The Surprising benefits of being Surprised!

The Surprising benefits of being Surprised!

Is your life made up of lots of little surprises? If not why not!? Shake up expectation, spark up relationships and stay present and proactive by peppering your life with small and simple surprises. This isn’t about great big gestures, or lavish set-ups. In fact, the smaller and more regular the better, because when it comes to surprise, size doesn’t matter.

In this article we’re exploring the brain boosting benefits of surprise and looking at ways we can shake up the script by bringing more of the unexpected into our everyday lives. In fact, we’re redefining what we mean by ‘everyday life’ by swapping mundane and ordinary for unexpected and extraordinary! Join us as we step into surprise and discover some of its startling benefits such as: enhanced memory, increased happiness, strengthened relationships, heightened resilience and greater opportunities to create and innovate.

Surprise yourself

Anyone who has young kids will have heard of the surprise egg videos on YouTube. For those of you who haven’t they are basically videos of someone unwrapping a plastic egg filled with small toys. That’s it. Here’s an example of someone unwrapping several surprise eggs covered in ‘play-doh’. And this 21-minute video has over 600 million views! In his thought-provoking Ted Talk, James Bridle describes these videos as “crack for little kids. There’s something about the repetition, the constant little dopamine hit of the reveal, that completely hooks them in. And little kids watch these videos over and over and over again, and they do it for hours and hours and hours.”

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Now whilst I’m not suggesting you spend your lunch break watching surprise egg videos, there is something to be learnt from this seemingly bizarre obsession. The surprise is very simple. The brain rewards the children with the same feel-good chemicals as if they were opening the surprise eggs themselves. The hippocampus is one of the most important brain regions involved in the discovery process, a crucial component in triggering the surprise sequence in the brain. This is because the hippocampus serves as the brain’s “novelty detector” by comparing the sensory information coming in with what’s already known. If this information differs from what is expected, it triggers the release of dopamine- the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitter. This feedback loop is what makes surprise feel so good (and is also what makes these strange videos so addictive to kids!)

In one study 25 people underwent MRI scans while having water or fruit juice squirted into their mouth, either in a predictable or unpredictable pattern. The scans revealed that the brain’s pleasure centre was most strongly activated when the squirts were unpredictable. Researchers commented that: “The region lights up like a Christmas tree on the MRI[when surprised]. That suggests people are designed to crave the unexpected.”

Thankfully there are countless ways to enjoy the benefits of surprise in your everyday life. It could be as simple as changing your usual greeting. Instead of asking your partner “how was your day?” perhaps you ask them: “what was the most exciting thing you did today?” This subtle change has given your partner the opportunity to tell a different story and has given your relationship a chance to break away from its usual script. A small and simple surprise is sometimes all it takes to wake us up to the moment and shine a light on something unfamiliar or new.

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Surprise others

Couples guru John Gottman believes that the secret to a happy relationship is to ’show up’ everyday by doing little things to show that you care. This isn’t about bringing home flowers or cooking a special dinner (although by all means do!) This is about breaking predictable patterns, with small gestures that show not only that you care, but also that you are present in the relationship. To quote John Gottman: “Like the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which says that in closed energy systems things tend to run down and get less orderly, the same seems to be true of closed relationships like marriages. My guess is that if you do nothing to make things get better in your marriage but do not do anything wrong, the marriage will still tend to get worse over time. To maintain a balanced emotional ecology, you need to make an effort—think about your spouse during the day, think about how to make a good thing even better, and act.” 

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When we look at someone through a lens of expectation and past experience, we don’t give them space to grow. By fixing them in our mind we limit opportunity for growth and development in the relationship. I’m currently reading a fascinating book called Playing Pygmalion: how people create one another and the author Ruthellen Josselson talks about how “we have a stake in people being…what we need them to be for us…[and] when we have sculpted people out of our own need, our relationship with them becomes fulfilling – but lifeless.”

When we’ve known someone for a long time, we can quite easily stop seeing them as they actually are. We see what we choose to see based on our own patterns and conditioning. But actually, we are so much more than that. You may have met an ex and suddenly discover they love scuba diving and mountain biking. Who knew! What has happened is that their new relationship has allowed them to express another part of themselves. To use the wise words of Goethe: “treat an individual as they are and they will remain how they are. Treat him as he ought to be or could be and he will become what he ought to be or could be.” Embracing surprise in relationship can be a hugely transformative tool for reinvigorating and reimagining a relationship. A great example of this in my life is with my relationship with my identical twin sister Penelope Waller. 15 years ago, I never would have dreamed we could work collaboratively and now…we run a company together! With hindsight we can see so many of these wonderful unexpected surprises in my life. Surprises that remind us to regularly shake up relationships, so that they always have the space to develop and grow.

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Surprising strangers

I heard a beautiful story on The Mindvalley Podcast from motivational speaker and therapist Sean Stephenson. Sean learnt about the power of ‘surprise connection’ when he was 8-years old, thanks to a surprise encounter with an airport shuttle driver. Sean stayed at the front of the bus and spoke to the driver for the duration of the ride back to the hotel. Later that evening as he and his family were eating at the hotel’s restaurant, the driver came up to Sean and his family and thanked Sean for talking to him. He told them about how sad and lonely he’d been after a recent divorce and how he had actually planned to take his own life that evening. However, after his unexpected conversation with Sean he realised there was life left in him. And that his life was worth living. Such a small, simple thing, such as talking to a stranger, can be the most wonderful- and perhaps even life-changing- surprise.

We all carry around this power to surprise but we have to be present in order to access it. Because surprise captures our attention, takes us away from our thoughts and gives us a moment of heightened attention. It goes beyond communication. Surprise is about connecting. It is one of the primal threads that has the power to connect us and close the gap between us and ‘other’. So why not surprise yourself and somebody else today? Take a moment to look up from your phone and connect with a stranger. You might be surprised to find that they aren’t that strange after all.

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Surprise innovation

Why should you sprinkle surprise into your next meeting? Because it will trigger a release of dopamine in your colleagues’ brains, boost your team members’ long term memory and will improve their creativity and ability to think outside the box. One study discovered that: “the release of dopamine in the hippocampus of rats activates the synapses among nerve cells, creating stronger connections that lead to long-term memory storage.” Another study took this further and used FMRI scanners to compare long and short-term memory in humans. Test subjects were divided into 2 groups and the first group were shown a series of known images, whereas the second group were shown mix of known and unknown images. The FMRI data revealed that the second group were better at remembering the images as their scans showed greater activity in the SN and VTA areas of the brain.

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Surprise is also a key ingredient for disruptive innovation. Disruptive innovators capitalise on the power of surprise by reaching further, connecting disconnected ideas and embracing blank canvas thinking. So, if you want to redefine a category, create new customer behaviour or change the trajectory of your business, you are going to have to embrace the power of surprise.

