Personal Development, Mindfulness, Meditation, Mind Mapping, Productivity and Walking with Mark Huggins, MD and Owner of Corporate Drama
Listen Below and Here’s What We Recommended:
Business and Marketing
Marketing – CRM and Email Tools
Infusionsoft – “I started with that about a year ago when we decided to really shift our marketing for Corporate Drama up a gear. I really like it, I find it really dynamic. We’re only using a small part of it, ultimately we’ll come on to use other sections of it. It’s a platform that can grow with your business as your business grows. That comes highly recommended.”
Hootsuite – “I use Hootsuite a lot. We broadcast out across LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook on a regular basis. I really like Hootsuite and I tend to use that … That would be one of my 90 minutes, sitting down scheduling Hootsuite for the next 2 or 3 or 4 weeks.”
Learning – Books – Entrepreneurial
“A book that I’ve read recently which I have recommended to so many people now – I really should be on commission but sadly I’m not – is a book called ‘Turn The Ship Around’ by David L. Marquet. An absolutely fascinating book. I highly, highly recommend it. I’ve recommended it to lots of people that I have been working with over the last 3 or 4 months.”
“I have in front of me a large yellow pad which, which has 5 columns down it, vertical columns and each of those columns are a day of the week. Normally on a Saturday morning, when I’m just wrapping things up before I start to enjoy my weekend, I allow myself an hour on Saturday morning and I plan what I’m going to do on each of my 90 minutes across the week for the following week.”
“I’m also a big mind mapper. The tool that I use is a mind mapping tool called Simple Mind. They do a free version which is very, very good or you can upgrade to the all singing all dancing version. I will often then transfer what I’ve started in sort of embryonic form in the notepad. I’ll then work that up into a full blown mind map on the Simple Mind and then of course you can print that out if you need to. A lot of my project work starts that way.”
‘Build Your Business In 90 Minutes a Day’ by Nigel Botterill and Martin Gladdish. The central message of the book is that if you set a period of time, Nigel recommends 90 minutes but you can have any set period of time, first thing in the morning and you absolutely minimise every single distraction that you can possibly have to enable you to focus for those 90 minutes. When I read this, I mean it’s such basic common sense, when I read it and then decided to implement it, the change was really transformational.
Minimising Jetlag – “In terms of jetlag, the thing that I have learnt over the last few years, really be choosy about your flights. I mean, working out, if you can, when you land in the new country I always try and make it some time in the afternoon local time because then I’ve only got a few hours before local time it will be bedtime. I find that can very, very quickly get on to, successfully get on to local time.”
Sleep and Water – “Make sure you get plenty of sleep, make sure you drink plenty of water and you eat healthy and magically that way you seem to be able to get through the week. If you stop doing those things and starting to burn the candle at both ends, then don’t be surprised when by Thursday you’re feeling completely, you’re completely shuttered.”
Walking – “I’m pretty lucky that I live in South Buckinghamshire, in a little village, and we’re surrounded by open countryside and woods and some beautiful bridleways and walks around here. Walking is very high on my priority of activities.
Meditation and Mindfulness
“I practice mindfulness and we factor mindfulness into a number of our programmes, our leadership programmes in particular, and I have a really good mindfulness app on my iPhone which are a series of guided meditations of varying lengths and you can just get in when you’re on a train and you’re thinking, “Oh I just I need to do a little bit of meditation”. You can stick your headphones in and hit the button and it comes up with a lovely guided meditation for 5, 10, 15, I think some are even 30 minutes in duration. I think it’s just called Mindfulness.
When stuff goes wrong – “Okay, it didn’t go according to plan. There will be learning that you can take from this and as long as you apply that then there is likelihood that you’ll get some benefit from it. The alternative is just to beat yourself up and get thoroughly miserable. That’s not really worth it at the end of the day. It’s something that mindfulness has taught me as well – is the power of letting go of things that bother you and worry you. That would be my top tip for bad days. Reflection and then thinking what could have been better and a bit of mindfulness to prevent a sleepless night.”
Films & TV
“I was very keen to see recently the Steve Jobs movie which I found absolutely fascinating.”
“The movie about the financial crush with Steve Carell and … Is it called Big Short? The Big Short I think it’s called. It’s about the guys who try and bet against the US housing market. If you haven’t seen it, it’s an amazing film. At times funny and other times absolutely jaw dropping because you begin to realise how inappropriate, should we say, the whole financial structure was around mortgages in the US leading up to the 2008/2009 crash.
To Contact Mark
“Well the best thing to do, would be to head on to our website. Which is, http://www.corporatedrama.co.uk and there is a whole massive stuff on there that you can explore from appraisals to assertiveness and communication styles. There are videos on there you can watch.
There is that or I’m on LinkedIn as Mark Huggins. You’ll be able to find me. Please do, if anybody is listening to this, wants any more information ping me a message and I’ll be more than happy to reply.”
Jo Dodds: Today I'm interviewing Mark Huggins of Corporate Drama. Hey, Mark. Great to have you with me.
