National treasures

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“Oh, they really are a national treasure.” 

Who would you agree on?

1. Absolutely they are (for the moment at least) – Gary Lineker, Bruce Forsyth, Eddie Izzard, Michael Portillo, Delia Smith, Alan Titchmarsh, Gary Barlow, David Beckham, Felicity Kendal

2. Maybe – Peter Tatchell, Ann Widdecombe, Simon Cowell, James Corden, Dawn French, Johnny Rotten, Eddie ‘the Eagle’ Edwards

3. Possibly, but not yet – Neil Kinnock, Chris Moyles, Piers Morgan, Cheryl Cole

4. Might be losing it – Jonathan Ross, Cliff Richard, Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver, Helen Mirren

5. Was and no longer – Bob Geldof, John Humphries, Bono

 What do these  characters share in common? Well they have moved from being a  figure of hate or fun (or irrelevance or especially narrow interest) to someone who most recognise and someone who doesn’t polarise opinion very much.

And many have done something special beyond they classic role – showing a bit of passion, doing something different or just being resilient with staying power in the face of a challenge.

So the choice is: change or continue the same; show humility or demonstrate no self-awareness.

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Not what you might expect

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Saturday – Sheringham

By the steam railway station. On a bench amongst pretty flowers.

An older guy. Very dapper. White trousers. Immaculate shoes. Blue stipey blazer. White shirt. Red cravat. White hat.

Drinking cider straight from a 2-litre bottle of Blackthorn cider.


Sunday – Cambridge (market)

At the organic veg stall.

There is a huge selection. The season is overflowing with local produce.

Yet…there is more plastic used in packaging the items than in the adjacent M&S.

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21 years of newspapers

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What difference does 20 years make?

It doesn’t seem that long.

But a lot changes – often silently and unnoticed.

Comparing a few newspapers, both tabloid and broadsheets, from the same date 21 years apart reveals a few striking features:

1)    They are smaller – not just the shrunken Times, but the odd inch here and there on most titles.

2)    There was no use of colour, other than the defunct Today. Now it is everywhere, including the Metro, the new daily freebie in London.

In what ways do these changes in appearance reflect the changes in the newspaper market, the way we ‘consume’ news and the wider digital media landscape in general?

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Unlocking the value of old designs

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Airmail envelope

A (largely) defunct innovation: the airmail envelope.

Yet instantly recognisable to those of a certain age.

Now a useful way to share seeds from the garden.

What else could this evocative design be used for?

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What does your ‘out of office’ say (about you)?

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Here is an analysis of ‘out of office’ replies we’ve received over the summer. 

The rationale? To explore the patter and to give us all with some options for what to do.

There was a wide range of styles, largely varying in regard to 7 factors:

– any greeting at start
– any named sign off at end
– statement of which days they are not around
– whether they will be checking in the interim (does the BB rule ?)
– explanation of why not able to answer
– whether any contact person is given
– the number of ways to contact them.

Here are some examples. Which do you like and which do you loathe?  What do others need from these messages? What does your personality favour?


The fully factual: no pre-amble, no grateful ending (though all use please !)

This is the dominant style – guided by the default wording in Outlook. It would be great to know the Myers Briggs type of these folk.  We guess I (not E)

I am currently out of the office with limited access to my e-mails. I will be back on Tuesday, July 15, 2010. In my absence, please contact….

I am away from 11th August to 6th September. For anything important please contact…

I will be out of the office starting 11/08/2010 and will not return until 13/08/2010.   I have no access to my emails and will reply to your message on my return. For urgent assistance please call one of my colleagues on …

I will be back in the office on Tuesday 12 Aug to deal with your enquiry.  Please call xxx for urgent enquiries.

I am now out of the office on annual leave until Tuesday 31 August 2010.  If your email is urgent, please contact


The getting-grateful: no pre-amble, bit of appreciation in the ending

I will be out of the office starting  12/08/2010 and will not return until 13/08/2010.If this is urgent, please contact my PA… Thank you.

I am currently on holiday and will return to the office on Monday 23 August. If your message is urgent, please contact … I will reply to you as soon as I can.  This message has not been forwarded. Kind regards

FYI. I am now out of the office until Wed so will be in touch then. Many thanks!


