Monday, 18 May 2015


Do you remember the 1980 TV series “Fame”? It was about the New York School of Performing Arts. This week I remembered one of the songs in it.
Fame …. I’m going to live forever
Baby, remember my name”

It was no surprise to hear at the London Business School this week that we had moved into an era where there was a fair certainty most would live to a hundred. Hurray… that’ll keep King William pretty busy. 80 million telegrams….or will they do it the other way round - send e-mails to the families of those whose members miss the century - “hard luck!”

The thesis is this. Governments and Corporations don’t know what to do with the oldies. But we can’t afford to support people for 35 years after retirement. Pensions used to pay out for only 5 or so years and then “aagghh!”

So we’ll have to work to 80….and the question is doing what exactly? Bricklaying, digging, riot policing?

The plan on paper looks fine - we learn up to 22 then hone that learning into practical, high earning work for 20 years then take a new learning sabbatical and emerge to do good work but much less well paid and at age 65 - 70 pause before embarking on a decade or so of creative mentoring before, aged 80, heading for Southampton for the cruise ships.

Talking about an abrupt change to pension arrangements is not something governments will ever do - suicide is something they tend to try and avoid.

Do you remember the film 1976 Logan’s Run which depicts a dystopian future society in which population and the consumption of resources are maintained in equilibrium by killing everyone who reaches the age of thirty thereby preventing overpopulation? Thought not.

Nature will use its cocktail of plague, pestilence and natural disaster to control population growth but what are those who make it through this going to do? The alarming data from a US University who’ve conducted research into MBA graduate aspirations over 20 years is that the new cohort is a bit different.

  • 1/3 say they won’t have children
  • 1/3 say their work is all
  • 1/s say they’d negotiate equal work rights in marriage (if they got married…. If!!!)

We are considering the intractable problem of irreversibility. If you marry at 20 and make a mistake it’s an 80 year error or worse - it could turn out to be 4 errors of  20 years each with a devastating impact on your wealth.

But don’t despair.

The solutions are threefold:

  • Grandchildren
  • Technology
  • Creative thinking

It’s seriously time to stop thinking about WORK but to see work as life and creative and fun and carry on doing it as long as we can disguising our visible age by technology and cosmetics.

After all did anyone know the genius PD James was 90 odd when she died still writing? Oh and Melvyn Bragg above is 80.

Monday, 11 May 2015


I’ve written quite a lot on leadership. Shelves in bookshops are crammed with beastly tomes on the subject (“Leadership Plain and Simple”; “the Top 100 Ways to be a Great Leader”; “The Three Levels of Leadership” and over 24,000 more on this subject). I worked out that being conservative there’s around 1 ¼ billion words on the topic and counting.

And I’m not sure that I really believe in the concept of the leader, well not the Genghis Khan sort of leader we keep pretend we’re seeking. It’s the terminology that goes with leadership that worries me. We don’t talk about the calming of leadership or the guidance of leadership. Instead we talk about the “smack of firm leadership”.

We had the legendary workaholic Harriet Green ex CEO of Thomas Cook who allegedly fired people whilst painting her nails. Nice. We had Steve Jobs who when at Pixar, fired people and didn't give any severance pay. Pamela Kerwin, a Pixar employee, pleaded that employees at least be given two weeks’ notice.

"Okay," he said, "but the notice is retroactive from two weeks ago."

Frank Lowe, the advertising man who founded Lowe Howard Spink, being an insomniac, would summon senior executives at midnight to a meeting. They returned home exhausted and he’d call to get them back saying there was other stuff to go through.

Recent research into football management suggests changing managers in general has little effect. The irony of the David Moyes’ debacle at Manchester United was his successor’s record, whilst he was being praised for being so much better, was actually pretty much the same as David’s.

The nearest to making sense of the leadership cult came from Jim Collins in his book “From Good to Great” when he talked about what he called ‘level five leaders’. These were leaders “in whom genuine personal humility blends with intense professional will.”

The second thing I wanted to comment upon is the pointlessness, indeed the destructive capability, of much market research. Anyone in advertising always knew it was futile to expect the average consumer to know what day it was let alone whether an ad was any good. Steve Jobs was smart as well as behaving boorishly from time to time. Dismissing the idea that people knew what they wanted he said average people just can’t predict. Instead: “We figure out what we want. And I think we’re pretty good at having the right discipline to think through whether a lot of other people are going to want it, too. That’s what we get paid to do.”

The polls in the recent election rather prove the point. The one below was pretty typical of a week ago. Scores an F.

Look at trends and think of basics. The conservatives had a better economic plan which just made more people feel safer. A few weeks earlier Benjamin Netanyahu, predicted to lose badly in Israel, won
comfortably by making more people feel safer too.

So don’t ask people. Just work it out…that’s what we get paid to do

Monday, 4 May 2015


First thoughts.

Is it just me showing my age but when did elections get as boring as this one? As I recall When Wilson won in 1964 it was an exciting shock.

