Tuesday, 15 December 2009


Having attended a few face to face network meetings recently - all with a seasonal theme - I started to wonder if there is a "holiday break" in the virtual world of social media.

An unscientific straw poll seems to indicate that the personal interaction will continue, but that people will "lay off" the business content. This then gives me another point to ponder: where does "personal" stop and "business" start on a platform such as Twitter?

The old adage "people buy from people" is particularly appropriate here. Can you just stop all your interaction and maintain the momentum you've built up because you see Twitter and your blog as work and not truly "social"?

How much damage - if any - will a week or so of virtual silence cause? Do people in your "Twibe" understand and are planning to do the same?

I'll take a watching brief and adapt as it's my first Tweetmas!

Seasons Greetings (whatever season you celebrate)

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Snake Oil sales?

I was wondering how much credence people give to books that promise to teach you how to make a million in 5 minutes using the Internet? Or how about the ones that say that by changing the way you think in three simple stages you can attain everything you've ever wanted?

Personally, I've always steered clear of them. My "con detector" goes off when I see anything like this. What I find worrying is that some of the smartest people I know pay fortunes for cleverly wrapped up version of this stuff hoping it will show them "the way" to succeed in business and in life.

There is also the social media "delight" of the folks on Twitter that spew out homilies every 10 minutes that are not so much sweet as saccharine. The number of people that retweet this twaddle is alarming to me.

I put my hand up to sometimes being of a more cynical persuasion, if this kind of thing helps you I really shouldn't judge. At least the tweets are free. The literature and courses they try and interest you in, however, cost a LOT of money.

My version of these wonderful tomes?

Be yourself
Be adaptable
Keep learning
Do as much for others as you do for yourself if not more

Well, there's another million I won't make!

Monday, 2 November 2009

The Marmite effect.

I'm taking some time to concentrate on my coaching and social networking strands this week. Not only will it allow the SEO work I've been doing to take effect, it'll be a welcome chance to get back out amongst my local business community.

It's been fascinating talking to people about their perceptions of things like Twitter and blogging. To pinch the Marmite strapline, they either love it or hate it!

I think the most interesting part for me was the fact that people can deride Twitter and pour scorn upon it without ever having logged in to it, let alone learned how to use it effectively. They were particularly incensed that recent Tweetstorms like the one around Jan Moir and Stephen Fry made the "real" news.

Of course, the people that "love it" need little technical instruction and I can concentrate on true networking aspects of the phenomenon.

The people that "hate it" need a tour of the business benefits and also a gentle introduction to Tweeting and Blogging. I'm finding that several smaller sessions are far more effective than one longer "boot camp".

This duality makes it tricky running group sessions. I'm moving towards a proposal that offers 1:2:1 development and follow up support - including Tweet critiques. Persuading the refuseniks will be an interesting challenge, but I'm looking forward to it.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Back to my roots...

I get to do something that I love doing tomorrow! I'll not get paid for it, but it's why I originally set up in business and so it'll be a treat anyway.

I'm meeting with a young person to help them plan what to do next with their life. More education? A job? A bit of both? Self employment?

People rarely want to be instructed on how to run their lives, or their job, but they are much more comfortable with an open discussion that allows them to come to an informed decision that is personal and appropriate to them.

My core belief is to offer alternatives and not give directions. Hence my company strap line: Unique Solutions for Unique People. I get a bit hoity toity when folks tell me I should "always recommend" their pet solution or that I should "follow the received advice". I bear all the information in mind and bring it into play if it's appropriate.

I try and avoid offering "the obvious"advice. If "the obvious" worked then I'd be eating less, exercising more and wearing a size 12 frock! It also insults the intelligence of the person you're trying to help. There are far more subtle ways to discern whether or not they know the base information needed for the conversation.

People aren't a commodity to be "channelled" into a particular stream of education - or employment. A good consultation can help change some one's life and really make a positive difference. It's a privilege to be a part of the process.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Taking my own medicine.

I spend quite a lot of time encouraging people to build in effective evaluation into their processes. I then spend a larger amount of time persuading them to act upon their findings! You'd think that I'd automatically do the same for my own company would you not?

Today I took some time out to do my 6 month evaluation. Like so many people before me, it told me that what I had thought was going to happen and what had actually happened are two very different things! Even though the evidence was staring me in the face, I didn't want to move away from the areas that aren't performing because I have invested so much of my previous life in them.

After a cup of coffee and a self administered pep talk (my neighbours must worry about me!) I tried to look at the facts as if I were my own client.

I expected to be visiting schools and colleges giving advice to young people on selecting a University, or a different path that will get them to where they want to be. Although the interest is there, the cash to pay for the service is not.

What I'm actually doing is helping people set up their own social networking models, coaching people and acting as an agent for other consultants. I've also developed an e-publishing and e-merchandising strand.

My advice to a client would be, concentrate on what is working and join the voluntary advisers for the education side of things once you're finances are stable.

Looks like I'm revising my business plan then...

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Social whatworking?

I'm fascinated at the large numbers of people that seem to be phobic about entering the blogosphere, or even Twitter. I'm not talking about the internet avoiders here, but about people that recognise the worth of technology and the opportunities it provides, but are terrified of "joining in".

