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X-mas Advertising: John Lewis, M&S and Debenhams Christmas Ad Campaigns Compared

November 6, 2014 1 comment

Good advertising should make you feel good inside so that it creates desire for the product or brand. Especially at this time of year, stores try to capture minds so people can buy their gifts at the advertiser’s shop. It’s all about AIDA – building an Awareness of the brand; then stimulating an Interest in it; followed by creating a Desire to Act and make a purchase.

The Daily Mash is a satirical UK news website which publishes spoof articles. It’s a UK equivalent to The Onion website in the US that has carried some world-class spoofs, believed and republished by the regimes in Iran and China with a spoof about Kim Jong Un of North Korea.

A few days ago I read an article in the Daily Mash about the Debenhams Department Store‘s new Christmas Ad campaign, describing the campaign as demonic (Satan Quits over Debenhams Christmas Advert).

Image from Debenham’s Xmas Ad, as shown in Daily Mash article

The accompanying image of a child in a red hood reminded me of Red Riding Hood. I was curious – and so watched the ad.

The ad features a group of children let loose in Debenhams after closing time – there’s the odd cleaner still around. The children seem to have full rein to go wherever they want, try on whatever they want (whether it fits or not), snatching, taking, and making a mess. I found it totally materialistic and symptomatic of a “me, me, me” attitude.

I saw the kids in the ad as spoiled brats. The only redeeming feature is that it did show the quality and range of goods available (although mostly for adults rather than children’s toys).


John Lewis – another UK Department Store has a reputation for producing really thoughtful and moving ads at Christmas. I wondered what they had produced for 2014. This was the opposite to the Debenhams ad. It showed a child, in love with a pet penguin – and how the two played together and had fun together. Except the penguin was lonely, despite his friendship with the boy. This ad captures the seasonal mood – as it’s all about sharing, friendship, love and giving – and like the 2013 ad, brings a tear to the eye.

(John Lewis’s page launching the ad also has extras to download on the theme of #MontyThePenguin. There is also a Daily Mash spoof on this – which I’m not linking too as I found it in poor taste, mentioning avian rights and trafficking!)

I’m curious to know which brings in the shoppers. My bets are on John Lewis.

(Last year’s John Lewis X-mas ad was a classic – and much praised. It is worth watching, just for how it manages to create a real appreciation of the brand. I suspect this year’s – although not as emotive – may prove to be better for sales figures as I think it finishes with a stronger call for action i.e. purchase).

I also looked at the M&S Christmas ad #FollowTheFairies. It doesn’t have quite the same magic and sparkle of either the Debenhams ad or the John Lewis one despite its theme – two fairies, delivering magic & sparkle (i.e. M&S) across town (in scenes reminiscent of Peter Pan). There was no sense of wonder – which both the Debenhams and John Lewis adverts managed to invoke. Nevertheless, I much prefer it to the Debenhams ad for the same reason that I like the John Lewis one: the emphasis is on giving and creating happiness. Isn’t that what the spirit of Christmas is supposed to be all about?

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Testing perceptions – Myers-Briggs and false appearances

February 25, 2013 Leave a comment

Every morning at around 7.45am, BBC Radio 4 includes a short talk from a religious figure giving listeners a thought to ponder. The daily “Thought for the Day” is given by Christian priests and vicars, Rabbis, Imans and others.

The Last Supper

The Last Supper
(Hans Holbein the Younger, 1524)

This morning’s programme (25 February 2013) featured  Dr Giles Fraser, priest-in-charge of St Mary’s, Newington. Fraser spoke about Jesus and pointed out that the Western World’s perceptions on what he looked like are likely to be wrong. He referred to classical paintings of Jesus and contrasted these to  Judas. Jesus is often blonde while Judas tends to be much more swarthy looking with a longer nose and red or dark hair. Jesus has become an archetypical North European, while Judas reflects stereotypes on how Jews are supposed to look. Of course Jesus was Jewish – and was born and lived in what is now Israel. So did Judas. Both would have had Semitic physiognomies – as both were Jewish.

Fraser’s point however has further implications. There is a tendency to put our own preconceptions and views onto others – and expect others to behave and think like we do. In a business context, this can be fatal as it means we see competitors as just reflections of ourselves. When a competitor comes up with something that appears odd, or that we don’t understand, the inclination is to say that the competitor has it wrong – rather than that we have it wrong, which could just as easily be the situation. This error is a classic type of blind spot.

Myers-Briggs Type Indicators

One part in Fraser’s short talk caught my attention. While he was studying to become a priest, he was taught about Myers-Briggs Type Indicators based on work by Carl Jung.  Fraser commented that both he and his fellow trainee priests were asked to assess the personality type of Jesus based on what they knew and had learned about him. They were then assessed using the Myers-Briggs test. Most found that the personality type they had given to Jesus was actually a reflection of their own type.

The implications for this are that people have a tendency to assign their own expectations and prejudices onto others – and judge them accordingly.

Myers-Briggs test form

The Jungian Briggs Myers 16-Types Personality Test (JBM16) is designed to measure how you like to look at the world and make decisions.

