Book review: Brainsteering — a better approach to breakthrough ideas

This review originally ran in the Hamilton Spectator.

Brainsteering: A Better Approach To Breakthrough Ideas

By Kevin and Shawn Coynes

HarperCollins

At some point this year, you’ll find yourself trapped in a conference room with your comrades in arms.

With relentless enthusiasm, a “creativity moderator” with little or no knowledge of your organization will facilitate a day-long brainstorming session. After a few painful reindeer games and icebreakers to get those creative juices flowing, you’ll be encouraged to think outside the box and told to take comfort in knowing there are no bad ideas.

Most of you will adhere to the social norm of saying nothing in large groups and never making a fool of yourself in front of the senior executives who sign your paycheques and decide who gets promoted and who gets to pursue other exciting opportunities outside the organization. A few of your obnoxious and socially unaware colleagues will seize the day to pitch their pet projects and toss out bizarre ideas pulled from an alternate reality.

Every idea regardless of merit will be duly noted and the walls will soon be covered in flip chart paper. At the end of what will be a very long day, you’ll be asked as a group to walk around the room, review each and every idea and together come up with the top 10 best ideas. Wanting only to make a quick exit and deal with the real work that needs to get done, you’ll throw your votes behind whatever ideas the group thinks are winners.

There’s no real commitment to any of the ideas because everyone knows the ideas will quickly disappear into the ether, never to be heard from and spoken of again.

“Bad brainstorming sessions are actually the norm,” say authors Kevin and Shawn Coyne, brothers and managing directors of the Coyne Partnership. “The most widely utilized group ideation technique in the world usually fails. The problem with traditional brainstorming is that its methodology violates many of the psychological and sociological principles regarding how human beings work best together in a group setting.”

Instead of the usual brainstorming session, try what the Coynes call a brainsteering workshop.

“A great brainsteering workshop begins with careful planning, much more careful planning than most people are used to,” say the Coynes.

That planning starts by knowing exactly what criteria will be used to make decisions on the ideas coming out of the workshop. Are there any absolute constraints? What’s an acceptable idea? How will one idea be chosen over another? Out of the box thinking sounds good in theory. In the box thinking works far better in practice.

Pick the right questions to ask. To help you along, the Coynes at the back of their book list 101 right questions to spur breakthrough ideas. “Right questions are ones that make you take a different perspective on your problem than any you’ve taken before.”

Choose the right people to put in a room. Don’t go by job titles alone. “Pick people who can answer the questions you plan to ask, and who have the mental orientation to translate those answers into ideas,” say the Coynes.

When it comes time for the workshop, lead off by orienting us. Explain why a question-based, inside-the-box approach is the best way to get great ideas.

Now talk about the goals for the day, the criteria for evaluating new ideas, and the constraints that apply to all ideas.

Rather than attempt a group think, assign subgroups of three to five people. Give the groups 45 minutes to come up with ideas to a specific question.

“One of the worst aspects of old-fashioned brainstorming is the tendency for participants to ricochet from one shallow (and poor) idea to the next. The group never takes the time, and never develops the focus, to take a shallow idea and mould it into a better one.”

After 45 minutes, give the groups another question and repeat for four or five times for the rest of the day. Each 45-minute session should yield a couple of great ideas.

Be sure to quarantine what the Coynes call “Idea Crushers”. Big mouths and subject matter experts intentionally or unintentionally do a masterful job of discouraging and killing ideas. Do not let them mix and mingle with innocent bystanders. Instead, give them their own group.

Wrap up the workshop by explaining next steps. Have your senior executives review the questions as soon as possible. “The probability of real action resulting from any ideation declines quickly with time unless firm decisions are made right away,” warn the Coynes.

Green light the best ideas. Park good ideas for when the time is right and the stars align. Do more homework on ideas with promise. And don’t hesitate to put to rest any ideas that don’t measure up or fit the criteria you’ve established up front.

And finally, communicate back to the group on the decisions made for every idea, even the rejects. “Participants desperately want to know that they’ve been heard, that their ideas have at least had their day in court.” Close the loop and folks are more likely to participate next time and continue generating ideas that could prove to be game changers.

Book review: Resonate — Present visual stories that transform audiences

This review originally ran in the Jan. 31 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Resonate: Present Visual Stories That Transform Audiences

By Nancy Duarte

Mark your calendars.

