Some people really do deserve to be fired

By Neil Patrick

Sometimes I wonder what people were thinking when writing online content. Perhaps the simple answer is, not much at all.

Tonight I was researching Hugo Boss and stumbled across a blog for a cologne website. It’s so tragically brilliant, I couldn’t resist sharing a small piece of it here.

Hey there and thanks for visiting Cologne Boutique blog!

Hey there! I was actually looking for something else but now I have been tricked by your devious SEO, I might as well see what you’re all about.

A man’s scent of choice should smell like his personality. 

Should it? Oh. Okay then. Yes my personality. So that’s pedantic. What smells like that?

Wearing the right cologne will attract women to you, much the same way the small deer attracts the lion.

When small (or even larger) deer are approached by lions they usually get eaten next. Right? And I don’t think I want to be ripped to shreds and eaten by women (or men for that matter). At least not today. Call me weird, but cannibalism is a big no-no for me.

But with hundreds of fragrances available on the market, with each claiming to be the best, it’s not an easy task for a bloke like you to find one that suits your taste and, more importantly, your personality.

Spot on! You nailed it! Nothing is easy for a bloke like me. I am seriously inept at almost everything I do. You’re very smart to notice. And thanks for confirming my suspicions.

Therefore we came up with the idea to create an easy to read resource to show you everything you ought to know about cologne but were afraid to ask.

Wow! You’re right again! There’s just SO much I was always afraid to ask about cologne. Really terrified in fact. Most often, it’s ‘How much?!’ because when I get the answer, my eyes do this weird exploding frowny thing.

With tons of information placed all over the web and multiple reviews websites, we feel that Cologne Boutique will be of a great value to anyone searching for a great gift ideas for a loved one’s (yes, ladies!).

You’re right, it is of a great value to anyone searching for a great gift ideas. For a loved one’s…erm what exactly? Ladies?

My loved one’s…ladies? Ummm…

Sorry I’m confused again now.

For a time being, check our top recommended men’s fragrances to start with while we are preparing some delicious content about famous Perfume Houses, historical facts about top fragrances and just helpful “how-to” guides.

I’m sorry. But you’ve got me distracted now. I’m still worried about being ripped apart and eaten by a herd of hungry women. And that thing about what my personality smells like is a conundrum. On second thoughts I don’t really want my personality to smell at all. Nope, an odourless rather than odious personality is the best sort I think.

If you don’t mind, I’ll leave 'for a time being' while you prepare that delicious content about Perfume Houses. I’d quite like to own a Perfume House I think, but I don’t know how to eat one (or its contents). So if you could provide a ‘How to Eat a Perfume House’ guide, many people would find that useful I think.

Keep up the great work! You’re awesome (in ways you don’t even know).

PS. To be blunt, please fire whoever wrote this. They deserve it. Really.

We must all learn to rise above tribalism

Photo credit: Roy Lister 

By Neil Patrick

If we want a better world we have to intelligently manage some very primal urges which are hardwired into us.

One of the most basic human instincts is tribalism.

A while ago one Saturday morning the doorbell rang. Standing in the porch was a middle aged lady clutching leaflets. She said to me:

"Hello. What troubles you most about the world today?”

I paused for a second – this was a big question which demanded a succinct yet comprehensive answer.

I said, “Tribalism, sectarianism and blind devotion”.

She looked dumbstruck. She seemed not to know what to say next.

Because she was, and I knew it, about to peddle her own particular brand of sectarianism.

She writhed about for a moment and finally said, “Here are some leaflets you might want to read. Goodbye.” She turned and left.

I looked at the leaflets, which I wasn’t surprised to find were from the local Jehovah’s Witnesses. An archaic looking amalgam of biblical quotes, event announcements and essays on salvation.

I skimmed them, wondered briefly who was in charge of their editorial content (because they weren’t doing a very good job I thought) and went back to my desk.

This was about devotion.

I thought no more about this until today. As I was going through my Twitter feed, I came across a post from a politician whose views I normally find hard to swallow. Nonetheless, I read the article attached and thought it was actually a very sound argument. So I retweeted it. It mattered not to me that I have never voted for this person or their political party and disagree with much of what they say.

I did this not because of tribal loyalty. Because I have none. The fact is that my currently low regard for this person doesn’t mean that I would never vote for them. Or that everything they say is wrong. Or that I hate them. I just disagree with many of their opinions. And that’s fine.

As I continued, I found myself on the BBC news website. The Syrian conflict dominated again. And as usual I found myself pitying the people caught up in a conflict which seems insoluble. It's not about nation states in conflict, (which is bad enough), it is about sectarianism. And worse, the sects involved are so diverse and numerous, that it’s inconceivable that any settlement could satisfy them all. So these tribes condemn everyone in their vicinity to the prospect of eternal hate, conflict and destruction.

