You’re Fried

the-apprenticeNo, not a comment on the denizens of the beach at Clacton-upon-Sea on the August bank holiday, but an observation on the essential difference between the two great television competitions of our time: Lord Sugar’s ‘The Apprentice’ versus Gregg ‘n John’s ‘Masterchef’. As an aside, surely it would be better for a man named sugar to be presenting the culinary offering, but we’ll let that pass.

What has struck me about these two deservedly popular programs is that one celebrates excellence, while the other revels in ignominy. For the Apprentice, the whole point of watching is not to see who succeeds - I never find that I care that much for the last man standing - but to enjoy the death by a thousand incompetencies of the gradually discarded others. ‘Who will cock-up this week, and how?’ is the central question. Like watching sanitised gladiatorial combat, all the pleasure comes from the failures, the hopeless inadequacies of those whose egos are inversely proportional to their talent. And the producers not only know this (no surprises there) but cleverly serve up cuts of the action or inaction alongside comments to camera by the telly-fodder contestants that often leads to a delicious coup de théâtre when against all expectations the worst team somehow manages to squeeze in a extra five quids’ worth of sales to sneak the prize at the last moment. What joy as the super self-confidence of those who thought they had it in the bag morphs to the grim reality of defeat and the commencement of the ultimate denouement: the cat-fight in the boardroom. There is no question that I love watching the awfulness of it all, and yet…

And yet isn’t it sad that a program with a platform such as this is celebrating failure rather than success. Although ‘your hired’ is diminutive Lord S’s final flourish of each series, the show’s name and it’s central premise stem from failure. You can’t fault ‘em for trying (well perhaps you can) but we’re not really interested in what the contestants can do, rather in what they fail to do.

masterchefWhich brings me to Masterchef. What a contrast. Although there are failures along the way and food is occasionally presented that I wouldn’t serve to my dog, the central purpose of this show is to find ordinary people who can do extraordinary things. The more each series progresses, the more I think about my own hopelessness as a cook. These guys really are remarkable. Week after week they rise to the challenge and produce ever more mouthwatering concoctions. By the end of the series I’m desperate to get to a Michelin starred restaurant and try something like it for myself.

This then is what TV should do more of: find and celebrate people who have real, useful talents (let’s ignore all the one-legged jugglers who can sing My Way on a kazoo for X-Factor et al) and accelerate their opportunity to make a genuine contribution to our society. Dragons’ Den, yes; Britain’s Got Talent, no. With Masterchef, the winner is the best of the best but we never forget that the runners-up are all worthy of high-praise for their achievements. What next? How about a program that celebrates volunteering? Now there’s an idea.

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Rethinking knowledge work: A strategic approach - McKinsey Quarterly

As always, McKinsey Quarterly is on the money when it comes to analysing business trends. In this issue, an insightful piece examines the way that knowledge workers carry out their tasks and discusses to what extent it is possible to establish defined processes for such employees to follow; essentially it is asking: should knowledge workers be fed by the spoonful, or just given their own spoons and allowed to get on with it?

“The problems of free access are fairly obvious: while workers may know how to use technology tools, they may not be skilled at searching for, using, or sharing the knowledge. One survey revealed that over a quarter of a typical knowledge worker’s time is spent searching for information.1 Another found that only 16 percent of the content within typical businesses is posted to locations where other workers can access it.2 Most knowledge workers haven’t been trained in search or knowledge management and have an incomplete understanding of how to use data sources and analytical tools.

Productivity losses can be substantial. Even before the advent of social media, workers in one 2005 survey sponsored by America Online and cited personal Internet use as the biggest distraction at work. Another study of workplace productivity found that average knowledge workers access their e-mail more than 50 times, use instant messaging 77 times, and visit more than 40 Web sites a day.3 A UK study suggests that social-media use by knowledge workers costs British companies £6.5 billion a year in lost productivity.4″

This is the dilemma for any established business. Should it try to lock its staff into an established, tight, and (probably) successful methodology; or should it encourage and foster creativity in the interests of the greater long-term benefit to the business by taking the relaxed approach? Different employees benefit from different approaches, but I know which I prefer.

via Rethinking knowledge work: A strategic approach - McKinsey Quarterly - Organization - Strategic Organization.

