Monday, 27 May 2013


I love that moment when one discovers a good, new word, the sort that one wants to use a lot in the certain knowledge that 99.9% of the population will look at you blankly when, with superior triumph, you use it.
I recall in advertising when a client gave the agency, through me, a bollocking that one feared was the prelude to the process of a messy firing. We had failed to do something important on time. So I said to him
somewhat sadly:

“This is I’m afraid my fault. I’ve been dilatory.”

To which he replied

“My dear chap, I’m so sorry, I quite understand. Don’t worry and I hope you get better soon.”

The word I found was “akraisia” in Ian McEwan’s latest book “Sweet Tooth”.  It means literally lacking self-control or more usefully, acting against one’s better judgement. Now, for those of you familiar with Greek philosophy (or more likely Wikipedia) you’ll know that Socrates – rather naively it would seem – said no one willingly goes towards the bad so it’s illogical to do so (I suppose Spock was a disciple of Socrates) whilst Aristotle thought the opinion of others could make us do things we otherwise wouldn’t.

Ian McEwan, whose books always lead one inexorably towards a bad ending is a frequent user of the “why did I do that?” plot line. He is a profoundly akratic writer (probably a cheery soul) but to whom the happy ending is rather alien and he’s also has a very astute judge of the zeitgeist.

And it occurs to me that in this marketing-mad world that politicians and company heads are constantly listening to opinion and doing things against their better judgement.  The current furore in the coalition (and politics in general) is a vivid story of akraisa on all sides.

Richard French (the skilled ad man) used to say “tell the truth because then you don’t have to remember what you said.” He and Margaret Thatcher never acted against their better judgement – even when they were wrong.

Nor did Steve Jobs, whose attitude to consumer research is well known. Here he demolishes someone else’s opinion.

In my advice to people running businesses I advise them to “train their gut” so over time their intuitive instincts and values become so clearly embedded that, without having to consult a corporate manual to discover, for instance, that stealing is wrong or that lies catch up with you, they know what is right and wrong.

As I get older I realise my better judgement is one of my strongest assets and, whatever the consequences, I intend to use it more and more.

Thursday, 23 May 2013


At the Business of Culture’s 10th birthday party at the Africa Centre on May 16th it was  noted that very few start-up businesses survived let alone thrived for 10 years.

Also, banging a familiar drum, speakers reflected on the importance of the cultural sector:
“Quite simply culture – the arts, in all their forms to the creative industries to tourism - is very big business for the UK economy.  And in the UK we are rather good at creativity.  We have the best art galleries, opera houses, theatres, advertising agencies, specialist film companies, digital creative shops and street theatre in the world.

We must resist our very British reticence in selling these core skills.

Maria Miller our Culture Secretary recently asked our community to: “help reframe the argument: to hammer home the value of culture to our economy…”

Try this Maria.  Quite simply, we are the best at all this – arts – culture – creative industries. This tiny country represents just 1% of the world’s population and probably 15% of the world’s noise in the global conversation about culture. That alone is a reason to invest in (not subsidise) invest in this sector. We are a dynamic revenue earning force. We are a leading global force. We need to act and speak like one and be appreciated by Government.”

Fortunately the perception of the arts and culture as being businesses too is now not unfamiliar.

I was talking to someone about all this who said:-
 “Well maybe but aren’t we looking at this in rather a skewed way?

For sure London may even be the arts centre of the world but that’s small comfort if you are living in Newcastle or Bristol or the suburbs.”

I don’t buy that.

All round the UK some great stuff is happening.

In Brighton the Brighton Festival is just finishing. And I just want to talk about two events at it. Chansons Instrumentales who produced three concerts on Poulenc and Hahn - and the Glyndebourne’s Jerwood Young Artists lunchtime concert.

If one went to no other event this year at the Festival (or quite simply to no other event anywhere until the end of 2013) the talent, freshness, joy and energy we saw and heard in these shows would be enough to keep one’s  spirit nourished.

And it isn’t just a story of the West End of London where there’s a rich vein of emergent indigenous talent. In drama, for instance, it’s finding fulfilment on stages at theatres like the White Bear in Kennington and the Drayton Theatre in South Kensington and on the screen in rousing series like the Borgias and Game of Thrones (winner of the Radio Times Audience Award at this year's Bafta Television Awards) where the majority of actors are British and young.

They say that currently one of the most popular careers for young people is the restaurant business because it’s fast moving, creative and fun.

Watch the space.

I suspect the arts and cultural sector is next and because of rental prices in London expect to see surges in the arts outside the capital too.  Businesses, please pay attention to this – it may be the lowest-cost sponsorship opportunity you’ll ever come across.  So the silver lining in the austerity and unemployment cloud could be an intelligent deployment of funds which turns shiftless despair into music, dance and drama.

Isn’t it so much better being an optimist and admiring the spirit of youth?

Written by Richard Hall and first published on the
Business of Culture site

Monday, 20 May 2013


I had lunch with Al Reid last week – not the Al Read who was a comedian who used to say “You’ll be lucky – I say you’ll be lucky” – the Al Reid who runs a Brand consultancy /Design Shop in Brighton called Red Design.

We talked about how one could judge if one was fulfilling one’s potential and how much better each of us could be if we tried if we…if we did what?  We reflected that most of us ambled or dozed our way through life underperforming and (worse) not even realising we were doing that.

Cut to Birmingham.

