Monday, 27 December 2010


This is about laying the ghost of John Humphreys, icon of negativism and whingeing, a born-again Victor Meldrew, the dreary voice of constant dissatisfaction. Occasionally though, just occasionally, a letter of complaint cheers one up. Here’s an extract of one written to NTL – it went on in similar vein for pages:-

“British Telecom – w*****s though they are - shine like brilliant beacons of success, in the filthy puss-filled mire of your seemingly limitless inadequacy.”

It’s been the endless quest of the miserable, negative and of course the media to prove how limitlessly inadequate we in the UK are. Take the weather for example? Useless, hopeless, shameful compared with the continent. Hmmm!!

Here’s a letter from a Dutch lady in Tuesday’s Times describing her recent drive to Britain:

“The roads were appalling in Holland, pretty bad in Belgium- particularly the enormous potholes on the motorway – and not much better in France….. (arriving in Britain) I was pleasantly surprised to have a smooth journey on three motorways without a lane closure in sight. On the other hand my eldest son is stuck in a motel in Germany as conditions are impossible on the autobahn, and my husband spent four hours travelling 20 miles as the Dutch trains went, once again, into meltdown.”

A very Happy Christmas to everyone who thinks on balance everything in Britain is in pretty good nick from the NHS to the gritting system to the academic achievements of our young people to attitudes to work, life, family and friends. And a particularly stupendous New Year to all those actually looking forward to 2011.

To the rest of you and to you John Humphreys, especially, bah humbug and though it grieves me to say it….good luck in that puss filled mire.

Monday, 20 December 2010


The question is not me being gratuitously salacious …it’s what UBS, the Swiss bank that was recently bailed out to the tune of $60 billion, have included in their new internal dress code.

And, apparently, the right colour is flesh toned. So presumably this allows licence for whether you are Afro Caribbean, Indian, pale skinned, suntanned , feeling off colour (greenish), working too hard (grey) or with acne (spotted).

Knickers, of course, is what hit the headlines but management feeling they have to tell people to change their socks (black) daily and to use nourishing skin cream fills me with a powerful sense of foreboding. Not since the Third Reich or school have I encountered such paranoia about uniforms.

Big companies often seem to need this sense of control over their staff – what they look like, what they wear, what they do, what they think and even what they feel. They talk of being a “family” which, given the dysfunctionality of most families, is a bit worrying.

In Japan they have early morning company songs….now we only need to add things like detention and gating people to make the senior management happy. Yet why is it what their employees wear worries them so much – isn’t it how good they are, how customer attentive, how effective – “yes but however good if he had a flowery tie or – shudder – no tie at all?”

UBS has clearly scored an own goal and deserves to be teased were it not for the fact they are supposed to be grown ups, not anally retentive juveniles.

Life is not about making everything into equally sized black and white bricks. We live in a world of diversity, complexity, ambiguity and constant change. Rules are there to be broken. “A little rebellion now and then is a good thing” as Thomas Jefferson said.

What place creativity has in a world where all that management can think about is knickers heaven alone knows.

Although now I come to think of it knicker-elastic is a whole lot more creative than quantitative easing.

Friday, 17 December 2010

EAT THE RIGHT STUFF - It’s only that thick, deep, baritone taste of tomato that reaches your knees


Brrrr! Here it comes again.

White Friday December 17th.

I understand that maternal feeling about nurture because I had it, even as a man, I had it – a fortnight or so ago.

On White Tuesday, November 30th.

The world as we know it was totally cut off by blizzards, ice and snow. No trains or cars in or out.

And that atavistic need to feed my brood….wherever they were.

I wrapped up and in some bastard’s steps I trod unto yonder Co-op to buy “two for £5” best mince – 2lb. of the stuff -  an onion, a clove of garlic, two jars of stir-in Sacla sauce – tomato, one with mascarpone and one with garlic and a bottle of Barolo.

At home I settled for the men’s way of cooking and inspired by the weather crisis I heard myself intoning “we may be some time without proper food if all utilities go down.”

Two hours slow cooking in the oven – everything just bunged in after the onions had been gently fried to transparent– well half the Barolo plus an Oxo cube just in case.

It was that Bryn Terfel-tomato-aroma of “the sun will shine again” that made me relax, feel good and on the verge of laughter.

And the flavour was sublime. Heinz Tomato Soup in many more and complex dimensions. Everything the great comfort foods provide; an amplitude of flavour-smell-rich, full and chill-busting.

Think marmite, peanut butter, buttered toast, Heinz Baked Beans, Bovril and the greatest Cottage Pie ever but with the light slippery promise of summer spaghetti too.

Big authentic taste deliverers are what make great food great.

Tomato; onion; garlic; cheeses; basil …..

These are all weatherproof, harmonious and loud enough foods to see off the cold.

Real weather-food for people like us. And today it’s started all over again…the white stuff.

So we need more of the awesome medicine and nourishment.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010


The ghost of Christmas past stared at me gloomily, a Woodbine in one hand and glass of brown ale in the other. He was referring to the student riots, “them revolting students” he said coughing noisily “reminds me of the good times.”

Yes, it was a plus ça change week…

Charles and Camilla having a charge of the light brigade moment as they encountered some young people; Mr. Plod being wrong footed (again); students breaking the windows of….Top Shop – Top Shop? Makes you weep about their sense of irony; the Australian response to losing a test match – “we fielded like a bunch of Clydesdales” and that James Naughtie on-air spoonerism of the Culture Secretary’s name …and I bet Jeremy Hunt’s glad his parents didn’t call him Mike.

Good old times; it was a Private Eye kind of week.

But the ghost of Christmas future lives in the words of the 14 year old who solemnly told me “one day everything will be much better.” Thus, dreadful old pubs become super-gastro-zones (like a local bar in Brighton previously nicknamed the “Stabber"); WikiLeaks tries to make things better by causing a stir, telling us things we knew but about which we previously didn’t speak– “Prince Charles asked where the lavatory was and was gone a while” – A Chas-Bog-Shock story? No. Nothing new - just a leak.

Get used to it. Turmoil; even ambiguity and change but…life goes on….and it does usually get better.

The immortal comforts in life over this week? A warming Spaghetti Bolognese with a double jar of a rich tomato sauce, the impact of which reaches your knees, a glass of claret, a hardback novel, a few great carols (and I love it that “most highly favoured lady” has been transcribed by choirs everywhere to “most highly flavoured gravy”) and a prospect of a must-get-better-future despite, or even because of, student riots.

Most of all I love to see these students revolting …over “whatever”…. as they always have.  The bankers of tomorrow behaving like bankers today (that is – I think – a counter spoonerism.)

Happy days, says the ghost of Christmas future looking at Christmas present, and I think she’s right.

Monday, 6 December 2010


Such a question being addressed to me in the street by a stranger would not be worth commenting on were it not about the fifth time it’s happened to me this year. It has not so much ruffled my agnostic feathers as made me ponder deeply on perception – the magic tool of the marketer.

And talking of magic here’s what David Berglas, Former President of the Magic Circle, said on talking about Harry Houdini: “It’s not the trick, it’s the presentation that counts.” Not that Harry wasn’t a genius …no, but he was an especially brilliant actor.

Change can impact on perception. The weather has hit my perception of life. On Saturday when I awoke in Brighton which had just undergone unusually brutal Arctic weather to find all the snow melted I had this weird feeling that Christmas had just come and gone.

WikiLeaks has changed a few perceptions too – the Americans are good guys – a bit on the naïve side but nice and the Russians are rascals. Rascals because a Spaniard said so, said it was run by the Mafia – have you noticed how this opinion has in a flash become established fact?

And FIFA. England’s derisory vote has brought about a sphincter tightening sense of national isolationism not experienced since the Suez crisis. We are a bit like Millwall Football Club and their battle cry “nobody likes us and we don’t care”.

It’s not that they don’t like us just that they don’t rate us…little England v. Big New World Russia ….the past v. the future… Cameron v. Putin (even an absent Putin)….a huge deficit v. loadsamoney. A man from Mars would have chosen Russia purely on commercial grounds. Our perception of ourselves is awry.

Back to our priest – and who wouldn’t have wanted to be one if they could have become a bishop with a great hat like that? There was something curiously exciting to have been taken for something I was not. I left this encounter preening my feathers, as it were, and feeling remarkably cheerful. Looking back at this, a rich news week I thought “we just don’t do boring around here any more do we?”

At least that’s my perception.

Monday, 29 November 2010


I have been thinking about the role and reputation of selling recently and the fact that you are much less likely to hear anyone say they want to be in selling than you should be. Apparently the desire to sell is declining even in America where Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” has become a reality.

But not in China where it’s a prized job…now that should tell us something.

It’s baffling because all great businessmen and leaders have to be good salesmen and they are. Steve Jobs, Eric Schmidt, Charlie Mayfield, Michael Dell, Jack Welch are or were great salesmen. Tony Hayward of BP was not – so he was the wrong man for that job.

The only two things that will get us out of this global mess are going to be great innovation and great salesmanship. And by salesmanship I mean not just the art of pitching or being a huckster, I mean the art of profound understanding of a product or service, the ability to present its benefits beautifully and engagingly, the ability to build long term relationships based on trust and an absolute commitment to customers needs.

The marketers meanwhile are brand building and creating social networks. Hell, I’ve been in marketing all my life and love it but the way some marketers talk about selling you’d think it was a very dirty word involving transactions and…money.

One-to-one selling is going to be the key to the future and you can forget the busted flush of Asian Contact Centres which have done perhaps more than anything else to damage the image of selling.

To be a great salesman you must be very bright, understand the business scene and what senior management have on their minds, be economics savvy, very intuitive, able to think on your feet, be a great presenter, think long term, be very margin focused and understand that real marketing is theatre. Like the incredibly rich Jamie Oliver.

