Unity not division is the key to our future

On Monday morning I carved out some time to make a quick trip to visit a section of the Great Wall of China. There are few things that live up to the hyperbole – this is one of them. Scottish Independence (the theme of this blog) is not.

The other famous wall is Hadrian’s. Built by the Romans to keep the Scots in Scotland. It’s ironic. Now the Scots, or a good proportion of them, seem hell bent on building their own wall. Cutting themselves off from the rest of the United Kingdom, their biggest trading partner, diminishing themselves in the eyes of the world.

If I sound bitter I am. Born and educated in Scotland I spent the first 28 years of my life there and then another 12 working in London and North America for Scottish companies – driving Scottish exports. Of course as I live in London I don’t get to vote on Thursday – along with 750,000 other Scots who live and work abroad.

Passing over the fact that this referendum should never have happened it is an ironic fact that a debate about Scotland’s future should deliberately exclude so many Scots and grant a vote to tens of thousands of people born in other countries who are students or temporary residents.

Do I think that Scotland can survive as an independent country ? Of course I do. But do I believe that Scotland has had it’s greatest days since the Act of Union with England in 1707 and is better served by continuing that alliance the answer is an unqualified yes.

Moreover the sum of the parts is so much greater. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland survives and thrives because of all of it’s people. Cleave one part off and the result is a diminished global power and a Scotland which is but a bit player on the world stage.

I’m a proud Scot but a great Briton. I recognize that being a part of a nation of 65 million people that is a member of the EU, NATO, the G7, the UN Security Council and the Commonwealth is considerable safer and more future focused than an isolated country of 5 million.

That the vote is so close beggars belief but then the separatists have enjoined the electorate on the basis of some misguided notion of nationhood and not logic. Straying dangerously close to intimidation and bullying they seek to paint themselves as patriots (in their words “team Scotland”) and the rest of us as strangers in our own land.

That’s probably the most galling thing of all. I’m privileged to be able to work and travel all over the world. I’ve yet to meet anyone who understands why this is happening. In Singapore, Beijing, New York I meet Scots who are passionate about their Scottish heritage and happy to carry a British Passport. The two are not mutually exclusive – and nor have they been over the last 300 years and throughout the world.

On Thursday the people of Scotland (correction illegible residents of Scotland at the time of the vote) potentially can make 60 million people distant neighbors not family.

An isolated Scotland and a diminished UK. What a tragedy.

If you have a vote on Thursday please vote NO.

Thoughts on travel

I’ve always travelled a lot for business and pleasure but the last few months have seen me break my in-air records. Because of the high frequency of travel I started to notice the little things I did to make life a little easier.

(1) Mobile boarding passes are good to have and on-phone check-in is invaluable however when you get to the airport pick up a paper boarding pass. Why ? Between security, lounge, onboard and writing out your immigration form you’ll easily use a couple of percent of battery power.

Besides it makes a good bookmark.

(2) Always carry an external battery pack. Fully charged. The only thing better than one is to carry two. I carry two.

(3) Carry £100 / $150 of your destination currency in cash with you before you get on the plane. You never know. Relying solely on credit or debit will catch you out and usually at the worst possible moment.

(4) Never make an airline reservation without consulting Seatguru . This takes all the guesswork out of avoiding the pitfalls of toilets and bassinets.

(5) Dress respectfully enough that you would be comfortable to go directly from the airport to a meeting with your number one client. Why ? You never know, you’re luggage might not make it. Oh and it’s a courtesy to your other passengers. Flip flops, shorts, exposed arms have no place on a jetliner.

(6) Remember the rule. The more media you take on the flight the less you’ll need it. It’s like carrying an umbrella – it won’t rain. No media and the inflight entertainment system will fail.

(7) Aim to help at least one fellow traveller on every journey. It’s the right thing to do, it makes the experience better for everyone and it will generate travel karma.

(8) Pack a snack for your arrival hotel. Anything to help avoid making poor room service choices.

(9) Even if you are only staying in the hotel for one night. Fully unpack. It’s better for your clothes and your mental health.

(10) Perfect a night flight sleeping routine and follow it. Use physical cues (such as removing your watch) to set in motion sleep.

(11) If you have a problem with a reservation or a quality issue start off your inquiry with “I wonder if you can help me ?” Empower the employee by making them want to help you. It’s rarely their fault. And when you get good service always make a point of reporting that.

