Monday, 31 January 2011


Last week I did a keynote speech at a Brighton & Hove Chamber of Commerce event on the HSBC report on the Super Cities of the future. Brighton was one of these and I was asking the audience of 100 whether they thought there might be a symbiotic relationship between the thriving arts scene in Brighton and the booming SME, entrepreneurial community in the city. I noted the HSBC were very impressed by the rebelliousness and individuality of Brighton and observed it was “the UK capital of deregulation.”

Which takes me to Tunis, Cairo, Sanaar, Amman and so on. As I type this the violence in Cairo has worsened. So rebelliousness, deregulation and, even, revolution is in the air throughout the world.

Dictatorships and dynasties are doomed.

The voice of intelligent people is being heard and is organising itself through willpower and technology. Governments are discovering that mobile phones are more potent weapons than tear gas and guns.

Talking to people at that Chamber of Commerce event about networking and now reading the news about Egypt has finally persuaded me that social networking is much more important to our world than I’d been acknowledging.

Here are the top ten tips from Brighton this January for being good at Twitter, Blogs, Facebook or whatever.

-    Talk about what really interests you not just about what you do
-    Be curious about the world and ask questions
-    Be a Renaissance person, a polymath, a person with wide interests
-    Be yourself – be true to what you believe
-    Make friends don’t just regard the network as business forum
-    Get into your local universities and find out all the good stuff they are thinking about. Ask and you’ll be surprised how open they are
-    Be positive – look for the good things - don’t just be judgemental
-    Don’t live in anyone’s shadow – be your own hero
-    We live in a world of conversations not orations
-    Spend 20 minutes a day on social networking

It’s time more of us were talking to each other and being active in our lives. As Thomas Jefferson said “a little rebellion never did any harm.” And there’s never been a better time to rattle the cage.

See you in cyberspace.

Monday, 24 January 2011


When Descartes wrote this he was creating an anthem for philosophic thought. But if the converse is true - “I do not think therefore I’m not” - we should reflect on the potential for many of us, our lives and our businesses ceasing to exist.

To be blunt, there’s more sound and fury than real thinking going on right now in many places. And with so much changing and the mass and mess of conflicting events, it’s pretty hard to keep up. In this supercharged world the premium is on energy rather than insight.

So how do you think? No, I’m not being funny. How do you actually do it? In a multitasking world it is evident the bit that gets abandoned first is thinking. It’s the juice in the plum that gets spilt when you get to multitasking with that “let’s be busy” knife.

The very clever Isaac Newton, apparently, would sit and think for days at a time…and that’s a terrifying thought. Imagine. No distractions. A twitter-free, iPod-free, PC-free environment.  Imagine a white sheet of paper  with three weeks alone to think and nothing else…in silence.

Relax. Use whatever it takes to help you and for many people silence is a cruel state of being broken only by the insistent sound of a bee buzzing making real concentration impossible. Marcus du Sautoy, Professor of Mathematics at Oxford and one of the people who make me wish I’d become a scientist, says maths is too hard to think about, really think about for more than an hour a day. What’s good enough for Marcus….

But what I really want to talk about are baths. Sue Wilkins who runs Panache PR told me she’d printed off my last blog and read it in the bath. (So this one’s for you, Sue.) If we had more baths we’d think more and better. Do you suppose Archimedes would have had his “eureka” moment under a shower? If only more people lay back in a hot, foaming bath and spent an hour in it just thinking about a few key issues we might be in even better shape.

A case quite simply of “I bath therefore I think”. Try it.

Monday, 17 January 2011


Seamus Smyth is one of the brightest people I know. He used to work for Shell. Now he thinks a lot and is a kind of intellectual social entrepreneur. He also has very long hair which I miss in the deep thinkers of today who tend to favour baldness. He said this when I asked him what 2011 and beyond held in store:

“The mission to give people more of what they actually want and need, rather than what people make will intensify to a degree that we’ve never seen before as WASTE will become the world’s common enemy.”

I recalled seeing a piece in Fast Company about the iPad wars noting that as many as 80 tablet devices were debuting at this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES).

