Warren Buffett gave a talk to a group of MBA students at the University of Florida in 2007.  The video is at the bottom of this post (on the blog). He starts with an interesting question.

He says [2:30] “Think for a moment that I granted you the right to buy 10% of the future income of any one of your classmates for the rest of his or her lifetime. You can’t pick one with a rich father, that doesn’t count. You got to pick someone who is going to do it on their own merit.  Which one are you going to pick?”

Imagine 100 of your colleagues, family, friends.  Who would you choose?  Are there two or three faces that come to mind?  Maybe if you are lucky with your friends, 10 or 15 jump into your mind.  But, you have to choose one.

Warren suggests that there are various methods to do the final selection.  Would you use school or university grades?  GMAT?  Most likely not.  These are not great indicators of success in life.

If not grades then what?  How about your best friend?  Set up a pact – “I’ll choose you if you choose me”.  A good plan?  I don’t think so.

So, if grades aren’t the criteria; If friendship isn’t the criteria; then what should be your criteria for selecting the person to place your bet on?

Warren says that he has 3 criteria:

  1. Integrity – coherence between values and words, words and actions; responds well in bad times as well as the easy times.
  2. Energy – gets up every day and starts moving.
  3. Intelligence – here, Warren clarifies that he is not looking for grand strategic planning type intelligence; not for chess type intelligence – but for a type of course correction intelligence that allows for small course corrections that mean that instead of running headlong into a brick wall, there is enough intelligence to change course and only receive a glancing blow to the shoulder.

 A good basis for selection?  Do you know who you would bet on?  Would it be yourself?  You already own 100% of your own future income…  are you a good bet?  In a future blog I will give three ideas to improve your energy, intelligence and ability to live your values.  Interested?

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I came across the concept of Personal Branding via the blog of Dan Schwabel about 6 months ago and have been a regular reader of his blog.  Some ideas have been percolating up through my unconsciousness and drifted into consciousness during a day skiing with my friend Javi. (Thanks to Ana, Piero and friends for inspiring the early morning start and a fine dinner in Andorra).

The concept we discussed is that it does not matter how hard you work or how brilliant you are, but how others perceive your work or your brilliance.

There are two types of people in the world:

  • Category One: this person works really hard and achieves a lot – but bosses and peers say, “yeah, but that was an easy client” “yeah, but he had an easy project”.  Category one people never really get the credit for the work that they are doing.
  • Category Two: this person works just as hard and achieves a lot – and bosses and peers say, “he always turns things around” “We knew that he would make the difference”. Category two tends to get more credit than is really due from those around them.

I was lucky back in 1995 to begin my career with Accenture working on a project at Nationwide Buiding Society with the best manager that I have had.  Michael was a humble, smart and innovative consultant and I spent the first two years of my career working directly for him on a range of exciting, leading-edge projects at Shell, Nat West and the Labour party (pre-power).  He knew how to get the best out of me and keep me engaged and running at 95% (he was great at recognising somebody who was “coasting along” at 60-70% of their potential and saying “you are capable of better than this”; see David Maister on professionalism in Professional Services Firms).

Due to his coaching and unwillingness to take anything but my best, I was rated the highest possible rating upon my promotion to consultant. The next 7 years at Accenture, I had it easy because when I showed up on a project, the senior Accenture people would say “you guys are lucky to get this guy, he is a ‘band one'”.  If the team that I was on did well, the senior people would say “great that we put Conor in there”. If the team I was on did poorly, the senior people would say “the objectives were unclear” “the project was over ambitious”.  It was like my own guardian angel.  I was incredibly lucky. I had done nothing to seek out a guardian angel, but found that I did have one. (It was also unfair many times when I was not at my best and was receiving credit for some Category One’s hard work).

My reflections and discussions on the ski slope with Javi (who has great experience in Bain and Banco Santander) were that:

  • The first few months in a new company matter more than any other time in your career
  • The first boss really matter (each time you change company)
  • You can only switch from Category One to Category Two by changing company. It is almost imposible to re-position yourself once you have been “branded”.
  • The more senior we get, the less we can leave this personal branding process to chance

Do you have a strategy to manage your personal brand? What can you do in the first 90 days? What type of boss would be your best first boss in each new company?  Are you currently in Category One or Category Two?  If you are in Category One when will you change job?