And his cabinet was full of intellectual superstars - Healey, Jenkins (above) and Crosland. People like Ian McLeod were in opposition. One sensed these were very clever people. One didn’t necessarily agree with them but they were heavyweights. I watched Roy Jenkins and Ian McLeod debating the finance bill in the commons in the early 70s - riveting, rigorous and courteous.

I just don’t think the calibre of people, thinking or debate currently matches that of these Titans.

Politicians now are not, as some would have it, inept. They are however a bit timorous, cautious and lacking in flair. I have been constantly surprised that so many seem to think being nasty (even if they feel it justified) is a good tactic. Voters mostly hate “rude”.

Try this tactic instead:-
Ed (or David)  is a nice and I believe well-meaning man. Most politicians are but I believe he just has this policy wrong and it would harm the country if he were to win this election”

If our grandchildren behaved like many politicians do they’d be made to sit out. I love the idea of hearing someone say: “Teresa May I’m appalled. See me afterwards”

Second thoughts.

2015 has been different because the two of the most popular voices have been on the side lines but thrust centre stage by the media. Nicola Sturgeon and Russell Brand.

Nicola has grown in stature and 4% of the UK (that’s Scotland) seems to adore her and Russell is rather like an extreme left version of Boris. Both Boris and Russell are fluent, addicted to long sentences and are ever so slightly crackers (slightly?) That he and Nicola are the ones turning on so many is significant.

Don’t you think they really ought to get together and have babies - what fun that would be.

What both do is reflect our times, reach and inspire a few people - in Russell’s case a generation of non-voters, the millions of youth who can’t be bovvered. They are both of them articulate and fearless. They aren’t looking over their shoulders; they’re punching away and looking like they’re enjoying themselves.

In Nicola’s case the prospect of wiping out lazy Labour in Scotland may mean she’ll have every right to be a bit smug. But the Scottish brand is thriving.  Brand? Think Irn bru, Innocent and Pepperami all mixed together. Inspiration has conquered economic caution and it’s exciting. As is Russell’s brand of rebellion.

The old political brands look like Tesco or Sainsbury’s or Asda in a world of Waitrose, Pound Land. Zara and Aldi.

So I was wrong. This election isn’t boring at all; it’s enthralling and we’re lucky to have ringside seats. It’s the other fight of the century.

Monday, 27 April 2015


At the TEDx Conference run by the London Business School at the Royal Geographical Society on April 24th there was one stand out presentation.

Gareth Cliff at 37 is regarded as a stalwart broadcaster in South Africa. He is the founder of the Cliff Central radio station which has the slogan - “Uncensored. Unscripted. Unradio”.

Cliff is a contrarian who has created a show which he describes as follows:-

real conversation about everything in the news, guests, edgy material and a healthy dose of inspiration and intelligence. Without limits... there will be entertainment, provocative content and unhinged reality.

His talk was inspiringly positive. No doubt he ridicules the absurd and has rows with politicians but in modern Africa he can. His thesis was about the new found freedom of speech and the explosive effect on the continent’s growth this would bring.

Digital is the new voice of Africa with over 900,000 mobile subscriptions. Now everyone is a broadcaster. By 2018 Africa will have overtaken the USA for smart phone ownership.

The story of democratisation was novel in the context of an African narrative of Ebola, Boko Haram, Somalian piracy and 91 year old Robert Gabriel Mugabe. Cliff talked about this old man to whom something happened recently which went viral.

Mugabe fell awkwardly on some stairs after addressing supporters in Harare. The blameless bodyguards have all been fired albeit not executed. Now in the past this minor incident would have been censored but this is 2015 and not only did it get full coverage but the satirists have got to work. The web was full of Mugabe in action from breakdancing to football and more. Cliff mildly observed that personally he had no reason to make fun of a very old man but wasn’t it great that everyone out there thought it was safe now to take a pop at this long serving dictator.

Cliff’s vision of Africa was impressive. It may be far from perfect in pockets, for instance he and the South African President Jacob Zuma are unlikely to be bosom buddies after Cliff posted a piece to him explaining what a crap job Zuma was doing.

Recently Cliff questioned the cost and need for a very expensive public funeral for a footballer called Senzo. Imagine a state funeral for a Wayne Rooney. There was an explosion of outrage from people calling him racist to which he responded in his blog:

I was called every kind of vulgar thing by a horde of the least eloquent, most furious, marauding lunatics I didn’t know, and who couldn’t have all known Senzo either.

Hurray! They are out there in the open talking, shouting and even laughing.  Democracy and free speech works.

Postscript to the BT Soap Opera.

To conclude it’s not working at BT.  The engineer due to fix up the TV (three weeks after we’d moved house) was about to go to our old address and said he was unable to come to the right address for “health and safety reasons”. Aaagghh!!!!!

