How to come up with killer ideas for your blog

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All great blogposts start with a great idea

When you have a great idea for a blogpost – it almost writes itself. You can sit down (with a Shakespearean-esque flourish) and opinions, examples and anecdotes will just come to you, as if from nowhere.

Getting started on a great idea

 What do I mean by ‘a great idea’?

  • Something you’re passionate about – otherwise you’ll run out of steam in the second sentence
  • Something quite specific. Too broad and your readers will have too much too take in.
  • It gets across your expertise – however subtly or bombastically
  • Is relevant for your audience’s interests
  • Either gives practical steps for people to follow or explores an idea in a thought-provoking way

I wouldn’t suggest using this list to generate ideas. It’d be like someone with very little respect for personal space demanding to know what you’re passionate about. Not conducive to creative thinking.

Rather, once you’ve got a couple of ideas, just run them past the above list to make sure they’re great.

Where do great ideas hide?

Not in your head.

Sorry, I don’t mean ‘Well, obviously not in YOUR head’. I mean looking in your head for a great idea is like trying to remember a word that’s right on the tip of your tongue. The more you think about it, the more elusive it is. But a day or two later, you’ll be wondering whether to keep ignoring the ‘check engine’ light in your car and it’ll pop into your head.

Instead, ready your mind for great ideas. Create the right environment for great ideas to happen.

How to prepare your mind for great ideas

Watch a TED Talk. Any TED Talk. Hell, watch 30.

TED Talks are short talks (usually between 3 minutes and 20 minutes) by scientists, business leaders, artists, sociologists, activists – anyone in fact with ‘an idea worth sharing’. TED talks are designed to be inspirational, but I find them inspirational in a different way. I always think ‘if I had to do a TED talk, what would it be about?’, ‘would it be funny or serious?’, ‘which speaker would I emulate?’ and, of course, ‘what would I wear?’

Try it yourself.

Use your emotions

It’s hard to answer the question ‘what are you passionate about?’ without giving overly general answers like ‘helping people become better leaders’. It is not, however, hard to have emotions.

Whenever you get angry, frustrated, joyful or excited – whether at work or at home – make a note of why. Either the reason for your emotion will be a great blog idea (someone talking too much in a meeting or someone thanking you for your help) or it’ll create a great metaphor.

If you haven’t had any strong emotions for a while, spend an hour in IKEA.

Read other blogs in your field

Reading other blogs similar to yours will help you understand what else your audience is being exposed to. Make sure you’re giving your readers something new. You might find something you strongly disagree with too, great, write an impassioned blog about it!

It’s all well and good for me to say ‘read three blog posts a day’ but in reality you probably don’t have time. So sign-up for a newsletter from your favourite blog, news site – or even client/customer – and you won’t have to go out searching for the best articles.

Train your brain

Train yourself to constantly ask ‘is there a blog in that?’ – in meetings, reading to your child at bedtime, buying a coffee. This is similar to using your emotions, but isn’t quite as exhausting.

When you’re planning your month, look at your calendar and identify things that could generate great blog ideas. Conferences, business dinners, going to the doctor… you can find ideas anywhere.

Here are some examples:

  • Reading to your child, there’s a sad frog. He’s sad because he doesn’t think the other frogs like him. It turns out, when he’s not around, all they do is say how great he is.

Blog idea! Great leaders recognise their employees and encourage peers to do the same.

  • Reading the news online at lunchtime, there’s a political election.

Blog idea! What would happen if the employees and shareholders of a company got to vote on who sat in the C-suite?

  • Walking around IKEA, I was reminded how much I hate fake plants. Real plants are wonderful. Plastic is not, it’s depressing.

Blog idea! People know when you’re being fake – and it’s depressing, demotivating and disrespectful. To be a trusted leader it is so important to be genuine.

Thought Leaders Series: Peter Wilson, Chairman at AHRI

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Peter Wilson AHRI

Peter Wilson chats to us about Google, the need for competitiveness in HR and how AHRI has embraced social media

This week’s thought leader is a big name in HR. As National President and Chairman of the Australian Human Resources Institute, Peter Wilson is leading the way for over 20,000 Australian HR professionals. Although from Peter’s perspective, it’s these members that run the show.

Since Peter took the helm in 2006, AHRI has been owned by its members. Over this time engagement with the institute has skyrocketed – and AHRI is now making waves internationally as a HR thought leader.

