Monday, 31 October 2011


As I spent my week puzzling over the disadvantages of democracy – all talk and no action – the idiotic spectacle of the Italians with their trousers round their economic ankles - the last writhings of capitalism furtively displayed by that shameless increase in pay of senior executives in the UK of 49% year on year and the split in the church over how to handle St Pauls from the Bishop of London’s robust approach “onward Christmas soldiers marching as to war” (viz torch the tents) to the more pacifist “turn the other cheek” - the view (yet again) is the Anglican church has made itself an idiot (together with the Catholic church in those leafy avenues of paedophilia Ealing).

What would Steve Jobs have done? Steve the hero of our generation, and undoubtedly a genius techno-artist.

He’d have simplified everything.

He’d have taken Greeks, Portuguese, Italians and Spanish into his legendary lift and fired them, reduced  Angela and Nicolas to torrents of tears by, as Jonathan Ive said, identifying their sensitivities and weaknesses and ruthlessly attacking them where it hurt (which being so sensitive himself he was adept at doing), disbanded all the committees in Brussels and created the greatest currency ever - the iPo.

Trouble is it would have led to war because countries are disparate cultures which can’t be conformed like Apple and because people just aren’t as perfect and clonable as things like the iPad and the Mac keyboard can be, so beautiful that Steve wanted to lick it. Steve himself was clearly not a very nice man. He seems to have been a sadistic bully and full of anger and contempt for others. He was the sort of person who wouldn’t say “after you” as you stood by a lift together (but wouldn’t need to as the thought of being “Steved” in a lift should have been enough to make you flee.)

But he taught us a lot of things and sometimes genius maybe forgiven its bad table manners. He taught us bullshit is bullshit, mediocre isn’t good enough so try again, obsession with detail is good and small is beautiful. Apple always felt small and focused.

Unlike Shell, CitiGroup, Kraft, BA and the EU which I always see as big and sluggish, process-driven, old fashioned and vulnerable. Out-of-condition Goliaths (“Sorry Mr G you need a life style change.”)  So when I kept hearing through the week “does Britain want to become a second class power?” it was like hearing “does Leeds United want to be a second class football team?” But we are and it is.

We need to be the best we can be at what we can excel at. Steve turned a bankrupt Apple into one of the most successful companies in the world in 20 years just by focusing on that. If he’d been an average UK businessman he’d have sold to Microsoft years ago. Or he’d, as Britain, have become a fully- fledged member of the EU.

But if you give up your independence you can’t live your dream.

Now get into that lift and let’s talk.

Monday, 24 October 2011


This was James Delingpole in the Spectator speculating on how bad this recession could be and he summarises the potential bankruptcy dilemma we may face  thus – when we have to survive we need to be creative in our culinary choices. The trouble is he doesn’t know how to do it to his podgy moggy.  A stew, a roast or fried in butter?

Cats I like. They seem to know where they are going. They are aloof, superior-looking creatures. A bit like economists. Although they’re very clever they’re not terribly useful with anything other than small things like mice. Economists are good when it comes to mice-like problems but get very wobbly when confronted with dog-like or bigger issues.

Which brings me to Lord Wolfson who runs the retail chain Next. He’s a Eurosceptic who has offered £250,000 for the economist coming up with the best solution for smoothly exiting countries from the EU who need to be exited, like Greece.  To be fair he hasn’t specified that the prize will go to an economist because that would be a little like nominating the 2011 winner of Global Diplomacy as Bashar-al Assad.

Anti-economists? You bet.  Because they are all in in their own minds right yet offer no leeway to opposing views. And nearly all of them seem to get it wrong. Anatole Kaletski whom is I’m sure is a delightful man is just such an expert. I’ve found I’m happier if I disagree with everything he says, as a matter of principle.
And the Greeks or the ones who are wealthy are scarpering and coming to London where the 50 most expensive apartments on the market were snapped up by the Micropolis Brothers, the Anastokios’, Joannis Ladis and so on last week. And they weren’t coming here for the cats.

London is becoming an ever more powerful magnet for the crookedly rich, Russian, Arab, Indian and now Greek. You can see why. It’s got the best Arts in the world and some of the best food. Anatole Kaletski would probably think their arrival a disaster. There, see, I told you. And if you think I’m being mean to Anatole because he’s Russian I have one thing to say


Monday, 17 October 2011


I’ve been studying a major piece of research into senior executive attitudes this week which endorses what the good guys knew already but it’s nice to know we are in the majority. It conclusively shows emotion is as important as rationality in forming plans, that corporate culture is a key issue ignored by too many CEOs and that positive-minded and engaged managers are substantially more likely to have a good effect in a business. (Good. I’ve been advising the mass assassination of cynics for years now).

So how do we find these “super” guys and girls?

