Eric Clapton told to wait for 10 years for his guitar to be made

Curious how three emails I received this week all fitted so well together.

The first to land was a blog post from Seth Godin.  Seth sees the world differently to most commentators, and his writing is so spot on it can stop me in my tracks.

In his post the message was simple. “Most of us are not in the business of being perfect (i.e. we are not all Doctors, airline pilots, etc.), so stop behaving as though you are!”

The need to be perfect can hide a multitude of excuses for me, such as procrastination, lack of confidence, fear of rejection, not being wanted or liked and so many more.  Yet, in reality, we have no real need to be perfect.  Having said that, it is not an excuse for doing poor, shoddy work.  It also brings to mind a belief that failure is a bad thing and that successful people do not fail.  Brene Brown once commented about failure at a TED conference, by observing that everyone who spoke had failed, not once but many times during their careers.  Yet all those watching would consider the speakers to be successful.

The second message to land was from Danielle LaPorte.  Whilst not as well known as Seth, this lady writes dramatically yet with very few words, and inspirationally yet in a way very different to most ‘inspirers’.

In this post she proposed that, “We show up, be human, be honest and be real”, in all that we say and do.  She also said that, “We need to show our vibe, to create our tribe”.

How many of us live our lives for the benefit of others, maybe out of fear, lack of confidence, fear of rejection…sounding familiar?  It is almost that to show up and be human, honest and real is a bad thing, and if we decide to behave that way, people would laugh at us, not like us, and not take us seriously.  Yet those who have shown their real selves to the world, have not only been applauded for their courage, but the connection that was there before with their tribe is now even stronger and deeper.  Furthermore, that one person’s willingness to do so, gives others permission to do the same, thus sharing their vulnerability too.  Brene Brown’s TED talks on shame and vulnerability explains this in more detail.

Finally, Jonathan Fields’ message.  Jonathan is the founder of the Good Life Project.  Here Jonathan interviews well know people, including Seth Godin and Brene Brown, coincidently.  He was also behind a great resource called The Art of Revolution, aimed at business owners who are seeking to build their business based on what they love and are passionate about.  Again, a very similar theme to what Seth offers in his book, The Icarus Deception.

In this ‘sound riff’, as Jonathan calls them, he references the work of Wayne Henderson, a legendary US guitar maker, who once told Eric Clapton that he would be happy to make him a guitar, but he would have to wait for about ten years for him to do so.  Jonathan says that, “Greatness is not just about skills it is about your essence, it is not just about your experience (as in Wayne’s case making guitars), but the sum of all your experiences (that go into making each guitar)”.  What’s important is the state of mind of the person building the guitar”.  He goes on “If you want to make better stuff, be a better person”.

We all know the old story of the two bricklayers being asking what they were doing, one replying, “Building a wall”, and the other replying, “Building a Cathedral”.  So, not needing to be perfect aligns nicely to what Danielle is saying, if we show up, be human, be honest and be real, it shows up in what we produce, be it a product or a service.  The energy in which we build and deliver our offering gets carried by that offering to our Client who will notice, albeit at a subconscious level, the difference.  Indeed, seeking to make something perfect, could take away the human element.  Eric Clapton certainly noticed this all when he picked up and played one of Wayne’s guitars.

So, how are you showing up now, or going to show up tomorrow?

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Could a Piano Concert Change the Way we Listen?

I invite you to imagine that you have purchased tickets for a concert given by a world famous pianist.  As the day arrives you are filled with excitement, looking forward to finally being able to hear her live for the first time.

You arrive at the concert hall and notice the hubbub of expectation. The lights are dimmed, the spotlight falling on the piano as the curtains are pulled back.  The pianist is announced and she comes on stage, smiling at the audience, before sitting in front of the piano.  Total quiet descends, you could hear a pin drop.  The pianist takes a deep breath to compose themselves and becomes present….

Where is the pianist’s focus now?