Cementing Peter Wilson’s status as a thought leader is his inclusion in Peter Ulrich’s new book ‘The Rise of HR: Wisdom from 73 Thought Leaders’.

So what makes Peter tick? Who does he look up to? And where does he see the biggest challenges in HR coming from? We asked Peter all this and more – as he rushed across Melbourne from one meeting to the next.

The interview:

Elizabeth Jones: Thanks for making time to speak with me Peter – it sounds like you have a crazy schedule! Let’s start with what the Australian Human Resources Institute does. What’s your elevator pitch?

Peter Wilson: Well, you can divide what we do into three camps. First, we provide a range of professional services on parts of the trade like change management. Second, we’re a training organisation. We run about 200 courses a year varying from half-a-day courses to professional diplomas.

The third thing we do is run events – big and small. I just finished one at lunchtime today at Telstra. We had a group of senior practitioners listening to David Rock – the CEO of NeuroLeadership Institute, they’re doing some wonderful things there.

“We’re getting recognition internationally for our thinking in the profession

We also run the biggest HR convention in the southern hemisphere. This year it’s in Melbourne and we’ve got some of the world’s thought leaders in HR coming. Dave Ulrich, Ram Charan from Harvard – who’s quite contrarian in his viewpoint on HR – and Julia Gillard. We’re getting recognition internationally for our thinking in the profession.

Elizabeth Jones: How would you describe your role at AHRI?

Peter Wilson: I have two names in my title. I’m National President and Chairman. The National President side is effectively the national leader of the volunteer network – and I’m chairman of the AHRI board. Although AHRI is a not-for-profit enterprise it has large commercial revenues and expenses. I’m also a spokesperson, a writer and a media commentator – we get around 150 major media mentions a year.

Elizabeth Jones: A hugely diverse job. As a media commentator, what are some of the topics you’ve spoken about recently?

Peter Wilson: I was on ABC Drive Time talking about whether the police should wear long sleeves if they’ve got tattoos. And on Neil Mitchell’s 3AW radio show I spoke about relationships in the workplace and about sick leave and its utilisation – all sorts of quirky issues in the workplace.

Elizabeth Jones: Tell me about your writing.

Peter Wilson: I write a lot of opinion pieces for our magazine (Read some of Peter’s recent articles on HRM Online). This morning I was pleased to see that Dave Ulrich has published his new book – which I wrote a chapter for.

The second edition of my book ‘Make Mentoring Work’ comes out in a month too.

Elizabeth Jones: Let’s talk about the future of work. How do you think human resources has changed since you first started in the industry?

Peter Wilson: Very much like leadership itself. We were taught in business schools to be ‘command and control’ leaders up until 1990. And that HR is the regulatory bureaucrat and policeman. With this new globalised, digital world we’ve seen a different form of leadership emerge and HR has changed as a result.

Google has a nice approach to HR – they see it as having three parts. One part is the traditional skills: performance reward, change management, contracting, recruitment etc.

The second part sees HR execs as marketing and communication experts. Organisations deliver a message through the HR system – but they also rely on that system to collate viewpoints from the people and data on engagement. So a third of what HR does now in the best-performing organisations is continually refine the organisation’s brand.

The third part is MBAs. Many HR departments have to go out to the business units and provide business cases as to what they want to do. So they have MBAs in their midst developing the businesses cases and providing the pitch to get resources. That’s where HR is headed.

Elizabeth Jones: Is that a direction you’re excited about?

Peter Wilson: Yes, I’m genuinely excited by the practices at the cutting edge. The Atlassians, the Wespacs, the Telstras – very inspired, innovative companies have HR as part of their leadership. Those are the companies people want to work for. That’s very exciting. And that’s pulling the rest of the profession forward – but of course not everybody wants to go!

“Inspired, innovative companies have HR as part of their leadership”

Elizabeth Jones: What would you say the key challenges are for human resources at the moment?

Peter Wilson: The challenge for human resources essentially is to reshape the organisation into an employer of choice. That’s the fundamental challenge. If you do that, then you’ll see success with all the main aspects of lifecycle and employment.

There has to be a competitiveness in HR to speak the language of the business and to develop people solutions that are very much aligned to the business strategy. There’s a need for very smart HR right now – smart negotiators and creators of systems that develop people in line with the organisation’s values.

