Final score: People 1-0 Spreadsheets


I recently returned from a trip where I met with the most senior heart surgeon in the country and I was hugely impressed by his humility and leadership. Very few possess the combination of exceptional business acumen plus the people skills to lead from the very top. He certainly had those and he was also keen to innovate and lead from the front. Meeting him and his team, being encouraged by them, talking about the past and visions for the future, are what makes business tick, but also why people never fail to inspire.

Working in a technology-led business it reminded me of the importance of fundamentals in doing business and why people can never lose out to tech in the development of relationships. We have a philosophy which is when you are seeking long-term business relationships (contracts, agreements, partnerships), you have to earn the trust of the economic buyer (read: Miller Heiman selling skills) in some cases a year or two before they have even decided they want to make a purchase.

Technology can certainly go some way to impressing a prospect buyer that you have the tools and the solution to their needs, but in a world where we will see more contractors around the table, more crowdsourced services and just about most things moving to mobile, it will be the people telling the stories, shaking hands, drinking tea and building rapport that ultimately win the day.

This has been going on since time immemorial. Tech can’t match that.

Time away from technology

boots at lake photoThis post is something of a rebellion. I am going to make a case against technology and was inspired by my friend Richard Tubb to write this.

I describe technology as the oxygen of the net generation, but Richard took a day away from tech and found it to be a “revelation.” I am short of breath at the thought, but I think I understand.

According to a study by the United Nations of the world’s 7 billion people, 6bn of those have access to a mobile phone but only 4.5bn have access to toilet. Furthermore, 1.3bn still lack access to electricity. Technology has connected us and extended our reach but in many cases it has also cocooned us. Tech is a tool that should empower us to reach more people and bind us closer together, not separate us from our friends and families and colleagues. We must remember that social interaction is a basic need, a fundamental part of our humanity, so I welcome walking into a café that outwardly proclaims, “No Wifi Here.” Meet people, talk to them, share ideas – that is how real friendships are born and businesses are germinated.

Historically great cities were built around resources – water (harbour), minerals and fuel. Today, and certainly tomorrow, great cities will be built around people – it isn’t about ‘B2B’ or ‘B2C’, it’s about ‘H2H’ – human to human.



Londoners check their phones 214 times a day

checking phoneA taxi driver laughed at me as I dodged traffic to run to his vehicle, pulling behind me a small suitcase with a laptop bag that was hanging off to one side, plus one phone in each hand. “Those things have created this non-stop society,” he declared. He is right.

We are always switched on, trying to do more in less time. It makes me laugh how the red light of a Blackberry or the ringtone from an iPhone makes people suddenly jump to action, obsessively responding to the latest message. People wait at the ready the moment a plane’s wheels touch down to sigh with relief as they are happily reconnected.

Head of Ariadne Capital Julie Meyer once said society operates at 2 speeds: start-up and history. I agree, but will we ever get control of it? One major UK consultancy has banned employees from sending internal email on a Friday, but we are caught in a circle of connectivity from which we cannot extricate ourselves.

At a key client meeting this week, the chair asked for a short break. Most people just dropped their heads into their devices and emailed the entire time. One person took out an old Nokia Lumia phone, which sent the group into raptures.

FT columnist Gillian Tett recently wrote, “The challenge of the cyber revolution is that the pace of change is so fast that few pundits have good answers about how institutions – let alone societies – can adapt.” She was referring to the changing face of employment, but it applies across the board. We all just run with it. Nobody knows how to manage it appropriately.

In the end, I had to ask the taxi driver for his advice. He looked so calm, despite having to make his living driving bumper to bumper in London’s traffic. “I just handle it day by day,” he said, “one action at a time”.

FORO and other matters

Maslow_2014_revised.jpgThe Christmas holidays are just about at an end and people are turning their attentions to the new year and their work. Gifts have been exchanged, clementines and chocolate devoured and the gyms have started their annual marketing campaigns to entice more of us to exercise, if only for two weeks in January.

As the new year rolls in we have other matters to deal with – new terms and skills, even new anxieties. The future of work may well mean no CVs, no performance reviews, no permanence. Business Intelligence might easily be shared in real time via wearable devices, mobile certainly could dominate everything and many business services crowdsourced.

Topping the LinkedIn hottest skills list last year was ‘Statistical Analysis and Data Mining’ and the most popular coding language was ‘Python.’ All of this was new to the average person and business.

The standout thing for me was the sudden loss of time yet it became even more important to assign time to networking, speaking to and meeting important customers and key influencers in our lives. The image above right made me chuckle – I enjoyed my Business Administration classes back in the 80s the most, and no class was complete without Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but last year we added 3 new rows to life’s necessities.

The biggest change of all this year will be ‘FORO’ – the fear of running out, and so our briefcases and satchels will need to include even more cables and devices.

A Happy New Year to everyone.

Pictures and Words

fresh guacamole

A picture speaks a thousand words. Today, people multitask and run 5 windows on their machines and tablets concurrently and we have even less time to grab their attention with our message.

I think text is yesterday’s business and to engage we need pictures and headlines. If I created slides that were made up only of bullet points, what would the audience think? Would anybody concentrate for longer than a minute or two, before switching to reading messages on their phones, surf the web or look at what was happening on social platforms and completely ignore my presentation, no matter how compelling?

People respond to images, they like short videos and their brains are like filters. They block out the majority of information, so why do we send our customers and prospects long emails, pages of text and documents, and expect them to respond?

Take note how the market for short films is booming. At this year’s Oscars, “Fresh Guacamole”, at 1-minute-41-seconds, was the shortest movie ever to receive a nomination. It has no real characters, no dialogue, no traditional storyline, but got 8 million viewers on YouTube. There is a message in there for all of us.

Think of the world like Twitter

I presented at the ‘Make it Happen 2013’ conference this week. I was in esteemed company – great speakers like Phil Jones, Steve Clarke, the irrepressible Steve Head, as well as our great host Kriss Akabusi. I enjoyed the day immensely, meeting people from HP, Yahoo and many others. My favourite story of the day was the moving account of the terrible accident and never-say-die attitude of 2012 gold medal paralympian Mark Colbourne – you could hear a pin drop as he was telling his story.

The event underlined another thing – if I created slides that were made up only of blocks of text, what would the audiences think? Would anybody concentrate for longer that a minute or two? How long would it be before people switched to reading messages on their phones, the web or social media platforms, and completely ignore my presentation no matter how compelling?

Text is yesterday’s business and droning on with repetitive messages is passé. To engage today’s audience, we need pictures and headlines. People respond to images, they like short videos, their brains are like filters and block out the majority of information thrown at them, so why do we send our customers pages of text, long documents and expect them to respond?

Reach people with messages they can absorb in seconds and stop putting out material that is off-putting before you start reading; engage using images, video, material that is interactive and engaging and quick and easy to absorb.

Think of the world like Twitter – you have 140 characters to get your message across. Technology allows us to try things and quickly change course along the way – find out what works and measure everything.