Fairies and Custard – why radical creativity beats chocolate


My grandmother was quite convinced that she saw a fairy once.

So it’s not surprising that fairies and fairytales were central to my childhood. My mother filled our heads with magic and other whimsical creatures  and I formed my own code for what was good and bad in the world

Fairies were a metaphor for anything happy, hopeful and filled with possibility. Holidays, surprise parcels, exciting emails still fall into the fairy category.

On the other extreme were custards. (How I loathed the lumpy stuff especially when it formed a skin)

So a fight with a friend, a piano lesson when I hadn’t practised my scales, a dentist visit   – custards.

I still find myself scanning my day, my week and my life to see the ratio of fairies and custards at any given time. I have even hosted a Good Fairy Week and Wonderful Wizard Week to encourage those of us jaded by work, bills and responsibilities to get back in touch with magic and the joy of paying it forward.

Whenever I feel myself getting sucked back into lumpy custard territory (and yes, there have been times when my Doc Martens have felt a little soggy of late) it’s time to recommit to fairies once again.

How we do so is the key question.

Too often when we want to get the magic back we turn to addictive behaviour like sugar, facebook or shopping when what we are really craving is something far more nourishing and far more radical.

When I scan the last 25 years of my working life, my favourite projects and those I’m still most proud of – are those I created with attention to curiosity, creativity and a fair dash of risk. All the elements which make for grown up magic.

It’s the kind of work that makes me feel most alive. I believe too that it’s the work that makes the most difference in the world. Work that brings surprise, courage  and magic into a world that needs it.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But it’s always fun. And it always includes wonderful people and great conversation.

Wishing you an abundance of fairies and no lumpy custard in your favourite shoes

with love and a renewed commitment to radical creativity



With my own Wonderful Wizard at a Good Fairy Week celebration



Book Summary: Love is the Killer App

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We had a great #welead chat on twitter last night. Our topic: Networking – How to do it better, more generously and more effectively. (Join us via @womenleadsa on Wednesday nights at 19h30 GMT+2 where we discuss important and emerging leadership themes under the #welead hashtag)

In addition to some great insights, it was also a dialogue between the idealists and the more cynical  about what networking is, why it exists and what realistic expectations might be from the relationships we forge for business,

Generosity and abundance are areas of great interest for me so this probably isn’t the last I’m going to say on the topic 🙂 But I did promise to post a book summary I wrote some time ago on a book by Tim Sanders which I think gives some great insights on the topic as the sharing of knowledge becomes increasingly important.  Enjoy

Tim Sanders’ Love is the Killer App (Hodder & Stoughton)

This book is not hot off the press but worth a read if you haven’t got to it yet. The title is catchy but deceiving because although love in business is a theme, by far the most comprehensive and practical part of the book is the way the author expounds on the value of knowledge as a business tool and powerful networking advantage. 

Important definitions in the book

Sanders defines love as the “selfless promotion of the growth of others”. When you help people be the best they can be, you are being loving. 

A killer app is an excellent new idea that either supersedes an existing idea or establishes a new category in its field. It soon becomes so popular that it devastates the original business model.

Love business is the act of intelligently and sensibly sharing your intangibles with the people in your worklife

Sanders says that the “good guys” can win at the business game, and proposes that the way to do it is to be a “lovecat”. This means giving generously of your intangibles. Your intangibles are knowledge, your network and compassion:

  1. Knowledge:
  2. Network
  • Reading is a source of potency so manage it like an asset. Become a walking encyclopaedia of answers for anyone who has questions
  • Books should be your diet staple – magazines articles are between meal snacks. For the most part, magazine articles are commercial vehicles – publishers use them to position their advertising. They don’t build your knowledge stronghold. So spend 80% of your time on books and 20% on magazines and articles
  • Find sources of reading referrals you can trust: editors, colleagues and reading circles which you create yourself
  • Read actively and interactively. This part is hard to get over if like me, you were raised on the ‘never write in your books’ school of thought. But since reading this book my guilt is allayed as I highlight and make notes to myself throughout. Sanders recommends writing notes on the first blank white page inside the book – just a simple one-line  summary that helps to reconnect with each of the book’s ideas, definitions and data points.
  • Stock your library with extra copies of your favourite books. It’s hard to beat the gift of a book, especially right after a meeting
  • Don’t wait until a book has hit the best-seller list to pick it up. You have to be ahead of the curve to leverage the knowledge master advantage. 

