Why does advertising WORK?


I'm aware that that sentence in itself is almost controversial. The classic joke about advertising is it works 50% of the time. But no one knows which 50%.

The psychological principle underlying advertising something known as "mere exposure effect" known as the "familiarity principle". I’ve been using white cards with pink chat-up lines for my Women In Pensions networking for two years – and I get a kick when I meet a new lady and she says “oh it’s you! I was given your card by a girl at work!”.

The idea behind this is simple: merely seeing something on a repeated basis makes you more likely to well, like it. It's the reason that for many years huge brands paid for TV advertising, and billboard advertising, and radio advertising. What's fascinating is that whenever a new medium comes along, such as the internet, email, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and I'M GOING TO SAY IT: Snapchat, all of a sudden businesses want to know "but does it work?". Well DURR. The basic principle underlying advertising doesn't change. Yes, you want to know that YOUR target market is in the place that YOU are advertising, so it's probably a little early for SAGA holidays to start buying space on Snapchat. As it turns out familiarity doesn't breed contempt.

In order to prove this, (in one of the craziest experiments I've learned of) a professor called Charles Goetzinger conducted an experiment using the mere exposure effect on his class at Oregon State University. The article “Attitudinal Effects of Mere Exposure” which describes this, starts:


“A mysterious student has been attending a class at Oregon State University for the past two months enveloped in a big black bag. Only his bare feet show. Each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 11:00 A.M. the Black Bag sits on a small table near the back of the classroom. The class is Speech 113—basic persuasion. . . .the professor of the class knows the identity of the person inside. None of the 20 students in the class do”.


Goetzinger had a student come to class in a large black bag with only his feet visible. What Goetzinger found is that the students in the class treated the bag with hostility at first, which over time turned to curiosity and eventually friendship. Just by presenting the black bag on a repeated basis, the attitudes of students were changed.

In essence, we come to feel affection for that which is familiar.

For new companies, and new brands, there are challenges in being unfamiliar. People haven’t had exposure to you yet. It takes time to build familiarity and liking. I’m into my second year of running the Women In Pensions networking drinks and a new bunch of women join our group every month. When someone comes for the first time, it’s all trepidation. But we turn that into friendship. We’re over 260 members now. So whether your advertising is small (like my chat-up cards for the networking) or you have a budget of millions, remember that it takes TIME. Just get in front of your clients and trust that familiarity works for you over the long term.


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Cash is King (King of the stupid)

inflation cash mars bars

Do you have savings in cash? Oh dear.

Much less chocolate for you then.

If I was writing a financial blog, it’d be now that I’d give you a long sensible spiel about how you should always keep cash for emergencies. Not today.

Today, we’re going to talk about how keeping your investment in cash is STUPID.

 Stockmarkets do this:

  • They go up
  • They go down
  • They are unpredictable

Does it matter? Not really.

Is it better to keep your money in cash then?

Hell NO.

Your real risk is that you lose out by holding cash for too long.

When I say lose out, I don’t mean you could have bought a nice pair of shoes. Or an extra holiday. I mean lose half your money. THAT’S RIGHT.


Half of your moola, dosh, spondolicks, euro, quid, dollar. 

Why? Inflation is a mean mistress.

You might look at Greece today and think that cash is a safe place to keep your money. A lot of investors like cash because they think that the original sum invested doesn’t diminish when markets are going craaaaazy. They also have this cute notion that interest payments, like OBVIOUSLY, make your cash worth more over time. It makes cash look like a sensible choice, doesn’t it?  


Are you planning on living longer? I am. That means you and me are both going to spend more years in retirement than previous generations.

You’ll be reliant on your savings and investments to fund your lifestyle.

To buy you sexy expensive nanotech for your 95th birthday to make you look like you’re still 75 and still have teeth.

And medicine - its going to advance massively, but will you be able to afford it? Will you be able to put food on your 3D-printed table?

Unless you’re into eating own-brand baked beans on cheap sliced bread which toasts badly…you might want to address that.

Have you seen interest rates lately? That’s not going to keep me in posh vodka and Charbonnel et Walker Pink Champagne Truffles*

*this is blog is not sponsored. But if anyone at Charbonnel et Walker wants to talk to me about that, I'm open to (chocolate) discussion.

Need a demonstration? That’s fine. Let’s imagine a world where interest rates are close to zero – and we’ll say inflation is a wholly modest 3% over the next 25 years. A bit like the one we’re in.

You and I both have £100,000. I invest mine in something bland, like an index fund, which tracks world markets.

You leave yours in the bank. So safe!

Fast forward ten years to 2025, – your 100k has been eroded by inflation. In real terms, it’s now worth about 80k.

And in 25 years? Under 50k.

Think of it like this - when was the last time you bought a Mars Bar?

27 years ago in 1990 a Mars bar cost 26p. Now they cost 51p. (Also they have less calories in. Why? Because Mars promised the government to cut calories – and then said the only way they could do this was to – wait for it – make the Bars smaller).

So just remember:

Inflation makes things smaller. Like your money. And Mars Bars.

Writing copy that slays your business twin

writing great copy

I shall don the hat of Captain Obvious for just one moment: The internet has changed a lot in the last ten years.

Once more, with feeling

If traditional advertising was starting to die then (with shouts of BUY MY STUFF! BUY IT!)- ten years on, selling has become entirely about fun content and the meaning attached to it.

It’s an interesting time to be a writer. To be a content person. To be alive.

Do you remember, as a child, how you would know a celebrity was dead? Via a joke travelling at Lamborghini speed through the population. Because bad-taste and funny always arrives quicker than sensible news. Where the laugh would hit you in the playground, or later in life, the pub, it’s now arriving via Twitter.

Interesting information has always been viral.

Why is it when we walk through the doors to our places of work, we suddenly become convinced that our clients want to read long brochures. Boring web copy. A list of our product features.

Imagine you’re at a party. You’re watching your friend Lauren get chatted up by identical twins. First comes Joe:

“Hi Lauren. You’re so smart! And you have really great taste in clothes. I love your dress. I hear you’re really into the Foo Fighters? Me too! I love the energy. Are you going to the concert?”…..and later…”Me? I’m interested in justice, I just want the world to be a fairer place and so that’s what I spend my days doing. And I love to travel – I get a thrill from seeing a sunrise over a new city, trying anew ice-cream, a new gallery”.

Then his twin John tries his luck. John has an identical life to his twin.

“I AM JOHN. I have a house and a car and I have been a lawyer for 5 years. I am big and clever. I have lots of clients.  I like music. I like holidays. I like ice cream. I will go to galleries. Girls who like ice cream and galleries should pick me I am better at complicated boring stuff than other lawyers. I will be an excellent boyfriend. SIGN UP FOR UPDATES ON MY LIFE BEFORE I TELL YOU ANYTHING VALUABLE”.

Is this your marketing? Your web page? 

ME!   ME!   ME!

Does your web page say “we…we….we”?

And no, I’m not suggesting that you start telling “stories” in a cute way. There’s a special hell/string-theory-alternate-universe reserved for you if you go there.

Simon Sinek once said “People don’t buy WHAT you do. They buy WHY you do it”.

These are my top picks from 3 DIFFERENT financial companies this week. Can you tell me who they are? (if you can, we need to talk. Probably with wine).

