Monday, 21 October 2019

THE DEATH OF THE SALESMAN

“When you're lying awake with a dismal headache
And repose is taboo'd by anxiety……
For your brain is on fire, the bed-clothes conspire
Of usual slumber to plunder you:
First your counter-pane goes, and uncovers your toes,
And your sheet slips demurely from under you.”


This was me– the song from Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘Iolanthe’ filled my head plus a ‘new’ line
“and self-loathing corrodes your judgement”

This is unusual for me. My nights are normally full of enjoyable slumber and dreams in which I perform impossible missions with sang froid and daring.... but not on Saturday morning at 3am when I woke cursing, writhing and perspiring.


I was suffering as so many are with a nasty dose of acute brexitis and this was made much worse by an attack of gulliblonia as I suspected I’d been duped the previous day by a fast-talking, persistent salesman on the phone and I’d failed to say “no” or been dismissive to him. When I got out of bed my worst fears were confirmed. My broadband contract with BT was being cancelled and replaced with a cheaper deal with EE (their sister company with whom they’d merged) and I had, suspiciously, only one day‘s cooling-off period.

There are two rules I follow.
i) Never buy anything at the door or on the phone or from any cold call salesman.
ii) And always take your time. “Sign now or the offer goes” is the sales ploy of a desperado.

On this occasion with the lame excuse of not feeling very well I’d failed on both rules. Hence that self-loathing.


So I phoned BT. Mo is in India at one of those call centres and is a star. Brilliant English and a sense of humour. She told me not to worry. BT and EE were the same company and I’d been sold a perfectly reasonable deal. What, she wondered, was my problem? I explained the high pressured sales-spiel and the short cooling-off period irked me and that I knew something was wrong. She giggled when I talked about the sales patter and conceded those “sales guys” were really motivated to hit targets.


“So this deal is OK with a better router and half the price and it includes the BT TV deal as well?” It appeared not. That was the flaw. I told her my wife would be very unhappy if our TV went down whilst I was in the office chortling at cheap super-high-speed broadband. She giggled again and said she was totally with my wife.

So I cancelled the deal.

At the back of my mind I recalled a radio phone-in where a guy changed his mobile-phone provider to save money in response to a cold-call and it went horribly wrong. No reception and a lost/cancelled phone-number which he explained was on all his literature and his fleet of vans.


So if it sounds like a salesman on the phone terminate the call. Always.

“Start-ups Pivots and Pop Ups” by Richard Hall and Rachel Bell is published on October3rd by Kogan Page. The antidote to doubt and gloom. And definitely not a scam.




Monday, 14 October 2019

WHY RIOTS FAIL

Only an idiot would refute scientific evidence about global warming. Their issue, the deniers say, is we’ve had such cycles of change before in the world’s history. Maybe but not so pronounced nor that correlate so closely with global industrial activity.


So what are we doing about it? Sir David Attenborough has done more than most to open our eyes and minds and, quietly in the UK, we’re doing quite a lot - rather more than anyone else. Nothing to be smug about though. However we represent about 1% of the world’s population and just 0.2% of the world’s landmass so, whilst we can set an example, we can’t make a real difference.
It was nostalgic watching ‘Extinction Rebellion’ doing their thing last week. It brought back memories of the ‘Ban the Bomb’ marches in the 1960s, the miners’ strike riots of 1984, the Poll Tax riots of 1990 and the London riots of 2011. The voice of the people getting louder, increasingly intolerant (but as ever rather ineffective.)


The argument for exhorting urgent action is strong.  But when the extinction rebels get going with their japes they make me dislike their cause.  They’re simply so annoying that they neutralise my conscience. They are as idiotic as those denying their cause. What a pity that they get it, and so many of us, wrong. And how ironic that those schoolchildren taking time from school to wave their “Save the Planet” banners meet in their thousands and then depart leaving, would you believe, mountains of litter and plastic bottles.

