Thursday, 28 December 2017

The Leader Manager Cycle

Management development programs just aren't trendy any more. Everybody wants to be a leader. Well, you can't be a leader. In a hierarchical organisation, there can be only one. And you all have to follow him or her.

On the other hand, perhaps anyone can be a leader, and everyone will be a leader at some time, in some situation. If there's a fire in your office, does your CEO overrule the appointed fire marshall? As I've recently written in another article, the debate over whether leaders are born or bred can be settled as follows: Leaders are born, in that we are all born with the capacity to lead. Some people are bred to develop those innate qualities.

In any organisation, we see the same fundamental conflict that exists within all of us who suffer from this affliction called 'the human condition' - we want to be here, and we want to be somewhere else. We want more, without losing what we have. We want to be comfortable, and at peace, and content, and we want to be up and moving towards some new goal that has caught our eye. We can't have it both ways.

This is the organisational conflict of maintenance versus development. We want the organisation to grow, but we can't stop doing the things that we're doing. We have to pay the bills and look to the future, and the organisation that balances both of those will tend to be more successful over time. In a river, you have to swim to stay in the same place, and in an evolving market, you have to innovate just to stay where you are.

How does this relate to management and leadership?

The difference between management and leadership must first be defined, as follows. Management is the practice of maintaining the operations of an organisation, whereas leadership is the practice of developing the operations of an organisation. A manager is concerned with day-to-day activities, staff well-being and annual targets. A leader is concerned with strategy, growth and new opportunities. Therefore, there is always a balance between maintaining the organisation as it is today, versus reshaping it for the future.

Overall, management development will strengthen best practice in day-to-day operations, but will tend to maintain the organisation as it is today. Even if the organisation has no growth plans, the market is evolving, and competition is increasing from both local and foreign players. If the organisation is unable to respond to market changes then every new development becomes a significant threat, eroding markets and shifting customer focus to more exciting competitors.

Leadership development has the potential to strengthen best practice in growing and adapting the organisation to change. In an evolving market, an organisation must adapt just to maintain its current position. With strong leadership skills at both the local and head office levels, and effective communication between the two, market innovations transform from a threat to an opportunity, with access to customers and market channels that were not previously available. Growth in the business drives the need for new management practices, which in turn feeds back into management development, and the two areas work together in a complementary cycle.

If you're a gardener, do you plant new seeds or mow the lawn?

If you're an engineer, do you create new machines or fix the old ones?

If you're a chef, do you deliver customer orders or create new recipes?

The reality is that serving your current customers looks to the past, and finding new customers looks to the future, and that is the essential conflict that plagues us. Other lifeforms just exist in the moment. Our advanced brains deny us that pleasure, giving us both memories and imaginations that create new realities.

Whatever you do for a living, you need to juggle both; past and future, to maintain and to create. It is in our nature, and it's something we were all born to excel at.

It's not a choice or a compromise between leading and managing. You need to do both.


Peter Freeth is a leadership and talent expert who is currently juggling the past and future whilst also creating new insights to share with others.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Happy 40th Birthday, Glass Ceiling

'The glass ceiling' is 40 years old, but I believe it has evolved, now there are two. The glass ceiling that Marilyn Loden spoke about was a barrier of discrimination, and now that barrier is dissolving. Maybe some people think not quickly enough. Certainly when the Mayor of London says that he's working hard to remove the gender pay gap, some people think that all you have to do is give women a pay rise. Critics say it's not that easy. I tend to think it is - though it does hike the wage bill significantly.

When companies such as Hugo Boss 'accidentally' submit the wrong data on their gender pay gap reports, implying incorrectly that they pay everyone equally (until challenged by the Government Equalities Office), it does make it seem less likely that this is going to be resolved any time soon.

However, the thing about a glass ceiling is that it is transparent from both directions. Organisational managers have always known that there's a pay gap, so why has it been allowed to persist? Simply, because if managers can get away with paying people less, they will do. And when "it's the way things are", who has the courage to make a fuss? If you push too hard at the interview, they'll hire someone else, and once you're hired, it's almost impossible to change. Just try getting a pay rise over the rate of inflation.

So the situation persists because that's the way the system is. As soon as you hire someone on an equal pay basis, everyone else in the organisation cries foul. So yes, from the point of view of salary costs, it's something that has to change gradually.

But this is a situation that affects millions of workers, who are paid less for all kinds of reasons, despite producing the same output and working the same hours. This is a generic situation, and since the 1980s we've had individual appraisals and performance related pay, and that has led to a situation where no-one is looking out for your career plans. You have to do that yourself, and that in turn leads to the second glass ceiling.

For all your working life, you have been rewarded for doing certain things. Perhaps for being a super salesperson, or a tough manager, or an aggressive buyer. Every time you got a pay rise or promotion, you thought that was the reason why. Eventually, you will reach the stage where the qualities that got you to where you are become the very things that prevent you from getting any further. At a certain stage in your career, you have to reinvent yourself, and that means letting go of all the things that you've been rewarded for until now, which are all the things that you think you value most about yourself.