Michael Gove at the National Association of Head Teachers’ Conference was given a good kicking and treated by the class in the way they’ve learned from their customers – the underperforming children. Here’s what they said:

you’re like a fanatical personal trainer constantly urging teachers to jump higher and higher

Well isn’t that just what teachers are supposed to do? What’s with the lazy laissez faire guys? Why this defence of mediocrity? Detention for the whole lot of you….

Some of you may remember my story about a child, predicted to get D’s and E’s in her GCSEs and told by her teachers she was a “dunce”. In short she was constantly urged to jump lower and lower.  In the event intensive, personal  coaching over 6 months by someone who loved her, got her a mass of A’s (an ‘A*’ enticed out of a predicted ‘F’) and now she’s saying she’d like to try for Oxbridge.

So how good could you be?

First try and try until you fail that’s how. Do what Robin Cousins American trainer counselled - “skate to fall”.

Secondly find a great mentor who inspires and stretches you - someone like a “fanatical personal trainer”.

Third use your time better. You have about 2,500 hours useful working time a year. Focus your efforts on self- improvement into that time. Don’t waste it on things you are no good at. Kafka advised “follow you most intense obsessions mercilessly” …they’d have loved him at Birmingham.

Fourthly set the bar higher. Try to be the best in the world. Go for Gold. There’s nothing wrong with ambition – in fact self- belief, energy and positive drive are enchanting.

Finally remember what the brilliant sports coach Steve Peters said:
Life is not fair
The goalposts always move
Your job is to do your best under the circumstances

Think about what your best could be if you tried, really tried to go for it.

Monday, 13 May 2013


Years ago I was walking through London and as I stared up at a skyscraper my companion asked “do you sometimes wonder what they all do in there all day?”

I ask the same question as I go through an airport early in the morning, removing my shoes and belt as I queue for security and seeing all these businesspeople rushing off to Euro-meetings.
Fast Company on Friday had a piece entitled “Why productive people have empty schedules” mostly dealing with Warren Buffett’s diary and his ability to keep it free and provide himself with time to think.

The article went on to explain that if we’re going to do the work that we want to do, we need to own our time because it’s limited:

  • Time is highly limited: As humans, we're immature in our first decades, and declining in health in our last. 
  • Time is uniquely limited: You can't bank, transfer, or recover time, unlike money. 
  • Time is equitably limited: we can, on average, expect to live about 77 years. That expectation isn't equal with resources like money. 

So if you are creative and that’s where your greatest earning capacity and, more importantly, where your greatest contribution lies, spend your time feeding that urge and honing that skill.

Most of us are trying to redefine what work is – I, for instance, haven’t worked as such for years. I spend my time doing stuff I enjoy. But what I do not especially enjoy are old fashioned skyscraper offices.

I’m puzzled by the need to have such offices with partner desks, carpets and filing cabinets. Places of Victorian labour. Yet when I speculate about creative spaces and working from home, my godchildren, nearly all of them major successes and working 60 hour weeks, look at me as though I’m mad. The truth is they seem to like being punished by the tyranny of work and having a grey office in which to lament the amount they have to do.

We are obsessed by work and by jobs. We seem to believe the Chinese or Indians or Americans or Germans work harder than us. They don’t. And the jobs most of them are doing are old fashioned.

We are spending too little time thinking about that and the fact that around 2/3 of today’s schoolchildren will end up doing jobs that haven’t been invented yet.

So just ask yourself the question “what do I really do all day?” and “why?”

Tuesday, 7 May 2013


I’m on holiday. I’ve stopped working, whatever that means, as my back, aching from brief gardening, mutters. So no more blogs for a week then…

But the discovery of a new life changes perspective. It includes having my eyes wide open, imitating Omar Sharif under the unaccustomed anvil of sun and the indulgence of reading stories (currently the Hypnotist, a Nordic noir offering from Lars Keppler, the Demonologist by Andrew Pyper and a couple of Donna Leon’s.)

I’ve lost myself in a kind of literary autopsy – blood, gore, entrails and lots of “!!!!!!! and …… and AAAAGGGHHHs.”

We all talk about the importance of storytelling yet don’t do it or respond to it nearly enough.

Mahyad Tousi CEO of BoomGen Studios (yes I know) said at a recent TED talk “stories help us remember, understand and think” and following a few days of letting the sunlight in I’m inclined to agree.

My three stories of the week are the one I read about the experiment to see how flowers respond to music. Plants were subjected to extended bouts of Black Sabbath, classical music, Cliff Richard and a silent control environment. Those subjected to heavy metal did best, bloomed more healthily and proved more resistant to disease, classical music did more than silence but nothing special but Cliff Richard singing managed to kill off all the plants. Boom boom! Great story.

The second was a 70th birthday party I went to at the Constitutional Club in Lewes where some exceedingly old rock stars banged out stuff like My Generation:

“People try to put us d-down (Talkin' 'bout my generation)
Just because we get around (Talkin' 'bout my generation)
Things they do look awful c-c-cold (Talkin' 'bout my generation)
I hope I die before I get old (Talkin' 'bout my generation)”

The guy playing the harmonica was about 80 and they managed to make the Stones look youthful but they didn’t look “cold” they looked hot, happy and heavy. Rock on.

The third story is about the suggested death of journalism at the hands of social media junkies. The Huffington Post gets 70 million reader comments a year, employs 30 full time content moderators to deal with them and yet discovers the most frequent and opinionated of the comments come from just 40 people.

Maybe there are fewer storytellers than we’d thought.

Once upon a time I must write a blog about that….when  I get back from a few days off.