Extreme language and thoughtlessness is the stuff of social media. It has a strangely shouty quality about it. Enoch Powell’s notorious “rivers of blood” speech in 1968 produced howls of execration. Now threats of killing them, to those who disagree with other people seem almost commonplace.


When Andrew Neil interviewed an extinction rebel on TV last week she said banning the use of gas for cooking, driving cars and flying by 2025 were an acceptable trade-off in trying to reverse climate change . This extreme position, leading as it probably would to our becoming a mediaeval country again, would be impossible to enact.

There are certain uncomfortable truths, in addition to those Al Gore talked about, that early apostle of describing the perils of climate change, not least the fact that this world is healthier, wealthier and more content overall than it has ever been. We have made so much progress. But, yes, we have become far too greedy for growth and swung that dial too far.


The climate change rebels are presenting their case so badly as to make it noisily inaudible. Most politicians today go over the top – Donald Trump lives in a racing, spluttering first gear. Our own Parliament is full of rage.

But words matter. Calm, thoughtful argument matters. Riots, vituperation and violence aren’t the right tools for a balanced discussion.


The rebels have a strong story but super-gluing themselves to planes obscures that story.


“Start-ups Pivots and Pop Ups” by Richard Hall and Rachel Bell is published on October3rd by Kogan Page. The antidote to doubt and gloom.


Monday, 7 October 2019

VIDEO KILLED THE RADIO STAR...

This single by the Buggles went to the top of 11 international charts including the UK in 1979. The lyrics concluded as follows:
Video killed the radio star
Video killed the radio star
In my mind and in my car
We can't rewind we've gone too far


I was thinking about it last Thursday as our book on start-ups was launched and Co-Author Rachel Bell and I sat in a sound recording studio in Hammersmith doing a series of Radio interviews.

Radio wasn’t of course killed by technology, which this curiously elegiac pop song suggested. Radio’s listening profile is remarkably consistent remaining at just under 50 million weekly individual listeners throughout the current decade.

Have you ever done it? Headphones on, red light showing you’re on air, a tiny studio the soundproofing in which gives you illusion of being deaf.  And then you’re nearly on air…


“I’m Fiona, Terry’s producer you’ll be speaking to him in just 20 seconds”
You hear a long forgotten pop song blaring through your headphones  - Video killed the Radio star…ooh ah – which fades
“We have with us today Rachel Bell and Richard Hall who’ve written this book ‘Start-ups, Divots and Prop Ups’ – I got that wrong didn’t I – sorry guys - well what’s it all about?”


Just for a moment you have no idea. Your mind blanks. You are not sure you’ve ever written a book. You recall Jeremy Paxman who had a walk on part in The Edge of Reason, the Bridget Jones film and who found it utterly terrifying, literally struggling to walk and talk at the same time.

Or there was the time a taxi driver called (say) Ted Davies waiting in BBC reception hearing a bossy PA calling  “is Professor Davis here?” He raised a tentative hand and was rushed into a studio to be interviewed by someone like Martha Kearney about a recently published  report on something esoteric like black holes in space and earnestly trying his confused best:
“That Wapping High Street can be a black hole in the rush hour”…

The mind is a funny thing. You hear a voice – not your own surely – higher, rougher, slightly aggressive with a nasty sardonic chuckle. It’s talking very fast and quoting people you’ve never come across. You sound rather pleased with yourself. It’s all rather ghastly.
“Thanks Rachel and Richard that was great”…”Thanks Fiona” you croak.

 

I have a recurring nightmare of finals at Oxford and discovering I can answer nothing, have read all the wrong books and am staring dry mouthed in horror. This happened to one candidate I heard about who taking things into his own hands shouted “you bastards” and ran up the Examination Hall to attack one of the examiners.

The reality was all the radio stations were very professional and slick. The interviewers were charming, helpful, mentioned the right title of the book and got the best out of us.

Video killed the Radio Star? Not last Thursday it didn’t.

“Start-ups Pivots and Pop Ups” by Richard Hall and Rachel Bell is published on October 3rd by Kogan Page. The antidote to doubt and gloom.