In order to move forwards, you have to let go of the familiar, you have to step off the edge. Maybe, we can all do that together.


Peter Freeth is a talent expert and author, currently working on a new book that helps high potentials to get noticed and achieve their career aspirations.

You can help with the research for the book (and even get a credit) by visiting the Genius website and completing two short surveys.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Swipe Your Boss - Right?

Imagine that you find yourself single tomorrow, and after a brief period of leaving the dishes to pile up and wearing stale underwear, you decide to go back on the 'dating scene'. Imagine that you get with the times and go for an online dating adventure.

Imagine writing your profile. You describe yourself optimistically yet somewhat honestly. You describe your ideal match as honest, reliable, open, caring, supportive, fun, a good listener and so on. All the qualities that you think are important. You might even call these 'values', which they're not. More on that later.

You see a profile that you like the look of, and you 'swipe right'. You get chatting, find a few things in common, and nervously arrange to meet for a drink.

It's the big night, and you're waiting in the bar that they suggested. They walk in. They look like their photo. Big sigh of relief. They smile, say hello. All good so far. They order the drinks, choosing for you. You think that's a bit presumptuous, but you give them the benefit of the doubt. They tell you all about themselves, and as you try to get a word in edgeways, they interrupt to tell you what they want, what they're looking for and all the areas in which they excel. They tell you how important their job is, what a great car they've got, how they bought their apartment for cash from their last sales bonus. You start to glance towards the door, your heart sinking with every pompous, self-important word. They tell you what they want from you, and they glare at you disapprovingly with every objection that you raise. They dismiss your suggestions out of hand and, at the end of the evening, tell you that you were not really up to scratch, but they're prepared to give you a second chance.

Do you agree to a second date?

If you have any shred of self-respect left, you say "no, thanks". And yet, some people say yes, because they are afraid that's the best they can do. They are afraid to keep looking.

When it comes to one of your most important relationships, the relationship that you have with your employer, many people endure such a second date. And a third. And a fourth. Day. After day. After day.


Every choice that we make is a compromise. While I'm writing this, I'm not finishing the other work that I'm supposed to be doing. While you're reading this, you're not making that phone call.

Going to work is a free choice, but for many people, it's not a fair choice. Many people get into a relationship with a less-than-ideal employer because they need to pay the bills and take care of their family. They put their own needs, hopes and dreams second. That might seem like a bearable compromise in the short term, but in the long term it causes stress, and stress causes a while variety of illnesses. A huge number of employees today, in jobs all over the world, and companies like yours, a compromising on one of their most important relationships because they are putting the needs of others before their own.

I'm sure we've all been in relationships because of convenience, or because we thought we weren't worth any better, or because we were afraid to leave. We've all compromised on what we wanted, because we thought that what we needed was more important. Our wants can wait, but our needs demand to be met.

For many people, going into a job where they're undervalued and undermined is like having that second date, day after day. Knowing full well what to expect and doing it anyway, believing that they don't have another choice.

You probably can't imagine yourself entering into a relationship on such terms. You also probably can't imagine treating someone that way. Yet managers do, every day, in organisations just like yours.

I mentioned earlier that qualities such as honesty and caring aren't values, and when leaders create organisational values such as honesty and customer focus, those words aren't values either - they are wants, and wants are things that you don't have.

Your corporate values are words that describe how your employees want to feel, and want to be treated, and aren't. When you're holding your focus groups and consulting with your consultants, no-one mentions air and water as values. We take those things for granted. If you're lucky enough to be in a loving, caring, supportive relationship, you wouldn't say that love and care and support are important, because you already have them, and they become 'givens'. You don't ask for what you've already got.

So, I leave you with two ideas.

Firstly, treat your employees, colleagues and clients as if they really have a free choice about that second date.

Secondly, stop compromising. You can have all the things that are important to you. The first thing you have to do is ask for them.


Peter Freeth is a very lucky consultant, talent expert, author and maker of countless questionable choices, all of which he seems to have survived. Having learnt enough lessons for now, he's taking a short break from compromising.

Friday, 13 October 2017

Be Your Own Coach

OK, I admit it. The headline is misleading. You can't coach yourself. It's not possible. You can't see yourself, you see, so you can't give yourself feedback. You might think that you can motivate yourself, or guide yourself, but you can't. What you're actually doing is simulating someone else, but let's not get into that now. Let's talk about how you can use your existing network to replace or supplement the role of a coach.

Why does coaching work?

Fundamentally, coaching works because it is:

  • Neutral
  • Challenging
  • Scheduled

Yes, you heard me right. Coaching does not work because of some fancy psychodynamic twaddle. It does not work because the coach has some amazing insight into your character. It does not work because the coach uses a fabulous psychometric tool that reveals your true self.

