How Edward de Bono & outside-the-box thinking would have seized the Champions League trophy from Chelsea

Penalty Shootout at the G8

Edward De Bono, who I believe said, “Creativity is not about a colourful tie” turned  the concept of “thinking outside the box” into a phrase so well-worn, dog-eared and faded that it is almost meaningless.

The space “outside the box” is now as jammed as the Northern Line at rush hour.

Meanwhile “inside the box” there’s just a distant whistle in the wind as some tumbleweed rolls by and Lee Van Cleef picks his teeth waiting for a new idea to show up.

But that’s another story.

The thing is that De Bono has long been an advocate of creativity in business and life in general (as opposed to just inside MoMA and the Tate).

And he is regularly asked to demonstrate how creative thinking could/should be of interest/ value to the rest of us.

Which brings me to the point where I was bouncing up and down on the sofa on Saturday night. On this occasion I was celebrating the Super Blues victory in the Champions League penalty shoot-out.

As everyone who follows matters of world-stopping importance will surely know by now, the match had been won by a dogged defensive display from the Chelsea locals that ended in a draw after extra-time. Hence the penalty shootout. And ecstasy for Chelsea fans and pretty much no-one else.

Given how much people dislike the Chels this might be an opportune time to bring deBono’s ideas about penalty shoot-outs back to the table.

In his parallel universe,  there would be no shootout. Instead, every time a goalkeeper touched the football during the game his team would score a minus point. In the event of a tie the team who had scored the least minus points would win the match. This would encourage people to shoot at goal more often and disincentivise defensive play.

And, while I haven’t seen any stats yet, I’m sure that under the de Bono rules the people celebrating this morning would would have been  the fellas in lederhosen (and Spurs fans) not the Blues.

Maybe a Tottenham Hotspur fan has the stats at his or her fingertips.

In the meantime I’m watching the replay again.

Judging by this picture the premiers of Germany and France probably wont be…


(PS See?! World stopping importance)




The sugar cube factor


The whole human race – if reduced to the nucleus and electrons that make all the atoms inside us – would be the size of a sugar cube.


This explains something.

We (or in any event, I) find ourselves cursed to a lessor or greater extent with a truly rubbish talent.

The talent is this: However long we have to do a task we will use up all that time.

Why is it so hard to stop behaving like this? I’ve been wondering about this because I have found myself hopelessly busy for a month which is why I haven’t got around to writing this blog which is something I really enjoy.

Clearly this mystery is deep in our DNA. Certainly in mine. But actually it’s rooted deeper than that. It’s in our sub-atomic makeup.

Now then, brace yourself, because to make sense of this will take 30 seconds of thinking about some dodgy science. Like this: The human body is made of molecules and molecules are made of atoms and atoms are made of electrons that orbit around a nucleus. But mostly there’s nothing there. The atom is 99.9999% space.

The playwright, Tom Stoppard visualised the nucleus of an atom as something the size of your fist in the middle of St- Paul’s Cathedral. The orbiting electrons are like moths fluttering around it visiting the dome, the altar and then the entrance.

If you squeezed out all the space inside an atom there wouldn’t be much there. And – and this is the ta-dah! moment – if you did that to all the atoms inside the entire human race, the matter you would be left with would be the size of a sugar cube.

Which means we are all, each of us, just a tiny amount of matter huffing and puffing to fill a void in a human shape.

And in just the same way our “tasks” are sometimes little more than ideas in our heads (or that of our boss/ partner/  colleague) that huff and puff and expand to fill the time we have available. Each task flutters around like a moth in St Pauls Cathedral and tends to occupy more valuable energy and time than it really warrants. Together all these tasks and to do lists seem endless and expand to fill exactly the amount of time we have available.

The trick is to reduce the tasks to the things that matter.

So for my benefit and possibly yours here are 5 tips to tackle the sugar cube factor :


Chunk it down

Don’t set yourself on playing Honeysuckle Rose like Fatswaller if you haven’t read the score. Make your first target to locate the sheet music. Or get a piano. I speak from experience.

Similarly you might find that sketching a site map is a more effective way to plan your time than vaguely pronouncing that you will build a website


Set out your day

If I define the objectives for my day before I charge into it I suddenly find myself a man of discipline and blistering productivity. And yet other days, far too many of them,  I switch on my laptop/phone/iPad/ or other Distraction Device and get sucked in by emails that drag me and my plans around like a crazy person. My agenda is no longer my own and my energy is used up acting on the agenda of a at least a dozen other folk. There’s a lesson in there somewhere and one day I’ll learn it for good.