Say No to PowerPoint Week starts Feb. 7. It’s an annual nationwide event aimed at getting business types to deliver PowerPoint-free presentations.

Now, you may be asking why just a week? How about a month, a year or a permanent moratorium?

We can always dream. But for now, let’s make the best of what we’ve got and spend the week setting some ground rules for presenters.

Rule number one. Don’t be boring.

Rule number two. Don’t read your PowerPoint slides word for mind-numbing word. Give us a handout instead and talk with us instead.

Rule number three. Don’t throw up charts and graphs we can’t read and will never understand.

Rule number four. Resist the urge to tell us everything. Stick to the highlights.

And rule number five. Don’t start putting together your PowerPoint until you’re absolutely clear on the point and purpose of your presentation. Know exactly what you want us to do or think once you stop talking. You may even find that you don't need a PowerPoint.

If you break any of these rules, we reserve the right to completely ignore you without having to look like we’re paying attention.

And here’s one other rule. You’re not allowed to stand and deliver until you’ve read Nancy Duarte’s latest book.  What Duarte has to say will be good for your audience, good for the big idea you’re pitching and good for your career.

“Presentations are the currency of business activity because they are the most effective tool to transform an audience,” says Duarte. “Presentations create a catalyst for meaningful change by using human contact in a way that no other medium can. Yet many presentations are boring. Most are a dreadful failure of communication and the rest are simply not interesting.”

Get it right and you can transform audiences. “Movements are started, products are purchased, philosophies are adopted, subject matter is mastered – all with the help of presentations.”

There are no shortcuts to a great presentation. Be prepared to invest long hours thinking about, working on and finetuning your talk.  Audiences can easily and quickly tell when you’re unprepared. If you're not willing to make the effort, why should we?

Preparation starts by getting to know your audience. It’s not about folks tuning in to what you have to say. Instead, it’s all about tuning your message to your audience. What’s on their minds and in their hearts? What unites them? Incites them? What makes them laugh and cry? Know your audience and your big idea stands a better chance of resonating. “Your goal is to figure out what your audience cares about and link it to your idea.”

Don’t be bland and boring. “The enemy of persuasion is obscurity,” says Duarte. “Don’t blend in; instead clash with your environment. Stand out. Be uniquely different. That’s what will draw attention to your ideas.”

Go easy on the facts and stats and tell us a story instead. Structure your story to have a beginning, middle and end. Lead off with an opening that grabs our attention.  Move into a call for adventure where you contrast what is with what could be. And then wrap up with a call to action.  Tell us how to join the journey and play a part.

“Stories are the most powerful delivery tool for information, more powerful and enduring than any other art form,” says Duarte.

Whatever the story, know that you’re not the hero or the star of the show. Your audience is the hero. Put them in the centre of the action. Make it all about them. And make yourself the mentor. Or as Duarte puts it, the audience is Luke Skywalker and you’re Yoda.  

“Changing your stance from thinking you’re the hero to acknowledging your role as mentor will alter your viewpoint. You’ll come from a place of humility, the aide-de-camp to your audience.”

And drive home the big idea at the heart of your presentation by including something they’ll always remember or what Duarte calls a S.T.A.R. moment.  Aim for a profound and dramatic moment that keeps the conversation going long after your talk. Your S.T.A.R. moment can be a memorable hands-on dramatization, a a brilliant sound bite, an evocative visual, a great story or a shocking statistic.

Once you’ve done all this, think about how you can complement your talk with a few slides. Try very hard to stick to images, quotes and key words that reinforce your story. Always remember that we can't read your slides and listen to you at the same time. It's one or the other. So pick your spots.

There’s a whole lot more in Duarte’s book and it’s great insurance for avoiding death by PowerPoint.  “Passion for your idea should drive you to invest in its communication,” says Duarte. “If you can communicate an idea well, you have, within you, the power to change the world. So be flexible, be visionary and now go rewrite all the rules.”

Book review: All marketers tell stories by Seth Godin

This review was first published in the Dec. 3 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

All Marketers Tell Stories By Seth Godin

Portfolio ($30)

The launch of Hamilton’s Innovation Factory tops my shortlist of local good news stories from 2010.

The Innovation Factory will do more than help entrepreneurs bring new ideas to the marketplace. It will also give Hamilton another great story to tell to aspiring entrepreneurs here at home, coast to coast and around the world.