You already know yourself, you already know your true self and you already have the insights you need, but if they're not convenient for you, you will lie about them, even to yourself. Fortunately, everyone else sees right through you, they're just too polite to say anything, or they're using your self-deception to take advantage of you. But let's not go into that right now.

So coaching works for those three reasons above. Let me expand on those, and show you how you can replicate those 'dimensions' with your existing friends, family and colleagues.


A good coach knows that there is no good or bad, just cause and effect. If a client tells me they have made a mistake or done something bad, I have to ask why they're telling me in such a loaded way. Are they trying to get me to give them sympathy? Or absolve them of their sin? They will be unsuccessful because I don't care. Stuff happens as a result of other stuff happening and when stuff happens it causes other stuff to happen. And so the great cycle of life continues. People react to each other, and people react to circumstances, and that's how we get through life, so get over yourself. What's more important is what have you learned from it, and how will you use that learning to do something different next time?


A good coach tells you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. If you want sympathy, or absolution, or a soft touch, you're not getting it from me. You can get that from most of your friends and colleagues, and where does that leave you? Right where you are, feeling sorry for yourself. If you're complaining about your situation at work, then I'll ask why you created it in the first place. If you're complaining that no-one listens to you, I'll ask if you ever say anything worth hearing. And if you're being hard on yourself unnecessarily, I'll ask you to give yourself a bit of credit once in a while. What you want, fundamentally, is to maintain the status quo, so you will tend to seek out relationships that maintain your current course. If you want to change that course, you need challenge. And let's not forget, you wouldn't be seeking coaching if you didn't want to change course. On the other hand, whilst you might want to make changes, that's often easier said than done, partly because you can't see yourself, so you can't see all the changes that you need to make in the right perspective. So challenge is vital, even though that doesn't have to be scary or disruptive.


If you wait until you need to talk, it’s too late. You might already talk to your friends and colleagues when you have a problem, but it's too late. The problem exists because you created it. You didn't learn your lesson last time, you didn't reflect and learn and you didn't change your approach, and the same problem keeps happening over and over, with different people and in different places. If you adopt a reactive approach to coaching, your focus will always be remedial, on finding a temporary fix for the current problem only. And the pattern will repeat itself. What you need is to talk to your coach because it's time to talk to your coach. That scheduled conversation forces you to step back and reflect on what you've been doing, and enables you to plan your strategy, and that enables you to make changes. The timing of coaching sessions is often more important than the content of them, because if you're committed to the process, you will prepare for a session, and will have actions to implement afterwards, which extends the reach of the process of change into your daily routine.

How to replicate the coaching relationship

  1. Think of 2 or 3 people who you know, who know you, and who you trust.
  2. Ask those people if you can have regular conversations with them, where you talk about what's going on in your life and work, and they give you honest feedback on what you're missing, what you've ignored or what you may have distorted, and where they suggest some actions for you that are relevant to the changes you want to make.
  3. Set a series of regular discussions with them in your diary.
  4. Keep track of those discussions and measure the results that you achieve.
  5. Get on with it!

A person doesn't have to be an amazing coach, or even a coach at all, in order to provide you with neutral, valuable feedback. You simply have to commit to accepting their feedback, no matter how much you don't like it. The worse it feels to hear the feedback, the better you can feel about the fact that at least one person cares enough about you to tell you what everyone else knows but is hiding from you.

What if you think you're so self aware that you don't need a coach? Trust me. You are not self-aware. Not even one little bit. You don't even know there's spinach in your teeth.


Peter Freeth is an executive coach, working with global businesses to develop their future leaders. He also wrote a super little book called Coaching Excellence which has all of this good stuff in it, and more.

Matt Hatson says, "A straightforward, no holds barred guide to the steps to coaching mastery. As well as boiling down the real keys to an effective coaching session, it also explores the behaviours that coaches sometimes have that hold them back from making a real difference. A powerful read from start to finish, and a book that I'm revisiting constantly to help refine my skills and push through the fear, whoever's fear it happens to be."

Greg Schweitzer says, "This is literally one of the best books I have ever read about coaching! Peter Freeth gets it. His fresh insight and creative approach come with a deep profundity and clarity that demystifies the process of coaching. His insight into the proper place and use of models, listening deeply and linguistic representation provide an uncomplicated depth to be the best coach possible. Thank you!"

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

You Are The News

I'm writing this as yet another sexual harassment scandal hits the headlines, this time featuring Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. A string of actresses have joined the voices casting allegations that Weinstein was not interested in their acting ability, after all.

Not so long ago, the 'casting couch' was the audition room for a Hollywood career. Today, it's called sexual harassment, and the women involved have changed from being called derogatory terms implying low morals to being called victims.

What has changed in that time, do you think? Does social media make us all news creators, so that these stories are impossible for the mainstream media to continue to suppress?

You can't say 'society's attitudes have changed' because there is no society, only individuals, and if individuals don't talk to each other and share experiences, there can be no change.