Mark Huggins: Hey Jo. Nice to be here.
Jo Dodds: Lovely. Start by telling us a bit about you, what you do and crucially where you do it.
Mark Huggins: Okay, well I'm managing director and owner of a business called Corporate Drama and we're a dramatically different training company. We're an organisation who help people learn the behaviours and relationship skills to create the best places in which to work. We do this very much by experiential learning or learning by doing as it is often referred to.
Jo Dodds: Lovely and where do you do it? Do you work from home, do you have an office? You sound like you have a number of people involved. How does that all fit together?
Mark Huggins: Okay, the office is based primarily here at my home but we also have offices in London and we also a have a team of 50 associate business role players. These are the actors that help with the experiential process. We also have a team of associate coaches and trainers. Those are about 20 of those. Most days when I'm not delivering training, I'm actually here in the office managing the client relationships and also designing programmes.
Jo Dodds: Lovely. Do you have a separate office or do you have different places where you do different types of work?
Mark Huggins: Oh yes. We tend to deliver either in client offices or we deliver at purpose training centres or sometimes hotel function rooms to give you an idea of some of the places that we've worked. We do a lot of work here in the UK but last week I was in Vienna running 2 leadership programmes. We do work in Germany and Italy. Programs have taken me to India, to Australia, New Zealand, the USA, South Africa. We do get to travel quite a bit which is an added bonus.
Jo Dodds: Lovely. Tell me a bit about your sort of routine when you're at home which I guess then varies when you're away. How does that vary as well? Sort of first think about how your day kicks off generally when it's not unusual.
Mark Huggins: An average day for me if I'm working in one of our 2 offices would be. I like to start nice and early. Typically, I'm generally out of bed somewhere between 6:30 and 7:00. Last year, about a year, 18 months ago. I read a book which really transformed how I approach my day. Before I read the book, I realised that with all the best intentions in the world, I would start my day normally by looking at emails and then of course you'd sometimes maybe look at Facebook or you might go on to LinkedIn. Then eventually, at some point when you realise you could no longer be distracted by those social media platforms. You had to knuckle down and do some work.
It was effective, you know the wheels didn't fall off the wagon. I got things done. This book that I read really transformed my approach to how I work and how I now set time aside every single day to focus on some key tasks.
Jo Dodds: Lovely. What is the book, go on tell us?
Mark Huggins: The book is generally I think aimed at business owners or entrepreneurs but or and should I say. It's also really good because I think the habits that are in it would apply to anybody in business no matter what your status or role. Anyway the book is called Build Your Business In 90 Minutes a Day. It's written by a champ called Nigel Botterill and another champ Martin Gladdish. You can find it on Amazon and you can get Kindle downloads et cetera for it.
The central message of the book is, that if you set a period of time, Nigel recommends 90 minutes but you can have any set period of time. First thing in the morning, I find first thing in the morning works better for me but I suppose you could have any point of the day. You set that period of time, in my case 90 minutes and you absolutely minimise every single distraction that you can possibly have to enable you to focus for those 90 minutes. When I read this, I mean it's such basic common sense. When I read it and then decided to implement it, the change was really transformational.
Because it was more, I would say about the quality and quantity of work I was able to generate in those 90 minutes. I still do, in fact this morning, I did my 90 minutes this morning. That's one of the reasons why I like to start earlier in the day. I inevitably try and get my 90 minutes in before 9:00 so that by the time 9:00 hits, my phone goes back on and I open email. Then I'm able to contact and communicate with my team or my customers in what I would regard as being traditional office hours.
Jo Dodds: It's really interesting because when you were saying you read a book and things had changed and it was a routine. I was expecting like, The Miracle Morning or there is another book that came out more recently, who's name I can't remember. Similar sorts of ideas, which was about setting a routine in the morning to do things that include, I don't know things like meditation and project planning and a bit of exercise or whatever it might be. I was really surprised that you didn't say that and I'm now intrigued to what, firstly what's in the 90 minute and secondly why you think that's made such a massive difference to what you do?
Mark Huggins: Absolutely, you could easily factor in the that 90 minutes. I think what made it so transformational for was just the fact that this idea that Nigel repeats in the book on many occasions. It's clearly a mantra for him is that, if you really do minimise distraction and he is really quite brutal about it. He says things like, achieving your business goals won't happen if you're busy looking at funny pictures of cats on Facebook. I think he's got a really interesting point which is the fact that these things are incredibly powerful at distracting us away from the things that we should be doing.
Whether that be, in my case. A lot of it is to do with how we market the business. For example I'll spend a lot of time first thing in the morning, writing blogs. I have an automated email system using Infusionsoft, which I know from listening to previous recordings, a number of your interviewees have said how big a fan they are of Infusionsoft. I have Infusionsoft setup as a marketing tool. I send out weekly chatty emails and top tips and advice emails. I'll often focus that 90 minutes on writing maybe 2 or 3 of those and possibly even a blog to go on the website.