  1. “We aim to be the most respected financial services firm in the world, serving corporations and individuals in over 100 countries.” 
  2. “Our multiple business divisions work together to provide customers and clients the best offerings across our chosen markets.”
  3. “…is a leading global investment banking, securities and investment management firm that provides a wide range of financial services to a substantial and diversified client base that includes corporations, financial institutions, governments and high-net-worth individuals”

THRILLING. Sign me up for financial services, big boy.

Where were we? Ah yes. Stop being boring. I challenge you to re-write your “me-me-me” copy and delete the word “we” wherever possible. WHY do you do WHAT you do? What drives you? Tell your audience.


Want to innovate? It's the small things

 "and then Nigel said...'no I want the largest coffee you have'."

"and then Nigel said...'no I want the largest coffee you have'."

Imagine this: A hazardous chemical has entered the water supply. There is no way to get the poison out of the system, and no alternative sources of water. We know the poison will cause mild brain damage, but we can offset it by giving everyone a form of gene therapy (for the science geeks – it’s “somatic” – and cannot be passed on to their offspring).

10 years later, we find out the chemical is going to vanish from the water, allowing us to recover gradually from the brain damage. If we do nothing, then we will become more intelligent, since our permanent gene-enhancement will no longer be offset by the continuous poisoning.

So, smarty-pants, would you undergo neurosurgery to keep your intelligence at the status quo?


But as a consequence, you, me, everyone will be wandering around with super-brains. Since it’s good if there is no poison in the water supply, then it’s also good in a scenario in which the water was never poisoned.

What if there was no water problem? What if I had suggested that we all have gene therapy to become smarter?

Does that feel different? Why is that?

The scenario above is thought experiment - an example of a “double reversal”  . It’s a good way to think about a problem when you’re trying to shift people away from the status quo.

The status quo FEELS good. It feels comfortable. So how do you break yourself and others out off the habit?

In essence, imagine that the new option you’re trying assess IS reality. Then try to argue AWAY from it and towards your current reality.

Marketing heads: Imagine you allocate 100% of your advertising spend to digital and social media, and have a full-time content creation team. Then try to argue for spending 70% of your budget on print and traditional media instead (or whatever it currently is).

Finance gurus: Imagine you’re invested 60% in emerging market equities in your pension fund. Now try to argue for switching to what you're invested in now. Or, imagine you sold everything you owned yesterday and now just have cash. Would you buy back what you used to have?

Everyone else: Imagine you’re doing the job of your dreams, living the life you want.

Now make the argument for stopping that, to work in a job like your real one and live your current life.

The status quo is so ingrained in us. We have an emotional preference for the current state of affairs. Think about these phrases:

“Better the devil you know (than the devil you don’t)”

“Leave well alone”

“Let sleeping dogs lie”

and, of course:

Mighty Meaty Pizza (would you really add ALL of those toppings if they weren’t presented as a default?)

Inertia is our enemy. Inertia, and cake, in my case.

This week I imagined I was a super-fit person who goes to the gym 3 days a week, and then tried to argue for being a lazy git instead. I lost that argument.

What do you want to change? If you want to motivate others to think about something new, paint them a vivid picture that shows the new idea in all its glorious reality, and then get them to argue away from it.

Let me know how it goes.


Be a better presenter!

If you enjoyed school, then you’re probably a terrible trainer

It’s also highly possible that:

  • If you enjoyed school, you’re really bad at communicating.
  • If you sailed through university, you’re a terrible presenter.
  • If you like to follow all the steps to get things done, you’re failing half your team.

This might just be me playing devil's advocate. 

I found out there are different styles of learning. Yes, I knew, at least in theory, that you can be a visual, or a kinaesthetic learner, or auditory. When it remains abstract though it doesn’t help any of us.

So it had never made much difference to what I did.

But I’m in the middle of creating a new kind of online course. I needed to learn how other people learn, and in the process, I found out some things about myself.

I found out why school bored me.
Why I need to be more structured as a manager.
Why the chatty people at work HAVE to be chatty
And why some of the team want to be left alone in silence to read the manual.

It turns out there are strong learning preferences. It’s based on how we learn as babies – essentially, our modes of discovery.

“all babies gather information by actively testing their environment, much as a scientist would. They make a sensory observation, form a hypothesis about what is going on, design an experiment capable of testing the hypothesis, and then draw conclusions from the findings” (John Medina, The Brain Rules).

The brain is wired to keep learning as we age.

Jason Teteak has a nice way of putting it, based on years of teaching students – that we have four learning preferences. It's possible you'll be a combination of these:

Read/Write - Research learners
Learn most effectively by doing what you are doing right now: researching and investigating on your own. Research learners are up for debating & discussing the information in small groups after they have read and built up some expertise on the subject.

Visual – the Step learner
Step Learners. Need to have an agenda, write all the steps down, have a strong desire to stay organised at all times. Using visual aids to the big picture, especially those that address multiple ideas at once to show the relationship between them all.

Create learners
Need to create the answers - they figure out things on their own. They don’t learn when they just write down the steps, they require synthesis – in that they need to put the information in their own words. They need to use their imagination

Talk Learners
Talkers process information verbally. By talking through ideas, experiences, and concepts in groups they get it It helps them to work with a partner. It’s almost as if they need to have a silent 1 on 1 conversation with the person they are learning from. Basically, thinking aloud.

School is not for some of you

Research learners and Step learners do just fine in school – in fact, it’s totally geared for them. Unfortunately, it’s not the place for Talk/Create learners, which is how I would categorise myself. Given that, I realised why I spent years staring out of the window in school and why chemistry was fun (experiments are perfect for the create-learner) but maths was lost on me (too conceptual and very little practical creation).

When we discussed this in the office we realised that we’re a combo of different styles, as you might expect.

What you want ain’t what they want

What I realised is that I wasn’t giving enough direction to the step learners. That the research learners needed to have everything written down.

And most of all, I realised that the courses we make to teach people online, need to be very different. In training, you need to hit every learning style.

It’s especially hard for the talk learners to learn online – but video is good and video backed by an interactive forum (where you can make friends to chat through topics) is great.

The step learners need clear instruction and they love a checklist.

The research learners want to read it (as well as watch it), so you need a downloadable written guide for them to follow.

And the create learners? They need to put it all into their own words. They need synthesis. You need to ask them to re-write or re-create content for them to get it.

The most crucial lesson - is that we naturally teach others how we learn ourselves – so you need to be aware of how to help others understand,  in the way that they actually process information. It takes patience and planning. If you excelled in school then you’re probably teaching in the way that worked for you - and totally failing the Talk/Create learners.

The benefit to your business is that once you know how you all learn, you can all contribute to creating brilliant training, and better marketing. When team members know to say: “I need this. It’s what would help me learn”, all of us benefit.

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Do your customers love you enough?

Screen Shot 2016-09-21 at 14.57.14.png


Want to know how to test loyalty - ask 'em to bring a shovel

Friends. I always think you can divide your friends into three camps, based on this slightly gruesome but otherwise effective test:

You’ve accidentally killed someone. Someone bad. The circumstances are such that if you call the police you will almost certainly be locked up for a very long time. 

You decide to bury the body.

But you need help. So you call a friend. 

Your friends can be divided into 3 categories:

  1. Those who would turn you in
  2. Those who would not turn you in, but would not help either
  3. Those who bring a shovel.

I’ve always put my sister in the shovel camp, but actually she’s better than that. She’d turn up with snacks, gloves, and duct tape. I used to put my brother in that camp, but now he has a child I’m not sure I could rely on him for a shovel. I’m sure he’d say something about not going to jail. Meh. 

