Be Brave


Last week I wrote a Tale of Four Leaders, contrasting Paul Dickinson and Barry Dodd with two leaders who I consider to be far less successful – the Donald and the Maybot.

I’m still coming to terms with Paul’s passing, but gradually the sadness is giving way to what I’ll think of as his personal legacy to me.

Many of you will know the words of the poem by Henry Scott Holland, so often read at funerals. It’s called Death is Nothing at All, and there is a line that is particularly apt: ‘Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?’

Paul will never be out of mind for me and – two weeks on from the funeral – I feel a duty to his memory to make TAB UK the best it can possibly be. That means for everyone in the TAB family: our members, our franchisees, our team at head office – and the colleagues we work with overseas.

How are we going to do that? We are going to be brave. What was it Thoreau said? ‘The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to their grave with the song still in them.”

No-one in the TAB UK family should do that and so – and I know Paul would have approved – the message this week is simple: Be Brave!

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This, more than ever, is a time for brave decisions, on both the micro and macro level. The world is changing at an ever faster pace: AI and machine learning, advanced search and the personalised internet are knocking on the door of virtually any business you can name. Businesses that were once cornerstones of the national and local economy are crumbling away. Brave decisions have become essential.

So let me turn to two decisions – sadly both from our government – which illustrate exactly the type of decisions we should not be making.

A couple of weeks ago Theresa May announced an extra £20bn – from your taxes – for the NHS. That’s a worthy decision: with four out of five people apparently in favour of tax rises to fund the NHS I’m sure the focus groups will approve.

It’s worthy, but in the long run I think it is wrong. And it’s the easy decision, not the brave decision.

Anyone who walks through any town centre will notice that the UK has an obesity epidemic which is getting worse every year. That in turn is leading to an explosion in Type 2 diabetes which is currently costing the NHS £25,000 a minute. Diabetes UK put the cost of treating Type 2 diabetes and its complications at £14bn a year.

Those are staggering figures for what is – in the main – a preventable disease. And quite clearly there isn’t much of the PM’s £20bn left when you’ve paid the diabetes bill: if we carry on getting fatter there very soon won’t be anything left.

The PM’s £20bn is, in essence, a very expensive bucket. There’s a hole in the roof of your factory, the water is coming in ever more quickly, so clearly what you need to fix the problem is a bigger, more expensive bucket…

Yes, that might be the answer while the guys go up on the roof to fix the hole. But as far as the diabetes epidemic is concerned, we’re not sending anyone up on the roof: we’re relying on an ever more expensive bucket instead of making difficult decisions and telling people the unpalatable truth.

Secondly, pot. Or weed, or whatever you might want to call it. Last week the case of Billy Caldwell and an article by William Hague brought cannabis front and centre in the news.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph Hague argued that the war on cannabis has been “irretrievably lost” and called for it to be fully legalised. He argued that cannabis is freely available in the UK, but available in unregulated forms, with a thriving black market bringing huge profits to criminal gangs and putting an unnecessary strain on the police and our criminal justice system.

Some time ago I wrote about the legalisation of cannabis in the US state of Colorado. The state – which I visit every year for TAB’s global conference – legalised  cannabis in 2012. Teenage use of the drug in the state is now at its lowest level for a decade, opioid deaths are down, crime has not risen – but tax revenues have, by an estimated $230m over two years. The population of Colorado is around 5.6m – that is around one-tenth of the UK, so it is easy to project the tax revenues that might result from legalisation here.

Sam Dumitriu, head of research at the Adam Smith Institute says, “We estimate that legalisation would raise at least £1bn a year for the Treasury.” He added, “Just as the prohibition of alcohol failed in the US, so the prohibition of cannabis has failed here.”

What is the UK government’s position? A flat refusal to even discuss the subject – a refusal, not to make a brave decision, but to even have a brave discussion.

In business, you cannot do that. It bears repeating: we are living in the age of brave decisions. The problem is, there’s no pain in buying the NHS a bigger bucket or refusing to discuss cannabis. The government – like so many businesses – is in a comfort zone.

But you know and I know that it cannot last. We cannot go on getting fatter, we cannot go on seeing young people murdered on the streets of London and we cannot ignore Google, Amazon and Uber when they tap on our door.