Seamus is right. Over in China, Taiwan or Japan factories employing thousands of people are working away, trying to keep busy and screaming at their sales forces to sell more. What they make is irrelevant. It’s sheer and utter madness.

The voice of marketing is being deafened by the sound of production making “stuff” – most of it not quite what people want. The God “growth” is what fills the minds of City analysts and the media. So Tesco must be trembling in shame for its appalling  1% yoy decline  for quarter 4 2010  whilst Sainsbury is a brilliant A* student because of its +3% growth. Please.

We are wasting a lot of things right now:
·    Resources - the intelligence to rein in on making the unsellable
·    Space - the unneeded buildings we could flatten and turn into parks
·    Our talent - the bright young minds that will remain unemployed and losing the will to think when we could be coaching them into being thoughtful citizens of the new world
·    Day to day waste - all manner of activities in big companies that use up time and money to no good effect (getting people at the coal face of any business to remove waste would save billions and  they would be savings not cuts)
·    Hubristic plans - expenditure on big and irrelevant capital projects – like the high speed train link. It takes 2 hours Euston to Liverpool by train. Who needs faster than that?

The penalty of the quest for economic growth is extravagance and waste. In a so-called age of austerity it’s a brilliant moment to reduce what you do that has no obvious beneficial effect and to spend a bit more time thinking.

Seamus is right. Waste is the common enemy.

Monday, 10 January 2011


Focus is the word of the moment or, if you’re a sportsman, staying in “the zone” or “the bubble.” The trouble is that just as Gekko’s observation in the film “Wall Street” - “lunch is for wimps”-  led to a generation of anorexic miseries – so a fixation on focus is impeding the detour-taking rambles of the curious minded.

I remember when I was young hearing the aphorism “life is real and life is earnest” and thinking it rather strange because life seemed a hoot. Politicians like MacMillan or Callahan always had a ready turn of ironic phrase. Industrial heroes were all comedians as well as being fearless warriors. Women like Anita Roddick. Men like John Harvey-Jones of ICI, Robert Townsend of Avis or Jerry Della Femina of whatever advertising agency he chose to be running at the time and author of the book about advertising, with the title from a supposed end line for a campaign for Panasonic he’d dreamed up, “From those Wonderful Folks that brought you Pearl Harbour”.

Food was a key to creativity. We all met, talked, laughed and had ideas with our mouths full. Richard French one of the champions of creativity and marketing who could laugh at himself, decided to cut costs in one of his agencies – quite a reversal of human nature for Richard, cost cutting. He decided client entertaining should be trimmed but was told by the accountants that in fact all lunch costs were not only re-billed to clients but that a commission of 17.65% was also added to them. This delicious discovery prompted his writing of one of the world’s immortal office memos.

It was entitled “Eat Your Way to Profit.”

This is not going to be a nostalgic things-used-to–be-more-fun piece. It’s a mild but critical observation I’m making that an inability to play as well as work, to see the funny side, is hindering current leaders and managers. I never thought I’d be yearning for the return of showmen like Peter Marsh or sports leaders like Malcolm Allison but I do.

And as David Ogilvy observed “the consumer is not a moron, she’s your wife”. We started to treat our customers seriously when we started to make them laugh.  It’s time to lighten up and have some great conversations, flirtatious fun and enjoy the ironies of life.

And if Twitter is really as good as it gets I shall have to get very drunk.

Friday, 7 January 2011


A friend of mine gets enraged when he hears management jargon. He’s not alone. Lucy Kellaway, that brilliant writer on the Financial Times, recently listed some bệtes noirs – “office-speak” she ironically calls it. Here are some:

-    loopback
-    in this space
-    strategic staircase
-    living the values
-    letting the grass grow
-    And my least favourite “you can’t have your cake and eat it so you have to step up to the plate and face the music”

And the real problem going forward (ugh!) is that I keep reaching out to people (oh no!) incentivising them (aaghh!) to sprinkle their magic (I’m so sorry!) even if they didn’t think they had enough bandwidth (I feel sick!) to cascade (sob!) their thoughts with granularity (bang!)

Yes, it’s catching. Like swine flu it’s a pandemic. But sadly those most seriously afflicted seem to thrive rather than die.