Accountants can cut cost but they can’t increase sales income.

So it’s time to find out if you’re good enough to be a salesman now…and join the true, new heroes of the 21st century.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010


I was wondering why I was in such an extremely good mood. It’s not the news - a mining disaster in New Zealand, the catastrophe of Haiti and the humiliation of the Irish (as the Times put it.)

At first I put it down to the impending ho, ho, ho of Christmas – the first time in years I’ve felt that surge of goodwill (is it flu? No it’s goodwill – an acute case of it.) It could be the effect of young grandchildren and great nieces but there’s more to it than children’s sense of wonder.

I genuinely believe if we set our minds to it we can be a lot more cheerful, productive and effective. Being in a good mood is as much up to us as it is to outside events. As Jack Welch put it (former head of GE) “determine your own destiny or someone else will.”

Which takes us back to the Irish for whom I feel a genuine affection and sympathy – they’ve been stuffed by the speculators as so many of us have been in the past. Do not confuse speculation with entrepreneurialism. The latter is about making calculated adventurous moves – like a new product launch – the former about betting the house and all your neighbour’s houses on red.

There’s only one way out – a dose of austerity which I’m afraid will taste like a powerful Bloody Mary – and a decision to laugh in the face of the doom mongers. As the recently spanked Lord Young said “honestly, you’ve never had it so good” Naughty Lord! The truth is that the way we really feel is in the mind not in the wallet.

And right now I’m feeling great. Positive, on song and up for it.

And they say it might even snow later this week.

Happy Christmas.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010


I’ve been spending time recently thinking about the brands of the future and what they’ll look like. This has been helped by a recent survey.

The Times of October 15th published the Populus/YouGov list of the most influential brands. I’ve compared 2007 and today to see what’s changed in the “top ten”.

John LewisTesco
AmazonJohn Lewis
Co-op GroupGoldman Sachs
Co-op BankMcKinsey

In 2007 we were in the Vienna days of those good times before the economic war, so the reputational demise of Goldman Sachs and McKinsey since then isn’t so surprising. Virgin, M&S and Tesco are perhaps punished for their failure to keep up with the way people see the times and Microsoft and Tesco, I suspect, for being so big and bullying. But apart from John Lewis and the Co-op the “go-go” brands are young, all post war creations. Ten years ago half of them would have been establishment brands like Coca-Cola, Cadbury and Ford.

The big news is from the “we stand for an attitude to life and employees – employees always coming first” – John Lewis and the Co-op. Look at the Innocent website and you’ll see that they live in this same world of celebrating its employee/partners and its ethics (yes – good for them – they actually use that word).

The somewhat unworldly Co-op evoking as it has done a patronisingly sniffy “room-for-improvement” response from many marketers proves the power of staying true to principles and putting substance before style.

So welcome to real and sustainable brand values if you want to be taken seriously and maybe great product values too.

Monday, 8 November 2010


Women….can’t stop thinking about them…and that might not be so bad a thing nor even so unusual one but the thoughts about women fizzed dramatically into life for me three or four times during the week.

In reverse order – I met a 24 year old manager of a design group in London doing terrific work and feeling her way into the job with appealing modesty. She will be amazing in two years and is merely very impressive now.

Then, lunch with two women of power and a vast sense of curiosity and the endless desire to ask “why?” and to mean it. So you have to stay on your mettle because you are being asked to give their questions your genuinely best shot not because you’re joined in a male debating combat where he who blinks first loses.

And finally, a conference at Mercers in Tower Place. 100 very powerful women and about 8 not so powerful men. I was impressed by the observations of Margaret Hefferman (author of “The Naked Truth” and “Women on Top”) who’d researched successful female entrepreneurs in the States. And their success, she said,  was owing to a series of factors:-
  1. The motivation amongst these women was huge – far greater than their male equivalents – and they mainly wanted to create great companies that lasted not just create great wealth.
  2. Their sense of zeitgeist was profound…they noticed “gaps in markets…noticed…yes, that’s what women do, they notice things.
  3. They had an irrational love of their customers whom they really seemed to regard as being part of the family.
  4. They surrounded themselves with advisors and smart, interesting people who kept them alive, alert and on track.
  5. They had plans and to a person said wryly “but no-one really expects things to turn out that way”.
There was more but that will do for now….great stuff.

This is not about glass ceilings or feminism or Girl-Power…it’s about balance. About all this female right brain power battling with all that male left brain power.

As someone said to me during my troubled week….”how about finding a way of using the whole human brain for once?”

Monday, 1 November 2010


I’ve had three things on my mind in the last week:-
  1. The richness of sights and thoughts that happen when you look up rather than down
  2. The appeal of personal simplification enjoyed by Generation Zero
  3. The madness of the “cuts masochism”
First of all, “looking up” which in a care-worn world too few of us do. Look up and the see the wonders of London like the amazing sculpture of Elizabeth 1 at St Dunstans in Fleet Street. It survived the Great Fire in Ludgate Circus and was moved here in 1760. Apparently it’s the only sculpture of her that was done in her lifetime. So given my refrain about creativity being enhanced by our having an acuity of observation, start looking up and looking around.

Secondly, after Generation Y we now have Generation Zero according to the Times. These “zero” guys keep all their worldly possessions in one suitcase and everything they know on a laptop (and in their brain) and all they want to read, no doubt, on a Kindle. Their life and contacts are on Facebook and the other social network sites. No office. No ties. No mortgage. No need to shop. An invitation to Brazil is suddenly so easy to say “yes” to. They are global citizens with little to screw up their minds.

Finally that 29% cut in the arts budget. “Inevitable”, we winced. “Necessary”, we squirmed. Meanwhile in France they managed a budget increase of 2% to their arts budget raising it to £6.4 billion whereas our budget is just £400 million. What the hell is going on? Can the French be thinking more clearly than we are?
This is all about priorities.
Priorities about what we look out for – like Commissario Brunelli in Donna Leon’s novels about Venice who spends his days looking for the next discovery in the architecture of the city.
Priorities about what we need. In other words it’s about reducing our dependence on “stuff”.
And priorities about what really, really matters in our lives. It’s about real cuts not about symbolic ones.
Have a great week and see if anything changes in your life by looking up, simplifying and prioritising.

Monday, 25 October 2010


That’s how we are “in it” according to George Osborne and the government. … ”together”. And, no, this isn’t going to be a cynical disavowal of partnership…quite the reverse. Because, for once, I agree with the government.

Amy Williams, skeleton gold medallist in the winter Olympics talks about “we” the whole time. Hers is very much an individual effort but crucially underpinned and inspired by her team of advisors.

In a complex and dangerous world make sure you travel in convoy because pioneers get scalped.

Yet many people on business and in life prefer to go it alone…

“No I’m not really lost and I will not, no, I will not ask someone the way….I’ll work it out myself”.

Working it out yourself is daft and unnecessary when good dispassionate advice can sometimes save you from unnecessary embarrassment – take the wretched naked Emperor who was conned into believing he was wearing fine clothes.

I’d argue that the need for cryptic, experienced mentoring has never been greater. NLP expert Daryll Scott says unequivocally that it’s the cheapest and most effective thing any executive should seek today.

Experience counts.

Live through six recessions, live through the strikes and economic chaos of the 70s, live through the Thatcher years and the dotcom bust and come up smiling, battle hardened and very philosophical and you might just be worth listening to…

I’m constantly being asked for directions – it’s my age dear – but I’m reminded of a cat we had when I was very young, unadventurously named Pussy (creativity came late to the Hall household), of whom I was very fond saying, I’m told, “I like that cat. He knows where he’s going”.

It’s time to know where you are going and, if you aren’t sure, get help. Get a mentor.

Monday, 18 October 2010


This is the work of a 17 year old Singaporean, Leon Yuchin-Lau. Imagine what he’ll be like at 50 if he avoids being murdered by jealous rivals:-

If a boy must wonder

If a boy must wonder

Let him recall

Not the lightning grace of falcons,

The dizzying aeronautics, Darwin’s finch,

The voyage of the ancients

Who saw further, with their charts and sails

And bubbly telescopic minds

Brought ashore hope

To lift

A charioting god to the moon,

But how

Even a rogue dream of stars

Once birthed the possibility of flight.

The art of creativity which lies at the heart of business today (or should do) lies in making connections, in looking at an object and wondering “what if?” It lies in change. It lies in being like children at play and the stories they create. It lies in questions and “rogue dreams”.

Most of all it lies in our ”bubbly telescopic minds” – the ability to look further and to magnify and to feel that surge of approaching new worlds – of keenly wanting to know the unknown.

I really think the most exciting thing in the whole world is a white sheet of paper, a sharp pencil…and that sense of questioning and of potential to “birth possibilities”.

Get bubbling…..

Monday, 11 October 2010


Funny week.

Started by hearing Mike Geoghagan (outgoing CEO of HSBC) talking about global markets and especially about CIVETS (Chile; Indonesia; Vietnam; Egypt; Turkey; South Africa). Turkey was much on his mind. Crucial for the EU – he said – vast opportunity.

Turkey, I confess, had not been much on my mind.

Until Friday.

That was when I read an interview in the Financial Times with Suzan Sabanci Dinçer Chairman of Akbank, Turkey’s largest bank and indeed largest company.

The sooner we work more closely with talent like this the better…..

What makes a good banker (or leader, or executive of anything – I’ve added these…)?
“Confidence, the ability to look over the next hill and to think on your feet”
Fantastic, and it gets better…

Your golden rule?
“Leave things better than they are”

And your attitude to money…it’s ridiculous, she says to “poo-poo” it but
“Money gets things done: bling is a waste of time”.

