Let’s put it to a vote

CRANIUM Point: Interaction not micromanagement
Honor team input. Leverage their experience. Gain loyalty through allowing a choice and a voice.

Last week we spoke about how useful surveys can be.  Holding elections can have the same effect of empowering others and giving them voice. While a survey can afford anonymity and potentially more honesty, gathering everyone for elections can lead to richer interactions, more creativity and even fun.

Hold an election to gain input on changes, decisions, challenges, and so forth. Make it fun by adding something novel to the ballot or offering an incentive for voting.  Serve food, wear costumes, decorate, there’s a ton of ways to make it interesting.

If you have to take on topics that are divisive, establishing ground rules and doing team-building exercises first help you get to a better outcome.  Make pro and con lists as a group first will create inclusion and maybe open a few minds.

Tone down your PowerPoint

CRANIUM Point: Novelty not boring routine
Do the unexpected. Seek and reward innovation. Celebrate veering from conventional methods.

Normally our novelty posts are a little whacky to emphasize breaking from convention.  PowerPoint presentations are a good place to depart from this as they are often so bad. Why? Most often it’s just an opportunity to be creative and people go overboard.  Channeling all that creativity into clean, simple and clear graphics is not that hard if you follow some simple guidelines.

The brain gravitates towards clean, easy-to-read communication. Uncluttered communication with a clear message and supporting visual is more appealing than heavy text and competing visuals. Clean. Simple. Clear.

  • Black text on a white background is the gold standard for readability.
  • Use 3 colors or less and use them sparingly.
  • Graphics should be the centerpiece of your slides.
  • Simple, conventional fonts (Times, Georgia, Arial, Helvetica) are easiest to read.
  • Save some information for the accompanying talk.


The two pillars of a good day

CRANIUM Point: Action not overload
Purposefully balance work and life. Cheaper, better, and faster isn’t always best for the human brain.

Balancing work and life is something we all strive for.  We all know that it’s not that easy to do.  Everyone has made those pronouncements: I’ll be home every night for dinner, I’ll stick to my diet this year, I’ll hit the gym every day.  I don’t have to say how those sorts of big, dramatic changes go.

The point is that balancing work and life is difficult.  It’s not as simple as spending 8 hours working, 8 hours doing stuff for ourselves and 8 hours sleeping.  Life demands more fluidity than that.  Trying to measure something like that isn’t going to work. The trick is to find achievement and enjoyment everyday.

Achievement doesn’t have to be something big.  Any goal that takes work and is realistically achievable in a day will do: finish a report, plan a presentation, get through a meeting without rolling your eyes.  Enjoyment doesn’t have to be dramatic either.  It’s just something you like: a book, a TV show, a nice meal.  Know what your achievement and enjoyment are going to be at the beginning of the day and it’ll be a great one.

‘Why’ is the new magic word

Colorful spotlights on stage

CRANIUM Point: Relevance not meaningless work
Communicate how each job fits into a larger mission. Ensure the fit of each job to the team.

Miscommunication is soooo natural.  There is just no way to always accurately describe the rich complexity of everyday life with words even if you accept that there are a million words in the English language.  Just about every word in the dictionary has multiple definitions.  How do you know which one is applicable in this moment? There are regional differences in dialect.  Throw in all of the non-verbals and it seems like the deck is really stacked against effective, clear communication.

There is, however, an almost universal trick to this.  The magic word is ‘why.’  If you ask Joe to make coffee, he might get to it after he adds the finishing touches to the report on his mind since that obviously seems more important than your coffee fix.  If you give him the why, a really important person is arriving in 5 minutes and you need help finishing the spread so it’s just right, Joe will know to shift his priorities instead of barging in with a pot of coffee in the middle of your presentation.

As you teach others new material, lead others in a project, or express your opinions to coworkers or family members, be sure to include the “so what?” Explain the “why” of what you are sharing as well as the “how.”

Use Google to de-stress your life

CRANIUM Point: Challenge not threat
Create a safe environment where challenge is maximized and threat is minimized – intentionally.

We talk about this all of the time but threat is threat.  Your brain would respond the same to a sabertooth cat as a shouting boss.  To combat threat, it is important that your body stays well. According to the CDC, approximately 80% of all illnesses in the U.S. are stress-related. Identify one or two major stressors in your life and ways to better manage them.  Here are some areas where stressors may be lurking:

  • Money
  • Always being tethered to work
  • A joyless job
  • Relationships
  • Put others first too often
  • Holidays
  • Making too many commitments
  • Insufficient quality time by ourselves
  • Insufficient quality time with others
  • Perfectionism
  • Not having a passion
  • Clutter and disorganization

Mel Robbins gave one of my favorite TED Talks.  In it she stresses (no pun intended) that whatever we want to accomplish in our life, others have done it before.  You can Google just about anything and others will have already blogged about it, written a book about it or made a video on how to do it.  So pick those one or two triggers and go Google them.