The National Bureau of Economic Research in the U.S. put out a working paper last year showing that young companies, and especially start-ups, create the most jobs. So if we want more paycheques and prosperity for all Hamiltonians, we need more entrepreneurs to set up shop in Steeltown. And the Innovation Factory gives us a pretty cool story to tell aspiring entrepreneurs who are looking for a helping hand.

If you want to launch and grow your business, choose Hamilton, the start-up capital of Canada.

A great story is at the heart of all successful marketing, says bestselling author and marketing guru Seth Godin. “Marketing is about spreading ideas, and spreading ideas is the single most important output of our civilization.”

When you tell us a great story, we’re far more likely to pay attention, believe what you’re telling us and retell your story with friends and family. “Either you’re going to tell stories that spread, or you will become irrelevant,” says Godin.

We’re hardwired for storytelling. Stories make it easier for us to live in a complicated world where we’re too overwhelmed with data to drill down into all of the details.

“We tell ourselves stories that can’t possibly be true, but believing those stories allows us to function. We know we’re not telling ourselves the whole truth, but it works, so we embrace it.”

We don’t buy facts. We buy the story. “The facts are irrelevant. In the short run, it doesn’t matter one bit whether something is actually better or faster or more efficient. What matters is what the consumer believes. It’s the story, not the good or service you actually sell, that pleases the consumer.”

According to Godin, great stories succeed because they capture the imagination of large or important audiences. All great stories are true because they’re consistent and authentic.

“Storytelling works when the story actually makes the product or service better,” says Godin.

Great stories make a bold and audacious promise and inspire trust. Great stories are subtle, allowing us to draw our own conclusions. Great stories happen fast and engage us immediately. Great stories don’t appeal to logic and they’re rarely aimed at everyone.

“If you need to water down your story to appeal to everyone, it will appeal to no one,” warns Godin.

Great stories don’t contradict themselves and they agree with our personal worldview. Our worldview is built on our beliefs and biases and it’s the lens we use to look at every decision we’re asked to make.

The best stories don’t teach or tell us anything new, says Godin. The best stories agree with what we already believe and remind us how smart and right we are. None of us like to change our minds or admit that we’re wrong. “Don’t try to change someone’s worldview is the strategy smart marketers follow,” says Godin. “You don’t have enough time and you don’t have enough money. Instead, identify a population with a certain worldview, frame your story in terms of that worldview and you win.”

Godin says the best stories promise to fulfill the wishes of our worldview by offering a shortcut, a miracle, money, social success, safety, ego, fun, pleasure or belonging.

“The organizations that succeed realize that offering a remarkable product with a great story is more important and more profitable than doing what everyone else is doing just a bit better. Make up great stories. That is new motto. “If what you’re doing matters, really matters, then I hope you’ll take the time to tell a story. A story that resonates and a story that can become true.”

We’ve got a great story to tell here in Hamilton when it comes to helping entrepreneurs succeed. Here’s hoping we spend 2011 telling that story far and wide and close to home.

Book review: Hard goals

Hard Goals: The Secret To Getting Where You Are to Where You Want To Be

By Mark Murphy

McGraw-Hill

$32.95

Remember all those goals you set back in January? The plans you developed, the projects you started and the teams you joined?

So how’d that work out for you?

With any luck, some of those goals got met, some of your projects panned out and some of your teams got the job done. But chances are, you fell short of the mark on other goals. There were projects that went off the rails and teams that imploded or spent a whole lot of time doing a whole lot of nothing.

So let’s save ourselves the pain and aggravation in 2011. Before we commit to a goal, sign on with a team or join up for a project, we need to ask ourselves a simple and revealing question and we need to be completely honest in our answer.  

Why do we care about the goal?

If the goal means nothing to you, if the goal only means something to your boss or the boss of your boss, or if you’ll only doing it because you’ve been conscripted or feel obligated, know that your project is all but doomed to fail and your goal won’t be met. And there is no project management software, no time-management training, no team-building exercises, no weekly meetings, no monthly reports and no war rooms covered with whiteboards and inspirational posters that will save you and your team from failing.

What you need first and foremost is what author Murphy calls a HARD goal. That’s an acronym for a goal that’s heartfelt, animated, required and difficult.