She’s impatient, doesn’t suffer fools, and loves her door which can control her life – “something to close”.

I am smitten by two things here. Her straightforward English – not a piece of MBA jargon in sight and by her attitude to life.

Bring on the Turks – the EU needs you.

Monday, 4 October 2010


For a long time now I have been a sceptic about the value of using sport as a guide to success in business. Talks on how javelin throwing can help you gain market share have always seemed to me to miss the mark.

But I’m changing my mind after last week.

I went to a conference called “Ahead of the Games” at the Royal College of Physicians in Regents Park to hear a cluster of past Olympic medal winners tell their stories.

And something happened to me; it wasn’t, you see, just what they said but what lay behind their talks and the uniformly clean, enthusiastic positivism of their delivery and attitude to life that suddenly got to me. I became not just a believer in the Olympics but in this simple professional approach to life. There were no spurious words about market forces or external factors. This was simply you against them.

Three things particularly stuck in my brain (although if you want my list of all 20 top tips just e-mail me at )
  1. On marketing – here’s what I jotted down as they were talking “The Olympic buzz is a virus – think of how to create a marketing buzz in your business – create a build up: a sense that something’s going to happen; use real people to talk about it; make the event itself extraordinary; worry about how to exceed expectation and then how to leave a legacy of new talent.” Stop using military metaphors in marketing and start using medical ones. How to create a pandemic for your brand – that’s the marketing man’s real job….spreading the bug.
  2. On the big performance – be that the race or, say, a business presentation….one chance…one contest…one winner….or as someone said “it’s sometimes not so much winning a bronze as losing a gold”. They all talk about proper preparation, about smiling at the start and reflecting “I’ve done all I can”. If Olympic athletes were as prepared to busk as most business people seem to be we’d never win anything. Robustly thorough preparation is everything.
  3. On success – top athletes all surround themselves with good advisors on diet, on positive thinking, on aches and pains, on technique because the difference between success and failure is the small % point improvement such help can give. And all, literally all, talk about WE not I – “we met every week over four years”: “we talked about it”; “we discovered a better way”; “we ran…” Compared with the value of achieving success, good mentoring and coaching is really cheap. Not to be mentored is one sign of career damaging egotism.
This event taught me more about business than I’d expected as well as inspiring me hugely. The Olympics is coming. It’s going to be great. And if business in Britain is half as professional as the builders of the event itself and athletes competing in it then the next good times are just around the corner.

Monday, 27 September 2010


When I run creative workshops there are two conditions that really make them work:-

  1. Understanding the context in which the ideas will exist – in what sort of mood will the customer be who receives news of your creative ideas
  2. Appearing to be super-active – one idea isn’t enough – you need a flurry of activity in which another good idea shines brightly
So I read about the latest news from Waitrose with pleasure .They’ve scarcely put a foot wrong since the banks went barmy in 2007 and fell in love with quantum mathematics and financial products no one understood.
Here’s their track record: the launch of Essentials, the purchase and then the brilliant development of Duchy and now the cheekiest price promotion ever.
Remember Avis? They said “we try harder” over 40 years ago in comparing themselves with market leader Hertz when like Waitrose today they were a lowly 5th.
Here’s the Waitrose game – price matching Tesco on 1000 key branded items and blasting this from the top of page 3 in the Sunday Times (great PR).
“There’s a perception that we are massively more expensive than the other supermarkets and this dispels that myth” says Mark Price Waitrose MD.
It does - at a stroke, in a marvellous piece of creative jujitsu.
Waitrose has nicer shops, much smarter staff, better quality, wider choice of quality food, a better value range, a better premium range (Duchy versus Finest – who wins?) and now price parity with “terrible Tesco” (that’s not me being pejorative that’s what a lot of shoppers call them.)
The Tesco machine will of course brush this aside and march on but it’ll sting them and Waitrose has leapfrogged those others around and above them.
Waitrose are setting an example to all other brands who are in the no-mans land of “other brands”. They have become real contenders - they are exciting, they understand the hopes and fears of middle England and are stomaching a £26M. margin hit.
Like the other success brands of this century they are saying “how can we be shapers of and players in the sort of world this is going to be? And how can we be the bringers of a flow of good news?” This is real business creativity in action.
My book on creativity “Brilliant Business Creativity” is published by Pearson – it shows techniques that help you get ideas almost as good as these.

Monday, 20 September 2010


Michael Winner’s ads for Esure the direct insurance company took the medium apart in a pleasant way and probably sold some policies. Whatever else it put self important creativity firmly in its place.

So this ad from Psychologie the magazine which I saw on the London Underground recently is just that – only an ad – but raises some interesting questions.

“Is it better to love what you do or do what you love?”

Interesting because it is so far from reality for most people, some 50% of whom hate what do and therefore do what they hate but they do need to pay the bills so needs must. And to many people (increasingly) the Dickensian expectation of Mr. McCawber that “something will turn up” turns out like that hoped for goal in extra time to be just a delusion.

We should (of course) decide what we really want to do and if we can do that which very few people can, we should do whatever it takes to achieve it….training, studying, self promotion, networking …whatever.

And if we have a job that isn’t exactly what we really wanted then we should try to do it really well, get on with our colleagues, do more than is expected and most of all make a difference…and yes, try to love it.

The trouble with life is that if we aren’t grateful for its being so much fun and so exciting, perpetually, and, yes, full of challenges and surprises then we’ll be exposed to constant disappointment.

So if we love what we do the chances are we’ll end up having the chance of actually doing what we love.

In the end we can control our own destiny.

(The second edition of my book the Secrets of Success at Work (published by Pearson) is due out shortly)

Monday, 13 September 2010


A lot has been written about this subject and most of it quite angry and in the style of “the unacceptable face of banking”. Bob Diamond new CEO of Barclays as ever to the fore.

But the accumulation of wealth seems normal enough and actually quite healthy. Indeed over time the spending of individual wealth on great art, music, buildings or sport (because that’s where money tends to end up) has been a good rather than a bad thing.

What needs more study is whether bonuses actually work.

Anton Surorov, a Russian economist, shows the problem with human relationships based on reward systems is there’s no going back. Once you say 'do this and you get x', the agent to whom this is said will only do whatever it is if given x or, more likely, start negotiating to do it only if given 2x in the future. Mr. Crow are you reading this?

So far, so bad.

Neuroscientist Brian Knutson takes us a stage further forward. MRI studies of the brain show that when people anticipate getting a reward the activation in the part of their brain called nucleus accumbens is identical to that a drug or alcohol addict will display.

So once on that bonus treadmill you are hooked.

Worse than that, such activation predicts behaviour one would seek to avoid in employees: “both risky choices and risk-seeking mistakes”.

Intuitively many of us know the reward structures we have in place today are not aligned to performance…would Wayne Rooney play better football if paid more? Would Tiger Woods play worse if paid less? (Well we actually know the answer to that in the Ryder cups of the past which may tell us something interesting about his highly addictive nature.)

The big question is about what really motivates people, what really transforms their performance. Look no further than Daniel Pink’s book “Drive” on this subject which I really recommend.

Monday, 6 September 2010


Matt Ridley’s piece in Tuesday’s Times is deeply shocking (“This discredited science body must be purged”). It’s to do with the wilful bias and distortion of global warming evidence. In a week tarnished by gambling, the Pakistanis and cricket and now this, nothing will quite be the same again.

I for one will stop believing virtually everything I’m told.

And so should you because no-one, not the church, men of “honour”, seekers after truth, scientists and philosophers is above cheating and mendacity it would seem.

The impact of this on our lives and our education is potentially horrific and grist to the mill of, for instance, that large vocal minority of creationists in the USA (only some 20% or so I believe but I distrust that figure now). If so many scientists are liars, what price “Big Bang”?

And this is a very black day for the green movement.

As Matt says “I have concluded that global warning will probably be a fairly minor problem…”

But he only goes part of the way towards dismantling a whole edifice of scientific chicanery.

From the death of David Kelly to the Himalayan ice caps who’s to believe?

Not it would appear scientists whose agenda is no longer to discover the truth so much as to make their point; more advocates than explorers; more purveyors of fiction (or worse “faction”) than fact.

It’s a sad story. Just give them a hard time, accuse them of fabrication and stop relying on them. That’s their penalty for cheating us.

Read his article

Monday, 30 August 2010


When I’m mentoring people I preach the importance of energy and enthusiasm. Yes, you have to believe with great passion in what you do, say and sell.

But you also have to know your stuff, really know it.

I suppose if a charity salesman on the street is called a “chugger” (charity + mugger) then one phoning you is, I guess, a “phugger”.

And I was “phugged” thus a few days ago:

PH: Hallo Mr Hall? As you know Age Concern and Help the Aged have merged to form Age UK. Isn’t that great?

Me: How big does that make the business in revenue terms?

PH: I don’t know. I’d have to come back to you on that. But we do such fantastic work like helping old people and that.

Me: How? And what % of the income actually goes to good works as opposed to administration costs and general overhead?

PH: I don’t know. I’d have to come back to you on that one too. But can I tell you about a new scheme we have. You pay just £1 a week and that entitles you to participation in a lottery and you could win prizes –like £10,000 at Christmas – just imagine winning all that money.

Me: But this is gambling. It’s wrong, immoral and totally un-Christian (this an inspired thrust on my part). You ought to be ashamed of yourselves.

PH: Oh dear but it goes to good works like….

Me: Like?

PH: I’d have to come back to you on that.

Am I being a bit mean?

The poor guy had been dropped in it and had not been trained. So my gripe is with Age UK not with him.

In common with many other businesses more money spent on staff training and less on so-called marketing would be a much wiser investment.

