Choosing Clarity over Certainty,

In his book the 5 Temptations of a CEO, Patrick Lencioni Risk asserts that the third temptation that can befall a CEO is the desire to seek certainty over clarity. One way this manifests itself, is for the CEO to seek to have all the information before making a decision. This is not a good thing, one of the skills of the CEO is to determine that he has enough (not all) information to make the decision. It is a factor or Risk versus Reward.

Risk and reward are the fundamental identities of business life in general and decision making in particular.   If you’d like to increase your risk IQ,  spend some time with Annie Duke, author of “Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts.”    As she says,  Poker is a game of decision making under conditions of uncertainty over time.  

Ms. Duke’s was working on a Ph.D in cognitive psychology at the University of Pennsylvania with a National Science Foundation fellowship.   She took some time off to explore the practical aspects of risk by becoming a professional poker player.  In doing so she won over $4 million as a professional poker player and was World Series of Poker Champion

Increase your risk IQ with her entertaining 16 minutes TED Talk on the interrelationships of  life, risk, business and poker.    After watching this, if you think it’s a good bet that she can make you a better risk takertake a chance on investing minutes on her Google University Talk: “Thinking in Bets.”

Why are those people so stupid?

Over recent years you may have thought that the world is more polarised than ever, with opposing sides on Brexit, Trump et al seemingly unable to see the perspective of the other side. In this video, which is circa 30 years old, John Cleese shows that this is not new phenomena whilst making some very astute observations.

If after having laughed at Mr Cleese you wish to understand more, consider listening to the Hidden Brain podcast and the episode on double standards.

Have you ever noticed that everyone who drives slower than you is an idiot, and everyone who drives faster is a maniac? This is due to bias and it is these biases that make you think your point of view is based on reasoned fact and other points of view are daft. It’s easy to spot bias in other people, especially those with whom we disagree.  But it’s not so easy to recognize our own biases.  Psychologist Emily Pronin says it’s partly because of our brain architecture.

It will be an hour well spent.

Reading for 2021

So much to read…. So little time.  Knowing what to read is a priority, and a necessity,  for every executive.   Answering that question is itself difficult.  So here’s a list of favorite books from some of my writers and business people.

Warrant Buffett:   When we think of a successful investor, Warren Buffett always comes to mind.  This short Inc articles lists the “9 Books Warren Buffet Wants You to Read to Help Make Your Smarter.”

Bill Gates:    I have generally found Mr. Gates recommendations to be sound.   Check out his picks for “5 Books to Enjoy this Winter.”

Daniel Pink:    An author of provocative books on important topics  (read to  “To Sell is Human” if you haven’t)    Here is a list of “36 Books Recommended by Daniel Pink.”

Business Insider:    Check out its list of The 31 most influential books ever written about business

Post EU Referendum Update June 2016 – from Roger Martin-Fagg

I received this update from Roger Martin-Fagg via e-mail and thought I would share it, as usual he talks a lot of sense. I have not been able to find it on the web to link to it but all the content in this post is from Roger.

Post EU Referendum Update June 2016

The Prime Minister has just announced his resignation. A Conservative MP who voted to leave said we must remember that nothing will change.

Everything will change and in ways which we cannot predict we cannot know what we cannot know.

The economy is characterised by positive feedback. This means a small change in one part of the system is magnified by the systemic response. As I write this, global stock markets are crashing, sterling has fallen to $1.30, and Moody’s have said the UK will lose its AAA rating. These are knee jerk reactions but they are destabilising: positive feedback has already been triggered. The Bank of England has made soothing noises and will supply short run liquidity to prevent the wholesale market from seizing up.

Boardrooms round the world will be trying to evaluate both the risks and the opportunities. Everything will change, and it has already started.

Some background.

Since the early 80s, skilled and semi-skilled workers in the USA, the EU and the UK have experienced falling real incomes. The share of national added value going to capital has increased (this means shareholders). This increase in inequality is now being reflected at


the ballot box. The voters think it is caused by the political class, and in the UK by immigrants from the EU. This is incorrect. It is China. From 1980, 1.2bn new workers joined the global economy and this depressed real wage growth. At the same time shareholders approved reward schemes for senior managers based on earnings per share growth which prompted outsourcing, labour saving technologies, and headcount reductions.



Taken in combination the result has been a significant increase in income inequality in the West and the voter has reacted to it. This is why we have Trump, Brexit, the rise of the extreme right in the EU and significant mistrust of institutions.


The entry of China into the global system has driven the West to move further up the added value chain which has increased the demand for highly skilled employees, and reduced the demand for the unskilled (and their real wages).

