Mindfulness is being verses doing

“Question for today.. How do you let go of outcomes without giving up on hope?”

A very dear friend posed this question on Facebook. She is going through some significant life challenges at the moment and was asking for positive responses from her friendship group. My response was to try to describe my own approach to the question:

“I too find it a challenge. Even as I was driving to work this early this morning, a sudden thought came into my head about end of life and dying. Luckily, I was stuck in a traffic jam at the time and I did a 3-minute mindfulness exercise and it helped. It helped in clearing the negative, frightful thoughts out of my head. I focused on my breathing and forced myself to relax. I followed it up with looking out of the window and consciously looking at the sun coming up; the plants on the side of the road and just feeling how wonderful it was to be alive.

Every day I strive to live in the moments that life generates, without trying to plan outcomes. I seek out life moments in all that happens. Hope this helps. Kind thoughts to you on this beautiful Tuesday.”

I went and checked what were some of the key attributes of Mindfulness and how it can help you to focus on the “Being” of Life, rather than the “Doing” of Life. The list below is a starting point that I’ve collected together:

Focus on the Present Moment
When your thoughts get lost in thinking about the past or worrying about the future, pause and consciously bring your thoughts back to the present moment. Even do a 3 minute breathing exercise. Being fully present, You are aware of whatever you are experiencing in the present moment as you go through your daily life. What do you feel in your body? What are you seeing, hearing, feeling, doing – right now?

Openness to the Current Experience
Welcome with open curiosity, any thoughts and feelings that occur, knowing they are thoughts of that moment and the next moments thoughts can be and are quite often, different. On average we have between 50,000 and 70,000 thoughts per day, this means between 35 and 48 thoughts per minute. So you are literally living thought by thought by thought. Your thoughts and approach to a particular activity will change over time and possibly every time.

Be Non-Judgmental
Do not categorize your thoughts and feelings as good or evil, happy or sad, positive or negative. Don’t try to change them, or feel compelled to act on them. All feelings have a purpose, whether to protect you from danger or open you to love. You watch and accept whatever arises in consciousness with an open mind. As you recognise this, try extending this to other people, other groups, cultures, societies and the world in general.

Accept Reality
Accept the reality of life and what is happening in this moment. You can no change reality, it exists. You can only change yourself; your approach and thoughts and feelings. Let it be as it is. Try not to judge or feel a victim to the circumstances.

Connected to the World
I used this, this morning when I had a “moment”. Try to feel that you are connected to all living things and are a part of a larger whole. After all, a flower flowers; a bee buzz’s; the sun shines. What more can you wish for?

Develop a mind that is aware of your own daily experiences, thoughts, feelings and begin to notice your automatic reaction to events. The Pause, Reflect and Act method really helps to tune yourself in. Learn to stop the automatic reaction. That is the start of Mindfulness for me.

I will leave you with this quote from Eckhart Tolle:

“The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it.”
― Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose

Compassion, Empathy and Altruism; which are you striving for?

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” Leo Buscaglia

After watching a TED talk from Buddhist roshi Joan Halifax on compassion and another TED talk from Matthieu Ricard on how to let altruism be your guide, I wondered at the difference, if there is one, between empathy and compassion. Or whether you can have one without the other.

To start with, I checked n the definitions of both. The term “empathy” is used to describe a wide range of experiences. Emotion researchers generally define empathy as the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling.

Researchers differentiate between two types of empathy: “Affective empathy” refers to the sensations and feelings we get in response to others’ emotions; this can include mirroring what that person is feeling, or just feeling stressed when we detect another’s fear or anxiety. “Cognitive empathy,” sometimes called “perspective taking,” refers to our ability to identify and understand other peoples’ emotions. I feel that this type of empathy, the ability to literally walk in their shoes, is what we strive for.

The term “compassion” literally means “to suffer together.” It is defined as the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering.

Compassion is not the same as empathy or altruism, though the concepts are related. While empathy refers more generally to our ability to take the perspective of and feel the emotions of another person, compassion is when those feelings and thoughts include the desire to help.

