Monday, 25 August 2014

HALLO DORSET ARE YOU THERE?


OK, this joke about Dorset, where we’ve just spent the first chunk of a rather longer holiday than usual, a place which T- Mobile and broadband forgot, a place where it’s always “whatever-o clock”, slow, measured and clotted-creamy, has gone on long enough.


Dorset is a tiny county which it takes longer to reach by car than a return trip by Easy Jet to Venice. Above all Dorset belongs to the memory of Thomas Hardy. He’s the creator of names like Eustacia Vye, Damon Wildeve and Bathsheba Everdene. He’s the writer of novels in which the dreadful hand of fate constantly touches the shoulder of the unlucky or amoral - the nearest we have to a writer of Greek tragedy.
But there’s something else.

An award for exceptional marketing goes to Dorset.

We were entertaining our grandchildren (or vice versa). Over three days we did the following:
Visited the ruins of Corfe Castle (one of the few strongholds to withstand the parliamentary forces in the south of England in the mid-1600s) where we learned to use a sword - “aim for the nose” -  a halbert - “great for gouging at close quarters” and a bow and arrow - lethal wounds were delivered to head, groin, legs and upper body of the targeted strawmen.


And so on to Abbotsbury - an award winning sub-tropical garden - huge Monterey Cypresses, brilliant succulent plants ; the Swannery - 600 of the white feathered thugs whom the children all fed with grain and we learned about their habits (did you know that the wretches bask in the reputation of being “one-swan-guys” but they all pop off for constant “surreptitious affairs” at the “Bonking Swan” no doubt.)


And then their farm. There’s more money to be made now by tarmacking fields and having kids ride plastic tractors, have pony rides, watch lamb races, have close contact with exotic birds (in the cage with the budgerigars and parakeets) and operate radio controlled pirate boats on the lake - than there ever could be by growing stuff.

Finally the museum day - “oh no Grandpa not museums!” Dorchester is about the same size as Goldaming, Newport Pagnell or Kenilworth… so quite small. It has a Town Museum and five (yes -  five) others. A Teddy Bear Museum; a reproduction of the Terracotta Warriors, a Dinosaurs Museum (where else have you heard “kids - you can touch anything here”);


an abbreviated version of the British Museum Tutenkhamun Exhibition and the Mummies (the boys loved these dead bodies so much that they eyed me as if to say “not long now.”).  Where else could there be this much enterprise, enthusiasm to please and involve and overall sense of drama?  If everyone attacked their cultural opportunity as well as this then all would be well in the sector.

Dorset I’ve heard you loud and clear.


And one other thing. Dorchester has a Michelin star restaurant. Proof that there’s more to life than my smart phone.

Monday, 18 August 2014

I KNOW EXACTLY HOW YOU FEEL

The trouble is that just isn’t true. We talk increasingly about empathy but when it comes to understanding Isis or Al Qaeda we simply don’t have a clue.  Actually, we often don’t even understand how people near to us really feel. It’s ironic isn’t it that those of us who spent our lives in advertising were, much of the time, guessing about how our ads were going to work?

But soon all that’s going to change and marketing, as we knew it, is going to be pretty well redundant. As neuroscience becomes front page newspaper stuff and not arcane and academic we are going to be embarked on a journey that will let us unravel moods and feelings and our ability to detect, predict and manipulate them.

And I think this is really exciting because it takes the finger-in-the-air-ness out of not just marketing but behaviour in businesses and specifically things like negotiation. How much time is spent trying to outwit and double guess each other? Eliminate business poker and we can spend more time on innovation and pure problem solving.

I’m writing this on holiday in Dorset – grandsons outraged that I’m tapping away when there are trees to be climbed and monsters to be caught. Outside although it’s drizzling I feel that curious contentment about this green and pleasant land that is pure gut and not rational. Yesterday I had a pint of Palmer’s Best Bitter (the Bridport Brewer) slightly flat, slightly warm, mildly hoppy and bitter sweet. It tasted to me of village cricket and memories of steam trains. But my wife said it tasted to her of “disappointment” not that it was disappointing but that it reminded her of “something not quite fulfilling what she’d expected it to”. I reflected she was probably right; it was a sort of UKIP taste – slightly discontented and mildly aggrieved, happy to put up with chipped cups and white bread.


