Monday, 29 July 2019


Normally (like Mark Antony in Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’) I’d want to bury Boris Johnston not to praise him but his recent anthems of optimism reach that part of my soul that other politicians seldom reach. 

Saatchi and Saatchi built their advertising empire around the hope-tingling maxim “anything is possible.” The American management writer Jim Collins coined the term “big hairy audacious goals”.

That’s what Boris is talking about.

This kind of talk is sacrilege to big, global corporations with complicated cross-border supply chains to whom “just in time” is a life-defining credo. I  know executives who think their “just-in-timeness” in catching a plane is imperfect unless occasionally they actually miss one.  Otherwise they’re wasting valuable time waiting around. 

To behemoth businesses, big, hairy and audacious is an anathema and should be replaced by incremental, prudent and focused. Jack Welch, the star CEO of GE in its glory days, insisted on setting stretch targets for his executives but in GE “hitting the targeted number” was what always mattered when it came to the crunch. Big corporations prefer low hanging fruit to aiming for the stars.

No – it’s to start-ups and new businesses that are only just beginning to grow hair that big hairy and audacious applies. We live in a world where regeneration is becoming  the key theme and imperative and where new is the zeitgeist; where we, the promoters of start-up businesses, are the apostles of the next, new versions of Silicon Valley.
If the huge, old and established businesses cannot be easily re-engineered or saved (and chances are, given the way the world looks right now, they can’t) then we have to create new and hairy, audacious start-up businesses that take us all into a new world. And they don’t have to be only tech businesses. They be can “new, improved” businesses in any sector. The acid test is that they appeal to people and excite them to take notice and satisfy unfulfilled, new or unthought-of needs. 

The essence of whether they’ll succeed or not depends on specific things like their having a great idea, the planning that goes into it, their access to finance, their ability to promote, market and sell their product or service, their ability to operate a virtually error free operation – in short to run a brilliant, professionally run business. But  it also depends on three other more touchy-feely things. Ambition, optimism and resilience.

Unless, as a start-up entrepreneur, you wake up each day saying “I can do/solve/survive/win this”, then you probably shouldn’t be in business at all. If you don’t joy in running your own business then remain an employee/wage slave…you may hate it but at least you can afford to go on holiday and buy nice wine.

Ultimately  it’s vigorous, irredeemable hope that makes being human worthwhile and exciting. I may not agree with politicians like Boris but I shall always applaud optimism and the encouragement of enterprise. I shall vote for big, hairy and ambitious goals. 

Monday, 22 July 2019


I heard this on the Sunday Service on Radio 4:

“In this troubled world…” 

Trouble underpins almost everything we hear now. Brexit, racism, anti-semitism, climate change, inequality. We relish “troubled” in the way we relish a seriously hot curry.

Well, I need irony and laughter not troubled. I don’t find Trump, Boris or Jezza funny. I need quirky stuff like the protesters outside the Brighton and Hove Greyhound Stadium – “Stop killing Greyhounds”,  “Racing is cruel” . To my surprise they were big, sturdy and rather menacing. I might have expected  thin, earnest spinsters and tearful poodle owners but these were heavies “hit him Tony while I give Charlie over there a smacking”.

I discovered subsequently that over 5,000 racing greyhounds are killed every year because they perform poorly. I wondered if we should do the same to executives in business…”we’ve had reports that the board of Carillion were killed yesterday for performance failures and now for the sport, Gary Richardson…

We have more protests currently than I can recall. As a teenager goofing off school – “Climate-change march sir” – is perfectly acceptable now - “OK Perkins, well cut along then”. But there are so many that their noise has become self-cancelling.

What we had instead last week was an orgy of excitement – Wimbledon…how could Federer lose? But he did after in a little under 5 hours. Can you imagine a five hour film?  The British Grand Prix…collisions, confusion and Hamilton strolls in first…strolls? Final lap was a Silverstone lap record.

How does sedate cricket compete? By becoming football. At full time, after 600 balls had been bowled both sides had scored the same number of runs. So they had a “Super Over” to decide who wins – each team represented by two players batting. Both score 15 so England win. Why… I thought  they tied?  No. They win, obviously, because they scored more boundaries. Men are weeping with joy, families dance in delight. Back stop, long stop, full stop. Rule Britannia. But it appears subsequently under rule 19.8 because the batsman had not crossed at a critical point the umpires awarded England one run too many. So New Zealand win then.

