Monday, 30 September 2019


HR experts have found a new, trendy use for artificial-intelligence. They ‘re enhancing the precision of recruitment by getting applicants for jobs to video themselves whilst responding to a set of pre-prepared questions. The algorithm then analyses facial expressions for honesty, resourcefulness and, resilience or whatever qualities are deemed important. No, this is not a joke. Unilever and other big companies are taking it really seriously.

The theory underlying this is  that human beings’ judgement is too biased and unreliable and is better replaced instead by a kind of consistent, artificial …. stupidity.

Here’s my problem. We are all that we have. Our humanity is what makes is good or bad but above all remarkable. We are put on earth to play our part in a role of the drama called life. My favourite new way of describing the HR leadership function is not the increasingly popular “Head of People” title but that used by a Canadian company who’d decided it was the quality of people they hired and the way they interrelated that would define their success.  They used the term “Casting Director”.

The difficulty of hiring people relates to how they fit together as a team not them individually. Unity of purpose and the ability to collaborate is more relevant than it’s ever been.

Which brings me to the uneasy scenes we’ve recently seen in the House of Commons. It’s pretty obvious that compromise and the bringing-together-of-people are not probable achievements there at present.

It’s also evident that big, blustering, bonking Boris (no offence Mr Johnson but you must admit the AI algorithm would have you marked out as a bit of a  buffoon) has been briefed to act the role of disruptor to flummox and enrage the “remainers.” It’s working insofar as their barely restrained violence does their preferred position of calm unification  no good.

But where has the role of satire gone? Why is no one laughing at big, bad Boris?

The best joke  I heard was from Emily Thornberry who, at the Labour Party Conference, described her recent cycling accident. As she lay bleeding on the road the paramedics attending her asked a series of questions like “what day of the week is it?”, “How many fingers am I holding up?”

She was doing fine until the third question ”who’s the Prime Minister?” She told them to rush her to hospital as she was suffering serious delusions “it surely can’t be… Boris Johnson!”

Homo Sapiens, as Yuval Noah Harai says in his book “Sapiens”, got us where we are today through our gregariousness and ability to work together. Put AI or social sabotage like Boris is using into the mix and what has taken centuries to achieve will be compromised and lost.

It was that jovial attack-dog Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer Denis Healey who used the phrase “Silly Billy” in the 1970s

“Silly” is a good word for misused artificial-intelligence or misused leadership. Not “wicked” just plain silly. Silly Boris.

“Start-ups Pivots and Pop Ups” by Richard Hall and Rachel Bell is published on October 3rd by Kogan Page. The antidote to doubt and gloom.

Monday, 23 September 2019


Historically civilisation has revolved around big ideas.

Successions of great empires like the Assyrian, Persian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Mughal, Chinese and British. Movements like the Renaissance, Reformation and Enlightenment. Revolutions like the French and American. Technological breakthroughs: Gutenberg’s printing presses, the Agrarian, Industrial and Transport Revolutions and the Information Revolution around now for just two decades.
Then we had dictators (and leaders) from Attila to Julius Caesar to William the Conqueror, to Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin, Franco and Mao Ze Dong. History is full of big (and often bad) men.

All the big ideas of the past were driven by big brains and strong-minded people. But big ideas have more recently been usurped by distractions or small-minded ambitions. We seem be making the world a smaller place. In this smaller place figures like Trump, Putin and Farage stand out not through being better, bigger or smarter but be being simpler and louder.

When people talked about the benefits and cost savings being bigger brought, they were doing so in the context of the industrial age. A big idea like those we find in the writings of Harari, Gladwell or Lewis comes from one man’s mind not a scaled up machine. When we play new video games they, as often as not, are conceived by clever individuals. Creativity is not about bigger it’s always about smarter, more liberated thinkers.

Life has become more splintered. Big organisations like Arcadia, Carillion and Thomas Cook falter on mountains of debt and huge fixed-costs. Buying anything on line has neutralised consumers’ concept of size. Political parties are no longer broad churches. In 2017 the UK had three parties, Conservative, Labour and SNP. Now we‘ve at least two Tory parties, two Labour parties, the Lib Dems, Brexit and SNP. It feels more like Italy than Britain.

In 2019 it feels better to be a small independent restaurant than a large chain. Small and opinionated is better than big and amorphous. Which brings us back to ideas. Big ideas do not belong to big organisations; they are driven by simple easy-to-cling-to concepts.

We currently have four I can see:
- Go back to the past – read Robert Harris’ Second Sleep.
- Resist rapid progress – globalisation, federation, technology, change in general
- Accelerate communication – social media, more film providers, more fragmentation
- Stop Climate Change – a 16 year old Swedish schoolgirl has done more than David Attenborough to wake up the world

Brexit doesn’t get a mention but the bigger companies will suffer most and the smaller will cope best as will – if it happens - the smallest, who’ll thrive by being alert to changes.

This “new world” is the really big idea.

 A chameleon-like, rebellious place where people skip school to protest and get applauded not detention, where new political tribes are formed and where big is seen as “titanically” irrelevant against our melting icebergs.

Weep for Toyota, Facebook and Tesco. Memories of the past before people found their voices.

“Start-ups Pivots and Pop Ups” by Richard Hall and Rachel Bell is published on October 3rd by Kogan Page. The antidote to doubt and gloom.

