I went to an event yesterday. The Big House Expo, arranged - naturally enough - by The Big House, who are responsible for supporting Nottingham entrepreneurs and businesses operating in and around the creative and digital sectors to think and act differently about how they do what they do. And they’ve done a fine job, juggling their resources and contacts to deliver a programme of workshops, seminars, coaching and mentoring that’s benefitted a whole range of people.

Yesterday was an opportunity to meet a wonderfully diverse group who have in common a desire to do more of what they do. I learned lots speaking with a Palestinian woman about the work she’s doing to make UK universities more welcoming to overseas students. Chatted to an artist whose love of bold colours has led to painters travelling from other parts of the country to attend her workshops. Swapped stories with Phil Hughes, whose no-bull approach to marketing is producing some great work. Caught up with Lucy Brouwer, who as well as doing her brilliant Watson Fothergill tour is planning other Nottingham walks. Checked in with Lamar Francois, whose brilliant photography documented a festival in Mansfield where I’ve been been going in recent weeks to support a group of young people creating social media content and - more importantly - working in teams to deadlines with whatever resources are at hand. Listened to someone describe with relish how she’s found renewed zest in geeky creativity and pungent jokes. Heard doer-of-all-things-media Rachael van Oudheusden deliver the talk she said she’d never do, and (no surprise) make it funny and real. Talked to a savvy producer and filmmaker with heaps of experience who’ve set up a production company I really like the look of. I could go on. You get the idea.

The Big House for me has also been an opportunity to work as a coach with some brilliant people at different stages of their journey - from leaving the security of full time work and putting the hours in to creating what could be a new way of life, to taking a business forward that’s been getting quite a bit of attention and needs more focus for its founders. Every story is different, because each of us is different. How we get where we are is unique, and it’s a privilege to listen to people share what’s led them to the point where they’ve sought support. What they have in common, is the recognition that however well they’re doing now, there’s an extent to which the future requires some kind of transition. Course corrections often start inside, if they’re going to have the desired effect on the outer world.

Billing myself as an escape consultant yesterday allowed for some great conversations about that issue. Expectation is a prison that we all spend time in at various points. Sometimes getting out is as simple as understanding the implications of the language you use to describe what’s going on, or at any rate what you believe to be the case. Other times, it’s more useful to abandon words and rational structures and connect with what your body tells you. For every way in, there’s a way out, and some of the ones I’ve come up with - always a response to the individual and situation - are pretty way out. What matters is that they work. An impromptu chat yesterday led to someone I’d never met before realising they were capable of something they’d considered impossible until that moment. Other conversations were more about eating crisps and swapping jokes. Get in touch, and we’ll see where it goes.


Woven into much of the material written on and around personal development, and implicit in what goes on in many coaching sessions and workshops, is that humans are more or less rational. Goal setting is the epitome of that worldview - get yourself an ambition, break it down into manageable steps, and launch yourself at it. The intensity of your commitment will see you through. 

I'm not so sure. People are multi-faceted. There are aspects of us we don't know very well, and would prefer didn't exist. Getting all whooped up and motivated about achieving a dream doesn't stop that being the case, though for a while it might be you can kid yourself that what matters is the loudest voice in your head rather than the soft chorus at the back.

I had a couple of stays in mental hospitals, in 2004 and 2006. The experiences were vile beyond belief, and I'm incredibly grateful for what ultimately came out of them in subsequent years. There were particular themes running through my psychoses which for a long time I couldn't make sense of. I identified with King Arthur at one point, and had a sense of Britishness that was surprising, and seemed to connect with deep historical currents. And in that Arthurian mode, I was concerned with how my country was under alien influence, easily identified by the kind of banal corporate abstract art that's bought by the metre and hangs in lobbies. 

The pinnacle of this fantasy involved me wandering through a hotel in central London. I was in the belly of the beast, and strode my way from floor to floor looking for the extra-terrestrials who had infiltrated Albion. Instead, I found the roof of the building, and pissed on it as I looked across the skyline to express my contempt for the interlopers. Heading back down to ground level I was wrestled to the ground by about half a dozen members of staff and bundled into the back of a police van. 

Prior to all this I'd been immersed in projects that I'd set outcomes for, broken down into achievable chunks, and I was making good progress. I'd written my first script for a BBC show, impressed the most powerful producer in British film with my work, and was picking up a reasonable amount of freelance copywriting jobs. 