It’s sectarianism.

As I continued down my feed, I came across more and more tweets which were blindly supporting one political view, and denouncing the opposition. It’s as if loyalty to a faction always trumps (sorry) rational consideration of the merits of alternative viewpoints.

It’s tribalism.

And tribalism is dangerous when no-one thinks and just follows the herd.

Pulitzer Prise winner E. O. Wilson, said, “Tribalism is a double edged sword. The collective communion that it promises isn’t open to us all. The flipside of tribal belonging is brutal exclusion. No human institution easily escapes the darker angels of our divided self.”

Tribalism is at work everywhere in our societies because it promises community, belonging and hope. But it also fuels hate, intolerance and prejudice. It’s a fine balance to deliver one without permitting the other.

But we must all try.

Sports retailers abuse of their workers is something we cannot ignore

JD Sports, Birmigham
Photo Credit: ReissOmari

By Neil Patrick

This week has seen the humiliation of JD sports following an undercover investigation by Channel 4 into working conditions at its Rochdale warehouse. Conditions it described as ‘worse than prison'. Iain Wright MP, Chair of the Business Select Committee didn't mince his words either. He said the workers there were 'treated like scum'.

Unsurprisingly, both companies have been enthusiastic users of zero-hours contracts; a device excused by those who advocate flexible working policies, but which in practice is often a cruel instrument of low pay torture.

Only a couple of weeks ago, JD Sports was crowing about how its main competitor, Sports Direct, had seen a collapse in its share price following a similar exposé of appalling working conditions at its warehouse in Mansfield.

Some call this the unacceptable face of capitalism. Yet for all the hand-wringing and condemnation by everyone from trade unions and politicians to the media, this situation is not just caused by exploitative business owners.

Yes, the owners of these businesses, ranked amongst the UK super-rich are easy targets for criticism. This in no way condones their actions, but they are doing what business moguls do; building their businesses and their wealth (more or less) within the law. (Although I suspect that they will have to spend a lot more on lawyers and advisors in the coming months and years than they ever have before).

But almost everyone can play a part in changing things for the better.

In this particular sector of employment, this problem is enabled by the participation of five diverse groups with heavily vested interests. It's a chain of stakeholders. Each link in the chain is critical. Yet they share out the benefits between each other very unevenly.

Power determines who gets what…

So when we look at this dispassionately, there are many who are accessories to this situation. But what if instead of distancing themselves, these people decided to take some ownership and actually do something about this?

They have the power and it's time to use that power responsibly.

 1. Sportswear brands

There's a (mostly) cozy co-operation between brands who spend millions creating image and glamour for their products and retail chains who enable their distribution on a massive scale. Each needs the other. Brand investments essentially massively inflate the price that any item can be sold for relative to its cost.

Vested interest: The building of brand halos which enable goods to be sold at prices totally unjustified by their true value or utility. Yet brand owners can choose where their goods are sold...

2. Sports stars

These people take millions every year from sponsors in exchange for doing just what they do - pursue their sporting ambitions. They just have to display their sponsors' logos at every possible opportunity – particularly when they are competing. Their role is to help create the halo effect of the brands willing and able to pay what their agents demand.

Vested interest: Maximising their income when they may have a relatively short working life when they can earn money. Yet sports stars can choose to reject sponsorships - there will always be others...

Why would anyone want to top this list? Or need to?

3. Mainstream media

Without the mass appeal of sports events on TV and other media, the exposure of the sports stars in their branded garments is diminished. So big media companies are the last link in the brand value chain. And for them, televising sport is easy stuff. Much less difficult than say a costume drama or wildlife documentary.

Vested Interest: Access to hugely popular events which guarantee big audiences in exchange for relatively simple broadcasting and cheap production costs. Yet the media can make choices about which events and players it covers...

4. Consumers

There’s a paradox that most sales by these retailers are not made to active sports people. They are sold as leisure wear to the young and the poor. This is a group who are in love with the mythology of brands. Put a Nike tick on a garment and suddenly they will pay three or four times more for it.

Vested Interest: Easy access to fashion which they believe confers some of the brand’s status and value upon them. Yet consumers can choose to switch from one retailer for another...

5. Shareholders and investors

Investors seek profits. Only ethical investors concern themselves about how fairly those profits are achieved. But when something occurs like this which potentially causes long term reputational damage, almost all investors are quick to flee elsewhere. And sure enough, JD Sports share price has fallen off a cliff:

This time last year, JD sports traded at around £10.25 a share. Today, that figure is £3.16. So this group of stakeholders (ironically the most financially self-interested) have already voted with their feet.

This is not a free market where value is exchanged at a fair price. It’s a distorted market, where the powerful commercial players exploit those with less power.

But critically none of this could happen if even one link in the chain was broken.

