Musings from the Phuel Blogosphere

  • Three Characteristics of Effective Teams – Part Three

    by Phuel Australia | May 17, 2017
    By Linton Chalmers


    A big part of my job is working with leadership teams to increase their performance and building effective teams. In the first two articles of this series, I looked at teams having comfort with conflict and also holding a uniformed purpose.  The final characteristic that I wanted to focus on is teams having accountability that isn’t just task focused. They have behavioural accountability as well.

    Accountability for behaviours, not just tasks.

    The natural flow from point two, is holding each other accountable.

    • In underperforming teams there is no accountability
    • In average teams there is management led accountability
    • In high performing teams, there is peer to peer accountability.

    This accountability is not just task focused, but also behavioural.

    Recently I spend two days working with a departmental leadership team of a large organisation. After spending the first morning with the group, I realised that the team was much more dysfunctional than I had been told. I asked them to individually rank the performance of the team from 1 – 10, and when they shared their numbers, they were all over 7. Sensing something wasn’t quite right, I interjected. ‘Hang on…I’m not talking about what you produce, I’m talking about how you perform as a team. Do the scoring again.’ This time around, every number was at least cut in half. It turns out that while the rest of the organisation thought they were brilliant because of their output, they were all working close to eighty hour weeks, on the brink of burnout, and about to strangle each other. If ‘what good looks like’ is only task focused, not behavioural, it’s a short term and ultimately unfruitful approach.  

    The good news is that it doesn’t need to be that hard. Let me use the common analogy of gaming. Think about a group of eleven year olds playing a team based online game together, communicating through headsets as they attempt to storm a castle. With this very clear goal in mind, consider their behaviour: one calls to the other, 'Great job! How did you do that? Can you show me?' Or 'Hey, you left me alone back there! Don't do that next time or our whole team will lose.' Completely intuitively, without any knowledge of corporate best practice, they are working together collaboratively, holding each other accountable and giving instant feedback. The behaviours we so desire in our teams being demonstrated by children, simply because they have a unified focus and shared commitment to achieving it. Accountability is actually pretty intrinsic if everyone is heading in the same direction, and they’re willing to have the difficult conversations – everyone will benefit because of it!

    Whether you’re the team leader or not, I would argue you have a responsibility to drive positive change in the team you’re in. Remember, culture is just the collective behaviours of a group of people – if you want to change the culture, the only thing you can control is your own behaviour.

    Start demonstrating these characteristics of high performing teams that I’ve referenced here in these three articles, ask the hard questions (in the right way) and I’m confident your work experience and those of your team mates will be better because of it.


  • Three Characteristics of Effective Teams – Part Two

    by Phuel Australia | May 16, 2017

    By Linton Chalmers


    Welcome to part two of this series on the three pivotal characteristics of the most effective and best teams I’ve worked with.  In the first part of this series, we looked at teams finding comfort with conflict, today I am looking at the importance of teams establishing a unified purpose.

    A unified purpose
    Research proves that all of us intrinsically desire a sense of purpose and progress about the work we do (Martin Selligman, Dan Pink, etc). We want to know that when we go to work each day, we’re adding value. This is a challenge for many organisations, and in my experience there are a lot of people with no understanding of their daily contribution, outside the transactional nature of much of their work.

    The ideal mechanism for giving individuals this sense of progress and impact is through the team they are a part of. If the team’s purpose is clear, and the team is functioning well, then the role of each individual is also clear. The prerequisite for this is understanding the broader context of where their team fits.

    Think of someone conscious of their water use – short showers, don’t leave the tap running, etc – they consider their own behavior because of its impact on their suburb, city, country and the environment. It’s an understanding of the broader context that then give this person impetus to act. Someone with no consideration for the big picture? Who cares, I’ll empty and refill my pool each week if I want too.

    This broader context determines a team’s direction and purpose, and aligns the individual actions of each person to those around them. This allows individuals to weigh each thing they do based on whether it is taking them closer to, or further away from where the team is heading. Teams only thrive when everyone is in alignment, and teams are only in alignment when they’re all heading in the same direction.

    This makes measurement easy. Each person is then assessed on their contribution to the team’s scorecard. Team success is the ultimate goal, and individual success is important as far as it adds to that. This excites the high performers, gives under-performers nowhere to hide, and naturally encourages autonomy, and team collaboration.

    Can you answer these questions?

    • Why does your team exist?
    • What is your team’s scorecard?
    • Do you know how your individual contribution benefits the whole?

      In the final part of this series, I will be discussing the importance of teams having accountability for their behaviours, not just the tasks they are given.


  • Three Characteristics of Effective Teams – Part One

    by Phuel Australia | May 15, 2017

    By Linton Chalmers


    There is so much to say here, so I have broken this article up in to a three part series focused on the three pivotal characteristics of the most effective and best teams I’ve worked with.  

    A highlight of my job is working with leadership teams to increase their performance, help them drive organisational strategy, and develop clarity around values and purpose. Having consulted with teams in almost every sector and industry, it has been interesting to observe the common difficulties all teams seem to experience. While every organisation has its own unique environment and challenges, from what I can see, teams that thrive do things different from everyone else.  

    The three characteristics of the most effective teams I have worked with include:

    1. Comfort with Conflict.
    2. A Unified Purpose
    3. Accountability for behaviours, not just tasks.

    Comfort with conflict

    We all like to be liked. This probably goes back to caveman days where if you weren’t liked, you were going to get kicked out of the cave and eaten. Nothing wrong with being likeable, but the need to be liked creates problems in teams. People don’t like having their views and belief systems challenged, and so, because we want people to like us, we have a tendency to tell them what they want to hear.

    We need people to disagree with us. Frankly, sometimes our ideas and judgement are terrible. I couldn’t tell you how often I have been emotionally invested in an idea, convinced I was right, only to look back in hindsight and realise it was ridiculous. The frustration is that upon admitting an idea was poor, others then acknowledge they knew it all along, just said nothing. Ever ended a relationship with someone only to have your friends all tell you they didn’t like that person anyway? Yeah, same thing. Agreeing for the sake of agreement is inefficient, and counter to working together well.

    Billionaire Silicon Valley venture capitalist Marc Andreesen knows the value of productive disagreement. At his firm if one of their team tables a potential venture for investment, all others on the team play devil’s advocate on principle. If, at the end of the meeting the person who suggested the idea still likes it, then it’s passed the test and everyone in the room backs it too. Andreesen talks about the importance of having ‘strong opinions, loosely held’.

    Disagreement leads to improvement. It creates an environment where assumptions are challenged and proposed solutions are given the robust analysis they need. If no one is disagreeing, either your team is too homogenous, or people aren't speaking their mind. In fact, if there isn’t anything worth debating, why are you having a meeting? Conflict creates value.

    John Wooden, arguably the best sports coach in history famously said: “Whatever you do in life, surround yourself with people who will argue with you”

    The caveat with this point is that conflict needs to be done in the right way.

    • Productive conflict must be built on the foundation of trust. Build this first.
    • Debate ideas, not the value of the people with the ideas
    • Have an opinion, but be being willing to let it go

    In the next article, I will be looking at teams who have a unified purpose. Come with me!


    by Phuel Australia | Mar 20, 2017

    Phuel Facilitator Diary (1)

    Love to be part of a team focused on inspiring change and igniting the potential in everyone?  Want to work towards growth, learning, development and having fun?  Passionate about working with individuals and teams all around the world to achieve business and personal goals and building a growth mindset? Talk to us at Phuel – part of WPP AUNZ.

    Job description

    • Permanent position based in Brisbane – naturally we are always happy to explore alternative working hours based on personal circumstances
    • Working as part of a dynamic, cohesive and talented team you will be responsible for the design and facilitation of the full suite of Phuel offerings including:
      • Conferences and Offsites
      • Training programs, and
      • Problem Solving Sessions
    • Expectations will be high; however the opportunity to work with a first class range clients utilising Phuel’s products and expertise will provide you many ways in which to shine!
    • As you’d expect there will be a need to travel (both domestic and International). There may also be the odd weekend, which we endeavour to share around amongst the team

    Desired Skills and Experience

    • Tertiary qualified with a solid commercial background, ideally gained within a professional services organisation
    • A minimum of 5 years experience facilitating senior management teams across a diverse range of sectors
    • A demonstrable track record in developing and delivering training programs, working with C suite clients
    • A flexible and personable approach that ensures the client remains confident in your ability to deliver and participants enjoy the experience
    • A sense of humour and fun that comes naturally!