Monday, 30 September 2019

WHO'S A SILLY BILLY?

HR experts have found a new, trendy use for artificial-intelligence. They ‘re enhancing the precision of recruitment by getting applicants for jobs to video themselves whilst responding to a set of pre-prepared questions. The algorithm then analyses facial expressions for honesty, resourcefulness and, resilience or whatever qualities are deemed important. No, this is not a joke. Unilever and other big companies are taking it really seriously.


The theory underlying this is  that human beings’ judgement is too biased and unreliable and is better replaced instead by a kind of consistent, artificial …. stupidity.

Here’s my problem. We are all that we have. Our humanity is what makes is good or bad but above all remarkable. We are put on earth to play our part in a role of the drama called life. My favourite new way of describing the HR leadership function is not the increasingly popular “Head of People” title but that used by a Canadian company who’d decided it was the quality of people they hired and the way they interrelated that would define their success.  They used the term “Casting Director”.


The difficulty of hiring people relates to how they fit together as a team not them individually. Unity of purpose and the ability to collaborate is more relevant than it’s ever been.

Which brings me to the uneasy scenes we’ve recently seen in the House of Commons. It’s pretty obvious that compromise and the bringing-together-of-people are not probable achievements there at present.

It’s also evident that big, blustering, bonking Boris (no offence Mr Johnson but you must admit the AI algorithm would have you marked out as a bit of a  buffoon) has been briefed to act the role of disruptor to flummox and enrage the “remainers.” It’s working insofar as their barely restrained violence does their preferred position of calm unification  no good.

But where has the role of satire gone? Why is no one laughing at big, bad Boris?


The best joke  I heard was from Emily Thornberry who, at the Labour Party Conference, described her recent cycling accident. As she lay bleeding on the road the paramedics attending her asked a series of questions like “what day of the week is it?”, “How many fingers am I holding up?”

She was doing fine until the third question ”who’s the Prime Minister?” She told them to rush her to hospital as she was suffering serious delusions “it surely can’t be… Boris Johnson!”

Homo Sapiens, as Yuval Noah Harai says in his book “Sapiens”, got us where we are today through our gregariousness and ability to work together. Put AI or social sabotage like Boris is using into the mix and what has taken centuries to achieve will be compromised and lost.


It was that jovial attack-dog Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer Denis Healey who used the phrase “Silly Billy” in the 1970s

“Silly” is a good word for misused artificial-intelligence or misused leadership. Not “wicked” just plain silly. Silly Boris.

“Start-ups Pivots and Pop Ups” by Richard Hall and Rachel Bell is published on October 3rd by Kogan Page. The antidote to doubt and gloom.


Monday, 23 September 2019

ARE THERE ANY BIG IDEAS ANYMORE?

Historically civilisation has revolved around big ideas.


Successions of great empires like the Assyrian, Persian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Mughal, Chinese and British. Movements like the Renaissance, Reformation and Enlightenment. Revolutions like the French and American. Technological breakthroughs: Gutenberg’s printing presses, the Agrarian, Industrial and Transport Revolutions and the Information Revolution around now for just two decades.
Then we had dictators (and leaders) from Attila to Julius Caesar to William the Conqueror, to Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin, Franco and Mao Ze Dong. History is full of big (and often bad) men.


All the big ideas of the past were driven by big brains and strong-minded people. But big ideas have more recently been usurped by distractions or small-minded ambitions. We seem be making the world a smaller place. In this smaller place figures like Trump, Putin and Farage stand out not through being better, bigger or smarter but be being simpler and louder.

When people talked about the benefits and cost savings being bigger brought, they were doing so in the context of the industrial age. A big idea like those we find in the writings of Harari, Gladwell or Lewis comes from one man’s mind not a scaled up machine. When we play new video games they, as often as not, are conceived by clever individuals. Creativity is not about bigger it’s always about smarter, more liberated thinkers.


