Monthly Archives: April 2014

//April

Who do you think you are chatting to?

I grew up in the days when science fiction was characterized on TV by strangely dressed people talking to computers, asking for advice or specific facts. This weekend I found myself talking to my i-phone. I wanted a recipe for a Victoria Sponge cake and Siri (the name Apple gives to their robotic assistant) found me one almost instantly, pictures included.

One of the great thing about Siri is that not only can he (or a she, you choose) search the internet faster than me he can also spell much better than me. Because of this, I find myself using Siri to write my SMS’s, send emails and also remind me to do things. The only thing that Siri cannot do, unfortunately, is answer my incoming messages. Or can he?

A research scientist on the BBC last week was showing off his latest invention; a software application that can reply on your behalf to all your incoming social media messages.  Apparently we are all so predictable that the algorithms for automated replies are not as complex as we might think.  In addition, with ‘self-learning’ software, the quality of responses can improve day by day. So you only need to keep an eye on it for the first few weeks and after that the software will have learned all the names of your friends, who their relatives are, their hobbies and interests, sexual orientation, who is dead and who is living – it’s endless!  Apparently this useful invention is designed to help us correspond in a more meaningful way with far more people than our usual one hundred and fifty maximum.

So please do not be surprised, in the next year or two, if my blogs seem to better written and have more interesting content, Siri is learning but it is taking a little longer than I hoped.  

This may all seem scary but it won’t be that bad because when you look at the amount of inane junk us humans generate each day, surely the computers cannot do any worse? Think about it – computers writing our meeting minutes, preparing cost statements, managing our agendas. My electronic PA will communicate with your electronic PA to find the most effective and efficient time and place for us to meet. Or in fact, to simply meet on our behalf, and let us get on with whatever we want!

I sincerely believe that this is not more than a decade away. Laugh if you want – but I talk with my phone and my phone talks with me. I tell it to send emails to people and it does, the only thing I need to do is to check them before they go, but that’s just a matter of time.

A neural scientist has even invented an application to check the health of our brain functionality, so once that is plugged into Siri’s logic then our phones will know what mood we are in and adjust our content to suit!

To conclude this week, I thought I would share with you this human message written on the back of the seat in front of me on my flight back from Hamburg:

“Flybe is a nut free airline and where possible we endeavor to ensure that no peanuts are sold on board. However Flybe cannot ensure that any products sold on board are nut free”.

If this were a joke it would be laughable but unfortunately it is obviously a legal statement that someone thought useful to add to the revolting images of drinks and burgers that I had to look at the whole journey. Of all the images on our planet they forced me to stare at for the entire journey, they came up with this:.

Have a good week,

Harley

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Running on empty

There is hardly a business, town council or institution that is not constantly running on empty it seems. We are reminded that there is no money for this and certainly no money for that. Management is under pressure to constantly reduce costs. But how far should we go?

The never ending call to do more with less is creating a new reality of doing less with less.

In South East London there is a comparatively rich town (by European standards) with nearly three hundred thousand inhabitants. Apparently the town’s council does not have enough money to keep a small team of gardeners on to look after their parks. Their Parks used to be magnificent. Places to relax and enjoy.  In the dishonest name of public safety, they have dug up all the shrubs and hedges that need pruning every year, cut down trees that drop their leaves and turned flowerbeds into paved areas.  And all the while there are qualified people queuing up on the local unemployment lines, that dream of the chance to make their local community a nice place to live and work by planting and cultivating plants, trees and wild life.

Behind the scenes, IT directors are struggling to service their businesses, let alone offer their companies any kind of ‘added value’.

For example, our local hospital has enormous cash reserves and a very healthy balance sheet but it also has over 400 PC’s and over 100 servers.  In addition, it has a whole array of custom made software applications that are aging and need a great deal of manual interventions.  And to support the whole IT system, employees and infrastructure; including the consultants i-pads and i-phones etc. they have four IT specialists, supposedly covering 24/7.  Sooner or later, something serious is going to go wrong and a patient’s life will be lost for the want of correct data.

Running on empty is not responsible, we owe it to our stakeholders and shareholders to ensure that we are strong enough to stand up at the right time to say ‘that’s enough now’ – How far do you want us to cut back? To the lowest cost base of the lowest company in the world, to the lowest standards of the poorest city in the world, how far? I mean who actually decides in the end?

I propose that we business folk set a new baseline:

  1. We automate whatever business processes we can automate
  2. We use machines and resources as efficiently and effectively as possible
  3. We agree that employing people is not a ‘bad thing’
  4. We look for areas and circumstances where ‘a few more people’ can make a massive impact
  5. We encourage all our stakeholders, customers and suppliers to decide to which standard we should work and deliver our goods and services?
Running on empty should never be a constant frame of mind but a temporary one. Running efficiently, is something entirely different and something that one hundred percent endorse.

Have a good week

Harley

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Be scared of your own courage

‘When was the last time you were really afraid? I do not mean nervous, I mean terrified?’ ‘When was the last time you thought “Oh my God, this is it?” I am not trying to be over dramatic but these situations, luckily, don’t happen that often; especially for adults. So I have become fascinated by a German expression that I heard just last week ‘be scared of your own courage’. 

