Archive for the ‘Major Articles’ Category

Creative promotion for a small business. Case study – Brighouse dry cleaners

Wednesday, April 16th, 2008

Naked couple from the rear

Effective promotion of your business does not require huge advertising budgets. A little thought and careful targeting could produce dramatic results in your sales figures. Here is a real life example of how it can be done.

Martin Tordoff, the owner of Brighouse dry cleaners, telephoned me many years ago about the white van he used for his business. He told me this van does 30,000 miles a year and as such must be seen by thousands of people in that time. There was some space at the back of the van which he felt could do with some kind of advertising.

Now most owners of small businesses would automatically have put their names there and their telephone number. Putting their name on the van does something for the ego of the owner but does very little for a potential customer who doesn’t know them from Adam and so the telephone number goes unheeded.

Martin was aware of this and had given it some thought, so when he telephoned me he asked if I could illustrate a naked lady who was saying the words, “I’ve taken all my clothes to Brighouse dry cleaners.” This image would then be applied to the van.

‘Good idea’ I thought, ‘that should attract attention.’

The execution of the idea was critical here because a badly drawn woman or an inappropriate pose could work against him.

I did a sketch and sent a visual over to Martin.

Martin came back with mixed emotions. He loved the illustration but there was now a problem. Some of the women who worked for him had seen the visual and objected to it claiming it was sexist. They threatened to walk out if he used this image. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea after all he lamented.

The Chinese symbol for ‘crisis’ is the same one they use for ‘opportunity’. I saw an opportunity. A public relations exercise. I suggested that he go ahead with the decal as planned and then when his female staff walk out, inform the media. The resulting publicity would be priceless. Martin was unsure about this approach as he, rightly, imagined it would be grabbing a tiger by the tail. A compromise was discussed whereby the lady would be partially clothed, but this meant diluting the visual impact and defeating the punchline.

Later, I was casually discussing the situation with my wife, when she thought for a moment and then came up with a brilliant idea. She suggested that I offer to illustrate a man as well – I would benefit from some extra work and it would negate the objections about sexism, a win-win solution.

I offered Martin this solution and he put it to his staff who now could not find an objection (remember, the naked woman is still there without any changes, but by adding a naked man, the entire dynamics of the scene has changed). The caption was changed from ‘I’ to ‘We’ and the decal was subsequently produced.

Martin has had this decal on his van for six years now and I spoke to him recently about the response he has had from it when he came to reorder yet another copy of the decal to replace the faded one. He told me he still gets the occasional objection from the public but, as you can imagine, they are mostly extremist in their views -”it’s obscene” (”It’s a bottom, don’t you have one?), “why are they white and not mixed race?” (”Should they be disabled as well?”) etc.

At one point he thought he might change the design entirely and have tiger stripes on the van instead. When he mentioned this to the driver of the van he was told in no uncertain terms that the current graphic won him business. Every time this driver was on the road he could see other drivers in his rear view mirror smiling and pointing to the decal. When he has emerged from premises after a delivery and gone back to the van he has found people photographing the decal on their mobile telephones and emailing the picture to their friends.

And recently, The Huddersfield Examiner, a local newspaper, mentioned the van in one of their stories. The journalist of the piece had followed the van down the road and found it so amusing he mentioned the incident in his column. This was unsolicited, free advertising.

Thus, Martin with the help of myself and my wife (discussing ideas with as many people as possible is invaluable) had achieved what every business wants for itself, namely, to be remarkable. People remark about a business because it is different or it makes them feel good. As a result, they are more inclined to remember that business and use its products or services.


  • Think differently. This means being more on the edge of convention, of taking risks with your ideas.
  • Collaborate on your ideas; by sharing ideas, they grow and improve (or die if they are misleading or difficult to execute.)
  • Stick with the story: don’t change things just for the sake of change. If something is working for you, look for ways to improve that thing and build on its reputation.
  • Generally, the more original your idea, the more difficult it will be to implement in the first instance, but if successful, the potential rewards will be exponential.
  • Tips on giving a good presentation

    Thursday, May 24th, 2007

    Professor Ivor Tymchak

    How many PowerPoint presentations have you seen that include more bullet points than a St Valentines day massacre? How many ‘speakers’ have you seen that should really be marketed as ‘sedatives’? 

