Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Light and Sound

Discussed at lunchtime today - the less controversial subject: I generally think people should keep their music to themselves, leakage from home or vehicle is just noise pollution.

Insight is sometimes simply finding a new relationship between old variables. So like Jessica Hagy with her Indexed cards:

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Bond Villain

I mentioned it briefly in the old world. Now, as Quantum of Solace is about to hit the screens, five reasons why we should support the James Bond villain rather than James Bond himself.

1. They are more diverse. Not just upper class Englishmen. All sorts of strange foreigners. And we like diversity.

2. They give the opponent a chance. Could easily just shoot Bond in the head, instead always give him an opportunity. Bond just coldly eliminates.

3. They inspire loyalty from vast numbers of henchmen (and women). Must be doing something right.

4. Charisma and Style. Hard to define, particularly within my strict word limit. But possibly the clearest distinction of all, the chief villains have more of it than Bond.

5. They always end up losing. And we all root for the underdog.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A Moronic Oxymoron

But let's not discuss Daylight Saving Time. Let's talk of cars and traffic ...

In some countries, particularly in the remnants of the British Empire, people drive on the left. In others, including most of continental Europe and America, people drive on the right. Which is better?

To answer the question, we need to consider the facts. Most people are right-handed. Old Roman tradition was to carry the shield with the left and the sword with the right. Most vehicles still have manual gear shifts. Most shift levers are towards the centre consoles of the vehicle. So I think the better answer can be determined. But there are many factors to consider, and arguments can be made for either side.

However, let's not have those arguments. Instead, every year, let's drive for six months on the left, then for six months on the right. Once in March and once in October we should swap everything round. That makes perfect sense.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Cheesy Break

Not my usual style of blog post, just a little incident from lunchtime yesterday:

On seeing menu item: Chilli Con Queso
Me: I like chilli, but I'll decline that one because it has cheese in it
Oz colleague: Oh, so that dish has cheese in it?
(I honestly didn't say anything at this point)
Serving lady: I don't know. (Then shouts across to kitchen area) Does this dish have cheese in it?
Answer from kitchen: No.
I gave up and went to the sandwich counter.

I still don't know if the kitchen staff were making some kind of joke there. And I mention this not to show that I know some Spanish, that was obvious, but only because after the conversation this person said "you're bound to write it up on your blog". I wasn't, but I've done it now. Back to serious stuff tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Not Meeting Project Deadlines

A few days ago I mentioned a top five ways of working to achieve project deadlines. They were all fairly common sense, all fairly predictable, all fairly practical, but not actually the most common ways suggested. Usually we hear:

1. You only need to work smarter, not harder.

2. Have you thought of ways of improving the process to achieve the same result?

3. Have you got a plan to achieve it?

4. That is the deadline, I don't need to know any more information or hear any more excuses.

5. Just F'ing Do It

But you know what, that's all bullshit. It is bullshit because it is all blatantly obvious, there is not a single practical suggestion to help achieve the deadline. If the manager only picks up and restates deadline dates, then the manager is an administrator not a leader. It's no good saying improve the process, it's only good to actually improve the process. If people working for a manager cannot achieve their deadlines, then the manager needs to make a decision. Priorities need to be altered or new directions given - then it is leadership not administration.

Monday, October 20, 2008

For better or for purse

Last week I dropped my wallet at a market in a notorious Essex town. Five things that were in there:

1. Credit Card - I've heard that all its details may already be on sale in pubs across the land, but it would still be disconcerting to lose it.

2. Driving Licence - we don't actually need to carry this in the UK, but it's habit from my US days, and some form of Photo Id often comes in useful

3. Oyster Card - loads of free travel on the London public transport system for the lucky finder.

4. Agency access pass for the client site - sounds trivial, but it's one of the things I'd "miss" the most in the short term while corporate bureaucracy grinds away at a replacement

5. AA card. I don't have a drink problem, and wouldn't spout that quasi-religious crap even if I did, but I do think it's worth keeping roadside breakdown membership.

That leaves out various loyalty cards, cash cards and cash itself (no coins) together with random receipts. They are not in my top five.

