Defending the bad name of business

Mann böse mit VisitenkarteA few months back I attended an entrepreneurship conference that attracted people from all sectors.

The organisers chose to kick things off with a ‘motivational speaker’ and the billing stated our man of purpose was a ‘leading entrepreneur and businessman’.

Now, in my experience these things can go one of two ways. I won’t mess you about. He had a shocker.

Born-again businessman

The excruciating pain of listening to arrogant and superficial babble from a self-proclaimed squillionaire (who’s risen from apparent destitution) is akin to your local dodgy take-away force-feeding you poodle.

Shelling the audience with multiple barrels of patronising and shallow b******t, we were told we too could reach Nirvana. However, getting ourselves anywhere close to his financial status required us to ‘dream’, ‘focus’, ‘work’ and ultimately ‘expect’. “I’m expecting him to finish” whispered my neighbour and friend Colin, who up to that point had sat in silence.

Colin’s mastery of the dry, pissed-off tone brilliantly illustrated the incongruous nature of the speaker’s tactless use of language and pitch. Lacing every sentence with ‘I’ and ‘Me’ he delivered his heavily masculine sermon with spellbinding omnipotence that must have left some thinking their time on earth had been little more than oxygen theft.

Our suffering lasted 15 minutes – or 900 seconds depending on one’s endurance strategy. As the presentation ended, Colin and I agreed we were highly motivated to get on with the rest of the event; which thankfully proved to be very worthwhile. So maybe there was method in the speaker’s madness.

The thorny issue of making money

But there is one point where I would side with Mr D. Motivation: business is first and foremost about making money. Whilst business owners possess many deeper reasons for running companies they also know that bringing in cold, hard cash has to be a priority – otherwise their business would cease trading. The survival instinct is extremely powerful.

But for some people the issue of making money in business is perceived as somehow grubby or dirty. We’ve all read about rich bankers, city ‘fat-cats’ and the like.

But to help demonstrate the point, my work with SimVenture means I’m continuously in touch with schools, colleges and universities and regularly present to and discuss a wide range of issues with lecturers, students and teachers.

And occasionally I will hear someone use the ‘business’ word and then immediately apologise for what they’ve just said – as if they’ve sworn. Such an ‘outburst’ may be followed up with the justification that some students or colleagues don’t like the notion of commercial business and/or the idea of profiting from others; this is then sometimes linked to a comment about the burgeoning popularity of social enterprises.

Let’s not apologise

Whilst the fine differences between a social enterprise and the ‘B’ word are for another blog post, I believe that given the opportunity we all have a responsibility to explain the absolute value and merit of seeking to make money through risk-taking and commercial trade. Surely we should never link the word ‘business’ with an ashamed and embarrassed apology?

I accept that some aspects of business are embarrassing. For example, pressure telephone selling, which does the name of business no favours at all is outrageous, but only a microscopic proportion of all firms are involved with this type of marketing. But having said that, how many educational courses help people to develop their sales skills?

By way of contrast, take a look at where you work. I’m grateful to Dell, Apple and o2 for making and providing brilliant IT equipment; the local builders and joiner that built my office; and to all the other commercial suppliers that provide a variety of goods at a competitive price and at a time that suits me. Without them I couldn’t do my job.

In all my experience of working in the private sector, I’ve learnt that most small businesses only ever have enough cash in the kitty to fund the next 1 to 3 months of existence. And as the last recession showed, many organisations are even more fragile. Such uncertainty highlights why ‘selling’ has to take a high priority and loss rather than profit is an easy position for any business to find itself in.

As traditional ‘career’ opportunities fragment and die, people entering the world of work need to be much better equipped to manage opportunity and uncertainty. Regardless of perspective or motivation, the benefits and truths of working in every sector should be shared and understood by all.

So we are right to celebrate business rather than apologise for it – although not in the mindless way of my squillionaire speaker. At the same time we need to recognise that sectors outside our own have different perspectives and motivations.

