Jan 05

Maslow_2014_revised.jpgThe Christmas holidays are just about at an end and people are turning their attentions to the new year and their work. Gifts have been exchanged, clementines and chocolate devoured and the gyms have started their annual marketing campaigns to entice more of us to exercise, if only for two weeks in January.

As the new year rolls in we have other matters to deal with – new terms and skills, even new anxieties. The future of work may well mean no CVs, no performance reviews, no permanence. Business Intelligence might easily be shared in real time via wearable devices, mobile certainly could dominate everything and many business services crowdsourced.

Topping the LinkedIn hottest skills list last year was ‘Statistical Analysis and Data Mining’ and the most popular coding language was ‘Python.’ All of this was new to the average person and business.

The standout thing for me was the sudden loss of time yet it became even more important to assign time to networking, speaking to and meeting important customers and key influencers in our lives. The image above right made me chuckle – I enjoyed my Business Administration classes back in the 80s the most, and no class was complete without Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but last year we added 3 new rows to life’s necessities.

The biggest change of all this year will be ‘FORO’ – the fear of running out, and so our briefcases and satchels will need to include even more cables and devices.

A Happy New Year to everyone.

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Dec 01

CCALast week I presented at the CCA Annual Conference at the Edinburgh Assembly Rooms. An excellent event. Despite all the noise around technology – big data, wearables, the internet of things – our audience created more conversation around my stories and emphasis on talent. I liked that. This was a crowd of deep thinkers.

The greatest mix is that of old and new. Whilst I implore companies to give young talent a chance and to watch how the net generation will flourish if we attract and engage them on their terms (normally with technology in mind), I equally underlined the value of the older worker. The more experienced employee has a lot to offer, they are committed, they know the ropes and their experience is telling; and they are staying in post for longer, so the younger generations need to be better skilled to displace them.

Here is a summary of a story I told last week where two generations didn’t quite gel, or understand each other: a young lady beat off other applicants to make it to the final stage of interview and meet the CEO of the hiring company. She arrived on time and was immaculately presented. All good so far.

She was invited into the office of the CEO, a gentleman with years of success on his sleeve and decades her senior. The interview was progressing well, as planned, and then her phone start buzzing in her bag. The young lady pulled out the device mid-interview and started texting in reply, oblivious to the sudden stop in proceedings. This is what she was used to doing. The CEO waiting patiently for her to stop and then ended the interview, thanked her for her time, and saw her to the door. The interview process was about to start again, for this lady did not get the job.

I can see that the net generation does things in its own way and communicates differently, but there are certain rules of etiquette, respect and simple good manners that stand the test of time. I hope those things will never change.

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Aug 02

I attended the Certiport Global Partner Summit and the MOS and ACA World Championships this week in California. Let me explain.

Each year, hundreds of thousands of young people enter competitions, at a national level, to see who are the most creative Adobe and most proficient Microsoft Office Specialist users. After months of competition and excitement, around 130 competitors gathered in a hotel at Disney in California this week for an intense conclusion to proceedings. As the results were announced, the young winners ran to the stage to earn their medals and prizes as family, friends and those watching from afar via live broadcast jumped into raptures. So what does this all mean?

For the winners, no doubt fame awaits them in their countries when they return home and probably a gateway to a nice job role in the near future. That is very well deserved. For the IT industry, even more. These world championships highlight everything that is good in our industry. The work the Adobe competitors delivered as part of the Kiva project, for example, could easily have been created by a professional agency. The fact that most of the kids were not native English speakers made it even more remarkable.

I saw the future. It lies with those excited kids having a fantastic time, representing the next generation of IT workers, innovators and companies. My summary of the week was that every IT vendor should have a competition, should invest in the next generation in this way, because it is some of the most powerful and compelling branding and engagement I have ever seen.

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Apr 22

As far back as 2001, when Jim Collins wrote Good to Great, he said “technology by itself is never a primary root cause of either greatness or decline.” That rings true even today, despite the massive disruption taking place as new generations of workers launch their brilliant ideas – think of Halo, Snapchat and Vine. All of these came about as a result of an individual or a group thinking differently.

When Collins and his team of researchers set out to establish what made companies ‘great,’ they expected that leaders would set out the strategy and the vision, and make it compelling enough that their employees would follow. Instead they discovered something different, that they first got the right people on the bus and in the right seats – and then they figured out where to drive it.

One of the early birds in the revolution was Circuit City, the company that pioneered the electronics superstore in the US (sadly not around today), and the one of the protagonists in their success was asked to name the top 5 factors that led to their transition to a great organisation.

He replied, “One would be people.”

“Two would be people.”

“Three would be people.”

“Four would be people.”

“And five would be people.”

It seems we need to correct the old adage “People are your most important asset.” People are not your most important asset. The right people are.