However enthusiastic you might feel about what you do, the first need is to know your stuff backwards and then to learn how to pitch a great story. There is no substitute for the hard work of learning and understanding your script.

Monday, 23 August 2010


Robin White, the one time ad man, invented the term “advertising archaeology” by which he meant delving into the past to find a brand’s DNA. And it’s true that some of the staples of the past that are dear to the nation’s heart have been mislaid rather than forgotten or renounced.

On the come-back, for instance, are Spam and Wall’s Ice Cream.

But here are four that are about to hit the headlines – and remember you read it here first.

Soap. The real thing. A lump of cleaning foaming perfumed purity. A Knight’s Castile. A Palmolive. A Pears. A Wrights Coal Tar. Baths you see are coming back. I sometimes have both a bathe and a shower. A shower to wake me up, a bath in which to think and in a bath I need a lump of soap to play with.
Hats. Fedoras make you look like an actor or a secret agent. They also stop you getting damp around your neck when it’s drizzling. They say you can lose up to 30% of your body heat through your head in the cold because that’s where the most skin area is left uncovered. So hats are cool. Or rather vice versa.

Ties. Symbols of the fat cat, bloated plutocrat or wage slave. The first thing the genuine entrepreneur discards. The SME equivalents of a commando’s underpants. They’re slowly coming back as mood creators. A cheerful, colourful tie signals a happy person. They also set you apart from the tieless throng of fat cats, bloated plutocrats and wage slaves who are trying to stay in fashion.

Pies. In January of this year the Daily Mail noted a Nielsen statistic in this £230 million market; “Pie sales in Britain have soared to a 30-year high with an extra 17million sold over the past 12 months.” Better quality, more variety, OK (as with everything) in moderation. They are also great value and trophy sales flags of the mighty recession busting Greggs, Britain’s largest specialist retail baker with 1,400 outlets. Pies are the new sushi.
So keep an eye on quality items slipping out of fashion and wait for their bounce back. You can’t keep a good brand or product category down for long. Take Old Spice, the men’s fragrance, which thanks to the social networking campaign of Isaiah Mustafa is making a come-back.

Remember – it’s never over till the fat lady sings…talking of which look out for the return of well rounded divas…

Monday, 16 August 2010

THE ART OF THE PUT-DOWN, or the 'Bon Mot'

The relevance of this to marketing or to presentation is that all of us are forever seeking the simple and crushing meaning of the universe; our very own “42” as it were.

If only we could find our own “Reassuringly expensive” or “Because you’re worth it” we should succeed.

Dream on…

The smart line is seldom enough unless like Oscar Wilde that’s all there was, a never ending volley of smart one-liners. Or if you’re Lord Saatchi what he calls the two word equity (see Stella Artois above).

But in its time it was devastating.

Example, Harold MacMillan having just stood down as PM meeting a young historian Simon Schama who tripped and fell flat on his face in front of him to be greeted as he blushing arose by MacMillan saying:

“Gratitude understandable; prostration quite unnecessary”.

Or Dorothy Parker going through a doorway ahead of a rival who muttered “age before beauty” and without pause Dorothy riposted:

“No, my dear, pearls before swine”.

But this is not about smart lines alone, it’s about a mastery of the English language possessed by only a very few writers like Frank Skinner in the Times and comedians like Michael McIntyre.

My recent favourite was in Bombay proving the Indians have really got what we once had. It was a poster beside a road which said:

“Impatient at wheel, patient in hospital.”


Monday, 9 August 2010


“Come to the edge

We can’t. We’re afraid

Come to the edge

We can’t. We’ll fall

Come to the edge

And they came

And he pushed them

And they flew”

(Guillaume Apollinaire)

I did not expect to quote poetry let alone French poetry.

But I guess M. Sarkozy will be pleased if he reads this….and if he does I hope he takes note.

But I think it captures what it is which inhibits most of us from trying to be a great presenter, a creative thinker or someone who is ambitious to try something difficult or new.

I mentor people. The objective is always the same. To push them over the edge and then watch them as they discover they can fly. It is less a tribute to my skill and judgement and more a testimony to their leashed talent that when I decide it’s time to push them, their spiralling flight always amazes them and makes my own heart stop at the sheer brilliance of nearly all human beings.

Helping people realise just how talented they are and how much closer they are to the level they aspire to, is hardly drudgery.

The trick is to do two things.

1.Understand the potential of the person.

2.Enable them to feel the confidence and sense of purpose to express that potential.

As simple a magic trick as that.

And as amazing.

Monday, 2 August 2010


The press release last week of the four new strategic directors for Brighton and Hove Council struck me as odd as all four were men.

I have been a strong believer in the benefits of diversity in creating a strong team and whilst I have no doubt the four guys were selected for their individual merits I doubt if they’ll prove to be a compelling “team”.

The point is diversity leads to creativity and creativity overturns the traditional and outworn. Besides which surely a council would want to be vaguely representative of its voters’ interests or the other 50% as it were.

Tom Peters, who is one of the more stimulating management thinkers of our times has a strong view about why, possibly, all of the appointments should have been women:

“It is my fact based conviction that women’s increasing power – with their leadership skills and purchasing power – is the strongest and most dynamic force in the American Economy today – this is even bigger than the internet.”

Women are bigger than the internet….. but not in Brighton and Hove they aren’t.

But then, look around the boardrooms of Britain – the supermarkets, banks and insurance companies - and women are a rarity.

Let’s face it business is still a boys game and however liberally minded you are seems likely to remain so. Talking of which it’s not just business - only 7 out of 57 Lib Dem MPs are women.

So Brighton and Hove may have got it wrong but they are in good (male) company.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010


Something weird happens around this time of year. It’s called a delusion.

“Everyone goes on holiday.

Nothing ever happens.

I get bored.”

Yet this is the best opportunity, apart from January (when everyone, supposedly, is ill, broke and nothing happens) to get your act together.

For a start there are six things to do.
  1. Refresh your mind and body by taking time off to do stuff you wouldn’t normally do (go to the cinema in the afternoon; go to an art gallery; visit a wonderful garden; go for a long, energetic walk; visit somewhere near where you live where you’ve never been but should have been etc.) You might even have a short forget-about-it-all holiday. But don’t overdo it – as Placido Domingo said recently “if I rest, I rust.” 
  2. Refocus. Work out what you want to achieve personally and for your business over the next six months and quickly (the essence here is speed) create a plan to achieve it.
  3. Do a major clear-out – computer, office, wardrobe. See how much useless never-want-to-see-it-again stuff you can dispose of.
  4. Practise presenting. Get out an old presentation you did. Revise it. Practise how you could make it ten times better.
  5. Do some creative thinking – set up a creative workshop or on your own do some basic creative exercises.
  6. Create a short range practical marketing plan that will revitalise your business by Christmas.
You have a relatively undisturbed four or five weeks to focus on six things that really matter and could change your life.

Have a brilliant get-ahead-of-the-game time while all the major corporates like the Government, BP, Toyota and Apple are winding down and taking a well-earned rest.

Monday, 19 July 2010


“……and that’s why I went into HR”…

Opposite me was Curtis Ruptash who, let’s face it, has a pretty exotic name, one you could envisage an impresario proclaiming….”and now helped by his exotic assistant Gossamer, Curtis will attempt the quadruple Salsa on one leg whist playing the oboe…the amazing Mr. Ruptash!!!!!” Drums roll….

At 16 Curtis was on his way to become a rock star in Canada with the group called Pretty Rough. Instead he ended up in HR doing benchmarking studies and quantitative diagnostic work helping define attitudinal and potential behavioural shifts in that complex entity called a “company”.

From drugs, sex and rock and roll to personnel – through choice! Wow! How provocative is that?

He still plays, with a group called Peabody and Sherman’s Playdate – check them out.

They are highly creative, doing sophisticated improvisation, a bit jazz, a bit reggae, a bit whatever and as he put it

“we pull each other out of our comfortable little spots whilst following, or staying true to, a melodic theme”

That sounds exactly how you should manage a great company and, for perhaps the first time, I understood why Curtis had shifted his musical gaze to HR.

It’s why companies like BP, Boeing and BT should be hiring more musicians because in the modern world if you can’t improvise you can’t survive.

Now Curtis, about that Salsa….

Monday, 12 July 2010


This idea came from Jayne Haines, a very senior HR lady from GlaxoSmithKline whom I heard talking last week.
She worked in Denmark for a while where the idea of the “red thread” was fixed in the culture (by the way it’s claimed on the web to be untranslatable. The best they can manage is to describe it as the main thread of a plot.)
Elsewhere it is described as the ancient Chinese belief that we all have invisible red threads, around our ankles as it happens, which identify who our true soul mates are.

More prosaically it is said by some to come from the red thread woven by ropes used by the British Navy to make them impossible to steal and sell on.

Jayne’s sense was it defined the essence of who and what you were so when she said “I’d die if I didn’t go running” she was describing something so viscerally central to the core of her being it captured what she stood for.

For some this might be singing, bird watching, mountain-biking, doing mathematical riddles, writing, painting, gardening, chess …. In other words passions which obsess the soul and inform a person’s character and development.

This essential thread – the story of our life, the real brand that we are – gets closer to helping understand what it is that distinguishes people one from the other and what makes each special. It helps give a more tangible meaning to life.

And it could also apply to larger or people created entities like corporations or brands.

So the question is what is your red thread?

What is your brand’s red thread?

And what is your company’s red thread?

What , in short, really makes you tick and ultimately turns you on?

Thursday, 8 July 2010


I ordered a bottle of sparkling water in a restaurant the other day.

When it arrived it said “Schweppes Abbey Well - British Natural Mineral Water – sparkling”, on the label with a rather dull water colour of a country scene.