Well no. Because the celebrations had already started for an English victory and no one wanted to irritate Ben Stokes.

It was chaos. It was awful. And everyone loved it.

It was also (as it turns out) a lie. Which brings me I’m afraid to Boris and that kipper. He concocted a stupid story about an Isle of Man fishmonger (IOM is not in the EU or UK) being forced by EU regulations (wrong - UK regulations not EU) to post these kippers to the UK with pillows of ice. What cost. What bureaucracy. What bollocks.

The trouble is I can still remember this lie and kippers have stuck in my sceptical brain.
Prince Charles laughed when I described this over lunch. “Lying”  he said “is the strategy de jour…have some more sprouts”.

Fake news.  Lie. Bet you remember though.

Monday, 15 July 2019


The British are masters of the stiff upper lip… proud of our manners. Here’s what it says on ‘Study Links', a website addressing foreign students in the UK:- “Knowing a little bit about British etiquette will help you ensure that your behaviour is polite and appropriate whilst you are studying in the UK.”

So I’ve been puzzled by what we’ll call ‘Ambassador-Gate’ because we seem to have become happy to be rude, although the Foreign Office has always seemed to have encouraged a Private Eye style of communiques from its ambassadors. One in past years, described the Swiss as “neither the wittiest or the prettiest of people”. There has been this tradition of satirical wit which may have pleased writers and recipient but belongs to a previous era.  When we actually had an Empire.

In 2019 we all know (don’t we?) that nothing we write down is safe from hackers. In 2019 we need to be circumspect. Poor Sir Kim Darrock was neither of those and all that talk of supporting him seemed rather absurd when it appeared, because of his tabloid comments about the current Presidency that got leaked, he couldn’t,  when denied access to the White House, do his job … that’s why he was there in the first place.  He was, anyway, just a few months away from retirement. Poor rude (even if crudely truthful) Kim.

The behaviour of the - blessedly to be short-lived - British MEPs turning their backs in Brussels as Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” is played – the EU anthem – was lamentable. This also happened when the NSDAP (Nazi party) 1926 turned its back on the Speaker of the Reichstag - so well followed Nigel Farage.

But even this performance was dwarfed by Ann Widdecombe’s abusive tirade. When did she decide being rude was a strategy?

Our diplomats and our political representatives are currently doing our country a disservice. So what about our probable next Prime Minister? His Andrew Neil interview this week was revelatory. Bluster, bombast and braggadocio. Some pundits thought he made some sort of fist of it but I was dismayed to think he could soon be our leader.  Optimism, which is his credo, is fine but not to the exclusion of thought and reason. I remember playing cricket with an irredeemable optimist who, as the rain lashed down, bellowed  “stop!  I shall not be defeated by this shower.” Boris is extraordinary. He’s not, for sure, a role model, albeit he could be called a shower.

Nor is Jeremy Corbyn better as we watch the agonising suicide that is the antisemitic Labour party. Shameful and shameless.

This is a British summer, Ascot, Wimbledon, Lords, Silverstone, strawberries and champagne. It’s a season of charm, courtesy,sunburnt mirth and friendship.  It is (usually) when we are at our best.  Keats described it so well – “with beaded bubbles winking at the brim and purple stained mouth.

We are not being true to ourselves and it’s such a shame.

Monday, 8 July 2019


I once worked with someone in advertising whose philosophy was that nothing ever changed much and, if it did, the pendulum would pretty quickly move back. A lot of clients found this conservatism reassuring. Meanwhile I preached apocalyptic visions, disruption and dystopia which some clients viewed somewhat warily.

My visions have mostly turned out to be in line with what’s actually happened but, of course, being right is only half the story. So when my son-in-law said he’d been at a conference where a famous economist with a name ending in “-inski “ had given a riveting presentation about the Armageddon we’d be facing by 2030, I was intrigued. I glanced at it – it was long and full of numbers and graphs. Principally it focused on our collapsing under debt and a remorselessly adverse demography of more older people. Like all economist his models were based on extrapolating trends.