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Jan 20


As someone with an interest in space, I was transfixed as the team in Houston pulled together to generate ideas when Apollo 13 ran into trouble, particularly how they brainstormed to fix the carbon dioxide removal system.

Part of Mission Control’s method to find a solution was to discover what the spare parts were and not just recycle the same old ingredients. They chose not to sit around in isolation but get more parts on the table to give them options. Eventually they found the answer and saved the crew.

Their approach lends itself nicely to the tech world we are immersed in today. How do we get lots of parts – ideas, even people – to the table? Proctor & Gamble figure that for every senior scientist it employs, there are two hundred others working somewhere else in the world, just as good. Using technology platforms such as Innocentive and Kaggle, it can reach those minds and get access to some brilliant ideas to keep it at the leading edge of its industry.

However we connect, network, generate ideas or discover new products, we must do the same.

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Jan 03


The new year is one of the busiest times in the calendar for people looking for inspiration, exploring change and opening at least one eye to new jobs.

I spent most of 2013 talking about talent and the value of our people as our number one differentiator. I will kick off 2014 by helping integrate a division into our business and welcoming a few new people into my team, and with technological change increasing its influence on our work and home lives, it is important to maintain focus on our talent pool.

One of the last presentations I delivered in 2013 was at the cool offices of ITV, thanks to Andy Kyriacou who set up the event. I was inspired by the people who work at ITV but most importantly by how engaged they all were.

The CEO at ITV, Adam Crozier, the man that led much of the cultural change made in the last few years there, once said:

Silver bullets rarely exist – when great things happen, they happen because of good people, teamwork, fantastic amounts of hard work and a giant dose of luck.”

So this has become my chief principle for 2014: look after our people and create the theatre for them to deliver, for they are the best thing we’ve got.

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Oct 03


I was thrilled to be asked by the Pearson Diversity team to present to the interns who joined our organisation this week and I was even more pleased to see how positive they were.

I chose to present something different – with our company tagline being ‘Always Learning’ I didn’t want to just talk about our division and the business we are in, so I told them why I think they are our future! I sprinkled my story with technology of course, but my emphasis was on talent.

I took this direction because I was enthused by a person who inspires me, CEO of Burberry Angela Ahrendts. She recently posted on the importance of storytelling. Each time I have been truly uplifted by a presentation, it was because of the story told and shared, and in the current digitally-driven world, where are we are often overwhelmed with information, rediscovering the age-old principles of storytelling will help us connect and differentiate, so I took that course.

It paid off – I met some great young people, our workforce of now and our leaders of tomorrow, and I had fun telling sharing story.

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Aug 20


I have used a video of this girl using an iPad in some of my presentations, which underlines how adept this generation is at using technology, plus I have dismissed before words that say kids today cannot focus.

On my holiday in the US this summer, I read a lot of good stuff and came across two stories along the same lines involving different youngsters, so I thought it well worth a mention. One in particular was described by Will.i.am. He used to graffiti the classroom, not because he was a vandal, but because he wanted others to see his art – to ‘know’ him. Doctors wanted to give him Ritalin (to treat attention deficit disorder – ADD) and his teacher told his mother not to let them give it to her son.

Instead he suggested that his mother encourage his creativity, that he will work out a way to work with it. How true that was.

A similar story applied to the principal ballerina at the Royal Ballet, who couldn’t sit still for her love of music. Kids do have a laser focus, just not on the often-outdated stuff we give them. We need to learn to work with them on their terms, after all they are our workforce and our customer of tomorrow.

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Jul 05


This story inspires me and it keeps me believing in the future.

A group of primary school kids in Calcutta realised that the slum in which they live wasn’t on Google maps anywhere. Their home simply didn’t exist in the eyes of officialdom, which meant they didn’t get access to government services such as running water and vaccinations.

The school kids took it upon themselves to add themselves to the map. They went door to door and took photos of the entire area. Eventually, they were put on the map and recognised by local government.

While one result was great evidence of the amazing outcome that can be achieved by bringing together young people with technology with a community goal in mind, the thing that left me speechless was that this meant polio vaccination rates doubled in the local area. Do we understand what that means to the people there? It means health and life – all down to kids with a camera and creative genius! I am taken aback each time I recall this.

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May 11

At a recent winter Olympics, one of the ski teams famed for their ability on the slopes won no gold models, which was a big disappointment to both team and nation. Post-event the team’s management did some analysis and discovered that if the team performed 5% better – that is an improvement of time of only 5% – they would have won almost every gold medal that they competed for. I think that is a great reflection of society today. One false marketing move, one poor product decision, one error of judgement with a customer and you are left standing and in second place. Technology has sped things up, removed our levels of tolerance and demanded instant and regular communication, but I think the example above reflects true in life and business today. I don’t necessarily like it, but it’s true – just 5% can often be the difference between front page success and dismal failure. We need to ensure our people are the best, our technology is helping us understand and maximise our business, and our strategy clear and lived and breathed by everyone.

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