Wednesday 1 October 2014

Are you socially functional?

Business sectors are essentially tribal and use the language of their tribe. Discuss.
Well, this used to be the case in a very marked way. A lawyer spoke legalese, marketing and ad men spoke ballpark, engineers talked manufacturing application protocols. Today the corporate comms teams of one business sound very much like another. I  shyly aver that marketing and communications functions of business, largely mediated by the temporarily trapped butterfly wings of proliferating social media channels, are furring the tongue. And it's happening right across town.
Government departments, which have increasingly modelled themselves on what they consider to be business-like paradigms, have joined in at the usual chorus level. So IBM, BT, Shell, and the Department for Education in the UK, all sing about stakeholder engagement and the importance of social functionality in internal communications as relatively sacred top level strategies.
Feeding at the same trough as most, I feel a little timid to point out that while social functionality as a term is, to interpretation even within the C-Suite, internal communications didn't even exist, or scarcely, about 20 years ago. Nowadays, it is art, science and another data bank of strategic insight rolled into one. Get it right and we all align our people to our business objectives and stride towards the sunny uplands of company vision. Get it wrong and we must rethink our hymn sheets. Thankfully, however, even the drivers and deliverers of internal comms strategy have decided that the complexity of this discipline, as a newly emerged meal ticket for various agencies, is such that the phrase "singing from the same hymn sheet"  no longer applies, in this space.
Meanwhile, in lookalike corridors and open plan offices across the western world, the mash and tumble of language allows businesses to adopt 'strategy refreshes' as a means of instilling a change of direction in business activities that needs to be 'cascaded' through the workforce, with a 'digital cascade' using KnowledgeVision or SharePoint platforms, usually the most effective.
While I personally (because I work for industries which are all happy to use these and plenty of other terms) do not shout "but where are the emperor's clothes", and while I quite enjoy discovering the meaning of some of these terms and even start to see their niche relevance, I still baulk at the trait where a business adopts a truly everyday term, a perfectly ordinary, well-used English word, and all but puts a trademark on it. (Please note, that last sentence was purposefully longer than usual). It's so numbingly dull to do this, and a bit rude.
Suddenly, for example, the word 'segment' means a socio-economic/demographic depiction of a type of customer; it's not even a segment of the market, and it's certainly not a bit of an orange, or part of a plot of land. In the corridors of customer segmentation you would use these other meanings of the word at your peril.  
We used to have business jargon that had a clubbish purpose only, or mostly, like a mutually self-recognising set of passwords: manufacturers would be proudly incomprehensible to lawyers; lawyers to scientists; scientists to thespians. The media and the markets floated along between the barriers picking up, promoting and discarding words as and when they captured or dissolved a business or social meme.
But times change and this is essentially a fun time for changing language. I suppose I'm merely spilling a bit of water here on the corporate table; this is the tongue-in-cheek bijou whingette of someone tentatively putting his hand up to aks what it all means and whether there is any real value in some of the rhetoric. 

Friday 19 September 2014

Consistency and hobgoblins....

Consistency and hobgoblins

Here’s a thought: if, as Ralph Waldo Emerson once said ,“a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds adored by little statesmen, philosophers and divines,” then how do we measure “foolish” and when does one step over the line into little-mindedness?

I’ve often argued that consistency in grammar, punctuation, capitalisation, spelling and so on makes writing of any kind more readable. (Content helps too, of course.) I think this is partly because I’ve slaved for years to dig out a clear message or two from business texts too often lacking any consistent elements except cliché and jargon.

I favour consistency in any kind of writing, not just in texts aimed at readers but for words written for speakers too. Take away punctuation, clarity, balance in sentence length, a bit of rhythm to allow ideas to make links and breaths to be taken, and you’ll find the speech is unreadable, unspeakable and generally insufferable. Hough! Hough! Clipperty clop! I’m now a little statesman on his hobbyhorse.

Am I little-minded by advocating consistency in these ways? Perhaps. But I think that Emerson was referring to consistency as a kind of beast which inhibited exploration, change, creative or even coruscating thoughts and ideas, rather than to elements of style. I, by comparison, am referring to consistency as the sort of beaky, dutiful cousin of style. You can see I'm in two minds one of which is wondering whether the other is a dullard.