An example of surprise innovation comes from King Price Insurance. The company offers an alternative to conventional car insurance plans by offering decreasing premiums in line with a car’s decreasing value. By considering a lot more data, the company has been able to offer cheaper, short-term insurance plans and retain happier customers, who find themselves regularly rewarded with a cheaper rate.

Don’t save up surprises!

With April Fool’s day only a week away, why not start flexing those surprise muscles by startling yourself, your colleagues or even an unknowing stranger! Let’s not save surprise for special occasions. Bring a ‘jack-in-a-box’ attitude into the boardroom, the energy of a party popper to your PT session and the essence of an unexpected win to a weekday dinner date. Bring to mind one person, perhaps a team member, partner or friend, and think of way you can surprise them right after reading this article. Perhaps you text them a quote, send them a thankful email or invite them for a coffee. Something so small and simple can be a great surprise to someone and can have a profoundly positive impact on their aptitude for work, mental health and overall wellbeing. So, don’t wait for their birthday or retirement party to say the things you want to say: surprise them today!

Baggage Reclaim

Baggage Reclaim

In this article we’re reclaiming our emotional baggage and learning how to handle it better. This isn’t about putting down all of our emotional baggage and throwing all of our issues over the floor: it’s about becoming aware of our emotional baggage, accepting that some of it will always be there and helping other people to reclaim and reconnect with their excess baggage too. Because our ‘baggage’ is what makes us human. We are all carrying around a bag of inherited, conditioned and learnt emotional blue prints, as well as challenging life experiences and losses that can- at times- weigh us down. And the more we ignore them, or pretend they don’t exist, the heavier our emotional ‘suitcase’ becomes. Until eventually, it bursts open. Because like a suitcase, we also have a finite capacity of space to pack away our ‘stuff’. When we reach capacity, we can- quite literally- break-down (hence the term ‘having a break down’), perhaps through ill mental health, physical ailments or irrational behaviour.

So, in this article we are inviting you to take ownership of your emotional baggage so that it doesn’t own you. This is all about helping you to: reclaim your own emotional baggage and become curious about the type of emotional baggage that you are carrying. How might you handle your bags better? And how might you help others carry their emotional bags through life? Let’s get unpacking…

Lost Luggage

“Why am I afraid to tell you who I am?”


– John Powell

We’ve been conditioned into thinking that negative emotions are “bad”. So, it’s not surprising that we end up ‘bagging’ a lot of these so-called ‘bad’ experiences, emotions and feelings. After a while, we may forget that the ‘bad’ baggage even exists. But the weight of it is still there, whether we choose to see it or not. To quote C. S. Lewis: “Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say My tooth is aching that to say My heart is broken.”

Before we think about sharing our ‘stuff’ with others, we must first be open to acknowledging it within ourselves. We must be willing to embrace our ‘secret selves’, the parts of us that we’ve shunned to the shadows. They say ‘sharing is caring’ and that starts with you. Can you be open to giving and sharing your attention with all of the different parts of yourself, even the bits that you don’t like?

Fear of our emotional baggage is what stops us from letting go. And this fear along with avoidance can actually add to the heavy load we may already carrying. So instead of continually fighting with the idea of even having emotional baggage, let’s face up to the fact that we all have emotional baggage. And whilst we may not be able to let go of all of it, perhaps we can learn to lighten the load.

Oversized bags

“We crave permission openly to become our secret selves”


– Salman Rushdie.

Taking ownership of our emotional baggage doesn’t mean spilling it all over the floor. There are many parts of ourselves that we wouldn’t want to (and perhaps shouldn’t!) share with our colleagues at work. So instead of dumping your suitcase all at once, perhaps you can take out one item and lighten the load?

One way of doing this is by asking for help with your bags. Maybe you reach out to your partner, a good friend or even a therapist. In one study, ‘talking therapy’ a term used to describe all the psychological therapies that involve a person talking to a therapist about their problems, was found to be as effective as ‘anti-depressants.’ The review included 11 studies, with a total of 1,511 patients and found that people treated with antidepressants and face to face interpersonal talking therapy were equally likely to respond to treatment and to get better. So, it seems there’s some truth to the old idiom, “a problem shared is a problem halved.”

Whilst there are numerous different approaches to ‘talking therapy’ the essence across the range of therapies is the same: to shed light on an issue and heighten awareness through talking. So perhaps there is someone in your life that you can talk to? It might sound simple but sometimes sharing a problem and seeing it through someone else’s eyes can help to lighten the load, one sock at a time…

Baggage Reclaim

“How much does your life weigh? Imagine for a second that you’re carrying a backpack. I want you to feel the straps on your shoulders. Now … I want you to fill it with people. Start with casual acquaintances, friends of friends, folks around the office, and then you move into the people that you trust with your most intimate secrets. Your cousins, your aunts, your uncles, your brothers, your sisters, your parents and finally your husband, your wife, your boyfriend or your girlfriend. You get them into that backpack … Feel the weight of that bag. Make no mistake — your relationships are the heaviest components in your life. Do you feel the straps cutting into your shoulders? All those negotiations and arguments, and secrets and compromises. You don’t need to carry all that weight. Why don’t you set that bag down? Some animals go about their whole lives carrying around other animals in symbiosis. Luckless lovers, monogamous swans… we are not these animals. If we move slowly, we die quickly. We are not swans. We are sharks.”

The above lines were spoken by Bingham (played by George Clooney) in the 2009 film ‘Up in the Air’ What I love about this speech is that it highlights how empty our lives would be without any baggage. He suggests that arguably some of the best bits of our lives- like family and friends- seem to create the biggest amount of baggage. So perhaps this is a good time to emphasise that baggage isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It is a part of being a conscious and connected human being. In fact, people who are able to take ownership over their baggage show high levels of what Daniel Goleman called ‘emotional intelligence.’

Reclaiming our emotional baggage helps to raise our conscious awareness, gain perspective and better manage our emotions. And it also models a way of being for those around you and shows them that it is safe to do the same. Because how you are being with difficult experiences will have an impact on the way other people feel they are allowed to behave. What are you allowing other people to share? And how might you better help them to reclaim and carry their bags?

When my partner Tom died in July 2016 I had some incredible support from family, friends, business colleagues and clients. Two and a half years on it is quite natural that the intensity of support lessens. But anyone who has suffered loss, illness or another major life event knows that however much time has passed – we still carry our heavy ol’ suitcase. Maybe we get really good at carrying it, but it is still there. It means the world to me when a family member or friend recognises the case has suddenly become very heavy again and very hard to hold – and sends me a text or even a look or gesture that makes it clear to me that they are aware of what I’m holding. Often lightening the load immediately by at least removing the extra burden of feeling alone.

A ‘Case’ for Creativity

‘You cannot find peace by avoiding life.’


