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Category » Thinking Bigger « @ richard newton

Fortune magazine’s “Books to help you think big…”

Fortune magazine kicked off 2015 with a list of six books to help readers to “think bigger or start smaller”

The Little Book of Thinking Big  was included even though it hasn’t hit the US yet. Fortune wrote:

“A hit in the U.K., Newton’s book tells readers to “beware the preoccupation of narrow thinking.” His advice: Map out big priorities, and don’t be derailed by the modern-day “cult of busyness.” Work expands to fill the time available, the adage goes, and since smartphones and the like have made us available all the time, we’re always working. Try to focus on the big stuff. “When you deliberately put your energy in a single direction you generate momentum and then you make progress,” Newton writes.”

The other recommended books are:

Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth, and Impact the World by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler

Small Move, Big Change: Using Microresolutions to Transform Your Life Permanently by Caroline L. Arnold

The Small Big: Small Changes That Spark Big Influence by Steve J. Martin, Noah J. Goldstein, and Robert B. Cialdini

Playing Big: Find Your Voice, Your Mission, Your Message by Tara Mohr

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown

Newton_Little book

Get the Sunday Times #1 bestseller now 

The full Fortune article is here:





The Wild Pigs of the Okefenokee Swamp

Okefenokee Medium

A stranger halts his horse and wagon alongside a general store on the fringe of the untamed Okefenokee Swamp.

He calls over: “I’m here to catch pigs.”

The locals burst out laughing. “Those wild, dangerous beasts? No chance.”

“The most powerful guns won’t stop them. Go home”

“I lost my leg escaping the pigs, stranger. Turn around.”

“I wanted to buy some corn, actually”, he says. So the old timers sell him the corn and he goes on his way. And every week he passes by the store to buy more corn on his way to the swamp.

And every time the hunters shake their heads, tap their guns and the months pass until one day the stranger says: “Gentlemen, I need help to take 600 pigs to market.”

To stunned silence he explains how he did it: “First I put some corn on the edge of a clearing. Each week I led the trail closer to the center.”

First, the young pigs but eventually even the largest, fiercest pigs could not resist the lure of easy food.

“They stopped fearing me and one yard at a time I built a pen. Eyes on the corn — they never even noticed the fence going up.“

“It’s not possible!” gasped the old-timers. “That’s not hunting!”

“Oh it is”, he said. “And this morning I shut the gate.”

This fable, which I first came across in an article written by Steve Washam, is a two sided morality tale. Both sides beg one thing: Use your mind.

1. The stranger challenges old methods of catching pigs and thus triumphs.

2. The pigs cease thinking and fail to see that gradually (and helpfully) they are being fenced in.


It’s the original ideas inside you that people want

“The danger with Margaret is that when she speaks without thinking she says what she thinks.”

Climbing the greasy pole – in business as in politics – is a middle of the road sort of occupation. Make mistakes, say the wrong thing, and you get knocked off the pole.

Alas, this means the best and most creative ideas are kept at bay.

Professional politicians fight for the middle ground. Meanwhile the politicians inside the corporation dare not move off  course for fear of being the one that makes a mistake. If a big decision has to be made then responsibility is carefully managed; An expensive consultancy firm may even be hired to put a “conditional“ buffer between a decision and responsibility. The condition is that if it it’s a great success the consultancy firm doesn’t need to take responsibility.

So smart thinking gets squeezed for space.  A bigger effort goes into hiding these ideas rather than developing them. It was said of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, by Lord St John of Fawsley:

“The danger with Margaret is that when she speaks without thinking she says what she thinks.”

It’s a great line. If you can breathe past any knee-jerk Thatcher-baggage and see what he’s saying you realise that he is articulating precisely the culture that produces beige, bland thinking. Yet it’s only when politicians or anyone says what they really think (instead of shaving off the edges and bashing the corners to fit the average) that things get interesting.

The trouble with being scared of big ideas is that your middle of road thoughts produce middle of the road results.

It’s the smart ideas inside that people want


Should you prioritize individuality or the group?

creativity or the group








We’re born with weak claws, not much fur, and we like going to the cinema. But in the days before movies and while there were still marauding Vikings, dinosaurs and minotaurs then we humans couldn’t survive without co-operating. The need to be part of a community is deeply ingrained in our psychological makeup. We are programmed to want to be socially accepted.

Yet at the same time we have an innate desire to be creative and there’s a strong relationship between being creative and being socially excluded.

