Nine Pregnant Women


One of the things I do every other Wednesday is read Suzanne Burnett’s blog.

Many people reading this will know Suzanne – a mixture of successful businesswoman and farmer’s wife with a healthy dollop of insight and common sense. And this week, with a quote in her blog that’s perfect for this time of year. It’s from legendary American investor Warren Buffet:

No matter how great the talents or efforts, some things just take time. You can’t make a baby in a month by making nine women pregnant.

The year is ticking by. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, now is the time to start making plans for next year. But plans – not ‘wish list’ – is the key word.

Remember that it’s ‘SMART:’ specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. And the most important word in there is ‘realistic.’

Over the years – both in the corporate world and as owner of TAB York – I’ve seen thousands of business plans produced at this time of year. By March of the following year a significant number of those plans lay abandoned, hastily pushed to the back of the filing cabinet, their creators denying all responsibility for them.

And the main reason for that was simple: the goals and targets weren’t realistic – and it had quickly become apparent that they weren’t realistic.

But faced with that blank piece of paper the temptation to be too ambitious – or to please the boss peering over your shoulder – is almost overwhelming.

Yes, yes, I know. ‘Better to shoot at the moon and hit an eagle.’ But sometimes we need to put Norman Vincent Peale on hold and listen to Thoreau as well: ‘If you build your castles in the air that’s where they should be: now put the foundations under them.’

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Or as Warren Buffet said, ‘some things take time.’

Many TAB members have made tremendous strides this year: may will do the same in 2017. But there’s no disgrace in saying, ‘No. Next year’s a year when we need to put the foundations in place for 2018.’

One of the key factors in building a successful team – both inside and outside your business – is finding people who’ll tell you the truth. I love my job: the opportunity it gives me to say “this is how it could be” – to see someone recognise the possibilities in their life and their work – is immensely fulfilling. But I couldn’t do my job if I wasn’t unfailingly honest with people. And sometimes that means urging caution: if the immediate job is to fix the cash-flow, nothing matters until that’s done.

So as well as holding up a mirror saying ‘this is how it could be,’ sometimes I have to say, ‘this is how it really is. Let’s fix it.’

As you may have noticed, the debate about Brexit rumbles on. As I write, the legality of invoking Article 50 is being tested in the courts. Clinton and Trump are having a mild-mannered disagreement. Russia, China… the world is going to be a challenging place in 2017 and if that coincides with a year of consolidation for your business, that’s fine. I’ll support you 100% of the way.

No business is on a constantly upward path. At some time we all need to pause and consolidate before we jump to the next level. Almost always, business growth is a series of steps – in turnover, staffing levels and the quality of your team.

It’s my job – helped by your colleagues round the TAB table – to help you make those steps, and to help you recognise the right time to take the steps. So don’t worry if it isn’t next year: setting unrealistic and over-ambitious goals might satisfy your ego in October, but it could cost you a whole year when you quietly shelve the plans in March.

No, you can’t make a baby in a month. And you can’t build a business in one unrealistic year: everything worthwhile takes time.

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Should We Worry about Germany?


No, I haven’t travelled back to the 1930s. Or to extra time in 1966

But in this era of increasing globalisation – and especially in the aftermath of the Brexit vote – ‘should we worry about Germany’ is a valid question. Specifically, should companies in North Yorkshire worry about European competitors poaching their top talent?

There was an interesting – and disturbing – article on the BBC business pages earlier this month. The gist of it, drawing extensively on quotes from the fund manager Neil Woodford, was that the UK is “appallingly bad” at funding tech start-ups. Small companies aren’t receiving the funding they need to grow: “We’ve been appallingly bad at giving these minnows the long-term capital they need,” said Woodford.

So if start-ups can’t get the funding and support they need in the UK, where will they go? And will talented young people become disillusioned and be tempted abroad?

There’s been no shortage of articles recently championing Germany – and Berlin in particular – as the likely new ‘start-up capital of Europe.’ ‘Berlin to usurp London’ as Geektime put it. No doubt about it: the coming years are going to be exciting for my TAB colleagues in Berlin: ‘Guten Morgen’ to Frank, Thomas and Ralf.

