I read quite an interesting story about the actor Brian Blessed, that made me review how I’m currently thinking about things. Maybe it will do the same for you.
Blessed tells the story of how in 1980 he was appearing in a production of Macbeth at the Old Vic. Peter O’Toole was in the title role and had taken a hammering from the critics. One night, Blessed found O’Toole on his knees in his dressing room, crying out in anguish, “destroyed in heart and soul” he was. Blessed intimated to him that perhaps he shouldn’t go on – that the audience were only there to see him make a fool of himself anyway. O’Toole rejected the advice, and went on....
To quote Blessed – “I have never… never… seen courage like that.”
Now here was a man (Blessed) who originated from close to my part of the world. In those days in particular, it was an area where you didn’t have to wait long to see acts of REAL courage… where men put their lives on the line to save stricken colleagues in mining and industrial accidents nearly every month. He would have seen men going to work in horrible and dangerous conditions where they were exposed to health-wrecking noise, fumes, dust, machinery and work practices on a daily basis. He would have seen men horribly disabled and handicapped for life, but being forced to carry on…
And yet he had become so immersed in the world he now inhabited, that he now saw some bloke risking the making of a bit of a pillock of himself in front of others as the pinnacle of human courage.
I think we can all be a bit like this at times. We become almost hypnotically focussed on our own little worlds, and totally blinkered to the wider picture going on outside of our own circles. We tend to lose perspective, and a sense of what’s important and what isn’t. We over-estimate the magnitude of our own problems, and diminish the significance of those experienced by others.
So reading what Brian Blessed had to say, caused me to think about what real courage is all about, and the nature of real problems. And if I’m honest, I’m a complete stranger to both. And perhaps when you think about it, you’ll find that you are too.
After all, for most of us today there is little going on around us that calls for real courage.
Life has become more of an adventure than an adversity.
But having said that there is possibly one iota of plausible terror that needs attention bringing to it, and that is, I will be away from here for about a week. Hopefully you will cope but if you feel it all to be too much of a struggle, please feel free to rummage through my archives on this very blogsite.
And in the meantime, I promise to be back just as soon as I can.
I watched an old edition of The Apprentice the other night, and was a bit saddened by missing the first show of that season. Now that's because I’ve been a fan of the show since the very first series, and I used to think it was something that all aspiring entrepreneurs should try watching as an integral part of their basic training. But now I’m not so sure. I think it could give them a false sense of security.
You see, in the first series, they had candidates who could be described as quite normal. They approached tasks in a rather rational (if sometimes misguided) way, and most of them treated the others with something approaching respect. Most had ability too.
Good for reality… but not so good for reality TV.
The programme producers - realising that the biggest untapped audience will normally come from people filling in time before the next series of Big Brother starts, rather than real entrepreneurs - have clearly decided that both conflict and eccentricity are what ‘sells’. And so they’ve filled the show this time with a collection of characters who make for far greater entertainment, but who I wouldn’t personally employ even if they worked for free.
For instance, there’s the ultra-alpha male, the toff, the superbitch, the emotional wreck, the David Brent clone… get the idea? The end result is that of great entertainment, and even the least business-savvy of viewers gets to believe that they could probably do better than that – which they probably could.
If you didn’t see this particular show, let me give you a little test. At short notice, you have to pitch to a hotel to do their laundry for an evening, and need to quote a price.
a) Ring an established service to get a feel for market prices and then base your price on theirs?
b) Pluck a price from out of thin air while in the car on the way to the meeting?
If you answered ‘b’, you should almost certainly be killed, but having said that, you’d fit in well with the women’s team on the programme. Because that’s precisely what they went and did… they just guessed at a price. But even worse than that, the figure they chose was £4.95 per item laundered… which is about 25 times more expensive than the going rate was!
A Business plan...
Now anyone who was more concerned with common sense and effective action, than all the strategy meetings, brainstorming, synergy, customer interfaces and the myriad of other corporate crap which these people seem to be able to regurgitate on tap, would have realised two things; Firstly, that guessing a price in a market you know nothing about is simply moronic, and secondly, that guessing at a figure that is more than the item would cost to actually replace, just has to be wrong. Even a child could have worked that one out.
The simple fact that a single one person came up with this plan was bad enough, but when all of her team mates were so devoid of any nous that they went along with it… well that’s really worrying.