Nevertheless, even when you’re trying to keep the reins on a workable narrative flow or style by being consistent, it’s good to bust out occasionally – if you can get away with it. It’s like the clown on skis. He knows his art so well that he can do astonishing acrobatics while appearing to be completely out of control.

My contention is that if you want to write really well you need to know your art first and it really helps if you know what the rules are before you  break them. 

Actually most writing, particular in my hobgoblin sphere of work, is not so much devoid of consistency making it unreadable but of content which makes it unpalatable. 

Hough, puff, clopperty clip.

Thursday 18 September 2014

Earl Littman sent me a book…

It’s his first book and he’s 87 years old. He’s American and very proud of being so; he’s a busy, happy man who loves his wife of more than 65 years (“Once I started [writing] I found the bedrock of my existence is the romance with my wife and my family”).

He’s also a patriot. To prove the point and make another, every time you download the book (which is nicely produced by Outskirts Press, in Denver, Colorado), $5.00 of the paperback and ether-sourced cover price goes towards the UK’s equivalent of Help the Heroes. In the US this is the hard-working charity called Back Our Vets. Sixty-five million vets is a lot.

I’m already looking forward to Littman’s next book but let’s deal with this one. As an opener for ten I’d say that Monsieur Littman sits easy in his skin, has vim in his vigour and vice versa, likes himself, loves other people and has written a book that not only demonstrates this but shows others how, without trying too much, they can live happily too. And contribute to make a better world.

I’m not going to tell you the name of the book because it’s going to go viral and soon you’ll know it well enough. And doubtless like it, and often pick it up again (so try for a paperback if you can get one). And you’ll wonder at the ease with which this “FRICTIONal” memoire (not non-fiction and not fiction but carrying a little of the right flick with a non-safety match to light a useful fire built of common sense, passion and a love of sharing) seems to have been written.

I know for a fact, as some ghost clients also know, that when the project is a good one and the purpose is sound, a book can almost write itself. That’s to say that as a ghostwriter I have found the voice, shaped the material and finished the job reasonably quickly; and real character springs from the pages. I think it takes a speedy eye, a stout heart, a flexible mind, plus belief in the subject.

I suspect Earl Littman’s own writing which is fluid and clever, pepped with good imagery (“clouds floated… like eagles”) comes easily enough to him, but he edits his thoughts with care. He uses long sentences sometimes but they flow with their own music. He has a natural ear which suggests he’s a good listener.

I’d like to tell you more but I’ve not finished the book yet – this is an enthusiastic outburst until I can give Earl Littman more time. Meanwhile, thank you very much, Earl, for supplying my next read. 

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Apologies to webbed feet 

I wish formally to apologise to my friend with the excellent river webcams for referring to his site (See Pea in the Banquet Hall below) and stating that he has approaching 50,000 visitors a year. The actual figure is nearer 500,000 unique visitors.

On the subject of apologies, I'd like to say sorry to all those whom I might ever have misleadingly informed that digital media is for the ducks. I've never thought that. Rather, I see it as a kind of universal brain, teaching us, as we learn to use, to remember and to think and then in turn to realise that this might be how we remember and think. I feel sure the analogy could be a help to neuroscientists trying to work out how we act, store and create as a species.

What's so interesting about this is the way the web can produce, at the touch of a button, data galore, direct and applicable information and the freedom to soar in our way of working and communicating. Fortunately the entire web doesn't amount in value to a single human life. Nor do we get near the speed and brilliance of a single mind, nor as an analogy will it be more than a fantastic and immediate tool to entertain new thinking. But that's not bad. Our big thanks once again to Tim Berners-Lee and to all those who co-devised the original systems. Radio in the head with perfect all- round sound at the push of a button is next I think. But perhaps we have that already.
How to price your work as a writer

I see this as an open letter; if other writers would like to add to the list in comments, bellow, I’d be most interested.

Thirty years on – almost – and I still have to think extremely carefully about how to price new work. I can’t say that at this juncture I have completely come up with a solution. These are some of my thoughts:

If I have a really great client – one who has stayed with me for many years and whom I know extremely well (perhaps the CEO and owner of a large company) – he and I will both know that his loyalty deserves recompense. If I am really busy with very well paid work, I will make time to serve him with the words he needs at the best possible price. If it is a job that I can do happily and well in just an hour or two, including our conversation about what is needed, I’ll sometimes ‘forget on purpose’ to invoice. In this way, I hope I am doing him a service, giving him something back in an unstructured way because he is both a client and a professional friend.