In business recruitment, this can mean choosing a candidate who, rather than bring something fresh to the business, just continues the same old approach. Although this may avoid conflict, it also means that the chance for new, innovative thinking and an ability to change or challenge current norms is also lost. There is a real risk that recruiting clones may lead to the business stultifying and failing to recognise new opportunities and threats.

In research interviewing any attempt to profile an individual remotely is just foolhardy and a key source for interviewer bias, resulting in flawed interviews and erroneous conclusions riddled with misconceptions. Yet there are interviewers who claim to be so expert at such psychometric evaluations that they can assess an interviewee within minutes even though the published tests for Myers Briggs involve dozens of questions  that need to be answered before an assessment can be made.

In business analysis it can lead to a potentially more serious problem. Some analysts pride themselves on their ability to identify the personality type of business or political leaders, without meeting them and with minimal information. Unless there is a vast quantity of information available on another individual – speeches, TV and radio interviews, published articles and opinion pieces, etc. it is risky to extrapolate about another individual and anticipate their behaviour remotely. The danger is that the analyst may project their own typology onto the leader – judging them by reported actions without necessarily understanding the thought processes that lay behind those actions or even the accuracy of the reporting. The risk is that any assessment will be based on prejudices – rather than reality, and so lead to poor decisions.

Business research and analysis should depend on accurate and rigorous methodologies, and not pop-psychology. Myers-Briggs can be useful when backed up by sufficient data. It should be viewed as an analysis tool requiring detailed insight into the subject. Using these, and other similar psychometric approaches, as a basis for complex business decision-making without the full data as demanded by the process is another route to business failure, so treat with care, and treat advocates of these tools even more carefully.

Myers Briggs personality types

If you will it, it is no dream…

February 4, 2013 1 comment

This is the first blog post I’ve written on the subject of the Israel-Palestine conflict. I’m writing it in response to a number of twitter conversations I’ve had over the last week with Palestinian supporters. This has relevance to business research as it shows how people who are obviously intelligent and reasoning can be so influenced by prejudice and false assumptions that they fail to see this as a blind spot. They are blind to what is mostly false propaganda and so continue to believe lies. The Israel-Palestine conflict is highly emotive but can serve as an example and metaphor for any area where people have firmly entrenched opinions. Such dogmatism leads to bad decisions that are based on fallacies – irrespective of whether it relates to the Middle-East or business.

Those who know me know that, although I support Israel, I also believe in the rights of the Palestinian people to fulfil their dreams and have their own Nation State. However this should not be at the expense of the Jewish people’s dream. The land now governed by the State of Israel was originally designated for two peoples, and the Palestinians have rights to govern themselves as much as Israelis have.

What has disturbed me has been the unquestioning faith of the anti-Israel proponents to their cause and the lies they use to justify this faith. Worse, they believe that these lies are totally true.

I stand by everything I wrote. I am not a liar and everything I said is verifiable.

was one comment. Yet this same person said that anti-Semitism also relates to Arabs, ignoring the proper definition of the word. He suggested that I check the “Miriam Webster” (sic) dictionary. Well here’s the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition:

Hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group.

No mention of Arabs here. The concise encyclopaedia entry after the dictionary definition does continue:

Hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious group or “race.” Although the term anti-Semitism has wide currency, it is regarded by some as a misnomer, implying discrimination against all Semites, including Arabs and other peoples who are not the targets of anti-Semitism as it is usually understood….

This is quite clear – some people think that the term could apply to Arabs too, as Semitic peoples, and so the term is a misnomer (i.e. a wrong name or designation) and that Arabs are not the target of anti-Semitism.

This simple example demonstrates that even checking a dictionary entry can lead to a misinterpretation by somebody who has a prejudice.

Bible Stories & Ancient Languages

The other twitter conversation started innocently enough:

Abraham was from #Iraq ,Moses from #Egypt , Jesus from #Palestine, Golda Meier from #Russia and Herzl from #Hungry ,so who was “#Israeli”?

I responded, slightly flippantly:

#Palestine was the Roman name. Abe became #Israeli. Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, David, Solomon… Jesus: All #Israeli

to which came back:

Abe was a guest in the land of the Canaanite, Salomon has had a Phoenician mother and Jesus did not even speak Hebrew.

I pointed out that Solomon’s mother, Bathsheba,  was not Phenician but was from King David’s own tribe i.e. was an Israelite, and that Aramaic was a Jewish language.

Although we do not know whether or not Jesus spoke Hebrew he would have spoken Aramaic – the language spoken in Israel/Palestine at the time. His last words, as recorded in Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34, are Aramaic. The language is used for a number of Jewish prayers (including the Kaddish prayer said by mourners) and the majority of the Talmud.  It is feasible that Jesus also knew Hebrew based on some of the New Testament stories such as Luke 2:46-47 which relates that Jesus was in the Temple listening to the Rabbis’ teachings. This was the time when the Mishnah was being written – and the Mishnah is in Hebrew, implying that Jesus understood these teachings.