It was clever stuff for sure and well-argued but something clicked in my mind. It was my disruption button.  I have this distaste for the belief that bigger is better or that you can persuade people to do things through financial incentives or that the numbers tell much of the story.

First of all the demography myth. We live in a world where the best medical minds are stymied. All antibiotics have lost their mojo. Ebola is sweeping the Congo and Uganda and a mystery illness in East Anglia is striking down old people. I suspect it’ll be the old who get whacked by all this hardest. I talked to a medical journalist about this who said grimly “don’t go anywhere near a hospital; that’s where these new bugs thrive.” 

So let’s reduce those population extrapolations. Chances are there’ll be some natural pruning.
Next politics. Not really politics so much as culture. The Green Movement, a bit like Me-Too or the anti-tobacco lobby, has acquired an unstoppable momentum, most obviously amongst the young but now older people are changing their minds too. This is not a one-off.  Everything that happens in Europe – currently the second biggest economy in the world -  will be determined by green thinking over the next decade.

Finally where does the future lie? Asia and Africa currently account for ¾ of the world’s population and they, not the USA or Europe, will drive the global agenda. We in the West are like the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Persians over 2,500 years ago. We’re running out of runway. We’ve had our day. Neither yearning for past glories or hoping radical change won’t continue, will be much use. Disruption? You bet, a big disruption but not necessarily a disaster.

Our next decade should be the most interesting for a very long time.

Meanwhile listening to our current politicians is increasingly irrelevant as they seem determined to build debt and revert to Victoriana.

But if we become greener, cleaner, less obsessed with money and more focused on building a kinder, better society we’ll be on the right track.

Monday, 1 July 2019


Returned, revived and restless.

That’s how everyone should feel after a holiday.  However all is not well. Indeed,  the end is nigh, according to the Guardian. This was their headline last Monday: 'Hell is coming - week-long heatwave begins across Europe'. Temperatures could hit 40C. Exams have been cancelled, sales of water have rocketed, people will fry. Funny, I thought this was summer. What we used to gleefully call “a scorcher”.

Whilst we were in Venice I was thinking about intolerance and recalled a conversation about the teenage craze-game, Fortnite, with some old friends of mine. They grumpily said they thought it was disgusting, encouraging killing and dulling intelligence (like the Cowboys and Indians of our distant youth I thought). Last week I asked our 12 year old grandson to give me a tutorial. Apart from him learning to use three fingers and his thumb in both hands, all digits independently, to track his weapon status, his store of building materials, wood, brick and metal and critically his power of defence-shields and his health status for which he seeks out bottles of health liquid, he has headphones to identify the proximity of opponents. That’s only the tip of this extraordinary iceberg. There are killer storms to avoid as they’ll empty health reserves. And there are over 90 people he’s playing against from all over the world (there are 250 million registered).

But the point is this. It’s not a game of killing – it’s a game of self-protection and survival. And it as strategic as chess with incredible graphics and animation. What should excite us is the super race of nimble-thinking and lightning-fingered, Fortnite is helping create. He came 2nd by the way (out of 96 players).

And of course it’s an example of the brilliance of technology. But don’t be beguiled by technology – it’s a tool not an ideology or strategic. As Dave Trott, the remarkable ad man said: “Technology is the Achilles heel of the lazy." Technology is there to use not to lead. Too many people talk about the vehicle not the destination and yes that’s lazy.

I was watching Supervet the other night as Kate was out and I was having my supper in front of the TV. It has everything that anyone could want. It’s an animal soap opera about indescribable medical issues, bloody close up operations, unconditional love and usually happy endings. It’s a brilliant show. All they need to do now is make a musical of it.

So, finally, age. Why the hell are Jo Biden and Bernie Saunders contending for the Democratic candidature in America? They’re both 77. In fact of the 20 candidates 6 are over retirement age. I believe in wisdom but death must be on their minds as it’s been on mine. I’ve suddenly and inexplicably been bombarded with un-asked-for life insurance quotations. The providers are betting on me living 10 more years at least. If I snuff it any sooner they lose.

Good luck with the scorcher Jo. Just keep out of the sun.