How are you smart?

multiple intelligences

CRANIUM Point: Multiple Ways of Learning not a narrow view of smart
Value the multiple intelligences all individuals bring to the team.


The question is not “how smart are you?” but rather “how are you smart?” Howard Gardner and others have proven our gifts, talents, and abilities far exceed what can be measured by a single standardized test.  There are many variations to the theory of multiple intelligences but here is a short list to open the door to discovering how you and the people around you can be smart:

  • Musical–rhythmic and harmonic
  • Visual–spatial
  • Verbal–linguistic
  • Logical–mathematical
  • Bodily–kinesthetic
  • Interpersonal
  • Intrapersonal
  • Naturalistic
  • Existential

As you can see there are many ways one can be gifted.  Ponder this idea today, explore more into the theory and seek out ways to use your intelligences and those around you more effectively.

Recharge your batteries with nonsense

CRANIUM Point: Using emotions not ignoring emotions
Capitalize on emotional intelligence by putting to practical use the power of the emotional brain.


Work, relationships, bills…life can be overwhelming and it is so easy to fall into the pattern of being serious all of the time.  Don’t.  The brain loves nonsense, fun, humor, and novelty. Incorporating any of those into the serious parts of our lives wakes up the brain and makes the event more enjoyable, manageable, and memorable.  That also means making things less serious for the people around you.  Here are some ways to mix it up and make things a bit lighter:

  • Change locations – go to a park, hold a meeting while walking
  • Redecorate – hang lights, put up silly pictures
  • Celebrate – do something for everyone’s birthdays and anniversaries
  • Volunteer – soup kitchens, old folks homes
  • Play sports – start an office softball team or play minigolf
  • Compliment others – do it all of the time and never poke fun


How to get effective input from surveys

CRANIUM Point: Interaction not micromanagement
Honor team input. Leverage others experience. Gain loyalty through allowing a choice and a voice.

They probably land in your inbox all of the time. Most of them are just noise but if done correctly surveys can be phenomenally useful for fleshing out weaknesses or targeting strengths to build on. Whether paper or electronic, there are two keys to surveys in general: incentives and anonymity.

Offer total anonymity to get input on changes, decisions, challenges, and so forth. Sure a joker or two may not take it seriously and send non-serious feedback. The rest, however, will be much more forthcoming with their feedback. This is easier to achieve with electronic web-based surveys such as Survey Monkey. You’ll have to take some extra steps to make sure a paper survey is truly anonymous. First, answers should only be multiple-choice bubbles or check boxes so no one needs to use their handwriting. Alternatively, you can send a pdf to be filled out digitally and then printed.  It can also help to appoint someone lower on the organizational ladder to be in charge of collecting the surveys anonymously.

It is sometimes difficult to pull people’s attention from their normal duties so an incentive for returning the survey can boost participation.  Make it something everyone will want to really get their attention.  Those ones that are working the hardest will be the most difficult to pull from their work for a survey but they will also often have the best feedback.  Offer a raffle for something really attractive such as a vacation day.  You might also get a catered lunch for those who participate.  There are many possibilities,  be creative.  Just make sure you’re using surveys and your getting the best feedback you can.

Do you need an anti-mentor?

Train Wreck


CRANIUM Point: Novelty not boring routine
Do the unexpected. Seek and reward innovation. Celebrate veering from conventional methods.

Everyone needs a mentor so if you don’t have a mentor get one ASAP.  You also need an anti-mentor.  This will be someone you DON’T want to be like personally or professionally.  Here are some qualities you may want to look for:

  • Always late
  • Makes excuses
  • Doesn’t take responsibility
  • Out of shape
  • Dishonest
  • Eats a lot of fast food

You get bonus points if they smoke or have a criminal history.  Yes it’s funny but I’m also serious.  The brain learns with contrast.  It’s not a good idea to focus on all of the possible anti-mentors around you, but having just one might be a nice boost.

P.S. You probably don’t want to tell your anti-mentor that you’ve chosen them.

One small adjustment that will change everything

CRANIUM Point: Action not overload
Purposefully balance work and life. Cheaper, better, and faster isn’t always best for the human brain.

A study was conducted several years ago to determine what could have prevented the increase of obesity among Americans. The results were shocking. The deadly growth of obesity would have been dramatically deterred if we had eaten only 100 calories less a day (about half the small fries at McDonalds) and walked 1000 steps more a day (about 10 minutes of walking). Minor changes. Major results.

There are other phenomenon that are equally applicable. People invariably overestimate how much money they can save in a year but drastically underestimate how much they could save in ten years. Changing your thermostat by a degree can save hundreds of dollars.

Think about some of the larger challenges you face in your life. It could be health, finances, relationships. Apply the wisdom of small changes and then stick to it.