As we approach the end of another year, why not spend a little time brainstorming, looking to see whether there might be some profitable spin-offs in your future or learning more about the power of the good old-fashioned lists.
1: What you can learn from call center operators
There was a revealing study done of the speech patterns of operators at call centers. The study paid no attention to the content, only to the operators' voices - the variation in tone and pitch. Based on that, the researchers were able to predict within seconds the ultimate success or failure of almost every call.
Their findings, as related in Strategy+Business magazine: successful operators listen more than they talk; when they do talk, they vary their amplitude and pitch, suggesting responsiveness rather something being read from a script.
ACTION: One of the key areas in which these findings can be applied is presentations. You've probably heard this advice before, but have you done it? - Video yourself giving the presentation (either in rehearsal or when you actually give it). It's kind of mortifying to watch yourself - but also hugely educational. You will pick up nuances of body language, intonation, and other elements that influence your audience.
2. Two kinds of brainstorming you can use
In the Harvard Business Review, management consultants Kevin Coyne and Patricia Gorman Clifford and Renee Dye criticize traditional brainstorming sessions. They say that pushy people dominate such sessions, and blue-sky thinking seldom produces useful ideas. They advocate working in groups no larger than four, so shy people will get a chance to contribute. They also suggest focusing on specific, provocative questions rather than the open-ended 'anything goes' mindset.
I think different kinds of brainstorming are appropriate at different times. Imposing limits too soon reduces the possibility of breakthrough thinking; however sometimes it's also productive to set some guidelines for yourself.
ACTION: Try alternating between both kinds of brainstorming. For example, let's say you have an idea for a new website. The 'anything goes' question might be, "How can I make this site extremely popular?" The more focused question might be, "How can I use FaceBook as a promotional tool for this website?"
3: Is there a spin-off in your future?
In one of the more unusual examples of spin-offs, Wiley, the publishing house, is licensing their "For Dummies" brand with almost twenty products in the UK, according to The Bookseller. The products include a "Cricket for Dummies" kit containing a book, wickets, and a cricket bat and ball. There will also be a "Dog Grooming for Dummies" kit and a "Chess for Dummies" kit.
ACTION: While we normally associate spin-offs with well-known brands, it may be that in your own realm you are overlooking the chance to extend your activities for greater profit.
For example, a friend of mine who is a children's entertainer is considering also creating some products, like a colouring book or CD of stories, that his clients could buy to use as party favours when he entertains. As part of your plan for the New Year, why not spend a little time brainstorming whether there might be a profitable spin-off in your future?
4: The power of lists
Here's a powerful testimonial to the usefulness of lists: Dr. Peter Pronovost has developed checklists for basic procedures that should be followed for the care of critically ill people in hospitals. Some doctors are skeptical because there are so many actions required every day, but a test at hospitals in Michigan showed that enforcing a list of anti-infection measures resulted in a 66% reduction of infections in intensive care units.
Writing in the New Yorker, surgeon Atul Gawande says there should be much greater use of such lists, pointing out that if a drug or medical device saved as many lives as this checklist, it would be used everywhere. (Maybe the fact that nobody makes money out of a list comes into it…).
ACTION: In the past I've mentioned that I use a travel list to make packing quick and easy. When learning a new software programme I now make a list of the basic procedures (especially for software I won't be using all the time), and that's also been helpful. How could you make your life easier by creating and using checklists?
5: I have a feeling you'll have even better intuition in 2008...
Can intuition be improved, or it is just a mysterious thing beyond understanding? According to an article in MIT Management Review, "intuition is a highly complex and highly developed form of reasoning that is based on years of experience and learning and on facts, patterns, concepts, procedures and abstractions stored in one's head."
Woman's Day offers one approach for letting your intuition help you with a decision: draw up a chart. Along one side list your options, along the top list the headings: thoughts, emotions, physical feelings, and dreams. Writer Debbie Geiger advises: fill in the boxes and then weigh up the decision.
ACTION: The next time you're unsure, try the boxes method. When enough time has passed for you to evaluate the outcome of your choice, go back to the chart and see which of the inputs turned out to be most accurate. That could be a gauge for w hich factor to rely on more next time.
6: And a quote to think about:
"To the soul, there is hardly anything more healing than friendship." Thomas Moore