Life has become more splintered. Big organisations like Arcadia, Carillion and Thomas Cook falter on mountains of debt and huge fixed-costs. Buying anything on line has neutralised consumers’ concept of size. Political parties are no longer broad churches. In 2017 the UK had three parties, Conservative, Labour and SNP. Now we‘ve at least two Tory parties, two Labour parties, the Lib Dems, Brexit and SNP. It feels more like Italy than Britain.

In 2019 it feels better to be a small independent restaurant than a large chain. Small and opinionated is better than big and amorphous. Which brings us back to ideas. Big ideas do not belong to big organisations; they are driven by simple easy-to-cling-to concepts.

We currently have four I can see:
- Go back to the past – read Robert Harris’ Second Sleep.
- Resist rapid progress – globalisation, federation, technology, change in general
- Accelerate communication – social media, more film providers, more fragmentation
- Stop Climate Change – a 16 year old Swedish schoolgirl has done more than David Attenborough to wake up the world

Brexit doesn’t get a mention but the bigger companies will suffer most and the smaller will cope best as will – if it happens - the smallest, who’ll thrive by being alert to changes.

This “new world” is the really big idea.

 A chameleon-like, rebellious place where people skip school to protest and get applauded not detention, where new political tribes are formed and where big is seen as “titanically” irrelevant against our melting icebergs.


Weep for Toyota, Facebook and Tesco. Memories of the past before people found their voices.




“Start-ups Pivots and Pop Ups” by Richard Hall and Rachel Bell is published on October 3rd by Kogan Page. The antidote to doubt and gloom.



Tuesday, 17 September 2019

SPAIN RAVAGED BY WORST STORM A CENTURY

I was there at 3pm, aghast as gales, crashing thunder, non-stop lightening and torrential rain - 20% of annual average fell in a few hours - and ripped through the laughingly named Costa del Sol.


Storm Gabriel met the remnants of Hurricane Dorian and put the piffling disturbance of Brexit into perspective.

Monday, 9 September 2019

A BIT MORE CHARM WOULDN'T GO AMISS

Maybe I’m in a genial mood because I’m about to go for a week’s rest, relaxation and reflection in Spain. When I discovered there’s going to be seven days of wall-to-wall sun there I felt even more genial. It’s the opportunity to read a book a day and fill my mind with new thoughts, plots and excitement.


My geniality was enhanced by Amy Ryder. Amy  works for British Airways. Here’s why we spoke. When our flights to Malaga were cancelled because of the pilots’ strike I tried to get my refund. It was at moments like this that automation and technology seem sadly wanting. With some 450,000 other thwarted customers also trying to get refunds on their PCs the BA systems crashed. Eventually I e-mailed Alex Cruz the BA CEO  and Chairman saying I realised he was busy but could he get someone to sort out my problem. Enter Amy. She was professional, charming, relaxed – in short, a delight and a brilliant example of customer service.  It took five minutes of unscripted conversation on the phone for her to sort my problem and five minutes for my faith in BA to be fully restored. Charm makes magic.


In contrast Parliament has been charmless. No worse than that,  thuggish, barbarian and stupid. Boris is not and has never been restrained. Reckless, rumbustious and expansive describes the man. But his behaviour was dwarfed by the baying crowds around him. I began to feel parliament had been prorogued by for far too short a time. How about proroguing it forever? And then within their ranks there were wistful reflections that maybe they could have another shot at Theresa May’s deal. Increasingly “no deal”  begins to feel like the vet’s humane killer gun necessary to put us out of our misery. The worst thing, of course, is their shocking manners and hostility.


How do we unite this broken country I heard someone wail. It’s doable but only if we encourage people to listen, think and debate good humouredly. I heard some signs of this on Any Answers on Saturday but presenter Anita Anand sounded frustrated as people phoning in were in succession thoughtful Brexiteers who kept on reminding her that the government had pledged to do what the referendum told them to do. “But no one voted for no deal” she retorted “No one didn’t not vote for it either” someone said. Hmm! Presenters and interviewers seem rather keen to stir things up which is regrettable.