Think about it if apart from investors voting against this, the other stakeholders did too:

Consumers refused on ethical grounds to buy branded sports wear? Thousands were quick to criticise Barclays in the 1980's over its willingness to operate in apartheid South Africa. A student boycott of the bank led to a drop in its share of the UK student market from 27% to 15% by the time it pulled out in 1986.

The media refused to televise any sport where advertising by unethical firms was displayed.  All television commercials for cigarettes were banned on the UK way back on 1 August 1965. Yet today, bailed out banks continue without challenge to print their names all over sportsmen and women.

Sports stars turned down sponsorship contracts? Or imposed ethical trading requirements on all sponsors? Footballers have been quick to support the outcry against child abuse by football coaches. Now all professional sports people have the opportunity to show they have some ethics too.

You might shrug and think none of this will happen. There are too many vested interests and there's too much money at stake.

But that sort of resignation gets us nowhere. Sure you can come up with a pile of reasons such changes cannot happen. But if you belong to one of the groups above, you have the power and the obligation I think to make a stand.

Whilst the media and politicians will doubtless continue to wag accusing fingers at the owners of these businesses, the truth is there are many more of us who are unconscious accessories. And we have a lot more power to change things than we might think. Especially if we vote with our wallets.

Shock as Mark Carney spills the beans (and agrees with me)

By Neil Patrick

Bank of England Governor Mark Carney
Photo credit: World Economic Forum 

What is front page news today in the UK? Well it’s that the Governor of the Bank of England agrees with me about the jobs crisis.

Mr. Mark Carney’s speech last night in Liverpool was the first time I have ever seen one of the world’s most senior central bankers endorse the very things I have been banging on about here for the last four years.

But I am not gloating. There can be no joy in the confirmation that one’s worst fears are indeed reality. What’s tragic is that this demonstrates just how long institutions take to acknowledge that a problem exists. Let alone do anything about it.

And the Bank of England is falling back on its get out of jail free card to pass responsibility for solving the problem to the government. After all, monetary policy is a blunt instrument, as central bankers are always swift to remind us.

Anyway for fun (if such a thing is possible) on hearing this not so new ‘news’, I have taken a look at his main points and compared them to things I have said here, and when I said them.

The Daily Mail’s front page headline today read:

On 15 Sept 2015, I wrote:

“The endless rise of tech is one of what I call the “six pillars of job destruction”. The others are globalization, demographics, monetary and fiscal policy, educational lag and digital communications… “

The front page story by Hugo Duncan in the Mail went on:

‘In an alarming vision for workers, Mark Carney warned many jobs would be 'hollowed out' as huge technological advances meant roles could be automated instead.

‘The Bank has said the march of the machines in the workplace puts administrative, clerical and production staff most under threat.

On December 1 2014, I wrote:

“Whilst the whole of a job may be currently impossible for a machine to replicate, parts of that job may well be perfectly capable of being replaced or aided by technology. This fact in turn means that fewer people are needed to deliver the same amount of work.”

‘The Bank of England predicts that entire professions, such as accountancy, could be pushed to the brink of extinction as developments in computers make their roles redundant.

On 27 July 2016, I wrote in reference to the endless rise of tech:

“In the US and Europe in particular, this is why the middle class is becoming an endangered species”.

‘Mr Carney claimed that 'up to 15million of the current jobs in Britain' – almost half of the 31.8million workforce – could be replaced by robots over the coming years as livelihoods were 'mercilessly destroyed' by the technological revolution.

And in July this year I said:

“The last remaining argument for tolerance of the jobs carnage created by the tech tsunami is that the Wikipedia version of history tells us technological progress is inevitable, and has only ever resulted in greater wealth and a better society. But this assertion doesn’t bear much scrutiny if you have even a basic knowledge of economic history.”

Mark Carney again: 'The fundamental challenge is, alongside its great benefits, every technological revolution mercilessly destroys jobs and livelihoods – and therefore identities – well before the new ones emerge.

I said in 2014: 

“The jobs created by tech are totally different to the ones destroyed by it. Which means those who lose their jobs as a result of technology are largely unable to switch.”

Carney: 'This was true of the eclipse of agriculture and cottage industry by the industrial revolution, the displacement of manufacturing by the service economy, and now the hollowing out of many of those middle-class services jobs.'

In October this year I wrote:

  “We have to understand how technology is going to impact our area of professionalism and get ahead of the change curve”

‘Speaking at Liverpool John Moores University yesterday, the Governor also claimed workers had suffered '…the first lost decade since the 1860s', with living standards suffering the biggest squeeze since Dickensian times. Calling for the Government to tackle 'staggering wealth inequalities' through redistribution, he said: 'Real wages are below where they were a decade ago – something that no one alive today has experienced before.'’

‘Globally, the share of wealth held by the richest 1 per cent rose from a third in 2000 to half by 2010. In the UK, the income share of the top 1 per cent tripled from 5 per cent in the early 1980s to 15 per cent in 2009.

