Wednesday, 30 July 2014


We’ve all seen that expression at the bottom of the agenda for a business event of one type or another. Two innocuous looking letters that allow your guests to pose their favourite questions or allow the organisers another chance to reinforce their message.

What on earth could be wrong with that, you might wonder? It all sounds very fair and democratic and should surely lead to a more balanced event with no-one feeling left out. All well and good but the danger is of course that the whole issue of Q&A is treated exactly how it appears on that agenda – an afterthought, tagged on at the end!

Questioning is a vital part of life. As we’ll all know if we’ve witnessed the incessant questions fired relentlessly at a tired mother or father by a single-minded and demanding toddler. It’s also a very deep-seated and instinctive phenomenon capable of arousing strong feelings! As the harassed parent will no doubt testify, questions are in themselves an issue and one which literally demands a strategy if it is not all to go horribly wrong.

So, just as no parent would deny the offspring the right to pose questions, equally there will always be guidelines and rules of engagement. Pointless or repetitive questions will be discouraged and questions with a purpose, aim or direction encouraged.

In business, some of the same rules should probably apply. Despite, or maybe because of the imbalance of knowledge levels that may well still exist between the person asking and the person answering, care needs to be taken over the questioning.

Whether in a Q&A session, or as part of a relaxed catch up over a cup of coffee, why not concentrate a little more on the question rather than the answer, for a change? Obsessed as we often are, indeed trained as we are in certain professions, to extricate an answer from someone – just ask yourself occasionally, is my question the right question?

If you get the “right” answer to your question but the person you are talking to refuses to agree to a second meeting to carry the business relationship forward, then you have failed. As the harassed parent with the excessively inquisitive toddler knows all too well, we can say one thing and then do the exact opposite – think before you question, even if it seems like low-priority stuff at the end of the agenda!

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Brazil Nuts!

You won’t be surprised to see a world cup link in the column this week. Like many other millions of people, I saw Brazil crash out of the tournament courtesy of a rampant German side who may go on to be eventual winners.

Like many other millions of people also, I felt sorry for the fans who were reduced to floods of bitter tears. It’s tricky to hide your emotions when streams of salty water are coursing down your cheeks in a way that’s hard for observers to miss! This was obviously extremely painful and you couldn’t help but think what had they done to be pushed out in such a humiliating and excruciating manner?

In some ways you could argue that they hadn’t done anything at all – they weren’t even playing, just watching. And yet, as we all know from the subsequent coverage and prior knowledge, this hurt Brazil as a nation, not just as a bunch of footballers. Failure, shared or otherwise, is a recurring theme in sport and no less so in the world of business. How we deal with it is a matter of some importance for Brazilians and business people alike.

In business you may not share your failure with millions of other like-minded and passionate fans – you are more than likely to be sharing with just one person – the little guy who lives inside your head.

By sheer coincidence, I’ve suffered a few setbacks in my business in recent weeks which at the time they occurred I was definitely describing as failures. Arguing with the voice in my head, which sometimes is prone to gabble a little too much, I assigned these problems an imaginary status and moved on. Over the years in business I’ve come to recognise that as a skill I’m fortunate to have been able to develop.

“Failures” happen to everyone and it’s vital in business to realise that and deal with it quickly. In my case, there were three “failures” in rapid succession – two have subsequently turned into business and the third is already moving in a positive direction. What you perceive in your head as a failure may be seen entirely differently by others. In the last analysis, the view of others is usually the only one that matters so it’s not a bad idea to try and focus on that as soon as ever you can.

I hesitate to hand advice to a nation, especially a powerful, dynamic world force such as Brazil. I’m fortunate enough to have visited Brazil some years back when I did business there. Of course football defines the nation, as does the Copacabana, Rio carnivals and a feisty spirit but in hindsight it is lunacy to suggest this is going to damage Brazil in the long term. Coming back stronger is what it’s all about and that football team may well be surprised what a cathartic effect a defeat can have – even one on that scale!

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Another Place

Nearly three years ago I took my first diffident steps into the world of blogging. Inspired by a trip to Crosby to see the famous cast-iron figures standing boldly in the sea, I typed up my first blog about the connection between art and business. Rereading the blog now simply reinforces for me the value of such work for anyone who has the will to do it. I’ve reproduced it in full below because I think the points are as valid now as they were then.

There’s an additional note of optimism around the reading this time as the turmoil hinted at in this piece seems to be receding as the economy gathers pace. Anything that stands the test of a revisit in this way and reveals more not less is a valuable thing to my way of thinking.

Here is the blog in question – I hope you enjoy it:

A few years ago Antony Gormley persuaded Sefton Council to let him place 100 cast-iron figures along the foreshore at Crosby. I’m sure he wasn’t thinking about providing inspiration for business people when he did that. But that’s certainly what he did for me when I took my family to visit Another Place this Christmas. What’s more, I think his statues give us a brilliant example of what value visiting “another place” can give. Indeed if you are someone battling to succeed in business then simply being in “another place” can be the key that unlocks your creativity, reveals a new angle or allows you to put an old problem into perspective…

As I see it there are at least 5 major benefits you can enjoy if you take the trouble to visit any major sculpture in such a natural and often dramatic setting. You’ll probably have different ones and maybe even more but see what you think of mine. I hope my experience can help you to find your “other place”.

Here are my top 5 points:

•         Inspiration comes from just seeing things done very differently and in a remarkably bold way

•         Sculptures like these often provide more questions than answers and thus encourage you to keep faith in a business process which often does the same and where answers are similarly hard to find

•         Personal interpretation is challenging and fosters original thought, steering you well away from the familiar patterns and ruts of everyday business thinking

•         Community and family values are enjoyed and reinforced in a shared experience which is novel, memorable and therefore of lasting value

•         A vigorous walk along a wind and rain swept coastline provides an excellent chance to live by the motto “a healthy mind in a healthy body”

I just hope when you visit Another Place that the wind is blowing a little less vigorously since we managed to visit on the windiest day of the year and consequently enjoyed a sand-blasting experience too which will also not be forgotten easily!”