Saturday, 31 December 2016


The papers are currently full of New Year Resolutions and sagacious reflections by commentators on the apocalypse that they claim to have foreseen (despite their wonky predictions earlier in the year). 20:20 hindsight is widespread as is the existence of people regarding two data points as an unstoppable trend. Time to let it all go as the lyrics of the animated film “Frozen” suggested:
“And one thought crystallizes like an icy blast
I'm never going back; the past is in the past!
Let it go, let it go.”

Resolutions first:-

Resolution 1: As the endless scoops of Stilton, mince pies, Stollen, paté and glasses of claret had their impact on my waistline I remarked I was beginning to look like Jabba the Hut. Rather than disagreeing with me my wife looked at me smiling and said:

“Well yes, you do have a bit of a paunch.”
Hideous word “paunch”…. so month one of 2017 is an austerity diet for me. In 30 days I shall be paunchless.

Resolution 2: In a paperless society I seem to be creating more paper than ever and generally have more “stuff” than I need, use or want. So I’m going to employ a Brighton variant of the “KonMari Method” from the best-selling book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: A simple, effective way to banish clutter forever” by Marie Kondo. This would, if rigorously applied, drain the blood from my life but I intend just to leach myself of the garbage I’ve assembled and let it go.

I think two resolutions are quite enough. These are achievable and demand focus.

So here’s my vision of a lithe, tidy me embarked on a positive journey and concentrating on intensive non-stop debate. I’ve been reading a book - “The Innovator’s DNA” by Messrs Dyer, Gregersen and Christensen. I’m determined to spend the first 31 days of 2017 getting fit and then making my life and that of those around me better, more inspiring and more creative. I want to refresh my thinking and theirs.

In that regard 2016 was awful. We took positions rather than debating issues. We got obsessed with behaving like lemmings (“the people have spoken. Let’s stop talking; let’s do something”.)

Too often in the past the word “strategy” has seemed to be used to slow things down and exclude all but the brightest from the debate. Let’s define strategy as a “simple plan for success”. At least let’s try to agree what we want our world to look like and work out how to achieve that goal. As the greatest business leader in living memory, one-time CEO and Chairman of GE, Jack Welch said  (GE turn over $140 billion so they’re significantly huge):-

“Control your own destiny or someone else will.”

That’s it. Thinner, fitter, tidier, more argumentative and determined to hold on to values that matter and make a difference. As a start to 2017 that seems about right.

Bring it on - this could be fun.

Friday, 23 December 2016


“Bah! Humbug! Don’t be daft…you can’t.” But I do… I completely believe in the idea of Santa Claus…of sleigh bells…of “Ho! Ho! Ho’s!” and of Rudolf. Like all great, timeless stories it has evolved and gathered a patina of stuff like the elves, North Pole, chimneys and that red Santa costume. I really believe in the spirit of Christmas that this projects.

And that’s why I abhor the idea of telling children at a certain age that it isn’t true, that the whole idea is a piece of childish garbage. A friend told me that when his mother told him aged 10 “the truth” he told her insouciantly “yeah I knew that.” But he didn’t and just went away sobbing because an idea had been broken and a trust destroyed.

Imagine the guffaws of laughter provoked by the Rubens painting of St. Francis at Christ’s crucifixion. …spoiler alert …Francis wasn’t born for another 1200 years so the whole thing is a lie. Ho. Ho. Ho.

In a year which heralded the arrival of post-truth my support for the idea not the literal truth being what matters may seem dangerously avant-garde.  But Christmas like love is not something we can just reduce to facts.

Fact or fiction? Whenever we read a totally engaging story we lose ourselves in the truth of that story. A Christmas Carol, Pickwick Papers are both in the bubble in which we read them, totally credible. The skilful storyteller can induce what Samuel Taylor Coleridge 200 years ago called a “suspension of disbelief”.
In the car recently the Archers came on the radio and our grandsons listened…there was a long silence. When it finished I heard that carefully phrased question: “Grandpa are those real people and why do they talk like that?”  The Archers and those funny “old people” - step up Joe Grundy - have become a new truth which they and other soap opera stars are for many people. Just  as the Shire has its own reality in Lord of the Rings.

