Tag: guidance

3 things I’ve learned from 200 weeks of sending out an email newsletter

Doug Belshaw's Thought Shrapnel

Every week, nearly 1,000 people receive my newsletter in their inboxes. Entitled Doug Belshaw’s Thought Shrapnel it’s an irreverent look at the intersection of education, technology, and productivity. People seem to like it, which is why this Sunday I’ll be sending out issue 200!

Here’s some things I’ve learned along the way. I hope it’s of use to those thinking of starting up their own newsletter in 2016. 🙂

1. You are the most important audience

Even if you’re productive and have great workflows, it still takes time to curate and craft a newsletter. You need to motivate yourself to do it every week, as consistency is key to developing an audience.

I’ve developed a few ways to ensure I send out a newsletter on a regular basis:

  • I only share links I find interesting. My single criterion is “would I like to see this in someone else’s newsletter?”
  • I take breaks. Every year I have one, sometimes two, months where I’m off personal email and social media. I’ve extended that to my newsletter. Having downtime makes your uptime more productive.
  • I’ve started allowing sponsorships. When there’s money involved, then there’s expectation and a contract. This pays for my time, but also means I’ve got another reason to get this week’s newsletter out of the door.

2. People like commentary

Every week I get people replying to my newsletters. Those replies go direct to me, and I respond to each one. What I’ve found is that people really enjoy it when I comment on the links that I’m sharing.

We’re often exhorted to ‘add value’ in life. I think this is one example where I can do so in a pretty simple way. For example, I might point out how X is similar to Y, or how an article is based on a false premise, or juxtapose it with something else to raise a smile.

True curation is about doing more than giving people a bunch of links. It’s about presenting them with information in a way that’s going to inform or entertain to the best of my ability.

3. A little bit of personality goes a long way

I’m a fan of long-form content on the web. I have a weekly podcast with Dai Barnes called Today In Digital Education (TIDE) that often runs to an hour and a half. We discuss lots of things during that time, but even so we could go on longer. The important thing is that we attend to what’s important.

Similarly, with my newsletter, I could literally list the hundreds of links I bookmark and come across each week. But that would be of little value to my subscribers. Instead, I sift through these for the ones that either resonate with, or challenge, my worldview. That means that my newsletter isn’t a bland read: it’s opinionated and biased. But that’s OK.

Conclusion

I greatly enjoy the discipline of curating and crafting a weekly newsletter to send out every Sunday morning (UK time). If you’re reading this and don’t yet subscribe, then I hope you’ll consider doing so at thoughtshrapnel.com.

I’m also looking for sponsors for 2016. I’ve already been fortunate to have some great sponsors last year, including Makers Academy, C-Learning, and Think Associates. Get in touch if you’d like to discuss this further: hello@nulldynamicskillset.com


Many thanks to my friend and collaborator Bryan Mathers for the great logo he devised last year! For more of his work visit bryanmathers.com or follow him as @BryanMMathers on Twitter!

30 things I’ve learned in 30 years.

I turned 30 last month. Not only that, but I’m now a father to two children meaning that, at some point, I’ll need to pass on what some might call ‘wisdom’. Here’s 30 things I’ll be telling them based on my experience:

  1. Don’t be the first person to leave a gathering. Don’t be the last.
  2. Try not to burn your bridges, you never know when you might need to return to them. But if you do decide it’s necessary, make it spectacular with proper fireworks.
  3. In the long run, people will always spot substance over style.
  4. Alternate alcoholic drinks and soft drinks for an enjoyable night and productive morning after. Do the same when drinking coffee to avoid dehydration.
  5. Find what you like, including brands. Narrowing down your options in any given situation saves time and frustration.
  6. Ask. People can only say no, and are usually polite about it.
  7. Focus on routines and rituals. Nail these and you’re sorted.
  8. Women really do like all of that romantic stuff.
  9. Practice eloquence. People like listening to those who can put difficult concepts in layman’s terms.
  10. At the end of it all, the only person who stops you doing something is yourself. Confidence is a preference.
  11. Most people care less than you think about almost everything that you deem important. Avoid echo chambers.
  12. Don’t let your school years define you.
  13. Nobody knows what goes on inside your head until you say it or write it down.
  14. 90% of ‘success’ (as other people define it) is being in the right place at the right time, the other 10% is extremely hard work.
  15. Just as your tastebuds are renewed every 7 years, so you are not the same person throughout your lifetime. Don’t be beholden to people who would tell you otherwise. Be ruthless in separating friends from acquaintances.
  16. Exercise more than you think you need to. When you’re young you think your body will be in peak condition forever. It won’t be.
  17. Make your first experience or attempt at something the best it can be. It will usually affect how you conceptualise that thing or person from then on.
  18. Don’t believe what someone tells you because of their personality or good looks.
  19. Never trust people who smoke or gamble regularly.
  20. Endeavour to be the least knowledgeable person in the room at any given time.
  21. Learn another language (including music). It’s not only a means of expression but a different way of thinking.
  22. Find somewhere that is completely quiet and you can be undisturbed. Visit it often.
  23. Defer to authority, but only if it doesn’t mean compromising your principles.
  24. Develop a firm handshake and look people in the eye when you meet them.
  25. Seek out liminal spaces. Although sometimes times of turmoil (moving jobs, waiting for confirmation of results, etc.) they encourage both reflection and future planning.
  26. Try and explain complex things to very old and/or very young people as often as you can. It’s a valuable process for both parties.
  27. Money is important but only in the way that it flows (both in society, and at family/individual level).
  28. You are a collection of interactions and experiences. Ensure that the collection is the best it can be.
  29. Let other people boast about you and big you up (but don’t believe everything you see/read/hear)
  30. Read inspirational things often, especially quotations and proverbs. Dwell upon them.

Image CC BY-NC 96dpi

How to design the ultimate presentation.

Introduction

This post has been a long time coming, but there’s three specific short-term causes to it appearing now:

  1. I’ve seen some fantastic content and ideas be let down by woeful presentations recently.
  2. Before next week’s JISC infoNet planning meeting, I’ve been asked to give some advice to my colleagues about presenting effectively.
  3. My Dad had an interview for a promotion last week and I helped him with his presentation.

Every awesome presentation has the following. Yes, every single one.

  • A call to action
  • One or more ‘hooks’
  • Appropriate pace
  • Little on-screen text
  • Imagery

How to plan the ultimate presentation

Start with your ‘call to action’. What do you want people to go away and do/think/say? Put that in the middle of a large piece of paper, or – better yet – a large whiteboard.

Around it, write down everything that you want to say on the topic. Spatial location indicates relatedness (i.e. the close it is to another point the more related it is to it). Draw a circle around every point. You’ve just created a Rico Cluster!

Next, identify your key points. They’re the points within circles that give your presentation its structure, those that would be noticeable if absent.

Finally, think about the order of your presentation. It goes something like this:

Hook –> Challenge –> Story –> Call to action

Designing the visual element of your presentation

You should by now know what the start and the end of your presentation is going to entail. You should have an idea of how you’re going to ‘hook’ the audience’s interest and then provide a ‘call to action’ at the conclusion.

Notice that I haven’t mentioned anything about the length of your presentation yet. That’s because it doesn’t really matter whether you presentation is 5 minutes or over an hour, the principles are the same! All that changes with the length of your presentation is the amount of content you need to prepare, and strategies for dealing with the wandering concentration of your audience. More of the latter in a moment.

I’m going to outsource the rest of this section to two wonderful resources I’ve come across recently. The first is mis-titled in my opinion: The Top 7 PowerPoint Slide Designs is actually about the structure and design of your presentation as a whole, rather than PowerPoint. It’s always good to have examples up your sleeve to broaden your repetoire.

The second is embeddable. I just love the focus on passion and significance coupled with practical advice!

Of course, you don’t have to use slides! For my Director of E-Learning interview, I made up a hashtag on Twitter and put that on the screen whilst I blu-tacked A4 sheets of paper to several walls… :-p

Kicking-ass when delivering the presentation

We’ve dealt now with the hook, the call to action, and having little on-screen text. This final section, then, deals with pace and imagery. A grasp of the appropriate use of pace is one reason why very good teachers are almost always very good presenters: they know when to speed things up and when to slow them down.