During the terrorist attacks in London in 2005, police immediately sealed all the roads in the areas affected. The 'establishment' journalists couldn't get anywhere near, so the news was created by office workers, filming on their mobile phones and giving commentaries to news agencies. The journalists hated it. These people had no training! They hadn't worked their way up from tea boy at the Weatherfield Gazette! How dare they! Yes, they had no formal journalism training, but they had something far more important - immediacy. They were there, they were the eyes and ears of the world.

The rise of the connected society, from the emergence of personal websites and blogs through to today's 24 hour interactive social media, has made us all journalists. Sure, no-one wants to know what you're having for lunch, or what you're wearing, or what your latest hair style is. But a lot of what you experience is interesting, at least to your friends, and once in a while, you'll find yourself in the right place at the right time to witness, and relate, something big, something that affects us all.

Scandals like those we've recently seen involving Hollywood producers, celebrities, sports clubs, politicians, local authorities and even the church are always the tip of the iceberg. The victims don't speak out through fear, either of the public humiliation, or because they would lose the privileges bestowed upon them. As The Human League sang, "Don't forget, I put you where you are now, and I can put you back again".

Through our unprecedented access to the new media, we are all newsmakers.

Go ahead, tell your story. Someone, somewhere is watching, and to them, it's the most important thing they've heard all day.


Peter Freeth is a consultant, coach and writer who is still waiting for his 15 minutes - unless he has already had it?

Monday, 25 September 2017

Why Ask Questions?

Coaches ask questions. Counsellors and therapists ask questions. Even good presenters and leaders ask questions. Lots of questions.

But why?

If you've got a point to make, just say it, right? Why beat around the bush, go round the houses?

The answer is simple. You don't listen.

It's not your fault. From an early age, you developed an abstract map of reality, and as that map formed, your ability to listen to others diminished. Your map contains physical constructs, so that you can find your car's ignition or your bedside lamp even in the dark, and it contains abstract constructs too, such as relationships, desires and problems.

A problem is something that prevents you from achieving a goal, and it's a collection of representations. Think about any problem that you have, right now. It's a collection of elements, isn't it? Objects, people, conversations, beliefs, past experiences. This unique collection is a problem, and the reason that you can't solve it for yourself is that it's part of your map, and you go to great lengths to protect your map from outside influence. In short, you don't like being told what to think.

We each have a critical filter which evaluates incoming information to judge it against our own beliefs and perception of the world.

The filter is useful because it protects us from other people’s beliefs. Unfortunately, it also prevents us from accepting new information too.

Any solution that you offer, no matter how brilliantly conceived, will be rejected.

Fortunately, we can bypass this filter quite easily. Secondly, you can use the two forms of communication which will bypass the critical filter. One is a story; an account of events which aren't here or now. The other is a question.

Why do questions bypass the critical filter?

How do questions bypass the critical filter?

Questions don’t convey any information or instructions, do they?

We hear questions when:

The speaker’s voice pitch and eyebrows rise towards the end of a sentence, not to be confused with a stereotypical Australian accent which is different
A sentence starts with a word such as why, when, where, how, what, which, who, if, is, could, would, might, may, can
A statement ends with a tag question, such as couldn’t it?, don’t they?, do we?, can it?
A question bypasses the critical filter completely, because it conveys no dangerous information, it requests information and since you're always right, you love to talk about what you think. However, the question directs your attention, and can help you to uncover aspects of the problem that you were unable, or unwilling, to consider previously.

If you ask someone questions about the problem, you're probably gathering information to give them a solution. After all, if they're telling you about a problem then logically they haven't solved it and they can't solve it, so they're asking you to solve it.

When someone says, "I don't want you to solve it for me, I'm just thinking out loud, I'm just letting off steam" then don't believe them. That's just their way of saying, "Don't tell me what to think!"

So here's the paradox. The person is stuck. They can't find a solution, but they don't want to be given a solution. Somehow, we have to gently direct them towards the resources that they already have. Asking questions about the problem doesn't help, so we have to ask questions which are not about the problem. Weird, eh?

I know. It seems counter-intuitive. Yet it really does 'work'. So much so that I created a free online tool and app to help you do it, called The Unsticker. And I'll be presenting The Unsticker at the International NLP Conference on May 19th 2018. I know, it seems like an advert, but the app really is free. No advertising or anything. It's my gift to the world.

You can, of course, also learn the principles of asking questions for yourself. But would you want to?