Now, all three of these friend types have their place in your life, because, let’s face it, you’re unlikely to bury a lot of bodies, but you do need people who bring you boxes of fudge back from Cornwall, or take the dog out for a wee when you go drinking. 

Would any of your customers bring a shovel?

Customer loyalty is like that. Very few customers are going to be with you through thick and thin. The minor few are going to spread the word about your business or service, because they love you in a bring-a-shovel way. Some of them are just going to observe what you do (but never help) and some of them are just going to tell you what’s wrong. Or worse, tell other people what you’re doing wrong. 

So you need to make it easy to gather customer feedback. Whether that’s open comments on your blog, or letting people say mean things on YouTube comments, it’s all helpful. 

There’s one problem. We hear what we want to. It’s a beautiful trick of the mind called CONFIRMATION BIAS. You know how when you’re having a heated argument about, oh ANYTHING and rather that listen to the opposing side, you tend to look for evidence to support what you think.

Think of an office colleague you’ve worked with who you hated. Rather than approach the situation logically you see everything they do as evidence of their incompetence/ineptitude/sheer evil. 

That's because people don’t consider the facts, they look at them through a lens of their own opinion. That’s how two people on opposing sides can hear the same story and both hear different things to support their beliefs. 

This Dilbert comic nails it:

So you need to be on the lookout for feedback, but also make sure you’re actually HEARING it. There’s an internet meme on what British people say versus what foreigners hear. It makes me laugh because a) it’s true, and b) when you’re not straightforward, confirmation bias can run wild, screaming misunderstanding down the corridors. If you think about how politicians (and business people) quite often talk in vague riddles, you can see how easy it is to cherry-pick your argument.

I liked this one the most: 

British person says: “That’s a very brave idea”

British person means “You are insane”

Foreigner hears: “She thinks I have courage”


So get out there. Be brave. Or insane. But do ask for feedback. 



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My dog can read

The other day, my friend Kat sent my dog, Mr Chewie, a pig’s ear in the post. Now, she’s never taken up this kind of mob-behaviour of sending me body parts in the post. Which is surprising. Partly because when we worked together in a hot and sticky pub kitchen back in 1993, I once left a face-level microwave deliberately open to smack her in the face. She did deserve it though. Probably.


Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

Mr Chewie and me have been together since last October, when I answered the call to foster an old, rusty coloured sad-faced staffy rescue dog for a couple of days. Chewie has been surprisingly linguistic. I’ll often say things to him and then be astonished when he does exactly what I say. Like the time we were walking around the park in the pouring rain and I said, almost under my breath, if he just had a poo we could go home and get out of the rain. He stopped dead, did his business, and then turned around in the park and trotted towards home.


The lady who runs the Arundawn Rescue, the lovely Elaine, is what I would call an expert in human behaviour, as much as she is in animals.

Because I fell for the oldest trick in sales. It’s called Endowment. You’ve come across it if you’ve ever seen one of these:

 -       Try it free for 30 days!

-       Test drive our car today


Both of these tactics let you have something, even for a brief time, to get attached to it. It’s so common in rescuing dogs it’s got its own phrase: “failed foster”. My sister has a lovely “failed foster” greyhound called Molly, who has very soft and fluffy ears. Probably would have failed there myself.


How to be a sucker

It works like this:

1)   It’s not my dog

2)   Oh this dog is sweet

3)   Telling people in the park “he’s foster dog” and then they tell you what a brilliant human you are for fostering a dog and the other dog owners stop and talk to you. You have an instant fur-based social circle (this is another behavioural effect – social proof!).

4)   After 3 weeks Elaine calls you to say someone wants to adopt your dog.

5)   NOT MY DOG> No. MINE!

Congratulations. You’ve adopted a dog / bought a new car / failed to cancel your free trial.

Don’t feel bad. You’re just a flawed human like the rest of us.


“It had my name on it”

Back to Mr Chewie. When I popped back at lunchtime, after 11 glorious months of living together, I found he’d chewed the post. This was the first time he’d ever been naughty, so I was very surprised. He’s a dog who had no microchip, no name, no history. Where had he come from? Was this a turn in his behaviour?

No, it turns out the single piece of post he’d chewed…was addressed to him. Literally. Kat had written “Chewie Lewis” on the envelope.

And the thing is, he’d ripped the envelope open. But not eaten the pigs ear. I guess he just wanted to, you know, check what it was.

Now, this could be me falling for a random event. You know, being human. Me, I think that Mr Chewie can read.











The lucky path

Do you brag? It means you’re lucky

Are you likely to tell everyone how well you did? That you totally nailed your last client meeting? You’re probably American. If you were more reserved and said “it went well, I think they might be pleased” you might be British. And if you’re looking on in horror as the Brit and the Yank lean over their beers talking about great skiers they are (because they go twice a year), after you said you’re an “ok” skier, despite having worked 6 months in a skiing report as instructor, well, you’re probably Swedish. Or female. Or both.

Our representation of our skills and abilities is culturally defined.  

I should be so lucky, lucky, lucky.  

Is that same for our understanding of luck? How likely are you to attribute your success to luck?

 If you were born in the first world, in a country with running water, good hospitals, structured education and didn’t sleep under the stars every night, then you’re doing better than most of the world’s people. I’ve been reading the wonderful Success and Luck by Robert H Frank. So let me tell you this. You are one lucky bastard.

 If you amass a fortune you’re no doubt talented and hardworking. It’s a central premise of the conservative mind-set in our country. However, there are lots of talented and hardworking people who never earn much. What Frank’s research and his book points to is why the rich underestimate the importance of luck in their success, and why that hurts our society as a whole – including the wealthy.

A cheap car on a good road, or sports car in a field?

He argues that when we recognise the role of luck in our success, it is easier for the wealthy to acknowledge that everything from the smooth roads they drive their expensive cars on, to the very well (state) educated people that staff their organisations contribute to both their happiness, and their success.

I was once the guest of a very wealthy man who drove me around Scotland in his expensive Porsche on some terrible roads. The car ride was terrible, but the row about politics way worse. Awful Hugh, who was nominally Scottish, but sounded like he’d just stepped out of a bar in Chelsea, was solid in his conviction that his success was all his own doing. He couldn’t acknowledge that his expensive education and privileged upbringing had been a matter of luck. But his success, like his car, was in need of the state infrastructure that supported it.  

It’s too easy to forget how lucky you are. That’s why when the rich argue that they should keep more of their “hard earned cash” they are ignoring the roads that transport their goods, the health system that keeps their staff well, and taxes which allow people a greater share of the “luck” which we all need.

There’s a great review quote within the first few pages of the book:  

"Building a successful life requires a deep conviction that you are the author of your own destiny. Building a successful society requires an equally deep conviction that no one's destiny is their own to write. Balancing these seemingly contradictory ideas may be the most important social challenge of our time.” - Duncan Watts 

Frank argues for a progressive consumption tax, so that the more you spend on frivolous expensive things, the more you pay. Which makes sense to me. Because if shiny sports cars were, say, twice as expensive, then the truly rich could still drive them, but the higher taxes would be paying for better roads. Better for them, better for us all.

I doubt it would have improved my trip with Awful Hugh, but at least my bones wouldn’t have been rattled.









“Same day dry cleaning” is only the name of the shop, and other lies.