For example, if you’re letting people know about this amazing, exciting new thing then you’ll talk really quickly with lots of enthusiasm in your voice. If you’re emphasising a key point, on the other hand, you may want to take your time. Either way, it’s very important to practice. Use a video camera. Failing that, talk into the mirror. As a last resort, talk to a chair in the corner of the room. Seriously.

It’s obvious, but seemingly not understood by many. Your presentation is not the slides! Your presentation is the sum total of the experience people get when watching and listening to you present. That’s why imagery is extremely important. It’s more than appropriate and good-looking pictures on a screen. It’s about being evocative. It’s about using metaphors. It’s about conjuring up a world where people can’t help but respond to your call for action.

Conclusion

I’d love to help people present better. I’m not perfect myself – no-one is – but having a commitment to getting better at something means you’re half-way there to being better at it. And yes, these things can take huge amounts of time to do properly. One recent presentation of mine took, altogether, one hour for every minute I spent presenting! But, as Yoda famously says in Star Wars:

Do, or do not. There is no ‘try’.

Please feel free to get in touch if you think I can help! 😀

Image CC BY helgabj

Acceptable Use Agreements, Definitions & Digital Guidelines

Over the past week I’ve been working on policies and documents relating to E-Learning and electronic resources at the Academy. The following are links to the Google Docs that were created with feedback from my Twitter network. They are very much still in draft form and I would therefore appreciate further feedback! 🙂

The idea is that the Acceptable Use Agreements stay relatively static, with the ‘Digital Guidelines’ and definition of what the Academy deems ‘inappropriate’ being more flexible and fluid.

Creative Commons License

All of these policies and guidelines are available under a Creative Commons license. You must give attribution, not use them for a commercial purpose, and share any derivative works using an equivalent license. Other than that, use away!

I’d like to thank Andrew Churches, whose excellent Digital Citizen AUA was the starting point for the Primary and Secondary AUA’s above. 😀

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Lord Bilimoria on leadership.

Lord Bilmoria

Lord Bilimoria is the founder of Cobra Beer, having previously worked in audit, tax, training, and accounting at various organizations.

I took away the following points from watching Bilimoria’s ten 4-minute videos on the 50 Lessons website.

Starting from nothing always ‘against all odds’

Every time you start from nothing there will always be big sacrifices to make and involve frustrations. The key thing is that during hard times you don’t give up. Have faith in both your ideas and yourself. Long-term goals are important – as is instilling the belief that as an organization you are going to reach those goals.

Consult end-users

Never take forward ideas without checking them out with consumers or end-users. Bilimoria gives the example of his beer being called Panther until last-minute informal customer surveys showed that they didn’t like the name. Instead of ignoring this research, the organization changed the name of the beer (after feedback) and it was a success.

The lesson from this is that you come up with the ideas, but you should always check these with the end-users before going ahead. You may not be able to have large, formal research programmes, but you can always carry out informal research.

Dissatisfaction leads to innovation

Channeling dissatisfaction can lead to the generation of new ideas. Every time a good idea comes along, people always ask, ‘why didn’t someone do that before.’ This is usually because you have to ‘make the leap’ to cross the ‘credibility gap’ (which is that nobody knows you or your ideas). People will only let you close that gap if you have confidence and passion – and leads to same on their part. Trust your own judgement as many ideas overlooked as seeming too straightforward.

Contant innovation is a must

It is important to be innovating constantly as other people will always copy what you do. In order to do this you need not only have right environment within your organization but work with the best advisers; this gives you the edge. In addition, the ways in which you work with these advisers, making them part of your team, is important. Always move on and innovate – even if what you think you’ve got is great!

Long-term vision

Having a long-term vision for the organization is vital so everybody knows where you’re headed. In addition, you need smaller, achievable bite-sized targets in line with the vision. Look ahead, but have to have ‘finger on the pulse’ r.e. what’s happening right now.

Mission

‘Mission’ is the ‘what’ of the organization. It is measurable, permanent, and something you can go back to time and time again. You need a role-model in business that can help you understand where you want to go and how you are going to get there. Everything you do should be carried out with integrity – even if you are working against all odds.

