamping their feet like a precocious toddler.

So let me put this in language the scientific folk are more familiar with: You’ve been carrying out double-blind testing of the “But I’m right” hypothesis for over 100 years and it is still not producing consistent, or even vaguely positive, results. In fact, in 2017, despite all of your evidence, your research data, your peer reviewed white papers and academic accolades and awards, we’re still debating climate change, the efficacy of vaccinations, what the word theory means with regard to evolution and whether contraception and reproductive rights are a good thing or not.

All of these are issues the scientific and academic world put to bed a long time ago… so, perhaps it’s time for a new hypothesis to test.

Scientists and academics, it transpires, are just like the rest of us - we become attached to a hypothesis simply because we want it to be true. (NB. Clearly the above paragraphs were framed precisely to provoke an indignant response from scientists and academics and should not be interpreted as an illustration of the central theme of this post.)

In my opinion, a better, or more useful, hypothesis is that we all need to learn how to sell – even though we’re right, even if we don’t like the implications of that word and especially if we think we shouldn’t have to!

If you want to get people on board, to create support for your cause, lead an organization in change or even to just sell some stuff, we all need to learn how to stop banging on about our rightness and talk to “them” in a way they might care about what we care about.

So, how might we achieve this?

1. Use framing to explain your value in their values

Recently, I was listening to Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski discussing what he calls “fish love”. He retold the story of a man who claimed to love fish. The Rabbi questioned him asking, “But you take the fish from its home, kill it, boil it and eat it. Is it not more accurate to say that you love yourself?” I have little doubt that as he said this, a voice inside the Rabbi’s head vocalized the word, “Ziiiiiiiing!!!”

The point he makes is an important one. Our initial response to the world around us is driven by self-interest. In fact, our capacity to view the world through this lens has been critical to our survival as a species.

Rather than fighting this tendency and expecting people to come around to our way of thinking out of deference, we would do better to show them what’s in it for them.

2. Link your message to existing Belief Systems (even if they really do deserve the initials - "BS")

One of the reasons affirmations are so ineffective (as opposed to mental rehearsal which does, in fact, measurably improve performance) is that when we’re lying to ourselves, even with great passion and enthusiasm, we know we’re lying.

What’s more, our brains are incredibly, and unconsciously, capable of delivering a barrage of evidentiary arguments to support this fact with the brutal demeanor of a prosecuting attorney in a bad mood.

Consider the scene from American Beauty where Annette Benning plays a Real Estate agent who chants, “I will sell this house today” over and over until she deteriorates into tears.

This cognitive dissonance, even though it may be on  shaky ground, logically, is incredibly powerful. A more useful strategy, rather than simply talking from a contrary point of view or challenging what we hold to be true, is to link what is new to what is already understood and accepted.

Metaphors and similes are extremely useful in this regard as they create vivid and visual connections to ideas and beliefs that we may no longer even question – thereby increasing the validity and salience of our new message.

3. Use anesthetic when the truth is painful

One of the things researchers in hospitals have discovered is that doctors with a good bedside manner increase the rate and efficacy of a patient’s recovery. This rather elegantly makes the point that it is not just the “what” you say that drives effectiveness, but also the “how”.

This is why humor can be such a powerful way to set people at their ease, establish rapport and broach topics that might otherwise be difficult to hear.

Certainly this is a skill that requires some skill and judgment, but when used judiciously can move those who are otherwise resistant to action.

The broad conclusion we can draw from all of this is that persuasion is not to be found in our rightness, but rather it sits on the other side of the table from ourselves, the sale is in the prospect not the product and that all influence is ultimately a product of empathy.

Of course, even this is not always easy to hear.

5 reasons you might want to abandon hope & 1 reason you might want to keep it

Dan Gregory @DanGregoryCo

"Wow", I can hear you say, "Hope? That's the problem?"

That’s right, today I’m BBQin’ some motivational sacred cow!

Now I know this is going to offend some of you - this will challenge some long held beliefs, make the "inspiration police" angry and I imagine a good portion of you might experience some minor sphincter tightening - but I’m going to say it anyway:

Hope is a bad idea!”

Now, before we go any further, I want to make sure that you understand the distinction I make between hope and optimism.

Optimism, is in fact, generally a good thing… sometimes even a very good thing. On the whole, optimism tends to make us more creative, resilient, healthy and happy.

The difference between the two, however, is quite marked.

Optimism is always, in some way, linked to the context and environment you find yourself in. Optimism is usually fuelled by an apparent possibility, a potential opportunity or involves leveraged relationships, historic precedent, metaphorical reference points, or indeed, skills and capabilities we know to be within our reach.

Hope, on the other hand, is usually only grasped for, rather ironically, when things are hopeless.

Optimism is, "I studied as hard as I could, I'm optimistic of a good result." Hope is, "I forgot to study, I hope I pass!!!"

“OK, that makes sense, but why is it really such a bad thing?” you may be asking yourself. Excellent question.

Hope is a bad idea because its primary purpose is to act as an anesthetic against the psychological discomfort of circumstance. In other words, it disconnects us from reality and either delays, or completely impairs, our ability to take action in order that we might “feel” better (as opposed to actually “being” better off).

Hope keeps us in relationships that are tragically broken, “He/She will change.”

Hope makes us stay in investment positions longer than we should, “It’s gonna turn around, I just know it will.”

Hope has us executing business strategies we haven’t adequately prepared for and making commercial, personal and social decisions that may be damaging to ourselves and to others. “I hope this works!!!”

All of us, when prompted, can recall a list of experiences and personal stories, where we clung to hope and suffered, or caused other’s suffering, as a result.

