Steve Houghton-Burnett – business disruptor (#93)

SHB-looking left cropped

Steve is a natural disruptor… If there was a BIG RED BUTTON that says “DON’T PRESS” he just wouldn’t be able to help himself. He has an entrepreneurial background having started one of the first Internet Access Providers in the UK. He now spends his time speaking on the topics of Perceptive Leadership and Change and last year launched a scientifically and statistically robust Perception Assessment tool.

Twitter: @Perprof

Insta: perceptionprofiling



Can you describe something that has recently amazed you? How did it make you feel?

I was recently doing some research for a new training course that we’ve launched. While doing that I came across a concept and a word that I’d never heard of before which is “Qualia”. Qualia is the point where psychology meets philosophy. The definition of Qualia that has stuck with me is “The ineffable and unrepeatable experiences that you have that you can’t adequately describe and that are somehow more than the sum of the input you’ve received from your perceptions and senses”. Just think about that for a minute… You and I both eat a Pear Drop… We both experience it at the same time and we talk about it… We can try and describe the experience to each other and we can even have a model of what it should taste like in our heads… But the fact is we can’t experience each other’s Pear Drop because we can’t adequately share its “Qualia”, that’s a personal in the moment thing… What’s even more mind blowing is we will only ever experience the qualia of that particular Pear Drop in that moment once! No matter how hard we try to recall it, we will only ever recall fragments of it… We will never be able to recreate the taste of it in the same way again! When I understood that it literally BLEW MY MIND to think how fleeting our real experiences in life are. [Matt Notes: in an earlier interview philosopher Jason Leddington touches upon qualia and aesthetics.] 


What is Frightcited?

FRIGHTCITED is a term that I coined while leading a large change programme a few years ago. It’s that perfect place where you’re both “Frightened” and “Excited” in equal measure at exactly the same time. If you love Rollercoasters then you know the moment… You’re at the top of the climb and it’s that 1/2 second delay before you tip over the edge! If you don’t like Rollercoasters then you’ll have heard the wave of screams as one starts the drop while you’re looking after the bags at the bottom… That wave of screams is the Frightcited wave! If you want to get people operating at “peak performance” without risking burn-out then getting them into this place is how to do it. Too much fear and people end up stressed and burnt out. Too much excitement and they end up over-stimulated and unproductive. I liked the word so much that I trademarked it!


What place does curiosity and wonder have in business?

Oh… wow… I’ve never really thought about it until now. I guess that now I have, I’d have to conclude it’s right at the heart of business. I’ve heard it said that nothing happens in business until a sale occurs. Actually, I think it happens waaaaaay before that… If you don’t innovate you don’t have anything new or different to offer to your customers. You can’t innovate unless you’re curious and you can’t be curious unless you get a dopamine hit from finding things out, which is my explanation for having a sense of wonder!


Why is disruption an important part of business today?

Rather than important in business, I think it’s a natural function of business. So it’s a bit like asking why is Oxygen important to life? The nature of business is the nature of disruption. If you are out there winning business then someone else isn’t… You’re not operating in a vacuum! I come from the school of thought that says your external disruptors (competition) are helping you to up your game. I’d also ask a simple question of your readers… Would you rather be disrupting or being disrupted? I know which I’d rather be!

Your internal disruptors (mostly people described as cynical staff) often have messages that you need to hear… The trick is to engage with them in such a way as to get the relevant information out of them. I wrote an article on LinkedIn recently about Perceptive Leadership and multiple truths and in it I remind people that angry people won’t listen to your facts until you’ve listened to their truth, and that’s something I completely believe in.


How can leaders best thrive in a world of VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity)?

The world has always been a VUCA based place, just because we’ve labelled it doesn’t make it new or different phenomenon. So my answer is that leaders should be doing now what they’ve always done… BUILD AND MAINTAIN TRUST. Dr Ken Blanchard lists the 4 qualities that leaders should exhibit to do that, he calls it the ABCD of Trust. Followers should see a leader as ABLE, they should be competent at what they do and what they are asking people to do. They should be BELIEVABLE, that means they need to act with integrity at all times. They need to be CONNECTED, they should operate with care for their (extended) team and they should be fully immersed in the business they are leading. Finally, they should be DEPENDABLE, being believable means you will tell it as it is, but being dependable means people can rely on you time and time again.


How can managers best cultivate, support and utilise their organisation’s disruptors?

See my answer to your previous question! In addition to that all I’d add is that sometimes you have to recognise you can’t. Sometimes people join an organisation with what I would call “Industry Infection”, you end up paying for the sins of their previous employer. Sometimes you have to accept that no-matter how hard you try and build or rebuild the relationship it isn’t going to happen, at that point an honest (difficult) conversation and a parting of the ways is the best way to deal with it.


As ‘The Formula Guy’, do you have a current favourite formula and why?

Ahhh The Formula Guy is a ‘handle’ I was given many years ago… It served me well when I was establishing myself as a speaker but being honest it doesn’t get used that much anymore. As it happens though, I do have a formula that I ABSOLUTELY LOVE! Jack Canfield, the co-author of Chicken Soup for the Soul also wrote another book called Success Principles. In that book he shared a formula for ‘Success’ which is used by lots of motivational speakers around the world. That formula is E+R=O which stands for any (E)vent it’s your (R)esponse that determines (=) the (O)utcome.

I kept looking at that formula and it kept bugging me, then one day I realised what my problem was with it. My work on perception has really changed my view (excuse the pun) of how we operate in the world. So I’ve modified the formula to be E + PF = R ⇒ O

Let me explain… For me it is the (E)vent + your (P)erceptual (F)ilters of the event that then drives you to (=) your (R)esponse and that then leads to (⇒) the (O)utcome. For me that explains why 30 people can be in the same presentation, have the same words spoken to them, see the same slides and yet they will always form into small groups that have all taken something different from the (E)vent… The difference is how they have (P)erceptually (F)iltered… included, excluded and internally morphed the messages that makes all the difference!

Why is gratitude so important to you? How can we practically implement a more grateful life?

Gratitude is important to me because it literally saved my life! I was at a very low point in my life when I was given a book on gratitude and being grateful on purpose. I’d never really thought about it before but the book made a lot of sense. People often think that being grateful means putting up with things and having no ambition to improve your circumstances. That’s simply not true. You can accept and appreciate something in the moment (remember Qualia) and you can really take the time to cherish the experience and be grateful for it, but once it’s gone its gone (back to Qualia) so there’s nothing wrong with seeking a new or improved experience to be grateful for next! The sad thing is that many people have many wonderful experiences and they don’t pause to lock in the deep satisfaction they can get from those experiences… It’s that locking in that gives the dopamine hit to the brain and that’s the (chemical) source of true happiness! It doesn’t have to be expensive either… Getting just the right amount of salt & vinegar on your chips can be a magical experience but one you overlook in a busy day! The simple way to practically implement a more grateful life is take 2 minutes before you go to sleep and recall 3 things you can be grateful for from your day. Some people like to put them in a journal… I write mine down on bits of paper and put them in my Gratitude Jar. Tests conducted by Dr Robert Emmons at University of California Davis showed that using this simple practice for 21 days lifted dopamine levels in the brain above levels previously experienced by the participants for 28 days after the test stopped.

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