Author: Bill van de Graaff

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Mentioned in Dispatches

imageWhat does it take to go that extra mile and go beyond the call of duty? Is it courage or a hell-bent motivation to succeed in spite of the odds stacked against you or maybe a combination of both?

It certainly is an act of bravery, all too often recognised posthumously. There are plenty of dead heroes. If the ultimate price is paid in blood, the deposit itself is a sacrifice upon the altar of service.

We all know this applies to wartime in the face of an enemy but how does this relate to us when the guns aren’t firing? Lest we forget….

The greatest honour we can bestow on those gallant legends is to use that quality to improve the lives of those around us, for they laid down theirs to protect our freedom to do so.

The simplest metric in peacetime is the success of business in meeting their customers needs and offering service above and beyond their competition. The standout companies know this and continually improve their product or service before somebody else does.

Success comes as no accident and always overtakes failure along the way. To quote Michelangelo “The greatest danger we face is not to aim too high and miss the target; it is to aim too low and reach it”.

Mediocrity is the comfort zone of the average person and the saying “It’s lonely at the top” is testimony to the few that make it there. To ‘rest on one’s laurels’ is akin to giving up the fight and allowing competitors to take the trophy.

When asked for his secret of success Richard Branson replied ‘surround yourself with people smarter than yourself to do the work’. It will often be necessary to swallow pride in the quest for victory.

We cannot escape our mortality and to make our mark in history or leave behind a legacy is more than having a street named in our honour. To know that life has become even a little bit better for our fellows is reward in itself and a imagebeacon for others to follow.

Those who succeed do so as a result of being prepared to do the things that aren’t done by those who fail. There are two queues in life, one for those who are prepared to do the work and the other for those that wish to take the credit.

Join the first queue, it’s a lot shorter.

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Found in a Lost World

imageAs we sit on the cusp of further technological developments which will continue to radicalise our perception of the world and our place in it, the question arises of whether we are the chicken or the egg.

Have we made a world in our own image or have we become a by-product of the world we have created? With computers assuming powers that were previously sacrosanct as our authority (please open those doors, Hal), what reassurance do we have that we aren’t delegating that responsibility to a set of transistors and printed circuit boards?

This is surely not a new topic but one that is becoming more and more a serious consideration with the likes of Eugene and his future cousins. Without dwelling on the sci-fi implications, our own sense of identity is being transformed when the tyranny of distance is no longer a natural boundary.

We have seen this happen with the rise of mobile communications, the instant accessibility of people and knowledge combining to melt differences between us.

How can this be a threat?

Computers love symmetry, mathematics and classical music share common ground in their love for structure and science is starting to dance with religion in the quest for our true fabric of existence.

We are creatures of habit. We are predictable in our emotional responses. We love to belong to a greater whole. Starting to sound like child physchology? Too simplistic perhaps?

Expert knowledge has been digitised. Computers fly our planes, will drive our cars and cook our meals and soon be monitoring us down to the colour of our underpants.

So who’s in control and does it really matter?

Maybe they can make better decisions than us. Perhaps many of the physical problems we face will be alleviated and eventually removed. But what about our sense of achievement and identification with the spoils of victory? Where is our pride in involvement with outcomes?

The only thing that will surpass these trepidations is the knowledge of who we are and what we’re here for. It’s ‘game over’ for patting ourselves on the back for making ‘progress’.

Machines do that now.

imageWhy should we progress what has been given to us as a birthright? Our true affirmation is our ability to give love to all creatures great and small.

Machines can’t do that.

We can.

The way to preserve our identity is by remembering that.

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Irresistible Influence

irr2Our five senses play a huge role in what we are attracted to as well as what we dislike. They are loyal servants which enable us to have a quality of life which we take for granted until we lose one or more of them. They form our frontline of initial reaction to circumstance and protect us from misadventure. They also allow us to ‘dwell’ in a situation of which they approve.

There is more to life than purely hedonistic pleasure, however, so what about our ‘inner senses’ of contentment, judgement, decision-making, motivation, etc? What do we look for and respond to with regard to these less physical faculties? Quite often we look to others when dealing with unresolved issues, whether it be for advice, information or inspiration.

There are some moments when all caution is thrown aside and the excitement of a new phenomenon sweeps us off our feet. Perhaps the most popular of these moments would be ‘falling in love’. An experience as old as the hills but new for each person who feels it. Ask someone who is doe-eyed and lovestruck about how they feel and they will probably be lost for words.