But it’s not just Berlin: the website EU-startups lists the top 15 start-up hubs in Europe: the UK has just one on the list and – post-Brexit – the situation won’t improve.

The anecdotal evidence is there as well: every friend I have with older, university educated children says the same thing. The children all voted Remain, and they all see their future in the UK as a part of Europe, not in the UK as an isolated country. “Two days after the vote he came home for the weekend and told me he wanted to live in Berlin,” as one person lamented to me.

So could the UK – and more pertinently could you – start to lose top talent to Europe?

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It’s not a danger we should under-estimate. Taking Berlin as an example, the arguments in favour of moving are well-rehearsed: the cost of renting around half what it is in London and a pool of talent from all over Europe. And Germany is by any standards a remarkably successful economy – a trade surplus of €20bn or thereabouts month after month after month. Some parts of the Eurozone may be struggling but the German ‘engine’ keeps on running.

And they’re enterprising: soon after the Brexit vote many of London’s start-up technology companies began receiving letters from Berlin. A promotional bus from Berlin drove round the streets of Shoreditch. As Berlin senator Cornelia Yzer put it: “We’re a vibrant city, we attract talent from all over the world. Maybe it’s the right location for a London based company … to make sure they’re part of the EU in future.”

London today, York tomorrow? After all, if you’re going to be part of ‘Generation Rent’ you might as well be paying a lot less rent…

I don’t think so.

York remains an outstanding place to start – and build – a business. As we’ll see at York Business Week in November, there’s a real buzz about the place, a real sense that anything is possible. In many ways the atmosphere in York reminds me of the almost tangible feeling of potential in Denver.

And York has plenty to offer start-ups with The Hub, The Catalyst and the business support available at the Eco Centre.

But talent is scarce – and in greater demand than it’s ever been. Some businesses in York have to fight against the ‘lure’ of Leeds, never mind Berlin!

So the onus – as ever – is on you. Another buck stops on your desk…

The best way to recruit and retain the best talent – whatever the competition – is to lead. That means setting out a clear direction for your company, involving everyone, delegating, recognising your team’s achievements and, above all, making sure they all buy into your vision.

Do that successfully and the burghers of Berlin can drive as many buses as they like round the York ring road!

It’ll Never be Time for the Pipe and Slippers…


Friday September 23rd. And after today, only 11 weeks of the year left. So yes, any minute now I’m going to start looking round the TAB boardroom table and suggest you start making plans for next year.

The time of year for looking ahead is approaching – but for some TAB members, ‘looking ahead’ is starting to take on a slightly different meaning. And it’s no surprise…

It’s more than six years since I started TAB York. As I check the boardroom tables, I see plenty of people who’ve become lifelong friends – but I also see rather more grey hair: or – in some cases – significantly less hair…

Yes, the thoughts of some members are turning towards exit strategies, what they’ll do when they’re not building a business and – ultimately – their legacy.

Well, maybe we should take a leaf out of Charles Eugster’s book…

Charles is 97, and holds the indoor and outdoor 200m and 400m world records for men over 95. He worked as a dentist until he was 75 and – despite a small pause in his 80s – has never stopped working. He still goes to the office in Zurich every day, before training in the afternoon. And Charles comfortably wins my ‘Positive Thinker of the Year’ award:

Even at 87 I wanted an Adonis body, in order to turn the heads of the sexy, young 70-year-old girls on the beach.

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Dr Charles Eugster (87) who has become one of the worlds oldest wakeboarders today when he was given his first lesson at the Ten-80 Wakeboarding School in Tamworth, Staffordshire. Credit: Shaun Fellows / newsteam.co.uk 25/5/2007

More seriously Charles Eugster says that he is “not chasing youthfulness. I’m chasing health.” Retirement, he says, “is a financial disaster and a health catastrophe.”

In many ways this was one of the most interesting articles I’d read all year – and I’d add ‘psychological’ to ‘financial’ and ‘health.’

The sentiments chime with what so many of my friends and clients are saying, and echo an underlying theme from the TAB Conference in Denver.

“I’m not intending to retire any time soon, Ed, if at all,” is a phrase I hear over and over again. No-one, it seems, is thinking of their pipe, slippers and Bake Off.

“I’m going to do a lot less in the business and a lot of other things,” is the consensus – with ‘other things’ covering charitable work, non-executive directorships, and mentoring students and start-ups.