Despite the above, prejudices and inaccuracies started to come out – for example:

Aramaic is the old-Arabic-language. While today´s Israelis have re-invented the Hebrew-language in 1920

This is false on two counts. First, Aramaic is in a different branch of the Semitic language group to Arabic (the South Semitic group) – but in the same group as Hebrew (North West Semitic). Second, Hebrew was never re-invented – and certainly not in 1920. Eliezer Ben Yehuda who revived the Hebrew Language revived the language as a spoken, everyday language, in the 1880s – 1890s. Cecil Roth summed up Ben-Yehuda’s contribution to the Hebrew language: “Before Ben‑Yehuda, Jews could speak Hebrew; after him, they did.”

Even when I pointed this out, I got back the response:

Nevertheless Ben Yehuda invented it……

This suggests that Hebrew is a language like Esperanto  –  showing a prejudice that refuses to accept what should be common knowledge i.e. that Hebrew is the language of the Bible and most Jewish prayer and Rabbinic writings through the ages. It gives a flavour of the problems – and the ignorance.

The Ottoman Empire’s dissolution

Here are more tweets from the conversation:

In 1948 the UK left PALESTINE after being there 25 years as a mandate power….there was no “Israel” !!

To which I responded:

Independence Years: #Iraq 1932 #Lebanon 1943 #Jordan & #Syria 1946; #Israel 1948 #Palestine ?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_national_independence_days …

and

Prior to 1917 no Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, either. All part of Ottoman empire. No real difference but years!

My point here is that although Israel was founded in 1948, the other nations were also new, formed out of the carved up Ottoman Empire, with Britain and France granted mandates by the League of Nations following the First World War. Each of the nations gained independence from the colonial powers in the years stated. None had existed as sovereign nations before – except, like Israel, in pre-History. All were thus the result of a European mind-set, that took maps and drew borders. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan was granted to an ally of Britain – Abdullah – as was the kingdom of Iraq, initially ruled by Abdullah’s brother, King Faisal. Iraq was drawn up by Winston Churchill in 1921 by using a ruler and a pencil and does not reflect the ethnicities or geographies of the area. Syria and Lebanon were ruled as French Mandates and were handled in a similar way to the British mandated territories.

The only difference between Israel and these other countries, is the majority peoples in the other countries were Arab. Not Iraqi, Palestinian or Syrian – but Arab. The majority religion was Islam. In contrast, Israel was Jewish.

The conversation continued:

So was also half of Europe being part of the Hapsburg empire and yet we have Romania,Poland Italy Hungry etc,,,,,,

This is, of course, correct – but doesn’t refute my statement. I agreed:

Agree. Geopolitics from 1850-1950 resulted in lots of national self-determination movements including Israel!

Jewish beliefs & Zionism

There then came nonsense trying to define what Jews are and falsifying Jewish history. (Non-Jews telling Jews who they are, and what they should believe is a classic anti-Semitic trope).

No sir !! there was never a “Jewish-nation” since the year 0070 !! it was invented by Zionists in Basel.

Zionism is simply a colonial-adventure with a Jewish artificial-flavour !!!

This, of course, completely ignores traditional Jewish belief and prayer. It ignores the fact that after every meal, religious Jews ask for Jerusalem to be rebuilt, and in each daily prayer they ask for a return to Zion (i.e. Israel) and an ingathering of the Jewish people there. This is not just in the prayers of Jews from Europe, but all Jews – irrespective of where they lived following the exile in the year 70. This exile is remembered in the Jewish calendar – with fast days, and even on joyous occasions such as weddings, where the breaking of a glass as the final act is to symbolise that we still remember the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and our subsequent loss of sovereignty and exile in the Holy Land. (It’s not – as the joke says – the last time that the man will be allowed to put his foot down!)

Population Exchanges & the Refugee Problem

I tried to move from history to a contemporary solution – without assigning blame for the Palestine-Israel problem:

Peace also means recognition of ALL Middle East refugees resulting from ’48 & ’67 wars. Jewish & Palestinian.

Majority of Israelis are now descendants of refugees from Arab countries forced out from their homes.

Back came more ignorance and prejudice:

There are no “Jewish-refugees”, there are rather Jewish-colonialists who came in carrying guns…….

I tried to correct this:

False. Jews forced out of Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon… Pre-1948 Baghdad was 1/3 Jewish. Now no Jews in Iraq

But got back the statement:

Arab-Jews were NEVER forced out , but rather tricked-out by Zionist-bombings of their own synagogues .

to which I responded:

False. The Farhud in Iraq http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farhud  Pogroms in Yemen http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1947_Aden_pogrom … 1840 Blood libel in Syria…

The fact that these were all before Israel’s establishment was ignored – perhaps the truth was too inconvenient, as the response was:

If there were no State of Israel those Jews would have remained in their own Arab-country !!

I pointed out that this was because the Jews from the Arab countries had no choice – as without Israel there was nowhere else for them to go easily. (Many did try to escape to France, the USA, Australia – but in the main there were quotas and restrictions, unlike for Israel).

