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…

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Looser Structures at Work – and what they mean for you


“Back to School.” For the last four weeks you haven’t been able to go shopping without seeing that dread phrase. And if you’re a parent, you’ll currently be wondering a) how come your children need an entirely new set of school clothes when they only broke up six weeks ago and b) what on earth happened to all those geometry sets, pencil cases and rulers you so carefully stored away in July? Who broke into your house in August and stole them?

Anyway, Dan and Rory are back and from now until Christmas it’s smart blue blazers and blue stripy ties.

Strange, isn’t it? We send our children off to school in ties when – outside of weddings and funerals – the majority of them are unlikely to wear a tie in their working lives…

But school uniform serves a purpose. It masks (apparently) disparities in parents’ incomes and – however cynical teenage pupils may be – it says, ‘we’re part of the school: we share its aims, ideas and values.’

Time was when this carried over into the workplace: when blue blazers and blue stripy ties gave way to dark suit, white shirt, sober tie, black shoes. When an accepted dress code was a way of saying ‘we all work for the same company’ and yes, ‘we’ve bought into its aims, ideas and values.’

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Except that the dress code at work is breaking down. There are exceptions – see this depressing article on investment banking – but work is becoming far less formal, and not just in dress code. Businesses are moving to looser structures – we’re working in smaller teams, working remotely, working flexi-time, working with freelancers in different countries…

Ten years from now, our earnest young man in his dark suit, white shirt etc. is going to be exactly what the majority of businesses don’t want…

But as the old structures become looser and break down, the need for an overview, for someone to pull all the strings together, for – in simple terms – leadership, is greater than it’s ever been.

Who’s going to do that?

You know the answer: once again the buck has landed on your desk.

When I started working in the corporate world we were all – in theory at least – ‘singing from the same hymn sheet.’ Yes, there were problems – this team wasn’t pulling its weight, that line manager was incompetent – but by and large we all knew what we were trying to achieve: more sales, better margins, beat last year…

Today it’s entirely possible that Team A has not the remotest idea what Team B is doing. That freelance guy you’ve just brought in is working on a project and when it’s done he’s off. The line managers? There aren’t any line managers any more…

So the need for the owner/entrepreneur to have a constant overview of the whole business is crucial.

A recurring theme of this blog has been that the leader’s job is to lead. But an increasingly important part of leading is making sure your followers are walking in your footsteps: making sure that everything the employees, teams and freelancers do is pointing in the same direction.

Of course you should delegate: of course you should empower your people – but always within the framework of your overall goals for the business.

That’s a difficult job – and as workplace structures become looser, it’s only going to get more difficult. So it’s absolutely invaluable that your colleagues round the TAB boardroom table have an overview of your business. In fact, because they can’t be involved in the day to day minutiae of your business, an overview – and a knowledge of your goals – is all they have. As far as your business is concerned, they’ll never be wrapped up “in the thick of thin things” as Stephen Covey put it. They’re worth their weight in gold…

The Next Level


I was watching the test match at the weekend. Specifically, I was watching Joe Root as – for the second time in the match – he got out playing a shot he emphatically shouldn’t have played.

Joe Root is one of the most naturally talented batsmen I’ve seen – probably the most talented if you only consider England players. And in his short career, he’s not been short of accolades. ‘Could be the best we’ve ever seen.’ ‘He’ll break every record there is.’

But I wonder…

Because as I watched Root casually swat a long hop from Rahat Ali into the grateful hands of Yasir Shah, I wondered if he really wanted to be one of the game’s greats. Or merely very, very good.

Whatever sport you watch, there are people with incredible natural talent. But talent doesn’t always translate into the record books. And everyone reading this blog has watched a sporting event and thought, ‘Why is this person not playing/competing at a higher level?’

Not for the first time, I was struck by the ever-present parallels between sport and business. There are some incredibly talented entrepreneurs out there: some of them right at the top of the tree – but some of them working ‘a long way below their pay grade.’

There are others who may not have been the sharpest tool in the box. But they’ve kept pushing themselves, kept learning, kept setting new targets.

