Who had the fish?


Who had the fish?

Three people at lunch. It’s a ‘getting to know each other’ event, from which, all parties fondly hope, new business will flow and flourish.

All went well. One person from one company; two from the other.

When the bill arrived, it was automatically split into two by one of the pair which meant, effectively, that the solo person paid more than their fair share.

Does this matter, even slightly? Everyone hates those people who calculate ‘who had what’ at a group dining event. Of course it doesn’t matter, per se. But that brief moment at the end of the meal was significant. It was what is known in poker circles, as a ‘tell’.

What it told the solo person was this: the pair from the other company, or at least one of them, cannot be relied upon to be entirely straightforward about money and does not naturally consider the equal rights of others.

Can a proper business relationship be well founded and be made to thrive and prosper in such circumstances? Of course it can – so long as the party likely to be the loser is aware of the motives of the others.

From recognising and remembering little signs like this, poker players can win great sums or, by ignoring them, they can lose everything. And business is, at all times, nothing more than a gamble – unless you’re an undertaker or tax inspector.

A bright light has been extinguished, yet continues to illuminate those who see it

The man who created this equation is dead. We groundlings are inestimably poorer by this long-expected failure of his body, and that it can no longer maintain the magnificent output of his extraordinary intellect.

Have you read ‘A Brief History of Time’? Neither have I. There is a copy on my bookshelf and I prize it for its impenetrable thought and the clarity of his text. I hold the mistaken belief that somehow, just somehow, possibly by osmosis, I may understand some of the wonders between its covers. We are, most of us, undersupplied with the equipment required to grasp just what this man achieved in his life and its meaning for us and our descendants.

Prof Hawking’s quotes are important to me because we live, I believe, in a time when thinking, empathy, understanding and communication have been overwhelmed by personal entitlement, anger, arrogance, greed and hate. These thrive because way too many entitled, angry, arrogant, greedy and hating humans find it too easy to exploit a too easily exploited humanity.

Stephen Hawking was significantly more clever than us. When the clever people are gone and the stupid remain and rule, the human race will be, effectively, over. The winner will be a machine.

Some of the things he has said resonate with me and, with your permission, I share them below. You will find them all over the press and media today which has to be a good thing.

“For millions of years, mankind lived just like the animals. Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination. We learned to talk and we learned to listen. Speech has allowed the communication of ideas, enabling human beings to work together to build the impossible. Mankind’s greatest achievements have come about by talking, and its greatest failures by not talking. It doesn’t have to be like this. Our greatest hopes could become reality in the future. With the technology at our disposal, the possibilities are unbounded. All we need to do is make sure we keep talking.’

“I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken-down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”

“I believe the simplest explanation is, there is no God. No one created the universe and no one directs our fate. This leads me to a profound realisation that there probably is no heaven and no afterlife either. We have this one life to appreciate the grand design of the universe and for that, I am extremely grateful.”

“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.”

“Life would be tragic if it weren’t funny”.

“People who boast about their IQ are losers.”

“We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special.”


How much? It’s just a blog…


When you examine the golden egg that has just plopped out from the rear end of your rather special goose, you have to know whether it has value, do you not?

It’s the same when your content writer hands over the latest blog. What’s it worth?

In the digital space, your blog can be a golden egg only if it delivers active engagement from your desired audience. If it fails to do that, its value decreases and dwindles to nothing, and its cost is lost.

So, for the non-editorial person and company, what’s the best means to price and buy a blog-writing and editing service? By the word? The size of the space that needs to be filled? The week’s egg market price stats?

None of the above, actually.

The best way to buy a blog is to buy the services of a writing expert who takes the time to find out what you want to achieve; who spends time getting to know the person whose voice will be reflected in the blog; who researches your company’s vision and mission to be fully up-to-speed with your tone of voice, your product and your market.

If you want your blog to work and deliver the engagement that you need, you need to pay for a highly qualified person’s time, knowledge and experience.

The alternative is to confuse cheapness and quantity with cost and value. And if you fall for the cheap and poor quality end of the blog-scribbling market, it doesn’t matter what your blog is about, no-one will read it to the end – or want to say hello and buy your product.

Sometimes it’s worth measuring your company against a shop brand.

