Motivational Monday #106 Open The Screen

 Moon background LI

Motivational Monday #106 Open The Screen

“Behind the technique, know that there is the spirit

It is dawning now

Open the screen.

And lo, the moonlight is shining in!”

Yagyu Tajima no kami Munenor

I’ve been in the development field for over a decade and over that time I have spent a lot of time researching and trying to learn various techniques to achieve success in different areas of business and personal development to then share with my clients.

I have a range of moleskine notebooks filled with different techniques and tips. A lot of those have made themselves into the training and coaching that I deliver and indeed some have featured in this motivational blog series.

My research has led me into widely different areas – child psychology, martial arts, fashion, design, the military, sports, sales, management and many others. In all these areas of human endeavour there are really talented individuals who have reached a certain point of learning and maturity and who are willing to share their knowledge.

I find it all very interesting and I love how advice in one area can translate into another area with relatively simple ease. We live in an age unparalleled by our access to this knowledge and I think spending a little personal time reading what the top people in other areas of life recommend doing to be successful can be the best investment a person can make during a lunchtime!

But all that said I think there might be something more important than the techniques, or at least the equal to it, and that is our inner spirit.

Yagyu Tajima, who wrote the above poem, was a samurai sword master and a Zen master. I read about him in a book that was just recommended to me by Pasquale Scopelliti a brilliantly original business contact of mine in Washington, DC. The book is Zen and Japanese Culture (out of print but still available from various online sources) and it outlines in as clear as possible the thinking behind the concept of Zen.

It’s far too complex to outline in this blog and to be honest I am still trying to get my head around all of it but one thing that really stood out, particularly in the chapter entitled Zen and Swordsmanship is the idea of releasing the inner spirit through having a ‘no mind’ state.

In other words not being preoccupied with techniques and strategies but rather staying absolutely neutral and thus flexible to what might occur. When we focus on a technique we get ‘stuck’ in that mental area and that techniques mind-set and it can in fact make us slower to react.

If we are less focused on process and ‘what will happen’ and more open to the fact that ‘something will happen’ we are able to respond faster to the ‘something’.

It can also allow for our true self to shine through. Now legend has it that the above poem was left by Yagyu Tajima for his sons as his final effort to express all he knew about swordsmanship and the art of Zen more generally.

I think it’s a beautiful way of illustrating the point – our techniques can become shutters that hide our true light. Maybe what’s needed is to throw open those shutters and let ourselves be ourselves.

Maybe being genuine, being yourself, unfiltered by techniques and ‘how to tips’ is a more natural way forward and more powerful. After all isn’t it fair to say that our inner self is powering the techniques anyway?

So those emotions you are experiencing and those instincts you are feeling about the things in your life – maybe the best thing to do is open yourself to them and act naturally. In that unique way that only you will act.

And the best thing about all of this is that the genuine, open path is available to all of us if we simply chose to be brave and open the shutters to our inner spirit!

Until next time, be successful!

Stephen Hart


Four questions to help you decide if you should drop a LinkedIn Connection

LinkedIn Network Face - Red

Four questions to help you decide if you should drop a LinkedIn Connection

Sometimes you need to consider specific people and decide whether they should stay in your LinkedIn network.

Now why you might want to do this is up to you. I’ve talked recently about my changing opinion on being an open networker – read it here (The reason why I have decided to shrink my LinkedIn network) and additionally I wrote about making broad decisions about potentially getting rid of groups of connections (How to Create a More Focused and Profitable LinkedIn Network). But what about making a judgement on specific individual connections?

I think it is as important to keep your LinkedIn network up to date with your current business practices. If you change sectors, win a client, lose a client or generally have an experience that makes you think

‘hmmm, maybe they are no longer relevant, or in line with, my best business interests’

you might then consider dropping the person from your network.

And not just them – depending on the reason you are dropping them you might want to remove everyone in their company. Remember that your status updates go to all your first tier connections as a minimum so if even one person in a company is connected with you then they might see your update which they can then share with their network or simply tell the other person about.

At the end of the day do remember that if you post something on the internet people will see it and honestly you can’t fully control who will see it. All you can do is make it a little more unlikely that someone will see it!

