Victoria Beckham named Britain’s most successful entrepreneur

27 October 2014 by in Business and finance, Current events, Entertainment

Twenty years ago, an unknown girl band released their first single, Wannabe, and posed on the stairs of the St Pancras Hotel to promote ‘Girl Power’. Much has changed in two decades but one thing is certain, Victoria Beckham has made the incredible transformation from Posh Spice to head of the Posh London crowd and, in turn, Britain’s most successful entrepreneur, so listen up Apprentice contestants!

Last month, Beckham, also known as VB, opened her first flagship store in London. She has generated substantial profits for her company, and was recently named as the Greatest Style Icon at this year’s London Fashion Week.

VB

It is the ultimate reinvention. When one thinks of how many members of pop groups have tried to make it in Hollywood, floundered on Celebrity Big Brother, or tried their hand at ‘writing’ novels, VB seems to be the most successful of all of them. No longer do we look at her and think of the Spice Girls; here is a woman who has taken the fashion world (and in turn the business world) by storm.

She is now a UN Goodwill ambassador and addressed the organization last month, which meant that she missed the opening of her London store. She is everywhere, it would seem, with her fingers in a lot of pies. But then again, it’s all for a good cause. Never did we think that the woman in the little Gucci dress would become one of the world’s most powerful women.

It has been well knownfor years that Brand Beckham has been successful, as she and David brough out his and hers perfumes while also pursuing profitable modelling careers. They are the idealistic couple but no longer do they have to sell their stories to OK! magazine. They have reached new levels of success and in turn, respectability.

Whatever you think of VB (and at Infinite Ideas we love her) you have to admit that the woman is talented. Yes, it takes a lot of money to be successful, it takes a well known brand to make it in the world of fashion, but she’s also done it with lots of hard work and dedication to her line.

VB is Catherine’s personal hero, and now we can see why. Perhaps in another ten years she will be Prime Minister.

If you want to manage your own company like VB, the best place to start is probably with a book on management models. Perhaps you will be on next year’s list … otherwise we would advise marrying someone rich and building your own empire!

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Nobel Prize awarded to discovery of ‘memory GPS’

6 October 2014 by in Book publishing, Current events, Lifestyle

Today it was announced that Professor John O’Keefe, May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser will share the Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine. The trio discovered that we all have an innate ability to know where we are and navigate to places. Modern life is made much easier with Google maps and sat navs for our cars, but hundreds of years ago, people explored the globe with just a rough map and a compass. It would seem that our brains want us to discover. The research has also paved the way for a better understanding of Alzheimer’s disease and why it is that we lose our memory.

On those occasions when we have left our sat nav at home or run out of battery on our phone, we find we have to ask some helpful stranger for directions. But how good are you at remembering the directions you’re given? Darren Bridger’s book, Boost your memory has some excellent tips to ensure you’re able to anchor the instructions in your mind:

There are a couple of occasions when you’re most likely to need to remember directions. The first typically occurs when you are lost. You stop to ask someone how to get somewhere (usually as a last resort), and suddenly a stream of directions issues forth from their mouth at such a rate that you lose track of what they are saying, and simply nod and smile politely. Unless you have writing materials or a map for them to point at, you are still lost – still, that is, if you don’t use any memory techniques!

The first thing to note is the importance of paying attention when the person gives you the directions. Focus as intently as possible on what they are saying and tune everything else out. Then get them to repeat the directions.

Most directions are of the ‘left, right, straight on, left…’ variety. You can use a bit of repetition and rhythm to stamp them into your memory. For example, if the person tells you to go ‘Straight on until the next left turn, then take the next right, then the next right after that, then go straight on and take the third left’, this will become ‘Left, right, right, straight, straight, left’ (where you have a ‘take the third left’ you substitute with ‘straight, straight, left’). If you then repeat this several times, bunching the words together into twos or threes and adding a bit of rhythm, you will find it far easier to remember. You can also add any landmarks which are mentioned. So your repeated phrase in that case might be something like ‘Left, right, right, church, straight, straight, mall, left’.

Map of the WorldResearch has shown that, in general, women are more likely to use directions of the ‘left, right’ and landmark variety, while men are more likely to mention compass bearings and distances. Be aware of which system you are more comfortable with, as this is the one you are most likely to remember. If someone gives you compass directions, and you are unsure of where north is, make sure you ask them to orientate you. Equally, you may like to stand side by side with your helper, rather than opposite, as they are giving directions – the reason being that it’s very easy for them (or you) to get confused when giving ‘right, left’ directions. You may be trying to remember to go in the opposite direction than you should be.