    Interested? Email your CV to Gillian O’Mara at Phuel ( ideally by COB Friday 24 March and we’ll be in touch to explore the way forward.  

  • Lessons Learnt from 14 years at Phuel & the Hawthorn Football Club.

    by Phuel Australia | Oct 25, 2016

    By Dean Gale


    “…if you want to be a heavyweight… you’ve got to be prepared to put up with some pain. Otherwise, (you) just float along…avoid massive disappointment…but never give yourselves the chance to genuinely compete, and find out about yourself.” 
    - Alastair Clarkson, Hawthorn Football Club Coach, to his players immediately after losing the 2012 AFL Grand to the Sydney Swans.

    As a huge Hawthorn Football Club fan, and having enjoyed sustained success over the last 10 years the last few weeks have been challenging.

    Firstly, the team, having been a kick away from progressing closer to a record breaking 4th straight Premiership, instead proceeded to be bundled out of the finals in straight sets.  Very un-Hawks like!  Saying that, the writing, if truthful, was probably on the wall.  The team had scraped into a coveted top 4 position on the ladder at the end of the season by virtue of its ability to win a series of incredibly tight games. Throughout the season, they won where just one goal the other way would have meant a very different win/loss record at the end of the year.  These close wins were testament to the experience of a core group of senior players who kept finding a way to win games that many thought the team should have lost.

    Which brings me to the second point.  Having relied so heavily on those senior players the club then decided over the last couple of weeks to trade two of them – two of their most decorated players - to other clubs!  Not only were both 4 time Premiership players, but they were also the Best and Fairest and runner up Best and Fairest in the 2016 season for the club!!  And now the club was moving them on?!?!?!  What the!!??

    Alastair Clarkson is the senior coach who guided the team to Premierships in 2008, 13, 14 and 15 and has now made the tough calls that facilitated the trades.  Whilst acknowledging the loss of these two great players, he is also very clear that his responsibility is to the club as a whole and as painful as it is to see them go it is for the long term good of the club, its culture and its future success.   It’s part of a bigger plan that isn’t always clear to those on the outside and I’d guess not even to those on the inside other than maybe a small group that make up the Senior Leadership Team.

    Now I don’t know Alastair Clarkson personally and doubt very much he would recall our chance meeting in Adelaide at the Tour Down Under where I bumped into him (some might say chased after him!) and got this photo with him under the guise it was for my Hawks loving son!   What I do know though is how much respect I have for him as a leader of his organisation.  

    Everything I understand about him suggests he is incredibly passionate about the Football Club, his players and staff and he is always looking to evolve and grow.  It’s no small thing either carrying the hopes and dreams of over 72,000 members of the club!

    SO why am I telling you this?  (Oh and just to be super clear - it’s not because we are letting any of our current crop of Phuel Champions go!!!)

     Two Reasons:

    1. Unbeknownst to me, LinkedIn had decided it was my 14 year anniversary at Phuel (which I thought had passed under the radar a couple of weeks ago).  It has been a genuine delight to receive so many congrats messages from people I’ve met over the journey of that 14 years.  Amongst them were messages from ex Phuel Champions reminiscing about “old times” and shared experiences.  It made me realise that whilst at the time losing talented teammates, just as Hawthorn are doing right now, seemed far from ideal, it also meant bringing in new talent to Phuel, regeneration, new energy and passion, fresh ideas and thinking and new opportunities for all of our team and our clients.  A valuable lesson for our business.

    2. It also highlighted for me how, like Clarkson, I feel absolutely honoured to have had, and continue to have, the privilege of working with such a passionate and talented team at Phuel.  As many of the messages I got acknowledged, 14 years is a reasonable stint in most people’s eyes and, a la the 2012 Hawks, rest assured it has had its ups and downs.  But as Clarkson said to his players back then “you’ve got to put up with some pain to give yourselves the chance to genuinely compete and find out about yourself”.  Planning for our continued growth and success – our next Premiership campaign – I love working with a team who aren’t prepared to “just float along”, want to compete and find out about themselves and one another.  That’s where growth comes from.

    Oh!  And by the way - over the years I’ve found out plenty about myself..but that’s a story for another day.


  • What Business Leaders Can Learn from Basketball & Point Guards?

    by Phuel Australia | Sep 15, 2016

    By John Loebmann 


    Basketball is continuing to grow in popularity around the world and continues to capture our imagination.  As teams are preparing for their next season, point guards are running their teams and surveying the scene before them.  As she takes in the defence, she might notice a teammate cutting towards the basket.  At the same time, he observes that he has a sliver of space between himself and his defender.  What choice does the point guard make?

    There is a question that I frequently receive from people; however, I must confess it is not about basketball.  Rather it is about how managers and leaders can increase engagement in their teams and be more effective in their roles?

    When asked, I often reflect on the point guard and their role as the floor leader on the basketball team.   Let’s take a look at three of those components.    

    1. Control the game.

      One of the point guard’s responsibilities is to execute the game plan on the floor, which is why they are also commonly called the ‘floor general.’  They must constantly survey the landscape and the situation – “are we ahead/behind”? “How much time is left on the clock”? “How many timeouts do we have”?  Leaders are continually faced with very similar questions.    

      An area where the point guard excels is in allowing the team to feel comfortable and in control, while she executes the game plan.  When it comes to leading teams, it is all about how we respond to these questions.  Are we controlling the environment or is it controlling us?  How effectively are we choosing to use our time?  Are we using all the resources we have available to us to execute our strategy?    Successful teams operate seamlessly and it can appear to be an effortless endeavor.   Point guards lead from the front and control the game – driving the strategy while ensuring everyone is fulfilling their role.  You cannot execute plays if there is confusion and undue pressure.  Proper planning and understanding of the environment will ensure that situations are handled without panic.  Composure is what sets the elite point guards apart and it is the same for leaders.

    2. Get everyone involved.

      The effectiveness of a solution is dependent on the quality and the acceptance of the idea.  While running the floor, point guards are aware of how everyone on their team is performing in the moment.  Are they Hot? Cold? Focussed? The answer, will determine how the point guard reacts.  She may keep feeding the hot shooter, find a way to get a cold shooter an easy basket, or get the attention of her teammate to regain focus.

      As leaders, our job is the same.  Are we getting everyone involved or is there one person dominating the discussion?  Are people helping each other or looking for ways to shine?  The seemingly endless practice sessions in basketball, or any other professional sport, are not only about skill development,  they are about being comfortable and having an understanding of how your teammates perform.  How well do you know your teammates’ modus operandi?  Have you identified what your teammates’ roles will be?  Have you provided them an opportunity to add value to the team?  

      For example, in a meeting with a client, you can create an opportunity for a new team member to demonstrate their value.  You can find ways to give them an open look at the basket and then pass them the ball knowing they can hit the shot.  The more you understand your teammates experience, approach, and style, the easier for you to get them involved.  Just as the point guard barks out a play, we can have set plays to get others involved.   What does your playbook look like?

    3. Create scoring opportunities.

      As the floor general, it is incumbent on the guard to help the team continually evolve the game plan throughout.  The defense is constantly evaluating what is happening and making adjustments.  The point guard must recognize these adjustments and make her own adjustments.   Point guards have the opportunity to call time out and check in with the team and get their thoughts on the game.   The chance to reflect and change the plan allows for teams to get quick baskets out of timeouts. They need to have the ability to create their own shot and shift the momentum of the game.  Steph Curry and Chris Paul are the masters at getting all of their teammates involved throughout the game, and then switching to becoming the major contributor on the scoreboard if that is what his team needs.

      As leaders, we need to ensure we are adding value and creating future opportunities.  This does not mean we are always leading from the front, rather it might require nurturing the culture and creating the right environment.   We don’t necessarily have the chance to take over the scoring per se, what we can do is foster a culture that allows others to change the game with new ideas.  The entire team has great ideas and the momentum will not be changed with you as the scorer.  However, it is your role to notice that you need to allow the rest of the team to be part of the change required.   Without that understanding, your efforts will fall flat.  Chris and Steph can increase the scoring, but if the rest of the team stays the same, you will end up on the sidelines watching another team take the title.  The Clippers have an extremely talented team, but they have yet to find a way to the promised land, while the Warriors have made it once and just missed out last year.

