With thanks to Kate Gordon for the photos
This month, Kate Gordon and I held our event, Strictly Trustees, designed to learn if trustees are able to access the support and training they need to serve their organisations well. We were also more than a little curious, especially given my own sometimes underwhelming experience as a trustee.
Thank you for all those who turned up in central Birmingham on a Saturday morning with their own drinks and to John Lewis Birmingham for the loan of their community room.
Kate kicked off by asking two questions:
What did people wish they knew when they started? Generally, more knowledge and info about the organisation, their business problems and where to focus first.
Did you have an induction when you started your trustee role? It's rare/unheard off to have had any sort of induction training on embarking on a trustee role.
We decided on an un-conference style and these are some of the potential topics that came up for discussion; networking, CEO appraisals, funding models, time taken for action, safeguarding, term times, recruitment & diversity, which contracts are covering what costs (how do we obtain info we need from operations for informed decision making), reading the accounts, how to know which questions to ask, good governance, roles & responsibilities, skill levels.
We picked two topics to discuss and these are some of the findings:
The option to have service users on boards should be considered
Have conflict of interest declarations at the start of each meeting
Manage boundary between CEO & board
Beware founding trustees often have a personal investment
When volunteers become trustees (i.e. a trustee as a glorified volunteer).
The benefits of having meetings outside the premises
Have subcommittees to deal with operational issues ie HR
Operation v Strategic - have one person to be the link to the organisation
The benefits of having some trustee only meetings
Not knowing what questions to ask (esp. finance). How to encourage trustees to ask questions. It feels as though Charity Commission keeps racking up the responsibilities for trustees with no (budget for) training available
Using an external facilitator for away days: cost shouldn't be an issue if this makes things better and board should be prepared to spend money to invest in good trustee skills (how much do you value the board?)
The best way to ask 'stupid' questions
Having efficient meetings where discussions lead to good decisions and progress is made during them. Quite often trustees are frustrated in having to wait for another meeting for progress when decisions can be easily made via email.
Focuss on the risk register
Quality of information available for informed decision making. Trustees need good quality of information available for informed decision making and to be a critical friend to the CEO.
Terms - check against the skills matrix to see if trustee is right to stay on the board for a further three years after the initial term
How to recruit and induct new trustees. Some potential recruits may be volunteers rather than trustees.
The benefits of visiting the organisations
Frustrations around how to raise frustrations! (especially with trustees with personal involvement with charity vs those who do not)
The sometimes cosy relationship between CEO/trustee or chair
The ability of having lead trustees for specific areas
We need more diversity on boards, including younger people, which means recruiting from outside networks. 'Positive action rather than positive discrimination' (although there is a concern as having targets may mean missing on on good skilled people). Use of social media.
Overall, trustees need more from the Charity Commission; more training (E-Learning or workshops around the country), more support and more guidance. Trustees don’t always know what to ask, especially in finance matters. Interestingly, the CC have posted excellent ‘questions to ask about finance’ (see image) although it links to a long, uninspiring article on their website.
We ended with the need to keep trustees connected, but how?
I think many of us felt a little sorry when Gerald Ratner made that speech that lead to his eventual exit from his own father’s jewellery company. Especially when, as transpired, he’d said the same ‘crap’ joke at many speeches before. But this time, for whatever reason, the press went crazy and it cost him is very well paid job.
One of the reasons I picked this book up, which was recommended on a business list, was to find out why why losing his job caused him to lose his fortune too.
You’d think he’d know enough about money to ensure invested well for all eventualties. Turns out his London property was owned by his company, his own house was mortgaged to the hilt just as the property crash happened and the shares of his company went down due to his comment leading to dive in sales, but he had to sell to stay afloat.
Running Ratners is all he ever thought he would do.
He does, however, know how to build a business. He wanted to make his beloved father’s company the largest jeweller in the world and he almost did that. Most certainly the way I remember it, the four jewellery brands under Ratner did equate them to be the largest jewellery retailer in the UK and they’d already expanded into the US by buying up chains there.
