Santa, The Apprentice and The 3 Lessons of True Business

You may not think you know Prokofiev’s “Dance of the Nights”
But I’m sure you know the tune…
 
They use it for a particular show appearing on our telly-boxes which has come back this week.
One featuring teams of workers.
One featuring the selling, marketing and production of a bunch of different products.
One featuring a bloke with a beard.
Before you assume that this year there’s a new undercover documentary on the working conditions in Santa’s grotto (come on, let’s keep the pretence up….there might be kids reading)…it’s not…
It’s the return of the apprentice.
 
Now, in previous years I used to get quite excited about the apprentice coming back however after watching the trailer a few times I’m finding myself less compelled to watch.
“Why’s that Chris?” I hear you say.
One reason, I reply.
I just don’t like many of the candidates attitudes.
 
Now I know you only get a snapshot in the trailer.
I also know that they are primed and nudged to act a certain way.
and
I know it’s only a TV show.
 
However for many it’s their insight into the world of business.
“So Chris” you might be saying “What didn’t you like about the attitudes of the candidates in the trailer?”
“Great question! Thanks for asking!” I’d say and then I’d explain…
Since I launched my business (which was 5 years ago) I’ve learned a few things…
I’ve learned that a collaborative attitude is way more powerful than a competitive attitude.
 
Don’t get me wrong, I am competitive…a visit to my house during a game of Cluedo will illustrate how serious I get about winning!
However I’ve found that working together, always treating people like friends and not challengers and working out ways to see how I can help someone is usually a smart way forward.
The ethos of the apprentice seems to be to win. But win in spite of everyone else.
I get that as a competition the apprentice might have to be this way.
I also get that sometimes the reality is that you need to be selective on who you work with, and everyone won’t want to work with you…
However my business reality that if you choose attitude where you try to find solutions designed to help everyone win some interesting, exciting stuff happens.
I’ve learned that, erm, you never stop learning.
 
Like many in their 20’s I went through a stage of my life where I was thought I knew it all.
The reality is that many of us go through this stage of our lives but it’s only when we accept that we don’t we really start to learn.
On the apprentice trailer (and this is similar to every year) it shows a bunch of people who believe they are absolutely certain.
Whilst confidence is an absolutely positive trait understanding that there’s always more to learn has worked for me.
This has lead to learning more, which then leads to a desire to continue to learn.
This continued education has been more of a boost to my life and my business in my 30’s than going through life with a “know it all” haze did in my 20’s.
I suppose you could argue that the apprentice is a learning process and the candidates who thrive are the ones who do learn.
So, why not start with some candidates who express the desire to learn in the first place?
I’ve learned that a bit of humility ain’t a bad thing.
 
I’ve already mentioned that I don’t see confidence as a negative trait however when confidence tips over to arrogance it’s a dangerous attitude.
Arrogance isn’t collaborative.
Arrogance doesn’t learn.
Arrogance is a one man (or woman) game.
However on the apprentice trailer arrogance seems to be celebrated. Like you need to be arrogant to be in business.
However as Cassie says to me “There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance…and one you need to work to stay the right side of”. (as you can tell my wife is really smart).
How about this as a better approach…
The apprentice shows us candidates who understand they don’t know it all.
The apprentice shows us candidates who are confident but opening to learning new skills.
The apprentice shows us candidates who are not automaton business robots but real people who we could relate to.
 
Maybe I’m missing the point…
Maybe it’s the journey from arrogance to humility, from “know-it-all” ness to “willing-to-learn” ness, from competitive to collaborative which makes the show so interesting.
Maybe it just wouldn’t be as popular without the initial caricatures being slowly (and sometimes humiliatingly reduced into the winner (who normally comes out of the show quite well).
I just wish we could start the show with people who aren’t “selling machines” and “competition smashers” but real people willing to play the game of business in a better way…
 
Collaboratively ways learning and with a touch of humility.
 
What do you think?

 

He-man, BMX bikes and the reason I’m not nostalgic.

Me and my mate Matt were having a chat the other day.