    Summing up
    As a leader and manager, you are always on the court and have the opportunity to be the point guard and find new ways to inspire and engage your team.  The impact on you, the team, the organization, and your customers can be significant.  If you can effectively control the environment, get the members of your team involved and contributing,  and create a culture that supports and fosters new ideas, you are on your way to emulating the ways of Steph Curry and Chris Paul.  As with most things though, the amount of success depends on the amount of preparation you do – the more you think about how to bring these elements to life and practice them, the more effective you could be when it is your time to be under the lights.

    So, back to the point guard and the decision.  Does she need to get her center involved in the game? Or, is it more important to control the tempo? Or, is it her turn to develop some new ideas?  What choice are you going to make?


    by Phuel Australia | Jun 24, 2016

     By Dean Gale

    A well-staged conference can be a turning point in an organisation’s behavior. A conference is usually staged for this chief purpose — to…

    Get everyone together and to help them understand what they need to do differently.

    IMG_1379-300x225Yet for all the talk of change and “dynamic new thinking”, employees often turn up and find the conference has the same, tired format that has been driven into the ground over the years. To truly grab attention and affect change, conference coordinators are going to have to demonstrate to their employees what it means to make bold, conscious choices to be different.

    The Typical Conference Format

    Employees of all levels know the all-too-familiar format of the prototypical conference.

    First, the CEO stands up at the start, sets the scene and describes the overall vision. This is then typically followed by the next presenter and on and on it goes.

    Is it any surprise that audience involvement as this “groundbreaking agenda” unfolds is typically limited to:

    1)   Under the table checks of phones hoping to find an email (from anyone!) to create a mental distraction from the continuous stream of PowerPoint slides on being painstakingly talked through, word for word, at the front of the room.

    2)   Constant glances at watches (and said phones) to see how much longer it will take to survive until the coffee break.

    3)   A steady increase in the number of people who suddenly develop the need to use the restroom to create ‘legitimate’ excuses for temporarily escaping the tedium.

    In order to get people to think, feel and most importantly DO things differently as a result of spending conference time together, the true message needs to be emphasised from the very beginning. Organisers are going to have to make a deliberate effort to ask themselves:

    What are we going to do differently at the conference in order to create the change we want?

    Making A Case for Change

    Given the challenges of a typically diverse conference audience, creating the desired impact is never easy. There are always a varied number of personal interests, a wide range of audience sizes and lots of content to get through. Managing the needs and opinions of multiple stakeholders can be particularly hard when each of them feels they know best.

    So, what can be done? For starters, remembering that the power of a conference’s message often comes down to more than the content itself. Presentation can have a tremendous effect on the way a message is received, both in terms of sequencing — where various presentations fall in the agenda — as well as the way the message is delivered.

    Many employees will not respond to the idea of team building for team building’s sake. Instead, consider creating a purposeful, playful and impactful experience that enables participants to understand how their thought processes and behavior affect the team dynamic. Colourful anecdotes that illustrate key points can bring the messages home in a way that just an information download cannot.

    Interactive team experiences can solidify the points made and allow the message to come full circle. Awareness is created around the assumptions we make and what might create a different result.

    Change Your Delivery, Not Your Message

    There are many other great ways to rethink the traditional conference format. Here are some options to consider:

    -  Try using completely original metaphors, methods of introducing talking points, or ways of phrasing conclusions.

    -  Avoid resorting to techniques that have been seen a million times before. No PowerPoint, for example, for any speakers.

    -  Make sure you have a very clear understanding of what you are trying to achieve. Establish your measures of success, including how you justify using these measures.

    -  Do not take anything for granted — question the pros and cons of the agenda, challenge thinking.

    -  Avoid the temptation to do a series of pure, cut-and-dry presentations. Instead, turn the conference into a “variety show” of multiple smaller group presentations that encourage engagement and keep people moving around.

    Keen to know more about how to implement these and other initiatives at your next team get together? We’d love to chat about our how we can help. To start your thinking, check out Simulations to see what’s possible.


  • Credibility and Age - Influencing as the Youngest in the Room

    by Phuel Australia | Jun 20, 2016

    By Linton Chalmers

    Can you establish credibility and influence in a room of people when you are the youngest one there? linton-chalmers753735bbe2746871a107ff000082a273-300x300

    As a Phuel facilitator, I work with different groups across corporate Australia. I am onmy feet facilitating usually three to five days per week, all year round. Working with banks, consulting firms, telcos, you name it. The opportunity to influence hundreds of groups and thousands of participants; from graduates to C-suite. A dream job!

    Only thing is, I’m 27 years old, which is a whole lot younger than the average participant in my sessions. Working with leadership teams of ASX listed companies, partners of top-tier firms, and individuals with decades of experience, I’ve had to figure out how to build credibility when my face screams Gen Y.

    It used to play on my mind, and I would be overly conscious of clients’ responses when meeting me for the first time. In my head they would be thinking, ‘Good Lord, where are your parents?’, or ‘why do we get the apprentice?’ which would understandably affect my confidence. My initial reactions were to become more serious, dress more formaly, and attempt to subtly lower my voice (how manly!). However, my age awareness became a distraction, and was limiting my effectiveness.

    I realised that to build credibility, I had to make a conscious effort to reshape my focus, rather than allowing something out of my control, in this case, my age, to become an issue.

    Here is what I have done to increase my influence and credibility, despite my age:

    Stay natural

    My natural style (and fortunately one that my colleagues at Phuel share!) is to be informal, use humour, and where relevant be borderline cheeky – when I am relaxed, that style can be very effective for me. However, anticipating people’s negative response to my age can take away the ease with which I naturally facilitate, replacing it with a contrived ‘appropriate’ version of myself. In turn, I end up delivering a substandard performance, and ultimately find myself in the very position I was afraid of – not coming across well, and losing credibility. A classic self-fulfilling prophecy. The more I relax and let my true personality come through, the better I am received, appropriate or not!

    I was recently running a session with some very senior people at a very well-respected organisation. I was nervous, knowing they were a highly technical group, there were some big ego’s in the room, and it was the final afternoon of a long conference. I found myself coming up with reasons they weren’t going to engage in my session. Realising what I was doing, I reminded myself this group was fundamentally no different than any other, and simply relaxed. I was then comfortable, the participants were comfortable, and they turned out (as they always do!) to be highly engaged and interactive. I was repeatedly thanked afterward, and it has since led to further business opportunities for us. I see a definite link between authenticity and charisma, but not necessarily age and competence.

    Don’t overthink it!

    Age is only an issue if we let it be. If someone walks, talks and acts with confidence, what do we assume? That they have something to be confident about. Conversely, if someone acts timid, uncomfortable and insecure, we are given a reason to agree. I’m convinced how people view us is a direct reflection of how we view ourselves.

    First impressions are formed within seconds, and our physical appearance is one minor factor people take into consideration as they form an opinion of us. Like anything else, age isn’t as big a deal as it can seem!

    My personal approach has been to remind myself of the value I bring, and why I’m in the room, rather than focusing on the reason people may not take me seriously. I’m there for a reason, and focusing on that ‘why’ quickly eliminates any distractions. 23 year old Michael Hooper, Vice-Captain of the Australian Wallabies isn’t questioned about his age, because he doesn’t act or play the game like he was born in 1991. He is an impressive leader, a proven athlete, and recognised for his maturity on and off the field – it doesn’t seem like he’s questioning his value. When my internal narrative validated my place, I found others responded in the same way.

    Use your opinions sparingly

    In the information age, we have access to anything we want to know, but it’s a common mistake to think that overrides experience. Having opinions is good, but knowing when to give them is the art. In my experience, it’s not often! The squeaky wheel gets the oil, and the loudest voice often gets the most attention, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right kind of attention.

    There is a fine line between getting noticed, and being perceived as arrogant. It’s phrasing things in the right way, and asking the right questions. The right questions give evidence of your insights, show you ‘get it’, and create natural opportunity to be invited to contribute further. Conscious of not coming across as a know-it-all facilitator, I regularly use phrases like: ‘There’s one of me, and X number of you. You’ll learn as much from each other as you will from me’, ‘I don’t claim to have all the answers here’ and ‘would you like me to share what I observed from that exercise?’