This is your weekly column. Well, when I said week, I only meant I’d publish it, you know, in a week. Not like weekly. Or on a schedule. And I didn't say which week it'd start.

But then political untruths seem to be in this week. Like Countries committing economic suicide. That kind of thing.

We once bought “smokeless dripless candles” from a corner shop on the way to a birthday party. Those candles melted faster than any birthday candle I have ever seen, wax all over the cake, black smoke pouring off the candles. It was both horrible and acrid to watch, and very, very funny. A bit like British politics.

Last week on Thursday I was in New York. I say this obviously to impart glamour. Add an air of worldly sophistication. A nuance.

I was there on business – hosting a session at the TSAM conference, which is all about suits and finance. Seeing as I had never chaired a conference session before and this was in a room of Americans, as a native brit I was trying my hardest not to be British, and be interactive and have fun with the audience.

The session went well. Largely down to the panellists who were smart and funny. It was too early for anyone to be drunk, anyway.

Channelling the spirit of Gary Vaynerchuck (hilariously sweary American entrepreneur. In fairness he’s not actually dead) I asked the audience of 50 client reporting people how many of them were marketing to their clients like it’s 2016. “How many of you…are using video?”.

One hand.

You’re understandably appalled. Me too. I felt smug for all of 10 seconds. Until I realised I have no video on my own site. None. Nada. Nil.

That’s not to say it doesn’t matter. I have plenty of ideas for video. I know exactly what I want the films to look like. I have a script in mind, and the truth is – perfection is the enemy of the good.

It’s also because when I have a choice between picking up the phone to call a client about work, or sorting out the video – the client comes first. This is the problem that most of us in a B2B business face. Video is nice. But we secretly think that we get hired because of our years of experience. Because we go to events. I understand my clients – because I’ve been in their shoes. And I’m busy, so who needs it?

I’m not actually that cocky. I know that video is vital…and yet I drag my heels. Unfamiliar territory brings fear, and if there’s one this that B2B businesses do exceptionally well, it’s creating a honed fear of screwing their reputation. We’d rather do one beautiful thing than 20 shoddy ones. This is human rationalisation in action - my thoughts on video : "I'm bad at it, therefore it must not be important". Nice one, brain. Thanks. 

Alas, it’s a new world. Your content has to be good, but it also has to have volume. Body. It has to be like 1980’s hair. BIG. SHINY. Flammable. Fit for MTV.

Despite next week’s intake of interns, and current client workload, I’m determined to create my first, probably terrible video. Why? Well, when we arrived back at the hotel at 1am in New York, having been cocktail-hopping with fellow conference peeps, I saw the Brexit result. I was horrified. I also realised that as the pound would skydive, my chances of selling my services to my American cousins would go up. Despite my childhood wishes (fuelled by too much science fiction and Wizard of Oz), there is apparently no time travel and no ruby red instant transport slippers.

Seeing as I can’t be in two places at once, I guess it’s time to embrace a bit of video schmoozing.

Yes, I said SCHMOOZING. I fell ever so slightly in love with New York. I’m hoping the states doesn’t commit Trumpicide. I’d like to go back.

So fellow B2B’ers – what are you avoiding: Video? Twitter? Snapchat?

All of the above?

Confess all here. It’s time to make some smokeless, dripless candles and weekly columns.



Irresponsible reporting and customer personas

Individual as we are, we're all influenced by the behaviour of our peers.

Giving people examples of others behaving badly is a really bad idea. Deadly, in fact.

It is also why is this Telegraph headline is so stupid and irresponsible:

“Why are so many middle-aged men committing suicide? New figures show that men in the forties and fifties are twice as likely to kill themselves as the rest of the population.”

Talk about telling middle aged men that “more people like you are committing suicide”.

You can reframe the same facts as:

“only 19 people in every 100,000 commit suicide, showing that this is a rare event. Most people would never contemplate such a thing, and so if you have ever had thoughts along these lines, you should seek help”.

I use this extreme example because using behavioural techniques, whether knowingly (or unknowingly) can have powerful effects. Even unintentionally. And you might be using them unintentionally. It's why we have press guidelines that caution on how suicide is reported, because research shows that inappropriate reporting of suicide may lead to imitative or ‘copycat’ behaviour.

Look at, for example, how case studies and customer personas are often touted as a way of “getting into the mind of the customer”.

NOPE. It's a bit more subtle than that.

Let’s say you run a Tennis club, and you’re chasing outstanding member subscriptions. The thing is, knowing that Colin is 45, likes cats, and drives a VW Golf isn’t going to help you.

What we should be doing is trying to work out how to talk to Colin about his place in the world. What he sees as his relative ranking.

Each of us vary on how we rank ourselves, compared to others, depending on context we’re in.

We use other's behaviour as a cue for what we should desire. For what’s acceptable. In behavioural geek-speak, it’s called a descriptive norm.

Here’s how to put these two social influences together – let’s say you want to Colin to pay his tennis club subscription on time.

This would be a descriptive norm:

“Dear Colin, your subscription is still outstanding. Most people in the Ealing club have now paid….”

And this would be a relative ranking:

 “Dear Colin, you’re in the last 10% of people who haven’t paid for their tennis subscription.

Put them together:

 “Dear Colin, We’re sure it’s just an oversight, but you’re in the last 10% of people not to have paid their subscription for the coming year. Most people in the club have now paid. Paying your subscription in time helps us to manage the services for everyone who uses the club, and so we would be incredibly grateful….”

Of course, it’s possible that Colin will now take comfort in having 10% of people to keep him company in being late. That’s why we always recommend testing behavioural interventions!

So, if you get asked about customer personas and case studies – just remember that:

  1. Customer personas work when we look at who the customer is influenced by. What they care about. How they are seen by their peers, for example.
  2. Case studies work when we show the customer how people who are similar to them have behaved.

Lastly, check look around your own workspace for examples. I worked for a huge company where every Friday we'd get an email from cleaning services, complaining how everyone always left out-of-date food in the fridges.  A great example of using a descriptive norm to tell everyone that leaving their sushi in the fridge for 8 days straight was what everyone else did too!

Any questions or queries – let me know, I'd love to hear them. Have you got an example to share?


Procrastinating? Not anymore

 Procrastination, hear me ROAR!

Procrastination, hear me ROAR!

Working for yourself means you’re always learning.

I want everyone to know this: Learning is a by-product of DOING.

So much procrastination is caused by the putting off...of DOING.

I just need to learn how to take care of myself

I just need to learn how this blogging thing works before I try it

I’m still learning, I’m not ready to show anyone my work yet.

I’m still learning, I’m not ready to call….

I’m still learning, I’m not ready to do….

I’m still learning, I’m not ready to make….

I’m still learning, I’m not ready to ship….

Yes. Yes you ARE.

We all fall prey to this. You. Me. Big corporations.

When you’re beaten away from the idea of blogging, and somehow convince yourself you need a shiny new laptop. When you’re vacillating about vlogging, and lose days researching high-end video equipment that you don’t need. When you say you’ll ‘wait and see’ if the idea, the product, that you want to sell gets more popular BEFORE you start selling it.

We’ve somehow fallen into a cultural dialogue where we justify why we’re not doing something. Because you were waiting for motivation. Waiting not to be scared.

Well here’s the headline:



First, you must break inertia. You’re only a land-dwelling hairless monkey, because one of your ancestors decided that, legs or NO LEGS, this fishy was going to see what land was like.

Because your ancestors, and you, are a march of progress.

