True story. Friend A had just had a baby and was struggling to come to terms with how to keep his nipper happy. He was overwhelmed by all the new information he had to absorb, and the seemingly endless list of possible issues that he had to triage and solve. Life wasn’t much fun and he was fraying at the edges (understatement). Friend B had been watching this unfold and, at the right moment, gave him some stellar advice. “Mate, when he’s crying, 95% of the time it’s because he’s either hungry, tired or gassy”. Lights went on, fireworks went off, friend A hugged and kissed friend B and bequeathed his entire fortune to him. The struggle was over. Okay so this wasn’t exactly what happened but you get the idea. A mind-blowingly simple framework had cut through the noise.

I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership recently, trying to pull together everything I’ve learned (quite often by doing poorly) into some kind of simple thesis that I can use to cut through the noise and make sure I’m doing the right stuff. I’ve drawn two obvious, but I think useful, conclusions:

  1. The best leaders are those that actively help others be successful. 
  2. Anyone can be more successful if they have growth, belief and direction. 


Growth is about learning skills and behaviors to become more capable and experienced. In my experience, two drivers of growth stand out - feedback and opportunity.

The secret to giving good feedback is to ensure it’s grounded in data and that you’re unattached to the outcome. But more than that, the most helpful leaders give feedback directly and specifically in the moment. Daniel Coyle explains it well in his brilliant book ‘The Talent Code’:

"The teachers and coaches I met were quiet, even reserved. They were mostly older; many had been teaching thirty or forty years. They possessed the same sort of gaze: steady, deep, unblinking. They listened far more than they talked. They seemed allergic to giving pep talks or inspiring speeches; they spent most of their time offering small, targeted, highly specific adjustments. They had an extraordinary sensitivity to the person they were teaching, customizing each message to each student’s personality. Patience is a word we use a lot to describe great teachers at work. But what I saw was not patience, exactly. It was more like probing, strategic impatience."

Opportunity is all about giving people exposure and stretch early in their career. This not only accelerates development, but also sets the standard for the pace of learning they should be pursuing throughout their career. A recent client of mine, Privia Health, do this really really well. They are a high growth start-up, based in Arlington, that is disrupting the healthcare system by building an alternative to the inflated costs of hospital networks. Privia is moving so fast (10 to 300 employees and $5mm to $70mm revenues in the last 3 years) that they don’t have time to play the long-game with their talent. If you show promise, then you’re given significant responsibility, regardless of your age. It can feel a bit scary but it’s proving to be highly motivating and effective for their predominantly millennial workforce, as Tara Goldenberg, their Chief People Officer, attests:

“At Privia, we see potential. If someone is hungry and capable then we’ll give them every opportunity to step up and take responsibility. The deep end is the best place to learn, especially when you’re not old and cynical enough to feel fear."


Belief is about confidence and building a positive attitude towards your own ability and the mission you’re on. It's built through positive experiences and putting trust in people. 

Mr Pafford was the most intimidating teacher at my school. He taught Geography and coached the Under 16s rugby team. He was short and Scottish with a very very loud voice, and the right half of his ginger beard was white. Legend had it that he had been hit on the head with a javelin at sports day and had had a stroke. Nobody would dream of confirming this with him though.

I was walking back to the changing room at the end of trying out for Mr Pafford’s rugby team when I heard him shout my name. I feared the worst but instead he told me that I had huge potential and was good enough to play for my county (the English equivalent of state). I was blown away. If Mr Pafford thought this it must be true. That season was the best I’d ever played. I trained hard to live up to his billing. I took more risks and pushed the boundaries of my abilities. And at the end of year I was indeed selected to play for the county rugby team.

It was not my natural ability that got me there; I believe it was the attitude that Mr Pafford had created in me. He energized me to give 100% and this made all the difference. In other words, my belief was more important than my ability.

Benjamin Zander, conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and author of ’The Art of Possibility', describes it as giving an A:

“Give an A. If you automatically assume the best and give everyone an A in life, then you let the best come out in them and you remove a lot of the barriers that may have held the relationship back."


Direction is about channeling your talent into areas that mean something to you, and that will allow you to achieve your potential. Direction in this context is not organizational direction but individual direction. At Vega Factor, we describe this as making sure your job is ‘high tomo’. Tomo (short for total motivation) measures, amongst other things, how much Play, Purpose and Potential you have for your role. Play is how much you enjoy the work, Purpose is how much you value the outcome of your work, and Potential is how much progression or development you feel. The best leaders are ones that help others figure out what type of role is ‘high tomo’ for them, and/or help them shape their role to be ‘high tomo’.

