The first rule of management is that successful management is actually more about how you manage yourself rather than being about how you manage others (see “First rule of management” posted June 25, 2012).

The second rule of management is that the key to your own success is totally dependent on the success of your people. To borrow from Bill Clinton’s successful US Presidential campaign against incumbent George Bush in 1992, It’s all about the people, stupid.

There is no question that you have to have good products, and it is a wonderful competitive advantage to have great products, as has been shown to a remarkable degree by Apple in the last few years, and having wonderful customer service can give you an even more sustainable market lead, as shown by Asian airlines such as Singapore and Cathay over the last two decades.

But how long can these advantages last ?

Apple is increasingly under attack from competitors, and so far in 2012 in smartphones, for example, Android devices have outsold the Apple iPhone by a factor of 4 to 1, and at the same time Middle Eastern Qatar Airlines beat out all the Asian airlines to be named best airline in the world in 2012.

Author: blakeburris; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

The problem with basing competitive advantage on product superiority is that it doesn’t last forever as there will always be someone, somewhere who can either copy your time-based advantage or come up with an even better idea, meaning that having a wonderful product advantage is not sustainable on its own.

A culture and reputation for great customer service will sustain you longer, but again may not be enough.

If product superiority was the only critical element for success, companies like IBM would have disappeared a long time ago, and companies like DEC, WANG and Sun Microsystems would all have survived, as they all had leading edge products and technologies in their time, and even drove dramatic change in IT landscapes and in the way we worked.

Author: Jainux (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

I do understand that there are other criteria involved in success and failure of an enterprise, such as founders outliving their usefulness (DEC), missing critical technology trends (WANG) and general arrogance (Sun), but in their zenith all three had no troubles attracting great people. What they all overlooked was that to be successful in the long term you also had to retain them, inspire them, grow them and have them fully engaged, loyal and committed to the continued success of the company. The problem was that when all these companies started to lose their way, their people deserted them in droves for companies with “sexier” products.

Your people are the only real sustainable competitive advantage … if you let them !!!

I am surprised at how many companies appear to have not learned this lesson, as I continue to encounter organisations which seem to believe that extensive product development can overcome dysfunctional behaviour in their people. One only has to look at the disastrous state of our banking industry to see that the combination of lax management, highly saleable, but toxic, products and a general culture of greed and self-interest can not only destroy companies but also national economies.

In the same way that a great teacher can inspire generations of students with a love for learning, great management can inspire teams to take merely adequate, but useable and serviceable products to great heights. The small cadre of early adopters may all be running around looking for the next brightest geegaw, but most of us just need products that will do the needed job, supported by services that meet our expectations … we rarely need to be amazed or delighted, we just want to be satisfied with what we buy. The simple fact that “people buy from people” is enough to make companies highly successful if they have good products made even better by great people who are well trained and skilled, enthusiastic and dedicated, and who are natural evangelists for their company.

Skilled professional management with integrity (what we think, is what we say, is what we do) are at the heart of business long term success, as they will build organisations on values that will sustain them for the long term (“People join companies, but leave managers”), and they will attract, inspire, grow and retain the people needed to effectively support and sustain the product and service strategies.

The challenge is to get the values and culture right in the start-up phase and then sustain it as the organisation grows. Not easy to achieve as most companies will dilute and bastardise these with growth, but if it can be accomplished will help to create an organisation that can compete and succeed over the decades, rather than just through a technologically limited lifespan.

If the culture and values are strong, it doesn’t take many great people to get it started.

In the words of Nelson Eddy, American singer and actor (1901-1967) …

“Give me some men who are stout-hearted men who will fight for the right they adore
Start me with ten who are stout-hearted men and I’ll soon give you ten thousand more.”

Author: Sweethearts trailer; via Wikimedia Commons



Many of my older friends regularly refer to the “good old days”, generally in comparison to conditions that exist today, with phrases that start with “In the good old days we never …. “ (you can randomly insert your own “things are not as good as they used to be” ending to the sentence ). It is hard to identify which years these “good old days” actually refer to beyond the fact that it is not today, that things were significantly better, easier, less complex, less dangerous and that it was a time when children understood that they should be seen but not heard.

I felt that to better understand their hankering for these “good old days” I should have a look back at my own times and at how good they really were in comparison to today. I have taken the term to mean a 50 years difference, and have therefore decided to compare 2012 to 1962, in a number of different areas that affected me personally.

Generally, I remember 1962 quite well.

By Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-89276-0002 / CC-BY-SA; via Wikimedia Commons

I was just 16 years old and my family had been living in Melbourne, Australia for about 10 years since emigrating from France. We were 50 franc Frogs rather than £10 Poms. I still had a couple of years needed to finish high school before heading off to University, and while I was still too young to drink, smoke, drive or vote, I was managing to do 3 out of the 4. I had definitely discovered girls, though I had not found many yet who had discovered me. I was still considered a “bloody foreigner” or “a wog”, but true-blue Aussies used these terms more in an effort at labelling rather than any real menace.