Throughout his life – and never more than towards the end of it – Paul Dickinson took brave decisions. That’s the legacy he left me: that’s the legacy that we all – in government or in business – need to follow.

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A Tale of Four Leaders


I have, of course, stolen the title from Charles Dickens. As your English teacher drummed into you, his Tale of Two Cities begins with one of the most memorable opening lines there is: ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.’

For those of us in the TAB UK community, the last few weeks have simply been the worst of times. As many of you will know, Paul Dickinson, the founder of TAB UK and a man to whom I owe an immeasurable personal debt, died 2 weeks ago. His funeral is today.

At the end of last month Barry Dodd, an inspirational leader of the Yorkshire business community, died in a helicopter crash.

On May 3rd I wrote Darker Thoughts from an Old Friend, pondering a simple question: do you make sacrifices now, in the hope and expectation of a better future? Or do you live life to the full, accepting that the future may never arrive? Well, today I’ll be the one with the darker thoughts as I reflect on that question I asked six weeks ago.

I’ll also be reflecting on the nature of leadership.

If Paul Dickinson and Barry Dodd taught us anything, it was that leaders can and do make a difference. And that their job is simple: it is to lead and take decisions.

On Tuesday night the House of Commons voted for what appears to be yet another fudge on the road to Brexit. We are – give or take a few days – a week away from the second anniversary of the Brexit referendum. It was held on 23rd June 2016: two years on we still have no clear idea of what shape Brexit will ultimately take.

As commentator Patrick Wintour wrote recently, referring to yet another squabble in Cabinet, it was “The apotheosis of May-ism. Her ministers unable to agree what it means to set a date for when they expect to stop kicking a can down the road.”

As everyone knows, I voted to remain in the EU. If the poll were re-run tomorrow I would vote the same way. But I am a democrat: I accept the result. And I am running a business: so let’s get on with it. No commercial organisation would tolerate – or could survive – such indecision.

Our job, as leaders, is to take decisions. It’s come to something when Tony Soprano talks more sense than the British Prime Minister but as he famously said, “A wrong decision is better than indecision.”

If you make no decision: if – as we see – you cannot decide what you want from a negotiation, then you will simply have to accept what you are offered.

I wonder what Paul and Barry would have made of it? Well, I know what Paul made of it as we chatted about the shambles frequently: it doesn’t bear repeating.

Say what you like about the 49th President of the United States. He doesn’t suffer from indecision. And suddenly here’s the leader of North Korea committing to a de-nuclearized Korean peninsula. Paul Dickinson and Barry Dodd may not have approved of much that Donald Trump stands for – but they’d have recognised a successful negotiation.

Let me finish by returning to Dickens – and a personal note on Paul’s passing. Many of us know, ‘It was the best of times…’ Few of us know the next two lines. “It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.”

There is far too much foolishness in the world, so I’ll concentrate on wisdom – and the wisdom that Paul Dickinson passed on to me, including five very simple words: “Ed, just try smiling more.”

As I wrote in an earlier e-mail to the TAB UK family, smiling is pretty bloody tough right now – but I will try to take comfort from everything Paul gave me.

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His example, and the knowledge that he passed on to me, changed my life. He was, in the very best sense of the word, a leader. Paul had a vision, the courage to pursue that vision, and the charisma to take others with him on the journey.

That is the legacy he leaves us. And if we follow his example then – for both ourselves and our families – we will surely create the very best of times.

Darker Thoughts from an Old Friend


I bumped into an old friend in York last week. He was wearing a suit. And a tie. This was the man who became bored with dress-down Friday – and dress-down every other day of the week – when the rest of us were still learning not to wear a striped tie with a check shirt…

There was only one possible explanation.

“Congratulations,” I said. “You’ve finally made an honest woman of Claire. Where is she?”

He didn’t laugh. “Other end of the scale I’m afraid, Ed. Funeral. My second in two weeks. And both of them not much older than us.”

We’ve all been there: mentioned someone in conversation only to hear, ‘Hasn’t anyone told you? Last Thursday. No warning, nothing.” And inevitably the person being discussed was ‘not much older than us.’