Why I crashed and burned was for a tangle of reasons that hadn't been touched on in my personal development journey. Fast tracking myself through a range of NLP trainings had been an amazing experience that catalysed my ability to get things done, but there was deeper and stranger stuff lurking within. In the mash-up, it was me that got mashed. And it's taken years to make sense of that, during which I've become a fundamentally happier and more fulfilled person.

A good percentage of that NLP experience remains something of real value to me, not that percentages is an adequate way of thinking about it. And those learnings now exist within a wider context. All of that stomping about a hotel with shitty art on the walls looking for bad guy ETs turns out to have been a metaphor complete with minibar facilities, and a supporting cast of cops and waiters. It was about me understanding in some fundamental way who I am, and what I'm not. The King Arthur bit is admittedly grandiose, but the idea of a man standing up for values older than the era he lives in registers. And that's where the crappy corporate art is perfect, symbolising the kind of crass culture I have no desire to work in or contribute to. 

There's more too, about my growing sense of connection with nature, and how spending time in unspoilt places reinforces what's important in my life, and helps me make better choices about what I do, and who I do it with. I've also benefitted immeasurably from bodywork, counselling, and meditation, all of which have helped thread together unconnected strands of the person I'm becoming. Making stuff happen matters, sure. I'm doing more of that, about things that matter more. Intuition and heart guide me increasingly, and they lead me to forest walks and poetry, beach days collecting stones and watching waves, and happy times with friends and lovers. Psychotic episodes were an extreme form of escapology to help me get out of a life heading in the wrong direction, even though it was what I thought I wanted and had set goals to achieve. 

In turn, that growing sense of what I'm about has affected my approach to coaching. If you're after someone who'll get you hurtling towards whatever you think success is, odds are I'm not the person you need to speak to. If instead you've experienced some of that success and discovered that life hasn't somehow become fantastic as a result, or that something you can't account for seems to keep success at bay despite doing what the books and videos say, then you know where to find me.




1) Frankly, who wouldn't want to be? The objective isn't to turn you into someone else - that's one of the problems people have with this in the first place, trying to be something they're not or using alcohol or drugs to fake personality. Truth is, what people respond to is authenticity, and getting to that is mostly about unlearning what we think we know. The benefits, personally and professionally, are incalculable.

2) One of the big problems we face is fear. Which is about the unknown. And confidence and charisma both relate to your ability to face the unexpected. Change how you perceive situations of that sort, and everything else changes in small powerful ways. Imagine doing more of what you've longed to do, and fear not being a problem - more often than not, the problem is imagined, and can be unimagined.

3) Doing a performance that's rehearsed with lines you've learned is one thing, and it can be impressive. Far more so is the ability to deal with the unexpected. With that capacity you can enter into uncharted territory knowing that what you're doing is learning, and that you have a lifetime of resources to take you forward and benefit from new situations, however scary you might have made them in your mind.

How come I'm running a workshop on Confidence & Charisma? Well, I used to be nervous about talking in public, and unsure about myself. And now I'm not. The reasons for that are many and various.

I had to present ideas when I worked at a leading London ad agency. I believed my ideas were good, and to get that across I became better at speaking up. Then I got involved in scriptwriting, and early on found myself in a meeting with Tim Bevan, who produced Four Weddings And A Funeral. It really wouldn't have helped to be awkwardly silent around him, and I've got better still in pitching story ideas to filmmakers with increasingly positive responses.

It helps too that I've been mentored by some of the smartest and most successful people in the personal development world, and been invited to work with them too. Getting to see professionals of that calibre behind the scenes has been instructive. And what I learned in that context was invaluable in working with vulnerable and volatile people in a hostel, some of them that way in part because of their refusal to engage with unknowns that many of us take for granted. Anyway...all of that, and more, is why I'm doing these trainings. Come to this one, or even better - come to all 3.

Places on the upcoming courses are limited. Go here to find out more and secure your place now.


Professionally, I've been trained to come up with good ideas to a deadline. When I worked for a major London ad agency, newspapers wouldn't stop the presses because I was stuck for an idea that morning. I had to create.

I've done the same as a screenwriter, faced with constraints as a result of budget, and working with a team where juggling the input of others to make a script shine was more important than getting my own words down.

I learned more when I was a member of an invite-only group learning cutting edge psychology with Eric Robbie, who in his copywriting days came up with some classic TV commercials, and worked as a journalist and editor too before leading workshops along with Richard Bandler, the co-creator of Neuro Linguistic Programming. (Never mind if you've not heard of NLP - suffice it to say applications are used widely within both the therapeutic and business communities, covering topics including learning styles, communication skills, and fast phobia removal.)

