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.