Getting ready to tell the story: help needed

13 02 2016

Source: Getting ready to tell the story: help needed


Except you be like a child…

7 11 2014

I heard something that caused me to erupt in almost Steve Ballmer-like enthusiasm while I was in Houston. I was attending Senior Birkman Certification (for the second time – reckoned it was time for a lube service, ended up as usual with a re-bore instead), immediately before the biennial Birkman Conference.

“Originally,” said Lynn Greene, “Dr Birkman had two versions of the Questionnaire: an adult one and a children’s one. So he threw away the adult one.”

Woo-hoo! And that’s why this tool is so brilliant. (It is also why we can use so much of it in our programme for teens and young adults, hoozyu) It isn’t an IQ test, a child of 8 can understand and answer the questions; so in the end, you just answer the questions. And when you get the report, you discover you have been telling yourself things about yourself, you didn’t know you knew.


That rabbit in the headlights is… perfectly balanced

19 05 2014

Just reflecting on something that happened in Birkman Training recently. It was a group of experienced Birkman Consultants who happened to be experienced managers and leaders as well. I was illustrating a simple point, namely that too much of anything can be a problem in an organisational setting, using the example of a Senior team I worked with who were all extremely central on the Birkman Life Style Grid. It would be easy to make the point using one of the extremes – a group of reds who do better and better that which never should have been done in the first place, or a group of blues who have produced a dozen of the best new products that never happened and so on; but it is useful to make the point that the middle of the Grid is just what it is, not better or more normal than anywhere else.

Anyway, this central (on both Usual and Needs) group had a business that was heading ever further into danger. Too many ideas and little projects, too little action. Intellectually every single one of them could acknowledge this, and the concomitant likely need for drastic action. But emotionally – no can do. These Central / Central leaders unfortunately reinforced in each other the Central tenet of “nothing to any extreme, everything in balance”. I even stood before them at one offsite and told them exactly what they were doing. They themselves had agreed on their problem and what the solution involved, but would then dissipate the will to act. And they simply said, “No, you are going too far with that Jon. We can’t do that to our people…”

Except of course they did in the end. Or their successors had to, after most of the leaders had also lost their jobs. Far more of the rank and file suffered job losses than would have been the case if they had acted immediately. So: moral of the story is, beware of any group of leaders who are too homogenous, even if what they have in common is their balanced view of things.

At which point one of the participants in the training had an epiphany; a Central / Central person himself, he suddenly saw his whole managerial career with a major FMCG brand flash before his eyes. “That’s why I could never quite grasp the nettle…”

So the wider moral is that, if we all need people around who complement us, the perfectly balanced may need a person or two who tilts them off-balance and into action, if they aren’t to end up as rabbits in the headlights

Past the tipping point… at last

28 01 2014

You may have heard this old one: “It took me 20 years to become an overnight success.” Well, something special is happening in the Talent space… and it has been seven decades in the making.

Just about every day now we are getting at least one enquiry about training in the Birkman Method® (TBM), from places as diverse as Abu Dhabi, Bangalore, Suva and Manila. Now, since we are Birkman’s International Learning Partner for Asia Pacific, you may think that this is pretty unexceptional. The truth is that for many years, TBM was the best-kept secret in business. Boeing, WalMart and a host of other global MNCs were using TBM as their core Organisational Development and Talent Management, and yet outside of those circles, no one had heard of the tool. I used to say to people, you are either using it or you haven’t heard of it.

Something has changed. Suddenly Birkman has reached a tipping point, and it is fast becoming the hottest property in Talent. Not before time, for a tool that has been delivering value for nearly seventy years.

If you are in HR, OD or Talent Management and want to learn more, we are running a FREE event in Singapore on Feb 21 – admission by ticket, book here

Changing Work

23 12 2013

It doesn’t take genius level IQ to see that the shape of work is changing. I was just reading a couple of 10-point articles (speaking of change – gone are the days when a 3-point talk was enough to engage an audience?) by Dan Schwabel on Millenials and the way they are / will be changing the future of work ( and The encouraging thing for me was to see the extent to which the platform we have been building for the last 10 years exactly intersects this new set of concerns. The more challenging realisation was how little most major corporations (let alone SMEs) have paid more than lip service to these changes. Regardless of what gets said by senior leaders about transparency and passion and value, if your system is still driving people to obfuscate  and toe the line and do what the system requires, rather than what is right, you can forget attracting the best talent of the new generation; they will be out there building the business that buries yours, and having heaps of fun doing it .

Problem-solving versus … what?

15 09 2013

A minor epiphany, but a light has certainly gone on for me. It relates to the Birkman Life Style Grid (see model below) which we use in order to rapidly aggregate a lot of data in a single synoptic view.

Model of Birkman Life Style Grid

Over the years I have dealt with a number of teams who lie predominantly along the Red-Blue axis, but who are considerably weaker in the Green and Yellow Quadrants. I have tended to categorise these teams as Problem-Solvers, because that tends to be where they shine. Blue-oriented people frame Problems in creative and innovative new ways, and suggest new solutions to old problems; Red-oriented people get on with execution, now. By themselves, Blues have great ideas that never happen, and Reds do brilliantly well that which never should have been done at all. Together, we get great ideas, brilliantly executed. Hence, problem solvers.

So what about the other Axis? Greens and Yellows are potentially just as alien to each other as Blues and Reds. Greens seize opportunities and sell; Yellows set up systems and measure and analyse. They can drive each other mad, but what do you get if you combine them successfully?

Business. Green-Yellow is the Business Axis. Blue-Red is where your products and services come from. Green-Yellow gives you a business and keeps you in business. Haven’t looked at it for several years, but for example, Michael Gerber’s “The E-Myth Revisited” presents a true  business as a predictable repeatable process for producing money (Green-Yellow) and not a context for creatively doing (Blue Red).

Worth thinking about.

Uncertainty, what uncertainty?

14 08 2013

Apologies for the long break in transmission.

Read a very interesting blog post about Innovation this morning. Gist of it was that even those who say they believe in innovation and creativity, become markedly conservative or risk averse in conditions of uncertainty. Where the post was weak – and fair enough, it was a post, not a thesis – was in skating over any exploration of where this uncertainty derives from. The assumption was the usual one – we are in times of great and unparalleled uncertainty, there’s your problem.

The real problem is – and this has been long recognised – that everyone lives in times of great and unparalleled uncertainty. I remember being read an extract from Scientific American which sounded like one of the more dramatic passages from Toffler’s Future Shock, bewailing the pace of change and the depth of uncertainty we have to live with… only to be then told the article dated from the 1860s. It is the human condition, get over it.

More to the point, I am not convinced that this ambient uncertainty is actually the uncertainty that paralyses our response to positive innovation.

I would like to suggest that uncertainty, in this sense, is actually the opposite of flow (as proposed by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi). In other words, the opposite of being lost in activity that deeply engages us and stretches us just that right amount (which right amount, I suggest, varies from individual to individual) is not “not being deeply engaged” but actually “starting to doubt ourselves and our place in things”.

The sad thing is that many, if not most, of us spend most of our lives in some version of this existential uncertainty; we feel we haven’t really found what we were put on the planet for. And, if you can follow my line of reasoning here, I can’t help noticing that the companies which make the greatest effort to get the right people into the perfect roles are also those that dominate our thinking about innovation and creativity.

Jon is speaking next in Singapore Aug 23 at the Elaura Breakfast Briefing, on the subject of Mapping Talent. Full details at or call Deborah on +65 62523700 to reserve a place