Monday, 24 August 2015

DON'T CRY FOR ME ARGENTINA

Someone we know has retired and is moving lock, stock and barrel to Argentina. “How lovely,” we said, “but why there?” He got quite cross and said Britain was hopelessly overcrowded…we thought about the Highlands and Norfolk and shrugged…”and?” He now got a bit red in the face and barked: “because there is no quality of life in this country.

Yes, the UK only comes 22nd out of 150 counties surveyed by Gallup in terms of happiness but Argentina comes 29th so that doesn’t quite ring true. If you like wine and beef you’ll love Argentina. And I know no one who’s been on holiday there who hasn’t absolutely adored the scenery, food and people. But we need to dig a bit.

In Argentina you’re seven times more likely to be murdered and five times more likely to die in a car crash. Corruption plagues the country and, allegedly, the justice system has many incompetent and corrupt judges. Inflation is 15% (down from 24%) and government interference in the economy makes Jeremy Corbyn look soft.


 In 2001 Argentina defaulted on its debt - think Greece but bigger - and since then no one has trusted them - unsurprising given their investment profile has been so badly damaged by fiscal mismanagement, protectionism, and expropriations. In comparison the UK economy looks wonderfully rosy and liberated.

If you think Tony Blair and Chilcott look dodgy cop this. Alberto Nisman, a crusading prosecutor, was shot dead in his apartment the day before testifying in court and accusing President Cristina Kirchner of attempting to cover up the 1994 terrorist attack on a Jewish Cultural Centre.


This has created political turmoil. Oh yes, one other thing - the Vice President has been prosecuted for corruption. Not that any of this much matters as the Kirchner government controls nearly 80% of the Argentine media, either directly or indirectly.

So do I think our friend is crazy?

Provided you can tolerate an extremely left wing and suspect regime of government and will trade this for a spectacular landmass - imagine Spain, France, Belgium, Holland, Norway, Sweden the North Sea and the Atlantic south of Iceland to Cornwall - you’ll be fine.


From what I know, which is very little, Argentina is scenically extraordinary but most of this comes from albeit sophisticated tourists but none the less tourists. No one I’ve encountered would through choice want to do business there. No one I know is a champion of their politics or economic management.

Yet perhaps there’s more to life than cities and spreadsheets. Perhaps our friend will be munching tender steak and quaffing robust Malbec in the sun whilst we commute grumbling to


London and worry about interest rates going up from 0.5%. And he’ll be enjoying the passion of the people whom Marlene Dietrich described:

Latins are tenderly enthusiastic. In Brazil they throw flowers at you. In Argentina they throw themselves.

Maybe food, drink, love, beautiful women and the tango matter more than money.

Monday, 17 August 2015

WHY SMALL ISN'T BEAUTIFUL

Years ago when I was in advertising at a 50 person advertising agency with quite important clients like Heinz, Panasonic, Mazda and P&O we had a lot of small government contracts. What was frustrating was their smallness. This was explained by the commissioning body for Government advertising, The Central Office of Information, who said:

We worry about your size and the resources you have available. Even if you are more creative and astute than say Ogilvy and Mather or JWT they have such depth of resource”

At the time I thought this was nonsense but now I’m not so sure.

The trouble with sole traders or small businesses which abound in places like Brighton and in the new media sector is they tend to be introverted and slack at customer service. Great food that takes an inordinate time to reach you in a restaurant somehow tastes less than wonderful (however wonderful it may be) when put into a mouth dry with impatience.


As I watch the cohorts of sloppily dressed laptop tappers in coffee bars doing extraordinary things I wonder if what they are doing for their clients is on brief, on time and on budget. As I get cut up in my car by white vans with paint caked ladders on top and signage like “WePaint4U”, I know they are probably balancing three jobs in conjunction in their 10 to 4 world of under-delivery.


These sole trader/small enterprises are all working on a knife edge of panic. Too much work and they’re risking client wrath on a wide front; too little work and they face starvation.

Yet the alternative of being an employee carries its own problems of subservience, unreasonable demands and long hours. What we all want really is to be like Steve Jobs. We want to have our own way, be surrounded by brilliant executors of our ideas, be allowed to have tantrums and be treated like a God. Oh yes and have unmeasurably vast wealth.