As usual when we get together we were talking about life, the universe and everything else in between. For some reason the conversation moved onto writing, and in particular, my blogs when Matt said…

“You know how you do your blog entry titles go….He-Man, something, and something else”

I almost spilt my pint in laughter.

Not because it was a new revelation that “I write in threes” (or that someone had noticed!)

Not because he’d come up with a genius first topic and then followed it up with “Something” and “Something else” but no…

The reason I nearly needlessly wasted some of my beverage (something I try to avoid considering the cost of beer in London pubs!) was…

I can’t believe I’d never used He-Man in a Blog before.

I used to love Masters of the Universe as a kid. The adventures of He-Man, Battle-cat, Skeletor and gang kept me entertained during the 80’s.

Actually I remember loving loads of stuff when I was a kid.

My commodore 64, Saturday Afternoon early Evening telly (which normally included some really bad British Wrestling, The A Team and topped off by a bit of Blind date) and my BMX bike (which I remember roaming the streets of East London on).

The strange thing is although I fondly remember those times fondly I’m not overly nostalgic.

I don’t think the world was a better (or easier) place to live 25 years ago.

I don’t reminisce about days gone by and memories far away.

I reckon the present and the future is way more exciting than the past.

What do you think?

Beaming, Rocky IV and the perspective of relative importance

I’ve got an apology to make.

If you saw me last night on the tube on my way home from London last night I’m sorry. I reckon I was a pretty scary sight!

You see I was beaming from ear to ear. Shaking my head every couple of minutes in disbelief and amazement and giggling periodically and uncontrollably.

Earlier that night I’d been out at the Unbiased adviser awards 2014 and managed to come out winning 2 of the 3 awards I was shortlisted for!

You see….I’m easily pleased.

If the outcome of my night out at the awards last night just resulted spending some time in a room with people I like and respect from my profession, sharing ideas and meeting some great new people I would have been a happy man!

So, to win ‘Pension Adviser of the year’ and ‘Bluebook Newcomer’ in the first year I’d decided to enter was as personally surprising a result as this years Superbowl score.

or on his first visit to Upton Park the time my brother started to support spurs!

or when Sylvester Stallone beat Dolph Lundgren in Rocky IV.

What made the night even better for me is that although the competition was incredibly tough in the category I was nominated for but didn’t win in (social media adviser of the year)…


…The right person got the gong!

Pete Matthew is not only one of the most prolific figures in financial planning with a genuine commitment, incredible passion and undoubted drive….

He’s also a lovely lovely fella. Humble, Generous and Kind.

That means a lot in my book.

Whilst everyone in the category Pete won could have laid claim to being good (if not great) on social media the fact that Pete is so prolific across so many mediums and with such good content and has been doing this for a relatively long time means that his win is much deserved.

The fact that he’s one of the most decent blokes in the financial planning and advice community means he deserves it even more.

So, I’m incredibly surprised but also incredibly humbled and grateful and full of thanks to the judges for deciding I deserved the awards.

I’m Grateful for the people who take the time to “read my stuff” and let me know they’re enjoying it.

unbiased-media-awards-2014-213

I’m grateful for the people in our little team who have chosen to work with me (you and I know that you deserve the awards more than me. You’ve got to put up with me for a start!)

However I’m also (almost constantly) reminded that it’s important to put things like ‘award wins’ into perspective…

Winning and being nominated for awards is fun. It allows us to celebrate our hard work and meet a bunch of like minded people within our business.

Winning and being nominated for awards can potentially help you be

However let’s not pretend winning awards is the most important thing in the world.come more commercially successful, opens the door to build great connections and gives you a tiny bit more influence.

Family is more important.

Living an intentional life is more important.

Health and Happiness are way more important (Recently i’m reminded of this one every day).

It’s why although I’m humbled and grateful to win these awards, and really appreciative of all the people involved in running these events involved I don’t get too overly competitive.

If I win, great.

If I lose I’ll still be relatively healthy and happy.

I’ll still be determined and ambitious to succeed.