So how do you do this? It’s boils down to asking a series of simple questions and translating the answers into actionable ideas:

Play - What do you most enjoy about your work? What would make you enjoy it even more?

Purpose - How could you have more impact? How could you better understand the value you create?

Potential - What are you learning? What do you want to learn?


Growth, belief, direction. It’s a mind-blowingly simple framework but sometimes that’s all you need. Just ask friend A.


“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth” was Mike Tyson’s legendary response when asked how he was going to deal with the style and movement of a future opponent. Essentially he was saying that strategy will only get you so far and it’s how we react to adversity that makes the difference. The issue for most of us is that, while we’re generally pretty good at strategy and planning, we’re not so well-trained at adapting, pivoting and handling what the army call VUCA.

VUCA stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. It’s a term coined by the US military to describe the constantly changing conditions in which they operate, and was devised to explain why it is that most battles are won not with strategy but with improvisation.

It’s easy to imagine VUCA in a combat environment but actually VUCA exists everywhere and for everyone. VUCA for me is when a client shifts a deadline at the last minute. VUCA for a call center employee is when a new type of customer complaint is raised. VUCA for a CEO is when regulations change or a new competitor springs up. VUCA within a relationship is when someone gets tired and picks a fight or when you disagree about what school to send your kid to. I could go on.

If how we handle VUCA is what makes the difference, as Iron Mike suggests, then how do we make sure that we’re ready for it? The answer is to make sure we give a shit. Because if we really care about our work, or our relationship, or our education, then the likelihood is that we’ll roll with the punches, try a little harder, show a little more grit, and push our ideas a little further, all of which are essential to being adaptive which is ultimately what this is all about.

So how do you make someone give a shit? To cut to the chase, you have to unlock their why, and the most important ‘whys’ are play, purpose and potential. When something is done for the love (play), outcome (purpose) or developmental benefit (potential) of it - and not as a result of emotional or economic pressure or inertia, people are better able to both execute their plans and more importantly skillfully diverge from them when the unexpected inevitably happens.

Consider your own relationship? Why are you in it? Is it because you feel play and enjoy hanging out together? Is it because you feel a sense of purpose and believe you’re achieving something important together like growing a family or building a company? Or is it because you feel like you’re a better person when you’re with your partner, which is potential. If all three of these motives are maximized, it’s easy to imagine a world where you’re better able to problem solve together, make compromises, listen and show empathy.

This same equation applies to leaders in business. If you want to enable your people to be more adaptive, resilient, loyal and helpful, have a think about what their why is and make an effort to maximize their play, purpose and potential. Find out what they enjoy most and design their role around it (play), help them make the connection between your goals and their identity (purpose) and figure out ways to ensure that they are always learning (potential). And avoid using pressure to drive behavior - don't use fear as a tactic (emotional pressure), or rely solely on bonuses for performance (economic pressure), and change it up for people who feel stagnant and who are suffering from inertia. You'll be amazed at the results.

WHAT I LEARNED AT RIKERS (value hustle and stay humble)

I recently spent a morning at Rikers Island prison to kick off an entrepreneurship program for inmates as part of Defy Ventures. It blew my mind.

Twenty volunteers spent three hours with fifty soon-to-be-released prisoners, all of whom wanted to learn more about the training program being offered by Defy Ventures. Defy is an organization that offers ex-criminals education, funding and contacts so they can transform their lives through entrepreneurship.

We sat on one side of a large gym, and the prisoners sat on the other, with at least a dozen correctional officers lined up at the back. The atmosphere was moody and suspicious until a group of Defy graduates, themselves all ex-prisoners, stood up and shared how they had transformed their hustle from criminal to legitimate. Hearing real stories from relatable people loosened everyone up.

One of the speakers was David Lee*. David is a super-smart second generation Chinese guy who had spent three years behind bars before he was eighteen years old. He got mixed up in organized crime, used his considerable ability to steal and con, and was eventually convicted for aggravated armed robbery.

When he was released, David realized just how much he’d let down his parents and decided to become the first in his family to finish high school. He ended up getting a college degree, an MBA and recently got angel funding for his own tech start up. He was going on MSNBC the day after we met, and looks and talks like a Harvard grad.