“Implementing a goal gets a lot easier when that goal is HARD,” says Murphy. “If your goal is powerful enough, implementation won’t be such a big problem. Executing a goal you don’t care about – that doesn’t stimulate your heart or mind – really requires a superhuman effort.”

Heartfelt is about developing a deep-seated attachment to your goal on intrinsic, personal and extrinsic levels. As Murphy points out, if you don’t care about your goal then what’s going to motivate you to try and achieve them and soldier on in the face of adversity. You’ll be far more motivated by doing something you love doing or by doing something for someone you care about.

Animated is about knowing exactly what you’ll see, hear and feel at the precise moment you achieve your goal. That future state is a movie constantly playing in your head in technicolour and surround sound.  “If we can imagine something, see it, or picture it, we’re a lot more likely to process, understand and embrace it,” says Murphy. So make your goal visible. Draw a picture. Describe your goal using concrete words that paint a picture.

Required is about pushing past procrastination, the number one killer of HARD goals. It’s about changing how you view and value future payoffs so they become more attractive than sticking with the status quo. Instead of dwelling on the sacrifices to be made, focus instead on how your goal will make life easier and better.

And difficult is about pushing past what’s easy, getting out of our comfort zones and living up to our innate potential to do extraordinary things.  “In the real world, raw talent isn’t the predominate determinant of success,” says Murphy. “What matters way more is desire, hardiness, work ethic and a striving to tackle big and difficult challenges.” Difficult goals force us to pay attention and stay engaged.

Murphy claims that people who set HARD goals feel up to 75 per cent more fulfilled than people who set weaker and easier goals. Yet a study by Murphy’s company of more than 4,100 workers found that just over 15 per cent of them believed their goals for the year were going to help them achieve great things. And just 13 per cent though their goals would help them maximize their potential.

A big art of the problem is our predilection for SMART goals.  Instead of HARD goals, we opt for goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-limited. As Murphy points out, achievable and realistic goals are diametrically opposed to brain-engaging difficult goals that challenge us to take a leap of faith.

“And even a factor like specific, which sounds OK, can suck the life out of a goal,” says Murphy. Focusing on numbers makes it hard to animate a goal or establish a heartfelt connection. “Numbers are nice and easy measuring sticks to see how much progress you’ve made toward achieving the goal. But they’re means to an end, not the end itself. It’s the goal in your picture that really represents your end.

“Some people and organizations get so hung up on making sure their goal-setting forms are filled out correctly that they neglect to answer the single most important question. Is this goal worth it? And then, if it is worth it – if it’s a goal worthy of the challenges and opportunities we face – we need to ask, how do we sear this goal into our minds, make it so critical to our very existence that no matter what obstacles we encounter we will not falter in our pursuit of this goal?”

So let’s all make a resolution that in 2011 all our goals at work, in the community and on the home front will be heartfelt, animated, required and difficult.

Review: Bury My Heart at Conference Room B: The Unbeatable Impact of Truly Committed Managers

This review originally ran in The Hamilton Spectator.

Bury My Heart At Conference Room B: The Unbeatable Impact of Truly Committed Managers

By Stan Slap

Portfolio Penguin ($32.95)

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character."

Martin Luther King delivered his historic “I have a dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. It was a defining moment for the American Civil Rights Movement.

In his 17-minute speech, Dr. King said “I have a dream” eight times. As author Stan Slap points out, Dr. King didn’t say to his audience of 200,000 civil rights supporters “of course, that’s just my dream. I’m sure you have your own dreams. So now we’re going to break into separate dream teams and come back together with one big dream statement.”

Dr. King never said that. Instead, he told the marchers and the nation that this was his dream. “He was saying my dream,” says Slap. “My. Dream. But what I’m going to do is use my dream to make your lives better than you ever thought possible so it will become your dream, too.”

And that’s the hallmark of every great leader, says Slap, who heads up an international consulting company that specializes in building commitment in managers, employees and customers.

“They may think it’s nice that you have your individual values but that doesn’t necessarily have a lot to do with their leadership.”

Leaders aren’t concerned that the rest of us have different values. They know we’ll support their values and their dream if following along will make our lives better.

True leaders live their values at work, at home and in the community. They know what matters most to them and they don’t shy away from sharing their values with the rest of us. Not only do they tell us what they believe in. They tell us where their values came from and what shaped and influenced their fundamental beliefs.

