Monday, 30 April 2018


It’s the silliness but accuracy of human observation that still makes ‘Dad’s Army’ appealing. It has this ironic sense of human incompetence, despite itself, prevailing over catastrophe.

Today economic forecasts are worsening with growth figures stagnating to just + 0.1% in the first quarter, the worst figures for six years. Worse still the EU did rather well in the same quarter. Words like “collapse, slide and crisis” fill the papers. As Harold MacMillan once said when asked what Prime Minsters most feared: “Events, dear boy, events”

UK growth slows to brink of stagnation 

And this is an event. So is it time to panic? No. Is it time to tear up our aggressive growth plan? Maybe. Is it time to recalibrate our expectations? Absolutely. Panic is tremendously popular. It involves lots of action, noise and apparent leadership. Panic is essential in creating a crisis where seemingly strong people pretend they’re in charge. Steven Leacock the Canadian writer got this spot on when he wrote this:

“Lord Ronald said nothing; he flung himself from the room, flung himself upon his horse and rode madly off in all directions”.

Steve Peters the famous Australian sports psychologist has a simple philosophy:

Life is unfair.

And they keep moving the goalposts.

But you can only try your best.

Yet we demand that leaders are proactive and that they get a grip. Matthew Parrish in Saturday’s Times describes the dilemma of a Secretary of State who inherits pockets of unpleasant history and is expected to have read, considered and interrogated every memo, e-mail or conversation relating to these specific issues. In particular our current Home Secretary seems not to have assimilated a six page memo on Windrush. Not surprising really. I hate six page memos and I’m in in good company. Winston Churchill in his famously short memo entitled “Brevity” says this at the start:

"To do our work, we all have to read a mass of papers. Nearly all of them are far too long. This wastes time, while energy has to be spent in looking for the essential points,"

What we need is patience not panic.

The urgency of social media has created panic via a tyranny which demands spontaneous as opposed to considered decisiveness. We are living in a crisis ridden present. We are having existential crises - moments at which individuals questions if their life has meaning, purpose, or value. Yes that’s May, Corbyn, Rudd and the rest in the weekend just past.

We all live in a world of optimistic targets, the missing of which is a criminal sin. But you can only do your best and only by recalibrating your growth trajectory can you return to a world of sanity, common sense free of that bastard panic.

Consider Monty Don, who presents ”Gardener’s World.” Impressively laid back like most gardeners he watches nature unfold every year and works with it. He doesn’t drive change management programmes. And he doesn’t panic  - he just seems rather sensible.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018


Back in the 1970s and 80s it was the message and not the medium that mattered in advertising. Endless hours were spent by creatives trying to do something original, different and something that got talked about.

And then it all changed because it was money that talked louder than creativity and the procurement people, the accountants, the media men and a businessman called Martin took charge.

Sentimentality in part has clouded our judgement. Great icons of advertising like JWT and O&M were swallowed up, their lustre gone,  in an empire with turnover of £15 billion and profits of £2 billion. Sorrell was a brilliant businessman – a legend , a ruthless, piratical wheeler dealer but somehow seemingly a man devoid of magic, soul or joy.

As Ian Potter the creative director at FCO once said of an errant account executive:
He wouldn’t know a good ad if it bit him on the arse

I rather think this was true of Martin Sorrell too.

Not that it mattered to many. It was the share price and the growth that drove him. One somehow felt he  would kill creativity with a few well aimed swipes of his spreadsheet. And good luck to him the many said because he was a towering success. But the signs of cracks in the business were already self-confessedly showing. And this wasn’t helped by the size of his earnings – his net worth is about £ ½ billion and last year alone he “earned” £70 million and that irked many out to get him.

He was a genius no doubt, but a genius like James Pattinson, the richest best-selling author in the world rather than Ian MacEwan. In the end just a business man.

So why am I so vexed by his legacy? Because like the founders of the digital revolution, they’ve taken away as much as they’ve given. The senatorial hearings suggest Mark Zuckerberg is still uncertain as to quite what this monster is that he’s created.

It’s not just privacy that’s been stolen so much as quality of life. All of the heroes of digital and marketing services are mere businessmen in vast, introspective, rapacious empires.  They do not laugh much in Silicon Valley or in WPP.