Do one thing at a time

Switching from task to task makes us feel busy but it doesn’t make us productive. Actually, it makes us busy fools. Applying yourself to a single task and ignoring the temptations of facebook, email and twitter for say a whole hour at a time will achieve far more than hurling your concentration from social nano-event to social nano-event.


Have breaks

I remember this one from studying for my School exams. It was good to have frequent breaks. Like everyone else my breaks which were so frequent they merged into one. Now that I have bills to pay life is different. But breaks – actually stopping what I’m doing to walk around, practice on Honeysuckle Rose (she doesn’t mind)  and then returning to the grindstone does work. It’s better mentally and health-wise.

It also helps you get perspective on these tasks which threaten to suck you in like black holes. In fact there ‘s a well known experiment which demonstrates the benefits of physically taking a step back to get a better perspective on an issue. It works. And taking a break is similar.



Remember the sugar cube factor: We will extend our tasks and slow our productivity rate to spend as long as possible to do whatever it is that needs doing. So set deadlines for your tasks. Otherwise you’ll get nothing done. You may even need to set some artificial imperative as well: Like plan to start something else at a given time or maybe just tell someone that you respect that you will get a job done by a certain time. This helps makes the commitment real. I told a friend I would write my first blog post for five weeks before the weekend…

Job done.

Now for Fatswaller.


Shorn of the dead

How entrepreneurs can break free from zombie armies to defy economic gloom

This was first published in The Times on 3rd January 2012

Why do we love zombies? Every year brings a slew of new zombie-based entertainment. Indeed, to test the popularity of the genre, I just counted iPhone apps with the word “zombie” in the title. I gave up counting when I arrived at the game Farts vs Zombies. I’d got past 200 by then.

And why does it matter? It matters because of the time of year. I’ll explain.

You see, there’s an argument that the reason zombies figure so large in popular culture is that we share their pain. A zombie army tends to be controlled by an unseen force, to face a grim future and to be unsure who to blame for its predicament.

In the original zombie films of the mid-20th century, there was someone to blame — it was a voodoo chief. If the zombies could overpower the voodoo priest, they could reclaim their freedom. In other words, they had hope.

Alas, in modern zombie films there is no voodoo chief to overthrow. Thus, there is no hope.

Which brings me to the feeling I got from every 2012 economic forecast I read over the allegedly “festive” period. We are in for a grim 12 months (nay, even longer). No hope. No light at the end of the tunnel. Just varying shades of calamity. And worse still, there’s no voodoo master to overthrow.

Which means we must create a better future ourselves. For many of us, the only way to do this is to set up and build our own business. Entrepreneurialism will be our new year resolution.

Now we all know what happens to the average resolution, so here are ten tips to help you stay the course:

Don’t quit work prematurely. You don’t have to resign in order to start developing your business. In fact, you should try to keep the steady income for as long as possible while you work weekends and evenings to get your new business up and running.

Don’t get fixated on the frills. Spending your money on business cards and letterheads might make you feel your business is real, but you might win more customers if you spent the £50 on, say, google ad words.

Planning. In the enthusiasm of the rush to liberate yourself from the zombie army, you might forget to do the basics. Like making a plan. Break down your activities into manageable and measurable tasks.

Be realistic. Such is their fear of failure that some people get their excuses in early by setting unreasonable, “bound to fail” goals. As a result, they don’t really try; they already have failure baked in. Save yourself and everyone else the heartache. Keep it real! The “Smart” way to set yourself goals is to make them: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timed.

Follow your passion. Actually, this is schlock: a few lucky people are driven by a passion to do a certain thing; most of us aren’t. Nevertheless, there is some truth to the idea that you will be better at pursuing what you enjoy. If you don’t know what this is, observe yourself. See what you do when your mind wanders. Do you dream up recipes? Do you buy extreme sports magazines? Do you find calmness or hell in spreadsheets?

Build a support team. Bring people with you on your mission. They don’t have to work with you but if they provide advice and morale, it’s surprising what a difference this can make. Experiments show that faced with a steep slope to climb, those who are surroun-ded by friends estimate the gradient to be far more manageable.

Don’t be a perfectionist. You can spend forever building the perfect plan, perfect product, perfect logo. The only way to test your business, your product or your service is in the white heat of the market. The sooner you get it out there and find what doesn’t work, the sooner you can make it better.

Remember the ticking clock. Time is short and races by while you procrastinate and deliberate. In the blink of an eye you will be watching next year’s Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special. Make sure you escape the zombie army before that happens.

Don’t take yourself too seriously. You might worry about what others will say about you and your plans. Truth is, though, they’re too busy worrying about their own issues. Since the dawn of time, 106 billion humans have lived and died. Maybe they all took themselves too seriously? And to what avail? Learn a lesson from them.

Start. Without which there is nothing. And by which we immediately change the status quo no matter what. And that’s the best way to fight back against the voodoo controller.