I’ve written many times that the progression of a business is never a straight line. It’s never a graph going inexorably upwards. More often than not it’s a series of plateaus. Reach a level, consolidate, take the next step, reach a new level, consolidate…

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The more time I spend working with entrepreneurs, the more I think it’s the same for them. Reach a certain level – quite possibly the level that was the original goal – there’s a period of consolidation, and then one morning the light bulb goes on again: ‘I’m capable of more than this. I can go to the next level.’

Not for one minute am I saying that you must move to the next level. Goodness knows, no-one has written the phrase work/life balance more than me. But equally, you don’t want to watch the sun go down one day thinking, “If only…”

And my experience of working with entrepreneurs tells me that once the light bulb has gone on, you have to act. Otherwise frustration and boredom set in – and as I’ve written previously, they are few more dangerous forces than a bored entrepreneur…

Moving to the next level is one of the key areas where TAB can help. Yes, we’ll always make sure that your work/life balance stays well and truly balanced. But once you’ve decided to make that move, the support of your peers becomes invaluable – both consciously and subconsciously.

Clearly your fellow board members can help: there’s almost certain to be someone around the table who’s made the same decision: who’s asked themselves the same questions you’re now asking.

And rest assured I’ll do everything in my power to help. There’ll come a day when I’m watching the sun go down: rest assured that I have no intention of letting my mind drift back to any TAB York members and thinking ‘if only…’

But it’s the subconscious side that fascinates me…

I’ve seen this happen several times.

Someone around the TAB table makes a major announcement. They’ve clearly moved to a different level.

Across the table an expression changes. There’s a momentary raising of the eyebrows. Then the eyes narrow. The focus intensifies. The lightbulb goes on. ‘Good’ is no longer good enough. An entrepreneur has made the decision to move to the next level.

Let’s see if an England batsman makes the same decision over the next five days…

The Knowledge Economy


“What do you do?” I asked someone I’d just met.

“We’re in the knowledge business,” she said. “My company adds knowledge to knowledge.”

We’ve all asked the ‘what do you do’ question a thousand times. And we’ve heard every reply imaginable. But I’d never heard one as intriguing as ‘adding knowledge to knowledge.’ I couldn’t help but ask her to explain.

…And I couldn’t help thinking about it afterwards either. Because we’re all in the knowledge business now.

When I started in business – not that many years ago despite what my sons think – people had stock: they had inventories. The auditors would turn up and spend a week stocktaking. Now, I look round the offices of so many of the TAB York members and all I see are the serried ranks of Apple Macs. Yes, there are honourable exceptions, but they’re becoming increasingly rare: those of us writing blogs may soon need to find a replacement for the apocryphal widget maker.

So everything’s fine: we’re all knowledge workers and whether we vote to Remain or to Leave (see next week…) then the future for our businesses is rosy.

Perhaps. I came across this article in the Harvard Business Review recently: it certainly bears out what I see – and what various TAB York members tell me. A bank of Macs is not necessarily the answer to all your problems: in fact the modern office throws up almost as many challenges as its Rolodex and Kalamazoo counterpart…

Interruptions

There’s a great line in the HBR article: I think it’s safe to say that at least some of the work of your company requires sustained focus of longer than two minutes.

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Absolutely: and yet we seem to go out of our way to encourage interruptions to our work. An e-mail flashes up: there’s an alert on your phone: your computer starts cheering – someone’s scored a goal in the Euros. (Yes, yes, I plead guilty to the last one.)

But if the knowledge economy demands anything, it demands concentration. All the studies show that your work takes longer if you’re constantly interrupted, and that you produce lower quality work. There are plenty of techniques for keeping you focused – from the Pomodoro upwards – but they all depend on you turning off interruptions. (And recognising that it really doesn’t matter if Croatia take the lead against the Czech Republic…)

The Design of the Office

Hand in hand with the banks of Macs have come open plan offices. As Maura Thomas describes in the HBR, they’re a double-edged sword. Yes, open plan offices bring increased collaboration, sharing of ideas and a more social working environment. But they also bring distractions, noise and a loss of privacy.

