Monday, 31 January 2022


There’s been a poem tumbling around in my head through the period of lockdowns and Covid disruption. It’s called The Listeners and it was written by Walter De La Mare. It’s a haunting story of non-communication. It’s the lament – it occurred to me - of an Amazon delivery man. Most of all, though, it captures the perplexed feeling of being stood up.


‘Is there anybody there?’ said the Traveller,   

   Knocking on the moonlit door;

And his horse in the silence champed the grasses   

   Of the forest’s ferny floor:

And a bird flew up out of the turret,   

   Above the Traveller’s head:

And he smote upon the door again a second time;   

   ‘Is there anybody there?’ he said.

But no one descended to the Traveller;   

   No head from the leaf-fringed sill

Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,   

   Where he stood perplexed and still.’


The Listeners on Behance


Throughout these past, quiet months we seem to some extent to have lost the art of communication but, particularly, of listening – not just listening but eavesdropping too – in empty rooms it just isn’t possible. The lifting of restrictions can change this, but we also need to relearn how to do it. As I did last week.


All were Zoom calls.  The first was on a train, a man arguing with an HR Consultancy or some such, getting angry and then being apparently being calmed down and smiling. It was like listening to a fight that ended up kissy-kissy. 

Attention, freeloaders: That coffee shop is not your office |

The second was in a café and Mr-I’m-In-Charge was attending a meeting but not doing so attentively, gloomily munching toast and throwing in lines like “well, there’s only one answer to that isn’t there?” I concluded he was not as in charge as he’d thought. The third one was on a train from East Croydon when I heard the following: “what we need is a competency framework” What is that? It sounds important. What followed in quick succession was a further need for a “resilience model” and “a check on the number of modules on the data link.”

Zoom Basics - EscapeWire Solutions

What did I learn? That Zoom calls seem not to bring the best out of human beings or that I’m rather out of touch. I recalled years ago having one of those informal, exploratory chats with a company Chairman sounding me out about a possible senior role in his company. I found myself as perplexed as that traveller because after he said “the current synergy syndrome” I realised that I was listening to a foreign language of which I had a very shaky command. 

Duckquaponics: How to Use Duck Manure Water in Your Garden

I went for a long walk with my wife on Saturday through woodland and by lakes. Being a much better walker than me I encouraged her to march on as I sat on a bench and listened to the argument some ducks were having as they gathered boisterously, waddling to some kind of party (political ducks!) This was interrupted by five Canada Geese flying in formation who  joined the party landing in the water with a tremendous honking. The sound of waterfalls in the background was soothing yet insistent. It was all wonderfully simple. How seldom I thought do we all really listen and let nature’s sounds calm us. Eavesdropping on nature surely beats doing it to “businessmen”.

Image Search

Listening is one of the arts lost over the past two years. We have become deaf to all but the monotone of the news. Since last week I’ve been listening to the chatter of children, the barking of excited dogs and the rowdy, end-of-the-pier rude shrieking of the seagulls.

I’ve become a listener again. 

Monday, 24 January 2022


There’s increasing discussion about management style. In the past there was an arm-wrestling aggression and bullying in management depicted still in the “The Apprentice”. It seems to bring out the worst in everyone. It gets good ratings (over 4.5 million watch it) but it’s a bad advertisement for management.

How wealthy is Lord Alan Sugar?


In football, tough managers like Sir Alex Ferguson and now Pep Guardiola and Jűrgen Klopp are admired. Many want disciplinarians controlling the prima-donna footballers earning £20,000,000 a year. 

But it depends on the footballer whether it works. Some will respond to praise and encouragement, others to putdowns.  Contrast the tough, “call me Boss, son” approach with that of Gareth Southgate, England Manager, and Graham Potter, the Brighton Manager. Both gentler people, good at getting the best out of their players.

Some managers seem genial until you work for them. Sir John Hegarty – the founder of advertising agency BBH - always seems relaxed and charming but some of those who worked for him said he was unreasonably demanding.

Advertising legend Sir John Hegarty to be star turn at WSTA conference -  Harpers Wine & Spirit Trade News

Jeff Bezos – the spectacularly successful founder of Amazon – is allegedly a scornful and hard taskmaster with put-downs like “Are you lazy or just incompetent?”  The results of his company speak highly for this approach.  But could it be out of date? By the same token Steve Jobs was very successful but with little to applaud in the way he treated people. His successor Tim Cook who has a quieter more democratic style of management has lifted Apple to entirely new levels.