However, despite the best efforts of the Daily Hatemail (no street is safe, thieving immigrants are everywhere) and of the Real Hustle (trust nobody, they're all out to scam you), within a few seconds a lady walked up to me and returned it. Everything still there.

There is such a thing as society.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Editors

I was asked to provide an initial review of the first draft of a first novel. Am happy to do so and look forward to it.

However, when it comes to the editing of my own written work, my views correspond almost exactly with those of Giles Coren. Read them here, but be warned about the language.

If it appears as though I have forgotten the rules of English grammar, that I have split an infinitive or misplaced a gerund, then dammit I meant it. If I've used a word that is not in the dictionary or placed a common expression into an uncommon location, then sorry but that's just the way I speak - or to be more precise that's just the way I write. Though I do want to make things clear, concise and unambiguous, I don't feel a need to subscribe to Truss to achieve that. Yes there is a chance that I made a mistake - but most of the time, when you see a flagrant disregard for grammatical convention and standard English etiquette, then it was entirely deliberate.


For I do also have some sympathy with his subeditors.

Friday, October 17, 2008

One Bold Act to Solve the Financial Crisis

We appear to be on the brink of global economic meltdown. The government needs to be bold and decisive. One simple Act would have these major benefits:

1. Increase financial stability.

2. Increase innovation, entrepeneurial spirit and small business development.

3. Promote equal opportunity.

4. Increase charitable donations.

5. Reduce poverty.

I've mentioned it before. Simply raise inheritance tax to 100%.

1. The government needs to get closer to balancing its books. Living people don't like being taxed. Dead people don't care.

2. People will need to earn a living, even the children of successful rich entrepreneurs cannot just sit on their arses.

3. So who does not think that aiming for equal opportunity is a good thing?

4. Even Gates and Buffett agree. Charitable donations have always been tax-exempt.

5. Charities often tend to benefit the poor. And so do higher tax revenues.

I could add a potential surge in retail sales and consumer confidence too as people decide to spend for their families now while they are still alive. And a huge immediate boost for solicitors and will writers. But that's short term. I'm talking of one simple act to provide a long term radical overhaul to the entire national economy.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Meeting Project Deadlines

Following a comment on my note yesterday.

There are no panaceas, only checks and balances and choices, while we hope that management has enough experience and insight to choose appropriately. By the way, insight and lateral thinking to me are just the identification of hidden variables, but that's another subject.

Anyway, no miracles, but these are five genuine ways to achieve deadlines, all that I have actually experienced.

1. Have everyone work ridiculous hours. Not just long hours, stupid hours. Say 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. actually in the office every day. Including weekends. And not just at launch time, but for month after month after month. But it was Wall Street.

2. Rent more equipment. At the same office as above, the client had a splendid approach to hardware issues. PC not working or running too slowly? Phone IT support pointing out that you are losing thousands of dollars in productivity and potential lost trades … and within an hour you could get a completely brand new one set up and running at your desk.

3. Recruit more short term staff. In the early 1990's I worked on a big government project, and the deadline was completely immovable because of legislative commitments. But because the wider economy was struggling, no shortage of skilled resource elsewhere, so a constantly growing team.

4. Shiftwork. At a utility company, where it was hard to persuade people and unions to work extended hours, and there was not enough flexibility to hire more PCs and desks. So we had one set of developers working 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. and another working from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. Deliberately an hour of overlap for "handover" but that hour was chaos, remember not enough PCs and desks.

5. Compromise quality. I deliberately wrote that to sound harsh, but it is inevitable. Where you cannot grow the team or squeeze more out of the team or extend the deadline or change the specified deliverable, then "something" can usually be delivered on time, but that something will not match all of the prior expectations. Tough.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Outlook Rules

We have already had the Top Five Spreadsheet Rules and Top Five Powerpoint Rules, and today I received an email suggesting that there should be only five Outlook rules for managing your email.

However, as you should know, I don't put stuff up here without adding some personal slant to it, so I suggest the five rules could be re-written as a few simple words that Dovetail (Alliterate).

