Trademarks exist to identify the origin of some kind of good or service – the origin being the business that serves as the commercial source of that good or service.

What we often miss is that there are two types of trademarks – a trademark and a registered trademark.

While an unregistered trade mark offers some legal protection to the owner, registration offers far more.

But beyond protection, trademarks are also a type of signalling.

In service businesses like consulting they’re increasingly applied to models or frameworks.

The trade mark says that time and expertise has gone into the idea’s creation. 

That we took the time to register this concept as a trade mark.

That you should trust us because of it. 

That it’s worth paying a lot of money to access what lies behind the ™.

In these cases the trademark isn’t really there to protect the IP at all.

It’s there almost solely as a way to differentiate, to increase the perceived value of the service, and to signal.

And it often works.

We could think of Open Source being the opposite of a trade mark. 

But it’s also protected – by its community. 

And it’s also a signal – that we’re open, inclusive.

Wherever we look, there’s more protection – and more signals – in place than meets the eye.

Keep it boring

Wanna know what kills more police than bullets and liquor? Boredom. They just can’t handle that shit. You keep it boring, String. You keep it dead f***ing boring.

Joseph ‘Proposition Joe’ Stewart, The Wire

As a way to go about one’s business, perhaps we underestimate keeping it boring.

During season 3 of the classic HBO show The Wire, drug kingpin Stringer Bell needs to keep business going while under the eye of the police.

His benevolent rival crew chief Prop Joe Stewart suggests the way to go is for Stringer to spend his days at the photocopy shop he owns – running reprographics requests rather than harvesting heroin profits. He can continue running the real business from the back room, with a careful eye, a second phone, and plenty of discipline. He’s just got to keep it boring.

Joe’s advice holds up well for the rest of us too.

What’s seemingly boring can be the solid foundations of our business: routine, discipline, habits, rinse and repeat. They’re the things that enable us to do the work.

It’s easy to get pulled into what appears to be glamorous and dynamic, the place where the juice is.

While we’re probably not trying to avoid slipping up in view of the Baltimore police department, we all have our own personal nemeses who like nothing less than to be bored and ignored.

They’re the inner critics, censors, the devils on our shoulders.

The best way to evade them?

Keep it boring. Keep it dead f***ing boring.

Bonus Content

TV shows, self-help gurus, car salespeople, and yoga certification courses all offer bonus content of one kind or other.

Behind the scenes footage. 5 steps to greatness in a handy PDF. Tinted windows. Advanced yoga poses DVD.

When it comes to experiences, especially those where we are enrolled to learn and grow, the extra learnings that come from bonus content can be very welcome.

But what if we don’t get what we came for in the first place? 

Is the bonus content enough? 

Or does it have the opposite effect of what was intended, and instead shine a light on the crucial elements that were missing?

In our race to stand out and stay connected, we may invest a lot of resources in creating and delivering bonus content.

Before that, it’s worth taking the time to understand what everyone came for in the first place.

Learning Styles: 3D Mapping a Conversation

One of the learnings from being a student again has been around my own learning style.

Other than a few short courses and MOOCs I haven’t done much classroom-based work since university – and that was nearly 15 years ago.

The delicious irony here is that much of my work these days involves the design and delivery of education experiences.

Being on the other side of the table again has been a valuable experience. It’s reminded me how important it is to place yourself into the shoes of whoever is on the receiving end of what you’re offering:

Player <> Manager

Designer <> User

VC <> Founder

Principal <> Agent

Teacher <> Student

My biggest challenge as a student has been listening. I have no problem with this 1:1 or in small groups (in fact coaching clients often comment on my listening abilities). 

The problem is in larger group settings. Without visuals to guide me I either become easily distracted, or struggle to absorb what’s going on.

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Signposts and Surprises

One of the principles of adult education is that adult learners like to know what’s going to be happening next.

As facilitators and teachers we’ll usually do this by signposting in some way: an agenda at the beginning of the day, or a nod to the hands-on activity we’ll be getting to after the lecture part.

But here’s the tension: we want to make sure there are magic moments. These are where the big breakthroughs happen. And they usually need to be a surprise in some way. They can’t be openly signposted.

This applies outside the classroom too.

Whether we’re pitching for investment or telling a joke – we need both of these elements. It’s hard for one to happen without the other. 

We want to signpost to the audience where we’ll be going, but the surprises are where the magic happens.

This is a craft we can apply ourselves to – finding ways to provide both surprises and signposts.