Key Learning Points: The public face of ‘business’ can sometimes give it a bad name; this is in part driven by the relentless pressure on commercial companies to make money to survive. It is easy to misunderstand this dynamic and thus misjudge ‘business’.

Unsung heroes of enterprise & entrepreneurship

iStock_000005877478XSmallOver the past 2 years, 49 articles connecting hitchhiking and entrepreneurship have been posted on this Blog.

Subjects and angles have been wide as well as varied. But no single post has ever focused on the people who helped make my journey possible. Yet, if it had not been for the kindness of spirit, generosity of time and ability to help me reach my next destination, I would not have travelled far. And then I would have given up…

In these challenging economic times vast numbers of people (be they mentors, lawyers, business advisors, coaches, teachers, accountants etc.) work tirelessly and often for free to help entrepreneurs start and continue their journey. But critical support work often goes unnoticed (or hidden altogether) because it’s become the norm or simply happens away from public gaze. As a result, people are not necessarily recognised for the great work they do.

Let’s recognise the unsung heroes

So with your help let’s celebrate the unsung heroes of enterprise and entrepreneurship. Let’s list 50 (or possibly more!) deserving people on this site so we can better recognise those who are making a real difference and helping others on their journey.

In no more than 50 words, tell me about the hero (or heroes) you know. Send details (including their name* and why they deserve the recognition) to

Everything will be referenced below.

50 Unsung Heroes 

1. Matthew Draycott - “Matthew cares passionately about people and how they grow through life experiences to reach their potential. Challenged but undaunted by the legacy paradigms of hierarchical and bureaucratic systems he chooses to use his considerable expert knowledge and belief to continue to redesign how education is delivered, from the outside in!” 

2. “One of the attributes entrepreneurship students most often cite as being influential in their studies is the enthusiasm of their tutor or tutors. But who enthuses these enthusiastic tutors? Dr Colin Jones (University of Tasmania), that’s who.”

3. “The road of the entrepreneurship educator can be a lonely one. Sometimes it is difficult to gain support and legitimacy for our practice. One man, Professor Harry Matlay, has assisted countless entrepreneurship educators gain just recognition of their practice through supporting their scholarship as editor of various academic journals.”

4. Charles Cracknell works tirelessly supporting young people in Hull and the East Riding with their business ideas.  Enterprising, innovative and passionate Charles has supported and helped established business start ups, city wide initiatives, events and an enterprise culture. An inspiration to us all to keep going and changing lives through enterprise.”

5. “There is only one policy guru in enterprise education and its Matt Smith, he has infiltrated every political party, got to know every policy officer in the sector with the single aim of ensuring they know more about student led entrepreneurship.”

6. Stephen Logan’s commitment to help young people within the school sector to set up in business is second to none at his school and outside he is committed to help them and signpost them well outside work hours; more important it’s all about the kids for him not how it looks on his CV, as impressive it is.

7. Mike Chitty is a true unsung hero of the enterprise movement who works tirelessly to empower people to reach their full potential. He is an enormously gifted and wise mentor who shares his knowledge and experience freely… and patiently! But most of all he is a critical voice who always challenges us to question and develop our practice.

8. Alan Donegan established the @PopUpBusiness school and has shown how practical, informative and fun sharing and cultivating new business ideas can be. He is a great speaker, engages the audience from the outset and has a really positive and infectious approach to his work and life.


*If you are not sure whether your nominee wants to be publicly recognised, please check with them first before submitting details!





How not to gamble on the horses

TruthSupermarket ‘thoroughbred’ Tesco had a nightmare over the horsemeat scandal.

Matters lurched south in January 2013 when the company took out full-page national ads apologising for its home-brand burger containing a reported 30% horsemeat. Then the public had to stomach the notion that consuming a ‘Spaghetti Western’ didn’t necessarily involve watching horses on the telly. And when Tesco thought the PR couldn’t get any worse, well it did.

On February 18th last year a Tesco delivery driver ran over and killed a horse in Warwickshire.

Why the stew?