Peter Freeth is a SNLP Master Trainer, author of more than a dozen books, coach, talent management expert and lots more besides. He has been learning, innovating and teaching NLP for over 20 years and has created many new techniques and tools that are used by coaches and trainers all over the world.   Peter runs training up to Trainer level in the UK, Europe and Asia.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

South West Coaching and Mentoring Conference 2017

I'll be speaking, not once but twice at the South West Coaching and Mentoring Conference 2017

My first session at 10:35 is an easy way for coaches to ask questions to access their client's creativity "Helping clients get unstuck with The Unsticker’"

My second session at 2:45 is a knowledge sharing session on what I've found over 15 years of delivering corporate coaching programs, helping you to increase engagement, effectiveness and create measurable results "What works in corporate coaching programmes"

Here's the event description:

Jun 20, 2017 09:00 - 16:40
Taunton Racecourse, Orchard Portman, Taunton, Somerset TA3 7BL
Our aim at South West Councils is to support the region in creating a coaching culture that helps individuals realise their potential and organisations achieve outstanding results. In particular we are supporting this through the South West Coaching Pool 

Booking Form
A one-day conference that provides the chance to hear from coaching experts; develop your coaching skills; information sharing & networking opportunities

Keynote Speakers:
Neuroscience for Coaches: Amy Brann
Amy is the author of ‘Make Your Brain Work’ & ‘Neuroscience for Coaches’ & ‘Engaged: The neuroscience behind creating productive people in successful organizations’.

Spot Coaching: Wendy Wilson & Carmelina Lawton-Smith
The Great Coaching 'Bake Off' facilitated by Michelle Lucas
Workshop Choices:
Team Coaching: Jeremy Gomm
Laughter Wellness: Joe Hoare
Design Thinking: Cathyrn Henry
Emotion Coaching: Dr Sarah Temple and Neil Harris
Gestalt Coaching: Mick Sital-Singh
The "Unsticker": Peter Freeth 
Coaching Dilemmas: Laura Soden and TBA

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

AI to Replace all Humans by 2030

Today, I attended an event organised by the CIPD to explore the future of work. It was heavily biased towards the UK of course, with our typically imperialist attitude towards globalisation. “Oh no! Globalisation is taking our jobs to the Far East!” No concern for the damage that our working practices are doing to other cultures, though.

But enough of that. The big question was about the future, and in particular what role HR professionals play in the workplace of the future. One of the interesting questions was about the impact of Artificial Intelligence. Robots, in both mechanical and software forms, will replace many menial jobs and take control out of the hands of mere humans.
Except they won’t.

Let’s understand what AI is. It’s a fancy name for decision making software, and that’s been in use for 30 years. Its predecessor, the flowchart, has been around for longer. AI is an abstraction of a human ability, taking a set of rules out of a human brain and putting them into an external tool. In that regard, AI is no different to an abacus or spinning wheel. A tool, by definition, has its purpose, and is only activated when that purpose must be served. I wear spectacles, but I don’t wear them when I am asleep. Or in the shower.

Help desk software, for example, has been around for a long time, enabling self-service by customers, ‘improving’ service through faster response times and reducing costs by removing humans from the service chain. After all, what difference does it make whether a human or a machine tells you to switch it off and back on again?

“Big data” is simply the use of greater storage and processing power to include more data points in statistical analysis. It doesn’t dictate what we do in our lives, and it doesn’t mean that the machines are making our decisions for us.

One way that we can predict what the world of work will be like in 2030 is to look at what it was like in 2004. Hmm. No different, really. 13 years either way, and I’m still typing on a laptop on a train. OK, so I paid for my lunch with a contactless card and my train ticket is on my mobile phone, but these are gentle, iterative changes. I’m still drinking tea and eating biscuits. People are still moving from one place to another. We are not all sitting at home with our brains plugged into a computer network that creates our reality. OR ARE WE? No, I don’t think we are.

What, then, are the big themes affecting employment? The ‘gig economy’ is a response to diminishing job security, which is a response to the drive for greater organisational flexibility. Well, if employers are going to hedge their bets, employees are doing the same, because employers are employees too. We all want ultimate security and ultimate flexibility. I want a job for life when and where I want it, and when I’ve had enough of it, I want another job for life. We all want one-way commitment. The only difference with millennials is that they’ve been told that they can have it. They’ve been told that they have a right to it.

Through the mass redundancies of the 1990s, technical people in particular converted their employment contracts into short term self-employed contracts where they found they could get paid for their expertise instead of their presence and they could take every Monday off if they wanted to. The redundancies of the late 2000s dumped a whole new group of people onto the contract/freelance market, and further weakened the whole employment proposition.

Let’s step back from AI and look at technology in general. McDonald’s have been refurbishing their ‘restaurants’ and replacing customer facing staff with giant iPads. Instead of asking a human being for a McBurger and chips, you tap a screen and then wait at the order point. It’s fast food meets catalogue shopping. When they call your number, it’s like winning the lottery. “Number 97! That’s me!”

What’s interesting is that the level of interaction between staff and customers is now almost non-existent. In the old days, you could have a chat, maybe a bit of banter as you enquired about the number of chicken nuggets in a box, or what flavour sauces are available.

The logical next stage of evolution is for food to be produced and delivered mechanically. Why not do this now? Because the visual feedback required to make sure that the delivered product looks nothing like the photo on the ordering screen is beyond our programming ability. Rest assured, this will happen. If you can get sandwiches out of a vending machine, there’s no technical reason not to get a freshly warmed burger and an apple pie with that. 