In September 2014 I reported how: 

“quantitative easing policies have benefited mainly the wealthy. About 40% of those gains went to the richest 5% of British households...exacerbating already extreme income inequality and the consequent social tensions that arise from it”.

‘Mark Carney went on to say: ”…globalisation has seen 'the superstars and the lucky' thrive while others have struggled. ..Now may be the time of the famous or fortunate, but what of the frustrated and frightened?”

On 8 April 2015 I wrote: 

“…the globalization of workforces means that many jobs which used to stay firmly in the domestic market are now spreading around the world. And it’s not just a cheap labor argument. I recently had lunch with an entrepreneur friend who told me that almost his entire workforce was now composed of freelancers based the Philippines. Yes it was cheaper than a UK workforce (by about 75%), but critically this wasn’t his main reason for the choice. He was in the business of web content production and he had found that his overseas workers were more diligent, more proactive and had better written English than the people he used to employ in the UK.”

And in January this year I wrote that:

“There will be many more super rich in the world, but also a great many more who used to be comfortable, becoming very uncomfortable.”

Carney again: “One of the things that I think contributes very understandably to the level of anxiety that households feel in this economy, in other economies, is the fact that it has for them been almost a lost decade of growth.”

On 15 November 2015 I said:

 “…persistent slow growth will continue to dampen employment prospects…real wages have stagnated across many advanced G-20 nations and even fallen in some.”

Carney: 'Real incomes in this country have not grown for the last ten years. That is incredible and that shines a light on inequalities that exist in this economy and make people question what is being done to address those and what are the fundamental causes of those.'

He added: 'For free trade to benefit all requires some redistribution. We need to move towards more inclusive growth where everyone has a stake in globalisation.'

For the first and I hope not the last time, I applaud Mark Carney for not mincing his words and spelling things out to the government. Even if he is a bit late in diagnosing the problems.

We need change and we need it fast.

The destruction and degradation of jobs is something I’ve been documenting here since 2012. Now four years later, we have an acknowledgement of the problem from someone who has the influence to do something about it. But we cannot wait another four years for practical solutions to begin to be implemented.

The machines aren’t going to wait and neither can we.

The Internet of Things and how it is creating YOUR next job NOW

By Neil Patrick

Drawing credit: Wilgengebroed on Flickr

The Internet of Things (IoT) is the next big thing. The thing is this; right now, digital tech is set to inhabit more and more of the devices and products we use everyday.

If you follow me on Twitter you might have noticed that I am not exactly a fan of AI. Call me a Luddite if you wish – but let’s face it, it’s much less cruel to poke fun at machines than people.

The simple fact is that I am not against technology, I am against the fact that it is destroying jobs faster than we can create new ones.

I like progress, but since the main driver is profit, no-one who has a big stake in this cares one bit about whether or not this progress delivers more jobs. In fact, the business models for most tech startups rely on the fact that they need less people and cheaper ones than the bigger businesses they disrupt.

Technologists want to make new things. Businesses want to make money. Governments are just happy to see a new factory or office doing internetty things, quite oblivious to the fact that this may well be disrupting jobs in more traditional businesses.

Anyway, we cannot change any of this.

What each of us can change is how we think about the IoT. Because this is going to be a massive growth sector in jobs in the next few years.

The temptation I think for most people who are not digital and tech specialists is to think, “Okay Neil, but that’s all computer stuff and that’s not my field at all. I don’t how to write computer code and I don’t want to either.”

And my answer is that you don’t have to do any of this. I am not suggesting that all you lawyers and accountants should grow beards, don cargo pants and become all techy.

Because what’s coming isn’t just more jobs in coding and programming. What’s coming is a transformation in which understanding how to deal with the issues surrounding the IoT will create huge numbers of new job opportunities in every area of specialism. And ones for which there will be a real shortage of skills.

What everyone should be doing right now is figuring out how the IoT is going to impact their job field. If you are a marketing person, what are the ways in which the IoT will impact the consumers of goods or services you deliver? If you are a real estate person, how will the IoT make property more or less saleable? If you are a lawyer, what sort of legal issues are likely to arise as the IoT becomes more and more established?

Because if you start thinking about these things right now, figuring out what the questions are (not even the answers) in YOUR specific area of expertise, and better still writing and talking about them, you’ll be positioning yourself as a rare expert in your field. Your know-how will be scarce. You will have transformed your value and marketability by one simple small change in what you do today that will be a massive investment in your career assets for tomorrow.

And tomorrow is coming very soon.

PS Despite my worries about the impact if the IoT on jobs in business, one area that I really hope grasps this opportunity is the NHS. If anyone needs to do more with less people and cost than before, it's our struggling public health services. Now that would be progress for the benefit of all...