The thing that I remember most of 1962 is that it was in the heart of the cold war, and that it was the year of the Cuban missile crisis. The Soviet Union was desperately behind the United States in the arms race. Soviet missiles were only powerful enough to be launched against Europe but U.S. missiles were capable of striking the entire Soviet Union. In late April 1962, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev conceived the idea of placing intermediate-range missiles in Cuba to even up the odds. The world teetered on the edge of nuclear holocaust which ended only when US President John Kennedy out-bluffed Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev in a dangerous game of “chicken”.

via Wikimedia Commons

Meanwhile to ensure that our generation could survive a nuclear attack, schools in Australia were screening films showing a survival method called “Duck and cover”. These masterpieces of “Don’t worry, be happy” documentaries taught us that all we had to do when we saw the nuclear blast was to duck under our school desks and cover our heads with our hands. They omitted the advice to “kiss our arse good-bye” while we were down there. 50 years later, when nuclear weapons are more ubiquitous, and have become a national status symbol, the threat of nuclear annihilation seems to have diminished somewhat, though I am not sure that Israelis would agree with me on this particular point of progress.

In 1962 I had not yet had anything to do with computers, which within a few short years would start to influence and then totally dominate the rest of my life (see “My son is in typewriters” posted July 8, 2010). Though our maths teachers had told us about these marvels, my future was then being inexorably pushed towards a career in Medicine, which fortunately was short-lived once I found out that not only couldn’t I commiserate with sick people, but that I actually had a serious personal allergy to illness in others, which has continued to grow in me with time.

In 1962 there were already about 10,000 fairly scope-limited computers installed globally, each costing hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars, kept in air-conditioned sanctums mainly in universities and labs, but increasingly in the business world. They were managed by cadres of high priests, who served these beasts which had less capacity and power than a basic mobile phone possesses today, and with less real IT technology skills and understanding than most teenagers possess in 2012.

via Wikimedia Commons

Today, Gartner estimate that there are over 1 billion personal computers alone already installed, with another 400 million PCs being sold in 2012, despite the downturn, and despite the incursion from newer mobile offerings such as the i-Pad. My Audi Q7 today has more technology installed than the largest computer did in 1962, and significantly more “smarts” than were used to land Armstrong and Aldrin on the moon in 1969.

There was no real data communication over phone lines in 1962, though the recently established Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) of the U.S. Department of Defence, had already laid the groundwork for what was to become the ARPANET and, much later, the Internet. Phone systems existed, but not in all homes as they were expensive and treated with reverence. I recall that my family would gather once a year to talk to my uncle and aunt in the US, a ritual of just a few minutes at a cost that would necessitate my father working overtime the following week to pay for this extravagance.

Author: FastLizard4; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Communication with others was via the postal system, passing notes at school or by screaming across the fence to your neighbours. My phone conversations with friends were seriously parentally limited, despite the fact that calls were not time charged, as my parents believed that illnesses could flow through the phone lines, in much the same way that we now questions the dangers of mobile phone usage ( plus ca change …. ). Since its first demonstration in 1973, and its commercial availability in 1983 at $3995 (about $10,000 in today’s money), estimated mobile phone usage has grown to over 4 billion with about one quarter of these being smart-phones, and has changed the way we communicate and the way that we live.

Life expectancy in the western world in 1962 was, geographically dependant, set somewhere between 65-70 (compared with 75-80 today) with, for example, the 5 year survival rate for Leukemia at about 14% versus about 55% in 2012. We are therefore now living longer and with fewer medical problems.

One seriously important event for me in 1962 was the formation of the Rolling Stones, a love which has stayed with me for the last 50 years without wavering. It was also the time of music greats like Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, John Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Shirley Bassey and Johnny Cash to name a few, but I don’t have to hanker after them as I can still listen to their music today without having to understand or appreciate popular music in 2012.

All in all, beyond the fact that we understood less about ourselves and the world around us in 1962, and therefore felt relatively less confused, I have no reason to believe that these were “good old days” in any particular way, other than the fact that we tend to remember the best of what we can piece together from rapidly deteriorating memory cells. I have realised that the only really good thing about our personal pasts is that we were all significantly younger, and that nostalgia is just the sand-paper that removes the rough edges from our lives.

American journalist and humourist Art Buchwald (1925-2007) had it right when he said “We seem to be going through a period of nostalgia, and everyone seems to think yesterday was better than today. I don’t think it was, and I would advise you not to wait ten years before admitting today was great. If you’re hung up on nostalgia, pretend today is yesterday and just go out and have one hell of a time.”


