Tuesday, 31 May 2016


From intellectual swinger to Uber partner

I was watching Steve Hilton one of the radical political swingers of the ‘90s on Question Time. He used to be David Cameron’s strategy guru before decamping to Silicon Valley where he’s married to Rachel Whetstone Senior VP of Communications at Uber.  Steve invented the “Big Society” and is clever, articulate and ever so slightly barmy in a new world, give-the-people-their-voice way (well it takes one to know one.)

So to learn that he’s a Brexit fan is surprising apart from that Uber thing - do Uber hate the EU? They surely do.

Swinging against the Silicon Invasion

The more I see of this debate and those “aren’t-we-the-greatest?” squabbles the more I like Europe, its civilised manners, style and attitudes to bullies like the big US heavies, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook and of course Uber. Nowhere else in the world does anyone want to or can anyone else stand up to the Techno Thugs like the EU does, the biggest economy in the world.

The golf swing slows down

But however you vote not many executives spend hours relaxing on a golf course any longer. Golf participation in the UK is in very steep decline. Golf clubs are closing and being turned over to property development projects. Let’s face it, who’s got the time to spend hours on golf in our busy, busy world?

Recycling not swinging

We are a busy and we’re a sated race. However good the series the sequel has to be extraordinary to survive, yet success drive its producers on to the umpteenth Master Chef, Strictly Come Dancing, Bake Off or whatever.  With no golf to play, son of X Factor to watch, wearisome debates to turn off and a massive assault from American marauding techno hordes trying to own us and all our data - no wonder that we all feel rather tired.

(Source: Mumbrella)

Bad news swinging into adland

The big new, news, as Roger Alexander  the retired legal giant from the advertising world remarked, is the ANA (Association of National Advertisers) forthcoming report on media fraud. Business Insider journalist Lara O’Reilly said this:

An explosive report on kickbacks in the ad industry is coming out next month and some say it could lead to 'jail time'

Jon Mandel ex-CEO of WPP’s Media agency Media Com kicked this elephant in the advertising room into the spotlight last year. So the next sector to face the inquisition is advertising to whom “transparency of billing” has been an oxymoron since the money men took over.

So is anything swinging? Try looking at the Portsmouth fashion scene….
My wife and I went to a graduate fashion show at Portsmouth University and were blown away by the quality, and quantity of sheer creativity shown by these young people. They were so full of hope.


Cheering after listening to Boris and the rest of those dreary men to hear and see the real future swinging into view.

Monday, 23 May 2016


I went to St Catherine’s College Cambridge on Saturday to a Memorial Symposium in honour of friend who’d been a Professor of History. I wasn’t sure if “Sir Christopher Bayly and the Horizons of History” would be a bundle of laughs “Don’t hold your breath” warned a friend who knew about such things.
And yet I was blown away. These academics, all eighteen of them, started and finished on time….none of those laggardly, bad manners you so often see from lawyers, politicians and businessmen at such events. They engaged, entertained and inspired us.

I hadn’t realised just how eminent Chris had been. He had helped rewrite the way history is studied and how people think about the world as a whole with a rare ability to zoom in and out from long shot to close up, thrilling people with the new clarity this produced. He certainly thrilled Professor J├╝rgen Osterhammel who said of one of Chris’ many books: “it would have been a very good book even if all the facts had been wrong.

Most of all Chris was obsessed by the music of words and the way that good writing could change people’s minds. Facts alone don’t do it. The narrative itself has to engage and thrill. He weighed words like a miser.

He wrote with precision and with sparing tautness.

He had exciting stories to tell, focusing as he did on India and then developing from that the way in which global events interlinked and resonated against each other.  Like a good CEO he was able to handle and dissect the detail and see the bigger picture too but unlike what his commercial counterparts so seldom do, was then able tell this story in a significant way.

He was evidently a great teacher. He could listen and prod so his pupils’ vision was expanded and changed.
Professor Richard Drayton put it nicely: “he’d listen hard and then tell us what he thought we were trying to say”

And he was not just an academic. His love of wine was legendary and charming. But it served a purpose. He used wine to lubricate and expand the minds, ideas and laughter of those around him. He shared ideas and developed ideas over a glass or two of claret. If we all did more of that we’d be better off and better humoured.