Life for Jews in Arab lands was not as rosy as anti-Israel supporters would like us to believe. Non-Muslims (Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians)  were tolerated but viewed as Dhimmis (i.e. second-class citizens). Although sometimes there was peaceful coexistence, generally this was because non-Muslims accepted that they had minimal rights. Post-1948 the situation Arab Jews found themselves in became intolerable with regular pogroms and attacks in almost all Arab nations – resulting in over a million refugees i.e. at least the same number as Palestinian refugees fleeing their homes in the aftermath of the 1948 and 1967 wars. (More recently, the position of the Christian minorities in many Arab countries has deteriorated – with murderous attacks in Egypt, Iraq and elsewhere). Israel gave  Jews a chance to escape.

I didn’t mention in either conversation that the definition of a Palestinian refugee is unique. Usually refugees are long-standing residents of a country.  The Arab Jewish refugees had lived in their countries for generations – many pre-dating Islam. In contrast, Palestinian refugees only had to have been living in the area since 1946.  (UNRWA – the UN agency set up to help Palestinian refugees define Palestinian refugees as “people whose normal place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, who lost both their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict.“).

The facts are that as Jews returned to what was then Palestine, they drained swamps (e.g. in the Hula Valley) and started farming the land in a way that had not been done for centuries. This increased the affluence of the area, and Arabs started moving in to take advantage of new work opportunities. Prior to the 1880s, the area was desolate – with subsistence farmers being the majority population, except for in a few towns. Jerusalem had a majority Jewish population, for example – ignored by anti-Israel advocates who even claim it is an Arab city. So, in reality, there was a population exchange – with Jews being forced from their ancestral homelands in Arab countries, and Arabs – many of whom (like Yasser Arafat) had not been born in Palestine – forced out of, or leaving, their homes too. Further, the Arab Jewish refugees and their descendants are now the majority of Israel’s population – and not the descendants of European Jews, as anti-Israel apologists try to claim.

The need for separation – Two States for Two Nations

Eventually of course, we got onto that canard of Israeli Apartheid. Whenever you point out that there is no Apartheid – and mention that there are Arab members of the Knesset, Arab judges, Arab military officers – in fact, Arabs in all aspects of Israeli public life the point is ignored.  Instead, the fact that the West Bank Palestinians are not Israeli citizens and don’t wish to be makes Israel an Apartheid State, according to this view.

The true situation is that prior to the second Intifada, West Bank Palestinians had freedom of movement and work within Israel – although as non-citizens they did not have a vote. The only reason they are separated today is because they chose to attack and kill Israelis. The separation is for security reasons – and if there was a genuine peace there would be no need for such separation. Contrast this with Jordan and Saudi Arabia which have a policy to ban Jews living there or pre-Civil War Syria, where Assad’s Alawites held all the power. These more match the actual definition of apartheid – where ethnic and racial groups are kept separate.

I tried to end the conversation peacefully by pointing out:

There SHOULD be both Palestine & Israel. Needs to be 2 States. Both sides need to talk peace.

The following response shows the mind-set of the anti-Israel apologist – refusing to accept a fair, just and logical solution to the problem:

“2 states” means half of Palestine stolen forever !! One State would be secular-inclusive-Palestine

I pointed out that there is no truly bi-national State anywhere in the world that is stable. My correspondent tried to refute this by pointing out that Switzerland has a number of different groups living there – French, German, Italian and Romanche. However Switzerland is built on a canton system where each is essentially self-governing. Further, the Swiss nation hasn’t experienced decades of hatred. Another example – Belgium – is actually poor as the French and Flemish groups dislike each other would split if they could. Yet there is more in common culturally between these two groups than between Palestinians and Israelis.

I believe that if Israel and Palestine became separate States then one day the two could feasibly federate on a Swiss model if both peoples wanted it. However today, because of the enshrined hatred between the two peoples, there would be war which would lead to massacres – potentially by both sides.

I try to look at both sides and take into account both national narratives. Unless the Palestinian and anti-Israel side does the same then there will not be a peaceful and fair resolution of the problem. Instead there will be a continuation of the status quo which is good for neither side – or something far worse.

Whenever there is a conflict – or disagreement – it is important to understand both sides of the argument, and avoid bias. It is essential to check facts – and also the source of any information, in case there is bias there. Unless this is done, poor decisions and continuing problems are inevitable. This is as true in business as it is in Middle-East politics.

Entrpreneurs 2012 – Con-Trick or Conference: a review!

November 18, 2012 5 comments

Wow – what a line up. Bear Grylls, Caprice, Ruby Wax, Julie Meyer, Carol Vorderman…. Just look at what was promised:

And look who was promised:

(Click for larger image)

(Click for larger image)

All these as keynote speakers. The conference blurb said that

Hundreds of the world’s most successful chief executives, from the likes of Google, Paypal, Acer and Bentley will gather to debate, share ideas, network and enjoy the last day of Entrepreneurs 2012.

It sounds like an event not to be missed, with tickets priced at £120 for seats at the back to £3000 for a front row seat. The promotional material said that I’d “have the opportunity to learn from the best with hundreds of like-minded people at our unique and exciting event” and that

YOU will network with entrepreneurs and high-achievers from Leading Global Brands.
YOU will meet some of the World’s most Successful Entrepreneurs.
YOU will Enjoy & have FUN with celebrity guests and your peers
YOU will take away a most memorable experience that will propel you and your business toward continued success for 2013!”

