Monday, 29 June 2020


Last week I advised people how to restart their lives.  I think it hit the mark although it had a sense of “pull yourself together” about it. Sorry. 

We live under a mile from the sea and have been there once in 14 weeks. I’ve not lost my spirit of enterprise but the risks involved in being in one of the most popular venues for the heavy-drinking, young released from their incarceration in the grey, coronavirus-ridden suburbs of London, are too great. The pleasure I get from the Brighton seafront just isn’t enough. It’s not exactly Nice after all.

Time to challenge almost everything?

Let’s start with the tricky business of managing people. Government have shown they’re inept, astonishingly so. Switching from defining red lines – “stay at home” to pink lines “stay alert” to no lines at all is like removing all speed limits. If you’ve travelled on a German autobahn you’ll recall the terror of being driven at 260k kph by someone with one hand on the wheel and the other holding a mobile phone and having an argument. All round the world there are spikes in virus transmission because of the removal of speed limits and thus social distancing. Getting the economy going did not mean allowing crowds to assemble and become hooligans. 

Next, as though it has suddenly taken them by surprise the Italians have realised there are over 450,000 Airbnb listings in their country (up from 52 just over 10 years ago).  We give away what we have for a bit of cash and then regret it.  Cruise ships account for only 3% of the Venetian economy ($450 million) and have done more damage to the city than anyone can calculate although it’s estimated the pollution of the yearly 600 cruise ships docking creates the same as 8 ½ million cars.  We should challenge the easy, cheap access to historic sites and the erosion to them it creates.  Airbnb was a brilliant concept as were cruise ships but can they make sense post-coronavirus?

Silicon Valley is an easy target.  But if it’s true Apple impeded the UK’s “test and trace” plan – flaky though that might have been – then it’s what I’d expect.  Zuckerberg, Dorsey, Bezos, Cook etc. believe they’re more important than any government.  Strange to hear Sir Nick Clegg on the BBC justifying Facebook’s behaviour.  A rumoured $7 million package is all it took to get him to join them. 

Allegedly Bernard Shaw asked a woman if she’s sleep with him for a considerable sum of money. She blushingly said she would.  He then asked: ‘How about for a pound?’  The exchange that followed was like this:

She: 'What kind of woman do you think I am?'
He:   'We’ve already established that. Now we’re just haggling over the price.'

Challenge why people do what they do. The price is too often the key.

It’s time to challenge everything.

As children know ‘why?' is the most potent and infuriating word there is.

Monday, 22 June 2020


As things get back to that normal people talk, and have been dreaming about they’ll be shocked to find their business is going or has gone bust or if they’re in employment that they’ve been made redundant. It’s nice to have a pint again, even if it’s in the street in the drizzle. But with as many as 4 million unemployed, 30% of small businesses failing, over 90% of which were trading at or above forecast pre-coronavirus, drastic measures need to be taken.

Think about starting your own business. If you lose your job or your business what will you do instead?

1. Think small - It’s no time to be grandiose. Think hard. Stick to what you are good at. Design something that you can do well and quickly.

2. Focus on people you know and build a relationship grid - Never cold call. Waste of time. Short cut to despair. List everyone you know whom you rate and like and you think rates and likes you. Use LinkedIn to find who they know; build a big map of potential supporters.

3.Relearn the forgotten art of conversation and debate - Too much PowerPoint. Not enough thoughtful talking.

4.Avoid the chit-chat of social media - The bane of business. Avoid it. All the smart people I know are talking 1X1 not on time-wasting-messaging.

5. Avoid politics or dissent; it has no place in business - You may hate Trump, Boris or wokeness.  Leave them out of your mind …focus on your service  or product and its immediate context.

6.Write clearly, simply and with joy (or get someone to help you) - Hilary Mantel and Philip Pullman prove the power of the word. Write a lot. Find your own clear, simple persuasive voice.

7. Avoid exceptionalism - Do not try to design from scratch when modification may work as well. The Test and Trace App fiasco should be a warning to all.

