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Nige Collin

Change an industry

The Tasmanian who changed an industry

By | Change Management, Innovation | No Comments

Let me take you back to 1902, when an enterprising young man had an idea. J.A. Birchall owned a small stationery shop in Launceston, Tasmania Australia. Someone who would change an industry without being a juggernaut.

Back at the turn of the century, if you wanted to communicate with your clients or just keep in touch with family and friends, you couldn’t email or text them. You could jump on your horse and head off across town, or you could write to them. And unlike today’s world, when you bought writing paper you did so in large individual sheets, usually rolled up that you would then cut to size before use. 

Our young hero could see problems from his customers’ point of view. He noticed that if it was windy or raining his customers would leave the shop fighting to keep their paper rolled neatly without it getting crushed or wet or blown down the road. There had to be a workable solution to this problem and that’s when Mr Birchall had his idea.

He wrote to his suppliers in England and suggested they cut the sheets down into smaller, more manageable sizes. He then evolved the idea and suggested they place a firm backing board under the sheets, so you didn’t have to roll them. He took it even further and suggested they get some gum and glue the top edges of the loose sheets together, so people could peel them off, one by one, as they needed them. 

It took a while to convince his suppliers, but eventually, J.A. Birchall’s creative scheme came into existence. A Tasmanian from Launceston invented the writing notepad that we know today.

What I love about this story, and I tell it often when speaking at conferences, is that it demonstrates three important pillars to change an industry and for business growth.

Firstly, the need to find gaps. Not just market gaps, but small gaps in the way you do things, that solve customers’ problems. Continually look for areas that can be improved bit by bit, inch by inch.

It also demonstrates that creative thinking and innovation belong to everyone and not just the leviathans of industry.

And finally, there’s a spirit in the story you often see throughout places like Tasmania. One which we can all learn from. It’s the spirit of having a crack. It’s the ability and courage to have a go and make ideas happen.

You don’t need to be a juggernaut to change an industry.

Related articles

Is your ability to influence important in leading change?

How the McVikers cashed in on Change

How do I foster an innovation culture in my team?

Is your ability to influence important in leading change?

By | Change Management | No Comments

To get people embracing change you need to become a master influencer.

I’ve been speaking and facilitating most of my life. Recently I read a magnificent article from HBR on the art of influence and persuasion. It was so compelling it got me thinking about the importance of influence when it comes to leading change.

People want and need to understand the importance of change and how it will be a benefit to them if they are going to embrace it. In fact, they will fight it. As leaders, it is paramount that we become masters at communicating the importance of change and what it means for others. Otherwise, change simply won’t happen.

It’s one thing to be the instigator of change but it’s a different thing to have change thrust upon you. According to McKinsey there is a 30% more chance of a change initiative succeeding if people embrace it and are invested in it.

Which is why this recent article by Carmine Gallo in HBR was so profound for me because its spoke of 5 keys that Aristotle wrote about more than 2000 years ago. What I find fascinating is that these ideas are still relevant today, more importantly, vital for anybody within an organisation leading and communicating new initiatives.

Let’s have a look at each of these 5 elements and how they relate to making change happen within teams.

1. Character in leading change

When it comes to change, we need to know the person leading us has the character and credibility to do so. Otherwise, we just won’t accept it. As leaders, if we expect our people to adopt change and act on it, we better make sure we believe in it and act on it as well.

2. Reason in leading change

A few facts and figures go a long way because they satisfy the logical part of our brain. Of course, not everybody wants to be overwhelmed with statistics but a few quantitative examples of why a particular change is important (such as an increase in real wages or decrease in stress levels) can make all the difference

3. Emotion in leading change

As humans, it is when we become emotionally connected to something that we begin to embrace it and engage with it. When trying to influence people as to the need to make change happen, finding ‘what’s in it for them’ emotionally is powerful.

4. Metaphor in leading change

At film school one of my tutors once said to me ‘we are genetically engineered to understand story. in the world of business, the storytelling is becoming more and more popular and for good reason. One of the simplest ways to use story is metaphor.

5. Brevity

No one likes changes because it seems too hard, too big and too scary. A great antidote to that is making it simple so it doesn’t seem overwhelming or complex. Keeping a message concise and clear isn’t easy but it worth the effort. Take time upfront to keep it short and simple.

Unless you can influence the people within your organisation to adopt new ideas and new ways of doing things the status quo will remain. And in a rapidly changing world, status quo is the nemesis of business growth.

Other related articles to read are Change Management requires Ownership not buy-in and The power of incremental change

Take our ‘Change Survey’

great leaders

Great leaders – are they superheroes or villains?