    Here are a few hints and tips to keep your presentation fresh and lively.

    Come in with a bang!
    I perform stand up comedy and I know I have thirty seconds from coming on stage to grab my audience or lose them. The advice to aspiring comedians is to start with their best joke. Good advice. If you have something that will interest your audience, give it to them. 

    Put yourself in their shoes – what would grab your attention? How about an astounding fact or statistic? Pose a question which fires the imagination. Demonstrate a trick or make a deliberate mistake. Tell a story they can relate to – anything to get them hooked into your subject. 

    One word of caution; whatever it is you do to get their attention, make it relevant to your message. A gratuitous stunt can cheapen your entire presentation.

    Get on with it. 
    Have you any idea how many unsolicited travel articles are binned because they start at the airport? It seems logical to start at the beginning, but the beginning is very rarely where it gets interesting. Why not ‘cut to the chase’ and ‘flashback’ to how it all started? To help you plan, draw a mind map of your presentation, sequence the information and then rearrange the sequence so that your most interesting piece is at the beginning. You can usually script it so that it makes sense overall. 

    History keeps repeating itself
    This is another common mistake because it seems so logical – give them the background to your subject. This is like going back to before the beginning. Again, get on with it! Be absolutely ruthless when assessing the value of what you include in your presentation – is it neccessary, does it add anything, would it be of interest to someone who is only on the fringes of the subject? 

    If you do feel compelled to include history and any other requirements for complete understanding, then put them in a handout given at the end.

    Don’t take yourself too seriously
    You want the audience to care about your message, not about you. If you have to tell them about how important your message is and how much they need to care, you’ve ‘died’. It is the equivalent of having to explain a joke that you have just told; it’s embarrasing. If you demonstrate your humanity, passion and enthusiasm, your audience will empathise with you and be more prepared to listen to your message.

    Get creative 
    Most speakers recognise the value of a prop or two. But why stop there? How about an acronym that spells ‘ACRONYM’? or a funny title – ‘Seven steps to building a staircase’ Use language  like an artist uses colour. We hear prose every day, most of it is banal. By inserting a vivid metaphor, similie or analogy you will raise the bar on your presentation above the commonplace. 

    Commission talent
    We’ve all seen the slides of readily available clip art. What it says to me, as a member of the audience is, “this is recycled and reprocessed clip art. If I’ve done it with the art I have probably done it with the rest of my presentation”. 

    Is that the impression you want to give? If the presentation is one that you give a lot it will be worth the investment of hiring an artist to generate some unique imagery for you. 

    Don’t forget copy writers as well, they can come up with the startling imagery that can make your speech shine, as well as provide other services such as editing. 

    Make use of reference books such as Bob Monkhouse’s Speakers handbook; there are some great one liners in there. It’s not an admission of failure to draft in help, it’s a path to improvement!

    Leave them wanting more, instead of just leaving
    This is the stated aim of any product, not just entertainers. It is achieved by engrossing the consumer and firing their imagination. In a presentation, that means every word, every image, every gesture has to earn its place. If it doesn’t work hard, make it do so or get rid of it.

    Remember the maxim; less is more.

    If knowledge is power…

    Tuesday, April 10th, 2007

    Oven door diagram

    Another incident which illustrates the fallibility of modern society.

    I had decided to clean our built-in cooker thoroughly. This would mean taking the door off. I got out the instructions and read;

    1. Fully open the oven door.
    2. Move the catch levers on the right and left-hand sides to the fully open position.
    3. Placing the door at an upward angle toward you, grasp the door with both hands and lift it out of the hinges toward you.

    That was it. Sounds simple enough, so I followed the instructions and attempted to lift the door. Nothing happened. I pulled a bit harder. Still nothing happened.

    At this point I had to make a decision; is the force needed to retract the hinges greater than is being currently applied (if it is, why doesn’t the instruction book mention it), or will applying extra force damage the hinges because I am not doing it right even though I have read the instructions (brief, as they are)?

    Normally at this point I would have given up. The resulting inconvenience from a damaged oven door would not have been worth the benefit of a slightly cleaner oven but I remembered the repair man getting the oven door off with one swift movement (the element had blown, typically, two days before Christmas. Fortunately it was still under warranty). I also remembered a loud snapping sound when the door came off therefore I reasoned, powerful forces were at work in springs somewhere in the hinges, thus greater force was probably needed to ‘lift’ the door out of its hinges. I braced my knees and gave a powerful tug. This time the hinges ‘bounced’ on its fierce springs. After a dozen more attempts I discovered the door needed the strength of a champion all-in wrestler to writhe it from its hinge sockets.