Tuesday, 17 September 2019


I was there at 3pm, aghast as gales, crashing thunder, non-stop lightening and torrential rain - 20% of annual average fell in a few hours - and ripped through the laughingly named Costa del Sol.

Storm Gabriel met the remnants of Hurricane Dorian and put the piffling disturbance of Brexit into perspective.

Monday, 9 September 2019


Maybe I’m in a genial mood because I’m about to go for a week’s rest, relaxation and reflection in Spain. When I discovered there’s going to be seven days of wall-to-wall sun there I felt even more genial. It’s the opportunity to read a book a day and fill my mind with new thoughts, plots and excitement.

My geniality was enhanced by Amy Ryder. Amy  works for British Airways. Here’s why we spoke. When our flights to Malaga were cancelled because of the pilots’ strike I tried to get my refund. It was at moments like this that automation and technology seem sadly wanting. With some 450,000 other thwarted customers also trying to get refunds on their PCs the BA systems crashed. Eventually I e-mailed Alex Cruz the BA CEO  and Chairman saying I realised he was busy but could he get someone to sort out my problem. Enter Amy. She was professional, charming, relaxed – in short, a delight and a brilliant example of customer service.  It took five minutes of unscripted conversation on the phone for her to sort my problem and five minutes for my faith in BA to be fully restored. Charm makes magic.

In contrast Parliament has been charmless. No worse than that,  thuggish, barbarian and stupid. Boris is not and has never been restrained. Reckless, rumbustious and expansive describes the man. But his behaviour was dwarfed by the baying crowds around him. I began to feel parliament had been prorogued by for far too short a time. How about proroguing it forever? And then within their ranks there were wistful reflections that maybe they could have another shot at Theresa May’s deal. Increasingly “no deal”  begins to feel like the vet’s humane killer gun necessary to put us out of our misery. The worst thing, of course, is their shocking manners and hostility.

How do we unite this broken country I heard someone wail. It’s doable but only if we encourage people to listen, think and debate good humouredly. I heard some signs of this on Any Answers on Saturday but presenter Anita Anand sounded frustrated as people phoning in were in succession thoughtful Brexiteers who kept on reminding her that the government had pledged to do what the referendum told them to do. “But no one voted for no deal” she retorted “No one didn’t not vote for it either” someone said. Hmm! Presenters and interviewers seem rather keen to stir things up which is regrettable.

In the meantime the BBC and everyone else needs to calm things down. The mood of the nation must be less adversarial and , yes, more genial. Recently I met someone who said how much he hated Christmas yet it’s that Christmas spirit we need. Here’s what Washington Irving who was the real inventor of the Christmas we love said:

So I’m off to Spain, the land of lazily enjoying life in ultimate geniality.
Se amable. Que te diviertas. Feliz Septiembre.

Monday, 2 September 2019


When Simon Sineck talked about the millennials in 2017 he derided their sense of entitlement and said what they really wanted at work were “beanbags and free food”. It was very funny. The trouble is Simon casually set the so called “snowflake generation” on a pillar of ridicule.

It troubled me at the time. Today I think it was pernicious and just plain wrong. The millennial generation that I see has a number of admirable qualities. When Rachel Bell, my co-author, chaired a group of CEOs a while back she asked them what was on their mind and the difficulty of managing millennials  was mentioned with comments like “I can’t stand them, who do they think they are?” She told these so-called leaders they were “wrong” because if they couldn’t manage millennial talent what sort of leaders were they?

In our experience most millennials are energetic, smart, fair, collaborative, generous in friendship, thoughtful and highly skilled. They may have grown up faster than we’d like, tyrannised by the stress of an exam culture. They may be sometimes be rebellious (unlike us of course in the mid-1960s and ‘70s). Interestingly millennials are drinking much less than we did. Here’s what an NHS report of 2018 concluded:

“A study …of 10,000 young people in the UK found that … 16- to 24-year-olds who say they never drink alcohol rose from 18% in 2005 to 29% in 2015. …young people who did drink alcohol were drinking less nowadays and binge drinking rates were falling.”

But millennials are not natural employees. They resist old fashioned concepts of starting at the bottom and slowly working their way up. We may find this unreasonable arguing it did us no harm (although looking at the products of  more repressive past regimes in, for instance, contemporary politicians I’m not sure this is a persuasive point of view.)

Instead however they are ideally preparing themselves to be creators of new businesses. They are the “Start-Up-Generation” which is why 70% of them say they want to create their own businesses rather than become a “wage slave”.

Vicki Harrocks, of Edge Hill University, teaches performance arts at Formby High School and says she spots the spirit of enterprise and latent entrepreneurialism in the year six pupils who are deemed most naughty and disruptive by her peers. She says they’re the ones who are quicker on the uptake, share ideas, talk in class, get restless and are never happier than when on their feet “showing off” (or, as we in business, call it “presenting ideas”).

These are our future. As they learn real business skills playing Fortnite, FIFA 19 and Restaurant Tycoon and create huge and powerful networks of diverse talents (not the antiquated “old boys’ network”) we’re looking at great team players, people who have real values and who want to create enjoyable workplaces.

They may be hard for us to manage but that’s a reflection on our own limitations rather than theirs. It’s time to give them their head. They will not let us down.

These are the millennial militants and they are winners.

“Start-ups Pivots and Pop Ups” by Richard Hall and Rachel Bell is published on October 3rd by Kogan Page. The antidote to doubt and gloom.