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Emma Birchall is Head of Research - Future of Work at the Hot Spots Movement. Here she has the opportunity to convert leading research into practical insights for clients who are looking to find new ways of using technology to drive human capital performance. She will be a keynote speaker at the IMI National Management Conference on 8 October 2015.   IMI: Based on your current work – if you only had 6 words of advice to give a business - what would they be?

EB: Bring back the trust. They’re human.

IMI: What does this mean? EB: From collaboration to performance to employee engagement, everything we know about work is changing – but our businesses are seemingly slow to respond. People are more attuned to sharing posts, writing blogs, and providing instant feedback through ‘likes’ and ‘favourites’ than they are to completing surveys, so why does our approach to employee engagement still centre on a set of fixed statements and a rating scale? In their personal lives people collaborate naturally with those around them and have an amazing propensity to share even when there is no immediate benefit to them, hence the success of crowdsourcing sites like Wikipedia. So, why do we spend so much time and energy in organisations on encouraging people to practice these seemingly natural behaviours at work? The challenge for businesses is to disrupt every process and practice in the organisation by asking: Why does it exist? What are we trying to achieve? If we were to start the organisation from scratch, would we choose to create this? And perhaps most tellingly of all, would this practice exist if we trusted our employees? IMI: Where should we look for further information? EB: For further information, take a look at the Future of Work website or follow us on Twitter @HspotM: engagement Source: Emma Birchall is a keynote speaker at the IMI National Management Conference taking place on Thursday 8 October. This event has now reached maximum capacity however if you would like to be added to the waiting list, please email your contact details and company name to [post_title] => "Bring back the trust. They’re human" Six Word Wisdom from Emma Birchall [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => bring-back-trust-theyre-human-six-word-wisdom-emma-birchall [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-05-11 20:45:55 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-05-11 20:45:55 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [1] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 6304 [post_author] => 7 [post_date] => 2014-03-07 10:13:52 [post_date_gmt] => 2014-03-07 10:13:52 [post_content] =>

We began our Six Word Wisdom series in June of last year. Since then we have spoken to a variety of thinkers in the field of management and organisational development to ask them to condense for us their advice for business into just six words... It's building up to be quite a collection....we thought it was time for a recap. So what have our contributors said?

They have pointed out the importance of taking account of the individual when trying to build succesful organisations:

Build the Organisation of Your Dreams - Prof. Garreth Jones

Everybody counts - Develop the human now! - Doug Silsbee 

They have pointed out the need for all businesses - of all sizes - to take account of the power of big data and analytics:

Learn to compete with Data. Now. - Dr. Thomas C. Redman

And they have told us that we are not in Kansas anymore and that we have to stay agile and focus on the differentiated value of what we are offering:

Rewrite your playbook for transient advantage - Prof Rita McGrath

Develop a compelling customer value proposition - Prof. John Fahy All in all 30 words that say a lot. We'll be continuing to grow the series as we call on the expertise of those in our network.

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sue cox
Sue Cox is a Learning and Development Consultant and a Tango dancer.  She has worked extensively with the public and not-for-profit sectors as well as the corporate world and has developed and led social inclusion projects across the UK. She is interested in how we develop our own potential and how we connect better with others in order to be more effective in our organisations and relationships. She will be a keynote speaker at the IMI National Management Conference on 8 October 2015 IMI: Based on your current work – if you only had 6 words of advice to give a business - what would they be?

SC: Want better leadership? Develop your followership.

IMI: What does this mean? SC: Many organisations invest heavily in developing and recognising good leadership but give little or no thought to actively cultivating good followership. Leadership is, by definition, a relational process however there is no leadership unless there is a leader/follower dynamic. When we focus only on developing leadership, we give visibility and importance to one aspect only, neglecting the contribution of followership and the untapped potential of the relationship between the two.  How much do we lose by doing so? A powerful illustration of what this looks like in practice can be seen in Argentine Tango. There is a misconception in Tango that the leader is in control and the follower is relatively passive. Nothing could be further from the truth. Tango is complex, improvised and co-created in the moment and it depends entirely on the leader/follower dynamic.  Good followership amplifies and strengthens leadership; good leadership maximises the followers’ contribution. The quality of their connection elevates the whole dance to a greater level of performance. Misconceptions about leadership and followership are seen as often in the boardroom as they are in the ballroom. If you want to release potential in your organisation and be resourceful and creative in the way you respond to change and opportunity, the challenge is to develop everybody’s ability as both leader and follower, so that each can play their full part in co-creating the dance. IMI: Where should we look for further information? SC: Visit my website at 