The systemisation of processes means that we don’t need to train people to know when a burger is cooked, we only need to make sure that the burgers are identical, the oil is at the right temperature, and the burger is in the oil for the right period of time. Machines didn’t put us out of jobs, people did. Not evil corporate executives either. We did it. Customers. Every time we chose the cheaper option, we put someone, somewhere out of a job. Businesses exist to make money, and to do that they have to make profit, and when consumers demand lower prices, those profits have to come from somewhere.

We’ve been told that we can everything we want at twice the size and half the price, and we were stupid enough to believe it. Now we’re paying for that spiral of demand.

I was asked to share the greatest personal contribution that I had made. It’s nothing in particular, it’s just the ongoing process of sharing knowledge. We seem to have become obsessed with extending our individual lives at the expense of leaving the world a better place for our children. That’s the goal of any species, and technology has made us forget why we’re really here. We live to learn, to nurture, and to die. We spend our lives figuring stuff out and we can’t bear the idea that all of that is lost when we’re gone.

So protect the future, share what you know. Whether you’re teaching children or programming robots, you’re working to the same aim. Don’t fight AI, or whatever the next big thing is, devote yourself to it. Take your lifetime’s knowledge and make it permanent.

Be proud of what you leave behind.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

You Can't Love Yourself

Last night, I presented at a local NLP Practice Group. It was a smashing evening, made so by the highly intelligent and engaged audience.

The discussion raised a very interesting point about self-worth, which I want to explore further here.

The essence of the situation was that many people dream of pursuing work of value and purpose, however they 'go round in circles' and fail to achieve their dream, citing lack of money as the barrier. The average man in the street would stop listening at that point and start giving advice on how to get more money, how to save more money, how to economise and so on. But we are not the average man in the street, are we, dear reader?

We know that the issue of 'money' is a red herring for a very simple and obvious reason - 'money' does not exist. Money is a concept, a trading system created to swap pigs for wheat via an abstract intermediary. Therefore, money is not the issue, the issue is what you want to do with it.

However, the important point of the evening was the relationship between money and the value of a person. We explored the issue of self-worth and self-love, and I said that it's not possible to love yourself. A lady in the middle row challenged, "That's not true!", so I want to explain further.

A grammatically correct language structure, in English, must have a Subject, a Verb and an Object, exclusively in that order. Language is flexible enough that we can move things around, or understand the language of a tourist who asks, "Me tell way the Piccallily Surface, yes please?". Critically, we can leave words out, and the receiver still understands what we're talking about. Or do they? Actually, they fill in the gaps from their own expectations and experience, so in a way, what they actually understand is themselves.

Now, the 'SVO' language structure reflects our observation of life; someone or something does something to someone or something. Note that the subject and the object are different, they cannot be the same. A chair cannot sit on itself. A person cannot carry themselves. We use that phrase as a metaphor for the way that a person moves with confidence, but a metaphor is not the same as the literal structure of the language.

Let's explore some things that I love.

I love my car.

I love my children.

I love myself.

The word 'my' indicates a possession, a separate object that is somehow secondary to the subject. You know right away that my car is not me, and my children are not me. So, logically, my self is not me. My self is some kind of representation of me. A projection. "I love the way that I look in my new orange shirt" is different to "I love me".

The action cannot be recursive, it cannot apply to itself. I can love you, and you can love me, these are two distinct transactions. I can love someone who does not love me, someone can love me who I do not love back.

The notion of value has three dependencies; a valuer, a thing to be valued and a unit of currency. An employer does not own you, they do not buy you, they offer you compensation for an amount of your time within a contractual relationship which specifies the things that you do and the things that they will do in return.

A Ming vase cannot value itself, and in any case, who decides that it is worth a million pounds, or whatever it is?

You cannot love yourself, and you cannot value yourself, so here is the central paradox.

You can be loved by other people, and for that to be possible, you must accept that they have free will and can love whoever they like, and if they choose you then that's their lookout.

You can be valued by other people, for your time, for your skills, for your sparkling wit, and for that to be possible, you must accept that they will find their own value in their experience of you, and if they don't then they can shuffle off somewhere else, and that's fine.

If you do the things that you think other people value or like then you are trying to be who they want you to be, and you are not being yourself, and in fact this is not a way for you to pander to that other person, it's a way for you to control them. If I do what this other person likes then they will give me what I want.

If you have to do something in order to get someone to love you, it's because your default position is that they don't, and if that's someone you don't know very well (i.e. everybody) then that can't be because of them, it must be because of you. It must be because you are unloveable. However, people learn to be unloveable at such an early age, before their episodic memory starts working, that they unknowingly create scenarios in their lives to prove that they are lovable, and in so doing, prove that they are not, which is true.

It's true because you are not inherently lovable or unlovable. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, there's someone for everyone and so on. You are just you, just the way you are and so on. If someone else relates to that and values you or loves you, great. That's their free choice. The vase doesn't get to choose its valuer, and you don't get to choose who falls in love with you.