It was interesting to get an idea of his background to learn what drove Ratner Junior to be in awe of his Dad and wanting to take over the business in the first section, The Rise. There were some lows, notably his sisters suicide. This came after the parents insistence that her boyfriend converted to Judaism before they could get married. He was fine with it, but then the rabbi still refused him and eventually couldn’t take the pressure and broke off the engagement.
But in the main, this book means business. For jewellery, it’s all about the window. Did you know that all diamond rings are 42″ from the ground to be at eye level of average height woman 5’4″. I’ve since checked – it’s true! Also it was important for Ratners to keep the same stock for a long time to aid people saving for engagement rings. They also had the exact same window displays in all shops to force items to become best sellers; people buy what they see often.
The world changed in the 80s though with the rising popularity of credit cards and even more since with the want-it-now generation.
Fun fact: my home town of Bedford had the pleasure of being the 5th Ratners shop.
One of the business lows was losing their buyer Terry, who has been given a lot of credit for Ratner’s success. Alarmingly, he’d managed to set up his own retail business while still at Ratners! Of course he had to leave and eventually his small chain of Terry’s stores was bought by Ratners and he was persuaded to come back as part of the deal. Of course by this time, he’d built his fortune and didn’t necessarily need the salary, although there was a tricky divorce taking place.
At this time, Ratners considered the Terry’s model to be the best and they too became a cheap jeweller rather than the stiff one that Gerald’s father and uncle had originally created. They also bought H Samuels and eventually American chain Sterlings. This is when Ratner discovered that firstly, Americans liked boutique brands so large retailers have stores under different names that locals respond to.
Secondly Americans pay their employees far more – their president got paid more than him! I’ve always felt Americans regard their retail employees much more seriously than the UK do, where working in stores is seen as a low-level stop-gap.
Although that speech proved disastrous, we learn some of other times when Ratner used the press to work in his favour, like when he spread the rumour that Ratners should be the ones to save another family jewellery chain who were in danger of going under.
I don’t recall Next – then still run by George Davis – starting a jewellery arm though. It didn’t work because they tried to make it upmarket and Next customers were expecting costume jewellery, as the author explains.
For all his rise and fall and rise again, Ratner does seem big headed even when talking about restarting his online jewellery business in the Noughties. He talks about the time of not needing offices or staff and so bragging about how many shops/staff you manage being a measure of success, became invalid. Several times he states he was Britain’s biggest online jeweller.
I’m all for ambition & yes it’s true, but give it a rest. It’s in the same category as people who feel the need to put they have an OBE on their social media profiles.
Ratner is still rather unlikeable even with the help of a ghost writer. His business theory seems solid but I can’t really feel sorry for someone who was worth £12m but too arrogant to look after his personal wealth & downgraded spectacularly after the press got wind of his crap jokes.
Just because your name is on the door, does not mean you are sheltered from catastrophe.
To complete the stereotype, after the breakdown of his first marriage, he hired a new PA and then married her.
However, for a business story, this book is thoroughly enthralling.
How do we become the best that we can be, as individuals, as teams and as organisations?
I’d be quite happy with more columnists putting out books like this because I can’t see myself buying a newspaper again. Not all columns will stand the test of time but if they’re carefully selected like these, they mostly will.
You may have noticed, I place a large amount of belief in the correlation between sport and business and have read all previous Matthew Syed books as well as many sports biographies.
Syed’s theory is that the best in the world are that because they practice more and well. As someone who believes that just about anyone can learn anything, the term natural talent is a bit redundant.
So when England’s coaches previously said there players can never play like Brazil because they aren’t born with the same skills, it was a big excuse. They should be learning from the best. It’s all in the training techniques and how much they practice which in turn helps their attitude to be that of the winning team – positive.
As we have found with the enormous improvement in England’s team in WC2018, as well as others knocking out the giants Brazil, Argentina, Spain and Germany. England finally caught the virus.
As Sir Alex Ferguson says in his Leadership book, ‘we had a virus, it’s called winning.’
Treated like infants, players become infantilised.
Often our way of ‘coaching’ football is shouting at players rather than treating them like adults. What other work situation will an employee put up with being shouted at in front of their peers if they make a mistake? Hopefully none. How do people learn by being fearful? Some do but most don’t, which is why we have had some individual sparks rather than a solid, bonded international England football team.
What does it take to win?