If I have contracted (i.e. signed contracts) arrangement with a large corporation, I generally stick resolutely and clearly to the agreed price per day which is detailed in the contract. In exceptions, when we both know approximately how long a piece of work will take and there are five or more days’ work involved, I will happily discount a percentage (perhaps 10, sometimes more depending on the length of the project) with the purpose of providing value that can be measured as such by the money men, should the commissioner of the work be asked about costs.

If a former ad hoc client returns for new work, I will evaluate the cost, charges, effort, client relationship etc that we have formerly enjoyed and charge accordingly. Depending on my own needs, tax allowances, overheads, time availability, and the ‘burden’ my charges might appear to place on the client for the new project, I will offer a price. I will never buy work when I'm hungry for the next project by dropping below my market value.

Which brings me to the point in another way. How do you assess, measure, understand have insight into your value in the marketplace? This is to do with your confidence and your knowledge of how skilled and clever you are as a writer. If you rate yourself highly and have all the testimonials to prove that your clients do too, this doesn’t mean that you charge a higher price. It could well mean you charge less than your full daily rate; which ought mostly to be a yardstick for your purposes of estimation. You are after all, for the most part, a person who works, thinks, lives for much of the day at least on your own, earning your livelihood as best you can, dependent on the goodwill of others as they depend on yours. Every job, year in year out, has to be the best you can do for your client. When someone pays you, for example, £500 plus per day for your work, what you do for them has to be First Class, the agreement about expectations has to be tight and you must feel sure that the client will have a return on his investment. You do not want to leave a job done, an invoice properly paid in good time, feeling uncomfortable.

Finally, of course, we have maths. Every professional has to spend a lot of his time on new business, quotes, travel expenses, office and other overheads, accountants and much besides. This takes time out of your year. Are you going to work 365 days per year. No? Then how many are you going to work? How much reasonable time of each actual day can you properly charge to your client? Do the math. Then work out what you need as a disposable income plus profits for ill days and all the unpaid holidays you either need or have to suffer while big clients are away with the friends and families. Divide the number of days you can – with your experience – actually be productive writing by the gross income you require each year. That is a helpful indication of your daily rate. 

Bear in mind that, doing what you do for a living, professionally, takes its toll. You need some simple recovery time. Add 25% at least to your eventual figure. This analysis might help or might be nonsense. Discuss?

Monday 15 September 2014

Skill-sharing for people with talents

A slight diversion from Words' usual type of blog, but here goes:

I am starting a collective in the Ludlow area. 

By the way, I know this should be a tweet or probably sent by another channel on social media. Then thrown out to the Ludlow, in England, area, near the borders of Wales/England on the latter side, and a long way south of our beloved Scotland. But for some reason, perhaps because I am wedded to my blog rather than to my twitter (so many, so varied, so elusive and flighty, so quick and so hard to keep up with), I am trudging the ploughed field looking for places to plant my winter potatoes. Which is to say I'm writing a blog with a purpose. The hedges are marvellous at this time of the year and leave you with a bloody but sweet mouth if you're hungry.

Well, I'm hungry for a few fundamental changes. So I've decided to do a different sort of blackberry picking, naturally, by starting a collective.

I hear plaintiff cries. Boredom already. What the hell is he driving at in his stupid, virtual auto-tractor? 

Well, the thing is, I've decided that we should behave like something productive, natural, easy in its skin and ready when need be, but able to carry on life as usual and NOT WORRY ABOUT MONEY - just for one day, occasionally. Hence, the collective.

What exactly might this be? Well, the principle is sound, the organisation improbably brilliant according to the business model I am working on rather organically, just at the moment. 

What I'm interested in is a kind of self-employed, person's day-off (about once every six weeks, on average). These are called 'bank days', as a working title because they have absolutely nothing to do with banks and everything to do with productively shoring up one's finances. 

How does it work? Not telling. But I'll do a little pointer: For example, I write and edit professionally, do basic building and carpentry reasonably, know how to entertain and play the piano, occasionally. What do you do? 

Should you wish ten helpers, who will bring most of their own food, to come and raise you a barn, in the Ludlow area, we (not the royal we, nor me and my tapeworm) might just help you do this on one of the allotted bank days. I need a few other people who like the sound of this. 

