Growldog Day10 Oct

Yes, he looks like a bulldog chewing a wasp and yes, his empire has been described in suspiciously less quantifiable terms as the series wore on but our Lord Sugar is a genius. He is a genius with the right time, right place and the right schmutter.

Having sold every aspiring typewriter artist an Amstrad word-processor years before Steve Jobs seduced the design depts with a macload of fonts, the entrepreneur formally known as Sir Alan proceeded to buy up every tired old pile from Chelmsford to Chelsea on the cheap as, dazzled by the dotcom bubble that he helped to create, investors piled out of bricks into clicks.

IT, property and the jewel in his titfer – reality TV. Can his lordship ever put a foot wrong? Sometimes, but there’s no excuse for the hapless new crew of hair products and cosmetics display-models who compete for the dubious honour of becoming his apprentice.

So Growldog Day is here again, as the same characters appear every time. Birds and blokes who are either posh or common – the dazed toffs determined to show those oiks where good breeding can get you in a tight spot, the get-a-grip Garys who went on an Anthony Robbins seminar and have given 110% ever since, the jolly hockey-sticks gals whose basic faith in human decency has quickly turned to ineffectual deceit and the tough glamourpusses who’ve had to fight prejudice and chauvinism to get where they are today.

Who will win? Keep track of the whole crazy gang with this handy Growldog Day Grid© as they hurtle on their there-can-be-only-one-way-ticket to Palookaville.

Until we hear them say those fatal final words: “Thanks for the opportunity, Lord Sugar…”


Please take part in my little social experiment26 May

Please take part in my little social experiment.

Next time someone says to you:

“Have a nice day”, reply “It’s already begun”.

Make sure they understand the subtext

(That meeting you has just been the start).

Get them to take part in your little social experiment:

Next time someone says to them:

“Have a nice day”, they must reply “It’s already begun”.

Making sure they understand the subtext

(That meeting them has just been the start).

Then see how long it is before, when you say:

“Have a nice day” to someone, they say “It’s already begun”.

Send me the time it took – I’ll send you mine.


Ace Garp’s Guide to Good Leadership18 May


I am indebted to the present Mrs Bizlike for her amazing discovery that her one-time favourite comic-book hero http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ace_Garp is a paragon of leadership.

Initial reaction to my unexpected Xmas gift of the collected misadventures of the space-alien trucker was muted. It was only subsequently as she began to incorporate a page or three into her bedtime reading that she formulated her hypothesis.

It happens that the illustrious Ace manifests three very useful character traits that Mrs B can relate to in her own ongoing task as Projects Director, running an office with a staff of ten and multiple products to get out the door, on time, to budget and of the requisite quality. Or – as the blurb on the ”Complete Ace Trucking Co Volume 1” puts it – trying to earn an honest living against insufferable odds.

One night as we lay reading in bed I noticed that the hardest-working woman in e-business had not fallen asleep during her usual first two pages and so I asked her if she was enjoying her reaquaintance with the pointy-headed one.

“Yes I am,” she said. “I never realised when I used to read this before, what a fine leader Ace is. He’s always positive, always has a plan and he’s not afraid to get stuck in when things get tricky.”

“Just like you Mrs B,” I observed. Always game for a conceptual laugh, we kicked the idea around a bit and this is the result: Ace Garp’s Guide to Good Leadership

Character trait one: always be positive

One of the most galling experiences for a newly failed follower is to be asked “What the hell did you do that for?!” Modern business principles have long espoused the benefits of “fast, efficient failures” (Tom Peters) but it’s a strong leader who clears up a real mess without any trace of recrimination.

Finding himself in dire financial straits, Ace rallies his crew. “Don’t gnaw the claw, good buddies. Leave the hot-seat truckin’ to the big A! I been in tight skids before. Something’ll turn up – it always does!” he exclaims in the CB-soundbite-speak he uses. Mrs Bizlike aspires to always be similarly upbeat and, since the introduction of the office swear-box, she chooses her words carefully to express her motivational thoughts.

So – like Ace and Mrs B – good leaders don’t waste time on recriminations and confidently await positive developments. After all you can’t change the past but the future’s up for grabs. In the meantime of course, there’s work to be done…

Character trait two: always have a plan

Field Marshall Helmuth von Moltke is often quoted on his observation “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy” but when you consider that Mrs Bizlike is not employed to wage war on Denmark, this remark becomes less helpful to today’s typical business leader. However, the Field Marshal’s lesser-known assertion, that “War is a matter of expedients” has more direct relevance.