The old marketing man in me bridled a bit.

The old “Shh…you know who” brand hadn’t travelled too happily from its home land of Tonic Water and Ginger Ale (can you honesty say any other Schweppes product was worth bothering with?)

And wasn’t it now owned by Coca-Cola whose own sortie into the mineral water market is best forgotten?

It tasted all right, I thought, but it was unlikely to be more than natural tap water and bicarbonate of soda (and this from a hater of cynicism.)

I then turned the bottle round and read the back label (unfortunately few people actually do this).

Here amidst other stuff is what it said:-

“Schweppes Abbey Well Natural mineral water comes from a single naturally protected source in Morpeth, Nothumberland from a well 117.5m. deep. Every last drop has been naturally filtered through water-bearing white sandstone for at least 3000 years.”

If that isn’t a cracking story hidden under a proverbial bushel I don’t know what is.
Shame on you Coca-Cola.

Monday, 28 June 2010


“They think it’s all over. It is now”…..
I refer of course to the myth about the power of individual talent, forever blown by the England Football Team with their so-called crack individuals proving they are a crap team.
You don’t need to be a footballer or even a sportsman to know there are two formulae demonstrating the multiplying impact of teamwork and the reductive effect of its absence:-
5 + 6 = 14


5 + 6 = 7

England enacted the latter and Germany the former; that simple.
To work and the world of the corporation.
In the offices of Britain and the global corporations of the world the myth of the hero is tarnished and dying. The quest is to build teams NOT of the greatest individual talent but of the greatest team impact.
No more shall we have or accept teams where to quote Alan Hansen “our defenders behaved as though they’d never met each other before”.
The HR director who described herself as “a casting director” got it right.
It’s time to create teams that know, like and work for each other in all walks of life.


This was the great line I heard at a group discussion I recently ran with some quite elderly people. Trevor who uttered it was mildly ironic about it – being forgotten isn’t the end of the world he reflected.

Well for many it is.
Yet this group of highly intelligent people who spoke thoughtfully in punctuated sentences without pause, repetition or deviation were speaking for what soon will represent 25% of the UK population.
The average survival age today is apparently 89 – it was 64 in 1920.
Pensions and retirement are in the news and are big news this week in the budget and are going to be over the next few governments because we can’t afford them. Ian Duncan Smith one of the stars in this coalition because he’s so clearly done his homework is gently explaining we’ve got to work longer.
Not only can we not afford the pension costs as they stretch off into an ever lengthening future, we can’t afford the waste of talent.
The papers have lines like “make us work till we drop”…in my experience its younger people who collapse with stress and exhaustion much more readily.
It was striking in this group discussion how these people talked about their skills and how they were still using them but not enough and not on enough stuff. I wondered how good a think-tank they’d be and concluded they’d be terrific – ego free, wise and liberally minded….yes most of all that. Their sense of tolerance was remarkable. But I guess even they might be under pressure to retain their cool if they encountered some of the current corporate bureaucracy.
For instance it’s company policy at some places to exclude the elderly. A 75-year-old was told she would only be allowed to sign the forms for the Carphone Warehouse's TalkTalk phone and broadband package if she was accompanied by a younger member of her family who could explain the small print to her.
When my father was 60 he was getting on and ready to rest a bit. I know 70 year olds nowadays who are ready to go for it.
It’s time to realise that retirement is not a sign of game-over but a time of game-on.

Monday, 21 June 2010


Well there’s a dangerous assertion when, tomorrow in George Osborne's budget, that is all we are going to be talking about…the lack of it.

Over the past few years we’ve seen reputations and/or companies topple.

Time Warner, Arthur Andersen, Woolworth, Lehman Brothers, Toyota, BP.

It’s easy to talk about issues of principle when you are being pursued by dividend hungry shareholders and bonus hungry colleagues. When you are under real pressure you forget about everything except survival and for survival in business you need cash.

Here’s what Joseph Gregory told the soon-to-resign Lehman executive Alex Kirk who was complaining about the level of leverage in the business:-

“Growth. Growth. Growth, Alex. That’s what we want and need and we have to stay focused…..” (from a Colossal Failure of Commonsense by Larry McDonald).

But that’s not a possible dream, not in isolation to other realities, and the only way of pursuing this strategy is to cut cost, to abandon principle and cut corners.

The trouble with big businesses is they do all this and then they overcomplicate and lose touch. All those mentioned in my list of Clay Feet Icons did everything they wish they hadn’t.

For the next blog later this week I am going to quote at length from Ron Ashkenas of RHSchaffer who has written and spoken compelling on one way to cut through to the essence of what needs doing.

It’s the “simplicity strategy”.

As Einstein said – impressively not for the first time:-
“Three rules of work – out of the clutter find simplicity; from discord find harmony; in the middle of difficulty find opportunity.”

Monday, 14 June 2010


Here are the last four tips which are written in a welter of new potential woes – apparently our banks are up their necks with Greece, Spain and Portugal to the tune of £100 billion (small change in the global economy? No not even trivial by global standards) and Hungary’s in trouble.
But we won a test match and the world cup is on its way – floating down the Rio Grande….is Ferdinand’s knee hereafter to be called the “knee of God?”
Part 3
9. Do things properly.

The great line from a banker in Uganda who was responsible for a spectacular turnaround and when asked how, said “we started to do things properly”.

Apply rigour, don’t run out of control but don’t ever think marketing and doing things properly is easy.

10. Create momentum.

The most difficult thing is getting “traction” (and this from a man who promised no jargon!). You know you are winning when the media want your stories and when people start hearing what you say and talk about you….no not like BP (a classic example of why we all have feet of clay.).

11.Execution. Execution. Execution. The key to success.

“T’aint what you do it’s the way that you do it; that’s what brings results.” The Ella FitzGerald classic song gets it right.  Better to do an average idea well than a good idea badly. Check out Green and Blacks for an example of this.

12.Give me lucky marketers not ones with good CVs.

“Do you feel lucky punk…well do you?” It was Napoleon who best understood the power of luck. Make your own with your energy, enthusiasm and sheer appetite for success.

A few tips with two more to add.
  • Don’t put all your eggs in one basket (the Pru) and
  • remember that people like to party (the Pimms current sales drive as the sun comes out). 
Richard Hall is the author of Brilliant Marketing and Brilliant Business Creativity.


Sunday, 6 June 2010


The strangeness of the world we live in is shown by Portsmouth, the bedraggled and struggling-to-survive football team reaching the Cup Final for the second time in three years.

Anything can happen if you keep the faith and go for it.
Here are four more tips.

5. Targeting – imagine it was you being sold to.

Targeting used to be easy. We had a big marketing blunderbuss called prime time ITV which reached everyone we wanted to. Today it’s harder. But don’t despair. Imagine selling to yourself. Excite yourself and you have the chance of exciting others.

6.A few wins are better than a lot of draws.

Do not spread your money too thinly. Make your brand win big time in Brighton rather than being a nonentity in London. Build fame on sound foundations.

7.Use the tools you’ve been given in wonderful ways.

We are so lucky. In addition to more convention tools, experiential marketing and digital allow us to spin on a Euro and have fun. Marketing is our opportunity to show off about our brand and enjoy it.

8.Speak bloke not boss-talk and give up jargon forever.

In a book called the Cluetrain Manifest the authors vowed death to corporate language. Death is too good. Speak simply and succeed. Make your brand easy to talk to.

I hope you are having fun – this is all a cross between Black Adder and Mary Poppins and I love it.
More next week or from

Wednesday, 2 June 2010


We live in extraordinary times. When industrial titans like BP and Toyota can hit the buffers and we could be facing the demise of the Euro, long term marketing strategies seem self indulgent.

There are timeless marketing truths of course but here is the tactical toolkit you need right now.

Week one

1. Reconnaissance pays in spades.

When circumstances change, change what you do. Marketing today is about being knowledgeable and nimble not dogmatic. We live in urgent times where really knowing what your competitors are doing is critical.

2. Quality wins – do not dare to be mediocre.

There is no excuse for being second rate. The penalty for living in a world of marketing is we’ve trained the consumer to be demanding. Be better than your competition. And keep on improving.

3. If you don’t have pride in what you do, give up.

Jerry of Ben and Jerry ice cream fame said “if it isn’t fun don’t do it”. But you must be proud of your brand too. How can you sell something you don’t really rate yourself? And if you aren’t proud of it, fix it. Now.

4. Laughter is the oxygen for creativity.

Lady Trumpington, House of Lords backbencher, said she always paid attention to anyone with a sense of humour in case they said something funny. We live in funny times. Express that fun. Gain their attention - win your audience.

Keep your eyes on the papers to see what happens next. Hard to imagine a script writer daring to write things like this…and the great thing is we are actors in this play.

More next week or from

Tuesday, 25 May 2010


The papers this weekend were full of the story of our new government’s energetic approach to setting an agenda and the speed at which things seemed to be happening.
This was in contrast to New Labour in 1997 who were said to have “landed reviewing”.

In marketing and in management one of the most important (if not the most important things) is to create that momentum which gives you steerage way and sweeps along those working with you in a wave of excitement and adrenalin.

But the best story of momentum is of Robert Karlsson the Swedish golfer who convinced he’d missed the cut at Wentworth at the BMW Tournament, on Friday, stormed off the course and flew back to Nice en route to his Monaco home which as he approached he was texted to tell him he’d made the cut after all.
So began the tortuous return, via Nice, a commercial flight to Orly in Paris, a private plane from Le Bourget airport to the north of the French capital and a taxi from Heathrow, until finally, at 6.45am, Karlsson made it back to the Wentworth clubhouse. Along the way he managed to pick up three hours of sleep, a £9,500 bill for the private plane journey and a working knowledge of Parisian suburbs.