Sue Cox spoke at the IMI National Management Conference on Thursday 8 October. This event has now reached maximum capacity however if you would like to be added to the waiting list, please email your contact details and company name to [post_title] => "Want better leadership? Develop your followership" Six Word Wisdom from Sue Cox [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => want-better-leadership-develop-followership-six-word-wisdom-sue-cox [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-05-11 20:42:07 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-05-11 20:42:07 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [3] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 19182 [post_author] => 7 [post_date] => 2017-03-30 13:48:18 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-03-30 13:48:18 [post_content] => [post_title] => 5 Tips for Motivating Employees [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => 5-tips-motivating-employees [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-05-18 07:59:34 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-05-18 07:59:34 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [4] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 7017 [post_author] => 32 [post_date] => 2014-05-08 15:28:31 [post_date_gmt] => 2014-05-08 15:28:31 [post_content] => [post_title] => 3 slick selling techniques you should take from the Time-share Salesperson [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => can-learn-selling-street-vendors [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-05-11 21:12:04 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-05-11 21:12:04 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [5] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 8268 [post_author] => 39 [post_date] => 2014-09-29 11:53:40 [post_date_gmt] => 2014-09-29 11:53:40 [post_content] => Described as ‘The Jane Bond of Innovation’, Nilofer Merchant has grown businesses — from Fortune 500s and silicon valley web start-ups — for 20 years.  She will be a keynote speaker at the IMI National Management Conference on 9 October 2014.  As an innovative thinker and practitioner, Nilofer will share her thoughts and experience on how we best align our organisations to succeed against our business challenges today and into the future. nmweb150 IMI: Based on your current work – if you only had 6 words of advice to give a business - what would they be? NM: Not everyone will, but anyone can. IMI: What does this mean? NM: Most organizations think of work in boxes. As in engineering does this and marketing does that. Or, even more personally as Tom is responsible for delivering X and Susan is responsible for Y. This is to put work into neat little boxes to create some type of measurability. It’s a relic of the industrial era when the way to profitability and market performance was on efficiency and productivity. But if you look around your workplace, you’ll notice the most obvious truth. Most things are not failing because so and so didn’t do such and such. It’s because of a gap. A gap between organizational silos. A gap between understanding. A gap between the organizational boxes. In order to close the box, you need to organize not around boxes but around purpose. Organize not by “who should be here” but who wants to be here. And while not everybody will rise up to solve the situation, create new products, etc … what you’ll discover is an amazing reserve of talent that exists. Things you didn’t know were possible will happen. Because anybody can. IMI: Where should we look for further information? NM: Visit my website Nilofer Merchant is a keynote speaker at the IMI National Management Conference taking place on Thursday 9 October. If you are interested in attending click here to register. [post_title] => "Not everyone will, but anyone can" Six Word Wisdom from Nilofer Merchant [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => everyone-will-anyone-can-six-word-wisdom-nilofer-merchant [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-05-11 21:02:28 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-05-11 21:02:28 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) )
Friederike Fabritius

Friederike Fabritius

13th Mar 2019

Related Articles

"Bring back the trust. They’re human" Six Word Wisdom from Emma Birchall
30 words your business needs to hear? Friday Blog Roundup
"Want better leadership? Develop your followership" Six Word Wisdom from Sue Cox
5 Tips for Motivating Employees
3 slick selling techniques you should take from the Time-share Salesperson
"Not everyone will, but anyone can" Six Word Wisdom from Nilofer Merchant

Fun, Fear, and Focus

Most of us recognize that heady feeling when we’re performing at our very best. Time becomes irrelevant, doubt and self-consciousness evaporate, and you find yourself completely immersed in the task at hand. It’s almost like falling in love with whatever you’re doing. For a short time, it becomes the center of your universe.

According to McKinsey, when you reach this exalted state, commonly known as “flow”, you are a whopping five times more productive.

