Are you a ‘Lone Genius’?: You need a Thought Partner!

You create, build, manage, make, run and organize things – adding value to a multitude of stakeholders in a complex and volatile world. You are accomplished at what you do, recognized by your peers as a leader. But there is a lot on your plate – or more accurately plates – with the prospect of only more being heaped on. It’s a constant juggling act, and as good as you are, you admit to yourself that you don’t have all the answers – in fact more than you’d like to admit or show, you’re frequently stuck.

Sound like you? If you are like most senior executives that I’ve met through my my business career and coaching/advisory practice (including most especially -me), the answer is yes. In discussions with literally hundreds of accomplished individuals over the past year, from CEO’s (start-up to Fortune 500) to senior civil servants to NPO leaders to performers and artists, most report experiencing the pervasive sense of loneliness and uncertainty that comes from being an accomplished builder/creator/operator.

It’s tempting to look to the 180,000+ books on leadership on (just for example) for inspiration for the most current 5 or 10 step solution to your problem, but logic suggests that they ALL can’t be correct. In fact it all becomes ‘noise’ – the bleating of thousands of advice-givers more interested in advancing their agenda than in supporting yours. And in a world of exponential advances in technology, and of industries/societies impacted for better and for worse, the noise gets ever louder – even desperate.

Of course, the ‘answer’ does not lie without – with ‘them’ – it rests within you. It’s why so many of us engage in constructive self-talk – we are constantly discussing with ourselves our situational awareness, our ability to both understand our environment and to positively shape/impact it. It’s this self-talk that speaks to the need for a true partner that can offer a second-set-of-eyes perspective to your ever-changing relationship with the world around you.

Which leads us to the concept of Thought Partner. In a 2012 guest post in Forbes Magazine, Rania Anderson well defined the concept;

A Thought Partner is one who;

  • Challenges your thinking
  • Causes you to modify your paradigms, assumptions or actions
  • Has information or a way of thinking that provokes you to innovate or otherwise leads to value creation in your business, career or life.

Thought Partners are usually people who possess information, knowledge, or a way of thinking that challenges and provokes divergent thinking for you.

I would add that a Thought Partner is a sometime coach, sometime mentor, sometime advisor, sometime connector of dots and resources, and sometime friend, who is above all else – often even more so than your business or life partner – your confidante alone committed to think with you, rather than for you. Safely, securely, in the greatest confidence.

Critically, the need for a Thought Partner is not a one-off, sequential exercise. We have all witnessed the demise of the five year business plan – now reduced far more appropriately to one year and ever more iterative planning cycles, due to the complexity and volatility of the exponential change noted above. Instead, just as planning is now an all the time, real time activity, so too is the need for your Thought Partner. As an oft-repeated quote paraphrasing Albert Einstein puts it “enlightened trial and error succeeds over the planning of the lone genius“.

As you contemplate this New Year, the question is – is 2016 the year you cease being a lone genius, and instead seek out your Thought Partner, or are you going to continue to talk to yourself to cross-pollinate, conceptualize and execute the initiatives and actions that determine your future?


Are You A Good Coach? Here’s How To Find Out

Are You A Good Coach? Here's How To Find Out

There is a widespread phenomenon among people that causes them to believe they are above average in most areas. If you asked 100 people if they are great drivers 95% will tell you they are, but traffic accident reports beg to differ. It is simply impossible for the majority […]


Dan Pink: The puzzle of motivation (TED)

Career analyst Dan Pink examines the puzzle of motivation, starting with a fact that social scientists know but most managers don’t: Traditional rewards aren’t always as effective as we think. Listen for illuminating stories — and maybe, a way forward.