There are more case studies in The Greatest to prove how tweaking training is the difference between first and second. A 10th of 1 second for swimmer Adrian Moorhouse and a blink of an eye for runner Linford Christie. But there’s also the competition that spurs winners. Would Nadal have won without chasing Federer or Djokovic without Nadal?
Teams have hired scientists, dieticians, doctors and even faith healers to find that 1/10th improvement that’s the difference between winning and being the runner-up.
‘It’s no good writing your values down. You have to alter the way in which people actually behave’ – Dave Braislford – Team Sky.
Team sky look at the smallest of margins, from vacuuming riders rooms to cut down on infection and using dehumidifiers to air con and filters. They ‘developed a hunger index’ for their players and tracked it closely.
You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take
Wayne Gretzky – ice hockey player
On penalties: the advice is think less, do more. Try less hard, relax more. Switch of the conscious mind.
Why are international players not as good than when playing for their country than their club? Messi is cited as an example as was proven during the World Cup and Argentina’s early exit. Obviously it’s because they don’t have their teammates with them but could the opposite be true too? Can players perform better when they are surrounded by the best in the world than when playing domestic football?
We need do more about the motivation of why most footballers refuse to dive and play act – as was so evident in this world cup which still gave me one of the best world cups I’ve seen. In the same way most bankers refuse to take risks and most cyclists refuse to dope.
You can be friends with someone you are trying to beat. It’s what makes us human - Syed
There’s an excellent page about hooliganism. In the same way that people put up with litter, followed by broken windows and before they know it crime starts seeping in the neighbourhood it is deemed a no-go area.
So, people put up with a bit of racism and a bit of sexism and offensive charting at just about every football ground across the country put down football hooliganism as part of the game.
It’s not. Just like it's not acceptable in the workplace.
It's unlikely you will finish the book with a warm fuzzy feeling, despite all of it’s excellence, but it's pretty likely you will pick up some very small but powerful ways to improve your producitiivty.
Ready to launch your business? Take a look at my 5-point check list to be sure:
- Build awareness of your business before you launch, ideally, three months before. Start telling people and build your social media profiles.
- Have a soft launch and receive some valuable feedback, especially if you are starting a consumer business. If your market is business, ask people you know to try it out for you. This will enable you to build some case studies and much valued testimonials.
- Work out who your customer and how to find them. Build a customer base by developing a mailing list. You can even announce the launch with a countdown to opening day, another great way to build awareness.
- Get your pricing right before you launch by getting feedback, seeing what the competition charge and checking all this against what will make your business sustainable.
- Plan a launch party! Invite friends, influencers, bloggers and press.
A social enterprise is a business where the profits are used for good rather than divided with the shareholders.
Myth 1 – A Social Enterprise lives on grants
By its own definition, Social Enterprise UK (the national voice for social enterprise) defines a Social Enterprise as one that gains at least 50% of their revenue from trading. Its essence is closer to a business than a charity.
Myth 2 – It is run by volunteers
Again a charity is more often reliant on volunteers but a Social Enterprise is business like any other, that simply reinvests (at least 50%) of its profits to further its social impact. Like any organisation, it can hire volunteers too.
Myth 3 – It has to be a Community Interest Company (CIC)
The CIC legal structure is designed to ensure profits are re-invested but any business can make a profit and then give it to a cause. A sole trader or limited company can just as easily invest 50% of its profits for the good of the community. Where it helps to be a CIC is quite often when applying for grants as funders most often would expect the assurance of an appropriate legal structure before giving out the cash. Funding to undertake specific work that either helps the community or to preserve the environment most often works in the same way.
Myth 4 – The owner works for free
Just like any other enterprise, staff will be paid from the revenues received and salaries are part of the expenditure. Because, generally, most people need a salary to pay their bills. Being a social enterprise is a strategy rather than a structure.
I’ve been using the 1-3-5 method for several years as a way of focussing on the task in hand on a daily basis. It comes up in client sessions so much, it’s worthy of a permanent place here.
This technique is simply to reduce the daily to-do list to just 9 tasks.
5 small tasks
3 medium tasks
1 large task
The size of each task will vary depending simply on how many hours you have in your particular day and the order is up to you. The 1-3-5 gurantees that every day, you've accomplished 9 things.
