Change in all its glory

The last couple of years I have been heavily involved in Change Management. Not just from a management point of view, but from an implementation point of view and while it hasn’t changed my mind about change (I’m one of the few people on the planet who enjoy it), my work has brought home a few interesting points that I’d like to share with you! While none of it is rocket science, these three points have made a huge difference in the project I have been working on.

Change is difficult, we all know that, but if you try to implement a change without first taking into account the culture, you are destined to fail. As a Brit, working in the US, culture is one of the first things that I see, especially when it is different to my own. That being said, seeing differences in culture is not the same as understanding them. If you can’t meet the people where they live, you’ll never be able to get buy in for a change or be able to understand the difficulties and fears facing the people you want to influence. Obviously when you are planning a change, you put together a strategy, you list the detractors and the risks, you list the benefits and the reasons for change etc. Without a true understanding of the culture though, your strategy will be missing vital elements. You’ll have blind spots and unexpected resistance because you didn’t walk a mile in the shoes of the personnel affected.

The second thing I noticed was interesting to me, because at first it didn’t make sense. I was taught that when implementing a change to start with the top management. Get their buy-in first and then work down. If the management team isn’t on board, your plan won’t get off the ground. All of this is true. And yet, while implementing this most recent change I noticed a disconnect between the different layers on site. As a result, I worked with the lower levels of the teams and got stakeholders involved at the bottom, rather than pushing the change from the top. When the lower levels don’t feel as though they have a voice, giving them one and having them involved from the beginning of a change can be really empowering.

And finally, having a strategy and a plan is obviously vital, and yet being unwilling to deviate from the plan, not being flexible enough to bend with the wind, can cause its own problems. A perfect example of this was how we segregated the teams. We planned to have four teams, each one representing a different section of the customer base. All of the analysis we’d done suggested this model would be ideal and the skills / talents of the people involved seemed to match this plan perfectly. Fast forward six months into the change and we’ve merged two of the teams into one. Why? What seemed perfect on paper never really materialized and certainly didn’t give us the results we needed. It put additional stress on the team and frankly wasn’t worth the heartache it was causing. In short, you can do all of the analysis in the world but you have to be willing to ditch your perfect plan in the face of reality. Humility goes a long way in change management!

I’m sure there are other lessons I could share, but I wanted to put down on paper a few short notes that really hit home and made the last couple of years interesting to say the least! Hope it helps!!

Alesandra Blakeston

change 2

What is innovation?

I’ve been in my current role for 10 months now and have learned a lot about innovation as a result. One thing that I have noticed, is that there are many different definitions out there for innovation.  DBD International has one definition in the slideshare below, which really caught my eye.  Not only is it a great example of animation, it tells a great story and defines innovation easily and quickly!

Do you see the dots that other’s don’t see?

How would you define innovation?

+Alesandra Blakeston

40 going on 4

Believe it or not, I actually turn 40 this year.  I have more in common with some of my millennial friends than with the typical 40 year old woman, and yet all of my friends have been telling me that I am getting old or have asked me if it bothers me.  The truth?  No.  Not even slightly.  The fact is that in many, many ways, I am still around four years old.  Old enough to know better, but still young enough to get up to mischief  I still love super heroes (Avengers and X-Men anyone?), I still devour fantasy stories (The Hobbit, Labyrinth, Dark Crystal to name but a few) and I still love Disney (Little Mermaid, Frozen!!!).  Of course, I’ve learned a lot along the way.  I’ve been hurt, knocked down and bruised.  I’ve laughed, loved and soared high.  Frankly I wouldn’t change a thing – even the REALLY painful parts.  Since not everyone I know feels this way about themselves and their lives, I thought I would share my life lessons in the hopes that it will help not just them, but others too.

It seems as though I’ve always been little miss confident, little miss independent as you can see from the photos below.  Was this behaviour learned or inherited, I couldn’t say, you would probably have to ask my family.  I do know though that I was the first and only one in my family to go to university, the first to travel outside of Europe and the first to work abroad.  Confidence can be learned, failure embraced and learned from, and fear should be seen as a motivator.  If you’re not afraid, you are not challenging yourself enough!  Why do I say this?  I present to you my facts of life:

20140502_0947241. Children learn by making mistakes.  You learn to walk by falling, you learn to ride a bike by crashing.  This first photo shows me at the age of three checking to see if my parents are watching before I sneak off to climb my neighbour’s six foot brick wall.  Funnily, there are plenty of other similar photos of me.  I once was grounded for peddling my tricycle on the main road.  There was a long queue of traffic behind me, the first and foremost of which was a six wheeler flatbed truck.  Everyone in my street was watching the funny parade of traffic following this 3 / 4 year old child being honked and blared at by the impatient drivers.  When I eventually turned off onto my side street, the lorry driver pulled up to talk to my parents.  When he asked “Didn’t I hear him honking?”  My reply was simple. “I was peddling as fast as I could…”

I have to admit I don’t remember either of these stories actually happening, but my parents (and their friends) have told me these stories and others enough times that they (and I) are village legend.  As you can imagine, I used to scare the pants off my parents on a regular basis!  I never fell off that wall, but I am sure I fell off enough smaller walls to be confident enough to tackle the bigger one.  I’m sure you get the point I am making.  Dont’ be afraid of falling or of making mistakes. Instead, be afraid of not trying.  Life is very very boring if you play it safe!  Also, you’ll never be noticed by doing what everyone else does.