Despite the apparent new-age packaging of the title, the Sanders approach to networking is certainly not about pure abundance. But I do like his candour:

  • Eventually all the people to whom you are connected become maintenance-free reserves. These contacts lie in wait with the potential to repair a looming crisis
  • Even though you don’t exact a fixed price for putting them in your network, they may well feel they’d like to do something for you in return. (I think he should add that often it’s good to help just because you can and it’s the decent thing to do!)
  • Collect, connect and dissappear
    • Collect: Make sure you have a system for organising your contacts 
    • Connect: You only need a small number of contacts and some thought to start connecting. But don’t procrasinate once the connection forges in your mind. Sanders says that because of the pace of technological change, on several occasions in the past when he didn’t move with speed, one no longer had the need and the other no longer had the solution
    • Disappear: Get out of the connection as soon as it has fused.
  • Don’t ever expect a ‘broker’s fee’ for forging the connection. Otherwise people will start factoring the cost of working with you into the equation when they see you coming. Not only will they stop acting on your suggestions, they’ll start filtering you out and your network will shrink. It’s also far more time-consuming to broker a deal than to create a relationship.
  • Lovecats revel in the element of surprise and delight they can bring to the table and thrive in their ever-expanding network

Caveat: you do run the risk that some people may rub their hands together in glee like Ebenezer Scrooge after they’ve profited from the connection and leave you out in the cold. But think about it this way: your cost is zero and your loss is also zero. So even if you get scrooged four out of five times, that one time that people reward you for your generosity is nothing but upside for you. 

  1. Compassion

The new killer-app says Sanders is that nice, smart people can succeed. So don’t be afraid to get emotionally involved and to be a warm human being at work. But being a lovecat is not just about being nice. There’s so point in playing by these rules if you’re not smart too. (In other words, strike a balance between being nice and being a sucker!)

 Sanders says that his career only took off once he was able to get a handle on these intangibles. He has helped many people deal with some of the fears that permeate the business world (like becoming irrelevant because business is evolving all the time, being “downsized” due to profit pressures and so on), by reading, networking and reaching out to people. In this way, he believes you become relevant and business opportunities flow. 

How to have coffee with an influencer (or me)

The “law of meeting karma” (a Debbyism) is very top of mind for me at the moment as we plan our 9th Annual Women’s leadership conference. So I’m reposting this:-)

Debby Edelstein

I don’t much like the term influencer. Partly because it’s the kind of label that many people seem to attach to themselves in their twitter bios, not unlike guru and thought-leader.

Still, as sure as I love sour jelly beans there will always be people we want to get to see because of their perceived value to us. But by the law of meeting karma there are always people who want to see us too.

In the democratic world of the social media universe you see, we are all influencers and schmoozers to a greater or lesser degree.

So take comfort dear coffee-hunter in the knowledge that whoever you are chasing, they are chasing someone too. That’s the law of meeting karma. (just check out anyone’s twitter feed for proof)

Considering I have insight from both sides – as hunter and hunted, as influencer and as schmoozer – here are…

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My name is Debby and I’m a conference addict

When we launched our latest offering “The Inspired Teachers Conference“, which is just around the corner, a friend asked me how many more conferences I was planning to create. The truth is, I honestly don’t know. But I will probably continue for a while because I’m addicted to the thrill of learning and discovering together.

I’m not sure exactly when the habit started but over the years, whenever I’ve been faced with a problem I can’t solve by myself, I host a conference.

In the process I’ve met fascinating people from a variety of different fields, but perhaps most significant of all, I’ve learnt something very important about how we learn. We learn better together, in conversation.

I often quote the findings of Harrison Owen, founder of Open Space Technology, who researched what it is that people enjoy most about conferences. The answer? The coffee breaks.

So, over the years, we’ve worked with the tension between attracting a star-studded cast and making sure that there is enough time for delegates to spend as much time as possible talking among themselves… because these are the conversations that are remembered years later, long after the logos on the goody bags have faded.

Like most lessons that stick, the only way I’ve learnt this lesson is through personal experience. I remember the first time I experienced working with a syndicate group when I was at Wits Business School many years ago. It was hell. Dunne, who had already completed his MBA and was far more experienced in the political dynamics of the syndicate, was amused as I tossed and turned at night, trying to come up with ways to get my all-male syndicate members to give me air time the next day.

Sleepless nights notwithstanding, some of the insights I learnt through that experience (most of them about myself) have stayed with me far longer than the finance notes I wrote down and tried to learn by heart.

The interactive experience of the syndicate group used by business schools is a valuable one, but it’s not nearly enough.