    When the door did finally come off there was the same loud snap as the hinges locked into their closed position. This immediately concerned me because I had not seen the repair man replace the door and so was not sure how the hinges were prized open. I trusted the instruction book however and continued cleaning the oven.

    When it was time to replace the door I read the instructions;

    Set both hinges into their respective receptacles on the left and right, and swing the oven door downward.
    Close the catch levers on the left and right.
    Close the oven door.

    Well that sounded like I didn’t need to worry about prizing open any spring loaded hinges before offering it up to the receptacles. When I tried to do this however it soon became apparent that the hinges could not be inserted into their respective slots because they were in a closed position. When I experimented with pulling them down I couldn’t even make an impression on them, so fierce were the springs. Why didn’t the instructions say anything about opening the hinges and how to go about it?

    I tried using a small screwdriver to get some leverage on the hinges but it quickly became apparent it was not strong enough and I was now going to need the services of a trapeze artist catcher with an iron grip. Nothing in the instructions about that either. After some experimentation I realised I could stand the door on its edge on the floor and get my foot on top of the locked hinge and use my weight to prize the thing open. I could only get it so far before the metal hinge penetrated my carpet slipper and hurt my foot. As I went to put on my work boots I was trying to think how I could keep the hinge open once I had prized it fully open.

    With an inch of rubber between the metal hinge and my foot I could apply my full weight to the hinge. This time it opened fully and to my relief I heard a click and the hinge remained locked in the open position. At last, I thought, progress. I thought too soon.

    On offering it up to the hinge slots there were several problems. The oven door was heavy and so both hands were needed to hold it. I could only locate one hinge slot at a time as they were on either side of the door and so as I positioned one and wiggled the door to try and find the other I discovered the hinge was on a hair trigger and snapped back shut at the slightest pressure. This meant putting the door down and opening the hinge again. After countless attempts at a ‘precise location’ approach, each time ending with the hinges reacting like a snapping turtle I decided to try a more brutal approach and I positioned the hinges in the approximate positions before shoving the door hard into the oven. This had some success and I was able to actually fit the door back onto the oven but when I tried opening the door fully I noticed it would not lie flat as it had previously done. Now it caught on a protruding metal flange. It clearly wasn’t sitting right, so I had to remove the door again with the wresting throw I had learnt earlier.

    For the next thirty minutes I did what was effectively circuit training in a gym; writhe the door from its hinges, unlock the spring loaded hinges, attempt to push home the hinges, either unlock hinges again or check the positioning of the door, shout in frustration at the door, repeat the above.
    At one stage I was going to leave the door as it was, imperfectly positioned but as I studied the mini oven door above the main oven I could see how the hinges were supposed to be seated and I wasn’t happy with what I’d done. The prospect of calling a repair man loomed as I studied the instructions one more time. Nothing new appeared from them. I was aware I had to try something different as countless attempts with the same configuration had not produced the desired result. What would happen, I thought, if I opened the catch levers as well before I attempted to fit the door? The same result. By now, I was wearing work boots to prize the hinges open, ear defenders for the loud snapping, a filthy work shirt because of all the grime coming off the oven door (which resisted my earlier cleaning) and I was sweating like a boxer on the twelfth round of a thorough beating, occasionally crying out in pain as if a particularly bone crushing blow had found its way through my paltry guard.

    My young children had been watching this pantomime bemused and concerned before rushing to the front door when they heard their mother return from the supermarket. She was immediately drafted in to help. With a clear head she did the logical thing and read the instructions. From them she worked out that the catch levers had to be open before you attempted to fit the hinges. I said that didn’t seem to help and demonstrated all the problems. More circuit training ensued before we decided to co-operate. I would hold the door in place while my wife carefully guided the hinges into place. This had limited success and worryingly, the spring locks seemed to be weakening so the merest touch set them off.

    Finally my wife seemed to figure out the method of insertion and a miraculous, effortless mating occurred. I opened the oven door and it laid flat. I checked the alignment and it was even all the way around. We had done it! All it needed was the assistance of another pair of hands that had the skills and sensitivity of a brain surgeon. What could be simpler?

