Monday, 24 September 2018


Last week I was thinking about time and space.  Today I just want to consider time and why it can make us so angry. Take Martha Kearney, a quite annoying Radio 4 Today presenter who has made me shout at the radio a few times – it’s her patronising good humour which is getting to me. But nothing like Thursday when an earlier than usual start to the day  and Martha collided.

5.45. Not much birdsong yet. Just darkness,  street lights and a sense of disorientation. I creep downstairs and go through a personal ritual of opening the house – curtains open , lights on, kettle boiling, radio tuned in. Martha Kearney. And she says “It’s 7 o’clock”. No it isn’t … my watch says 6am, the wall clock in the kitchen says 6am but Martha repeats the time “7 o’clock”.

And something quite odd happens. I am conditioned to believe the BBC. Martha patronising though she might be would not tangle with something as serious as the time. Brexit maybe but the time never. So I have 20 minutes, not a relaxed 80 minutes, to shower, shave, breakfast, dress, get the paper and so on. I hurl myself into the boiling shower cursing the malign spirit that has put all our clocks back. I slash the razor over my chin. I drink my coffee…too hot … and I hear the irritated self-justificatory voice of Martha Kearney who sounds really angry “It is ten past seven”. The time is the news. Has Kearney gone mad or am I living in a parallel universe that’s an hour earlier?  I even wonder if I might have been consistently an hour late for meetings all week and everyone has been too kind to say anything. “Poor old Richard…late again…don’t upset him…bless him.” 

As I hurriedly finish getting dressed a BBC male voice calmly says “it’s twenty past six. Martha Kearney has been speaking to us from Salzburg” – no “sorry” just calm. I feel relief and rage in equal measure. But I wonder if I’ll ever trust the BBC again. Part of my rage was caused by sleep shortage something affecting lots of people nowadays. This is often due to sleeping on a knackered mattress. Bed experts say you should change your mattress every 5 - 8 years.

I was talking to a friend recently who looked tired. She confessed to sleeping badly and needing to change the mattress but the kind she and her husband wanted was £12,000 which seemed a lot.

Imagine sleeping really well” I said “Eight hours undisturbed a night – like Jeff Bezos does and look at what he’s achieved”. She had a dreamy look in her eyes by now. “Well would you pay around £3 a night to achieve that?” “Of course I would” she murmured. “Well wake up to the fact that’s what a £12,000 mattress costs each of you over 5 years”.

You know I should be back in advertising with an argument like that.

Monday, 17 September 2018


Last week the amazingly wealthy Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, said of time well-spent he needed to sleep at least eight hours a day as he had to live in the future making crucial decisions. Living in the future, especially if it’s a faster moving version of today, would make me tired.

Time is strange stuff. How fast it seems to move is nothing to do with clocks it’s to do with how we feel. Our obsession with marginal time-saving which HS2 provides or which the fast food/dating/reading crowd pursue seems a bit futile to me.  Taking time to relish what’s happening seems a lot smarter. Taking your time though is hard if you’re surrounded by bustle, fast-talkers and deadlines. That’s the trouble with capital cities yet what, at the same time, makes them so exciting. (And please don’t tell me you find New York boring.)

However attitudes to place are changing. The ability to hold a Board Meeting in the south of France wearing a linen jacket and crisp white shirt on Skype and a swimming costume down below is not only possible, it’s happening.

So where you are doesn’t matter then? Well … actually it does. Hence the Dick Whittington urge for that streets-paved-with-gold-London-urge. The ambitious gravitate to share space with like-minded, ambitious souls.

That’s why I found the story about Naples I heard recently so fascinating. In the past Naples hasn’t had a great reputation. Handback snatching, Mafia, poverty, with 50% unemployment amongst the young … not a fantastic place to live.  Until 2016. That was when Apple set up its Apple Development Academy there. It’s in a glass, shiny-steel building and has big working spaces with sofas and round tables. There’ve been 600 graduates so far, 70% from the Calabria region.

Terrific news. But it’s been the knock-on effect which has been even more extraordinary. Big companies like Cisco, and Deloitte Digital have followed Apple and Naples is now the second region in Italy after Milan for young start-ups (18 – 32 year olds). People are coming home from Brighton, Berlin and other tech centres. One described Naples, his home town as “the most beautiful place in the world where I want to be with family and friends; where I want my children to grow up and work too.” Naples derives from “Neapolis” – new city. At last this seems an appropriate name.

We can’t just live on Skype (although Skype’s got its place). We need to meet people, see them and decode their body language. We also need to be based in a place with a community of creative and disruptive spirits shaping the future in the sure knowledge that the future isn’t going to be an 8 – 6 office in a skyscraper. We need the place, the human contact and the time to think and create stuff be it apps, plays, stories or things that make life nicer and better for humanity.

See Naples at work and you’ll believe in a new future.