What was striking to me about David was that the same skills that got him into trouble are getting him out of trouble. He’s charismatic, resourceful, resilient, creative and organized. These same characteristics that made him such an attractive gang recruit are now helping him become a powerful business leader. I heard similar stories from all the other Defy grads who spoke; stories about how they had managed to successfully reapply their hustling skills into business and entrepreneurship.

Unfortunately, I’ve found that hustle is often lacking in the corporate world. People are bright and do good work, but are generally too insulated and removed to need to be as hungry and ingenious and brave as the Defy graduates I was listening to. But in the fast-moving, low barrier, opportunity-filled world of today this presents a huge risk to large corporations as these skills are going to become more and more valuable as they try to fend off new competitors and entrepreneurs in general.

Catherine Hoke, the Defy founder and CEO, then blew my mind. Not because of her story though (which is by the way amazing), but with an exercise she ran called ‘Step to the Line’. It’s an empathy exercise designed to demonstrate how similar or different two groups of people are. A line of tape was stuck down the middle of the gym, with prisoners lined up one side, and volunteers on the other, facing each other. Catherine would shout out various ‘step to the line if…’ statements, and you would move forward and stand on the line if that statement was true for you.

These numbers are approximate but close enough…

‘Step to the Line if you like sports’. 15/20 volunteers stepped forward, 45/50 inmates. An easy one to get us started and identify some common ground. There were a few of these type of statements, ones that were designed to connect and keep it light. Then it got deeper and more intense.

‘Step to the Line if you have a college degree’. 19/20 volunteers stepped forward, 2/50 inmates. Unsurprising but sad. ‘Step to the Line if you were homeless before you were 18’. 0/20 volunteers stepped forward, 20/50 inmates. 20/50. I couldn’t believe it. That’s a lot of people. ‘Step to the Line if you were abused as a kid’. 2/20 volunteers stepped forward, 35/50 inmates. ‘Oh my god’ I thought. ‘Step to the Line if a family member has been murdered’. 1/20 volunteers stepped forward, 15/50 volunteers. It went on and on like this. Statement after statement revealing just how hard and unfair life had been for the people I was looking into the eyes of.

The message was obvious but important. I’m lucky and privileged and should be humble and not forget it. And, by the way, we should all avoid prison like the plague because Rikers didn’t look like a lot of fun.

* Name changed to respect confidentiality


It is impossible to become innovative overnight, especially if you are either a large organization or have a standing start. Successful innovation transformation takes time and needs to be carefully sequenced and choreographed differently to traditional change. Here are ten secrets to a successful innovation journey based upon first-hand experiences of doing it well, and sometimes not so well!

 1. Nurture it slowly

Avoid the temptation to scale too early but instead focus on building a portfolio of early victories that will give you the permission and credibility for wider transformation.

 2. Scout for superstars

Superstar innovation talent is sometimes hard to find – they are not always the same as ‘high potential’. So seek them out and invest in their development and future.

 3. Share stories not plans

Tell (and retell) anecdotes as they are what people remember and how they learn. Avoid raising expectations with plans/promises – better to share successes once they’re achieved.

 4. Look after your constituency

Innovation, particularly in the early days, is often a choice for people.  So think of your audience as your constituency and design your engagement activities politically.

 5. Inject thrill and adventure

Innovation requires extra energy, so make the ride enjoyable and seek to inject thrill and adventure where possible and appropriate. Do things people will tell their friends about.

 6. Connect activity to value goals

Make sure that anything you do has a clear value proposition, with value being defined commercially, culturally and experimentally. Don’t just get busy for the sake of it.

 7. Be prepared for failure

If everything you try succeeds, this probably means you’re not stretching the boundaries far enough and your innovation will end up being close to home. Expect only 50-75% to work.

 8. Capture learning as you go

Put in place strict structures to capture learning about what works and doesn’t work as you go. Don’t wait and do it rarely or you could fail to reach the right ecosystem.

 9. Get people behind the cause

Involve the organization, create a common enemy, give people creative experiences and get them rallying together towards an innovation vision that’s exciting. Make it noble.

 10. Back it sufficiently

For innovation to truly take hold and become part of the way you do business, it requires sustained investment of time and money. Don’t be one off, be committed and win.


