Archive for April, 2008

10 things you really need to know about life

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

1. You’re alive!

2. You have consciousness – use it.

3. Confidence is king, always appear confident.

4. There is no number four.

5. Make it up as you go along, people will think you are original or innovative.

6. Be different (see 3 and 5)

7. People adore lists – you’re reading this one!

8. Ignore lists of any kind, they represent the lowest common denominator.

9. Nobody knows anything (see 3 and 5).

10. Very soon you will be dead. Keep regrets to a minimum by living in the moment.

The Chinese symbol for ‘crisis’ is the same one they use for ‘opportunity’

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008

No it isn’t. Or if it is, only in the same way that Nostradamus was absolutely specific about who did what, when and where.

Like millions of other people, I had heard this fact and was impressed with its possibilities (as a creative practioner, you tend to watch out for stuff like this). I thought about using it in one of my presentations. However, because I’m curious and like to push the envelope a little further than the post box, I thought it would be good to be able to draw this symbol from memory, on the fly, during a workshop. So I Googled it. And guess what?

When you look closely at the complexities, the myth is exploded.

It is not one symbol, it is a combination of two and the interpretation of the conjunction can be moulded with a bit of imagination, but realistically, any Manadarin worth her salt would not confuse ‘danger’ with ‘opportunity’. Danger is exactly that, and should be avoided.

My heart sank. Then leapt. The mantra ‘Assume nothing!’ was reaffirmed. If we see something in print, we tend to believe it (is the internet changing this, after all, this is in ‘print’?) but closer inspection (thank you the internet, again) reveals a complex, twisted path.

I’m still going to use it in my presentations though but with the added twist; you really can’t take anything for granted.

Assume nothing at all times.

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.
  • The Large Hadron Collider

    Monday, April 14th, 2008

    We’re still primitive animals when it comes to the unknown, programmed to jerk that knee at the slightest provocation.

    In the past it used to be ghosts, voodoo, gods and bad luck that frightened us. Then along came science, and like a new creeping religion, it found more and more converts in heathen lands who gave up their irrational beliefs. Critical thinking and scientific reductionism eventually found the problem for twitching knees and promptly fixed them.

    How ironic then that it is now science that is the new bogeyman. Frankenstein’s monster got married, had kids and started doing experiments himself.

    Despite the assurances of the scientists in charge of the Hadron Collider project that it will not produce a black hole which will then eat the earth, in truth, they don’t really know. Let’s hoist science with its own petard shall we and use critical thinking to support the doubters.

    1. You don’t spend eight billion dollars on building something to confirm what you already know.
    2. Experiments are designed to discover things we are not sure about, to test a hypothesis. So, if you want to find out what happens when a certain amount of radioactive material is added to another amount, you construct an experiment and if one of the results of that experiment is critical mass and a huge explosion, then you have your answer. In fact, during the development of the atom bomb, Oppenheimer was concerned that the resulting explosion might set the atmosphere alight and thus destroy the earth. He assigned someone the task of calculating the possibility of this happening who must have concluded that, in theory it was safe, because they went ahead with the explosion, but theory and practice rarely coincide – that’s why they perform experiments.

    And so it is just possible that somehting apocalyptic could happen which would then be irreversible. I think this is an interesting moral problem and one which will become of greater concern to everyone outside of the scientific community as science itself becomes more adventurous in its curiosity. We already have genetic engineering, cloning and nano technology to consider. Who ultimately decides if these things are ‘good’ and if we should investigate them?

    Blowing yourself up in your garden shed is one thing, but blowing up everyone else on the planet along with yourself, is something entirely different. Maybe the apes have taken over the laboratory.

    Eye contact

    Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

    Before she went to work, my wife asked me to hang some washing out . She later rang me at home and asked if I’d done what she asked. I answered that I had forgotten and the washing was still in the basket.

    When she got home she told me that she had complained to her co-workers – all women – about my forgetfulness. They asked her if she had made eye contact with me when she asked me to perform the chore. She replied that she had not.

    They all tutted and said, “well, what do you expect? He’s a man.”

    Philips Onis 6311 update

    Monday, April 7th, 2008

    I complained about this telephone here. Since that time It has been gathering dust in a drawer, waiting to be immolated on camera before being posted on You tube.

    Then I had a better idea. I decided it might be more interesting and educational if I methodically took the telephone apart with my nine year old son to see if we could divine the cause of the problem. So that’s what we did at the weekend.

    I remember when I first encountered this problem with the on/off button that I googled it and found a chap with exactly the same complaint who decided to do a repair on his phone. He said it was difficult to get into the phone without damaging it and once inside he discovered some green goo which prevented the button from operating.

    When we did our repair we had exactly the same experience. I wasn’t too careful with my dismantling because I fully intended to throw the thing away once we had explored it and so plastic lugs went flying. We too found the green goo preventing a dry contact with the on/off button. It was surmised that the liquid crystal display may have leaked. We wiped it up and then thought to try and put the phone back together again. Despite the broken lugs it fitted back together quite nicely. Then another thought entered our heads. You guessed it – ‘would it now work?’

    I charged up the batteries until I had the display show up, then I plugged it into a telephone line and hey presto! it worked. It is once again now in useful service in another part of the house.

    The are two lessons here;
    1. Assume nothing. It was an electronic device of which I had little practical knowledge, and so I assumed the fault was a complicated one that involved a dead component. Upon inspection it turned out to be some liquid that needed wiping up. Until you look, you don’t know.

    2. You need to look. It is too easy to adopt the ‘learned helplessness’ of our throw away society. By being curious and undaunted, we preserve some independence. If it is too complicated, then by all means buy another or get help. If you have nothing to lose have a go yourself first (unless it’s dangerous).

    I’m alive! #1

    Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

    Snow hearts

    One of the most powerful ways of finding happiness is to be mindful and to be in the present moment.

    I am in the process of collecting images, creating sculptures, devising books etc. that attempt to short circuit the rational mind and ’stop time’ – which is an illusion of course. Currently, we are suffocating in the grip of this terrible illusion.

    Never forget, you represent the greatest miracle imaginable – you’re alive and conscious of it!