So I thought we should create our own more helpful vocabulary. Eight verbs and one cliché –

-    Influence – instead of “telling” people start to “suggest” and “persuade” – in the best sense of the word and start “selling” rather than “imposing” your ideas. Be a good influence.

-    Give – sometimes by unconditional giving you can build a relationship. Not everything has a price.

-    Shepherd – not to imply that your employees are sheep but when it comes to ideas try to coax them out of people. You can see how “office speak” develops because it would be so easy to add “so we can shear the flock’s innovation-wool” (don’t you dare!)

-    Engage – grab people’s imaginations and get their attention. No one has perforce to listen to anything nowadays which makes management hard. People have to be persuaded to listen and to hear what’s being said.

-    Inspire – this is engagement on speed. Inspire by dramatising and telling great stories. Inspire by saying what you yourself really believe.

-    Converse – conversations not speeches are the future.

-    Discover – learn new stuff; find out what you can really do; go to new places.

-    Lighten – simplify and illuminate. Make life simpler if you can.

And the cliché?

It’s from Margaret Heffernan author and speaker who said “Nice is the new mean.”

Yes, that’s right, you don’t any longer have to be a bastard to succeed. Nor do you have to touch base about anything offline ever again…(there I go again!)

Thursday, 6 January 2011


My brain hurts and I’m jet lagged and I’m convinced there’s something seriously wrong with me. You see I’ve had my radio on all night listening to the Test Match in Sydney and before that I watched an episode of House.

The combination of the two is lethal.

I dozed off and dreamt that Gregory House and Thirteen were peering at me on my bed saying:-

“It’s gone from being a nasty attack of Collingwood to Advanced Hussey, although of course that’s treatable, messy but treatable but now I’m afraid we may have complications…”
“Not Swann’s Disease”
“No worse than that. Haddins”
“If it’s Haddins he’s had it.”
“Poor Richard”…..

Poor indeed….and knackered.

A bit like doing a new job which some will be doing in this new year.

If you think that it’s hard doing your job in charge of the UK try controlling a global empire and hear things like this:

“They don’t like it in Seoul but in Rio they can’t get enough, in Kabul it’s been banned and in Calcutta they’ve diluted it with sheep’s milk”…
“What about Helsinki?”
“…delisted and a court case pending.”

The real issue for anyone trying to run a global brand or company is trying to remember everything that’s relevant and putting a hundred cultural quirks, foibles and differences into a usable framework. Try too hard and your brain may shut down with a deep voice inside your skull intoning “you have tried to perform an illegal procedure.”

Some words of advice to anyone newly doing an international job:

1.    Get a good up to date map of the world and learn where everywhere actually is (most of us last did this at school)
2.    Learn the populations per major country – you can stop at Australia - that come in 50th  (the UK is 22nd in the league table and Germany is the first European country at 14th).
3.    Read “The Week” every week which gives you the best idiots guide to what’s happening where in the world.
4.    And the Economist which isn’t for idiots.
5.    Read this overview drawn from a talk at the RSA by Mike Geoghagan Ex CEO of HSBC which helped me.
6.    Get travelling and keeping notes about anything that defines a culture.

It may or may not help to know that a relatively low % of US International Sales Directors are reputed to have passports. It sounds like an urban myth but pass it on anyway.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011


So should they have changed? Surely the strategy remains constant whatever else?

That used to be true, for sure, but no longer when all around us the landscape is changing so unpredictably – when there are earthquakes in Yorkshire and floods in Queensland, Australia. As John Maynard Keynes said:

“When circumstances change I change my mind. What do you do?”

I’ve changed my mind.

In the Times of December 28th Peter Stiff wrote “advertisers seek a brand new world where corporate identity is king.” It was about Procter & Gamble and Arla Foods doing advertising reflecting their corporate credentials and values. Something Unilever and Reckitts are working on too although Kraft think it may interrupt consumers’ enjoyment of its brands. I think Kraft is wrong.

My life in fast moving consumer goods was performed within the liturgical belief that the mono-brand was king and that Heinz, for instance, was an aberration.

Today I believe provenance, values and the degree of trust a corporation inspires is what really counts in engaging the support of the customer.