But the 40-year-old then shot a course record 62 and consumed nine birdies and nine pars gobbling up every putt he looked at.

It isn’t usually calmness and systematic preparation that makes for success – it’s an empty head which makes you ready for anything not prepared for everything – there’s a big difference between the two.

Life’s an adventure – treat it as such and you might surprise yourself in the amount of momentum you can create.

And one other piece of advice.

Don’t jump to conclusions too readily unless you enjoy private planes.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010


I was reading Tom Peters the other day. Tom, the management guru and author, wrote a book called “Thriving on Chaos” in 1989. He thinks chaos is good. Most people think it’s pretty punishing.

In 1989 we thought the world was pretty hairy with events like these:

The fall of the Berlin Wall.

The Exxon Valdez oil disaster in Alaska.

The student protest on Tiananmen Square, Beijing with up to 7000 killed.

Earthquakes in America and Australia.

Pan Am filing for chapter 11.

The Soviet Union withdrawing from Afghanistan after 10 years of fighting.

Yet compared to what the world has seen since 2007 these were extremely nasty storms not the destructive hurricanes we’ve been recently experienced.

The uncertainty of recent times is epic. We have twice looked over the brink of global economic meltdown.

And this one is really nasty. Euro Flu is worse than Banker Flu.  And, as I write this, we have no one in charge in the UK.

So whoever is PM later this week pay heed to these two lessons from America.
One, what Reagan said on becoming President, inheriting an economic mess and being given a briefing on it.
“They gave it me. I read it. I don’t like it. You aren’t going to like it either.”

And, two, John Gardner a US Government official (sounds like a good one) at the end of the 1990s:

“The first task of a leader is to keep hope alive.”

Lessons: speak English, tell it how it is and tell us how we are going to get out of it.

Monday, 3 May 2010


This was what a thirteen year old said to her father as he took her through a presentation on the economy.

She was taking no prisoners and he was suitably abashed.

Thirteen year olds are accomplished users of PowerPoint and well versed in presenting. If you’ve been listening to young voters taking about the three leaders on TV over the past week you’ll realise the sophistication they have and to which they are accustomed.

They, most of all, get what poor reviled PowerPoint is all about.

It is nothing to do with bullet points - it’s everything to do with storyboards.

There is simply no better way to plan a presentation with logic, drama and clarity.

It’s something they understand and are happy with because they understand and live with the medium of film – the ultimate format in presentation.

The older generation, on the other hand, either clunk their way through a sequence of bullet point lists or revert to the suicide of “winging it”.

The next time I hear about a presenter relying on inspiration on the day is the next time I show you a soldier in the battle of corporate life going out not wearing body armour.

Ask your children (or a friend’s children) to tell you honestly how your presentation looks and listen to what they say.

After all they live in the presentation age and they know what “good” is.

Monday, 26 April 2010


When people ask me how to improve their chances of getting on I, in common with most sensible people, list things like skill sets, communication skills, performance, enthusiasm, follow-through, strategic acumen and so on.
Yet as I yawned my way (it was rather long) through Thursday’s leadership debate between as it were Celtic – Gordon Brown - and Chelsea – David Cameron- there was Brighton and Hove Albion – Nick Clegg - popping up, parading ball skills alongside the two seasoned giants who both seemed as though they couldn’t really be arsed to play.
Just by being there with better than average brightness and body language Nick Clegg became their equal.
They tried ignoring him, metaphorically pushing him into the corner or talking over his head but he kept on interrupting and “setting them straight”.
He was like the toy called Weebles that wobble but they don’t fall down…he wouldn’t go away, was better looking and better company than they were. Mr. Grumpy and Mr. Dour seethed inwardly as he stood alongside them very much as one of them.
So here’s my advice in life:-
  • Spend your time close to the most important people
  • Learn how to speak with them and disagree with them
  • Be seen by others as a player not just a spectator
It isn’t how powerful you are it’s how powerful you seem to be by the company you keep that marks you out as a coming person.

Standing next to the powerful is like name dropping but much, much more effective…because people perceive that you are in the big league.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

If you can’t present well you’re toast.

Well I would say that wouldn’t I?

I wrote a book called ‘Brilliant Presentation’ which has sold well enough to be now in its 2nd revised edition. And I’m a keen student of presenting and speaking in public myself and also watching others do it.

So you can imagine watching Nick Clegg last week was a real feast for me….like watching someone in a race lagging behind  and suddenly being infused with super-juice and catching up with and overtaking the leaders (or would be leaders).

I want to focus on just one aspect of the show - his presentational performance.

High on conversation and low on sound bite
Genuine audience focus – mentioning those who’d asked questions by name (watch that catch on with the others in the next round with the others)
Looking at the audience as though he knew and like them (David Cameron looked as though they were a nuisance)
Very relaxed – shades of Ronald Reagan
Probably trustworthy – unusual in politics (with Vince Cable this makes two)
A bit light on substance but very high on the sense of occasion – he alone behaved as though it mattered and that he actually wanted to be there
He had a point of view about where he stood as a person as opposed to being obsessed with content (I know that my least impressive performances have all been when I was too focused on my content rather than the mood and needs of the audience.)

It’s like preparation and over preparation.

Daryll Scott of My Noggin said with great insight “you can be ready for everything or ready for anything”. No question in the moving ballgame of current life that the second puts more emphasis on how you come across and less on what you say.

We’ll see what the other two do this week but I advise Nick to twinkle and tease them. They have everything to lose and he’s a very good presenter.

Call me –  if you want advice on how to improve your communication and get extraordinary results. Overnight.

What we need is Fusion Marketing from a Master

As I watched media man Dhruv Baker receive the news of his victory in an emotional way last week on Master Chef  – that was the Dhruv part of him weeping, Baker would simply have said “jolly good” and turning to the others would have said “hard cheese” - I had a thought.

He was clearly a very good chef indeed. They were all amazing but it was Dhruv who had the palate and skill of flavour combination that felt adventurous, daring, modern and somehow right. John Torode, the Australian sounding judge and no mean chef himself, seemed hugely enthusiastic about his fusion skills.

And it occurred to me in this global economy what we need is not integrated marketing, which sounds like Meccano, but “Fusion Marketing” borrowing bits and pieces from different cultures but never forgetting either that at its centre marketing is about selling things and changing minds.

We need for instance a bit of the Asian bazaar culture with lots of sampling and haggling on price. Marketing as tasting trial and marketing as  a game.

We need a touch of American big displays, big tastes, a bit of Wholefood’s extravagance and enthusiasm and pitching…”you’re going to love this you; really are”. Marketing as merchandising and pitching.

We need a bit of laid back chat about the brand in question, some stories, some rumours. Something on-line to kick around. Marketing as a conversation.

We need some robust processes. Ways of getting product to market quicker, fresher and cheaper. Marketing from companies like VW, BMW, August Storck, Muller. Marketing, in other words, as engineering.

And we need marketing as passion in life, like the finalists in Masterchef had for food. Like Ben and Jerry, like Pret a Manger, like Green and Blacks, like Morgan, like the late Anita Roddick had. Marketing as a passionate commitment to excellence.

Mix this lot up, stew slowly and add a bit of online, advertising, guerrilla marketing, merchandising, design and you have a fusion of ideas and attitudes that may be amazing – after all anything’s better than “integrated”… (integrated food anyone?)

Now read and review my book “Brilliant Marketing” on Amazon please. It’s doing really well but I have to keep promoting it. (That’s called marketing too.)

Monday, 5 April 2010


My story of last week was the response of senior Tories to the “Chancellor Show” when Messrs. Darling, Osborne and Cable debated the economy. They phone in infuriated allegedly that Vince was getting too much audience applause.
That’s like Mars complaining that Cadburys (now Kraft) is too popular or that Binns Minor got more marks in Maths than our grandson – a nasty example of Marxism.
The truth is none of the debaters was bad, that the debate, apart from one “wait till I get you outside” scowl from George Osborne, was courteous and well argued.
But on the night Vince got the applause because he was funnier, more interesting and thought better on his feet.
Had there been a job to get then Vince Cable would have got it.
So what did these senior Tories think they were playing at and why, in passing, are they so convinced that being unpleasant is a vote winner?
They have appointed M & C Saatchi “to work alongside incumbent” Euro RSCG assuring the latter this does not impinge on their relationship one whit – a bit like me saying to wife that I have asked the lovely Martina De Groot to share the marital bed because “we need all the flesh we can get at present and in no way does this impact on our marriage”.
And the Saatchi agency is there to stick it on the Labour Party. As we all know negative, attacking advertising always works (“Heinz Baked Beans could cause stomach upsets” claim Crosse and Blackwell; “Because it gives you acne” – a Clarins ad. attacking L’Oreal; “Would you trust a car Sarkozy loves?” – a Ford ad. attacking Renault).
But if the public seems not to like you very much maybe bullying is your only recourse.
It’s not fair is it?
Richard's Website

Friday, 2 April 2010


I went to a conference at the University of Brighton last week. It was inspiring and optimistic stuff on how a symbiotic relationship could be built between the creative industries which abound in Brighton and the University.

A story of brains and commercial can-do working in brilliant accord.
A Professor of The Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen confided he didn’t know what all the fuss was about. In Scotland the relationship between commerce and academia is constant and utterly normal.
But down south we tend to be more squeamish.
We need to be more open minded and use the best that’s available to come up with smarter and more creative solutions. We need to trawl the Universities for ideas but, more importantly, the sort of people who have contagiously creative ways of thinking.
We need to prize and encourage creativity not exam results.
And we need to work harder.