Elizabeth Jones: You’re a thought leader in human resources who’s known around the world. How do you achieve such recognition?

Peter Wilson: I’ve just tried to be around smart people, smarter people than me. There’s an e-book that was released today called ‘The Rise of HR: Wisdom from 73 Though Leaders’. I looked at the index and thought “There’s 72 thought leaders – and I’m the other guy!”

I don’t see myself as a thought leader but I certainly gravitate to them. I’m just inspired by creative insights, often contrarian insights, on the world of the workplace and the mindset of the modern worker. I’m just fascinated by that.

“I looked at the index and thought ‘There’s 72 thought leaders – and I’m the other guy!”

Elizabeth Jones: Can you give me some examples? Who are the thought leaders you learn from?

Peter Wilson: People like David Rock and Dave Ulrich, Fons Trompenaars and Wayne Cascio – people who are smarter than me in very particular ways. I’m someone that goes after people of leadership where I find them, and then reshape their material to be of value in my own community.

Elizabeth Jones: Apart from your events, how do you get the institute’s expertise out there? What channels do you use?

Peter Wilson: We’ve got our website which is being upgraded as we speak. We interviewed professionals about what they want from institutes, then restructured the website accordingly, that’s been huge.

We’re very, very active in social media. At the moment, when I write an article, it will go into our magazine – which is also available online. Then part of what I write will be cut into a blog and we’ll put it out through the various social media channels.

We’ve got HR management TV, so we’ve got regular TV updates to our members. We see our members once a year to ask them what they want.

We use every possible channel of communication we can to reach members.

Elizabeth Jones: Fantastic. Thank you so much for talking to me Peter.

John Whelan: HR Thought Leaders Series

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John Whelan

Meet John Whelan – qualified mediator, lawyer, government adviser and speechwriter

Conflict is one of those things we don’t often think about – until we’re busy resolving it. Perhaps a rebrand of the conflict resolution industry would help? That’s just one of the topics we discuss in this, our second instalment of the Thought Leaders Series.

This week I’m joined by John Whelan. John is the founder of JJ Whelan a successful mediation and conflict resolution company in Sydney. He formed JJ Whelan (which is a registered provider to the NSW Government) after a high-profile career in politics. Not such a big career change some may say!

John has been a Senior Adviser to two Prime Ministers and two Premiers. He’s also been Chief of Staff to the Commonwealth Attorney General and the Commonwealth Minister for Justice. No stranger to the media, John writes political opinion pieces for the Telegraph (here’s a great one for all you Game of Thrones fans) and is a regular guest on current affairs program, The Nation.

Putting John firmly in the HR thought leadership camp is the book he recently co-authored with Nina Harding and Simone Farrar. The Workplace Conflict Guide, currently available on iTunes, is a highly practical handbook for managers or employees experiencing conflict at work.

The interview

Elizabeth: Thanks for joining me John. To kick off, can you tell me a little about what JJ Whelan does? Give me your elevator pitch.

John: Sure. So JJ Whelan helps organisations resolve and prevent conflict in order to improve performance – that of individuals and the business as a whole.

We provide mediation to resolve existing disputes – and coaching to prevent conflict occurring. We also offer a program called High Performance Communication Training – a four-hour workshop that help teams author their own high-performance standards.

(For a list of specific disputes you might recognise, check out ‘Is this your dispute’ on John’s website)

Elizabeth: What kind of companies do you work with?

John: I have mainly worked with the public sector, so State Government bureaucracies and Commonwealth bureaucracies. I do have private sector clients too and some in the not-for-profit space.

Elizabeth: Which roles in those organisations do you normally work with?

John: The CEO is normally the first contact, especially if it’s a dispute that’s escalated. The actual training, coaching and mediations are conducted at a number of levels through the organisation though. Project managers often need conflict resolution for their teams for example. When you have fast-moving projects, even small disputes can have a big impact.

Elizabeth: What’s that ‘head in hands’ moment that makes people call you?

John: That’s a great term ‘head in hands’, that’s exactly what it is! I’d say it’s one of two things. One: as a dispute escalates and lawyers are about to get involved, the CEO (or whoever it is) looks over the edge and realises how much time and money is about to be spent. So they call me to get the dispute resolved. Two: there may be a break down of a relationship, which is affecting performance and stopping progress being made.

