Telling stories and conference season

I wouldn't normally write about politics, there's plenty of people out there already sounding off. No one wants yet another voice.
But I can't help but feel it's worth quickly summing up what the UK party conferences managed to achieve. It might be a bit early, the Tories are yet to close theirs. But some of the results are, I think, becoming clear.
So to sum up:
The Lib Dems: what conference? they had the handicap of going first so we are least able to remember them. Try as I might no lasting communication emerged from their conference other than they are worried about their position in government going forward. Most people are left with the sense of a party that is nervous, bordering on desperate. Not a single policy message from the party managed to dislodge this view.
Labour: Energy prices. Ed Miliband, as better commentators than I pointed out, established his party as the party concerned about living standards and those struggling to get by. His policy is interventionist, but I'm not sure most people will be concerned about the underlying political nuance embedded in that. They see cheaper gas and electricity no matter how much noise the energy industry makes about it.
Conservatives: Well it's all about Ed Miliband and the Daily Mail. Compared to that the massages from the Tory conference was shouting in the wind - some of it got through, some of it didn't.

The lessons.
Organisations - business and politicians - have to compose compelling narratives about themselves, their policies, products or services. We have a tendency to be reductionist in our understanding of messages. Despite all the apparently sophisticated analysis that is available to inform us, we tend to reduce narratives to elements of conflict. The Lib Dems Vs everyone; Miliband Vs the Mail; The Tories Vs benefits or  Vs the debt.
Some are worthy, some are not. One thing is sure if the key elements are missing, even if they are well articulated, our attention will wander. Miliband/Mail clash is interesting because it gives the Labour leader a universal motivation for action that goes beyond narrow political interests. Despite it's political content, the story is about fathers and sons. It's visceral, primal, and as I said, universal. Everyone has a father. We can all relate. Those that dissent inevitably appear cold, aloof, somewhat inhuman.

Grumbling Brits and the economy

Thought I'd share some reading for you today. I've recently become engrossed in the work of philosopher Mark Rowlands, a Welshman who teaches in the US. Which might help us understand why Santander's chief exec recently complained about "grumbling" Brits and why they may be undermining the economy.

Rowlands' book from earlier this year, Running with the Pack, is a reflection on why we run - long distance running in particular. A couple of passages draw attention to the differences between the way Americans and Brits consider any form of endeavour.

He concluded that Americans are driven by optimism (they can achieve anything if they work hard enough); faith (we must have immovable faith in ourselves) and work (work is inherently ennobling).

Rowlands dismisses them all. Optimism is misplaced because whatever happens we will get worse. Faith is bogus because, actually, it's the loss of faith that makes us grow stronger. And work?
"But my murky European spirit tells me that work is not inherently ennobling at all: to work when you do not have to is stupid rather than ennobling. And there is no evidence of any reliable connection between hard work and realisation of dreams."

And then there is this: "...I'm still enough of a Brit to recognise the age-old tradition of taking an activity that someone does and finding ways to denigrate it - ideally by casting aspersions on the motives or character of the person doing it. I appreciate this tradition for the cultural art form that it is - even when I am the person whose motives or character are thus aspersed."

I hate to say. As a Brit that helped me understand and define myself a little better.

Fear is the key & mavericks in the workplace

I'm in an introspective kind of mood so thought I'd draw your attention to a couple of things I've written for Financial Director on psychology and the workplace. I'm an amateur psych in this respect but become easily engrossed in the subject. Perhaps because I am a little preoccupied with being happy at work. Why would you want to go through your working life not wanting to get out of bed in the morning? Though to be honest, my recent reading suggests it's the fundamental "instrumental" nature of work that is the reason (this leads me to the conclusion that somehow you have to trick yourself into thinking it isn't work at all. How many of us can do that, I wonder).

Anyway, I've been reflecting on the death of Moritz Erhardt, the Bank of America intern who died with reports claiming he had been up working for three straight days without sleep.

So here are my thoughts around that for FD: Fear is the key

And, just in case you missed them, here are my musings on workplace mavericks. In my experience most employers steer clear of people they instinctively feel they cannot control. I came across some research though that suggests this may be self defeating. Sometimes.

Maveriks, they're everywhere

Let me know what you think.

