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.

Big wins first

Dan Gregory @DanGregoryCo

Are small wins just as important as big wins? Depends who you ask.

Naval Adm. William H. McRaven famously suggested that one of the keys to feeling more motivated and driving personal success, was to start the day by making your bed.

A better strategy, in my opinion, is to start the day with Big Wins First.

Of course, if your life's work and personal mission is defined by crisp linen and hospital corners, then have at it. But you may, in fact, be psychologically conditioning yourself to prioritise the trivial, or in fact, to not prioritise at all.

So how does one achieve a Big Win First?

This simple piece of motivation design requires little more than a blank sheet of paper, or a softly humming digital screen and interface.

Make three lists:

  1. Big Wins

  2. To Dos

  3. Week Plan

Determine what your Big Wins are - for me, it's things like writing a new chapter for my latest book or authoring a new keynote speech, but it might just as easily be a core piece of a larger project. Yours will obviously be determined by your own personal and business ambitions.

Next, list the To Dos - those mundane activities that must be done, but are hardly inspiring.

Lastly, compose your Week Plan placing a Big Win at the top of each days' list.

The point is, this should be the first thing that has your attention each day and the day should not encroach on your Big Win until you've won. At this point, it matters little what happens to the rest of your day, how many people interrupt you or what little failures you experience. You've already won... and won big!

More importantly, you're conditioning your mind and your habits to prioritize your priorities, and over time, this leads to personal progress that truly matters.

Need to versus want to

Dan Gregory @DanGregoryCo

One of the things that has human beings turning to motivational literature in their multitudes is the difference between "Need to" and "Want to".

Typically, want todoesn't require a lot of motivation - it's intrinsically linked to whatever that activity might be. Few of us need to "motivate" ourselves to enjoy a good meal or a soft bed at the end of a long day.

However, activities that are more need to, or have to, or (shudder) shoulds tend to rely on extrinsic motivation in one form or another. This might be a deadline, or some kind of legal repercussion, a physical or reputational risk or something of the like. In other words, if we don't, we're going to get our procrastinating butts kicked.

Often times, this can be motivation enough. But that leaves what to do about those tasks where the outside, or extrinsic, cost isn't enough to motivate us. Famed author, Douglas Adams, once quipped, "I love deadlines. I love the whooshingsound they make as they pass by."

So what kind of motivation is required for a need toactivity that, may not be enjoyable or even pleasant, is still rather necessary?

This is where behavioral, or motivation, design can be of enormous assistance.

We've all used motivation design in one form or another throughout our lives - you may have placed an alarm clock on the other side of the room so that you couldn't just hit snooze, or you may have parked the car a reasonable distance from the office to enforce some daily aerobic activity, or you might even have coordinated your daily movements in order that your path might cross with a secret love interest (but this is clearly stalking and not to be encouraged).

The long and shot of it is, by designing our environments, and indeed systems, so that they support these necessary activities, and might even make them intrinsically motivating or at least hard to avoid, we increase our chances of success and critically, shift our mindset surrounding these activities in such a way that they become less paralyzing in the future.

So, if you need to, systematize it until it becomes unconscious competence. (But stop following people home... it's creepy.)


Dan Gregory @DanGregoryCo

So what is Mastervation? There’s a lot of misinformation around the concept of motivation - mostly perpetuated by so-called gurus who’s personal motivation is to lighten your wallet and line theirs.

We’ve been told to set goals (backed up by Yale’s 1953 goals study where those rare few who wrote down specific and measurable goals achieved far greater wealth, happiness and fame than their peers. A study that Yale contends never actually happened). Yet this so-called “historic precident” has informed business and personal motivation strategies for decades.

We’ve also been told to recite affirmations to ourselves in the mirror each morning, delivered in the present tense with vivid emotional expression (no doubt the mirror is there in order that our subconscious can observe our own spectatular hypocrisy - It turns out, “I am not a magnificent snow flake filled with the essense of pure potentiality” after all).

More recent psychological studies inform us that our minds, rather than simply accepting these affirmations, as some kind of inert mental computer programming, instead seek evidence for or against these statements and often come up with damning evidence to the contrary. This can in fact entrench the undesired beliefs, affirmations and outcomes we are seeking to avoid.

In fact, our 21st Centrury brains have become exquisite BS detectors for all but motivational spin.

So what is real motivation? Or are we all just jerk offs jerking off?

Well, yes and no.

Real motivation is something we all have experience of. When we’re engaged in something we care about or with people we care about we feel an emotion Mihaly Csiksgentmihalyi describes as “Flow”.

So why the confusion?

Typically, when people talk about motivation, what they really mean is pushing yourself to do something you don’t enjoy or are not truly passionate about, like exercising or eating health food... eeeaaargh!!! This translates more accurately as mental compulsion.

That’s a problem, because this kind of ra ra style motivation is only ever a short term strategy. In other words it runs out!

Creating engagement around these challenging endeavours requires designing environments and processes that amplify engagement intrinsically, not just "mastervation".

So, stop it, or you'll all go blind...

How many decisions do you actually make?

Dan Gregory @DanGregoryCo

If you're like most people, you probably assume that most of your decisions are your own. However, virtually every decision you make is somewhat manipulated by decisions you have no part in.

Did you wake up this morning naturally, or through the use of an alarm clock?