Most days are much the same. However, great changes in our world don’t come from normal days – they are driven by the extreme events, the outliers.  Something like 70% of all the drops in the US stock exchanges are due to 6 particular days of extreme share price drops. The course of my own life has not been a steady journey along a clearly defined route…  4 or 5 key days, 3 or 4 chance meetings – this is what has shaped the most important contents of my life so far and the trajectory for the future.  This blog post has been inspired by my reading of Nassim Taleb’s book “The Black Swan: The impact of the Highly Improbable“.

I read the biography of Eisenhower in 2002 when I was studying for my MBA.  Dwight D. Eisenhower was the lowest ranked of his whole West Point class at the age of 42.  He had been passed over for promotion to Colonel twice and was now based on the island of Guam, in the middle of nowhere, and he did not get along with his boss.  Acording to his son, he was trying on pairs of jeans and getting used to the idea of civilian life. 

On December 7th, 1941, the Japanese navy bombed the US Pacific Fleet based in Pearl Harbour, definitively bringing the US into the second world war. General George C Marshall coordinated the US response to the Japanese attack.  I recall reading that over the next 3 days, Marshall invited many generals, strategists, politicians so that he could brief them and then ask “how do you recomend we respond?” 

One of Marshall’s administrative staff had been on a West Point course on military strategy led by Eisenhower. In a total cooincidence, Eisenhower was passing through Hawaii on his way to the US.  The guy on the administrative staff told Marshall that a certain general had not shown up for his appointment – and suggested that Marshall spend some time with Eisenhower instead. Marshall said ok and Eisenhower was shown in.  Marshall briefed Eisenhower on the Japanese bombing and asked “how do you recomend we respond?”.  Eisenhower’s response was “give me these 4 guys and 24 hours and I will give you my answer.” 

The next day Eisenhower described to Marshall his plan, covering logistical response, political response, military response, communications response…  and Marshall said “Good.  Now do it.”  Eisenhower was promoted on the spot and given command.  This moment led to his appointment as the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. His plans and execution allowed the allies to win the war. In 1953, he was elected President of the United States and won a second term in 1956.

If Eisenhower had not been passing through the island of Hawaii on 8th December 1941, how would his life have turned out?  Who would have been the 34th President of the United States?  What would Dwight D. Eisenhower have accomplished in civilian life?  A factory supervisor?  Maybe a middle manager at GE?  Or is destiny so powerful that he would have found a route to Presidency through another path?  (I seriously doubt it).

According to Taleb in “The Black Swan”, the human mind suffers from three ailments when it comes to looking back and understanding history, or even the events that shape our own personal history:

  1. The illusion of understanding:  Plato, Newton, many scientists have discovered simple rules that predict the way the universe works.  I have a preference for simple formulae that predict behaviour. I love to generalise from my experience. The world is more complicated (or random) than the simple models we would like to use. Nando Parrado talks about the biggest decision in his life being the choice of seat 9B on an airplane 36 years ago (see my previous post on Nando Parrado here).
  2. The distortion of hindsight: we underplay luck in our analysis of the past.  We seek hindsight validation of why Google is number 1, why Starbucks has 14,000 stores and another Seattle coffee shop is still just that, why one person becomes rich whilst another becomes poor – and we latch on to the simple models that we then try to generalise and apply. Each case of success is due to a massive quantity of luck (well discussed in Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers”), combined with some decent input ingredients (that are well worthy of study and copy).
  3. The overvaluation of authoritive people: they know lots about the past… but the future is not going to be just like the past – yet we shut down our brains and listen blindly when “the expert” walks into the room. They are the type of people who would say that there is no such thing as a purple cow. You will not see what you are not looking for, especially if you do not believe that it could exist. (watch this 60 sec video first – and tell me how many passes of the basketball are completed by the white team).

So, if prediction of the future is impossible, should we close down business schools, history courses, cancel company strategy planning sessions? 

I would say “no way”. 

I love a quote of Winston Churchill on planning: “The plan isn’t worth the paper it is written on; however, the process of planning is priceless”.  We don’t have plans because they necessarily turn out just so – we have plans so that a team of people have shared goals, ideas and passions.  They may exceed their plan or fail miserably in following their plan – but the fact that they work together as a team is important.  The chances of success without a goal is very low. The chances of success with a goal and a bit of luck are greater.

My other conclusion is that the worst thing that business schools can create are “experts”.  If a professor runs a class as if they and they alone have the answer then we are failing. If an MBA comes out feeling that he or she is an “expert” then we have failed.  If they come out with integrity, ideas, the ability to inspire, motivate and work well with other people, perserverance…  then we have succeeded.