That meeting with my friend played on my mind for the next few days. One thing I am sure of is that there is an ever-increasing level of stress in the average entrepreneur’s life. A few years ago people e-mailed or phoned. Now there is myriad of different ways of contacting someone: whatever you turn off, something else will bleep just as you sit down to dinner.

And we all know the dangers of stress.

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So that chance meeting with my friend stayed with me – not just because we’d been talking about someone close to our own age, but because the conversation posed a question that’s absolutely central to The Alternative Board.

You’ve started a business. You know what you want to achieve: you know what you’re capable of achieving. And you’re determined to get there.

So what do you do? How do you react when someone says, ‘haven’t you heard?’

Do you take it as a signal to run at 100mph in case the same thing happens to you and you never realise your potential?

Or do you stop and smell the roses? Pay attention to your work/life balance? Remind yourself that no-one’s last words have ever been, ‘I wish I’d spent more time at the office.’

The more I thought about it the more I realised I’d seen business owners – perhaps without even recognising it – struggling with the same dilemma. And not just as a one-off.

It’s a problem that raises it head, in different forms, at different stages of your entrepreneur’s journey.

What should I do? Put in the time? Re-invest the cash? And build a company that will really be worth something in 10 or 20 years’ time?

Or realise that I might not get there – and milk the business for all its worth and take my rewards in the here and now.

The answer, of course, is that there is no right answer. The right answer depends on your own individual personality and how you want to live your life. As everyone who knows me will recognise, I’m in the ‘building a business’ camp – and I’m determined to enjoy the journey along the way, sharing that journey with my family and my friends.

Yes, I could be in the office every minute of every day – but I remember waking up one Tuesday morning early in my TAB York days. It was a morning like today: early May and the sun was shining in through the window. I looked at the pile of paperwork on my desk and went off to play 9 holes of golf.

It was a moment when I suddenly appreciated the freedom the decision to start my own business had given me – and when I knew I’d made the right decision in Newport Pagnell service station.

Not every entrepreneur would have taken that decision: some would have ploughed through the paperwork. The important thing, I think, is to recognise what works for you – and what you want from your business.

Whatever choice you make – whether you take your rewards now or later – remember that the business is working for you. It is emphatically not the other way around.

What can we Learn from Loyalty Cards?


Open your wallet.

Go ahead. Open your wallet. Or your purse. I’m conducting an experiment.

I am prepared to wager that in there – along with the photograph of your children and the credit cards – are two or three loyalty cards. I don’t mean your Tesco Clubcard – I mean the ones that are stamped. The loyalty cards from coffee shops, bakeries and your enterprising local burger restaurant.

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…And I’m prepared to make a second wager: that all those loyalty cards – that need eight or ten stamps before you get your free bagel or burger – have just one or two stamps on them. That you thought, ‘hey, that’s a good idea, I’ll do that’ and then quickly lost interest.

You’re not alone: that’s archetypal human behaviour – but according to an article in the Harvard Business Review it’s behaviour that may offer business owners and managers an insight into how to improve results from their teams.

Interestingly, it flies in the face of most current business thinking, especially when it comes to setting and achieving goals.

The modern trend is towards flexible working. As I wrote recently, the evidence suggests that teams allowed to work flexibly are both happier and more productive. And unsurprisingly, the vast majority of people have a preference for flexibility when it comes to goals. As the HBR puts it, ‘Adopting a somewhat elastic approach to setting goals allows us some future wiggle room.’

But it you want to achieve a major goal, then the article suggests you’re much more likely to do so with a rigid and restrictive structure for the necessary steps.

And this is where loyalty cards – and yoghurt – come in.

Professor Szu-chi Huang and her colleagues in the marketing department at Stanford University conducted research on the effectiveness of loyalty cards at a local yoghurt shop. It was the standard offer: a free yoghurt after six purchases.

There were two separate offers – the ‘flexible’ one, where customers were free to buy any yoghurts they liked, and a far more restrictive one, where customers had to purchase specific yoghurts in a specific order.