The chart above shows the data for the UK. Prior to 1982 wages were around 59% of GDP, since then they have averaged 54% of GDP. And the share of profits has increased.

It is my opinion that these fundamentals are now driving the attitude of the electorate who tend to sum it up in simple terms: blame it on immigrants, the ruling elite and the unelected bureaucrats in Brussels who are depressing wages.

Brexit does not change this at all. It is not the solution. The solution is a significant increase in the education and training of those who have suffered falling real wages.

What is the outlook?

History tells us that the perceived value of property is a significant driver of consumer confidence. The mortgage rate is closely aligned to the yield on Government bonds. The yield depends on expected movements in the exchange rate, the Government’s budget position, political risk and expected inflation.

If we lose our AAA rating, the yield on bonds could rise, but a weaker sterling could offset this. However, if a further weakening is expected, then overseas purchasers will wait and the Government will have to raise the interest rate or cut the price in order to obtain finance. Either way the cost of financing our £1.56 trillion national debt will rise. It costs 43Bn a year at present. The Bank of England could do more QE but I doubt it.

As a rough rule of thumb, every 10% fall in sterling adds 1% to CPI within a year (unless offset by price cuts from China).

We have a deficit on our balance of payments equal to 7% of nominal GDP, this has to be financed and higher interest rates enable this.

Over the next three years we can forecast interest rates higher than expected, house prices stagnating or falling, inflation higher than expected (real incomes falling), consumer spending dropping from 4% year on year to 1-2%. Real growth falls from 2.5% per annum to under 1%. Unemployment begins to rise in a year, net migration drops to around 140,000.

Government income falls below plan and either borrowing goes up (currently £68Bn a year) or the rate of growth Government spending has to fall.

There will be a new PM in the autumn. He or she will write the letter to leave the EU or conceivably he or she might wait to see the results of elections in Germany, France, Czech Republic, and Hungary.

Existing trading agreements will remain in place which will give the UK time to build a team   of negotiators (it will cost a fortune, we will have to poach them from Brussels!)

The EU is one of the least protectionist regions (see chart on the next page) and that is where we should place all our efforts. However, a free trade deal will require free movement of people.

Meanwhile the political risk in the UK will trash investment spending particularly from overseas. This impacts on longer run productivity growth.

I have not made any numerical forecasts because it is too early to have a view. I can be confident that we should expect much lower growth than forecast at the beginning of the year. We are unlikely to have a clear view until we know who our leader is.

I note that Sunderland were overwhelmingly in favour of leaving. Nissan employs 9000 people. The £100m investment for the Nuke car may be cancelled. Nissan will face a 10% tariff on sales to the EU once we leave. There is naught so queer as folk!

I suspect there are many who voted leave, with no expectation that it would actually happen, they just wanted to give the toffs a bloody nose. Regrettably it will be the working poor who will get the bloody nose over the next few years.

My personal view is this event will prove to be a mistake. It is companies who trade with each other, not governments. I cannot see how the vote will change the desire of companies in the UK to seek overseas markets with more vigour. The EU will still be our biggest market and as it recovers strongly over the next few years, we may regret leaving the table.

Rushed out on June 24 2016

Roger Martin-Fagg


Persuasion and Ad Hominem attacks

I go to watch Blackpool at every home game. The protests against the Chairman and his family are always loud and voracious. They attack him, rather than his actions, and with speculation rather than fact. They are Ad Hominem attacks of the worst and least effective kind. In fact, they play the ball and not the man. As Robert Webb says, the problem with this is “a) it makes you look like you’re not interested in the ball and b) you almost always get the wrong person.”

The majority of fans I speak to, do not like Karl Oyston the Chairman. It is also fair to say that Mr Oyston’s mocking of the fans’ protests do little to diffuse the situation. The Internet forums provide an opportunity for fans to air their views with very little moderation, if any. Now fans are making personal attacks on the chairman and his family and making accusations based, on interpretation of data, hearsay and reliance on “expert” opinion posted on the forum anonymously. The response of the chairman is to pursue legal actions against these fans, his own customers. One appears in court this week and another has been required to post an apology on the forum site and make a donation to charity. A club and its owners suing its own fans? Bonkers!

The fans cite the convictions of the Oyston family, investigate accounts and call into question the legality of loans between the differing family companies. Then, if the actions of the fans wasn’t bad enough, when fans found out the mobile number of the Chairman they sent text messages directly to him and the response from a phone used by the Chairman was in itself Ad Hominem.

