Monday, 25 June 2012


Imagine you’d won the local house of the year award, imagine that you’re planning a celebratory event for your best friends (and even some people you don’t even like but want to impress.) You’ve had the gardeners in to redesign the garden, tart up the house, repaint the front (the door a matt Farrow and Ball “Shocked Grey Face”), turned the garden room into a cinema room which at £10k including the 60 inch Sony screen and their sound system is a steal and that rose garden in blush pink is a wow. To round things off there’s a Boxster for you and Smart Car for her – “what do mean 'her'?” (sorry darling) - in the drive.

Made it. Got there.  Smugly, snugly winners.

And as you sit down the front door bell rings.

It’s the event organisers – Locog it says on their T shirts – who sweep in. “Relax“ they say “it’s great. Now leave it to us now.”

An army of identically clad young men and women stride in mouths smiling, eyes staring and repaint the door Cadbury purple, remove that screen in the cinema (what a crashing sound) and put in a Panasonic, The cars have been towed away and replaced by a BMW 7 series plus a Mini Cooper, the roses have been ripped out and replaced by Coca-Cola Reds, a Visa ATM has been set up beside the garage, your Longines watch has been snatched from your wrist and before your cry of outrage has subsided replaced by an Omega and as you retreat to your office you discover a team of smiling songsters smashing your Apple Mac and replacing it with an Acer.

Do you know, for the first time ever, I now know what living in a totalitarian state might feel like?

I’m a lifelong enthusiast for adventure but I’ve got uneasy.

I love the Olympics, their athletes and the buzz but the marketing stuff around it is beginning to feel a bit absurd.

Let’s just applaud the bravery of the brilliant competitors and ignore the rest.

Now, there’s a battle cry to make the moneymen think.

(Here are the Olympic Global sponsors:  Coca-Cola, Acer, Atos, Dow, GE, McDonalds, Omega, Panasonic, P&G, Visa, Samsung …well you knew that obviously. Here’s the London sponsorship list: BMW, BP, BA, BT, Lloyds, EDF).

And unless you got all those right someone’s wasted a lot of money.

Monday, 18 June 2012


Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the spectacular Euro show and here’s Stephen Sondheim to take us on the journey.

Something familiar,
Something peculiar,
Something for everyone:
A comedy tonight!

Something appealing,
Something appalling,
Something for everyone:
A comedy tonight!

Nothing with kings, nothing with crowns;
Bring on the lovers, liars and clowns!

Old situations,
New complications,
Nothing portentous or polite;
Tragedy tomorrow,
Comedy tonight!

From the appalling Grant Shapps – how apt to appoint a Minister of Housing someone who most resembles an Estate Agent – who told us “I spend my life on Twitter” to the Prime Minister, no less, being teased about not remembering trivia two years ago by the oleaginous QC at Leveson (I bet that silk’s tax returns get stared out very hard next time round) to Francoise Hollande’s women in lingerie-tearing Twitter brawls to George telling us there’s another £80,000,000,000 for business (to cries of “we’ll have that” Bob Diamond inter alia) – Georgy who always looks as though he’s off to an orgy and Ed Balls who looks like he’s just come back from one – it’s those staring eyes – “you should have seen her..(enough Ed. Ed) to the ex underpanted-on-Facebook Vicar Chris Bryant saying to Jeremy – please-don’t-hit-me-sir Hunt in the Commons – blimey the sauce – “you  have lied” ….fuck that’s terrible (how could he use such language) to …it goes on.

Later on in “Comedy Tonight come the lines “nothing that’s Greek/nothing that’s grim”. In Greece they vote tonight…before you read this but I fear it’ll be tragedy tomorrow whatever happens. Their hospitals are running out of towels, medicines, disinfectants and nurses. On Leros where they have their notorious mental hospital (still called a lunatic asylum) the inmates haven’t had food for a week as the money’s run out.
There’s this weird sense I have that we are as they used to put it “going to hell in a handcart” no actually it’s an update of that….we are going to hell in a BMW and we’re dancing a mad dance of joy as it happens and focusing on trivia which wonderfully is what humans do (“move that bloody deckchair to the left”.)
Robert Jay QC: And so Prime Minister can you recall for us how many bowel movements you had in the first week of May 2007?

David Cameron: What? No…no …I can’t

Robert Jay: What no glimmer? Not a vague impression or recollection?

David Cameron: no…oh I don’t know maybe 10 times

Robert Jay: Ten times, ten times…I see (he smiles and shakes his head)

Game over.
Bring on the lovers, liars and clowns.

Monday, 11 June 2012


The gloom deepens and we risk all become just unquestioning spectators.

Good: Diamond Jubilee, Euro 2012 (mostly). 

Ashby de la Zouch celebrates

Bonfires start at the bottom. This was a big national bonfire. Learn from the power of locals to ignite campaigns – cheaply, fast and well branded.

Bad: Syria, Greece, Spain…deeper and down (but I love the fact the dispossessed from the homes are repossessing empty power blocks owned by discredited banks.)
Prospects: dire for us and for England in Euro 2012… I have a funny feeling we may surprise….just wish we weren’t playing in so inimical a series of places.

Sometimes I feel so depressed I decide to stay in bed. Then I worry that I might fall out and hurt myself.” Robert Benchley

So what in practical terms can we do about all this? Here are seven thoughts.
  1. Challenge everything
A young relation is trying to get into Oxford – I began to put her through the sort of inquisition she might encounter. “What’s your best dream?” I asked “Clean water for the world.” She sparkled. “Yet when our water in Britain was at its dirtiest we ruled supreme. Explain.”