By | Leadership | No Comments

I remember rocking up to my dad’s office as a young kid during school holidays and asking to see his films. He didn’t work in the film business; he was in advertising. His secretary (I don’t think they had executive assistants back then) would amuse me by setting up a 16mm projector in a spare room and bringing out a pile of Dad’s advertisements. I would sit there for hours, just watching the ads and promo reels, playing them again and again and again.

I used to love the sound the film made when it was running through the sprockets, seeing the light glow in the projector and how the dust would flitter and play in its beam. Sometimes, just for kicks, I would play the films backwards. Very cool. My dad never said no to me watching his films. He was never too busy to bring a projector home to set up in the living room.

Great leaders are supportive

A few years later, when I was a teenager, he set up a meeting with a family friend who was a film producer, to chat with me about a career in the film business. That led to me getting work on TV and film.

Around the same time, my mother owned an art gallery, so much of my teenage years were surrounded by people who appreciated self-starters, entrepreneurs and successful business people. People who also managed to make a living, and some of them very good livings, from their ideas and their creativity, (at 80 my Mother still painted). People who understood that success takes both passion and good business skill and that it doesn’t happen immediately but takes effort and time. That it’s a game of inches on all levels.

Great Leaders have influence

I am incredibly grateful that people who were supportive and open to entrepreneurial endeavours surrounded me in my youth. People who didn’t judge, mock, or try to interfere, but instead mentored, guided, and led by example. Just being who they were and doing what they did was an enormous influence.

There lies a great lesson. I learned at a very early age, without even knowing it, that we each hold an immense power of influence over other people and that we can either draw the very best out of them or shut them down. We can inspire people to be their best or we can point them to mediocrity – without even knowing we’re doing it. We can also inspire ourselves to be our best or we can point ourselves to mediocrity – without even knowing we’re doing it

We can be superheroes or villains. A great leader knows that the first choice is a nobler one. Inspiring people to be their best is a much better pursuit.

To find out more about how Nigel can help your leaders be superheroes with his leadership presentations.

Others articles on leadership include ‘Change management requires ownership, not buy-in’ and ‘How do I foster an innovation culture in my team?

conference MC Facilitation tool

Could This Be The Best Facilitation Tool Ever?

By | Innovation, Useful Conference Tips | No Comments

I’ve been facilitating for over 20 years now and am always on the lookout for effective facilitation tools. So when I came upon this I got excited. The story goes that at Virgin’s head office, in their boardroom, is an empty chair. The chair represents the customer, so whenever Sir Richard and his executives get together, symbolically the customer is right there with them. This way they are reminded to see things from the customer’s point of view and not just their own.

Powerful Stuff. And one of the best facilitation tools ever.

Facilitation needs a third person perspective

Often when we’re drawing ideas from others and trying to find creative solutions we get caught up in our own point of view and fail to see things from the point of view of others. As a result we limit our thinking and may even fail to see opportunities outside of our own vision. A third person view of the world can very often make all the difference and so it’s important to see things from someone else’s perspective. To come up with quality business solutions it’s vital to see things in different ways. 

And this is exactly what the empty chair does.

I often use this as a device when facilitating business sessions and also when coaching executives. It is also a brilliant device I often use when facilitating conference sessions. By placing an empty chair at every table and as delegates work through various tasks and problems. They are constantly reminded to consider the customer’s voice, needs, and point of view. As a result, they arrived with solutions that are not from their own point of view but from the point of view of the customer. 

A Facilitation tool to see things through other people point of view.

The empty chair can be used to represent other people as well, such as your stakeholders if they’re opinions and influence are important. Or perhaps the chair could represent a mentor or role model who can symbolically advise you and prompt you to see things differently. 

So why not place an empty chair in your office, boardroom, or creative space? Let it be a reminder to get out of your own head and into the head of someone else and see things from their point of view.

It’s a fantastic facilitation tool to use.

Other related articles to help you get the most from your meeting or events include ‘How to get the most from your conference mc or facilitator’ and ‘4 ways to create delegate engagement at your next meeting or event’.

The Power of Incremental Change

By | Change Management, 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.

Take the ‘Change Survey’

cash in on change

How the McVikers managed to cash in on Change

By | Change Management | 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

What Phrenology can teach us about creative thinking

By | Innovation | No Comments

Back in the late 1700s, a revolution happened in the science of the mind. Concerned with determining a person’s psychological attributes or personalities, such as creative thinking ability, it was known as phrenology. It would do this by merely taking head measurements and feeling their skull for the size of bumps and indentations. The principle behind it was that the brain was divided into different segments. Each of which related to a different psychological attribute. How strong that characteristic or attribute was would be determined by the size of that segment. It followed that a large bump pointed to a stronger trait.