While leaders accomplish great things at work and out in the world, Slap says their initial motivation is all about meeting their own deepest values. They’re driven to get to a better place where their values are fully realized. A better place where what matters most to them isn’t compromised or sacrificed.

Leaders can’t get to the better place on their own. They need our help to get there. “If a leader could get there all by themselves, they’d just go,” says Slap. “They’d send you a postcard from the Promised Land: ‘I have a dream. You’re not in it.’’

So leaders do a masterful job of telling us about their better place and how it’s good for us, too. In leader-speak, the better place is called vision. Along with bringing that vision to life, leaders talk about the bitter place we currently find ourselves in and desperately need to get out of.

“If there’s one thing a leader is great at, it’s inspiring you with a vision of a better place. A wonderful destination, tantalizingly out of reach but realizable by joining his righteous crusade. If there’s another thing a leader is great at, it’s making you absolutely miserable by describing how much your life sucks right now because you’re not in that better place. You’re in a place even worse than you could ever imagine without their help.”

Getting from the bitter to the better place isn’t easy. It’s hard work, uncertainty and anxious times down “40 miles of bad road called ‘real life at this company,’” says Slap.

So great leaders make it easier by packing something extra for the trip. They offer emotional fulfilment. All of us want to feel significant. We want to belong. And we want a sense of self-worth.

Leaders tell us we’ll get all of that on our journey to the better place. Getting there is important so that makes us and the work we’re doing important too. It takes a special team to travel that 40-mile stretch of bad road. A smart, tough, dedicated, focused team at the top of its game.

“Causing people to feel emotional fulfilment along the way to your better place will energize them and make them instinctively act in whatever way creates more of the same good feeling. Want to feel that you’re significant, that you belong and that you’re worthy? Keep moving to that better place.”

Don’t despair if you’ve lost touch with your core values or lack the courage to stand up for what you believe. Slap outlines the winning formula he’s used with tens of thousands of managers through his Bury My Heart at Conference Room B management development training program.

“These managers regularly report that the same concepts and methods included in this book were a transformational experience, rattling their bones and homesteading in their souls.”

Living your values at work will earn you emotional commitment, what Slap calls the ultimate trigger for discretionary effort and worth more than financial, intellectual and physical commitment combined. People will follow you because they want to, not because they have to.

And living your values in our community will help make Hamilton the best place to raise a child. For all the kids who go to bed hungry and wake up with a little less faith and hope, we need someone to step up and say I have a dream. And the rest of us need to say we share that dream and we’re ready to take that ride to a better place.

Jay Robb works and lives in Hamilton and blogs at jayrobb.typepad.com.

Book review: Do More Great Work

This review originally ran in The Hamilton Spectator on Oct. 25.

Do More Great Work

By Michael Bungay Stanier

Workman Publishing Co ($14.95)

When coworkers suddenly start leaving to unexpectedly pursue other opportunities, playing it safe can seem like the smart bet.

So you stay well within your comfort zone. You make yourself busy and useful, sticking with productive work that’s familiar and predictable. Work where there’s little chance you’ll screw up. Work that you’ve done a thousand times before.

You settle for good work and take a pass on what author and senior partner in Toronto-based Box of Crayons Michael Bungay Stanier calls great work.

Great work takes a great deal of effort. Great work comes with a great deal of risk. Great work takes you to the outer edge of where you’re capable and competent, to a strange new world with a whole lot of uncertainty, self doubt and more than a little discomfort.

“The discomfort arises because the work is often new and challenging, and so there’s an element of risk and possible failure,” says Stanier. “It can be a time of uncertainty, groping forward when you’re not sure of where you’re heading. It can mean picking yourself up off the floor and carrying on after the unexpected has just slapped you around a bit.

“The very nature of doing more great work means there will be times when you stumble, times you lose the path, times when you’re hacking through the jungle.”

So during a time of budget hacking, pink slips and unplanned pursuits of new opportunities, forgoing great work in favour of good work might seem like the better, smarter and safer bet.

But it’s not. And here’s two compelling reasons why.

All of us want to make a difference. To do work that matters. Work that makes an impact and has a real purpose beyond just earning a paycheque. We want our work, and our lives, to count.

That’s what great work delivers.

Great work is engaging and energizing. It inspires, stretches and provokes. Great work is where you’ll develop new skills and build new strengths.