    Building credibility through what you say

    The strong brand of Phuel gives me a level of credibility automatically, but it’s the words I say that enhance it. As an organisation, we are very conscious of ensuring anything we say is backed up either by research or proven experience. I learn content inside out, so I can speak with confidence on each topic, even when questioned on it. I also reference real life stories of where I have seen the content come to life, which shows I have been around a while, and I didn’t just read it in a manual. This approach gives people confidence in the content, entertainment and engagement from the stories, and furthers the credibility of the facilitator. Win-win!

    See age as a strength

    Ultimately, I have come to see my age as a strength. I’m not always going to be young, but while I am, why would I spend all of my time trying to act older than I am.

    Credibility isn’t built through age, it’s built through the value you bring. If people are asking themselves, ‘why should I listen to you?’ age won’t hold up for long if that’s all they have. For those who observe youthfulness with cynicism, age might be a slight hiccup, but only until they are given a convincing reason to form a genuine opinion on you. That comes from backing yourself and your unique value, asking the right questions and finding opportunities to share what you know.

  • Phuel – Now open for business in Brisbane!

    by Phuel Australia | Jun 17, 2016


    We're delighted to announce that Phuel has opened its doors in Brisbane and we're ready to ignite the potential of your northern neighbours!

    Our plan is to help your Queensland colleagues achieve the business outcomes we've been able to support you with, through our full range of services: engaging and impactful capability development, world-class conference facilitation and award-winning team building experiences.

    As we do in Sydney and Melbourne, Phuel will soon be kicking off a series of complementary showcases in Brisbane to enable your local colleagues to experience our style and approach.

    Our Brisbane office is led by Gillian O'Mara, who can be contacted on (07) 3308 5983 and at

  • How to get people to listen when you speak

    by Phuel Australia | Jun 16, 2016
    By Linton Chalmers


    I recently heard a keynote where the speakers opening line was ‘I need to get your attention or you won’t listen to me. There are three ways to do that: give you food, threaten you, or talk about sex. I don’t want to do the first two, so here are some pictures of naked people…’

    The method might be questionable, but there’s truth underlying it. How do we get people to listen when we speak?

    In the Internet age, information is accessed with unparalleled ease, and knowledge is far from the precious commodity it once was. There is more noise around us than ever before, and you can’t expect to be listened to just because you have something to say; so does everyone else. Not only that, I bet that in your industry, competition is increasing, likely from both local and global players. As an individual, for you to keep winning business, adding value, and creating change, you have to be listened to.

    Getting face to face with prospective clients, or in my case a group of people can be hard enough, but once you’re there, how do you give yourself the best chance of getting the outcome you want? How do you get people to want to listen?

    There are two components to my role as a facilitator; generating business and delivering content, both of which have their challenges. I work with multiple groups every week, the majority of whom I’ve had no interaction with until I’m standing in front of them. To most of them, I am unknown and unproven, and by default often associated with previous forgettable training experiences. It can be the same with BD meetings, where an executive sits across a desk basically saying, ‘prove to me why we should trust you with our business’. While I always have a desired outcome in mind, it is only as realistic as my ability to achieve buy-in, whether it’s 1 person or 1000. Success depends upon those I’m talking with wanting to hear what I have to say.

    How though? In my experience, these three things make a big difference:

    Build credibility. Credibility is basically giving others the confidence that you know what you’re on about. Outside of your LinkedIn profile or a fluffy introduction, credibility is built through how you hold yourself, what you say, and how you say it. What do we assume of someone who walks and talks with confidence? They have a reason to be confident. In the words of Don Quixote, ‘if you want to be a Knight, act like a Knight’. If someone speaks with passion and conviction – we naturally assume they must have something good to say.

    A simple technique to build credibility is to tell relevant stories. Proven past experiences demonstrate this isn’t your first rodeo, you’ve been in similar situations before, and you know what you’re talking about. And as a bonus, a good story generates interest and energy like little else can.

    Get them to like you. I know this sounds blindingly obvious, but it is seriously underrated. Dr Robert Ciadini, considered by many to be THE global expert on influence has found through robust research that one of the primary factors in getting people to say ‘yes’ is an individual’s ability to get others to like them. Ever walked into a retail shop with no plan to buy anything, found yourself connecting with the shop assistant, and in turn walked out with something you didn’t need? Its likeability at play. At its most simple: people like people like them, and people like people that like them. Therefore if you can develop common ground, and make it obvious you like someone (be genuine!) it is highly probable they are going to like you back. For me, the use of humor, not taking myself too seriously, and acknowledging what others might be thinking but not saying consistently works.

    Recently I had a big burly guy walk up to me after a session and say; ‘at the start I thought you were a bit of an ass, but you know what, you’re actually alright.’ ‘Ahh… thanks’ I replied, ‘did you get something out of the day?’ He answered; ‘Surprisingly mate, I actually did. Pretty bloody good.’ While my first impression clearly left a bit to be desired, I was able to get him to like me, and in turn engage with what I had to say.

    Give them a reason to listen. People will only engage with what you have to say if they have a reason to. At its most basic, people will listen when they perceive that it’s in their best interest to do so. If I have a problem and you have a solution, I’m listening. If I have a need, and you’re going to meet it, I’m listening. If you’re waxing lyrical about your solution to a problem that I don’t believe I have, I’m definitely not listening.

    If you’re speaking without first understanding, don’t. We call this a spray and pray – aiming in a general direction, holding down the trigger and hoping you get a hit. Ineffective, and risky.

    A friend of mine was recently in the market for a new vehicle, and we found ourselves at a luxury car dealership where he was looking at the brands flagship 4WD model. As a serious buyer, he was open to buying that day. The salesman saw us looking at this model, assumed my friend was therefore into off-roading, and proceeded to spend the next 15 minutes talking us through the vehicles off-road capabilities. This couldn’t be further from the reality of what the vehicle would be used for, and we very quickly found an excuse to get the hell out of there. Hours later, at a different dealership a deal was done. Was the first salesman knowledgeable? Sure. Was he likeable? Kind of. What went wrong? He falsely assumed he knew what his customer wanted.

    The only way to really uncover needs is through research and asking good questions. This knowledge then serves as the lens through which you emphasise your value. Targeting your solution to a genuine understanding of people’s needs makes you much more likely to be listened too.

    I could talk about many other things here, and while I’m sure they would also be true, these three things are instrumental if you want people to listen when you talk. If you can get in front of a potential customer, give yourself the best chance of getting a good outcome – show you know your stuff, get them to like you, and don’t start making recommendations until you know they’re going to land! 

  • Top Five Tips for Anyone Looking to Change Careers

    by Phuel Australia | Apr 27, 2016

    By Nikki Toro


     Thinking about jumping ship and changing careers? After nearly 10 years in the pharmaceutical industry, doing a job that I loved, I recently took a leap of faith and applied for a job in a completely different industry! I have absolutely no regrets and I am loving the opportunity to grow professionally and discover new and exciting challenges in my new role at Phuel! However, changing careers isn’t an easy decision to make.

    Now that I have made the leap, I thought it would be helpful to share my Top 5 Tips for anyone looking to do the same:

    1. Research your potential new employer.

      Meet with current employees and ‘pick their brains’. Ask yourself “are these people that I see myself working with, learning from and generally enjoying spending time with”? Let’s face it, we spend a lot of time at work and if we don’t get on with our colleagues, we’re not going to be as productive and passionate as we could be!  

      It sounds super obvious but that early research on your potential employer can avoid a lot of unnecessary pain later on.  Ensure you get a sense of who makes the company what it is, what makes people tick, how they do what they do, what expectations look like (see my fourth tip!). Critically, ask yourself do you believe in what the company does?  

      In my short time at Phuel, I’ve watched our team coaching people on the importance of Social Proof when influencing.  I was incredibly fortunate when doing my research as one of my best friends from High School works for Phuel!  For me, this was a great sign that the organisation could be a great fit for me too.

