The FT Transformational Conference

The FT Transformational Conference

The idea behind this conference is to understand, city by city, who is leading transformational change.

Perhaps city leaderships also need to set out a vision for the change still needed. Here are some suggestions for at least the “Smart Living” component, as I do not have the scientific qualifications to comment much on environmental objectives:

1) Wealthy to commit to directly helping the unemployed – a moral responsibility
2) Ideas capture and management, building an IP development centre – the Chinese have a head start
3) Understanding emerging and local skill strengths and weaknesses – Australians give us a lead here
4) Capitalise on UK engineering and design strengths – UK commerce and UK universities to “bridge the gap”
5) Community to foster citizen participation – build the means to socially engage, guide and reward local contributors
6) Startups need affordable, results driven advice – an infrastructure that supports learning through others’ mistakes

As suggested in the brief, items 1 and 5 are social, the remainder are to do with efficiency.

I hope to ask FT Live to consider asking these questions as part of the morning session.


CITE – UK Innovation in Engineering

CITE - UK Innovation in Engineering

Some good firms at CITE, all that I spoke to innovating and showing the way forward:

Platipus – A family firm providing water drainage solutions: landslide prevention, stabilising vineyard water levels, shoring up wall structures eg bridges and London Underground, stabilising electricity pylons. Employing females? Applicants accepted on attitude as well as skills, full training provided. But a lack of female applicants – are universities attracting sufficient numbers of women?

BattCables: A cable importer and distributor, selling designated lengths to cable installers in conurbations, eg city office blocks, from mains to office desk. Female employment is on the rise, perhaps now 80:20, but a lady representative said “the best opportunities for females are in marketing and sales”.

TenCate: A new synthetic underlay for rail track: better durability, reducing track maintenance overheads. Employment of female consultants has risen from 5-10% years ago, now standing at better than 30%.

CACI: Smart graphics to show employee productivity, still to discuss the advocacy of training for those employees who are struggling. Other uses included showing managers where whole team productivity is struggling, and geographic hot spots identifying “unusual behaviour”.

Webro: New splicing kit, manual not powered, 12% of the cost and no downturn in operational execution. Recent female employment included two females, one in marketing one in sales. Still no great technical skills among women. They experienced considerable overheads and costs employing these personnel, and are as yet to encounter the usual recruitment agency pitfalls, including tick box recruitment and the very rare ability to pick on positive attitude rather than simply skills.

BROKK: Radio controlled demolition machines: significant risk reduction in risky conditions, including construction on the Channel Tunnel.

Swann Engineering: A British firm, making standard and bespoke telephone masts and high level tech fixings. They are taking back assessment and replacement of some less robust masts produced cheaply in Europe when the rush to provide coverage began. On employment, they are collaborating with Southampton University, including student sponsorship, and this includes one female currently under the apprenticeship scheme. One of Swann’s issues continues to be ambivalent NIMBY’s: avid mobile users but keen to avoid telephone masts in their locality, who thereby disrupt the planning and installation processes needed to change foundations or exceed the 15m “standard” height limit.

NTS Premier Services: They train about 25 people a week through one of their service provisions to go into National Rail as effective employees. This includes Health & Safety, which on a railway service is both critical and extensive, and also general education about some of the complexities staff are likely to encounter. Also a responsible employer, prepared to give staff a chance to shine despite previous mistakes. Women are gradually coming into the rail workforce, and NTS Premier staff even encourage their own family to join up and get a job “on the rail”.

Light Green Power: A power unit 70% lighter than it’s diesel equivalent. A little more expensive, taking the diesel paraphernalia into account, and slightly more on running costs if the cost of diesel stays static. On man power though, only needs 2 to deploy, as opposed to 6, a significant saving. Some light here on female employment: installation’s often a hot, smelly job, which takes a special kind of woman to like!

DWG UK: Among other products, they provide a fast fix resin that runs into concrete joints and fixes the concrete, even in hair line fractures. Also great for fixing railway sleepers and road surfaces.

Besides these, there are many other suppliers to the telecoms and rail and road and construction industries. So go along tomorrow, as the 22nd May 2014 is the last day.


Activating the Future – A Way Forward Out of Chronic Stress Situations

Activating the Future - A Way Forward Out of Chronic Stress Situations

The UK is desperately short of resources to help adults and teens with many stressful situations.

Parents of teenage school kids know this only too well, and many are desperate for resources to help them cope with young people’s growing appreciation of the complexity of the world around them.

And of course there are adults also struggling with their own issues who also need support.

What is quite often helpful is a pressure valve, a place to talk with others and let off steam, and actually some non-expert support. Sadly at the same time, life continues to becomes ever busier and more complex, and right now we need to ease pressure on a community support system that is creaking at the seams with more people needing support, and a diminishing pot of funding.