Tabitha Ogilvie, who is just thirteen going on thirty, wants to be Prime Minister on the platform of turning Britain from a nation of lazy bastards into a nation of hard workers. The Greeks I know are fainting at this very idea of work (let alone “hard work”) but she is deadly serious.
And she’s right.
The work ethic in Asia operates at levels few of us could imagine. They believe the more you work the more you earn, the more you can pay to learn more, the more effectively you can work to earn more and so on.
They believe in the future. They are working to improve their lives.

We are trying to get away with defending the lives to which many believe they are simply entitled.
But it’s game-over for lead-swingers and small “c” conservatives. The rules of the game have changed.

Harder and smarter.
That’s how it’s going to be in the future.

Monday, 22 March 2010


Gordon Brown has pledged that within four years every citizen with have their own Dyson Arse Blade – a unique device replacing the need for polluting Lavatory Paper. Spokesperson Anne Drecks claimed this was a massive initiative for Britain leaving other nations trailing, as it were, in the rear.

Rarely do I get so angry as I got on Saturday. It was that piece in the Times claiming that within four years we could have a paperless state with every citizen having their own webpage and that all state transactions would be online saving billions.

There are a few words this government (actually any government) doesn’t understand.


They have none. What they mean is “headline”.


Er. I think they mean “spend”. Whenever governments try and save it always (always?) yes always screws up. Especially when the “T” word is involved…


Government can’t do it and should never try. The NHS computerisation plan is running 4 years late and is now estimated to run out at around £13 billion. This is living proof (actually “dying” proof as any incoming government is likely to abort it) that governments and technology are like oil and water.

If this lunatic project goes ahead, spearheaded by Tim Berners-Lee and Martha Lane-Fox, which I anyway doubt as it’s clearly an election initiative it will fail.

Paperlessness is an anathema in a civilised world.

The Kindle or Sony Reader do not spell the end of the book, newspapers on-line do not mean the end of the real thing and the Civil Service is to its very core a literate and bureaucratic being. They require “paperwork” to feel legitimate. They think paper and they write papers

…sorry Gordon.

Monday, 15 March 2010


Two things about the founder of Walmart.

Firstly it took him seven years to launch the second Walmart store – a tribute to being patient and getting your prototype absolutely right.

Secondly his view on customer service.

“It takes a week for an employee to treat their customer like their employer treats them.”

So my two stories of the week.

First, Home House (a club in London) where I’ve been a member for 10 years.

Thursday – they didn’t recognise me on reception, not surprisingly – they were new (again). Then all the loos were out of action with only the unisex loos working (excuse me). My guest commented on his dismissive welcome by reception. And my complaint about a feather exuding cushion having smothered my jacket and no one having a clothes brush met with a fatalistic shrug.

The point is this was a succession of “and another thing” which made me unreasonable and grumpy. What is management doing? See what Sam said or, alternately, was it me in a bad mood attracting negative service? Home House can be so brilliant….

Second, the new Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

They’ve spent £60 million on refurbishing it. Great ambience, signage and displays. Wonderful staff. When did a museum attendant last smile at you and say “hi, great isn’t it?” They were bright partners in the joy of the place not the normal prison warders. And then technology stepped in. The devices for securing one’s coat – insert a pound, replace lock – remove key…key was stuck (stiff they agreed later – no not stiff, stuck) reduced me to rage. As did the ludicrously small café and restaurant. Full. Unwelcoming. Sort of urbane unspoken “bugger off”. So we did. To the Randolph opposite which, since Macdonald Hotels have owned it, has been great -especially the smiling, helpful staff. Great lunch. Great staff. Great atmosphere.

The key to customer service is all in the face.

Does it smile? Does it listen? Is it watching? Is the memory switched on? Is the brain working out how to make the customer really happy?

This is a game of winning brownie points and using them. Home House last week was overdrawn and then carried on spending. The Ashmolean was in credit so I forgave them my lack of lunch (just) but I’d assassinate the designers of those eating places.

And I love the Randolph…something I never thought I’d say given its bad old days.

I am still smiling thinking about it.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010


Summer 2011.
The bump of the landing woke me…”bloody TescoJet” I muttered and stretched.
I glanced out as we cruised smoothly off the runway towards the terminal – Greece again – deep blue skies, burning sun, the smell of dust, pine resin and Marlborough …but after 2010’s EU debacle things were going to be a bit different.
The signage was changed for a start – “Welcome to the land of Mercedes; where German efficiency and Greek sun shine together” – as were the posters – “Welome to Burgos – home to the big Whopper”; “Sikinos – the island where you get better, the BUPA rest place” – medical tourism I mused was very big business today; “Antiquos – the island for sexy Saga people”; “Plasticos – the island retreat for Amex Platinum people – it’ll do very nicely”.
I’d got talking to fellow passengers as we waited for our L’Oreal (travel with us because you’re worth it) buses.

Tony and Gina were off to Panasinicos. Maria and bearded Jeremy were going to Dellos – “I am a bit of a computer nerd” Jeremy confessed “so whilst she fries in the sun and eats Big Zorbas at McGreecy, I’ll be playing at the Dell centre”; John and Derek were off to the lovely Dodeconese island of Nokia; the rather lovely Tricia and laughing Martin were off to the two upmarket islands of Mycros and Softos which were apparently magnificent with their 2 star Michelin Windows restaurants. Kate and I were, meanwhile, going on a creative writing course on Applostica but were not much looking forward to the Flymos Hydrofoil trip across the EDFAegean.
If you are bankrupt, you must sweat or sell your assets, said the Germans this week, like your islands of which you have over 3,000, you lazy Greeks….and why stop there?
Indeed. A bit of money and commercialism could transform the place. Save the Greek economy and create an Aegean Disneyland instead.
Apparently the UK government are putting in a bid for the Parthenon – “somewhere to keep those Elgin marbles” explained Prime Minister Peter Mandelson smoothly.
This could all happen and one day probably will.
Sponsorship will be the answer to our money problems. Countries, cities and towns will make their assets sweat. All will be answerable to their sponsors. And we’ll have a very good time …. maybe…
This is Richard Hall from Brighton the City of Innocent, little tasty drinks, signing off…

Monday, 1 March 2010


I recently found a book by Malcolm Gladwell called “What The Dog Saw”- a collection of his essays from the New Yorker and there’s one in it called “The Talent Myth. Are Smart People Over-rated?” It’s about that blinding revelation that McKinsey and others had about “talent” which goes like this:

“a deep seated belief that having better talent at all levels is how you outperform your competitors”

This led to a seminal book – “The War For Talent” which has alone created the new orthodoxy of American Management. Quotes inspired by this mind-set abound:-

“we hire very smart people and pay them more than they think they are worth”

That’s from Richard Foster’s presciently titled book “Creative Destruction”. This comes from a guy at General Electric:-

“don’t be afraid to promote stars without specifically relevant experience, seemingly over their heads”

Gladwell tells us about one particular company that bought “The War For Talent” mythology hook line and sinker from McKinsey and became the ultimate talent company, stocking it with the best college and MBA graduates they could find.

That company was Enron.

Gladwell’s question relates to the absence of correlation between IQ and performance in the workplace and he quotes Richard Wagner, a psychologist at Florida State University who said this:-

“in terms of how you evaluate schooling, everything is about working by yourself. If you work with someone else it’s called cheating.

Once you get out in the real world everything you do involves working with other people.”

The next time you hear someone talk about “talent” think about this. Are they good with people? And if they aren’t, don’t hire them.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010


Marketing Workshops are powerful events.
As the group engine coughs into life you can smell creativity.
I’ve never failed to be amazed how inventive a group can be working on a marketing project. And not just how inventive they are – how assiduous they are too. No slouches are here. Across the board human beings want to work hard.
The stuff that belongs in the opening world of “monologue” is not that valuable; that’s the didactic end of the day; this is the bit where the fuel-bowser does its stuff. It’s the part of the day that’s about interaction where you get a group sharing and exchanging ideas that is always magical.
That magic lies in strange places.
One person in a group I ran recently confessed she found the experience alien; she said she was a left-brained person who was methodical and was being made to think outside her comfort zone; a colleague said she froze when she had to present.
But then their group produced an extraordinary piece of theatre that was creative, relevant and thought provoking.
The person out of her comfort zone was dreamily creative; an “I’ll be sick if I present” team member was a brilliant and engaging presenter.
Their project was “how do you create a production of Hamlet that is transformational and makes the play come to life in the 21st century?”
This was their answer.
No, in fact, this was their question.
“3D or not 3D?”

Monday, 15 February 2010


I was going to write about the problems with PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Spain) and the threat to the Euro and the very existence of the EU but decided that was a bit like writing about British weather…a grumble leading to a moan…boring.
Although it remains an irony that the wisest minds seem permanently perplexed by the latest catastrophe.

This array of places where I’ve holidayed and generally had a great time were none of them likely to star as the superheroes in the recession-horror movie we’re living through called “Bust!”

And Greece had it coming just for the perpetuation of Retsina (a vile Roman invention in fact in the first place). Their current woes are, I believe, a direct thunderbolt from Dionysus for trying to pretend industrial strength paint stripper is something to sip with your octopus and warm cods-roe paste (aka taramasalata.)

Given the importance of their tourist industry (around 15% of GDP) and their volatility I can foresee our summer holidays being a touch on the grumpy side unless they heed my advice.

And here’s what they won’t want to hear - all of them are going to have to focus on super-customer service, hit new levels of competence, start loving their visitors and trying extra hard. Do not even think of going on strike Stavros – stop it!

I once went to Kalymnos (an out of the way Greek island) where an old waiter with a vile temper, prone to hurl food at you was dubbed Old Scrotum by the customers. Consign him and his like to the bin of history.