How could any serious entrepreneur turn down an opportunity such as this. Even better, the event was then advertised on Groupon – with tickets for only £17.00. So I jumped.

The first day started with “motivational” speaker, Andy Harrington – who describes himself as the “world’s leading public speaking expert”.  He failed to motivate me. After around an hour of hoping for something better, I walked out and got myself a coffee. I returned to see if he was still going on – and it looked as though he had stopped “motivating” and moved to some content. This was actually quite good – he talked about his “System” for being a better public speaker  – covering aspects such as the importance of standing up straight, maintaining eye-contact, using different vocal tones, and being in the right mindset. Unfortunately after covering this he went back to “motivating” again – with a sales pitch for his training programme costing £1000s. Amazingly this worked on enough people that I reckon that if all pay he’ll have made over £200,000 from this 3 hour or so talk. Not bad work – and definitely entrepreneurial on his part.

Next up (I think) was Daniel Priestley – the CEO of a company called Triumphant Events.  Priestley put over some interesting and relevant content but his talk ended with a sales pitch, as did Simon Coulsen‘s who followed – talking on selling via the Internet. Strangely Coulsen seemed more genuine although this was still a sales pitch and not a talk that fulfilled any of the event promises. Certainly no real networking opportunities (except to complain with the people sitting next to me – who were also hoping for some genuine content that wasn’t delivered by a snake-oil “follow-my-system and you’ll get rich quick” salesperson). So far no real hints on running a genuinely entrepreneurial business or case studies and life stories to learn from. Just hard-sell schemes at high-prices. These speakers certainly profited from their slots – making tens of thousands of pounds in just a few hours.

Day 1 was supposed to be about How to Develop an Entrepreneurial Mindset. No – it was how to be conned into spending lots of money on training courses to turn you into a public speaker, or to systematize your entrepreneurial idea, or to sell self-help books on the Internet. I did learn a little – and got some ideas. For example, I do a lot of public speaking, leading executive workshops globally, so I got ideas on how I could earn more from this. However the entrepreneurial content was minimal.

Naively I hoped day 2 would be better – especially as the promised programme on the website for Entrepreneurs 2012 (now down) stated that the topic was Uncover New Technologies to Give your Start-up Business the Edge. This seemed right up my street so I was hopeful. I arrived in the afternoon having had to do some real work in the morning – and just missed Caprice who apparently gave a very good talk. So I was hopeful that day 1 was bad and things would look up. Unfortunately the promise was quickly dashed – as the speakers were, again, purveyors of “get rich quick” type snake-oil schemes. I’m not even sure who the speakers were as no schedule existed. (I asked. Not even the event staff – from a company called Blak Pearl – had any idea).

I haven’t a clue about day 3 – as I was unwilling to be subjected to more sales pitches – despite having paid and scheduling all 4 days in my diary. From what I was told by people I spoke with on day 4, it was more of the same, punctuated by shortish talks by Levi Roots of Reggae Reggae Sauce and Kate Hardcastle.

Day 4 however looked more promising with some panel debates on topics that looked interesting.

The published programme for day 4 of Entrepreneurs 2012 The day started well with Bruce Dickenson of Iron Maiden giving a genuinely interesting and motivational talk that didn’t include a hard sell. The panel debates followed – with several of the “keynote speakers” on the panel. (Point of information to the organisers: keynote speaker does NOT mean panel participant). We were also told to expect that the event star – Bill Clinton – would be speaking at 1.00pm, after the panel debates. At 12.30pm three of the “motivators” who had spoken on the earlier 3 days got up and were given 10 minute slots. At around 1.00pm some bozo called Marco was then given the stage.  Marco claims to be one of the top 3 platform speakers in the world. (He doesn’t say which world. Based on his performance in London, it can’t be this one). After 30 or so minutes, the twitter feed (hashtag #ents2012) looked like this.

A snapshot of a handful of the tweets sent during Marco Kozlowski’s talk at Entrpreneurs 2012

Unfortunately I had to leave at 2.00pm and so missed the remaining speakers, including ex-President Bill Clinton, who based on the twitter feed was amazing. C’est la vie. 

My feelings on the event were that:

  1. it was badly organized – with no time schedule or formal programme. Nobody seemed to know what was happening or when.
  2. there was far too little content. The event was aimed at entrepreneurs i.e. people who want to work for themselves or are already working for themselves. Yet most of the speakers were selling systems that were closer to pyramid and multi-level marketing schemes than genuine entrepreneurial support. They were supposed to be motivational and instructive. They were far from this – and some were positively de-motivational and destructive of any entrepreneurial mindset.
  3. there were almost zero networking opportunities – no break-out sessions or discussions or even real interaction with anybody. I spoke to a few people but this was because I made the effort. Most didn’t.
  4. promised speakers didn’t appear – no Ruby Wax; no Carol Vorderman, no Kevin Spacey (as named in the video) … and keynote speakers turned out not to be keynote speakers at all, but panel members.
  5. no evidence that any of the promised chief executives from Google, Paypal, etc. attended. (The one exception was Olaf Swantee from Everything Everywhere who was a panel member on day 4 – and who made several points that were worth noting).
  6. the few genuine speakers had something to say and didn’t name-drop. You could almost guarantee that a speaker that started name-dropping Richard Branson, Alan Sugar, Donald Trump or other genuine entrepreneur or leader would turn out to be another quack opportunist – especially when this was accompanied by a photograph of the entrepreneur looking extremely uncomfortable standing next to the speaker who exhibited a massive cheesy grin.

