The Flynn Effect and the Social Multiplier

I'm not so keen on over reliance on simple metrics for quantifying people – call me a romantic but I think you lose something when you try too hard to plot a human on a graph. But when used carefully metrics for various human traits can be enlightening. One such metric is IQ.

IQ is one of the most controversial of metrics and we won't here delve into why that is. Suffice it to say that IQ tests appear to be decent predictor of certain kinds of ability. What's more interesting is that, especially when it comes to abstract reasoning tests, human IQs appear to be increasing rapidly.

This is known as the Flynn Effect – the rapid and sustained increase in IQ since the 1930s – and there are no doubt many reasons for it. We could probably put some of it down to better healthcare and diet – healthy body, healthy mind and so on – and perhaps to a decrease in things like lead in the water (yeah – that stuff's not good for the noggin) but a significant contributor, at least according to Flynn himself, is likely to be what is known as the Social Multiplier Effect.

One of the core principals of the Hard Not Complicated method is that creativity belongs to everyone. I love this principal because it's actually a two-for-one deal; it means that creativity is something that everyone can and should take part in and that the results of creativity are most powerful when we don't try to monopolise them. But when we add in the Social Multiplier Effect, we might start to think of this principal as a three-for-one big value pack; getting more people involved not only gives you more creative heads it also increases the capability of the collective; the creative company becomes more than the sum of its creative parts.

The Social Multiplier Effect is described neatly by the name – the effect of any given thing can be multiplied when it takes place within a group. For example, have you ever noticed how you work harder at the gym when the place is busy and full of dedicated gym-bunnies? Or how you learn more when you're in a class full of enthusiastic boffins? I certainly have. I also eat more when I'm around my more gluttonous friends and complain more when I'm with a bunch of Moaning Myrtles – it's a double edged sword in this regard!

Flynn argues that since the 1930s our work and educational circumstances have evolved such that we have more intensely focused, more concentrated groups of people working on abstract reasoning challenges. This focus on abstract reasoning, not alone but connected in groups, creates a rising tide that floats all ships higher. Put another way, when less capable abstract reasoners spend time around more capable ones, it rubs off. And, furthermore, the increased abstract reasoning skills of the formerly less capable person rub off, in turn, on those around him.

Bringing this back to the principal that creativity belongs to everyone, I can't help but think about my clients and how they work in their organisations – about how creativity can either become something for the elite or something for everyone. It seems obvious to me that abstract reasoning skills, if they can be improved by the Social Multiplier, would massively boost creative output and it therefore behoves all of us to get as many people involved in the creative process and thinking about abstract problems as humanly possibly within the constraints of our working lives.

Normalising creativity is my North Star and it seems that normalising anything begins with language. That's why I try to avoid words like "talent" or "gifted" as well as placing greater emphasis on ideas like grit, attitude, and embracing imperfections as a strength. I also advise my clients to be careful about the signals they send through the choices they make in how they name teams or hand out awards.

Pop back on Wednesday for my quick tips on normalising creativity. Until then, remember, creativity is Hard Not Complicated!


Selling Yourself on Sales

I’d like you to imagine that you’re walking down a road and, from inside a house, you hear sounds of distress. Someone is hurt and they’re calling out in pain. What would you do?

We’ll revisit this idea later. For now, place it at the back of your mind and let it settle in.

On Saturday I had the immense privilege of addressing a group of entrepreneurs and business people from the Latin American community in London at the ExpoOportunidades 2016 where I delivered the Hard Not Complicated Field Guide to Being Different – an exploration and celebration of what it means to be you. I’d like to thank the organisers for involving me as I had a genuinely great time.

At the end of the workshop I was approached by a group of participants from the same company with a question about sales. They told me that their employers had recently asked the senior consultants in their business to take on more of a sales centric role, feeling that the salesforce they had previously used wasn’t serving the best needs of the clients.

From the brief conversation we had it seemed that the consultants were finding this change difficult and were unhappy about this new requirement. While I can’t and wouldn’t share specific details about this case and what my proposed solution might be, I would like to share some generalised thoughts about sales and how to both sell yourself on selling and find out how you sell instead of trying to sell how you feel you are supposed to.