The Managing Director of Diesel said you had to tear up their CVs and look at their eyes. Are they really alive and enthusiastic? If they are, hire them. Then you can sort out the easy stuff they’re missing.
This appeared this week in Fast an interview with Oren Jacob one time CTO at Pixar – here’s his criteria for hiring the best:

When Pixar is evaluating potential hires they look for three traits: humor, the ability to tell a story, and an example of excellence. These aren’t unique qualities to assess in applicants, but how excellence is defined is not that common. It doesn’t matter what you are excellent at, just that you have reached a level of excellence. It’s important that you know what excellence feels like and what it takes to achieve it. It could be gardening, jujitsu, or cooking. The main thing is you’ve had a taste of excellence and will know how to get there again.

My two best hires in my career were just like this. They had amazing hunger and energy and they made me laugh. They’ve deservedly gone on to be huge successes. But I would have hired neither by just studying their CVs.

Apart from people who are colourful-thinkers ( and my wife and family (who are also bright and smart) I want to have around me people who joy in life and who care.

So the protests against the unacceptable face of capitalism and the anti-banker riots that have now spread right across America - “Occupy Wall Street” - and all round the world over the weekend should tell us something interesting. I think I sense democracy waking up.

Thursday, 13 October 2011


This link takes you to a fascinating insight from a Google insider - its a long read but I think you may well find it worth it.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011


My favourite cartoon from years ago was of a guy walking downstairs with a blank expression and a thought bubble from his head saying “What do I think today?” He picks up the Daily Mail from the doormat. The headline screams “It’s a disgrace!” His face breaks into a thunderous frown. “It’s a disgrace!” he cries.

My thesis is that like Mr Daily Mail reader we’ve stopped thinking for ourselves. And some of us have stopped thinking altogether. Melvyn Bragg, one of whose heroes is Isaac Newton, speaks in awe of Newton’s alleged ability to sit and think for hours, days and weeks at a time. Melvyn says he can do three minutes before he has to make a cup of tea to break the monotony. Marcus du Sautoy who is Professor of Mathematics at Oxford says he can only think about maths for an hour or so because it hurts to do it any longer. So we shouldn’t be ashamed at finding thinking hard.

But there’s so much going on now that we do need to think about it….for our own peace of mind.
About sovereign debt, about the Human Rights Act, about our holding the European title for largest % of the population imprisoned, about the level of and justification for top salaries, about English Rugby, about our state educational system, about our likely economic prospects, about what we are going to spend money on this Christmas….

None of these are trivial and all deserve some thought. Just try exploring the pluses and minuses of all of them. Take the last one – only 75 shopping days left. And apparently the fate of the British Economy lies in us emptying our wallets on stuff that we don’t really need or want. So take a long, creative think about how you’d make this Christmas more fun, worthwhile and memorable.

Example: think about those financial instruments none of us understand (but then again that’s because we’ve never tried to.) Let what Hercule Poirot called his “little grey cells” get to work. Think about what’s really going on.

You may not save the world by doing this but you might save you sanity and your career. Because we all need people who can really think right now rather than just reading those headlines.

Monday, 3 October 2011


In common with other writers on marketing I’ve been trumpeting the fact the consumer is in charge for a long time now. We’ve learned to complain. We’ve earned the right to be promiscuous in our buying habits. We can fight and win. Isn’t the mis-selling of PPI by the banks and their humiliating climb down strong enough evidence of the transfer of power from them to us?

But whilst part of me is high fiving all my spot-on instincts the other half is wondering just why I keep encountering sheer naked fear. Intelligent friends cautioning me to be very careful in what I say. A sense of living in not a police state but something worse, a polite state that will be circumspect about saying what it thinks (believing that it would not make any difference anyway.) And have you noticed the virtual absence of decent satire? What ever happened to Spitting Image? And even Private Eye seems a pretty safe, old fashioned thing now.

I was watching Newsnight the other night where even Jeremy Paxman seems to have been neutered into a kindly guy who growls a bit but will curl up if you tickle his tummy. A day or so back a well-suppered Peter Osborn from the Daily Telegraph had called a Eurocrat idiot who was being interviewed  “that idiot from Brussels” and this created a media storm – why? This episode dealt mildly with what Greece was really like now.

Antonis Papagiannidis Editor of Economics Monthly said
“It’s the little things that matter not the macro stuff…”

What we saw then was a lot of leafy suburban despair in Athens.  Little things; they looked down and spoke flatly. People like us who’d given up. Who believed the game was over and their children had no future. People afraid that they would and could do nothing. People who had nothing to add. Frighteningly, people whose eyes had died.

Antonis is right. But we are capable of changing little things by saying what we think. We shan’t  emerge from this Euro-shakedown unbruised, happier or richer. But we can come out of it losing a lot more than money.

Meanwhile in New York the “Occupy Wall Street” movement took to streets three weeks ago, not well reported this, and this Saturday night 700 were arrested on Brooklyn Bridge.

That “no” vote is getting louder.