I’m in two minds on this one: I can see the economic argument in favour of open plan offices – but sometimes adding knowledge to knowledge needs silence, focus and being unsocial. In my experience those offices that work best are the ones combining the best of both: where there’s a shared purpose, where you can collaborate – but where can also disappear when that report simply has to be finished by 5pm.

Absent Friends

As I wrote last week, my eldest son has just turned 14. With 8 or 9 years to go until Dan enters the workplace, I wonder if he’ll ever work in a traditional office? It’s much more likely that he’ll spend a large amount of his time working remotely – keeping in touch with colleagues via whatever’s replaced e-mail, WhatsApp and Basecamp by 2025.

But we don’t have to wait until 2025: remote working is a trend that’s already well established. I do wonder, though, if the vast majority of businesses are getting the most out of the team members that aren’t in the office. If it’s not ‘out of sight, out of mind,’ all too often it’s ‘out of sight, out of the loop.’ Success comes from keeping everyone involved and taking all your team on the journey – wherever they are.

…And with that, my thoughts turn back to the Brexit debate. By the time you read next week’s post we’ll have voted. The polls will be closed and if we don’t know the result, we’ll have a very good idea. But next week I’m going to ask a simple question. Leave or Remain: will it make any difference to your business?

It’s the Hard Days…


I’ve been writing this blog for six years now, and we’re coming up to post no. 300.

Inevitably I have my favourites.

No. 99 – Make Good Art – is probably the one that I re-read most often. Written in May 2012 the post took its inspiration from a commencement address writer Neil Gaiman gave to Philadelphia’s University of the Arts. Here’s how post no. 99 finished:

You should enjoy it – because the journey is what makes it worthwhile. Ricky Gervais was on TV the other night. He was asked about the large pile of folding stuff now nestling snugly in his bank account. I forget his exact words … but his point was simple. The journey – the hardships, the disappointments, the knock-backs – had made it worthwhile. If he’d won the lottery, it couldn’t have compared.

So the message from me is as simple as it ever was. Whatever you do, ‘make good art.’ And above all, enjoy the journey.

And now I’m going to take inspiration from another commencement address. This one – delivered a few weeks ago – was Sheryl Sandberg, the CEO of Facebook, speaking to Berkeley’s Class of 2016. In the speech she makes a point about the crucial days on your journey – and it’s a point which is remarkably relevant to every entrepreneur I know.

Sandberg spoke of the death of her husband – Dave Goldberg, the former CEO of Survey Monkey. Goldberg had died “one year and 13 days ago:” her speech covered not what Sandberg had learned in life, but “what I learned in death.”

She described her grief and how she’d learned to cope. The lessons for the Class of 2016 and – by extension – for those of us running a business, were invaluable.

You will almost certainly face deep adversity. There’s loss of opportunity: the job that doesn’t work out, the illness or accident that changes everything in an instant. There’s loss of dignity, there’s loss of love and sometimes there’s loss of life itself. The question is not if some of these things will happen to you. They will. Today I want to talk to you about what happens next.

And then she makes a point that probably ought to be chiselled on the desk of everyone running a business:

The easy days will be easy. It is the hard days – the days that challenge you to your very core – that will determine who you are.

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As we’ve discussed many times, being an entrepreneur is a lonely place. You can have all the coaching there is, any amount of peer support. But there are days when you’re on your own. There will be days when the cash flow isn’t flowing, when suppliers aren’t delivering and when that big client – the one where you’ve invested all the time and the money – turns round and says, “Look, I’ve been thinking about this…”

So how did Sheryl Sandberg cope? How did she go back to Facebook ten days after the sudden death of her husband and sit in a meeting when – by her own admission – all she could think was “What is everyone talking about and why does any of this matter?”

She quoted psychologist Martin Seligman and the ‘three P’s’ that determine how we bounce back from hardships.

Personalisation – when bad things happen it’s human nature to blame ourselves. But sometimes, bad things just happen. Sometimes you’re just unlucky. Don’t personalise it.

Pervasiveness – the belief that something will affect every single area of your life. Let me quote Sheryl Sandberg again: For a second [in the meeting at Facebook] I forgot about death. And that brief second helped me see that there were other things in my life that were not awful. My children and I were healthy. My friends and family were loving…

Permanence – bad things do not last forever. As the old saying has it, ‘this too shall pass.’ By all means recognise your feelings when things go wrong: but recognise too that those feelings will not last forever.

