Monday, 25 February 2019

WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?

It’s been a week of identity crises. In the politics we have a new ‘party’ called TIG (The Independent Group) comprised of twelve Conservative and Labour discontents - understandably so given the far-rightness and far-leftness of the parties they were previously part of. These “Tiggers” are upbeat, nice people. who want to restore courtesy and pleasant behaviour to the lives they lead and I expect over the following weeks their following will grow.


A.A. Milne wrote in Winnie the Pooh:
Pooh: “Oh Tigger, where are your manners?”
Tigger: “I don’t know, but I bet they’re having more fun than I am.”

As their numbers grow the Tiggers will have more fun than they have been having up till now. But the identity crisis isn’t just only about antisemitism and Brexit…important though these are …it’s about who we are as a country. And I’m afraid that is the problem. As a mongrel nation our strength has always been our diversity, our adventurousness and our inventiveness.


But enough on both sides of the House want to return to a yesterday, a mythically nicer pipe-smoking yesterday when we made things and had holidays in the drizzle. Who we really are is a bit of a mystery…it may turn out that Jeremy Corbyn is Jewish if he goes back far enough.


And then my own identity got stolen. I barely use Facebook just wishing friends happy birthday and staring at the strange pictures that people post. I worry about Facebook like I worry about climate change and environment pollution. Facebook are the plastic bag litter louts of communication. With 2 billion users they are an existential threat to us all. And we ignore this because they are so omnipresent. Suddenly some bogus ”me” is sending out stuff on Facebook Messenger pretending to me.  He appears to be middle European and – I hate this – he can’t be stopped.

Meanwhile I have left Facebook - you try they won’t let you go that easily – and I’m going to go from Twitter and Instagram too.  Because I have lost control. Talking of which – and this isn’t just another moan – I had a problem with my Bank who’d failed to make a direct transfer from my account. I spent an hour on the phone trying to sort it. It was impossible getting round their charming incompetence.


One suggested.

“Why don’t you go to your local branch to sort this?”

Because they’ve closed it down I shouted….and then apologised. Manners , Richard, manners. Outside today the sun is blazing down and daffodils are doing that Wordsworth thing. And I’ve just read Sathnam Sanghera’s problems using one of those “switch your utility providers and save money” services. He ended up with two providers, being charged twice and then being cut off.  I’ve decided I’m better off being nice, loyal and avoiding technology I don’t like, use or understand but have foolishly flirted with.

 I’ll have more fun and daffodils will do for me.





Monday, 18 February 2019

RIGHTS, WRONGS AND LOOPHOLES

Am I alone in thinking we have a moral vacuum in which views about what’s right and wrong float in helpless confusion? The absence of instinctive certainties is one of today’s biggest problems. The BBC Radio 4 programme “The Moral Maze” exists solely because of this.


The recent debate about Shamima Begum, the 19 year old British girl who fled to Syria aged 15, joined Isis , got married to a Dutch terrorist, lost two babies and now, pregnant again, is claiming her rights to come “home”, have and look after her baby in peace … is a classic example of an issue filling the Times (their “scoop” ) polarising views, with politicians calculating what plays but …. no one knows what to do. When the modern world was created there was no set of instructions and no rulebook issued.

It’s unbelievable but in 2019 we seem to be making it up as we go along. And I see this happening in companies, charities and community projects where reference to constitutions (if such things exist) is often seen as pettifogging bureaucracy.

The problem that all this creates is demonstrated in a series of remarkable events last week.


The first was the protest movement of some 10,000 school children walking out of their schools on Friday at 11 am and demanding more radical action by government to arrest climate change and save the planet. There were some great slogans “I’m studying for a future that’s being destroyed,” “I’ve seen better Cabinets in Ikea” and so on.  I wonder if this isn’t the beginning of a long painful wedge for government. Youth had its say, in interviews spoke well and may have got a taste for it.


Secondly  the President of the Disunited States. I spend most of my time speechless when I see Mr Trump. However I totally agree with his action last week. He was right to call a State of Emergency. But it’s not the wall – a preposterous notion - it’s Donald Trump being President who’s the emergency. Can’t someone get the schools in the USA to walk out? He might listen to that. If being completely confused, grumpy and disoriented is less bad than being swaggeringly certain and plain wrong Britain unbelievably is in better shape than America right now.


Example 1. Save 50% by skiplagging

Finally finding loopholes in pricing structures. A bit like tax avoidance which is OK whilst tax evasion is not so it is with “skiplagging” (no me neither until the other day). It’s when Airlines charge less for multileg flights than straight trips and some resourceful passengers are buying these and missing off a leg.

Example 2 : Lufthansa from Seattle to Oslo via Frankfurt £556. Seattle to Berlin over £2000. So get off the Oslo flight at Frankfurt and buy a cheap ticket to Berlin. Smart? Well no.  A passenger who did this has been sued; Lufthansa lost but has appealed saying airlines have to make a profit.

Again I’m speechless.

