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I will try my best to update this webpage with  thought provoking and interesting content, as often as I can.  Please feel free to leave comments as  there is much that can be learnt from the sharing of ideas.

By pa360, Feb 9 2015 06:06AM

I remember watching a television interview a few years ago. The interview was with a sibling of a very famous sports personality. During the interview, the sibling spoke painfully about the distance that had developed between them and their famous relative. Towards the end of the interview, the sibling suggested that perhaps the reason for the 'distance' is because he "didn't measure up" to the high standards and lofty accomplishments of his celebrity relative.


As only one side of the story was presented, I do not know whether a failure to 'measure up' was indeed the real reason for the animosity between both siblings. But I never forgot that interview, nor the phrase "didn't measure up" and today it provides the inspiration for this blog. The point to make here is that no matter how much God given talent you have or how hard-working and committed you are, no-one achieves success by themselves. In some way, great or small, we are reliant on the support (direct or indirect) of others. So how can you ensure that you are able to create and sustain successful networks? Well, set out below are seven powerful tips.


1. Resist the temptation to make your network all about you

Here is a revelation: you are not the most important person in your success story - those who support and assist you are. It is a sad fact that we, as individuals, are often the first casualty and biggest obstacle to our own success because we live under the misapprehension that our success is all about ourselves. By contrast, we see others as incidentals, disposables and discardables, whose purpose in life is to make it possible for us to become the best that we can possibly be. Wrong! Both on the journey to success and whilst we are yet successful, we are reliant on an army of others to get us there and keep us there. The first learning point therefore is that if you don't understand the value and worth of those that have helped you to get there, you wont appreciate the sacrifice and selflessness of those who help to keep you there.


2. Beware of the temptation to trade valuable networks for valueless friends

One of the biggest risks that people face as they develop networks is the extent to which they reassess the value of their networks as they become more successful. Let's be clear, this is not to suggest that there is anything wrong with consciously and thoughtfully re-appraising the value of the networks in your life. On the contrary, the point being made here is the need to be cautious and careful when doing so. As a case in point, someone who has enjoyed a period of personal success may attribute much less value to those who might be inclined to 'speak truth to power' or others who might be inclined to help that individual 'stay grounded'. Strong networks are not about quantity, they are about quality. Build networks that give you what you need, not what you want.


3. Remember that networks don't just need a good driver, they also need a capable mechanic

Your attitude to building networks is of critical importance. Some, adopt a big picture approach and assiduously build new relationships in order to develop as wide a circle of opportunity for themselves as possible. Others adopt a 'shrink and grow' approach - developing and abandoning networks in response to the needs and demands of the moment. Then there are others who allow their networks to grow organically, without too much conscious thought given to how or where. Whichever approach you use, it is important to cultivate, manage and maintain your networks as this will ensure that they remain healthy, relevant and purposeful. Ultimately, networks are like motor vehicles, if they are not serviced and managed, they fall into disrepair and if they fall into disrepair, what is point of having them?


4. With networks, diversity is critical, but composition is king

The value of diversity, within and across networks, can speak to the richness, depth and breadth of those who comprise your closest circle. The reason why this is important is because in order to build a successful and sustainable personal economy, we also need to build sustainable and successful networks. A strong network will be comprised of those who can inspire, encourage, critique and challenge us. Some in our networks may be influencers, able to connect us to new opportunities at key points in our development. Others may be naysayers and pragmatists who act as a counter-weight to our penchant for impulsivity. Clearly, it may not always be possible to take such a considered and conscientious approach to the development of networks. None-the-less, it is still worth highlighting that a person with homogeneous networks is a bit like a tradesman with a box full of hammers; good for one thing, but not much else.


5. Do not travel alone

In my experience, the key to building and sustaining a successful network is to make the point of taking people with you or your journey to success. Taking people with you simply means recognising their contribution to your progress. At key points in our lives others will act in our interest in a way that proves to be crucial or useful to our progress. It could be a creditor who forgives a debt or a friend who encourages us when we are at our lowest ebb. It could be an employer who sings our praises in spite of our obvious shortcomings or family members whose patience we stretch to near breaking point. For every success story there are numerous 'others' who are involved in making that success possible. Rewarding others, through reciprocity, is not only an astute investment in the growth of your personal economy, it also adds value to your brand.


6. Develop the talents and apply the skills

Successful networks are successful for a reason. That reason is often attributable to a wide-range of things such as compatibility, composition and countless other factors. However, another critical 'active ingredient' for what makes networks successful, is sustained effort. In simple terms, you must be a convenor, a facilitator, an interactor, a sign-poster and a connector. Networking, by its very nature, is not a passive pursuit neither are successful networks the products of casual commitment.