Wine and genius are seldom distant from one another. Handel it is said at one of his many dinner parties would from time to time rush out to ostensibly record a new musical idea but in fact to take a surreptitious swig of a fine Burgundy he’d stashed away.

Bayly and Handel. They’d have got on pretty well.

One of his younger PHD students, Rachel Leow described his special kind of astonishing cleverness when she said:

He’d cover whole areas of history in just one sentence

I realised then how much I’ll miss him. A clever man and a very nice one too.

Monday, 16 May 2016


I’m not against big businesses. They’re full of people who are smart, civilized and charming. I like Google and Apple (who couldn’t?) I used to love the spirit Nike had in the period of their pre-21st-century glory. I love the confidence with which companies such as John Lewis, Heinz (now 3G) and BMW go about what they do.

I enjoy seeing challengers like Aldi disrupting the market and behaving small when they are actually the 90th biggest company in the world - quite a lot bigger than Tesco with twice as many stores in 18 countries. I ‘m thrilled by the narrative of British Airways and the problematic relaunch of Coca-Cola. But there’s something about big companies that’s beginning to worry me quite a lot. It’s that being big can make you a bully and turn you prematurely deaf.

Being big makes you think ‘There’s my way and then, of course, there’s my way.’ Most of all, being big makes you an enemy of marketing. The big decisions you make will be about cost and margins, about downsizing, consolidating and acquisitions. They should be about people and what they want and need. They should be about marketing but they won’t be. And when you get too big to focus on marketing, you’re going to die. Big, old companies often get trapped in their own legacy with an out-of-date business model and old fashioned products. They get uncomfortably stuck with a redundant overhead too expensive to write off yet dragging the minds of the company downwards and backwards. New businesses are about the future. They are about risk and about change. They are now and next. They are where innovation thrives. They are about learning. They are busy doing important things. Like visualising how the world might be in the future. Thinking radically and being inspired.. New businesses are lucky. They generally don’t have shareholders. They don’t have a lot of out-of-date plant and property they don’t need. They don’t have a huge workforce or a lot of bureaucracy. But what else don’t they have? They don’t have enough money to have much wriggle room. So they need to be very smart or lucky to survive. 
In a recent conversation between Professor Clay Christensen and Marc Andreessen (Silicon Valley entrepreneur) at Startup Grind Global 2016, Clay Christensen said there was capital everywhere looking for a home. Unfortunately return on investment was virtually zero overall and there was an astonishing $6 trillion in negative yielding bonds. So why isn’t more of this money being invested in start-ups? The success rate of start-ups is improving and starting from zero is recognised as a great place to set off from. The world of the new and disruptive is amazing. Consider. The biggest media company in the world is now Facebook, the biggest Hotelier is Airbnb, the biggest producers of films are India and Nigeria (Hollywood comes third.)
Excited? Well I think we should be.

Monday, 9 May 2016


I’ve been thinking about ethics which is rather like saying “I’ve been thinking about algebra” - because “ethics” sounds so dry and academic. It’s what the ancient Greeks spent their Sunday afternoons talking about. Here’s what got me thinking: old Aristotle supping, as it were over his pint, and muttering:
We do not act rightly because we have virtue and excellence but rather we have those because we acted rightly.

Attitude doesn’t determine our behaviour…it’s our instinctive behaviour that shapes our attitudes.

So how are we doing?

Not very well - be depressed if you look at the past weeks where events have been created from pragmatism, cynicism and a mix of lawyers saying “don’t say that” , PR people adopting the well-worn approach “we need a new strategy - we’ll have to lie” and strategists saying “we must win…regardless”.
In politics the same unpredictable/inevitable occurs. Trump wins in Indiana and all-but the Republican nomination. This reminds me of the Democrat Donald Tuck who allegedly once said “the people have spoken …the bastards.

Behaviour is uniformly devoid of ethics and disregards consequences….Zac Goldsmith’s abortive campaign in the London Mayorial contest was designed only to win at any cost. Trump says whatever gets a headline. Meanwhile some of the comments made on both sides in the current wretched EU Referendum Campaign remind me of Shakespeare’s Henry VI and the War of the Roses and are shamelessly bellicose.