    2.  Don’t compromise what’s important for you.
      With a young family, flexibility and work-life balance are for me a non-negotiable – deal breakers if they don’t exist!  As such I wasn’t willing to negotiate on these during my job search. I’d heard too many stories from friends of things going horribly wrong when the promise of understanding and flexibility didn’t match the reality.  I wanted to understand if there would be “eye rolls” when I walked in the door after 9am and “leaving early?” comments when I needed to leave before 5 o’clock.  From the first conversation with my new boss it became clear that Phuel certainly talked a good game in this regard.

      As the old saying goes, however, “Words are cheap!”.  So, I not only raised this during the interview process I also ensured I found examples and evidence to support what I was being told.  The good news for me was this included meeting with another part timer already working at Phuel who on top of flexible hours also worked from home!  Clearly a good indication that there was a clear alignment between what was being said and the working practices in place.

    3. Utilise every resource available to you in the transition period.

      Changing careers can mean a steep learning curve lies ahead.  I was ready for this challenge and mentally excited to absorb as much as I could. To do this properly and get up to speed as quickly as I could, I actively sought out every resource available, including the team around me.

      From the onset, I recommend knowing who are the ‘go to’ people for information, tips and tricks.  In addition, understand the areas to prioritise initially otherwise it can quickly become overwhelming.

      Observe, read and immerse yourself in everything you possibly can as early as you can!  I know that I learn best through observation and doing (handy when Phuel’s business is predicated on the principle of people learning by doing!).  I attend as many meetings with my new colleagues as I can squeeze into my diary.  Importantly, I also get the opportunity to go along and actively participate in what we do.  This has included me being involved in a dizzying range of workshops from a 12 person sales training program to a 200 person conference!

      One last tip – take copious notes!   I carry my little, black diary around with me like it’s a precious puppy!  

    4. Set realistic expectations for yourself!

      I’ve had to remind myself of this a lot the past month…and I encourage you to do it too. It can feel quite uncomfortable being the new person, particularly when you’ve come from a job that you could do with your eyes closed!  

      Check in to ensure you’re on the right track and understand what your new employer expects of you and by when?  Realistically, allow yourself the first 3 months to understand what you’re doing, the next 3 to get really good at doing them and from there you are up and running!

    5. Be open to receiving feedback.
      Taking on board constructive feedback is how you are going to learn! My new role involves an element of ‘cold calling’, which, if I’m honest, can be a little nerve-racking! Sitting in an open plan office means there’s absolutely nowhere to hide.  For my first couple of calls I asked if I could make them in the safety of our private meeting request was politely refused!!  And, with good reason!  If I made the calls where no-one could hear me there was no opportunity for feedback which means no opportunity to learn and grow.   Hard to join a training and development company and not expect to get some feedback!

      My tip… just bite the bullet and go for it!! I have come a long way since those first few calls, mainly because I am getting direct feedback and taking it on board.

    Changing careers is a big decision. I am certainly glad that it was a leap I took and know with hindsight that it was the right decision for me. Hopefully a few tips pin pointing what I found to be helpful will help you to make the right decision about your own career path. 

  • “More Feedback Please” (says no one – ever!)

    by Phuel Australia | Apr 18, 2016

    By Nathy Gaffney

    More lessons from the dance floor.

    Once a month – my Latin dance school holds a social night.  It provides students an informal environment in which to take the ‘first steps’ to using their ‘learned steps’ in a social environment.

    The night kicks off with a lesson – to warm up the nervous (or novice) dancers – then the lights go down, the DJ kicks in, the bar opens and the fun begins (well for some of us).

    Over the past few months – I’ve been kept busy with work and have spent a lot of time on the road, so have been missing our regular Salsa lessons.  My partner however – has kept up with lessons and classes and is improving at a rate of knots!  He keeps me in the loop by taking me through all the moves he learns, so I’ve kept up (more or less) with the steps.

    What I’ve missed though – is the social aspect of the learning journey.  Having to dance with different partners after dancing with only one – is challenging enough: everyone moves differently. But having to stand at the side of the dance floor and wait to be approached by a stranger, or indeed to approach a stranger yourself and invite them to dance – is a whole different (and uncomfortable) ball game.

    In the pursuit of excellence (or at the very least – increased competency and confidence) – I get comfortable with my discomfort and ask a tall, slim man to dance.  He responds by barely nodding, taking my trembling hand, and leading me onto the middle of the dangerously crowded dance floor.

    I find myself being whirled and swung and flicked and flung by said tall, slim (and increasingly) sweaty man.  He’s clearly a very good dancer and dances with an economy of movement and emotion.  Me on the other hand – whilst keeping up technically (by this I mean not falling over, or vomiting from the motion sickness brought on by the double and triple spins), am not really having the time of my life it must be said.

    At the end of the song – he gives me an imperceptible nod of his head and disappears into the throng – leaving me panting, dazed and …..alone – in the middle of the dance floor. Sadly at this point I’m feeling less ‘J-Lo’ and more ‘Bi-Lo’.

    The chatter starts in my head – “I was awful!  He must have thought I was dreadful.  It must have been such a chore for him to be dancing with someone as lead footed as me.  He didn’t look at me or smile – he must have been having an awful time.  Basically I’m shit and I want to go home – now!”

    But the coaching professional in me realises I’m being offered an opportunity to learn something, so I` cruise back to the edge of the dance floor trying to look available and welcoming (but not needy). Thankfully my “Puberty Blues” moment is over quickly and I’m offered a hand.

    I follow my new partner back to the belly of the beast, and we start to dance.  Three minutes later – it’s over.  I rinse and repeat a few more times but am left wondering - if this is social dancing – why aren’t we socialising??  What’s more, I came here to improve my dancing.  Now sure – I’m getting experience on the dance floor, but there’s a vital ingredient for improvement that I’m not getting – and that’s feedback!

    I’m left constantly guessing.  Guessing what I’m doing wrong, guessing what I might be doing right, guessing what I could do to make it better (both for myself and my partner), and wondering what’s the point?

    I change tack.  I seek out a new partner and off we fly.  At the end, before he can escape - I stop him ask him if he minds if I ask him a couple of questions.  He looks surprised but agrees.  I ask him simply, if he would mind giving me some feedback – what I did well, and where, in his opinion – I need to focus to improve.  In not more than 20 seconds I find out that I have lovely posture and energy, and if I tighten up my footwork on the walk throughs – I’ll find the recovery from my turns much easier.  He also fed back to me that he often has tips that could help the people he dances with, but doesn’t want to offend them by offering his opinion.


    So here’s the point.  In business as in life – many of us have been conditioned to fear feedback. Readying yourself for a review with the boss, often includes the gnawing fear that we’re going to get smashed for all the things we’re doing poorly.  On the flipside – having to give feedback – often means having to deliver ‘bad news’, and no one likes having to do that.  The look on someone’s face when you tell them they’re not performing to expectations – can be awful, and for many managers – a really difficult and debilitating part of their roles.

    But there is another way.  And it starts with our perception.  Consider the place you are at today – in either your life or your job.  Ask yourself – “Is this where I was 12 months ago?”

    How far have you come in the past year?  Chances are – you’ll see a real pattern of growth and progress.  Discomfort is a side effect of growth – so if you have someone shining a spotlight on areas of your performance that could be improved upon – see it for the gift it is.  The key is – getting them to be specific.  Whilst it may seem counter-intuitive – diving deeper into their insights will yield greater results – every time.

    At Phuel – giving people the skills to both give and receive (dare I say - welcome) feedback is just one of the many areas where we offer support to the ‘people’ side of organisations.  All levels of management achieve greater impact with both their internal and external stakeholders when they focus on the mindful practice of being human.

    If you consider the strength of human relationships a vital tool for your business success – let’s chat about how Phuel can help develop yours.

    If however – it’s latin moves you want to work on – go to  Ask for Felix – and tell him Nathy sent you.


  • The Learning Curve: More Lessons from the Latin Dance Floor.

    by Phuel Australia | Apr 06, 2016

    Written by Nathy Gaffney


    How many of you in your work lives have been given a project to work on, where you have to work alongside other colleagues? You prepare and dive in according to your own rhythms, only to discover that they learn, prepare, process information and master new skills in a completely different way to you?! If not understood and accounted for in the process , this potentially can make for a great deal of frustration, hold ups, misunderstandings and flare ups.