Altruism, in turn, is the kind, selfless behavior often prompted by feelings of compassion, though one can feel compassion without acting on it, and altruism isn’t always motivated by compassion.

While cynics may dismiss compassion as touchy-feely or irrational, scientists have started to map the biological basis of compassion. Research has shown that when we feel compassion, our heart rate slows down, we secrete the “bonding hormone” oxytocin, and regions of the brain linked to empathy, care giving, and feelings of pleasure light up, which often results in our wanting to approach and care for other people.

So, the road to self can be summarised as start to develop Affective empathy, extend it to cognitive empathy. From there, develop the compassionate desire to help others, ending up at altruism.

Which road will you travel?

For the TED talk, from Joan Halifax, please refer to:

For the TED talk from Matthieu Ricard, please refer to:

I leave you with the following quote:

“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” ― Ernest Hemingway

Depression and Mindfulness

It’s natural to feel down sometimes as life’s trials and tribulations wash over you, but if that low mood lingers day after day, it could signal that you might be suffering from depression.

Wikipedia defines Depression as:

Depression is a state of low mood and aversion to activity that can affect a person’s thoughts, behaviour, feelings and sense of well-being. People with depressed mood can feel sad, anxious, empty, hopeless, helpless, worthless, guilty, irritable or restless. They may lose interest in activities that were once pleasurable, experience loss of appetite or overeating, have problems concentrating, remembering details or making decisions, and may contemplate, attempt or commit suicide. Insomnia, excessive sleeping, fatigue, aches, pains, digestive problems or reduced energy may also be present.

So what are the signs:

Emotional – The primary symptoms of depression are a sad mood and / or a loss of interest in life. Activities that were once pleasurable lose their appeal. You might also be haunted by a sense of guilt or worthlessness, lack of hope, and recurring thoughts of death or suicide.

Physical – Fatigue and decreased energy, Insomnia, especially early-morning waking, Excessive sleep, Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment. It can also make other health problems feel worse, particularly chronic pain.

Appetite – Changes in eating or weight are another hallmark of depression. Some people develop increased appetite, whilst others lose their appetite altogether. Depressed people may experience serious weight loss or weight gain.

Suicide – People who are depressed are more likely to attempt suicide. Warning signs include talking about death or suicide, threatening to hurt people, or engaging in aggressive or risky behaviour that threatens their safety deliberately

What causes it? The experts, doctors, physiologists etc, aren’t sure what causes depression, but a popular theory is it caused by altered brain structure and chemical function. Drugs that treat depression are believed to improve communication between nerve cells, making them run more normally. Experts also think that while stress can trigger depression, one must first be biologically prone to develop the disorder. Other triggers could include certain medications, alcohol or substance abuse, hormonal changes, or even the season such as the seasonal affective disorder or SAD.

Is there a test for it? As of yet, there is no medical test for depression. To make an accurate diagnosis, doctors rely on a patient’s description of the symptoms.

Can you catch it? No, but you can get influenced by people that do have it, friends, loved ones, or family.

Treatments for Depression including: Talking therapies, medication, exercise, light[ in the case of SAD], or even pets.

The latest thinking is that Mindfulness can help deal with general depression. Hence the growth in the MBSR – Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction programme.

For people like me that have come to Mindfulness, stress is reduced and life seems fuller and more pleasurable. Go on give it  try. What have you got to loose..


We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better. ~ Jeff Bezos

One of the biggest challenges in the world of customer services is understanding what type of service proposition you have. What proposition have you developed and delivered? What value – both in terms of services revenue, as well as customer retention, renewal and growth – you are going to have over the medium term. Many times, when I pose the question “what type of service strategy proposition do you have”, I am greeted with a blank stare.

Let me explain what the four types are; their key attributes; what challenges you have to focus on to stay in the race and you will then recognise the value of understanding which you are. In addition, which proposition you aspire to have – as I am sure that may think you are in the wrong “box” – as it were. Let us start at the entry type and in reverse order:

Type 4.  Price Driven, High Turnover services

Attributes: Commodity-like proposition.

