Saturday 29 November 2014

It works - at last...

I am a long-time Mac user.  I started the business some 28 years ago, and my first computer was an Amstrad word processor, which I remember fondly. But my first real computer was a Mac, and I have had a series of them ever since.

So when I decided it was time to update my old 17" Macbook Pro, the only question was which model to go for.  I decided on a 15" with a retina screen.  The chap in the Apple shop assured me it could do everything my old Pro could do, and a lot more, and a lot faster.

They no longer make a 17' model, which is a shame (my eyes are not what they used to be) but this seemed to fit the bill in every other way. Everything transferred across nicely and smoothly, and a few checks assured me that all was in order.

The first time I used it to present, I found that my remote was not working.  I assumed a flat battery, got out my spare, and found that didn't work, either. I assumed another flat battery and proceeded to use the keyboard to move through my Keynote slides.

However, replacing the battery didn't work, and then the truth dawned on me.  A bit of research on the web, and I found it was true: the new Macbook Pro no longer supports the infrared controller.

Their proposed solution is that you download an app to your iPhone and use that as a remote.  There are several reasons I don't like that solution.  One is that I am quite fond of my Apple remote (the swish aluminium one, not the cheap plastic spare one). It is inconspicuous and easy to operate without having to look at it. Holding a phone as I present, and then having to peer at it to make things happen did not appeal.

Worse, however, is the fact that it works via WiFi. That slows things down immediately, and given the dodgy WiFi (or total lack thereof) in many venues, that is a major nuisance. The two times I have tried to make it work in a real situation, it failed to do so (despite working when I did dry runs at home).

So I did a bit of surfing to see what the options were, and came across a neat USB plug-in I/R receiver, Mantra, sold from the US by Twisted Melon ($38 including shipping). It comes with a bit of software, which makes your remote do a little more than normal.  But the main thing is that it works.  I have now done a number of presentations using this, and it is just like having my old Macbook Pro.

I am still irritated at Apple for the silly downgrade (to save space and weight, I imagine) and more seriously for failing to tell me when I changed machines; but I am delighted to have found a solution that works so well, so thought I should tell the world!

Monday 24 November 2014

Time Management Reminder

I have just recorded a brief (8') video designed as a reminder for those who have attended my time management workshop: The Time of Your Life.

I am still experimenting with video as a medium for learning, so would value any feedback.

Likewise, if you have any questions about this, don't hesitate to get in touch.

For some reason I don't yet understand, the video displays on my laptop, but not on some tablets or mobile phones. If you can't see it above, click here.

Friday 21 November 2014

Brain Powered Goal Setting

Today's meeting of the Cumbria Coaching Network included a workshop on brain powered goal setting by Diana Shead. Diana's background is in health, in both clinical and managerial roles, and an integral part of her work as a physiotherapist is helping people with pain management.

She draws on her considerable understanding of the brain in order to help people to set and work towards their goals in ways that work.

So today she took us briefly through that process. She started with a quick overview of the brain's various functions, including the important role of the amygdala with regard to survival; and then she explained how that understanding informs her approach to goal setting.

So she always starts by getting people to consider the context within which they are setting goals: she has learned from experience that context is critical. If someone is already overloaded or stressed, then even a modest goal may be too much at that moment, and trigger amygdala highjack: that is the rush of adrenalin and cortisol that put the body in fight or flight mode. That fast and visceral reaction over-rides the frontal lobes, where our rational processing is centred, so it is important to be aware of that risk.

As she was talking, I was making my own links, too: both with The Chimp Paradox, which deals with similar issues, and Goleman's work on Emotional Intelligence, which highlights the need for emotional self-awareness and emotional self-management.

I was pleased to note that she also used her understanding of the brain to suggest alternative ways of doing the exercises: a left-brain and a right-brain option were offered, which was refreshing.

She then moved on to consider context in another way: the values which sit behind the goals we set. Her thesis here was that any worthwhile goal is derived from some good or goods we are seeking to honour or bring about in our life, and that articulating and connecting with that is important to provide both the motive power and the evaluative standards to help us deliver it.

She also looked at the value of allowing our brain some lee-way in deciding how to accomplish goals; to focus on what we want to achieve, and recognise that there may be different ways to do that; but keep focused on the values and the overall intention, including using visual reminders placed strategically around the home or office. 

Only then did she come on to action planning: and again she has designed a process based on her understanding of how the brain works. Key issues are to make the early steps manageable, so as not to provoke an amygdala highjack, to frame actions in a positive (not a negative) way, to foresee and plan to overcome blockages, and to act as if you are already succeeding.

And then she made two important additional points. One was the importance of celebration of each step along the way, to keep the dopamine reward system active.  The other was the value of an attitude of gratitude: for progress made, for help from others, and for learning when things don't go according to plan.  Again, my brain was busy making connections, this time with Margaret Chesney's work on stress. 

So all in all, a very useful and thought provoking day, which I will certainly be drawing on in my coaching work in the future.

Friday 14 November 2014

An Intelligent Approach to Tendering

Regular readers of this blog will have picked up that I am not a huge fan of the tendering process, as so frequently run.

My experience has been that I have frequently won lots that I was relatively inexperienced to provide, whilst losing lots where I had serious credentials and experience.  The process is often marked by questions that demonstrate little or no insight into the work that is being put out to tender, and the evaluation criteria are frequently ill-defined, and sometimes completely bonkers. All in all, the word lottery springs to mind.

However, I am currently working on an ITT for Newcastle University that has been put together intelligently. The initial PQQ was sensible, and the questions in the ITT are really good.  For example, they want to see people who are tendering actually run a workshop. Given that the tender is for people to run workshops, that strikes me as quite relevant. Yet it is the first time I have come across a tendering process that asks for this. I realise there is always a slight risk that this becomes a beauty parade (in which case I don't fancy my chances) which is why orchestras get instrumentalists to audition from behind a screen. But I far prefer to be evaluated for my relevant skill than for my bid-writing technique.

The other questions are likewise intelligent: asking for examples in practice of the things that the University needs to know in order to make a good decision: such as adapting a workshop due to unforeseen circumstances; developing effective client relationships in order to design and deliver a good programme, and so on.

It sounds obvious, as I write it down, but this tender document stands head and shoulders above any other I have seen: huge kudos to whoever it is at Newcastle (I have heard Julie Bullimore's name in this connection) who has put this together - and much gratitude, too!

Let's hope that this is the start of a trend, and that others take such a sensible approach. The great thing about a good process is that you feel you are being evaluated for the right things: if I don't get through, I can only assume that other providers are offering a better product and price combination - and learn from that. Whereas in the past, I have not had the confidence in the process for that to be the only sensible conclusion.

Now, if they could just invent a more creative way to think about pricing, that would allow for the kind of negotiation that used to work so well, and often in the client organisation's favour (free follow-up sessions, discounts for bulk bookings etc) I would really think the process was worth the time and effort organisations put into it. At present the only variable on price is an invitation to offer discounts for prompt payment. That is something I refuse to do on ethical grounds: I believe that organisations have a moral obligation to pay suppliers promptly. But that's the subject for another rant, perhaps, at a future date...