7. What difference do you want them to make?

In life, a simple rule of thumb is that: if you are going to invest your time, effort and energy into something, then you need to be confident that it is going to be worth your while. That life principle is applicable to networking as well. From the get go, you need to know what 'success' looks like for you in the context of your network. Furthermore, in defining 'success' (however, you choose to do that) you need to give thought to what you are willing to give, not just what you are expecting to gain. A sure sign of a successful network is one that is mutually supportive, where everyone involved feels as if they have something valuable to contribute and something meaningful to gain.


In summary, whether we are consciously aware of them or not, networks are an essential contributor to our success. They provide comfort and assurance and help us to navigate our way safely in hard times. They can also be a rapid escalator to unexpected opportunity and be a valuable sounding board to test our ideas. Therefore, to the extent that we are consciously aware of our networks, means that we will be better able to make them purposeful and effective for ourselves and others. There is also a salutary lesson here about how we treat those, in our networks, who have contributed to our success. As a friend of mine once commented: be good to people on your way up, because you never know when you might need them on your way down.


By pa360, Feb 7 2015 09:26AM

A brand is a unique construct. In addition to the generic reference that we use to describe the various products and services that we use, the term 'brand' can equally be applied to who we are as individuals and how we are perceived by those with whom we regularly interact. In simple terms, everyone has a brand and is a brand. Whilst that brand will not necessarily describe everything that a person is known for, it will describe their defining characteristics or the things they are best known for.


Whether you like it or not, or know it or not, your brand will likely play an influential role in your future. Particularly, the type of opportunity you have access to, the doors that open before you get there and the ones that close before you arrive. All these things and more will likely be defined and determined by your brand. Brands speak to your credibility, build confidence and win trust. With all this in mind, how can you develop a 'brand mindset'? Well set out below, are the six critical steps.


1. Introduce yourself to yourself

If you were asked to identify the three defining characteristics of your personal brand which ones would you choose? Would you go for the more commercial traits like 'driven', 'hardworking' and 'outcome-orientated' or something more person-centred like 'compassionate', 'thoughtful' and 'caring'? Alternatively, would you choose more personable and outgoing characteristics like 'influential', 'charming' and 'witty'? Whatever adjectives we use to describe ourselves, I wonder if those descriptors truly capture the essence of who we are, as opposed to how we like to see ourselves and how we would like others to see us. The key learning point here is that, however you choose to define your brand, if you do not know what it is, then you do not know who you are!


2. Ask others to tell you who you are

At some point, every brand will face two critical challenges, which will determine its survivability. The first of these challenges, is the courage to ask others for their honest and unvarnished opinion. Meanwhile the second, is the humility to own and act upon the things that others have to say. Without the opportunity to absorb learning borne of our own reflection and that of others, we are left bereft of the brutal honesty that is often needed to shake us out of our complacency. In the absence of honesty, we enter into the 'comfort-zone' of self-deception, which is probably the most damaging thing for any brand. Not least because a person who deceives themselves is just as likely to delude themselves. More likely than not, such a person may also end up perpetually frustrated as to why others do not see them, in the deluded way that they see themselves.


3. Care enough to want to do something about it

It is often said that change starts with knowledge. However, by itself knowledge will not effect anything without understanding and understanding will produce nothing without realisation. Applying this simple logic to a 'brand' implies that once a person realises the harm they might be doing to themselves or others, that alone should be enough to trigger a course correction. But what if it isn't? Assumptions of how people might behave, based on common logic, ignore the fact that logic is not as common as one might like to believe. Individuals have agency and are therefore able to think and act independently. The point being made here is that one has to care enough about the situation that they find themselves in, to want to do something about it.


4. Understand that your 'affect' and your 'image' are not the same as your 'brand'

Most of us consciously project an image, but few consciously think of themselves as a brand. Everyday we trade on what appears to be our brand, but what in reality is the projection of an image. Take recruitment interviews as a case in point. In such situations we take active steps to project a certain persona to would-be employers. We present as credible, competent, reliable, trustworthy and employable! For the most part, I am sure that these traits accurately describe who we really are. However, I am equally mindful that in some instances they may not. We do exactly the same thing in social settings, when we meet new friends or when we seek out romantic relationships. Projecting an image is part and parcel of how we communicate with each other - but your image is not your brand. The distinction between the two is simple, whilst your brand is who they say you are, your image is who you are trying to be.