    I had embarked on this adventure because I had seen the repair man pull the door off. He hadn’t explained anything, I had simply seen him do it in exactly the same way one chimp might see another chimp use a tool. I had the experience of actually seeing it done. Had I not, the instructions would have been practically useless (they pretty much were anyway). This demonstrates the absolute truth that experience is essential for learning. You can read all the instructions you care to about something but until you try it out for real, the instructions are simply interesting theory and only manual operation wires the brain with the necessary connections to do it again successfully. Which brings me back to the instructions; who were they meant for? If they were meant for the householder with no experience of the equipment, they were useless. If they were meant for the fitter, they would have such experience and not bother with the instructions.

    Clearly, when products are designed there is not a testing procedure where a complete stranger to the product is asked to try it out for real. Such deficiencies in the instructions would then be found and remedied. Presumably it would cost too much to have this extra testing but think of the anguish and frustration it would save.

    I can only think Bosch never imagined any householder would be adventurous enough to actually try and remove the door.

    Sure, knowledge is power but without experience to harness that power, it is simply a loose cannon.

    The domino effect on human error

    Tuesday, March 13th, 2007

    An incident occurred today which illustrated beautifully several key points about the way business organizations generally work. It involved a small shredder I have in my office.

    My wife wanted to shred a lot of documents which would have taken some time so instead of standing in my office for half an hour feeding in the paper, she decided to unplug the shredder and take it downstairs where she could watch television whilst she used it.

    During the next hour or two we had workmen in the house installing loft insulation. The loft entry point was accessed through my office. After the workmen had gone my wife came sheepishly into the office and in a tearful tone of voice started rambling on about buying me another shredder.

    Key point one; she was trying to confess something to me about something she had done that had made something go wrong. She was fearful of my response and so had difficulty in communicating the problem. Eventually I got it out of her that she assumed the shredder was jammed or something because it didn’t work anymore. I went downstairs and assessed the situation. The waste basket of the shredder was empty so I guessed she had recently emptied it. Sure enough, on closer inspection she had replaced the machine part of the shredder the wrong way round on the basket – a configuration which still allowed it to fit perfectly. I removed the machine head and replaced it the opposite way around. On testing the machine again the shredder worked.

    “How did you do that!” my wife exclaimed. I told her there was a safety lug on the basket which has to connect with a lever on the machine head. If it didn’t connect, the machine didn’t work. On further experimentation with the device I discovered that the auto function wasn’t working. This is another safety feature where the inserted paper pushes an on switch to start the blades. Once the paper has passed through, the blades stop rotating. But now the auto function had the blades rotating permanently. “What’s happened here?” I asked.

    On discovering that the machine was at least working again after a simple fix, my wife then volunteered more information which had been missing from her earlier confession.

    In an attempt to get it working again she had taken the machine head apart to look for the imagined jammed paper. As she did so, some part fell out which she couldn’t identify and which she hadn’t bothered to put back.

    Key point two; she had assumed several things here and when none of the assumptions had produced the desired result she had tried a workaround which simply made the situation worse. When I asked her why she simply hadn’t come into the office and asked me why it was no longer working, she replied, “because workmen were there.”

    Key point three; when the comfort zone is disturbed people act unpredictably and irrationally.

    I told my wife to take the machine head apart again and replace the part which had fallen out (I hadn’t done the attempted repair, so I didn’t know what I was looking for). I went back to the office.

    Ten minutes later I return to the living room and my wife is in tears with the machine head in pieces. She had been unable to reinstate the missing part. Annoyed, I have to take over the repair and try to figure out where this piece of plastic belongs. Eventually I manage to work out where it fits and after several minutes of cursing and fiddling about, I manage to reseat the mechanism and get the lid back on. I tell my wife in no uncertain terms never to jump to conclusions again and never to try and fix anything herself again.

    As I am having my lunch, she comes into the kitchen and tearfully attempts to defend herself – she was only trying to fix it, didn’t want to disturb me, thought it was a paper jam, thought it would be just like a vacuum cleaner etc. I admonished her for making assumptions (I have a keynote speech about ‘Assuming nothing’) and for missing the most obvious first course of action – asking me why it wasn’t working any more. It was my piece of equipment after all, therefore I would most likely have read the instructions and so would have that vital bit of knowledge about the safety feature.