Or I might turn my attention to a particular programme that I'm developing because I've also found as well also by coincidence that I seem to be able to do my best work first thing in the morning in terms of the more creative side of what I do. I find if I try to leave creative activities towards the end of the day, I really struggle to come up with interesting ideas or concepts. In fact, I can sometimes even really struggle to write a coherent sentence if it is towards the end of the day. If I do that at the beginning, I seem to have so much more focus and energy and concentration and therefore be able to produce much better work.
Produce it far quicker as well. For me, it's a complete win, win. The only frustrating times are when I'm really busy delivering and sometimes I have to compromise my 90 minutes to maybe 15 minutes or half an hour because I might be delivering a programme that day and I just don't have the time between getting up first thing in the morning and I can't give myself 90 minutes. I just don't have the time in the day.
Jo Dodds: No, that's what ... Look at I have, when your world is different to normal. How to fit these things in? How do you decide what to do in those 90 minutes? I can see that the time, focused time without being interrupted is very valuable but by the sound of it is also is most valuable if you get the right tasks done in that time. How do decide what those are and when do you decide what those are?
Mark Huggins: Yes, really good question. I have in front of me, actually on my desk as we speak, I'm looking at it right now. A large yellow pad which, bright yellow pad which has 5 columns down it. Vertical columns and each of those columns are a day of the week and on normally on a Saturday morning. When I'm just wrapping things up before I start to enjoy my weekend. I allow myself an hour on Saturday morning and I plan what I'm going to do on each of my 90 minutes across the week for the following week. That's what I do and in fact I can see the ticks against and today being a Friday, I can see the ticks rightly across the whole of the week.
In fact there is 1 or 2 postit notes that have been added to the pages. The week has got on and tomorrow morning I'll sit down and spend, normally about, any about 20 mins, half an hour to get the ideas down for each day. That's sort of guiding sheet for the week and seems to work really well.
Jo Dodds: Lovely but we've not heard that one before so I'm going to have a think about that and probably read that book. I have to say that Nigel is probably fairly responsible for my being a business owner. My first business was his wife's magazine business that he marketed for her. It's years ago.
Mark Huggins: [crosstalk 00:11:00] That was Best Of, wasn't it?
Jo Dodds: No that was the next one. My Mag was the first one.
Mark Huggins: My Mag was the first one.
Jo Dodds: Yes.
Mark Huggins: Yes so you know who I'm talking about and you probably know how passionate he is about things such as things? All that passion and enthusiasm and motivation is in the book.
Jo Dodds: Yeah.
Mark Huggins: I should by way, I should add at this point, I'm not on commission or anything like that. It's just a good book.
Jo Dodds: Lovely. I'm intrigued as well to explore once you've done your 90 minutes or with the 90 minutes, how do you manage getting the rest of the stuff done that you need to do? Do you still use paper and pen or do you have other apps or tools that you use to sort of get all the other stuff done that is perhaps not so vital for your 90 minutes?
Mark Huggins: Well, I'm a great one for post it notes as I have already eluded to and in fact as I actually ... This week is not too bad, this is quite a clean week but normally on my Mac, on my desk at some point, it's almost hard to see the screen because they're so many post it notes on there and I just find the tangible nature of post it notes still really good. I have tried doing the electronic post it note thing and for some, I don't know why it doesn't seem to work for me so much. I know [crosstalk 00:12:29].
Jo Dodds: You can tell you're a trainer, you must be a trainer with such a love of postit notes.
Mark Huggins: Yes and ironically they rarely feature in my training. I think that's a note for me to take away from this session. If I can resist writing a post it note here and now to that affect. A great one as well for, as I look down on my desk. I've got my notepad which is a A4 notepad. I will turn to that on things like train journeys. Most recently I've been to quite a lot of air travel, rather than sit down and enjoy the movie on the flight, I will sit down ... I'm also a big mind mapper. A lot of the pages, if I was to flip through my notebook now would be mind maps of ideas that I've come up with.
I will start the idea in the pad. One of the tools I do use. The app tools that I use is a mind mapping tools called Simple Mind. I don't know [inaudible 00:13:40] they do, is a typical app. They do a free version which is very, very good or you can upgrade to the all singing all dancing version. I will often then transfer what I've started in sort of embryonic form in the notepad. I'll then work that up into a full blown mind map on the Simple Mind and then of course you can print that out if you need to. A lot of my project work starts that way because I find it ...
It was one of those things again that I suppose I was slightly cynical of when I was introduced to it a number of years ago but actually as I've tried it and learned to trust it. I now realise I do my best work when I'm able to make that sort of free association through mind map.
Jo Dodds: Do you use graphics with that? One of the things interestingly, a bit of name dropping here is that, I've met Tony Buzan a couple of times. I heard from him about how he developed the mind mapping process. He actually used to just use words originally. Didn't really think about the imagery and his best friend is actually an artist and she really talked to him many years ago right at the beginning about how important visual mapping is and the images. She really convinced him to give a try and that's where the images came from.
