The survivalist nature of things

Fire does not want to die. When it runs out of fuel it desperately looks for more and will even jump across roads to find it. This is amazing considering that fire has no true mind of its own.

Colds don’t want to die either. When someone has a cold, their body starts fighting it with its immune system. At some point the person starts sneezing. I am not sure why people start sneezing but the result in that the germs spread and often find another host in this way. Like the fire, it jumps to survive.

Companies are like that too. When a company’s product is not longer relevant it does not just die, it pivots, it tries other things, it will swap out its CEO, it will fire and hire, it will borrow money, it will issue more equity, it will do anything to survive until the bitter end. While we think of a company as just people and that the people are making the decisions, I wonder if there is more to it, whether the company has a ‘mind’ of its own, a mind that seeks survival independently of the team that run it?

The same may be said for political ideologies. Take socialism and communism. Both have failed every time they have been tried and you would think that that would be it, you would never see it again. And yet, here it is again having jumped to parts of the American and British political class and seems to be taking hold. Could it be that socialism and communism have a ‘mind’ of their own and will seek survival independently of those that promote it, even jumping countries if need be?

The question I leave you with is if ideas do have lives independent of those that come up with them how can we make this work for us? I leave that with you.

The end of camo

Camouflage style fashion is done.

It always walked a fine line in that it is really for the military and when you wear something too military you open yourself up to the question: where did you serve? If you didn’t, there is no real come back from that. As such, the clothing had to have a military ‘theme’ (but not go beyond that) to be acceptable.

In the last year or so camo became huge again. You saw it everywhere. Jackets, trousers, shirts, bags, heck, even watch straps. Then, we peaked. Calling it here. Camo is done for this round. Sure, like all fashion, it will return but camo won’t really exist in 2020, at least not by those breaking new ground. There will be stragglers, those late to the party who arrive as the lights come on but don’t be fooled. Camo is done.

Are athletic golf shoes the emperor’s new clothes?

Are golf shoe manufacturers destroying your golf game and fleecing you at the same time?

Golf shoes used to be about stability. This requires a stable and relatively flat sole. It has been this way since the beginning. Then, something changed. Companies that make trainers, got into golf.

Enter golf trainers/sneakers (whatever you want to call them) into the golf world. These are comfortable to walk in but they are not stable. In fact, when A certain trainer and clothing company was working with Rory Mcilroy to design a golf shoe the one thing he apparently asked for was “stability”. Something sorely lacking in the golf trainer world.

But why are golf trainers suddenly such a good idea? Could it be that trainer manufacturers already make trainers and so all their equipment is set up for that and it is much cheaper to repurpose trainers as golf shoes rather than actually make golf shoes?

What is also amazing is how if you get golf stars to wear anything for a little while and pump the marketing machine, then the rest of us start believing it’s a good idea. It’s the “influencer” marketing strategy and it is hard to resist. Nobody wants to look uncool.

We have even noticed some pros getting paid to sport golf hoodies. Why? Well their sponsors already make hoodies and the average golfer doesn’t wear one so wouldn’t it be sweet if they could increase their customer base that way? That is all it is. Hoodies are not used for golf because they are non functional, particularly in the wind but don’t let that stop you copying the hired guns out there. Oh and put your trainers on at the same time that put all your weight on your toes. Yeah that will help.

What supermarkets don’t want you to know

Since the Brexit referendum result a few years ago something curious has been happening to the cost of food in the UK. The prices have stayed pretty similar which, given the weak pound (remember a lot of food is imported) shouldn’t be possible right? Right. What has changed is that supermarkets are slowly, discreetly, reducing the amount of food in the packets but keeping the price the same. This is called “shrinkflation” which is a way of hiding inflation.

So if you used to get a packet of vegetables that fed a family of four for say £3, that package still costs £3 but now only feeds 3 people. It’s an insidious way passing the cost of inflation to the customer without them really knowing.

We think this is because there is a price ceiling that families are prepared to pay for certain items and the supermarkets know this so pushing up prices doesn’t work. So they just give you less for the same price and which is harder to track and won’t raise any alarms. Sure, some people notice like you and us but the average person won’t and the supermarkets know this.

If the pound ever recovers don’t expect any savings to get passed on to the consumers. No way, these changes are one way only.

It’s like of like how VAT went up to 20% during the financial crisis together with austerity measures but when things normalised, VAT never came back down.

How to recognise poor culture at a company

Look at the small things. They tell you everything you need to know and they are extremely difficult to hide. But firstly, why do we care about the small things? Because, in the end, the small things reveal the culture of a company and poor culture destroys a company from the inside out.

But what do we mean by small things?

Is there a leaking tap in the toilets that never gets fixed? Is there a door that never opens properly and has always been that way? Maybe a bit of carpet that came up that people trip over but for some reason was never put back down, even though all it needed was a little bit of glue? All of these things (and many more) are signs of a no ownership culture.

So what if people are not sweating the small stuff, all that matters is profitability right? Wrong. If employees are not attending to the small things, you can be sure that they are not attending to the big things either. You see, incompetence and lack of ownership is never restricted to one area. If it is in one place and left to fester, like a cancer, pretty soon it is everywhere. Or, put another way, a leaking tap is the tip of the iceberg.