(12) Focus your travel loyalty on one airline alliance, one hotel group, one car hire company. Even if you could save a few pounds or dollars switching consider what you lose. Loyalty goes two ways.

(13) Carry a small foldaway bag for use on the flight. Throw everything you need into it and that’s what sits at your feet on in your seat locker.

(14) Always carry a folder with your reservations printed out. It’s a fail safe to technology and another battery saver. And it means the desk clerk can walk away with the paper – that’s not possible with your iPad.

(15) Notepad. Always. In your pocket. Fill it.

Plane sailing

Airline partnerships and alliances often seem to operate more in the breach than the observance but my experience this past weekend with British Airways and Iberia set a new bar for joined-up and consistent customer experience. And it got me thinking.

Firstly, there is a caveat – British Airways and Iberia are not simply alliance partners but are owned by one company, International Airlines Group. Two separate airlines with a common ownership. There was, however, nothing separate about it.

A last minute need to fly to Tel Aviv on business with a quick turnaround resulted in me opting for the London Heathrow – Madrid (British Airways) and then Madrid – Tel Aviv (Iberia) routing suggested on the British Airways booking portal. The business class product was infinitely less expensive than the direct routing and the timings worked. Madrid is an airport I know well and I think rivals Heathrow Terminal 5 for customer experience.

I was most impressed with onboard handovers between the airlines. On the journey out the BA staff knew about my next leg and made the effort to make sure I had everything I needed. On the early morning flight back from Tel Aviv the Iberia staff both announced the gate connections at Madrid on the p.a. and came to tell me.

Recognition onboard is a key feature to convey a sense of reward to the customer for loyalty and the fact that BA and Iberia both use onboard iPads is a factor here. I felt as if I was still flying BA only with a Spanish flavour. I would single out the Business Cabin lead attendant for particular praise. I was able to experience and observe her attention to detail and focus on delivering on both outward and return. A credit to Iberia and I need to see if I can find a way to pass this on – as a species we are quick to damn and slow to praise.

So what was the big thought ? Just that British Airways already has additional runways at London Heathrow they are called Madrid. Good experiences like the one I have just had make the thought of a connection less off putting especially if the connection feels like it is on route anyway.

Presumably the integration will become stronger (the back end of checking in on line and via mobile is a bit creaky) whilst still maintaining two distinctive propositions.

As with all these things it’s down to quality of experience. On the basis of the last 46 hours it’s working.

it’s never been easier to succeed…or fail trying

Last Friday a small group of us got together to finally formalise our business venture.  Each of us have spent our careers helping other entities succeed and that’s a great thing.   You don’t work in the ‘service’ business without a love for seeing your clients or company do well.  However, we all feel that it would be nice to mix it up a bit – creating something from scratch and applying our variety of skills to making it work.

Since we are geographically distant from each other AND have may other work and personal commitments it’s important that we work smartly and that’s been an affirming experience.    I enjoy embracing new technology and digitally based features but there has been something about the last week which really brought home the contribution which “free” services can make to a new business.

- our email services, provided by a variety of entities at no cost

- a WhatsApp chat group to allow us to share our thoughts by the minute and keep energy and momentuam high

- a private Pinterest board to share and catalogue comptetitors and creative thoughts

- Skype where we held our first conference call

Each of these products delivering to an emerging enterprise.   And, come to think of it, I’m sitting in a cafe, using free wifi, on a Chromebook (Google services), blogging using WordPress (free).  

All of this is an extended way of saying that the barrier to doing something different is incredibly low.   The infrastructure set-up is effortless and virtually free – the only thing you need to do is come up with an idea to take advantage of it all.  That’s the hard part.

Good luck. 


I resolve to….

…..blog more. Correction. I resolve to consider blogging more.

I’ve not posted on this blog for two months. Without trawling the archives I suspect that is the longest interval. It was not deliberate. It’s just fact.

The challenge is I think about blogging more than I blog. I enjoy considering content, gathering opinions and items I think will be interesting for others but sometimes, and obviously over November and December the mind is strong but the flesh is week.

Pen has not been put to paper.

I’m writing this on the sleeper train to Cornwall. An efficient mode of transport which will see me sleep and move at the same time. At the moment I’m blogging and moving so that’s a good thing.