Making Tesco the single mule for the hippophagy (horse-eating) mess is unfair. Organisations such as Findus and Birds Eye were implicated too; and according to BBC’s Panorama, less well-known distribution and food production companies spread right across Europe were entangled in what may have ultimately turned out to be a real health scare, and possibly worse.

But whilst eating horsemeat is taboo in the UK, it is an accepted part of the diet in many cultures. Britain’s ‘pedigree chums’, the French seemingly have more of an appetite for a ‘stable’ diet. Food historian Dr Annie Gray, who lived in France for 3 years, says for her it was completely natural to eat horsemeat since it was sold by her local butcher.

“I am far more concerned with where the food is from. I would far rather eat ethically sourced, well-cared for horse, than battery chicken, for example,” she says.

The source is critical

Dr Gray’s point demonstrates why the scandal’s impact was so widespread. It’s not that people are eating horse, it’s the fact suppliers misled consumers about the ingredients and their origins. As a consequence, the fundamental issue of trust took a whipping and people said ‘nay’ to meat.

According to a February 2013 poll of 2,200 adults (conducted by Consumer Intelligence research company), the presence of horse (sold as beef) led British consumers to buy less meat. Products were pulled from supermarket shelves as one in five adults said they were changing their shopping habits. Over 65% of respondents said they trusted food labels less.

From field to fork

In our highly connected world people have far greater access to information and are able to make much more informed purchasing decisions. Food retail is now about both low price and high quality and I’m informed by an industry specialist that there is no headroom in a competitive market to trade off one against the other. Critically, the customer wants both.

To build reputation food retailers have focused more on the issue of provenance to generate confidence and trust between buyer and seller. Provenance gives the retailer better quality control with individual products traceable from field to fork; among other things the customer gets a nice photo of the smiling farmer on the packaging.

But whether it’s economic pressure, plain greed or both, deceitful food producers have managed to hide unwelcome ingredients within processed foods. And once disguised in a branded wrapper oozing trust, food of dubious origin smuggles its way onto our supermarket shelves.

Digesting the lessons

This scandal still has a distance to go and it would not surprise me if we didn’t see more well-known food labels fall from grace, or even further.

However, this event whilst having greatest impact on large organisations, relays several important messages to people starting out in or running a small business.

Trust & Openness

It takes time, money and effort to create a trusted sustainable brand. But the horsemeat saga demonstrates brilliantly how trust can be lost in no time at all. All that hard work goes to the wall. For more on this issue I recommend Stephen Covey’s ‘Speed of Trust’ – page 237 also summarises the key issues underpinning organisational trust.

Being open with customers as well as suppliers fosters a culture of trust. Increasingly consumers expect and enjoy being more involved with an organisation. One example of this is the restaurant chain ‘Leon’ where customers are encouraged to actively participate with the business. The food is great too – wholeheartedly recommend their ‘Porridge of the Gods’.

Values verses cash

Every business experiences problems with cashflow and the issue is typically most acute in the early years. When financial pressures arise there can be a temptation to cut corners with the service or product delivery in order to protect or save money.

However, as the horsemeat scandal has demonstrated, the consequences of prioritising money over core values can lead you quickly down to the knackers yard. This short audio story featuring entrepreneurial guru Seth Godin highlights the importance of being true to yourself and the fact that ‘what you stand for is more important than the month’s revenue’.

Adversity brings opportunity

As this post hopefully demonstrates, horsemeat is not bad. However, the public reaction and outcry has revealed much about the British psyche and as the research demonstrated, has changed buying behaviour too.

Where there is new information and when people change habits, there are opportunities for clever entrepreneurial minds.  Just like the hitchhiker, headway is often made when you’re prepared to think differently and tackle rather than run from adversity.

And speaking publicly today (the first time since the crisis took hold) Tesco CEO Philip Clarke, said his supermarket is now looking to source more locally and work closely with farmers and in greater partnership with suppliers. I bet other supermarkets will follow suit. And if you want to supply this market, this may be the right time to back yourself.