This is where the race to the bottom in terms of costs is key. You are in a race to deliver the service with the lowest possible costs. As a commodity, the customer regards you simply as a provider of service, much like a utility company such as one that provides electricity or gas.

Challenges: Cost leadership and economies of scale is key to survival.

You have to be ruthless in managing costs and driving out waste. Scale is also key and this is where people will seek to develop shared service capabilities, such as off-shoring into a shared service centre, that delivers remote services to multiple customers.

Type 3.  Feature Driven, High Turnover services

Attributes: Slightly better perceived benefits, normally SLA based, high performance

This is where you have sold and are delivering a “rich” mixture of services – remote, on-site, regional, international, reactive, proactive, project-based, etc. For many of these, as part of the contract, you will have agreed Service Levels [called SLA’s] with the customer. In fact, you will probably have set up internal agreements on service across your organisation [often called OLA’s – operational level agreements].

Challenges: Deliver beyond “just the SLA” and Constant pressure to add extras. There are two challenges here. The first one is to deliver beyond just the SLA. The “water -melon” effect where you might have green SLAs and yet the customer perceived service is rubbish is something you have to consider. I have previously written on this. “Customer Service, what do you measure when SLAs don’t work? Processes, outcomes, and benefits” http://martinsummerhay.livejournal.com/53367.html

The second challenge is that the customer is expecting you to constantly be delivering incremental and additional services – not necessarily free of charge, but you have to demonstrate their value. Often, customers will refer to this as “innovation” and you have to actively demonstrate this, else, you will be judged just on the SLA performance alone. A place you do not want to be in.

Type 2.  People Driven, Relationship-Based services

Attributes: Long-term personal relationships, but limited value proposition. For this type, the engagement and relationship is based on long-term personal relationships, at very senior levels in both the service provider and the customer. However, there is generally a limited ability to differentiate on value proposition of you as a service provider, but this is not important so long as the relationship remain strong.

Challenges: Understanding and addressing specific customer needs & relationship management. One of the major challenges is how you identify and co-create solutions with the customer. This requires extensive and deep knowledge of the customer and the customer’s medium and long term ambitions and how services can add value to these ambitions. The other challenge is to continually build and maintain strong relationships. Don’t forget this is a relationship, person based type and you can not rely on just the existing relationship you might have in the organisation. You have to extend the relationship network so that you are not reliant on just one or two people. After all organisations change and so do the people in positions of authority.

Type 1.  Brand Driven, High-Value Added services

Attributes: Compelling value proposition & solves complex service challenges. For this final type, this is brand driven based on both your brand as a service provider and also tied into the customers brand proposition as well. The services are extensive and add value to the customers business by solving complex issues that are recognised by the customer to support their business outcomes.

Challenges: Deep customer knowledge, globally consistent services & unique knowledge. To be able to compete and deliver the services, you have to have deep, extensive knowledge of the customer’s business and how your services compliment and add value to their business. To be able to deliver the complexity of services, you will generally have to have both local and global service provision and it has to be consistent – especially if it is a customer that is based in more than country, or you are working across their complete supply chain. You will have to proactively promote the customer experience you are delivering, going beyond the service descriptions and SLA’s and talk in the customer’s own language about the outcomes you are delivering.

Successful Service Strategies drive incremental margin:

To give you some idea of the revenue growth and margin you get from these different types of services, the list below compares the predicted margin levels for each type.

  • Price Driven – generally zero or 1-2% margin
  • Features Driven – up to 5% margin
  • Brand Driven – up to 10 – 15% margin
  • People Driven – over 15% margin

The conclusion is, that the two most successful service strategies are Brand and People Driven. THough you have to balance the amount of effort and time to develop these types of strategies. I have not touched on investments needed as they will be unique to each service provider and how much change is involved to develop the correct strategy.