The bottom line is very simple, and it's what the gurus have been telling us for thousands of years - if you want to feel loved, allow yourself to love. If you want to be valuable, find value in others. Be the change that you want to see in the world.

Now, we could break this down into a more modern metaphor, about neuroscience, and the way that our minds and bodies form an electromechanical 'servo system' which self corrects to achieve a target state by comparing inputs and outputs in order to resolve differences between the current state and the target state, and we could see from this that the way to feel loved is to see love in the eyes of another person, and if you just think logically for a moment, if everyone only loved themselves, they would still be very lonely, then you might see why we can't love ourselves. I can try to project love towards a representation of 'me', but that's just not the same thing as expressing love, and seeing, hearing and feeling the result of that love come back from the outside world. Remember, the song is "Two hearts", not, "One heart".
At the NLP group, our kind volunteer offered the question, "How can I attract more money?" and someone else restated the question as "How can I be more attractive to money?" which is a great metaphor, but actually avoids the main problem which is that attraction is an active process, and since money is an inanimate concept, a piece of paper or a number on a screen at best, it cannot attract or be attracted. Iron can be attracted to a magnet because both share certain chemical properties. A person can be attracted to another person because they share certain properties. The key is in the sharing.

The overall message, then, is this. Give, and ye shall receive.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Business Scams and How to Spot Them

A small PR 'agency' offers a service to small businesses - access to journalists and support in getting your story out there. Their proposition is that you actually do all of the work yourself, therefore it's a fraction of the price of a full PR service.

They organise a networking event, 'meet the journalists', in partnership with the business and marketing school of a local university. Instant credibility. They offer a line-up of 7 local journalists, good names. More credibility.

"Have you ever wondered how to get your story out to a wider audience through the media? Join us at “Meet the Journalist” and ask the panel directly. Over 80% of those who pitched their story at the last event secured publicity on TV, Radio and in Press."

Sounds great! The cost? £49. Minus a £30 discount for booking through the university. That's the first alarm bell - discounted pricing is a trick that we know that retailers use. At the very last payment stage, VAT gets added, another 20%. Ah well, I've filled out all my details now. As an aside, the invoice that they sent has no VAT number on it, so the chances are they're not actually VAT registered, and this is a sneaky way to increase your income by 20% on every invoice.

An email confirmation arrives containing a terrific offer. A 14 day free trial.

"As a thank you for purchasing your ticket we would love to offer you the chance to access Daily FREE PR Leads for the next 14 days. If you haven't access this already please click here to add your details.

(name) secured a three page spread from replying to one of our PR leads in a (Magazine) plus he has secured coverage with the (media) reaching over 500 thousand unique users a day. Watch (name's) interview here and find out the exact simple steps he took to secure national publicity."

Great! Except where it says "click here", there's no link. Ah, a simple error, a mistake. It's interesting that the link to watch the testimonial works, though. So in fact, there's no way to access the 'free trial'. I emailed the owner about this, no reply.

At the event itself, the 'owner' of the PR 'agency' (actually self employed, it's just her), talks about how important PR is for businesses. Everyone nods. She talks about how difficult it is to reach journalists. Everyone nods some more. And we'd all love to get our story in the media, wouldn't we? Everyone nods feverishly. So far, it's following the pattern of a timeshare pitch. Only special people are allowed in, and a slowly building series of questions that demand a 'yes' answer lead us towards an inevitable outcome.

Questionnaires are handed out by helpers, asking us to fill out our details and pitch our story. At the bottom of the page is this:

Getting people to make written commitments is the next stage of the timeshare sale. It's also how American soldiers were persuaded to embrace communism during the Korean war.

After everyone has handed their forms back in, the owner reveals the prices of these services. Eye watering, considering that we have to do all the work ourselves, the basic premise of her proposition. In fact, what she's actually doing is reselling someone else's PR marketing database.

The evening ends, we go home. Outside of the room, people are talking to each other about how conned they feel, paying to listen to a sales pitch.

The next day, an email arrives, containing this little teaser, "I will also be in touch with you again personally within the next 24 hours if you ticked the box to work together for either the xxxx Group or Media Database or both. I will be processing everything through and will send you further details."

Processing everything through? What could that mean?

Two days later, another email arrives. "Congratulations on joining xxxxx Media Database & xxxxxx and Coaching Programme"

Joining? I didn't join anything.

The email continues...

"This is a three-month programme starting at the end of March (date to be confirmed during our call), membership is £495 plus VAT per month paid monthly in advance. ...

This is a 12 month membership offering you full access to all UK media outlets, Journalists and Media Influencers. Membership is £220 plus per month paid monthly in advance.

Your first payment have been allocated for March to your account and payments thereafter will be taken on the 10th of each month. Full terms and conditions are outlined on our website"

Payment? Allocated? I emailed straight back. "I've made no such commitment. A mistake surely?" Not surprisingly, I received no reply.