Unsurprisingly, there was far more take-up of the ‘flexible’ offer. Rather more surprisingly, those customers opting for the restrictive offer were nearly twice as likely to complete six purchases and get the free yoghurt. (And before you think it’s just one yoghurt shop near Stanford University, YesMyWine, the largest imported wine platform in the world, has reported similar results with special offers.)

The academics at Stanford suggested that the result was because customers responded to not having to make a decision: that in our ‘information-overload, decision-fatigued’ society people will appreciate something that gives them the chance to make fewer decisions. They go on from that to draw a conclusion for business: that once a goal has been decided on, managers should be rigid in the steps needed to accomplish it – in effect, take any decisions away from the team.

I’m not so sure. First of all I’d argue that people who sign up for a ‘restrictive’ offer are more committed in the first place and therefore more likely to ‘see it through.’ Secondly, my experience of managing large teams suggests that the real answer is “it depends.”

Specifically, it depends on the experience and capabilities of your senior team. If you’re looking to achieve significant change and/or achieve a major goal then, yes, there needs to be a detailed, step-by-step approach with a list of actions and a series of deadlines.

But if you have a ‘details guy’ in the team, my advice is delegate it to the details guy: it’s almost always better to ‘trust and delegate.’ But if you don’t have a details guy, then the actions and deadlines become your job: what’s absolutely certain is that they cannot be left to chance.

So there I am, disagreeing with learned academics at the world’s third-ranked university. I’d be fascinated to hear your views on this: and yes, let’s discuss it over a coffee. I can’t miss a chance to double my number of stamps…

New Year: New Quotes


Good evening/morning – and a very, very happy new year. I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and that you’re now ready to enjoy a truly stellar year.

…And if I sound enthusiastic and positive, it’s because I am. I don’t think I’ve ever looked forward to any year as much as I’m looking forward to 2017. (Ah – damn it. Apart from the year I got married, of course. Only four lines into a new year and I put my foot in it…)

For me – and I hope for all of us – 2017 is going to be full of challenges and opportunities. And isn’t that what life and business is all about?

So let’s start the year with some inspirational words. Anyone who’s been in business for a while will have read all the standard Steve Jobs/Henry Ford quotes: so I’ve done a little digging to see if I can find some you might not have come across before. Hopefully one or two of them will kick-start a very successful year for you.

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The first one is from Jake Nickell, the CEO of Threadless. I try not to make any decision I’m not excited about.

I couldn’t agree more. If I turn to someone in a TAB meeting and they say, “I’ve had this idea. I think it’s OK and it might make some money,” then I guarantee that in six months it will have been quietly shelved or – much more likely – it will have turned into a problem and be losing money.

If, on the other hand, my Board member is so excited she needs to stand up when she starts talking about her new idea; if she’s waking up to make notes on it at three in the morning – then we might just have something that changes a business and/or a life. You’re an entrepreneur: having ideas is what you do. You only need to act on the ones you’re passionate about.

The vast majority of us will have seen ads for Under Armour when we’ve been watching sport. Here’s what founder and CEO Kevin Plank has to say: There’s an entrepreneur right now, scared to death, making excuses, saying, “It’s not the right time yet.” There’s no such thing as a good time. Get out of your garage and go take a chance and start your business.

Or as Seth Godin, author of Permission Marketing, put it, If you wait until there’s another case study in your industry you’ll be too late.

There are 101 reasons not to do anything new in 2017. Worries about Brexit. What will Trump do? Elections in Europe. The possible collapse of the Chinese credit boom…

But there are 101 reasons not to do anything in every year. If you’ve had a great idea; if it keeps you awake at night; if you have the support of your peers round the TAB table… Then, as the iconic Nike ad said, Just do it.

Who’s up next? Indra Nooyi, Chair and CEO of PepsiCo. I cannot just expect the organisation to improve if I don’t improve myself and lift the organisation. That [is] a constant.

I’m not sure there’s much I can add to that. Today – more than ever – you simply have to go on learning and improving. If you stand still your business will stand still – and as I’ve written many times, once a business stands still and starts to stagnate, it’s the beginning of the end.

Fiddlesticks. I’m going to have to admit defeat: I can’t get away without a Steve Jobs quote after all. But here’s one you might not have come across.