A taste can do that as can a smell. Summer holidays are evoked by the smell of sun on old stones and of a BBQ aroma.  Mansion polish: just one sniff of it and I think of Oxford.

We can only guess at people’s memories, at what is stored in the brain ready to go off at any time. Yet “mood-barometrics” – the study of how to measure mood – will take us a long way down the road of disentangling the mysteries of feelings and human instinct.

The smartest business people are recognising the need to engage and inspire the emotions. The art of storytelling, creating a compelling narrative,  is the stuff of the C suite. We are on the verge of an era where emotion plays a much bigger part in business than spreadsheets and facts.


Einstein once said: “Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.”

But that was then. The world is changing and quite soon we’ll be able to count the things that really count.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

LIKE PATIENCE ON A MONUMENT


Quoting Shakespeare in a blog is a very bad sign of showing off or despair at having nothing to say.

I wrote about boredom recently. Now it’s patience.

Living, as we do, in a “get-it-done, hurry-hurry, want-it-right-now” world, patience is in short supply but, as we heard as children, the longer you wait the better it is (which I’ve never really believed myself.)

A friend of mine who’s been looking for premises for his business has been thwarted and gazumped on a number of occasions with the “perfect” place seized from his grasp. He was feeling understandably paranoid. Sleepless one night, he remembered a street which had a perfect site. He strolled there the next day and there it was “To Let”. Hopefully this story will end well but the point was this is. In every respect it’s “a much more perfect site” than the others were.

Psychologists warn against trying to make decisions too fast. Better to wait and think and see what comes up. Better decisions tend to come at their own pace not ours. I recall that splendid direction from an Irishman who said:

See…. you drive along here and turn left and you go up that road a certain distance and you come to another road where you turn left…


I love a “certain distance”. It describes perfectly a sense of time, judgement and patience.

But acting like the children we once were we constantly ask “are we there yet?” We want instant world peace, we want instant female bishops, we want instant everything. We want crime novels called “The Butler Did It”. And we want to apply all our intuitive prejudices like a friend of my wife’s who on being accused of being instantly judgemental and prejudiced said “yes, but it saves so much time.

Patience works best in cooking. And here the metaphor for life and business is brilliantly painted by Anthony Bourdain in his riveting “Les Halles Cookbook.” He spends a lot of time talking about “prep” and how this patient process is the critical one:


There is something really great about transforming a big heap of raw materials into an organised array of useful foodstuffs…working at one’s own pace, one attains a relaxing, almost Zen-like state of calm. From chaos one surely but slowly creates order.

Patience applies to recuperation too. Another good friend had major surgery on her back and has been temporarily disabled. Sadly no cartwheeling for her for a while (unlike the late great Talulah Bankhead who, it is said, used to cartwheel through the reception of the Plaza in New York without any knickers.) My friend being patient in her convalescence has become the best read girl in Britain.

Which goes to show the benefits of patience are in allowing you the time to get it read, letting it cook properly and focusing on what’s right not just what’s now.

Patience isn’t easy but you’ll make fewer mistakes if you think first. And wait.






Monday, 4 August 2014

BOREDOM R.I.P.

The age of boredom is dead. Boredom’s not actually that old an idea, the word having been coined in 1852 in Dickens’s Bleak House.


This was when Britain was the world’s largest economy, when the pre Raphaelites were doing their thing and Tennyson was poet Laureate. Yet in my own childhood just over a century later, we were still told we must be capable of dealing with boredom. Like grief, boredom was something that happened to everyone and you just had to sit quietly and wait.
There wasn’t much else to do of course. Shops were shut on Sunday. Actually there weren’t many shops and hardly any restaurants. Loneliness was commonplace (unless you smoked of course. Remember the advertising campaign “You’re never alone with a Strand”?) When the circus came to town it was a very big event rather like the Olympics but with animals. In the early ‘60s the world was a quiet place. When we went to Greece it was like being an intrepid explorer.  Local Greeks would walk up and stare at you in astonishment whilst you needed a police permit to travel to northern Corfu.

There was the polite absence of things going on. Cabinet Ministers were addressed as “Sir” by BBC interviewers and were given an easy time and we were still hanging people - not so polite that. There was always football of course and draught bitter and Mackeson Stout. But just this week I noticed that the number of people going to the theatre now exceeds the number of people who go to watch football.