You, as a putative bank day man or woman doing the barn-raising,  have a sociable but hard-working and hopefully fulfilling day devoted to helping someone else who cannot afford the outgoings of skill and labour, to achieve something marvellously and quickly. There will always be a master overseer (of any gender). 

Or, if, you want some help building a new website, one or two bankers will join you and achieve this with you and you are likely to finish before, or about when, the children return from school. 

If you are a taker, you'll do really well out of this arrangement. If you are a giver you'll do even better. Remember, it's all about fun, a bit of easygoing hard work, occasionally, and getting to know other people in a productive way.

Does it sound interesting? Did you notice my occasional use of the word 'occasionally'? This is not about commitment, swapping, bartering, repaying, being beholden. It's just about getting the work done, making friends, and enjoying yourself. 

Well, I'm piloting in Ludlow soon and the nationwide roll-out starts on....(to be decided)....horizontally soon enough. If you like this idea, please retweet the post. Thanks muchly. If twitter is not for you, you can pass by WoM, or wibbit (which is a particularly sharp and relevant snippet of gossip, in these 'ere parts). 

Monday 8 September 2014

How to listen: manner, matter, moment

Listening is the greatest of all creative arts. Particularly when listening to yourself and trying to develop an idea or interpret one that you've picked up through other channels. 

To start the ball, I shall fetch one from the cupboard.

For example, when you are having to listen to an interlocutor in an argument and, as the emotive outpourings spill around you, you wish to interject your version of events, it is best but hardest to keep your mouth shut and ears open. If you interject at the wrong time you might as well be riding a bicycle that only has eleven spokes in each wheel. You won’t get far nor do yourself much justice.

Perhaps it's a question of the three Ms: Manner, Matter and Moment.

First you need to see what the manner of presentation of your spouse, partner, best friend or other is. If they are seething with indignation and you are feeling righteous about your version of events, be careful to work on taking their manner of presentation seriously. Hear what they have to say until they truly ask you to speak. 

Second – and it will often come a second or eight seconds later than spotting the manner of the argument – think gently about the overall importance of the subject. What exactly is the matter? It might be a detail but it might equally be the straw that is breaking the camel’s back in front of you. You will not necessarily know but normally you might suspect something is, as it were, up. Listen to yourself, to your quickening heartbeat and see if you can roughly calculate the importance of the matter in hand either in the history of the world or in a domestic dispute. Bear in mind that as you are assessing the matter, you are being jumped on by the manner. But you still need to find out what the matter is - not necessarily by asking or throwing out spittoons of indignation. 

And as part of the matter, from your experience of the other person at this point, you must assess the degree of importance you assume the argument bears – in the context of your life, working day, leisure moment in the garden, beer-fetching in the kitchen, or the awakening prod in the Cabinet Office, when it's your turn to speak.

Shakespeare, by the way, is totally brilliant at unwrapping, linking and relinking the thought processes of his personae to show us the plot, the character and he also throws in some fabulous insights into the human predicament. In the middle of a long soliloquy in Twelfth Night, Viola, listening and talking to herself comes out with the wonderful question: “How will this fadge?” – i.e what will come of this situation. It is a question, indeed, which shows that she has absolutely no control, or very little, of the events that will unfold. Returning to my text, you may or may not know – in an argument – what the real subject is unless you listen with real care, in all senses of the word.

Moment is the most difficult. If you generate the argument and have decided to get something of importance off your chest it is down to you to choose your moment carefully – if you know that the subject is a can of worms or an elephant in the room, or if it is just stiff curtains on the day too-long closed, you need to decide the pitch, venue and time to have this discussion.

Another great tip is to listen and when you are prodded to speak and have a half reasonable thing to say, say it in a way that will not too much awake the feline working of cats in the ratatat alley behind the house. Always best to leave a momentous silence of your own before you say anything.

Thursday 4 September 2014

The pea in the banquet hall

I was chatting with a favourite client yesterday about the state of play with his nationwide website – one that he is keen to convert from a popular destination for everyone who is vaguely interested in the state of Britain’s rivers for fishing, boating, assessing rainfall and whatever else, to a site that does all this and also earns him money. He’s keen to turn a few of his almost 500,000 visitors each year into a means of income to support his very generous website for all visitors. We’re not talking about subscription here but ‘monetisation’.  

