Category Archives: Business

Post about running a company and other related business issues.

The Team Player

Yesterday I was lucky enough to be taken to listen to David Peace in conversation with Mark Lawson. The occasion was triggered by the visit to the UK of David Peace, and by the success of the recently published ‘Red or Dead’ – a work that explores the life of Bill Shankly.

And listening to the readings last night central to that man was certainly the concept of the team – that Liverpool was a team above all else and that no individual was as important as the team – a concept we hear so much of in our business life.

watching the gesture


But that wasn’t actually the only reason why I was thinking about teamwork – my post is more a result of watching the performance of Mark Lawson, as he flawlessly performed the role of the perfect foil for David Peace.

This role of the support man really in my view takes a lot of talent, an ability to be quietly confident, full of opinions but not opinionated.



We see this role in much of life – certainly in sports – perhaps the best example is the tireless support given to the lead riders in the Tour de France by the ‘domestiques’. And in business – the incredible talent that work behind the scenes and in the boardrooms of some the most creative CEOs – allowing them to perform as they do.

But what fascinates me now is that I see this too in certain people and the way they live their personal lives. Normally past the nervous stages of youth they are increasingly comfortable in themselves, they quietly smile, are full of experience but still loving the process of learning what is truly important to them.

They take a joy in helping others through nervous times, they enjoy being a friend.

They have found a way to use their personal experience and talent away from the direct light of the spotlight. What a great way to be.

Innovation Day at Claromentis

Last Friday we had an innovation day at  Claromentis and the result is a thought provoking issue for me. I don’t post that often about business, but this one really got me thinking.

Basically the engineering team – Desing, Dev, Testing – had a day off away from the demands of scheduled tasks to work on anything they felt like – perhaps a project they had been thinking about but never had the time to do, or new technology that they felt could help our platform. We then scheduled a meeting at the end of the day where anyone could present their idea – along with free beers. Great way to spend a Friday..

As this was our first try at this we didn’t really make a big deal of it, just scheduled it and let people respond as they wished. The results were really amazing – we had 6 great ideas presented to us, with a lot of the outline work done and shown to the team. They were incredibly varied – and I have to say all of them, without exception, were good and valid concepts.

So what’s the issue? Simply that we now have to find a way to select one or two for further development, and I need to do that without discouraging everyone else! Its one of those occasions where you just don’t want to select any winners – you want to give everyone time – and therefore resources – to keep working on their concept.

Sometimes competition produces an unwelcome side effect – someone has to lose. Like any business we have limited resources  .. any ideas how to encourage everyone but still select just one idea to be carried on, potentially into production?



Leaving space for people

In the Arts

Another great evening last week discussing creative writing with Gary Mepsted. One of the main subjects that comes up consistently is that of leaving space for the reader.

This is extremely important in creative writing – if we provide all the answers and explanations the reader will become bored. Give them the space to work things out for themselves, and leave them with a sense of satisfaction – ideally the emotion would be ‘I didn’t expect that – but yes, I understand”. People are also absolutely prepared to have many minor things left unresolved, a beginner writer like myself is too often tempted to make everything too neat.

In photography I am also learning that without a story that allows the viewer to participate the photo is a meaningless snap. A friend often describes this as ‘context’ – she will ignore a pretty scene of a boat drifting by, because there is no story. She will be facing the other way – finding images and stories amongst the graffiti on the wall.

This is true in business and also in my life.

In business we have been designing and implementing a comprehensive dashboard this month. I have all of the financial information nailed, its just a question of presentation. But one of the metrics needs to be a measure of satisfaction and engagement of our staff. I passed around a simple graph that a friend who runs a search company had found very useful – a simple graph that asks you to plot where you are on two axes – one is how clear your role / tasks are – and the other is how much freedom you have within that role.


The idea of course is that without the freedom you simply won’t be engaged – people need space to contribute – they want to chose the best way to get things done, participate fully in the way they accomplish the tasks the company needs them to complete. They need space to express themselves.

In life I am learning now to make sure that I respect peoples space – i think I have always had a temptation to try to control too much. A friend I met recently is just a brilliant example of this – she wants to live life to the full – but expects to control nothing, to enjoy the weirdness and excitement with what happens if you pursue your passions and learn from those you meet on the way.



Connecting the dots


I was out walking in the rain this morning when I took this simple image of rain drops.