– Virginia Wolf

Reclaiming our baggage not only helps us to connect to other people, it also opens up a gateway to a huge amount of creativity. Accessing our pain can in fact be a life source, in a literal way of re-releasing energy for other creative, life-fulfilling pursuits. Edvard Munch’s painting ‘Scream’ expresses the great pain and frustrations that Munch saw as an unavoidable part of the human experience. It is now one of the top 10 most popular paintings in the world. A musical equivalent is Mozart’s Requiem, which was created out of response to his darkest fears in life.

These examples show us the power of channeling our emotional baggage into creative pursuits. Great pain can create great art- whether that be through paint, words, song or dance. Cathy Malchiodi, author of The Art Therapy Sourcebook, is an advocate of art therapy and considers it as “a modality for self-understanding, emotional change and personal growth.”

Perhaps we too can use creativity as a way of processing our emotional baggage and making something meaningful out of it. Maybe your outlet for channeling sadness is a weekly spinning class. Or could a pottery course be your way to process pain? Creativity is an incredible resource for emotional release and can literally turn our most difficult experiences into works of art. To use the words of American novelist Matthew Specktor, “I think it’s what fiction is for: to illuminate that gap between our secret selves and our more visible and apparent ones.”

Shiny Surfaces

“Man is not what he thinks he is, he is what he hides”


– André Malraux.

In the last few years of her life, Marilyn Monroe sat in various parks across New York in her married role of Mrs. Miller, watching children play and occasionally asking mothers if she could hold their babies. Grieving another miscarriage and feeling isolated in her marriage to Arthur Miller, Marilyn appeared to the other women in the park as an ordinary woman. A woman who was shy, curious as well as desperately sad and lonely. Some of the mothers worked out the real identity of Mrs. Miller and saw the huge gap that had opened up between the Hollywood star and the ordinary woman. A woman who was seen to be the very icon of beautiful, happy, successful, sexy and lucky, but who really was lost –never able to truly step ‘off stage’ and be happy in her real self, or to own her real life. To use the wise words of Brene Brown: “Perfectionism is a twenty-ton shield we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that really prevents us from taking flight.”

Like Marilyn Monroe we too lug around the weight of unmet expectations. But often we show the opposite to the world. Many of us are sharing various aspects of our lives online, presenting picture perfect happiness (literally!) Some 78% of 18- to 24-year-olds use Snapchat, and a sizeable majority of these users (71%) visit the platform multiple times per day. However, reality and virtual reality are not the same thing.


I was recently on a retreat where there also happened to be some people from the cast of a well know TV reality show. They were lovely young people. And you might not be surprised to hear that they were constantly on their phones and posing for photos. What was interesting was the difference between the reality (at the retreat) and the image presented (on Instagram). Of course, there were tangible differences, changed via some clever edits and filters. Yet what struck me the most was how much they ‘set the scene’ to look like they’d just snapped themselves ‘having fun in the pool’ or ‘topping up a tan.’ When really the most memorable, connecting, human times were when we shuffled around in our robes and slippers together, no make-up, no glossy hairdos – just having a laugh and enjoying taking time out.

I’m sure many of us at times can feel like Marilyn Monroe or Instagram stars. Hiding behind a guise of perfection and pretending that we don’t have any emotional baggage. And as in the case of Marilyn Monroe, this story of perfection can sometimes be too big a burden to bear. For both ourselves and others because it also sets a precedent to those around you. If you are only choosing to share an ‘image’ of happiness and success then are you, on a subconscious level, suggesting that everyone else should only share the same?


Embracing the emotional baggage in your life will not only help you to lighten the load, it will also help those around you to do the same. What might you allow your colleagues, partner and children to share if you step up and start writing a new story around emotional baggage? We’re always going to have a certain amount of baggage: it’s a part of being human. Which is why the more you embrace your bags, the more you learn to love and accept yourself.

How might you acknowledge and address your own, ever-changing emotional baggage? And how might you help someone else carry their heavy load?


  1. Think about 1 or 2 pieces of emotional baggage you are carrying. Can you share them with someone close? Can you thank those pieces of baggage for the lessons or experiences they have given you? Can you take them out of your suitcase entirely?
  2. Whether it’s at work, home or in your community – can you identify someone that you know is carrying a lot of emotional baggage? Have they been carrying it for so long that everyone assumes it’s gone? What might you ask them? How could you check in with them to let them know you see them, and see the burden they bear.
Naughty but Nice…

Naughty but Nice…

There was a little girl, Who had a little curl,

Right in the middle of her forehead.

When she was good,

She was very good indeed,

But when she was bad she was horrid. 

– Henry Wandsworth


We can become conditioned into ‘being good’ from a very young age. And our experience of ‘goodness’ may often be subjective and gender-specific. One may be called a “good girl” for being ‘sugar, spice and all things nice’ and a “good boy” for being bold and brave. As adults, our understanding of what it means to ‘be good’ is likely to depend on the messages from childhood that we have internalised. And this definition of ‘good’ influences much more than our moral compass: it affects our day-to-day interactions with our co-workers, family and friends and also, with ourselves. So, what does ‘good’ mean? Compliant? Well-behaved? Talented? Successful? Top of class? Kind? Avoiding eating the donuts?! The list goes on….

For some of us, ‘being good’ means being obedient and following the rules (something that is conditioned into us throughout our education.) Yet, in Silicon Valley I’m sure ’being good’ is also much more about ‘disruptive innovation’, thinking out of the box and breaking conventional norms. Which makes me wonder whether our ideas about ‘goodness’ are somewhat archaic and misaligned with the fast-paced and ever-changing landscapes of our lives. One article encouraging parents to embrace the rebel child, asks if childhood obedience is “a cause for concern or celebration?” And another, commending rule breakers in the workplace, goes so far as to say that “What is really dangerous these days is safe thinking.” So, could it be that our rigid, outdated understandings of goodness are holding us back?

In this article we’re looking at how conditioning around ‘being good’ might be limiting us at work, in our relationships and with ourselves and exploring ways we can accept and embrace our own unique inner ‘goodness’. Let’s take charge of our own definitions of goodness, instead of allowing society’s multiple (and often contradictory) definitions to direct our lives. We can be the author of our own life narratives, and whilst being good for some might mean going for an 8-mile run, for me, ‘being good’ this year, is simply about being true to me.

New Year, Same Me

I typically start January with a New Year, New Me resolution, in the hope of being ‘more good’ in a certain area of my life (last year it was to run twice a week.) But like 91% of all New Year’s resolutions- I didn’t even make it to February. And so, I find myself feeling ‘bad’ for failing to stick to my challenge. But, who is defining this idea of ‘goodness’? My colleague Katie spent several years running and ended up having 4 knee operations. So, in this instance running was not so ‘good’ after all. This is why it’s important to take charge of our own understanding of ‘good’, instead of being influenced by everything and everyone around us.