So here are four questions you might want to consider when considering if you should stay connected to someone on LinkedIn:

  1. Are they relevant to your business interests?
  2. Do you want to be associated with them?
  3. Do you want them seeing your status updates?
  4. Do you want them to be able to view your connections?

If they aren’t relevant to your business interests but they seem like nice people then maybe follow them on twitter, invite them on Facebook or some other social media. I’d recommend keeping your LinkedIn network business focused.

Say you decide that, having done business or spoken to the person, that they are a real jerk do you really want to show the business world that you associate with that sort of person? Guilt by association is a reality.

This needs to be considered especially if you shift your business focus and become rivals or competitors in some fashion. You don’t want them easily seeing all your clever marketing!

Yes you can hide your connections but it’s an all or nothing option. If you hide your connections from one person it hides them from everyone. That goes against the spirit of LinkedIn for me and if I don’t want someone easily being able to see who I am connected to then I’ll drop them.

It’s a choice you have to make but why should everyone suffer because of one person? Equally why should you network be cluttered by people who are no longer business relevant or individuals you want to associate with?

Take action and prune as necessary!

Until next time, be successful;

Stephen Hart
Development Specialist,


Motivational Monday #105 Three Questions

It is necessary

Motivational Monday #105 Three Questions

“It is necessary for a person to go away by themselves and to ask,

Who am I,

Where have I been

Where am I going?””

I am sitting in a hotel in Newcastle as I write this as tomorrow I have a meeting with a client in the city centre. I then have a trip to Huddersfield, in West Yorkshire, on Tuesday followed by a flight out to Helsinki on Wednesday afternoon where I will be delivering a motivational workshop at a company’s sales conference.

Being on the road like this does take me away from my family but it also gives me some quiet space to think and to contemplate. Two things that I think modern life can often make quite challenging to do.

John Maxwell, author of The 360 Degree Leader wrote

“The greatest enemy of good thinking is busyness.”

In our lives of modern communications we seldom get a natural break and pause however before we blame the phones, tablets or laptops let’s remember that we are the ones choosing to create this culture of noise and endless work!

For example last week an associate of mine was happily telling me of their upcoming holiday to Croatia and in the next breath reassured me that he would still be checking his emails and could be reached on his phone if necessary.

Now forgive me but I’m pretty sure a holiday is supposed to be a break from work – indeed the dictionary defines it as;

Leisure time away from work devoted to rest or pleasure

Funnily enough I don’t see any mention of reading emails or being available for a work call in that definition.

Now I get that people want to be available for their clients. Lord knows I’ve taken enough calls in the evening or first thing in the morning but there are definitive times when I am not available.  And that’s important I think.

A person needs to recharge, to relax, to sit in quiet contemplation and consider some of the bigger questions of life. If you don’t do that then you run the risk of working really hard at the wrong thing and ending up in the wrong location.

Life shapes us; each experience we have, each habit we adopt, slowly makes us the people that we become. It’s good to take time out to consider who you are, what you like about yourself and what you might like to change.

Whilst preparing for the talk that I’m giving in Helsinki it struck me how seldom we get time to contemplate these bigger ideas. It’s something that is rarely prompted by the normal events of our working or personal lives. I think what is necessary is to take the time out for it. To actively create the space that will enable you to relax, open your mind to the reality of your life and spend some time thinking.

Some pure, uninterrupted time where you can evaluate, ponder and plan for the future that you truly want. Which you might find is quite different to the future that you are currently heading towards!

So if you haven’t done it recently I strong recommend taking some time out to ask yourself the questions above. And if you are struggling to create the space that you need then may I suggest a walk or a jog as a great way to get yourself some alone time so you can contemplate the deeper things.

The good news is that it is within the power of all of us to do it – we simply need to make the choice and take some definitive action to create the space required.

Good luck!

Until next time, be successful!

Stephen Hart


Motivational Monday #104 Better Now Than Later


Motivational Monday #104 Better Now Than Later

“Better a paragraph now than a novel at the end of the month”

Dylan Thomas

I was rewatching the incredible Christopher Nolan film “Interstellar” at the weekend in Dylan Thomas’ poem “Do not go gentle into that good night” is quoted.