The other occasion when you might need directions is when you are setting out on a journey and can’t take a GPS or map with you. The advantage you have here is that you typically have longer to memorise the route than when you are asking for directions. Firstly, work out your route and simplify it down to the essentials, the turning points of the journey and the approximate distances. You can then use some basic mental imagery to memorise this list of directions. Try to keep your list of essential directions within ten (ideally, within seven). If you are a visual person you can use a number-shape method, which turns each number into a visual image resembling the shape of that number, then pairs that with an image of the thing to be remembered. You might remember a list of directions as follows:

  1. looks like a pen. Drive until you reach the church then turn left (direction); imagine a giant pen on the left side of the church’s cross (mental image).
  2. looks like a swan. Take the third turning on the right (direction); three swans jump onto the cross from the right (mental image).
  3. looks like a pair of handcuffs. Turn left at the school (direction), a schoolchild grabs the pen from the left of the cross, and puts handcuffs on the feet of the swans (mental image).
  4. looks like a sailing boat. Drive past the duck pond (direction), the swans turn into ducks on a pond, with a huge sailing boat stuck in the middle (mental image).
  5. looks like a hook. Turn at the police station (direction), the sailor on the boat throws his fishing line into the water, and when he pulls it up, there’s a policeman attached to the hook (mental image).

If all that seems complicated, comfort yourself with the fact that it’s only new directions that tend to be so hard to memorise. Routes quickly become familiar with use.

But what about the whisky?

17 September 2014 by in Current events, Spirits distilled, Wine and spirits

This week, Infinite Ideas signed a new book, Spirits explained by Mark Ridgewell. We love spirits, and not just the ghostly variety, so this new signing will make an excellent addition to the our series on wines and spirits. However, in all the excitement, we forgot, for just a moment, the impending Scottish referendum and were reminded about Scotland’s most profitable export, whisky.

Tomorrow the polls will be open and the future of Scotland will be decided, but what does this all mean for the whisky business? With Scotland’s future as a member of the EU still very much in doubt if the vote is a solid ‘YES’ will this mean that we will have to pay import tax on Famous Grouse?

whisky tartanWhisky is as Scottish as haggis, tartan and highland cows, and the country thrives on the tourists who come every year for distillery tours and to sample their favourite spirit in its home. Whisky is to Scotland what Guinness is to Ireland. No longer will supermarket shelves be offering our good friends Bell’s, Glenfiddich and Johnnie Walker.

The drink is embedded in Scottish identity and yet with Alex Salmond unsure about which currency he will be adopting if the country votes yes (the pound, the euro, the oat?) whisky makers are concerned about the effect that the global market will have on their soon-to-be ‘priceless’ products.

Before you rush out to panic-buy your Scottish spirits in bulk, consider that the whisky business will flourish no matter what. An independent Scotland will still be providing us with the perfect nightcap (that is, unless they make an alcoholic irn bru) though it may be slightly more pricey, perhaps we will appreciate it all the more.

Visions of hordes of whisky-lovers queueing up at the Dumfries border smuggling whisky back to England is a far cry from what you can expect. But for all those who have yet to make up their mind before the polls, you may be swayed by a tipple or two. Consider the whisky. Consider the whisky drinkers. Consider yourself…on the fence?

If this final push from both sides has got you all in a flutter, you can download Nicholas Faith’s guide to cognac for free, and have yourself a drink to settle your nerves. Cometh the hour, cometh the vote.

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The astute PR of the second royal baby

9 September 2014 by in Book publishing, Current events

By now we hope that you’ve come back down to earth from the news that Kate Middleton (or Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge) is with child once again. Hooray, not long after Prince George took his first steps, his mother is providing him with a sibling to play with. How delightful.

Prince GeorgeAt the Infinite Ideas office in Oxford yesterday, we were sorry not to catch a glimpse of the royal car driving past carrying Prince William. Nevertheless, while we wish Kate many congratulations and hope that her morning sickness does not continue too long, we can’t help but think there’s something rather well timed about this announcement.

