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 cafĂ© 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.