The chances of you being alive? Well, those odds are so long that they practically rate as zero. Really. The probability of you existing at all comes out to 1 in 10x2,685,000— yes, that's a 10 followed by 2,685,000 zeroes! Zeds. OOOHs.

So whatever you try - It has a higher probability of succeeding than you had of being alive. You can’t fail, you see. You’re here. You exist.

Get to it.


Snapchat for business - and why facebook should be treated like booze

First off - why is Snapchat is great — and Facebook should be restricted like alcohol?

My mum was a youth worker for many years, and retired in the early days of the Internet, around the end of 2002. She worked in a 6th form college, with 16–18 year olds.

Now mum, she is internet savvy. At the end of her working career, she was horrified by the kind of things her students were putting on the Internet. She used to lecture them about how this would follow them around forever and they should be careful.

Think about that. 2002. Pre-Facebook. We’re talking MSN chat. Email. AOL. DIAL UP.

Now, I’m a grown up. I understand that Facebook has an enormous amount of data on me. Pictures of me drunk and dancing on tables/ships/the graves of my enemies. Well, I own that. I don’t mind. If I were considering a political career, I might be a bit concerned about having to pretend to have never been a human being. Actually, no I wouldn’t. We could probably do with a few real people in charge*.

(*let me know if you’d like to fund me for Prime Minister).

The concern about Facebook for teens is something else. They are learning. They are risk-taking (and the bit of the brain that takes risks doesn’t develop at the same pace as the bit of the brain which calculates risk, which explains a lot).

Facebook is an archive of peoples lives, and privacy is a huge concern. Like alcohol, Facebook should be restricted for teens.

The perfect vehicle for teens to play safely with the booze of the internet: Snapchat.

Snapchat is low-octane privacy booze.

Teenagers live in the NOW. They don’t care about documenting their terrible haircuts, or Justin Bieber obsession. They live in a constant now. Much like I used to.

When I was a teenager, developing films was expensive. Just 7 rolls of film document my life from 14–25. At least two of those are documenting a one day trip to Cairo. Another a horrible trip to Berlin at 19 with people who have thankfully disappeared from my life (Apart from you, hilariously camp Jason, whose surname I don’t remember). That’s less than 200 photos over ELEVEN years. (I bet you have more photos than that on your phone right now)

In the Time Before Facebook we lost people. Made friends. Made memories. Forgot memories. Had no reminders. Thankfully.

There is an element of saving in Snapchat — yes you can screenshot/save snaps out of context BUT the ability to be rough, ready, real and authentic is of massive value to teenagers and anyone else in the state of learning.

It takes us back to a time where we can test, learn and adapt without committing ourselves — like marketers committing to a video which sits on your website, or youtube, forever indexed against your brand. For me, it means I can try things and see if they work. Both for me, and anyone watching my story on Snapchat.

The fact that snaps and snap-videos disappear from my Snapchat story within 24 hours is of huge benefit to people like me, testing their way in a medium they are unfamiliar with, particularly video. I like the fact that it encourages you to “ship” every day, as marketing guru Seth Godin would put it. You have to make an effort every day. It’s a lot closer to how we used to live our lives. We used to talk and then those words were gone — retained only in people’s memories and imaginations.

As teens age, they might want to document more of their life. Maybe they’ll stay with the platform they grew up with. Perhaps they’ll migrate onto Facebook. Unlikely, though. Maybe, just maybe, we're going back to a time where not everything is captured forever, and that is good.

Who am I kidding? Those teens might be rough and ready on Snapchat, but they are documenting the glammed-up hell out of everything that moves on Instagram.

Different tools, different rules.

Snapchat is a learning environment

A bike with stabilisers.

Swimming with armbands.

A supervised party.

It’s a safer place for teenagers to play then the catalogued life of Facebook.

Snapchat is also a marvelous playground for businesses to experiment, and learn, in a environment where they too are not held to the high glossy standards of corporate video. Not to mention, Karen in the legal department panicked by permanence.

Are you in business for the long haul?

No lifelong friendship has a catalogued ledger of things said and done, only a memory of the extreme.

Of the good

Of the bad

Of the laughter

Of the tears

Of that time your shoes smelled so bad we had to put them in quarantine on the porch.

Snapchat raises the bar for businesses.

No more staid corporate video. You’ll be gaining loyalty that you only get from providing value, regular

thentic than your competition.

One tip though — if you’re creating your username try to come up with something more original than Hannahflewis2.

Like I said. I’m learning. Are you?



When in Rome — Time v Money


I’m a big fan of Gary Vaynerchuk, and the way he views the world. Like him, I agree that TIME is our most precious asset.

I was thinking about this on my amazing trip to Rome with my friend The Redhead this month. We went for a long weekend. We also planned badly. Both so busy in the run up to taking the flight, we were barely aware what hotel we were in, what we’d be doing when we arrived, and neither of us had learned more than please and thank you in Italian.

Firstly, we took a taxi from the airport, with a truly insane taxi driver. It was the single most terrifying car ride of my life, her life, and it’s worth stating that we arrived at the hotel deeply shaken and grateful to be alive. I was feeding Red sweets from the bowl at reception to stop her passing out. Kind of like first aid, using cheap sugar.

Despite our lack of planning, we managed in three days to cover the Colosseum, the Trevi fountain, the Spanish steps, the Roman settlement, the Vatican, the Sistine chapel, the Basilica, 3 lovely dinners, getting drunk, and even sleeping. We walked 29 miles, took the metro (and very few taxis!), and learned that when you’ve walked 29 miles in three days and you usually sit at a desk…you will learn to hate steps of any kind.

Right now, I’m a big fan of an incline. At least until I start having limbs which don’t ache when they think about stairs.

And now for the behavioural bit.

The Redhead and I applied a sunk-costs approach to the holiday. And we did it on two fronts. What’s a sunk cost? It’s when you have expended so much time, energy or money, that spending a little more won’t hurt.

When we hit the Colosseum on Sunday morning and it turned out that it was a) the first Sunday of the month so it was free AND b) the whole of Italy and the rest of Europe and America had turned up to take advantage, we revised our plans.

We took one look at the queue of 300 people and decided NOPE. We also looked at the “skip the queue line” which was better, but we concluded ALL OF those people were going inside, and it was going to be manic. Instead, we walked around the outside of the Colosseum, took loads of nice pictures and booked tickets to skip the line for Monday morning. Then we went to the Roman fort next door. Which was also free but practically empty by comparison.

Free v Sunk Costs

Entertainingly, as we trotted across the road from the Metro towards the Colosseum, we passed an English couple being hawked by a very pleasant man for tickets to “skip the line”. They were very rude to the hawker — and said to the hawker that they “would be getting in for free anyway”.

We passed this English couple at the end of a queue of 300 people as we walked off to the fort.

Now, I’m assuming that they didn’t live in Rome. Nor did they get there for free. In which case, they were using:

One of their weekends

Four flights (UK-ROME-ROME-UK x2)

A hotel

The metro (6 euros)

All this to get to the Colosseum. To stand in line for 2–3 hours, to save 15 euros a person. Roughly £22.

If you think of this cost in the context of getting to Rome it is clearly insane not to pay the price, if you were determined to go in on that day.

So why didn’t The Redhead and I? Because it was so busy it would have been a terrible experience whether you skipped the line or not. Plus, we had Monday and we could come back.

