Monday, 25 July 2016


Dionne Warwick sung this in 1964. Bill Baccharat and Hal David wrote it.

Foolish pride…that's all that I have left….” Those lyrics floated round my head as I walked and walked and walked last week.

Walking isn’t anything new.  We used to walk vast distances across continents.

Dickens walked 25 miles through the night from London to Rochester creating plots and giving birth to characters. Bill Sykes was conceived on the A2. Wordsworth who trudged over fell and dale in the Lake District was reckoned by his substance-abusing friend Thomas de Quincey to have walked 180,000 miles during his lifetime. Oxford Dons used to walk alongside the River Cherwell talking, thinking and debating.

Ferris Jabr wrote a piece in the New Yorker in 2014 entitled “Why walking helps us think” in which he said:

“Because we don’t have to devote much conscious effort to the act of walking, our attention is free to wander—to overlay the world before us with a parade of images from the mind’s theatre. This is precisely the kind of mental state that studies have linked to innovative ideas and strokes of insight.”

We live trapped in front of PC screens in air conditioned offices thinking in an air conditioned way. Recycled ideas collide in our dulled, aching minds.

Last week a client-friend and I walked through London. We didn’t walk that far, just six miles give or take, but for a sedentary chap like me that seemed a long way. A long way in retrospect because at the time it seemed like a gentle stroll being constantly stimulated; an agenda-less conversation with intellectual diversions as they occurred. We even walked into a couple of churches - the Brompton Oratory and a Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Ennismore Gardens. On our journey we needed peace which we found in both, as well as inspiration.

We wandered through Hyde, Green and St James’ Park. We admired Nile Geese in the latter, the Ove Arup exhibition in the V&A - “the Philosophy of Total Design”.  How wonderful to find an eccentric genius who made a fortune and made people laugh. His lyrics and doodles are funny and insightful.

So we discovered walking? No we rediscovered the joy of discovery. Here’s Jabr again:
“When we choose a path through a city or forest, our brain must survey the surrounding environment, construct a mental map of the world, settle on a way forward, and translate that plan into a series of footsteps.”

We made a series of mental footsteps in puzzling over a series of issues and stumbling over a set of possible resolutions. We wrote nothing down, although I was able afterwards to produce a pretty well word perfect version of the discussion just by recalling a place - Harrods - or a situation - the Black Swan or an incredible, buzzy, joy overflowing early supper in the Wolseley.

It felt like a particularly happy time.

Walking liberates thinking, creativity and peace - try it.

Monday, 18 July 2016


I heard Linda Jackson Citroen’s CEO on Radio 4 last week. She was asked to reflect on this car maker’s resurgence in sales - up 16% year on year. She said she thought the brand had lost its soul, that it had tried to be like the others rather than trying to be different. But that had changed. She was (she said) leading Citroen back to the glorious eccentricities of the 2CV and the DS - Maigret’s car and the limousine used by French Presidents.

Citroen was style. Citroen was sexy. Citroen was - as David Cameron put it - the future once. It had the potential to be relevant, feminine and head turning and now it’s all of those - at last.

Over 20 years ago I held a senior position in London in a French advertising agency called Euro RSCG who had the Citroen account. From a distance I watched the business constantly on the verge of being lost and then in an unbelievable kiss-and make-up over a spectacular meal between the agency’s French CEO and the CEO of Citroen a new strategy would be hatched over Chateau Latour and more mediocre advertising for mediocre cars resulted.

Citroen had not only lost it soul it had lost its senses. But it seems Linda has helped change this. And well done here because we live in a same-old world when it comes to most design.

We’ll  decline complacently as we become more alike. To succeed we need to renovate, reinvent and be distinctive.

What’s a French Carmaker that’s a bit awkward, independently spirited and characterful got to do with Brand Britain?

Caitlin Moran who usually makes me laugh more than she makes me think made me start thinking quite hard on Saturday when she wrote in the Times:

“Ostensibly we’re leaving Europe but what we’re really leaving is the High Table. We’ve made all our history. We’ve done all our innovating. We want to be smaller. Let someone else do the heavy lifting ….. I think we’re done.”

That’s why the old and the young voted so differently. The older voters are knackered by the constant demands on trying to be GREAT Britain when just being Britain would be great enough.  We may, like it or not, have voted to be a bit smaller.  But more importantly although we don’t have a plan yet we have voted to be different, less institutional, less global corporate, more awkward and less co-operative.

Finding our soul, agreeing on our reinvention and doing a Citroen on ourselves is going to take longer than the negotiation of the Brexit terms with the EU and it’s a lot more important. If we get this right (or more properly if we come to a broad consensus on what we are trying to become) things could work out well.

David Cameron used to talk about the Big Society. This is the smaller society. More John Lewis than Tesco but actually different to either.