The unfortunate truth is that the Oyston family own the club. They run it. They control it. Like any business they take the risks and reap the rewards that come, together with the losses too. They are not required to spend funds or buy players, no matter how much the supporters protest. But, by the same token, those who pay their hard earned money to watch the club have a right to expect competent and effective management.

Fans will never know all the inner workings of the club, or all the transactions between the family companies. It seems that the club is cash-strapped and in financial distress, but this cannot be confirmed.

Those that love the club should focus on the facts and not conjecture. The horrid truths are that we are bottom of the table. The start to the season has, to quote Owen Oyston, been “woeful”. We started the season without a full squad and in all likelihood relegation will follow. This has all been on the watch of Karl Oyston and the Oyston family.

Unfortunately, the fans do not have the power to impose their will. Therefore we must rely on persuasion, a concept that goes back to Aristotle. Ad hominem attacks do not persuade and are one of the Logical Fallacies in the Art of Debate.

To achieve our aim let’s play the ball i.e. the league position could not be any worse, and even the owner admits the start of the season has been woeful. The one person who has to take responsibility for this, for managing the club and turning the situation round is the Chairman. Let’s not enable him to avoid that point by creating sides shows resulting from ad hominem attacks and playing the man.

A morning with the Marketing Minds Academy

Today, I awoke to my diary telling me I had to be in Oswaldtwistle at 9am for a seminar. This always means I have to talk to people. Fridays, mornings, painting the smile on my face and being nice to people. This had all the hallmarks of tough morning for the anti-social and grumpy element of my brain that was clearly dominant, as I gazed at the rain coming down “stair-rod” like outside.

So off I stomped like a recalcitrant teenager to attend the seminar on Referrals and Presentations hosted by the Marketing Minds Academy ……..

I entered the room and was immediately greeted by Kate Harling, a lady with a smile big enough to knock the gnarls off anyone’s grumpy face. I turned round and immediately received a big hug from Carmen Parkinson, the Referral Queen herself and presenter of the first session. The morning was looking up and rumour has it that I might even have smiled!

I have had the pleasure of listening to Carmen many times and she never fails to disappoint. As ever, Carmen filled the room with smiles and laughter and, for once, none of it was at my expense. It was a tough crowd, maybe I wasn’t the only grumpy one there, but eventually the concept of a “yes Carmen” moment was understood by all.

Good, sound advice on how to build and utilise a referral network and tips on effective networking were delivered to an appreciative audience. As Carmen herself said, Referral Marketing is simple but not easy. It is certainly a little easier with the helpful hints and advice she gives.

The second session from Jean Atkinson of the Academy and was on Presentation and Message together with a whistle stop review of the latest technologies to help market businesses. This was the first time I have met Jean and, as you would expect from a Professional Marketeer, it was good content delivered well. The piece on the importance of feedback was well received despite the fears it seemed to instil within the room.

The review of the latest tools was, for me, particularly useful and included some I had not come across but have been reviewing since. The cameo appearance by Kate Harling of Marmalade Toast Media to show Aurasma drew an audible gasp with cries of “its witchcraft” and “voodoo” from those new to the technology.

So that was it. A thoroughably enjoyable and useful three hours of my life. What’s more, it was free. Today was a good day after all.

E+R=O i.e. Event plus Response equals Outcome

Throughout my career I have had the pleasure and privilege to spend my days with a number of very passionate, driven, perceptive and intelligent people. As a Finance Director for twenty years I have usually been surrounded by a strong team, witnessing a variety of leaders and leadership styles ranging from the consumate professional, to the inspired entrepreneur and the meglamaniacal tyrant.

All of these leaders have had positive qualities such as clarity of vision, total commitment and business acumen, by the truck load. One of the key differences between them all was how they reacted to events, together with the consistency of the reaction. I have witnessed, to name but a few, messengers shot, good people humiliated, countless finger pointing and blaming. All these from leaders seemingly oblivious to the fact they were shredding part of their credibility and leadership status in the process. These were all intelligent people who forgot that leadership is not a quality you can award yourself, it is awarded by those you lead.

I remember learning at the feet of a young, but wise CEO by the name of Patrick Mullins. A yank with a huge personality, an innate ability to communicate and some of the best one liners, so good that I shamelessly plagiarise them to this day. One of the key things I remember about his leadership was his reaction to the “big stuff”. We were working in a company that had grown by 450% in 18 months and, as you would expect, it wasn’t all plain sailing. We hit several significant bumps in the road. I remember one board meeting when such a bump, and it was a biggy, was flagged up. My heart sank, “this is going to be uncomfortable to watch”, I thought. To my surprise and admiration Pat said “OK”, he took a minute to think and then said very calmly, “ok guys shit happens – what are we going to do about it”. No blame, no personal attacks, no wasted time finding a villain, just straight into solving the problem, which we did quickly and relatively painlessly.