So watch The Apprentice for the entertainment value by all means, but don’t ever be fooled by the notion that any of these people are any way the ‘cream of young British business talent’, and you could probably do better. You almost certainly could do better, but doing better than someone who, but for their over-inflated ego and pure comedy value, who would most likely find themselves employed flogging double glazing or toting time share holiday villas, is no real great achievement.
I suggest that for some real business insight, you watch Dragon’s Den instead. There are still quite a few numpties on there too, but at least you’ll get to see them sweat.
When a slaphead musician, Moby released his album ‘Play’, in 1999, it was a critical disaster. Just 30 people turned up for the launch party, and the omens weren’t good at all.
So how come 9 years later, it’s now sold over 10 million copies?
The answer is quite fascinating, and may contain within it, the germ of an idea for you to transform one of your struggling ideas into an outrageous success.
You see, the ‘normal’ way to make money from a record (certainly in pre-internet days) is to get it played as much as possible on the radio and TV. People hear it, like it and go out and buy the album. And then the bandwagon starts to gather pace. But with thousands of artists battling for a limited amount of airtime, it isn’t easy for a relative unknown to get significant coverage. Without radio and TV coverage nobody gets to hear the music. And if they don’t hear it, they don’t go out and buy it.
At first, nobody was playing ‘Play’, and nobody was buying it.
The record company (and Moby himself, who was broke at the time) were keen to recoup some money from what was looking like a total disaster. What they did, was probably done as a last resort, but it turned the record into a hit and Moby into a star.
They started licensing the tracks on the album to companies for use in advertising campaigns. I don’t know whether they did it purely for the licensing fees, or whether they had the longer game in mind from the start, but the outcome was that the songs on the album quickly gained a massive audience momentum... far bigger than could normally be achieved from radio play alone. ‘Play’ was the first ever album to have all its tracks licensed for use in either advertising or films.
People heard the songs in the ad’s and movies, liked them, and went out and bought the album. And the rest is history as they say.
Now I know what you’re thinking though…
“Why the heck is he telling me that? Has he taken leave of what few senses he has left? I don’t have any undiscovered music to license out – or anything else for that matter!”
Well maybe you haven’t, but the point is this – there’s always more than one route to the same destination… in this case a multi-million best selling record. Your destination will probably be different, but there will still be numerous routes to get there.
There will be the well-trodden path that everyone else is on. It will be crowded and uncomfortable and you’re going to have a real fight on your hands to make any progress. In music terms, just think about the huge queue of ‘hopeful’s’ outside the X Factor auditions, and you will get the idea.
And then there will be other paths too, which may take a little lateral thinking to reach, but they’ll be far less crowded and you’ll get the chance to do things on your own terms. Compare the rise of the Arctic Monkeys via the internet and word of mouth to that of your average X Factor winner, and you’ll see what I mean.
It’s difficult for me to be more specific here, because I don’t know what you’re involved in, and working on, but let me give you an example from my own business which might explain what I’m talking about a little better…
Walk into any W. H. Smith and you will find literally thousands of books all competing for attention – and their publishers are the lucky ones - the ones that have managed to secure some much needed shelf space. Only a small percentage of books even make it to the shelves. I don’t have a single book for sale in W. H. Smith or any other bookstore for that matter, (not that I’ve ever tried to get them there) and yet I could still sell millions of pounds worth of books and other publications every year.
So how would I do it?
Simply by selecting a different and less crowded route, to achieving the same end… through selling a lot of different publications and making plenty of money. In my case this different route would probably consist of a combination of unique subject matter and unusual marketing methods, but it doesn’t really matter.
The point is that I have looked at the mainstream way of doing things, didn’t like the crowds or the odds and subsequently looked for a different route.
Whatever business or field you’re in, there are always back roads, shortcuts and alternative routes away from the main highway which everyone else is using. Once you separate yourself from the crowd, the rules of the road are far more flexible. You also get to do things your way… maybe even carve out a piece of your own track while nobody’s looking.
It’s all the more satisfying when you arrive at your destination, knowing that you’ve done it on your own terms, and avoided becoming a physical or emotional casualty of the mainstream journey.
Moby did it, I know I could do it, and you most likely can too.
One of my favourite TV programmes at the moment is The Dragon’s Den.
It's usually on BBC2, and makes compulsive viewing for anyone interested in the business of making money. Just in case you haven't seen it, here's how it works...
Five multi-millionaires (well, one of them recently went bust, but we'll gloss over that) form a panel who sit in judgment on a series of would-be entrepreneurs and their ideas. A bit like The X Factor, but for business people.
But here's where this is different....