As I walked on my mind turned to a phrase that is used so commonly – “connecting the dots”. And I started trying to connect them, and thinking what we really mean by this phrase.

So what are the dots? In my new child-like world and in the context of this post they are something very special, something that adds to my understanding, helps me improve in one of my main passions, raises my excitement level or adds to my interests. I think of them as gems.

In practical terms I see them as either ideas or people –

  • Ideas – like how to improve a specific area of my company, or a subject to photograph, or a thought for a new travel venture.
  • People – people who are experts, who share their passion – or make your stomach tense when you are with them, or surprise you with their loyalty, openness and friendship.

How can we make and sustain these connections? By changing our behavior so as to find them, value them and bring them into our lives in a sustained and repeating way, rather than encountering them once – and then moving on. Some examples :

  • In Business – through processes. We take an idea – perhaps through a presentation or meeting we attended, a project that succeeded or failed or a customer that came across us for particular reasons – and we build a process that ensures we take advantage of that idea in a repeatable and sustainable way. We need to both implement the idea – bring it back to the business – but also make that experience repeatable and sustaining through incorporating it in a defined and appropriate way. Connect the idea to what we do in our companies – make it a part of how we work.
  • In creativity – through reflection and thoughtful analysis. Yes we need to continually seek out and learn  from experts to   ensure that we see and can become inspired by the work these talented people create, but then we should reflect on what their expertise might mean in our own lives and actively explore areas where different ideas intersect with each other.
  • In our personal lives – through attitude and bandwidth. This might be through exploring social networking, attending new  types of performances and shows – or going on courses to build personal relationships with talented people and fellow students. By not allowing ourselves to become lazy and complacent.

Why should we do this? Doing so increases our excitement, improves the quality of what we do and makes us more open and full of ideas. It preserves those gems over time – by connecting them we learn to remember them and stay connected, rather than feel inspired just once and then lose them over time.

What does this mean for me? I think it means I need to

  • Find as many gems as possible. I intend to do this by making sure I am always looking, pushing myself into new areas and unfamiliar territory –  always staying open.
  • Look always for new connections, new ways to keep these ideas and people connected so that I can benefit from their impact and expertise in a sustained way, and hopefully add my own thoughts so as to raise the bar in everything I do.




Acting like a child

With a new approach to life several new friends, who I admire immensely, have remarked that I am like a child.

I think they meant this in an approving way – in fact I know they did – but the concept of what this might mean in our lives and in business is worth exploring.

Recently I have found a huge level of enthusiasm for a wide range of new or revisited interests. These have given me great pleasure – cycling, creative writing, watching dance, photography – all have become significant parts of my life and have led to me meeting new friends.

Yet these cost almost nothing – apart from the initial equipment like a camera – and I could have taken them up anytime – but I didn’t. I just kept doing the same things, day after day. For more than a decade. Why did I not realize that this had happened to me? That I had become stuck in a comfort zone, not pushing myself forward. I had become fat and lazy.

Is it that we are scared of change – terrified of failure? In my case I don’t honestly think so, I was just doing the same thing again and again because it was comfortable, it was easy.

I wonder if we also do this at times in our business lives. We carry on playing in the same competitive spaces, with the same staff instead of pushing the boundaries and trying  new things with that playful sense of discovery. Business models and modus operandi  take over – improvements at the margins becomes the limit of our expectations.

Just as it was in my personal life I believe that experimenting and being child-like is not actually a costly exercise for a business They certainly do have resources available to be innovative and challenge the fundamental nature of themselves – but few actually do. Nor does it carry excess risk – the amount of play time can be controlled so as to keep the company in business until the benefit is proven – as Google famously does with their one day a week of personal project time.

Some companies famously do embrace play and experimentation as part of their culture – but they are few and far between.

My new friends are right – a personal shock actually provided all the impetus to get out and enjoy so much of the world –  playing, traveling, experimenting and pushing the boundaries in order to learn and discover myself – in exactly the same way a child does. Long may it continue.


Getting over the line – the end in business and in writing

As I am currently finding in my creative writing course one of the hardest things in writing is ‘the end’ – and I know from many years of experience that one of the hardest things in the business I run is to completely finish a project – to ‘get it over the line’.

Why might this be?

When comparing creative writing and projects in business, it recently occurred to me that the nature of  ‘the end’ in these areas are diametric opposites. What certainly connects them is that in both spheres they are challenging – and critical.