Research: What CEOs Really Want from Coaching

Two-thirds of CEOs don’t receive any outside advice on their leadership skills, and yet almost all would be receptive to suggestions from a coach. These stats are from a Stanford University/The Miles Group survey released this month, which asked 200 CEOs, board directors, and other senior executives questions about how they receive and view leadership advice. I asked the survey’s co-authors, Stanford Graduate School of Business’ David Larcker and The Miles Group CEO Stephen Miles some questions about what they found and how it applies to CEO coaching specifically. An edited version of our exchange is below. Why is getting coaching from outside the company important?  […]


Automated ‘coach’ could help with social interactions

Automated ‘coach’ could help with social interactions


New software developed at MIT can be used to help people practice their interpersonal skills until they feel more comfortable with situations such as a job interview or a first date. The software, called MACH (My Automated Conversation coacH), […]


Wharton leadership coach sees students put making a difference above all else

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After all, I’ve been coaching executives and managers for more than 30 years, including extremely high-achieving CEOs and small-business owners. These young folk in the Executive Coaching and Feedback Program should be a cinch. They are quite a group. Energetic, assiduous, articulate, and smart – those attributes are pretty […]


A gift from me to you…

As in all things, I’m pretty much an ‘in-for-a-penny-in-for-a-pound’ kind of guy.  Since coming out of the closet as an Innovation Leadership coach I have found myself ever more fascinated with the current thought leadership in four convergent areas; coaching, leadership, innovation and key trends.  Each morning I’m up at 6 am poring over dozens of feeds that elevate the current dispatches from the global front lines.  Likewise I have reviewed literally hundreds of books to build my innovation reading list.  It’s pretty heavy and heady stuff.  My cunning master plan was to lay the foundation for the development of my own proprietary intellectual property – methodologies, books, speaking tours.  You know – my brand.

But then an inspiration hit me.  There is an INCREDIBLE amount of  compelling, relevant information being produced every day around the world.  Countless quality blogs, and standbys such as Forbes, The Economist, HBR, Wired, Fast Company and scores more churn out expert analysis and commentary that is incredibly engaging and directly relevant to you in your role as ‘Chief Innovation Officer’ of/for your life and your organization.  The inspiration is, that the world (ie. YOU) doesn’t need another thought piece from me to add to the clutter, but rather it would be more infinitely more helpful were I to distill this mountain of information and share its nuggets with you – SO YOU DON”T HAVE TO!

So.  I’ve decided to share the fruits of my labours (and eclectic, if not quirky intellect) by giving you access to two cool new features on WLI – that is Innovation Daily, and the Innovation Bookshop.  The former you have no doubt already discerned is a ruthlessly curated selection of the above-noted feeds – the day’s best picks, the must-reads for anyone interested in the innovation eco-system. Or anyone simply trying to sort out where life is going at the macro and micro levels.  The second feature is, as the name again suggests, an Amazon book shop populated by the books that I have searched, reviewed and culled (it would be an exaggeration to claim that I’ve read them all), that you can now consider to be your first stop for adding to your cognitive desktop.  Like Innovation Daily, the bookshop will be updated with the latest thought leadership/best practice additions frequently.

And the price for this incredible two-for-one value?  Nothing.  Zippo.  Nadda.  I simply ask that you imprint my name and associate it with the words coaching, leadership, innovation and key trends, so that when you are next challenged by innovation blockage, you consider calling me to help.  I’ll give you something free of value every day, and you maybe think of me.  Fair deal, no? Just hit the ‘Subscribe’ button to the right to subscribe to Innovation Digest, or click on the appropriate link.

Having said all this, I’m still going to be contributing my thoughts to the intellectual diaspora of innovation thought leaders, but now the pressure’s off…


Igniting Ideas That Make A Difference


My ‘coach approach’ – Igniting Ideas That Make A Difference!

For sure I have been around the track more than a few times over the last 30 years – in turn as corporate type, consultant and entrepreneur.  All to say that I’m pretty confident in having a ready POV pretty much on-demand.  But I was a bit taken aback the other day when a prospective client asked me what my ‘coaching strategy’ was.  I’m new enough at my chosen vocation not to have had a ready answer that day, but primed enough to be ready to share it now. So here goes.

It really starts with a textbook definition.  The dean of executive coaching is a fellow named Robert Hargrove, best known for his definitive work Masterful Coaching (you can find it my Innovation Bookshop). It is brilliantly written, is plain spoken yet inspiring, and is just so blindingly and presciently logical.  Hargrove asks and answers the question from the perspective of a new coach;

What is coaching? It is nothing but you and your client cocreating an Impossible Future together—one that is based on self and organizational reinvention. It’s about helping leaders make the shift from managing a big organization to creating a great group where each person is free to discover his or her own greatness.