“Great work is the work that matters. It is a source of both deep comfort and engagement – often you feel as if you’re in the ‘flow zone’ where time stands still and you’re working at your best, effortlessly. The comfort comes from its connection, its sight line, to what is most meaningful to you – not only your core values, and beliefs, but also your aspirations and hopes for the impact you want to have on the world.”

Doing great work is your best safeguard against falling into a rut and getting pushed off to the sidelines or out the door altogether. Great work will make you a more valuable and valued employee. And most important of all, great work will make you a happier and better person.

Not only is doing great work great for you. It’s great for your employer.

“For organizations, great work drives strategic difference, innovation and longevity. Often it’s the kind of inventive work that pushes business forward, that leads to new products, more efficient systems and increased profits.”

To find the great work that’s right for you, Stanier offers up a series of 15 exercises. You’ll start by figuring out where you are right now in terms of your mix of good and great work and what great work is best for you.

“You don’t need a coach or a shrink or a consultant or a weekend retreat to figure out how to do more great work,” says Stanier, who was named Canadian Coach of the Year in 2006. “You just need a pen, some paper, and a little bit of time to get clear on what matters and to build your own plan to do it.”

We spend more than half of our lives at work. We owe it to ourselves, our families, our employers and our community to make sure we spend as much of that time doing great work that matters and makes a real difference.

Book review: Getting change right

Getting Change Right: How Leaders Transform Organizations From the Inside Out

By Seth Kahan

Jossey-Bass

$33.95

There’s something you should know before sending out that all-staff missive announcing the latest and greatest change initiative.

Most of us won’t read your memo. We’re too busy with our day-to-day responsibilities and 40 other initiatives. We’re too distracted and too overloaded with information.

Yes, some of us will make time to give your memo a cursory read. But even then, a few of us won’t understand it. Others won’t buy it. And by the time the day is done, none of us will remember a word of it.

If you want to get change right, you need to ease off the memos and double down on meetings. Stop wordsmithing. Get out of your office. Meet with us one-on-one and in groups large and small.

Strike up conversations. Be genuine. Be bold. Listen more and talk less. Figure out what’s going on in our world. Find out what matters to us. Ditch the PowerPoint and tell stories. Invite debate and discussion. Welcome feedback and pushback. Be willing to reconsider, rethink and refine your game plan.  

Yes, these conversations will be messy, repetitive and sometimes frustrating. You’ll blow out your calendar. You won’t always like what you hear. But if you don’t invest the time upfront to find common ground, gain trust, earn respect and build relationships, change simply will not happen. And that’ll waste a whole lot more time, money and effort.

“Success at leading change – dramatic, sustained improvement – is largely determined by a leader’s capacity to not only enrol others but engage them in a mutually supported vision of the future,” says author  Seth Kahan, a change leadership consultant who’s worked with CEOs and senior leaders the world over.

“Create ways for people to get together and converse. Get them participating, engaged and involved. This is the road to personal investment, enthusiastic support and genuine buy-in. This is how you move people across the line from ‘I have to do this’ to ‘I want to do this’. And that makes all the difference in the world.”

According to Kahan, the trick is stop believing you need to figure everything out in advance and to start doing a better job of jumpstarting conversations and getting the right people involved.

So what are the conversations and who are the right people?

Kahan says there are eight conversations that create the future. What is the best possible thing that can happen as a result of our efforts? How do new ideas successfully take root in our culture? Where do the trajectories of our efforts converge? What motivates us to succeed? What would be the consequences if we were both successful? If we were to generate dramatic results, what partnerships would we rely on? What prerequisites do we both rely on to achieve big wins? And how can our interdependence be improved?

As for people, every successful change initiative relies on select group. Kahan calls them your most valuable players. 

“They are not always your friends. They do not always have clout, political power or resources. But they are powerful in the truest sense of the word and deserve your respect. Your MVPs will midwife the future you are working hard to realize.”

Look at all the groups you must reach for your project to succeed. Now pinpoint within those groups the folks who will be instrumental to your success. Who can block or slow down your progress? Who has something to gain or lose from your change project? 

Your list of MVPs will include political leaders within your senior leadership ranks. Policymakers, resource providers and influencers. Thought leaders, technical experts, practical visionaries and frontline executers.

