Archive for January, 2014

Many ways to win

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

Sir Ben Ainslie, sailing supremo and Olympic medal winner – the most successful sailor in Olympic history – was quizzed on Desert Island Discs this weekend about his famous battle with Brazilian sailor Robert Scheidt in 2000.  His tactics at the time caused condemnation including from that other sporting knight legend Roger Bannister who called his behaviour “unsporting” and “not quite British”.  Ainslie’s tactic was to block the hitherto unbeaten Scheidt by keeping him at bay with “cat and mouse” tactics during the race rather than by trying to win himself.


The tactics in this Olympic cycle sprint were pointed out to me by Rory Sutherland.  Here the job is to keep your powder dry until the last stretch. It is astonishing to watch as the commentator points out the fastest cycle event in the world is “as much a staring contest as a bike race”.


In both cases there’s an element of screwing with the competition rather than giving it your all to get on top.  Ainslie said during the weekend’s interview that as Scheidt had been unbeaten, that everyone thought that he was unbeatable.  He didn’t break the rules of the race.  Some people thought that he broke the spirit of the competition.  Did the ends justify the means ?


I’m not an athlete in any way shape or form.  I have previously chronicled that the height of my sporting prowess was one term in the b team at netball at school.  And I did come second in the egg and spoon race once.  But I’ve participated in quite a lot of new business pitches since I joined the industry.  Particularly since working with Stephen Allan, who I was delighted to see in the Sunday Times most influential list this weekend.


So how would blocking tactics work in a new business pitch?  Well, you could put down the competitive agencies and talk about their weaknesses.  This is risky on two fronts.  First, in a pitch with strict time limits, you’re using up valuable time that you could spend either talking about the client’s brand or about your agency’s strengths.  Second, it is a bold agency that ignores the old saying “people in glass houses”.


Could you slow everything down as in the cycling example?  I have heard of pitches that have been delayed because one agency wasn’t prepared to lose resource working on existing clients to focus the talent on the new business front.  The new business prospect client, impressed with this ethic, delayed the whole thing.  In this case, perhaps the agency created an edge.  It communicated what its culture was like and that it was prepared to sacrifice to protect it.




What’s your best interview question ?

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Google are famous for the intensity and rigour of their recruitment process.  It’s not easy to get a job there, and those who have done so are rightly proud of their Google-hood.


With their reputation for use of data, you would expect there to be science behind how this process works.  Well, there is.  Google have acknowledged that their fiendishly difficult interview questions are no predictor of the success of the candidate.  Laszlo Bock, senior vice president of people operations at Google, said in an interview in the NY Times that “we did a study to determine whether anyone at Google is particularly good at hiring. We looked at tens of thousands of interviews, and everyone who had done the interviews and what they scored the candidate, and how that person ultimately performed in their job. We found zero relationship”.


Not very encouraging this is it? Is the truth that a job interview merely determines how good a candidate is at job interviews?  In which case you might as well have some fun with the questions.


How lucky are you and why?

What is your least favourite thing about humanity ?

How does the internet work ?

If you were a box of cereal which one would you be ?


These are all job interview questions, listed in Fast Company Magazine, as part of Glassdoor’s “Oddball” job interview questions.


Asking unusual questions can help you assess a candidate as the predictable questions are too easily scripted.  The classic example being the stock answer to “What’s your greatest fault?”  Standard answer either : “my hatred of getting anything wrong” or “I work too hard”.  Both answers might get you points for claimed diligence.   But neither gets you many points for creativity or inventiveness.


It’s not a technique for hiring an unknown candidate but the best technique I’ve heard about for determining which candidate to promote and how soon relies on no questions at all.  I’m told that one of the large multinational city firms determines a manager’s promotion by what happens when they’re away on holiday.  If the team copes without them, without constantly being in touch, then that person gets promoted.


The best interviewer I know maintains that silence is the best tactic in interviews.  Ask anything, then shut up.  It’s not what the candidate says first that’s revealing.  It’s what they say when you don’t speak.


If I were a box of cereal I’d be oats: authentic, unadulterated and keep going till lunch.






When you can you don’t.

Thursday, January 16th, 2014

This May Mark Zuckerberg is turning 30. The average Facebook user is around 40.  In 1980, before Facebook creator was even a twinkle in his father’s eye, when the average Facebook user was playing happily in the school playground, an obscure academic at the University of Aston in the Midlands, wrote a very prescient book called “The Social Control of Technology”.


