Cufflinks, Bedtime Reading and the Off Switch

It was the annual TAB member conference on Tuesday. I had the honour (or drew the short straw, depending on your perspective) of being a headline speaker. “We knew you’d be willing to volunteer, Ed…”

Part of the presentation I gave concerned habits – a fine example of synchronicity, as the day before I’d read this article in Inc.

Several of the habits highlighted in the article meshed with points I made in my speech – so I thought it was worth sharing four of them that particularly struck a chord with the audience.

Dress for Success

In the article Chris Dessi recommends having your ‘dress shirts and suits’ custom made. I’m not sure I’m at that stage, but in this increasingly casual age I absolutely recommend dressing well. Why? Because it gives you confidence and confidence translates into success.

The TAB conference saw the debut of my new pink shirt from Charles Tyrwhitt. I like their shirts: they always fit me perfectly, and they’re suitable for business without being only suitable for business. So I was wearing my new shirt, and I felt confident. Was it a coincidence that so many people told me I was ‘looking well’ that day? I don’t think so.

…And cufflinks work for me. Somehow my cufflinks are almost like an NLP trigger. I can feel my performance go up a notch as I fasten them. If there’s a similar ‘trigger’ for you, use it.

Turn off the Electronics

Something that I’ve just started to do, but it seems to be working. If I’m playing golf or coaching rugby then by definition the electronics are off. Increasingly, though, I’m trying to have moments in the day when the tech is turned off – like now, for example. It’s human nature to feel wanted and nothing reminds you that you’re wanted (or needed) like that little ping when the phone announces yet another e-mail. But analysing your KPIs, working on a presentation or even writing your blog demand your full attention. The e-mail will wait.


I do know a few people who’ve gone one stage further. They’ve taken work e-mails off their phones. “It was the only way to stop checking them last thing at night and first thing in the morning,” one client said to me. I wouldn’t disagree…

Read more

That last point takes me neatly on to reading. In the old days we used to climb into bed and read a few pages before we fell asleep. How many of us now reach our phones or iPads where we once reached for a book? Reading seems to be under threat in our time-pressured lives, but for anyone running a business there’s never been more plentiful and helpful material out there.

If you haven’t time to read some of the great business books around, try a 30 day free subscription to Audible. And don’t forget podcasts either – an increasingly useful source of information and/or inspiration while you’re in that contraflow…

Stop worrying about ‘How’

I’ve written many times on the blog about the ‘how and why’ of business – and if you want to refresh yourself on the ‘why’ here’s the link to Simon Sinek’s compelling TED talk.

But it’s ‘how’ that I want to consider this morning – and why you should stop obsessing about it. As the old Nike ad said, ‘Just do it.’ And as Chris Dessi says in his article: Obsessing over ‘how’ will only lead you into full-on panic. Define your ‘why’ for sure, but let go of the ‘how.’

This echoes one of my favourite lines from Rework. ‘Planning is guessing.’ Increasingly business is intuitive and reactive. ‘Ready, aim, fire’ has given way to ‘Ready, fire, refine, fire again, refine again, aim.’ So get into the habit of pressing the ‘go’ button – and learn as you go along.

With that, have a great weekend. I’ll leave you to go through your wardrobe, turn your phone off, read a good book and stop worrying about how the grass is going to get cut…

The Long and Winding Road

Monday night, and I’m watching the Channel 4 news. There’s a story about small music venues closing all over the UK. But I’m only half paying attention, if that.

The reporter mentions the Cockpit in Leeds, a venue that’s hosted any number of famous bands and artists – White Stripes, Kaiser Chiefs, Amy Winehouse among many. We’re closer to home: I pay slightly more attention.

And then along comes James Bay, bemoaning the fact that artists today simply aren’t playing enough hours of live music. “After all,” he says, “The Beatles played 10,000 hours in Hamburg.”


At which point my ears really prick up.

Did the Beatles really play 10,000 hours in Hamburg? If you’re on stage for 50 hours a week, that would take four years – and according to Wiki, they were only in Hamburg from August 1960 to December 1962.

But it doesn’t matter – because the 10,000 hours myth has received another boost. In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell put forward the theory that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in any field. Matthew Syed gave it extra weight in Bounce.

And now, 10,000 hours is accepted corporate wisdom.

Exactly as the Mehrabian Myth once was. Do you remember that? Sitting in a room while some genius at the front told you that 93% of communication is non-verbal. Thirty seconds of thought by an intelligent eight year old would tell you that it can’t possibly be true, but millions of men in suits have lapped it up, very often paying good money to do so. Anyway, here’s 3:30 of YouTube which busts the Mehrabian Myth once and for all and let’s never hear from it again…

…Because now we have the perceived wisdom of 10,000 hours.

Yes, if you do something for 10,000 hours you’ll obviously become very competent. Will you master it, become world class? Almost certainly not.