Monday, 11 February 2019

NOTHING IS SIMPLE ANYMORE

A friend of mine is very clever but he also has the irritating habit of describing complex issues as “incredibly simple” or even “insanely simple”. In fact nearly everything we have created nowadays is distinctly not simple at all. The idea of ‘just in time’ as a supply chain concept couldn’t be simpler but in fact it requires Rolex precision processes to work. It’s complexity is such that any tinkering with it will break it.  ‘Almost in time most of the time’ is not a viable concept; it’s like a watch without a minute hand.

What has shocked me most over the past months is the pitiful ignorance of many politicians in failing to understand how complex businesses with sophisticated supply chains work. I suspect they imagine that Tesco is like a larger version of a corner shop or what we used to called “Mama & Pappa Shops” or more interestingly “Cat in the Window” shops.


Our world, like it or not, comprises Smart Phones which are ludicrously over powered pieces of technology worth thousands of pounds but through volume production driven down to cost just pence. The warehouses that supply us with books and clothes and food are increasingly driven by robots so when the Ocado Warehouse in Andover caught fire last week the fire brigade couldn’t get in as it was totally robot controlled. Eventually they hacked holes in the roof but too late. The warehouse was completely destroyed.


The big things we create like the NHS with bigger and better hospitals, new MOD toys like leading edge aircraft carriers and fighter planes so technologically advanced that understanding just why a glitch occurs and how much it will cost to fix is not simple -  it’s very complicated.


There was an old world that an 85 year-old dreamily described as “when we made Spitfires”  (during World War 11 we made 22,000.Morgan currently makes 1.3 k cars a year – fewer but that’s Spitfire country.)  That old world was duller, slower, dirtier (who remembers smog?), and much less efficient in every way but it was simpler and we collectively are beginning to feel it’s simplicity that’s been stolen from us.

How many people really understand the algorithms that drive the Facebook Empire. When  the late Molly Russell’s parents tried to have their daughter’s social media data retrieved – her suicide possibly encouraged by online imagery -  they couldn’t get it done because we’ve become victims of complexity.


I used to play the game “what would you do if the internet permanently collapsed?”  The Millennials burst into tears whilst older people rubbed their hands, got out their Airfix catalogues and Parker pens.


The reality is our sophisticated, incredibly clever systems can’t be done by hand. If the internet collapsed it would be chaos. Banks, retailers, hospitals, transport systems, schools and government would grind to a halt.  Our world is too complex to go back.

And that’s why none of this is simple however much we wish it was.



Monday, 4 February 2019

HOW TO GET AHEAD

A friend of mine with a big job in a multinational company told me about his appraisal. It was glowing, all the KPIs were “smashed out of the park”. But there was just one thing - almost an afterthought. He was told he needed to do something about his “executive presence”. As it was just after Christmas I assumed he was being criticised for the quality of the gifts he’d given his colleagues at Christmas. No he said “executive presence” not “executive presents”.


And he thought it was a problem. I’ve been thinking about it ever since. About why people judge others primarily by their noisiness, by the way they laugh or the way they dress. Years ago another friend – a senior civil servant who’d successfully  led a tricky  project that required great diplomatic skills, intelligence and courage got a review that focused on his clothes -  “this man should get a new tailor”. Save the nation? Pah! Creases in his trousers not sharp enough.

The solution to this, of course, is to learn how to play the game. And there are four immediate things to do.

1. Speak much louder. Clare Foges, the Times columnist and one time No. 10 speechwriter noticed the public school boys around David Cameron all had very loud voices and loud laughs. Apparently you could hear Dave from two rooms away. Clare herself upped her vocal decibels.


2. Not just a  firm handshake - a challenging vice like grip whilst staring into your victims eyes and getting close to them. Behave as though there is no one else in the room, that they’re important like you.


3. Think tall. Straighten your back imagine you’re a foot taller than you are and don’t walk confidently. No. Swagger.

4. Always look as though you have a lot of time and that what you’re doing is easy, almost beneath you and deeply amusing.  Nothing but nothing can ruffle you. Rich Hall (my extremely funny American comedian/musician namesake when asked if he ever got nervous said “no because I don’t care what they think”… that’s executive presence.)

Years ago Jim Collins wrote a book called “From Good to Great”. In it he celebrates low-key CEOs who coach their people and take an avuncular back seat. More Clement Attlee than Winston Churchill. His thesis is the rock star leaders like Jack Welch was belong to a different more combative era.
If, as it seems, business and politics has become a game then it isn’t that hard to be coached to look and behave a bit more like Gwyneth Paltrow than the late Victoria Wood or George Clooney than Mark Rylance. Polish and make up are cheap. Talent and integrity less so.

We could do with a bit less flash look-at-me and a bit more thinking. A bit less Mourinho a bit more Solskj√¶r. It’s time to place our bets on intelligence not alpha male or female braggadocio.


BUT WHICHEVER WAY REMEMBER TO TALK MORE LOUDLY.