Be Good to Yourself

As with my 2018 resolution, a lot of our ‘being good’ revolves around not being good enough. So, this year, why not focus your ‘goodness’ efforts internally? Instead of trying so hard to live up to someone else’s’ vision of good, why not focus on being good to yourself?

“If I am not good to myself how can I expect anyone else to be good to be?”

 -Maya Angelou

Self-compassion has been shown to help promote healthy behaviours and positive thoughts. In one study, an increase in self-compassion correlated with an increase in health-promoting behaviours, such as eating habits, exercise, sleep behaviours, and stress management. Another study, looking at the effect of self-compassion on ‘restrictive and guilty eaters’, showed that self-compassion helped to reduce distress and helped people to adopt healthier eating patterns. So being good to yourself can actually lead you to being ‘good’ in more conventional ways, like diet, exercise and sleep. In fact, scientists are now arguing that “self-compassion attenuates people’s reactions to negative events in ways that are distinct from and, in some cases, more beneficial than self-esteem.” We live in a world obsessed with the idea of being self-confident and having positive self-esteem but perhaps it’s much more important to cultivate self-kindness. Which brings to mind a quote from author and Buddhist practitioner Jack Kornfield: “If your compassion does not include you, it’s incomplete.”

Inside Out

Instead of defining goodness from the outside in, we’re flipping the formula and starting from the inside out. To quote the wise words of the 19th century monk Swami Vivekananda: “You have to grow from the inside out. None can teach you, none can make you spiritual. There is no other teacher but your own soul.” If we don’t define our own values and understandings of what it means to be good then they may become ungrounded, disconnected and vulnerable to negative, outside influences.

“You have to grow from the inside out. None can teach you, none can make you spiritual. There is no other teacher but your own soul”

– Swami Vivekananda

So, using the 4D2C model (see below) let’s take a look at how we can take charge of our own definitions of goodness. First, let’s look at the two contexts in which we live – our culture (people) and environment. As we’ve mentioned above, the world around us can affect our ideas of goodness in numerous ways and this starts from a very young age. So, we’ve got the outside pushing in, often influencing our internal dimensions. For example, we may create an autopilot of goodness within our physical dimension, with ideas of goodness being linked to ‘going to the gym’ and ‘eating healthy.’ In the emotional dimension goodness might be linked with ‘being kind.’ And in our intellectual dimension being good might be connected to ‘getting top grades’ or ‘being top of the class.’ The autopilot goodness narrative will depend on multiple cultural and social circumstances. But sometimes these autopilot narratives don’t serve us. As we develop and grow, these ‘goodness’ narratives may become outdated, limiting and stop us living from our true values. So, this is when we have to fire up our intentional self and look inward for answers. Asking ourselves questions like: what does goodness really mean to me? What elements of good will be useful to live by to be my best self? And how does being ‘bad sometimes serve me? As Michelle Obama said: “I have learned that as long as I hold fast to my beliefs and values — and follow my own moral compass — then the only expectations I need to live up to are my own.”


When we live with intention we can push back from the inside out and learn to love all of our parts. Intentional living isn’t about being perfect: it’s about being integrated and connected to your whole self. To use the words of Swiss psychiatrist Karl Jung: “I’d rather be whole than good.”

For Goodness Sake

Once we’ve begun to take ownership of our own values of goodness, the real challenge is acting on them. Why for many of us is it so hard to invoke our inner rule breaker when we are faced with opposing forces in the real-world? Because of a deep-set desire to people please.


American Psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg’s theory around the stages of moral development can help us to understand why we can struggle to embrace the rebel inside, particularly when faced with a moral dilemma. Kohlberg theory suggests that the majority of us remain in level two, Conventional Morality, so called because it is where we conform to conventions and rules of society: “Good behaviour is that which pleases or helps others and is approved by them. There is much conformity to stereotypical images of what is majority or ‘natural’ behaviour. Behaviour is frequently judged by intention. ‘He means well’ becomes important for the first time. One earns approval by being ‘nice.’” What Kohlberg is saying is that at this level we are more concerned with group approval than we are with taking charge of our own moral compass. We self-sacrifice our own values in order to please the group.

So, how can we begin to step out of this conventional level and into what Kohlberg calls ‘post-conventional morality’? We can look to our inner creative or our inner child. The free spirit who wants to push boundaries in a playful, curious and flexible way. This doesn’t mean throwing around chairs in your next boardroom meeting. But it could mean, putting the desks to the side and setting up your meeting in the circle. Small changes that can create huge waves in organisations. One only has to consider the theory of ‘disruptive innovation’ to see this in action. And thanks to companies such as Uber, Airbnb and WeWork, the way we travel, work and play has completely changed. These companies have not only changed the game. They’ve rewritten the very language of the game. (I wonder how long the word ‘taxi’ will remain in circulation given that we now are all ‘Ubering’ everywhere!) Yet, this didn’t happen by following the rules. In fact, they ‘did good’ by redefining what it means to ‘be good.’

So, like these disruptive innovators you too can relax your boundaries around what it means to be good, in order to give yourself the space to be curious, creative and think out of the box. Instead of living by the hard lines of right and wrong, learn to love the space in between. Because it is in these unknown, grey spaces where we find inspiration, innovation and unbounded potential…and perhaps your next big adventure!

Good Enough

Atelophobia is the fear of imperfection. The fear of never being good enough. Something that I’m sure touches many of us on some level on a daily basis. However, if you practice being good to yourself, connect to what goodness means to you and allow it to be an open, unbounded concept…then you no longer need to fear being good enough because good is no longer in the equation. You are quite simply enough.

The next time you find yourself feeling bad for not doing something, seeing someone or being something check-in with your own goodness barometer. Does this definition of ‘being good’ really sit with you? And, how might your ‘being bad’ actually be really useful? Last week I cancelled dinner plans with a friend and I felt really bad as it’s something I rarely do. But this was also an example of ‘being good’ as I was – for the first time in a long time- prioritising self-care and sleep after a very hectic week. It really is all about perspective. Flip the story, fire up your intentional self and start writing a goodness narrative that works for you and your life.

Thanksgiving and Receiving

Thanksgiving and Receiving

If everyone is busy ‘giving thanks’, then who is going to be available to receive all of our ‘gifts’? 

I recently emigrated to the United States and in ‘honor’ of my first ever Thanksgiving, I’m going to be exploring the gracious gift of ‘giving thanks’ and the underappreciated art of receiving…

Many of us grew up being told that it’s more noble to give than it is to receive. But if everyone is busy giving, then who is going to be available to receive all of that good stuff? We need a receiver in order to give. And in order to properly ‘give thanks’- as the holiday’s namesake suggests- we must first open ourselves up to the vulnerable art of receiving.