Do you believe in miracles? Do you believe the incredible can happen? You’d better after 2016. But miracles need a little help. Like great magic the more we’re predisposed to accept the implausible the more wonderful the trick becomes.

Sadly as we grow up and become more rational and hardened against play we lose a little of our humanity. We become cynical about the stories that can make the world so beautiful a place.

I believe in goodness, in human beings, in generosity of spirit and in Christmas not as a factual thing but as a completely brilliant idea and story. A story that is timeless and which bonds us together. And what better way to start a story could there be than this?

“In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan, earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone; snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow, in the bleak midwinter, long ago.” 

Monday, 19 December 2016

"DO YOU THINK I'VE GOT TOURETTES?" He shouted angrily

A friend of nine asked me this after confessing to an irrepressible desire to shout abuse at the complacent Michael Gove on TV decrying the value of experts. I told him that at our age we get everything. If I forget something it’s an early sign of dementia, a cough is lung cancer, breathlessness a heart attack. We are doomed. We are all going to die…sooner or later.

“Happy Christmas to you too” I hear you mutter.

But relax I’m as optimistic about the glorious comedy of life as I’ve ever been. The stuff that happens enthrals me. Like my increasing habit of self-debate walking down the street having an argument with my own stupidity. Don’t worry they think I’m on my mobile talking to someone rather nasty.

And recently the madness intensified. I was explaining to my wife as we drove in Brighton in that rather loud, patronising voice I adopt when talking about current affairs. I said Southern Rail management had an agenda in the current dispute vis a vis the RMT and Aslef which was to kill the Unions.

“Why - what have they got to do with this?” she asked
I was a bit irritated and said “well it’s mostly their fault”.
“What exactly have the Indians done wrong?”
“Indians … what Indians?”

Perhaps I had said “Indians” not “Unions”- perhaps I was going mad. But let’s face it being a man I was likely to get much more ill than my wife. Recent research proves man-flu is really serious and that viruses seek out men rather than women.

As I drink another glass of claret and metaphorically smoke a Cuban cigar I reflect on a misspent life of calories and carcinogenic substances and the rather depressing comment made by a friend:- “nowadays I spend most of my life crossing out those who’ve died in my address book.”

Come on. We’re living longer and healthier than ever. And this is going to get better as medical science develops faster and as new generations of young people drink less (not just less but massively less), scarcely smoke at all, or use drugs (it’s older people who are mumbling “peace” and falling into flower beds). Mind you there’s less sex going on too. People are too busy for nonsense like that.

Yet in this youthful world the “old” still own the “hot-seats.” In the USA 40% of Trump’s cabinet are at or over retirement age and 60% are over 60. They are also, with one exception, white which is really strange given the country they serve.

Tourettes? Well it may be our only defence in a breath-taking world where the latest gor-blimey has been Trump’s refusal to accept evidence of Russian hacking. Post-truth has now developed into post-evidence.

I was recently watching“Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium” on TV. Dustin Hoffman said this:
“Life’s an occasion - make sure you live up to it.”

I’ll try Dustin but it isn’t easy.

Monday, 12 December 2016


In saying “Brexit is Brexit” Theresa May is using what is called the Nuremberg Defence - “an order is an order.” It didn’t work seventy years ago at the Trials. I don’t think it’s going to work now.

I’m talking about Nuremberg because I was at a meeting there this week (sadly not at their Christmas markets.) The trees were frost-white, the hotel full of Christmas trees and smiling people. 
Germany seemed very comfortable with itself - and why not? They live in one of the most deregulated and decentralised counties in the world. 

Germans are bemused by the British cry of “We want to get back control”. They have control. Their governmental structure devolves quite considerable powers down through regions to towns and even villages.

I was driven to Munich Airport from Nuremberg in an Audi Quattro - it’s 106 miles yet it only took an hour. At times we reached 150mph along deregulated motorways that interlink across Franconia making distances at which we’d wince a mere stroll.