Sheryl Sandberg’s address is one of the most inspiring I’ve ever listened to. It lasts for 25 minutes and it’s one of the best investments of 25 minutes you’ll ever make. And her message is true for every one of us.

It’s the hard days that determine who we are: and it’s the hard days that will determine the success of our businesses.

Cufflinks, Bedtime Reading and the Off Switch


It was the annual TAB member conference on Tuesday. I had the honour (or drew the short straw, depending on your perspective) of being a headline speaker. “We knew you’d be willing to volunteer, Ed…”

Part of the presentation I gave concerned habits – a fine example of synchronicity, as the day before I’d read this article in Inc.

Several of the habits highlighted in the article meshed with points I made in my speech – so I thought it was worth sharing four of them that particularly struck a chord with the audience.

Dress for Success

In the article Chris Dessi recommends having your ‘dress shirts and suits’ custom made. I’m not sure I’m at that stage, but in this increasingly casual age I absolutely recommend dressing well. Why? Because it gives you confidence and confidence translates into success.

The TAB conference saw the debut of my new pink shirt from Charles Tyrwhitt. I like their shirts: they always fit me perfectly, and they’re suitable for business without being only suitable for business. So I was wearing my new shirt, and I felt confident. Was it a coincidence that so many people told me I was ‘looking well’ that day? I don’t think so.

…And cufflinks work for me. Somehow my cufflinks are almost like an NLP trigger. I can feel my performance go up a notch as I fasten them. If there’s a similar ‘trigger’ for you, use it.

Turn off the Electronics

Something that I’ve just started to do, but it seems to be working. If I’m playing golf or coaching rugby then by definition the electronics are off. Increasingly, though, I’m trying to have moments in the day when the tech is turned off – like now, for example. It’s human nature to feel wanted and nothing reminds you that you’re wanted (or needed) like that little ping when the phone announces yet another e-mail. But analysing your KPIs, working on a presentation or even writing your blog demand your full attention. The e-mail will wait.

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I do know a few people who’ve gone one stage further. They’ve taken work e-mails off their phones. “It was the only way to stop checking them last thing at night and first thing in the morning,” one client said to me. I wouldn’t disagree…

Read more

That last point takes me neatly on to reading. In the old days we used to climb into bed and read a few pages before we fell asleep. How many of us now reach our phones or iPads where we once reached for a book? Reading seems to be under threat in our time-pressured lives, but for anyone running a business there’s never been more plentiful and helpful material out there.

If you haven’t time to read some of the great business books around, try a 30 day free subscription to Audible. And don’t forget podcasts either – an increasingly useful source of information and/or inspiration while you’re in that contraflow…

Stop worrying about ‘How’

I’ve written many times on the blog about the ‘how and why’ of business – and if you want to refresh yourself on the ‘why’ here’s the link to Simon Sinek’s compelling TED talk.

But it’s ‘how’ that I want to consider this morning – and why you should stop obsessing about it. As the old Nike ad said, ‘Just do it.’ And as Chris Dessi says in his article: Obsessing over ‘how’ will only lead you into full-on panic. Define your ‘why’ for sure, but let go of the ‘how.’

This echoes one of my favourite lines from Rework. ‘Planning is guessing.’ Increasingly business is intuitive and reactive. ‘Ready, aim, fire’ has given way to ‘Ready, fire, refine, fire again, refine again, aim.’ So get into the habit of pressing the ‘go’ button – and learn as you go along.

With that, have a great weekend. I’ll leave you to go through your wardrobe, turn your phone off, read a good book and stop worrying about how the grass is going to get cut…

At the End of the Day


10 Things Successful People do Every Morning!

12 Things Famous Entrepreneurs do Before Breakfast!

15 Things…

Fifteen? Either Richard Branson gets up at four in the morning or he rolls into the office at lunchtime.

