Category Archives: book review

How to name your brand and get it trademarked

the-name-of-the-beastI’ve just finished reading a great book with an even greater title. The Name of the Beast by professional ‘namer’ Neil Taylor, is a guide to the ‘Perilous process of naming, brands, products and companies’.

You can tell Neil is slightly scarred from his years as a senior naming consultant at Interbrand where he discovered (much like for graphic designers), everyone is an expert. And some are very cynical about the role of professional namers such as Neil.

According to Andrew Mueller in Guardian newspaper;
“There are people, enviable yet contemptible, who make good livings inventing names for companies.

In fact, if you’re a CEO about to shovel a five-figure fee at some twit called Nathan to come up with a name like Twerq or Zamp Plus or X-Zite!, get in touch – for half the money, I’ll do you something at least as good, and certainly no more foolish.”

And people often have strong emotional bonds to brands they have grown up with, and are now being ‘messed about with’. Neil give a classic example of name failure, when Royal Mail changed to Consignia in 2000. He prints three pages of hostile comments from the time, which culminated in an embarrassing ‘volt-face’ just 15 months later.

For me, the most useful part of the book is chapter 3 where he covers the different approaches to naming.

Descriptive names
Ronseal tinBy using the Ronseal approach, ‘they do exactly what they say on the tin’,  see the history of the famous phrase. Obvious examples would be pretty much anything that starts with British (think Airways, Gas, Petroleum, Telecom etc). Sadly these names are often too good to be true, and cause problems when you go international, or change what you do over time.

Neil uses one of my favourite examples, The Carphone Warehouse. This name accurately described the brick sized phones sold in warehouse outlets when they were starting out. But today they sell sleek smartphones is smart high-street shops. I wonder if the chairman Charles Dunstone called a meeting one day to come up with a new name. But someone pointed out they had left it too late, and anyway the business was doing just fine with the original name. The positive brand values had been absorbed into the name, and risked being thrown away with a new name.

MeerkatSo although descriptive names save you having to explain what the company does, they have almost all already been taken, and even if not, can risk being too descriptive to allow you to register a trademark. For instance, Compare the Market and We Buy Any Car have been refused a trademark, but Compare the Meerkat and were allowed.

Image-based names
Moving on from literally descriptive names, image-based names work by association using metaphors. Neil gives the examples of Visa (the shopping equivalent of a passport) and Viagra (think life and Niagra). If successful this approach can give a brand a personality which can appeal to customers.

Abstract names
Some of the most powerful brands on the planet use abstract and in some cases, made up words. Apple is currently the most profitable business in history. George Eastman used Kodak because he thought k’s were cool, so why not have one at the beginning and end of his brand name? Citroen did something similar until relatively recently when they ‘owned’ the letter X. Starting out with CX, BX and XM and then moving onto more creative names such as Xsara and Xantia.

The best thing about a made up name is that it can’t already be registered as a trademark to someone else, although you do still have to be careful it isn’t similar to a word that is in use.

Names of provenance
These are abstract names, but derive from a place or person. In fact, nearly half of the world’s top 100 brands use family names. Examples would be McDonald’s, Ford, Cadbury, Kellogg’s and Dyson.

Names that break the rules
Smeg fridgeAfter spending many pages explaining the options for naming and going into detail about how to brain-storm for names, Neil give some examples of names that break the rules.

For example, I can’t believe it’s not butter, is about as far away from a short and simple brand name as you can get, even though it does sort of explain what the product is. He uses the example of U2 who have a ‘rubbish’ name but global success, whereas Half Man – Half Biscuit have brilliant one, but are long forgotten except by a few faithful fans. Or how about Smeg fridges? Surely no one would by a brand whose name is associated with “a substance that collects inside male genitalia”.  But thanks to their bright colours and trendy retro design they have become very popular indeed.

I am glad to see that Neil spends a bit of time talking about trade marks, even if it is in a rather short chapter titled The long arm of the law. He points out how trade marks trump company or domain names, which means they need to be checked first. The famous cases of Apple Corps vs Apple Computer is covered, and Budweiser US vs Budweiser Czech lager beers.

He explains how a name can exist in different classes of business activity using Polo as an example – a VW car, a mint with a hole, and expensive clothing. As long as the consumer is not confused about what and who they are buying from, there is no problem.

Neil is definitely not a fan of trade mark lawyers, but does admit they can help you work out the risk of choosing a particular name. It all comes down to predicting how the owners of similar names with react. How likely are they to send you a ‘cease and desist’ letter from their lawyers?

cillit-bangSo you don’t have to like a name, or understand what it means for it to be successful. As long as it is legal, available and memorable you should be ok. If Cillit Bang can become a household name, surely anything goes.

Soul Trader the Video – Rasheed brings his book to life

Rasheed-OgunlaruIn 2012 I wrote a review of Soul Trader – Putting the heart back into your business.