The medium is everything currently. It’s the likes, the hits, the quantity of what is said not the quality that matters. Sorrell’s demise is a turning point, already signalled by P&G, Heinz-Kraft, Unilever and others loudly saying that it’s real creativity that counts now. They have bean-counters enough in-house but what they lack are the kind of idiots like George Lois the American art director who once stood on a window sill threatening to jump unless a client bought his ad.

Van Gogh, Salvador Dali, Caravaggio and others were not necessarily going to be congenial dinner companions but boy could they paint and touch our hearts.

Persuasion is currently on a lot of agendas. It may sound out of step with the times but I think creative advertising is on its way back.

Monday, 16 April 2018


It’s going to be summer soon

Sunshine, lollipops and rainbows
Everything that's wonderful is what I feel when we're together
Brighter than a lucky penny
When you're near the rain just disappears, dear
And I feel so fine
Just to know that you are mine

I can’t imagine why this Lesley Gore song of 1965 sprung into my mind. Now like an ear worm it’s stuck there. Irredeemably happy in a slightly irritating way. And it occurred to me that happy clappiness in this slightly angry world is very much in vogue.

After a somewhat uncertain start the “Durrell’s” (rather grandly posing as based on the Gerald Durrell ‘trilogy’. His brother Lawrence wrote trilogies, Gerald just wrote some jolly books) has hit its stride. Not much to do with the original. Just a bunch of fun characters having a ball in Corfu with the delightful Keeley Hawes. Successive episodes have the party atmosphere developing until I swear they are almost -  nudge, nudge - winking at the camera. This must be the happiest shoot ever.

But better still is “Death in Paradise” set in Guadeloupe with a cast that’s grown progressively loopier. First we had the misanthropic Ben Miller, then the erratic buffoon Kris Marshall and now the pantomimic  Ardal O’Hanlon who does a silent  boom-boom after  virtually every line. Against the backcloth of the Caribbean nearly 8 ½ million watch it now making it one of the top TV shows in the UK.

Both shows – the Durrell ’s and Death in Paradise -  are in the realms of fast-food entertainment. The stars are the scenery and the heat. In the dreich days of winter they provide comforting if-only moments for the vitamin D deprived.

And we need them because we live in times as angry as the Enlightenment  was. We are experiencing great discoveries and insights on a constant basis. But we are also encountering the conflict between brute ignorance and reason. Trump versus Obama if you like.

I was watching James Ancaster on ‘Mock the Week’ describing the In-Out Brexit story as an example of classic enlightenment.

He describes how he was offered a cup of tea and asked if he wanted the bag in or out. Not an easy choice. Leave it in and the tea gets stronger but the tea bag itself does not get weaker. Take it out and the tea is weak and the teabag itself gets thrown in the bin.

There. An analogy like Lesley Gore’s lyric “brighter than a lucky penny”.

We need to keep balance between the embrocation and panna cotta of the Durrell’s and Paradise and some hard, angry thinking. Today we seem to be a bit light on the latter. Final point is a question about “Question Time”. Why was the most famous person on the panel  on Thursday night David Dimbleby?  His guests were Jo Johnson, Barry Gardiner, Nicola Horlick, Jonathan Freedland and Kate Andrews. Enough said.

“Everything that’s wonderful is what I feel when we’re together.


Monday, 9 April 2018


My own cheerful optimism is unchanged but I’ve encountered a lot a gloom recently. “The dark side is descending on us” I was told by a ‘scholar of doom’, “you can feel disintegration in the air.” Hmm.

Talking about the Utopia of our current world (only relative to the brutish past) cuts no mustard with such people. Take knife crime and the “epidemic” -  about 40 deaths in London so far this year which is awful but – bloody, great, enormous BUT – in 2002 there were over 1000 murders in the UK and recently it had dropped to just over 550. The London victims are of gangland killings not of a homicidal pandemic.

The NHS “horrors” are largely overstated and dramatized for political purposes. My own recent experience with a close-to-dying close relative were of impressively on-the-ball, confident and charming professionalism. That’s at the Royal Sussex in Brighton which is in special measures with wretched inspectors crawling all over them.

