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Exclusive Video – Creativity at Work and the Disney Model

More from my series of exclusive videos for my newsletter subscribers only

Some thoughts on creativity at work inspired by a new artwork by Hilary Woof

You can also see the artwork on Hilary’s site here: hilarywoof.com, and read more about this piece and her other work.

Here’s the handout I mention in the video, click it and then right-click to “Save as…” or download your copy:


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Empowering Beliefs (part 2)

Why asking yourself ‘why’ never works – How the search for meaning steals your power

One of the great strengths of the way the human mind works is our ability to make meaning of the world around us. This happens all the time, mostly unconsciously and starts at a very young age.

You’ll have seen how young children never seem to stop asking questions that seek to understand the meaning behind things: Why is that tree green? What does that lady wear such a big hat for? Why aren’t there any more dinosaurs? You’ve probably got a few favourite examples you’ve heard yourself!

I think there’s a clear advantage to us as humans to be able to do this. As we were evolving as a species, being able to interpret and understand the world around us, to know what certain events and significant moments mean, would have been of great help. We see food that is an unusual colour and we know it probably means it’s unsafe to eat. We notice smoke and understand that it means fire is nearby. Loud and sustained shouting may mean that a violent confrontation is taking place. Three or four people heading-off in a different direction to us might mean that they know about a food source.


This pattern continues through our lives. We notice something important, or a significant event happens, and in order to make sense of it, we interpret or attach meaning to it.


And it’s also useful that this meaning-making process mostly occurs unconsciously. Imagine if you had to stop and think about everything all the time in order to understand its meaning. There wouldn’t actually be enough time left to do anything with the information! It’s important that our minds have these kind of shortcuts so that the meaning of everyday events and interactions with others isn’t something that we consciously need to analyse and interpret. Otherwise it could quickly become overwhelming to do so.

But problems can arise when the meanings that we give to significant events or moments become like rules or automatic shortcuts. When we start to believe that X always means Y. Or when we automatically interpret X as meaning Y, when a wider view of the situation or a more complete weighing of the evidence might suggest a different meaning.

In those cases, this ability to look for the meaning behind things can become a hindrance not a help. When we’re looking for the meaning behind an event or interaction and it’s not making sense or it doesn’t fit the usual pattern we’re expecting – to continue searching for it can be particularly disempowering.

Here’s some simplified examples of real-life meanings/interpretations that typically come up for my coaching clients at work:

  • My colleague never smiles at me; she doesn’t like me.
  • My team member was late for our appointment; he has no respect for my time.
  • The Board haven’t responded to my email; they can’t be interested in my idea.
  • I always feel out of place in our Executive meeting; I ‘m not the kind of person that belongs here.
  • I can’t seem to get everything done in the time available; I’m just not disciplined enough.

You can see that the pattern for this kind of thinking goes like this:

  • This thing happened; I interprete it to mean that…

This pattern becomes a problem, as I’ve said earlier, when we assume that “this” always means “that”; or when a wider view would suggest something else. AND – it becomes a really disempowering pattern when we put our focus on finding the meaning itself, but the meaning isn’t actually what’s important.


A great way to uncover whether or not you’ve got into a disempowering view of these events, is to check out if you’re asking yourself those kind of “Why” questions:

  • Why doesn’t she like me?
  • Why doesn’t he respect my time?
  • Why aren’t they interested in my idea?
  • Why can’t I be more assertive in the Executive meeting?
  • Why can’t I be more disciplined with my time?

These kind of “Why” questions are a potentially useful indicator that you’ve slipped into a disempowered mindset. In a way, it’s a kind of return to being like that little child, trying to make sense of the new and huge world around them. And wanting a grown-up to explain it all to them.

In those situations, we need to stop searching for the meaning we expected to find. We need to stop taking that automatic shortcut. Fortunately, there’s very easy way to do so. Here’s how.