Are we up for it?

Monday, 11 July 2016


Consider the respective benefits of managing with stick or carrot. Personally I’ve always had a pocketful of carrots in the unshakeable belief that the nicer we are to each other the better the results. But I’m not any longer sure that this is right.

We’ve exhausted our patience, our management skills and bank balance on our extensive house refurbishment. Seventeen different people have marched through our house, drunk our coffee, used our loos and exercised our respective people skills. When one of them said to me “you know you’re the nicest people I’ve worked for” I knew something was going horribly wrong. Now it’s a common refrain and we are left waiting (nicely) whilst the unreasonable bastards who scream and shout get instant attention from these characters.

My self-doubt increased on June 23rd when I realised that civilised debate with Brexit people was a waste of time.  Being nice was a mission too far when they told me that they didn’t want straight bananas, unelected bureaucrats (what? Like our own civil servants, police, judiciary), bad treatment of animals, Polish builders and so on and that they wanted a return to our “yeoman values”, control of our destiny and poverty (yes that’s really a price worth paying).

June 23rd was for about half the country our 9/11. That Thursday our world changed. And the EU-Leavers took our country away and they stole my sense of humour. Because where we are and where we’re going isn’t funny.

How bad is it?

A friend told me he rooted for Iceland in the European Cup - “I hate old England’s vulgar nationalism”.

To misquote Dr Johnson but probably more to the current point:
Patriotism is the last refuge of …”the ignorant.

The last time I felt this bereft was when my mother died. It’s created a real sense of permanent loss. And as the “I told you so’s” pile up I feel worse not vindicated. On Saturday, for instance, the pound overtook the Argentinian Peso as the weakest leading global currency.

The division between leavers and remainers is acute and I believe permanent. It appears nearly all the people I know think like me. The very few leavers I know have values and attitudes to capital punishment, homosexuality and life in general that are not what I can live with. (What would Roy Jenkins our most radical liberal 20th century spirit think of all this?)

I feel ashamed, belittled and angry. And I want to find my real home again. Fortunately Brighton was strongly pro-remain but my gut says I must find solace in London or Scotland. Richard French, a friend, believes there should be a new country called “Scot-Lon” and to hell with the rest.

But here’s a thought. By 2020 over 1½ million of those people who voted Brexit will have died to be replaced by a more pro-EU group aged 18+.

So we have to wait for this madness to pass and just be nastier in this post-nice world.

Monday, 4 July 2016


The answer is no one has any idea. What’s worse no one even has a plan. It’s tempting to look into the future and write an Aldous Huxley dystopian vision of the world to come. It’s equally tempting to look at the centenary anniversary of the Somme and say “here we go again” or to say “this summer is like Britain wet and useless” like the England football team - “we are just a bunch of losers.

There are certain realities, however, in our lives:
  • Life will go on. The shock and dismay will end.
  • Human resourcefulness always get us to good places…the EU is not the only answer.
  • The time for analysis and philosophising is over.
  • We live in a very fast moving world so making things happen fast is critical. Remember that line from the 1981 TV series Hill Street Blues? “Let’s do it to them before they do it to us”
  • Or what ex-boss of GE Jack said:-

James Ashford, a Jack-the-lad online guru, described his son’s school sports day. An Intimidating experience for a six year old especially having to do the “Egg and Spoon Race”.

Watching previous races he realised all the kids spent a lot of time looking left and right to see how their friends were getting on…chaos…collaborative mediocrity. So James told his son…”Ignore the others look at me on the finishing line and run towards me.” It worked.

Great advice… stop worrying about what the world or anyone else thinks (by the way a lot of them think we are barmy, to be pitied or on the verge of crisis) decide what you want to achieve and go for it.  The greatest opportunity of our lives may lie in the fact that all around people are looking at each other wondering what to do next. This is a time when MBAs, PHDs and cleverness is a positive disadvantage.  Eat a plate of steak tartare, have a big Jack Daniels, light a cheroot, play the theme music of the “Magnificent Seven” or “The Great Escape” very, very loudly and go and kick ass.

Well you get the idea anyway.

This is a period as interesting as the 1980s when after the first shock of Thatcherism some realised it might be working; when the “Big-Bang” financial deregulation in 1983 turned gentlemen stockbrokers into pirates.  We may be entering a heady period of “lawlessness” where we behave as though those imaginary (mostly imaginary) shackles of EU bureaucracy are removed and we start to push the boundaries back and vigorously compete.

We can behave like that or, of course, we can mourn the passing of the most civilised half decade in the history of the world.

Well, we have no choice as enterprising people … do we?

And the final thing that’s clear is we must treat the politicians as contemptuously as they’ve treated us.

Ignore them and get on with it. You take control - not them - because they don’t get it.