The secrets of larks and owls – because when you do things matters

I’ve been mocked for napping in the afternoon for many years so I was delighted to read Dan Pink’s latest book ‘When – the scientific secrets of perfect timing’ for his endorsement of napping as well as some fascinating insights about how absolutely everything is about timing.

Do you ever feel like you’ve hit a mental block or that you are working in slow motion in the early afternoon? Do you blame it on a post-lunch carb slump? It turns out that how you feel after lunch might be less about the carbs and more about you being a lark.

Dan’s research shows that adults broadly fall into two categories: larks and owls. As the name suggests larks rise early and do their best work in the mornings – owls follow a different pattern and do their best work later in the day. (There are also a few third birds who are somewhere in the middle but you need to read ‘When’ to find out more about them.)

Most of us are larks.

Dan’s research shows that we all fall into a daily pattern of when our brains are most alert, followed by a slump and then a recovery. Our lark or owl tendencies dictate at what times of day we are alert, slumping or recovering.

However, the research shows that it’s more than just about when we do our ‘best’ work. If you are a lark the morning is the best time for analytic tasks, tasks that you need to think about in detail, likewise morning is the best time to make decisions. Larks are better at insight tasks – tasks that require lateral thinking to solve problems during late afternoon or early evening when you are coming out of the slump. When you are right in the slump that’s the best time to do the admin tasks, the things you don’t need to think carefully about. Or better still take a short nap.

As a freelancer, I already work to this pattern when I can. I do the hardest stuff in the morning – the things I need to think about. I’ve learned that it’s much more efficient for me to get up earlier than keep working late at night. The same task can take half the time in the morning than it can the evening. I save the easier tasks for the afternoon slump and whenever I can I take a quick afternoon nap.

If you work 9-5 napping might be problematic, (unless you work at Google, famed for having sleep pods for employees to nap when they like) however within the framework of your day there are there things you can do to encourage your lark and owl traits to be more productive.

For example, if you are a team of larks and have a catch-up meeting in the morning – don’t. You are wasting the best part of your day on tasks that don’t need that morning analytical attention. Instead, have the catch up in the slump and focus on analytical tasks in the morning. If you are an owl can you start work later when you are at your best and work later in the evening?

What might you be able to do to adjust your ‘when’ and your teams ‘when’ in order to play to individual and team strengths and be more productive?

You can get your copy of ‘When’ the scientific secrets of perfect timing here.

Who cares what the other kids think

Have you ever been to the Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green in London? To be honest it’s more like a museum of nostalgia as the core audience seems to be thirtysomethings peering at their old toys in glass cases.

There were some children there too, playing at being giant vegetables in the Food Glorious Food exhibition and acting out their own Punch and Judy stories with the help of Mr and Mrs Punch puppets.

I had my own trip back in time; fond memories of my toy washing machine and iron, (Whoever  bought me a toy iron please own up) Mr Greedy picnic set, the world of Beatrix Potter involving Mrs Tiggywinkle and the flopsy bunnies, Lego, Weebles, (wobble but they don’t fall down) Fisher Price and one of my first and still favourite books ‘Harry the Dirty Dog’.

It’s no wonder that children are so creative. They have the stimulus of a wealth of toys with which they are encouraged to play and have fun with. Toys don’t have to be the latest expensive gadgets, one small person was having a great time with a sandwich wrapper. They are small masters at creating whole new worlds of possibilities. They are encouraged to play and are positively egged on by adults.

But then something happens. We are expected to grow up. We go to school and we sit in rows and we are rewarded for getting things right, not for experimenting and using our creativity. We are taught formulaic language and maths skills. We are rewarded for success in ‘academic’ subjects.

We become afraid of experimenting and getting things wrong. Play is no longer encouraged. We learn that we are rewarded for getting things right and conforming to the expectations of the school curriculum. It becomes safer to fit in than to stand out.

I present at team days, creative workshops and conferences. When I ask adults to stand out and participate, nine times out of ten all eye contact ceases and people shrink into their chairs. They would rather die than volunteer to take part, partly, I think, for fear of what others will think of them if they ‘get it wrong’. In a room full of children I wouldn’t be able to move onto the next part until everyone had “had a go”.

So if we want to be creative and come up with new ideas we need to be more like the children that we once were.

  • Be braver, expect that sometimes we don’t get things right first time. And that’s ok.
  • Encourage and support your colleagues to be braver.
  • Be more playful, psychologists have connected play to a creative mindset.
  • Ask why?, engage that curiosity that children have and learn to question more.
  • Stop caring what the other kids think. You are a wonderful individual. Be who you are.

If you like this post you may be interested in;

What Sir Ken Robinson has to say about schools killing creativity on TED.

Being able to solve problems is more useful than having a right answer

When I was 8 years old I knew all the flags of the world. When I was 16 I knew about Pythagoras theorem and when I was 21 I knew how Nylon was made.

Whilst flags, Pythagoras and Nylon are all interesting to a degree, I’m not sure how genuinely useful any of those topics have really been in my career. I learned about them to pass exams. I crammed the information in order to regurgitate it and get as many questions right as I could. Then I forgot it all. My schools and Universities could tick a box though. If enough of us remembered enough facts it meant they got better ratings which meant more students and more money in subsequent years.

