Monday, 18 May 2015


Do you remember the 1980 TV series “Fame”? It was about the New York School of Performing Arts. This week I remembered one of the songs in it.
Fame …. I’m going to live forever
Baby, remember my name”

It was no surprise to hear at the London Business School this week that we had moved into an era where there was a fair certainty most would live to a hundred. Hurray… that’ll keep King William pretty busy. 80 million telegrams….or will they do it the other way round - send e-mails to the families of those whose members miss the century - “hard luck!”

The thesis is this. Governments and Corporations don’t know what to do with the oldies. But we can’t afford to support people for 35 years after retirement. Pensions used to pay out for only 5 or so years and then “aagghh!”

So we’ll have to work to 80….and the question is doing what exactly? Bricklaying, digging, riot policing?

The plan on paper looks fine - we learn up to 22 then hone that learning into practical, high earning work for 20 years then take a new learning sabbatical and emerge to do good work but much less well paid and at age 65 - 70 pause before embarking on a decade or so of creative mentoring before, aged 80, heading for Southampton for the cruise ships.

Talking about an abrupt change to pension arrangements is not something governments will ever do - suicide is something they tend to try and avoid.

Do you remember the film 1976 Logan’s Run which depicts a dystopian future society in which population and the consumption of resources are maintained in equilibrium by killing everyone who reaches the age of thirty thereby preventing overpopulation? Thought not.

Nature will use its cocktail of plague, pestilence and natural disaster to control population growth but what are those who make it through this going to do? The alarming data from a US University who’ve conducted research into MBA graduate aspirations over 20 years is that the new cohort is a bit different.

  • 1/3 say they won’t have children
  • 1/3 say their work is all
  • 1/s say they’d negotiate equal work rights in marriage (if they got married…. If!!!)

We are considering the intractable problem of irreversibility. If you marry at 20 and make a mistake it’s an 80 year error or worse - it could turn out to be 4 errors of  20 years each with a devastating impact on your wealth.

But don’t despair.

The solutions are threefold:

  • Grandchildren
  • Technology
  • Creative thinking

It’s seriously time to stop thinking about WORK but to see work as life and creative and fun and carry on doing it as long as we can disguising our visible age by technology and cosmetics.

After all did anyone know the genius PD James was 90 odd when she died still writing? Oh and Melvyn Bragg above is 80.

Monday, 11 May 2015


I’ve written quite a lot on leadership. Shelves in bookshops are crammed with beastly tomes on the subject (“Leadership Plain and Simple”; “the Top 100 Ways to be a Great Leader”; “The Three Levels of Leadership” and over 24,000 more on this subject). I worked out that being conservative there’s around 1 ¼ billion words on the topic and counting.

And I’m not sure that I really believe in the concept of the leader, well not the Genghis Khan sort of leader we keep pretend we’re seeking. It’s the terminology that goes with leadership that worries me. We don’t talk about the calming of leadership or the guidance of leadership. Instead we talk about the “smack of firm leadership”.

We had the legendary workaholic Harriet Green ex CEO of Thomas Cook who allegedly fired people whilst painting her nails. Nice. We had Steve Jobs who when at Pixar, fired people and didn't give any severance pay. Pamela Kerwin, a Pixar employee, pleaded that employees at least be given two weeks’ notice.

"Okay," he said, "but the notice is retroactive from two weeks ago."

Frank Lowe, the advertising man who founded Lowe Howard Spink, being an insomniac, would summon senior executives at midnight to a meeting. They returned home exhausted and he’d call to get them back saying there was other stuff to go through.

Recent research into football management suggests changing managers in general has little effect. The irony of the David Moyes’ debacle at Manchester United was his successor’s record, whilst he was being praised for being so much better, was actually pretty much the same as David’s.

The nearest to making sense of the leadership cult came from Jim Collins in his book “From Good to Great” when he talked about what he called ‘level five leaders’. These were leaders “in whom genuine personal humility blends with intense professional will.”

The second thing I wanted to comment upon is the pointlessness, indeed the destructive capability, of much market research. Anyone in advertising always knew it was futile to expect the average consumer to know what day it was let alone whether an ad was any good. Steve Jobs was smart as well as behaving boorishly from time to time. Dismissing the idea that people knew what they wanted he said average people just can’t predict. Instead: “We figure out what we want. And I think we’re pretty good at having the right discipline to think through whether a lot of other people are going to want it, too. That’s what we get paid to do.”

The polls in the recent election rather prove the point. The one below was pretty typical of a week ago. Scores an F.

Look at trends and think of basics. The conservatives had a better economic plan which just made more people feel safer. A few weeks earlier Benjamin Netanyahu, predicted to lose badly in Israel, won
comfortably by making more people feel safer too.

So don’t ask people. Just work it out…that’s what we get paid to do

Monday, 4 May 2015


First thoughts.

Is it just me showing my age but when did elections get as boring as this one? As I recall When Wilson won in 1964 it was an exciting shock.

And his cabinet was full of intellectual superstars - Healey, Jenkins (above) and Crosland. People like Ian McLeod were in opposition. One sensed these were very clever people. One didn’t necessarily agree with them but they were heavyweights. I watched Roy Jenkins and Ian McLeod debating the finance bill in the commons in the early 70s - riveting, rigorous and courteous.

I just don’t think the calibre of people, thinking or debate currently matches that of these Titans.

Politicians now are not, as some would have it, inept. They are however a bit timorous, cautious and lacking in flair. I have been constantly surprised that so many seem to think being nasty (even if they feel it justified) is a good tactic. Voters mostly hate “rude”.

Try this tactic instead:-
Ed (or David)  is a nice and I believe well-meaning man. Most politicians are but I believe he just has this policy wrong and it would harm the country if he were to win this election”

If our grandchildren behaved like many politicians do they’d be made to sit out. I love the idea of hearing someone say: “Teresa May I’m appalled. See me afterwards”

Second thoughts.

2015 has been different because the two of the most popular voices have been on the side lines but thrust centre stage by the media. Nicola Sturgeon and Russell Brand.

Nicola has grown in stature and 4% of the UK (that’s Scotland) seems to adore her and Russell is rather like an extreme left version of Boris. Both Boris and Russell are fluent, addicted to long sentences and are ever so slightly crackers (slightly?) That he and Nicola are the ones turning on so many is significant.

Don’t you think they really ought to get together and have babies - what fun that would be.

What both do is reflect our times, reach and inspire a few people - in Russell’s case a generation of non-voters, the millions of youth who can’t be bovvered. They are both of them articulate and fearless. They aren’t looking over their shoulders; they’re punching away and looking like they’re enjoying themselves.

In Nicola’s case the prospect of wiping out lazy Labour in Scotland may mean she’ll have every right to be a bit smug. But the Scottish brand is thriving.  Brand? Think Irn bru, Innocent and Pepperami all mixed together. Inspiration has conquered economic caution and it’s exciting. As is Russell’s brand of rebellion.

The old political brands look like Tesco or Sainsbury’s or Asda in a world of Waitrose, Pound Land. Zara and Aldi.

So I was wrong. This election isn’t boring at all; it’s enthralling and we’re lucky to have ringside seats. It’s the other fight of the century.