Key Learning Points: Learn from the mistakes of organisations embroiled in the horsemeat scandal and work closely with suppliers and foster relationships with customers. People want to work with suppliers that are truthful and honest.     

Top 10 websites for entrepreneurs

ToptenFor the past 2 months I’ve conducted some basic research to establish the best websites that help people start and stay in business in the UK. Over 500 individuals (who work in an advisory and business support capacity in academia, public as well as the private sector as well as people running businesses) were asked to provide feedback on the single question ‘What are the really good websites you recommend people use?’.

The purpose of the exercise was to start work to clear the fog of information. There are hundreds if not thousands of websites claiming to provide support, information and advice to entrepreneurs. Such duplication and fragmentation is confusing and only undermines what is really credible. So what did the research uncover?

Findings summary

In total, respondents recommended nearly 100 different sites. No single site stood out completely from the crowd but the final count provided a conclusive top 10.

Whilst no locally or regionally focussed website received a high enough number of votes to make the top slots, two universities that serve thousands of students (Birmingham & Bristol) were recommended as popular portals since they provide high quality information and signpost students to external websites that add value.

One example of an external website that serves the needs of thousands of users  is run by the Northern Ireland Business Enterprise Agency ‘Advantage NI‘. From ‘Business Profiling’ and ‘Bootcamps’ through to ‘Market Synopsis’ and ‘Export Support’, this site looks comprehensive, highly applicable to a wider audience and well worth a visit.

Also of note is a new website co-founded by Peter Bailey and David Friel, both from Loughborough University. Entrepreneurhandbook is a comprehensive portal of the main UK websites that support ‘startups’ and budding entrepreneurs. A key selling point for the site is the way it references other information sources in an easy-to access manner.

Making the Top 10

Respondents noted favourites for different reasons. As you will see, the top 10 includes a mix of the creative and inspiring as well as some that simply focus on robust factual data. Of note is the fact bank websites received little more than a sniff of appreciation from respondents, although HSBC and Lloyds were complemented for their ‘Start-Up’ Guides.

Equally noteworthy was the sparsity of interest in ‘crowdsourcing’ sites and specifically ones that help people raise funds when starting in business. Seedrs for example is dedicated to helping people raise start-up capital as well as signposting investors to new businesses. The site is doing great things. Will sites like this become future favourites?

Interestingly, whilst the research asked for recommended websites, many respondents were also keen to suggest social media content and great YouTube videos. Since I received so much data on this subject I’m going to publish a separate Blog Post in a couple of weeks highlighting the great material that’s out there.

But for now, here are the top 10 sites in order of popularity. Please note this is only a top-line survey and more robust research is needed on a regular basis to help provide the definitive list; however, I hope this post kick-starts thinking and helps you to find, recommend and use credible and valuable information more quickly.


Definitive website providing an array of relevant information all presented in an easy to access and digest manner. From ‘what business to start’ and an on-line forum to advice on IT purchases and franchise creation, it seems this detailed site has data on everything the entrepreneur needs to get going.


Whilst some of the information on this US portal may not be UK relevant, the interactive nature of the site combined with its powerful blog and commitment to answering ‘How to..?’ questions gets it to the No.2 slot.


Whether it’s information about a specific type of business to start or advice on trademarks, copyright and IP , this is the place for the facts. Don’t expect stunning graphics but the navigation is straightforward. You’ll also find links to all other relevant government sites.


Surprised me that two government sites should make the top four, but clearly good things are being done to make every detail about tax (PAYE, VAT, Corporation Tax, NI, Self Assessment etc.) and finance easily available. You can even register as a user on this site.

5. Smarta

Use the site to get advice, see films of successful entrepreneurs talking about their journey and/or access the organisation’s ‘Business Builder’ (chargeable); this site combines information with highly innovative and valuable services for the entrepreneur.

6. StartupDonut

Comprehensive portal of information, advice, guidance and ideas on everything linked to business creation and management. The availability of free document templates and provision of an event diary makes this site a must for any budding entrepreneur.