A moving poem and worth looking up. It also reminded me of one of the things that I read many years ago in a collection of letters by Dylan Thomas. He was deeply in love with a woman and had been trading love letters with her for many months. There had been a delay from her writing back on one occasion because she had so much to say she was holding off until she had time put everything down in the letter.

His reply to her was

“Better a paragraph now than a novel at the end of the month.”

I think that’s very wise advice. I’m heading up to a birthday which makes me either very close to middle aged or just this side of it … depending on how you measure middle age! So I’m old enough to have seen the world move from pen and paper letters to emails and now instant messages and Whatsapp and it’s ilk. Whilst still being young enough to embrace and appreciate the new options!

I still think Dylan’s advice holds true. Better to reach out and let the person know that you are thinking of them than have them doubt and wonder just because you were going to send them something longer later.

Also those ‘longer, later’ messages are the ones that so often get forgotten about or we miss out half the detail because time has passed and it doesn’t seem as relevant anymore.

So this morning how about spending 5 minutes and reaching out to some folks. Send them a modern paragraph – i.e. a text or instant message and let them know that you are thinking of them.

“Hi, good morning, how are you?”

is six words long and yet has the power to put a smile on someones face!

Or for those people who you are more intimate with four words might work wonders …

“Thinking about you x”

You get the idea … it doesn’t take much but it could change someone’s day!

So who will you message today?

Until next time, be successful!

Stephen Hart

PS And when you have nearly three hours to spend I most highly recommend the movie “Interstellar”

Motivational Monday #103 There is Time to Start Today


Motivational Monday #103 There Is Time to Start Today

“The starting point of all achievement is desire”

Napoleon Hill

For my money Napoleon Hill was perhaps the greatest of all the motivational writers that came out of the last century. Every time I read his work I come away with some though provoking point. This time I was reading through his classic work “Think and Grow Rich”.

I’ve read it a few times but I have the suspicion that it could take a lifetime to master and apply all of his advice! And maybe that’s the point; maybe it’s about that continual effort and work rather than a one -time burst of activity.

That quote was in a section dealing with the power of persistence. Something I remember my dad telling me, years ago, was the key to success. Hill goes on to outline the four stages to developing the ‘persistence habit’:

  1. A definite purpose backed by a burning desire for its fulfilment
  2. A definitive plan, expressed in continuous action
  3. A mind closed tightly against all negative and discouraging influences
  4. A friendly alliance with one or more persons who will encourage you to follow through with both plan and purpose

I have to say that sounds like a plan for success to me!

I also think that sounds like a bit of work and something that will take time and effort – however the really positive thing about it is that today can be the day that we all start on the path.

The first step is within the power of all of us … consider the first three words of advice  – “a definite purpose” – that’s the start, and interestingly, the end of the process. What exactly do you want?

I suspect that if you ponder that question right now you will be able to answer in the general sense. Just imagine the clarity and power you will have if you knew definitively what it was you wanted.

Personally I’d start by narrowing the question down – consider your career – what do you definitively want? Go past what seems immediately possible and consider what you want without restrictions. You can always come up with a plan to get it later but you can’t plan for something you haven’t imagined!

No matter how busy you are today there is very likely going to be some time when you are on your own and able to consider the question – it might be that your boring commute becomes transformed into a planning session for your future career …

And if your career isn’t the key thing for you right now then consider the question in one of these areas instead:

  1. Health
  2. Relationships
  3. Finances

You probably don’t have the time today to change your whole life but I do think you have time enough today to start the journey – good luck!

Stephen Hart

Development Specialist,

Motivational Monday #102 Enlightened Self Interest


Motivational Monday #102 Enlightened Self Interest

“The more I help out, the more successful I become.”

Adam Grant

I like coincidences and if push comes to a shove I’ll admit that the whole concept of synchronicity is quite fascinating. Synchronicity, if you haven’t come across it before, is a concept of ‘meaningful coincidences’ where the fact that something happens by coincidence actual gives the event greater meaning; almost as if it had been ‘ordained’ to have occurred.

What’s interesting, writing this on the morning of June 1st 2015 is that last night I was reading a book entitled “Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success”. Written by Adam Grant it puts forward the notion that there is a real power in being a ‘giver’ in business.