As she is about to start playing, a member of the audience stands up as he wants to raise something about what is going to be played.  He apologises for not reading the programme notes, but would really like to know what is going to be played, as he has heard many of these pieces before.

What is now going through the pianist’s mind?

Another audience member responds and agrees, another disagrees, the pianist, although startled starts to play, another person speaks and another, she briefly stops playing, but regains her composure and starts to play again.

How are all these interruptions impacting her performance?

About five minutes in, the doors at the rear bang open, everyone turns around and looks, the pianist stops playing and looks, “Sorry I am late”, the audience is told loudly, “there were problems with my train”.  Looking now at the pianist, he says, “Sorry, please continue”.  Or worse still, “Could you start again?”

How easy will it be for her to pick up from where she stopped playing, how quickly can she get back into the flow?

Midway through the piece the pianist looks up (as they do) and notices some of the audience either whispering to the person next to them, many others are on their mobiles.

What does she think now?

A little later someone else stands up, and interrupts by asking how long this performance is going on as they have a train to catch.

Another stands up, interrupts the pianist, and without asking, offers their version of how this particular piece will end.

During a deep and meaningful part of the performance, a mobile goes off, the pianist stops and looks, so does everyone else, apologies all round, the pianist starts to play again but her performance sounds and feels different now.

What is happening to the pianist?  How is she feeling?  What is she thinking?

How would you be feeling?

We have all been to concerts, and apart from the mobile phone going off, the others never really happen.

Why not?

  • Is it about respect for the pianist?
  • It is not the ‘done’ thing?
  • I could be interested and curious as to what they are going to play?
  • Possibly attention, at this moment the concert is the most important thing on my mind for the next two hours?
  • Maybe it is a chance for me to just stop, be present, be in the moment and truly listen?

Yet all of the above ‘interruptions’ happen each and every day in our conversations and meetings at work, in conversations with our partners and especially with our children!

Research has shown that 60% of all management problems are related to inadequate listening, and in addition, we misinterpret, misunderstand or change 70-90% of what we hear.  Yet out of the four modes of communication, Writing, Listening, Reading and Speaking, Listening receives the least amount of formal training (zero to a few hours only) and is the highest percentage of time used (45%)

Returning to the pianist.  They will have invested significant time and resource in their work.  They love what they do, and they know how to get into the flow.  They know that of the million or more notes they play if they get right more than 75% of the notes, it will have been a good evening.  A great pianist plays from their heart, and we as the audience will feel the difference when they do, it will connect with us.  When they are at one with the piano, in the flow, in the moment, etc., we feel that too.

When we are interrupted, our flow is halted, our concentration stopped.  Of course, great pianists can pick things up very quickly, but something, however small, has changed and it will probably be noticed.

When we notice our audience not listening, such as through whispering to another, looking at their watch or mobile, not looking at us, etc., we feel it.  We also feel it if their attention has shifted away, even if visually it all looks the same.  Children pick this up even faster!

Ideas for being a better listener

  1. Face the speaker.
  2. Look into their eyes, even when their eyes move away to think, be there when their eyes return to yours.
  3. Be present and give them your full attention. Focus on your breath if you find your attention wandering.
  4. Be interested and curious about what they may say….you will be surprised when you do!
  5. Do not interrupt.
  6. Let them finish. Even when you think they have finished, remain silent for a little longer.  What comes out next could be so profound it will change everything.
  7. When listening is done well the speaker will feel heard, will feel valued and will feel that they matter.
  8. Great listening comes with practice, so don’t be too hard on yourself.

Happy listening.

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Listening Better at Christmas, or Anytime

Spending time with my family and loved ones”, is what most people will say if you ask them what they will be doing this Christmas.

I also believe, sadly, that in most households there will be far more arguing and upsets than at any other time of the year.  So what is going wrong?

One thing I am certain of is that it would be a far happier and more peaceful atmosphere if we simply listened better to each other.

Stephen Covey (7 Habits) rightly says, “Seek first to understand”, he then goes on, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand, they listen with the intent to reply”.

