If people were smart…


We’d plan tax reform BEFORE income distribution undergoes the full onslaught of machine automation.

The UN would fund and deploy aerial nano-bots that fly around the World destroying unregistered guns.

Religious opinion leaders would MODERNISE religious doctrine to accommodate future technological change.

We’d REFORM things in society before the flat part of the (technology) exponential curve turns into the steep part of the exponential curve.

Government social services would MANAGE people’s expectations in a honest way upfront, not make excuses in a patronising way afterwards. Prevention is usually cheaper that cure.

We’d APPOINT lobby groups to represent the animal kingdom and not pretend that humans and corporates have all the votes and all the freedom to act.

We’d ENCOURAGE people to self-learn to cope with global changes in progress.


Battle of the Sexes

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There isn’t a more pointless and ugly battle in the World than the battle of the sexes. Or the phobia/tension between homosexuals and heterosexuals. Or the phobia/tension some people have for trans-gender people.

Put a bunch of girls together and watch the bitchiness come out. Put a bunch of boys together and watch them drag everything to the lowest, crudest level. Put a TV camera in their face or mix the girls and boys together and everyone’s trying to make an impression. Go figure!

When parents get into a divorce battle, sadly their children can become cannon fodder. And worse, the kids blame themselves for the battle.

Fake it til you make it?

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Are people basically divided into two broad camps – the ‘fake it til you make it’ (the marketers & promoters) and the ‘keeping it real’ camp’?

‘Fake it til you make it’ is about projecting confidence, whether real or illusionary. It’s downside is arguably in making our social groups less cohesive and less real. ‘Fake it til you make it’ can be spectacularly successful – politicians, singers/rappers and A-list movie actors being examples of this. Ironically though, politicians campaign to solve real problems, rappers rap about their gritty own life struggle to success, whilst successful actors choose to star in movies that often have themes of real strength from overcoming adversity of some kind.

Some pioneering cultures have a phrase about ‘keeping it real’. Others talk about ‘keeping your feet firmly on the ground’ (unless you work for the weather service, the airlines, the navy, NASA or Virgin Galactic).The ‘keeping it real’ camp includes support groups, social workers, therapists, counsellors, teachers, coaches, trainers and assessors of all kinds. This camp arguably advocates that ‘struggling to succeed is simply walking the journey’ is what life is about and that being honest about this struggle helps us to build important bridges with fellow human beings. In the world of entertainment, reality shows are in theory about ‘keeping it real’, although programme directors inevitably choose hyping the truth over the reality, if if means improving the viewer ratings in a competitive industry.

What about in the field of design – which camp do designers fall into? Steve jobs said ‘Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.’ In product design, great and successful designers don’t tolerate fake. They are obsessed with building amazing, perfection and excellence. In contrast, fine artists can excell at illusion in their art, folling the viewer’s eye into almost believing the two dimensional is actually the three dimensional. Or that the World shown within their art reveals a far more beautiful perspective on the World outside. Musical artists and actors generally want to create real. It’s the marketing staff of their companies that want auto-tune, edit and airbrush.

Whichever of the two camps a person falls into, perhaps real performance is still the key goal and ambition the driving force. Oscar Wilde famously said ‘all of us are in the gutter, but some of us are looking up at the stars.’ Life arguably isn’t about ‘suffer in silence’, ‘know your place’ and ‘mustn’t grumble’. It is about ‘be the best that you can be’, ‘dare to dream’, ‘give yourself a break’, ‘learn from your mistakes’, ‘recognise the perfect parent does not exist’,  ‘respect yourself’ and ‘strength through adversity.’

Lastly, somewhere along the line, as we switched from selling the products of our labour to selling the services of ourselves, the ‘fake it til you make it’ mantra started to dominate, in business, in our romantic lives (as singles) and increasingly, everywhere else. How do we jolt ourselves out of that mantra?

Force equals mass times enthusiasm

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The enthusiasm of children is a tonic for any office worker. If you’re like me, you get to work in an office environment where once in a blue moon, you pitch in to help on a student fundraising event. It’s then that you are reminded about relationships that run the organisation, whether teacher-pupil or support staff-teacher. It’s all good.

That enthusiasm is a hidden gem that cuts through all political problems, red tape and inertia. I wish we could find a way to value that enthusiasm on the Balance Sheet and make sure it never dips. Just saying.