Credit to The Muse who originally bought this to my attention.
As you probably know, I decided long ago to live a stress-free life. For Stress Awareness Month, the people at Intuit are sharing top productivity tips to help small business owners. Here are my personal tips to help you achieve a stress-free life.
I wish someone had told me this 12 years ago! Whether it’s a walk outside or putting the washing in the machine (for all of the homeworkers), a few minutes away from your screen works wonders. It’s amazing how the perfect sentence of that tricky email pops into your head when you come back to your laptop.
Complete the most difficult thing first
Try to complete it before 9am or whatever time your industry sector starts their day. This way, you can enjoy the whole day ahead having already achieved your best accomplishment. Also, you may well do the less desirable tasks faster so you can get onto the fun, creative ones.
Do something every day towards your goals
Break down any annual goals to monthly ones and then do at least one thing towards them every day. When time is short, this could be as brief as phone call or a quick email to get a conversation going.
Each day undertake 5 small tasks, 3 medium and 1 large. How big these tasks are on any particular day will depend on how long your day is but each day, you’ve potentially achieved up to 9 tasks that take you nearer to reaching your monthly goals.
To keep focus, schedule the tasks into time slots. When your time is up for that particular task, stop and move onto the next one, regardless of whether you finish it. I guarantee pretty soon you will start completing your tasks quicker. Or else, you’ll realise how some jobs take longer than you think and you’ll schedule future tasks accordingly.
I started the list with a break and end it the same way. Working breaks are great for undertaking projects or just clearing the to-do list without the pressure of completing tasks for clients. You’ll come back refreshed and raring to go with a clear head.
If you can’t spare the time for 2-3 days away from home, try a day trip to another city and visit a few different coffee shops to work in. A change of scene can be as good as a rest.
Galleries and shops are a great way for makers to gain exposure by having their work displayed and potentially sold. They need quality stock in their shops that they can sell at a profit and by having your products on a sale or return basis, it eases the burden on their cash flow.
Here are my pointers for SUCCESS in selling your products to them:
S ubscribe to their emails – find out everything you can about them so you know when to approach them, how and what you can offer.
U nderstand they receive lots of inquiries so do your research before you contact them so you can sound knowledgeable.
C ompetition – you are competing with hundreds of artists so always be thinking what makes you stand out? Your service, packaging, delivery promise, follow up or simply the product?
C reate – make sure you have enough stock of the products you promoting to the galleries. Or if bespoke, just make sure you have a variety of products for them to choose what they would like to stock.
E xplore who will stock your work regularly. What a great excuse for a day trip to the seaside and rural little towns that so often have gift shops, coffee shops and little galleries that will sell your work.
Find out what they stock and if you build a rapport, approach the owner there and then. Or at the very least leave a card and/or small sample to leave and contact them within 48 hours.
S ocial Media – while you’re engaging with potential direct customers here, also learn about potential stockists who can be wholesale customers. Making friends and supporting others is the fastest route to success here.
S ales – after all of that hard work, take action. Call them and use the famous AIDCA technique to find out who their audience is, what they need and can give that to them.
When you are buying services for the first time, it's easy to be dazzled by suppliers. So here is my guide to what you - the customer - is looking at:
Hosting – No more than £6-12 per month, probably less, especially if you pay annually
Creation – From £250 for a simple 5 page website (i.e. home, about us, services/products, contact, testimonials/case study). Expect to pay more if you need the web creator to come up with some of the wording and images too. Up to £500 for 10-12 page site.
Domain (including email address) - £2-12. Be sure to purchase both co.uk and .com versions to prevent anyone else from having your name.
From £100 for logo design which will probably include adaptation for business card or website banner if you brief them correctly. Add a bit more if you want to include some generic flyers too.
Social media management
Around £75 per month for several messages a day, 7 days a week including several engagements per week. Add more only if more than one platform managed, i.e. Twitter and Facebook
I recommend you to take this over yourself once you have mastered the platform, or at least bring it in-house when you have an employee. This allows you to be more spontaneous and to jump on opportunities and generally be personable with your engagement.