Five years since Lehman Brothers and my holiday in France

It's five years since Lehman Brothers went badly, badly wrong. I was on holiday at the time in Brittany trying to translate the news reports on French TV. At one point I transcribed : "It's the end of the world as we know it," from the TV newsreader and only after a mild panic realised I was projecting my REM playlist into the news. My projection though was prophetic.
The next day I managed to find a copy of The Times to read on the seafront at Benodet. It was my birthday (as is tomorrow) and the headlines were saying smoothing like: "It could be the end of the world as we know it." I let out a gasp and exclaimed to my wife: "The world economy is coming apart!" And a lady passing by looked sternly at me and said, in an accent that reminded me of John Noakes: "That's why you shouldn't read the f***ing papers when you're on 'holiday!" and walked off without another word. Not as polite as John Noakes but an indication that ignorance, for some, surely is bliss.

Anyway, this is a long way of saying Economia asked me to look at financial reporting around the world - Australia, Canada, China, Brazil, Japan and the USA - since that fateful moment when it looked like everything was coming unstuck.
It's been interesting getting up at 5am to make sleepy-headed calls in my pyjamas (I work from home, it's allowed) to Tokyo, Peking, Sao Paulo and others to talk financial reporting standards (I find accounting standards an excellent morning stimulant).
However, more interesting than waking at stupid o'clock is that as much as we view this "thing" as a global crisis, others, in fact most of the countries I spoke to, regard it as much more of a US, UK, European phenomenon that had implications for them. There was quite some distance between the problem and where the crisis ripples only just reach.
Their economies stuttered but were back on track quickly (with the exception of the US). There were repercussions, sure, but they were not of lasting significance. In some cases, they had painful issues of their own making to worry about. Their focus, in reporting terms, was international accounting standards, not the failures of the crisis even though it may have resulted in a little bit of soul searching (audit market, audit quality).
Indeed, if you put aside the US, these countries were not embarrassingly exposed to sub prime or Greek government bonds. And yet, almost without exception, they referred to the UK and US as "sophisticated" financial markets. Which made me wonder, what on earth does sophistication mean?
It also means every year on my birthday I am reminded of the near catastrophic collapse of the world's financial system. Reassuring.
Anyway, here's a link to the Economia piece - enjoy!
Five years on - international financial reporting

Tenon's reasons to be cheerful

You will have noticed that the accountancy sector saw further consolidation recently when Baker Tilly decided to acquire the best bits of RSM Tenon, a publicly listed accountancy firm which has been suffering recently and in danger of breaching its banking covenants.

Anyway, economia asked me to speak Baker Tilly chief Laurence Longe about the deal.
His motives are interesting, but the takeover begs a further question about the prospect of further consolidation in the UK market. My sources tell me that there is discussion (there is always discussion) but there are also many obstacle which may prove too difficult to overcome - the big one of course being culture. This is especially the case in professional service firms which tend to be partnerships and therefore the product of the foibles and idiosyncrasies of their owners.

Anyway, have a look at what Laurence Longe has to say and let me know if you think more deals are on the way.

Laurence Longe: Why Tenon was attractive

Purging clients: painful but necessary

I was recently asked to write on when and why professional service firms should dump clients. It's not as easy as it seems. Inherently conservative, partners are, at times, almost pathologically reluctant to part company with clients who are simply wasting their time. Anyway, with the help of a few experts I explored the issue for AB magazine in an article headlined Sifting your client list.
Click here and turn to page 40 on the e-reader to read the full article.

Distractions: lessons from jailbirds; technology stalls and negative emotions

Oh dear, getting back to work is a chore after New Year. Far better to take a colleague for a latte in a trendy coffee bar or even surf the net looking for anything else to do but work.

Anyway, below are some (un)welcome distractions and, if you're interested I'm listening to Shallow Bed by Dry the River while pretending to work. Click below.

Porridge: Time inside is not just about dodging the showers and sociology degrees. Jeff Smith (above) a US politician jailed for electoral fraud says they are hives of entrepreneurialism and business savvy. We could learn a lot from jailbirds. Click here.

Techno trap: Global growth is stalling - we’ve reached a cul de sac in technological development. Blogger and author Charles Hugh Smith has some grim news about where we're all going. Good read for a gloomy New Year. Click here.

Getting emotional: If there’s one thing important about businesses of the future it is perhaps that they need to build emotional bonds with their customers. But consumer emotions can go wrong.   A Tesco backed coffee house has found that to it’s cost. Reputation tainted by association with an investor? What do you do about that? Click here.