This feeling of ‘suppressed enthusiasm’ is highly attractive to us. Whether it be someone who has won the jackpot in a lottery, received a promotion or widespread acclaim, their inexpressible joy ‘leaks out’ for all to see and feel. We’d all like a piece of that action. The affirmation of success is universally recognised.

Can we utilise this dynamic in our personal and business lives? It is more than ‘positive thinking’. Is it a presumption of success, a victory claimed before the battle has started? Unfortunately many scammers and snake-oil salesman are good at promising the earth but delivering desert. This doesn’t mean that ‘buy before you try’ depends on slick patter and steak knives.

It is true that we tend to buy with emotion and justify with logic. The missing link-pin here is ethics. If we can illustrate a benefit beyond the buyer that unites the emotion and logic, then we have a winner. ‘The exquisite fragrance of Lotus Drops will make your husband fall in love with you all over again. The animals that haven’t been tested will love you too!’

Whatever ‘third dimension’ we can offer past the immediate sale will relieve the tension of a buying decision and assist in preventing ‘buyer remorse’. irr1The ‘Fair Trade’ appeal lies largely in our desire to extend the altruistic side of our nature rather than building loyalty by shopper rewards.

We are only limited by our imagination when it comes to developing this angle. A small step outside the square can bring big rewards and give us that Unique Selling Proposition.

 

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Rock me gently

imageWhat is it about rocking that puts babies to sleep, allows grandparents to relax and mixed with rolling, provides entertainment for those in between?

Perhaps the answer lies in a feeling of balance. Whether it is a redistribution of our centre of gravity or a stimulation of our aural balance mechanism, this soother has been utilised since time immemorial. When we are presented with an issue which requires a decision we are unsure about, we want to ‘toss it over’ in our minds. This process of evaluation is a form of rocking, albeit a mental one.

What we are actually trying to achieve is an alignment of our centres of motivation – physical, emotional and spiritual – to reach the decision that best satisfies these criteria.

This is what we know as the ‘Aha!’ moment when these spheres coalesce into a unified motive. Sometimes this can happen spontaneously or by a trigger, however stress is created while we still anguish over what we should do.

The stress hormone, cortisol, is most easily broken down by physical exercise. Rock ‘n roll is more than just fun, it’s healthy! Mental stress is created when we need to produce a result from insufficient resources. The reflective state induced by soothing rocking allows us to explore alternative solutions that we may have overlooked.

imageThe popularity of fishing as a pastime is a form of meditation or a legitimate reason to ‘do nothing’ as it induces this type of reflection. The bumpersticker “I’d rather be fishing” implies more than just fish.

A golden rule to prevent stage fright in public speaking is to keep your body moving whilst you address the audience. The physical kinetic energy circulating through the body assists the mind to maintain a momentum instead of ‘locking up’.

If adaptability is the key to our survival, rebalancing is a cornerstone of our ability to cope with change. The ‘dance of life’ should be exactly that, a dance instead of a walk over hot coals.

Running-on-Empty

Running on empty

Running-on-EmptyBeing creatures of habit, we all like our own routines. We all have our favorite indulgences which help to relieve stress in our lives. Whether it’s watching movies or just plain relaxing, the fact that we don’t have to perform or make an effort allows us to reflect on what we’d like to do rather than what we have to do. No harm there.

To be truly creative, however, requires a paradoxical combination of both work and play; the work of production and the play of design. The producer of a movie or publisher of a novel will often alter the original design to suit a commercial formula which may lose the intended message in the process.

Creating is to ’cause to come into being, as something unique that would not naturally evolve or that is not made by ordinary processes’. So it is making something that is new and original. How do we do this? From where do we obtain our inspiration? Is there a certain state of mind or place we go to inside ourselves to find this hidden treasure?

potters-wheel-2-300x207In the same way that a potter creates a piece of work by wearing away on a block of clay, to arrive at that place where we feel truly inspired often requires a wearing away of preconceived ideas and notions. A vessel needs to be empty in order to hold water. We, too, need to open up that space within ourselves to hold and harbour fresh ideas.

A singer/songwriter explained that when he’s short of ideas, he tunes into his bottled-up emotions and the song will express that feeling even though it may be an unrelated circumstance in the lyrics. Other times it just comes to him, words and music together. He then records it on his smartphone.

Phoenix-risingThe ‘Gift of Expression’ is exactly that. A gift. Rather than us being the doers, we are actually the receivers to act as a medium for the message. Seen in this way, we can allow what wants to come through us to be able to do so.