Because in today’s world of scarce attention, to break through we need to be able to create some magic. But without the signposts, we may have no one with us to experience it.

Cultivate your questions carefully

Last week I went on a training course. In these situations I tend to be either very engaged or very agitated.

As this course was well designed and facilitated, I found myself highly engaged and time flew by.

There was just one occasion where I felt out of sync.

A prompt was put on the screen. It was a question for us to discuss in pairs.

The facilitator had used the word ‘inject’; we were discussing how it would look to inject something into an organisation.

I couldn’t get my mind away from what this word did to the question. We’d been talking about embedding and cultivating, now we were talking about injecting.

This one word completely changed the conversation. What did an injection do that cultivation didn’t? 

Perhaps it suggested a drug that could wear off, or even a placebo? Maybe it was the big push a company needed – the shock of the new substance entering the bloodstream.

To his credit, the facilitator went with us. Instead of closing things off, he encouraged us to try on both words in the question. It led two very different but equally valuable conversations, and opened a whole new line of enquiry on the topic at hand.

And as it happened, he’d only changed the prescription from ‘cultivate’ to ‘inject’ a few minutes before the session started.

It’s amazing what a word can do.

The two workshop danger zones

A few years ago, researchers from Ben Gurion and Columbia universities examined over 1,000 decisions made by Israeli judges who ruled on convicts’ parole requests.

At the beginning of the day, the judges granted 65% of the parole requests. As lunchtime loomed, the approval rate dropped to almost zero. After lunch, it went straight back up to 65% again.

There were two things at play here; grumpiness from hunger, and mental fatigue from making so many decisions.

The same occurs elsewhere of course; in a classroom, at work, or even in certain social settings.

What’s less obvious from the study is what happened 45 minutes after lunch. That’s the time we probably all identify with as the post-lunch lull.

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Dress Up, Dress Down.

Since 2015 I’ve been a workshop facilitator and teacher serving all sorts of groups: teenagers, graduates, mid level managers, senior directors, and C-suite executives.

Many of the larger sessions I’ve done have been 2 day bootcamps. Sometimes they’re for members of one company, other times they’re open to anyone who wants to buy a ticket.

On day 1, most people will show up fairly well turned out. These workshops are business settings, so most attendees will arrive what they consider to be business clothing. But not everyone. Some people will be more casual. Occasionally, far more casual.

Whatever the case, something happens overnight.

On day 2*, many of the well-attired group will arrive noticeably more dressed down, while many of the more casually dressed attendees come to the session a little smarter than they were the day before.

As we become part of this tribe, this community for a couple of days at least, we’re all seeking consensus, alignment, recognition.

And I say ‘we’ as this includes me. I adjust in line too.

Because, consciously or not, we’re all seeking something.


* This of course is even more noticeable if day 2 is a Friday.

Game Time: History Repeating

Here’s a quick game to play every so often with friends old or new.

Get each person to think of a time and place in history they’d be curious to live in.

Ask them to describe what’s appealing about it, what they’d be doing, and how they’d be showing up in the world.

It may be becoming a wild dancer at New York’s Studio 54, slinging guns like Billy the Kid, sending people into space in 1969, or operating as an opulent senator in Ancient Greece.

The answers may tell you far more than you expect.

And as a bonus, you know just which book to give them as a gift.

What the music industry’s people need next

As the music industry’s resurgence continues, its people need support now more than ever. There’s opportunity to further embrace a contributor to success in tech, sports, and other industries.

We’re now living in a world that’s more prosperous than at any time in history. Standards of living are increasing. Extreme poverty and child mortality are down. Literacy levels continue to rise.

Much of this has to do with innovations in the ways we do things: the techniques, and particularly the technologies, we employ.

Despite these steps forward, during the past year in particular it’s been difficult to ignore the groundswell of concern about our relationship with technology, and how everything from fake news to the rise of machine learning affects the ways we approach our work, our relationships, and our lives.

When taking stock of where we find ourselves today, the economist and global living conditions analyst Max Roser surmises “the world is much better; the world is awful; the world can be much better”.

Despite all the added layers of convenience in our lives we seem to find ourselves working harder, and in spite of seamless methods of communicating with one another we’re becoming more isolated.

There’s a nagging sense of there never being quite enough, and always wanting or needing more. Many of us find ourselves falling headlong into the comparison trap and its close cousin imposter syndrome.

These feelings are now commonplace, and for people working in the creative industries they can be almost omnipresent.

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