Monthly Archives: August 2011


My word is my word

Once upon a time there was a common expression: ‘an Englishman’s word is his bond’, which basically meant that you could trust an Englishman. His word was his guarantee. I'm sure that this statement must have fooled many a foreigner but this week my wife and I witnessed a powerful example of honesty in business, not from an Englishman but from two people in our home town in Belgium.

We had agreed to a purchase at well below the asking price. Later on, after the contract was signed, we learned that another bidder had offered much more than us but the seller had instructed his agent not to accept it because he had already given his word on our offer.  What made this incident so much more powerful was the fact that the seller had not given his word to us directly but only to his agent. Both he and the agent would have financially gained by breaking what was only a verbal agreement. To them their sense of dignity and personal reputation was worth more than the potential financial gains on a one off deal.

Sadly, I can remember many much less happy outcomes. I don’t know how many times I have heard the words ‘it’s only business, you must not take it so personally…’ The pain is worst when they are spoken by someone you have trusted, only to find that they have very deliberately ripped you off. 

I heard an uplifting story recently about the rock group ‘Joy Division’. Apparently when they were starting out they met a DJ called Rob Gretton. Gretton was so impressed with the group that he asked if he could be their manager.  The fit seemed right and so the band agreed.  When they asked Gretton for a contract, he apparently said “How about us simply agreeing to the following: no written contract, when I get fed up with you – I leave, when you get fed up with me – you kick me out?”  Call me naive but wouldn’t it be nice if this approach could become the norm?

My business is inundated with contractual agreements and ‘statements of work’. Sometimes it seems there is more discussion on the contract than on the content of the assignment itself. You might think that it is the fault of lawyers but in reality it is more to do with professional liability insurance companies and their insistence that we keep to our carefully constructed contracts. I wonder what it would take to persuade them to accept Rob Gretton’s approach to business?

I discussed this topic with my lawyer once and he revealed to me that in his practice they had very few, if any, contractual agreements between the partners of his firm; that decisions are taken in meetings and it is only the minutes that capture the agreements – even including, the transfer of shares! 

Have a good week,


2016-11-17T08:24:52+00:004 Comments

In the shadows

I heard an amazing story this week about a business woman who lost her children while out shopping.  She was leaving a department store on her way back to the car when the nightmare truth hit her.  “Oh my god, the children!”  Her twins, just 4 years old were with her when she left home that morning but after that everything was a complete blank. Ten years later and her feelings of guilt keep coming back at the most inconvenient times.

Strangely enough the very first thing to flash through her mind was “What the hell am I going to tell my husband?” As if the excuse was of more importance than a plan of action.  As she stood there in the doorway, trying to tell herself to calm down and think, she replayed the morning’s actions through her mind: ‘They were with me when I left home, grandma is away on holiday so… Oh my God what were they wearing? What will I do when someone asks me and I have to say I don’t know?!”

The interesting thing to me about this story is not how is it possible but rather how is it that it does not happen more often?  I believe the reason that we do not normally loose our children is because, especially when they are young, they constantly seek our attention. They interrupt our thought processes either by asking annoyingly repetitive questions or by a whole array of rewards and praise based behavior.  In fact these irritating habits are probably a safety mechanism to keep them close to us, even if we might sometimes wish it otherwise!

In business, I find that it is usually the ‘high maintenance’ employees and colleagues that occupy our minds. They distract us from what’s happening elsewhere. In photography, the photographer decides where to shoot, what to include and what to leave out.  And more than this, he or she decides what needs to be in focus and what can be left fuzzy. 

These are the kinds of decisions that we as leaders must take daily, if not hourly.  But where should we focus our attention?  For me, I find a very useful lesson is to learn to look in the shadows and to not allow oneself to become distracted by the obvious things constantly demanding our attention.

This week a brilliant new camera has been announced, it’s called the ‘Lytro’ and when it is launched at the end of the year, the user will be able to decide what to focus on, not at the time of shooting but later on, after they have taken the picture! Now wouldn’t that be great in business? The little Lytro camera is like a two dimensional time machine!

But back to the story of our business woman and her missing children.  Because they were playing so peacefully in the corner of a shop while she was checking out the best combination of outfits for an important business trip, she simply forgot all about them. When she decided that her present wardrobe would do and it’s time she got back to her PC, she simply left the store and headed for home. 

After calming herself down and yes, phoning her best friend, she traced back her journey to find them holding the hands of a shop assistant who was doing a great job of reassuring them and taking it in turns to wipe away their tears with her handkerchief.  And no, if you are thinking this – I am not the person, disguised as a woman, in the story.  I could never do a thing like that (and anyway I would be in a CD store) – who could!?

Have a good week,


2016-11-17T08:24:53+00:000 Comments

Just like two bald men fighting over a comb!

This week I witnessed a seemingly pointless argument between two fully grown adults and it reminded me of the back and forth bickering that occurs between young siblings; it was just like seeing two bald men fighting over a comb.  With so much seriously negative stuff in the world, I really can do without having to put up with additional mindless nonsense in the workplace.

Although I generally prefer to discuss things openly and calmly, I can accept that sometimes arguments happen and can even be beneficial. A good argument for me is when two people enter into a passionate exchange of ideas while remaining focused on working towards an agreement. Not a compromise, but an agreement.

Compromises very rarely do any lasting good. (Proof can be found in countries blighted with proportional representation or coalition governments that have to constantly compromise on everything in order to attempt to get anything done).

That’s why I prefer to work hard to encourage open dialogue and continued debate until all the aspects of an argument have been covered and a decent, acceptable agreement is established.

A well balanced and carefully managed argument, even a passionate one, is never the ‘soft option’ but it helps to create stronger teams and produces better results in the long run. Teams that speak openly and share conflicting ideas, even in the form of sometimes heated arguments; learn to get over them and in doing so become much stronger than those that break apart at the first sign of conflict.

Leadership is not about compromise.  It’s about motivating people to work together to find the best solution, even when they have wildly differing views. I believe that a diversity of views is the life blood of originality. So if you agree with me, then at least that’s one thing we won’t have to argue about!

Have a good week,


2016-11-17T08:24:53+00:003 Comments

Do you see things the same as the next generation?

I am part of a lost generation
and I refuse to believe that
I can change the world
I realize this may be a shock but
‘Happiness comes from within’
is a lie, and
Money will make me happy
So in 30 years I will tell my children
they are not the most important thing in my life
My employer will know that
I have my priorities straight because
is more important than
I tell you this
Once upon a time
Families stayed together
but this will not be true in my era
This is a quick fix society
Experts tell me
30 years from now, I will celebrate the 10th year of my divorce
I do not concede that
I will live in a country of my own making
In the future
Environmental destruction will be the norm
No longer can it be said that
My peers and I care about this earth
It will be evident that
My generation is apathetic and lethargic
It is foolish to presume that
There is hope.
And all of this will come true unless we choose to reverse it.

The amazing thing about this poem is that just like change resistance, it needs to be read in two ways.   Now re-read it from the bottom up and see what happens!  (You’ll thank me). 
Poem by Jonathan Reed .  Watch it on YouTube

Have a good week


2016-11-17T08:24:54+00:002 Comments