The transport system at all levels was amazing. At Munich Airport it took me 10 minutes from being dropped to go through Passport Control, Security and get to the gate - another five minutes or so and I was on the plane. This is an efficient but lightly regulated world.

Is this a love affair with Germany?  No. But on re-watching them I do find the Germanophobia in both Monty Python and Fawlty Towers painfully unfunny. Denis Healey in his autobiography “The Time of My Life” said of Germany in 1936 where he spent five weeks before going up to Balliol, and this despite the remorseless rise of Hitler:
“The main impression of those five weeks was of the beauty of the landscape and the friendliness of the people.”

Plus of course the depth and spread of culture… especially opera.

What has always struck me are the Germans’ ability to speak flawless English at all levels and their sardonic humour. I had a splendid dinner where they romanced their Franconian Food - I was told a speciality was “breast of dove” (hmm!) - I had goose which was magnificent. I noted to the waitress it was apparently “free range and fed exclusively and happily on corn.” She eyed me wryly and said:
“Yes, and then he died.”

Most throughout Europe currently view us with somewhat puzzled amusement wondering why so many of us take offence by their very existence, as though being foreign somehow “isn’t right.”

Meanwhile the activity in the USA with the appointment of Linda McMahon to a Cabinet post is the most distracting news of the week. She is CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment and has been seen playfully kicking wrestlers in the balls to spice up the shows.

Well, as they say “Trump is Trump” and “Brexit is Brexit” whilst Germany seems sane, relaxed and civilised - rather like Britain used to be. No need for orders because they know precisely where they’re going.

Monday, 5 December 2016


(but who are these people?)

I had lunch with old University friends last week. All had held senior positions in government, law or business. They were urbane and charming and just the sort of “elite” many people on ‘Question Time’ in Wakefield last Thursday. detest.

But several of my friends disagreed with me. I was regarded as a naïve romantic for speaking in praise of what are described as the millennials. These are defined as the 16 million reaching young adulthood in the year 2000.

We used to think we knew what all sorts of “the people” thought and why they thought it. We used to think mass marketing worked. We trusted in our data.

And here’s what the ex-Chief Marketing Officer from Mars said:
“I’m not a great believer in targeting. Our target is about 7 billion people sitting on this planet. Out task is to reach as many people as we can; to get them to notice us and remember us; to nudge them; and get them to buy us once more this year.”

Not believing in targeting is as extraordinary as golfer Justin Rose saying “I’m not a great believer in putting.”
Because as recent events show people aren’t as the pundits suppose them. They are very diverse, opinionated and influenced increasingly by feelings rather than logic.

To judge from the alarmingly articulate vitriol in Wakefield this is a world where supposedly ignored and ignorant people are fighting back and sweeping the smart elite away. And the day after Wakefield, Zac Goldsmith’s 23,000 majority was astonishingly demolished in the Richmond by-election.   So do any of us think that we currently really understand or empathise with each other? Certainly not when 70 year olds talk about Facebook and Jay Z with such bewildered contempt and when the millennials believe most of the older cohort betrayed them in the UK and in the USA by voting the way they recently did.

We’re deaf to the way voters, consumers or ordinary people think especially if we underestimate them.
This is a world where single issue campaigns like “the economy stupid” - (Bill Clinton 1992) or “Project Fear” (Lynton Crosby 2016) won’t wash anymore. Arguments now need to be diverse, reactive and fast/ More spontaneous and less crafted.

It’s a world where “the people” as an amorphous mass has ceased to exist.

Wakefield was frighteningly angrily vocal. This wasn’t a debate so much as a revolution about past slights. They would have torn my University friends limb from limb had they been there.  Marketing anything, whether a candidate or a brand, is going to get harder. We’re flying blind.

Our best hope is our youth because the best young people seem smarter and nicer than ever we were. I can’t wait for them to be in charge because they see the world as it is and as it will be, not as it was.
Because they are the future and my friends and Wakefield are the past.