To engage your MVPs, grab their attention by issuing a challenge. Kahan says they’ll respond to high goals and extraordinary opportunities. Make becoming an MVP a professional development opportunity. Generate magnetism that pulls people to you. And talk about the leadership potential you see in them. “We all respond to others who see who we are or can be,” says Kahan.

To be a great change agent, you need to be an ace at bringing people together, creating healthy interaction, defining a shared future and building engagement.  Before people buy-in, they need to see how your change will make their life easier and better.

“You need to become expert at getting people involved in co-creating the future, jump-starting bold conversations that draw people in, and triggering professional excitement,” says Kahan.

“Getting change right is less about producing communiqués and more about cultivating relationships. This is a true paradigm switch – from a model in which you design and assemble messages to one in which you till, plant, nurture, weed and harvest affinities.”

So let’s skip the memo and strike up a conversation instead.

Book review: Convince them in 90 seconds

Convince Them in 90 Seconds: Make Instant Connections That Pay Off in Business and in Life

By Nicholas Boothman

Workman Publishing

$15.95

It doesn’t happen often but it happened a few weeks ago.

I sat in on a really good presentation. A mercifully brief and tightly focused talk that got straight to the point.

The senior management team was on the receiving end of pitch from a business executive who’s winding down his career and ramping up his volunteer work here at home. 

He got 10 minutes on the agenda to talk with us about a local non-profit that could use a helping hand. 

In making his pitch, he told us some great stories about the organization. Talked about the past, the present and highlighted what we could accomplish together in the future.  He also shared his personal story.

He walked us through a few stripped down PowerPoint slides. Pointed out that we’re both in the business of building leaders. And then he  asked for the order. We were willing and able to get involved and help out?

All in all, he delivered a great presentation and made a strong first impression with the folks around the table.

What’s more, he would of made author Nicholas Boothman proud. Boothman is a licensed master practicioner of neuro-lingusitic programming. To put it another way, Boothman is really good at making instant connections and he knows how to harness the power of persuasion.

Having spent a quarter century as a photographer in high-end fashion and advertising, Boothman became very good at spotting who had the innate ability to connect with anyone in a warm and spontaneous way. Those connections were usually made within the first minute and a half of people getting together for a photo shoot.

“The first 90 seconds of any encounter isn’t just a time for making a good first impression,” says Boothman. “In the first few moments of any meeting, you connect with a person’s instincts and their human nature – their hardwired responses.”

Boothman says in those opening seconds, our subconscious survival instincts kick in and our mind and body make some snap judgements and lightning quick decisions. Do we run, fight or interact? Break out or put away the Crackberry and give you our undivided attention and an open mind? Is the person in front of us an opportunity or a threat? Friend or foe?

In those first 90 seconds, we’re sizing you up and deciding whether you’re okay or if you should go away. Do we trust and feel safe with you? Are we going to play ball together?

To improve the odds of making an immediate connection, Boothman encourages us to adopt the KFC formula for success communications. Know what you want. Find out what you’re getting. And change what you do until you get what you want.

Define what you want in positive terms and in the present tense.  If you don’t know what you want, chances are we’re not going to give it to you. So always remember the golden rule. If you don’t have a point, don’t make a presentation.

Pay attention to the feedback you’re getting and learn from it. What messages are hitting and missing the mark? Figure out what’s moving you to your goal and what’s distracting you. And if you don’t get what you want, try different approaches.

Keep close tabs on your attitude. It’s a mash-up of your body language, your tone of voice and your choice of words. Attitude is the first thing people pick up in face-to-face communication, says Boothman. Do you come across as warm or cold? Happy or miserable? The good thing about your attitude is that you can control it and adjust it.

 Successful leaders share three really useful attitudes. They’re enthusiastic. They’re curious. And they embrace humility, with a public persona rooted in modesty and service to others. “When a large ego is generously wrapped in humility, it is a handsome package,” says Boothman.

There’s a lot more practical advice from Bootham. It’s advice that can help you do a better job of connecting with other people and pitching your next big idea, project or partnership.

“No matter your line of work, you are first and foremost in the business of connecting with other people – and those people are deciding whether that’s going to happen or not, in about the same time it takes to glance at a photograph.” And, like posing for a photo, always remember to smile when making a connection.

Jay Robb lives and works in Hamilton and blogs at jayrobb.typepad.com.