Monday, 20 April 2015


When you move house or office or anything like that a fair amount of disruption follows. For me the most intriguing thing has been the array of tradesmen who’ve been to call checking a variety of utilities, mending the broken and quoting eye watering sums for the potential beautification of the house.

All of them real craftsmen, impressively knowledgeable and attentive to our needs - including BT when they got here.  My concern about beastly BT is they’ve constructed an unwieldy and commercially crass structure until a real human being, the BT engineer comes to call. He was smart, assiduous and all is well - I’m back on line. But here’s the odd thing, the maddening thing - before he arrives I’m called by BT saying I can set myself up without an engineer (no I can’t and yes I know having an attack of rage so early in the morning can’t be good for me) and then even whilst he’s here I’m being texted to say he won’t be coming now for another two days. I show him this and he says “take no notice” and carries on working.

My dispassionate and utterly serious point to you BT is you cannot afford to carry on wasting time, money and talent doing the little stuff so badly. Please can I tell you how to solve the problem?

Be as big as you wish but behave as though you were small. When your customer interface parades your scale you are doomed. Thus with the banks. I bank with NatWest - I always have. At a branch level (yes I go to branches ever since being told by a banking friend that bankers never bank online - “are you insane?”) the service is brilliant, charming and helpful. Out there however beyond the phone, in the call centres life gets trickier. Thus with the retailers. Tesco suffered in part by seeming so huge. Wherever you went that 1970s logo reminded you that “every little helps”. Pretending to be little when they are really big and beastly. Thus with big government, it doesn’t work. Only small, can-do fix-it-it people can solve things.

It’s time to put human faces back into customer service like B&Q have done employing retirees who are D&Y fanatics and who really know what they are talking about.

And it’s time to break down the myth that big is better when it’s usually confused. In the case of BT left and right hands belong to completely different bodies. Imagine a left hand whom you don’t know and isn’t yours trying to blow your nose. My BT experience has been that bad.

Oh and it isn’t over. They called to say could they fix the TV by sending an engineer? Suspiciously I agreed. Then the paperwork was emailed. They are planning to go where we used to live. The trouble is I can’t get through to them to say don’t go there we’ve moved.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015


The late David Abbott created this wonderful advertising campaign for BT starring Bob Hoskins with his gritty, man of the people voice. At the time I thought it was perfect, capturing as it did the raison d’etre of this big cuddly company.

This month I’ve changed my mind.

Over the several hours that I’ve talked to BT employees over the past month I’ve concluded this lumbering beast needs dismembering and fast. Everyone I’ve talked to from Jordan, Louise, Kate, Mia, Dali to Helen and many others have been articulate, intelligent and well mannered. But the cock-up over which they’ve calmly presided is baffling.

On the 18th of March they accepted my reporting of an imminent change of address and my order for fibre optic broadband with all the bells and whistles at the new address.

A week later having received no confirmation of the order I called and was unable to reach anyone apart from the BT sales team trying to sell me BT Mobile. It was like enquiring  what the next train for London was and being asked if I wanted to buy a banana. Eventually I got someone who said they could help and they told me the first order had not been processed for technical reasons and a new one would be raised.
Hurray. It was and I was e-mailed confirmation and told an engineer would call to sort everything at the new address on April 2nd and that the kit would be sent.

The kit arrived. BT were really bringing it all together. So ‘twas on a Wednesday morning when the BT man came to call….only he didn’t.

And when I complained was told the earliest anyone could call was April 16th.

And then called again to say that was now April 20th. Because the sun was shining, Brighton is laid back and England had just won a cricket match I didn’t shout and was calm and reasonable and the Indian said wistfully “thank you Sir for being so nice in these circumstances”.

And then I got an invoice for the old address for my office which is where the broadband is based which didn’t mention termination so I rang and they denied all knowledge and said the line would remain live till April 20th this being the earliest they could react.

So I have broadband working where I used to live and nothing where I do live.

And about four hours of my life have been spent talking to people who are doing their best but do not grasp that the customer’s always right and needs to be satisfied.

But it’s all clearly my fault and I should be so lucky as to have BT supplying me.

BT is a beast.

I’m going to have to fire them but they’ve been family all my life so it’ll be a real wrench.
I’m going to check out alternatives and move on from bureaucracy….or not.

As Bob Hoskins might have said “it’s good to walk”.

Sunday, 5 April 2015


As Easter is upon us, I'm pleased to say almost all is well in the new Hall household, relocated after weeks of effort and some anxiety.

However, as regular readers will know, Richard had weeks of multitasking to carry out in the run up, as his gorgeous assistant (and love of his life) suffered an attack of some virus so severe it seems as if it must have been man-flu (- strange in itself as this means it jumped the gender barrier!).

Kate is well now, but Richard is puggled.  Partly this is due to two weeks of skirmishing with BT whose warm words and reassuring customer service platitudes bely astonishing failures and delays in transferring his broadband service to the new domain.

Consequently Richard will not be writing this week.  Sit tight friends and he will return next week.


The Blogmeister.