I asked ten friends what they wanted from an employer. Their answers varied – “I want to have fun”, “I want to follow an authentic leader”, “I want to work in a transparent environment”, “a business that has a meaningful purpose” etc. etc.

There was only one consistent theme: development.  Nearly every person stated that their primary desire is to grow – “I want to be able to pivot and evolve”, “I want my career to be all about self-modification and adaptation”, “the company should be all about facilitating connections between the greatest source of inspiration, my peers”, “I expect to be constantly challenged to learn”.

It was a small and young survey (most were NYC millenials) but I think it’s important because I believe that learning and development is becoming the most valued benefit and valuable capability for today’s organizations.

In some ways this is not new news. Everyone knows that personal growth underpins professional success and so it stands to reason that companies that can offer this to their employees are going to be much more attractive than those who don’t.  What’s different now is that it seems that the expectation for development is more extreme, that this expectation is extending beyond early career into whole career, and that people are valuing learning as an ends in itself (as opposed to a means to progression).

In addition, organizations are realizing that learning is also an essential part of commercial growth. Innovation is no longer about developing and testing insight-based concepts; it’s about experimenting with minimum viable products and quickly learning what works and doesn’t work. This is why many large corporations are currently investing in capability-building programs around disciplined experimentation, lean start-up and intrapreneurship.

So, all this to say that the ability of organizations to learn and develop is going to make or break, and this creates both an enormous threat and enormous opportunity for corporate L&D functions. A threat because most follow a corporate university model (all about delivering training curriculums based upon audience needs based upon level/role) that doesn’t feel well-suited to delivering the type of learning experiences that are going to be needed; and an opportunity because the stage is set for L&D to evolve and put itself at the heart of business instead of being merely a part of HR.

So what could this look like? Here are four ways that L&D could evolve to take advantage of this opportunity.

1.    Shift from a university model to an expansive learning ecosystem

Offer resources not courses. Curate the world and bring together the most powerful and cutting-edge learning tools and experiences. Build skills around how to get the most from this ecosystem and empower individuals to chart their own course. Make available a portfolio of inspiration, experiences, knowledge and access that stretches way beyond training, and that everyone has access to.

2.    Focus on knowledge and networks as much as skill building

Get really clear on where the most useful knowledge lies and make sure your organization is exposed to it. Most often this knowledge will come from people who have been there or who are doing it, so identify which networks these people are part of and make sure you are too. Insist that every employee actively participates in external networks, advise them where to focus and hold them accountable for bringing back and packaging the most useful stimulus.

3.    Partner more closely with strategy, innovation and insights

Work with these business leaders to identify what they need to learn in order to be able to make the right decisions, and develop a plan to help them do just that. This doesn’t mean doing research; it simply means making sure that the development activities that people experience are directly connected to the commercial agenda, both in terms of nature and timing.

4.    Teach everyone (and leaders in particular) how to train

Training is a skill that can be taught and the best trainers can quickly and powerfully change the way people think and behave. No-one forgets their favorite teacher from school. Imagine a world where every employee, from CEO down, had the skills to be able to effectively pass on their skills and experience to those around them, either through short choreographed learning experiences or simply in the day-to-day. Not everyone would deliver training courses, but everyone would be on the hook to be training everyone around them all the time.

I believe that L&D can and should become more influential, impactful and central. The need is there and what it will now take are a few HR visionaries to lead the way and innovate around learning.


In Buenos Aires, on the streets of La Boca, in the shadow of La Bombonera, the phrase ‘El no tiene codigos’ is common. It means ‘he’s got no code’ and it’s the ultimate insult. La Boca is a tough place and here your code – the standards you live by and the promises you make – is valued above all else. It’s what bonds people together in an environment where corruption and crime are easy to find.

Code (in this context) is essentially a definition of the behaviors we expect to see in a group we’re part of. I’ve found that the better a Behavior Code is defined and lived, the more cohesive and collaborative a team becomes. Unfortunately however, many teams only pay lip service to behavior, discussing ‘agreements’ early on and then letting them slide into the background. They are missing a big trick - as without a strong Behavior Code, collaboration and ultimately commercial results will suffer.