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City Link - stink

city-link-logoWe all know that most consumer parcel delivery companies are pretty disdainful of their customers (recipients and retailers). However my latest encounter with City Link shows them plunging to new depths. I’ll tell you the tale in a moment, but first why write about it here? I’ve long cared passionately about customer service, which in the UK is too often completely lacking or given reluctantly. Yet as our manufacturing base declines it’s our service industries that sustain us. And service industries have to do what it says on the tin: provide good service. I write with some experience, having once run a home delivery company, albeit one with a very different customer service ethic to City Link. Indeed we were winners of the Daily Telegraph Customer Service Awards.

To excel in customer service requires a particular mindset: one that puts the customer first come what may. And this mindset has to exist at every level of the business, every employee has to buy into it. Having a flashy website and a call centre with soothing regional accents is not enough. Customer service has to pervade the organisation. And this is where the UK too often has a problem, for there are employees out there who just can’t be bothered, which (if our employment laws weren’t so restrictive) should put them out of  a job, doubtless to be replaced by some charming immigrant worker who is prepared to try his or her utmost to do well for the customer’s benefit.


Now, back to my City Link tale. The basics will be all too familiar: I ordered some shoes for my son from Javari, next day delivery, City Link went to the wrong house (took a photo to prove it) and returned the shoes to their depot. So far so typical, but an error that I’d normally be willing to forgive. The next day was a Saturday. I know that parcel delivery companies won’t deliver on a Saturday, but my son needed those shoes that day (we were off on holiday). So I went online and followed the tracking details to establish where the shoes were: City Link’s Reading depot. But then I noticed that the depot closed at 12 noon, and I noticed this at 11:40. Knowing where the depot was I was aware that I could drive there in 20 minutes with favourable traffic. I should just be able to make it. To be on the safe side though I asked my wife to ring City Link’s customer service hotline and see if they could forewarn the depot that I was on my way, albeit cutting it fine. Amazingly she not only got through on the hotline, but a very helpful lady said that she would ring the depot to let them know I was coming and to confirm the parcel details in advance. Even better, she then rang me in the car to update me. That had all the makings of good customer service and I was impressed.

But here’s the kicker: the manager of City Link’s Reading depot informed his own customer service co-ordinators that he would not stay open a second after 12 noon, even though he knew I was on my way. The nice lady rang me back with the bad news, and by that time I was one set of traffic lights away. Nonetheless, I carried on and arrived at the depot at 12:03. The customer service counter was indeed closed, but the office next door was still open, filled with returning drivers and other staff. It was still busy and there in the middle was the manager.

“Ah yes, I’ve been expecting you,” he said.

“Great, may I have my parcel?”

“No, we’re closed.”

And that was it. No amount of remonstrating; offering to find the package myself; explaining (calmly) that if they’d done their job correctly in the first place I wouldn’t be there; pointing out that by giving me the parcel today would save them a redelivery on Monday; or that my son would be completely stuck today without his new shoes, would change his position. It was past 12 and that was it. What irritated me even more was that this truculent manager was surrounded by perhaps a dozen other City Link staff (drivers and office staff) all of whom turned to listen to my pleas. And not one of them tried to intervene or offered to get the parcel instead.

So this brings me back to my original point: customer service is of no value unless it is practised by every employee in an organisation who encounters a customer. And staff who cannot be bothered, frankly, should lose their jobs to someone who can. I cannot do anything more than complain, and remove my custom from Javari, which is a shame because I was impressed when I first visited their website (although they might want to reconsider their banner above). I won’t be shopping there again though while City Stink are making their deliveries.

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GazetMe goes social

Here at GazetMe Towers we’ve been working hard all summer to improve the service that we bring to our users. Some of these changes have been steadily taking place in the background - i.e. you may not have noticed a direct change in the way that GazetMe works, but there have been lots of little improvements going on, which we hope you’ll appreciate.f_logotwitter_t_logo_outlinelinkedin_logo60px

Bigger and more noticeable changes are also afoot. First off, we’ve integrated a cool new gadget courtesy of those nice people at Gigya that allows you seamlessly to link your GazetMe account with your other social networking accounts at Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the rest. New users can choose an existing social networking account when registering (just hit the relevant logo at the bottom of the login box). Existing users can upgrade their accounts by clicking Account in the main toolbar and selecting the relevant logo there.