The book was written by Rasheed Ogunlaru the life and business coach for the Business & IP Centre since our earliest days. In my review I praised Rasheed for writing in a style that brought his amazing positive energy on to the page through to the reader.

However, there is no real substitute for seeing and hearing him in action. Something he has now addressed with Soul Trader – Coach Yourself Video.

In this video Rasheed covers the same seven plus one C’s used in the book:

  1. Introduction: Get ready; how to use video to help you grow.
  2. Clarity: Set your vision, mission & goals, find your unique path.
  3. Customers: Know who they are & learn how to win their hearts
  4. Courage: Grow confident using your inspiration / inner strength
  5. Co-operation: Build rich relationships to help your business grow
  6. Conversations: The art of converting contacts into business.
  7. Creativity: Tap into the energy, framework and flow to flourish
  8. Compassion: Taking care of yourself, others and business. 9. Change: How to face it, embrace it and shape it.

Once again Rasheed’s wonderful blend of passion, soulfulness and practical hard-headed business advice make for a powerful combination. Only this time you can hear the energy in Rasheed’s wonderfully mellifluous voice, and see it in his eyes and his body language.When he takes you through a practical exercise, of which there are many in the video, and then tells you to pause the video to write your answers down, you really feel you want to do it.

As in the book, Rasheed emphasises the importance of being clear about, not only what you want to achieve in business, but about your personal life goals, and how well they fit with your business aspirations.

He gets you to conduct a personal SWOT analysis (strength, weakness, opportunity, threat). Which is an excellent way of helping to discover what you do well, and what you need to work on or get help with. Next in importance is your customers. Who are they, what are their problems, needs and desires, where can you find them, and how much will they pay?

Customers Slide

The video concludes by reviewing the changes you will need to be prepared to make to adapt your business and yourself to a constantly changing environment. To ensure your business continues to develop and succeed over time.

Private Case – Public Scandal – The secret books in the British Library

I find it fascinating how much our attitudes to subjects change over time. In this case the topic is the British Library’s collection of pornography. In the past a few individuals have become somewhat obsessed by the various holdings in our Private Case collection. This seems Private_Case-Public_Scandal-coverstrange to me, in an era permeated by sexual content, from  television shows like Big Brother, to teenagers sexting each other, and virtually unrestricted access to pornography through the internet.

Since first joining The British Library back in 2006, I have heard many myths and legends about the collection of pornographic material. It was, I was confidently assured, the second largest in the world, behind the rather surprising winner, the Vatican Library, and slightly ahead of the Library of Congress in Washington, home of the First Amendment.

As a ‘newbie’ in the library I received this information in good faith, and in the knowledge that the collection was safely locked-away our basements, where I was unlikely ever to stumble across them.

However a chance mention in an article about the National Library of Australia led me to Private Case – Public Scandal by Peter Fryer. Published in 1966, this book claimed to expose the deep dark secrets of what was then known as the British Museum library (home to the famous Round Reading Room).

Naturally my first instinct was to look up this controversial publication on Explore The British Library, and within minutes I had located and ordered it.

I can’t claim to be an expert on Erotic Fiction , but I was surprised by just how dull and turgid these 160 short pages turned out to be. The contents mostly consists of excessively detailed reports of the author’s struggles to unearth the library’s ‘hidden gems’, his numerous letters to those in charge at that time, and many lists of the controversial titles and their provenance.

Perhaps any serious attempt to catalogue the more ‘exciting’ content of The British Library stacks was bound to end up being something of a snooze, but I have to say I was disappointed. However here are some of the highlights I thought worth noting:

Early on Fryer reports that;
“The BM collection of erotica is without doubt the most comprehensive in the world. The Kinsey Collection does not hold a candle to it. The celebrated Enfer Of the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris probably runs it a close second; but the alleged riches, in this field, possessed by the Vatican, the Library of Congress, and the Bodleian in Oxford, turn out to be small fry indeed compared with Bloomsbury’s well-stocked private case.”

It seems that the confusion stems from their “courage and honesty” in listing publicly their collections, whereas, up until the 1960’s The British Library had not.

Later on, Fryer recounts an episode relating to a request for a ‘naughty’ book by Iwan Bloch. He is asked to meet with the Superintendent of books who explains that he has to satisfy himself, that Fryer’s purpose  was serious, and that he was unlikely to steal, mark, or mutilate the book.

It was subsequently explained to Fryer, that the intention of this kind of interview is to protect the library’s books from the readers, “which experience has shown to be a necessary part of a librarian’s duty, rather than to protect readers from books, which is not thought to be a librarian’s business in this country.”

Fryer divides up the library’s collection of erotica into several categories including what he terms ‘sexological works’, which include books on “contraception, guides to erotic technique and coital positions, sociological surveys of teenage copulation in Cockfosters and homosexuality in Rutland.” I’m guessing this last part was Fryers attempt at humour.

round_Reading_RoomA section of the book covers the history of the Private Case at the British Library and includes mention of Anthony Panizzi, of one of the key figures in its development. Rather surprisingly Panizzi was not British, but an Italian lawyer and revolutionary democrat, who had been sentenced to death by the government of Modena. He escaped to England in 1823 and joined the British Museum staff, working his way up to Keeper of printed books by 1837. During his tenure Panizzi grew the book collection from 200,000, to over a million by the time of his retirement in 1866. Many of these were catalogued by Panizzi himself., The creation of the famous round reading room was also his idea.