So in this 2nd week of 2014 I promise to write more. You’re lucky – you don’t even have to promise to read. But thank you for getting this far.

Dust yourself down, get out and engage…

Last night I attended a Founderscard membership event in London.   I’ll be honest and say it’s the first time for a couple of months that I’ve been to an event where I’m representing myself.  Where the focus was not a client, a brand or a product but me…or actually in this case “them” because I used the occasion, once I had quickly dispensed with my own ‘elevator pitch’, to listen to what others were saying.

It was refreshing.   And a timely reminder that it’s imperative  that we tear ourselves away from the task at hand and cast a gaze around the wider room.   And when I say room, I mean room.  Not putting down a lap-top and picking up an iPad but some proper, professional interaction (friends don’t count either !).

It is enevitable that all of us get entreneched into the here-and-now of what we are doing, be it corporate or consultancy but to do right by these projects we need to lift our vision.  Constantly.   It helps gain new perspective and it certainly delivers solutions in the most unexpected manner.

Sometimes we use the excuse that we don’t have time but, quite simply, you can’t afford to not find the time.   You need to break out of your constant environment and learn from others in a new scenario.   And it needn’t cost you a penny.  Hop onto Eventbrite now and sign-up for something locally.   You’ll learn something, meet someone, solve a problem and raise your game all in a couple of hours.

Do it this week…it’s only Tuesday.



Six months on…

Six months have elapsed since I started my own business and, despite the fact it feels like six weeks, I thought I would reflect a little on the experience to date.  First and foremost it is extraordinary fun.    A complete absence of corporate frustration and an ability to ruthlessly focus on tasks and projects means that although I’m working harder than ever it doesn’t feel like it.     Combine that with regular exercise and a healthier diet for the first time in years and I’m finding more energy and more hours to realise more opportunities.

So what stands out – in no particular order ?

The Cloud trust the cloud (although I always have one copy of the document on a hard drive or USB somewhere) and you will always have what you need whenever, wherever.  It’s keeping me organised and reducing a bad habit of printing out and carrying reams of paper.   Skydive (soon to be renamed by Microsoft) and Office 365 allow me to use any computer as if it was my own.

LinkedIn - I’ve always been a fan but now I use it more than ever.   I pay for a premium version but I’m the first to admit that, if they increased the subscription I would keep on paying.  It’s an incredible tool and rapidly becoming an information source which you can hone depending on your needs.

Time Zones - Time Zones are my friend.   If you have the stamina then every day has 24 hours – it’s energizing to be able to have three components to the working “day”.  For me those are Singapore, London and NYC in that order.

Skype - I’m a late comer to Skype but sometimes that means the enthusiasm is all the greater.   It’s free and it works.  On every device.

General Tech - tablets, superfast connectivity, apps that raise invoices, track expenses, serve up relevant content.   The costs and barriers to doing business have never been lower.  The secret is to do a “digital audit” and work out what you need.

Money spends differently - not being a PAYE employee and being responsible for all of my business expenses and investments is strangely liberating.   Attending conferences and seminars which you have personally paid for focuses attention like nothing else.

The daily routine - every day you have to (a) to work (b) identify new work (c) learn something (d) say something to your target group (e) stay on-top of admin.  EVERY DAY. The secret is to make some or all of those tasks pleasurable – then it doesn’t seem like a chore.   And, if you’ve picked a business which you enjoy (I have) it’s not difficult.clocks

An absence of meetings - within days I realised that how much of my previous corporate life had been taken up with meetings or preparing for meetings.   Now I have much more time to actually do.   It’s resulted in a strong focus on delivering.  For the client and for me.

Clients - nothing would be possible without clients.  Having been one for over 20 years I must admit I’m enjoying answering their needs.   They come in many guises but all share a passion and operate in a space I enjoy which makes it double the fun.   Some of their entrepreneurial traits are rubbing off on me so I expect I might well become a start-up client myself with something more tangible than the marketing and communications specialisation I offer at the moment.

The Hopper - keeping that hopper filled with business and potential business is key – maintaining relevancy and contacts is vital here.

And the downsides ?  So far there is none (I’ve even got a great accountant so filing taxes is not going to be too much of a burden) but there are sure to be bumps along the journey but they will be the responsibility of me, no one else, and that’s a very liberating feeling.