    ……The story so far…….In my previous post – I talked about how learning Salsa has improved my capacity to become comfortable with uncertainty. Not always knowing where your partner will ‘lead’ you, can make it uncomfortable for those who are used to being in the drivers seat, but I’m learning to understand and embrace the magic that can come from ‘learning to follow’.

    Which brings me to my topic today – the ‘learning’ part. My partner and I have been having private Salsa lessons once a week – partly because of our conflicting work schedules, but also because he wanted to fast track the learning curve and “nail it” (in his words). I would have quite happily mooched along at the group classes for a couple of terms – just learning in a social atmosphere and gradually gaining confidence as we progressed at a similar pace to the other dancers.

    Not so for the ‘Salsa Ninja’ (SN) as he shall forever be known. He wanted to master the art under the watchful eye of Sensai Felix – and drill it ‘til it hurts. (My lower back and shoulders are certainly complying!)

    ......Different learning styles in action.....SN approaches our lessons as if they’re a scene out of ‘Fast & Furious 7’. Pedal to the metal, high octane, shut up and drive is his style. We were learning a new turn.  Sensai Felix demonstrated once – focusing on the move for SN. I just went with it and twirled. I was barely facing the front before SN had jumped in and was executing the demonstrated turn. Now – in Salsa – there is usually a customary ‘basic step’ that everyone does before diving into the ‘pattern’. This is to physically and mentally prepare for the turn or move about to take place. SN considers this preparation a waste of time – he already knows this pesky basic step standing in between him and ‘spinning girlfriend black belt mastery!’.

    After being spun about 8 times in rapid succession – I called a halt to the proceedings. For one – I was on the verge of vomiting, but also – while he was learning by fast and furious repetition – I was completely lost. I had no idea what he was doing, or what I was supposed to be doing in this process.

    I stopped, steadied myself, and requested that Sensai Felix talk me through what is supposed to be happening to each body part, and to then slowly break down the move, step by minute step. Twice please!

    SN started to twitch and fidget in his shoes. This snails pace and elaborate examination of the ‘process’ just didn’t fit with his ‘learning style’ at all. But I quietly requested (insisted), and then once I was confident that I ‘understood’ how my body should move through the process – I abandoned myself to the twirling ‘bootcamp energy’ style favoured by my enthusiastic partner – and joined him in twirling up a storm.

    …..and then…..We both experienced moments of discomfort – when we were subjected to having to submit to the other’s style of learning. But we also both realized, and discussed later, that by allowing the other the space to experience the process in our own comfort zone – that when we moved on – we’d both learned more – than had we just been on our own ‘learning curve’ exclusively.

    …..moral of the story……Some like to attack a project in big picture style - bold and brazen, then finesse and fine tune later. Others, in order to enjoy the boldness of what they will eventually create, need to understand the fine details along the way. Some are visual and physical. They need to see and do. Others are auditory and kinesthetic – they need to listen and feel their way through a learning process.

    If you would like to know more about how different learning styles can impact your team or your business, connect with Phuel and we’ll shout you a coffee to talk more!

    If learning Salsa sounds like something that would float your boat – Sensai Felix is your man!



  • Follow the Leader – lessons in accepting uncertainty…

    by Phuel Australia | Mar 21, 2016

    Written by Nathy Gaffney


    I’ve always wanted to learn to dance Salsa.  I first dabbled in 2000 – when I had planned a trip to Cuba with my then husband, father, brother and his new wife.  My hubby and I headed off to Arthur Murray’s in a short-lived attempt to steam up the dance floor with some Latin moves.  Our attempts failed dismally.  I’d like to say it was all his fault – but with the benefit of hindsight – I’ll take part of the blame because I now understand something I didn’t understand then.

    I went on to spend the month in Cuba ‘dancing on the inside’.  Watching from the Mojito soaked sidelines as my (then) 60 something year old father salsa’d his way round every dance floor available – I was secretly tormented that I hadn’t mastered the moves.  I longed to be twirled and spun and flung with abandon.  The unavoidable irony being that the women looked so free – in this dance in which the man gave all the direction.  How the magic of this dynamic eluded me.  But I wasn’t ready to ‘follow’ and so I remained ‘Baby in the corner’….

    Fast forward 15 years.  I’ve taken up social Latin Dancing.  My teacher Felix has a very dry sense of humour, and he pegged me from the get go as a woman who would struggle with letting go of the control I exert in most other areas of my life.  It’s not that I’m a control ‘freak’ – I’m just an educated, strong-willed, single parent of a teenage boy, who happens to be a facilitator and coach to senior executives and business professionals kind a gal – on a mission –  to suck as much juice and joy out of life as I possibly can! (No control issues here!)

    But Felix is also an excellent teacher, and has done a very good job of teaching me how to become comfortable with the uncertainty of not always knowing ‘what’s coming next’.  As a man leads on the dance floor – in the early days the moves are very mechanical: they are being taught to guide you by exerting subtle pressure, to indicate in which direction you need to move – to keep the flow of the dance.  His instructions to me?  Just keep stepping – become comfortable with the uncertainty – go with the ‘flow’.

    These words resonated with me – but beyond the dance studio – and into my work world – where my role with Phuel finds me working with people – who for the most part – are used to being ‘in control’, but who are also dealing with great uncertainty.  Whether it be senior executives preparing for a massive presentation to a group of 500 external stakeholders, or early or mid-career trajectory changers – people need to become familiar (and more comfortable) with feelings of uncertainty.  Just as sure as change is the only constant – we can be certain that there will always be uncertainty.

    Today – I got it.  Rather than looking at my partner today and trying to ‘figure out’ what next move he was planning (still haven’t quite honed my mind-reading powers!), I actually stopped focusing on him (quite literally – I didn’t look at him at all) and focused on me being ‘in the moment’.  I turned my attention to the physical sensations and messages my body was receiving from my partner – and all of a sudden – we were dancing – together.  It wasn’t two people – one leading, one following – it was a synergy – a flow of energy – and it was happening as a result of what the two of us were doing together – and in my surrender to the process – contrary to my previous fears of ‘relinquishing control’ – I felt very much a part of what we were creating.

    If you feel that learning to let go and being more comfortable with uncertainty is something that could assist you in your leadership, touch base with the team at Phuel. If, on the other hand you’d like to feel that on the dance floor – check out  Ask for Felix (and tell him Nathy sent you!)

  • Playing in the Sandpit at IDEO

    by Phuel Australia | Mar 08, 2016

    By Kerryn Ross

    (The IDEO offices)

    Of all the days I've been in San Francisco so far, today was the best day. I finally got a chance to play in the sandpit with 7 of the top minds at IDEO. It was a real treat!

    The challenge set was "How might we create conditions that allow innovative behaviours to thrive?" And isn't that the big question we all have? You can train a group of people in your organisation and the CEO might spread the message of the importance of innovation but the problem as we see it at Phuel (and confirmed by IDEO) is in the middle of the organisation. What do we do about that?

    After framing our challenge, we then had the experts from IDEO U come and give us some mastery tools in interviewing and developing insights. Suzanne is the Dean and Co Leta the Director and they were bloody brilliant! As an ex-marketer I thought I had a pretty good handle on insight development as I had spent the first 15 years of my career in global manufacturing companies doing nothing but insight and new product development. But these ladies took rapid rapport building in an interview to a whole new level.

    They showed us the importance of getting the stories out of people and how to cluster, frame and sort observations and then turn them into insights. The phase of Design Thinking I observe most people find the hardest.

    We interviewed 5 IDEOers from all different functions in the business. Extreme users like IDEO give us a glimpse into the future and teach us what is possible. We were also given exposure to an incubator with classic start-ups for us to learn from experts.

    So how did we make this part of the process easier with the help of IDEO U? Here are the four key steps to great insight generation:
    1. Capture individual data points from observations
    2. Connect them together in a meaningful way like a theme, a pattern or a framework
    3. Craft your insight - a good insight doesn't just appear you have to craft them
    4. Storytelling - a good insight helps us feel something to drive us to want to do something with it.

    A good insight should inform (shed light on needs & wants). It should inspire (motivate to create action) and be memorable (it sticks and is shareable). And you should ideally start your insight with a verb!