I’ve altered the term Impossible Future somewhat, to the Marvellous Future (more on that in a posting to follow), but the intent is clearly the same – as individuals and corporate entities the horizons that we walk towards are generally self-determined and are set far, far too low.  Because we don’t give ourselves permission to conceive our Best Possible Future, we can’t perceive it and we certainly don’t achieve it.  But its there, and its calling for you.  My job as coach is to work with you to discover and explore your own unique greatness and to then co-create strategies and tactics that liberate you and/or your organization to seize the full potential of your/its destiny.

That sounds idealistic, but I know it to be definitively pragmatic.  As a long-time corporate type/consultant/entrepreneur, that POV I mentioned at the outset was for the most part authored by just me.  The sound of one hand clapping.  And while it and I achieved a measure of success, I can now see that there was so much more untapped potential to be had had I had access to a coach.  And critically, vitally, my role as coach is not to inform, educate or lead you, but rather to facilitate your evolution as the guru of you.  You don’t need a guru – you’ve got you.  My job is to help you discover and release you.

That stills sounds fluffy.  So what does it mean to you and I in practice?

If you look at my biography on this site, you’ll see that I’m considered to be a pretty good innovator, inventor, visionary and leader.  And I’m a good enough operator to get in the game, but not good enough to really, really excel at it – but I do know about the day-to-day running of pretty complex things.  As your coach, I offer you a ‘safe harbour’ environment (confidential and without judgement) to leverage what I am and what my possibilities still are, to your full benefit.  My passion is help you be what you can be, and to draw on my ‘been there, done that, bought the t-shirt’ experience to do whatever is necessary to enable you to do that.

Not surprisingly, I seek to do this with people and entities that are broadly interested – as am I – in the convergence of innovation, leadership and emerging technologies/trends.  Our world, your world is changing as you read this. To help you innovate, lead and inspire your way to your Marvellous Future is my new calling.  


Igniting Ideas That Make A Difference


Confessions of a recovering consultant

I give good vision.  There, its out there.  I’ve admitted it.  Show me a set of scenarios or possibilities, and I’ll zing you back a VERY clever and convincing corporate mission, vision statement and action plan.  Highly differentiating, and perhaps just a tad ahead of its time.  Not a hallucinatory compromise either – but a real, substantive bonafide vision that gets everyone excited and will make everyone rich.  “Hooray – let the bells ring and the birds sing, we have a future – we just bought ourselves a shiny new one!”

For over 25 years, from start-up to enterprise level organizations, I’ve been the go-to guy for insta-vision solutions.  And truthfully, and said with some humility, I have only had happy, contented customers/colleagues – often repeat buyers in fact.  The only slight wrinkle is that I can’t really think of an engagement that was implemented to any real effect after I cashed the cheque.  Which got me thinking – maybe I was just a lousy consultant.

I don’t think so (one can never know for sure). Turns out that ‘the’ research suggests that the failure rate of consulting engagements is estimated to be as high as 80% (just google it – that’s what I did), a figure that resonated with me, both as a vendor and as a customer.  As Ferdinand Piëch, former CEO of Volkswagen famously observed: “If you want to ruin a company, you only have to try fixing it with the help of external consultants”.

Which as you might guess – got me thinking.  We all know why people hire consultants – to purchase and inject a solution (not unlike a drug) that has the effect of allowing the organization to bask in the glow of residual cleverness and dodge some heavy lifting while providing covering validation of their actions.  Though somewhat dated, the old saw “no one ever got fired for hiring IBM” is a motivation that most senior executives can still relate to.  Of course, it is often the case that subject matter expertise is being sought that simply does not exist internally – such as IT projects.  But as far as vision, strategy and innovation goes – the persona, soul or (most importantly) purpose of a person or an organization is not something that can be outsourced.  It is the source of the greatness that defines the best possible future of the entity in question, and that must always every time be the product of internal exploration, discovery and definition.