Here’s the difference — we applied a sunk-cost approach to our time too. You might as well maximise the time you have in Rome, whether it’s by taking taxis, or eating in the highly-rated hotel restaurant (highly rated because our bodies hurt from all the walking and it was right there).

Equally, what logic were that couple using?

The power of free. “Free” is so powerful a concept our minds struggle with it. Increase your charge by £10 for an item, say it now has “free shipping” and you’ll see your sales increase.

Which is why the UK government wanted to make “free advice” for investment products transparent. But what happened? People can see that they are being charged for advice, so they don’t take it AT ALL.

When using behavioural interventions, you need to be careful — because it’s the law of unintended consequences that result — like 300 people turning up to take advantage of “saving” a few euros, when they have spent a fortune to get to Rome! The “Skip the line” queue was geared to those who value their time more than their money.

So, think about your clients — you can always offer options to save TIME and options to save MONEY. You’ll find different people want different things. Give them the option to choose.


Do you think it’s obvious? Does your customer?

My older sister had gone to Edinburgh to judge a dog show. Liza and I are very different, apart from the headline family trait of being utterly obstinate. 

Liza is a riding instructor. She also judges dogs. Her life is all wellies and waxed-jackets and mud and fur. She left home at 16 to live at a stables. She’s been married for 20 years to a lovely bloke. She had a house at 23. She’s utterly wilful, kickass. AND FRIGHTENINGLY ORGANISED. I always think of her having it totally together.

My life has been more one of white shirts, lipstick, and wine bars. I generally try to avoid mud.

Knowing Liza is up in Edinburgh, a place I Iove, (which incidentally has the best soup and sandwich ever, and a chocolate brownie so good I’m glad it’s the other end of the country), I text her to see how its going. She says:

 “I’ve been at the airport 3 hours and I’ve just missed my plane!”


 “I’ve had to buy another ticket and my flight doesn’t leave for 2 hours”.

I’m left mystified until I speak to her.

It turns out at the age of 46 my sister has never flown alone before. Never.

Well, apart from the flight up to Edinburgh.

She didn’t know that you’re supposed to be at the boarding gate at least 30 minutes before a flight. Being organised, she’s read every single note that came with the ticket and tells me

“Nowhere does it tell you that you need to be at the boarding gate early. Nowhere.”

Having only ever been to an airport with someone else, she’d always –unknowingly- been steered by them. And by some fluke, on the way up to Edinburgh from London she’d wandered up to the gate 10 minutes before the flight and although she had been the very last person to board the plane, she hadn’t thought much of it. She didn’t know to look at the screens to check for boarding. And although, at the check-in in Edinburgh, they had drawn a big fat circle around her boarding time on her ticket and wordlessly handed it across – she hadn’t looked at it. She didn’t know that she was supposed to. She just popped it in her pocket to keep it safe.

The person who checked her in at Virgin in London didn’t tell her.

Neither did the Virgin check-in at Edinburgh.

Probably assuming that a woman in her mid forties travelling alone knew the drill. Didn’t want to bore her. Or maybe that’s just how Virgin does it. 

It’s this level of assumption we make when talking to customers. That they know what we’re talking about. That they know the drill. And the thing is, not all of them do. The ones who need it the most really, really don’t.

It made me think about my own project (looking at pension communication). I’ve waded through pages awash with jargon, and then a brain-stumping glossary of how to decode it. Instructions lost in a sea of legal buttock-covering. Big points missed. Big words, highlighted in big coloured boxes, but with no meaning for the reader. Vital information hidden in plain sight – the equivalent of circling a boarding time, but never explaining why it’s important, or what it means to the person looking at it.  

When Liza arrived at the gate 10 minutes before the plane was due to fly she didn’t understand why they wouldn’t let her on. Because to her, plane times are like train times – 4pm is 4pm, surely, not 3.30pm. I CAN SEE THE PLANE she said I CAN SEE IT RIGHT THERE. 

Clarity does more than help your reader, it sells. You owe it to your audience. Stories help illustrate points. Brevity helps the human brain retain points. Making points clear, well, helps make points. Repetition can be tiring but it also helps to drill those pointy-points into your brain.

Liza checked in for her re-booked flight with a different airline.

She’d spent several hours in the confines of Edinburgh airport, and was livid that Virgin had refused to let her on the plane (despite the fact it was a whole 10 minutes before take off. Sheesh.).

The BA check-in lady circled the boarding time on Liza’s ticket. As the lady handed it to Liza she said “I’ve circled the time you need to be at your boarding gate, so that you don’t miss your flight”. (ouch)

One airline didn’t make it obvious, the other did. I’m betting that she’ll trust BA instead of Virgin next time.  

How can you make your brand the trusted one? The differences are often small, but they can mean so much to your customers.

Are you a communication dinosaur?

I’ve spent the last few weeks up in Edinburgh at the fringe, seeing a range of fun and exotic shows.

One of the most amazing things I saw last week was a mime show, with a man pretending to be a velociraptor (dinosaur, if you are one of the few people who has never seen the film Jurassic Park). What made this so entertaining won’t be conveyed well in words, but it was hilarious.

What was brilliant though, was the Middle Aged Man sitting in front of me who hated Every Minute of it. Every. Damn. Minute. But only after 10 minutes. Why?

He sighed, he checked his phone for the time, and looked repeatedly at his wife and son with an exasperated and incredulous expression of confusion and disgust. For the next hour and ten minutes.


What brought this about?

He hadn’t see Jurassic Park. He really hadn’t seen it. So when the mime pretended to be a dinosaur, he was totally and utterly lost. Chortles of amusement from the audience around him confused him. And then infuriated him. At that moment he disengaged.

This is what happens when your audience doesn’t understand you. They don’t for one moment think they are at fault. They just know they hate you and think you are stupid. Or at the very least they think you are pointless.

As the show progressed, and the mime started doing non-dinosaur things, everything the mime did that Middle Aged Man didn’t understand, just added to the pot of anger. In behavioural terms, we call this Confirmation Bias – in simple terms it works a bit like this:

- I think you’re wrong

- Anything you do comes from the wrong place

- You’re wrong.

It’s how politics works. Everything that political party you loathe does is seen through this negative filter.

Like that person at work who irritates you.

Or your ex.

Your clients won’t assume they are stupid if they don’t understand you.

They will simply assume that the message isn’t that important. If it was, you’d have made an effort to communicate it better, wouldn’t you?

When you talk to your clients in jargon, they turn off.

Like the man and the dinosaur mime– if they don’t understand what you’re trying to tell them, you’ll lose them.

At the end of the show, the mime got a standing ovation from the audience of 150 people.

Not from the bloke in front of me though.

While you can’t please everyone, when you’re communicating important information,  you want to be looking out for the ones that aren’t clapping. Why is that? What have you missed - and can it be fixed?


Watch a man being a dinosaur: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/trygve-wakenshaw-nautilus

Signpost your writing

You’re driving on a motorway. As you approach a sign at 70 miles an hour (because you would never, ever speed), the sign says:

“If you were perhaps to choose to drive for some time and at some point go towards the left in a while, say an hour or so, at the next bit where the road appears to veer off, then you would be taken past a roundabout and a leafy lane, for several miles and this would take you down an A-road and then you can choose whether to go into the centre, north or south of Nottingham”.

But you were in a hurry. What you really needed was this:

And then this

It’s the same when writing for your audience. Especially when writing for the web. We don’t read, we scan.