So, Five Rules for your Email InBox:
  1. Do (Action)
  2. Defer (Adjourn)
  3. Delegate (Allocate)
  4. Direct (Answer)
  5. Delete (Avoid)

All your email drops into one of those five categories. Empty Inbox. Clean Mind. But still a big old tasklist.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Financial Times

Compared to most people in the western world, here are five types of people who are so far almost unaffected by the credit crunch:

1. Self-sufficient smallholders

2. People with rich relatives or inherited wealth

3. People with secure jobs

4. People with final salary pension schemes

5. Lottery winners

None of those apply to me.

Compared to most people in the western world, I am so far almost unaffected by the credit crunch.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

My Most Embarrassing Moment

Celebrity interviews often ask that. I am no celebrity, but I do comment on the pathetic banality of celebrity interviews.

I was at a sports centre where we played five-a-side football. After the game I took off my kit and glasses, picked up my towel and stepped out of the changing room which had one door leading out to the shower area and another back out to the gym's reception. Obviously (because otherwise I would not be writing this) I stepped through the wrong door.

It's perfectly true, as a few colleagues from the football team and a slightly shocked receptionist can testify. But it was not really embarrassing, even at the time, it was just funny. However it is one of those anecdotes that is easy to regurgitate if ever asked to "reveal your most embarrassing moment".

Actually real embarrassment is when you simply say slightly the wrong thing in a social situation, the premise of the best British comedy of the decade. Real embarrassment is not when you make an honest mistake, it is when you do accidentally reveal a personal prejudice. But you don't admit to those.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Diversity (again)

I like it.

1. I like it that there are people like Sir David Attenborough who talk about the wonder of the natural world while casually throwing out metaphors such as "creatures perfectly designed for their environments".

2. I like it that there are people like Hemant Mehta who carefully prod the religions of the world, gently deconstructing outdated traditions with humour and civility.

3. I like it that there are people like AC Grayling who debate seriously with the pious, carefully dissecting their tired old ethical and moral arguments.

4. I like it that there are people like Richard Dawkins who respect religion enough to simply hold religious ideas to the same scrutiny and evaluation as any other transmitted ideas.

5. And I like it that there are people like Charlie Brooker who simply say that those who believe in superstitious nonsense are idiots or deluded fools.

That's diverse.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Powerpoint Rules

There is only one rule actually.

But first, my top five spreadsheet rules were noted here earlier, and I was going to follow with similar principles of Powerpoint design. However it looks like Seth Godin has just done it. He actually lists nine, but I'll quote five of them below (with some slight paraphrasing):

1. Keep it short. Ten minutes. The rest of your time should be answering questions raised in those ten minutes.

2. Do not let people to take notes. I don't mean tell them to stop writing, I mean they should come away with a crammed mind, not a crammed notebook.

3. Cut down the words. Words belong in memos (and blogs). Powerpoint is for one big picture.

4. Be clear what it is that you are selling. It might be an idea, or a budget, but it's still selling. If, at the end, I don't know what you're selling, you've failed.

5. Don't use Powerpoint at all. I do like to start with a clean whiteboard, then gradually build up a flowchart.

So I can simplify all those steps into just one rule. If the subject matter allows it, to cover your entire presentation, build precisely one slide. That's all.

Those are not just random blogwords, I actually try to follow that rule when presenting. Most of you do not.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Question to David Cameron (or John McCain)

Do you believe in meritocracy, that every child and every adult should have equal opportunity to make the most of their ability and work without discrimination


Do you believe that certain children and certain adults should have a privileged start in life, for example with the most productive and most valued resources allocated forever to the descendants of those who acquired them?

It's a very simple question. But those two options are exclusive. What do you choose?

(there is a third option, that everybody gets an equal share regardless of ability and work, but I don't expect any politician to ever suggest that)

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Social Media in 33 words

Neil Perkin asks: I'd love to know in one sentence - what is your maxim for how best to engage and facilitate an online community?

Within 3 hours he had 17 responses from agency digital strategy leaders, media researchers, account planners, media owners, creatives, and some of the most renowned thinkers on social media strategy. But not from me.

And a slightly broader question, could I sum up the whole principle and regulation of online communities in just one sentence? Like this blog itself, the answer goes back to Common Sense:

"An online community is produced by our wants, and censorship of that community by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices."

That is an update of the very first published paragraph of Tom Paine in 1776. Still true today.