Monday, 15 October 2018


No this is not about Tesco which is doing much better under Dave Lewis. Before he came along a better strapline might have been “Every dozy dinosaur needs a kick up the arse”. Having said that I have no idea why they’re targeting Aldi with their new Jack’s stores.

They are going down-and-dirty and as an occasional Aldi shopper I know it’s not down-and-dirty but just has lots of low cost, high quality products. Professor Mark Ritson in Marketing Week said Tesco should be trying to be a better Tesco and not trying to be like Aldi. Aldi is brilliant at being Aldi -  like a shark, ruthless and very efficient. This applies to Lidl too. Both examples of great retailing and high productivity.

But this blog’s not about Tesco it’s about the middle class darling Waitrose or as it’s now known Waitrose and Partners. Warning bell. An expensive rebranding exercise and  the worst profits for years. Does any connection spring to mind?

Let me confess two things. I like the partnership model and I like shopping at Waitrose. But for my loyalty to be maintained I need:
- It to stock what I want
- Its fruit and vegetables to be pristine – they charge enough to guarantee this surely?
- Its service to be exceptional

Recently little niggles have started to occur – rotten bananas, under-ripe avocados which ripen to black nastiness, constant stock-outs, no more Warburton’s bread that we like replaced by private label that we don’t like, slow service in the café, no more free coffee in the cafe on the Waitrose card, serve yourself coffee which runs out and is very messy.

It’s all very trivial, a series of little irritations but they combine to make me feel less loyal. And then it compounds…there are fewer staff around; where’s the presence of a jovial manager the sort who welcomes and is omnipresent; the rumour that you should stop using your Waitrose loyalty card because after a month the algorithm notices and the “lost customer” warning will kick in and you’ll start getting big discount vouchers to lure you back, much bigger than any “loyal” customer gets.

Little niggles build into monster gripes lead to customer loss. The “that’s typical” Victor Meldrew moments keep on happening. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do. I was told about a series of disasters at a hotel with an important customer. In desperation the manager offered a free meal with wonderful wine. All was wonderfully well until the sommelier spilt a glass of Lynch-Bages down the wife’s white dress.

We spend a lot of time talking about big pictures in business but big pictures can be ruined by a series of small smudges. Unless the process works brilliantly and consistently, unless that manager is leading from the front one thing can lead to another.

Every little cock-up leads to customers walking away – and who can blame them. Let’s not forget the maxim “the customer’s always right (even when they’re wrong”.)

Monday, 8 October 2018


The advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi said this in the 1970s. At the time it seemed an optimistic view of life but now it intrudes into counselling. To an overweight child:
“you could be an Olympic athlete if you tried hard enough … anything is possible” .
Only it isn’t. Except in a Japanese ad.

I was wondering if this made me a cynic recently when I got up early to catch a plane. As I put on the façade of “I’m awake …I like it…I’m invincible…anything is possible …ha! No it isn’t”  I heard on the radio – “and now a piece on AI”.

Excellent …in a world of rapid change AI and robots we need to better informed. Time to pay attention - even though it’s 5.30am. A calm voice spoke to me “We think AI is the answer. Now we’ve subdued him and as you can see I have hold of his penis. I’m inserting it into the plastic vagina and yes…we’re good to go. Great , wonderful. Yes we have enough semen there for between 200 and 2,000 impregnations.

Strange how slow on the uptake tiredness can make you.  It was ‘Farming Today’ and they were masturbating a bull on air in the interests of AI. Artificial Insemination. I decided to give breakfast a miss.

My week has been full of little surprises. The piece in the Times about an undergraduate doing work-experience for a broadcaster and being told as an intern she would of course be unpaid. Her research project? “Modern slavery and the suppression of women”. You couldn’t make it up.

Talking of which if you haven’t yet seen Matt Damon’s impression of Brett Kavanaugh On Saturday Night Live (it’s on You Tube) please do. My problem (there are many) with Brett is he seems so unsuitable a candidate, his dodgy youthful escapades apart. Brett when, as they surely will, they confirm you remember to say “anything is possible.”

Much of my past week has been involved in exploring issues around change and culture. Most of us are immune to the thrill of change and increasingly we see evidence of our wanting things to remain as they were. To many the thought of a revival in coal mining would be wonderful.

