Technology vs the art of being human

6 April 2017 by in Business and finance, Lifestyle

By Kate Cook, author of Kate Cook’s Wellness Guide

Most businesses are eager to be at the cutting edge of the technology revolution and quite rightly – falling over themselves to be hyperconnected, ahead of the trends. There are downsides to the worldwide web but there are very positive up sides too. Most of the nutritional research papers I read to update my body of knowledge I obtain through web digging – something that would have been quite impossible a few years ago. It enables me to be very nimble in my uptake of the latest research, something that chancing on a book, or waiting for a published journal to appear on my desk made it impossible to do a few years back. I am also very grateful that we are able to connect with like-minded people across the globe, of course that has its downside too, but used in the right way we are able to build communities of people who can generously help each other.

But in relying on tech too much are we in danger of forgetting what it is to be human? We need to remember to solve business problems in a human way, not merely focus on box-ticking, or allow a computer to dominate our decision making. We are more and more often letting machines take over, and becoming distanced from what makes us human. One area where this really impacts our lives is in the world of food. Eating is one of the crucial things that makes us human and what we eat makes us either dynamic, engaged, happy, healthful humans or depressed, demotivated, sick humanoids. But we have become increasingly distanced from the real food that nurtures our bodies, favouring instead manufactured foods and convenience eating.

When we eat conveniently, we fuel our bodies with food-like imitations, where life, energy and essence have been replaced by synthetic sensations. These foods are designed to look, smell and taste appealing but are largely devoid of the energy and nutrition that come from eating food grown by the sun, full of the life-giving micronutrients that power our energy output. When we replace real food, of the sort our ancestors would recognise, with these chemical concoctions, we reduce our ability to function as human and lay ourselves open to the possibility of a whole host of minor, and not so minor, ailments; from tiredness to type 2 diabetes and beyond.

As employers we know how important it is to maintain our machinery, our hardware and software, but what about our human resources – how many of us are making sure our people have what they need to function optimally? For example, studies suggest that there is an association between obesity and lower productivity at work -and if that tide doesn’t turn then we may find that we are unable to find employees fit enough to work. One study estimated that lost productivity time (LPT) costs the US economy $42.29 billion annually. This was thought to be a conservative figure because studies which use BMI data rely on self-reported weight, which is often understated. The estimate also does not include the costs of recruiting and training new staff and the impact on co-workers’ productivity.1 A study of 15,000 people in the US and UK found that employees with poor nutritional balance reported 11% lower productivity than healthier colleagues.2 Surely it is time to pay attention this powerful connection. Though the focus on nutrition and its impact on the workplace has, to date, mostly been on the link between poor diet and chronic disease and obesity (the long term impact) it stands to reason that poor diet will also have a short term impact in terms of energy and productivity.

The health of our employees is key to our business success – yet a large proportion of our human resource is sick. How can we restore it back to full, engaged, dynamic power? Through the power of real food.

Kate_Cook_WellnessKate Cook’s Wellness Guide is available free for Kindle for a limited time. Download the book here.


  1. Reilly, Sally, ‘Eating the Profits.’ Personnel Today, 4 July 2006: 26.
  2. ProQuest online article, 6 Aug. 2009.

Game of Thrones is full of business strategy – if you know where to look

3 May 2016 by in Business and finance, Entertainment, Game of Thrones on Business

As our winter draws (reluctantly) to a close we plunge once more into a world where winter is coming, and brings with it sex, intrigue, swordfights, skulduggery and dragons. Unless (or possibly even if) you’ve been living on a wi-fi free desert island for the last five years you will realise we are talking about Game of Thrones, season 6 of which reached our screens this month. The programme makers have been teasing us for several months with what we do and don’t know; what may or may not have happened (yes, we’re talking Jon Snow here). One trailer had Bran declaring that ‘they have no idea what is going to happen’, something that over the years has proven true time and again. We knew the programme was fabulous entertainment right from the start of Season 1 but what we didn’t realise until Ned Stark lost his head was that in this series anything can happen. Bad things will happen to good people, heroes will die, villains will prosper and at no point will we feel this world is safe.

Game of Thrones is possibly the most widely discussed programme on television. With only ten episodes per season it is on our screens for little more than two months out of every year, yet the internet is alive year round with articles on the characters, photographic memes and speculation regarding what’s going to happen next. Why has this programme so inspired us? It has to be in the quality of the storytelling. Compelling characters, a mysterious universe that not even the characters who live in it understand (people thought dragons had died out years ago and nobody believed the white walkers were anything but a myth) and events that frequently extend beyond the protagonists’ control have us perpetually on the edge of our seat. Now, what if we could get people this excited about business?