Text, whiteboard

Description automatically generated

Being a bully is completely unacceptable nowadays, yet in politics bullying has apparently become endemic. The Tory Whips Office has become increasingly intimidatory; politics is a nasty business. Ask the Democrat, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the U.S. representative for New York's 14th congressional district. She was recently reviled with shocking language by a Republican politician. 

A person in front of a flag

Description automatically generated with medium confidence

Bullying in business has negative effects. Talent can be squashed by snide dismissiveness. We can all recall moments when self-confidence and creativity flowed away like water out of a bath.

Management of people is a real skill too few people think about or learn. It’s about getting the best out of others and there isn’t a simple formula for that because few managers and few employees are the same. But when we read about the poor levels of productivity in the UK blame poor management of people. It’s not easy but great managers are usually great controllers of results, of numbers and of which levers to pull to achieve desired outcomes. 

It's interesting that sometimes it needs a hands-off approach when management needs to stop being in charge and to start to behave like absentee managers. One of the best managers in my life just let me get on with it. I wonder if the companies I know that did so well during the various Covid lockdowns benefitted from people being left alone to do their work rather than having someone breathing down their neck and putting them on some time consuming training programme. 

I also wonder if the restrictions of the past two years may not have changed our expectations of and our need for great management. What we need is a mixture of inspiration, integrity, enthusiasm, and energy.  Most of all we need to believe in and trust our managers. Abraham Lincoln said something interesting about what making a person a manager can do to them. 

His observations are wise and raise the question that we should consider about all managers. Their effectiveness may seem great but what of their influence in the longer term. What of their character?

Quotes about Good To Great (774 quotes)

Monday, 17 January 2022


OK, I’ve changed my mind. Now the time’s right for some excitement. A surprise. A bit of spontaneity. Perhaps a bit of danger. In cricket that series in Australia sums up how most of us feel: lethargic, disengaged, disappointing. Depressingly the effect of nearly two years of Covid has been to make many of us rather dull. 

A picture containing sky, outdoor, aircraft, plane

Description automatically generated

I had underestimated the importance and the effect of travel and adventure. I realised I was missing the frisson of excitement of being in an airport, the anticipation of airline food (isn’t that crazy when that food is generally dreadful?) and the thrill of taking off. I understood I had aged wearily and become a housebound Victor Meldrew (that geriatric misery of an antihero from a bygone BBC TV series.)

Yet the world is providing us with plenty of excitement and drama. At home we have the impending defenestration of a Prime Minister in the pantomime of British politics (“behind you Boris”.) The sort of thing you’d expect in Patagonia or Ecuador not the UK.  In France an election in April which Macron is determined to win. When he called our own Prime Minister “a clown” he showed the sort of restraint and insight a President needs. 

A person in a suit and tie talking to another person in a suit

Description automatically generated with low confidence

In America the mid-terms are impending and as far as the world is concerned the contest will be dramatic and potentially tragic. It’s something we can’t keep our eyes off. In Australia, or as someone described it “the biggest prison in the world,” the politicians are playing their own version of tennis with Novak Djokovic or Mr Forgetful as he’s also known. 

Sweep around and in China there’s incredulity at the news about a lady of theirs. MI5 sent out an alert and picture of the woman named Christine Lee on Thursday alleging she was "involved in political interference activities" in the United Kingdom on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party. Barry Gardner, a Labour Shadow Minister, was allegedly paid £400,000 by Ms Lee over the past years. A spy in plain sight…bizarre. 

Minister promises inquiry into Chinese 'agent' with links to Labour MP |  News | The Times

We are spectators of non-stop high drama and life changing events. But it’s making us even more stressed and depressed. 

Yet on Saturday I read about a 19-year-old who’s just broken the record for being the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe. Her name is Zara Rutherford, she took 5 months to do it and she accomplished it in a Microlight. What an adventure. What enterprise. How refreshing.

This Teenager is Aiming to Be The Youngest Woman to Circle the Globe Solo -  The New York Times

We have been fed a diet of rules, restrictions, health scares and statistics which has turned many of us into scaredy cats and bores. What a catastrophic cocktail. I met a bright young person who lives nearby waiting to cross the road on Saturday. We talked about how strange the world was. She told me she was supposed to be going to a local comedy club but that she’d probably give it a miss - “too many people crammed together laughing” she explained. I told her to go. I wouldn’t have done that two weeks ago.  