Selling yourself on selling

I used to be a salesperson. I was a good salesperson. In some cases I was the best salesperson in my team or branch. Today I am the head of sales for Sabre Tooth Panda by virtue of being the only person who works here! But I am not and never was a typical salesperson. Or, at least, I wasn’t a stereotypical one.

When you think about salespeople, if you don’t happen to be one yourself, you probably imagine brash, extroverted types who think in simple zero sum ways. They only care about their bonus cheque and probably don’t really understand the products they’re selling. They’re pushy, annoying, try to guilt/con/pressure others into paying money for things they don’t need and you avoid them like the plague.

No wonder you don’t want to be one! To act in this way would bring about feelings of shame and guilt, go against your values and undermine your self image. It would be a denial of who you are.

Like all stereotypes this one begins with a little bit of truth. Their are salespeople like that. Maybe even the majority of them. But that doesn’t mean that this is the only way to be a salesperson.

When I worked in sales I had some roles which pretty much required me to be this person. I did not like these roles. And, it is worth noting, when I was in these roles I was a very mediocre salesperson. Being good with words and confident with people I could force myself to adopt these behaviours for a little while but relatively soon the pain of having to be someone I didn’t like would undermine my performance.

Then there were other roles where I got to sell the way I like to sell and what typified these roles was that I genuinely loved what I was selling.

For instance, when I was a waiter at a steakhouse, a role that is absolutely a sales job, I genuinely believed that we had a great product and that it was my job to make sure that the customers got the best meal that they could have. I wasn’t there to pressure them into buying something that they didn’t want. My job was to guide them to the food and drinks that would make their experience wonderful.

There was another time when I worked in a mobile phone shop. As a geeky guy who loves his gadgets I enthused my way to a sale, my excitement at helping people choose and use a really cool phone was what made people buy from me and I felt great about it because I believed I was helping the customer.

These days I sell what I love because if I don’t love it I don’t do it. And again, I don’t see myself as going out there looking to get something; to get a sale, to get money, to get more for me. I see myself as going out there to find people who I can help; people who have a problem that I can help them to solve.

Yes, this does require me to be a little more forward than might come naturally but I don’t feel guilty, I don’t feel shame or any sense of personal tension because I am not working against my values.

I believe in what I have to offer. I believe that I can help people. I believe that I am doing good, meaningful work. And if that requires me to be a little bit forward, maybe even a little bit pushy, then so be it.

Recall the question I asked at the start of this piece? The person inside a house, calling out in distress; would you feel guilty about knocking the door down to get to them? Of course not. But you’d hardly do that most of the time! If you believe that someone genuinely needs your help and that you genuinely can help them, then you can and will act in ways that may not come naturally to you.

If you believe that what you’re selling can help someone in a meaningful way, you should be willing to knock down that door, metaphorically speaking.

How do you like to knock down doors?

But there’s another layer to this challenge. Even if you’ve accepted that there’s nothing shameful or wrong in trying to help people by providing them with a product or service you believe they’ll love, perhaps you find that there’s a challenge when it comes to methods.

If sales is not something you feel personally connected to as a profession you probably have some relatively narrow ideas how exactly how one goes about selling things. You’ve been told how it’s done and that’s that.

You have to call people over and over again. You have to “always be closing”. You have to be pushy. You have to be that guy. But do you? And, could you even if you did?

This is where the second part of the challenge comes in. If you’ve now accepted that it’s OK to sell what you have to sell, that selling isn’t the same as conning people but is, in fact, a way of helping them, you then have to begin to look for authentic ways to do that, ways that work for you.

I was a super geek salesman. I sold things I loved by geeking out about them with others. But that was me. That’s not necessarily you. Nobody, certainly not I, can tell you how you sell because we don’t know you. Perhaps it would help, though, to begin by identifying the problems you have to solve. I can make a broad guess to you need to:

  1. Find people to help
  2. Connect with those people
  3. Understand them and help them understand you
  4. Build trust and belief
  5. Reach agreement about exactly how you will help them
  6. Agree how they will compensate you

How would you do these things? How could you do these things?