Etienne Wenger coined the term “Communities of practice” to describe the age-old phenomenon where people engage in a process of collective learning towards a common goal. His work has influenced educators ever since.

But collaboration in learning is now becoming even more prominent as we all get thrown together by the big melting pot of the digital economy. In fact, as gaming expert Jane McGonigal told World Economic Forum delegates recently, the 10 000 hours of gaming that the average young person will spend by the age of 21, will be spent honing the mastery of collaboration.

That’s why business, leadership and education is looking to the world of gaming for some insights. Young people might be obsessed with an online world that scares the living daylights out of us as parents, but they are also mastering skills we don’t know nearly enough about.

We know that the ability to work together across boundaries and across cultures is going to be one of the most essential leadership skills for our economic survival into the future. But many of us haven’t even mastered the basic art of listening, never mind the more advanced skill of working together.

I’m reminded of the importance of these skills every time I host a conference and learn as much from the delegates as from the speakers. Now that I’ve discovered this truth for myself there are all sorts of theories I can find to back up what I’ve already tested out more times than I can count – the best learning is learning together. And that’s why I keep creating conferences.

PS This also doubled up as my editorial for the February issue of The QualityLife Journal. If you’d like to subscribe (which would make me very happy) send an email to join-WLJ@quallife.co.za

How to have coffee with an influencer (or me)

I don’t much like the term influencer. Partly because it’s the kind of label that many people seem to attach to themselves in their twitter bios, not unlike guru and thought-leader.

Still, as sure as I love sour jelly beans there will always be people we want to get to see because of their perceived value to us. But by the law of meeting karma there are always people who want to see us too.

In the democratic world of the social media universe you see, we are all influencers and schmoozers to a greater or lesser degree.

So take comfort dear coffee-hunter in the knowledge that whoever you are chasing, they are chasing someone too. That’s the law of meeting karma. (just check out anyone’s twitter feed for proof)

Considering I have insight from both sides – as hunter and hunted, as influencer and as schmoozer – here are my Seven Strategies for having coffee with someone you really want to meet

1. In fact people are particularly protective of their coffee times. I have mine in bed in the morning when intelligent conversation is not yet a high priority.

After that I choose to have coffee with a few close friends I don’t see nearly enough. So if we’ve never met, unless you’re suggesting something that can change my life (in a good way) please don’t suggest that we grab a cup of coffee.

2. You could however start with an enticing and relevant personal tweet – everyone likes a mention on twitter– or an interesting email that gives a lot of juicy details. Our inboxes have become our to-do lists (Voicemail not so much.) So make sure your information is compelling enough to stand out.

3. Better too not to tell me that you want to pick my brains. Especially if you’ve never visited my website or attended any of my workshops. Sorry but there’s a fragile ego beneath this tough exterior. Rather suggest a conversation that you think I would find so valuable that I can’t resist spending time with you. (but don’t forget point 1.)

We teach what we most need to learn: About a week ago I sent a rather silly facebook message to an editor I thought would love to meet me because we have so many friends in common. (Erm wrong) Cardinal error: I also added that I wanted to pick her brains. And surprise surprise: she’s under far too much work pressure to see me. No-one I’ve met yet finds the prospect of having their brains picked irresistible!

4. Collaborate and learn more about anyone’s work via facebook or twitter or comment on their blog posts. I’m far more inclined to meet with potential facilitators (many of the people who want to see me want to lecture for QualityLife Company) if we’ve had an interesting interaction on social media for a while before getting an email out of the blue

5. If you’ve been to one of our conferences or workshops, please mention which one. I’m afraid I do (fragile ego again) give greater priority to people who are familiar with our work and our particular brand of facilitation and teaching. By the same token if someone has written a book and I want a meeting with her, I make a point of reading the book first before I write the email. “I haven’t read your book yet but..” has never cracked it as a killer opening line

6. Add value. Mention them in a blog post. Send them a copy of your new book or article (with no strings attached) Mention them on twitter or facebook. But whatever you do don’t lay guilt trips. Sometimes a short, no-need to respond email is the best way to go. Countless follow-ups asking if someone received your email is a sure way to turn someone off and chase them into a reclusive guilt-trip. (trust me I spend a fair amount of time there)

7. Finally, remember that the law of meeting karma is not personal. We all lead fast-paced lives and patience is still a virtue. I’m regularly humbled by the inspiring leaders who agree to meet me but of course there are those who let me know that now is not the time and I hope I take it graciously.

Because if I don’t sulk there’s a chance we might still have coffee one day.  And for those of you who’ve read this far, I like mine skinny and strong