John Lewis and their culinary sister Waitrose breathe their beliefs about life, their people and their quality and value story in everything they do so it’s unsurprising they score so highly in surveys.

It’s time to re-engage fundamentally with people who buy or might try our products.

Back as they say to the drawing board to sketch and colour in with bold strokes the story of why we are in business and what lasting excitement we enjoy in creating, producing our products.

And if you want to be inspired read about the teenager Fraser Docherty and taste and study his brilliant “Super Jam”…all of the leaden footed marketers should read, taste and learn from him.

2011 is going to be the beginning of a decade of earning and retaining trust, engaging with the minds and spirits of our customers and in building relationships not just performing transactions.

The truth will be our strongest weapon – so we’d better tell it. And the great thing about the truth is you never have to remember what you said….

Tuesday, 4 January 2011


I feel sorry for bankers. They had a horrible 2010. They’re next in line for one of those entrapment scoops by one of the papers – probably the Guardian. And they’re about to make things worse by paying themselves large bonuses because (as everyone knows (sic) money is the only way of retaining talent.). No it isn’t. Never was. It’s a poor second to job satisfaction, interesting colleagues and so on. As long ago as 1959 Frederick Herzberg produced his “two factor theory of motivation” that still holds good.

So why fly in the face of this by suggesting that bonuses are so important.

Because they aren’t.

Unfortunately there is another myth with a body that believes global economics is a science.

The truth is well expressed by Sir Martin Sorrell boss of WPP the marketing services group:-

“All business decisions are marketing decisions and all marketing decisions are about people.”

Success or otherwise in 2011 will come to those who better understand what makes people really tick – customers, colleagues and employees. In a shrinking world where nearly all ideas seem to be conceived spontaneously and simultaneously, it’s the people who shape and execute the ideas and the teams who shepherd the gathering of ideas that make the difference.

Look at the spirit and creativity at Google, Apple, Nike and John Lewis – places where people really want to work. Places where people feel they’re making a difference.

What Steve Jobs said to John Sculley one-time CEO of Apple when he was trying to hire him out of Pepsico still holds true:

“Do you want to spend your life selling sugared water or do you want to try and change the world?”

No brainer.

Engaging with people and making them enjoy what they do will always be the key to real success.

Not money.

Monday, 3 January 2011


If we learnt nothing else in 2010 it was that anything is possible and that no one is bomb proof any longer – isn’t that true Mr. Geoghagan?

You’ll recall Mike is the now ex CEO of HSBC.

2011 is going to be a year of churn – more new business models, more job changes, more focus on execution and more innovation. Because if you stand still the global tsunami will get you.

A few obvious things:

-    the I-Pad and Kindle are changing our lives and where and how we can work and think. We can, as Daryll Scott of Noggin put it, think and do at the same time. We can spend more time out meeting and talking and less behind that PC – the dinosaur of the 20th century.

-    And here’s what Stephen Bailey of the Design Museum thinks of commuting:- “commuting will one day be looked on as we now look on surgical bleeding by leeches.” But not in 2011 sadly.

-    Like Air Traffic Controllers who work intensely and then rest we’ll learn to intensify the way we think and work with shorter harder, less agenda-filled meetings and then relax. The world of “bleisure” (no obvious separation between work, rest and play) will be the norm for all people at the top of businesses or running their own. Play is going to be the key if we want to remain not just sane but effective.

-    We’ll all learn to get rid of all our e-mails everyday. Read the advice from Fast Company - don’t be tyrannised by the 200+ most of us get every day.

-    Jack Welch ex CEO and Chairman of GE likened business to ice hockey – fast, violent and very unpredictable. There is a strong body now from people like Margaret Heffernan that “nice is the new mean”. It’s still dangerous out there but this is a real and thoughtful team game and by being “nice” we’ll hopefully get the best out of our colleagues.

-    The concept of “Senpai” and “Kohai” from Japan – roughly speaking “experienced mentor” and “protégé” but where the protégé is often the CEO figure, full of vigour, energy and indomitable spirit counselled in the discreet background by a senior, dispassionate dispenser of thinking, caution and inspiration, the Senpai.

Whatever else, 2011 can be exciting and rewarding if we all embrace change and do everything we do harder – work, play, laugh and think.