In keeping with his democratic principles Panizzi wanted the library to be open to all students of knowledge.

“He wanted the student to have the same means of indulging his curiosity on any topic, consulting all authorities, and ‘fathoming the most intricate enquiry’, as the richest man in the kingdom. ‘And I contend’, he added, ‘that Government is bound to give him the most liberal and unlimited assistance in this respect.’”

This was quite a change from the views of his predecessor Henry Ellis, who opposed the idea of opening on public holidays because, “I think that the most mischievous part of the population is abroad and about at such a time.” Ellis claimed that if the library was not closed for the Easter holiday period, “the place… would really be unwholesome.”

Fryer managed to track down an article published in the English Review from December 1913, complaining about hidden books in the British Museum. In The Taboos of the British Museum Library, the authors claimed there were three general classes of books liable to be secreted by the library at that time:
1.    Subversive of the throne
2.    Subversive of religion
3.    Of an improper or obscene character

In response to an author who’s latest book had been ‘dissapeared’, the Keeper of books wrote this rather unhelpful reply;
“Dear Sir, – In your letter of the 12th July, referring to books which are not entered in the catalogue, you ask me whether there are any printed instructions issued, and available for public use, by which the public may know of the existence of such books, and to the conditions under which they may be consulted. My reply to your question is that there are no printed instructions relating to such books.”

A_Dictionary_of_ExplosivesTowards the end of the book Fryer covers some of the non-erotica related causes for books in the library being ‘suppressed’. One, is if the publication has resulted in a successful libel case. Others are breach of copyright by the publishers, or serious factual errors in the publication. A more interesting cause was those containing commercial or state secrets. Examples included  the cautiously titled Statement respecting the Prevalence of Certain Immoral Practices in his Majesty’s Navy from 1821, and those containing information on lock-picking and safe-breaking. Also included was the 1895 edition of Lieutenant-Colonel John Ponsonby Cundill’s Dictionary of Explosives.

Fryer makes his views on these restrictions clear on the final page of the book;
“It is high time the museum authorities realized that the un-catalogued books in their care are not their private property, and that their refusal to let people know exactly what they have and have not got is unworthy of a great national library and totally inimical to scholarship.”

Since those repressive days of the 1960’s the library has indeed opened up the catalogue, and these curiosities can be found. But only ordered up from the basement by those who have a serious academic interest.

Management Book of the Year 2013 – the winners

Monday 28 January saw the Library hosting CMI Management Book of the Year Award. It was a great event with lots of energy and enthusiasm from the panel, the audience and students from Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication. Students were invited to create videos for the winning books, and directors of the best ones were invited along to the event.

After British Library Chief Executive Roly Keating had given a short pitch for the Business & IP Centre and our Management & Business Studies Portal, Professor Cary Cooper of Lancaster University Management School and this year’s Chair of Judges, hosted the evening.

Management Book of the Year Winner – 2013

Richard Newton

Clearly structured in 36 short sections, this practical book provides rapid, accessible advice on all the essential management challenges. Focusing on the manager’s key role – managing teams to get things done – this book looks at the essential parts of management from unusual perspectives and different angles. Structured with the busy manager in mind, you can dip into any section of the book and read it as an individual piece of advice or read it end-to-end to gain an overall picture of management.

Category Winners

Management and Leadership Textbook

Savita Kumra, Simonetta Manfredi
Oxford University Press

Taking a business, rather than sociological approach to the subject, this text supplements the theory behind managing equality and diversity with real-world practical examples, providing an insight into the contemporary issues facing today’s businesses and organisations. Structured in two parts, the authors begin by grounding students in the theory of diversity management and outlining UK and European equality legislation. The second half of the text is then devoted to connecting this theory with the practice of managing gender, ethnicity, disability and sexual orientation in the workplace. Rich in case studies from the public and private sector, this textbook provides students with a comprehensive insight into real-life management situations.

The Commuter’s Read

Max Mckeown

Thinking strategically is what separates managers and leaders. Learn the fundamentals about how to create winning strategy and lead your team to deliver it. From understanding what strategy can do for you, through to creating a strategy and engaging others with strategy, this book offers practical guidance and expert tips. It is peppered with punchy, memorable examples from real leaders winning (and losing) with real world strategies. It can be read as a whole or you can dip into the easy-to-read, bite-size sections as and when you need to deal with a particular issue. The structure has been specially designed to make sections quick and easy to use – you’ll find yourself referring back to them again and again.