Shopping in France is a wonderful adventure for the uninitiated, particularly if the visitor is from a country that actually has a culture of customer service. (see “Vive le French customer” posted 22 August, 2011). The French tend to associate “service” with “servitude” which they consider demeaning, and as the entire population of 66 million actually participated in the French revolution (1787-1799), they feel that they have earned the right to not serve anyone, anytime, anywhere.

Author: J.P. Coulpier; PD-US; via Wikimedia Commons

This does make retail shopping in France somewhat unique, and it is important that tourists undertake this activity well-armed and knowledgeable beforehand. To facilitate surviving this particular excursion, I have stolen some pages from the “French Training Manual for Retail Shop Assistants”, and have translated these instructions into English, published here for the first time outside the secretive and hallowed halls of the “Secret Order Divine of French Factotums” (SOD-OFF).

Understanding these will help you to understand the whole shopping experience in France.


SOD-OFF rules for those employed in the Retail Industry (pages 1&2 of 200)

1. If you are faced with the challenge of someone entering the store where you are employed as a shop assistant, it is critical to remember that the first answer to any question is “no”. Even if the question is as non-aggressive as “I see that you have underwear displayed in your window, can I have a look around your store?” Only if they do not leave immediately, and persist in asking more questions, should you change your answers to “maybe”. The only time you should ever answer “yes” is to the question “Would you prefer me to leave?” Under no circumstances should you ever ask any questions such as “Can I help you?”, although if they are a regular customer you are permitted to say “hello” when they first enter.

Author: Discoverretail; via Wikimedia Commons

2. You should openly display only a minimal amount of what you actually have available for sale, as this will deter people from spending too much time in your store. Most of your goods must be kept in a cluttered back-room, where everything is stored at random. This will ensure a high probability of people in the store running out of vacation time while waiting, as you continue to rummage through the piles pretending to look for something that you know does not exist, and hence them rushing out to get to the airport in time.

3. If the customer is still at the counter when you resurface from the back room, the chances are that they live locally and are just on a cigarette break from their own job and hence have all the time in the world. If they ask you to order something in for them, acquiesce grudgingly, but make them write down all the details of their request themselves, in your book for “New Orders – Wanted Any Year” (NO WAY). Wait for a minimum of 5 weeks and then call them to say that the warehouse has advised that this particular product/style/size/colour is not being manufactured any more. Try not to giggle hysterically when delivering this news.

4. Ensure that any bags that you have available for customers to use are always smaller than your smallest item for sale, so that nothing will ever fit in them. This will save you a large amount of expense by not having to give away a bag with every purchase, and will provide you with a chance to rearrange these bags whenever a potential customer enters the store, ensuring that they have to wait for you to finish this critical task and establishing that they play no importance in your priority list.

Author: Paul Robinson; via Wikimedia Commons

5. It is critical that you only load the credit card payment machine with extremely small rolls of paper (ideally just enough for 2 or 3 payments only). This will mean that you can regularly stop the need to deal with a customer desperately trying to give you some money, and hence provide you with a living, but who is diminishing the valuable time that you need to artistically arrange things in the store, such as the bags (see 4 above) or the 6 thongs hanging from the artificial cactus display in centre-store (see 2 above).

Author: Rojypala at ml.wikipedia; via Wikimedia Commons

6. You must learn the etiquette involved in the use of the in-store telephone system. SOD-OFF runs regular 3 day live-in courses in phone usage, now fully paid for by the Socialist Government. The basics are as follows:
– Friends are allowed to call you at work any time during work hours but no calls should exceed more than 30 minutes, and you should limit your personal calls to no more than 10 per day. This limit can only be exceeded on the first day of the work week whether this be Monday (most stores usually closed for Recovery Day) or Tuesday, when there is a lot to discuss about what you did over the weekend.
– Calls involving customer queries always take priority over customers actually in the store, particularly if they involve you having to spend time in the back store room.
– When involved in an interesting or complex conversation you may ask all the other shop assistants to leave their customers and join you in the discussion to ensure that you do not have to repeat the story to them afterwards.

7. You should close the store exactly at noon every day for 2 hours to ensure that you can have a nutritious and rejuvenating lunch break with at least 4 cigarettes. This lunch closure rule is mandatory even if you are working in a takeaway lunch bar. If people want to eat lunch they must learn to plan ahead and buy their food before the lunch break, otherwise they could be denying another citizen from needed nourishment.

8. Trust no-one, as tourists are notorious shoplifters. As well as all items having electronic tags (always placed where removal will create the most damage), with an alarm system at the exits, you should also carry out searches of all bags as well as conducting random full body frisking. Cavity searches however can only be used in stores handling high-cost but small items.