But not to 10 year olds who see progress and inventions as a joy. To them anything seems possible. In the rich and verdant world of their imaginations great things happen. I heard a solution to world famine from a Formby High School team of 10 year olds on a Summer School. The solution is easy. Issue a jelly bean everyday to everyone on the planet, a special jelly bean which contains all the basic nutrients, vitamins and minerals a human being needs.  I love the simplicity of the solution and the sense of its being, well, possible.

Not everything is possible but amazing things can happen. So why not be an optimist?  Call this the week that I became a believer.

Monday, 1 October 2018


I’m on one of my biannual diets. The time comes when my trousers don’t fit (correction- they seem to have shrunk) and I become a geography teacher, floppy corduroy and podgy. And I believe that I can still get away with it quaffing my pint of Harveys,  munching on my pork pie, and fattening up prudently to withstand a cold winter. More in curiosity than anything else I clambered on to one of those weighing machines in Boots that gives weight, height and  BMI. Well it says I’m borderline obese with an excessive BMI. I ask more questions online (being truthful about once being a heavy smoker and an enthusiastic drinker) and my life expectancy prediction says I died five years ago.

I am not prone to panic but it’s not good to learn you are probably a zombie.  So I go on the carb free, booze free, food free diet  - the one Tom Watson (the politician not golfer) went on and lost 7 stone. He now looks svelte, healthy and almost credible. See you at the gym Tom, I too am on a roll – not a bacon roll either.

As I embark on this incredible shrinking journey I reflect on food (I wish), no I reflect on why it is so many of us fail to do ourselves justice.  I am a presentation coach and spend a lot of time watching people let themselves down by being lazy; by spending too little time preparing; by failing to edit; by doing the equivalent of failing to comb their hair (only Boris can do that and even with him I’m not sure.)

Jeremy Corbyn belongs to this tribe of sloppy presenters doing so under the bogus umbrella of authenticity. Until Liverpool. In the General Election, whenever it comes, remember my words “Until Liverpool.”  Jeremy has been coached. It shows. He was concise, audience responsive and impressive. He looked up for a much bigger job. I should hate to be Teresa May at the best of times but, for her these are definitely not the best of times. She has a lot to live up to.  In Brighton Liberal leader Vince Cable ‘s speech was good in content but apologetically delivered and lacklustre. You have got to be slim, fit and sleek if you’re on stage. Ken Clarke would have been Prime Minister and probably a good one if he’d bothered to look better. A pity.

I have seen so many presentations where the content was great and the delivery deadpan dreadful. The ones where the content was mediocre but the delivery energetic were a bit better, not great just better at the time rather than in retrospect.

Maya Angelou said: “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

How you look and talk are the magic ingredients in making people feel great about you. People will never forget Steve’s presentation.

Monday, 24 September 2018


Last week I was thinking about time and space.  Today I just want to consider time and why it can make us so angry. Take Martha Kearney, a quite annoying Radio 4 Today presenter who has made me shout at the radio a few times – it’s her patronising good humour which is getting to me. But nothing like Thursday when an earlier than usual start to the day  and Martha collided.

5.45. Not much birdsong yet. Just darkness,  street lights and a sense of disorientation. I creep downstairs and go through a personal ritual of opening the house – curtains open , lights on, kettle boiling, radio tuned in. Martha Kearney. And she says “It’s 7 o’clock”. No it isn’t … my watch says 6am, the wall clock in the kitchen says 6am but Martha repeats the time “7 o’clock”.

And something quite odd happens. I am conditioned to believe the BBC. Martha patronising though she might be would not tangle with something as serious as the time. Brexit maybe but the time never. So I have 20 minutes, not a relaxed 80 minutes, to shower, shave, breakfast, dress, get the paper and so on. I hurl myself into the boiling shower cursing the malign spirit that has put all our clocks back. I slash the razor over my chin. I drink my coffee…too hot … and I hear the irritated self-justificatory voice of Martha Kearney who sounds really angry “It is ten past seven”. The time is the news. Has Kearney gone mad or am I living in a parallel universe that’s an hour earlier?  I even wonder if I might have been consistently an hour late for meetings all week and everyone has been too kind to say anything. “Poor old Richard…late again…don’t upset him…bless him.” 