Inspiration comes to us through the ether, as it were, so if we allow this energy to manifest and circulate, then fresh ideas will sprout of their own accord. There is a natural cycle of renewal within Nature, paradoxically portrayed by the Phoenix, the bird that rises from the ashes of it’s predecessor.

Most of us are familiar with the Riddle of the Sphinx, however a lesser known but even more esoteric second riddle says it beautifully. “There are two sisters: one gives birth to the other and she, in turn, gives birth to the first. Who are the two sisters?” The answer is “day and night”.

sphinxSo we are part of the cycle of renewal regardless of whether or not we avail ourselves of this energy. Similarly, as we spend a third of our lives asleep, the fertile times aren’t there 24/7 either, so in between we run on empty.

But rather spend 90 years that way than 60 years without any sleep. (Yawn…)

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Not with a bang, but a whimper

imageThe disappearance of Flight MH370 reminds us all of the transience of ‘the good old days’. September 11 and Pearl Harbour had the same effect and of course the ill-fated Titanic, which was as insulting to our vanity as was the proposition from Copernicus, that the Earth was no longer the Centre of the Universe.

None of us like being put back in our places but these events along with countless other disasters, whether man-made or natural, remind us each time that we are subject to forces beyond our own control. Oedipus Rex was not alone in his vexations.

So what can we do? How can we strengthen ourselves to withstand the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, as Hamlet would have wanted? We can insure our possessions against misadventure but what about our inner security? No proposals there in the letterbox.

We feed our bodies but we also need to feed our soul with strengthening nutrition to withstand these simple twists of Fate. Keeping an even keel can be a big ask in some of the tricky situations we may come across, but keeping your cool can be an enormous asset and can mean the difference between life or death.

Sure, we don’t pretend to be James Bond or Clint Eastwood, however we can be our own ‘Cool Hand Luke’. We can develop an inner resilience that enables us to bend with the wind but not be snapped by it. The strength of water, which can wear away rock, is in its ability to flow and adapt which the rock can’t. Immutable Fate becomes a putty in the mind of one who has become detached from the drama of self entanglement that besets those who identify with the external phenomenon.image

Meditation is the most direct method of anchoring the soul to that which does not change. The benefits of this practise have been widely promoted and cannot be over-emphasised. It is your best friend and benefactor and costs absolutely nothing.

For those who don’t know where to start, Qi Jong is a good beginning.

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Sophisticated Scuttlebutt

imageIf a wise man learns by his own mistakes and a genius learns by the mistakes of others, then it is a fool that thinks he has all the answers. There are always gaps in our knowledge bank that can be exploited by the use of rhetoric or skilfull persuasion.

The Orators of Ancient Greece elevated this art through public speaking and debate. Something did indeed happen on the way to the Forum. The value of this skill became highly prized and the rich and powerful paid big money to learn the techniques of verbal arm-twisting. A new breed of teacher was born known as the Sophists who became the first lawyers by virtue of their convincing ability to argue the case.

Sales pitches rely on the same basic elements to drive home the emotional urgency of committing to the call to action. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a basic road map of our ‘hot buttons’ and not much has changed over the centuries. Whether it be a roof over our heads, food for the table or wage claims, most of our concerns and anxieties revolve around survival and security issues. The establishment of the Border Protection Force in Australia is a perfect example of xenophobic paranoia that is fear-mongering masquerading as paternalistic governance.

That old chestnut, the law ‘n order ticket is an overplayed standby of last resort when political parties run out of steam in the New Ideas Department. Budget deficits can also be subject to the ‘colour bar’ when it suits the political agenda and the nifty side-stepping whereby governments give the plebs the choice of being hung, drawn or quartered is delivered as a democratic privilege.

A true Statesman is imageone who stands head and shoulders above the crowd in their long term vision and who has the ability to deliver that message through skilfull rhetoric and political persuasion. The fact that they are few and far between is testimony to the rarity of that combination.

The end oftentimes doesn’t justify the means; it is then that the question is more important than the answer which will still be blowin’ in the wind.

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Gonna, Goner, Gone!

imageWe all do it, don’t we? Most of us, at least, with the exception of those who have learned the lesson. The Road to Hell is paved with Good Intentions and for all those procrastinators, hoarders and ‘excuse-artists’ out there, I’ve got some great news for you. Firstly, however, we need to understand what it is that prevents us from fulfilling our best of intentions. We all mean it when we say ‘Yep, I’d like to do that’ and we all know the silent remorse we feel when we see somebody else who does what we always wanted to do ourselves.