At the start of a flowery paragraph, I don’t know what the outcome is – don’t make me hunt for it. I like to say that writing for the short attention span is increasingly like telling a joke in reverse:


        How does it smell?

        My dog has got no nose

Get the big facts across first, and then fill in the detail.

Print is dead. Dead-ish.

Why do companies produce huge glossy brochures full of boring content and think that the customer has either the time or the inclination to read it? Remember the last time you read a 55 page brochure? No? Me neither.

If you were to look at any (good) book on web usability, you would find plenty of crossover with books on good writing. In fairness, the web guides are often better, and a lot less flowery.

One guide I love is Steve Krug’s “Don’t make me think”, and that’s just the title.

Making text, products and websites popular and accessible is about removing the “cognitive barriers”. Yes, thinking. Don’t make people think. Not if you want them to do something for you. Think of yourself like a border-collie, herding your sheep towards the pen. Baaa.

You should signpost your document so that the audience knows where they are. Everyone wants to know how long the wait is.

Also – with proper signposting, your reader can scan long documents for the info they need. Although, in fairness, the trick is not to write long documents in the first place.

Learn to love headings

In a web article, that might be bold headings. Or if you’re off the corporate leash you could try USING CAPITAL LETTERS TO SHOUT AT THE AUDIENCE.


It makes it look like you missed your medication.

Measuring progress

In an online form, such as making a purchase, that might be a visible progress bar. No harm in applying that to paper forms either – particularly if it’s something dull, like a paper form which has to be completed.

You could have a variant of this:

Letting people see how they are progressing is vital. That’s why display boards which tell you how long the wait is until your train or your bus arrive are so effective – they reduce our worry. It’s all about perception.

Put digital first (unless you’re painting a house)

I have a very bright friend, B, who works in digital. With a client who hasn’t yet grasped the nettle of the new world.

Client: “Do we optimise our brand guideline colours for digital or print. I think print!”

B: “Oh really?”

B’s actual thoughts: “hmm let’s think. You email it out and it will be viewed on a pc so maybe digital, given that you aren’t going to hold up the colour palette like a Dulux paint chart AGAINST YOUR CURTAINS.

(B bangs head on desk).

More just thinking digital first, think MOBILE.

I have more time to browse the net on my mobile when I commute – my train is a sea of people staring into their phones. So think about that before you make every attachment a pdf.

Have you ever tried to read a tiny-font pdf on your phone? Almost impossible.

Why not let the client also go to a web page where they can toggle the font into big fat, readable letters. Or better still make the message shorter. On a web page.

Finally, if you’re making a signpost, sometimes make one to intrigue the reader:



Short Term Thinking

The way information is presented to you changes how you feel about it.

Everyone in finance loves a bar chart. In fact, bar charts are the missionary-position of the financial world. Plain, simple, gets the job done.

Of course, you get your financial kinksters – they like to get into scatter charts, candle charts, radar charts, and they LOVE a bubble chart.

The trouble is – if statistics lie, charts are worse. Anyone who has spent quality time in a sadomasochistic relationship with an excel spreadsheet can tell you that.

I’ve been reading a book by funny behavioural guru Richard Thaler:  Misbehaving. It’s a warm and witty guide to how people –  all people – have quirky biases which shape their behaviour (at this point, it's worth pointing out that "Misbehaving" would also tell you all about pricing mishaps and is well worth a read). 

You? You’re super smart so let’s do a quick test inspired by the book: you’re investing your money for the next 30 years. Pick which 2 of these 4 fund managers you would invest in:


Happy? Sure? Did you pick the purple and blue (charts 1 and 4) or the red and the green (charts 2 and 3).

What if I told you that 1&4 were the same fund, as are 2&3. All I’ve done in re-order the returns from worst year to best year.

Did you pick the low return for safety? Or the high return?

If you picked both, depending on how the data was presented, there's no shame in that - admittedly, you're easy to fool, but so were the investment professionals I tried it on this week. 


This is what the returns look like over 30 years, the cumulative performance:

As Thaler says about his own study:

An implication of this analysis is that the more often people look at their portfolios, the less willing they will be to take on risk, because if you look more often, you will see more losses.
— Richard Thaler

If I just told you to give me $10,000 and shut your eyes for 30 years- not to even glance at your investment and then showed you this – which would you pick?

So over 30 years, US Equities have returned 1746% and Bonds – 605%.

Terrible with percentages? ME TOO.

Let’s say your American uncle left you with $10,000 in 1985, and you put it all in US Equities. You'd have celebrated New Year’s Eve 2014 with $174,000.  But your stupid cousin with the dodgy haircut put theirs in US bonds – they’d have only $60,500.

What about the same chart, with the visible volatility removed?:

All of a sudden it really looks like a no-brainer. You want the one with the higher returns. Unless your masochism runs deeper than excel spreadsheets.

This is the problem all of us face in saving for retirement. That we outlive our money by not taking enough risk. We worry about short-term stockmarket blips. We don’t understand the data that’s put in front of us.

What if I asked you where you thought the UK would be in 30 years? Do you think we’ll produce more goods than China? Grow our population more than India? Find a live, but wet, dinosaur in Lochness?

NO, NO and I hope so.

Embrace the fact that the UK is a tiny island which cannot grow at the same rate as countries like China and India and then ask yourself again:

If I had a time machine and invested your money today and whizzed you forward 30 years to pick up the cash, which countries would you pick?

Survive Monday (and Tuesday too).

monday morning

Mondays are hard. Actually, working is hard. Here's a few things to distract yourself from the grinding monotony. Just don’t tell anyone it was me that led you astray!

First, divide your work into buckets

Feeling overwhelmed? I bet you can sort your work into these three piles, like this one my friend Vix has stuck in pink post-its to her PC, for incoming work:

  • Things that do not matter
  • Things that take too long
  • Things that involve sucking up

Of course, I’m not saying you’ll actually get any work done. It’s easier to pick out what matters though. Unless nothing does. There's probably a need for a post it that says "things to do to avoid getting sacked". Although, maybe it can wait until Tuesday?

Then, divide your colleagues into categories

Use this tip, which my friend Charlie relayed to me over a big fat "working" lunch last week. It comes from a quote by a German general who hated Hitler, Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord:

I divide my officers into four groups. There are clever, diligent, stupid, and lazy officers. Usually two characteristics are combined. Some are clever and diligent — their place is the General Staff. The next lot are stupid and lazy — they make up 90 percent of every army and are suited to routine duties. Anyone who is both clever and lazy is qualified for the highest leadership duties, because he possesses the intellectual clarity and the composure necessary for difficult decisions. One must beware of anyone who is stupid and diligent — he must not be entrusted with any responsibility because he will always cause only mischief.
This is a great game for boring meetings - office bingo style. Because a lot of the people you work with are smart and diligent, I bet. (Fools).

Next, have a think about the future

The Chinese language doesn’t have a future tense – and that makes it easier to save for retirement. The TED talk is worth a watch. Keith Chen talks about how languages without a concept for the future — "It rain tomorrow," instead of "It will rain tomorrow" — are more likely to have high savings rates. Think "me is retired" to get the idea. How would you think of things differently if you stopped using a future tense? Try it for an hour.

Be proud of being lazy. Have a lazy Monday.

I’ve long been an admirer of lazy people. Most smart people are lazy. They will find the quickest, smartest way to do something, so they no longer have to expend any energy on it.

I reckon the inventor of the car probably thought this:

"This horse and cart is so annoying! I have to...