I’ve just finished reading Finish Big by Bo Burlingham: ‘how great entrepreneurs exit their companies on top.’

Burlingham talks about entrepreneurs being defined by their place in the world: specifically by how they see themselves in the community. Unsurprisingly, 66% of entrepreneurs who exit their business “experience profound regret afterwards” – and a large part of that is the feeling that they’re no longer making a contribution.

Back to Charles Eugster and his Adonis body. He’s not ashamed to admit that he’s using his vanity as a motivating factor. And why not? Feeling that you’re valued and appreciated is an integral part of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

It’s no wonder that 66% of entrepreneurs experience profound regret. They’ve built a business, they’ve a wealth of wisdom, experience and knowledge and now suddenly – unless they plan for it – nobody wants to talk to them. Despite all they’ve achieved, they’re no longer defined by their business, they no longer feel valued.

So TAB York is not only about you and your business, or your work/life balance as you’re building the business. It’s not just about immediate problems and next year’s plans – it’s about what comes afterwards as well. It’s about leaving a legacy – for yourself and for the community.

PS I’m sorry, I had to check. Charles Eugster’s time for the 200m is 55.48 seconds. That’s three times longer than Usain Bolt’s time – but it’s roughly 8 minute mile pace. Well, well, there’s a challenge and an interesting ice-breaker for a few TAB meetings. Bring your shorts, ladies and gentlemen; let’s see who’s slower than a 97 year old…

Looking into Your Future


Here’s a question I sometimes ask myself: am I helping? Or am I changing someone’s life?

Make no mistake, I love helping. I love using my experience and solving problems. I love being able to say, “OK. I understand. Another client had a really similar problem and this worked for her.”

And I love it when someone comes to me and says, “Thanks, Ed. That worked. Problem solved.”

But it goes a long way beyond ‘loving it’ when someone says: “Thank you, Ed. Working with you has made a fundamental difference to my business and my life.”

That doesn’t happen often, but when it does it makes me sing and dance. I’m a little too old to skip down the street, but it conveys the emotion. Outside my wife and my children, it’s the best feeling there is.

And when it happens, I realise something important: solving problems is work that’s rooted in the present. Transforming someone’s life or business is very firmly rooted in the future. It doesn’t come from answering the question: ‘what’s the problem?’ It comes from much deeper questions: ‘What sort of person do you want to be?’ ‘What direction do you want to take your business in?’

As I read recently, it’s the difference between running on a treadmill and running to a destination.

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We all have things that we want to be – or that we want to achieve – in the future. Achieving those goals is going to make a fundamental difference to how we see ourselves five, ten, twenty years down the line.

These goals may or may not be business related: that doesn’t matter to me, because TAB is about getting what you want from your business and your life. What does matter to me is that you make a start on achieving those goals. Right now.

Yes, I know that your to-do list is thirty items long and getting longer. I know you have immediate problems that you need to solve.

But the simple fact is that your to-do list will always have thirty jobs on it. There’ll always be things you need to do right now.

I also know that it’s ridiculous to spend time on something that’s five years away – something on which there’s no immediate return – when you could be working productively on something that’s important today. But if you don’t make a start on those things now, you’ll never make a start.

We all know how fast time goes – and that it goes faster as you get older. My eldest son is nearly 14. It’s around three weeks since I held his hand and took him to nursery. In another couple of weeks he’ll be graduating from university.

So if you don’t make a start on what you want to achieve in 2021 it will be here. And ‘significantly improve my photography,’ ‘write a novel,’ or ‘get myself seriously fit again’ will still be nothing more than entries on your mental bucket list.

That’s my key point: if you want to be truly productive in the long term, you need to spend some time being unproductive in the short term.

Your future self needs to be selfish.

You need to sign up to that photography course, start writing, or take advantage of the light nights and get on your bike. And yes, doing those things may feel totally unproductive now – but in five years’ time they’ll be among the best decisions you ever made.

The Cream of the Cream


I’ll never forget the first time. It was a Riesling.

Until then I’d bought my wine from the supermarket, the choice largely dictated by my budget. But that first mouthful… it wasn’t liquid. It was like rolling something solid round your mouth. It was totally different to any wine I’d drunk before. It wasn’t simply ‘better;’ it was a different dimension.