The causal relationship is uncertain. Are creative people drawn to sit outside social norms or is it the other way round; does being excluded by the group makes us reach inward to be creative and explore our own ideas?

The need to demonstrate you’re an individual is as strong  for some people as  the need to belong to a group is strong for others.

Consequently social rejection can be creatively crippling or empowering depending on your personality type.

Probably each of us is drawn more strongly to one side or the other. For your own decision-making and peace of mind it helps to know which side you’re on.

If you see yourself as an individual, independent person- characterized as nfu (need for uniqueness) then being outside the group will free you of the structures of group thinking, social norms and accepted solutions. You will look deeper and further for your ideas. This will be your happy place.

If on the other hand you are an interdependent person you’ll achieve greater self esteem by belonging to a group or tribe. The rewards of fitting in and avoiding social rejection may be greater happiness; The downside could be that you lose the sense of independence that is optimal for creativity and innovation.


The very convincing prejudices of smart people

On the whole, if someone agrees with you then they seem intelligent, understanding and their opinion well-reasoned.

If they disagree then they  seem arrogant, ill-informed or just plain prejudiced.

We all share this tendency and it leads to narrow thinking and won’t get you very far (Though you may do well in politics).

When a challenging piece of information or a new interpretation of an event comes your way you can do one of two things.

i) You can accept it which requires changing your view of something or someone.

ii) Or you can apply  billions of grey cells to explaining how this proves your opinion is right all along OR that the new information is flawed.

Both approaches demand brain power.

As Charles D Ellis wrote:

“Faced with information that contradicts what they believe, human beings tend to respond in one of two ways. Some will assimilate the information, changing it – as oysters cover an obnoxious grain of silicon with nacre – so they can ignore the new knowledge and hold on to their former beliefs, and others will accept the validity of the new information. Instead of changing the meaning of new data to fit their old concept of reality, they adjust their perception of reality to accommodate the information and put it to use.”

The oyster approach, as Ellis describes it, seems daft. It’s a denial of reality.The advantage goes to the person who accepts the new knowledge and does something with it.

So the person who accepts the new knowledge would be the smart one. Or so it seems.

The trouble is it’s people with the intellectual firepower and creativity who are best able to convince themselves that the old, invalid position remains the right one and screw the new information.

Maintaining such conviction despite the facts requires twisting and turning reality, swapping cause and effect and other elaborate mental con-jobs.

And yet, if you’re smart enough to do all this then you’re smart enough to see the holes in the shoes of your thinking. So what’s going on?

Ellis explains: “Psychologists advise us that the more important the old concept of reality is to a person – the more important it is to his sense of self esteem and sense of self-worth the more tenaciously he will hold on to the old concept and the more insistently he will assimilate or reject new evidence that conflicts with his old and familiar concept of the world. This behaviour is particularly common among very bright people because they can so easily develop and articulate self-persuasive logic to justify the conclusions they want to keep.”

It’s why very bright people can hold some absurd prejudices and magical beliefs. Such prejudices , self-serving arguments and ego-driven thinking are hidden from each of us. And the smarter you are the better you can hide them.

What’s the solution?

Being humble is a start: Put your own ideas under the microscope in the same way that you examine those of someone else. try to see the baggage you are carrying with you.

The Cambridge psychologist Robert Thouless explained:

“If we see another man holding opinions that correspond to his wishes we suspect that these opinions are prejudices, and if we notice ourselves holding opinions that correspond to our own wishes we have equally good grounds for suspecting prejudice. If we find ourselves getting angry when some cherished belief is questioned, we may suspect that that belief is a prejudice based on irrational grounds just as we would if we observed another man unreasonably touchy about an opinion. We are not likely to understand fully the irrational sources of our opinions, but we can have some knowledge of them if we examine our own opinions as critically and un- sympathetically as we do the opinions of others.”



Fickleness as strength

Always be abandoning your best ideas.

The strength of your best opinions is that you hold them in low regard. Only such humble arguments will be whittled and moulded, or cast aside and replaced to accurately fit the facts as they emerge and morph.

Principles on the other hand, are fundamental truths that do not change like the wind. These are your values, your moral code, the things that matter. Your true north.

But for your opinions it’s a different story. So long as you are prepared to discard these whenever new facts emerge and invalidate them, then you may easily change your mind without a sense of dread. That’s how you trade up the quality of your ideas.