For the reasons described above, us coaches very rarely ask “Why” questions of our clients. In fact, if your coach asks you a “Why” question, it’s quite likely that they think they’re spotted an unconscious meaning or interpretation of yours that is not helping you – and they’re trying to uncover it more fully.

Instead of trying to figure out the “why”, your coach will help to look beyond that automatic search.

Let’s take that first example from above. Instead of asking about: “Why doesn’t my colleague like me?”, your coach will help you shift your focus to something much more empowering – a bit like this:

Coach: What do you actually want in this situation?
Client: All I really want is a good enough relationship with her so I can do my job effectively.

Coach: What evidence would you need to see or hear to know that your working relationship was good enough?
Client: Mostly it would be that she answers my calls or gives me time when I need help with issues in her speciality.

Coach: If you didn’t have that straight away, how would you go about getting it?
Client: Actually, and this has worked in the past, I’d either book time ahead with her, or check if it was OK to go directly to one of her team members.

Coach: And how do you feel now about her not smiling at you?
Client: Well, I know that smiling and being seen to be friendly is important to me; so that’s what I’m going to do myself. I’ll never really know if she likes me or not, but that isn’t what’s important here.

This is a much more empowering and useful way of interacting with the world. So next time you find yourself focussing on the “Why”, try this sequence instead:

  1. What’s actually Important to you
  2. What tangible Evidence do you need so that you’ll know when you have that important thing
  3. What Strategy (the how) will you use to get what’s actually important to you.

Great One-on-One Meetings for Busy Managers: booklet now available on Amazon

If you found this article useful, you might want to grab a copy of my latest short eBooklet from Amazon. Please use the buttons or image below to see a preview or buy your copy:

Mentors Exercise for Dealing with Challenges

Three amazing people you can have on your side whenever you’re facing challenge, uncertainty or fear

Serious question – Can you imagine what it would be like if there were three absolutely brilliant people, with different but complementary abilities, who you could call on for advice at any time and who’d know just what you needed to hear?

What difference could that make…


This is part of an exercise I use with people when they might be facing something challenging, unknown or scary. And they need to recapture or uncover some of their innate resourcefulness to deal with it.


Take a look at the diagram above;

and then follow these easy steps:

  1. Identify the challenging, scary or unknown thing
  2. On a scale of 1-10, where 10 is high, just how challenging or scary is this thing at the moment?
  3. Place it on the floor in front of you, like in the diagram. Don’t get so close to it, that you feel uncomfortable; back-up if necessary
  4. Think of a person who is really, really Effective, just great at getting things done.
    It can be a real person you know, somebody you have heard about or know of but haven’t met in real life, or a character from a film, a book, a game or a TV programme
  5. Get your (imaginary) Effective Mentor to stand in their spot, as per the diagram, so that they are behind you and slightly to your left. In your mind’s eye, get a good sense of what they look like and how they stand.
  6. When you’re ready, move onto your Effective Mentor’s spot, and pretend that you are actually stepping into their body
  7. Do what you need to do, to get a real sense of what it’s like, to be this person who is so effective, so good at getting things done
  8. When you have that sense, look over at the You spot and imagine a version of yourself still standing there, facing this challenging/scary/unknown thing
  9. From inside your Effective Mentor, you’ll notice that you have some advice or support that you’d like to offer to that version of yourself. Go ahead and say that, out loud if you can.
  10. Step back onto the You spot and take a moment to hear that advice

  11. Now think of a person who always seems really, really Fulfilled. Someone who is happy with themselves. Again, it can be a real person, someone you know or know of, or a fictional character of some kind
  12. Get your (imaginary) Fulfilled Mentor to stand in their spot, as per the diagram, so that they are directly behind you. In your mind’s eye, get a good sense of what they look like and how they stand.
  13. When you’re ready, move onto your Fulfilled Mentor’s spot, and pretend that you are actually stepping into their body
  14. Do what you need to do, to get a real sense of what it’s like, to be this person who is so fulfilled, so happy with who they are
  15. When you have that sense, look over at the You spot and again imagine a version of yourself still standing there, facing this challenging/scary/unknown thing
  16. From inside your Fulfilled Mentor, you’ll notice that you have some advice or support that you’d like to offer to that version of yourself. Go ahead and say that, out loud if you can.
  17. Step back onto the You spot and take a moment to hear that advice

