Communicating Clearly What You’ve Done

April 11, 2014

Fortunately my days of annual appraisals and writing/reviewing CVs are long over but I’ve always been interested in the question of how you best summarise what you’ve done. It’s relevant to general conversations as well of course, especially with people that don’t know you well.

In this context, there’s an interesting post on a survey that was carried out for CareerBuilder to identify the most effective words to use in a résumé:

One in six (17 percent) hiring managers spend 30 seconds or less, on average, reviewing résumés, according to a new CareerBuilder survey. A majority (68 percent) spend less than two minutes. With so little time to capture interest, even a candidate’s word choice can make a difference. The nationwide sample of employers identified which commonly-used résumé terms are overused or cliché and which are strong additions.

Unhelpful words to use were (worst first): best of breed, go-getter, think outside the box, synergy, go-to person, thought leadership, value add, results-driven, team player and so on (no surprises there of course).

Conversely, helpful words to use were (best first): achieved, improved, trained/mentored, managed, created, resolved, volunteered, influenced, increased/decreased and so on.

The overall message is that it’s best to focus on the choice of action-oriented verbs rather than (often hackneyed) nouns and adjectives!

It also emphasises that when someone has ‘done something’ the precise words used are so important. For example, if someone is in a project team, although they can’t say they managed the project, they can say a whole load of other very impressive things: improved, trained, created, resolved etc.

In fact, the list of verbs given in the article might be a useful trigger for re-evaluating what you’ve done these past few years, and perhaps even prompt a better description?


Leadership Stories

March 21, 2014

Whilst exploring my local library, I came across an interesting book by Gavin Esler ‘Lessons from the Top: How Successful Leaders Tell Stories to Get Ahead – and Stay There’ (published in 2012). Gavin Esler is a well-known presenter with Newsnight on BBC2. His journalistic experiences span over 30 years and through this he has interviewed a wide variety of influential people in politics, business and the arts.

At the end of the book (which I started with) he gives sixteen tips which he finds ‘striking and useful when considering successful leaders’ and which are applicable to everyone not just global stars.

Tip Two is:

Every leader tells a leadership story in three parts: ‘Who Am I?’ ‘Who Are We?’ and ‘What is our Common Purpose’ You must learn to answer the ‘Who Am I?’ question adequately, or the others do not matter.

And as an aid to doing the above, he gives Tip Three:

Remember the Earwig. All successful leaders create their own memorable way of answering the ‘Who Am I?’ bit of the leadership story succinctly. Think of it as the headline you would like to see attached to your name, or the epitaph that would fit on your tombstone.

The ‘Earwig’ he mentions is the story you can’t get out of your head and so won’t forget.

After reading this I thought about the leadership-type talks I’d been to recently and none seemed to resonate with Tip Two (at least as far as I can recall). There was often talk of the latter two parts ‘Who Are We?’ and ‘What is our Common Purpose?’ but little of the (more difficult) ‘Who Am I?’.

The ‘Who Am I?’ is presumably intended to build up the trust and confidence that is the bedrock for what follows. That’s a pretty tough task to pull off well, particularly with a cynical or demanding audience eg a company or organisation going through difficult times. There’s also the opposite problem, that it may in fact come over as quite believable but is in fact fundamentally false and contrived.

Anyway, it’s an interesting point of view and an important topic so I’ll write more on his thoughts later.


Cultivating Innovation And Deciding What To Fund

March 6, 2014

nesta-spending-2012-13

Chart of Nesta spend from their Annual Report 2012-13

I spent over 15 years of my career involved with bids, ranging from the small to the very large. They were all in the hi-tech area and focused on innovative solutions to a wide variety of business problems. Sometimes they involved bids for internal funding, to develop a new product idea, but more usually for external project funding (and usually in alliance with other parties).

Over this period I had experience from both sides of the fence: reviewing bids and giving feedback and submitting bids and receiving feedback. It’s a tricky area to get right: not to waste time on putting together a bid that will not get anywhere (for a host of reasons, which are often only clear afterwards, if at all) to the opposite, of being clear as why you’ve (really) won over other competing bids.

In the light of this I was interested to read about the approaches the charity Nesta are taking in cultivating innovative approaches in the areas that they focus on, including social innovation.