Being part of a high achieving team sounds great too. But making it work is, as history shows, pretty hard. Human egos and incompatibilities of culture are the Goodwin Sands on which so many ships of ambition founder.


Human resourcefulness should be able to crack it but too seldom does.  We should be able to scale up the turnover and cash reserves of our businesses and at the same time retain our individuality and values. We should be able to find a place of like-minded people where we spend the 70% of weekly waking time which is working time.

My conclusions?

We must work harder. Britain has low productivity because we’re lazy - not driven enough to achieve fast results - not hungry enough.

We have to get better at working with each other. Especially with the people who give us money - our customers.

Unless we can lavish customers with care and attention we haven’t got a business worth developing. Big or small.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

WELCOME TO SALEM

It’s been rife for years - at every school - at every church - at every sports club - and as for the Scouts and Guides ….. sexual misbehaviour of all kinds has been part of our lives. There would be no pop business, as we know it, if all the stars had been hauled in for their behaviour.

But this is a totally new world.  After Savile everything has changed. A sniff of guilt is all it takes. Paranoia and vigilante-ism are very infectious and they too are rife.


And because of that two things have happened - the presumption of innocence as a basic human right has gone, the media are allowed free licence to pre-try and do so in a shamelessly suggestive way (imagine Prince Charles laughing with Jimmy Savile - nudge, nudge…or anyone alongside Gary Glitter) and the police have become stage managers of pantomimes, battering on doors at 6am and standing outside dead men’s houses looking menacing.

What one tweet said last week was more than a joke - it was an observation of stunning perceptiveness:

Edward Heath’s silence on this whole affair has been most revealing.

Ours has the risk of becoming a world of fantasists and prosecutors full of fetid incrimination, insinuation and rage.  But the problem is this. Most of us are too frightened of being seen as apologists of the evil doings of perverts to resist this no-smoke-without-a-fire nonsense.


On Saturday Matthew Parish quoted Ed Murrow who said this at the peak of the McCarthy inquisitions in the USA in the early 1950s:

“We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men.”

Melodrama has filled the week. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet, Donald Trump’s Republican debate and that hairstyle and the continuing surge of Jeremy Corbyn. Benedict will be splendid I’m sure and bring his own fast talking energy to a part that’s nearly always done well because, I suspect, of its authenticity.

There’s a bit of the sweet prince in all of us.


Donald is defined by the worst haircut in history. Can it or he be real? But the applause from the audience that greeted this suggest probably yes.

"I've been challenged by so many people and I don't frankly have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn't have time either. This country is in big trouble."

And there’s Jeremy Corbyn - one of the most unreasonable and non-team-playing people in politics sweeping all before him by seeming to be concerned and reasonable. He’s a teetotal Nigel Farage with a red shirt.

Finally England winning the Ashes.

Proof that in today’s topsy-turvy world anything can happen. And probably


Monday, 3 August 2015

IN PRAISE OF STICKING AT IT

We’ve all heard rather too much of “Eye of the Tiger” at Sales Conferences. We’ve see the salesmen puffed up by the vision of themselves as part of the Dirty Dozen going out there and kicking arse.
But here’s quote from Rocky that I rather enjoyed:

Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows. It is a very mean and nasty place and it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain't how hard you hit; it's about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward. How much you can take, and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done. Now, if you know what you're worth, then go out and get what you're worth. But you gotta be willing to take the hit, and not pointing fingers saying you ain't where you are because of him, or her, or anybody. Cowards do that and that ain't you. You're better than that.”


As a philosophy it’s simplistic but the embracing of resilience, courage and persistence rather than one glorious cavalry charge appeals. The mass carnage of Waterloo in one day which was much worse than the Battle of the Somme reminded me of how futile those romantic versions of war are.

But life isn’t a war. It’s a patient game of chess, of trial and error and the sheer appetite to win more than we lose.  And it’s about momentum.