Moltke’s main thesis was that military strategy had to be understood as a system of options since only the beginning of a military operation was plannable. As a result, he considered the main task of military leaders to consist in the extensive preparation of all possible outcomes. If, like Mrs Bizlike, you’ve ever spent eight hours at one go on serial Microsoft Project plans you will relate to this concept of “extensive preparation.”

So, faced with the competing interests of his clients, the space authorities and his highly illegal cargo of vicious alien mercenaries tranquilised in the ship’s hold, the big A calmly carries out a series of astute actions that resolve the difficulty. Modern business leaders can be relied upon to take charge where necessary but should usually rely on their staff to cope, so long as the optimisation of time, budget and quality is a clear goal that they are flexible (and well-trained enough) to achieve. Where this objective is appropriate to the purpose (the first definition of “expedient”) then its hands-off leadership for Mrs B. But where the proverbial shit has hit the fan she is expected to find “something contrived or used to meet an urgent need” (a second definition of “expedient”.)

Putting themselves “in the line of fire”, requires modern business leaders to use Ace’s third character trait.

Character trait three: get stuck in when things get tricky

American football would define this as “running interference”. So whether its Ace Garp acting as a decoy to take pursuing space-cops away from his speeding convoy of fellow space-truckers or Mrs Bizlike burning the candle at both ends on some project forensics prior to a crunch-meeting with a client (or a profitability review with the boss), there’s an element of self-sacrifice here that followers can’t help but admire.

No-one works harder than Mrs Bizlike and usually its like the old Yellow Pages ad – she’s not just there for the nasty things in life. So the ability to handle anything (from 20 years experience of most of the key roles in the business) and the will to see it through means that only occasionally does she have to “take one for the team”.

Many of Ace’s misadventures arise from his insistence on answering distress calls that usually turn out to be some sort of trap. But, as he puts it: “No trucker worth his ticket ever skidoos a thirteen breaker! It just ain’t tucker!” One of Mrs Bizlike’s primary roles is dealing with those “thirteen breakers” and the risk of course, is that when she’s right no-one remembers and when she’s wrong no-one forgets.

So modern leaders stage a continual popularity contest amongst the various stakeholders in their business – hallo George Brown and Sir Fred Goodwin – there’s only so much you can take for any team…

Good Leadership – Any Space, Any Time

Ace Garp’s tagline reminds us of the need for simple but adaptable methods of being a good leader. These should be obvious to everyone involved. My Scottish friend and business associate of 20 years standing has many, many, many annoying qualities but it took me a while to fully appreciate his continued calm acceptance of my various cock-ups over the years and his associated ability to instantly reformulate plans, damage-limit or arse-cover as appropriate. After all this time he’s finally getting where he wants to be in business and yes, he still has to go into some tough meetings, well prepared and positive.

Mrs Bizlike and I would like to thank you all for your attention – we hope you recognise the leadership characteristic(s) that you have in abundance and the one(s) you need to develop further. We’ll leave the final words to Ace:

“We’re winning this mush-rush – an’ take it from the big A, that’s the way its gonna stay!


If you’ve never tried Spinning…09 Feb

If you’ve never tried Spinning, don’t bother.

If you aspire to anything approaching physical fitness, you probably burn your calories through some skillful and satisfying sporting activity and support this with a sensible regime of running, stretching and weight training.

The thing about Spinning is it’s pointless. Well, apart from the massive cardio-vascular workout potential. Pointless, but strangely addictive.

It’s not competitive, well not in any conventional sense unless you count who can get the sweatiest. At our gym, we used to have bikes with ten settings, but you could tighten or loosen the belt against the flywheel and anyway, we broke them all.

Now the Startrac bikes just have a red knob with a two-headed arrow on it; plus one way, minus the other. Clockwise gives you more resistance, anticlockwise gives you less. Put thirty of these  in a darkened room with disco lights, loud music and an instructor:

Now you has Spin.

You can pedal them fast; you can peddle them slow. You can have heavy resistance; you can have light resistance. You can stand up; you can sit down.

And… er… that’s it, basically.