If you want to learn how to get your day off to a flying start you’ll find millions of words on the subject – including on this blog. But that message has sunk in now. Who doesn’t start the day with a 10k run while listening to the latest business podcast? Then come home to fruit, nuts, seeds and a healthy sprinkling of motivation…

This week, I’m more concerned with the end of the working day – a time when my internet search suggests that even our famous entrepreneurs are far less busy. According to Google the most they can manage is ‘3 Things…’

Then again, we all have a tendency to ease off towards the end of the day. You’re getting tired, it’ll keep until tomorrow and, besides, no-one’s going to return your call at ten to five…

That’s a shame: the last time I checked, the pound you earned at 4/30 was worth exactly the same as the pound you earned at 8/30. “Do a full day’s work every day,” as my first sales manager remorselessly drummed into me.

So here’s my attempt to redress the balance. Five things that I try – or tried in my previous life – to do at the end of every working day.

Say goodbye and ‘thank you.’ I could never get my head round bosses who just disappeared at the end of the day. As soon as people were reporting to me I made a point of saying goodbye to them every day, and of finding a way to end the day on a positive note – whether it was simply saying ‘thanks for your efforts’ or more specific praise for something they’d achieved. It was a two minute time commitment that cost me nothing – and went a long way to building team spirit.

End the day with something positive. See above, perhaps, if you’re in charge of a team. But supposing you’re not? This is where work/life balance becomes important. For me, ‘something positive’ doesn’t necessarily mean a new member of TAB York or even an appointment with a prospective member. ‘Everything’s crossed off my to-do list and now I’m taking the boys to rugby’ is a remarkably positive end to a day – and reinforces why I started my own business.

Review the Day. I like to spend five minutes going back over the day – and there’s one question I always ask myself: ‘What could I have done better?’ Did I handle the Board meeting as well as I could have? Did I find out what that potential new member really wants out of life? It’s a lot like my golf – there are always one or two little things I could improve on…

Plan the next day. For me this breaks down into two: firstly, reviewing my appointments and/or meetings and making sure I’ve done all the necessary prep work – or that I’ve definite time set aside for it tomorrow.

Secondly, I want to see my day from someone else’s point of view. Whether I’ve got Board meetings or 1 to 1’s, I’m going to be seeing people. So as I’m writing my prep notes, I want to spend a few minutes in their shoes. What do they want from the meeting? What’s the ideal outcome for them?

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You don’t need to be running Alternative Board meetings or having client 1 to 1’s for this to work for you. A sales call, an appraisal meeting with one of your team: 60 seconds thinking, ‘what do they want to achieve’ can make all the difference.

And finally, stop work. Yes, just that. Actually stop work. That sounds ridiculous, but today it is far too easy to carry on working. ‘Half-time in the boys’ rugby match, I’ll just check my e-mail.’ ‘I’ll just see if there are any messages on Facebook while my wife finishes in the bathroom.’

Don’t. Stop it. Never mind all the studies now showing that too much screen time late at night harms your sleep, you owe it to yourself – and your family – to let your mind de-clutter: to finally come out of work mode. That’s why I’m so pleased with my Monday morning routine: it absolutely guarantees that I stay relaxed on Sunday night.

There you are: five things that I do every night which set up the next day, contribute to my success and give me a better work/life balance. And not a mention of red wine among them…

The Chef’s Recipe for Success


I seem to have become addicted to chefs. Barely a weekend goes past when I’m not reading about the latest culinary superstar. You know the story: started off washing veg in Macclesfield – 20th restaurant just opened in Macau.

This may have something to do with my continuing attendance at the Star Inn the City (don’t wait a day longer: go and eat the White Whitby Crab right now) or the simple fact that getting it right in the restaurant trade means ticking every business box there is.

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So this week it was Jason Atherton in the Guardian. And the journey was Skegness to Shanghai, so I wasn’t far out…

There were three comments in the article that really struck me…

I’m a big fan of David Beckham. He wasn’t the best player in the world but he worked like a dog on the things he was better at than the others and became the best footballer he could be. To be honest, I didn’t know where I was heading [as a teenager] but everything I did want to do, I wanted to be the very best at.

Doesn’t that go right to the heart of everything we all try and do? Whether it’s with our families, in our businesses or round the TAB boardroom table, ‘being the best you can be’ will take you a very long way.