Watching someone with the wind behind them mobilising support is fascinating. Jeremy Corbyn, take a bow. He describes his life is “parsimonious”, is authentically and very left wing and has a somewhat fiery temper. I’ve been amazed by the establishment socialists’ repulsion at his current success. Because whatever else he’s speaking to a lot of young supporters (did everyone forget the SNP?) He focuses on precisely why so many people hate the filthy rich, opera- loving and corridors-of-power-strutting political class.  What Jezza has at present is momentum and devil-may-care-speak-it-as-he-sees-it attitude.        


Which brings me on to Gay Pride. Living in Brighton it’s been hard to miss. A parade of good natured diversity - a cross between the Village People, Pantomime Dames and some very  excited and over/underdressed young people - girls and boys in equal gaiety - and some sensibly liberally minded Corbyn- aged people strolling the street unselfconsciously. Fairy wings and T-shirts everywhere - my favourite said on the front “Out. Proud. Gay” and on the back “Little. Often. Co-op”. It was all a giggling and, yes, gay party. Momentum of the same kind….just remember how improbable all this was a decade or so back.


I’m  neither labour, gay or a pugilist but I’m rather impressed  by the tenacity I’m currently seeing  from all three. Winning is “how much you can take (from life) and keep moving forward”… well said Mr Stallone.

Monday, 27 July 2015

WHEN HELP DOESN'T HELP AT ALL

We’ve moved house and so had to register with a new GP. As I used to have high cholesterol I take statins and had to renew my prescription. The conversation with the new Doctor went well enough until referring to my medical notes he started talking about “my heart disease.”  “What heart disease? They once thought I had it but after an angiogram they found I didn’t” “Oh yes; you do have it …it says so here”…and he read something extremely fast that was both news to me and incomprehensible.


I went home and sat down. Evidently I wasn’t very well. In just a few minutes I’d aged 20 years. I wondered if my funeral would be before or after the Ashes series was over.

I went to bed.

I want to talk about “iatrogenics”. The term was unfamiliar to me before reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb (author of ‘The Black Swan’ and ‘Antifragile’).  From the Greek "brought forth by the healer" it refers to any effect on a person resulting from a Doctor’s treatment which rather than being helpful has the opposite effect.
Effects include anxiety about or annoyance with the Doctor. So bingo…. I was a victim of “iatrogenics.”
I’d felt less well immediately…as though I’d been poisoned. Later on I recalled completing a form on my alcohol consumption from the NHS. I’d said it was on average 24 units a week. I then got a text asking if I needed to discuss reducing my consumption levels. It made me feel like an inebriate. (Stop looking at me like that! Anyway I’m off to New Zealand.)


Melissa Kite the journalist wrote recently about being denied HRT patches because of NHS guidelines about its dangers (allegedly small). Eventually in despair and not sleeping,  she snarled at her Doctor: “Give them to me I’m a danger to the public otherwise”.

Is the NHS is ignoring the simple strategy of encouraging people to feel well? Better surely to have a slightly shorter, happier life than live to be an old valetudinarian.

Stanley Holloway was renowned for his monologues like “My word you do look queer” about a guy who recovering from being ill is told by everyone how dreadful he looks. It has immortal lines like

“Oh, dear! You look dreadful: you've had a near shave, 
You look like a man with one foot in the grave…….    
I heard you were bad, well I heard you were gone. 
You look like a corpse with an overcoat on.” 

Eventually someone says ….
“You're looking fine and in the pink!'
I shouted, 'Am I? ... Come and have a drink!” 

So is the NHS spending too much time worrying about tactics and changing the rules (what for instance, is the “5 a day” Campaign but an invention by the Californian Fruit Marketing Company?) rather than improving morale?

Let’s relax a bit more… overall we’ve never been healthier…

“Are we really?”

“Yes”.

“Come and have a drink.”

And let’s beware of iatrogenics.



Monday, 20 July 2015

GET AWAY

David Cameron is being criticised for having too long a holiday. He’s planning to take most of August off first in Cornwall and then Portugal; swanning off when there’s Greece, an ISIS crisis and increasing problems with the SNP. Clearly he should be at number 10 worrying and having Civil Servants bouncing around like Duracell bunnies giving him advice.  Surely he’s meant to be Prime Minister not Sometime Prime Minister.


Some think - wrongly - holidays are for wimps.