It's time to change the way we behave and look at things in a variety of ways. We need to:

  • Get busy

  • Get talking on the phone to several friends or better still face to face

  • Go to one event next week – gallery, cinema, theatre

  • Go for a long walk

  • Go out to a restaurant

28,545 Busy Restaurant Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images - iStock

And then plan a series of “adventures” like going to places you’ve never been before.

Check your adrenalin levels, happiness index and sense of energy. Excitement and the thrill of the unknown are needed. Kerpow!!!

Monday, 10 January 2022


Written in 2009 Edward De Bono’s book is based on the idea that most of our everyday decision-making tends to be confrontational. Whether in large meetings, one-to-one or even in our own heads, opposite viewpoints are angrily pitted against each other.

I Am Right, You Are Wrong By Edward de Bono


Ultimately contestants seem to think there must be a winner and a loser. The title of the book has always appealed to me in describing our adversarial world. Better still, though, is Groucho Marx in Horse Feathers when he sang:

“Your proposition may be good

But let’s have one thing understood

Whatever it is I’m against it.”

Republican Convention: Angry Tone Defies the Norm | Time

In America we currently see the rancorous opposition of Republican and Democrat so livid that some talk about the possibility of Civil War. Or in the Ukraine where Putin is in in a stand-off that could lead to war between Russia and NATO. Or in Taiwan, a smouldering touch paper with China. Or the vaccine passport supporters versus the anti-vaxxers.  Sheer naked rage is demonstrated there as Novak Djokovic (serial winner of the Australian Open Tennis Tournament) is held in detention in an apparently decrepit, immigrant hotel in Melbourne because the Australian Government believe he’s breached entry rules into their heavily locked-down country. His father in Serbia said what was happening to Novak resembles, no less, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Novak Djokovic to suffer rankings misery if catastrophic Australian Open  drama continues | Tennis | Sport |

When it comes to Premier Football, fans believe blood is thicker than water and vaccination is less important than football skill. One in six of Premier League footballers aren’t vaccinated apparently. As one fan might have put it:

“He’s an anti-vaxxer…but he’s our anti-vaxxer”

So, what the hell’s gone wrong?                                                                                                                   

Well, nothing much that hasn’t existed before. The problem is us. Human beings. Abrasive, combative and ambitious. But one thing has changed. Technology. This enables us to be more of everything and faster. And “more of” includes being nastier to others.

Historically when the going gets tough we hunker down and become protective of what we have. And so, we’re all becoming more nationalistic and tribal. We are building walls not opening doors.

But the absence of hope is right at the centre of many problems. Last year there were an estimated 70 million refugees fleeing from hopeless war-torn homes heading towards wealthy countries and hope. 

Federal Authorities Unveil New Strike Force to Fight Gun Trafficking in  Chicago, 4 Other Cities – NBC Chicago


In Chicago where there are high levels of poverty, fatalities from gunfights in 2021 were nearly 800. Where there’s no credible prospect of things getting better people fight.


It would be nice to think we were all kind and reasonable. But we aren’t. Not only that but the ability to see things from all points of view is disappearing. If I don’t like what you say I can cancel or ghost you. In the last century and further back if we couldn’t agree with each other, we debated or fought a war or a duel. 

It’s 2022. We thought that diplomacy would work. We thought the age of the gun or knife was past. We were deluded. 

Given this why on earth should I remain hopeful?

Because humanity can be smart.  We can change, we can be leaders, we can listen better. It might be difficult listening to extreme Republican Americans, anti- vaxxers, people who are racist, misogynistic or whatever “-ism” they may have. But we shall never understand why so many people support what they say and believe unless we listen. 

None of us is wholly right or wholly wrong. But so long as we think that we are right, and they are wrong we are doomed to a future where rapprochement is impossible, and violence becomes inevitable.

Monday, 3 January 2022


It’s not unusual to spend this strange time between Christmas and New Year reflecting and resolving to do better. It’s been variously called Chrimbo Limbo, Food Week and, more darkly, the Void. I think it’s a time to reset our world and lift ourselves up.