7. Shell LiveWire

Linked to the Oil Giant, this site is highly credible. Annual awards event and 4 * £1,000 monthly prizes marks Shell Livewire out from others. I was a beneficiary of this organisation 20 years ago, so can only endorse all their work to date.

8. Cobweb

Cobweb researches, publishes and continually updates a range of practical publications and information services for small and micro business owners, business advisers and enterprise practitioners and small business funders.

9. StartupBritain

Organisation that seeks to unite entrepreneurs behind a single cause. Information about local events and provision of supplier offers tailored to the entrepreneur’s point on the journey makes this portal stand out and thus achieve top 10 status.

10. Stanford Technology Ventures Program

Perhaps the best global source of on-line information for educators. The ‘Entrepreneur’s Corner’ provides archive content from the STVP which includes a vast array of film content on just about every subject linked to entrepreneurship.


Final thoughts… 

Hopefully you can ‘hitchhike’ virtually around the recommended sites and use as well as share new-found information with the people with whom you work and support.

Thank you to everyone who took part in this simple survey; if the resultant information has brightened your day or made your life a little easier, then please let me know or leave a post below!

As I suggested earlier in the article, since there are so many websites providing information in this field, it’s really important to continually work to cut through the fog so the best stuff can be discovered and shared. So may be this is an annual task…

Meeting the world’s greatest entrepreneur

It all started with a cold call.

“I’m sorry but Nick never gives interviews” I was informed. The PA on the other end of the line was pleasant but firm. “But please give me your details. Someone in PR will be in touch I’m sure.”

Two days later the phone rang. To my complete astonishment I learnt my wish had been granted. Even though he had a hectic schedule, the world’s greatest entrepreneur wanted to meet me in person; and he had even insisted on making all my travel arrangements.

The overnight flight was a bit of a blur but on arrival at his private office I had his undivided attention for 2 hours. And the secrets of how to build a global empire of unparalleled scale from humble beginnings were shared with a cheery smile and hearty laughter.

How to build a global business

“It’s no good thinking about what you want” he said. “You have to focus on the market and provide products that people seek. But that’s only one small piece of the jigsaw. Everything we make is always packaged so it looks attractive, interesting and creates real desire.”

Pausing for thought, he looked over at the large open fire burning away in the corner of the room. “You see” his words had softened, “the packaging adds so much to the product because it creates that all important ‘dream’. Even the most mundane of things can be completely transformed by the wrapper. We don’t give people products, we give them dreams. You can write that down!”

Hanging on each word I marvelled at his commitment to every detail of service and the ‘just-in time’ delivery processes his organisation used. In terms of  international product distribution the sky it seemed was the limit. But how did he open, maintain and grow so many channels that allowed him to operate on both a local and worldwide scale?

Secret Agents

“Over the years” he explained, slowly stroking his beard, “we’ve managed almost like magic to build up a network of agents in every single corner of the globe. But to be honest, the real secret to our success is the unspoken bond of trust between our organisation and the agents with whom we work. The operation is so good now, it’s become seamless.

“Every single person who delivers goods in our name believes one hundred percent in what we do. This relationship ensures our distribution methods are highly efficient and effective; which I have to say has really helped me to manage my own stress levels!” As he finished his sentence so laughter filled the room once more.

Throughout our meeting various people came  in and out of the office and each one was treated with the same level of courtesy and respect. This tycoon was a real people person.

Love what you do

Looking through my notes I fixed on a question I was really keen to ask. What advice would he offer entrepreneurs that were just starting out?

“Find out what makes you sing, and follow it!” He replied without hesitation. “I didn’t set out to become famous, but over the years things worked out for me I because I just love this job.

“I’d also advise people starting out to find time to give without expecting anything in return. People really like givers and over the course of time they will give back – sometimes far more. Reciprocation develops huge amounts of trust. The truth is, that’s our organisation in a nutshell.

“Our passion for what we do,” he continued “and the goodwill we generate has also helped to keep us in the media especially at this time of year. Free publicity is a key energy source for this operation. I don’t know what we would do without it.