Nearer home customer service exploded in my face on Friday when I signed up to Ocado and when after that first tremulous shopping tour an hour and a half later I found they decided to reject mine and give me a new/wrong address off their own bat. Fury. Tears. Wrathful e-mails. Hatred never to be assuaged.

But within a few hours there was an ample apology and the problem was fixed.

Ocado 1 Hall 0

They really showed how to do great customer service.

So all you PIIGS pay attention and especially the land of the wine dark sea.

It’s how you behave, how you smile, how loveable you are that’ll get you out of this. The world needs cheering up and you could be the key to doing it.

But ditch the Retsina, the octopus and last nights Tara - OK?

Monday, 8 February 2010

I shouldn’t really tell you this but…

The power of rumour is extraordinary and the next marketing tool…”I shouldn’t really tell you this but Innocent dramatically improves your libido …the medical profession is terrified this will get out”….true or false? Neither. A rumour.

I heard recently about a big, global multinational under pressure that was successfully rearranging its lines of credit and held senior executive briefings. During the middle of one of these, a manager being briefed received an untrue text from a competitor saying the negotiations had broken down and that his company was toast. He and his colleagues, when he shared this with them, chose to believe this as opposed to the story being told by their boss (whom, incidentally, they liked, respected and thought was truthful.)

Rumour has never had greater authority.

As the John Terry story broke (the ex England Football Captain) a source (rumour) from the Capello camp (the England Football Manager) said“It wasn’t one thing with Terry. It was the rumours. It was getting worse every day.”

It was the rumours…not the facts… the rumours.

And it’s not just rumours and gossips that carry impact. It’s insinuations, nods and winks as well.
Rumour is the biggest aggressive marketing tool we have…and I don’t want to be the first one to say it but have you heard that Sir Martin Sorrell …

(Already the expectations about WPP have been raised and the bloodlust has been stirred and stimulated.)

The old adage “there’s no smoke without a fire” has become “where there’s a rumour there’s a story”…and where there’s a story there’s an audience. And where there’s an audience the bushfire spreads very fast.

And it’s hard to put out because we enjoy bad news and feet of clay.

Monday, 1 February 2010

The Many Tragedies in Haiti

I am hesitant to write something that I know will upset many people but here goes because I think this is really important.

If you give money to Haiti by all means do it to salve your conscience but not to do any real good because -

  • It isn’t needed (the USA has already put in more than $100 million and as much as it will take thereafter)
  • It won’t get to the people anyway – it never does – the Tsunami money (for instance) is still unused for the purposes intended although it’s helping the Indonesian economy
  • Money gets somehow…lost… in these situations …the Haitians themselves have a neat way of putting it “when a Haitian Minister skims 15% of aid money it’s called corruption, but when an aid agency takes 50% it’s called overheads”.
  • The NGOs are on a vanity show trying to prove how important they are (Andy Kershaw of the Independent savaged Oxfam for emptily conducting “assessments” as people died)
  • But the clincher is that the USA has put more troops into Haiti than we have in Afghanistan –20,000 it’s said - to maintain security. They fear a bloodbath could follow the turmoil with gang warfare.
  • So whatever we think has no weight or influence when compared to the US control of airport, aid, money, food, in fact - control of everything.
  • To understand the gangs in Port au Prince you don’t really need a lesson in this Caribbean island’s economic demolition by the Duvaliers (Papa Doc and Baby Doc and their Tonton Macoute militia.) and the hangover, after their removal.
  • Last and worst of all, the media. Sleek, well fed, sanctimonious and there in great and well organised numbers filming human misery commenting smugly and tersely and moving on. And you know I doubt if we can really trust what they say – 24 hour News Coverage and truth are not great allies.

I know little enough of Haiti – I haven’t been there although I hurt for all the suffering. But I have watched liberal and Christian money being hopefully used as though it were water being hosed over people dying of thirst. Except the money being given will predictably sit in some bank account until it’s too late to do much good or it’s irrelevant.

I have been frustrated and angry that money is seen as the answer.

It never is, alone.

And if it takes a catastrophe to awaken the Christian or the philanthropist in us, it’s a sad old world.

Haiti really needed help a month ago, a year ago, a decade ago.

Now it needs some really intelligent planning with the people in Haiti who matter – not the elite but most probably the mothers….the people who really know what is needed and, from what I read, the Mayor of Haiti’s second city, Cap Haiten, Michel St. Croix, who said: “this is a moment like never before for Haiti to start again”.

Most of all we hope the Americans so clearly running this show will execute the recovery in Port-au-Prince better than usual (or at least than Katrina). And that more of the brains of the world rather than the wallets of the world will be used to help plan the best solution possible.

As Lord Rutherford, the physicist originally said “we have no money so we shall have to think”…or as he might say, were he alive now, ”we have all this money. What on earth shall we do with it?”

Carry on thinking….and taking the advice of Haitian mothers and Michel St. Croix who sounds smart and honest.

Monday, 25 January 2010

“We need to change our culture” said the Chairman

You’d be right to be sceptical if told this. Because, just as certainly as if you were born a stroppy sort of “take me as you find me” person, truculence is in your genes, in your DNA – like it or not.

So it is with an organisation in which culture is not to be moved around like furniture. Nonetheless three people in as many weeks have told me their company needs to change its culture, failing to understand this equates to a DNA transplant.

For instance changing from outward going to thoughtful.
Or from arrogant to caring.
Or from caring about the bottom line to caring about your people.

It can’t be done and so it shouldn’t be tried.

The great brands like Coke, Heinz, McDonalds, Google are what they are and when they try to be anything different their magic dissolves before you just like sherbet. Healthy McDonalds? Away with you – what people like is that taste, that speed, that price and that staggering consistency. McDonalds when, in the recent past, it tried to be a purveyor of healthy salads, looked like a particularly reluctant cross-dresser.

Brands and companies have cultures built over time. They have memories, triumphs and failure built into that culture recipe and you can’t subtract those ingredients at will. This is their DNA.
Define the two or three characteristics which best define you and build on them.

Success is about being the best you or a bigger you.

The day Goldman Sachs pretends it is soft and cuddly will be the day it dies.
The day Apple acts just as a trendy brand, ditto.

So the big question is not 'what do you want to be?' but 'what are you now?' What are you now and how can you build on this?

And a makeover for a brand or company, which is a perfectly sensible thing to do, is not the same as a culture transplant which will usually prove fatal.

Be proud of your cultural DNA don’t mess with it.

Monday, 18 January 2010

“They intoxicate themselves with work so they don’t see how they really are”.

Aldous Huxley said this and it’s been a topic of curiosity throughout history – people who seem busier than they are or need to be; people who are martyrs to work.

So my advice for 2010: relax, think more, don’t get frenzied and give yourself time and space. Find time to smell the claret (I prefer claret to roses which are the things Ringo Starr asked us to smell.) And we’ve been shown recently how snow has had this peculiar effect of slowing everything down and muffling noise …nature’s way, perhaps, of showing us how to solve problems. Slowly and quietly.

But most big companies busy themselves producing documents or decks of slides so detailed, so turgid and so long they act on one’s head rather as a mallet does. If only Fred Goodwin had been made to read the information pack on ABN Amro there’s a fighting chance he might have said after struggling through the first ten pages “you know what - I can’t be bothered. Let’s go out to lunch instead”. (And by the way going back to my blog on rehabilitation of January 3rd, my observations have borne fruit and the self same knight has picked up a job at RMJM, the 5th biggest architectural business in the world.)

If “busy” is the only mode of existence, we are in trouble because “busy” is treadmill stuff – doing things for appearance’s sake; more style than substance,

Laidback and thoughtful is a lot better. Laidback, thoughtful and effective like Gerry Robinson was, the one time superstar boss of Granada; a man never known to let work spoil his work-life balance.

The best comment I heard recently was from an ex colleague of mine who remarked how struck he was by the fact that so many of these busy people were, in fact, plain lazy; that they rushed around but didn’t really know their stuff. Too lazy to care; too busy to do the basics.

Here’s a story of focus.

They test new Secretaries of State do Civil Servants. The red box test puts them on their mettle. Ken Clarke, then in Health or wherever, got ten red boxes on his first day. He asked for the most important one and said that one would have to do and that would they get their act together in future because less is more.

And then you can spend more time using your brain (what Woody Allen described as his “second favourite organ”) and less time ticking boxes (red ones or otherwise.)

Because, just one really important box will do fine.

Friday, 8 January 2010

"What's the difference between a supermarket trolley and a non executive director?

Whilst both hold a vast quantity of food and drink, only the trolley has a mind of its own” (T.P. Blenkin)

T.P. Blenkin appears to be a Yorkshireman who is a cricket nut and given the excitement of the Third Test in South Africa this week that puts him in my good books but it’s this great aphorism that makes his reputation because, like a great Shane Warne leg break, it leaves those of us who’ve served as NEDs groping sightlessly.

In many respects being a non executive or a Trustee is a mug’s game. You don’t have the time or the proximity to the action really to smell what’s going on. You apply your best critical judgement but are also trying to motivate those in the front line to do better and feel good about themselves.

It’s a critical balance between being too nice and too nasty. I’ve seen NEDs apply the “I put their feet to the fire” principle and turn a competent executive into a quivering wreck. But NEDs at various banks and struggling companies like ITV or BA must wonder what hit them recently. Was that moderate remuneration worth that loss of reputation?

So I anticipate a new breed of Rottweiler non execs. and a consequent growing pressure on executives to justify virtually all they do. And I don’t see too much food and drink for anyone.
It’ll be just a basket with under five items most of which will be energy drinks to keep them awake so they're able to read all those documents.

“Mind of my own…I’ll show ‘em…Gentlemen. I’d like to revisit our strategy again just to be sure it still stands up to inquisition given changing market conditions”.