The stress of living in 2018 is created by something a lot closer to home than dark forces or catastrophic institutional incompetence. Because in general we are surrounded by great competence and skill.

But we are also surrounded by breathless fear and unreasonable expectations. We all seem on our bad days to be chasing our tails, trying to keep up, rushing around with a glint of terrified-purpose in our eyes. Many of us are driving cars today which would have served as tanks a century ago. We are surrounded by astounding levels of household debt - £1,630 billion with student loans doubled, credit card debt up 23% since 2012. Put in perspective the average household debt level is around 2.5 times the average annual household income. So I guess a little fear isn’t wholly misplaced.

People sleep badly. I keep hearing this. People are having bad dreams. Why? We live in a civilised world populated by nice people trying to do their best. Maybe we’re just trying too hard. Too hard to keep up. Too hard to be judged as successful. As the rumble of Brexit rolls on I suspect it’s like the Russian Novichok nerve agent the horrors of which whilst real seem not yet, at any rate, mortal.

If as pundits suspect we end up slightly poorer and less important in world terms because of Brexit –Britain rather than Great Britain - maybe that’s going to be OK. Less stress, less mess and a happier bunch of people. Trying to exceed our talents and resources is seldom a great idea.

I found this quote from Jack Nicklaus, the legendary, champion golfer and good guy particularly helpful. I hope you do too:

Every player must find the balance between ambition and insanity. Were major championships my focus? Yes they were. Were they my only focus in life? No. My family always came before that. Could I have worked harder and won more majors.? Probably. Could I have driven myself crazy doing it? Certainly.

 Thanks Jack.

Sunday, 1 April 2018


This was said by Vince Lombardi coach of the Green Bay Packers, the American Football team.

Since then it’s been used in virtually every management conference, sales meeting or leadership group I’ve ever attended. Jack Welch legendary ex-CEO of GE – then the biggest company in the world, actually wrote a book called “Winning”.  I want you to think locker room; the smell of sweat and tired feet, male banter, nick names like Turd, Ball-boy and Snot-Gobbler and a vocabulary stripped to the minimum – more grunts than words. Underneath a kind of rhythmic chant of “winners, winners, winners…back of the net….” This is a world where a red mist rises, rationality flees and the team bonds in a messy heap of self-belief.

This isn’t going to be another analysis of the already over-analysed ball tampering issue traumatising Australian cricket. Interestingly many Australians and others are already beginning to justify the sandpapering of balls (my wife read this and said “Australians really do that – are they crazy?”) by saying everyone does it. In a post Weinstein world that seems a pretty limp excuse. The idolised Indian cricketer Dravid did it, we do it and even educated fleas do it…but it’s cheating and it’s wrong. Umpires have been lax and cricketers over-paid prima donnas. The Australians made it all worse by lying and being generally very stupid.

I recently read a piece in the paper describing a You Tube video on “How to shoplift in H&M” and on the self service check-outs in supermarkets about which some idiot arrogantly said: “Anyone who pays more than half what they should when doing this is a moron”.

This and the Lombardi quote are the two most moronic things in this blog. Because cheating is catching and if it becomes epidemic we are going to be in deep trouble. I even heard a 9 year old recently saying a certain footballer hadn’t dived “properly” by which he meant theatrically and convincingly enough to be awarded a penalty. Don’t blame the boy, blame the men who have allowed cheating to be OK …”because everybody does it”. Remember Maradonna palming the ball into the net and calling it “the hand of God"?

It happens in business as much as in sport. Auditors like KPMG with Carillion are insufficiently scrupulous to notice or feel it appropriate to notice what is sitting there in plain sight. The sorry story of BHS is one of failure to call out the cheats. Everyone is cheating it seems.

But cheating like graffiti is something that grows exponentially the more the culprits think they can get away with it.

As the daffodils thrust their way up cockily throwing two fingers at the beast from the east we can see how courage, determination and energy work to help nature win.  Winning comes as a consequence of all these characteristics.

But it isn’t the most important thing. Winning well and being a classy role-model is.