Balliol College Oxford where the questions never stop and where that green space keeps thinking (hopefully) fresh.
  1. Become an obsessive planner
Sit and think and plan. Speculate how various changing external factors could alter what you try to do. How nimble can you be? How fixed are your costs? How stubborn are your preconceptions. Tear up the old business models.

A tsunami wave. Poignantly symbolic of the forces and surprises we will face. Nothing is impossible. Plan for that.
  1. Simplify everything you do
The “Apple-trick”– fewer, better features. More focus. Get more force in the water from that hosepipe. We live in a crowded, noisy world. Beware becoming a Facebook slave or a Twitter addict. Do less, do better. Stop chatting. Start planning.

Apple have been the brilliant simplifiers. Less is more. Declutter. Aim to do three things briiliantly.
  1. If you aren’t getting better you’ve got a problem
James Cracknell – rowing gold medallist said “our worst had to be better than our competitor’s best”. How good are you at what you do? Really? Tell the truth. And if you don’t know everything you do is guessing.

Crazy guys with huge stamina. But they knew how to win. Tell the truth. Train harder. Be better. Attack. Focus on winning.
  1. It’s what your customers think that matters
Tell that to the bullies at Visa who through their sponsorship of the Olympics have had other ATM machines disabled. In fact if you don’t have a Visa card you can’t go the Olympics. You are in effect bankrupt. The PR from this is needlessly damaging. Visa’s an acronym for “very insulting stupid…” can’t think of a word for “a” … They’ll listen to their customers but too late.

Shame on you bully. You’re a great brand that’s stopped listening to people.
  1. Do some stuff
We do strategy here – we call it doing things” That was Sam Kelleher legendary boss of South West Airlines. Action; speed; innovation;change. If you aren’t trying and rejecting and doing stuff you’re in trouble.

South West Airlines internal poster – nice – one on the world’s success stories – active, interactive, fun; shows it can be done.
  1. Get help to pull all this together
This is a cross between self-help, major surgery, a severe work-out programme, a re-launch, botox and good resolutions. Welcome to 2012. Don’t try this at home alone. Surround yourself with a few friends, gurus and inspirers just like the Olympic stars do or smart people trying to climb mountains.

The Sherpa on the left is anonymous but this wouldn’t be easy without him. Get a Sherpa.

Monday, 4 June 2012


I’m starting this Jubilee Blog with an image to terrify any civilised person. It’s about poor old Greece. From the cradle of civilisation to a rather messy deathbed. The man scrambling through the skip for a few drops of olive oil is you and me. Middle class, probably a professional not so much down on his luck as suffering because of geography, nationality and politics. But read Michael Lewis’ “Boomerang” to get a vivid insight into what Greekness is. He says that even the Greeks don’t like each other.

And having shuddered at this in a kind of there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I way,  thank your lucky stars you live here in Britain which is a great place to be.

Tim Smit from the Eden Project talking about the Big Lunch on Saturday Live on Saturday May 2nd was wonderfully irate about the doom merchants:-“I’m sick and tired of hearing ‘Broken Britain’. We can say what you want without being found dead in a ditch. We get free education, free health care and most people are really nice and get on with each other.”

Well said Tim.

And there’s one other thing that Matthew Parris noted. We currently have a marked “absence of crisis” this Jubilee weekend. All is not that well but it sure isn’t pear shaped or olive oil smelling. Absence of crisis may be boring but it’s calming.

 And talking about being able to say whatever you want can I make a strong comment about the marketing of cigarettes? As a consequence of Government intervention I really want to take up smoking again. Not slightly want to – I mean really, really want to. It’s that fabulous new packaging they’re going to bring in. I think they’ve got it all wrong. This is the biggest re-launch of fags ever. After years of their marketers fiddling around with designery stuff we’re going to get big bold plain packs creating a sort of Absolut for nicotine. Smokers kit not poncey brands.  Blank pack as role model. Note the words I’ve highlighted in red. Brilliantly satirical stuff….only they’re serious.


Plain packaging means that all tobacco products will be required to look the same. All brand names would have to be written in a standard typeface, colour and size. And all other trademarks, logos, colour schemes and graphics would be banned. 

As it stands, designed packs are the tobacco industry's last form of advertising. Shiny holograms, pretty pastel colours and wrappers are all used to attract children and lessen the effectiveness of health warnings on packs."

And then there’s Mr Krugman, the famous American economist who has won prizes for his insights and enraged opponents with his plain speaking.

I heard him speak and was dazzled especially when asked how he could be so rudely contemptuous of people who disagreed with him. He explained this was not the case at all, that he was only contemptuous of those whose views were contemptible. I could have listened to him for hours.

And finally in this world we are so lucky to inhabit where madness like plain cigarette packaging are provided as political comedy moments, where Paul “I am right and you are wrong” Krugman speaks with such beautiful certainty and where  the Queen is praised for her commonsense by PM Cameron  (sounds just like the school report that says “tries hard” meaning stupid but not naughty) I am going to drink some claret and dream of the future. Like the splendid Mark Twain did – why do the American’s have all the best lines?

'Twenty years from now you will more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines; sail away from the safe harbour; catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream.  Discover.'

Happy weekend and catch those trade winds.