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How To Think Intelligently - With Kevin Duncan

May 02, 2021

Tom Bailey, Founder of Succeed Through Speaking, Interviews Kevin Duncan.

Kevin is a business adviser, marketing expert, motivational speaker and the UK’s best-selling business author. After 20 years in advertising, he has spent the last twenty as an independent troubleshooter, advising companies on how to change their businesses for the better via training, facilitation, and mentoring.

Why you've got to check out Kevin's episode:

- Discover the importance of respect in client-coach and client-consultant relationships and how draconian clients can ruin relationships.

- Understand what Kevin means by 'desperate urgency' and the negative consequences which come from it and the importance of facing up to and dealing with the hard challenges.

- Desperate urgency causes you to frantically panic and do 'stuff' in an attempt to hit your targets, recover from difficult market conditions or scramble to capture market share.

- Learn Kevin's technique called '3 Good & 3 Bad' which will help project team members to capture the three best things and three worst things about a project and avoid the HIPO effect.

- Get access to expert advice from Kevin as well as access to his free books and resources, extract summarised insights from over 500 business books for free and also get access to Kevin's latest book - The Intelligent Workbook

Resources / Links


Tom Bailey: Hello and welcome to the Flow And Grow Expert Interviews. The place for experts and entrepreneurs who want high value ideas to boost business results.

Hello. I'm Tom Bailey. And I'm joined today by Kevin Duncan, who is a business advisor, marketing expert, motivational speaker, and the UK is best selling business author. So, Kevin, hello, and a very warm welcome to today's episode.

Kevin Duncan: Hello. Nice to be here. Great.

Tom Bailey: Thank you. And whereabouts are you in the world right now?

Kevin Duncan: But I'm in Westminster right in the middle, which sounds busy. And it usually is, but it isn't busy at the moment.

Tom Bailey: I see. Well, thank you for sharing and let's quickly get onto the subject of Kevin then before we start. And after 20 years in advertising, Kevin has spent the past 20 as an independent troubleshooter advising companies on how to change their business for the better by training facilitation and mentoring the title for today's episode is How To Think Intelligently. And Kevin's going to show us how to do that in just under seven minutes. So, Kevin, your first question today is who are your ideal clients?

Kevin Duncan: Yes. Thanks. Well, this is hard to answer in a minute or so isn't it. But I think the bit that I came up with the appeals to me most is clients that are respectful.

And although that sounds like a nice wishlist thing for somebody to say. If you haven't got that, then nothing really works very well. I'm very fortunate because I get to work with what I call clients, clients that is people who work for specific brands and corporations and so forth. But I'd also do a lot of work for agencies.

So, I call them my agency clients. And of course, so they are at the beck and call in many cases of their own clients. And I also working with things like media owners. So, what I'm particularly fascinated in is almost like a triangle. Between supplier partner / client, plus me and seeing it from all angles is fascinating.

And if you ever get a master servant relationship going on, for example, where a particularly draconian client is trying to just tell an agency or supplier what to do is really uncomfortable. And then it all falls to bits. So, respect is my thing.

Tom Bailey: Thanks very much. And when you think about all of these clients that you work with, what what's the typically the biggest challenge that comes, comes to the plate or comes to the table?

Kevin Duncan: Well, the lack of respect, if there is one is hideous and ruins all those relationships, thankfully not everybody succumbs to that. And in fact, frankly, if I encounter it, I tend to remove myself from the situation because it's so uncomfortable and we don't want it. But other than that, I think what clients most suffer from is what you might call desperate urgency now, not surprisingly in the last year or so. They've almost been forced into certain situations because of circumstances. And that's understandable in which case desperate urgency is fine, but desperate urgency as in, I must sell millions of these things by tomorrow afternoon and all the trouble that follows from it is a really, a really poor place to be.

So those types of things I think are a big, big challenge. So, there's that. And there's one other big one I would say. And that is what I would call not facing up to hard truths. In other words, typically people, particularly in marketing departments and so forth, have a better than average impression of their own brand and try to persuade everybody else and themselves, if that's the case.