I’ll still be Dad.

But for now (and if you don’t mind…just for a tiny bit longer) I’ll just enjoy the sight of the 2 new awards sitting on my bookcase!

What do Pixar, Dr Seuss and the muppets all have in common?

Yesterday I spent my morning in the West end of London at a screening of the new Pixar movie Monsters University with Charlotte, Cassie and Charlotte’s friend.  We all loved the film but at the end it got me thinking…what makes most Pixar films so good?

Everyone knows that the team at Pixar are fantastic ‘family film’ makers. However I’d suggest that Pixar are far far more than that.  Pixar are great storytellers…

Not just for kids.  But for everyone  

Not just when compared with other films.  But across all mediums.

Pixar are just great storytellers.

Now you may be thinking that Pixar can’t compare with classic authors like Shakespeare or Dickens, modern writers like Vonnegut or Sallinger and great filmmakers like Ford Coppola or Scorsese.

Now if you believe that Pixar can’t hold a candle storytelling wise to some of the names mentioned above….you might be right.  After all, opinion about writing, film or tv tends to be pretty subjective.

However I’d suggest that you watch just the first 10 minutes of ‘Up’ and tell me whether you still believe this to be true.

Pixar films aren’t afraid to explore some pretty adult themes but these are managed with such grace that I can sit down with my wife and two daughters and each find something we can connect with.

That’s the beauty of Pixar. The films are crafted with care but look carefree.  The characters are complex enough to be interesting, but initially simple enough to be understandable and the stories are, and I tried hard to find a better phrase, as near perfect as you’re going to get.

My tastes are varied and diverse.  I love ‘The Wire’, Dexter and the Soprano’s.  I love Scorsese films.  I love the classics.

Stories in adult drama, film and books can be great.  However given the choice I’d still choose to watch the best equivalent designed for children….

I’d rather watch my favourite episode of Dr Who than my favourite episode of Dexter.

I’d rather read “Oh the places you’ll go” by Dr Seuss than “Slaughterhouse 5” by Vonnegut.

and

I’d rather watch “Toy Story” than “Casino”

Maybe I feel this way because I’ve got kids.  However I watched the first Toy Story before my eldest daughter Charlotte was born and loved it.  Based on that fact, maybe I love ‘Kids stuff’ because I’m a kid at heart.

However I’d suggest that the greatest films, books and TV shows for kids aren’t actually written for kids.  They are just written as great stories.

Interesting, complex and dynamic stories.  

Stories with heart and brains.  

Stories which move you to feel and think.

Stories which are great however old you are.

and that’s why I believe Pixar are so brilliant at what they do….and I don’t even get me started on how good the muppets are?!

However that’s how I feel….what do you think?

‘The Apprentice’ and why boasting isn’t as easy as it looks….

So, the Apprentice is back!  and I, for one, am excited   It’s an almost perfectly constructed bit of reality TV and I find myself each and every year being fascinated by the antics of Lord Sugar and co. both in and out of the boardroom.

It’s also one of the shows that I will also take the time to watch.

I don’t know about you but I’m increasingly finding that when I weigh up watching most shows or alternatively, doing something more exciting instead, I’m finding that more and more I’m deciding to do the latter.  I don’t know whether that’s a reflection on my changing attitude or a decline in the overall quality of UK television but I’ll let you be the judge!

Every year the first show always starts with similar, but slightly different, comments (boasts?) from the contestants.  We’re now on the 9th series in the UK and I’m assuming some of this years prospective apprentices have seen the show before. I’m also assuming that they intentionally say something which they believe will get Lord Sugars attention.

Among the opening comments this year were:-

"I take inspiration from napoleon...I am here to conquer"

"I'm half machine"

"I just feel my effortless superiority will take me all the way"

"I'm business perfection personified"

"I will do anything to win..cheating, manipulating..I'll do it!"

 

Now I’m sure you know as well as I do that arrogance, dishonesty and selecting a one armed war loving Frenchman as your role model are not traits which, usually, get you very far in business.