Business is the dynamic force that shapes our economies and our lives. It’s crucial to the survival of western society as we know it. Business is about progress, wealth creation and opportunity. It should be exciting – fun, even – yet it is frequently discussed and taught in dry and theoretical tomes or through the clumsy medium of presentations reliant on screens of charts and bullet lists. You might not remember every single intricate detail of what happened in the last five seasons of Game of Thrones but we bet you could easily give a rundown of the key highlights. But how much of the last business seminar you attended can you remember? How much of it did you go home and relate to your family or discuss with your friends? How many memes did it generate?

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So by bringing the worlds of business and Game of Thrones together we hoped that we could imbue business theory with some of the excitement we feel when we watch the series. Once you take away the dragons and swordfights you start to see more similarities than differences. This strange medieval fantasy kingdom may not look a lot like our world but a lot of its essential ingredients – ambition, deceit, bravery, folly, triumph, disaster – feature in many a news story in the business press. Here are just a few key places where Game of Thrones and business touch.

Nice guys finish last: In the Game of Thrones universe it is not sufficient to be morally right like Ned Stark and his family; one must also be a clever – and lucky – player of the game. The same can be said for business: in this high-stakes world success is not granted simply to those with the best ideas, those who entered the market first or even those who put in the most work. Business, like Game of Thrones, is full of surprises and those who make it to the top do so by not only staying one step ahead of the game but learning to control it rather than having the game play them. Lose focus even momentarily and you lose your advantage. This does not mean you have to be an unprincipled swine to get ahead: the dastardly Petyr Baelish is the exemplary game-player but Daenerys too has demonstrated strategic skill while maintaining a strong moral code.

It’s not what you know but who you know: In Game of Thrones that also includes what you know about them, and how you use it. In business it usually means networking rather than blackmail (though of course that’s not unheard of either). Cersei, Lord Varys and Petyr Baelish all operate networks of people to bring them intelligence on other game players and help them leverage their strategic advantage. So vast is Varys’ network in fact that he is nicknamed the Spider. We all know we need to network more but often only think of it when we need something (a recommendation, a job). But networking is a daily business – Ned Stark left it too late to try to cultivate relationships, staying holed up in Winterfell after the war, and look how well that turned out for him.

You know nothing: Well all right, not nothing, but you rarely have all the information and skills you need to succeed entirely solo. Which is why you need to develop a great team around you. Daenerys has many queenly attributes but she could not have got where she is now without Jorah’s strategic advice, Daario’s muscle, Missandei’s cultural knowledge, or her dragons. A weak spot left unguarded provides an advantage for a rival. Which is why truly successful individuals know themselves well enough to pinpoint their weaknesses and take steps to do something about it.

You win or you die: If you want to succeed you have to be prepared to fail too. But that need not mean taking foolish risks, plunging into the unknown and hoping for the best. Instead you need to follow Baelish’s example and learn how to take calculated risks. Petyr Baelish has been the invisible hand, influencing events, even orchestrating the death of John Arryn, which began the war of the five kings. But at no point has he got those hands truly dirty. He’s always kept at a safe remove from the action – we know he was behind Joffrey’s murder but nobody in the world of the programme could connect him to it. His options are still open and he can pull away from a plan at any time. If you are patient and take incremental, small risks you stand a much better chance of achieving your goals than if, like Renly, Robb or Viserys you insist on going in all guns blazing.

Once you start seeing similarities between Game of Thrones and business it is hard to stop. Next time you have to give a business seminar why not throw in a few examples – it’s almost certain to get you more notice than yet another pie chart, spreadsheet or bullet list.

Game of Thrones on Business by Tim Phillips and Rebecca Clare is available to buy. To be in with a chance to win a free copy, tweet us your top business tip from the show to @Infinite_Ideas

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Alice in strategy land by Kate M. Santon can help improve your business

1 April 2016 by in Business and finance

Why replacing the rulebook with a 150-year-old pair of novels can improve your business strategy

Rules abound in our working lives. Many people follow these rules unquestioningly, adhering to procedures, attending meetings and handing in reports. But are the long accepted ways of conducting business always the best? Are these rules and procedures helping or hindering our organizations?

Perhaps it’s time for business leaders to take another look at how they strategize and run their businesses. A new book suggests we might turn to an unexpected source when it comes to reinventing our working lives. In Alice in strategy land Kate M. Santon suggests taking a sideways view – going down the rabbit hole could be a useful way of improving business strategy. When Alice stepped through Lewis Carroll’s looking-glass into the surreal world beyond it made her question all her assumptions about the way the world worked. And by taking some advice from Carroll’s array of eccentric characters Santon suggests we can open our minds to new ways of practising business.