Jobs was giving a small, private presentation about the iTunes music store to some independent record label people. At the end of the presentation they were all bursting with ideas and features that could be added. “Wait,” Jobs said. “I know you have a thousand ideas. So do we. But innovation isn’t about saying ‘yes’ to everything. It’s about saying ‘no’ to all but the most crucial features.”

Why do I like that story so much? Simply because you can take ‘innovation’ out and replace it with ‘success.’ And if you want a recipe for success in 2017, that’s it. Make decisions that excite you, don’t wait to put them into action, constantly improve yourself – and above all, say ‘no’ to everything that’s not crucial to your own success and the success of your business.

Why you Should Make Big Decisions in the Morning


“I’m a morning person.”

“I’m totally useless in the morning. Can’t do anything until I’ve had three coffees.”

We’ve all heard people make those claims: I’ve no doubt the vast majority of people reading the blog would file themselves in one of the two categories.

But there’s increasing evidence that what your Granny told you was right. The early bird does catch the worm. Early to bed, early to rise and there’s only one possible outcome…

In simple terms, we’re at our cognitive best in the morning. I can vouch for that: without question, I’m better in the morning. I’m sharper, more alert and I’m conscious that I’m making better decisions.

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But enough of the anecdotal: what about the analytical?

Researchers in Denmark studied the performance of two million 8 to 15 year olds in standard tests, taking the time of the test into account. The results showed that for every hour after 8am results declined by 1% – apparently equivalent to missing ten days of school.

As lead researcher Dr Hans Henrik Sievertsen said: “Our ability to focus, make decisions and react is affected by cognitive fatigue.”

So if your teenage son comes home clutching his exam timetable and beaming because his exams are all in the afternoon, he might be paying a high price for sleeping in.

It’s not just students. An article in the Scientific American cited the fact that doctors are more likely to default to simply prescribing antibiotics and prescription drugs as the day wears on.

And judges become less lenient…

In one study, 1,112 bench rulings in a parole court were studied. The data showed that as judges advanced through a day’s cases they became more likely to deny a prisoner’s request and accept the status quo. The proportion of favourable rulings started out high early in the day, at about 65 per cent. By the time the court broke for lunch, favourable rulings were close to zero.

Scientific American draws the same conclusions as Dr. Sievertsen: “the demands of multiple decisions throughout the day erodes their mental resources and leads to inappropriate and all-round bad decisions.”

I think this is fascinating – and it’s got real implications for business. Clearly, we need to be making our big decisions in the morning. Granny was right again: ‘sleep on it’ – because you’re going to make the best decisions when you’re fresh.

It also looks like we’re more creative in the morning. As the day wears on – as cognitive fatigue sets in – both the judges and the doctors were more likely to revert to the status quo, the easy option. If you want to think ‘outside the box,’ you need to be doing it over breakfast. After all, we know what you get if you ‘do what you’ve always done…’

It’s not just making decisions and being creative: there’s the experience of the prisoners and their parole – or lack of it. Clearly, you need to ask for things in the morning as well: if you have to negotiate, then negotiate at nine in the morning. (Preferably not with a judge though!)

So with the analytical and the anecdotal in full agreement, one of my commitments to myself for next year is to be even more of a morning person. Dan and Rory are getting older: we don’t need to be quite so ‘hands-on’ as they get ready for school – so there’s more time for tea, toast, planning the day and feeling in control. I know that benefits my business and my TAB York members.

And there’s a work/life balance bonus as well: with work planned and organised and the big decisions made, evenings are there for my family – not for my laptop.

Good Decision, Bad Decision, No Decision


Over the very-nearly six years I’ve been writing this blog I’ve quoted some of the best business thinkers of our age. I’ve drawn on their wisdom, their experience and their recipes for success. And without exception, there’s been one thing they’ve all agreed on.

Action.

Especially in your decision making.

As that deep-thinking business guru Tony Soprano put it, A wrong decision is better than indecision.

You can correct a wrong decision. You can put it right and move on. Indecision? You haven’t a hope. Paralysis by analysis as the old saying goes.

The late (we think) and much missed Tony is supported by any number of real life businessmen. Here’s Scott McNealy, the co-founder of Sun Microsystems:

The best decision is the right decision. The next best decision is the wrong decision. The worst decision is no decision.