Each of these entrepreneurs needs money to take their business forward... something that the Dragons have in abundance. What the entrepreneurs have to do is pitch their idea to the Dragons in a way which will persuade one or more of them to invest their own money - in return for a stake in the business.
Sounds simple, but these Dragons didn't get mega-wealthy by investing in 'duff' propositions... or by suffering fools gladly.
And boy does this programme attract its fair share of fools.
If the Dragons don't like the ideas... or the person presenting them... then the contestants can count themselves lucky if they leave with the last vestige of their self-esteem still intact.
Simon Cowell would be known as ‘the good guy’ in this company.
But I have to say, most of the aspiring entrepreneurs are the architects of their own downfall. Either their business ideas are unviable, their expectations unreasonable, or their presentation ill-prepared and naive.
The typical contestant who leaves The Dragon’s Den with a flea very firmly in his or her ear, makes one or more of the following mistakes:
1. Poor personal presentation.
It's an old adage that you never get a second chance to make a good first impression, but it's no less true for that. Several contestants who have turned up dressed for an evening in their local, have scuppered their chances before they've opened their mouths. The Dragons know only too well that in many businesses, potential customers and business associates will also expect a certain level of personal presentation from the company owner, and anything which falls short will cost money. They also know that poor personal presentation is unlikely to be an isolated shortcoming. It will be an indication of standards and attitudes across a broad range of actions and activities.
2. Poor attitude.
Contestants who are confrontational, prickly, or don't respond well to criticism are quickly shown the door. The Dragons know that business... all business... can be tough, and you can't afford to respond aggressively just because someone doesn't agree with your point of view. They also know that someone who behaves in that way will be very difficult to work with as a business partner.
One of the key questions all contestants are asked is "What are you going to do with the money you want me to invest?" Anyone who mentions their personal salary (and many of them do) is immediately doomed. The Dragons know that true entrepreneurs never even consider the issue of a personal salary until the company is profitable and all other financial needs are fully covered. A salary mentality is for employees, and employees and entrepreneurs are completely different beasts. A Dragon might invest in the latter, but would never invest in the former.
3. An ill-thought out idea.
Most contestants go into The Dragon’s Den with a defective concept. They haven't researched the market properly, or worked out the figures correctly, or planned out how the business can be grown and turned into a huge pile of cash... which is what your average Dragon is interested in. In short, they've got an idea, but want someone else to give them some money - and work out the not-inconsequential detail of how to turn it into a viable business. They have an unrealistic view of the value of what they have. An idea is nothing without a comprehensive plan for converting it into cash.
4. They over-value their business.
The idea of the show is that The Dragons invest a sum of money for a share of the business. Both the sum and the share are determined by the contestant. So for example, a contestant may say that he's looking for £100,000 in return for 10% of his business. Fine, until when questioned, it emerges that his total sales to date are about £15,000. And he's valuing his business at £1 million. On what basis?
Most contestants can't answer this question convincingly, but will usually mumble something about 'potential', and the 'massive amount of work' they've put in. The Dragons realise that neither of these has any immediate monetary value. Potential is just that - potential. And as for the work that's been put in? So what? Time put in has no value. It's gone.
5. They don't understand pies!
Not all contestants are idiots. Some turn up appropriately dressed, display laudable personal characteristics, present a workable and well thought out business plan, value their business reasonably accurately... but still leave empty handed.
Why? Because they don't understand pies.
I think I'd better explain.
Let's take the imaginary contestant I mentioned earlier. He's trying to sell 10% of his business for £1 million. But let's assume this time that the business really might be worth a million. Sales have been low so far, but there's realisable potential there, and one of the Dragons recognises it. "Okay," they say "I'll invest in your business, and you'll get my personal input, but I want a 40% stake for the £100k."
This... or something like it... happens a lot. And most of the time, the entrepreneur turns down the offer in disgust and walks away with nothing. When interviewed later they say that they couldn't possibly dispose of so much of their business so cheaply.
So are they right? No, in most cases they are very, very wrong. And it's all because they can't see beyond a fixed pie.
You see, if we assume that a business, in its current state, really is worth £1 million, giving the Dragon a 40% stake for £100,000 looks silly. It looks like you're throwing £300,000 away.
But take a closer look at that Dragon - the bloke who's got a personal fortune in excess of £100 million – he isn't going to be content with 40% of a measly £1 million business. He won't be investing so he can make a quick profit of £300,000 just a few years down the line. He will have seen much bigger potential in the business than that - potential which his contacts, knowledge and business synergy can work together to realise.
