Monthly Archives: December 2012


“Oh No! I forgot…”

“It’s too late, no matter what it is, the shops are closed” my wife said (I hadn’t realized I had spoken out loud). What I must have said is ‘Oh no! I forgot…’ Somehow I must have managed to stop myself, just in time. It’s Christmas morning and my wife obviously thinks that I was referring to a last minute shopping item or something related to Christmas, in fact I was thinking about something quite different, something to do with work, something quite trivial when I come to think of it!

And yet it only goes to show how difficult it can be to switch off. Loosing concentration on the things in front of you and drifting off somewhere else is not a problem unique to me, I am sure of it. I bet that if I was to do a ‘round the Christmas table quiz’ this lunch time and asked each of the happy faces what they were actually thinking while waiting for the gravy to be passed around, I am sure I will be right in guessing that seventy five percent or more will not be thinking about how wonderful their life is and how that this family moment is the highlight of their year. Nor will they be thinking about the magic of the miracle birth.

For those that go to church, there must be times in the ceremony when their minds wonder off to other places: possibly worrying about the turkey in the oven or perhaps about all the poor turkeys in the oven. Or dare I say even business matters?

Concentration is something that sports people, musicians and actors need to a very high extent. One momentary slip and everyone is likely to notice.  In business (if I am allowed to use that word today) I don’t see that it is always such a problem.  Unless you find yourself drifting off while giving interviews or at times when strong analytical thought is required in order to come to an intelligent decision.

Today of all days is probably too early to start thinking about New Year resolutions, after all the Christmas dinner is still in the oven and what I need to do now is to find a cosy corner where I can let my mind wonder wherever it wants and no one will ever notice. How I am to tackle the necessary higher level of concentration performance at work can wait right now.

“Harley, have you put your presents under the tree dear?” Presents, what presents? I thought this year we weren’t giving any, something to do with saving the planet or something, if I remember correctly? Arrgh!!!!

Happy Christmas!


2016-11-17T08:24:33+00:000 Comments

Forgive me, I am a little old fashioned I know…

Every year it’s the same, an email from my PA asking if we will be sending out Christmas cards again. And this year, like every year I detect a well-disguised sigh when I answer “of course, why wouldn’t we?” It’s not that my PA is cold hearted, you could even say she is concerned about saving paper and ink, but mainly, it is just so much easier to create an e-mailing list and to send a fun image via Outlook - job done: less time, lessmoney, less pollution, less everything.

So why do I lag behind? Why don’t I move with the times? It’s like the feeling of a fountain pen nib on a piece of high quality handmade paper, or a diamond stylus tracking a vinyl groove on a 12” LP, it’s not nostalgic, it’s just nice. For me, there’s something special about certain analog processes that bits and bytes can never replace.

Tell me honestly: You are sitting at your office desk, when someone brings you an envelope; you open it carefully and pull out a beautifully printed card with a hand written message inside. You put it on your desk or office cupboard. Isn’t that more pleasant than opening an electronic attachment (assuming that your company spam filter hasn’t blocked it from you in the first place)?

There’s another reason I like Christmas cards. I like the ritual of sitting with my two business Partners signing and passing the cards around a crowded table, laughing and chatting in a way that no other Partner meeting ever induces.  It’s a reminder that we are approaching another end of year together. Each of us getting a little older, the pile of cards getting a little higher, happily in line with the growth of The Partnership. There are two budgets that are untouchable in The Partnership, the Associate’s Christmas party and Christmas cards.  I suppose one day it will change, one day financial commonsense will take my place but until then I am just happy the way things are.

Traditions are often irrational processes, sponsored by nostalgia and a shared feeling of continuity. I am writing this blog on a flight from Sofia to Brussels, I am leaving a beautiful city, decked in a light powdering of snow, its tired buildings and squares looking more lovely than ever animated with Christmas lights and decorations. And when I land I will find a myself in a wet and windy city that is pretending to be modern, sophisticated and forward looking with its artificial Christmas tree surrounded by pinewood huts trying to create a totally other image. What complex things we humans are?