My views on this event were echoed by others – for example: CelebStorkey’s “10 reasons it went wrong”.

The lack of a programme meant that I gave the event more of a chance than I should. Was the event a con-trick to get people who want to work for themselves into pyramid schemes and similar? Possibly – certainly the management of the event seemed to encourage the speakers making “sign-up now” sales pitches. At the same time, buried among the 80% of useless hard-sell there was a small amount of material worth listening too and speakers like Brian Dickenson had something to say. Personally I will in future be vary wary about allocating so much time to any similar event without doing many more checks on the actual format.

The last day was billed as a “Leaders First Finale” where the “movers and shakers of our business world will be networking and rocking our boats” and where I’d “benefit from the incredible knowledge and experience” of these “great leaders and business champions” who we were told would “head-up the presentations and debates on the main stage”. Unfortunately this also turned out to be hyperbole. There was a buzz in the room after the panel debates, but this was quickly destroyed by Marco (described in lots of tweets as like Kermit the frog). Had I known he was going to drone on for so long I’d have left earlier and not had to suffer his spiel. As compensation for this additional waste of my time, I’ve sent Blak Pearl an invoice – with a request that the sum be paid to charity. They should pay the money – not just for me but all attendees – as it was insulting to subject so many real and budding entrepreneurs in the room to such nonsense. If they do pay, I’ll update this blog and give them the credit for the honesty and authenticity they lost in their event promotion.

Keeping up standards

December 14, 2011 1 comment

I’ve titled this post “keeping up standards” even though this is exactly what I’ve not been doing. Ages ago I planned to write a post every couple of weeks – or at least monthly. Unfortunately I’ve failed in this aim – not because there hasn’t been a lot to write about: all the changes at Google such as the closing of Google Labs, Google+, changes to Google’s search methods, interface and algorithms; the Online Information Conference I spoke at and the Internet Librarian International conference; the Euro zone crisis; and many other news stories.

I even started a few posts – but never finished them, and my excuse is that paid work has to come before blog posts, and I’ve had more than enough to keep me going since the last post. (Actually it’s been non-stop so I really can’t complain).

What’s prompted this post has been another blog post that set me thinking about how important it is to maintain standards, even in the smallest most trivial areas – such as making a cup of tea.

Keeping up standards is always important – as you want to guarantee the quality of what you produce. With more and more mechanisation this becomes even more important. The old-style tea-lady who would bring around tea or coffee and biscuits has long gone from most businesses. Now, you walk to the dispensing machine and select what you want: cappuccino with extra coffee, tea with double milk (powder) and sugar…

There should be a standard to guarantee the quality of the finished drink. And that brings me to a recent blog post from Neil Infield of the British Library where he describes the British Standard BS 6008 for a cup of tea (See also ISO 3103). I’m not sure that this standard actually relates to tea and coffee machines – but at least it shows that keeping up standards is still important. (Although I don’t think it addresses the detailed minutia of whether your little finger should be pointing out from the handle of the tea cup, or in – and whether a coffee mug is an acceptable receptacle for a good cup of tea?)

One of the ways that businesses stay competitive and remain competitive is by keeping up their standards and continuing to delight their customers. This has to be ongoing – as competitors will continue to try and do the same. Letting your own standards drop or stay static will allow competitors to eventually win out against you.

So keep up standards – and make it your cup of tea to do so.

Social Media – networking to the future

March 27, 2011 3 comments

On Friday this arrived in my email inbox – a timely reminder of how the world has changed over the last few years.

Linked In Letter

 

I joined LinkedIn.com in August 2004, fifteen months after the site was launched in May 2003, and two years before Facebook allowed for open-access. (Facebook itself launched in February 2004 but was restricted to university / colleges and a few others until September 2006).

I’d been interested in social networks for several years – and my membership of the UK networking site, FriendsReunited.com dates from a few years earlier.

Initially social networking seemed to be more about re-connecting with people from real life rather than communicating on a regular basis. That’s all changed now.  Online social networking – through sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn is the way many people keep up-to-date with what’s going on in their social circles.

I’ve been invited to parties via Facebook, and have also invited people to my own events. It’s the way I find out what’s going on in my friend’s lives – or those that keep up on Facebook. In fact I find it now more difficult to keep up with some people who still resist the online world – as the phone lacks the immediacy that we’ve come to expect. I’m not alone: 10% of the world’s population is now on Facebook (which claims over 600m members).