In the meantime the BBC and everyone else needs to calm things down. The mood of the nation must be less adversarial and , yes, more genial. Recently I met someone who said how much he hated Christmas yet it’s that Christmas spirit we need. Here’s what Washington Irving who was the real inventor of the Christmas we love said:


So I’m off to Spain, the land of lazily enjoying life in ultimate geniality.
Se amable. Que te diviertas. Feliz Septiembre.

Monday, 2 September 2019

THE MILLENIAL MYTH DEFUSED

When Simon Sineck talked about the millennials in 2017 he derided their sense of entitlement and said what they really wanted at work were “beanbags and free food”. It was very funny. The trouble is Simon casually set the so called “snowflake generation” on a pillar of ridicule.


It troubled me at the time. Today I think it was pernicious and just plain wrong. The millennial generation that I see has a number of admirable qualities. When Rachel Bell, my co-author, chaired a group of CEOs a while back she asked them what was on their mind and the difficulty of managing millennials  was mentioned with comments like “I can’t stand them, who do they think they are?” She told these so-called leaders they were “wrong” because if they couldn’t manage millennial talent what sort of leaders were they?

In our experience most millennials are energetic, smart, fair, collaborative, generous in friendship, thoughtful and highly skilled. They may have grown up faster than we’d like, tyrannised by the stress of an exam culture. They may be sometimes be rebellious (unlike us of course in the mid-1960s and ‘70s). Interestingly millennials are drinking much less than we did. Here’s what an NHS report of 2018 concluded:

“A study …of 10,000 young people in the UK found that … 16- to 24-year-olds who say they never drink alcohol rose from 18% in 2005 to 29% in 2015. …young people who did drink alcohol were drinking less nowadays and binge drinking rates were falling.”


But millennials are not natural employees. They resist old fashioned concepts of starting at the bottom and slowly working their way up. We may find this unreasonable arguing it did us no harm (although looking at the products of  more repressive past regimes in, for instance, contemporary politicians I’m not sure this is a persuasive point of view.)

Instead however they are ideally preparing themselves to be creators of new businesses. They are the “Start-Up-Generation” which is why 70% of them say they want to create their own businesses rather than become a “wage slave”.


Vicki Harrocks, of Edge Hill University, teaches performance arts at Formby High School and says she spots the spirit of enterprise and latent entrepreneurialism in the year six pupils who are deemed most naughty and disruptive by her peers. She says they’re the ones who are quicker on the uptake, share ideas, talk in class, get restless and are never happier than when on their feet “showing off” (or, as we in business, call it “presenting ideas”).

These are our future. As they learn real business skills playing Fortnite, FIFA 19 and Restaurant Tycoon and create huge and powerful networks of diverse talents (not the antiquated “old boys’ network”) we’re looking at great team players, people who have real values and who want to create enjoyable workplaces.


They may be hard for us to manage but that’s a reflection on our own limitations rather than theirs. It’s time to give them their head. They will not let us down.

These are the millennial militants and they are winners.


“Start-ups Pivots and Pop Ups” by Richard Hall and Rachel Bell is published on October 3rd by Kogan Page. The antidote to doubt and gloom.

Monday, 26 August 2019

DEJECTION, HOPE, TENTERHOOKS, DISBELIEF, ELATION

So we won a cricket match we’d seemed to be doomed to lose.

What on earth’s going on?  The recent Test Match was transformed from abject to spectacular and I can’t take such nail-biting drama.


Incidentally the real hero is the last man, the redoubtable Jack Leach whose 1 not out was the bravest feat of survival ever.

Me? I’m off to bed. Exhausted.

Do you think Brexit will be like this with the EU caving in and agreeing on no back-stop, no leaving fee and giving us a free trade deal and saying sorry for being so mean? It wouldn’t be more surprising than what happened in Yorkshire on Sunday.