Such fickleness is a big advantage in our hyper-speed, uber-connected world where facts change all the time. Consequently, those with the humility to admit current ideas are wrong, accept change and adopt new thinking are the ones who will adapt best and think the biggest.

Admitting an idea is no longer valid may feel like a weakness but in reality it is how you grow.

Because here’s the flip side:  If your opinions are too important to your sense of self to dare change them, if you must resist and defend every argument no matter what the facts are or what the reasoning is then you will not learn much that is new.

In a world that changes as fast as ours this is a self-defeating stance to take.

Insisting on always being right increases the chances of always being wrong. After all, defending your opinion may also mean denying new facts or clinging to old consistencies. This is a loser’s game.

Winners, perversely, are those that are the fastest to realise their understanding is wrong or out of date. This liberates them to do something about it.

In our world of permanent accelerating change you might be right when you form your opinion but you will probably be wrong by the time you defend it to the death.



How photographs became temporary and the spoken word became permanent

Take a picture. Compose it. Light it. Count down. Say cheese. Snap the shutter. Save the picture for ever.

Ever since the invention of the Kodak camera and the Brownie camera 100 years ago taking photographs has been an activity intended to preserve memories for posterity. Photographs were precious: The first material things saved in a house fire.

As photography moved to the digital age the strong affection for family photo albums was mimicked by digital albums designed to look like the familiar textured, physical, tangible albums of yesteryear.

Fast forward to one of the biggest Silicon Valley deals of 2012. Instagram was bought by Facebook for $1bn took after it reimagined posterity by enabling photographers to socialize photos that were filtered to look dated …even light-damaged, under-exposed, or patchily lit. Consumers loved it. Users numbers swelled. And so did the price tag.

At the same time, in the old fashioned world of real physical things, hip companies like Lomography arrived on the scene providing the novelty of physical analogue cameras that used film and were incapable of making phone calls or sending emails. Naturally these cameras look retro because it’s posterity and nostalgia that we associate with photography.

Lomography is successful. But it didn’t sell for $1bn.

Faking posterity is optional. The real story is that the act of picture taking and picture sharing has become preferable to writing or talking. And that’s led us somewhere unexpected.

We have began using photography not for preserving memories but to talk. I am HERE. I am here with THIS person. Do you LIKE these shoes? This is the WEATHER right now.

So now, not only is taking and sharing photographs easy, but we have a slew of new reasons to do it.

As a consequence, most of us carry more photographs on our phone than we can find time to edit or even review.

If we take more pictures than we can review and contemplate then why do we do it? It must mean our behavior has changed. After all it recognises that photographs are not precious; they have become mulch, more disposable than cheap party cameras.

Snapchat, a 2011 start up, realized that something unthinkable only a few years ago. People don’t want to save all their pictures. Pictures are communication. They are ephemeral. They are like the words we speak. Let them evaporate on the wind as soon as the words are communicated.

The USP of this start up company is that the photographs you share are guaranteed to vanish.

When you send a photograph to someone with Snapchat you define how long it will last on that person’s phone. Five seconds, five minutes… and then it disappears. Gone forever. It no longer exists. Not on the Snapchat servers. Not on your friend’s phone.

This is photography as the spoken word. “Listen carefully because I will only say it once” has become “Look carefully because you will only see this once.”

It’s as if what once seemed the strange physical merger of the camera and the mobile phone has forced the trans-substantiation of the two products: phone conversations become fixed and verifiable, photographs become… just word of mouth.

The result of this approach is no more photo-mulch. Sure important photos will be shared for posterity. Even the family album. But the rest will come and go. And be gone. For ever.

Disagree? Fine. But 50 million photos per day are sent and deleted forever by Snapchat’s servers.

The numbers don’t lie, the point of photography is changing: The camera lens is replacing the microphone as a conversation medium.

Hot on the heels of this paradigm shift, the next convention to be turned on its head will be the spoken word. Once we knew that the spoken word vanished as fast as a Snapchat photo.

But the technology exists to enable all spoken conversations to be routinely recored, stored and searched …just like an old photo album.

Those small oscillations of air molecules made by vibrating the air passing out of our lungs and past our vocal chords are thoughts made real. The spoken word is our most natural and nuanced form of communication. Unlike, say photography.

Perversely, in a world where all communication is stored forever on huge servers owned by google, twitter, facebook, your company, or your email provider the one form of communication form that died faster than a mayfly was your most human. Your spoken word. And this made it the wild west of promises and information.