Monday, 10 September 2018


People constantly say – “I’m so stressed”. Not surprisingly as there’s so much going on in our daily lives. We’re  constantly fending off marketing, vouchers, free trials and those extraordinary online research questionnaires. Yes, I’m sometimes guilty of buying products on Amazon (not just guilty, I’m a serial Amazon shopper) but do I need a long set of questions about whether I was satisfied with my service and would I recommend this service to friends? If I went around saying “I really recommend buying Olaplex on Amazon it’s a great experience” I soon wouldn’t even have any friends.

We’re stressed because so many different voices are tugging at our sleeves demanding attention. The modern world has become like a needy three year old. There are a lot of things that we could do. We could do worse than remember the words of counterculture guru of the 1960’s , Timothy Leary who said: “Like every great religion of the past we seek to find the divinity within and to express this revelation in a life of glorification and the worship of God. These ancient goals we define in the metaphor of the present — turn on, tune in, drop out.”

I’m not suggesting we turn psychedelic or turn to drugs although seeing Elon Musk recently as he paraded on TV smoking an enormous joint made me wonder. I am just suggesting we “drop out”.

We are mostly not digital natives. 58% of the world’s population (nearly 70% in the USA, UK and Europe) were born in an analogue world yet a lot of us are playing a game that’s alien to us.  We are like fathers dancing – slightly embarrassing.

Twitter has been made ridiculous by Trump and by the rest of us tweeting stuff like “Eggs for breakfast today. Made me think of farmers and the CAP. What happens after Brexit? Shame.” Which is slightly embarrassing. Or Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat and the rest which have their place as marketing tools but as real tools of human communication…well I wonder. As I do about mums posting pictures of their little ones on social media whilst disallowing anyone  to take a picture of them at a school sports day.

The answer is complete abstinence. The son of a great friend is 17 and has just done GCSEs. He got 9A*s and an A. He’s now left school to devote 100% of his life to making an already highly-rated band a real success. He has cancelled all his social media accounts saying they are complete timewasters and mere organs of trivia distracting him from practice, song writing and recording. Social media to market his brand is being left to marketing guys. Time for us all to start doing the same. Look we’ve tried it, given it a decent chance and now it’s swamping us. So, be ruthless fire it.

And as for our mobiles try the Nokia 3310 and stop looking at it. It’s a tool not your lover.

Monday, 3 September 2018


I’m writing a new book about start-ups and before you ask two inevitable questions – why another book and what’s new to say anyway -  let me tell you how the research I’m doing has transformed my mood. I’ve talked to over 30 start-up people so far and only a few over sixty have displayed occasional discontent with the geopolitical disarray we are currently encountering. Nearly everyone is cheerful, optimistic and full of ideas. No one mentions Brexit.

There is a spirit of adventure in the air. The so called “snowflake generation” is conspicuously absent. The word on the entrepreneurial block is young people today are marvellously industrious. It occurs to me that this is because they’ve been largely selected from outside the dinosaur corporations that have historically demanded loyalty, punctuality and putting in the hours as the young people’s expected contribution to the employment contract.

We live in a new world where respect, freedom and inspiration are bywords.  A world where employer and employee alike want to make a difference, want to be relevant and want to grow themselves as well as the business. And yes it’s very tempting and easy to generalise and stereotype. The start up world of today is not romantic, nor is it cushy.  However the start-up engineers to whom I’ve talked show a wonderful talent to analyse, learn and pivot.

Theirs is a world of collaboration – sharing ideas and office space – and of caring about each other’s feelings (not ‘snowflake’ stuff before anyone snorts but empathising and recognising being human as opposed to being an alpha-male manager is the best way to increase productivity and creativity).

It’s also a world of change and disruption. On Sunday I visited Parham House in Sussex, a wonderful Elizabethan house with spectacular gardens and a great history. I stared at Elizabeth1’s motto – “semper eadem” = always the same. Even 500 years ago people wanted stability, even then they wanted to keep England great. But stability and 2018 don’t synchronise. We live in turbulent times and it’s only those who can surf the waves of change and shape our world who’ll thrive. “Always the same” served Heinz, Persil, Mars, Ford and IBM well for a long time. They used to say “no one got fired for choosing IBM”;  now they say “no one survives who isn’t choosing a better, cheaper, faster way.”

When Ferran AdriĆ  closed elBulli his 3 Michelin star restaurant it was because he couldn’t do it any better. Similarly the glorious Anthony Bourdain went a step further in taking his own life having been everywhere and seen and done everything he’d dreamt of. They’d both run dry.

But a lot of people today are determined to find a better way

Beware you fat, old, lazy sectors rich in margin and low in innovation – yes stand up lawyers, accountants, estate agents, supermarkets, builders and so on. Beware because the start-ups are out to get you. Beware because this is a new age of enterprise.