    Sharing insights is the heart & soul of finding great solutions. It's like prototyping your insights by calling them out and seeing if that resonates with others and has a fit? After crafting 7 great insights we did some ideating around them and agreed on some tests. Rapid prototyping and testing.

    Here are the 7 insights of innovative cultures:
    1. It's all about the work and who you get to work with and alongside
    2. Innovative cultures work "with" their customers
    3. Innovators learn fast and therefore succeed sooner
    4. Collaboration happens internally and externally (the share economy)
    5. Smaller teams (4-8) and flat project team structures move faster
    6. Innovative cultures do more and talk less
    7. Innovators have high digital fluency across all mediums (social, data, mobile, cloud).

    If you are interested in the further outputs of the day, make contact with us and we can tell you more face to face. There's some commercial sensitivity around this stuff right now as we further evolve the challenge.

    What I can share with you are the five big learns that IDEO agreed on when implementing cultural change programs:
    1.  Use Design Thinking to attack a goal that is meaningful for the business, don't do DT for DT's sake.
    2. Find ways to create focus & commitment, even if it includes risk.
    3. Be assertive and ask for what you need for the project to be successful.
    4. Don't be afraid to confront the truth and have the difficult conversation.
    5. Find ways to make the process light & fun, keeping the endorphins flowing.

    Some great work done today. I hope you found the shares useful. More to do tomorrow as we tackle another big hairy monster of a challenge.

  • An Hour with Tim Brown from IDEO

    by Phuel Australia | Mar 07, 2016

    By Kerryn Ross


    Tim Brown took over the reins of IDEO from David Kelley and has run the business ever since... Whilst in San Francisco, I had an opportunity to listen to Tim present. As you know by now D. Kelley is my main man so I wasn't expecting to be as impressed by Tim as I was. His passion for making the world a better place through greater empathy and therefore better design was infectious.

    To make it easy I've picked 5 key areas he covered which I wanted to share:

    1. The future of design
    2. The new phase of IDEO
    3. Mastery
    4. The special sauce called Empathy
    5. Seeing success differently

    And finally I asked him about the future of business models like government agencies, law firms and some consultancies that can be incredibly hierarchical and bureaucratic.

    1. The future of Design

    Tim is clearly a big thinker and influencer of others. Do you know that he attends the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland each year? His central question is "What can design do next?"

    The Economist magazine was perhaps the first publication to start the conversation about the 3rd industrial revolution. And we are living it now as many things converge in the digital world. Tim explains that many systems like taxation, health and education are all borne out of the last industrial revolution and haven't really been evolved yet to meet this next revolution. That is where he says design can make the most impact, "the stuff we should be focused on re-designing is where there is complexity".

    2. The new phase for IDEO

    Tim is quick to call out that the latest move by IDEO to join forces with Tokyo's Hakuhoda DY is a "creative collective". Because of the dizzying rate of change - as he calls it - the problems he wants IDEO to work on are bigger and therefore demand a wider range of collaborators. DY partners include: an organisation transformation consultancy, a digital specialist, an advertising firm and a brand specialist. Together they form the Kyu Collective, which in Japanese terms means mastery. A great Segway to the next topic of discussion.

    3. Mastery

    Tim talked about Design Thinking as being creative mastery. I've heard the term mastery used a lot in my short time at IDEO already. He explains they are not conceptual skills, they are skills of both the body and mind. You have to know the cycles. "At IDEO we care about this idea of mastery and what that would look like? And now our focus has expanded to ask the question on how IDEO might help to enable masterful creative leaders".

    4. Empathy

    One thing that I've noticed while I'm here at IDEO, is how collaborative this business is.  Mytheory is that the consistent quality or value is empathy for others. In particular, colleagues. We had an hour with the Director of Team Building and his role is to manage the traffic of projects and the teams that deliver these. "It is complicated and at times very difficult but the enormous empathy from everyone for the process gets us through every time because it simply involves a conversation". Not rocket science perhaps but effective and consistent. How much empathy is shown around your business? Do a quick experiment and just observe people's conversations and hallway interactions.

    5. Measuring Business Success

    So Tim recognizes that IDEO needs to make a profit like any business to afford to pay people. But his point is that money is easy to measure, everything else is hard. But that shouldn't stop us from including it into our success measures. Tim likes to measure IDEO's success by impact. He honestly believes there is a lot of work to be done to convince businesses to be more creative. Creative competitiveness involves creating new ideas, embracing new ideas and executing ideas. He moved from the UK to San Francisco years ago because he believes the US has a willingness to try new things versus other parts of the world. He puts this down to two key factors; the burning platform, no country has a more broken infrastructure than the US, and the level of optimism Americans consistently have.

    Finally I was keen to know what he thought of the future of bureaucracy and hierarchies. He was quick to distinguish between the two. "A bureaucracy is a way of managing knowledge flow and you don't need it in today's technology world. Digital is doing it for us. Hierarchy is different. It is still necessary to a degree, because when the business can't reach a consensus, a hierarchy is the mechanism for doing just that". I thought that was an incredible distinction and it really resonated with me.

    He  finished with the four ingredients he thought were necessary for an innovative culture;
    - Creative confidence
    - Cultural values
    - Mastery
    - Art of asking the right question (reframing - the power of asking insightful questions).

    Phuel are hard at work considering how the first three apply in our business and to our clients.  We have built our business on the mastery of the last one.  We call it Diagnostic capabilities. Come talk to us about how we can help.

  • Visiting IDEO in San Francisco

    by Phuel Australia | Mar 04, 2016
    By Kerryn Ross

    (Kerryn & Alan)

    I talked a lot about cool office spaces in my previous blog and nobody does it better than IDEO. Today I got to see, smell, taste, touch and hear what makes IDEO so special. And that's not just me being creepy by using all of my senses to take it all in - it is the fundamental IDEO principle of their office. The user experience of their office, (like any user experience they design for clients) is clever, simple and beautifully designed. Let me walk you through some of the gems my host Alan, an IDEO veteran of 11 years, took me through.

    I noticed 12 points of difference in the way IDEO work that significantly contribute to their success and they all boil down to two things from my observations; everything is designed to feel like a small office (there are 180-200 people in San Francisco) and everything they do is to encourage collaboration.

    Let's look first at their environment and how they have designed that. Many businesses have set up open plan, multiple meeting rooms, diverse meeting spaces but none have combined the physical environment and the emotional user experience quite like IDEO.

    The first thing that you notice is the multiple types of work locations. They have project rooms around the outside to maintain confidentiality of projects, so these rooms have doors. The rest is open plan - no surprise there - except the thought that has gone into these spaces. There is the "porch" which are open areas with prototype chair and tables made from polystyrene to find the perfect match for these areas of what the optimum chair and table combinations are. They have realised there isn't one, so they are portable de mountable desks and chairs to swap in and out dependent on the need. Well thought through and tested.

    Then they have benches that are either "we" or "me" tables. The “we” tables are slimmer to fit more bodies closer together. The “me” tables are wider and roomier for the individual. Both are designed to swivel from one to the other. They have a shop, as in workshop room. No, not sticky notes but tools. You see hammering and sawing as people build prototypes. Everyone gets taught to use the 5 main tools and the "shop" is the place they take tricky clients. They bring a client in to the shop and get them hands on. Apparently this breaks down barriers to collaboration when a client is involved in this way. Don't know about that but I'd love to have a bash and saw....

    One very cool idea is storytelling night. Held once a year all IDEOers are invited. Only 6 people get selected each year. Alan tells me he nominated for it 5 years in a row and was finally successful in year 6. These 6 lucky ones get 12 weeks of training to build their storytelling capabilities. They start with 3 stories and end up telling one. There are many legends over the years. What a great idea.

    Check this idea out as well: Every bathroom has a red or green light outside it clearly indicating its status. At one central point in the office if you stand on the baseball batter plate you have clear visibility of all bathrooms. If you feel the need, you stand on the plate and wait. Weird you might say but cleverly designed to bring people together while they wait to say “hi”. Act like a start-up of 8 people is their view, so encouraging everyone to know everyone else in the office is paramount. This is just one way to do it.