Then I noticed that £858 had been removed from my bank account using the details that I gave when I bought my £19+VAT ticket.

I emailed again to say that I had not authorised this payment and I'd like an immediate refund.

"You signed up to the services for xxxxx at the event and as confirmed on the evening and with the emails following we would process your order through"

No, no, no. "I will be processing everything through" does not mean "I will be taking £858 from your bank account without authorisation".

Telling someone that you told them something is not the same as actually telling them. Hoping that they won't remember that you didn't tell them is not the same as being honest.

I explained this, and the next reply clarified my mistake.

"The boxes explains that it's to sign up to the services and I explained verbally and in the email that the order would be processed and then during the skype call if either party no longer feels its right and that we will cancel the order and refund payment. I can see the emails have reached you and have your signed order here"

I pointed out that, since she knows her emails reached me, she must have seen my emails saying that I did not agree to joining her service. I also pointed out that the pricing was revealed after the forms were collected, and therefore her 'paperwork' does not constitute an order or a contract.

"thats not correct, the price was offered prior to collecting the forms as I would not want to waste anyones time if the price was point was not suitable"

Really? Why would I tick a box for more information after discovering the ludicrous pricing of the service? Why, upon hearing the pricing, would I have thought to myself, "I wouldn't have ticked the box if I'd known that."

More to the point, if there is a "100% satisfaction guarantee" then why argue? Why prove that you're right and your prospective client is wrong?

I've been to timeshare presentations. It's really a beautiful process, built upon the principles that Robert Cialdini explains so neatly in 'Influence: Science and Practice', along with the fact that human beings have terrible memories.

This is really a great business model. From now on, when a prospective client enquires about my services, I'll ask for their bank details "for security verification and anti fraud reasons", then I'll take a year's worth of money from them as a "convenience charge" and then argue with them when they ask for it back. Brilliant.

The lesson? If you treat everyone as if they're stupid, you'll probably get lucky enough, often enough to make a living.


Peter Freeth is an author, consultant and trainer who seems to spend an inordinate amount of time chasing other people to simply do what's right and what they promised. Sometimes it's a futile battle but at least he still has his dignity.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

2017 Here We Come!

Well, here we are then. Another year rolls round. Time for a new calendar - The Avengers are confined to my office dustbin and the Guardians of the Galaxy now grace my wall. Outside, there's a bit of blue sky, a bit of grey, the threat of a sunset and the hint of leftover rain. Nothing to indicate the passage of another year.

Nature understands days, months, seasons and years. They are the natural cycles of the Earth, Moon and Sun, and they have influenced our very existence. So when the Earth is back to the same place in its cycle around the Sun, we humans let off fireworks, dance in the street, fall down drunk and, most bizarrely of all, make ridiculous promises to ourselves about the new things we'll do.

Gym owners love this time of year, of course. If you have joined, or resolved to join a gym this year then the staff will be calling you a 'GBV' - not to your face of course. It stands for 'Gone By Valentines', an indication that your best intentions will last for exactly 6 weeks before your shiny new kit bag joins all the other life change junk in the cupboard under the stairs.

The invention of the electric light bulb forced a new rhythm onto the human race, the rhythm of industry. 24 hour working days, 7 days a week. The supermarkets close for just one day a year, just long enough for us to feel withdrawal symptoms and separation anxiety.

So what? I mean, a big, fat, hairy, so what? Think of all the terrible things that 2016 brought us. Celebrity deaths a-plenty, wars, tragedies, natural disasters. Plane crashes, hijackings, terrorist plots, Brexits, Trumpovers, currency woes, stock market woes. Good riddance 2016, we all say, you were a useless year anyway.

Some people have taken to social media to ask their friends to list wondrous and delightful things that happened during 2016, but the list is short. In truth, it was just another year.

And so, like the lemmings at the top of this page, we hurl ourselves over the cliff because, well, because that's the way it is. A year ends, a year starts, the same old routine. Make promises, forget them, pretend it all never happened.

Now, you probably know that lemmings don't actually jump off cliffs unless they are being herded by a Disney camera crew. So in reality, the only reason why you'd repeat the same old routine is because you're being herded towards that cliff. Who is pushing you? Be honest, you're pushing yourself, aren't you?

Well, stop it. Embrace the natural rhythms of life. You're like a tree, you need time to shed the old and create the new. You need a rest, a break, time to regenerate. Reject the electric light! Tell your boss you're going home at 5:00! Take up a hobby for the weekend! Learn to recognise your family again! Reacquaint yourself with your duvet! Hit the snooze button! Hit it again! And again!

You are not a bottomless reserve of energy. You do not have an endless supply of life. You are not immortal. Another year will always come along, you may or may not live to see it.

But sure, spend the evening on that spreadsheet. Spend your weekend preparing for that conference. Have some more caffeine, that will replace all that lost sleep. Buy yourself some paleo juice. And on the way home, read all the adverts, hoping to find the answer there.

You know the answer already. Happy New Year!