8. Have something to sell people want and is worth talking about. - Do not waste time by being abstruse. Better to be very good at something than trying to be unique. Be thrilled talking about what you do.

9. Be generous to others -  Don’t deride competition. Be nice.  It’s easy to be a killer or to want to be a Master of the Universe but be nice if you can. Good humour and good manners work well. Customer service is key.

10. Look for opportunities - Get your curiosity working all day, every day and look for better ways of creating something. Be an optimist.

There are no easy answers in life but with the right frame of mind you can overcome depression, recession and apparent disaster. And if at first you don’t succeed be smart enough to pivot and start again. The great thing about self-starting is you are free of office politics and are your own boss. Better by far to be a happy greengrocer than a miserable salaried person.

This book may help.

Monday, 15 June 2020


In our garden. On our plants. That’s where. Constantly. Last Thursday on my thriving Pulmonaria - all over its glorious leaves. A spectacularly loose bowel movement. Until recently I have never been ailurophobic (fear and loathing of cats). In my life I’ve had a total of 13 cats the most outstanding of which was a long-haired tabby imaginatively named Pussy.  But I have recently become a cat loather as I watch them slink with an unmistakable pre-lavatorial gait towards our recently stocked garden.

Enter technology. I have just purchased two waterproof, high-power, ultrasonic-lazer-light- flashing cat-repellers. This adds to the cat deterrent pepper-powder.

I confess I’ve become obsessed with cats, with toxoplasmosis a particularly nasty feline-feces disease that’s more frightening than Covid 19. It’s a feline trademark virus that will give you headaches, confusion, poor coordination, lung problems that may resemble pneumonia and blurred vision. Hang on. I have most of those already.

Cats aside, aren’t we all becoming a bit obsessed? Since the end of March we’ve been locked-down, switched-off and living performers of Groundhog Day, the film where every day is the same and you can’t get away. 

Most of my life I’ve been regarded as being energetic, spirited and upbeat. I’ve espoused the cause of banishing negative thoughts. I’ve even seen some positives coming from the pandemic – a growing support and understanding of climate-change, an improving sense of community, a scepticism about buying solely on price, a burgeoning support for local rather than global and, of course, an intensifying hatred of cats – did you know they kill 27,000,000 birds a year? Bastards.

But being upbeat is a pose hard to maintain when we watch a collision of racism, right wing extremism, incompetence in government – yes crude incompetence is always depressing – and a growing sense of nations simply growing apart, the EU and America collapsing politically and the currently widening divide of rich and poor. As I write this I hear the roar of crowds of 10,000 in Brighton affirming their support for the importance of black lives. 

Black lives matter. So do all lives. Because people matter. Love of mankind matters. In the hysteria of crowds this somehow gets obscured. Protest marches and mass rallies fill me with despair. I thought we’d solved a few issues but the scabs of healing wounds are being scratched off again.

Back to upbeat. 
Someone said what should we do? Create a movement I said (no mass rallies) whose mission is “to think the unthinkable and the unthought-of and recreate your business and your life”. They thought this rather ambitious but if we don’t try this this really will remain Groundhog Day.

I actually think we can do it – that we have no choices with a 20% decline in GDP. Mass unemployment and company failures will follow but new, brighter businesses can be created. Think Silicon Valley, think advertising in the 1970s, think about the future not the past.

And do not get a cat.

Monday, 8 June 2020


In common with many I’ve led my life thinking growth and scale was good. Who, I used to think,  wouldn’t want to be CEO of BA, Tesco or better still Boeing? 

Over the past few years, and especially the past few months, this issue has been on my mind. I noticed the EU Aviation Body published a list of high and low risk airports. Predictably,  Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Glasgow and Manchester get the thumbs down. Most of us wouldn’t  have thought of flying from Bournemouth , Southampton, Southend or Bristol which are categorised as low risk but low stress too. Easy parking. Uncrowded. Smaller and better. 