 My top tips for listening better

  1. Stop everything that you are doing and face the speaker.
  2. Make eye contact and just listen, remaining curious about what they may say.
  3. Do not interrupt….unless there is an emergency, everything else is secondary to what they are saying!
  4. When they have stopped speaking, remain silent a little longer, they will probably say more.
  5. When they have really finished, pause for a moment before you reply.
  6. Tell them one thing you appreciate about them.

“The only thing the human mind seems unable to multi-task is attention.  It can do lots of other things at the same time, but not if one of them is attention.  We cannot do other things and listen at the same time.  Our children, of all ages and until they or we die, need us to listen to them.  Listening is right up there with food and air, and love.  Actually, it is love.” Nancy Kline (Author of Time to Think)

Two short videos on listening   Tips for Listening   Symptoms of not being heard

Colin D Smith – The Listener



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The Gifts of Listening – being heard and thinking better Part 1 – Background to listening

The Listener’s Way

The first of six on listening and being heard.


Tom Peters (Author of many books including In Search of Excellence), believes that seven out of every eight managers are 18 second managers, i.e. they interrupt on average 18 seconds after the speaker starts speaking, with comments like, “I have seen this before, the answer is, you should do….”

Tom says, “I have come to the conclusion that the single most significant strategic strength of an organisation can have is not a good strategic plan but a commitment to strategic listening on the part of every member of the organisation.  Strategic listening to front line employees, vendors, customers, etc.”

He goes on, “The number one core course on Tom’s MBA programme is going to be a two part, six month programme called Strategic Listening One and Strategic Listening Two.  The reality is that you can teach listening, you can get better at listening, there is no issue about that.  But guess what, it is like playing the piano, becoming an actor, becoming an artist, it is a profession that has to be learned.  It is my opinion as a leader or as a team member that to a significant degree your profession is listening.  So think about it, are you an 18 second Manager?  I bet you are!”

Otto Sharmer (Author of Theory U and Presence) said that, “Listening is recognised as an important leadership capability.  It is at the root of everything, without it there is no mastery.  He also proposed that there are four types of listening.  The first two are familiar, the second two and unfamiliar or less so, yet are most needed by all of us, and especially by those in a position of leading.”

  1. Downloading, listening to that which we already know, a sort of “Yep, I already know that”.
  2. Object focused or factual, focus on what differs from what we already know.  Interesting, we learn something new.
  3. Empathic, activate the open heart, capacity to connect directly to another person.  Profound shift beyond the boundaries of our mental-cognitive state.  To be able to listen as though you are in another’s shoes.
  4. Generative, to see another in terms of past, present and future possibilities, being open to all possibilities of what may come up from them.


Of the four modes of communication, listening is the mode we use most of the time, yet the one in which we are least formally trained or skilled at doing?

Mode of Communication

Formal Years of Training

Percentage of Time Used

Writing 12 years 9 %
Reading 6-8 years 16 %
Speaking 1-2 years 30 %
Listening 0 – few hours 45 %
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On Death and Dying

“In this world, nothing can be said that is certain, except death and taxes” Benjamin Franklin

I am inspired to write this piece, by a friend of mine who recently announced on Facebook to all his friends, that the cancer had returned.  He said that “…it has spread radically over the past few weeks and it appears I have no hope of recovery from this relapse and little time left with you”.

This weekend I had the opportunity to meet up with him and a few of his friends.

It turned out to be one of loveliest yet most profound of occasions.  We all go to occasions where we know the reason for being there, christening, weddings, funerals, etc., but to be at one where the reason was to meet a friend who knows he is close to dying, was very different.

I learned a lot from the whole experience, and in doing so also left me with many questions….

On my way there, I paused to reflect.  Each and everyone one of us is actually in the same position as my friend, something which Pink Floyd captures so well, “one day closer to death”.  The only difference is that we have no idea when ours will be.  So instead of embracing each day as my friend is doing, we push it away, not talk about it, and allow our lives to be filled with ‘stuff’ that at the end of the day does not really matter.  We live our lives as though we have all the time in the world, yet sadly we do not.