In business we are so concerned that we need to be clear about the specifications, and so the end has to be totally known before we can start to work. It actually defines the product, from the customers viewpoint it is the whole rational for the investment they are making. To them – after their role in defining the prototype – the journey we go through with design, development and testing really is irrelevant – they just care that we produce what they requested. To us any lack of clarity about the end represents a risk – so we make every possible effort to tie up all loose ends, to be crystal clear about every aspect of the ultimate product. The end is where our customer’s experience starts.

In writing however – the product is the work that leads up to the end. The reader joins us at the beginning of the work and will care enormously about the journey – with literature this shared journey is what we are creating. The last thing any reader wants is to be able to predict the end – that would destroy the value. And the way that many successful writers seem to work is that while writing they themselves have little idea – in some cases none at all – about what will happen at the end. They can work like this because the product is not defined by it’s end.

In writing we don’t have to tie up every loose end at all – just the major ones. Some unanswered questions and unresolved minor things are perfectly acceptable. It is a positive experience for the reader to have to finish it themselves – that’s the power of unresolved endings. We need to leave a space for the reader, we don’t want to patronize them, to patiently explain every aspect, leaving them no room to imagine and to think.

The best endings in literature have an element of surprise – but then seem to be inevitable. “I didn’t expect that, but I understand now” – is the kind of response we are looking for. In business the last thing we want as we complete a project is any surprises at all.

So it seems to me that in writing the end is challenging because we cannot define it until we are nearly there – as it must be fitting – and in business we cannot start until we know it completely. But in both cases the consumers ultimate sense of satisfaction with ‘the end’ will define the project’s success – and for us both as authors and entrepreneurs this is what makes it all worth while


The lack of importance of ‘The Big Idea’ in Writing and in Business

We were discussing the importance of the ‘big idea’ as part of our creative writing course with Gary yesterday.

Once again I thought this was a great concept for exploring the implications between my separate areas of interest – what part does a ‘Big Idea’ really play across my major interests of travel, writing, photography and running a business?

Today I would like to explore the “Big Idea” both in writing and in running a business.


Gary – the creative writing teacher –  explained that many new writers are  discouraged from writing anything of significance because they feel that they do not have that ‘Big Idea ‘. They are not sure why anyone would read their work as they do not have a neat, original significant message that they can capture and present through plot. They are conscious that they lack any well packaged idea that will fundamentally change or illuminate the way their readers feel about life, and for this reason they are reluctant to write anything at all.

However as Gary pointed out a good story teller can put two interesting characters in a room and create a work that runs across the spectrum of human experience – great ideas are not a significant part of the output of professional writers.

 Running a Business

I see exactly the same concept in the whole field of starting and running SME businesses.

People are obsessed with a ‘great business idea’ when in fact the success of an enterprise is all about the people and execution. We are familiar  with exceptional role models, and indeed we enjoy reading about their lives. But the reality is for almost all people starting and growing a business is that there is simply no original big idea they can effectively exploit with their limited working capital. They should focus instead on the quality of the team and the processes and execution required to deliver the returns anticipated.

What a shame that in both of these endeavors – writing and entrepreneurship – the hunt for a ‘big idea’ can be so counter productive, and so often result in a paralysis that limits our ability to express ourselves and learn these crafts through practice and feedback. Both of these crafts are almost impossibly difficult to do well – but if you don’t start you will never learn.

 The business of the novelist is not to chronicle great events but to make small ones interesting – Schopenhauer



I have been thinking about focus – something that keeps coming up across the main things I am interested in – Business, Writing and of course photography.

In business anyone can be a busy fool – and much of the challenge is to focus. Doing this consistently, for a long enough time to get results, is far from easy.

In writing it can be so easy to drift off and just write almost because I can, rather than to contribute anything to the plot or action. This is particularly tempting in novels – but less likely in screenplays – as I am finding out in an exercise on my current creative writing course. The constraint in screenplays of not being able to get into a characters head – as frustrating as this feels sometimes – helps us to stay on subject.

We are all surrounded by so much potential for distraction. In business we can work with the wrong kind of customers, or pursue products and services that are outside of our brand and our strategy. In photography we can just snap away with little plan or thought for the story we are portraying. In writing it is all too easy to let one’s thoughts move away, and fail to finish the piece we are working on.

Focus seems to be something I need to work on, it’s challenging and interesting in many areas of my life.