    Key point four; as I was telling her this I realized that the machine had a design fault. The machine head fitted perfectly onto the waste basket when it was replaced incorrectly thereby giving the impression that it was as it was before. There should have been another lug on the waste basket which prevented the machine head from sitting properly if it was incorrectly replaced thereby alerting the operator that they were doing something wrong.

    Key point five (and the most crucial); my wife had been afraid of my reaction and my reaction confirmed her fears. I had simply been annoyed at her news and had to fix the shredder myself. As I was having lunch I realized this was exactly the sort of response which produced inappropriate workarounds and stifled innovation in industry. I should have been sympathetic in my response, congratulated her on her initiative and innovation in trying to fix the problem herself and thanked her in flagging up;
    i) deficiencies in the product design
    ii) the need for staff training regarding the operation of various pieces of equipment and the procedure to follow in case of failure.

    Now I like to think of myself as an enlightened liberal who teaches about these things but it was still incredibly hard for me not to react in the way that I did, so how much harder must it be for unenlightened line managers or business leaders? I also remembered that I had been forewarned of this problem nearly a year ago. My wife wanted to shred a few documents and asked me how to use the device. I quickly went through the button positions and told her not to put a certain thickness of paper through. The basket was nearly full at this point. I had gone out on an errand and on my return I noticed the basket was now empty; she must have emptied it as a courtesy. Several days later I wanted to shred a document and discovered the machine wasn’t working. I started to check the obvious things – was it plugged in etc? when I remembered my wife had been the last person to use it and that she had emptied it. I then remembered that the basket had a safety mechanism.

    Sure enough, when I checked, she had replaced the basket the wrong way round for the lug to engage. So I discovered then the possibility of this happening if an operator didn’t know of the existence of this lug. She must have emptied the basket when she had finished with the device and not used it again. Had she done so, she would have been alerted to her mistake. I should have made the effort then to tell her what she had done so that future failings did not occur.

    A simple oversight on my part led to a situation where compounding assumptions and workarounds resulted in a catastrophe. Okay, this was a shredder with a happy ending, but how many stories have you heard where an airline or ferry was involved in just such a scenario and ultimately hundreds of lives were lost due to human error? It doesn’t take much.

    The most valuable lesson I got from all of this was the realization that most of industry is organized around the fear of failure. Imagine how much better and happier we would all be if industry was organized around the joy of improvement and innovation.

    We’ve been had – again!

    Monday, March 12th, 2007

    Conspiracy theories. There’s a conspiracy about them. If you believe that, then the whole picture gets even more complicated. The JFK conspiracy story is a case in point. Whole libraries have been written about it along with the making of a major Hollywood film. Let’s take the film by Oliver Stone.

    This purports to be a fact based docu-drama about the shooting. But then we learn Mr Stone has made up characters and inserted them into the story to help with the narrative. So bits of it is not based on fact; bits of it is a fairy story. Ultimately, it is not based on truth or uses any scientific method.

    Years later I watched an in-depth documentary about the JFK shooting which insisted it was based on the facts alone and used hard science to investigate the conspiracy theorists claims of a ‘magic bullet’ etc. It blew all the conspiracy theories surrounding JFK’s killing out of the water. On the evidence it presented, it all made logical sense and the only conclusion you were left with at the end was that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone and that Jack Ruby also acted alone. The extensive research into Oswald’s past also confirmed his motive and modus operandi.

    The conspiracy theories resulted from the inability of the American public to comprehend how a ‘nobody’ could kill a ’somebody’. It was then compounded by the televised slaying of Oswald by the small time, grief stricken crook, Ruby.

    It was a powerful lesson for me, how we are at the mercy of the media, and how it is truth that invariably suffers because it is not sexy enough.

    And so another in-depth documentary was aired a few nights ago investigating another conspiracy. It was called ‘The great global warming swindle‘, presumably echoing the title of the Sex Pistols film ‘The great rock n roll swindle‘ in which the line “Ever been had?” is uttered. I thought it important to watch this documentary because I had bought the climate change story wholesale and I needed to know what the counter arguments were. I was not disappointed.

    After fifteen minutes of general denial my wife looked at me with an expression that suggested ‘what do you think?’ and I said, “Where’s the science?” The science arrived shortly after.