Because our most powerful weapon is our brain.

And it’s time to make more of it.

Sunday, 2 January 2011


it’s over, let it go

I’m not much into nostalgia. The future always seems to be more exciting than the past about which there is nothing you can do.

However here’s a brief glance at ten events from 2010 that we can learn from before fast forwarding into 2011.

i)    The problems with the Euro - specifically its probable demise. Look at Ireland, Greece, Portugal, Spain and ask yourself if rapid rushes for growth funded by debt ever made sense.

ii)    No one is immune to demise. Ask the nearly-made-it-to-basket-case-Titans, BP and Toyota.

iii)    Nature has a way of putting things into perspective. I loved that volcanic ash. How else would I have got to see Anglesey and have read the first Stieg Larssen in one sitting as I came back from Ireland by car, boat and train?

iv)    And Haiti. Remember the earthquake. Well hallo….it’s got worse. And no the money we gave didn’t get through. And, yes, it’s off our radar now. Remember this is the age of short memories.

v)    We take water for granted. Unless we live in Belfast where some 60,000 people have had no running water since Christmas. Take nothing for granted.

vi)    The coalition is not a party. It’s a coalition. It’s a model for all of us…working together. Of course it disagrees and stumbles. At least it feels real as opposed to Old Tory and New Labour.

vii)    “Yes you can.” Not necessarily Barack. No one doing a job or with political power will be loved or liked forever or, nowadays, for more than a month or so. Thicken your skin. This is not a popularity contest.

viii)    Suddenly we’ve retained the Ashes, the Ryder Cup, are breeding convincing Olympiads and are still also-rans at football. Maybe FIFA were right.

ix)    Is the mini-celebrity bubble going to burst? Strictly Being Fired and X Factory seem to belong to another age. Like Simon Cowell’s teeth. I don’t think I can bear another conversation about Matt Cardle.

x)    And that one blinding moment of unalloyed joy and simple humanity. The Chilean Miners’ Rescue.

Be humble. Be authentic. Be resolute.  Be prepared. Be frugal. Smell the flowers and be grateful.

Saturday, 1 January 2011


We’ll shortly be bombarded in the media by the “anguishings” of economists and gurus about 2010. So I thought I’d start by going instead to the world of film, with which I grew better acquainted over Christmas, for some pointers.

“This is my show” (Anil Kapoor as Prem Kapur the gameshow host from Slumdog Millionaire.)

As he felt his own control oozing away, Prem got more and more frustrated. Yet we’d all better stop trying to run things and start trying to steer them. However much we huff and puff the age of the Fat Controller is over. Events of 2010 proved just how out of control the bullies are.

“Doubt is not a luxury we can afford any more” (Elastigirl from the Incredibles.)

It was Lord Denning who said “people pay us for our certainties not our doubts” and Shakespeare more tersely “our doubts are traitors”. Whilst we have never lived in more complex times with information overload and unprecedented events happening at random we need to have a sense of clarity and an unfailing determination to be decisive if we are to survive. Better to be wrong than die in a sea of vaccilation.

“Your book is going to change the world.” Stanley Tucci (as Paul Child) from Julie and Julia.

As a writer I always believe this secretly although I doubt if it’s true. Yet the optimist that visualises the best result is the one more determined to go for it. Who’d ever start a film like Titanic, Avatar or Lord of the Rings without such an indomitable belief? There’s never been a better time to go for it.

 “Impossible. Impossible. Nothing is impossible. Dig little mouse. Dig.” Matthew Broderick (as Philippe Gaston) from Ladyhawke.

This irrepressible positivism allied to nothing any longer being inviolate, from the corporate reputations of BP and Toyota to the hero to zero slide of various politicians in 2010 (in Nick Clegg’s case from zero to hero to Nero), underpins the new world order. Since nothing is impossible just do it. And remember Rutger Hauer (star of Ladyhawke) in those bizarre Guinness commercials. He said “just keep an open mind”.

Time I’d suggest to watch more films and read fewer Harvard Business Reviews. When truth is stranger than fiction it’s time to go to fiction for inspiration.

This is the first of a series of blogs to mark the New Year – enjoy them.