Monday, 30 January 2017


In the recently compiled global “2016 Happiness Index” compiled for the United Nations the UK comes 23rd (we were 21st in 2015 and 18th in 2012 when the report was first published.) No one can be happy to see us sliding down the table but nor can they be surprised. We’ve become a grumbly society dissatisfied with our lot. Denmark on the other hand comes consistently top.

Apparently the UK was at its most content in 1957 the year in which Prime Minister Harold McMillan won the election with the slogan which was true for most

“You’ve never had it so good.”

But you can’t keep on saying that (even if it’s true.) Broadly speaking everything, despite newspaper headlines in the Mail and Express, is actually getting better. Yet research in the workplace for instance would say otherwise. FT columnist Lucy Kellaway wonders why. Offices are nicer, with better, cleaner facilities, and bosses are more civilised and attentive, trained in empowerment, delegation and being nice. Despite there being less bullying and harassment people are nonetheless less happy.

We aim to delight our workforce yet that is unlikely to happen. Quite simply their expectations are never quite met and they never have it as good as they’d like. What makes it worse is those at the top of companies are earning disproportionately more and the sense amongst the rest of us of exploitation grows in line with that.
So are we pursuing an impossible target? In Julian Barnes collection of short stories, “The History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters,” “The Dream” is about his dreaming of heaven. Everything is perfect there. He can do anything and everything, eat as much of what he wants, play impeccable golf, see his favourite football team win the FA cup and yet after a while it becomes boring. Perfection is dull. Beauty relies on slight misalignments to be striking, happiness often happens in adversity rather than when everything is just so. We need rain as well as sunshine, ice as well as warmth, tears as well as laughter.

 What makes our world so fascinating is we still don’t understand the human brain. In his book “Homo Deus” Yuval Noah Harari reflects:

“As long as we have to decipher the mysteries of consciousness we cannot develop a universal measurement of happiness”…

Yes - not just a measurement - nor a way of creating happiness consistently either. Neither more money, nor more leisure nor more anything can be guaranteed to work.
Our life spans seven conditions:

  • Rapture
  • Happiness 
  • Contentment
  • Apathy (“whatever” mode)
  • Discontentment
  • Unhappiness
  • Misery

On any given day we could go through several phases and the more we do the richer the first three states will be.

Stop trying to be happy, start trying to be more interested and engaged. Happiness is only ever a phase so trying to be consistently happy is to be consistently disappointed. Sorry about that.

Monday, 23 January 2017


“The time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action.”

Those were the words of President Trump at his inauguration.  Yes those were the words of President Trump at his inauguration. Have you noticed, whether for emphasis or whatever, he repeats himself….constantly saying the same thing twice.

“The time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action.”

There you go again.

So is the USA embarked on four years of blood, sweat and toil? Will Trump be dragging people back to sweaty manual labour like coal mining whilst the rest of us are in driverless cars moving towards the inevitable digital economy?

In Japan this week there was something of a panic surrounding people working too hard. 50 hour weeks, they say, are killing people. They’re considering stopping work at 3pm every Friday so people can go shopping and stimulate the economy. Yet 50 hours is only a five days from 8am to 6pm. Every executive I know does at least that.

The myth that any work in excess of 40 hours a week is counter-productive is as arbitrary as the weekly alcohol limit of 14 units for men and women unless you’re Spanish and male when it’s 35 units. “Aclamaciones!!”

Hunter/Gatherers in the distant past only worked a 22 hour week. And now some of us are envisaging a virtually work free life waited upon by good looking robots. But I actually don’t get what all the fuss is about. If you get it even vaguely right there is hardly any distinction between work and play.

But there are times when being a workaholic just seems misplaced. I recently heard about a friend who had undergone heroic surgery on his heart. I asked how he was doing to be told he was not doing all that well especially as his recent promotion meant he had to work even harder.

Like that lady in a senior post in Intel saying: “I have this work/life balance thing nailed.
It’s work, work, work.” But acting busy rather than enjoying being busy is tiresome.  Alpha Go is an Artificial Intelligence system owned by Google. Against expectation it beat the “Go” World Champion Lee Sedol recently. Philosopher Mark Rowlands got it perfectly when he described the game at its most intense:
“There is the joy of focus, the experience of being completely immersed in what one is doing.”

And that’s what real work is like.

Leisure on the other hand can be rather boring. Read a Jane Austen novel and reflect on how tedious having nothing much to do in 1800 was for many of what are the now-busy middle class. Certainly small town social politics in places like Chawton where she spent the last twelve years of her life seems rather depressing.
The real trick is in wanting to do what you have to do. Because involvement is always better than being disengaged.

Just as Barack Obama will already be discovering.