I used to shudder a little when I first heard the ‘m’ word. But it is very apt word. An analogy flicked into my mind as my client and I talked. I said to my client, “It’s as easy to monetise one’s doings on the internet as it is to find just the right pea in a banquet hall.”

I’ve long since realised that the internet creates masses of work but the return of one’s investment, costly in time and money, is difficult to measure and for everyone who makes money this way, thousands surely don’t, however hard they try.  

To monetise a new business idea is as likely to be as successful as it is to sell one’s ideas as they pop out and flow from one’s head in conversation. But the great thing about the internet is that it is as active as a million spiders with unmonetised ideas that spur forward the really good one or two catching webs per week or year.  Most new business ideas are like flies caught in the web: easy prey, easy born, easy gone. It is probably therefore better to have a successful or secure ‘physical’ business, from shop to service to factory, and then to use the internet as another selling channel via e-commerce and other routes.

There is no marketing possible on the internet until there is critical mass, and no critical mass unless there is a generous, non-moneyed approach by the website creator which forcefully generates organic and sometimes very gradual growth of interest, with some bits of viral coruscation to take the idea further.

Yet there cannot be organic growth without belief in what one’s doing and dedicated, unbelievable hard work to sustain the transmission of your great business idea. In the end though, if you know your market and keep your budget tight and really focus properly on selling something you know people will want because you’ve found a niche, you might well monetise. If you can bear my analogy, you need to shrink the plate before you grow the food so you can handle real growth.

I’m playing with this idea a bit. It is only a blog I’m doing and I certainly don’t make money from it at least I don’t know that to be the case.

Eventually the internet will be as fluid and all-encompassing as water, with as many channels to flow in. What then for monetising? At that point the pea shrinks as the banqueting hall grows unless we truly mean business. So let’s stop mucking about in the fountain and do something with purpose and energy in business; lay tracks, put in stations, build the train, take on the passengers. Focus on one direction, find the right plate, choose the pea; flick it out the window. 

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Books versus screens

Recently I reassembled the library after completely redecorating and carpeting that room. There is now a substantial piano and a guitar, some well-loved paintings, a table and chairs, a ‘whatnot’ showing off shiny things, a carpet and an old but fine rug.

But what first hits the eye when you enter the room is the books.

If you’re like me, it is always a pleasing sight because your books somehow become you. They represent a lifetime’s collection, a resource. And a shrine. These books have exploded your imagination at times, made you ponder, opened windows in the mind, and substantially influenced your thinking and outlook. Some of them have given you your very language. They are the references and moments that have peopled your life. Like memories they are arranged haphazardly, colourfully. A wall or two of books is a generous monopoly of space: it allows paintings to breathe on other walls but has an aura of its own.

Your eye draws to titles you’ve read and which still beckon to you like easy mistresses: Hardy, Steinbeck, Fowles, Gladwell, Hare, EE Nesbit, Sisman, Susman, Shakespeare, Woolfe, WH Auden, Shakespeare, Browning, Eliot, Thoreau, Gide, Shakespeare, DA Mackenzie (Who? Where did I get this fine 1910-vintage book from, The Myths of China and Japan?).  

Then there’s the smell: an intricate dust carrying insight, memory, nostalgia – and possibility: it’s as universal as the Internet but it’s yours to hand and far more special.

So I’ve not, yet, taken to reading from iPads, Tablets, Kindles and their many cousins. True, it might be compulsive, convenient, even a bit magical; and surely it could have its disciplined place on trains or holidays or on the move. Except I am not disciplined enough to apportion that kind of reading time to its useful place: I only read on my phone when I need to.

And what if we carry on this way for a lifetime, holding this poorly reflecting mirror and its future easy-wrap equivalents? Where does that unbeautiful hard disk go, or where that ephemeral substance of your work and life which represents you, and makes such a decorous picture of your living surfaces? It becomes like the patient etherised upon a table.

Having thirty years of RAM storage as a writer is already enough to frighten me into a separate collection of six or more old computers – mostly in the attic, mostly with the ability to restart and even to print out former work. That hording instinct is a professional as much as personal requirement, though only once have I been asked to update a twenty-year-old publication for a client.