WE ARE BECOMING MORE DEJECTED

It was hard to be cheerful as England’s batting collapsed on Friday after the euphoria of Jofra Archer’s bowling the day before. Somehow Brexit,  Brazilian rain forests and prospective recession were put in perspective. I recalled the Teresa May’s role model was Geoffrey Boycott, the model test cricketer, whose own derisory comments eviscerated England’s pitiful performance. It was more like primary school cricket than Test Cricket. All I wanted to do was go to bed.


Yet outside the sun was shining, the “fishing-boat-bobbing” sea was twinkling blue and seagulls were shrieking “mine, mine” as they swooped on fish and chip gobbling tourists. Real summer. Real laughter. Yet I was miserable.

I’ve often been told “it’s only a game” but “only” isn’t good enough. It’s set the tone for my summers ever since I was an avid player myself long, long ago. Cricket has for me, and many others,  been a metaphor for life. It normally has a slow rhythm to it not the frantic hysteria we saw. The point of it for spectators always seemed to be that gentle unfolding of drama , one of the reasons that the Compton stand at Lords seems so full of actors relaxing before their evening performance. Yet the game has been reduced to pantomime “behind you Wade” (that’s a very esoteric joke reserved just for cricket buffs.)


The reason for this may be partly because of the dominance of short form cricket indicating our unquenchable need for speed. Speed dating, speed interviewing and so on. The operatic grandeur of the grand old game has gone. Slow and graceful has been replaced by Tarantino dramatics.

I wonder why our moods are so fickle and frail and why that frailty has become more pronounced. Perhaps because we are exposed to an increasing quantity of headlines on social media, in the papers and by commentators. John Arlott  was more mellow than Jonathan Agnew, more poetic more descriptive and less brittle.


Our lives are dominated by BBC Radio 4 Today-style interviewers and Daily Mail  headlines. I recall an old Private Eye cartoon in which a cheerful fellow walks downstairs and picks up the paper. Its headline is “It’s a disgrace” and his face creases in a dark frown “It’s a disgrace!!” he mutters, the tenor of his day defined and ruined.

Things got worse when I discovered that BA pilots are going on strike on the day we are going on a late holiday to Spain. The aeronautical equivalent of “rain stopped play”.

But my dejection improved when I itemised what was good in my life. My blessings far outweigh a batting collapse or a travel hitch.


The sheer delight of seeing five young people growing up all with different talents, the joy of writing and reading the abundance of great books that are being published. And most of all the huge number of incredible people I know, like and love.

It’s a curiously wonderful life…but better still if we batted properly.








Monday, 19 August 2019

THE AGE OF ENTERPRISE

Recently I was passed in the street by someone uttering some rather depressing words.

“It’s so hard. I have to spend my time keeping tabs on my people making sure they do things properly.”

It must be fun working for him. But he, the joyless administrator,  is one reason the Start-Up revolution is gaining so much momentum.


The other is we live in a world of increasing uncertainty where economists and leading opinion makers  say with equally great conviction “we’re on the edge of a cliff” or “things will settle down quite quickly in reality”.

Few of us comprehend the macro-economy but we understand our own small world quite well. We know that big companies are not to be entirely trusted when it comes to “downsizing”. We are tired of being a number not a face. Better to strike out on our own in a rowing boat than stick with Titanic Limited.

Today I’m focusing on the middle aged entrepreneur.



George Clooney is 58. He recently sold his Tequila brand Cosamigos for $1billion. 


In a paper in the National Bureau of Economic Research middle aged start-ups are shown to grow faster and survive longer. The FT says over-50s now account for 43% of those who start their own business.

So what’s going on?

What I call the Start -Up Revolution is being fuelled from three sources – Millennials, who don’t want to work for the people like that lugubrious joker on whom I eavesdropped, women – many post maternity-leave to whom the thought of returning to office politics is too awful and the disenchanted, redundant over 50s loaded with experience, skill and enough surplus cash to fund a start-up.