The answer is encouragingly obvious.  That is to tap into, leverage and free the experiential, emotional and intellectual energy that defines our individual and collective self. It may well be the case that outside assistance may be required, but it is a coach, not a consultant that is required.  You don’t need to be told what to do, you need to be freed to see for yourself what the future holds for you, and empowered with the sufficient tools to secure its promise.

I think back to one of my highly acclaimed visions that a client paid a considerable sum of money for.  All the key stakeholders bought into it intellectually.  But because none of them were its author, there was no emotional ownership, accountability or connection.  For what its worth, my pristine vision was quite brilliant (if I do say so myself) and theoretically practical. It was also fatally flawed.  When the inevitable challenges presented themselves the intellectual commitment to the project dissolved, with only a champion or two quietly disappearing.  Instead, had the individuals and/or team been coached to find the answer within themselves, a less-pristine and imperfect vision might have been the result, but the likelihood of success would have been far, far, far higher.  Not only that, the camaraderie and sense of accomplishment within the executive ranks – to say nothing of the empowering experience gained – would infinitely better prepare them for future challenges and opportunities.  That the requisite investment of time and money on a coaching conversation as opposed to a consulting solution would have been dramatically less was a bonus.

So, a change in the game plan for both you and me is in order. From now on YOU give good vision and I’ll help tease it out of you.  Works, better, faster and cheaper – and it WORKS.  Sound like a plan?

Igniting Ideas That Make A Difference




Of transformation and other things

Life can be funny sometimes.  Not LOL funny, but wondrously, inspiringly funny.  Where you are aware of a transcendent shift in your being- that is your sense of self, your sense of place and your sense of others.  Thus measured, I have had a riotous time of late.

Four months ago (before I journeyed to Royal Roads University to commence my ‘upgrading’ to executive coach) I had a pretty secure grip on my view of the world.  I was confident in what constituted ‘me’, and in my commitment to my new-found calling.  I was looking forward to leveraging a pretty decent 30 year business background as visionary leader/inventor/entrepreneur with what I assumed would prove to be 60 minute consulting engagements.  “You take 10 minutes and tell me what your problem is, and I’ll take the next 50 to tell you what the solution is.  That’ll be $500 please.”  And we both walk away happy.  Me with the money, and you with a shiny new bought and paid for solution.

But that’s the funny part.  It doesn’t work that way. And neither now, do I.

What’s changed?  Too much to share now in just this one post, but the elementary learning has been that the only effective knowledge is gained through a process of personal and honestly reflective self discovery, exploration and action.  Whether it’s you or your organization thats trying to become ‘unstuck’ (or  you are avoiding becoming so), the desired state of ‘unstickiness’ cannot be achieved by paying someone else for their vision.  The truth, answer, outcome – whatever you want to call it – must come from within you.  In fact, I have come to learn, quite to my shock, awe and wonderment, we each have within us our own greatness, and that the leverage and pursuit of that greatness can and will take us far, far beyond the horizons that are almost always self-imposed.  The topography of life presents peaks, valleys and plains with longer and shorter, easier and harder paths that can take us anywhere – the horizons defined by the path we choose.

‘Bullhockey’! you say!

But I’ve seen it to be so.  In fact I’ve lived it.  My job I have discovered (indeed, my calling) , is to work with you as your co-CIO (Chief Innovation Officer)  to help you first, perceive the marvellous future that exists for you (and/or your organization), and to then devise and execute the strategies and tactics that get you there from here.  For my part, I leverage my pretty decent 30 year business background as a visionary inventor/entrepreneur not as your consultant, but rather as your coach – creating a safe harbour experience for you from which we co-create that marvellous future.  You bring your greatness, and the responsibility to be accountable for the pursuit of that greatness – so there is some heavy lifting involved!

That sounds hyperbolic, silly, perhaps even scary.  But whether it’s you or your organization,a best possible future is out there – possibly beyond your perception but certainly not your grasp.  Let me help you reach for it.  It starts with a phone call.


Igniting Ideas That Make A Difference

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