Wednesday, 1 January 2020


A recent TV programme about Fleetwood Mac was a story of extraordinary, timeless brilliance. A high point for me was John McVie, the bass guitarist who, like so many of his generation, had been addicted to booze and other substances. When asked what he made of the song ‘Don't stop thinking about tomorrow’, allegedly a sermon written for him when at his lowest ebb, he said:

‘I never looked at the words … my only concern ever was to maintain the rhythm.’

This song was the theme music at the Clinton Inauguration Ball in 1993. 

“Don't stop thinking about tomorrow
Don't stop, it'll soon be here 
It’ll be better than before
Yesterday’s gone, yesterday’s gone”

Good advice to all of us as we move into 2020. The past two decades have been full of ill humour and rancour, short termism and being in thrall to high tech stocks.

A few things on my mind right now are all about tomorrow:-

What sort of world do we want?
What sort of work do we want to do?
In what sort of ways do we what to communicate to each other?
What will success look like?

Who are ‘we’?

The most striking thing about the yesterday that’s gone has been our failure to listen to each other. In this ‘woke’ world if we don’t like what another says we go ‘la, la, la’, cover our ears and refuse to hear unpalatable views. By 2030 those who are currently millennials will represent around 40% of the UK population and two thirds of the electorate and will be defining our world. They will be the key we.

Millennials are, in the main, the kindest and fairest generation we’ve seen. They haven’t  been imbued in red-blooded capitalism as we were. They don’t regard property ladders, car ownership and materialism as very much to do with them. They travel more, have less interest in ‘stuff’ and more interest in espousing worthwhile causes and in fixing iniquities. But don’t be fooled. Millennials want to create great, thriving businesses too.

Unless we listen to them (and they to us) we shall get in a mess. Me? I’m in listening mode, hopeful that things will be better than before and that the voices of sceptics and doomsayers will be quelled.

What sort of world do we want?

The emerging generation wants to build a circular economy, eliminate waste and stop global warming. Any manufacturer or a marketer should realise the entry-ticket to avoid being cold shouldered by your consumers is to have positive values about sustainability.

So environment is the number one issue.

The ability of young people from all parts of the world to talk to each other, develop common themes on this and hear what the other is saying – Russians, Chinese, Brazilians, Germans, French,  Americans, Africans – is fundamental and the glory for us is the primary language of communication will be English.

At the same time there’s an increasingly strong sense of home and a need to get home whenever you can. To our local communities which are buzzy, have self-sufficiency and their own character. Expect to see a continued revival in local pubs (it’s already happening.) But these pubs need to become proper communal hubs not just boozers. Centres that are repurposed to bring people together – we all know places this.

If we’ve learnt nothing else from the Brexit Struggle it should have been the passionate sense of Englishness many feel (and Scottishness – increasingly that - Irishness and Welshness). This is in our DNA – awkward, home-loving and resourceful. This is not a nationalist ultra-right feeling but a warm ‘my town/my home/my team’ feeling.

The compass points north now. Watch the increasing importance and effectiveness of City Mayors (Manchester and Birmingham stand out) and the trend to devolving power to the regions.

In the next decade the centralisation of the past two decades will, I believe, be reversed and local communities will thrive. We’ll see the disappearance of big and unwieldy out-of-town shopping and an erosion of retail chains. Online shopping will plateau and local high streets will be fashioned to appeal as destinations to wander through like the North Laine and South Lanes in Brighton, the Shambles in Chester and the Pantiles in Tunbridge Wells.

Independent specialist shops will become the thing. This trend will change our lives because big is not always beautiful and the economies of scale are often questionable.

What sort of work do we want to do?

In a recent survey 70% of millennials said they wanted to start their own business;  women are doing the same as their family grows up and if you’re 50 and voluntary redundancy is available you may do the same. There is a ‘Start-Up Revolution’ starting in the UK.

The British are not easy employees. The styles of management and leadership taught by business schools already look out of date and are likely to be counterproductive. It’s not just that the millennials and others want independence so much as their having an aversion to being told what to do. They will keep the reiterated ‘why?’  of young children. ‘Because I said so’ or ‘because it’s company policy’ won’t work in the future with such free spirits. As employees they have that British awkwardness and rebelliousness. Recently I was told about a Global CEO visiting R&D teams in the UK and USA. He said :

“We have a problem and we have to find a solution to this problem in six months”

The UK team said:  “Hmm! Unrealistic. Bad brief. Can’t be done”
The USA Team said: “Great brief. Super challenge. We’re on it.”

Six months later the UK reluctantly presented three viable and extraordinary solutions. The US Team had nothing but warm words “great work in progress.” We deliver, albeit  often with rather ill grace.

Two recently coined acronyms in the Times last Saturday SSDD and ADOH = "Same Stuff Different Day” and “Another Day of Hell" which describe how many feel about work. Yet it needn’t be like that.

There are increasing opportunities to create new businesses which have superb, responsive customer service. Not everything should be high tech.  Bigger opportunities for many are in creating new drinks, foods, clothes, recycling and lifestyle regimens – from dieting to exercising to self-improvement to services for busy confused people. Whatever else, people want to be a bit creative not just anonymous elements in a repetitive process.

Money will no longer be a prime motivator. Research shows more people want to leave a legacy and make a difference rather than simply be rich. If being rich is to be like Philip Green and Alan Sugar, forget it. Neither are appealing role models for 2020.

What sort of ways do we want to communicate with each other?

Has social media been the biggest tool for advancement in the 21st century?

It’s made the cost of entry into a new business low. It’s brought people together. It’s (theoretically) made us more efficient. It’s helped create friendship groups and been a tool for raising money for good causes.

It’s also a huge waste of time.

Increasingly young people come off Facebook, Instagram and Twitter because social media’s taking more from their lives than giving to their lives. 

I suspect we might see a revival in good writing paper. Could the letter have a renaissance? Not “snail mail”, as it was described by geeks, so much as “great mail”.  A crossover product which reintroduces handwriting is the Moleskine Smart Paper Tablet and Pen Set which allows you to share doodles and notes by e-mail but without the character-reducing format of ordinary type; just in your own characterful hand.

I believe social media has peaked. Face-to-Face is more rewarding than Facebook. The issue that tech has is explosive growth followed by a downside of fast decline where user migration becomes pandemic.  Witness My Space. Witness Fortnite.

What will success look like and when?

Success is going to look different that’s for sure.

For ages the Treasury has been lamenting our appalling productivity in the UK. Yet does it really matter? Are we measuring the right things? Are targets and KPIs in the NHS or other public services appropriate?

Increasingly the World Happiness Index is seen as more important. If we are valued and enjoy what we do we’ll be more productive. Britain comes 15th out of 156 countries in their 2019 league table. Finland comes top.

15th isn’t bad; it’s ahead of Germany, France, Japan and the USA. Britain is good at putting itself down.  But it has plenty to be proud of like the best Universities, our record in the creative industries, in the financial sector, a non-stop inventive success story, having the world’s number one city, producing the world’s leading film and theatre actors, writers and technicians. And lots more.

We have success now. We have the talent to do more.

What real success in the future will be is in feeling more united (more Team GB),  in lifting living standards (for everyone), in being a magnet for global talent and in creating a race of creators and optimists.

2020. Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow….there’s plenty to look forward to.

“It’ll be better than before
Yesterday’s gone, yesterday’s gone”

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