Why you ask? Because receiving opens us up and enables us to connect to others in deep and meaningful ways; it emotionally benefits the way we see ourselves; it brings more compassion into our lives; it gives others the opportunity to give; and if we model the ability to receive, we make it okay for others to receive too. Amidst all of the gift giving that the holiday season brings, can we also make space to humbly receive? To open ourselves up to the gifts that have already been given? This isn’t just about being grateful, it’s about acknowledging the beauty in giving and receiving and embracing this continuous state of flow. Giving and receiving are two sides of the same, intimate coin and we need balance. Join me as I step into the Thanksgiving celebrations as an open-hearted giver and humble hearted receiver…

Finding Flow 

“For it is in giving that we receive”

– Francis of Assisi.

The world is in a continuous state of circulation and flow. Our breathing, the seasons and giving and receiving are different aspects of the flow of the universe. Everything is in constant motion and this is why we need a balance of giving and receiving, or else we block- or stop- the flow.

Can you identify a moment in your life when you blocked someone’s giving? I was recently shopping at our local ‘mall’ when a friendly shop assistant asked if I needed any help. I’m not a lover of shopping on the best of days and I really didn’t want to get roped into trying on- and then buying- half the shop. So I smiled and told her, “I’m just browsing thanks.”But that wasn’t enough to deter her helpfulness. “Are you browsing for anything in particularly ma’am?” Unable to resist her kind-hearted smile I let her in on my shopping secret: “Well I’m actually on the hunt for a jumper…but I’m not into stripes or anything fluffy.” Before I could say anything further she grabbed my hand and took me to another part of the shop, where I found a whole collection of what I was looking for. “Okay let me know which colours you like and I can get multiple sizes of each for you to try.” When I finally let down my guard and accepted the lady’s help, I saw how happy her helping made her. And I ended up leaving the shop with two jumpers and a big smile on myface. A smile that I’m sure was soon ’gifted’ to someone else. So, by opening myself up to receiving the shop assistant’s ‘gift’ I was able to create more flow in my life… from an exchange with a complete stranger! If you- like me- find yourself in a situation where you are annoyed with someone’s unwanted assistance or attention, see if you can look behind the ‘gift’ in order to connect with their true intention…

Illusions and Intentions

“It’s not how much we give, but how much love we put into giving”

– Mother Teresa.

There are usually multiple motives for giving and sometimes, giving can be a selfish and not a selfless act, as the very act of giving makes the giver feel good. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing: I for one love to see how happy my husband gets from finding a surprise bar of chocolate in the fridge. I also receive a gift when I give. A beautiful ‘secondary’ that gives both sides a hearty dose of joy.

Issues only arise when the ‘giving’ and the ‘getting’ become imbalanced. Are you simply giving so that you can feel good about yourself? Or to look better than someone else? A friend back in the UK recently had a birthday and I decided to ‘be kind’ and send her a book I knew she’d like. Note that I decided to ‘do’ kindness: I wasn’t embodying it. A few weeks went by and I hadn’t received the thank you I was hoping for. My friend hadn’t validated my kindness and so my kindness quickly dissolved into bitterness: ‘some people are just so ungrateful.’ Suddenly I realised what was wrong. I was the one looking for love, attention and validation as opposed to giving it. The ‘gift’ I’d sent my friend was in reality, a vicarious gift meant for me.

If you notice an unhealthy need to ‘give’ or find yourself unsatisfied with a receiver’s response then see if you can get behind the initial desire and uncover the intention behind it. What may have seemed- on the surface- to have been an unconditional outpouring of love might have, in fact, been a self-involved contract of love, bound by multiple T&Cs. If the receiver doesn’t oblige to the ‘terms’ of this type of giving, then you may end up feeling like a victim of your own gift.

The Gift of Receiving

“When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed”

– Maya Angelou.

When we are good receivers we give others the opportunity to give. So why then, do we find receiving so hard? Because receiving puts us in a position where we are vulnerable, indebted and with less power. But receiving also keeps us balanced and nourished: to humbly receive a gift is a gift in itself.

As a Brit in North Carolina, I receive a lot of compliments about my accent. Initially I found the attention quite surprising- even embarrassing- as I’ve never before considered myself to have an accent. However, in my new home town of Charlotte (otherwise known as ‘the Queen City’) the ’Queen’s English’ – as they like to call it- is incredibly well-loved and lots of people have told me to “keep talking, I could listen to your accent all day!” Learning to accept these compliments has not only made me feel proud of my differences, history and heritage but it’s also opened doors to lots of interesting conversations and even some on-going friendships.

Receiving a well-intentioned compliment can help us to connect more deeply with other people and with ourselves. How often do you find yourself batting away kind words from a colleague or praise from your boss? “Oh, I’m not that good” “It wasn’t that hard” “I had loads of help.” Not only are you blocking the givers ability to ‘gift’ you a compliment (and essentially telling them that they are wrong), you are also blocking the compliment from reaching you and informing your sense of self. So next time someone offers you a compliment, see if you can pause to thank the person and allow their words to properly sink in…

The Art of Giving

“No one has ever become poor by giving”

– Anne Frank.

If you’re reading this article and starting to feel bad about the mountains of presents you’ve got stashed away for Christmas- don’t. Giving is a wonderful thing and a fundamental part of the human experience. We are wired to give to others because we are wired to connect. And when our gifts are pure and simple, we can create deep and meaningful connections with our loved ones, but also with the wider world.

Share your gifts with a stranger by opening up to your humanity- perhaps in the form of smile, a newspaper you’ve finished reading or a seat on the train. Simple, everyday gifts that greatly impact the lives of others and create ripples in the world around you. Because your gift won’t only affect the receiver: it will also positively affect anyone witnessing the act. This is all thanks to oxytocin- a neurochemical associated with boosting empathy, bonding and trust. Sometimes referred to as ‘the love hormone’, Oxytocin also increases our self-esteem and optimism, which is really helpful if we are feeling anxious or shy in a social situation.

A few weeks ago, I experienced a shot of this happiness hormone, after witnessing a young man holding an umbrella for an elderly lady. A simple gift to someone else, but one that put a smile on my face and completely changed my day! Even the smallest of gestures can create waves in the world around you because the gift you give can also indirectly impact the emotions of others.

Little and Often

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others”


– Mahatma Gandhi

The emotional benefits of giving are highest when we spread giving out into lots of separate experiences. The sum of each positive experience is far greater that the one gift. Michal Ann Strahilevitz, professor at Golden Gate University in San Francisco, California and a researcher on the topic of charitable giving, discovered that those who gave less but on a more regular basis reported higher levels of ongoing happiness. This is why charities often encourage people to sign up for an ongoing monthly donation, as opposed to giving the whole amount at once. Whilst the latter is often more beneficial to the organisation, the former is much more likely to improve the emotional wellbeing of the giver. As Strahilevitz says: “We can say that people’s motivation for good deeds should be pure altruism, but research shows that often there is more than one motive for giving. There is a warm glow we get from helping others. There is also the fact that it improves our self-concept and potentially our self-esteem. Finally, there is improving our image to others, if others learn of our efforts for charity. All of this is the truth about giving– we don’t just give to help the cause, we also give for the good feelings it gives us.” To put it simply: if we want to feel good, we should increase the amount we ‘give’ as opposed the amount we donate. Less- on a regular basis- quite often gives us so much more!