Based on significant, and recent, studies and surveys of business professionals, students and sports people Adam strongly presents arguments for the idea that ‘givers gain’.

But what, you might ask, does this have to do with coincidence? Well this morning whilst deciding what to write about for this article I picked up Dale Carnegies “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living” I and opened it randomly to see what would pop up.

On Pages 166 and 167 which the book had opened to I found that Dale was talking about giving! Specifically he is talking about giving time and attention to other people and doing good for others as a way of being happy yourself and of spreading happiness!

He quotes Aristole who called this

“enlightened selfishness”

and Zoroaster who said

“Doing good to others is not a duty. It is a joy, for it increases your own health and happiness.”

He then goes on to recount this story:

“One time in England, I met a shepherd, and expressed my sincere admiration for his big, intelligent sheep dog. I asked him to tell me how he had trained it. As I walked away, I glanced back over my shoulder and saw the dog standing with his paws on the shepherd’s shoulders and the shepherd petting him. By taking a little interest in the shepherd and his dog, I made the shepherd happy. I made the dog happy and I made myself happy.”

And I guess that’s my thought for this Motivational Monday – think about the good deeds you could do for the people that you meet today. Even if it is a case of ‘enlightened selfishness’ you are still going to be spreading good cheer and positivity and I am fairly confident that some of that will flow back to you and brighten your day.

As to the final coincidence Dale mentions Carl Jung in his discussion on giving and it was Carl who coined the phrase ‘synchronicity’!

So maybe today is the day to be open to those meaningful coincidences along with looking for those opportunities to give something to those around you!

Until next time; be successful!

Stephen Hart

Development Specialist,

LinkedIn Profile Pictures – Colour or Black and White?

Louise Axon both

LinkedIn Profile Pictures – Colour or Black and White?

I was working with a recruiter last month who was interested in having a new photograph for their LinkedIn profile. I was happy to oblige, it’s something I’ve done for other clients, so I took some pictures for the consultant to choose from.

Now the company policy is that all photographs on LinkedIn need to be in black and white so the consultant, Louise Axon, picked the above right image as her new LinkedIn profile picture.

(Louise is a head-hunter who operates within the furniture and medical devices sectors)

We were all quite happy with the outcome and none of us thought anything of it. Until about a week later when I was at another client’s office who said that they knew that black and white pictures got you more views on LinkedIn.

Now I am aware, because LinkedIn have told me, that having a photograph increases your numbers of hits by up to 40% but I am not aware of any statistics which show black and white being superior to colour in this respect.

So I thought I’d do some market research … and I posted both images as a status update and invited my network to cast a vote and share their thoughts. The response was amazing!

There ended up being over 400 comments on the update and some very interesting observations made which I thought I’d share below:

Crop tighter

“You should consider a tighter crop as with profile images it’s all about the eyes and facial engagement”

Olivia Brabbs, Photographer

Several people echoed Olivia with the suggestion that the pictures, either one, could do with a sharper crop. Something that on reflection I would agree with. I think this shows the value of having an editor or at least sharing your image with someone else before you upload it.

Black and white is so last century

“There is a reason we all got rid of our old B&W TV’s. Think about that.”

Wade Rohloff, Safety Consultant and Illustrator

“Black and white makes her look like the photo was taking in 1930 or there about”

Chileshe Mulenga, Executive assistant

I’m a big fan of classic black and white movies – no one ever looked cooler than Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca but, and I concede the point, such movies are from a while back. (Although I would argue there is a difference between ‘old fashioned’ and ‘classic’!)

It has been mentioned to me, by several people, that they feel that black and white pictures can become ‘samey’ and the very rigid ‘corporate authorised’ images that some companies, particularly recruiters it seems, go for can make everyone look the same. 

Playing devil’s advocate however perhaps the modern world is so used to vibrant colours and marketing that black and white is just a little ‘old school’ now? Clearly from the comments that we have had some people would argue that.

Personally I feel that the black and white images can look good, sharp and even modern but black and white images have to be done in the right way and with a little thought – more of that below.

People will judge what you wear

“Neither, the young lady’s top might be considered too revealing for a professional LinkedIn profile photo.”