The more organised you are less your accountant will cost. It can be less than £250 per year if you're a sole trader or around £600 per year for a limited company. It will be potentially more if VAT registered or payroll involved.
Add VAT to theses prices - accountants tend to be VAT registered!
If you have any trouble finding suppliers who will sell you their services at around these prices, please email me. I'll introduce you to those trusted people who will!
October 1st 2016
It is twelve years since I left the corporate world to start my own business. About 12 years and 6 months since I made the decision to do so, for the simple reason that employers who shared my standards of customer service were becoming rare.
Looking back, so much has changed since 2004, especially with digital advances:
Email was not used widely in 2004 and people expected a landline phone number. If I wanted things to move quickly, it had to be done by phone. Now I just include my email address and Twitter on the business cards that rarely get used and just part with my mobile number if someone needs it.
While the internet had been in the mainstream for a few years, businesses didn’t automatically have a website. I had one created before I launched as I felt it would help me look more established. For the last few years of course, I’ve been creating my own and updating it frequently. It's a shop window to your business and therefor essential.
Vat threshold was around £60K. Now it’s £83,000. When I started, a credible business was expected to be registered to have the appearance of an established business. Happily I did reach the threshold in the first year so I reaped the tax advantages. Nowadays, freelances deliberately stay underneath the threshold to keep their prices minus VAT.
Similarly, a Limited Company and an office was required to be taken seriously and that worked as I found I needed to employ people within six weeks of starting in order to expand. Soon after I discovered virtual addresses and could ‘pretend’ to have offices around the country. It was some years though before I could outsource to Virtual Assistants and then freelancers, alleviating the need to employ people.
Which in turn, negates the need for offices which I would like to think I’ll never use again. I refuse to even have a desk at home; my tiny tablet-come-laptop takes up less room than the latest book I’m reading.
Around 2005/6 I want to a Chamber of Commerce event (they used to be relevant then) and saw a prototype tablet for the first time. It blew my mind. It was by Sony – everything was then. At that time, I imagined the future possibilities of being able to read from my tablet even when standing on a train rather than struggling to get my big HP laptop out.
Although the term social media was yet to be heard, we did have Ecademy - LinkedIn is the closest comparison today. I spent the first 30 minutes of my day making friends with 10 people via Ecademy, the maximum it allowed before charges. Ecademy didn’t follow me around with notifications on my phone like social media does today.
The starkest change to my life was the Blackberry. I had a Nokia smartphone first. I’d had Nokia phones since the early 1990s and for me, Blackberry smacked too much of US socialites messaging their hairdressers and dog walkers. After a year of hit and miss messaging, I made the switch and remained loyal to Blackberry until the apps I needed just didn’t come to the BB.
I always said I started a year too early. If Blackberry was in the mainstream in 2004, I may never have had to pay for telephone answering services, as many staff and offices.
I’d have a Blackberry today if they had everything I needed, only partly out of fondness of the little black gadget that released me from offices and enabled me to work from anywhere in the world. And that I did - still do.
Today, we can start our business from a phone, alert the tax man online and design our own brand on Canva followed by a website on Squarespace. We can keep all of our finances on Wave – even if we do have an accountant and do most of our marketing from our armchair or coffee shops.
When I was out for meetings in the early days (I used to have them in those days) I'd carry my big laptop around and find a hotel with internet access to plug into and work. They offered terrible little cups of expensive coffee that went cold in 1 minute. I don't think much has changed in hotels but Coffee Republic came along to every high street and changed everything. I am still loyal too to them - a a big fan of the founder - for helping to make my days better.
Now independently owned coffee shops are everywhere and welcome me and my little Surface laptop to work for as long as I please, for the price of a coffee or two.
It’s a good time to be in business.
If you’re starting a new business or want to build your reputation, the most economical and quickest way is online. This is where you will build a solid presence for your product or service:
Do you have control over your domain and can you use the name across the main social media platforms you are using? If someone has bought the domain for you (i.e. website builder) be sure you are the only person that has the log-in details that give you full control. This will mean even if you lose contact or they go out of business, your name and brand stays intact.
Ensure you have the basic pages right at the start:
Contact – including links to your social media platforms and also plenty of opportunities for people to contact you any which way.