I leave you with this quote as always….

You’ll never have a product or price advantage again. They can be easily duplicated, but a strong customer service culture can’t be copied. ~ Jerry Fritz

Management of Change – final research part – Enabling people to change

“Culture does not change because we desire to change it. Culture changes when the organization is transformed; the culture reflects the realities of people working together every day.” Frances Hesselbein, The Key to Cultural Transformation, Leader to Leader (Spring 1999)

In the last post, I talked about the biggest positive impact in enabling change, Agility, how to recognise it and also develop it. This final article in this series is about enabling people to change by defining different behaviours to enable the change.

The role that a “change agent” plays in the organisational change is significant and should not be underestimated. Change agents do not have to be the leader of the change. Rather, change agents are people that are considered to be key supporters and enablers of the change. I have seen successful change agents at all levels of an organisation, not just in the “C” suite.

One method of change, is to talk about change as an event or a series of events that are led by someone who is specifically given the task within in the organisation. This approach will fail due to the fact that the change is though of as a task, or a physical activity, which it is not. You can not buy change as a product and expect people to put it on, somewhat like a number jumper.

Another method is concerned with getting people to buy-in to the change, almost like they are passengers on a “change bus”. Imagine a London red bus that you can hop on and off of at any point. Is that what you want your people to feel and engage in as part of the change? This method also relies on building trust, compliance and commitment. Again, back to the Red bus metaphor: you trust that the driver knows the route, is safe and considerate and will get you to your destination on time. You, as the passenger have to buy a ticket to get on the bus and conclude your journey – that is the compliance part and the commitment is that you will not get frustrated at the time the journey is taking, or get worried about the passenger that just got on, and get off before the journey ends.

The latest thinking on the right method of change, is built around an engaged set of change agents at all levels of an organisation, working together, where change as a constant theme. This method is about setting the context for the change in the broader world and market; seeking active employee feedback on the key changes that need to occur; prioritising coaching and support of the change, and where change is a constant integral part of the organisation, rather than change events on their own. As well as allowing the employees opportunities to try new things without fear of ridicule and rejection – it is concerned with positively allowing them to succeed as well as fail and in failing, not, and I repeat, not punishing them for any failure.

It is all about emotional engagement, rather than a sequence of tasks. You need to “get inside their heads” as it were. You can consider the following questions as a way to engage the employees in the change. I have used an analogy of a lack of new customers in a retail store to provide answers:

Q: What is the underlying challenge? A: Lack of new customers in the store.

Q: What is the business goal? A: Grow the number of new customers by x through increasing the number that both enter the store and purchase goods as a result.

Q: What type of business decisions do you need to make to help us grow the number of customers? A: As a shop assistant, I need to be aware of the broad range of our products and services and the benefits they bring when talking to customers.

Q: What information would you need to help you achieve that …… “awareness” A: I need product brochures and an understanding of the benefits. I need to know where in the store those products are, so that I cnaquickly direct the customer to the right location.

Q: How would you explain the benefits to someone  A: Think about describing it to your partner, mum, friend. The benfits of using product x

After all, it is about walking in the shoes of the people that in the front line of the changes in your organisation, rather than treating them as if they are a passenger on a bus. So the next time you are planning a major change event, reflect on the key messages from this short series of fives posts. They include:

  • How do you embrace change?
  • The time it takes to recover from a change event and the speed of the changes you want to implement?
  • What accumulated impacts are your people and the broader organisation going to experience?
  • How agile and flexible is the change programme you are developing?
  • Finally, how do you enable people to hange? How do you get into their shoes.

I hope you have found the articles of interest and have sparked your own thoughts on change.

Management of Change – Latest research part 4 – Agility is the Key

Even those who fancy themselves the most progressive will fight against other kinds of progress, for each of us is convinced that our way is the best way.” Louis L’Amour (The Lonely Men)

In the last post, I talked about the accumulated impact of the change and that there is one driver of employee change that has the biggest positive impact in enabling change, Agility.