The New Manager

Jo Owen
Kogan Page

The Leadership Skills Handbook from best-selling author Jo Owen reveals the essential skills you need to be an effective leader. It shows you what works in practice, not in theory. Each skill is presented in concise, easy to follow format. The skills are about the real challenges real leaders have to master. Based on research from over a thousand leaders in the public, private and voluntary sectors, it identifies the practical skills to make you even more successful, and offers guidance on all key topics. This completely revised second edition of The Leadership Skills Handbook is about more than just technical skills, it is also about developing the people skills, behaviours and values you will need. Full of tips, exercises and practical wisdom, it will help you become a leader that people want to follow.

Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Fernando Trías de Bes, Philip Kotler
Palgrave Macmillan

Innovate or Die! Companies that cannot innovate and develop new products, strategies and technologies to keep ahead in today’s fastpaced market will not succeed. Winning at Innovation presents a groundbreaking new model for successful marketing advancement from two world-leading experts in marketing and innovation, Fernando Trías de Bes and Philip Kotler. Innovation is a responsibility normally assigned to R&D departments but this is not enough. Companies need a systematic framework so innovation can occur at any level of the organisation. The A-F Model is a step-by-step process for developing a successful culture of innovation, bringing together the different individuals and groups across the organisation for ideas to be created, developed and implemented. Offering flexibility, the model allows a back and forth flow of ideas and creativity to adapt to changing circumstances. Using this model, companies can learn how to make their innovation processes more effective, more sustainable, and more successful. Innovation must be a priority for organisations who want to be ready to grow and develop in post-recession economies. Trías de Bes and Kotler present a unique model for innovation for all companies that want to succeed in the global field.

Practical Manager

Richard Newton

Clearly structured in 36 short sections, this practical book provides rapid, accessible advice on all the essential management challenges. Focusing on the manager’s key role – managing teams to get things done – this book looks at the essential parts of management from unusual perspectives and different angles. Structured with the busy manager in mind, you can dip into any section of the book and read it as an individual piece of advice or read it end-to-end to gain an overall picture of management.

On the Road again with Jack Kerouac and the American landscape

kerouac1As I have mentioned before, the British Library is a constant source of cultural surprises and delights.
This time the source is our display of the original 150 foot long manually typed manuscript scroll of Jack Kerouac’s modern classic On the Road. I popped down one lunchtime to have a look at this unusual form of a first draft of the novel, which I had last seen in Russell Brand’s infamous BBC documentary following some of Kerouac’s routes across America.

The notes alongside the display in the library were intriguing and made it sound as though this unedited version would make for a more interesting read than the modified published edition of the book.


Source –

Fortunately our shop stocked both the ‘proper’ version and a Penguin edition of the original scroll (in book form). A week later and I have finished this amazingly freewheeling and raucous book and regret not having read it years ago. Kerouac is superb at bringing to life the prodigious American landscape as he criss-crossed the country hitch-hiking and driving various borrowed cars.

His evocative road trip text took me back to my gap year trip, travelling 13,000 miles around the USA and Canada on a motorbike. In particular the steamy heat of New Orleans, the vast open plains and die straight roads of Texas, and the chilly winding passes of the Rocky Mountains heading into New Mexico. I also fell in love with the poetic names of towns encountered along the way such as Indio, Blythe, Salome, Flagstaff, Wichita, Rapid City, Des Moines, Mobile, Clint and my favourite Cimarron at the foot of the Rocky Mountains.

I have to admit the idea of reading a book with no paragraphs and little punctuation was somewhat intimidating, but the story grips you like a roller-coaster from the beginning, and I found myself not wanting to get off. I enjoyed the fact this version contained all the real names, places and sometimes shocking details (mostly changed in the edited version to avoid libel cases and the censor).

As the back page blurb puts it;
‘In this influential odyssey of jazz and drugs, of filling stations and marriage licences, of sex, and poolsharks, and hiballs, Kerouac tells the real story of his travels with car thief and Beat icon Neal Cassady, and the famous friends they met, drank with, and ignored.’

Perhaps the biggest surprise came from the reading the 100 pages of notes that came with the Penguin version. The manuscript had gained mythological status from the story that Kerouac wrote it in one continuous three week blitz, fuelled by coffee and Benzedrine. I found it hard to believe such a literary feat could be produced just like that out of thin air, and the reality proved very different. The manuscript was actually the culmination of many years of experimenting and frustration for Kerouac in trying to create what he called the “Official Log of the Hip Generation”. So although written in a whirlwind of manic typing, Kerouac had several previous manuscripts to call on, as well as being surrounded by piles of notebooks and letters.

An unexpected surprise came in the last few pages of the book as Kerouac, Frank Jeffries and Neal Cassidy (the unlikely hero of the story) and roll into Mexico City towards the end of their final road trip. Apparently a dog called Potchky had eaten the final section of the scroll. It seem hard to believe that this mythological ‘dog ate my homework’ excuse used by teenagers across the world, had actually befallen the sole copy of the novel. Fortunately the editor of the Penguin edition was able to use a revised version written by Kerouac shortly afterwards, so no harm seems to have been done to the ending of story.