All of that, along with experience as a support worker in a hostel for people with mental health problems where the job required being more flexible than them, helps explain why this second session is about Creativity & Innovation. You can come to this session on its own, or attend all 3.

1) Look around you. Pretty much anything that didn't start off growing in a field began as someone's idea. And with the ease of getting your ideas out there thanks to digital media, 3D printing, and crowdfunding, there are more opportunities than ever before to turn your concept into something real that can increase your income and lead to new opportunities.

2) Whatever it is you're doing, it can help to get ahead if you make it stand out somehow. That applies to the concept you're developing - you can't always rely on an idea's inherent appeal to stand out, sometimes you have to think about how it comes across too. And that can mean considering new ways to present yourself too, online and off. Finding ways to become more memorable is a real asset. That counts if you're working within an organisation, and it counts even more if you're making your own way forward in the world. Innovation is sometimes about the big ideas, but without getting the small ones about how you're perceived sorted out, you might never achieve the bigger goal.

3) The more ways you have to solve problems, the less problems you have. Having ways to tackle issues can transform not just your own life and fortunes, but the happiness and effectiveness of the people you care about. 'Being there' is great sometimes. Being able to make a difference puts you in a different league.

Places on the upcoming courses are limited. Go here to find out more and secure your place now.


I learned a lot about language and persuasion as a copywriter with one of London's leading ad agencies. The work I did for clients like Coca Cola, Debenhams and Motorola was experienced by a national audience, and it was effective.

I learned even more when I started to study the psychology of communication, mentored by trainers who had skilled up students including Paul McKenna and Derren Brown. That knowledge transformed the way I worked, and equipped me with capabilities useful when I worked in a hostel for vulnerable adults.

All of that then came together in my scriptwriting. My first film idea won me a meeting with the producer of Four Weddings And A Funeral. That led to TV drama writing with the BBC, and now I'm in the running for feature film projects with experienced directors. All of that explains why the first of the 3 sessions in the Hone Your Professional Edge series is about Language & Persuasion. Here's how you'll benefit as a result of attending:

1) You're undoubtedly familiar with situations where you're talking with someone, and get that sinking feeling you're not connecting. It's one thing to have that recognition, another to be able to do something about it. And the stakes could be high, in the context of a pitch or presentation. The material we'll explore in this workshop will give you practical steps to take, derived not from academic theory, but by paying attention to the person you're dealing with in new ways.

2) We're all aware of the idea that a picture is worth 1000 words. What you might not have considered is your ability to create powerful images within the minds of people through the way you use words. Comedians do it, poets do it, and we'll be building that skill to increase your range as a communicator - with loved ones, in meetings, and in written form.

3) How much attention do you actually pay to the people you're talking with? One way and another, we all present a wealth of signals and patterns in the way we engage. Some of them are in the words we use. And there's useful information too in the gestures people make, where we look, even in the speed we talk. All of it is incredibly useful if our goal becomes to communicate with people using their own preferences, rather than imposing ours.

Places on the upcoming courses are limited. Go here to find out more and secure your place now.


These are tricky times, whether you're self-employed or with an organisation. And that's something I know about, having worked in both contexts, in the private and public sectors. I was one of a third of the staff let go by a leading London ad agency only a couple of years after headhunting me. That led to adventures with the producer of Four Weddings And A Funeral, and writing TV drama for the BBC. I moved to Nottingham, and joined the team at a charity-operated hostel for homeless people with mental health problems. Great experience, and one I wanted to move on from. That's when I returned to self employment.

Putting together what I've acquired through my own training with mentors who skilled up the likes of Derren Brown and Paul McKenna, plus adventures in film, advertising, coaching and more, I realised that what enabled me to keep moving forward could be summed up under three categories. And they're covered in the sessions that I'll be presenting: Language & Persuasion (Oct 20), Creativity & Innovation (Nov 10), Confidence & Charisma (Dec 8).

The banner heading for the sessions is Hone Your Professional Edge. It took a while for me to spot what the initials spell, and it made me smile. Which is the attitude I'll be taking into the trainings too. So, what can you look forward to when you join us?