Agility is defined as: he state or quality of being agile. Agile is Characterized by quickness, lightness, Mentally quick or alert: and has its roots in the latin word agere, to drive.

The research talks about the fact that agile employees are more able to adapt to change because they themselves feel that they are in control of their own response to a changing environment.

The traditional approach to change in an organisation may go something like this:

A group of senior executives get together, normally on an “away-day” out of the office environment and review where the business is going; its plans and activities; where there are significant issues that need to be resolved. What happens next could be a committee is formed to look into the issues; or a task force; or a “hit squad”. Whatever the title, the outcome is normally, a set of recommendations and a plan is put to the executives; challenged; mulled over; reviewed; and finally, a set of changes are decided upon. Then, a senior executive, or maybe a group of executives are tasked with leading and driving the changes. They then start the change process, cascading DOWN the organisation the need for the changes. This is known as the “done to” effect. The employees feel as if they are the victims; completely out of control of their own destiny and in effect the object of the change.

In the Management of Change world that I am used to, it absolutely imperative to put the employee at the heart of the changes. You need to think from the employee outwards; to their managers; their peers; the customers they deal with directly; and ultimately the leadership teams interaction with them. This is the “Agility Approach”.

So how do you enable the employees to feel this way?

A personal connection with the employees; the peers of the employees all sharing experiences and learning from the change and putting the change in the context of the external world, not just an internal company view; really helps to have positive impact on the agility factor. The research concluded this section with the following statistics on percentage impact on change:

Leadership Confidence – 0.1%
Encouragement in the organisation to change: 2.6%
The context of the market conditions to change: 7.2%
Learning from your peers on the key changes and their engagement: 8.4%

The personal connection you have with the change: 11.3% impact

How you as a change agent can help effect the change is the next article in the series.

I leave you with a joke, an old one, but still funny:

A man is flying in a hot air balloon and realizes he is lost. He reduces height and spots a man down below. He lowers the balloon further and shouts, “Excuse me. Can you help me? I promised my friend I would meet him half an hour ago, but I don’t know where I am.”

The man below says, “Yes, you are in a hot air balloon hovering approximately 40 feet above this field. You are between 46 & 48 degrees N latitude and between 52 & 56 degrees W. longitude.”

“You must be an engineer,” says the balloonist.

“I am,” replies the man. “How did you know?”

“Well,” says the balloonist, “everything you have told me is technically correct but I have no idea what to make of your information and the fact is I am still lost.”

The man below says, “You must be a Manager”

“I am,” replies the balloonist, “but how did you know?”

“Well,” says the man below, “you don’t know where you are or where you are going. You have made a promise which you have no idea how to keep and you expect me to solve your problem. The fact is you are in exactly the same position you were in before we met but now it is somehow my fault.”

Altruism: Our impact on the animals and the world, from Matthieu Ricard

“Human use, population, and technology have reached that certain stage where mother Earth no longer accepts our presence with silence.” ― Dalai Lama XIV

I want to start by asking you a question. When was the last time you read a book that struck at your soul. That resonated so much with yourself that you felt its impact? Physically and emotionally.

It is rare these days that something takes hold of you in such a way and for many of the activities we undertake, we surface skim through the activity and the associated emotions. Perhaps it is the society and culture we live in today. The hustle and bustle, the need to quickly passing onto the next topic; the next event; the next emotion.

Earlier this year I went to an event in London; hosted by the Action for Happiness charity; where Matthieu Ricard spent the evening talking about Altruismand the power of compassion to change both yourself, but also the impact on society, other people, the other creatures that co-exist with us, and ultimately, the world at large. At the end of the evening, I bought Matthieu’s new Book, “Altruism”. It is a massive book, with 700 pages of dialogue and a further 131 pages of references. Now, for those of you that know me well, you know I am am a voracious reader and can get through books like a bookworm in a library. Instead, I have read the book slowly and carefully, chapter by chapter, with a sense of awakening occurring along the way.

Of the many chapters in the book, there are two, that have affected me the most.