I find I am giving more and more of my time over to introducing people to blogging, Twitter and even Facebook. Whilst I don't class myself as an IT expert, I can use the appropriate software and demystify the process. In my last session, I spent a lot of time explaining what a URL was and why they sometimes need shortening for Twitter.

My conclusion is that there is a swathe of interested and capable people that are intimidated by jargon and have the preconception that this is a closed club for technology junkies. I'm doing my best to debunk that notion.

Give the newbies a break and help them out a little with some jargon free advice!

Monday, 24 August 2009

PowerPoint is innocent!

Apparently PowerPoint is responsible for making corporate presentations dull and really boring. I beg to differ. Corporate presentations were dull and really boring long before PowerPoint saw the light of day and were far, far worse for the excessive use of flipcharts!

PowerPoint in itself is neutral, the way we use it is what generates enthusiasm - or boredom.

Having said that, I once gave a presentation at a meeting of senior managers. It was well received and I had gone to a lot of effort to ensure that the slides were illustrative rather than electronic cue cards for me. In one way the presentation was a success in that the meeting decided to adopt the approach I had recommended. However, I was taken to one side after the meeting and asked by the meeting's chair to redraft my slides such that they more accurately reflected what I had said so that no "overly extensive" minutes were needed. I was admonished that all presentations needed to be bullet points only to enable non attendees to read them and get the gist of what was said. Needless to say I had to join the "bullet point brigade" thereafter. Well, mostly!

Although I resented the intervention at the time, he did have a point. We had moved on from using PowerPoint as simply a visual aid. The slide print outs became a hard copy record of the minutes that could be audited. It was the way the organisation worked and we can hardly blame PowerPoint for our internal processes.

Another frustration of mine is that the same argument for wordy slides is used when PowerPoint presentations are to be put online. It may take a while, but I'm hopeful that we'll move to podcasts of the original presentation, complete with audio.

As someone who lectured in a University for nearly 10 years I'd defend PowerPoint against all comers. If a presentation is boring and uninformative, it's not the fault of a computer programme. When used in combination with good teaching techniques and a range of other presentation skills PowerPoint is a powerful and engaging medium.

If people fall asleep during your presentation, it's not the slides that are boring them!

Sunday, 23 August 2009

It's that time of year again...

You can almost feel the relief of the various media and news outlets as GCSE and A Level results time draws closer. It's a "slow news" time of year and so an opportunity to take aim at an easy target is a temptation that none of them try and resist. We're treated to the usual howls of derision as the results are made public.

Having been Head of Department at one the UK's leading Examination Boards I would say that the criticism levelled at the current crop of qualifications flies wide of the mark. Are the qualifications different to 20 or 30 years ago - certainly! Easier, no.

The policy makers set the curriculum and not the Examinations Boards. The decision to include sociological and environmental components in all subjects means that other things have to be removed. Do I always agree with what is removed - no, of course not, but then I'm an Engineer at heart and not a politician!

So, why are more and more young people doing so very well in their examinations. (Apart from putting in the hard work that is) When I look back at my education the only sources of information I had were the subject teacher and the library. If you didn't like your teacher you were less likely to do well in their subject area. In more modern times there are study guides, online revision sites, podcasts and so on. There are more alternative sources of good quality information available to the diligent student than ever before. Teachers are a very important part of the learning process, but they are no longer the only part and perhaps that needs to be recognised.

The media are creatures of habit and I doubt that one blogpost will change their habit of sniping at the results each year. I do hope that the rest of us, however, will respect the time and effort that our young people put into getting themselves qualified and celebrate their success with them.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Coaching - friend or foe

It's time to take a look at coaching from a different angle.

Some people like having a coach, they get a lot out of it and it adds considerably to their professional development. The majority have it imposed on them and take a dim view of the benefits.

When CPD/coaching is rolled out there is a tendency to spam people with "cultural change" and "improving communications" workshops. There is nothing wrong with the content of the workshops, but the recipients are coming in to them with a disctinctly negative frame of mind.

Consider the view from the point of an experienced, long serving senior manager. You've been working for the company for years, your appraisals are fine and you've progressed well. Suddenly you're told that you need to change your culture and communicate better. The instinctive reaction, no matter how softly and gently it is put to you, is that your skills are lacking and that you've been doing it wrong all these years!

I call this the "perceived deficit model". No matter how sensitively and positively the subject of having a coach is broached, people will feel that they have somehow fallen short of what is expected from them to "need" coaching.

Ariadne's Thread uses the "accumulative model". This is where the sessions concentrate on problem solving. By working on real and urgent projects with people it is then easy to add the benefits of coaching to issues that are relevant and important to them. I act as a "sounding board" for ideas and offer an external and neutral perspective.

So, how do you feel about coaching in business? Is it a good thing, a waste of money, or a way to tick the CPD box?

Entering the blogosphere

Been a while since I "blogged"!

About me:
I'm a consultant based in the West Midlands in the UK. I've been an Associate Dean, a Training Manager, a Telephone Engineer, a Head of Department at an Examinations Board, a warehouse clerk, a job centre administrator and a University Lecturer (not in chronological order!)

I want to start sharing my perspective on CPD, Education, Coaching and so forth. I have a different way of looking at things and that's what my company is all about.

Ariadne's Thread is about finding unique solutions for unique people. One size does not fit all!