For me the biggest irony of the intense three week writing period designed to capture the essence of this new era, was that it took a further six years and much wrangling between the author and publishers before the print version finally appeared in bookshops.



Soul Trader – Putting the heart back into your business

Rasheed_OgunlaruRasheed Ogunlaru, life and business coach has been a Business & IP Centre partner since our earliest days. In addition to running the Your life, your business workshop once a month in the Centre and mentoring aspiring entrepreneurs with TieUK, he singlehandedly converted me to the benefits of life coaching.

I have to admit that perhaps due to a scientific background, or perhaps just plain old cynicism, I had always been wary of life coaching. I decided the only way to address this prejudice was to attend Rasheed’s workshop five years ago. After three hours I was entirely convinced by his eminently practical approach, to putting your heart and soul into your business.
So it is great to see his practical philosophy translated from workshop to published book in the form of Soul Trader published by Kogan Page. And having read it through this week,  I would put it at the top of my list of recommended reading for everyone starting (or growing) a business. I am still a big fan of Starting Your Own Business: The Good, The Bad and The Unexpected by David Lester, but Rasheed has addressed the key issue of what you really want to get from starting a business, and to make sure you end up running it, instead of it running you and your life.

Soul_Trader_coverHis introduction sums it up nicely:

Most people do not go into business solely to make money. They want to make a living, make an impact, make a contribution, make a statement, make something of real worth and value. They want to enjoy what they do, and make themselves happy and their families secure and proud. They want to make a break from the humdrum, and express their skill and abilities. But sooner or later many business owners fall into the same old trap, lose sight of what’s important and struggle with life balance.

The book consists of eight C’s made up of seven chapters and a ‘plus’ which focusses on insights to help anticipate and embrace Change.

  1. Clarity: Know your mission, talents and values.
  2. Customers: See life through customers’ eyes to win their custom and loyalty.
  3. Courage:  Unleash your inspiration / wisdom and adopt an athlete’s attitude.
  4. Co-operation: Punch over your weight; collaborate. Use / build your network.
  5. Conversations: Learn the art to connect, converse, create and convert leads.
  6. Creativity: Know when to work, rest and be at your best, (re)gain life balance.
  7. Compassion: Connect from the heart – be transformational not transactional.

Early on Rasheed gets the you to conduct a personal SWOT analysis. Which is an excellent way of discovering what you do well, and what you need to work on or get help with.

heart_and_chairThe book is peppered with examples from his hundreds of clients over the years, and covers a problem I have encountered many times, which he calls the ‘blindness of the visionary’. People become so (understandably) obsessed by their business idea or invention, they completely forget about their customers. This leads to a very expensive and risky approach to market research, where you bring your product or service to the market and then find out if anyone will buy it. Much better to find out as you develop your idea and tailor it to what you customers say they want.

Once again Rasheed gives a practical solution to this problem by showing how to map out your customers. He also explains how to develop a set of customer ‘scenarios’, to help understand the psychology of your customers. He doesn’t shy away from the realities of doing business in the real world as a soul trader. Without sufficient income (and avoiding the number one cause of failure – cash-flow) your business will not survive. Even social enterprises have to generate enough money to pay their staff and to invest in growth if they are to succeed. These are the hard questions that so many avoid tackling in their business plans:

  1. How much money to you need to live on, and to break even in business?
  2. How much money do you seek to make this year, next year and the year after in turnover – before costs and tax – and in your personal profit after cost and tax?
  3. On average how many sales or customer does that equate to per month and year?
  4. What specific action are needed to reach those goals, and what are the challenges?
  5. What evidence, research and assumptions are those figures based on?
  6. Looking again at those figures, what are a) realistic, b) optimistic and c) pessimistic sales figures for the next 12 months, and what would they mean to you and your business?
  7. What are your main products and services? How are they priced? What are all the costs involved? Which are the most lucrative? Which incur the most costs? Which involve the most hard work? Which are most dear to your heart and to your customers?

I have been talking to lots of makers recently such as jewellers, and many haven’t properly come to terms with the issue of wanting to make everything by hand themselves, but also selling enough items to make a living.

Rachel_ElnaughCourage is term one doesn’t  come across often in business books, but Rasheed rightly recognises that this is an essential ingredient in business, and gives practical tips on how you can develop it. I am constantly in awe of the people I meet who are at the beginning of a journey that would terrify me. The book contains an example from ex-Dragon and Business & IP Centre supporter Rachel Elnaugh. Rasheed asked one simple question during an advice session, and at a stroke gave her an insight which revolutionised her life. “I can honestly say that session with Rasheed was like walking through a doorway that has led me into a completely new and completely fulfilling life where success, money and love are all now flowering.”

Cooperation is an undervalued aspect of business, with many people I meet worrying about their competition before they have even started trading. The book talks about the importance of developing business partnerships through cooperation. And again Rasheed gives practical advice on how to grow and then utilize your support networks.