To put this in my context – this here, these very words, are part of my sales process. I’m connecting with you. I’m helping you to understand me and, by a passive process of filtering, if you respond to these ideas, I am gaining an understanding of you and your needs. When I run my No Wrong Answers Quizzes that is part of my sales process. When I blog and run workshops, provide guidance and advice to people in person or online, these are all ways in which I work on items 1-4.

If I do those things right I find that steps 5 and 6 are very natural, very easy. They are a conversation between people who are, by now, on the same team. We have a shared goal and all that remains is to figure out how best to work together.

This is how I do things because this works for me. You, if you’ve taken ownership of the idea of being a person who sells, must figure out what works for you, what is authentically your way to do sales.

You don’t have to be anyone other than who you are. You don’t have to become a salesperson. You have to figure out how you already are one.

If you want to talk about this some more, get in touch with me at I promise, I won’t try the hard sell on you. 😉

You’re Not Talented and Neither are your Children

I’m sorry to be the one to break this to you. Actually, scratch that. I’m rather glad to be the one to break this to you. Because honestly it’s about time someone did and it’s really for your own good.

I’ll say it again…

You are not talented and neither are your children.

I hope that in some small way me telling you this will help you. It’s possible that it will but it’s far more likely that it will help your children. Here’s why:

When I was a small child I was frequently told how clever I was. I loved being told how clever I was. I was so often praised for my cleverness that, in my mind, being clever became what defined me and my self worth. It went like this:

  • Aran does something clever. Parent or other important person praises Aran for being so clever. Aran is affirmed in his meaningfulness. Aran feels good.

Cleverness is, in most minds, something innate. You’re either clever or you’re not. Certainly for most children cleverness is seen as something you either have or you don’t. It isn’t a choice. It’s what you might call a talent. I was, therefore, praised and loved for what I was, not for what I chose.

As I grew older I found praise harder to come by and cleverness harder to demonstrate. Life gets more complicated. We no longer find ourselves praised for doing little drawings or having a large vocabulary (one of my most reliable sources of “aren’t you clever?!” affirmation). And since I had grown to believe that what I was, not what I chose to be, was the source of my worth, I found my sense of self esteem relentlessly under attack with no positive way to respond.

My wife, on the other hand, was always praised for being hard working. She was a high achiever too, as a child. Maybe less ostentatious than me but she worked hard and succeeded at most of what you chose to do. The difference between us was that while I was praised for being talented, she was praised for putting in the effort. So, for my wife, what she chose to do rather than what she naturally was became her source of pride and self esteem.

Now, later in life, I find that my wife copes far better with setbacks than I do. For me a failure is first a judgement against me. I am not clever enough. I have to work hard to reframe it as information and direction, to assure myself that I can work harder and get better. For my wife a failure is simply an invitation to work harder. She feels directly in control of her fate while I have a deep seated feeling that I am what I am and if that isn’t good enough there’s nothing I can do.

So, let me remind you.

You are not talented and neither are your children.

Talent is bullshit. Telling a kid he or she is talented should be seen as a slap in the face. It’s the same as telling them that what is good about them is down to sheer luck, an accident of genetics and environment.

“Hey kid, that free kick you just took? Wow. You’re lucky you were born with the right parents, eh?”

What sort of arsehole would say that to a child? Yet so many of us do it with the word “talent” believing we are giving a complement. We are not.

I’m trying to remove that word from my vocabulary which is tricky considering so many of my clients work in talent management. Instead I want to talk about hard work, commitment, willingness to sacrifice, overcome fears and go beyond what you believe you can do.

My wife struggles far less with life’s setbacks than I do and I believe a huge part of that is down to the fact that she wasn’t praised as a child for being talented. She never learned that what she was was what mattered. She learned that what mattered was what she chose to do.

Sure, some people are born with genetic “gifts” but I prefer to think of them as gift vouchers. They’re only useful once you trade them in for something and that takes choices and effort no matter who you are.

So please, stop thinking of yourself as talented. It’s a word I use from time to time out of sheer habit and something I will remove from my vocabulary wherever possible because it disempowers and undermines what really matters: effort.

And double please, stop telling your kids they’re clever/talented/pretty or whatever word you use that really only means “lucky”. You think you’re being kind. You’re not.

The Power of the Delete Key

This post was a lot longer about thirty second ago. Then I deleted basically the whole thing to start over again. Why? Because I practice what I damn well preach!