Let’s not forget that you cannot trump your environment so if you work in a company with a poor culture you have two choices: 1. Stay and become part of the problem or 2. Leave.

It is worth saying too that a company is nothing more than the people that work for it. So if you have a company with poor culture you simply have the wrong people working there. This is because people who are any good either succumb to the poor culture or they leave so in the end no matter what happens the company will be run by the wrong people.

So what is the take away? Next time you start a new job at a company, don’t look at the billboards, the flash offices, the advertising or the corporate events, look for the little things. The signs are always there and if they indicate a poor culture, get out, as fast as you can.

Will they keep on building higher until there is no room (on the platform)?

Canary Wharf was a Las Vegas type experiment. If you build it, they will come.

The problem is, they did come and they kept coming but the transport solution remains unchanged from an era when there were only a fraction of the number of workers in the Wharf.

10 years ago, getting in and out of Canary Wharf was pretty simple. No real queues to speak of. You kind of just went to the platform and got the first train or if you wanted to guarantee a seat you might wait one train. No more. Now each day is a catastrophic kettling experience like you took a wrong turn and got caught in a surge of the crowd at an overcrowded rock concert. Except, the music you face is not the kind you want.

How did this happen?

Poor planning. No leadership. They keep building more and more buildings but no more transport. That we are now facing delays almost every day is no wonder. You can’t attract the best talent in the finance world when you offer this experience every day. Something will give.

Just your average Canary Wharf experience

Why is London public transport one of the worst in the first world?

Victoria station had chicken wire holding up the ceiling for at least 10 years, maybe longer. Chicken wire (!). The other stations were not much better. London is supposed to be the capital of the world and the world’s leading financial centre… and here we are with chicken wire holding up ceilings.

Add to this the laundry list of problems such as cancelled trains, delayed trains, overcrowding, trains too small, not enough trains, drivers don’t show up to work, platforms too short, signal failures and so on and you see something that belongs in a dystopian nightmare. any yet here we are, in what is supposed to be a first world city.

This is bad but more importantly, why is nothing done about it? Why is all this ‘ok’?

We think the reason is that TFL can get away with it. There is (as far as we can see) simply no culture of accountability in TFL, at least not to the average customer. If the train is late and you miss a shift, a meeting, a plane do you get compensated? No. At best you can apply for a refund of a couple of quid. There are no real consequences for TFL and hence they have absolute power. And we know how that goes: Absolute power corrupts absolutely. TFL can’t be sued by you and me (really), so they can’t be fired, so they can do what they like. Which, as far as we can tell, is very little.

But why is nobody noticing this?

Enter Brexit.

For the last few years Britain has been consumed by Brexit and this is great if you are an incompetent company providing an essential public service. Why? What do they say about a day with a big event that everyone focuses on? It’s a good day to bury bad news. Well, TFL decided (it seems) that with everyone focussing on Brexit they can do even worse of a job than usual and none of the press will notice.

No matter how you look at it, the service that TFL offers is third world. If Britain is to have any chance in this uncertain future it is going to have to have a world class transport system and at the moment (and for years) it has one of the worst (and most expensive).

Why is it so bad?

While some may not like this, it’s true. Usually it comes down to the people that are hired or the lack of training. Sure, there will be exceptions but in the main, if there is appalling service, it is going to be down to the quality of the average employee. This is not just TFL but any company. Good or bad service is delivered by the people that work for a company, not the company itself. so we need to be honest about that. TFL either got the hiring wrong or are incredibly bad at training (or both). But how do you fix that in a unionised system like TFL. We don’t know. How do you unscramble an egg?

What does it mean to think for yourself?

What if I told you that most of your thoughts are not your own? That sounds crazy. Of course our thoughts are ours… or are they?

How much advertising are you unconsciously aware of? How much is just going on in the background, out of direct thought but nonetheless there, quietly planting seeds for later germination? Nobody likes to feel they are being sold to so the most effective advertising is subtle, it’s not really there to make you buy something right here and now. It’s smarter than that. The best advertisers market in such a way that you don’t realise that when you wake up one morning and decide you need a holiday in Tahiti that it was their idea all along.

But how did they ‘get to you’? That poster on the underground that advertised cheap flights to Tahiti that you didn’t really focus on because you were reading your Kindle? Ok, maybe you glanced at it once but no more than that…at least you think so. Those annoying ads that pop up after you searched for ‘Best beach holidays all year round’ a few months ago? Sure, but you just ignored them right? Of course, course. But here is the rub – these things are like water that constantly drips onto a rock. At first there is no noticeable change, but, after a prolonged period, a small hole starts to develop until eventually, the rock cracks in two. Looking at the giant rock, split in half, the last thing you think is that that a little drop of water could have had anything to do with splitting the rock. And you’d be wrong. Advertising is like that drop of water and, like the rock, none of us notice it, until it is too late. I say ‘too late’ because one of the most difficult things to reevaluate is an idea that you think you came up with yourself.