Conversations, which convert contacts into customers replace the ‘hard sell’ for soul traders. After all, no-one wants to be sold to, but everyone wants their opinion to be listened to. This chapter also includes how conversations work via social media channels and what precautions you need to take them online. There a lots of practical examples here, including how to deal with complaints by using, Acknowledge – Reflect back – Say what you can do.

Towards the end of the book Rasheed introduces his two-page business plan. As he says, ‘Business plans are written for two purposes and for two audiences: 1) for you to identify who and where you are, where you’re going and how you’ll get there; and 2) for investors or funders for the same purpose. If you’re seeking funding from others then you’ll need a longer, more detailed business plan…”

To sum up, I found Soul Trader to be clear and simple, friendly and supportive, passionate and soulful – just like Rasheed himself.

Organizations Don’t Tweet, People Do by Euan Semple

euan-sempleYesterday evening the British Library hosted a book launch for Organizations Don’t Tweet, People Do: A Manager’s Guide to the Social Web by Euan Semple.

Instead of a speech, Euan was interviewed by Richard Sambrook a friend and college from their days together at the BBC.

Here are my notes from the evening followed by my selections from Euan’s book:

  • The development of the internet and social media present a unique opportunity for social change – Euan considers this a phase change in society.
  • Euan wanted to be part of that change for his children’s sake.
  • He felt that when he was at the BBC, the World Service was a role model for the rest of the organisation. There people rubbed along together from all departments and levels sharing information. Other parts of the BBC were much more hierarchical and stuck in their silos.
  • A lot of the use of early collaboration technologies were simple tools to help people find out answers to simple questions, such as ‘does anyone know a fixer in Poland’, or ‘how do you claim for petrol expenses’.
  • On a wider level introducing these collaborative tools helped to create a shared understanding of corporate issues.
  • Euan recognises that the control issues for social media for many organisations such as law firms are non-trivial, but he believes they will get there eventually.
  • Finding your own ‘authentic voice’ through blogging is so much more valuable than writing endless management reports written in “management bollocks”, to a set formula,  which no one actually reads.
  • Euan describes his idealised vision of future corporations as ephemeral meritocracies.
  • He wonders if it is unreasonable to expect people to be able to, or want to have their own voice. And thinks that education and corporate structures have led to many thinking they don’t. But he believes that ultimately everyone wants to have a say in their lives.
  • The barriers to social media are not about age, but about open versus closed approaches to the world.
  • He believes the internet and social media is the next big story after 18th century religion, early 20th century fascism and communism, and late 20th century capitalism.

The tweets from the event have been Storified here.

A more detailed summary from the Strange Attractor blog by Suw Charman-Anderson.

Book coverReview of Organisations Don’t Tweet, People Do

The book comes in 45 Bite sized chapters, each with introductions and summaries. And in fact each chapter can be purchased individually in electronic format. Euan’s idea is to make it as easy as possible to spread the message to those who remain unconvinced by the benefits of social media.

An essential read for anyone with a connection to social media in the workplace (which means everyone), it is very wide ranging, quite philosophical at times, and always passionately personal.

Euan makes a strong case for the democratising benefits of adopting  social media and collaborative tools.

However, my experience of both successes and failures to introduce these technologies in various workplaces, makes me think that Euan is somewhat naïvely optimistic (an accusation he is aware of, and attempts to address several times in the book).

He ended the engaging question and answer session by saying he thinks it will take up to fifty years for the change to fully occur, and this strikes me as more realistic.

Here are my highlights from reading the book:

What is the book for? It is not a “how to” book nor, I hope, is it cyber-utopian vision of the future….I prefer to think of it as a collection of ideas that… can make the web more understandable and useful in the world of work.

Growing up onlineWe will only be able to take full advantage of the networked world if we grow up, think for ourselves, and take responsibility for our lives and our actions. I am not naïve. I know that, at least to begin with, truly thinking for yourself and saying what you think with any degree of authenticity is a big ask. It may never happen for many people. There may just be too much at stake and too much to take into account for a politician or someone in a corporate setting to really be authentic.

Don’t let the techies ruin the party…keep things out of the hands of technologists as much as possible. Some of them aren’t so bad, and some of them are re-inventing themselves…if there is a single biggest block to making social media happen encountered by my clients in large organizations it is with their IT department.

Ten steps to success with technology:

  1. Have a variety of tools rather than a single system.
  2. Don’t have a clear idea where you are headed.
  3. Follow the energy.
  4. Be strategically tactical.
  5. Keep moving, stay in touch, and head for the high ground.
  6. Build networks of people who care.
  7. Be obsessively interested.
  8. Use the tools to manage the tools. E.G. Blog about blogging in your organisation.
  9. Laugh when things go wrong.
  10. Unleash the Trojan Mice. Don’t do big things or spend loads of money. Set small, nimble things running and see where they head.