So this Thanksgiving, see if you can stay open and connected to all of the ‘gifts’ in your life. Do you tend to give or receive? Can you get curious about your patterns of giving and receiving? Start this digging and you will soon break through any blocks and allow the art of thanks and giving to flow. And consequently, you’ll bring more of what you want into your life. To quote American author Zig Ziglar: “you will get all you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want.” So, if you want joy, give joy. If you want appreciation, give appreciation. Keep the cycle flowing- from both sides- and you’ll start to see how quickly you can consciously create the experience of life that you truly want.

Just make sure that when it comes along you are ready to receive!

We’d love to give thanks to you for reading our article and being part of the work that we are so passionate about. If you, your colleagues or your friends would like to receive more of our work then do subscribe to our monthly newsletter ‘Conscious Conversation’ and have a very Happy Thanksgiving, wherever you are in the world!

SUMMER’S OUT!! And it’s back to school…

SUMMER’S OUT!! And it’s back to school…

Remember Septembers from your childhood and how it felt going back to school? Excitement at seeing friends again, sadness that the summer holidays were over. Looking forward to learning lots of new things…The latter perhaps not so much! So, as September draws to a close let’s think about our own timetable of classes. What are you excited to learn about in the term ahead? What new subjects will surprise you? And who might be your teachers? Join us as we consciously pack our bags for a brand-new year at “the-school-of-life”.

I always enjoyed creating my timetable on the first day back at of school. I loved the certainty and the organisation it brought to my day. These days I look at my daughter’s timetable and I’m less focused on the planning and the structure: now I look at her timetable and envy all of the exciting things she’s going to learn! Which got me thinking: why don’t I just timetable more learning into my life!

September is a highly fruitful month for learning.

Recent research suggests that we are smarter in the Autumn, so let’s take advantage of this extra brain power by giving ourselves an intellectual boost! The study, which focused on the ‘seasonal plasticity of cognition’, revealed that we are smarter in the Summer and Autumn compared to the Winter and Spring, when people’s mental function declined by an average of 4.8 years. This month we’re taking advantage of our ‘September Smarts’ by readdressing our approach and attitude towards learning. If we can reignite a love for learning, then we can reap its brain boosting benefits… all year round!

If you don’t use it you lose it!

Want to stay on your A game right into old age? Then keep on learning. It’s one of the best ways to keep your brain sharp and savvy.

Research has long shown the cognitive benefits of learning something new. For example, a 2014 study revealed that speaking two or more languages, even if the second language was learnt in adulthood, may slow age-related cognitive decline. Every time we learn something new we create a new neural pathway in the brain and this process of learning can stimulate new brain cells to grow, even into late adulthood.

The Rush Memory and Aging Project, conducted in Chicago in 2012 with over 1,200 elderly people, showed that cognitively active seniors were 2.6 times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and dementia than those who were less cognitively active. Making time for learning will help you to stay physically and mentally active and will also create more opportunities to socialise, which offers further brain boosting benefits! One study revealed that the cognitive abilities of elders who frequently socialised, declined 70% more slowly than those who were less socially active. So, let’s utilise the brain’s amazing ability to adapt and change by seeing the whole world as a classroom. You’ll be creating new brain cells and you may even bring new friends and interests into your life!

Who are your teachers?

“The teachers are everywhere. What is wanted is a learner


– Wendell Berry.

Teachers come in many shapes and sizes. Some of these teachers are obvious, such as the teachers you seek out to help you with a skill. I’ve recently started seeing a sports masseur and I’ve learnt so much about engaging different muscles in my body. However, many of our teachers are much less obvious.

Legendary keyboard player Rick Wakeman, best known for being in the rock band “Yes” talks about finding an unexpected teacher in a 17-year boy from Argentina:

I was in Argentina and a young kid, and I know how old he was ’cause he told me. He was 17. He came to the hotel and he had my original “Six Wives” album. I said “How old are you?” and in good English he said “I’m 17.” I said “I made this album not only before you were born, but before your parents probably met.” He said “Well, sign it please,” and I did. I said “What is it that you like about this old music?” He looked at me and said “It may be old music to you Mr. Wakeman, but it is new to me. I only heard it for the first-time last week. Please don’t forget that in your audience there will always be somebody there who will be hearing it for the first time. So, it is new. It will always be new.” I never forgot that, from this 17-year-old kid. He’s absolutely right.

Are you open to the teachers all around you? To use the words of children’s author Michael Morpurgo “it’s the teacher that makes the difference, not the classroom.” So, it’s up to you what you want to learn but also where you want to learn it. Perhaps there’s a great teacher right under your nose. See if you can look beyond the confinements and conditioning of our social hierarchies and consider everyone- regardless of their age, rank or role- as a potential teacher You might find a fantastic new teacher in one of your children, a junior colleague or even a pet!

How will you spend your break-time?

“Fun is just another word for learning”


– Raph Koster.

We tend to focus a lot of our learning energy on subjects that will benefit our careers. However, could this career-focused learning path be causing us to miss out on the joy of learning? The love of learning for learning’s sake!?

As we grow up much of our learning is results orientated and institutionalised: it’s focused around outcomes, grades and getting a job. As a result, learning becomes associated with a lack of freedom and play, whereas home is a place for enjoyment and fun. Why can’t learning live in both of these worlds? Well, it can and a simple way of doing this is by taking off the pressure to be good, so that you can fall back in love with the process. Not all of your learning activities need to have a definitive purpose or help to progress your career. And when you let go of this result’s orientated mindset, you’ll start to open yourself up to whole range of different subjects!


As an economics and psychology graduate my conditioned learning patterns tend to focus around business and personal development. So, choosing to read ‘The Betrothed’ a classic Italian novel by Alessandro Manzoni was a big step outside of my learning comfort zone! Perhaps my brain is wired with the stories I told myself about how ‘boring’ it was to read big lengthy ‘difficult’ novels during my school days. So I picked up the enormous book with a sigh and a heavy heart – determined though because I wanted to read it to support my daughter as it’s on her school’s curriculum. But as it turns out, I’m not only loving the story, it’s also teaching me so much about the culture of Italy- historic to present day!