In it the author explained what has come to be known as “The Collingridge Dilemma”.  David Collingridge’s insight was that we can successfully regulate technology when it’s relatively unpopular and new.  However at that point we don’t know what the consequences of that technology are, so we don’t know how to regulate them.  By the time those consequences are apparent our ability to regulate is much less, as the technology is now used by many with no controls, and regulation is difficult and unpopular.  He wrote “When change is easy, the need for it cannot be forseen;  when the need for change is apparent, change has become expensive, difficult and time consuming.”


It, of course applies to lots of social media, where the consequences of the lack of regulation have resulted in freedoms we all celebrate, and also behaviours such as cyber bullying and trolling that we surely all deplore.


Regulation of global media by local governments seems unlikely and unfeasible.


The consequences of social aren’t only unforeseen to good citizens however.  The news this month in the Sunday Times that “Facebook posturing” is helping the Mexican police to “nail drug barons” shows how quandaries about information sharing work both ways, we don’t want our own personal information to be accessed by the authorities, but if we accept that it can be perhaps more bad guys get locked up.


The Sunday Times reported that younger members of Mexico’s drug cartels, who have grown up with Facebook, have allegedly posted pictures of stacks of cash and silver and gold plated AK-47 assault rifles captioned “partying and taking care of ourselves”.


A DEA spokesman is quoted as saying that the social media activity helps law enforcement to “join the dots”. “I would not being doing this if I were them, but then nothing surprises me.”


It’s a very personal decision for each of us of course what we choose to share publicly.  Surely we will increasingly all echo the thoughts of that anonymous DEA representative about our personal network as the urge to post, share and tweet, becomes more and more like second nature to us all.


And so Collingride’s Dilemma will evolve from regulating too soon being too early, to regulating at all being redundant as we either take more care over what we share ourselves because the consequences are too painful or we accept everyone shares everything and so is naked in the spotlight all the time.


I’ll take that as a compliment – how to progress in 2014

Thursday, January 9th, 2014

I watched TV for Britain on Christmas Day.  I spent hours sofa bound doing my best to improve my average hours viewed to somewhere near the UK average.


I didn’t manage to watch the all the UK’s biggest shows however.  I missed Strictly (don’t understand it at all) and the Queen.  Non-consolidated ratings showed Mrs Brown’s Boys won the most popular on the night battle and I skipped it, but I did sample Sky’s Crackers (what a treat), Dr Who (incomprehensible), Call the Midwife (maudlin) and Downton Abbey (a return to superb form).


Although my preferences don’t reflect the nations favourites as Mrs B achieved 35% plus share with 9.4m viewers and Dr Who built its audience year on year to 8.3m (I hope they all followed the plot because I didn’t) while Downton achieved a respectable 7th place on the night with 7m.  Downton won the night in my household and it is the inimitable Dowager Duchess whose advice is the basis of this blog, and my recommendation for your success in 2014.


The following exchange between the Duchess (DD) and her friend and critic Isobel Crawley (IC) sums up her attitude to life.  The DD is bemoaning that she must travel to London on the train without her maid. IC offers to assist her with her bags instead as she never has a maid with her when she travels.


DD: “Can’t you even offer help without sounding like a trumpeter on the peak of the moral high ground?”

IC “And must you always sound like the sister of Marie Antoinette?”

DD “The queen of Naples was a stalwart figure, I take it as a compliment”

IC “You take everything as a compliment”

DD “I advise you to do the same it saves many an awkward moment”.


The beauty of this advice is not just that it will save you an awkward moment but that in reality it is sometimes the things that you are criticised for that can be the most distinctive things about you.


As Dave Trott opined in his advice to his younger self,  one of the biggest barriers to your career advancement and to your next promotion, is that no-one’s heard of you, no-one thinks about you.  It’s crucial to stand out. Will conformist behaviour, sticking with the norm, get you noticed?


Look over your last 360 review. Whatever position you have there’s sometimes feedback that can knock your confidence.  Well, don’t let it.  Take the criticisms as compliments instead of criticisms.  How would that change what you do?  Would that get you noticed?


For example, are you too assertive?  Try turning it up, not down, but adding a portion of charm and goodwill.  Have you been told you don’t challenge enough?  Perhaps your point of difference is to be the man or woman in the room who makes everyone feel comfortable and happy.


Too much ego? Although University of Harvard, Michigan and Duke researchers suggest that this is bad for teamwork not everyone agrees. The current issue of Fast Company Magazine says you can’t have too much ego, both for your own good and the good of those around you. A sizeable ego helps with risk taking, bouncing back and of course dealing with criticism in the first place.


You still have to be great at what you do, but you also have to be noticed and to do that, take the Dowager Duchess’ advice in 2014.  Take it as a compliment.