As I hurriedly finish getting dressed a BBC male voice calmly says “it’s twenty past six. Martha Kearney has been speaking to us from Salzburg” – no “sorry” just calm. I feel relief and rage in equal measure. But I wonder if I’ll ever trust the BBC again. Part of my rage was caused by sleep shortage something affecting lots of people nowadays. This is often due to sleeping on a knackered mattress. Bed experts say you should change your mattress every 5 - 8 years.

I was talking to a friend recently who looked tired. She confessed to sleeping badly and needing to change the mattress but the kind she and her husband wanted was £12,000 which seemed a lot.

Imagine sleeping really well” I said “Eight hours undisturbed a night – like Jeff Bezos does and look at what he’s achieved”. She had a dreamy look in her eyes by now. “Well would you pay around £3 a night to achieve that?” “Of course I would” she murmured. “Well wake up to the fact that’s what a £12,000 mattress costs each of you over 5 years”.

You know I should be back in advertising with an argument like that.

Monday, 17 September 2018


Last week the amazingly wealthy Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, said of time well-spent he needed to sleep at least eight hours a day as he had to live in the future making crucial decisions. Living in the future, especially if it’s a faster moving version of today, would make me tired.

Time is strange stuff. How fast it seems to move is nothing to do with clocks it’s to do with how we feel. Our obsession with marginal time-saving which HS2 provides or which the fast food/dating/reading crowd pursue seems a bit futile to me.  Taking time to relish what’s happening seems a lot smarter. Taking your time though is hard if you’re surrounded by bustle, fast-talkers and deadlines. That’s the trouble with capital cities yet what, at the same time, makes them so exciting. (And please don’t tell me you find New York boring.)

However attitudes to place are changing. The ability to hold a Board Meeting in the south of France wearing a linen jacket and crisp white shirt on Skype and a swimming costume down below is not only possible, it’s happening.

So where you are doesn’t matter then? Well … actually it does. Hence the Dick Whittington urge for that streets-paved-with-gold-London-urge. The ambitious gravitate to share space with like-minded, ambitious souls.

That’s why I found the story about Naples I heard recently so fascinating. In the past Naples hasn’t had a great reputation. Handback snatching, Mafia, poverty, with 50% unemployment amongst the young … not a fantastic place to live.  Until 2016. That was when Apple set up its Apple Development Academy there. It’s in a glass, shiny-steel building and has big working spaces with sofas and round tables. There’ve been 600 graduates so far, 70% from the Calabria region.

Terrific news. But it’s been the knock-on effect which has been even more extraordinary. Big companies like Cisco, and Deloitte Digital have followed Apple and Naples is now the second region in Italy after Milan for young start-ups (18 – 32 year olds). People are coming home from Brighton, Berlin and other tech centres. One described Naples, his home town as “the most beautiful place in the world where I want to be with family and friends; where I want my children to grow up and work too.” Naples derives from “Neapolis” – new city. At last this seems an appropriate name.

We can’t just live on Skype (although Skype’s got its place). We need to meet people, see them and decode their body language. We also need to be based in a place with a community of creative and disruptive spirits shaping the future in the sure knowledge that the future isn’t going to be an 8 – 6 office in a skyscraper. We need the place, the human contact and the time to think and create stuff be it apps, plays, stories or things that make life nicer and better for humanity.

See Naples at work and you’ll believe in a new future.

Monday, 10 September 2018


People constantly say – “I’m so stressed”. Not surprisingly as there’s so much going on in our daily lives. We’re  constantly fending off marketing, vouchers, free trials and those extraordinary online research questionnaires. Yes, I’m sometimes guilty of buying products on Amazon (not just guilty, I’m a serial Amazon shopper) but do I need a long set of questions about whether I was satisfied with my service and would I recommend this service to friends? If I went around saying “I really recommend buying Olaplex on Amazon it’s a great experience” I soon wouldn’t even have any friends.