So the very fact that this guy is coming on board shifts the potential from a £1 million business to a £10 million business. So let me ask you now, which would you rather have - 90% of £1 million or 60% of £10 million?
The answer really should be obvious, but most people don't see it because they only look at percentages and forget all the pies. Pies are rarely, if ever, of a fixed size, and all business deals need to take account of the impact of the deal on the size of the pie, and not just the percentage share for all the parties.
In my own modest little business this issue of pies is one that raises its ugly head on a regular basis. Many of the products and services I market are sold on behalf of third parties. Quite often, when I tell these people the slice of the pie I need, they're taken aback. Or rather they are, until I tell them that...
I can make them a really big pie!
You see, my advertising database runs into reaching possibly hundreds of thousands of people in any given campaign. And this is a part of the 'pie' which my prospective business associate will only get access to if he or she decides to work with me.
It may be that someone else offers them a 20% royalty, rather than the 10% which I am offering - but that other company only has a potential of 5,000 customers. So what's it to be... 20% of the revenue from 5,000 customers, or 10% from 300,000? The correct answer, I hope, is obvious.
Now before you have me down as some megalomaniac tyrant, taking advantage of the poor impoverished product originator, you also need to consider this - I've spent the last 30 years honing my pie making skills. And this pie I've got cost a large fortune to build. So it's a fair deal... you bring the product and I'll bring the pie!
But this also works the other way too...
Say some of my own exclusive products are sold through third parties. When I’m negotiating a deal, the size of the pie (the third party company’s customer database) is always of more interest than the share of the pie I’m going to get. Overall revenue and profit is always more important than your relative share of the revenue and profit.
I've seen an awful lot of people... both on Dragon’s Den and in my own business dealings... dig their heels in and proudly walk away with 100% of nothing, when they could have had 50% of something really big!
So when you're appraising a deal, never lose sight of the
possible impact on the size of the pie - and then consider
the percentages in that context.
I often get asked how I go about my activities within this weird and wacky world of high-brow, sophisticated and bang up to the minute writing. Things like where do you possibly get all your ideas from?
Well the simple answer to that is I read. Probably for every word I ever write, I will have read quite literally, tens of thousands of other words. But there is even more to it than just that. I mean to be able to write anywhere near as successfully as I do, you also need to be aware of what’s actually going on around you. And in order to do that, you need to take copious amounts of notes.
For example, here’s something I spotted going on in the real world near me in the present day, and here too is a snippet of the notes I took down for it...
"What the Fcuk are you looking at?"
I can't tell you how much I hate the French Connection marketing campaign. Just in case you've been away on another planet for the last few years, and don't know what I'm talking about, please let me further explain...
You see, some bright spark at the company’s ad agency hit on the idea that if you take the initials of the company name, FC, and put 'uk' on the end, you get something which looks vaguely offensive... to a dyslexic at least. And so they've spent the last few years coming up with various slogans and designs, incorporating Fcuk, which they daub over the outside of their garments. How fantastically hilarious!
I find the whole thing totally crass and quite puerile.
Cringingly awful in a sort of "look at me I've almost got
a rude word on my T shirt" kind of way...
a rude word on my T shirt" kind of way...
If any of my offspring ever came home with an Fcuk T-shirt, I'd divorce them. In fact if any one of my children ever wanted to wear one of said T-shirts - I'd put them up for immediate adoption. And for that matter too, if you ever see me wearing one – Well that will just be a funeral directors idea of a joke. Because I'll be long since dead!
I hate it... hate it.... HATE IT!
Indeed if you were to rummage around any of the personal files of my hard drive, you would be amazed to find literally hundreds of little gems like that one lurking within the hidden directories.
And another nice thing about writing (for me anyway) is how it lets you be whoever you want to be... For instance, if you were to add up all that I have written to date, you would be worried to see how many different wives, children and personalities I have assumed title to. I mean, even the example you have just read above is in complete contrast to my real self.
So with that in mind, let’s see what my imaginary family are up to today as they delve into the life of my not so secret past, in....
Help me I’m drowning!
My daughter came in from school the other day, excitedly waving the 50 metre swimming certificate she’d just earned...
And the way she got it is really important, because it
demonstrates one of the most crucial determinants
of success in just about anything.
You see, for some reason, (muddle-headedness springs to mind here) the swimming teacher thought my daughter had already achieved this milestone. So when they set off swimming down at the pool, it never occurred to my daughter, that she might fail in a task which she believed had been done before.