Of course, we’re not suggesting that Kate was under strict instructions from the queen to get pregnant again before the Scottish referendum but the announcement has come at a very good time for the United Kingdom. At the eleventh hour, with Scotland firmly in the ‘Yes’ camp, the happy news of the new royal baby is likely to have filled those hardened Scottish voters with joy and nostalgia for the 2012 Olympics, the royal wedding, and the Jubilee.

Tim Phillips’ analysis of Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince highlights the importance of PR in cultivating an image and preserving a brand.

If you’re cynical, you might say that public relations is 100% dedicated to creating the image that you’re more virtuous than you really are. This is a lie, as I’m sure all of you who work in public relations would agree. The figure is no more than 90%; the other 10% is spent at lunch.

As a guide to how public relations can change your life, there can be no better publication than Flat Earth News, by veteran reporter Nick Davies. His disgust at the way that PR companies create ‘AstroTurf’ groups (these are ones with fake grass roots), will have 98% of his readers throwing his book across the room in outrage. AstroTurf groups have neutral-sounding names like ‘Americans for Constitutional Freedom’ (promoting pornography, in actual fact), ‘Americans Against Unfair Gas Taxes’ (promoting the oil business), or the ‘Tobacco Institute’ (which is for the right to smoke – promoted by the tobacco industry). They also have the financial backing of the companies who stand to gain from their activism.

The other 2% of readers who didn’t throw his book to one side in disgust, but who immediately thought, ‘that’s interesting, I could use that’ have the sort of leadership potential that Machiavelli could work with. He would have agreed with the rather straightforward title of a conference that Davies quotes in his book. It was for the PR business, and was called ‘Shaping Public Opinion – If You Don’t Do It, Someone Else Will’.

Not only that, but they’ll make money by doing it.

Public relations is a truly Machiavellian force in the real sense of the word. It is dedicated to achieving and preserving power for the people it serves, independently of the values of ‘wrongness’ or ‘rightness’ that are attached to their clients. It’s a bit rich to disagree with public relations because it earns a large amount of money to promote things you find unacceptable. The thing is, the people you might agree with are doing this PR stuff too. They have to. There isn’t a powerful person out there who isn’t shaping his or her public perception using highly paid professionals. The same is true of organisations, from commercial companies to not-for-profit bodies and charities. Environmental campaigners do it to save the planet, singers do it to get a recording contract, car manufacturers do it to sell cars. Your competition does it. You need PR.

The best public relations isn’t fiction, remember. It’s selective reporting of the truth, designed to highlight your virtues and distract attention from your weaknesses. If you’re not interested in getting a piece of that, you’re not really interested in power.

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Tony Blair’s sticking to his story

3 September 2014 by in Book publishing, Business and finance, Current events

We were all as baffled as the rest of the world to wake up this morning and find out that Tony Blair has won the GQ Award for philanthropist of the year. We’re sure the prestigious award will look just lovely in his million-pound mansion, though he should probably leave space for his imminent receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Whatever we think, he’s clearly convinced the folks at GQ that he’s the real deal. Perhaps Tony is just not telling the rest of us everything about his missions in the Middle East, where he can hardly be hailed as a hero and saviour. But GQ’s woman of the year, Kim Kardashian, will undoubtedly be able to give him some tips on how to look good for the cameras while the world reels in confusion at his latest achievement.

There’s something … Machiavellian about Blair’s rise (and continued rise) from humble Prime Minister to all out celebrity philanthropist saving the Middle East. Yet, as long as he sticks to his original story, surely he is out of danger of being accused of having acted in haste in 2003 in Iraq.

Tim Phillips’ modern interpretation of Machiavelli’s The Prince, points out the value of taking control of your own story and using PR to its maximum effect. It’s all about the spin, and clearly something that Tony has learned well from. He could yet change our minds if he sticks to his guns:

Great leaders through the years have understood the value of propaganda. Machiavelli knew equally well just how important it was to control the way the story was told. ‘Nowadays, for all rulers … it is more necessary to satisfy the people than the soldiers, because the people are more powerful,’ he reminds us.

On 9 April 2003 a large statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad’s Firdus Square directly in front of the Palestine Hotel – where the world’s journalists were staying – was dragged to the ground by a furious mob of Iraqis, aided, after long struggles, by an American tank. The citizens chopped off the statue’s head and dragged it through the streets. A marine covered the face of the statue with an American flag. All over the world people watched broadcasts of Iraqis taking off their shoes and using them to slap the fallen statue of Saddam. For days the newspapers and magazines carried the images, too.