I predict more airlines will avoid the turmoil of the giant traffic jams, of looking for extra runways and pay-outs and instead seek out slots in the low risk airports devoid of luxury shopping malls and crowds.
And who needs super Jumbo jets. After Covid 19 (with Covid 20 and 21 to come in due course) all we know about confining crowds in monster cruise ships and huge planes should make us look at travel differently and think smaller.

And shopping. Where department stores as theatres of excitement will continue to delight but bad ones will rightly die. Hurray for Harrods, Selfridges , Jarrold and Fortnum and Mason. Boo to Debenhams, House of Fraser and Primark. And big applause to the currently struggling-to-breathe let alone survive small independents in the stroll-and-wonder congregations of small shops in the Brighton North Laine, the Shambles in Tunbridge Wells and the Rows in Chester. Small, specialist and exciting is a good starting point for the future.

Advice? McKinsey, Deloitte, Bain, PWC, WPP? They are full of very clever, big-thinking, expensive people. But in our current world they seem a bit like the ancient Persians or Egyptians. Perhaps in the future we’ll look back at them and their pyramids of HQs and wonder what that was all about.  Bigger. Was that what it was about?

Or have we all been caught out by this moment in history to question virtually everything and start to apply principles of common sense not just private equity visions or Warren Buffet’s wisdom - or is it wisdom?

I enjoyed the story in the Times about face masks. Personally I hate them. They make me feel queasy and my glasses steam up. However if they help reduce infection we should probably use them. But, say the sceptics, they haven’t been tested properly in a big matched sample so how we can use data to establish their worth or worthlessness?  To which the answer is – what about parachutes? Did they ever test parachutes versus placebo parachutes? I’m still laughing about that.

This is not about size or growth alone. It’s about values, quality and great experiences. It is not about crowds – sorry O2 it is not about you.

Will we have the courage to face up to thinking smaller being a solution? I hope so. The alternative is monstrous.

Monday, 1 June 2020


I have been working on and thinking a lot about managing risk over the past week. I recall the wonderfully acerbic H.L. Mencken‘s words:

“the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.”

Life is risky. If we try to eliminate all risk we’ll stay in bed. Don’t drive – 27,000 die or are seriously injured every year on the roads.

Don’t go in the kitchen – fires, fingers sliced off, slipping on spilt liquid – the place is a death trap. Don’t play football – as many as one in five suffer a serious injury sometime. Don’t be born – 600,000 people die in the UK every year.

To be alive is to be at constant risk. Yet our human strategy has always been to manage risk not to avoid it. If there were no risktakers there’d be no new products, new companies or discoveries. It’s the entrepreneurial spirit that makes being a human so worthwhile . Yet…back to Mencken… this global pandemic globally reflected his cynical observation.

A culture of risk aversion, almost comic indecisiveness and panic interviewing of anyone who has the willingness to appear on radio or TV and say something different especially attacking the government (not that they deserve any praise, just a bit less mindless kicking).

OK smartarse so what would you do?

Mostly not pretend there was one foolproof plan (how can there be when no one really understands this virus?) nor would I let clever but uncertain experts divert me from one key strategy.
We have got to get the economy moving much faster. To spend so much money just putting it into hibernation has been perverse.

OK how?

One thing I’d do is abandon that two metre rule. The WHO recommend one metre and only two countries advocate two metres. The UK and Spain (the 4th and 5th worst performers in terms of deaths per million). So that didn’t work too well. Current risk aversion would suggest we extended not reduced it.

If instead we reduced it by 36 inches to one metre we could open pubs, restaurants and the tourist economy might start purring into life. Is it a risk? Of course it is. It’s a manageable risk and one we should take.

Unless the towns come back to life it’s hard to start the rest of the economy. And if they do revive a strategy of awakening a dozy, just-had-a-lovely sabbatical workforce is easier to achieve.
The fear and alarm about Covid19 needs to be cooled and proportionate – here in Brighton the incidence has been low. The hospitals have not been and are not overrun. We have to balance risk and reward.

I am not advocating recklessness but we cannot nor should we try to exclude all risk. If we do we shall give up our humanity, our economy and our children’s future.