Anarchy versus controlSomeone once called me “an organizational anarchist” and I have to admit I was quite chuffed at the description and took it as a compliment…. What I am talking about here is not complete free reign for individuals … I am more interested in the possibility  of all of us taking full responsibility for ourselves and those around us – the ultimate in democracy.

How about moving democracy inside the firewall instead of outside it?

Bosses who don’t get itIf you can’t get support from your boss, see if you can get support from their peers. Find senior people who get what you are trying to do and enlist their support … Keep talking to them in their language about what you are doing and why – even if they occasionally glaze over!

Collaboration and trustThere is a lot of “collaboration software” out there that is really just the same stuff that failed to deliver data management, information management, knowledge management  and is now failing to deliver collaboration. In fact a lot of the tools labelled as collaboration tools actually work against effective collaboration.

Blurring work boundariesThe blurring of the inside and outside raises issues both for us as individuals and organizations we work for. For us it means that we have to take more responsibility for whatever lines we draw between work and non-work.

PR and marketing under threatI believe that marketing and PR are professions at real risk of disintermediation by the web. We will need people to do our marketing for us less and less as we use the tools in everyday work and start to have more effective conversations between ourselves and our customers.
Help your staff to become your best advocates. Give them the tools and the insights to become your ambassadors online.

The Return on Investment of social media – … I am becoming more robust about the ROI question and turning it back on those who ask it. What is the ROI of the way we do things now? … Where is the competitive advantage in preventing staff from using these tools to build and maintain the networks that develop their knowledge and their ability to get things done. Where is the competitive advantage in allowing your competitors to embrace these changes before you do and potentially re-inventing the industry you are so rigidly clinging to?

Online indiscretionsMuch has been made about recruitment teams searching Facebook and LinkedIn to find prospective candidates and the damage supposedly done by online indiscretions. In some ways this is an anachronistic attitude coming from people who don’t themselves engage online. People are becoming much more robust and open in their online lives. Besides, what is so awful about these supposed indiscretions? Rather than worrying about photos of potential recruits drunk at parties, I would be more worried about people who appeared to have something to hide. In fact I would be less likely to employ someone who hadn’t been indiscreet as a student!

Deal with management fearsOnline …You can’t hide behind your status or your pomposity. In fact being remote and pompous will severely inhibit your attempts at effective communication on the web.

So the answer is to help those who are disapproving or pompous in reaction to what is happening on the web. Don’t dismiss their reactions or sneer at them but make it easier for them to relax and say what they think. Show them the ropes and hold their hands rather than ridicule them as they discover  for themselves the fast changing world they have felt excluded from.

Develop guidelines-not rules, collaborativelyDon’t start with rules. Learn to use your tools, and see how people make them work before you cast too much in stone.

Use Trojan miceSet up small, unobtrusive, inexpensive, and autonomous tools and practices, set them running, and cajole and nudge them until they begin to work out where to go and why.

Don’t feed the TrollsThe best way to deal with trolls is to befriend them. Even the worst of them are human.

If your critics have shown the energy to engage, and can then be turned around to be supportive of you, then this sends a very strong signal to other dissenters.

Radical transparencyIn fact online I recommend that people assume that if you have written something on a computer then someone else will at some time be able to see it.

Does this mean you can’t write about anything? No, but it does mean you have to think harder bout what you are writing, where, and why.

Blogging as therapyBy writing about the workplace you become more thoughtful about your place in it and what it does for you.

My favourite quote in the book comes from Vint Cerf, one of the ‘fathers of the internet’. When asked by a journalist if the internet was a good or a bad thing, he replied, “It is just a thing. Whether good or bad depends on what you are doing with it.”

Euan ends the book with his final blog post at BBC after 21, years about the importance of love at work.

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson – A monster of a book about a monster of a man

Steve_Jobs_by_Walter_IsaacsonMany thanks to Debbie Epstein for giving me this amazing book as a present.

Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson is the only authorised story of the life and death of one of the most influential figures of the last 50 years, who died on 5 October this year, aged 56, from pancreatic cancer.

The book is something of a monster at 627 pages, and chronicles Steve Jobs‘ life from his childhood, through the creation and early days of Apple computers, his battles with Microsoft, his sacking and 12 year later return to the company he founded. Isaacson managed to interview Jobs himself over forty times, and tracked down more than a hundred friends, family, colleagues, competitors and adversaries.

I found it a compelling read, and managed to complete it in less than a week. It is perhaps the most honest and revealing authorised biography ever written of an industry leader. Isaacson uncovers both the amazing stories behind the revolutionary products Apple produced. However, he also reveals something of a monster of a man.

Jobs was a sensitive person, perhaps more so due to being adopted at birth, who spent several months wandering across India in his youth looking for spiritual enlightenment and followed Buddhism for the rest of his life. But he could also be the most manipulative and down-right nasty person it is possible to imagine. So much so, that his early colleagues referred to his ability to distort reality to his own ends (Reality distortion field even has its own Wikipedia entry).

