Monday, 27 March 2017

EVEN NEW DOGS NEED NEW TRICKS

In this fast-changing world which many people seem to think is spinning out of control, it’s not just the older of us who are caught out by the need to adapt. The photographs I take on my mobile phone are better than those taken on my Pentax and recently I saw an interview filmed on a hand held iPhone that looked terrific. Presentations driven by Ted Talks have got slicker, funnier and with a powerful narrative drive.


Most of all what used to be considered amazing, as the founder of Wired Kevin Kelly said:
no longer amazes people…which in itself is amazing.”  Our capacity for being shocked exercises the inventiveness of the writers of series like “Game of Thrones” and “House of Cards”. But nothing amazes us now…

So when I read that it was commonplace to train your cat to use the lavatory, yes climb up on to the seat and neatly evacuate its bowels into the bowl I was not amazed.  I was like whatever….


By the way I really don’t talk like that ...”like whatever”… but I wanted to see if it amazed anyone and am pretty certain it just met with bemused indifference.

Cricket is a game I played and loved. The greatest player in the last 100 years statistically and in terms of his impact on the game was Don Bradman who scored around 7000 runs in Test Cricket, averaging just under 100 an innings. He hit just six 6’s in his test career. A contemporary payer, the Englishman Ben Stokes, has scored 1900 runs, averages about 34 per innings and has already hit thirty three 6s.

The game has changed. Bats are heavier, meatier and players are coached in the power-play principles of hurling and baseball. Coach Julian Woods Talks about the importance of hand speed. Sam Billings of Kent has a hand speed of 100mph.  My current hand speed is about 17mph. These are not human beings. These are cyborgs.

Golf is no different. Golf courses that for most of us are marathons are pitch and putt sprints for modern professionals who hit golf balls well in excess of 300 yards. Scores of 60 and less - 12 or more under par - are becoming commonplace.

Human beings are learning to adapt and through trial and error exceed previously aspirational levels of achievement. None more so than Dick Fosbury who adopted a new high-jump technique in the 1968 Olympics where he won a gold medal.  High Jumping was transformed. Before Fosbury 2.10 metres was regarded as great but he improved it instantly with a method which today approaches heights of 2.5 metres.
We are ingenious. We find new ways, new techniques and new skills. We don’t know our limits or whether there are any limits. Ocado is working on how to deliver groceries to our homes in just one hour. Meanwhile cats are working on how to nick that steak before the owners get to it first.




Monday, 20 March 2017

MILLENNIAL MADNESS

I was at a management conference in Croatia last week in an out-of-season luxury hotel overlooking a sun-drenched sea. There was, predictably, little sleep, some hard work and a few moments of drama. These revolved around debate on the pace of change technologically and socio-demographically.


Those of you who know me will be unsurprised by my enthusiastic support for the young, their attitudes and their behaviour. Equally I prefer looking forwards to backwards. Unlike most of my generation I was born with a defective nostalgia muscle. I just don’t do yearning for the glorious past when our trains were driven by steam and we smoked Sobranie cigarettes.

Today is better and the future will be better still.

But that future is here right now according to a presentation given by a bright, charming millennial about the life of his generation.  It’s all social media, instant messaging and a happy, pastel world of good intentions. In my own past we had Howard Marks, the self-styled Mr Nice, and mind-beautifying drugs. Plus ├ža change… only the mind altering tools are now online.

A few months ago Simon Sinek spoke provocatively about millennials. He described them as having a huge sense of entitlement and impatience. Their life he said was one of instant gratification, a “me-now” society and is founded on a belief that they can do anything, achieve anything and that this delusion is the result of bad, indulgent parenting.


As my mother used to say to me when I was tiny “life is real and life is earnest” which given V2 super-bombs had shortly before been screaming out of the sky above us was reasonable. Life was not a barrel of laughs for sure.

But it’s still quite tough. Most companies are not like Advertising Agencies, Google or Apple designed to engage the millennial workers. Most companies are quite serious places where getting to the top is like climbing a difficult mountain. There are no quick fixes.  Distraught by their failure to understand the Millennials many companies are asking them what they really want.

Sinek reports:
“They reply ‘to be in a place with purpose, to make an impact and to have ….free food and beanbags.’ But when you give them all that they still aren’t happy.”


The very tools being praised so highly at the conference, various forms of social media, are part of the problem. Research shows the more time spent on Facebook the more likely people are to be depressed. For many mobile phones are an addiction as bad as excessive drinking or gambling.  And as the recent furore at Google shows all is not entirely sunny in this hallowed territory. Indeed the decline in social media is on the verge of seeing off some pillar brands like Twitter.

Millennials are to be taken seriously but not so seriously we allow them primary authorship of the strategies we set and the societies we create.

Above all they need our help and understanding not our blind worship.


Monday, 13 March 2017

AN ADDRESS TO THE STUDENTS OF STANFORD UNIVERSITY BY KEN BURNS, the documentary film maker.

I could have nothing to add to this except…thank you.

“We must speak up...and speak out.

For 216 years, our elections, though bitterly contested, have featured the philosophies and character of candidates who were clearly qualified. That is not the case this year. One is glaringly not qualified.