Steve Elliott, VP, Chief Financial Officer

Steve was the most outspoken about things but both Louise and I got private messages from a couple of people who felt her picture was, to various degrees, inappropriate.

Now with the best will in the world I think that’s ridiculous. We are not living in the 1950’s anymore and in my opinion Louise is professionally attired and perfectly presentable. That said I asked for opinions so being more neutral I think it’s worth noting that not everyone will have the same level of acceptability as you so consider your market and what is acceptable in your professional industry.

I certainly see plenty of images on LinkedIn that I feel are not appropriate for a professional business image! I wrote about that here – Five LinkedIn Profile Picture Mistakes to Avoid

As a counter other people had, in my opinion, a more modern and realistic mindset;

“After some of the pictures I have seen on LinkedIn, this is one of the most professional”

Reg Russam, Recruiter

Reg also went on to say:

“Funnily enough, I was looking at a possible human resources candidate yesterday and her LinkedIn picture was her in a bikini, I’ll be honest, it sort of put me off contacting her – especially with employers scowering the internet for backgrounds etc.”

The point is this – people will judge so you have to be happy that you are appearing professional and appropriate for yourself and your market.

Get it done professionally

“If a portrait isn’t created correctly for B&W then it should be color. But I could show you portraits I’ve created just for B&W that would never look as good in color. The photo seen here should be in color.”

Russell Hansen, Master Photographer

Now many moons ago I went to art college and I was taught to use a camera – that doesn’t make me a photographer it makes me someone who has a very little knowledge of how to take a good picture … ultimately if you want a really good photograph then, like most things in life, go to a professional.

And if you can’t do that then go to someone like me who has something of an idea of what he is doing. Photography is one of those areas where a little knowledge goes a long way and an enthusiastic amateur can be a perfectly acceptable option.

People see the details

“The eyes of the lady, being dark, seem more intense in the color version.”

Martin Fernandez, Graphic Designer

So people are looking at the fine details! Additionally several people commented that the button on the sleeve was distracting and others commented on the lipstick being noticeable with some people liking that and some not.

So details get noticed – I had manipulated the colour image to boost the reds so the lipstick was a design choice but I had missed the button. Another prompt to have an editor or at least someone who checks over your image before you upload it.

It’s all about the PR and your personal brand

Your LinkedIn image represents your personal professional brand so consider your image with care. Several people commented that black and white gave a more professional but colder feel to the image whilst the colour one was warmer.

It was suggested that some markets would welcome colour or black and white more depending on their cultures. The emotional impact of your picture definitely needs to be considered and how that fits into the bigger personal brand that you are striving to create needs to be considered.

A couple of people, including Liesbeth Leysen, Director of Public Relations and Media congratulated me on creating PR and marketing for Louise (and myself) through this exercise – a charge I can neither deny nor confirm!  

I would like to highlight that Louise did not share this update on her network as she didn’t want to be mistaken as an attention seeker. She is much more interested in establishing herself as the competent recruiter that she is!

And this was a decent picture

Consider the amount of discussion, debate and criticism that was provoked by this image and further consider that at the end of the day this is a fairly decent photograph of Louise. It doesn’t commit any of the usual profile picture sins e.g. no one else is in the picture, it’s a clear image, it’s been taken specifically for LinkedIn not just copied over from Facebook etc.

So it might be worth looking at your image and considering how well it measures up and how open it is to criticism!

And the verdict

I laboriously counted the votes and I can announce that the winner is as shown below!

 Louise picture results


 So 39% more people preferred colour to black and white. Now that might just be a reflection on this particular image so I wonder if it reflects a wider preference these days?

What do you think – not just with regards to this image but with LinkedIn profile pictures in general – which do you prefer, black and white or colour?

Feel free to share your thoughts below .

Finally thank you to everyone who commented on Louise’s image and to Louise for acting as a research specimen! As a result of the exercise and the feedback this final image was produced for Louise to use:

Louise Axon final

To be clear to the hecklers that we have had message us during this exercise – this was not a vanity exercise. This was an attempt to research how people respond to different image types – it’s science … sort of!

Until next time; be successful!
Stephen Hart
Development Specialist,