For example if you are a good creative thinker then that part of your brain would be more developed. As a result your skull would have an outward bump to accommodate the extra creative grey matter.

Creative Innovation Never Stops

In other words, you could tell a lot about someone, including what they were good at, simply by feeling the bumps on their head. Sounds reasonable. Introduced by Franz Joseph Gall in 1769, it wasn’t until the early 1800s that the science of Phrenology gained momentum and became fashionable among those wanting to be seen as advocates of the scientific method.

Even today L. N. Fowler’s classic phrenology busts are commonly displayed in public spaces and offices. I have one in my own studio, the bald ceramic skull segmented by lines and descriptions defining different ‘organs’ of the brain relating to particular personality attributes. A dominant bump on the top right of your forehead indicates great foresight; a large bump immediately above your left ear suggests destructive tendencies. Fowler himself wrote, ‘For thirty years I have studied crania and living heads from all parts of the world and have found in every instance there is a perfect correspondence between the conformation of the healthy skull of an individual and his known characteristics’.

Of course, we now know that phrenology had absolutely no basis in fact and that there was never any scientific evidence to support it. So why do people like me (and perhaps you) still proudly display replicas of Mr Fowler’s creation (my kids call him George)? Well, I guess they are kind of cool, and a tad retro. Innovation never stops – it evolves.

A Creative Thinking Reminder

It serves as a reminder that we are better at creative thinking than we give ourselves credit for. And as a reminder that just when you think you know everything and you’ve got it right, somewhere, somehow, someone knows more than you and has done it better than you. It reminds me that there is always a second right answer. And that you need to keep an open mind and keep looking for new ideas, new perspectives, new concepts and new empirical evidence.

The truth is, we don’t know everything and we never will; and if you want to improve yourself and your business, you need to be constantly improving your skills and your knowledge.

In the ‘Game of Inches‘, you need to be forever learning. It’s another one of the things all the successful people I have spoken with and read about have in common. They are curious, inquisitive, constantly seeking out knowledge. Commonly seeing learning not just as an academic pursuit but as an integral part of their lives that takes many forms and has many sources. It forms the basis of my keynote presentations

Related articles include ‘3 Big Innovation Barriers

4 ways to create delegate engagement using downtime at your next meeting or event.

By | Useful Conference Tips | No Comments

I don’t know about you but it seems to me that too often there simply isn’t time to think or ponder, or have those all-important candid conversations about things.

As human beings we need time and space to digest ideas and mull over discussions and simply let things sink in. It’s the downtime that allows us to effectively learn and more importantly process information.

Think about your own experiences and you’ll find it’s often during this free time that the best ideas present themselves or the penny drops about a topic or conversation we’ve just been part of.

So why is it then that in the world of meetings and events too often we are presented with agendas that are crammed so full that no one has time to breathe let alone think?

To effectively get people to engage with the content, take on board what is being discussed and more importantly act on it, downtime is paramount.

When designing a conference program or a meeting schedule we need to consider the downtime and free space as being just as important as the busy bits. If not more so. Especially when it comes to engaging your conference audience.

So here are four ways to design effective downtime.

Make sure you have time buffers between sessions.

Having a presentation finish at 10.30am and the next starting at 10.31am is ludicrous, (and yes it does happen). Not only do sessions run over but you need time for the audience to digest what has just been said, perhaps chat about it for a bit and then reset for what is coming next. Have at least 5 minutes between sessions

Allocate participation time

Just before everyone heads out to a break have a good portion of time for your facilitator or MC to get people revisiting the sessions they have just experienced. Get them to talk about what one thing really stood out for them or how they can apply the information to their own workplace.

Design time for serendipity

Let’s face it, some of the best moments, ideas and opportunities happen when you least expect them. It’s during those candid conversations that ideas are triggered, new relationships are built and clarity strikes. You can’t force serendipity but you can help it along by providing the right stimulus and the right environment. Which also means you need to allow plenty of free time for it to occur.

Delete and Space.

Finally and most importantly, look over your program and make sure there is at least 5-10 minutes of free time for every hour. Cut down the length of sessions if you have to. Be brave and delete 15 minutes either end of the day and then space the remaining sessions out. Your delegates will love you for it because they’ll have enough time to engage and connect with your content, your message and find ways to act on it.

A related article is ‘5 ways to destroy your meeting or event’ and ‘Could this be the best facilitation tool ever‘.


Find out how Nigel can help facilitate or MC  your next conference or event.