    I will not go into detail about the facts discussed but to summarize, the points were these;

  • the sun is the biggest factor influencing our climate, the more energy it puts out, the warmer the earth gets.
  • the oceans are the biggest manufacturer of carbon dioxide. As they warm up, they produce more. The CO2 graph line which echoes global temperature fluctuations graph line is actually hundreds of years behind the temperature line. CO2 values are a result of temperature change and not the other way around.
  • The CO2 content of the atmosphere is minuscule – 0.05% or something, it’s largely irrelevant.
  • All computer models of the weather system are woefully inadequate and none has ever been accurate in the long term, the system is simply too complex.
  • The massive media coverage of the ‘problem’ is a political manifestation and now too many people have too much money invested in the concept that no-one is willing to shout “But the theory is not wearing any clothes!” Or at least until this documentary.
  • The science made perfect sense from a layman’s point of view and it always disturbs me when someone flags up the fact that other important facts in the argument have been left out – usually facts that don’t fit the polemic. As I went to bed that evening I had a horrible vision of George W Bush with a smug expression saying “Told y’all so!”

    On reflection, I concluded several things;

  • If global warming is a red herring, it still has the beneficial effect of making the world look at its practices and become more prudent and responsible with the limited resources it has. We don’t need computer models to show us we are running out of landfill sites and that fish stocks are declining. Profligacy is not an option.
  • The pernicious consequences of the theory (as stated in the programme) are that developing countries will be unfairly censured in their carbon use and that they will find it harder to industrialize themselves out of poverty even though they have oil and coal.
  • The lesson for us all is that we must rid ourselves of learned helplessness and not rely on received wisdom especially if it comes from the media. It was only a few weeks ago that we had the snow storm of the century and if you had only seen the media reports you would have assumed a catastrophe had struck the UK, but a simple glance out of the window revealed all the reports were blown hugely out of proportion (the news stations want NEWS, not the mundane). The problem with a subject such as global warming is that we cannot do the science for ourselves – it is too complex, too big. We have to rely on large organizations to keep us informed and almost invariably that information will have a hidden, political agenda. We need to be constantly vigilant to this reality. We have no way of verifying the science from either camp. Another documentary could be aired next week that claims it’s people drinking too many carbonated drinks and burping too much and we would have no way of confirming or refuting the ‘facts’ contained within the programme.
  • It was a timely reminder that we still have the voodoo thinking that made us burn witches at the stake. It will be interesting to see if, in a couple of hundred years’ time, scientists will discuss this period in history as the superstitious beliefs of a deluded people who failed to look at the facts objectively.
  • I have amended my beliefs accordingly.

    Addendum: this documentary was later discredited, see here.

    The tail wagging the dog

    Monday, February 19th, 2007

    I keep recalling conversations I had with some Professional Speakers Association members about goal setting. They were talking about the importance of having goals with a fundamentalist zeal; it was a given, irrefutable. This immediately made me feel uncomfortable. Where there is such conviction there is usually a closed mind.

    Also I didn’t appear to have any goals. I tended to follow my nose; if something interested me I went in that direction. If something even more interesting came along then I would change tack and start to follow that instead. Having a goal suggested you knew where you wanted to be and that you could take a direct route to that place thereby bypassing or missing some interesting places which you might not have considered visiting but would have been of great interest to you. I was also suspicious of the overriding materialistic values inherent in most of the goals set by the majority of the visiting speakers.

    So I asked my fellow members why is it important to have goals. They looked at me as if I was a mad man and actually asked “are you being serious?” “Yes,” I said, “give me your reasoning.” Unfortunately, time constraints prevented them form giving me their rationale.

    From my standpoint though, the problem with goals is that they demand measure – otherwise how can you tell when you have achieved your goals? And that scale of measure has to based on something that is easily quantifiable.

    So what is readily available, that is infinitely quantifiable and perceived by many to be the best measure of success? Money of course. Ultimately the goals set are a disguise for improving your chances of acquiring material wealth. Quite often this disguise is dispensed with entirely and the goals are brazenly materialistic.

    But this is the tail wagging the dog. Goals were originally conceived as a vehicle for self development. Abstract achievements however proved difficult to quantify and so, over time, many people subtly changed their goals to accommodate the use of a yardstick – money. Somehow the introduction of an irrelevant financial measure has completely overturned the concept and the measure has become the goal.