“It used to be the people in print media who wrote stories and features about us. But once Hollywood started making films it all went crazy. And since that Interweb thing came along,” he said with a chuckle, “well that just sent everything into orbit.”

I had my story. The focus, commitment, values and absolute consistency of this man’s approach to work was inspiring. His last words had provided the perfect conclusion to my interview; it was the ‘icing on the cake’.

We said our goodbyes and I left the meeting knowing two hours of my life had seldom been so well spent. At the reception I collected my return travel documents before leaving the building. Snow was falling heavily but the doorman who I first met on arrival greeted me with another warm smile and asked where I was headed.

“Yorkshire,” I replied. He  immediately waved his hand in the air and clicked his fingers. As if by magic the bells that had accompanied my journey over once more filled the air.

Wishing you a Happy Christmas…



The serious business of having a laugh

As our plane readied for take off to Cape Town, the stewardess commenced the well rehearsed health and safety briefing. Except the ordinary was about to become extraordinary.

“In the event of the cabin losing air pressure, oxygen masks will drop down from above your heads.” Her words were calm. She paused and looked to see who was paying attention.

“And when you’ve stopped screaming,” she continued without so much as a smirk, “put on your masks. And if you are travelling with a child, put on your own mask first. If you have children, pick a favourite!” 

We all looked at each other. Strangers, once remote and silent, shared smiles and laughed. Several started to chat. More followed from the hostess.

“…And this is a non smoking flight. All toilets are fitted with smoke detectors as well as cameras for the captain’s personal pleasure. If we catch you smoking we’ll assume you’re on fire and extinguish you…”

Whilst passenger bellies pushed belts to their limits, the crew remained dead-pan, which only added to the hilarity. Meanwhile the plane left the ground and we were on our way.

Why Humour Connects

It’s an accepted fact that humour is good for us. “When laughter is shared it binds people together and increases happiness and intimacy” says the on-line health resource ‘Helpguide’. So to keep your interest, there’s more on the ‘Flying Circus’ story later; but before we land there, let’s consider why humour is an effective means of communication.

All research shows that emotions drive behaviour. Critically, ‘happiness’ and ‘surprise’ are two of the six primary emotions. In other words, used well, humour reaches right through to the core of our mind and typically receives an immediate and positive reaction.

Books about emotional intelligence appeared on bookshelves in the nineties (most notably the work from Daniel Goleman). And Goleman’s thinking was undoubtedly a catalyst for scientists and researchers to investigate more fully how the brain manages feelings.

Stanford University psychology expert, Dr Phillipe Goldin, specialises in the complex issue of emotional neuroscience. In this presentation he demonstrates the various functions emotions perform and how and why they help bring richness to our experience of life (and thus explains the theory underpinning the value of the humour used on the plane).

Goldin’s detailed presentation also explains why unlike rational thought, we are not in charge of our emotions (if you want a succinct explanation, watch Sandy Newbigging’s short film which uses an iceberg analogy to explain the principle). Conscious behaviour, Newbigging says, is what we think about, know and control. But a much larger element (unconscious) sits beneath the surface. This part is very powerful and drives emotional behaviour and responses such as laughter. People and situations that trigger laughter link with our emotional unconscious mind and thus make deeper connections.

Stand Up means Stand Out

Using this knowledge it’s easy to see why good stand up comedians connect so well with people. And like hitchhikers and entrepreneurs, they’re part of a high-wire society that’s prepared to go it alone and risk getting it wrong publicly. But by doing their own thing they also stand out, learn quickly and allow themselves the opportunity to achieve much more.

Great comedians like Eddie Izzard and Stewart Francis (“I’ll tell you who gives kids a bad name – Posh & Becks”) can also teach entrepreneurs much about innovation, lateral thinking and great presentation skills. On this note, I highly recommend the article “What Comedians can Teach About Public Speaking” by the famous ‘Toilet Paper Entrepreneur’ Mike Michalowicz.