The ‘search’ button is more important than ever
Case studies, testimonials and potentially a blog can be added later when you're ready.
Then ensure your mobile site is just as good as your desktop version,
Be sure to be consistent, relevant and topical and include an image or a link with every post across your platforms. Engagement is more important than number of followers. Be sociable!
If blogging, keep your posts consistent too with a low word count (less than 500) and plenty of images.
More than just a logo, your brand is the first impression your business makes. It’s like walking into a room and coming across as knowledgeable, enthusiastic and helpful – before you say a word. So, before putting this out there, gain some insight into how people will perceive you by asking friends, colleagues, associates – even your social media following on what they think of your brand.
Email is still king – it’s how your customers expect you to communicate with them.
Always use your professional email address – the one with @yourbusinessname - and a compact signature that links to your social media, blog and website.
If you have any questions about any of these, please drop me a line with your question here.
More on the learnings from the latest Matthew Syed book. (read the first part here)
It is better that ten guilty persons escape than one innocent suffer - William Blackstone, jurist
We assume smart people are most likely to reach sound judgments (Blair/Bush/Iraq/Iraq) but (these) people won't admit to mistakes or indeed close a business/project that's no longer working. Coincidently, this is something I have just done after 3 years of working for free on community project. It worked well, but there are so many people doing something similar now, I am no longer needed. It was hard, and I should have done it a year ago.
Talking of smart people, economists don't change their school (of thought) ever. But if they're not learning, how are they still experts? There’s the story of a surgeon who refuses to change gloves even when the patient had a latex allergy.
What you remember seeing and what you actually see are two different things. i.e. you can believe it but that doesn't mean it's true. I’d recently come across America’s Innocence project which helps exonerate innocent people locked up and the work they’ve done features a few times in Black Box Thinking.
As well as exonerating those that are wrongly imprisoned, they are campaigning for line-ups to be administered by an officer who doesn't know the suspect and for sequential line ups rather than all together. Also to film all the interrogations.
I would have thought all of this was obvious in a fair society.
How many people miss out because they want to make their product perfect before taking it to market? I’m off the mind-set that it’s better to (quietly) put your service out there and gain some feedback, then keep improving it. The author refers to this as MVP = minimum viable product.
Moving back the prison service for a minute, Scared Straight is a programme in America designed to scare young people into going straight by spending a day in prison with convicts doing time for extremely violent crimes. A documentary aired in America ignored the data – which provided no proof it worked - but believed the stories i.e. parents saying their child was different when they returned from the trip. Well of course they would be, but how?
If you ask a simple question in such a way, you’ll get the answer you want.
Many people are convinced that that government figures are fudged to look good. I’m also of the belief that some not-for-profits* are often disguised as social enterprises do the same thing, by asking the simple question.
How many people have you helped with your social business? Answer 50.
That doesn’t necessarily mean 50 people have changed (not re-offended, settled into a job, stayed sober, been clean). That just means they say they have.
People want to believe they hype that ALL not-for-profits/charities/social businesses are saints and believe the hype. I know many regular businesses that do much uncredited work for the community and causes.
There were more Scared Straight documentaries that continued with the positive outcome theory. One person featured on that first programme offended soon after & got caught decades later when he was convicted of theft and DNA was collected.
* What a term! An organisation needs to make profit in order to do good.
American Airlines took 1 olive out of their salads & saved $500,000
(and added a row of seats, as I recall).
Failure Drives Innovation
3 groups are asked to come with ideas:
One asked to brainstorm
Second had no guidelines given
Third asked to question & pull apart others ideas
Last one came up with 25% more ideas.
Dyson, Dropbox, windup radio, ATM, collapsible buggy all dreamt up due to one person having a frustrating problem.
Some people change the world, others are footnotes on the patent catalogue.
James Dyson says when he goes to patent, someone else has always done it first, his has to be a little different.
Cultures without the blame culture report more errors but make less of them.
The tragic death of baby Peter Connelly who died in the hands of his mother, her partner and his brother resulted in a media witch hunt for Social Services, rather than the culprits. This bought about death threats to the head and her family. Worse, social workers were so scared of getting the blame again, those that stayed in the profession, removed more children from families, and there weren’t enough foster parents available to look after them. A huge knock-on effect of the media's reporting caused chaos where more care was needed.