David Rowan has written a book “Non-Bullshit Innovation” in which he explores the mindsets of global tech start-ups and their disruptive, white-sheet-of-paper thinking. He rightly criticises the British government’s constant postponement of decisions about strategic priorities.

It’s ironic we have so many assets to play with. Here are just a few:
- English is the world’s lingua franca
- We are huge in gaming technology
- We are big in film production
- Our creative industries are booming


- We are still dominant in financial services
- Climate change is giving us the agro-friendly climate of France in the 1980s
- We have become accomplished at customer service (about time)
- Our recent record in innovation from luxury goods to food to technology is impressive.

We don’t blow our own trumpets but as the middle aged increasingly flex their innovative muscles a fanfare is becoming more noticeable. Take gin where a generation of middle aged entrepreneurs have introduced the most exotic, interesting variety of new gins imaginable. Sales of gin have doubled in the past five years.


We hear a lot about Silicon Valley. It’s time we started to think regardless of Brexit of ourselves as “Innovation Island”. Driven by the ambitions, skill and independence of spirit of the experienced, as well as the young and hungry, we are in good shape.

Government won’t help us (they seldom do)  but they can at least get out of the way.

“Start-ups Pivots and Pop Ups” by Richard Hall and Rachel Bell is published in October by Kogan Page. The antidote to doubt and gloom.

Monday, 12 August 2019

COMMON SENSE, REASON AND FAITH

A friend said recently “I wonder how history will judge 2019”. The answer, of course, is in much the same way history judged 1919, 1819 or 1719. A year in which reason was cast aside and – as usual - folly prevailed. A hundred years ago there was a devastating flu pandemic, a disastrous Paris Peace Conference, and spontaneous outbreaks of violence in the Midlands and elsewhere. In 1819 there was the Peterloo Massacre (so you think Brexit is divisive?) whilst in 1719 France invaded Spain and Russia devastated the Swedish coast.


Human beings are, and always were, aggressive and irrational. As Teresa May once said “nothing has changed, nothing has changed”.  Perhaps it’s because of disruption that we  often hear a cry of despair that there’s so little common sense around nowadays. “Common sense” was most famously used by Thomas Paine in the 18th century when arguing for the Independence of America meaning that it was “self-evident” that this should happen.


Before that “common sense” described the 6th sense unifying the five other human senses. So its origins define it as a really big deal. Nowadays its use seems to mean what is obvious to anyone of average intelligence and as such, in a democracy, is irrefutable. This would mean Brexit is common sense. But this surely won’t do, will it?

Similarly that most dangerous remark “it stands to reason” is usually made when reason and facts have been discarded. When opinion has taken over from analysis and thought. It’s a phrase like “let’s be fair” which is most commonly used meaning just the opposite.


I spent much of my life in advertising and obviously appreciate and applaud the power of slogans. Thus “Happiness is a cigar called Hamlet” ; “Persil washes whiter”; “British Airways. The World’s Favourite Airline”.  But maybe the most potent in my life has been “Take back control” because it changed the political and cultural landscape for good (or, as many think, for bad).

In America Donald Trump and in the UK Dominic Cummings  have proved the rousing slogan works. ”Make America Great Again” and “Take Back Control” are both action-focused unlike more passive slogans like “Labour isn’t Working”. They assume we’ve had something taken away we owned and must restore.

In the midst of this people have been losing their faith in all the institutions, Police, Judiciary, Doctors, Schools and Clergy. Yet whilst Sunday attendance in churches has declined by 15% since 2007,  attendance in Cathedrals has grown by nearly 20%. So it’s odd Rochester and Norwich  Cathedrals have put  in their aisles, respectively,  a crazy golf course  and a helter-skelter.


As tribalism grows so too does faith. Rationality has taken a kicking but faith in areas from sport to fitness gurus to community groups has grown. Maybe the church should tap into that rather than indulge in low grade gimmickry.

People need to believe in something – in the midst of the current confusion something solid, reliable and unchanging.