By linking your GazetMe account with your preferred social networking account you can extend your reputation and promote your skillset by allowing achievements logged in GazetMe to be celebrated in your other social networks. So, when you log a new skill in GazetMe you can now automatically Tweet about it to your network. Although 99% of what you log continues to remain private until you add it to a CV, we’ve changed our settings slightly so that the title of your achievement/qualification/skill etc can be included in the body of a tweet or newsfeed item. As always, we welcome your feedback. News on more developments to follow in due course.

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The Virtual Revolution

Last night I finished watching the excellent BBC aleks_446x251series The Virtual Revolution presented by Dr Aleks Krotoski. It served as a very useful reminder of how much our lives have been changed by technology in an incredibly short space of time. Dr Krotoski had access to a host of major individuals from Tim Berners-Lee (a modest visionary) to Bill Gates (love him or hate him, can’t fail to be impressed by him) to Al Gore (staggeringly dull). I was particularly impressed by Stephen Fry who articulated with incredible passion just how significant is this age that we are living through. There is no doubt in my mind that historians of the future will point to the early decades of the 21st century as encompassing a seismic shift in the way that mankind functions - better to be a part of it than to miss the major event of many of our lifetimes.

However the series wasn’t just about the vision thing.  It also revealed to me a lot of unseen truths about how the web now works commercially, things that perhaps I’d suspected but like most people failed to analyse fully. As one contributor put it: the commodity that is being traded online is not the information that enterprises like Google give you, it is the information that you give them. Now I’m a big fan of Google and I like the incredible range of services that it gives me ‘free’; but I can now see that I am giving huge amounts of data in return. I don’t mind this, it seems a fair deal. However it is definitely better to see the commercial web in those terms and to understand the deal, rather than simply to play with the toys unknowingly.

If you missed the series, find it on iPlayer - it will wake you up to what going online really means.

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Portfolio Career - the lawyer/weather-girl/TV presenter

computers185x295_668357aAs a follow-up to my recent post about Prof Charles Handy here, I was interested to come across this article in the Times last week that highlights the many entirely new jobs that will be created this century.  As my wife reminded me recently, most of the jobs that will employ our children’s generation probably haven’t been invented yet.   It’s thought provoking stuff: vertical farmers, avatar managers, memory-augmentation surgeons, and nanomedics to name but a few.

However one section that jumped out at me was the interview with ‘virtual lawyer’ Denise Nurse - who as well as running an innovative legal practice manages to hold down a bagful of other jobs:

She also has another career: presenting the weather on Sky News and BBC Two’s Escape to the Country. This began when she was working as an in-house lawyer at BSkyB and won a competition to find new presenters. “I am first and foremost a virtual lawyer,” she says. “In the future, though, increasing numbers of people will have a portfolio of careers, but no office.”

To my mind that is the perfect example of a portfolio career: lawyer, weather-girl, TV presenter. Clearly Ms Nurse has many talents and isn’t afraid to put them all to good use.

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Achievement: Clare Robertson

robertson_wellworthAs it is GazetMe’s purpose to enable our users to track their many achievements, here at GazetMe Towers we thought we’d start an occasional series of reports highlighting notable achievements by individuals across the country.

First up then we celebrate the achievements of Clare Robertson. Now fans of Woolworths and residents of Dorchester may already be familiar with her story, but for anyone who isn’t, Clare is the former Woolworths manager who decided not to give up when the company collapsed last year. Wasting no time, she made arrangements to take over the lease of her store in Dorchester, Dorset, rehired staff, engaged with suppliers, and reopened the store under the name ‘Wellworths’ to local acclaim. A year on, Robertson’s store is doing well and looking forward to good Christmas trading. All in, a great achievement. You can read the full story here. Clare: we salute you.

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Idea: Portfolio working

charles-handyMore good writing from the Economist, this time about the notion of building a portfolio career. For anyone who hasn’t come across the idea before, having a portfolio career is about freelancing to use the best of your competencies, possibly for a range of clients, but possibly also for just one or two. It is an idea that I first came across about twenty years ago, promoted by the eminent Professor Charles Handy, who is quoted in this article: “Going portfolio means exchanging full-time employment for independence. The portfolio is a collection of different bits and pieces of work for different clients. The word “job” now means a client “.