In the business world, the same sort of thing is happening. I find LinkedIn incredibly useful for contacting colleagues and potential colleagues – and finding people to contact when I’m doing research. It lets me know what people are doing and it is difficult to imagine how I’d do business without such sites now. Again – I’m not alone, with LinkedIn now claiming over 100m members.

These changes promise to do more than just change the way people communicate and do business. For many years, people have talked about computers bringing about a paperless office. In my opinion that’s bunkum – or is so far. (I personally believe that technologies such as the iPad and e-Paper may eventually mean that printed material will become the exception rather than the rule in the business world – but that is some years in the future). However another development may come more quickly: the email-less office. In February 2011 Atos Origin, the French IT consulting and services company, put out a press release setting out an ambition to become a zero-email company by 2014. The company pointed out online social networking was now more popular than email and even searching for information. (Bing is integrating with Facebook – recognising the importance of social networking sites, with some people preferring to search from within the site than to go to an external site). The prevalence of spam – even with efficient anti-spam software has also meant that email was becoming ineffective as a communication tool. Guy Kawasaki, the well known blogger and Internet guru has commented that email is too long, wishing that it could be limited to 140 characters i.e. like Twitter.com, the social networking communication tool. He echoes views that see email as a flawed communication medium.

So what is the future. I find it interesting that the current revolution in the Middle East seems to be driven by social media – with both Egyptian and Tunisian regimes falling as a result of campaigns launched on Facebook and Twitter. Personal contacts however were still important: the revolutions may have been organised virtually, via online social media, but it was the mass street protests that led to the change. I think that this states the position of all online social media. It’s a communication medium, but ultimately, that is all. In this it is not new. Over the last 120 years, mankind has seen several new communication media: telex; telephone; fax; email…. Each promised additional speed and immediacy. Now Facebook, LinkedIn and especially Twitter and instant messaging (e.g. via Skype) promise even faster ways for people to communicate. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, human contact still has to be physical to have any real meaning.

Wikileaks and Whistleblowing!

December 5, 2010 3 comments

As soon as Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them, but he pretended to be a stranger….” (Genesis Ch. 42 v7).

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens….a time to be silent and a time to speak….” (Ecclesiastes Ch 4 v1, v7)

I wasn’t planning to write about the Wikileaks affair – as in essence, I agree with Wikileaks that excessive secrecy is wrong. At the same time, as the preacher (identified with King Solomon) in the book of Ecclesiastes says, there is a time to speak out, and a time to remain silent.

I believe that many of the items leaked deserved to be leaked. It is wrong to keep details of torture, rape, summary executions, and various other war-crimes secret, irrespective of whether such crimes were committed by the USA, the Iraqis or whoever. War-crimes should always be exposed, and prevented. If a government tries to keep such crimes hidden, then it is the duty of responsible people to expose them. Keeping such information secret just allows for a culture that views the enemy as non-human and dispensable – and ultimately, this makes all who allow this to happen complicit in the crime.

At the same time, there is good reason to keep diplomatic negotiations hidden, however duplicitous they may appear to be – so long as there is a procedure to ensure that such records are not kept secret permanently, but are released when they are no longer politically and diplomatically sensitive. Similarly, information that could put lives at risk – through the identification of people who oppose an oppressive government or who collaborate with others to end oppression – is totally wrong.

Essentially, a leak to prevent wrong-doing is, in my view, correct, whereas a leak for some warped belief that everything should always be out in the open and public is wrong.  Whistle-blowing to prevent corruption and criminal activity is right – whether it impacts commercial or government business. There is a time to speak out, and a time to keep silent, as in the biblical story of Joseph. Had Joseph identified himself when his brothers first visited him, he would have been unable to test their sincerity and repentance. It was important that he kept his status secret – in the same way that it is important that diplomatic cables shouldn’t be revealed as a general rule.

Sarah Palin & Mike Huckabee enter – stage right.

Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin

One reason I’d avoided discussion of Wikileaks was that Sarah Palin had just commented on the site. Having just written a blog post on her, I didn’t want to reprise some of my comments. Her view that Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, should be hunted down “with the same urgency we pursue al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders” is yet another emotive, and ill-reasoned Palinesque comment showing a lack of understanding of what al-Qaeda stand for and what the Taliban represent. Assange may have caused damage to USA interests but in no way can he be seen as an overt enemy who would like to destroy everything that the USA stands for, and to impose a totalitarian belief system on the world.

However along comes Mike Huckabee who, apparently, does not wish to be outmanoeuvered by the outspoken Mrs Palin in his dreams of entering the White House. Huckabee has called for the execution of the person accused of leaking the material to Wikileaks. 

Bradley Manning

Bradley Manning

I agree that the man accused of leaking the material, Private Bradley Manning should be tried and if found guilty, punished (assuming that the trial is fair, which now with so much negative press is doubtful). I do not agree that he deserves the death penalty. He did not release the files to an enemy government and nor did he do it for cash rewards. According to reports he did it after seeing attempts to cover up possible war-crimes committed by the US – for instance an air-strike that killed a dozen people in Baghdad and where the air crew laughed at the dead, and another in Afghanistan, that killed dozens of children. This makes him a whistle-blower and not a spy or traitor, and as such, this needs to be taken into account in any penalty. An overly severe or unwarranted sentence will just serve to further deter whistle-blowing and allow corrupt officials, politicians or business managers to continue in their actions.