As he said, it was only when he walked through the door of the pub did he realise, and appreciate, that he had actually got there (the previous weekend’s gathering had to be cancelled as he had been rushed into Hospital, and at that time he had no idea if he would be able to get down again).  How much of our life do we take for granted?

My friend shared that he has experienced more joy and more calmness in the last two years since he was first diagnosed with cancer, then he had done in the whole of his life.  He now feels so grateful each day for his life but in particular four things, which unsurprisingly, turn out not to be things or possessions, after all, i.e. family, friends, meaning (as in what you love or can get engrossed in for hours) and legacy.

He shared that when he first told people that he had cancer it made a noticeable difference to the way people reacted and talked to him, or rather found it difficult to talk to him.  Some changed because they felt they did not know what to say, some found it easier for them to keep away.  My friend’s reaction to it was so simple, why not just ask me.  If I had broken my leg and I was in plaster or I had been off work with the flu, you would ask me about it, how was I doing, was it painful, yet because it was cancer, we find it awkward.  Why is that?  What is it like to be the person with cancer when their friends stay away?  How might that feel?

In those situations, just listening to what is present for them is often all that is needed.  Compassionate, empathic, deep, attentive listening, for them, will be more comforting than any amount of questions.  Likewise sitting with them in the silence, however awkward we may feel, is for them nourishing beyond words.  Whilst we may not want to hear about their pending death, they may want to, maybe really want to, talk about it.

He also shared something very beautiful and moving.  He said that he had asked all his questions, spoken to all of the people he needed to, and in doing so felt at peace, nothing more needs to be said.  How many of us have unresolved relationships, questions that need asking, words that need saying?  Could we make that re-connection today?

I admire and acknowledge my friend’s courage and authenticity to be the man that he is truly.

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Who cares?

In a recent conversation with a friend who works for a major global services provider, I stood, mouth opened, to what he was sharing with me.

Here was someone, with over 20 years service in front line, i.e. serving high-end Clients directly, without a day off in that time for sickness.  Earlier this year he had cause to not be able to work, being signed off by the Doctor, spending one or two nights in Hospital and needing to take medication throughout.

During his time off, some sixteen days in total, he felt he was hounded by his Manager, those responsible for his shift schedules, and made to feel ‘less than’, because he was off sick.  I understand why it is necessary to for organisations like this to know what is going on, but the way he described the conversations certainly opened my eyes.

On returning to work he felt the way he was being treated about needing to arrange his workings around a Hospital appointment to be unreasonable.

Of course, in any conversations like this, we only ever hear one side of the story, but it did get me thinking.

Firstly, were they really listening to my friend, were they listening to the person obviously committed to his job.  If so, what would they have heard?  What would they have learned?  In being fully heard how would my friend have responded?  How differently might he have shared his story?

Secondly, does he feel trusted, i.e. were they doubting his sickness?  Does he feel like he is being treated like a child rather than the mature adult?

Finally, he serves, as in really serves face to face, high-end Clients of this company.  How much of his goodwill has now been eroded?  What are his levels of tolerance and patience now?  Will his Clients feel different, at an unconscious level, now?

For sure, he will continue to be professional, but we have all experienced professional service with little or no heart, and it really feels different.

Contrast this with a company I am proud to know very well.  One lady was due to start working for the said company on the Monday.  On the previous Friday a close relative passed away and so she called in to explain the situation.  They listened, she felt heard, and they told her to take as much time off as she needed.  She ended up starting work a week later than planned.  Imagine her surprise when she realised she had been fully paid for that first week.  What a different story she will be telling her friends about her new company.  How different a mindset will she have when she is working, serving her Customers?  How will that goodwill ‘rub off’ on all those she interacts with over the course of a day?

Two different people, two different organisations, two very different results.