Another example comes from my colleague Katie, who has recently moved to Charlotte, North Carolina. Last week, she went to her first ever American football game, and whilst she’s still got a way to go with understanding the scoring system, Katie was surprised by how much she enjoyed the game and also the amount she learnt about her new home: “It’s much more than a football game: the whole community comes together to celebrate!” So even if a subject- or a sport- doesn’t seem on the surface level to be your cup of tea, see if you can stay open to its learning potential. You never know what you might be missing out on: a new favourite hobby, an opportunity to make friends, or perhaps a whole lot of fun! The question is: is there space for these spontaneous and open-minded learning occasions in your timetable? Or do you need to start scheduling in more of those infamous ‘free periods’ which were so desirable at school?

What’s your homework?


For many vocational careers (including doctors, accountants and therapists) continuing professional development or CPD is compulsory. Whilst it may not be a requirement within your career or company, we believe it’s an essential tool for long-term career competency. Now, if you already feel overworked you might ask- well why would I choose to do more work, that is likely to be unpaid? Two reasons: livelihood and passion. I’ll start with the former…

Warren Buffett once said: “The more you learn. The more you earn.” Now whilst we believe there are many more benefits to learning besides earning money, there is a real truth in Buffett’s statement. We live in a world of constant change and never before have there been more technological advances and breakthroughs. If we don’t try to keep on top of trends, we can quickly fall behind and find ourselves over taken by younger, more ‘up-to-date’ colleagues. CPD doesn’t necessarily have to involve trolling the internet for every recent – and work-relevant- article or research paper. It could be about learning a new skill or deepening an interest that excites you. Or it could be learning something about yourself – which we can find in anything we choose to try, learn or do.

Passion is the driving force that will motivate you to learn regardless of money, career progression or acclaim. And if you can weave passion into a part of your job- even if just by focusing on one specific element- you will create an abundance of fuel for your learning fire! The key is taking the ‘hard-work’ out of work. Ask yourself what you love to learn? Maybe it’s playing netball at the weekends. Watching films with your family. Or going on long dog walks. Once you have an activity in mind, ask yourself the following: what is it about that activity which makes it so enjoyable? Really push yourself to get the root of the passion. Maybe it’s connecting with people, storytelling or being in nature. The deeper you dig the broader the subject becomes, thus enabling you to apply your passion across many different aspects of your life. How might you build this passion for learning into your ‘work’ at work? And what might it offer you and your colleagues?

How is your timetable going to look?

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”

– Mahatma Gandhi.

We’ve created a handy 4D timetable to help you to learn and live from all 4 of your dimensions. Stimulate all of your intelligences- intellectually, emotionally, physically and intentionally- by scheduling more opportunities to learn in your life. Each and every day.


Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how many courses you go on, or how good your teachers are, if you’re not willing to go home and do the work yourself, you will only get so far along the learning ladder. Teachers lead you to the door. But you have to walk through yourself. To use the wise words of Brian Herbert: “The capacity to learn is a gift; the ability to learn is a skill; the willingness to learn is a choice.” So, we’re going to hand it over to you and leave you with the following questions: how much of a priority is learning in your life? And how do want your timetable to look over the next term?

Improvisation and organisational change: How to lead with flexibility and possibility in response to rapid change

Improvisation and organisational change: How to lead with flexibility and possibility in response to rapid change

Improvisation has a bad reputation and I’m on a mission to change that. One mention of the word in workshops and people start to shuffle towards the door, fearing that I’m going to force them onto the ‘stage’ to do something embarrassing. Which is incredibly interesting considering that we are all improvising, all of the time. According to Shakespeare “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players.” So, we are a part of the performance of ‘life’ whether we like it or not. And we don’t have a script, stage directions or a director telling us what to do. In fact, we don’t even get a rehearsal. We are live on stage all of the time, making it up as we go along. 

But we’re not on stage alone. We’re part of many improv teams. And in the workplace, these vary from small divisions within departments, right up to the whole organisation, which in itself is always working with a wider improv team: partners, clients, the market and… the world! The question is what kind of improviser do you want to be? The worst improvisers ‘block’ the scenes, (those people who criticise and focus on the mistakes or problems). Those who are ‘ok’ will passively but agreeably ‘play’ (not really adding or creating anything new). Good improvisers ‘build’ on what you offer. But the great ones know how to build AND make great offers. And of course, the very best improvisers not only fully ‘play in’ but also have their eye on the longer arc of where we can take the story together. Exceptional improvisers don’t just play in when things are going well, they are also willing to jump into a scene that is crumbling to ashes – and are happy to either save you or fail with you! And then there are the rare few who don’t only jump in to help their own team…they cross boundaries and borders to jump into other teams with the sole purpose of creating the best shared experience possible.

…And that’s exactly what we need to call forth from ourselves in leadership. So that we can be fully present and fearless players and collaborators who are building and responding to rapid change, whilst also having an eye on that longer-term arc of possibility.

Improv for Business

Learning the skills of business improvisation and employing them in the market place can help you, as leaders and team members, to navigate through the unexpected and achieve results in uncertain markets.

Business Improvisation is poised to be the next ‘killer app’ for organisational growth and performance. Investing in the performance of the moment, during crisis and when under pressure, is quickly becoming the next frontier for maximising ROI. It is a highly valuable tool designed to enhance the skills and productivity of an organisation’s most valuable asset: its people. Learning the skills of business improvisation and employing them in the market place can help you, as leaders and team members, to navigate through the unexpected and achieve results in uncertain markets.

Working with Teams

The old adage “There’s no I in Team” suggests that being in a team is no place to feel, think and behave like an individual. This is patently untrue as history and experience has shown that successful teams in every field are nearly always made up of talented individuals that have agreed to work together for a common goal. In fact, according to research from Stanford University team performance improves when the people in a team acknowledge and utilise the members’ individual personalities and creativity. And research conducted around teams of mechanical engineers also suggests that “teams do better when they are composed of people with the widest possible range of personalities, even though it may take longer for such psychologically diverse teams to achieve good cooperation. They must first cultivate an openness to opposing opinions and recognise the value of exploring a problem from various angles.” Therefore, while there may be no I in team, there is a ME. At the heart of a successful team is each member’s ability to recognise and understand their own unique creativity and spontaneity as well as communicate effectively, efficiently and with ENERGY on a regular basis. Because global solutions start with individual solutions. In our everyday interactions, in our everyday relationships, in the choices that we make, in the way that we are and in the manner we treat each other… in every single moment. We might have different approaches when it comes to the unpredictable world of business, innovation & leadership but when those different styles come together and we are ‘Ready for Anything’ then almost anything is possible.