…And Anthony Robbins, Awakening the Giant Within:

At any moment the decision you make can change the course of your life forever.

Obviously, I agree with them. It’s what I’ve preached for years. Nothing happens without action. Soprano, McNealy, Robbins, Reid – united as one.

…And apparently, completely wrong.

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Along comes business psychologist, Professor Adam Grant. He sets out his thesis in Originals: How Non-Conformists Change the World.

Grant says that procrastinating – putting off difficult decisions or delaying starting a project – can actually open an entrepreneur’s mind to more creative thinking and “lead to a more opportune time to launch a new product. Procrastination lets you have time for ideas to percolate … and new technologies to emerge.”

I’ll absolutely concede that non-conformists see the world differently. Yes, I agree that giving yourself time to think, keeping an open mind and asking the right questions are all important. But you cannot wait for ever. As Norman Schwarzkopf says in his autobiography, It Doesn’t Take a Hero, “when you’re placed in command, take charge.”

Ask most of my generation who’s ‘changed the world’ the most and I’d guess that a good percentage would say Steve Jobs. Now no-one would call Jobs a conformist (especially if you’ve seen the biopic…) but he emphatically didn’t change the world by not making decisions.

And, clearly, he didn’t wait for new technologies to emerge. You simply cannot do that today. We’re now living in an age where a ‘new technology’ emerges every week. If you put off making decisions because you’re waiting to see what happens with technology you’ll sit at your desk until it’s time to retire, watching an endless stream of new apps whizz past you.

There are almost as many different ways of being successful as there are successful entrepreneurs. That’s one of the great beauties of business. But I simply don’t believe that avoiding decisions is one of them. It may be superficially attractive – and it’s certainly easy. But it’s also potentially fatal for your business.

Fortunately, there’s an antidote – to both the wrong decision and no decision.

I refer to your colleagues round the TAB boardroom table. They’ll do two things: firstly their collective wisdom and experience will go a long way towards helping you make the right decision. Secondly they have this really irritating habit of holding you to account – of saying, ‘So what’s happened in the last month?’

‘Nothing’ isn’t really the answer they’re looking for. But to date no-one has tried, ‘I’ve been sitting at my desk waiting for new technology to emerge.’ I’ll look forward to that one. The replies should be spectacular…

The Things I’d Do Differently…


Despite his success, less than a decade later, he quit his six-figure salary and sold all of his possessions, including a 19th Century manor house in the Cotswolds, his collection of classic cars, antiques and artwork – including work by Damien Hirst – to raise money and start a new business.

That quotation comes from an article on the BBC business website. It’s about the recruitment entrepreneur David Spencer-Perceval, head of the specialist recruiter, Spencer Ogden.

For me, the article raised two really interesting questions:

  • What would I do differently if I were starting my business again?
  • And – six years on and six years older – would I still have the courage to leave the security of the corporate world and do it now?

Change Same Signpost Shows That We Should Do Things Differently

Everyone with a business has asked themselves the first question: if I were starting my business again, knowing what I know now, what would I do differently? For me, there are two very significant points.

First and foremost, I’d have put more working capital into the business. Not so that I could take more money out of the business in the early days, but to enable me to make better decisions.

Today, you can start a business with very little money. The old days when you needed high street premises, stock and six months’ advertising in the local paper are gone for good. But maybe the pendulum has swung too far the other way – towards the perception that you’re not a real man if you didn’t bootstrap your business.

The more I see of business, the more certain I am that not having enough capital in the early days is bad news. Yes, obviously it places a strain on cash flow and leads to sleepless nights and arguments with your spouse – but not having enough capital is bad for your decision making as well.

A shortage of capital forces you to make short term decisions for the benefit of your cash flow – not long term decisions for the good of your business. It forces you to adapt the worst possible definition of a client – ‘anyone with a pulse.’ A shortage of capital hampers you in the short term and in the long term – because it takes time to recover from the bad decisions you were forced to make for the good of the cash flow.