Which one listened?  Which one cared?

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Listening, or just hearing?

So Colin, what do you do?

I am known as The Listener.

The Listener?  What does that mean?

When was the last time you felt really heard?

Oh come on, we all know how to listen.

Do we?

Sure, I am listening now?

Are you?  Or are you just hearing me?

What do you mean?

You intuitively know when someone is not listening, you can feel it.  How many times are you in a conversation with someone, and you are looking at someone or something else, be that the person walking past, your mobile, the advert on the hoarding, the car passing, your watch, the television?  Also, what else are you hearing, the conversation next to you, the people at the bar, the strangers walking past, or listening to what is going on inside your head, I wonder if the trains are running on time yet, I really do need to get to the gym tomorrow, why didn’t she call me back, when will my Client say yes to that proposal……sorry what were you saying?  You see what I mean?

Goodness, so listening is very different to hearing.  So what tips would you offer for listening better?

Real listening, like much of life, is a paradox.  Real listening is active, yet it looks like you are doing nothing, hearing is passive yet it looks like you are doing a lot. 

So my tips are very simple, face the person you are speaking to, look them in the eye and maintain eye contact, even when they look away to think.  Be fully present with them, after all, if they are not the most important person for you at that moment, why are you even there?  Do not interrupt, allow them to speak uninterrupted, allow there to be silence, and when you think they have finished speaking or the silence is too long, allow that silence to remain a little longer.

Wow, so will this make a difference to my relationships?

Definitely, your colleagues at work, your loved ones, and especially your children.

I am most grateful for the love, guidance and skill of Francesca Cassini of Roar Radio in creating this and my other videos.

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Part 6 – What to do during the listening conversation (continued) and ending the conversation

Assumptions not beliefs

Beliefs are personal and have been part of the speaker’s past conditioning and are therefore harder to shift.  Assumptions, on the other hand, can be likened to beliefs, but assumptions can be explored more easily and dropped if it feels right for the speaker to do so.

Avoid distracting the speaker

Any time you shift your attention away from the speaker, they will notice and it will stop or alter their thinking.

Watch out for

  • Note taking – the speaker might think, “What have I said that they want to write down?”
  • Looking at your watch – “Am I talking too much, are they bored?”
  • Your eyes not being on them – “Is there something more interesting, have they stopped listening?”
  • Negative sounds, such as tutting, intake of breath – “Have I said something wrong?”
  • Movements from your body, hands, feet, etc. – “Are they not interested in what I am saying?”

It is good to offer positive acknowledgement to the speaker, non verbally, with your eyes and your facial expressions, or through a quiet word of encouragement.


As you have little or no idea what may arise from the speaker, be sensitive that their emotions and feelings are likely to be invoked.  For many speakers, this will be the first time they have felt really heard and as a consequence may find the experience unsettling.  This may trigger different emotional/physical reactions and responses.  As the listener, it is important that you treat all reactions and responses as neutral, i.e. neither good nor bad.  How you react or respond will be picked up by the speaker, and therefore can make or break the conversation.


At the end of the conversation, take a moment to share what you appreciate about the speaker.  There are many things that could be appreciated, such as their courage to share what they have shared, the strength they are showing, their resilience, and so on.  One suggestion is to take a deep breath, look them in the eyes and say the one or two things that arise for you that you appreciate about them at that moment.

Overall effect

Through this positive experience speakers will feel valued, heard, accepted, validated, acknowledged and appreciated.

What next?

I hope that you have enjoyed these six posts and found them interesting and helpful.  If you wish to experience the feeling of being heard, take your thinking to a new level, or to enhance your listening skills, it would be great to hear from you.  Just call me on 07939-013651 or email  Thank you.


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Part 5 – What to do during the listening conversation (continued)

Silence…..and lots of it

Use silence always and often.  Silence means you are listening, as long as you are fully present with them.  The speaker will really appreciate your silence, they depend on it for their thinking.  In the silence, the speaker will not worry that you are not listening because they will be aware of your attention.  The anagram of listen is silent!