This was a big lesson for me and I was reminded of it when the esteemed Vistage Chair, Ivan Goldberg  did a session on E+R=O i.e. an Event plus our Reaction equals the Outcome and, in his usual way, encapsulated the whole story in a clear, concise and presentable way.

Within each organization there are events – events of an individual nature, events of a corporate nature. Each of us is faced with ‘events’ everyday. When an event presents itself, we react. We choose to react to an event in many different ways, we can even choose not to react. We can choose to react positively or negatively, we can choose to be supportive in our reaction, or we can choose to be critical. How we react to an event is the measure of our maturity and character. Taking the event and adding our reaction creates the Outcome.

Let’s be clear, you cannot control the outcome and you cannot control the event, but you can control your reaction which, when added to the event, will influence the outcome to a significant degree. In the example above, Pat decided that the most important thing was for the team to pull together and find a solution to a problem affecting our customer. The post mortem could wait, his reaction to the event ensured this happened.

This is further illustrated by the next chapter in the story. Time moved on and Pat enjoyed the outome resulting from the “shit happens” response. The rest of the team did too and the phrase was repeated by members of the Senior Management team until we hit another bump in the road, an event that was more controllable than the first and a direct result of a Director’s mistake. They relayed the event and Pat’s reaction was simple. He asked “how did this come to pass?” What he wasn’t expecting was to have his own words thrown back at him. Pat realised that his own words were being misused on this occassion avoid accountability and responsibility. “That is not shit happens” was his repsonse, “that’s you making a mistake and you need to 1) realise that, 2) put it right, 3) make sure it never happens again and 4) never, ever, say shit happens again”.

Thus it came to pass that one of the less edifying of Pat’s sayings died at that point, which was a great shame, but hey “shit happens”.

PS. Realising the Director had taken the rebuke to heart another pearl of wisdom was despatched by Mr Mullins, “pull up your pants and slide on the ice, we ain’t saving lives here.”

Be yourself and let people buy from you

We often forget that the people we meet at networking events are people first and business people second. As a result, those who present themselves as such, and who colourfully forge emotional networks, are the ones who will stand out from, and contrast with, the hordes of people taking themselves way too seriously and trying their damnedest to impress and sell.

I was reminded of this when I had the pleasure of attending the Northern Lights Networking event at UCLAN on 10th December and meeting their excellent hosts Neil Simpson and Lateef Badat. The format was different from normal, being a Pecha Kucha evening. For the uninitiated, this is the art of the concise presentation, featuring 20 slides of 20 seconds each.

The six volunteers gave presentations covering themselves, their likes and inspirations. The evening was both well attended and a great success with many a look of laughter and surprise.

The presenters did not try to sell a single thing but their presentations built empathy with me to such an extent that, when I need their product/service, I will call them. In a couple of instances it revealed connections that would never have been uncovered in a normal networking event. The courage shown by a couple of the presenters in “putting issues out there” was palpable and impressive, and commented upon by many.

Two of the three fundamentals in making a buying decision, trust and emotion were ticked off without a single pitch or sales presentation. The logic part of the decision will follow but we all know that, in most cases, the brain makes the logic fit the endearing emotional decision.

This is another example of the old adage that “people buy from people” and that you have to put something out there for people to empathise with you. That is my lesson from the evening, let people see you for who you are without a pitch. Some people will like it and some won’t, the key is that those that do will be around for a lot longer! As the referral queen, Carmen Parkinson, always says, nobody likes being sold to, but most people like to buy something.

Meeting Mantra – So what are we going to do about it?

Recently I have been reviewing the meetings I am attending to determine their effectiveness. Like many, I am guilty of attending routinely scheduled meetings where the desired outcomes are not clearly defined. On the face of it they appear to be good meetings, actions are derived, allocated to attendees and a completion date assigned. However, attendees know that there is an element of “going through the motions” that not everybody has read the papers and many are unhappy at the drain on their time.

The problem is one of attitude. The leader needs to shake the meeting out of stasis by:-

1. Focusing on actions needed

Too often I am in meeting where the “meaty” issues are talked about yet no conclusion is reached, the issue is simply parked or kicked down the road whilst more information is gathered. This is a way of avoiding decisions and being accountable to the meeting.  Deep down people know this, hence the mindless actioning of minor insignificant tasks to make attendees feel like some good has come of their time. The truth is that it is a massive waste of everybody’s time and the de-motivational effect is significant. The solution is one phrase, “So what are we going to do about it?” Yes it really is that simple,. At the end every topic of conversation ask that question. Do not allow the answer to be anything other than positive action.  Neither ideas nor talk make money. Actions do.