Turn obstacles into advantages

Any organization or individual within it is going to come across obstacles. These must be surmounted in some way – by going around them, through them, under them – however. These obstacles can be turned into advantages. Bilimoria gives the example of Cobra Beer being limited by the bottlers to a 660ml bottle instead of a more traditional (in the UK) 330ml. They thought around the problem and now every major brewer has a 330ml opton. Consider how to turn every negative into a positive before dismissing the idea altogether.

Go for ‘will rather than skill’

What makes organizations successful is people. There are two halves to this: getting the right people and then creating environment in which they can flourish. When you recruit, go for ‘will rather than skill.’ Bilimoria gives the example of refugee who spoke very poor English who was desperate to be one of their first door-to-door sellers. They took him on, despite appearances and he is today a member of the board.

Whilst it’s ideal to have both the will and the skills, always go for the former if it comes down to a choice. To allow people to flourish, have to create ‘limitless’ opportunities – if you have too many rules and barriers that can limit opportunities available to individuals and therefore the organization.

Create a culture of idea-generation

Organizations need entrpreneurial spirit and innovative spirit that is pervasive and not just limited to the senior leadership team. People need to feel in control of their own work and this can be done by  putting people’s ideas into action. Leaders need to ‘let go’, giving trust and respect to people. Allowing employees to be flexible comes back as trust and respect for organization.

It’s not about employees ‘earning’ respect, it’s about giving it away so that it comes back. If you ‘let go’ and allow people ‘get on’ with it this leads to a ‘buzz’ around the organization. Create an atmosphere where there’s no fear to come up with ideas. For example at Cobra, people encouraged to put ideas into ‘ideas box’. The top ones are selected each month and prizes are given.

Turn threats into opportunities

It’s useful to go away from the office to carry out blue-sky brainstorming sessions that include SWOT analyses (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats). Bilimoria gives the example of someone identifying at such a session that increasingly, people are drinking wine with their meal. Cobra investigated the wine business and then entered it.

PS You can get access to the 50 Lessons website through the National College for School Leadership’s Leadership Library

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Gill Rider on leadership.

Gill Rider

Gill Rider is the Head of the Civil Service Capability Group, a part of the UK Cabinet Office. Rider has previously worked in the financial markets, healthcare and government industries. She also worked in the customer service area examining industry best practices.

The following is what I took away from watching the collection of her seven 4-minute videos on the 50 lessons website.

Competence and Confidence

Rider talks of a ‘virtuous’ circle of competence and confidence: if you feel competent than that leads to a feeling of confidence. People assume a lack of confidence means a lack of competence, meaning that you need to show and prove that you are competent through projecting confidence. Some people will misunderstand assertiveness and confidence as your being egocentric and arrogance.

Good leaders need to be good teachers

In order to be a good leader you also need to be a good teacher. You can foster this in others by getting them to teach topics outside their comfort zone. They will becoming engaged by this, enjoy the teaching, and will provide a good model for more junior members of the organization.

Rider talks of a ‘teachable point of view,’ an idea she gathered from a more well-known speaker (whose name I missed). This ‘teachable point of view’ consists of binding up ideas, knowledge and opinions to pass onto others. Junior members of the organization are ‘hungry to hear about experiences and stories.’ Leaders therefore need to confidence to go ‘out there’ and teach. Leaders who teach become fulfilled and become the most effective leaders. It improves the overall quality of work being produced and leads to a virtuous circle.

The importance of listening

Listening is a vital skill as it enables you to udnerstand what people are feeling and wanting. You can find out exactly what you want to know by careful listening. A combination of listening and asking questions is important in any dialogue; Rider quotes Mark Twain‘s advice that ‘you have two ears and one mouth – use them proportionally.’

In advance of meetings, ask people what the objectives of the meeting are and get them to formulate these into questions. It is easy to assume you know what’s going on in any situation, but it’s easy not to go beyond the superficial. Pick up signals from body language and ask questions that probe more deeply.

Don’t exclude minorities

Rider talks of her avoiding the ‘women question’ by just trying to get on with her own career and be as successful as possible. However, it struck her later in her career how little things had changed for the status of minorities at the top organizational levels.

