Archive for May, 2012

God save the Queen

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

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In 1977 a boat  left Charing Cross pier to head down the River Thames.  On the boat the Sex Pistols and invited guests.  Later, as the boat passed the Houses of Parliament, the band played Anarchy in the UK  as loudly as they could.  Shortly afterwards the police boats moved in and started arresting people.

Some call this “Situationism”.  Exploiting the public mood and zeitgeist to capture attention and frankly to sell stuff.    According to Jon Savage writing earlier this month in the Guardian it was a good party.  It was also quite a pr stunt. 

We wouldn’t want anything to disturb the Queen’s celebration this week (or any of the other great summer events) obviously, or anything illegal, but it will be interesting to see if there are any brands or bands out there that can exploit “situationism” in a way that lands them on the zeitgeist map this summer.  And perhaps still gets them talked about 25 years later.

Hello Stevie

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

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This is not a blog about greeting Stevie Gladdis, our well known joint head of Challenge and Innovation.  Instead a welcome to Stevie, the start up that turns your social network feeds into “beautiful television experience”.  Or in other words flipboard for telly.

As Jem Lloyd Williams remarked to me, whether the experience is “beautiful” or not may depend on your network of friends.  As the possibility now exists of staying in touch with anyone you have ever met (even casually because it is of course so much easier to follow or friend than actually to meet up in person and befriend), the need to edit your network will become greater.  Especially if you are to rely on them to curate your TV experience for you .

Facebook and Twitter deliver a very human experience of staying in touch with people in your community.  This was how most human’s lived until the second half of the twentieth century which is one of the reasons it seems so natural. 

Of course not everyone stayed in the town or village where they grew up.  Throughout human civilisation people have migrated to new environments where they hope to start afresh.  Sometimes you have to break with the past, to start again in a new place – you either will never have seen or have long forgotten  Mary Tyler Moore  “You just might make it after all ” but it sums this up wonderfully.   It’s the exact opposite of Cheers (probably also long forgotten) but sometimes you want to go where nobody knows your name .  Both of these programmes will feature on my curated TV, together with Ted’s more recent and very funny show Bored to Death.

Perhaps the next phase of social media will include some emigration.  Moving to a new social networking site would be like moving to a new city.  You’d take some friends with you perhaps but perhaps you’d reinvent yourself socially too.  Zurker  invitations are floating around teenagers in NW London.  Part of the appeal is of course the share ownership.  But part of the appeal is the ability to start again without having to unfriend (defriend) anyone.

NFI again

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

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May 2012 and once again I am not invited to Google Zeitgeist conference.  How on earth am I to stay on top of what the zeitgeist actually is without 3 days in May rubbing shoulders with world leaders and media CEOs?  Oh I know, its OK, I can ask an iphone 4S Siri.  

Me: “What is the Zeitgeist ?”

Siri: “An album by the Smashing Pumpkins” 

Alternatively I can Google the question of course.  Luckily this week Google Search became 1000 times smarter – which is just as well because, just like you, I was beginning to think “This search business is a bit dumb, I wish it would keep up“. 

Mind you, does it have to be 1000 times smarter? It was pretty smart already. Twice as smart would have been impressive. 1000 time smarter  might be overkill – like a torch with the power of a million candles.

Still, it’s just more evidence of how ahead of the game Google really is.

And a feature in the Times by Chris Ayres this week showed how lovely their management approach is too. 

It profiled Chade-Meng Tan, one of Google’s earliest engineers who is now their head of personal growth and “Jolly Good Fellow” at the organisation

As such he gets to go and speak at TED and to meet all the most important visitors to Google’s HQ (ie world leaders).  He may be speaking at Zeitgeist this year, I actually don’t know because I am not invited (again, did I mention that before), but if he is please do make a point of meeting him if you are going.

In the Times Chade-Meng Tan talked about a friend of his who had broken with the traditional treadmill of career promotion and moved to working a 4 day week because he wanted to prioritise his personal health : “to look after himself first”.  As a result he was able to master his temper which had hampered his professional prospects and therefore achieved a promotion that had escaped him previously. 

This really does strike a refreshing note.  Too much leadership training out there seems to be very focussed on the Jack Welch school of management which focuses on pressurising employees to outperform each other.  Indeed he was nicknamed Neutron Jack in the early 80s for his propensity to eliminate employees while leaving buildings intact.  

Whilst clearly efficiency is crucial to business success humanity, putting people first, makes the real difference to getting the best out of employees.

When asked what made service in Pret a Manger so brilliant Julian Metcalfe claimed that he simply employed happy people.  Entrepreneur Tony Hsieh  places huge priority too on company culture.  This culture includes the mandate to “do more with less” ie efficiency, but also to “be humble”.  After candidates for a job at Zappos are delivered from the airport to HQ to be interviewed the management ask the shuttle bus driver about how they behaved on the bus as part of the selection process.

So what will I be doing when not at Zeitgeist?  I hope to spend time instead humbly spreading some happiness and inspiration at 124 Theobalds Road.  (Actually in the interest of telling the truth I don’t always spread happiness all the time).   Speaking of telling the truth – have you seen my book on the subject ?

England is West Brom (not Chelsea)

Thursday, May 10th, 2012


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Imagine that you are about to make a critical senior appointment for your company.  In fact an appointment that is widely regarded as the most crucial and high profile in the industry.  Getting the right man (or woman) for the job is essential to your immediate future success.  You consult your colleagues, you perhaps speak to some head hunters about who is out there.  Then you interview only one candidate and immediately appoint him. 

Could you do that ?  I don’t think I could.  Even if I knew exactly who I wanted for the job, and in our industry it is easy to think that you know or know of all the top people, you would want to bring in more than just one person to talk to.  I also think I would want some people who were left of field to interview if only to endorse my decision.

Yet this was the stunning process for the role of England Manager.  One interview, one job offer.  As far as I know, no back up plan.

Hodgson’s appointment underwhelmed the football pundits of the nation. The nation, against all objective evidence to the contrary, thinks of the England team as a complete set of world beating footballers who are just one world beating football manager short of winning the European Championship.  Roy Hodgson isn’t known for this. His reputation is built on taking mid table teams to the height of their potential (Switzerland, Fulham).

My resident football expert thinks that this makes him an interesting appointment.  He pundits that if we look at the England team with our heads and not our hearts they are more like a “mid table” team that needs a manager who can make them over achieve against technically better teams (Spain, Germany, Holland).

It has long been my observation that we talk about England’s performance in international competitions with a surprising degree of shocked disappointment when once again they don’t do that well.  We come up with theories of (excuses for) why this has happened (including bounce of ball, the other team’s dirty play, the weather, the presence (or absence) of wives and girlfriends and missing goal line technology). 

This is also what can happen when your team fail to win a pitch.  The brief was rubbish, the client wasn’t listening, the support team let you down, the IT failed, the biscuits were stale. 

This hedonistic editing gets you nowhere.  Certainly it makes you feel better about what has happened.  It allows your bruised ego to find comfort.  It does not put you in a position to have a better chance of winning the next pitch.  Truth hurts, but truth is necessary for progress.

If you don’t want to see the plug for my book, look away now….

For more about truth in business, including Alex Ferguson’s Wayne Rooney Truth Turning Point  my new book Tell the Truth is available now