Now, York, or never steel thy fearful thoughts
And change misdoubt to resolution

The Hollow Crown, on BBC 2, is brilliant study of amorality apart from the appearance of well- known faces in new parts. Downton Abbey meets Lark Rise meets Last Tango in Halifax meets Mr Selfridge.
And with those familiar faces comes an expectation of how they’ll behave…Richard of York is Adrian Dunbar the actor most recently seen as Superintendent Ted Hastings head of police crime investigation unit C12 in Line of Duty.

There he’s a paragon of ethics. And now transformed to an iambically pentameter wielding politician.
The expression “all’s fair in love and war” finds its earliest manifestation in Shelton’s translation of Cervantes’ Don Quixote in 1620:

love and war are all one…it is lawful to use sleights and stratagems to attain the wished end

Only it isn’t. It just isn’t - as Aleppo shows us to our collective shame. It isn’t - as Hillsborough showed us. It isn’t - as Sebb Blatter and his crew have discovered.

A good friend of mine - a very senior Civil Servant - is aghast by the continuing evidence of the institution he’s been brought up to trust, the Police. There’s little sign over time of their “acting rightly”.

The good news is an emerging younger generation of ethical minds.

Q. Isn’t Suarez a great striker?
A (from 7 year old Grandson): No. He’s terrible. He bites.

We do not act rightly because we have virtue and excellence but rather we have those because we acted rightly.

Monday, 2 May 2016


The morning sun is shining on the Royal Geographical Society, London Business School MBA students are smiling as they meet the torrent of delegates to the 2016 TED x event they’re hosting here. The event is called “CntrlAltDel”. There are sixteen speakers TED style - 18 minutes each. It’s day of reflection, a day of “Alt”. A day of “Ant” too…. Anticipation…

There were some interesting insights and thoughts. Here are my top six:

  • Don’t be frightened of AI …the quicker it grows the smarter we’ll get because that’s what human beings do; they improve as the bar is raised. Watch out for chess standards going up.
  • We tend to be in conflict denial (in case we make things worse and have a row). The energy from conflict is a bonus. So embrace conflict - work with it.
  • Two models. Aviation and Medicine. In aviation every mistake is admitted to, analysed and learnt from. Result: continually improving safety record. In Medicine there’s cover up, denial and blame on luck not human error.
  • We talk about leadership. How about “followership”? How about creative, reactive followership as in Tango dancing? How can I (follower) respond to their (leader) moves to build on and enhance their directions?
  • Innovation? Forget blue-sky thinking. How about, instead, a programme to stop doing those stupid things which have settled into the default behaviour of an organisation?
  • How about a new way of creating imagery in sexual education. Instead of, as in Baseball…”pitcher, catcher, getting to first, second, third base, home-run, striking out”, how about instead of that scenario a Pizza metaphor? Sharing, having the usual (or being more adventurous) or simply asking what someone wants?

It’s Pizza and Tango that have most stayed in my mind. In creative thinking (not just sex) it’s Pizza that wins as it is interrogative. It’s not about command and control. You can do it anywhere and you don’t need to dress up.

“Shall we?
What would you like?
Shall we share?
How about a Take-Away?”

The Tango model is even more intriguing. It’s also described as “partner dancing”. (And incidentally a therapeutic version was created a decade ago called Tangolates - derived from the core position strengthening concepts of Pilates.) The three stage process that speaker Sue Cox described as “embrace> connect> collaborate” sounds like a useful way to start working together and a better model than “the leader tells and the rest obey” model.

Was the day worthwhile? Of course. Entertaining, refreshing and thought-provoking.

By the way I wonder if TED as a format isn’t a bit TIRED…speeches, many too long for our shortening attention spans…all a bit too self-important?

In today’s world everyone is a competent speaker. Presenting is uniformly good. Note free, relaxed and articulate. This brings its own challenges. You have to be really exceptional to stand out.
But as an experience my conclusion is this. Prolonged listening and thinking is good for our weary brains.