So, let’s cut to the chase: sometimes you have to go backwards to go forwards. Writing is a great way to learn this but the lesson is universal. If you’re stuck there’s a good chance the path lies behind you and you’ve taken a wrong turn.


I could go on about the sunk cost fallacy and the endowment effect but I won’t. For all you know I did but deleted it (love that delete key). Instead I’ll offer a template macro (in this context I mean macro as in a single instruction that expands into more instructions – a computing term that I like to deploy because it makes me sound smarter than I am).

Trigger: stuck

Action: retrace steps

If recent steps are questionable…

Go backwards until more options open up

Reward: unstuck!

Need fulfilled: the future is bright again, the birds are singing and the grass is very green.

Out of Control

I’ve been addicted, for longer than I can recall, to a dangerous and life threatening activity. This post is about how I’m giving it up.

I’m going cold turkey on self control.

I’ve often had a very unhealthy relationship with… myself. That is to say, I’ve seen myself as being at war with myself, letting myself down, beating myself up, trying to make myself be something I’m not. I would force myself to do things I didn’t want to do or, as it may well be, I didn’t want to do things because I was forcing myself to do them.

Agency is a big deal. Humans love to have freedom of choice. We hate to be controlled. Yet time and again we remove agency from others, undermine the personal freedom of those around us. At work we plaster things with the word “mandatory” when a simply please would do. We offer bribes to our children instead of allowing them to choose the right thing. And, worst of all, we do it to ourselves.

I have lots of rules for myself. Lots of shoulds and musts. Lots of alwayses and absolutelys. These have been collected over many years. What does that mean? It seems to suggest that I don’t trust myself. I feel that I need to be bound up with rules or else I’ll make bad choices. But what if I’m wrong. What if I’m taking away my own freedom, my own autonomy, and thus deadening my passions? And is it really working anyway? Honestly… not really.

I haven’t learned to play the piano or taken French lessons. I don’t go running every day. I’m not the perfect person that I would be if I followed all my rules. And, in fact, this failure to be the person I want to force myself to be makes me unhappy, stressed and resentful. This addiction to self control, to rules and the use of force against myself, is not only ineffective but genuinely harmful.

So I have decided to call a ceasefire in this war against myself and, instead, enter into a more constructive relationship. From now on, instead of force, I intend to use diplomacy.

At the weekend, for instance, I sat down with my wife and we discussed the difference between the lives we want to lead and the lives we tend to lead. I’ll post more on this later this week, but the difference is stark. And by laying out clearly what we actually would choose, if we were choosing properly, we were able to make some changes. In the past we have tried to change things by banning ourselves from, for instance, watching too much TV. Force! Now, instead, we have had a proper conversation with ourselves, as it were. I’ve asked myself what I want, offered myself options, made positive choices.

And the most powerful single choice I’ve made is this: I no longer work between 11am and 2pm. Yes, I now take a three hour break in the middle of the day. This one may be a bit strange so I’ll explain.

Ever since I started to work for myself I have had to deal with my distractions during the day without anyone else looking over my shoulder. Instead I became that person. I became my own spy, my own judge. Far from being removed from overbearing bosses, I became the worst boss of all. But what exactly was I fighting against and why did I so often lose?

As it turns out, between 11 and 2 I’m not particularly energetic. During that time I’m more likely to be distracted. Conversely I’m super focused first thing in the morning and later in the afternoon and early evening. So instead of using force, instead of fighting with myself, I have negotiated a solution. There’s a part of me that wants to read a book, go for a walk, play a computer game or whatever else. That part of me gets in the way if I don’t give him what he wants. And those needs and desires are not unreasonable! So rather than fight them, see them as personal failing, I’ve given the part of me that wants that three hours in the middle of the day to do whatever he wants to do.

The amazing thing is that as soon as I did that I felt more focused on my work. Right now I sit happily writing and working and the part of me that wants to listen to that podcast while playing Crash Lands on the iPad is content and quiet. He knows his time is coming.

By giving up self control and replacing it with internal cooperation, I’ve released a great deal of stress, removed barriers to my focus and relieved myself of the full time job of self judgement and condemnation. I am finally free of me. It’s wonderful.