So a portable electronic library, easily tossed into another pile or sloshed mistakenly in the washing machine, is low on the priorities. I have enough desktops, plus a decent laptop and masses on them that help me daily but which are prey to a massive power cut. But I will have books and some papers of my own that I keep and which I can return to, on foot, at any time.

I wonder. Might I return to this in a year or five, and have to update it, saying “I’m a convert to electronic reading, and I’m hooked”? If I do, I’ll bet it will just be one more gradual step in techno easy (lazy/convenient/duping/soul-destroying?) living, a kind of irrelevance, a bodiless thing. And I’ll know my library is still there and welcoming.

Thursday 6 February 2014

While the spirit moves me…

I want to write something about one of the trickiest arts of a good writer. Ghost-writing. Why is it tricky? This has to do with mutual expectation and the gaining of trust between the writer and his subject.

I say ‘subject’ because the subject is of course the man or woman for whom you are writing. And ghost-writing is of course not merely bound to a book, it may also be in the form of a speech, a presentation, an article for trade, journal of national newspaper publication – anything where the subject tells his version, his story, to the audience; and where the audience is broadly speaking of his choice.

Under the above terms I have mostly been a ghost-writer. I get paid by the commission and if I am acknowledged I am pleased to be able to augment my personal and attributed portfolio. In probably 80 per cent of all the work I have done there is no such attribution or there may be an odd footnote in the acknowledgements. For this I am grateful enough.

So to mutual expectation? When you meet a new client who is sounding you out on the basis of, let’s say, a book he wants written about an area in which he has special knowledge or interest, you need to assure him right from the outset, with no apparent money on the table, that you can do it, that it would take this or that long to accomplish, and that you have the talent and experience he is or should be looking for.

Above all, there is expectation and negotiating to be done about the cost of the project.

If the client chortles with derision at the very outline suggestion that a 70,000-word book on the sex life of the Brazilian fig wasp might cost somewhere in the region of £10,000, with caveats, you might be well advised to wrap the conversation early. For if he wants an excellent book – and you must do no other than excellent – of any kind and wants to buy your copyright by contractual agreement, you need to stick to your intuitive guns whatever the outcome. If he does too much chortling you really need to get him to the door and preferably hold back the dogs. But always be polite, offer him into his coat, smile nicely and gently close the door.

Then there is expectation about process – how you will fish into his brain and squeeze your own to make a happy coupling that leads to a book which might sit up and sing in the right marketplace. If you find the subject sufficiently general, or one that plays to your strengths and expertise AND you can agree a sum that suits you both, it would appear the path is open for another meeting.

Perhaps the next meeting is a pre-start one; one that has allowed the tentative opening discussions to take route and enables you and your client to ask a few more practical questions about process, price, expenses and what exactly it is that the clients wants in his hands when the task is done. Does he, for example, want your help with finding a suitable publisher or is he going to go away with a text tied up with a ribbon so he can present it where he so wishes? You might, by the way, suggest that this second meeting is rated by the hour so that you lose no further time on the matter. You should also suggest, if you are both in agreement, that that at the end of this meeting some kind of practical contract can at least be spelt out if not actually signed between you.

What then of building and gaining trust? That purely depends on the well of loneliness into which you may have thrown yourself. In my opinion trust is sacrosanct however wonderful or ghastly your client might turn out to be, however good the book you write for him. If you have dedicated your time and value according to an agreement you have made, stick to it. Your reputation and inner good will are more important than a lost cause costing you three months intense labour in which you apply a lifetime of writing experience. 

Remember that the deal you make as a ghost-writer is to give everything to the cause to which you have initially agreed. That is what you are paid for. If you write something that you know is good and on the ticket, and the client is delighted you have made something from nothing, you have been creative, positive, purposive and useful. If by chance your client doesn’t even mention you, even in passing, in the book – entirely and utterly written by you for him – even whisperingly in the acknowledgements, he’s still bang on the deal.

I write all this just in case anyone out there thinks there is some glamour and reward in being a ghost-writer. There is, at least, reward. Apart from some precious funds, it is mostly that of knowing you did a good job and might have the strength to do it again sometime.