The first pilot in history to be put on trial committed suicide years after being found guilty despite doing everything he could in exceptional circumstances & saving the day by landing the BA flight in safety back in 1989. It could have gone terribly wrong, but it didn’t. He was only fined £2000 which leads us to think the judge didn’t think it should have gone to trial.
Both of these two stories clearly ended with intelligent people bought into depression by the blame culture. Imagine what may have been?
Note at Republic national bank of new York:
- search for the guilty
- punishment of the innocence
- rewards for the uninvolved
= the 6 phases of a project
I never use the F-word so reading about so much of it has resulted in my being outside the proverbial comfort zone. I’ve always said I don’t want to fail in order to succeed, but in reality, of course I have done that many times. I’ve learnt from it, done things better but never uttered the F-word out loud.
Interestingly, Japan and China are the least entrepreneurial due to failure being frowned upon in those countries. It’s taken as a sign you haven't got what it takes.
At the opposite end of the scale, in the USA it is possibly celebrated. Henry Ford and the like have all talked about failures.
David Beckham learnt from his mistake in the 1998 world cup. He was knocked down – had his hair pulled too, it turns out – but he knew like we all did, he shouldn’t have kicked back which resulted in a red card. But he went on to win the treble with his club next season. He says ‘what's life about other than learning from your mistakes?’.
I loved Bounce so have been anticipating this with some excitement. Matthew Syed undertakes all the research so we can just sit back and learn it all by reading his books.
Bounce took the idea that just about anyone can be good at pretty much anything, it just takes practice. My take on Black Box Thinking puts out the idea that if more of us learnt from mistakes, the world would be a safer, better place.
Having been to the authors promotional event at the local Waterstones, I was warned about the heart-breaking opening story about Elaine Bromiley, a healthy lady dying on the operating table during a routine operation.
The author asks who in the audience was interested in sports, education or teaching? Whilst I have an interest in all three, my category – business – wasn’t mentioned. Being a fan-girl, I just turned up and bought the book on the day. There are always a few avid readers who go to these things armed with questions. I’m not one of those.
This is how I learnt what this book was about and it is indeed entirely relevant to my world.
A good summary of Black Box Thinking is that whereas in the aviation industry, they immediately look for evidence as to why the accident happened and how they can do better next time, saving untold lives, the medical profession, in the main fails to learn from it's mistakes.
In an American study, a million people are said to be injured by hospital errors. 120,000 each year. A later 2013 study puts figure at 400,000. This is the equivalent of a 9/11 catastrophe happening every 2 months.
We wouldn’t tolerate this in any other area of preventable harm.
In the UK, 34,000 are killed due to human error.
In aviation, independent investigators immediately find out what went wrong, how to fix it and then share that openly with the world. Every pilot has access to the data. Syed says soon we won't need black box as all the info will have been already transmitted to a central database while the accident is happening.
Learn from the mistakes of others. You can't live long enough to make them all yourself.
Sullenberger, who landed the plane in the Hudson River (while I was living in just up the road in New York, incidentally) credited all the lessons learnt from aviation deaths to his safe landing.
The Toyota Production System (TPS) was put in place so if anyone on the car production line had a problem, they pull a cord which halts production. The error is assessed, lessons learnt and the system adapted. Try putting that into health service where mistakes are frowned upon & people are too scared to report their seniors, which is why the preventable death in the opening paragraph occurred.
30-60000 deaths in USA are due to central line infections (catheter placement)
A healthcare organisation in America, Virginia Mason tried to put into place Patient Safety Alerts in 2002 but no one would report the errors. After the next death, their boss issued a public, heartfelt apology. Complaints started coming in and it’s now one of the safest hospitals in the world and they saved 75% in insurance premiums too.
Pronovost (who wrote Safe Patients, Smart Hospitals) instituted 5 point check list and saved 1500 lives. Plus c $100m over 18 months in Michigan.
To really bring it home, I learn it took 264 years to put a preventative measure for scurvy in place.
So that others may learn, and even more may live - Martin Bromiley, husband of Elaine and campaigner.