• Richard Newton is the author of Stop Talking, Start Doing: a Kick in the Pants in Six Parts and writes at You can downloadthe first chapter for free from 








Ten steps in the right direction

...alternatively, this is "How Not To Do It" in one simple step.  But we all know this one, already.

First published in ivillage

It’s hard to be bothered to do things. You could start a business, write a novel or get a degree at night school, but it’s so difficult when you could be sitting on the sofa watching TV. How do you motivate yourself to hide the remote and actually achieve something?

Richard Newton, author of motivational book, Stop Talking, Start Doinggives his tips for achieving your goals.

1. The tick-tocking of the clock. Life has a sting in the tail. It’s over in a shot. And it’s only at the end that we realise how fast it went by and how much time we wasted worrying about the enormity of things that in fact were only big to us. Life will be over in a split second and the moment you finish this article is the instant you should take control and start enjoying it the way you want to.

2. What if people laugh at you? What if people snigger that you even tried to do something new. Well fuhgeddaboutit. These people don’t deserve even a back row seat in your life story. This is your life. And the people whose opinion you’re worried about? Well here’s two things you should know: First: They  are actually worrying what people say about them too much to pay you much concern. Secondly: Just like you, they’re 72.8% water. That’s like being laughed at by a bathtub.

3. The world is at your kitchen table. Here’s another reason to start something new: It’s never been easier! Thanks to the Internet we have access to knowledge and experts in ways our grandparents would never have believed. And if we want to set up a business or research a trip to somewhere exotic then it’s at our finger tips. You can find out everything you want and reach everyone you want to.

4. Unconventional is now conventional. Sixty years ago a gentleman wouldn’t go to work without a hat on; ten years ago they stopped wearing ties. Now you don’t have go into work to go to work… so who knows what people are wearing. But the point is : who cares?! Society cares less about conformity than it used to. This makes it easier to swim against the current. Easier to do something different, challenge convention. If you want to give up your job and travel round the world, learn to juggle, join a commune – your neighbours might cough and shake their heads but you can cope with that… Or they might just tell you how they always wanted to do the same thing.

5. Feeling of Emptiness. You might be asking yourself: Is that all there is? You might work hard for long hours just to pay the bills and be too exhausted to do anything fun. You might ask why you’re so worried about keeping up with the Jones.  What would I rather be doing with my free time? With my money? How am I going to change things? Well… I can’t answer that but I can recommend you use this feeling as a spur to change things. Because let’s face it only you can change it! (and by the way… remember the clock is tick tick ticking!)

6. Make your own path. There’s no job for life any more. For many people there’s no job at all. The great thing is you have nothing to lose. We all have to be entrepreneurs now: Entrepreneurs in spirit!  Fight the gloom and make your own job or make the change you want in yourself and in your life. See it as an opportunity and go for it!

7. Fear and Regret It’s totally normal to be scared of doing something different and taking on a new challenge. But I tell you what is a whole lot worse than being scared of something: It’s looking back on your situation ten years from now and regretting that you never took the risk. Deal with fear and even if you screw up, so what?! Take pride in trying! Ask yourself what pride you can take in not chasing your dream… and you know the answer to that: not much.

8. Observe yourself. Now funnily enough some of us don’t have a burning desire to do a specific thing. But we have a nagging sense that we could be doing something different. So for such people as we then it’s quite difficult to answer the question: “what are you really passionate about?” because we don’t have a burning desire to learn the flute or set up a business. Well here’s a tip: audit yourself. See what you do when your mind wanders. Do you doodle knitting patterns, do you love researching recipes, are you drawn to spend your time rearranging your furniture (and your friends’ furniture) or do you buy extreme sports magazines? You might find you subconscious is giving you clues about where to direct your energy.

9. Set yourself achieveable challenges. Be realistic. Keep your dreams in the clouds… but keep your feet on the ground.  One of the things to watch out for is “bound-to-fail” goals. Some people announce (to themsleves or the world in general) that they have set a goal they can never realistically meet precisely so that they don’t have to really go for it and so that no one ever really expects them to achieve it. They have failure already baked in. Save yourself and everyone else the heartache. Keep it real!

10. 106 billion humans have lived and died At the end I come back to the ticking clock. Nothing is more important than owning your life and the precious time you have. I just hope the people who lived before us had the most fun they could in their short lives on the planet. I hope you do too.

Stop Talking Start Doing: A Kick in the Pants in Six Parts is published by Capstone and is available now.

...alternatively, this is "How Not To Do It" in one simple step. But we all know this one, already.


Life has a sting in the tail: It’s shorter than you think.

This will now be illustrated by Messrs Calvin & Hobbes:


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