I remember Beckham’s first season with Manchester United – a talented midfielder who scored a wonder goal in the famous ‘you win nothing with kids’ season. Looked like he’d go on to have a good career: but captain of England, owner of a Major League Soccer franchise, Unicef ambassador and net worth (as of June last year) estimated at $350m? Jason Atherton is right: in sport and in business, Beckham is a superb example of making the very most of your talents.

Once, I thought I was impressing him [Gordon Ramsay] by saying, ‘I’ve not had a day off in four months.’ He replied, ‘Then you’re stupid. A kitchen should run just as well without you as with you, Jason. I’ll look at you as a success when you haven’t got more bags under your eyes than I count at Heathrow.’

Another theme that runs throughout this blog: you haven’t built a business if that business can’t run without you. One day you’ll have to walk away from your business: and if the business can’t cope – if you haven’t trained your sous chef – then the business doesn’t have a value.

…And you can’t build a business if you’re exhausted. I see that some of the world’s top business people have just trekked to the top of a mountain in Davos to hear Sebastian Vettel tell them that you can’t drive an F1 car – or run your business – without sufficient sleep. Huh! They could have stayed in the bar with a gluhwein and read the blog…

Rather than go to school I’d sneak off to Boston to go fishing. My parents went ballistic when they found out, but it’d given me time to be alone and daydream and thankfully I discovered the idea of being a chef. I’ve always found daydreaming useful; nowadays I carry a Moleskine book to jot down ideas. A lot of people are too scared to follow dreams, therefore they don’t achieve. What I mean is, if you do have big dreams, don’t be afraid to chase them.

I’m not suggesting that there should be a few empty spaces at the next TAB meeting: “Sorry, Ed, they’ve all gone fishing at Filey.” But we all need space – and time – to dream. Then we all need the courage to follow those dreams – and it’s that courage which separates the successful people from the ones still saying, ‘Someday…’

To repeat the Tim Ferris quote from last week: ‘Someday’ is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you.

Let me finish with one more quotation from Jason’s interview – and it applies to all of us, whether they are ‘eating your food’ or buying your widgets…

I feel really privileged and honoured to have a job I love, a family supporting and enriching my life; that customers are eating our food and I have a great team with the same ethos as me. So that’s as good a work/life balance as I can think of.

…It’s also as good a definition of success as I can think of. Until next week: have a great weekend – and spend some time daydreaming!

Manners Maketh Men. But Does It Matter Any More?


I suppose I was 13 or 14. That age when you walk five yards behind your parents. When you’d die of embarrassment if anyone saw you with such ridiculously old people.

Mum and Dad were in front of me, Dad walking on Mum’s right. We crossed the road. Suddenly, Dad was on Mum’s left. What was he doing? Couldn’t he decide which side he liked best?

“Why did you do that?” I demanded when we got home.

“Because, Edward, a gentleman walks on a lady’s outside.”

“Why?”

My Dad sighed at what would be my predictable reaction. “So I can keep my sword arm free if someone rushes across the street and attacks your Mother. So she doesn’t get splashed if a horse and cart goes past.”

I delivered my all-too-predictable reaction and disappeared to my bedroom.

But nearly thirty years later, that incident is imprinted on me. I do try and walk on my wife’s outside. I do hold doors open for her. I hope – to use a remarkably out-of-date term – that I act like a gentleman.

The question is, should I do that in business?

No, of course not.

Who’s the most successful, far-sighted, innovative entrepreneur of our age? Steve Jobs, obviously. Well, according to Danny Boyle’s new (and apparently very accurate) biopic of Jobs, he was a man who shouted at other people in meetings, was visibly impatient and who dismissed other people’s contributions. So that’s that. You can shout your way to success.

Except I don’t think you can.

I may be wrong but the next Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk probably isn’t reading this blog. That’s not to imply that those gentlemen shout (and so on). It is to imply that the vast majority of us have rather different – but no less worthy – ambitions.

