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April 2019

The Power of Incremental Change

By | Change, Leadership | No Comments

There’s an old zen koan (story) of a wealthy man who wanted to build a new house that illustrates the importance of incremental change. He wanted a three-story dwelling so he could look out over his land and marvel at the beautiful landscape for many miles around, and more importantly because the higher one lived the higher one’s status.

And so he contracted highly skilled builders to build his beautiful home. Being a busy man himself he then left them to do what it was he was paying them to do and set off on his business travels. Upon his return several weeks later he decided to see how they had progressed.

To his horror he found that they had only started on the ground floor. ‘Why have you not begun work on the top floor?’ he cried. There could be no status living on the ground floor and much loss of face.

The builders, of course, explained to the wealthy man that they must start at the bottom before they could begin to move up to the next floor and ultimately the top floor. But he wasn’t happy because he didn’t want the other floors, he only wanted and desired the third floor. The others were not needed.

Change is incremental and happens one step at a time

Many business leaders and entrepreneurs are like that. They want change to happen all at once. They set out with massive visions and write enormous BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) and get miffed if it doesn’t happen fast enough. They want to jump straight to the endgame. Many managers are like that as well. They want the yearly budget done by September, or need the return on their innovation investment before the product is ready. The effect of incremental change is often overlooked

Yes having a vision is vital because otherwise how do you know where you are going. Having goals are vital because they make your vision a reality. Without either business doesn’t grow.


Business growth and change takes time. Meeting budgets takes time. Developing your people takes time. In order to get to the endgame, whatever your vision and whatever your goals are, you need to work meticulously on getting every stage right and complete before you move onto the next. Always remember that business is a ‘Game of inches’ and change is incremental.

Like the top floor, your business will only be solid, secure and lasting if you take the time to build everything correctly on the way up. Desired change can only happen in increments.

Related articles include ‘How the McVikers Cashed in on Change‘ and ‘Change Management requires ownership, not buy-in’. Also ‘The Tasmanian who changed an industry’

Find out how Nigel can help your conference delegates make change happen or about his executive coaching and other keynotes.

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cash in on change

How the McVikers managed to cash in on Change

By | Change | No Comments

Sometimes the best ideas come when change is thrust upon us. No-one likes change, especially in the corporate world. But change brings with it opportunity. If you have the right mindset for it and take action. It’s change management on a very practical level which allows you to cash in on change.

No matter how hard you look sometimes the best and most profitable ideas have a habit of revealing themselves in the strangest of places and the strangest of ways. Usually when things change around us. We just need to be open enough, receptive enough and clever enough to see them when they arise.

When change management is thrust upon us

Take one evening in the dining room of the McViker family for example. The McViker’s owned a small business called Kuto Chemicals, which back in the 1950’s was in a tad of bother. They made a wonderfully ingenious product, a soft, clay-ish compound, which you would roll along dirty wallpaper and all the grime and dust would stick to it. Clever really and in the decades leading up to our infamous dinner date it proved a very successful product because it filled a gap – people wanted cleaner, less grimy walls. And because they were prepared to pay, it was also a good business model as well.

But the tad of bother occurred when the wallpaper industry was in turmoil and in decline because fashion trends meant more people were using paint. Fewer wallpaper sales meant less need, desire and as a result fewer sales for ‘Magic Wallpaper Cleaner’. The gap in the market the McVikers were filling was starting to disappear along with their fortunes.

Change creates opportunities

Enter a kindergarten teacher named Kay Zufall, a friend of the McVikers who had a completely different problem. As a teacher of toddlers, she was sick and tired of how messy the modelling clay was that kids used. If too wet the stuff would never hold its shape, and if too dry it became brittle and just crumbled under the pressure of a two year old’s hands. Either way, there were tears.

So back to dinner, legend has it that Kay mentioned her frustration to her good friends the McVikers and what followed was a conversation leading to one of the McVikers saying something like ‘try this’ and then handed Kay Zufall some a tub of ‘Magic Wallpaper Cleaner’.