Going off the reservation, taking the road less travelled, taking a walk on the wild side…

dont-give-up  Kids boredom

In my experience, it’s the small tributaries of the river, the overlooked pockets, and the unexpected that offer the most value. Whether you’re a traveller, a student, an explorer, a researcher, or an investigator, what is fresh, what’s genuine and what is original, is the stuff outside the mainstream and off the beaten track. Another aid is in joining up our unexpected insights from one ‘tributary’ with those of another. And by holding two opposing ideas or concepts in your head (as a traveller, reflecting on what you see through local values and through your own cultural values is an example of this). In some ways, stating all this is blindingly obvious, but in others, it’s revealing a pathway to the sublime & subtle.

We make progress as a species, as a culture and as individuals, by pushing our buttons. By pushing our boundaries, making improvements and gathering new insights. So far, we’ve done this faster than any other species, except perhaps viruses. And it’s been high-growth-off-a-high-base too.

Is human love more advanced than the love shown in other species? It’s hard for us to see, even when as researchers and nature filmers, we’re looking hard. The love an animal mother shows for its offspring, given its mental and sensory capabilities, is probably just as valid as human love for other people, given our own mental and sensory capabilities. And arguably, we’re more prone to cruelty and indifference than other species too. Especially since our awareness of the World (and the Universe) is so much greater.

Finally, is it wrong to let our children get bored? On the list of wrongness towards children, I doubt it figures in the top ten, although you may disagree. However, given the direction the World is going, we’re going to need to maximise human creativity like never before.

Like for many things, the earlier you start, the more proficient you can become. Perhaps already, we provide:

-too much of too few types of entertainment and

-entertainment without mental challenge,

to the younger generations (and ourselves). As an aside, we arguably produce too much content that simply feeds our basic emotions and prejudices too.

Technology that encourages people:

-to screen out the complexities of life that we should not ignore,

-to screen out the information we need, to make informed decisions with, as parents, as voters and as citizens,

isn’t something to be applauded and worshipped. Instead, we should be critical of it and demand better. All of us, including our kids need to become those critics.

What purpose does the BBC programme ‘The Apprentice’ serve?

Yesterday, I watched episode four in the latest series of the BBC TV show ‘The Apprentice’.  At the end of it, Alan Sugar fired all three of the poorest performers (Ella Jade Bitton, Sarah Dales & Steven Ugoalah). But not before they lost all professional and personal dignity, squabbling in the board room, with the project manager of the losing team (Ella Jade), pleading repeatedly with Lord Sugar to be given another chance.

A triple elimination in one week, along with post-dismissal pleading was a new low point for the series. Is the underlying quality of the applications really that bad, is the screening process to allow them to participate in the series the problem, or is it just the nature of the task that creates a race for bottom place? On a related note, if the CV’s of the Apprentice wannabes really are as great as they claim, why do so few of them step up to lead an ‘all stars’ team in any given episode?

I know one of the purposes of the series is entertainment and that Lord Sugar donates his sizeable series fee to charity. However, the viewer cannot help but wonder, why are the end results of each task so mediocre, whether creating their own video channels to go on the World’s largest video-sharing site, or simply selling market stall products (with TV cameras rolling that in themselves, attract curious punters)?

For any of the wannabe apprentices, especially in the early episodes of the series, doesn’t it occur to them that their best chance of not appearing in the bottom three for elimination is to put maximum effort into effective teamwork?

Arguably, for Lord Sugar to go into business with the winner, two qualities will stand out – one is very clever business ideas, executed well. And the second is stunning leadership qualities. Perhaps if the ‘prize money’ was quadrupled to £1M, it might attract a superior group of wannabe apprentices and reveal in the tasks, a far more stunning range of ideas, delivery and leadership in action. From Lord Sugar’s perspective, does he want to go into business with someone with amazing potential for a mere £1M investment, or go into business with someone who believes their own hype, for a very expensive investment of £250,000?

Personally, I’d far rather watch a version of The Apprentice, with:

  • less tantrums and loss of human dignity in the boardroom,
  • less smarmy sales pitches to very savvy and seasoned business buyers (even after 3 prior episodes, some project managers still seem to think you can sell complete lemon products, solely by baffling the buyer with youthful sales charm),
  • less editorial emphasis on the backchat between prima-donna contestants during the task,
  • more coverage during the task of heroic teamwork to problem solve,
  • most importantly of all, FAR more design-brainstorming time spent at the front end of the task – none of the wannabes seem to realise that time spent doing that well will pay off massively in the final Boardroom analysis.