The other thing I’d do differently? As the saying goes, I’d ‘check my ego at the door.’ Let me hold my hand up and say that when I started TAB York I didn’t know as much as I thought I knew. When you’re running a division inside a major company you think it’s just like running your own business. It’s not. It’s not even remotely like it – as you very quickly find it. But you’ve come from the corporate world. The culture is ingrained. You can’t show weakness or admit you need help.

So very simply, I’d have asked the very talented people I was working with for more help – much more quickly.

And so to my second question: six years on, six years more secure, six years deeper into the corporate culture, would I still have the courage to start my own business?

I’m certain the answer to that is a resounding ‘yes.’

Starting – and running – a business is a lot like falling in love and starting a family. The parallels hold good all the way through. And just as you can’t choose when you fall in love, so you can’t choose the moment when you absolutely know you have to start your own business. Everyone reading this blog knows the story of my breakfast at Newport Pagnell: and everyone reading the blog has their own version of the story.

Yes, of course we’d all do things differently. But the key thing is that we did something. That we had faith in ourselves – and that we were brave enough to push our breakfast to one side and say, ‘No more. It has to change.’

That’s why I’m so proud to work with you all. Have a great weekend and I’ll see you next week – and let me know what you’d do differently if you were starting over…

Bad Habits, Bad Decisions


I read a great article in the Harvard Business Review recently: 9 Habits that Lead to Terrible Business Decisions. If you haven’t time to read the article in full, here we go with a whistle stop tour of nine deadly sins that I’m absolutely certain no member of TAB York ever makes…

  1. Laziness – a failure to check facts and gather new information: relying on past experience and – as the financial services industry might say – expecting past performance to be a guarantee of the future
  2. Failing to anticipate the unexpected – as I wrote last week, ‘don’t think it can’t happen because it can.’ And these days it increasingly is happening. You may have had a great idea, it may excite you beyond measure – but you still need to ask yourself, ‘what if…’
  3. Indecisiveness – with your colleagues round the TAB table behind you I hope this never happens, but sometimes the best decision is simply to make a decision
  4. Staying locked in the past – “we’ve always done it this way.” “Better the devil you know.” As you know I’m very fond of [slightly] misquoting Robert Kennedy: “see things as they could be and ask ‘why not?’’’
  5. No strategic alignment – no decision can be taken in isolation: it has to fit in with your long term goals. I’ll come back to this one, as it is so important.
  6. Over-dependence – no decision can be taken because X is waiting for Y who’s not sure because he’s waiting for Z. Just remember, the leader’s job is to lead, and sometimes that means not waiting for everyone
  7. Failure to communicate – entire forests have been wiped out by the amount of books, papers and essays written about the importance of communication. And yet still people don’t do it.
  8. Isolation – this may seem like it’s the opposite of over-dependence, but sometimes you do need to consult. You just need to get on and do it quickly.
  9. Finally, lack of technical knowledge. I couldn’t agree more: today the person with the right technical knowledge may be a 23 year old coder who’s been with you for six months. Knowledge is no longer the preserve of the boardroom and good leaders know there are times when they simply have to get out there and learn.

Let me go back to a couple of those points – no strategic alignment and failure to communicate. No major business decision should stand alone: every decision has to be part of your long term strategy – and move you towards accomplishing your long term goals. Everything should flow backwards: this is where we want to be in five years’ time. Fine, these are the decisions we need to take now to help us get there. And if the decision you’ve just taken isn’t helping you get there, you almost certainly need to re-consider it.

And as we’ve discussed many times on this blog, communication is the key to all things – not least because that 23 year old coding genius may well spot a flaw in your decision. You’ve got to take the team with you and, increasingly, you need feedback and expertise from the whole of your team – but they can’t do that if they don’t know what you’re doing or what you’ve decided.

I was talking to one of my Board members yesterday. He made the point very forcefully that some of the best ideas in his company come from the youngest and newest members of the team. Sadly, many businesses still have a ‘serve your time and then we’ll listen to you’ culture. Make sure yours isn’t one of them, because ‘years spent’ no longer equals the ideas, knowledge and insight you need in a changing world.

As the old saying goes, ‘the best meetings are held at round tables.’ Everyone’s opinion matters; everyone’s ideas are worth listening to.