Wednesday 29 January 2014

The ring of change
By Giles Emerson

“Time for a change” rings out the constant cry. Change fashions, change jobs, change phones, change cars, change media, change suppliers, buyers, wallpaper, in-laws, habits, jobs, governments, nappies, cars, buses, one’s tune, one’s money…ways of doing things. Such a lovely word, with so many gradations of meaning for so many people in very different circumstances: the threat of climate change, the hope of regime change; for some a truly desperate prayer, for others a trip to the hairdresser.

Are we not all bewildered by the brutal battery of both global and domestic events interpreted by a hyper-ventilated media demanding everything, all answers to all questions now, and now, and now? We helplessly follow the camera lens and editors pens inertly condemning or marvelling at the daily foibles of the poor sods who put themselves up as leaders. Each effort and well intended breath is amplified and ridiculed on a global stage. With every new day history is in the basket waiting to be recycled. Throw out the old, bring in the rehashed.

Is it just me feeling overwhelmed by the idea of change – perhaps because of the halo that this particular word still forms around President-Elect Obama’s oratory – or could it be that the very notion of change is both changing, changeable and possibly diminished by repetition?

Why diminished? Well that depends on the context in which it is used. If we take two large sorting bags both labelled ‘change’, we could place government aspirations and business practice in one bag and everything else in the other. We can ignore or sift ‘everything else’ as we see fit. The horrors and joys and interim ploys lie in the first bag, muddled and struggling.

So starting with government aspirations, edited to policy, change tends to be something promised but infrequently delivered. In the UK, the lack of a fixed term parliament, coupled with the political machinations required to please the electorate as new circumstances arise, mostly put pay to changes that may well be geared toward, say, improving education and health services. Short-termism and expedience seldom allow fundamental change. Besides which an increasingly wary and informed electorate readily spot old policies with a new name; change starts to mean less and less. Of course, governments do achieve incremental changes of one kind or another, some good, some bad and many unintended. Politicians measure and count and spin and shout about these things. But, in general, the more the bell of change is rung, the less it is heeded.

While the global leaders are up to their necks in spate water, attempting to direct the flow, the rest of us do our best to tip our daily buckets into the maelstrom and make ends meet.  It is not change or reform that the lucky, mostly pampered people who live in developed countries require, but a sense of purpose and a little more efficiency.

And so, very briefly, to business practice, also lumped into bag one. The leaders of major businesses show signs of believing that they must make strident changes in order to gear themselves for a lower carbon future. Given the volatility of global markets and the financial crisis, it is extremely difficult to find a way forward in this respect. Any surpluses or profits these businesses have are hard to reinvest when former, tried and tested economic models and assumptions about future growth are changing, almost by the hour. For more than twenty years, big businesses have relied to some extent on their ability to ‘manage change’ – a constant, iterative process in response to mostly predictable stimuli. But with so much at stake and so little sense of where we will all wash up, the change manager is becoming obsolete. Slightly in the dark, he can no longer hang his hat where the money is.

Yet in the face of climate change and with the desire to perpetrate the goods and services that people need or want, businesses really do have to look at the bigger picture, one which embraces competitors, suppliers and customers - all of us. A species survives by adapting and often by working together and not generally by fighting at the waterhole – unless they’re desperate, by which time it’s too late. With hope our business leaders will explore the symbiotic equivalent of profit and learn to share, collaborate, make the waste of one industry the input of another. Perhaps our political leaders will do this too, using a softer pedal and some courtesy to other drivers. It just takes more time and a longer view.

© Giles Emerson, 13th November 2008

Tuesday 28 January 2014

The nature of matter

In my slim experience the nature of matter is that everything conceivable and in evidence has consciousness. (Bernard Levin, eat your joyous heart out, the jokes are still massive the music fine; you so loved a parenthesis!)

But, to the thesis:

I’m writing this prompted by a discussion which is just about concurrent, as I write, on BBC Radio 4 (left to play downstairs presently) which discusses the future algorithmic potential and ‘symbiosis’ (a truly wonderful concept in all art and hap) of artificial intelligence.

The end of the discussion was lighthearted and touched upon the dimension that apparently marks human consciousness from that of future-perfect (possibly future-proofed?) artificial intelligence. Spirituality.

To me, as a man of deep beliefs, and a person who seems to be incapable of spotting evil activities, apart from the work of a number of banks (which mutually and ineffably respond to times they cannot master or control), artificial intelligence is utterly amazing and marvellous.