Throughout education I remember being rewarded for getting things right. And I learned this young. At an early age I figured out that asking challenging questions, thinking differently or being a maverick didn’t make me popular with teachers, so over time I stopped.

Then when we start work we are given key performance indicators and objectives. As adults working for an organisation we are measured and judged on how we conform to a set of pre-defined objectives. These are just the grown up versions of getting rewarded for getting things right passing tests, and ticking boxes.

So it’s no wonder that so many organisations struggle to be successful at innovation. Learning to pass exams rather than learning to think for ourselves discourages innovation from an early age, and lets not underestimate the impact that our early years experiences have on our adult behaviour.

Innovation isn’t about confirming to a set of rules or learning about how things have always been done. It’s about thinking differently to solve problems and having the courage to push new boundaries to make change happen. I’m not saying that it’s not important to learn from history and the great discoveries that have gone before us, but if we are not mindful, we may end up focusing on the events of the past and miss the real lessons of the innovators experiences; of questioning the status quo, learning from trial and error and not giving up when others said it was impossible.

And real life lessons that we experience are really important in a world that is changing faster than ever before and will never move so slowly again. It’s unlikely that anyone entering the workforce today will have the same job in ten years time. *One estimate suggests that 65% of children starting primary school today will end up working in jobs that currently don’t even exist.

Last January, a McKinsey & Company study found that about 30% of tasks in 60% of occupations could be computerised and if that wasn’t bad enough, last year, the Bank of England’s chief economist said that 15m UK jobs might be taken over by robots!

Ford, the futurist, offers some optimism with predictions of three job areas that are most likely to survive the robot invasion.

  • Jobs that involve ‘genuine creativity’, such as being an artist, a scientist, or developing a new business strategy.
  • Occupations that involve complex relationships with people, for example, nurses, or a role that requires close relationships with clients.
  • Roles that are highly unpredictable, like a plumber who is called out to emergencies in different locations.

All these jobs involve thinking for ourselves to solve problems. So I’m proposing that we get better at doing this. Let’s take charge and skill ourselves and our teams with the tools and confidence to think, to ask questions, to solve problems, to understand data and draw conclusions, to challenge convention, to learn from failure and build personal resilience to get back up again and have another go.

This is why I’m setting up the Lucidity Network – an online and offline learning and support network. I’m crowdfunding to raise the money to get it off the ground. We’ve got 19% to go and 9 days to do it. We’ve got just 7% to go to meet our target. You can get involved and help make it happen today by signing up here.



One simple test to tell if your new product idea is a keeper or just a fling

Developing a new product is hard and I’m talking from first-hand experience.

When the new product is your idea it’s easy to fall in love with it. When you fall in love you don’t see faults and flaws. You can only see beauty.

If you have a strategy for innovation it is likely that you are developing ideas that are a combination of furthering your organisation’s mission and solving a problem for your customer. Your customers’ problem is often uncovered through insights, solicited through a range of methods including focus groups, surveys, interviews, feedback or simply spending time with and observing your customers behaviour.

Observations over time can reveal a lot and we often identify solutions to problems that customers didn’t even know they had – and a new product is born!

However, if something is genuinely new you have to convince your customer that the new product is the thing they can’t live without. None of us knew we needed the Internet, coconut water or mobile phones. I remember resigning to the fact I was going to have to get a mobile phone but I swore I’d only use it for emergencies. Ten years later I take my phone everywhere with me. I’ve even been known to check it on the toilet for fear of something catastrophic happening if I don’t look at it for a minute.

Right now, I do feel that something catastrophic might happen if I let my phone and access to the Internet out of my sight because I just launched a crowdfund campaign.

Is my idea a keeper or just a fling?

I thought a crowdfund would be the fastest way to test a concept I’ve fallen in love with directly with customers and hopefully provide some objectivity. I also get to raise the money to get the concept off the ground at the same time. It’s how I’m finding out if my idea is a keeper or a fling. And it’s happening right now.

My insight is through my work as an innovation consultant. I work with individuals and organisations helping them to think differently, have confidence in their creativity and make their good ideas happen.

Over the years I’ve noticed it doesn’t really matter how much budget you have or what tech or data is available. It doesn’t even matter how good the idea is. People are the ones that make good ideas happen and they are also what stops innovation.

I focus my energies on helping people have the strategies, skills and courage to make change happen. I’ve been shocked by how little support people require to really flourish and achieve so much more than they think is possible. I’m equally shocked by how little budget organisations put aside for these softer skills and their most important asset – their people.

I’ve just finished an innovation leadership report, (which you can download from which compounds what I’ve learned from my hands-on work. The report is a series of interviews with an eclectic mix of innovators. The interviews revealed that the five most important innovation enablers are focus, understanding your audience, resilience to keep going despite knockbacks, support from others and the most important enabler to successful innovation was simply making time to think.