And we do now have the social media tools to do this more easily, and provide a relief resource to over stretched public services. But what we need is the leadership and trust to allow this to be done differently.

Nigel Lawson and the Royal Society

#UK: Nigel Lawson, his #ClimateChange advisers, and the Royal Society

Wotts Up With That Blog

Apparently Nigel Lawson, Chairman of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, met with members of the Royal Society to discuss climate science and climate policy. Nigel Lawson has reported on aspects of the meeting in a Spectator article and is implying that – at the insistence of the Royal Society – the details of what was discussed remain secret. The article, however, actually says that the Royal Society insisted that there be no press present, which is not quite the same as insisting that the details of the meeting remain secret, but maybe they did insist on that too.

According to Lawson’s article the meeting was motivated by an exchanged between Nigel Lawson and Paul Nurse (president of the Royal Society) in which Paul Nurse apparently said (wrt Nigel Lawson)

I am not sure you are receiving the best advice, and I would be very happy to put you in…

View original post 569 more words

Can Entrepreneurs be “Educated” ?

This question is one that CEOs across the globe ask themselves with increasing frequency. And perhaps something VCs and early stage entrepreneurs also need to ask themselves. Later on, some entrepreneurs begin to admit they could have used some good “early stage advice”.

Why does this continue to be the case?

Looking at their nature, entrepreneurs are often maverick, wilful, impatient, willing to cut corners, leaders rather than followers. Willing to break rules and remake them, upset people and apologise, chase impossible dreams, rather than suffer the inadequacy and bureaucracy often inherent in rules laid down by others. Willing to innovate first and achieve solid consistency second.

In the corporate world run by CEOs, this behaviour is a world away from the 9-5 obedience that many lower level managers seek, often to “make their life easier”, and offering the easy comfort and stability that consistency allows.

But entrepreneurialism is increasingly a behaviour that CEOs know they need, to meet challenges in the world of constant innovation and rapid product life cycles.

In the startup world, this type of dynamic behaviour can work, indeed is necessary to drive progress, but also has high risk probabilities of failure if left in isolation and without support. Why is this?

But first we must ask can “entrepreneurs” subjugate their nature and instincts to be “educated”, and find a balance between maverick belief and steady nurtured growth. And why is this beneficial for all concerned?

Firstly we need to de-construct some terminology. While no one objects to terms such as life long learning, or business growth, “education” is seen to be something we do before we start work. Such rigid distinctions are ones we grow up with, and which too often persist insidiously and counter-productively well into and through adult life.

But actually the learning principals of business growth and education are one and the same. “Education” is also a component one of the eight success factors for entrepreneurs, using a short cut term here, Creativity.

And here we need to examine what we mean by creativity, because creativity can come from different sources.

Let’s take the example of Michelangelo.

Did he come up with revolutionary art forms, and be a multi-skilled sculptor, painter architect and engineer, without taking advice from those who had gone before him, or indeed even his peers of the day? And then taking each discipline the next step?

Whilst the great book “The Agony and the Ecstasy” can only be an assessment of how MicehlAngelo came by his skills, it’s certainly believable, and was extensively researched as to the historic components about the people involved, the places visited, and the developments and progress made.

And there are lessons here for CEOs and entrepreneurs alike. Successive popes and mentors employed MichelAngelo, and found him to be stubborn, wilful, but at the same time brilliant, because he refused to subjugate his principles to theirs. From the entrepreneur perspective, the popes and mentors were often inconstant masters, prone to changing their mind and being awkward. But their benefactoral largesse and resources often helped MichelAngelo grow, learn and develop his skills still further.

This is a clear illustration of what can happen if even the most brilliant of innovators allows themselves access to and influence by the learning available from the “giants that went before”. Of course not everyone is Michelangelo, but by how much would business growth be improved if entrepreneurs adopted his principles regarding his own growth?

For the entrepreneur, there is a clear risk to quality if business lessons from the past are not learned, regardless of how innovative new products might be. This lack of “preparation” is all too visible to those VCs and angels who are experienced in business, and a disincentive for them to get involved if they know they have someone who still needs to acquire “nuanced business skills”.

So how does the above challenge some modern fallacies, that have become accepted in 2013 as “just the way it is” ?

Entrepreneurs are given the idea, sometimes even from VC soundbites, that they must have the drive to build their business themselves. And that is all well and good.

Unless that translates into, “and you shouldn’t ever take advice from others” while building a startup. Or that “a good team can’t build a better product” than the entrepreneur on his or her own.