20140502_0946442. Find out what makes you special and own it!  Both of my parents worked when I was young.  It was necessary as my parents weren’t rich by any standard.  This of necessity made me independent.  I used to walk myself and my brother to school.  In the small village where we grew up, it was perfectly safe back then!  As a result, I learned responsibility young.  That being said, I distinctly remember hating the dresses I was put in to go to school.  One of the parents of a classmate of mine was a dressmaker and almost every girl in the village wore these dresses as they were of a good quality and inexpensive.  Of course, I was a tomboy and hated dresses on general principle.  The only way my mother could get me into the day’s dress was if it had the colour red in it.  (I still prefer that colour to any other).  We also compromised with my school coat.  It had to have big buttons, so that I could use it as a cape when playing G-Force or Wonder Woman in the playground.

Growing up in a family where we had very little and in a village where everyone was related and knew everyone else’s business made me determined to escape, to be better and to be different.  Luckily for me, my mother encouraged me to read and let me live and play in my fantasy world.  I was always making up stories and little fantasies where I would be the hero and save the day.  Now I work for a global corporation, and have done not one but two different secondments outside of the UK.  My job entails creativity and innovation (I get to play and teach games for a living) and being a thought leader.

That being said, I went through a horrible phase (both professionally and personally) in the early part of my career with the company.  Work and home felt like a battleground.  During that time, I was lost.  I lost sight of who I was and why I should care.  I felt mired in failure and thought I couldn’t do anything right.  Fortunately one or two amazing people mentored me and helped me to regain that self-confidence that I lost for a while. They saw potential in me and helped me to bring it out.  I won’t name them (they know who they are) but because of them, I was able to win a National Training Award for the company and for a short while flew with the stars.  It only seems fair to pay that gift forward.

The fact is that everyone has a gift.  Some more than one.  If I can help just one person find what makes them unique, special and help them to turn that gift into a talent that they can leverage, then I have done well.  One of my friends is going through a bad patch at the moment.  She’s lost faith in herself and doesn’t know which way to turn.  She’s trying to fit in and keep her head down.  I keep telling her that regardless of what others around her think and say, it’s her opinion of herself that should have the most weight.  Value yourself and others will value you too.  Being different worked for me as a child, and being different is what has made me successful as an adult.  The truly successful are unique and original.

3. Be proud of your connections and help them to develop.  As the eldest child of three brothers and sisters, I was forever hearing “Take your brother / sister with you!”  or my favourite, usually when my brother had done something stupid and of course, it was my fault,  “Why didn’t you stop him?  You know better!”  Regardless of whether I was popular or not at school (and for a while, I really wasn’t!), I always had someone tagging along.  I learned a lot about teaching and mentoring and it made me a better person because of it.  I learned patience with my brother who is three years younger than me and I learned teaching with my sister who is eight years younger than me.  When I was a teenager, she was just a little girl.  I taught her to avoid all the mistakes I made.  Now I do the same with the young people I mentor at work and the interns whom I employ.  I learned that being responsible for someone (being a leader) means looking out for their welfare and development as well as bossing them around (like big sisters do).  You have no idea how proud I am of my little brother and how far he has come, especially since the birth of his gorgeous little daughter…  I feel the same way about my interns.  There’s nothing like the pride you feel when you see someone you have encouraged succeed.  The bike in the photo below eventually became my brother’s.  Both of us started with stabilisers and eventually moved on to a bigger better bike (I eventually moved onto a motorbike – but that’s a whole other story!)


4. You should never stop learning, regardless of your age.  Incidentally, I would never have gotten as good on social media and blogging if it weren’t for my younger friends helping me out and paying me back.  Just because you are older and wiser, it doesn’t mean you are better.  The younger generation has a lot to teach us about life in general (not just the latest tech and which apps you should have on your smartphone). Having a reverse mentor doesn’t just keep your outlook young, it can help you be more assertive and dare I say it more successful.  I belong to Generation X, but have Baby Boomers as friends as well as Millennials.  Believe it or not, I learned how to demand what I want from my job and my position from my millennial friends.  I learned diplomacy, tact and how to behave at work from my baby boomer friends.  No one knows everything, regardless of how old they are or how wise they are.  Being willing to change and adapt, understanding what to do with information, is more important in today’s world than being an expert.  Let’s face it, you can find anything you might wish to know with Google search.