Just remember that if you find retail therapy in France less than soothing, the Guillotine is the only true French chopping centre.

via Wikimedia Commons: PD-US


“In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”
Abraham Lincoln

via Wikimedia Commons

I am regularly surprised that chronological age can play such an important factor in many people’s lives, even beyond the obsession with retirement that seems to be one of the core elements of life (see “How old are you really” posted January 23, 2012). It’s as though when we hit some magical point in our advancing years, determined mainly by actuaries calculating insurance risk, we are meant to fade quietly into the background, getting out of the way of the next generation.

The objective of life should not be to just make it through to the inevitable ending, it should be to make the best of everything that we have along the way, even beyond the time when we get the telegram from the Queen.

To do this, I believe that the first thing to do is to stop worrying about the non-essential numbers such as age, weight, height, blood-pressure and BMI. I am not saying that we should become sedentary and not care about what we eat, how much we exercise and how healthy we are, but I am saying that we should stop fixating on the numbers. I am amazed by how many of my Facebook friends have started using apps like “myfitnesspal” to tell the world what is their daily calorie burn and their weight change by the smallest fraction of a gram. Surely exercise and sport are about fun, mixing with other people like scantily dressed young women at the gym, and feeling good about oneself, rather than it just being about the numbers. If you love the activity the numbers will look after themselves, and in the words of the Jedi Nike one should “Just Do It”.

Beyond that, here is my list of what all of us who are already sexagenarians and beyond should do to stay young for as long as we can.

1. Keep away from people who are negative

There are enough optimists in most circles of friends without any of us having to spend time with those who see life, love, health and family as all being things to complain and bitch about. Negative people are not only a pain to be with but also tend to drag you down with them. A recent study of a group of people who had lived beyond 100 years found that they were predominantly optimistic about life irrespective of race, colour, nationality or financial situation.

2. Do something out of character regularly enough to be considered somewhat eccentric

Small children do some pretty strange things that can defy the rational because they have not started to build societal boundaries on what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour. As we get older this conditioning controls what we wear (see the poem “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple” by Jenny Joseph), what we say and what we do. When we went white water rafting through the Grand Canyon for 8 days last year most of our friends thought that we were crazy because it was meant for younger people. We loved it and we were not the oldest there by a factor of nearly 10 years.

3. Do something beneficial for others outside your own family

The same 100+ study found that the vast majority of centenarians did some form of charitable work, whether it was volunteer work in a hospital or being a lollipop-lady at a local school. As we age we need to ensure that we do not become totally self-focussed. Helping other people to improve their lives not only gives people a feeling of some worth but also takes the mind away from worrying just about one’s own state of being. If charities don’t excite you at least get a pet so that you don’t just focus on yourself all the time.

Author: Lewis Clarke; CC BY-SA 2.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons

4. Accept that tragedy will strike and learn how to handle it

You cannot afford to let any tragedies, and subsequent mourning of the loss, take over your life. You have to learn to endure, grieve and move on. No one lives forever and “the only person who stays with us our entire life is ourselves”. It may sound callous, but it is critical to do so to maintain your own life force.

5. Never stop learning

Learning is a journey not a destination, and we should never stop learning new things, as this is one of the critical elements in trying to fend off Alzheimer’s. The chosen topic is irrelevant as long as it challenges you to think. We are never too old to develop a new skill, learn a new language, travel to a new location or try a new dance step.

6. Guard your health

If you have good health, work hard to maintain it. Eat wisely but well, exercise regularly and drink less but of better quality. If your health is changeable, work to improve it by decreasing those things that affect it negatively and increase the things that improve it. If your health is not what it should be, and you can’t improve it, then get help from those who are qualified to do so and whom you trust.

Author: Harmid; via Wikimedia Commons

7. Laugh whenever you get the chance

Life is full of the absurd, and you should laugh loudly and often. Not just small embarrassed titters but loud, belly shaking guffaws. If life was meant to be serious the deities would not have made humans in so many different and humorous guises. Robin Dunbar, an evolutionary psychologist at Oxford has shown that it is not just the intellectual pleasure of cerebral humour, but that the physical act of laughing, the simple muscular exertions involved in producing the familiar ha, ha, ha, trigger an increase in endorphins, the brain chemicals known for their feel-good effect. So laugh often and feel better about things.

8. Mix with younger people

Younger people talk about life, love and sex while older people talk about obituaries, divorces and joint pains. Whether it is work related where one can take a mentoring and coaching role, teaching French littlies to speak English as our housekeeper does in the afternoons or mixing socially with a younger crowd as we have started to do since befriending some of the Bordeaux (UBB) Rugby squad doesn’t matter, as long as you don’t spend all your time with your own age group. I cannot think of anything more horrific than having to live in one of the villages for the 60+ now springing up in the UK.

As said by Sir Laurence Olivier “Take a simple view of life: keep your eyes open and get on with it.”