So anyway, before the event, I’m sure that failure was never discussed as an option... no great importance was given to the effort... it was just something which would be done. No doubt. And because my daughter was only 8 at the time and still highly impressionable, she just accepted her teacher's view of how things would be...
And swam more than twice as far as she’d been able
to swim with me, just two days earlier!
See, You Get What You Expect - So Always Expect More!
And this is just one more example of the same thing...
Because this swimming ‘thing’ got me thinking about something else...
I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid, I did all those personal survival qualifications in swimming. If you didn’t do any of this, the next section is going to be lost on you, but if you did, I know you’ll be able to fully identify with it...
Do you remember the bit where you had to jump in the pool in your pyjamas - and then take the damned things off whilst still in the water? If you do, you’ll also remember what happened next...
You had to tie knots in the legs of your Jimmy-Jams,
throw them over your head, and make a float out of them!
So let me just ask you this... in the entire history of the universe, how many people do you think have been wandering by open water in their nightclothes (minus the shoes) then stumbled and fallen into the water, having to whip off the bottoms and turn them into a handy flotation device which kept them alive until help arrived?
I think the answer is somewhere around... none!
Quite often it seems, snippets like this one will sit around for days, weeks, months even. Periodically they will be resurrected and edited in one way or other, until they are finally honed into the witty and enlightening masterpieces I let loose on the general public.
But sometimes... and only in the most extreme of cases, a whole idea might have to get binned. Now they say in all of the great text books on the subject, that you should write about what you know and then explore further possibilities with a little ‘what if’ reasoning. So that’s what I tried to do here.
Using what I already know lots about and asking ‘what if’ I were the exact opposite? I came up with this little number about bad workmen blaming their tools...
I’m not allowed to own power tools...
It’s true. Here I am, a grown man, just the wrong side of 40, (in the same way that Danny DeVito is just the wrong side of 6 foot) and I’m banned from owning power tools.
Now I’m not talking about anything complicated like a Router, (whatever one of those is) but just the sort of thing every self respecting bloke has around his house... an electric drill for example.
Tradesmen who are called to my house to carry out the simplest of tasks look at me with a mixture of pity and contempt. I can see them contemplating what kind of man doesn’t own machinery you can plug in and create lots of noise and mayhem with.
It’s really quite embarrassing, but my partner maintains
she has good reason for imposing the ban...
You see, she believes that the addition of power to a tool will simply multiply the amount of mess and destruction I’m able to create, before the inevitable point at which I give up on whatever it is I’m trying to do.
In my more self-deluding moments, I think this is nonsense. In fact, I believe that it is the lack of noisy and expensive tools which is preventing me from becoming the King of DIY...
But deep down I guess I know the truth...
No matter what tools I had at my disposal, it wouldn’t make the slightest difference to the end result, other than to bring forward the point at which I’d have to give up, and phone somebody to come in and put the job right.
And if you think my incompetence only stretches to DIY,
you’re sadly mistaken...
You see, for many years (before I got just a little bit of sense) I used to play golf. There were several aspects of the game at which I excelled. For example, I was one of the few people able to throw a club further than the ball I’d just hit. But this skill didn’t really do anything to improve my score...
And so I always hankered after that new piece of equipment... whether it be a new club, or a revolutionary design of ball, which offered the promise of an extra 30 yards on my drive. That’s what I needed to transform myself from hopeless hacker, to pro tour contender.
But again, deep down I still knew the truth...
That piece of equipment which enabled me to hit the ball 30 yards further wouldn’t have been any real good to me. Most of my drives were crashing into the woods anyway. So what’s the point of being an extra 30 yards into the woods?
You see, poor ‘workmen’ of all persuasions blame their tools. They blame them around the house, they blame them on the golf course... and yes, they even blame them when their fantastic product or service fails to find enough buyers...
If only they could afford that new multi-media presentation, that TV infomercial, that bells and whistles website, or that celebrity-fronted promotional video, they’d be rich, rich, RICH!
What do you think?
Well that one had to go, purely because it doesn’t look good sat on a blog partnered by my business site. Imagine how many people looking for a fully experienced master craftsman like me, would have read that just before opting to partake of my services.
But having said that, it still goes to show what fun possibilities you can have with the written word. And that, and the fact it would have been a waste to have not used it somewhere anyway, is why it appears here.
Anyway, that’s my word count again for today but if you would like to see more insights into the slightly deranged mind of this particular writer, please look out for future blog entries under the heading of SNIPPETS.
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