Having been something of a computer nerd as a teenager in the mid-1970s I first came across his creations in the form of an Apple II computer. As you can see it was some way from the sleek and sexy design of the more recent iMacs. So reading the story of how Jobs and Steve Wozniak developed these machines made for riveting reading.

Apple II computer

Although he made many mistakes along the way, as well as many enemies, and a trail of broken colleagues, his vision and passion resulted in products which have truly revolutionised the computer industry, and made Apple the most valuable company in the world.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about Steve Jobs was that he never felt the need to conduct market research (something we recommend all our clients in the Business & IP Centre should do). Instead he worked on creating ‘insanely great’ products people would discover they didn’t know they needed until they saw them.

What Would Google Do? by Jeff Jarvis

Perhaps I spent too many years working in the City of London working for unappreciative customers, so I am frequently surprised by how grateful many of our customers are for the help we give them in starting up their business. However, when I heard that Pervin Shaikh wanted to express her appreciation by giving us a copy of What Would Google Do, I was amazed.

Pervin explained that she thought the book would be helpful to aspiring (and existing) entrepreneurs.

Having speed read it this morning, before sending it off to be added to our collection, I agree with her.

The author Jeff Jarvis writes the new media column for the Guardian newspaper, as well as founder of, one of the web’s most popular and respected blogs about the internet and media.

He starts the book by listing some of the new rules that Google used – to become successful, in what he calls the upside-down, inside-out, counter-intuitive and confusing world of the internet age:

1.    Customers are now in charge. They can be heard around the globe and have an impact on huge institutions in an instant.
2.    People can find each other anywhere and coalesce around you-or against you.
3.    The mass market is dead, replaced by the mass of niches.
4.    ‘Markets are conversations,” decreed The Cluetrain Manifesto, the seminal work of the internet age, in 2000. That means the key skill in any organization today is no longer marketing but conversing.
5.    We have shifted from an economy based on scarcity to one based on abundance. The control of products or distribution will no longer guarantee a premium and a profit.
6.    Enabling customers to collaborate with you-in creating, distributing, marketing, and supporting products-is what creates a premium in today’s market.
7.    The most successful enterprises today are networks-which extract as little value as possible so they can grow as big as possible-and the platforms on which those networks are built.
8.    Owning pipelines, people, products, or even intellectual property is no longer the key to success. Openness is.

Google have been generous in sharing their philosophy on their website, so we can look there to see why they are the fastest growing company in the history of the world, according to the Times newspaper.

Our philosophy – Ten things we know to be true:
1. Focus on the user and all else will follow
2. It’s best to do one thing really, really well
3. Fast is better than slow
4. Democracy on the web works
5. You don’t need to be at your desk to need an answer
6. You can make money without doing evil
7. There’s always more information out there
8. The need for information crosses all borders
9. You can be serious without a suit
10. Great just isn’t good enough

You can get more details from the Google website.

Jarvis also looks at Facebook, and recounts listening to the 22 year old founder Mark Zuckerberg answer a gathering of media moguls at Davos on how to build their own communities – ‘you can’t’.

What he meant, was that communities already exist, so your role is to bring them ‘elegant organization’, to help them achieve their goals more effectively. Jarvis illustrates Zuckerberg’s approach by retelling the story of how he managed to graduate from Harvard, despite not having attended a single class or finding time to study.

‘The final exam was a week away and he was in a panic. It’s one thing to drop out of Harvard to start a gigantic, world-changing company; it’s another to flunk.

Zuckerberg did what comes naturally to a native of the web. He went to the internet and downloaded images of art he knew would be covered in the exam. He put them on a web page and added blank boxes under each. Then he emailed the address of this page to his class-mates, telling them he’d just put up a study guide. Think Tom Sawyer’s fence. The class dutifully came along and filled in the blanks with the essential knowledge about each piece of art, editing each other as they went, collaborating to get it just right. This being Harvard, they did a good job of it.

You can predict the punch line: Zuckerberg aced the exam. But here’s the real kicker: The professor said the class as a whole got better grades than usual. They captured the wisdom of their crowd and helped each other. Zuckerberg had created the means for the class to collaborate. He brought them elegant organization.’

Some of the other highlights of the book for me were:
•    If you’re not searchable, you won’t be found – make sure you maximise your discovery, especially by Google search.
•    Your customers are your ad agency – in the early days of Google, Facebook and Twitter, all their marketing work was done for free by their fans.
•    The mass market is dead – long live the mass of niches – and the long tail.
•    Middlemen are doomed – unless they can show how they add value.
•    Life is beta – let your customers test and develop your products and services.

In the second part of the book, Jarvis applies the Google rules to a raft of traditional activities, from utilities to hospitals to banks. The results are fascinating and relevant for everyone in business. For example, why don’t supermarkets have forums where customers could ask for and vote on new product lines.

In conclusion, I would say this is a fascinating wide ranging and challenging review of how the Google approach to business can (and most likely will) impact how many business and service operations operate in future. And a ‘must read’ for anyone about to start out on their own business adventure.