There is a fine line between courage and stupidity. I assume that courage is when you do something scary for a real and tangible benefit and stupidity is to do something scary, just because it is?  Oliver Wendell Holmes, an American jurist, once said “Courage is about doing what you're afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you're scared. Have the courage to act instead of react."

Before an interview or other important self-esteem exercise we try to ‘pluck up our courage’. But sometimes it is too easy to become over confident and that is something, according to the German expression, to be scared of. There is a very fine line between healthy self-belief and unfounded confidence.

For the past year or so, I have been planning an event that would last less than sixty minutes but a whole deal of importance was laid upon it. If my plan did not work I would:

  1. Fail, and be seen to fail, in an important assignment
  2. Look a fool in front of people I had deep respect for.
  3. Lose my self esteem
  4. Seriously let down a large group of people
I had thought about every second of the event, every possibility but on the day itself, the situation changed dramatically – the plans I had made, the way I had seen the event panning out it in my head was no longer valid and I was going to be even more on my own than I imagined.

In fact I needn’t have worried. The event flew by and, in the end, there was nothing to worry about. However, I believe it was purely because I did worry, because my self-esteem is so critical to me that my serious concern had actually helped me to carefully plan what I had to do.

While many women pray for a little more courage, there are hundreds of men out there with way too much.  I think it is important to remind ourselves that we are most likely to screw up when we become over confident, when that confidence is solely built on personality. That’s why we should (as the German expression says) ‘be scared of our own courage’, especially when it impacts others.

Now back to being scared: What did you bring back to mind; an impending motorbike or car incident; the loss of a child while on holiday, burglars in the house at night? And, what did you do, hide under the covers or show courage and face the situation?  I don’t believe nature gives us much of a choice, we either crawl up and hope it goes away, or we take matters into our own hands. Courage or stupidity, it’s often a fine line. .

Have a good week,


Harley

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I hate to tell you this but – your thoughts are not your own

I was driving home last week, feeling pretty stressed. I have had some tough stuff to deal with recently. But then I flipped channels on the car’s radio to Belgium’s classical music channel ‘Klara’. It seemed that I had landed into the middle of a deep discussion between a philosopher, a writer and the presenter. And what I heard freed my mind – well at least for a while.

In this world of advertising and peer group pressures, the one place I thought I could really be me was in my head. But according to what I could understand, the guys on the radio were saying that I was foolish to believe my thoughts were mine own. I always believed they were and that they were one of the precious gifts of life. But the philosopher challenged his listeners to consider how much of our thoughts are actually our own? He said they came from outside us, from other people and influences and that in fact very little, if any, could we really call our own.

So I tried a little experiment on myself; analyzing some recent thoughts and very soon I came to the scary conclusion, that he probably was right. Well at least in part.

Sorry to be heavy this week but, when you think about it, very little of what makes us, us is uniquely us. Our bodies and combinations of experience yes, but when it comes down to our thoughts – well, we are very definitely opinionated, but where do these opinions come from?  As a young man growing up in Thatcher’s Britain, I was not her number one fan, in fact, far from it. But when I found her most radical policies being challenged by a Belgian colleague, I found myself coming to her rescue. Now how nuts is that?

Since my recent work with the Emerson HR group in Barcelona, another group have tried a similar exercise and have come up with some staggeringly creative and powerful results.  I am rapidly coming to the inner belief that we have so many great ideas and dormant creativity just lurking beneath the surface waiting to be set free and put to good use. Humans working together, can do great things, but most humans on their own, even if they are ‘creative’ are seldom exciting or revolutionary or even, dare I say interesting. Our thoughts are not entirely our own and we only form them into something new and wonderful when we allow them to be challenged by what we see, hear, touch, taste or feel. And even then?

Have a nice week,

Harley

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There’s no place for jokes in this company?

My colleagues woke up this morning with the shocking news that I had decided to step down as Chairman of The Bayard Partnership and take up my life-long dream of playing guitar in a rock band. Of course I didn’t make it that obvious, I said that I had been offered a once in a lifetime opportunity with a famous singer songwriter that was doing a world-wide comeback tour. But I did also say that I felt it was the right time as both my private financial situation permitted it, and indeed, The Bayard Partnership had matured to a level where there were plenty of capable candidates to take my place.

Needless to say that it was an April fool joke and probably, if The Bayard Partnership was a stock listed multi-national I would not be permitted to publish such a story – not even on the internal intranet?

I once worked with a young director who loved to make practical jokes, especially on the first day of April. But I guess that time and probably some negative feedback from people who mistook his jokes led him into playing safe by remaining silent for the last few years? The question for me this week is, how serious should our businesses be?

I wonder how open your work environment is for the making of and sharing jokes and laughter? I mean, think about it, how many times a day do you enjoy a funny moment with a colleague?  And, for that matter, how often do you enjoy sharing a funny moment with a member of your family or friends?

For a man who is sometimes criticized for being too serious, I think that, as I grow older, I find that a sense of humor is a vital and motivational part of everyday life.

Have a good week,

Harley

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