Who determined what time you should wake up anyway?

Or go to bed last night? Was it just the TV Schedule?

Did you have a ‘healthy’ breakfast? How do you know? Do you know?

Did you start the day with a coffee or a juice? What brand did you choose? Decaf or Defibrillator?

Did you take the car? What model did you "choose"? Did you stay in your lane? Obey the traffic lights?

Did the morning news make you angry?

Who were you angry with? The government? The opposition? Foreigners? The locals? The presenters?

And that was just getting to work. Virtually every decision in our lives is to some degree, beyond our control. But rather than being a cause for alarm or an encouragement to live off grid, it’s a reminder to be conscious of the decisions we make.

For those of us who seek influence, who want to drive change, who desire to lead, it’s also a reminder that much of our capacity to persuade is unconscious and environmental.

If we want to be effective influencers, we need to do more than simply talk, we need to be strategic, to be curious and to design success into our processes and environments.

The right versus the risky

Dan Gregory @DanGregoryCo

Working with organizations all around the world, I often enjoy asking people provocative questions to have them reflect on what they believe versus what is a default position. It's a way of teasing out what they really feel about the concept of risk.

A question I often ask is, “In a situation, with an either/or outcome, are you more likely to base a decision on what is best for the organization you work for, or on what is the least risky for you personally?”

Now, in a public forum, few will admit to putting their own personal needs ahead of the greater good, but in fact, our behavior suggests that we regularly, if not mostly, do the opposite.

A recent Trulia Study revealed that whilst most Americans (79%) state they care about the environment and are concerned about such issues as global warming, in practice, they will do little to change the situation. Particularly if it requires personal effort or expense.

This is a critical understanding in human behavior. We often rely on such strategies as logic and emotional appeal to drive positive change, when in fact, a risk-mitigation strategy may be more effective.

Instead of harping on about the “rightness” or even “righteousness” of our position, we would do better to make ourselves easier to agree with.

This starts with reducing the risk of converting to our world view - physically, reputationally and financially.

Language is leverage

Dan Gregory @DanGregoryCo

Virtually every piece of information you take in, whether consciously or unconsciously, is laden with biases, judgement and meaning. It's all to do with the language the information is framed in.

For instance, consider the following questions:

  1. “Are you more afraid of never doing great work… or of losing a job that will never allow you to do the work you were born to do?”

This is a plainly manipulative message designed to have you consider a particular outcome - i.e. a work-life bereft of meaning. Compare this to the following:

  1. “Are you more interested in providing the safe and reliable financial environment your family deserves… or do you consider your own professional ambitions to be more important?”

Again, clearly designed to persuade, just in the opposite direction.

Now these questions have been exaggerated for clarity, however, every conversation, every news article you read, every tweet, post, piece of marketing or sales pitch you are exposed to is laced with the language of leverage.

This makes applying a filter to all you hear, read and digest incredibly important.

But it is just as important, we should all remember to choose our words carefully.

Frame your value in our values

Dan Gregory @DanGregoryCo

The sale, or engagement, or support, or participation is always more determined by those we wish to influence than we "influencers" would like to imagine. In other words, our value lies not in our product or service or idea, but in their values.

This is largely due to the fact that we filter our decisions through a values hierarchy that is unique to our personality and experience.

Some of us have family as our Number 1 value, whereas others, tend to think of family as people we visit in the holidays... and more out of a sense of obligation and guilt than of pleasure. If you haven't heard from a family member since December... well... it's you!

However, if we want to be influential and engaging, we need to stop judging the values of others and learn to frame our objectives, our goals, our arguments in termsof their values.

I became a White Ribbon Ambassador and Board Director for this very reason. I, as a man, have never experienced the violence of a man against a woman, nor have I ever witnessed it in my own family life. And yet, I spend a good part of my week campaigning to end it's prevalence in our society.

I do this because, rather than telling me about theirwork, theirworld view, theirprograms, they demonstrated how women's safety was a man's issue... how it was, in fact, myissue.

A fact illustrated by a simple but compelling headline, written in an unremarkable font on a plain B&W poster by Tom McElligott and Nancy Rice. It simply reads, "One in four women will be raped in her lifetime. Will it be you Mother? Your Sister? Your Daughter? Or you Wife?"

This simple poster powerfully illustrates how great leaders and persuasive business people drive willing participation by framing their world view - in ours!

Who do you help us to be?

Dan Gregory   @DanGregoryCo

Too often we spend our time focused on what we want people to do or how we would like them to behave.

We issue instructions to our staff, offer feedback to our teams and try to persuade our customers and clients using features and benefits - both logical and emotional.

The problem is, that’s not how most of us are filtering the world.

Every decision we make is to some extent determined by our sense of identity - who we think we are AND who we want to project to the world that we are.

This is an unconscious influence and bias in our lives that we are often scarcely aware of.

However, factors such as our gender, our nationality, the values we absorbed in childhood, the idiocincocies of our version of whatever language we speak, the uniform of our socio-economic status or the part of town we’re from, drive our decision making far more than any other factor.

The truth is, the sale is always in the prospect, not the product.

Influence and persuasion are always sitting on the other side of the table.

And if we want to engage our staff, our customers, our loved ones and our communities, we need to stop telling people what we want them to do or how great our product or service is and focus more on who we help them to be.

In other words, start with WHO.