My final question… how do I get more luck?  Happy Christmas and I wish you all a healthy, happy and fun 2010.

Strong personal networks don’t just happen. They have to be carefully constructed. This post is a summary of my recent research and personal opinion on how you can grow and strengthen your connections.

Why is developing a strong diverse Network important? It will give you three powerful benefits:

  1. Information – fast access to private information (including job openings and business opportunities)
  2. Skills – Access to diverse skill sets (in diverse geographies)
  3. Power – The ability to influence and get your ideas implemented

A number of  academic studies have shown correlations between strong, diverse networks and success in commercial ventures. Networks determine which ideas become breakthroughs, which new drugs are prescribed, which farmers cultivate pest-resistant crops, and which R&D engineers make the most high-impact discoveries. In a 1998 study of innovations Randall Collins of the University of Pennsylvania showed that breakthroughs by Freud, Picasso, Watson and Crick, and Pythagoras were the consequence of a particular type of personal network that prompted exceptional individual creativity. In the words of Linus Pauling – “the best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas”.

I have developed a list of nine habits to develop and deepen your personal network

  1. Be deliberate
  2. Get good at approaching and engaging people. Seek common ground. Be sincere. Don’t overwhelm. Be relevant.
  3. Don’t wait till you need it. You need to always be open to meeting and connecting to new people (perhaps not during a romantic date, but almost everywhere else).
  4. Be systematic.  Keep a list of your current/future 250 most important relationships 20 AA, 30 A, 100 B and 100 Cs.  One of the experts on developing deep relationships is Keith Ferrazzi, author of “Who’s Got Your Back“. He talks about developing your RAP or Relationship Action Plan here.
  5. Get good at “pinging (birthdays, promotions, changes, relevant news stories, useful tips, even forwarding this blog post…)
  6. Carry business cards. Always.
  7. Go Multichannel. You must be physically present at events and meet people face to face, but in parallel there are some excellent tools that make it easier than ever to grow and strenthen your network online (Linkedin (for business network) and Facebook (for personal network) being the leading examples). Is your profile up to date?  Are you using recomendations effectively? This is a great guide to building your personal brand on Linked in, and this is a guide for Facebook both from Dan Schwabel author of the Personal Branding Blog.
  8. Send handwritten notes
  9. Treat it as a two way street.  Share and receive.  Ask “how can I help this person achieve one of their goals in a way that nobody else can?” or “what can I do for them?”.  Invite them to an event.

I was in the IESE cafeteria recently and a friend mentioned a study by an INSEAD professor on the power of secondary connections.  The premise of the work being that your life will be shaped more by accidental connections and loose connections that the core 20-50 people of our networks (I would love to find the source – any ideas please respond in comments). One example of this might be founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates. It just so happens that his mother was on United Way board alongside the head of IBM – and possibly was a factor in allowing the unknown and tiny Microsoft to be allowed to bid to develop the PC DOS operating system.

And now for the difficult bit…
How do you get someone who doesn’t know you to feel comfortable talking?

Take the initiative in creating a welcoming impression. How another person perceives you is determined by a number of things you do before you speak. I have taken this list of steps from Keith Ferrazzi.

  1. Smile. It says, “I’m approachable.”
  2. Good eye contact. You don’t need to stare, but studying the weave of the carpet is a real put off.
  3. Unfold your arms. Crossing your arms can make you appear defensive and signals tension.
  4. Nod your head and lean in. You just want to show that you’re engaged and interested.
  5. Physical contact. Touching is a powerful act. Most people convey their friendly intentions by shaking hands; some go further by shaking with two hands. Keith Ferrazzi, author of “Who’s Got Your Back” suggests breaking through the distance between you and the person you’re trying to establish a bond with by touching the other person’s elbow. It conveys just the right amount of intimacy, and as such, is a favorite of politicians. It’s not too close to the chest, which we protect, but it’s slightly more personal than a hand.

I was reading a post at Andrew Dlugan’s blog “Six Minutes” and came across the World’s best presentation.

SlideShare recently concluded their World’s Best Presentation contest, and the winner was Dan Roam’s American Health Care presentation. [If you are reading this via subscription, you may need to click through to view it below.

This is the world’s best presentation as voted by the users of the slideshare site. I think that it is brilliant and an inpiration for how to make ideas simple and get them across graphically and powerfully. This is not a presentation for public speaking, but something that can be read standalone.