Nesta is a very interesting organisation and more info on them and their projects can be found from their site. In summary (here):

Nesta (formerly NESTA, National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) is an independent charity that works to increase the innovation capacity of the UK.

The organisation acts through a combination of practical programmes, investment, policy and research, and the formation of partnerships to promote innovation across a broad range of sectors.

Nesta was originally funded by a £250 million endowment from the UK National Lottery. The endowment is now kept in trust, and Nesta uses the interest from the trust to meet its charitable objects and to fund and support its projects.

The key points so far are (with some extracts, see here for details):

1. Ideas matter, teams matter more

We’ve tried different approaches. Pitching sessions are useful, but you need to allocate enough time to get beyond the pitch and have a conversation; and one conversation is never really enough.

2. Information has a cost

One technique that seems to work is conference calls where we answer questions and clarify our goals before we ask teams to tell us their proposals.

3. Every contact should aim to add value

Often that’s about designing the selection process in a way that increases the knowledge or skills of the teams applying. We’ve held workshops on how to prototype and test ideas, connected people with coaches and experts, and supported teams to develop their theory of change.

4. Reach out for different perspectives

We haven’t found a simplistic formula that we can apply to our selection processes (if you know of one, please get in touch). What we do know is that we get much better decisions when we seek out different perspectives.

5. Expect iteration, know when to walk away

Sometimes the right thing to do is walk away; never easy after you’ve invested not only money, but your time and reputation into an innovation.


Navigating Without A Map

January 31, 2014

“Here’s the truth you have to wrestle with: the reason that art (writing, engaging, leading, all of it) is valuable is precisely why I can’t tell you how to do it. If there were a map, there’d be no art, because art is the act of navigating without a map. Don’t you hate that? I love that there’s no map.” – Seth Godin

Useful to bear this in mind when reading business books and articles. Beware of looking for a map that doesn’t exist!

There are some interesting additional comments on the map metaphor here (no map is perfect but neither are we).


Challenge, Fix Or Change

January 23, 2014

“If it doesn’t make sense, challenge it. If it appears broken, fix it. If it doesn’t work for you, change it.” – Michael Lopp

If you’re unhappy with something, it’s very tempting to moan and complain (and do nothing). It would be far better to decide whether it’s actually important or not (most things aren’t) and if it is, then apply the mantra above.


The How And Why

January 3, 2014

“Information is about who did what, where and when while knowledge is more about how and why.” – David Gurteen

This neatly summarises why knowledge management, whilst a rather nebulous activity, is also fairly key in all organisations, even if this is not always immediately appreciated!


The Role Of Accuracy

December 30, 2013

“Accuracy is only important if you are aiming at the right target.”

I came across this phrase (and accompanying discussion) in a photography blog I follow, Visual Science Lab.

It’s a good point and obviously applies very generally.


The Best Ideas

November 29, 2013

“The best ideas are when you take two older ideas that have nothing to do with each other, make them have sex with each other, and then build a business around the ugly bastard child that results. The child that was so ugly nobody else wanted to touch it. Look at Facebook: combine the internet with stalking. Amazing!” – James Altucher

This is an excerpt from his book “Choose Yourself!”.


Redefining Failure

November 27, 2013

Motivating viewpoint found on Lifehacker:

“It’s easy to see why we fear failures, screw-ups and unknowns when you consider how they are traditionally defined:

Failure: 1. lack of success; failing 2. unsuccessful person or thing. 3. non-performance.

Screw-up: 1. bungle, mess. 2. mismanage a task. 3. thing incorrectly done or thought.

Unknown: 1. not known. 2. unfamiliar.

You can shift your perception and recognize their value (or at least take out the sting) by redefining them as follows:

Failure: 1. the starting line 2. part of process. 3. on the path to success.

Screw-up: 1. sign of innovation. 2. output of dedicated work 3. result of perseverance.

Unknown: 1. creative challenge. 2. new opportunity.

Failures, screw-ups, and unknowns help you build resilience and character, give you insights about your work, yourself, and others, enrich your experiences, test your emotional intelligence, and add to your knowledge and skills.”


Doing What You Believe In

November 15, 2013

“People seldom do what they believe in, they do what is convenient, and then repent.” – Bob Dylan

How true.


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