Elizabeth: A relationship between who?

John: It could be two leaders, it could be a manager and their team, it could even be between two different companies that are working on a project together. Or in a mediation between warring parties seeking a non litigated outcome.

Elizabeth: Can you tell me about a specific job you’ve done recently?

John: Yes – it was a group that was working across different branches in one organisation – four people participating in a project all with different needs and with poor communication. As a result the performance was suffering and the project faltering.

Elizabeth: Were they receptive to help?

John: Yes – but you have to remember that with any conflict, coming into the situation, there has already been a lot of investment into the dispute – emotional investment. So the intervention was necessary.

That’s a problem with humans. We’re highly competitive – so often pre-disposed for conflict. But most don’t like conflict and we’re not very good at dealing with it. That’s because of the emotions involved. We’re very complicated beings!

Elizabeth: What was the outcome for this group in particular?

John: I ran workshops that broke the conflict down into specific things that needed solving. The key was to get them authoring their own standards and methods of communications. For example, one standard stipulated that ‘Written communications need to be augmented with frank, factual, verbal communications.’ It is very simple but under pressure sometimes the breakthrough is hard for the participants to author. They are a good show and are on track.

Elizabeth: I bet they’d wish they’d called you a few months previously!

John: They always do!

Elizabeth: So what about prevention then?

John: I’m sometimes asked to come in and run coaching and training sessions on prevention – but really, people don’t tend to think about conflict until it happens. This is one of the things about the conflict resolution profession that needs to change. We need to get better at marketing the benefits of investing in prevention.

Elizabeth: Companies are increasingly publishing these ‘culture docs’ that outline the company’s standards. The standards you help groups create during coaching sessions could form part of these culture docs… what do you think?

John: Yes, the standards my groups write go on to be ‘norms’ that form the basis of how employees should behave – so that’s exactly what you’re talking about.

Culture is also about the language of a company, how people talk to each other, give feedback and respond to situations. And the standards tend to stick when they are authored by the team itself. The work being done by David Rock around this is particularly interesting.

Elizabeth: How has conflict resolution changed since you first started in the industry?

John: It hasn’t changed enough. I don’t think businesses are very clear on what conflict resolution is and what the impact of it is. If you can resolve or avoid conflict then performance increases. Not only that but people take fewer sick days and retention increases – of course all of this directly impacts your bottom line.

In your Thought Leaders interview with Gareth Bennett you spoke about the importance of data – I mean, which piece of data is more important than a company’s bottom line?

Elizabeth: What particularly excites you about the future of conflict resolution?

John: Neuroscience and neurolinguistics. There’s a lot we can learn from these disciplines. Like I mentioned before, the language of a company – how people express themselves and react to situations – can make a huge difference in your tendency towards or away from conflict as a company.

In one organisation I worked with recently the way most people would start a conversation was with their role – so their status. So instantly you have an atmosphere of competition, hierarchy and one-up-man-ship. Whereas if you put your needs first, you foster a feeling of collaboration. I’ll call this linguistic trade craft.

Elizabeth: As a thought leader, your thinking will contribute to the future of conflict resolution, so who have you been inspired by recently?

John: In terms of geo politics you have to admire Obama. You look at how conflict-prone the American political system is – and yet he’s taken America out of two wars , introduced a new healthcare system and brought them through a recession – that’s pretty impressive!

In terms of my industry: Nina Harding. Nina is Australia’s leading mind in mediation. She is high IQ – high EQ and has over 20 years of experience. I recently wrote a book with Nina that’s on iTunes: Workplace Conflict Guide. We’re planning to collaborate on some more publications in the near future.

I would also have to say that any business leaders who admit there’s a problem are inspiring. Recognising that there’s something wrong, speaking up about it and choosing to deal with it is a sign of strength, not of weakness. Those are the leaders that succeed. And they’re the ones with the most longevity.

Elizabeth: How do you currently get your expertise out there?

John: Face-to-face and word of mouth. Most of my business comes from referrals at the moment – and it’s enough to keep me busy! I don’t do social media or blogging but I can definitely see the potential there – it’s something I’ll be looking at this year for sure.

Elizabeth: Well, when you do, you know where to come! Thanks so much for chatting with me today John.