Monday, 26 March 2012


“It’s not how fast you are down the straights it’s how skilfully and sparingly you use the brakes” said Lawrie Philpott about Formula 1 in a conversation which amongst other things praised the engineering skills at the various British sites for F1 engine development.

And being about to take a week off, this week (so I really shouldn’t be writing this) I started thinking about our default mode of living in 2012 – very fast if you want to survive, and the need for pausing every now and again.

The faster I drove as a thrusting young executive the more I shunted cars – “you’re the Emerson Fittipaldi of road safety” a colleague observed whereas all my role models people like  Stuart Rose or Paul Walsh look as though they have plenty of time on their hands – like Fred Couple’s golf swing – loping and easy.
I turned as one does to Mark “aphorism” Twain. He said in his travel book “The Innocents Abroad”
“In America, we hurry--which is well; but when the day's work is done, we go on thinking of losses and gains, we plan for the morrow, we even carry our business cares to bed with us...we burn up our energies with these excitements, and either die early or drop into a lean and mean old age at a time of life which they call a man's prime in Europe...What a robust people, what a nation of thinkers we might be, if we would only lay ourselves on the shelf occasionally and renew our edges!”


And this was 1869. What would he say today?

All the best work on creativity aided by recent neurological studies suggest it’s what happens when we aren’t doing something that has the great impact on it’s being solved and getting done.

We think our best when just going off to sleep.

We win races when we’re braking.

So here’s my plan which drives my colleagues crazy.

I switch off my mobile and leave it in a drawer. I turn off my PC. I don’t answer the phone. I don’t read the paper. My wife and I sleep, read, eat, go on trips to art galleries, old churches, look at great scenery walking by rivers and dream a lot.

This may be the hardest I’ve worked all year.

And the most skilful braking.

Monday, 19 March 2012


The manager of our local Co-op where I get my paper, milk, bread and so on most days is something of a surprise. Young, well read and a polymath he is stalking me intellectually.

This morning he came up and said:-
“I was thinking of you last night” I eyed him suspiciously – this is Brighton after all, “I was reading Socrates who said ‘beware the barren life of a busy man.’”

Beware the knee of an irate customer I thought.

But I also thought how interesting it was that despite the lamentations of politicians about declining educational standards how much brighter and how much more intellectually curious many people seemed to be today. I’m constantly in cabs with drivers who have degree like intelligence….more in the north of England than the south. In Sunderland I think most of them have PHDs.

In Brighton where there are few well-paid jobs they say laughingly you need a 2.1 to get a job at Pizza Express. But actually it’s probably true.

And why not?

Intellectual brightness is a gift you hone and enjoy whatever you do and nothing whatsoever to do with commercial smartness.

Which brings me on to the term “muppets”.

This is the term of affection or scorn with which Goldman Sachs are said to describe their clients. Shocked? Don’t be. The big and famous client-facing companies like Tesco, HSBC, WPP, Google and so on that are on a roll, are not often or ever focused on the betterment of their clients but on creating the illusion of that betterment and the beneficial association of being served by a winner.

I’ve heard ad. agency people call their clients “pond life” , “punters” and “johns”.

But if you’re a Master of the Universe you would wouldn’t you? Power does that. It makes you nasty.
It also creates a pretty barren life. Here’s how barren. It could turn you into a “vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity”.

That’s how they talk about the demonised Goldman Sachs. Greg Smith who resigned this week accompanied by a heavily critical and well publicised letter shows that his employer is definitely not a not-for-profit organisation.  But like the masons with their insidious reach, Goldman employees have taken over the world of banking and international finance. Here’s a glimpse of the line-up:-

First of all Chief Squid – Lloyd Blankfein. What a great name. Nearly as good as the US Republican Congressman from Colorado called Randy Baumgardner.

“How are you Lloyd?”
“I’m blank fine you stupid muppet”

Nice smile Lloyd.

Uncertain smile Mike but still waiting to succeed the chief squid, Michael Sherwood

Well would you smile?

Greek prime minister, Lucas Papademos. Helped get Greece into the Euro. Together with….

Now Prime Minister of Italy, 68-year-old Mario Monti was an international adviser to Goldman Sachs from 2005 until 2011.

 Mario Draghi President of the European Central Bank. He was the vice chairman for Europe at Goldman Sachs International from 2002 to 2005.

PM's wife Samantha Cameron worked for Goldman Sachs executive Mike Sherwood after he led a buyout consortium in 2005.

Economist Gavyn Davies was head of global economics at Goldman Sachs from 1986 to 2001. The former chief UK economist was a key adviser to Gordon Brown.

“Beware the barren life of a busy man” said Socrates allegedly.