Except when you’ve got the resistance just right so you can pedal to the limits of your endurance and stay on the beat – Blur’s “Song 2” with it’s slow/fast/slow/fast/fast (Whoo-Hoo!) structure is a good one, otherwise most dance music fits the bill – that’s when your instructor earns their salt with his or her motivational catchphrase.

Here are three of my favourites with a preliminary description of their creators:

  • Huge bloke with muscles on his muscles and crew-cut red  hair who, towards the end of some impossibly long, fast section, just as we were all slowing down to be sick, would announce “YOU KNOW IT MAKES SENSE!”
  • Sturdy lass with multi-coloured asymmetric hair, she would arrive from who-knows-where in her Japanese 4X4 to urge us on at critical moments with her battle cry “KEEGO-KEEGO-KEEGO KEEP-GOING!”
  • Relatively slight but utterly gung-ho north-eastern girl who prefaced everything with the stern warning “FAST AS YEZ CAN!”

Did I say Spinning was pointless? Maybe if we wired the bikes up to the National Grid we could sell the electricity generated…


Larkin about with the Jung ones08 Feb

Graneek is extremely nice without being at all my kind of man: he is a pusher, a mover, a coherer, an urger, a carer; I am a leaner, a stopper, an analyst, a discourager, a scoffer.

Top of the list in Mr Bizlike’s letter to Santa this Xmas was Philip Larkin’s “Letters to Monica”. This long awaited volume, coming almost twenty years after fellow poet Andrew Motion’s biography and Anthony Thwaite’s “Selected Letters”, covers the forty year correspondence between Larkin and his lover and closest confidante, Monica Jones.

In a letter written from Belfast on October 26th 1950, Larkin contrasts himself with his librarian boss at the time by presenting five dichotomies, each consisting of opposite poles:

Pusher or Leaner

Mover or Stopper

Coherer or Analyst

Urger or Discourager

Carer or Scoffer

As sometimes happens, this was synchronous with other studies currently underway at Bizlike Towers, specifically the use of the Myers Briggs Type Instrument. Based on the work of eminent Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, the MBTI is a self-report questionnaire designed to make his theory of personality types understandable and useful in everyday life. It’s based on eight preferences, arranged into four complementary pairs or “dichotomies”.

So let’s consider Larkin’s theory of personality as evidenced by his five opposites:

Pusher or Leaner. How like Larkin with his notorious antipathy to work to take a passive stance. (“Why should I let the toad work squat on my life?”)

Mover or Stopper. Larkin moved into the attic flat at Pearson Park, Hull in October 1956 and stayed there for the next eighteen years. He only moved out when the University which owned the building, decided in 1973 to ‘sell off its worst properties.’

Coherer or Analyst. A very strong correlation here with the Jungian concept of Perceiving. Larkin’s boss, as head of a complex institution would see the coherent whole – the big picture, whereas the poet would be more observant of the detail of what was going on around him. (“..at every station, Goole, Doncaster, Retford, Newark, importunate wedding parties, gawky & vociferous, seeing off couples to London..”) Bits and pieces like these would become his famous “The Whitsun Weddings”.

Urger or Discourager. Consider the batchelor Larkin’s epigram “Marriage”:

‘My wife and I – we’re pals. Marriage is fun.’ Yes: two can live as stupidly as one.

Any questions?

Carer or Scoffer. Finally, another Jungian concept – the dichotomy between feeling and thinking. Larkin’s boss makes decisions based on his values of showing respect for other people. “Nevertheless, he is extremely nice and I can’t imagine him in a bad temper” the poet writes. Larkin however is more sanguine about the role of emotions (“Man hands on misery to man, it deepens like a coastal shelf.”)

In Myers Briggs parlance, it’s customary to use capital letters to denote type – as a big-picture extrovert, task-driven, captain of industry this makes me ENTJ. Larkin’s typology makes him LSADS – an indolent, stick-in-the-mud, nit-picking, commitment-phobic cynic. Of course, he had his bad points too!

(It’s worth noting here that the MBTI makes no claims to defining “good” or “bad” – only different preferences…)

Larkin makes just one reference to Jung in his published letters. Seven years prior to his personality profiling, he mentions the practice of writing down his dreams “to try to find in them a curve of development” before announcing a few days later: “I have dropped my dream business and presumably I am the individuated man.” This term refers to the process in Jung’s analytic psychology by which the self is formed by integrating elements of the conscious and unconscious mind.