As well as delivering far better end results, a change in emphasis might restore some viewers’ beliefs in business activity (and Lord Sugar’s TV series emphasis) as a positive economic force.

Lastly, a real business innovation contrast with the above process. Two Imperial College of London computing graduates Ashley Brown and Simon Overell recently launched an online fraud-busting start up company ( which was then acquired by Google. Granted it was at least a year of intensive effort to create the end result (not two days as for The Apprentice tasks). My question is, would university graduates of the calibre of Mr Brown and Mr Overell have been attracted to join a series like The Apprentice, or is the instant loss of 50% control and the incentive money just too small to be worth bothering about?

Charities, Impact & Leverage

I recently read an interesting interview on the New Philanthropy Capital website (, with David McCulloch, the Chief Executive of the Royal Voluntary Service, talking about charity impact and some future trends for UK charity funding.,2T7KW,5JWQUY,A7PDC,1

Mr McCulloch said that ‘the challenge (of charities measuring and evaluating the effectiveness of what they do) is really what to measure and how.’ My own take on this is that impact is a three legged stool – impact outputs, impact outcomes and impact communication. Charities who want to be effective, therefore need to report not only impact outputs, but stretch to reporting impact outcomes as well. And unless they are able to communicate impact back to donors and to potential donors, as well as their own staff & other stakeholders, then a significant portion of the value of impact measurement is lost. It follows that a charity won’t be perceived by donors/potential donors to be as effective (as it could be), if it manages what it cannot measure, if it prioritises what it cannot measure and if it bases its goals & strategies on something it cannot confidently measure. Perhaps some future charities will design their scope around being impact-led, but only where impact can be confidently measured.

Arguably, impact communication, like political speeches, is as much about reaching heads as reaching hearts.  Impact communication and impact outcome-reporting also needs to overcome two challenges. Firstly, of an extended value chain (where the charity donor or ‘principal’ providing the funding, perceives themselves as being too many steps removed from beneficiary results in the field). And secondly, of a concurrent value chain (in a disaster-relief setting, where multiple charities provide different forms of aid to the same beneficiaries, with multiple charities jointly saving lives and rebuild societies, but making discrete impact measurement more problematic).

New Philanthropy Capital, in the same interview stated that ‘charities have to work out ways that are proportionate to their size and resources.’ Mr McCullock’s response was that ‘it’s about measuring the thing that will best demonstrate your impact’ and that ‘new services are sometimes the best place to start.’  My take on this is that perhaps charities need to use leverage more routinely to avoid the constraints of their size and resources, to achieve the impact they seek. Does enough time get spent by charity senior management examining what and how leverage can be used to achieve charity goals? Furthermore, for an established charity, rather than measure impact on new services as they are developed, why not re-define all services in the context of what impact can be measured, since arguably impact is to charities what share price is to companies.

For substance-abuse charities, one aspect of leverage is examining how existing sufferers can help beneficiaries, since their credibility (deterrence and rehabilitation) is probably higher than for charity workers. Can sufferers help other sufferers, can early-onset sufferers help late-stage sufferers, can rehabilitated sufferers help early-onset sufferers? Perhaps impact is increased by using leverage, since rehabilitated and early-onset sufferers can gain new skills and strengthen their own lives as they help those less fortunate. The role for charity workers in the same scenario? Act as leaders and guides, supplying information and logistical help to the rehabilitated and early-onset sufferers helping others.

What about leverage in fundraising? Are charity resources best used by employing ‘chuggers’ to randomly collect small change from people on the streets? Why not instead invest on online business models to profile and solicit funding from wealthy individuals instead, linked to impact measurement and compelling storylines that target both head and heart?

What about exploiting charity leverage using a different business model – should small charities switch to mimicking SME start up business models and digital start up models, with light governance structures, global reach, low to medium upfront fixed costs and very low variable costs?

Lastly, what about exploiting charity leverage by revisiting incentive theory (principal-agent contracts)? Fundraising perhaps needs to create innovative contracts that recognise moral hazard (hidden action) and adverse selection (hidden information) issues for donors and potential donors. Such contracts could explicitly include impact reporting in the terms of the contract, in ways that reassure donors and increase total donor funding. In designing such contracts, charities would have to give more thought to which contracts are one-off or repeat game, which principals are risk adverse (and how), and what additional funding they could get from donors as information disclosure rents.