  18. Now think of a person who always seems really, really Empowered. Someone who lets nothing stop them and doesn’t wait for permission. Again, it can be a real person, someone you know or know of, or a fictional character of some kind
  19. Get your (imaginary) Empowered Mentor to stand in their spot, as per the diagram, so that they are behind you and slightly to you right. In your mind’s eye, get a good sense of what they look like and how they stand.
  20. When you’re ready, move onto your Empowered Mentor’s spot, and pretend that you are actually stepping into their body
  21. Do what you need to do, to get a real sense of what it’s like, to be this person who is so empowered, who doesn’t let anything stop them and who doesn’t need to wait for permission
  22. When you have that sense, look over at the You spot and again imagine a version of yourself still standing there, facing this challenging/scary/unknown thing
  23. From inside your Empowered Mentor, you’ll notice that you have some advice or support that you’d like to offer to that version of yourself. Go ahead and say that, out loud if you can.
  24. Step back onto the You spot and take a moment to hear that advice.

  25. Now imagine that all three of your mentors are lined-up behind you. Perhaps you’d like them to reach out and place a supportive hand on your shoulders and back.

Remember the advice that each of your mentors had for you and know that you can access this inner resourcefulness of yours whenever you want to.

On that same scale of 1-10, how challenging or scary does that thing seem now?

Great One-on-One Meetings for Busy Managers: booklet now available on Amazon

If you found this article useful, you might want to grab a copy of my latest short eBooklet from Amazon. Please use the buttons or image below to see a preview or buy your copy:

Empowering Beliefs (part 1)

Empowerment: How to reveal the unconscious thought processes that can either really help or really hinder you

If you want to adopt ways of thinking and behaving that get great results and satisfaction (to empower yourself), or to help other people do the same, one very useful approach is to reveal some of the unconscious processes that can either really help or really hinder you.

In my kind of coaching, we call these unconscious processes ‘beliefs’ and I’m going to show you how to work with them to make sure that they are as empowering as you can get them.

This article takes a brief look at what are called ‘Cause-Effects’. These are the connections we unconsciously establish when we perceive that something consistently and predictably leads to something else. A shorthand I often use is “this causes that”.

Let’s explore some examples.

1. To start with, think of something that’s important to you in your work: _________________ ?

Suppose you say that: “Success” is important to you in your work.

Now that we know what’s important to you, we next want to know what your life experiences have taught you about how to satisfy that. First, we’ll ask:

2. What enables someone to have [success] _________________ ?

To which you might answer: “Hard work”.

Next, we want to know what would make someone take action, to actually take steps to satisfy their important thing. Using the example above, why would someone put in “hard work” in order to have “success”? We’ll ask this question:

3. What does [success] lead to or make possible _________________ ?

To which you might answer: “Security”.

Now we’ve got a really significant part of the pattern that your unconscious mind uses in regard to “success” at work:

Using this example, we can see that this person is unconsciously saying to themselves, something like this:

“If I work hard, I’ll be successful; and I want to be successful, because that makes me secure”.

4. From here, we can start to explore deeper.

First the “Enabling” part.

Here’s a few simple examples of questions that can really get breakthroughs in people’s thinking and behaviour:

  • Does hard work always enable success for you?
  • What else does hard work create?
  • What do you do when hard work isn’t enough?
  • Could success for you also come from some other factor than hard work?
  • What else do you need, to be able to have success?
  • What other reasons might you have for working hard?
  • Which other people are important for success?