Mad Hatter's meeting

Much like Alice’s path across Wonderland, business strategies can be dominated by rules, riddles and dead ends. We don’t always think about what we do, tasks can become monotonous, and there’s nothing quite like another (Mad Hatter’s) meeting to dampen the spirits. Like the White Knight, who’s had ‘plenty of practice’ at falling off his horse but never considered changing his approach to achieve a more positive outcome, we rarely stop to reconsider our assumptions and methodology.

While a 150-year-old book by an Oxford Don may not be the most logical place to look for business advice Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass were never about logic.

So what lessons do the books have when it comes to changing our business routines? Some of Santon’s suggestions include:

  • Take a pragmatic approach to meetings. The Mad Hatter’s tea party seemed to have all the usual suspects but no direction or purpose. If this resonates with you, think about how you can shake up meetings to get real results. Who really needs to be there, what are you hoping to achieve? Business leaders can learn from innovative companies like Hootsuite, which imposes meeting-free days and keeps meetings as short as possible.
  • Rethink your online presence. Pinterest, one of the Internet’s most popular websites, has become hugely profitable precisely because it ripped up the business rulebook and did things the way it wanted to do them: creating the infinite scroll, reducing advertising and doing away with ranking so that it is more of a community. As Alice sees time and again rules are there to be broken.
  • Sod the competition. Running with the Red Queen can be incredibly exhausting, not to mention fruitless. If you’re desperate to beat your competitors at their own game, innovation will slow down. You will never get ahead simply by trying to keep up. What do you think you should be doing?
  • Reject the ‘blame and shame’ culture. ‘Sentence first – verdict afterwards’ is not just common in Wonderland. Just as the Red Queen’s readiness to shout ‘Off with their heads’ made her a volatile leader, arrogant management can damage an organization.

Alice full cover.inddThe other crucial thing we learn from Alice in strategy land is that business should be fun. No, seriously! Leaders who want their teams to come to work sporting Cheshire-cat grins need to foster an atmosphere in which people can be creative. Developing a creative curiosity, says Santon, ‘can help everyone when it comes to coping with today’s working world.’

Alice in strategy land is available now and can be purchased here.

Career lessons from The Walking Dead: be adaptable

16 March 2016 by in Business and finance, Entertainment, Working With The Walking Dead

Rick, Morgan and the other characters who have lasted share in common an ability to adjust to change; to understand that the important thing is to work with the world as it is now not as it used to be or as they wish it could be again. Rick gets into the swing of the new world very quickly, from waking up, dazed, in the hospital to battling his way out of Atlanta in only a few days. Morgan too was quick to adapt. While his wife was looking to the past – grabbing the photo albums – he was preparing himself for the apparent present and the likely future. He had already worked out what the world was like at that time and was doing what was needed to cope with it, whereas she was just thinking of what she would miss from the past, or need when the current situation reverted to ‘normal’.

Rick Grimes career advice

Many fields, such as law, accountancy and medicine require that practitioners keep up to date with changing processes, legislation or methodology. It should be a requirement for you, too, if you want to get ahead. Change is inevitable: once you have accepted that you can begin to move forward.

Ask what is changing

In The Walking Dead the changes are both catastrophic and sudden. Nobody really had time to prepare for the new reality or take steps to avoid it. As we see in the back story show, Fear The Walking Dead, a problem that started small rapidly escalated as the authorities misunderstood both the problem itself and its potential lasting impact. In a huge city like Los Angeles the virus quickly spread among the population.

In your working life changes can be sudden and catastrophic, but more commonly change is gradual. Is your industry changing – have you read articles about new technologies, routes to market, operating systems? What are your organization’s competitors doing and what might the implications be for you if your business follows the same route? How is the economy faring? You need to keep your eyes and ears open – you stand a better chance of surviving change if you are well informed.

Work out what you need to do to be part of the change

Having accepted that the world is changing Rick and Morgan both work out what they need to do to be part of the new world.

Seeing the changes is only the first step; understanding what you need to do requires greater thought. So Tara and her family noticed a change and realized the need to survive, but they thought the safest thing to do was hole up in their flat with all the food and water that was available. Not only was this a short-term plan but it also meant they weren’t out in the world learning more about the changes taking place. If it had not been for the presence of The Governor when their father died Tara, her niece and sister may also have been turned. Not everybody is able to make the creative leap from observation to a plan of action, so if you can do it you will have a distinct advantage over your contemporaries. As Henry Ford famously said, ‘If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.’ While others thought change meant more of the same but better, Ford approached the advancing world from a more creative angle. .