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I’ll never forget my first mouthful of real Italian pizza, eaten on my honeymoon in Rome. Nothing had ever tasted that good.

And I’ll never forget the moment I first held my son. Love? Nothing could have prepared me for it…

Wine, food, your family: all capable of being better than you could possibly have imagined.

And the people you hire can be exactly the same.

Let me return to last week’s post for a minute:

If I look around the TAB boardroom tables, the members who’ve been really successful over the past 12 months are the ones who’ve hired 9/10 talent, not 7/10 talent. That’s the one key reason I’d identify for their success.

I cannot over-emphasise that point. The difference between a 7/10 member of your team and a 9/10 member is the difference between the supermarket and that bottle of Riesling. It’s the difference between the ante-natal class and holding your new-born baby.

When you’re running a business it’s your job to lead. It’s your job to have the vision. And it’s your job to make sure you hire the very best people and manage them effectively.

Why? Why should you hire the best people? Is it really worth paying the extra? After all, it’s not just salary: there’s a pension, employer’s NIC – and quite possibly the sensitivities of the rest of your team.

Yes, it is worth paying the extra.

Everything I have ever seen – both in the corporate world and as the owner of TAB York – and every discussion I’ve ever had on the subject convinces me that the answer is ‘yes.’ But don’t just take my word for it. In his book, Leading Apple with Steve Jobs, Jay Elliot detailed Jobs’ strategy for hiring ‘A list players:’

I noticed the dynamic range between what an average person could accomplish and what the best person could accomplish was 50 or 100 to 1. Given that, you’re well advised to go after the cream of the cream … A small team of A+ players can run rings round a giant team of B and C players.

OK, I may take issue with the ratio: 50 or 100 times seems excessive. But can an ‘A+ player’ accomplish twice what the average performer can accomplish? Easily. Five times? Yes. The curve is exponential: as talent increases, accomplishments and results rise rapidly.

…And when you put A+ players together, the results are explosive. This is Walter Isaacson, quoting Jobs in the The Exclusive Biography:

I’ve learned over the years that when you have really good people you don’t have to baby them. By expecting them to do great things you can get them to do great things. The original Mac team taught me that A+ players like to work together, and they don’t like it if you tolerate B grade work.

That’s a really important point. In fact, it’s two really important points. If you invest the money and hire real talent, they’ll raise the game of everyone they work with. And they’ll raise your game as well. That quote is exactly right: top performers don’t tolerate ‘B grade work’ – and having your name above the door doesn’t exempt you from that.

So I emphatically believe it’s worth paying the extra. Trying to economise on your team is madness. We tell our children to buy Le Creuset as soon as they can afford it – “you’ll be appreciating the quality long after you’ve forgotten the price” – and then try and skimp on our staff.

Your team are going to determine the success or failure of your business every bit as much as anything you do. Some of the members of TAB York have achieved stellar success over the last 12 months. As I’ve said above, the one factor they’ve had in common is that the owners of those business have had the insight – and the courage – to hire the ‘cream of the cream.’ In my mind there’s no question: hiring ‘A+ players’ is the best investment any business can make.

The Disaster Recovery Plan


Let me introduce you to George. Good friend, building a successful business, and keen sportsman – but like many of us, not quite as young, fit and active as he once was. Or would like to believe he is.

Three weeks ago George was playing five-a-side. As he does every Friday afternoon. Then a pint of Theakstons and straight home for the weekend.

Or on that particular Friday, straight up to A&E. “I’ve still no idea how it happened, Ed. One minute I’m stretching for the ball. The next I’m in agony. And my world is turned upside down.”

Tib and fib as the medics say – both broken about six inches above the ankle.

George needed an operation. His scrap metal value has increased considerably. Sadly his business has gone in the opposite direction.

“A week in bed, a week on the settee. Serious levels of painkillers. And I’m exhausted. But worst of all, the business is suffering.”

George employs two staff: he’s at that key point where his business is just about to take off – where 2015 was going to be a year of serious growth. But one mis-timed tackle and the business has stalled. George can’t drive. He lives in a small village. Getting into the office is impractical: seeing clients is next to impossible.