So, my idea is the Lucidity Network – a mix of online and offline learning and support – helping you to carve out the time to focus and think clearly, matched up with a network of people to provide encouragement and support to keep you going when it gets tough.

If people like the idea, they join the network by backing the crowd fund. This avoids the scenario when people say, ‘oh yes, if you launch it I’ll sign up,’ because what people say they’ll do and what people actually do are two different things.

If this works it means I have enough money to get the Lucidity Network going together with some early adopters giving me feedback on the product.

If I don’t raise the target I give the backers their money back and nothing happens. I’ll either conclude that it’s a good idea and people don’t understand why they need it and have another go – or concede to failing fast.

Check out the Lucidity Network – if you think it’s a good idea then back it and share with your friends and colleagues. The fate of the Lucidity Network lies with you – in the customer’s hands.

When you spot an opportunity you have to go for it does what it says on the tin. It’s an information portal for parents-to-be and new parents so they can sign up in one place to all the best baby clubs, offers and information available.

There are about 800,000 babies born in the UK every year and having a baby is high on the list of life-changing events. Parents-to-be and new parents are hungry for information. And there is a LOT available – as well as brands wanting to get their products in front of new customers.

Government legislation, medical advice and World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines on child health changes with new research and advances in medicine. Sometimes when parents-to-be or new parents search online they can receive conflicting information and advice. This can be confusing and stressful, especially for first time parents.

In the back end of 2009, with a data management background, Lyndsey Marshall was working at Emma’s Diary – a company which offers parenting advice for parents-to-be and new parents. The amount of different information and products on the market could be overwhelming. She saw new parents spending hours signing up to everything only to be bombarded by information that may not be relevant to their personal circumstances.

Lyndsey saw first-hand the impact of how the guidance on infant feeding was becoming increasingly difficult for companies and brands to communicate to parents through traditional channels, and for parents to be informed appropriately. Highly conscious that this key audience were hungry for information on how best to feed and nurture their little-ones, she set about investigating alternative routes to market.

“I believe that all parents have the right to know what options are available to feed their babies, and be communicated to appropriately within the context of the WHO International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk substitutes”

Lyndsey spotted an opportunity. The two most prominent players in the market place at the time were Bounty and Emma’s Diary, who were linked to the NHS. Whilst their relationship through this channel helped get their communications in front of parents-to-be and new parents via GP’s or hospitals, they were restricted in their ability to communicate information on infant nutrition and feeding.

Lyndsey saw there was an opening in the market for a single portal unrelated to the NHS, to enable brands who wish to communicate their baby-related products to a key and receptive life-stage audience of parents-to-be and new parents, thus, enabling them to access vital information on infant feeding and receive consistent and reliable information as well as choice of the best products in the market.

“Having worked with the key brands in the mum and baby market and built up strong relationships, I felt I could offer them a solution for their future communications which had become more restricted at the time as well as offer a solution for the consumer.”

Lyndsey knew the expectant mum and new baby marketplace, with 10 years’ experience and a background in data and sales at the time and crucially had relationships with the baby brands.

So she researched and set up a website and was born in 2010 – a portal that enables the consumer to sign up only once to join the many baby clubs listed on the site.

The site acts as an independent source for key parenting brands, including those offering infant nutrition, and through the brands listed, provides the most up to date information, products and services which parents can choose to hear from at times which will help them bring up their newborn. Leading brands range from (and not limited to) baby clubs, baby food and milks to cash back sites.

Since its birth there has been constant site testing to ensure the right audience is attracted to sign up and that the website content is appropriate. Additionally ensuring client satisfaction is high throughout – which has proved to be the case as many of the original brands are still working with them.

Seven years later Lyndsey keeps the business lean, managing overheads in relation to income, with the core team which has expanded over the years to include social media experts.

As continues to grow, activity is paid for on either on a cost per lead or retained basis and they have adapted accordingly to market needs. The site is now mobile optimised as more and more people are accessing the internet via mobile and tablet.

Having now established itself as a key player in the mum and baby arena, it is important for the business to remember its roots and balance the demands of its core client base with the changing consumer demands and behaviour. Site testing and exploration of aligned markets is ongoing, and adherence to any data legislation such as GDPR is as paramount as ever.

“I’m very excited about the future of the business, as more brands come on board and experience the quality of the data that can deliver them, which means their brands have consumer engagement which ultimately leads them to be profitable.”

Lyndsey’s advice for anyone who has spotted an opportunity…

  • If you spot an opportunity – just go for it. If you don’t someone else will.
  • Check the opportunity is ‘real’, i.e. big enough to sustain a living. Don’t spend £1,000s until you are as sure as you can be that the ‘product/service’ will sell.
  • Don’t give up the day job until you prove the concept is a good idea and will provide you with an income.
  • Be aware of your competitors as the landscape often changes – don’t assume if your competitors are doing something similar they will be successful – first to market often has its advantages.
  • Put the consumer at the heart of what you are doing – it’s about them not you.
  • Busy people make stuff happen – surround yourself with other busy people.
  • Be absolutely clear on what your proposition is and how it adds value to your customer.
  • Think about how your product is different to other offers in the market – have a clear proposition that differentiates you.

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