It's interesting thinking about putting mind mapping on to computers, how it's harder if you're using a keyboard rather than a tablet or whatever to actual use some of these sort of images. Someone I interviewed this week for the podcast, Penny Pullen is very much a visual sort of thinker. She teaches people how to draw for visual thinking and she uses a tablet to do it. I use, I can't remember which tool I use for the online mind mapping. For me, I just use words, I don't use pictures and I wonder whether you're just doing that too or whether the graphics ...
Mark Huggins: Yeah, I tend to do it the other way round. I'll start with the words. Say for example with training programmes or with blogs, I'm always intrigued to stimulating images which enhance the words. Because of course people learn in different ways. In fact just as you explain there, sometimes you'll meet people who have more a resonance for text and another people who have more resonance for images. I try and balance what we do in terms of how we present our training sections as a mixture of image and also text. For me, when I'm working conceptually or for example on a programme. I tend to start with text first. That just seems to be a preference for me.
Jo Dodds: It's funny, I have never really got my head around mind maps, I do use them but I don't find them as helpful as a lot of people do and as the sort of PR of them says I should. I like lists weirdly but I remember them visually.
Mark Huggins: Yes. I got into them originally when you work as a business actor, when you're working in a role play environment. You're often given quite complex briefs that you have to assimilate all the information on them. These briefs can go over 4, 5, 6 pages sometimes. If it's, let's say for example a performance review role play, you might have 5 or 6 objectives which are going come up for discussion throughout the performance review and you need to able to get your head and be authentic as the character. You need to be able to remember quite a lot of information in order to share it a very appropriate moment in the role play.
It wouldn’t really be appropriate to start wrestling through your brief. Ensemble saying, "Well, hang on just a second. I'll be with you in a second." Because the character would know how they had performed against [inaudible 00:18:02]. That won't work. On some of the more complex programmes that we've worked on in the past. I was introduced to my mapping probably ... I'm thinking probably maybe about 12 years ago. Suddenly found it transformed my ability to be able to assimilate a lot of information but also to have the security of having just one sheet in front of me with the various different mapping areas on it.
Particularly when I use colour as well to differentiate. I suddenly found that I could then reconnect with the brief that I had read maybe 5 or 6 times. I would just mind map just the very, very key details. Almost sort of bullet pointed details and that meant I was able to respond authentically and once I learned to trust it there. When the business started to grow and I took on more responsibility for actually designing and delivering programs. I continue to use it till this day for more creative areas. Yeah, I'd say for anybody who is listening, whose never tried it. I really would highly recommend it. It can really transform how you approach certain pieces of project work and give you great clarity very, very quickly. Doesn't take a lot of time.
Jo Dodds: Brilliant. Before we move on and think about some other areas, are there any other tools or apps that you would recommend, you talked about Infusionsoft and you obviously you talked about mind mapping. Anything else?
Mark Huggins: Yeah. Infusionsoft, I started with that about a year ago when we decided to really shift our marketing for Corporate Drama up a gear. I really like it, I find it really dynamic. We're only using a small part of it, ultimately we'll come on to use other sections of it. It's a platform that can grow with your business as your business grows. That comes highly recommended. The other apps that I use, I use Hootsuite a lot. We broadcast out across LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook on a regular basis. I really like Hootsuite and I tend to that ... That would be one of my 90 minute, will be sitting down scheduling Hootsuite for the next 2 or 3 or 4 weeks.
That we've got broadcasts at appropriate times. You mentioned mindfulness earlier on. I practice mindfulness and we factor mindfulness into a number of our programmes, our leadership programmes in particular and I have a really good mindfulness app on my iPhone which are a series of guided meditations of varying lengths and you can just get in when you're on a train and you're thinking, "Oh I just I need to do a little bit of meditation." You can stick your headphones in and hit the button and it comes up with a lovely guided meditation for 5, 10, 15, I think some are even 30 minutes in duration.
Jo Dodds: What's the app called?
Mark Huggins: That is called ... I think it's just called Mindfulness and if you go on to the app store, it's a blue button on the app store. I've actually switched off my iPhone so that we don't get distracted.
Jo Dodds: Very good.
Mark Huggins: I can't remember it but I think it's just called Mindfulness.
Jo Dodds: Lovely.
Mark Huggins: Again, it's a free app and you can subscribe to download more, extensive meditations if you want to.
Jo Dodds: Excellent. That leads us nicely into thinking how you relax and how you keep yourself healthy. What sort of things do you do?
Mark Huggins: I pretty lucky that in live in South Buckinghamshire in a little village and we're surrounded by open country side and woods and some beautiful bridleways and walks around here. Walking is very high on my priority of activities. I'm also extremely fortunate that my good lady wife is very, very good at monitoring our diet. Every day in fact, that I'm at home, we will have ... We normally only ever have 2 meals in a day. We'll have a brunch and then we have an evening meal but the brunch will always contain salad and always contain fruit. I'm very fortunate that I get looked after very well in terms of food.
Jo Dodds: Then you go traveling and then it all goes wrong.