Perhaps you work in a business that sells two different products or services. You note from reading the industry press that a new technology has been developed, and you realize that said technology could revolutionize one side of the business, the side you are not currently involved in. So what do you need to do to arm yourself with the know-how and credentials to switch to the side of the business that is shortly to be in the ascendancy?

Take steps to achieve that

When Rick decides he needs to survive and works out he needs weapons to help him he goes to the logical place – King County Sheriff ’s Department, where he used to work – and stocks up on what guns and ammunition remain. Having heard that there is a refugee centre in Atlanta, where the Center for Disease Control is also located, he sets off in that direction, calculating that his best chance for survival lies there.

It is no good knowing what you need to do in order to be part of the change if you do not act on that information. Is there a course you can attend that will give you the background or qualifications you need in order to be part of the new world? Perhaps you need to read round the subject – could you do this as part of your daily commute? Ambitious and committed people use every opportunity they have to further their careers – time on the train spent reading a blockbuster novel, no matter how entertaining, is time wasted if you could be immersing yourself in future-facing thinking. And don’t forget the N word – networking – maintain good connections with others in the industry or other parts of your organization. They can be both mines of useful information and routes to the next phase of your career.

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The pros and cons of self-publishing your business book

10 March 2016 by in Book publishing, Business and finance, Publishing for business

Why go through all the hassle of finding a commercial publisher for your breakthrough book on strategic thinking when it’s so easy to self-publish? After all, you’ve done all the hard work just writing it haven’t you? Why would you give it to a publisher who will pay you a measly 10% royalty when you can have complete control and all the revenue by merely entrusting your manuscript to one of the many self-publishing services available? Surely a no-brainer.

The number of self-publishing businesses has risen dramatically in the past few years, mainly due to affordable POD – that’s ‘print on demand’, the ability to print single copies of a book, to order – technology. Self-publishing involves uploading a manuscript onto the website of a business such as Lulu, choosing a cover and interior designs from a selection of templates, or using your own, then through POD technology printing as few or as many copies as you require. As the author you’ll pay the self-publishing company to upload your book and then they will probably take a slice of revenue from any further copies sold.

Working through a self-publishing company can be a good, cost-effective solution to getting into print. But the self-publishing process stops there. At print. You’ve got as many copies of your book as you ordered and unless you have set it all up in advance you have no distribution, no marketing, no links with wholesalers to supply customer orders. In short, no sales. Setting up the infrastructure that ensures your customers can be supplied with your book involves a great deal of work, and that’s before you begin the marketing effort. But an established publisher will naturally have all this set up.

Self-publishing business booksA commercial publisher will also market your book. Sure, they will be marketing it to the book trade, to the media and to foreign language publishers and to their own lists of customers, and they will rely on you to promote it in your own networks, but the chances are that most of the sales will come from their promotion rather than yours. There isn’t much chance of you knowing how to do all that global trade marketing, even if you had the time and energy.

Something else that tells against self-publishing is production quality. When you entrust your manuscript to a self-publishing service you may well find that your options in terms of controlling the way the book looks are limited. Not all self-publishing services are the same but the more cost effective the service the more likely it is that the website you use will chuck a terrible book back at you. A huge amount of work goes into turning a manuscript into a bookstore quality product. Commercial publishers employ copy editors, proof-readers, typesetters, text designers, cover designers, indexers and, of course, printers. Needless to say you won’t get all that for the £1000 you transfer to your anonymous self-publisher.

And you need to think about whether your brand is big enough in your network to overcome the resistance many people still have to self-published books. After all, you’ve paid to have it published (well, printed anyway) and anyone could do that provided they are willing to spend a few hundred pounds. How do people know it’s any good? They will trust a commercially published product far more than a self-published one because an editor has read it and decided it is good enough for her to invest a considerable amount of money in.

So think about it carefully. In summary:

Self-publishing gives you complete control over the packaging, pricing, design, marketing and distribution of your book. It allows you to keep the lion’s share of the income. You can produce it to your own schedule, as quickly as you like. You don’t have the depressing task of trying to find a publisher who will take the commercial risk on your book.

On the other hand you are probably not an expert at book packaging, pricing, design, marketing and distribution, so you are less likely to make a great fist of it than an experienced publisher. You are almost certainly going to end up with an inferior physical product compared with competing titles produced to book shop standards. And if you’re planning to use your book to promote your brand a self-published product won’t have the same cachet as a book that’s been published by Penguin.