It is like the floret that some clever cleaning ladies will leave to look like a white rose on the head of an awaiting lavatory roll in a spotless bathroom. It might be likened more appropriately to other things too. But as in the image of man in his self-reflexive mirror, it is just one more moment in the context of its perception. And just as ego ergo ego, each such man, moment or thing is different and depends on its circumstances (I hope that women will enjoy the reference to a man as it!).

Time presses so I'll take a little imaginary leap.

In my opinion, if we use words too much such as ‘deliverables’ and ‘solutions’ and work upon these in a business-like way, all we are really doing is blindly throwing out our anchors into the mud, forgetting or unaware that the real breath and the beauty of the world and all of us (defaultedly good in our hearts at least) is not only right in front of us in real terms but is endlessly awaiting to entertain.

So once again, I’m content to read The Times Newspaper (dropped for years after Bernard Levin departed on his forward journey) to see what someone somewhere may have thought to have happened in another place, possibly, with the wind blowing in the right direction. 

Thankfully some of the servant rocks of our most amazing planet hold true however they let the light dance within them.

All silly or friendly comments truly welcome.

Monday 27 January 2014


Feeling in good fettle the other day at a client meeting, following six-months or so of slow admin and other work necessary to gain the trust of the client, I rather bounced into the meeting room with three highly intelligent and purposeful people and put myself in serious ‘self-check’ mode.

When a lot appears to be at stake in ordinary cash-flow terms, the last thing any of us want to do as writers and communications consultants is to blow the deal by blowing too hard on one’s own trumpet.

One has to remember that in the six-month period of negotiating one’s position, some measure of one’s calibre as a useful tool might have already been gauged.

The real purpose of any first meeting therefore – especially when one is unaccompanied by other members of one’s staff (as a freelance I have only myself accountable for my business) – is to sit as still as possible and let the brief unfold a little.

My only way of suffering the enthusiasm that spills forth is to palliate the serious dedication one has for the client, with humour.

As it happens my trumpet somewhat blew its irrepressible self for the moment at about the time of a question posed to me by my client of the order of “What do you think you will contribute?”.

Flashing out of my head came the reply, unchecked but meant as funny in a way: “I’m the brightest man I’ve ever met”. 


Taken out of context this is a pretty peculiar thing to say – there was of course context and I felt very comfortable with my clients at this point.

Yet I still go red in the face thinking of this possibly quite arrogant statement. Thankfully a little reflection helps: such a statement is genuinely funny (at least to me privately) and enlightening in equal parts. For surely, we all are the brightest people we have ever had the pleasure or privilege to meet.

None of us can know the reality of another’s full lives, true intelligence and desire for good outcomes.

These are, I have the faith to say, the default aspirations of all human beings. And perhaps a translation of these virtues might indicate the instinctive modes of all sociable animals. Perhaps they may be read into the life and flows of all flora and fauna – when they are left natural in their own domains.

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Wednesday 8 January 2014


Without perspective, in all senses of the word, nothing is possible inwardly, outwardly and certainly scientifically. No one can understand you well if you don’t have this essential quality. If you lose perspective, you need to be careful and take stock before your next move.

I think good writing is like this: you as the writer know what you have in mind but if you are without the balance and judgement that permits the flow of your words – as you wish them to flow – you must take stock and put the kettle on. There is, as EM Forster so often reminded us, the problem of muddle - the knot that comes with too much connection and no clarity. 

It's a beleaguering kind of knot that ravels and unravels like a demented self-procreating organ fed with fire and doused with ice. Take the internet as an agent in this confusion. Think how we over-connect as a people and remember too how little light can get through the blocked up cave of our times when we don't remember our hearts and try only to use our minds to think out a way forward. Most endeavours are a tad pissed on by the internet, although they can occasionally be made strong by the good connections that do get through.

Generally, with muddle, the ease that perspective brings can be difficult to attain.

So we have to be careful and watch our feet, letting imagination do the work until the plot and the character come appropriately into view. It helps to take a walk sometimes, rain, shine or whatever – or sneak out for a fag on the pretence of needing one to get a breath of fresh air. This is particularly the case at those times when the family crowds us…just after we’ve sat on a drawing pin or  while we are trying to stifle wind, buttocks clenched, or when we forget to put the dustbins out...or the man from Porlock knocks and....

On a personal note, thanks to everyone who leaves a comment and thanks for visiting.