Mark Huggins: Well yes. Then there is the traveling kind of things, which yes, particularly if you're staying ... For example last week we were in Austria and my experience of working in Austria which I have done quite a lot over the last 3 or 4 years. Is the Austrians, A love their food and B they're extremely generous. You go a hotel and if you're working on the hotel as we were last week. They offer a buffet style lunch or dinner. Trying to retrain yourself is extremely hard.
Jo Dodds: Yeah.
Mark Huggins: Yes, that is always a challenge.
Jo Dodds: It strikes me with the sort of work that you do that managing your energy levels is really key and I guess you probably dealing with sometimes with travel and jet-lag and that sort of thing as well. How do you keep yourself energetic enough to do the work that you're doing?
Mark Huggins: Well, that's really interesting because yes, quite a lot of our work takes us a long way away. I have worked, say in India, Australia, New Zealand and South East Asia as well. In terms of jet-lag, the thing that I have learnt over the last few years, really be choosy about your flights. I mean, working out, if you can, when you land in the new country I always try and make it some time in the afternoon local time because then I've only got a few hours before local time it will be bedtime. I find that can very, very quickly get on to, successfully get on to local time.
I generally, if I'm working the next day. If I land afternoon of, let's say a Monday and I'm working delivering a programme on a Tuesday, I'm also a big fan of those herbal sleep aids. Not the chemical ones but the herbal ones. I would normally pop just one those and probably have a chamonile tea or something like that. I find that really helps me get a good night sleep and I wake up feeling very good the next day. I do have to be mindful of how I use my energy because if I'm leading a programme and it's often a 2, 3 or even sometimes a 4 day programme. I have to be very careful about managing my time.
So I don't effectively burnout particularly is there is a long travel involved as well. Luckily my training because I train ... We haven't talked about so far but I trained a professional actor before I got into the the corporate world of training and role play. What was really, really useful, when you're faced with doing 8 shows a week. Let's say for example, some of the stuff I have done in the West End shows like Les Miserables. That's a 3 hour show which involves a lot of singing and you're doing 8 of those a week and plus also often rehearsals as well during the week.
That's a lot of energy you're having to use and make sure that you're applying it appropriately across the week so that your performance doesn't dip. I tend to rely on what the experience that taught me. It's the good old stuff that your mama always tell you about, which is. Make sure you get plenty of sleep, make sure you drink plenty of water and you eat healthy and magically that way you seem to be able to get through the week. If you stop doing those things and starting to burn the candle at both ends so well then don't be surprised when by Thursday you're feeling completely, you're completely shuttered.
Jo Dodds: Yeah, do they teach you so of that stuff when you're at theatre school or wherever you go to learn such things? I don't know, I look at some of the soap actors and hear about some of their schedules and I'm amazed that they manage to continue with those sorts of regimes. Do they build that in when you're doing the training or do you sort of have to sort of work it out as you go along?
Mark Huggins: I think you have to find what works for you. The drama school that I went to, just gives you a large menu of options or different approaches and different theories what are considered best practices and it's really up to you to then decide which ones you want to choose and what works best for you. I think the other thing is just that, I think you almost learn by experience. I certainly did. I learned that, for example, if I had friends coming to see the show in the evening, I stayed out too late that night after the show enjoying their company, I would inevitably pay for that the next day.
Because I'll feel tired. Is the middle of the week, I knew that I'd then have to really make sure that I got some discipline in if I was going then going to survive the week. For soap actors, they have a tough time because, a lot of people don't realise about shows likes EastEnders and Coronation Street and all the other various types that are on TV. Is the shooting schedules are really, really tight. They often get very little rehearsal. You're expected to arrive on set knowing your lines so that they literally go straight into filming and if the director is reasonably happy with what you've done.
Then that's it, thank you. That's in the can, let's move on to the next scene because there is such a volume of material they have to record. They just have to keep going at that pace. I think what's lucky for them though is that, often they won't be the central character in a storyline that lasts too long. In generally they'll a flurry of activities for maybe a few days and then they get some more rest because their character is then seen less frequently in some of the other episodes. It's an interesting ...
Jo Dodds: Another little nice link there, we're talking about learning, what about your own learning? Obviously you're in the learning business, how do you make sure your own learning is happening, what do you?
Mark Huggins: That's was an interesting one to think about when I was coming on the show to talk to you. I invested a great deal, when I was making the transition from being just a, I was still a jobbing actor. I was still trying to find theatre work and TV work et cetera. Also I had discovered the skill that I had because I had a business background and because I was professional actor. Of course I was a perfect fit for the world of experiential learning and role play. I was doing more and more of that type of work. Then I made the transition into becoming a facilitator and around that time, I did a huge amount of investment into my own personal development.
Because I was working as a freelance as well. It all had to be funded by me as well. In a space of, I think within the space of about 18 months I had become accredited in a number of psychrometric tools. I had embarked upon training to become a qualified coach. To this day I find that as I deliver programmes, as I work with different organisations, different cultures, different people I'm constantly learning about their world. That I find fascinating to see how that impacts on my view of the world.