It worked like a charm. Not too hard, not too soft, and held it’s shape. Through serendipity, a new gap appeared and ‘PlayDoh’ was born.

Fortunately for us, the tragic demise of ‘Magic Wallpaper resulted in the same product becoming an instant hit in a different market with a different application. It filled a new gap

Thankfully the McVikers were smart enough to accept change and run with it. Imagine if they were so narrow focused, so set on resolving the wallpaper issue that they had missed it. Children all over the planet would never have grown up knowing the joys of ‘Play Doh’, and parents all over the world would never have spent endless hours pulling the stuff out of carpet.

When speaking about change this story frequently gets a mention.

So how much money did the McVikers make? From the initial idea in the mid 1950’s Joe McViker sold Play Doh in 1965 for $3milllion. That’s about $22million in today’s money. Not bad for one idea over decade. If you can find a gap, you can cash in on change.

Related articles include ‘Change happens in increments‘. Also
Change Management Requires Ownership, not Buy-in. As well as ‘The Tasmanian who changed an industry’

Find out more about how Nigel can help your leaders and teams through his change management presentations, executive coaching or other keynotes.

5 ways to destroy your meeting or business event.

By | Useful Conference Tips | No Comments

Like me, you may spend an enormous part of your life in meetings and business events. Whether they are conferences, internal WIPs (work in progress), or boardroom sessions.

I have literally spent my life in conferences and meetings, it’s what I do, and face-to-face meetings and events are very hard to replace. But they can also be non-efficient and costly when done wrong. Fortunately, they are certain pitfalls which can easily be overcome.

So here’s a simple checklist of things to avoid because we if eliminate the bad what we are left with is the good.

Too many things.

Like a good movie where there is a very clear plot with a very clear problem for the hero to solve, a meeting (whether a one on one, business event or a conference of 4000) needs to have a clear objective. Not many, just one. Again, like a movie, once there are too many story-lines it gets hard to follow, and sure there may be subplots involved but they support the main story.

Meetings are no different. As soon as you try cover too many objectives and solve too many problems your participants will become unclear as to why they are there, and what you want them to achieve and worse still, they will then start to dis-engage.

You need to have a clear meeting objective. 
Here’s a simple rule. One meeting, one objective.

Buy-in instead of ownership at your business event.

One of the biggest challenges with a meeting is getting people engaged and staying engaged. Part of the reason that fails is because meeting holders go for buy-in and not ownership. The difference is that you can thrust buy-in onto someone. For example, stating that ‘if you’re not there you are sacked’ will get people buying in to going but it won’t get them engaged. Ownership however is when you find a way for them to want to be involved and to take ownership of the objective and outcomes.

So get them involved early, communicate well, ask for their input and listen.

Squirrel Chasing at meetings

Remember the movie ‘Up’ where the dogs have voice translators on their collars so they can talk to you. However every so often they get distracted and yell out ‘Squirrel!’. When people in meetings get sidetracked and chase squirrels nothing will get resolved. Maybe if you are having a ‘Think Tank’ or ‘Ideation Session’ then squirrel chasing can be advantageous BUT only if it’s directed and structured properly.

The antidotes for squirrel chasing are having a clear objective (one, not many), and designing the right structure and agenda.

Not having a good facilitator

There is an art to facilitating, and yes I am bias. A good facilitator talks less and listens more. They pick up on trends and the flow of conversations, they find open doors of conversation to go through and explore, they ask provocative questions and are prepared to take a hit for the team. And most importantly they are unbiased.

I believe every meeting needs a good, or professional facilitator because they ensure everything that occurs serves the objective and the purpose of the meeting or business event itself.


Some meetings and events end up as dictatorships where the chair or the holder of the meeting doesn’t just drive it, they won’t let anyone else in the car. Yes meetings need to have someone take the lead, to direct things but that is very different from being bombastic, failing to listen to participants and not being open to ideas.

A great meeting or event is where communication doesn’t flow one way but is multi-directional.

Also check out How to get the most out of your conference facilitator or MC