One of the most powerful teams I ever worked on was the ?What If! Learning team in London circa 2005. Our leader Chris made sure that we lived and breathed 5 behaviors (Freshness, Bravery, Love, Passion, Action) – we discussed them at every team meeting, they were our primary recruitment lens, we gave each other regular feedback against them, we celebrated (and made legend) stories of us living them… I could go on. As a result, our team was super tight (almost cult-like actually) and extremely high performing, and it’s not surprising that everyone of that era has gone on to recreate their own version of the group.

Behavior Code is one rung down from Values. Values are useful at the corporate level to glue together large organizations, but for teams, code is a more helpful construct because behaviors are more specific and more practically related to how people actually work and interact in the day-to-day. Behavior Code can be general, for example high-performing team behaviors, or specialized, for example innovation behaviors.

As an example of Behavior Code, at The Rise Group we’ve worked hard to develop our ‘Lift Code’. It’s a set of behaviors that we try to live by to create an ‘Uplifting Culture’, organized around 4 central pillars – ‘Eat Life With a Big Spoon’, ‘Practice Creativity 365’, ‘Get **It Done’ and ‘Be a Radiator Not a Drain’. It’s a way of bottling our mojo, and it helps us work creatively and collaboratively every day.

One of the behaviors within our Lift Code is ‘Hammer in Pitons', which sits within the Get **it Done pillar. A piton is what a climber hammers in as he climbs a mountain so that if he fails he will only ever fall back to the most recent piton. At Rise we use this behavior when we want to lock in an agreed direction and agree that whatever happens, even if we later fall or disagree, we will only return back to this point in the discussion (i.e. we won’t start from scratch).

Behavior Code unlocks collaboration, and this is extremely important because collaboration is the bridge between culture and commercial results. Code creates trust and common language, which enable collaboration. Collaboration, in turn, allows groups of people to leverage their collective wisdom and resources, which creates commercial results. And commercial results reinforce the value of having a Behavior Code, and hey presto we have a self-strengthening cycle.

So what’s the secret sauce behind Behavior Code? I’ve found 3 guiding principles:

1.  Universal Buy In – Everyone needs to understand, accept and embrace the behaviors, with no room for dissenters. The best ways to achieve this are to co-create the code, to pull it out of bright spots (versus out of nowhere) and/or to allow sufficient time for people to absorb and personalize. Universal buy-in is the foundation of code amplification.

2.  Connected to a higher purpose – It should be easy to connect the behavior code with your mission as a team. At rise, for example, we know that our Lift Code is the secret to achieving an Uplifting Culture. Everything must be oriented towards why you exist and must make sense in that context, otherwise it will ultimately come unstuck and be lost.

3.  Tuned and Lived – Every person can live any behavior so the trick is simply tuning a group to the right set, and then putting in place structures to reinforce and make them routine. Leadership role modeling, public awards and including code as a standing agenda item are some of the most effective ways of making sure that code is lived. Competitive ranking and performance management are not.

Essentially what this all implies is that every team needs a code to glue them together and help them collaborate, innovate and ultimately deliver. So the big message is that if you cannot describe the Behavior Code of your team(s), or know of a team that’s struggling, it’s probably time to take a page out of La Boca.


It’s easy to say ‘I want my business to be more innovative’ but what does that actually look like in reality. I’ve noticed the same set of characteristics appear time and time again. And although these characteristics do vary by company, industry, and geography, they’re more consistent than you might think.

1. Active opportunity management

New opportunities are actively identified, prioritized/deprioritized and appropriately resourced on an ongoing basis. It’s always clear what is being pursued and why. Opportunity management happens (a) on an ongoing basis as part of leadership meetings/conversations, and (b) during business/strategic planning.

2. Adequate funding of ideas

New ideas cost money to make happen. Funding is therefore set aside in advance to allow for new ideas to be piloted and scaled if successful. If this doesn’t happen, ideas will die in PowerPoint. This funding needs to be sufficient, protected and allocated at the beginning of the year – which means you often won’t know exactly what it will be used for and therefore need to take a leap of innovation faith.

3. Leadership role modeling

Leaders do more than just nod along to innovation. They turn up to meetings, on time and stay to the end. They are active and contribute their ideas and perspectives. And they pay attention to how they behave around fresh thinking, avoiding the default behaviors of judging and decision-making. They inspire possibility and visibly show energy.

4. Stretch goals and a higher purpose

Individuals and teams have goals that cannot be achieved without pushing beyond what has always been done - so by definition they are forced to think differently and innovate. These stretch goals should be attainable but not without challenging current thinking. And if they can also be connected to a higher emotional purpose or cause, this adds extra motivation and ultimate satisfaction when they are reached.