Particularly when it comes to organisational culture, it's fascinating to see what organisations are doing these days to create greater levels of engagement within their work forces. Some of the creative ideas they're coming up with are truly inspiring.
Jo Dodds: I guess a lot of what you do sort of encourages that because it is quite different. I was trying to remember, I worked with an organisation years ago that did this sort of thing. As somebody sort of buying the services if you like, it was really refreshing to have people who knew what they were doing rather than trying to do it internally with people who were pretending to be people, doing sort of role play ... Because when you go ... I remember, for example I doing an assessment centre when in was a HR manager years, years ago and I had to go into a coaching situation.
I had a management trainee as the person I was going to be coaching and it was an impossible scenario. Because every time I asked a question, he just kept saying, "I don't know that's why I've come to see you." As much as I was trying to coach him and counsel him. I think it was actually a counselling session, by not giving him ideas and by not sort of directing him. Every single answer he gave was, "I don't know. That's why I came to see you." I came out of thinking, I failed that one but I also I don't think I could have passed it. Because he wasn't responding naturally like a real person would have done, he got the brief ...
Mark Huggins: I know. That's where, I mean we're very, very used to coming into organisations and if we're running the training ourselves, we announce who we are and why we're there. At the beginning of the day or if we're there working in partnership with an organisation so we might be working with their R&D team. The realisation on the faces of the participates of that programme that there is role play involved. You can physically see people sinking into their seats and I'm sure they're thinking, "Why on earth did I volunteer or why did my manager volunteer me to come on this programme. It's going to be nothing short of ritual humiliation."
Jo Dodds: I always tell people that's why I became a trainer so that I can get everyone else to do role play and I didn't have to do it anymore. Doesn't that have some truth in that?
Mark Huggins: Yeah. Absolutely and we completely understand the notion of why people then feel uncomfortable. The great irony and it sounds a little cliché but it's genuinely true. One of the great buzzes we get, is at the end of the programmes, after they've done the role play exercises and they come to us and they say, "That was just amazingly revealing, your feedback was so useful. I now understand that when I do this, this is the impact it has." The reason we're able to do that is because we don't go there necessarily with a fixed agenda.
I would suggest that maybe the gentleman that you were working with had a very fixed agenda. We learn and part of our craft is this ability to respond appropriately to the level of influence or challenge or whatever it might be from the participants. We can flex up or we can flex down in order to reward and or test effectively. That's a real skill because what I learned to do and what my team do. Is they're able to do all that and they're also monitoring what's going on with the other person and how their character, the characters that the role players is playing is feeling. That the end of the session they're able to give really detailed feedback.
I always like a little bit, you know that thing where you're trying to pat your head and rub your hand around your tummy area. It's kind of completely counter intuitive and yet it really does work brilliantly in terms of raising awareness and building confidence in participants particularly around skills that involve behaviour. Selling, managing, leading, influencing. All those core business skills inevitably they boil down to a behaviour of some sort of another. That's what we're able to do but we're quite often ... We don't feel very welcome often beginning of the today but we certainly feel welcome at the end.
Jo Dodds: Lovely. Thinking about sort of personal improvement aside from the sort of courses and coaching and training that you do but what sort of other ways do you recommend for people to learn or have you got resources, books and things you recommend for people to develop?
Mark Huggins: Yes, of course I would advocate experiential learning because that's the business I'm in! A book that I've read recently which I have recommended to so many people now. I really should be on commission but sadly I'm not. Is a book, I don't know whether you've read this one Jo. It's called Turn The Ship Around by a gentleman called David L. Marquet.
Jo Dodds: No sounds intriguing.
Mark Huggins: M-A-R-Q-U-E-T. Again if you pop onto Amazon, you'll find it on there. An absolutely fascinating book and if I've got time to give you a very brief synopsis to what's it’s about then I'm happy to do that.
Jo Dodds: Yes please. I'm imagining from the title but please do.
Mark Huggins: Okay, David Marquet was a nuclear submarine captain in the US Navy. By the way you don't have to be an expert in things naval or things ships in order to get lots of benefit from the book. David was about to take over a particular class of submarine in Pearl Harbour. To do that he has to prepare or any captain in the US Navy preparing to takeover a nuclear submarine, has to prepare for about 9 months. Because they have to know literary every nut and bolt and procedure about that vessel before they take it over.
Unfortunately there is a spanner in the works and the spanner is, about 3 months before he about to takeover this particular class of submarine, in their infinite wisdom the US Navy say, "We don't want you to go for that class of submarine, we want you go for this one." Then that one is a completely different class of submarine with different processes, procedures, it's technically different specification. Of course this means he's got a big problem because there is no way he can cram that knowledge into 3 months. The book is about, turning the ship around to make it ready to have its final inspection before he takes over command.