5. Always have a strong sense of your positioning

In the context of developing a 'brand mindset', being constantly aware of your positioning and your bearings, will help you to anticipate and perceive risk. As a case in point, think about how 'spatially aware' high-profile businesses are about the positioning of their brands. They almost seem to have a 'sixth sense' when it comes to anything that could be commercially damaging to them and waste no time in distancing themselves from whatever might be bad for their brand. Exactly the same principle of 'spatial awareness' applies to a personal brand. You have to be constantly mindful of where you are as well as the impact not just of your actions, but also those of whom you closely associate.


6. Understand how your brand behaves

If anything you are doing is making a difference, then you need to be curious enough to find out how, where are why. The impact of a brand is not happenstance. Someone who is credible will be trusted, someone who is trusted will have influence and someone who has influence will have access to opportunity. Equally, someone who is diligent shows that they are responsible, someone who is responsible shows that they are capable and someone who is capable shows that they are dependable. The dynamics of how a brand works are not random, but they are not rocket science either.


In conclusion, a 'brand mindset' starts with being consciously aware of the things that we unconsciously do. Being consciously aware means that we are able to make better informed decisions that hopefully produce more desirable outcomes. In a nutshell, it is better to put the hard miles into building a good brand, which is an investment, than to waste time developing a bad one, which is a cost.



By pa360, Feb 5 2015 05:31PM

An economy is a fascinating construct. These engines of growth, opportunity and wealth creation are comprised of numerous interdependent and interconnected moving parts. All of these parts must operate in unison, in order for the economy to deliver at peak output. One factor that is crucial to stimulating and sustaining economic performance is optimism. At a fundamental level, optimism is a combination of positivity, hopefulness and expectation. But even more than that, a state of optimism provides a dynamic thought-space for decision-making and action.


When there is optimism, consumers are more confident. Confident consumers spend money and with money being spent, employers can recruit more staff. With more staff in employment, more tax is generated for the exchequer and with more tax being generated, governments can borrow less. If governments borrow less, then deficits can be reduced or eliminated and surpluses can be generated. Yes, optimism is a virtuous cycle, with the momentum to stir an entire economy into action and deliver growth and prosperity along the way. With the scene now set, the sub headings below describe seven powerful ways to activate optimism.


1. Create a stimulus for action

As it is for the macro-economy, so it is for our own personal economy. Optimism and the confidence that flows from it, are a stimulus for action. Things happen when people are optimistic; they are forward leaning and do things that they might otherwise not have considered. They anticipate change, are open to new ideas, take risks and seize opportunities. That’s not all, our optimism can also inspire, embolden and galvanise those around us. This capacity to influence the thought patterns, attitudes and behaviour of others, empowers us to build a critical mass for transformational change.


2. Make investments

Find a constructive and enriching activity that stimulates you and invest as much time in it as you can. The idea here is not to engage in some form of escapism; rather it is to occupy yourself with something practical and meaningful that will help inject positive emotional stimulation and balance to your everyday routine. For some people this might involve going for daily runs, working out at the gym, reading, volunteering, attending an adult education class or something else. The point being made is that sensible investments are more likely to generate healthy returns. Therefore, the careful investment of time, effort and energy in activities that are stimulating will give you a reason to see progress, experience success and express optimism.


3. Reduce your deficits

In the context of activating optimism, ‘deficits’ aren’t just the unresolved issues that you may be facing, they are also a ‘metaphor’ for the posture, stance and bearing that you adopt when you are addressing those issues. As such, ‘deficits’ are not just challenges, obstacles and barriers; they are also the negative thoughts and perspectives that dominate your thinking space, occupy your time and control your conversations. Let’s be clear, this is not to say that there is anything wrong with addressing negative issues. On the contrary, the point being made here is that even negative issues can be addressed from a positive perspective. Taking action to ‘reduce your deficits’ is therefore geared towards giving you back control of your situation. The more control that you exert, the more positive you will feel and the less inclined you will be to allow potential solutions to be crowded out by negative thoughts.


4. Create demand

Want is always the trigger for demand. The more we want, the more we demand and when our demands are met, the more we expect and the cycle continues. In the context of activating optimism, the same principle applies. This is because when we ‘want’ we are expressing a ‘desire’ for something that we do not yet possess as well as the hope that our ‘want’ will be satisfied. Likewise, when we ‘demand’, it is predicated on the assumption and ‘anticipation’ that our ‘demand’ will be met. ‘Desire’ and ‘anticipation’ are absolutely critical elements of optimism. No-one expresses optimism without having a ‘desire’ or feels optimistic without ‘anticipation’. Therefore, the routine and rhythm of ‘want’ and ‘demand’ are motivators in our daily lives.