5. External stimulus

The outside can be found on the inside. External provocation, insight and foresight are systematically brought in through a rich and diverse network of partnerships. This knowledge is captured, shared and used on an ongoing basis to inspire and fuel new ideas.

6. Controlled madness

Deliberate use of unbridled expansive thinking where the world is your oyster and anything is possible, combined with smart analysis and rigor. Sniper-like creativity. People should be really clear how and when to give themselves license to push the boundaries and go a bit renegade in their thinking and attitude - and when not to.

7. Up-Down-Left-Right collaboration

Working in small groups with different people is the norm and is how things get done. Levels and silos are put aside in favor of shared ownership of a common issue and solution. This type of collaboration unlocks superior thinking and unlocks energy and creativity in everyone involved. Diversity becomes a genuine advantage versus just a tick in the box.

8. Stories everywhere

If you ask someone what they’ve done recently that’s innovative, they will bore you with example after example. It’s not hard to find evidence, and it goes beyond just product. Anecdotes are told and retold until they become legend, and people strive to do something that’s worthy of becoming part of the narrative. Stories become recognition in themselves.

9. Humility

People are able to see the cracks and acknowledge what needs to be made better. It’s seen as ok to showcase failure. Wins are shared not grabbed, and triumphs feel balanced. Without humility, collaboration and togetherness are tough. With humility comes a sense of togetherness, and that makes innovation and stretch much more easy to do.

10. Room for crazies

It’s ok to stand out from the crowd. It’s ok to be honest about what you did at the weekend. It’s ok to share scary ideas. It’s ok to wear your heart on your sleeve. It’s not ok to judge. If you want to stretch the boundaries with ideas, you have to stretch the boundaries with talent. Tolerance and empathy become important competencies in this environment.


Energy is the life-blood of an organization and there is nothing more rewarding, motivating and exciting that walking around a business that’s coursing with vitality and vibe.  People are huddled together in small groups working on ‘stuff’. There’s a noticeable hum of human activity.  Everywhere you look there is evidence of innovation and storytelling. Something exciting is afoot. Here are some top tips for how leaders can create this kind of energy.

1. Collaborative creativity

Getting groups together to attack a shared issue is a fun way for people to work together and can create inspiring memories, especially if great ideas that people are proud of emerge.

2. Fame injections

Bringing in celebrity speakers every once in a while makes people feel like an insider and gives them stories to tell when they go home. You’ll never guess what we did today… 

3. Leadership spoofs

It’s funny seeing senior people messing around. It shows lightness and humanity and makes people more engaged and committed. Infrequent stunts are often all it takes.

4. Line-of-sight

The more you can see and feel the buzzing throng of an organization, the more you feel part of it. Zoned-off areas and fields of cubes kill energy because a view of actual people is blocked.

5. Purpose and/or enemy

A higher purpose that describes what the business does for the world can be motivating and results in going the extra mile. As can defining a common enemy that we’re out to destroy.

6. BHAGs

Big – Hairy – Audacious - Goals. A bit of a cliché but everyone knows that it’s exciting to feel like you’re going for something massive a la we’re going to put a man on the moon.

7. Autobiography

Interesting businesses get books written about them and that creates a sense of pride for employees. So why not write your own, or even better co-write it with your people.

8. Clubs

Stimulating and funding clubs across the organization can help connect people in different ways and break down silos. Bring home passion into work and use it to galvanize.

9. Ruthless prioritization

It’s hard to have energy when you’re burning out trying to do a million things with no time or resource. Ultimately the most energized and productive organizations know exactly what to focus on and not to focus on.

ATTITUDE EATS SKILLS FOR BREAKFAST (why innovation leaders should refocus)

Mr Pafford was the most intimidating teacher at my school. He taught Geography and coached the Under 16s rugby team. He was short and Scottish with a very very loud voice, and the right half of his ginger beard was white. Legend had it that he had been hit on the head with a javelin at sports day and had had a stroke. Nobody would dream of confirming this with him though.

I was walking back to the changing room at the end of trying out for Mr Pafford’s rugby team when I heard him shout my name. I feared the worst but instead he told me that I had huge potential and was good enough to play for my county (the English equivalent of state). I was blown away. If Mr Pafford thought this it must be true. That season was the best I’d ever played. I trained hard to live up to his billing. I took more risks and pushed the boundaries of my abilities. And at the end of year I was indeed selected to play for the county rugby team.