Years ago I knew a football manager called Brian Clough. He ran Nottingham Forest between 1977 and 1993. He was Manager of the Year in 1977-78 won the league title twice , the FA Cup four  times and the European Cup twice. He was a legend.


He once said to me “I’m in trouble with my Board, young man - I just took off for Spain for a week - because I felt tired and needed to think and sleep - they want me there every day - well they can get stuffed”. And they did because in 1978 no-one argued with King Brian. Watch him filleting the hapless football commentator John Motsom in that year- wonderful stuff. The stuff of a relaxed man.

Brian understood the need to rest, to, as he put it, “be a bit daft” and using a change of scene and regimen can do that.

To be as good as you can be you need to stay in shape.

You need to invest in your support system, your wife, husband, children, grandchildren and your friends. Research proves (well we know it proves very little but I just love starting sentences like that occasionally). Research proves human beings make better decisions than computers and when they don’t it’s because they decide to behave like computers, whirring away 24/7.

Do we really get the need for sabbaticals, being like Yvon Chouinard CEO of Patagonia the apparel manufacturer?  Here he is in the office:


We live in an austere world and it’s one the brilliant educationalist Sir Ken Robinson analyses devastatingly when he laments the absence of creativity in modern education.

So my grandsons’ recent school reports interested me. They were very good although the forensic detail over many pages of closely typed pages worried me. The boys were 8 and just 6 in the school term in question. The detail was about the same as you’d apply to a senior marketer’s appraisal in a big corporation or an ‘A’ level student.

They should all lighten up. I think they need to be inspired not ground down by Gradgrinds.  I think they should do what a very successful friend of mine did. For family reasons he and his brothers took six months out of school when he was 8 and built the biggest, best, tree house ever. He said:  “It was then I learned more than I’ve ever done since.


Six months’ up a tree is better than a term of modern maths. Trust me.

Monday, 13 July 2015

WHAT YOU DO WHEN YOU'RE NOT BUSY MAKES THE DIFFERENCE

I was at a big celebratory dinner last week when the band started up. They were rather old; think of  the Kinks plus a few years in age minus a chunk of musicality and plus a load more noise. Is it just me that finds conversation virtually impossible in completion with “you really got me”?


Andy was quite a senior banker from Singapore, ex-Deutsche Bank and Lehman Brothers (when they were still cock of the walk) … he was interesting about ethics

You got me so I don’t know what I’m doin’ now

About the thrill of a deal when you outwitted the competition

You got me so I can’t sleep at night

About why he loved his current job for its collegiate spirit and  strong values (CEO’s a woman - excellent)

Oh yeah you really got me now

Finally about how the really classy performers improved themselves and their minds when they had those moments of downtime which nowadays occur more rarely but nonetheless do occur. (There was a lot of lip reading happening on my part but I think this was his point and it’s a good one.)


In Hiroshima at the Mazda plant where just in time is rigorously applied there are occasional hiccoughs in production (earthquakes, hurricanes etc.) What happens then?  “We take the opportunity to repaint the factory and tidy the place up.

Yet driven by the HR mentality of focusing on skillsets and competences we find ourselves as I once did at an appointments panel scouring CVs. The rest of the panel noticed I always went straight to the interests and pastimes section. They were mystified by what they regarded as eccentricity.

We want a worker not a player” one said.

In fact a player, a team player - someone who has interests beyond Six Sigma and spread sheets, is exactly what I want.


All the best people I know holiday with hunger and have a life full of curiosity about art, opera, books and, most of all, other people. They avoid being too busy to cope by being busy at not being busy. Sometimes it’s when you relax, wander through a garden or along a beach that insights imprisoned in the mausoleum of work are released.

Way back in time the corporate equivalent of Morecambe and Wise were possibly Robinson and Allen of Granada. The latter was an obsessed workaholic and the former a somewhat louche, allegedly lazy Irishman who charmed on his stroll through life. But what a duo and what a great example of Mr Nose-to-the-Grindstone and Mr Smell-them-lovely-Roses these two were.

Just relax more and build up a series of other interests. Work is just not enough but it also gets done better by people with refreshed minds.

I discovered something a few years ago. Quite simply I do my best work when asleep. So I plan on snoozing my way to wealth if that’s OK with you.

Right now.