And then the “Motivating” part:

  • Does success always lead to security for you?
  • Is there anything that’s more important to you than security?
  • How much security do you want?
  • What other routes to security might there be?
  • Does success ever actually get in the way of security?
  • What did you learn about yourself when you didn’t have security?
  • Who else is part of this?

The answers to questions like these will reinforce how working towards “success” is something that helps empower you and others. They’ll also help you to spot when that isn’t enough and to be on guard for how the unconscious assumptions that (in this example, hard work -> success -> security), can actually be disempowering or produce unwanted results and behaviours.


You can also use this approach for negative behaviours that you’d like to change. Put that behaviour in the “Important Thing” box and work through the process above.

Great One-on-One Meetings for Busy Managers: booklet now available on Amazon

If you found this article useful, you might want to grab a copy of my latest short eBooklet from Amazon. Please use the buttons or image below to see a preview or buy your copy:

Leading with Motivational Source

How do you know when you or your staff do or don’t need recognition? And what tactics should you use?

Think about something that’s important to you in your work.

How do you know when you’ve done a good job at that?

Did you answer something like: “I just know” or “I can feel it in here“; or did you do something like touch your chest, head or stomach to show where in your body you know how you’ve done? If so, chances are that you’re Internally Referenced.

On the other hand, if you answered something like: “The results show that…” or “People tell me…” or you pointed towards some facts or figures, then you are likely Externally Referenced.

When you’re leading other people and want to be able to motivate them, or just need to understand more about your own needs for recognition (or not), then Motivation Source can be a really helpful tool.

For example, if you have a colleague who is strongly Internally Referenced, telling them “You did a great job with X” may mean very little to them and may even seem false or trite. Much better to just ask them to apply their own standards – “How do you reckon you did with X?” and then be prepared to explore that if their internal perception doesn’t match yours.

In these days of very wide and flat organisational structures, where people rarely get to see their boss, I often find myself with clients who are Externally Referenced and are really struggling with a lack of feedback. If you’re leading others who are Externally Referenced they either need to know from you how they’re doing, or they’ll need some regular data to show them.

People who are strongly Internally Referenced and able to keep it in balance can seem very self-confident. Unless they are extremely inflexible and never take into account other people’s points of view – at the far end of that spectrum is sociopathy.

People who are strongly Externally Referenced and able to keep it in balance will seem highly compassionate. Unless they are unable to be flexible and can’t ever make decisions based solely on their own views  – in which case they may become co-dependent.

If you can operate the right amount of choice and flexibility around being Internally Referenced or Externally Referenced in a particular situation, then you’re likely to have both self confidence and the ability to take into account the feelings and points of view of others. Which is not bad if you’re aiming at being a great leader!


Great One-on-One Meetings for Busy Managers: booklet now available on Amazon

If you found this article useful, you might want to grab a copy of my latest short eBooklet from Amazon. Please use the buttons or image below to see a preview or buy your copy:

Motivation: Towards Pleasure and Away From Pain

Keep an eye out over the next few days to observe and discover something new about your own motivations and those of the people around you. Here’s how.

Did you know that people tend to operate either a Towards or an Away-From motivation pattern? And that this can change from one context to another?

Motivation Towards tends to show up as positive, goal-seeking reward-based behaviour; focusing on what could go right.
Motivation Away-From tends to focus on avoiding problems and pain; on what might go wrong.

Both are useful in different contexts. When I’m chairing the audit committee in a hospital, it really helps to have people around who can focus on what can go wrong, or on what’s not working. When I’m looking to win a new contract, it really helps that my business partner is a positive, can-do person.

It used to be thought that these “Meta-programmes” (thought processes that guide and direct the sorting of our perceptions) were fixed and unchangeable. We now know that this isn’t true and that it is possible to choose.

As with almost everything, being aware is what counts. Being aware of what habits we are operating ourselves and of whether other people are in Towards or Away-From mode. Only then can we choose which is actually most helpful for ourselves and for our influence with others.