The Instrumentalization of Animals – a Moral Aberration
This chapter begins with the tenet that man has changed from a farmer to a factory manager in the start of the 20th century when it comes to the regard for animals. in the developed world, 99% of the animals we eat are “produced” in industrial breeding grounds.

“They are reduced to the state of products for consumption, meat making machines… and rank them among objects”

The descriptions of the slaughter houses are too shocking to repeat here. It reminded me, that when I was a small boy, my grandmother & aunt took me to Newton Abbot [a large town in south Devon] for a day out and happened to walk me through the local cattle market. That day, there was a market going on, and as was the custom at the time, when the cattle were being sold, they had a plastic tag punched through their ear. Obviously, without any form of pain relief and the resultant blood flow. I happened to see this and shouted at the person doing this that “it was not fair and how would he like it happen to him”. I don’t remember his reply, but the sight and sounds have stuck with me since.

The sections on destroying male chickens, pigs with the non-tails and calves that are deprived of iron to make their meat paler – because the consumer likes the colour; re-enforced the machine production view of animals.

So let’s extract some of the numbers.

Every year, over 1 billion land animals are killed in France, 15 billion in the United States and 70 billion across the rest of the world. 86 billion land animals. That is 163,622 per SECOND!

100 million animals are killed for their fur

Finally, 1 trillion or 1,000 billion fish are killed every year

The second chapter that made me even more aware of what our lives are doing to the world around us was the chapter entitled:

Backfire: Effects of the meat industry on poverty, environment and health
So what is the impact of the industrialisation of the animal kingdom? Why is it important to think about the impact of the industrialisation of the meat industry. Read the following facts:

Industrial breeding contributes to 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions linked to human activities, in second place and BEFORE transportation! The production of 1 kilo of meat produces 50 times the amount of greenhouse gases than to produce 1 kilo of wheat. Think of the last time you walked past a field of cows and got a whiff!

To produce 1 kilo of meat you need to use 10 kilos of food that could feed poor countries

60% of available land in the world is devoted to the breeding industry – 30% as pasture and 30% to produce the food to feed the animals

The breeding industry alone consumes 45% of all the water destined for the production of food. The production of 1 kilo of meat requires 50 times the amount of water to produce 1 kilo of wheat.

1 hectare of land can feed 50 vegetarians or 2 meat eaters

The world wide consumption of meat has increased 5 times between 1950 and 2006, twice as much as the world population, and the consumption will double again by 2050. I question whether we will physically have enough resources left on the planet. Tropical rainforests cover about 720 million hectares and are home to 50% of the biodiversity on the planet. Since the 1950’s, when the industrialisation of animal food production really kicked off, over 200 million hectares have been destroyed directly caused by the need to produce more pasture land for cattle.

So is eating all this meat good for you?

A study involving 500,000 people showed that 11% of deaths among men and 16% among women could be avoided by a reduction in red meat consumption. A separate study involving more than 100,000 people, daily meat consumption is linked to a increased death risk of 18% for men and 21% for women for cardiovascular disease and by 10% and 16% for death by cancer.And if that does not make you worry, then the thought that, due to the increase in intensification of farming methods and the increased use of pesticides, meat contains about 14 times more pesticides than vegetables,

The final quote that I would like to share is the following:

“If all the inhabitants in North America abstained from eating meat for a single day, that would allow the equivalent of 25 million to be fed every day for an entire year!”

Now before I finish, I like to say, I have been a meat eater all my life. At times I have relished the idea of a big steak and chips [fries to non-English people]. However, the book is making me think really long and hard about the amount of meat I eat, the type of meat I eat, and whether it is produced in a way that I feel is ethical to the animals. Does this mean I will become a vegetarian, maybe.

I leave you with the following quote…..

“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”
― Dalai Lama XIV

Extracts from: Altruism – the Power of Compassion to Change Yourself and the World by Matthieu Ricard, published by Atlantic Books ISBN: 978-0-85789-699-5