What he did to enable that to happen, was he, what he describes as a leader - follower culture on board into a leader - leader culture. It's a fascinating read. The chapters are very concise, probably 5 or 6 pages long on average. Then after each chapter, he offers you about 5 or 6 bullet points that just prompts your thinking around how you might start to use his approach in your business and your manage-mental leadership style. It's just fascinating and if you're at all cynical like me about these types of things. Then what I can tell you is, the ship he took over and successfully he did manage to turn it around using this technique.
Went on to have the highest inspection rating of any vessel at any point in the US Navy. More crew members were promoted from that ship than any other ship in the history of the US Navy. What he managed to achieve, nothing short of revolutionary or I supposed I should say evolutionary but is a really great read. Also his online supporting materials are really good. He's got a website with all sorts of bits and pieces. He does a monthly blog. Really I highly recommend his work. Fascinating gentleman.
Jo Dodds: That reminds me of a story, I don't know if I heard it in a Ted Talk or if I've heard somewhere else or read it somewhere. I don't know if it's the same story. It's been used or I've heard being used to highlight, people always think the military do, it’s sort of command and control and there was a situation where somebody had gone onto a ship and gave an order and they pass the order on and it turns out whatever the order was, wasn't applicable on that particular ship and he then queried why they had continued sending the order down the line when they knew that wasn't possible and it was because that's what they were supposed to do.
He realized that he needed to give them the opportunity to challenge rather than to just follow procedure sort of thing. I wonder if that was the same person?
Mark Huggins: Yes, it is that book and in fact it's where they're doing the drill and they decide to shut down the nuclear reactor which is the main power plant of the vessel and these vessels have a backup diesel engine which will effectively get them back to port but very, very slowly. On the previous vessel that he was captain of, this particular diesel engine, I think had a number of settings, speed settings on it whereas the vessel he takes over, doesn't.
He gives the order to sort of say something like, "Put it into fourth gear." The officer on deck goes, "Aye sir. Putting it into fourth gear." Then nothing happens. Then he says, "Why hasn't anything happened?" Then they say, "Well, because we don't have a fourth gear sir." He said, "Why did you say you're doing it?" "Because you gave me an order." He begins to realise that there are several processes that are inherently built in to the systems of commanding the vessel which are completely redundant and if you can create the right culture that actually he can empower his crew to make decisions. Not recklessly but in a way that, he actually does get control but he ... He flicks the whole thing on his head.
Just a fascinating read and I highly, highly recommend it. I've recommended it to lots of people that I have been working with our the last 3 or 4 months. Yeah, really good.
Jo Dodds: Trouble with doing these podcast is I've got an even longer list of unread books that I'm desperate to read. It will not do any good, I'll just get more and more frustrated that I need to read quicker.
Mark Huggins: Take a nice long holiday Jo and then you can take all the books with you and just sit by the pool reading the books.
Jo Dodds: Well exactly ... Do you know when they do that, what's your perfect Tuesday thing, where you're supposed to say what would you do and people come up with all these amazing list of activities and everything else. When you talk about book and holidays. I'm so easy to please. I just need somewhere to sit with a book and that's it. Order some nice food, served up to me at various points during the day and the odd drink but actually I just want to read. I'm so easy to please.
What about other forms of learning, entertainment, inspiration? Film, music any of those that spring to mind?
Mark Huggins: Yes. I've always been, I would say mood music and I don't mean by that the sort of annoying stuff that get played in lifts and stuff that they play too loud in restaurants. I've eclectic music taste and so I will often put music on when I'm doing tasks. I don't put it on in my 90 minutes though. I found if I do that, again it affects the quality of what I do. Yes, I like to listen to music, a lot but it can anything from Happy Mondays through to anything. It really is that eclectic and it will be just dependent on my mood. I don't however use music on programmes that I design because I just think that that again is distracting.
Jo Dodds: Yes. To key into memories based on pieces of music quite often so they can change the atmosphere without intending to can't it?
Mark Huggins: I think it can. I just think that playing much while people are doing reflective exercises is just more noise in the room that people are going to try to battle through to try to think clearly. I'm a fan of good old silence really for the 5 minutes when they might be reflecting than say for example, putting those in a workbook or whatever. Music very important to me and of course coming from an art's background. I still like to get into town to see plays, as many plays as I can and films. I often particularly go out and see movies that connect with the type of work that I do.
I was very keen to see recently the Steve Jobs movie which I found absolutely fascinating. What was the other movie? It's escaped me, the movie about the financial crush with Steve Carell and ... Is it called Big Short? The Big Short I think it's called. It's about the guys who try and bet against the US housing market. If you haven't seen it, it's an amazing film. At times funny and other times absolutely jaw dropping because you begin to realize how inappropriate should we say, the whole financial structure was around mortgages in the US leading up to the 2008, 2009 crash.
I'm particularly fond of movies that deal with business relationships, leadership, that type of thing. I find that's very inspiring sometimes.
Jo Dodds: Lovely. What about if things don't right then, if you have a bad day, what happens then, how do you deal with it? Or are all your days perfect?