In short, if you’re a well-known expert on rail travel in and around Nuneaton in the nineteenth century and you are already on first name terms with everyone in the world who is likely to buy your book self-publishing your book is the obvious route to take. Otherwise, think carefully about the options.

Zombie identification for beginners

25 February 2016 by in Business and finance, Entertainment, Working With The Walking Dead

By now you should have had enough time to settle in to watching the rest of season 6 of The Walking Dead and you may have noticed a few parallels between the show and your work life. However, if you’re wondering what on earth we’re on about, then perhaps you need some help identifying the zombies of your office. It may surprise you to learn that the office joker is a walker underneath all the bravado and banter. And did you know that what you have for lunch can indicate whether you or your colleague are also walkers? It can be difficult to tell who is and who is not a zombie in large offices but here are some helpful tips to help you be on the lookout and hopefully help you avoid the pitfalls of becoming one yourself.

They’re followers. Watch a herd of walkers and you will note that they all move in the same direction at the same speed, only changing course in response to noise or movement. There’s no independent thinking, no courage or daring. Thus it is with the walkers in your workplace – they do the job as prescribed, and no more.

They arrive on the stroke of 9 and leave at exactly 5. They go to lunch at the same time every day, refuse to stray outside the bounds of the system (‘More than my job’s worth’) and are careful to avoid doing anything not in their job description. Their job is just something they have to do 35 hours a week in order that they can collect a pay cheque every month. It’s something to be got through and survived. They slow down projects by insisting they can only do the work within their fixed systems and schedules.

They’re the office joker. Office jokers may seem happy but this is just a way of getting through the day – it’s the only way they get meaning from being at work. They carve out a niche for themselves – everybody knows who they are – but they are never going to be taken seriously. Which means their career progress within a particular organization is going to be limited. They distract colleagues from their work and disrupt company culture.

Workplace zombiesThey resist change. Regardless of whether it’s moving the coffee machine, changing the invoicing system or a complete departmental restructure they don’t like it and it’s not going to work. In fact they’ll do all they can to ensure it doesn’t. You’ll never see the resistors put as much effort or creative energy into anything as they put into trying to keep things the way they’ve always been. Not all changes are good and some have huge implications for the business and the individuals working within it but these people haven’t thought deeply about the changes – they just dislike them because they are not what went before.

They’re always right but they’re never willing to put their money where their mouth is. This kind of workplace walker could spend the whole day telling colleagues why management is doing everything wrong, and will bore you for an entire lunch hour if you’re unlucky enough to encounter them in the canteen. They particularly love introducing new recruits to all the flaws of the department or organization – it gives them a sense of power. They create a bad atmosphere in a team, making their manager’s job a lot harder.

It’s not their fault. Zombies never own up to their mistakes, not even to themselves, which means they can never learn from them. With the workplace walker there’s always a reason for an error but it’s because of some failing in the system or a problem created by one of their co-workers: ‘I wasn’t given the figures from accounts in good time’, ‘I only did what the project manager told me’, ‘that’s the answer the system gave when I put the information in’. They can become aggressive if any suggestion is made that they could have done something to mitigate the situation and make more work for their manager and colleagues because somebody else has to sort out their errors.

They don’t stand out, or they stand out for the wrong reasons. A typical office zombie just won’t get noticed by management outside their department. If they do catch somebody’s eye it’s likely to be for the wrong reasons: ‘Oh yeah, the guy who’s always playing practical jokes’, ‘Is she the one that really kicked up a fuss when we moved the coffee machine?’ This is not the route to promotion.

They eat the same lunch every day. In 2015 research undertaken for butter manufacturer Lurpak into the eating habits of 2,000 office workers revealed that 32 per cent of UK workers eat exactly the same lunch each day – a cheese sandwich. The average worker has been doing this for almost four and a half years and despite the monotony, 40 per cent of respondents said that lunch is usually the highlight of their working day. That’s just depressing, and seems to be further evidence of a lack of care about work, that it is something routine, just to be got through. In order to work at your best you need to be in good health; nutritionists advise that to help achieve that goal we should eat a wide variety of foods; just one reason to shake up your lunch habits.

Just as the humans in the series all carry the virus and are capable of becoming walkers, we all have the facility to fall into workplace zombie habits. But now you know what to look out for you’ll be able to catch yourself if you ever seem to be behaving like a walker and pull yourself back onto the path to career success.

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