Wishing you a very happy and peaceful Christmas holiday,


2016-11-17T08:24:33+00:000 Comments

How do you make a rat laugh?

How do you make a rat laugh? Answer: by tickling them!  Now this might seem an odd thing to do but it is proven; rats like many animals laugh. They laugh not only when they are tickled by humans, they also laugh when they tickle each other (yes rats actually do this), but they even laugh when they socializing.  This amazing fact, that I only discovered yesterday, got me thinking about what laughter is all about and what is its significance from a leadership point of view?

Most people think that they only laugh when they hear something funny but this is not case.  It seems that we laugh in ‘normal’ conversations with people we respect and admire. Apparently we do this as a way of showing appreciation and empathy.

When I was a young marketing executive in the late seventies, the salesmen were always telling jokes.  They saw humour as an important part of business life. Telling a joke created a sense of intimacy between them and their customers. They would often practice their new jokes on their colleagues; the successful ones were then transferred to their regular customers. By the mid-eighties the new wave of political correctness and an increased sense of seriousness and urgency to make money combined to begin the ending of jokes as an important instrument of the salesman’s tool bag.   

However, laughter is an evolutionary must. After screaming the house down, it is the first communication a baby develops to ensure it remains cute to its carers. Tickling, and the laughter it induces, forms an essential role in emotional bonding.  In many ways, the internet today provides the laughs the travelling salesmen once distributed.   

In business and in our private lives, laughter is an important indicator. Surprisingly, not from jokes as such but in our regular conversations. Typically it is an indication that barriers are being replaced by a sense of trust and affection. Laughter therefore can be seen as motivational because it lifts up our companions and establishes them as a part of a closer relationship. The successful business leader, is able to induce laughter and to switch it off as the situation requires.

To conclude, consider this: If you believe that every human is only seven meters away from a rat, then listen very carefully in future.  Maybe, just maybe, the very faint high pitch whistling you hear in your ears when there is no one around, is not a mild form of tinnitus but the sound of rats laughing? Perhaps the rats are laughing at the joke that only seven meters away there is a human but they are so big and stupid that they cannot see us!

Have a good week,


PS: Thanks to the BBC Radio 4’s ‘The infinite monkey cage’ science program.

2016-11-17T08:24:33+00:000 Comments

I don’t want to make you jealous but…

Unless you are reading this on the beautiful volcanic island of Tenerife, then there’s a very good chance you are reading it a long way away from me and are probably busy working (or should be working) in your office, wherever that is.  I am taking a break, spending quality time reading and walking and keeping my mind far, far away from work – whatever that is. 

My phone is switched off, my out of office is switched on – I have not read an email in more than a week and I am doing just fine. The only decisions I need to take are shared with my wife and they mostly involve selecting which restaurant to eat in or which part of the island to explore.

The point I want to make is that it is possible to live for a few days away from everything – well at least I think it is because right now I am still in cold and windy Belgium and my flight out to the island is not until 06:20 tomorrow morning!  This blog is pre-programmed and I am making assumptions that perhaps I shouldn’t make but I am pretty sure that they are safe, especially the bit about not reading e-mails!

There are some circumstances where company Governance rules oblige CEO’s to keep their mobile phones switched on at all times and I hope I never have to work for an organization like that, but I fully respect those CEO’s that are obliged to sign up for it.

When you decide to go into business or start in a new position it is important to consider ‘availability’. What one person’s view of being available at all times can be quite different from another’s!  And what is reasonable, even normal, for one can be quite abnormal for another.  I used to think it had to do with the level of dedication one had for one’s company and work. Now I am wiser and realize that, unless you are one of the unlucky few, being available at all times is actually a sign of disloyalty because it means you don’t have a correct life / work balance and that is never good. One day you might just burn out and if that happens where will your company be then?

I have said it before, and I’ll say it again “The graveyard is full of irreplaceable people” and right now I don’t feel ready to join them! So it is time for me shut down my PC for a week or more and save a little of the Earth’s energy!

Have a good week,


2016-11-17T08:24:34+00:001 Comment