    What do we want from life? The real answer is to be happy and fulfilled but happiness is a complicated phenomenon. We don’t like complicated phenomena, we like things simple in this day and age so it is such an easy assumption to conclude that it is money that is the measure of happiness. Money equals happiness.

    Wrong, wrong, wrong.

    Money increases your options. That’s it. Nothing else. Any sort of emotional or egotistical benefits derived from the ownership of wealth is what that person has attributed to it and as such, are fickle and illusory. Take the money away and what are you left with?

    Money was a means to an end but today we have become so hopelessly confused we see money as the end. If you question the assumption hard enough you eventually get to the truth; why do you want money? To buy things. Why do you want these things? To enjoy them, to make my life fuller. How will they make it fuller? They will make me happy and I will have more free time. Why do you need free time? To do what I want to do, things that I enjoy. Such as? Spending more time with my friends…

    Eventually we have the answer, we hope that having lots of money will make us happier because it increases our options. And so we spend a lot of time in trying to make that money, time that in reality we could be spending doing something that we were interested in. If you are already doing something that you are interested in and it is making money for you as well, then the dog is at least wagging the tail. Money is a by-product of the process.

    I remember reading about a famous astronomer. Such was his interest in his chosen profession that on many occasions he didn’t bother to cash his pay cheque. He had enough to enable him to do the thing he loved the most so what was the point of having any more?
    With the global problems of climate change, overpopulation and resource destruction now more than ever do we need to address our fundamental beliefs about how society should be run and to look closely at our attitudes towards success and happiness.

    Not such a bright idea

    Monday, February 5th, 2007

    What do you think this image means?

    Probably you thought the light bulb was a symbol for someone having an idea because that is how the light bulb image is most often used. It is shorthand, a tradition, a part of our visual language.

    We can see how this became part of our culture. The invention of the light bulb was a breakthrough in its time, revolutionizing the way we lighted our darkness. And it gave off bright light immediately which provided the perfect simile for the concepts of ‘shedding light on a problem’ or a ‘sudden flash of inspiration’.

    It means having an idea, usually a great idea. We’ve been using this image for decades, which funnily enough means it’s an old idea and when an idea becomes old and universally familiar something strange happens to it.

    It becomes a ‘given’ – an assumption that requires no thought.

    But we are constantly reminded that times move on and nothing can be taken for granted anymore – especially when it concerns technology, so we should regularly review our assumptions.

    Let’s look closely at the light bulb today as a representative of a good idea.

    Well the light bulb is an invention that has not changed much in design for nearly 130 years – no significant new ideas in all that time. Imagine a technology that hasn’t had a major innovation in 130 years – it must be near perfect!

    Alas, nothing could be further from the truth. As an engine, the incandescent light bulb is one of the least efficient we have. Ninety-six percent of the energy sent to the devise is wasted. It is converted into heat which is an unwanted by product. Ninety-six percent! If this invention were proposed today it wouldn’t even get onto the drawing board. Its not actually a light bulb at all, its a heat bulb. But probably every household in the country has at least one somewhere.

    It has been calculated that 40% of our electricity energy consumption goes towards lighting our homes, offices and factories. If the majority of that lighting comes from incandescent bulbs then most of it is wasted on an unwanted by product. Imagine the contribution that makes to global warming.

    So as a representative of a good idea, of new thinking, the incandescent light bulb is now a joke. Anyone want to buy a computer that has a memory of 16k?

    Thought not.

    If there was nothing else to take its place I could understand its survival, but there is an alternative. Low energy light bulbs destroy incandescent light bulbs in any efficiency contest. So lets start a trend. If we insist on using the light bulb icon to represent a good idea let’s at least make it an energy saver.

    So what the image is actually trying to communicate is ironically, the idea I had about how inadequate the incandescent light bulb is as a metaphor for bright ideas. What we need is a new cartoon that replaces the redundant incandescent light bulb image with something more up to date and innovative. Any ideas about what that icon could look like?

    Old and powerful ideas need to be evaluated from time to time. Can you think of any in your life, in your products, in your company, that might be worth scrutinizing a little more closely?
    But if you think you might just be re-inventing the wheel… go ahead! The reinvention of the wheel from a solid disk to a spoked circle improved performance dramatically.