Using Humour with Business

If you’re looking to make better connections in business, there is a strong argument for the use of comedy. However, be aware that humour is much more than just the delivery of a punchline as the UK’s Chief Secretary to the Treasury and Liberal Democrat MP, Danny Alexander, proved at his recent party conference. Unlike London Mayor Boris Johnson, who had delegates at the Conservative Conference laughing uncontrollably about chocolate Hobnobs & more, the eternal straight man Danny got little more than a mild ‘titter’ when trying to tell a joke.

Good humour has to be thought through and delivered appropriately so that it cuts right through to the audience’s unconscious mind. Planning, preparation as well as talent is required and this brilliant short promotional film aimed at budding entrepreneurs, shows how an original idea mixed with great scripting, powerful imagery and timing hits the spot.

The Power of being Different

As the film demonstrates so well, crafted humour creates difference and allows a distinctive and well positioned message to be remembered. It stands to reason that effective viral marketing campaigns such as Trunk Monkey are often driven by humour.

The South African airline that flew me to Cape Town used humour consistently to be distinctly different. For example, unlike all their competitors their planes didn’t carry the airline name on the fuselage. Instead, one had two big green arrows pointing upwards alongside the words ‘This Way Up’. Another had all sorts of words all over the fuselage including the phrase ‘The Go Go Juice’ with an arrow pointing towards the fuel cap.

Long before the plane landed at Cape Town I had made my mind up to fly with the airline again. I’ve since reviewed the company’s website and watched a stack of amateur films produced by fellow passengers keen to capture the unique health and safety briefing and more. This flood of free promotion is good business and if you want to support the entrepreneurial aviation spirit and have some fun flying too, I recommend you try Kulula.

Key Learning Points: Humour connects people in a powerful & lasting way; it also provides opportunities to present ourselves or messages differently. However, careful thought & consistent execution is required for humour to really resonate with audiences.







Look after the pounds & the millions will look after themselves

Salespeople regularly offered me lifts back in the eighties. It’s fair to say I enjoyed the banter and their cars went faster too.

London bound, one bright weekday morning, I was hitching a lift onto the M1 when a passing car jammed on its brakes and pulled over ahead of me onto the empty slip road. The smart-suited driver from Leicester was going my way. Within 2 minutes we were doing 90+ in the outside lane of the motorway.

Achilles heel

Proud of his shiny motor car, my twenty something companion also loved his job in sales. I forget what he sold, but he was quick to share his salary status – £20k plus perks. In 1984, that was gearing up for ‘loadsamoney’.

Being 18 and unemployed I distinctly remember being impressed by my flash friend, but it was his brutal honesty that really appealed. Having spent 15 minutes bigging himself up, he then declared in a slightly depressed tone that he was practically broke. He was good at earning money. He was even better at spending the stuff.

Put yourself last

Entrepreneurs who excel at spending money on themselves typically don’t last long in the job. Fast cars, designer labels and posh restaurants undoubtedly make us feel better; but they are all unnecessary costs especially in the early days of running a business.

Richard Branson may now spend every sixth week on his own private island in the Caribbean, but it certainly wasn’t always that way. For several years he lived on an old barge and drove a car that regularly ran out of petrol, such was his desire to keep the money in the business where it was really needed.

It may feel counter intuitive, especially if you’re employing staff, but the secret in the early days is to put yourself last when it comes to spending money. If you look after the goose, the golden eggs stand a much better chance.

Does money motivate?

Stacks of studies have been compiled that examine the question ‘What motivates entrepreneurs?’ If this is an area of particular interest you’ll find lots of scholarly research right here.

But if detailed analysis doesn’t float your boat and you want some quick definitive answers from practising entrepreneurs, then the following short film may appeal. Produced by ‘Tech Cocktail’ the results clearly suggest that successful entrepreneurs are motivated by such things as people, ideas, following dreams, making a difference, creativity and achievement. In the film you’ll find that the ‘money’ word is hardly mentioned.