There are advantages and disadvantages of having a portfolio career, as the Economist article outlines:

“Portfolio workers lack a lot of the things that full-time employees take for granted, ranging from secretarial assistance to office parties. They need to acquire a far wider range of competencies, such as computer skills, marketing, accounting and filling in tax returns. Moreover, unlike full-time employees, portfolio workers should not hope to find confirmation of a job well done (a crucial part of any worker’s motivation) from within their own organisation. They have to find it outside, primarily from their clients. This, it can be argued, makes them intensely customer-centric, something that might be expected to serve them well in the 21st century.”

Now I would say this, but I think that GazetMe is perfectly suited to portfolio working since it enables users to keep track of projects on which they’ve worked and, more importantly, gather feedback from contacts along the way. For anyone looking for a new job, it’s worth considering, even as an interim measure. Who knows, you may find it becomes your career.  You can read the full article here.

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Fish out of water

economistA very good analysis of the shortcomings of public sector involvement in promoting entrepreneurship and venture capital in this week’s Schumpeter column in the Economist. Interestingly (but perhaps not that surprising) it is Israel which emerges as the most successful promoter of such initiatives:

“The Israeli government’s venture-capital fund, which was founded in 1992 with $100m of public money, was designed to attract foreign venture capital and, just as importantly, expertise. The government let foreigners decide what to invest in, and then stumped up a hefty share of the money required. Foreign venture capital poured into the country, high-tech companies boomed, domestic venture capitalists learned from their foreign counterparts and the government felt able to sell off the fund after just five years.

Last year Israel, a country of just over 7m people, attracted as much venture capital as France and Germany combined. Israel has more start-ups per head than any other country (a total of 3,850, or one for every 1,844 Israelis), and more companies listed on the NASDAQ exchange, a hub for fledgling technology firms, than China and India combined.”

The question we should be asking is: what can be done to replicate that success here? We have no shortage of talent, and plenty of would-be entrepreneurs, it’s just a question of harnessing those ideas and providing easy access to VC funding. More initiatives like the Enterprise Finance Guarantee (formerly the Small Firms’ Loan Guarantee Scheme) would help, but with an emphasis on providing access to equity as opposed to debt funding. As I’ve discovered myself, the SFLGS sounds great until the sponsoring bank requires security for the part of the loan that is not guaranteed by the Government.

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Rusting Functionality - Hide those Buttons

Attention software developers (and Microsoft that means you in particular): why is it that you feel you have to display every bit of functionality on screen every time we use your apps?

I’ve been thinking alot about functionality, information overload, and the notion of ‘rusting’ about which I blogged recently. To my mind, the classic Google home page is one of the finest GUI designs ever. One box! How amazing is that given the output that that one box then delivered. Compare this with Microsoft Office 2007 to which I’ve just upgraded on my laptop: what a dog’s dinner.

My issue is not that everything shougoogle_logo4ld be needlessly simple in functional terms (I like plenty of functionality), it is that everything should be as simple as it possibly can be in the way that it is presented to me as a user. Looking at the default setting on MS Word I am presented with no less than 78 different functions, and that’s before I’ve started running through the menu lists and toolbar options. It’s too much; I just don’t need all this stuff. There are probably only about 6 that I use regularly: print, save, new, copy, paste, and scroll. All the rest just get in the way of my user experience. OK I know that if I want to I can go an change all my options, hide the stuff I don’t need etc. But this is software. Why should I have to do that? Why can’t MS Word do it for me.

So here’s my suggestion for developers: by all means keep that functionality - after all, there may be a day sometime in the future when my life will grind to a halt unless I can make my text run vertically instead of horizontally. But in the meantime, how about hiding most (if not all) of it. Indeed, if you’re as smart as I think you are, why not get your software to track the way that I use its functions and set about hiding all those that I never use (or prioritising those that I use regularly). Why not add some rust to functionality? This to me is the best of both worlds: all the functionality is there if I need it, but I only see the stuff that I use most often. Everything else just fades into the background the less I use it. It doesn’t have to be hard to find the ‘make text vertical’ button (could even use some search functionality for that), but for when I’m not using it (which is most of the time) it would be shut away like my old hand drill which sits on the bottom shelf at the back of the garage: there when I need it but not cluttering up my desktop.

In the spirit of practising what I preach, I’d like to look at GazetMe functionality with this in mind. User feedback though most welcome: which GazetMe functions do you use most often?

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