However we (and the candidates) know that making ridiculous and outlandish claims at the start seems to increase your chances of being involved in the apprentice in the first place and when the tasks start ‘the ones who can’ and ‘the ones who just tell everyone they can’ soon become apparent.

I wrote last year about how these outlandish statements used to annoy me however I’m increasingly taking the initial quotes with tongue firmly in cheek and actually enjoying them as unintentional comedy gold!  They even got me thinking, even though I’d never enter the apprentice…could I come up with some apprentice boasts which are better than the ones on the TV show.

Now this sounds relatively easy in theory…however I’ve found that in it’s actually pretty tough…

They can’t be too silly…

They can’t be too sensible…

but what they can be is expression of a degree of confidence bordering on arrogance and showing a distinct lack of self awareness.  Here are 3 that I’ve made up…

“I’m a one (wo)man business powerhouse.  I’m going to do whatever it takes and step over anyone who gets in my way.  You have been warned!”

 

“I’m like a rhino.  I charge the competition down with my unstoppable strength, speed….and with my big horn of business.” (em, possibly a bit too ‘Carry on Apprentice’ to be a genuine apprentice boast)

 

“I’m like a corporate Genghis Khan.  I unite teams, takeover competitors and then wage war on my business enemies.”

 

However now you’ve seen my (shameful!) efforts….I’ve got a challenge for you…

I want you, in the comments box below, to leave me your best (completely made up) Apprentice Boast!  Also…share with me your favourite apprentice boast from either this series or any of the previous series.

I look forward to hearing from you…

Giant Haystacks, Maggie Thatcher and polarised opinions

I grew up in the eighties and tend to look back at those years with a sense of nostalgia.

I remember Saturdays in front of the telly watching British wrestling (Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks anyone?),

I remember Kids TV.  Fraggle Rock, Fun House and He-Man (I could go on forever with this list!)

I remember the Tomytronic 3D, The Commodore 64 and the how seemingly complicated it was to transform a ‘Transformer’ back to it’s original state.

I also remember some tough times.  My dad was a Docker for the majority of his working life and I remember a period of strikes, little or no money coming into the house, the talk of ‘scabs’ and my mum working a bunch of different jobs to ensure we could make ends meet.

I’ve always been proud of my dad.  He was standing up for what he believed in.  He believed in solidarity, He believed in fighting for the working man and he believed in personal sacrifice to make a point.  He worked hard in all conditions doing work I couldn’t even think about attempting.

I’m still proud of my dad.  He wasn’t always perfect (who is?) but he provided me with the support, guidance and grounding when I was growing up. However we are very different people.

I believe in self reliance, working within a network of other self reliant, forward thinking people.  I believe there’s often better ways to make a point, political or otherwise, than ‘downing tools’ and stopping work.  I believe in fighting, but not for the ‘working man’, but to ensure my family have a better life.

Does that make me, or my dad, wrong?  No….we just have different perspectives.

When Margaret Thatchers death was announced today the memories of my early years when she was prime minister came flooding back.  I’ve spent some time today watching, reading and listening to the various comments on broadcast news and social media and, as was expected, they were completely polarised.

She was either the best or worst thing to happen to this country.

She was either a hero or villain.

She was either ‘Maggie Thatcher the great’ or ‘Maggie the destroyer’.

I’d suggest that the truth, as always, lies in between.  However there’s a few things you can say…

Firstly, she shook up the political establishment.  As a woman in Government.  As our first female prime minister and in doing so was a potential inspiration for woman who, after her and rightly so, thought that anything was possible.

Secondly, she had ‘real world’ experience.  This experience, being working in her dad’s shop or her early career as a chemist, provide in my opinion far more credibility than a politician who has spent all of their life in a political bubble.

Lastly, she fought for what she genuinely believed in.  She was very much like my dad in this respect (although he’ll probably kill me for saying this!).  Yes, their perspectives were as different as they could be.  However they both battled for what they truly, deeply believed was right. Surely this should be something we can all agree is a trait to be truly admired.

As ever I’m interested in your thoughts….