20140502_0947165. Passion and Humour makes the day go faster.  This year, I will have worked for the company for fifteen years.  Strangely enough, that feels more like a milestone than my turning 40!  As a typical Brit, I am a master of sarcasm and wit (ask any one of my team!) and of course self-deprecating humour.  That doesn’t mean though that I don’t value myself or others.  In fact, the people that I am most fond of, usually get the most stick, myself included!  When preparing a facilitation session or a presentation, I always try to add in some fun and some jokes.  After all, if you can make people laugh, they are much more likely to remember you and by extension, your message.  After 15 years I have hundreds of co-workers (or should I say co-conspirators?), many with the same irreverent sense of humour, and I think  I have stayed so long because the company believes in its people and doesn’t take itself too seriously.  We’re passionate about what we do and it shows.  Frankly, if you can’t be passionate about your subject, then stop talking!  My blog is chock full of tips and techniques, musings and inspirations.  Above all though, it is about things that I am passionate about, whether that’s developing people, innovation, simplifying difficult topics, Excel charts or PowerPoint presentations.  As a child I grew up knowing that I was an odd little duck – my blog (and my twitter feed) is no different.  But I was given this advice by an old friend who mothered me on more than one occasion.

Stick out your tongue, tell the world to get in line, be good to your friends and march to your own tune!

Don’t you agree?

+Alesandra Blakeston

Who am I: Innovation Program Manager

A few weeks ago the communication department of the company I work for posted a soundbite video of me and how I’ve moved to the United States. This week, they are posting a video on what I do in terms of innovation.  You can watch it on YouTube below.  Hope you like it!


+Alesandra Blakeston

Intern Advice

A colleague of mine has recently passed her 40th work anniversary. That’s an amazing 40 years working for the same company. As part of our women’s network, she was asked to give her advice to new young women joining the company. Very inspiring stuff. In fact, it inspired me to pass on some life learning to my interns. Here goes…

  1. If plan A doesn’t work, the alphabet has 25 more letters! Stay cool – Claire Cook
  2. Life is either a #DaringAdventure or nothing – Helen Keller
  3. Don’t be afraid of being #Different. Be afraid of being the same as everyone else – Unknown
  4. #Don’tCompare your chapter 1 to someone else’s chapter 20.  Everyone was a beginner at some point – Unknown
  5. If you are working on something #exciting that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed.  The vision pulls you – Steve Jobs

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Hope these inspire you!

+Alesandra Blakeston

Leading Innovative Change – George Couros

Loved this presentation by George Couros: Leading innovative change on

I really appreciated the letter to Santa:

Santa letter

And this quote by Atul Gawande:

new normsWhat did you like?

+Alesandra Blakeston

Six thinking hats of Edward de Bono

“Thinking is the ultimate human resource.  Yet we can never be satisfied with our most important skill.  No matter how good we become, we should always want to be better” Edward de Bono

In his book “Six Thinking Hats” Edward de Bono presents a simple but effective way to become a better thinker.  He separates thinking into six distinct modes, identified with six coloured “thinking hats”

You can download the full PowerPoint presentation here

+Alesandra Blakeston

Dealing with Mr. Negative

We’ve all been to creativity sessions.  Depending on your personality and your history, you either love them or hate them. I personally love creativity sessions.  I love the interactivity, the participation.  However I was recently at one session where there was one participant, let’s call him “Mr Negative”, constantly shot down every idea, every suggestion.  It was really frustrating.  I used every trick in my arsenal to try and get him to be more positive and in the end had to resort to “OK, I want everyone to come up with three possible benefits if we decide to use this approach.”  Subtle, no, but it got the point across, and from that point onward, the session improved.

Negativity has it’s place.  We need to be realistic and to look at the possible downsides to potential ideas, but it has to come at the right moment.  It definitely has no place when you are just starting a creativity session and are looking for a fresh approach and new ideas.  In the wrong place, negativity just kills creativity.

killing creativity

Personally, when dealing with negativity in the workplace, I prefer to use questions and listen.  Show the negative person respect, and then try to get them to re-frame their negative response in a more positive light.  I find positive aspects amongst the negativity.  I find positive solutions for the issues raised.  In creativity sessions, I have a rule that says no idea is a bad idea and no negativity until the appropriate time.  However it is a difficult topic, so I thought I would share with you 5 quick tips that help me:

  1. Avoid personalising.  Don’t take it personally, don’t give into an emotional response, regardless of the provocation.  Do not be defensive.
  2. Use “I” messages.  Instead of saying “I can’t believe you said that!”, say “I find it difficult when I hear negative feedback.”
  3. Remain professional.  Speak calmly.  Use the UAR process: Understand, listen and provide feedback in a constructive manner.  Apologise blamelessly.  Resolve the issue by specifying actions
  4. Confront the negativity.  You cannot just leave it be.  You need to address it and address it quickly
  5. Turn things around.  Negative people are also skilled at using sarcasm to destroy ideas.  When faced with sarcasm, turn it around.  If you are faced with “That is just what we need, more paperwork.” reply, “Yes, that is exactly what we need.  paperwork that is actually useful, instead of what we currently have.  Perhaps the current paperwork is the problem.  When someone lists lots of reasons why something cannot be done, ask them for positive suggestions on what could be done instead.  Be bold and be assertive!


I’d be interested in hearing how you deal with nay-sayers.  What do you hear that just kills creativity and how do you deal with it?

Alesandra Blakeston

Steve jobs quotes

Just loved this presentation on by Stinson Design.

Some really great quotes by Steve Jobs!