Monday, 29 April 2013


Imagine for a moment you were planning a trip from Brighton to Manchester in quite bad weather. You don’t want to screw up and find yourself stuck on the M23 so you get a couple of world famous experts to help - a meteorologist and a renowned geographer - the sort of people whose words count.

They produce a paper “Travel in a time of bad weather”.

You’re delighted and proud to have sponsored it until you find using this paper to help you on your journey means you end up in Mannheim not Manchester. Your two academics are unabashed describing their failure to check their work as trivial and that the general thrust is fine. They also say Mannheim is a very nice city with a much better climate than Manchester with a particularly fine landmark water tower.


Well, check out the story of Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff, two economists to whom all peers bend their knee. They are the business when it comes to setting governments right. And their paper “Growth in a time of debt” has been helping shape global economic policies.

Very simply it suggests economic growth slows dramatically when the size of a country's debt rises above 90% of a county’s Gross Domestic Product. This pretty well confirms the feeling that many have so…….


Ah, not quite.

A student (Thomas Herndon and his Professor Michael Ash) have found a few errors in their work.

  1. Data from 5 countries out the 20 supposedly studied were accidentally omitted, embarrassingly those with rather better than average economic results (Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada and Denmark)
  2. They averaged their data so one bad year for a small country like New Zealand, was disproportionately emphasised because it was given the same weight as, for example, the UK's nearly 2 decades with high public debt.

The effect of correcting this is to show whilst high debt correlates with somewhat lower growth, the relationship is much gentler and there are lots of exceptions to the rule. So it doesn’t change black to white but certainly to a shade of grey.

Put it this way, you wouldn’t bet your own economy on the Reinhart/Rogoff work. Meanwhile they have made a generous admission of culpability – well not so much generous as rather grudging:
“We do not, however, believe this regrettable slip affects in any significant way the central message of the paper or that in our subsequent work.”

I think it’s why we ought to tell economists to just rog off.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013


I have to confess I have an irrational loathing of marathons. It’s a mixture of things. The ghastly costumes. The sweat. The tortured ligaments. The sheer jollity of it all. In fact in my family I was brought up to believe that the words “it was all very jolly” were code for “it’s horrible, tasteless and boring”.

Over the past two weeks jolly has been on few lips.  There’s been a tragic death of a young runner in the Brighton Marathon and the terrorist bombings in the Boston Marathon.  The fact the Chechnyan terrorists chose the marathon to express their angst seems bizarrely cruel especially as the destruction of human tissue happened to what the Boston surgeon grimly described as “lower extremities”.

But it would be a mistake to feel what’s happening now is exceptional.

It seems worse but it’s normal now for protestors with hate welling up inside to make protests where’ll they’ll get most coverage.

And talking of normal I loved a piece recently by Rod Liddle describing as normal the crowd violence at the Wigan v Millwall Cup Semi Final, which evoked such outrage. He depicted it as Man A asking Man B to sit down in, albeit, slightly colloquial language. Man A took exception and uttered words to the effect “Right, I’m going to fuck you.” Liddle patiently explained that this was not a brusque and compelling expression of sexual intent, merely a signal for a bit of fisticuffs.

With that wry observation the sun came out for me and the daffodils waved in applause. I realised all my grumpiness about people running for 26 miles or so in company with thousands of other maniacs was their choice and, anyway, they seemed to smile a lot. Let them, I thought, as I poured another glass of claret, let them, I allowed as I lit a cigar, yes, let them I conceded, have their fun.

So Rod Liddle made part of my week, George Bellows the other part. He’s the relatively unknown American Artist whose work is now being shown at the Royal Academy Sackler Gallery.

Here’s what Bellows (an example of whose work appears above) proclaimed as his philosophy of life:

“Try everything that can be done.
Be deliberate. Be spontaneous.
Be thoughtful and painstaking; 
Be abandoned and impulsive.
Learn your own possibilities.”

I was inspired by the sheer roundedness of this.

And then I briefly wondered if maybe I shouldn’t be impulsive too and think of running the Marathon after all.

Or whether, perhaps, the Millwall football fan slogan didn’t capture my ironic, Rod Siddle mood better:

“Nobody likes us but we don’t care.”

Wednesday, 17 April 2013


In the film “Clockwise” John Cleese plays a manic headmaster obsessed with time. 

It struck a chord about busy, busy lives. Today we seem to believe being on time is more important than being good at what we do. Railways parade their 93% or whatever punctuality achievements. Fast may be the modern default speed but isn’t life about more than that?

And I discovered it was as I waited at the Africa Centre. The occasion was the African Creative Industries Investment Summit. Registration started at 8am. The keynote speech was due to happen at 915 after introductory remarks. As we drank coffee and met, mingled and chatted time flowed.

We eventually actually started at 1045 to brief apologies. But no one seemed to mind very much.