Of equal horror are some stories about VCs who insist on doing things “their way”. This is also a situation which bodes badly for future success.

Only once they have built their first successful startup do entrepreneurs begin to talk retrospectively about a need in the early stages for “good business advice”. And we really owe it to ourselves to explore this belated wisdom and establish common components that we can all adopt on our own growth paths.

With the full benefit of hindsight, some entrepreneurs even champion the need for support for startups, whilst still acknowledging the challenge of how this can be provided affordably and effectively, promoting growth not hindering it.

Yes, in this limited article, we have only looked at one component of being an entrepreneur.

But these and other factors regularly suggest that, yes, entrepreneurs can be educated, and that they would improve their prospects of success considerably by adopting a life long learning and listening approach to building and growing start up businesses.

Feedback is welcome !!

How Long Before Mobile Community Catches Up With Real Life Community ?

Attached is a video clip of Salim Ali of LoYakk, discussing the development  of the online community.

One of the major points he makes are that communities are not going away.

But he also points out that online communities still have some way to go to match real life communities.

How Real Life Communities Work
In real life, Salim says, communities are essential to human happiness, pervasive in that they continue to spring up and flourish even in hostile circumstances, and deliver value in that they deliver employment opportunities.

Online communities can be quite good at the first, ok on the second depending on leadership, but not usually that effective in generating economic activity.

Salim explains that community members roughly follow the 90:9:1 ratio. The majority are passive, a few are more active, and a very small number are highly active, or vocal, as Salim describes it.

How Does Mobile Community Differ ?
Salim has had significant experience “engaging” mobile communities, even before LoYakk, and so has begun to understand the differences between online and real life.

Not quite using his words per se, we can look at community relationships as being forged for “a reason”, “a season” or for life, mindful that human beings are complex, and we belong to multiple communities in different ways, without ever consciously realising this so naturally do we do it.

Flash mobile communities coming together at events can, in Salim’s terms, be “temporal” at a specific location for a short duration of time, be forged for a specific reason, the “context” of the event, with attendance driven by underlying audience interest, often a lifelong or “anchor” passion.

And there we have season, reason and life all together.

Benefits & Drawbacks
So here we have audiences that are firing on all three cylinders: they’ve bought the temporal, liked the context and are often driven by underlying life passions. These are highly engaged audiences, rather more likely to want to forge relationships, support causes, and look for and engage in economic activity.

Salim knows though that such communities are volatile, noisy and messy, hard to make sense of, even more so online than in real life.

It was understanding this environment that drove Salim to found LoYakk, looking to reduce eg event “noise” levels and enable event attendees to build “signal” relationships and drive engagement levels higher.

The LoYakk service is what he calls “Mobile Community on Demand” (MCoD)

Does MCoD Mean We Can Drive Economic Growth ?
So what can we conclude?

Communities aren’t going away, and we are getting ever better at improving signal to noise ratio, which we know is essential on the ever-noisier internet.

Surely this can only be good for improving economic activity levels available to us, through connecting online and supporting the oft-talked about but still elusive knowledge economy.

Time will tell, and as ever we depend on our explorers and risk takers to forge new paths and understandings. But this observer believes there is surely some enhanced potential there for higher engagement levels, and therefore enhanced possibility for economic activity among individuals who are geared for growth.

Peter Jones
Opportunity Creator | Innovator
Blue Oyster Business Growth

Why UK Universities Must Tear Down Their Ivory Towers

As an experienced business adviser, and having worked for some twenty years in blue chip UK corporates, I know how important it is in business to connect with the world around us.

And I’m also very focused on why the UK doesn’t perform as well as the US, in terms of getting start ups from concept, through seed, and into mainstream business, or crossing the chasm as it’s known.

Doing some research, I discover that today, all mainstream US universities are engaged in quite high levels of business investment. In the UK, that’s restricted to only 4 universities, mainly the usual suspects, of course.

The other feature I note from first hand enquiries is that some universities are very dismissive about “outside knowledge”. They seem to feel that they know best. This has a number of damaging effects.

Firstly the world changes very rapidly today. We see the advance of social media on many fronts: social enterprise, social capital, social recruiting, social selling. How can UK universities keep up with the real world if they stick to an insular “we know best” approach ?

Secondly, students graduating from university need to be better prepared for the real world. In the UK, we know that employers constantly bemoan the need to “re-train” graduates in real world skills.

Yes, universities are very good at analysing business, and pulling out trends that businesses would do well to heed. But this analysis is often three years or more out of date. So how can graduates be ready to hit the ground running given such a constant broil of change.

And too many UK universities still haven’t even really cottoned on to one of the biggest trends coming out of social media, the desire to meet and talk on topics of mutual interest. And particularly where this might involve customers !!