View more documents from Dan Roam.

Public speaking is a learned skill.  To speak well requires practice.  The ability to speak confidently and persuasively in front of groups is a highly valuable asset.  Increased practice leads to better performance in job interviews, proposal presentations, project team meetings and board meetings.

Master Your Communication:

The basic principles of persuasion were developed over hundreds of years in Ancient Greece and Rome by philosophers such as Socrates, Aristotle, Cicero and Quintilian.  At the very heart of this development was Aristotle’s triad of logos, ethos and pathos.  Aristotle’s innovation was to include “ethos”, or credibility, into the accepted approach to persuasion.

In business, as it is often in life, it is a simple fact that our decisions are about future actions, and no human action in the future is predictable.  This unpredictability and uncertainty leads to disagreement and means that the questions being asked are of a conditional nature.  This unpredictability moves decision-making away from the area of certainty and into the area of probabilities. In confronting uncertain and unpredictable situations, audiences are normally unsure and less motivated.  As a consequence, logical argument alone will not be enough to move them to action.

There is a tendency in the western world to assume that success or failure of any argument can be determined by the strength of the arguments, the neat balance of pros and cons.  A group of well educated, rational people, the widespread assumption goes, should be unaffected by a speaker’s persuasive appeals.

There is a limited set of scientific areas where “convention” has created a form of general argument and rationality alone is enough – however this is a highly limited set of areas of human engagement.

When uncertainty exists a speaker must always give the audience some sense that he or she is somebody worth listening to.  It is not enough to only provide the argument. For as long as people have written about rhetoric, it has been a subject of both suspicion and admiration. We fear manipulation.  Yet we also recognise its power to arouse the passions, convince the will and enlighten the understanding.

The Aristotlean Rhetorical Model defines three proofs that are required to bring an audience to action in an uncertain and unpredictable context:

Logos, Pathos and Ethos

  1. Logos, the first proof, is based on deductive and inductive logic
  2. Pathos, the second of these proofs, concerns the effective employment of audience psychology.  Pathos can be seen as the bringing of an audience to the right state of emotion.  It requires connecting emotionally with your audience.  It is when our audience has reached this state that they will usually accept our message.
  3. Ethos, the third proof, concerns the character of the speaker and is of utmost importance.  You must be “believable” in order to have people in the audience willing to engage with the content (emotional and rational) of your speech.

The balance between “what is said” and “how it is said” is vital. I will be writing a series of future blog articles looking at the essentials of logos, pathos (Aristotle listed 142 emotions you can elicit in an audience) and ethos.  I am interested in comments on ideas or areas of special interest or personal experience.  Has something worked for you?  What is the hardest part of preparing a persuasive speech?

More On Moving People to Action

  1. The Complete Guide to Personal Habits: 158 Positive Reflections in 7 Categories to Be The Best Version of Yourself (5/2/2016)
  2. Simple Rules for Effective Meetings (9/9/2011)
  3. 6 Ways to get your Email Ignored (3/14/2011)
  4. 17 Daily personal habits for a fulfilling life (10/15/2009)
  5. 14 Things Highly Productive People Do Differently (1/6/2013)

There is no simple rules for how you should stand, have your hands, look, or dress when you give a speech. However you must achieve three things in order to powerfully support the verbal message of your speech.

Sandy Linver in her book “Speak and Get Results” outlines the three areas: you must transmit authority, energy and audience awareness.  Authority is that you look and sound like you have something to say about the subject.  Energy is that you look like the subject is important to you.  Audience awareness is that you have an interaction with the audience members so that they feel part of the experience of your speech.

How do you transmit authority? There are three ways that your body language or non-verbal language can signal authority to the audience:

  1. Visual image – The clothes you chose to wear at 7 this morning will have a big impact on how your audience judge you.  Do you look like they would expect an “expert” on this topic to look?  If you are speaking to a business audience about business, you should look the part.  If you are speaking about social media and web 2.0 perhaps you can look somewhat different.  If you are speaking to greenpeace or a local labour movement, a suit might create the wrong first impression.
  2. Body image – feet shoulder width apart, body balanced, gestures supporting the key moments of the speech, any walking during pauses – key being that there is nothing that is distracting the audience from being able to engage with your message (don’t look like you are about to fall over, like you have an intense interest in the keys in your pocket)
  3. Voice – There are five characteristics of a powerful voice
  1. Breathing – relaxed deep breaths give you projection and power
  2. Articulation – open your mouth and clearly pronounce the words, no mumbling and no “filler words” (um, ah, em, like)
  3. Downward inflection – In all human languages we signal answers by terminating the statement with downward inflection – we signal questions by finishing the phrase with a raised tone.  Many times nerves will drive you to say “IESE is the best business school in the world” with a upward tilt in tone on the “world” turning it into “IESE is the best business school in the world?”.
  4. Pauses – Include 3-8 second pauses at key moments – just before key statements or just after a story – this really brings the audience into the speech.
  5. Projection and resonance – make sure you are using your whole diaphram – the chest and lungs as well as mouth and nose – can you feel the vibrations coming from your chest and your sternum vibrating?  A voice that comes from the chest rather than a voice that vibrates in the nose reaches the back of the room and transmits powerfully.

Energy

Simple – you just need to look like you care about the subject that you are speaking about.  If the speaker doesn’t look like this is a subject of great importance, it will be impossible for the audience to engage the subject with any sort of passion.

Audience Awareness

There is a huge about of communciation coming back to the speaker during the speech.  You can see whether people are engaged or not.  You can hear when there are distractions or areas of the audience that have lost engagement and are having side conversations.  Usually a quick glance in the direction of the distracion, or simply pausing your speech until the audience re-engages can be a very powerful method to show that you are 100% physically there in the room and that the audience matter to you.

I am currently preparing the next year IESE MBA managerial communications course material and put down some rough notes on some key tips that differentiate powerful speakers from the rest.

  1. Speak with an intent to move people to action. Know what you want your audience to do immediately after hearing your speech. If nobody does anything different than they would have done before you spoke – the value of your speech is zero.
  2. Start strong with a “grabber”. A personal story, a quote from an expert or a shocking statistic – something that takes a hold of your audience and gets them hooked and opens their mind to your message. Give the audience a chance to see your personal connection to the topic.
  3. Structure your material in three sections – grabber, middle, close. Know your material. Get really interested in the topic. Find good stories.
  4. Practice. Practice. Practice. Rehearse out loud with all equipment you plan on using. Work to control filler words; Practice, pause and breathe. Use a clock to check your timings and allow time for the unexpected.
  5. Know the audience. Try to speak to one or two people in the audience as they arrive – they will be your allies in the audience – it is easier to speak to friends than to strangers.
  6. Know the setup. Arrive in good time to check out the speaking area and get practice using the microphone and any visual aids.
  7. Relax. Begin with a well prepared grabber. A personal story is a great start. It connects you to the audience and creates the right emotional atmosphere (and calms your nerves).
  8. Visualize yourself successful. See yourself at the end of the speech surrounded by people asking questions, visualise the applause.
  9. Pauses. Include 3-8 second pauses at key moments – just before key statements or just after a story – this really brings the audience into the speech.
  10. Don’t apologize – the audience probably never noticed it.
  11. Smile. Look like the content matters to you – if the audience don’t feel that it is important to you, it will be really hard for them to feel that it should be important for them.
  12. Get experience. Take every opportunity you can get to speak (and listen to other speakers). Prepare well ahead of time. Experience builds confidence, which is the key to effective speaking.

What’s Your View

Are there any other tips that work for powerful speakers out there?

Jim Rohn says that there are four simple steps to becoming a great speaker:

  1. Have something to say.
  2. Say it well.
  3. Read your audience.
  4. Intensity (the right words mixed with measured emotion).

How do we get something good to say? Live a full live. Meet lots of people. Fail. Succeed. Remember what it felt like and be able to share the emotion as well as the facts of what happened. Write a journal. Keep track of your stories.

How do we say it well? Prepare. Start strong. Breathe. Look up. Pause. Practice (lots).

How can you read the audience? Look at them. Listen to them. Feel the emotion of the room, of your listener – by feeling your own emotion.

Intensity – how do we get the right emotion? Tell personal stories. Share something. Only stories allow us to share emotion with others.

  1. For the rest of your life begin every memo with the word “This.” It allows you to get started, and to tell the reader in the first sentence what the purpose of the memo is.
  2. If it’s under €3 million, put it on a single page. This forces you and your reader to focus only on what is really important. Additional information can be added as exhibits.
  3. There are three reasons for everything. Never two or four. If you have two, make another one up. If you have four, cut one out.

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