The spoken word is deniable. Just ask Andrew Mitchell, the former government chief whip, who denied he ever called the policemen at No.10 Downing Street plebs or morons. No-one knew whether he really did say these things. Not even after the alleged transcript of the conversation was leaked.

But this is about to change. Just as photographs will become ephemeral so the spoken word is becoming permanent

Within years we will find that every word we utter in a phone call will be automatically recorded. You won’t think twice. It sounds odd but …watch. And listen.

The technology now exists to enable everyone to store every conversation they ever have. Whether it’s a skype conference call, a mobile call to your bank or a landline call at xmas to your distant relatives the phone call will be preserved and made permanent.

You can be sure that most of your conversations are not ones you ever want to bother hearing again. But some are. The promise made by your bank when it sold you a no-strings loan, the legal gobbledegook advice from your lawyer or doctor, the joke told by your six year old nephew…

While businesses have used call recording for a long time, the consumer hasn’t. But technology will change behaviour as surely as it changed the behaviour of all the photographers in the world.

And the key change here, unlike photography, is Search. For while you can scan through hundreds of digital photos pretty quickly you can’t do the same with recordings of phone calls.

Until now. In 2012 ARGOsearch released a conversation search engine. Now, something once preserved for the likes of GCHQ is available to everyone. Not only does it let everyone record every phone call they make but it allows them to instantly search the words that were spoken.

Which means you can ignore the conversation mulch, just like you ignore the photo-mulch. Technologies such as ARGOsearch, and there will be others soon enough, allow you to search through every conversation you ever had in order to find the one that includes the words: “santa christmas list present” or “no strings loan cancel anytime”.

And you can do it in an instant. From your phone. And even share the recordings.

Yes it raises all sorts of issues – moral, legal, behavioural.

But now that the technology exists and is out there would you want to take the bet that it won’t eventually become standard. Would you have bet that revolutions and careers will be made using a 140 character form of communication called Twitter or that a college social network like The Facebook would take over the world or that all CVs would become public on a site like LinkedIn.

The spoken word will become more permanent than photographs. And photographs will become as evanescent as the spoken word. That’s the strange place technology will take us over the next 12 months,

It’s as if what once seemed the strange physical merger of the camera and the mobile phone has forced the trans-substantiation of the two products: phone conversations become fixed and verifiable, photographs become… just word of mouth.


[first published in The Huffington Post]


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)





Being “verbed” shouldn’t be the ultimate goal










Looking up from the notepad during the always surprisingly protracted process of (re) naming new products/businesses I’ve noticed more and more people turn their gaze to the middle distance and quietly mutter to themselves.

God knows, I feel like that too, sometimes. But, it turns out, that they’re not cursing the heavens but they’re muttering the verb-isation of the latest name idea.

…Which is probably another example of too much thinking being a bad thing… or perhaps just a waste of time.

After all the verb only works if the product works. In other words the succesful product comes before the verb. Not the other way round.The inventor of photoshop, polaroid and the hoover never did the verb-isation chant (I suspect). They just made a great product. And the verb was the by-product of that.

First things first.





The power of no

Information Overload by Jonathan Marsh

And in these days of abundant choice:

These days of job sharing, portfolio careers, multiple-part time jobs,

..of a boiling, surging wall of noise, knowledge, opinion and entertainment coming ever bigger, ever faster from ever more angles

these days of choosing your medium: twitter, email, facebook, imessage, bbm, g+, sms, a handwritten letter, a phone call, a face-to-face (even)!

these days of voting people off the show, into the next round, out of the house, onto the island

The discipline we need in

these night times with a phone, a tablet pc, a laptop and an ebook by your bed alongside the paperbacks and magazines

this age of  “having it all”

these days of startups at every turn, great ideas in every conversation, of immense possibility

….of social advertising, of special offers, of 3 for 1, of bogof, of inflation ….of debt

in these days when we need to be smarter we need to value the discipline of saying no;

call it “curation”, call it “focus”, call it “prioritising”,

we really create something when we find the strength to say no. Creating is building. It’s hard work. It takes time and dedication.

Fix your sights. Take aim. And learn to say no to the other stuff.

“No” is the creative word.


“And it comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don’t get on the wrong track or try to do too much. We’re always thinking about new markets we could enter, but it’s only by saying no that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.”  Steve Jobs talking to Business Week, October 12, 1994


Information by Jonathan Marsh







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