Wouldn’t it be great to gain a fast track to flow? Thanks to brain science, you can. We now know that three distinct neurochemicals produce this unmistakable feeling: dopamine, noradrenaline, and acetylcholine. But if that chemical soup sounds a little intimidating, there’s an even easier way to remember the recipe.

When you want to move into that pleasant but powerful zone of productivity wherever and whenever you need it, all it takes are fun, fear and focus.


How do we create the right levels of dopamine in our brain to make our work fun?
(Photo source)

When we experience pleasure, our brain releases dopamine. In fact, dopamine is sometimes known as “the Kim Kardashian of neurochemicals” because it is associated with excitement, sensation seeking, and addiction, but above all, with fun.

Of course, when I refer to “fun” at your job, I’m not talking about after-work-party fun or even the enjoyment that comes from chatting by the coffee machine or playing a lively game at the office foosball table during a break. That’s enjoyment you get in spite of your job. I’m talking about enjoyment you derive because of your job. It’s not surprising that we commonly describe the work we enjoy most as “rewarding.”

From a brain standpoint, that’s literally true. Often the very things we find most rewarding are the things we are good at. That’s why from the standpoint of both job enjoyment and performance, it makes sense to play to your strengths and to regularly devise strategies to keep your job both rewarding and fresh.

One effective way to do this is by continually challenging yourself.


Remember the old expression, “No pain. No gain”? Well, there’s some neuroscientific truth to that adage. Most of us recognize cortisol as the chemical involved in corrosive, damaging stress. Well, I like to think of noradrenaline as its nicer little brother. It provides just the right level of uncertainty to prevent a task from becoming humdrum.

You may be able to do your job day in and day out on automatic pilot, but I can tell you right now that you won’t be performing at your best unless whatever you’re doing takes you just beyond the outskirts of your comfort zone, either because it’s a little more difficult than you’re accustomed to, because your future success or the success of your company may depend upon it, or because the time allotted for finishing the job is not quite as generous as you’d like. In each of these scenarios, the brain responds with a squirt of noradrenaline.

Depending on your temperament, any of these factors may be just what you need to up the ante and with it, your performance. Not enough fear and you’ll be mired in the boredom that rarely results in superior work. Too much and you’ll be too panicked or frightened to think straight. But just the right amount of fear will make you sit up, take notice, and sharpen your attention so you can perform at your best. You don’t want to be either under-stimulated or overwhelmed.

As I regularly tell my clients, to achieve an optimal performance state, you need to be “slightly over-challenged.”


Fun and fear are crucial, but they won’t put you on the path to peak performance without the third and final component: focus.

We derive our focus from the chemical acetylcholine. Acetylcholine enables us to zero-in laser-like on whatever we perceive as most important at the time. For perpetually curious babies, acetylcholine release is automatic, but as we get older we have to activate it consciously.

Unfortunately, in this era of information overload and always-on electronic devices, all sorts of stimuli are vying for our attention. As a result, focus has become the hardest of the three to achieve. Whenever a new text message pings, the telephone rings, or a colleague walks by your cube or your open office door, your brain activates a primitive response that was originally designed to counter threats and pursue potential rewards.

Of course, you can train yourself to ignore or resist these distractions. But resisting distractions takes willpower, and willpower requires energy, energy that could be better devoted to the task at hand. That’s why the best way to guarantee focus is to eliminate as many distractions as possible in advance, by shutting off your phone, closing your browser, clearing your desk of any materials that don’t pertain to the task at hand, and, above all by discouraging interruptions by colleagues, however well-meaning they may be, either by closing your door or putting in ear buds so it’s obvious to all that you’re temporarily unavailable.

Few people would ever dream of barging into the middle of a meeting. Yet sometimes when you’re working on your own, it almost seems like an open invitation to interruptions. One simple, surprisingly effective way to increase your chances of focus is by scheduling a “meeting of one,” a regular time in your day that is as sacred and respected as any multi-person meeting, when you can be confident that you can work on your own undisturbed and perform at your best.

Although peak performance might’ve once seemed mysterious and elusive, the newest neuroscience has shown us that it’s not nearly as difficult to achieve as we may have imagined. Now you have three simple words at your disposal — and some brain science to support them — that should significantly improve your odds of getting to flow where and when you need to. Besides, it just so happens that the fun, fear and focus that lead to peak performance are also the key ingredients in something else in life that is even more important than productivity: happiness!


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