We’re stressed because so many different voices are tugging at our sleeves demanding attention. The modern world has become like a needy three year old. There are a lot of things that we could do. We could do worse than remember the words of counterculture guru of the 1960’s , Timothy Leary who said: “Like every great religion of the past we seek to find the divinity within and to express this revelation in a life of glorification and the worship of God. These ancient goals we define in the metaphor of the present — turn on, tune in, drop out.”

I’m not suggesting we turn psychedelic or turn to drugs although seeing Elon Musk recently as he paraded on TV smoking an enormous joint made me wonder. I am just suggesting we “drop out”.

We are mostly not digital natives. 58% of the world’s population (nearly 70% in the USA, UK and Europe) were born in an analogue world yet a lot of us are playing a game that’s alien to us.  We are like fathers dancing – slightly embarrassing.

Twitter has been made ridiculous by Trump and by the rest of us tweeting stuff like “Eggs for breakfast today. Made me think of farmers and the CAP. What happens after Brexit? Shame.” Which is slightly embarrassing. Or Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat and the rest which have their place as marketing tools but as real tools of human communication…well I wonder. As I do about mums posting pictures of their little ones on social media whilst disallowing anyone  to take a picture of them at a school sports day.

The answer is complete abstinence. The son of a great friend is 17 and has just done GCSEs. He got 9A*s and an A. He’s now left school to devote 100% of his life to making an already highly-rated band a real success. He has cancelled all his social media accounts saying they are complete timewasters and mere organs of trivia distracting him from practice, song writing and recording. Social media to market his brand is being left to marketing guys. Time for us all to start doing the same. Look we’ve tried it, given it a decent chance and now it’s swamping us. So, be ruthless fire it.

And as for our mobiles try the Nokia 3310 and stop looking at it. It’s a tool not your lover.

Monday, 3 September 2018


I’m writing a new book about start-ups and before you ask two inevitable questions – why another book and what’s new to say anyway -  let me tell you how the research I’m doing has transformed my mood. I’ve talked to over 30 start-up people so far and only a few over sixty have displayed occasional discontent with the geopolitical disarray we are currently encountering. Nearly everyone is cheerful, optimistic and full of ideas. No one mentions Brexit.

There is a spirit of adventure in the air. The so called “snowflake generation” is conspicuously absent. The word on the entrepreneurial block is young people today are marvellously industrious. It occurs to me that this is because they’ve been largely selected from outside the dinosaur corporations that have historically demanded loyalty, punctuality and putting in the hours as the young people’s expected contribution to the employment contract.

We live in a new world where respect, freedom and inspiration are bywords.  A world where employer and employee alike want to make a difference, want to be relevant and want to grow themselves as well as the business. And yes it’s very tempting and easy to generalise and stereotype. The start up world of today is not romantic, nor is it cushy.  However the start-up engineers to whom I’ve talked show a wonderful talent to analyse, learn and pivot.

Theirs is a world of collaboration – sharing ideas and office space – and of caring about each other’s feelings (not ‘snowflake’ stuff before anyone snorts but empathising and recognising being human as opposed to being an alpha-male manager is the best way to increase productivity and creativity).

It’s also a world of change and disruption. On Sunday I visited Parham House in Sussex, a wonderful Elizabethan house with spectacular gardens and a great history. I stared at Elizabeth1’s motto – “semper eadem” = always the same. Even 500 years ago people wanted stability, even then they wanted to keep England great. But stability and 2018 don’t synchronise. We live in turbulent times and it’s only those who can surf the waves of change and shape our world who’ll thrive. “Always the same” served Heinz, Persil, Mars, Ford and IBM well for a long time. They used to say “no one got fired for choosing IBM”;  now they say “no one survives who isn’t choosing a better, cheaper, faster way.”

When Ferran Adrià closed elBulli his 3 Michelin star restaurant it was because he couldn’t do it any better. Similarly the glorious Anthony Bourdain went a step further in taking his own life having been everywhere and seen and done everything he’d dreamt of. They’d both run dry.

But a lot of people today are determined to find a better way

Beware you fat, old, lazy sectors rich in margin and low in innovation – yes stand up lawyers, accountants, estate agents, supermarkets, builders and so on. Beware because the start-ups are out to get you. Beware because this is a new age of enterprise.