5. Change your ‘interest rate’

The everyday definition of ‘interest’ is applied here; specifically the extent to which your choices and preferences determine what you spend your time on, what you read, what you listen to, who you spend your time with and what you ultimately believe. If the aggregate of your interests feed negativity into your thought-space, then do not be surprised if your outlook on life turns out to be pessimistic. In fact, it would be shocking if it were otherwise. By contrast, if you want to have a more solution-focused and optimistic outlook on life, then change your interests. Read things that will be more enlightening, listen to people with alternative points of view and widen your circle of learning. These steps alone will provide you with the tools to challenge and contest whatever the ‘conventional’ wisdom is regarding your situation of circumstance.


6. Monitor your growth patterns

In simple terms, growth is a metric of improvement and progress. The key thing about growth is that, because it is measurable, it provides tangible evidence of progress being made and therefore a reason to be positive about your situation or circumstance. However, before you can celebrate growth, you have to identify and monitor it. Circling back to #2 in this blog (‘make investments’) as you engage in stimulating pursuits, you should actively seek to monitor the impact that those pursuits are having in your life. If you start working out in a gym, you may for example start losing weight or if you are volunteering, you might make new friends. Likewise if you are attending an adult education class, you are likely to learn new things and pass exams. Growth enhances our confidence, it makes us feel good about ourselves and when we feel good, we are also likely to feel both positive and optimistic.


To conclude therefore, in stark contrast to pessimism which is inert, unconfident and risk averse; optimism is positive, empowering and enabling. For the avoidance of doubt, optimism is to economic growth what pessimism is to economic decline. That said, optimism, like excellence or mediocrity, is a personal choice. To be optimistic is to make a conscious decision to focus on what we can do rather than what we cannot do. It is to identify with aspiration over anxiety and to draw inspiration from the rubble of our failures. An optimist is not a fantasist nor a pragmatist; rather, he or she is a realist, a shaper and an influencer — able to see the opportunity in every difficulty. The mere fact that people can survive and overcome the most adverse of conditions, suggests that circumstances do not dictate optimism — people do.


By pa360, Feb 4 2015 06:04AM

An opportunity is not a guarantee. It may be a possibility or a probability, but it is not a guarantee. Everyday we 'trade' in opportunity, for example by applying for jobs in the hope of being recruited, by extending our networks in the hope of making valued new contacts, by shopping in a high street sale in the hope of picking up a bargain, or by making an investment in the hope of securing a financial return. That's opportunity for you. It is a free-market trade in hope. The hope of gaining an advantage, a benefit or a competitive edge.


That brings me to the 'market-place' of opportunity. Much as that might sound like a catchy sound bite, it is not. The market-place is a genuine place of opportunity and an opportunity carefully cultivated can create a vibrant market-place. Like any other trading space, the market-place of opportunity is both actual and virtual allowing us to exchange ideas, acquire skills, take risks, explore and venture out. You don't even need to be awake to trade in the market-place of opportunity. How many times have you read testimonies of people who have come up with truly great ideas whilst asleep? With all this in mind, set out below are seven ways to create a market-place of opportunity.


1. Map your market-place

You cannot maximise opportunity in your market-place until you understand it and you will not understand it, until you have mapped it. Find out what drives sentiment and preference in your chosen area of interest. In addition, start to develop an understanding of where the market gaps are and think about things that you can do to plug those gaps and meet unmet need. The time and effort that you put into market-place mapping will help you to better understand the relative strengths and weaknesses of the market. This will help you to determine whether any of the opportunities that you have identified, will be sustainable in the longer term.


2. Test your market-place

Market testing is the practice of assessing or evaluating the range and suitability of products and services in the market-place, to determine whether they meet your specification. For example, a space rocket and a skateboard are both modes of transportation, but only one of them will take you to the moon and as such, only one will meet your need. In addition, to help you determine whether products meet your requirements, the practice of market-testing will also help you to discover whether there is 'value' in the market. For example, when consumers purchase certain products, do they also routinely purchase other products? The existence of an 'eco-system' within your market-place can provide good evidence of 'value' and where there is 'value', you will also find opportunity.


3. Target your market-place

There is more to targeting your market-place than deciding where best to focus your efforts. You also need to know when to target your efforts as well as how. As a case in point, it is reasonable to assume that a T-shirt and sandals wholesaler would understand the impact of 'seasonality' on their business (ie: that T-shirt and sandal sales will be higher during the summer months compared to winter). As such, their entire business model is likely to be focused or targeted on a specific window of opportunity (ie: the summer). However, given the narrow window of profitability associated with seasonal markets, they may also choose to target their products in markets where there are mono-climates, with brief periods of seasonality. The point being made here is that a targeted approach will enable you to maximise the opportunities that are available to you.