When it comes to a final tally most of these guys will shamelessly protest they did a great job. But I bet they really wish they’d worked at the Co-op…which is where in the next life they’ll end up.

Monday, 12 March 2012


Blaise Pascal, the French mathematical genius, said:-
“All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
And ever since reading that I’ve been sitting in a room quietly, by myself, thinking about the turmoil of change.

Anyone who’s a student of management or a modern day business leader will, almost certainly, be an espouser of making things happen. They’ll be a connoisseur of the global social tsunami. They’ll sniff and love the smell of marketing cordite. These are the “Carpe Diemists.” And as protagonists in this world of change the words of Meat Loaf will ring in their ears:-
“If it ain't real - fake it!
  If it ain't yours - take it!
  If it don't exist - you make it!
  If it ain't broke - break it!”

Robert Kriegel, New York author, has actually written a book called “If it aint broke , break it”. But I’m not sure that either he or Tom Peters the “creative destruction” guru  are right. We have had too much “slash and burn” management, too many generations of MBAs centralising command, too many fakers, thieves and spurious innovators – all those featuring in Meat Loaf’s  song.

But there are some other words in that song too:-
“Give me some words to live by”

Many of the most creative things we’re looking at today are the product of recognising how people work and working with that. Inspiration from humanity not control of humanity.

Example: The traffic experiments of Belgian, Hans Monderman,  in the Dutch town Drachten which involved the removal of street furniture, traffic lights, warning signs and even road markings….accidents down, drivers more focused.

Example: The experiment in Hogewey in Holland in which a gated village was created for dementia  patients which is a microcosm of the real world – a bit like Truman – wherein carers act roles and everyone living (often) in their own harmless fantasy, seems very happy.

Example: In a children’s home vandalism was reduced by repairing the vandalised home not punishing the child. In New York graffiti was reduced by painting over it leaving graffiti artists frustrated by having nothing to show for their efforts. So they stopped doing it.

We don’t want certain things to change.

Chocolate, our favourite piece of music, Sunday lunch, a joke that we always find funny or the arrival of Spring (again). Over half a century of the arrival of Spring and it’s always a surprise.

Sometimes that apparent same-as can be a revelation.

So the words to live by are to find the time to sit quietly and think….because rushing around isn’t always the answer and reality is nearly always better than faking it.

Sunday, 4 March 2012


I had lunch with Richard French the other day.

He’s just had a hip replacement. We were both on an alcohol free and Spartan calorie diet.
He reflected wistfully, although briefly, on advancing age but we concluded how lucky we were. The period between 1950 and 2012 has been rich in earth shaking events, in human drama, in amazing discoveries and huge improvements. Exmouth Market where we had our cheerfully meagre lunch has become the next Marylebone High Street. You need to know how awful it was until recently. (Here it is in summer.)

London is full of change with great architecture, improvements, diversity of race, talent and offerings.
If the 70s were the golden age of advertising the 2010s is the golden age of life…austerity and all.
In the 70s we had advertising we adored for instant mashed potatoes, cigarillos and piss poor lager.
Today we have dozens of potato varieties and recipes that make Smash seem like prison food, smoking is banned and we have all the real ale any man or woman could want.

And age? Harriet Walter, the actress, has self-published this brilliant book in which she quotes Cora Harvey Armstrong saying “inside every older person is a younger one wondering what the hell happened.”

The other line I recall was at 80 you felt like a 40 year old who really wasn’t very well at all.
Age is like a wide angled lens. It allows you to see things against a broader sweep of history.

Think of age as like a rather long book which leaves a literary canapĂ© like “A Sense of an Ending” struggling somewhat although interestingly it is all about our ability to recall events in the past as they were.  And it may indeed be that we who lived through the Miners’ Strike and the Falklands Conflict see it less clearly than those who had no skin in those particular games.

But our long and rich book has reached its most optimistic passage.

Quality brands are burying inferior offerings. Medicine continues to win (no more polio in India – in my lifetime – amazing). We get cleaner streets and better designed homes. We are beginning to use technological developments intelligently.  And we are questioning everything.


Are windmills the answer to cheap energy – almost certainly not.
Are the Mormons going to rule the USA – excuse me?
Can money buy you anything – try telling that to Chelsea FC.
Will Facebook change our lives – is it still going that strong…well is it?

And when it comes to age Engelbert Humperdinck has the answer…Euro Vision Champion for Britain? We shall see but at least he could actually sing when I last checked his pulse.

I had lunch with Richard French the other day and like good claret he’s improving too.
Let’s hope Engebert is too come the end of May. This was taken a few days ago – he’s 76 and I want to know what he’s on because I want some too.