I have this funny feeling that the heyday of football is over and will decline - a dull, overpriced game that is no longer beautiful - and the era of DIY eventing in on us. The number of people practising “circus arts” has shot up and the incidence of activity holidays - learning to cook, dance, yodel or write creatively has shot up. (Sorry I lied about “yodelling” - that was an example of creative writing.)

The modern world is about “doing things on the move”. Visiting, trying and watching. Bite sized everything.
Today it’s Sunday I can read several 100 page Sunday Papers, I can go shopping to hundreds of boutiques and specialist shops, eat from a choice of every cuisine in the world, listen to street musicians who in the 1960s would have been at the Palladium, go to see one of 30 different films, drink wine, fruit cider, cocktails, infinite varieties of tea and coffee - even Vietnamese coffee. You haven’t heard of it …me neither till today.

I am, literally, spoilt for choice.


Check out what’s on for families and there are museums, activity centres, discovery centres, open farms where you can cuddle animals of your choice. The menu of possibilities is too long for anyone to conceive of getting bored.

My grandsons and great nieces have far busier diaries than mine…poor things.

Boredom is dead. Exhaustion is the new boredom.


Monday, 28 July 2014

WHAT DO YOU THINK?


We all spend too much time worrying about what other people think. John Carey’s wonderful book “The Unexpected Professor” describes him wandering through his favourite books and poems and describes a life of literature and learning in Oxford.  He made even the formidable Milton fun. He talked and wrote in simple English and with a lightness of touch. Carey laments the poverty of insight in most literary criticism.


I’d extend that to management books, to political books to virtually everything. Why do so many of us live in a world of recycled views, a kind of air-conditioned world where many of the interesting bits have been filtered out? Asking “what do you think?” may for many seem a bit dangerous. Because if it happens to be at odds with what your boss thinks then you  don’t think it, even if you do (if you see what I mean.)

In his book “Creativity.inc” Ed Catmull (joint founder of Pixar) says they decided early on:
“if we made something we wanted to see , other people would want to see it too.
The über- creative Steve Jobs (also Chairman of Pixar) put it like this “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.

Because most people don’t think because they’re scared to, they either agree with what someone else they like says or the group says or their boss says even if it’s daft. Psychological experiments show that in a rigged focus group with a bunch of plants saying line A is longer than line B
__________________________  line A
_____________________________________________ line B

Then the rest of the group, denying the evidence of their eyes, will be cajoled to into agreeing line A is definitely longer.

There was an old story about the management consultant who being allegedly very good at his job was also in consequence very rich. In being asked by a client what the time was he countered oleaginously “what time would you like it to be?”

But the real entrepreneurs, the risk takers who believe they are right and others are wrong, the people who have an idea and focus on making that idea better are the characters I want to spend time with.
I loved the recent report of Lidl who are mounting an assault on the other retailers with exceedingly good low priced claret.


Paul Goldschmidt, owner of Chateau Siaurac , who is supplying a 2007 Réserve de la Baronne at £13.99, said: “Some retailers bargain on quality — but Lidl didn’t."

Lidl didn’t because they know what they think and I bet their expenditure on market research is infinitesimal, if it exists at all, compared to Tesco. Poor Tesco who are listening to their customers giving them what they say they want and being accordingly shafted.

Too few people are spending enough time doing what matters. Deciding what they think, being true to their own values and doing and saying accordingly - clearly, loudly, and proudly.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

WHAT IT'S LIKE BEING GERMAN


I heard it said that, in Germany, comedy was no laughing matter. Whoever said that hadn’t met Juergen Voss who’s German and CFO at the Tetra Pak European and EMEA division. He’s German and he’s a finance guy and he’s very, very funny, one of the best stand-up presenters. He can make a spreadsheet seem incredibly humorous (which is, in itself, a great art.) Following the triumph of the German football team in Rio I asked him what the mood in Germany was like.


 “Leaving the obvious celebrations aside (like the return to Berlin today) the overall atmosphere here is actually very pleasant. People are walking around with a satisfactory smile rather than pounding their chests. More at peace with themselves instead ‘we showed them’. Interesting in a people that struggles in displaying some national pride. I guess humbleness is a good to describe it without reading too much into it, but I guess the atmosphere here is very much in line with how the team acted in Brazil.