Bringing the improviser mindset to work helps us to adapt to change in a fast and fluid way. When we live from this place we practice non-attachment, not only to the self (and with that our pride and ‘needing to be right’) but also to our individual ideas. Because improvisers know that if they have an idea they can make an offer, but if something else comes up and changes the direction, then they can just as easily drop that offer. Something else will arise because it’s a co-creative effort. It’s not just you on your own. The power of improvisation in teams comes from trusting in the team; trusting that the team is inherently creative, collaborative and willing to work as one. This is one of key differences between stand-up comedy and improvisation, which so often get lumped together in the same box. Stand-up comedy is a solo game and is usually tightly scripted. Whereas improv is a team game. Someone’s always got your back. And there’s no script…

Missed opportunity

Think of an offer in your career that you might have missed had you not been open to unexpected opportunity. Perhaps you stumbled across a business opportunity at the bar after work or received a surprise job offer that you decided to pursue. A friend recently received a fairly routine recruiter email and instead of deleting it like usual, he decided to reply “out of curiosity”. 1-month on and he’s working in a completely different industry and doing work that really excites him. His whole working life has changed because of one simple click. Which is why it’s important to remember that you are only ever one decision away from a completely different life. That’s not to say that you necessarily need to make any radical changes: it’s simply about staying open and present to the possibilities that each and every offer brings.

One of the most famous examples of an offer that could have so easily been missed is Viagra. Viagra started out as Sildenafil, a new treatment for angina (a heart condition that constricts the vessels that supply the heart with blood). However, there was an ‘unexpected’ side effect that almost caused the company to completely right off the drug. At the time, the company was going through a lot of organisational change (geographically and internally) which meant that very different departments were sharing the same space. Out of this mix of ranks and roles came Viagra, which was literally discovered because of a ‘water cooler moment’: somebody from a different department was being told in the kitchen about the male patients’ surprisingly ’positive’ effects and they started a conversation. Which turned into an innovation. It was a sudden offer. But it wasn’t an expected offer and in many ways it was an unwanted offer because it didn’t help the clinical trial that was happening at that time. Yet, it actually turned out to be rather lucrative opportunity!

Curious about Change

If we try to predict the future we will invariably be disappointed because our perception of ourselves, our relationships, our life experiences, our careers and our networks are not like pre-written plays. They are more like improvised scenes: there are no lines or stage directions and so we must learn to work with all offers – whatever is arising. So, by replacing control with curiosity we can start to see life’s curve balls as creative challenges.

One of the best ways of leading with curiosity is by being present and open to the bigger picture. Present awareness is key because it’s all too easy to slip into auto-pilot prediction mode. The brain is brilliant at conserving energy and if it believes it’s seen a situation before, it switches off and stops looking for any originality in the scene. Unfortunately, this energy saving tactic stops us from staying present to the changes and complexities of the current world and as leaders it’s vital that we stay awake or else miss great offers simply because of an assumption about how we thought a meeting or presentation was going to play out. The skill of improvisation is an essential tool needed for conscious relationships, great leadership, and global solutions. It’s about re-imagining our intellectual capacity, re-programming our emotional responses, re-booting our physical behaviours and re-wiring our intentional purpose, so that we can consciously create the impact we choose, in all 4 dimensions: physically, emotionally, intellectually and intentionally.

By replacing control with curiosity we can start to see life’s curve balls as creative challenges.

So, the next time you get a strong sense of “been here, done that…” try to stay awake to the differences- however subtle- so that you can respond to offers and play in when needed. Maybe you notice a drop-in morale and decide to organise a team social. It might be a seemingly small and simple offer but with that offer comes a sense of your support and attention, as you were really seeing the team in the present moment. We are not human-doings, we are human beings. And when you live life like an improviser you are operating from this being state. You stay present with where you are, who you are with and how you- and the people around you- are feeling. Instead of planning the future, play in the present moment. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to step into the spotlight. Perhaps you’re not needed on some occasions, which is fine too. Because simply knowing that you’re paying attention will be of huge value your team as you are present to the long-arc of possibility. Your ‘playing in’ power comes from your presence and perspective. You notice when help is needed but you also have the selflessness to step away, allowing others to thrive and shine, centre stage.

Seeing the system

Let’s start seeing and embracing change: living in it, learning from it and leading through it.

As I’m sure many of you have experienced, it’s all too easy to get lost in the ‘scene’ playing out in your office or department and lose sight of the bigger picture. As Frederick Laloux asks in his book ‘Reinventing organisations: “Could we invent a more powerful, more soulful, more meaningful way to work together, if only we change our belief system?” I believe the improviser mindset is key because great improvisers are not only able to be present with the scene presenting itself in front of them but they also are aware of the wider story. And the wider system. Therefore, leading like an improviser is akin to integral thinking and systems work because it enables you to embrace all of the different thinking styles, strengths and talents in your team, department and organisation. You are both a mirror and a mover: reflecting the present, responding in real time and remaining flexible to change. As opposed to fighting it or forcing it through!

As leaders we must meet our teams where they are at, by seeing them as they are, in the present day. From here we can co-create, collaborate and ‘play’ together in the present moment. And who knows, something seemingly disastrous might just turn out to be the best business decision you’ve ever made. When you lead your team from where they are at, instead of running ahead, predicting and planning what you think- or hope- is going to come next, you offer yourself and others a wealth of possibility. Yes, let’s be bold and dream big. But let’s embrace the fact that life is forever changing around us. Nothing is completely secure or certain and when we grasp to the impossible ideal of certainty, we get stuck as we are, paralysed by a fear of change. Yet, even if we aren’t paying attention to it. Even if we are pretending it’s all staying the same. It’s still changing in small and subtle ways. Perhaps you discover that an incredibly quiet and shy member of you team is also a budding stand-up comedian. Can you be flexible and open to this ever changing and- slightly unexpected- identity shift? So that you can encourage and utilise their full, unbounded potential? Leading with an improviser’s mindset is about being mindful of each and every interaction, so that you can offer your colleagues, team and organisation, the gift of fluidity: don’t fix them, free them through flexible and adaptable leadership. Let’s start seeing and embracing change: living in it, learning from it and leading through it.

Yes and…

We don’t know what’s around the corner but we can choose to stay curious and open.

When you switch your mindset from micromanager to improviser you’ll discover endless possibility, unexpected opportunity and the freedom to live a life without limits. The skills needed to improvise can be mapped onto the mastery of living, the art of relationships and the aptitude of leadership. And what’s amazing is that you can do it too. You don’t need to be a professional performer to access the fun, flexible and fearless power of improv in the everyday. I know that many people find the idea of improvisation intimidating, but it’s simply listening to your inner intuition. You are already standing on the stage, so why not let your improvisational instinct drive the show!

I recently had the incredible opportunity of speaking at Tedx Glasgow about the The Improvising Mindset: How each interaction shapes your reality. A huge thank you to Tedx Glasgow and all the volunteers, inspirational speakers, incredible sponsors and the wonderful audience. A truly game-changing global platform… where we can share and connect through our deepest stories. To watch my talk and many others please click here.