And often that is not a good way to view things.

Tom Bailey: Understood. And we've got a few typical challenges here that, that your, that your typical clients will face. And so, when you think of these together, what impact does that normally have on them or, or the business that they work for?

Kevin Duncan: Well, they just essentially get desperate when, when people are desperate, they're not thinking straight, so they're not thinking long term and then they're not being calm.

So, they're just firefighting. So, it gets worse. So, it's almost like a self-inflicted vortex of trouble and somebody somewhere needs to be grown up and mature and calmer and just pause and think, hang on, why are we doing all this frenetic stuff? Maybe we should be thinking harder and then working out what to do rather than just frantically doing stuff.

Tom Bailey: Great. And we've talked about desperation a couple of times, there where's the pressure coming from on the desk. What is causing this desperation typically,

Kevin Duncan: But we've got unusual circumstances. And of course, there are certain businesses who are just crippled by what what's gone on. And we all know what those sectors are, hospitality and so forth.

But on the other hand, you've got people scrambling, like mad to capitalize on a situation like this because some markets are doing fantastically well. And you've seen all the online brands, things that can be downloaded at speed, anything that can be delivered to your house and they're scooping up customers at a rate of knots.

So, you've got desperation coming in from both a good and a bad perspective, kind of the nature of the category that they're in.

Tom Bailey: Got it makes sense. Okay. So, the next question is what is one valuable piece of advice that you'd give to somebody to really help them solve these challenges or problems that they've got.

Kevin Duncan: Yes. Well, interestingly enough, I was mentioning this business of self deception, and I think one of them, the big, big problems with anybody looking at a business challenge is to try to convince themselves that it's actually easier or better than the situation truly is. So, actually, I have a technique in one of my books called The Ideas Books and it's called three good three bad.

And what you do is you force all the people on the team. So right down at the beginning in total silence, the three best things about this product, brief category, whatever the topic is and the three worst, that's the crucial thing. And to do it in silence, because if you don't do it in silence, then we have a thing that we call the hippo effect, which is the highest paid person's opinion.

Right? So, what tends to happen is that the top person says I will it's clearly like this and everyone else nods. Yeah, no one points out that the King's got no clothes on. And from that very point at the beginning of a project of any kind, everybody's deluding themselves, just focusing on the positives.

And no one's mentioned the negatives three months later, the whole thing has been a disaster. But, actually, if you do a post-mortem people will say, well, I knew that was going to go wrong, but I didn't say anything because conditions weren't right. So that is my suggestion. If you like the most senior people should create, create the psychological safety for people to say this, this and this are really difficult.

How are we going to address those in detail properly before we get into a right old pickle and convince ourselves that everything's going to be fine.

Tom Bailey: And, and, you know, let's take a team of 10, for example, if, if, if all of them write down three challenges and that's bringing to light a lot of potential risks in the project in, in one time.

Kevin Duncan: Certainly does, and in fact, I often use that example because if you do the maths and you've got 10 people in a room and you ask them to do this exercise three good three bad, then in theory, you could have 30 good things written on the wall and 30 bad. But in fact, that's not what you get. You tend to get sort of six or seven and, that immediately gives you a range finder with regards to whether the team has any degree of consensus on what's at stake here. Maybe you've got loads of good stuff, but you can capitalize on that small health warning so long as you do not ignore one massive bad thing on the, on the debit column. If you like, if it's bad, then there are several things don't panic, because that gives you the focal point and epicenter of the thing that you've got to deal with and that's a better way to start. 

Tom Bailey: Got it. Fantastic piece of advice. I'm sure you've got lots more there. So, and do you have any resources or places people can go online where they can find some more valuable advice and guidance from you?

Kevin Duncan: I do. Thank you. Yes. I've been well, I've been in business for 40 years.

But 20 of it self-employed. And so, as that, my trading name is Expert Advice. And so shows where all my books and things are that can help people. And some of those are totally free. But on top of that, I have a sort of side project and that is that I read a ridiculous quantity of business books, and I've been doing this for years and years.