It is difficult to appreciate, Rider says, how minorities feel when you are always part of the majority. Deliberately placing yourself in a minority situation helps you to understand how others may feel. Rider points to research that shows the more diverse an organization is, them more effective it is. Diversity is also important for perceptions of the organization in terms of being representative of communities.

The lack of ‘logic’ in Powerpoint

Rider dislikes Powerpoint as it takes the ‘energy’ out of presentations. People focus on getting the bullet points correct rather than on the overall ‘logic’ of the presentation. Rider herself gets employees to write White Papers that have argument and logic. Powerpoint doesn’t really allow for discussion and the ‘human element’ of going off at tangents.

The importance of trust

Trust is one of the most important things in the business world. Your ego and self-interest needs to be removed from the situation so you can hear where others are coming from. Trust is key to being successful in business world and comes from human beings connecting on personal as well as a professional level.

Matching behaviour to words

Rider tells an interesting story about the chairman of an organization stopping her one day when she was literally running to get to her next meeting. He explained how such behaviour would be interpreted by others and amplified as it went down the organizational hierarchy, eventually being interpreted as ‘panic’.

Rider has a nice phrase, ‘You can’t talk yourself out of what you behave your way in to.‘ Always look like you’re in control.

PS You can get access to the 50 Lessons website through the National College for School Leadership’s Leadership Library

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Colin Day on leadership.

Colin Day

Colin Day is Group Chief Financial Officer and Director of Reckitt Benckiser, ‘a global force in household, health and personal care.’ He has worked for a number of organizations, including British Gas (when it was the ‘Gas Corporation’) from which he draws experiences and lessons in leadership.

The following is what I learned from watching his seven videos on the 50 Lessons website:

Most people like being led

Day believes that most people want to be led and that very few want to lead themselves. This is mainly due to the necessity of making tough decisions as a leader.

Love/hate reactions

Leaders need to movtiave staff and inspire them, otherwise organizations can end up with dissatisfied staff. Inspiring a love/hate dichotomy regarding leadership style within an organization is not necessarily a bad thing.

Good leadership comes from confidence

Leaders need to be preapred to make decisions and lead by example. You need to be seen to be technically competent, which can be demonstrated through motivation, enthusiasm and commitment. Allied to this, however, has to be confidence. If staff see that you have their best interests at heart, that you will not let them down and that you will support them, then they will follow your lead.

‘Open door’ policy

It can be quite an intimidating experience to go an see your boss, which is why an open door policy always some fears. Leaders should be available day or night and tell staff that ‘there’s no excuse for not contacting me.’ People need to be put at ease by not treating them as if they’re slaves to you or in any way second-class citizens. Leaders need to be open with people – which is difficult to do consistently and honestly all the time.

Don’t judge books by their covers

It’s easy and part of human nature to rush into perceptions of people or organizations. Forming judgements from other people’s opinions and the media is easy to do. Leaders need to find out for themselves and be open-minded. Find out the facts so you can form an educated opinion. Ask relevant questions when recruiting and allow them to do due dilgence on you. Day provides prospective employees with a list of people whom they can talk to about his leadership style and what to expect if they work under him.

Autocracy is a necessity

Organizations and the people within them have to accept a certain measure of ‘autocratic’ style as it gets results. Consensus management doesn’t work, according to Day: someone needs to ‘call the shots’ as otherwise nothing gets done. The only leadership style that really works is one where you give very clear direction about what you want and then clear messages about how that should be achieved.

According to Day, it’s all about focus. If you say something and stick to it enough you will find people take onboard what you say. As a leader, you need to make sure that everyone shares your focus. Don’t lead initiatives until the last minute – plan well in advance and provide clear direction from the top so that ‘everyone marches to the same tune.’

Detail

Leaders need to know how much detail is required in various situations and how much to demand of their workforce. Analysis and statistics is not important if the bigger picture is being ignored. In Day’s experience, people hide behind detail for confidence purposes, producing endless charts tables to try and make a simple point.

As a leader, demand people focus on the larger issue. Use instinct and experience as much as data. Make documents short and to the point; they should be 4-5 pages long or take 4-5 minutes to present. If a point cannot be made in that amount of space or time then there’s something wrong.