Overeating? Try Limiting Your Food Choices

We need to have things to look forward to. Diaries last year found themselves emptied of appointments and events. HOGO (the hassle of going out) took over. We need to plan for exciting things to do in 2022.

We need to look up not down and we need to learn more…to look up stuff…refresh our tired brains.

But finally look out. We are probably going to be Covid cursed for a while yet. This can’t make us become germophobic hermits. We need to be energetic not supine. But we also need to watch out and avoid infection especially those who like me, and many great wines, are somewhat aged. Avoid the fearless and foolish and parties (even political parties? Yes, obviously those.) 

Top 5 Cringeworthy Wedding Moments & How To Avoid Them | Dad dancing,  Wedding moments, In this moment

But do not be frightened. Covid is not the Back Death, but it will surely keep on reappearing with new variants. We must cope because we have lives to live. So, let’s live them.

Some thoughts looking forward.

There’s never been a better time to concentrate, meaning to stop diluting our energies and talent. Let’s reduce that sauce that makes whatever we do special. Having a diverse portfolio of brands or activities is exhausting so start to get rid of the less rewarding ones. For my part the first month of my year is going to be devoted to tidying up and stopping unnecessary activity. This is not a time to diversify; it’s a time to focus. It’s a time to do less better.

Note to self, do less, better. Hi, my name is Tom and I'm a yes-oholic… |  by tom britton | Startup Grind | Medium

Mindfulness remains in vogue. When done or taught well it’s proved to be enormously beneficial but applied lazily to daily life it seems distracting and more like mindlessness. Increasingly I find the need to simplify. If we had less on our minds and were able to relax better, we might be happier and we’d be more useful.

When did you last laugh, really laugh? 

Does laughter hold the key to human consciousness? | Aeon Essays

Maureen Lipman, Ricky Gervais, Billy Connolly and others have been recently lamenting the death of comedy. What utter tosh. However restrictive the greater social awareness we may seem to have through BLM, Women’s Rights, LBGT and what is called the woke philosophy, comedy will always thrive but will generally steer clear of some of the less funny areas. Beware comedians who think rape, cruelty or racism is funny. But also avoid puritans. Life’s too short. Interestingly the OED defines the original meaning of “woke” thus: -

“well-informed, up-to-date”

Yes, that made me think too. It’s since been appropriated by puritan youth to describe their attachment to various causes.

On a day-to-day basis I’ve come to realise that almost every initiative has unintended consequences. Working from home has obvious benefits, less time wasted on commuting, safer in avoiding human contact and a greater focus on the tasks that need doing. But it also subtracts social intercourse from our daily lives. We are losing the abrasive benefits of discourse. Those ghastly meetings around a table which we now mostly avoid (but a meeting on Zoom is not the same thing at all) orientated us even as we resisted groupthink. They allowed us to absorb what all our colleagues felt as well as thought. Zoom and Teams are  pretty much without feeling.

Priorities Committee Statements - Portsmouth CCG

If we do nothing else this year, we all need to talk more, listen better, meet more,  become sociable and less remote. Friendships and communal interaction suffered in 2020 and 2021. We need to bring hugs and laughter back into our lives. And one other thing. We need to be positive. Just start everyday saying “this is going to be a good one”. Make lists of things to do and do them. Nothing will make you feel better than actually getting things done.

The world around us is becoming more dangerous, more polarised, more bad tempered and less predictable. Now is not the time to be a soothsayer; all the analysts and futurologists are floundering. However, we do need to understand the tensions which will shape our world.

We need clever people, diplomats, great managers, calm minds, and long-term thinkers. Issues that will impact on us are going to be technological advances especially in Artificial Intelligence, the rich/poor divide, the growing number of old people who are staying alert and are getting more involved, pollution and climate change and the stress of declining national importance (tough for the USA, UK, and EU all of whom are losing share in this changing world.)

What an adventure we face. One like this:-

“Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming – WOW – What a Ride!” (Hunter S. Thompson)

Don’t be angry, don’t be frightened but do think and do stay involved. Maybe I’ve been wrong about social media which I’ve sometimes dismissed rather lightly because more of us can have our say and share our thoughts than ever before. Let’s just be thoughtful, good natured and courteous when we do so. That’s going to become the new “woke” way of doing things.

In 2022 I’m going to reclaim that word because it’s time we all woke up.