Mark Huggins: Of course yes, being someone who is training every day ... Again it's going to sound a little cliché but it is genuinely true that when we're working with people experientially, we say to them. Again to try to get away from this feeling that people are being tested. The role play is there to ensure they've understood and they can implement whatever it is we're talking about. The behaviour that we're talking about but the role play isn't there as a test, it's just there as a chance to practice and sometimes that practice will go really well and you'll get really good motivational feedback.
Sometimes, it won't go well and you'll get more development feedback. The one thing that ...
Jo Dodds: Can I just say I like that by the way, developmental feedback. You mean as the negative stuff.
Mark Huggins: Yeah, notice I didn't say positive and negative and that's intentional because ... Can you imagine sitting down with your manager and the manager says, "Right, I'd like to give you some negative feedback." You're probably going to be sitting there thinking, "Right, this is going to get bumpy." Whereas if your manage says, "I'd like to give you some developmental feedback." Well maybe you might be a little happier about it. The one thing that working in the world of learning and development has taught me is that, things don't always go according to plan.
You have good days, you have fantastic days and you have other days that maybe don't go so well and here is the cliché bit, is actually how you respond to that that's so important. You can either beat yourself up and make yourself thoroughly miserable because the day hasn't gone well or you can sit back, maybe take a few minutes of quiet reflection. Just say to yourself, "Okay, so if I was to do that all that differently, what would I do differently?" Which is a question we ask people loads of times on training programmes as part of their self reflection.
Actually if we ... This is almost place of sort of physician heal thy self. I find that, reflecting back and just thinking, "Okay, it didn't go according to plan." There will be learning that you can take from this and as long as you apply that then there is likelihood that you'll get some benefit from it. The alternative is just to beat yourself up and get thoroughly miserable. That's not really worth it at the end of the day. It's something also going back at what we talked about earlier on. It's something that mindfulness has taught me as well. Is the power of letting go of things that bother you and worry you.
Before I started to practicing mindfulness, I would often have it. It was particularly stressful time in my life. There was some really important business stuff going on, I would find often very difficult to go to sleep at night. My day would be turning around in my head as I tried to sleep and of course the more you tried to sleep, the more the thoughts come. It's almost like they're teasing you. Once I learned that there are very, very simple techniques that you can just, as long as you focus on those, you can let go of it all very, very quickly. In fact often within now, within seconds of just focusing on my breathing.
You suddenly find you're fast asleep and the next thing maybe you're working in the morning. That would be my top tip for bad days. Reflection and then thinking what could have been better and a bit of mindfulness to prevent a sleepless night.
Jo Dodds: Yeah. Exactly. What about the days when you've lived more. The days when you've gotten to the end of the end knowing you've done the things that you want to do as opposed to want you feel like you should done or you had to do? What does it look like? I've already told you mine is probably just reading. What's your day?
Mark Huggins: Well so much of my business world revolves around feedback. We deliver a programme and either people give us feedback verbally at the end of the end or old schools used to hand out happy sheets. Mark the trainer out of ... 1 is lousy, 10 is great, all that sort of stuff. Now of course it tends to be more things like Survey Monkey. Getting feedback from people is always the way in which I measure how successful a day has been particularly when we're delivering training or if they're in the office, going back to my planner. My 90 minutes, what have I been able to achieve in terms of the day and I think that when I worked as jobbing actor, you learn you have to be self reliant.
Because nobody else is going to go out there and do the work for you. You really do, you rest on your own ability to be able to be, for example prepared for an audition or just to learn your part or deliver a good performance. If it's in the West End then 8 times a week in the theatre and the same applies now today. I'm very self reliant on the successes of the business and what we collectively been able to achieve and my part in that. I will emerge from the office normally around 6PM with a satisfied grin on my face and I'll head down stairs to share my day with my wife.
Then we'll think about what we're going to do that evening and then just relax. That's how I tend to do it. Please, don't think I'm sort of paragon of virtue. I have just as many days where things that don't go quite so well. I don't live in this sort of isolated bubble it is perfect all the time. Far from it but on the good days, that's what tends to happen.
Jo Dodds: Lovely. How can people find out more about you, what you do and connect up with you?
Mark Huggins: Well the best thing to do, would be to head on to our website. Which is, www.corporatedrama.co.uk and there is a whole massive stuff on there that you can explore. From appraisals on assertiveness and communication styles. There is videos on there you can watch. There blogs you can read, there is a whole host of supporting material around what we do and some of the tips and techniques that we pick up on as we go about doing our work. There is that or I'm on LinkedIn as Mark Huggins. You’ll be able to find me.
You'll just look up there and it will be Mark Huggins, Managing Director of Corporate Drama. Please do, if anybody is listening to this, wants any more information. Ping me a message and I'll more and happy to reply. On the website, of course you can connect to with us via email. Again, if anybody has any questions, please don't hesitate to ping me a message and I'll be very pleased to rely.
Jo Dodds: Lovely. Thank you Mark. Really appreciate you joining me. I've really enjoyed our conversation and look forward to going and checking out some of those resources.
Mark Huggins: Yeah, great. Thanks Jo, it's been fun. Nice to chat.