Jung describes individuation as the main task that we face during the second half of our life – an open-ended process of psychological maturity. The twenty-one year old Larkin claims to have achieved this in about a fortnight. Fairly typical for one of his type, wouldn’t you say?


His kingdom for a horse?25 Jan

Kingdom for a horse

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, it would require a heart of stone not to laugh at the (near) death of Manchester United.

Chief Executive David Gill’s successful pitch of a £500m bond secured on the club may have eased the pressure from the super-high interest loans for which the owners are personally liable, but selling off the family silver (Cristiano Ronaldo, price £81m) is something you can only do once.

With empty seats appearing at the “theatre of dreams”, an ignominious FA cup exit and other intimations of footballing mortality, England’s best-supported club is struggling to maintain its outward swagger as, like a premier-league Lehman Brothers, it is devoured within by a toxic combination of excessive debt and wildly irresponsible assumptions of future success.

What is sometimes forgotten however is the role Sir Alex Ferguson has played in all this. Against the backdrop of this Saturday’s “We love United. We hate the Glazers” protest, his programme notes appealed for unity whilst admitting: “I’m not slow to express disapproval myself – even in the boardroom.”

But wasn’t it Sir Alex’s expressing disapproval at the races, not the boardroom that caused all this? His acrimonious dispute with the Irish businessman John Magnier  over stud fees for their horse led to the sale of shares that resulted in the Glazer’s successful purchase of the club.

My kingdom for a horse? While the Glazers decide, financially, to be or not to be, the legions of Manchester United’s non-fans can only watch, wait, and like dear old Oscar, laugh.


On the road again?22 Jan

on the road again

Last year, I pulled together some examples of the business strategy known as Lethal Generosity .

This week, Nokia unleashed a prime example when they made their satellite navigation software free to all current and future owners of their smartphones.

Those losing out most from Nokia’s “generosity” are Garmin and TomTom who charge up to £100 for in-car navigation systems and the various companies charging for downloadable apps to other phones. On my iPhone for example, Navigon AG charge £52.99 for a fully functioning satnav for the British Isles and NNG Global Services want £54.99 to guide me to “any address in Europe with the help of out outstanding graphics, clear visual cues and precise voice instructions.”

Anssi Vanjoki, Nokia’s Executive Vice President, denied that the decision is a defensive move against companies like Google who are encroaching on their turf. “It is a very offensive move if you will,” he said. “We are not talking one product for one country, we are talking map coverage in 183 countries, launching simultaneously globally in 76 countries with 46 languages and with millions of devices already out there, plus with all of our new products being equipped with this. So it does not sound too much like defence to me.”

The full cost to Nokia of this act of lethal generosity will include the £5.6 billion they spent in 2007 when they bought map firm Navteq. How much value they derive in market share remains to be seen and how long will the handheld satnav remain an app of choice for smartphone users?

When I was a kid, our family stopped taking our transistor radio (google it if you’re under 50!) in the car when the motor manufacturers fitted car-radios as standard. In a world where every carmaker needs the sustainable-green-low-carbon-footprint-save-the-fossil market, how long before they swallow the costs of fitting them to every vehicle as standard? Fuel economy goes out the window if you get lost on the way…

In the complex interlocking system of companies making maps, apps, phones and cars, it’s a brave man who bets the thin end of seven billion Euros for an indeterminate gain.

Brave leadership or desperation? On the road again, or on the road to ruin?

We’ll see.


Santa Cause20 Dec


Photo with compliments to Simon Jacobs and Guardian Newspapers

Santas – the ultimate endangered species of climate change.

Copenhagen has not made them any happier. Rising global temperatures will make the snow a thing of the past, turning their hot red suits into fur-edged infernos.

Reindeerless, and lacking the essentials of a white Christmas, the Santas will run amok, in a fat and wheezy way until robbed of their natural habitat and livelihood they will turn to crime.

In one awful moment the traditional bringer of presents will become the one who takes them away. Just like Mother Earth who, sick of us her ungrateful offspring, will soon burn us off her hide.

Like ticks on the back of a cow.


The Civilising Influence of the Digital Bohemian15 Nov


Some nights I wonder: How did I become a D-Bo?