But were they the truth? We may never know for sure. Since the event, there have been many reports of the involvement of the US Army in the planning of the ‘spontaneous’ event. The Los Angeles Times reported that a US Marine Colonel had masterminded the planning, and US Army loudspeakers had encouraged the crowd of citizens to join in.

Whatever the exact level of planning, it was a masterpiece of propaganda. It was a highly symbolic event; it happened in exactly the place that would guarantee the maximum level of publicity and it sent an emotional message that couldn’t fail to be understood.

Today, we’re all telling stories. People email, gossip, blog, text, instant message and chat. We have twenty-four-hour news channels that have to report something, even when there’s nothing to report. The average employee is spending sixty-five hours a year gossiping at work, according to a survey by the communications company Equisys. And then there are your suppliers, customers, investors, recruiters and advisors all doing the same about you. Viral marketing, as it is called, is simply word of mouth given a fancy title.

Stick your head above the parapet and someone’s going to review you, write a blog about you or organise a protest about you.

Someone’s going to control this story. If you’re in charge, it had better be you. Today it’s not just the military that uses propaganda; secretive companies like Strategic Communication Laboratories are confidentially employed by everyone from consumer products companies to the United Nations.

Get over the idea that propaganda equals bad. It can stop panic when there’s bad news and make sure more people hear the good news. This stuff doesn’t happen by chance. You need to plan it, exactly as you would any other part of your business.

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Cometh the hour, cometh the Boris

6 August 2014 by in Business and finance, Current events

Boris Johnson has just declared his intention to run for MP in the national election next year. While Londoners may breathe a sigh of relief that they will be losing their buffoonish Mayor, we can all close our eyes and hope, hope, hope that he doesn’t get voted in by the general public who, we presume, have more common sense than their wannabe future parliamentary representative. First comes MP, next step Prime Minister and the south of the UK will most likely be waging war against the north. Scotland: get out while you can!

Machiavelli has suggested that leaders are a product of their time, elected because the public need them to perform a certain role. Though it is hard to imagine any situation when we will need ol’ Boris to lead us, his reign may serve only to make us appreciate David Cameron all the more or fall for the un-PRable charms of Ed Milliband.

Tim Phillips’ book, The Prince discusses the right time to lead and the right time to stand back. If Boris really wants to hit the political heights perhaps he should study the lesson below.

If you achieve success, you’d like to think that you would have succeeded in any job in any company. Not true, Machiavelli points out. Leaders are usually successful because they’re right for the moment. ‘Rulers maintain themselves better if they owe little to luck,’ says Machiavelli, describing how a prince can maintain a kingdom he has won through arms and ability. But he’s defining luck closely. What he doesn’t consider to be luck is the combination of the right time and the drive to succeed that throws forward a ruler. Indeed, he considers the spark of frustration – which becomes inner drive – to be an important element when the opportunity arises.

So we have three things: potential, the right time in which to exercise that potential, and an inner force to succeed. It’s like this:

Talent + opportunity + drive = success

We often assume that talent alone is sufficient to make someone a success, or to make a tenure as a leader successful. Machiavelli says that you actually need to be the right sort of leader for the specific opportunity. History is written by winners, and so it is often written as a simple meritocracy – the right person just somehow floats to the top effortlessly and inevitably. But in any generation there are nearly-successes: those people who would have been successful at a different time, or with different challenges, or if they had just a little more of the right type of drive to meet those challenges.

The best example of the combination of talent, drive and timing in political history is probably Winston Churchill, a man who in any other time would have been remembered as a comparative failure. By the mid-1930s, Churchill’s best years were assumed to be behind him, and compared to the reach of his ambition they weren’t even that good. He was also considered to be a political opportunist and, in addition, his political views were well out of step with fashionable thinking. But when his country needed decisive leadership and a uniting force who was above party politics, he became prime minister in 1940 – at the age of sixty-five – and led Britain brilliantly in World War II.

Most political careers end in failure: bright stars who never seem to have quite the right opportunity; party loyalists whose party can’t get elected into government; talented meteors who make one gaffe that they never manage to shake off; number twos who don’t make it to the top job until it’s too late, or who don’t get there at all.

In politics, this is acted out nightly on the News. But we all know someone who didn’t quite make it, got stuck in the wrong job, or just lost their drive. You want to succeed? You need to find the right opportunity, not wait for it to come to you.

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