I was in Germany just after the Falklands War had started, in Nuremberg at the Deutscher Hof Hotel (said to be Hitler’s favourite).  As I went up in the lift the grim-faced porter turned, smiled at me and said with considerable satisfaction “Warmonger.” Follow that. Well I guess the Germans did in finding the “Don’t Mention the War” episode of Fawlty Towers very funny.


I sense we underestimate the Germans as human beings and are stuck with our stereotype of them. Recently on the London Underground a kid offered me her seat (do I look that old?) She was with a group of friends and they told me this was their first time in London and they were having a ball. They were full of fun, intelligence and laughter. Where are you from I asked as their fluent English was pretty well devoid of a giveaway accent. “Germany” they said.


I’ve decided I like the Germans a lot. They do great graffiti. They can manage an economy. They can do the most difficult thing brilliantly which is merging two cultures in East and West Germany. They have the liveliest creative culture ion the world in Berlin. They put a smart woman in charge. They make great cars, great beer and run the best SME sector imaginable.

Their Mittelstand (mid-sized) companies are highly focused with a ruthless focus doing one or two things really well. They believe in a great coaching/apprentice system and create through it a highly-skilled workforce. And they don’t waste their time buying and selling their companies - they stick with them keeping them in the family through generations.


Years ago I ran an advertising agency that had Storck as a client (they’re the Werther’s Original producers). At a board meeting the CEO one Otto Pancke decided there was insufficient energy or creativity so he roared:

Everyone take all your clothes off now. Let’s see if nakedness makes a difference.

Don’t tell me the Germans don’t have a sense of humour.

Monday, 14 July 2014

WHY DIFFERENT IS SO DIFFICULT

A word on genius. It’s hard to be a genius but it’s probably even harder to live with one. Was Leonardo Da Vinci sparkling company? Was Van Gogh a jolly person to have dinner with? And more recently what have would Steve Jobs have been like over a drink and would you want to be in the same lift as Jeff Bezos?


Supreme talent has its downside. The very clever, very skilful, very creative and very extraordinary can be a complete pain in the neck. We like the iPad but we didn’t like Steve’s manners. Most of the greatest talents in history would be unemployable, in prison or have been sent to Coventry had they been around now.
Simon Barnes in Friday’s Times wonders why we as a nation have such problems with excellence. In cricket the David Gower’s and Kevin Pietersen’s of this world seem too hard to live with. Give us instead journeymen. Better to be mediocre than a nuisance.


There’ll come a point when the unspeakable behaviour of a Mozart gets too much for the average manager. But listen to the music. Wonder at the invention. Marvel at the facility to astonish, delight and transport. At what point would we be happy to burn all Dickens novels and settle for Disraeli’s instead? Or John Donne? Sacked and job given to Abraham Cowley instead. Not as good but quite sound.

What price Shakespeare, Rembrandt or Beethoven? Was Elvis Presley a worse singer as his excesses grew? Forty four years later he still sounds great at a Las Vegas Concert so do I care?


How do we harness and control the commercial Luis Suarez’s we know about? The ill- tempered, plilanderers, drunkards and drug addicts who have an astonishing talent at what they do. We clearly can’t control them but can we get the best out of them? John Barclay said of Kevin Pietersen that he thought England had managed him brilliantly…”after all we got over 8000 brilliant runs out of him”.

The problem is that I know people who are nice with ordinary talent, people who aren’t very nice who have none but I know none with great talent who aren’t different, a bit awkward and mercurial. Genius is wayward. It seems to play by different rules.


But unless we can handle difference, moodiness and erratic behaviour can we expect the best work to be done? John Milton (another genius) was not reflecting on the hospitality business when he wrote “they also serve who only stand and wait”. He was reminding us that backstage there are people who make a big difference - the minders, the great managers and the coaches. At their best and most selfless it is they who allow us to see the greats on stage the Olivier’s, Burton’s and Finney’s rather than safe dullards

Richard French, the ex-advertising man put it like this:-
The real mark of leadership is to be able to manage the unmanageable.
That’s spot on.