So what is this bogey that gets in our way and brings out the loser in us all?

It’s the same fiend that is responsible for our doubts, transgressions and failures.

He sits at our table, eats our food and shares our company.

He is a parasite that feeds on our dreams, hopes and aspirations and leaves us feeling drained.

His name is Indecision.

Procrastination is Indecision.

Hoarding is Indecision.

Excuses are Indecision by not deciding on the truth and failing to act.

Why do you think Executives and CEO’s get paid megabucks?

Our Political Masters are Decision Makers.

Even in the Armed Forces a bad decision is tolerated as better than no decision.

The merits or deficits of a decision will evoke its own outcome. It will be at least that, an outcome upon which the next decision can be made. The alternative is to put it on the back burner.image

There are many wise sayings and pithy comments about the inability to decide.

Choose the ones that ring your bell.

Do it now.

Ultimately it’s up to you.

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Upwardly Mobile or Just on Walkabout?

imageAs we see the younger generations moving away from broad-based social media platforms to more app-specific channels, not only has the generational divide become apparent but also the ability of marketers to target these niches has increased.

The mountain, to the climber, is clearer from the plain and as the various interest groups devolve to their fundamental essences, the characterising features of each group become more obvious.

This is a natural process, no different to tribal formations based on common need factors. The implications for social communication relate more and more to interest-specific messages rather than editorial style monologues that emanate from a central edifice.

The colour of your socks and the brand of clothing that you wear are becoming totemic in their relevance to a sense of identity for many, largely due to the intuitive online marketing methods that give the consumer a sense of ‘care factor’ that may be missing elsewhere in their lives.

The notion of a commercial interest being your best friend is somewhat perturbing, however the ultimate judge of satisfaction is the consumer. If you’re satisfied with an inferior product but superior marketing, then why go past McDonalds?

The downside of this trend is that the greater marketing muscle of these giants destroy competition without the same imperatives. So they ultimately disappear, in the same way that many kids these days don’t know where milk comes from and probably don’t drink it anyway, preferring a Slurpee, Shake or energy drink thanks to the psychological arm twisting methods of the big fellas.

The manipulation of processed food labelling is an example of the insidious cynicism displayed by the profit masters. The downsizing of product and increased use of artificial additives are but minor aspects of a greater intrusion into the consumer landscape.

Henry Ford understood this when he introduced the first mass-produced motor car as being available in ‘any colour you like, as long as it’s black’.

imageI only hope that the same behaviour displayed by the younger set in ‘moving away from the masses’ also applies to their consumer choices and that where it matters, they will vote with their feet.

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Social Butterfly or Social Flutterby?

imageWith the rise of social media in its many different formats, the former notion of a ‘pen pal’ has taken on new dimensions. Each platform has a different flavour and style that suits different needs, albeit all in the ambit of personal communications.

Differences aside, the social protocols are the same across the spectrum and basic common sense and sensitivity are all important. The fork in the road comes down to whether you are pushing your own barrow (which we all do to varying degrees) or whether you’re expanding your horizons by being open to communicating with new people and opening up to their interests.

Meaningful relationships will be a mixture of both of the above. Contributing relevant advice or assistance depends on the awareness of the needs of the other party, hence permission based marketing is the way to achieve this.

Some of the most successful online personalities have started out with purely non-commercial intent and through their passion and exuberance for their ‘hobby’ have garnered large followings of like-minded souls who don’t feel threatened by a sales pitch. Sales are generated when there is a recognition of real value in the commodity or service so it is important to ‘over deliver’ in order to gain traction and recognition.

Social butterflies are those who at least give as much as they receive, whereas the ‘flutterby’ is more interested in what they can take away for themselves. It becomes evident quite quickly which type you are on social media and also in the wider arena of everyday life.

Flutterbies are here one day and gone the next as there is no social cohesion to establish a fabric of interaction that is the fulcrum of meaningful communication. The one way ticket to oblivion is the only certainty for those who do not extend a care factor to their intended audience. Social media platforms themselves are getting better at monitoring this aspect, with penalties being applied for transgressions and infringements of personal liberties and considerations.

imageBetter to stay on the safe side of sorry and exercise caution when attempting to influence readers with marketing ploys that don’t use a straight bat. Even the use of pop ups is questionable as it is unsolicited and very annoying to some of us, myself included.

Do unto others, etc….