What this boils down to is this: hope supports our adoption of risky positions and abets precarious situations, it encourages procrastination to the point of paralysis, it justifies delusions about our capabilities and clouds the real possibilities that surround us. All of this ultimately reveals hope as a strategy of failure.

If you can act and are willing to act, then don't waste time hoping... act. If action is not possible, then a strategy that holds a greater chance of success is exit, not hope.

Hope, as defined above, is unnecessary to maintaining an optimistic view of the world, of our potential, of business opportunities and yes, even of our dreams. Rather, it is highly likely that:

1. Hope undermines optimism, which exists within context and environment

2. Hope increases our risk by removing a reasonable sense of caution

3. Hope delays, and in some cases impairs, action

4. Hope disconnects us from reality and blinds us to actual possibilities

5. Hope destabilizes a successful strategy, instead encouraging a position of no strategy at all

OK, that’s why we need to abandon hope… So why might we want to keep hope? How might it be used to our benefit?

1. Hope is a powerful tool of influence

I say tool of influence, but in truth, hope has usually tended to err towards the manipulation end of the influence spectrum.

It has been the go to methodology of quacks and alternative healers selling miracle diet pills and “cures” for terminal maladies, of corrupt politicians looking to grab a few votes, of religious gurus and teachers drumming up followers and tithes, of lobbyists and political activists looking to leverage public prejudices and biases and marketers who revel in unsubstantiated claims and false promises.

Now, hope need not always be used as a manipulative tool of influence, but that has certainly been its pedigree. The reason for this is that hope acts very much like a drug. It is immediately tempting, highly addictive and particularly appealing to the vulnerable and desperate - so use with caution.

My suggestion? Abandon hope. Instead, feed your optimism by taking what action is available to you and reclaim your power!

Of course, it’s not my job to dictate your moral standards, merely to inform them…

… but I “hope” you’ll make the right decision.

CUE: Dr Evil-esque laugh.

You're boring and it's costing you

Dan Gregory @DanGregoryCo

I imagine about now you’re thinking, “Wow, thanks for the positive affirmation Mr. Motivational Speaker.” But hear me out, because I’m pretty sure it’s not your personality, it’s simply who you are at work. In fact, what I'm really talking about is the need to stand out.

For some reason, otherwise interesting and personable people tend to put on their work clothes and check their humanity and individuality at the door.

To be fair, it’s not entirely your fault. The corporate world has spent decades trying to beat the humanity out of us and transform human beings into homogenous, replaceable cogs. And let’s be honest, on the back of last century’s industrial revolution, it was a good plan. Work was mostly routine, repetitive and ritualized.

However, it’s 2017 and the world of work has shifted. Repetitive work has either been off-shored, out-sourced or handed over to robots with AI that are more efficient, more obedient and less likely to unionize.

This, as it turns out, is actually a good thing. It means that what makes you human, unique and interesting (and interested) is your new competitive advantage.

So how do you take advantage of this? How do you unlock what is unique to you and transform it into a commercial advantage? How do you build a reputation as an influencer? An innovator in your category? And command the respect of your peers and the new business and fees you desire?

If you want to stand out (and you really do) you need to know your 4 Stands.

1. What do you stand for?

What is the contribution you wish to make in your world? What are you creating? Changing? Improving? Reinventing? What is it that you do that makes people’s lives that little bit better for intersecting with your work?

2. What do you stand against?

Whose apple cart are you upsetting? What status-quo are you challenging? What is the righteous fight you are starting and on whose behalf are you fighting for?

3. Who do you stand with?

Who is on your team? Who do you collaborate with? Where are the gaps in your expertise and experience and who will advocate for you and make these connections?

4. How do you stand up?

What is your tone of voice? What language do you use? What intellectual property have you authored and which media platforms are you using to seed your revolution?

This is an extraordinary time to be alive. The opportunities we have and the work we do is more interesting than at any time in our history.

So stop being so boring and take advantage of it!

When the facts get in the way of our opinions

Dan Gregory @DanGregoryCo

How do we know something is, in fact, a fact, or even THE facts, or just an opinion we've held so long we're unprepared to give it up?

Just as importantly, are those we look to engage just as attached to their accumulated "facts".

One of the most interesting books I've read in the past decade, is Eli Pariser's The Filter Bubble. Pariser's assertion is that the internet learns who we are, assesses how our biases and prejudices shape our opinions, and then feeds us further information we're inclined to agree with.

That's a painfully brief summation but it's a good reminder that not only is the information we access online notoriously unreliable, it is also very likely to be framed to entrench already long-held views.

But this phenomenon is not unique to the digital age. In fact, human societies and communities have been reinforcing opinions as facts for millennia.

A lot of this is generated by fear, a powerful emotion that makes those seeking comfort, compliant and easily lead. Control the information, you control the opinions and in doing so, gain control over people.

So why does this matter?

It matters because almost every important issue we face in business, in politics and in life ends up in a binary argument, not based on facts, but drawing on often flawed opinions and hypotheses.

Everything from:

• Gun control or regulation

• Immigration

• Economic Theory (despite the fact that many economists are less reliable than a fun pier fortune teller)

• Freedom, or the lack thereof, of belief (especially if those beliefs don't reflect the majority view)

• Gender and sexual equality

• Articles of law and civil behavior

• Taxation and government spending

Any of these subjects is likely to lead to heated words and even physical violence at a family BBQ. Hardly surprising given the importance some of these issues hold in our daily life. That's what makes a capacity to think outside our own personal view points so important. Not just so we can make better decisions, but so that we might also be more influential, more engaging and more trustworthy.

Anaïs Nin is famously quoted as saying, "We don't see the world as it is, we see the world as we are."

The truth is, we only ever see the world with as much accuracy, as the number of points of view we have access to, will allow.