Monday, 16 January 2017


When I was in Kindergarten many years ago our formidable Headmistress Miss Parry told us “unless you stop worrying about people liking you you’ll get hurt later on in life”. She was very smart as well as being formidable.

One of the Patagonian Surf Ambassadors (Patagonia being one of the world’s most likeable brands) Mercedes Maidana who’s also a life coach, said:
“I have a client who has trouble marketing her business because she is worried about what those who are currently doing better than her in that field will think of her. So what has she done? Nothing. She’s stuck in situations she doesn’t like because the fear of not being liked by others is controlling her life.” 

Which inevitably brings me on to Donald who is the post-truth king, the most ethically incontinent of prospective world leaders.  (Malcolm Gladwell, incidentally, is convinced he’ll be in gaol before the year is out.)  Well Donald doesn’t want to be liked. And he’s “winning bigly” in that mission. When he won the US election he was pretty unpopular but in a few weeks he’s slipped to just 37% having a favourable view of him (Obama is currently at 55% in favourability rating.)

I think Donald would get on with Gambian President Yahya Jammeh who having lost a recent election decided he didn’t like the result so he’s refused to stand down and is demanding a new election (…”and we’ll carry on until I get the result I want.” I seem to remember masters at school saying things like that.) So Yahya will, if necessary, legislate to be liked.

One of our most popular Britons is Richard Branson. He’s done brilliantly in building a personal brand and a huge, but allegedly fragile, fortune. In Tom Bower's biography of Branson, he describes him giving a lecture at Oxford University in 1999.  Asked what his great hope is for the new century he replied "to run the national lottery." In the scheme of things when he’s being invited to say something game-changing this is not it. Yet he sails on grinning, cuddling lovelies and being liked.

But my favourite story of a desire to be liked being thwarted and derided is about stand-up comedian Joel Douglas, the less famous son of the now 100 year old actor Kirk.  He was performing at the Comedy Store and was getting increasingly frustrated by the audience reaction.

He started shouting: "You can't do this to me, I'm Kirk Douglas's son!" At which point some wag stood up and said: "No, I'm Kirk Douglas's son." Then someone else stood up, and so on.
Wonderful … I really like that.

Kim Kardashian is famous but not especially likeable yet to acquire her kind of salience of status is mission (probably-impossible) for many and most millennials are desperate to get more “likes” on Facebook. Meanwhile, however, we are voting for the most tawdry bunch of unlikeables in history. Apart from Yaha. He’s still waiting and waiting.

Monday, 9 January 2017


When I say that we’ve never lived in such glorious and exciting times some of you will think I’ve taken leave of whatever senses I have left. The history of mankind is pretty short in the scheme of things. If our planet had existed for just a year then Homo Sapiens would have been around for less than 10 minutes. More importantly the real, real digital action has been taking place in the past fraction of a second.

The internet and digitisation are transforming our lives. Like many I too am a sceptic when it comes to suggesting that Amazon’s warehouse in the sky 45,000 feet up dropping drones to earth to fulfil our orders in hours or minutes of our placing them is likely to be anything other than a nice bit of PR. But when I read about a company called “Zipline” which uses drone-type small planes to deliver healthcare products to the 2 billion of the world who would otherwise be denied access to them due to challenging terrain and gaps in infrastructure, I’m on my feet and applauding as potentially 3 million lives a year could be saved by this.

Two decades ago Jean-Marie Dru, worldwide Chairman of TBWA, was the proclaimed the originator of the word “disruption®“as a creative tool. Like all trendy concepts it lay quietly in the agency world for a while but has now accelerated to the point at which all business life is being disrupted, old business models are being demolished and it’s normal.

Dru says rightly that:
“Digital is forcing every single business leader in the world to rethink, sometimes to revolutionise, his or her company.”

Companies like Coca-Cola that have for over a century been a bellwether for the global economy are now wounded because they’re selling something that’s become increasingly unfashionable - sweet, sugary fizzy drinks. At a recent Marketing Week conference a delegate shocked the audience and speaker Professor Mark Ritson by asking the breathtaking question;-

“Is Coca-Cola entering its Nokia phase?”

The clock cannot be turned back despite the wishes of a large number of British Conservatives and Brexit supporters and people throughout the world especially in the American rustbelt. Globalisation is here to stay, digital is here to stay and change everything. Not least it’s likely to lead to increased unemployment as the robots get to work. It’s taken advanced societies like Finland to counter the threat of this by producing plans to introduce a living wage for everyone, whether at work or not.

With this front cover Time magazine were not being satirical. The future is nearer than any of us think. Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, Total Connectivity and Limitless Creativity are here and changing our lives. Remember GE, that great manufacturing company? Well it’s now the largest software company in the world totally reinventing itself.

I’ll repeat - we have never lived in such exciting times and I am thrilled by what I see. The world really is getting better.