Everyone was in a good mood. They hadn’t planned on being anywhere other than here and this was an opportunity to talk and enjoy the warmth of relaxed ideas. I’d heard about “African Time” and I think it may work better than “American Time”.

 In the same way I wonder if agenda-less meetings may not be the way forward. The African way is “monochronic”.  These were people doing one thing at a time – not the “polychronic” or multitask way - the same way that Rachel Bell, Chairman of Shine Communications and the leader rated as number one in small businesses in the Sunday Times last year, stoutly renounced.

“Focus 100% on what you are doing and when the time is right move on. Never, ever multitask.” She says and she incidentally whilst remarkable for her success is not particularly remarkable for her punctuality – and no one seems to mind very much.

I used to think that time saved was a kind of time profit but I’m beginning to wonder especially in the creative world whether we are spending our time well. Too much is going on labour not on thinking or listening to and being with people.

The story about Picasso is another slant on time.

 Legend has it that Pablo Picasso was sketching in the park when a woman approached him.
“It’s you — Picasso, the great artist! Oh, you must sketch my portrait! I insist.”
So Picasso agreed to sketch her. After studying her for a moment, he used a single pencil stroke to create her portrait. He handed the women his work of art.

“It’s perfect!” she gushed. “You managed to capture my essence with one stroke, in one moment. Thank you! How much do I owe you?”

“Five thousand dollars,” the artist replied.

“B-b-but, what?” the woman sputtered. “How could you want so much money for this picture? It only took you a second to draw it!”

To which Picasso responded, “Madame, it took me my entire life.”

As with Picasso it’s the result that matters not how long or short a time it takes to achieve.
Last week at the Africa Centre I learned three things.
1. Relaxing and listening is a great way of soaking up stuff
2. Time is ours to use: it’s not our master
3. African Creative Industries will thrive

If you question this last assertion, spend as much time as you can find (and you can find it) listening to Parminder Vir who spoke at the Conference, brilliantly and inspiringly, putting the possibilities for Nigerian Film Industry in front of us. She took her time. And it worked.

Efficiency is sometimes not as appealing (or effective) as passion and expansiveness.
Eat your heart out Twitter.

Written for and first published on "Business of Culture

Monday, 15 April 2013


That’s what Herb Kelleher, who founded the successful Southwest Airlines, said.

In a week dominated by Margaret Thatcher the media have been rolling out their reaction wagon and lazily seeing what stories they can create. She would have been ironically amused by how well “The Witch is dead” is doing in the charts.  If they say of me “Let’s bury the old Bastard” I’ll know I’ll have made an impression on some,  been unpopular with many and actively disliked by a few.

I think she’d have said that the witch is dead but not maybe her spell.

Back at the end of the 1970s when this poster appeared, there was massive inflation, powerful and irresponsible unions and some rusting industry suffering from underinvestment and a feeling from some the country was on its last legs.

But it wasn’t. Where I worked in advertising there was a sense of great creativity and self-belief. We thought anything was possible.

Sure there was a need for change. Britain was still very hard up after the war and there was a need for demolition (of fabric and institutions) and a need for action.

But we’ve never been good at demolition preferring to keep things that are ineffective either to save money or, if they’re broken, in case they turn out to be useful. In a factory I visited in the 1970s I admired brass plaques on machines ponderously clunking and recalled the Japanese kit I’d seen the week before in Germany whirring along busily…. no history, just very efficient and fast.

As for action in the 1970s - most of us didn’t do action. We talked. We wrote. We didn’t do.
Under her, things like the privatisation of British Gas happened and happened breathtakingly fast. So a failing concern became a modern industry.

She made us feel global and different. In this zero sum game she created a climate of doing things.

Like good old Herb Kelleher.

Herb said of Southwest’s new CEO who took over from him:
“I think now probably everybody says, "Wow! He's one heck of a CEO! And who's that old guy with the wrinkles sitting in the balcony?"

It’s interesting that our famous witch and her spell have lingered on, wrinkles and all. That’s partly because we have a need for a similarly spirited assault on flabbiness and indecision today.

Someone whose strategy is to get things done, regardless.

Monday, 8 April 2013


I read about an American Evangelist whose sermon went something like this:

“Shockingly not many of you will realise just how many thousands of children are dying of starvation in Africa as I speak. And you know most people don’t give a shit about it. But what’s even more shocking is that most of you will be more shocked by my using a four letter word than by the death of countless African children a long way away.”

Now that’s impact. That’s the oratorical skill of twisting your audience round your finger. In short that’s magic.

Nick Fitzherbert who wrote “Presentation Magic” is himself a magician.  He tells us to understand what excites the human mind and then working within those limitations turn them to your advantage.