It was not my natural ability that got me there; I believe it was the attitude that Mr Pafford had created in me. He gave me self-belief and energized me to give 100% and this made all the difference. In other words, my attitude was more important than my ability.

It is often the same with innovation. Sure, some people are born more creative; the Einsteins of this world are wired differently and able to effortlessly make radical new connections. But actually most people I meet have similar ability to innovate and what matters more is degree of confidence in their skills and their motivation to give everything they’ve got and push themselves out of their comfort zones. The implication of this is that leaders of innovation might be well advised to spend at least as much time building attitudes as they do building skills and directing activities.

So where does attitude come from? The answer is experiences. Experiences lead to feelings, feelings create attitudes, and attitudes drive behavior.

Consider my experience with Mr Pafford. He choreographed a powerful positive experience that led to me feeling confident and motivated, which created a strong attitude towards playing rugby and drove me to apply and extend myself in ways that I probably would not otherwise I have done. This behavior then in turn meant that I had more positive experiences and the whole cycle began again and became self-fulfilling. Powerful stuff.

So with this in mind, how can leaders create strong positive attitudes towards innovation. Here are four practical tips for how to lead for attitude:

1.     Create safe opportunities to experiment. Give people space to gradually build their confidence. Take the spotlight off and encourage baby steps on non-critical projects, trying out new tools and behaviors one-by-one without attempting the entire process too early.

2.    Reward attempts to try something new. When you see someone taking a risk and pushing out of their comfort zone, publically pat them on the back to reinforce that behavior and stimulate repeat.

3.    Reframe negative experiences as part of the process. If something doesn’t work, make sure everyone is clear that this is just part of the creative process. Re-express failure as learning.

4.    Take risks and make mistakes. The best way to encourage bravery is to go there first yourself. Showing people it’s ok to be imperfect is the best way to create a culture of experimentation and creativity.

Channel Mr Pafford and you can turn everyday ability into exceptional innovation performance. If it worked with me it can work with anyone.

HOW TO EXPAND BEYOND YOUR CORE BUSINESS (and my Aunt's new boyfriend)

My Aunt can’t stop talking about Saga (a UK company servicing senior citizens, She’s just turned 65 and apparently they have changed her life. She’s going on holiday with them. She’s taken out life insurance with them. She’s even met a new boyfriend through Saga.

I was shocked. Not just because she’d found a boyfriend, but also because I thought that Saga only offered coach tours for old ladies. But it turns out they actually offer “an array of products and services exclusively for over 50s”.

There’s innovation learning here. Over the years Saga have managed to expand beyond their original coach tour business by balancing 2 dimensions: Permission and Transformation. Permission is about making sure you gain the buy-in of your consumers to extend. Transformation is about making sure your organization evolves to be able to deliver new products and services

It looks like Saga have done a great job of both.

In terms of Permission, they’ve got their consumers to allow them to develop a broader positioning by building trust and credibility. This has been done slowly and carefully; they haven’t rushed to roll out new products and have only done so when they are confident that (a) there is a genuine unmet need, and (b) consumers are ready for a new Saga offer. They started with holidays, then launched a magazine, then moved into care and have ultimately been able to add insurance, money, legal and health to their portfolio.

In terms of Transformation, they realized that in order to truly extend into the areas mentioned above they would need to evolve their organization. In some cases this meant building new internal capabilities; but actually most of their transformation has involved creating joint ventures with partners who have specialist expertize. Their financial products, a key part of their offer, are a great example of this; delivery is outsourced (it’s a complex, regulated industry and capability would have been highly inefficient for them to develop themselves) but they are marketed and guaranteed by Saga.

So what does this all mean? To get started, here are 2 interesting questions:

1.     What can companies/brands do to systematically increase their permission with consumers, thereby paving the way for expansion?

2.    What is the best way for leaders to persuade their organization that they need to transform? Buy-in is almost always the biggest barrier.

And of course the most important thing is that now my Aunt has a new boyfriend. So everyone’s a winner*.

*Except those that got it wrong. Like under ambitious Kodak who had the permission but not the ability to transform. Or Virgin Cola who suffered the reverse. So in fact not everyone is a winner. I guess that’s just life