Consider golf. I remember reading a story about Greg Norman. I’ll paraphrase the quote, but it went along these lines: I’d practice every day. Six or seven hundred balls a day. I’d practice until my hands were bleeding and I couldn’t hold the club any more.

Now I occasionally go to the driving range – and about 100 balls is my limit. But even if I did hit ‘six or seven hundred balls,’ even if I did put it in 10,000 hours, would I master golf? Could I turn pro or – sadly in not that many years – play on the Seniors’ Tour? No, because I don’t have the X-Factor. The show may be going downhill but the name is exactly right: it’s the X-Factor, not 10,000 hours of practice, which sets a world-class performer apart.

The X-Factor is the dedication, the drive, and the sheer bloody-minded will to win. That’s what makes someone practice for 10,000 hours. It isn’t the practice that sets Greg Norman and me apart, it’s the will to win – and a fair sprinkling of natural talent.

I haven’t played golf for 10,000 hours – not yet, anyway – so let’s turn to three things I most certainly have done for 10,000 hours: been a husband, been a parent and been the owner of TAB York.

Have I mastered any of them? No. I’m competent, sometimes I think I might even be quite good, but have I mastered them? No, absolutely not.

A family and a relationship are constantly evolving and changing. You master one level as a parent, your children immediately move on to the next level.

Business is just the same. New clients bring new challenges. Existing clients – and their businesses – develop and change. Different goals emerge, plans and personal circumstances change, different challenges come to the fore.

And yes, the will to win is important in business, but so is the will to go on learning. As Stephen Covey put it, to constantly Sharpen the Saw. That, of course, is where TAB comes in: where the experience and wisdom of your fellow Board members can make such a big difference. After all, there are far, far more than 10,000 hours round that boardroom table

Live on Stage… The Entrepreneur

“No, of course you don’t feel like it every night. Sometimes you just want to be at home with your kids. And bluntly, I hate touring. I hate the hotel rooms, I hate the travelling, I hate the unpacking. I hate it all. But then I go on stage. There’s me, the mic, the audience. And everything else melts away…”

“I can still remember the feeling. You’d pull up outside someone’s house – a ‘real prospect’ your sales manager had said. Invariably you were late due to them saying ‘take the second right’ when actually it was the fourth right and then left at the pub. It was raining, you wanted to be at home and you just didn’t feel like going in there and delivering your pitch. But you did. And somehow the disillusioned guy in the car always morphed into a charismatic salesman half-way up the garden path.”

Two views – ostensibly from completely different perspectives but both reaching the same conclusion. The first is my recollection of a remarkably well-known performer speaking when he wasn’t that well-known (and who certainly wouldn’t admit to ‘I hate touring’ any more). The second is a TAB member talking about an unhappy year he spent in very direct sales.

And the conclusion? I’m sure we can all recognise it. You’re fed up, you’ve done this presentation a thousand times before, the client won’t appreciate it anyway – but somehow something happens, a switch flicks at the crucial moment, and you’re fine. And it happens every time.

I’ve been taking some time off to be with Dan and Rory this week. As they’re happier with the Xbox as a companion I found myself reading about the well-documented problems in the F1 industry. This week’s GP is in America – land of the free and home of the salesman. The consensus there seems to be that F1 needs to connect with more potential fans – be more ‘personality led.’

If you’re running an SME then the words ‘personality led’ will be familiar to you – because that’s exactly what your business is. Despite the internet, Facebook, LinkedIn and a gazillion tweets a day, when it comes down to it people always have and always will buy from people. That means there’s no hiding place for the owner of an SME – which brings us back to the man waiting to go on stage; to someone sitting in his car outside a prospect’s house.

That’s you. You’re the one that needs to flip the switch. You’re the one who’s on stage every day. You may well be desperate for a day off from performing. But I’m sorry, your audience is stamping its feet, demanding the main act

And it’s me as well. I’m lucky that I’ve always enjoyed the ‘pressure of the presentation.’ Nestle used to wheel me out when there were difficult presentations to give to sceptical clients – and I revelled in the challenge. Why? Because I believed in the product – I genuinely believed that we had a great plan which would help the clients (and help us).

But I must have done thousands of sales presentations in my life. Surely I must be getting jaded by now?

Fortunately, there’s never been anything in my business career that I’ve believed in as much as TAB. Does that mean every presentation and every meeting is a piece of cake? Far from it: if I’m driving to a meeting with a potential member and I know that TAB would be perfect for her and she’d be perfect for TAB then it’s fine.

But there are plenty of other meetings with potential members that I do have to motivate myself for. Just as I know there are sales presentations and meetings that you have to motivate yourselves for – even though you believe passionately in your business.

So that’s the question for this week. How do you motivate yourself when you’re sitting in the car or waiting in the hotel lobby? What is it that flicks the switch and guarantees your absolute best presentation, every single time?