1) The theme connecting the sessions, which will be practical and (I promise) roleplay-free, is freedom. What that boils down to is being able to make more choices. Like, having options for what to do when you're meeting someone who isn't responding to what you've said so far. Like, coming up with new ideas for your future, and some sense of how they can be realised. Like, finding that entering the unknown is a whole lot easier than you might have expected.

2) The more resources you bring to what you do, the more valuable you are to others. That's true if you're working within a system. And it applies if you're self-employed, as well. Being the person others come to rely on for ideas gives you leverage that's valuable across contexts. It also puts opportunities within your grasp that may have eluded you so far.

3) Turning your capacity to engage with people up a notch can be invaluable for professional networking, and it has social and personal benefits too. Feeling more comfortable with talking expressively and with confidence can open doors as well, especially when you're more secure in your ability to deal with unexpected questions.

Places on the upcoming courses are limited. Go here to find out more and secure your place now.




I've been thinking about learning.

It's interesting to me at this point, as I plan some training events.

I'm fortunate in that I've been trained by some extraordinary people. Which isn't the same as being trained extraordinarily well. And I'm wondering what it is that meant some experiences transformed me in some way, however small - while others, as interesting as they may have been, seem to have left little or no impact.

The well known people I've trained with - at least, well known in the sense they have a reputation in the goldfish bowl of NLP - include Richard Bandler, Michael Breen, Eric Robbie, and Carmen Bostic St Clair. All are unquestionably exceptional at what they do and how they do it. And part of what makes them special is their uniqueness. Whatever they're presenting, they do so 100% as themselves. Brilliant technique is there, for sure - and it's largely invisible. I wouldn't pretend to be able to unpack everything of what they do. But I do have insights, and those insights - and the opportunity to put them into practice - have enabled me to raise my own game.

I'm more interested at this point in people who excelled at helping me to learn without having a framework like NLP to support them. My father was one. A gifted storyteller himself, he recognised that from an early age I was fascinated by stories, and as well as telling me ones he knew, made sure I got to be around people who would tell me theirs. Some of those people were his students, who came from countries I knew as names in an atlas - Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Nigeria, Uganda. That was an incalculable gift. And those students became part of my life growing up, and I learned from their experience of being students in a country that was alien to them, too. Learning about different worldviews within a theoretical context is one thing: I was aware of that without having the vocabulary for it by experiencing a rich chorus of perspectives first hand. Hearing those stories from people who had grown up, in villages without electricity say, or in places where lethal violence was an everpresent possibility, helped me realise that what I heard from people who happened to share my country of origin described only a tiny fraction of what came under the heading of truth.

Some of my teachers and tutors have been wonderful. And what makes them exceptional is an ability to both tease out nuances that helped me understand a detail, and to put such details in the context of a bigger picture. Part of the skill involved is in doing so at the right time. The learner needs to be ready for such a step up, and recognising that people are at such a point is itself a skill for the teacher/tutor/trainer.

I'm also clear about what a bad training experience consists of. And sadly, my version of that is pretty commonplace. For me, it's typified by a session when I was a support worker at a hostel for vulnerable adults. The supposed workshop consisted of someone putting a word on a flipchart, and asking those assembled their feelings about that word. Some of what was said was duly noted on the flipchart. Which if your goal is to collect words about other words is great. When the goal is allegedly to give people skills and knowledge, then the result is failure. Having a group of people emote in a room together may be useful in some therapeutic contexts, but it was of zero value for the purpose we were assembled.

Sensitivity to where a group is and wants to go is important. And that can mean changing plan midflow. One of the best examples of that I experienced was at secondary school. Our English teacher was supposed to get us to read a Robert Louis Stevenson book...but not one we had any interest in. We were given decades-old copies of Master Of Ballantrae to read, and none of us were in a mood for 18th century Scotland - the school felt pretty much like that anyway. So, we went on strike. Next lesson, the smart teacher passed round copies of A Kestrel for a Knave - aka Kes - by Barry Hines for us - very much of our own era. I actually suspect the teacher in question, a marvellous man called Gary Hedges, may have set up the Stevenson revolt as a way of getting some good new contemporary fiction into a reactionary school overfond of its past.

The sophisticated methods I'm aware of and make use of aren't going away. What interests me at this point is utilising them in a wider framework, so that I can dip into using a flipchart if that's useful. Use a question as a means of creating a group discussion. Stop everything to make the most of something happening outside. Hey, maybe I can even make PowerPoint into an artform. It's worth finding out, and that's where I am as I bubble up these new trainings and what goes into them.