You are currently browsing the monthly archive for August 2007.

shooting starWell if we are trying to top our record on lack of blog activity I think we’ve probably achieved it – it’s been 9 days since our last post. Laziness is no excuse and luckily the lack of posts isn’t down to us just lazing around, basking in what’s left of the British summer. Nope it’s purely down to a busy period we’ve had recently, with us having a veritable roadshow of filming dates and projects which keeps us away from the office and our trusty keyboards.

On my tour of the country I was pleased to see one of our clients had adopted the Kaizen method into the daily running of their call centres. If you remember back in the early days of the blog I wrote a post on the effectiveness of the ancient Japanese art of Kaizen, a process by which you are encouraged to learn something new or achieve something new every day. Well it’s happening right now, live in one of the biggest media companies in the world.

Companies like this should be encouraging a positive mental attitude within their staff by getting them to try new things regularly. A recent success within this particular company has been a talent search competition where employees are encouraged to take part in a contest which sees a handful of winners getting an intensive training course in the art of being a TV presenter and then getting their own slot on a bunch of live TV shows for a period of time.

The morale boost and buzz around this project is really quite something and everybody benefits. The winners get to try something different and maybe change career, the other employees get some entertainment from the talent shows and as a result the whole building becomes more lively and productive, something which rubs off on the end user too – the customer.

Even we got to benefit by getting to use one of the successful presenters in a recent promo we shot!

Thank you Kaizen!

Spending time on the internet posting on various forums and blogs can be seen as a way of raising your profile … but it could also damage your reputation, depending on what you write and where you post.

It seems bosses are getting savvy to the power of search engines and publically available comments. See this article in the HR Review.

Of course The Gorv is not a real person and has no relation to anyone with a similar sounding name.

writersblock1.jpgA few tips to help you when you are struggling for ideas. Based on a designer’s experience.

1. Be prepared for some procrastination

When I’m thinking about a new design for an interface I invariably find my mind wandering to other thoughts – it may be another project or it may be how to re-organise the spare room at home. These ideas arrive as my mind struggles to find the answers that aren’t quite there yet. These aren’t meaningless thoughts; they are things that I’d actually like to do, just not now. Rather than trying to ignore these thoughts which only seems to make them more pressing, try writing them down so you can come back to them later.

2. Take your time

Plan out what you are going to do. Planning can seem like a waste of time. Sometimes it’s tempting to skip over this stage because your developing / writing / designing something for the 18th time that year and you can ‘do it standing on your head’. Well you’re right, you can do it without planning, but then the client will get something that looks like it was created by someone dropped on their head. We’re not talking Gant charts and critical path analysis here, just what you are going to do and when.

Planning is the most important step for each project – the clients paid for it just like the previous 17 did and they’ll spot the difference!

3. Start in the Middle

When designing an interface it’s very easy to start visualising the top of the page and then working your way down. 9 times out of 10 this will make your life harder and you’ll spend much of your time re-working stuff. How many times have you written content, starting with the title only to finish it and realise the title doesn’t actually describe it very well. Start at the important bit! If you’re building a website that showcases video or photographs, get an image onscreen that represents this content. By doing this you can start working around it from the beginning. In the end, you’ll find you have something that is much more usable and well thought out.

4. Start low-tech

A bit of an obvious one, but I find stepping back from the computer and sitting down with a piece of paper to get rough ideas down very useful. It’s quicker to get the ideas down and easier to change them.

5. Put your hand up

Ask for help when you need it. Nobody can be good at everything so we all need help now and then. Try to ask people who will provide constructive criticism rather that people that hate or love everything. A fresh pair of eyes from someone who doesn’t even do the same job as you can result in some great ideas.

6. If your absolutely stuck, go and do something else

If you’re absolutely stuck on something, get up and do something completely different. Have an early lunch and read a newspaper or do a bit of shopping. The problem will still be there but it won’t be as urgent. Your mind works best when it’s relaxed and you may find the answer as you ficus on something else.

tea ladyFollowing on from The Gorv’s comment yesterday about employers actually finding out and listening to what employees want I saw an article on the BBC News this morning featuring the return of the classic British tea trolley! Apparently a survey of 1000 office workers showed that a return of the tea trolley to the working environment would be very welcome as it signals the fact that it’s break time and everybody needs a break.

The worries of the modern office worker are many and as such regular breaks should be encouraged but the opposite has in fact happened with people chained to their desks and feeling guilty if they are caught on a break. Back in the days of the unions break time was set in stone with workers knocking off for a cuppa at 11am and 3:30pm but now people barely manage to get away from their desk for lunch let alone a break.

So how do we break the shackles?

Here at Marton House we make a big thing about going somewhere away from the office for lunch.  The more people the merrier. There is no set times for lunch but it’s generally acknowledged lunchtime is one hour sometime between 12 and 2pm and an arrangement is made about 30 minutes before we go out.  At breaks I make a conscious effort to go round and visit people just for a chat, even if it’s just to see what they are working on.
Your manager is there for your benefit as well as that of the company and as such should be ensuring staff are getting the breaks away from the work that they need. After all a break benefits both the employee and the company as after the break the worker will be more productive (hopefully).

The vision of the 21st century tea lady is that of a manager pushing the tea trolley.

Actually we should have seen the return of the tea trolley coming as when we were filming last year in a the HQ of a large Irish bank we were pleasantly surprised to be interrupted mid-rehearsal by the arrival of the “scone” lady.  As she went around the building whole floors would come to a stop to get a cup of tea and a scone.  We were amazed and the people we were working with there were amazed that we should be amazed – “Everyone stops for a scone!”, they proclaimed.

You can read the BBC article here.

 My top tip for today is to check out Wally Bock’s post about 7 ways to increase engagement in the workplace, over on his 3 Star Leadership Blog.

head-to-head.jpgThe last post of this week long feature suggests a way of avoiding potential stalemate situations.