So before you do anything with your well-earned degree, you must do everything you can to defeat the retrograde forces that have invaded our democratic process, divided our house, to fight against, no matter your political persuasion, the dictatorial tendencies of the candidate with zero experience in the much maligned but subtle art of governance; who is against lots of things, but doesn’t seem to be for anything, offering only bombastic and contradictory promises, and terrifying Orwellian statements; a person who easily lies, creating an environment where the truth doesn’t seem to matter; who has never demonstrated any interest in anyone or anything but himself and his own enrichment; who insults veterans, threatens a free press, mocks the handicapped, denigrates women, immigrants and all Muslims; a man who took more than a day to remember to disavow a supporter who advocates white supremacy and the Ku Klux Klan; an infantile, bullying man who, depending on his mood, is willing to discard old and established alliances, treaties and long-standing relationships.

I feel genuine sorrow for the understandably scared and—they feel—powerless people who have flocked to his campaign in the mistaken belief that—as often happens on TV—a wand can be waved and every complicated problem can be solved with the simplest of solutions.

They can’t. It is a political Ponzi scheme. And asking this man to assume the highest office in the land has been like asking a newly minted car driver to fly a 747.

As a student of history, I recognize this type. He emerges everywhere and in all eras. We see nurtured in his campaign an incipient Proto-fascism, a nativist anti-immigrant Know Nothing-ism, a disrespect for the judiciary, the prospect of women losing authority over their own bodies, African Americans again asked to go to the back of the line, voter suppression gleefully promoted, jingoistic saber rattling, a total lack of historical awareness, a political paranoia that, predictably, points fingers, always making the other wrong.

These are all virulent strains that have at times infected us in the past. But they now loom in front of us again—all happening at once. We know from our history books that these are the diseases of ancient and now fallen empires. The sense of commonwealth, of shared sacrifice, of trust, so much a part of American life, is eroding fast, spurred along and amplified by an amoral Internet that permits a lie to circle the globe three times before the truth can get started.

We no longer have the luxury of neutrality or “balance,” or even of bemused disdain. Many of our media institutions have largely failed to expose this charlatan, torn between a nagging responsibility to good journalism and the big ratings a media circus always delivers.  In fact, they have given him the abundant airtime he so desperately craves, so much so that it has actually worn down our natural human revulsion to this kind of behaviour.

Hey, he’s rich; he must be doing something right

He is not.

Edward R. Murrow would have exposed this naked emperor months ago. He is an insult to our history. Do not be deceived by his momentary “good behaviour.”  It is only a spoiled, misbehaving child hoping somehow to still have dessert.”

Monday, 6 March 2017

THE THIEVES OF TIME


When Dickens wrote in David Copperfield “Procrastination is the thief of time” he was wrong. It isn’t procrastination it’s technology and bureaucracy. I recently came across a Bain & Company Consultancy study on where time goes in the average organisation. Here’s the tawdry truth:

  • 40% in meetings
  • 23% doing e-mails
  • 18% doing unproductive work
  • Which leaves 14% on “getting real work done” - like selling stuff (actually it’s 19% but Management Consultants never could add up.)

Bain are being kind because other research shows goofing around, looking at stuff online, playing video games etc. accounts for 25% of the workday (in banking at any rate) so that 14% is probably overstated and is more like 10%.

It’s a joke.

   
In an organisation of 10,000 only 1,000 are working full time whilst the rest are doing nothing, zero, zip. So when Len McCluskey warns Peugeot, who’re about to buy Vauxhall that there must be no loss of jobs, in the 4,500 UK Vauxhall work force (go figure the math) nearly 4,000 are doing nothing anyway - in theory.

Yes I know applying statistics like this doesn’t really work.

No, the real issue is not that people are lazy, because in general they’re not, it’s that we manage to build organisations and working practices that steal their time. Meetings are too long (cancel half the meetings and then halve the time of every meeting that’s left - it’s easy if you try), only allow morning e-mails or WhatsApp messaging, afternoons are for creating opportunities, talking to customers, getting out into shops talking to consumers.

   
What, I was asked, are the processes that would allow this to happen. Try these for starters: turning off the WiFi every afternoon, appointing a squad of ‘Time-Police’ whose only role would be to break up unproductive meetings and to punish people for talking too much and especially for writing long and useless documents.

We have to stop a few myths - being in constant contact electronically isn’t good, it’s unproductive and stressful. Creating forms to complete, making people clock on, having an HR department, trying to achieve corporate identities (for whom? Not the brand, not the consumer. It’s only done so there can be internal debate). So much of the “work” is mythical, politically correct and impenetrable that you need more meetings to translate it.

A smart management consultant - yes there are some - said “trust” is the most precious corporate commodity. It’s time to work from the bottom up. We need to destroy systems not create them. We need to trust people to lead the fight against time-wasting at work. And although it may sound counter-intuitive chatting with people, having lunch with new people and actually getting to know your colleagues can actually lead to saving time because when you know someone, asking them for something, information or a favour, is easier and quicker.

So find out who these rascally thieves of time really are. And banish them.