I also question whether it is Manning alone who should be blamed. The US government must share some blame in not protecting material they viewed as confidential. Apparently the material leaked was available to many thousands of people. Following the September 2001 terrorist outrages an attempt to stop the silo mentality that had prevented different bits of information being linked together, correctly allowed for improved sharing of intelligence. Evidently such sharing did not consider the security implications of making so much information available to so many – with minimal protection. If Manning had not leaked the material, I’m sure that somebody else with a moral conscience, seeing the Iraq video, would have.

Additionally, it was not Manning (if the leak came from him) who posted the material but Wikileaks. Wikileaks would like to be seen as a channel whereby whistle-blowers can alert the world of crimes (commercial or governmental) that are being kept hidden, and I believe there is a need for such a service. Had they fulfilled this role, they would have edited out any material that did not serve a public service in being released.

The free-rights-for-all crowd enter – stage left.

Facebook Group Logo for Boycotting Amazon over Wikileaks

Wikileaks, trying to remain online, used Amazon’s hosting service for the site. Of course, Amazon was then criticised for ostensibly supporting the service, and came under pressure to boot the service. Had they not done so, I’m sure that they would have faced a large and damaging right-wing campaign against them – especially as the peak holiday buying season approaches.  Their action however has, instead, led to a call for a boycott from those who believe in total freedom of speech regardless of the content, including a dedicated FaceBook fan page.

Had Amazon not hosted Wikileaks in the first place, neither side would have complained. Instead, Amazon has been criticised from both sides for doing what it felt was the right thing – both commercially and morally. They hosted the site – I’m sure because they believe in the moral principle of Freedom of Speech. It was not just a commercial decision – as I don’t believe that you will find any Nazi or Ku Klux Klan sites on Amazon servers. They host sites that they believe are not objectionable to their ethos. When, in the case of Wikileaks, this then threatened to be commercially damaging, they pulled the site – and get blasted by the “Freedom-of-Speech-at-all-costs” crowd who I’m sure would quickly campaign against the company if Amazon took this literally and started hosting racist, Nazi or kiddie-porn sites.

Julian Assange and Wikileaks

Wikileaks is not the first whistle-blowing web-site. My favourite – www.fuckedcompany.com – has unfortunately shut down, along with its sister site www.internalmemos.com. These two sites were important in warning investors of commercial shenanigans and companies that were having problems. Unfortunately I know of no other good sites offering such services. Wikileaks could, and should, have taken on this role. However with Assange as their editor-in-chief, they seem to be looking for headlines and controversy rather than fulfilling a role in preventing corruption and crimes being committed by both government and commerce.

Julian Assange

Julian Assange. (Is it just me who thinks that Assange has a strong resemblance to Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter films? He just needs to grow his hair a bit longer and they could be twins!)

Assange, according to Wikipedia, has led a peripatetic life. He claims to be constantly on the move – starting from his childhood, where his mother, in conflict with his father, hid Assange and his half-brother for five years. Obviously very bright, Assange became a leading computer hacker at the age of 16, and claims to have studied at university level, physics, mathematics, philosophy and neuroscience.

In 2006 he founded Wikileaks with an overtly political aim of encouraging leaks to change organisations that he felt were unjust or secretive:

…the more secretive or unjust an organisation is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie…

Prior to the current 2010 leaks, WikiLeaks has published material relating to extra-judicial killings in Kenya, information on toxic waste dumping off Africa, Church of Scientology manuals, a report on share price manipulation (that led to criminal charges and a jail sentence for the culprits) by the Icelandic Kaupthing Bank and many more reports and items.

What next?

The latest leaks have caused severe embarrassment for the USA and many of its allies. Worringly, the response by some of the opponents to Wikileaks show how freedom in the USA is at risk. Rather than accept that their security was lax and that the leaks show signs that illegal practices are being covered up, blame is being pinned on the message and the messengers (Manning and Assange). That is not to say that either are totally innocent. Manning, if he was responsible for leaking all the documents was naive to say the least. Assange strikes me as a petulant, spoilt and amoral man who loves the publicity he is getting, and doesn’t really care who gets hurt in the process.

Scene from the film "The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" - the third book of Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy.

Meanwhile, I wonder whether the accusations of rape that have been made against Assange in Sweden are just an attempt by his enemies to put him behind bars. It would not be the first time that the Swedish authorities were accused of falsifying evidence to imprison an undesirable element linked to computer hacking, violence against women, espionage and the security services.  Stieg Larsson‘s Millenium Trilogy are works of fiction, detailing how corrupt elements within the Swedish secret services conspire to frame the heroine Lisbeth Salander, and keep her locked up, so as to save their own skins. Salander, like Assange, is a computer hacker who takes on and challenges authority. It would be ironic if the Swedish accusations against Assange also turned out to be false – and were an attempt by his enemies to put him away. However such things only happen in fiction…. don’t they?

Scene from the film "The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" - the third book of Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy.

 

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