Underlying causes of disagreement can often boil down to being about the content of the issue or the context of the issue.

Content issues are typcially about the idea itself  for example; it is of limited value; it doesn’t fully solve the issue; it’s too complex; it will be too long before benefits can be seen; it is too big a jump for our culture and so on.

Context issues can be described as obstacles to do with the implementation of the plan for example; poor timing; lack of a champion or sponsor to back the idea; it costs too much; it will need more people; it will create turf wars and so on.

Next time you are in this kind of situation you can instigate a verbal discussion or a paper vote. Once you have identified whether the key obstacles are content or context related you are much nearer to resolving the situation.

With context issues you know you have a good solution but you will need to decide how to overcome certain hurdles. With content issues you may need to revisit the original idea or go back to the drawing board.

yellow_hat_wbk.jpg‘Six Thinking Hats’ is a powerful decision making technique created by Edward De Bono. It is used to look at decisions from a number of different perspectives. It forces you to move outside your usual thinking style, helps you to get a more rounded view of the situation and means you will be more confident of your decsision as a result.

Think of each ‘Hat’ as a different style of thinking which you need to explore. Some of these may come very naturally to you but not all of them will.

White Hat = Objectivity. This is very logical and fact based thinking. Look at the information you have, and see what you can learn from it. Look for gaps in your knowledge, and either try to fill them or take account of them.

Key questions: What information have we got? What other information do we need?

Red Hat = Intuition. Look at problems using intuition, gut reaction, and emotion. Ask  other people for their emotional reaction. Try to understand the responses of people who do not fully know your reasoning.

Key questions: What is your initial reaction? What does your intuition tell you?

Black Hat = Caution. This looks at all the negative aspects and what can go wrong. This is one of the real benefits of this technique as it removes the rose tinted glasses. Trying to see why it might not work highlights the weak points in a plan. It allows you to eliminate them, alter them, or prepare contingency plans to counter them.

Key questions: What do we need to be cautious about? Why won’t it work? What do you dislike?

Yellow Hat = Positivity. The optimistic viewpoint helps you to see all the benefits of the decision and the value in it. It helps you to keep going when everything looks gloomy and difficult.

Key questions: What is good about…? What is the value of…? How can it work?

Green Hat = Creativity. This is where you can develop innovative solutions to a problem. It is a freewheeling way of thinking, in which there is little criticism of ideas. you can use a variety of creativity tools here.

Key questions: What other ways are there? How can we solve the problem? What if..?

Blue Hat = Process Control. The hat usually worn by leaders of meetings. If ideas run dry, they can go into Green Hat thinking. When contingency plans are needed, they can initiate Black Hat thinking, etc. A variant of this technique is to look at problems from the point of view of different professionals (e.g. doctors, architects, sales directors, etc.) or different customers.

Key questions: Why? How did you get to that answer? What is the main idea? Look at it form another angle…

 Of course you don’t actually have to invest in a set of different colour hats if you really don’t want to; just try asking the questions and see what response you get.

Author and psychologist William Schutz is most well known for his theory on interpersonal needs; which states that all people (to a greater or lesser degree) need inclusion, control and being valued. To do this in meetings you can:

  • Schedule meetings in – ad hoc meetings can be frustrating; it takes people away from what they are working on and doesn’t allow for preparation time (even if it’s just mentally) for the meeting.
  • Make introductions  – not only if there are new people but the reason for their attendance at the meeting.
  • Ask each person what they hope to get out the meeting and if appropriate find out what participants can “bring to the table” on any given agenda item e.g. who has experience of this/come across this before? What would you recommend or what did you learn?
  • Make it a two-way conversation not a presentation; using peoples names seems obvious but it does increase participation.
  • Share control by assigning various tasks or asking people up front to talk about an area of expertise.
  • Take away SMART actions and personal responsibility to make sure they are followed up.
  • Split up delegates into teams to discuss a particular question or topic, then ask them to share their thoughts with the group. This method is popular in training sessions but workd equally well in meetings; even if it’s a ‘for and against’ discussion.
  • Invite guest speakers to your meeting if appropriate; or just make sure you have considered basic comfort levels  – the environment and refreshments.
  • Change the venue or go off site. Being in the same place is a trigger to being how you usually are in that place.

clock_new.jpgNext time you are invited to a meeting that you think is a waste of time; calculate how much money it is costing you personally, and how much it is costing the business. you can do this yourself or you can get everyone in the meeting to do it.

Calculate your average hourly wage (salary/52 weeks/40 hours). If you do this as a group ask each person to do the maths then give it to you on a scrap of paper so you can add it all up.

Now stop wasting time doing silly sums and get on with your meeting!

What do you see in the picture?


Peter Drucker said “one either meets or one works. One cannot do both at the same time”. Yet meetings are a regular feature of working life that has many of us shaking their head and saying “here we go again”….. followed by our suprisingly acquiescing heads as we try to bring the meeting to a close so everyone can get on with whatever it is that is quite frankly much more important. Over the coming week I will cover some tips and techniques for getting added value from your meetings – whether you are taking part in or leading the meeting.  Here are some intial thought provokers:

1. Always make sure you personally go away with at least one take away idea or action that help you; even if you have initiated the meeting or discover it over a coffee break.

2. Create permission to allow different perspectives; as the chair you can encourage alternative views and as a delegate you can question comments and views of others rather than going through the motions. Use something like the image above as a conversation starter.

3. Generate humour/interest in regular team meetings by suggesting or randomly introducing rewards for the funniest or most sarcastic comment; the most impressive word and so on.

 4. Or you could always question whether the meeting is necessary in the first place.

 We’ll explore these and some other ideas over the rest of the week.

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