We’re building a business: but we know that business isn’t everything. We know, for example, that the Nativity Play isn’t far away: that we have one unbreakable appointment in early December. No business meeting can ever be as important as watching the little boy you held in your arms hammer on the door of the inn and announce, ‘We are very tired. My wife is heavy with child…’

And we work in a relatively small business community. North Yorkshire is not Southern California (something you may notice now it’s November…) As LinkedIn would put it, you’re never more than a ‘connection’ away from knowing nearly everyone. A reputation for being ‘difficult’ is not ideal – and once earned, it’s a hard tag to lose.

That great quote from Maya Angelou is directly relevant here:

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.

Part of building your business is building trust: and an integral part of building trust is doing the right things for the right reasons – and doing it consistently. Good manners are part of that. Whether it’s punctuality, keeping promises, prompt replies or – from a wider perspective – seeing the other person’s point of view. As Stephen Covey put it, ‘thinking win-win.’

All of this impacts on how people feel about you: it’s your personal capital, your reputation – and it’s an essential part of your business.

So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to do two things. First of all I’m going to dig out a couple of photos of previous nativity plays. I may shed a small tear. But then I’m going to have a conversation with the young men in those photos – about horses and carts and keeping their sword arm free…

 

 

 

 

 

Taking Control and Staying in Control


I occasionally introduce this weekly post with a reference to Google. This week, I’ve broken all records. ‘Take Control’ were the words I tapped in. Google’s response was instant: take control of your life it said, and offered me 755m hits in 0.54 seconds.

Clearly Thoreau wasn’t wrong when he talked about the ‘mass of men’ leading their ‘lives of quiet desperation…’

Last week I mentioned the three themes that have always run through this blog: work/life balance, going as far as you want to go on your journey, and adapting to change.

In many ways taking control – or being in control – spans all three. It’s easy to come up with a kneejerk response to the idea of control: ‘it’s nonsense. I’m running my own business. Obviously I’m in control of my life.’

But that may not be the case – as much as we’d like it to be. All too often things gradually slide. It’s so gradual that we don’t notice it happening, but suddenly we’re not in control of the meetings: the meetings (or staff problems or customer demands) are controlling us.

If you’re running a business there’s one central point to keep in mind: you’re not there to serve the business, the business is there to serve you – and what you want from life.

So here are five simple strategies that will help you take control and stay in control. They’re based on experience, books I’ve read and yes, my own life: things gradually slide for all of us at some point.

First and foremost, get fit and stay fit. I’ve always played a lot of sport, but like everyone there have been times – having a new baby is a good example – when keeping fit hasn’t been at the top of my priority list. This has almost always coincided with times when I felt I wasn’t in control at work. When I’m feeling at my best I’m more focused, I’ve more energy and I make better decisions – so rule number one for me, if I want to feel in control I make sure that I’m keeping fit and eating healthily.

I’ve written about this on previous occasions, but an essential part of being in control is saying ‘no.’ Two days ago a ‘job’ floated across my timeline on Facebook: a local charity wanted a Chairman. For about ten minutes I was really tempted – it’s an area where I’d love to help. But do I have the time to do it properly and do it without damaging my existing commitments? No. There’ll still be charities needing chairmen when I’m retired. Right now – for me and for everyone round a TAB table – saying ‘no’ is an integral part of staying in control.

Linked to saying ‘no’ is time for yourself. Whether you walk the dog or get out on your bike or simply sit quietly with a coffee, having time to yourself – time to get your thoughts in order – is essential. At least once a month take yourself off, order a flat white, and go through everything: goals, priorities, pipeline, problems, the team… Simply give yourself the chance to reflect and think it all through.

And finally, another nod to Stephen Covey. It’s over three years since he died, but The 7 Habits will still be read – and will still be as relevant – in 50 years. In terms of staying in control, two of the habits are paramount. Begin with the end in mind: if you don’t know where you’re going you haven’t a hope of getting there or feeling in control on the journey.

…And keep the main thing the main thing – which reinforces the point about saying ‘no.’ There are only so many hours in the day and if you spread yourself too thinly you’re back at the beginning – waking up one morning and realising that the meetings and commitments are dictating to you.

With that I have no option other than to climb onto my bike and pedal off into the wilderness with a flask of coffee, a notebook and a pen. Have a great weekend while I’m away…