These can be opportunities to meet the local community, business or civic, and find out what business or civic needs are. Such meetings might help highlight the fact that engineering graduates are in short supply in the UK. Ridiculously, this can be in the same city that an engineering university resides.

The other benefit from integrating better with the outside world is the feedback startups can get. Ideas may or may not be business worthy, but it’s very important to understand the market that any start up proposes to enter, and the more feedback a founder can get from experienced business people, principally about markets and customer buying behaviour, the better.

So UK universities had better realise the bubble they are creating, about the level of their own ability to prepare students for business, either as a start up or as a corporate citizen, is, like all bubbles, a dangerous thing for all participants to believe.

The first step to puncturing this UK bubble is to tear down the ivory walls, eat a little humble pie, and find local business people who can connect them with modern day skills, activities, tools and techniques.

#UK: New “employee-shareholder” #employment status – a pro-risk move

The proposal for a third type of employment status has been playing a game of ping-pong back and forth between the lower and upper parliaments in the UK.

Risk Versus Fairness
At stake has been the protection of employment status and rewarding risk for those joining a new Start Up, most likely in the Technology sector, with much debate aimed at preventing exploitation by unscrupulous employers.

Start Ups are intrinsically risky, and the UK is traditionally highly risk averse. So this bill seeks to change a fundamental characteristic of the British way of life. Namely to encourage risk taking, while retaining “British fairness”, the latter being a factor which has made and still makes UK law the “best in the world”.

Employer Scruples & Moral Responsibility
Now there is still an implied moral responsibility on employers to reward the risk taken by employee-shareholders in as short a time as possible.

Any employer taking this type of employment contract beyond 18 moths, and certainly 2 years, risks being seen as unscrupulous. Social media now provides an unparalleled platform for comment, and it is highly likely that unscrupulous practice would soon become visible.

Product Driven Start Up Boom ?
Equally, there is a pressure for large employers to produce new products quickly and effectively, and the ability to do so could well be a critical measure of how well companies compete in a global marketplace.

It may well be that this new legal status encourages larger UK companies and UK business angels to diversify more, and set up more new companies on a product by product basis. This could accelerate the trend for corporates to shrink, as well as the ability to launch new product and compete on the global stage.

Inadequate Start Up Infrastructure
As such, the infrastructure in the UK is as yet inadequate to support such a step up in entrepreneurial activity, although awareness is growing.

The UK does not understand as well as the more mature US market the value of support services provided specifically for start ups, where experience can be brought in from outside a raw start up to help fill the gaps caused by lack of business breadth and experience.

This is particularly perceived to be true true at the Start Up stage, but also still true as Start Ups seek to break through the early adopter stage and become a mainstream UK business entity.

So there could be a lag between the bill being finally passed, and a noticeable uptake in the option for this type of employment, and any national ability to compete on the world stage.

HMRC Tax Avoidance Vigilance
In the event that a product driven boom in Start Ups is evidenced, expect HMRC to look carefully at ways  that “Tax Avoidance” schemes make use of the provisions, which I believe exempt employee-shareholders from Capital Gains Tax on the first £50,000 worth of share holdings. Following which HMRC would no doubt crack down on schemes that defeat the spirit of the bill, if not the letter of the wording.

Giving it Time to Work – UK Law at its Best
No doubt, over time, some of the wording of the bill may prove to be inadequate, the English  language being what it is. But then expect the UK to come back and redress the loopholes. It’s just the way we are.

It is this attitude that makes UK law the best in the world: the understanding that we want to be fair, and allow all every chance to proceed and take part, yet allowing for the way the world  is changing so rapidly, and recognising the need to compete adequately on the global stage.

The Pain of Growth

Modern life today demands instant rewards and ease of use. If things aren’t easy to use, they are discarded, tossed to one side.

Contrast this with building a business.

It takes years to master the disciplines of marketing and sales, and sometimes longer to find a product that fires our enthusiasm, that we can package successfully, where we understand the benefits for the different types of customer we may seek to find, and where we can put product in front of customers.

If we “succeed” on the first step, then we have to run teams, master information technology, manage cash flow, understand accounting.

Some of us recognise a need to value and harness our customer databases and build niche knowledge sets.

None of these are trivial exercises, so why should we expect instant success ?

No, it takes hard work, determination and a desire to win that borders on the obssessional, and at least requires we get in touch with our “survival” instinct.

Is this bad news ? Hardly ! We just need a degree of patience, and the attitude that there are skills to learn, we are going to learn them, and we’re not giving up.

But don’t expect it to be easy !!

Peter Jones
Opportunity Creator – Blue Oyster Business Growth

Start a relationship – click here for a free business review