His business will ultimately survive – but as George says, “it’ll be feeling the effects of the broken leg long after I’ve had the screws out.”

The conversation made me think. After all, it isn’t that long ago that I cheerfully cycled into a tree. At the time I didn’t have Julia and Jackie: a few inches to the side and I’d have put myself – and TAB York – out of action for a long time.

We have a disaster recovery plan for virtually everything. All our data is backed up in the cloud. The only thing that’s not backed up in the cloud is our bodies. As I surveyed the wreckage of my face and realised how lucky I’d been a sobering thought struck me. I wasn’t really building a business. If your ‘business’ can be derailed by a tree root or a bad tackle, it’s a lifestyle, not a business.

To build a business you need to build a team – and you need to delegate to your team. That way your business gets continuity – even if yours is temporarily interrupted

As I said in the Four Week Test at the beginning of the year: one day your business is going to be sold. Building a team goes a long way to guaranteeing that you sell when you want to – not when you’re forced to.

Back to George – and thankfully to a silver lining. “My concentration levels have dropped off a cliff. Even daytime TV seems a bit complicated. But I’ve learned one really important lesson. I can manage maybe two to three hours work during the day. And I still make a To Do list every day because, well, that’s just what I do.

“But because I’m only able to work for a short time, I have to do what’s most important. No more patting myself on the back for ‘quick wins.’ No more crossing six unimportant things off and thinking I’ve had a productive morning.”

Amen to that. In many ways that’s exactly the same point as my blog on recording your time. Just as Toggl has forced me to acknowledge the fact that I used to ‘faff’ and fritter time away, so George’s broken leg has brought him face-to-face with the irrelevance of most quick wins.

With that I’ll wish you an extremely safe weekend. As for George, he’ll return to work wiser and more focused, some time around January. Just in time for the ice and snow…

The Office? The Hotel? Or Iceland…


‘I’ll have the terrine, I think, and then the lamb. And the Cabernet Sauvignon, please.’

An expensive dinner for one. But you’ve earned it. Up at six. Fifty lengths in the pool. Shower. An hour’s work. Breakfast. A serious morning’s planning. An hour’s walk in the hotel gardens – and more planning in the afternoon.

The same again tomorrow and all your plans for 2015 will be done. You’ll know exactly what you want to achieve, what steps you need to take and when you need to take them. Possibly your most profitable two days of the year…

‘What?’

‘That client’s on the phone.’

‘Which client?’

‘ … ’

‘Oh. That client. He might just work out the connection between an invoice and a cheque before he rings. Again.’

‘I’m sorry. He’s really insistent.’

And for the fifth time that day you push your planning for next year to one side and deal with an interruption. Maybe tomorrow will be different. Or next week. Or next year…

As you know, I’m a huge advocate of taking some time out in 2014 to make your plans for 2015: to really think through where your business is going and what you want to achieve. As the old Michael Gerber saying has it, two days when you’re working on your business, not in your business.

When should you do it? November looks like a good time to me. December is simply too full of Christmas and the last minute rush to get things done before your suppliers and/or customers have the now-mandatory three week shutdown.

The big question for me is where? Do you set a couple of days aside and try and do the planning in your office – or do you take yourself away so you’re not disturbed? Make no mistake, this is an important two days’ work – maybe as important as any two days you have in the year.

Hang on, you cry. Two days out of the office? In a hotel? That’s going to cost at least £200. Yes, it is. But I’m not even going to try and present a balanced case – for me, being out of the office wins hands down. The key things are time, space and peace and quiet. And somewhere that takes you out of the normal run of the mill. It’s much easier to think outside the box if you are outside the box.

A quick search on www.laterooms.com throws up two nights at The Durham Ox in Crayke for £240. My favourite hotel if I want some ‘me’ time is Rudding Park – and it’s absolutely ideal for a couple of days’ serious work. (No, I couldn’t resist going on the website and seeing what’s available for next week…)

I don’t want to turn this into a travel blog and I’m by no means suggesting the Ox and Rudding Park as the only worthwhile destinations in North Yorkshire. But I am making the point that you don’t have to be far away to be far enough away.