  • Feed and water the horses.
  • Muck out the stables.
  • do so much WORK!

Surely if I made mechanical horses, there would be less poo, for starters."

So find your inner lazy, and channel it into something fun this week.

If all else fails, and you’re still feeling Monday-ish and resentful, remember you’re just a monkey. On a big rock. Hurtling through space. Whatever level of paper or email-based torture one of the other monkeys has created for you, it's not that important. Whenever I need cheering up – I watch this monkey having a meltdown.   How will you keep perspective today?

Managing Retirement – or how not to end up sleeping under a bridge

 Will your retirement fund keep you fed and watered?  

Will your retirement fund keep you fed and watered?  

Are people really lazy and stupid?

No. Well, yes. We are, collectively, incredibly bad at predicting the future, or at least thinking that “me in the year 2050” is some kind of clever creature who exercises wildly, shuns chocolate and won’t spend all our pension pot unwisely.

Picture this: You and 100 of the dullest people you have ever met are going to an all-day conference one month from today. You’re on a strict diet. If I ask you what you want to eat at lunch at that conference, you might tell me you’re opting for salad. But on the day of the conference, there are two serving stations – one for salad, and another for carbs and chocolate brownies. My bet is that consumption runs along the line of 3 salads and 97 chocolate brownies (and the people eating salads are allergic to brownies). Why? Because we’re all perfect in the future.

What's changed with pensions?

Since April 2015, you have been able to access your pension pot with no restrictions! Which of course, you would spend wisely, based on the fact you’ve always saved, never overspent, never splurged on a pointless purchase. In short, you’re utterly rational.  Your tax on withdrawing a pension will be cut to your personal tax rate. It will be easier than ever before to use your entire pension fund as you wish.

The problem is, we discount the future massively. I saw a study by Friend’s Life that said

“only 7 per cent of people say they will actually take 100 per cent of their funds, contradicting concerns that with these new financial freedoms people would spend irresponsibly.”


Do you believe that? I do. I believe those surveyed really THINK they won’t spend it. However, there’s a wealth of research from behavioural science that says quite the opposite.

Because anything that uses willpower (like not spending a retirement fund which is burning a hole in your pocket) is tricky to navigate.

Martin Wheatley, Chairman of the FCA, recently addressed the National Association of Pension Fund's conference regarding the topic of the pensions change (which came through in April, after the speech)  “we’ve created a model...where there is more consumer responsibility…and as many protections as we can build from the regulator, from regulated firms, ultimately it’s a consumer decision as to what choice they make at that point in time. And that’s why it’s a defining moment of our age”

Do we trust ourselves to do this well? To not blow our pensions?

The problem is that we treat our future selves as if they are other people.

To those estranged from their future selves, saving is like a choice between spending money today or giving it to a stranger years from now
— Hal Hershfield

One way to make people save more for retirement has been tested and it involves simply ageing your photo and making you look at it. All of a sudden, seeing yourself in all your wrinkled glory, brings home that you and future-you are the same person. It’s the basic act of holding up a mirror – but one that artificially ages you.

When trying to help others save for retirement, or in fact, do anything at all, your job is to make it easier for them to really see their problems with clarity – help them think about the problem – and bring it home to them that it is relevant to them in the here and now.

One of most effective the ways you can help people is by devising a checklist to do their thinking for them. If you haven’t read it already, you should get a copy of Atul Gawande’s checklist manifesto.


 Which leg shall I amputate? Better check!

Which leg shall I amputate? Better check!

This surgical safety checklist makes sure the surgeon checks which leg to operate on – and whether there’s enough blood in case anything goes wrong. My favourite is the first question, which asks if you've checked it’s the right patient. It is never easy thinking for other people though. As brilliantly put by my favourite "Applied Behavioural Thinker":

Thinking for other people so that they don’t have to think at all, is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
— Dr. Nick Southgate

Three points that Dr. Southgate likes to hammer home:

One: We are all in the business of thinking about thinking, and it is your job to think about how something should be thought about and where possible, make it easier for others.

Two: Nothing is harder than thinking about thinking

Three: Except - designing a business to think about thinking.

Which makes me think – where’s the FCA’s checklist for retirees?

Have you come across any checklists which apply in your own business? Tell us in the comments below.

Why your thumb helps you make good decisions

overconfidence effect

There’s a fancy word that comes from Greek - meaning “to find” or “discover”. It’s called heuristics. Because this word makes me lisp, I avoid it. Luckily, someone translated this lispy word into a catchy phrase – rule of thumb.

What is a thumb rule? Something simple enough for you, me and even that annoying colleague you suspect is an alien life-form, to remember. It’s not intended to be strictly accurate, or even reliable in every situation.

What it is intended to do, is HELP.

It might be the health police telling you to

•           Eat 5 a day.

Or catering advice

•           A portion of rice is two handfuls

Hang on, maybe that’s a hand rule. No, I’m distracting myself. If I had my own rules of thumb they would be:

•           Never date someone who is rude about all their exes

•           If you’re on first date and they are on their 5th martini in an hour, run.

I digress.

There are however rules of thumb which can be incredibly useful if given a behavioural tweak.

This incredibly sensible advice:

“pay your most expensive debt first”

Becomes, after a behavioural tweak:

“pay your smallest debt first – and the minimum on the others”

This isn’t rational. Or is it? It is, or course, rational to pay the most expensive debt first. So if you’ve got £300 to throw at your debts each month, then it makes sense. Except, humans aren’t rational. We’re EMOTIONAL. And as such we get comfort from simple things, like ratio.


Reducing the number of our debtors from 4 to 3 gives us comfort. It makes us feel we’re progressing towards the goal, one dodgy credit card at a time. So paying your smallest debt first means you quickly progress – if you owe £900 on the small debt – you’re free in 3 months. This is called a debt-snowball. It gives you a feel of progress, of ticking things off, movement. 

Another one when saving for retirement is:

Divide your age by two, and that’s the percentage of your salary you should be saving.

Why? Because cheeky compound returns will help you over time. That’s why the 20 year old can save 10%. But the 40 year old? Ouch. It’s going to cost you 20%.

But you’re probably not going to listen to me. Why?


You, and me, we systematically overestimate

our knowledge


our ability to predict, on a massive scale.

Unless we actually know the outcome (like those naughty FIFA officials), quite often our guesses are woeful. The overconfidence effect does not look at whether single estimates are correct or not. Instead, it measures the difference between what you and I really know and what we think we know.

Entertainingly, experts suffer even more from the overconfidence effect than your average Joe Blogs.

 “Space travel is utter bilge. “

- Dr. Richard van der Reit Wooley, Astronomer Royal, space advisor to the British government, 1956. (Sputnik orbited the earth the following year.)


"Rail travel at high speed is not possible because passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia."

- Dr. Dionysus Lardner (1793-1859), Professor of Natural Philosophy and Astronomy at University College, London.

"That the automobile has practically reached the limit of its development is suggested by the fact that during the past year no improvements of a radical nature have been introduced."

- Scientific American, Jan. 2, 1909.


"[Television] won't be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night."

- Darryl F. Zanuck, head of 20th Century-Fox, 1946.


That’s all from me. It's Monday, so it's time for me to embark on a week of healthy eating, no drinking, no cake, no coffee, and lots of exercise. Ask me how I got on next week, I'm feeling soooo confident - but let's make it a fair trade - 

only ask me right after you’ve increased your pension contributions!