No ‘job for life’

There are no ‘jobs for life’ any more: don’t encourage staff to think in that way. Instead, encourage them to talk about their career options, taking them out of their comfort zone, preparing them to take  risks and look outside of the organization. Career-seekers are more motivated than ‘company’ people. Those who stay in one job for a long time stagnate.

Self-confidence

It’s not enough for leaders to be intellectually brilliant or extremely technically competent. You also have to have the confidence to pull things off even when wrong-footed. Confidence also needs to be built and nurtured in your staff as well. Give them responsibilities to deliver on important projects. They will feel like they are part of the decision-making process even if not making the final decision.

Confidence can only be grown, not ‘taught’. Day talks of a ‘rock of granite’ within people that others can chip away at but will nevertheless remain solid. Look for this ‘rock’ when hiring people.

PS You can get access to the 50 Lessons website through the National College for School Leadership’s Leadership Library

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

David Brandon on leadership.

david_brandon2

David Brandon is CEO of Domino’s Pizza. He’s one of the contributors to the 50 Lessons website. This website incorporates is a series of 4-minute videos from inspirational leaders of organizations. Brandon was a successful American Football player at college, an experience he looks back to often when thinking about leadership issues.

The following is what I took away from viewing his five videos on the 50 Lessons website:

Treat people the way they want to be treated

Leaders need to be able to adapt the way they deal with people to individual circumstances. The wrong approach is to take the same leadership style and apply it to all your dealings with staff in your organization. Find out the way people want to be treated and treat them that way. Brandon says this is the best piece of advice his father (who himself had no formal leadership experience) gave him early in his career.

Have a plan for ‘sudden change’

From an American football game between the Ten...
Image via Wikipedia

Looking back to his college American Football days, Brandon talks about how his coaches trained the team to recognise sudden change within a game and to respond to it in a positive way. Transferring this to organizations, it’s importance to instill the idea that ‘change is good’ whilst recognizing that many will approach it will trepidation and indeed may resist that change.

Brandon talks about when he was unveiled as CEO of Domino’s Pizza and kept his message simple. He contrasted ‘sitting around talking about the good old days’ with embracing change to make a good organization even better.

Things either get better or they get worse

An unfinished  miniature portrait of Oliver Cr...
Image via Wikipedia

Brandon’s comments on things ‘never staying the same’ reminded me of a saying I had on my wall in my old classroom, attributed to Oliver Cromwell. It read, ‘He who stops being better stops being good.’ It’s a phrase I saw every day and spurred me on.

Brandon believes that when things are going well  for an organization or team – sales are up, the team is winning every game, academic results are getting better every year – then it’s easy to fall into the mindset of ‘just turning up.’ To counter this, he says, coaches when he played American Football drummed into them the belief that ‘things either get better or they get worse, but things never stay the same.’ Fostering this mentality in your organization leads to constant striving towards improvement.

Don’t rely on internal benchmarks

It’s all very well hitting or even surpassing benchmarks and targets set internally within your organization. However, if no attention is paid to others in the field, then you can be left behind. Brandon talks about finding the best in the field and becoming as good or better than them.

With schools, this is less of an issue of competition and more one of keeping up with best practice, I believe. Of course, there’s local competition in terms of persuading parents to send their children to your school, but in the bigger picture it’s about raising standards across the board.

Deal with minor issues quickly

The time to deal with minor issues is as quickly as you can and when things are going well. Restructuring, procedural issues and suchlike are much better done at times of stability rather than when your organization is on ‘the edge of a cliff’. Making changes when things are going well means the organization is more resilient and can be more focused on those changes rather than on the survival of the organization.

Pivotal moments & decision-making

As a leader there will be ‘pivotal moments’ when going one way could lead to great rewards, whereas going the other way could lead to disastrous consequences. It’s the easiest thing in the world to make a decision when you and 100% of the people around you agree on what should be done. The tough decisions come when there is a 50/50 split.

When such a decision has to be made, make it and then act with ‘confidence, passion and a true sense of calm.’ Leaders, after all, must lead. Your actions after the decision has been taken are almost more important than the decision itself as you can energise the workforce into taking action for the organization to succeed. You need to explain your decisions and then stand by them.

PS You can get access to the 50 Lessons website through the National College for School Leadership’s Leadership Library

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]
css.php