Thursday, 22 January 2015

Glad to be of service…

In the North West we have a thriving knowledge economy where service industries continue today to play a massive part in sustaining our futures. This is not to downplay the importance of other strands of pour economy such as manufacturing, engineering or exporting but it’s a fact that professional services continue to be one of the mainstays of our regional prosperity.

This link to knowledge, especially scientific knowledge, is of particular interest in the North West as we head towards 2016 when Manchester will become the European City of Science. The North West has been in the news quite often in recent months with the go-ahead for the new £235m science research centre at Manchester University to build on successes like the development of Graphene.

But I wanted to concentrate here on what is perhaps a lesser known but vitally important link of worldwide significance. Namely the link the North West has to Alan Turing who of course is only now starting to get the recognition he so richly deserves.

Most people know Turing was a fellow of King’s College Cambridge but how many of us knew he was also Reader in Mathematics at the University of Manchester from 1948 to 1954?

We’re closely linked to the man who helped to bring about a speedier end to the war, developed the mathematical theory that underpins modern computing and significantly advanced our progress in the use of artificial intelligence.

But, as is often the case with such geniuses, there is more to this than meets the eye and many more useful parallels with business than just the simple fact that knowledge and innovation are crucial to our sustained growth.

Turing was probably on the Asperger’s spectrum and no doubt written off by many as an eccentric. In the social atmosphere of the 1950’s there was no room for tolerance and a frightening readiness to ignore even valuable contributions of those who were different. This is summed up nicely by the catchphrase of the film made to commemorate the role of Turing in Bletchley Park: “sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine”

Less commendable is the way he was dealt with but I feel it’s important that that story is also told if we are to learn from our mistakes. We must all play our part if we are to continue to advance as a region– use your intellect if you are gifted, encourage others if that’s your role as a parent or teacher, engage and collaborate if you’re a business to help UK plc maximise the scientific innovation skills we have undoubtedly got in the North West.

There turned out to be more strands to this column than I anticipated but I hope it will add another feather to the balance in favour of a knowledge-based economy where all contributions are genuinely valued.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

The January effect…

I believe I’m right in saying that Janus was a Roman God famed for his ability to look in two different directions at once. In my view, that is a very neat trick and one worth copying at this time of year whatever business you may be in.

Use the January effect to simultaneously look back on 2014 whilst focusing intently on what’s coming down the track for you in the New Year too. It’s probably an obvious thing to say but the benefits of doing it may not be so readily appreciated until you have tried it for yourself.

Because of the symmetry created around the end of one year and the start of the next, it’s possible and indeed very easy to make meaningful comparisons. For most of us the obvious one to make is between the final quarter of the year just gone and the first quarter of the year you are just entering. If your tax year coincides with the fiscal year, you have a final quarter left to either make up ground or press on and reach some loftier target.

Whatever state your business is in, this extra degree of focus is very useful and shouldn’t be ignored. I look on it as a great opportunity to increase motivation, remind everyone of where we are trying to get to and redouble efforts where some slippage may have occurred.

But there’s a second compelling reason why this is a good time of year to review progress of business against objectives. That is of course the chance to harness some of the optimism that always flies around at the start of a New Year. Don’t fall into the trap of those who take out gym subscriptions in January and give them up by the end of February! Make sure your plans are grounded and realistic – viewed against the backdrop of the calendar year just ended, are they achievable?

Use your comparisons proactively and put some real effort in now. That equivalent of a gym subscription for your business must earn its keep.  What do you aim to get from the outlay – be specific and realistic against the track record and then nail down some specific outcomes.

When the going gets tough, as it usually does, your objectives will bear comparison with what you know is achievable but will get an extra boost from the seasonal lift we all get from starting afresh. When you friends and colleagues start drifting away from their new regimes you will stick the course. Emboldened by additional knowledge and a doubly magnified fresh perspective, you can lead the way as if you had the strength of a God.