Then again, some people do want to be far away: “Yes, I’m working hard,” one of my clients said to me, “But it’s my reward to myself as well.” I can see her point: I’m developing a fascination with Iceland and the Northern Lights…

How to do the planning once you’re in the hotel is a subject for another post, but let me tell you how I start. I ask myself a very simple question: if I were sitting here one year today, what would need to have happened – personally and professionally – for me to be totally happy? And thereafter it’s simple – everything flows backwards. There’s another important point in that question: it’s personally and professionally, not the other way round.

Anyway, I’ll be doing my own planning over the next couple of weeks. 2015 promises to be an exciting – and potentially challenging – year. But whatever politics and the economy throw at you, two days of planning will put you in a far better position to meet those challenges – and will make a difference to your whole year.

I Have Seen the Future…


Scene One: A car park outside a hotel on the York ring road. A man and a woman, Neil and Sophie, come out of the hotel. They’re both carrying a leather case. Possibly it contains an iPad, or something of similar size.

 

Sophie:          Ed was on form today…

 

Neil:                Unbelievable. How can anyone have that much knowledge? Scanned straight through that proposal of ours.

 

Sophie:          What was it? Twenty pages?

 

Neil:                Thirty six. Full of really complex technical data as well.

 

Sophie:          It’s relating the proposal to all the previous experience that staggers me. Honestly, Neil, I thought I’d reached the age where not much impresses me, but you put a proposal in – a business plan – and two minutes later Ed’s analysed it, compared it to about a thousand other businesses and told you the strengths and weaknesses. TAB is staggeringly good value for money.

 

Neil:                Not like the old days, eh?

 

Sophie: (laughing) You can say that again. I mean, I liked Ed Reid. He was a decent bloke. But the difference in my business since they replaced him with Edwina…

 

They shake hands and climb into the back seat of their cars. They can be seen speaking some instructions. The cars start up and drive out of the car park.

 

If the blog is still around in ten or twenty years’ time that’s what you might be reading. Like Sophie, I thought I’d reached the age where not much impresses or surprises me – but the other day I came across this story on the BBC news site.

I had to read it twice to make sure it wasn’t a hoax. But no, the story’s real and the implications are enormous – for all of us. I’ve often written on the blog, ‘don’t think it can’t happen because it can.’ Amelia has taken that one step further – especially when you click on the link in the BBC story and see that a Hong Kong company has appointed an algorithm to its board of directors.

History is littered with people who’ve thought their business model was untouchable – that there’d always be a demand for candlesticks. Now more than ever you need to think the unthinkable – and think about how it would impact your business. Ten years from now the world will be a radically different place – and machines managing humans may be one of the least surprising aspects.

After all, as it says in the BBC article, “human judgement is often clouded by irrationality, emotion and imperfect knowledge.”

But human judgement and human behaviour is also distinguished – by insight, empathy, gut feeling and the sheer bloody-minded will to win.

Nowhere is this more evident than round an Alternative Board table. One business owner acting on his own is frequently irrational and emotional and acts on imperfect knowledge. But when he’s run that decision by six or seven of his peers irrationality is replaced by careful consideration; emotion by cool detachment and the imperfect knowledge is supplemented by the wisdom of the group. And when you’re accountable to your peers, your determination to succeed is even stronger. To repeat one of my favourite sayings, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’

None of us knows what will happen in the future: but if you have to meet the challenges of running a business in an ever more rapidly changing world, you can’t be better armed than to have your TAB colleagues at your side.

But yes, I suppose it’s possible that it could play out like this…

Scene Two: The same car park, one month later. Sophie and Neil meet as they climb out of their cars.

 

Sophie:          Hi Neil. How are you doing? Good month?

 

Neil:                Staggeringly good thanks, Sophie. Smashed all our targets.

 

Sophie:          Ed’ll be pleased with you.

 

Neil:                Well it’s all thanks to her. Trouble is, she’ll make me increase our targets for next year.

 

Sophie:          Yeah, she did that in December last year…

 

Neil:                No Christmas drinks, either…

 

Sophie:          Nope. One thing a Cognitive Learning Hologram doesn’t have is the Christmas spirit.

 

Neil:                Maybe we should bring back Ed Reid…

 

They look at each other. Simultaneously they laugh and shake their heads. They walk into the hotel. Lights dim…

 

-The End-