Twenty years ago, I would have been sat at my desk in a big corporation, dictating memos. (Do you use your Dictaphone much? No, I use my finger – this was a joke of the time.) Dictating copy for the marketing department to spend a small fortune on printing it somewhere on a dead tree and wonder who the hell would read it. I come from a time where we had someone to do our typing for us. In Tapscott terms this makes me a digital immigrant – I moved on-line in my lifetime. I wasn’t (like my children for example) born here.

Now, in fact, I’m a digital nomad – I work where I sleep and several times a month, I sleep where I work. When the big corporation was swallowed by a mega-corporation, they might have let me go because my function was a duplicate of an existing one. Actually, I had already left of my own volition. Now I type my own copy to be turned into electronic pulses by Twitter and transmitted to whomever of my followers can be curious enough to tap a key and see them. Fortunately, because I still oil some communication wheels at mega-corp (in fact several mega-corps) I can afford to dick around like this. I guess there’s a lot of us out there and if we can handle the uncertainty we should appreciate the freedom.

Anyway, that’s enough about me – let’s talk about you. What kind of “work” do you do? Whether you work for a corporation, a small-to-medium enterprise or you operate as a sole-trader (or “bed-ender” as they used to be known, after their bedroom office) your work might fall into one or two of these categories:

• You develop content-free IT and attend the care and maintenance of the information superhighway (remember that one?) You are like Wallace & Gromit in “The Wrong Trousers”, laying the train-track as we run on it
• You trade in knowledge, products or services. This might be straight on-line commerce (like e-bay, Amazon etc), e-learning (web-enabled training) or face-to-face events marketed and/or disseminated on the web (conferences, workshops, webinars and the like). Your design skills might be the best. You make games. You may be charismatic in a commercial way (or vice-versa)
• You work creatively in the areas of autobiography, photography, music, poetry, writing and similar artistic endeavours. You are a digital bohemian (D-Bo!)

Wherever you sit or stand on this Science – Commerce – Art continuum, you can choose to use some of the resulting time and money from the first or second category to fund your activities in the third. To a greater or lesser extent this simply defines you as being civilised – “having instincts other than survival.” So bit by bit, byte by byte, you might say that we are all becoming more “civilised” through our activities as digital bohemians. It’s 2.0, it’s unmediated (and might benefit from some editing), but it’s all about our lives and loves in the 21st Century.

Wikipedia defines Bohemianism as the “practice of an unconventional lifestyle”. Compared to what went before, swopping a suit and a tie and a desk 9 to 5 in exchange for pyjamas and a laptop all hours of the day and night. “…Often in the company of like-minded people, involving musical, artistic or literary pursuits”. Hello Tweeps! “…With few permanent ties. Bohemians can be wanderers, adventurers, or vagabonds.” Or just a bit random, eh?

Are D-Bo’s creating the cave paintings of the Digilithic era – made in the dark winters by people using stone tools and berries? Maybe it’s potentially something as long-lasting as that. Will you be remembered for the last few elegant lines of code you wrote in ASP or PHP? No. Or the instructional design you did on that Health & Safety training? Not likely. Did I write history with that teambuild I ran for 60 senior managers in Manchester last week? No, but maybe that blog you wrote, that picture I took, that clip she stuck on YouTube (35 million views and rising…) – it’s a long shot but any one of our little digital boho-doodles might just go global, or failing that, simply show what it means to be human in the 21st Century. Civilised, despite what goes on all around us.

Maybe in the future everyone will be famous for 15 million bits. Maybe not. Either way – immigrants, natives, nomads – all hail the civilising influence of the D-Bo.


Norwegian Sam Taylor-Wood05 Nov


Sam Taylor-Wood tells a good tale in Sunday’s Observer Music Magazine. Her movie about John Lennon (Nowhere Boy) depicts “one of the biggest icons in the world” and she describes her concerns about making the film as sensitive as possible to Ono, McCartney and the other keepers of the Beatles flame.

She builds the emotional tension nicely:
“So I did have a moment where I just thought, ‘I don’t know if I can do this.’ Then I got in the car and turned the ignition on and Lennon came on the radio and I thought, ‘OK I’m doing this.'”

The song was (Just Like) Starting Over. Released as a single on 24 October 1980, it reached number one in both the USA and UK two weeks after Lennon was killed.

Thank you, and you did pass the audition, Sam…

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