    Cut the fruit is another. Wellness is a big focus at IDEO and yet they noticed that the oranges were always the left over fruit. At the end of 3 days they cut the oranges and again this encourages people to stand eat the fruit and say “hi” for a minute. Soup day is another idea that brings people together. Never the same day of the week. It is important these ideas feel random enough not to encourage entitlement. Alan was sharing that for 3 weeks in a row on Friday afternoon he would pop some champagne and then overheard someone saying are you going to Friday champagne? That indicated a potential sense of entitlement so it morphed into something else at another time.

    They are working on a project right now on how to redesign the front desk experience. Everyone contributes and the passion is obvious as there are contributions on post-it's all around the wall of the front desk. The actual front desk is a mockup as they continue to test for the next 6 weeks.

    Each office operates under the Tim Brown Little book of IDEO habits but has its own ability to shape the vibe and mood of their place. They don't consider other IDEO locations as siblings more cousins.

    The big take out for me is how IDEO put as much thought into the design of their own work environment as they do for any client.  How often have you heard the saying "plumbers pipes" or "cobblers shoes"?  We do it for other people but never get around to doing it for ourselves.  Not IDEO.  That must be why they are so generous to share. They know everyone loves what they do and wants to emulate it but very few actually do. Why? I guess it simply comes down to what you think makes the difference and what you value about your business. It's pretty clear what IDEO value. And it makes them the most innovative company in the world in my mind.

    I'm looking forward to getting back to our offices in Sydney and testing a few experiments on how we at Phuel can continue to improve the user experience of our offices.  Should be fun!

  • Big Day in San Francisco

    by Phuel Australia | Mar 03, 2016
    By Kerryn Ross


    I had a big, big day in San Francisco.  Let me tell you the story of how I met Dave Kelley, the founder of IDEO (yep that's what I call him now and he calls me Kez). As if?

    I headed off to the D School at Stanford University (about an hour by train or about 3 days by car on the freeway). I took the train. It took me a while to find it. Stanford is a big campus. It doesn't actually scream "D School - Kerryn this way".  Sadly.

    As I was walking in circles I literally bumped into him. We were quite the pair. Me for over-apologising for bothering him and he with his slightly shy and embarrassed demeanour. It is exactly this humility that I admire so much about him. He is such an unassuming person with a brilliant mind. Steve Jobs may be the guy of fame and fortune but D. Kelley has started a Design Thinking revolution for the masses. For one person to be so influential in the field of innovation is remarkable. Starting IDEO and the massive input into starting the D School have contributed to millions of people the world over problem solving in different ways.

    So he asked what I was here for and was genuinely excited when I said I was working at IDEO with Experience Point. I said I wanted to see the D School and so he offered to show me around. Imagine that, a guided tour with Dave. All these students looking at me like I was a VIP because I was with their God (and mine). Just quietly, I was loving it.

    He then set me up to take a class while I was there on Visual Thinking (see image below). That was very cool. We learned 3 new techniques in 2 hours; forced morphology, word manipulation and free sketching. All very useful for when you need some impulsion for ideating. Of great interest was the rich discussion around the flexibility and fluidity of thinking. If you are interested in knowing more I am happy to share. All these concepts I have since found are part of the excellent book; Visual Thinking for Design by Colin Ware.


    I loved everything about the D-School. I loved the space, the people in it and in particular the philosophy. 

    And finally, the coolest bit, all these photos line the walls, showing the diversity of disciplines that students come from to take classes at the D-School. 

    Tomorrow I have my first day at IDEO. Really looking forward to that. Although I doubt anything could top meeting the man with the mow!

  • San Francisco

    by Phuel Australia | Mar 03, 2016

    By Kerryn Ross 


    So before I start my 4 very exciting days working at the San Francisco offices of IDEO (I've quite honestly been like a kid before Christmas - how many more sleeps?) I wanted to catch up with everyone I know in San Francisco. That shouldn't take long. A total of 3.

    The first person I am dying to see, (as it's been over 8 years) is my old mate Nat. She worked alongside me with at Tourism WA as our digital marketing expert. She grew tired of Perth prices due to the mining boom so she decided to return to the Valley with hubby and 2 kids to catch the ride of another boom. She has not looked back since.

    I was really keen to hear from Nat and see how she was using innovation first hand in the start up she co-founded. The company is connecting top brands to key social influencers and always applying innovative new ideas. It's called FullBottle and they have grown in the space of only 18 months to a large team and expect this year to be the year.  Nat tells me they have been held up in their growth trajectory, as they haven't been able to finish the product design. They have had to bid for software "engineers" here in Silicon Valley. It's like a bidding war she tells me for these guys and gals. They won't travel out of San Francisco to where their office is in San Mateo, so they had to open another office in SF to accommodate. Not to mention the salaries these guys can command. Talk about having it sweet! Oh to be in such a commanding position. One can only dream.

    And have you seen these combined office areas in SF that offer communal space for start ups? They too are in a competition war with others to attract the best talent to cohabit in their space!  Some offer chefs who will do anything you want for your lunchtime meals.  Others offer free stuff from all their vending machines. I'm not talking the ubiquitous can of Coke. These vending machines are full of UBS cords, chargers and everything a busy entrepreneur needs to keep them going.

    Of course the kicker to these places is the access to angel investors, some are even owned by investors who are looking to attract the most promising talent.

    Once again I find myself pondering my age. How old do I have to be before I no longer show entrepreneurial promise?

    A few of the best spaces I reckon are the most appealing include; Hatch, Makeshift Society, and Workbox. They are my 3 picks.

    But the best of the best are not shared space but company owned. Start with looking at the Pinterest building, where employees are seen working on laptops while sitting on swings? Then the new AirBnB space is pretty amazing too. The race has been on for a while now to have the sexiest place to work...

    What will be really interesting to see is how many of these new principals in office space design follow on to Sydney.  With Bangaroo and other new high rises popping up, I am keen to see if these trends have a knock on effect.  What design thought has gone into the work based activity environment back home, how will they look and what will the user experience be compared to what I'm seeing here in this techie world?  

    Off to D school at Stanford today...Can't wait!!

  • Kerryn in San Francisco

    by Phuel Australia | Mar 02, 2016

    By Kerryn Ross


    I've arrived in San Francisco to learn and observe all things innovation to bring back to the nest at Phuel to share with my colleagues and our clients.

    On the plane journey over here, I met some "techies" who were returning to the "valley" as they called it (Silicon Valley that is for the non locals like myself).  Currently they commute to work in the valley but live in San Francisco.  They are hoping that will change soon and they will have less of a commute.

    San Francisco has long enjoyed a reputation as the counterculture of the U.S., attracting bohemians, mavericks, progressives and activists. With the onset of the digital gold rush, young members of the tech elite are looking to make their fortunes here in the Bay Area. The talk is that San Francisco is having to reinvent itself forcing the bohemians and diversity out of the city as prices rise to cater for the new "tech yuppie hipster" (or whatever they prefer to be called"?).

    I watched a very interesting documentary on the flight that looked at exactly this phenomena, titled San Francisco 2.0 by award winning director, Alexandra Pelosi. Pelosi, returns to her home town to examine the changes.

    The city's tech boom was born out of Silicon Valley's tech influx, which started shuttling young, newly affluent employees in these massive double decker buses to work and back to their flash homes in San Francisco.

    San Fran Mayor Ed Lee saw the opportunity to move these companies from the valley to the city offering tax breaks and incentives to those relocating to run down neighborhoods like the notorious, Tenderlion. If you have ever been to San Francisco you always get the warning to stay clear and do not walk through this area.

    The main change seems to be the colorful Mission district where historic murals (so famous in SF) are being painted over by businesses moving in, no fault eviction notices are being served to tenants who can't afford to move and have lived in the same place for 20 years and developers are squeezing out local retailers. It seems sad in a way.

    So Pelosi poses the question "is all this progress good for the city?". It certainly left me wondering what the growing divide between rich and poor will do to the city. Will it lose its colour?

    Check it out for yourself next time you fly on Qantas, it's a really fascinating watch for those of us who just see all the amazing startups and obscene money being made by those youngsters! God, am I as old as I seem when I write?!

    Regardless of my age, now that I’m on the ground I’m even more excited about the week ahead working with and learning from IDEO and Experience Point. Feel free to check back in regularly to follow my journey in San Francisco, as we delve deeper into all things innovation.

More than one Google Analytics scripts are registered. Please verify your pages and templates.