The getting personal: the start of the name

I am now away from the office until Monday 9 August and will not be picking up e-mails. If your message is urgent, please contact …, otherwise I will respond when I return. Kind regards R

Thank you for your email.  I am currently on leave until Tuesday, 3rd August 2010. If your email is urgent, please contact ….  kind regards  E

 I will be out of the office starting  29/07/2010 and will not return until 30/07/2010.  If your enquiry is urgent please contact … for workforce information issues,  or alternatively I will respond on my return. Thanks J


The higher rapport: person based start and end, and with a bit of explanation

Hello.  I am on leave until 9 August – please contact … in the meantime.  With thanks P


The no-other-contact: no details of others

Thanks for your message. I am taking a break so only checking email intermittently. Best P


The third person

M is away until Monday 9th August 2010.  If your message is urgent please contact …. Thank you  For the latest news and commentary from … follow us on Twitter


The full: including names, numbers and emails

Thank you for your e-mail. I am out of the office  until Monday 2nd August and will not be able to access emails or phone messages. If you require an urgent response, please contact… Otherwise, I will respond to your query at the earliest opportunity.  Best wishes B


The wow!

I am away from 14th July to 7th August on fieldwork in East Greenland.  For anything important please contact xxx

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Focus and relaxation

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PlanePlanes have been in the news recently with the exhibition at Tate Britain (which is even more impressive in reality).

In this photo (with a great headline from The Sun), we see one member of a team of two with total focus, flying low through a valley. Meanwhile, the other is (for that moment) able to relax.

Managing the pace of work is a key element of what it means to be part of a team that is on the front foot.

See this on getting the balance right here.

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On the train #2

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On the train.

I see an old contact.

Maybe he could become a new client.

I think of approaching him.

Then he puts his feet on the seats, and starts moving in ways that disturb those around him.

And begins eating an unbelievably smelly item of food. 

I decide to leave it.

We all choose who we work with?  Do we choose well?  Are these valid reasons?

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Spotting the trends

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Are you good at spotting trends?

Being perceptive in seeing new things take shape – shifts in behaviour, changes in consumption, altering of attitudes – is a useful skill. And might make you more interesting at dinner parties. So it’s worth practicing.

Here’s a trend to get started on. Have you noticed that, for about a year, men in high-end fashion shoots have frequently had a hair parting and semi-slicked down hair?  More widely, however, male fashion still includes the long-standing slightly scruffed up look and, recently, use of a beard. 

Watch to see when (and if) the parting goes mainstream outside of the fashion shoot. You’ll see (in London) a few more younger men with the parted look.  Try counting… 

And see this for a bit on the theory of fashion.

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On the train #1

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On the train.

A loud voice.

“You haven’t got enough on him.

He is crap.

Double his targets.

Make him get another job.

Gradually get him out.

You have been too nice for too long.

I will phone her to try and sort this out.

I won’t charge you.

I want something else.

I want your HR work.



Laughter of disbelief throughout carriage.

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The time to act

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In 1513, Niccolò Machiavelli wrote his best-known work, Il Principe (The Prince), as advice to any in the ruling classes who wanted to gain or maintain power and also attain glory.

He describes what he has seen in his political life as the necessary things a prince must do – in essence combining the guile of the fox with the force of the lion.

Subsequently, the use of his name has had very negative connotations. Most people would not relish being called “Machiavellian”. But his thinking has been very influential in shaping our history – and in many good ways. It helped stimulate liberal political philosophy to advocate positive change for the citizen, promoted the supremacy of civil rather than religious or monarchical power and stressed the ideals of honesty, hard work and people’s responsibility to their communities. Like Kafka and Freud, the adjective derived from his name paints just a narrow idea of what he had to say. So his reputation is rather ill-deserved.

While The Prince is not meant to be a moral guide for the day-to-day living of the average Joe Bloggs, it nonetheless has ideas in it which we can all learn from. So, for example, he tells us that Fortune is the force that can always crush you. “Extremima malignita” or pure misfortune can be just around the corner. The results of the current economic conditions might feel like that to some. What seemed certain is no longer so.

How can you defend yourself against what might happen? Machiavelli says that you should try to “master Fortune”. To paraphrase, as they might say in the US, you should try to “get lucky”. How do you do that? You have to take action: “It is better to have acted and regretted than not to have acted and regretted”. In doing so, “Fortes fortuna adiuvat” – fortune favours the brave (here he borrows from Levy the Roman historian).

Maybe now is the time to act. What steps can you take?

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