Action point: – At the end of every topic ask – “So what are we going to do about it then?”

2. Make people accountable for completion dates

Follow up the actions to ensure that they are completed in a timely manner and not just “rolled forward to the next meeting”. Too many times I have heard the phrase,” I didn’t have time, I will do it for next week”, worse still I hear, “Its OK I know you have been really busy, you won’t have done this will you”. Actions make money or save money, if it is important enough to take up the time of several meeting attendees then it should be done. If it isn’t that important, it shouldn’t even be talked about at the meeting.

Action Point – At your next meeting go through the action points and delete or delegate the minor issues. For all the rest set an expectation that “rolling forward” dates will not be tolerated.

Help to Buy and Funding for Lending

It has been announced today that the Bank of England has decided to scale back on the Funding for Lending scheme used to support housing transactions, leaving its sole aim as supporting lending for business. Hurrah, and thank goodness the Bank has seen sense in this matter and that it wants to put the housing market into neutral, it is interesting to note that the bank controls this scheme. Meanwhile the government controlled scheme, Help To Buy, still exists and is soon to be expanded. The second phase of Help to Buy that applies to pre-owned houses will start advancing monies in January. The opening of the scheme for applications in October has seen a huge surge in pent up demand with anecdotal evidence of Estate Agents seeing a boom in activity.

This is classic market manipulation, the incentive for which is dubious given the forthcoming election in May 2015. Consumer confidence in the UK is largely dependent on house prices and it would appear that this is a cynical ploy to boost the economy in the run up to the election, at the expense of house prices and affordability. This scheme cannot last forever. When it is withdrawn we will have the same issue as now, of unaffordable deposits against a backdrop of even higher prices.

It is clear that house prices will rise on the back of inflated (liquidity fuelled) demand during the scheme, but what at the end of it? There has to be a correction, this will mean house prices falling as the market finds it’s equilibrium. The net result will be people eagerly joining the house owning club, only to suffer losses, which will eat into monies available for a deposit on the next move. This in turn leads to more people unable to afford to move and caught in the first home trap, as well as people not being able to enter the market.

The answer, unpalatable as it may be, is to increase supply and not temporarily, and artificially, create liquidity in the market. Who will suffer under the current cynical plans? Yet again it will be those on the early rungs of the property ladder, i.e. the young and the less wealthy. Shame on us for failing, once again, to see the blatant electioneering at the expense of the young.

“Reluctant Entrepreneur” – A Contradiction in Terms?

With the state of the housing market in recent years the media term “reluctant landlord” has been coined. It applies to those renting out a first property, which they are unable sell, to allow the purchase or rental of a second property, which they need to move to for work or family reasons.

A similar pattern has emerged amongst those seeking new opportunities in the job market. Faced with a constant silence in response to job applications and economic hardship, many are turning to setting up their own business and joining the entrepreneurial bandwagon. As an investor, I have seen many of these people seek funding. It appears their motivation is based on there being no alternative. I have previously referred to these people as “reluctant entrepreneurs”.

However, is this not a contradiction in terms? The dictionary definition of an entrepreneur is “a person who sets up a business or businesses, taking on financial risks in the hope of profit.” This definition is inaccurate.

Whilst there are many other definitions of entrepreneur, the best I have found is that by Chris Oakley OBE:

“An entrepreneur sees an opportunity which others do not fully recognise, to meet an unsatisfied demand or to radically improve the performance of an existing business. They have unquenchable self-belief that this opportunity can be made real through hard work, commitment and the adaptability to learn the lessons of the market along the way.

“They are not diverted or discouraged by skepticism from ‘experts’ or from those from whom they seek backing and support, but willing to weigh all advice and select that which will be helpful. They are prepared not just to work seriously hard but to back their judgment with personal investment at a level which will cause problems if they are wrong about the opportunity. They understand that achievements are the result of team work and knows how to choose the necessary blend of talents and inspire them with their vision.”

This definition is based on an attitude of mind and reflects what I look for when deciding if to invest in an entrepreneur. It is my belief that despite the dictionary definition you cannot be a reluctant entrepreneur nor can you learn to be one. If you have not got the burning passion to succeed you will be both reluctant and ultimately unsuccessful. Entrepreneurs are not those that set up businesses to avoid economic hardship, but those that are willing to risk hardship for their business, and these are the people that investors will invest in.