Are you Fortnum and Mason? M&S, John Lewis or Poundland?

A good blog writer will charge exactly the same for each of those brands … so will a crap one.

The question you have to ask yourself is this: do you want a good blog or a crap one?

Show me the value

The first Director of Communications at the White House was Herb Klein, who stayed in post for four years and 162 days.

Roll forward nearly 50 years and note that President Trump’s Directors – Sean Spicer (45 days), Mike Dubke (88 days), Sean Spicer again (49 days), Anthony Scaramucci (10 days) and the just resigned Hope Hicks (169 days excluding her time as the interim post holder) – have averaged between them fewer than 100 days each. Something is clearly not working as it should.

A long time ago, in this very galaxy, when Jeremy Clarkson was a power in the land, each Monday following the broadcast of a new episode of Top Gear, Comms and PR directors whose company products had featured on the show, were criticised by bosses and colleagues alike if the showing was caustic and the verdict damning.

“Why can’t you control him?” was the oft-asked question.

Well the truth is that in those heady days, British motoring journalists were powerful people, mostly independent of the industry about which they wrote. They made their judgements about a car’s technical merit, and design, knowing that their views were largely untouchable and that they would always (mostly anyway) be protected by their publishers.

So it is in serious political reporting today. Journalists and their editors on the great newspapers of the world – New York Times, Economist, Washington Post, Financial Times and the Guardian – have been rigorous in the way that they have reported the President’s words and actions. It is the same at the BBC, CNN, ABC, ITN and other professional news broadcasters.

We have to wonder if maybe, just maybe, the President has taken the words ‘most powerful man in the world’ too literally. He now wants to know why his many Directors of Communications have failed to control the media and were thus forced out, for that specific failure.

His ego, we are told, is as fragile as it is humungous.

The value of a great director of communications, in commerce as in politics, is mainly to be found in two specific areas. First, she or he must be a brilliant manager of time, money and staff.

Second, he or she must have the forensic judgement and courage of Machiavelli, the intellect and writing skill of Cicero and the street-fighting gutter instincts of Alastair Campbell.

Wise indeed is the boss who understands and appreciates these skills, listens very carefully when the comms chief speaks unpleasant truths, and appreciates that managing an organisation’s communication is a long game, sometimes reactive and more often proactive.

Is this about me, or you?

Cartoon doctor

Listen and respond

A senior consultant physician is employed to teach young doctors. Nothing odd about that, is there?

What if the subject that she teaches is not medical but communication? Does that strike anyone as unusual?

OK; but what if the detail of her lesson does not teach the student how to communicate well with someone the news that they are dying but is concerned, instead, with lessons as to how best assuage the feelings of the young doctor whose job it is to impart said bad news?

To put it another way, the health service pays seniors to teach juniors that however much it upsets them to bring deadly tidings to the terminally sick, they still have to do it.

To many people, this will sound completely bonkers. This is not about the feelings of the person delivering the bad news, which are largely irrelevant in this instance, they might say, but about the feelings of the terminally sick recipient.

Well yes, and no.

Like all human communication, this is not a binary event or undertaking and there is no hierarchy as to the people involved in this real-life event. The terminally ill person, their families and friends, the doctor and those supporting her or him – all are involved and all have feelings about the matter. All of those feelings are relevant to the effectiveness, or not, of the communication.

The crucial aspect is that good communication is key to getting something like this right first time, because there won’t be a way to ‘unsay’ the wrong way.

Talks about death are difficult and require empathy and honesty first and foremost from the persons in the conversation. They do not work well when key aspects are hidden behind artifice designed to spare feelings. Bad news, and good, is better received when it is easy to understand. That is the only way to respond and react to whatever that news is.

Knowing something is always better than not knowing, unless you’re an ostrich. And that head-hiding analogy has been proved to be a myth.

Personally, I like the Gina Miller approach: “I come from South America and it’s part of our culture to speak out. It’s a lot healthier. There’s a big difference between being respectful and being restrained. I am more interested in teaching my children empathy than subscribing to our ‘me’ culture and obsessing about ‘how do I feel’ all the time.”

Effective communication is always about all of us, right up to the time one of ‘us’ is no longer there to listen and respond.