I saw this happen recently when the CEO of a large company strolled across the stage musing his philosophy, values and strategy. It had the electric effect of David Cameron’s speech which won him leadership of the Tory party – without notes and without inhibitions. A magical exposition of his truth. As someone once said about the truth – “the great thing about it is you don’t have to remember what you were going to say”.

The trouble with what Nick says is what excites the human mind today is not necessarily what excited it when I was younger. Now technology is a turn-on like cars used to be. Reach in your pocket, pull out the Samsung Galaxy S4 and it might as well be a Porsche Carrera that you have in your hand.
Similarly people in presentations nowadays call for new techniques and technology like Prezi, the presentational equivalent of the fairground ride called “Mind Scrambler”… put your strategy on the screen then ….spin it…split it….zoom it….explode it and mash it into technicolour fragments revolving fast. Yes, it has movement and pace that bullet points will never have but it also makes the squeamish feel rather nauseous.

It’s the PowerPoint bullet point that’s done for old style presentations. It’s why people want a change.
Some feel old style books need uplifting too.

Here’s a section from Tom Wolfe’s latest - “Back to Blood”.
…..”BEAT thung … BEAT thung… scritch … scritch …SCRITCH… uohhh!”
Tom actually creates sound effects on the page….but if what around it wasn’t a riveting read then none of this would matter.

Making your point is only possible if you actually have a point to make. No amount of technique can substitute for content.

Make sure you have a real story and then (and only then) go for impact recognising the greatest impact always comes when there’s a splash of colour and a bit of a surprise.

Ask any magician.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013


I never thought I’d be singing Mr Blatter’s praises.

Well here goes ….. every time he does something however strange (“racial taunts? Get over it… shake hands”) he not only gets away with it, the world nods in acceptance. Sepp is a God. Forget the clay feet. He’s very important. Honestly.

In sport people get feted and invited on to Question Time – hence Greg Dyke, now heading up the FA, will be good for football.

But in the Arts and Culture it’s harder.

Invite Alex Beard, Charles Smith, Nicholas Penny, David Pickard, Loretta Tomasi or Alan Davey to talk and you’ll get fewer takers than if you got Alex Ferguson, George O’Grady, Lynn Davis or the man who ought to be running rugby, Clive Woodward.

Give me a bit of glamour.

Make me feel the flutter you get with a star like Ian Botham or a successful business head like a Tim Leahy or John Browne. Make the journalists excited. But we can do even better.

Look what Kevin Spacey did for the Old Vic – astonishing. If you ever heard him talking about the theatre you’d have to be inebriated, unwell or suffering from jetlag not to be captivated and impressed. Even the poor in the audience were reaching in their pocket to fill the Old Vic coffers when I last saw him.

So imagine Danny Boyle as spokesman for the Arts.
Imagine Simon Rattle.
Imagine Daniel Day Lewis.

What the Arts and Culture needs is a champion (or even a team of champions) who gets the attention of media, politicians and business alike.

Sport by definition is not elite - Greg Dyke makes Alan Sugar almost look upmarket.

Art, on the other hand, fields either the elite like Lord Aldington or unknowns who are probably elite.
Most of all, sport has always recognised the importance of the media and of audiences and the fact that the bigger the audience the more you can charge – a season ticket at Arsenal costs just under £2,000 or the same as 25 tickets for the best seats of the best plays in London.

Imagine Arséne Wenger as head of an arts establishment.

And the funny thing is great sportsmen can sometimes make it in the Arts – Eric Cantona for instance – but the reverse seldom if ever happens. If we want to raise the profile and funding of the Arts and ensure the Secretary of State for Media and Culture is the job politicians really want, rather than feeling it’s somewhat worse than Overseas Development, then fill the jobs with highly paid stars.

I can see it now

Royal Opera House lures Plácido Domingo as new Chief.
Charlie Saatchi poached to run the Tate
Helen Mirren to rule the National – hmm!

The day the arts hits the headlines like that is the day it’ll win.

Written and first published for the Business of Culture

Monday, 1 April 2013


There really doesn’t seem much to be cheerful about.

We’ve got a broken economy - stagnation, inflation, deflation. Our best politicians are emigrating. The bully EU has smashed the smallest kid in the playground - little Jimmy Cyprus. It’s never been harder to make a sale. Everyone‘s looking gloomy, grumpy or sad. And the weather is awful…the weather forecasters now even start their spiel each night with an apology.

This weather seems like a metaphor for global health - cold, bleak, depressing and unending.

But I wanted to wish you a very happy Easter and say it won’t be like this forever.

This picture shows you what you have to look forward to in April and May. The season when shafts of sunlight cut through just burgeoning leaves on the trees and all around there are amazingly vibrant colours.

But nothing quite beats the carpets of bluebells and their eye watering blue. And as I look at them I think of growth. Growth – remember that?

I hope you feel a bit better now.

Have a great, positive break.

Richard Hall