4. Navigate your market-place

Navigating your market-place essentially means two things; firstly, that you have a good knowledge and understanding of the market dynamics, business climate and prevailing economic conditions, impacting upon you. Secondly, it means that you use the insight gained, from scanning your operational environment, to fully maximise opportunities and realise potential. Those able to navigate the market-place effectively, are not just able to absorb information, they also actively utilise that information to prioritise action and formulate real-time responses to emerging opportunities and risks. Someone able to navigate their market-place doesn't just ask their customers what they have, they find out what they need and give them what they want.


5. Influence your market-place

The ability to use influence in the market-place obviously presents you with potentially game-changing opportunities. With influence, the greater your reputation and the higher your standing, the more influence you are likely to have. In particular, influence enables you to engage those who are already loyal or who might be pre-disposed towards you. But what happens if you do not have a reputation or standing upon which to draw or tap into? Well, for those who do not have access to this sort of opportunity, the ability to 'read' customer sentiment or create customer curiosity can often provide the best way forward. The point to note, is that influence is 'active' in as much as it empowers you to make choices and decisions, that can create opportunities and with access to opportunity, you are better able to achieve outcomes that are more desirable.


6. Customise your market-place

A customised market-place is one that is defined and designed by you. The way in which a market-place is customised or configured could be dictated by a wide range of factors. In a market-place saturated with products that look alike and sound alike, a product that looks different and sounds different, will attract attention. Therefore, make yourself identifiably different to others. If you do, you will be indispensable. For example, a 'boutique' market-place will appeal to a particular type of audience with discerning tastes or preferences. The point about customised markets is that the opportunities and benefits that they offer are predicated on a point of detail, distinction or difference that may not necessarily be considered of value to most consumers. Let's be honest, not everyone will appreciate the usefulness of a dog-walking service, but that does not mean that a dog-walking service isn't valuable or useful to someone.


7. Leverage your market-place

To operate effectively within any market-place, irrespective of its composition, you need to be able to leverage it and to leverage it, you need to have something to 'spend'. In the market-place of opportunity, there are 'hard' and 'soft' currencies. Assuming that 'hard currencies' need no explanation, let's focus on 'soft currencies'. By definition, 'soft currencies' comprise the wider capabilities and competencies that enable you to interact with others and gain access to opportunity. Your 'personal brand' is an example of a 'soft currency'; particularly so as it relates to trust, integrity, credibility, accountability and reliability. In the world of 'soft currency', the stronger your brand, the more you will have to spend. Having a stronger trading currency gives you significantly more leverage and bargaining power as you access and operate within your chosen market-place.


In conclusion, your market-place is wherever you trade or transact business. It could be a commercial or a social construct. The lessons described in this blog can be applied equally to either. The specific point here is that to make the most of the opportunities that exist within your market-place, you need to be an active participant, not a casual observer.



By pa360, Feb 1 2015 09:22AM

"I went on the court with just a ball, a racket and a hope and that's all I had. It's inspiring for you guys that want to be the best you can be, you never give up because you never know what can happen and who you can inspire and influence."


The above comment was made by Serena Williams, who yesterday defeated Maria Sharapova, in the Australian Open final, to win her 19th grand slam singles title. The win puts Williams second in the pantheon of all time singles titles winners - just three behind Steffi Graf's open-era record of 22.


By the way, we will come back to Serena's quote later on.


I would imagine that most tennis fans are familiar with the extraordinary story of Serena Williams and her older sister Venus. They would have heard about the barriers that the sisters faced on the road to success including their upbringing in one of the toughest neighbourhoods in Los Angeles and the lack of training facilities to support their career development. They would also be aware that the sisters were coached almost exclusively by their father Richard, who had an unshakeable belief that his daughters were destined for greatness.


The rest as they say is history, because today Serena and Venus have amassed 26 grand slam single titles between them. Countless other titles including Olympic gold medals have been won along the way. Much as this is an inspiring and heart-warming story of triumph over adversity, I must confess that there are no surprises here. Vision, ambition, dedication and commitment are not only key ingredients of the William's story, they are also key ingredients of success.


Now back to Serena's quote.


I understand that Serena Williams is estimated to be worth in excess of $100 million. Ms Williams could retire now, having achieved more that she could have ever dreamed of and safe in the knowledge that her place in history is secure. However, in her post match-winning quote, Serena pointed to what will surely be her true legacy, which is the countless others who will be inspired by her example. Some like Serena, will go on to become grand slam winners and others may not. But even for those that do not, like Serena herself, they may still achieve more than they ever expected.


Sometimes all that is required to get us on the ladder of success is 'a ball, a racket and a hope'.

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