And so, I've got a blog called And on there, I read all the business books and summarize them. So, you don't have to read them. And it's totally free and there's nearly 500 books on there, so people can just search any topic they want, think, right. I want to mug up on leadership, behavioral economics, whatever, press a button.

They all come up you nick them and use them to Edify yourselves.

Tom Bailey: Excellent. Thank you so much. That's and I'll post both those links below this episodes. People can just click on those and dive right in. So, a couple more questions for the interview. The next one is what would you say is your greatest failure that you've ever made over in life or in business?

And what did you learn from it?

Kevin Duncan: Yeah, I was thinking about this question and it's a tricky one to ask and to answer, sorry, it's an easy one to ask. It's tricky to answer. I'm a kind of positive forward motion type of bloke. So, I don't dwell on my failures much, even. They seems to be quite trendy for people to say, Oh, you know, fail fast and all that type of thing.

But when reflecting on this, I essentially thought back to I've actually been made redundant three times in my career. Yeah. And only each of those occasions, I thought, Hmm. That is a, that is a form of failure. Now the circumstances in each were utterly different. On one of them, a new managing director came in.

I've been there for five years. It didn't really like me. And so he invented an excuse and I was out on the second one. I joined the company and three, three months later, they just. But gave me a voicemail saying you are surplus to requirements and what yeah. And what, what had happened was that the person I was due to replace had changed their mind and decided not to go and persuaded the client, that there was no need for me.

So, I was out there. So, I didn't enjoy that one. I was out for six months after that. And the third one was actually, it was a happy ending in the end, but essentially what was going on was that I was on a board of directors. And obviously being out voted 13 to one in almost every board meeting by the end.

Yeah. So, the conversation had to be had, and it was okay. All right, I'll get my coat. You know, I'm not depressed about those things we learned from all of those, but I regard each one of those as a failure, really,

Tom Bailey: And, and have probably shaped and where you are today as well. I'm sure.

Kevin Duncan: Hugely were. And the final one actually was the catalyst for me becoming self-employed because I did get a pay off from that sorted out my kids' education.

And then I just thought, right, I've been doing this agency thing for 20 years. I've had three collapses here, you know, in the last five years. Am I doing the right thing? And then I thought, do you know what. I'll do it myself and I felt much better. 

Tom Bailey: Yeah. And you have not looked back since. Fantastic. Okay. So last question from me is what is one question that I should have asked you that would also give great value to our audience today? 

Kevin Duncan: Well, my immediate reaction to this was where's the pub, you know, let's go to have a chat. You know, and interestingly enough, although that's a pretty facetious answer, I'll give you a better one in a second is that I have being fortunate enough to do some socially distance workshops and things.

And I've, I've worked with board directors in the last year who have never met some cases. People who have started their job, they'd never been to their own office. They've never met their own colleagues. So yeah, as well as being a bit of a flip answer, meeting up with people and chatting properly has got to be top of the list of things that are going to help anything at the moment.

But on top of that, when I would add, I have a little philosophy, which I call being a mental magpie. And what I mean by that is being perpetually curious, read a lot, investigate a lot. Think, ask the extra question, ask the third why? Again? Because people who don't do that, they miss out on so much and they gloss over and they don't have the depth to answer a really interesting challenge.

Whereas people who do that type of stuff often call it, having a weak attentional filter are able to absorb so much stuff. And then when they're working on a thing, they can bring that all to bear. And so, I would encourage all your people to be as curious as they can be.

Tom Bailey: Fantastic. And just to add to that as well, often, a lot of work has a confidence coach.

And one of the things my coach said to me was to be the most curious person in the room. Because that's another way of bringing you into the conversation as well.

Kevin Duncan: That's it? Well, I agree with your coach then.

Tom Bailey: Great. Thank you. So, Kevin, thank you so much for your time today and for coming along and sharing such amazing value for our audience.

Kevin Duncan:  You're very welcome. I enjoyed it. Thanks.