Curiosity and interest

Become curious of what the speaker is about to say and don’t try to second guess them.  In being curious, you will show the speaker how interested you are in what they are saying.  You will be surprised and amazed at what the speaker says, when you give them your attention and allow they to think for themselves and share what arises from their thinking.


As you get into really listening, you will notice the conversation deepen to new levels.  In doing so it allows the speaker to uncover their deeper thoughts.


In these types of conversations, there always needs to be equality, both as human beings and our ability to think.  Contrast this with typical coaching sessions, the expectation is on the coach to have the answers and to fix the other, in these conversations neither happens.  The Listener listens and encourages the speaker to think and speak, and then think some more.  Each are fully bringing their true gifts to the conversation.

Body Language

You body language will show that you are thoroughly delighted to be here with them.  It should convey that you have nothing else to do in the world except to be here with you right now.


Listen with your ears – what are you hearing?

Listen with your eyes – what are you seeing?

Listen with an open heart – what feelings are your picking up?

No interrupting

Nancy Kline says it best, “To be interrupted is not good.  To get lucky and not be interrupted is better.  But to know you will not be interrupted allows you to truly think for yourself.”  This can be very hard to achieve, but like when meditating, allow the desire to interrupt to arise and pass through you.  As not being interrupted is so unusual, the speaker may be surprised at first, and then when they know you are not going to interrupt, you will notice them relaxing, not rushing, settling in to think more deeply.  At a neurological level the part of the brain which governs fight, freeze or flight will relax and therefore allow deeper thinking to take place.

By adopting the listening ‘components’ you will improve your listening skills.  However, if you are ‘doing’ listening rather than ‘being’ listening, the speaker will notice and the connection will not be of the same depth or quality.  Simply being truly present with the speaker and not saying anything will be better for them than just doing what I have written here.

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Part 4 – What to do during the listening conversation


The greatest gift we can give to one another is our attention.  Attention brings everything together in The Listener’s Way for the benefit of the speaker.  When giving one’s full attention, the speaker knows that they are being heard, even when we say little or nothing.  Remaining as still as possible can increase the level of attention the listener feels.

Eye contact

When listening, eye contact is not staring, it is looking into the speaker’s eyes and then softening the gaze.  When the speaker moves their eyes, in order for them to think or consider something, continue to look at their eyes.  When they return their gaze to you, they will find you are still looking at them.  This is deeply reassuring for them.

Be mindful that your eyes convey your feelings and thinking.  Therefore seek to keep any response to your own feelings and thinking as neutral as possible.

Judgement or rather non-judgement

This is all about listening, not placing our judgements on what the speaker is saying.  Nothing they say is right or wrong, it just is, and allow it to be that way.  Being in the place of non-judgement allows your being to come through without words.


Taking a deep breath in and out before speaking can be really helpful, both for you as the listener and for the speaker, as in the silence, more often than not, the speaker feels they are able to speak again.  Breathing enables you to be more fully in the moment and therefore much more aware of what is arising from your own thinking.

Consciously breathing ensures that what does arise is more likely to be in response to, rather than a reaction to something that was said.  Whilst deep listening, mindfully taking a breath can enable one to retain being present.

“Conversely, the only thing the human mind seems not able to multi-task is attention.  It can do lots of other things at the same time, but not if one of them is attention.  This is important for leaders and managers to know.  But it is vital for parents to know.  We cannot do other things and listen at the same time.  Our children, of all ages and until they or we die, need us to listen to them.  Listening is right up there with food and air. And love.  Actually, it is love.”

Nancy Kline (Author of Time to Think and More Time to Think)

By adopting the listening ‘components’ you will improve your listening skills.  However, if you are ‘doing’ listening rather than ‘being’ listening, the speaker will notice and the connection will not be of the same depth or quality.  Simply being truly present with the speaker and not saying anything will be better for them than just doing what I have written here.

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