So when it comes to money, successful entrepreneurs it seems are patient, unselfish and self-disciplined. Moreover, they are motivated by deeper needs and are able to defer reward rather than seek instant gratification (a subject worthy of its own HHGE blog). This attitude of mind makes businesses more sustainable over the long term and ultimately, as a bi-product, also makes the entrepreneur far richer.

Key Learning Points: Careful cost management is essential for any start-up business. Entrepreneurs who are prudent with their own spending in the early days and are motivated by deeper needs, are more likely to be financially successful in the long-term.





Give your ambition the greatest chance of success

Reading should never be a guilty pleasure. But it can get that way if work pressures really grip and/or family demands mean those precious grains of free time are lost before sleep.

Like holidays, books provide an escape. And whilst the odd trashy novel smuggled its way into my luggage this summer, the two most valued literary companions tackled completely different subjects.

Patterns of Innovation

Whether you want to start a new enterprise, develop a product or work to resolve a global problem, a different kind of thinking is required to give your ambition the greatest chance of success.

Forward focus is important. However, in this highly connected and complex world sustainable innovation is most likely when the creative mind is open to understanding and engaging the deeper and broader issues.

Being a master of quick-fix failure I knew Steven Johnson’s book ‘Where good ideas come from – The Seven Patterns of Innovation’ (see him talk on TED) would be an invaluable holiday read. All 246 pages were devoured in 4 days.

The Adjacent Possible

From Darwin’s Paradox to Willis Carrier’s invention for air conditioning, Johnson cleverly reveals the generative order of forces that underpin sustainable innovation. Central to his evolutionary science-based thesis is the term ‘Adjacent Possible’ and the fact that all new innovation builds and scaffolds on the past much like a coral reef or burgeoning fractal pattern.

The Burgeoning Fractal

Throughout, Johnson also refers to the Internet (and its founder Tim Berners-Lee) and highlights how the explosion of web innovation is built on one man’s original desire for greater connectivity and sharing of ideas.


To accompany Johnson’s masterpiece I also re-read ‘Adapt – Why Success always Starts with Failure’ by the Economist Tim Harford. I first referred to this work in the Blog piece ‘Start now and Value the Journey’ and I can’t recommend his writing highly enough especially if you are seeking direction for a new project.

Like Johnson, Harford uses rich and varied source material to support his argument (from military campaigns to third world aid). The thrust of the book is the value of ‘trial and error’ as a way of getting things done; as opposed to the norm – top-down central governance that operates through a rigid hierarchy.

Woven expertly into the text is the work of a Russian engineer, Peter Palchinsky, and the 3 principles he adopted for getting things done and solving problems:

  1. Seek out new ideas and try new things
  2. When trying something new, do it on a scale where failure is survivable
  3. Seek out feedback & learn from your mistakes as you go along

Ultimately, Harford’s book turns to the reader and uses a Billy Joel inspired musical to demonstrate why people struggle with failure (3rd principle) and why we don’t seek feedback and thus learn from our mistakes and adapt. Humans, he rightly argues, have difficulty holding apparently contradictory thoughts (cognitive dissonance) which means we deny failure has happened and thus don’t learn from the experience. The trick is always to confront mistakes (however difficult it may seem) and extract the lessons.

Step Away

Finally, an underpinning message within both texts is that innovation and success through trial and error requires the creative mind to regularly abandon its absolute focus. New environments are needed to stimulate and nurture thoughts and hunches over time.

Hobbies, time spent chatting with friends and colleagues as well as walks with others are all encouraged. Interestingly, Steve Jobs was a big fan of walking and Jon Steele (Perfect Pitch) highly recommends getting away from the subject at hand when thinking creatively.

Whatever you choose to do, you will probably find that the scale of your achievable ambition is proportional to the networks of people you create and the interests and hobbies you nurture. Likewise, the scale of your achievable ambition is likely to be proportional to the time you are able to put aside for reading.

Key Learning Points: Innovation has greatest chance of success when thinking is based on sound structures; yet the mind must also be open to hard work, failure and a desire to understand the connected issues. Reading is essential.